In a breathtaking display of absurdity, US secretary of defense Chuck Hagel and Britain’s Foreign Minister William Hague were among senior Western delegates to address the annual conference on “regional security” held in Bahrain at the weekend.
These officials pontificated about regional threats, conflict, international law, human rights and so on; meanwhile out on the streets of Bahrain, not far from the venue, peaceful protesters calling for democratic freedom were being bludgeoned by regime police thugs.
How absurd can it get? Like a comedy double act, Hagel and Hague were enthusing about high-minded democratic principles to their unelected, dictatorial hosts, the Al Khalifa rulers, surrounded by representatives of the other Persian Gulf Arab dictatorships, prime among them the absolute, tyrannical monarchy of the House of Saud.
And yet outside, ordinary Bahraini civilians yearning to see these same principles put into practice were getting their heads cracked open by uniformed thugs acting under the orders of the very same despots applauding Hagel and Hague. Talk about inside-out, upside-down doublethink.
When Bahrain’s mainly Shia majority rekindled their decades-old protests against the unelected Khalifa crime family in February 2011, it was the Saudi-led [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council that marched into the tiny island to crush the pro-democracy movement.
The GCC military force is perversely, but aptly, named “a defense operation”. For its purpose is not the defense against some alleged, non-existent threat from without, but the imminent threat from within.
That threat is the spread of democracy in the region, which would sweep away the unelected super-wealthy families that rule over Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain – the six member states of the [Persian]GCC.
The Saudi-led invasion of Bahrain in March 2011 to wipe out “the contagion” of democracy in the oil-rich region was given the green light by Washington and London, with whom the Saudi rulers consulted days before sending in the troops and tanks.
Saudi forces still remain in Bahrain – albeit covertly, wearing Bahraini uniforms – where they continue to brutally attack pro-democracy demonstrators every week, as they have done for the past nearly three years.
And it’s not just protesters on the streets that are killed and injured. Saudi-backed Bahraini forces attack whole villages and family homes with night raids and poisonous gas, many of the occupants, including infants and elderly, having died from suffocating fumes.
Thousands of Bahraini families have been ripped apart, as fathers, mothers, sons and daughters are hauled off to jails and torture centers. The prisoners are denied any legal rights, convicted on the basis of tortured confessions, and many of them imprisoned for life.
Prisoners who have incurred disabilities and diseases from their trauma are also denied basic medical attention, putting their lives at risk. Such detainees include the photographer Hussain Hubail, suffering cardiac problems, elderly political opposition leader Hassan Mushaima, who is battling cancer, and human rights defenders Abdulhadi al-Singace and Naji Fateel, both of whom have become paralyzed from their physical beatings.
The same vicious assault on pro-democracy civilians goes on in Saudi Arabia where some 30,000 prisoners of conscience are rotting away behind dungeon bars, as well as in the other Persian Gulf states, although to a lesser extent.
The US and British governments are fully apprised of the systematic violations and torture carried out by their Persian Gulf dictator allies. Let’s be under no illusion. It’s not just that Washington and London are merely aware of the abominations and turn a blind eye; these Western governments are colluding in the ongoing barbarity.
Addressing the Manama Dialogue conference in Bahrain at the weekend, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said: “I am under no illusions, like all of you, about the daily threats facing this region, or the current anxieties that I know exist here in the [Persian] Gulf.”
Indeed, Hagel is “under no illusions”. The threat to security that he alludes to is not the fairytale, fictional threat attributed to Iran.
The very real danger is that of democracy taking hold in the Persian Gulf. Whereby the people of the region might be able to avail of the vast oil wealth for genuine social development instead of the billions of dollars being funneled into the hands of crony royal families who in turn squander these billions on American and British weaponry.
The abundantly evidenced risk to security in the region is from the US and British-backed Arab tyrannies fuelling terrorism in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere, as well as brutally repressing their own people.
When Hagel and Hague and their despotic clients talk about “defense” what they are referring to is the defense of dictatorships against democracy in the Persian Gulf and the protection of multi-billion-dollar weapons contracts to American and British companies (who in turn buy political prostitutes like Hagel and Hague to do their bidding).
There is zero evidence of any other kind of threat, certainly not from Iran, except in the figment of twisted, propagandized imaginations. By contrast, the evidence for American and British-backed despotic terrorism (including that of nuclear-armed Israel) is glaringly real in the form of thousands of lives killed, maimed, displaced and rotting away in ghettoes and jails.
But cracks in this absurd façade are appearing and widening. The Omanis have given notice that they are no longer willing to participate in this ludicrous charade, saying at the weekend that they will not be part of any Persian Gulf military club, probably knowing that its pretext is patently untenable.
Also, Western and international public awareness is becoming increasingly indignant and intolerant of the parody. Why are billions of dollars being spent on planet-destroying weapons and manufacturing terrorism when so many urgent social needs are being trampled on at home and abroad?
Ordinary people around the world know that the threat to peace, security, democracy and prosperity is not Iran or any other alleged bogeyman.
They know the real and imminent danger stems from elite Western-dominated capitalism and its satellite terrorist-sponsoring regimes in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf dictatorships.
The truth is both arresting and liberating. Western ruling cliques and their despotic “allies” – under the control of corporate fascism – are now seen more acutely than ever as the enemies of democracy and peace.
The absurd pretence otherwise is well and truly over.
The US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee has proposed a nearly half a billion dollar increase in military aid to Israel even as the United States is struggling with domestic economic issues.
The committee approved $488 million last week to fund Israel’s development of two missile systems and to finance the purchase of extra batteries for 2014.
The proposal must now be approved by the House Appropriations Committee and then submitted to the Senate.
The proposed aid is in addition to the $3.1 billion in military assistance that Washington provides to the Zionist regime annually.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel promised that the current aid would not be reduced even while significant cuts are being made to the US defense budget.
This comes as the US government has recently cut $5 billion dollars from the food assistance program, forcing nearly 48 million Americans to cut back on their food purchases.
The US government is pressured to serve Israel’s interests due to the influence of the powerful Zionist lobby in the United States. The pro-Israel pressure groups actively work to steer US foreign policy in favor of Israel.
American defence secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday that Israel would be the first US ally to receive the American V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor military aircraft.
The deal was negotiated between Hagel and Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon during the former’s last visit to Israel. According to Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the estimated cost of one V-22 Osprey is $69 million.
A senior Pentagon official told NBC that the Pentagon agreed to reallocate the next group of aircraft to come off the production line, though it had been previously assigned to the Marines, to meet the order.
He justified that Israel should get the efficient military aircraft as soon as possible because it faces threats from Iran, Syria and the Sinai Peninsula.
Whilst speaking to the anti-defamation league in New York, Hagel said that delivery would be “expedited.” NBC said that he meant: “Israel will get six V-22s out of the next order to go on the assembly line, and they will be compatible with other [Israeli defence] capabilities.”
