The controversy over Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election shows no sign of letting up. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators recently introduced legislation that would impose sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its acts of “cyber intrusions.”
At a press event in Washington on Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, called Election Day 2016 “a day that will live in cyber infamy.” Previously, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called the Russian hacks of the Democratic National Committee “an act of war,” while Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, has claimed that there is near unanimity among senators regarding Russia’s culpability.
Despite all this, the question of who exactly is responsible for the providing WikiLeaks with the emails of high Democratic Party officials does not lend itself to easy answers. And yet, for months, despite the lack of publicly disclosed evidence, the media, like these senators, have been as one: Vladimir Putin’s Russia is responsible.
Interestingly, the same neoconservative/center-left alliance which endorsed George W. Bush’s case for war with Iraq is pretty much the same neoconservative/center-left alliance that is now, all these years later, braying for confrontation with Russia. It’s largely the same cast of characters reading from the Iraq-war era playbook.
It’s worth recalling Tony Judt’s observation in September 2006 that “those centrist voices that bayed most insistently for blood in the prelude to the Iraq war … are today the most confident when asserting their monopoly of insight into world affairs.”
While that was true then, it is perhaps even more so the case today.
The prevailing sentiment of the media establishment during the months prior to the disastrous March 2003 invasion of Iraq was that of certainty: George Tenet’s now infamous assurance to President Bush, that the case against Iraq was a “slam drunk,” was essentially what major newspapers and television news outlets were telling the American people at the time. Iraq posed a threat to “the homeland,” therefore Saddam “must go.”
The Bush administration, in a move equal parts cynical and clever, engaged in what we would today call a “disinformation” campaign against its own citizens by planting false stories abroad, safe in the knowledge that these stories would “bleed over” and be picked up by the American press.
WMD ‘Fake News’
The administration was able to launder what were essentially “fake news” stories, such as the aluminum tubes fabrication, by leaking to Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller of The New York Times. In September 2002, without an ounce of skepticism, Gordon and Miller regurgitated the claims of unnamed U.S. intelligence officials that Iraq “has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes … intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.” Gordon and Miller faithfully relayed “the intelligence agencies’ unanimous view that the type of tubes that Iraq has been seeking are used to make centrifuges.”
By 2002, no one had any right to be surprised by what Bush and Cheney were up to; since at least 1898 (when the U.S. declared war on Spain under the pretense of the fabricated Hearst battle cry “Remember the Maine!”) American governments have repeatedly lied in order to promote their agenda abroad. And in 2002-3, the media walked in lock step with yet another administration in pushing for an unnecessary and costly war.
Like The New York Times, The Washington Post also relentlessly pushed the administration’s case for war with Iraq. According to the journalist Greg Mitchell, “By the Post’s own admission, in the months before the war, it ran more than 140 stories on its front page promoting the war.” All this, while its editorial page assured readers that the evidence Colin Powell presented to the United Nations on Iraq’s WMD program was “irrefutable.” According to the Post, it would be “hard to imagine” how anyone could doubt the administration’s case.
But the Post was hardly alone in its enthusiasm for Bush’s war. Among the most prominent proponents of the Iraq war was The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who, a full year prior to the invasion, set out to link Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Writing for The New Yorker in March 2002, Goldberg retailed former CIA Director James Woolsey’s opinion that “It would be a real shame if the C.I.A.’s substantial institutional hostility to Iraqi democratic resistance groups was keeping it from learning about Saddam’s ties to Al Qaeda in northern Iraq.”
Indeed, according to Goldberg, “The possibility that Saddam could supply weapons of mass destruction to anti-American terror groups is a powerful argument among advocates of regime change,” while Saddam’s “record of support for terrorist organizations, and the cruelty of his regime make him a threat that reaches far beyond the citizens of Iraq.”
Writing in Slate in October 2002, Goldberg was of the opinion that “In five years . . . I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.”
Likewise, The New Republic’s Andrew Sullivan was certain that “we would find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I have no doubt about that.” Slate’s Jacob Weisberg supported the invasion because he thought Saddam Hussein had WMD and he “thought there was a strong chance he’d use them against the United States.”
Even after it was becoming clear that the war was a debacle, the neoconservative pundit Charles Krauthammer declared that the inability to find WMDs was “troubling” but “only because it means that the weapons remain unaccounted for and might be in the wrong hands. The idea that our inability to thus far find the weapons proves that the threat was phony and hyped is simply false.”
Opponents of the war were regularly accused of unpatriotic disloyalty. Writing in National Review, the neoconservative writer David Frum accused anti-intervention conservatives of going “far, far beyond the advocacy of alternative strategies.” According to Frum, “They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism. They publicize wild conspiracy theories. And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation’s enemies.”
Similarly, The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait castigated anti-war liberals for turning against Bush. “Have Bush haters lost their minds?” asked Chait. “Certainly some have. Antipathy to Bush has, for example, led many liberals not only to believe the costs of the Iraq war outweigh the benefits but to refuse to acknowledge any benefits at all.”
Yet of course we now know, thanks, in part, to a new book by former CIA analyst John Nixon, that everything the U.S. government thought it knew about Saddam Hussein was indeed wrong. Nixon, the CIA analyst who interrogated Hussein after his capture in December 2003, asks “Was Saddam worth removing from power?” “The answer,” says Nixon, “must be no. Saddam was busy writing novels in 2003. He was no longer running the government.”
It turns out that the skeptics were correct after all. And so the principal lesson the promoters of Bush and Cheney’s war of choice should have learned is that blind certainty is the enemy of fair inquiry and nuance. The hubris that many in the mainstream media displayed in marginalizing liberal and conservative anti-war voices was to come back to haunt them. But not, alas, for too long.
A Dangerous Replay?
Today something eerily similar to the pre-war debate over Iraq is taking place regarding the allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. Assurances from the intelligence community and from anonymous Obama administration “senior officials” about the existence of evidence is being treated as, well, actual evidence.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told CNN that he is “100% certain” of the role that Russia played in U.S. election. The administration’s expressions of certainty are then uncritically echoed by the mainstream media. Skeptics are likewise written off, slandered as “Kremlin cheerleaders” or worse.
Unsurprisingly, The Washington Post is reviving its Bush-era role as principal publicist for the government’s case. Yet in its haste to do the government’s bidding, the Post has published two widely debunked stories relating to Russia (one on the scourge of Russian inspired “fake news”, the other on a non-existent Russian hack of a Vermont electric utility) onto which the paper has had to append “editor’s notes” to correct the original stories.
Yet, those misguided stories have not deterred the Post’s opinion page from being equally aggressive in its depiction of Russian malfeasance. In late December, the Post published an op-ed by Rep. Adam Schiff and former Rep. Jane Harmon claiming “Russia’s theft and strategic leaking of emails and documents from the Democratic Party and other officials present a challenge to the U.S. political system unlike anything we’ve experienced.”
On Dec. 30, the Post editorial board chastised President-elect Trump for seeming to dismiss “a brazen and unprecedented attempt by a hostile power to covertly sway the outcome of a U.S. presidential election.” The Post described Russia’s actions as a “cyber-Pearl Harbor.”
On Jan. 1, the neoconservative columnist Josh Rogin told readers that the recent announcement of sanctions against Russia “brought home a shocking realization that Russia is using hybrid warfare in an aggressive attempt to disrupt and undermine our democracy.”
Meanwhile, many of the same voices who were among the loudest cheerleaders for the war in Iraq have also been reprising their Bush-era roles in vouching for the solidity of the government’s case.
Jonathan Chait, now a columnist for New York magazine, is clearly convinced by what the government has thus far provided. “That Russia wanted Trump to win has been obvious for months,” writes Chait.
“Of course it all came from the Russians, I’m sure it’s all there in the intel,” Charles Krauthammer told Fox News on Jan. 2. Krauthammer is certain.
And Andrew Sullivan is certain as to the motive. “Trump and Putin’s bromance,” Sullivan told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on Jan. 2, “has one goal this year: to destroy the European Union and to undermine democracy in Western Europe.”
David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, believes Trump “owes his office in considerable part to illegal clandestine activities in his favor conducted by a hostile, foreign spy service.”
Jacob Weisberg agrees, tweeting: “Russian covert action threw the election to Donald Trump. It’s that simple.” Back in 2008, Weisberg wrote that “the first thing I hope I’ve learned from this experience of being wrong about Iraq is to be less trusting of expert opinion and received wisdom.” So much for that.
Foreign Special Interests
Another, equally remarkable similarity to the period of 2002-3 is the role foreign lobbyists have played in helping to whip up a war fever. As readers will no doubt recall, Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, which served, in effect as an Iraqi government-in-exile, worked hand in hand with the Washington lobbying firm Black, Kelly, Scruggs & Healey (BKSH) to sell Bush’s war on television and on the op-ed pages of major American newspapers.
Chalabi was also a trusted source of Judy Miller of the Times, which, in an apology to its readers on May 26, 2004, wrote: “The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles.” The pro-war lobbying of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has also been exhaustively documented.
Though we do not know how widespread the practice has been as of yet, something similar is taking place today. Articles calling for confrontation with Russia over its alleged “hybrid war” with the West are appearing with increasing regularity. Perhaps the most egregious example of this newly popular genre appeared on Jan. 1 in Politico magazine. That essay, which claims, among many other things, that “we’re in a war” with Russia comes courtesy of one Molly McKew.
McKew is seemingly qualified to make such a pronouncement because she, according to her bio on the Politico website, served as an “adviser to Georgian President Saakashvili’s government from 2009-2013, and to former Moldovan Prime Minister Filat in 2014-2015.” Seems reasonable enough. That is until one discovers that McKew is actually registered with the Department of Justice as a lobbyist for two anti-Russian political parties, Georgia’s UMN and Moldova’s PLDM.
Records show her work for the consulting firm Fianna Strategies frequently takes her to Capitol Hill to lobby U.S. Senate and Congressional staffers, as well as prominent U.S. journalists at The Washington Post and The New York Times, on behalf of her Georgian and Moldovan clients.
“The truth,” writes McKew, “is that fighting a new Cold War would be in America’s interest. Russia teaches us a very important lesson: losing an ideological war without a fight will ruin you as a nation. The fight is the American way.” Or, put another way: the truth is that fighting a new Cold War would be in McKew’s interest – but perhaps not America’s.
While you wouldn’t know it from the media coverage (or from reading deeply disingenuous pieces like McKew’s) as things now stand, the case against Russia is far from certain. New developments are emerging almost daily. One of the latest is a report from the cyber-engineering company Wordfence, which concluded that “The IP addresses that DHS [Department of Homeland Security] provided may have been used for an attack by a state actor like Russia. But they don’t appear to provide any association with Russia.”
Indeed, according to Wordfence, “The malware sample is old, widely used and appears to be Ukrainian. It has no apparent relationship with Russian intelligence and it would be an indicator of compromise for any website.”
On Jan. 4, BuzzFeed reported that, according to the DNC, the FBI never carried out a forensic examination on the email servers that were allegedly hacked by the Russian government. “The FBI,” said DNC spokesman Eric Walker, “never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers.”
