Last month at a teachers union meeting the Democratic National Committee’s Donna Brazile announced the formation of Democrats For Public Education. Supposedly DFPE will fight against the policies of elite Democrats and Republicans who want to privatize public education. As the daughter of a longshoreman from a family of teachers and a product of public schools Brazile declared herself unafraid to call out those of her own party who are demonizing teachers and privatizing public education, though as a top Democrat she did not use the p-word.
But Donna Brazile didn’t call out anybody, not then and not in the month since. Because if she did name names, number one would have to be her president, Barack Obama, and number two would be his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Cabinet appointments are not accidents. Presidents pick appointees with proven commitment and track records of accomplishing the very policies a president wants imposed, and President Obama was deeply in the pocket of the charter school sugar daddies.
As Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan ravaged, savaged and privatized. He fired thousands of mostly black teachers with little or no due process, and handed big chunks of public resources over to the operators of private charter schools. This record and his personal friendship with the president got Duncan appointed Secretary of Education.
Over the last six years, President Obama, Secretary Duncan and their Department of Education have let representatives of the private charter schools, testing companies, and consultants from the Walton Family, Eli Broad, Bill & Melinda Gates and other foundations ideologically committed to running schools like businesses and education like a market write the federal guidelines school districts must follow to receive federal funds – something they call the Race To The Top program. The same consultants have also been allowed to deeply embed themselves embed themselves in the supposedly impartial private institutions officially recognized by the Department of Education which evaluate schools, school districts.
By now the processes of privatization have an institutional momentum backed up by billions of public and private dollars. You can’t fight that juggernaut if you cannot name its name and the names of the politicians it buys and rents. But Democrats don’t publicly criticize each other much, black Democrats even less, and a prominent black Democrat contradicting the black president is unthinkable, it’s just not in their DNA.
So why does DFPE exist? It can raise money, but nothing compared to the vast sums its opponents can. Apart from possible interference in next year’s Chicago mayoral contest, its only conceivable purpose is an utterly cynical one. DFPE will house surrogates for Hillary Clinton’s 2018 campaign who will give the credulous faithful an excuse to believe that Hillary, unlike Barack, is not on the side of the privatizers and charter school sugar daddies, the same way Obama had unofficial spokespeople everywhere assuring us that he was pro net neutrality, against the Patriot Act, the Iraq war, torture, wanted to renegotiate NAFTA, and whatever else some of us wanted to hear. Democrats For Public Education is just that, the cynical sound byte that some self-deceiving Democrats need to hear.
Teachers unions after all, don’t just provide big checks to Democratic presidential candidates, its rank and file activists are the foot soldiers, the door to door and phone canvassers, the flesh and blood of a nationwide street operation which a successful Democratic presidential candidate needs to mobilize the Democratic base. You want to make that happen you’ve got to tell those foot soldiers what they want to hear, whether your candidate means it or not. That’s called a campaign field operation.
A Palestinian man salvages items from the rubble of his home destroyed by Israeli strikes on a building in northern Gaza Strip. Aug 7, 2014. UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan
Washington — United Nations officials and human rights organisations have characterised Israeli attacks on civilian targets during the IDF war on Gaza as violations of the laws of war.
During the war, Israeli bombardment leveled whole urban neighbourhoods, leaving more than 10,000 houses destroyed and 30,000 damaged and killing 1,300 civilians, according to U.N. data. Israeli forces also struck six schools providing shelter to refugees under U.N. protection, killing at least 47 refugees and wounding more than 340.
The administration’s public stance in daily briefings in the early days of the war suggested little or no concern about Israeli violations of the laws of war.
But the Barack Obama administration’s public posture during the war signaled to Israel that it would not be held accountable for such violations.
A review of the transcripts of daily press briefings by the State Department during the Israeli attack shows that the Obama administration refused to condemn Israeli attacks on civilian targets in the first three weeks of the war.
U.S. officials were well aware of Israel’s history of rejecting any distinction between military and civilian targets in previous wars in Lebanon and Gaza.
During the 2006 Israeli War in Lebanon, IDF spokesman Jacob Dalal had told the Associated Press that eliminating Hezbollah as a terrorist institution required hitting all Hezbollah institutions, including “grassroots institutions that breed more followers”.
And during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in December 2008 and January 2009, the IDF had shelled a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp, killing 42 civilians. The IDF’s justification had been that it was responding to mortar fire from the building, but officials of the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) who ran the school had denied that claim.
Given that history, Obama administration policy makers knew that Israel would certainly resort to similar targeting in its Gaza operation unless it believed it would suffer serious consequences for doing so. But the administration’s public stance in daily briefings in the early days of the war suggested little or no concern about Israeli violations of the laws of war.
On July 10, two days after the operation began, State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki was asked in the daily briefing whether the administration was trying to stop the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, as well as the firing of rockets by Hamas.
Psaki’s answer was to recite an Israeli talking point. “There’s a difference,” she said, “between Hamas, a terrorist organisation that’s indiscriminately attacking innocent civilians…in Israel, and the right of Israel to respond and protect their own civilians.”
After four children playing on a beach were killed as journalists watched on July 16, Psaki was asked whether the administration believed Israel was violating the international laws of war. She responded that she was unaware of any discussion of that question.
Psaki said that “tragic event makes clear that Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed. We will continue to underscore that point to Israel; the Secretary [of State John Kerry] has made that point directly as well.”
The IDF shelled Al-Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatric Hospital on July 17, claiming it was a response to launches of rockets 100 metres from the hospital. Psaki was asked the next day whether her failure to warn the Israelis publicly against bombing the hospital had “made any difference”.
She said, “We’re urging all parties to respect the civilian nature of schools and medical facilities….” But she refused to speculate about “what would’ve happened or wouldn’t have happened” had she issued an explicit warning,
On June 16, two days before the ground offensive began, the IDF began dropping leaflets warning the entire populations of the Zeitoun and Shujaiyyeh neighbourhoods to evacuate. It was a clear indication they were to be heavily bombed. IDF bombing and shelling leveled entire blocks of Shujaiyyeh July 20 and 21, citing rockets fired from that neighbourhood.
Kerry was recorded commenting to an aide on an open microphone July 20 that it was a “hell of a pinpoint operation”, revealing the administration’s private view. But instead of warning that the Israeli targeting policy was unacceptable, Kerry declared in a CNN interview that Israel was “under siege from a terrorist organisation”, implying the right to do whatever it believed necessary.
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said on July 21 that Kerry had “encouraged” the Israelis to “take steps to prevent civilian casualties”, but she refused to be more specific.
On July 23, Al Wafa hospital was hit by an Israeli airstrike, forcing the staff to evacuate it. The IDF now charged that it had been used as a “command centre and rocket launching site”.
Joe Catron, an American who had been staying at the hospital as part of an international “human shield” to prevent attacks on it, denied that claim, saying he would have heard any rocket launched close to the hospital.
On the same day, three missiles hit a park next to the Al Shifa hospital, killing 10 and wounding 46. The IDF blamed the explosions on Hamas rockets that had fallen short. The idea that three Hamas rockets had fallen short within such short distances from one another, however, was hardly a credible explanation.
The IDF also appeared to target facilities run by the UNRWA. On July 23 and 24, Israeli tank shells hit Palestinian refugees at two different school compounds designated as U.N. shelters, despite intensive communications by U.N. officials to IDF asking to spare them.
An attack on a U.N. refugee shelter at Beit Hanoun elementary school July 24 killed 15 civilians and wounded more than 200. The IDF again claimed a Hamas rocket had fallen short. But it also claimed Hamas fighters had fired on Israeli troops from the compound, then later retreated from the claim.
At the July 24 briefing, Harf read a statement deploring the Beit Hanoun strike and the “rising death toll in Gaza” and said that a UNRWA facility “is not a legitimate target”.
Harf said Israel “could do a bit more” to show restraint. But when a reporter asked if the United States was “willing to take any kind of action” if Israel did not respond to U.S. advice, Harf said the U.S. focus was “getting a ceasefire”, implying that it was not prepared to impose any consequences on Israel for refusing to change its military tactics in Gaza.
On July 25, a reporter at the daily briefing observed that the hospital and schools had been targeted despite reports confirming that there had been no militants or rockets in them.
But Harf refused to accept that characterisation of the situation and repeated the Israeli line that Hamas had used U.N. facilities to “hide rockets”. She said she could not confirm whether there were rockets in “the specific school that was hit”.
