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Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

 

Tolerance as a Prerequisite for Civilization – An Analysis (15 November 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – America’s Standing as a Civilized Nation

 

There is more to being civilized than being a citizen of some political entity. This is so despite the fact that both the verb civilize and noun citizen are derived from the Latin civitas. To be civilized demands more than just having the language and mannerisms of the 5th century BCE Greeks, or the 2nd century BCE Han Chinese, or the 16th Century CE French. All of these groups believed that being civilized meant living and acting like them. Today the Americans have joined the chorus. They sing to the world that theirs is the home of the brave and land of the free, and claim that they are the real model for civilization. They throw in that rather ill-defined notion of freedom as a modern customizing point.

 

None of these claims are very convincing. After all, each claimant has waged bloody wars of aggression, discriminated against outsiders and their own minorities, and generally sought aggrandizement by stealing other people’s land. Only recently, since the end of World War II, has there grown up an understanding that: (1) language, mannerisms, and race are so varied that they cannot be used as prerequisites for civilized status without breeding mass intolerance toward minorities and “others,” and (2) aggressive war and the pursuit of conquest actually dehumanizes your nation and destroys one’s civilized standing. Postwar international law has been designed to make intolerance on a large scale illegal – a crime against humanity – and the same goes for the waging of wars of aggression. It is questionable how effective such laws have been. Nonetheless, they are undeniably a step in a civilizing direction.

 

If you dig under the surface of ethnic- or nation-based claims to civilized standing, you often find that they rest on such things as military prowess, technological advancement, and/or a dubious claim to be some god’s favorite. Collective cultural expressions of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia and other such displays of intolerance, as well as the carrying on of a “muscular” foreign policy, seem not to complicate claims to civilized status for many average citizens. But, of course, they should. In fact, not being or doing any of these things should be a necessary prerequisite for any group’s appeal to civilized status.

 

Based on such a requirement, the claim of the United States to be a civilized society seems in serious trouble. For instance, no one is going to accuse Donald Trump of being a model of tolerance. Indeed, it would seem that his election as president has inaugurated an time of intolerance embracing just those prejudices that erode a nation’s civilized standing.

 

Part II – Hillary’s Greatest Gaffe

 

It is true that during her run for the presidency Hillary Clinton made many mistakes. She was wedded to a traditional, and very corrupt, version of U.S. politics – a version that put her in the pocket of an array of special interests that, themselves, were not very civilized (for example, the Zionists). And, as Secretary of State under President Obama, she did her part to wage aggressive war. Yet, she was, at least in terms of her rhetoric, ready to take a stand for tolerance when it comes to social and cultural diversity within the United States. Ironically, that willingness to, in this regard, be publicly civil – and call out those who were not – led to her biggest political gaffe of the election.

 

The campaign faux pas came on 9 September 2016, during a speech to a group of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) supporters. Here is what she said:

 

“We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he [Trump] has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people – now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks – they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”

 

The Trump campaign people jumped on this statement and declared that it was a sign of “her true contempt for everyday Americans.” In other words, from the Trump perspective, “those folks” were the real America. Trump’s supporters proceeded to turn the term “deplorable” into something of a battle cry. I remember driving through the small Pennsylvania town of Red Lion soon after Clinton’s speech. There was a big sign declaring “Welcome to the Home of the Proud Deplorables.”

 

Part III – Trump the Decivilizer

 

Of course, Clinton was correct in her criticism of Trump and some of his supporters. In fact, they were more than just deplorable. They were downright uncivilized. And, she was right that Trump has incited and manipulated them and their prejudices during the campaign. And, he has continued to do so as president. I think this became quite obvious at the 12 August 2017 “unite the right” protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. That event signaled the fact that Trump, a wealthy, self-righteous, impulsive, one-dimensional man who, in his simplistic ignorance, cannot tell the difference between his own opinion and fact, had let loose a substantial group of racist and reactionary citizens. These people see themselves not as the uncivilized of America, but rather as saviors of an anachronistic pseudo-civilization – one based on white supremacy and mass intolerance. Regardless of how they see themselves, the behavior of both these “average Americans” and their approving president, is actually tipping America toward being unquestionably a“deplorable” and uncivilized place.

 

It must be kept in mind that President Trump did originate all this prejudicial horror. It has always been there in the U.S. However, since the 1960s it has, for the most part, been kept out of the public realm. That is what the Civil Rights Movement and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs accomplished – to make it socially unacceptable, and in some cases illegal, to practice these prejudices publicly. This was actually a great step forward in the process of civilizing the United States, and if it had been maintained for say, another five generations, the number of “deplorable” voters may have shrunk to the point that the election of a decivilizer such as Trump would have been much less likely.

 

However, as it was, those who harbored simmering prejudices, restless anachronistic traditions, and a fear of losing privileges in an ever more diverse society, almost immediately came together to support Donald Trump when he appeared on the political scene. And the rest of us were caught unawares.

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

The fact is that most people do not think about what it means to be civilized, often assuming that this status is synonymous with having an i-phone and a twitter account. Among those who do think about it, some may identify the term with those who are snobbish and think they are better than others. Or, perhaps they see civilization as a class thing to be identified with wealth. Those who think in these terms may develop resentment toward the concept of civilization. They may come to see it as a threat to their local culture and ways of life.

 

Finally, who knows how many macho males there are out there who might see too much civilization as a subversive factor – something that would make the nation effete. Too much enlightenment could undermine that “muscular” foreign policy (perhaps reviving, in the case of the United States, the dreaded Vietnam Syndrome) that has always been a mark of nationstate greatness.

 

Of course, this is not just an American problem. The deplorables are to be found in all populations – more in some and less in others – but never absent. In the U.S. Donald Trump is their leader. No doubt he also serves as a symbol of leadership for deplorables worldwide. As such President Trump and his following subvert our future – luring us in the direction of barbarism. Remember Arnold Toynbee observation: “civilizations die from suicide and not by murder.”

A System Problem for Democracy – An Analysis (30 October 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

This essay is written in honor of Rafe Mair, a friend who died on 9 October 2017. Shortly before his death he sounded a warning about a dangerous flaw in the democratic system.

 

 

Part I – Being an Organization Man or Woman

 

In 1956 William H. Whyte published a book entitled The Organization Man. Basing his findings on a large number of interviews with CEOs of major American corporations, Whyte concluded that, within the context of modern organizational structure, American “rugged individualism” had given way to a “collectivist ethic.” Economic success and individual recognition was now pursued within an institutional structure – that is, by “serving the organization.”

 

Whyte’s book was widely read and praised, yet his thesis was not as novel as it seemed. “Rugged individualism,” to the extent that it existed, was (and is) the exception for human behavior and not the rule. We have evolved to be group-oriented animals and not lone wolves. This means that the vast majority of us (and certainly not just Americans) live our lives according to established cultural conventions. These operate on many levels – not just national patriotism or the customs of family life.

 

What Whyte ran across was the sub-culture of the workplace as followed by those who set themselves upon a “career path” within a specific organization. The stereotypical examples are those, to quote Whyte, “who have left home spiritually as well as physically, to take the vows of organization life. [They adopt an ethic that] rationalizes the organization’s demand for fealty and gives those who offer it wholeheartedly a sense of dedication.”