NBC said that the announcement comes less than a year after pro-Israeli activist groups in the US expressed deep reservations about Hagel’s nomination for defence secretary.
Pro-Israeli lobbies said that in 2008 Hagel criticised the “Jewish lobby” for “intimidating” US officials.
Forget diplomatic protocol: When a government is outrageously pushing the world into a criminal war based on a crock of lies, that government and its representatives forfeit the customary right to diplomatic niceties.
When truth is being twisted with rhetoric and bombast, then it is incumbent to untwist it with simple words.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is right. The American Secretary of State John Kerry is a barefaced liar. And it’s not just Kerry. President Barack Obama is an even bigger liar, and so is the entire White House administration, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey.
All of them are lying through their teeth about the forthcoming American criminal war of aggression on Syria, claiming that it is “limited” and “punitive.” Not that such description would make a military assault on Syria any less criminal. But the fact is that the US is gearing up for an all-out war on the Arab country. That American leaders are trying to play down the onslaught they are intending to unleash on the people of Syria belies their depth of deception and their real criminal agenda.
If these leaders in Washington cannot even tell the American people about what the real military contingency plans are for Syria, why should we believe them on all their other claims about chemical weapons used in that country. It’s a con trick, and the American people know it. Moreover, Liar-in-Chief Barack Obama and his partners-in-crime know that the people know it.
That is why the White House is going on a “media blitz” this week, with Obama and his top aides saturating the television networks in a bid to convince the American public and Congress to back its plan to launch a military attack on Syria – a country of 22 million people, a third of whom are refugees, which does not pose any threat to the US.
This media bombardment of the American people ahead of the physical bombardment of the Syrian people speaks of a desperate move by the White House. Poll after poll shows that the US public does not believe what the politicians are telling them about the Syrian government’s alleged use chemical weapons.
It really is saying something of the collapsing legitimacy of the US presidency when foreign leaders such as Vladimir Putin or even Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad – the latter vilified as a despotic tyrant – project more moral authority and credibility to the American people than their own leaders do.
The American people are right. American governments, and the Obama administration in particular, are chronic liars. They have lied about every past and recent overseas military intervention, from Kosovo to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Libya, and the supposed humanitarian or security reasons that allegedly motivated these wars.
American wars have bankrupted the country’s economy, forcing millions of US citizens into poverty, and have greatly worsened the humanitarian suffering in the targeted countries. American wars have trashed international law and increased global insecurity. They have created the exact despicable opposite of what they claimed to seek.
The latest Big Lie is the White House telling the American people and the world that the US is “not going to war” in Syria.
President Obama says: “This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan.
There would be no American boots on the ground. Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope – designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so.”
US top diplomat John Kerry spun the lie to gossamer thinness while on a visit to London this week when he said: “We are not going to war. It is about holding [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad accountable in a very limited, very targeted, very short-term action… on an unbelievably small scale.”
Right there, that is the pathetic, contemptible voice of a chronic liar who has lost the cognitive ability to realize how ridiculous he sounds.
What the US Congress is voting on this week is a resolution that would give Washington a 90-day period to strike Syria at will. The resolution also contains provisions for indefinite prolongation of the military attacks and for sending in US troops under the guise of “search and rescue missions.”
While on the one hand the White House talks about “very limited, targeted punitive strikes to deter chemical weapons” in order to con Congress to vote Yes, on the other hand the evidence and the White House’s own words speak of an all-out war on Syria.
Four US Navy destroyers off the coast of Syria are equipped to launch 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles [each]. On its way to Syrian waters are the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and another battle group of three destroyers.
US officials have told The New York Times and others that the plan is to launch “the vast majority of those missiles.”
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress last week that the cost of the American military campaign would be “tens of millions of dollars.” Well, that’s another lie, aimed at playing down the crime. The above US navy launch of at least 400 cruise missiles at a cost of $1 million each puts the war bill at $400 million. And that’s not counting all the other costs to implement those strikes.
In addition, media reports say that the US is planning to deploy long-range B-52 and B-2 bombers from North America, as well as B-1s based in Qatar in the Persian Gulf. All of these aircraft are capable of launching cruise missiles from outside Syrian airspace to avoid Syria’s defense systems. At a conservative estimate that brings the cost of war up to near $1 billion – or a hundred-fold more than what Hagel claimed.
The point is that the White House and Pentagon are preparing for a full-scale war, not some kind of limited, punitive action.
The New York Times reports: “Mr Obama… is now determined to put more emphasis on the ‘degrade’ part of what the administration has said is the goal of a military strike against Syria – to ‘deter and degrade’ Mr Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. That means expanding beyond the 50 or so major sites that were part of the original target list.”
Yet, incongruously, the American media quote Obama as saying elsewhere: “I’m not itching for a military action [in Syria].”
The ABC news channel reported more on the expanded list of targets in Syria that Obama is drawing up with his generals: “According to [General Martin] Dempsey military planners were focusing on targets directly linked to the control of chemical weapons but without exposing those chemical weapons to a loss of security. Secondly, the means of delivery and the third, those things that the regime uses – for example, air defense, long-range missiles and rockets – in order to protect those chemical weapons or in some cases deliver them.”
That open-ended list – wrapped up in false talk about chemical weapons – just about covers every military installation in Syria and much more, including obliteration of civilian infrastructure and mass murder. How many times have we heard this nonsensical cynical charade before?
Think about it. Even if American secret intelligence accusing the Assad government in Syria of using chemical weapons were true, which it is not according to independently verifiable Russian reports and many other international sources, the massive military American build-up is in no way plausibly “limited” or “punitive”?
It is absurd to claim otherwise. Yet, that is what Liar-in-Chief Barack Obama and his lieutenants are telling the American people and the world. They are telling barefaced lies about their criminal regime-change plan towards the sovereign government of Syria involving a full-scale war of aggression and possibly thousands of deaths due to “collateral damage.”
If Liar-in-Chief Barack Obama can’t even come clean on a war build-up that is staring the whole world in the eyes, nothing, absolutely nothing, he and his White House says should be given the slightest respect. Far from it; Obama and his cabal in Washington should be hauled off to face a Nuremberg trial.
By PAUL GOTTINGER | August 30, 2013
The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate himself, Obama, weighed in on the human rights abuses being carried out by the U.S. trained and funded General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt on August 23 saying “We care deeply about the Egyptian people,” and “We deplore violence against civilians.” These statements came after a vicious attack on protestors on August 14 that Human Rights Watch called, “most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history.”
The day of the Egyptian security forces attack on the non-violent protestors John Kerry did his best to conjure up indignation in response to the events. In the stiff and passionless manner of a marionette, which is convincing only in that he is “deeply concerned” with not forgetting his lines, he stated, “The violence is deplorable.”
So one would imagine this peacenik president who is deeply troubled by the violence in Egypt would unleash the hoards of humanitarians to protect the Egyptian civilians he cares so much about. But instead Obama stated, “America cannot determine the future of Egypt. That’s a task for [Egyptians].”
