Bibi’s re-election makes the prospect of a third intifada more likely than ever. And when it does come it would take a surfeit of optimism to believe that it won’t be as widely supported among the Palestinians as the First Intifada (1987-1991) or as violent as the Second Intifada (2000-2005).
The so-called international community, consisting of Washington and its European allies, has failed the Palestinian people miserably over many years by now. Its unfailing and ignoble pandering to Israel that informs the West’s entire policy with regard to the Middle East has only succeeded in creating a monster in the shape of the intransigent, rejectionist, and brutal political culture that now holds sway there. It is a culture underpinned by a flagrant disregard for international law and the human rights of some 3 million people in the occupied West Bank and 1.8 million in Gaza, which at time of writing remains a pile of rubble after Israel’s summer 2014 air, land, and sea assault in which 2100 Palestinians were slaughtered – around 500 of them children – and up to 9000 injured or maimed, many of those permanently.
Gaza remains under siege, hermetically sealed from the outside world, its people and their suffering a symbol of the hypocrisy and indifference of an international order in which Palestinian blood is not only cheap it is worthless. Israel’s exceptionalism, meanwhile, remains sacrosanct.
Nobody should be fooled by talk of a rupture between the Obama administration and Netanyahu. The President, the world knows by now, holds Bibi somewhere between disdain and disgust in his feelings towards him. The studied insult delivered to the president by the Israeli Prime Minister when he addressed the US Congress a few weeks ago, where Netanyahu attempted to undermine talks between the P5+1 and Iran in Switzerland, couldn’t have been more wounding. It undermined both the President’s authority in Washington and his influence overseas.
The Israeli election that followed was marked by the new low Netanyahu went to in order to scoop up enough votes to win. Scaremongering, apocalyptic rhetoric, and out and out racism issued from his lips in the lead up to the polls, leaving no doubt that along with the so-called Islamic State, Benjamin Netanyahu poses the gravest threat to the stability of the region.
Yet despite this – despite the phone conversation reported to have taken place between Obama and Netanyahu after the Israeli Prime Minister’s re-election, during which Obama told him that he would have to “reassess” his administration’s policy towards Israel in the wake of Netanyahu’s pre-election statements negating the prospects of a two state solution, US policy towards Israel isn’t about to undergo any meaningful reorientation anytime soon.
During an interview with the Huffington Post, Obama confirmed that despite his differences with Mr Netanyahu, US aid to Israel to the tune of £3 billion a year will not be affected. And therein lies the rub, for until there is willingness in Washington to punish Netanyahu’s and the Israeli right’s rejectionist policy with the threat to suspend aid, the chances of a shift in said policy are less than zero.
The impotence of the Obama administration has been laid bare over these past couple of weeks. The anti-Obama coalition comprising Congressional Republicans and the Likud Party knows that the worst-case scenario involves waiting out the remaining year of the first black president’s tenure. The best-case scenario, which is far more likely, will see Obama cave just as he’s caved when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. Whether on settlements expansion, the continuing annexation of East Jerusalem, Gaza, or meaningful steps towards the realization of a two state solution, the president has been played like a violin by Netanyahu these past few years.
That said, the much vaunted two state solution is but a canard. There is no possibility of a two state solution, as Netanyahu knows full well. The idea of anything approaching a viable Palestinian state comprising what is left of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza is an insult to the collective intelligence of the Palestinian people. What we have now is a de facto single state in which 4.8 million people living in it are regarded and treated as Helots. As such, it is only when Israel is forced to comply with international law and human rights that any meaningful progress can hope to be made. That force must take the form of economic sanctions.
The only issue over which Obama will likely defeat the Israeli leader at present is Iran. The recent talks in Switzerland look to have made significant progress, which in conjunction with the unanimous aversion to the deployment of hard power against Tehran by the other nations involved in those talks, this has left Netanyahu and his Washington allies increasingly isolated as yesterday’s men.
This still leaves the Palestinians, who cannot be expected to continue to endure the injustice that defines their existence for much longer without there being an explosion. Yes, the international boycott campaign grows and has scored some notable successes over the past year, but nonetheless at this stage the Palestinians could be forgiven for considering themselves more or less abandoned to their fate.
A third intifada is heading down the track as a consequence – and when it comes neither Washington nor its allies should be in any doubt that it arrived as a direct result of their weakness, double standards, and perfidy.
The cause of the Palestinian people remains the cause of humanity in our time. All else is embroidery.
John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1
US drone strikes on Pakistani soil over the past decade have claimed the lives of some 2,200 people, Press TV quotes Islamabad
According to figures presented in a report by Pakistani lawmakers, 2,199 people have been killed and 282 others injured in the US drone attacks in Pakistan.
Nearly 210 houses and 60 vehicles have also reportedly been damaged.
The families of 43 of the dead and seven of those injured have received compensation so far, according to the report.
However, rights activists say Islamabad has not revealed the actual number of deaths, which many say is more than 3,000 and possibly as many as 4,000.
“The majority of the people who got killed were the citizens of Pakistan and I don’t think that this [report] is a final truth. There are still numbers that are out there and I hope those numbers also come out and that will push this number of 2,200 to a much higher numerical level,” political analyst Tariq Pirzada said.
Islamabad has so far failed to provide accurate information regarding the identity of those killed in the drone strikes.
Although evidence on the ground indicates civilians are the main victims of the strikes over the years, the Pakistani government reports that most of those killed are militants.
Islamabad has also said it cannot determine the actual number of civilian deaths as a result of its ongoing ground and air offensives against the militants in the tribal areas.
The Pakistani government has been criticized for allowing the US to carry out its illegal drone strikes near the country’s border with Afghanistan.
The aerial attacks, initiated by former US president, George W. Bush in 2004, have been escalated under President Barack Obama.
Obama has defended the use of the controversial drones as “self-defense.” Washington claims the targets of the drone attacks are militants.
The United Nations and several human rights organizations have identified the US as the world’s number-one user of “targeted killings,” largely due to its drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The “Free Press” in Action
In Latin America last year, there were two events that each produced 43 casualties. Which elicited greater outrage?
For the U.S. media, it was the “violent crackdown” leaving “43 people dead” (NPR) in “an autocratic, despotic state” (New York Times ) run by “extremists” (Washington Post ). Surely these charges were leveled at Mexico, where 43 student activists were murdered in Iguala last September. In their forthcoming A Narco History, Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace describe how the victims, “packed into two pick-up trucks,” were driven to a desolate ravine. Over a dozen “died en route, apparently from asphyxiation,” and the rest “were shot, one after another,” around 2:00 a.m. The killers tossed the corpses into a gorge, torched them, and maintained the fire “through the night and into the following afternoon,” leaving only “ashes and bits of bone, which were then pulverized.”
Initial blame went to local forces—Iguala’s mayor and his wife, area police and drug gangs. But reporters Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher, after reviewing thousands of pages of official documents, reached a different conclusion. Hernández explained “that the federal police and the federal government [were] also involved,” both “in the attack” and in “monitoring the students” the night of the slaughter. Fisher added that the Mexican government based its account of the massacre on testimonies of “witnesses who had been directly tortured.”
The Hernández-Fisher findings reflect broader problems plaguing the country. “Torture and ill-treatment in Mexico is out of control with a 600 per cent rise in the number of reported cases in the past decade,” Amnesty International warned last September, pointing to “a prevailing culture of tolerance and impunity.” The UN concurred this month, and “sharply rebuked Mexico for its widespread problem with torture, which it said implicates all levels of the security apparatus,” Jo Tuckman wrote in the Guardian.
Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has done his part to escalate state violence. He gave the orders, while governor of México State, for what Francisco Goldman calls “one of the most squalid instances of government brutality in recent years”—the May 2006 assault on the Atenco municipality. Some 3,500 state police rampaged against 300 flower vendors, peasants and their sympathizers, beating them until they blacked out and isolating women for special treatment. Amnesty International reported “23 cases of sexual violence during the operation,” including one woman a trio of policemen surrounded. “All three of them raped her with their fingers,” a witness recalled.
Peña Nieto responded by asserting “that the manuals of radical groups say that in the case of women [if they are arrested], they should say they’ve been raped.” Amnesty stumbled into a trap laid by attention-desperate women, in his opinion. Regarding Atenco, he stressed: “It was a decision that I made personally to reestablish order and peace, and I made it with the legitimate use of force that corresponds to the state.” Surely this is the “autocratic, despotic state” the New York Times criticized.
The paper’s archives lay bare its views—that Peña Nieto can “do a lot of good,” given his “big promises of change” and “commendable” economic agenda. The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth interviewed Mexico’s president just before the Iguala bloodbath, dubbing him “a hero in the financial world.” A Post editorial praised his ability to summon the “courage” necessary to transform Mexico into “a model of how democracy can serve a developing country.” The Post clarified, with a straight face, that Peña Nieto displayed his bravery by ignoring “lackluster opinion polls” as he pushed through unpopular reforms—a truly “functional democracy,” without question. There was no serious censure of the Mexican president in these papers, in other words. The charges of despotism and extremism, quoted above, were in fact leveled at Venezuela—the site of the other episode last year resulting in 43 Latin American casualties.
