Syrian War of Lies and Hypocrisy July 29, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: ahmadinejad, assad, bbc, hezbollan, hillary clinton, Iran, Middle East, Obama, panetta, qatar, robert fisk, roger hollander, saudi arabia, Syria, syria rebels, syria torture
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The West’s real target here is not Assad’s brutal regime but his ally, Iran, and its nuclear weapons
Has there ever been a Middle Eastern war of such hypocrisy? A war of such cowardice and such mean morality, of such false rhetoric and such public humiliation? I’m not talking about the physical victims of the Syrian tragedy. I’m referring to the utter lies and mendacity of our masters and our own public opinion – eastern as well as western – in response to the slaughter, a vicious pantomime more worthy of Swiftian satire than Tolstoy or Shakespeare.
Is he the US’s real target? Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
While Qatar and Saudi Arabia arm and fund the rebels of Syria to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite/Shia-Baathist dictatorship, Washington mutters not a word of criticism against them. President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, say they want a democracy in Syria. But Qatar is an autocracy and Saudi Arabia is among the most pernicious of caliphate-kingly-dictatorships in the Arab world. Rulers of both states inherit power from their families – just as Bashar has done – and Saudi Arabia is an ally of the Salafist-Wahabi rebels in Syria, just as it was the most fervent supporter of the medieval Taliban during Afghanistan’s dark ages.
Indeed, 15 of the 19 hijacker-mass murderers of 11 September, 2001, came from Saudi Arabia – after which, of course, we bombed Afghanistan. The Saudis are repressing their own Shia minority just as they now wish to destroy the Alawite-Shia minority of Syria. And we believe Saudi Arabia wants to set up a democracy in Syria?
Then we have the Shia Hezbollah party/militia in Lebanon, right hand of Shia Iran and supporter of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. For 30 years, Hezbollah has defended the oppressed Shias of southern Lebanon against Israeli aggression. They have presented themselves as the defenders of Palestinian rights in the West Bank and Gaza. But faced with the slow collapse of their ruthless ally in Syria, they have lost their tongue. Not a word have they uttered – nor their princely Sayed Hassan Nasrallah – about the rape and mass murder of Syrian civilians by Bashar’s soldiers and “Shabiha” militia.
Then we have the heroes of America – La Clinton, the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Obama himself. Clinton issues a “stern warning” to Assad. Panetta – the same man who repeated to the last US forces in Iraq that old lie about Saddam’s connection to 9/11 – announces that things are “spiralling out of control” in Syria. They have been doing that for at least six months. Has he just realized? And then Obama told us last week that “given the regime’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad … that the world is watching”. Now, was it not a County Cork newspaper called the Skibbereen Eagle, fearful of Russia’s designs on China, which declared that it was “keeping an eye … on the Tsar of Russia”? Now it is Obama’s turn to emphasize how little clout he has in the mighty conflicts of the world. How Bashar must be shaking in his boots.
But what US administration would really want to see Bashar’s atrocious archives of torture opened to our gaze? Why, only a few years ago, the Bush administration was sending Muslims to Damascus for Bashar’s torturers to tear their fingernails out for information, imprisoned at the US government’s request in the very hell-hole which Syrian rebels blew to bits last week. Western embassies dutifully supplied the prisoners’ tormentors with questions for the victims. Bashar, you see, was our baby.
Saudi ally: Hillary Clinton at a conference with the Saudi foreign minister on plans for a Gulf missile shield against the Iranians.
Then there’s that neighboring country which owes us so much gratitude: Iraq. Last week, it suffered in one day 29 bombing attacks in 19 cities, killing 111 civilian and wounding another 235. The same day, Syria’s bloodbath consumed about the same number of innocents. But Iraq was “down the page” from Syria, buried “below the fold”, as we journalists say; because, of course, we gave freedom to Iraq, Jeffersonian democracy, etc, etc, didn’t we? So this slaughter to the east of Syria didn’t have quite the same impact, did it? Nothing we did in 2003 led to Iraq’s suffering today. Right?
And talking of journalism, who in BBC World News decided that even the preparations for the Olympics should take precedence all last week over Syrian outrages? British newspapers and the BBC in Britain will naturally lead with the Olympics as a local story. But in a lamentable decision, the BBC – broadcasting “world” news to the world – also decided that the passage of the Olympic flame was more important than dying Syrian children, even when it has its own courageous reporter sending his dispatches directly from Aleppo.
Then, of course, there’s us, our dear liberal selves who are so quick to fill the streets of London in protest at the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians. Rightly so, of course. When our political leaders are happy to condemn Arabs for their savagery but too timid to utter a word of the mildest criticism when the Israeli army commits crimes against humanity – or watches its allies do it in Lebanon – ordinary people have to remind the world that they are not as timid as the politicians. But when the scorecard of death in Syria reaches 15,000 or 19,000 – perhaps 14 times as many fatalities as in Israel’s savage 2008-2009 onslaught on Gaza – scarcely a single protester, save for Syrian expatriates abroad, walks the streets to condemn these crimes against humanity. Israel’s crimes have not been on this scale since 1948. Rightly or wrongly, the message that goes out is simple: we demand justice and the right to life for Arabs if they are butchered by the West and its Israeli allies; but not when they are being butchered by their fellow Arabs.
And all the while, we forget the “big” truth. That this is an attempt to crush the Syrian dictatorship not because of our love for Syrians or our hatred of our former friend Bashar al-Assad, or because of our outrage at Russia, whose place in the pantheon of hypocrites is clear when we watch its reaction to all the little Stalingrads across Syria. No, this is all about Iran and our desire to crush the Islamic Republic and its infernal nuclear plans – if they exist – and has nothing to do with human rights or the right to life or the death of Syrian babies. Quelle horreur!
Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.
Who Cares in the Middle East What Obama Says? May 30, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: 1967 borders, algeria, arab revolts, arab revolutions, arab spring, bahrain, bouteflika, egypt, gaza, hamas, intifada, Iran, israel, israeli settlements, jewish state, jordan, kurds, libya, Mahmoud Abbas, Middle East, netanyahu, Obama, Palestine, palestine papers, palestinian statehood, Palestinians, qatar, robert fisk, roger hollander, saudi arabia, Syria, tunisia, turkey, yemen
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Roger’s note: I don’t think you will find a better commentary on the situation in the Middle East than what follows. Robert Fisk, who has lived in and written about the Middle East for decades, is an amazing journalist, unfortunately a rare breed (at least in North America).
This month, in the Middle East, has seen the unmaking of the President of the United States. More than that, it has witnessed the lowest prestige of America in the region since Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz on the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake in 1945.President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)
President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)
While Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu played out their farce in Washington – Obama grovelling as usual – the Arabs got on with the serious business of changing their world, demonstrating and fighting and dying for freedoms they have never possessed. Obama waffled on about change in the Middle East – and about America’s new role in the region. It was pathetic. “What is this ‘role’ thing?” an Egyptian friend asked me at the weekend. “Do they still believe we care about what they think?”