 

Today, some private sector organizations have moved away from the most extreme demands for such conformity, but other career lines have not, two examples being the military and career party politics. For insight into this we can turn to the sociologist C. Wright Mills, whose famous book The Power Elite was published the same year as Whyte’s The Organization Man. Mills’s work narrows the world’s ruling bureaucracies to government, military and top economic corporations. Those who make their careers within these entities, especially the military and the government, are ideologically conditioned to identify their well-being with the specific goals of their chosen organizations. That means they must bind themselves not only to the goals, but also to the ethics of their workplace. Those who balk are eventually punished and cast out of the organizations. Those who guide these organizations, and essentially decide how rules and ethics will be interpreted and applied, are Mills’s “power elite.”

 

How this works out in the military is pretty obvious. There is a long tradition of dedication to duty. At the core of this dedication is the following of orders given by superiors. This tradition is upheld even if it is suspected that one’s superior is incompetent.

 

It may come as a surprise to the reader that party politics as practiced by many of the Western democracies is quite similar. The “power elites” who reside at the top of the so-called greasy pole, holding positions as the head of ruling and contesting parties, are likely to demand the same sort of obedience to orders as any military officer.

 

Part II – The Organization Man or Woman in Politics

 

Running for and holding office in countries like the United States and Canada often requires one to “take the vows of organization life.” Does this support democracy or erode it? Here is one prescient answer: the way we have structured our party politics has given us “an appalling political system which is a step-by-step denial of democracy and a solid foundation for a ‘soft’ dictatorship.”

 

Those are the words of the late Rafe Mair, a Canadian politician, broadcaster, author and a good friend of this writer. Rafe spent years in Canadian politics, particularly in his home province of British Columbia, and his experience led him to the conclusion expressed above. How does this translate into practice?

 

Rafe explained it this way: “In a parliamentary [or other form of representative] democracy the voter transfers his rights to his member of parliament [congressperson, senator or state legislator] to exercise on his behalf – the trouble is, by running for his political party the [elected person, in turn, is led to] assign your [the voter’s] rights to the [party] leader for his exclusive use!” There is no law that makes the elected official do this. However, the inducements to do so are very powerful.

 

Leaders of political parties can control their organizations in dictatorial fashion. They have power to reward or punish their party’s cohorts in a fashion that can make or break careers. For instance, they control the dispersal of party funds from monies for elections right down to one’s office budget, they determine whether a candidate will have to face a primary challenge, they make all committee assignments, they can promote and demote within the party ranks. As Rafe Mair observed, the possibilities for both reward and punishment are almost endless. In this way elected officials become bound to the diktats of their party’s leaders. They cannot normally vote their conscience or reliably represent their constituency unless doing so coincides with the desires of their party’s leadership.

 

Part III – Democracy in Danger

 

What is described here is a ubiquitous system problem. To one extent or another, this problem of centralization of power within organizations, particularly those that demand loyalty from their members, is commonplace – whether they are political organizations or not.

 

This being the case, there should be no surprise that many Western democracies are suffering from this system problem. Nor is it surprising that correcting the problem is very difficult, if for no other reason than those who control the corrupted system must be willing to participate in its reform.

 

What is surprising is that while many citizens sense a problem, few really understand what is going on and where it can lead. Rafe put it this way: “though the way the system fails is simplicity indeed, I daresay scarcely one in 100 voters understands that the consequences are fatal to anything but a charade of democracy.” Why is this so? It might be that beyond the classic town hall meeting, the distance between the average citizen and government bureaucracy is too great to hold the former’s interest. In normal times, apathy, and a sense of powerlessness, seems to be the default response to anything that does not impact our daily lives.

 

Nonetheless, increasing unresponsiveness on the part of government and a growing awareness of official corruption and mismanagement can lead to widespread citizen unease and frustration. At some point the voters may start looking for alternative politicians who claim to know what the problems are and how to fix them. Usually such claims are themselves no more than campaign hot air. However, in their ignorance, voters may well respond to such hot air, and the result can be a jump from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. U.S. voters seem to have taken just such a leap when they elected Donald Trump president.

 

Rafe Mair sounded the warning about this system problem and its ability to erode our democracies. He is gone now, but we and the problem he identified remain. Can we deal effectively with it? It is possible, but it will require overcoming mass apathy and ignorance and avoiding the deceptive messages of irrational leaders. I am not sure that history is on our side.

A State For The Kurds? – An Analysis (18 October 2017) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

 

Part I – Background

 

 

It was in 1916, in the midst of World War I, that Britain and France (pitted against the Germans, Austrians and Ottoman Turks) made their infamous Sykes-Picot agreement. In grand imperial style, they used this agreement to divide up the Middle East between them. It was a daring move, considering that the war was at a stalemate and the two allies did not know if they were going to win the struggle. Nonetheless, they went ahead with the agreement and in doing so made a number of decisions that continue to shape the region to this day.

 

Besides bringing traditional European imperialism forward into the twentieth century, what made Sykes-Picot infamous was the fact that it broke a significant previous promise made to the Arabs. By 1916 the Arabs had taken to the battlefield against the Turks. For their doing so, the British had promised to support the creation of a large Arab state. But this promise had always clashed with the imperial ambitions of Britain and France, and so, in the end, they secretly conspired to betray their non-Western ally. Among the eventual consequences of this betrayal, the “Arab state” was confined to what is, today, Saudi Arabia; Palestine (which originally was to be part of the Arab state) would become a “national home for the Jews”; Syria went to the French, and much of the rest of the region was given over to the British.

 

The Sykes-Picot agreement allowed for one further change. It made possible a state for the Kurds – a people who constituted the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East. This state, known as Kurdistan, was to be carved out of territory within the eventually defeated Ottoman Empire. This intent was publicly confirmed in the Treaty of Sevres in 1920. The Kurdish leaders, who by this time must have been aware of the Western powers’ betrayal of the Arabs, therefore should not have been surprised when, despite the treaty, the British and French betrayed them as well. The 1923 Treaty of Lucerne amended the Treaty of Sevres, and sure enough, the state of Kurdistan was omitted. The lands that would have made up the Kurdish nation instead become parts of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Thus, the Kurds remained stateless. However, they never gave up statehood as a goal.

 

Now we can fast-forward to 20 March 2003, the date that President George W. Bush took the fateful step of invading Iraq. Bush had an array of flimsy excuses for doing this: Saddam Hussein’s non-existent nuclear weapons, Saddam’s alleged plot to assassinate Bush’s father, the dream (really the nightmare) of forceable “regime change” as a way of making the Middle East safe for the U.S. and Israel, or perhaps just the cutting loose of neoconservative bellicosity. Whatever the president’s depth of ignorance led him to anticipate, the invasion set loose forces that neither Bush, nor any subsequent U.S. president, has been able to control. Among these are the consequences that followed the falling apart of Iraq.

 

 

Part II – The Kurdish Issue Resurfaces

 

 

Like the destruction of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, the destruction of Iraq that resulted from the 2003 U.S. invasion opened up a Pandora’s Box of potential territorial changes. Not the least of these was the possible creation of the state of Kurdistan.

 

Like the Arabs in World War I, the Kurds became a fighting ally of the West in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent Syrian civil war. The region’s chaos allowed for the emergence of the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (aka ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh). ISIS turned out to be a grim and brutal manifestation of religious fanaticism run amok. Its growth threatened just about every state in the region, as well as the citizens of the European Union and the U.S. If stability was to eventually prevail, ISIS had to be defeated, and the Kurds played (and continue to play) a notable role in this fight. There is little doubt that one of their goals in doing so is to create favorable conditions for a Kurdish state.

