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FOOLING MOST OF THE PEOPLE MOST OF THE TIME IS WHAT AMERICAN POLITICS ARE ABOUT, EVEN WHEN IT COMES TO THE THREAT OF NUCLEAR WAR

John Chuckman

I read a column recently, and it was imbued with hopeful thinking about America’s political establishment dealing with its constituents concerning the now increasing threat of nuclear catastrophe.

The author said the piece was intended as “Drano” to clear the political pipes, but I am afraid that much as I sometimes enjoy the same author’s pieces, this one for me had to be characterized as illusion. It may have a lot to do with the author not being a native of the United States, and I do think my background in that country and having studied its history removes any possibility of illusion ever seriously taking hold.

When did America’s establishment ever discuss, in elections or at other times, issues of war and peace for the people’s understanding and consent?

Virtually never.

There was no mandate for Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, or a dozen other conflicts.

Of course, once a war gets going, there is a tendency for Americans to close ranks with flags and ribbons and slogans such as “Support our troops” and “Love it or leave it.”

The senior leaders know this psychological pattern, and they count on it, every time.

The fundamental problem in America’s government is an elaborate political structure much resembling democracy but with actual rule by a powerful establishment and a set of special interests – all supported by a monstrous security apparatus and a huge, lumbering military, which wouldn’t even know what to do with itself in peace.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any apparent solution to this horrible political reality, and, while once it affected primarily Americans themselves, today it affects the planet.

There is an intense new element that has been added to America’s governing establishment: the drive of the neo-cons for American supremacy everywhere, for complete global dominance, and it is something which is frighteningly similar to past drives by fascist governments which brought only human misery on a vast scale.

The neo-cons’ underlying motive, I believe, is absolute security for America’s colony in the Middle East, Israel – put another way, their concern is for Israel’s hegemony over its entire region with no room for anyone else to act in their own interests. It is only if the United States is deeply engaged all over the planet that Israel can constantly benefit from its strange relationship with America.

It did not require the neo-cons to interest America’s establishment with interfering in other people’s affairs. America has a long history of doing so, stretching back to the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the brazen seizure of Hawaii from its people and going right up to the pointless War in Vietnam and Cambodia in the hope of keeping the Pacific Ocean effectively an American lake. But the neo-cons have added a new force, a new impulse to something which would be better left alone, and they are very influential in American affairs.

Ordinary Americans are not interested in world affairs, and there is a great deal of evidence to support that statement. American Imperialists of earlier times disparaged this tendency to just want peace at home with the pejorative name, isolationism, and avoiding isolationism became an excuse for a whole series of wars and interventions.

So, Americans today cannot be allowed to fall back into their natural tendency of not caring. Thus we have the drive of the neo-cons and, tragically, thus we have America being driven into direct confrontation with Russia. And with China, too, of course, but Russia is my focus since Russia is the only country in the world literally capable of obliterating the United States. There is unquestionably a sense here of Rome wanting to go after Carthage, although cavalry, swords, spears, and catapults no longer can settle such conflicts.

The situation is compounded by the American establishment’s dawning realization that its days of largely unquestioned supremacy in the world are fading into memory, as other countries grow and develop and have important interests in world affairs. In many respects, it has been a long downhill slide for the average American since the economic heyday of the 1950s. Decline in real incomes, decline in good job opportunities at home, the export of American industries abroad to areas of less costly labor, and the virtual collapse of American towns and cities in many places, Detroit being perhaps the most sorrowful case of many – all these are evident year-in and year-out.

I do think the American establishment simply does not know how to handle its role in a brave new world, but do something it clearly thinks it must, and that is an extremely dangerous state of mind. It is armed with vast armies and terrible weapons so that it retains a sense of being able to act in some way to permanently reclaim its place, an illusion if ever there was one.

We know from scholars of the past the role that the mere existence of terrible military power can play in disaster. Huge standing armies were one of the major underlying causes of the First World War, a conflict in which twenty millions perished. Germany repeated the effort with Hitler’s government working tirelessly to create what was to become the finest and most advanced army the world had ever seen until that time, but it, too, ended in disaster, and of even greater proportions. America has not discovered the secret to making itself invulnerable, although I fear that its establishment believes that it can do so, and that represents the most dangerous possible thinking.

Contrary to political speeches, America’s establishment has never shown great concern over the welfare of ordinary Americans, and today its lack of concern is almost palpable. Washington’s white-maned, over-fed, crinkly-faced Senators spend virtually every ounce of effort in two activities: raising funds from special interests for re-election (estimated at two-thirds of an average Senator’s time) and conspiring on how to keep America dominant in the world. Anything else is just piffle. America’s unique place in the world of 1950 took care of ordinary Americans, not any effort by government. Again, the utter contempt for ordinary Americans perhaps offers a dark element in the thinking of America’s establishment when it comes to possible nuclear war.

Russia is not, of course, a direct threat to neo-con interests, except when it comes to matters like Syria, a deliberately-engineered horror to bring down the last independent-minded leader in the Middle East and to smash and Balkanize his country, parts of which, Israel has always lusted after in its vision of Greater Israel. The coup in Ukraine, which borders along a great stretch of Russia, represented a direct challenge to Russia’s security, offering a place ultimately to be filled with hostile forces and missiles and American advisors – all of which was expected to silence Russia’s independent voice in the world and its ability to in any way thwart neo-con adventures, if not, in the longer-range, savage dreams of some, to provide a platform for the ultimate destruction or overthrow of Russia herself.

Russia’s effective countering with skillful moves in its own interests both in Syria and Ukraine has driven some of America’s establishment to the edge of madness, and that madness is what we see and hear in Europe. Europe is once again being turned into a vast armed camp, and it is now seething with anti-Russian rhetoric, threats, and activities such as huge war games, the largest of which occurred around the anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of Russia, the single most destructive event in all of human history.

America has created deliberately a situation almost as dangerous as the days of the Cuban missile crisis, which itself arose from the American establishment’s belief that it had every right to interfere in Cuba’s affairs.

We have another element, now compounding the danger, in a far greater variety and level of sophistication of weapons, including some nuclear weapons whose controlled yields are regarded by America’s military as being perhaps “usable” in a theater like Europe. The installation of anti-missile systems near Russia is very much part of this threat since these systems not only are intended to neutralize Russia’s capacity for response to a sudden, massive attack but to provide a cover for future covert, easily-done substitution of other kinds of missiles into the launchers, faster-arriving, nuclear-armed missiles which would indeed be an element in such an attack.

Russia, a country twice invaded with all the might of Germany and before that by Napoleon’s Grande Armeé, cannot be expected just to sit and do nothing. It won’t. It cannot.

The world must not forget that America’s military, a number of times in the past, created complete plans for a massive, surprise nuclear attack on what was then the Soviet Union, the last of which I am aware was in the early 1960s, and it was presented as being feasible to President Kennedy, who is said to have left the Pentagon briefing sick to his stomach.

Nuclear war, just as with any other kind of war, can happen almost by accident through blunders and careless acts and overly-aggressive postures. Just let the blood of two sides get up enough, and an utter disaster could quickly overtake us. Constantly decreasing the possibilities for accidents and misunderstandings is a prime responsibility of every major world leader, and right now the United States is pretty close to having completely abdicated its responsibility.

 

THE ILLUSION OF RIGHTS

John Chuckman

 

In truth, there is no such thing as a right.

The last three centuries or so of European history developed the concept and fixed it in our minds as something real and many modern states have enumerated lists of rights, but, in the limit, the concept of rights has no force behind it.

Words on paper mean nothing when those with real power in your society decide that the words are only that, words. Judges have no power to direct where the society’s power is unwilling to cooperate.

Apart from what has happened at various times in a number of European countries, the ability simply to switch off rights has been demonstrated many times in America’s history, and there can be little doubt that dimming down and gradually switching off rights now has become a central activity in American society.

Nothing so effectively trumps rights as government claims of emergency situations, such as civil war and now the so-called war on terror. For the foreseeable future, rights in Western countries are going to increasingly be limited or ignored, if not even proscribed.

This is certainly the case in the United States where construction of a national security state is well underway, the template being that of Israel, a state which despite a stage show of democracy is quite literally more of a security state than the former East Germany, more both because technologies now are vastly more effective and penetrating than anything the Stasi had and because the proportion of military and security services in society is far greater in Israel than it was in a supposed absolute state.

Establishing such a vast state apparatus anywhere is never without consequences for human freedom and rights, although Israel has never pretended to establish defined rights, it being an impossible task to do so for a “democracy” where only one kind of person is welcome and where millions are literally held against their wills and where the state apparatus feels free to seize anyone’s property at any moment.

So it is a very ominous model towards which America is working. The work has proceeded gradually since 9/11, so that there is no sudden panic in such a large general population, but it proceeds inexorably, with new steps announced periodically limiting this or that activity. Of course, it just so happens that the project serves the establishment’s own power interests, effectively securing continued and increased authority.

The events used to excuse the project and make it acceptable, those of so-called international terror, were themselves natural outcomes, reactions to the establishment’s abuse of authority in a long series of attacks and wars to reshape the Middle East and its endless tolerance of an intolerable human situation in Israel. The establishment’s behavior created international terror.

In the end, the unpleasant truth is that only might makes right, and sentiments and fine words count for very little. We truly have made small progress since the days when a French nobleman’s coach could run down a peasant in the roadway without consequences. We are still ruled by wealth, and the security services, servants of wealth, gain added and unaccountable powers almost daily.

After all, that is how America governs much of the rest of the planet today, isn’t it? Why should home be any different?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

SOME HARD FACTS ABOUT TERROR

John Chuckman

 

We are having an outbreak of reports in the Canadian press about “home grown” terrorists, “radicalized” young men of Muslim faith traveling out of the country to participate in extremist groups abroad, a relatively insignificant phenomenon which has received inordinate publicity. In any event, if you give the matter some thought, you realize that this “news” is a kind of empty publicity, noise about something as old and familiar as human life itself, although it has been bestowed with a new name intended to frighten us into supporting measures outside the framework of a society of laws.

The truth is that young men, at least a certain portion of them, have always traveled abroad to join causes and wars. It’s about as ordinary a phenomenon as playing team sports or joining clubs. In many cases, we end up praising them for their bravery and idealism, as was certainly the case with the many thousands of Europeans, Americans, and Canadians who traveled to Spain in the 1930s to volunteer in the civil war against General Franco. In other cases, we condemn and imprison them and sometimes even execute them as part of the losing side, as America has been doing in its rampage through the Middle East.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the emergence of new, independent nations from the British Empire drew thousands of young men to Africa to fight as mercenaries or volunteers. Apartheid South Africa used to run classified ads in newspapers abroad to attract young men in its battle against the African National Congress. Young Jewish men in the past went to Israel to join the IDF out of some sense of brotherhood, and they do so still. The French Foreign Legion gained almost mythical status as a place for young men to leave things behind, embracing an undefined sense of purpose and brotherhood. Young European adventurers, often young noblemen with hopes of gaining glory, sailed across the Atlantic in the 1770s to volunteer in the American colonies’ revolt against the British Empire, far more of them than Washington’s meagre army could use.