But these demonstrations, from February until July, were dramatically different from the Mexican student incineration. What, in the NPR version, was “a violent crackdown last year against antigovernment protesters,” in fact—on planet Earth—was a mix of “pro- and anti-government protests” (Amnesty International) that “left 43 people dead in opposing camps” (Financial Times ). “There are deaths on both sides of the political spectrum,” Jake Johnston, a researcher with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, affirmed, noting that “members of Venezuelan security forces have been implicated and subsequently arrested for their involvement.” He added that several people were apparently “killed by crashing into barricades, from wires strung across streets by protesters and in some cases from having been shot trying to remove barricades.” Half a dozen National Guardsmen died.
In the wake of these demonstrations, the Post railed against “economically illiterate former bus driver” Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, for his “hard-fisted response to the unrest” and “violent repression.” The New York Times lamented his “government’s abuses”—which “are dangerous for the region and certainly warrant strong criticism from Latin American leaders”—while Obama, a year after the protests, declared Venezuela a national security threat. His March 9 executive order, William Neuman wrote in the Times, targets “any American assets belonging to seven Venezuelan law enforcement and military officials who it said were linked to human rights violations.”
Compare Obama’s condemnation of Maduro to his reaction to the Iguala murders. When asked, in mid-December, whether U.S. aid to Mexico should be conditioned on human rights, he emphasized that “the best thing we can do is to be a good partner”—since bloodshed there “does affect us,” after all. The Times followed up after Obama hosted the Mexican president at the White House on January 6, noting that “Mr. Peña Nieto’s visit to Washington came at a time of increased cooperation between the United States and Mexico.”
This cooperation has won some major victories over the decades. NAFTA shattered poor farming communities in Mexico, for example, while promoting deforestation, environmentally ruinous mining—and corporate profits. In 2007, U.S. official Thomas Shannon stated that “armoring NAFTA” is the goal of Washington’s security assistance, which “totaled $2.5 billion between FY2008 and FY2015,” the Congressional Research Service reported. The result is a death zone, with perhaps some 120,000 intentional killings during the Felipe Calderón presidency (2006-2012). Tijuana’s Zeta Magazine published a study claiming the slayings have actually increased under Peña Nieto, and the nightmare has deepened to the point where the murder rate “exceeds that of Iraq,” according to Molly Molloy.
None of these developments infuriated Washington like those in Venezuela, to be sure. After Chávez’s first decade in power, “the poverty rate ha[d] been cut by more than half” and “social spending per person more than tripled,” while unemployment and infant mortality declined, the Center for Economic and Policy Research determined. And the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean found, in May 2010, that Venezuela had the region’s most equal income distribution. In Mexico a year later, the Los Angeles Times noted, “poverty [was] steadily on the rise.” Throughout this period, Washington’s aims included “dividing Chavismo,” “protecting vital US business,” and “isolating Chavez internationally,” as former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield outlined the strategy in 2006.
Reviewing this foreign policy record in light of recent Mexico and Venezuela coverage makes one thing obvious. There is, most definitely, a free press in the U.S.—it’s free to print whatever systematic distortions it likes, so long as these conform to Washington’s aims.
Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: email@example.com
“Let’s put it in perspective,” Obama said in response. “Young people, I understand this is important to you, but you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace, maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.”
That, of course, completely misses the point regarding what “thinking about marijuana” actually is about.
“But he should think again about how important this issue is. On average, there’s a marijuana possession arrest in the U.S. about every minute. Billions of dollars are wasted on enforcing prohibition laws that don’t stop anyone from using marijuana but do ruin people’s lives with damaging criminal records.”
Lee Rosenberg (via Twitter):
No, marijuana legalization is not the most important issue for young people to care about, but government incompetence on the issue has a very negative and very real impact on the perception that government is capable of solving more serious problems.
“Thinking about marijuana” is about more than getting high.
It’s about systemic police corruption. It’s about a failed criminal justice system that fuels situations like Ferguson. It’s about tens of thousands dead in Mexico. It’s about failed foreign policy. It’s about using bad laws to control a population and deny them basic rights. It’s about perversion of our Constitution. It’s about financial self-interest trumping science and reason.
Marijuana most definitely isn’t at the bottom of the list.
The White House is exempting one of its key offices from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations which allow for the full or partial disclosure of previously undisclosed information and documents controlled by the United States government.
The White House said the move to exempt the Office of Administration from the FOIA rules is consistent with court rulings according to which the office is not subject to the transparency law.
In 2009, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that the office was exempt from the FOIA but made it obligatory for the White House to archive the e-mails to be released under the Presidential Records Act not until at least five years after the end of the administration.
The White House announces its decision in a notice to be published in Tuesday’s Federal Register, saying it will no longer act in accordance with regulations on how the office complies with FOIA requests based on “well-settled legal interpretations.”
However, the timing of the decision raises a question among transparency advocates amid a national debate over the preservation of Obama administration records.
“It is completely out of step with the president’s supposed commitment to transparency,” said Anne Weismann of the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “That is a critical office, especially if you want to know, for example, how the White House is dealing with e-mail.”
White House record-keeping duties like the archiving of e-mails as well as other types of activities are handled by the Office of Administration. The office has been subjected to the FOIA regulations for about three decades.
“This is an office that operated under the FOIA for 30 years, and when it became politically inconvenient, they decided they weren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act anymore,” said Tom Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch.
Late in the Bush administration, CREW sued over about 22 million e-mails which were deleted by the White House. At first, the White House began to comply with that request, but then changed its course of action.
“The government made an argument in an effort to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the lawsuit in order to stop the archiving of White House e-mails,” said Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University.
The university has used analogous requests to help foreign policy decisions come to light.
The United States has a new policy on drone proliferation: we’re for it.
On February 17, the Obama Administration announced new, less strict conditions for selling killer drones to foreign governments.
Up till now, sales of drones have been regulated by the 1987 Multilateral Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The MTCR was drafted with ballistic missiles in mind but now also encompasses drones.
As a control mechanism, the MTCR is seriously flawed. First, the MTCR is a voluntary control regime. Second, thirty-four states participate in the MTCR, but not China, India, Iran, Israel, or Pakistan. (On Friday, Pakistan revealed that it has developed an armed drone.)
The Predator and Reaper drones used for targeted kills fall under MTCR’s Category I which is defined as systems whether armed or unarmed which can deliver a 500 kg payload to a range of 300 kilometers. Transfers of Category I systems are subject to a “strong presumption of denial.”
The United States has only transferred armed drones to the United Kingdom (February 2007). The Obama Administration has previously turned down requests for armed drones from Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Under the new export policy, the MTCR’s “strong presumption of denial” may become a thing of the past.
True, the new policy does not promise a drone to all comers—a policy which, albeit alarming, would at least have the virtue of even-handedness. Instead, the US State Department assures us that sales will be evaluated on a “case-by-case basis.” The criteria that will be applied, like most of the new policy, are classified. We can expect the Administration will green-light armed drone transfer to countries we like and reject transfers to countries we don’t.
The Obama Administration has told us this much: prospective purchasers of UAS (unmanned aerial systems, i.e., drones) must meet the end-use restrictions set out in the State Department’s February 17 “Fact Sheet”:
* Purchasers must use UAS “in accordance with international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as applicable.”
* Purchasers must not use “military UAS to conduct unlawful surveillance or use unlawful force against their domestic populations.”
* “Armed and other advanced UAS are to be used in operations involving the use of force only when there is a lawful basis for use of force under international law, such as national self-defense.”
The problems with these restrictions should be immediately apparent. Discussing armed drones in February 2014, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said: “I would hope, as other countries acquire similar capabilities, that they follow the model that we have for the care and precision that we exercise.”
Let’s hope that they don’t. The US model for using drones includes staggering numbers of civilian deaths, including drone strikes on weddings and funerals, and “double tap” strikes on rescuers who go to aide those injured in an initial strike. Military-age males in conflict areas are assumed, without more, to be terrorists and thus legitimate targets—all this taking place in countries with which the US is not at war.
Micah Zenko of the Council for Foreign Relations says this about the new restrictions: “Even analysts less skeptical than me would ask if the United States itself adheres to these principles.” Sarah Knuckey, who teaches at Columbia Law School and who was one of the authors of the influential study, Living under Drones, comments of the new policy that “the US has advanced interpretations of international law that many have described as dangerous, novel, and expansive.”
Expansive, indeed. Start with the US interpretation of self-defense. Micah Zenko and Professor Sarah Kreps rightly observe that: “The United States takes a more expansive view of self-defense than its allies, not just with respect to drones and targeting individuals, but also to invading countries.” Law professors of a right-wing bent justified the 2003 US invasion of Iraq as preemptive self-defense. Going further back, the US justified its 1989 invasion of Panama as self-defense because the Canal Zone was considered US territory and US nationals were stationed there. Given sufficient ingenuity, any act of aggression can be rebaptized as self-defense.