 

For all those powers (Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq) seeking to reestablish the status quo ante, the prospect of an independent Kurdish state is anathema. Each state has Kurdish minorities and is afraid that an independent Kurdistan, even one carved out of another state’s territory, would lead to or exacerbate Kurdish insurgencies in their own countries. The possibility that such a state might instead cause a lessening of minority Kurdish restiveness through voluntary immigration seems not to have occurred to the leaders of Iran, Turkey and Syria.

 

As Jonathan Cook has recently made clear, the question of Kurdish independence has been complicated by Israeli influence in this matter. The Israelis have long been keen on an independent Kurdistan not because, as some of their politicians disingenuously claim, the Kurds have a “moral right” to a state (so do the Palestinians). Rather, the Israelis have an undeclared but official policy aimed at “Balkanizing” the Arab states. They have been encouraging “sectarian and ethnic discord” in order to destabilize their neighbors. In other words, Israeli support of the Kurds is an effort to weaken primarily Iraq, and secondarily, Syria and Iran (Turkey is just “collateral damage” in this process).

 

 

Part III – Conclusion

 

 

One can hardly blame the Kurds for taking help where they can get it – in this case from Israel – in a fight for independence that has been going on for centuries. Nonetheless, one can also understand that Israeli meddling seriously frightens the other states affected.

 

Leaving aside the Israeli issue for a moment, the question that should guide policy here is: can Iraq be reestablished as a viable state? Putting the question more informally, in 2003 a rather stupid American president, working under the influence of Zionists, Iraqi nationalists bearing false witness, and witless neoconservatives, knocked the Iraqi Humpty Dumpty off its precarious wall. Can it be put back together again? The answer is, well, maybe – but there seems to be only two ways to do this. One is a near-genocidal war waged by regional powers against the Kurds. Alternatively, Iraq might be resurrected if the Kurds are willing to settle for half a loaf in the form of being an autonomous part of a confederated state.

 

Right now the future is uncertain. One has the impression that the Turks and Iraqis (whose forces assaulted the Kurdish claimed city of Kirkuk on 16 October 2017) are quite willing to try to solve the matter by prolonged war. This would be a big mistake. It would lead to an Iraq that may be technically united but in truth would be even weaker than it is now, and not really independent at all. Its northern region would probably be under the de facto control of Turkey and Iran, and the rest of the country would continue to be in a decentralized mess experiencing an ongoing sectarian civil war. On the other hand, a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue could lead to the stabilization of the rest of Iraq as a confederated state. Also, as part of a confederated Iraq, Kurdistan’s autonomy can preclude an independent foreign policy, thus minimizing Israeli influence.

 

Despite the recent Kurdish vote for independence, their leaders must know this can only be made real if they can win a prolonged war against Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Israel is not in a geographical position to effectively help them do this. And so, the Kurds probably cannot endure such a struggle. That leaves them with only one rational choice.

 

The Kurds are now closer to independent status than at any time since the near-miss days of World War I. Their best strategy is to make the best (if not the most) of that status within a confederated Iraq and end their interaction with Israel. This has to be better than a near-genocidal war in which they would be the victims. However – and this is the usual question in such situations – will the emotions roiling on all sides allow sanity to prevail?

Getting Rid of Bad Examples – An Analysis (02 May 2016) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – Provisional Heroes

It seems as though some of the heroes of the United States are losing their bright reputations. It’s just as well, for they are really bad examples for us all. Of course, you might ask, if that is the case, why were they heroes in the first place? Part of the reason might be that the negative nature of their attitudes and actions was simply not widely known, owing to both the primitive state of communication and the prevailing racist ideologies of their times. Because conditions and outlooks change, the status of many heroes is provisional – admired in a specific place and a relatively limited time. The American heroes I am thinking of may well have seemed exemplary for their day. However, by today’s standards those times were marked by open bigotry and imperial/colonial ambitions. Let’s hope that we are outgrowing such attitudes.

Consider past luminaries associated with political office and the exercise of power. Despite their celebrated actions, their social attitudes are anathema by modern standards. Thus, while some may still see them as heroes, others certainly have come to see them as scoundrels. That is not the sort of balance that promotes a permanently heroic reputation. Standards change and so does the balance of perceptions.

Against this background let’s take up the recent challenges to the hero status of two past U.S. presidents: Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson.

Part II – Andrew Jackson (aka Old Hickory)

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was the 7th U.S. president, serving from 1829 to 1837. His fame is based on misleading legends and the fact that his face has been on the $20 bill since 1928 (which is ironic, because Jackson always opposed the issuance of paper money). There two deceptive beliefs about Jackson that have fostered his “great man” image. One is that he was the “common man’s” president, a notion that grew up largely because he was the first president to come from west of the Appalachian mountains – an area that was then thought of as the “frontier.” Actually, while born poor and orphaned during the Revolutionary War, Jackson became a wealthy man by the age of 30, lived in a rural mansion on his Tennessee cotton plantation and owned hundreds of slaves, from whose labor his wealth derived. This made him the sort of “self-made man” Americans love to admire.

The second deceptive belief is that he was a great soldier. This is based on his bloody victory at the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812, and his brutal campaign against the Indian tribes along the Florida border. Actually, Jackson’s victory at New Orleans had much more to do with his opponent’s misjudgments and fatally out-of-date tactics than his own military skills. The British marched their men straight toward the American defenses in an open fashion developed for the Napoleonic Wars. They allowed themselves to become overly exposed and this led to the disproportionate number of British casualties when compared to those of Jackson’s forces.

Jackson’s subsequent behavior as the officer leading the campaign against Seminole and other Indian tribes was characterized by genocidal brutality and insubordination. He consistently disobeyed the orders of his superiors.

Nonetheless, all of this helped earn him the presidency in 1829 and, a hundred years later, a place on the $20 bill. However, the real Andrew Jackson was a racist and the 19th century equivalent of a “thug in a suit.” He saw himself above the law, which is always particularly dangerous for a democratic leader. This was most clearly seen in his very public disregard of the Supreme Court’s decision favoring the right of the Cherokee Indians to remain on their land in the state of Georgia. Jackson ignored the decision despite its having the force of law, and used the U.S. Army to forcefully remove the Cherokees – not the last time a president would make himself a criminal to much popular acclaim.

There are still some today who protest against any public airing of these accusations, calling them “libels against Old Hickory.” However, that has not prevented a reexamination of Jackson’s hero status, and as a result, the man’s true nature and actions are being met with the condemnation they deserve. By 2020 Jackson’s face will no longer appear on the front of the $20 bill. He will be demoted to the bill’s reverse side.

Part III – Woodrow Wilson (aka The Schoolmaster)

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was the 28th president of the United States, serving from 1913 to 1921. He was also president of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910 and governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913. His fame is based on the flawed notion that he was a great champion of democratic government. After all, he led the United States into World War I to “make the world safe for democracy.”

There was only one very big problem with Wilson’s conception of democracy – it was a deeply racist one. As it turns out Wilson was a southerner transplanted to the U.S. north. He was born in Virginia and spent a good part of his formative years in Georgia and South Carolina. Not all white southerners of his time and class were racists, but Wilson certainly was.