Magnetic leaders like Napoleon or Castro or Nasser attracted countless volunteers from abroad in their heyday. Our history books don’t dwell on the fact but large numbers of young men from many countries volunteered for Hitler’s invading legions. The phenomenon does not depend on the high or noble nature of the cause, although the luster and publicity around grand causes undoubtedly attracts a still wider range of young men.

Young men often just want to escape from every-day, humdrum life, a boring marriage, a nothing job, or, as in the case of the Foreign Legion, to leave a criminal or failed past behind in hopes of high adventure, a new identity, and a fresh start in life. The genuine nature of a cause often matters little because young men’s fantasies convert grubby deeds into mythic stuff at least for a time. Young men in the Foreign Legion were actually fighting for a brutal imperialism in North Africa. Volunteers to the IDF only assist in the oppression of an abused people, not in the protection of the Jewish people. Those who joined Napoleon thought they were spreading liberté, égalité et fraternité across a mummified old-order Europe, but they were helping one of history’s great bloody soldier-conquerors glorify himself and do what it was he lusted after doing.

Mental illness also intrudes into terrorist matters, all things unusual or different being grist for the big dumb mill of the press. In Canada, during the wave of empty chatter about “home-grown terrorists,” there were two isolated incidents of murder in different parts of the country, one of a policeman and one of a reservist in the military. Immediately the press began a completely uninformative and patience-exhausting round of speculation about the dark nature of the perpetrators, complete with interviews of various self-proclaimed “terrorism experts,” men, as it generally turns out, who run security firms and are out drumming up business. In both cases, we finally learned through the fog of misinformation generated by the press, that the young dead men were deeply mentally disturbed, their acts having no more political significance than the crazed men set on suicide who first kill their wives or children or the boys who periodically show up heavily armed at school, shooting their way through classmates.

And of course, it is almost invariably males who do these things, our prisons containing about ten men for every woman. The violence we see in professional football, hockey, or boxing being almost an exclusive male domain. Woman rarely commit murder, males being responsible for almost all of it, with young males being responsible for an extraordinarily disproportionate share.

Aside from the psychotic and deeply depressed, there is a certain segment of young men in every society who are simply attracted to opportunities for legal killing, rape, and mayhem – this being the truly ugly side of every war and conflict that we never mention in our sentimental world-war memorial services or high school textbooks. These men are variously termed sociopaths or psychopaths, and they appear to exist naturally in some proportion in any population. They enjoy killing, inflicting pain, and the sense of supreme power over the lives of others, and they are incapable of sympathy for their victims or remorse for their acts. They only fear being caught, and war provides a wonderful legal playground for them.

The bloodiest, most brutal and pointless war of the last half century, America’s grotesque slaughter in Vietnam, attracted thousands of volunteers from other countries to join in the gruesome fun – acts which included everything from raping girls and then shooting them to throwing men out of helicopters. Even then-peaceful Canada, whose prime minister, Lester Pearson, bravely turned down Lyndon Johnson’s bullying demands to send troops (charmer that Johnson was, he is said to have grabbed our Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader by the lapels during a meeting and pushed him against a wall), saw hundreds of adventure-seeking young men, on their own, join the American holocaust, which would see three million horribly slaughtered, countless wounded, and an ancient agricultural land overwhelmed with America’s landmines, cluster bombs, and poisons.

Today we call people terrorists as easily as we more accurately might have called them reckless or mad. The word terrorist has been given an almost frightening, superstitious connotation much resembling the word witch in the seventeenth century when any poor old soul who suffered from a mental illness like schizophrenia might be burnt alive for her mumblings and delusions. Today, the same people we once burnt would be sent to a homeless shelter or a psychiatric hospital. Another aspect of the word terrorist is related to what Stalin used to say when he expected his officials to launch a new purge to keep the country terrorized into submission. The Vozhd would say something about “wreckers” or “wreckers of the revolution” and his minions would busy themselves demonstrating alacrity in finding large numbers to consign to prison or death. All of our press and government spokespeople now use terrorist with those two meanings, and to the extent that they do, we should recognize the foolishness of their speech and its danger to a free society.

Of course, anyone who commits violent crime needs dealing with, and we do have laws covering every form of violent crime and what is judged the degree of culpability. But creating a special class or type of crime, somehow understood to be different in nature from other crimes, and thereby requiring extraordinary measures of espionage and policing and imprisonment and standards of evidence, is a shabby, dishonest, and cowardly political act. It is a political act in exactly the sense best explained by George Orwell.

The template for this kind of state activity comes directly from Israel. It long ago succeeded in changing the outside perception of events since 1948 from that of a relatively powerless people having their homes and lands taken with great brutality. Everyone knows instinctively that people treated in that fashion have every right in international law and custom to fight their oppressors. We call them at various times and circumstances freedom fighters, guerillas, resistance fighters, or irregulars. But in this case, they were transformed into terrorists who seek only to destroy law-abiding, democratic Israel – unspeakably evil beings intent on attacking the imported Ozzie-and-Harriet peacefulness of white-picket fence neighborhoods constructed on other people’s property. It truly is a case of the world turned on its head.

It does make things so much easier when you shoot someone or bulldoze their home or send them to prison indefinitely with no trial and subject to torture, if you first have demonized them, much as in the case of witches or wreckers, with terrorist being this generation’s choice demonizing word. And when Israel kills some people whose identity as “terrorists” might be seen as very doubtful, the victims magically become militants, a Newspeak word which strives to make the killing of anyone from boys to grandfathers palatable, our shabby press in the West having adopted the word in its reportage without so much as blinking an eye, much less asking a question. This has been Israel’s day-in, day-out pattern of government for decades, but now it has managed to export to the United States the same pattern of behavior. The United States, after all, is a nation given to Captain Ahab-like obsessions, as it has demonstrated many times in its history, Muslims now having displaced the Communists it pursued with relentless fury for decades at home and abroad. And when the United States embraces a new obsession, its dependants in Europe, Canada, Australia, and other places are bullied into embracing it too. America has many avenues for pressuring the acceptance and recognition of its latest craze or special interest or dark operation and to quiet the criticism which would naturally flow from those who disagree and think for themselves.

Were America not enthralled with this voodoo about terror, Europe and others would quickly fall away, and Israel’s ugly behavior would be left in a glaring spotlight, much as South Africa’s once was.

It is the force of these considerations in part which leads so many to question the true nature of what happened on 9/11, for that set of events was pivotal in having American public opinion embrace extraordinary, anti-democratic, and anti-human rights measures. I do not subscribe to the (not-uncommon) conspiracy notion that the American government was complicit in 9/11, using it as a kind of Nazi Reichstag Fire to ignite the mindless war on terror and a crusade through the Middle East to overturn governments unfriendly to Israel. I do very much believe though that the full story of that event has never been told, and, as always, that can only mean highly embarrassing or compromising facts are being suppressed. The immense body of confidential information in Washington on all matters of state – literally tens of billions of documents – would largely disappear if it weren’t for considerations of embarrassment and compromise, the need for genuine government secrecy being much rarer than many assume.

A free society does not recognize crimes deemed in some way to be different or more heinous or extraordinary: it maintains and enforces sensible, well-reasoned laws which apply equally to all. It does not create criminal laws which reflect political pressure or special interests. The United States, now on a new hunt for a great white whale, has virtually re-created East Germany’s dreaded Stasi, only in a much more sophisticated and far-reaching form. It meshes with the all-pervasive secret state police apparatus Israel has constructed in the Middle East with infinite care since 1948. Now, over all our lives there is something, not answerable to any electorate, working to dissimulate, to intimidate, and to generate fear as nothing of which the Soviet Union was remotely capable. It influences all of our laws and customs, even attempting to shape the way we speak and think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THINGS MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME

John Chuckman

 

Despite my title, this is not a memoir, dealing as it does with some of the most deadly serious subjects on the planet.

I was brought up by a hard-working, fiercely honest woman. She was brave in the most profound way, not the momentary, over-hyped stuff of soldiers and sports stars, but the unsung stuff of facing great odds and painful situations and doing her duty, not for moments or days, but for year after year. She was unusual for the early 1950s, a time of great social conformity in America, for having left my father whose drunken abuse she refused to endure. She set off on her own with two very young boys and never looked back. She always set an example of high standards, expecting the same from my brother and me, made us regular church-goers, and generally bestowed a great deal of love on us.

For the greatest part of my life, I believed in the same values and precepts she taught although I parted with church-going before I was a man. I was not without cynicism about many things I observed through life, but now, in my old age, I realize forcefully how entirely different are the rules which actually govern human affairs, and especially those pertaining to international affairs. Virtually everything my mother taught me, and my church too, was mistaken.

We hear a good deal these days about the problem of bullying in schools, and my instincts always put me on the side of victims and make me question teachers and authorities who do not step in to protect the innocent. But just look at the major political and economic leaders of our time: virtually every one of them has been an unqualified bully. It appears that being a bully features prominently on the road to success.

And we all believed that the bad guys never won and that time would see victims receive justice. The painful truth is though that the bad guys, at least all the clever and well-connected ones, always win and their victims almost never receive justice.

My mother had no tolerance for lying, and obvious lies still try my patience, but lying is in fact one of the chief occupations of those who govern us. Messrs. Obama, Netanyahu, Cameron, Harper are all the grossest liars, as were Sharon, Clinton, Blair, Bush, Cheney, and a very long list of others notable for their positions and the headlines they generated. Most of these individuals, along with a good many others, likely have never, in their entire careers, uttered a single truthful sentence, discounting the platitudes and bromides they are accustomed to delivering.

The issue of lying most comes into prominence in the case of war. I have seen so many wars in my lifetime, and it is painfully clear that every one of them was based on lies. The poor citizens of every land are never told why their lives are being snatched and their wealth squandered. They are certainly never consulted about whether so terribly serious a measure as war should be undertaken. Instead they are lied to. The ghastly horror of Vietnam, all that vast work of death and destruction on a genocidal scale – carpet bombing, napalm, and poisons dropped – was about nothing which mattered to almost all ordinary people, it was about blood-drenched lies their leaders told them.

And how can you possibly have meaningful democracy when the voters are lied to daily by those running for office and those holding office? You cannot, clearly.

And today, the whole Middle East is either in flames or has recently passed through war or revolution – Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya, and still others. We are given many reasons for this phenomenon, but at the heart of the matter, there really is only one cause, and that cause is never mentioned in our press.

In all cases, American is found either covertly directing affairs or at least pouring money and weapons into countries to de-stabilize them. And why does it do this? It reflects a vast effort to mold the Middle East into a shape comfortable for the rather unusual requirements of its colony in the region, Israel. Why unusual requirements? What other small country in the world seems to need to control and dominate everything around it for at least a thousand miles? And this is only necessary because Israel refuses to obey almost any of the laws and customs of nations as we have grown to understand them in modern times. Israel continues to rule areas conquered in what itself was a fraudulent war, the Six Day War, nearly fifty years ago, and it doesn’t just rule these places against all international law and conventions, it treats their millions of residents as entitled to no law or justice, no hopes or aspirations, and not even entitled to hold the property they have because whenever a chunk of it appeals to Israelis, they simply take it.

