Archive for the ‘U.S. Foreign Affairs’ Category
A Victory for Diplomacy – An Analysis (2 December 2013) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The Diplomatic Deal with Iran
By now most readers know that the five permanent member nations of the UN Security Council – the United States, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom – plus Germany, (referred to as the P5+1) have reached a six-month interim diplomatic settlement with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Within this six-month period the P5+1 powers and Iran will seek to conclude a permanent and comprehensive agreement. Readers may also know what Iran has to do according to the agreement, because most of the Western media have repeatedly listed those terms. Either skimmed over or skipped altogether are those things the P5+1 have to do for Iran. Here is a brief synopsis of the agreement:
For the next six months Iran has undertaken to:
- Limit its uranium enrichment program to the 5% level – the level suitable for nuclear power plant fuel – while diluting its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to below the 5% level. The 20% enriched uranium was used by Iran for medical treatment and research, but the paranoia of the Western powers caused it to be seen as fuel for nuclear weapons.
- Hold to present level the size of its low-enriched (5%) stockpile.
- Halt efforts to produce plutonium (a particularly efficient nuclear weapons material).
- Limit its use of present centrifuges and not construct future ones. The centrifuges are the devices that take “uranium gas” and concentrate it into nuclear fuel. It is the through calibration of the centrifuges that the percentage of enrichment is determined.
– Allow daily inspections of its nuclear facilities.
There are other obligations as well, but these are the principal ones. All of these demands are a reflection of the obsessive conviction of influential and noisy elements in the West, and particularly on the part of the Zionist-influenced U.S. Congress, that Iran is determined to produce nuclear weapons. This obsession has persisted even though Western intelligence agencies repeatedly testified that there was and is no evidence for this assertion. Essentially, this entire affair is the product of unsubstantiated right-wing Zionist anxiety, which in turn has infected pro-Zionist elements in the West.
The fact that this suspicion of Iran has been built up around a fantasy made it easier for the Islamic Republic to agree to the present deal. They never did plan to build a bomb, so giving up the imaginary program was giving up nothing. On the other hand, what Iran is worried about are matters of principle. For instance, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has a legal right to enrich uranium. It wants that right recognized. Accepting an enrichment process to the 5% level appears sufficiently face-saving for Tehran to agree to the interim settlement.
So what did Iran get in return? For the next six months the P5+1powers and particularly the United States have undertaken to:
- Impose no new sanctions on Iran.
- Suspend present sanctions on (a) gold and precious metals (b) Iran’s auto sector, and (c) Iran’s petrochemical exports. This should give Iran up to $1.5 billion in revenue.
- Cease interference with Iranian oil exports at their present levels.
- Allow for safety-related repairs and inspections for Iranian airlines.
- Release frozen Iranian funds earmarked to pay the tuition of Iranian students attending colleges in third countries.
- Facilitate humanitarian transactions (such as Iran’s importation of medicine), which, even though not covered in the sanctions, had been periodically made difficult by U.S. government bureaucrats.
It is a sign of just how malicious the West can be that they are willing to make difficult for Iran such things as airline safety, education and medicine.
Part II – The Managed Reporting of the Deal
One of the remarkable things about the Western reporting of this very significant diplomatic achievement – after all the U.S. and Iran have had no formal relations for some 33 years – is that it largely ignores Western obligations under the agreement. Even al-Jazeera America’s coverage was scanty in this regard. Why would this be so?
One can only assume that having harped on Iran as a danger to the West for 33 years, and created the an irrational fear of a nonexistent Iranian nuclear weapons program, the U.S. government and its media partners had to frame the agreement in a way that put the onus on Iran.
The Obama administration is stuck with the consequences of those 33 years. Iran has long been the centerpiece in a near-hysterical campaign by Zionists and neoconservatives that portrays the Muslim world as the successor to the old Soviet Union. Communism has been replaced by Islam, and now that the U.S. is supposedly the only real superpower in the world, the message of this campaign is that the United States should act in a preemptive way and use its military and economic power to stamp out alleged real and potential threats. This was the doctrine of the George W. Bush administration, and it led to the disastrous invasion of Iraq. This is the doctrine of the American Zionists who are interested in destroying any Muslim power that may someday challenge Israel.
President Obama’s failure to follow this doctrine, at least in the case of Iran, has made him a target for these warmongers. Reporting the interim agreement with Iran in way that emphasizes Iranian obligations while playing down those of the United States and the West is a tactic to counter the hysteria on the right.
And hysteria is the operative word here. It betrays itself in ridiculous historical comparisons and vicious name-calling. Take for example the hyperbole of Daniel Pipes. Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum and publisher of the Middle East Quarterly, both sounding boards for the Zionist worldview. In an article appearing in the right-wing National Review Pipes writes, “This wretched deal offers one of those rare occasions when comparison with Neville Chamberlain in Munich in 1938 is valid.” This is utter nonsense.
In 1938 the populations of Britain and France wanted peace and their politicians were willing to allow Hitler to act in warlike fashion toward a third party, Czechoslovakia, in order to get what they thought was “peace in our time.”
Today the Western populations have been brought to a state of high suspicion of Iran which is just barely countered by their being sick and tired of war in the Middle East. That is one of the reasons the Iran deal is proceeding in steps.
There is absolutely no basis for comparison between Munich and the deal just made with Iran. At Munich, Germany was turned loose. In the present deal Iran is not let loose but constrained. After Munich there were no inspectors running around Nazi Germany checking on things. In Iran there is now a small army of inspectors. After Munich no one was telling Hitler that if he didn’t behave, the alternative was war. That is what Obama’s speeches imply. The present deal is, in these ways, the complete opposite of Munich.
What sort of world does Pipes live in that he misreads the situation so dramatically? It is an Orwellian world warped by Zionist ideology.
Since these ideologues have opened the door to ugly comparisons, let’s get something straight here. It is not the case that Barack Obama is like Neville Chamberlain. It is, however, the case that the neocons and their ilk remind one of Adolf Hitler, at least when it comes to manufacturing false scenarios for war and then relentlessly selling them to the public. Then, when they are checked, they display the same exaggerated, temper tantrum-like hysterics as did the fascist leaders of the 1930s. So, if anyone is looking for the real threat to Western or Israeli security (existential or otherwise), it is these ideologically blinkered neoconservatives and Zionists along with their media allies.
Part III – Conclusion
The interim deal with Iran is an act of sanity, and the present American administration, whatever other foreign policy shortcomings it has displayed (and there have been plenty) deserves praise for defying the radical right and pushing it through. As to the deal’s detractors in and out of Congress, they are the warmongers among us and deserve to be exposed as such. They are a danger to the world and to their own country. Keep in mind the words of James Madison: “if tyranny and oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”
Still Staying Sober – An Analysis (14 October 2013) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Good News
On 22 May 2013 I wrote an analysis titled “Staying Sober.” It recounted two news stories that drew many hopeful comments from progressives. One was about the New York-based federal judge who placed an injunction on the U.S. government’s practice of indefinite detention. The other was the momentary success of Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli prisons at attaining some relief from their intolerable conditions. They too were protesting, among other things, that country’s version of indefinite detention.