There is plenty of evidence for Wilson’s racist state of mind. Here are some examples: as president of Princeton, he refused to allow the admittance of African American applicants; as president he refused demands to desegregate the U.S. military (desegregation was finally achieved under Harry Truman in 1948); also, while attending the Paris Peace Conference he restricted his famous World War I pledge to support national independence and democratic government for all the peoples of the defeated Central Powers (the German and Ottoman empires) to the white populations of eastern Europe. He thus abandoned the peoples of the Middle East to the imperial rule of Britain and France.

But times have changed. In November of 2015 Wilson’s racist legacy finally broke into the open when Princeton University’s African American students, seeking an improved racial atmosphere on campus, occupied the university president’s office. Among their demands was that Wilson’s name be removed from campus buildings, a mural depicting him in one of the university dining halls be removed, and that the name of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs be changed. So far, Princeton has agreed only to remove the mural. But that at least is a beginning.

Part IV – New Heroes

There are plenty of other U.S. heroes of political renown and aggressive poor judgment, such as Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president of the U.S., who, while founding U.S. national parks and wildlife preserves, managed to find time to help engineer the Spanish-American War and the imperial seizure of Cuba and the Philippines. More recently there was John Kennedy, the 35th president of the U.S. He was handsome and young and, in the early 1960s, inspiring of the nation’s youth. However, he initiated the catastrophic U.S. intrusion into Viet Nam and, taking up Teddy Roosevelt’s mantle, launched his own invasion of Cuba.

You might argue that all of the above were men of their times, and you would have a point. However, conditions have changed and with them laws and mores. Today’s professed standards of behavior really demand that we start questioning the appropriateness of these figures as national heroes. Their demotion will, hopefully, help us maintain a more humane and principled standard for our times.

All this means that we are in need of newer, more culturally and historically relevant heroes. Men and women such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Albert Einstein, Susan B. Anthony, Rachel Carson, Angela Davis, Cesar Chavez, Daniel Berrigan, Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, to name but a few. Certainly one may be able to find skeletons in the closets of these people, but they will not override the humanitarian achievements which make them relevant heroes for our time.

Each of us should give serious consideration to the promotion of new heroes. And, the resulting lists can be easily customized to one’s own ideals and goals. With such an effort we help define ourselves and help make our time better than a very flawed past.

Who is Right in Syria? – An Analysis (29 November 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

Here is the situation in Syria as I see it: Russia is taking a long-range view and wants stability in post-ISIS Syria. France and the United States are taking the short-range view and really have no achievable plans for Syria’s future stability. Turkey appears to have given little thought to Syria’s future. Ankara may be willing to see indefinite chaos in Syria if it hurts the Assad regime on the one hand and the Kurds on the other.

Part I – Russia

The Russians may be the only party interested in the long-term political stability of Syria. There is certainly no doubt that President Putin is more determined than Western leaders to act on the fact that the various so-called moderate parties standing against the Assad regime cannot work together, and that this fault cannot be corrected by enticements from the United States. For the Russians, this fact makes the Damascus government the only source of future stability.

This understanding, and not Soviet-era nostalgia, has led Russia to support the Assad regime, which possesses a working government, a standing army, and the loyalty of every religious minority group in the country.

Some might object that both Assad and Putin are dictators and thugs (by the way, thugs in suits in the U.S. government are all too common). However, this cannot serve as a serious objection. The only alternative to Damascus’s victory is perennial civil war fragmenting the country into warlord zones. With the possible exception of Israel, this scenario is in no one’s interest, although it seems that the leaders of in Washington and Paris are too politically circumscribed to act on this fact.

Part II – U.S. and France

Thus, it would appear that neither the U.S. nor France really cares about Syria as a stable nation. Once the present military capacity of ISIS is eliminated, Washington and Paris may well clandestinely continue to support a low-level civil war against the Assad regime. In this effort they will have the help of Turkey, the Kurds and Israel. The result will be ongoing decimation of the Syrian population and fragmentation of its territory.

As if to justify U.S. strategy, President Obama, with French President Hollande by his side, recently boasted that the United States stood at the head of a “65-country coalition” fighting terrorism in Syria. However, this is a hollow claim. Most of these countries are coalition members in name only, and some of them, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf state governments, play a double game. And then Obama dismissed Russia and Iran as “outliers” and “a coalition of two.” Yet those two countries are the Syrian nation’s best hope for future stability.

The fact is that U.S. policy in Syria has been a losing proposition from the beginning just because of its hostility to the Assad government. Despite its air campaign against ISIS, Washington has no ground component nor any answer to the political vacuum in Syria. Both missing parts are to be found in an alliance with Damascus.

Refusal to make that alliance has also opened Washington to building neoconservative political pressure to increase U.S. military presence in the area. However, American “boots on the ground” in Syria is both a dangerous option as well as an unnecessary one. Syrian government boots can do the job if they are properly supported. The support has come from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. It is the United States and its coalition who are the “outliers.”

Part III – Turkey

It is not easy to explain Turkey’s animosity toward Damascus. Prior to the civil war in Syria, the two countries had good relations. Then something changed. It may have been something as foolish as President Erdogan’s taking personal offense against President Assad because the latter chose to heed the advice of Iran rather than Turkey at the beginning of the war. Whatever happened, it sent Ankara off on an anti-Assad crusade.

That anti-Assad mindset is probably the backstory to the recent reckless Turkish decision to shoot down a Russian warplane operating in support of Syrian government troops close to the Turkish border.

 

The Turks say that the Russian jet strayed into Turkish airspace. The Russians deny this. The Turks claim that they tried to communicate with the Russian plane to warn it away. When it did not respond, they destroyed it. Of late the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has said that Ankara “didn’t know the nationality of the plane that was brought down … until Moscow announced it was Russian.” This statement is frankly unbelievable given that Davutoglu followed it up with an admission that Turkey had complained to Russian about military flights in this exact border area. He also asserted that both Russian and Syrian operations in this region of northern Syria should stop because ISIS has no presence there. This assertion makes no sense, since Damascus’s aim is to reassert government authority by the defeat of armed rebels regardless of their organizational affiliation.

It is hard to say whether the Turks are telling the truth about an incursion into their airspace. Most of their evidence, such as recorded Turkish warnings to the Russian plane, is easily fabricated. However, in the end it does not really matter if the plane crossed the border. There was no need to shoot it down.

If the Russian jet strayed into Turkish airspace, there would have been a range of options. The Turks could be very sure that the Russian plane had no hostile intention toward their country, and they should have assumed, for the sake of minimizing any consequences, that no provocation was meant on the part of the Russia. In other words, they should have acted as if the alleged overflight was a mistake. The Turks could have then shadowed the Russian plane in a way that coaxed it back into Syrian airspace and followed the incident up with a formal protest to Moscow. Instead they made the worst possible choice and shot the plane down. Now both Ankara and Washington are shouting about Turkey’s right to defend its territory despite the fact that the Russian plane never posed any threat.

Part IV – Conclusion

In all of the bloodshed, population displacement and terror that has accompanied the Syrian civil war, the least-considered party has been the Syrian people and their future. ISIS, or at least its present infrastructure, will ultimately be destroyed. However, while that destruction is necessary, it is an insufficient outcome because it fails to provide long-term stability. Right now that vital ingredient can only be supplied by the reimposition of order by Damascus. The folks in Washington, Paris and Ankara might not like that, but they are not the ones facing a future of anarchy. And indeed, the more they stand in the way of Damascus, the more chaos they will help create.