The IDF hit another UNRWA school sheltering refugees at Jabaliya refugee camp July 30, killing 10 and wounding more than 100. The IDF acknowledged it had fired several tank shells at the school, claiming again that mortar shells had been fired from there.
That was too much for the Obama administration. White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the attack “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible” and even made it clear that there was little doubt that Israel was responsible.
Even then, however, the administration merely repeated its call for Israel to “do more to live up to the high standards that they have set for themselves”, as Earnest put it.
On August 3, the IDF struck yet another refugee facility at the Rafah Boys Prep School A, killing 12 refugees and wounding 27. The IDF said it had been targeting three “terrorists” riding a motorcycle who had passed near the school.
“The suspicion that militants operated nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians,” said Psaki.
But that criticism of Israeli attacks was far too restrained and too late. The IDF had already carried out what appear to have been massive violations of the laws of war.
On Friday, we wrote briefly about President Obama’s “admission” that “we tortured some folks.” At the time I was going off of the press reports of the conference, but now that I’ve read the full transcript of his statement, it’s much worse than just that brief comment. Here’s the relevant portion:
With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.
I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.
It was the “we tortured some folks” that reasonably made headlines, but the following paragraph, in which he tries to brush it off, is what’s really troubling. Imagine any other crime, and think about whether or not you’d have someone say it was okay because there was “enormous pressure” on the people committing the crime. Imagine any other crime, and being told “not to feel too sanctimonious” because of what a “tough job” any other criminal had. I’m sorry, but I don’t care how much pressure anyone was under, plenty of people who are actually “real patriots” know that you don’t torture people. Not only does it not work, it’s morally reprehensible. “You don’t torture” is a pretty straightforward concept — and one that was pretty clearly known and articulated prior to all of this. Nothing that happened on 9/11 or in the aftermath magically made war crimes like torture okay.
Those aren’t “patriots,” and defending them because of the “pressure” they were under is an incredibly cowardly and disgusting move.
President Obama announced last week that he was imposing yet another round of sanctions on Russia, this time targeting financial, arms, and energy sectors. The European Union, as it has done each time, quickly followed suit.
These sanctions will not produce the results Washington demands, but they will hurt the economies of the US and EU, as well as Russia.
These sanctions are, according to the Obama administration, punishment for what it claims is Russia’s role in the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and for what the president claims is Russia’s continued arming of separatists in eastern Ukraine. Neither of these reasons makes much sense because neither case has been proven.
The administration began blaming Russia for the downing of the plane just hours after the crash, before an investigation had even begun. The administration claimed it had evidence of Russia’s involvement but refused to show it. Later, the Obama administration arranged a briefing by “senior intelligence officials” who told the media that “we don’t know a name, we don’t know a rank and we’re not even 100 percent sure of a nationality,” of who brought down the aircraft.
So Obama then claimed Russian culpability because Russia’s “support” for the separatists in east Ukraine “created the conditions” for the shoot-down of the aircraft. That is a dangerous measure of culpability considering US support for separatist groups in Syria and elsewhere.
Similarly, the US government claimed that Russia is providing weapons, including heavy weapons, to the rebels in Ukraine and shooting across the border into Ukrainian territory. It may be true, but again the US refuses to provide any evidence and the Russian government denies the charge. It’s like Iraq’s WMDs all over again.
Obama has argued that the Ukrainians should solve this problem themselves and therefore Russia should butt out.
I agree with the president on this. Outside countries should leave Ukraine to resolve the conflict itself. However, even as the US demands that the Russians de-escalate, the United States is busy escalating!
In June, Washington sent a team of military advisors to help Ukraine fight the separatists in the eastern part of the country. Such teams of “advisors” often include special forces and are usually a slippery slope to direct US military involvement.
On Friday, President Obama requested Congressional approval to send US troops into Ukraine to train and equip its national guard. This even though in March, the president promised no US boots on the ground in Ukraine. The deployment will be funded with $19 million from a fund designated to fight global terrorism, signaling that the US considers the secessionists in Ukraine to be “terrorists.”
Are US drone strikes against these “terrorists” and the “associated forces” who support them that far off?
The US has already provided the Ukrainian military with $23 million for defense security, $5 million in body armor, $8 million to help secure Ukraine’s borders, several hundred thousand ready-to-eat meals as well as an array of communications equipment. Congress is urging the president to send lethal military aid and the administration is reportedly considering sending real-time intelligence to help target rebel positions.
But let’s not forget that this whole crisis started with the US-sponsored coup against Ukraine’s elected president back in February. The US escalates while it demands that Russia de-escalate. How about all sides de-escalate?
Even when the goals are clear, sanctions have a lousy track record. Sanctions are acts of war. These sanctions will most definitely have a negative effect on the US economy as well as the Russian economy. Why is “winning” Ukraine so important to Washington? Why are they risking a major war with Russia to deny people in Ukraine the right to self-determination? Let’s just leave Ukraine alone!
“Black Boxes Show Shrapnel Destroyed Malaysia Airlines Plane, Ukraine Says”
That headline in the Wall Street Journal of July 28 creates the immediate false impression that there is new information: shrapnel destroyed plane! Before the headline is over, the WSJ begins backtracking – “Ukraine Says” – a reference that yellow-flags a less than credible source. As the story continues, it reveals that there’s no actual news here, starting with the sub-head: “Older Flight Recorders on Plane Likely to Provide Limited Data” – so is there reliable data or not? Then the story reverses direction again, with this riddle-filled lede:
MOSCOW—Ukrainian authorities said Monday that data retrieved from the black boxes aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 showed the plane was destroyed by “massive explosive decompression” caused by shrapnel from a missile.
Moscow? Nothing about the story relates to Moscow, except perhaps the location of the reporter. He does not say where the “Ukrainian authorities” are, and identifies only one: “Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council.” The reporter says Lysenko “revealed” the evidence of a missile explosion, although there is little possibility Lysenko has any direct knowledge of the black box contents, since the black boxes have never been in the possession of Ukraine officials.
The reporter admits he has no news, since the black boxes are in the United Kingdom and the investigators have not confirmed Lysenko’s claim. In a sentence as slippery as it is empty, the reporter repeats the official American story: “The U.S. has blamed Russia for providing the Buk missile system to the rebels, a claim that Moscow denies.” This is a dog whistle to those who say pro-Russians shot down the plane, but the actual accusation here is only that Russia gave the rebels a Buk missile system, which proves nothing. The possibility of an air-to-air missile goes unmentioned.
The reporter also does not mention that the Ukraine government has the same or equivalent ground-to-air missile systems, provided by Russia when the countries had warmer relations. The reporter stops short of embracing the blame-Russia scenario, but offers no alternative. As a whole, his story illustrates what he fails to say: that almost two weeks after the shoot-down, there is less certainty than ever as to who was responsible.
Lacking anything like solid evidence, U.S. media just wing it and pray
The same day (July 28), Time links to the WSJ story as if it was fact. Under the headline – “Ukraine: MH17 Downed by ‘Massive Explosive Decompression’” – the report begins:
As U.N. human-rights chief suggests downing of the plane may be a “war crime” – Ukrainian authorities said Monday that black-box data from the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 revealed shrapnel from a missile caused “massive explosive decompression” onboard, as the U.N. human-rights chief said the aircraft’s shooting down “may amount to a war crime.” [repetition in original]
Unlike the Journal, Time makes an effort to explain what a “massive explosive decompression” is – “Explosive decompression happens when the air inside an aircraft depressurizes at an extremely fast rate, with results similar to a bomb detonation.” Whatever happened, the plane and its 298 passengers came down in hundreds of pieces, from large to tiny, over a crash site of a dozen square miles or more.
Shrapnel, certainly, from any source, could create a condition leading very quickly to massive explosive decompression. So could 30 mm anti-tank weapons fire from a Ukrainian Su-25 jet fighter. This is the explanation for the downing of MH17 offered by a German pilot who examined a photo of the MH17 cockpit on the ground and determined that there were bullet holes, entry and exit, suggesting that MH17 was caught in a crossfire. The pilot’s argument is rational and straightforward, and subject to verification by an examination of the evidence. Circumstantially, his argument provides a credible motive for the apparent urgency of Ukrainian forces to secure the crash site before outside forensic investigators can get there.