And it is true. Obama’s failure to support the Arab revolutions until they were all but over lost the US most of its surviving credit in the region. Obama was silent on the overthrow of Ben Ali, only joined in the chorus of contempt for Mubarak two days before his flight, condemned the Syrian regime – which has killed more of its people than any other dynasty in this Arab “spring”, save for the frightful Gaddafi – but makes it clear that he would be happy to see Assad survive, waves his puny fist at puny Bahrain’s cruelty and remains absolutely, stunningly silent over Saudi Arabia. And he goes on his knees before Israel. Is it any wonder, then, that Arabs are turning their backs on America, not out of fury or anger, nor with threats or violence, but with contempt? It is the Arabs and their fellow Muslims of the Middle East who are themselves now making the decisions.
Turkey is furious with Assad because he twice promised to speak of reform and democratic elections – and then failed to honour his word. The Turkish government has twice flown delegations to Damascus and, according to the Turks, Assad lied to the foreign minister on the second visit, baldly insisting that he would recall his brother Maher’s legions from the streets of Syrian cities. He failed to do so. The torturers continue their work.
Watching the hundreds of refugees pouring from Syria across the northern border of Lebanon, the Turkish government is now so fearful of a repeat of the great mass Iraqi Kurdish refugee tide that overwhelmed their border in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war that it has drawn up its own secret plans to prevent the Kurds of Syria moving in their thousands into the Kurdish areas of south-eastern Turkey. Turkish generals have thus prepared an operation that would send several battalions of Turkish troops into Syria itself to carve out a “safe area” for Syrian refugees inside Assad’s caliphate. The Turks are prepared to advance well beyond the Syrian border town of Al Qamishli – perhaps half way to Deir el-Zour (the old desert killing fields of the 1915 Armenian Holocaust, though speak it not) – to provide a “safe haven” for those fleeing the slaughter in Syria’s cities.
The Qataris are meanwhile trying to prevent Algeria from resupplying Gaddafi with tanks and armoured vehicles – this was one of the reasons why the Emir of Qatar, the wisest bird in the Arabian Gulf, visited the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, last week. Qatar is committed to the Libyan rebels in Benghazi; its planes are flying over Libya from Crete and – undisclosed until now – it has Qatari officers advising the rebels inside the city of Misrata in western Libya; but if Algerian armour is indeed being handed over to Gaddafi to replace the material that has been destroyed in air strikes, it would account for the ridiculously slow progress which the Nato campaign is making against Gaddafi.
Of course, it all depends on whether Bouteflika really controls his army – or whether the Algerian “pouvoir”, which includes plenty of secretive and corrupt generals, are doing the deals. Algerian equipment is superior to Gaddafi’s and thus for every tank he loses, Ghaddafi might be getting an improved model to replace it. Below Tunisia, Algeria and Libya share a 750-mile desert frontier, an easy access route for weapons to pass across the border.
But the Qataris are also attracting Assad’s venom. Al Jazeera’s concentration on the Syrian uprising – its graphic images of the dead and wounded far more devastating than anything our soft western television news shows would dare broadcast – has Syrian state television nightly spitting at the Emir and at the state of Qatar. The Syrian government has now suspended up to £4 billion of Qatari investment projects, including one belonging to the Qatar Electricity and Water Company.
Amid all these vast and epic events – Yemen itself may yet prove to be the biggest bloodbath of all, while the number of Syria’s “martyrs” have now exceeded the victims of Mubarak’s death squads five months ago – is it any surprise that the frolics of Messrs Netanyahu and Obama appear so irrelevant? Indeed, Obama’s policy towards the Middle East – whatever it is – sometimes appears so muddled that it is scarcely worthy of study. He supports, of course, democracy – then admits that this may conflict with America’s interests. In that wonderful democracy called Saudi Arabia, the US is now pushing ahead with a £40 billion arms deal and helping the Saudis to develop a new “elite” force to protect the kingdom’s oil and future nuclear sites. Hence Obama’s fear of upsetting Saudi Arabia, two of whose three leading brothers are now so incapacitated that they can no longer make sane decisions – unfortunately, one of these two happens to be King Abdullah – and his willingness to allow the Assad family’s atrocity-prone regime to survive. Of course, the Israelis would far prefer the “stability” of the Syrian dictatorship to continue; better the dark caliphate you know than the hateful Islamists who might emerge from the ruins. But is this argument really good enough for Obama to support when the people of Syria are dying in the streets for the kind of democracy that the US president says he wants to see in the region?
One of the vainest elements of American foreign policy towards the Middle East is the foundational idea that the Arabs are somehow more stupid than the rest of us, certainly than the Israelis, more out of touch with reality than the West, that they don’t understand their own history. Thus they have to be preached at, lectured, and cajoled by La Clinton and her ilk – much as their dictators did and do, father figures guiding their children through life. But Arabs are far more literate than they were a generation ago; millions speak perfect English and can understand all too well the political weakness and irrelevance in the president’s words. Listening to Obama’s 45-minute speech this month – the “kick off’ to four whole days of weasel words and puffery by the man who tried to reach out to the Muslim world in Cairo two years ago, and then did nothing – one might have thought that the American President had initiated the Arab revolts, rather than sat on the sidelines in fear.
There was an interesting linguistic collapse in the president’s language over those critical four days. On Thursday 19 May, he referred to the continuation of Israeli “settlements”. A day later, Netanyahu was lecturing him on “certain demographic changes that have taken place on the ground”. Then when Obama addressed the American Aipac lobby group (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on the Sunday, he had cravenly adopted Netanyahu’s own preposterous expression. Now he, too, spoke of “new demographic realities on the ground.” Who would believe that he was talking about internationally illegal Jewish colonies built on land stolen from Arabs in one of the biggest property heists in the history of “Palestine”? Delay in peace-making will undermine Israeli security, Obama announced – apparently unaware that Netanyahu’s project is to go on delaying and delaying and delaying until there is no land left for the “viable” Palestinian state which the United States and the European Union supposedly wish to see.
Then we had the endless waffle about the 1967 borders. Netanyahu called them “defenceless” (though they seemed to have been pretty defendable for the 18 years prior to the Six Day War) and Obama – oblivious to the fact that Israel must be the only country in the world to have an eastern land frontier but doesn’t know where it is – then says he was misunderstood when he talked about 1967. It doesn’t matter what he says. George W Bush caved in years ago when he gave Ariel Sharon a letter which stated America’s acceptance of “already existing major Israeli population centres” beyond the 1967 lines. To those Arabs prepared to listen to Obama’s spineless oration, this was a grovel too far. They simply could not understand the reaction of Netanyahu’s address to Congress. How could American politicians rise and applaud Netanyahu 55 times – 55 times – with more enthusiasm than one of the rubber parliaments of Assad, Saleh and the rest?
And what on earth did the Great Speechifier mean when he said that “every country has the right to self-defence” but that Palestine would be “demilitarised”? What he meant was that Israel could go on attacking the Palestinians (as in 2009, for example, when Obama was treacherously silent) while the Palestinians would have to take what was coming to them if they did not behave according to the rules – because they would have no weapons to defend themselves. As for Netanyahu, the Palestinians must choose between unity with Hamas or peace with Israel. All of which was very odd. When there was no unity, Netanyahu told us all that he had no Palestinian interlocutor because the Palestinians were disunited. Yet when they unite, they are disqualified from peace talks.
