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RUNAWAY TRAIN

America’s election and its inability to alter the nation’s deadly course

 

John Chuckman

 

America is engaged in another of its sprawling and costly national election campaigns. A few of the events, such as the New Hampshire primary or the Iowa Caucus, I’m sure have participants seeing themselves as Thomas Jefferson’s sturdy yeomen doing their civic duty. But such humble and misty-eyed tableaux can be deceiving for the big picture is quite disturbing, including, as it does, billions of dollars spent and a lot of noise generated about things which will not change in any outcome.

America is, despite all the noise and expense of its election campaigns, not a democracy, and, as the world’s greatest imperial power, it is not a place which genuinely honors human rights, either at home or abroad although its politicians never stop talking about them. It is a country controlled by wealth whose purpose is the acquisition of still more wealth, equipped with a military that in scores of wars and interventions has fought, arguably, precisely once for the country’s defense.

It marked a fateful time in the modern era when America, under Harry Truman, decided to partner with the emerging state of Israel, a very fateful time indeed. Today much of the Middle East is in ruins, whole states and societies have been destroyed, at least a million have died, and some of the world’s great archeological and historical treasures have been destroyed as though by a gang of gleeful wanton young men.

Accompanying America’s long march of destruction through the Middle East – the work both of its own armed forces and of various proxies – has been the rise of a phenomenon called international terrorism. Our newspapers and broadcasters all focus on this last, leaving the preceding great acts of destruction unquestioned. After all, America’s much-consolidated press is an industry like any other and is owned by a relatively small number of wealthy people, and it depends upon good relations with other great industries for its revenue and with the government for its operating environment. It never questions policies, no matter how brutal, and it never scrutinizes what those policies are doing to people. America’s major allies all carry on in exactly the same fashion for they have become highly dependent on America’s goodwill.

Day after day, our press gives horrifying accounts of events such as the bombing in Brussels or the attacks in Paris, and it has been doing so since 9/11, providing a relentless war chant of “See what these bastards do!” These horrors are always treated as though they had no context, having sprung full-blown from the minds of bizarre people who think nothing, for example, of blowing themselves up. But I’m pretty sure that virtually every person who does such things sees himself or herself in the same light as the Japanese Kamikazes everyone once fearfully admired.

When was the last time your newspaper or broadcaster featured life in Gaza or in Syria or in Iraq or in Libya or in Yemen? It simply does not happen, and except for the rare independent article or book, our information about these places and the terrible assaults they are under is deliberately constrained. I am convinced that the natural human sympathy of most people, including many residents of imperial America, would respond to such sights and reports, but you are simply not given the opportunity to do so.

For me, this subject is the pivotal matter in the upcoming American election. Donald Trump, despite many unpleasant views and much careless rhetoric, seemed to have a spark of something new, an independent mind not shaped by America’s political establishment, and he an extremely successful and self-confident man in business not beholden to the special interests which shape the insincere news and own the loyalty of a great many politicians. He has made a number of encouraging statements, saying America should get along with Russia and China, leave Syria for Russia to clean-up, and talked about making deals instead of conflicts, but, most remarkably, he said that Israel should pay for its own defense. That last, something most timorous American politicians wouldn’t dream of uttering, is an example of bravery under the threat of fire, a quality I admire and one sorely needed to ever have a hope of having America extricated from the its Middle East’s Gordian Knot.

But two things just recently have given me pause: Trump’s words about using torture and the recent appointment to his foreign relations team of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Torture is unacceptable, ever. Legally innocent people are kidnapped and hurt in the mere hope they know something of interest, and in the process many die, convicted of nothing. The CIA has killed a number of prisoners in its Rendition Gulag since 9/11, whether accidentally or deliberately almost doesn’t matter, but their filthy work violates every principle we hold dear.

Calls for more torture are not new thinking, and they are repulsive. They ignore the actual cause of terror, which is America’s treatment of countless people in societies swept aside and rudely rearranged as though their homes and places were toy living room furniture being tossed by an angry child giant. As for Senator Sessions, there is a man who gets along just fine with the bloodiest people in Washington doing the rearranging.

Perhaps I should not have allowed a glimmer of hope that at least in one part of America’s domain a few things might change for the better. After all, seven years ago, I had hopes for a young black man with a charming smile and a tendency to talk and act with more independence than we usually see in Washington, not afraid sometimes to wear sandals and do without the primordial totem of an American flag pin always fixed to his lapel, but look what happened to him. He joined the great game and became nothing less than a mass murderer. Oh, he had one or two modest successes, as in stopping Israel’s raging demands to attack Iran, a country which has attacked no one in its entire modern history, but otherwise his is a long and dreary tale.

He has America still killing in Iraq, still killing in Afghanistan, destroying a decent civilization in Libya, supporting destruction in beautiful Syria, re-inserting an absolute dictator into Egypt to keep its prickly neighbor Israel happy, and creating an armada of drones to assassinate people in far off places guilty of no crime, killing in the process many others besides the innocent targets. Oh, and there are many other Neanderthal stupidities, from creating a coup and ensuing civil war in Ukraine to demanding Europe join in destructive economic sanctions and a huge military build-ups tight on Russia’s borders. And then there are all the efforts to intimidate China in its own sphere of influence.

You see, these are all the brutal stupidities of America’s establishment which our press would have you ignore while it goes on and on with its war chant about mindless international terror, virtually all of which is simply a pathetic human response to the stupidities, a response likely as unavoidable as having accidents if you go around driving drunk.

I say unavoidable, but that is not absolutely true. If a society goes far enough into the suppression of rights, terrorism can be almost eliminated. Stalin’s Russia did not experience much in the way of terrorism. Neither does Netanyahu’s Israel. And there is no doubt that America’s huge effort to suppress traditional rights and freedoms since 9/11 reflects that understanding, and the effort at suppression is not over. New surprises await Americans and their allies without question. It is an interesting sidelight to this ongoing process of building a super-security state that it just happens also to leave the ruling establishment increasingly unchallenged and unchallengeable. It is, indeed, a very dark path America has taken.

Is it any wonder I would grab at straws to see some change, even a modest re-think about what is being done? But I do fear that’s just what it is, grabbing at straws. The only realistic alternative is Hillary Clinton, a proven killer and serial liar and someone who much resembles Tony Blair for repulsive insincerity and selling herself to wealthy interests.

Indeed just at this writing, Radovan Karadzic has been convicted of war crimes during the Serbian war. I think it would be impossible to convincingly distinguish a great deal of what he did to Muslims in Bosnia and what Hillary Clinton did in Libya, which included running a program to gather small armies of thugs and arm them for insertion into Syria where they helped kill more than a quarter of a million people and create devastation. Her satanic laughter over her own bizarre joke about the leader of Libya, “We came, we saw, he died,” speaks volumes about her. This was a leader who had for decades given his people enlightened state policies and who ended being murdered in an American-created chaos.

It has been interesting to see the reactions to organized opposition against Trump, opposition taking a form sadly resembling 1930’s German Brownshirts shoving, threatening, and shouting at political rallies. Trump’s base, which is not only part of the Right but includes people who decades ago would have been Democrat-voting union people before their jobs disappeared, has very confusingly attributed all the organized opposition to “liberals.” Well, George Soros and Hillary Clinton are not, by any stretch of the imagination, liberals. Soros is in the CIA’s pocket, as Russia well knew when it recently banned his NGOs from operating there, and Hillary is just a plain killer.  I’m pretty sure America has no liberals anymore, at least as an organized body. George Soros and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry are perhaps best described as neocon “fellow travellers.”

Now, in case you don’t know who the neocons are, they are a group of influential people in the Washington establishment and in Right-wing publishing who forcefully advocate that America use its full might to re-order the planet to its liking. Many of the best known of them are Jewish Americans who never have Israel far from their concerns. There was a natural meshing of interests in supposedly re-making and stabilizing the Middle East with support for Israel. All the countries flattened or decimated in recent years effectively represent a collective effort to make the Middle East safe for Israel, to surround it with a vast cordon sanitaire, eliminating virtually all independent-minded leaders in an almost continent-sized region, and assuring Israel’s hegemony as a kind of regional miniature replica of what the United States has become in the world.

The chief problem here has been the murder of huge numbers of people and the perfectly natural reactions of many to revenge what has happened to their families, friends, and lands. If that is to be called terror, so be it, but in other times we have called the same reaction everything from the resistance or national liberation to war by other means or simple vengeance. The most important thing to understand about it is that it is not some unnatural eruption of insane extremists as our press constantly makes every effort to impress upon us.

The only way to control terror is to stop your part in it. The biggest part of all modern terror is the work of the United States, unless you regard a family blown up in Damascus or Tripoli or Fallujah or Gaza City or Sana’a as being somehow different in kind to the victims in Brussels or Paris. America also pressures all its traditional allies to support the work with efforts of one kind or another, anything from arms to training, always maintaining the stance that it opposes terror and insisting they do the same. Well, it does oppose terror, but only the wrong kind of terror, the terror which does not support or advance America’s efforts. America’s destruction and mass killing in recent years are the great bulk of what any reasonable person, one not dedicated to the silly idea that America is a benign force, would call terror. Events in Brussels or Paris or even New York have been only the results of what America and its allies have been doing, the “blowback” as they quaintly put it in intelligence circles.

Well, it has been my faint hope that Trump might represent at least some progress in this horrible business, but I am growing to doubt that possibility. I do think for many reasons things are rather out of control, hence my reference to a runaway train. The American establishment of wealth along with its Praetorian Guard of military and security services is firmly in control and the ability of any elected individual to redirect things seems remote, as does the initial likelihood of such a person even being elected to office.

In my heart of hearts I do still believe that Obama was the kind of man who wanted things otherwise, but the realities of those meetings at huge conference tables surrounded by square-jawed generals in uniforms stiff and glittering with brass and medals and the sneering, elusive country-club types of the security services, impenetrably self-confident in all their secret operations and resources, many of which will never even be known to a president, made him what he has become. That and the pressing demands of hugely wealthy individuals and corporations, powerful lobby groups, and the virtually daily calls from people like Netanyahu (we do know that “daily calls” is no exaggeration from a slip of Obama’s tongue several years back) have given us this failed man who may well have had good intentions at the start.

The cause of so much of the war and terror in the world, the artificial re-creation of Israel and its endless demands for the re-ordering of its region, will likely just have to run its course. It is a state which, rather surprisingly, shares a great many features with the former Soviet Union. It is monstrously over-militarized, occupied by vast and invasive security services, with no guarantees of any rights, holding millions down who don’t want to be held, and boasts an inefficient economy only kept afloat by huge subsidies from outside. I do think, just like the Soviet Union, it eventually will collapse on its own weak foundations.

As for the United States, I have long believed that the era of its unquestioned authority in the world, which it has always greatly abused, is drawing to a close. The world is not only becoming multi-polar, the United States simply cannot govern itself in many of its activities, almost like a great spoiled child who cannot stop gobbling ice cream cones. It is always pushing to excesses. Its finances are in appalling shape and it can only be a matter of time before huge corrections occur with all the terrible consequences they entail for many. It is spending unconscionable amounts it doesn’t even have on its military and security, and the exaggerated, paranoid perceptions of need motivating these expenditures reflect all that we’ve discussed above. But perhaps most important of all, it has no effective leadership, and its absolutely corrupt political system is unable to provide any, allowing the inside ruling coterie to just keep stumbling along towards we don’t know quite what.

 

 

 

 

 

John Chuckman

BRITAIN’S DAVID CAMERON WANTS TO USE BOMBS TO PROSPECT FOR GOLD IN SYRIA

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party, is a man of genuine integrity and honesty in his opposition to British bombing of Syria.

Indeed, he is everything the Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron, is not.

I think we see from the storm in the British press against Corbyn just how much the establishment values integrity and honesty, which is to say, not at all.

Almost every word of Cameron’s on the subject of bombing is deliberately deceptive.

He is in fact an intimate part of “the club” which privately regards ISIS and other murdering rogues as tools to an end, and that end is to destroy Assad and turn Syria into a rump state. The club’s members always falsely describe the situation in Syria as a civil war rather than what it truly is, an invasion of a peaceful land by the creatures of outside powers.

They freely admit ISIS is horrible, innumerable propaganda videos having established the fact for the public, but they make no move to do something genuine about it. They portray the only man who is doing something to help Syria’s brave army, Vladimir Putin, as some kind of evil figure with dreams of empire. There is a stream of propaganda and lies about everything Russia does, from its cruise missiles hitting Iran to its planes bombing hospitals, all offered with zero evidence.

Cameron’s every word on Syria is inappropriate. A British Prime Minister has no business pronouncing on the legitimacy of this or that government, especially one supported by the majority of the country’s people, clans, and armed forces. Cameron himself, posing as some cheap knock-off defender of democracy, positively Churchillian in his own eyes, enjoys the support of about 35% of British voters.

Assad’s government has fought bravely against monsters shipped in by Turkey and supplied by Saudi Arabia, Israel, and America for years now, while David Cameron sat back and pontificated.

Assad is not an angel, but he runs a state with tolerance for all religious groups in a region where that is not common, and he has often been generous in helping those badly hurt by the likes of David Cameron – for example, the millions of refugees created by the criminal invasion of Iraq. The reason Assad is hated by Cameron and his associates in “the club” is his independent-mindedness in not following Washington’s dictates. Cameron functions as a noisy little lap dog yapping and snapping at anyone ignoring his master, always in expectation of another approving stroke on the head. It truly is that simple, and all the rest we read and hear is just noisy propaganda.

Washington and Tel Aviv are determined to see Assad gone. And you must ask yourself why that should be a shared goal of the two most violent societies on earth today, each of them in a state of perpetual war and oppression of millions.

Yes, Turkey and Saudi Arabia hate Assad, too, but they mostly do as they are told by Washington.

And remember, one of those countries, Turkey, is run by a lunatic who assassinates journalists and any Kurdish person he can get his hands on, and the other, Saudi Arabia, is run by a senile absolute monarch who regularly cuts off heads and crucifies people and is conducting an illegal war in Yemen, killing civilians daily.

Those are the characters with which David Cameron shares his bed.

What is really at stake here is virtually never discussed in public: the right of countries to exist in peace without outside interference from aggressive states like America and Israel. The United Nations should be in the forefront of demanding just that, but it has been reduced to servility through internal manipulations and threats, especially threats of withholding American financial support as was done some years back. Ban Ki-moon is perhaps the most ineffectual Secretary General in memory, sometimes sounding like a pope enjoining peace with no one listening.

Britain’s bombing in Syria would be just plain old-fashioned aggression adding to that already being done by ISIS, al-Nusra, and other cutthroats. We don’t know what targets Cameron has in mind, but he simply has no business in the country, and we can be sure that if he were sincere about only attacking terrorists, Syria would have welcomed him in its desperate fight. Cameron just keeps repeating, like an unpleasant child who thinks repetition makes something so, that the government of Syria must go.

The government of Syria has not sought Britain’s help, and contrary to arrogant people like David Cameron, Syria does indeed have a government, as legitimate as most in the world.

The only people doing any bombing with the permission of the government are the Russians, and they are supporting the only people doing any real fighting, the Syrian army.

This is not a small point for all those concerned about the rule of law, which you might think would be a prime concern for those who claim they oppose terror.

It took centuries to establish some rule of law in international affairs, and today states like America and Israel and Turkey ignore it completely.

Good old David Cameron wants to join the mob, getting his bit of attention.

And it can’t have escaped Cameron’s attention how handsomely the war criminal, Tony Blair, has been rewarded for doing his dirty part in tearing apart Iraq. He has been showered with gold and sinecures.

Wouldn’t it be natural for Cameron to expect a bit of that for dropping bombs on Syria?

FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH IN PARIS AND THE UGLY TRUTH OF STATE TERROR

John Chuckman

Mass murder, as that which just occurred in Paris, is always distressing, but that does not mean we should stop thinking.

Isn’t it rather remarkable that President Hollande, immediately after the event, declared ISIS responsible? How did he know that? And if he was aware of a serious threat from ISIS, why did he not take serious measures in advance?

Within days of Friday 13, French forces assaulted an apartment with literally thousands of bullets being fired, killing a so-called mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Just how are you instantly elevated to the rank of “mastermind”? And if security people were previously aware of his exalted status, why did they wait until after a disaster to go after him?

Well, the ugly underlying truth is that, willy-nilly, France for years has been a supporter of ISIS, even while claiming to be fighting it. How do I know that? Because France’s foreign policy has virtually no independence from America’s. It could be described as a subset of American foreign policy. Hollande marches around with his head held stiffly up after getting off the phone at the Élysée Palace, having received the day’s expectations from Washington. He has been a rather pathetic figure.

So long as it is doing work the United States wishes done, ISIS remains an American protectorate, and regardless of Hollande’s past rhetoric, he has acted according to that reality. But something may just have changed now.

It is important to note the disproportionate attention in the West to events in Paris. I say disproportionate because there are equally ugly things going on in a number of places in the Middle East, but we do not see the coverage given to Paris. We have bombs in Lebanon and Iraq. We have daily bombings and shootings in Syria. We have cluster bombs and other horrors being used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. And of course, there are the ongoing horrors of Israel against Palestinians.

We have endless interviews with ordinary people in Paris, people who know nothing factual to help our understanding, about their reaction to the terror, but when was the last time you saw personal reactions broadcast from Gaza City or Damascus? It just does not happen, and it does raise the suspicion that the press’s concern with Paris is deliberately out of proportion. After all, Israel killed about twenty times as many people in Gaza not very long ago, and the toll was heavily weighted with children, many hundreds of them. Events in Paris clearly are being exploited for highly emotional leverage.

Leverage against what? Arabs in general and Muslims in particular, just part of the continuing saga of deliberately-channeled hate we have experienced since a group of what proved (after their arrest) to be Israeli spies were reported on top of a truck, snapping pictures and high-fiving each other as the planes hit the World Trade Center in 2001. What those spies were doing has never been explained to the public. I’m not saying Israel is responsible for 9/11, but clearly some Israeli government interests were extremely happy about events, and we have been bombarded ever since with hate propaganda about Muslims, serving as a kind of constant noise covering the crimes Israel does commit against Palestinians and other neighbors.

It is impossible to know whether the attack in Paris was actually the work of ISIS or a covert operation by the secret service of an ISIS supporter. The point is a bit like arguing over angels on a pinhead. When you are dealing with this kind of warfare – thugs and lunatics of every description lured into service and given deadly toys and lots of encouragement to use them – things can and do go wrong. But even when nothing goes wrong in the eyes of sponsors for an outfit like ISIS, terrible things are still happening. It’s just that they’re happening where the sponsors want them to happen and in places from which our press carefully excludes itself. Terrible things, for example, have been happening in the beautiful land of Syria for four or five years, violence equivalent to about two hundred Paris attacks, causing immense damage, the entire point of which is to topple a popularly-supported president and turn Syria into the kind of rump states we see now in Iraq.

A covert operation in the name of ISIS is at least as likely as an attack by ISIS. The United States, Israel, Turkey, and France are none of them strangers to violent covert activities, and, yes, there have been instances before when a country’s own citizens were murdered by its secret services to achieve a goal. The CIA pushed Italian secret services into undertaking a series of murderous attacks on their own people during the 1960s in order to shake up Italy’s “threatening” left-wing politics. It was part of something called Operation Gladio. Operation Northwoods, in the early 1960s, was a CIA-planned series of terrorist acts on American civilians to be blamed on Cuba, providing an excuse for another invasion. It was not carried out, but that was not owing to any qualms in the CIA about murdering their own, otherwise no plan would have ever existed. The CIA was involved in many other operations inside the United States, from experiments with drugs to ones with disease, using innocent people as its subject-victims.

There have been no differences worth mentioning between Hollande’s France and America concerning the Middle East. Whatever America wants, America gets, unlike the days when Jacques Chirac opposed the invasion of Iraq, or earlier, when de Gaulle removed France’s armed forces from integration within NATO or bravely faced immense hostility, including a coup attempt undertaken by French military with CIA cooperation, when he abandoned colonialism in Algeria.

If anything, Hollande has been as cloyingly obsequious towards America’s chief interest in the Middle East, Israel, as a group of Republican Party hopefuls at a Texas barbecue fund-raiser sniffing out campaign contributions. After the Charlie Hebdo attack, Hollande honored four Jewish victims of the thugs who attacked a neighborhood grocery store with France’s highest honor, the Legion of Honor. I don’t recall the mere fact of being murdered by thugs ever before being regarded as a heroic distinction. After all, in the United States more than twenty thousand a year suffer that fate without recognition.

Israel’s Netanyahu at the time of the Charlie Hebdo attack actually outdid himself in manic behavior. He barged into France against a specific request that he stay home and pushed himself, uninvited, to the front row of the big parade down the Champs-Élysées which was supposed to honor free speech. He wanted those cameras to be on him for voters back home watching.

Free speech, you might ask, from the leaders of Egypt, Turkey, the UAE, and Israel, who all marched in front?  Well, after the free-speech parody parade, the Madman of Tel Aviv raced around someone else’s country making calls and speeches for Jewish Frenchmen to leave “dangerous” France and migrate “home” to Israel. It would in fact be illegal in Israel for someone to speak that way in Israel to Israelis, but illegality has never bothered Netanyahu. Was he in any way corrected for this world-class asinine behavior? No, Hollande just kept marching around with his head stiffly up. I guess he was trying to prove just how free “free speech” is in France.

But speech really isn’t all that free in France, and the marching about free speech was a fraud. Not only is Charlie Hebdo, the publication in whose honor all the tramping around was done, not an outlet for free speech, being highly selective in choosing targets for its obscene attacks, but many of the people marching at the head of the parade were hardly representatives of the general principle.

France itself has outlawed many kinds of free speech. Speech and peaceful demonstrations which advocate a boycott of Israel are illegal in France. So a French citizen today cannot advocate peacefully against a repressive state which regularly abuses, arrests, and kills some of the millions it holds in a form of bondage. And Hollande’s France enforces this repressive law with at least as much vigor as Israel does with its own version, in a kind of “Look, me too,” spirit. France also has a law which is the exactly the equivalent of a law against anyone’s saying the earth is flat: a law against denying or questioning the Holocaust. France also is a country, quite disgracefully, which has banned the niqab.

Now, America’s policy in the Mideast is pretty straightforward: subsidize and protect its colony Israel and never criticize it even on the many occasions when it has committed genuine atrocities.  American campaign finance laws being what they, politics back home simply permits no other policy. The invasion of Iraq, which largely was intended to benefit Israel through the elimination of a major and implacable opponent, has like so many dark operations backfired. I call the invasion a dark operation because although the war was as public as could be, all of America’s, and Britain’s, supposed intelligence about Iraq was crudely manufactured and the reasons for undertaking an act which would kill a million people and cripple an entire country were complete lies.

America’s stupid invasion created new room for Iran to exert its influence in the region – hence, the endless noise in Israel and Saudi Arabia about Iran – and it led directly to the growth of armed rabble groups like ISIS. There were no terrorists of any description in Saddam’s Iraq, just as there were no terrorists in Gadhafi’s Libya, a place now so infested with them that even an American ambassador is not safe.

Some Americans assert that ISIS happened almost accidentally, popping out of the dessert when no one was looking, a bit like Athena from the head of Zeus, arising from the bitterness and discontents of a splintered society, but that view is fatuous. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens by accident in this part of the world. Israel’s spies keep informed of every shadowy movement, and America always listens closely to what they say.

It is silly to believe ISIS just crept up on America, suddenly a huge and powerful force, because ISIS was easy for any military to stop at its early stages, as when it was a couple of thousand men waving AK-47s from the backs of Japanese pick-up trucks tearing around Iraq. Those pick-up trucks and those AK-47s and the gasoline and the ammunition and the food and the pay required for a bunch of goons came from somewhere, and it wasn’t from Allah.

A corollary to America’s first principle about protecting Israel is that nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in Israel’s neighborhood that is not approved, at least tacitly, by the United States. So whether, in any given instance of supply and support for ISIS, it was Israel or Saudi Arabia or Turkey or America – all involved in this ugly business – is almost immaterial. It all had to happen with American approval. Quite simply, there would be hell to pay otherwise.

As usual in the region, Saudi Arabia’s role was to supply money, buying weapons from America and others and transshipping them to ISIS. Ever since 9/11, Saudi Arabia has been an almost pathetically loyal supporter of America, even to the extent now of often cooperating with Israel. That couldn’t happen before an event in which the majority of perpetrators proved to be Saudi citizens and which led to the discovery that large amounts of Saudi “go away” money had been paid to Osama bin Laden for years. But after 9/11, the Saudis feared for the continuation of their regime and now do what they are told.  They are assisted in performing the banking function by Qatar, another wealthy, absolute state aligned with the United States and opposing the rise of any possibly threatening new forces in its region.

Of course, it wasn’t just the discoveries of 9/11 that motivated Saudi Arabia. It intensely dislikes the growing influence of Iran, and Iran’s Shia Muslim identity is regarded by Sunni sects in Saudi Arabia in much the way 17th century Protestantism was viewed by an ultramontane Catholic state like Spain. The mass of genuine jihadists fighting in Syria – those who are not just mercenaries and adventurers or agents of Israel or Turkey or the Saudis – are mentally-unbalanced Sunni who believe they are fighting godlessness. The fact that Assad keeps a secular state with religious freedom for all just adds to their motivation.

ISIS first achievement was toppling an Iraqi government which had been excessively friendly to Iran in the view of Israel, and thereby the United States. Iraq’s army could have stopped them easily early on but was bribed to run away, leaving weapons such as tanks behind. Just two heavy tanks could have crushed all the loons in pick-up trucks. That’s why there was all the grotesque propaganda about beheadings and extreme cruelty to cover the fact of modern soldiers running from a mob. ISIS gathered weapons, territory, and a fierce reputation in an operation which saw President al-Maliki – a man disliked by the United States for his associations with Iran and his criticism of American atrocities – hurriedly leave office.

