Barack Obama became the first U.S. President to visit Hiroshima on Friday, more than seven decades after the U.S. B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped a 10,000-pound atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on the city whose military value was far less than that of Tampa to the United States. More than 70,000 people were instantly killed, and virtually the entire city was flattened. Many survivors would suffer prolonged and unimaginably painful aftereffects of radiation, which would cost at least 100,000 more people their lives. The effects of radiation would harm people for years and decades after the initial explosion.
Obama stood at a podium with the epicenter of the blast, the Genbaku Domu, in the background and said that he had “come to mourn the dead.” While Obama mourned, there was one thing he did not do: apologize.
He said that “death came from the sky.” No mention of why. Or who was responsible, as if it were a natural disaster rather than a crime perpetrated by actual people. Obama was either unwilling or unable to confront the truth and make amends.
Here’s what he could have said to try to do so:
Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, an American warplane unleashed the most horrific and inhuman weapon ever invented, immediately imperiling the survival of the entire human species. This act of terrorism was the ultimate crime: a crime of mass murder, a crime of war, and a crime against humanity.
The victims, those who died incinerated in a flash, and those who died slowly and painfully over years from chemical poisoning, were never able to see justice served. Sadly, there is no way the criminals who carried out this heinous and barbaric act will ever face justice for their crimes.
I cannot change that. But, there is one thing I can do as the leader of the nation in whose name the bombing of Hiroshima was carried out: I can tell you, residents of Hiroshima and the rest of Japan, that I am sorry. I am sorry on behalf of my government and my country. I wish an American President would have come earlier and said this. This apology is decades overdue. It is a small and symbolic act, but it is necessary as a first step for true reconciliation.
A nuclear bomb should have never been dropped on Hiroshima. The most important goal of mankind should be to ensure that no nuclear bomb is ever dropped again. Anywhere in the world. Ever.
It would be easy to stand here and tell you that there are reasons why the American military and political officials chose to use a nuclear bomb. I could say it served a greater good of saving lives that would have been lost if the war had continued. I could say it was a decision made by people who were dealing with the pressure and horrors of fighting a war. But that would not be the truth. Those would be empty rationalizations. There is no justification for the bomb. Period.
The truth is that by August 6, 1945 Japan was defeated and had been seeking a conditional surrender for months. And American war planners knew this. They knew it because they had cracked the Japanese code and were intercepting their messages. 
Japan was willing to surrender under the condition that their Emperor, who was seen as a God among the Japanese people, be allowed to maintain his throne and not be prosecuted for war crimes. The Emperor himself called for “a plan to end the war” six weeks before the fateful day.  After so much unspeakable death and destruction, this reasonable offer should have been met with ecstatic celebration and relief.
Instead, U.S. officials disregarded it. They decided that it was necessary not just to defeat Japan, but to leave them utterly humiliated and disgraced. They wanted to demonstrate to their public that they could force another country to lay prostrate in front of them in complete submission. This is the mindset of terrorists, torturers, and sadists.
The United States joined with China and Great Britain to issue the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, in which they called on Japan “to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces.” These were terms they understood Japan could not accept.
Unfortunately, the use of the atomic bomb had become inevitable after the massive investment of time and treasure represented by the Manhattan Project. Military planners worried about “the possibility that after spending huge amounts of money … the bomb would be a dud. They could easily imagine being grilled mercilessly by hostile members of Congress.”
Historian and former Nuclear Regulatory Commission employee J. Samuel Walker confirmed that aside from “shortening the war and saving American lives, Truman wanted to justify the expense and effort required to build the atomic bombs.”
That financial considerations and a self-interested desire for bureaucrats to validate themselves and protect their careers could lead to the single most destructive and cruel act in history is an abomination. It is a deep offense to the idea that people are innately moral, and it makes us ask how in a democratic society we can vest people with the authority to make decisions of such profound impact secretly and without accountability?
Walker notes that another consideration for using the bomb on Hiroshima was to put fear into the leaders of the Soviet Union and make them “more amenable to American wishes.” Just six weeks earlier the UN Charter had been established. It included the demand that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force” against other states. The drafters could of the treaty could never have imagined such an unconscionable violation of their words so soon after the monumental pact had been written.
As horrific as the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima was, it did not occur in a vacuum. What no one in mainstream American political discourse has so far been able to admit is that not only was there no justification for the bomb, there was little justification for the war against Japan in the first place.
The war was the result of the notion, which first emanated from the Council on Foreign Relations in 1941, that the U.S.’s “national interest” called for a “Grand Area” that consisted of the Western hemisphere, the British Empire and the Far East, while assuming the majority of Europe would be controlled by Nazi Germany. This was translated into a policy that demanded a military confrontation with Japan for control of the Far East. 
A pillar in this policy was an economic embargo against Japan. Cut off from imports and raw materials from the United States and Great Britain, Japan grew desperate and subsequently sought to expand its Empire. Japan saw itself in need of a sphere of influence involving the same areas in the Far East as the United States.
The U.S. had several options to avoid war. For one, they could develop a program of agricultural and economic self-sufficiency which would allow them to insulate themselves from dependence on colonial powers, as well as allow them to steer clear of unpredictable and potentially hostile regions of the world.
But for businessmen who wanted to maintain control over the direction of the economy and keep their own fortunes growing at a limitless pace, this was a nonstarter. Instead, they were dedicated to challenging Japan. Hence, the embargo and the buildup for an inevitable military confrontation over Eastern Asia.
This is the background to Pearl Harbor. Japan was obviously not justified for attacking sovereign American territory in a blatant act of aggression. But we cannot pretend that it was not predictable or logical from their point of view.
Japan felt itself backed into a corner by the embargo. They felt they needed to expand further into Asia. They believed that if they did so, the U.S. military would have attacked them. They were right.
Both countries should have worked together to recognize each other’s perceived interests, deescalate, and achieve a mutually acceptable compromise. It is the ability to understand one’s perceived adversary as a rational counterpart, rather than an evil and irrational enemy, that separates humans from beasts. If we are not able to use this ability, we are no better than a predator seeking his prey.
The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima did not need to happen. But the bombing that took place on this site was just a symptom of the war it was part of. War will necessarily produce horrific crimes, some of which are unimaginable at the time they happen. As horrific as the nuclear bomb was, 70 years of technological advancements have made not just the destruction of an entire city, but of an entire country or continent within the realm of possibility.
We need to eliminate nuclear weapons from the earth. But that is not enough. Chemical weapons like napalm, Agent Orange, depleted uranium, and white phosphorous; biological weapons like Dengue bacteria and germ bombs; and conventional weapons like cluster bombs, pineapple bomblets, butterfly bombs and land mines are just some of the savage weapons used by the U.S. military alone in the years since the close of World War II to kill and maim millions of people. Many other countries possess similar weapons of mass destruction and have the capacity to do the same.
We need to eliminate war. All war. Forever. War is evil, plain and simple. We cannot undo the actions of the past. But we can let them guide us to a better world where we don’t repeat the horrors that the people of Hiroshima suffered here 71 years ago. That will be the only way to prevent the victims from having died in vain.
 Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. pp. 423.
 U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey: The Effects of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, June 19, 1946. President’s Secretary’s File, Truman Papers. http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/bomb/large/documents/index.php?pagenumber=33&documentid=65&documentdate=1946-06-19&studycollectionid=abomb&groupid=
 Shoup, Laurence H. and William Minter. Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations & United States Foreign Policy. Lincoln, NE: Authors Choice Press, 2004.
If targeting the civilian population of an entire city with a nuclear bomb, and incinerating tens of thousands of men, women, and children in the process, is not worthy of an apology then ‘humanity’ has become a word without meaning.
Step forward US President Barack Obama and his statement in advance of his visit to Hiroshima that he will not apologize for the nuclear bomb dropped by the US on the city on August 6, 1945, which killed 140,000 in the initial blast and countless thousands more in the days, weeks, months, years, and decades following from its devastating after-effects.
Obama’s visit to the city comes at the end of the a weeklong tour of Vietnam and Japan, where he participated in the G7 Summit along with the leaders of Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Italy, as well as the presidents of the European Council and European Commission. The imperial arrogance conveyed in his declaration that while in Hiroshima he would not be apologizing for what counts as one of most grievous war crimes and crimes against humanity the world has seen should not have come as a surprise however. Indeed, it was wholly in keeping with the tone and purpose of his tour.
On the first leg of that tour in Vietnam the President took the opportunity to lecture its leaders on the country’s poor human rights record before announcing the lifting of the US arms embargo that had been in place since 1984. During his address to the Vietnamese people in Hanoi, the President said: “Nations are sovereign, and no matter how large or small a nation may be, its sovereignty should be respected, and it territory should not be violated. Big nations should not bully smaller ones. Disputes should be resolved peacefully.”
That Obama was able to maintain a straight face as those words issued from his lips must surely count as one of the more remarkable feats of his presidency.
The President also took the opportunity in his speech to make the case for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which as with its European version (TTIP) is an insidious free trade agreement that will give multinational corporations access to every sector of the economies of those countries that sign up to it, in what constitutes an assault on national sovereignty in service to US economic growth. Workers in every country that joins will be pitched into a race to the bottom as their respective governments compete for investment by driving down wages, benefits, and employment rights.
US economic hegemony is the driver of these new agreements, with the geopolitical objective of binding Asia and Europe closer to Washington at a time when US unipolarity is being contested by China, Russia, and other BRIC countries in a way it hasn’t been in decades. It is why the overarching purpose of this Asia tour is the reassertion of US power in the region, which is why Washington has placed a major emphasis on bolstering Japan and Vietnam at a time when they are involved in an increasingly fractious territorial dispute with Beijing in the East and South China Seas.
Compounding the tension in the region is the agreement that was reached in March between Washington and its South Korean ally to deploy the Thaad anti-ballistic missile system on the Korean peninsula. While the stated purpose of the missile defense system is to meet the threat posed by North Korea, its radar extends as far as China and therefore will constitute a threat to China’s security.
Beijing’s response has been to announce its intention to deploy nuclear submarines to the Pacific for the first time; this in order to maintain its nuclear deterrence. As we see, if Obama’s purpose with his ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy was to destabilize the region then so far it has been an unqualified success.
Taken together, Obama’s Asia tour has only reaffirmed the malign presence of the US in Asia, historically and currently. The assertion that there is nothing to apologize for when it comes to Hiroshima describes the moral sickness that underpins US exceptionalism. It is not so much that Obama refuses to apologize for an event that occurred over seventy years ago it is more that no lessons have been learned in Washington from the horrors it unleashed with the dropping of the bomb.
Lessons have certainly been learned in Beijing, however, with China a country with harsh and firsthand experience of the West’s brutal exploitation of weaker nations. It is an experience the Chinese are determined will never be repeated.
On another level, there is nothing more dangerous than a lame duck President of the United States desperate to cement his legacy as his time in office winds down to an ignominious conclusion. When the day of Obama’s departure from the White House does arrive in a few months’ time, his presidency will go down in history as one of the most disappointing there has been in living memory, which given the competition is quite a mantle to occupy.
In 2016 the tidal wave of hope that swept him into office as the country’s first black president has long dissipated, replaced by the kind of cynicism that produces statements such as the one he made at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial during his much anticipated visit. The world has a “shared responsibility” to ensure nothing like it happens again, the President said.
Such a sentiment is an insult to the victims of this barbarous act, and is why the world must unite in saying no, Mr. Obama, we disagree. We cannot and will not allow the United States to escape its guilt over this atrocity. The perpetrator of this crime was America and America alone.