Such is the behavior of the self-designated “only democracy in the Middle East,” a glib and meaningless phrase which completely ignores the fact that half the people ruled by Israel have no votes and no human rights. Actually, it is a good thing there are not more such “democracies,” or the region would be total hell on earth. Democracy for some is not democracy at all. Think of Orwell’s precept in Animal Farm, a book intended to satirize Stalin’s Soviet Union, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal.” That could have been just as well written about modern Israel. Israel’s embrace of neighbors who are virally anti-democratic – from Egypt to Saudi Arabia – again says something profound about the nature of Israeli “democracy.”

And the much bigger country which likes to style itself, the world’s oldest democracy and the land of the free, not only supports Israel in its disregard for law, customs, and international conventions, it finances a great deal of the tyrannous behavior. Where is the regard for democracy, rights, or even due process in that?

The always-tolerated violation of accepted principles by Israel which seems most remarkable to me is its regular theft of homes and farms. Americans are comfortable with bombings and assassinations and torture, at least judging from their national behavior over a good many decades in a number of countries, but when you consider how Americans revere property rights above all else in their society, it does seem it should be another matter when it comes to property being swiped in public. Property and profits are the truest guiding, long-term principles in American society. So you might think, despite the shower of lies in which Americans are immersed concerning Israel and its neighbors, public theft would stir something deep in their hearts. So why don’t we see American leaders, even if they can’t get worked up over endless occupation and abuse and killing and apartheid-like laws, at least strenuously objecting to Israel’s regular, high-handed thefts of property?

America’s politicians always back Israel because America’s government is constituted on the fallacious and unethical concept that money is free speech when it comes to political campaign contributions – fixed by a Supreme Court whose history includes vigorous support of such other glorious principles as slavery. When you allow such a political financing system to dominate your politics, it follows, ipso facto, that those able and willing to give very large sums as campaign contributions (as well as favorable press coverage, there not being a single major newspaper or network in America which does not play the game of boosting Israel) receive access and have their voices heard to the virtual exclusion of others.

What is certainly one of the most efficient and untiring lobbies, the Israel lobby, understands America’s system perfectly and has adapted over time to work it perfectly, resulting almost in a custom-designed, industrial-scale machine for turning out loyal and uncritical politicians in one country concerning the acts of a foreign country. Again, there’s very little truth and even less democracy in that way of conducting politics.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNDERSTANDING ISRAEL’S CORROSIVE INFLUENCE ON WESTERN DEMOCRACY

John Chuckman

 

Something troubling is quietly underway in the Western world, that portion of the world’s governments who style themselves as liberal democracies and free societies. Through a number of avenues, people’s assumptions about the role of government are being undermined as their governments evolve towards a pattern established in the United States. No, I do not mean in building a neo-Roman marble repository of sacred founding writ and adopting three wrangling branches of government with empty slogans about freedom and justice for all. I do mean in the way governments, however elected and organized, regard their responsibilities towards their citizens and the world community.

Of course, the United States in many matters often prods, cajoles, or threatens other states to follow where it leads, such as with votes at the U. N. or whether a country should send at least token forces for one of America’s colonial wars to lend appearances of international effort. Despite America’s poor economy and declining relative future prospects, it still has many resources for pushing others, much like the profligate grandson of a magnate whose once great family fortune is in decline but still large. Still, a good deal of what is happening results from new forces which only reinforce America’s imperial tendencies.

People in the West often elect governments who turn around to do things voters did not want done, and they realize they being lied to by their governments and corporate press, but they pretty much feel helpless to remedy the situation. London saw the largest peace march in history just before Tony Blair secretly threw in his lot with the criminals who hit Iraq with the equivalent in deaths and destruction of a thermonuclear bomb on a large city. Special interests increasingly dominate the interests of government because they increasingly pay its campaign costs and extend other important favors. Citizens in many places feel the meaning of casting a ballot has been diminished as they watch their governments ignore extreme injustice, hear their governments make demands and threats over matters which do not warrant threats, see themselves become ensnared in wars and violence they never wanted, and generally feel their governments are concerned with matters of little concern to them. That, if it needs to be said, is not what democracy is about. And where do we see governments making reforms to remedy the situation threatening democracy? Almost nowhere.

It might at first seem an odd thing to write – considering the influence Israel exerts in the Western world (what other country of 7 million is in the press virtually each day?) and all the favorable press it receives (every major newspaper and broadcaster having several writers or commentators who see their duty as influencing public opinion on Israel’s behalf, and The New York Times submits all stories about Israel to Israeli censors before publishing) – but Israel is an inherently unstable state. No matter how much money is poured into it for arms and force-fed economic development, it cannot be otherwise. Its population is hostile to the people with whom it is surrounded and intermixed, living something of a fantasy which shares in equal parts ancient myths and superstitions and white-picket-fence notions of community with no neighbors who do not resemble each other. Its founding stories also have a fairy tale quality, heroic with a mythical division of good and evil, always ignoring the violence and brutality which cannot be forgotten so easily by its victims and the manipulation of imperial powers which defrauded others as surely as any phony mining stock promotion. Its official views and the very language in which they are expressed are artificial constructs which do not accurately describe what they name, words like “militant” or “terrorist” or “existential.” Its official policy towards neighbors and the people it displaced has been one of unrelenting hostility. Its leaders in business and government almost all securely hold dual passports, hedging their bets. Its average citizens face a hard time in an economy shaped, not for opportunity and economic freedom, but for war and the policing of millions of captives and unwelcome residents. None of this is indefinitely sustainable, and modern Israel is a highly artificial construct, one neither suited to its regional environment nor amenable to all the powerful trends shaping the modern world: globalization, free movement of peoples, multiculturalism in immigration, and genuine democratic principles, not the oxymoron of democracy for one group only.

It is the many desperate efforts to work against these hard realities, almost like someone screaming against a storm, which have unleashed the forces now at work on the Western world. Israel, as just one example, against the best judgment of many statesmen, was permitted and even assisted to become a nuclear power. The thinking being that only with such weapons can Israel feel secure and be ready to defend Jews abroad from a new Gotterdammerung. The truth is, as is the case with all nuclear weapons, Israel’s arsenal is virtually unusable, except, that is, as a powerful tool for blackmail. Israel has blackmailed the United States several times, the latest instance being over Iran’s nuclear program, a program which every reliable intelligence source agrees is not aimed at producing weapons. More than one Israeli source has suggested that low-yield nuclear weapons are the best way of destroying Iran’s technology, buried deeply underground, a suggestive whisper in American ears to do what Israel wants, or else.

Analysis suggests that what Israel truly wants is the suppression of Iran as a burgeoning regional power so that Israel can continue to perform the powerful and lucrative role as the United States’ surrogate in Western Asia along with its always-held-quiet, numerous dealings with that other great bastion of democracy and human rights, Saudi Arabia.

There have been many unanticipated, and extremely unpleasant, results from just this one matter of Israel’s nuclear weapons. Take Israel’s relationship with the former South African government and that country’s own drive decades ago to achieve status as a nuclear power. We do not know all the details, but we know from now-published documents that Israel once offered literally to sell nuclear warheads and compatible missiles to apartheid South Africa. We know further that South Africa did achieve its goal, there having been a rush, secret program to remove its weapons when the apartheid government fell, Britain’s late weapons expert, Dr. Kelly, possibly having been murdered for the detailed information he possessed on the disposition of South Africa’s fissile material. We know further that there was a nuclear device tested at sea, likely a joint Israeli-South African test, its unmistakable flash having been recorded by an American satellite. Just this one aspect of Israel’s behavior worked directly against the aims and wishes of many in the West, supporting both apartheid and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Further, in order to accomplish these things, large efforts had to be made at deception and secret dealing with a number of governments whose intelligence services would certainly have come across trails of evidence. Those are rather weighty matters for governments to decide without the knowledge of voters.

Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons acts both as a threat and a stimulus to other states in the region to obtain their own. Iraq tried to do so and was stopped, twice. Finally, America used, as a pretext for a bloody invasion which killed at least half a million, Iraq’s nuclear weapons when it was clear to all experts by that time that Iraq no longer had any working facilities for producing them. It violently swept Iraq off the region’s chess board to please Israel, much as today Israel wants it to do with Iran. Countries which have seriously considered, or once actually started, working towards nuclear weapons in the region include Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, and in all cases their motives involved, at least in part, Israel’s arsenal. The United States today is in the midst of a massive, years-long campaign to cleanse the Middle East of what its rulers regard as undesirable elements. What determined these undesirable elements? The chief characteristic was whether they respect the general foreign policy aims of the United States, including, importantly, the concept of Israel as favored son of the United States in the region with all the privileges and powers accorded that status.

Certainly the selection had nothing to do with whether the countries were democracies, and certainly it had nothing to do with whether the countries recognized and respected human rights, John Kerry’s pandering or Hillary Clinton’s histrionics to the contrary. America pays no attention to such niceties when it comes to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, and many other places of strategic interest to it, including Israel. The values given lip service in the American Constitution and at Fourth of July picnics have as much to do with foreign policy as they do with the muffled screams from Guantanamo and the rest of the CIA’s torture gulag or the horrific invasion of Iraq and the systematic, large-scale use of extrajudicial killing.

There is elaborate machinery which has grown up around the relationship between America and Israel since 1948, when President Truman made the fateful decision, reportedly against his own best private judgement, to quickly recognize the government of Israel and extend to it the then-immense prestige of the United States in the immediate postwar period. That machinery – its chief features being highly-organized and well-funded special interest campaign financing, assays of every elected or appointed American official for his or her friendliness to Israel as with regular junkets for new Congressmen, and the most intimate and regular access by both lobbyists and Israeli officials to the highest officials in Washington – is now part of the political landscape of the United States, taken for granted as though it were the most natural thing in the world. But it is not natural, and, over the long term, it is not even in keeping with the interests of the United States.

Being enmeshed in that decision-distorting machinery, rather than simply demanding Israel return to the Green Line and support a reasonable settlement, is what ultimately produced 9/11, the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, systematic extrajudicial killing, the consignment of tens of millions of people to tyranny, including the people of Egypt and Palestine, the dirty business of the engineered civil war inflicted upon Syria, and swallowing America’s national pride many times as with the Israeli attack on an American spy ship, Israel’s seizure of neighboring land, and Israel’s incessant espionage on its greatest benefactor. And some of these avoidable disasters had further internal effects in rationalizing the establishment of many elements of an American police state.