From that base, ISIS was able to gain sufficient foothold to begin financing itself through, for example, stolen crude sold at a discount or stolen antiquities. The effective splitting up of Iraq meant that its Kurdish population in the north could sell, as it does today, large volumes of oil to Israel, an unheard of arrangement in Iraq’s past. ISIS then crossed into Syria in some force to go after Assad. The reasons for this attack were several: Assad runs a secular state and defends religious minorities but mainly because the paymasters of ISIS wanted Assad destroyed and Syria reduced in the fashion of Iraq.

Few people in the press seem to have noted that ISIS never attacks Israel or Israeli interests. Neither does it attack the wheezingly-corrupt rulers of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic equivalent of ancient Rome’s Emperor Nero. Yet those are the very targets a group of genuine, independent warrior-fundamentalists would attack. But ISIS is not genuine, being supplied and bankrolled by people who do not want to see attacks on Israel or Saudi Arabia, including, notably, Israel and Saudi Arabia. ISIS also is assisted, and in some cases led, by foreign covert operators and special forces.

There does seem to be a good deal of news around the idea of France becoming serious in fighting ISIS, but I think we must be cautious about accepting it at face value. Putin is reported as telling ship commanders in the Mediterranean to cooperate and help cover the French aircraft carrier approaching. Hollande keeps calling for American cooperation too, as Putin has done for a very long time, but America’s position remains deliberately ambiguous. A new American announcement of cooperation with Turkey in creating a “safe zone” across the border with northern Syria is a development with unclear intentions. Is this to stop the Kurds Erdogan so despises fighting in the north of Syria from establishing themselves and controlling the border or is it a method for continued support of ISIS along the that border? Only time will tell.

I do think it at least possible Hollande may have come around to Putin’s view of ISIS, but America has not, and the situation only grows more fraught with dangerous possibilities. I’ve long believed that likely America, in its typically cynical fashion, planned to destroy ISIS, along with others like al-Nusra, once they had finished the dirty work of destroying Syria’s government and Balkanizing the country. In any event, Israel – and therefore, automatically, America – wants Assad destroyed, so it would be surprising to see America at this point join honestly with Putin and Hollande.

America has until now refused Russia any real support, including such basic stuff as sharing intelligence. It cooperates only in the most essential matters such avoiding attacks on each other’s planes. It also has made some very belligerent statements about what Russia has been doing, some from the America’s Secretary of Defense sounding a lot like threats. Just the American establishment’s bully-boy attitude about doing anything which resembles joining a Russian initiative does not bode well.

After all, Putin has been portrayed as a kind of Slavic Satan by American propaganda cranking stuff out overtime in support of Ukraine’s incompetent coup-government and with the aim of terrifying Eastern Europe into accepting more American weapons and troops near Russia’s border, this last having nothing to do with any Russian threat and everything to do with America’s aggressive desire to shift the balance of power. How do you turn on a dime and admit Putin is right about Syria and follow his lead?

And there are still the daily unpleasant telephone calls from Israel about Assad. How do you manoeuvre around that when most independent observers today recognize Assad as the best alternative to any other possible government. He has the army’s trust, and in the end it is the Syrian army which is going to destroy ISIS and the other psychopaths. Air strikes alone can never do that. The same great difficulty for Hollande leaves much ambiguity around what he truly means by “going to war against ISIS.”

It is an extremely complicated world in which we live with great powers putting vast resources towards destroying the lives of others, almost killing thousands on a whim, while pretending not to be doing so. We live in an era shaped by former CIA Director Allen Dulles, a quiet psychopath who never saw an opportunity for chaos he did not embrace.

The only way to end terror is to stop playing with the lives of tens of millions in the Middle East, as America has done for so long, and stop supporting the behaviors of a repressive state which has killed far greater numbers than the madmen of ISIS could dream of doing, demanding instead that that state make peace and live within its borders. But, at least at this stage, that is all the stuff of dreams.

 

DANGEROUS FLAILING AND BELLOWING OF THE BEAST

John Chuckman

When I think of America’s place in the world today, the image that comes to mind is of a very large animal, perhaps a huge bull elephant or even prehistoric mammoth, which long roamed as the unchallenged king of its domain but has become trapped by its own missteps, as caught in a tar pit or some quicksand, and it is violently flailing about, making a terrifying noises in its effort to free itself and re-establish its authority. Any observer immediately knows the animal ultimately cannot succeed but certainly is frightened by the noise and crashing that it can sustain for a considerable time.

I think that is the pretty accurate metaphor for the situation of the United States today, still a terribly large and powerful society but one finding itself trapped after a long series of its own blunders and errors, a society certain ultimately to become diminished in its prestige and relative power with all the difficulties which that will entail for an arrogant people having a blind faith in their own rightness. America simply cannot accept its mistakes or that it was ever wrong, for Americanism much resembles a fundamentalist religion whose members are incapable of recognizing or admitting they ever followed anything but the divine plan.

America has made a costly series of errors over the last half century, demonstrating to others that the America they may have been in awe of in, say, 1950, and may have considered almost godlike and incapable of mistakes, has now proved itself indisputably, in field after field, as often not even capable of governing itself. The irony of a people who are seen as often unable to govern themselves advising others how to govern themselves brings a distinct note of absurdity to American foreign policy.

America’s establishment, feeling their old easy superiority in the world beginning to slip away in a hundred different ways, seems determined to show everyone it still has what it takes, determined to make others feel its strength, determined to weaken others abroad who do not accept its natural superiority, determined to seize by brute force and dirty tricks advantages which no longer come to it by simply superior performance.

Rather than learn from its errors and adjust its delusional assumptions, America is determined to push and bend people all over the world to its will and acceptance of its leadership. But you cannot reclaim genuine leadership once you have been exposed enough times in your bad judgment, and it is clear you are on the decline, just as you cannot once others realize that they can do many things as well or better than you.

In the end, policies which do not recognize scientific facts are doomed. Policies based on wishes and ideology do not succeed over the long run, unless, of course, you are willing to suppress everyone who disagrees with you and demand their compliance under threat. The requirement for an imperial state in such a situation is international behavior which resembles the internal behavior of an autocratic leader such as Stalin, and right now that is precisely where the United States is headed. Stalin’s personality had a fair degree of paranoia and no patience for the views of others. He felt constantly threatened by potential competitors and he used systematic terror to keep everyone intimidated and unified under him.

Stalin’s sincere belief in a faulty economic system that was doomed from its birth put him in a position similar to that of America’s oligarchs today. They have a world imperial system that is coming under increasing strain and challenge because others are growing and have their own needs and America simply does not have the flexibility to accommodate them. America’s oligarchs are not used to listening to the views of others. Stalin’s belief in a system that was more an ideology than a coherent economic system is paralleled by the quasi-religious tenets of Americanism, a set of beliefs which holds that America is especially blessed by the Creator and all things good and great are simply its due. Americanism blurrily assumes that God’s promise in the Old Testament that man should have dominion over the earth’s creatures applies now uniquely to them. Such thinking arose during many years of easy superiority, a superiority that was less owing to intrinsic merits of American society than to a set of fortuitous circumstances, many of which are now gone.

In Vietnam, America squandered countless resources chasing after a chimera its ideologues insisted was deadly important, never once acknowledging the fatal weaknesses built right into communism from its birth. Communism was certain eventually to fail because of economic falsehoods which were part of its conception, much as a child born with certain genetic flaws is destined for eventual death. America’s mad rush to fight communism on all fronts was in keeping with the zealotry of America’s Civic Religion, but it was a huge and foolish practical judgment which wasted colossal resources. In Vietnam, America ended in something close to total shame – literally defeated on the battlefield by what seemed an inconsequential opponent, having also cast aside traditional ethical values in murdering great masses of people who never threatened the United States, murder on a scale (3 million) comparable to the Holocaust. It used weapons and techniques of a savage character: napalm, cluster bombs, and secret mass terror programs. The savagery ripped into the fabric of America’s own society, dividing the nation almost as badly as its Civil War once had. America ended reduced and depleted in many respects and paid its huge bills with devalued currency.

Following Vietnam, it has just been one calamity after another revealing the same destructive inability to govern, the same thought governed by zealotry, right down to the 2008 financial collapse which was caused by ignoring sound financial management and basically instituting a system of unlimited greed. The entire world was jolted and hurt by this stupidity whose full consequences are not nearly played out.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were completely unnecessary, cost vast sums, caused immense misery, and achieved nothing worth achieving. We now know what was kept hidden that more than million Iraqis died in an invasion based entirely on lies. These wars also set in motion changes whose long term effects have yet to be felt. Iraq, for example, has just about had its Kurdish, oil-producing region hived off as a separate state.

America’s primitive approach to the Soviet Union’s collapse, its sheer triumphalism and failure to regard Russia as important enough to help or with which to cooperate, ignored America’s own long-term interests. After all, the Russians are a great people with many gifts, and it was inevitable that they would come back from a post-collapse depression to claim their place in the world.

So how do the people running the United States now deal with a prosperous and growing Russia, a Russia which reaches out in the soundest traditional economic fashion for cooperation and partnership in trade and projects? Russia has embraced free trade, a concept Americans trumpeted for years whenever it was to their advantage, but now for Russia is treated as dark and sinister. Here America fights the inevitable power of economic forces, something akin to fighting the tide or the wind, and only for the sake of its continued dominance of another continent. Americans desperately try to stop what can only be called natural economic arrangements between Russia and Europe, natural because both sides have many services, goods, and commodities to trade for the benefit of all. America’s establishment wants to cut off healthy new growth and permanently to establish its primacy in Europe even though it has nothing new to offer.

America’s deliberately dishonest interpretation of Russia’s measured response to an induced coup in Ukraine is used to generate an artificial sense of crisis, but despite the pressures America is capable of exerting on Europe, we sense Europe only goes along to avoid a public squabble and only for so long as the costs are not too high. The most intelligent leaders in Europe recognize what the United States is doing but do not want to clash openly, although the creation of the Minsk Agreement came pretty close to a polite rejection of America’s demand for hardline tactics.

The coup in Ukraine was intended to put a hostile government in control of a long stretch of Russian border, a government which might cooperate in American military matters and which would serve as an irritant to Russia. But you don’t get good results with malicious policy. So far the coup has served only to hurt Ukraine’s economy, security, and long-term interests. It has a government which is seen widely as incompetent, a government which fomented unnecessary civil war, a government which shot down a civilian airliner, and a government in which no one, including in the West, has much faith. Its finances are in turmoil, many important former economic connections are severed, and there is no great willingness by Europe, especially an economically-troubled Europe, to assist it. It is not an advanced or stable enough place to join the EU because that would just mean gigantic subsidies being directed to it from an already troubled Europe. And the idea of its joining NATO is absolutely a non-starter both because it can’t carry its own weight in such an organization and because that act would cross a dangerous red line for Russia.

Kiev is having immense problems even holding the country together as it fights autonomous right-wing outfits like the Azov Battalion in the southeast who threaten the Minsk Agreement, as it tries to implement military recruiting in Western Ukraine with more people running away than joining up, as it finds it must protect its own President with a Praetorian Guard of Americans from some serious threats by right-wing militias unhappy with Kiev’s failures, as it must reckon with the de facto secession of Donetsk and the permanent loss of Crimea – all this as it struggles with huge debts and an economy in a nosedive.

America is in no position to give serious assistance to Ukraine, just plenty of shop-worn slogans about freedom and democracy. These events provide a perfect example of the damage America inflicts on a people with malicious policy intended only to use them to hurt others. There is such a record of this kind of thing by America that I am always surprised when there are any takers out there for the newest scheme. One remembers Kissinger encouraging the Iraqi Kurds to revolt against Saddam Hussein and then leaving them in the lurch when the dictator launched a merciless suppression. I also think of the scenes at the end of the Vietnam War as American helicopters took off in cowardly fashion from the roof of the embassy leaving their Vietnamese co-workers, tears streaming down their faces, vainly grasping for the undercarriages of helicopters, a fitting and shameful end to a truly brainless crusade.

I don’t know but I very much doubt that the present government of Ukraine can endure, and it is always possible that it will slip into an even more serious civil war with factions fighting on all sides, something resembling the murderous mess America created in Libya. Of course, such a war on Russia’s borders would come with tremendous risks. The American aristocracy doesn’t become concerned about disasters into which they themselves are not thrust, but a war in Ukraine could easily do just that. In ironic fashion, heightened conflict could mark the beginning of the end of the era of European subservience to America. Chaos in Ukraine could provide exactly the shock Europe needs to stop supporting American schemes before the entire continent or even the world is threatened.

I remind readers that while Russia’s economy is not as large as America’s, it is a country with a strong history in engineering and science, and no one on the planet shares its terrifying experiences with foreign invasion. So it has developed and maintains a number of weapons systems that are second to none. Each one of its new class of ballistic missile submarines, and Russia is building a number of them, is capable of hitting 96 separate targets with thermo-nuclear warheads, and that capability is apart from rail-mounted ICBMs, hard-site ICBMs,  truck-mounted missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, sea-launched cruise missiles, and a variety of other fearsome weapons. Modern Russia does not make threats with this awesome power, and you might say Putin follows the advice of Theodore Roosevelt as he walks softly but carries a big stick, but I do think it wise for all of us to keep these things in mind as America taunts Russia and literally play a game of chicken with Armageddon. I don’t believe America has a legitimate mandate from anyone to behave in this dangerous way. Europe’s smartest leaders, having lived at the very center of the Cold War and survived two world wars, do understand this and are trying very carefully not to allow things to go too far, but America has some highly irresponsible and dangerous people working hard on the Ukraine file, and accidents do happen when you push things too hard.

In another sphere of now constant engagement, instead of sponsoring and promoting fair arrangements in the Middle East, America has carried on a bizarre relationship with Israel, a relationship which is certainly against the America’s own long term interests, although individual American politicians benefit with streams of special interests payments – America’s self-imposed, utterly corrupt campaign financing system being ultimately responsible – in exchange for blindly insisting Israel is always right, which it most certainly is not. An important segment of Israel’s population is American, and they just carried over to Israel the same short-sightedness, arrogance, and belligerence which characterize America, so much so, Israel may legitimately be viewed as an American colony in the Middle East rather than a genuinely independent state. Its lack of genuine independence is reflected also in its constant dependence on huge subsidies, on its need for heavily-biased American diplomacy to protect it in many forums including the UN, and on its dependence upon American arm-twisting and bribes in any number of places, Egypt’s generous annual American pension requiring certain behaviors being one of the largest examples.

Here, too, inevitability has been foolishly ignored. The Palestinians are not going anywhere, and they have demonstrated the most remarkable endurance, yet almost every act of Israel since its inception, each supported by America, has been an effort to make them go away through extreme hardship and abuse and violence, looking towards the creation of Greater Israel, a dangerous fantasy idea which cannot succeed but it will fail only after it has taken an immense toll. Despite America’s constant diplomatic and financial pressure on other states to support its one-sided policy here, there are finally a number of signs that views are turning away from the preposterous notion that Israel is always right and that it can continue indefinitely with its savage behavior.

Recently, we have had a great last effort by America and covert partners to secure Israel’s absolute pre-eminence in the Middle East through a whole series of destructive intrusions in the region – the “Arab Spring,” the reverse-revolution in Egypt, the smashing and now dismemberment of Iraq, the smashing and effective dismemberment of Libya, and the horrible, artificially-induced civil war in Syria which employs some of the most violent and lunatic people on earth from outside and gives them weapons, money, and refuge in an effort to destroy a stable and relatively peaceful state.

I could go on, but I think the picture is clear: in almost every sphere of American governance, internally and abroad, America’s poor political institutions have yielded the poorest decisions. America has over-extended itself on every front, has served myths rather than facts, has let greed run its governing of almost everything, and has squandered resources on achieving nothing of worth.

I view America’s present posture in the world – supporting dirty wars and coups in many places at the same time and treating others as game pieces to be moved rather than partners – as a desperate attempt to shake the world to gain advantages it couldn’t secure through accepted means of governance and policy. America is that great beast, bellowing and shaking the ground, and for that reason, it is extremely dangerous.

 

 

 

 

 

FOREIGN AFFAIRS AS OPERA BUFFA: THE GLOBAL FIGHT AGAINST ISIS

John Chuckman

 

There is a forgotten 1933 movie serial called The Three Musketeers in which three members of the French Foreign Legion are rescued by an American, a young John Wayne, using the machine gun on his biplane to mow down Arab bad guys threatening the Legionnaires in the Sahara. What was John Wayne doing flying around the French Sahara? He had flown over from France to visit his girlfriend. Why did he have a machine gun mounted on his plane? There wouldn’t be a story otherwise. Like all such series, it is silly, but it is notable for a plot which includes a secret organization called the Devil’s Circle led by a mysterious and evil figure called El Shaitan, someone who wants to destroy the Legion and, after many false leads, turns out in the last reel to be a western merchant rather than an Arab.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Substitute al-Qaeda for the Devil’s Circle, substitute Osama bin Laden for El Shaitan, and substitute the Mideast for North Africa. John Wayne remains John Wayne, symbol as they used to say on the voiceover for the 1950s Superman television show, “for the American way of life.” It does sound as though the script for al-Qaeda was lifted from the old serial. I’m sure someone at Langley would be able to confirm that. With all its twists and turns around the identity of El Shaitan, the story would make a great libretto for an extravagant opera buffa, or a Broadway comedy musical.

Of course, we had indisputable proof years ago, in the testimony of a former British Foreign Minister and several other significant world figures, that there was indeed no such organization as al-Qaeda, the Arab word commonly meaning “hole” or “toilet,” hardly the choice of cutthroats. The term was a convenient Washington insider shorthand to designate scattered, unrelated populations of Islamic bad guys, as Washington saw them, lurking in deserts and on mountain redoubts or maybe even hiding in Western cities, ready to spring into action at a signal from El Shaitan, I mean, Osama bin Laden. But the fact that al-Qaeda does not exist, as is the case so many times with facts, made no impression on Americans, and especially not on their ever-vigilant press, and certainly had no influence on a lunatic policy called the War on Terror.

Of course, the root cause of 9/11 and so many other acts of angry, frustrated, and powerless people is America’s embrace of the seemingly never-ending injustice and brutality of Israel towards millions of Arabs. But Washington doesn’t deal with hard realities; it is too busy always dealing with self-created fantasies like al-Qaeda. After all, it is the same in its own society. Police brutality, corrupt elections, massive abuses of lobbyists, crying need for reform of a truly sick democracy, massive urban poverty, poor public education, and a dark and overwhelming military-intelligence influence are not topics of discussion in America’s government. No, American politicians’ ideas of domestic issues are proposed flag-desecration amendments, The Star Spangled Banner being sung in Spanish, the role of drones in cities, supplying the nation’s police forces with surplus armored vehicles and gear from all the nation’s wars, stopping the flow of poor refuges, especially children, from all the horrors America has helped create in Central America and Mexico, maintaining the world’s largest prison population at minimum cost, and paying less taxes.

Well, as al-Qaeda fades into the sunset, we are suddenly flooded with media noise about an even more bizarre organization called ISIS (or ISIL) which honorable and honest Western leaders – try not laugh: Obama, Cameron, and Hollande – insist is ready to attack us in city streets, sabotage power grids, and poison water supplies if we don’t start bombing the crap out of them in Iraq and Syria. Some of America’s more bizarre congressmen are also blubbering about an ISIS invasion from Mexico, calculatingly dragging in paranoid fears over the widely disliked situation on America’s southern border concerning refugees. What’s that about Syria? Don’t all the chilling tales of ISIS come from Iraq? Well, pretty much so, but ISIS is said to be very ambitious. Tales of its growth and spread resemble lines from the script of a cheap 1950s science fiction film called The Blob. And besides, Syria is what the United States really cares about, now that Iraq drags itself around almost like a veteran with three limbs nearly severed.

We have indisputable proof in the testimony from a certain former NSA employee, that ISIS is the creation of Mossad and American intelligence. As with so many of America’s recent ghastly projects in the Middle East, financing comes from Saudi Arabia, the Saudis having spent the last 13 years desperately repenting their (still undefined) role in events around 9/11, even to the point of secretly embracing Israel in their regional plans and plots. The Saudis remain under great pressure to cough up wads of cash whenever America now beckons with a new bone-headed project. All the creeps – various collections of mindless fundamentalists, soldiers of fortune, just plain opportunists, and CIA thugs – working to overthrow Assad’s government in Syria also receive their bounty, just as they receive weapons and refuge in Turkey. ISIS first worked in Syria as just one of several rag-tag armies assembled by the United States and its helpers to destroy a peaceful nation which has had the temerity to oppose some of American policy, especially with regard to Israel. Again, to remind readers, the incident at Benghazi, Libya, involving the killing of an American ambassador and a great deal of embarrassment for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was precisely about gathering up violent people and arms in the wasteland created there and shipping them off to Turkey in order to create hell in Syria.

But ISIS is just too over-the-top even for opera buffa. Its creation served several dark aims. First, it serves as a lure for malcontents from many places, many of its recruits being American or English, drawing them together at one location. The leadership of ISIS, associated to a certainty with Israel and the United States, can gather information from these recruits about their associates or organizations in various countries. Effectively, after doing any dirty work assigned to them, the recruits are being set up to be killed, either by American air strikes or by the opponents they face in their work. Few in ISIS would know who the “undercover cops” are and who the bad guys are to be used and disposed of like so much toilet paper. The method reflects Israel’s secret services’ long, ugly use of Palestinians to undermine Palestinians.

Second, ISIS served as a mechanism to topple Nouri al-Maliki, recently prime minister of Iraq, a figure with whom Washington had become very unhappy, chiefly owing to his friendliness with Iran, yet another target of the American/Israeli Axis. Maliki proved lucky compared to most leaders Washington sets up and with whom it becomes disenchanted: they generally end up as the proverbial Mafia figures fitted with cement overshoes at the bottom of a river. Maliki was given a good scare with the advancing blood-curdling hordes of ISIS and wisely understood it as his cue to exit.

Third, ISIS has served as an excuse to work with the Kurdish population in Iraq, more or less separately from the national government. This involves giving weapons and intelligence to Kurds and furthering their de facto separation from Iraq, thus greatly weakening any future Iraq since the Kurdish areas have a great portion of the country’s crude oil. After all, the most basic reason for America’s invasion of Iraq was to eliminate it as even a potential enemy of Israel. There also have been some mysterious disappearances of Iraqi crude shipments, which may well have ended up in Israel.

Fourth, the ISIS move back into Syria provides the perfect excuse for American bombing there, something President Putin of Russia managed to prevent earlier with some deft statesmanship. America has already warned President Assad, busy fighting an engineered civil war created by the same folks who created ISIS, that they will attack his defences if he interferes with their bombing his country. Incidentally, no one consulted the Syrian government on any of this, America having already recognized the collection of rabble and criminals called the Free Syrian Army as legitimate.

American air power and perhaps ground troops, while using the excuse of fighting ISIS, will attempt to swing the engineered civil war back in favor of the “rebels,” Assad’s national forces having had considerable success in defeating them recently. The failure to achieve Assad’s overthrow is one of the more worrying developments in America’s bloody scheme for a re-birth of the Middle East, a plan which seeks to surround Israel with a giant cordon sanitaire, albeit at the cost of more than a million innocent lives. Never mind death or homelessness, such matters never are never concerns of American policy except where there is an advantage to be gained. Look at their filthy work in Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Egypt.

It is of course remotely possible that ISIS, in attempting to set up “an Islamic state” comprising parts of both Iraq and Syria, has gone rogue, out of the control of its handlers – that kind of event being called blowback in the dirty intelligence business – but I think likely it was always in the script. Most ISIS recruits are destined to die after doing what their handlers told them to do, and along the way President Assad’s country is to be further destroyed and if possible reduced to the kind of paraplegic-like nation Iraq has become.

ISIS started as no more than a couple of thousand guys in pick-up trucks with rifles and grenade launchers. It grew, drawing bizarre recruits from many countries, as its reputation for ferocity was artificially played up by the western press. There are after all always and everywhere a fair number of individuals drawn to violence and dangerous adventure. You might call its wonderings in Iraq a gestation period for bigger things, the ultimate goal being an acceptable way to help topple Assad while disposing of a collection of unwanted people. This all amounts to a giant-scale police entrapment scheme, something our courts consistently strike down, but this is entrapment played for keeps on a scale of thousands of lives.

The pick-up truck brigade proved enough to scare off group after group of well-armed units of the Iraqi army – especially with bags of loot from the Saudis tossed into tents at night. Of course, gradually, ISIS did manage to collect some vehicles and tanks left behind by Iraqi forces and present something more threatening. If you just think about it, how would unprofessional recruits have the least idea of how to operate sophisticated weapons? Imagine operating modern tanks or artillery without expert training?  But ISIS has plenty of undercover experts to train them and make them seem more formidable. The head of ISIS is a man, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was an American prisoner for a time. He seems to know America’s greatest pug-ugly senator and roaming unofficial ambassador for killing, John McCain (judging from a number of photos on the Internet showing them together), and he is, according to a number of sources, actually a former Jewish actor named Elliot Shimon, trained by Mossad for a different kind of theater.