Twas ever thus.
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. He wrote a memoir of the five years he spent in Hollywood, where he worked in the movie industry prior to becoming a full time activist and organizer with the US antiwar movement post-9/11. The book is titled Dreams That Die and is published by Zero Books. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
President Barack Obama uncomfortably accepting the Nobel Peace Prize from Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009. (White House photo)
Even if you’ve never won an office raffle, a sports pool or a lottery, consider yourself supremely lucky. Unlike the atomic bomb victims who were recognized by President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, you’ve never experienced the horrors of nuclear war.
That’s nothing any of us should take for granted, says former Defense Secretary William Perry. On at least three occasions, he noted recently, the U.S. military received false alarms of a Soviet nuclear attack. At least twice the Soviet military went on high alert from similar alarms. And anyone who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 survived “as much by good luck as by good management,” he added.
The consequences of an accidental nuclear war would be staggering. Thousands of U.S. and Russian warheads, some of them orders of magnitude larger than the one that wiped out Hiroshima, are primed for launch on warning. Besides wiping out tens or hundreds of millions of people in urban centers, they would put a large fraction of the world’s population at risk from starvation.
A 2013 report by Physicians for Social Responsibility concluded that even a limited regional nuclear exchange — say between India and Pakistan — could “cause significant climate disruption worldwide” and jeopardize food supplies to as many as two billion people.
Many authorities believe the threat of accidental war is even greater today than during most of the Cold War. Last year, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved its famous Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, its “direst setting” since the nuke-rattling days of the early Reagan era.
The group cited continued bluster and brinkmanship between NATO and Russia, including the shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkey, as indicators of today’s risky nuclear environment.
National security experts and reporters such as Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control (2014), have compiled long lists of nuclear accidents and near-misses, some of which might have cost millions of lives but for a few quick-thinking heroes. Here’s a small sample:
–In 1958, a B-47 dropped a 30 kiloton Mark 6 atomic bomb into a family’s backyard in Mars Bluff, South Carolina. Its high-explosive trigger blasted the home and left a 35-foot crater. A few months later, another B-47 dropped a Mark 39 hydrogen bomb near Abilene, again setting off its high explosives but not a nuclear blast.
–In 1961, a B-52 exploded over North Carolina, dropping two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs. One of them nearly detonated after five of its six safety devices failed. The Air Force never did recover the uranium trigger.
–In October 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a Soviet submarine thought it was under attack from U.S. warships, which were practicing dropping depth charges in the Sargasso Sea. The submarine commander ordered a launch of nuclear missiles, but was persuaded to stop by his second-in-command.
Other near misses during that mother of all nuclear crises in 1962 included a reckless U.S. spy plane over-flight of Siberia, the explosion of a Soviet satellite that U.S. authorities interpreted as the start of a Soviet missile attack, American test launches of two nuclear-capable ICBMs, and a screw-up at a Minuteman site that allowed a single operator to launch a fully armed missile.
–In 1966, a B-52 bomber collided with a refueling tanker over Palomares, Spain and broke apart, dropping its four hydrogen bombs. Two of them partially detonated, contaminating a wide region with radiation.
–Two years later, a B-52 crashed in Greenland, losing three hydrogen bombs and contaminating nearly a quarter million cubic feet of ice and snow.
–In 1979, a technician mistakenly confused NORAD’s computers with a war games simulation, triggering signals of a Soviet nuclear launch. The Strategic Air Command scrambled its bombers before learning of the false alarm.
–A year later, a defective computer chip prompted the Pentagon to waken President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser with reports of a massive launch of Soviet missiles from submarines and land-based silos.
–In 1985, a glint of sunlight confused a Soviet early-warning satellite, which reported that the United States had launched five intercontinental ballistic missiles. Fortunately, the watch commander risked his career by not reporting the alarm, saving the day.
–In 1995, Russia’s early-warning system confused a small Norwegian weather rocket with an incoming U.S. Trident missile. The Russian military went on high alert, notifying President Boris Yeltsin and preparing a possible counter-attack before recognizing the mistake.
Tensions Reduce the Odds
As MIT nuclear expert Theodore Postol noted last year, “Had the false alert of 1995 occurred instead during a political crisis, Russian nuclear forces might have been launched. American early warning systems would have immediately detected the launch, and this might then have led to the immediate launch of US forces in response to the Russian launch.”
Recent years have brought us accounts of missing nuclear missiles, drug use by Minuteman missile crews, shocking security breaches, crew commanders falling asleep, computer failures, a silo fire that went undetected by smoke alarms, and much more.
And just this week we were reminded by the Government Accountability Office that the Pentagon’s “Strategic Automated Command and Control System” uses 8-inch floppy disks and 1970s-vintage computers.
The Pentagon insisted in 2014 that the system “is extremely safe and extremely secure” — after all, how many hackers know how to operate such ancient technology? — but Princeton University’s Bruce Blair, a former Air Force ICBM launch-control officer, said this week, “The floppy disks are associated with a nuclear-communications system that was unreliable even when the system was upgraded in the 1970s.”
No doubt the odds of any one of these accidents triggering a war or mass catastrophe were low. But odds increase with the number of incidents. If the probability of a disaster from one incident is only one in 100, the odds of ruin from 20 such incidents rise to nearly one in five. Those are not comforting numbers.
That’s why it’s critical that the United States and Russia get serious about promoting world security by eliminating first-use and “launch on warning” policies that heighten the risk of accidental wars. They must also sharply reduce the size of nuclear arsenals that are difficult to track, safeguard and maintain.
Instead, President Obama has embarked on a trillion dollar program of nuclear modernization and a dangerous policy of confrontation with Russia in Eastern Europe. (Russia is not blameless in these matters, of course.) Such policies are, in turn, prompting China’s military to pursue a nuclear expansion program of its own — including a dangerous shift to hair-trigger alerts and a launch-on-warning policy.
Former Defense Secretary Perry warns that all of this is putting the world “on the brink of a new nuclear arms race.” That’s not what we expected from the President who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in part for his call to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons. Let’s hope Obama’s visit to Hiroshima rekindles his commitment to helping create a safer world.
Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012).
The United States has been pursuing an audacious project to fashion a global system according to its specifications and under its tutelage since the Cold War’s end.
For a quarter of a century, the paramount goal of all its foreign relations has been the fostering of a system whose architectural design features the following:
–a neo-liberal economic order wherein markets dictate economic outcomes and the influence of public authorities to regulate them is weakened;
–this entails a progressive financializing of the world economy which concentrates the levers of greatest power in a few Western institutions – private, national and supranational;
–if inequality of wealth and power is the outcome, so be it;
–security provided by an American-led concert that will have predominant influence in every region;
–a readiness to use coercion to remove any regime that directly challenges this envisaged order;
–the maintenance of a large, multi-functional American military force to ensure that the means to deal with any contingency as could arise;
–all cemented by the unquestioned conviction that this enterprise conforms to a teleology whose truth and direction were confirmed by the West’s total victory in the Cold War.
Therefore, it is inherently a virtuous project whose realization will benefit all mankind. Virtue is understood in both tangible and ethical terms.
The motto: There is a tide running in the affairs of man; so, now is the time for America to steer the current and fulfill its destiny.
The project has registered some remarkable successes (at least by its own definitions). The Washington sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its counterpart`, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTPI), ensconce a privileged position for corporate interests that supersedes that of governments in binding international law.
The towering financial conglomerates have emerged from the great financial panic and Great Recession, which they caused, not only unscathed but bigger, stronger and with a stranglehold over macro-economic policy across most of the globe.
The United States, the progenitor of neo-liberalism and its operational guide, has seen its democracy converted into a plutocracy in all but name. The more things change, the more they must be made to seem the same.
These tenets of neo-liberalism have been codified into an orthodoxy whose dogma permeates the intellectual fiber of academia, the media and the corridors of state power. Challengers are ruthlessly put down – as witness the crucifying of Greece’s first Syriza government. Political leaders who deviate find themselves the object of international campaigns to oust them, e.g., Honduras, Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, Iran and Russia.
As an indirect consequence of the project’s successes, political resistance now comes not from the Left but rather from a recrudescent nationalist Right as is occurring in Europe – the rebellion in both the East and the West against the European Union’s brave new world of technocracy of, by and for the corporate elites.
Trumpism represents the analogous phenomenon decked out in stars-and-stripes garb. This exacerbates the tensions generated internally by the guided globalization project. Within the decision centers of Washington power, that could either provide new impetus to the external dimension of establishing a global order under American aegis – or handicap it.
Whichever proves to be the case, the turn toward authoritarianism and xenophobia within the liberal democracies shows how ill-conceived and ineptly executed the design for a new world order is. For it has overreached at home and abroad.
At home, the flaw (fatal or not) is the absence of all restraint in grabbing for riches and powers without leaving a reasonable portion, along with credible illusions of democratic control, for the mass of citizenry. Abroad, hubris fed by a combination of faith in American exceptionalism, the intoxication of power, and studied ignorance has generated fantasies of molding alien societies in our image – while ignoring the strength of countervailing forces as embodied by China, Russia and the multiple expressions of fundamentalist Islam.
It is in the political/security sphere that the historic American project faltered badly. Individual developments signal at once basic design flaws and obtuse implementation The upwelling of serious counter currents carries the message that setbacks are neither temporary nor readily containable.
The Middle East, of course, is where the pressure cooker of our own creation has exploded leaving a mess that covers the entire region, with the further risk of spreading beyond it.
Every major initiative has failed – and failed ignominiously. Iraq has fragmented into factions none of whom are reliable friends of Washington. Once a forbidden zone for Islamist jihadis, our intervention has spawned the most dangerous movement yet – ISIL, while inspiring Al Qaeda and its other spin-offs.
Syria, where we have dedicated ourselves to unseating the still internationally recognized government, is embroiled in an endless civil war whose main protagonists on the anti-Assad side are ISIL and Al Qaeda/Al Nusra & Assoc. So, the Obama people have put themselves in the position of feeding arms and providing diplomatic cover to groups who were our No. 1 security threat just yesterday.
Accordingly, for all of our bluster, we refuse to confront Turkey which has provided invaluable aid, comfort and refuge for both groups. Nor do we call out the Saudis for their succoring with money and political backing.
Embracing the Saudis
Washington’s deference to the Saudi royals has reached the extremity of its participating in the Saudi organized and led destruction of Yemen despite the cardinal truths that the Houthis, their enemy, is not a foe of the United States, and that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has made extensive gains as a result of the war (and ISIL has succeeded in implanted itself there as well).
For these contributions to the War on Terror, Secretary of State John Kerry effusively thanks Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman – the author of these reckless Saudi policies – for the fulsome contribution the Kingdom is making to suppress Islamic extremism. Why? American diplomacy is locked into the idea that it must reassure Saudi Arabia of our loyalty in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.
Hence, we embrace an obscurantist autocratic regime whose self-defined interests are antithetical to our stated objectives, and whose behavior highlights the hypocrisy of America’s trumpeted crusade to promote democracy and to protect human rights. It has the added effect of vitiating any chances to engage Iran pragmatically to deal with the civil wars in Iraq and Syria.
Fifteen years ago, the United States launched its Middle East wars to make us secure from terrorism and to politically transform the region. Instead, we face a greater menace, we have destroyed governments capable of maintaining a modicum of order, we have registered no success in nation-building or democracy building, and we have undercut our moral authority worldwide.