Call the Repo Man
William D. Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy points out that: “Middle Eastern allies from Bahrain to Egypt to Saudi Arabia have used U.S.-supplied weapons to put down democracy movements. Yet these are precisely the kinds of regimes that Washington may be tempted to supply drones to for use in the war on the Islamic State group.”
Suppose—even after if it swears not to—a state like Egypt unleashes a drone-fired Hellfire missile on the next crowd of demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square? What could the US do about it? Send a repo man to Cairo?
Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary, took a shot at these questions at a press conference on February 18. Kirby said that the Department of Defense “will have a role in what we—what we call end-use monitoring, so I mean, we will have a role as well as the State Department, in monitoring the use of these things.”
Kirby was then asked: “[G]iven that the United States use of drones to carry out extra-judicial killings abroad is a subject of great debate, about whether that conforms with international laws and human rights, how could the U.S. possibly ensure that these things be held to those standards if other countries are using them once we let the technology go.”
Kirby replied that the United States has been selling various arms overseas for years. (This is supposed to make us feel better?) The US knows how to do end use monitoring (EUM), and “We’re very good at this….”
No, we’re not. Kirby’s questioner was correct: once the US transfers weapons there’s no telling how they’ll be used or who they’ll wind up with. Don’t they get CNN in the Pentagon? Hasn’t Admiral Kirby heard about the weapons the US gave the Iraqi army which are now in the hands of ISIS? Or the arms we supplied in the 1980s to mujahideen groups in Afghanistan who later became Al-Qaeda?
Even if the US permits drone sales only to the most cuddly, lovable, human-rights observant states, nothing prevents those states from passing their drones on to someone nasty. Sure, the US can refuse to sell more drones to that country in the future, but the damage will be already done.
If only the drones we sell had an OFF switch the US could throw. The idea of installing some sort of malware in drones that would allow remote disabling has been kicked around in industry circles, but to date it remains science fiction.
Even if the US did have an OFF switch would we use it? Like the US itself, US allies do not commit rights violations. So ignore anyone who tells you that the US has repeatedly given weapons to states while knowing full well that those states would use those weapons against their own people or in attacks on neighboring countries.
Potentially, Congress could put a brake on drone sales abroad. Under the U.S. Arms Export Control Act of 1976, Congress must be notified of most arms sales over $14 million after which it is given 30 days to block the transaction. During the Cold War, any nation, however vile, which claimed to be fighting Communism could get all the US arms it wanted. Substitute “terrorists” for “Communists” and the same tactic works today.
Given the risks in selling drones overseas, why do it? Do we need to ask?
Back to the State Department Fact Sheet: the new UAS export policy “also ensures appropriate participation for U.S. industry in the emerging commercial UAS market, which will contribute to the health of the U.S. industrial base, and thus to U.S. national security which includes economic activity.” In other words, what’s good for General Atomics, maker of the Predator, is good for America. Micah Zenko writes: “With a projected $80 billion in global spending over the next ten years, drones constitute a potential growth industry for the aerospace and defense sectors.” Putting corporate profits before human lives—there’s the real US model.
Charles Pierson is a lawyer and a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition. E-mail him at Chapierson@yahoo.com.
 Missy Ryan, “Obama Administration to Allow Sales of Armed Drones to Allies,” WASHINGTON POST, Feb. 17, 2015.
 Micah Zenko, “The Great Drone Contradiction,” foreignpolicy.com, February 19, 2015.
 Quoted in Micah Zenko and Sarah Kreps, Limiting Armed Drone Proliferation, Council on Foreign Relations Special Report No. 69, June 2014, at page 15.
 Micah Zenko, “The Great Drone Contradiction,” foreignpolicy.com, February 19, 2015.
 Sarah Knuckey, “Washington’s New Drone Sales Policy Could Export US-Style Drone War,” justsecurity.org, February 20, 2015.
 Zenko and Kreps, Limiting Armed Drone Proliferation, at page 26.
 William D. Hartung, “A Lot Could Go Wrong Here,” Center for International Policy, cipoline.org, Mar. 7, 2015.
 Micah Zenko, Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies (Jan. 2013), at p. 18
Targeted killings have been a central part of U.S. national security strategy for more than a decade, but the American public still knows scandalously little about who the government kills, and why. Today we’re filing a new lawsuit in our continuing fight to fix that.
The CIA and the military use drones to target suspected “militants,” “insurgents,” and “terrorists” in at least half a dozen countries. American drone strikes have killed thousands of people abroad, many of them children. The program has engendered pervasive fear and anger against the United States in countries where the attacks frequently occur.
Our government’s deliberative and premeditated killings – and the many more civilian deaths from the strikes – raise profound legal and ethical questions that ought to be the subject of public debate. The Obama administration has made numerous promises of greater transparency and oversight on drones. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to make lethal targeting “more transparent to the American people and the world” because “in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we’re doing things the right way.”
But the administration has failed to follow through on these commitments to openness, and it is continuing to withhold basic information. When it has released anything – or been compelled to by lawsuits – discussion of crucial aspects of the program have been omitted or redacted. This lack of transparency makes the public reliant on the government’s self-serving and sometimes false representations about the targeted-killing program.
That’s why today the ACLU filed a new lawsuit to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request asking for basic information on the program, including records on how the government picks targets, before-the-fact assessments of potential civilian casualties, and “after-action” investigations into who was actually killed.
The ACLU has made some headway for transparency. We are litigating two other FOIA lawsuits seeking information about targeted killings. One of them is about the strikes that killed three Americans in Yemen: Anwar al-Aulaqi, his 16-year old son Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan. Despite the public promises of openness, the government has continued to fight tooth-and-nail against releasing documents in those cases – or in some instances, even admitting that it has any documents at all.
In both cases we have won important rulings in federal appeals courts, forcing the government to release some documents, including a 41-page Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memo addressing the legal theories that were the basis for the extrajudicial killing of Anwar al-Aualqi. The belated publication of the memo was an important victory for transparency, which led to a broad and long-overdue debate about the lawfulness of the government’s targeted-killing program and, in particular, of the lawfulness of the government’s deliberate and pre-meditated killing of a U.S. citizen. But the memo – almost a third of which was redacted – leaves many questions unanswered.
For example, the memo doesn’t explain the government’s definition of imminence, the circumstances that would make “capture infeasible” (and therefore, according to the government, lethal targeting permissible), or the reasons for the government’s targeting decisions. Worse, it points to a whole body of secret law that the administration continues to shield from the American public.
The administration’s subsequent gestures towards transparency are just as scant. The public summary of the secret Presidential Policy Guidance – which sets new standards for lethal targeting – relies on the same conclusory definitions as the Office of Legal Counsel memo. In a major speech at the National Defense University in 2013, the president asserted that “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.” But multiple investigative reports contradict this assurance. The government could dispute these findings, but instead it chooses to keep nearly all the details about how the program works hidden from view.
We aren’t giving up. One of the most important aspects of our new lawsuit is that it covers more recent documents, including the Presidential Policy Guidance under which the targeted killing program likely now operates.
The government’s drone program lives far too deep in the shadows. As long as the government continues its campaign of secret, unacknowledged lethal strikes across the globe, we will fight to subject this policy to the scrutiny and debate it deserves.
“Last July, shortly after the outbreak of war in Gaza, President Barack Obama declared that “Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.” To demonstrate the general moral applicability of this position, he said that “no country can accept rocket [sic] fired indiscriminately at citizens.” Obama’s claims provided ideological cover for Israel to carry out wholesale slaughter over the next six weeks in which nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed.
Obama also conveniently turned reality on its head by ignoring the fact that it was Israel that was responsible for nearly three times as many cease fire violations as Hamas since December 2012. Israel’s violations of the 2012 cease fire caused the deaths of 18 people, while Palestinian violations caused none. Since the end of the 51-day war in August 2014, Israel predictably has gone on violating the most recent cease fire even more brazenly and with complete impunity.
The latest cease fire agreement stipulated that Hamas and other groups in Gaza would stop rocket attacks, while Israel would stop all military action. As with past truces, Hamas has observed the conditions. On the rare occasions that individuals or groups have fired rockets from Gaza, Hamas has arrested them. (See also here and here.)
Israel, on the other hand, has failed to live up to its end of the bargain. This is consistent with past practice. Israel has continued its illegal siege on the Gaza strip, while indiscriminately harassing and shooting at the local population. Fishermen and farmers, who are trying to subsist amid dire economic conditions, have born the brunt of the aggression.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights documented 18 instances of Israeli soldiers firing on Palestinian fishermen operating within internationally recognized Palestinian waters in September 2014 alone.
By December, Humanity for Palestine reported 94 total cease fire violations since the August truce. In addition to the many attacks on fishermen, Israeli border guards targeted “protesters;” “fired sporadically at Palestinian homes and agricultural property with machine guns and ‘flashbang’ grenades;” and “seriously injured” a teenager who was shot near the Kerem Shalom crossing.
The first months of 2015 have seen more of the same. According to International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC ):
- On February 25, “Israeli forces opened fire at farmers in the central Gaza Strip.” The previous day, farmers near Khan Younis had been fired on. Two days prior farmers near Rafah were fired on.