I noted that these were battles won and precedents to take heart from. They showed what was possible through determined opposition against unjust state practices. However, winning battles is not equivalent to winning wars, so it would be wise to celebrate soberly, knowing the struggles were not over. As it turned out, that was good advice. The New York judge’s injunction was overturned on appeal and the behavior of the Israelis quickly reverted to the status quo ante.
Today we are in a similar situation. Again we have two news stories that have raised the hopes of progressives. The first is the decision of U.S. President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani to engage diplomatically, a step which represents a setback for the influence of the Zionist lobby. The second report is about a poll indicating that a near majority of American Jews think the Israeli government is not serious about peace with the Palestinians. Again, while both developments show movement in the right direction – movement that progressives can help sustain – it would be wise to stay sober.
Part II – The Diplomatic Approach to Iran
The most immediately uplifting event was President Obama’s diplomatic approach to Iran. I was quite impressed with the president’s move in this direction and said so in an analysis posted on 5 October 2013. However, others have seen this move as a possible “radical reforging of American foreign policy.” While a delightful thought, I think this is highly unlikely. Consider the following:
– One of the things that makes this move so surprising and welcome to progressives is that it defies very powerful opposition. But of course that opposition will not simply give up. The neocons and Zionist devotees are still out there and are working overtime to sabotage this rare act of sanity in foreign policy. What really stands in their way is the publicly recognized popular opposition to another war, particularly in the Middle East. That’s great. However, progressives will have to continue to work hard to keep it that way because the public is fickle and vulnerable to media propaganda.
– It is one thing to get to the negotiating table and another to have the political wherewithal and courage to make the reasonable compromises necessary for a successful settlement. The Iranians want their rights recognized and sanctions lifted. Getting Congress to go along with that will take visible public demand. Progressives will have to find a way to help realize that demand.
Part III – American Jewish Attitude Toward Israel
A recent Pew Research Center poll of American Jews found that nearly half (48 percent) “do not think that the current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement.” Forty-four percent agree that “the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts Israel’s security.” Actually, given the obvious nature of these facts, it is a wonder that the percentages aren’t much higher. Nonetheless, questionable conclusions have been drawn from this poll by both Zionists and those critical of Zionist behavior. Consider the following:
– Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (an avid Zionist organization), tends to exaggerate the negative message (as he sees it) of the poll. He dismissed this near majority of critical Jews as those who “do not care” about Israel. He declared that they are not his constituency. Only those who “do care” – that is, the Israel right or wrong crowd – are the ones he will pay attention to. Well, that is convenient for Foxman. He will only listen to those who agree with him and, so, he can go blissfully into the future guided by the logical fallacy of confirmation bias.
Of course, this is a gamble on Foxman’s part. The number of American Jews (which, by the way, includes an increasing number of Israeli expatriates) who are more or less alienated from Israeli policy is growing. Groups that seek to co-opt this process, like J Street and Taglit-Birthright, might slow it but they cannot stop it, much less reverse it, as long as Israel remains a racist and expansionist country. On the other hand, as long as those “who care” have the money to fund the Zionist lobby sufficiently to buy the support of Congress, Foxman’s narrow worldview of Israel uber alles (Israel “more than anything else”) will not wholly collapse.
– Those who see great positive significance in the Pew poll might also be off the mark. For instance, Juan Cole, a Middle East historian and well-known blogger whose opinions are usually very accurate, tends to exaggerate the positive importance of the Pew results. In Cole’s opinion the Zionist-oriented American Jewish establishment no longer represents most of the country’s Jews. Here, I think, Cole is correct. However, his conclusion that the Zionist lobby can therefore “most often be safely defied” by politicians and other policy makers is probably incorrect. Cole’s proposition would be true if counting Jewish voters was the sole antidote for fear and trembling induced by the Zionist lobby.
However, those Jewish voters critical of Israel are not organized into a lobby that can compete with the Zionists. There is no indication that they are ready to punish politicians who support racist Israel by denying them their votes. And they are not so rich as to be able to help others compete with the Zionists in buying Congressional votes. In other words, the Jewish opinions reflected in the Pew poll offer insufficient cover for those politicians who want to defy Zionist lobby power.
It is only when these critical Jews are joined by millions of non-Jewish voters that the potential of overcoming the Zionist lobby becomes real. That is what happened in the cases of Syria and Iran, when public opposition to hostile action and war gave politicians the cover they needed to defy Zionist political clout.
Part IV – Staying Sober
At the end of my May 2013 analysis, I drew the following conclusion: “On the up side, the news stories analyzed here demonstrate that battles against even the most entrenched and powerful of foes can be won. To win wars, however, is another thing altogether. … It should sober us all to realize that it will take staying power – the sort of staying power that has already kept many other struggles for rights and justice going for decades if not generations.”
The power of special interests and their abilities to turn politicians and government bureaucracies to their own purposes is probably as old as civilization itself. We have to face that and be prepared to fight not just the current battle, but recurrent battles into the indefinite future. We must train our children to fight those battles. The British parliamentarian Barbara Castle put it this way: “I will fight for what I believe in until I drop dead. And that’s what keeps me alive.”
Zionism versus Diplomacy and Peace – An Analysis (5 October 2013) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Moderate Iran
Iran’s new and more moderate President Hassan Rouhani came to the United Nations at the end of September. Amidst numerous interviews and diplomatic discussions, his message was clear: no, Iran will not give up its legal right to enrich uranium and no, Iran will not develop nuclear weapons. According to Rouhani, Iran is willing to prove this second point by “ensuring full transparency [of its nuclear program] under international law.” In exchange for doing so, Iran will demand “a total lifting” of international sanctions. In truth, this has been the position of the Iranian government for years. As far back as 2005 Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei declared that nuclear weapons violated Islamic law and Iran would not construct them. It primarily has been due to pressure from the Israelis and their Zionist lobby in Washington that U.S. politicians have refused to believe these Iranian assertions.
To overcome this lobby-induced skepticism, President Rouhani has switched from the in-your-face behavior that characterized his predecessor, Mahmoud Amadinejad, to a more tactful, forthcoming approach. At least for now this shift has borne fruit. There was the recent historic fifteen-minute phone call between him and President Obama, as well as a brief meeting between Secretary of State Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif. According to Kerry, Zarif “put some possibilities on the table,” and this has led to a scheduled round of “substantive talks” between Iran and the main Western nations in Geneva on October 15-16.
Part II – A Favorable White House Response
What has loosened the grip of lobby power and allowed the Obama administration to meet the Iranian initiative favorably? Certainly Rouhani’s so-called charm offensive helped, but it can’t be the only reason. More fundamentally, the likelihood that a U.S attack on Syria would end in a debacle and the overwhelming popular opinion against such action set the scene for this latest turn toward diplomacy with Iran. According to a Washington Post opinion poll, 85% of Americans want better relations with Iran. That is the type of political ammunition that can do successful battle with selfish special interest pressure.
