Archive for the ‘U.S. Foreign Affairs’ Category
The West’s Favored Autocrats – An Analysis (16 August 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Two Classes of Autocrats
The United States has been, and continues to be, selective about which foreign strongmen it does and does not support. Among the latter, there have been Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela (who was not as autocratic as publicly portrayed), Fidel Castro in Cuba, and Vladimir Putin in Russia. These are just a few of those recent rulers who have drawn the wrath of the “democratic” exemplars in Washington. That wrath often includes economic strangulation and CIA plots.
In the meantime, another group of autocrats is well tolerated by the U.S. Among this group are Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and various European rightwing politicos such as Viktor Orban of Hungary. Each of these strongmen shows little tolerance for dissent and a ready willingness to exploit racially tinged nationalism.
Part II – Why the Double Standards?
What is behind Washington’s double standards – its contrasting reactions to one set of regimes as against another? Often American politicians will talk about promoting democracy and claim that the dictators they support have a better chance of evolving in a democratic direction than those they oppose. It might be that these politicians actually believe this to be the case, at least at the moment they make these declarations. However, there is no historical evidence that their claims are true. This argument is largely a face-saving one. Other underlying reasons exist for the choices they make.
Here are a few of those probable reasons:
The friend/enemy of our friend/enemy is our friend/enemy. In this scenario the primary friend of the U.S. is Israel and the primary enemy is Russia. The secondary friend/enemy countries are the decidedly undemocratic Egypt and Syria. Egypt became a friend of the U.S.once Anwar Sadat made a peace treaty with Israel in March of 1979. Syria, on the other hand, has always been hostile to Israel and it has remained an enemy state. No democratic motivation is to be found here.
Cold War positioning rationale. After World War II Turkey became a “strategic asset” by virtue of its proximity to the Soviet Union and its willingness to house U.S. air bases and missile launchers. The repeated interference of the Turkish military in civilian politics was of no consequence to Washington. Present-day East European governments, increasingly autocratic in nature, seem to be considered by many in the Pentagon as “post Cold War” assets on the border of a Russia that never ceased to be an enemy. For a whole subset of Americans (militarists and neoconservatives) the Cold War never really did end.
Resource assets rationale. Autocracies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait fall into this category. The U.S. assumes a role of a supportive ally in exchange for stable and affordable worldwide oil prices. Sunni suppression of Shiite and other minorities in these countries is immaterial. What happens if such resource-rich regimes do an about-face and are no longer cooperative with the United States? Well, you have your answer in Iran. Here the U.S. was once completely supportive of the Shah, but he was replaced by hostile ayatollahs in 1979. So friendliness has given way to tactics of economic isolation and CIA plots. Again, democracy has little to do with anything in these cases.
The classic left vs right rationale. Finally, there is the historically entrenched U.S. tradition that economically cooperative autocratic regimes are acceptable allies. “Cooperative” here means rulers who engage in friendly capitalist behavior: tolerate private enterprise and safeguard the property of foreign investors. Such an economic stance pre-dates the Cold War and has always been more important than political freedoms. Those who act this way, such as Chile under Augusto Pinochet or Argentina under its brutal regime of military rule, get a free pass when they suppress democracy and civil rights. However, other regimes, such as those in Cuba under Castro and Venezuela under Chavez are treated differently. In the case of Venezuela, democracy was in fact practiced, but because of its socialist-leaning economic policies, Washington tried very hard to destroy the country’s government. For those interested in the evolution of this classic U.S. foreign policy, its history is explained in detail in my book, Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest.
Part III – Democracy and the “Other”
By prioritizing traditional alliances, control of resources and economic ideology, the U.S. turns a blind eye to other aspects of autocratic behavior that contradict its own avowed values, thereby setting up a vivid display of foreign policy hypocrisy. An example is the issue of democracy and the “Other.” Since the 1960s the United States has been struggling with its racist impulses. That is, most of its population knows that discrimination against the “Other” is wrong. They can recognize it in the country’s voting laws, in the behavior of its police, and in the attitude of a political candidate like Donald Trump. Official steps, even if they are agonizingly slow and subject to periodic reversals, are taken to dampen down, if not overcome, such public biases. You would think that such a sensitivity would carry over into foreign affairs. Yet the opposite is true.
Many of the autocratic leaders the U.S. favors have risen to power, at least in part, through instilling fear of the “Other” – those who threaten the fantasies of an eternal national character, pure blood, and the status of a God-chosen people. For instance, Washington’s premier ally in the Middle East, Israel, is a state that, at best, can be described as an officially discriminatory democracy where bias against the “Other” (in this case the Palestinians and other non-Jews) is legally sanctioned.
In the case of Europe, the present rising popularity of the right wing and its authoritarian leaders is directly derived from a fear of the “Other.” This, in turn, has been stimulated by a refugee crisis that the United States and its allies helped to create. The destruction of Iraq was a catalyst that let loose forces that have also overwhelmed Syria and Libya and set in motion the deluge of refugees moving out of the Middle East and North Africa toward Europe. The U.S. government accepts the anti-democratic rightwing autocrats who now exploit a fear of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons for which Washington is, in large part, responsible.
Part IV – Conclusion
The end of the Cold War did not put to rest the West’s militaristic ideological forces. Indeed it gave them a boost. Those pushing “neoconservative” foreign policies are still well represented within U.S. government bureaucracies. Their policies are based on fantasies of “regime change” and remaking the world so it comes under the permanent influence of the United States. Democracy, however, is not now, nor has it ever been, the end game of this process.
Instead, U.S. foreign affairs have been designed to spread capitalist economic practices that facilitate the prosperity of its own “ruling” class. Along the way, the U.S, seeks resource reliability for itself and its trading partners, security for its traditional allies and strategic advantage over old enemies. In all these pursuits the United States has long ago contented itself with what Jonathan Freedland once called the “sonofabitch school of foreign policy.” In other words, Washington doesn’t care if its cooperating allies are murderers, corrupt thieves, racists and the like. They might be bastards of the first order, but it is OK as long as they are “our bastards.” Such is the company we keep.
The Saudi Role on September 11 – An Analysis (5 August 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Classified Pages
On 27 November 2002 a bipartisan commission was established by Congress to investigate the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. By the time the commission was created, President George W. Bush had characterized the attacks as “acts of war,” adding that “freedom and democracy are under attack.” It was therefore to be expected that anyone who was actually, or even imagined to be, involved in these attacks was going to be labeled as an enemy.
However, when on 22 July 2004, after two years of investigation, the 9/11 Commission’s report was released, something was missing. Twenty-eight pages had been withheld from publication. These pages specifically discussed the connections between the 9/11 hijackers and individuals working in the U.S. for the government of Saudi Arabia. The withholding from publication of these specific pages was apparently ordered by the same George W. Bush who was ostensibly willing to confront anyone who would, in his worldview, threaten the U.S. – “Bring ’em on!”
For the next 12 years, that is, between July 2004 and July 2016, the 28 pages remained “classified” and therefore unavailable to the public or the press. They were available to members of Congress if they would travel to a “secure location,” one person at a time, to read the document. They could take no notes nor reveal to anyone what they learned.
So what was going on here? According to Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), a long term advocate of declassifying the pages, what all these years of suppression came to was a “carefully orchestrated campaign to protect our Saudi “‘friends,’” from the public revelation of “ample evidence of Saudi Arabia’s intimate ties to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.” If Graham is correct, Saudi Arabia received a free pass despite being involved in acts of war against the United States.