- On February 27, Israeli forces “opened gunfire on Palestinian houses in the Central Gaza strip.”
- On March 2, “Israeli gunboats again opened fire … towards fishermen’s boats in the Gaza strip.” The Israeli forces reportedly “chased some fishing boats off the coast.”
- On March 7, fisherman Tawfiq Abu Ryala, 34, was killed when he was shot in the abdomen by Israeli navy ships. Several attacks in previous days were reported in which Palestinian fishermen were injured. “All took place while the boats were in Palestinian territorial waters.”
- On March 11, “several armored military vehicles and bulldozers carried out … a limited invasion into an area east of the al-Maghazi refugee camp, in central Gaza, and bulldozed farmlands.”
On March 13, Palestine News Network reported that “Israeli Soldiers Open Fire on Palestinian Lands and Farmers East of Khan Younis Again.” The articles states that “witnesses reported that the Israeli soldiers in the borders towers opened their guns [sic] fire on the the [sic] shepherds and farmers near the security line east of Al Tuffah neighborhood east of Khan Younis.”
The vast majority of the rampant Israeli cease fire violations are not reported by the American and the Western press. When they are, the Israeli military is given the opportunity to provide self-serving rationalizations which serve as the authoritative account of what transpired.
When a fisherman was killed on March 7, a Reuters article cites an Israeli military spokesperson claiming that “four vessels had strayed from the fishing zone and that the Israeli army opened fire after the boats did not heed calls to halt.” Of course, the fisherman is not able to tell his side of the story because the organization Reuters quotes killed him.
There is no mention in the article of any of the multiple attacks on Palestinian fishermen that happen routinely in Gaza. In many similar shootings, surviving victims and witnesses can attest that fishermen are within the agreed-upon six-mile nautical limit, and certainly well within the 20-mile limit guaranteed by the Oslo accords.
In a December article in the New York Times, Isabel Kershner writes that “Retaliating for a rocket fired into Israel on Friday, the Israeli military said it carried out an airstrike on a Hamas site in southern Gaza.” She begins the sentence by stating it is Israel retaliating against Palestinian actions. Whoever fired the rocket presumably was not “retaliating” for the dozens of Israeli military cease fire violations over the previous months, but was implicitly initiating aggression.
More importantly than this biased framing of the narrative, Kershner buries the lead at the bottom of the story: “Also on Friday, six Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire near the border fence in northern Gaza.” She obsequiously follows this statement with Israeli military rationalizations that “soldiers first fired into the air to try to disperse protesters approaching the fence then fired at the legs of some of them.”
Someone who commits a violent action is obviously not an impartial source for an honest account of the facts. Would a journalist report on a shooting by only repeating the side of the suspect who claims self-defense?
Six months after repeated, documented Israeli breaches of the cease fire agreement – without any by Hamas – New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof claimed in an Op-Ed that “Hamas provokes Israel.” He provides no evidence for this assertion. As the record clearly shows, Kristof has it backwards.
If no country can accept rockets fired at its population, then surely neither can they accept M16s fired at them. Or tanks and bulldozers invading their land. But perhaps Obama was deliberate in choosing his words. He stated that no country can accept rockets “fired indiscriminately at citizens (italics mine).”
Since Palestinians live under Israeli sovereignty but are denied citizenship, they are not technically covered by Obama’s moral truism. But assuming what he says should apply to all people - even those who are politically subjugated by racist regimes – Obama’s words would apply equally to Palestinians.
But when asked by a reporter whether Palestinians in Gaza have the right to defend themselves, an Obama administration spokesperson denied Palestinians this right. She did not explicitly say so, but by evading and refusing to respond to a simple yes or no question, she gave the equivalent of a direct denial. “I think – I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” she said. After the reporter restated his crystal-clear question, she replied “What are you specifically referring to? Is there a specific event or a specific occurrence?”
In the same way that omission of material facts may constitute fraud, refusing to answer a question about whether a person enjoys a right constitutes a direct refusal to recognize that right.
Obama did not only pervert the issue of the right to self-defense by falsely pretending it was a moral truism that he clearly and demonstrably does not extend to Palestinians, he also misrepresents the applicability of self-defense to Israel in the first place.
As Noura Erakat explained in her July 2014 article “No, Israel Does Not Have the Right to Self-Defense in International Law Against Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Israel is “distorting/reinterpreting international law to justify its use of militarized force in order to protect its colonial authority.” Obama willingly enables Israel’s lawless actions by accepting their rewriting of international law to justify their aggression.
What Obama is really saying when he talks about self-defense is that as the leader of one rogue nation, he supports the right of his rogue client state to violate the rule of law and make fraudulent claims that are neither morally nor legally justified.
As John Quigley explains in The Six-Day War and Israeli Self-Defense, failing to challenge Israel’s bogus claims of self-defense in the 1967 war – as the United States has done by providing a diplomatic shield, vetoing more than 40 U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Israel – has had disastrous consequences for Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the system of international law in general.
“The flawed perception of the June 1967 war serves to perpetuate conflict in the Middle East. It also serves to promote the expansion of the concept of self-defense and thereby to erode the prohibition against the use of force,” Quigley writes.
The United States government under the Obama administration continues to carry this even further. Undoubtedly the situation will only get worse in the future. Last month in Haaretz, Gideon Levy wrote that there will inevitably be another war in Gaza.
“Israel knows this war will break out, it also knows why – and it’s galloping toward it blindfolded, as though it were a cyclical ritual, a periodical ceremony or a natural disaster that cannot be avoided. Here and there one even perceives enthusiasm,” Levy writes.
This will mean more death, more destruction, and more Palestinian lives destroyed as the world looks on and does nothing. Sadly Levy is right. When the next war comes and Israel succeeds in baiting Hamas to start firing rockets into Israel, all the talk will be about Israel’s right to defend itself. Obama (or the next American President) will repeat the same charade. He will frame the narrative in terms of Israel’s victimization and Israel’s rights, while denying this treatment to the Palestinians.
The media and the public will uncritically support the position of American and Israeli power. Thousands of Palestinians will be indiscriminately killed, but not because Israel is defending itself. Palestinians will be killed because the U.S. government refuses to protect them from a belligerent and aggressive regime, and refuses even to recognize their right to protect themselves.
Why did Obama declare a ‘national emergency’, claim that Venezuela represents a threat to US national security and foreign policy, assume executive prerogatives and decree sanctions against top Venezuelan officials in charge of national security, at this time?
Venezuela’s Support of Latin America Integration is Obama’s Great Fear
To answer this question it is essential to begin by addressing Obama’s specious and unsubstantiated charges of a Venezuelan ‘threat to national security and foreign policy’.
First, the White House presents no evidence … because there is nothing to present! There are no Venezuelan missiles, fighter planes, warships, Special Forces, secret agents or military bases poised to attack US domestic facilities or its overseas installations.
In contrast, the US has warships in the Caribbean, seven military bases just across the border in Colombia manned by over two thousand US Special Forces, and Air Force bases in Central America. Washington has financed proxy political and military operations intervening in Venezuela with intent of overthrowing the legally constituted and elected government.
Obama’s claims resemble a ploy that totalitarian and imperialist rulers frequently use: Accusing their imminent victims of the crimes they are preparing to perpetrate against them. No country or leader, friend or foe, has supported Obama’s accusations against Venezuela.
Obama’s charge that Venezuela represents a ‘threat’ to US foreign policy requires clarification: First, which elements of US foreign policy are threatened? Venezuela has successfully proposed and supported several regional integration organizations, which are voluntarily supported by their fellow Latin American and Caribbean members. These regional organizations, in large part, replace US-dominated structures, which served Washington’s imperial interests. In other words, Venezuela supports alternative diplomatic and economic organizations, which its members believe will better serve their economic and political interests, than those promoted by the Obama regime. Petrocaribe, a Central American and Caribbean association of countries supported by Venezuela, addresses the development needs of their members better than US-dominated organizations like the Organization of American States or the so-called ‘Caribbean Initiative’. The same is true of Venezuela’s support of CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). These are Latin American organizations which exclude the dominating presence of the US and Canada and are designed to promote greater regional independence.
Obama’s charge that Venezuela represents a threat to US foreign policy is an accusation directed at all governments who have freely chosen to abandon US-centered organizations and who reject US hegemony.
In other words, what arouses Obama’s ire and motivates his aggressive threats toward Venezuela is Caracas’s political leadership in challenging US imperialist foreign policy.
Venezuela does not have military bases in the rest of Latin America nor has it invaded, occupied, or sponsored military coups in other Latin American countries – as Obama and his predecessors have done.
Venezuela condemned the US invasion of Haiti, the US-supported military coups in Honduras (2009), Venezuela (2002, 2014, 2015), Bolivia (2008), and Ecuador (2010).
Clearly, Obama’s ‘emergency’ decree and sanctions against Venezuela are directed at maintaining unchallenged US imperial supremacy in Latin America and degrading Venezuela’s independent, democratic foreign policy.
To properly understand Obama’s policy toward Venezuela, we have to analyze why he has chosen overt, unilateral bellicose threats at this time?