Now we’ve had a crescendo of beheadings supposedly captured live on video, only each of these is a patent fraud. Even the mainstream press, the last to discover almost anything worth knowing these days, have now admitted the first one was a fraud, although not before many columnists and commentators spewed great quantities of self-righteous outrage on the subject. Not that the victims probably haven’t died somehow or other, but they were not beheaded by a mysterious eight-foot British giant dressed in black and armed with a paring knife. Staged beheadings of course are intended to revolt people and rouse support for Western governments to act. The real beheadings which occur regularly in Saudi Arabia – there was a batch of 19 only recently – are never shown on American news, nor are they even discussed. But a single video of a fake terrorist beheading is played and replayed and commented on endlessly with indignation over such horror. And the hundreds of Palestinians, including children, whom Israel has beheaded with bombs and artillery never make an appearance on television or rate any commentary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NATION OF COWARDS

John Chuckman

 

What else can you fairly call a people who attack a population of refugees confined to a small space surrounded on every side by fences and machine-gun towers, a population with nowhere to run? No, that is not put strongly enough. Not just attack, but use the latest and most ferocious weapons from the American arsenal to slaughter more than 2100 people, including more than 500 children, destroying along the way a major portion of the housing, businesses, and institutions of a poor people.

The definition of a coward is not the traditional military one of a soldier who won’t fight. No, that’s far too simplistic and self-serving. The genuine meaning of the word, the meaning that warrants our full sense of revulsion and contempt, is someone who attacks someone far weaker than themselves. A large man who beats a woman or a child with his fists or a policeman who clubs a handcuffed prisoner – that is the accurate and meaningful definition of the word. And the people of Israel responsible for Operation Protective Edge are as sadly perfect examples of genuine cowards as you can find in the world.

What remarkable courage it takes – outfitted as the IDF is with Kevlar armor, the latest intelligence gadgets, satellites, radios, support of every imaginable kind, and immensely powerful weapons (they even get hot pizzas delivered as they pause in their gruesome work) – to shoot people who cannot run away, are often poorly fed and clothed, and who mostly have no weapons. And the courage of the Israeli pilots who make bombing runs over homes, schools, apartments, and stores from the safety of their supersonic fighters is surely remarkable. They remind me of the American pilots who shot and incinerated countless retreating Iraqi soldiers in the (engineered) First Gulf War while the television broadcasts caught their gleeful shouts of “Wow, it’s just like shooting fish in a barrel!”

Yes, Americans are the only comparable example of Israel’s cowardice, the Americans who literally enable Israel’s savagery but also themselves have given the world the best part of half a century of savagery abroad, the deaths of literally millions of civilians in half a dozen countries – deaths by carpet bombing, napalm, missiles, white phosphorus, various poisons, and the razor-like shards of cluster bombs.

The United States, like Israel, is never called to account for the worst record on the planet of mass killing and destruction. You simply cannot name a contemporary criminal enterprise or a so-called terrorist organization which has a record so steeped in horrors as those two.

Wholesale death inflicted with utter disregard for international law and custom has become standard policy for both countries. Yes, there are always excuses for mass murder, the weasel words such as communists or terrorists or dictators and weapons of mass destruction (Americans ironically being the only people on earth who actually used them, twice, on civilians) – all of them having no more real meaning than Stalin’s chilling wreckers, a word he used to signal his creatures that it was time for a new bloody purge. In some cases those purged were simply people Stalin did not like or of whom he felt jealous, but in most cases of the millions smashed or consigned to hell on earth, the only motive was to terrify a population into submission, and that is exactly what Israel’s motive is for its periodic massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese.

Anyone of moderate intelligence who reads and thinks must know Israel is in no danger from anyone, least of all the Palestinians who have no organized army, no navy, and no air force, not to mention very little of anything else. Israel is armed to the teeth with conventional and non-conventional weapons, it leans back arrogantly into the arms of super-power America and plays the victim in a land it victimizes, and it functions as a garrison state whose major purpose is to hold down and make miserable millions of people who happen not to be Jewish, all the while hoping they will one day pick up and leave. It is absurd to say Israel’s security is endangered by anyone, and especially by the hopeless, lifetime prisoners of Palestine.

Turning a blind eye to the Holocaust three-quarters of a century ago was an unforgivable thing, but in at least one very real sense, it is now even more culpable the way the West turns a blind eye to Israel’s horrors. The Holocaust was perpetrated in great secrecy, and there was no Internet or international media equipped with satellites to tell the world what was happening. There was no United Nations or other international organizations watching. Today, what Israel does is everywhere to be seen. People in America eat their suppers watching Israeli jets bombing homes. Without much effort you can find images of Palestinian children with portions of their heads missing. And we all saw the Israelis from Sderot sit in lawn chairs on a bluff in the evening breeze laughing and applauding as women and children writhed in agony far below much like ants being stepped on.

 

IRAQ, ISIS, AND INTERVENTION: JUST WHAT IS GOING ON?

John Chuckman

As so often is the case in foreign affairs, we will never know with precision what is happening in Iraq. The governments involved have reasons to disguise what they are doing, and a number of governments are indeed at work there. The press doesn’t spend the resources needed to discover the facts, thus saving government considerable embarrassment and themselves a good deal of work.  But, if you look carefully, there are enough bits of information scattered around to gain an adequate picture of events, just as you might detect what people had been eating from the crumbs and splashes left on a dinner table.

From columnists and editorials, you can find almost any explanation of events in Iraq you care to find, all of them together yielding precisely a huge muddle. My favorite example of confusion is the story which made its way around about the way the United States and Iran were coming together to stop ISIS, each of them having their own reasons for doing so. As it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. Iran, indeed, cares deeply about stopping ISIS. The United States makes a good deal of noise – what else can it do when pictures are published, intended to inflame public opinion, of prisoners being violently murdered? – but it does nothing of substance because it does not want to do anything.

The less-than 300 troops America sent to Iraq are only for embassy protection, not fighting, the monster embassy the United States forced on occupied Iraq being a private city of spies and communication and resources, totally out of proportion to a country the size of Iraq – if you will, a Middle East branch plant for CIA headquarters in Virginia. Now the United States talks of sending 300 advisers to Iraq’s army. Advisers? Since when does the United States send advisers to a besieged area where it has vital interests? So, too, the matter of air support: Prime Minister al-Maliki is reported to have asked for air support, and the United States is reported to have responded that it will be sent if he resigns. That is a very odd response for a government supposedly having common cause with Iran.

Yes, ships with planes have been sent to the region, but I think they may well be used in a different fashion than how the press speculates.

ISIS (aka ISIL) is often called a powerful and frightening force, but that is almost laughably inaccurate. All estimates of its manpower range from 7 to 15,000 – that is not a lot of soldiers by any standard and no larger than some American street gangs. The Iraq military, in the last numbers I saw, had approaching 300,000 on active service and more than half-a-million reserves. You can find pictures on the Internet of ISIS forces on the move, a rag-tag bunch with small arms riding around in Japanese pick-up trucks. They would be scary for any individual or village, but they wouldn’t stand a chance against even a single division of a modern army. Iraq’s government has many hundreds of armored combat vehicles, including more than 200 heavy tanks, a mix of American M1A1s and Russian T-72s, and several billion dollars’ worth of other high-end military equipment.

So why does Maliki seek American help? The Maliki government is not popular in Iraq, as proves the case so often with governments set up by the United States after its colonial wars. It has all the faults found throughout the Middle East of cronyism, nepotism, etc.  And in a country with great divides of ethnicity and religion – Arabs, Kurds and Sunni, Shia – plus still other regional divides – oil-producing, agricultural, plains and mountains, urban and rural – any central government is bound to suffer unpopularity. Democracy has no history here, so popularity is not necessarily even a relevant criterion. But Maliki also is not popular with his original benefactor, the United States, almost certainly a far more relevant fact.

On the other hand, the Maliki government has become quite well disposed towards Iran, far more so than the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel like. Some earlier observers of America’s handiwork in Iraq said that the ultimate beneficiary might just prove to be Iran. Israel, in one of the more informative statements made about the situation, said that Iran was far more a threat to the region than ISIS. Maliki’s government forms an important link in an arc of Shiite power through the region from Iran through Syria (Assad is Shia) to Hezbollah in Lebanon (also Shia). The Shia are viewed by many in the Muslim world, which is overwhelmingly Sunni, much the way Protestants in the 17th century were viewed by the Catholic Church, as a minority which has broken old traditions, cultural patterns, and loyalties. All of the great reformers of Protestantism were viewed by the Catholic Church as heretics, and as many Protestants as possible were disposed of in bloody persecutions like the Holy Inquisition or the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. It is actually  the politics and attitudes of the Shia, rather than this or that minor difference in theology, which makes them unwelcome to the folks running Saudi Arabia, much as was the case with the Reformation and Rome, the rulers of Saudi Arabia being in general about as genuinely religious as many of the old hedonistic popes in Rome.

Some observers, early in the American occupation, predicted that Iraq would crumble into three rump states, and to some extent their expectations have proved perceptive. It is not clear that America would have been entirely averse to that development since it would have eliminated a state which might one day again possess the strength to oppose Israel. Saddam Hussein held Iraq together through ruthlessness towards any who were opposed or questioned his central authority, but he did represent more than a simple bloody dictator. He was also building something of a modern secular society with public institutions serving welfare needs, more rights for women, and the advance of education and science – in many ways, his Iraq was the most advanced state in the Arab world, and undoubtedly the growing middle class his policies helped create would have brought democracy one day after his death. The American invasion smashed all of that, leaving little of which to be proud and three regions pulling in different directions. To the degree Maliki has again tried to impose a will on the situation, he naturally has not been popular. And his efforts to work with Iran, a natural and powerful regional ally for him to turn, have made him loathed in Israel and Saudi Arabia.

ISIS, whatever the exact paths from its origins, represents just one more of the rag-tag groups that Saudi Arabia and Turkey, working under the close eye of the United States, introduced into Syria to topple Assad in an engineered civil war. We have many reports of ISIS members with British or American passports. The past Benghazi, Libya fiasco, never explained by Washington, was part of these efforts, the murdered American ambassador running a black operation to collect weapons and radical fighters to ship to Turkey for insertion into Syria when he was caught in what intelligence agencies call “blowback,” a group of those with whom he was dealing turning on him, viewing an available American ambassador as perhaps a more worthy target than Assad. ISIS has expanded its horizons to include Iraq, and it has been encouraged and assisted to do so by the Saudis.

Why do jihadist types hate Assad enough to go there risking their lives? Apart from the natural attractions for some young men of adventure, war, and escape from rules, it is because Assad, like Hussein, actually represents some progressive, modern developments in a large Arab state. He has at his disposal fewer resources, not being a major oil producer like Hussein’s Iraq, but, within the limits imposed on him, Syria exhibits secular tendencies and some openness to modern trends. The great irony of the region is that the very states with which Israel keeps the best relations are absolute ones doing all they can to dampen social progress, places like Saudi Arabia or Egypt.

ISIS is a perfect mechanism for two American goals, the first being to assist in the disposal of Maliki, something which would make Israel very happy because it would cut the Iran connection. Second, ISIS can be used as an excuse for American air attacks into Syria, perhaps even the insertion of limited ground forces there. Assad and the Syrian army have foiled the elaborate secret effort to topple him, and a great opportunity, from America’s point of view, stands to be lost if some additional effort is not made. ISIS being chased into Syria by American jets and Special Forces may just be an opportunity not to be missed: attacks on Syrian forces staged as hot pursuit of repulsive ISIS fanatics. And the fanatics, having served their purpose from America’s point of view, will be slaughtered too. Of course, none of this has anything to do with the welfare of the Syrian people who have endured countless horrors as though their country were a dump site for the toxic wastes of some great corporation.

ISIS has been given waves of publicity for its ferocity and barbarism, but as with all such publicity, we must make allowances for inflated claims. We do have reports that in villages where residents ran from ISIS, they are returning and being treated decently. Would anyone return to place occupied by a wild band of cutthroats? If such a force shows up at a town or village where there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the Maliki government, it is not hard to see how the locals might run, but how do we explain reports of those who ran away being welcomed back?

The key factor as to whether Maliki can stop ISIS is the loyalty of the army as well as local populations, and that is not certain at all. It is extremely likely that strategic payments to soldiers and others are being made to secure results like those of the early ISIS victories, the funds coming from Saudi Arabia. Soldiers running and leaving behind modern tanks when confronted with a mob in Japanese pick-ups are not credible otherwise. Remember, Iraq is a place where pallet-loads of freshly-printed United States’ hundred dollar bills disappeared in countless payments and bribes to silence various groups active in the violent wake of America’s so-called victory. It is the way the place has worked for a decade of corrupt American influence.

A high Israeli official was quoted recently saying it was Iran’s influence that is most dangerous in the region, not that of ISIS. Of course, that should tell us a great deal. In this part of the world, Israel’s views count for far more than those of all the other countries put together, at least, so far as the United States’ government is concerned, the ridiculous lopsidedness in that reflecting the best Congress campaign funding can buy.

THE SICKLY SMELL OF LIES AND DEATH

John Chuckman

Only the other day, Benjamin Netanyahu earned a small note of immortality when he said the peace talks were ended by the new arrangements between the Palestine Authority and Hamas: Netanyahu’s announcement bundled a record number of lies into one mouthful of words.  There, of course, never was anything properly called peace talks with Israel. There has been only a long series of closed-door personal, and security-scrambled telephonic, exchanges with America’s superbly ineffectual John Kerry, exchanges in which the Palestinians played virtually no role and in which Mr. Netanyahu had absolutely no interest, Netanyahu always setting an impossible set of conditions as prerequisites to anything happening precisely because he does not want anything to happen, while undoubtedly periodically raging with one of his mind-numbing harangues which are impossible to answer rationally for the simple reason they are not rational.

Netanyahu’s announcement is larded with layers of lies much like layers of rock in stratigraphic formations. Perhaps the chief of these being that Hamas – that democratically elected party led by middle-class professionals whose only concerns have been to obtain a fair deal for Palestinians and to provide clean government after the long-term corruption of Fatah – is a dreadful terrorist organization. Of course, you do have to say something along those lines to excuse your warring on civilians, blockading their needs (starting with a viciously-calculated minimal calorie allowance per person), cutting off services, piracy on the high seas, denying fishing rights, kidnapping and murdering politicians, and constant menaces. You wouldn’t do all that to people just trying to run a democratic, clean government, now would you? You might if you viewed the Palestinians in Gaza as a nightmare (a past Israeli prime minister’s actual word), as a source of constant fear, resembling fears in the Old South of revolt in the slave quarters some dark night, something which caused uneasy sleep for plantation families with pistols and knives tucked under their pillows.

Israel, despite the meaningless outpourings and rages of Netanyahu, is not looking for clean government and it certainly isn’t looking for democracy in any of its neighbors’ arrangements. Israel loved thirty years of corrupt and completely undemocratic government in Egypt, and it is Israel’s silent influence with the United States that has returned Egypt’s eighty million people, after one year of democratic government, to tyranny and openly corrupt arrangements. Israel also likes the absolute government of Saudi Arabia because it makes many secret deals with the Saudi princes, eager themselves to suppress democratic tendencies in the region. Saudi Arabia, with its Islamic fundamentalism, once was viewed as an implacable enemy of Israel, but the less-than-idealistic gritty interests of both states have nicely, quietly meshed in recent years with the fabulously wealthy aristocracy of Saudi Arabia viewing democracy and clean government through the same lens as the Middle East’s Crusader garrison state.

Israel is not even looking for peace, peace as any thoughtful, disinterested person in the world would define it. I believe Netanyahu has given new ferocity to an old strategy towards what every past leader of Israel regarded as the problem of the Palestinians, and that involves the goal either of making them so miserable that they will leave en masse or become so compliant they will agree to arrangements which assure their perpetual isolation, inferiority, and servitude. Either or any combination of those two outcomes is what Netanyahu understands as peace. I don’t see any other way of interpreting years of appallingly abusive behavior and law-breaking and injustice on a scale affecting millions. And there is no other way to interpret the American government’s tolerance for the abuse and law-breaking and injustice beyond its secretly sharing the same hopes as Israel’s malevolent leaders, being sick and tired of having to hear about and deal with a grotesque situation involving a few million people in a world where it tries to direct the destinies of billions.

Israel’s limited dealings with the Palestinian Authority – a kind of quasi-government formed out of the Oslo Accords of 1993 for the purpose of managing basic local services and negotiating with Israel – are themselves built on lies. The existing head of that quasi-government, Mahmoud Abbas, was last elected to serve as president until 2009, but with the connivance of the United States and Israel he regularly extends his term, never receiving the least recrimination for doing so, another demonstration of Israel’s love for democracy and clean government. His democratic credentials are further enhanced by the fact that he “governs” only in the West Bank – at least in those portions not yet seized by Israel – having been driven out of Gaza. Yet he is the only one of the Palestinians even admitted to symbolic membership in the “peace talks.” The reason for this is simple: up until very recently, Abbas has been a passive figure who offers Israel no open challenge to the huge injustices of the status quo, very much in contrast to the late Yasser Arafat, who is believed by many to have been assassinated by Israel after an extended period of abuse and threats including the shelling of his house and denying his even attending religious services. Netanyahu, by the way, is on record as having vigorously denounced as unworkable the now pretty much failed Oslo Accords, a case of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Analyzing “the peace talks,” discovering their rotten construction and the dishonest motives of those involved, yields unpleasant surprises much like those from stumbling accidentally upon a rotten timber and seeing a myriad of critters scrambling and flying off in all directions. John Kerry carries on his charade in the Middle East while at the same time lying about Russian news sources and threatening a red line for Russia to make it pay dearly for its “transgressions” in Ukraine. And there is still the hypocritical pretence about the induced horrors of Syria for which Mr. Kerry along with his boss bear direct responsibility.

Russia Today, the newspaper Kerry recently publicly criticized, can have nothing to its shame to compare with The New York Times which one day published images supposedly proving Russian soldiers were active in Eastern Ukraine and shortly after retracted when the lie was hurled in its face. The same New York Times, it was revealed, passes its reportage on Israel through Israeli censors before publication, providing a standard of journalistic integrity it would be hard to match. What Kerry and Company are actually upset about is Russia’s new, sophisticated use of the press and broadcasting. Gone are the not-believable voices of the Soviet era, words by apparatchiks featuring such colorful expressions as “running dogs.” Instead we find thoughtful reportage and analysis reaching out to people in the West, correcting misrepresentations imposed by their own leaders through outlets like The New York Times and America’s major networks. America’s Cold War era monopoly on “credible press” is gone (in fact, it never was that credible, only seeming so by contrast to the old Soviet efforts). With the monopoly’s disappearance, America’s unrestricted ability to “get a story out there,” as someone from the CIA might say, also has suffered, and Mr. Kerry clearly isn’t happy about the fact.

As for Kerry’s comments about red lines and making Russia pay, it would be difficult to come up with a poorer example of diplomacy from America’s supposed chief of diplomacy. Of course, the last time we heard the expression “red line” concerned the use of chemical weapons by Syria’s government, something that never happened, but the American official words about a red line served as a kind of segue to the actual, totally-immoral use of such chemicals by some of the fanatics America secretly supports. And just a short while before that use of “red line,” we had the world’s most predictable liar talking about red lines for Iran, a country he threatened and continues to threaten but which has never threatened him.

Kerry’s public face on the situation in Ukraine is just as rankly dishonest as his “peace talks” in the Middle East and his words about Syria. The fact is that Ukrainian groups America has supported secretly for years with almost unlimited amounts of CIA-infiltrated money overthrew an elected government, and they did so before previously-agreed arrangements for new elections which were intended to appease the divided factions in Ukraine. Part of the way these groups seized power was through the dirty work of right-wing thugs, who, among other acts, served as snipers shooting many hundreds of people dead in the streets of Kiev. Now, we see this self-proclaimed government receiving visits by America’s CIA Director and Vice President for unexplained reasons. Was there ever a less honest effort at pretending democratic forces are at work in a crisis? Please, Mr. Kerry, who is it that you think you are convincing of anything, beyond your own dishonesty and remarkably limited diplomatic skills?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE REAL LESSONS FROM THE DEATH OF NELSON MANDELA

John Chuckman

The press has echoed for days with admiration for Nelson Mandela and his genuinely heroic fight against the apartheid government of South Africa. There have been many recollections of the brutal quality of that government, all perhaps carrying an unstated sense of how could people live that way?

As I listened on the radio, I couldn’t help thinking of the common human frailty which sees us caught up in gasping over and memorializing what is past while ignoring much the same thing that is present, as on what is called Remembrance or Armistice Day, we’ve recalled for the best part of a century the terrifying experiences of a war which was to end all war, while yet marching on to even more brutal and murderous conflicts. This seems contrary to logic, and it certainly works against the interest of institutionalizing and making permanent what it is that we praise, but it remains a conflicting duality of thought we find almost universally established. After all, it is so much safer and easier to praise heroism once the threat it struggled against has faded into history. And, sad to say, but history does tend to support the idea of most people behaving like cowards while they sing the praises of heroism.

We have no less an authority than Nelson Mandela himself, in an opinion shared by the equally admirable Bishop Tutu, that the terrible system of oppression against which they struggled in South Africa is very much alive and flourishing in still another place today. That place is, of course, Israel and its occupied territories.

No matter what past abuse by the former apartheid government the newsmen and commentators may mention, there is an equal, or in some cases an even greater, one not mentioned for Israel. For the Soweto and Sharpeville Massacres, we have Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and the several invasions of Southern Lebanon, the toll of these measured in thousands killed and thousands more injured. For the many people, like Mandela, arrested for opposing oppression and left to rot in prison, we have tens of thousands of illegal arrests by Israel of people also left to rot in prison and often tortured there. For the secret murders which South African security forces routinely carried out in the manner of the Argentine Junta’s “disappearing” people, we have scores of assassinations of Palestinian leaders, including not so very long ago Yasser Arafat. For the Bantustans South Africa created to pen up millions of blacks, depriving them of access to most of the country, we have Israel’s Wall, an armored fortress which snakes through the homes and farms of countless people without regard for their welfare or rights and the utter isolation of Gaza’s one-and-a-half million behind razor-wire fences with radar-controlled machine-gun towers set at intervals and warships blocking the coast. For South Africa’s two classes of citizenship with unequal rights and responsibilities, we have Israel’s two classes of citizenship with unequal rights and responsibilities plus the perpetual consignment of millions to a life of occupation with no defined citizenship or rights.

And what actually brought down the oppressive South African regime? Not really the bravery of the Mandelas and Tutus directly, but the outside world’s gradually turning against that government’s excesses and bringing the force of embargo and economic penalties. The United States was a late-comer to the process – after all, it highly valued the anti-Communist stance of the apartheid government in the Cold War, given its strategic position on the Cape. But once the United States was turned by its own people to join the boycott, apartheid’s days became numbered. And, happily, the end came with remarkable peacefulness.

I have often said that only pressure from the United States will correct the terrible abuses of Israel, but the United States shows few signs yet of exercising that potentially decisive power for good. It is, first, in the midst of another massive equivalent of the Cold War, its so-called War on Terror. In this War, Israel plays the role South Africa once played in the Cold War as occupier of a key strategic point. Israel also makes every effort to have Americans and others see its brutalities as part of a shared battle, a fight against terror, even though its struggles more closely resemble those of the late South African government, a war against the rights and dignity of millions of people with whom they do not want to live. And many Americans still do not understand, being given every encouragement in their press not to understand, that the War on Terror is blowback from Israel’s oppression.

Israel has another advantage it exercises to the fullest. American elections have become utterly corrupted by special interests and money, so much so that American democracy is, at best, described as on life support. This is the work of Americans themselves, but Israel has cleverly devised an expert and systematic way to exploit the corruption. Its lobby rewards with campaign funds and good publicity those who support Israel’s interests, and it punishes those who do not. Newly-elected officials are given the clearest set of guidelines for what is expected of them with initial paid trips to Israel for every new Congressman and regular consultation thereafter concerning issues on which they are to vote.

I have to believe that ultimately the basic human impulse for fairness – something we find remarkably in many people in many lands no matter what kind of government they may live under – will prevail, but I have no hope that can happen soon. In the meantime, maybe we can learn a little bit about our tendency to sing praises with our eyes closed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A VAST WASTELAND OF EFFORT SPENT: AMERICA’S RAMPAGE THROUGH THE MIDDLE EAST

John Chuckman

I read that six thousand people have been killed by sectarian violence so far this year in Iraq, surely a good rough measure of what America’s invasion achieved there. In Afghanistan, America’s chosen man publically disagrees with America’s ideas of what withdrawal means, how many occupying American forces should remain, and the role the Taleban should play. Killing remains a daily occurrence, including regular instances of American special forces murdering civilians, drugs flow freely through the country and out to the world, and most women still wear the burka. Libya is reduced to rag tag bands engaged in fighting like rival gangs of bandits. Syria writhes in agony as the victim of an artificially-induced civil war with even the use of nerve gas on civilians by America’s proxy fighters winked at and lied about.

Such are just the continuing aftershocks of America’s violent, senseless campaign on the Middle East and the Muslim world.

The screams of the hundreds of thousands of initial victims of cluster bombs, Hellfire rockets, depleted uranium explosions, and white phosphorus were what Condi Rice once described as “the birth cries of a new Middle East,” likely just before she set off on another shopping spree to New York for more cute new shoes. You might say Condi and her psychopathic associates assumed the God-like perspective in their work, as the people being devastated were regarded with the importance of ants being squashed by gleeful children in a playground.

Ideas of “nation building” around all the slaughter and destruction are now almost forgotten in the press where they were once earnestly discussed like big government social programs of the 1960s. It is hard to know whether those ideas were ever taken seriously in Washington by the platoons of Pentagon consultants over expense account lunches or whether they were never intended as more than glib slogans and talking points for politicians’ convenience, banners with nice words to cover piles of bleeding bodies. No clear-thinking person ever took the idea seriously, but as we know there is not a great deal of clear thinking in times of war, nor is there much of it at any time among American politicians.