As politician and president, Obama has been caught between a desire to avoid war with Iran, a war that would almost certainly harm the Western world’s economy, and the political pressure of the powerful American Zionist lobby. The Zionists ultimately seek to ensure that U.S. policy falls in line with Israel’s desires to see Iran destroyed. This Zionist position reflects the distorted view of Israeli interests held by its ideologically myopic, militaristic elite, but it conflicts with the long-term interests of the United States. If nothing else, the disastrous foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration demonstrated that American interests cannot possibly be served by starting a war with dangerous and unpredictable consequences against a country that has never been a direct threat to the U.S. Obama knows this and, occasional rhetoric aside, has been hesitant and cautious in his approach to Iran.
The fact that he does not have to face reelection has positioned Obama to better separate out Israeli and American interests when it comes to Iran. American public opinion, first in the case of the Syrian episode and now in the case of Iran, has encouraged him to do so.
However, not all U.S. politicians enjoy this position. As M. J. Rosenberg tells us in a piece entitled “Will AIPAC Defeat Obama on Iran?” many in Congress still stand exposed to Zionist pressure. Rosenberg asserts that “the Netanyahu government and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) are both determined to end the process [toward settlement with Iran] and have the ability to do it.” How so? “They intend to use the United States Congress [to] pass resolutions that will cause Rouhani to walk away by making it clear that Congress will accept nothing short of Iranian surrender on nuclear issues.” And indeed, the usual suspects in Congress, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who in a more rational world would be recognized as part-time agents of a foreign power (Israel), are already formulating resolutions and legislation to promote war.
Rosenberg notes that, ultimately, it is money that suborns the Congress. Why, he asks, would any in Congress pass measures that go against the interests of their own country and risk involvement in yet another Middle Eastern war? “The answer is simply that the midterm elections are coming up and that means members of Congress need campaign cash. And AIPAC provides it.” Fortunately, there is a catch to this rather corrupt process. The alliance between the politicians and the Zionist lobby depends on a passive citizenry that does not threaten electoral defeat of politicians who promote special interest wars when the voters want peace. Right now, the voters do not seem very passive.
Part III – Zionist Blindness
The American Zionists take their marching orders from Israel’s leaders and seem oblivious to this development. In his speech to the UN, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed no interest in compromise with Iran. He dismissed President Rouhani’s diplomatic efforts as deceitful, interpreted every Iranian defensive military move as an offensive threat, and let it be known that Israel wants sanctions to continue and to be backed with threats of hostile action.
The prime minister insists that he takes this stance to protect the interests of Israel. However, Netanyahu seems to have never considered the fact that by having the Zionist lobby pressure Washington to do his military dirty work, he makes the whole affair the interest of every American citizen. Insofar as the Israelis and their Zionist agents increase the likelihood of yet more wars, they expose their allies in the Congress to a political reaction that risks their defeat the first moment they have an opponent willing to follow the public’s demand for diplomacy and peace.
Part IV – Conclusion
Political Zionists are ideologues, and therefore if something does not happen to call into question their ideology, they will go on believing they are in the right even up to and through the gates of Hell. This blinkered mindset is sometimes called “motivated reasoning,” or more broadly “confirmation bias.” As explained by author Michael Shermer, people who think this way refuse to consider or give any credit to data that does not “fit their creed.” That describes Benjamin Netanyahu perfectly.
Members of Congress who consistently support the political Zionist position are usually motivated by something other than ideology. They are motivated by money. That does not necessarily make them bad people, it just makes them slaves to a bad political system. The ability to call into question their financial allegiance to the Zionists is readily possible when a publicly recognized difference evolves between the desires of the voters who put them in office and the desires of this particular special interest. That now seems to be happening in the case of U.S. foreign policy toward Iran.
Of course, the Zionists did this to themselves. They pushed and pushed for U.S. hostilities against Iran and assumed that they had no real opposition except a weakling president. They were wrong. Their opposition was nationwide, but they were blinded to it by their “motivated reasoning” and their hubris. As for President Obama, he seems to have finally found his courage amidst popular demands for peace and diplomacy. Let’s hope this all too rare condition of sanity lasts.
Congress and the Imperial Presidency Debate Syria – An Analysis (3 September 2013) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The President Goes to Congress
President Obama has sidestepped the political hole he had dug for himself (what we might call the “red line” hole) over his proposed attack on Syria. Having insisted there must be “consequences” for a breach of international law, specifically the alleged use of banned chemical weapons by the Syrian government, he was faced with both popular American reluctance to support military action and Congressional pique over not being included in the decision process.
As a consequence President Obama announced on 31 August 2013 that he now supports a Congressional debate and vote on the issue of attacking Syria. Then he told us how he sees the situation, “This [Syrian chemical] attack is an assault on human dignity…. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons…. Ultimately this is not about who occupies this [White House] office at any given time, its about who we are as a country.”
Part II – The U.S. and Chemical Weapons
For all I know, the president really believes his own words, but I am pretty sure his implied question of “who we are as a country” is meant to be rhetorical. If one was to give an evidence-based answer to that inquiry, as it relates to chemical weapons, it would be embarrassing in the extreme. Lest we forget, the U.S. defoliated parts of Vietnam with a chemical weapon called Agent Orange and by its use killed a lot more than large swaths of jungle. Agent Orange killed and maimed an estimated 400,000 Vietnamese and an estimated half a million children have subsequently been born deformed. It also did a fatal job on many of the American troops that handled the stuff. Later, the U.S. sold chemical and biological weapons-grade material to Saddam Hussein and followed up by helping his army aim the stuff accurately at Iranian troops. Saddam also used it on the Iraqi Kurds. Then there is the fact that our “very special friend,” Israel, used phosphorous bombs (a banned chemical weapon) on the civilians of Gaza. At the time Israel did this, President Obama occupied the oval office. I don’t remember him displaying any moral angst or positioning U.S. ships in the eastern Mediterranean with cruise missiles aimed at Israeli airbases. The truth is that during all of these episodes no one in the government worried (at least publicly) about what our actions or lack thereof, said about what sort of country this is.
However, this question does deserve a direct answer. What sort of country is the U.S. in relation to the use of chemical weapons? The kindest answer one can give is it is a bloody hypocritical nation.
Part III – Back to Congress
Nonetheless, sending the issue of a possible attack on Syria to Congress is a timely political move for the president. It puts off having to face the dilemma of taking military action that cannot both constitute meaningful punishment for the violation of international law and, at the same time, keep the U.S. from becoming ever more deeply embroiled in the Syrian civil war.
It also could be a good political move for the U.S. as a whole because it creates a good precedent. Having Congress debate and vote on the issue of military action against Syria could help resuscitate the moribund War Powers Act. Although Obama claims he has the authority to launch an attack no matter what Congress decides, he would be politically hard pressed to do so if the legislators said don’t do it. Thus the maneuver might narrow the otherwise rapidly expanding powers of the imperial presidency. Of course, none of this means that Congress can’t be scared or otherwise bamboozled into giving the president the power to do something militarily stupid. Vietnam and Iraq stand as powerful precedents in that regard.