Of course, cynicism grows the longer you live in the Middle East. I recall, for example, travelling to Gaza in the early 1980s when Yasser Arafat was running his PLO statelet in Beirut. Anxious to destroy Arafat’s prestige in the occupied territories, the Israeli government decided to give its support to an Islamist group in Gaza called Hamas. In fact, I actually saw with my own eyes the head of the Israeli army’s Southern Command negotiating with bearded Hamas officials, giving them permission to build more mosques. It’s only fair to say, of course, that we were also busy at the time, encouraging a certain Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. But the Israelis did not give up on Hamas. They later held another meeting with the organisation in the West Bank; the story was on the front page of the Jerusalem Post the next day. But there wasn’t a whimper from the Americans.
Then another moment that I can recall over the long years. Hamas and Islamic Jihad members – all Palestinians – were, in the early 1990s, thrown across the Israeli border into southern Lebanon where they spent more than a year camping on a freezing mountainside. I would visit them from time to time and on one occasion mentioned that I would be travelling to Israel next day. Immediately, one of the Hamas men ran to his tent and returned with a notebook. He then proceeded to give me the home telephone numbers of three senior Israeli politicians – two of whom are still prominent today – and, when I reached Jerusalem and called the numbers, they all turned out to be correct. In other words, the Israeli government had been in personal and direct contact with Hamas.
But now the narrative has been twisted out of all recognition. Hamas are the super-terrorists, the “al-Qa’ida” representatives in the unified Palestinian leadership, the men of evil who will ensure that no peace ever takes place between Palestinians and Israeli. If only this were true, the real al-Qa’ida would be more than happy to take responsibility. But it is not true. In the same context, Obama stated that the Palestinians would have to answer questions about Hamas. But why should they? What Obama and Netanyahu think about Hamas is now irrelevant to them. Obama warns the Palestinians not to ask for statehood at the United Nations in September. But why on earth not? If the people of Egypt and Tunisia and Yemen and Libya and Syria – we are all waiting for the next revolution (Jordan? Bahrain again? Morocco?) – can fight for freedom and dignity, why shouldn’t the Palestinians? Lectured for decades on the need for non-violent protest, the Palestinians elect to go to the UN with their cry for legitimacy – only to be slapped down by Obama.
Having read all of the “Palestine Papers” which Al-Jazeera revealed, there is no doubt that “Palestine’s” official negotiators will go to any lengths to produce some kind of statelet. Mahmoud Abbas, who managed to write a 600-page book on the “peace process” without once mentioning the word “occupation”, could even cave in over the UN project, fearful of Obama’s warning that it would be an attempt to “isolate” Israel and thus de-legitimise the Israeli state – or “the Jewish state” as the US president now calls it. But Netanyahu is doing more than anyone to delegitimise his own state; indeed, he is looking more and more like the Arab buffoons who have hitherto littered the Middle East. Mubarak saw a “foreign hand” in the Egyptian revolution (Iran, of course). So did the Crown Prince of Bahrain (Iran again). So did Gaddafi (al-Qa’ida, western imperialism, you name it), So did Saleh of Yemen (al-Qa’ida, Mossad and America). So did Assad of Syria (Islamism, probably Mossad, etc). And so does Netanyahu (Iran, naturally enough, Syria, Lebanon, just about anyone you can think of except for Israel itself).
But as this nonsense continues, so the tectonic plates shudder. I doubt very much if the Palestinians will remain silent. If there’s an “intifada” in Syria, why not a Third Intifada in “Palestine”? Not a struggle of suicide bombers but of mass, million-strong protests. If the Israelis have to shoot down a mere few hundred demonstrators who tried – and in some cases succeeded – in crossing the Israeli border almost two weeks ago, what will they do if confronted by thousands or a million. Obama says no Palestinian state must be declared at the UN. But why not? Who cares in the Middle East what Obama says? Not even, it seems, the Israelis. The Arab spring will soon become a hot summer and there will be an Arab autumn, too. By then, the Middle East may have changed forever. What America says will matter nothing.
Tags: aipac, arab revolution, arab spring, bahrain, brian becker, democracy, egypt, gaza, golan heights, human rights, Iran, isreal-palestine, mara verheyden-hilliard, Middle East, middle east democracy, middle east dictatorship, middle east oil, mubarak, obama administration, roger hollander, saudi arabia, Syria, war, west bank
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By Brian Becker and Mara Verheyden-Hilliard
President Obama took to the airwaves today to discuss
the revolts and conflicts spreading throughout the Middle East. The U.S.
dominance over this strategic and oil-rich region has been the pivot of U.S.
foreign policy for decades. Utilizing a system of proxy and client regimes, in
addition to its own vast military forces in the region, the United States has
supported a network of brutal dictatorships and the Israeli regime for decades.
Now that system of imperial control has been shaken
by the popular risings that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and
elsewhere, the Obama administration spoke today at the U.S. State Department as
part of an effort to reassert U.S. leadership over the swiftly changing
Using the rhetoric of democracy and freedom to mask
the responsibility of U.S. imperialism in the enduring oppression and suffering
of the peoples of the Middle East, President Obama’s speech was a demonstration
of profound hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy: President Obama said that
the “greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the
talent of its people.”
Reality: The U.S. strategy is based
on control of the Middle East’s most coveted resource: two-thirds of the world’s
known oil supply. The U.S. government has given billions of dollars and armed
the most brutal dictatorships in the Middle East for decades, a practice fully
continued by the Obama administration. The U.S. government never cut funds to
the Mubarak dictatorship even while the regime murdered more than 850 peaceful
protestors. More than 5,000 civilians in Egypt have been convicted and jailed
since Jan. 25 following trials conducted by the Egyptian military. The United
States continues to provide massive funding to Egypt’s military in spite of the
ongoing repression against the people.
Hypocrisy: President Obama stated,
“it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region,
and to support transitions to democracy.”
Reality: The only governments in the
Middle East that have been targeted for invasion, economic sanctions and
overthrow by the U.S. government are those that pursue policies that are
independent of U.S. economic, political and military control. The U.S. never
imposed economic sanctions on the Mubarak dictatorship and only came out
publicly against Mubarak when the tide of revolution had become irresistible.
Likewise, the U.S. supports the brutal Saudi monarchy.
Hypocrisy: President Obama
championed for the people of the Middle East the “basic rights to speak your
mind and access information,” stating, “the truth cannot be hidden; and the
legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed
Reality: The Obama administration
has gone out of its way to punish those who would inform the public by shedding
light on the activities of the U.S. government. Bradley Manning remains jailed
with the threat of life in prison, having been held in brutal conditions that
caused the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture to seek an investigation. The
Justice Department is working at full speed to find a way to prosecute Julian
Assange of Wikileaks for disclosing government documents to the public, many of
which expose the U.S. role in the Middle East. The Obama administration has
undertaken a major campaign more aggressive than any prior administration to
criminally prosecute whistleblowers who expose the truth of illegal government
Hypocrisy: President Obama stated:
“The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people
of the region.”