The notion that you can change the basic culture and social structure of a nation of tens of millions over a foreseeable time span is laughable. Culture, including the unpleasant parts contained by any of them, is a complex of habits, beliefs, relationships, and prejudices formed over an immensely long period in the workings of a people’s economy. Just as language and religious traditions cannot be greatly altered or undone quickly, so too all the other aspects of a culture. It is simply nonsense to believe otherwise. The efforts, over much of a century, by Russia’s Communists to change an ancient culture, including its church and national customs, should serve to intimidate glib references to nation-building.

The single most important part of any serious effort to change a place and its ways of doing things is the steady advance of its economy. It is the fluidity of a nation undergoing long-term economic growth that gradually washes away old and inefficient and fearful customs, changing everything from the nature of marriage and the way families work to the kind of clothes people wear and food they eat. After all, America’s backwaters still enjoyed family picnics at public lynchings as late as Franklin Roosevelt’s day, and it was largely the cumulative effects of economies restructured over decades with increasing opportunities and movement of people and ideas that brought those ghastly practices to a close.

Even changing minor aspects of an entire society, as we’ve seen many times in our own, is a long effort. Smoking is the clearest example of this, it having taken over half a century, despite medical understanding of its hazards, to move us from smoking being a stylish part of every Hollywood film to cigarettes being hidden behind the counters at corner stores.

And this is all the more true when you employ force, as the United States does habitually. People do not react well to aggression, and it is not the way to change anything which it may be desirable to change. On even so basic a level as raising children, our laws and courts and schools have evolved to rule out physical force. And despite decades of the war on drugs with its seemingly endless march of folly – armed raids, mass arrests, seizures, and imprisonment plus tens of billions spent – we have made no perceptible progress on what all of us recognize as a gigantic medical and social problem.

But when the force you employ includes B-52s, F-16s, and private armies of hired cutthroats, it is a certainty you will change little beyond the death rate.

The United States government now has been swept by a new enthusiasm in the application of violence. It is a new interpretation of the concept of airpower. In places like Libya, America embraced the almost benign-sounding concept of a “no-fly zone” to bomb and shoot the crap out of a national army fighting rebels. It developed the concept over the decade after the first Gulf War where it enforced a no-fly zone that was actually an active program of attacking any Iraqi installation or suppressing any movement it wanted while an embargo continued to inflict terrible suffering on the children of Iraq. Another version of the concept was used in the invasion of Afghanistan. The United States bombed the country with everything it had, including B-52s doing carpet-bombing, while most of the fighting done on the ground was done by other Afghans, the tribes of the Northern Alliance serving as American stand-ins.

The new approach has several advantages. It sends fewer coffins back home so that political opposition to the killing abroad never grows as it did in the Vietnam holocaust. It’s likely cheaper, too, than sending in and supplying large numbers of troops. After all, I read somewhere that just the air-conditioning bill for American troops in Iraq ran into many billions of dollars. And it maintains a kind of polite charade about not really invading a place.

Over the same period, another form of airpower came into its own, drones used as platforms for Hellfire missiles targeted by remote control. The Israelis, always leaders in the work and technology of murder, used a version of this method in what they blithely call “targeted killings,” a long series of acts known to most of the world by the terms “extrajudicial killing” or “disappearing people” or “political assassination.” Al Capone might have called it simply “rubbing guys out.” Well, whatever you choose to call it, the United States is in the business in a serious way now, having murdered people in Somalia, Bahrain, Pakistan, Yemen, and perhaps other places we don’t yet know about.  It has killed several thousand this way, many of them innocent bystanders and all of them people charged with no crime and given no due process.

Of course, Israel’s long string of murders have achieved little beyond making still more enemies and dragging in the gutter any claim it may once have had to ethical reputation or worthy purpose. And just so with America’s valiant effort by buzz-cut thugs sitting in crisply-pressed uniforms at computer screens playing murderous computer games with real people in the explosions.

As for diplomacy and reason and rule of law, these are practices almost forgotten by America in the Middle East, as it mimics Israel’s reprehensible behavior towards the people of the occupied territories and neighboring states. And all democratic values have been laid aside or bulldozed over in Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and other places as Israel’s special interests are put before the democratic and human rights of many, many millions of people.

HOW AMERICA LEARNED TO PLAY GOD

The Aftermath of 9/11: America’s Second Great Transformation and the Emergence of a Brave New World

John Chuckman

I call America’s pattern of behavior since 9/11 a “great transformation” because it involves revolutionary changes for the country and, unavoidably, the entire world. In its internal affairs, America has effectively weakened the protections of the Bill of Rights and instituted many of the practices of police states – all under the insidious rationale of “protection from terrorists,” a subject heading which incapacitates the courts and serves to draw a great dark cloak over matters vital to all. Secrecy, always a favorite tool of cowardly politicians, now has assumed an enormous, central position in America. Spying, both on your own people and on those abroad, has become pervasive.

America has increased spending on military and intelligence to levels dangerously high both for the stability of the world and the future integrity of its own society. These resource-wasting establishments also will entangle any state in all sorts of costly unanticipated difficulties over time. Foreign policy has shifted to adopt the once-laughable, malevolent fantasies of the Neocons as official America policy, including an unapologetic and unprincipled use of America’s military strength around the world and a savage effort to remake the entire Middle East to its own liking, ignoring the region’s acute problems and treating the hopes of tens of millions for better lives as so much collateral damage from a bombing run.

These massive changes add to a social and governing structure which already had grown far away from the people, a structure which in many ways resembles that of pre-revolutionary, 18th century France, a state ruled by and for a class of landed aristocrats, a class of church aristocrats, and a ruling family and its armies. In contemporary America, the great hierarchies are the Pentagon, a web of sixteen intelligence agencies, and the great corporations with their immensely wealthy owners.

America’s first great transformation was the Civil War, a war which was not about slavery as is commonly believed and generally taught in public schools but about the division of powers between states and the federal government, affecting the very economic and political structure of the nation. The United States under the original Constitution was a very different place than we have come to know it. The Civil War reduced authorities of the states, demolished many formidable internal barriers to trade and to federal political power, and elevated the federal government from a mere debating forum between states into a powerful central authority. The Civil War transformed, too, the United States into a world-class industrial nation and military power which would in coming decades embark on new colonial wars and adventures. The Civil War made possible the growth of mighty national industries and the coming Age of Robber Barons and was a necessary precursor to the changes now underway.

For a good deal of time, America grew a healthy middle class, and for a brief golden era even industrial workers in America prospered remarkably. Political rights and freedoms tended to expand with that growth. But real per capita income of middle to lower-middle class Americans has dropped for many years now, a result in great part of globalization and new competitors coming up in the world. That has been a major impetus for social change as American middle class families attempt to hold their positions with incomes from two careers and lower costs in a seemingly infinite sprawl of cheap hinterland suburbs. And for years now, the American establishment has made the keenest political issue of taxes, but an issue only in the sense of by just how much to lower them, most particularly those affecting the wealthy.

To some extent a fortress-like mentality had taken hold of the middle class for years as they saw themselves on their way to work passing parts of rotting cities – doors always locked on their tank-like SUVs and vans – struggling to raise their position in the world by fending off taxes as much as possible, and, even, in a growing number of instances, living in “gated communities” out of fear of crime spreading from rotted cities. I think that kind of prevailing mentality helps greatly for accepting America’s new, more oppressive measures.

One might think the United States would have learned from the country it now copies closely: Israel has had a paralyzing web of secret police, border restrictions, secret prisons, and a massive military establishment for 65 years, yet it has never enjoyed genuine peace and lives in a chilling, unpleasant relationship with all of its neighbors. The average Israeli too does not enjoy a great life in an economically-inefficient society (whose interests, moreover, are heavily tilted towards those of its privileged groups), and then there’s that “great mob of Arabs out there” regarded in much the same way America regards its poor blacks. And were it not for immense subsidies and special favors keeping Israel afloat, that security state likely would collapse under the weight of its economic inefficiency. When any state puts absolute security above everything else, much of what it achieves is not worth having. Stalin perhaps provides history’s bleakest, most extreme example of running an absolute security state.

Of course, security, as understood by what Stalin called “wreckers of the revolution” and what Israel and the United States call “terrorism,” is not the complete reason for secret prisons and building walls and networks and police forces and spy systems. Those with great power and wealth and special interests have always had an instinctive impulse to control their environment, including the other people who inhabit it. Vast guarded estates and fences and bodyguards and summary justice for those trespassing have always been features of life for the great and powerful, and the same impulses exist for powerful organizations within a state, especially militarized states. Close control over behavior unacceptable to an establishment – including behavior that is merely different or dissident or embarrassing or slightly shady or emotionally off-balance or politically threatening – is at the heart of the matter. A gigantic network has been created in the United States which will detect, track, and file away information on these behaviors in perpetuity. The potential for blackmail and intimidation of political opponents or NGO leaders or writers or the press is enormous. While this may not be the case at first, over time, can you think of any apparatus that has gone unused by those with power, any apparatus which has not been abused? We should not forget that as recently as the 1960s, the FBI was actively trying to get Martin Luther King to commit suicide with anonymous letters threatening to reveal secret recordings. America is, after all, a country that has used atomic weapons, twice, and both times on civilian targets.

America is now also doing something no other country is in a position to do: it is exploiting the dollar’s privileged position as the world’s reserve currency to pay for much of its gigantic waste through massive future devaluation of an asset held by millions around the world. Unconscionable? Arrogant? Bullying? Those words I think are fairly applied to the changes. It may be no consolation for those being steamrolled by America that its behavior is unavoidably weakening its position in the world, but that is a fact. The bullying will prevail for a time, but it does speed the day when world leadership shifts to new hands, not necessarily to any single country like China but possibly to a consortium of rapidly-growing large states – India, Russia, Brazil, and China – with interests of their own.

It is no wonder that the conspiracy-oriented regard 9/11 as some kind of black operation used to shift the direction of the country towards a brave new world. The only conspiracy I see in the events around 9/11, though, are the American government’s refusal to explain to its own people what happened while exploiting events to its benefit, doing things it likely long has wanted to do. It is covering up both the incompetence and destructiveness of the operations of its own intelligence and military establishments as well as the deadly stupidity of some of its foreign policies, policies which seem fixed in amber through the tireless work of special interests. Dishonesty now has become a hallmark of American government. Those with power feel no obligation to explain to the people they nominally serve what happened in almost any event of genuine importance, and a long-term practice has only become more intense and pervasive.

America’s press, still sometimes is heard patting itself on the back as the “fourth estate” protecting peoples’ interests and handing out meaningless journalism awards to itself, actually works as a silent partner with government, never once investigating the genuinely important stuff. A merged, corporate press has no interest in investigating a corporate government, indeed it depends on government agencies for the leaks and interviews and data access which make it appear as though it is investigating and reporting day-in, day-out. It often provides the security agencies with cover for their overseas operations, it frequently has hired them, sometimes unwittingly, onto its staff, and it provides an outlet for the agencies’ disinformation, again sometimes unwittingly. And of course the corporate advertising which sustains the press puts the scrutiny of many corporate matters out of bounds, including many cozy and anti-democratic relationships with government and its major agencies.

Just as there is a natural cycle in the life of great industries – the scores of early American car manufacturers are now reduced to a few functioning as an oligopoly, an historical pattern repeated in industry after industry  – there appears to be a life cycle for a government organized like that of the United States. The duopoly which runs the American government consists of two parties which differ in almost no particulars except some social issues, but even that difference is rather a sham because the American government no longer has any interest in social issues. It is concerned overwhelmingly with representing and furthering the interests of the nation’s three great power centers of the military-industrial-intelligence complex. Social issues now are soap-box stuff for street-corner politicians and members of NGOs.

But in any case, all players in this political duopoly, no matter to which office they may be elected, know they can never challenge the immense authority and virtual omnipresence of America’s military, intelligence, corporate hierarchies and special interests like the Israel Lobby, powerful anti-democratic institutions which literally shape the space America’s politicians must inhabit.

Americans today quite simply could not vote in an informed manner if they wanted to do so (and many are not interested in voting at all, as we shall see): they are completely in the dark as to what happens inside their government, both its operations within the country and in international affairs. No one knows the full extent of spending on intelligence, nor do they know what dark programs are underway. No one knows the full extent of spending on the military, nor do they know to what questionable tasks it is being put around the world. No one knows the immense extent and complexity of lobbying and special interests in the American government. And of course no one is privy to the planning and operations of the great corporations, nor do they know anything of the dealings and financing arrangements between those corporations (or the wealthy individuals who own and run them) and the people’s supposed representatives, who all must spend a substantial part of their time just raising money for the next election (the average American Senator is said to spend two-thirds of his or her time doing just that).

Americans’ votes in elections have become to a remarkable extent meaningless, although an elaborate political stage play keeps the appearance of meaning and keeps those interested in politics involved and entertained. Almost certainly as a result of sensing how little their votes count, Americans often simply do not vote and do so in increasing numbers. The further down the political totem pole you go from the presidential elections which generate the most noise owing to the obscene amounts of money spent on marketing and advertising, the greater is this truth. Maybe 60% vote for president, a minority vote in other national elections, and a tiny fraction vote in state and local elections.

For those who cherish rights and values won since the Enlightenment, it is a disheartening prospect we face. A nasty bully, armed to the teeth and endowed with a profound sense of entitlement and scant regard for the other 95% of humanity, casts a long shadow over the entire planet. Not so terrifying a figure as a Stalin or a Hitler, he is frightening enough, and his insincere words about rights and values and fairness fool many as he proceeds to do just as he pleases, including killing any individual on the planet he decides in secret to be an opponent. It is indeed a brave new world, not Shakespeare’s and something far grimmer than Huxley’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN

 

Some Israelis are fond of comparing Israel’s displacement of Palestinians to the historical experience of North Americans in displacing indigenous people, but the comparison is inaccurate on almost every level. First, comparing events of two hundred years ago and today is misleading: norms of human rights and ethics and law have changed tremendously in that time. Besides, people all over the world see and read of such injustices today, something not possible at an earlier time.

Second, the indigenous people of, for example, Canada consist of roughly one million out of a national population of 35 million, whereas Palestinians have reached slightly more than half the population of Israel-Palestine which is about eleven million. The scale and relative size of any event are important, as we are reminded time and again concerning the Holocaust

Third, the original indigenous North American people lived in a non-intensive economy of hunting and gathering and early agriculture, activities not compatible by their very nature with European settlement and development in a given region. But the Palestinians often are shopkeepers and farmers and tradesmen and professionals, activities fully compatible with the European development Israel represents.

Fourth, and most importantly, all of North America’s indigenous people are full citizens of their countries with rights to move and to work anywhere and the right to vote in elections and the freedom to marry anyone or claim any benefit owing to a citizen, whereas Israel holds the best part of five million Palestinians (Gaza, West Bank, and East Jerusalem) in a seemingly perpetual state of having no rights and no citizenship. A Jewish Israeli cannot even marry a Palestinian Israeli without serious consequences. The million or so Palestinians who are Israeli citizens – owing to the accidents of war in 1948 and certainly not to Israel’s embrace of diversity – are only technically so, having passports but having many restrictions and constant suspicions placed upon them. More than a few influential Israelis have spoken to the idea of driving them entirely out of the country at some point.

If, as Israel always insists as a pre-condition for peace talks, Israel were to be formally recognized by Palestinians as “the Jewish state,” what happens to the million or so Palestinians who are now (nominally) Israeli citizens?

Israel long has been concerned with the relative rates of growth of Jewish and non-Jewish populations in Israel proper and in the occupied territories. The populations are now roughly equal for the first time, and from now on the Jewish population likely will diminish as a fraction of the whole. These relative growth rates reflect the advanced European and American status of many Ashkenazi Jews, the people who largely run and own Israel. Advanced people today in all Western countries do not replace their populations. That is why even stable old European states are experiencing social difficulties with large in-migrations.

Significant in-migration always changes a country. Even a country such as Britain which we are used to thinking of in a well-defined set of characteristics is undergoing change, but the truth is our thinking about the character of a place like Britain is illusory. Britain over a longer time horizon was Celtic, Roman, Germanic, and Norman French with bits of others such as Vikings thrown in – all these going into the make-up of what we call the British people, what we think of as represented by, say, Winston Churchill with derby, umbrella, cigar, and distinctive accent, but, of course, Sir Winston also was half American (his mother).

Ethnic purity of any sort is a nonsense, and one hesitates even to use the phrase after the lunacies of the Nazis. Oddly, early in the Third Reich, the Nazis had considerable difficulty agreeing on what defined a Jew for purposes of the infamous 1935 Nuremberg Laws. After years of preaching hatred against Jews during their rise to power, you might think the Nazis clearly understood exactly what the object of all that hatred was, but that proved not to be the case. Under the compromise reached between various factions of the party, “three-quarter Jews,” those with three Jewish grandparents, were considered Jews. “Half-Jews,” those with two Jewish grandparents and two “Aryan” grandparents, were considered Jews only if they practiced the faith. “Quarter Jews” were considered as non-Jews. Attempting to rationalize the irrational always leads to absurd, not to say dangerous, results.

And yet, in a bitter paradox, Israel perpetuates a version of this thinking. A conception of just who is a Jew is necessary because all those regarded as Jews have the right to immigrate to Israel and to receive generous assistance in settling there. But as with any such conception, it suffers disagreements and adjustments over time, a recent one involving whether to recognize certain African groups holding to ancient variations of Jewish belief. Moreover, inside Israel there are great disagreements about rules set by one group of Jews, the ultra-orthodox, governing important parts of the lives of other groups of Jews.

As for today’s population shifts, the larger a country’s population, the more easily it absorbs in-migrants with minimal disturbance, but countries the size of Denmark or even Holland have experienced serious disturbances given the generosity of their past acceptance of refugees. And just so Israel, whose small population has struggled with huge in-migrations of Russians and others in recent decades. Many older Israelis have been irritated by them, and many of the Russians irritated at what they find in Israel. Smaller groups of in-migrant Jews and of refugees, ones with dark skins, have aroused some very ugly scenes recently in Israel, especially among the ultra-orthodox, scenes not altogether different to those of Bull Connor’s Birmingham, Alabama.

The Arab population in Israel-Palestine grows along the rates of third-world populations which have not experienced full demographic transition, something demographers have identified as an historic event in all advanced countries, a one-time population adjustment from the ancient human pattern of high birth and death rates to a modern one of low rates for both. High birth rates yield a young and growing population in any land where high death rates once claimed the lives of many children and kept population growth suppressed, but vaccines and improvements in diet and hygiene have lowered traditional infant mortality in many parts of the world. In advanced countries, the pattern has been for birth rates to fall once lower death rates are seen as the new reality, yielding slow to non-existent or even declining population growth. This last part of demographic transition requires a degree of prosperity to be achieved, something which Israel’s occupation makes impossible for Palestinians.

Countries with modern, non-replacement levels of fertility must rely on in-migration to grow and, in many cases, just to keep their populations where they are. All of advanced Europe and the United States and Canada are in this situation. A declining population has many implications, from shortages of key skills and talents to a decreased pool for soldiers and an outright decline in a country’s economic output. All advanced nations today maintain their populations through immigration.

Israel has been built almost wholly through immigration. Because Israel defines itself in such limiting terms as a state for only one group of people, with that group being a tiny fraction of world population (about 15 million out of 7 billion), Israel faces likely an insurmountable problem obtaining required future migrants. Its last source of substantial population growth was from Russia, and there are no more large pools of Jewish population left in the world willing to trade their situation for that of Israel. Jews now living comfortably in Europe and North America are certainly willing to visit Israel and perhaps donate and perhaps even do a business deal, but most are not willing to pack up and move there.

And why should they? Life is good in Europe and much of North America. In modern Israel there are endless tensions and arguments and difficulties, and immigrants face everything from national service requirements (for men and women) to punishing taxes and high costs of living and, in more than a few cases, intense prejudices. It is not surprising that recent World Bank data show significant net out-migration for Israel over the last 5 years, something new in the country’s brief history.

Why does Israel hang on to the occupied territories, the source of great stress and conflict, with their Arab population approaching 5 million? The answer, to a great extent, is found in a concept called Greater Israel. Greater Israel is supposed to reflect information from the Old Testament about the extent of biblical Israel. It includes the West Bank and Gaza, a slice of Syria, much of Lebanon, and other bits, all depending on which of several definitions you accept, there being no maps in biblical literature and words having been used with far less precision than we accept today. And there is something almost silly and chimerical about taking so literally ancient writings which include people being swallowed by a whale or turned into a pillar of salt. Whether chimerical or not, It is easy to see how dangerous the concept is today.

Many astute observers believe Israel’s 1967 War was deliberately engineered to seize much of the territory required for Greater Israel. At the time, France and the United States, while promising security for Israel, warned it not to use the war to increase its territory, but Israel did use the war that way. One of the explanations for Israel’s intense attack on the USS Liberty, a well-marked spy ship about which Israel had been informed in advance, was to silence America’s minute-to-minute information as Israel hurriedly turned its armored forces from Egypt towards the north and murdered hundreds of Egyptian prisoners of war to expedite the operation. Israel’s own behavior since 1967 certainly supports the idea of conquest as the war’s goal.

One suspects many Israeli leaders secretly believe in Greater Israel, with a number of them having spoken about it. It is important to know that the ultra-orthodox – whose parties are required for either major party’s forming a government – are the fiercest and most unapologetic believers in Greater Israel. For them “the promised land” must be as promised thirty centuries or so ago. Of course, believers in Greater Israel are not typically heard to explain what would happen to millions of Palestinian residents, other than such flip notions of their all moving to Jordan where they supposedly belong. What we see in Israel’s regular building of new settlements in the occupied territories does, for all the world, resemble a policy of slow-motion ethnic-cleansing towards creating Greater Israel. It certainly is a policy extremely hostile to any hopes of peace and stability.

How can you be so hostile and yet say that you search for peace? You cannot, at least in the real world. So how does any realistic person interpret Israel’s continued stealing of other people’s homes and farms? Israel calls these periodic thefts “facts on the ground” towards negotiation, but that ambiguous expression much resembles Israel’s public pledge never to be the first in the region to employ nuclear weapons, yet we all know that Israel does indeed have nuclear weapons while no one else does (most recent estimate is 80 nuclear warheads and a stockpile of fissile material adequate to better than double the number). While many Israelis rail against liberals who criticize such things, the simple fact is that the very definition of liberal-minded makes it impossible to accept them.

No place can sustain a sense of crisis indefinitely, something Israel has done since its founding, and the continued occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and Syria’s Golan Heights only add greatly to that sense of crisis. The costs in material terms and in psychological ones are high. Indeed, it is an unnatural thing for any state to sustain itself as a garrison state, a garrison state being a fortified place where service in the armed forces, various secret services, and a large bureaucracy concerned with such matters, provides an unhealthily large part of the national economy. Such institutions consume great amounts of wealth and produce little beyond basic security, and any nation with an inordinately large set of such institutions is at a comparative disadvantage to other nations not so burdened.

Apart from the immense cost of occupation, Israel’s army is showing increasing signs of unhappiness and demoralization with its role in the occupied territories. Adding to the general malaise expressed by hundreds of soldiers and veterans, the recent government commitment to subject the ultra-orthodox to military service for the first time is sure not to prove a happy experience. It is the ultra-orthodox parties who have most driven the ferocity of Israel’s position with its neighbors. These are the people who every once in a while run out and seize Palestinian land, building shacks on it and calling it a settlement, or who chop down ancient olive groves so that the Palestinians who own them cannot make a living. And these are the people who absolutely will not live with others who are different, including even many other Jews. Their men will not ride with women on a bus, and there is a long history of attacks on people living near or passing through their neighborhoods, as the defacing of non-orthodox temples, the physical assaults on outsiders in the streets, and such extreme acts as burning down the homes of women regarded as loose, sometimes with the occupants inside. When their young men and women have to wear uniforms and do duties in the occupied territories and at borders – and note women as well as men are drafted into the army – they are going to be very unhappy, but if the government fails in its intentions, there will be continuing unrest in the larger part of Israel, many of whom regard the ultra-orthodox as an embarrassment and a national problem.

Israel hopes with such measures as drafting the young ultra-orthodox to better integrate them into society, but this seems a hopeless idea. Can you integrate old-order Mennonites into society at large? To even attempt to do so is to destroy the foundation of their beliefs, much like America’s futile attempts to alter behaviors of fundamentalist Muslims in Afghanistan.

Since the beginning there have been internal conflicts in Israel between the ultra-orthodox and others. Many outsiders are not aware of the extent of the secular, indeed worldly, nature of a great part of Israel’s population. A very large part of Israel’s population is secular, estimated at well more than 40% while the orthodox and ultra-orthodox are about 20%. Yet many social rules legislated in Israel are to please the ultra-orthodox – after all, they do hold the balance of power in Israeli elections – and since a great part of Israel’s population is not observant in religion, regarding its Jewish identity as cultural, most Israelis live under legislation with which they are uncomfortable, but it is difficult to imagine how these differences and irritations can ever be rectified. Indeed, within Israel’s Jewish population, the only people with larger-than-average birth rates are the ultra-orthodox. Much as with Mennonites or old-fashioned Mormons, the ultra-orthodox eschew many of the benefits of modern society and live to some extent as though it were still the 19th century, including 19th century rates of fertility.

It is also demoralizing for a good part of the population to realize that their country is in much the same business as past discredited societies such as apartheid South Africa. How else can it be, given the occupied territories and Israel’s notion of itself as the Jewish state? It is also demoralizing to read overwhelming expressions of disapproval in the world’s press and to see the reactions of others when travelling on an Israeli passport. Indeed, the Israeli government has gone to the desperate extreme of paying thousands of students to counter criticisms of Israel on internet commentary and social sites around the world.

