Tuesday, April 22, 2008

IRAQ/N: 10 Commandments & 12 Reasons

Hillary Clinton, while being interviewed today on Good Morning America said that, were Iran to launch a nuclear attack against Israel, a US response would be severe under a Mrs. Clinton administration. She said, "I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran... we would be able to totally obliterate them."

Now, insane war-mongering aside, I wonder why this comment wasn't met with shock, then disgust, then befuddlement, then a little more disgust, and finally with frantic pointing and hysterical laughter. If Iran attacks Israel with nuclear weapons? Need we even identify which of the two countries actually has nuclear weapons (and lies about it) and which of these two countries hasn't threatened nor attacked any other country in hundreds of years (while the other exists in a constant state of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, land theft, colonization, occupation, false claims of democracy, collective punishment, infanticide, and the oppression, humiliation, and dehumanization of a native population)? I can't wait until Hillary starts threatening to "wipe Iran off the map"! Bizarre.

So, as we all wait with bated breath to see just how Hillary will squeak by in Pennsylvania and, as a result, refuse to drop out of the nomination race, I thought I'd post a couple excellent articles I've recently read about the "war" in Iraq. I hope we can all reflect on where war really gets us (if recognizing that over 1 million Iraqis have been killed and about 4 million more displace from their homes isn't enough to turn you off war, check out what happens to US troops who make it home alive) and why "tough talk" by any presidential candidate should never be a winning trait.


Iraq: The Ten Commandments

In honor of Charlton Heston, here are 10 lessons we should engrave on our foreign policy tablets as we prepare to leave Iraq.

By Gary Kamiya | Salon.com | 15 April 2008

Apr. 15, 2008 | The Iraq war is over. The failure of Bush's surge to produce political reconciliation in Iraq, combined with the unsustainable stress on our military and Congress' unwillingness to keep writing checks for $12 billion a month, all point in one direction: withdrawal. Even if John McCain is somehow elected president -- and for that to happen, there would have to be a near-miraculous breakthrough on the ground -- he too will have to face the reality that this is not the kind of war you win. You just have to decide when you're going to cut your losses.

This is a surreal situation. The war drones along on autopilot, but it's already finished. It's a dead war walking. We're just waiting for George W. Bush to leave. In Vietnam, the slogan was "How do you ask someone to be the last man to die for a mistake?" In Iraq, it's "How do you ask someone to be the last man to die so that the worst president in U.S. history can keep his doomed war going until he leaves office, so he can blame his successor for losing it?"

Bush will face the judgment of history, and it will not be forgiving. But that is not our immediate concern. The most important thing now is to recognize the mistakes that led us into the most disastrous war since Vietnam -- a war that will thankfully cost America many fewer lives than Vietnam, but that has had far worse strategic consequences. If we don't want to repeat those mistakes, there are 10 lessons we must take away from Bush's war. In honor of the recently departed Charlton Heston, let's call them the Ten Iraq Commandments.

Commandment I
Thou shalt not launch preventive wars.

It is immoral and illegal to attack a state that has not attacked you. Dick Cheney's "One Percent Doctrine," which held that America was justified in attacking a foe even if there was only a 1 percent chance it would attack us, violates "just war" doctrine, international law and American tradition. If a deity descended from the heavens and informed the president that a state was about to launch nuclear missiles at the United States, then a preemptive (as opposed to preventive) war would be justified. But no such deity exists (although the devoutly deluded Bush may have thought one did). Corrupted by the Bush administration, U.S. intelligence notoriously failed in Iraq, but intelligence is never going to be reliable enough to justify attacking a state that has not attacked us. In any event, the Bush administration could not even claim that its war on Iraq was preemptive, since it posed no imminent threat. It was a preventive war. And as Iraq has shown, one ounce of preventive war is worse than a ton of cure.

Commandment II
Do not exaggerate the threat posed by terrorism.

Terrorism is a deplorable tactic used by the less powerful to achieve certain goals. It has existed as long as human history, and it will always exist. It can inflict harm, but it does not pose an existential threat to the United States. Declaring war on it is idiotic and self-defeating. Military responses to terrorism kill civilians and breed more terrorists.

As we've seen, Bush's excessive response to al-Qaida's successful terrorist strike only increased the danger of terrorism. A military response to terrorism may be justified, as in Afghanistan, but this is a rare case. And even the invasion of Afghanistan is looking problematic. Police and intelligence work are far more effective. Our moralistic response to terrorism is useless. In a little-recognized irony, the Bush administration was forced by necessity to recognize this in Iraq, magically turning yesterday's Sunni "terrorists" into today's "concerned local citizens." This pragmatic approach should guide our larger strategy for dealing with terrorism.

Commandment III
Dry up the terrorist swamp.

The only effective way to reduce the threat of terrorism is to work to end the conditions that give rise to it. In the case of Islamist terrorism, this means a comprehensive and enlightened political, economic and diplomatic strategy for dealing with the Arab/Muslim world. Only a tiny minority of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims support radical jihadis, but catastrophic errors like invading Iraq make violent fundamentalism more attractive. Follow the physician's credo: First, do no harm.

Commandment IV
Recognize that not all terrorists are the same.

The foolish concept of "Islamofascism" conflates all Arab/Muslim terrorism. This is self-defeating. Al-Qaida, an absolutist movement with a totalitarian religious ideology, is not the same as Hamas or Hezbollah, which are, respectively, a religious national liberation movement and a complex political party/militia/public-works provider. By treating them all as if they were the same enemy, we create unnecessary enemies and make the task of defeating the absolutists, who actually do threaten us, much harder.

Commandment V
Reject the idea of "a clash of civilizations."

Muslim societies are in many different transitional stages, and they need to be given the space to work out their sometimes painful entry into modernity. Attempting to violently implant democracy or Western values in traditional Middle Eastern societies is like having a plumber do a heart transplant. If Islamist movements take power through democratic means, don't interfere. We prop up autocratic regimes like Egypt's Mubarak because we're afraid that if we don't, the Muslim Brothers will take power. This is a mistake. Exposure to the modern world will do more to moderate Islamist movements than anything we can do, and we will not earn the hatred of Middle Easterners chafing under despotic regimes.

Commandment VI
Do not allow neoconservatives anywhere near Middle East policy.

Neoconservative ideology, the pea-size brain that drove the Bush administration Stegosaurus, is a weird amalgam of Wilsonian idealism, historical ignorance, American triumphalism and an Israeli-centric worldview. In practice, what these ideas amounted to was "America must hit the Arabs in the face to teach them a lesson." This was not a good idea.

Special Bill Kristol Sub-commandment VI a
Stop giving these buffoons prestigious jobs on newspaper-of-record Op-Ed pages, top magazines and television shows. They have been completely and consistently wrong about everything. Must we continue to be subjected to their pontifications?

Commandment VII
Talk to Iran.

Iran is inescapable -- it's at the center of everything in the Middle East. And thanks to our invasion of Iraq, its bitterest enemy, Iran is now in a much stronger strategic position. Bush is again making threatening noises, but attacking Iran would be insane. Pursuing a diplomatic détente is essential.

As Middle East expert Gregory Gause argued in his recent testimony before the U.S. Senate, the Iranians, who hold most of the cards, will correctly regard a U.S. diplomatic approach as driven by weakness. But Gause makes the key point that engaging with Iran will create a potential showdown between Iran's hard-liners and its moderates. It's in the United States' interest to force Iran to make a choice. Does it want to continue to be a marginalized radical rejectionist state defined by its minority Shiite identity, aligned with two or three small anti-Israeli resistance movements, and buoyed only by the mostly empty goodwill of the Arab/Muslim street? Or does it want to become a major Gulf player, with business and cultural ties throughout the region and the world?

It's true that some hard-line mullahs might choose the first option. But that would only hasten the day when those theocrats quickly assume their rightful place in the ashcan of history. Bush's hard-line approach to President Ahmedinejad and the mullahs has been the only thing holding them up. It's time for a different approach.

Commandment VIII
Make resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis our top foreign-policy priority.

This is such a no-brainer that even Bush has paid lip service to it. But it requires more than lip service and impotent American gestures. The next president needs to go in, bust heads on both sides and broker the deal everyone knows is needed: A land-for-peace deal along the lines of the 2002 Saudi Peace Plan or the Geneva Initiative. And yes, this means talking to Hamas. Only the United States has the credibility and the muscle to cut this Gordian knot. Until it does, Israel's long-term viability will be threatened and the greatest source of anti-Americanism in the Middle East will continue to fester. The road to everything in the Middle East runs through Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Commandment IX
Get the media to grow a spine.

The American media's performance in the run-up to the Iraq war was one of the lowest points in its history. Swept up in war fever, the gutless press acted as a quasi-official cheerleader and failed to subject administration claims to elementary due diligence. After 9/11, it was to be expected that large parts of the electorate, and the hapless Congress, would succumb to emotions and the visceral desire for revenge. But the media, which should have acted as the brains of the outfit, abandoned its post and joined in the orgy of uncritical flag-waving. In a contemporary democracy, such a failure has catastrophic consequences. It cannot happen again.

Commandment X
Grow up and join the world.

More than anything else, it was arrogance that led us into this mess. The U.S. National Security Strategy, released on Sept. 17, 2002, summed up the Bush administration's hegemonic worldview, insisting that the United States must maintain military supremacy and had the right to attack anyone we wanted. This is the exceptionalist attitude that led Cheney to cavalierly say, "It's not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence. It's about our response." This chest-beating, über-patriotic approach, befitting an angry teenager more than a mature adult, has utterly failed. A little more humility and diplomacy, and a lot less stupid self-righteousness, would go a long way to restoring America's sadly tarnished standing in the world community.


Unraveling Iraq

12 Answers to Questions No One Is Bothering to Ask about Iraq

By Tom Engelhardt | TomDispatch.com | 20 April 2008

Can there be any question that, since the invasion of 2003, Iraq has been unraveling? And here's the curious thing: Despite a lack of decent information and analysis on crucial aspects of the Iraqi catastrophe, despite the way much of the Iraq story fell off newspaper front pages and out of the TV news in the last year, despite so many reports on the "success" of the President's surge strategy, Americans sense this perfectly well. In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 56% of Americans "say the United States should withdraw its military forces to avoid further casualties" and this has, as the Post notes, been a majority position since January 2007, the month that the surge was first announced. Imagine what might happen if the American public knew more about the actual state of affairs in Iraq -- and of thinking in Washington. So, here, in an attempt to unravel the situation in ever-unraveling Iraq are twelve answers to questions which should be asked far more often in this country:

1. Yes, the war has morphed into the U.S. military's worst Iraq nightmare:

Few now remember, but before George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, top administration and Pentagon officials had a single overriding nightmare -- not chemical, but urban, warfare. Saddam Hussein, they feared, would lure American forces into "Fortress Baghdad," as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld labeled it. There, they would find themselves fighting block by block, especially in the warren of streets that make up the Iraqi capital's poorest districts.

When American forces actually entered Baghdad in early April 2003, however, even Saddam's vaunted Republican Guard units had put away their weapons and gone home. It took five years but, as of now, American troops are indeed fighting in the warren of streets in Sadr City, the Shiite slum of two and a half million in eastern Baghdad largely controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military, in fact, recently experienced its worst week of 2008 in terms of casualties, mainly in and around Baghdad. So, mission accomplished -- the worst fear of 2003 has now been realized.