There is another very interesting potential consequence of the president’s going to Congress. It might create a situation where there is a publicly noticeable difference between the express desires of a majority of the voting population and the special interests now encouraging military action against Syria. In my last analysis I laid out the idea that in the interim between elections, the influence of powerful special interests have much more to say about policy than do the voters, most of whom pay little attention to foreign policy. Now, however, we have a rare moment when the populace is paying attention and polls indicate that a healthy majority do not want further intervention in the Middle East. Who will the Congress respond to in the upcoming debate and vote, their special interest constituents or the voting kind?
Part IV – Conclusion
Of course, the notion that the President of the United States, with or without Congressional approval, has the authority to act as the world’s “policeman” and punish violators of international laws, that it itself flaunts, is offensive and dangerous. There are international institutions in place such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) that, imperfect as they are, can be used to prosecute violations such as the use of banned weapons. (It is to be noted that the cause of “human dignity” would be greatly advanced if the U.S. would stop refusing to ratify the treaty empowering the ICC).
How do you characterize a situation where one or a small number of community members takes it upon themselves to go outside the law to punish alleged wrongdoers? Here in the U.S. this is known as “vigilante justice.” Most often this sort of behavior results is a “lynching” based on little or no reliable evidence.
President Obama’s going to Congress will not change the vigilante nature of U.S. intentions. Let’s just hope that Congress listens to the people this time around and tells the President to keep his cruise missiles to himself. And then, lets hope he does just that.
In Syria, Weapons of Mass Destruction Redux – A Brief Analysis (28 August 2013) by Lawrence Davidson
If you ever doubted the erosion of popular democracy in the U.S., the next few weeks should set you straight. The simple fact is that the voting population is the main “constituency” of politicians only at election time. Right now it is reported that approximately 60% of that constituency does not want the U.S. to attack Syria. However, it is not election time. In the post-election period, the politician’s real constituency becomes special interests, some of which are rich enough and influential enough to substitute their own parochial interests for the interests of the nation. There are a bunch of them which are now anxious for an attack on Syria.
The media is presently rife with reports that the U.S. government, along with other countries like the UK and France, operating with the blessing of the so-called Arab League (which has become little more than a front operation for the Gulf Arabs), are going to militarily strike Syria in just a matter of days. This will be done to supposedly punish that country for the alleged use of chemical weapons in its ongoing civil war. The U.S. government keeps saying they are sure the Assad government carried out this attack, but where are they getting their information? Well, that is rather shady. Washington won’t really say, but one can guess at the most likely sources. These might well be: (1) the rebels fighting against the Damascus regime (a great source of disinformation), (2) Israeli and Saudi “intelligence” (the Israelis have supplied Washington with supposedly genuine communication intercepts “proving” the Chemical attack was ordered by Damascus), and (3) “independent medical personnel” in the area who have allegedly blamed the government. Like the rest of the government’s sources these medical accusers have not been named, and as far as I can determine, the only reliable source of this kind, the organization Doctors without Borders (DWB), has said that they cannot pinpoint the source of the attack.
Even though all of these sources (with the exception of DWB) are prejudiced against the Assad regime and would not hesitate to censor, alter and outright fake evidence, Washington is “sure enough” of the Syrian government’s guilt to position naval vessels with cruise missiles off the coast of Syria. The capacity of those missiles to kill civilians is as great or greater than any weapon in the field in Syria.
If this all sounds familiar, it is because it is roughly the same scenario played out by the Bush administration in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. In that case, the “weapons of mass destruction” Mr. Bush and his cronies told us about for months on end turned out to be products of the administration’s overwrought imagination. This is not the kind of precedent that builds confidence in the D.C. policy makers.
If this military intervention does take place (probably right after the UN weapons inspectors leave the country), it will confirm not only the strength of special interests (the usual suspect here is the Zionist lobby) but also the corruptive consequences of that influence on the entire foreign policy making process. That Obama can be brought to repeat the fatal stupidities of Bush so soon shows that all reference to peace and security as a goal for the nation are gone and the groundwork for future 9/11s is being laid with stubborn disregard for past mistakes.
The average citizen is not going to know what is going on except through the mass media, and we know that most of these outlets will, de facto, follow a conventional government line. Journalistic investigation of policy formation, at least among the mass media, is in abeyance in this country. For that insight you have to go to such Web sources as Consortium News, Truthout, Media With a Conscience, Brave New World and Counterpunch, among others, and only a tiny percentage of the population does so. So public opinion is readily manipulated and managed.
Is our situation in this regard as bad as some of the countries we scorn for having no free speech and no “independent” media? Maybe not. However, that is because our politicians and bureaucrats have found subtler, velvet-gloved ways of filling our brains with propaganda. Who knows, President Obama, like his predecessor, might be the biggest true believer of them all in this latest story involving “weapons of mass destruction.” Of course, in this case, someone used them, but Washington probably doesn’t really know who, and, in the end, probably doesn’t care.
What National Interest? An Analysis (5 August 2013) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – National Interest or Lobby Interest?
President Obama and his congressional colleagues are carrying on an established, yet clearly dangerous, tradition of U.S. foreign policy — the mixing up of national interest and the parochial interests of powerful lobby groups. Indeed, given the way U.S. federal politics has long operated, national interest is, except in rare cases, an impossible notion. This is because almost all politicians and both political parties are so tied to, and financially dependent upon, powerful lobby groups that they cannot formulate independent positions on issues important to these lobbies. Thus, what is put forth as national interest is most often the interest of a particular interest group with too much money buying too much influence.
In today’s foreign policy arena this conflation of the general and the particular is best seen in U.S. policies in the Middle East. Here are four recent examples:
- The renewal of “peace talks” between the Israelis and the Palestinians is presently big news. The Obama administration casts itself as the “honest broker” bringing the two sides together to renew negotiations after a three-year hiatus. However, the United States has never served as an “honest broker” between these two parties and this is one of the reasons that their conflict has remained unresolved so long.
Why can’t the U.S. be the “honest broker”? Because the American government is in no position to formulate an independent policy reflecting the nation’s national interest in a just and therefore lasting peace. The Zionist lobby (made up of both Jewish and Christian Americans) is so powerful that the vast majority of politicians and both political parties will not defy it. So the U.S. position is always pro-Israel.
That is why the Obama administration recently appointed Martin Indyk “special envoy to shepherd [Israeli-Palestinian] talks toward a final settlement.” Indyk is an outright Zionist whose lack of impartiality contributed to the failure of peace talks under the Clinton administration. There is no secret about this, nor is there any apparent embarrassment on the part of the Obama administration at simultaneously claiming to be a worthwhile mediator while assigning an overtly prejudiced envoy to the talks.
The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that, if there is a “settlement,” it will be a pro-Israeli one forced upon a Palestinian National Authority, which, in any case, is made up of people who are not representative of the Palestinians at large and really have no legal standing to negotiate anything, much less a final status agreement. Is this a formula for future peace? Of course not. But it is what the Zionist lobby finds acceptable.