The elite class of Israel consists largely of Ashkenazi Jews from Europe and North America. Recent historical research and DNA testing do tend to support an old but unproven idea, once subject to the accusation of anti-Semitism, that their origin is not the ancient Hebrew people but a 7th to 9th century people from the Caucasus called the Khazars, converts to Judaism. And, to add more irony to the situation, historical research (and some DNA testing) supports the idea that today’s Palestinians are in part descendants of the Hebrews. There is no record from Rome of its having expelled the population when it conquered the region, nor would such an act be characteristic of Rome in its many conquests. Whatever the final truth of the matter, these ideas, now taken seriously by some world-class scientists and scholars, can only add to the unease and discomfort of modern Israelis.

Israel, since its founding, has been the most subsidized state in the world, maybe even in the history of the world. Israel’s economy for that reason cannot be sensibly compared to anything. It receives about $500 per year per Jewish citizen from the United States, and it has done so for decades. But that is only the beginning. There are periodic loan guarantees of tens of billions. There is constant access at the highest level for this nation with the population of Ecuador, something no other country, even a far more important one, has.

It has a plum free-trade agreement – indeed, without exporting its subsidized crops Israel’s agriculture would disappear – a costly gift to Israel because it has no tangible benefits for Americans. The opportunity cost of the water Israel squanders on tomatoes and clementines to export is unbelievably high because it is the cost of desalination-plant water. It thus sends subsidized produce to the United States under free trade, produce the United States doesn’t even need.

Israel receives billions worth of intelligence and defense cooperation every year from the United States, something few other countries receive. The billion and a half dollars a year going to Egypt is a bribe paid on Israel’s behalf by Americans since the Camp David Agreements. Israel receives heavily below-cost natural gas from Egypt, the result of U.S. pressure. Everyone knows this is scandalous, and the U.S. offered to pay a subsidy if Egypt raised the price. Israel also receives billions from the Jewish communities of America and Europe, and it receives important business intelligence and connections.

The great privilege granted to American Israelis to be recognized as dual citizens, a status of which the United States in general disapproves, means they move back and forth regularly, all the while sharing business and other intelligence. Israel’s farms and cities and water supply were all taken with absolutely no payment or reparations from other people, that being the biggest subsidy ever received, the very substance of the nation. Israel has received tens of billions in reparations from Germany – wholly appropriate in view of the past – but still a subsidy, and today Germany still subsidizes things like submarine construction. The list is even longer than this, but I think the point is clear: Israel is, in no meaningful sense, an independent national economy. It is in truth a gigantic international welfare case.

Israel, despite the subsidies, does not offer a good living for a great many of its citizens. Huge demonstrations – much hidden in the Western press – revealed great discontent in a country where the costs of basics like home ownership are intimidating. And it is hard to see how it can be otherwise in a very small, economically-inefficient country with military and security costs like no other.

Subsidies do not continue forever, and many of the sources of Israel’s subsidies must eventually tire of its never honestly trying to create meaningful peace. Many Jews in America, while continuing to support Israel, increasingly are irritated and embarrassed by its counter-productive policies and often outrageous acts. How long can they be depended upon?

Israelis like to complain of Western liberals and their views of the country, but they fail to remember who their historic allies and enemies were. Today’s “friends of Israel” represented by the likes of Dick Cheney or Newt Gingrich or America’s religious right were the very types who exuded anti-Semitism and admired Nazis a bit more than half a century ago. How secure are such attachments?

The Holocaust generation will completely disappear soon, taking with it a great deal of the intense fear and guilt which powered Israel’s creation. The efforts of ideologue Zionists for decades would never have made Israel a reality. It took the immensity of the Holocaust, influencing both Jews and nations like the United States – which could have accepted refugees before the Final Solution, but flatly refused, sending boatloads back to Germany – to create modern Israel. The United States position on Israel has always been riddled with hypocrisy, imposing a terrible burden on Palestinians for something which was neither their fault nor anything they could have prevented and giving huge aid to Israel instead of helping with compensation for Palestinians rendered refugees in their own land.

The virtual industry we have seen in building museums and publishing books dedicated to the Holocaust largely goes against normal human nature: people have a built-in capacity to forget great pain and turn to the stuff of living. Saying that does not mean that the Holocaust will be forgotten, only that it will assume its place in history with so many other terrible events and great upheavals, events and upheavals which are hard historical facts, not ever-present sources of pain and fear. But the Holocaust as a continued rationalization for the injustice and abuse we see in Israel-Palestine is losing its force both inside and outside Israel.

No democratic state can thrive under the long continued presence of a large military and intelligence establishment, the United States being the world’s premier example of this truth. For its size, Israel’s military-intelligence establishment is quite huge. Such institutions simply do not operate under democratic rules, and they do not promote democratic values within society. Quite the opposite, through their training of cohorts of young people, their secret demands on politicians, and secretive operations, they erode democratic values and respect for human rights. That fact combined with Israel’s continued occupation and abuse of millions and the fundamental fact that Israel’s idea of democracy begins with one group making all decisions do mean that Israel’s democracy is a rather poor one.

Moreover, it is an historical fact that democracies, not protected by a Bill or Charter of Rights, will everywhere and always abuse minorities. Power, however granted, is power, and there is nothing magical about democratically-granted power which protects any group or party differing in its views. Yet, by its very nature, Israel can never have a Charter of Rights, and therefore Israel can never be a proper democracy.

Last, Israel plays a decisive role in keeping in place the very dictatorships and monarchs around it that its politicians regularly decry in speeches aimed at American audiences. Why was the Egyptian Revolution, for example, completely turned around so that eighty million people are back to living under a junta? Why was a clean democratic election with Hamas, a party which represented genuine reform from Fatah, treated as a terrorist event, leading to elected officials being arrested wholesale and their leader openly threatened with assassination, a bloody invasion of what is essentially a giant refugee camp, piracy on the high seas, and a years-long punishing blockade? Israel does not want, and will not allow, democracy in any meaningful sense to emerge amongst its neighbors. And the fundamental reason for this is that Israel knows the popular will of virtually all of its neighbors is not friendly to Israel’s most selfish interests. So does that mean that all of Israel’s neighbors are doomed to tyrannies or monarchs in perpetuity? I think it does, so long as Israel is the kind of state that it is.

In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, one extremely wealthy American supporter of Israel supplied Newt Gingrich with the best part of $20 million towards Gingrich’s ambition of becoming the Republican candidate. Even in America’s money-drenched political system, such generous support does not come free. The price in this case was Gingrich’s periodically announcing in speeches that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian,” an echo of Golda Meir’s years-ago, dismally dishonest claim. Do Jews in Israel or America really enjoy hearing such paid-for nonsense from American politicians? More than anything, Gingrich resembled a pet monkey on a chain dancing for his supper. Such performances only demonstrate desperation by Israel’s apologists, a kind of frenzied wish-fulfillment to make a tremendous real problem disappear, and I’m sure many are embarrassed or disturbed by them.

Many of Israel’s Ashkenazi people hold dual citizenships, America and other countries having made an exemption to their traditional opposition to dual citizenships. While it might have been an adventure or a special opportunity to live in Israel or an expression of religious or cultural attachment, it is very likely many of them increasingly will take advantage of their situation to return to the lands of their birth. There is a better life for almost any class of people to be had in Europe or North America than in Israel. Better economies, greater opportunities, higher standards of living, no military draft for children, no daily scenes of abuse, no need to rationalize or apologize about your citizenship, no intense, unresolvable internal conflicts, and no sense of being surrounded with hostility.

No matter how many ultimately leave, large numbers of Jews will continue to live in the Middle East, but a purely Jewish state is no more sustainable in the long run than was the Soviet Union with its built-in anti-economic assumptions generating perpetual economic weakness. So, too, a state based on fear, which is in part what Israel is today. Fear does not sustain and ultimately cannot be sustained in any population. Stalin’s Soviet Union operated on fear for a considerable amount of time, but in the end even the dedicated communists desperately wanted to end fear. The many Jews who do remain will have to accommodate the realities of the region. They will come to accept Albert Einstein’s idea of Zionism: Jews living in the Middle East without the apparatus of a special state and a large army and living with respect for their neighbors. Perhaps, what will ultimately emerge is a single nation living in genuine peace. At least we can hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE POOR PEOPLE OF EGYPT

John Chuckman

How is it that the people of Egypt, after a successful revolution against the repressive 30-year government of President Mubarak, a revolution involving the hopes and fears of millions and a substantial loss of life, have ended up almost precisely where they started?

After Mubarak’s fall, there were many comments from prominent citizens of one of Egypt’s neighbors, the one styling itself “the Middle East’s only democracy,” expressing great concern over the end of decades of brutal dictatorial rule for eighty million neighbors. The comments, from many prominent Israelis, were disturbing in tone and certainly did not welcome the idea of an expansion of democracy in the region.

But the revolution continued, with some starts and stops, and Egyptians voted in their first free election. By all accounts, it was a cleaner election than many in that other great defender of democracy, the United States, but democracy as Winston Churchill famously said is “the worst form of government, except for all the others,” and the majority went to a religious-affiliated party, the Muslim Brotherhood, a party which had been persecuted and suppressed for years by Mubarak, an activity which endeared him to democracy-loving Israeli governments.

Now, that name, Muslim Brotherhood, undoubtedly sounds ominous to many in a post-9/11 world, a world where fears and disinformation about Muslims have become a daily, unavoidable part of the news in much of the Western world. But the truth is that the Muslim Brotherhood was not radical, and in many respects the religious note in Egyptian politics was not altogether different from that of a long history of Christian-affiliated parties in Western Europe or Latin America, such as the Christian Democrats.

Indeed, Egypt’s good democratic neighbor itself has been ruled in many aspects of its national life by ultra-orthodox religious parties needed to make a governing coalition in its heavily-splintered political system. And these Israeli fundamentalist parties do not reflect anything like the mild religious traditions of Europe’s Christian Democrats. These Israeli parties are composed of people who believe in theocratic rule, in the superiority of one group over others, in the unique truth of one set of ancient writing, in ancient views of women’s rights, and in legalizing many practices violating principles of the Enlightenment. As political analysts know, small parties can exert inordinate leverage on a society where they absolutely are required to form a government, that leverage necessarily seeming quite undemocratic to most citizens living under its shadow.

Well, Egypt’s new government did do some things that strict secularists such as myself do not like to see, its new constitution being chief among them. No liberal-minded person wants to live under a constitution giving special place to one religious group over another, but then that is nothing unusual in the world, and it is especially the case for emerging countries with many years of political experimenting in democratic institutions ahead of them.

So Egyptians unhappy with Morsi’s brief time in government started demonstrating against him. In doing so, they unwittingly weakened the foundations of a fragile set of democratic institutions and played into the hands of those who wanted the military coup we have now witnessed, with members of an elected government under arrest and many hundreds of people on both sides, for and against the Morsi government, killed in the streets, and a distressing return to where Egypt was about three years ago.

The truth is that the road to a fully-functioning democracy is always a very long one. The United States from its founding took a couple of hundred years to achieve even the semblance of democracy we see today. America started – despite the high-sounding words of its constitution – as a place where the people did not elect the president (the elites of the electoral college did), where the Senate was appointed (not changed until the 20th century), where a massive industry in human slavery legally flourished, where no women or blacks or even most men (those without specified amounts of property) could vote, and where the Bill of Rights served as a mere advertising slogan because its list of rights could not be enforced by a Supreme Court owing strict allegiance to the concept of states’ rights. The common sentimental view of early America is just that, sentimental.

The journey toward free and fair democratic government must be started somewhere, and Morsi’s government was perhaps as promising a start as is possible in a country mired in poverty and lacking democratic institutions as Egypt is, but the re-establishment of a junta is no start at all.

So, who are the people who wanted the coup and why did they want it?

To answer this we must go back to some of the acts of the Morsi government and see just who was extremely unhappy about them. One was a new general policy towards the hostages Israel holds in Gaza, by which I mean the million and a half people who also elected a new government some years back, the Hamas Party, in clean elections. There is no use repeating the fairy tale about Hamas being a terrorist organization: it most certainly is not, although through Israel’s manipulation of the severe weaknesses in America’s political structure (the acceptance of political donations in any amount as free speech, the acceptance of virtually unlimited lobbying, and the duopoly party system allowing one to be played against the other) Israel did succeed in having white declared to be red.

Morsi’s new general policy, offensive to Israel but I’m sure acceptable to most Egyptians, was not one of throwing open the border with Gaza – that would have resulted in air strikes and dire threats by Israel – but it was one of easing up on the past harshness Mubarak maintained to please Israel and the United States, and Mubarak and his military were keen to keep them pleased because the United States pays a huge annual bribe to Egypt to keep just such matters under control.

Now we have the Egyptian military returning to harsh measures: I read, for example, that they were flooding the tunnels which have served as vital supply lines for the imprisoned people of Gaza. Before its overthrow, Mubarak’s government was looking to build a kind of underground Berlin Wall along the entire border with Gaza made of special steel supplied by the United States. Perhaps now the military will take the wall-project up again, surely bringing satisfied smiles to the lips of Israel’s brutal government. You know just on the face of it that there is something very odd and unnatural in Egypt’s behaving this way towards people with whom most Egyptians sympathize for the benefit of another people with whom they do not sympathize.

I think the single most important act leading to the coup likely was Morsi’s meeting with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, a much-hated man in Israel. The meeting in fact was a perfectly natural and normal thing for these two countries to do, given their mutual interests and an ancient history of associations. They are both predominantly Muslim and both are large countries, on the order of 70-80 million people. But I know the meeting must have sent Mr. Netanyahu into a sputtering dark fury and almost certainly had him reaching for the phone to Obama within minutes.

Does Netanyahu have a special phone to the Oval Office, a version of the ‘hot line” established between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1960s to help avoid a disastrous nuclear misunderstanding?

One suspects so because of what surely must be the volume of calls made from one of the world’s smallest countries to one of its largest, regularly asking for things – everything from increases in American aid or access to new technologies and weapons systems or seeking support for Israeli companies trying to land a contract or asking yet again that a damaging spy like Jonathon Pollard be freed or setting new demands in foreign policy towards this or that country fallen under Mr. Netanyahu’s wrath. And we have Obama’s own words when he was caught briefly with an open microphone while talking privately with President Sarkozy of France. Raising the eyebrows of reporters, Sarkozy remarked that Netanyahu was a liar who couldn’t be trusted. Obama agreed that you couldn’t trust anything Netanyahu said, and added further that Sarkozy was lucky in his dealings with Netanyahu: imagine having to speak with him every day the way Obama had to?

Every day? A call from the leader of 1/1,000 of the earth’s population every day? No wonder they keep such things secret.

When the demonstrations by Egyptians disenchanted with Morsi began, they provided the perfect opportunity and cover for a coup. Israel undoubtedly pushed the United States – after all, Obama had intervened to support the original revolution, something not pleasing to Netanyahu and only adding to his stock of reasons for often expressing contempt of the President, and now Morsi was carrying on in “I told you so” ways. The United States in turn undoubtedly let the Egyptian military know it would not object to the overthrow of Morsi (and it hasn’t objected, has it?), reminding the generals of what was at stake here – namely, about a billion and a half in annual bribes for keeping the government of Israel from complaining.

One suspects the CIA was active in stoking the fires of discontented Egyptians, handing out money and promises and encouragement to make the crowds larger and more aggressive. After all, that is just what the CIA does when it isn’t directly overthrowing someone’s government or assassinating someone’s leader or planting false stories in the press or secretly bribing government officials in dozens of countries deemed to be “ours.”

I heard one of CBC Radio’s lesser journalistic lights speak of such a close election as the one in Egypt leaving so many people there feeling the government didn’t represent them. She apparently was unaware that Canada’s Stephen Harper is deemed a majority parliamentary government with about 39% of the vote. Or that many American presidential elections end with margins as close as that in Egypt, Kennedy having been elected by a small fraction of one percent of the popular vote. George Bush received about a half million fewer votes than Al Gore in 2000, a victorious minority made possible by America’s antiquated constitution with its anti-democratic electoral college, a result which has been repeated a number of times in American history.

But Americans and Canadians do not go into the streets to overturn the results, nor would we say anything encouraging or positive if they did. If the existing rules are followed in an election, we accept the result, and that kind of stability is absolutely crucial to maintaining any form of democracy. Yet it is somehow acceptable for our press to take that view when the topic is government in the Middle East, and a struggling new democratic government at that.

After all, there has been a steady stream of prejudiced words and carefully selected facts about Islam and the Middle East in the mainline press since 9/11. And ever since that event, much as the five Israeli Mossad agents, disguised as workers for a moving company, who were reported photographing the strikes on the twin towers from the top of their truck while dancing and high-fiving before their arrest and deportation, apologists for Israel have steadily encouraged the notion of Islamic and Arabic irrationality to excuse Israel’s bloody excesses. The notion has become a handy tool to grab whenever there are other events viewed unfavorably by Israel, as in the case of the Egyptian election and some of the democratic government’s acts.

The political future for the poor people of Egypt is not bright. Their prospects for democratic government and all the social changes that it entails over time are indeed collateral damage of Israel’s endless bristling and America’s Israeli-like sense of exceptionalism and belief that it has the right to play God with the lives of tens of millions of others to satisfy troubles in its own domestic politics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMERICA’S RIDICULOUS POSITION ON SYRIA

John Chuckman

I read that an American Senator, Bob Menendez, wanted “to vomit” when he was supplied with a copy of Vladimir Putin’s New York Times’ op-ed piece about Syria.

Well, I’m sure it wasn’t just a matter of Sen. Menendez’s delicate stomach: there have been many times in the past I wanted to vomit over something in The New York Times.

It is, after all, an impossibly pretentious, often-dishonest publication faithfully serving America’s military-industrial-intelligence complex, one which never fails to support America’s countless wars, insurgencies, dirty tricks, and coups – all this while publicly flattering itself as a rigorous source of journalism and even a newspaper “of record.” Many regard The Times as simply the most worn-out key of that thunderous public-relations instrument an ex-Agency official once called his “mighty Wurlitzer.” Only in the antediluvian political atmosphere of America could The Times manage to have something of a reputation for being “liberal.”

Mr. Menendez, as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, holds a powerful position, one he has used in lockstep with President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to promote illegal war. Like them he blubbers about rights and democracy and ethics while planning death and destruction to people who have done nothing against the United States except disagreeing with it and being hated by that greatest single outside determinant of American foreign policy, Israel.

Sen. Menendez’s personal anecdote actually provides a perfect miniature replica of the entire operation of America’s foreign affairs. American officials never fail to invoke words about democracy or human rights when addressing their next piece of dirty work or effort to pressure another people into doing what America wants.

So naturally the Senator might be a bit upset over Putin’s upstaging the top officials of the United States and proving himself the superior statesman and rational politician in every detail.

First, every honest, well-read person, not trying to promote American special interests, knows there is no proof that Assad used chemical weapons. Absolutely none. Even as I write, an Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, reports that the UN inspection team could find no evidence of chemical weapons used in the place cited by Syria’s rebel army.

A video which made the rounds among American allies and which purported to show the attack has been declared a fake by the UN. Russia’s secret services also declared it a fake.

The only other bit of “evidence” worth mentioning is a supposed recording of Syrian officials provided to American officials by Mossad. Yes, that’s Mossad, the very people who pride themselves on deception and who have a long track record of expertly using it, even in several cases successfully against the United States.

You do not kill thousands of people and destroy a country’s infrastructure citing rubbish like that.

Again, as I write this, a former British Ambassador, Craig John Murray, states that the United States has been deceived by Mossad with its purported recording and that Britain’s super-sensitive listening post in Cyprus, vastly superior to Israel’s listening assets, had picked up no such information.

Germany, based on its secret service operations, also has publicly stated that Assad did not use chemical weapons.

And, of course, after all America’s huffing and blowing and threatening in recent months, Assad and his senior associates would have to have been genuinely mad to use them, but there is no sign of madness. Assad remains a calm and thoughtful person whose voice is largely silenced in the West by his having been declared arbitrarily not an acceptable head of state.

Second, there is significant proof that ugly elements of the rebellion – the substantial al Qaeda-like components who hate Assad for his tolerance towards all religions in Syria – did indeed use limited amounts on more than one occasion, hoping, undoubtedly to create a provocation for American entry. The UN has said so and so have other agencies.

We have incidents, reported reliably, of rebel elements receiving small canisters of chemical weapons, likely from Saudi agents working on behalf of American policy. We also have an incident of a canister caught by authorities moving across the Turkish border in the hands of rebel fighters, the Turkish border having been used extensively since the beginning of the rebellion as a way to inject weapons and lunatic fighters into Syria and as a refuge for rebels when corned by Syria’s army. Even the American military confirms this last event.

Third, we absolutely know that Israel has a stockpile of this horrible stuff, Sarin, but not a word is said about it. This stockpile has been confirmed by CIA sources recently. Even before CIA sources, we knew of Israel’s chemical weapons from the 1992 crash of an El Al cargo plane in Amsterdam, a plane whose illegal cargo proved to be precursor chemicals for such weapons.

Now, if you were regarded as an enemy by Israel, the most ruthless country in the Mideast when simply measured by the number of times it has attacked its neighbors, wouldn’t you want weapons to counteract theirs? And, of course, to counteract not just Israel’s chemical weapons but secret nuclear ones? So it is hardly a terrible thing for Assad’s military to posses them.

Perhaps most importantly, the United States is in no position to draw lines or make public judgments about the behavior of anyone with regard to such weapons.

It stands as likely the greatest user of various chemical weapons over the last four or five decades. Napalm and Agent Orange were used on a colossal scale in Vietnam, a true holocaust in which the United States killed about three million people. The residue from millions of pounds of Agent Orange still causes horribly mangled babies to be born in Vietnam, and the United States has never lifted a finger to clean the mess or treat its victims.

In the terrible Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, the United States supplied Iraq – the clear aggressor in the war – with the materials for chemical weapons which eventually killed many thousands of Iranian soldiers.

In the illegal invasion of Iraq – where the United States killed upwards of half a million people and created millions of refugees – it employed white phosphorus (a good substitute for napalm), flame-throwers, depleted-uranium (cancer-inducing) ammunition, and hideous child-crippling cluster bombs. The children of Iraq today suffer a plague of cancer caused by breathing tons of vaporized depleted-uranium the United States dumped there.
In the unnecessary invasion of Afghanistan, the United States used massive carpet bombing to support the thugs of the Northern Alliance, who happened to be old enemies of the Taleban, though often being equally horrible in behavior. This was one of the first instances of the strategy America employed in Libya and wants to employ in Syria: local rebels on the ground, supplied with money and intelligence and weapons, are supported by high-tech hell from the air, yielding the needed results with minimum American casualties.

Thousands of Taleban prisoners of war were “disappeared’ by members of the Northern Alliance by sealing them in trucks, driving them out to the desert to suffocate, and then dumping their bodies in mass graves – all this while American soldiers looked on and picked their noses.

Nothing which has happened in recent years so horrifyingly recalls the work of Hitler’s Einsatzkommandos using mobile killing-trucks before the death camps were built, yet there can be no question that senior American commanders and the White House were aware of these events.

And of course, the only nation on earth ever to actually use atomic weapons – twice, and both times on civilian, non-military targets – is the United States, a country which also seriously planned to use them in Cold War pre-emptive strikes against Russia and China and later in Vietnam.

The voice of the United States today is shrill with hypocrisy and dishonesty and self-interest when it is heard condemning Syria, or anyone else, for using unacceptable weapons. Where was that voice when its ally, Israel, committed atrocities, as it did in Lebanon and in Gaza and on the high seas against unarmed humanitarians or when it steals the land of defenceless occupied people? Indeed, the white phosphorus and cluster bombs Israel used in some of Israel’s attacks were supplied by the United States, as were the planes and artillery used to deliver them.

And this brings us to the real cause of the rebellion in Syria. Israel would like Assad gone and Syria reduced to a broken state the way Iraq was reduced. It does not want to do this directly because Syria is a serious military opponent and not easy prey, and Israel’s doing so would arouse new waves of anger in the Mideast and new difficulties for the United States.

So the United States has had a long-term program of creating a kind of cordon sanitaire around Israel, breaking all of its potential opponents for many hundreds of miles around, but doing so always under contrived circumstances of supporting peoples’ revolts or removing dictators. It surreptitiously supplies large amounts of money and useful intelligence to the genuinely disaffected peoples of various states, encouraging them to revolt, indicating air and other support once things are underway. This is reminiscent of the dirty work of Henry Kissinger carried out with Iraq’s Kurdish population in 1975, promising them anything if they revolted but failing to deliver and leaving them to face a massive slaughter by Saddam Hussein’s troops.

Today’s is a complex black operation using a bizarre collection of intermediaries and helpers. Events in Benghazi, Libya, never explained in the United States, were certainly one little corner of this with the CIA operating there to collect weapons and jihadist types for secret entry into Syria through Turkey.

Saudi Arabia too plays a large role, surprising as that may seem to some given that Israel is a major beneficiary. Saudi Arabia’s ruling family plays the anti-Israel card just enough to keep its own fundamentalist Wahhabi population from revolting. But in truth, the wealthy Saudi elites have always had more in common with American and Israeli elites than with popular leaders in the Mideast.