What the agency did do was rely on the findings of a private-sector, third-party vendor that was brought in by the DNC after the initial hack was discovered. In May, the company, Crowdstrike, determined that the hack was the work of the Russians. As one unnamed intelligence official told BuzzFeed, “CrowdStrike is pretty good. There’s no reason to believe that anything that they have concluded is not accurate.”
Perhaps not. Yet Crowdstrike is hardly a disinterested party when it comes to Russia. Crowdstrike’s founder and chief technology officer, Dmitri Alperovitch, is also a senior fellow at the Washington think tank, The Atlantic Council, which has been at the forefront of escalating tensions with Russia.
As I reported in The Nation in early January, the connection between Alperovitch and the Atlantic Council is highly relevant given that the Atlantic Council is funded in part by the State Department, NATO, the governments of Latvia and Lithuania, the Ukrainian World Congress, and the Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk. In recent years, it has emerged as a leading voice calling for a new Cold War with Russia.
Time to Rethink the ‘Group Think’
And given the rather thin nature of the declassified evidence provided by the Obama administration, might it be time to consider an alternative theory of the case? William Binney, a 36-year veteran of the National Security Agency and the man responsible for creating many of its collection systems, thinks so. Binney believes that the DNC emails were leaked, not hacked, writing that “it is puzzling why NSA cannot produce hard evidence implicating the Russian government and WikiLeaks. Unless we are dealing with a leak from an insider, not a hack.”
None of this is to say, of course, that Russia did not and could not have attempted to influence the U.S. presidential election. The intelligence community may have intercepted damning evidence of the Russian government’s culpability. The government’s hesitation to provide the public with more convincing evidence may stem from an understandable and wholly appropriate desire to protect the intelligence community’s sources and methods. But as it now stands the publicly available evidence is open to question.
But meanwhile the steady drumbeat of “blame Russia” is having an effect. According to a recent you.gov/Economist poll, 58 percent of Americans view Russia as “unfriendly/enemy” while also finding that 52 percent of Democrats believed Russia “tampered with vote tallies.”
With Congress back in session, Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain is set to hold a series of hearings focusing on Russian malfeasance, and the steady drip-drip-drip of allegations regarding Trump and Putin is only serving to box in the new President when it comes to pursuing a much-needed detente with Russia.
It also does not appear that a congressional inquiry will start from scratch and critically examine the evidence. On Friday, two senators – Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse – announced a Senate Judiciary subcommittee investigation into Russian interference in elections in the U.S. and elsewhere. But they already seemed to have made up their minds about the conclusion: “Our goal is simple,” the senators said in a joint statement “To the fullest extent possible we want to shine a light on Russian activities to undermine democracy.”
So, before the next round of Cold War posturing commences, now might be the time to stop, take a deep breath and ask: Could the rush into a new Cold War with Russia be as disastrous and consequential – if not more so – as was the rush to war with Iraq nearly 15 years ago? We may, unfortunately, find out.
James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.
Nobody wants them in Trump’s Washington
There is no limit to the hubris driven hypocrisy of America’s stalwart neoconservatives. A recent Washington Post front page article entitled “‘Never Trump’ national-security Republicans fear they have been blacklisted” shares with the reader the heartbreak of those so-called GOP foreign policy experts who have apparently been ignored by the presidential transition team seeking to staff senior positions in the new administration. Author David Nakamura describes them as “some of the biggest names in the Republican national security firmament, veterans of past GOP administration who say, if called upon by President-elect Donald Trump, they stand ready to serve their country again.”
“But,” Nakamura adds, “their phones aren’t ringing.” And I wept openly as he went on to describe how they sit forlorn in a “state of indefinite limbo” in their law firms, think tanks and university faculty lounges just thinking about all the great things they can do for their country. Yes, “serve their country,” indeed. Nothing personal in it for them. Nothing personal when they denounced Trump and called him incompetent, unqualified, a threat to the nation and even joined Democrats in labeling him a racist, misogynist, homophobe, Islamophobe and bigot. And they really got off when they explained in some detail how The Donald was a Russian agent. Nothing personal. It’s was only business. So let’s let bygones be bygones and, by the way, where are the jobs? Top level Pentagon or National Security Council only, if you please!
And yes, they did make a mistake about some things in Iraq, but it was Obama who screwed it up by not staying the course. And then there was Libya, the war still going on in Afghanistan, getting rid of Bashar and that funny business in Ukraine. It all could have gone better but, hey, if they had been fully in charge for the past eight years to back up the greatly loved Vicki Nuland at the State Department everything would be hunky dory.
Oh yeah, some of the more introspective neocons are guessing that the new president just might be holding a grudge about those two “Never Trump” letters that more than 200 of them eventually signed. Many now believe that they are on a blacklist. How unfair! To be sure, some of the language in the letters was a bit intemperate, including assertions about Trump’s personality, character and intelligence. One letter claimed that the GOP candidate “lacks self-control and acts impetuously,” that he “exhibits erratic behavior,” and that he is “fundamentally dishonest.” Mitt Romney, who did not sign the letters but was nevertheless extremely outspoken, referred to Trump as a “phony” and a “fraud.”
One of the first anti-Trump letter’s organizers, Professor Eliot Cohen described presidential candidate Trump as “a man utterly unfit for the position by temperament, values and policy preferences.” After the election, Cohen even continued his scathing attacks on the new president, writing that “The president-elect is surrounding himself with mediocrities whose chief qualifications seem to be unquestioning loyalty.” He goes on to describe them as “second-raters.”
Cohen, who reminds one of fellow Harvard bombast artist Alan Dershowitz, might consider himself as “first rate” but that is a judgment that surely might be challenged. He was a prominent cheerleader for the Iraq War and has been an advocate of overthrowing the Iranian government by force. He opposed the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense because Hagel had “made it clear that he [did] not want to engage in a confrontation with Iran.” Cohen, a notable Israel Firster in common with many of his neocon brethren, has aggressively condemned even well-reasoned criticism of the Israel Lobby and of Israel itself as anti-Semitism. Glenn Greenwald has described him as “extremist a neoconservative and warmonger as it gets.”
One has to wonder at the often-professed intelligence and experience of Cohen and his neocon friends if they couldn’t figure out in advance that backing the wrong horse in an election might well have consequences. And there is a certain cynicism intrinsic in the neoconservative whine. Many of the dissidents like Cohen, Robert Kagan, Max Boot, Eric Edelman, Kori Schake, Reuel Gerecht, Kenneth Adelman and Michael Morell who came out most enthusiastically for Hillary Clinton were undoubtedly trimming their sails to float effortlessly into her anticipated hawkish administration. Gerecht, who has advocated war in Syria, said of the Democratic candidate that “She’s not a neoconservative, but Hillary Clinton isn’t uncomfortable with American power.”
That the defeat of Hillary was also a defeat of the neoconservatives and their alphabet soup of institutes and think tanks is sometimes overlooked but was a delicious dish served cold for those of us who have been praying for such a result. It was well worth the endless tedium when watching Fox News on election night to see Bill Kristol’s face when it became clear that Trump would be victorious. Back to the drawing board, Bill!
And there may be yet another shocker in store for the neocons thanks to Trump. The fact that the new administration is drawing on the business world for staffing senior positions means that he has been less interested in hiring think tank and revolving door academic products to fill the government bureaucracies. This has led Josh Rogin of the Washington Post to warn that the death of think tanks as we know them could be on the horizon. He quotes one think-tanker as opining that “the people around Trump view think tanks as for sale for the highest bidder. They have empowered other centers of gravity for staffing this administration.” Rogin adds “If the Trump team succeeds in diminishing the influence of Washington think tanks and keeping their scholars out of government, policy-making will suffer. Many of these scholars hold the institutional knowledge and deep subject matter expertise the incoming administration needs.”
Rogin, who is himself a neocon who has been an associated “expert” with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), is peddling bullshit. The record of the geniuses who have been guiding U.S. foreign policy ever since the Reagan Administration has not been exactly reassuring and can be considered downright disastrous if one considers Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Think tanks have agendas that in most cases actually work against the public interest. Their designation of staff as “scholars” is a contrivance as their scholarship consists of advocacy for specific causes and ideologies. They should be seen for what they are and what they are is not very pretty as they are into endless self-promotion. Fear mongering Danielle Pletka, who is vice president for foreign policy at the American Enterprise Institute, has supported every war coming out of the past two Administrations and has called repeatedly for more of the same to close the deal on Syria and Iran. Like Cohen, Rogin, Kagan, Gerecht and many other neocons she is both Jewish and an Israel Firster. And her annual salary is reported to be $275,000.
It is a pleasure to watch the think tanks begin thinking of their own demises. It is also intriguing to speculate that Trump with his populist message might just take it all one step farther and shut the door on the K Street lobbyists and other special interests, which have symbiotic relationships with the think tanks. The think tanks sit around and come up with formulations that benefit certain groups, individuals and corporate interests and then reap the rewards when the cash is handed out at the end of the year. How fantastic it would be to see lobbies and the parasites who work for them put out of business, particularly if our much beloved neoconservatives are simultaneously no longer calling the shots on national security policy and their think tanks are withering on the vine. What a wonderful world it would be.
With Donald Trump’s historic victory in the US Presidential Election this week it is appropriate to pause and take a moment to reflect about what the incoming President of the United States needs to do in order to Make American Great Again.
1) Trump has proposed restrictions on lobbyists acting for foreign governments and more specifically for former elected officials seeking or being offered employment by organizations such as these after leaving office.
He needs to implement and expand this restriction in order to curb the well-documented activities of the partisans of Israel as the principle abusers of the lobby system. To do this he needs to focus on the flow of capital between domestic jewish organizations (such as AIPAC, NORPAC, the Zionist Organization of America and the Anti-Defamation League), international Jewish organizations (such as Birthright Israel and the World Jewish Congress) and the Israeli government itself. In addition to requiring the Israel Lobby’s plethora of legal entities register as representatives of a foreign government (i.e. Israel) in compliance with current legislation.
This will help prevent the widespread abuse of the lobby and donor system by Israel’s partisans in the United States and abroad. In addition to making it difficult for Israel’s political agents to continue ring fence 3.8 billion of US taxpayer’s money to balance its own domestic budget deficit. (1)
2) Trump has stated that he intends to take China to task for its repeated violations of US intellectual property laws. This is laudable indeed, but Trump needs to expand this mandate to include other major violators of US intellectual property laws such as Israel. (2)
3) Trump has repeatedly affirmed that he intends to take a hatchet to all Free Trade Agreements that do not provide a net benefit to America. He has targeted NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and TPP (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) in particular, but he also needs to address ILFTA (the United States-Israel Free Trade Agreement) which has been running a deficit since it began in 1985. The latest figures available on the US trade deficit with Israel caused by ILFTA stand at $8 billion in goods and $466 million in services. (3)
4) Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to convene a special prosecutor to look into the charges that Hillary Clinton used an unsecured private email server to deal with official government business while she was Secretary of State in addition to her activities, along with her husband Bill, in regards to the Clinton Foundation.
He must do this, because if he does not then the neo-Conservatives – the avowed enemies of a foreign policy that puts America first in addition to being the strident partisans of Israel – will rally around Hillary and attempt to subvert Trump’s populist revolution for their own ends.