Part II – Leverage
How was this possible? Well, consider the following: there exists a long-standing commercial relationship and personal friendship between the Bush clan and the Saudi royal family. Even more important, Saudi Arabia has long managed the oil market to keep prices in the West at affordable levels. Presently, the Saudis have hundreds of billions of dollars invested, in various ways, in the United States (the exact figure is kept secret).These include stocks, bonds, real estate and currency holdings. And finally, Saudi Arabia is the top purchaser of US weapons, periodically buying as much as $60 billion worth of armaments at a time from U.S. defense contractors.
This puts Saudi Arabia in a very strong economic position in relation to the United States. Consider the hypothetical consequences of a rapid withdrawal of Saudi funds from the U.S. At the very least this would send the stock market into a tailspin. The U.S. would be forced to freeze Saudi assets, and not only the American and Saudi economies would suffer, but the world economy as well.
The Saudis have been known to assert what can only be called economic blackmail against the U.S. government to hide embarrassing facts about themselves, including their dealings with terrorist groups ranging from off-shoots of al-Qaeda to ISIS. They can and do argue that if Saudi agents do at times act against U.S. interests, even to the point of aiding terrorists, they do so as rogue agents and not under the authority the central government. The problem is that, just like America’s “rogue” agents, they never seem to suffer punishment.
Part III – Lobby Power
The government of Saudi Arabia has gathered together in Washington, D.C., a broad coalition of lawyers, public relations firms, and ex-diplomates-turned-lobbyists that collectively function as a Saudi special interest group.
It is through the leverage applied by this lobby that the 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission report stayed below the radar for for 12 years. This happened even while the official Saudi line was that that country had nothing to hide and would welcome the publication of the pages. Finally, Barack Obama, drawing near to the end of his presidency, decided to declassify the document. It is possible that he and his advisers, in consultation with the Saudis, had come to the conclusion that after all these years, the U.S.-Saudi relationship could weather any belated disturbance that might result.
Thus, on 15 July 2016 the 28 pages were made public. Now anyone can read them. Or can they? Many of the sites at which they were initially posted are strangely going blank.
For all the good it might now do, it turns out that Senator Bob Graham was right. At least two Saudi individuals (Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan) working for the Saudi government possibly as “intelligence agents” gave financial aid and other assistance (including identifying flight schools) to at least two of the hijackers soon after they arrived in the U.S. Al-Bayoumi is the prime conduit here. The amount of money he was receiving from the Saudi government went up substantially the same month he began aiding the hijackers and then was reduced by the same amount once he and the hijackers parted company. Al-Bayoumi left the U.S. one month prior to the 9/11 attacks. A full reading of the 28 pages indicates that this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The Saudi government has put out a reply to the release of the 28 pages. It declares that since 2002, U.S. government agencies, including the CIA and the FBI, have investigated the allegations and established that no one “acting on behalf of the Saudi government provided any support or encouragement for these attacks.”
This statement is Riyad’s effort to obfuscate matters. It goes hand-in-hand with the weak response of CIA Director Brennan, who has said that the recently declassified allegations have not been “vetted” (established as true or false) and fail to prove that the Saudi government “as an institution” was involved in 9/11. There are troubling contradictions here. If, as the Saudis say, a thorough investigation of the allegations has been carried out, what is with Brennan’s claim that the information in the 28 pages has not been “vetted”? If the CIA and the FBI have not vetted the allegations, despite having 14 years to do so, how can Brennan so readily exonerate Saudi Arabia? Only the gullible, the ignorant, or the indifferent would see this as adequate.
Part IV – Allies Who Wage War on the U.S.
The Saudis are not the only “ally” that has committed acts of war against the United States and then, with the help of lobby power, got the actions covered up.
The other, equivalent miscreant is Israel, which in recent years has rendered assistance to al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Perhaps more significantly, on 8 June 1967 Israeli forces knowingly attacked the U.S. Intelligence ship Liberty ostensibly because it had picked up information of a pending unprovoked Israeli attack on Syria’s Golan Heights. The resulting combined sea and air attack on the Liberty killed 31 Americans and wounded 171. In this incident the Bush clan’s role as protector of a foreign enemy was played by President Lyndon Johnson. He was a great admirer of the Israelis, whom he likened to the early U.S. settlers of his native Texas. This admiration was so great that he actually ordered the rescue flight of U.S. military jets coming to the aid of the wounded ship to turn around and return to base. Even though numerous naval officials were never satisfied with the Israeli explanation (it was all a mistake) or the obviously superficial investigations carried on by both sides, much of the vital material remains classified and Congress refuses to revisit what was, after all, an act of war.
As I have said many times, the United States is not a democracy of individual citizens. It is a nation of competing interest groups – including foreign ones who have hired themselves Washington lobbies. It is also clear that powerful interest groups can, quite literally, get away with murder. How is this in the American national interest? Those of you reading this who are American citizens might put the question to your congressional representatives and senators. Let me know if you happen to get a serious response.
What motivates US policy toward Israel? An Analysis (31 March 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Richard Falk
In early March Professor Richard Falk, former United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, wrote an essay explaining that American foreign policy generated by Democratic Party presidents has been much to blame for the disastrous fate of the Palestinians. The Democrats have allowed themselves to be suborned by Zionist special interests for reasons we will explore below. It is Democratic officials who also verbally attack any American who stands up for the rights of Palestinians, and do so, if anything, more strongly than their Republican competitors.
Falk worked tirelessly from 2008 to 2014 to bring about justice for the Palestinian people – something that, if achieved, would have raised the esteem of both the U.N. and the U.S. among millions of Arabs. Officials appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama, including national security advisor Susan Rice and current U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, repaid Falk for his efforts with insulting ad hominem attacks. For instance, Power celebrated Falks departure from his post by asserting that, his publication of bizarre and insulting material has tarnished the U.N.’s reputation and undermined the effectiveness of the Human Rights Council. The United States welcomes Mr. Falk’s departure, which is long overdue. It is to be noted that at no time did Professor Falk issue a report, or even make a public statement, that was not based on documented fact and a clear understanding of international law. One suspects that Ambassador Power knew this to be so and that her vitriol against Falk was the act of an amoral political agent of an amoral government.
Professor Falk sees much of the U.S. governments policy in the Middle East as a consequence of a State Department long populated by Zionists along with the power and influence of an Israeli-directed bloc of special interests. President Obamas own efforts at Middle East policy formulation began, according to Falk, with the rhetorical assertion that the United States is different because we adhere to the rule of law and act in accord with our values in foreign policy. Yet this claim to has always been false, and very quickly, the presidents words lost meaning as lobby pressure bent policy (with the singular exception of the Iran nuclear deal) to the will of the Zionist cause.
Part II – Hillary Clinton
Watching the distressing kowtowing this past week to that same lobby by Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has proven Richard Falk undeniably correct.
In her speech to the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an organization which, in truth, functions in the U.S. as the agent of a foreign power (Israel), Clinton proclaimed the following:
That as president she will take the U.S.- Israeli relationship to the next level, which entails lavishing on that state most of Americas latest defensive and offensive weaponry and the negotiating of yet another defense treaty – a ten-year defense memorandum of understanding.
This is allegedly necessary because, Israel faces three evolving threats – Irans continued aggression, a rising tide of extremism across a wide arc of instability, and the growing effort to delegitimize Israel on the world stage. Here she refers to the boycott or BDS movement. These threats make the U.S.-Israel alliance more indispensable than ever. Juan Coles rebuttal to Clintons assertions is particularly good. He points out that when the situation is looked at soberly, Israel has no conventional security threats, including from Iran, that necessitates billions of dollars of American weapons and a binding defense memorandum. Cole accurately points out that the rising tide of extremism is, to a good extent, a function of the U.S. invasion of Iraq (which both Clinton and the Israelis supported), and the dissolution of Syria (which has become a national security goal of Israel). Finally, by describing BDS as a movement that must be suppressed, she is endangering U.S. constitutional rights.