Then on August 19 Chuck Hagel changed the tone slightly (he’s the Secretary of Defense, so he has to sound tough) by focusing on America’s impotence in regards to Egypt. He stated, “[The U.S.’] ability to influence the outcome in Egypt is limited” and that “All nations are limited in their influence in another nation’s internal issues”.
On August 22 the LA Times echoed much the same stating, “Obama’s inability to ease the crisis reflects America’s diminished ability to influence political outcomes in [Egypt].”
The media continued the theme of failing U.S. influence in Egypt by focusing on the fact that the three richest monarchies in the gulf pledged $12 billion in cash and loans to Egypt. The Wall Street Journal wrote, ‘The U.S.’s closest Middle East allies undercut American policy in Egypt by encouraging the military to confront the Muslim Brotherhood rather than reconcile, U.S. and Arab officials said.’
The idea we’re supposed to have about Obama’s policy towards Egypt couldn’t be clearer: Obama would really love to stop all that awful violence in Egypt, but unfortunately America just isn’t powerful enough to save everyone. Come on, Obama isn’t superman.
The consistency with which the mainstream media adhered to this message demonstrates the strict discipline the major newspapers maintain in their role as ideological managers.
But just as the population of most of the planet was about to collectively erupt in simultaneous celebration at the end of American military hegemony, Obama stated he was considering a military strike on Syria.
We’re supposed to swallow that the situation in Egypt is beyond the realm of American power, but Syria, where the U.S. has significantly less influence, is within the capabilities of the U.S.
Apparently the forecast of the decline of American power from the mainstream media was a bit premature. Perhaps there is a lesson here: whatever the mainstream media is saying about U.S. foreign policy, you can be almost certain it’s not true.
However, it is true that U.S. power has been in decline since the end of World War II when it was at its most powerful, but the U.S. still is far and away the most powerful country in the world. This will likely be the case for a long time to come.
In order to understand the cynicism of Obama’s rhetoric, one must be familiar with the U.S.’ long record of support for brutal dictators with awful human rights records. This is especially the case in Egypt where the U.S. supported Anwar El Sadat beginning in the early 1970s, and also supported his successor Hosni Mubarak until nearly the end of the 2011 protests.
If the Peace Laureate president had any sincerity with regards to stopping the human rights abuses in Egypt he could pressure the military government there. With Egypt’s small economy (a GDP of around 260 billion dollars) the military government could be easily bought, or enticed with a long stalled IMF deal and debt forgiveness. This is especially true because the Egyptian economy has suffered serious unemployment and inflation for years.
Even if the U.S. didn’t want to spend a dime on Egypt it could take Turkey’s suggestion and bring the issue of violence against civilians to the UN Security Council and Arab League with the hopes of influencing the military government.
The U.S. could also assert its influence on its close allies the Gulf States and Israel. But the U.S. is fine with the military government in Egypt and allows the aid from the Gulf States to reach Egypt.
Another instructive element to the political crisis in Egypt was the Obama administration’s fake attempts to resolve the situation diplomatically.
The New York Times reported that Chuck Hagel made, “17 personal phone calls” to the Egyptian military government, but they “failed to forestall” the crisis. Perhaps Hagel would have had more luck if he tried contacting the General el-Sisi on Facebook.
The next act in the made for New York Times special was the diplomatic trip of John McCain and Lindsey Graham to Egypt on behalf of Obama. The New York Times reports Graham spoke to John McCain about General el-Sisi saying, “If this guy’s voice is indicative of the attitude, there’s no pulling out of this thing.”
This conjures up the image of the Egyptian military commander as a runaway train and all the bros from Washington are pulling as hard as they can on the break, but somehow the general is just too strong for them.
You see it’s imperative that the media portray the U.S. as powerless to stop the violence of dictators the U.S. likes. However, when the U.S. doesn’t care for the leader, be they democratically elected like Hamas in 2006, or Chavez in 2002, or a dictator like Saddam, Qaddafi, or Assad, then the U.S. is capable of anything, usually devastating violence.
Just when you think there is not a sensible member of the U.S. government John McCain stated that he recommended the U.S. cut aid to Egypt. But the reason he gave for why he recommended this was telling. He said, “[the U.S.] has no credibility. ”We know that the administration called the Egyptians and said, ‘look, if you [have] a coup, we’re going to cut off aid because that’s the law.’ We have to comply with the law. And … this administration did not do that after threatening to do so.”
McCain’s reasoning for supporting a cut to aid has nothing to do with protecting human rights in Egypt, but is solely about American credibility. The logic is this: if the U.S. makes threats, we have to follow threw with them. This is the same logic used when raising a child, which tells us much about how the U.S. views its relationship to Egypt and much of the rest of the world.
When we put aside the dark theatrics of the Obama administration’s rhetoric it is obscenely obvious that el-Sisi and the Egyptian military have very close connections to the U.S. and serve U.S interests.
For decades the Egyptian leaders have played an important role for the U.S. by allowing U.S./Israel to act with impunity against the Palestinians.
The closeness of the ties between the Egyptian military and the U.S. is demonstrated by the fact that General el-Sisi spent a year at the Army War College in Pennsylvania in 2006. The same Army War College trains 500-1000 Egyptian military officers every year.
Since 1979 Egypt has received the 2nd most bilateral aid, behind only Israel, totaling 68 billion dollars. The U.S. buys relationships with the militaries of countries like Egypt to insure influence.
This is why Obama has allowed and will continue to allow the human right abuses to continue in Egypt. Despite his pretty talk and composed outrage, he actually is just fine with protestors being gunned down in the street, the brutal repression of a political party (Muslim Brotherhood), the prevention of freedom of speech, and the destruction of Egypt’s brief experiment with democracy (which resulted from the sacrifice of 800 hundred lives with 6,000 injured and 12,000 hauled before military courts).
Obama is A okay with military curfews and a state of emergency. Obama has no problem with attacks on Christian churches, attacks on journalists, and “Nightmare scenes that Egyptians could never have imagined could take place in [their] country.” Obama sees nothing wrong with tear gas being fired into hospitals, and Islamists being portrayed as terrorists or even animals.
Obama has no problem with any of this because he knows he can count on el-Sisi to follow U.S. orders. Egyptian civil society’s destruction simply makes controlling the country easier for the U.S. [...]
Whether or not the U.S. knew about the military coup ahead of time the U.S. seems to be following a predictable PR plan.
1. The Obama administration strongly condemns the violence and calls for a return to democracy. 2. There is a semantic battle waged over whether or not to classify the events as a coup. 3. When it looks bad to support a thug overtly, you engage in superficial detachment from the leader of the coup. (This is the canceling of the joint military operations) 4.Then if necessary, as in the 2009 coup to the somewhat progressive Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, cut some amount of aid as a slap on the wrist, but then quietly restore it later.