Further Trump must not limit the glaring light of judicial scrutiny to Hillary Clinton alone, but expand that focus across the whole pro-Hillary framework of think tanks, non-profits and media companies. Whose corruption and anti-American treason has been so decisively documented by the emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and published by Wikileaks.
5) Trump must distance himself from Israel and treat it as any other country with whom the United States has diplomatic relations. Unless he does so and stops treating Israel as a special case in terms of United States foreign policy. Then he will face difficult headwinds in his diplomatic relations within the Middle East and allow the Israel Lobby to rebuild its powerful grip on American foreign policy in the future.
None of these policy prescriptions are difficult to implement and indeed they come with a significant prize. Whether that be in diplomatic and moral capital, economic advantage and/or domestic security.
Without implementing these policies however Trump runs the very real risk that his populist revolution will be co-opted and infiltrated by the very establishment that he was elected into the highest political office to purge once and for all.
In short Donald Trump has to address the problem of Israeli power and influence in the United States in order to Make America Great Again.
It is that simple.
(2) Cf. Grant Smith, 2009, ‘Spy Trade: How Israel’s Lobby Undermines America’s Economy’, 1st Edition, Institute for Research: Middle East Policy: Washington D.C.
Photo by Jordi Bernabeu Farrús | CC By 2.0
Everyone claims to want to end the war in Syria and restore peace to the Middle East.
Well, almost everyone.
“This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York told the New York Times in June 2013. “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here.”
Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, stressed the same points in August 2016:
“The West should seek the further weakening of Islamic State, but not its destruction… Allowing bad guys to kill bad guys sounds very cynical, but it is useful and even moral to do so if it keeps the bad guys busy and less able to harm the good guys… Moreover, instability and crises sometimes contain portents of positive change… The American administration does not appear capable of recognizing the fact that IS can be a useful tool in undermining Tehran’s ambitious plan for domination of the Middle East.”
Okay, not exactly everyone.
But surely the humanitarian website Avaaz wants to end the war and restore peace.
Or does it?
Avaaz is currently circulating a petition which has gathered over a million signatures and is aiming at a million and a half. It is likely to get them, with words like this:
“100 children have been killed in Aleppo since last Friday.
“Enough is enough!”
Avaaz goes on to declare: “There is no easy way to end this war, but there’s only one way to prevent this terror from the skies — people everywhere demanding a no-fly zone to protect civilians.”
No-fly zone? Doesn’t that sound familiar? That was the ploy that served to destroy Libya’s air defenses and opened the country to regime change in 2011. It was promoted zealously by Hillary Clinton, who is also on record as favoring the same gambit in Syria.
And when the West says “no-fly”, it means that some can fly and others cannot. With the no-fly zone in Libya, France, Britain and the United States flew all they wanted, killing countless civilians, destroying infrastructure and allowing Islamic rebels to help themselves to part of the country.
The Avaaz petition makes the same distinction. Some should fly and others should not.
“Let’s build a resounding global call to Obama and other leaders to stand up to Putin and Assad’s terror. This might be our last, best chance to help end this mass murder of defenseless children. Add your name.”
So it’s all about mass murder of defenseless children, and to stop it, we should call on the drone king, Obama, to end “terror from the skies”.
Not only Obama, but other “good” leaders, members of NATO:
“To President Obama, President Erdogan, President Hollande, PM May, and other world leaders: As citizens around the globe horrified by the slaughter of innocents in Syria, we call on you to enforce an air-exclusion zone in Northern Syria, including Aleppo, to stop the bombardment of Syria’s civilians and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those most in need.”
The timing of this petition is eloquent. It comes exactly when the Syrian government is pushing to end the war by reconquering the eastern part of Aleppo. It is part of the massive current propaganda campaign to reduce public consciousness of the Syrian war to two factors: child victims and humanitarian aid.
In this view, the rebels disappear. So do all their foreign backers, the Saudi money, the Wahhabi fanatics, the ISIS recruits from all over the world, the U.S. arms and French support. The war is only about the strange whim of a “dictator”, who amuses himself by bombing helpless children and blocking humanitarian aid. This view reduces the five-year war in Syria to the situation as it was portrayed in Libya, to justify the no-fly zone: nothing but a wicked dictator bombing his own people.
For the public that likes to consume world events in fairy tale form, this all fits together. Sign a petition on your computer and save the children.
The Avaaz petition does not aim to end the war and restore peace. It clearly aims to obstruct the Syrian government offensive to retake Aleppo. The Syrian army has undergone heavy losses in five years of war, its potential recruits have in effect been invited to avoid dangerous military service by going to Germany. Syria needs air power to reduce its own casualties. The Avaaz petition calls for crippling the Syrian offensive and thus taking the side of the rebels.
Wait – but does that mean they want the rebels to win? Not exactly. The only rebels conceivably strong enough to win are ISIS. Nobody really wants that.
The plain fact is that to end this war, as to end most wars, one side has to come out on top. When it is clear who is the winning side, then there can be fruitful negotiations for things like amnesty. But this war cannot be “ended by negotiations”. That is an outcome that the United States might support only if Washington could use negotiations to impose its own puppets – pardon, pro-democracy exiles living in the West. But as things stand, they would be rejected as traitors by the majority of Syrians who support the government and as apostates by the rebels. So one side has to win to end this war. The least worst outcome would be that the Assad government defeats the rebels, in order to preserve the state. For that, the Syrian armed forces need to retake the eastern part of Aleppo occupied by rebels.
The job of Avaaz is to get public opinion to oppose this military operation, by portraying it as nothing but a joint Russian-Syrian effort to murder civilians, especially children. For that, they call for a NATO military operation to shoot down (that’s what “no-fly” means) Syrian and Russian planes offering air support to the Syrian army offensive.
Even such drastic measures do not aim to end the war. They mean weakening the winning side to prevent it from winning. To prolong a stalemate. It means – to use the absurd expression popular during the Bosnian war – creating an “even playing field”, as if war were a sports event. It means keeping the war going on and on until nothing is left of Syria, and what is left of the Syrian population fills up refugee camps in Europe.
As the New York Times reported from Jerusalem in September 2013, “The synergy between the Israeli and American positions, while not explicitly articulated by the leaders of either country, could be a critical source of support as Mr. Obama seeks Congressional approval for surgical strikes in Syria.” It added that “Israel’s national security concerns have broad, bipartisan support in Washington, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the influential pro-Israel lobby in Washington, weighed in Tuesday in support of Mr. Obama’s approach.” (This was when Obama was planning to “punish President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons without seeking to force him from power” – before Obama decided to join Russia in disarming the Syrian chemical arsenal instead, a decision for which he continues to be condemned by the pro-Israel lobby and the War Party.) AIPAC’s statement “said nothing, however, about the preferred outcome of the civil war…”
Indeed. As the 2013 report from Jerusalem continued, “as hopes have dimmed for the emergence of a moderate, secular rebel force that might forge democratic change and even constructive dialogue, with Israel, a third approach has gained traction: Let the bad guys burn themselves out. ‘The perpetuation of the conflict is absolutely serving Israel’s interest,’ said Nathan Thrall, a Jerusalem-based analyst for the International Crisis Group.”
The plain truth is that Syria is the victim of a long-planned Joint Criminal Enterprise to destroy the last independent secular Arab nationalist state in the Middle East, following the destruction of Iraq in 2003. While attributed to government repression of “peaceful protests” in 2011, the armed uprising had been planned for years and was supported by outside powers: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States and France, among others. The French motives remain mysterious, unless linked to those of Israel, which sees the destruction of Syria as a means to weaken its arch rival in the region, Iran. Saudi Arabia has similar intentions to weaken Iran, but with religious motives. Turkey, the former imperial power in the region, has territorial and political ambitions of its own. Carving up Syria can satisfy all of them.
This blatant and perfectly open conspiracy to destroy Syria is a major international crime, and the above-mentioned States are co-conspirators. They are joined in this Joint Criminal Enterprise by ostensibly “humanitarian” organizations like Avaaz that spread war propaganda in the guise of protecting children. This works because most Americans just can’t believe that their government would do such things. Because normal ordinary people have good intentions and hate to see children killed, they imagine that their government must be the same. It is hard to overcome this comforting faith. It is more natural to believe that the criminals are wicked people in a country about which they really understand nothing.
There is no chance that this criminal enterprise will ever arouse the attention of the prosecutors at the International Criminal Court, which like most major international organizations is totally under U.S. control. For example, the United Nations Undersecretary General for Political Affairs, who analyses and frames political issue for the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, is an American diplomat, Jeffrey Feltman, who was a key member of Hillary Clinton’s team when she was carrying out regime change in Libya. And accomplices in this criminal enterprise include all the pro-governmental “non-governmental” organizations such as Avaaz who push hypocrisy to new lengths by exploiting compassion for children in order to justify and perpetuate this major crime against humanity and against peace in the world.
Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book is Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton. She can be reached at email@example.com
There is massive opposition to Israeli actions in the United States today, particularly importantly in the Jewish community, where there’s been an enormous shift in that discourse.
So you still have organizations, right-wing organizations like AIPAC that include very wealthy donors, no doubt, but they no longer can even make the claim–which was probably never true, but it certainly is no longer true–that they speak for the majority, let alone all, of the Jewish community.
You now have an organization like J Street in the center. You have Jewish Voice for Peace on the left, which has over 200,000 supporters across the country. So you have a very different scenario now of where public opinion is.
— Phyllis Bennis, interviewed on The Real News Network, September 14, 2016
Massive opposition to Israeli actions in the United States? Within the Jewish community? Who does Phyllis Bennis thinks she’s kidding and, as importantly, why is she doing so? That there is no sign of any activity or combination of activities in the US opposing Israel’s actions that qualify as massive among the larger public and definitely not within the Jewish community should be patently as well as painfully obvious.
Her comment becomes even more mystifying since it came on the day that Barack Obama announced that the US would award Israel a record breaking $38 billion in arms over the decade beginning in 2018. What opposition there was to the deal on the part of the public, much less the Jewish community, was barely visible.
This had been reflected a month earlier in the Democratic Party’s decision to bar any reference to Israel’s occupation or illegal settlement construction in its platform which was then approved without so much as a whimper by the convention delegates. A week before, the Republicans, stepping back from their traditional lip service to the two-state illusion, discarded any notion that Israel would be obliged to surrender land to the Palestinians for their own state at any time in the future.
Bennis, speaking to The Real News Network’s Jaisal Noor, incredibly, portrayed the humiliating Democratic platform defeat as a victory:
I think he [Obama] is seriously misreading where the American people are at, where the Democratic Party is, where the public discourse on this question has shifted. I think he’s acting as if this was 20 years ago and no politician could do wrong by being more supportive than the other guy of Israel.
Now that’s not the case anymore. We saw that during the debate over the language on Israel and Palestine in the Democratic Party platform debate. (Emphasis added)
While it is true that there is less support for Israel among the youth and the Democratic Party’s base, what we learned from that debate was the degree to which the Congressional Black Caucus, including one of its most “liberal” members, Barbara Lee, is under the thumb of the Israel Lobby. Lee, appointed to the committee by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, cast the critical vote in the platform committee that eliminated any reference to Israel’s illegal occupation or the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements.