The nature of this relationship itself demonstrates something about the unstable nature of Israel. America has many allies and friends who do not behave in these ways because it is simply not necessary, but Israel is constantly reaching, trying to improve or enhance or consolidate its situation, trying to seek some greater advantage. It assumes in its external affairs what appears a completely amoral, results-at-any-cost approach, from stealing farms and homes and water to stealing secrets, playing a long series of dirty tricks on the world along the way, as it did at Entebbe or in the Six Day War or in helping South Africa or in releasing horrible malware like Stuxnet or in abusing the passports of other nations to carry out ugly assassinations – all secure in the knowledge that the world’s most influential nation is captive to the machinery, unable to criticise or punish. The trouble is that such acts endlessly generate new hostilities every place they touch. It cannot be otherwise, yet Israel and its apologists speak only in terms of rising anti-Semitism to shut critics up, a practice which generates still more hostilities since most people don’t like being called names and the act of doing so only increases awareness of the many dishonesties employed to keep Israel afloat.

The nature of the American-relationship machinery has proved so successful in shaping policy towards Israel that it has been replicated in other Western countries. Only recently, we read the words of a former Australian Prime Minister warning his people of the machinery there now influencing government unduly. In Canada, traditionally one of the fairest-minded of nations towards the Middle East, our current, extremist prime minister (an unfortunate democratic deficit in Canada making it possible to win a majority government with 39% of the vote) has trashed Canada’s traditional and respected position and worked steadily towards establishing the same backroom-influence machinery. So now we experience such bizarre events as a federal Minister suddenly, much like Saul struck along the road to Damascus, blurting out some sentence about Israel, unrelated to anything else he was saying or being asked by reporters present. Our 39% Prime Minister himself has assumed the exalted role of Canada’s Don Quixote in the fight against Anti-Semitism, despite the fact that genuine anti-Semitism almost does not exist in our tolerant country. But prominent apologists for Israel have in the past complained of Canada’s balanced policies not favoring Israel enough, and our Don Quixote has ridden to their rescue. Of course, along the way, his party will enjoy a new source of campaign funding, adding yet a new burden to Canada’s existing democratic deficit.

No one I think entirely planned from the beginning this set of outcomes. It really has been a matter of innumerable adjustments, accommodations, and opportunistic maneuvers which no one might have predicted in 1948, those days which were, at one and the same time, joyful for many Jews staring back into the utter darkness of the Holocaust and tragic to a people having nothing to do with those murderous events, who were stripped of property and rights and dignity, a situation which has only become worse since what they quite understandably call Nakba. But the corrosion of democracy in Western governments afraid of ever saying no to Israel and too willing to add to party political coffers in exchange for favorable words and acts is real and palpable, and it is going to do nothing but become worse. The situation is best characterized as a race for the bottom.

 

UNDERSTANDING MODERN ISRAEL: WHY IT IS DRIVING THE WORLD TOWARDS MADNESS

John Chuckman

Nothing that Israel does in its affairs would be of quite such great concern to the world were it not for the fact that Israel drags along, willy-nilly, the world’s greatest power, much like some impressive-looking but feeble-willed, dazed parent stumbling along behind a screaming toddler demanding yet another goody. The threat of serious wars has grown exponentially in recent decades precisely owing to this fact, and not just wars but wars reflecting neither justice nor principle, the aggressive reordering of other people’s affairs by sweeping them into the pit of hell. The so-called war on terror is just part of the fallout of millions of the world’s powerless and abused watching helplessly and without hope the embarrassing public spectacle.

The terrible bloody war in Iraq was almost exclusively for Israel’s benefit. The Syrian “civil war” is a deliberately-engineered conflict for Israel’s benefit. The coup in Egypt, wiping away the sacrifice of thousands of Egyptians in a revolution for democracy and restoring a junta, again reflects Israel’s interests in the region. The constant threats and needless hardships imposed upon Iran, a country which has no modern history of aggression and which every intelligence service knows has not been working towards nuclear weapons, reflects yet the same interest. Indeed, so determined is the government of Israel to keep this huge country pinned down that it pulled out all stops in using its immense congressional influence trying to embarrass the President and prevent a sensible international agreement with Iran. And, more ominously, Netanyahu has threatened countless times to attack Iran, knowing full well that the United States would be forced to come to his assistance when Iran struck back, as it would have every right to do.

But it is not just constant wars and threats of wars, the liberal use of extreme force against the interests of others, which make modern Israel perhaps the greatest threat to peace on the planet. The effects of America’s unprecedented and inappropriate relationship with Israel have corroded badly the values and meaning of American society. America’s democratic government, always rather fragile at best, is literally becoming hollowed out. Today America copies a great deal of the ugly garrison state practices of Israel: aggressive and intrusive intelligence, anti-democratic laws, police and security being given close to a free hand in attacking human rights, secret prisons, and even extrajudicial killing on a large scale. The President speaks of governing by “presidential order” rather than by legislation, the intelligence establishment ignores the Constitution and the courts, the “homeland” security establishment heavily arms itself against public disorder, and even military men make the odd public reference to military government in an emergency. Where is the Constitution with its crucial Bill of Rights in all this? Cut in scraps lying on the floor like snippets from a film-editor’s work.

Of course, so far as rights go, Israel never had, nor can it ever have a Bill of Rights, given its peculiar organization and the practices of its garrison-state establishment. Imitating Israel’s practices and adopting its views remove any state automatically from the whole trend of western society since the Enlightenment. Israel’s leaders may speak all they wish about “the Middle East’s only democracy,” but the words are as insincere as television advertising claims for a new mouthwash. Can you have democracy for only one carefully-defined group? Can you have democracy without the restraints of a Bill of Rights upon an abusive majority? Can you have democracy which holds millions in perpetual isolation and subjects them to countless abuses? Can you have democracy where you prefer dealing with juntas and kingdoms to democratic governments in neighboring states? Can you have democracy which constantly threatens war on those who do not threaten it? Can you have democracy which conducts witch-hunts on a grand scale, just re-naming the witches as terrorists? Can you have democracy which interferes in the internal affairs of other democratic states? And, in the end, can you have democracy founded on the Orwellian principle that “all animals are equal, but some are more equal”?

The truth always and everywhere has been that a society heavily burdened by the military cannot be a truly free and democratic society. An armed camp like Israel has its values and future far more determined by the sheer weight of its military-intelligence-security establishment than by any elections or slogans about democracy, and this same unpleasant truth applies increasingly to America.

The effect of Israel upon the United States in some ways resembles the effect in space of a black hole with its immensely powerful gravity pulling matter towards the certain destruction of its event horizon.

It has become common for criticism of Israel to be conflated with anti-Semitism. Canada’s Prime Minister Harper, an ungracious man at the best of times, has been himself guilty of doing so. It is, of course, simple name-calling, certainly not the kind of thing we expect from a prime minister, but even more, it is a bully’s technique used to intimidate people who disagree.

The practice of calling critics names is closely related to the endlessly-repeated argument of Israeli governments that settlement negotiations must start with the Palestinians accepting that “Israel is the country of the Jewish people.” On first hearing, that might seem plausible, but a moment’s reflection shows its dangerous nature and calculated dishonesty. It is not up to people outside a country to characterize the country’s nature or make-up, and no one has ever expected that in any case, until now in the case of Israel.

Negotiations are, by definition, between parties who have different views, not between parties who have agreed in advance, nor are they between parties where one has been served an ultimatum by the other. But straining the sense of things even more in this case, the subject of negotiations is really not supposed to be Israel’s definition but Palestine’s. Is Israel saying that the Palestinians must grant permission or authority for Israel’s idea of itself? No, of course not, so some other purpose is implicit in this bizarre demand.

How would one define a country like Canada or the United States, countries of immense variety of ethnic, national, and religious origin, under Israel’s idea? You could not. Of course, they are understood by everyone as the countries of Canadians and Americans. And just so, Israel is the country of Israelis, and nothing more, with the large majority of the world’s Jews in fact living elsewhere. Moreover, what is called Israel today was the home of other people for an exceedingly long time, longer than the history of most of the world’s modern states, and those people have not disappeared.

So, Israel’s position is that you do not negotiate with people who refuse to parrot your definition of yourself. That is, it seems fair to say, a pretty unusual approach to negotiations. Imagine Americans refusing to negotiate with the Russians during the Cold War unless the Russian negotiators first formally recognized America as “the land of the free and home of the brave.” That demand, I’m sure we can all agree, would have yielded stony silence, and just so Israel’s demand. You surely make such demands only where you do not want negotiations. Israel, for public relations reasons, always maintains an appearance of being ready to negotiate for peace, but the truth is that negotiations happen only when its benefactor-in-chief periodically decides that they should. There is no evidence beyond words that Israel wants to do so on its own initiative. Indeed, all hard evidence points in another direction.

Israel is chewing away ceaselessly in numberless small bites at what is left of Palestine, reducing it to a set of meaningless, unconnected islands in a sea of armed hostility called Israel. When Israeli officials speak ponderously of “facts on the ground,” that is what they really mean. In the end, Israel intends to solve the problems with its neighbors completely on its own terms. There already is little need, in the minds of Israel’s leaders, to negotiate anything, and there will be less with each passing year. Gaza, surrounded by fences, radar-operated gun towers, tanks, its society riddled with spies, its people having no ability to go anywhere without application, permission, interrogation, and search is the model, although Gaza, through the accident of 1948 events is a bigger concentration of people than would be the ideal, Israel’s terror campaign having created an undesirably large huddle of refugees rather causing them all to flee the territory.

Apart from the absurdity of declaring the exact definition others must employ for Israel, using the kind of national definition upon which Israel’s leaders insist first requires that you define Jewish people. Why would anyone want to open that conversation? The Nazis had difficulty even defining what it was that they hated so much when they implemented their dreadful laws against Jews. Reading the details of how the Nazis determined Jewishness should be instructive for anyone suggesting this approach. Israel, too, has failed to come up with a rigorous definition, despite its need for one under the policy of all the world’s Jews being able to claim Israeli citizenship and assistance in settling.

The religion of Judaism certainly cannot enter your definition because close to half of Israelis identify as non-believers, and even Israeli politicians recognize the problems of theocratic states since they constantly disparage those that do exist in the Muslim world. But this reality does not stop Israeli politicians who lobby American Christian fundamentalists for support from encouraging the conflation of modern Israel with biblical Israel and of worldly Israelis having a good time in Tel Aviv night clubs with the thundering prophets of the Old Testament. Nor does it stop them from passing many pieces of legislation which have the oppressive character of a theocratic state in order to please Israel’s extremist minority parties always required to produce a majority government.

Since only about a third of the world’s people identifying as Jews live in Israel, Israel cannot even claim some exclusive relationship. Its only real connection with the diaspora is that it promises they may all claim Israeli citizenship if they wish. It is hard to imagine what Israel would do were even a large fraction of the diaspora suddenly to act on the promise, showing up on the door step, as it were, suitcases in hand. But Israel knows that will not happen. Life is too good for Jews in dozens of places to exchange it for life in Israel.

So far as a definition based on ethnicity, the task becomes more difficult, as well as unacceptable to the liberal mind since categorizing people by ethnicity has a terrible historical record, is innately unfair, and is always inaccurate. Trying to define Jews by national origin is a non-starter because Israel accepts people it identifies as Jews from any country. Realistically, since Israel ceased to exist nearly two thousand years ago, no person can be a Jew owing to national origin, any more than someone can be a Trojan or a Phoenician today.