2. No, there was never an exit strategy from Iraq because the Bush administration never intended to leave -- and still doesn't:

Critics of the war have regularly gone after the Bush administration for its lack of planning, including its lack of an "exit strategy." In this, they miss the point. The Bush administration arrived in Iraq with four mega-bases on the drawing boards. These were meant to undergird a future American garrisoning of that country and were to house at least 30,000 American troops, as well as U.S. air power, for the indefinite future. The term used for such places wasn't "permanent base," but the more charming and euphemistic "enduring camp." (In fact, as we learned recently, the Bush administration refuses to define any American base on foreign soil anywhere on the planet, including ones in Japan for over 60 years, as permanent.) Those four monster bases in Iraq (and many others) were soon being built at the cost of multibillions and are, even today, being significantly upgraded. In October 2007, for instance, National Public Radio's defense correspondent Guy Raz visited Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad, which houses about 40,000 American troops, contractors, and Defense Department civilian employees, and described it as "one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures going up across this 16-square-mile fortress in the center of Iraq, all with an eye toward the next few decades."

These mega-bases, like "Camp Cupcake" (al-Asad Air Base), nicknamed for its amenities, are small town-sized with massive facilities, including PXs, fast-food outlets, and the latest in communications. They have largely been ignored by the American media and so have played no part in the debate about Iraq in this country, but they are the most striking on-the-ground evidence of the plans of an administration that simply never expected to leave. To this day, despite the endless talk about drawdowns and withdrawals, that hasn't changed. In fact, the latest news about secret negotiations for a future Status of Forces Agreement on the American presence in that country indicates that U.S. officials are calling for "an open-ended military presence" and "no limits on numbers of U.S. forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term U.S. security agreements with other countries."

3. Yes, the United States is still occupying Iraq (just not particularly effectively):

In June 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), then ruling the country, officially turned over "sovereignty" to an Iraqi government largely housed in the American-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad and the occupation officially ended. However, the day before the head of the CPA, L. Paul Bremer III, slipped out of the country without fanfare, he signed, among other degrees, Order 17, which became (and, remarkably enough, remains) the law of the land. It is still a document worth reading as it essentially granted to all occupying forces and allied private companies what, in the era of colonialism, used to be called "extraterritoriality" -- the freedom not to be in any way subject to Iraqi law or jurisdiction, ever. And so the occupation ended without ever actually ending. With 160,000 troops still in Iraq, not to speak of an unknown number of hired guns and private security contractors, the U.S. continues to occupy the country, whatever the legalities might be (including a UN mandate and the claim that we are part of a "coalition"). The only catch is this: As of now, the U.S. is simply the most technologically sophisticated and potentially destructive of Iraq's proliferating militias -- and outside the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, it is capable of controlling only the ground that its troops actually occupy at any moment.

4. Yes, the war was about oil:

Oil was hardly mentioned in the mainstream media or by the administration before the invasion was launched. The President, when he spoke of Iraq's vast petroleum reserves at all, piously referred to them as the sacred "patrimony of the people of Iraq." But an administration of former energy execs -- with a National Security Advisor who once sat on the board of Chevron and had a double-hulled oil tanker, the Condoleezza Rice, named after her (until she took office), and a Vice President who was especially aware of the globe's potentially limited energy supplies -- certainly had oil reserves and energy flows on the brain. They knew, in Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz's apt phrase, that Iraq was afloat on "a sea of oil" and that it sat strategically in the midst of the oil heartlands of the planet.

It wasn't a mistake that, in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney's semi-secret Energy Task Force set itself the "task" of opening up the energy sectors of various Middle Eastern countries to "foreign investment"; or that it scrutinized "a detailed map of Iraq's oil fields, together with the (non-American) oil companies scheduled to develop them"; or that, according to the New Yorker's Jane Mayer, the National Security Council directed its staff "to cooperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered the 'melding' of two seemingly unrelated areas of policy: 'the review of operational policies towards rogue states,' such as Iraq, and 'actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields'"; or that the only American troops ordered to guard buildings in Iraq, after Baghdad fell, were sent to the Oil Ministry (and the Interior Ministry, which housed Saddam Hussein's dreaded secret police); or that the first "reconstruction" contract was issued to Cheney's former firm, Halliburton, for "emergency repairs" to those patrimonial oil fields. Once in charge in Baghdad, as sociologist Michael Schwartz has made clear, the administration immediately began guiding recalcitrant Iraqis toward denationalizing and opening up their oil industry, as well as bringing in the big boys.

Though rampant insecurity has kept the Western oil giants on the sidelines, the American-shaped "Iraqi" oil law quickly became a "benchmark" of "progress" in Washington and remains a constant source of prodding and advice from American officials in Baghdad. Former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan put the oil matter simply and straightforwardly in his memoir in 2007: "I am saddened," he wrote, "that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." In other words, in a variation on the old Bill Clinton campaign mantra: It's the oil, stupid. Greenspan was, unsurprisingly, roundly assaulted for the obvious naiveté of his statement, from which, when it proved inconvenient, he quickly retreated. But if this administration hadn't had oil on the brain in 2002-2003, given the importance of Iraq's reserves, Congress should have impeached the President and Vice President for that.

5. No, our new embassy in Baghdad is not an "embassy":

When, for more than three-quarters of a billion dollars, you construct a complex -- regularly described as "Vatican-sized" -- of at least 20 "blast-resistant" buildings on 104 acres of prime Baghdadi real estate, with "fortified working space" and a staff of at least 1,000 (plus several thousand guards, cooks, and general factotums), when you deeply embunker it, equip it with its own electricity and water systems, its own anti-missile defense system, its own PX, and its own indoor and outdoor basketball courts, volleyball court, and indoor Olympic-size swimming pool, among other things, you haven't built an "embassy" at all. What you've constructed in the heart of the heart of another country is more than a citadel, even if it falls short of a city-state. It is, at a minimum, a monument to Bush administration dreams of domination in Iraq and in what its adherents once liked to call "the Greater Middle East."

Just about ready to open, after the normal construction mishaps in Iraq, it will constitute the living definition of diplomatic overkill. It will, according to a Senate estimate, now cost Americans $1.2 billion a year just to be "represented" in Iraq. The "embassy" is, in fact, the largest headquarters on the planet for the running of an occupation. Functionally, it is also another well-fortified enduring camp with the amenities of home. Tell that to the Shiite militiamen now mortaring the Green Zone as if it were… enemy-occupied territory.

6. No, the Iraqi government is not a government:

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has next to no presence in Iraq beyond the Green Zone; it delivers next to no services; it has next to no ability to spend its own oil money, reconstruct the country, or do much of anything else, and it most certainly does not hold a monopoly on the instruments of violence. It has no control over the provinces of northern Iraq which operate as a near-independent Kurdish state. Non-Kurdish Iraqi troops are not even allowed on its territory. Maliki's government cannot control the largely Sunni provinces of the country, where its officials are regularly termed "the Iranians" (a reference to the heavily Shiite government's closeness to neighboring Iran) and are considered the equivalent of representatives of a foreign occupying power; and it does not control the Shiite south, where power is fragmented among the militias of ISCI (the Badr Organization), Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, and the armed adherents of the Fadila Party, a Sadrist offshoot, among others.

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has been derisively nicknamed "the mayor of Kabul" for his government's lack of control over much territory outside the national capital. It would be a step forward for Maliki if he were nicknamed "the mayor of Baghdad." Right now, his troops, heavily backed by American forces, are fighting for some modest control over Shiite cities (or parts of cities) from Basra to Baghdad.

7. No, the surge is not over:

Two weeks ago, amid much hoopla, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker spent two days before Congress discussing the President's surge strategy in Iraq and whether it has been a "success." But that surge -- the ground one in which an extra 30,000-plus American troops were siphoned into Baghdad and, to a lesser extent, adjoining provinces -- was by then already so over. In fact, all but about 10,000 of those troops will be home by the end of July, not because the President has had any urge for a drawdown, but, as Fred Kaplan of Slate wrote recently, "because of simple math. The five extra combat brigades, which were deployed to Iraq with the surge, each have 15-month tours of duty; the 15 months will be up in July… and the U.S. Army and Marines have no combat brigades ready to replace them."

On the other hand, in all those days of yak, neither the general with so much more "martial bling" on his chest than any victorious World War II commander, nor the white-haired ambassador uttered a word about the surge that is ongoing -- the air surge that began in mid-2007 and has yet to end. Explain it as you will, but, with rare exceptions, American reporters in Iraq generally don't look up or more of them would have noticed that the extra air units surged into that country and the region in the last year are now being brought to bear over Iraq's cities. Today, as fighting goes on in Sadr City, American helicopters and Hellfire-missile armed Predator drones reportedly circle overhead almost constantly and air strikes of various kinds on city neighborhoods are on the rise. Yet the air surge in Iraq remains unacknowledged here and so is not a subject for discussion, debate, or consideration when it comes to our future in Iraq.

8. No, the Iraqi army will never "stand up":

It can't. It's not a national army. It's not that Iraqis can't fight -- or fight bravely. Ask the Sunni insurgents. Ask the Mahdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr. It's not that Iraqis are incapable of functioning in a national army. In the bitter Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, Iraqi Shiite as well as Sunni conscripts, led by a largely Sunni officer corps, fought Iranian troops fiercely in battle after pitched battle. But from Fallujah in 2004 to today, Iraqi army (and police) units, wheeled into battle (often at the behest of the Americans), have regularly broken and run, or abandoned their posts, or gone over to the other side, or, at the very least, fought poorly. In the recent offensive launched by the Maliki government in Basra, military and police units up against a single resistant militia, the Mahdi Army, deserted in sizeable numbers, while other units, when not backed by the Americans, gave poor showings. At least 1,300 troops and police (including 37 senior police officers) were recently "fired" by Maliki for dereliction of duty, while two top commanders were removed as well.

Though American training began in 2004 and, by 2005, the President was regularly talking about us "standing down" as soon as the Iraqi Army "stood up," as Charles Hanley of the Associated Press points out, "Year by year, the goal of deploying a capable, free-standing Iraqi army has seemed to always slip further into the future." He adds, "In the latest shift, the Pentagon's new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when local units will take over security responsibility for Iraq. Last year's reports had forecast a transition in 2008." According to Hanley, the chief American trainer of Iraqi forces, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, now estimates that the military will not be able to guard the country's borders effectively until 2018.

No wonder. The "Iraqi military" is not in any real sense a national military at all. Its troops generally lack heavy weaponry, and it has neither a real air force nor a real navy. Its command structures are integrated into the command structure of the U.S. military, while the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy are the real Iraqi air force and navy. It is reliant on the U.S. military for much of its logistics and resupply, even after an investment of $22 billion by the American taxpayer. It represents a non-government, is riddled with recruits from Shiite militias (especially the Badr brigades), and is riven about who its enemy is (or enemies are) and why. It cannot be a "national" army because it has, in essence, nothing to stand up for.

You can count on one thing, as long as we are "training" and "advising" the Iraqi military, however many years down the line, you will read comments like this one from an American platoon sergeant, after an Iraqi front-line unit abandoned its positions in the ongoing battle for control of parts of Sadr City: "It bugs the hell out of me. We don't see any progress being made at all. We hear these guys in firefights. We know if we are not up there helping these guys out we are making very little progress."