Our leaders talk of “pivots” away from the turbulent Middle East, President Barack Obama voices an ambition to demilitarize foreign policy, yet the reality is that today there are American troops fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and now Libya with no prospect of those conflicts concluding.
The most stunning, and noteworthy, reaction at home to this unprecedented record of unrelieved failure is the lack of reaction. All the elements in America’s fantastic views of another, post-Cold War American Century not only survive, they exercise near total influence over our foreign policy elite – in government and outside it. The learning curve is flat.
The number of places where the U.S. is militarily engaged grows rather than diminishes. The definition of “terrorism,” of security, of American national interest broadens rather than narrows. The defense budget points upwards rather than downwards. The contradictions multiply. How to explain this perverse pattern?
Avoidance behavior is a natural if not universal response to stress and cognitive dissonance. It passes into the range of the pathological when it becomes persistent and diverges more and more from experienced reality. At that point, it enters the realm of fantasy – often, with fantasies succeeding each other in serial fashion.
To adapt what Clarence Ayres has written: “In important ways, (American foreign policy) is being run by a web of Belief that has been separated from Reason and Evidence. Its ways resemble … the network of mythological convictions” that characterize some primitive tribes. “The contradiction between experience and one mystical notion is explained by reference to other mystical notions.”
Hence, the Belief that human societies carry the innate political DNA for democracy (to be spontaneously recognized by Iraqis once liberated by the Americans) is supplanted by the belief in COIN (counter-insurgency warfare) which, in turn, is supplanted by faith in the power Special Operations forces … ad infinitum.
This behavior pattern matches that associated with classic avoidance devices. One feature is compulsive reiteration. In terms of actions, that means the repeated attempt to resolve complex political problems through the application of coercive force. The national instinct when confronted with a challenge is to hit out – from Congolese warlords and Nigerian thugs to Islamist jihadis and anyone whom our so-called friends dislike, e.g., the Houthis.
This is the mind-set of the muscle-bound bully whose mental development hasn’t caught up with his physical development. In Afghanistan, we continue fighting and spurring the hapless Kabul government to keep it up when there isn’t a snowball’s chances in hell of defeating the Taliban (an outfit that never has killed an American outside of Afghanistan).
In Iraq-Syria, we struggle mightily to check the ISIL irregulars while blithely allowing them to carry on a lucrative oil commerce without interference from the U.S. air force. There, too, we make believe that the Russian presence doesn’t exist even though it has done more to shift the balance away from the jihadist groups than we have. Why? The powers-that-be have decided that Putin’s Russia actually is a bigger threat to America than is ISIL and Al Qaeda.
Black Hats/White Hats
Reiteration also takes the form of populating the strategic map with good guys and bad guys whose identification never changes whatever the evidence says. Hence, the white hats include the Saudi royals along with their school of Gulf Cooperation Council minnows, Erdogan’s Turkey, and of course Israel.
The black hats include: Iran, the Baathist regime in Syria, Hezbullah, Hamas, some Shi’ite factions in Iraq (Moqtada al-Sadr), and whoever opposes our sponsored, obedient would-be leaders in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, or wherever (think Latin America). Washington’s costume department does not stock gray hats.
The Global War on Terror notwithstanding, this casting makes us friends of ISIL’s and Al Qaeda’s friends and enemies of their enemies. No intellectual effort is evident to make the reconciliation.
In extreme circumstances, one resorts to outfitting with white hats whatever bunch of guys you can round up through Central Casting. That is exactly what we currently are doing in cobbling together an odd lot of stray Libyans into an ersatz “government” which Washington and its more obedient allies literally escorted into a bunker outside of Tripoli last month where they are offering themselves as national saviors.
This so-called Government of National Accord (GNA), which no significant body of Libyans had asked for, is meant to supersede the democratically elected government whose parliament is seated in Benghazi and engaged in a multi-party civil war with an array of sectarian and tribal formations.
Our seven-man GNA controls no territory but has entered into tacit alliance with a variety of Islamist militias attracted by the money and arms which the United States and partners have transferred to them from official Libyan accounts abroad. Shades of Syria circa 2011 -2013.
Prolonged residence in one or another fantasy bubble is made all the more comfortable by eluding contact with any respected party who might offer a different perspective that more closely conforms to reality. An oddity of our times is that the only criticism within range of power centers comes from those whose answer to all these dilemmas is to “hit ‘em harder.”
That is to say, the John McCains and fellow travelers among Republican hawks reinforced by the aggressive neocon contingent ensconced in the think tanks and media. The unfortunate consequence is that the President, and his less than sterling foreign policy team, now add the belief in their own moderation and prudence to their complacent plodding along the same rutted paths to nowhere.
We got a candid, uncensored look at one member of Obama’s inner circle when Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser, was featured in that embarrassing Sunday New York Times Magazine story a few weeks ago.
Susan Rice, National Security Advisor and Presidential confidant since 2007, put herself on display via an interview with Fareed Zakaria (May 15) where she declared that “almost the whole Russia Air Force is deployed in Syria.” The truth is that the 70-odd Russian aircraft in Syria represent roughly 5 to 6 percent of their combat aircraft and about 2 to 2.5 percent of all aircraft in the Russian Air Force. It is one thing to off by a factor of 20 when spouting forth at a think-tank seminar where other participants’ minds are on their own next intervention or imagining whom they plan to latch onto during the coffee break. It is quite another to be so casually ignorant when you are in a position to shape actions that could affect the lives of millions and major interests of the United States.
This all too typical failure to recognize the difference helps to explain why the Obama administration’s foreign policy-making is so undisciplined and its diplomacy is so disjointed.
There is yet another pathological element in this mix of illusion and faith. Manifest failure poses a threat to the powerful image of prowess and superiority imbued in our national leaders, and in the country’s collective personality.
Heavy doses of reality by now should have brought to light our ultimate “ordinariness” – however impressive the national record of accomplishment has been. That, though, is proving very hard for Americans to swallow.
Instead, we discern a pattern of denying manifest outcomes while relentlessly searching for fresh opportunities to establish our unique greatness. It took decades and much self-induced amnesia to come to terms with the loss of Vietnam. We seemingly shed that shroud in the first Gulf War. But then came 9/11 and the vengeful reaction of a scared country which led us into a new string of failures.
One psychological method for handling that dissonance is to claim that the game isn’t really over. The fat lady hasn’t sung (or if she did, we tuned her out). In Iraq, our most ignominious failure, the concrete manifestation of that failure in ISIL, gives us a second chance to demonstrate that Americans are winners after all.
In this warped psychology, if we are able to push them back and/or cripple them, that achievement somehow will confirm that we are winners. It just took a little while longer than expected. Political chaos in Baghdad and across the country? No one is perfect – only Allah. Besides, there are always the Iranians to blame.
What about Afghanistan? There, too, the final whistle hasn’t blown. There is no time limit – 48 minutes, 60 minutes, or nine innings – or 15 years. Operation Eternal Effort.
A quite different psychological coping mechanism, one that carries the seed of far greater risk, is to demonstrate macho self-confidence by searching out additional challengers to confront. That mechanism not only offers several new chances to prove to oneself and to the world how great we are; it also demonstrates our brave sense of duty.
So, we expand Special Operations and send teams of various sizes into scores of countries to take on the bad guys. More demonstrably, we make it known that our nuclear deal with Tehran notwithstanding, we’re ever ready to go one-on-one with the mullahs who just aren’t our sort of people.
Fighting the Big Boys
The ultimate expression of this psycho-mentality is to pick a fight with the really big guys: Russia and China. We know them from the last movie – and everybody remembers how we whipped the Russians’ ass – to use the hard-nosed parlance favored around Washington.
The extreme hostility toward a more assertive Russia and Vladimir Putin personally goes well beyond any realpolitik calculus. It has an emotional side clearly evident in the cartoonish exaggeration that marks almost all coverage of the country and the man – and the remarks of President Obama himself. Indeed, it is all the starker for the contrast to Putin’s cool rationality.
Obama, personally, cannot abide Putin. To continue the line of psychological analysis, we might find some clues why in the President’s behavioral record. He typically is uneasy around, and therefore tries to avoid, strong, independent-minded persons who are at least as intelligent as he is. None of his inner circle are exceptions to this generalization.
The real tough guys on Wall Street and in the Pentagon/Intelligence Establishment he defers to – anticipating what they want and holding them at a respectful distance. Putin fits neither category. In addition, he is as cerebral and exhibits as much self-control as does Obama – thereby challenging the latter’s sense of uniqueness and superiority. Putin also is infinitely more skillful politically.
Of course, there is ample evidence that significant elements of the American government and foreign policy Establishment have long viewed Russia as a potential obstacle to the American grand design. Therefore, they have reached a calculated conclusion that it must be denatured as a political force or eliminated.
The resources that we expended in bending Russian institutions and policies to our will during the Yeltsin years testify to that. Putin, though, has shown himself a far sterner, autonomous character with his own pronounced view as to how the world should be structured and Russia’s place within it.
His objective from the first was to restore Russian dignity, Russian independence and a measure of Russian control over its strategic space. That inevitably brought him into conflict with the American plan to keep Russia dependent, weak and marginalized.
The central element of that strategy was the policy of bringing all of the former Soviet republics into Western institutions – Ukraine above all, as Zbignew Brzezinski has explained with brutal candor. The Washington encouraged coup in Kiev two years ago was the culmination of a plan that temporarily had been thwarted by Moscow’s maneuvers that aimed at keeping Ukraine out of the E.U. (aka NATO) orbit.
Putin’s unexpectedly decisive action on Crimea, the Donbass and then Syria has changed the strategic map and upset American assumptions about the insignificance of its old foe. That in itself helps to explain the intensity and emotionalism of Washington reaction.
In the Middle East, in particular, the Russians have been useful partners: in winning Iran’s acquiescence to concessions that cleared the way for the nuclear accord; in resolving of the sarin gas crisis when Putin opened an avenue for Obama to escape the corner he had painted himself into by making hasty accusations that were contradicted by the intelligence community; and finally by forcing us to face up to the unwelcome truth that the only alternative to Assad is a radical jihadist dominated regime that would empower the very people we have been trying to exterminate since 2001.
Rather than acting on that pragmatic logic, the Obama administration – egged on by the country’s entire foreign policy Establishment – has decided to treat Russia as America’s global enemy No. 1, officially.
In Syria, blocking the Russians at every turn and doubling-down on the ouster of Assad now shapes everything else we do in that country. In Europe, the United States has pushed NATO into a full-blown confrontation: stationing several brigades in the Baltics and Poland; staging a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Romania for the missile defense system that also can serve as a platform for nuclear tipped cruise missiles; conducting exercises in Georgia; and proposing to make Georgia and Ukraine de facto NATO members whose militaries would be integrated into the NATO command structure (the 28 + 2 formula).
These moves have been accompanied by a barrage of bellicose rhetoric from top American commanders and the Secretary of Defense to the President himself. These are all steps that contravene long established treaties, some dating back to the Soviet era, and fly in the face of solemn promises made by President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev between 1989 and 1991.
This provocative strategy is justified as a response to Russia’s alleged aggressive and growing moves darkly portrayed as a precursor to a possible assault against former lands of the defunct Soviet empire. The empirical evidence for this dire assertion is lacking – nor is there interest in making the case with a modicum of empirical logic. For the impulses spring from within the American political psyche – not from our external environment.
There are those who calculatingly have actively sought to isolate Russia, topple Putin and remove both as thorns in the side of American grand strategy. And there are those, including President Obama, whose behavior reveals a deep compulsion to portray a complex situation in terms of a simple, exaggerated threat; to show their mettle; to strut; and to compensate for the frustrations and failures that have bedeviled the United States’ foreign policies.