Clinton extols the U.S.-Israel alliance as one of shared values. She describes Israel as a bastion of liberty. This is de rigueur propaganda and, for the Palestinians, has no convincing connection to reality. Clinton then qualifies her dubious assertion by asking, will we, as Americans and as Israelis, stay true to the shared democratic values that have always been at the heart of our relationship. She is no doubt including America in this question as a reference to the problematic behavior of Donald Trump and his supporters. However, her question, as it applies to Israel, has already been answered.
Part III – Gideon Levy
The well-known Israeli journalist Gideon Levy was in Washington, D.C. last week and had an interview with Max Blumenthal. In it he warned of just how far Israel has drifted from democratic values as well as how complicit American liberals, such as Hillary Clinton, are in the process of Israeli moral and political corruption.
Levy tells us that American liberals should know that they are supporting the first sign of fascism in Israel. I don’t call it yet fascism, but [the] first signs [are] very clear. And America keeps financing it. This should be known and should be recognized by any American, mainly the liberals, who care where their taxpayer money goes, and so much of it.
I mean, there is no source of hope right now. There’s no alternative to Netanyahu. The atmosphere, as I said, is becoming less and less tolerant, and the standing of democracy is minimal and many times very twisted.
Levy then takes particular aim at the substantial, if unofficial, U.S. support for Israels illegal occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights. Occupation is American values? Occupation serves the American interest? Doesn’t America see that it pays a hell of a price for this automatic and blind support of Israel and of the occupation project? Is it reasonable that in the 21st century, the United States will finance an apartheid regime in the occupied territories? All those questions should be raised.
Levy is by no means alone at raising the alarm about where Zionism has led Israeli society. For a more detailed treatment of the intolerance and nascent fascism showing its face, the reader can take a look at Israeli Professor David Schulmans Israel: The Broken Silence, a review of six exposes on Israeli society and behavior. This has just been published in the 7 April 2016 edition of New York Review of Books. Schulman concludes that The far right in Israel very readily opts for totalitarian modes of thinking and acting, and its not clear who is left to stop it. It certainly will not be Hillary Clinton.
Part IV – Conclusion
Who raises objections to the consequences of U.S. complicity in Israels political disaster? People such as Richard Falk and Gideon Levy do and thereby keep alive some semblance of rational discourse about the place of democratic values in U.S. foreign policy formulation. However, despite their rhetoric, liberal politicians like Hillary Clinton have clearly abandoned those values when it comes to any reference to Israel and its behavior.
What this means is that the substance of Clintons speech at the AIPAC convention was mere propaganda – an effort to rationalize, or perhaps simply to cover up, deeper and more base motives. Therefore, if supporting shared democratic values is not what motivates Clintons kowtowing, what does? The answer is naked political opportunism. Here is the formula: (1) American politics runs on domestically garnered money, and lots of it: running for office, just about any office from dog catcher to president, requires constant financial solicitation; (2) special interests, be they economic concerns, professional organizations, or ideologically motivated groups are a major source of these funds; (3) in exchange for their largesse, such interests require political support for their causes. Here enters, among others, the Zionists, whose deep pockets, ability to shape media messages, and rally voters, both Jewish and Christian, are well known. An alliance with the Zionists is politically profitable while incurring their anger is sometimes politically fatal.
Of course, such an alliance means the abandonment of any objective or even rational consideration of U.S. policy toward Israel and much of the rest of the Middle East. And indeed, the national interest relating to this increasingly dangerous part of the world has long ago been tossed overboard. It has been replaced by the parochial interests of wealthy, well-organized and influential ideologues.
Who Is Fighting the War on Terror? – An Analysis (14 September 2015) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Varying Goals
Back on 1 May 2015 I wrote an analysis on “Changing Alliances and the National Interest in the Middle East.” In this piece, which can be found on my website, tothepointanalyses.com, I made the argument that, at least since September 2001 and the declaration of the “war on terror,” the defeat of al-Qaeda and its affiliates has been a publicly stated national interest of the United States. This certainly has been the way it has been presented by almost continuous government pronouncements and media stories dedicated to this “war” over the years.
Given this goal, it logically follows that, with the evolution of al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations such as the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS or Daesh) and Jabhat al Nusra (aka al-Qaeda in Syria), those who also seek the destruction of such groups are America’s de facto allies in the “war on terror” and warrant our assistance. Likewise, those who openly or clandestinely support these religious fanatics are opponents of a central U.S. national interest, and their relationship with the United States should at least be open to review.
Then came the shocker. Who has been and continues to actively oppose these al-Qaeda derivatives with soldiers on the ground? It turns out to be, among others, Iran, Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government. Who are clandestinely aiding the al-Qaeda enemies of Washington? It turns out to be Israel and Saudi Arabia. As I explain in my original analysis, this latter development has much to do with the fact that both the Israelis and the Saudis have decided that regime change in Syria is a high priority, even if it means ISIS and al-Nusra end up taking over Syria and, as Robert Parry puts it in a Consortium News article “Madness of Blockading Syrian Regime,” (10 September 2015), “chopping off the heads of Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other ‘heretics’ and/or Al Qaeda having a major Mideast capital from which to plot more attacks on the West.”
Has the U.S. government, or for that matter the U.S. media, brought this anomalous situation to the attention of the general public? No. Has Washington altered its policies in the region so as to ally with the actual anti-al-Qaeda forces? Not at all. Why not? These are questions we will address in Part III of this analysis. However, first we must look at a recent complicating factor.
Part II – Russia to the Rescue
This screwball situation has now taken yet another turn. The Russian government, which also sees al-Qaeda and its affiliates as a growing threat, has decided that the U.S. will not meaningfully act against the religious fanatics now threatening Syria – a country with which it, Russia, has strong ties. Having come to this conclusion, Moscow has decided to take the initiative and increase its military assistance to Damascus. According to a New York Times (NYT) article of 5 September 2015 this includes bringing into Syria as many as a thousand military advisors and support staff. Russia already has a naval base at the port city of Tartus. Now it is establishing a presence at the main airbase outside the city of Latakia.
All of this has raised alarms in Washington. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has met several times with Russian officials about the Syrian civil war, was reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer on 10 September 2015, to have called his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, to tell him that the Russian moves will only increase the level of violence rather than help promote a negotiated settlement. If this report is accurate, Kerry must have come across as rather lame. After over four years of protracted internecine slaughter, over 4 million refugees, and numerous failed attempts at a negotiated a settlement, all one has as a result is the growth of rampaging religious fanatics who now control much of Syria and part of Iraq as well. It might just be the case that Moscow has come to the conclusion that a negotiated settlement is not possible, and what one really needs is a military victory that destroys organizations such as ISIS and al-Nusra.
Oddly, the U.S. government seems to be alarmed at this prospect. No doubt this is because Moscow sees no reason to displace its ally, Bashar al-Assad, while “regime change” is a cause celebre for U.S. and Israeli leaders. Washington has gone so far as to request Nato-affiliated countries to deny Russian transport planes permission to overfly their territory on their way to Syria. At least one such country, Bulgaria, has done just that. Fortunately, this does not really hamper the Russian effort. Iran, another enemy of al-Qaeda, has granted permission for the overflights, thus opening up a convenient and more or less direct route for the Russian supply line.
