Obama and the Despots of the Middle East

Karl Marx, in his famous treatise on Louis Bonaparte’s 1851 coup d’état, which shared much in common with the late 18th century coup undertaken by his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte, remarked that history has the tendency to repeat itself, ‘the first [time] as tragedy, then as farce’.

As with many other aspects of the dramatic developments unfolding in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region in recent weeks, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s midnight 28 January speech, and the various White House statements that preceded it, prove just how relevant the ideas of the German political theorist and revolutionary are today.

Like his Tunisian counterpart, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose similarly feeble attempt to assuage the anger and despair of the tens of thousands of brave citizens, from all political persuasions and walks of life who participated in the demonstrations, was met by demands to put an end to the government’s charade, Mubarak’s speech was seen by most Egyptians as too little, too late.

For the protesters in Egypt, as in Tunisia only a few weeks before, demanded not only an end to the human rights abuses, rampant corruption, lack of economic opportunities and political freedoms that characterised the state of affairs of their country for as long most of them can remember, but also, and as importantly, an end to the repressive regime that promulgated these conditions. They will certainly not be satisfied with Mubarak’s cynical attempts at ‘reform’, including the appointment of intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, a man who was praised by former US Ambassador to Egypt, Edward S. Walker, for the amenable role he has played in supporting some of the most abhorrent and illegal activities associated with the US led ‘war on terror’, such as the torture and extraordinary rendition of ‘terror’ suspects.

Only 3 weeks earlier, Mubarak’s Tunisian counterpart, Ben Ali, had cut an equally pathetic figure in his speech to the Tunisian nation, in which he vowed to slash food prices and guarantee ‘total liberty for the press and to no longer close Internet sites’ and promised ‘no presidencies for life,’ in a desperate attempt to buy more time for his dictatorial rule.

The farce continued with the Obama administration, who, as in the Tunisian case, remained largely silent until the outrage expressed by the Egyptian people became so deafening it could no longer pretend not to hear their desperate pleas, dramatically changing its rhetoric. One could witness this shift in White House Secretary Robert Gibbs’ 28 January press conference. Whereas just the previous day Gibbs had reiterated the Mubarak regime’s position as ‘a close and important partner with our country’ and declared its stability, on 28 January his language had already changed, adopting a much more aggressive tone. ‘The legitimate grievances that have festered for quite some time in Egypt have to be addressed by the Egyptian government immediately, and violence is not the answer,’ Gibbs chided.

Later in the day, his boss engaged in rhetorical acrobatics in an effort to prove the Obama administration’s ‘democracy promotion’ credentials while at the same time refrain from undermining the ‘stability’ of a stalwart US ally – one that has provided invaluable support in promoting US geo-strategic interests vis-a-vis the Israel-Palestine ‘conflict’, the ‘war on terror’, energy security, as well as promoting US-backed neoliberal economic ‘reforms’ in the region.

The $1.5 billion in rent/aid Egypt receives annually from its US patron, referred to by many as ‘peace dividends’ for its 1979 peace agreement with the Israelis, demonstrates just how important this relationship is to the Americans. In the past, though the Mubarak regime, like most rentier states, spent much of these payments on maintaining the security apparatuses necessary for its survival, it also wisely invested at least a portion of it on social spending, notably on food subsidies, education, health and government salaries, spending that primarily affected the lower classes. Over the last several decades, and particularly in recent years, however, this balance of rent spending has been heavily tipped in favor of ‘security’.

As with Tunisia, despite its MENA ‘democracy promotion’ agenda, Egypt’s nefarious use of US funds for patently undemocratic purposes has come as no surprise for the American government. In stark contrast to the feigned outrage with which the Obama administration received news of its ally’s heavy handed crackdown on the popular demonstrations breaking out across the country, as well as on the new media forms of communication that facilitated their organisation, the recent Wikileaks revelations uncovered US foreknowledge of the regime’s brutality. Exposing what most informed political analysts, as well as the majority of Egyptians, have known all along about the Mubarak regime, the second highest recipient of US military and economic aid in the world after Israel, one cable pointed out that government brutality is ‘routine and pervasive’. Furthermore, the use of torture against ordinary criminals, Islamist detainees, opposition activists and bloggers, the cables acknowledged, is so widespread that the Egyptian government ‘no longer even tries to deny its existence.’

The cables also reveal that the Obama administration aimed to maintain a close political and military relationship with Mubarak, despite acknowledging the existence of a colossal democracy deficit, stating: ‘The tangible benefits to our [military] relationship are clear: Egypt remains at peace with Israel, and the US military enjoys priority access to the Suez canal and Egyptian airspace.’

Despite all of this, in his 28 January press conference on the eve of the post-Juma’h (Friday prayer) protests, the most dramatic to hit Egypt since the unrest began, Obama refrained from acknowledging the demands of the brave protesters calling for Mubarak to step down. Instead, he emphasized the need for the regime to make reforms, saying: ‘This moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise.’ Referring to his 2008 Cairo speech, Obama urged Mubarak to recognise that ‘no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise.’

Once again, the Obama administration has demonstrated a gross duplicity in its approach to the issue of democracy promotion in the region. In this sense it, like other western governments expressing their preferences for ‘stability’ and ‘order’ over justice and accountability, has found itself on the wrong side of history.

Perhaps there is a further lesson they could take from Marx’s 18th Brumaire, in which he made another of his most famous formulations, this time on the role individual agency plays in history: ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.’

In the face of overwhelming odds, including unflagging western support for their governments, a world economic order designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many, well-financed, equipped and trained security apparatuses, largely thanks to the Americans, as the tear-gas canisters used against protesters and stamped ‘made in America’, made chillingly clear- the people of Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in the region where protesters have taken to the streets, have decided that despite these overwhelmingly inauspicious circumstances, they are no longer willing to be mere objects in a history written by, and for the benefit of others. They are prepared to risk life and limb to regain their rightful place amongst history’s subjects.

It is time for Obama to pay more than lip-service to the increasing role of people power in transforming the political contours of the region. He can start by supporting the demands of the Egyptian opposition, including Islamists, led by the most popular opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and secularists, represented by their most popular figurehead, former United Nations atomic energy chief Mohamed El-Baradei, for an immediate end to the repressive measures being employed by the Mubarak regime against demonstrators, described by a Muslim Brother leader to as ‘organised state terrorism’, an end to the Mubarak regime, and the instatement of a transitional government leading to real democratic reforms and accountability for the crimes committed by the Mubarak regime.

Obama can also take advantage of the opportunity to implement much-needed structural changes in US foreign policy towards the region, by placing real conditions on the economic and military aid the US government provides to all undemocratic and repressive regimes in the region, including Israel, Jordan and Yemen, to help facilitate the efforts of the people of these countries to similarly regain their agency and make ‘their own history’.

Significant cuts in aid to these states, coupled with an overall reduction in US military spending and an end to US aggression in the region, would have the effect of ‘killing two birds with one stone’, as it would also promote US government efforts to reduce the gaping US budget deficit in a more ethical manner than current proposals, which entail massive cuts to social spending. Going back to Obama’s pre-election promises, that would be real ‘change we can believe in’.

Corinna Mullin is a Lecturer in Comparative and International Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), with reference to the Middle East. Her current research involves comparative international political theory and explores Islamist and Western conceptions of peace, war, justice, and sovereignty. She lives in London.

 

Ref Counterpunch

Hollywood and the war machine

 

War is hell, but for Hollywood it has been a Godsend, providing the perfect dramatic setting against which courageous heroes win the hearts and minds of the movie going public.

The Pentagon recognises the power of these celluloid dreams and encourages Hollywood to create heroic myths; to rewrite history to suit its own strategy and as a recruiting tool to provide a steady flow of willing young patriots for its wars.

Hollywood  Video Icon
The Pentagon calls the shots
Producer: Diana Ferraro
Hollywood: Chronicler of the war
Producer: Tim Tate

What does Hollywood get out of this ‘deal with the devil’? Access to billions of dollars worth of military kit, from helicopters to aircraft carriers, enabling filmmakers to make bigger and more spectacular battle scenes, which in turn generate more box office revenue. Providing they accept the Pentagon’s advice, even toe the party line and show the US military in a positive light.

