Archive for the ‘U.S. Foreign Affairs’ Category
There Is Nothing Unusual About Ignorance – An Analysis (17 September 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Gary Johnson’s Ignorance
The vast majority of people “live locally.” Wherever they are residing, that is the arena of their life, and it is that environment that they know best. Even up-and-coming American political leaders are subject to this rule. This became embarrassingly obvious when, on 8 September 2016, Gary Johnson made his now famous faux pas.
Gary Johnson, who once was governor of New Mexico and therefore knows a lot about that state and its strengths and weaknesses, appeared on MSNBC’s weirdly named, but widely watched, a.m. program “Morning Joe” (the “Joe” referring, I assume, to the local U.S. term for coffee). The principal reason Mr. Johnson was on the show was that he is running for president of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket. And, of course, the president of the U.S. is the world’s most powerful leader and his or her awareness level is expected to reflect that.
Therefore, those running for president are assumed to know everything about what is going on in the world as well as in their own country. This is of course impossible, though there is always a short list of issues that are center-stage. So, what happens is that leaders have “briefing books” prepared on these priority issues. But again, the priorities are judgment calls and can be different for different leaders. Unfortunately for Johnson, foreign policy issues were low on the priority list for the Libertarians – who are more or less isolationist.
That is why, when Gary Johnson was asked by another guest on that “Morning Joe” show, what he would do, if he where president, about the crisis in Aleppo, he answered “And what is Aleppo?” It was a real gaffe, and Johnson was almost immediately taken to task by the “pundits” of social media for being a dummy.
One might ask why would anyone expect an ex-governor of New Mexico to know anything about a Syrian city mostly wrecked by civil war? Well, again, because he is running for president. And Aleppo should, many assume, be on his short list. Be that as it may, it was not on Johnson’s, whose ideological outlook puts Syria in someone else’s local venue. His is New Mexico and maybe, eventually, the rest of the U.S.
Part II – The Power of the Briefing Book
Do you think that this unusual? Unfortunately it is not. What is unusual is that Johnson got caught in his ignorance. Fear of just such exposure is one of the reasons leaders now give so few press conferences. Yet history has also shown us that recent presidents have been unafraid to make foreign policy decisions which impact millions, often fatally. As we will see, these decisions almost always reflect their own conditioned ignorance but are made in a way that allows them to be obscured and rationalized after the fact. It just so happens that such decisions helped lead to the Syrian civil war and the destruction of Aleppo.
In the time since his gaffe on “Morning Joe,” Johnson has had created the appropriate briefing book and is now speaking in a seemingly authoritative way about Aleppo and the Syrian civil war. For him, the transformation has worked like magic. The gaffe itself increased the level of attention he has received from the official mass media, and given his new level of superficial knowledge, there are even calls for him to be included in the upcoming presidential debates. Go figure!
Johnson’s situation points to the power of the briefing book, so it is important to ask where these analyses come from.
They are put together by the leader’s staff as well as alleged “experts.” For instance, in the case of the president, that would be department heads. When it comes to foreign policy, that would include the Secretary of State, the Director of National Security, the heads of the CIA, the DIA and other “intelligence agencies.” Of course these folks are also political appointees who may know next to nothing about particular topics. So they have their own versions of briefing books prepared by people down the line who may actually know something about what is going on.
In fact, as this process goes on, you do usually reach a level of staff who are real experts in, say, both the history of and the state of the crisis in Syria. They speak and read the local language, have in-country intelligence sources and so can produce a fairly accurate, unbiased assessment of the situation. They make their analysis and pass it up the ladder.
Here comes the problem. At some level of this process the relatively accurate analysis comes to people, usually those department chiefs or their immediate assistants, who are working in and responding to a preexisting political and ideological environment. Consciously or unconsciously they begin to censor the analysis of the experts so as to reconcile it with the prevailing groupthink of the leadership.
Part III – Conclusion
The ignorance of the leadership, superficially hidden by what turns out to be censored analyses, is by no means unique to U.S. politicos. Vladimir Putin of Russia, Ali Khamenei of Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Xi Jinping of China – and the list can go on and on – all see the world as through glasses darkened by cultural, ideological, political and historical preconceptions. And they all have their experts who do their best to give the boss a more or less accurate picture of the world. And, also, they all have their own versions of department heads who censor the picture to support the present preconceived worldview.
I offer this account of policy making to the reader not as an excuse for the near-sightedness of almost all of the world’s politicians, but as an explanation, the backstory so to speak, out of which so many bad policies come. The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once commented that “false knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance.” Actually, the two are so tied to each other that most of us can’t recognize false knowledge when we are confronted with it. There are too many panes of dark glass in the way.
Moral Idiocy in the Halls of Power- An Analysis (6 September 2016) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The Geneva Treaties and Protocols (aka Accords)
It was on 12 August 1949 that the nations of the world, with Nazi atrocities still in mind, updated what are known as the Geneva Accords. This constituted an effort to once again set limits on the wartime behavior of states and their agents. Among other things, the accords set the range of acceptable behavior toward prisoners of war, established protections for the wounded and the sick, and the necessary protections to be afforded civilian populations within and approximate to any war-zone. Some 193 countries, including the United States, have ratified these agreements. Now, as of August 2016, they are 67 years old. Have they worked? The answer is, in all too many cases, no.