Obama’s policies are all predictable. It’s the same story once again: the U.S. destroys yet another country. The revolution in Egypt is back at square one. Morsi is detained and Mubarak has been released from prison. The U.S. has done its best to destroy the progress of the Arab Spring.
But more protests are being called for in Egypt on Friday, August 30. The question is can Egypt regain the spirit of the January 25 revolution and continue to fight for basic rights? Perhaps for us as Americans the more important question is how much longer will Americans tolerate the dark theatrics of our government’s foreign policy? When we witness the immense bravery of the Egyptians challenging their government and getting massacred don’t we have a responsibility to challenge our government when the risks for us are far less? As Americans we must work to protect victims of U.S. violence, and the best way for us to do that is to get off the Internet and get in the street.
Paul Gottinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Any US military action taken in response to suspected chemical weapons attacks in Syria would need to be approved by the UN Security Council, international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday.
“I think international law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council. That is what international law says,” he told a press conference in Geneva.
“I must say that I do know that President Obama and the American administration are not known to be trigger-happy. What they will decide I don’t know. But certainly international law is very clear.”
The United States and its allies built their case Wednesday for likely military action against the Syrian government in the war-torn country over an alleged chemical attack on August 21, despite stern warnings from Russia.
The ramp-up of military language came as UN inspectors began a second day of investigating the sites of the alleged chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people.
The ground for a Western military intervention in Syria was being set out by US Vice President Joe Biden, who for the first time said last week’s attack, thought to have killed hundreds, could only have been perpetrated by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
“[US President Barack Obama] believes and I believe that those who use chemical weapons against defenseless men, women and children should and must be held accountable,” he said.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the American military was already prepared to act if Obama gave the order –though White House aides said no final decision had been taken.
“We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” Hagel told the BBC. “We are ready to go, like that.”
The Syrian government strongly denies the claims leveled against it.
“Many facts tend to prove the innocence of the Syrian government, which has been subject to false accusations,” Syrian ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari told state media.
Jaafari said such facts also showed that “armed groups have used chemical weapons in order to bring about military intervention and aggression against Syria.”
Jaafari said such facts also showed that “armed groups have used chemical weapons in order to bring about military intervention and aggression against Syria.”
The West and Turkey “have enabled terrorist groups to create a laboratory for chemical weapons on Turkish territory with materials provided by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar… and to bring these chemical weapons to Syria for use,” he alleged.
A team of United Nations inspectors reached rebel-held territory outside Damascus on Wednesday, opposition activists said.
“They have reached the town of Maleiha and are now with the rebel escorts, soon they will head to towns where the strikes happened and begin their inspections,” activist Salam Mohammed said, speaking to Reuters via Skype.
The team of arms experts boarded a convoy of six vehicles in Damascus, the photographer said. It was unclear which site they were intending to visit.
This came a day after the experts suspended their mission for one day over safety concerns.
The inspectors braved sniper fire when they began their mission on Monday but still managed to visit two field hospitals in Moadamiyet al-Sham, southwest of Damascus, and collect evidence of last week’s suspected chemical attacks.
But they were unable carry out a planned visit to a second site in Eastern Ghouta, on the Syrian capital’s northeastern outskirts, on Tuesday because their safety could not be guaranteed.
Britain joined the US in saying government forces were behind the strikes, and Prime Minister David Cameron said London and its allies had to consider whether targeted military action was required to “deter and degrade the future use of chemical weapons.”
French President Francois Hollande said his country was “ready to punish” those behind the chemical attacks and that he would meet the Syrian opposition’s leader on Thursday.
Moscow, Assad’s most powerful ally, again warned a military solution would destabilize the Middle East, and Syria’s envoy to the UN blamed rebels in the country for launching the attack to provoke international intervention.
Speaking to UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “a military solution will lead only to a further destabilization of the situation in the country and the region,” his ministry said.
Senior officials in Washington told NBC news that possible strikes against targets in Syria could take place as early as Thursday.
Analysts expect to see cruise missiles launched from US and allied submarines, ships and possibly planes, firing into Syria from outside its waters and airspace.
A military campaign in Syria is expected to be limited in scope, likely to last only several days and to target military sites but not the chemical weapons stocks themselves, sources in Washington said.
An official in Syria’s main opposition National Coalition said the group expects a Western military intervention and it has been consulted over targets, which included airports, military bases and arms depots.
“It’s a question of days and not weeks,” said Ahmad Ramadan, adding that “there have been meetings between the Coalition, the (rebel) Free Syrian Army and allied countries.”
During a news conference on Tuesday, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Damascus would defend itself.
“We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal,” he said. “The second choice is the best. We will defend ourselves.”
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)
By Michael McGehee · NYTX · August 27, 2013
In George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984, Winston Smith, the protagonist, is a clerk for the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth. Winston’s job is to rewrite Oceania’s history, news article by news article, as official party policy changes. The idiom “down the memory hole” comes from this portion of Orwell’s book and refers to the destruction of Winston’s efforts, after making revisions.
When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building. — George Orwell, 1984, Chapter 4
The website NewsDiffs.org shows us how this function exists today, in the real world, where articles by major news organizations are rapidly revised dozens of times following publication and without editors providing any explanatory note. By comparing and contrasting these revisions, what goes down the proverbial memory hole, along with what simply does not make it to publication, readers are provided with a keen insight into how major news outlets operate as the Records Department for dominant power systems in the West.
Take, for example, the New York Times’ article on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, “Kerry Cites Clear Evidence Of Chemical Weapon Use.”
According to NewsDiffs the article has gone through 22 revisions since yesterday. While some of them were for simple grammar corrections, like changing “to” to “too,” many of the changes were considerable, and offered a hawkish, pro-war, bias to the U.S. and its Western allies, particularly Washington’s usual partners: the United Kingdom and Israel.
The first major change was the addition of this remark made by U.K.’s Foreign Secretary William Hague: “Is it possible to respond to chemical weapons without complete unity on the U.N. Security Council? I would argue yes it is, otherwise it might be impossible to respond to such outrages, such crimes, and I don’t think that’s an acceptable situation.”
Already readers can see how the “paper of record” is shaping the article as a public relations piece on behalf of those who have been working tirelessly for years on bringing down the government in Syria. Worse, no space is provided to point out that, unless in response to a specific armed attack, use of force without a U.N. mandate is unlawful. Nor is space given to question the difference between “possible” and “legal.” Is it possible the West would violate international law? The historical record is affirmative.
The next significant revision included comments added by Israeli officials that it was “crystal clear” that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons. The evidence? None is provided.
The next two major revisions were updates about how the U.N. inspector team came under sniper fire (here and here). While the two edits show confusion as to who was likely behind the attacks it is noted that the U.N. convoy was being “escorted by Syrian security forces.” No commentary is provided as to what interests the rebels may have in preventing the investigation. This could have been an important moment to do so, especially considering that The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that the U.S. was trying to stop the investigation.