Two thousand years make about a hundred generations, and no one can accurately trace his or her family tree that far back, anywhere. Even if you were somehow magically able to identify a certain ancestor of the desired ethnic origin a hundred generations ago, there would be only the most infinitesimal trace left in the mix of your genes after centuries of marriages, migrations, wars, and plagues. To use the name of that nano-bit of hereditary identity to characterize the whole person and the country in which he or she lives does seem to beggar logic.

We know that most people have a quite mixed background if you go back just a few generations, and under the hypothesis of “out of Africa,” if you could go far enough back, you would trace a common origin for all people on the planet (much, as it happens, in the Adam and Eve myth). So, how far back do you go in anyone’s ethnic background in trying to label him or her? Going all the way back means there are no labels possible. So, just where do you stop to get the label you want? At which point in an inconceivably complex history of migrations and disasters and the rise and fall of states do we select just the “right” origin? Religion – and any matter influenced by religion – does tend to be peculiarly selective in these things, as we see from the stuck-in-the nineteenth-century dress of Mennonite Christians or ultra-Orthodox Jews (why not an earlier century, we might ask?) or the Middle Ages’ dress-occasion costumes of Catholic Bishops.

It is a futile and foolish exercise to start, and that is true even if “out of Africa” eventually were proved inaccurate as we may discover several geographic sources of origin. It then would still come down to common ancestries for huge groups of people who do not now regard themselves as related.

Shifting the definition of Israel from the “home of Israelis” to the “home of Jews” has many serious implications the general public may not appreciate. Today in Israel, being a passport-carrying citizen does not mean that you are equal in treatment and privileges by your government to other citizens. Israeli citizens who are also identified as Jews – and documents of every kind in Israel unpleasantly identify your “ethnic” identity over and above your citizenship – enjoy a special class of citizenship not attainable by others. Now, Israel is free to do this in its internal affairs, but it is not reasonable to expect others to formally ratify it, and it is not reasonable to expect that many of the world’s people to approve such a prejudiced and divisive practice. It is pretty easy to guess the fate of more than one million non-Jewish Israeli citizens if the Palestinians were to accept Israel’s definition.

The last way to categorize Jews, and one that plays a role in Israel, is by cultural identity. But what is a culture devoid of the context of religion and ethnicity and national origin, surely the richest ingredients in any cultural stew? Almost nothing, except possibly a language. Hebrew has been artificially imposed as the main language of Israel, despite the reality of Arabic’s total dominance in the region, despite the fact that many immigrants and settlers in Israel can speak little Hebrew, despite the fact that this more-or-less dead language was only kept alive because of its role in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, and despite the fact that Hebrew is a useless language in the world’s commerce and affairs, much as Welsh or Navaho would be. Are an almost-dead language and a couple of holiday celebrations to determine Jewishness and the entitlement to be an Israeli? If so, it is a pretty feeble thing over which to fight.

I think the truth is, and there is a good deal of evidence to support this, that Israeli leaders are motivated by an (unproved) sense of Jewish ethnicity, or perhaps more accurately, the wish to create an ethnicity which does not now exist. That too does seem a feeble thing to fight over, as well as being in the end a hopeless pursuit. Israel is a state formed by migration, recent migration, and migrants always and everywhere bring their former customs, language, and habits with them, and the larger each group is in relation to the country they join, the more it will deeply influence the place’s future culture and identity. Parts of the United States are now more Spanish-speaking than English, and such changes are underway all over the world. Parts of Toronto or Vancouver have as a first language Cantonese. The relatively huge numbers of recent Russian migrants to Israel, for example, remain to a great extent Russians who happen to have moved to Israel. The many Americans who have served in prominent positions are clearly identifiable as Americans who happen to have moved to Israel.

The dilemma is unavoidable: either Israel is a state for Israelis, or it is a state for a self-defined group, the mysterious nature of the group’s self-definition not subject to scientific scrutiny. If someone for any reason wants to call himself a Jew in many places, it makes no difference to anyone else, but in Israel to be a full citizen you cannot just choose to be a Jew. The fathers of the Zionist movement were in many cases intellectually-gifted men, but they were, after all, intense ideologues, truly fanatical men in a number of cases, and they were seeking a solution for problems they experienced in European society, a solution, as it turns out, as unrealistic in nature as the religious fantasy of a better afterlife which has comforted various unhappy groups through history. The solution they fixed upon also is one that comes loaded with intractable new problems. And those intractable problems, regrettably, are now becoming the entire world’s problems.

Israeli leaders have long wanted to rid their country of its non-Jewish population. The late Ariel Sharon wanted to overthrow the government of Jordan and turn the place over to the Palestinians who would all migrate there with Yasser Arafat. It was just one of many hare-brained schemes proposed over modern Israel’s brief history. A prominent Israeli military historian, Martin van Creveld, offered the notion of a massive moving artillery barrage to chase the Palestinians across the Jordan River. Moshe Dayan spoke of making the Palestinians miserable enough to want to leave. A number of prominent Jews have advocated killing the families of Palestinians found guilty of terrorism, and Israel has practiced destroying their family homes. Clearly, with such ideas, we see Israelis begin to slip into the mental framework of the very people who inflicted horror upon the Jews in the 1940s, and when you observe that kind of thing, it should be an early warning that what you are doing is dangerous and not well thought-out.

Why do people get such desperate ideas? Because the basic assumptions of their enterprise were faulty from the start and have driven them to pernicious and unwanted results with the apparent need for still more faulty corrective measures, an endless vicious cycle. The foundation of modern Israel involved a series of manipulations and back-door deals with European colonial powers entering their decline. They often involved favors exchanged, but in no case did they reflect law or sound logic. And in all cases, the foundational ideas had more of emotion in them than intellect. Then came the Holocaust, and a United States – which hadn’t lifted a finger to save Europe’s Jews when Hitler made it possible to do so, the first Nazi policy having been mass emigration – decided to play the good guy by fixing crushing penalties on still another group of people, one who had nothing to with the suffering of Jews.

This pose of America as big brother to Israel was certainly not just a reflection of guilt and regret, it reflected a new political reality that emerged about the time of Harry Truman’s re-election campaign. A well-organized lobby for Israel in the United States began offering campaign financing and press support for friendly candidates as well as the opposite for those not so friendly. Truman was inundated by lobbyists for the quick recognition of Israel, and while his own first instincts were against doing so, he yielded to the lobbyists, facing as he was, a tough, uncertain re-election campaign.

And the pattern of lobbying behavior has only grown in size and sophistication over time. At the same time, American national elections have become the most money-drenched political exercises on earth with the Supreme Court declaring money to be free speech and billions spent regularly just for a slate of candidates.

The idea of a pure state for just one people – however defined, as by religion, ethnic background, or cultural identity – is ultimately unworkable, however much you may be able to force it for a time, and Israel works immensely hard in trying to force it through countless unfair laws and the constant hot breath of secret police forces and the military. The concept, importantly, violates all of the progress in democratic and human values established since the Enlightenment, and, on a strictly pragmatic basis, it stands in defiance of the inexorable workings of a globalized world. Even the European nations once seemingly so well identified by populations with centuries of common history, as the English or the Germans, are now facing unavoidable changes in the structure of their populations. They are all in the process of becoming more like Canada or the United States, nations formed by many diverse streams of migrants. You cannot hold your finger in the dike or shout at the raging sea to stop, yet that kind of activity truly is implicit in Israel’s concept of itself.

Insistence on a narrowly-defined citizenship in a place shared with millions of others means of course Israel can never have a Bill or Charter of Rights, and the truth is that without a Bill of Rights no state can claim to be a true democracy. Just having periodic elections does not define a democratic state because a majority of any description may impose its prejudices and even tyranny on a minority at any time, as we have seen in South Africa or the American Confederacy or indeed in modern Israel. The very idea of a democracy for only one group of people – again, however defined – is a contradiction in terms. Bills and Charters of Rights are about protecting minorities, but Israel does not want the minorities it has, and it certainly has no will to protect them, seizing their property periodically and subjecting them to gross abuses.

Without some degree of true democracy, a society cannot have democratic values, that important sense of values which becomes part of the fabric of a society over time. Israel feels it cannot afford to embrace and respect democratic values owing to its security situation: it doesn’t say this, but it is implicit in Israel’s behavior. Thus we see contradictions like Israel happily doing business with governments along the lines of the Saudi royal family or Egypt’s thirty-year president, Mubarak. Israel has expressed contempt for genuinely democratic movements, again like those in Egypt. It would rather deal with an unelected, accommodating hanger-on to power like Mahmoud Abbas rather than recognize the democratic aspirations of Palestinians so clearly demonstrated with Hamas.

Israel’s habit of declaring every party or organization which represents some barrier or inconvenience to its long-term desire to ethnically-cleanse most of Palestine and annex the territory as “terrorist” is akin to Christians of long ago declaring certain different or odd people to be witches, worthy only of killing, as by burning at the stake (It is also akin to Israel’s habitual name-calling of critics). Thus Hamas, which is by all available evidence more dedicated to democratic principles than the government of Israel, is a witch to be dealt with as witches should be. Thus Hezbollah, a freedom fighting organization owing its very birth to Israel’s long and bloody occupation of part of Lebanon and one which has never invaded Israel, is another witch.

But they are not witches: they are parties representing legitimate interests and aspirations in the region. People with democratic values would recognize this and treat them accordingly.

From the point of view of many, the re-creation of Israel was a mistake simply because it created more problems than it solved and added to the world’s stock of misery and injustice, to say nothing of instability. Much as was the case with the Soviet Union, Israel almost certainly will not survive in its present form. There are too many faulty assumptions and too much flawed logic in its make-up for it to be viable in the long term, but its dissolution will be a natural process, again much as was the case with the Soviet Union, not the violent act of invaders or enemies. In the meantime, Israel’s intense ferocity towards all who question its behavior and toward all of its neighbors, when combined with its unnatural relationship with the United States, will prove a growing threat to the world’s peace and stability. And as Israelis themselves begin to realize the genuine paradoxes and terrible conundrums their enterprise has created, we are likely to see even increased ferocity and irrational behavior, as so often happens when dreamers see their dreams failing.

Israel’s leaders have in recent years been little more than a series of meglo-maniacs determined to play the role of a mini-world power and dictate the fates of those for a thousand miles around, all while proving incapable of solving even their own society’s most fundamental problems, which are numerous and pressing.