How Bennis could put a positive spin on that outcome should raise concerns not only about her judgment but also her agenda.
Despite the fact that it had been the subject of discussion in the US and Israeli media for more than a year, there was no attempt to mobilize opposition to the arms package for Israel, about which Bennis was being interviewed, by either Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) or the US Campaign to End Israel Occupation (USCEIO), the two largest organizations, ostensibly working for justice in Palestine over which Bennis appears to act as an éminence grise.
Bennis did not mention nor had either organization expressed support for or even note on their websites, the first of its kind lawsuit filed by the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy’s Grant Smith on August 8 that would block the announced arms deal on the basis of long standing US law that prohibits US aid to non-signatories of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty known to have nuclear weapons.
That Bennis, moreover, presented J Street in a positive light at that moment strongly suggests that projecting a positive image of the Jewish community within the Left and in the eyes of the larger public is her primary motivation.
J Street, after all, is nothing more than a light beer version of AIPAC. It was created for Jewish liberals whose self-image requires the display of an occasional whiff of conscience, but nothing that would jeopardize Israel’s domination of Washington. It was in such full applause mode over the arms deal that it issued a statement, welcoming it, on September 13, the day before the White House officially announced it:
J Street warmly welcomes the conclusion of a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel that will ensure Israel’s security and its qualitative military advantage over any potential enemy for the next 10 years.
We congratulate President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as all those who worked hard to produce this agreement, which represents the biggest pledge of US military assistance made to any country in our nation’s history.
And Jewish Voice for Peace? In a statement on the group’s website, JVP director, Israel-American dual citizen Rebecca Vilkomerson, after acknowledging that the deal had been “in months of negotiation,” declared that, “As a result, the US is effectively underwriting Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies towards the Palestinians.”
True and well said, Rebecca, but what had JVP been doing to stop it during those months? And in the two weeks since, knowing that it is Congress that must ultimately approve the deal? Apparently nothing, judging from the constant stream of requests for money that arrive in my email box daily.
Rather ineffectively, if measured by the paucity of results, it has also been pushing for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) targeting companies doing business in the West Bank, giving it the appearance, if not the substance, of “doing something” for the Palestinian cause.
With steely determination, its leadership was also continuing a behind the scenes campaign to vilify and marginalize an individual and an organization, without the payroll and national outreach of JVP, that was attempting a nation-wide effort to alert the American people to the latest transfer of their earnings to Israel, namely Alison Weir and her organization, appropriately named “if Americans Knew.”
Through billboards, bus cards, bumper stickers, simulated checks, and postcards, carrying the slogan, “Stop the Blank Check for Israel,” Weir has made a tireless effort to inform all Americans, but particularly those without any vested interest in either Israel or Palestine, (who constitute the majority) about what is being done for Israel by the US government and members of Congress in their name. A useful exercise for readers would be to compare the If Americans Knew website with that of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Weir’s crime in the eyes of her critics is that she has ignored the Left choir and its gatekeepers and expressed a healthy willingness to speak to any group or media host that asks for her views on the largely hidden history of Israel’s domestic Zionist operations going back to World War One. Several of those talk show hosts, which amount to a tiny fraction of Weir’s overall efforts, her attackers find objectionable even though some of them have appeared on the same programs.
Weir also has had the temerity to make exposing the cover-up by Congress and the media of Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty off the coast of Egypt during the 1967 war a critical part of her work. The unprovoked assault on a clearly marked intelligence ship by Israel’s air force and navy left 34 US sailors dead and 171 wounded. The subject is as off-limits for Jewish Voice for Peace and the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation, as well as the entire American Left, as it has been for the Jewish establishment. (The implications of that are worthy of an entire article by itself.)
Weir’s slim but fact-packed, copiously foot noted paperback, “Against Our Better Judgment” detailing the obscured activities of the Zionist Lobby both before and after Israeli statehood, has sold more than 27,000 copies on Amazon and, apart from making them more than a trifle jealous, has, I suspect, been an irritant to JVP and USCEIO whose founder and current policy director, Josh Ruebner, is, like JVP’s Vilkomerson, an Israel-US dual citizen. (This apparently raises no questions as would, say, if white South Africans had played prominent roles in the American anti-apartheid movement.)
What JVP really appears to be about is establishing the acceptable parameters within which those who support justice for Palestine can criticize Israel or Jewish support for it without being labeled anti-Semitic.
The latest target of Vilkomerson is Miko Peled, the son of former Israeli major general, Matti Peled, the only representative of Israel’s top military echelon ever to advocate for Palestinian justice.
Living in San Diego and now a US citizen, Peled has become one of Israel’s most forthright critics and supporters of the BDS movement but fell afoul of Vilkomerson over a tweet that she considered to be anti-Semitic.
Responding to the announcement of the arms deal, Peled tweeted, “Then theyr surprised Jews have reputation 4being sleazy thieves #apartheidisrael doesn’t need or deserve these $$.” Vilkomerson, in turn, tweeted, “No place 4 antisemitism in our movement” and congratulated the Princeton Committee for Palestine for using her tweet as the basis for canceling a scheduled speaking engagement by Peled at the university, “to show our commitment towards educating our campus about Israel-Palestine issues.”
If justification for Peled’s tweet is needed, all one has to do is read the op-ed in the Washington Post (9/14) by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and the speech before the AIPAC spawn, Washington Inst. For Near East Policy, by former Israeli defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon (Times of Israel, 9/15) in which each of them expressed their fury at Netanyahu for not getting yet more than the record $38 billion. Seriously. There is no limit to their sense of entitlement.
The USCEIO which usually follows JVP’s lead has yet to weigh in on the Peled controversy, but there are dated references to the arms deal for Israel on its website, including a petition to President Obama launched in September, 2015, asking him not to approve it. The petition gathered more than 65,000 signatures but since it was still collecting them the day Obama announced the deal, there is no indication it was ever sent.
Now, two weeks after Obama’s announcement, there is no mention of it on its website nor was there any suggestion that people should go beyond signing a petition and confront the members of Congress in their home districts who will be voting on the $38 billion appropriation.
This is particularly noteworthy while USCEIO will be holding its national conference in Arlington, VA, October 14 to 17, there is no mention of it on its tentative agenda.
That campaigns to stop aid to Israel are missing from the agenda of both USCEIO and JVP, I would argue, is significant given that, in the early 80s, it was a nationwide campaign on the part of Nicaragua solidarity activists to have the public call members of Congress in their districts that produced the Boland Amendment, halting a $15 million appropriation for the Contras.
For reasons that I can only speculate such a grassroots campaign has never been undertaken by either organization over which, as noted above, Phyllis Bennis exerts an outsized influence.
The speculation centers on Bennis’s past history of minimizing the importance of both Congress and the pro-Israel Lobby, most notably AIPAC, in formulating US Middle East policy.
In 2002, at a three-day conference at the University of California in Berkeley, sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, I took a seat with a friend in the back of a lecture hall where Bennis was speaking on a topic relating to the Israel-Palestine conflict. At one point in her presentation, having apparently seen me enter and looking directly at me, she interrupted her talk to loudly blurt out, “Congress is not Israeli Occupied Territory!”
I quickly assumed she was referring to an essay that I had written 10 years earlier that was published in the 1992 edition of the City Lights Review, entitled, “Occupied Territory: Congress, the Israel Lobby and Jewish Responsibility.” In the essay I had sharply criticized the Left and particularly the Jewish supporters of the Palestinian movement for their failure to deal with the issue of the Israel lobby.
I am not one to interrupt speakers with whom I don’t agree but since her outburst was clearly intended for me, I responded with an immediate “Yes, it is!”. “No it isn’t!” she shouted back, rather displeased, and went on to describe an effort that some members of the Congressional Black Caucus were making regarding the illegal use of US arms by the Israelis against Palestinian civilians (an effort that, of course, went nowhere).
During the question period she seemed anxious to keep me from getting the floor. In an unusually long-winded and virtually content-free response as to what people could do to help the Palestinian cause, she appeared to be hoping time would run out for the session.
What would she have activists do? Believe it or not: write letters to the editor once a week. That’s what she said. As far as calling their members of Congress objecting to their support for Israel, Bennis said nary a word.
Despite an obvious effort on her part to get the moderator who had promised me the next question, to choose someone else–I seized the moment and proceeded to describe four situations in which the Israel lobby had demonstrated its power over Congress. I explained how it had run members of the Black Caucus who criticized Israel out of office and was trying to do the same (and would later succeed) with CBC’s remaining critic of Israel at that time, Atlanta’s Cynthia McKinney.
As I wrote shortly afterward, (Palestine Chronicle 3/26/07) neither Bennis nor her co-panelist, a Jewish professor, said a word when I finished, (although the latter later falsely circulated an email that he had). Since I had known Bennis for 20 years, had previously worked with her in the San Francisco Bay Area on Palestinian issues and, a year earlier had her as a guest on my first radio program on my current station, I went over to say hello and jokingly mentioned that she still had not yet understood the role of the Israel Lobby.
She was neither friendly nor amused. “The issue is dead and has been dead,” she replied. End of conversation and though our paths have crossed over the years we haven’t spoken since.
Though the issue isn’t dead for Jewish Voice for Peace or the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation, by any measurable standards, it might as well be.
Informing their members or member organizations, in the case of USCEIO, of the extent and methodology of AIPAC’s control over Congress is noticeably missing from their agendas and websites.
There was an exception. In September, 2012, I participated in a workshop on AIPAC and the Israel Lobby at USCEIO’s annual organizing conference in St. Louis. It was the only workshop even remotely related to the subject and had been organized by the now purged Alison Weir, whose If Americans Knew was, at the time, one of USCEIO’s member organizations. With Weir and her organization now gone from the USCEIO, AIPAC has less to worry about.
This guarantees to a certainty that whatever approach it takes to members of Congress with the ostensible goal of changing US policy will continue to end in failure.
This is exemplified in a section on its website– “Building relationships with congressional staff and Members of Congress is critical to enacting policy change”—which links to a step by step process that should ordinarily be followed by anyone seeking an audience with a member of Congress, or her or his chief of staff or legislative aide on most issues. But the Israel-Palestine issue is not like any other.
The notion that politely presenting US legislators or their aides with evidence of Israel’s latest atrocities or the damage that US support for Israel has done to the US image globally will move any of them to change their positions, as if ignorance of the facts is the only obstacle, is naïve at best. Nevertheless, that’s what those attending the USA CEIO’s upcoming conference will do on their day of lobbying on Capitol Hill.
By Einstein’s definition of insanity–doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result–the approach advocated by USCEIO and practiced by JVP, qualifies as insane since nothing has changed with regard to US support for Israel.
A more productive tactic would be to impolitely challenge members of Congress in their home districts, ideally but not necessarily at public events, exposing to the utmost degree possible the amounts of money they have received from pro-Israel sources and circulating statements that they most likely have made expressing their affection for Israel which can usually be found on the internet.
Why hasn’t either the USCEIO, JVP, or for that matter, Phyllis Bennis encouraged such an activity? Well, we already know Bennis’s bold plan; write letters to the editor.