9. No, the U.S. military does not stand between Iraq and fragmentation:

The U.S. invasion and the Bush administration's initial occupation policies decisively smashed Iraq's fragile "national" sense of self. Since then, the Bush administration, a motor for chaos and fragmentation, has destroyed the national (if dictatorial) government, allowed the capital and much of the country (as well as its true patrimony of ancient historical objects and sites) to be looted, disbanded the Iraqi military, and deconstructed the national economy. Ever since, whatever the administration rhetoric, the U.S. has only presided over the further fragmentation of the country. Its military, in fact, employs a specific policy of urban fragmentation in which it regularly builds enormous concrete walls around neighborhoods, supposedly for "security" and "reconstruction," that actually cut them off from their social and economic surroundings. And, of course, Iraq has in these years been fragmented in other staggering ways with an estimated four-plus million Iraqis driven into exile abroad or turned into internal refugees.

According to Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times, there are now at least 28 different militias in the country. The longer the U.S. remains even somewhat in control, the greater the possibility of further fragmentation. Initially, the fragmentation was sectarian -- into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia regions, but each of those regions has its own potentially hostile parts and so its points of future conflict and further fragmentation. If the U.S. military spent the early years of its occupation fighting a Sunni insurgency in the name of a largely Shiite (and Kurdish) government, it is now fighting a Shiite militia, while paying and arming former Sunni insurgents, relabeled "Sons of Iraq." Iran is also clearly sending arms into a country that is, in any case, awash in weaponry. Without a real national government, Iraq has descended into a welter of militia-controlled neighborhoods, city states, and provincial or regional semi-governments. Despite all the talk of American-supported "reconciliation," Juan Cole described the present situation well at his Informed Comment blog: "Maybe the US in Iraq is not the little boy with his finger in the dike. Maybe we are workers with jackhammers instructed to make the hole in the dike much more huge."

10. No, the U.S. military does not stand between Iraq and civil war:

As with fragmentation, the U.S. military's presence has, in fact, been a motor for civil war in that country. The invasion and subsequent chaos, as well as punitive acts against the Sunni minority, allowed Sunni extremists, some of whom took the name "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia," to establish themselves as a force in the country for the first time. Later, U.S. military operations in both Sunni and Shiite areas regularly repressed local militias -- almost the only forces capable of bringing some semblance of security to urban neighborhoods -- opening the way for the most extreme members of the other community (Sunni suicide or car bombers and Shiite death squads) to attack. It's worth remembering that it was in the surge months of 2007, when all those extra American troops hit Baghdad neighborhoods, that many of the city's mixed or Sunni neighborhoods were most definitively "cleansed" by death squads, producing a 75-80% Shiite capital. Iraq is now embroiled in what Juan Cole has termed "three civil wars," two of which (in the south and the north) are largely beyond the reach of limited American ground forces and all of which could become far worse. The still low-level struggle between Kurds and Arabs (with the Turks hovering nearby) for the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the north may be the true explosion point to come. The U.S. military sits precariously atop this mess, at best putting off to the future aspects of the present civil-war landscape, but more likely intensifying it.

11. No, al-Qaeda will not control Iraq if we leave (and neither will Iran):

The latest figures tell the story. Of 658 suicide bombings globally in 2007 (more than double those of any year in the last quarter century), 542, according to the Washington Post's Robin Wright, took place in occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, mainly Iraq. In other words, the American occupation of that land has been a motor for acts of terrorism (as occupations will be). There was no al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia before the invasion and Iraq was no Afghanistan. The occupation under whatever name will continue to create "terrorists," no matter how many times the administration claims that "al-Qaeda" is on the run. With the departure of U.S. troops, it's clear that homegrown Sunni extremists (and the small number of foreign jihadis who work with them), already a minority of a minority, will more than meet their match in facing the Sunni mainstream. The Sunni Awakening Movement came into existence, in part, to deal with such self-destructive extremism (and its fantasies of a Taliban-style society) before the Americans even noticed that it was happening. When the Americans leave, "al-Qaeda" (and whatever other groups the Bush administration subsumes under that catch-all title) will undoubtedly lose much of their raison d'être or simply be crushed.

As for Iran, the moment the Bush administration finally agreed to a popular democratic vote in occupied Iraq, it ensured one thing -- that the Shiite majority would take control, which in practice meant religio-political parties that, throughout the Saddam Hussein years, had generally been close to, or in exile in, Iran. Everything the Bush administration has done since has only ensured the growth of Iranian influence among Shiite groups. This is surely meant by the Iranians as, in part, a threat/trump card, should the Bush administration launch an attack on that country. After all, crucial U.S. resupply lines from Kuwait run through areas near Iran and would assumedly be relatively easy to disrupt.

Without the U.S. military in Iraq, there can be no question that the Iranians would have real influence over the Shiite (and probably Kurdish) parts of the country. But that influence would have its distinct limits. If Iran overplayed its hand even in a rump Shiite Iraq, it would soon enough find itself facing some version of the situation that now confronts the Americans. As Robert Dreyfuss wrote in the Nation recently, "[D]espite Iran's enormous influence in Iraq, most Iraqis -- even most Iraqi Shiites -- are not pro-Iran. On the contrary, underneath the ruling alliance in Baghdad, there is a fierce undercurrent of Arab nationalism in Iraq that opposes both the U.S. occupation and Iran's support for religious parties in Iraq." The al-Qaedan and Iranian "threats" are, at one and the same time, bogeymen used by the Bush administration to scare Americans who might favor withdrawal and, paradoxically, realities that a continued military presence only encourages.

12. Yes, some Americans were right about Iraq from the beginning (and not the pundits either):

One of the strangest aspects of the recent fifth anniversary (as of every other anniversary) of the invasion of Iraq was the newspaper print space reserved for those Bush administration officials and other war supporters who were dead wrong in 2002-2003 on an endless host of Iraq-related topics. Many of them were given ample opportunity to offer their views on past failures, the "success" of the surge, future withdrawals or drawdowns, and the responsibilities of a future U.S. president in Iraq.

Noticeably missing were representatives of the group of Americans who happened to have been right from the get-go. In our country, of course, it often doesn't pay to be right. (It's seen as a sign of weakness or plain dumb luck.) I'm speaking, in this case, of the millions of people who poured into the streets to demonstrate against the coming invasion with an efflorescence of placards that said things too simpleminded (as endless pundits assured American news readers at the time) to take seriously -- like "No Blood for Oil," "Don't Trade Lives for Oil," or ""How did USA's oil get under Iraq's sand?" At the time, it seemed clear to most reporters, commentators, and op-ed writers that these sign-carriers represented a crew of well-meaning know-nothings and the fact that their collective fears proved all too prescient still can't save them from that conclusion. So, in their very rightness, they were largely forgotten.

Now, as has been true for some time, a majority of Americans, another obvious bunch of know-nothings, are deluded enough to favor bringing all U.S. troops out of Iraq at a reasonable pace and relatively soon. (More than 60% of them also believe "that the conflict is not integral to the success of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.") If, on the other hand, a poll were taken of pundits and the inside-the-Beltway intelligentsia (not to speak of the officials of the Bush administration), the number of them who would want a total withdrawal from Iraq (or even see that as a reasonable goal) would undoubtedly descend near the vanishing point. When it comes to American imperial interests, most of them know better, just as so many of them did before the war began. Even advisors to candidates who theoretically want out of Iraq are hinting that a full-scale withdrawal is hardly the proper way to go.

So let me ask you a question (and you answer it): Given all of the above, given the record thus far, who is likely to be right?

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project. His book, The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), has been updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture's crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Obama: Hip or Hypocrite?
Tibet, No-gotiations, Condemning Carter, and Barack's Belated Bris

Why can't Obama just stop saying offensive and hypocritical things all the damn time? Why can't he just stick to the easy stuff and make himself look better and less embarrassing? Every time I hear some sound bite from the Illinois Senator that I agree with, it's inevitably followed up a day later by something totally absurd and hypocritical. Oh wait, do you think I'm referring to his recent, and now infamous, "bitter" comment? I'm not. I agree with him. Unhappy and disaffected blue-collar Americans are embittered and do, in fact, cling to their guns, religion, xenophobia, and racism in order to cope with their economic and financial hardships. In an election cycle, when the average "common folk" in this country feel so abandoned by their government when they see no effort to actually confront the weakening economy and no acknowledgment of the financial hardships of regular people, they turn their attention by default and desperation to so-called "values" issues in an attempt to have their voices represented in some way. What's news about this?

This past week has been rife with Obama coverage. "He says Americans aren't happy, how dare he?!" some cry, once again making something out of nothing and displaying that trademark American lack of self-awareness that we've all come to cherish and coddle. Well actually, Americans aren't happy, for a multitude of reasons, and currently 81% of us think this country is headed in the wrong direction. So, Obama was dead on when he said people in rural communities are bitter and the "people," who aren't either staunch Republicans, avid Hillary supporters, Nightly News entertainers, or mentally retarded (these four categories are not mutually exclusive), pretty much agree with him.

Does this mean I now like Obama and will vote for him? No, of course not. But I agree with him when he says obvious things. Who wouldn't? For instance, I agree with Hillary Clinton that a mandatory health care system is better funded and administered than Obama's non-mandated system which would ensure that medical costs would stay high. I also agree with John McCain that Matlock can probably out-sleuth Lansbury any day of the week (before 4:30pm suppertime, that is) and that automatic doors and that awful hissing sound of air brakes on large buses are startling and a little bit scary. Does this mean I will cast a vote for these clowns? Obviously not. Obama is no different (though he doesn't get cold and ornery in air conditioned movie theatres like some presidential old-mandidates). I'm allowed to agree with him on some issues and still not like him.

Take Barack's recent comments to Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News, for example. Obama was asked whether, during an Obama administration in Washington, his Justice Department "would aggressively go after and investigate whether crimes have been committed," by the Bush administration's rampant and documented use of "torture, rendition, and illegal wiretapping." Here is Obama's response, in full,

What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that's already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can't prejudge that because we don't have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You're also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve.

So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment -- I would want to find out directly from my Attorney General -- having pursued, having looked at what's out there right now -- are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it's important-- one of the things we've got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing between really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I've said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law -- and I think that's roughly how I would look at it.
Again, stating the obvious. Do I agree with his apparent commitment to investigate the criminal activity of the past seven or eight years? Yes, of course. But do I think this makes Obama a great candidate? No. Yet again, he is stating the obvious. Anything less than what he promises is in itself criminal negligence of justice, plus he reiterated his position on impeachment (which is actually a position against impeachment), so anything he says on the subject at this point is a bit trite. Honestly, he seems more intent on laying the groundwork to cover his own ass in the future (is he already planning on commiting impeachable offenses during his tenure in office?), than on actually pursuing any sort of belated justice that the world deserves to see.

Obama seems also not to read the news very much himself. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Cheney Gang was responsible for all manner of the very highest crimes and worst misdemeanors. Read one the million books that has been published over the course of this disastrous presidency that details these facts. Lying a nation into war is a crime. Illegally invading and brutally occupying a sovereign nation, let alone two, and murdering and displacing millions of innocent people is a war crime of the highest order. The evidence is staggering and not too hard to find. Just this week, we found out (as if we didn't know already) that Cheney signed off on the torture of illegally detained "terror" suspects, that Bush "was aware" of the harsh tactics being used on detainees, and that even the Pentagon has documented the abuse of prisoners by US military personnel. What could possibly be unearthed at this point that would reveal to Obama that crimes, and not just "dumb policies" have been, and are still being, committed?