Then there are the past incidences we have reported on: Washington signing off on a plan to use chemical weapons and then blame it on the Syrian government, as well as rebel fighters getting caught with sarin nerve gas in Turkey (see here and here).
In another significant revision space is provided to the U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and his argument for intervention: “if there is any action taken, it will be in concert with the international community and within the framework of legal justification.”
The pattern continues: the NYT article is a morphing argument for war.
The following change provides space to Russia to warn against the use of military force and to indicate that the rebels might have been behind alleged chemical attack. But, this, like Syria’s account, doesn’t make it to the final edit that we have to-date.
When the NYT gets around to offering limited space to the Syrian government they still manage to warp the paragraph in derision:
[President Assad] said government troops would have risked killing their own forces if they had used chemical weapons. “This contradicts elementary logic,” news reports quoted him as saying. It is “not us but our enemies who are using chemical weapons,” he said, referring, as he usually does, to antigovernment rebels as “the terrorists.” [emphasis added]
And in the next edit the entire reference above is stricken out, leaving no space for the Syrian government to comment on the matter. While nearly all of the article has been given to anti-Assad officials to make threats, or shed crocodile tears over the war’s tragic costs, there is but one one-sentence paragraph that alludes to the possibility that the rebels were behind the attack, and even it is carefully constructed to cast doubt on the possibility:
“Obama administration officials said that Mr. Kerry’s statement was calculated to rebut the claims made by Syria and its longtime patron, Russia, that the rebels were somehow responsible for the chemical weapons attack, or that Mr. Assad had made an important concession by giving the United Nations investigators access.” [emphasis added]
Finally, the article is headlined as “Kerry cites evidence . . .,” but the final revision states: “In the coming days, officials said, the nation’s intelligence agencies will disclose information to bolster their case that chemical weapons were used by Mr. Assad’s forces.” In other words, no evidence is ever cited, just promised to be given later, much like was said with the last accusation that proved fruitless.
What we witness is the evolution of an article, not into a journalistic piece of integrity, truth, or impartial coverage, but into a mouthpiece for those who want war, and have invested years into the making. The Syrian conflict has been going for nearly three years, all during which the U.S. and its allies have been seeking to bring down the Assad government, turning a blind-eye to the crimes of the rebels, and thwarting efforts to reach a peaceful solution. The NYT article was so far revised and rewritten nearly two dozen times, with only minimal space provided to what could best be described as the “enemy” side of the conflict, and done so with contempt, showing that just as Washington has taken sides on the conflict, so too has the New York Times.
Let us be clear. The United States can verify absolutely nothing about the use of chemical weapons (CWs) in Syria. Any suggestion to the contrary is entirely false.
Don’t take it from me – here is what US officials have to say about the subject:
A mere 24 hours after Washington heavyweights from the White House, Pentagon, and State Department brushed aside Israeli allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the White House changed their minds. They now believe “with varying degrees of confidence” that CWs have been used “on a small scale” inside Syria.
For the uninitiated, “varying degrees of confidence” can mean anything from “no confidence whatsoever” to “the Israelis told us” – which, translated, also means “no confidence whatsoever.”
Too cavalier? I don’t think so. The White House introduced another important caveat in its detailed briefing on Thursday:
“This assessment is based in part on physiological samples. Our standard of evidence must build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts. For example the chain of custody is not clear so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions.”
“The chain of custody is not clear.” That is the single most important phrase in this whole exercise. It is the only phrase that journalists need consider – everything else is conjecture of WMDs-in-Iraq proportions.
I asked a State Department spokesperson the following: “Does it mean you don’t know who has had access to the sample before it reached you? Or that the sample has not been contaminated along the way?”
He responded: “It could mean both.”
Chuck Hagel expands on that jaw-dropping admission: “We cannot confirm the origin of these weapons.” Although he goes on to conclude anyway: “but we do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime.”
Four-year-olds shouldn’t have confidence in the US intelligence community at this point. Yet we are supposed to believe that the Syrian government must be behind a chemical weapons attack because Hagel says so.
Let’s consider the facts. The Syrian government has clearly stated it would not use chemical weapons during the crisis “regardless of the developments” unless “Syria faces external aggression.”
The US and other western states have warned for more than a year now that as the government of Bashar al-Assad begins to “topple,” the likelihood of using CWs as a desperate last measure will increase.
The White House reiterated this point yesterday: “Given our concern that as the situation deteriorated and the regime became more desperate, they may use some of their significant stockpiles of chemical weapons.”
Assad’s government is clearly not on its last leg. If anything, the Syrian army has made tremendous gains in the past few weeks by thwarting rebel plans to storm Damascus, pushing them out of key surrounding suburbs, and cutting off their supply lines in different parts of the country.
This recent reversal of fortunes tends to validate the observations of those who have met with Assad and say the president remains confident that he can repel rebel forces whenever and wherever he chooses to do so.
Which frankly removes a major “motive” from any calculation by the Syrian government to use chemical weapons against civilians.
The constant reference to CWs in this conflict is suspect – there is no conceivable military advantage to be gained from the use of these munitions. Writing for Foreign Policy in December, Charles Blair says using CWs against rebels makes no tactical or strategic sense:
“The regime would risk losing Russian and Chinese support, legitimizing foreign military intervention, and, ultimately, hastening its own end. As one Syrian official said, ‘We would not commit suicide.’”
In fact, there is plenty of evidence that the government has calibrated its military responses throughout this conflict to avoid scenarios that would create a pretext for foreign military intervention on “humanitarian grounds.”
Just as there is evidence aplenty that rebel forces will go to great lengths to create a pretext for foreign intervention that would help them oust Assad.
On March 19, a suspected chemical weapons attack near Aleppo prompted the Syrian government to ask the United Nations to launch an investigation. Witnesses reported the “smell of chlorine in the air,” which led to speculation that this could have been a rebel-led attack given that opposition militias had seized Syria’s only chlorine gas bottling plant, east of Aleppo, that August.
The use of chlorine gas-based explosives by insurgents was seen not so long ago in Iraq, where attacks against both authorities and civilians are traceable to 2006. US military spokespeople, at the time, claimed that insurgent tactics had become deadlier, seeking to draw maximum attention and impose widespread suffering.
The Iraq connection and insurgent tactics there are important to the Syrian conflict because of the influx of jihadist rebels flooding over the Iraqi border, bringing with them experience and know-how from fighting the US occupation. That border also allegedly hosts training camps for groups in both countries allied with al-Qaeda – a development that has come to light since a recent announcement linking al-Nusra Front to al-Qaeda’s central group.
The White House’s allegations on Thursday specified a sarin gas connection to at least one other suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. Even if this were true, a clear-cut connection linking the use of a CW explosive to the Syrian government is not at all inevitable. In 2004, an IED roadside bomb – a common insurgent tactic – containing the nerve agent was detonated in Iraq. There are no guarantees whatsoever that chemical munitions have not found their way into the hands of rogue elements – or in fact that they are not producing them in small quantities themselves.