Part III – Conclusion
The goal of destroying al-Qaeda-like organizations is, supposedly, what the “war on terror” is all about. Nonetheless, the U.S. government’s policies in this regard are inconsistent. Does the U.S. want to destroy al-Qaeda and its affiliates or not? The answer is, mostly, yes. However, something often holds the government back – something that the Russians don’t have to contend with.
That something breaks down into three parts: (1) long-standing, conservative Washington-based special interest lobbies’ the most powerful of which is sponsored by Israel; (2) the pro-war neoconservative elements within American society that often cooperate with these lobbies; and (3) an American military bureaucracy parts of which are committed to maintaining a system of land, air and naval bases situated mostly in dictatorial Middle East states hostile to both Russia and Syria. It is this combination of forces that prevents meaningful changes even as evolving realities would seem to demand them.
In other words, while Israel and Saudi Arabia can act in ways they consider to be in their national interests, their agents and allies in Washington exercise enough influence to discourage U.S. policy makers from doing the same thing when it comes to the Middle East. That is why Washington is not pointing up the fact that two close “allies” are helping the same sort of people who attacked the World Trade Center, while simultaneously chastising the Russians for actually acting forcefully against those same terrorists.
The inability to adjust to changing realities is a sure sign of decline, particularly for a “great power.” And, unfortunately that seems to be the situation for the U.S. At least at this point, one can only conclude that the Obama administration’s ability to secure the Iran nuclear agreement is an isolated example of realism. Current U.S. policy toward Syria shows that Washington has not made the turnaround leading to a permanent clear-sighted ability to assess national interests in the Middle East.
On the Dangerous Aspects of Noise – An Analysis (1 August 2015) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The Restaurant Scene
Many of you must have experienced something like this: you and a companion go into a restaurant and, over a good meal, would like to carry on a fruitful conversation – perhaps on the virtues of the agreement President Obama and his international partners have finally reached with Iran. However, you quickly realize that such a conversation is impossible.
The conversation is not impossible because your companion is a member of the Republican-controlled Congress, nor is it impossible because, like so many people, he or she doesnt know one factual thing about Iran. No. It is impossible because neither you nor your companion can hear each other. The restaurants decibel level is in the 90s, which replicates the noise intensity of an active construction site. Indeed, the environment is so noisy that even shouting is futile. It would seem that more and more of our stylish eating establishments have melded cacophony with cuisine.
Noise is an old problem. It started to seriously invade Western culture with the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. The women and children who worked in the early textile factories had to develop a form of sign language to communicate over the racket made by the machines. It wasnt until 1972 that the U.S. government began to regulate workplace din as a health hazard. Before that, one can assume that millions of citizens went through their adult life made partially deaf by the modernitys accelerating hum.
Despite the realization that high levels of noise can hurt you, restaurants somehow escaped regulation, and some of them now present a hazard to customers and staff alike. However, this fact fails to move many owners and managers of otherwise presentable eating establishments. They insist that deafening noise is stylish – even fun – maybe like a rock concert.
Part II – The Noise in the News
It is not only high levels of restaurant chatter that can be harmful. In other public spaces as diverse as airports, doctors offices and gyms the environment is dominated by television screens broadcasting, among other things, news programs, which manage to interfere with the average citizens ability to think clearly.
This brings us back to that hypothetical conversation mentioned above – the one on the nuclear deal with Iran. Those TV news programs filling the public airwaves are now regurgitating a version of deafening nonsense about this important subject – which only goes to show that noise comes in many forms.
Take for instance news noise coming from Republican Party leaders. Here are a few examples:
Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois who has declared that the nuclear accord condemns the next generation to cleaning up a nuclear war in the Persian Gulf. He explains that tens of thousands of people in the Middle East are gonna lose their lives because of this decision by Barack Hussein Obama.
Jeb Bush, Republican presidential candidate, declares, This is not diplomacy, this is appeasement.
Senator Lindsey Graham insists that its akin to declaring war on Sunni Arabs and Israel by the P5+1 because it ensures their primary antagonist Iran will become a nuclear power and allows them to rearm conventionally.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Christian Fundamentalist, says, Shame on the Obama administration for agreeing to a deal that empowers an evil Iranian regime to carry out its threat to wipe Israel off the map and bring death to America.
All of this is coming to the public repetitively through varied media. And all of it is noisy nonsense. How do these Republican notables know their assertions are true? After all, they contradict the positions of most of the worlds professional intelligence experts, including those working for the U.S. government and, it turns out, many of their Israeli counterparts.
The Republicans who shout that Obama administration of being “fleeced and bamboozled by the Iranians are reading from a script which looks like a Machiavellian set-piece designed to attack the president no matter what he does.The authors just plug in the issue (be it health care, immigration or Irans nuclear energy program) and start shouting. The U.S. Zionists, of course, use a script written in Israel. Acting just like agents of that country, they are bound to shout what Benjamin Netanyahu shouts. For instance, the concessions agreement Iran is about to receive paves the way for it to arm itself with nukes.
Either way, the resulting noise leads away from – and not toward – reality. Thus, the complaints that Obama has simply surrendered to the Iranians is the exact opposite of the truth. Iran has agreed to significant reductions in its nuclear program as well as the most intrusive inspections regime ever imposed on any nations nuclear energy program.
Part III – Conclusion
Noise in its many manifestations deafens more than ones ears. It deafens ones mind. And that is its purpose, as used by both restaurant managers and politicians.
On the one hand, restaurateurs believe they know what it takes to have fun at the dinner table – it takes the merging of all diners into a cloud of near-mindless chatter. Thus, it doesnt matter if the chatter has any recognizable content, for it merely serves as a vehicle for entering a crowd-focused experience. The chatter makes you one with everyone else in the restaurant. And, I guess, that is why many people come back for more. The food, no doubt, is secondary.
On the other hand, the politicians also invite you into a crowd experience, but one of a more dangerous kind. The noise in the news is not diffused chatter but a loud and sustained message. It is, more often then not, a form of propaganda – the same storyline repeated over and over again until it fills the public airwaves and from there comes to dominate the thought waves of the ignorant.
No doubt about it, the world is getting noisier every day – a fact which might encourage the independent minded to eat more meals at home and turn off the television.That way you get less calories and more clarity of mind in one quiet package.
Changing Alliances and the National Interest in the Middle East – An Analysis (1 May 2015) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The National Interest
At least since 2001, a prime goal of the U.S. national interest has been reducing the influence and power of “terrorist” groups which have shown themselves willing and capable of attacking U.S. territory and nationals. Among these groups are al-Qaeda and its derivatives, al-Nusra, and ISIS (the so-called Islamic State). How to properly achieve this goal is open to debate (for instance, the use of drones to kill their leaders almost certainly makes the U.S. more enemies than it eliminates), but one sure way of not addressing this national interest is adopting policies that benefit the very groups that are your sworn foes, or turning a blind eye to alleged “allies” who aid them.
This might sound like common sense, however in practice U.S. government’s policies in the region have for decades been counterproductive and plagued by special interest intervention. In other words, U.S. politicians and bureaucrats have pushed policies that have actually aided America’s foes.
Before 2001 the U.S. had long pursued policies that supported a range of unpopular Middle East dictatorships.The spectrum ran from the Saudi Monarchy with its fanatical fundamentalist worldview to more secular dictatorships such as the one in Egypt. This practice identified us in the popular mind with bad people and bad governments and made us the enemy of those seeking liberty and democracy. In addition, we supported the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians and that made us unpopular with, among others, almost every Muslim on the planet. None of this was in the America’s genuine national interest but it certainly was in the interest of special interests such as Zionists, oil companies and arms manufacturers.