German media have reported variations of this story, focusing on the one or two Su-25s flying near MH17. The evidence for an Su-25 close to MH17 comes from a July 21 briefing by the Russian military that was widely reported at the time, from the Wall Street Journal to Veterans Today. A week later Time, like the Journal, makes no mention of any Su-25 or of the potentially confirmatory satellite imagery still being withheld by the U.S.
Unlike the Journal, Time adds the gratuitous reference to “a war crime,” without meaningful context. Shooting down an airliner is pretty much, by definition, a war crime or a crime against humanity. Merely labeling it as such, as Time does, only repeats the obvious, with no indication of who might have committed the crime. Time allows for this thought only obliquely in a context that implicitly endorses the official story:
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “this violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime. It is imperative that a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation be conducted into this event.”
Time omits broad dimensions of Ukrainian crisis
While Time quotes accurately from and links to the UN human rights press release with this comment from Pillay, Time gives no hint that the subject of the release is a 65-page report from the Human Rights Commissioner’s office detailing the state of human rights in Ukraine as disastrous, with violations on all sides, but especially by “armed groups” who are among the separatists, but not identified as such:
A total breakdown of law and order and a reign of fear and terror have been inflicted by armed groups on the population of eastern Ukraine, according to a new report issued today….
The report documents how these armed groups continue to abduct, detain, torture and execute people kept as hostages in order to intimidate and “to exercise their power over the population in raw and brutal ways.” Well organized and well equipped militarily, these armed groups have intensified their challenge to the Government of Ukraine, the report says. In response, there has been an acceleration of Government security operations during July in the areas still under the control of the armed groups, with heavy fighting located in and around population centres, resulting in loss of life, property and infrastructure and causing thousands to flee….
“Both sides must take great care to prevent more civilians from being killed or injured,” [Pillay] added. “Already increasing numbers of people are being killed with serious damage to civilian infrastructure, which – depending on circumstances – could amount to violations of international humanitarian law. The fighting must stop.”
According to the human rights report, more than 100,000 people have fled their homes in eastern Ukraine (86%) and Crimea (24%). These people are now internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are the responsibility of the Ukraine government that can ill afford to take care of them. That government started coming apart July 24, when the prime minister resigned, saying in part: “because laws have not been passed, we now have no means with which to pay soldiers, doctors, police, we have no fuel for armored vehicles, and no way of freeing ourselves from dependence on Russian gas.”
The human rights report does not address estimates of as many as another 500,000 people from eastern Ukraine seeking shelter in Russia since April. Russia reported July 29 that it has given refugee status to 233,114 Ukrainians, including 34,503 children. Ukraine’s total population of more than 45 million has been declining for about two decades. (The BBC reports, without attribution: “The conflict has displaced more than 200,000 people, many of whom have fled east to neighbouring Russia.”)
As with Gaza, UN concern is with impunity for human rights crimes
The UN report is the fourth on human rights conditions in eastern Ukraine since mid-March, when the high commissioner deployed a 39-member Human Rights Monitoring Mission there. The mission had documented at least 1,129 killings, 3,442 wounded, and 812 abductions over a four month period ending July 15. The report points out that the armed groups in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are able to commit human rights crimes with impunity, leading to “a collapse of the rule of law.” The report also includes allegations that the armed groups have forced detainees to dig trenches or fight on the front lines; and that there are cases of apparently illegal detention by the Ukrainian armed forces as well.
Elsewhere in Ukraine the UN mission found that most Ukrainians were relatively free, but saw worrisome trends:
… the level of hate speech has escalated dramatically, especially on social media, but also in demonstrations and protests and even in Parliament…. the level of ‘anti-Russia’ rhetoric has increased along with the physical targeting of Russian-owned banks and businesses on the grounds that they are ‘financing terrorism.’
Harassment, intimidation, manipulation, abductions, detentions and enforced disappearances of journalists have continued to occur in the east, and at least five journalists have been killed since the fighting began in April.
Since the end of period of the report, fist fights have erupted in Parliament at least twice. After two political parties dropped out of the ruling coalition, the prime minister resigned. Nevertheless, he remains in office pending a parliamentary vote to accept his resignation. That would presumably lead to the election of a new parliament in the fall.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk voiced deep anger at the parliament for failing to pass laws that would address the country’s need for liberalization. He accused members of betraying the goals and ideals of the Maidan that led to the overthrow of the elected government in March. President Petro Poroshenko welcomed the break-up of the ruling coalition, hoping it would lead to a purge of “Moscow agents” in parliament. The Poroshenko government routinely refers to separatists in the east as “terrorists,” reflecting the UN’s concern over hate speech.
Increased polarization may lead to deadly ethnic cleansing
Since July 15, the end of the UN reporting period, the Ukrainian armed forces have apparently made significant advances and may have the advantage over the “armed groups.” Reporting on this war is scant and unreliable. Claims of ethnic cleansing of pro-Russian Ukrainians are unverifiable. The fighting has been fierce and widespread enough in the region to prevent MH17 crash site investigators from reaching the crash site for days on end.
None of these developments bode well for the UN’s offer of a somewhat hopeful outlook, that its report:
… also discusses new legislation being introduced as part of the Government’s reform. It notes the recent signing of the trade agreement with the European Union that completes the Association process and the publication of the much anticipated new proposed amendments to the Constitution that provide for a degree of regional autonomy and the increased use of local languages. These latter two issues were at the centre of demands being made by the residents of eastern Ukraine and their not being addressed led to the current conflict….
The report notes that the Government “needs to address the wider systemic problems facing the country with respect to good governance, rule of law and human rights. This requires deep and badly needed reforms, especially as Ukraine seeks to fulfil its EU aspirations and establish a democratic and pluralistic society.
The Time report mentioned earlier omits virtually all of this context (Time mentions the continuing fighting as if it was a deliberate tactic to “block outside authorities” from investigating the site). Time ends its short report with the last paragraph of Human Rights Commissioner’s press release out of context, as if it related only to MH17:
“I would like to stress to all those involved in the conflict, including foreign fighters, that every effort will be made to ensure that anyone committing serious violations of international law including war crimes will be brought to justice, no matter who they are,” the High Commissioner added. “I urge all sides to bring to an end the rule of the gun and restore respect for the rule of law and human rights.”
Forensic investigators may finally get to crash site
As the Russian agency RT News put it July 29: “Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said Kiev is finally ready for a cease-fire at the MH17 crash site after Russia’s numerous calls. Kiev continued its military offensive even after the UNSC [Security Council] urged a halt to fighting in the area last week.”
According to RT, reporting on a Ukrainian press service, Petroshenko promised, in a phone call with the prime ministers of Australia and the Netherland, that he would declare a unilateral ceasefire for a crash site zone with a 20 km radius (about 24 square miles). RT reported no date for the cease-fire to begin, but that Petroshenko said on the phone that Kiev “is making every effort possible to accelerate the international experts’ access of to the crash site.”
On July 30, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced that its observers had begun working at border crossings between Ukraine and Russia. The same day, forensic investigators again failed to reach the crash site because fighting continued in the area. According to the Canadian CTV News:
Even the rebels — who initially oversaw the collection of more than 200 of the 298 bodies in a disorganized, widely criticized effort — have stopped their work, saying attacks from the Ukrainian military have forced them to focus on defending themselves….
Recent offensives by the Ukrainian army have enabled it to take back swaths of territory from the rebels. But the fighting has edged ever closer to the crash zone.
The Ukrainian government is accusing the rebels of planting landmines around the crash site. The Ukrainians and the Russians continue to accuse each other of shelling each other’s territory.
Whatever the U.S. is doing isn’t having noticeable effect
As for the United States, if there’s nothing useful the U.S. can do, then it’s succeeding admirably. Summing up what seems to be the official American attitude, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, recently said, “Putin can end this with one phone call.”
That assumes the crisis is all Putin’s fault. That assumes Putin has operational control over enough of the Ukraine rebels to make a difference. That assumes that both Ukraine and the U.S. would take “Yes” for an answer.
Based on the record to date, all those assumptions are false. Ukraine and the U.S. won’t even implement a cease-fire to collect the dead. The Ukraine rebels do not seem to be a coherent entity, or answerable to anyone. And Putin is hardly responsible for 20 years of the U.S. and Europe holding a NATO dagger to Russia’s throat.
And besides, “one phone call”? Who is Putin supposed to call? The answer to that question might reveal the essence of American policy, assuming there is one. Suppose Putin calls Obama, does anyone think Obama has more control over Kiev than the Russians have over the Ukraine rebels? Or suppose Putin calls Poroshenko, does anyone think he is free to make peace, over objections by hardline Ukrainians or Americans?