Obama's bitter comments are both true and meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Investigating potential crimes of the past administration is a nice little nugget of joy to the still-clinging-to-hope-for-change progressives that want so badly to feel politically involved that they'll vote for someone who doesn't at all share their views. As Reza Fiyouzat recently wrote,
Voting for establishment candidates is (electoral) masturbation. It gives you a euphoric high: I did my bit; I not only get complaining rights, I am an active citizen, even though after this singular act of delivering a ballot, which took me between an hour to a few, I will return to my private space, safe and self-pleased in the knowledge that I did my duty to uphold this wonderful citadel of democracy (no blood-fed empires here) and maintained the healthfulness element in the public domain; now, it's back to me, again, after a brief democracy interruption.

This electoral euphoria, unlike auto-sexual masturbation, comes without any shame or possible embarrassments (if you're religious, that is), thus magnifying its mystifying effects. A perfect democracy achieved with minimal effort required of the subjects; a miracle of efficiency! In fact, to demonstrate the available limits of its efficiency, citizens are actively encouraged by the system to reduce maximally any participation in the public sphere.

Voting at all would be purely masturbational if it were not for the occasional candidates who cause discomfort among the establishment candidates and the press; people such as Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney, who come close enough to making sounds pleasing enough so as to cause some warm blood to flow back into an ear otherwise petrified by layers of repeated insults, corruption and violence, thirsty for the slightest talk of social justice and a fight for people's rights, for workers' rights, for immigrants' rights, a good fight against racism.
And still I have yet to touch on what Obama said and did this week that really pissed me off. The "bitter" remark was correct. The "investigation" comments were welcome, if timid. So what's the newest problem? It's actually the same old same old from Obama: his profound pandering to the state of Israel and its American supporters.

At a time when Israel is constantly killing children and teenagers, denying Palestinian school children the right to a decent education (by, among other things, prohibiting such basic needs as pencils, paper, and books), shutting down orphanages and schools in Hebron, "willfully" killing journalists in the Occupied Territories, with all the bogus ideas of "peace" (without any mention of justice) seeming having vanished for the time being, the world seems to be in an uproar about a small, exotic, Himalayan nation called Tibet.

No one is saying that Tibet shouldn't be free, or that Tibetans shouldn't be allowed full human rights to self-determination and autonomy (except China, that is, and they're wrong). But this recent media frenzy and activist mayhem across the globe is curious. Dubious. The cause is just, for sure, but the hypocrisy is staggering.

Gideon Levy, noted Israeli journalist for Ha'aretz, recently wrote about the Israeli activists protesting for a Free Tibet, stating,
Citizens of a country that maintains a military subjugation in its backyard that is no less cruel than that of the Chinese, and by some parameters even more so, and against which there is practically no more protest here, have no justification in denouncing another occupation. Citizens of a country that is entirely tainted by the occupation - a national, ongoing project that involves all sectors of the population to some extent, directly or indirectly - cannot wash their hands and fight another occupation, when a half-hour from their homes, horrors no less terrible are taking place for which they have much greater responsibility.
The very same could and should be said for citizens of a country whose government and tax dollars are directly supporting two illegal occupations on the other side of the world, wherein horrific catastrophes happen every single day, not to mention bankrolling the very occupation about which Levy speaks. The double standard is obvious and embarrassing. So why is everyone, especially the media, stricken with Tibet fever?

Israeli peace activist and former MK Uri Avnery, in trying to identify why the international media heaps so much attention on one particular human struggle for freedom while so blithely ignoring another, states that Tibetans "enjoy ideal conditions" for media sympathy and air time, considering their enchantingly mysterious and aesthetic culture, a charismatic and beloved figurehead, and an oppressing government much maligned for its myriad human rights violations and economic immunity to US bullying. Avnery explains,
Fringed by the Himalayas, [Tibetans] are located in one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. For centuries, just to get there was an adventure. Their unique religion arouses curiosity and sympathy. Its non-violence is very attractive and elastic enough to cover even the ugliest atrocities, like the recent pogrom. The exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, is a romantic figure, a media rock-star. The Chinese regime is hated by many - by capitalists because it is a Communist dictatorship, by Communists because it has become capitalist. It promotes a crass and ugly materialism, the very opposite of the spiritual Buddhist monks, who spend their time in prayer and meditation.

When China builds a railway to the Tibetan capital over a thousand inhospitable kilometers, the West does not admire the engineering feat, but sees (quite rightly) an iron monster that brings hundreds of thousands of Han-Chinese settlers to the occupied territory.

And of course, China is a rising power, whose economic success threatens America's hegemony in the world. A large part of the ailing American economy already belongs directly or indirectly to China. The huge American Empire is sinking hopelessly into debt, and China may soon be the biggest lender. American manufacturing industry is moving to China, taking millions of jobs with it.
And how can Basques, Kurds, Chechnyans, Africans in the East Congo or the Western Sahara, Tamils in Sri Lanka, Albanian Kosovars, Corsicans, and even Scots in the UK and the French in Canada complete with that? Palestinans seem to be at a particular disadvantage in this sense. Avnery continues,
In the competition for the sympathy of the world media, the Palestinians are unlucky. According to all the objective standards, they have a right to full independence, exactly like the Tibetans. They inhabit a defined territory, they are a specific nation, a clear border exists between them and Israel. One must really have a crooked mind to deny these facts.

But the Palestinians are suffering from several cruel strokes of fate: The people that oppress them claim for themselves the crown of ultimate victimhood. The whole world sympathizes with the Israelis because the Jews were the victims of the most horrific crime of the Western world. That creates a strange situation: the oppressor is more popular than the victim. Anyone who supports the Palestinians is automatically suspected of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Levy, too, compares and contrasts the struggles of Tibetans and Palestinians,
The Palestinians are not as nice as the Tibetans in the eyes of the world. But the Palestinian people deserve exactly the same rights as the occupied Tibetan people, even if their leaders are less enchanting, they have no scarlet robes and their fight is more violent. There is absolutely no connection between rights and the means of protest, and from that perspective, there is no difference between a Tibetan and a Palestinian - they both deserve the exact same freedom.

Moreover, in the first years of the Israeli occupation, most Palestinians accepted it submissively, with practically no violence. What did they get as a result? Nothing. The world and Israel cloaked themselves in apathy and callousness. Only when planes started being hijacked in the 1970s did the world begin to notice that a Palestinian problem even existed. In contrast, the Tibetan struggle also was tainted with violence in the past, and it is reasonable to assume that violence will increase if the Tibetans do not attain their goal.

There is also no point in asking which occupation is crueler, the Chinese or the Israeli. The competition is harsh and bitter. The Chinese killed and imprisoned more Tibetans, in Lhasa there is less freedom of expression than in Nablus, but in general, the extent of Israeli repression in the territories is much greater today than Chinese repression in Tibet.

Nowhere in the world today is there a region more besieged and confined than Gaza. And what is the result? The world calls to boycott the occupier in the case of China, while absurdly, with regard to the Palestinians, the world is boycotting the occupied entity, or at least its elected leadership, and not the occupier. This, it seems, has no parallel in history.
So where does Obama fit into all this? Have I lost the thread here? No sir. True to form, Barack Obama has spoken out against one form of oppression while continuing to pretend another form (that is more politically advantageous to his White House designs) doesn't exist.

In an especially ass-kissing article in the Nation on March 15, John Nichols reveals Obama's comments condemning the Chinese crackdown on Tibetan protests and the imprisonment of Buddhist monks. Obama speaks, as any thinking person would, against brutal oppression and the injustices of an ongoing occupation. After saying that he is "deeply disturbed" by the arrests of peaceful protesters, Obama continues by condemning "the use of violence to put down peaceful protests, and call on the Chinese government to respect the basic human rights of the people of Tibet, and to account for the whereabouts of detained Buddhist monks." Seems to make sense, right? Well, sure. But would Barack agree with those sentiments if he replaced the word Chinese with the word Israeli and the word Tibet with Palestine? What if "detained Buddhist monks" were instead "illegally imprisoned and uncharged Palestinians"? Doesn't seem to have the same sexy ring to it, does it? Nope.

Obama then continues, without a hint of irony,
These events come on the 49th anniversary of the exile of the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama. They demonstrate the continuing frustration of the Tibetan people at the way in which Beijing has ruled Tibet. There has been an informal dialogue between Chinese leaders and the Dalai Lama's representatives over the past six years. It is good that they have been talking, but China has thus far shown no flexibility on the substance of those discussions. Indeed, it has delayed in scheduling the latest round, despite the willingness of the Tibetans to continue dialogue.

If Tibetans are to live in harmony with the rest of China's people, their religion and culture must be respected and protected. Tibet should enjoy genuine and meaningful autonomy. The Dalai Lama should be invited to visit China, as part of a process leading to his return.

This is the year of the Beijing Olympics. It represents an opportunity for China to show the world what it has accomplished in the last several decades. Those accomplishments have been extraordinary and China's people have a right to be proud of them, but the events in Tibet these last few days unfortunately show a different face of China. Now is the time for Beijing to take steps that would change the image people have of China later this year by changing the reality of how they treat Tibet and Tibetans. Now is the time to respect the human rights and religious freedom of the people of Tibet.
Obama's statements here are both welcome and warranted. What Obama doesn't seem to care about, however, is the double standard and hypocrisy of his comments and his constant efforts to align himself with the Israeli government and commit himself and his future administration to protecting the "sacrosanct" security of a state that already possesses one of the most powerful and modern military forces on the planet. True, this is the 49th year of Dalai Lama's exile and also the year of the Beijing Olympics. But 2008 also marks the 60th anniverary of "Israeli independence" and the 41st year of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands (that is, if you're generous and don't automatically count 'independence' via ethnic cleansing and land theft as 'occupation' in the first place).

Not only does Obama continually reassert his profound connection to Israel and to the American Jewish community, but he has dedicated an entire page of his website to making sure no one thinks, even for a second, that Obama advocates for Palestinian rights. (Those people want rights?!?! Heaven forefend!!) The page not only sites numerous articles that praise Obama for his stance on supporting Israeli apartheid, the anti-humanitarian siege of Gaza, and international boycott of democratically-elected Hamas, but it also stresses that Obama blames only the Palestinian leadership (and in no way Israel, the militarized occupier) for the plight of the Palestinian people and seems to boast about Obama's lack of support for the Palestinian cause. It is also curious that, considering Obama's past work with the poor people of Chicago, he refuses to even acknowledge the devastating poverty in which most Palestinians now live at the hands of the Israeli blockade. For a candidate who speaks openly and often of hope, change, and unity, this speaks strongly toward favoritism of one community, while completely forsaking another.

Most recently, Ha'aretz reports, Obama has launched a new Hebrew blog in Israel in the hopes of strengthening his ties with the Israeli public. Last time I checked, though, Israelis don't get to vote for President of the United States, so why would a candidate here in America need Israeli approval? It's all part of the game to win over the lucrative and influential Jewish vote here in the States, in all its bizarrely transparent and obvious glory. So this is the miracle candidate we've been looking for all these many long years so save us from establishment groupthink? Gotcha. Pardon me if I think he's full of shit.