- If the appointment of Indyk were not enough to indicate the lack of any “national interest” guiding American policy when it comes to the “peace talks,” then this next item is definitive. According to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, a confidential letter from President Obama delivered to the Israeli government gave assurances that the U.S. position is that Palestinian refugees should return only to a future Palestinian State and not to Israel (from where many were evicted). In addition, any settlement of borders should reflect “the reality on the ground.” Such a position prejudices the outcome of negotiations in favor of the Israelis and therefore will certainly deny justice to the Palestinians. That almost assures future strife and cannot possibly reflect U.S. national interest. Objectively, it does not even reflect Israeli national interest. It does, however, coincide with the wishes of the Zionist lobby in Washington.
- In late July Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told Congress that President Obama will not make a judgment whether the military removal of Mohammad Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, constituted a coup. Under U.S. law, if the government judges what happened in Egypt to be a coup, all American aid to the Egyptian military ($1.3 billion a year) would have to stop. However, the Obama administration does not want the aid to stop, and so Burns announced that, “The law does not require us to make a formal determination as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination.” Just how does Burns determine “national interest”? Well, in this case the “national interest” is having an Egyptian officer corps, bribed with U.S. tax dollars to act in a pro-Israeli fashion, running their country. Thus U.S. “national interest” is defined by Israeli national interest. If presented this way to the American people, there would no doubt be objections, so our policy is publicly put forth differently. According to a recent statement by Secretary of State John Kerry, the Egyptian military removed a freely and fairly elected government in order to “restore democracy.”
- Finally, there is the U.S. Congress’s obsessive refusal to come to terms with Iran. One of the longest series of foreign policy bills to come out of the post 9/11 Congresses are bills levying sanctions on Iran. Ostensibly, this is because Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Wait a minute! For years the heads of every relevant American intelligence agency have been telling each of those Congresses that there is no evidence that the Iranians are seeking such weapons. No matter, the Zionist lobby says they are and, what’s more, has helped write every one of those sanctions bills. Now, just days before a new moderate Iranian president takes office, the House of Representatives passes the most punitive sanctions bill yet. Let’s insult the guy we might be able to deal with. U.S. national Interest? No, the interest of a powerful lobby.
Part II – Lobby Interest and the War on Terror
What has this literal selling out to the Zionists of U.S. national interests in the Middle East gotten the country? For one thing, it helped bring on the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. However, you can’t expect those who sold their independence for a handful of campaign silver and other political support to admit this. Thus, no branch of the U.S. government has ever owned up to the fact that terrorist attacks are in part a product of American foreign policies. Having refused to grasp this fact, the U.S. government has failed to make any reforms in how it formulates such policies. Which means the special interests are still in charge.
As a consequence we find the following: “The State Department issued a worldwide alert on Friday [2 August 2013] as it suspended operations in 21 Muslim countries in response to ‘current information’ that suggests al Qaida and affiliated militant groups could strike within the next month.” By the way, just a year ago Washington was telling us that the “defeat of al Qaida was within reach.” This premature optimism was then replaced by last May’s gloomy prediction that the “war on terror” is likely to last “another 10 or 20 years.” The truth is that unless we come to see national interest apart from the parochial interests of powerful lobbies such as the Zionists, there will be no end at all to the terrorist threat.
Part III – Conclusion
This is a hole that the U.S. political system dug for itself. There is enough entrenched conservatism in the country to make campaign finance reform unlikely for the foreseeable future. At the same time, money coming from private interests to fund the campaigns of their favorite candidates (who in turn have sold their political souls to these interests) is declared the equivalent of “free speech” by the Supreme Court. As a consequence special interests such as the Zionist lobby can and do buy themselves control over vital aspects of Middle East foreign policy. It is a failed system which has already dragged the nation halfway to hell. Another “10 or 20 years” will take us the rest of the way in.
The Boycott of Israel Eight Years In – An Analysis (28 July 2013) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Happy Birthday, BDS
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement directed toward Israel is eight years old. It was started back in 2005, when a coalition of Palestine-based social and economic organizations called for such a comprehensive effort.
At first the BDS movement appeared to be a long shot. Israel, with its worldwide coterie of Zionist supporters, both Jewish and Christian, seemed invincible. Particularly in the Western world, the belief in Israel’s legitimacy had reached the status of sacred tradition. The Zionists worked very hard to achieve this status by controlling the historical interpretation of events that had led from World War I and the Balfour Declaration to the creation of Israel in 1948, and beyond. They might well have been able to maintain control of Israel’s past, present and future if the Zionist leadership had not succumbed to the sin of hubris. They became so ideologically self-righteous and militarily muscle-bound that they believed their place in the world to be untouchable. Thus, as they built a country based on discrimination and colonial expansion in an age increasingly critical of such societies, they refused all compromise with the Palestinians and treated criticism of their behavior and policies as at once anti-Semitic and irrelevant. They therefore failed to notice that their stubbornness was allowing others to erode the Zionist version of the history of modern Palestine/Israel.
Eight years is not a very long time, but a surprising amount has been accomplished. Increasing numbers of people, particularly in the Western world, have been made aware of the plight of the Palestinians as well as their version of the history of Palestine/Israel. With this change in historical perspective, BDS established a foothold and started to grow. The movement has spent most of its time since 2005 coordinating a series of efforts to convince private-sector consumers, businesses, academics and artists to cut their ties with the Zionist State and its colonies. The latest success in this effort came just recently, when two of the largest supermarket chains in the Netherlands announced they would no longer sell Israeli merchandise manufactured or grown in the Occupied Territories (OT). Indeed, so successful has BDS been that the Israeli government has established an official task force to counteract it.
Part II – The European Union Makes a Move
Another recent event may be even more significant, because it suggests the potential for expanding BDS from the private to the public sphere. This was signaled when the European Union (EU) issued new rules for implementing certain categories of funding agreements with Israel. Funding of grants, prizes, loans and other financial cooperative ventures will now exclude Israeli institutions located in or doing business with the OT.
I want to emphasize the notion of “potential” because the EU move is not a boycott action as such. It is a signal to Israel that the EU will not recognize Israel’s claim to any part of the Occupied Territories without a peace settlement, and therefore this move serves as a point of pressure on the Israeli government to give up its hubris and negotiate with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). By the way, the PNA as presently constituted is not a representative body and therefore has no legal authority to negotiate anything. However, the EU (along with the Israelis and the United States) persistently ignores this fact.
Nonetheless, this EU ruling is a step in the right direction, and some important Israelis understand the message. For instance, the Israeli peace organization Gush Shalom released a statement that said that the “EU has started to confront the government of Israel – and every citizen of Israel – with a road sign that cannot be ignored.” At least not without moving Israel toward “being an international pariah.” The renowned columnist and reporter for Israel’s newspaper Haaretz, Gideon Levy, has declared “The change [Israel needs] won’t come from within. . . .Change will only come from the outside.” Therefore, “Anyone who really fears for the future of the country needs to be in favor of boycotting it economically.” And, Israel’s justice minister, Tzipi Livni, the present government’s only minister publicly in favor of negotiations with the Palestinians, has warned that the threat of European economic sanctions extends beyond the OT. “It’s true that it will begin with the settlements,” she stated. “But their [a growing number of Europeans’] problem is with Israel, which is perceived as a colonialist country, so it won’t stop with the settlements and will reach all of Israel.”