There was nary a word about Congress’s role from Bennis in her latest interview despite telling TRNN’s Paul Jay in December, 2013, that “We have massively changed the discourse in this country,” an exaggeration then as now. She did then acknowledge, “What has not changed is the policy, and that has far more to do“ at which point Jay interrupted, saying, “The policy and the politics, like, congressional politics,” and Bennis replying, “Yes, but that’s where the policy gets made. That hasn’t changed. And that’s the huge challenge that we face. (Emphasis added)
In that same interview, she offered a rare view of AIPAC and the Lobby:
It used to be that AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the other pro-Israel lobbies in the Jewish community, could meet with members of Congress and say, look, we’ve got money. We may give you some. Mostly we’re going to hold you hostage, that if you don’t toe the line, we’re going to fund an opponent that you don’t even expect yet.
But we’ll also bring you votes, because we have influence in the Jewish community and people will vote the way we tell them.
They can’t say that anymore. And that’s huge. They still have the money, but they don’t have the votes, because the Jewish community has changed.
Her comment is only partly true and overly simplified, revealing an ignorance that should be embarrassing for someone who has spent so many years in Washington analyzing US Middle East politics.
AIPAC would never promise a politician that it would deliver Jewish votes. It has been mostly about getting them money, expert technical assistance and assigning key, experienced AIPAC members from the legislator’s district to work in his or her campaigns and use their clout with the local media to gain its support.
Bennis then goes on to regurgitate an argument that Noam Chomsky has frequently made but with a twist that fails to make it any more valid. Whereas the professor compares the Lobby’s successful efforts to pushing through an open door, when what it advocates is already White House policy, she compares it to pushing a moving car:
The reason that the lobby often seems so powerful is that, yes, it does have a lot of influence. I don’t–I’m not denying that. But it has been historically pushing in the same direction as the majority of U.S. policymakers want to go.
So imagine if you’re running behind a car, and you start to push the car as it goes forward, and the car starts to go fast. You can claim, wow, I was really strong–I pushed that car 30 miles an hour. You know, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you were pushing it in the direction it wanted to go anyway.
Neither Chomsky nor Bennis have ever shown a willingness to debate their critics but this argument is more an example of “damage control” than fact on their part and can easily be refuted by examining what is nearest to hand, the origins of the Iraq war.
It is well documented that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was on the Israel Lobby’s agenda well before it became US policy. In fact, the first president George HW Bush was reamed by his Jewish critics in the mainstream media; Mortimer Zuckerman, owner of the US News & World Report and the NY Daily News, Abe Rosenthal and William Safire in the New York Times, and Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post, to cite four who come to mind, for not going all the way to Baghdad and taking out Saddam in 1991.
The reason Poppy Bush gave for not overthrowing Saddam was that it would destabilize the entire region, one whose stability was essential to America’s national security and would involve the US military in an endless quagmire That opinion was shared by his Secretary of State, James Baker, his National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led the ouster of the Iraqi army from Kuwait But what did they know?
The election of his son, George W, did not change the senior Bush’s mind, nor that of his former aides, Baker, Scowcroft and Schwarzkopf. All of them opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a fact ignored by those who claimed it was “a war for oil,” and one that becomes more important when we consider that the war has left hundreds of thousands dead and wounded and millions displaced as refugees across the entire region.
When asked by the late Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press about his father’s opposition to the war, Dubya responded that “I answer to a higher father.” Who or what, in fact, he was answering to was PNAC, the Project for a New American Century, three signatories of which, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser, had contributed to a paper for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, entitled, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” which called for the overthrow of Saddam as did the PNAC screed that appeared the following year.
Subsequent to the election of George W Bush in 2000, the three of them were brought into the highest levels of the national security apparatus along with Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, fellow signatories to the PNAC declaration. They began immediately to plan the invasion of Iraq and create the false intelligence to justify it within days of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ‘the Pearl Harbor event’ that the PNAC document said was necessary to put its plans of global conquest into action. This scenario is fairly well known and not contested.
It, like subsequent events in the Middle East, seemed consistent with a plan laid out by Oded Yinon, a former member of the Israeli government who, in 1982, wrote a proposal, ‘A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s,” which was published by the World Zionist Council. Yinon’s plan called for dissolution of Iraq and Syria into areas controlled by its respective religious communities. Sound familiar?
Clearly, the war on Iraq was not a case of the Israel Lobby, of which the neocons were and remain a major part, getting behind an already moving car or pushing through an open door but one in which they took over the entire premises.
I have given up expecting Phyllis Bennis to understand this but I assume there are those who read this who will appreciate and nod their heads when reading what Lenni Brenner, the foremost authority on Nazi-Zionist collaboration, told me in the late 90s when I interviewed him on San Francisco’s KPOO radio:
The left is the rear guard of the Israel Lobby.
It doesn’t matter who is ‘elected’
There is considerable chatter about who will win in some of the hotly contested congressional races around the country, but one thing is certain: whoever triumphs will soon be receiving a nice all expenses paid luxury trip to Israel to learn all about Benjamin Netanyahu’s views regarding what more Washington can do to support him and his government. The “educational seminars” are organized by the Israel Lobby, more specifically by a tax exempt entity referred to as the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), which is a part of the hardline American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Participation in the journey by all freshman congressman is not mandatory but is advisable if one wants to stay on the right side of the Lobby. In August 2015 the class of 2014 only had three abstentions out of 53 new congressmen when it traveled to Israel along partisan lines with a Democratic group followed shortly thereafter by a GOP contingent.
These orientation trips are in addition to the frequent taxpayer funded visits made by congressmen to update themselves on Israel’s expanding list of “needs.” One such recent excursion involved Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who enthused that “in a region consumed by terrorism and oppression, Israel stands out as a shining beacon of hope and freedom.” Congressman David Rouzer, also from North Carolina, observed that “Any attack on Israel of any kind is an attack on the American people. It was an honor for us to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
My own congressman, Barbara Comstock, a Republican representing the 10th District of Virginia, made the freshman trip last year. Comstock is a supremely ambitious lawmaker who has proven herself to be a dedicated GOP apparatchik. Recently she supported the presidential candidacy of Senator Marco Rubio, the ultimate Republican establishment candidate, who has appropriately been described as an “empty suit” when it comes to any understanding of the serious issues confronting the American people.
Comstock has been involved in a number of unsavory enterprises as she climbed the GOP ladder. She once headed the defense fund for Scooter Libby, the White House aide who was eventually convicted of perjury and other crimes after outing deep cover CIA Officer Valerie Plame, a felony offense. Outing Plame not only destroyed the woman’s career, it also set back CIA efforts to find and neutralize nuclear proliferators, which is what Valerie was working on.
I do not want to appear to be picking on Comstock but she and I have had a bit of a go around on her Israel trip and regarding her statements upon returning to Virginia, which I would like to share. And I must note that she is far from unique. She in reality differs but little from the numerous other congressmen on the make who are short on principles and compassion and long on their commitment to remain on the good side of Israel. And it is completely bipartisan. If Comstock is replaced by Democratic congressional candidate LuAnn Bennett this November I am sure Bennett will make the AIPAC sponsored trip in 2017 and will grovel just as embarrassingly on the Israel-Palestine issue. After all, that is what politicians do.
Comstock commented on her travel experience in a local newspaper, the Loudoun Times-Mirror, saying that she had met with Israeli government leaders who unanimously opposed the then impending nuclear deal with Iran. She agreed, coming to the conclusion that Iran is “very much a threat, not just to Israel and the entire region, but to the United States.” She repeated the Israeli view that the agreement would make it likely that Iran would develop a nuclear weapon in 12 or 13 years. She also opposed weakening sanctions as an inducement for Iran to drop its program, observing that “I think if anything we should increase the sanctions.”
Exercising my First Amendment rights, I then wrote a letter to the newspaper:
“So Congresswoman Barbara Comstock has traveled to Israel on a trip paid for by the Israel Lobby. While there Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns her about the Iranians being a threat to America (and, of course, Israel) so she believes him rather than her own president and returns to regurgitate the propaganda she has been fed. It never occurs to Ms. Comstock that Netanyahu might be feeding her and the other congressmen a lot of rubbish. Neither Israel’s own generals nor the American ones at the Pentagon actually consider Iran to be a serious threat, no matter what it tries to do. Neither the CIA nor the Mossad believe that Iran has ever sought to build a nuclear weapon.
“Perhaps she should do her homework on this one. The Iran deal significantly reduces that country’s capability to produce a nuclear weapon and its research labs will be subject to intrusive inspection. Sure no deal is perfect, but there are plenty of safeguards built in and if Iran fails to keep its end of the bargain sanctions will be re-imposed. It is an agreement that is good for all parties involved, including for Israel.
“Ms. Comstock might also want to revisit her oath of office which pledges her to defend the Constitution of the United States, not to become an accomplice in what a foreign nation wants us to do. Our First President George Washington wisely urged Americans to maintain friendly relations with everyone, to avoid a ‘passionate attachment’ to another nation which just might be creating ‘the illusion of a common interest … where no common interest exists.’”
The newspaper would not print my letter, so I wrote directly to the congresswoman beginning with “The media is reporting that you have traveled to Israel on a trip paid for by the Israel Lobby” and then adding the points I had made in the newspaper letter.
Comstock responded, and I am quoting verbatim her first three paragraphs:
“The Obama Administration vowed this deal would dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons program; provide anytime, anywhere inspections; and cut back Iran’s ballistic missile program. In March of this year, I and 367 of my colleagues signed a bipartisan letter to the president outlining what must be accomplished in the negotiations in order for Congress to support the deal, and that letter stated that the final accord must provide Iran with ‘no pathway to a bomb.’ None of the administration’s promises were kept and none of their goals were met. Therefore, this agreement is fatally flawed and I oppose this deal.
“The Obama Administration has committed to providing Iran sanctions relief from the U.S. in return for temporary, inadequate constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. It will permit Iran to launch an industrial-scale nuclear program after a little more than 10 years; to continue to block international inspectors from its secret nuclear facilities; to hide past work on its nuclear weapons program; and will allow Iran to essentially emerge from the deal as a legitimate player on the global scene with its past record of violence, oppression, and terrorism wiped clean.
“Rewarding the Iranian Regime with billions of dollars in sanctions relief and swiftly lifting the arms embargo provides Iran—a country that exports terrorism—with the means to spread violence around the region. Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, and this deal only emboldens the Ayatollah and the Mullahs to continue spreading instability throughout the world.”
The response is, of course, pretty much a canned argument incorporating “facts” that may have been in part drafted by AIPAC and which is completely in line with Israel Lobby and Israeli government thinking. It includes several errors, most particularly on the efficacy of the inspections routine, is confused about the source of the money due to Tehran, and considerably overstates Iran’s role as a state sponsor of terrorism. It also errs in crediting Iran with “spreading instability around the world.” That honor belongs to the United States, ably assisted by Israel.