Obama’s War Threat Results from Political Failure
The principal reasons why Obama has directly intervened in Venezuelan politics is that his other policy options designed to oust the Maduro government have failed.
In 2013, Obama’s relied on US financing of an opposition presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, to oust the incumbent Chavista government. President Maduro defeated Obama’s choice and derailed Washington’s ‘via electoral’ to regime change.
Subsequently, Obama attempted to boycott and discredit the Venezuelan voting process via an international smear campaign. The White House boycott lasted 6 months and received no support in Latin America, or from the European Union, since scores of international election observers, ranging from former President James Carter to representatives of the Organization of American States certified the outcome.
In 2014, the Obama regime backed violent large-scale riots, which left 43 persons dead and scores wounded, (most victims were pro-government civilians and law enforcement officers) and millions of dollars in damages to public and private property, including power plants and clinics. Scores of vandals and rightwing terrorists were arrested, including Harvard-educated terrorist Leopoldo Lopez. However, the Maduro government released most of the saboteurs in a gesture of reconciliation.
Obama, on his part, escalated the terror campaign of internal violence. He recycled his operatives and, in February 2015, backed a new coup. Several US embassy personnel (the US had at least 100 stationed in their embassy), turned out to be intelligence operatives using diplomatic cover to infiltrate and recruit a dozen Venezuelan military officials to plot the overthrow of the elected government and assassinate President Maduro by bombing the presidential palace.
President Maduro and his national security team discovered the coup plot and arrested both the military and political leaders, including the Mayor of Caracas.
Obama, now furious for having lost major internal assets and proxies, turned to his last resort: the threat of a direct US military intervention.
The Multiple Purposes of Obama’s ‘National Emergency’
Obama’s declaration of a national security emergency has psychological, political and military objectives. His bellicose posture was designed to bolster the spirit of his jailed and demoralized operatives and let them know that they still have US support. To that end, Obama demanded that President Maduro free the terrorist leaders. Washington’s sanctions were primarily directed against the Venezuelan security officials who upheld the constitution and arrested Obama’s hired thugs. The terrorists in their prison cells can console themselves with the thought that, while they serve ‘hard time’ for being US shock troops and puppets, their prosecutors will be denied visas by President Obama and can no longer visit Disneyland or shop in Miami. Such are the consequences of the current US ‘sanctions’ in the eyes of a highly critical Latin America.
The second goal of Obama’s threat is to test the response of the Venezuelan and Latin American governments. The Pentagon and CIA seek to gauge how Venezuela’s military, intelligence, and civilian leaders will deal with this new challenge in order to identify the weak links in the chain of command, i.e. those officials who will run for cover, cower or seek to conciliate, by giving in to Obama’s demands.
It should be remembered that during the US-backed April 2002 coup, many self-styled ‘Chavista revolutionaries’ went into hiding, some holing up in embassies. In addition, several military officials defected and a dozen politicians curried favor with the coup leaders, until the tide turned and over a million ordinary Venezuelans, including slum dwellers, marched to surround the Presidential Palace and, with the backing of loyalist paratroopers, ousted the golpistas (coup-makers) and freed their President Chavez. Only then did the fair-weather Chavistas come out from under their beds to celebrate the restoration of Hugo Chavez and the return of democracy.
In other words, Obama’s bellicose posture is part of a ‘war of nerves’, to test the resistance, determination and loyalty of the government officials, when their positions are threatened, US bank accounts are frozen, their visas denied and access to ‘Disneyland’ cut.
Obama is putting the Venezuelan government on notice: a warning this time, an invasion next time.
The White House’s openly thuggish rhetoric is also intended to test the degree of opposition in Latin America – and the kind of support Washington can expect in Latin America and elsewhere.
And Cuba responded forcefully with unconditional support for Venezuela. Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Argentina repudiated Obama’s imperial threats. The European Union did not adopt the US sanctions although the European Parliament did echo Obama’s demand to free the jailed terrorists. Initially Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Mexico neither backed the US nor the Venezuelan government. The Uruguayan Vice President Raul Sendic was the only official in Latin America to deny US intervention. However, on March 16 at an emergency meeting of UNASUR in Quito Ecuador, the foreign ministers of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay, and Venezuela unanimously denounced US sanctions and military intervention
President Maduro Stands Firm: They Shall Not Pass
Most important, President Maduro stood firm. He declared a national emergency and asked for special powers. He called for two weeks of nationwide military exercises involving 100,000 soldiers beginning March 14. He made it clear to the Pentagon and the White House that a US invasion would meet resistance. That confronting millions of Venezuelan freedom fighters would not be a ‘cake walk’ – that there would be US casualties, body bags and new US widows and orphans to mourn Obama’s imperial schemes.
Obama is neither preparing an immediate invasion nor giving up on ‘regime change’ because his coup operatives failed in two consecutive years. His militarist posture is designed to polarize Latin America: to divide and weaken the regional organizations; to separate the so-called ‘moderates’ in Mercosur (Brazil/Uruguay/Paraguay) from Venezuela and Argentina. Despite his failures thus far, Obama will press ahead to activate opposition to Venezuelan security policies among the Chilean, Peruvian, Mexican, and Colombian neo-liberal regimes.
Washington is building pressure externally and preparing for a new round of violent unrest internally to provoke a robust government response.
In other words – Obama’s military invasion will follow the well-rehearsed scenario of ‘humanitarian intervention’ orchestrated in Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria – with such disastrous consequences on the people of those countries. Obama, at this time, lacks international political support from Europe and Latin America that would provide the fig leaf of a multilateral coalition and has lost his key internal operatives. He cannot risk a bloody unilateral US invasion and prolonged war in the immediate future.
However, he is inexorably moving in that direction. Obama has seized executive prerogatives to attack Venezuela. He has alerted and mobilized US combat forces in the region. He understands that his current teams of operatives in Venezuela have demonstrated that they are incapable of winning elections or seizing power without major US military backing. Obama is now engaged in a psychological as well as physical war of nerves: to run down the Venezuelan economy, to intimidate the faint-hearted, and exhaust and weaken the militants through constant threats and widening sanctions over time.
The Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro has accepted the challenge. He is mobilizing the people and the armed forces: his democratically elected regime will not surrender. The national resistance will be fighting in their own country for their own future. They will be fighting an invading imperial power. They represent millions, and they have a ‘world to lose’ if the ‘squalidos’ (the domestic fifth column) should ever take power: if not their lives, their livelihoods, their dignity and their legacy as a free and independent people.
President Maduro has sought and secured Russian military support and solidarity in the form of arms, advisors, and an agreement to engage in joint military maneuvers to meet the challenges of Obama’s war of attrition. President Putin has addressed a public letter of support to the Venezuelan government in response to Obama’s threats.
Obama is engaged in a two-pronged economic and military strategy, which will converge with a US military invasion.
The overt military threats issued in early March 2015 are designed to force the Maduro government to divert large-scale financial resources away from meeting the economic crisis to building emergency military defense. Through escalating military and economic threats, the White House hopes to diminish government subsidies for the import of basic foodstuffs and other essential commodities during an internal campaign of hoarding and artificial shortages committed by economic saboteurs. Obama is counting on his Venezuelan proxies and the local and international mass media to blame the government for the economic deterioration and to mobilize the big protests of irate consumers. White House strategists hope a massive crowd will serve as a cover for terrorists and snipers to engage in violent acts against public authorities, provoking the police and armed forces to respond in a re-play of the ‘coup’ in Kiev. At that point, Washington will seek to secure some form of support from Europe or Latin America (via the OAS) to intervene with troops in what the State Department will dub as ‘peace mediators in a humanitarian crisis’.
The success of sending the US Marines into Venezuela on a peace mission will depend on how effective Special Forces and Pentagon operatives in the US Embassy have been in securing reliable collaborators among the Venezuelan military and political forces ready to betray their country. Once the collaborators seize a piece of territory, Obama can mount the charade that US Marines are there by invitation… of the democratic forces.
Under conditions of explicit military threat, Maduro must change ‘the rules of the game’. Under emergency conditions, hoarding is no longer just a misdemeanor: it becomes a capital crime. Politicians meeting and consulting with representatives of the invading country should lose their immunity and be summarily jailed. Above all, the government must take total control over the distribution of basic goods; establishing rationing to ensure popular access; nursing scarce financial resources by limiting or imposing a moratorium on debt payments; diminishing or selling assets in the US (CITGO) to avoid confiscation or their being made illiquid (“frozen”) by some new Obama decree. On the external front, Venezuela must deepen military and economic ties with its neighbors and independent nations to withstand the US military and economic offensive. If Obama escalates the military measures against Venezuela, the parliamentary elections scheduled for September should be temporarily suspended until normality is re-established.
The New York Times Reports on What the Rest of the Western Hemisphere Thinks About the Conflict Between the US and Venezuela
In a significant change in reporting at The New York Times, the newspaper yesterday became the first major news outlet in the English language media to report on what the rest of the governments in the Western Hemisphere think of U.S. policy toward Venezuela.