This is foreign policy by emotion, not by logical thought. It is rooted in the psychological reaction to the hopelessness of the post-Cold War grand design. It stems as well from the unpalatable experience of being unable to live up to the exalted self-image that is at the core of Americans’ national personality.
And it is intensified by the need, compensating for heightened insecurities, to prove that America is Number One, always will be Number One, and deserves to be Number One. That maelstrom of emotion was almost palpable in Obama’s last State of the Union Address where he declaimed:
“Let me tell you something. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. Period. It’s not even close. It’s not even close!”
So? Is this meant as a revelation? What is the message? To whom? Is it any different than crowds of troubled and frustrated Arab demonstrators shouting “ALLAH AKBAR!” Words that are neither a prelude to action nor inspire others to act – nor even impart information – are just puffs of wind. They are affirmations of self rather than communication. As such, they are yet another avoidance device whereby bluster substitutes for a deliberate appraisal of how to adjust to the gap between aspiration and declining prowess.
Making Narratives Fit
A complementary device for perpetuating a crucial national myth of exceptionalism and superiority is to stress systematically those features of other nations, or situations, that conform to the requirements of the American national narrative while neglecting or downplaying opposite features.
Currently, we are witnessing the unfolding of an almost clinical example in the treatment of China. The emergence of the PRC as a great power with the potential to surpass or eclipse the United States poses a direct threat to the foundation myth of American superiority and exceptionalism. The very existence of that threat is emotionally difficult to come to terms with.
Psychologically, the most simple way to cope is to define it out of existence – to deny it. One would think that doing so is anything but easy. After all, China’s economy has been growing at double digit rates for almost 30 years. The concrete evidence of its stunning achievements is visible to the naked eye.
Necessity, though, is the mother of invention. Our compelling emotional need at the moment is to have China’s strength and latent challenge subjectively diminished. So what we see is a rather extraordinary campaign to highlight everything that is wrong with China, to exaggerate those weaknesses, to project them into the future, and – thereby – to reassure ourselves.
Coverage of Chinese affairs by the United States’ newspaper of record, The New York Times, has taken a leading role in this project. For the past year or two, we have been treated to an endless series of stories focusing on what’s wrong with China. Seemingly nothing is too inconsequential to escape front page, lengthy coverage.
The current signs of economic weakness and financial fragility have generated a spate of dire commentary that China’s great era of growth may be grinding to a halt – not to be restarted until its leaders have seen the error of their ways and taken the path marked out by America and other Western capitalist countries.
This latest upwelling of China-bashing could well serve as a clinical exhibit of avoidance behavior. For it goes beyond sublimation and simple denial. It also reveals the extreme vulnerability of the American psyche to the perceived China “threat,” and the compelling psychological need to neutralize it – if only by verbal denigration.
At present, the United States has no strategic dialogue with either China or Russia. That is a failure of historic proportions. There is no vast ideological chasm to bridge – as in the Cold War days. There are no bits of contested geography that directly involve the parties. Putin and Xi are eminently rational leaders – whether we agree with them or not.
The Russian leader, in particular, has laid out his conception of the world system; of the Russo-American relations; of why Russia is pursuing certain polices – all with a concision and candor that probably is unprecedented. He also stresses the need for cooperation with Washington and offers guidelines for sustained exchanges. We have done nothing analogous. Indeed, it appears that no policy-maker of consequence even bothers to read or listen to Putin.
To take him seriously, to engage the Chinese on the strategic plane, requires statesmanship of a high order. An America – and its leaders – who are tied into psychological knots by their inability to view reality with a measure of detachment and self-awareness never will muster that statesmanship.
Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. firstname.lastname@example.org
Irene Gendzier makes two main claims about US Middle East policy in the late 1940s in her book Dying to Forget. Oil, Power, Palestine and the Foundations of U.S. Policy in the Middle East. One is that there was no contradiction between US support for Zionism and its goal of establishing a Jewish state in Arab Palestine, and US interest in the region’s oil reserves. This claim is based on heretofore unexamined contacts between Max Ball, who headed the Oil and Gas Division of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Eliahu Epstein, Washington representative of the Jewish Agency, the Jewish state in the making in Palestine. Gendzier argues that these contacts, outside official foreign policy, enabled the Jewish Agency to address US concerns about the impact of Zionism on US oil interests, and to insert its arguments into the discussion in the Truman White House. The “encounter between Max Ball and Eliahu Epstein in 1948 forms the basis of the ‘oil connection’ discussed in this book. The encounter. . . revealed that major U.S. oil executives were pragmatic in their approach to the Palestine conflict and were prepared to engage with the Jewish Agency and later with Israeli officials, albeit within existing constraints.” (xxi)
The second is that Israel’s military prowess in the 1948 war showed the Pentagon that Israel had changed the regional balance of power, and should be included in US military planning, and oriented toward the West and away from the Soviet Union. The USSR had supported partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, and Czechoslovakia in the emerging Soviet bloc had supplied Israel with arms. These “strategic” concerns about Israel’s potential role, Gendzier claims, outweighed US concerns for the effects of the war that established Israel: the destruction of Arab Palestine, the creation of a large refugee population, the antagonism of the Arab world, and potential “instability,” the hegemon’s bugbear, with consequences for US interests. The Pentagon’s judgment about Israel’s military ability has been noted by other writers, but Gendzier makes stronger claims. These “strategic reasons,” she argues, “undermined Washington’s critical position on Israeli policy toward refugee repatriation and territorial expansion. These vital factors in the conflict between Israel-Palestine and the Arab world thereby assumed a subordinate position.” (xxii)
Here, then, is the logic of U.S. oil policy, which was responsible for the increasing deference to Israeli policies whose purpose was to ensure that Israel turned toward the United States and away from the USSR. This objective, in turn, was allied to Washington’s principal goal in the Middle East—protection of its untrammeled access and control of oil. (xxii)
Observers of US politics recognize the US-Israel “special relationship,” and the “strategic asset” and “Israel Lobby” conceptions of it. The “asset” concept holds that the relationship expresses fundamental “US interests” that are independent of any Lobby influence, that the Lobby is powerful only when it promotes those interests. The Lobby proponents see a quasi-sovereign force capable of defining or undermining US interests. This book is clearly intended to enhance the “strategic asset” view.
The first chapter is entitled “The Primacy of Oil,” and “oil” is a primary, even the dominant theme of the book. For all this emphasis, Gendzier does not fully address the nexus of US oil interests, Zionism, and Arab resistance. She overlooks pre-war Arab and oil industry opposition, an “oil connection” that predates hers, and doesn’t do justice to the Trans-Arabia Pipeline (Tapline), a key postwar project and US policy instrument. She depicts a natural, inevitable synthesis of Zionism and US oil interests that was disproven by events she omits.
In 1933 Saudia Arabia awarded an oil concession to Standard Oil of California, through a subsidiary, California Arabian Standard Oil Company, Casoc. Standard of California was eventually joined by three other major US oil companies. In 1938 oil in commercial quantities was found. The Saudi monarch, Abd al Aziz ibn Saud, decided to award another concession, and Casoc again won the bidding.
The potential conflict between American support for Zionism and US oil interests arose in 1936 and later, following increased Jewish immigration to Palestine, and ruthless British suppression of the Palestinian Arab revolt against British rule. This elicited strong protest, from Arabs to US diplomats, from at least one oil industry executive, and from King Saud himself. “King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia made an eloquent appeal to President Roosevelt in a letter of November 29  criticizing the main points in the Zionist argument and pleading for justice for the Palestinian Arabs on the basis of self-determination.” Gendzier omits all of this.
World War II consolidated the position of Casoc and the US in Saudi Arabia, against potential British influence. The US extended Lend-Lease to Saudi Arabia to ease the financial crisis of the war, upgraded its diplomatic representation, and developed an air base at Dhahran near the oil fields. Casoc renamed itself Arabian American Oil Company, Aramco, and expanded the small oil refinery it had built.
Building a pipeline from the oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia to the eastern Mediterranean was discussed during the war. Postwar, the Trans-Arabian Pipeline (Tapline) became a major instrument of US policy; it would support Saudi Arabia, assist the economies of the transit countries, fuel the recovery in western Europe, enhance “stability,” diminish Soviet influence, and profit the oil companies. Tapline was delayed and almost cancelled due to political complications in the Middle East, and also, despite its strategic importance, in the US.
The direct pipeline route led through Jordan and Palestine to the oil refinery and tanker terminal at Haifa, which was precluded by emphatic opposition from King Saud. The alternative led through Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Terms were readily agreed with the Christian Maronite government in Lebanon, and with King Abdullah in Jordan, despite strong public opposition to Zionism.
In Syria, opposition was stronger still, but agreement was reached in September, 1947, after intervention by the CIA, Aramco, King Saud and US diplomats. Parliamentary ratification was suspended after the UN partition resolution in November, when a crowd of 2,000 stormed the US Embassy in Damascus, and snipers fired on Aramco survey teams. In February, 1948, the Arab League “prohibited its members from granting any new Western oil concessions ‘until the Palestine situation was clarified.’” Moreover, Arab League officials “were ‘studying nationalization precedents’ and claimed that even ‘Ibn Saud, in case of a showdown, would not oppose any oil resolutions, even suspension of American oil operations, if faced with united front of all Arab states.’”
The US steel export license needed for the pipe subjected Tapline to the opposition of the domestic oil companies. Executive departments approved licenses, but in late 1947 Congress began three months of hearings over allegations that Aramco overcharged the US Navy during the war, and that the pipeline would ruin the domestic oil industry. As violence in Palestine escalated prior to the British withdrawal in May, 1948, followed by the Arab-Israeli war, congressional critics asked why licenses for export to an unsettled region seething with anti-Americanism should be granted, when steel was urgently needed elsewhere. By mid-year, “some American officials doubted that the project would ever be completed, and others worried that the stalemate would play into the hands of the Kremlin, which was rumored to have designs on Saudi petroleum.”
Tapline finally cleared US politics, but a pipeline route was obtained in Syria only after the CIA, in March, 1949, engineered a coup. Zionism had forced the re-routing of Tapline, increased the cost, and held up completion by twenty months. Gendzier mentions the coup, but omits the US political wrangle, including American Zionism’s initial opposition to Tapline.
American Zionists were preternaturally sensitive to their potential conflict with US oil interests. In July, 1942, Emmanuel Neumann of the American Zionist Emergency Committee met with State Department officials. In November, 1943, Nahum Goldmann, of the Zionist Organization of America, met with Harold Ickes, Roosevelt’s wartime oil czar. In October, 1945, Eliahu Epstein, Washington representative of the Jewish Agency, met with Arthur G. Newmayer, public relations director of Standard of New Jersey. In 1946, Zionist officials met with James Terry Duce, vice-president of Aramco. In these meetings, the Zionist officials
voiced concern about the strengthening ties with Saudi Arabia that could push the Zionist movement outside the circle of America’s strategic interests. They stressed the importance of a strong and stable Jewish state, given the loyalty of the Jewish community in Palestine to allied interests during the war. Moreover, they denied categorically that a pro-Zionist policy would harm the status of American oil companies in the Middle East; because oil has no significance while in the depths of the earth, the oil-producing states would need American companies in order to profit from their resources even if the United States pursued a pro-Zionist policy. There were even veiled threats as Zionist representatives hinted at damage to the oil companies’ image, should they appear anti-Zionist after the Holocaust, in a decisive hour for continued Jewish existence.