Those Saudi elites were rendered extremely vulnerable to American pressures during 9/11. George Bush, always a good friend and beneficiary of Saudi largess, secretly rounded up a number of them who were in the United States (at places like Las Vegas casinos) and shipped them back to Saudi Arabia for their safety. As it proved, the greatest number of perpetrators of 9/11 were Saudi extremists, and it was discovered, though not publicly announced, that bin Laden’s movement regularly received bribes from the royal family to keep his operations out of Saudi Arabia. Thus the royal family financed bin Laden. All this made the Saudis extremely nervous and willing to be of more conspicuous future assistance in the Mideast.

And so they are, supplying money and weapons through various routes to the rebels. There is also a report of the Saudis releasing more than twelve hundred violent prisoners in return for their training and going to Syria to fight as jihadist volunteers.

American officials know all these things while they stand and blubber about democratic rebels and “red lines” and other fairy stories. They want to bomb Syria because the recent success of Assad’s army has begun to endanger the huge effort to have him overthrown. Just as their planes and missiles tipped the scales in Libya with a phony zero-fly zone, they want to repeat that success in Syria.

Now, Putin appears to have upset the plan with admirable statesmanship, and Sen. Menendez will just have to console himself with Pepto-Bismol.

But then the Russians have always been great chess players.

John Chuckman

French air force planes struck the first blows: using “intelligent” munitions, the planes struck tanks and artillery which threatened the people of Benghazi.

Now, who wouldn’t be heartened to learn that mechanized forces being used against civilians, civilians whose only demand was freedom from tyranny, were destroyed?

One might easily regard intervention, limited strictly to such targets, as both ethical and desirable, but the truth is that intervention is never limited to such targets, and the realities motivating it are loaded with error and, most importantly, with intentions at odds with high-sounding public statements.

The record for intervention is one of greater death and destruction than the threats it is supposed to stop where it is used and of allowing monstrous crimes to go unchallenged where it is avoided. Indeed, it has been avoided always where monstrous crimes are involved, the very situations in which its human costs might be more than offset by what it prevents. Nowhere in the record is there any consistency with regard to principle despite the press releases accompanying every new bombardment.

The glimmer of moral satisfaction we feel at the first instance of an event such as the French jets destroying some of Gaddafi’s armor about to attack a city is badly misplaced, for if ethics or morality is to mean anything, it must absolutely be consistent in application. You cannot meaningfully speak of selective ethics.

At the very time of the events in Libya, we have the same civil unrest and demands for an end to absolute and unaccountable government in Yemen and Bahrain, and they have been met with fairly large-scale abuse and killings by police. Literally scores have been shot dead in the streets. In the case of Bahrain, we have troops from Saudi Arabia – an absolute monarchy much resembling something from the 14th century – entering the country to assist Bahrain’s government in stopping its people seeking freedom.

Now, anyone who knows anything about the Mideast knows that Saudi Arabia would not march a single platoon of soldiers across its border without explicit approval from Washington. It just cannot be otherwise because America keeps an intensely close watch on matters affecting its client-state, Israel, and because Saudi Arabia’s advanced weapons come from America, and also because, following 9/11, most of the perpetrators having been Saudi nationals, Saudi Arabia has had to work long and hard to gain some trust back from Washington.

So where is the moral or ethical balance? Help the tyrant in Bahrain and attack the one in Libya? Why is only Libya a target?

There are many reports, not carried in the mainline press, about Israel supplying the African mercenaries who have been doing most of the bloody work in Libya. They are said to have been supplied by an Israeli military contracting firm connected to Mossad at the kind of high per diem rates which Gaddafi’s oil wealth allows. One of Gaddafi’s sons also made a visit for private talks in Israel in the early days of the rebellion’s repression. Such events, we can be absolutely sure, also do not happen without approval from Washington.

It appears America has both indirectly helped the tyrant while directly, albeit belatedly, fighting him. I don’t see any evidence of ethics in that situation.

Gaddafi certainly has grown into an unpleasant figure, displaying signs of deteriorating mental health while commanding the powers of a fairly rich small state. His early days as a rather dashing and intelligent revolutionary figure – few people recall he was featured in a cover story of the New York Times Magazine decades ago portraying him in rather flattering son-of-the-desert terms, the kind of article about a foreign leader which always has the imprimatur of the CIA – are lost in the reality of a mumbling old tyrant who has proved ready to strike down civilians to maintain his position. Naturally, people feel exhilarated to see him lose some military advantage.

Most humans do appear to be programmed by nature to cheer in situations where there is a clear bad guy and a good guy going after him. That is why blockbuster Hollywood movies and professional wrestling generate billions of dollars in revenue by repeating endlessly the same simple plot with only changes of costume. But world affairs are never so simple.

Just consider Israel’s assault on Gaza a few years ago, a place which is essentially a large, fenced-in refugee camp possessing no serious weapons. Israel killed something like 1,400 people, including hundreds of children, estimated at 400 young souls, and its soldiers committed such barbarities as using children as human shields. One saw pictures on the Internet of blood running like sewer overflow in the streets of Gaza. Yes, hundreds of children killed and with no rebuke from Washington or Paris or London and certainly no threat of having a no-fly zone or other violent measures imposed.

Up to the point of intervention, information from Libya suggests nothing on quite that scale of barbarism had occurred, rather there was the beginning of a conventional civil war with one side having better resources. So why the immense difference in response between the two situations? Why did we see Libyan victims on television, but the worst of what Israel committed could only be found on the Internet? Selectivity is at work always in these matters from the very start.

Not long before the Gaza atrocity, we had yet another invasion of Southern Lebanon by Israel. More than a thousand people were killed in their own land, and here we had the added horror of hundreds of thousands of bomblets from that cruellest of weapons, American cluster bombs, being showered over civilian areas, destined to kill and cripple for years to come. Along the way, Israel showed its contempt for international law by deliberately targeting a group of United Nations’ observers who died bravely doing their duty.

Yet there was no effort to punish or even restrict Israel as we see today imposed on Gaddafi. How can anyone claim that the response in Libya is ethical?

Libya is now being so heavily bombed that some Muslim states which joined the “coalition” are making loud noises about the United Nation’s mandate being exceeded. If you read newspapers from Britain as well as North America, you will know that there is disagreement between the public statements of the British and American governments as to what constitutes legitimate targets.

But when it comes to bombing, America never does anything by halves.

Shortly after the French attack at Benghazi, 124 cruise missiles, mostly American, began destroying targets in Libya. Reports say four B-52s flew from Europe, each with 30 tons of bombs, and three B-2 stealth bombers, carrying a total of 45 two thousand-pound, “bunker-buster” bombs, flew from the United States. And that was just the start.

Despite protestations, American targets certainly included sites associated with Gaddafi himself, his own compound having been destroyed.

And there you have another of many problems with intervention, or, as some like to call it, ethical war: it depends upon the Frankenstein military of the United States because no one else has its destructive capacities, forces which we have seen, again and again, not only kill in great excess but which typically are directed to dark tasks not featured in the propaganda leading up to the effort.

Recall the American “humanitarian” mission in Somalia in the early 1990s, the one that ended with “Blackhawk down.” We were all conditioned by endless pictures of starving Somalis to welcome efforts at their relief, but the American military, instead of serving the roles of distributing relief supplies and guarding those distributing relief supplies – the ostensible purposes of the mission – almost immediately went after what they regarded as “the bad guys.”

They attempted to kill one of the major local warlords with special planes equipped with modern Gatling guns, circling the sky and spraying large-calibre shells in built-up areas, at the rate of thousands per minute, much of that indiscriminate firepower killing innocent people and destroying property in a poor region. Hundreds of Somalis were killed by the American efforts, and some reports put the number at 10,000.

But we will never learn the truth from the American government, which, since its debacle in Vietnam, always suppresses the numbers it kills. It did so in the first Gulf War where tens of thousands of poor Iraqi recruits sitting behind sand walls in the desert were carpet-bombed by B-52s, their bodies later bulldozed into the ground. It did so in Afghanistan, where it regularly has killed civilians for ten years. And it did so in that pure war crime, the invasion of Iraq.

America’s effort to get the “bad guy” in Somalia was an act of complete arrogance and sheer stupidity, clearly reflecting America’s ingrained streak of hell-and-damnation Puritanism and its Captain Ahab obsession with chasing the white whale over whole oceans. All Americans achieved was to make a deadly enemy, as they shortly learned. They ended up, pretty much leaving the country shamefully and forgetting their first purpose in going there, distributing relief to the starving, something Canada’s soldiers and others routinely do without creating such aggression and such violent results.

Recall again President Clinton’s launching a large salvo of missiles in 1998 towards targets in the Afghan mountains and at a Sudanese plant in Khartoum. They were said to be aimed at terrorist targets, but the public was given no detailed information. We do know the plant in Sudan proved to be just what it was claimed by locals, a pharmaceutical plant, Dozens of innocent people were killed and property worth many millions of dollars was destroyed to no purpose, based entirely on incorrect information.

Clinton also launched 23 cruise missiles towards targets in Baghdad in 1993, supposedly in retaliation for an Iraqi-sponsored attempt on former-President George Bush when he visited Kuwait, although the public was given no details of the supposed plot. Even granting there was a plot, if you are entitled to hurl thousands of pounds of high explosives at a distant city owing to a faulty dark operation, what are we to say of the many countries and millions of people who have been victims of America’s many dark operations? What principle is at work here other than might makes right?

Ethical war is an absurd term, just as is the idea of bombing for democracy is. Always and anywhere, as soon as the military engines are started, just as is said for truth, ethics are left behind. War is a playground for adventurers and psychopaths. Just recall those American pilots during the first Gulf War whose cockpit transmissions were broadcast on television while they strafed Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait City: their chilling words included, “Hey, this’s like shootin’ fish in a barrel!” And readers should remember that that first Gulf War was itself little more than an American dark operation intended to put Hussein into a compromising position and topple him.

Deeply discrediting the whole confused concept of ethical war are not just the many crimes committed in its name but the many greater omissions. Genocide has become one of the most abused and misused terms of our time, someone ignorantly using it every time a group of people is killed anywhere, but we have had several authentic genocides since World War II, and I think we can all agree if ever there could be a case for ethical war, it would be the case of genocide. But it is precisely in the case of genocide that all the powers simply hide, the United States having a completely shameful record.

In the case of Indonesia, following the downfall of President Sukarno in 1967, about half a million people had their throats slashed and their bodies dumped into rivers because they were, or were suspected of being, communists. The entire nation was turned temporarily into an abattoir for humans, and where was the United States, defender of freedom, during the horror? Rather than any effort to stop the terror, it had employees of the State Department on phones around the clock feeding the names of people they’d like to see included in the extermination.

In the case of Cambodia during the late 1970s, the “killing fields” saw about a million people murdered by the mad ideologues of the Khmer Rouge. Where was the United States? Nowhere to be seen or heard, off licking its wounds from its long, pointless war in Vietnam, except when Vietnamese forces finally crossed the border to stop the bloodshed, the United States yelped, “See, we told you so, the ‘domino effect’ is now at work!” And to this day, few Americans take any responsibility for their county’s role in creating the “killing fields.” In its desperate efforts to win in Vietnam, President Nixon’s government launched huge aerial bombardments and incursions by troops into a neutral country, finally so destabilizing it that the Khmer Rouge took power.

In the case of Rwanda in 1994, the world watched something on the order of 800,000 people hacked to pieces, the victims selected merely for their ethnic identity. President Clinton knew every detail from the beginning but made every effort to avert his eyes and prevent the United States from being involved.

So much for the notion of ethical war in the very cases where it could conceivably have made a difference.

The United States’ motives for intervening in Libya are complex and anything but ethical. It was reluctant even to speak out at first. The truth is that stability in the Middle East – stability as defined by the bloody likes of Henry Kissinger – at the complete expense of democratic values or human rights has been bedrock American policy for decades. This policy had the duel objectives of securing the production of oil and making a comfortable climate for Israel.

The United States dithered during recent momentous events in Egypt precisely because Israel benefited from that country’s dictator and was not interested in seeing anything resembling democracy emerge in large Arab states, despite its hypocritical and much-repeated refrain about being the only democracy in the region. Numerous Israeli leaders made the most embarrassingly revealing and shameful statements while the scales were tipping against President Mubarak. But the events proved so unprecedented and so overwhelming and pretty much unstoppable without immense bloodshed that the United States finally came down on the right side, working to restrain Mubarak and to ease the transition in power.

The North African version of Europe in 1848 is very much viewed as a threat by Israel. Imagine all the Palestinians of the occupied West Bank and Gaza, some four million people, plus the non-Jewish people of Israel proper, about a million, stirred by events in North Africa, rising up to demand their rights? Stopping the series of rebellions against unrepresentative governments along the Mediterranean shores must be high on Israel’s list of current foreign policy objectives because it is clear that continued successes encourage new attempts.

Even further, as we have seen, Chancellor Merkel of Germany has rebuked Prime Minister Netanyahu in public for doing nothing for peace, asserting rightly that the changing conditions of the Arab world make it incumbent upon Israel to pursue genuine peace.

There is some hard truth assiduously avoided in Western mainstream press and by Western governments in their public communications: that what anyone outside of Israel would call peace has simply never been an objective of Israel’s government. There is no other way of understanding Israel’s actions over decades than its aiming to acquire virtually all the Palestinian lands without the Palestinians, or, at least, with a reduced number of Palestinians put into utterly subservient arrangements with no political integrity and very limited rights.

But again in Libya, events soon outdistanced United States’ policy. Images of freedom-fighters there being attacked by bloody mercenaries and mechanized forces affected public opinion and allowed of no further dithering, as did the initiatives taken by Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron and France’s President Sarkozy, each for their own political and economic reasons. The truth is that most people are decent, and the general public is always sympathetic with the victims seen in such images, which is precisely why American networks never show images of American troops brutalizing Iraqis or Israelis brutalizing Palestinians.

Gaddafi has long been a disliked third-world leader in the West – independent-minded leaders never are liked by the American government and there is a long list of them who have been overthrown or assassinated regardless of their democratic bona fides – and in a sense the West’s own past extravagant claims about his being a grand sponsor of terror has blown back on it. Added to the fact that he now appears rather mad and to the image of heroic Libyans winning and then losing in their fight for freedom, public opinion has made the course the United States intended difficult if not impossible.

But that does not mean public opinion is right about intervention, a subject not well understood by the average citizen. Even the case of a no-fly zone, something judging from the glib words seems to be considered by many a not very aggressive form of help, is not well understood. A no-fly zone is a complex and highly destructive operation, pushing the operator into something approaching a state of war, and yet having little likelihood of success in turning events on the ground.

Planes first had to fly all over Libya to get the radars turned on. Then attack planes and missiles quickly had to follow-up to destroy the located radars. Airfields and parked planes are also targets. Many people on the ground get killed in the effort, but that’s only the beginning. Twenty-four hour-a-day flyovers must be maintained afterwards to assure radars are not replaced and to attack planes which break the ban, all of which involves more civilian deaths.  And from the first day in Libya, the air attacks have gone beyond imposing a no-fly zone, as we saw in the French attack at Benghazi and, at this writing, British attacks on Libyan armor at Ajdabiya.

Anyone who has kept track of American pilots’ efforts in Afghanistan and in Iraq knows that they have killed very large numbers of innocent people, and that even in situations where they have complete air superiority. They still kill innocent Afghans regularly, scores at a time, thousands in total.

The record of no-fly zones is not a happy one. The United States maintained one against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq for a decade after the first Gulf War, a decade of flying over the country and shooting up anything suspicious. There were countless incidents of American planes shooting and bombing people, but the no-fly zone did not prevent Saddam Hussein from achieving his objectives. Unless you are prepared to do to a country what the United States did to Japan during World War II – incinerate whole cities both with conventional or atomic weapons – air power cannot determine the direction of events on the ground with a determined opponent.

Reports at this writing from Libya suggest exactly the same result.

Once the no-fly zone is established, frustration over the opponent’s success on the ground creates a constant temptation to say, “In for a penny, in for a pound,” and to commit more force. You may easily find yourself engaged in yet another war. And everywhere and always in the modern era, the victims of war are mainly not the enemy soldiers or their “bad guy” leaders but the people just trying to live their lives. Just think about the roughly one million people who have perished in Iraq plus the more than two million refugees who fled their country, and consider the fact that one of the Arab world’s most advanced countries is now reduced to a generation without jobs, without dependable electric power and clean water. Saddam Hussein never dreamed of doing that much damage to his people despite his atrocities.

When your objectives going in are confused and uncertain, as are those of the United States, what is the hope for a good outcome? Not great I think. It’s a little like pouring concrete without having constructed a mold. And that is another reason why war for ethical of humanitarian motives has such a poor record: huge investments in death and destruction are made suddenly, upon the occurrence of unanticipated events, and often involving quick turns-around against long-established policy.

Perhaps the worst charge against intervention is that each instance only makes it easier and more acceptable in the future. The long list of minor to major interventions by the United States in the postwar era – most of them with no pretence of international legality or an ethical nature – should serve as a severe warning against going in this direction. From toppling democratic governments in Iran, Guatemala, or Chile to the holocaust in Vietnam with its estimated three million victims and a land left saturated with poisons and landmines, there is virtually no case for intervention that does not make future abuse and horror more likely by those with great power.

It is also well to remember that we have a greatly changed world political environment since the events of 9/11. Today the United States, without hesitation, sends drones into a country with which it is not even at war, Pakistan, and kills hundreds of innocent people. Its so-called “kill-teams” perpetrate horrors in Afghanistan, and recent events suggest they have been at work in Pakistan. It still holds people prisoner with no proper law in the secret locations of its CIA international gulag. The abomination of Guantanamo remains. The honouring of international law and agreements has suffered greatly in favour of doing as you please so long as you have the might.

Even the accepted institution for warranting ethical war, the United Nations, as it exists is a highly inadequate institution to exercise such authority. The United States frequently stands against pretty much the entire world there in opposing perfectly appropriate resolutions and gets its way. And when it wants a resolution approved, member states are subject to behind-the-scenes bribes, cajoling, and threats to produce the votes America wants. No one else has such vast economic, financial, and diplomatic leverage to get what they want there. America has exercised its unique power over the organization many times, from the Korean War to the invasion of Afghanistan. Sometimes, rarely, its demands are so unreasonable that enough of the world’s countries find themselves in a position to resist, as was the case for invading Iraq.

June 27, 2009

AHMADINEJAD WON INDEED AND THE REAL SOURCE OF INTERFERENCE IN IRAN’S ELECTION IS LIKELY THE UNITED STATES

John Chuckman

A recent article called “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It” by Flynt and Hillary Leverett is not the only source with serious credentials offering reasonable, non-sensational explanations for events around Iran’s presidential election.

Kaveh Afrasiabi, a scholar who once taught at Tehran University and is the author of several books, says many of the same things.

Close analysis of the election results gives absolutely no objective basis for making charges of a rigged election. Mousavi’s expected win – expected, that is, by the Western press and by Mousavi himself – never had any basis in fact.

Afrasiabi also tells us that Ahmadinejad is extremely popular with the poor in Iran, a very large constituency, and he tells us further that Ahmadinejad spent a great deal of time traveling through the country during his first term listening to them. Ahmadinejad is himself a man of fairly humble origins with a good deal of genuine sympathy for the poor.

Of course, the public in the West has been treated to a barrage of propaganda about Ahmadinejad, conditioned by countless disingenuous stories and editorials to regard him as the essence of evil, ready to stir up trouble at a moment’s notice. These perceptions, too, have no basis in fact.

Ahmadinejad is a highly educated man, ready and willing to communicate with leaders in the West, although given to poking fun at some of the shibboleths we hold to. His office as president is not a powerful one in an Iran where power is divided amongst several groups, just as it is in the United States. He has no war-making power.

Even his infamous statement about Israel – mistranslated consistently to make it sound terrible – was nothing more than the same kind of statement made by the CIA in its secret study predicting the peaceful end of today’s Israel in twenty years or the statement by Libya’s leader, Gaddafi, saying Israel would be drowned in a sea of Arabs. Unpleasant undoubtedly for some, the statement was neither criminal nor threatening when properly understood.

The post-election troubles in Iran definitely reflect the interference of security services from at least the United States and Britain. We have several serious pieces of evidence.

First, Iran discovered and arrested just recently a group with sophisticated bomb equipment from Britain. They were caught red-handed, although our press has chosen to be pretty much silent on the matter. Of course, we all recall the arrest of  a group of fifteen British sailors a couple of years ago, an event treated in our press as the snatching of innocents on the high seas when in fact they were on a secret mission in disputed waters claimed by Iran.

Robert Fisk recently wrote an excellent piece about photocopies of what purported to be a confidential official government report to the head of state, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, regarding the election results. It attributed a ridiculously small share of the vote to Ahmadinejad and was somehow being waved by Mousavi’s followers all over the streets. It seems clearly invented as a provocation, much in the fashion of the famous “yellow cake” document before America’s invasion of Iraq.

We know that Bush committed several hundred million dollars towards a program creating instability in Iran and that Obama has never renounced the operation.

Iran, surrounded by threatening enemies and the daily recipient of dire threats from Israel and the United States, has absolutely no history of aggression: it has started no conflicts in its entire modern era, but naturally enough it becomes concerned about its security when threatened by nuclear-armed states.

Such threats from the United States are not regarded idly by anyone, coming as they do, from a nation occupying two nations of Western and Central Asia, a nation whose invasions have caused upwards of a million deaths and sent at least two million into exile as refugees.

It is a nation moreover that definitely threatened, behind the scenes, to use nuclear weapons against Afghanistan immediately after 9/11, helping end that threat being one of the main reasons for Britain’s joining the pointless invasion in the first place.

In assessing the genuine threats in the world, please remember what we all too often forget: the United States is the only nation ever actually to use nuclear weapons, twice, on civilians. It also came close to using them again in the early 1950s hysteria over communism – twice, once against China and once in a pre-emptive strike at the Soviet Union – and again later considered using them in Vietnam.

As for the other regular source of threats against, Israel, it is a nation which has attacked every neighbor that it has at one time or another. In the last two years alone, it has killed more people in Lebanon and Gaza than the number who perished in 9/11. It is also a secret nuclear power, having broken every rule and international law to obtain and assist in proliferating nuclear weapons.

Of course, there are many middle class people in Iran who would like a change of government. Such yearnings are no secret and exist everywhere in the world where liberal government is missing, including millions of Americans under years of George Bush and his motivating demon, Dick Cheney.

But saying that is not the same thing as saying that a majority of Iran’s people want a change in government or that the election was a fraud.

And remember, too, Iran had a democratic government more than half a century ago, that of Mohammed Mosaddeq, but it was overthrown in 1953 and the bloody Shah installed in its place by the very same governments now meddling in Iran, the United States and Britain.

THE LIKELY HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WAR IN IRAQ

John Chuckman

Names like Haditha, Fallujah, Samarra, and Abu Ghraib are likely destined to become, at least in the Muslim world, iconic symbols for America’s bloody adventure in Iraq. This will not so much represent the deliberate selecting of horrors to remember and feature, for America’s entire crusade has been a horror, but the impulse to have tough summary images of complex events.

America invaded Iraq for two main reasons. First, it wished to sweep what it regarded as a chronic problem, Hussein’s Iraq, off its foreign-affairs plate. Second, it wanted to remove Israel’s most implacable opponent.

I would add the personal element, without emphasizing it too much, yet aware that it is important in the backrooms of history, of a man obsessed by a fairly extreme love-hate relationship with his more distinguished father, although some readers may be unaware of the times George Bush had to be stopped from going to fisticuffs with his father or of the flip way he introduced himself years ago to Queen Elizabeth as the family’s black sheep. Iraq did seem to offer the magical opportunity to do what his father had avoided doing and for once in his life achieving something big on his own, a psychological force not to be completely discounted.

The invasion was not about oil. It related to oil in that continued future oil revenues promised to keep Hussein going a long time. It also related to oil in that Bush’s people aimed to place those resources into hands friendlier to American policy, a straightforward extension of America’s general approach to imperial rule: use locals but only the locals friendly to American purposes.

The neo-cons, a narrow group that has enjoyed great influence over Bush, expected, or so they claimed, other desirable side-effects. One was striking fear into the heart of an autocratically-ruled Middle East where resources flowed in opposition to the American policy fixation with Israel. This came to be reflected literally in the rather Hitler-like concept of Shock and Awe.

The neo-cons also proposed that an invasion could spark enthusiasm, in some undefined manner, for democratic government through the region. The desirability of this, at least for neo-cons, is predicated upon the belief that democratic government would in future be more friendly to American policy, a very naïve belief indeed.

One has to believe, for some of the neo-cons are bright people who merely lack judgment and humanity, that the democracy business was a pleasant fairy story because there is no historical record of the United States, and especially its right wing, being a genuine promoter or defender of democracy. Neither is there an historical record anywhere of bombing and strafing people into democracy. The only vaguely realistic interpretation of this notion I can imagine is that democracies can on average be more easily bribed and manipulated, activities in which the CIA engages regularly.

Insincere defenders of democracy behaving as they have in Iraq only succeed in calling into question over much of the developing world, the human-rights values of countries embracing that form of government. When the United States makes its depressingly pompous statements about democracy in the world, it is playing on the near-universal belief that democratic government is associated with positive, humanistic values. But history tells us that that is not necessarily true, and America has only once again demonstrated the fact.

It is now clear, to all but an ever-diminishing circle of Bush devotees and former drinking buddies, that the crusade has been a total failure. Yes, Hussein is gone, but America has achieved the bizarre result of having ordinary Iraqis telling reporters they would be better off were he back.

And they are right. A once prosperous and advancing country, one certain to have become a democracy in not too many more years along the natural path by which all growing countries eventually become democracies, has been torn apart and set back a very long time.