Livni is correct. Israel’s version of history notwithstanding, the country’s origin is as a colonial settler state. As suggested above, the result was an inherently discriminatory society. This is not because most Israeli citizens are Jewish. It is because most are Zionists. Modern Zionism, which still reflects the colonial outlook of nineteenth-century imperial Europe, is the guiding ideology of Israel, and it proclaims that the country must be a Jewish State. Unfortunately, you can’t design a country for one group only, in a land where there also exists other sizable groups, and not end up with a discriminatory and oppressive society. Therefore, even if, by some miracle, the Israelis see the light and withdraw from the OT, there will still be a BDS movement agitating for an end to discrimination against non-Jews within the 1948 borders.
Part III – Israel’s Negative Reaction
Becoming a real democracy, where all citizens enjoy genuine political equality, is Israel’s only way of escaping the inevitable isolation that comes with the growing BDS movement. Yet, there is no reason to believe that the ideologues who now control the Israeli political and religious power structures are going to move in this direction. One can see this not only from the growing effort the Israeli government is putting into countering BDS, but also from the angry reaction of its political leaders to the EU decision.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the EU decision with the temperament of a monarch. “We will not accept any external edicts on our borders.” That was, perhaps, the royal “we” he used. Then it was back to the first-person singular: “I will not let anyone harm the hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in Judea and Samaria, in the Golan Heights, or in Jerusalem – our united capital.” The prime minister was quite off base in his pronouncements. He is the head of a country that has meticulously avoided setting borders for decades just so Israel could expand at opportune moments. That sort of imperial behavior is not well accepted in today’s world. Also, unless he can greatly increase Zionist lobby leverage on the EU, he has no way to prevent the “harm” that may finally befall his compatriots for naively assuming the whole world will accept their criminal behavior forever.
The entire episode points to the fact that, both in the private and public sectors of Western society, greater numbers of people no longer follow the line of historical interpretation set down by the Zionists. This is a major shift. Many Zionists might see this as a sign of growing anti-Semitism, but it really is nothing of the sort. There is nothing inherently Jewish about discrimination and colonialism. However, the same cannot be said for modern Zionism.
Part IV – Conclusion
Again, the BDS movement is only 8 years old. We can compare this to the more than 30 years it took the boycott of South Africa to end apartheid. So, comparatively, BDS is only at the beginning of its trek. Its fast start and ongoing achievements should bring hope and pride to those involved in the movement. They should also raise some serious second thoughts in the minds of those Israelis who think Netanyahu and his government of ideologues can prevent their country’s increasing isolation.
ENDLESS WAR – AN ANALYSIS (30 May 2013) BY LAWRENCE DAVIDSON
Part I – Endless War
There is an American tradition of frequent war. Indeed, over the course of the country’s history the United States has been at war almost constantly. Some of these have been relatively short conflicts like interventions in various Central American venues. Some have been much larger and longer affairs, like the Civil War, World War II and Vietnam. The point to be drawn from this is that the people of the United States are (perhaps unconsciously) acclimated to always being in one sort of armed conflict or another.
Unfortunately, this history renders a recent public statement by the Pentagon’s general counsel, Jeb Johnson, into just a bit of fanciful idealism. He insisted “war must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs.” Certainly not for Americans. With their active assumption that the U.S. represents the world’s best chance for the victory of “good” against “evil,” Americans seem willing to battle on as long as they are convinced they are winning and the casualties are low.
That may be why there was no popular protest when Michael Sheehan, Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for “special operations,” told a Senate hearing that the country’s “war on terror” might last “at least 10 or 20 years” longer (it has already been going on twelve years). In the mainstream media, there was not even a noticeable raising of an
The reason given for Sheehan’s prognosis was that al-Qaida, and its franchise allies, keep recreating themselves as fast as their alleged leaders can be droned into oblivion. Missing from the congressional and media reaction was the obvious question of “how come” such groups keep recreating themselves? Many middle-echelon State Department analysts familiar with the Middle East know the answer has something to do with the fact that U.S. policies in the region have not significantly changed since the 9/11 attacks. Most of the personnel above the middle echelon are political appointees who keep asserting that what motivates the al-Qaida types is religious fanaticism. Of course there are religious fanatics at work on both sides of the “war on terror,” but those in the Middle East have grievances to focus on and U.S. policies are seen as one source of those.
The fact that the “war on terror” is largely a consequence of American policies cemented into place by powerful special interests calls into question President Obama’s recent assertion that “this is a just war, a war waged proportionally in last resort and in self-defense.” It also suggests that the struggle is likely to go on and on until its ruinous consequences become so obvious to the voting public that the politicians are forced to break with their special interest supporters. This is the real criterion for change, for, under the present circumstances, there will always be “terrorists” out there who, to reword an assertion of President Bush, “hate our policies.” And what is there not to hate about draconian sanctions, the arming of dictators, and giving opened-ended support to the most racist state in the region?
Part II – Rules of Engagement
In the meantime President Obama has been trying to create “rules of engagement” for the use of the government’s primary weapon in this endless war: those remote controlled bombs we call drones.These rules will, he says, provide “clear guidelines, oversight and accountability” and satisfy partisan congressional grumblings, if not the more pertinent questions of human rights advocates.
To this end the White House has issued guidelines concerning procedures for counterterrorism operations such as drone attacks. The guidelines tell us “there must be a legal basis for using lethal force” and decisions to use such “force against individual terrorists outside the United States and areas of active hostilities are made at the most senior levels of the U.S. Government.” The document then lays out other specific preconditions for the use of lethal force, among which are:
1. “Near certainty” that the terrorist target is present.
2. “Near certainty” that noncombatants will not be injured or killed.
3. An assessment that “capture is not feasible at the time of the operation.”
4. An assessment that the relevant governmental authorities in “the country where action is contemplated cannot or will not effectively address the threat to U.S. persons.”
5. An assessment that “no other reasonable alternatives exist” to effectively address the threat to U.S. persons.
Finally, “International legal principles, including respect for sovereignty and the law of armed conflict, impose important constraints on the ability of the United States to act unilaterally – and on the way in which the United States can use force. The United States respects national sovereignty and international law.”
The problem with these guidelines, beyond a number of undefined terms such as “near certainty,” “reasonable,” and “feasible,” is that its criteria misrepresent reality or are utterly unreliable. For instance, under international law there is no “legal” basis for this sort of use of “lethal force.” What the Obama administration (and the Bush regime before it) has done is take up the illegal Israeli “targeted assassination” program, which constitutes the behavior of a rogue state. Even from a domestic legal prospective, Obama’s criteria for targeted assassination will be carried out behind closed doors. There will be no due process. And there will be no accountability for “mistakes.” Finally, nothing in the guidelines is enacted into legislation and therefore, assuming an effort to actually follow their criteria, they are specific to the Obama presidency and have no authority over his successors. As Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, put it, “a mere promise that the U.S. will work within established guidelines . . . provides little confidence that the U.S. is complying with international law.”