As the debate over Tapline began late in the war, the renamed American Zionist Emergency Council “set up a subcommittee for oil. It prepared a series of position papers and memoranda to establish guidelines for Zionist policy.” The “campaign was designed to prevent the construction of the pipeline unless it went through the Jewish state.” At first Zionists denied a need for the pipeline, “assuming that not laying it at all was better than not laying it through the future Jewish state, and thus removing that state from the circle of American interests.” They “tried to exploit differences of opinion within the oil industry and to reinforce the opposition of companies without Middle East concessions and those not participating in the project.” They argued that tanker transport was cheaper and safer, that a pipeline was vulnerable to terrorist attacks. (In 1947, Jewish terrorists attacked the Haifa oil refinery and the pipeline from Iraq three times). As agreements were signed and work begun, they advocated a “route through areas likely to be under Jewish sovereignty in the future.” Zionist officials presented the pipeline through Palestine as a contribution to regional development, to the integration of the Jewish state into the region, and to peace. Gendzier omits this campaign, which pitted American Zionism against Tapline for a time, even as she cites the article that discusses it.
The Truman White House, against the judgment of its diplomats and military experts, supported the historic vote recommending partition in the General Assembly of the UN in November, 1947. Palestine, unsettled by the Zionist campaign against British rule, erupted into civil war. By early 1948, the US had begun to consider alternatives to partition, including UN trusteeship, and extending British administration. Oil interests were chief among US concerns, and Gendzier mentions a weaker version of the February, 1948 threat by the Arab League against American oil companies cited above.
In January, 1948 the Jewish Agency prepared a “Note on Palestine Policy,” for private circulation in Washington during Congressional hearings on US oil interests. (99-101) In February, Max Ball, head of the Oil and Gas Division of the Interior Department, met Eliahu Epstein of the Jewish Agency, through family relations. Drawing on the Note, Epstein argued that Zionism was a progressive economic and political force, and asserted the harmony of Zionist and US interests in that respect, and the dependency of the Arab oil producers on western oil companies.
Ball argued that oil development was a progressive force in the Arab world, and that it would also fuel Europe’s recovery and stave off Communism and chaos there. Partition would antagonize the Arabs and jeopardize this, hence was not in US interests. Epstein replied that “ ‘imposition of the will of the U.N. by the loyal implementation of the partition scheme would have a soothing effect on the Arabs and make them regain their right sense of proportion’ ” (105) about their weakness. Epstein cited Palestine Jewry’s support of the Allied war effort. He mentioned the oil prospects of the Negev (Naqab), the southern desert of Palestine, and Ball offered to introduce Epstein to oil company executives. Ball later advised Epstein that such meetings could happen “ ‘only when the Jewish state is established both de facto and de jure. The Oil Companies’ policies are based on practical advantages’ ” which could be pursued only “when the Jewish state becomes a reality.” (108) Ball thus implicitly endorsed partition, at least in the Jewish Agency’s account which Gendzier quotes, when his government was still debating it.
These “historic encounters” (101) of Epstein and Ball are the high point of Gendzier’s “oil connection.” “From this vantage point, the future of the Jewish state appeared more promising than expected. . . major oil companies were not categorically set against [Zionism], which was interpreted as an indication of fu- ture interest.” (111) She claims that the “Jewish Agency strategy developed in the ‘Notes’ appeared to be effective in addressing the fear of partition endangering U.S. oil interests,” when disseminated in the White House by Clark Clifford, special counsel to Truman and Zionist advocate. (111) Ball’s role in oil policy and wide contacts, Gendzier claims, made his belief that Israel had a place in the oil companies’ plans “of no small importance in the period leading up to Israel’s unilateral declaration of independence and. . . the reassessment of U.S. policy toward Israel.” (112)
Gendzier’s account of the Truman Administration debate over partition vs. trusteeship in spring, 1948 does not cite the Jewish Agency’s blandishments about oil-related development, or their assurances that the Arabs had no alternatives. They would have been quite out of place as Palestine was being destroyed, with atrocities reported, refugees fleeing, and US officials fearing the destruction of US interests with the disaster. The State Department would shortly despair of Tapline ever being built. In June, the US ambassador in Saudi Arabia reported King Saud’s warning that Saudi Arabia would conform with any Arab League actions, and that consequences could include “(a) transfer Dhahran air base to British; (b) cancellation ARAMCO concession; (c) break in diplomatic relations.” (178)
After reviewing the studies of US recognition of Israel on May 15, which all stress domestic politics, Gendzier notes the absence of “any reference to the interactions between Max Ball and Eliahu Epstein.” These contacts “seemed to open unforeseen possibilities. At least, they invited oil company executives. . . to think about pragmatic possibilities after independence.” They “may have figured in [Clifford’s] calculations.” (168-9, emphasis added) This speculation is Gendzier’s “oil connection.”
In her final chapter, “The Israeli-U.S. Oil Connection and Expanding U.S. Oil Interests,” Gendzier tries to thicken this tenuous connection with accounts of two meetings between oil executives and Israeli officials, US government discussion, Aramco’s growing Saudi interests, and Max Ball’s authorship of the petroleum legislation of Israel and of Turkey. She mentions in passing the Arab League boycott of Israel, which actually began in 1945, as a boycott of the Palestine Jewish economy.
Two Aramco partners also had operations in Palestine, utilizing the Haifa refinery, which continued in Israel. Gendzier cites Uri Bialer’s statement from his Oil and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948-1963 that “agreements with AIOC, Shell, Socony Vacuum and Standard Oil of New Jersey—made, in fact, in open defiance of the Arab boycott—did indeed open up opportunities for Israel.” After 1948 the Haifa refiners obtained crude oil mostly from Venezuela, though the British also procured from Kuwait via the Cape of Good Hope. Gendzier omits Bialer’s further history and his statement: “Within four years, from late 1954 through 1958, all British and American companies which had constituted the backbone of Israel’s oil supply system, ceased operations in the country. . . While commercial considerations certainly played a part. . . the overriding one was undoubtedly political. . . by late 1958 the Arab League had in fact accomplished one of its main objectives—to force the foreign oil companies out of Israel.”
The Arab oil producers attempted an embargo on the US, Britain and Germany during and after the June, 1967 war, but the supply-demand balance in the marketplace did not favor it. Between 1970 and 1973 oil prices doubled, and demand rose to 99% of production capacity. From the outbreak of Arab-Israeli war in October to December 1973, OPEC price increases and Arab production cuts and embargo on the US raised the oil price four-fold, causing supply dislocations, long lines and fights for gasoline, a deep recession, and discussion in Congress of nationalizing the oil industry. In 1976 Aramco and Saudi Arabia agreed on terms for nationalization. Gendzier’s augury of a natural, inevitable mixing of oil and Zion was not borne out by events.
A decade ago Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published their article “The Israel Lobby,”precursor to their 2007 book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. They argue that the Israel Lobby is much more powerful than the oil lobby, and disagree that oil had much to do with the decision to invade Iraq, as does historian Stephen Sniegoski. In the 1940s, the US international oil companies (and the foreign policy executive) were weaker politically than the domestic oil industry, which held up Tapline over steel export licenses, and were also weaker than the nascent Israel Lobby.
Gendzier claims that Israel’s “strategic value” led the US to accept Israel’s refusal to repatriate Palestinian refugees, and its extension of sovereignty to conquered territory. This is no more persuasive than the “oil connection,” for similar reasons. Gendzier deprecates or omits US efforts to secure repatriation, misrepresents Israel’s access to arms sales and alliances, and exaggerates Israel’s role in US strategy.
As Gendzier notes, US diplomats and the CIA were clear-eyed about Israel’s military superiority and aggressive proclivities, and about the atrocities and coercion that led to the expulsion of around 85% of the Palestinian Arab civilian population when hostilities finally ended, 750-800,000 souls. This was far more than the Jewish displaced persons population in Europe, the largest population displacement since the war. A March, 1949 State Department report stated:
Failure to liquidate or materially reduce the magnitude of the Arab refugee problem would have important consequences. The Arab states presently represent a highly vulnerable area for Soviet exploitation, and the presence of over 700,000 destitute, idle refugees provides the likeliest channel for such exploitation. In addition, their continued presence will further undermine the weakened economy of the Arab states, and may well provide the motivation for the overthrow of certain of the Arab Governments.
The issues of refugees and territory dominated US relations with Israel into late 1949. In mid-September, 1948, Swedish diplomat and UN mediator Folke Bernadotte proposed an armistice and settlement that accepted partition, but called for territorial exchanges, for Jerusalem to be under UN administration, and most critically, for the Palestinian refugees to be repatriated as early as practicable. Two days after releasing the plan, Bernadotte was assassinated by Jewish terrorists. When US secretary of state George Marshall endorsed Bernadotte’s plan three days after his murder, “the floodgates of domestic protest really burst.” In late October Truman told the State Department and Marshall expressly that he wanted no statements or votes at the UN on Palestine until after the election.
In late October and November, Israel conquered the Negev, in December the Galilee, and in late De- cember and January battled with Egypt, before the final cease-fire. After the election, as Lovett explained to Marshall, “ ‘the President’s position is that if Israel wishes to retain that portion of the Negev granted it under Nov 29 resolution, it will have to take rest of Nov 29 settlement, which means giving up western Galilee and Jaffa,’ ” with the proviso that changes “ ‘should be made only if fully acceptable to the State of Israel.’ ” (229) Gendzier attributes this to US “strategic interest” in Israel. Yet, while
Truman remained responsive to domestic political pressures to back Israel, after his re-election he demonstrated an unprecedented degree of impartiality. . . Truman appointed as secretary of state Dean G. Acheson, who had earned the president’s trust and confidence. . . Under Acheson, State Department officials obtained Truman’s explicit consent to their policies on Arab-Israeli issues, and he refrained from overturning their handiwork.
Or tried harder to refrain.
The UN established the Palestine Conciliation Commission in December, 1948, which led to a peace conference at Lausanne, Switzerland in May, 1949. In preparation, “Truman originally authorized the State Department to contest Israeli retention of land beyond the partition borders. . . Accordingly, Truman wrote King Abdullah of Jordan that ‘Israel is entitled to the territory allotted to her’ by partition, but ‘if Israel desires additions. . . it should offer territorial compensation.’” At Lausanne, Israel proposed to retain Jaffa and the western Galilee without giving compensation, angering the US delegate, Mark Etheridge, a personal friend of Truman. The State Department was angered by “evidence that ‘certain agents of the Israeli government’ had indirectly pressured Truman to relent,” and suggested “ ‘immediate adoption of a generally negative attitude toward Israel.’ ”
State presented Truman “with a choice between approving department policy ‘on behalf of our national interest’ or overruling it in light of ‘strong opposition in American Jewish circles.’” Truman warned Israeli prime minister Ben-Gurion that “his refusal to honor partition borders would force the U.S. to conclude ‘that a revision of its attitude toward Israel has become unavoidable.’” Initially, “the president decided ‘to stand completely firm.’” In August, Truman endorsed a plan “to remove the southern Negev from Israel, and declared that Israel ‘sh[ou]ld be left under no illusion. . . that there is any difference of view’ between the White House and the State Department.” Israel claimed that Arab aggression had invalidated the partition resolution, and that its security depended on occupying further territory. “The Foreign Ministry also intensified its indirect pressure on Truman by ‘recruiting everybody we’ve got. . . all the Baruchs, Crums, Frankfurters, Welles, young and old Roosevelts, etc., and making an all-out effort’ to change Truman’s mind.”