Whomever Putin might call, what does Pyatt expect him to say? Would Pyatt or his imaginary surrogate accept anything other than something like Putin saying, “OK, you’re right, I’m wrong, I give up, dasvidaniya.”
Pyatt’s “one phone call” comment is just a polite lie. That’s his job. He made another, more trenchant remark that was, unintentionally probably, an example of his doing exactly what he was complaining about: missing the chance to “take this crisis as an opportunity to put things back on a diplomatic track – instead what we have seen from the Kremlin is the pouring of gasoline on the fire.”
Until the United States shows some sign of being willing to back off from 20 years of creeping aggression along Russia’s western border, the likelihood of the confrontation resolving itself peacefully seems slim to nil.
When Putin has his back to the wall, what does the U.S. expect?
Without the Russians as a mitigating factor, the United States in the past few years might well have found itself launching a war against Syria, or a war against Iran, or both. That’s a weird thought, but it’s real enough. What is American foreign policy about, if anything? Is there a U.S. faction that’s mad at Russia now for interfering with another American war or two in the Middle East? Does the United States have any principle at stake, or even any Machiavellian goal in mind as it dithers around the world seeming to make pretty much everything worse?
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of retired U.S. intelligence officers organized in 2003 in response to the abuse of intelligence to go to war on Iraq, see much the same manipulation and dishonesty happening now. On July 29, nine of these intelligence officers signed a lengthy letter to President Obama, responding directly to the administration’s mishandling of the MH17 shoot-down and explaining in detail why they are “troubled by the amateurish manner in which fuzzy and flimsy evidence has been served up – some of it via ‘social media.’”
The crux of the intelligence officers’ critique is simple: either provide credible evidence for blaming the Russians, or stop spreading lies that only make the confrontation more dangerous:
… your administration still has issued no coordinated intelligence assessment summarizing what evidence exists to determine who was responsible – much less to convincingly support repeated claims that the plane was downed by a Russian-supplied missile in the hands of Ukrainian separatists.
Your administration has not provided any satellite imagery showing that the separatists had such weaponry, and there are several other “dogs that have not barked.” Washington’s credibility, and your own, will continue to erode, should you be unwilling – or unable – to present more tangible evidence behind administration claims….
If the intelligence on the shoot-down is as weak as it appears judging from the fuzzy scraps that have been released, we strongly suggest you call off the propaganda war and await the findings of those charged with investigating the shoot-down. If, on the other hand, your administration has more concrete, probative intelligence, we strongly suggest that you consider approving it for release, even if there may be some risk of damage to “sources and methods.” Too often this consideration is used to prevent information from entering the public domain where, as in this case, it belongs.
We reiterate our recommendations of May 4, that you remove the seeds of this confrontation by publicly disavowing any wish to incorporate Ukraine into NATO and that you make it clear that you are prepared to meet personally with Russian President Putin without delay to discuss ways to defuse the crisis and recognize the legitimate interests of the various parties. [emphasis added]
The president did not respond to the May 4 letter from these intelligence professionals, who requested the courtesy of a reply to this one. Somewhere in the middle of this one is a single sentence that gives perspective to all the other details, small or large:
In our view, the strategic danger here dwarfs all other considerations.
Being intelligence professionals, they don’t spell out a strategic danger that is obvious to anyone who can conceive of a logical, worst-case scenario. Without addressing strategic danger, the president’s nominee for Ambassador to Russia, John Tefft, told a Senate hearing July 29 that the United States would “never accept” Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Apparently for this 40-year foreign service officer and hardliner, Crimea dwarfs the strategic danger. Forever?
At the Nation on July 30, the question is framed more directly: “Why is Washington Risking War With Russia”?
US President Barack Obama has called on the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas to “unconditionally” release an Israeli soldier captured in the Gaza Strip.
“If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible,” Obama told a news conference on Friday.
On Friday, the Israeli military confirmed that one of its soldiers was captured by Palestinian fighters in the Gaza town of Rafah.
Obama framed the release of 23-year-old Hadar Goldin as a precondition for a possible ceasefire.
“A ceasefire was one way in which we could stop the killing, to step back and try to resolve some of the underlying issues,” he said.
Obama also characterized the relentless Israeli aerial and ground attacks on Gaza– in which more than 1,650 Palestinians have been killed– as self defense.
“No country can tolerate missiles raining down on its cities… no county can or would tolerate tunnels being dug under their land,” the president stated.
The United Nations says over 80 percent of the fatalities in Gaza have been civilians. Some 9,000 people have also been injured in 26 days of Israel’s onslaught on the besieged coastal enclave.
The military wing of the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, has been firing retaliatory rockets into Israel, killing dozens of its soldiers.
It is important to understand the genesis of the present round of violence between Israel and Hamas, really between Israel and the people of Gaza.
Both President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and the American news media have consistently described the conflict as Israel justifiably responding to the firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and protecting their citizens, as if world history only began at this moment and that prior context did not exists.
More thoughtful and better informed observers than Obama and Kerry have more correctly noted that the present waves of Hamas rockets were preceded by a sequence of events which left Hamas with little choice except to resist with their only available means, which is firing rockets into Israel.
Let us recall: On June 2, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas announced the completion of an agreement unifying the two governments and to be led by the moderate Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and with ministries run mostly by technocrats, a process worked out with input from the American government which included terms that would not automatically trigger a US ban.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, however vowed never to work with a government that included Hamas which he described, as is normal for him, as a ‘terrorist’ organization and also admonished western governments including the US not to conduct discussions with them, a call that went mostly unheeded, to Mr Netanyahu’s great frustration.
The abduction and murder of three Israeli youths was met by Mr Netanyahu’s response: “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay.” This was his chance to wreck the unity government.
Thus a ‘search and destroy’ operation was initiated consisting of 18 days of Israeli army rampages which targeted anything affiliated with Hamas on the West Bank. Hundreds were arrested, about 500 total, and about a dozen Palestinians killed, Hamas offices and clinics were ransacked and destroyed, with computers confiscated, hundreds of Palestinian homes were invaded, usually in the middle of the night with the homes ransacked and contents destroyed or damaged, guns were pointed at women and children and people terrorized, and many arrested. Homes of so-called suspected persons were blown up and destroyed.
In addition, Mr. Netanyahu’s rhetoric contributed to an atmosphere of anger and vengeance which resulted in the abduction and burning alive of a Palestinian teenager by several Israelis.
As of almost three weeks later, there has been no evidence what so ever that the Hamas leadership was involved or even knew in advance about the kidnapping.
Furthermore Max Blumenthal has reported, based on his sources inside Israeli intelligence, Shin Bet, that they knew, with high probability, within hours of the kidnapping that the three abducted youths had been killed. This news was not released to the public thus permitting the ‘search and destroy’ operation to continue.
The rampage of Israeli soldiers in the west Bank was quickly followed by aerial attacks by Israel into Gaza which killed seven Hamas members.
Thus the charge, by Mr Netanyahu, of Hamas responsibility in the abduction and killing of the three Israelis, and the suppression of information to the effect that the Israeli government knew the three Israeli youths had been killed were disingenuous techniques of Mr Netanyahu to destroy or seriously degrade Hamas and destroy the unity government which Mr Netanyahu so despised.
Obama, Kerry, and Netanyahu and their minions constantly repeat the question. “What would you do if your country were attacked by rocket fire?” And, of course, there is the ever present refrain, “Israel has a right to defend itself”
A far less trite question is, “What would you do if you were Hamas, and your offices were being ransacked and destroyed, and your people killed.? And what would you do if the population of Gaza were living under a brutal siege, unable to export their agriculture or the products so their labors, with foodstuffs embargoed allowing only a bare subsistence, with electricity and fuel limited, and potable water in short supply, and with building and rebuilding of destroyed structure from two previous wars with Israel, as well as this one when it ends, impossible because of the Israeli siege?
All this is taking place in the political-diplomatic space created by the multiple failures of the Obama conflict resolution efforts which included sending Kerry to the Middle East with the instructions to ‘solve the problem’, as he had George Mitchell before, without any presidential directive or program toward a solution. Further, the efforts of Kerry were undermined, as were those of Mitchell’s earlier, by President Obama’s failure to apply any pressure at all to Israel and even to echo the narrative and talking points of the Israeli government and to repeat the Israeli-Zionist interpretation of Jewish-Zionist history and its justification for the Zionism project.