So is it a case of art imitating life, or a sinister force using art to influence life and death - and the public perception of both?

Empire will examine Hollywood, the Pentagon, and war.

Joining us as guests: Oliver Stone, the eight times Academy Award-winning filmmaker; Michael Moore, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker; and Christopher Hedges, an author and the former Middle East bureau chief of the New York Times.

Our interviewees this week are: Phil Strub, US Department of Defense Film Liaison Unit; Julian Barnes, Pentagon correspondent, LA Times; David Robb, the author of  Operation Hollywood; Prof Klaus Dodds, the author of Screening Terror; Matthew Alford, the author of Reel Power; Prof Melani McAlister, the author of Culture, Media, and US Interests in the Middle East.

The US Criticized for Human Rights Abuses

Given the sensationalism in mainstream US news media coverage of alleged sexual impropriety charges filed against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Sweden, it’s no surprise that other significant news about America involving that Scandinavian nation is being left uncovered.

In early November, Sweden called on the US to end the death penalty and to improve conditions in maximum security prisons, as the United States went through its first-ever Universal Periodic Review by the United Nation’s Human Rights Council.

Sweden joined nearly two dozen countries in calling upon the US to end its pariah-like status as the only western industrialized nation to engage in executions. The US has over 3,200 people facing death sentences, a sharp rise from 1968, when America’s death row population numbered just 517, according to statistics compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Other countries critical of the US posture on the death penalty – practiced by the federal government and 35 states – included Australia (the birthplace of Assange), France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Vatican.

The caustic onslaught in the U.S. against Assange for leaking sensitive documents, where attackers include members of Congress – some even calling for Assange’s death, either extrajudicially or after a trial–is ironic, coming so close to December 10th, the annual international observance of Human Rights Day.

That observance commemorates the UN’s 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

One clause in that Declaration provides people worldwide with the right to receive and impart information “through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The American assaults on Assange extend beyond the White House and Capitol Hill. Amazon, under pressure from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), removed WikiLeaks from its computer servers, while MasterCard, PayPal and Visa have halted payments to WikiLeaks from donors supportive of work of that entity, almost certainly after receiving pressure from the US government.

While US officials attending that human rights review held in Switzerland proudly pointed to such continuing rights progress in America as the election of a black President and his selection of a Hispanic female US Supreme Court Justice, fifty-six countries including staunch US allies offered 228 recommendations for improving human rights in the nation that touts itself as the world’s leader in protecting the rights of all.

Those recommendations involved a wide range of issues, ranging from attacking poverty among Native Americans to addressing abuses impacting immigrants and closing the infamous Guantanamo prison. However, most of the recommendations presented at that human rights review centered on concerns about deprivations and disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Belgium and Switzerland, for example, called on America to stop sentencing teens to life in prison. Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of life-sentenced teens, with over 300 currently languishing in the state’s prisons.

Haiti called for ending the discriminatory impact of mandatory minimum sentences and Thailand called for addressing sexual violence inside U.S. prisons, where homosexual rapes far exceed heterosexual rapes outside prison walls.

France urged the U.S. to study the racial disparities evident in the application of the death penalty. African-Americans comprise 41.43 percent of the people on death rows across America – a figure more than twice the percentage of America’s black population.

The United Kingdom expressed concerns about damning evidence that the death penalty could sometimes be administered in a discriminatory manner.

Respected Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz recently wrote a commentary expressing his concerns about Kevin Cooper, a black California death row inmate facing execution for slaughtering four members of a white family in 1983, despite the troubling reality that the lone survivor told police the murders were white.

Facts now establish that police destroyed blood-stained clothing evidence supplied by the girlfriend of one (white) man police never investigated, and that the prosecution’s forensic witnesses falsified evidence against Cooper.

Dershowitz stated that the facts “do not add up” in the murder conviction of Cooper. He has asked outgoing California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant Cooper clemency. America’s largest death row is in California, which has 697 persons facing execution.

U.S. representatives responding to their international critics stated that despite legitimate debate on the propriety of the death penalty, as a matter of law at the federal level and in 35 states, “that punishment is permitted,” according to the draft report issued by the UN Human Rights Council.

While the America’s governmental scheme makes it structurally difficult for the federal government to outright ban states from conducting executions, the federal government could end its own use of the death penalty for federal crimes. The U.S. government death row holds nearly 70 persons.

One U.S. death-row inmate – Pennsylvania’s ‘Death Row Journalist’ Mumia Abu-Jamal – received mention by name in one recommendation. Abu-Jamal, perhaps the most well-known of 25,000-plus under death sentence worldwide, observes the macabre anniversary of spending 29-years inside a death-row prison cell on December 9th.

Cuba called on the U.S. to “end the unjust incarceration of political prisoners including Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal.” Ample evidence supports international claims that Native American leader Peltier, repeatedly denied parole, and ex-Black Panther Abu-Jamal, are unjustly incarcerated for deaths involving law enforcement officers.

The issue of political prisoners in the US is a subject generating interest internationally, yet it is an issue largely ignored by Americans, said Efia Nwangaza, a lawyer who attended that UN human rights review session held in Geneva, Switzerland.

“There are over 75 political prisoners in the US, most of them former Black Panther or Black Liberation Army people,” said Nwangaza, a Philadelphia native now living in South Carolina, who helped prepare documentation on US political prisoners for that UN review.

“We’ve made progress through an admission by omission, with the US not denying it has political prisoners.”

In addition to criticisms about death penalty policies in the U.S., nations around the world raised concerns about racial profiling practices in America against blacks, Latinos and persons perceived as Muslim, inclusive of U.S. citizens, immigrants and visitors.

U.S. representatives, responding to criticisms about racial profiling, “assured delegations” that America condemns racial and ethnic profiling in all forms,” according to the Human Rights Council’s report.

Ironically, even as U.S. representatives offered their assurances, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a class-action lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department for racial profiling in that city where the U.S. Constitution was drafted and approved.

That lawsuit involves the police practice called ‘stop-&-frisk’ – where police detain and search persons. This practice in Philadelphia impacted 253,333 persons in 2009 – a 148-percent increase over 2005 – with 72.2 percent of those subjected being blacks, who comprise 44 percent of that city’s population, according to the lawsuit.

This dragnet-style policing only produced arrests in 8.4 percent of the ‘stops,’ with the majority of those arrests being for “interactions following the initial stop” like disorderly conduct and resisting arrest – i.e. alleged crimes that most likely resulted from legitimate objections to being stopped without cause.

One of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit is State Representative Jewell Williams, a veteran of 20-years in law enforcement work, who was roughed up by Philadelphia police in March 2009 while inquiring about a police stop of two 65-year-old black men during an encounter around the corner from Williams’ house.

Exposing a paradox in America’s race-based policing, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and the city’s Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey (named in the ACLU lawsuit) are both black, but they back their Stop-&-Frisk policy, downplaying its demonstrable racially-disproportionate impact.

“Mayor Nutter repeatedly promised that this policy [Stop-&-Frisk] would be carried out in a way that respected the Constitution,” said Mary Catherine Roper, an ACLU-Pa staff attorney. “But instead of stopping people suspected of criminal activity, the police appear to be stopping people because of race.”

Former Philadelphia Mayor John Street told ThisCantBeHappening! recently that the excessive Stop-&-Frisk practices are actually counter-productive to effective crime fighting because the practices alienate citizens that police need to assist them in crime fighting.

Linn Washington Jr. is a columnist for This Can’t Be Happening!.

Ref: Counterpunch

The Collapse of Western Morality

Yes, I know, as many readers will be quick to inform me, the West never had any morality. Nevertheless things have gotten worse.