Reality: The United States under
Obama is involved in the invasion, occupation, and bombings of four
predominantly Muslim countries simultaneously: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and
Pakistan. Moreover, the head of state who has been the single biggest violator
of the basic human rights of Arab people and the perpetuator of violence in the
region is George W. Bush, whose illegal invasion of Iraq cost the lives of more
than one million people. The March 19, 2003, invasion was a war of aggression
against a country that did not pose any threat to the United States or the
people of the United States. The invasion and occupation of Iraq led to the
deaths of more Arab people than have been killed by all the dictatorships in the
region combined. President Obama today called Osama Bin Laden a mass murderer.
September 11, 2001, was indeed a great crime that took the lives of thousands of
innocent working people, but measured in order of the magnitude of victims
killed, Bush’s crime of mass murder in Iraq is unmatched. George W. Bush has not
been arrested for the mass killings of Iraqi people but is treated honorifically
by the Obama administration.
Hypocrisy: In an effort to appease
Arab public opinion, President Obama’s speech made it appear as if the United
States was insisting that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders. Obama stated,
“precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth:
the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a
Reality: Israel’s war against the
Palestinian people would be impossible without U.S. support, which continues
unabated. The single biggest recipient of U.S. foreign aid is the state of
Israel, which uses the $3 billion it receives annually to lay siege to the
people of Gaza, continue the illegal occupation of the West Bank and prevent the
return of the families of the 750,000 Palestinians who were evicted from their
homes and villages in historic Palestine in 1948. The United Nations in various
resolutions has condemned the 1967 Israeli invasion and occupation of Gaza, the
West Bank, and Syria’s Golan Heights. Far from imposing economic sanctions,
President Obama has promised Israel a minimum of $30 billion in military aid
over the next 10 years, thus functioning as a partner in the occupation. Obama’s
speech also made it clear that the United States would support Israel retaining
vast swaths of the West Bank. This is what he meant by referring to “land
swaps.” In the coming days, Obama will have private meetings with Benjamin
Netanyahu and will be a featured speaker at the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC) conference. He will undoubtedly reinforce the strong
U.S.-Israeli military ties and U.S. financial support.
Hypocrisy: President Obama stated:
“We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech; the
freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women
under the rule of law; and the right to choose your own leaders – whether you
live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran…. [W]e will continue to insist that
universal rights apply to women as well as men.”
Reality: While the U.S. government –
along with Britain and France (the former colonizers of the Middle East and
Africa) – are bombing Libya with the latest high-tech bombs and missiles in the
name of “protecting civilians” and “promoting democracy,” the Obama
administration offered the most tepid pro-forma criticism of the Bahrain
monarchy as it and the Saudi monarchy kill and imprison peaceful protestors in
Bahrain. No sanctions have even been hinted at for Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. The
Saudi monarchy is the ultimate negation of democracy, depriving women of all
rights, depriving workers of the right to form unions and depriving all sectors
of the population of any right to free speech, assembly or press. There has
never been an election in Saudi Arabia. But the Saudi monarchy functions as a
client of the U.S. government and, as such, is not targeted for economic
sanctions or “regime change” as are the governments of Syria and Libya. The
Bahrain monarchy likewise functions as a U.S. client and allows the U.S. Fifth
Fleet to use Bahrain as its home port, which is why he referred to the monarchy
as “a long-standing partner.”
Hypocrisy: President Obama denounced
the Iranian government, stating that “we will continue to insist that the
Iranian people deserve their universal rights,” and condemned what he called
Iran’s “illicit nuclear program.”
Reality: He failed to mention that
it was the CIA along with its British counterpart that staged the overthrow of
Iran’s democratic government in 1953 and reinstated the Shah’s monarchy. They
overthrew Iran’s democracy when Iran nationalized its own oil from AIOC/British
Petroleum. The U.S. only broke relations with the Iranian government when the
Shah’s dictatorship was overthrown by a populist national revolution. Regarding
nuclear weapons, the Israeli government has refused to sign the nuclear
non-proliferation treaty and has accumulated 200 “illicit” nuclear weapons. Of
course, the United States has thousands of nuclear weapons and remains the only
country to have used nuclear weapons, destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Hypocrisy: President Obama told the
world that the United States shares the goals of the Arab revolution, that
“repression will fail, that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is
endowed with certain inalienable rights.”
Reality: The U.S. government,
whether it is led by Democrats or Republicans, views the oil-rich Middle East
through the lens of empire. Operating through a network of proxy regimes
including Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, the Shah of
Iran until his overthrow in 1979, and other regimes in the region – and
supplemented by tens of thousands of U.S. troops positioned in U.S. bases
throughout the region and on aircraft carriers – the United States aims to
dominate and control a region that possesses two-thirds of the world’s known oil
supply. It has and continues to finance a network of brutal client
dictatorships, and it has funded the Israeli war machine and staged repeated
invasions, bombing campaigns, and occupations against the people of the region.
One big bust of a speech May 19, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: 1967 borders, aipac, arab spring, bahrain, israel, israel policy, isreael=palestine, jewish settlements, justin elliott, Middle East, obama speech, Palestine, roger hollander, Syria, two-state solution
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President Obama just finished what was sold as a major speech on the Middle East and the “Arab spring,” and here’s the takeaway: The president managed to use 5,400 words and spend a solid hour speaking without announcing any significant new policy initiatives.
This is the sort of soaring rhetoric that characterized the entire speech, which was being edited right up until he delivered it (starting a half hour late):
“That is the choice that must be made – not simply in this [Israel] conflict, but across the entire region – a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past, and the promise of the future. It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.”
In terms of policy, here’s the bottom line from the speech: The Obama administration will continue to get tougher on the Assad regime in Syria, while not doing much (if anything) in response to Bahrain’s violent crackdown on protesters. It wants to see an Israel-Palestine settlement, but U.S. policy remains the same as ever, and there will be no new push for negotiations. The administration supports a set of universal values. But U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, one of the most persistent human rights violators in the region, was not mentioned in a single time in those 5,400 words.
In short, Obama felt he needed to play the role of world leader by delivering a big response to the popular Arab protests, but he doesn’t want to actually do much.
In one section early in the speech, Obama waxed poetic about those crying for freedom in the region:
A new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.
In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.”
In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”
In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”
In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.”
What’s conspicuously missing from that list? Yup, Bahrain. The pass given on Bahrain’s continuing crackdown on protesters (the latest from the Gulf kingdom is the prosecution of newspaper editors) has been a consistent policy.
But later in the speech, Obama did swing back to Bahrain and address the situation head on:
Bahrain is a long-standing partner, and we are committed to its security. We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law. Nevertheless, we have insisted publically and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.
What about on Israel-Palestine, what Obama referred to as “another cornerstone of our approach to the region.” Here’s the key statement of policy:
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
And it will certainly be interesting to compare Obama’s rhetoric today to his remarks before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Sunday.