And, of course, there is the ever present refrain which Obama, like his predecessor George Bush, never tires of repeating: “Israel has a right to defend itself”, thus justifying Israel’s violent operation, both in 2012 and at present, which has been interpreted by the President as a ‘response’. Obama has advanced the argument that no nation could tolerate rocket fire aimed toward its citizens further justifying Israel’s air, land and sea attack on the people of Gaza, and implying that the cause of the present conflagration began with the Hamas launched rocket fire – that Hamas is responsible for the present round of violence.
Obama has never hinted at the slightest discomfort of the siege of Gaza in which at least half of Gaza’s 1.7 million people are food insecure and almost all are impoverished unable to export the products of their labors, nor to import enough of their material needs, including the need to upgrade their water and sanitation facilities. Though Obama is a constitutional lawyer, he seems not to have noticed that collective punishment as well as using food as a weapon of war violates the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Obama’s vetoes of all Palestinian sponsored UN Security Council resolutions which were critical of Israel or its occupation, his efforts to join Israel in quashing the Goldstone Report and rendering it ineffective, and his efforts to pressure the Palestinians not to seek memberships in UN Agencies or join international conventions, certainly undermined any possibility of Israel making an effort at compromise. Why should Israel compromise when the President of the United States as well as the US Congress will protect it from the pressures or constraints of international law, and also echo its talking points for general popular consumption.
Obama has sought to confine the possible avenues of potential resolution to the so-call ‘peace process’ and to the principle that any resolution must be one mutually agreed to by Israel and the Palestinians, which means that any constraints potentially imposed by international law will not be applied to Israel which occupies the land captured in the ’67 War and has a large and very well equipped military making it capable of occupying the land against the will of the Palestinian people for an indefinitely long period in to the future.
Everyday Israel seizes more Palestinian land, adds new settlers to the East Jerusalem and the West Bank population, and its leaders, particularly Prime Minister Netanyahu, has indicated very many times that the state of Israel has absolutely no intention of relinquishing any substantial amount of West Bank territory or any of East Jerusalem. Such indications includes a meeting of Mr Netanyahu with President Obama in the Oval Office in which Netanyahu told Obama to his face that Israel would never withdraw from ‘Judea and Samaria’, the Jewish nationalist designation of the West Bank. And that Israel must maintain an indefinite military presence in the Jordan Valley.
Obama acts as though he did not hear him, or doesn’t care. And his response to Mr Netanyahu, on that afternoon in the Oval Office, was complete silence.
Obama has done nothing but reinforce Mr Netanyahu’s argument that the occupied territories are not illegally occupied but are “disputed areas” subject only to negotiations between parties in to which Israel has as much right as anyone else. He has certainly never attempted to counter Mr Netanyahu’s frequent claim that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews by virtue of ‘the Jewish historical right’.
During Obama’s five and half years in office, Obama has never displayed any insight at all in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nothing beyond the echoing of the Israeli-Zionist narrative. He has never used the term Nakbah, nor recognized that there was an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in 1948, though he did use the term “dispossession” in his (overrated) Cairo speech. I have never heard him use the term “occupation”.
His only insight into the Zionist movement is to echo the false claim that Jews dreamed and hoped for 2000 years to return to the Land of Israel. This mythology has been thoroughly debunked by Shlomo Sand and by any careful reading of the history of the Zionist movement – a movement which only became a project of Jews, and a small subset of Jews at that, in the 1880’s though it was preceded by four centuries by Christian Zionism, mostly in England, which set the parameters of Jewish Zionist thinking and introduced the term return to describe the migration of Jews into Palestine.
It is doubtful anyone would use the term “return” if the Egyptians decided to conquer Palestine though they ruled it a millennium before there was a Jewish city state in Jerusalem.
This war belongs to Obama as much as to anyone because it emerged in the vacuum created by Obama’s laziness and lack of courage in standing up to Netanyahu and the Zionist supporters in the US and in Congress.
Obama ignored the seven year long siege of Gaza. Now it has come back to bite him. His legacy will include that.
Given Obama’s limited shallow understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its history, there may have been little else he could have done. Imagining Obama conducting a 13 day debate with Netanyahu, as Jimmy Carter did in 1978 at Camp David with Menachem Begin, is completely unimaginable.
Hamas and the people of Gaza can give up and let Israel slowly strangle them to death under a siege that stands in clear violation of international law which prohibits collective punishment. Or they can fight back with their only means available.
Hamas’s fight, which is mainly a struggle to lift the siege of Gaza, is an honorable one. Hamas’s fight possess the dignity with the Israeli brutalizers cannot not even imagine. In fact, the Zionists gave up any hope of dignity long before they ethnically cleansed Palestine of most of its indigenous population in 1948.
William James Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My, the Cook et al. 97% consensus paper is a gift to the climate blogosphere that keeps on giving. Some insightful new posts provide fodder for additional discussion on this.
Ben Pile has a new post Tom Curtis doesn’t understand the 97% paper. Here are a few excerpts that raise some interesting points:
We see now why many environmentalists are so hostile to debate. Permitting debate — even giving the possibility of debate a moment’s thought — shatters the binary opposing categories that have been established in lieu of an actual debate of substance on climate change and what to do about it. The division of the debate into scientists versus deniers is a strategy, but one which has worn thin, as Davey’s performance on The Sunday Politics show revealed, and which Hulme alludes to.
It has been somewhat gratifying that almost all of the criticism of my post I have seen so far is from angry trolls, mostly on twitter, but one or two popped up to comment on the post. From what I can tell their argument is circular: it is irresponsible to give air/blog time to sceptics because there’s a strong scientific consensus that says they’re wrong.
Tom Curtis (who is, as far as I can tell, a partner in the Skeptical Science blog enterprise) obliges, with archetypal green invective.
There is a large measure of idiocy in Ben Pile’s post, and in Mike Hulme’s endorsement of it.
The architects of the new consensus — Cook et al and their pals — really ought to understand the dynamics of a consensus. If you begin your defence of a consensus by calling those who might belong to it ‘idiots’, the only possible outcome is that the consensus will diminish.
I certainly do know for a fact that some people’s estimates of climate sensitivity are so low as to at least imply, contrary to the IPCC statement, natural variability might account for more than 50% of the warming in the second half of the C20th. My argument, however, was that the Consensus Project is too clumsy to capture such a position.
It’s all about endorsing with these guys, isn’t it… Endorsement and rejection. Hulme should have rejected Pile and endorsed Cook et al, because Pile rejects the consensus, whereas Cook et al endorse it, as do most climate scientists. They want agreements and disagreements to be black and white, yes and no, true and false, science and denier.
But as I explain in the post, in the case of Davey, the science is being ignored by a politician, it having been displaced from the debate by the 97% figure.
JC comment: This is an important point. In my No consensus paper, I argue “the consensus building process employed by the IPCC does not lend intellectual substance to their conclusions. “
Moreover, as we have seen in Davey, his predecessors, and his superiors, you can say anything you like about climate change, as long as it doesn’t contradict this view of sides. You could say, for instance, that there will be 10 metres of sea level rise by 2100 and that therefore climate policies are necessary. This claim would exist far away from ‘The Science’. But it would seem to be correct according to the tests applied to it by the Consensus Project. This is disappointing, because Curtis is nearly on to something…
Further, he appears to have picked up that strange censorial attitude noteworthy also in von Storch which presumes that because they do not believe that AGW will lead to catastrophe (which is a respectable position inside the consensus), that therefore scientists who do believe that it will (also a respectable position inside the consensus) must not state that belief in public.
Surely this is a frank admission that there is no consensus on catastrophic climate change? If so, then Curtis is now in a real bind, because this deprives the ‘warmist’ crowd of their moral imperatives. Moreover, most complaints from sceptics are that the catastrophism we are all too familiar with is undue — not that there is no such thing as climate change.
Dan Kahan has chimed in with a post The distracting counterproductive 97% consensus debate drags on. Some points that caught my eye:
But it is demonstrably the case (I’m talking real-world evidence here) that the regular issuance of these studies, and the steady drum beat of “climate skeptics are ignoring scientific consensus!” that accompany them, have had no—zero, zilch—net effect on professions of public “belief” in human-caused climate change in the U.S.