In hopes that I will be permitted to make a point, permit me to acknowledge that the US dropped nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities, fire-bombed Tokyo, that Great Britain and the US fire-bombed Dresden and a number of other German cities, expending more destructive force, according to some historians, against the civilian German population than against the German armies, that President Grant and his Civil War war criminals, Generals Sherman and Sheridan, committed genocide against the Plains Indians, that the US today enables Israel’s genocidal policies against the Palestinians, policies that one Israeli official has compared to 19th century US genocidal policies against the American Indians, that the US in the new 21st century invaded Iraq and Afghanistan on contrived pretenses, murdering countless numbers of civilians, and that British prime minister Tony Blair lent the British army to his American masters, as did other NATO countries, all of whom find themselves committing war crimes under the Nuremberg standard in lands in which they have no national interests, but for which they receive an American pay check.

I don’t mean these few examples to be exhaustive. I know the list goes on and on. Still, despite the long list of horrors, moral degradation is reaching new lows. The US now routinely tortures prisoners, despite its strict illegality under US and international law, and a recent poll shows that the percentage of Americans who approve of torture is rising. Indeed, it is quite high, though still just below a majority.

And we have what appears to be a new thrill: American soldiers using the cover of war to murder civilians. Recently American troops were arrested for murdering Afghan civilians for fun and collecting trophies such as fingers and skulls.

This revelation came on the heels of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s alleged leak of a US Army video of US soldiers in helicopters and their controllers thousands of miles away having fun with joy sticks murdering members of the press and Afghan civilians. Manning is cursed with a moral conscience that has been discarded by his government and his military, and Manning has been arrested for obeying the law and reporting a war crime to the American people.

US Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican, of course, from Michigan, who is on the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, has called for Manning’s execution. According to US Rep. Rogers it is an act of treason to report an American war crime.

In other words, to obey the law constitutes “treason to America.”

US Rep. Rogers said that America’s wars are being undermined by “a culture of disclosure” and that this “serious and growing problem” could only be stopped by the execution of Manning.

If Rep. Rogers is representative of Michigan, then Michigan is a state that we don’t need.

The US government, a font of imperial hubris, does not believe that any act it commits, no matter how vile, can possibly be a war crime. One million dead Iraqis, a ruined country, and four million displaced Iraqis are all justified, because the “threatened” US Superpower had to protect itself from nonexistent weapons of mass destruction that the US government knew for a fact were not in Iraq and could not have been a threat to the US if they were in Iraq.

When other countries attempt to enforce the international laws that the Americans established in order to execute Germans defeated in World War II, the US government goes to work and blocks the attempt. A year ago on October 8, the Spanish Senate, obeying its American master, limited Spain’s laws of universal jurisdiction in order to sink a legitimate war crimes case brought against George W. Bush, Barack H. Obama, Tony Blair,and Gordon Brown.

The West includes Israel, and there the horror stories are 60 years long. Moreover, if you mention any of them you are declared to be an anti-semite. I only mention them in order to prove that I am not anti-American, anti-British, and anti-NATO, but am simply against war crimes. It was the distinguished Zionist Jewish Judge, Goldstone, who produced the UN report indicating that Israel committed war crimes when it attacked the civilian population and civilian infrastructure of Gaza. For his efforts, Israel declared the Zionist Goldstone to be “a self-hating Jew,” and the US Congress, on instruction from the Israel Lobby, voted to disregard the Goldstone Report to the UN.

As the Israeli official said, we are only doing to the Palestinians what the Americans did to the American Indians.

The Israeli army uses female soldiers to sit before video screens and to fire by remote control machine guns from towers to murder Palestinians who come to tend their fields within 1500 meters of the inclosed perimeter of Ghetto Gaza. There is no indication that these Israeli women are bothered by gunning down young children and old people who come to tend to their fields.

If the crimes were limited to war and the theft of lands, perhaps we could say it is a case of jingoism sidetracking traditional morality, otherwise still in effect.

Alas, the collapse of morality is too widespread. Some sports teams now have a win-at-all-cost attitude that involves plans to injure the star players of the opposing teams. To avoid all these controversies, let’s go to Formula One racing where 200 mph speeds are routine.

Prior to 1988, 22 years ago, track deaths were due to driver error, car failure, and poorly designed tracks compromised with safety hazards. World Champion Jackie Stewart did much to improve the safety of tracks, both for drivers and spectators. But in 1988 everything changed. Top driver Ayrton Senna nudged another top driver Alain Prost toward a pit wall at 190 mph. According to AutoWeek (August 30, 2010), nothing like this had been seen before. “Officials did not punish Senna’s move that day in Portugal, and so a significant shift in racing began.” What the great racing driver Stirling Moss called “dirty driving” became the norm.

Nigel Roebuck in AutoWeek reports that in 1996 World Champion Damon Hill said that Senna’s win-at-all-cost tactic “was responsible for fundamental change in the ethics of the sport.” Drivers began using “terrorist tactics on the track.” Damon Hill said that “the views that I’d gleaned from being around my dad [twice world champion Graham Hill] and people like him, I soon had to abandon,” because you realized that no penalty was forthcoming against the guy who tried to kill you in order that he could win.

When asked about the ethics of modern Formula One racing, American World Champion Phil Hill said: “Doing that sort of stuff in my day was just unthinkable. For one thing, we believed certain tactics were unacceptable.”

In today’s Western moral climate, driving another talented driver into the wall at 200 mph is just part of winning. Michael Schumacher, born in January 1969, is a seven times World Champion, an unequaled record. On August 1 at the Hungarian Grand Prix, AutoWeek Reports that Schumacher tried to drive his former Ferrari teammate, Rubens Barrichello, into the wall at 200 mph speeds.

Confronted with his attempted act of murder, Schumacher said: “This is Formula One. Everyone knows I don’t give presents.”

Neither does the US government, nor state and local governments, nor the UK government, nor the EU.

The deformation of the police, which many Americans, in their untutored existence as naive believers in “law and order,” still think are “on their side,” has taken on new dimensions with the police militarized to fight “terrorists” and “domestic extremists.”

The police have been off the leash since the civilian police boards were nixed by the conservatives. Kids as young as 6 years old have been handcuffed and carted off to jail for school infractions that may or may not have occurred. So have moms with a car full of children (see, for example, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AaSLERx0VM ).

Anyone who googles videos of US police gratuitous brutality will call up tens of thousands of examples, and this is after laws that make filming police brutality a felony. A year or two ago such a search would call up hundreds of thousands of videos.

In one of the most recent of the numerous daily acts of gratuitous police abuse of citizens, an 84-year-old man had his neck broken because he objected to a night time towing of his car. The goon cop body-slammed the 84-year old and broke his neck. The Orlando, Florida, police department says that the old man was a “threat” to the well-armed much younger police goon, because the old man clenched his fist.

Americans will be the first people sent straight to Hell while thinking that they are the salt of the earth. The Americans have even devised a title for themselves to rival that of the Israelis’ self-designation as “God’s Chosen People.” The Americans call themselves “the indispensable people.”

Ref: Counterpunch

Paul Craig Roberts was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.  His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com

VIDEO: Obamba´s war

What is the US trying to achieve in Afghanistan, and will it really make the US safer?

ANALYSIS: Boycotting the boycotters (Israeli exceptionalism and banality)

While the international boycott against apartheid South Africa is credited with leading to the regime’s downfall, here it is considered irrelevant and unworthy of comparison.

By Gideon Levy

Most people here are appalled at the notion that anybody beyond Israel’s borders would think to boycott their country, products or universities. Boycotts, after all, are viewed in Israel as illegitimate. Anyone who calls for such a step is perceived as an anti-Semite and Israel-hater who is undermining the state’s very right to exist. In Israel itself, those who call for a boycott are branded as traitors and heretics. The notion that a boycott, limited as it may be, is likely to convince Israel to change its ways – and for its own benefit – is not tolerated here.

Even an obvious, logical step – like the Palestinian Authority’s boycott of products made in the settlements – is viewed by hypocritical Israeli eyes as provocative. Moreover, while the international boycott against apartheid South Africa is credited with leading to the regime’s downfall, here it is considered irrelevant and unworthy of comparison.

It would be possible to identify with these intolerant reactions were it not for the fact that Israel itself is one of the world’s prolific boycotters. Not only does it boycott, it preaches to others, at times even forces others, to follow in tow. Israel has imposed a cultural, academic, political, economic and military boycott on the territories. At the same time, almost no one here utters a dissenting word questioning the legitimacy of these boycotts. Yet the thought of boycotting the boycotter? Now that’s inconceivable.