This is potentially important because this part of the story, which has heretofore been ignored, could begin to change many people’s perceptions of what is behind the problems in U.S.-Venezuelan relations, if other journalists begin to report on it. The Obama administration is more isolated in Latin America than even George W. Bush was, but hardly anyone who depends on the major hemispheric media would know that, because the point of view of governments other than the U.S. is not reported.
The Times article contains this very succinct and eloquent comment on the new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela from Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa:
“It ought to be a joke in bad taste that reminds us of the darkest hours of our America, when we received invasions and dictatorships imposed by the imperialists,” Mr. Correa wrote. “Can’t they understand that Latin America has changed?”
The last line really sums up the situation: They really don’t understand that Latin America has changed. One can follow all the foreign policy debates in Washington about Latin America, in the media or in journals such as Foreign Affairs, and there really is almost no acknowledgment of the new reality. In this sense the discussion of hemispheric relations is different from most other areas of U.S. foreign policy, e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, even Israel and Palestine – where there is at least some debate that reaches the intelligentsia and the public. (The new Cold War with Russia is perhaps exceptional in the pervasiveness of a sheep-like mentality and uniformity of thinking – as Russia expert Stephen Cohen of Princeton has pointed out reminiscent of the 1950s; but it remains to be seen how long this can last, and even in this robust display of groupthink there is a small smattering of exceptions that break through.)
Latin America really has changed, drastically, and Correa’s view represents the vast majority of governments in the region, even if some are more diplomatic in their expression of it. This can be seen in the strong statements criticizing U.S. actions from regional organizations such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which includes every country in the hemisphere except the U.S. and Canada; and UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations). (The Times article mentioned that these two organizations “issued statements expressing concern,” although that was a bit of an understatement.)
More generally, the vast majority of Latin American governments now have a foreign policy independent of Washington, which has never been true before the 21st century; and they are also much more independent of Washington in their economic policies. As recently as 2002, for example, the U.S. was able to exert a major influence on the economic policy of even the region’s largest economy, Brazil, through the International Monetary Fund.
The White House’s latest move is seen throughout the region as so outrageous and threatening that it will likely be reversed, eventually, under pressure from Latin American governments. That is what happened in April 2013, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry refused to recognize the results of Venezuela’s presidential election, even though there was no doubt about the outcome. At first, Washington was able to get OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, and the right-wing government in Spain, to join in refusing to recognize the result; but then these two allies gave in under pressure, and Kerry was left completely alone, whereupon Washington recognized the results.
Where I live (the Netherlands), if you were to call NATO the world’s most dangerous institution, a consensus would quickly form to conclude that you must have lost your marbles. Yet, without NATO we would not have a Ukraine crisis, and no speculations about the possibility of war with Russia. Taking nuclear war seriously as a policy option should be listed in psychology handbooks as indicative of complete insanity or lethal ignorance. This has not stopped newspaper editors from speculating about it in their headlines, as they fill in the blanks of what a number top officials on both sides of the Atlantic have recently been half-saying or implying. With no NATO they would not have had occasion or reason to do so. Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko recently said: “Everybody is afraid of fighting with a nuclear state. We are not anymore”. Political insanity can exist independently of NATO, but the least one can say is that it has become a facilitator of that insanity.
It would therefore be a momentous development for what is still called ‘the West’ if last week’s Der Spiegel signals a relevant German awakening. The weekly magazine published a hard hitting article in which the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Breedlove, is accused of undermining Chancellor Merkel’s attempts to find a solution to the Ukraine crisis through diplomacy. The military head of NATO, with his exaggerations and untruths about Russian troop movements, spouts “dangerous propaganda” according to officials in Merkel’s Chancellery, as quoted by the magazine. In other words, he can no longer be trusted.
Lies coming out of Washington that portray Putin as the grand aggressor are nothing new; for about a year they have formed a constant stream, from the lips of the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and in a milder form from the President himself. As a result the idea of Russian aggression has become close to an article of faith in Northern Europe’s mainstream media. But by singling out Breedlove, the German finger-pointing is directed at NATO, and Obama and Co may draw their own conclusions from it.
An assortment of conflicts have gone into the Ukraine crisis, but the two that now appear to have become fundamental to it play themselves out far away from that tragic country. One is centered in Washington where an out-of-his-depth president must decide whether to become realistic or give in further to right-wing forces that want to give the Kiev regime the weapons needed to continue its war in Eastern Ukraine. The second conflict is an incipient one about NATO – meaning European subservience to the United States – begun by Angela Merkel’s and Francois Hollande’s recently formed Peace Party, of which their mission to the Kremlin, Merkel’s joint press conference with Obama and the above mentioned German reporting are early signs.
Until now Obama has given as good as free rein to the liberal hawks and neocons in his own government. The War Party. A prominent member of that group, Victoria Nuland, who played a central role in helping to organize the coup d’état in Kiev last year, is eager to give Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko the means to survive the onslaughts of supernationalists in his own environment and to subdue, finally, the anti-regime troops in South East Ukraine. Nuland works closely with Breedlove, and both have expressed themselves in denigrating terms about European recalcitrance in the face of what they want to accomplish.
Should Obama choose to become realistic, it would require measures to show the world his re-established political control over the State Department, and other institutions where neocons and “responsibility to protect” liberals have nestled. These have been writing America’s foreign policy basics since George W. Bush. It would also have to be accompanied by a genuine change of position vis-à-vis Putin. Obama must be aware that if, instead, he chooses to continue siding with the War Party, he runs the risk of demonstrating to all and sundry NATO’s impotence as military instrument of ‘The West’. The fighting forces of Donetsk and Lubansk wage an existential battle, and have all along been superior to the demoralized and apparently disorganized Kiev military. American intervention could only be effective if the proposed ‘lethal weapons’ have the capacity to turn the Ukraine war into a theatre of full military escalation, with tactical nuclear weapons an ultimate option.
The newly revealed split in transatlantic purposes may finally decide NATO’s future. As an institution that began living a life of its own with purposes and actions entirely different from, and at odds with, the original purposes for which it was created, NATO has had a much more fateful influence on political Europe than is routinely understood. Set up in 1949 to reassure a demoralized and war devastated Europe that it would help prevent a new war, the European member countries normally do not question the official reason that it exists to protect them. But there has not been a single instance since the demise of the Soviet Union to confirm such a function. It has, instead, forced governments to lie to their populations (we are threatened from behind the Hindu Kush and Saddam Hussein can make mushroom clouds), poisoning the air in which reasoned geopolitical discussion ought to have taken place. It has, moreover, created risks from blowback activity as member countries participated in wars that were none of NATO’s business.
But NATO’s worst consequence is what it has done to Europe’s prospects to pull itself out of its current muddle and become a political entity recognizable as such by the rest of the world. It has prevented the European Union from developing a defense policy, and consequently a foreign policy worthy of the term. Since the demise of its original reason for existence, it has caused Europe to slip ever further into a relationship vis-à-vis the United States best compared to medieval vassalage. That sad fact could hardly have been more blatantly obvious when in 2014 it succumbed to Washington’s pressure to join punitive economic sanctions against Putin’s Russia, to its own significant economic detriment, and for reasons justified solely by American propaganda.
The ease with which European Union heads of government fell in line behind misguided American efforts in the demonization of Putin reveals an even deeper problem. Since the end of the Cold War NATO has kept European politicians in a kind of geopolitical kindergarten, encouraging a comic book style vision of world affairs scripted in Washington with bad guys threatening the West and its ‘values’.
Some of this is of course well-understood in parts of the highest ruling circles of the European Union. Hence the recent suggestion made by EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker in an interview with Germany’s Die Welt newspaper, that Europe requires its own army to amount to anything on the world stage, and also to impress Russia with what Europe stands for. Juncker is well-known as an enthusiast for a federal Europe.
One of the reasons to wake the European Union up to the fact that is a political entity, and to encourage its development in the direction of a federal superstructure, is that by projecting its own power it could create a much needed counterbalance to the tragic American extremism in world affairs. It would force a militarist United States to stop legitimizing its aggression with references and appeals to putative ‘Western values’.
The European Union missed a chance to establish itself squarely on the world stage when Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder did not clarify why they denied George W. Bush a UN Security Council resolution for his invasion of Iraq. They failed to explain to their own public and to the wider world that Europe continues to uphold the UN Charter as the basis of what we have in the way of fledgling international law. Instead, from that moment onward the world saw an open European display of utter subservience to a tragically out-of-control Washington in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The much bandied about ‘Western values’ do not now include earlier principles connected with international law, desirable world order, sovereignty or diplomacy. Those have been eclipsed by Atlanticism, which is a peculiar European secular faith. It holds that the United States, while perhaps flawed, is still an indispensable savior, and without its leadership there cannot be good world order. Hence we must all do what Washington demands.
Since Atlanticism is worshipped most intensely by NATO, we may think of this institution as the Church of this faith. Its texts are slogans about liberty, ‘shared values’, human rights and the need to spread democracy. It has of course derived strength from historical experience and also from deserved gratitude. A weak lingering fear that without American supervision European quarrels could turn nasty – an original additional reason for wanting to have it around – may still enter into it as well. But its resilience is probably most of all due to an utter dearth of imagination among the technocrats and ideologically crippled men and women that form majorities among Europe’s ruling elites.