Australia and the Fight for Justice in Palestine – An Analysis (9 October 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – Spreading Awareness

 

Even before Palestine was “officially” partitioned by the November 1947 vote of the UN General Assembly, Zionist forces on the ground were on the offensive and, consequently, creating refugees. It could be no other way, given their ideologically driven desire to seize Palestinian land and reserve it solely for Jewish use. Palestinians out and Jews in became the equation that has dominated the conflict ever since. And, of course, from the beginning, the Zionists had the military power to make the equation play out. The result was millions of displaced Palestinians.

 

Most of these refugees stayed in the Middle East, as can be seen by the multitude of refugee camps that still dot the landscape in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The Zionists often point a finger at these camps as evidence of the cruelty of Arab regimes, most of which refuse to absorb Palestinian refugees. Simultaneously, they praise Israel’s active absorption of Jewish refugees. But making this comparison displays faulty logic.The refugee policies of some Arab regimes, cruel or otherwise, is different in kind from the ethnic cleansing of millions of Palestinians by Zionists.

 

Given the situation in those camps, tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees eventually moved out of the Middle East and scattered around the Western world. In this way the consequences of Israel’s conquests were exported and the Palestinian plight made physically real to the West. Thus, no one should be surprised that the struggle for justice for the Palestinians, and therefore opposition to Israeli practices, is to be found in far-flung corners of the globe.

 

Part II – Australia and the Palestinian Cause

 

Take, for instance, Australia, more than half a world away from the Palestinian homeland. I recently boarded a very large airplane and spent 17 hours flying from Philadelphia to Sydney, Australia. After that I spent three weeks on a lecture tour addressing both university and public audiences on the Middle East in general and the Palestine-Israel conflict in particular.

 

Of the 23 million people living in Australia, over a quarter million are from Arabic-speaking lands. Newer Arab immigrants have been arriving ever since the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the region’s subsequent ongoing chaos. As these newcomers enter the Australian milieu, their memories, and their grivances, came with them. Soon the injustices they suffered became a concern for Australians who encounter them and are sensitive to the issues of human and civil rights as well as violations of international law. The result has been the rapid growth of pro-Palestinian organizations in many Australian cities.

 

The cities I visited and groups I addressed were located in Adelaide, Canberra and Byron Bay. (Active pro-Palestinian groups are also to be found in Sydney and Melbourne). All the groups I encountered, such as the Australian Friends of Palestine, are involved in both educational and protest work. Demonstrations against Israeli policies and for the boycott of Israeli sold products go hand-in-hand with pamphleteering and the sponsorship of lectures and discussions. And, as is the case in the U.S. and Europe, Australian doctors travel regularly to the Palestinian Occupied Territories – lands impoverished by their occupier in violation of international law – to deliver charitable medical care. These activities show high levels of energy and determination on the part of those supportive of justice for the Palestinians. They will be on the scene in Australia as long as Israeli injustice persists.

 

Within the Australian universities, one also sees an active interest and concern about Palestine, which often goes along with concern for the social and legal well-being of Australia’s Arab and Muslim citizens and residents. There is a sense that the Zionist representatives of a people who suffered horribly during World War II have betrayed the moral lessons of that experience by adopting the practice of colonial conquest. At the same time the Zionists impose on the West a skewed picture of the Middle East. As a result one debated question is which model should guide Australia’s domestic and foreign policies: the one reflecting its own tradition of civil liberities as a Western nation, or the fear-driven model presented by Israel that depicts every Palestinian, and indeed every Arab, as a potential terrorist.

 

Part III – Reactions

 

Not all Australians are concerned about injustice in the Middle East and how its violent consequences may impact civil rights in the West. Australia’s present prime minister Tony Abbott (head of a badly misnamed Liberal Party), is a strong supporter of Israel. That means he accepts the Israeli vision of the West beset by Middle Eastern terrorists. Indeed, Mr. Abbott has told the citizens of Australia that such terrorists are “coming after us.”

 

Such scare tactics both exaggerate the threat from the Middle East while creating a counter threat to the rights of Australians. This is because fear can lead to government undermining an entire population’s liberties in the name of security.

 

On a more positive note the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has recently adopted a resolution calling for the creation of a Palestinian state using the 1967 armistice line as an Israeli-Palestinian border. There is much still wanting in the ALP position, but its recognition of the need for at least a modicum of justice for the Palestinians is certainly preferable to aping the Israeli position. And, the ALP might become ever more supportive of the Palestinians as Israel predictably continues its barbarian ways.

 

Australian public opinion also appears to be growing more critical of Israel (a general Western trend). If this trend continues it too could be used to pressure Australian politicians to act in a more pro-Palestinian way.

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

The scattering of Palestinian refugees throughout the Western world has challenged the image Israel presents of itself as a modern, civilized nation living according to ethical Western values. Joined now by increasing numbers of people who have visited Palestine to see conditions for themselves, the refugees are providing an alternate picture and message. As a result it is ever more difficult for those responsible for the victimization of Palestinians to silence their grievances. Simultaneously, the true nature of Zionist Israel is increasingly highlighted and its isolation becomes a greater possibility. The situation in Australia shows this process in action.

Does Egypt have a Government? – An Analysis (31 May 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – Military Despotism is not Government

 

Military officers often take over countries, but only a fool would call the result a government. Governments do not have to be democratic, but they do have to be rule-based. The rules can come in the form of generic laws or customs, but in all cases they have to be promulgated, that is, be publicly set forth. In addition, obedience to the rules has to rest on something more than fear. If whatever system is running the show is subject to the whim of an individual or group of individuals, or operates through rules known only to the police, or relies mostly on terror, it is not a government. It is a despotism of some sort. Most instances of military rule fit the description of despotism. Speaking of such regimes as governments is just so much nonsense.

 

By the way, dictionary definitions of government are usually inadequate, restricting themselves to vague statements like “a particular system used to control a country.“ If the mafia took over Italy, would you understand their form of control as government?
There has been progress over the years as to what really constitutes government, and the rule of the condottieri no longer fits.

 

Historically the United States and the politicians who create its foreign policy do not bother with such distinctions. Often they seem to prefer despotisms. Be it for ideological or economic reasons, the U.S. has indulged in regime change for almost two hundred years, and a good number of times the beneficiaries of such change are the local military bosses. This history has had a cumulative effect on U.S. credibility: today, when Washington proclaims its mission is to bring democratic government to an otherwise benighted world, almost no one outside of the USA believes it. This is a fact never mentioned by the mainstream American media.

 

Part II – The Case of Egypt

 

An example of a current military despotism that has been, and is now again, the recipient of U.S. military largess is the one in Egypt. The military has run things in Egypt since 1952, when a group of officers overthrew King Farouk and emasculated the Egyptian parliament. That situation lasted until 2011, when a popular revolt forced the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, an air force officer who had, for over thirty years, masqueraded as Egypt’s “fourth president.”

 

Mubarak’s fall was followed by a brief hiatus of democracy. During this time the Egyptian people actually engaged in a relatively free and fair election in which they selected a legitimate president in the person of Mohamed Morsi. The fact that Morsi was a religious Muslim did not make his election any less legitimate, though it did present those who did not vote for him with a choice. Would they accept an elected government led by a devout Muslim, with the implied possibility of altering its orientation though future elections, or would they reject the electoral results and revert back to military despotism, with the explicit awareness that changing that form of rule would require another popular revolution? We now know that a good number of those who did not vote for Morsi chose to return to military control.