Only the United States has the power and authority to restrain Israel and to insist on Israel’s obeying the laws of nations and respecting its neighbors, but since politics in the United States is now hopelessly mired in money and lobbies for the foreseeable future, and since America has voluntarily joined the delusional war on terror, adopting many of Israel’s ugliest practices, it seems impossible that America can summon the strength needed for genuine leadership. It will remain the hopeless lumbering giant of a parent being yanked around by a screaming child. With the gradual recognition that the national dream is becoming a nightmare, and as the more reasonable people leave Israel for a better life in other places, the intensity and desperation of the screaming child will only increase. The next couple of decades are going to be dangerous times indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

THE ANNAPOLIS CONFERENCE: DEAD MAN WALKING

John Chuckman

The Annapolis Conference was, like so many political and diplomatic events of our time, highly choreographed, finely stage-managed, and heavily marketed. Yet, as soon as it was over, it was apparent little had happened, much as when a child opens a much-advertised, expensive plastic toy on Christmas, a brief, glitzy, big-eyed moment followed quickly by tedium. You might compare it to a George Bush press conference or any American presidential debate. Indeed, such choreographed non-events make up a fair portion of what Americans see on their evening news, a phenomenon we might call virtual or synthetic news.

I am reminded of a Bush summit with the oleaginous Tony Blair, both of them standing at parallel podiums, pontificating and smiling as though they regarded themselves as re-incarnations of Roosevelt and Churchill, which undoubtedly they do. When they finished saying nothing glibly (glibly, at least in Blair’s case) they turned towards each other and walked like two cuckoo-clock figures to meet and turn again, marching out in lock step along a red carpet, for all the world the just-crowned king and queen of the high-school prom leaving the dance floor. Or I recall Richard Nixon’s inspiration to have guards at the White House dressed in powder-blue uniforms complete with feathered marching-band hats and horns blaring “Hail to the Chief” each time the great man appeared. It was the court of Louis XIV as furnished by Wal-Mart.

It is actually hard to understand what precisely motivated the conference. It is clear that Condoleezza Rice, an utterly forgettable Secretary of State without an achievement worth citing, someone who likes to talk and hear herself talk, to shop for expensive shoes on Fifth Avenue, and to play the role of child prodigy up from America’s backwoods at White House soirees, hoped to do something substantial with this conference. It is a practice that’s called “leaving a legacy” by the American press. It’s a grand old tradition. All Presidents and Secretaries of State are supposed to leave some kind of legacy, just as the first female Secretary of State, Ms. Albright, left tens of thousands of children dead with sanctions on Iraq or Colin Powell left us with the lasting memory of lying through his teeth at the United Nations General Assembly in order to promote the invasion of Iraq.

It’s equally clear that something desperately needs to be done in the Middle East. It’s sinking into perpetual, bloody insanity. Israel’s near-paranoid ideas about its own security are sucking much of the planet’s resources into the political equivalent of a black hole from which nothing emerges. Israel never has enough security. Occupation, reprisals, and wars haven’t supplied enough. Arrest and torture haven’t supplied enough. Spies and assassinations haven’t supplied enough. Atomic weapons haven’t supplied enough. Walls do not supply enough.

The poor Palestinians pay a terrible price for crimes against the Jews with which they had absolutely nothing to do. The self-righteous United States is only too happy to see them paying it. After all, the greatest opportunity there was to avoid the Holocaust was for the United States to open its doors, which it adamantly refused to do for even a single boatload of Jewish refugees in the 1930s.

Well, where someone else is paying the freight, America loves assuming idealistic poses, making gestures and speeches about peace and rights and all good things human. Indeed, over decades of American posturing and blubbering, conditions in the occupied territories have become worse in many ways: more than a quarter million Israeli “settlers” now live on what can only be honestly described as stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank, and a giant wall, far more massive and foreboding than the infamous wall that once separated East and West Berlin, sits on still more Palestinian land, separating families and destroying their commerce and livelihoods.

Almost certainly over time, Israel’s wall will generate a considerable dead zone even further into the West Bank, ready at some point in the future to be “re-claimed” by more settlers. It’s worth noting that the Palestinians today control just over twenty percent of Palestine, a territory that once was entirely theirs and that according to maps drawn in the international diplomacy that pre-dated modern Israel was to be divided equitably between Jews and Arabs.

Many Jews, perhaps most, subscribe to the notion that they have an ancient claim to Israel because of the Bible stories, an argument pretty much comparable to Greece making claims on the coast of Turkey because ancient Greece won the Trojan War as recorded in the Iliad and the Odyssey. This of course totally ignores history, and the many conquests of ancient Israel, a land Jews occupied only a small fraction of the time they did not over the last twenty-five hundred years or so. Moreover, if you take such an argument literally, then the land of Israel actually belongs to descendents of the ancient people, Canaanites and Philistines, of the Bible stories, whoever they may be. I suppose the Egyptians have a claim, too, since Egypt controlled some the area as part of its empire a very long time ago. Then, too, there’s the potential claim of the ancient Phoenicians whose alphabet we still use. Clearly, this kind of claim reduces to silly stuff, but it has emotional power for Jews and for Christians raised on Old Testament stories.

Well, every people is entitled to national myths, and the rest of us do not have to regard seriously the claim that George Washington never told a lie or that Rome was founded by babes raised by a she-wolf. The trouble with this particular Israeli myth is the dangerous modern extension to which it leads. Conservative Israelis and virtually every leader since the state’s foundation in fact believe they are entitled to what they regard as all of ancient Israel, something that includes the West Bank and Gaza and indeed the Southern part of modern Lebanon and a bit of Syria. Of course, there are no maps of ancient Israel on papyrus preserved in clay containers, only modern creations based either closely or loosely on Biblical scholarship, but in any event as dependable as all efforts based on scraps of ancient text which itself is full of myths and exaggerations.

I believe that dedication to the dream of ancient Israel, what is often called Greater Israel, has been the major barrier to peace since the modern founding. That is not a widely accepted proposition, but there are many reasons to regard it as a true one. Disinformation and black operations of many kinds have left the general public, at least in America, with the idea that Israel was content with its borders and that it was only the fury of “irrational” Arabs that preventing Israel’s living in peace. The truth is that virtually all Arab leaders accept the existence of Israel, have no intention of trying to destroy Israel, and, anyway, do not have the means for doing so. They would however like very much to see some justice, as would millions of others.

The example of the Six Day War is perhaps the most revealing of many instances of disinformation and black operations. We have the views of many astute contemporary observers four decades ago, including one of the world statesmen of the time, President de Gaulle of France, that Israel manipulated conditions for that war, using Arab anger over a long series of provocations to get the war it wanted, knowing well that it could win and that ultimately, in any event, its security was guaranteed by the United States. This operation was a complete success, leaving Israel with real estate it desired and leaving the world’s general public with the psychologically important (false) impression of little David standing up to the Philistines. Who doesn’t admire the gritty little guy standing up for his rights?

Forty years later, Israel still holds most of these conquests, treating the inhabitants shamefully, as badly as ever apartheid South Africa treated the people it did not want, and Israel continues to launch attacks or provocations over other areas of Greater Israel, southern Lebanon and Syria, while gradually bricking over the West Bank. It gave Egypt back the Sinai because world pressure was overwhelming after Sadat’s stunning act of statesmanship in coming to Israel. The pressure was reflected in sharing the Nobel Peace Prize earned by Sadat with an Israeli Prime Minister who was an unapologetic old terrorist associated with the Irgun (a group responsible for, among other terrors, the King David Hotel bombing, 1946, and the Deir Yassin massacre, 1948) and an ardent supporter of Greater Israel to his death, something he repeatedly reminded President Carter of at Camp David. The Sinai is not one of the world’s hottest pieces of real estate and in return for giving it up, Israel gained peace with the only Arab country capable of being a serious threat. Moreover, the United States opened its check book to cement the peace with economic assistance to Egypt now second only to the huge amount given to Israel, and Israel received several billion dollars to relocate defences in the Sinai. An equivalent set of conditions does not apply to any of the other occupied territories.

When Israel announces a “freeze” in West Bank settlements, as it routinely feels obliged to declare for a conference such as Annapolis, it does not mean a halt to road and other construction projects already underway in the last batch of property seized from others, and it does not even mean enforcement against liebensraum-crazed settlers who always charge out with their submachine guns to grab someone else’s olive grove and start some new informal settlements with beat-up trailers, flags, and razor wire.

It is ironic that the United States seems so little concerned about the settlers, matters around ownership and property in other lands always assuming overwhelming importance in American foreign policy. Wars have been fought over it. The long dirty terror war against Castro started over just such issues. The only explanation for the vast slaughter in Vietnam was that people’s choosing the wrong economic system, the leaders in America’s rump-state ally being dictators as surely as those in the North. This behavior by Israelis is as lawless as any fleecing of foreign investors in Moscow by the Russian mafia or the uncompensated nationalization of American corporate assets in what were once commonly called banana republics, this last being the cause of a whole series of secret, violent interventions by America.

The problems involved now with returning to the Green Line, as U.N. resolutions and the needs of genuine peace require, seem almost insurmountable. How do you move more than a quarter of a million people in any reasonable time? And if the people refuse to be moved, as is very much likely to be the case with many on the West Bank? The Israeli Army recently had a difficult time with a relatively small number of settlers who lived in a hopeless colony behind razor wire in Gaza. One can only imagine what a comparable change in the West Bank would involve.

I should observe here that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza is best understood as a tactic, the West Bank being a place of far greater immediate interest. Gaza has been called a giant open prison, and that description is not far from the truth. Its 139 square miles are jammed with about 1.4 million people, more than ten times the population density of Israel, and it enjoys no access by land, sea, or air without Israeli permission. No one can regard it as having any potential as an independent, viable state. The ultimate fate of Gaza in Israeli government thinking may be either to remain as an isolated, undefined entity, providing a pool of cheap labor as required, or a place to be made so uncomfortable over time that most of its people flee.

The idea of causing people to flee from a hopeless situation is an old one in Israel. We have statements going back to the late Moshe Dayan in his prime to that effect concerning the territories. As to cheap labor, the simple demographic fact is that Palestinians have birth rates comparable to certain other poor areas of the world such as West Africa. This maintains a young and growing population. Israel’s birth rates, except for the ultra-orthodox minority, compare to those in other advanced states whose populations have passed through demographic transition. No advanced Western society can replace its own population through natural increase, and that is why migration is beginning to be important in lands where once it played a small role. Gaza’s gates over the decades have been opened or closed many times to the many workers in Gaza employed in Israel according to changes in the political and security environment.

Many Israelis, not just settlers, do not want to return land recently taken from Palestinians. There is actually a wide spectrum of opinion in Israel on this matter, running from those who never want to give anything back to Arabs to those willing to return to the Green Line. Polls show this last group is not dominant and that most Israelis believe in holding onto at least some of the territories. A vision of some form of Greater Israel still holds sway over much of public opinion.

And the difficulties associated with a return to the Green Line are only heaped up with other insurmountable problems such as the right of return of Palestinian refugees early Israel terrorized into running away. United Nations’ principles supposedly assure the right of return of any people cast out in this fashion, but Israel is never going to agree with this principle because its democracy is based on an assured overwhelming Jewish majority in perpetuity.