That there was (and remains) a difference between special interests and national interests should have been crystal clear when the pursuit of lobby-driven policies earned the U.S. the 9/11 attacks. One can make a disgusted face and assert that this assessment “blames the victim,” but that is just burying one’s head in the sand. The outrages of 9/11 were not in response to Islamic teachings, they were in response to Washington’s awful policy choices.
Then, instead of responding to those attacks with a policy review, U.S. leaders quickly compounded the problem by adopting a policy of regime change which resulted in the invasion of Iraq – a country that had nothing to do with bringing down the World Trade Center towers, but was on the Israeli and neoconservative hit list. Washington’s attack on Iraq created a gigantic power vacuum in the heartland of the Middle East, which, in turn, allowed the growth of such present-day threats as ISIS and al-Nusra. These groups are extremist in character and are inspired by the conquests of the 18th-century religious fanatic Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, founder of the religious sect adhered to by the Saudis. That is why ISIS and others like it are going after anyone who is not a practitioner of the Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam – including the Syrians and their government, the Iraqi Shiites and their government, the Kurds, and a good number of the Lebanese.
There is just one added piece of information that readers should know. The activities of these very bloody religious dogmatists are now being aided by an alliance of Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The Saudis are giving these fanatics lots of money because they are religiously kindred and can be used as vehicles for spreading Wahhabi dogma throughout the the Middle East while weakening (usually by mass slaughter) non-Sunni populations. Israel (the nation that, according to Prime Minister Netanyahu, is leading the fight against al-Qaeda in the Middle East) is aiding these same groups because it sees them as preferable to the Assad government in Syria, Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and the Shiite governments of Iraq and Iran. This is a big mistake on the part of the Israelis, who are essentially inviting Wahhabi radicals to be their northern neighbor, but no one has ever accused the Zionists of clear-sighted, long-range planning.
Part II – Changing alliances
As a consequence of this situation, there has been a major shift of alliances that has stunned and paralyzed the Obama administration. The enemy has certainly remained the same: the fanatics whose lineage can be traced back to Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks of 2001. However, who is now allied with these “bad guys” and who is allied against them has radically altered. For anyone with the ability to look at the situation objectively, that change should have profound implications for U.S. foreign policy.
If the enemy is real and persistent, then those opposing it should warrant U.S. assistance. Who are these enemies of America’s enemies? They are now the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, whose government is under attack by al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda-like forces; Hezbollah, which has come to the aid of al-Assad; the Shiite government of Iraq, which, along with the Kurds, is under attack by ISIS; and the Shiite government of Iran, which has come to the aid of Iraq. It is doubtful that many Americans know of this line-up of forces because they have often been misled by their own media. For instance, a recent CNN program entitled “Who ls Doing What in the Coalition Battle Against ISIS” lists such countries as Australia, Canada and even Belgium and Iceland but never mentions Syria, Iraq (except for the Kurds) or Iran. Either the folks at CNN are being disingenuous or they are living on another planet.
Likewise, those now aiding America’s enemies should not warrant the kind of relationship that has bound Washington to them in the past. Who are these countries who are now friends of America’s enemies? They are Saudi Arabia, Israel, and most of the Gulf Arabs. But how would Americans know this to be the case? Saudi Arabia, whose citizens are major funders of ISIS, is listed by CNN as fighting against the Islamic State. How about Israel’s tawdry role in this affair? Except for a few isolated stories in a limited number of newspapers you won’t find any attention being paid to the growing connection between the Zionist state and these enemies of the U.S.
Are there people in the U.S. government who understand this new turn of events? Of course there are. However, my guess is that most of them reside in the middle echelons of the State Department, where they have little or no impact on policy. How about those in the upper echelons of the foreign policy bureaucracy or the various foreign policy committees of the Congress? No enlightenment there. Traditionally these people can’t think their way out of the paper bag put over their heads by special interests.
What this means that the chance that U.S. foreign policy will adjust to this new and important situation in the Middle East is low. Those in Congress who are financially or ideologically tied to the Zionists, as well as neoconservative dogmatists, are too set in their ways to understand that the landscape has changed. President Obama and some in his administration may well be aware of the situation but are, apparently, immobilized by the political risks of actually acting on their knowledge what is really in the national interest.
Part III – Conclusion
Ideally, the U.S. government should alter policy to fit reality. So, what would a new, more realistic policy look like? Well, we have to keep in mind that no one except the Zionists, the neocons, and some of the really unintelligent Republican candidates for president wants to send in more American troops to fight in the Middle East. Given that fact, the best policy is to materially support those who are fighting al-Qaeda and its derivatives, and diplomatically pressure those aiding the “bad guys” to stop doing so.
That means supporting the secular regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. But it is a dictatorship! Well, that should be no problem for Washington, which already supports dictatorships much worse than the one in Syria. But the al-Assad government is hostile to Israel! So what. By aiding groups like al-Nusra, the Israelis have forfeited any claim on American sympathy (unless, of course, your a U.S. politician who has been captured by the Zionist lobby). That said, I suggest the U.S. begin the process of support by giving Damascus surface-to-air missiles so they can shoot down the Israeli warplanes that are now giving air support to al-Qaeda forces in Syria.
Washington should also support the military effort of Iran, Hezbollah, and the Kurds to fight al-Nusra and ISIS. After all we are already aiding the Iraqi government in the exact same endeavor. It makes no strategic sense to restrict assistance to just Baghdad.
In Washington, however, the folks in Congress and the political parties with input to foreign policy, as well as the political appointees at the head of the foreign policy bureaucracy, are out of the reality-loop. The only thing those people know of the Middle East is what they read in APAC-provided briefing books.
One of the lessons of history is that both people and nations who fail to adapt to new circumstances are doomed to eventually decline. So, America, if the shoe fits…..
The U.S. and Israel: Diverging Interests – An Analysis (8 April 2015) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Shared Concerns and Interests?
It is often alleged that the basis for U.S.-Israeli relations lies in “shared concerns and interests.” However, what really holds the relationship together is a systemic aspect of American politics – the system of special interest lobbying and the money that underlies it. That practice is just about as old as the country itself, and the Zionist lobby is a past-master at exploiting this system. With the Supreme Court rulings telling us that political spending and donations are forms of free speech, this rather perverse aspect of U.S. politics is not going to change in the foreseeable future.
Therefore, one would assume that the present deterioration in relations between the Obama White House and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as refreshing as it is, only represents a temporary glitch rather than a permanent breach in the alliance between the two countries. Well, perhaps, but getting the relationship back to the status quo ante may be harder than many expect.
For example, on 29 March 2015 the New York Times reported that Hillary Clinton met with Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to let him know that she wants to “improve relations with Israel.” That sort of statement is a standard prerequisite for anyone planning to run for the presidency in 2016. While there was no elaboration on the meeting coming from Clinton’s office, Mr. Hoenlein was quite forthcoming. According to him, “Secretary Clinton thinks we need to all work together to return the special U.S.-Israeli relationship to a constructive footing, to get back to basic shared concerns and interests.”
Wishful thinking aside, is that really possible? While Clinton is attuned to her political interest in keeping the Zionist lobby bipartisan in 2016, Mr. Hoenlein seems blind to the fact that the U.S. and Israel no longer have any “shared concerns and interests” in the Middle East. In fact, looked at it objectively, their “concerns and interests” are now in opposition.