More to the point, the response ignores the thrust of my letter, which criticizes American legislators going off on paid trips to foreign countries and then coming back home to confuse those government’s interests with those of the United States. Making a trip where you are propagandized by one side and never speaking to representatives of those who are being belittled is a poor way to come up with a policy. Iran and the Palestinians do have legitimate points of view, believe it or not, and one has to wonder how many Arabs or even dissident Israelis Comstock spoke to when she was in Israel.
Contrary to Comstock’s response, even if Tehran’s government might not be very nice it does not in any way threaten the United States and is in fact directly fighting groups like ISIS. We should be working with Iran where we share interests, not against it. The nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries has been a success, with the inspection routine working, according to UN inspectors. If there is a fundamental problem in the Middle East it is not Iran but rather the unseemly relationship between the U.S. and Israel, which has unbalanced the region and gravely damaged genuine American interests in an important part of the world.
To appreciate the true impact of the AIEF funded trips to Israel multiply Comstock by fifty and repeat every year to make sure that everyone in congress has been subjected to the propaganda. I would bet that all Comstock’s 49 colleagues who also made the sponsored trip last year came back full of good things to say about Netanyahu and his government. One does not expect congressmen to do very much in return for their generous salaries and perks but there is something seriously wrong when they go around the world and uncritically accept what they are hearing from foreign liars and scoundrels who want the United States to do the heavy lifting after they generate regional crises that are beyond their capability to control. Unfortunately, whoever is elected, the pilgrimages to worship at the feet of Benjamin Netanyahu will continue, bringing to mind Patrick Buchanan’s apt description of a shameless and corrupted congress as “Israeli occupied territory.” Indeed.
Tel Hara, on the Golan Plain, Syria – The likely next American President, Hilary Clinton is fielding an array of foreign policy advisers, a few being sort of table scraps from the Bush administration and others having resigned from Obama’s. They are today preparing white papers on all manner of “adjustments” to what the presumed 45th American President reportedly believes was a weak and wrongheaded Obama Middle East policy, particularly with respect to the Syrian crisis and Hezbollah.
This according to sources at the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) Judicial Council on which this observer served representing his State of Oregon many moons ago. One staffer reports that the Neocon-Zionist lobby has a Middle East Policy deal with the Clinton campaign as a linchpin of her pledge to “eternally cover Israel’s back.” The Clinton camp, which appears to be gaining adherents within the CIA, the State Department and the Pentagon, believes that the Obama administration’s policy toward Russia and Syria is badly flawed partly because, so they claim, Obama wrongly assumes that Russia wants to limit its involvement in Syria. Clinton advisers claim that, on the contrary, Putin’s key objectives include demonstrating that Russia is winning in Syria, that the US has become a paper tiger in the region, and that the Arab states best follow Russia’s lead as it dramatically returns to the region a la the former USSR.
To set the stage for the her administration, some would-be Clinton advisers such as WINEP’s Dennis Ross, are counseling that she must increase political pressure now, as the clock runs out on the Obama administration, to dramatically beef up what they view as Obama’s weak “truce agreement” between Washington and Moscow. This as former Defense Secretary and Clinton adviser, Leon Panetta, is advocating that the next president increase US Special Forces in Syria and launch air strikes to shore up “moderates” fighting the Syrian government. Others are urging that after Clinton is sworn-in the US must pounce on all “truce violations” with drones and cruise missiles and target Syrian airbases and artillery positions, while simultaneously setting up safe areas for civilians, and if deemed necessary, no-fly zones.
Still others, including a dissenting internal memo last month signed by 51 State Department diplomats advocated attacks on Syrian government forces especially Hezbollah to end aggression against the country’s civilian population, to alter the military balance and bring about a negotiated political settlement. As Clinton’s Syrian policy is being formed, details will likely be kept out of the Presidential campaign, at least from her side, so as not to alienate the crucial Obama camp before November 8th.
There is reportedly one aspect of Clinton’s Middle East policy that has been detailed and is ready for implementation following her inauguration once details are coordinated with Israel, NATO and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It is being advocated by AIPAC on Capitol Hill and among Clinton operatives at the DNC and details how the Clinton administration “must destroy Hezbollah and cut off Tehran’s anti-Arab, anti-Sunni and anti- Christian hegemonic lifeline for its rapidly escalating domination of the Middle East.”
Clinton’s Middle East foreign policy shift reportedly will focus on the complete destruction of Hezbollah. Rather than merely containment as Obama insists at meetings of his National Security Council. John Kerry, a rumored Clinton cabinet member refers to Hezbollah solely as “Iran’s Basij in Lebanon/Syria/Iraq/Yemen/Bahrain and you name it.” History may soon record whether the Clinton administration, breaking sharply with the Obama administration, is able to “reshape the region” as Israel’s Netanyahu is squeezing her to do, and destroy Hezbollah, and if necessary, Iran’s IRGC-Al Quds Force. The latter, according to Clinton’s advisers and US allies are active in all the countries on Kerry’s list and far beyond.
Destroying or severely crippling Hezbollah is also being advocated as a cheap throw-away ‘crowd-pleaser’ for the incoming Clinton administration, both in Congress where both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, would very likely applaud attacks on Hezbollah as part of a rejuvenated “manned-up” and expanding US-led War on Terrorism. The Israel lobby is expressing confidence on Capitol Hill that relentlessly targeting Hezbollah militarily and economically will please and embolden Washington’s friends who remain chagrined by Obama’s containment policy in Syria while this needed policy shift will be discomfiting to US adversaries. It is also being argued that the six GCC monarchies will welcome tough Clinton administration action and can be expected to redouble their funding to shore up the Syrian opposition while at the same time the Clinton administration will also demonstrate US resolve to renew Washington’s commitment to holding Hezbollah accountable for its claimed terrorism. All the above it is claimed would hasten an end to the war here in Syria and make a political settlement more likely.
One “emeritus” Clinton adviser is Amos Yadlin, Israel’s former Military Intelligence chief. Recently Yadlin has been arguing that Israel and the US need to intervene in Syria more actively with a policy, that leads to the defeat of the “our most bitter enemies: “Iran and Hezbollah.” Yadlin makes no secret of the fact that Israel will destroy Hezbollah ‘next time’ in Lebanon and that only the approaching date will not be revealed in advance.
Clinton supports the Hizbullah International Financing Prevention Act, signed by Obama this past April. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, (OFAC) issued regulations aimed at implementing act. The latest U.S. regulations target those “knowingly facilitating a significant transaction or transactions for” Hezbollah and those “knowingly facilitating a significant transaction or transactions of a person identified on the List of Specially Designated Nationals (SDN’s) and Blocked persons.” OFAC’s list includes names of officials, businessmen and institutions that the U.S. says are linked to Hezbollah such as the group’s al-Manar TV and Al-Nour Radio. Clinton advisers argue that even more has to be done targeting Hezbollah.
Several hundred pages of ‘selling points’ circulating Capitol Hill and among EU countries are designed to build “an unshakable global commitment to destroy Hezbollah” according to one staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Also being distributed on Capitol Hill are “research papers” from a Iranian opposition group called Naame Shaam. One is titled “Iran in Syria: From an Ally of the Regime to an Occupying Force.” The 200-page report analyzes various aspects of the military, political and economic role played by Hezbollah and Iran since March 2011, following the outbreak of the Syrian conflict.
An Israeli Embassy brief targeting Hezbollah includes the following excerpt on the subject of claimed Hezbollah crimes against humanity and urges the US and the EU to intensify sanctions: “Contrary to claims by Hezbollah’s Sec-General Hassan Nasrallah and Iran’s “Supreme Leader” Ali Khameini, Hezbollah entered Syria in large numbers by April 2011 and started sniping at demonstrators and Syrian army soldiers who refused to shoot children. A July 2012 video taken by Hezbollah and published in July 2011 shows heavily armed Hezbollah fighters and a number of tanks in Horan near Deraa, the city where the uprising started. A report in January of 1212 by The Times, documented large numbers of Hezbollah and Iranian snipers were deployed “to shoot anti-regime protesters.” These reports were confirmed by scores of Deraa residents who have confirmed more than 200 eyewitness reports that Iran deployed Hezbollah fighters “to stand behind Syrian troops and kill Syrian soldiers immediately, if they refused to open fire on demonstrators.” Local residents have confirmed these reports as have some of the more three dozen Iranian and Hezbollah snipers who participated. Three months after the start of the March 2011 civilian protests, the first clashes were reported in June 2011 in al-Qusayr, in the countryside of Homs. By May 2012 Hezbollah, overran 10 of the 23 (Syria-Lebanon) border villages and established fortified bases exclusively for its use, at time expelling Syrian army troops in “their” area which led to the Syrian army killing of three Al Manar journalists at Ma’loula.”
The document, which includes satellite photos, continues, “Nasrallah explained to Lebanese media that ‘Hezbollah did not tell them what to do and this has nothing to do with the fighting in Syria. He omitted to mention that historically this area has been the main route for Iranian arms entering Lebanon and is located near Hezbollah arms depots in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.”
Another handout reads: “From the spring of 2011 until today, the Hezbollah’s siege, starving and slaughter of innocent women and children across Syria has continued to intensify despite, until recently, denial after denial. Hezbollah crimes have been extensively documented in an undisclosed European country by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, established on 22 August 2011 by the Human Rights Council through resolution S-17/1 adopted at its 17th special session with a mandate to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic. Also gathering and documenting hundreds of cases of individuals committing crimes against humanity is the Commission for International Justice and Accountability.”
As the intense anti-Hezbollah campaign gets organized in Washington, Israel reportedly considers itself the winner to date in Syria, and expects to have much more influence and a green-light to destroy Hezbollah in a Clinton administration than was the case with Obama’s. Tel Aviv has to date been content to bide its time and simply deter Hezbollah in southern Syria/Lebanon and along the Golan Plain while recently occupying another roughly 20 by 12 miles strip of Syria territory. This latest land confiscation was done with impunity as UNDOF observers watched with binoculars. One reason UNDOF was impotent during the Israeli land grab was that a majority of them had relocated from the Syrian side to the Israeli side of the Golan ceasefire line in September 2014. UNDOF will not return until the Syrian war ends, if then.
Israel has made clear via its new Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the fascist Yisrael Beiteinu party, that Israel will not return one centimeter of its recently occupied Syrian territory “until we sign a peace agreement with the new government of Syria. All Muslims must know that we Israelis are their friends and that we are on the right side of this Syrian war.”
Meanwhile Israel has an understanding with various rebel groups in Southern Syria including the newly re-named Jabhat al Nusra (The Front for the Defense of the Syrian People) now calling itself – Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (the Front for the Conquest of the Levant), giving food and medical treatment to anyone asking for assistance within its new zone. Israel is also reportedly recruiting ‘operatives’ from southern Syria militia around Quneitra, the largely destroyed and abandoned capital of the Quneitra Governorate. Similar recruitment from the local population to what its army undertook during its 22-year occupation of South Lebanon before it was liberated by Hezbollah. Israel is reportedly paying up to $1000 per month, “salaries”, (compared to the average monthly salary in Syria these days of approximately of $100). Israel offers even more for “special services” targeting Hezbollah. Israel is in the process of occupying, in one way or another, parts of southern Syria. And one can feel it in the air.