 

Part III – Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Despotism

 

That sizable minority certainly has gotten what they wished for. Egypt is now back under the control of a military dictatorship, this time led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a “field marshal” who became the “sixth president” of Egypt by pulling off a coup in 2013, followed by a rigged national election.

 

What have “President” el-Sisi and his lieutenants been busy doing since putting aside their uniforms for tailored suits? Here is a list of items based on recent news reports as well as anonymously released recordings, which (shades of Richard Nixon) the Egyptian strongmen were at once arrogant and stupid enough to make.

 

They have been busy manipulating the Egyptian news media so as to construct a cult of personality in which el-Sisi is promoted as a heroic figure “carrying the responsibility of the country in an existential crisis.” The media have been instructed to describe el-Sisi as a “brave, special, free and patriotic Egyptian.” To criticize him is to “slander this beautiful thing we have found in our lives.” One can’t help wonder who dreamt up this terminology.

 

They have been busy funneling money into special accounts controlled by the military. It is of particular interest that one of these accounts is named the “Tamarrod” account. Tamarrod was the name of a supposedly independent secular and “democratic” youth movement that was very active in calling for the removal of Mohamed Morsi. This raises the question of whether significant elements of Egypt’s so-called democratic movement opposing Morsi were no more than fronts funded and manipulated by the military.

 

They have been busy manipulating the courts and legal system. This should come as no surprise, because at least since Mubarak’s time the Egyptian courts have been stacked with supporters of military rule. The elected Morsi government ran headlong into a so-called legal barrier when almost everything it attempted was overruled by a court system loyal to the deposed Mubarak dictatorship. Subsequently one of the charges being brought against Morsi by the restored military despotism is “insulting the judiciary.”

 

They have been busy destroying any person or group who would oppose them, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared “a terrorist organization.” For the Egyptian military to call the Muslim Brothers terrorists is like Israel calling the Palestinians terrorists. At the very least it is an example of projecting onto your foes tactics that you yourself practice. The el-Sisi cabal has also imprisoned and tried Mr. Morsi on a long list of manufactured charges, some of which may result in his execution. Last but not least, members of the truly independent secular democratic movement have been harassed and imprisoned.

 

And, of course, el-Sisi, this “beautiful thing” that has come into the lives of all Egyptians, has allied with Israel to oppose Palestinian resistance to occupation. As a result he and his cabal are now actively complicit in the ruination of every Palestinian trapped in Gaza.

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

There are many names you can give the present nature of rule in Egypt. You can call it a dictatorship, a despotism, a tyranny, a garrison state, unlimited rule, or even a reign of terror carried on by thugs in suits. All of these would be relatively accurate. What you can’t call it is a government. To do so would slander the centuries-long struggle against all forms of despotism that have taken place both in the West and in the East. And, even more to the point, it would slander all those Egyptians who have, at great personal risk, stayed loyal to the goal of democracy for their country.

Censorship at Southampton University – An Analysis (24 April 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – Censorship

 

Here is the situation: the threat of aggressive public protests against those assembling to critically discuss the behavior of Israel has become an excuse to shut down such gatherings. The latest example of this tactic, which is really a form of blackmail to impose censorship, took place last week at the University of Southampton in the UK.

 

An international conference entitled “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” was scheduled for 17-19 April 2015 at the University of Southampton. It was to bring together lawyers and scholars to examine the legal basis for the establishment of the State of Israel and the rationales (or lack thereof) for its historical treatment of the Palestinian people. The standard by which these issues were to be judged was international law. The conference would also have examined the issue of exceptionalism when it came to the inadequate legal and diplomatic response to Israeli policies and behavior. Conference participants were to include both those critical of Israel and those who would present a defense of Israeli practices.

 

This conference had been planned for over a year, yet days before its opening Southampton University announced that it would not allow the gathering to go ahead on its campus because there were “risks to safety and public order.” This was due to expected protests against the conference. Where did these risks come from? They originated with Zionists and their allies. Specifically, the Sussex Friends of Israel were ready to bring out as many as 300 peaceful protesters. In addition, there was likely to be a very small number of English Defense League members, who are anti-Muslim, pro-Israel, and potentially violent.

 

Certainly the Zionist rhetoric was aggressive and emotionally charged. The conference was described as a gathering of “Israel-haters,” “a rally of bigots,” a gathering of “toxic speakers,” and an “anti-Israel carnival.” It made no difference to these ideologically driven zealots that what was really planned was a sober investigation of historical patterns of behavior against the backdrop of internationally recognized legal norms.

 

Though the negative emotional energy ran high, the actual danger from the planned protests was probably quite minimal, and the local police declared themselves capable and ready to handle the situation. Nonetheless, instead of acting resolutely against those who would threaten free speech, the university simply gave in. It essentially ran scared not only from exaggerated threats of violence but, as seems always to be the case, from the wrath of a small number of financial donors who threatened to stop supporting the institution if it provided a forum for open discussion of issues that cast Israel in poor light. Essentially, Southampton university allowed itself to be blackmailed by Zionist censors.

 

One can speculate on what would have been the case if the situation were reversed. That is, if pro-Palestinian demonstrators had implied a “risk to safety and public order” at a Zionist conference upholding Israeli practices. The army would have been called out before such a conference was canceled.

 

Part II – An Ongoing Tactic

 

This is not the first time this sort of scenario has been played out. Back in 2001 the president of the University of South Florida, Judy Genshaft, forced Dr. Sami Al-Arian, then a member of the faculty, to stay away from the campus because of negative and slanderous media publicity and Zionist threats against him. This all stemmed from his vocal support of Palestinian rights. Here too a university administration allowed itself to be blackmailed by ideologically driven zealots. In the process it abandoned the principle of free speech and allowed censorship to prevail through threats of disruption.

 

There are other suspicious occurrences that may have been brought about by quieter forms of the same censoring pressures. For instance, in March this writer was invited to address the prestigious Oxford Union in London on a topic that would, in part, cover U.S. foreign policy in support of Israel. Within five days the invitation was withdrawn. The quick turnaround called into doubt the Oxford Union’s claim that the cause of the withdrawal was scheduling problems. While it is not possible to say for sure that the reversal was due to Zionist pressure, the present atmosphere of aggressive Zionist efforts to stymie all criticism of Israel and its supporters, makes this sort of occurrence appear suspicious.

 

Part III – Undermining the Rule of Law

 

What is going on here is not only the censoring of those critical of Israel, but the undermining of the rule of law, particularly international law. The irony is that much of this body of law was promulgated because of the savage persecution experienced by Europe’s Jews and others during the World War II. However, the Zionist element among Jewry (not all Jews) decided that their future lay not in the support of law, but in the creation of a state through a process of imperial invasion and colonial settlement. They pursued this objective just at the time when both classical imperialism and colonialism were going out of style and the European empires were falling apart. Thus, even at the moment it succeeded in establishing the State of Israel, Zionism was already an anachronism – an ideology that could only prevail through aggression and racist policies in a world that was trying to outlaw both types of behavior.

 

That Zionism has, to date, gained its goal is largely due to its having achieved for Israel an “exceptional” status in the West that has allowed it to escape the rule of law. In other words, Israel has evolved into a “rogue” state that is being protected by Western powers, particularly the United States. It has achieved this “exceptional” status by two means: first, the Zionist corruption of Western governments through a lobby process involving the bribing of politicians, and second, through the exploitation of the Western fear of the Arab and Islamic world.