Part II – A Major Foreign Policy Goal since 2001
Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, a major foreign policy goal of the U.S. government has been the pursuit and destruction of the Sunni extremist organization al-Qaeda and its offshoots. To that end the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and, more problematically, Iraq in 2003. The popular frustrations that resulted from those wars brought Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008 in order change tactics, but not the goal. In other words, the American public still approved going after al-Qaeda, but were tired of the costly war-making approach characteristic of the Bush Republicans and their neoconservative advisers. In truth the Bush approach of invasion and “regime change” proved disastrously counter-productive. It caused the collapse of political stability in both Afghanistan and Iraq thus creating power vacuums that became breeding grounds for al-Qaeda.
Obama rationalized the anti-al-Qaeda campaign. He ended the unpopular American occupation of Iraq and wound down the Afghan war. In their places he substituted drone warfare. Drones kill jihadists (and a lot more folks as well) with no great risk to American lives (though harm to the psychological health of the computer jockeys guiding these weaponized model airplanes is certainly a cost). You just remotely steer the drones to the place where your informants say your target happens to be (dinner party, family visit, wedding, etc.) and launch the drone’s missiles into that spot. Straightforward, except for the fact that, on average, drones kill 28 civilians for every enemy individual they target. In fact, that is what the U.S. was doing in Yemen before the Saudis started their present, much more indiscriminate, bombing campaign (using real airplanes) throughout that country.
U.S. allies in the region, specifically Israel and Saudi Arabia, had no problem with the drone attacks against al-Qaeda until 2011. That was when civil war broke out in Syria and when al-Qaeda and its offshoots showed up to fight against the embattled Assad regime in Damascus. Keep in mind that Assad was seen as an enemy of Israel. Syria called for help from Shiite Iran and Hezbollah (also enemies of Israel). Soon the fighting spread across the border into northern Iraq, and the Iraqi government also called for help from Iran.
From an American, anti-al-Qaeda perspective, things began to look really bad. ISIS (aka the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), an al-Qaeda inspired movement operating in both Syria and Iraq, declared itself the “new caliphate” and started to take and hold territory while cutting off the heads of anyone who got in the way. The Obama administration did not want to go back into another Middle East war (they still had residual troops on the ground in Afghanistan) but fortunately “boots on the ground” proved unnecessary. Why? Because there was another power right in the region willing to pick up the slack – a power which was just as much an enemy of al-Qaeda as the U.S. was. That power was Iran.
That meant that certainly by 2014 the United States and Iran understood that they were on the same side of a struggle that, in the U.S., represented a primary concern of the American people for the past 15 years. On the Iranian side the concern was even more immediate, because the aggressive behavior of ISIS threatened Iran’s western border as well as its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah. Given this situation, the last thing both countries wanted was open hostilities with each other. That encouraged both parties to work hard to settle the dispute over Iranian nuclear power.
Part III – Divergence
Unfortunately, Israel, and by extension the American Zionist lobby, had lost interest in U.S. concerns about al-Qaeda. Indeed, Tel Aviv had come to take the opposite point of view, seeing some merit in Islamic terrorists as long as they were Sunnis. One has to keep in mind that the Israelis are obsessed with Shiite Iran and its nuclear energy program, which Prime Minister Netanyahu has hysterically proclaimed a danger to the survival of Israel. From that point of view any enemy of Iran is a friend of Israel – even if it is al-Qaeda.
Indeed, in 2013 Michael Oren, then Israeli ambassador to the United States (actually he grew up in West Orange, New Jersey), told the Jerusalem Post, “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” A year later he was at an Aspen Institute Conference and declared that Israel would prefer the victory of ISIS to the continuation of an Iranian-backed Assad. Nor have the Israelis been shy about acting on this preference. They have established a non-aggression pact with an al-Qaeda Syrian affiliate called the al-Nusra Front, cared for al-Nusra wounded in Israeli hospitals, and mounted attacks on the Lebanese and Iranian forces opposing al-Nusra.So, at least in Syria, Israel is actively supporting a group that had, in an early incarnation, attacked the U.S. – one that represents forces that still pose a major worldwide risk to U.S. security. Perhaps someone ought to update Congress on this point.
This rearrangement of allies has made for strange bedfellows – not only the U.S. and Iran, but also Israel and Saudi Arabia. And that brings us to the present situation in Yemen. Until the recent Saudi air strikes in Yemen, that country was the most active site of U.S. drone attacks against al-Qaeda operatives. But the Saudis don’t see the war on al-Qaeda as any more important than the Israelis. Their main concern is, once more, Shiite Iran whom they see as much more an enemy than either jihadists or Zionists. So the Saudis have thrown a temper tantrum over the recent deal over Iran’s nuclear program. Part of their acting out was to tell Washington to pull its drone operators out of Yemen because the Saudis were going to bomb that country and particularly its Shiite Houthi population to ruination. Ruination of course, means the creation of a power vacuum in Yemen, and just as in Syria and Iraq, power vacuums create the ideal breeding ground for extremist groups like al-Qaeda. Finally, there are unconfirmed reports that at least some of the munitions the Saudis are dropping on Yemen are made in Israel.
Part IV – Conclusion
Obviously the real “concerns and interests” of the United States in the Middle East have noticeably diverged from those of Israel. As a consequence Israel is now loudly complaining that Washington has abandoned it. Well, Washington might do well to play the same game – to loudly complain about Israel’s traitorous behavior. After all, the U.S. gives that country a lot of money and weaponry and now the Israelis chose to support their benefactor’s enemy.
We can count on the Zionist lobby to try to obfuscate this fact. And, given that their financial and ideological power helps shape self-serving political interests in Congress, they may be able to pull it off, at least in that venue. They are also financially backing the Republicans when it comes to the 2016 presidential race. Can those politicians who support the Israeli perspective win that election?
Hopefully, the Israeli point of view will now prove to be a hard sell when it comes to the American voter. The recent agreement with Iran has created a new reality for the country’s foreign policy – one that is consistent with the popular desire for no further U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. It is going to be difficult for bought-off politicians, even those allied with Fox TV, to throw everything into reverse and declare al-Qaeda an ally and Iran still the mortal enemy. Hopefully, that will translate into political failure in 2016 for anyone who wants to undo the new accord with Iran.
John Bolton’s Love of Bombs – An Analysis (31 November 2015) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – 1968: “No Innocent Civilians”
The year was 1968. I had just earned a master’s degree in history at Georgetown University, where I had also helped found the university’s chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Unfortunately, there was no time to celebrate, because within days of getting the degree I was on U.S. Army bus, along with about 30 others, heading from Washington, D.C. to Fort Holabird in Baltimore. At that time there was a military draft induction center there, and according to my low draft lottery number, my time had come.
At Holabird we piled into a classroom-like setting and were given a lecture by a rather over-muscled middle-aged sergeant with buzz haircut. He told us (I am paraphrasing from memory here) that “the Vietnam war was absolutely necessary. If the commies got their way the domino effect would see all of Southeast Asia go Red. There was no way you could negotiate with Hanoi and so it was time to increase the intensity of bombing over North Vietnam.” I remember that he ended by telling us that “there were no innocent civilians in Vietnam – when they call their soldiers part of a people’s army, they mean it.” Only later did I realize he was extrapolating on the position laid out by the infamous General Curtis “Bomb Them Back to the Stone Age” Lemay. When the sergeant had talked himself out, he began distributing the written intelligence and aptitude tests that were part of the pre-induction process. As he was doing so he asked if there were any questions. I was the only one who raised his hand.