One of the better stances Obama has taken in the past is his stated willingness, and perhaps even eagerness, to meet with world leaders whom the United States has previously, or even currently, regarded as "enemies" without preconditions. Back in February, during a Democratic debate for CNN/Univision, Obama reiterated the importance of unconditional talks with America's "enemies," stating in typical Kennedy-esque syntax, "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." Good for him. Diplomacy, not stalemate. Discussion, not boycott. Just what we need in an American president, right? Well, yes, but Obama doesn't even believe his own words.

After intense pressure from pro-Israel groups and parts of the American Jewish community, in reponse to former president Jimmy Carter's visit to Palestine and Syria this week and meeting with Hamas officials, Barack Obama has officially denounced Carter's diplomatic efforts and appears to put more weight on stigma and propaganda than on peace and justice. In a statement to NBC, the Obama campaign wrote,
Senator Obama does not agree with President Carter's decision to go forward with this meeting because he does not support negotiations with Hamas until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements.
So much for his claims of meeting with "enemies." Too bad Obama doesn't expect Israel to abide by the same conditions he demands of Hamas. As some basic pre-conditions for Hamas to negotiate with Israel, perhaps the illegal building of settlements on Palestinan land should cease, as is required by both international law and the ground rules of the recent Annapolis talks. Maybe the constant infiltration of Gaza by Israeli Occupation Forces and F-16 attacks responsibile for the killing of hundreds of men, women, and children should stop before Hamas comes to the table. But, in fact, Hamas has offered numerous cease-fires and has been rebuffed consistently by Israel. Even in an extremely pragmatic sense, Hamas should have many more reasonable demands than Israel. Mahmoud al-Zahar, a Palestinian surgeon and a founder of Hamas, who is currently the foreign minister in the government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, which was elected in January 2006, put things like this, in a letter to The Washington Post:
After decades of imprisonment, killing, statelessness and impoverishment, we ask: What peace can there be if there is no dignity first? And where does dignity come from if not from justice?

Our movement fights on because we cannot allow the foundational crime at the core of the Jewish state -- the violent expulsion from our lands and villages that made us refugees -- to slip out of world consciousness, forgotten or negotiated away. Judaism -- which gave so much to human culture in the contributions of its ancient lawgivers and modern proponents of tikkun olam -- has corrupted itself in the detour into Zionism, nationalism and apartheid.

A "peace process" with Palestinians cannot take even its first tiny step until Israel first withdraws to the borders of 1967; dismantles all settlements; removes all soldiers from Gaza and the West Bank; repudiates its illegal annexation of Jerusalem; releases all prisoners; and ends its blockade of our international borders, our coastline and our airspace permanently. This would provide the starting point for just negotiations and would lay the groundwork for the return of millions of refugees. Given what we have lost, it is the only basis by which we can start to be whole again.
But, of course, Obama doesn't see things like this. He, instead, shows himself to be far from the Kennedy-type figure he pretends to be by resembling, much more closely, President Harry Truman, who, in 1948, single-handedly approved of the creation of the Zionist state of Israel in the Middle East, despite the complete and total opposition to such an idea by absolutely every single State Department and Pentagon expert at the time. Truman remarked, and presciently spoke for Obama himself sixty years in the future, "I am sorry gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents."

So why doesn't Obama support Carter's meeting with Hamas leaders and side, instead, with Israel's shunning of Carter, despite Carter's role in brokering the first-ever peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country thirty years ago? Why doesn't Obama echo the sentiment of the 64% of Israelis who support direct talks with Hamas regarding a cease-fire and the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held captive by Hamas since June 2006? Even Shalit's own father believes that Carter's mission is beneficial to both Israeli-Palestinian relations and for the fate of his son. Obama, apparently, does not.

"I think there's no doubt in anyone's mind," Carter said this week, "that if Israel is ever going to find peace with justice concerning the relationship with their next-door neighbors, the Palestinians, that Hamas will have to be included in the process." Ignoring this fact is absurd and should not be the policy of a US president intent on unconditional diplomacy. Obama seems intent on criticizing and undermining the efforts of a former president rather than recognizing the realities of the situation. And if he does, in fact, recognize the facts and chooses instead to pander to Israel and its Zionist apologists worldwide, despite said facts, in order to advance his political career, then he's as bad as anyone else you could prop up there in the Oval Office. Bascially, it doesn't much matter if you're a witty young Black guy or a crazy old White idiot, as long as you've got Joe (or Avigdor, for that matter) Lieberman's hand up your ass, I have no respect for you.


Thank you Jimmy Carter for everything,
even for using the word 'Apartheid'

Cecilie Surasky | MuzzleWatch | 16 April 2008

We’ll share some choice quotes from Haaretz’s editorial thanking Jimmy Carter for all he’s done, like that little peace agreement he brokered with Egypt, despite the fact that Israel is now “boycotting” him. But first, it’s worth pointing out that high level Israeli officials (not to mention Haaretz reporters) were using the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s unequal and separate systems for Israelis and Palestinians long before Carter’s book came out and caused a firestorm that could have destroyed a lesser figure.

Folks like former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair who wrote in 2002, “In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That regime exists to this day.” And there’s Shulamit Aloni, former Minister of Education, who said, “Through its army, the government of Israel practices a brutal form of apartheid in the territory it occupies.” Geez, even former South African prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd, considered the architect of apartheid said, “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”

But Carter is a former US president. And he put apartheid, a word he clearly meant to describe the Palestinian occupied territories and not Israel behind the green line, in the title of his book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. Haaretz writes this week, after detailing his major gifts to Israel and the cold shoulder treatment he’s getting this week:

But Israelis have not liked him since he wrote the book “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.”
Israel is not ready for such comparisons, even though the situation begs it. It is doubtful whether it is possible to complain when an outside observer, especially a former U.S. president who is well versed in international affairs, sees in the system of separate roads for Jews and Arabs, the lack of freedom of movement, Israel’s control over Palestinian lands and their confiscation, and especially the continued settlement activity, which contravenes all promises Israel made and signed, a matter that cannot be accepted. The interim political situation in the territories has crystallized into a kind of apartheid that has been ongoing for 40 years. In Europe there is talk of the establishment of a binational state in order to overcome this anomaly. In the peace agreement with Egypt, 30 years ago, Israel agreed to “full autonomy” for the occupied territories, not to settle there.

These promises have been forgotten by Israel, but Carter remembers.
Thank you Carter, and Haaretz for saying, simply, the truth of what you see. Not everyone has to agree on the word. But they should argue on its merits, not by attacking the messenger, which is the ultimate cheap shot.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Happy Tax Day!

Hey, who needs Health Care, civil services, better public schools, and a functioning economy here at home when we can fund the building of illegal settlements, the criminally unjust collective punishment of a caged civilian population, and the ethnic supremacy of an Apartheid government abroad instead?

Here's hoping you got a good refund!!


Should the U.S. End Aid to Israel?

Funding Our Decline

By Alison Weir | CounterPunch | 4 April 2008

April 1st I participated in a debate in San Francisco that raised the question of US aid to Israel.

It was highly appropriate that this debate was held two weeks before tax day, since in Israel's sixty years of existence, it has received more US tax money than any other nation on earth.

During periods of recession, when Americans are thrown out of work, homes are repossessed, school budgets cut and businesses fail, Congress continues to give Israel massive amounts of our tax money; currently, about 7 million dollars per day.

On top of this, Egypt and Jordan receive large sums of money (per capita about 1/20th of what Israel receives) to buy their cooperation with Israel; and Palestinians also receive our tax money (about 1/23rd of that to Israel), to repair infrastructure that Israeli forces have destroyed, to fund humanitarian projects required due to the destruction wrought by Israel's military, and to convince Palestinian officials to take actions beneficial to Israel. These sums should also be included in expenditures on behalf of Israel.

When all are added together, it turns out that for many years over half of all US tax money abroad has been expended to benefit a country the size of New Jersey.

It is certainly time to begin debating this disbursement of our hard-earned money. It is quite possible that we have better uses for it.

To decide whether the US should continue military aid to any nation, it is essential to examine the nature and history of the recipient nation, how it has used our military aid in the past, whether these uses are in accord with our values, and whether they benefit the American taxpayers who are putting up the money.

1. What is the history and nature of Israel?

Describing Israel is always difficult. One can either stay within the mainstream paradigm, or tell the truth. I will opt for the truth.

Drawing on scores of books by diverse authors, the facts are quite clear: Israel was created through one of the most massive, ruthless, and persistent ethnic cleansing operations of modern history. In 1947-49 about three-quarters of a million Muslims and Christians, who had originally made up 95 percent of the population living in the area that Zionists wanted for a Jewish state, were brutally forced off their ancestral land. There were 33 massacres, over 500 villages were completely destroyed, and an effort was made to erase all vestiges of Palestinian history and culture.

The fact is that Israel's core identity is based on ethnic and religious discrimination by a colonial, immigrant group; and maintaining this exclusionist identity has required continued violence against those it has dispossessed, and others who have given them refuge.

2. How has Israel used our military aid in the past?

In all of its wars except one, Israel has attacked first.

In violation of the Arms Export Control Act, which requires that US weapons only be used in "legitimate self defense," Israel used American equipment during its two invasions of Lebanon, killing 17,000 the first time and 1,000 more recently, the vast majority civilians. It used American-made cluster bombs in both invasions, again in defiance of US laws, causing the "most hideous injuries" one American physician said she had ever seen, and which, in one day in 1982 alone, resulted in the amputation of over 1,000 mangled limbs.

It has used US military aid to continue and expand its illegal confiscation of land in the West Bank and Golan Heights, and has used American F-16s and Apache Helicopters against largely unarmed civilian populations.

According to Defence for Children International, Israel has "engaged in gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law." Between 1967 and 2003, Israel destroyed more than 10,000 homes, and such destruction continues today. A coalition of UK human rights groups recently issued a report stating that Israel's blockade of Gaza is collective punishment of 1.5 million people, warning: "Unless the blockade ends now, it will be impossible to pull Gaza back from the brink of this disaster and any hopes for peace in the region will be dashed."

In addition, Israel uses US military aid to fund an Israeli arms industry that competes with US companies. According to a report commissioned by the US Army War College, "Israel uses roughly 40 percent of its military aid, ostensibly earmarked for purchase of US weapons, to buy Israeli-made hardware. It also has won the right to require the Defense Department or US defense contractors to buy Israeli-made equipment or subsystems, paying 50 to 60 cents on every defense dollar the US gives to Israel."

Israel has used US aid to kill and injure nonviolent Palestinian, American and international activists, as well as American servicemen. Israeli soldiers in an American-made Caterpillar bulldozer crushed to death 23-year-old Rachel Corrie; an Israeli sniper shot 21-year-old Tom Hurndall in the head; Israeli soldiers shot 26-year-old Brian Avery in the face. In 1967 Israel used US-financed French aircraft to attack a US Navy ship, killing 34 American servicemen and injuring 174.

Israel has used US aid to imprison without trial thousands of Palestinians and others, and according to reports by the London Times and Amnesty International, Israel consistently tortures prisoners; including, according to Foreign Service Journal, American citizens.

3. Are these uses in accord with our national and personal values?

Not in my view.

4. Do these uses of US aid benefit American taxpayers?

While some Israeli actions have served US interests, the balance sheet is clear: Israel's use of American aid consistently damages the United States, harms our economy, and endangers Americans.