Whatever success the Clinton team will have with its goal of destroying Hezbollah and however one evaluates Obama’s policy, this region appears headed for yet more prolonged violence and many more deaths of innocent civilians.
Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).
Bakari Sellers, the 31 year-old former South Carolina state lawmaker who became a paid CNN shill for Hillary Clinton in 2015, following the Charleston massacre, is also a longtime operative for AIPAC, the deep-pocketted, cutthroat lobby for Israel. In a letter to Democratic Party officials, last month, Sellers claimed to have gathered the signatures of 60 “lifelong” Black Democrats urging rejection of any changes to the party’s slavishly pro-Israel 2012 platform positions, denouncing as “anti-Semitic” the global movement against Israeli oppression of Arabs in Palestine and the nearly 50-year-long occupation of the West Bank. “Since the last platform was approved, anti-Semitism has been on the rise and it has taken a new form – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS,” said the letter, much of which consisted of quotes from Hillary Clinton, including, “In Israel’s story, we see our own.” Clinton’s vision is clear, in one respect: the U.S. was once the largest of the world’s apartheid states; today, Israel is the last one standing.
Clinton’s minions on the platform committee brushed aside Bernie Sanders delegates’ planks on Israel, as well as the TPP pro-corporate trade deal, single payer healthcare, a carbon tax, and linking a $15 an hour minimum wage to inflation.
The names on Sellers’ list have not yet been made public, but there is no shortage of Black apologists for Israel. In 2014, the entire Congressional Black Caucus joined in a unanimous U.S. House resolution affirming the Zionist state’s right to “defend itself” – even as Israeli bombs were slaughtering over 2,100 men, women and children in Gaza.
Despite his relative youth, Bakari Sellers is a veteran operative for AIPAC, the American Israel Political Action Committee, Israel’s strong-arm lobby. According to the web site Electronic Intifada, Sellers was recruited back in 2004, when AIPAC had just begun a massive campaign at historically Black colleges and among even younger students of color, nationwide. Sellers was a real catch for AIPAC; not only had he just been elected student body president, he is also the son of Cleveland Sellers, a former leader of SNCC, the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee, who was wounded in the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre when state police killed three Black college students protesting segregation. The elder Sellers is now president of Voorhees College. SNCC’s stand in solidarity with Palestinians in 1967, the year of Israel’s Six Day War and its seizure of Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank, is widely believed to mark the beginning of the deepening between Black political activists and Zionism.
Bakari Sellers’ service to AIPAC is a repudiation and perversion of SNCC’s internationalist and humanitarian values. He has eagerly deployed himself as one of Zionism’s Black up-and-coming political stars. In return, AIPAC has helped bankroll his political career. “The way I’m able to communicate, the exposure, the people that I’ve met – a lot of people I’ve met at the AIPAC policy conference became a huge part of my fundraising base,” Sellers told an AIPAC leadership seminar for college students, in 2008.
Sellers has found that AIPAC money and Wall Street funding go hand in hand – and he’s in it up to his elbows. “Looking forward to giving the address tonight @Aipac Annual Wall Street Dinner in Manhattan,” he tweeted, mentally scooping up cash with both hands.
A prime duty of white people’s – or Zionist’s – Black surrogates, is to act as torpedoes against troublesome Black activists. Sellers’ assignment is to be a counterpoint to anti-corporate, anti-imperialist critics of Israeli policy, like Dr. Cornel West, one of Bernie Sanders’ delegates on the platform committee. When CNN trotted Sellers out to defend Clinton’s 1990s record of spreading racist hysteria against Black male “super-predators,” West admonished him to remember “the legacy of your blessed father… look at his example. He was not just fighting against racism – he was fighting against a class system as well,” said West. “You can’t do that as a Wall Street Democrat.”
Sellers looked beaten, but he could not be shamed, because he and the rest of his Black Misleadership Class are utterly shameless in their relentless pursuit of favor from the rich and powerful. As Dr. West told Sellers, the Black political elite “confuses the gravy train with the freedom train.”
Back in the early 2000s, when the BAR team was working at The Black Commentator, we toyed with the idea of creating a Trojan Horse Watch to keep track of the growing number of Black politicians that were succumbing to the siren song of the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Leadership Council. The flood of corporate money into grassroots Black electoral politics – a new phenomenon – had not yet turned into a tsunami. One guy stood out above the rest: Cory Booker, the 31 year-old, one-term Newark, New Jersey, city councilman who was mounting his first challenge to Mayor Sharpe James. Booker made his national debut at a power luncheon of the Manhattan Institute, a star think tank in the right-wing, corporate constellation. He would sometimes arrive at campaign stops in a caravan of Hasidic Jews, although there was no significant Hasidic community in Newark. On deeper examination, it became clear that Booker was not your ordinary Black politician, grubbing for money as best he could, from whoever was giving it. Booker was a true zealot for Zionism, and a hard core corporate ideologue. The decades of leadership by a Black political class that chose the “gravy train” over the “freedom train” had produced a new breed of Black political striver that is totally at home with corporatism, imperialism and Zionism, and is eager to be deployed by his masters as a political weapon.
Bakari Sellers is part of this crop: fruit of the poisoned tree.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
For decades, Saudi Arabia has been a stalwart advocate of Palestinian statehood rights and a voracious critic of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Saudi Arabia’s commitment to Palestine has defined the geopolitical contours of the Middle East for decades. But now that the Iran nuclear deal has been struck and as the war in Syria ravages on, those political lines are being redrawn, bringing together unexpected bedfellows: Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Marketed as a “pathbreaking public dialogue between senior national security leaders from two old adversaries,” May 5, 2016 will feature a high-profile meeting in Washington DC between officials from Saudi Arabia and Israel. Prince Turki bin Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and one-time ambassador to Washington, and retired Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Major General Yaakov Amidror, former national security advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will be speaking together at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel organization funded by AIPAC donors, staffed by AIPAC employees, and located down the hall from AIPAC Headquarters.
Saudi Arabia has never engaged in diplomatic relations with Israel since the Nakba in 1948, and at one point even led efforts to boycott the state of Israel. And although this is not the first meeting of its kind (Saudi Arabia and Israel had a former official speak at a Council on Foreign Relations panel last year), it is definitely the highest profile meeting and it is taking place.
While having like-minded human rights abusers such as Saudi Arabia and Israel mingle and meet publicly might come as no surprise to most of us, this event is still bad news: it signals a new era of normalization by the official sponsor of the Arab Peace Initiative.
The Arab Peace initiative, also known as the “Saudi Initiative”, is a 10-sentence proposal for an end to the Arab–Israeli conflict. It was endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 and re-endorsed in 2007, and it is supported by all Palestinian factions, including Hamas. The initiative calls for normalizing relations between the Arab world and Israel in exchange for a complete withdrawal by Israel from the occupied territories (including East Jerusalem). Until now, it has been the most viable blueprint for a two-state solution. The deal also addressed the issue of Palestinian refugees and called for a “just settlement” based on UN Resolution 194.
So, at this political moment when Netanyahu is not showing any willingness to withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territory and some of his ministers are calling for the official annexation of the West Bank, Saudi Arabia seems to be giving up on its historic commitments. By normalizing relations with Israel without demanding a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Saudi Arabia is diminishing its leverage in negotiating a two-state solution.
In a way, this meeting marks the official demise of the Arab Peace Initiative, but more importantly, as the last standing mechanism for a regionally negotiated resolution, it is yet another indicator that a two-state solution is officially dead.
Alli McCracken is co-director of the peace group CODEPINK based in Washington DC. Raed Jarrar is an Arab-American political advocate based in Washington DC.
The establishment of the state of Israel is known throughout Palestine as the Nakba, or “Catastrophe.” As the British Mandate of Palestine ended throughout 1947 and 1948, at least 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from or fled their homeland, and another 100,000 or more were massacred.
Although the United States wasn’t an active party to the circumstances that led to the Nakba, the country’s long history with Israel has only been supportive of that nation’s barbarity — and that support has grown exponentially over the years.
In the U.S., the press framed Palestinian resistance as opposition to the Jewish state rather than an assertion of their own human rights. Scholar Michael A. Dohse wrote in “American Periodicals and the Palestine Triangle, April, 1936 to February, 1947”:
“Despite the fact that there was considerable evidence of the extreme nationalistic drive behind the Zionist movement, which was its motivating force, American journals gave a good press to the Zionists’ alleged goal of building a democratic commonwealth in Palestine. How this would be possible when the Arabs constituted two-thirds of the population and were opposed to Zionism, did not seem to be a relevant question to many of the magazines.”
This, of course, was in complete contravention of U.S. doctrine, even as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, which asserts that all men are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and “[t]hat to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The consent of the governed — in this case, the Palestinians — was not to be considered.
Pre-WWII, pre-state of Israel
Months before the Balfour Declaration was made in November of 1917, declaring British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson commented on the absolute need for self-determination. On May 27, 1916, he said: “Every people has a right to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live.”
Mr. Wilson continued his lofty rhetoric, telling Congress on Feb. 11, 1918: “National aspirations must be respected; peoples may not be dominated and governed only by their own consent.” Further, in the same speech on German-Austrian “peace utterances,” he declared: “Self-determination is not a mere phrase. It is an imperative principle of action, which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril.”
These and subsequent speeches by Mr. Wilson were troubling to his secretary of state, Robert Lansing. In his private journals, according to Frank Edward Manuel in his book “The Realities of American Palestine Relations,” Lansing wrote that such concepts were “‘… loaded with dynamite, might breed disorder, discontent and rebellion’. His neat, logical mind saw it leading the president into strange contradictions: ‘Will not the Mohammedans of Syria and Palestine and possibly of Morocco and Tripoli rely on it? How can it be harmonized with Zionism, to which the President is practically committed?’”
If the Palestinians ever relied on U.S. rhetoric to assist them in achieving the basic human rights that all people are entitled to, they were certainly to be disappointed.
Following World War II, the world was anxious to make some kind of reparation to the Jewish people for the Holocaust. U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, passed on Nov. 29, 1947, effectively partitioned Palestine into two states.
It is difficult to properly quantify the degree of injustice that this entailed. “Although Jews owned only about seven percent of the land in Palestine and constituted about 33 percent of the population, Israel was established on 78 percent of Palestine,” according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes, with no voice in the decision that evicted them, no reparation for the loss of their homes and lands, and nowhere to go but refugee camps.
By this time, Harry S. Truman was president, and he offered full consent for this plan for reasons that will be familiar to readers today: He was subjected to intense lobbying by the Zionist lobby. He also felt that by supporting the establishment of Israel, he would be in a better position to be elected to a full term as president, having ascended to that office upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lobbying and political considerations then, as now, trump human rights every time.
Mr. Truman was elected president in his own right in 1948, and was succeeded four years later by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who named John Foster Dulles as his secretary of state.
Mr. Dulles was familiar with the Palestine-Israel situation, and his sympathies clearly rested with Israel. In 1944, he played an active role in seeing that the platform of the Republican Party included support for a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine, and also that the platform called for the protection of Jewish political rights. Years later, he exerted a strong influence on the president under whom he served, setting the tone for the Eisenhower administration’s attitude toward Israel and Palestine.
Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter
Things appeared to take a turn with the administration of John F. Kennedy, who showed support for the right of return for refugees, as described in Paragraph 11 of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 of Dec. 11, 1948. That resolution affirms that “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Government or authorities responsible.”
Israel, under David Ben-Gurion, used what has become a tried and true method to oppose this measure: The state’s founder and first prime minister called it a threat to Israel’s national security.
Ultimately, Resolution 194 passed, but has yet to have any effect.
Despite his apparent support for Palestinian refugees, Mr. Kennedy was the first president to elevate the U.S.-Israel relationship from that of simply two allies to a more enhanced bond. Speaking to the Zionist Organization of America three months before his election, he said, “Friendship for Israel is not a partisan matter, it is a national commitment.”
Following Mr. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, he was succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson, who did not share his predecessor’s interest in resolving the refugee problem. The Democratic Party Platform of 1964, the year Mr. Johnson was elected president, included a provision to “encourage the resettlement of Arab refugees in lands where there is room and opportunity.” All talk of the right of return ceased.
The Johnson administration ended in January of 1968, when former Vice President Richard Nixon was inaugurated as president. Nixon had less obligation to Israel, having earned only about 15 percent of the Jewish vote. In his memoirs, he commented on Israeli arrogance after the Six-Day War of 1967, describing “an attitude of total intransigence on negotiating any peace agreement that would involve the return of any of the territories they had occupied.”
Unfortunately for Palestine, however, Mr. Nixon’s closest advisor was Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security advisor and, later, his secretary of state. Mr. Kissinger’s parents had fled Nazi Germany shortly before the start of the Holocaust, and he had visited Israel multiple times but had never set foot in an Arab country. With Mr. Nixon’s preoccupation with what he considered the “Communist threat,” Mr. Kissinger was perfectly content with the Israel-Palestine status quo. “Rather than make any effort toward the Arab states, much less the Palestinians, Kissinger felt the United States should let them stew until they came begging to Washington,” according to “U.S. Policy on Palestine from Wilson to Clinton,” edited by Michael W. Suleiman. With this attitude, nothing was done to further the cause of justice under this president’s terms in office.
When Mr. Nixon resigned in a fog of controversy and scandal, his vice president, Gerald Ford, became president. He served as a caretaker president until the next election, when he was defeated by Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter.
Although Mr. Carter has recently become a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, this was not the case during his single term as president. He presided over the Camp David Accords, a two-track agreement that was supposed to bring peace to the Middle East. The first of the two dealt with Palestine, and nothing in it was ever achieved. The second led to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
After one term, Mr. Carter was defeated by former actor and California Gov. Ronald Reagan. Like Mr. Nixon before him, Mr. Reagan saw Communist threats everywhere. Fearing a Soviet stronghold on the Middle East, he determined that strengthening ties with Israel would be an excellent deterrent. In 1982, he declared that the U.S. would not support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, nor would it “support annexation or permanent control by Israel.”
Following First Intifada in 1987, Mr. Reagan sent his secretary of state, George Shultz, to solve the problem. Mr. Shultz proposed a three-pronged strategy: convening an international conference; a six-month negotiation period that would bring about an interim phase for Palestinian self-determination for the West Bank and Gaza Strip; talks between Israel and Palestine to start in December 1988 to achieve the final resolution of the conflict.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir immediately rejected this plan, claiming that it did nothing to forward the cause of peace. In response, the U.S. issued a new memorandum, emphasizing economic and security agreements with Israel and accelerating the delivery of 75 F-16 fighter jets. This was to encourage Israel to accept the peace plan proposals. Yet Israel did not yield. As Suleiman’s work noted: “Instead, as an Israeli journalist commented, the message received was: ‘One may say no to America and still get a bonus.’”
When Mr. Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, succeeded him for one term, the bonus to Israel continued unabated. Yet this was still not enough for Israel. Writing in The New York Times in 1991, Thomas Friedman commented on the state of relations between the U.S. and Israel during the Bush administration: “Although the Bush Administration’s whole approach to peacemaking is almost entirely based on terms dictated by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the Israelis nevertheless see the Bush Administration as hostile.”
Clinton, another Bush, Obama
Following one term, Mr. Bush was succeeded by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who surrounded himself with Zionists, including CIA Director James Woolsey and Pentagon Chief Les Aspin.
In March of 1993, following clashes between Palestinians and Israelis in both Israel and the Occupied Palestine Territories, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin closed the borders between Israel and Palestine. This had a drastic detrimental effect on the lives and basic subsistence for at least tens of thousands of Palestinians. The Clinton administration chose to look the other way as Israel perpetrated this unspeakable act of collective punishment.
The administration of George W. Bush differed little in its treatment of matters related to Israel and Palestine from those who came before it. When Hamas was elected to govern the Gaza Strip in 2006, Mr. Bush ordered a near-total ban on aid to Palestine. Noam Chomsky commented on this situation:
“You are not allowed to vote the wrong way in a free election. That’s our concept of democracy. Democracy is fine as long as you do what we say, but not if you vote for someone we don’t like.”
Coming into office chanting the appealing mantra of “Change we can believe in,” current President Barack Obama proved to be another in a long line of disappointments. Like his predecessors, he’s vetoed any resolutions presented at the U.N. Security Council that were critical of Israel. Incredibly, after one such veto, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice made this statement:
”We reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace.”
Meanwhile, military aid to Israel from the U.S. continued unabated. This aid has reached nearly $4 billion annually under the Obama administration, and is likely to get another boost before Mr. Obama leaves office.
This is not unusual. According to conservative estimates, the U.S. has given Israel a staggering $138 billion in military and other aid since 1949. In 2007, President George W. Bush signed the first 10-year Memorandum of Understanding, granting billions to Israel every year. Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu are currently negotiating the new deal, which the prime minister hopes will guarantee even more to the apartheid regime.
Change that can’t come soon enough
Even if it didn’t come with Mr. Obama, change does seem to be on the horizon. With the explosive growth of social media, the general public no longer relies solely on the corporate-owned media for information. The horrors that Israel inflicts daily on the Palestinians are becoming more common knowledge. This includes the periodic bombing of the Gaza Strip, a total blockade that prevents basic supplies from being imported, and the checkpoint stops and verbal and physical harassment that Palestinians are subjected to on a daily basis in the West Bank.
It’s even entered the current U.S. presidential election. Sen. Bernie Sanders, seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, skipped the annual American Israel Political Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, convention in March. Additionally, he said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t always right and that Israel uses disproportionate force against the Palestinians, and Mr. Sanders recognized that Palestinians have rights. Like skipping the AIPAC conference, these statements are all in violation of some unspoken U.S. code of conduct for politicians.
Yet the ugly history of the U.S., in its unspeakably unjust dealings with Palestine, created a stain that generations will be unable to cleanse. Total disdain for the human rights of an entire nation, and the complicity in the violation of international law and in the war crimes of Israel, are not easy to expunge. Mr. Sanders’ words and actions are only the manifestation of a larger change occurring in U.S. attitudes toward Israel and Palestine. Once that change is sufficiently great to impact the U.S. power brokers, real change will occur. For Palestinians living under Israeli apartheid, it cannot come soon enough.
IN THE FINAL DAYS leading up to Maryland’s Democratic voters going to the polls on Tuesday to choose their U.S. Senate nominee, Rep. Donna Edwards has been barraged by ads and mailers from the Super PAC backing her opponent, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, called the Committee for Maryland’s Progress.
A television ad assails Edwards as “one of the least effective members of Congress,” contrasting her career with Van Hollen’s legislative record. It mentions no foreign policy issues, despite the dominant issue motivating one of the Super PAC’s largest funders.
Recently released disclosures reveal that $100,000 — a sixth of what the Super PAC has raised —comes from a single source: a donation by pro-Israel billionaire Haim Saban.
A “One-Issue Guy”
Saban, who made his fortune in the media and entertainment industry, has spent millions of dollars influencing the foreign policy establishment, including by sponsoring the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy and funding the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He is also one of the largest donors to Hillary Clinton’s Super PACs. In a 2010 interview with the New Yorker, he described himself as a “one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”
Last year, he briefly teamed up with GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson to sponsor an effort to counter university boycotts and divestment from Israel’s occupation. “When it comes to Israel, we are absolutely on the same page,” he said of Adelson. “When it comes to this, there is no light between us at all.”
Following the Paris terrorist attacks, Saban called for “more scrutiny” of Muslims. “You want to be free and dead? I’d rather be not free and alive. The reality is that certain things that are unacceptable in times of peace — such as profiling, listening in on anyone and everybody who looks suspicious, or interviewing Muslims in a more intense way than interviewing Christian refugees — is all acceptable [during war],” he told The Wrap. “Why? Because we value life more than our civil liberties and it’s temporary until the problem goes away.”
Days later, he walked back his remarks, saying he “misspoke” and that all “refugees coming from Syria” should “require additional scrutiny,” regardless of religion.
A Maryland Divide Over Israel and the Palestinians
Last week, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times wrote that the Maryland Senate race involves “slight differences in policy.” But on Israel and the Palestinians, Edwards has significantly departed from the status quo in votes and statements in ways that her opponent has not.
During “Operation Cast Lead,” the sustained bombing campaign of Gaza that began in late 2008 and lasted through the middle of January 2009, 390 members of Congress, including Van Hollen, voted in favor of a one-sided resolution affirming support for Israel’s conduct during the war; Edwards voted “present.”
In November of 2009, the House of Representatives voted 344 to 36 to call on the administration to oppose endorsement of the United Nations’ “Goldstone Report,” which described war crimes by both Israel and Hamas during the previous year’s war. Van Hollen voted with the majority, and Edwards was one of the few who voted no.
Following the 2010 deaths of activists aboard a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the territory under Israeli blockade, Israeli officials and right-wing supporters of the government there denied that there was a growing humanitarian crisis in the territory.
“I think all international institutions have acknowledged a humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” Edwards told me at the time. “I have long said that I don’t think the blockade is really sustainable for the people of Gaza.” Van Hollen’s statement on the event — highlighted on AIPAC’s website — was more muted; it did not condemn the embargo but affirmed that the “U.S. must also continue to make sure humanitarian assistance is able to reach the people of Gaza.”
In November 2015, all but one member of the Maryland congressional delegation signed onto a House letter written to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemning the “recent wave of Palestinian violence in Israel and the West Bank.” By mid-October seven Israelis had been killed in stabbings and similar incidents, and dozens had been wounded. In the same time frame, almost 30 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli military attacks and nearly 2,000 had been injured.
Van Hollen signed the letter, Edwards did not. Asked by Washington Jewish Week why she did not sign the letter, she gave a brief statement condemning the violence as a whole, not just one side’s attacks:
I condemn the violence affecting the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, and urge both sides to return to the negotiating table to seek peace. It is critical that we ensure the State of Israel as a secure Jewish democratic state by making a two-state solution a reality, with the recognition of an independent Palestinian state that respects and recognizes the State of Israel.
“If you take their records side by side, she’s in the bottom 5 percent of the class and he’s up there, among the top,” Morris J. Amitay, a former AIPAC executive director, said in comments to the Baltimore Sun. “I’ve never seen such a disparity.”