Archive for May, 2013
ENDLESS WAR – AN ANALYSIS (30 May 2013) BY LAWRENCE DAVIDSON
Part I – Endless War
There is an American tradition of frequent war. Indeed, over the course of the country’s history the United States has been at war almost constantly. Some of these have been relatively short conflicts like interventions in various Central American venues. Some have been much larger and longer affairs, like the Civil War, World War II and Vietnam. The point to be drawn from this is that the people of the United States are (perhaps unconsciously) acclimated to always being in one sort of armed conflict or another.
Unfortunately, this history renders a recent public statement by the Pentagon’s general counsel, Jeb Johnson, into just a bit of fanciful idealism. He insisted “war must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs.” Certainly not for Americans. With their active assumption that the U.S. represents the world’s best chance for the victory of “good” against “evil,” Americans seem willing to battle on as long as they are convinced they are winning and the casualties are low.
That may be why there was no popular protest when Michael Sheehan, Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for “special operations,” told a Senate hearing that the country’s “war on terror” might last “at least 10 or 20 years” longer (it has already been going on twelve years). In the mainstream media, there was not even a noticeable raising of an
The reason given for Sheehan’s prognosis was that al-Qaida, and its franchise allies, keep recreating themselves as fast as their alleged leaders can be droned into oblivion. Missing from the congressional and media reaction was the obvious question of “how come” such groups keep recreating themselves? Many middle-echelon State Department analysts familiar with the Middle East know the answer has something to do with the fact that U.S. policies in the region have not significantly changed since the 9/11 attacks. Most of the personnel above the middle echelon are political appointees who keep asserting that what motivates the al-Qaida types is religious fanaticism. Of course there are religious fanatics at work on both sides of the “war on terror,” but those in the Middle East have grievances to focus on and U.S. policies are seen as one source of those.
The fact that the “war on terror” is largely a consequence of American policies cemented into place by powerful special interests calls into question President Obama’s recent assertion that “this is a just war, a war waged proportionally in last resort and in self-defense.” It also suggests that the struggle is likely to go on and on until its ruinous consequences become so obvious to the voting public that the politicians are forced to break with their special interest supporters. This is the real criterion for change, for, under the present circumstances, there will always be “terrorists” out there who, to reword an assertion of President Bush, “hate our policies.” And what is there not to hate about draconian sanctions, the arming of dictators, and giving opened-ended support to the most racist state in the region?
Part II – Rules of Engagement
In the meantime President Obama has been trying to create “rules of engagement” for the use of the government’s primary weapon in this endless war: those remote controlled bombs we call drones.These rules will, he says, provide “clear guidelines, oversight and accountability” and satisfy partisan congressional grumblings, if not the more pertinent questions of human rights advocates.
To this end the White House has issued guidelines concerning procedures for counterterrorism operations such as drone attacks. The guidelines tell us “there must be a legal basis for using lethal force” and decisions to use such “force against individual terrorists outside the United States and areas of active hostilities are made at the most senior levels of the U.S. Government.” The document then lays out other specific preconditions for the use of lethal force, among which are:
1. “Near certainty” that the terrorist target is present.
2. “Near certainty” that noncombatants will not be injured or killed.
3. An assessment that “capture is not feasible at the time of the operation.”
4. An assessment that the relevant governmental authorities in “the country where action is contemplated cannot or will not effectively address the threat to U.S. persons.”
5. An assessment that “no other reasonable alternatives exist” to effectively address the threat to U.S. persons.
Finally, “International legal principles, including respect for sovereignty and the law of armed conflict, impose important constraints on the ability of the United States to act unilaterally – and on the way in which the United States can use force. The United States respects national sovereignty and international law.”
The problem with these guidelines, beyond a number of undefined terms such as “near certainty,” “reasonable,” and “feasible,” is that its criteria misrepresent reality or are utterly unreliable. For instance, under international law there is no “legal” basis for this sort of use of “lethal force.” What the Obama administration (and the Bush regime before it) has done is take up the illegal Israeli “targeted assassination” program, which constitutes the behavior of a rogue state. Even from a domestic legal prospective, Obama’s criteria for targeted assassination will be carried out behind closed doors. There will be no due process. And there will be no accountability for “mistakes.” Finally, nothing in the guidelines is enacted into legislation and therefore, assuming an effort to actually follow their criteria, they are specific to the Obama presidency and have no authority over his successors. As Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, put it, “a mere promise that the U.S. will work within established guidelines . . . provides little confidence that the U.S. is complying with international law.”
Part III – Conclusion
Throughout the country’s history of one war following another, there has been a parallel history of cyclical deterioration and recovery of constitutional rights. However, with the government’s wholehearted embrace of targeted assassination, as well as modern surveillance technology and the precedent of offshore prisons for “enemy combatants,” one wonders if, from now on, the recovery of rights will ever be fully equal to their loss. Maybe now it really will be all downhill for freedom in the “land of the free.”
Alan Hart and What It Takes to Struggle On – An Analysis (17 May 2013) by Lawrence Davidson
I – Who Is Alan Hart?