In fact, this extremely negative outcome was so predictable that even before Israel's creation virtually all State Department and Pentagon experts advocated forcefully against supporting the creation of a Zionist state in the Middle East. President Harry Truman's reply: "I am sorry gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents."

Through the years, as noted above, our aid to Israel has not resulted in a reliable ally.

In 1954 Israel tried to bomb US government offices in Egypt, intending to pin this on Muslims.

In 1963 Senator William Fulbright discovered that Israel was using a series of covert operations to funnel our money to pro-Israel groups in the US, which then used these funds in media campaigns and lobbying to procure even more money from American taxpayers.

In 1967 Israeli forces unleashed a two-hour air and sea attack against the USS Liberty, causing 200 casualties. While Israel partisans claim that this was done in error, this claim is belied by extensive eyewitness evidence and by an independent commission reporting on Capitol Hill in 2003 chaired by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer.

In 1973 Israel used the largest airlift of US materiel in history to defeat Arab forces attempting to regain their own land, triggering the Arab oil embargo that sent the US into a recession that cost thousands of Americans their jobs.

During its 1980s Lebanon invasion, Israeli troops engaged in a systematic pattern of harassment of US forces brought in as peacekeepers that created, according to Commandant of Marines Gen. R. H Barrow, "life-threatening situations, replete with verbal degradation of the officers, their uniform and country."

Through the years, Israel has regularly spied on the US. According to the Government Accounting Office, Israel "conducts the most aggressive espionage operations against the United States of any ally." Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger said of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard: "It is difficult for me to conceive of greater harm done to national security," And the Pollard case was just the tip of a very large iceberg; the most recent operation coming to light involves two senior officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel's powerful American lobbying organization.

Bad as the above may appear, it pales next to the indirect damage to Americans caused by our aid to Israel. American funding of Israel's egregious violations of Palestinian human rights is consistently listed as the number one cause of hostility to Americans.

While American media regularly cover up Israeli actions, those of us who have visited the region first-hand witness a level of US-funded Israeli cruelty that makes us weep for our victims and fear for our country. While most Americans are uninformed on how Israel uses our money, people throughout the world are deeply aware that it is Americans who are funding Israeli crimes.

The 9/11 Commission notes that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's "animus towards the United States stemmedfrom his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel." The Economist reports that " the notion of payback for injustices suffered by the Palestinians is perhaps the most powerfully recurrent theme in bin Laden's speeches."

The Bottom Line

In sum, US aid to Israel has destabilized the Middle East; propped up a national system based on ethnic and religious discrimination; enabled unchecked aggression that has, on occasion, been turned against Americans themselves; funded arms industries that compete with American companies; supported a pattern of brutal dispossession that has created hatred of the US; and resulted in continuing conflict that last year took the lives of 384 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, and that in the past seven and a half years has cost the lives of more than 982 Palestinian children and 119 Israeli children.

By providing massive funding to Israel, no matter what it does, American aid is empowering Israeli supremacists who believe in a never-ending campaign of ethnic cleansing; while disempowering Israelis who recognize that policies of morality, justice, and rationality are the only road to peace.

It is time to end our aid.

Alison Weir is Executive Director of If Americans Knew. For more information on the US-Israel relationship she especially recommends the books by Donald Neff, Paul Findley, Kathleen Christison, Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Grant Smith, Stephen Green, George Ball, and John Mulhall.


Friday, April 11, 2008

The Propaganda Train Keeps A'Rollin'...
Next Stop: Indoctrination Station!

It appears that a massive offensive is underway, though not in the way one might expect from the Israeli state. This time, the new bombshells spill out of Public Relations offices and spew forth from the tainted mouths of guilty and corrupted statesmen, rather than F-16s. With a little more than one month to go until Israel celebrates its 60th Anniversary of ethnic cleansing and land theft, much groundwork is being laid in order for the world to unconditionally support the racist state for at least another six decades.

In its recent PR blitz, it seems that a strategy of "winning over" critics of Israel has momentarily usurped the role of constant charges of anti-semitism levied against anyone who dare question the nobility, honor, and God-given right of the supposed Jewish state. Cecilie Surasky of MuzzleWatch, reporting on an article found on Ynet, states that "as part of the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry’s efforts to bring over prominent US writers, US-based group Solomon Project is providing prominent left wing bloggers and progressive leaders like Tom Matzzie (formerly of MoveOn) and Daily Kos editor David Waldman all-expenses paid trips to Israel. They’ll land Thursday for a six-day tour."

No doubt, this "BlogRight" trip is supposed to show Israel in a very positive light in order to change the minds of the writers and activists, who have criticized Israeli policy in their articles and on their blogs. The travelers will be given a tour of the working-class border town of Sderot, though, as Surasky wonders,

It remains to be seen whether the bloggers will also be told about the anti-government protests by residents of Sderot, many of them originally from Arab and Muslim countries, who have been furious at the government for leaving them vulnerable and defenseless to these attacks.

And while they will get a meeting with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, it’s equally unlikely that the bloggers will meet with Palestinian human rights groups in Gaza that could give them a complete tour of the massive destruction of homes, infrastructure and economy; the deliberate slow starvation; and the killing of thousands, that is the terrible story of Israeli intervention in the past and through today.

In Gaza in particular, Israel has for years treated an entire class of people as less then human, less even than animals. When some of those people finally started acting as they were treated- as less than human, by firing randomly on innocent civilians in Sderot, Israel said, “See, we told you they were animals. That’s why we treated them that way.”

Can one free trip really make anyone buy that perverse logic?
Does this mean that Israel and its powerful supporters and apologists across the world will cease its relentless attacks on academic freedom, both here in the United States and abroad? No way. Will the absurd charges of "self-hating" status for dissenting Jews and anti-semitism against all the rest finally stop so that an actual discourse can prevail? Of course not.

The opposition to discourse is highlighted by the recent suggestion by US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to the UN that, as Amy Goodman reports, "the Security Council and other bodies end public debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict" claiming that the discussions on the issue had "become futile." Khalilzad said,
If these types of meetings do not contribute to that effort, or worse, if they fuel the tensions that impede constructive engagement, then we need to ask ourselves whether the public format of debates in New York truly help create the environment necessary to facilitate the pursuit of the two-state solution.
Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly constantly passes resolutions condemning Israeli aggression against Palestinians and other Arab neighbors and annually votes in favor of ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories. The international community is not fooled by Israel's empty gestures towards peace, despite the constant claims of Israel's close economic and ideological ties with the US and EU.

A recent report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council and conducted by South African law professor Prof. John Dugard, states that Palestinian violence against Israel is to be expected based on their past and current oppression and that the Apartheid regime in place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is worse than what was experienced in South Africa. As reported by Israeli newspaper of record Ha'aretz, "Dugard, a South African lawyer who campaigned against apartheid in the 1980s, says 'common sense ... dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by Al-Qaida, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation.'"

The article continues,
"While Palestinian terrorist acts are to be deplored, they must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation," writes Dugard, whose 25-page report accuses the Israel of acts and policies consistent with all three.

He cited checkpoints and roadblocks restricting Palestinian movement to house demolitions and what he terms the Judaization of Jerusalem.

"As long as there is occupation, there will be terrorism," he argues.

"Acts of terror against military occupation must be seen in historical context," Dugard says. "This is why every effort should be made to bring the occupation to a speedy end. Until this is done, peace cannot be expected, and violence will continue."

Israel's UN ambassador in Geneva slammed Dugard's analysis.
The "slamming" of such critics of Israeli policy is to be expected. Any report, article, speech, or stance that challenges the belief that Israel is a glorious and just nation that values democracy, human rights, and civil liberties is deemed discriminatory by the Israeli government. Apparently, illegal settlements, Jews-only roads, an Apartheid wall, the deliberately deadly denial of medical treatment for Gaza patients, the systematic psychological destruction of Palestinian children, and the refusal to accept ceasefire offers from the elected Palestinian leadership aren't cause for critique or concern.

I suppose nothing should be said or known about a 12-year-old Palestinian girl named Safa Abu Saif who was shot in the chest by an Israeli sniper while she was inside her own home in Jabaliya, northern Gaza, in early March 2008. When an ambulance came to help her, Israeli soldiers open fire at it, wounding a paramedic and blowing out three of its tires. Even with no help on the way, "the ambulance center told the family to evacuate the girl. Her mother Samar carried Safa but as soon as she left the house, the Israeli soldiers opened fire at her and the wounded girl fell to the ground. Samar dragged her into the house." As the 12-year-old girl was bleeding to death, "Israeli forces cut the electricity and shot the water tanks on the roof." Safa died three hours later. But, I guess these actions are to be expected of any upstanding, judicious, and moral occupying army.

Even more recently, Ha'aretz reported that the Israeli Foreign Ministry "will not allow the United Nations official appointed to investigate Israeli-Palestinian human rights to enter the country, after he stood by comments comparing Israelis to Nazis. Richard Falk is scheduled to take up his post with the UN Human Rights Council in May, but the Foreign Ministry said it will deny Falk a visa to enter Israel, Gaza and the West Bank." The lack of historical knowledge and self-awareness by Israel on this matter is striking, considering that in November 1948, Aharon Cizling, Israel's first minister of agriculture, stated to the Israeli Cabinet, "I often disagree when the term Nazi was applied to the British ... even though the British committed Nazi crimes. But now Jews too have behaved like Nazis and my entire being is shaken." (as quoted in noted Israeli historian Tom Segev's book, The First Israelis, 1998)

Regarding the comments that Israel found objectionable, the BBC reports,
Professor Falk (who, incidentally, is Jewish) said he drew the comparison between the treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi record of collective atrocity, because of what he described as the massive Israeli punishment directed at the entire population of Gaza.

He said he understood that it was a provocative thing to say, but at the time, last summer, he had wanted to shake the American public from its torpor.

“If this kind of situation had existed for instance in the manner in which China was dealing with Tibet or the Sudanese government was dealing with Darfur, I think there would be no reluctance to make that comparison,” he said.

That reluctance was, he argued, based on the particular historical sensitivity of the Jewish people, and Israel’s ability to avoid having their policies held up to international law and morality.
Indeed, with so much action being taken against the Olympic Torch these days due to China's treatment of Tibetan protesters, questions remain about why Palestinian oppression isn't addressed as well in a forum as public and daunting as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Recently, two European leaders have shown their unconditional support for Israel and have done their very best to blithely ignore the painful realities of Palestinian discrimination, oppression, and occupation. German Chancellor Andrea Merkel and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk have both decided to play the role of toadie to Israel's schoolyard bully. In this situation, stemming mostly from a sense of extreme European guilt over the tragedies of the 1930's and 40's (with maybe a pinch of modern imperial corruption thrown in for flavor), Merkel and Tusk appear to be competing for best friend status, sucking up to the great and powerful Israel in order to rid themselves of the shame of historical genocide.