“Like no other institution, NATO embodies Atlantic cohesion, something that remains essential for any Western effort to promote a degree of international order. NATO links Europe to the world’s most powerful country and uniquely ties the United States to a common procedure of consultation and cooperation. … European governments, therefore, are crazy not to support NATO. To watch it wither is at best frivolous, at worst dangerous”, so said the well-known NATO advocate Christoph Bertram when in 2004 misgivings about George W. Bush were creating European doubts about its value. The crucial point he and other true believers have missed is that already for some time now genuine consultation is no longer part of the deal and, more importantly, that at the center of their faith is a country addicted to enemies.
An enemy that others can agree on offers a simple, rudimentary, way of measuring the goodness, badness and seriousness of fellow citizens. Especially for American politicians being ‘tough’ on baddies has become an almost indispensable means to demonstrate their political bona fides. When obvious solutions for substantial political problems affecting everyday life are too controversial, politicians tend to take firm stands on matters that brook no disagreement, like crime or familiar enemies. For a long time one of the worst things that could befall an American candidate for high office was to be called “soft on communism”. President Lyndon Johnson against his own better judgment did not end the Vietnam War because he anticipated massive political attacks from Republican ranks for having caved in to it. Today Obama’s detractors in the Republican Party have the Ukraine crisis as a welcome opportunity to ‘prove’ their repeated claim that he is a weak president, who cannot stand up to the challenges supposedly thrown down by Vladimir Putin. As a result the ‘liberal hawks’ in Obama’s own administration have a field day in pushing anti-Russian hysteria.
The mandatory enemy has determined much geopolitical reality since the end of the Cold War. Living with one prompts standard behaviour that, in the way of all regular behaviour, itself becomes an institution, which does not simply go away when the enemy vanishes. So after the demise of the Soviet Union there was a sudden desperate need to promote countries to enemy position. Since 2001 the “soft on terrorism” accusation has partially substituted for the political use of the putative communist threat; and before the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center Towers in Manhattan a fabrication of ‘rogue states’ or ‘failed states’ was introduced to keep all manner of Cold War institutions going.
When leading Vietnam War official Robert McNamara testified before Congress that with the Soviet Union gone America’s defense budget could be cut in half, the Pentagon and assorted military-related institutions suffered from a collective panic attack. Their answer was a report compiled by Colin Powell, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who obligingly created new threats, dictating that in future the United States must be able to fight two wars simultaneously against new enemies. China is held in reserve, radical Islamists are currently serving, and Putin’s Russia has now been added as a huge new but still familiar fake monster to join the list. With NATO membership the Europeans get America’s enemies as a bonus.
The one genuine threat to NATO, the fact that it is obsolete, has remained mostly hidden. It has been searching for causes that would keep it relevant, hence the involvement of member states in Afghanistan and Iraq and Mali and Libya. Hence its expansion, through absorbing the former Warsaw pact countries; a bureaucracy that increases in size gains new relevance. Ten years after the Berlin Wall came down it sought relevance by changing from a defensive into an offensive alliance, promptly violating the UN Charter, through its war in Kosovo.
To do away with NATO in one fell swoop, desirable as it may be, is obviously not going to work in the immediate future. But it could be allowed gradually to wither away, as it was doing before the Pentagon dragged it into Afghanistan.
A bureaucracy is not easily killed once it becomes redundant. Complicating matters in this case is that behind its appeals to ‘common values’, the alliance is an outgrowth of the U.S. military-industrial complex, adding to its military procurements, jobs, astronomical profits, and highly remunerated official positions.
But there is something more to NATO than this and all the already mentioned other reasons, something less tangible and hence easily overlooked. Its withering will not make the Atlanticist faith go away. That faith, together with NATO are links to political certainty of a kind. They are an extension of a spiritual handrail that existed throughout the Cold War, one helping to counter radical doubt. The post-World-War-II international order that developed in the shadow of United States-Soviet rivalry came, for all its defects, closer to a relatively stable society of states than anything seen in global relations since the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, and with it we could be certain that we knew what was politically good and bad.
Suddenly that was gone, and we had a post-Cold-War world throwing up massive uncertainties that, as imagined by a generation of concerned Europeans, have eaten into the fabric of moral and political life of the West. One could hardly expect the Cold War generation right away to throw overboard an Atlanticism that had been a political life sustaining faith. Decades later, clinging to that faith and as members of NATO, you get a modicum of certainty along with the American enemies that accompany it.
Listen to why retired French, German, Dutch, British and American top defense officials, in a book prepared for a 2008 NATO conference, advocated a military response not to physical threats but to foreign ideas that question Western supremacy and power. These NATO thinkers spoke explicitly in terms of a “restoration of its certainties” as a condition for the security of the West. China has the temerity to compete with Western interests in Africa, and Iran wants to wipe out Israel. The foreign ideas to be fought are irrational and aimed at defeating Western values. Implicitly claiming a moral monopoly of the use of violence for the United States and NATO, those former NATO generals came out in favor of using nuclear weapons, if need be, to stop other countries from developing weapons of mass destruction. In the words of Germany’s former chief of Defense, “we cannot survive … confronted with people who do not share our values, who unfortunately are in the majority in terms of numbers, and who are extremely hungry for success”. The massive Western propaganda of last year, demonizing Putin, from the putsch in Kiev onward, breathes the same spirit.
Neocons and liberal hawks deal in certainties. They have uncovered existential threats to Western values coming from terrorists and Islamists. The anomalous fantasy of the ‘war on terrorism’, which cannot exist and is the biggest lie of the twenty-first century, nevertheless brings the certainty of valiant defenders of Western values.
But Chancellor Merkel received her political education on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It would appear that her view of the situation has come rather close to that of Putin as expressed in his 2007 Munich Security Conference speech:
“I am convinced that we have reached that decisive moment when we must seriously think about the architecture of global security. And we must proceed by searching for a reasonable balance between the interests of all participants in the international dialogue … The United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way … And of course this is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasize this — no one feels safe.”
Germany’s foreign minister, the formidable Frank-Walter Steinmeier visits the United States this week to talk with high officials. Writing in the New York Times of 11 March, he came with what can be read as an appeal to realism and formerly held principles – albeit with a sop to prevailing opinion about Russian aggression.
The potential of a heightened conflict between Washington and a Chancellor Merkel, if she has the courage, the intelligence, and the inclination fully to open her eyes to Europe’s interests, lays bare the all-important question whether the United States is still capable of re-engaging in diplomacy. This is something it abandoned after the end of the Cold War, along with the very principle of respecting the sovereignty of countries that do not do its bidding. As of now, the United States simply will not accept sharing the globe with any other power that has significant political influence in its own part of the world.
This particular superpower psychosis is a first in history.
Merkel, and some other top European officials must by now have concluded that there is urgency in the matter, quite aside from avoiding the further provocation of Moscow by arming Poroshenko. Waiting in the wings is Hillary Clinton who, by all relevant commentary and impressions of her past actions and opinions will be an even worse war president than Obama has been, if she makes it to the White House.
Why the European Central Bank’s Trillion Euro Plan will Only Help Keep the Banks Afloat
SHARMINI PERIES: In an effort to relieve some pressure on the struggling European economies, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, announced a 1 trillion euro quantitative easing package on Monday. Quantitative easing is an unconventional form of monetary policy where a central bank creates new money electronically to buy financial assets like government bonds. And this process aims to directly increase private-sector spending in the economy and return inflation to target.
Well, what does that mean and what might be wrong with it is our next topic with Michael Hudson. Michael Hudson is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His two newest books are The Bubble and Beyond and Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents. His upcoming book is titled Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.
Michael, the Fed and some economists will argue that this is what got the U.S. out of its 2008 financial crisis. In fact, they put several QE measures into place. So what’s wrong with quantitative easing?
MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, the cover story is that it’s supposed to help employment. The pretense is an old model that used to be taught in textbooks a hundred years ago: that banks lend money to companies to invest and build equipment and hire people.
But that’s not what banks do. Banks lend money mainly to transfer ownership of real estate. They also lend money to corporate raiders. They lend money to buy assets. But they don’t lend money for companies to invest in equipment and hire more workers. Just the opposite. When they lend money to corporate raiders to take over companies, the new buyers outsource labor, downsize the work force, and try to squeeze out more work. They also try to grab the pensions.
The Fed was pretty open in what quantitative easing is supposed to do since 2008. It’s supposed to lower the interest rates, which raises bond prices and inflates the stock market. Since 2008 they’ve had the largest monetary inflation history – $4 trillion of quantitative easing by the Fed. But it’s gone via the banks into the stock and bond market.
What has this done for the economy as a whole? For starters, it’s obviously helped stock and bond holders get richer. And who are they? They’re the 1 percent and the 10 percent.
People are wringing their hands and saying, why isn’t the economy getting richer? Why is it that since 2008, economic inequality and the distribution of wealth have worsened instead of gotten closer together? Well, it’s largely because of quantitative easing. It’s because quantitative easing has increased the value of the stocks and the bonds that are held mainly by the 1 percent or the 10 percent hold. This hasn’t helped the economy because the Fed is really concerned with its constituency, which are the banks.