You have to keep in mind that I was 23 years old, a radical, and not afraid of authority figures. So I asked him, “Why should any of us here believe a word you say about this war when all you have given us are opinions standing in for facts?” He looked at me in a murderous way and said. “What is it about these forms that you don’t understand?” A good number of the boys (I was the oldest among the prospective inductees) in the room laughed – at me. What the heck can you expect from cannon fodder.
I eventually beat the draft and forgot about the above incident. That is, until I read John Bolton’s 26 March 2015 op-ed “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran” in the New York Times (NYT).
Part II – 2015: Bolton’s Bombs
John Bolton is a neoconservative veteran of the George W. Bush era. His claims to fame, besides a real talent for temper tantrums, include serving as President Bush’s Under Secretary of State for Arms Control. In this capacity he undercut international efforts to limit such things as biological weapons. He also served as Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations. It would appear he was chosen for this post mainly because he despised the UN. Under George W. Bush the times were truly Orwellian. Finally – and this is what took me back to 1968 – Bolton’s op-ed demonstrated that he can’t tell the difference between his own opinion and fact.
Let’s analyse Bolton’s NYT op-ed:
First, Bolton is absolutely convinced that Iran will produce nuclear weapons. How does he know? Because “Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons has long been evident.” To firm up his case he misleadingly tells us that “the president’s own director of National Intelligence [James Clapper] testified in 2014 that they [economic sanctions] had not stopped Iran’s progressing its nuclear program.” Yes, the quote is accurate, but Mr. Bolton’s use of it is not. As intelligence agencies, including those under Clapper, attest, the nuclear program Iran has been working on since 2003 is not a weapons program. Rather, it is one aimed at the production of energy and nuclear medical capabilities. Again, it should be emphasized that it is the consensus of all U.S. intelligence agencies, dating from 2011, and not 2007 as Bolton asserts, that there is no evidence that Iran seeks to build nuclear weapons. Today there is no evidence that would cause a change of view.
However, Mr. Bolton is so obsessed with bombs that, in the case of Iran, there is no difference between any sort of nuclear program and a weapons program. And, he obviously feels his opinion is more “true” than the estimates of professional intelligence agencies. It is a blindspot he shares with the Republican Party and other certain political leaders, such as Benjamin Netanyahu. Of course, it is exactly to ensure that Iran’s “progress” stays focused on non-weapon use of nuclear power that the present negotiations between the P5 + 1 and Iran are directed. But Bolton will never be satisfied. He “knows” the Iranians are out for weapons. Maybe he is psychic.
Second, Bolton claims that taking the negotiation or diplomatic path with Iran has triggered a nuclear arms race in the region. How does he know this? The Saudis tell him so. The governing oligarchy in Riyadh has already said that if the Shiite Iranians are building the bomb, they want nuclear weapons too. Like Bolton, the Saudis equate know-how with production. So Bolton tells us that we can expect the Saudis to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan – and it is all Iran’s fault. Hold on! Why shouldn’t it be Israel’s fault? Israel was the first country in the Middle East to actually build and stockpile nuclear weapons. In Bolton’s mind, apparently, that’s different. Bolton tells us “other states in the region understood … that Israel’s nukes were intended as a deterrent, not as an offensive measure. Iran is a different story.” This is a proposition for which Bolton offers no proof. Given Israel’s continuous history of aggressive expansion, just what is the Israeli stockpile deterring? After all, holding a nuclear weapon over other people’s heads while you conquer Arab land seems a very offensive use of “deterrence.” And sure “Iran is different story.” It doesn’t even own a nuclear weapon, much less a stockpile.
Third, John Bolton has an answer for all of this. Being a neoconservative who cut his teeth on undermining arms control, the answer is that “only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor … can accomplish what is required.” He goes on to detail the targets and the ultimate goal of his proposed aggression: “Rendering inoperable the Natanz and Fordow uranium-enrichment installations and the Arak heavy-water production facility and reactor would be priorities. So, too, would be the little-noticed but critical uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan. …The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”
What this scenario actually proves is that Mr. Bolton has little capacity to think his schemes through. By his own admission such a bombing adventure would only “set back its [Iran’s] program three to five years,” meanwhile killing thousands, making a dangerous enemy of Iran for years to come and, last but not least, risking a war in the Persian Gulf that would seriously disrupt the world’s flow of oil. And let’s not forget that such an attack would, at the very least, disrupt Iran’s fight against ISIS, which is supporting an important U.S. interest.
As for Israel, Bolton is exaggerating. The Zionist state does not have the capacity to “do what’s necessary.” The distance between the two countries is prohibitive, and even if Israeli warplanes could get to Iran and back (say by refueling in, of all places, Saudi Arabia), the operation would take multiple sorties, during which the Israel stands to lose a good number of planes and pilots. In fact Prime Minister Netanyahu has sought to prepare the Israeli air force for an attack on Iran only to have his own military officers strongly object.
Part III – Sloppy Thinking
John Bolton’s op-ed to the New York Times is just a mess – a dangerous flight of fancy based on skewed opinions rather than hard evidence and facts. In what must have been a very weak moment while writing this piece, he actually admits that there is a “lack of palpable evidence” for his case. He then moves right ahead as if the absence of evidence and facts just do not matter.
And what are the facts? Well, the Iranians do have a certain level of nuclear know-how which has been turned toward energy production and medical use. They do not have a nuclear bomb and have repeatedly said they don’t want a nuclear bomb. They have stated that they have religious objections to moving in that direction and know that the use of such a weapon would be a suicidal act. Western governments, pressured by Zionist and other special interests, have decided that the Iranians are not trustworthy, and so draconian economic sanctions have been implemented. Now, negotiations to put in place mechanisms to ensure that the Iranians stay true to their word appear near completion.
However, just like that hard-nosed sergeant back in 1968, Bolton dismisses negotiations. Like the analytically deficient noncom at the induction center, he is much more comfortable with death and destruction. And indeed, given Bolton’s influence on the right, his public advocacy of a nuclear attack on Iran in 2009, and his having become a foreign policy advisor for presidential candidate Ted Cruz, he might be judged the most dangerous man in the U.S. – if it wasn’t for the fact that he has so much competition: all those Republican leaders in Congress beating their breasts and swearing that they are going to destroy the president’s one positive effort to make the world safer; the sharks at AIPAC who are determined, for the sake of Israel, to make war on Iran right down to the last American soldier; and untold millions of Christian Zionists who see any conflagration in the Middle East as a good thing because it brings closer the annihilation for which they positively yearn.
What is the New York Times doing publishing this nonsense? It seems to me when you accept a piece for an op-ed page it should be recognized as having been thought through and demonstrating some relation to reality. And, you should certainly make sure that it does not represent, as Robert Parry put it, an “incitement to murder and violation of international law.” I guess the NYT editors disagree.
The Special Interest Problem – An Analysis (27 October 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – A Problem with a History
The problem of special interests or lobbies was one of the foremost concerns of the Founding Fathers of the United States. In their day they were called factions. James Madison, who is considered the architect of the U.S. Constitution, devoted the entire tenth Federalist Paper (1787) to the problem. He defined a faction as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority … actuated by some common … interest, adverse to … the aggregate interests of the community,” and believed that within the context of liberal republicanism, they could never be eliminated. However, he did feel they could be controlled. To this end he sought to create representative bodies with high numbers of delegates and a wide diversity of interests in the hope that they would counterbalance each other.
When George Washington delivered his famous Farewell Address in 1796, he too noted the problem. Washington warned of “combinations and associations” which attempt to “direct, control, counteract and awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities” and thereby substitute their own desires for the “delegated will of the nation.” As Washington’s continued concern implied, James Madison’s approach to controlling special interests or factions never proved adequate.