In just about every major conflict since 1949 the Geneva Accords have been partially or completely ignored. Certainly that was the case in the Vietnam War, where civilian deaths came close to 1.5 million people. The treaties have had minimal impact in Afghanistan (during both the Russian and U.S. invasions), Iraq, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, Russia’s military activity in Chechnya, and various conflicts in Africa and Asia. The International Red Cross, which oversees observance of the accords, has not been able to do much more than shine lights on the breaches of the law and pick up the bloody pieces in the aftermath. At the rate our nation-states slaughter the innocent, it is a wonder there is an overpopulation problem.
Part II – Honored Only In the Breach
There are likely two main reasons why the Geneva Accords have had so little influence on behavior: hypocrisy and ignorance.
As to hypocrisy, it is the case that, except in rare instances, there are no serious consequences for violating the law. Particularly, if you are agents of a strong state, or the ally (like Israel) of a strong state, the chances of state leaders or agents being arrested for war crimes or crimes against humanity is exceedingly low.
One wonders why nations bothered writing and enacting the Geneva Accords in the first place. The reason might have been specific to the moment. Faced with the atrocious behavior of leaders and soldiers (it is most often the behavior of the defeated party that is pointed to, so think here of the Holocaust), and the immediate outcry this behavior produced, the pressure for some sort of reaction carried the world’s leaders forward to make and ratify agreements to prevent future repetitions of such crimes.
Yet, as it turns out, these were not serious efforts except when applied to the defeated and the weak. For the strong, it is one thing to enact an international law, it is another thing altogether to apply it to oneself or other strong states.
As to ignorance, to date it is obvious that the politicians and soldiers who wage war, or who are responsible for the arming and training of allies who do so, do not regard seriously, and in some cases are not even familiar with, the Geneva Accords. In my experience, they often cannot, or will not, discuss them when asked, and regard statements referencing the disobeying of illegal orders in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to be rightfully honored only in the breach.
And that is the important point. We can safely say that when it comes to waging war, or for that matter, aiding and abetting others doing so, the accepted behavior of both soldiers, statesmen, and diplomats is that called moral idiocy.
Part III – Moral Idiocy
Moral Idiocy is not something this writer, creative as he is, has simply made up. It is a real concept in psychology that has been around for over a century. However, in our increasingly relativistic societies, it has fallen into disuse. Briefly, it means the “Inability to understand moral principles and values and to act in accordance with them, apparently without impairment of the reasoning and intellectual faculties.” The key word here is “understand.” It is not that moral idiots do not know, intellectually, that something called morality exists, but rather they can not understand its applicability to their lives, particularly their professional lives. At best they think it is a personal thing that operates between friends or relatives and goes no further – a reduction of values to the narrowest of social spaces. This is paralleled by the absence of such values as guiding principles for one’s actions in the wider world.
There are innumerable examples of such apparent moral idiots acting within the halls of power. The following short list specific to the U.S. reflects the opinion of this writer: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Oliver North, Richard Nixon and, my favorite, Henry Kissinger. Those reading this both in and outside of the United States can, no doubt, make a list of their own.
A particular incident related to Henry Kissinger’s behavior gives us an excellent example of this moral failing. The story is told by Stephen Talbot, a journalist and documentary producer, who in the early 2000s interviewed Robert McNamara, who had been U.S. Secretary of Defense for much of the Viet Nam War years and was, by the 1990s, full of remorse and feelings of guilt for his behavior while in office. Then, shortly thereafter, Talbot interviewed Kissinger, who had been Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State and National Security Advisor during the Viet Nam War’s final years. Here is how Talbot describes what, for us, is the relevant part of his interview with Kissinger: “I told him I had just interviewed Robert McNamara in Washington. That got his attention. . . . and then he did an extraordinary thing. He began to cry. But no, not real tears. Before my eyes, Henry Kissinger was acting. ‘Boohoo, boohoo,’ Kissinger said, pretending to cry and rub his eyes. ‘He’s [McNamara] still beating his breast, right? Still feeling guilty.’ He spoke in a mocking, singsong voice and patted his heart for emphasis.”
Kissinger obviously held McNamara and his feelings of guilt in utter disdain. He had actually committed greater crimes than McNamara – crimes documented in Christopher Hitchens’s 2001 book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger – and yet apparently felt no remorse at all. How does one get like that?
Part IV – A Learning Deficiency
Let’s start our speculation in this regard by stating that none of us is born with a gene that tells us right from wrong. Those notions are cultural, though some basic principles (say, seeing murder within one’s tribal or clan network as morally wrong) come close to being universal. Nonetheless, because we are not dealing with something genetic, it is quite possible that all of us have a potential for this moral failing. That being said, the vast majority of folks do successfully learn from their cultures that moral indifference is wrong and that committing what their society deems bad behavior should result in remorse and feelings of guilt. It also seems that a minority do not learn this, or learn it only superficially. Most of this minority, realizing that such indifference is viewed negatively, keep it hidden as much as they can. Yet when, on occasion, these closet moral idiots reach positions of power and influence, they can cause enormous damage.
There is a corollary to this. One can get socially sanctioned subgroups within which one is expected, at least temporarily, to act without reference to moral values. The military is a good example of this environment. And, under certain circumstances, so is the State Department or other foreign offices. In such a situation, most people “go with the flow” even if they know better, and then, in later life, some suffer from the trauma of the experience.
Moral idiocy can be seen as a very long-standing cultural flaw that often gives license to the violence that law and cultural mores are, simultaneously, trying to control. And, who are those who most often take advantage of this loophole? Ironically, it is the very people who lead our societies and those assigned to defend the culture and enforce the law. Lack of accountability makes for very poor public hygiene.
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.