Part III – Conclusion
Throughout the country’s history of one war following another, there has been a parallel history of cyclical deterioration and recovery of constitutional rights. However, with the government’s wholehearted embrace of targeted assassination, as well as modern surveillance technology and the precedent of offshore prisons for “enemy combatants,” one wonders if, from now on, the recovery of rights will ever be fully equal to their loss. Maybe now it really will be all downhill for freedom in the “land of the free.”
IN PRAISE OF RICHARD FALK – AN ANALYSIS (6 MAY 2013) BY LAWRENCE DAVIDSON
PART I – Richard Falk Tells the Truth
Shortly after the 15 April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian territories, published an analysis of the episode entitled “A Commentary on the Marathon Murders.”
In this analysis Falk pointed out that there are “serious deficiencies in how the U.S. sees itself in the world. We should be worried by the taboo . . . imposed on any type of self-scrutiny [of U.S. foreign policy] by either the political leadership or the mainstream media.” This taboo essentially blinds us to the reality of our situation. Falk continues, “The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world. . . . Especially if there is no disposition to rethink U.S. relations with others . . . starting with the Middle East.”
It seems obvious that if Washington wants to prevent future attacks, it is not enough to pursue alleged terrorists and beef up “homeland security.” It seems logical that one needs to also perform a foreign policy review, preferably in a public manner, to determine if any American policies or behaviors are unnecessarily provoking animosity. For instance, will continued unqualified U.S. support of Israeli oppression of Palestinians increase or decrease future violent anti-American episodes at home or abroad? Yet, this critical aspect of any response to terrorism has apparently never been performed. As regards the administration of George W. Bush, this comes as no surprise. Bush and his neoconservative supporters were (and still are) ideologically driven and so are incapable of the objectivity necessary for such a self-critical review. That is why Bush came up with a range of cockamamy reasons, including the famous “they hate our values,” for the 9/11 attacks. President Obama, on the other hand, seemed, at least at first, capable of corrective insight.
Back in 2009 Obama went to Cairo and made a speech which suggested that a rethinking of American relations with the Muslim world and the Middle East in particular, was in order. Yet the theory represented in the speech was never turned into practice. Why not?
Falk explains that “the strong push-back by Israel” caused Obama to backpedal. As a consequence the “politics of denial” continued. In Falk’s opinion, “As long as Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment those who wish for peace and justice in the world should not rest easy.”
Part II – Attacking the Messenger
When it comes to policies that might provoke terrorist attack, U.S. complicity in Israeli belligerency, racism and colonial expansion is just the tip of the iceberg. Washington’s mistakes go further. The unprovoked invasion of Iraq following years of devastating economic sanctions, the ill-conceived stationing of troops on Arabian soil, the unnecessary occupation of Afghanistan, and the collateral-damage-prone-tactic of drone warfare now actively pursued in places like Yemen and Pakistan have all, unbeknownst to the American public, seriously alienated hundreds of millions of people around the globe. It has driven some of this number to violent actions which, from their perspective, represent counterattacks and revenge.
Thus, looked at from outside of the self-justifying perspective of the United States government, everything Richard Falk says is accurate. However, from the inside of the official government worldview, Falk is a heretic and his message dangerous verbal poison. Therefore, the reaction of those dedicated to customary policies and alliances has been shrill.
For instance, Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said that she was “outraged by Richard Falk’s highly offensive Boston comments. Someone who spews such vitriol has no place at the UN. Past time for him to go.” Similar statements came from members of Congress who are collecting signatures on a letter demanding that President Obama “take action” against Falk. The British mission to the UN. released a statement to the effect that “this is the third time we have had cause to express our concerns about Mr. Falk’s anti-Semitic remarks.” This is an embarrassingly ignorant statement that confuses criticism of Israel with hostility to Jews generally. By the way, Richard Falk is Jewish. For its part, Israel has long barred Falk from even entering the Palestinian territories for which he has responsibility. Finally, Zionists have accused Falk of being “an anti-American and pro-radical Islam activist.” This is another statement that is both factually incorrect and ignorant, because Falk is a deeply knowledgable American trying to talk some sense to politicians leading the nation toward a dangerous cliff, and because it confuses criticism of Israel with actively supporting “radical Islam.”
Part III – Conclusion
The ugly fact is that, most Americans have been kept dangerously ignorant of the wanton damage caused by their government’s foreign policies, and those who would prevent them from knowing the truth are, at the very least, indirectly responsible for terrorist attacks launched in reaction to those policies.
Richard Falk’s crime is to be a person of note, an esteemed academic and a respected servant of the United Nations, who is trying to break through with the truth. It is all the more frightening to the U.S. and its allies that, in this effort, Falk has access to an independent platform. He regularly reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where he has the ear of many of the 47 nations that make up this body. Unfortunately, the one group most in need of Falk’s wisdom, the American public, remains beyond the range of his voice.
If it could get away with it, the U.S. government would probably cart Richard Falk off to some hellhole prison, or keep him confined to some foreign embassy (as it has done to Julian Assange). However, despite disturbing signs to the contrary, Washington isn’t yet ready to take such actions against a man of Falk’s stature. However, do not mistake such forbearance for the mark of a mature and stable society. No. Such societies (just like mature and stable adults) are capable of self-criticism. At least at the level of leadership and media, the United States is not capable of such self-reflection and so its citizens are likely to be the last to know that much of the terrorism they fear is a product of their own government’s continuing barbarism.
Omar Khadr, Bradley Manning and Our National Psyche – An Analysis (8/11/10)
At present there are two men sitting in prison who have never met but are nonetheless intimately connected. One is 23 year old Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was with a group of Afghan resistance fighters attacked by U.S. troops in 2002 (when he was 15). The second is PFC Bradley Manning, the man who blew the whistle on the barbaric tactics used by the U.S. in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It is their different forms of resistance to a war sold to the U.S. public as “necessary” and “defensive” that binds their fate.
1. Omar Khadr was taken prisoner in 2002. The United States claimed he was a member of al-Qaida and said he met Osama bin Laden when he was 10. This made him an “intelligence treasure trove.” Al-Qaeda obliged the U.S. by describing Omar as a “lion cub” defender of the faith. In truth neither claim is real evidence of any definite organizational connection. The number of distinct resistence groups in Afghanistan runs into the dozens and al-Qaeda will breezily claim every one of them. According to General James Jones, who served as Obama’s National Security Adviser, the number of actual al-Qaeda operatives at any one time in Afghanistan is under 100 individuals. The assertion that 15 year old Omar was one them is problematic. But it was enough for the American government that he was with the resistance. Having complete power over both him and his media image, he could be made into anything the American government wanted. For instance, he is accused of throwing a grenade at American troops despite the fact that the reports of the 2002 action are confused and contradictory. There is no eye-witness evidence of Khadir’s behavior during the fighting. Nonetheless, one American soldier died at the time and Omar Khadr has been charged with his “murder.”