The most brutal, naked boycott is, of course, the siege on Gaza and the boycott of Hamas. At Israel’s behest, nearly all Western countries signed onto the boycott with inexplicable alacrity. This is not just a siege that has left Gaza in a state of shortage for three years. Nor is it just a complete (and foolish ) boycott of Hamas, save for the discussions over abducted soldier Gilad Shalit. It’s a series of cultural, academic, humanitarian and economic boycotts. Israel threatens nearly every diplomat who seeks to enter Gaza to see firsthand the unbearable sights.

In addition, Israel bars entry to anyone who wishes to lend humanitarian aid. We should note that the boycott isn’t just against Hamas, but against all Gaza, everyone who lives there. The convoy of ships that will soon sail from Europe to try to break the siege will carry thousands of tons of construction material, prefab houses and medicine. Israel has announced that it plans to stop the vessels. A boycott is a boycott.

Doctors, professors, artists, jurists, intellectuals, economists, engineers – none of them are permitted to enter Gaza. This is a complete boycott that bears the tag “Made in Israel.” Those who speak about immoral and ineffective boycotts do so without batting an eye when it comes to Gaza.

Israel is also urging the world to boycott Iran. But it’s not just Gaza and Iran that are at issue here, because entry into Israel and the West Bank is being affected by the recent frenzy of boycotts. Anyone who is suspected of supporting the Palestinians or expressing concern for their lot is boycotted and expelled. This group includes a clown who came to organize a conference; a peace activist who was due to appear at a symposium; and scientists, artists and intellectuals who arouse suspicions that they back the Palestinian cause. This is a cultural and academic boycott on all counts, the type of boycott that we reject when it is used against us.

Yet the anti-boycott country’s list of boycotted parties does not end there. Even a Jewish-American organization like J Street, which defines itself as pro-Israel, has felt the long arm of the Israeli boycott. It is permissible to boycott J Street because it champions peace, but we can’t tolerate a boycott of products made in settlements that were built on usurped land. Denying a visiting professor entry into Gaza for an appearance at a university does not qualify as a boycott, but cutting off ties with Israeli institutions that provide fast-track degree programs for army officers and interrogators in the Shin Bet security service – people who are often viewed around the world as complicit in war crimes – is viewed as verboten.

Yes, an Israeli who lives in Israel will have a hard time preaching to others about the virtues of a boycott when that person does not boycott his or her own country or university. But it is his right to believe that a boycott could compel his government to end the occupation. As long as the Israelis don’t pay any price, there won’t be a change.

This is a legitimate, moral position. It is no less legitimate or moral than those who claim that a boycott is an immoral, ineffective tool while exercising that same option against others. So you oppose a boycott against Israel? Then let’s first do away with all the boycotts we have imposed ourselves.

REF: haaretz

CrossTalk: Norman Finkelstein vs. Israel (ISRAEL IS A NATIONAL PARK!!!)

Israel’s Disgrace in Gaza

Jewish girl tries to criticise Dr. Norman Finkelstein

American Afflictions – Afghanistan, Iraq and a Growing Culture of Violence

A little more than a year after Barack Obama succeeded George W Bush as president, United States military hardware and troops are transferring to the Afghan theater in yet another attempt to control the insurgency. Despite the ‘surge’ that General Stanley McChrystal asked for and President Obama approved after weeks of reflection, militants on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border continue to defy American power. High-profile military operations against the Taliban in Helmand, and more recently in Kandahar, illustrate both abilities and limitations of a superpower. This is not new. The Soviet occupation forces went through a similar experience during their occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Like the Soviets, the Americans are increasingly finding that it is possible to wrest control of specific areas, but only as long as their troops are in occupation of those areas. As they move on for other operations, the insurgents make a come back.

There are similarities between the recent American surge approved by President Obama and the increase in the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan after Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the USSR in 1985. Early on, Gorbachev had decided to bring his troops home following a costly war in Afghanistan. But he also ordered reinforcements similar in size to the American surge now. Ostensibly, it was to give the Soviet armed forces one last chance to win the Afghan war, but more realistically because before a planned withdrawal, the Soviet Union needed to reinforce. Troops being withdrawn have to partially disarm. The heavy equipment to be transported cannot be operational at the same time. Soldiers moving out carry light arms for self-defense, not heavy lethal weapons for attack. At the same time, the surge of more mobile units is intended to warn the enemy of more trouble coming.

President Obama has already announced that American troops will begin to leave Afghanistan by the middle of 2011. My recent visit to South Asia reinforced this impression. Obama is smart enough to know history and its lessons. He has disappointed many of his liberal supporters who had expected much more from him. But there is not much doubt that he would like to withdraw from Afghanistan. Re-election in 2012 would depend on it to a considerable degree, along with the economy. The wreckage of military ventures abroad and economic collapse at home left by the preceding administration must be prominent on Obama’s mind. What Obama will achieve is by no means certain. But there are lessons to be learned from the past.

The presidency of George W Bush was rooted in a manifesto we know as the Project for the New American Century. The project was born in reaction to the Clinton presidency in the post-Cold War decade of the 1990s. The alliance of neoconservatives and the Christian Right provided George W Bush with core support. Above all, the Bush presidency will be remembered for America’s foreign military ventures in the shape of three wars: the Afghan war, the Iraq war, and a third war, borderless and timeless – the ‘global war on terror’.

The events of 9/11 posed an unprecedented security challenge. The most important questions in Washington at the time should have been: Where to start and where to stop? What should be the scale and proportion of America’s response? However, such considerations were absent as the talk of a ‘long war’ or ‘generational war’ illustrated, certainly in the first term of President Bush.

The record of great powers fighting long or generational wars against insurgents is not good. The United States learned this in Vietnam. The Soviet Union did so in Afghanistan. A long war suits insurgent forces deeply embedded in the locale and culture of the theater. They enjoy considerable support in the battleground. Denial of this reality is often fatal. A United States president has numerous issues to deal with. But the overwhelming weight of events of the last decade leads to the conclusion that the Bush presidency was all about war. The foreign ventures he embarked on within months of inauguration eclipsed everything else during his presidency. It is therefore appropriate to evaluate the Bush presidency’s legacy in terms of the ‘war on terrorism’.

The objective of the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was regime change. There has been a long debate about the true objective of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq: weapons of mass destruction or regime change. Time and events seem to have settled that debate. It was claimed that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons that could be activated within 45 minutes. Such weapons were not found. A lot more about the considerations and deliberations between Washington and London, and in each capital, has come to light. We know more about the private communication between President Bush and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the run up to the Iraq invasion – communication that other significant figures who should have been made aware of did not know. And we have learned from Tony Blair that even with knowledge of there being no weapons of mass destruction, he would have employed other arguments to remove Saddam Hussein.

Much has been said about mistakes being made in Afghanistan and, more specifically, Iraq. The biggest error of judgment was that two very different countries were given the same treatment of military power. In doing do, the intervenors appeared to act with vengeance more than a planned strategy. Otherwise, why would Afghanistan – an utterly failed state – be subjected to sustained destructive air power and left without a serious attempt at rebuilding for so long. And the primary intervenor moved on to Iraq to dismantle a well-organized state structure, after the dictator had been overthrown. By treating Afghanistan and Iraq in the same way, the intervenors did the opposite of what was needed in each country.

To view al Qaeda and the various nationalist movements in the Arab world as one ‘enemy’ in the ‘war on terror’ was an historic miscalculation. The determination under the Bush presidency to crush nationalism in the Muslim world exacted a high price from the West. But countries in the region paid, and continue to pay, a price even greater. Al Qaeda’s terrorist violence has been answered by the terror of American military power. Differing agendas of regional powers became fused with America’s aims in the ‘war on terror’. The impact was huge across the region, producing anger, resentment and outright rebellion in the wider populace.

In a country without national infrastructure, or where infrastructure is destroyed, there will be certain consequences. The essence of the state’s role is maintaining order. It does so by means of coercion, taxation and distribution. In a country such as Afghanistan, self, family, clan, tribe and ethnic group acquire much greater significance. In a failed or weak state, other agencies – a village elder, tribal chief or warlord – replace the state. They command popular following, because they make things happen.