On the contrary, there’s good reason to believe that the self-righteous and contemptuous tone with which the “scientific consensus” point is typically advanced (“assault on reason,” “the debate is over” etc.) deepens polarization. That’s because “scientific consensus,” when used as a rhetorical bludgeon, predictably excites reciprocally contemptuous and recriminatory responses by those who are being beaten about the head and neck with it.
Such a mode of discourse doesn’t help the public to figure out what scientists believe. But it makes it as clear as day to them that climate change is an “us-vs.-them” cultural conflict, in which those who stray from the position that dominates in their group will be stigmatized as traitors within their communities.
Nevertheless, the authors of the most recent study announced (in a press release issued by the lead author’s university) that “when people understand that scientists agree on global warming, they’re more likely support politics that take action on it,” a conclusion from which the authors inferred that “making the results of our paper widely-known is an important step toward closing the consensus gap and increasing public support for meaningful climate change.”
Unsurprisingly, the study has in the months since its publication supplied a focal target for climate skeptics, who have challenged the methods the authors employ.
The debate over the latest “97%” paper multiplies the stock of cues that climate change is an issue that defines people as members of opposing cultural groups. It thus deepens the wellsprings of motivation that they have to engage evidence in a way that reinforces what they already believe. The recklessness that the authors displayed in fanning the flames of unreason that fuels this dynamic is what motivated me to express dismay over the new study.
Members of the public are not experts on scientific matters. Rather they are experts in figuring out who the experts are, and in discerning what the practical importance of expert opinion is for the decisions they have to make as individuals and citizens.
JC comment: In my post Climategate essay On the credibility of climate research Part II rebuilding trust, I wrote: Credibility is a combination of expertise and trust. While scientists persist in thinking that they should be trusted because of their expertise, climategate has made it clear that expertise itself is not a sufficient basis for public trust. Recent disclosures about the IPCC have brought up a host of concerns about the IPCC that had been festering in the background: involvement of IPCC scientists in explicit climate policy advocacy; tribalism that excluded skeptics; hubris of scientists with regards to a noble (Nobel) cause; alarmism; and inadequate attention to the statistics of uncertainty and the complexity of alternative interpretations. The experts do their science and ’cause’ a disservice by engaging in these behaviors.
Ordinary citizens are amazingly good at this. Their use of this ability, moreover, is not a substitute for rational thought; it is an exercise rational thought of the most impressive sort. But in a science communication environment polluted with toxic partisan meanings, the faculties they use to discern what most scientists believe are impaired.
JC comment: In my paper No consensus on consensus, I wrote: While the public may not understand the complexity of the science or be predisposed culturally to accept the consensus, they can certainly understand the vociferous debates over the science portrayed by the media. Further, they can judge the social facts surrounding the consensus building process, including those revealed by the so-called “Climategate” episode, and decide whether to trust the experts whose opinion comprises the consensus. Beck argues that “in a public debate, the social practices of knowledge-making matter as much as the substance of the knowledge itself.”
The problem with the suggestion of the authors’ of the latest “97%” study that the key is to “mak[e] the results of [their] paper widely-known” is that it diverts serious, well-intentioned people from efforts to clear the air of the toxic meanings that impede the processes that usually result in public convergence on the best available (and of course always revisable!) scientific conclusions about people can protect themselves from serious risks.
Indeed, as I indicated, the particular manner in which the “scientific consensus” trope is used by partisan advocates tends only to deepen the toxic fog of cultural conflict that makes it impossible for ordinary citizens to figure out what the best scientific evidence is.
JC comment: with the advent of the ‘pause’ in dominating the public debate on climate change, deepening of the fog may be the objective of the shriller perveyors of consensus.
But from what I see, it is becoming clearer and clearer that those who have dedicated themselves to promoting public engagement with the best available scientific evidence on climate change are not dealing with the admittedly sensitive and challenging task of explaining why it is normal, in this sort of process, to encounter discrepancies between forecasting models and subsequent observations and to adjust the models based on them. And why such adjustment in the context of climate change is cause for concluding neither that “the science was flawed” nor that “there is in fact nothing for anyone to be concerned about.”
JC comment: Too many defenders of the consensus have become either ‘pause’ deniers or ‘pause’ dismissers. A while back, I recommended that they ‘own’ the pause, and work on explaining it. Belatedly, we see a little bit of this happening, but of course it does not lead them to challenge the main IPCC conclusion on 20th century attribution.
JC summary: It is really good to see this discussion about the role of consensus in the public debate on climate change and the problems this has caused for the science, the policy, and increasingly for the proponents of consensus. It is however dismaying to see that continued influence that the existence of a ‘consensus’ has on the politics (especially President Obama’s citing of the Cook et al. study).
One month ago today, President Obama was congratulating Libya on a “milestone” election — even though the disintegration of the country after the 2011 US invasion was ongoing.
Said Obama in June:
I congratulate the Libyan people on the conclusion of the elections for a new Council of Representatives, a milestone in their courageous efforts to transition from four decades of dictatorship toward a full democracy.
Today, the US announced it has evacuated all US personnel from Libya. They piled into vehicles and escaped to Tunisia.
The only thing left behind was the hollow words of hollow State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf:
Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya.. …We reiterate that Libyans must immediately cease hostilities and begin negotiations to resolve their grievances.
Nothing better demonstrates the enormous disconnect between Washington’s rhetoric and actual reality than this, an emergency evacuation of the entire US diplomatic and military presence in Libya just weeks after a “milestone” election and just over three years after a US/NATO attack that was to bring democracy and prosperity to the country.
As the US and NATO attacked Libya in March, 2011, President Obama addressed the American people to explain his decision to attack.
Gaddafi was killing his own people, Obama claimed. That was a lie. He was fighting the very insurgents whose ongoing violence has forced the United States to flee the country.
US intervention would stop the violence, Obama claimed. That was a lie.
“Qaddafi has not yet stepped down from power, and until he does, Libya will remain dangerous,” said Obama.
But Gaddafi was forced from power — sodomized and murdered by US allies in Libya. The country is more dangerous than ever. The US has been forced to evacuate.
Obama claimed that the US/NATO invasion would end the violence in Libya:
[W]e were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves.
That was a lie. The violence worsened.
America was exceptional, claimed Obama in his 2011 speech. That is why we had to invade Libya:
To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and -– more profoundly -– our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different.
Libya was supposed to be the next “domino” in the fantasy of an “Arab Spring” pushed so hard by the US administration and its compliant media. Instead, Egypt is ruled by a US-backed dictator who overthrew an elected government and Libya is a completely destroyed no-go zone.
Reality caught up with Obama and the murderous rhetoric of the interventionists and neocons.
Moscow is next on their target list. Those in the US who push back against the lies designed to provoke a war with Russia are called “Putin’s best friend” and “Russian agents.” Just like they were called “Saddam’s best friend” and “Iraqi agents” just like they were called “Gaddafi’s best friend” and “Libyan agents.” The lies are the same, the results are always a disaster.
Will Americans notice what failures their leaders are? Will Americans demand an end to the disastrous interventions?
Let this sink in: three years after the US invasion of Libya that would “free” the country, the US has been forced to have a Saigon moment.
To assist in a crime makes one a criminal by any legal standard. And the biggest crimes of all are war crimes, since they kill en masse and showcase the cruelest form of human behavior.
The fact that Israel is actively committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip is not open to debate, since a cursory glance at the conflict obviously exposes them in practice.
The two most glaring war crimes Israel is committing — as defined by the Geneva Convention — are the concepts of “collective punishment” and “necessity and proportionality.”
Under collective punishment, a warring party cannot respond to an attack by waging war on the attacker’s community, as is clearly happening in Gaza. The clearest proof that collective punishment is being used is that a 1,000 Gaza homes have been destroyed and the majority of the casualties are civilians.
Under “necessity and proportionality” a warring party must only use the amount of force necessary to defeat the opponent; disproportional force is a crime. So, for example, if Hamas fires wimpy rockets that kill virtually no Israelis, then it is “disproportionate” for Israel to rain massive bombs, missiles, and artillery to reduce large sections of Gaza to rubble. Even Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called the Israel attack a “deliberately disproportiate form of collective punishment.”
It is also a specific war crime to deliberately attack civilians, and especially to attack facilities treating the wounded. But Israel has attacked al-Aqsa hospital in Gaza four times, according to Reuters. The latest shelling of al-Aqsa killed 4 and wounded 70.
Even the pro-western Human Rights Watch has denounced Israel for committing war crimes:
“Israeli air attacks in Gaza investigated by Human Rights Watch have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war.”