I think it is safe to say that Omar Khadr was a participant in the resistance to American invaders in Afghanistan. However, and this is the seminal point, no one contests the fact that he was 15 years old at the time of his capture. That made him legally a child and international law requires that child soldiers be treated as victims of an environment beyond their control, and not as an adult making a conscious choice to participate in a war. In other words, using a phrase that President Obama is fond of, according to international law this was not a “war of choice” for Omar. The Bush administration did not care for international law in general and so to get around this particular one, among others, it quite arbitrarily proclaimed that the fighters resisting U.S. troops in Afghanistan were not part of a “real” army and therefore not “real” soldiers. As nonsensical as this was, it allowed the U.S. military to deny Omar Khadr all legal rights and lock him away for eight years while they interrogated, threatened, tortured and abused him incessantly. Not surprisingly they got a “confession” out of Omar using these tactics and a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay decided that the “confession” is admissible as evidence. President Obama has made no objection to this situation. Nor, for that matter, has the Canadian government, whose conservative majority has essentially abandoned one of its own citizens to his fate within a lawless system. In this case, at least, the old saying that military justice is a contradiction in terms is certainly correct.
2. Bradley Manning was an army intelligence analyst with U.S. forces in the Middle East who became deeply disturbed by what his job revealed to him. Essentially, it made him a front row witness to what he described as “incredible things, awful things.” This primarily entailed the careless killing of innocent civilians. As an act of conscience he gave the website Wikileaks over 200,000 classified documents and a number of videos showing attacks on Iraqi and Afghan civilians. Unfortunately, he confided in another American hacker who turned him into the government. He is presently in solitary confinement at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia and charged with, among other things, “transmitting classified information to an unauthorized third party.” If convicted, and there seems little doubt that the military will have it any other way, he faces 52 years in prison.
The breech of security in this case was significant enough to draw comment from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who asserted that what Manning had done was “grievously harmful.” Why so? Because, “the battlefield consequences of the release of these documents are potentially severe and dangerous to our troops, our allies and Afghan partners, and may well damage our relationships and reputation in that part of the world.” This was followed up by at least one Republican Congressman, Mike Rogers of Michigan, asserting that Manning is traitor and should be executed. On the other hand, Defense Department and administration spokesmen have been trying to minimize the effect of Manning’s action by asserting that the information he made public was “nothing new.” Just old data. It is hard to see how the government can have it both ways. But there can be little doubt that Gates was right about one thing. The information will “damage…our reputation in that part of the world” and elsewhere too. Those who have only now learned what the U.S. is doing should be appalled . Those who knew all along ought to have already been appalled.
A) The government leaders who have accused both Omar Khadr and Bradley Manning of egregious crimes would themselves be judged criminal in a world where they did not control the flow of information. As the human rights lawyer Francis Boyle has pointed out, the war in Afghanistan, as the one in Iraq, is illegal under international law. “Congress never declared war. The UN Security Council never authorized it under Article 51. And the Taliban never attacked the United States or authorized or approved such an attack.” As Stephen Lendman tells us in a fine piece on Manning published on August 7, 2010 (see the Manning link above), “FBI Director Robert Mueller, and CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin admitted finding no link between the Taliban and 9/11.”
B) So what the heck are we doing in Afghanistan? What national interest is so mortally important that it has brought Khadr and Manning to the brink of destruction for resisting and exposing the actions of the United States? What is it that makes this a “war of necessity” according to President Obama? Here are some of the reasons that are tossed around:
1. Somehow, despite having nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, the Taliban are now among those “who are plotting to do so again.” According to the president, “if left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.” Yet, after 9/11, the Taliban proved willing to negotiate the removal of Bin Laden from its territory. It was Bush Jr. who rejected that process. The present connection between the Taliban (which is not a monolithic organization) and al-Qaeda is often tenuous. Yet surely the present war with the Taliban only encourages what connection these fighters might have with al-Qaeda. Thus, a good argument can be made that al-Qaeda can be more readily combated by negotiating with the Taliban rather than trying, futilely, to destroy what is essentially an Afghan liberation movement.
2. It is all about oil and control of pipelines, etc. No doubt this has something to do with our actions, but one can compete for control of these things through commercial channels which is cheaper and far less lethal than making war in a country that has, in modern times, never been truly conquered and controlled.
3. It is those meddling pro-Israeli lobbies stirring up the pot. This too has some credence especially given our special interest politics. But the Zionists are probably only minor players in the formulation of policy for Afghanistan. The invasion of Iraq is another issue altogether.
Having thought about this, it seems to me that the process of policy formulation that landed us up to our necks in both the Afghan and Iraq quagmires was much more improvised than carefully thought through. My feeling is that you had people, none of whom gave a fig for international law, running around Washington for decades making policy in the Middle East from multiple angles: Cold War ideology, economic advantage, pro-Israeli enthusiasm, and religiously driven anti-Muslim fanaticism as well. Collectively, this produced a sixty plus year pattern of policies that put us in bed with multiple dictators and earned us the enmity of increasingly determined resistance movements. Finally, we got the 9/11 attacks. This, however, did not lead to any rethinking of our behavior in the Middle East. Rather, it led to a feeling of release. The U.S. was now justified in what almost appeared to be (at least for those in the White House) a joyful lashing out. This was accompanied by an exercise in sheer fantasy about what military might could accomplish in that part of the world.
If this is accurate, it is a mistake to believe that decisions made about policy in the Middle East are coherent, logical, and long term. They are more improvised and opportunistic. They are most often made by people who know nothing about the region and do not care about justice, rights and law either domestic or international. In short, the entire process which has brought the United States to its present plight is horribly short term, myopic and certainly unprincipled.
Conclusion – Does the public care?
Both Omar Khadr and Bradley Manning, as well as those who have rallied to their support, are betting that they can arouse public sentiment in their favor. In a letter to his Canadian lawyer, Khadr said that he wants to “show the world how unfair the system is…and show that the U.S. will eventually convict child soldiers.” Manning’s supporters have created a “Bradley Manning Support Network” to “Harness the outrage felt by millions” and to “raise awareness about his arrest, charges and court-martial.” The key question is, do most Americans, much less the world, really care?
The answer to this question is almost certainly a combination of a) no, most Americans do not care and b) yes they do care but want these two men either put against the wall and shot or sent to prison for the rest of their lives. On the assumption that most people are locally focused and apolitical I conclude that all but a minority are unaware or unconcerned about these cases because they do not seem to touch their lives. And, on the assumption that the government and its allied mass media control the information flow, I conclude that most of the minority who are aware and concerned share the official view that these men are dangerous enemies.
That leaves a minority of the minority who are aware of the greater implications for justice and rights involved in both cases; who are aware of the broader contextual circumstances that led to each man’s actions and the implications for future U.S. security implicit in those circumstances. That minority of a minority might total “millions” as Lendman suggests, but it is probably still far less than is needed to either obtain justice for Khadr and Manning or save the U.S. from its own blundering and criminal policies.