In a much lauded speech to the Israeli Knesset on March 18, 2008, Chancellor Merkel took great pains to praise, honor, exalt the state itself, extolled the supposed glorious virtues of Israel, and condemned, vilified, and held responsible Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran for Israel's insecurity. As writer and analyst Anis Hamadeh reports,
The chancellor said that Israel has been fighting for 60 years against threats and for peace and security, with the values of freedom, democracy, and human dignity. Is that so? Then why are Jewish intellectuals inside and outside Israel--Holocaust survivors among them--vehemently and increasingly deploring the moral decay, militarization of the society, and the self-destructive policy of the country?
Merkel's heralded speech was, in fact, so compunctious, deferential, and uncritical of Israel that it raises serious questions about the limits of guilt that Europeans still feel about the Holocaust. How can a travesty of the past continue to be such an unbridled excuse for the crimes of the present? In an excellent article, Raymond Deane summarizes,
Chancellor Merkel's speech, in short, is a compendium of banalities, lies, omissions, threats, and sycophantic bunkum. Yet it earned her a standing ovation in the Knesset, and its reception in Germany has been little short of ecstatic. Here, for example, is Thorsten Schmitz in the respected Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "Israel wouldn't exist without the Germans. The state of the Jews is the answer to the Holocaust ... Every further year that Israel exists is ... metaphorically speaking a victory over Hitler ... Angela Merkel did not wish to take her place in the line of well-wishers [on Israel's 60th birthday], but wished to lead it." Once again, we find the poisonous blend of historical half-truth -- the move towards establishing a Jewish state in Palestine began decades before the Holocaust, although the latter undoubtedly hastened its establishment -- with silence about the crimes attendant upon the foundation of that state, its maintenance and its inexorable expansion.
The PR push to legitimize the state of Israel as a beacon of hope for the oppressed, and as the result of inspired determination and hard work on the part of a disadvantaged, demonized, and dispossessed people, bizarrely twists the historical narrative into a surreal mirage of false nobility coupled with perverse and reversed logic and irony. Merkel's lack of either awareness or care for the realities of the Palestinian situation reveals the extent to which shame can so fully cloud judgment, eliminate human decency, sideline objectivity, and sustain an environment wherein the supposed descendants of victims of German history are granted eternal license, liberty, impunity, immunity, and absolution without even a hint of responsibility or condemnation.

Deane explains,
Having expressed Germans' "shame" for the Holocaust, she goes on to point out that "while we are speaking here, thousands of people are living in fear and terror of Hamas's rocket-attacks and terrorism." Her clumsy choice of words seems to emphasize the failure to mention the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are living in daily fear and terror of Israeli incursions, home demolitions, assassinations, air-strikes, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture.

However, in fairness, she does in fact mention the Palestinians: "Terror attacks ... bring no solutions to the conflict that overshadows the region and the daily lives of people in Israel and the lives of people in the areas of Palestinian self-rule."

So it is in fact not Israel's colonization, wall-construction, and violent militarism that are overshadowing the lives of Palestinians, but the actions of Hamas. Note that these Palestinians don't live in "occupied" or even "disputed" territories, but in "areas of self-rule" (autonomiegebieten), which sounds much more innocuous. This term, which was in universal use in the early days of the Oslo process, is now only used by the Germans as it conceals the uncomfortable fact that the Palestinians live under a cruel EU-backed occupation.

"Germany firmly supports the vision of two states in peace and within secure borders, for the Jewish people in Israel and the Palestinians in Palestine," Merkel said. Regrettably she never misses an opportunity to proffer a thumping cliche, and her proneness to "visions" is uncomfortably reminiscent of the current US president. Her wording here seems to endorse ethnic nationalism and perhaps even ethnic cleansing, since she implies that Israel's Palestinian citizens should find a home within the hypothetical "Palestinian state."
The worst thing, and constant fear, for a German Chancellor (post-1945) would have to be the proverbial Sword of Damocles swinging overhead by a splitting thread. This anti-semitism charge is cause for the extreme over-zealous pandering to Israel and, as a result, remains the most powerful weapon for the maintenance of undisturbed and unscrutinized Zionism in the world today. Hamdeh explains,
We are still confronted with the phenomenon that critics of the Jewish State are labeled as anti-Semites or as self-hating Jews, respectively. Historian Ilan Pappe, for instance, in his current bestseller "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" provided evidence that the foundation of Israel was accompanied by crimes against humanity. A great part of the indigenous population had been brutally expelled--some were murdered -, hundreds of villages were destroyed and estates were disseized. What kind of peace can you reach by ignoring facts like these? What kind of peace can you seek when ignoring the decade-long occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? And the annexation of a part of Syria? What kind of peace can one hope for when a wall is built not on the border, but on the land of the neighbor? When settlements are placed in occupied territory and expanded until today against international law? When water reservoirs are being tapped that do not lie on the own state territory? When populations are harassed and treated with violence because of their ethnic affiliation? When democratic elections of the neighbor are annulled which arouses a civil war?
But obviously "facts" are not friendly to the unconditional support of the Israeli state. Zionism has always relied on promulgated mythology to thrive and survive and Merkel surely plays along for fear of being seens as anything but a staunch supporter of Israel. "Unfortunately, in big politics it is not the facts that count, but myths," writes Hamadeh.
Israel and the Jews allegedly are victims of history until today, this is what every child in Israel learns in school. "Although the Federal Republic of Germany has always stood with Israel and its right of existence, the German public has often lacked an engagement and empathy for the state that was wrenched from the desert and a hostile anti-Western environment. Polls show time and time again that many Germans have a lot of understanding for the Palestinians and their problems--while remaining on a most critical distance to Israel, regarding Israeli heroism of survival to rather be an aggressive basic attitude", wrote the editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Die Welt, Thomas Schmid, on March 16, 2008, sentimentally in a contribution for page 1. When Israel's violence is praised to be heroic, it is no wonder that there is no change. The myth of Israel the victim, the myth of the Six-Day war, the myth of Oslo, the myth of anti-Semitic Islam/Arabia, they are all refuted and still form the basis of Western policy.

It is perfidious that Israel claims to speak and act for all Jews. To perform breaches of human rights and of international law explicitly in the name of the Jews--this inevitably leads to the creation of anti-Jewish tendencies. This is a major problem. It would be an anti-Semitic clichè, so we hear, that the Jews are themselves responsible for Judaephobia. Yet the discussion does not end here.

If things are so straightforward, why then does Israel act against its own interests? From the beginning, the Israeli society has been traumatized with the Nazi genocide against the Jews. It is in the nature of the trauma that the unmastered situation is played through and unconsciously provoked over and over again, to the end of understanding what had happened in Germany and Europe. This is the reason why Palestinian, Arab and Muslim leaders have constantly been conceptualized as Hitler's revenants: Arafat, Sheikh Yasin, Saddam, Ahmadinejad etc. The brutal measures against the civil population also is to be understood in terms of the trauma: it is a truism that victims can easily turn to perpetrators when not overcoming their trauma. This certainly is also true for Palestinians. There is another reason for Israel to remain in its trauma: the Zionist ideology needs anti-Semitism as a legitimation. It is the linchpin of Israeli policy, Likud's and Labor's alike. Without the "existential threat", be it real or propaganda, the Israeli identity breaks down, at least as long as it is Zionist.
Nazi Germany also spoke of an existential threat and demographic ticking timebomb. Germany's 20th-Century atrocities were severe and the sorrow and shame that Germans feel (and that their leaders embody) is real and should not be trivialized. However, the way to make up for a nightmarish and offensive past is not by promoting a terrible future; a future in which the victims and innocents of the past are the oppressors and aggressors of today. "A penance is being paid for Germany's past crimes," Raymond Deane states. "And it is being paid by the Palestinians to whose plight Merkel is so indifferent."
There is a name for someone who bears another person's sins: a scapegoat. And there is one European state that has a dark history of scapegoating a Semitic people for its own failings: Germany. For this reason, those who believe that Germany's policy towards Israel in some way redeems it are seriously deceiving themselves. By scapegoating the victims of its former victims, Germany is compounding its past crimes.

If the Holocaust has imposed a historical obligation upon Germany, then it is in large measure towards the Jewish people. Germany, however, has chosen to interpret this obligation as entailing unconditional support for the State of Israel, a state that did not exist at the time of the Holocaust, thus implicitly or explicitly affirming that state's disputed claim to represent Jewish people everywhere. Germany thereby cuts the ground from under all Jews throughout the world -- including within Israel -- who bravely dissociate themselves from the crimes of the Jewish state.
In an equal attempt to shed the guilt of association, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has recently done his damnedest to show his love for Israel. Tusk, whose grandfather was forced to serve in Hilter's army (the Wehrmacht) during World War II, stressed the deep connection between, not only Poles and Jews, but also between Poland and Israel - a country that didn't even exist until three years after the end of the Second World War. Tusk stated last week that "the relationship between Poland and the Jews is centuries old. Poland was the homeland of various peoples, including the Jews. There is no Polish culture without Jewish culture. We want Israelis, especially the young, to experience this side." Tusk does not sound disingenuous in his desire to have Jews associate Poland with something other than the Holocaust and Auschwitz, but what is striking is the implicit connection between European Jewry, the actual victims of Hitler's ethnic cleansing, and the Israeli youths of today - the same youths that must serve in the Israeli military, many of whom serve to dehumanize, humiliate, and violently oppress Palestinians.

Tusk's motives are quite clear. On Wednesday, during his first ever visit to Israel, Tusk made it clear, as Ha'aretz reported, "that Poland stands alongside Israel on the issue of the threat posed by Iran, maintaining that Poland 'has no doubt that Iran's words toward Israel cancels its right to a place in the international community.'"
Tusk emphasized his country's alliance with Israel with regard to Iran, saying that "if there are exceptions in Europe with regard to the Iran issue, it is definitely not Poland," speaking at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem.
So there it is. Any state that is implicated in the horrific history of 1930's and 40's Europe must stand with Israel regardless of what's right and wrong, regardless of the absurd propaganda that pours out of bellicose heads of state and their corrupt media. If Germany and Poland were to defend the legal right of Iran to seek civilian nuclear energy and publically disagree with the US/Israel anti-Iranian rhetoric and aggressive threats, they would be accused of complacency and complicity on par with Neville Chamberlain. They will do anything to avoid being accused of anti-semitism and as a result gladly relinquish all respect for basic human rights and international law.

Lastly, Britain and France have joined in on the game. Not only has Gordon Brown's British government introduced mandatory lessons on the Holocaust for school children and funding school trips to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland with upwards of six million pounds ($12 million), but, as British journalist and Middle East specialist Linda Heard reports,
French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently made his own commitment to keeping the Holocaust alive in the minds of young people. Speaking to members of the Jewish community, he vowed to ensure every 10-year-old learned the personal story of a French Holocaust victim in the same age group. He has also urged children to think of the Holocaust when standing to the French national anthem.
Bizarre. The uniqueness of Jewish suffering is the touchstone of Zionist ideology and here we see the leaders of both England and France buy in completely to this strange special treatment, as if no one has ever or will ever suffer as greatly as Europe's early 20th Century Jews. Heard continues,
The policies of Messrs. Brown and Sarkozy may be driven by pure sentiments. The slavery, starvation and gassing of millions of Jews by the Nazis should, indeed, be remembered by future generations, which will, hopefully, learn lessons about man’s inhumanity to man. And, indeed, there is little danger of that as long as there are Holocaust memorials, Holocaust museums and libraries as well as thousands of movies, documentaries and books on the subject.

On the other hand, one can’t help but fear their motives are political. Israel came into being after the Holocaust and even today it cites the Holocaust as its raison d’être as a Jewish state. “Never again” is its watchword, and, by and large, Westerners are sympathetic to its survivalist stance fueled by their own knowledge of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust and sometimes by a collective sense of guilt.