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

The Zionists always complain that Israel is being singled out. For instance, one of the gambits used to attack the Southampton conference was as follows: “no academic conference on Pakistan, for instance, founded just a year before Israel, would consist solely of discussion on whether it should have been created and how to end it.” Putting aside the fact that this is an overly simplistic, and thus distorted, description of the Southampton conference, the comparison with Pakistan is off base. Pakistan was created as part of a process of decolonization. Israel was created in defiance of that same process. Zionist ideology, like any form of dogmatic thinking, ends up skewing history to its own needs.

 

Actually, as long as Israel insists on being “a Jewish state” instead of a democratic state of all its citizens, it must walk the path of apartheid. And, it can only get away with that through successfully maintaining an exceptional status – a status that puts it above international law. The Southampton conference would have exposed this situation in a factual and sober way – in a way that would be hard for any fair-minded person to doubt. That is why the Zionists went to such lengths to shut it down.

Palestine at the International Criminal Court: Potential and Problems – An Analysis (25 February 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – Going to the ICC

 

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was designed as a vehicle for the prosecution of the most heinous of crimes committed by individuals in positions of state authority – those military officers and politicians at the top of a national chain of command. Until recently ICC prosecutions have been limited to leaders of small and weak states. This is not because the leaders of powerful nations are not sometimes culpable, but rather because no member state of the ICC has yet brought a relevant complaint.

 

This situation is about to change. In November 2012 Palestine achieved official observer status within the United Nations and this position allowed it to join the ICC.

 

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) hesitated to take this next step as long as “peace negotiations” with Israel were ongoing. But by the spring of 2014, the latest round of such talks had proved as fruitless as their many predecessors. And so the Palestinians went ahead and signed the treaty that would make them a member nation of the Court – a status that becomes official in April 2015. Palestine has already requested the Court to begin a preliminary investigation of Israel’s actions within Palestinian territory (the Occupied Territories) during the 2014 invasion of Gaza. It is looking for indictments of Israeli leaders on war crimes charges.

 

This has made the Israeli government and its patron in Washington very angry. The U.S. Congress has sworn to defund the PNA, and the Israelis have sworn to “dissolve the ICC.” The reason for the anger rests on the fact that the evidence for the commission of war crimes by Israel is overwhelming.

 

Part II – Evidence

It is to be noted that even as the ICC begins its own formal investigation into Israeli behavior, the United Nations Human Rights Council has appointed a three-member independent commission of inquiry into possible violations of international law and human rights during the 2014 invasion. Its report is due this March. In the meantime Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem have all brought out their own independent reports.

 

Roughly, here are the facts as they are presently known:

 

– About 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in the period between July 8 and August 26. According to United Nations estimates 1,473 of these were civilians, including 527 children and 299 women. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 11,100 were injured, including 3,374 children, 2,088 women, and 410 elderly. This high casualty rate has been attributed to Israel’s “reckless and disproportionate use of deadly force in densely populated urban areas.”

In comparison, 71 Israelis were killed, of whom 4 were civilians; 469 Israeli soldiers were injured, as were 261civilians.

 

– The UN estimates that Israeli action destroyed 18,000 housing units, permanently displacing around 108,000 Gazans. In the process Israel specifically targeted the civilian homes of Palestinian political and military leaders.

 

– The Israelis also targeted the Gaza electrical grid, indefinitely knocking out the Gaza Strip’s only community-wide power plant.

 

– The destruction of the power plant caused the water treatment facilities to shut down. Thus 450,000 people were cut off from the municipal water system. Israeli tank fire also targeted reservoirs and individual wells. By the way, it doesn’t take a war for the Israelis to deny water to Palestinian communities. On 11 February 2015 it was reported that Israeli soldiers destroyed a thousand-meter pipeline supplying water to Palestinian communities in the northern Jordan Valley.

 

– Israeli tank fire destroyed Gaza’s largest sewage treatment plant.

 

– The UN reports that 22 schools were destroyed and 118 damaged, including UN schools sheltering displaced civilians. To this must be added the fact that an estimated that 373,000 children have been traumatized to the point of needing professional “psychosocial support.”

 

– Israel also targeted Palestinian factories, agricultural land and
facilities such as greenhouses, irrigation systems, animal
farms, and fishing boats.

 

– Israel targeted hospitals and medical clinics: 24 medical facilities were damaged as a result.

 

Part III – The Embedded Enemy Argument

 

The Israelis make the case that Hamas fighters embedded themselves within the civilian population and that is the reason for the high number of civilian casualties. This excuse does not account for their widespread and obviously purposeful destruction of civilian infrastructure.

 

Even if there is some truth to claim of an intermingling of fighters and the general population, one can ask why the resistance fighters would do this? Is it a voluntary, and therefore a callous and uncaring act? Or do they really have no choice? The latter is actually more likely because the Israelis have made Gaza into one of the most crowded places on the planet. Repeated expulsions of Palestinians from Israel into the Gaza Strip as well as the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, which prevents people from leaving, has resulted in 1.8 million Palestinians crammed into a 139 square mile area. The place is often referred to as an open-air prison or ghetto. It can argued that it is Israeli policies that have forced Gaza’s resistance fighters into civilian areas.

 

More damning still is the fact that there is a historical pattern to Israeli attacks on civilians, as well as civilian infrastructure. In other words, there is a conscious, purposeful strategy designed to produce the high civilian casualties through the practice of collective punishment. This strategy is as old as the state of Israel itself and is based on a hard-line, indeed an extremist interpretation of the concept of an Iron Wall – first propounded by the neo-fascist Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky. The purpose of an Iron Wall strategy was, and still is, to make the cost of resistance so high that the Palestinians will simply give up. This tactic has actually worked when it comes to some Arab governments, such as those in Jordan and post-Nasser Egypt. It may have also influenced the position of Mahmoud Abbas and the PNA. However, it has never worked on the Palestinian population in general or resistance groups such as Hamas.

 

Whether the Iron Wall strategy works or not is not the issue for the UN or ICC. Collective punishment and the purposeful destruction of civilian infrastructure are acts in contravention of international law. They are war crimes.

 

Part IV – The Argument of Self-Defense

 

The Israelis have always said that their wars are defensive ones and that, of course, they have a right to defend their country and people. It is within that context that they interpret the Palestinian decision to go to the ICC. As Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman asserts, the move “only aims at attempting to impact Israel’s ability to defend itself.”

 

Leaving aside the question of the legitimacy of Israel within the pre-1967 borders, the consensus of the vast majority of world governments is that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are occupied territories and that Israel has certain obligations under international law toward the people of those lands. Placing settlements of Israeli citizens into these territories and the purposeful impoverishment of their indigenous populations are illegal acts under international law.

 

Also, as a point of sheer logic, Israel’s violent and punitive reactions to what is actually Palestinian resistance to an occupation illegally administered, cannot accurately be called “self-defense.” Put another way, if you break into your neighbor’s house and he resists you, whereupon you shoot him, you cannot claim you did it in self-defense.

 

Most Zionists will protest that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are not occupied territories but rather are biblically parts of Israel proper or, perhaps, “contested territories.” However, beyond the Zionists’ own ideological circle, no one else believes these are credible arguments and it is highly unlikely they would be taken seriously by the ICC.