Israeli President Chaim Weizmann, Truman’s Zionist anti-conscience during the statehood campaign, wrote another eloquent, sentimental appeal. Eddie Jacobson, Truman’s old Army buddy, postwar business partner, and Zionist last resort, again visited the White House, at Israeli Ambassador Elath’s request, and secured a pledge that “ ‘no single foot of land will be taken from Israel in [the] Negev.’ ” “Truman’s change of heart forced Acheson to suspend pressure on Israel and adjourn the Lausanne conference.”
Gendzier’s account discusses the frustration of Etheridge and the State Department, and Zionist lob- bying, but downplays Truman’s support for State, which Zionism overwhelmed. (Chapter 12, “The PCC, Armistice, Lausanne and Refugees”) Her chronology of US policymaking is subsumed in August, 1949, at the height of tension over territory and refugees, by discussion of an alleged epiphany of Israel’s “strategic value” in the government. She claims that this, rather than the machinations of the Israel Lobby, led the US to accept Israel’s sovereignty over conquered territory, and its adamant opposition to refugee repatriation. “The importance of the changing assessments of Israel and the Middle East by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the secretary of defense cannot be overestimated. . . the JCS concluded that Israel’s military justified US interest, and such interest merited lowering the pressure on Israel to ensure that it turned away from the USSR and toward the West and the United States.” (239)
Gendzier notes Acheson’s comment on an Israeli request in March 1949 for US military training. “ ‘Giving such permission could be one way of encouraging Israel towards a western orientation.’ ” (279) As Gendzier acknowledges, the Joint Chiefs turned down the request, “so long as a risk of war between Israel and the Arab states continued to exist. The Israeli army was not in dire need of foreign technical assistance, and the United States might become overtly involved if the Arab-Israeli conflict resumed. . . US strategic interests in the Middle East would unquestionably suffer under these circumstances” because of identification with Israel. Israel’s “orientation” was less important than US standing in Arab eyes.
Gendzier notes Acheson’s insistence to Israeli foreign minister Moshe Sharett in March, 1949, that “Israel consider accepting ‘a portion, say a fourth, of the refugees eligible for repatriation’.” (259) A State Department mission called for “Israel to repatriate at least 200,000 refugees” for any “satisfactory solution of the refugee problem” at the same time. (262) State rejected an Israeli offer to repatriate 100,000, and Truman supported Acheson’s decision to withhold $49 million of a $100 million loan. Yet “Israel used [Truman aide David] Niles as a conduit to complain about Acheson’s ‘coercion and blackmail,’ and Acheson, feeling pressured by the White House, capitulated,” releasing further sums, “even though Israel remained unyielding on the refugee issue.”
From 1949-52, the State Department proposed a mixture of development projects in the Arab countries and political initiatives, revisiting the 100,000 figure. All foundered on Israeli hostility, Congressional limits on funding, Arab aversion to implicit recognition of Israel, and the refugees’ desire to return home. “By 1951, officials in Washington concluded that large-scale repatriation would prove impossible in light of Israeli resistance, thus essentially embracing the Israeli view that resettlement on a grand scale provided the only realistic solution.”
The “realistic solution” proved to be the refugee camps, whose restive populations formed the guerilla factions that were the popular base of the Palestinian national movement of the 1960s, with all their political and social consequences. The State Department had foreseen this outcome and sought to ameliorate the conditions that produced it. Acheson’s withholding of the balance of the loan, until Israel reached Truman and countermanded him, and later efforts, strongly suggest that the Israel Lobby, not a concern for Israel’s orientation, was the decisive factor.
Gendzier notes that the Pentagon opposed partition, but argues that, after the Arab-Israeli war, it recognized Israel’s strategic value in the event of war with the USSR. The Soviet Union was expected to occupy the Middle East to prevent attacks on its southern regions from there, and to deny the Suez Canal, the Gulf and the oil fields to the Allies. The US declined to commit ground forces to the region in advance, but would station bombers at Britain’s Suez Canal bases to attack the USSR. The US had no plans to defend the oil fields, but would sabotage and bomb them.
In a brief memo titled “United States Strategic Interests in Israel,” in spring, 1949, the Joint Chiefs noted Israel’s harbor at Haifa, its network of bases and airfields (British legacies), both excellent but small and limited, and its battle-tested fighting forces. Israel flanked the Suez Canal, and dominated communications northward. The Chiefs did not view Israel as a potential base because it could not support large forces, nor was there need to develop facilities “because of the more highly developed and more accessible Cairo-Suez area some two hundred miles to the West.” Those British facilities “along the Suez Canal comprised 38 army camps and 10 airfields. In 1945 it was the single largest military base in existence, anywhere across the globe.”
Britain was charged with defending the Middle East, and US confidence in Britain’s ability to secure even the Suez Canal declined steadily after 1945. This culminated in the US abandoning the Middle East en- tirely, including the Canal, to concentrate its forces outside Britain in northwest Africa. The US announced this strategy at the ABC (American-British-Canadian) planners’ conference in fall, 1949 in Washington, and implemented it in the Offtackle plan, approved by the Joint Chiefs by year-end. US war planners viewed Israel as cannon fodder, which would expend itself defending a target they doubted could be held and would abandon.
The abandonment of Egypt for northwest Africa was in turn superseded by a “northern tier” strategy centered on Turkey, scene of early Cold War skirmishes. In 1947 the Truman Doctrine proclaimed the defense of Greece and Turkey. The US genuinely viewed Turkey as a “strategic asset,” and US policy was predictable. By the end of 1950 US military aid to Turkey totaled $271 million, with $154 million allocated in fiscal year 1951. By 1950, the US had trained Turkish troops in eight military schools, supplied the Turkish army with 50,000 tons of war materiel, and provided 11 surface vessels and four submarines to the Turkish navy. The Turkish air force received 314 World War II aircraft, with 25 jet fighters to be delivered in 1951, while numerous airfields were modernized or built outright. Turkey had remained neutral in World War II, and resisted being turned into an offensive base against the USSR without concrete assurances of western support. The US recognized this, and Turkey became an associate member of Nato in 1950, and a full member in 1951.
This was a total contrast with Israel. Gendzier cites the Pentagon’s statements about Israel as momentous portents, but concedes that the US refused Israel’s repeated requests for military ties. As noted, Gendzier acknowledged that the Joint Chiefs turned down the March, 1949, request for training. Gendzier also acknowledges that the Pentagon rejected a 1950 Israeli request for advanced weaponry, after Britain sold arms to Egypt. The Pentagon still found that “Israel had ‘the preponderance of striking power’ in the region and that additional arms acquisitions ‘would increase Israel’s offensive capabilities and give incentive to offensive planning.’”
Gendzier omits the denouement of this episode. Sharett decided to mount a major campaign in the US, and Truman yielded to crushing pressure and instructed the State Department “to formulate an arms supply policy that would satisfy the ‘many active sympathizers with Israel in this country.’” The “resourceful State Department” crafted the Tripartite Declaration with Britain and France, conditioning arms sales to Middle East states on a pledge of non-aggression, for purposes of “ ‘internal security and their legitimate self-defense’ ” and “ ‘defense of the region as a whole.’ ” Arab and Israeli reaction was guardedly positive, and the effect was to limit overall arms sales to the region.
Nor does Gendzier discuss military alliances. The Korean War in 1950 raised US concern about the Middle East, and to defend “against the Soviets and to assuage Arab anger about Israel, U.S. planners resolved to erect a security pact on Arab foundations.” The Middle East Command would be centered on Egypt, but exclude Israel “in light of Israeli neutralism and Arab-Israeli dynamics.” Israel in any event declined to join the pact, fearing obligations and compromises, and preferring direct relations with the US. Egypt rejected the MEC, abrogated its defense treaty with Britain, which ceded the bases in the Suez Canal Zone, and demanded that British forces leave Egypt. A successor proposal, the looser Middle East Defense Organization, foundered for the same reasons.
At the end of Chapter 13, “The View from the Pentagon and the National Security Council,” having strongly implied otherwise, Gendzier states that the “reassessment of Israel in 1949 cannot be interpreted as evidence that the JCS envisioned a ‘special relationship’ with Israel at this date.” (292)
What it signified was recognition of the potential value, in terms of U.S. strategy, of a state whose origins had originally aroused opposition due to the fear that U.S. support would imperil access to oil. Its reconsideration was in the context of U.S. calculations with respect to the overall assessment of “U.S. Strategic Position in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East,” in which the exclusion of communist penetration into Greece, Turkey and Iran was paramount. (292)
At the end of the final Chapter 14, “The Israeli-U.S. Oil Connection and Expanding U.S. Oil Interests,” Gendzier claims that “after independence, Israel emerged as an asset,” which “led U.S. officials to reduce their pressure on Israel” over refugee repatriation, territorial exchange and Jerusalem. “The decision to defer to Israel on these core issues signified Washington’s subordination of the Palestine Question, and its legitimation of Israel’s use of force in its policy toward the Palestinians to considerations of US interest.” (301)
The first set of claims is greatly exaggerated, the second is unproven at best. Israel’s “potential value” in US strategy was negligible. The US declined to sell Israel arms or include it in regional alliances. It abandoned the only theater in which Israel would be useful, before settling on its northern tier strategy. The US was concerned about the Cold War alignment of the entire region, and certainly not more for Israel than for the Arab states. The authoritative “Report by the National Security Council on United States Policy Toward Israel and the Arab States” in October, 1949, is even-handed, not a brief for Israel, and referred to a settled policy of refugee repatriation, territorial exchange and the internationalization of Jerusalem. The US was concerned about the destruction of Palestine for its own strategic reasons, because it feared Arab resentment of Israel as an opening for Soviet influence, and because of the radicalizing potential of the refugee population. The US continued to seek both refugee repatriation and territorial exchange, but was overwhelmed by the Israel Lobby.
Gendzier is trying to make the Israel Lobby disappear, to insert the “strategic asset” argument in the 1940s, in the face of a large body of writing depicting the Lobby’s paramount influence in this period. The overriding lesson of the 1940s is not the “primacy of oil,” but the “primacy of Zion.” “The Zionist lobby came into its own during the Truman presidency.” The Israel Lobby was powerful enough to overwhelm the US diplomatic and military establishments, and major business interests, and their settled policy, and to force them to adapt to its imperatives, beginning, but certainly not ending, with the destruction of Palestine.
No reader with an interest in the period will be persuaded about Gendzier’s “foundations” of Middle East policy, but her account does show that the US made practical adjustments after Israel’s establishment. The US abandoned the idea of Palestinian sovereignty embodied in the partition resolution, and acceded to Jordanian control of the remainder of Palestine, which disappeared as a political subject, replaced by discussion of refugees and ameliorative economic development. Some US officials advocated population transfer and border revisions to make Israel more compact and homogeneous. This was practical accommodation to Zionist realities, not a “strategic” adoption of Israel. US policymakers advanced plans for a general settlement and joint Arab-Israeli projects, in pursuit of “stability,” against Zionism’s destabilization. In October, 1947 the CIA predicted that “ ‘no Zionists in Palestine will be satisfied with the territorial arrangements of the partition settlement. Even the more conservative Zionists will hope to obtain. . . eventually all of Palestine.’ ” (70)
Too much of the book is unoriginal, or too long and distant from Gendzier’s main claims. The book begins with four pages establishing that senior US government officials were drawn from business elites. A discussion of US immigration and refugee policy misnames Roosevelt confidante Morris L. Ernst as “Ernest Morris.” (37) Curiously, for a work with high ambitions, by a professor emerita at Boston University, from a leading academic press, there is no bibliography.