In Iraq, two early decisions by the American administrator Paul Bremer after the 2003 invasion triggered a multi-layered conflict. By Order Number 1 of May 16, Bremer dissolved the Ba’ath Party. In an article in Le Monde diplomatique, the British academic Toby Dodge described the Iraqi population a month after the arrival of the US forces as dominated by a Hobbesian nightmare. Dodge estimated that between 20000 and 120000 senior and middle-ranking Iraqi officials lost their jobs in the civil service purge alone. They would have constituted the very force capable of restoring order amid chaos and violence. Dodge wrote that 17 of Baghdad’s 23 ministries were completely gutted, stripped of all portable items like computers, furniture and fittings – all within three weeks. There were not enough American troops to stop it.

Bremer’s Order Number 2 dismantled the most important state institutions and subordinates such as government ministries, Iraqi military and paramilitary organizations, the National Assembly, courts and emergency forces. To be prepared with alternatives to take over the functions of these organizations was essential in a country of 30 million people. Bremer’s two edicts left a vacuum that was rapidly filled by new violent players.

I want to offer a brief explanation of the nature of the other conflict – Afghan war – since the 1970s. It also applies to an extent to Iraq. Afghanistan has striking parallels with other conflicts in Palestine, Yemen and elsewhere. These conflicts can be seen in four separate yet overlapping, often simultaneous stages. This is how.

Stage 1: internal conflict. In Afghanistan, internal conflict is a fact of history. For simplicity, let’s begin from the ‘decade of liberalism and modernization’ in the 1960s. The conflict escalated after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1973 – and again after the 1978 coup by young Soviet-oriented military officers, who feared that President Daud was taking the country too close to the United States.

Stage 2: increase in great power involvement. External intervention fuels the unrest, and upsets the balance of forces locally. This, in turn, attracts more external forces, until they begin to dictate the scale and course of events. But their unacceptability among local players, and active resistance by local groups, hinder the creation and functioning of institutions.

Stage 3: state disintegration. In Afghanistan, the death of the state was slow, taking more than two decades. In Iraq, too, considering the effects of sanctions and isolation, we are talking about more than a decade. After Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, the final blow came relatively quickly.

Stage 4: foreign indifference and rise of extremism. I have in mind the decade of the 1990s and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Soviet state had been defeated and had disintegrated. For the United States, exhausted and occupied with the urgency to manage the wreckage of the Soviet Union, most importantly its nuclear arsenal, Afghanistan was simply not a priority.

There is a general lesson to be learned. A prolonged war leads to fatigue and indifference among external intervenors. A culture of violence matures. Expectations on all sides are altered and violence becomes a way of life. Actors left behind acquire a habit of using coercion. And citizens come to expect solutions to be found through violence. That few intervening powers grasp this lesson is a tragedy.

We have at present a mix of the McChrystal plan of military surge and counterinsurgency and President Obama’s wish to start drawing down the combat forces in mid-2011. His wish is driven by the 2012 presidential election in America. And it is dependent upon recruitment, training and ultimately guaranteed discipline of a 300000-strong Afghan national force.

However, history shows that integrity in the Afghan armed forces is difficult to achieve. Tribal realities among Pashtun officers and rank-and-file soldiers – and distrust for Pashtuns among non-Pashtuns – cannot be wished away. It would require a generation to transform the culture of the armed forces and the country even if the United States and allies had the will. In the absence of that will, I have some fears. They are –

1. As soon as President Obama begins to draw down the combat forces in mid-2011, altering the balance of power, or that prospect is near, dramatic shifts of loyalties will occur in the Afghan armed forces. This has happened before and could happen again.

2. The Karzai government cannot survive if the military disintegrates along tribal and ethnic lines. The Afghan armed forces and police lack cohesion already.

3. Afghanistan has weapons in abundance. Guns poured into the country, with the best possible intention of equipping the military, would fall into the wrong hands. And I am not even talking about increased activity by Pakistan’s ISI and other regional players.

All these are ingredients of a state of nature again.

The answer is a long-term regional project, led but not dictated by the United States, involving Iran, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China and India; and a deliberate policy of demilitarization, however difficult and painful. Internally, a type of tribal democracy, certainly outside Kabul and other main cities, is what is realistic to hope for.

But the current state of America’s relations with China, Iran and Russia does not favor such a prospect. Tensions have grown with Pakistan and Turkey. And I know there is uncertainty, if not outright unhappiness, over the Obama administration’s policies elsewhere in the region. This makes cooperation much more difficult. The current strategy in Afghanistan lays too much emphasis on military tactics. And it does not appreciate nearly enough how objectionable, how provocative, foreign military presence is to Afghans. The sentiment goes beyond the Taliban.

Ref: Counterpunch

Deepak Tripathi is the author of two forthcoming books – Overcoming the Bush Legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan and Breeding Ground: Afghanistan and the Origins of Islamist Terrorism (Potomac, 2010). His works can be found on http://deepaktripathi.wordpress.com and he can be reached at: DandATripathi@gmail.com.

NEW WORLD ORDER: US loses global credibility (while Israel get´s more zionistic)

Israel’s open and deliberate refusal to do as the US demands over settlements in East Jerusalem reflects Netanyahu’s fundamental opposition to a two-state solution

Uncomfortable at the spectacle of the Obama administration in an open confrontation with the Israeli government, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman – who represents the interests of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party on Capitol Hill as faithfully as he does those of the health insurance industry – called for a halt. “Let’s cut the family fighting, the family feud,” he said. “It’s unnecessary; it’s destructive of our shared national interest. It’s time to lower voices, to get over the family feud between the US and Israel. It just doesn’t serve anybody’s interests but our enemies’.”

The idea that the US and Israel are “family” with identical national interests is a convenient fiction that Lieberman and his fellow Israel partisans have worked relentlessly to promote – and enforce – in Washington over the past two decades. If the bonds are indeed familial, however, the recent showdown between Washington and the Netanyahu government may be counted as one of those feuds in which truths are uttered in the heat of the moment that call into question the fundamental terms of the relationship. Such truths are never easily swept under the rug once the dispute is settled. The immediate rupture, that is, precludes a simple return to the status quo ante; instead, a renegotiation of the terms of the relationship somehow ends up on the agenda.

Sure, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government are now working feverishly to find a formula that will allow them to move on from a contretemps that began when the Israelis ambushed Vice-President Joe Biden, announcing plans to build 1,600 new housing units for settlers in occupied East Jerusalem. He was, of course, in Israel to promote the Obama administration’s failing efforts to rehabilitate negotiations toward a two-state peace agreement, a goal regularly spurned by Israel’s continued construction on land occupied in 1967.

Once again, as when Obama demanded a complete settlement freeze from the Netanyahu government in 2009, the Israelis will fend off any demand that they completely reverse their latest construction plans. Instead, they will shamelessly offer to continue their settlement activity on a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” basis, professing rhetorical support for a two-state solution to placate the Americans, even as they systematically erode its prospects on the ground.

There is, as former Secretary of State James Baker has noted, no shortage of chutzpah in this Israeli government. “United States taxpayers are giving Israel roughly $3bn each year, which amounts to something like $1,000 for every Israeli citizen, at a time when our own economy is in bad shape and a lot of Americans would appreciate that kind of helping hand from their own government,” Baker said in a recent interview. “Given that fact, it is not unreasonable to ask the Israeli leadership to respect US policy on settlements” (1).

Sooner or later, the present imbroglio is likely to be fudged over, but make no mistake, it opened Washington up to a renewed discussion of the conventional wisdom of unconditional support for Israel. It also brought into the public arena the way US administrations over the past two decades have enabled that country’s ever-expanding occupation regime and whether such a policy is compatible with US national interests in the Middle East.