Obama’s aiding and abetting Israeli war crimes is also closed to debate, since his administration stands guilty from the very beginning of the conflict by shielding Israel from international political pressure, hiding its war crimes by deliberately misrepresenting what is happening, and giving political space for the war to continue by not intervening directly.
It was a blatantly laughable lie when Obama said that his government was “using all means” to achieve a ceasefire early in the conflict.
The U.S. influence over Israel is tremendous, and Obama could have ended the conflict in the first hour by simply declaring, “If Israel does not stop its attack on Gaza, the U.S. will refuse further military and financial assistance and sever all diplomatic and political ties.” War over.
Instead of taking this action, or any action for that matter, Obama sat on the sidelines. In fact, Obama deliberately waited until the end of the second week of the war to even send his Secretary of State John Kerry to broker a ceasefire deal. Of course, Obama could have come himself.
Obama further assisted in Israeli war crimes by repeatedly justifying Israel’s right to commit them, deceitfully placing all Israel’s actions under the big umbrella of “self-defense.” Again, war crimes are war crimes and were purposefully created to trump any excuse of self-defense.
After ten days of a brutal bombing campaign an Israeli ground invasion was announced, which everyone knew would intensify the bloodshed. This would have been a key moment for the U.S. government to finally intervene. But instead, as ABC News reports:
“President Barack Obama said Friday that he encouraged Israel’s leader to minimize civilian deaths in its ground push into Hamas-ruled Gaza, while letting him know that the U.S. supports Israel’s right to self defense.”
A statement like this can be interpreted to mean only one thing: a green light to continue the massacre.
When John Kerry was finally sent to the Middle East to broker a peace deal, he was still making excuses for Israeli’s war crimes. USA Today reports:
“Kerry also blamed the latest wave of violence on what he called Israel’s “legitimate” efforts to pursue and punish those who last month kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers whose bodies were found in the West Bank.”
Again, bombing a whole city because three Israeli teens were killed is disproportional collective punishment — war crimes. There is also no evidence that Hamas is responsible for the death of three Israeli teens, which it has denied since day one.
The colossally disproportionate aspect of the war has been continually smoothed over by the Obama administration, which consistently lumps Palestinian and Israeli civilian deaths evenly together, as if they were happening with equal frequency. But in reality the 550 Palestinians that have been killed and 3,500 wounded are mostly civilians, while the few dozen Israeli’s who’ve died have been mostly soldiers.
How dangerous are the Hamas rockets that the Obama administration endlessly talks about? CBS news recently reported:
“Hamas also fired 50 more rockets at Israel, including two at Tel Aviv, causing no injuries or damage.”
This has been the story of the conflict in which Obama has justified the complete destruction of the Gaza Strip by continually saying “no nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders.”
Obama’s muted language about Israel’s aggression can be compared to the recently shot down Malaysian jet, for which Obama summoned his “outrage” while instantly blaming the pro-Russian Ukrainians, though without a shred of evidence.
But most of the world believes Israel’s actions are outrageous, an opinion not allowed to be expressed at the United Nations, thanks again to the Obama administration, which used its clout to sterilize Israel’s actions by limiting the UN’s statement on the conflict.
Specifically, the Obama administration used its influence over the UN Security Council to limit its statement to “serious concern” about civilian casualties on “both sides” of the conflict, thus white washing the nature of events and providing the aggressor with invaluable political breathing space.
The Obama administration has also assisted Israeli War Crimes by continually blaming Hamas for not agreeing to the Egyptian brokered ceasefire agreement. Hamas is the elected government of the Gaza Strip, and thus has a right to not agree to a ceasefire agreement. But of course Hamas’ not agreeing to the Egyptian agreement does not justify a continual Israeli blitzkrieg of the Gaza Strip, though the Obama administration’s logic implies exactly this.
Lastly, the Obama administration has consistently lied about the origins of this bloodbath. The three dead Israeli teens were not the cause of this conflict, but the pretext, which the Israeli government consciously exploited to promote war among the Israeli population.
The real cause of the war was the recent alliance between the Palestinian Authority — which governs the West Bank — and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip. This alliance gave the Palestinians their strongest hand in bargaining with Israel in perhaps decades, which was enough to spark a new round of massacres from the Israeli government in an effort to re-balance the bargaining table.
This ongoing bloody dynamic continues in large part because the U.S. government allows it. The vast majority of people across the world are denouncing Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinians, and so too must U.S. citizens denounce their government’s criminal actions in assisting Israeli war crimes.
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action. He can be reached at email@example.com
Despite doubts within the U.S. intelligence community, the Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. news media are charging off toward another rush to judgment blaming Ukrainian rebels and the Russian government for the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines plane, much as occurred last summer regarding a still-mysterious sarin gas attack in Syria.
In both cases, rather than let independent investigators sort out the facts, President Barack Obama’s ever-aggressive State Department and the major U.S. media simply accepted that the designated villains of those two crises – Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine – were the guilty parties. Yet, some U.S. intelligence analysts dissented from both snap conventional wisdoms.
Regarding the shoot-down of the Malaysian jetliner on Thursday, I’m told that some CIA analysts cite U.S. satellite reconnaissance photos suggesting that the anti-aircraft missile that brought down Flight 17 was fired by Ukrainian troops from a government battery, not by ethnic Russian rebels who have been resisting the regime in Kiev since elected President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown on Feb. 22.
According to a source briefed on the tentative findings, the soldiers manning the battery appeared to be wearing Ukrainian uniforms and may have been drinking, since what looked like beer bottles were scattered around the site. But the source added that the information was still incomplete and the analysts did not rule out the possibility of rebel responsibility.
A contrary emphasis has been given to the Washington Post and other mainstream U.S. outlets. On Saturday, the Post reported that “on Friday, U.S. officials said a preliminary intelligence assessment indicated the airliner was blown up by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by the separatists.” But the objectivity of the Obama administration, which has staunchly supported the coup regime, is in question as are the precise reasons for its judgments.
Even before the Feb. 22 coup, senior administration officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, were openly encouraging protesters seeking the overthrow of Yanukovych. Nuland went so far as to pass out cookies to the demonstrators and discuss with Pyatt who should be appointed once Yanukovych was removed.
After Yanukovych and his officials were forced to flee in the face of mass protests and violent attacks by neo-Nazi militias, the State Department was quick to declare the new government “legitimate” and welcomed Nuland’s favorite, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as the new prime minister.
As events have unfolded since then, including Crimea’s secession to join Russia and bloody attacks directed at ethnic Russians in Odessa and elsewhere, the Obama administration has consistently taken the side of the Kiev regime and bashed Moscow.
And, since Thursday, when the Malaysian plane was shot down killing 298 people, the Ukrainian government and the Obama administration have pointed the finger of blame at the rebels and the Russian government, albeit without the benefit of a serious investigation that is only now beginning.
One of the administration’s points has been that the Buk anti-aircraft missile system, which was apparently used to shoot down the plane, was “Russian made.” But the point is rather silly since nearly all Ukrainian military weaponry is “Russian made.” Ukraine, after all, was part of the Soviet Union until 1991 and has continued to use mostly Russian military equipment.
It’s also not clear how the U.S. government ascertained that the missile was an SA-11 as opposed to other versions of the Buk missile system.
Slanting the Case
Virtually everything that U.S. officials have said appears designed to tilt suspicions toward the Russians and the rebels – and away from government forces. Referring ominously to the sophistication of the SA-11, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power declared, “We cannot rule out Russian technical assistance.” But that phrasing supposedly means that the administration can’t rule it in either.
Still, in reading between the lines of the mainstream U.S. press accounts, it’s possible to see where some of the gaps are regarding the supposed Russian hand in Thursday’s tragedy. For instance, the Post’s Craig Whitlock reported that Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, U.S. commander of NATO forces in Europe, said last month that “We have not seen any of the [Russian] air-defense vehicles across the border yet.”
Since these Buk missile systems are large and must be transported on trucks, it would be difficult to conceal their presence from U.S. aerial surveillance which has been concentrating intensely on the Ukraine-Russia border in recent months.
The Post also reported that “Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said defense officials could not point to specific evidence that an SA-11 surface-to-air missile system had been transported from Russia into eastern Ukraine.”
In other words, the mystery is still not solved. It may be that the rebels – facing heavy bombardment from the Ukrainian air force – convinced the Russians to provide more advanced anti-aircraft weapons than the shoulder-fired missiles that the rebels have used to bring down some Ukrainian military planes.