A Choice Between Peace and Peril February 23, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, ahmadinejad, aipac, Bush, chris hedges, Clinton, dennis ross, enriched uranium, europe, hamas, hezbollah, hillary, intelligence, Iran, iranian missiles, iranian nuclear scientists, Iraq, israel, jundullah, kurdistan, lebanon, Middle East, military, mossad, mujahedin, netanyahu, nuclear, nuclear reactor, Obama, pakistan, peace, politics, revolutionary guards, roger hollander, russia, security, shiite, shimon peres, sunni, Syria, Taliban, United Nations, uranium, war
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Posted on Feb 23, 2009, www.truthout.com
|AP photo / Hasan Sarbakhshian|
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.
A Call to End All Renditions February 11, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
Tags: Abu Omar, aclu, Afghanistan, Al Gore, Alberto Gonzales, binyam homamed, boeing, bush administration, cairo, canadian detainee, clinton administration, Cuba, eric holder, extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo, human rights, illegal surveillance, International law, janet mayer, jeppesen dataplan, leon panetta, luis posada, mahar arar, marjorie cohn, morocco, new yorker, nsc, obama administration, rendition, rendtion flights, richard clarke, roger hollander, secret cia camps, security council, state secrets, Syria, torture, torture flights, War Crimes
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Mohamed and four other plaintiffs are accusing Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. of flying them to other countries and secret CIA camps where they were tortured. In Mohamed’s case, two British justices accused the Bush administration of pressuring the British government to block the release of evidence that was “relevant to allegations of torture” of Mohamed.
Twenty-five lines edited out of the court documents included details about how Mohamed’s genitals were sliced with a scalpel as well as other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding “is very far down the list of things they did,” according to a British official quoted by the Telegraph (UK).
The plaintiffs’ complaint quotes a former Jeppesen employee as saying, “We do all of the extraordinary rendition flights – you know, the torture flights.” A senior company official also apparently admitted the company transported people to countries where they would be tortured.
Obama’s Justice Department appeared before a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday in the Jeppesen lawsuit. But instead of making a clean break with the dark policies of the Bush years, the Obama administration claimed the same “state secrets” privilege that Bush used to block inquiry into his policies of torture and illegal surveillance. Claiming that the extraordinary rendition program is a state secret is disingenuous since it is has been extensively documented in the media.
“This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course,” said the ACLU’s Ben Wizner, counsel for the five men.
If the judges accept Obama’s state secrets claim, these men will be denied their day in court and precluded from any recovery for the damages they suffered as a result of extraordinary rendition.
Two and a half weeks before Obama’s representative appeared in the Jeppesen case, the new President had signed Executive Order 13491. It established a special task force “to study and evaluate the practices of transferring individuals to other nations in order to ensure that such practices comply with the domestic laws, international obligations, and policies of the United States and do not result in the transfer of individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.”
This order prohibits extraordinary rendition. It also ensures humane treatment of persons in U.S. custody or control. But it doesn’t specifically guarantee that prisoners the United States renders to other countries will be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that doesn’t amount to torture. It does, however, aim to ensure that our government’s practices of transferring people to other countries complies with U.S. laws and policies, including our obligations under international law.
One of those laws is the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty the United States ratified in 1992. Article 7 of the ICCPR prohibits the States Parties from subjecting persons “to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” The UN Human Rights Committee, which is the body that monitors the ICCPR, has interpreted that prohibition to forbid States Parties from exposing “individuals to the danger of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment upon return to another country by way of their extradition, expulsion or refoulement.”
Order 13491 also mandates, “The CIA shall close as expeditiously as possible any detention facilities that it currently operates and shall not operate any such detention facility in the future.” The order does not define “expeditiously” and the definitional section of the order says that the terms ‘detention facilities’ and ‘detention facility’ “do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis.” Once again, “short term” and “transitory” are not defined.
In his confirmation hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder categorically stated that the United States should not turn over an individual to a country where we have reason to believe he will be tortured. Leon Panetta, nominee for CIA director, went further last week and interpreted Order 13491 as forbidding “that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purposes of torture or for actions by another country that violate our human values.”
But alarmingly, Panetta appeared to champion the same standard used by the Bush administration, which reportedly engaged in extraordinary rendition 100 to 150 times as of March 2005. After September 11, 2001, President Bush issued a classified directive that expanded the CIA’s authority to render terrorist suspects to other States. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the CIA and the State Department received assurances that prisoners will be treated humanely. “I will seek the same kinds of assurances that they will not be treated inhumanely,” Panetta told the senators.
Gonzales had admitted, however, “We can’t fully control what that country might do. We obviously expect a country to whom we have rendered a detainee to comply with their representations to us . . . If you’re asking me, ‘Does a country always comply?’ I don’t have an answer to that.”
The answer is no. Binyam Mohamed’s case is apparently the tip of the iceberg. Maher Arar, a Canadian born in Syria, was apprehended by U.S. authorities in New York on September 26, 2002, and transported to Syria, where he was brutally tortured for months. Arar used an Arabic expression to describe the pain he experienced: “you forget the milk that you have been fed from the breast of your mother.” The Canadian government later exonerated Arar of any terrorist ties. In another instance, thirteen CIA operatives were arrested in Italy for kidnapping an Egyptian, Abu Omar, in Milan and transporting him to Cairo where he was tortured.
Panetta made clear that the CIA will continue to engage in rendition to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects and transfer them to other countries. “If we capture a high-value prisoner,” he said, “I believe we have the right to hold that individual temporarily to be able to debrief that individual and make sure that individual is properly incarcerated.” No clarification of how long is “temporarily” or what “debrief” would mean.
When Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) asked about the Clinton administration’s use of the CIA to transfer prisoners to countries where they were later executed, Panetta replied, “I think that is an appropriate use of rendition.” Jane Mayer, columnist for the New Yorker, has documented numerous instances of extraordinary rendition during the Clinton administration, including cases in which suspects were executed in the country to which the United States had rendered them. Once when Richard Clarke, President Clinton’s chief counter-terrorism adviser on the National Security Council, “proposed a snatch,” Vice-President Al Gore said, “That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.”
There is a slippery slope between ordinary rendition and extraordinary rendition. “Rendition has to end,” Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, recently told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!: “Rendition is a violation of sovereignty. It’s a kidnapping. It’s force and violence.” Ratner queried whether Cuba could enter the United States and take Luis Posada, the man responsible for blowing up a commercial Cuban airline in 1976 and killing 73 people. Or whether the United States could go down to Cuba and kidnap Assata Shakur, who escaped a murder charge in New Jersey.
Moreover, “renditions for the most part weren’t very productive,” a former CIA official told the Los Angeles Times. After a prisoner was turned over to authorities in Egypt, Jordan or another country, the CIA had very little influence over how prisoners were treated and whether they were ultimately released.
The U.S. government should disclose the identities, fate, and current whereabouts of all persons detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody by the CIA since 2001. Those who ordered renditions should be prosecuted. And the special task force should recommend, and Obama should agree to, an end to all renditions.