Only a new strongman is likely to hold Iraq together, a conclusion, I’m willing to bet, Bush’s people have already reached in secret. But where is that strongman and how do you gracefully insert and support him with all the blubbering about democracy? Otherwise, Iraq is likely to split into three smaller states, full of resentments and eager to compete for foreign military assistance and power. In other words, America has achieved instability over the foreseeable future, something that is hardly in anyone’s interest, and certainly not Israel’s.

The failure is far greater and more pitiless than most Americans even suspect. A colossal fortune has been spent by Bush and his spineless Congress, and yet much of Iraq still has no dependable water, electricity, or jobs. You simply cannot build any kind of society whatever on that basis.

And the United States cannot continue to spend funds at the level it has spent them for four years, much of the shrink-wrapped pallets of freshly-printed hundred-dollar bills secretly flown-in having gone to corruption, bribery, insane private armies, and subsidizing the fortunes of American firms like Halliburton. This grotesque spending came on top of a balance of payments and general government-deficit spending that seem out of control. The excesses of the American economy have put great strain on the dollar, even raising the serious issue of its future as the world’s reserve currency.

Iran’s position in the region has been strengthened by the invasion, a matter presumably of considerable concern to Washington, and Shia Muslims, who dominate great swathes of the region and who also are not particularly friendly towards Washington, have been invigorated and strengthened by America’s massive strategic blunder.

Terrorism – that pliable word used to describe those with whom you disagree, whose views and interests you utterly ignore, and who are driven to desperate measures because they are at the mercy of superior military power – has never had a better recruiting impetus than America’s well-publicized brutality and insensitivity in the occupation. Nor has it ever had a better, more realistic and effective training ground than America’s Iraq.

Those learning by doing in Iraq and Afghanistan are gaining priceless experience to share with others, experience one could never have imagined coming from bin Laden’s small, isolated cluster of tents in the mountains.

Israel, its bullying hubris rising to new heights under the influence of Bush and his phantom conquests, came to think as perhaps never before that it was free to do whatever it liked. Then, in its pre-planned invasion of Lebanon, feebly excused by the kidnapping of two soldiers who were themselves likely on a questionable mission inside Lebanon, Israel ran into Hezbollah, a Hezbollah strengthened by the example and experience of those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The long-held view of Israel as an unstoppable military force evaporated. Not that Hezbollah came anywhere near to matching Israel’s sophisticated weapons or its American intelligence assistance or its capacity to inflict horrific damage quickly, but Hezbollah demonstrated the kind of resistance we associate with Russia’s armies stopping the Wehrmacht.

Israel has always wanted part of Southern Lebanon as part of its national territory, and its leaders are on record to that effect, always exploiting the idea of Katysha rockets hitting Northern Israel, most people being unaware that these small rockets are primitive and ineffective unless fired in the huge barrages for which they were designed and that Hezbollah only fires them when Israel violates the Lebanese border, something it has done regularly and secretly for years.

Israel’s savage attack on Lebanon – leaving behind 1,500 dead, thousands of homeless and mangled, and a blanket of hideous cluster-bomblets for Lebanon’s children and farmers to discover in future – proved as complete a failure as America’s crusade in Iraq when viewed on Israel’s own terms. I like to think the revulsion of the world’s people and especially the stunned reaction within Israel have brought something of a psychological and political turnaround to the region, at least the beginnings of a turnaround.

The world is weary of Israel’s relentless refusal to spend anything but words on peace. A sequence of bloody regional failures – Afghanistan, Iraq, and Southern Lebanon – just might set the stage for new a new ordering of priorities and policies. Bush’s ignorant pride has been damaged, as has been Israel’s, and everyone must look to something new.

And in the United States, the not-to-spoken truth that Israel’s grinding injustices and America’s tireless efforts to defend them had a great deal to do with 9/11 and many violent events after it may just be sinking in. Important and fair-minded people have written published on the excessive, corrupting influence of Israel on American policy.

The U.S., for the first time in years, has shown interest in talking to Syria and Iran, countries with vital interests in the area, long ignored. Perhaps, it finally means the beginning of the end for the destructive idea of Greater Israel, the beginning of some degree of justice and hope for a people, the Palestinians, long without either. Perhaps it means genuine effort towards peace, rather than the tiresome, ongoing fraud of a “peace process.”

I’m hopeful, but not too optimistic. Ignorance, prejudice, the great industry of war, and jingoism are mighty powerful foes.

POLICY THROUGH ROSE-COLORED PILOT’S GOGGLES

John Chuckman

Everyone, not attached by threadbare ideology or plain old war profiteering to President Bush’s War on Terror, knows that even on its own terms, it can only fail miserably in a great waste of lives and substance. You cannot fight a war against religious faith and opposition to injustice unless you are prepared to be as utterly ruthless as Stalin, and even then, when you lie pickled in your tomb, the roots you missed destroying will grow hardy new plants, as they have in contemporary Russia. But I would never have expected stark evidence for failure to come so quickly.

Massive explosions in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, just before the arrival of Colin Powell for talks, have left a smoking mass of blood and charred bodies.

Before this, only hours after talks in Israel about easing restrictions on the Palestinians, Mr. Powell was rewarded by Mr. Sharon’s sealing Gaza. Already Sharon had dismissed the new peace plan, and already he has publicly broadcast that Israel will continue to build new settlements.

Seeking stability for America’s Middle East policies was the central purpose of the Iraq invasion. One might think Sharon would show some gratitude for the monstrously-costly invasion of Iraq, but instead something like “Well, you can’t take back the invasion now, so it’s not going to change what I do” seems to be his response.

These signs follow others. The American Proconsul for Baghdad has been sacked for incompetence as chaos still characterizes life for a city of five million souls. Reports by independent journalists – that is, those not tied to America’s propaganda consortium of major networks and newspapers – indicate a growing fierce resentment towards the liberators. My, such ingratitude.

And in a move strikingly reminiscent of Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 triumphant return to Iran from exile in France, last Saturday (May 10), Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim, a noted Shia cleric and fierce opponent of Saddam Hussein, returned after twenty-three years of exile. He was greeted in Basra with far more enthusiasm than anything seen by America’s kevlar-clad warriors for peace, justice, and the American way – especially the American way. The cleric has made statements both about a widely-based elected government and an Islamic state – goals that are not entirely inconsistent since Iraq is about sixty-percent Shia.

How that will be reconciled with Iraq’s more modern elements is not clear – many Americans being unaware that Hussein was a rather secular ruler and women, for example, in Baghdad lived a more modern life than those in most other Arab capitals. Of course, there’s still the angry demands of the Kurds in northern Iraq for autonomy, a people previously betrayed by American foreign policy. Who knows what they’ll be up to if betrayed again?

The Kurds’ demands are accompanied by a background roar from Turkey against any such thing happening, but then Turkey is in the dog house for failing to permit a second front against Iraq from its territory, even after being offered billions in bribes. Still, Turkey is a key ally and is trying to join the modern world as quickly as possible, so it can’t be treated as badly as Bush is determined to treat France and Germany.

Such are the rewards of rudely elbowing your way into the intimate affairs of others. If only America’s great power were ever actually used against the world’s great injustices or to protect the weak, but all evidence since the end of World War II points the other way. It is used only to defend narrowly-defined interests, fight superstitious fears such as those it feels around communism or now Islam, and lay low anyone who seriously gets in its way. Any end to an injustice along the way is strictly coincidental.

Of course, one can only be glad the murder in Iraq is largely over, despite receiving notice of the fact from an odd man in an Armani suit and pilot’s goggles on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The likelihood of Bush understanding what he has actually achieved in Afghanistan and Iraq is not high. So too the likelihood for success of his limp effort to control Israel’s bloody excesses.

And what of the longer-term results of Mr. Bush’s mismanagement? Additional attacks against American interests will bring further suppression of American rights and freedoms, and I believe this may be supported by the almost childish fears and lack of understanding of many Americans. “Heavens, there was a terror alert while we were buying ice-cream cones at Disney World!” Of course, there will be more violent, hatred-inducing incursions abroad.

At the same time that Mr. Bush increases repressive and intrusive measures at home and destruction abroad, he insists on massive, economically-obtuse tax cuts as voter bait. This is a formula for re-creating the economic chaos of Israel, only there is no one out there able to bail the United States.

The combined effects of massive American security restrictions, secrecy, retaliation against otherwise-friendly states opposed to its destructive acts, national deficits, trade deficits, war and the resentments it generates may well depress the growth of international trade seen in recent decades, imposing still a further cost on the world.

The first part of the twenty-first century looks promising indeed. Let’s hear it for Commander Bush, giggling in goggles, while he launches us all into darkness.

BLACK HOLES

John Chuckman

One of the great discoveries of the late 20th century was the existence of black holes.

Their existence was implied by Albert Einstein’s relativity theory, and their necessary characteristics were worked out by Stephen Hawking and others. Eventually, a new generation of powerful visible-light telescopes and x-ray observatories gave us direct observations supporting what had only been theory.

As every kid fascinated by science knows, black holes come from stars that collapse as their fusion engines sputter out of fuel. The resulting, unimaginably-dense bits of mass have the remarkable ability to grow by capturing matter and energy entering their space-bending gravitational fields.

Modern Israel started as a bright star of an idea, a place of refuge for a horribly abused people, but many observers today might agree that the bright star appears to be collapsing into a dark mass bending the geopolitical space of the entire planet.

The world waits for Mr. Bush to launch a terrible war against Iraq. The only purpose for this war is a preemptive strike at Israel’s most tireless opponent. But the honesty of national debate in America is so distorted by massive gravitational tides, even many of the war’s opponents do not understand what it is they are opposing.

No meaningful evidence has been offered for Mr. Bush’s shrill assertions. An argument for protecting intelligence sources might be accepted as reason for not releasing details to the general public, but what is ridiculous is that no evidence has been supplied to the leaders of major NATO allies. France and Germany would not require the “report” now being quickly cobbled together for Mr. Powell were the case otherwise.

Iraq has bothered no one for twelve years, so why the sudden rush to war before weapons inspectors even complete their work? The only explanation appears to be so that the furious, temporary momentum of American public opinion generated by 9/11 can be harnessed for a war that would not be supported otherwise.

Never mind the deliberately-misleading, invented term weapons of mass destruction, there is no evidence that Iraq has strategically-significant weapons. There is virtual certainty that Iraq has no fissile materials for nuclear weapons, and we know from the previous chief weapons inspector that Iraq’s costly facilities for manufacturing fissile materials were destroyed.

There is no evidence that Saddam Hussein had any past dealings with al Qaeda. Indeed, it is known there was considerable animus between Hussein and bin Laden.

The notion that secret national weapons programs, if any have been reconstituted since weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998, can be successful when teams of well-equipped inspectors, kept informed by intelligence agencies, roam over the Iraqi countryside, free at any time to enter any facility, truly is delusional. And delusional notions are a mighty dangerous basis for going to war.

To reassure Israel, all reasonable parties are willing to see a strict inspection regime maintained in Iraq, but this is not enough for the single-minded American President who insists on going to war and inflicting more horror on Iraqi civilians. And it is certainly not enough for Mr. Sharon who cheers Mr. Bush on and proclaims maniacally that Iran should be attacked next.

How easily people forget, or perhaps they do not care, that modern war means killing civilians in large numbers. The proportion of civilians killed to military personnel killed has grown exponentially since World War I. America’s focus on overwhelming air power and its reluctance to accept any casualties of its own only makes the trend worse. The question of going to war now is one in which Americans take little account of death, for the deaths are almost all on the other side and remain unseen by a comfortable public thinking itself informed by its heavily-biased press.

General Schwarzkopf’s well-staged press briefings with highly-edited film clips during Desert Storm left the impression that precision munitions have turned war into a neat, almost bloodless computer game. The truth is that about 95% of the munitions used in Desert Storm were not precision. Precision munitions are extremely costly, they slow operations down, and they can themselves go wrong, so they are reserved for special applications. Good old-fashioned dumb bombs and artillery are the only thing to use when you want to do a lot of killing in a hurry. Something like a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians were killed by American munitions that were not precision.

As we wait for this war, we feel the world’s economy buckling and yielding to the threats and uncertainty of a vast, destructive enterprise, to the promise of inflation and dislocation that always accompany war, and to unavoidable, crazed gyrations in the price of oil.

As we wait for this war, the President addresses an uneasy world in the cadences of a fundamentalist tent-preacher thumping his pulpit and threatening hell’s fire, offering the five and three-quarters billion people who live outside America but are still affected by its arbitrary decisions, such reassuring observations as, “The course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others.”

This President compounds economic uncertainty by running huge deficits and offering to keep preoccupied Americans happy with huge tax cuts – a bizarre, economically illiterate version of, “You can have it all and have it all now!”

As we wait for this war, Israel reduces the West Bank to an utterly bleak and hopeless landscape. All past commitments, as those of the Oslo Accord, are ignored. All the many past resolutions of the United Nations imposing obligations on Israel remain ignored, even while the U.S. asserts Iraq must be attacked precisely for ignoring other United Nations’ resolutions. The leader of the Palestinians is degradingly treated as a criminal virtually under a form of house arrest with whom no discussion can possibly be held.

No more worthy foes of injustice and hatred breathe than Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. They have made unmistakably clear what they see in the West Bank – a repeat in virtually every detail of South Africa’s hateful apartheid regime, but the collapsing star’s force field sucks in even the sympathetic emotions these observations should elicit from Americans.

As we wait for this war, Israel has approached the United States for another $10 billion or more in assistance, over and above the $3 billion it receives automatically each year (and, by rights, we should add the $2 billion paid annually to keep Egypt quiescent). This money is deemed necessary because Israel is run on a war-footing seemingly in perpetuity.

Israel behaves as a regional geopolitical-miniature replica of the United States, even to the extent of now building a triad of nuclear forces (land-based missiles, bombers, and submarine-based missiles – all nuclear-capable) – this in a country whose population is about the size of Ecuador’s, about one-tenth of one percent of the world’s people. The costly wastefulness of this is almost beyond description.

Bush’s War on Terror, rather than being a clearly-focused campaign against those actually responsible for 9/11, has become the label on a portfolio of grudges against all those in the world who balk at or oppose American foreign policy. The War on Terror is itself an emerging black hole sucking in resources, energy, and principles.

It’s not as though a good deal of the world does not understand what is happening. Voices of reason are heard from France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Egypt, South Africa, Russia, China, and other lands, but Bush announces he is willing “to go it alone” if necessary, meaning the entire planet, willy-nilly, must be dragged into a great vortex of destruction.

BULLDOZING HOPE
And a Suggestion for Its Restoration

John Chuckman

I’m not sure exactly why it is, but nothing I have read recently about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians touched me quite so deeply as the destruction of about 60 shops in the village of Nazlat Isa. The shootings of civilians, the bulldozing of homes, the reports of torture, the scores of morally-filthy assassinations, the improper arrests – the whole vast, organized mechanism of apartheid cruelty is stomach-turning, but the deliberate bulldozing of a thriving little street of shops just seems uncivilized and bleak beyond measure.

Shop owners in the little village were driven out by Israeli soldiers with gas grenades, and their stores and possessions were smashed by bulldozers. Israel’s excuse for this atrocious behavior is that the shop owners had not obtained the necessary building permits from Israeli authorities.

It is well known that the Israeli authorities make it difficult for Palestinians to obtain permission to undertake the most basic projects. Requests to make changes or improvements in sewers or streets or buildings remain unanswered for years.

It all resembles what Soviet citizens used to experience when trying to get licenses or permissions from apparatchiks. The effort, often ending in failure, could consume a good fraction of one’s lifetime. It proved a remarkably effective way to destroy human initiative, to say nothing of the human spirit.

There is an important difference in the two situations, though. The problem in the Soviet Union resulted from the sheer size and complexity of its bureaucracy plus the inability and unwillingness of anyone at almost any level to take responsibility for making a decision.

The problem in the West Bank reflects something more deliberate and ugly. It is Israel’s refusal to treat Palestinians as equal human beings. Their needs count for little or nothing. What in many places is a normal, everyday activity, the issuing of building permits, becomes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank a quiet mechanism for denying people livelihoods, dignity, and even health. It is slow-motion ethnic cleansing carried out through bureaucracy.

Polls show an increasing number of Israelis supporting “removal,” Israel’s terrible euphemism for ethnic cleansing by bayonet rather than bureaucracy. This growing support undoubtedly reflects the degrading influence on human values of Sharon, Netanyahu, and Bush.

But as I’ve asked before, where do more than three million people go? What poor, crowded, and troubled country of the Middle East could take them? The answer is obvious to all but the ideologically blind and morally obtuse – no one in the Middle East can take them.

America’s my-protégé-right-or-wrong support for Israel’s excesses is what has made the existing situation possible. If America is not willing to see a proper Palestinian state established (and that does not mean a walled-in Bantustan), and it is not willing to insist that Israel absorb Palestinians as citizens, then it has a moral obligation to do something else.

America could grant all Palestinians the right of residence in the United States. This would go some way to redressing the balance of many tens of billions of dollars spent subsidizing Israel. The United States has granted this right before, in the case of Cuba, and it did so for decades. Any Cuban was entitled to an automatic visa, but this policy reflected America’s bitter, self-righteous hatred of Mr. Castro rather than any sense of obligation about justice or compassion. It would be remarkable were the United States to make such an offer where it does indeed have a great moral obligation, so I won’t hold my breath.

ONE-WAY TRIP TO NOWHERE

John Chuckman

At this writing, since the beginning of December, Israeli soldiers have killed about 70 Palestinians. These homicides, committed by some of best armed and equipped soldiers in the world, included children and an old woman. They came after Israel’s wanton destruction of basic day-to-day civilian infrastructure in reoccupying much of the West Bank and suppression of economic activity, acts that have generated conditions comparable to a Great Depression.

Under these circumstances, how is anyone surprised that once again some Palestinians blow themselves up in Israel? Can there be the smallest doubt that Mr. Sharon’s policies are “a one-way trip to nowhere?”

In news of Israel’s reprisal measures, I read that some buildings in Gaza were destroyed, supposedly containing weapons-making facilities.

I could only shake my head. Is it remotely plausible, in the course of his many destructive rampages, that Mr. Sharon has left standing even a potential weapons-manufacturing facility in Gaza?

Would it have been left standing on the promise of good behavior? Perhaps Israel’s policy of “pinpoint targeting” – that is Israel’s euphemism for assassinating mere suspects, a policy only this week given another ringing public endorsement by Mr. Sharon – had wiped out every person capable of running the facility, and it had been spared?

Or was it discovered only within hours of the bombing? Can it be possible that Israel’s army has anything less than the most exquisitely detailed maps of every building, bomb crater, and broken water pipe in Gaza?

In the scheme of things Middle Eastern this seems an insignificant point, but it is a revealing one. Common sense tells us that the report is glaring nonsense.

What of Mr. Sharon’s other reprisals, although one hesitates to use a word that implies the Palestinians still having anything worth destroying?

He closed down three Palestinian universities.

The mysterious connection between higher education and hopeless people who blow themselves up is one understood only by members of Likud and a few gifted clairvoyants. Lynne Cheney, America’s Second Lady, might qualify in light of her venomous campaign against American academics opposed to a vicious, pointless war in Iraq. Perhaps Mr. Sharon should consider putting her on a retainer to explain his idiotic measure.

Israel has also forbidden Palestinians to attend British-sponsored peace talks.

Even Mr. Bush’s official foreign-affairs door-mat, Tony Blair, lost his temper over this measure. A discussion involving Jack Straw and the poisonous Mr. Netanyahu reportedly ended in an ugly shouting match. The British, quite understandably, cannot see why forbidding peace talks is counted a suitable reprisal measure. Perhaps here Mr. Sharon requires the contract services of Jerry Falwell, a man with a remarkable record at trying to explain the irrational.

One despairs of anything sensible happening in the Middle East. Israel’s population is whipped into a menacing hysteria. The Palestinians endure the most terrible privations and endless humiliation. Mr. Bush adopts the more vicious practices of Mr. Sharon and prepares for a meaningless war with Iraq, something that can have only the most de-stabilizing and dangerous consequences for the world.

WHAT SHARON WANTS

John Chuckman

What was the point of the Israeli army’s reducing Mr. Arafat’s compound to ruins, firing shells that came within the smallest margin of error of killing him? Everyone outside the hermetically-sealed thought-environment of Israel and Washington recognizes Mr. Arafat is no more responsible for the violence of Hamas or Hezballah than Mr. Bush is responsible for a disturbed gunman now terrorizing America’s capital city.

Of course, the question is rhetorical. The reason for the destruction is clear. Mr. Sharon has always exhibited personal animus against Mr. Arafat. He never mentions his name without the rhetorical equivalent of pronouncing a curse. The acts of Hamas or Hezbollah gave Mr. Sharon the excuse to humiliate and frighten him, hoping to destroy him as a political force and push him into exile. There cannot be the slightest doubt Sharon would prefer assassinating Arafat, as he has assassinated so many dozens of others opposing him, but even the unthinking Mr. Bush recognizes the immense strategic blunder of doing that.

With Arafat gone, Sharon could start the last thirty-five years over again. That mystical, nebulous mechanism called the “peace process” could start again – decades of stalling and quibbling, ignoring every United Nations’ resolution while Israel relentlessly inches eastward, absorbing the homes and farms of others – the search for peace through slow-motion ethnic cleansing.

Not that the creation of settlements has ever stopped while Mr. Sharon destroyed both the Oslo Accords, that landmark diplomatic achievement he always held in contempt, and much of the West Bank and Gaza. It would be just so much easier to continue with an opponent who does not have the ear of the world’s statesmen and who has not done everything politically possible to reach a reasonable settlement. It is so much easier to curse Arafat, broadcast his weaknesses, and ignore the fundamental claims he represents.

Mr. Arafat has not been one of the world’s shining statesmen. Nor has his administration in Palestine been marked by the most enlightened practices. But he is, unquestionably, dedicated to peace. He does, despite ups and downs, represent some of the most important interests of his people. And he has shown remarkable courage and tenacity, Sharon’s efforts to remove him having only showcased these qualities before the entire world.

A lot of people in the United States still do not understand that it has always been the policy of extreme parties like Mr. Sharon’s Likud to annex what they call Judaea and Samaria – that is, what is left of Palestine, home to a couple of million Arabic people. Even at the time of the original Camp David Accords, the late Mr. Begin kept muttering those names, Judaea and Samaria, into President Carter’s ear.

A reader recently wrote me about a television documentary on Palestine. He mentioned a settler, who like all the settlers are newcomers who have pushed out residents from places they have lived for centuries, being asked about the Palestinians. Her answer was they should all leave and go where they belong.

Go where they belong? According to this belligerent view, they belong on the other side of the Jordan River, or, indeed, anywhere but in their own homes and on their own farms in the West Bank. I can only wonder whether a person holding such views has ever given a moment’s thought to the reality of shoving two million people out of their homes and into small, poor countries that are not remotely-equipped to deal with massive migration?

The largest internal migration in American history, and perhaps the largest in world history not associated with war, was the great black migration of tenant farmers from the rural South to industrial jobs in the North during the mid-twentieth century. It involved about 6 1/2 million people over several decades. This vast movement of people generated tremendous social difficulties that remain unsettled in the world’s richest country, a land that is many, many times the size of any of Israel’s Arab neighbors.

So how could anyone reasonably expect such a solution in the Middle East? The answer is that reason has nothing to do with it. Israelis with these views simply want the Arabs gone. If you don’t hear echoes of Milosevic, you aren’t listening.

Until Mr. Bush, this idea, its potential for “bad press” clearly recognized, had been little advertised or promoted in North America. Now, it has received some publicity, perhaps offered as “trial balloons.”

Mr. Rumsfeld – in one of his most regrettably-Hitlerian expressions since insisting that Taliban prisoners, after their surrender at Kunduz, should be shot or walled away for good – recently spoke of the spoils belonging to the victor in the Middle East.

That redoubtable American ally, General Dostum, of course, took Rumsfeld at his word about the prisoners. Hundreds of them, after being hideously suffocated, lie in mass graves. One can’t help asking whether American generals are now to apply Mr. Rumsfeld’s spoils-principle to Iraqi oil fields?

Another Republican moral giant, Mr. Dick Armey – not known for charity towards the less-fortunate of any society, even his own – recently chimed in that pushing two-million or so people out of the West Bank would be acceptable to him. Hell, what’s a couple of million Arab lives, right?

And now, the Rev. Jerry Falwell – fundamentalist politico and hate-entrepreneur, a man whose tailored suits are bought with the proceeds of a relentless hate-campaign against a former President, a former First Lady, and all gay people – has added his scholarly opinion that the prophet Muhammad himself was a terrorist. One can almost hear the unspoken link, so why would his followers deserve to live in the Holy Land?

These public statements provide an excellent measure of the moral tone set by Mr. Bush’s administration. America’s long, on-and-off romance with fascism has been stoked back to a warm glow (for background, see my earlier article, “Flirting with Fascism”). Each of these statements should have been loudly condemned by a President with any conscience. Instead, hate-speech is tolerated.

Well, Mr. Sharon now also is building a wall, a truly massive undertaking. Authoritarian personalities and movements seem always to like walls. This one will be a grand re-creation of the Berlin Wall, complete with a strip of no-man’s land, good portions of it at the expense of Palestinian farmers.

This may be what Sharon had in mind when he made statements months ago, contradicting every act and breath of his adult life, that he supported a Palestinian state. One can only imagine what he had in mind with those words, something surely bordering on the nightmares of the gulag. The wall is likely part of his vision. A rump-state, walled off from all natural connections with its neighbor, with every movement in or out controlled, is certain to fail. It would be a state in a bottle. The idea represents a freshening-up of the late Gen. Dayan’s thinking when he said, years ago, that the Palestinians would be made so miserable they would choose to leave.