Quantitative easing hasn’t helped one class of investors in particular: pension funds. It’s done just the opposite. Pension funds made the assumption a few years ago that in order to break even with the rate of contributions that corporations, states and municipalities are paying, they have to make eight percent or eight and a half percent a year as a rate of return. But quantitative easing lowers the interest rate.
Today’s lower interest rates have made pension funds desperate. The risk-free rate of return is less than 1 percent on short-term Treasury bills. If you buy longer-term treasuries you can make 2 percent, but then if the interest rates ever go up, you’re going to take a loss as the bond price declines. So pension funds have said, “We’re desperate; what are we going to do?”
They’ve turned their money over to Wall Street money managers and hedge funds. The hedge funds take a huge rake off of fees to begin with. But even worse, when hedge funds and the big banks – Goldman Sachs, Citibank – see a pension fund manager coming through the door, they think, “How can I take what’s in his pocket and put it in mine?” So they rip them off. That is why there are so many big lawsuits against Wall Street for mismanaging pension fund money.
To summarize, the effect of the quantitative easing has been to make pension funds desperate, and to support real estate prices, as if higher costs to obtain housing will help recovery. It doesn’t help recovery, because to the extent that quantitative easing supports a re-inflation of housing prices, new homeowners have to pay even more of their income to the banks as mortgage interest. That means they have less money to pay for goods and services, so markets for goods and services continue to shrink.
What the quantitative easing has not been used for is what was promised in 2008. Before President Obama won the election and took office, Congress said that the TARP bailout and TALF were supposed to go for debt reduction. Some was to write down mortgages, so that people could afford to stay in their homes rather than the millions of home owners that have been foreclosed on and thrown out. But even before Obama came into office, Hank Paulson, the Secretary of the Treasury, told Democrats in Congress, yes, we’re willing to write down debts. But as Barney Frank explained in exasperation, Obama said no, he’s not going to do that. Obama ended up supporting the banks. So almost none of the TARP bailout money has been used for debt write-downs.
The same phenomenon is happening in Europe.
PERIES: So, Michael, what’s wrong with what the ECB has announced in terms of a trillion euros worth of quantitative easing for Europe?
HUDSON: They head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, has said that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep banks afloat. He doesn’t say that he’ll do whatever it takes to help economic recovery, or to help labor more. The ECB’s job is to help banks make more money.
Draghi was vice chairman of Goldman Sachs during 2002 to 2005. His view is that of Wall Street. It’s not a vantage point helping labor or helping economies grow. So it’s not surprising that the trillion euros of new money that the eurozone’s central bank is creating hasn’t gone to help Greece, for instance, survive. It hasn’t gone to help Greece, Spain, Italy, or Portugal get out of depression by fueling government spending. It’s simply been given away to the banks to buy bonds and stocks, including buying American stocks and bonds.
Behind this policy is the trickle-down theory that if you can make the financial sector richer, if you can make the one percent and the 10 percent richer, it’s all going to trickle down. This is the view of Paul Krugman, and it’s the view of the advisers that Obama has had. But instead of trickling down, the stock and bond price gains by the 1% and 10% drive a wedge in the economy, by increasing the value of stocks and bonds and real estate and wealth against labor. So quantitative easing is largely behind the fact that the distribution of wealth has become worse rather than better since 2008.
PERIES: One of the things that has happened in Europe that you wrote to me actually in an email was the disappearing central banks’ role in stimulating economies. Why is this an issue?
HUDSON: Central banks originally were designed to monetize government deficits. Governments are supposed to spend money into the economy, because that helps economies grow. But in Europe the Lisbon agreements say governments can’t run a deficit more than 3 percent of national income.
Furthermore, the role of the European Central Bank is not to give a penny to governments. They say that if you give a penny to government, you’ll have hyperinflation like you had in Weimar. So the central bank can only give money to banks – to invest in stocks and bonds. But the ECB won’t buy fresh bonds to finance new government spending. The result of this policy of not funding government deficits is that if the economy is to grow, it has to be entirely dependent on commercial banks for credit.
We had this situation in the United States in the last few years of the Clinton administration when the United States actually ran a budget surplus instead of a deficit. Now, how do you think the United States could grow when there’s a budget surplus sucking money out of the economy?
The answer is that commercial banks and bondholders have to supply the money. But the banks only supplied money in the form of junk mortgages and other forms of an economic bubble, such as takeover loans and a stock market bubble.
The interest of banks is not to help economies grow; it’s to extract interest from the economy. The financial sector uses part of its rising wealth to lobby for privatization sell-offs. The problem with this is that when you privatize a public utility, you give away a monopoly – and if you deregulate the economy, you let the monopoly set up tollbooths over the economy, for toll roads, communications or whatever is being privatized.
The ECB is telling Greece to privatize to raise the money to pay its bondholders, the ECB and IMF. So you have quantitative easing going hand-in-hand with the insistence on privatization. The result is debt deflation as the economy is forced to depend more and more on banks for the money to grow, instead of on government spending into the economy. You’re having the governments not being able to spend on infrastructure, letting it fall apart, as is happening with bridges and tunnels in the United States.
The next step is for the government to say, “I’m sorry, the central bank doesn’t have enough money to help us build new infrastructure. So we’ve got to sell it off to private investors who do have the money.” The next thing you know, you have the economy ending up looking like Chicago. That city sold off its sidewalks and its parking meters to Goldman Sachs and to other Wall Street firms. All of a sudden the prices of parking, driving, and living in Chicago went way, way up instead of lowering the costs as privatization promised.
You have the same phenomenon here that England suffered under Margaret Thatcher: costs for hitherto public services go up. Transportation costs go way up. Road costs go up. Communications, internet costs, telephone costs, everything that is privatized goes way up. Financialization leads to a rent-extractive, almost neo-feudal economy.
In that sense, quantitative easing and the refusal of central banks to fund governments (except to pay bondholders and bail out commercial banks) is a new kind of class war. It’s not the old kind of class war, which was between employers and their workforce over what wages will be. It’s by the financial sector trying to take over the economy, and especially to take over the public sector, to take over the public domain, to take over public utilities and whatever assets a government has. If governments cannot borrow from central banks, they have to begin selling off property.
PERIES: Michael, this is exactly what’s happening in Greece right now. The SYRIZA government is somewhat forced to continue privatization as a part of the agreement of the loans that they have been given by European banks. What could they do in this situation?
HUDSON: This is really a scandal, because most privatizations are corrupt insider dealings. The SYRIZA Party came in and said, wait a minute, the privatizations that have been done are by governmental officials to their own cronies at a giveaway price. How can we balance the budget if we’re giving away the public utilities instead of getting a fair price for them?
The European Central Bank said, no, you have to give away privatization to cronies at pennies on the dollar just like Russia did under Yeltsin, just like the United States did with the railroad giveaways of the 19th century.
Remember, the American privatization to the railroad barons and their financial backers created essentially the ruling class of the 20th century. It created the American stock market. The same thing is happening in Greece. It’s being told to continue the former politicians’ drive to endow a new oligarchy, a new kind of a feudal monopoly lord, by these privatization giveaways. The ECB says that if you don’t do that, we’re going to bankrupt the banking system.
Yanis Varoufakis went back to the party congress in Parliament and asked whether they would approve this. The left wing in Greece has said, no, we won’t approve the giveaways.
The pretense is that privatization is to make money, but the European Central Bank is saying, no, you can’t make money; you have to give it away to our cronies. It’s all one happy financial family. This is escalating financial warfare.
I can assure you that neither Varoufakis nor SYRIZA has any interest in this kind of privatization giveaway. It’s trying to figure out some way of perhaps prosecuting the cronies for bribery, for internal connections, or figuring out some way of legally stopping the rotten policies that they’re told to follow by the European Central Bank – which isn’t giving a single euro to help Greece get over the economic depression that debt deflation has brought on. The euros are only given to the financial sector, basically to help declare war on the Greek government, the Spanish government, the Italian government.
This financial warfare is trying to achieve the same thing that military warfare did in the past. It’s aim is to grab the land, to grab control of the public infrastructure, to grab control of governments themselves. But it’s doing it financially rather than militarily.
PERIES: Right. The SYRIZA Party last week did agree to the conditions of privatization, that they would not roll back on the existing agreements that had been made by previous government. They agreed to not roll back on ones that are underway, and that they’re actually not even averse to privatization as a statement by Yanis Varoufakis. What does all this mean for Greece?
HUDSON: The financial gun was put to their head. If they wouldn’t have said that, there would have been a total breakdown, and the European Central Bank would have tried to bankrupt the Greek banks. So he didn’t have much of a choice. Everything that Varoufakis has written, and all that the political leader of SYRIZA has said, has been exactly the opposite. But they had to give lip service to what they were told to do, and any agreement that’s made has to be ratified by Parliament. So, what they’ve said is, okay, we’re going to play good cop, bad cop. We’ll be the good cops with you, and let Parliament and our left wing be the bad cops and say that we’re not going to stand for this.