At this point, almost everything being discussed in relation to chemical weapons inside Syria is conjecture – and to be honest – highly suspect.
The Times of London (which is behind a paywall so I cannot link to it) just published a detailed and timely “investigation” of an alleged CW attack in Aleppo, claiming: “the Syrian regime prefers to gas its opponents in this small-scale way, testing the elasticity of President Obama’s ‘red line.’”
The article then goes on to describe the harrowing account of what appears to be a sarin gas attack from a victim, witnesses, and medical staff. But experts are now questioning these accounts, saying that the evidence is “far from conclusive.”
In reference to the video of the alleged CW attack referenced by The Times, Jean Pascal Zanders, a senior researcher at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, tells McClatchy News that there are red flags in the footage.
“Why only one person?” he said, referring to the video showing one patient it said was a victim. “Why do I find the hospital setting, again, unlike what I would expect in a case of chemical exposure? Why is the guy ‘foaming’ in the hospital, considering the rapid action of sarin.” Zanders explained that without an antidote, death is possible within one minute after exposure to sarin.”
The Times article then gets even stranger. To quote:
“In the chaos of Syria’s civil war, no hospital in the rebel-held areas has the facilities to test which gas was used. Yet medical sources in northern Syria have told The Times that in the immediate aftermath of the attack a team from “an American medical agency” arrived at the hospital in Afrin. They took hair samples from the casualties for testing at ‘an American laboratory.’
It is likely that these samples formed part of the evidence cited by the US Defence Secretary yesterday.”
Really? A CW attack takes place in the middle of the night in Aleppo, and in its “immediate aftermath” an “American medical agency” arrives to collect samples for testing?
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Free Syrian Army Chief of Staff General Salim Idriss says that Israel is knowledgeable about the Syrian government’s use of CWs, because the Mossad has agents in the country: “Israel has this information because there are many, many members of security services who are now very active in Syria.”
Idriss is, of course, referencing the statements by Israel this week that kicked off all the recent speculation on Syrian CWs:
Israeli army intelligence analyst Brig. Gen. Itai Brun has been quoted far and wide on this issue, mainly referencing the April Aleppo incident highlighted by The Times and debunked by experts.
It is likely that all the speculation in the past few days revolves around an incident that is looking more and more like the “false flag” operations anti-rebel Syrians have been warning about this past year. Given where the “evidence” is coming from, and the alleged presence of a western or American “medical agency” present on the ground, it is quite remarkable that Washington went full-press on this.
It is almost as bad as the account in 2011 of a middle-aged, Iranian-American, ex-car dealer who, by virtue of some familial relationship with a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, decided to collude with a Mexican drug cartel to plot the assassination of the Saudi ambassador in Washington at a popular DC eatery.
Having just passed the ten year anniversary of an Iraqi invasion and occupation based entirely on false and falsified data on Weapons of Mass Destruction, western media needs not to be asking about “red lines” as much as for iron-clad evidence.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.
- Israel spy agency has presence in Syria, says senior rebel general
- Chemical inspection stalled: UN team can’t be trusted ‘politically’ without Russian experts – Syrian information minister
I guess it goes to show you how limited the debate over warmaking is when politicians whose records are mostly pro-war can be portrayed as war skeptics.
That’s what is happening with Barack Obama’s new cabinet picks: Sen. John Kerry for secretary of State and former Sen. Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary. In today’s New York Times (1/9/12), Elisabeth Bumiller has a piece headlined, “For Two Nominees, Vietnam Bred Doubts on War,” where she claims:
Between them, Senator John Kerry and Chuck Hagel have five Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in Vietnam, shared a harrowing combat experience in the Mekong Delta and responded in different ways to the conflict that tore their generation apart.
But in nominating one as secretary of State and the other as Defense secretary, President Obama hopes to bring to his administration two veterans with the same sensibility about the futilities of war.
Bumiller goes on to report that Hagel and Kerry supporters say their Vietnam experiences means they “question the price of American involvement overseas.” That would make a certain kind of sense. But their actual records do very little to support this claim.
After quoting Hagel’s criticism of the ongoing Afghan War, Bumiller writes:
Like Mr. Kerry, Mr. Hagel voted for the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq but became an early opponent of the Bush administration’s execution of the war.
So both of them voted to authorize the Iraq War, and supported the invasion of Afghanistan. Kerry supported the Panama invasion and NATO’s war in Serbia. And during his presidential campaign in 2004 he talked about possibly increasing the number of troops in Iraq.
Hagel’s record, as I noted already, has been more supportive of U.S. warmaking than not. If anything, their records suggest they are willing to criticize U.S. wars after they’ve voted to support them. This might be in line with the White House’s thinking, but it shouldn’t be confused with an overall skepticism towards U.S. wars and their “futilities.”
Elsewhere in the paper, David Sanger argues that Kerry and Hagel would be part of a “new national security team deeply suspicious of the wisdom of American military interventions around the world.” They “bear the scars of a war that ended when the president was a teenager,” and–along with Obama’s CIA pick John Brennan–”have sounded dismissive of attempts to send thousands of troops to rewire foreign nations as wasteful and ill-conceived.”
True–except when they haven’t.
“The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”
“I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.”
Chuck Hagel’s most famous words may give hope to some that Obama’s nomination of him for Secretary of Defense is a sign that the influence of Israel is waning. Hagel has even been cautious about war with Iran and has indicated he prefers talking over shooting.
Take a look at his voting record and some of his stances while senator. Not exactly progressive. He voted for going into Afghanistan. He also voted to go into Iraq before he said he was somewhat against that war and did a little criticizing of the Bush administration. Patriot Act? No problem. He twice cast his lot for it.
FISA? Yep, he likes spying.
Hagel’s campaign contributors included a lot of bankers and we all know how well they like war and military contractors.
Proper disclosure has not been one of his strong suits. Could his own electronic voting machine company have ‘aided’ in his senate campaign wins?
For the first ten weeks of 1996, Hagel served as chairman of American Information Systems (AIS), a voting machine company which later changed its name to ES&S. He also had holdings in the firm’s parent group, McCarthy Group Inc., worth between $1 and $5 million. In November 1996, Hagel was elected to the Senate, the first Republican elected from Nebraska since 1974. He came from behind twice during his run (according to polls), first against well known Republican Attorney General Don Stenberg in the primary, and then against popular Democratic Gov. (and eventual senator) Ben Nelson. In fact, one Nebraska newspaper described his victory as a “stunning upset.” In January 1997, the Washington Post called Hagel’s victory, “the major Republican upset in the November election.” According to Bev Harris of Blackboxvoting.org, a group aimed at “consumer protection for elections,” Hagel won virtually every demographic group, including many largely African-American communities that had never before voted Republican. AIS was responsible for counting approximately 80% of the votes in the election.
In a disclosure form filed in 1996, Hagel did not report that he was chairman of AIS during 1996 or go into detail regarding the company’s underlying assets. Rather, he cited his holdings as an “excepted investment fund,” which is exempt from detailed disclosure rules.