During the same decades of adverse change in the Middle East, conditions also have changed within the United States. They have changed in several ways. First, America has become, unabashedly, an imperialist power. For many decades there was a kind of Jeffersonian fig leaf over the rise of America’s empire, which ironically began with Jefferson himself. It was always advertised as a bastion of liberty, a place of refuge, a society that embraced human rights – all arising from the revolt of a young, scrappy people against the world’s last great imperial power. But since World War II, and increasingly since the fall of the Soviet Union, Americans have started saying there’s nothing wrong with being an empire and using military muscle where they see fit. Some of the boldest words around this changing attitude, attempting to palatably market what was once considered unpalatable, come from the neo-cons who have enjoyed such great influence under the weak and ineffectual Bush. They call openly for America to assume the imperial purple of Rome on a planetary scale. You have the military power, America, use it. To hell with what the other ninety-five percent of humanity thinks or fears.

Central to the neo-con effort is a drive to make Israel what they consider more secure, the most noted neo-cons being rather intense defenders of Israel’s excesses. This security need, of course, was the major impetus behind the invasion of Iraq. It was also the impetus behind America’s support for Israel’s bloody attack on Lebanon. And it is the impetus behind all the noisy threats against Iran.

Israel is discussed by the neo-cons in terms of democracy and enlightenment in the Middle East, ignoring the fact that Israel limits its population by religious identity, which really is not quite what most of us mean by democracy. And with regard to human rights and enlightenment, holding millions in seemingly perpetual bondage is a very odd interpretation. Few Americans know that there is no such thing as a Bill or Charter of Rights in Israel. Such a document would require a great feat of imagination when your population is defined by religious identity and you hold others in bondage. While about 19% of Israel’s population is Arab, that fact alone is a source of constant unease in Israel. These people are descendents of those who refused to flee under the violence of Israel’s creation, and today in many respects they are not treated as equal citizens.

Israel has become an important component in what neo-cons see as the American Empire. It sometimes serves as a proxy actor for American interests in the region, an imperial pied-à-terre, it has been armed and equipped to resemble a miniature geo-political replica of the United States, and, perhaps most importantly, Israel has a set of ruthless policies the neo-cons would very much like the United States to adopt almost in their entirety. Under Bush, this last has come near to becoming reality.

No national American politician today speaks in anything but exquisite political correctness about the Middle East – unless he or she is talking about Iraq or Iran or Syria, in which case threats of bombs and hellfire are always deemed appropriate – never forgetting to lavishly praise Israel for its long search for peace, even when the search involves mass slaughter in Lebanon with cluster bombs or the cold-blooded murder of UN observers. Indeed, politicians of either political party today literally run a gauntlet of American Jewish organizations, attending rubber-chicken dinners wearing de rigueur yarmulkes, making pledges for Israel more solemn-sounding than anything they make about any other part of the planet.

You’d think it was a service club environment during the Cold War, and the pledges concerned the unspeakable horrors of communism, but it’s not the Cold War, and the Palestinians are not enemies, just victims fighting back with largely ineffectual means. What’s more, Israel – as it has proved so many times with its extensive and damaging spying, dirty tricks and black operations, secret projects such as those for developing nuclear weapons or assisting South Africa to do so, high-handed turns in policy, and misuse of American-supplied armaments in violation of signed agreements – is often not even a particularly good friend to the United States.

Now, American politicians do not make pledges of undying devotion out of sheer emotionalism. Emotions for American politicians generally are things only to be manipulated for effect. So why the pledges? The most important reason concerns the structure of American national politics. Lobbying is a central part of how Americans are governed, almost resembling a fourth branch of government. In addition, American politics are totally driven by money, much the way national consumer products are pushed into existence by expensive marketing and advertising campaigns. Effective advertising has been proved a profitable technique in selling products and in selling politicians. Money is literally the oxygen of American political life. Special interests supply most of this political oxygen. The better lobbyists have learned how to market their support and to lever their resources for the greatest possible effect. They use their resources to help their supporters and to hurt those who oppose them.

Every thinking American knows Israel’s lobby is today a very powerful force in American politics, no matter the endless name-calling against such a non-inflammatory and thoughtful book as Mearsheimer and Walt which only documents what people already know anecdotally. Indeed, the very size and noise of the opposition raised against that calm, scholarly, rather dull book are measures of its accuracy.

The Israeli lobby has a conventional formal face in AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee), but it consists of much more than just that organization which follows along the similar lines and is subject to the same rules as hundreds of lobbies in Washington. The whole Israeli lobby involves many organizations working towards the same general goals and includes a large number of columnists and broadcasters who periodically focus on certain issues almost resembling a flock of birds landing on the same roof.

The cooperation between these group and individuals is largely informal, greatly resembling the loose structure that exists between the White House and the mainline media in the United States around foreign policy. Yes, America has freedom of the press, but that does not mean that those who actually own a press will pursue the broader public interest. It is demonstrable that they often do not. The New York Times or ABC do not call to ask the White House what they should or should not print or broadcast about Iraq or many other matters: they generally know from long association and common interests. These business organizations – and that is just what newspapers and broadcasters are, business organizations, not idealistic organizations dedicated to truth – want to keep their government sources, and they want to keep their advertisers, and they want generally to keep their credibility with establishment interests.

Israel’s total aggregate lobby has a shared informal understanding of, and intense emotional involvement with, the “King’s great matter” as Cardinal Wolsey described Henry VIII’s need for a divorce. The great matter in this case is a shared perception of Israel’s constant need for winning and appearing positive in all things from public relations to war.

One of Israel’s great supporters today in America is the Religious Right, people who are the very ones you might reasonably suspect of anti-Semitism – the authentic, virulent stuff, not the stuff of phoney accusations now routinely hurled at any critic of Israel. After all, haters are haters, and these people have leaders who rant and scream in public against anything or anyone a little different than themselves. They have a long record of being on the wrong side of nearly every important movement from civil rights to women’s rights. An earlier generation of them was among the extremely vocal against accepting Jewish refugees in the 1930s, and they were among those who flirted with Hitler and Nazism in now near-forgotten movements like the American Bund.

Perhaps nothing better represents some of the bizarre confusion associated with American policy towards Israel than the support of these people. I think we all know they are not the kind of people who would welcome a large Jewish migration to the United States even today. Their support of Israel is part of a religious mysticism in thrall to lurid nightmares from The Book of Revelations concerning the Second Coming of Christ, Anti-Christ, the “mark of the beast,” and great wars and upheavals signifying the end of time. I suspect enjoyment of this violent stew has at least something to do in part with secret cravings of anti-Semitic appetites, hardly the kind of friends for which anyone could hope. Their approach today seems to be to expedite the coming of Armageddon.

We have a great and enduring irony in that only when America pushes does Israel respond. It is an irony because the difficulty of pushing increases with the influence of the Israeli lobby, which today is almost certainly larger and better established than ever. Judging by the last half century of history, one has to say that Israel on its own has never shown much statesmanship or generosity towards its neighbors in the Middle East. Visions of Greater Israel are a large part of the explanation. The great gestures have come from others. Israel’s policy from the beginning has been best characterized by the phrase “the iron wall,” an expression coined by an early Zionist to prescribe Israel’s appropriate future posture towards Arabs.

Reports told us weeks before Annapolis that Bush had been told – by, among others, Senator Lieberman, someone who talks about Israel as though he were speaking of a neighbourhood in his Senate district – that Olmert must not be pushed at this time. His political situation is too precarious. That alone doomed any hope of genuine progress. As it proved, the conference was nothing more than a kick-off ceremony for talks that are supposed to take place over the next year between Olmert and Abbas. One hesitates to point out that were there any genuine interest in such talks, they could have occurred, without Condoleezza and without Annapolis, at any time since Arafat’s death in 2004, but Abbas has been pretty consistently ignored over that time by Israel, treated as a doorman or janitor. He has received some token gestures – a limited amount of the Palestinians own funds released and a few hundred prisoners here and there out of the nine thousand Israel illegally held – only after his convulsions with Hamas in Gaza.

Speaking of Hamas, the absence of one of the major parties to the conflict absolutely dooms the prospects of talks. Israel justifies this by saying it won’t treat with terrorists, but this is ridiculous considering the role terror played in Israel’s own founding. Judging by the number of innocent civilians killed just in recent years, I think it fair to say that the IDF qualifies as at least as great a terrorist organization as any Palestinian group or party. Something like 1,500 civilians killed with little excuse in southern Lebanon? Buildings full of civilians in Gaza blown up in efforts to assassinate one man? Punishment-slaughter expeditions like Jenin or Rafah?

Regardless, to make peace you do not have to like your neighbor. Hamas has made it clear it was ready to reach an understanding with Israel, but all such suggestions are arrogantly ignored. Such an understanding over time would have allowed Israeli and Palestinian officials to work together to solve problems. A great irony here is that Israeli secret services once subsidized Hamas to create competition for Fatah, and that is exactly what has happened now, a wasteful civil conflict has been generated between Hamas and Fatah. One feels sure Israeli leaders are more than a little amused in private at a situation they always regard with stern faces in public. Hamas is not and has never been a genuine threat to Israel’s security. The truth is that Hamas might have made a better partner in peace arrangements than Fatah with its long history of internal corruption. Of course, too, Hamas was elected in an election cleaner than that which put George Bush into office.

But you have to start by actually wanting peace. Peace is not having a neighbor who follows your every wish and whim and fulfills exactly the conditions you lay down before even talking. That isn’t peace, that’s tyranny.

Peace, following long conflict, never comes without sacrifice, but many Israeli leaders and American apologists for Israel speak as though that were not the case here. The offer Ehud Barak made to Arafat at Camp David – the offer of a perpetual Bantustan with all kinds of segregationist rules about who could travel on what road – entailed little sacrifice for Israel, unless you want to call simply accepting the idea that any Palestinians should continue to live in the West Bank and Gaza a sacrifice. And perhaps that is not an exaggeration. New settlements have been created year after year since, Israel calling the settlements “facts on the ground,” a deliberately vague phrase that could mean anything from bargaining chips to the new permanent reality. To the outside observer, it is difficult to see this growth of settlements as anything but a slow-motion version of ethnic cleansing on the relatively small part of Palestine Israel does not now call its own.

From the distance of a satellite in orbit, the settlements’ growth must somewhat resemble cancer metastasizing into a body as new clumps of buildings appear and roads and barriers form like connective webs of tissue. It is a dismal reality, and it has nothing to do with peace.

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.

CARTOONS AND BOMBS

John Chuckman

I wonder, are waves of angry protest, flag burning, and embassy burning in the name of religion any less rational than waves of B-52s, cluster bombs, and torture in the name of democracy?

So when I hear any American official speak about the worldwide protests against unflattering cartoons of Islam’s Prophet, it is difficult to credit the words, but surprisingly there is one statement by an American – someone who ranks third only after George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld for total number of career lies – that I do credit.

Days ago, Condoleezza Rice – Secretary of State, fundamentalist Christian, and apologist for torture and bombing – told the world that Iran and Syria were stoking the fires of these protests. At first pass, this sounds like the days when Moscow was held responsible for every change of weather in Peoria.