With Gaza, Journalists Fail Again January 26, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Media, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan army bombing bush gaza government hamas hedges history iraq israel journalism lebanon media mideast military occupation olmert palestinians security syria taliban terror un violence war, army, bombing, Bush, chris hedges, ehud olmert, gaza, hamas, hamas rockets, Iraq, israel, israeli propaganda, journalism, lebanon, Media, Middle East, occupation, Palestinians, roger hollander, siege, Syria, violence, war, War Crimes
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Jan 26, 2009, www.truthdig.com
|AP photo / Sebastian Scheiner|
By Chris Hedges
The assault on Gaza exposed not only Israel’s callous disregard for international law but the gutlessness of the American press. There were no major newspapers, television networks or radio stations that challenged Israel’s fabricated version of events that led to the Gaza attack or the daily lies Israel used to justify the unjustifiable. Nearly all reporters were, as during the buildup to the Iraq war, pliant stenographers and echo chambers. If we as journalists have a product to sell, it is credibility. Take that credibility away and we become little more than propagandists and advertisers. By refusing to expose lies we destroy, in the end, ourselves.
All governments lie in wartime. Israel is no exception. Israel waged an effective war of black propaganda. It lied craftily with its glib, well-rehearsed government spokespeople, its ban on all foreign press in Gaza and its confiscation of cell phones and cameras from its own soldiers lest the reality of the attack inadvertently seep out. It was the Arabic network al-Jazeera, along with a handful of local reporters in Gaza, which upheld the honor of our trade, that of giving a voice to those who without our presence would have no voice, that of countering the amplified lies of the powerful with the faint cries and pain of the oppressed. But these examples of journalistic integrity were too few and barely heard by us.
We retreated, as usual, into the moral void of American journalism, the void of balance and objectivity. The ridiculous notion of being unbiased, outside of the flow of human existence, impervious to grief or pain or anger or injustice, allows reporters to coolly give truth and lies equal space and airtime. Balance and objectivity are the antidote to facing unpleasant truths, a way of avoidance, a way to placate the powerful. We record the fury of a Palestinian who has lost his child in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza but make sure to mention Israel’s “security needs,” include statements by Israeli officials who insist there was firing from the home or the mosque or the school and of course note Israel’s right to defend itself. We do this throughout the Middle East. We record the human toll in Iraq, caused by our occupation, but remind everyone that “Saddam killed his own people.” We write about the deaths of families in Afghanistan during an airstrike but never forget to mention that the Taliban “oppresses women.” Their crimes cancel out our crimes. It becomes a moral void. And above all we never forget to mention the “war on terror.” We ask how and who but never, never do we ask why. As long as we speak in the cold, dead language of those in power, the language that says a lie is as valid as a fact, the language where one version of history is as good as another, we are part of the problem, not the solution.
“Bombs and rockets are flying between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, and once again, The Times is caught in a familiar crossfire, accused from all sides of unfair and inaccurate coverage,” New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt breezily began in writing his assessment of the paper’s coverage, going on to conclude “though the most vociferous supporters of Israel and the Palestinians do not agree, I think The Times, largely barred from the battlefield and reporting amid the chaos of war, has tried its best to do a fair, balanced and complete job—and has largely succeeded.”
The cliché that Israel had a right to defend itself from Hamas rocket attacks—that bombs and rockets were “flying between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza”—was accepted in the press as an undisputed truth. It became the starting point for every hollow discussion of the Israeli attack. It left pundits and columnists chattering about “proportionality,” not legality. Israel was in open violation of international law, specifically Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which calls on an occupying power to respect the safety of occupied civilians. But you would not know this from the press reports. The use of attack aircraft and naval ships, part of the world’s fourth-largest military power, to level densely packed slums of people who were hungry, without power and often water, people surrounded on all sides by the Israeli army, was fatuously described as a war. The news coverage held up the absurd notion that a few Hamas fighters with light weapons and no organization were a counterforce to F-16 fighter jets, tank battalions, thousands of Israeli soldiers, armored personnel carriers, naval ships and Apache attack helicopters. It fit the Israeli narrative. It may have been balanced and objective. But it was not true.
The Hamas rockets are crude, often made from old pipes, and largely ineffectual. The first homemade Qassam rocket was fired across the Israeli border in October 2001. It was not until June 2004 that Israel suffered its first fatality. There are 24 Israelis who have been killed by Hamas rocket fire, compared with 5,000 Palestinian dead, more than half of them in Gaza, at least a third of them children. This does not absolve Hamas from firing rockets at civilian areas, which is a war crime, but it does raise questions about the story line swallowed without reflection by the press. I covered the Kosovo Albanians’ desperate attempts to resist the Serbs, which resulted in a handful of Serb casualties, but no one ever described the lopsided Serbian butchery in Kosovo as a war. It was called genocide, and it led to NATO intervention to halt it.
It was Israel, not Hamas, which violated the truce established last June. This was never made clear in any of the press reports. Hamas agreed to halt rocket fire into Gaza in exchange for an Israeli promise to ease the draconian siege that made the shipment of vital material and food into Gaza nearly impossible. And once the agreement was reached, the Hamas rocket fire ended. Israel, however, never upheld its end of the agreement. It increased the severity of the siege. U.N. agencies complained. International relief organizations condemned the Israeli blockade. And there were even rumblings inside Israel. Shmuel Zakai, an Israeli brigadier general who resigned as commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division and was forcibly discharged from the military amid allegations that he leaked information to the media, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Dec. 22 that the Israeli government had made a “central error” during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing “to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip. … [W]hen you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,” Zakai said, “it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire. … You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.”
Israel, we know from papers such as Haaretz, started planning this assault last March. The Israeli army deliberately broke the truce when it carried out an attack on Nov. 4 that killed six Hamas fighters. It timed the attack, the heavy air and naval bombardment and the invasion of Gaza to coincide with the waning weeks of the Bush administration. Israel knew it would be given carte blanche by the White House. Hamas responded to the Nov. 4 provocation in the way Israel anticipated. It fired Qassam rockets and Grad missiles into Israel to retaliate. But even then Hamas offered to extend the truce if Israel would lift the blockade. Israel refused. Operation Cast Lead was unleashed.
Henry Siegman, the director of the U.S./Middle East Project at the Council of Foreign Relations, noted correctly that Israel “could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn’t even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza’s population.”
There were a few flashes of integrity in the American press. The Wall Street Journal ran a thoughtful piece, “How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas,” on Jan. 24 that was unusual in view of the acceptance in U.S. press coverage that Hamas is nothing more than an Islamo-fascist organization that understands only violence. And some journalists from news organizations such as the BBC did a good job once they were finally permitted to enter Gaza. Jimmy Carter wrote an Op-Ed article in The Washington Post detailing his and the Carter Center’s efforts to prevent the conflict. This article was an important refutation of the Israeli argument, although it was ignored by the rest of the media. But these were isolated cases. The publishers, news executives and editors largely accepted without any real protest Israel’s ban on coverage and allowed Israeli officials to fill their news pages and airtime with fabrications and distortions. And this made the war crimes carried out by the Israeli army easier to commit and prolong.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is acutely aware of Israel’s violations of international law, has already begun to reassure his commanders that they will be protected from war crimes prosecution.
“The commanders and soldiers that were sent on the task in Gaza should know that they are safe from any tribunal and that the State of Israel will assist them in this issue and protect them as they protected us with their bodies during the military operation in Gaza,” he said.