ORWELLIAN ANTI-SEMITISM

John Chuckman

George Orwell understood the power of words, and he understood the power of ideology to utterly corrupt their meaning.

He identified tyranny with expressions such as “war is peace” or “ignorance is strength.” But absolute government is not necessary to experience the corrupted language of power and the abuses it hides. A nasty democratic minority, supported by a population choked with fear or prejudice, or a ruling majority full of hate or bad intentions is perfectly capable of producing them.

We literally see this happening before our eyes, both in the United States and in Israel.

Mr. Bush calls Mr. Sharon a man of peace. Mr. Sharon rockets and bulldozes his way through the West Bank, murders suspects, arrests the families of suspects, threatens to deport whole families guilty of no crime, and calls his dirty work a fight against terrorism. North American defenders of his brutality call any conscientious person questioning these actions an “anti-Semite.”

It is impossible to understand how bulldozing homes of “suspects” and rounding up their families for deportation reflect anything but the most elemental hatred and vengeance. And just so, the many assassinations of “suspects.” And the countless violent arrests. No trials, no proof offered, just outright public murder and improper arrests.

I don’t think it’s possible to imagine what Britain would have unleashed had she followed the same policies in Northern Ireland. American public opinion would have exploded had she done so. It was Americans, after all, who largely financed the IRA’s guns and bombs.

Imagine Spain’s late General Franco, that unapologetic fascist, behaving as Israel does, to the neighbors and families of Basque separatists. The world’s condemnation would have been deafening.

Apartheid South Africa did do the same horrible things. And America with her racist leanings and mindless social-Darwinist ideology never condemned them until the disapproval of decent people everywhere had become overwhelming. Israel, to her shame, did a lot of business with South Africa, sharing many defense interests, including apparently nuclear-weapons technology.

Of course, one understands that hatred often derives from ignorance and fear. This is what we teach our children when we try to have them understand why hatred and prejudice exist.

But not everyone teaches children these things. We hear from defenders of Israel’s abuses that Arabs teach their children only hatred. All Arabs? Only hatred? Now, I have no doubt that is true of some Arabs, but is it any less true of some Israelis?

Judging by what I read, it is scarcely love and peace being taught in a number of Israeli and North American Jewish homes. One finds columns printed by major American newspapers using expressions like “blood-libel,” surely the kind language that would have brought a knowing smile to Dr. Goebbels’ deathly lips (For those unfamiliar, this crude expression has been used many times by right-wing American columnists in respectable, major newspapers).

What of Rabbi Kahane’s violent, racist teachings? Or the teachings of a number of lesser-known extremists both in Israel and the U.S.? What of the Israelis who murdered Mr. Rabin? What of the fundamentalist Jews who not very long ago desecrated the temples of other Jews in Israel who do not share their extremist views? Or the ones who burned some women alive in a Tel Aviv house because they were regarded as prostitutes? (This act wasn’t political, but those who do such things are capable of anything.) Or the Israeli who gunned done dozens of Palestinians in a mosque? Or the settlers from New York or London who swagger around with sub-machine guns in the midst of people they have no respect for?

I am always disturbed by violent, senseless crimes. They tear at the precious, delicate fabric of civilization. But when such events happen, they do not warrant the horrific vengeance Israel routinely inflicts on innocent Palestinians.

The United States holds the record in the advanced world for murder and violent crime. Disgruntled, sick, and frustrated people abound in America. It wasn’t very long ago that the annual murder rate in New York city produced more victims than September 11, every eighteen months. And New York’s rate was modest compared to Houston’s or Washington’s or Atlanta’s. Yet, the world would regard it as savagery were the American government to bulldoze the homes of these violent people, arrest their relatives and threaten them with death or deportation. Imagine the world’s reaction to an attack with F-16s on a neighborhood in which some of these people were suspected of living?

Not that there aren’t a good many Americans who would willingly do such things, but their vicious tendencies are checked by laws and social pressure.

The word anti-Semitism, after the Holocaust, became a terrible epithet imbued with the blood of millions of innocents. Now, less than 60 years later, it is being abused and twisted, even trivialized, by, of all people in the world, some Jews.

This word is carelessly, foolishly thrown around today, particularly in the United States. Write something criticizing policies in Israel, and you are anti-Semitic. Stand up for reason, justice, and decency – applied to all, not just to some – and you are anti-Semitic. Point out the fact that a murderous thug is now the prime minister of Israel, and you are anti-Semitic.

I actually had one individual write me that he knew I was glad Jewish children were being murdered. This was written to someone who gave up the country of his birth rather than murder children in Vietnam. The words are precisely the same kind of filth I receive from true anti-Semites or black-hating racists aroused by other issues.

Let any kind of violent crime be committed anywhere today, and if the victim is Jewish, the crime is, ipso facto, anti-Semitic. The very government of Israel becomes involved, as it did in the recent murder in Los Angeles airport by a distracted, demented man. So too, the murder of a Jewish man with a beard and a yarmulke by a young drugged-up thug in Toronto. Literally teams of people busied themselves trying to prove there was anti-Semitic intent, their acts rendering the victim less important than his identity. (Lest anyone misunderstand how unusual that murder was, the murder rate in Toronto, a city proud of having the most cosmopolitan, diverse population in the world, is a tiny fraction of that for any American city.)

Undoubtedly, thanks to the immensely-heightened anxieties and human misery generated by Mr. Sharon and an endless stream of mind-numbingly dishonest rationalizations in his defense – stuff that tirelessly repeats war is peace – anti-Semitism likely is on the rise in the world. Always such violence and dissonance affect most those on the margins of society. That is the group of people from which the early Nazis recruited SA thugs for their street brawls.

All the more urgent reason for Israel to end her morally-reprehensible practices in the West Bank, which are at the very heart of the matter.

Talk about hideous language and language which loses its meaning to ideology, consider the frightful words casually written recently by an American Jew, a lawyer, advocating the execution of the relatives of suicide-bombers.

This lawyer quotes scripture, the Torah, to justify a repulsive idea. But you cannot hide behind ancient scripture, the stories of people who lived twenty-five centuries years ago, to defend what is plainly barbarism today. Do we quote the Incas on the appropriateness of human sacrifice? Or the writings of the Holy Inquisition on burning heretics alive? And why not? Because civilization’s sense of morality, thank God, develops over time.

Thus we see the kind of intellectual and moral debasement Mr. Sharon’s blood-soaked policies yield. Some using scripture to defend serial murder. Others using epithets like anti-Semitism against those who object. And a president of the United States too intellectually and morally weak to say “stop, enough!”

(Just after this was written, Israeli authorities, under immense international pressure, backed away from deporting, en masse, twenty-one relatives of suicide-bombers. These innocent victims of improper arrest will now have their backgrounds closely searched for any possible legal basis to deport them individually.)

OF WAR, ISLAM, AND ISRAEL

John Chuckman

War between Islam and the nations of the West? There have been a good many careless words printed and broadcast in America touching on this simplistic idea. And an American president who lacks the most superficial knowledge of the world or its history offers no reassurance, as he lurches from one misstatement to another, that this idea is not being incorporated into national policy.

The concept of Islam as an intrinsically violent, anti-progressive opponent in the modern world is both ignorant and dangerous. The new prominence of this idea in America provides a good measure of the distorted information that exists in our political environment. It’s almost as though the bloody, parochial views of Ariel Sharon on the nature of Palestinians had been exalted to a world view, worthy of every statesman’s consideration.

How easily we forget that the history of organized Christianity provides almost certainly the bloodiest tale in all of human history.

The Crusades, that dark saga of Christianity written in blood and terror, continued sporadically over hundreds of years. They served little other purpose than gathering wealth through spoils and sacking cities and easing the periodic domestic political difficulties of the papacy and major princes of Europe.

We hear of the treatment of women under Islam in certain places, not remembering that Christian women were left locked in iron chastity belts for years while their husbands raped their way across the Near East. And the character of Saladin, hard warrior that he was, shines nobly in history compared to the moral shabbiness of Richard Lionheart.

Europe wove a remarkable tapestry of horrors in the name of Christianity from the beginning of the modern era. There was the Holy Inquisition, the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, the English Civil War, the St Bartholomew Massacre, Cromwell’s slaughter in Ireland, the enslavement and widespread extermination of native peoples in the Americas, the Eighty Years’ War in Holland, the expulsion of the Huguenots from France, the pogroms, the burning of witches, and numberless other horrific events right down to The Holocaust itself, which was largely the work of people who considered themselves, as did the slave drivers of America’s South, to be Christians.

Over and above the conflicts motivated by religion, European and American history, a history dominated by people calling themselves Christian, runs with rivers, lakes, and whole seas of blood. Just a sampling includes the Hundred Years’ War, the War of the Spanish Succession, the Seven Years’ War, the slave trade, the French Revolution, the Vendée, the Napoleonic Wars, the Trail of Tears, the Opium War, African slavery in the American South, the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, the massacre in the Belgium Congo, the Crimean War, lynchings, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II.

How anyone with this heritage can describe Islam as notably bloodthirsty plainly tells us that immense ignorance is at work here.

What limited knowledge I have of Islam is enough to know that there is no history, despite bloody characters like Tamerlane, to overtop Europe’s excesses, and, in some cases, there has been generosity of spirit exceeding that shown by Christians.

The Moorish kings of Spain tended to follow the same tolerant attitude towards religion that the classical Romans had done. The Romans allowed any religion to flourish, often officially adopting the gods of a conquered people, so long as the religion represented no political threat to Rome’s authority.

People today point to a well-publicized excess like the Taliban’s destruction of ancient statues, apparently completely oblivious to the fact that the religiously-insane Puritans, direct ancestors of America’s Christian fundamentalists, ran through the beautiful, ancient cathedrals of England after the Reformation, smashing stained glass, desecrating ancient tombs, destroying priceless manuscripts, and smashing sculptures.

A remarkably tolerant society flourished under the Moors in Spain for hundreds of years. Jews, Christians, and Muslims were tolerated, and the talented served the state in many high capacities regardless of religion. Learning advanced, trade flourished.

During the centuries of the Jewish Diaspora, the Arab people of the Holy Land looked after the holy places and largely treated Jewish visitors with hospitality and respect. There was none of the bitter hatred we see today. All this changed at the birth of modern Israel and the expulsion of Palestinians from places they had inhabited for centuries.

No reasonable, decent-minded person can deny that the manner of Israel’s rebirth did a great injustice to the Palestinians. And the great powers, first Britain and then the United States, had entirely selfish motives in seeing this done. Under the original UN proposal for Israel, there were to be two roughly-equal states carved out of Palestine, and the city of Jerusalem was to have an international status. More than half a century later, what we have is an Israel that covers three-quarters of Palestine and militarily occupies the rest.

Yet somehow, the burden of appropriate behavior, in a fuzzily-defined “peace process” leading to some fuzzily-defined Palestinian state at some undefined date, is always placed upon the Palestinians. They are supposed to live patiently, exhibiting the peacefulness of model citizens in Dorothy’s Kansas, while under a humiliating occupation in order just to earn the privilege of talking to Israel about the situation.

I often wonder how Americans, with their Second-Amendment rights and hundreds of millions of guns, would behave under such circumstances. Would they patiently wait decade after decade, watching “settlers” fresh from other places build on what was their land? watching bulldozers flatten their orchards? watching their people harassed and often demeaned at checkpoints as they simply travel from one point to another near their homes? not being able to so much as build a road or a sewer without the almost impossible-to-get permission of the occupying authorities? being told that only their patient behavior can earn them the right to talk with those who control their lives?

Looking at the situation in that hypothetical light may offer a better appreciation for what the Palestinians have endured with considerable patience.

The simple fact is that it has been the clear policy of Israeli governments over the last half century to avoid, at all costs, the creation of a Palestinian state. Every effort at delay, every quibble over definitions, every tactical shift that could possibly be made has been made, many times over, in an effort to buy time, hoping that time alone will somehow make the problem of the Palestinians go away.

This policy may have changed, ever-so-slightly, under Mr. Barak from one of preventing the creation of a Palestinian state to one of preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state, but that is not the same thing as “the great opportunity missed” that has been dramatized, over and over again, in America’s press. And even this slight change in policy remains unacceptable to many conservatives in Israel.

And when the Palestinians, morally exhausted by endless waiting that yields no change, resist the occupation they are under with the limited, desperate means they possess, they are regarded as unstable lunatics who don’t love their children. A number of apologists for Israel’s worst excesses have repeated this theme, an extension of a remark attributed to the late Golda Meir about peace coming “when the Palestinians learn to love their children more than they hate us.” The actual quote from Ms. Meir that is most applicable here is one she made to the Sunday Times of June 15, 1969, “They [the Palestinians] did not exist.”

We are repeatedly told that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and it is defending itself against malevolent forces. This vaguely-defined image of enlightenment versus darkness appeals to Americans. But democracy has never been a guarantee of fairness or decency. It is only a means of selecting a government.

Under any democracy, a bare majority of people with an ugly prejudice can tyrannize over others almost in perpetuity. Indeed, this very experience is a large part of the history of the United States, even with its much-vaunted Bill of Rights. But Israel has no Bill of Rights, and what’s more important for actual day-to-day fairness and decency, the very will to act in a fair manner appears to be absent. What else can one say where assassination, torture, and improper arrest have been management tools of government for decades?

Israel’s politics are highly polarized, undoubtedly far worse than those of the United States, and the balance of power needed to form any parliamentary coalition is always in the hands of far-out religious parties. The interests of these people are anything but informed by enlightenment values and democracy, holding to views and ideas, as they do, that predate the existence of democracy or human rights. It is not an exaggeration to say that killing the Philistines or tearing down the walls of Jericho are regarded as current events by a good many of these fundamentalist party members. A number of their leaders have, time and again, described Palestinians as “vermin.”

The extreme conservatives receive many special privileges in Israel that distort the entire political mechanism. For example, their rabbis decide the rules governing who is accepted as a Jew or what are acceptable religious, and religiously-approved social, practices. The students in the fundamentalist religious schools traditionally have been exempt from the army. In effect, they are exempt from the violent results of the very policies they advocate.

These parties generally believe in a greater Israel, that is, an Israel that includes what little is left of Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, minus its current undesirable inhabitants. It has been the view of Israeli government after Israeli government over the last half century to consider Jordan as the Palestinian’s proper home. Thus, when Israeli governments talked of peace, it meant something entirely different than what Palestinians meant.

And when, finally, an offer for a Palestinian state was made by Mr. Barak at Camp David – an offer that, by all reports, was made quite angrily and contemptuously to Mr. Arafat – under any honest, rational analysis, it reduced to one for a giant holding facility for people not wanted in Israel. How surprising that Mr. Arafat left in anger when after days of being subjected to good-cop/bad-cop treatment by Mr. Clinton and Mr. Barak, this was the end result. Surely, this was an immensely-frustrating disappointment to the Palestinians after years of effort and compromise to achieve and implement the Oslo Accords.

Mr. Bush’s War on Terror, a mindless crusade against disagreeable Islamic governments, has had the terrible effect of casting the bloody-minded Mr. Sharon in the role of partner against the forces of terror and darkness. He has received a new mantle of legitimacy for continued destruction and delay, for continued injustice against those too powerless to effectively oppose him.

As Israel’s leaders well know, the Palestinian population is growing rapidly. Rapid population growth is the general case for poor people throughout the world. Israel’s highly organized and costly efforts to support Jewish immigration reflect awareness of this fact. But a combination of large birth rates on one side and heavy immigration on the other is a certain formula for disaster in the long term. The region’s basic resources, especially water, will sustain only a limited population.

A large population, outsizing its resources, almost certainly is the major underlying reason for the immense slaughters and numberless coups and civil wars of Western Africa in recent years, a region whose population growth has been high but whose usable resources are limited. And the history of civilization tells us that vast changes and movements of population have been far more decisive in human affairs than atomic weapons.

So it appears that not only in the short term, but over some much longer time horizon, Israel and the Palestinians are on a deadly collision course.

There is hope. Modern societies have all experienced a phenomenon called demographic transition. This term simply means that, faced with a reduced death rate, people’s normal response is a reduced birth rate, yielding a net result of slow, or even negative, population growth. Couples prefer to have only two or three children who are almost certain to survive instead of six or more, at least half of whom die before growing up. This is the reason why modern countries depend entirely on migration for growth, or to avoid actual decline, in population.

Israel, populated largely by people from Europe and North America and being a fairly prosperous society, follows the pattern of advanced nations. The West Bank and Gaza, with some of the world’s highest birth rates, do not. Now, the only way to trigger demographic transition is through healthful measures like adequate diet, good public sanitation, and basic health care, especially measures for infant care. These things done, nature takes a predictable path and people stop having large families.

But these are not measures that can be accomplished quickly, and the need to get on with them should add some sense of urgency to ending the occupation and helping the Palestinians achieve a state with some degree of prosperity.

By now, it should be clear that life in Israel for the foreseeable future cannot be quite the same as life in Dorothy’s Kansas no matter who leads the government. No one has been more ruthless or bloody-minded than Mr. Sharon, and he has only succeeded in making every problem worse.

Yet life in Israel similar to Dorothy’s Kansas – that is, a life as though you were not surrounded by people seething over injustice and occupation and steeped in poverty – is a condition that Mr. Sharon insists on as a precondition even for talking about peace. Somehow, Mr. Arafat, with a wave of his hand, is to make all the violence disappear. This is not only unrealistic, it is almost certainly dishonest.

Israel herself, in any of the places she has occupied, and despite having one of the best equipped armies in the world, has never been able to do that very thing. All those years in Lebanon, and the violence continued at some level for the entire time. Indeed, a new enemy, Hizballah, rose in response to Israel’s activities. It is simply a fact that there has always been some level of violence in any place occupied by Israel. How is Mr. Arafat, with his limited resources and in the face of many desperate factions, supposed to be able to accomplish what the Israeli army and secret services cannot?

And were he to try running the kind of quasi-police state one assumes Israel favors, with regular mass arrests of suspects, how long would he remain in power?

Moreover, Mr. Sharon treats Mr. Arafat with utter contempt, dismissing him as insignificant, and has destroyed many of the means and symbols of his authority. How can a leader, treated as contemptible, exercise authority? For all his faults, and he has a number of them, Mr. Arafat has demonstrated through many compromises related to the Oslo Accords that he is a man who sincerely desires peace and a constructive relationship with Israel.

Mr. Sharon’s entire adult life has been dedicated to killing. I do believe there is more blood on his hands than any terrorist you care to name. Mr. Sharon first made a name for himself with the Qibya massacre in 1953, when a force under his command blew up forty-five houses and killed sixty-nine people, most of them women and children. Nearly thirty years later, in 1982, he was still at it when Lebanese militia forces under his control murdered and dumped into mass graves, using Israeli-supplied bulldozers, between two- and three-thousand civilians in the refugee camps called Sabra and Shatila. Mr. Sharon was responsible for the disastrous invasion of Lebanon which saw hundreds of civilians killed by Israel’s shelling of Beirut and precipitated a bloody civil war in which thousands more died.

Mr. Sharon’s policies of assassination and bombing have succeeded only in multiplying the suicide bombings beyond anything in recent memory. It is almost impossible to imagine this man as capable of making a meaningful gesture towards peace. Yes, of course he wants peace, peace on his terms, a cheap peace without giving anything, but by definition that is not peace for the Palestinians.

We always hear about what is required of the Palestinians for peace, but a genuine peace requires some extraordinary things on Israel’s part. First, she must at some point accept a Palestinian state. This condition is a necessary one, but it is far from sufficient, for she must be prepared to generously assist this state towards achieving some prosperity, reducing the causes of both run-away population growth and the dreary hopelessness that causes people to strap bombs to their bodies.

Most difficult of all, it is hard to see how Israel can avoid some level of violence during a period of Palestinian nation-building. This is something no ordinary state would consciously embrace, but then Israel is no ordinary state. The norms of Dorothy’s Kansas simply do not apply. The hatreds generated by a half century of aggressive policies are not going to just melt away, but if there is enough genuine, demonstrated goodwill, it does seem likely that such violence would be minimal. It is a unappetizing risk that almost certainly needs to be taken, for no one is going to run a police state on Israel’s behalf in the West Bank.

Considering the immense difficulty of these things and political barriers that exist against them in Israel, it does not seem likely that peace is coming any time soon. The prospect seems rather for low-grade, perpetual war, paralleling that Mr. Bush so relishes speaking of. For someone of Mr. Sharon’s turn of mind, this may be a wholly acceptable alternative.

THE FIRST VICTIM IN THE WAR AGAINST TERROR

JOHN CHUCKMAN

It takes a good deal of time to realize the full impact of any large and sudden change in foreign policy, and this is especially true of the kind of sudden, violent interventions often undertaken by the United States since the end of World War ll.

In the case of Mr. Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, it took the best part of a decade for results to unfold: a beautiful, peaceful country was reduced to despair and savagery by bombing, a coup, invasions, and a politically-motivated holocaust.

The men responsible for destabilizing Cambodia in the name of expedient policy were not only ten thousand miles removed from the misery they created, they were soon gone from office, busying themselves with memoirs justifying their deeds to others also ten thousand miles removed. In all cases, the stench never quite reached their nostrils.

The most important antecedent of the War against Terror was another expedient, violent policy – the recruitment, training, and supply of Islamic fighters for a proxy war against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Once America’s immediate goal had been met in that war – that is, inflicting maximum damage on the Soviet Union – the mess created in achieving it was of no interest. Just as was the case in Cambodia. And just as was the case in many lesser American interventions from Chile to El Salvador.

Part of the behavior exhibited in these examples is a direct extension from American domestic life – enjoy your beer and toss the can for someone else to pick up. Only in foreign affairs, it’s other people’s lives being tossed.

The impact of intervention in Afghanistan during the 1980s has only been realized more than a decade after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The Afghan people have experienced more than a decade of anarchy, tribal warfare, and the Taliban’s coming to power as a result (Despite the Taliban’s obvious shortcomings as a government, they came to power to end the violence that Americans, after arming everyone to the teeth, couldn’t be bothered about, and they did succeed at least in cleaning up America’s carelessly tossed trash).

The War against Terror itself will have many unforeseen results. This very fact was one of the soundest arguments against proceeding in the fashion that Mr. Bush has done, without ever attempting to use diplomacy or international institutions to bring to justice those responsible for terrible acts. Now, with the fairly rapid collapse of the Taliban, the Bush people are having a difficult time controlling a tendency to smirk, but the savage work of B-52s does seem an odd thing to smirk about.

The first clearly discernable victims of carpet-bombing Afghanistan and overthrowing its government (other than dead and starving Afghan peasants, streams of refugees, murdered prisoners of war, and a new bunch of thugs in power – none of which appear to be of great concern to Americans or their government) are the Palestinians.

Mr. Bush’s actions in Afghanistan have made it almost impossible for him to resist the bloody-minded Mr. Sharon. After all, Bush’s approach to terror originating out of Afghanistan is the Israeli model: you destroy things and kill people even if their only connection with an attack is shared geography.

The absurdity of the policy is made clear by analogy. Imagine the American government bombing the city of Buffalo, New York, because that is where Timothy McVeigh grew up. Or bulldozing the homes of his relatives.

The futility of the policy is obvious from Israel’s decades-long experiment on unwilling subjects. She has succeeded only in raising new generations of bitter enemies – groups like Hamas or Islamic Jihad, more fanatical than the PLO, are in large part creatures of Israeli policy.

Despite extremely harsh practices, Israel has never succeeded in silencing such opposition groups in territories she herself occupied. Despite a lifetime’s experience in brutality, Mr. Sharon is not able to stop desperate young men from committing kamikaze acts in the heart of Israel. Yet we have Mr. Sharon’s demand that Mr. Arafat, with his pitiful resources and unstable political environment, do so as a pre-condition even for talking. At the same time, Mr. Sharon labels Mr. Arafat “irrelevant,” proceeds with a policy of serial assassination in the West Bank, and blows up the tiny bit of infrastructure that gives Arafat’s government any sense of authority.

This is plainly irrational, yet Mr. Bush is in no position to say so. Mr. Sharon has very pointedly made the comparison between the two situations, Bush bombing Afghanistan and Sharon bombing the West Bank and Gaza. Of course, there are many differences in the two situations, starting with the fact that the Palestinians live under conditions that most Americans would never tolerate without making full use of Second-Amendment rights. But the differences are too complex to explain to a broad political audience, while the gross parallels are obvious to everyone – facts which work in Mr. Sharon’s favor.

In the long term, Mr. Sharon’s approach is hopeless, but hopeless policies can do a lot of damage in the meantime. The Palestinians are not going to disappear or become, as so many of Israel’s leaders have wished them to be, absorbed by Jordan. Israel with her policy of settlements in the West Bank has always talked of having “facts on the ground,” but there are no more convincing facts on the ground than a few million people with a high birth rate.

And a few million people living with no hope, right next to a few million people who regard them darkly only as something to contain while themselves living in considerable comfort, is by definition a volatile and dangerous situation. Israel controls this situation, just as South Africa did in very similar circumstances (even more so, since the Palestinians are a minority rather than a great majority). It seems almost sarcasm to write or speak, as most of our press does, of two “partners” in a “peace process” and how one of them, the Palestinians, has utterly failed its responsibilities.

A viable Palestinian state with generous Israeli assistance for its economic success is the only intelligible concept of peace. But it seems impossible that the statesmanship required can ever come from a man with as much blood on his hands as Mr. Sharon, or from his nemesis, the Nixonesque Mr. Netanyahu who waits grinning darkly in the wings. And it seems equally impossible that Mr. Bush, purring with satisfaction over the immediate results of his nasty work in Afghanistan, can rise to what is required of an American president with any pretensions to genuine leadership in the world.