But for once, I think Condoleezza may be right, but her words mean something different than she intends.

Israel’s Sharon, now sidelined by a lifetime’s accumulation of blood on the brain, has advocated American military action against these states since the invasion of Iraq, and there have been many threatening, blustering statements from Washington, at one point coming up with the silly idea that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had been shipped surreptitiously to Syria. Syria has been the recipient of threats, shootings by Americans along its border, and illegal buzzing by Israeli jets.

From Iran’s point of view, the U.S. has been on a violent tear in Iran’s own neighborhood, and America’s closest partner in the region, Israel, is an open advocate of war. So there are powerful and legitimate reasons why Iran and Syria might be stoking the demonstrations – simply trying to avoid being attacked. America is definitely building a big head of steam towards Iran, but it is too ferociously engaged in Iraq and too weighed down with resulting economic problems to consider another invasion. Sanctions, bombing, missile attacks, and black ops are all undoubtedly being planned.

What better way to discourage American war plans than to encourage the naturally-occurring fury over the cartoons? The intended message is: if cartoons can cause this, just consider what attacking yet another Muslim country will do.

And this is a true message. The U.S. has achieved nothing in Iraq but releasing chaos and destruction. Indeed, Iraq has become something it never was before, a massive training ground for guerilla and terrorist forces of every kind.

As for publishing cartoons that ridicule religious figures, anyone in a modern country has that right, but is it a sensible one to exercise? I have written satirical pieces on America’s religious right, but only because that group twists religion to serve a narrow and dangerous politics. There is no purpose in satirizing those who lead quiet religious lives, the case for the overwhelming majority of the world’s billion Muslims, or in satirizing a figure such as Jesus.

These cartoons reflect prejudiced Western attitudes because they ridicule Islam’s Prophet rather than any misguided or dishonest follower. It is the same reason they make so many so angry.

More humility over the religion of others is definitely in order for Western countries, considering their own horrifically bloody pasts. In poorer lands, a number of Muslims live at a stage of development that prevailed in Europe not so long ago. It was only a few hundred years ago that Catherine de Medici started the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France, ending with the murder of perhaps 20,000 innocent people in a few days. In thanks for the deaths of Protestants, the Pope in Rome issued a gold medal commemorating what he regarded as heroic service to God and offered many special masses.

THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE

John Chuckman

I read something recently about America’s Middle East initiative, the “road map,” offering Bush the chance for greatness. Verbal excess like that demands a realistic discussion of the prospects.

When Britain achieved a breakthrough for peace in Northern Ireland, it did not do so by telling the IRA that its representatives were terrorists, unacceptable to negotiate. It had not surrounded the houses of IRA leaders with tanks, blasting away until ruins remained. It did not forbid IRA leaders from attending church or travelling. Yet this is the way – along with a daily toll of reprisal killings and assassinations – Mr. Sharon prepares for peace.

For many reasons, I can only be pessimistic about the “road map.” Sharon’s immediate instinct was to reject and belittle it. Under pressure from Washington to reverse himself, he only did so with a list of qualifiers long enough to make it a different document than the one Palestinians accepted.

The fact that Mr. Sharon used, just once, the honest word occupation, normally forbidden in the Cloud-cuckoo-land of Israeli politics, and offered to trash a couple of clumps of abandoned, beaten-up trailers where the most-crazed settlers play cowboys-and-Indians with assault rifles do seem less than signs of great events to come.

Consider some of the constraints around this initiative. First, it is sponsored by a President who has just launched the United States into two meaningless, destructive wars. American forces, resources, and diplomacy now face huge, complex, and long-term obligations in Afghanistan and Iraq that did not exist a short time ago. Bush has, at the same time, threatened Iran, Syria, and North Korea, and, at least in the case of North Korea, a serious conflict may well be coming.

Second, this President’s policies have not ended terrorism, nor do I believe they ever can, which means American concerns and resources will be stretched even further. The President’s policies since 9/11 have been exactly those followed by Israel for fifty years, striking out against someone, almost anyone, wearing the right kind of headdress. Has fifty years of that solved Israel’s problems? If anything, it has only created new and desperate enemies, like the hopeless young people willing to blow themselves up to strike a blow.

Third, the plan is in the hands of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has proved ineffective at almost everything undertaken, a judgement from one who once admired him. More importantly, Powell’s stature among Bush’s intimates is so low that you suspect they have secretly uncovered he is a distant relative of Bill Clinton, the political anti-Christ of neocon America.

Bush appointed Powell to reassure the world that America had not fallen to a coup of drawling closet-fascists, but the appointment has not proved especially helpful. The insane, arrogant intensity of Bush’s inner cabinet – including Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ashcroft – does mean that any civilized foreigner with something important to say to the United States might rather face Powell, but he or she will be addressing an exalted messenger with little influence.

Powell works hard trying to overcome the zealots’ distrust, as with his recent rants and threats about everything from French ingratitude and delusions of yet finding strategic weapons in Iraq to warning Mr. Arafat about blocking the “road map.” He’s even gone back in time to the 1960s by attacking the neocons’ second-most hated figure after Bill Clinton, Fidel Castro. All this only has him clumsily climbing trees, sawing off unwanted limbs that block the Oval Office view, while the viciously dysfunctional family that hired him gazes through the windows gleefully awaiting his plunge to earth.

But perhaps the most important reason for bleakness over the “road map” is the man who is not at the discussions.

Yasser Arafat is now treated as the source of all evil in the Middle East. He is for Sharon the Middle East’s equivalent of what Bill Clinton is for America’s neocons, although in Israel the nasty game is played with real blood, and likely only Arafat’s world-stature and connections have saved him from Sharon’s assassins.

Arafat doesn’t speak English well, making it easy to give him a bad press in America, and he is indeed given a bad press. Few Americans even know that Arafat has a better analytical brain than their current President. He is a civil engineer and comes from a family that includes a remarkable brother who is a pediatrician and the founder of many medical institutions – not exactly the kind of hot-tempered, inarticulate tribal chief he is so often portrayed in America.

As with almost anyone raised to authority in his part of the world, his experience with democracy is limited to being on the receiving end of what nations boasting of democratic values – America, Britain and Israel – dish out abroad but wouldn’t dream of doing at home.

Since democracy naturally flows from a healthy, growing society, it should come as no surprise that Arafat’s democratic values are less than perfect. One form or another of authoritarianism is the way all the world’s people have been governed before experiencing the revolution of economic growth. It is the way most of the world’s people are governed still. Does that preclude us from having negotiations, treaties, and agreements with the governments of most of the world’s people?

I do not think there is the slightest question that Arafat sincerely wants peace, although the peace he wants includes the long-term interests of all parties with the injustices and grievances attending the birth of modern Israel having been reasonably settled. This runs up against the Sharon concept of peace which means absolute, unconditional security for Israel while giving little more than words to those who insist on running around in keffiahs and kaftans. One suspects Sharon’s idea of a concession is to have his tanks roll back from the center to the edge of a village recently flattened.

Of course, all of human history and the especially the discoveries of modern physics demonstrate that there are no absolute certainties in this world. Einstein, troubled about quantum mechanics, said God didn’t play with dice, but we now know he was wrong about that. Israel’s insistence on impossible absolutes always prevents genuine progress – that is, the kind of practical progress that characterizes normal human relationships and decent relations among nations.

Short of driving the Palestinians, like three-and-a-half million head of cattle, across the Jordan river – an idea which finds considerable support in Israel and in America’s loony Bible-belt – Sharon’s vision of peace appears to consign Palestinians perpetually to walled ghettos, dotted with settlements of armed, hostile fanatics and crisscrossed with no-go roads. That is a fairly accurate summary of Barak’s Camp David proposal for a Palestinian state, and nothing since has happened to increase Israel’s inclination to be large or statesmanlike – rather, quite the opposite.

Arafat correctly rejected Barak’s degrading concept of a nation, feeling humiliated after so many years of effort and so many compromises before and after the Oslo Accords. Accepting such an offer would only have seen Palestinians assassinate him and likely tipped them into civil war, hardly contributions to Israeli security. Indeed, once the insanity of civil war takes hold anywhere, normal restraints and humanity are pitched aside in a frenzy of killing and vengeance.

The second Intifadah can be understood both as a natural human reaction to decades of oppression and as an escape-valve for immense internal pressures. Israel blindly insists on seeing only terrorism.

American commentators like Thomas Friedman embroider the theme of Palestinian unreasonableness by asking why Palestinians have not followed the teachings of Gandhi and Dr. King to achieve their goals. I do not know whether this is asked from naivete or utter cynicism, but the answer is simple: the structures of these abusive situations are entirely different.

Israel, on short notice, can close Palestine completely down and has done so briefly many times. Israel simply imports guest workers or new migrants for the many daily tasks done by Palestinians. Neither Imperial India nor Bull Connor’s South could do this. Also, the afflicted people of Gandhi and King lived in many locations and were actually the large majority in many or most places. Further, Palestinians have no citizenship and no rights and no standing before Israeli courts. Even citizens of Israel have no defined rights. A nation defined by ethnic/religious identity makes a meaningful bill or charter of rights something of a logical puzzle, a puzzle Israel has not solved in over fifty years.

The possibility of bloody civil war among the Palestinians, brought on by the steps of the “road map” itself is not to be treated lightly, because the steps of every American initiative always demand concessions disproportionately from the weak side. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has only restated the obvious in refusing a harsh crack-down on militants for fear of civil war, something Arafat has understood for decades and that has always informed his resistance to Israel’s harsh, absolute demands.

Arafat has spent his adult life trying to get a reasonable settlement for the Palestinians. He has made mistakes, plenty of them, but the truth is that none of them proved as bloody and destructive as, for instance, Mr. Sharon’s brutal invasion of Lebanon. Yet, Mr. Sharon’s career of blunders and bloodshed seems not to have disqualified him as spokesman for his people. Indeed, he does more than this, he now determines who is a fitting representative for the Palestinians.

Excluding Arafat may look attractive from the limited vantage points of Israel’s volatile politics and Bush’s born-again crowd, but to an independent observer, it looks hopeless.

Israelis may be the victims of their own propaganda about Arafat the terrorist, believing that his replacement in talks can genuinely change the dynamics of the situation. How easily Israelis forget that several of their prime ministers had extensive service as terrorists on their resumes.

The achievement of peace requires genuine risks and brutally hard work from all parties, but Israel demonstrates no willingness to assume the kind of risks that ended Apartheid in South Africa and has come close to ending the sectarian violence of Northern Ireland, and Bush is someone who has never worked hard at anything in his life. The existing human and political mess in the Middle East is frozen in place by the immense protection and subsidies of the United States, and so we come full circle to the nature of the people in the present American government and the terrible new obligations they have thoughtlessly assumed. Then we have Bush’s intimate relationship with America’s delusional Religious Right whose leaders daily rant against a Palestinian state and cheerfully anticipate the promise of Armageddon from the jumbled nightmares of the Book of Revelations.

Hopes for greatness? I think not.