Israel’s brutal military tactics, despite the lack of coverage in the American press, have come under intense international scrutiny. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, blame the high civilian death toll on indiscriminate firing and shelling, as well as the use of white phosphorus shells in civilian areas. Israel has admitted using white phosphorus in Gaza but insists the chemical, used for smoke screens and to mark spots to be shelled or bombed, was not used directly against civilians.
Hamas is an unsavory organization. It has made life miserable for many in Gaza and carried out a series of death-squad-style executions of alleged opponents. But Hamas, elected to power in 2006, also brought effective civil control to Gaza. Gaza, ruled by warring factions, warlords, clans, kidnapping rings and criminal gangs, had descended into chaos under Mahmoud Abbas’ corrupt Fatah-led government. Hamas, once it assumed power, halted suicide bombing attacks on Israel. It ended rocket fire into Israel for almost a year. It upheld its agreement with Israel. Hamas’ willingness to negotiate with Israel, albeit through Egyptian intermediaries, led al-Qaida, which has been working to make inroads among the Palestinians, to condemn the Hamas leadership as collaborators.
Israel and the United States carried out an abortive and desperate attempt to overthrow Hamas by arming and backing a Fatah putsch in June 2007. They wanted to install the pliant Abbas in power. Hamas resisted, often with violent brutality, and expelled Abbas and the Fatah leadership from Gaza to the West Bank. Israel has now decided to do the dirty job itself. It will not work. Israel broke and discredited Yasser Arafat and Fatah in much the same manner. Abbas and Fatah have no authority or credibility left. Abbas is seen by most Palestinians as a pliant Israeli stooge. Israel is now destroying Hamas. Radical Islamic groups, such as al-Qaida, far more violent and irrational, stand poised to replace Hamas. And Israel will one day look wistfully at Hamas just as it does now at Fatah. But by then, with Israel surrounded by radical Islamic regimes in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and even Jordan, as well as fighting a homegrown al-Qaida movement among the Palestinians, it may be too late.
The Israeli government bears the responsibility for its crimes. But by giving credibility to the lies and false narratives Israel uses to justify wholesale slaughter we empower not only Israel’s willful self-destruction but our own. The press, as happened during the buildup to the Iraq war, was again feckless and gutless. It bent to the will of the powerful. It abandoned its sacred contract with its readers, listeners and viewers to always tell the truth. It chattered about nothing. It obscured the facts. It did this while hundreds of women and children were torn to shreds by iron fragmentation bombs in a flagrant violation of international law. And as it failed it lauded itself for doing “a fair, balanced and complete job.”
Chris Hedges’ Truthdig column appears Mondays. He is a veteran journalist and the former New York Times Mideast bureau chief.
Who will save Israel from itself? January 12, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: al-jazeera, al-Qaeda, ceasefire, gaza, geneva convention, gideon levy, haaretz, hamas, hezbollah, human rights, humanitarian crisis, International law, Iran, israel, israel lobby, israeli military, israelis, Jimmy Carter, lebanon, mark levine, Middle East, non-military targets, Obama, Palestine, Palestinians, red cross, Richard Falk, rockets, roger hollander, rogue state, siege, Syria, tzipi livni, un, War Crimes, west bank
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An Unnecessary War January 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: abbas, carter center, damascus, egypt, gaza, hamas, idf, israel, israeli attacks, israelis, jerusalem, Jimmy Carter, Palestine, Palestinians, plo, ramallah, roger hollander, sderot, Syria, west bank
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A Palestinian confronts Israeli soldiers during a protest Thursday in the West Bank. Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Ramallah to demand an immediate halt to Israeli attacks. (Photo: Eric Gaillard / Reuters) by: Jimmy Carter, The Washington PostJanuray 8, 2009www.truthout.org I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided. After visiting Sderot last April and seeing the serious psychological damage caused by the rockets that had fallen in that area, my wife, Rosalynn, and I declared their launching from Gaza to be inexcusable and an act of terrorism. Although casualties were rare (three deaths in seven years), the town was traumatized by the unpredictable explosions. About 3,000 residents had moved to other communities, and the streets, playgrounds and shopping centers were almost empty. Mayor Eli Moyal assembled a group of citizens in his office to meet us and complained that the government of Israel was not stopping the rockets, either through diplomacy or military action.
Knowing that we would soon be seeing Hamas leaders from Gaza and also in Damascus, we promised to assess prospects for a cease-fire. From Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was negotiating between the Israelis and Hamas, we learned that there was a fundamental difference between the two sides. Hamas wanted a comprehensive cease-fire in both the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis refused to discuss anything other than Gaza.
We knew that the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza were being starved, as the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food had found that acute malnutrition in Gaza was on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian families eating only one meal a day.
Palestinian leaders from Gaza were noncommittal on all issues, claiming that rockets were the only way to respond to their imprisonment and to dramatize their humanitarian plight. The top Hamas leaders in Damascus, however, agreed to consider a cease-fire in Gaza only, provided Israel would not attack Gaza and would permit normal humanitarian supplies to be delivered to Palestinian citizens.
After extended discussions with those from Gaza, these Hamas leaders also agreed to accept any peace agreement that might be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the PLO, provided it was approved by a majority vote of Palestinians in a referendum or by an elected unity government.
Since we were only observers, and not negotiators, we relayed this information to the Egyptians, and they pursued the cease-fire proposal. After about a month, the Egyptians and Hamas informed us that all military action by both sides and all rocket firing would stop on June 19, for a period of six months, and that humanitarian supplies would be restored to the normal level that had existed before Israel’s withdrawal in 2005 (about 700 trucks daily).
We were unable to confirm this in Jerusalem because of Israel’s unwillingness to admit to any negotiations with Hamas, but rocket firing was soon stopped and there was an increase in supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel. Yet the increase was to an average of about 20 percent of normal levels. And this fragile truce was partially broken on Nov. 4, when Israel launched an attack in Gaza to destroy a defensive tunnel being dug by Hamas inside the wall that encloses Gaza.
On another visit to Syria in mid-December, I made an effort for the impending six-month deadline to be extended. It was clear that the preeminent issue was opening the crossings into Gaza. Representatives from the Carter Center visited Jerusalem, met with Israeli officials and asked if this was possible in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire. The Israeli government informally proposed that 15 percent of normal supplies might be possible if Hamas first stopped all rocket fire for 48 hours. This was unacceptable to Hamas, and hostilities erupted.
After 12 days of “combat,” the Israeli Defense Forces reported that more than 1,000 targets were shelled or bombed. During that time, Israel rejected international efforts to obtain a cease-fire, with full support from Washington. Seventeen mosques, the American International School, many private homes and much of the basic infrastructure of the small but heavily populated area have been destroyed. This includes the systems that provide water, electricity and sanitation. Heavy civilian casualties are being reported by courageous medical volunteers from many nations, as the fortunate ones operate on the wounded by light from diesel-powered generators.
The hope is that when further hostilities are no longer productive, Israel, Hamas and the United States will accept another cease-fire, at which time the rockets will again stop and an adequate level of humanitarian supplies will be permitted to the surviving Palestinians, with the publicized agreement monitored by the international community. The next possible step: a permanent and comprehensive peace.
The writer was president from 1977 to 1981. He founded the Carter Center, a nongovernmental organization advancing peace and health worldwide, in 1982.