Part II – Lobbification
Today, the problem is still with us and is worse than ever. That is why in April 2011 I coined the word “lobbification” to describe the corruptive process that bends politicians to the will of special interests – that is, to the will of lobbies. The vehicle that makes this process possible is, of course, money, usually in the form of campaign contributions to a politician. If the politician defies the lobby making the offer (a rare event but not unheard of), that special interest will throw its support to the defiant politician’s electoral opponent. The result is that most politicians are in lockstep with the demands of multiple powerful special interests.
James Madison believed that this corruptive process is a consequence of human nature – self-interest in action. Perhaps that is so, but the results are no less debilitating. So Pavlovian are the responses created by lobbification that, today, politicians in this state of mind cannot tell the difference between the parochial interests of those powerful factions to which they are indebted and the actual national or local interests of their country or community.
Part III – Two Examples
Here are two recent examples of the power of lobbification. On 18 July 2014, acting in response to the urgings of the Zionist lobby, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to support Israel’s ongoing attack on the Gaza Strip. This from a Congress known for its inability to agree on just about any legislation important to their own country! The senators voted their support even though the Israeli action was of the same character as the German attacks on London during the Blitz and the Allied destruction of the German city of Dresden toward the end of World War II. In other words, the Israelis were engaged in a large-scale operation targeting a civilian population. That is a war crime and cannot be justified as an act of self-defense. Yet the U.S. Senate, to a person, publicly supported this criminal behavior.
It might be noted here that there were serious divisions of opinion about Israeli behavior among the American public – that is, the Senate’s constituency. But the senators seemed immune from the popular debate and responded as if represented the Zionist lobby and not the American public.
On the domestic front, meaningful regulatory gun legislation, be it national or local, appears to be politically impossible because of the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA). This is so despite a proliferation of gun-related deaths and injuries in our homes, on our streets, and in our schools. The arguments of NRA supporters usually imply that regulation of firearms would be the death knell of hunting, of target shooting, and of gun collecting, and even the ability to act in self-defense. Yet rational and reasonable gun regulation is not the same as prohibition, and to act as if they are the same is, in my opinion, a paranoid point of view. Then there is the Second Amendment argument that allows many supporters of the NRA to fantasize that they are enrolled in a “well regulated militia” without which the U.S. can not remain a free society. Free from what? From the authoritarian potential of the state with its immensely better armed police and military branches? This is just naive. If the government wants to act in a dictatorial fashion, armed members of the NRA will not be able to stop it.
In truth, rational control of firearms does not threaten our freedom. It makes us freer by enhancing our safety from the growing plague of gun violence that NRA lobbying presently forces most of our politicians to ignore or deny.
Here it is important to note that the National Rifle Association leadership often fails to accurately represent its own membership, much less that of the general public. A 2013 Pew survey found that 74% of NRA members supported universal background checks for private gun sales (as did 94% of the general American public). Nonetheless, at the urging of the NRA the Senate voted against this requirement in the same year. As with the Zionist lobby and public concern over its particularistic foreign policy, many senators are immune from the popular debate on gun control and respond as if they represent the NRA lobby and not the American public.
Part IV – The Need for Regulation
Madison was right in one regard: regulation of the power of factions/special interests/lobbies to influence politicians and policies is an absolute necessity. However, here we run up against a real Catch 22 dilemma. That regulatory legislation, and other related efforts such as campaign finance reform, must come from the same politicians who are financially bound to special interests. Like those with a strong addiction, they seem unable to free themselves from the monkey on their back.
If there is a way out of this dilemma it must come from the general public. The long-standing dissatisfaction with politicians, especially on the national level, must be channeled into a popular campaign to free the legislators and policy makers from the influence of narrow interests. Think of this as an effort to clear away an historical obstacle to good governance. If this does not happen, the foreign policies that have promoted so much anti-American hostility worldwide, and the domestic policy that has allowed the indiscriminate murder of so many innocent citizens, will continue and indeed grow worse.
The New York Times Declares the Peace Process Futile – An Analysis (27 April 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
In 1988 Yasser Arafat declared independence for Palestine based upon the notion of two states living in peace in historic Palestine. The border between those two states was to be set roughly at the armistice line established at the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The Palestinian state’s capital was to be located in East Jerusalem.
That was 26 years ago. Then on14 April 2014, the editorial board of the New York Times (NYT) decided that Arafat was correct and the “principles” that “must undergird a two-state solution” are those he had proposed. Of course the board did so without ever referencing the great Palestinian leader.
Not only does the NYT declare the pre-1967 border and a shared capital at Jerusalem necessary and valid, but it calls on the U.S. government to do the same: “It is time for the administration to lay down the principles … should the Israelis and the Palestinians ever decide to make peace.”
Before anyone gets too excited over this seeming miracle on Eighth Avenue (where the paper is headquartered), it should be noted that the NYT editorial board made this pronouncement at a point when its fulfillment was impossible. And the editorial board knew this was the case. “The pointless arguing over who brought the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the brink of collapse is in full swing. The United States is still working to salvage the negotiations, but there is scant sign
of serious purpose. … President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should move on and devote their attention to other major international challenges like Ukraine.”
Having reached this point in the editorial board’s text one starts to suspect that the board is being disingenuous. First of all, why is it “pointless” to discuss the reason these talks are collapsing? Secretary of State Kerry’s explanation (the famous “poof” heard around the world), made before Congress, lays blame right where it has always belonged – with Israeli acts of sabotage of those very principles the NYT now espouses. Why does the NYT say that stating this increasingly obvious fact is “pointless”?
It is also interesting that the editorial board suggests in what direction the subject should be changed – toward the “major international challenge” of Ukraine. I am not sure the board thought this suggestion through. After all, what is the core Western complaint about happenings in Ukraine? It is the Russian land grab in the Crimea as well as the alleged threat of more such moves in eastern Ukraine. Yet just how different is Russian behavior in this regard from that of Israel in the West Bank and Golan Heights? Obviously the NYT editors do not think it is “pointless” to to discuss land grabs when the Russians do it. It is only pointless when the Israelis do it.
The editorial board also surrounds its declaration of principles with an archaic effort to present Israel and the Palestinians as equally at fault. It is not only the Israelis who have decided against making peace, it is both the “Israelis and Palestinians.” It is not just “the obstinacy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” that is a problem. That “obstinacy” has to be coupled with “resistance from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.” It is not just Israel which is unwilling to “move on to core issues,” it is “the two sides” that are unwilling. This insistence on dualism is an illusion hiding the fact that the two sides are not at all equal and, with the exception of the red-herring issue of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, ninety-nine percent of the obstinacy and all the resistance has been on one side – the Israeli side.
The NYT editorial board has the same problem as the Obama administration: they both know the truth but are unwilling to do something about it. They both know the problem is that the Israeli government is not interested in genuine peace (actually, has never been interested in it). Israel is only interested in continuing its conquest of Palestinian land. And thanks to the West, most particularly the United States, Israel has the military wherewithal to ignore not only the Palestinian protests but also those of the rest of the world.
Both the U.S. government and the U.S. “newspaper of record” refuse to act on their knowledge of Israel’s history of sabotage and call for punitive action against a nation that is hurting U.S. national interests in an important part of the world. Their main concern is to avoid a confrontation with Zionist lobbyists and NYT advertisers whose devotion to Israel is wholly uncritical. This appears to still be the most favored position even though standing firm over negotiations with Iran has proved the Zionists are not omnipotent.
It’s that old two steps forward, one step backward shuffle: heading in the right direction while ensuring we never reach the proper destination.