The reader will learn from this book, if not the expected lessons. It reveals perhaps most of all the level of discussion in the United States, ten years after Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt tried to mainstream the issue of the Israel Lobby.
A PDF with notes of this article is at https://questionofpalestine.net/2016/04/21/dying-to-forget-the-israel-lobby/
President Obama made an historic visit to Hiroshima today—the first sitting US president to do so since the US atomic bombing of that city on August 6, 1945, followed three days later by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.
As he did in Prague, in 2009, President Obama gave a very moving and meaningful speech about the impact of nuclear weapons, reflecting upon the experience of the victims of nuclear warfare—the Hibakusha.
“Their souls speak to us,” he said. “They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.”
In reiterating his call for a world without nuclear weapons, President Obama acknowledged that the suffering of the Hibakusha gives us “a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.” The very existence of nuclear weapons, he said, “fuels our moral imagination.”
These thoughts and words, though profound, have not been matched by US actions to eliminate nuclear weapons. To the contrary, the Obama administration is implementing a $1 trillion, 30-year program to build new and more usable nuclear weapons, along with more accurate delivery systems and the infrastructure to keep producing them well into the 21st century. This administration has done less to reduce the number of US nuclear weapons than any of its recent predecessors. Not only has the US failed to reduce its own reliance on nuclear weapons, it has induced other countries, including Japan, to rely upon US nuclear weapons for their own security. Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow has rightly called this extended nuclear deterrence arrangement with Japan an insult to the Hibakusha.
Moreover, while President Obama payed homage to the Hibakusha and to the victims of all wars, declaring that we must “reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race,” the United States has boycotted a series of international conferences and the meetings of a UN working group with a mandate to recommend ways of doing things differently to achieve a world without nuclear weapons and to ensure that no other city ever suffers the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
All of the other nuclear-armed states—Russia, China, France, the UK, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea—have paid similar lip service to the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free world, and all are engaged in their own large and expensive nuclear rearmament programs. All of them have boycotted the UN working group that is laying the groundwork for a new legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons based on their humanitarian impact. All of the nuclear-armed states, including the US, are turning their backs on the meaning of Hiroshima and the appeal of the Hibakusha.
When the US and the other nuclear-armed states stop doing everything they can to block a treaty banning nuclear weapons, and abandon plans to rebuild and perpetuate their nuclear arsenals, President Obama’s call for a world free of nuclear weapons will have meaning. Until then it is empty rhetoric.
The Iraqi government, formed in 2003 after Saddam Hussein’s regime had been overthrown by the US invasion, was fully controlled by “inspectors” from the United States and its allies, a former Iraqi Defense Minister, Hazem Shaalan, told RT.
“I was not independent in my ministry,” Shaalan said. “Inside the ministry, there were American inspectors in each department. There were also the British and Australians. There was not a single one department in the ministry, where there would be no inspectors.”
The former defense minister also revealed that the first post-Saddam Iraqi government was not elected but instead was fully appointed by Washington.
Interim Prime Minister of Iraq Ayad Allawi, who held office from 2003 to 2005, was “among the first to be appointed [by the US]. We were all appointed by Americans, by [Lewis Paul ] Bremer [top civilian administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq]. The first [post-Saddam] Iraqi government was appointed directly by Bremer,” Shaalan said adding that “no elections were held.”
The former minister also emphasized that all decisions taken by the prime minister at the time required approval by US authorities. At the same time, this government was protected by the US authorities, he added.
“Those, who were working with Americans, were relieved from responsibility for any faults in their work,” Shaalan said during the interview.
According to Shaalan, the US did not inform the Iraqi government of the Iraqi citizens who had been taken to Iraq’s prisons and tortured by US forces. “We were not told about this. We were not even allowed to come to the prisons without special permission from the US authorities,” he said.
The former Iraqi defense minister also stressed that the US presence in Iraq brought no stability and no security as well as no prosperity and well-being to the country.
Shaalan said at first Iraqis were excited by the idea of Americans helping them build democracy.
“However, we were shocked, when total destruction began – destruction of infrastructure, of buildings, etc. When we asked Americans, why they do that, we were told that, after destruction, there will be rebuilding. “We will rebuild everything and it will be better than before,” they said. Those were the promises. They have never been fulfilled,” the former defense minister told RT.
The US and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003 claiming that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, although no such weapon have since been found. The forces which toppled Hussein’s regime provoked a prolonged conflict in Iraq involving sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis as well as a lengthy insurgency against the US and its coalition forces.
The US forces officially withdrew from Iraq in 2011, although the US still had a significant military contingent of more than 20,000 personnel in the country, including the US Marine Embassy Guards and between 4,000 and 5,000 private military contractors.
The US became re-involved in 2014as the head of the international coalition fighting Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group which gained a foothold in the northern regions of the country.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair can never be forgiven for taking the UK into the Iraq war, a majority of Brits said in an opinion poll.
Pollster YouGov carried out the survey ahead of the publication of the long-delayed Chilcot Inquiry report, which examines the legality of Britain’s 2003 Iraq invasion.
It found only eight percent believe Blair did nothing wrong, while 53 percent said they could never forgive him.
Some 15 percent of respondents said it was time to forgive Blair for his misjudgment.
Perhaps the most damning finding was that just 25 percent of Labour Party supporters are in favor of forgiving their former leader.
Blair was once a hero of the party, having entered Downing Street in a landslide election in 1997 and winning three consecutive general elections.
However, today he is remembered most for his decision to join the United States in invading Iraq in 2003.
A YouGov survey last year found just 26 percent of Brits believe it was right to take military action against Iraq in 2003.
The former Labour PM recently admitted he “profoundly” underestimated the complexity of Middle Eastern politics and the consequences that would ensue after the Iraq invasion.
This admission comes before the publication of the Chilcot report, which is said to be “absolutely brutal” in its verdict on the failings of the occupation.
Blair is already well aware of the criticisms in the report because of Britain’s Maxwellisation process, by which the subjects of an inquiry are allowed to respond to allegations before its conclusions are published.
Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped the former PM from intervening in Britain’s current defense policy. Earlier this week, Blair said Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) will not be defeated unless ground forces fight a “proper” war against them.
The ability of Israel to continue its illegal settlement on Palestinian land is wholly dependent on profits from its bilateral trade with the EU which is the single most important factor that fuels the illegal occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights by the Right-wing Likud government.
Without the extraordinary agreement that allows a non-European state (in the Middle East) to freely exploit the European Single Market, the policy of expropriating Palestinian land would not be possible and the Israeli government would be forced to sue for peace.
It has been long established that the Israel lobby exerts considerable influence over the European Parliament’s decisions to not only offer Israel free access to the single market but also to make research grants of billions of euros to the Israeli defence industries that currently export arms to regimes worldwide.
There are many factors that will influence Britain’s decision to leave the EU but the ability to break away from the hold of the Israel lobby on EU trade is of prime importance to both the safety of Europe and to world peace.
The United Kingdom should no longer be associated with a European Union that has already seen the delivery by Germany of a fleet of high-powered, Dolphin 2-class AIP submarines to the Israeli navy that were designed for and subsequently retrofitted with, undeclared cruise missiles (SLCMs) with a minimum range of 1500km and carrying 200kg nuclear warheads.
This astonishing fact has provided Israel with an offshore nuclear second strike capability that has now made it the 3rd most powerful nuclear-armed entity in the world after the US and Russia. It is not known what Chancellor Merkel was thinking when she made Germany itself, and the entire European community with its 750 million inhabitants, vulnerable to an offshore nuclear threat from the Mediterranean or what pressures were applied to the German government that enabled this extraordinary act of apparent negligence that has irrevocably changed the balance of military power in the region.
BREXIT cannot rectify the failure of the EU to have ensured the safety of the 500m citizens in its 28 member states but it is beyond time that Britain now extricates itself from such a dangerously infiltrated, political union.
Britain needs to make urgent plans for the future defence and security of its own people, which is the primary duty of any government and one that supersedes even that of trade and jobs, for without security there is no future.
25 May 2016 not only marks the 16th anniversary of the liberation of South Lebanon from 22 years of Israeli occupation and oppression by the Lebanese Resistance, but also the liberation of Lebanese political prisoners from the infamous Khiam prison. On 23 May 2000, 144 Lebanese prisoners were liberated from Khiam, 2 days before the complete withdrawal of the occupation forces.
3,000 Lebanese stormed Khiam, the site of infamous torture of Lebanese resisters, breaking the locks with axes and crowbars. “Set up by the Israelis in 1985 on a hill in the village of Khiam in the South Lebanon Governorate, the Khiam prison was considered to be one of the most ruthless detention and interrogation centers in the Middle East. While the Israelis governed the prison, which included 67 cells and more than 20 solitary confinement cells, they used the South Lebanon Army (SLA), an Israeli proxy militia made up of Lebanese nationals, to execute their orders,” wrote Rana Harbi in Al-Akhbar.
Over 5,000 Lebanese, including 500 women, were imprisoned in Khiam prison over the years. Lebanese who participated in all forms of resistance to the occupation and its proxy forces were tortured brutally inside the notorious prison. The prison after its liberation became a museum and symbol of the torture of the occupiers and the victory of the Lebanese people and their resistance, of their freedom obtained through struggle and years of resistance.
In 2006, when Israel attacked Lebanon, it bombed the Khiam site, leaving a pile of rubble at the site of the prison, as if attempting to destroy the memory of its torture, brutality – and its defeat – preserved by the Lebanese people. However, the memory and commitment to resistance of the former prisoners – many of whom continue to struggle and play leading roles in Lebanese movements and parties, including Hezbollah and the Lebanese Communist Party – and of the people, cannot be erased by the bombing of the prison site, just as they could not be erased by torture, solitary confinement, and years of imprisonment.
The liberation of Khiam prison was not merely symbolic; it was central to the liberation of South Lebanon, just as the liberation of Palestinian prisoners is central to the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. The Lebanese people and Resistance continue to struggle against Israeli occupation of the Shebaa Farms; and the Palestinian people and their Resistance continue to struggle for the liberation of Palestine – its land, its people and its prisoners after over 68 years of occupation. The victory in South Lebanon and the liberation of Khiam remains an anniversary of liberation and a promise for future victories over torture, oppression and occupation.
The following testimonies of former prisoners held in Khiam prison were collected and published in Al-Akhbar by Rana Harbi in 2014:
Degol Abou Tass
In 1976, at the age of 16, I was arrested in a village in occupied Palestine for the first time. I told the Israelis that I trespassed by mistake. They knew I was lying but released me anyway. My parents packed my bags and forced me to leave the country. I found out later that I was the first Lebanese citizen to get arrested by the Israeli forces.
I came back to Rmeish [a village on the borders in South Lebanon] in the 1980s after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The civil war was still raging in Beirut but in the south different resistance movements, such as the Lebanese Communist Party, the Amal Movement, Syrian Social Nationalist Party and many other factions, united against the Israelis. A few months after my arrival, the SLA knocked on my parents door. I had to leave the country, again.
I was miserable. I couldn’t stay away for long. In the early 1990s I came back to Rmeish. All the armed groups were long gone. Hezbollah dominated the resistance scene. I tried to reconnect with old militia leaders but in vain.
One day, an old childhood friend pulled into my driveway. “Are you willing to fight with us?” he asked. I looked uncertain. “Us … Hezbollah,” he added. I climbed into his car and we drove away. In 1998, one of my neighbors ratted me out.