“Remember Pearl Harbor!” December 7, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, Political Commentary.
Tags: 1941, Add new tag, Bush, Bush Doctrine, december 7, foreign policy, germany, infamy, Iraq, Iraq war, japan, japanese, john lamperti, military aggression, national security strategy, nuclear weapons, pakistan, pearl harbor, pre-emptive war, preeemption, preventive war, roger hollander, roosevelt, surprise attacl, Syria, war criminals, world war II
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Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. (Photo: National Archive and Records Administration)
Sunday 07 December 2008
by: John Lamperti, t r u t h o u t | Perspective, www.truthout.org
“Pre-emptive” war, then and now.
The name Pearl Harbor resonates in American history; it is synonymous with the U.S. entry into World War II. It stands for tragedy – and for treachery. On December 7, 1941, Japanese carrier-based aircraft attacked United States naval and air forces in the Hawaiian Islands, and scored a major victory. Over 2,300 U.S. military personnel lost their lives – almost half of them when the battleship Arizona was blown up and sunk by bombs and torpedoes. The U. S. Pacific fleet was devastated. The next day President Franklin Roosevelt called for a declaration of war, and described December 7, 1941, and the Japanese attack as “a date which will live in infamy.”
But why, exactly, was the Pearl Harbor attack “infamous”? The Japanese planes attacked strictly military targets and there were relatively few civilian casualties. The battle was a terrible blow for the American forces, which were taken completely by surprise. But a surprise attack is not infamous in wartime; every military commander would like to attack by surprise if possible. Nor did the bitter facts of U.S. defeat and heavy losses make the raid criminal. President Roosevelt used the word “infamy” because the raid was an act of military aggression. Until that moment Japan and the United States were not at war, although their conflicting interests had been threatening to boil over. The attack turned a dispute into a war; Pearl Harbor was a crime because the Japanese struck first.
Sixty years after Pearl Harbor, the administration of G. W. Bush has made “preemption” an official part of U.S. policy. According to this so-called “Bush Doctrine,” the United States claims the right to use military force whenever it determines that its security or economic interests may be threatened by another nation in the future. The Bush National Security Strategy of 2002 states that “The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.” In other words, if it is to our advantage, we will strike first – begin a war – when we see a potential threat.
That is exactly what the Japanese did in 1941, when the United States posed a huge threat to their leaders’ conception of Japan’s national interests. With bases reaching across the Pacific, the U.S. Navy, in particular, was potentially a major obstacle to Japanese expansion in China and Southeast Asia. Moreover, the United States had imposed an embargo on oil and steel shipments to Japan, a nation that depended on imports and had oil reserves sufficient for only about two years. By November 1941, negotiations to resolve or defuse these issues had stalled. Japanese military planners, by then in control of their country’s government, saw armed conflict with the United States as inevitable, and disabling U.S. naval power in the Pacific seemed essential for achieving their goals. They judged that a high-risk, high-gain surprise attack would give Japan its best chance for success. That is, they chose preemption.
After the war, the United States and its allies did not accept Japanese or German claims that their preemptive acts had been legitimate. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson was the chief allied prosecutor of major Axis war criminals. In August 1945 Jackson wrote: “We must make it clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it… Our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy.” During the next few years, officials and military officers of both Germany and Japan were tried and convicted for planning and carrying out aggression by their countries’ armed forces. There was no exception for “preemptive war,” although some of the accused tried to use that concept in their defense. The Bush administration’s doctrine thus represents a reversal of long-standing principles of international law, principles that the United States has championed in the past.
In the years since 2002, far from reconsidering its doctrine of preemption, the Bush administration has reaffirmed and extended it. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, for example, was supposed to preempt the use by that nation of “weapons of mass destruction,” weapons which did not exist and could not in any case have threatened U.S. security. Moreover, the administration’s policy now specifically includes the possible use of nuclear weapons. The new (2005) nuclear doctrine identifies four conditions in which preemptive use of nuclear weapons could occur, including “An adversary intending to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S., multinational, or allies’ forces or civilian populations.” The preamble states: “The US does not make positive statements defining the circumstances under which it would use nuclear weapons.” This “calculated ambiguity” is said to “reinforce deterrence”; it is a sort of “mad dog” strategy meant to induce fear of our dangerous unpredictability. Such threats are both dangerous and immoral. Instead, there should be absolute clarity that this country will never attack another with nuclear weapons; starting a nuclear war would be an act that would truly “live in infamy.” A declared U.S. “no first use” policy is long overdue, as part of a genuine campaign for world-wide abolition.
The Bush administration has also broadened the scope of non-nuclear preemption, calling its policy an “expansive new definition of self-defense.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other officials recently cited this doctrine to justify attacks such as the October 26 raid inside Syria and others inside Pakistan. The policy, they said, permits strikes on “militant targets” in a sovereign nation without its consent when that nation does not act on its own as the U.S. wishes.
If these standards are applied to the Japan of 1941, the Pearl Harbor attack can no longer be seen as criminal; certainly George W. Bush and his associates are in no position to condemn it. For the rest of us, December 7, 1941 will remain a “day of infamy” as the war crimes tribunals concluded and as virtually all Americans have believed ever since. And if Japan’s attack on that day was infamous, the policy of preemption must be condemned as well. Preemptive war was not legitimate for the Japanese in 1941, and it is not legitimate for the United States today.
Any policy that plans for “preemptive” or “preventive” war to promote national interests must be considered criminal, for the same reasons as was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It is an urgent challenge for incoming U.S. President Barack Obama to repudiate the Bush Doctrine and correct this dangerous situation. The United States must once again “renounce and condemn” any policy of preemptive war.
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 In addition to the Arizona, the battleship Oklahoma was lost, three others were sunk or beached but later salvaged, and three more were damaged. In all, 18 ships were sunk or seriously damaged, 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, and 158 other planes were damaged. The Japanese lost 29 planes in the raid. (From Walter Lord, Day of Infamy, first edition 1957.)
 68 civilians were killed and 35 others wounded. There were some 40 explosions in the city of Honolulu, but all except one were caused by U.S. antiaircraft fire. (Lord, page 212.)
 The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, White House document, September 17, 2002, page. 19. Available on the web.
 Department of State Bulletin, June 10, 1945.
 Nazi leaders claimed, for example, that the 1940 German invasion of neutral Denmark and Norway was preemption, needed to “protect” them from an imminent British attack and occupation.
 The introduction of this terminology may have been intended to blur the distinction between chemical and biological weapons, which Iraq could conceivably have possessed in 2003 (although it in fact did not), and true weapons of mass destruction, i.e. nuclear weapons, which it could not have possessed.
 JP 3-12: Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations. Cited by Hans M. Kristensen in Arms Control Today, September 2005.
 Thom Shanker, “Gates Gives Rationale for Expanded Deterrence,” New York Times, October 28, 2008.
John Lamperti is a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Dartmouth College. He is the author of several books on the theory of probability and on random processes. Since 1985 one of his main interests has been Central America and what the United States has been doing there. He is the author of “Enrique Alvarez Cordova: Life of a Salvadoran Revolutionary and Gentleman“(MacFarland, 2006).