This translates to Israel being treated as a special case within the community of nations. It alone can get away with a covert nuclear weapons program, the flouting of dozens of UN resolutions, unprovoked attacks on its neighbors and continued occupation of another people’s land, which flies against international and humanitarian laws.

When coming under verbal attack from whatever quarter, the Israeli government wraps itself in the Holocaust and flourishes the anti-Semite card even when criticisms are justified. In this way protagonists are silenced and promising careers cut short.
By using the Holocaust as a political and economic tool to silence critics of Israel, European leaders reveal their true allegiance to US and Western hegemony and imperialism in the Middle East, and subsequently across the globe. By placing Jews on a higher moral plateau, with an equally greater level of tragedy, than the rest of the world, we see a sort of neo-racism and brain-washing beginning to spread throughout the US and Europe. If the Jews had it worse than anyone ever before, then Israelis must be saved from a similar fate! this new ideology seems to cry. But by elevating the past suffering of Jews to unsurmountable heights and immeasurable proportions, to the irrelevance of everyone else's problems, European leaders have turned victimization around on itself and allowed the tragedies of the past to trump those of the present for fear of being called names. In fact, Israel acts like so many children of drunk and abusive parents, passing victimization and trauma down through the generations. The victim turns abuser, all the while bemoaning his/her tragic past and using it as a bludgeon against any and all criticism. The same thing happened to us, only worse! they cry. But Jews are not unique to suffering. No one group, culture, religion, sect, community, nation, or race has a monopoly on agony.

Linda Heard concludes, and I agree,
The history of the planet is punctuated with crimes against humanity, genocide and massive casualties of war. The near obliteration of Native Americans, the 800,000 Armenians massacred during World War I, the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the 27 million Russian victims of World War II are just a few examples.

Let’s not forget Deir Yassin, Sabra and Shatila or the war of attrition that Israel is currently waging against Gaza. And let’s not forget the million plus Iraqis who lost their lives as a result of the 2003 US-led invasion. Let’s remember too the 800,000 Rwandans killed in the space of only 100 days as the world watched. The list is endless.

If Europe’s school kids are to be taught about the Holocaust, encouraged to visit the death camps and to mentally “adopt” a dead child, then they should surely also be told about other atrocities. And even more importantly, they should be enlightened as to the suffering happening now -- not 50 or 100 years ago, but here and now.

I do not seek to diminish the Holocaust or the suffering of its victims and their families. In fact, I freely admit that I have shed tears on occasion after reading a book or viewing a documentary about this disgusting period in European history. But others have suffered, too, and their pain is just as real and authentic.

In short, there should be balance in schools. British and French children should be familiarized with the Holocaust as part of a broader discipline covering genocide and war crimes. Else those countries risk being accused of indoctrinating their young in favor of the Jewish state as a deceptive political strategy rather than an honorable humanitarian goal.


Sixty years after Deir Yassin

Ronnie Kasrils | The Electronic Intifada | 8 April 2008

The 12 March cartoon by South African cartoonist Zapiro that was later attacked by David Saks of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and which sparked debate in the country.
As a 10-year-old growing up in Johannesburg, I celebrated Israel's birth, 60 years ago. I unquestionably accepted the dramatic accounts of so-called self-defensive actions against Arab violence, to secure the Jewish state. The type of indoctrination South African cartoonist Zapiro so bitingly exposes in his work, raising the hackles of scribes such as David Saks of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. When I became involved in our liberation struggle, I became aware of the similarities with the Palestinian cause in the dispossession of land and birthright by expansionist settler occupation. I came to see that the racial and colonial character of the two conflicts provided greater comparisons than with any other struggle. When Nelson Mandela stated that we know as South Africans "that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians," [1] he was not simply talking to our Muslim community, who can be expected to directly empathize, but to all South Africans precisely because of our experience of racial and colonial subjugation, and because we well understand the value of international solidarity.

When I came to learn of the fate that befell the Palestinians, I was shaken to the core and most particularly when I read eye-witness accounts of a massacre of Palestinian villagers that occurred a month before Israel's unilateral declaration of independence. This was at Deir Yassin, a quiet village just outside Jerusalem, which had the misfortune to lie by the road from Tel Aviv. On 9 April 1948, 254 men, women and children were butchered there by Zionist forces to secure the road. Because this was one of the few such episodes that received media attention in the West, the Zionist leadership did not deny it, but sought to label it an aberration by extremists. In fact, however, the atrocity was part of a broader plan designed by the Zionist High Command, led by Ben Gurion himself, which was aimed at the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the British mandate territory and the seizure of as much land as possible for the intended Jewish state.

There are many accounts that corroborate the orgy of death at Deir Yassin, which went far beyond the Sharpville massacre of 1960 that motivated me to join the African National Congress. [2] My reaction was: if Sharpville had appalled me, could I be indifferent to the suffering at Deir Yassin?

Fahimi Zidan, a Palestinian child who survived by hiding under his parents' bodies, recalled: "The Jews ordered [us] ... to line up against the wall ... started shooting ... all ... were killed: my father ... mother ... grandfather and grandmother ... uncles and aunts and some of their children ... Halim Eid saw a man shoot a bullet into the neck of my sister ... who was ... pregnant. Then he cut her stomach open with a butcher's knife ... In another house, Naaneh Khalil ... saw a man take a ... sword and slash my neighbor ..." [3]

One of the attacking force, a shocked Jewish soldier named Meir Pa'el, reported to the head of his Haganah command:

"It was noon when the battle ended...Things had become quiet, but the village had not surrendered. The Etzel [Irgun] and Lehi [Stern] irregulars ... started ... cleaning up operations ... They fired with all the arms they had, and threw explosives into the houses. They also shot everyone they saw ... the commanders made no attempt to check the ... slaughter. I ... and a number of inhabitants begged the commanders to give orders ... to stop shooting, but our efforts were unsuccessful ... some 25 men had been brought out of the houses: they were loaded into a ... truck and led in a 'victory parade' ... through ... Jerusalem [then] ... taken to a ... quarry ... and shot ... The fighters ... put the women and children who were still alive on a truck and took them to the Mandelbaum Gate." [4]

A British officer, Richard Catling, reported:

"There is ... no doubt that many sexual atrocities were committed by the attacking Jews. Many young school girls were raped and later slaughtered ... Many infants were also butchered and killed. I also saw one old woman ... who had been severely beaten about the head with rifle butts ..." [5]

Jacques de Reynier of the International Committee of the Red Cross met the "cleaning up" team on his arrival at the village:

"The gang ... were young ... men and women, armed to the teeth ... and [had] also cutlasses in their hands, most of them still blood-stained. A beautiful young girl, with criminal eyes, showed me hers still dripping with blood; she displayed it like a trophy. This was the 'cleaning up' team, that was obviously performing its task very conscientiously."

He described the scene he encountered on entering the homes:

"... amid disemboweled furniture ... I found some bodies ... the 'cleaning up' had been done with machine-guns ... hand grenades ... finished off with knives ... I ... turned over ... the bodies, and ... found ... a little girl ... mutilated by a hand grenade ... everywhere it was the same horrible sight ... this gang was admirably disciplined and only acted under orders." [6]

The atrocity at Deir Yassin is reflective of what happened elsewhere. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has meticulously recorded 31 massacres, from December 1947 to January 1949. They attest to a systematic reign of terror, conducted to induce the flight of Palestinians from the land of their birth. As a result, nearly all Palestinian towns were rapidly depopulated and 418 villages were systematically destroyed.

As Israel's first minister of agriculture, Aharon Cizling, stated in a 17 November 1948 Cabinet meeting: "I often disagree when the term Nazi was applied to the British ... even though the British committed Nazi crimes. But now Jews too have behaved like Nazis and my entire being is shaken." [7] Despite these sentiments, Cizling agreed that the crimes should be hidden, creating a lasting precedent. That such barbarism was conducted by Jewish people a mere three years after the Holocaust must have been too ghastly to contemplate, as it would constitute a major embarrassment for the state of Israel, held-up as a "light unto nations;" hence the attempts to bury the truth behind a veil of secrecy and disinformation. What better way to silence enquiry than the all-encompassing alibi of Israel's right of self-defense, condoning the use of disproportionate force and collective punishment against any act of resistance.

Precisely because Israel was allowed to get away with such crimes, it continued on its bloody path. According to Ilan Pappe, "Fifteen minutes by car from Tel-Aviv University lies the village of Kfar Qassim where, on 29 October 1956, Israeli troops massacred 49 villagers returning from their fields. Then there was Qibya in the 1950s, Samoa in the 1960s, the villages of the Galilee in 1976, Sabra and Shatila in 1982, Kfar Qana in 1999, Wadi Ara in 2000 and the Jenin Refugee Camp in 2002. And in addition there are the numerous killings B'Tselem, Israel's leading human rights organization, keeps track of. There has never been an end of Israel's killings of Palestinians." [8] The slaughter of 1,500 Lebanese civilians in Israel's indiscriminate bombardment of that country in 2006; the daily deaths in the Palestinian territories, the 120 in Gaza in a week -- including 63 on a single day -- in March 2008, one third of whom were children, form part of the same bloody thread that links Israel's shameful past with that of today.

Israel will soon mark the 60th anniversary of its establishment. In so doing, Israelis and the Zionist supporters would do well to acknowledge the reasons why, for Palestinians and freedom-loving people throughout the world, there will be no cause to celebrate. Indeed, it will be a period of mourning and protest action; a time to recall the countless victims that lie in Israel's wake, as epitomized by the suffering inflicted on the inhabitants of Deir Yassin, the original site of which is ironically located just a stone's throw away from where the present day Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, was built.

Unless Israel confronts the past, as so many have attempted to do in South Africa, it will continue to be viewed with revulsion and suspicion. Israelis will continue to regard Arab life as worthless and will continue to live by the sword and deceit, feigning surprise when Palestinians violently respond. Without dealing with the agony it has caused there can be no healing and no solution. To do so is to create the basis for all life to be cherished and for Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace, with justice. By being aware of the roots of the conflict, and pledging our solidarity, we South Africans can do our bit to help bring about a just solution and the freedom that Nelson Mandela referred to. I believe that South Africans like Zapiro are doing just that.

Ronnie Kasrils is South African Minister of Intelligence.

[1] Nelson Mandela, International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Pretoria, 4 December 1997.
[2] See Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel, Pantheon, 1988); David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, Faber and Faber, 2003; Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Cambridge University Press, 2004); Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oneworld Publications, 2006.
[3] David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, Faber and Farber, 2003, p. 249-50.
[4] Yediot Aharonot, April 1972. This letter only came to light with Pa'el's consent in 1972. David Hirst ibid p. 251.
[5] David Hirst, ibid and Report of the Criminal Investigation Division, Palestine Government, No. 179/110/17/GS, 13, 15, 16 April 1948. Cited in David Hirst, p. 250.
[6] David Hirst ibid and Jacques de Reynier, A Jèrusalem un Drapeau flottait sur la Ligne de Feu, Editions de la Baconnière, Neuchâtel, 150, p. 71-6 and Hirst ibid p. 252.
[7] Tom Segev, The First Israelis, Owl Books, 1998, p. 26.
[8] Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oneworld Publications, 2006, p. 258.

Related Links
New York commemorates Deir Yassin massacre, Press release, Adalah-NY (9 April 2008)
Ronnie Kasrils' speech to S. African Parliament on 40th anniversary of occupation, Transcript (6 June 2007)
BY TOPIC: Deir Yassin (9 April 1948)