Back in 2006, the foreign policy thinkers John Mearshimer and Stephen Walt provoked a firestorm of ridicule and ad hominem abuse for suggesting in their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (2), that the goals pursued by the two sides were, in fact, far from identical and often at odds – and that partisans motivated by Israel’s interests lobbied aggressively to skew US foreign policy in their favour. Israel partisans also heaped derision on the suggestion by the Iraq Study Group commissioned by President George W Bush that the US would not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East without first settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Petraeus weighs in

Response to the reiteration of the idea that Israel’s behaviour might be jeopardising US interests has been strikingly muted by comparison. That’s because it came from General David Petraeus, commander of US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees America’s two wars of the moment. He is the most celebrated US military officer of his generation, and a favourite of those most ferocious of Israel partisans, the neocons.

Petraeus told Senators: “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbours present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in [Centcom’s] AOR [Area of Responsibility].” He added, “The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favouritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaida and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilise support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.” He also stressed that “progress toward resolving the political disputes in the Levant, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict, is a major concern for Centcom.”

Normally, any linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a wave of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world is pooh-poohed by neocons and other Israel partisans. Typically, they will derisively suggest that those who argue for the linkage made by Petraeus are naïve in their belief that al-Qaida would give up its jihad if only Israel and the Palestinians made peace. That, by the way, is a straw-man argument of the first order: the US has done plenty on its own to antagonise the Muslim world, and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not in itself resolve that antagonism. The point is simply that a fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for repairing relations between the US and the citizenry of many Muslim countries.

Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, who has made a profession of trying to negate the difference between anti-Semitism and criticism of (or hostility to) Israel, gamely ventured that “Gen Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the US and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived US favouritism for Israel”. His conclusion: “This linkage is dangerous and counterproductive” (3).

You can hear the pain in Foxman’s admission that “it is that much more of a concern to hear this coming from such a great American patriot and hero”. That Petraeus chose to make his concerns public at the height of a public showdown between Israel and the US, and to do so on Capitol Hill, where legislators seemed uncertain how to respond, signalled the seriousness of the uniformed military in pressing the issue.
The most powerful lobby

Longtime Washington military and intelligence affairs analyst Mark Perry caught the special significance of this at Foreign Policy’s website: “There are important and powerful lobbies in America: the NRA, the American Medical Association, the lawyers – and the Israeli lobby. But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the US military” (4). He noted as well that, in a January Centcom briefing of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, Petraeus had evidently suggested the Palestinian territories – over which Israel continues to exercise sovereign military control – be included under Centcom’s area of responsibility, a prospect that would make Israel’s leadership apoplectic.

It’s not that, as far as we know, Petraeus harbours any particular animus, or affection, for the Jewish state. It’s that, in his institutional role as the commander of hundreds of thousands of US troops stationed across what Washington strategists like to call the “arc of instability”, he is concerned about aggravating hostility towards the United States.

The idea that Washington needs to rein in Israeli expansionism and force a political solution to its conflict with the Palestinians is hardly novel for America’s unsentimental men in uniform. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former US Mideast envoy General Anthony Zinni, both of whom had their formative experiences of the region in the course of massive US military deployments there, were on the same page as Petraeus is today.

Lieutenant General Keith Dayton is the US officer responsible for creating and training the Palestinian Authority security force that has cracked down on West Bank militants and restrained them from attacking Israel over the past few years. He was no less blunt than Petraeus in a speech in Washington last year. He emphasised the premise on which the force was built, and withstood charges from within its own community that it was simply a gendarmerie for Israel: its soldiers believed themselves to be the nucleus of the army of a future Palestinian state. The loyalty of his men, he warned, should not be taken for granted: “There is perhaps a two-year shelf life on being told that you’re creating a state, when you’re not.”

Vice-President Biden, too, was quoted in the Israeli press as having berated Netanyahu – behind closed doors – over his plans for settlement expansion, warning that it would put at risk the lives of American personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Tough-love solution

In public, of course, Biden offered familiar pablum direct from Joe Lieberman’s “family” album: “From my experience, the one precondition for progress [in the Middle East] is that the rest of the world knows this – there is no space between the US and Israel when it comes to security, none. That’s the only time that progress has been made.”

In fact, the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suggests that the reverse is true. The origins of the peace process the Obama administration is now trying so desperately to resuscitate do not lie in the unconditional American support for Israel that has become a third rail in national politics over the past two decades. They lie in the national interest based tough love of the administration of President George HW Bush.

Grounded in a realist reading of American national interests across the Middle East – at a moment when a military campaign to eject Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces from Kuwait had put hundreds of thousands of US troops on the ground there – the first Bush administration recognised the need to balance Israel’s reasonable interests with those of its Arab neighbours. That’s why, in 1991, it dragged Israel’s hawkish Likud government under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to the Madrid conference, and so broke Israel’s “security” taboo on direct engagement with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The Bush administration also made it clear that there would be immediate and painful consequences for Israel if it continued building settlements on land conquered in the war of 1967, construction which the US was then willing to term not only “unhelpful” – the preferred euphemism of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and now Barack Obama – but illegal. Under the direction of Bush family consigliere and Secretary of State Jim Baker, Washington threatened to withdraw $10bn in loan guarantees if Israeli colonisation of Palestinian territory continued. In the resulting political crisis, Israelis – mindful of their dependency on US support – voted Shamir out of office and chose Yitzhak Rabin as prime minister.

Rabin has been rightly lionised as a leader who took a courageous decision to change course in the face of bitter domestic opposition. To understand how Israel started down the path of peace, however, it’s necessary to clean the Vaseline off the lens of history and quiet the string section.

Only three years earlier, Rabin had ordered Israeli troops to use baseball bats to break the limbs of stone-throwing teenagers in hopes of stopping the Palestinian intifada. He certainly did not embrace the Oslo peace process with the PLO out of some moral epiphany. He changed course thanks to a cold-blooded assessment of Israel’s strategic position at the time.

The United States then had a growing stake in creating a regional Pax Americana that required Arab support. Given the end of the cold war, Israel’s value as an ally was diminishing, while its expansionist policies, antagonising Arab public opinion and making it more difficult for vulnerable regional governments to ally with Israel’s enabler, were increasingly a liability for Washington.

Rabin had reason to believe that US support for Israel at the expense of its neighbours would prove neither unconditional nor eternal. At the same time, the PLO had been weakened by years of Israeli military attacks and by a disastrous diplomatic blunder – it had aligned itself with Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war. It was a fortuitous moment, he concluded, to press for a political solution with the Palestinians on favourable terms, by trading the West Bank and Gaza for peace.
Where are the consequences?

Rabin acted because the consequences of maintaining the status quo seemed increasingly unpleasant, which takes nothing away from his courage in doing so. The same could be said for South Africa’s last white president, FW de Klerk. He opted to negotiate an end to apartheid with Nelson Mandela’s ANC because the collapse of the Soviet Union had removed the most persuasive rationale the US and other western powers had for backing his white-rule regime. Similarly, it’s unlikely that the Soviet political system would have put Mikhail Gorbachev in power if the KGB hadn’t determined that far-reaching changes were necessary to prevent Moscow from being eclipsed as a superpower, thanks to western economic and technological advances.

If US pressure and the spectre of isolation and opprobrium pushed Israel onto the path of a two-state solution, the easing of that pressure and the creation of the “familial” notion of US-Israel ties have coincided with a steady movement away from completing the peace process. Even at the height of the Oslo era, coddled by Clinton, the Israelis kept on expanding the settlements that jeopardised geographic prospects for Palestinian statehood.

The Israeli opposition, led by Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu, sought to prove Rabin wrong. They were convinced that American support could be maintained without conceding Palestinian statehood – by making constant end runs around the Oval Office and appealing directly to Capitol Hill and US public opinion.

Sharon and Netanyahu were vindicated in spades when the suicide-terror strategy taken up by the second Palestinian intifada and the attacks of 9/11 led George W Bush’s administration to re-conceptualise the world on the basis of its Global War on Terror. This, in turn, led Washington’s political class to accept Israel not as just another ally in that war, but as a model for how to conduct it.