Hope and change with Hagel? It seems somewhat odd that Obama would pick such a controversial Republican for the cabinet post. It’s often said that no one reaches these positions without being bought and/or blackmailed. No word on if Hagel would approve of the military being used against the American people and I doubt the question will come up in the confirmation hearings.
With all the corruption in the merging of government, banks and corporations and the continued influence of the jewish lobby, even if Hagel is ‘approved’ I’m not holding my breath that it will be anything but business as usual.
How bad has it gotten for the US antiwar movement? After the president its most prominent leaders supported in 2008 took George W. Bush’s war on terror and institutionalized it, they have been at a strategic loss, unable to kick their dogmatic, electoral-minded tactics to the point that they are now engaged in an awkward campaign to get a conservative Republican appointed to administer Barack Obama’s wars. Indeed, after getting a commander-in-chief of its own, the down-and-out antiwar movement is now angling to get its own defense secretary.
The logic behind the leftists for Chuck Hagel campaign — sometimes unstated — is not so much that he’s a great guy, but that the people attacking him are even worse. And to be fair, they’re right. Most of the people blasting the former Nebraska senator hail from the belligerent far right, primarily employed by neoconservative media outlets like the Weekly Standard and Washington Post. Their critique is that Hagel is no friend of the Jewish state, and perhaps even anti-Semitic, because he once made comments critical of its influential lobby in DC and opposed Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon (an undeniably good thing). He’s also talked about giving diplomacy a shot with Iran, when the proper line is supposed to be “nah, fuck those guys.”
Hagel has also come under fire from military lobbyists for his stated desire to cut bloat at the Pentagon, though it’s worth remembering that Bush/Obama secretary of defense Robert Gates pledged the same thing while burning through the biggest military budgets in world history. In other words, the usual sky-is-falling crowd is making much ado about nothing with respect to a guy who, outside of a few maverick-y speeches over the years, adheres to the Washington consensus as much as the next old white guy. Their goal? Maybe a nice little war with a third-rate power and a bit larger share of the GDP. But like executives at Goldman Sachs, they know they’re going to be pretty much fine no matter who is in office.
It would be one thing to simply point this out; that yes, some of the charges against Hagel can politely be called “silly.” One can disagree about the wisdom of Israeli wars, for instance, without being a raging anti-Semite, and indeed much of the Israeli establishment would privately concede their 2006 war was a bust. And with politicians talking of slashing Social Security, you damned well better believe it’s not a gaffe to say maybe we ought to take a quick look at where half the average American’s income tax goes: the military. Such a defense might have some value.
Unfortunately, that’s not what the pro-Hagel campaign is doing. Instead, they’re billing the fight over Hagel’s nomination as a defining battle of Obama’s second term. If Hagel wins, the argument goes, AIPAC loses, opening up the foreign policy debate in Washington and increasing the possibility of peace in our time. If his nomination goes down, however, that reinforces the idea that the hawkish foreign policy consensus in Washington shall not be challenged and that even the mildest criticisms of Israel cannot be tolerated. Some even suggest that who administers the Defense Department could decide if there’s a war with Iran or not, perhaps forgetting the chain of command.
Indeed, most of Hagel’s defenders aren’t defending his occasionally heterodox views on Israel and unilateral sanctions (he’s cool with the multilateral, 500,000-dead-children-in-Iraq kind), but rather trumpeting his commitment to orthodoxy. The Center for American Progress, for instance, has released a dossier detailing “Chuck Hagel’s Pro-Israel Record,” noting his oft-stated verbal and legislative commitment to the “special relationship.” Some of his former staffers have also issued a fact sheet showing that all of Hagel’s alleged heretical views are well within the hawkish mainstream.
Further left on the spectrum, it’s not much different. The Washington-based group Just Foreign Policy, for instance, has revived Democratic rhetoric from 2004 to pitch the fight over the potential Hagel nomination in black and white terms of good and evil.
“The Obama-hating Neocon Right is trying to ‘Swift Boat’ the expected nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense,” the group states in a recent email blast to supporters. Neoconservatives have been “making up a fantasy scare story that Hagel . . . is ‘anti-Israel,’” it continues, helpfully informing us that the Hagel the neocons make out to be such a reasonable guy is indeed a fantasy. Finally, it ends with an appeal: “We cannot stand idly by as the neocons stage a coup of our foreign policy,” followed by a petition supporting Hagel’s nomination hosted by MoveOn.org sure to defeat any military coup.
In a blog, the group’s policy director, Robert Naiman, likewise pitches the battle over Hagel’s nomination in terms of Obama vs. The Warmongers. “Hagel represents the foreign policy that the majority of Americans voted for in 2008 and 2012: less war, more diplomacy,” he writes, pointing to past statements he’s made about the wisdom of a war with Iran.
Of course, the unfortunate truth is that American’s didn’t vote for “less war, more diplomacy,” as comforting as that thought may be, because they haven’t had the chance. In this past election, Obama often ran to the right of Mitt Romney, his campaign frequently suggesting the latter would not have had the guts to kill Osama bin Laden. The DNC ridiculed Romney for suggesting he’d consider the war’s legality before bombing Iran. “Romney Said He Would Talk To His Lawyers Before Deciding Whether To Use Military Force,” read the press release, as if that’s a bad thing. Obama, bomber of a half-dozen countries, never forgot to mention the “crippling” sanctions he’s imposed.
And J Street, the group that just co-sponsored a rally with AIPAC backing the Israeli state’s latest killing spree? Ask a resident of Gaza how “pro-peace” it is.
But, in order to create a sign-this-petition! narrative, one often can’t do nuance. So Naiman doesn’t. In another post, this one highlighting Hagel’s establishment support, because antiwar activists care about that sort of thing, he casually refers to former ambassador Ryan Crocker as among the “diplomacy champions and war skeptics” backing the former senator. This would be the same Ryan Crocker appointed by George W. Buish who has said “it’s simply not the case that Afghans would rather have US forces gone,” and dismissed the killing of at least 25 people in Afghanistan, including children, as “not a very big deal.”
That should give you a good idea of the obfuscation going on in the antiwar campaign for a Pentagon chief. This is a problem. If you’re going to play the role of the savvy Washington activist and get involved in the inside baseball that is fights over cabinet appointments, ostensibly to reframe the debate more than anything – we must defeat AIPAC! – you ought not go about reinforcing adherence to orthodoxy and the perceived value of establishment support and credentials. And you ought not cast as heroes of the peace movement people that really shouldn’t be. That’s actually really dangerous.
Yet, some would rather play down Hagel’s pro-war credentials for the all-important narrative. So we cast him as a staunch opponent of a war with Iran, ignoring his repeated assertions that we must “keep all options on the table” with respect to the Islamic Republic, including killing men, women and children. In a piece he coauthored with other establishment foreign policy figures, Hagel’s opposition to war amounted merely to a call to consider its costs – and its benefits.