Alan Hart is an author and a journalist. He is the former Middle East Chief Correspondent for Britain’s Independent Television News and a former BBC Panorama presenter whose beat was the Middle East. He has written a number of books, including Arafat: Terrorist or Peacemaker? (1984) and the three-volume Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews (2009-2010). He is also a longtime activist for various causes, particularly his three-decade struggle on behalf of justice for the Palestinian people.
II – Alan Hart Resigns
On April 25 Alan Hart, the activist for Palestine, literally turned in his resignation letter. In it he states, “I am withdrawing from the battlefield of the war for the truth of history as it relates to making and sustaining of the conflict in and over Palestine.” Why did he do this? In Hart’s opinion, the struggle for justice in Palestine is “mission impossible.” The information/propaganda war between Zionists and those, such as himself, supporting the Palestinians (which, in any case, had always been “the most asymmetric of all information wars”) is lost. He notes that the Western media still follow a Zionist line and asserts that most of the Western populations remain either pro-Israel or indifferent to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.
Hart blames this alleged Zionist victory in the propaganda war on a lack of financial support for those trying to write and speak out for Palestinian justice, and contrasts their plight to the situation of the Zionist writers and advocates, who enjoy almost unlimited funds. Hart feels it is mainly wealthy Palestinians and other Arabs who have failed to support pro-Palestinian activists. These wealthy Arabs have failed to step forward because they either are afraid of Zionist retribution that would damage their businesses or careers, or are afraid of their own Arab governments, which do not want trouble with Israel because of assertive actions by pro-Palestinian wealthy citizens.
III – Mr. Hart’s Plight
With all due respect to Mr. Hart, who certainly does deserve our respect, I can’t help asking myself whether his assessment of this “war for the truth of history” is objectively true or an expression of personal disappointments. According to his own explanation, Alan Hart’s decision to leave the struggle is connected to the fact that Arab publishers and media failed to financially support and promote his recent book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews. This was a great disappointment to him because the Arab media had serialized his prior work on Yasser Arafat and this had brought him “a significant income.” He had obviously made the assumption that the situation would repeat itself. So strong was that expectation that, as Mr. Hart tells us in his resignation statement, he made certain decisions, such as mortgaging his property in order to support the production of the Zionism study, which have now brought him into financial distress. Hart appears to see the failure of Arab money to come to his assistance as indicative of Arab failure to support the Palestinian cause.
IV – How accurate Is Alan Hart’s Assessment?
As disappointing as the Arab failure to promote Hart’s important work on Zionism may be, it is not accurate to conclude, as Hart does, that most wealthy Arabs “do not care about the occupied and oppressed Palestinians.” Before the first Iraq war, both public and private Arab money generously supported the PLO. Yasser Arafat’s unfortunate attempt to mediate that conflict and prevent a war against Iraq stopped most (but never all) of that support. Whether the wealthy Arabs could now do much more is another question. However, and this is an important point, this is not the same question as to whether Western supporters of the Palestinian cause should or should not give up.
Hart is correct that in the past thirty years supporters of Palestinian justice have not been able to create the necessary critical mass of public opinion to change the policies of national governments. However, that does not mean there has been no progress. It does not mean this is a lost cause.
I too have been a strong supporter of the Palestinians for decades, and I have seen a tremendous difference over time. Thirty years ago you could not critically raise the subject of Israel in public, and thus the Zionists had a monopoly on the entire history of this issue. That is emphatically not the case today. Despite Alan Hart’s unfortunate experience, the fact is that, at a popular level, the Zionists have lost control of the Palestine narrative. There are other real positive signs in this struggle that Hart fails to mention, including the progress of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; the continuing maturation of counter-lobbies, particularly in the United States; and the growing worldwide recognition of Israeli criminality, which has slowly increased that country’s sense of isolation. In other words, there is more to this than the Arab failure to support Mr. Hart’s latest work.
V – How Do We Measure Success?
One has to also understand that success and failure come on many levels. On the macro level, progress is slow, but as pointed out above, it is far from nonexistent. Sometimes you just need to know where to look to see the ongoing activity. For instance, in the case of the United States, there are a growing number of organizations that are constantly busy getting out the message of Israeli crimes and the Palestinian demand for justice. There are the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (a coalition of almost 400 member groups and organizations), Jewish Voices for Peace, and the Council for the National Interest, to name just a few. The struggle against Israeli apartheid might well be, as it was in the case of South Africa, multigenerational. But among the many organizations waging this struggle there is no sign of slacking.
On the micro level, success comes when one is consistently true to one’s principles in a manner that is personally acceptable. No one is asking Western supporters of the Palestinian cause to go bankrupt or put themselves in physical danger, although in the latter case notably heroic individuals such as Rachel Corey and Tom Hurndall have chosen to do so, with tragic results. However, there are less dangerous routes. To do what you can in a steady, consistent way for a just cause in which you believe is already to have achieved success at the personal level. We struggle not only for the cause, but also because of who we are.
Alan Hart is an admirable man who has done admirable things, and we all owe him our thanks for his contributions to the Palestinian cause. But his decision to retire from the field should in no way be taken as a sign that that cause is lost. It is emphatically not lost. It has made significant progress over the past three decades and it is well positioned to make more progress in the future.