In the Bush years, the peace process and the two-state solution became a hollow catechism that could be mouthed by Israeli leaders (and their supporters in Washington), while getting on with the task of smashing the Palestinian national movement and expanding settlements. In real terms, the peace process – the series of reciprocal moves designed to build confidence for concluding final status talks and implementing a two-state solution – died when Ariel Sharon came to power in February 2001.
Grand guignol

Even his 2005 withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza was never conceived in terms of a peace process; it wasn’t even negotiated or coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. Sharon, in fact, imagined his unilateral withdrawal as a substitute for a peace agreement. It was designed, as Sharon’s top aide Dov Weissglass so memorably explained, as a dose of “formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”.

Despite mounting Arab exasperation, the Bush administration put no pressure on Israel to bring the peace process to a conclusion, limiting itself to the Grand Guignol of the “Annapolis process”. With all external compulsion to conclude a peace agreement removed, domestic political pressure in Israel not surprisingly collapsed as well. The Palestinians were now largely locked behind the vast separation wall that winds through the West Bank and the siege lines of Gaza. Their plight is once again invisible to Israelis, only 40% of whom, when asked by pollsters, even express an interest in seeing the peace process restarted. Only around 20% believe that such a move would bring any results.

“Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights,” wrote Israeli political commentator Gideon Levy in Haaretz on 18 March. “Israel does not truly intend to pursue peace, because life here seems to be good even without it. The continuation of the occupation doesn’t just endanger Israel’s future, it also poses the greatest risk to world peace, serving as a pretext for Israel’s most dangerous enemies. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent and condescending Israel of today.”

The Obama administration can’t be under any illusions on this score. And they are being forced to confront it by another kind of pressure. The bills are coming due for Bush’s War-on-Terror adventurism. Those responsible for maintaining the US imperium in the Muslim world are now raising warning flags that the price to be paid for continuing to indulge Israel in evading its obligation to offer a fair settlement to the Palestinians could be high – and, worse than that, unnecessary.

Israel’s leaders, and its voters, have amply demonstrated that they will not voluntarily relinquish control of the Palestinian territories as long as there are no real consequences for maintaining the status quo. Sure, you can tell them that the status quo is untenable, but the whole history of Israel from the 1920s onward has been about transforming the impossible into the inevitable by changing the facts on the ground. Building settlements on occupied territory in violation of international law after 1967 seemed untenable at the time; today, the US government says Israel will keep most of those major settlement blocs in any two-state solution. It is precisely in line with this sort of improvisational logic that Sharon calculated he could hold on to the settlements of the West Bank if he gave up the settlements of Gaza; the same logic allows Netanyahu to say the words “two states for two peoples” while always winking at his base that he has no intention of allowing it to happen.

A peace process that requires Israel and the Palestinians to reach a bilateral consensus on the distribution of land and power under the prodding of US matchmakers is a non-starter – and therefore unlikely to lead to a goal which is of increasing urgency in America’s national interest. Arguably, it’s increasingly important even for the Israelis, since the status quo has already eroded prospects for a two-state solution to the point where both sides may be consigned to an even longer and more bitter conflict.

Hence the necessity of correcting Vice-President Biden: progress in the Middle East will not come until the US changes Israel’s cost-benefit analysis for maintaining the status quo. The only Israeli leader capable of accepting the parameters of a two-state peace with the Palestinians, which are already widely known, is one who can convincingly demonstrate to his electorate that the alternatives are worse. Right now, without real pressure, without real cost, with nothing but words, there is simply no downside to the status quo for Israel. Until there is, things are unlikely to change, no matter the peril to US troops throughout the Middle East.

Ref: Le Monde

ANALYS: Hypocrisy and the end of empires


Culture of hypocrisy which existed during the Bush era continues to thrive in the US today [EPA]

Every so often, a convergence occurs between a few ostensibly unrelated events in the endless swirl of news stories, polemics and propaganda, spin and advertising that make up the media sphere today.

Like the noonday sun, they pierce a hole through the fog of information that normally obscures the core dynamics behind the larger political-economic system’s smooth functioning.

But unlike the sun shining through the storm clouds, this opening is not immediately obvious, and can easily be missed if one does not know where and how to look. In fact, it is more like a three-dimensional worm hole through political space, viewable if one folds specific coordinates over each other in just the right way.

In this case, the coordinates correspond to three levels of political discourse – military, media and cultural – whose harmonious interaction is crucial to the larger functioning of the system.

The brief moment of clarity reminds us of the crucial role played by one of the most subtle yet damning of human vices – hypocrisy – in sustaining the problems confronting the US, and most other global powers for that matter.

Hypocrisy laid bare
Has the US healthcare debate created an increasingly toxic political culture? [AFP]

Hypocrisy has always been an important denomination of political currency, but today it has seemingly become the coin of the realm.

One could easily ascribe it to the reascending of right-wing politics in the US and Europe, which is almost always accompanied by a politics of hypocrisy, since as a rule such politics involves the use of populist rhetoric to concentrate a country’s wealth and resources in the hands of ever fewer people.

In the US, the vitriolic Republican-corporate attacks on healthcareand other much needed reforms in the name of protecting the rights of individual citizens, reflect an increasingly toxic political culture and the power of the right to manipulate deep-seated fears and prejudice for its own ends.

However, the continuities in US foreign policy between the Obama and Bush administrations reflect a more systemic hypocrisy whose negative consequences have global implications.

The US – like great powers before it – has long declared its intention to support freedom, democracy and progress while pursuing policies that encourage, or even demand, their opposite.

Not surprisingly, it has also turned a blind eye to its allies’ or clients’ hypocrisies: Israel declaring its desire for peace while intensifying occupation, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, promising to fight corruption while rigging elections and placing family members in crucial positions.

Then you have this or that Arab leader pledging democratic reform while continuing to arrest and abuse citizens – until the disconnect between words and deeds threatens core American interests.

With enemies, such as Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) or Iran today, hypocrisy is assumed, even when evidence suggests that at crucial moments they might actually be telling the truth.

But who’s looking?

Whether friend or foe, it is the people who suffer from a geopolitics grounded in hypocrisy.

The hardships of the present economic downturn in the USonly hint at the pain caused to the peoples of the developing world, who bear the brunt of the full power of the economic and political interests lying beneath the hypocrisy of the global powers and their leaders alike.

And these consequences are often not just painful, but deadly.

Two generations ago in Southeast Asia the death toll reached into the millions, today in Iraq and Afghanistan the toll is in the hundreds of thousands of dead and injured. But the suffering rarely makes headlines, unless it can produce images that are too powerful to ignore.

The Abu Ghraib scandalproduced one such moment, although its quick dissipation (perhaps owing to an innate sense among many Americans that the hypocrisy they revealed was ultimately not merely that of the Bush administration, but the country as a whole) ensured that the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress paid no price for the activities they revealed.

The most recent opening in the haze of media and political hypocrisy began with the near simultaneous revelations of civilian deaths at the hands of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The now ubiquitous Wikileaks video footageof soldiers firing on Reuter’s photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, his colleague Saeed Chmagh, and several other civilians in Baghdad in July 2007 was equalled in graphic power by the accusations that in February 2010, US special forces personnel had not only killed two pregnant women along with a teenage girl and two local officials in Khataba, Afghanistan, but carved the bullets out of the bodies to remove evidence of their responsibility for the deaths.

The hypocrisy of the official responses has been glaringly on display.

When asked whether the Wikileaks video would hurt America’s image, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said it would not, precisely because what the video really showed was the fog of war.

“These people were operating in split-second situations …. And, you know, we’ve investigated it very thoroughly …. It should not have any lasting consequences.”

‘Dead bastards’
In military footage released by Wikileaks, Iraqi fatalities were called “dead bastards” [AFP]

Hypocrisy is often accompanied by arrogance.

Gates assumes that scenes of US soldiers blithely calling the victims “dead bastards,” laughing, looking for an excuse to finish off an unarmed victim, and blaming other victims for “bringing their kids into a battle” will “not have any lasting consequences”.

Consequences for whom, one might ask.

Perhaps Gates understands that most Iraqis and Afghans have long ago stopped believing US rhetoric about supporting democracy and protecting civilian lives.

Whether consciously or not, it seems Gates was considering public opinion in the US, not in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Indeed, if we look behind his, and the soldiers’, words we are reminded that it is extremely difficult to shoot people who do not present an immediate and clear threat unless you have first been desensitised by intense ideological preparation that dehumanises the occupied people.