For instance, “a U.S. attack would demonstrate the country’s credibility as an ally to other nations in the region and would derail Iran’s nuclear ambitions for several years, providing space for other, potentially longer-term solutions,” the senator and his friends wrote. “An attack would also make clear the United States’ full commitment to nonproliferation as other nations contemplate moves in that direction.” Ah, but he mentioned there could be “costs” (though none of those he mentioned were “dead people”). Such is brave, antiwar opposition in Washington.
But that’s the cynical game played in DC by some of the would-be movers-and-shakers on the outskirts of the policy conversation: cynically play down a politician’s faults to please funders, other politicians and one’s own sense of savvy self-satisfaction. It’s how the antiwar movement ended up dissolving and largely getting behind a president who more than doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan. People were presented a rosy image of a candidate who was on their side and they concluded their work was done upon his election. The same thing threatens to be the case with Chuck Hagel. Indeed, as The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg notes, “who better to sell the president’s militant Iran position than someone who comes from the realist camp?”
When I privately raised some of these concerns with Naiman, he got snooty quick, just as he did with other writers who questioned whether the quest to “defeat AIPAC” should be conducted by stressing why AIPAC should love the guy. To me, Naiman wrote that if I had concerns about the antiwar movement taking ownership of a defense secretary, “There are plenty of organizations that pursue an ultra-left, ideological purist line. Why don’t you give them your support and be happy?”
We live in an an age where ideological purity is defined as being uncomfortable with an antiwar organization throwing unequivocal support behind a conservative Republican to head the Pentagon. It’s an amazing world.
Rather than engage in the reactionary politics of supporting what one perceives to be the least-evil administrator of war, those on the antiwar left and right ought to be truth tellers. Let’s not sugar coat this: The problem isn’t just AIPAC and the neocons, but the Center for American Progress and the neoliberals. Dumbing down the reality only serves to bolster one faction of the war party. And it kills antiwar movements.
- Why are neocons so down on Chuck Hagel? (salon.com)
There’s a not-so-subtle war raging against former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a twice-wounded Vietnam veteran, who is rumored to be President Obama’s choice as Secretary of Defense. When word leaked out articles and editorials appeared in newspapers such as the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. The Wall Street Journal has run two Op Eds—both highly critical of Hagel—and another, an evenhanded article by Peter Nicholas and Julian E. Barnes (12/21) covering the growing Republican opposition. So far, for the New York Times, it is apparently a minor and inconsequential story on the Washington scene: two articles, the second essentially irrelevant, but no editorial denouncing or supporting Hagel’s possible candidacy. Not even an Op Ed, attacking or defending Hagel’s reputation.
Mark Landler’s initial Times article on December 19 was fair enough, raising the question of whether Hagel is sufficiently supportive of Israel and whether there is in fact an Israel lobby which has the power to coerce politicians. In an interview with Aaron David Miller, a veteran American diplomat writing a book, Hagel once unfortunately mentioned the Jewish rather than Israel lobby, a mistake for which he promptly apologized, given that the lobby contains many non-Jews. But he also said, “I’m a United States senator, not an Israeli senator.”
The article went on to quote the ubiquitous Abraham Foxman of the ADL (aren’t there any other Jews available for quotes? Landler did manage to find a lesser known group called the Israel Project to quote, apparently not a Hagel backer). He also cited anonymous Jewish “leaders,” many of whom represent “pro-Israel” groups, few of whom have any paid members though they seem to present themselves as speaking for all American Jews, which by no means is the case. Landler did quote Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, another pro-Israel group which, like the Israel Policy Forum, supports Hagel. Landler’s follow-up piece two days later dealt almost entirely with Hagel’s negative past record on gay rights.
But that’s hardly why Hagel’s been assailed with such vehemence. Yes, he has long seen the Pentagon budget as far too swollen and yes, he has called for a go-slow approach to Iran. “He has a checkered past on Israel,” Foxman told Landler. “At the least, it’s disturbing; at worst, it’s troubling.”
But the key reason why neoconservatives and American Jewish organizations who rarely if ever seriously question any Israeli policies are furious may be that Hagel dared mention out loud the words “Israel lobby” which supposedly “intimidates” politicians, editors and journalists. As a former AIPAC writer, M.J. Rosenberg, who is now viewed as a turncoat by some of the same people who condemn Hagel, put it this way: “The reason is because he dared to refer to the existence of the Israel Lobby.” Then, too, to those of Hagel’s critics who believe Israel’s interests are America’s as well, it renders him potentially anti-Israel.
Hagel does have some defenders. The New Republic’s John Judis, William Buckley’s biographer, wrote “Don’t Let Chuck Hagel’s Hardline Israel Critics Sink His Nomination. In the Atlantic, James Fallows takes aim at neoconservatives and others in “The Bogus Case Against Chuck Hagel.” The uproar caught Michael Cohen’s eye in The Guardian (12/20), writing: “…it was the self-appointed protectors of Israel who determined Hagel suspect because he finds the efforts of the pro-Israel lobby to punish any public official who diverges from the notion that Israel can do no wrong somewhat problematic.” Cohen adds that “the ‘pro-Israel’ lobby is both predominantly Jewish and intimidating to politicians is a surprise, of course, to no-one who lives inside the Beltway.”
Yet where is the Times in all this? Trembling in editorial fear or busy assigning a team of crack reporters to investigate? To date, in addition to the two articles there have been no editorial, no Op Eds, no news analyses. Is not the existence of a powerful pro-Israel pressure group newsworthy? Perhaps even a well-researched magazine piece like the one that recently carved up Oliver Stone’s book “The Untold History of the U.S.”? If the NRA, oil lobby, Cuban lobby and all the other lobbies aren’t off-limits why is the Israel lobby? How and in what forms does it operate? To what extent does it or doesn’t it play a significant role in shaping American foreign policy? Peter Beinart’s book “The Crisis of Zionism” (which didn’t receive a rave review in the Times’ Book Review) is not especially loved in many quarters (he was recently banned from speaking in Atlanta) because he denies that American Jews are no longer victims but do have power, “and that without moral vigilance, Jews will abuse power just as hideously as anyone else.” So why is the Times consistently silent about these issues?
And if the Times is absent from the conversation the same may be said about our President, who recently allowed Susan Rice to withdraw from a possible role as Hillary Clinton’s successor before withering, often unfair Republican criticism? To their credit, Nicholas and Barnes in the WSJ give ample space to Zbigniew Brzezinski who blames the President for permitting the disparagement of Hagel to mushroom. “I find that, unfortunately, a symptom of being not willing to stand up for people you want to surround yourself with. That’s not a good way to protect presidential territory.”
Nor is it a good way for the Times to protect its journalistic territory—and integrity.
Murray Polner served as editor of Present Tense for 18 years, a magazine published by the American Jewish Committee. He is the author and editor of four books about Jewish life and culture.