 

Part V – ICC Actions: Potential and Problems

 

The possibility of finally breaking through the facade of Zionist justifications and U.S. obfuscations, and actually branding Israel’s policy makers for the aggressors they are, is very encouraging. And, given the evidence, actual indictments should be returned. This outcome would give a big boost to the Boycott movement against Israel and, one would hope, undermine Zionist influence in the U.S. Congress and other Western governments.

 

However, it remains doubtful that any Israeli will be successfully brought to trial. Indeed, the dilemma such indictments will cause Western governments that are member states of the Court will be acute. For what happens if an indicted Israeli travels to France, the United Kingdom or Germany? After all, it could well be that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be charged. Will these governments honor their treaty obligations and comply with outstanding warrants issued by the ICC? Or will the prevailing Zionist influence in these countries lead them to defy the Court and thereby undermine the rule of law? It is by no means guaranteed that any of them will opt for the law.

 

Palestine’s request that the ICC take up Israeli behavior during its summer 2014 invasion of Gaza is a seminal cry for justice. It is also a seminal challenge to the Court and all its member states to see that international law applies to the strong and influential. As goes the judgment on Israel, so goes international law in our time.

 

The Mess in Iraq – An Analysis (19 June 2014) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – George W. Bush’s Invasion

 

Back in November 2003 President George W. Bush told the country that the invasion of Iraq was the part of an effort to “spread democracy throughout the Middle East.” Initially, of course, the president had declared that the U.S. attacked Iraq to fight terrorists who possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). This specific claim could be fact-checked and indeed it was. Bush’s claims, both about terrorists in Iraq and WMDs, turned out to be false. The follow-up claim about spreading democracy could not be fact-checked. We can’t even be sure if Bush and his neoconservative allies themselves believed in this radical goal of spreading democracy by the sword. Given that most of the regimes the U.S. has backed in the Middle East, including at one time that of Saddam Hussein, were autocracies of one sort or another, one can legitimately have doubts.

 
However, one thing we can be sure of – the Americans are not the only ones who can launch a crusade based on an age-old idea. Islamic radicals, who may think they are replicating the spread of Islam as it took place in the 7th and 8th centuries, can do it too. And, thanks to the George W. Bush, who opened the floodgates for them, these Islamist radicals are doing just that.

 

Part II – Saddam Hussein’s Culpability

 

Bush and the neocons could not have created today’s disastrous dilemma in Iraq all by themselves. There had to be preconditions, and for those we can look to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and the Sunni-Shiite divide he encouraged to further his power.

 

Worldwide, the Sunni sect of Islam is the majority one. Eighty-five to 90 percent of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis. However, in Iraq the opposite is the case. Only 9 percent of the Iraqi population are Sunni. The rest are mostly Shiites. Nonetheless, Saddam Hussein was of Sunni background and under his rule the Shiite majority was not trusted and often discriminated against, and their leaders were killed if they showed any signs of political resistance.

 

The hatred that built up among the Shiites during this period of dictatorial rule came to the surface with the American invasion. Shiite leaders now took over and, with American compliance, turned on the Iraqi Sunnis. That helped spark a civil war that goes on to this day. The present Iraqi government’s anti-Sunni policies are, of course, very unwise, but they are not unexpected, nor are they unpopular among the Iraqi Shiites.

 

In the current outbreak of violence, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the name of the radical fundamentalist group that has invaded Iraq from Eastern Syria and recently captured the city of Mosul, is also Sunni. My guess is that its commanders imagine they are acting in the tradition of the first Caliphs – God-approved and -inspired. Thus, the nom de guerre taken by the present ISIS leader is Jihadi Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Abu Bakr was the Muslim world’s first Caliph).

 

Part III – Current Problems

 

The U.S. now has two problems when it comes to Iraq: one is how to respond to the ISIS invasion. The other is how to face up to American culpability for the mess in Iraq.

 

Regarding the first, President Obama has announced that American ground troops will not go back into Iraq except to protect the U.S. embassy. As a consequence it is more likely that Iraq will find substantial assistance from Tehran than Washington. Nonetheless, this is a wise decision. Obama has also urged a political solution. It is hard to know what that means when it comes to the ISIS – like hard-core ideologues of all stripes, they are not compromising types. Probably Obama is trying to pressure the Iraqi government to make amends with its Sunni citizens. That is a very good idea. Reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq is the key to the defeat of ISIS and the country’s future stability.

 

Then, there is the second matter: how do we face up to American culpability? Pointing fingers at the current president might be politically convenient for repugnant Republicans and neocons, but it is thoroughly ahistorical. The Republican charge is based on the notion that Obama pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq too quickly. The Iraqi army wasn’t ready to stand on its own and we abandoned them.

 

The charge is simply wrong. The Iraqi parliament itself had voted against allowing American troops to stay in the country beyond the end of the so-called Status of Forces Agreement. Obama wanted to leave a contingent of U.S. advisers in Iraq but decided against it when the Iraqi government refused to grant the advisers legal immunity. There was also the fact that the U.S. withdrawal came as a response to the will of the majority of the American people.

 

The fact that the Iraqi armed forces were not in good shape at the time of withdrawal was not Obama’s fault. After all the U.S. military, its trainers and advisers, had been in Iraq for years under the Bush administration. And, it can be argued that even if U.S. advisers had stayed during Obama’s time in office it would have made no difference. Take, for instance, the case of Iran under the Shah. From 1954 to 1979 the U.S. supplied and trained the Shah’s military forces. In 1979 that military force collapsed almost immediately in the face of popular revolution.

 

For U.S. forces to stay in control of Iraq until the indigenous military were professionally capable was to commit to decades of occupation – a scenario unpopular both in Iraq and the U.S. Even then the issue would be in doubt if the political context undermined Iraqi military morale and loyalty to the government. The political situation is key in these matters.

 

Part IV – War Criminals

 

If you want to look for those Americans who have real responsibility for this mess you have to go to those who put American troops in Iraq in the first place. You have to turn to George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies. Those are the less than brilliant minds who concocted the destruction of Iraq and left it in shambles.

 

Former President George W. Bush invaded Iraq on the basis of what he now claims was faulty intelligence. But this is disingenuous. He himself insisted upon and then arranged for that faulty information – a fact now conveniently forgotten by himself, his neocon allies, and the media. As usual, the only way the Republicans can blame their opponent – Obama – is by maintaining a purposeful ignorance of past events.

 

The truth is that George W. Bush and his accomplices are war criminals chargeable with the same indictment brought against the German and Japanese leaders after World War II. I am not talking about genocide, as that was not the charge against these leaders. I am talking about the waging of unnecessary and offensive war – launching an invasion without proper legal cause. Today’s mess in Iraq is a direct consequence of that same sort of criminal act.

 

Parti V – Conclusion

 

If you want to blame President Obama and his cohort for something, blame them for letting his criminal predecessor off the hook. No doubt Obama’s advisers told him that all presidents commit acts that may be criminal in nature and to indict Bush and his team was to set a precedent that might eventually turn around and be applied to Obama himself.

 

Thus, after a meaningless statement about “no one being above the law,” Obama decided not to pursue a criminal investigation into the murderous operations of George W. Bush and the neocons. “I … have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. …I don’t want them [government officials] to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.”

 

The problem is that “looking forward” only works if you take the past seriously. And in Iraq you can’t understand either the disastrous present or the likely horrid future without acknowledging the past actions the Bush administration. At the very least the media – those responsible for informing the American people of what is going on in the world – might realize this, stop castigating Obama and start telling the unvarnished truth about George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies – the men and women who really brought you the current mess in Iraq.