As in Vietnam, this dehumanisation means that Iraqis and Afghan civilian deaths are easily accepted as mere collateral damage, since Americans have no connection to or sympathy for the peoples they have been occupying for most of the last decade.

The latest polls show that “voters are very responsive where Democrats talk boldly about our foreign policy of taking it to the terrorists”.

And so even as four more civilians were killed by US forces firing on a crowded bus a day after Gates’ remarks, Americans show no signs of changing the “secondary status” that Iraq and Afghanistan presently hold in their political discourse.

That would demand recognition of the hypocrisy that enabled their relegation to such a low status in the first place, even at the cost of upward of a trillion dollars and the loss of thousands of American soldiers.

Worse, it would demand a reevaluation of the larger premises upon which the unending ‘war on terror’ is being fought and confronting the fact that in so many areas, Obama is entrenching rather than reversing the policies of his predecessor.

Of course, Afghans are far less tolerant of the disconnect between US rhetoric and reality.

The latest deaths caused a new round of bitter protests against the US occupation while Afghan military leaders increasingly treat US promises to protect and respect civilians as meaningless and, like Karzai, even threaten to join the Taliban.

Tariq Ramadan’s return

Gates’ remarks and the more unscripted real-time comments of the soldiers he was defending exist in a media sphere that has failed miserably to educate the American public about the motivations behind and present-day realities of the Iraq and Afghan invasions and occupations.

Underlying this dynamic is a shared arrogance and hypocrisy by leading American commentators, especially those often portrayed as politically liberal or moderate, that was crucial to laying the groundwork for public acceptance of the rationale for going to war and continuing the occupations despite the numerous and manifest contradictions between them and the realities on the ground.

The process by which this dynamic proceeds was revealed last week in the coverage of the return of Swiss Muslim theologian Tariq Ramadan to the US for a speaking tour, six years after he was banned from entering the country by the Bush administration.

Debating with Packer
Tariq Ramadan has been lauded by Haaretz for repudiating anti-Semitism [EPA]

Specifically, Ramadan’s first event in the US was a forum on “secular Islam and democracy” held in New York, where he debated New Yorker writer George Packer.

Packer chose not to engage Ramadan, who has spent over a decade working to forge a consensus among European Muslims on the need for non-violence and to produce identities that can be both fully Muslim and Western, on the issues related to the forum’s title.

Rather, while declaring that he was “not asking you to repudiate your grandfather [Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood],” he demanded that Ramadan account for and renounce anti-Semitic remarks made by al-Banna well over half a century ago.

At a time when the contemporary Muslim Brotherhood is engaged in an unprecedented generational shift in ideology and attitudes, Packer honed in his criticism of Ramadan for refusing to acknowledge that “his grandfather and the Muslim Brotherhood in its origins were characterised by anti-Semitic or totalitarian views”.

Although he has held prestigious appointments at Oxford as well as Notre Dame and the University of Geneva, Packer argues that Ramadan “is not a philosopher, or an original thinker”.

He provides no  criteria for this judgement, but that is likely because he assumes that most readers will accept at face value that leading thinkers from the Muslim world are rarely original or philosophic – a code word for reasonable and rational, presumably like Americans and Europeans.

For his part, Packer would seem to fit neither characterisation; the term, never mind ideology of “totalitarianism” he accused al-Banna of harbouring was not even in use when the Brotherhood was founded or first rose to prominence.

‘Rotten foundations’

Packer concludes that however well-meaning his bridge-building, Ramadan’s hope of reconciling Islamic and Western culture is built on “rotten foundations,” namely the history and ideology of the Brotherhood.

How does he know this? Clearly not by reading Ramadan’s numerous books, which are clearly opposed to most of the basic tenets of the Brotherhood during his grandfather’s day.

Instead, in good Orientalist fashion, Packer refers to second-hand accusations against Ramadan made by journalist Paul Berman, who is about to publish a book accusing Ramadan of being a propagandist for Islamist extremism.

Berman’s last foray into the subject of Islam was Terror and Liberalism, which was celebrated in the mainstream media for, among other things, arguing that Sayyid Qutb was the ideological godfather of al-Qaeda – which scholars had been discussing for years before his “discovery” – and that political Islamist movements are ultimately “irrational” and therefore cannot be reasoned with.

Most scholarly reviews by those who actually know the region and its languages were largely critical of Berman’s arguments.

US view of Muslims

Ramadan could have responded to Packer’s constant pressure for him to denounce his grandfather by demanding that Packer renounce his support for the US invasion of Iraq, or his inaccurate and journalistically irresponsible dismissal of those who opposed the war – which included Ramadan – as fringe, knee-jerk and “doctrinaire” leftists who lacked any “understanding” of the region.

Perhaps he was being polite, or was too jet-lagged to respond in kind to attacks that had nothing to do with his own thinking (indeed, Ramadan has condemned anti-Semitism so many times that he was praised for doing so by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz).

Ultimately, however, it is not Ramadan’s refusal to engage Packer at a lower level of discourse that is important; it is the assumption by Packer, no doubt borne out by long experience, that his arguments as to the rotten foundation and ultimately irrational basis of Ramadan’s thinking will be accepted in the media sphere, since they accord so well with the general view of Muslim intellectual capabilities and motives.

Tiger Woods
Woods’ fall mirrors the corruptive hypocrisy in the US today [AFP]

While Packer and Ramadan debated in New York City, Tiger Woods was preparing for his return to competitive golf at the Master’s tournament that would begin later in the week.

Of all the sins Woods has been accused of, perhaps the most ubiquitous was his hypocrisy – creating a persona based on steely calm, control, integrity, and determination while in reality his private life was based on deceit and violating the trust of his family and fans.

This is no doubt a valid criticism, but by the time the first round began on Thursday most people were far more interested in what Tiger would do on the golf course than what he had done off the links.

Of course, no one could say this openly. And so Billy Payne, the chair of the Masters tournament, dutifully criticised Woods, stating that he “disappointed all of us” with his numerous marital infidelities.

Of course, neither he nor any of the journalists present thought it worth mentioning that Augusta National remains one of the few golf clubs that refuses to admit women as players. Apparently no one considered it the least bit hypocritical for a club that does not consider women worthy of membership to criticise a member and champion who treats women as unworthy of consideration beyond their sex.

With so much money riding on Woods’ return to the spotlight, his main endorser, Nike, also decided it had to make a bold statement criticising Woods, while at the same time reaffirming both his iconic status and the possibility of redemption.

So it aired a commercial that saw Woods staring blankly into the camera while his late father, Earl, asked him from the grave about what he was thinking and what he had learnt.

That a company such as Nike, whose alleged record of systematic mistreatment of workers and use of child labour has been heavily criticised around the world, determined that the ghost of Woods’ father could help cleanse him, and the company, of their sins, is one of the more egregious examples of corporate hypocrisy in some time.

Hypocrisy’s victory

But the reality is they are probably right. Everyone is clearly anxious to get back to the way it was, and by the time Woods walked toward the 18th green on Sunday he was smiling and shaking hands with his course partner for the day, K.J. Choi, while receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.

No doubt most of those in attendance and watching on television will be happy to see Woods resume his golfing prowess. After all, no public figure better symbolised the power, purpose and determination of the US in the 2000s.

His fall from grace in many ways mirrored America’s – the gleaming steel surface and sunny gaze turned out to be, if not quite rotten, then in need of major repair.

The blow-back of Woods’ behaviour is being played out in front of the world. So is that of US policy. With enough reflection and determination, one can hope that Woods will rise above the hypocrisy that apparently has defined much of his professional and personal life.

But it is much harder for countries to do this, as it demands not one, but millions of people, from political leaders and commentators to ordinary citizens, to reflect deeply and honestly on what brought them to their present situation.

Perhaps if the fog remains lifted for long enough, one may be able to grasp the beginnings of the process of moving away from political and media cultures based on hypocrisy, greed and power and toward cultures that actually support peace, freedom and dignity.

Ref; Al jazeera

Mark LeVine is currently visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden. His books include Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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