“A Christian with Hezbollah? Now that’s something,” the Israeli officer interrogating me said. “How much are they paying you? We will pay double, no triple. What is your price? We can work something out,” he continued. I remained silent. “Okay then Jesus, welcome to Khiam prison.”
In Khiam prison we died a hundred times every day. Torture included electric shocks, being tied naked to a whipping pole for hours under the burning sun in the summer and snow in the winter, and getting whipped and beaten continuously with metal rods, wires and nightsticks.
We were caged and treated like animals. Believe me, it wasn’t so much about the pain, but the humiliation.
On the morning of May 23, 2000, the guards were talking and walking outside, as usual. Suddenly, complete silence. You could hear a pin drop. We heard the daily UN airplane fly by so we knew it was 9:30 am. “Where did they go?” one prisoner asked. We had no idea.
“They are moving us to occupied Palestine,” yelled a prisoner in a cell right next to ours. I put my feet on the shoulders of two of my cellmates so that I can reach the small window right under the ceiling. “All of us?” I asked. “They will execute half and take half … this is what we heard,” replied another prisoner. Before I could even reply I heard a noise coming from a distance. I couldn’t see anything. The voices grew louder and louder.
“Looks like our parents are clashing with the SLA guards as usual,” one prisoner said. “I bet my mother is still trying to bring me food,” another exclaimed. And then we heard gunshots. People were screaming. More gunshots.
“They are shooting our parents!” said one frightened detainee. “No, the mass execution began. They will execute half of us remember!” replied another. Panic attacks. Anxiety. Fear.
I put my ear against the door. I heard ululations. I heard prayers. I heard women. I heard children. Suddenly, the door opening through which food was usually served broke wide open. “You are liberated, you are liberated!” I fell on my knees. I thought I was hallucinating. I put my fist out. Two men grabbed my fist. “Allah akbar, Allah akbar (God is the greatest) … you are liberated!” My cellmates were all kneeling on the floor in disbelief. The locks were getting smashed from the outside. I cried aloud and the door broke wide open. I don’t really remember what happened next.
I was the first prisoner to get caught on camera. My parents watched the liberation of Khiam on TV because Rmeish was still under occupation at the time. They didn’t recognize me though. My hair and beard were too long and well, I was screaming “Allah akbar!”
Fourteen years later, I’m living with my wife and children in Rmeish, and every morning I drink my coffee while looking over occupied Palestine.
In November 1990 I was picking up photos from a store in Marjeyoun, a city in south Lebanon, when I got arrested. I was 19 at the time.
They put a tight black cover over my head and made me strip naked. Suspended from my bound wrists from a metal pole, hot and cold water was thrown on me consecutively … hot cold hot cold until I was completely soaked. Then they attached electrodes to my chest and other particularly sensitive areas of my body and electrocuted me, repeatedly.
In the 70 day interrogation period, I was tortured three times per day. I used to lose consciousness and wake up to find myself stumbling blindly in a pitch-black, 1m by 80cm by 80cm solitary confinement room.
We were tied to window grills naked for days in painful positions, freezing water thrown at us in the cold winter nights. We were whipped, beaten, kicked in the head and the jaw, burned, electrocuted, had ear-shattering whistling in our ears, and deprived of food and sleep … it was hard, very hard.
I endured the pain. With time, I became numb. I survived it all without saying a word. I was winning, I thought.
One morning, they dragged me into the interrogation room. “You didn’t tell me your sister was this beautiful,” one of the SLA officers said. My whole world came crashing down. “Wait until you see his mother,” said another. Handcuffed, I threw myself on him from across the table. It costed me 14 hours in the “chicken cage,” a 90-cubic-centimeter enclosure used for extra-severe punishment.
The SLA used to bring in the wives, sisters and daughters of the prisoners and treat them in a vulgar manner like taking off their head scarves, groping them and threatening to rape them. For me, the mere thought was intolerable. “Your sister will pay you a visit tomorrow. You miss her don’t you?”
“I’m a Hezbollah fighter,” I confessed.
Up to 12 prisoners were crammed in a tiny room. We were buried alive. The cells were like coffins. Light and air hardly penetrated through the small, barred windows located near the ceiling. We could barely breathe. We used to relieve ourselves in a black bucket placed in the corner. The heavy odor of human sweat and wastes was intolerable. We showered every three or four weeks. Once a month, we were allowed into the “sun or light room” for 20 minutes only.
One night in 1991 I woke up to the deafening screams of a detainee being tortured in the yard. The louder he screamed, the harder he got whipped. His cries were unbearable, beyond anything I had ever heard before. “You are killing him, you animals,” one of my fellow cellmates shouted.
We started banging on the door of the cell, kicking it with our feet, yelling and asking them to stop. Other prisoners in other cells joined us, but the lashes kept falling and the cries continued. And then … silence. Youssef Ali Saad, father of eight, died under torture on that cold January night. One month later, Asaad Nemr Bazzi died because of medical neglect.
Do you know what the worst part was? Fellow Lebanese citizens did this to us. I almost died on the hands of a man named Hussein Faaour, my neighbor in Khiam. Abu Berhan, another torturer I remember was from Aitaroun. The SLA members were all Lebanese, mostly from the south. Family members, neighbors, childhood friends, classmates, teachers … Lebanese who decided to sell their land and people for cash.
Lebanese who are now living among us like nothing happened, as if they did nothing! It breaks my heart that our former tormentors have escaped punishment so easily.
Fourteen years later, I’m still waiting for justice.
In 1988, I was in Beirut purchasing medicine for my pharmacy in al-Taybeh (a village in South Lebanon) when the SLA forces, aware of my role in transferring arms to Hezbollah fighters, first came looking for me. They stormed into our house again a week later but my mother told them I was in Bint Jbeil. It was the truth but they didn’t believe her.
I remember opening the front gate that afternoon and seeing my mother waiting, weeping and trembling on the doorstep. “They took away your sister and your sister-in-law along with Hadi (her five-month-old baby.) My daughter, my grandson!” she cried. I put on my clothes and waited for the SLA on the front porch. My sister was 20-years-old at the time and I was 26. My mother begged me to run away, but I didn’t.
My mother collapsed on the ground next to the SLA vehicle. I sat in the backseat and they took me away.
Blindfolded I was shoved into the interrogation room. Boiling water was thrown on my face, and my fingers and ears were electrocuted. I didn’t say a word. This went on for a month.
“I heard Hadi is sick,” one of the Israeli officers told me one morning. He wasn’t lying. My sister in law got infected and breastfeeding her child was not an option anymore. Psychologically, I suffered greatly. I wished they would just beat me up instead. I struggled, but I remained silent. Two months later Hadi and his mother, along with my sister, got released. They were of no use to the Israelis anymore.
Women detainees, like men, were severely tortured. You see, gender equality is not always a good thing [she laughs]. Let me tell you how the torture stopped.
After spending 15 days in solitary confinement, I found out upon my return to the cell I shared with six other women that one of my fellow prisoners had an extremely disgusting skin rash. I examined her and as a pharmacist I knew that her rash was contagious. As planned, I got infected. Soon, my skin started changing and I looked like an acid attack victim.
Clearly disgusted by my deteriorating skin, the SLA guard dragged me by my hair into yet another torture session. The torturer, a woman, was waiting for me. With my hair still trapped between the guards fingers, he forced me down to my knees. Before the torturer’s fist reached my jaw, I told her that my skin condition was contagious. The guard instantly let go of my hair and they both took a step back. I tried to keep a straight face but I couldn’t hide my smile. Nobody laid a hand on me after that day.
Fourteen years later, I made peace with the past. My three years in Khiam were tough, but now I feel blessed. I really do.
President Obama heads to Japan this week for an historic visit to Hiroshima, site of the world’s first use of a nuclear weapon, and one of the United States’ most enduring shameful acts. The corporate media has hailed the visit as an important step in strengthening bilateral relations between the US and Japan. Indeed, it certainly is that as the US seeks to reassert its hegemony in an Asia-Pacific region increasingly being seen as the sphere of influence of China.
However, Obama’s arrival in Japan also highlights the deeply hypocritical and cynical attitudes of US policymakers, and President Obama himself, when it comes to the relevant issues. He is not expected to formally apologize for the needless slaughter of more than 200,000 Japanese citizens (mostly civilians), nor is he going to address the lingering policy-related effects of the war such as the highly unpopular US military occupation of Okinawa. In fact, it seems Obama is unlikely to touch on anything of substance. But there are indeed numerous subjects which merit close scrutiny.
First and foremost, one must consider the fact that for 70 years the United States has maintained a permanent military presence in Japan, one which is deeply reviled by the majority of the people of Japan, especially the citizens of Okinawa who regularly and continuously protest the US occupation. And while Obama and his counterpart, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will discuss the continued friendship and partnership between the two countries, the reality is that it remains a master-client relationship. There will likely be much discussion of past, present, and future, without any admission of guilt either on the side of the US for its horrific war crimes nor by Japan for its unrestrained aggression against China, Korea, and the rest of the Asia-Pacific. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “So it goes.”
Interestingly, the question of nuclear weapons will likely also not be addressed in a substantive way. There may indeed be some discussion of the subject in general terms, but it will be veiled in the typically flowery, but utterly vacuous, Obama rhetoric. Given the opportunity, an intrepid reporter might venture to ask the President why, despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples [and] vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons,” he has presided over an administration that will spend more than $1 trillion upgrading, modernizing, and expanding the US nuclear arsenal.
Perhaps even more uncomfortable might be a question about why the allegedly anti-nuclear president who waxed poetic about disarmament as a student at Columbia University has spent two terms in office providing tens of billions in aid to nuclear-armed Israel, raising the amount of US aid to Tel Aviv to historic levels. In 2014, the Obama administration also enthusiastically signed a new nuclear deal with the UK which, according to Obama himself, “intends to continue to maintain viable nuclear forces into the foreseeable future… [America needed to aid Britain] in maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent.” So much for disarmament.
And while Obama and his coterie of spin doctors shape his anti-nuclear legacy with talk of a nuclear deal with Iran – a country that has no nuclear weapons – the cynicism is impossible to ignore. Obama has in fact done everything to promote nuclear proliferation including the absolutely insane new US missile “defense” system in Eastern Europe which, almost by definition, forces Russia to upgrade and expand its own arsenal, including its nuclear stockpile (still the largest in the world) as a countermeasure.
And then there’s the irradiated elephant in the room: Fukushima. The ongoing cover-up of what’s really happening in Fukushima lurks in the background of all discussion about nuclear issues and Japan. No one should hold their breath for even a whisper about this still unfolding environmental catastrophe which the Japanese government has gone to great lengths to dump down the memory hole.
Rather than formally apologizing to the Japanese people for the grave crimes of the US Government, Obama will instead frame his position as “looking forward, not backward,” a hollow platitude that calls to mind the utterly reprehensible decision by Obama not to investigate or prosecute the Bush administration criminals involved in torture. Rather than a heartfelt expression of regret, Obama offers the Trans-Pacific Partnership and an escalation of tensions with China. Rather than working for peace as one might expect of a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Obama instead will continue to champion his “pivot to Asia” strategy which has yielded little in terms of progress but much in terms of US military presence.
President Obama’s visit to Japan, like his allegedly great successes in Iran and Cuba, will change nothing. Obama will say a few words, then leave Japan. He’ll soon leave office with a still more dangerous world than when he entered: more nukes, more wars, more destruction. And this from our Peace Prize President.
Eric Draitser can be reached at email@example.com.