IN PRAISE OF RICHARD FALK – AN ANALYSIS (6 MAY 2013) BY LAWRENCE DAVIDSON
PART I – Richard Falk Tells the Truth
Shortly after the 15 April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian territories, published an analysis of the episode entitled “A Commentary on the Marathon Murders.”
In this analysis Falk pointed out that there are “serious deficiencies in how the U.S. sees itself in the world. We should be worried by the taboo . . . imposed on any type of self-scrutiny [of U.S. foreign policy] by either the political leadership or the mainstream media.” This taboo essentially blinds us to the reality of our situation. Falk continues, “The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world. . . . Especially if there is no disposition to rethink U.S. relations with others . . . starting with the Middle East.”
It seems obvious that if Washington wants to prevent future attacks, it is not enough to pursue alleged terrorists and beef up “homeland security.” It seems logical that one needs to also perform a foreign policy review, preferably in a public manner, to determine if any American policies or behaviors are unnecessarily provoking animosity. For instance, will continued unqualified U.S. support of Israeli oppression of Palestinians increase or decrease future violent anti-American episodes at home or abroad? Yet, this critical aspect of any response to terrorism has apparently never been performed. As regards the administration of George W. Bush, this comes as no surprise. Bush and his neoconservative supporters were (and still are) ideologically driven and so are incapable of the objectivity necessary for such a self-critical review. That is why Bush came up with a range of cockamamy reasons, including the famous “they hate our values,” for the 9/11 attacks. President Obama, on the other hand, seemed, at least at first, capable of corrective insight.
Back in 2009 Obama went to Cairo and made a speech which suggested that a rethinking of American relations with the Muslim world and the Middle East in particular, was in order. Yet the theory represented in the speech was never turned into practice. Why not?
Falk explains that “the strong push-back by Israel” caused Obama to backpedal. As a consequence the “politics of denial” continued. In Falk’s opinion, “As long as Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment those who wish for peace and justice in the world should not rest easy.”
Part II – Attacking the Messenger
When it comes to policies that might provoke terrorist attack, U.S. complicity in Israeli belligerency, racism and colonial expansion is just the tip of the iceberg. Washington’s mistakes go further. The unprovoked invasion of Iraq following years of devastating economic sanctions, the ill-conceived stationing of troops on Arabian soil, the unnecessary occupation of Afghanistan, and the collateral-damage-prone-tactic of drone warfare now actively pursued in places like Yemen and Pakistan have all, unbeknownst to the American public, seriously alienated hundreds of millions of people around the globe. It has driven some of this number to violent actions which, from their perspective, represent counterattacks and revenge.
Thus, looked at from outside of the self-justifying perspective of the United States government, everything Richard Falk says is accurate. However, from the inside of the official government worldview, Falk is a heretic and his message dangerous verbal poison. Therefore, the reaction of those dedicated to customary policies and alliances has been shrill.
For instance, Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said that she was “outraged by Richard Falk’s highly offensive Boston comments. Someone who spews such vitriol has no place at the UN. Past time for him to go.” Similar statements came from members of Congress who are collecting signatures on a letter demanding that President Obama “take action” against Falk. The British mission to the UN. released a statement to the effect that “this is the third time we have had cause to express our concerns about Mr. Falk’s anti-Semitic remarks.” This is an embarrassingly ignorant statement that confuses criticism of Israel with hostility to Jews generally. By the way, Richard Falk is Jewish. For its part, Israel has long barred Falk from even entering the Palestinian territories for which he has responsibility. Finally, Zionists have accused Falk of being “an anti-American and pro-radical Islam activist.” This is another statement that is both factually incorrect and ignorant, because Falk is a deeply knowledgable American trying to talk some sense to politicians leading the nation toward a dangerous cliff, and because it confuses criticism of Israel with actively supporting “radical Islam.”
Part III – Conclusion
The ugly fact is that, most Americans have been kept dangerously ignorant of the wanton damage caused by their government’s foreign policies, and those who would prevent them from knowing the truth are, at the very least, indirectly responsible for terrorist attacks launched in reaction to those policies.
Richard Falk’s crime is to be a person of note, an esteemed academic and a respected servant of the United Nations, who is trying to break through with the truth. It is all the more frightening to the U.S. and its allies that, in this effort, Falk has access to an independent platform. He regularly reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where he has the ear of many of the 47 nations that make up this body. Unfortunately, the one group most in need of Falk’s wisdom, the American public, remains beyond the range of his voice.
If it could get away with it, the U.S. government would probably cart Richard Falk off to some hellhole prison, or keep him confined to some foreign embassy (as it has done to Julian Assange). However, despite disturbing signs to the contrary, Washington isn’t yet ready to take such actions against a man of Falk’s stature. However, do not mistake such forbearance for the mark of a mature and stable society. No. Such societies (just like mature and stable adults) are capable of self-criticism. At least at the level of leadership and media, the United States is not capable of such self-reflection and so its citizens are likely to be the last to know that much of the terrorism they fear is a product of their own government’s continuing barbarism.