It’s possible, too, that a rebel detachment mistook the civilian airliner for a military plane or even that someone in the Russian military launched the fateful rocket at the plane heading toward Russian airspace.
But both the Russian government and the rebels dispute those scenarios. The rebels say they don’t have missiles that can reach the 33,000-foot altitude of the Malaysian airliner. Besides denying a hand in the tragedy, the Russians claim that the Ukrainian military did have Buk anti-aircraft systems in eastern Ukraine and that the radar of one battery was active on the day of the crash.
The Russian Defense Ministry stated that “The Russian equipment detected throughout July 17 the activity of a Kupol radar, deployed as part of a Buk-M1 battery near Styla [a village some 30 kilometers south of Donetsk],” according to an RT report.
So, the other alternative remains in play, that a Ukrainian military unit – possibly a poorly supervised bunch – fired the missile intentionally or by accident. Why the Ukrainian military would intentionally have aimed at a plane flying eastward toward Russia is hard to comprehend, however.
A Propaganda Replay?
But perhaps the larger point is that both the Obama administration and the U.S. press corps should stop this pattern of rushing to judgments. It’s as if they’re obsessed with waging “information warfare” – i.e., justifying hostilities toward some adversarial nation – rather than responsibly informing the American people.
We saw this phenomenon in 2002-03 as nearly the entire Washington press corps clambered onboard President George W. Bush’s propaganda bandwagon into an aggressive war against Iraq. That pattern almost repeated itself last summer when a similar rush to judgment occurred around a sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 21.
Though the evidence was murky, there was a stampede to assume that the Assad government was behind the attack. While blaming the Syrian army, the U.S. press ignored the possibility that the attack was a provocation committed by radical jihadist rebels who were hoping that U.S. air power could turn the tide of the war in their favor.
Rather than carefully weigh the complex evidence, the State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry tried to spur President Obama into a quick decision to bomb Syrian government targets. Kerry delivered a belligerent speech on Aug. 30 and the administration released what it called a “Government Assessment” supposedly proving the case.
But this four-page white paper contained no verifiable evidence supporting its accusations and it soon became clear that the report had excluded dissents that some U.S. intelligence analysts would have attached to a more formal paper prepared by the intelligence community.
Despite the war hysteria then gripping Official Washington, President Obama rejected war at the last moment and – with the help of Russian President Putin – was able to negotiate a resolution of the crisis in which Assad surrendered Syria’s chemical weapons while still denying a hand in the sarin gas attack.
The mainstream U.S. press, especially the New York Times, and some non-governmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, continued pushing the theme of the Syrian government’s guilt. HRW and the Times teamed up for a major story that purported to show the flight paths of two sarin-laden missiles vectoring back to a Syrian military base 9.5 kilometers away.
For a time, this report was treated as the slam-dunk evidence proving the case against Assad, until it turned out that only one of the rockets carried sarin and the maximum range of the one that did have sarin was only about two kilometers.
Despite knowing these weaknesses in the case, President Obama stood by his State Department hawks by reading a speech to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24 in which he declared: “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.”
In watching Obama’s address, I was struck by how casually he lied. He knew better than almost anyone that some of his senior intelligence analysts were among those doubting the Syrian government’s guilt. Yet, he suggested that anyone who wasn’t onboard the propaganda train was crazy.
Since then, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed other evidence indicating that the sarin attack may indeed have been a rebel provocation meant to push Obama over the “red line” that he had drawn about not tolerating chemical weapons use.
Now, we are seeing a repeat performance in which Obama understands the doubts about the identity of who fired the missile that brought down the Malaysian airliner but is pushing the suspicions in a way designed to whip up animosity toward Russia and President Putin.
Obama may think this is a smart play because he can posture as tough when many of his political enemies portray him as weak. He also buys himself some P.R. protection in case it turns out that the ethnic Russian rebels and/or the Russian military do share the blame for the tragedy. He can claim to have been out front in making the accusations.
But there is a dangerous downside to creating a public hysteria about nuclear-armed Russia. As we have seen already in Ukraine, events can spiral out of control in unpredictable ways.
Assistant Secretary Nuland and other State Department hawks probably thought they were building their careers when they encouraged the Feb. 22 coup – and they may well be right about advancing their status in Official Washington at least. But they also thawed out long-frozen animosities between the “ethnically pure” Ukrainians in the west and the ethnic Russians in the east.
Those tensions – many dating back to World War II and before – have now become searing hatreds with hundreds of dead on both sides. The nasty, little Ukrainian civil war also made Thursday’s horror possible.
But even greater calamities could lie ahead if the State Department’s “anti-diplomats” succeed in reigniting the Cold War. The crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 should be a warning about the dangers of international brinkmanship.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
White House Spokesperson Insists Obama Is The Most Transparent President In History, Because… Visitor Logs!
The rather astoundingly named Josh Earnest is the recently appointed press secretary of President Obama, and he’s kicked off his tenure with quite a whopper: insisting that, despite complaints from basically every corner, President Obama really is “the most transparent President in history.” As you may recall, President Obama promised upon election that he would be “the most open and transparent” President, and one of his first orders of business in the White House was to promise the same.
Of course, as many folks have been documenting for years, the reality has been anything but. The Obama administration has been ridiculously secretive for years, when it comes to FOIA requests, literally setting records in denying them. The NYT’s former executive editor, who has covered many administrations, has directly noted that the Obama administration was the most secretive she could recall. Even federal judges have regularly dinged the administration for refusing to hand over documents required by law. As Stephen Colbert has noted, the administration is really only good at the most transparent bullshit legally allowed.
In fact, just as Mr. Earnest was insisting that the Obama administration was so damn transparent, Mother Jones had a good article about how often the Obama administration was making use of the “state secrets privilege” to get lawsuits tossed out, such as in various no fly list challenges. In 2008, then candidate Obama insisted that the use of the state secrets privilege by the government was dangerous. But, now that he’s in charge, he’s quick to use it himself:
In 2008, Obama griped that the Bush administration invoked the state secrets privilege “more than any other previous administration” and used it to get entire lawsuits thrown out of court. Critics noted that deploying the state secrets privilege allowed the Bush administration to shut down cases that might have revealed government misconduct or caused embarrassment, including those regarding constitutionally dubious warrantless wiretapping and the CIA’s kidnapping and torture of Khaled el-Masri, a German car salesman the government had mistaken for an alleged Al Qaeda leader with the same name. After Obama took office, his attorney general, Eric Holder, promised to significantly limit the use of this controversial legal doctrine. Holder vowed never to use it to “conceal violations of the law, inefficiency, or administrative error” or “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency of the United States Government.”
Despite this promise, Obama continued to assert the privilege to squelch cases about Bush-era abuses. In one instance, the Justice Department scuttled a lawsuit brought by a man who claimed he had been kidnapped by the CIA and had his penis and testicles cut with a scalpel in a Moroccan prison. And now Obama is broadening the use of this legal maneuver: In the past 18 months, the Obama administration has twice cited state secrets to prevent federal courts from considering lawsuits challenging its use of the no-fly list.
So, given all this evidence that the Obama administration is incredibly secretive, what could Earnest’s reasoning possibly be? Well, you see, President Obama has released his visitor logs at the White House. Because, you know, that’s what everyone really means when they talk about White House transparency.
Earnest noted that previous administrations had “gone to the Supreme Court” to prevent the release of White House visitor information, but that the Obama administration “releases it voluntarily on the Internet on a quarterly basis.”
“Reporters for years clamored to get access to fundraisers the president hosted or attended that were hosted in private homes,” Earnest continued. “Reporters now have access to those when this president goes to a private home.”
So, the President has made a few tiny concessions to transparency on issues that really don’t matter at all, but has doubled down on secrecy on the things that do actually matter.
Sure, I know that the Press Secretary’s job is to basically cover for the President and do whatever possible to defend the White House’s claims, no matter how bogus, but wouldn’t the world be better off if there were actually a tiny bit of honesty from such folks? They could admit that they’ve tried and failed. They could say that transparency promises seemed easier from the outside, but turned out to be more difficult in reality. They could admit that it’s still a work in progress. Any of those would at least acknowledge reality. Pretending reality isn’t reality doesn’t convince anyone. In fact, it just appears to be yet another example of the very non-transparency that everyone’s complaining about in the first place.