The West & Gulf Couldn’t Sway These Lebanese Elections

Western media got interested in this month’s Lebanese election hoping “their” candidates would win. It became a different story when Hizbullah gained the most, explains As’ad AbuKhalil.

By As`ad AbuKhalil  Special to Consortium News

The recent Lebanese parliamentary election generated a lot of publicity in Western media. To be sure, free elections are rare in the Middle East, and Western media get excited over the prospects of success for what they dub as “pro-Western” candidates or coalitions anywhere. Also because foes of Israel and the U.S. were in the running, Western media become automatically invested in the outcome. This time, Western media decided that Hizbullah won “a majority of seats” in the election—as the headline of The Financial Times had it. The results were certainly a blow to Western and Gulf regimes who invest—politically and financially–heavily in Lebanese elections.

We can’t really talk about free elections in the Middle East—or anywhere else in the developing world for that matter. Not because people there don’t want them but essentially because Western governments and Gulf regimes won’t allow it. To be fair, the U.S. is clearly in favor of free elections, but only when the results guarantee a victory for its puppets. Thus, when Hamas won the legislative elections of 2006 (which the U.S. had been insisting on), the U.S. not only refused to recognize the free expressions of the Palestinian people but the U.S. worked on a covert operation to undermine the results and to overthrow Hamas in Gaza.

Historically, the U.S. (among other outside parties, chiefly Gulf regimes) intervened heavily in Lebanese elections through the provision of cash payments to its favored right-wing, anti-communist candidates. For instance, the 1947 election lives on as one of the most corrupt in Lebanese history, and former CIA agent, Wilbur Eveland, wrote about his adventures of driving to the residence of then president, Kamil Sham`un, with a load of cash to ensure that the right-candidates win. But the cash wasn’t really necessary because Sham`un forged the election anyway and arranged for the defeat of his opponents.

In 1968, the U.S. was most likely behind the rise of the far-right coalition of “the tripartite alliance,” which included the Phalanges, who swept through the election and, in few years, would—with U.S. help—trigger the Lebanese civil war. (New U.S. archival materials show the extremely close relations between those parties and U.S. and Israel).

But the U.S. and Saudi Arabia surpassed all previous foreign intervention in Lebanon in the 2009 election, when they threw close to a $1 billion to sway the vote on the side of the March 14 coalition, which included the Muslim Brotherhood and right-wing groups—all dubbed “pro-Western” by U.S. media. The victor was arranged although the election was very close: no one side was able to rule without veto power by the other side.

In this election, the Saudis didn’t spend as much as previously probably because they thought it wouldn’t much difference since a new electoral system had changed the rules. But Western and Gulf governments convened a special economic conference in Paris to prop up the leadership of Sa`d Hariri, who claimed in the wake of the conference that he would be create no less than 900,000 jobs.

Elections in ‘Democracies’

Elections in democratic political systems are merely some of the people selecting representatives who speak on behalf of “all the people.” The propaganda about the virtue of elections is highly exaggerated in order to provide the political system with much more political legitimacy than warranted.

In the U.S., there is still a clear agenda to suppress wide political participation. The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world which holds the vote on a working day—and in the winter where much of the East coast is buried under rain and snow. Furthermore, the U.S. requires voter registration, when most democracies don’t. The low voter turnout in the U.S. is by design, and not by default. If the U.S. were to adopt a proportional representation system—which both parties won’t allow because they enjoy holding the exclusive monopoly over political representation—voter turnout would increase. Most world democracies have—at least partially or at some level—adopted proportional representation.

The leftist coalition during the Lebanese civil war years, the Lebanese National Movement, proposed political reforms in 1975. They included—among other things—the adoption of proportional representation at the national level, with Lebanon designated as one electoral district. The political class rejected that because they preferred the single-member district (at a small local level) since it facilitates the utilization of cash in swaying voters. Also, Lebanese national proportional representation wouldn’t fit well with regional sectarian leaderships.

The May 6 Lebanese election took place nine years after the previous one. Regional conflicts and Lebanese internal turmoil gave sectarian leaders the excuse to postpone the elections repeatedly. Sectarian leaders also had a hard time agreeing on a new electoral law. But the election of Gen. Michel Awn to the presidency in 2016 expedited the process of finally holding a ballot. His parliamentary bloc had been vociferous in calling for new elections. After long months of acrimonious negotiations, the sectarian leaders agreed on a new electoral law.

Hizbullah and the progressives in Lebanon called for a proportional representation system, while Hariri and his allies fought against it. Hizbullah was willing to risk losing a few seats in return for the election of some of its allies from different sects, while Hariri knew that his broad coalition in parliament would lose substantially because most of his Christian MPs were elected in specially-designed districts where the majority Muslims vote for Christian and Muslim MPs.

The design of electoral districts is not a simple matter in Lebanon because the system has to balance different political interests with a sectarian arithmetic formulae (which is incorporated into the political system of the country). For example, the top posts of government (presidency, speakership, and prime ministership) are distributed among Maronites, Shi`ites, and Sunnis respectively.

Elections to the 128-seat Lebanese parliament must split seats evenly between Christians and Muslims though Muslims surpassed Christians demographically long before the 1975 civil war. It is estimated that Christians are now no more than a third of the population. There is a quota for Christians in the Lebanese parliament that keeps up the pretense that they are half the population no matter how different the demographic reality. In fact, the Lebanese state refuses to conduct a census for fear of upsetting Christians. The last census was conducted in 1932.

So Lebanese leaders agreed on a new electoral law that would mix the proportional representation system with the single-member district. They arrived at a law which divided Lebanese governorates as electoral districts but then gave the voter the choice to rank one candidate on the electoral list as his/her “favored” candidate, which basically prioritized sectarian preferences of voters. The whole purpose of proportional representation was defeated.

The law was quite complicated and the low voter turnout (around 49 %, less than the 2009 election) seems to confirm that many voters and even Interior Ministry experts did not fully understand the rules. The low turnout can also be explained by the low level of enthusiasm among voters and the diminished sense of expectations for change. Furthermore, sectarian leaders in Lebanon suppress the vote by not allowing 18-year-olds to vote. If they did it’s estimated that it would substantially increase the Muslim voters—especially Shi`ites.

Part Two will look closely at the election’s winners and losers and what it means.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Lebanon (1998), Bin Laden, Islam & America’s New ‘War on Terrorism’ (2002), and The Battle for Saudi Arabia (2004). He also runs the popular blog The Angry Arab News Service. 




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Spooks Spooking Themselves

As the role of a well-connected group of British and U.S. intelligence agents begins to emerge, new suspicions are growing about what hand they may have had in weaving the Russia-gate story, as Daniel Lazare explains.

By Daniel Lazare Special to Consortium News

With the news that a Cambridge academic-cum-spy named Stefan Halper infiltrated the Trump campaign, the role of the intelligence agencies in shaping the great Russiagate saga is at last coming into focus.  

It’s looking more and more massive.  The intelligence agencies initiated reports that Donald Trump was colluding with Russia, they nurtured them and helped them grow, and then they spread the word to the press and key government officials.  Reportedly, they even tried to use these reports to force Trump to step down prior to his inauguration.  Although the corporate press accuses Trump of conspiring with Russia to stop Hillary Clinton, the reverse now seems to be the case: the Obama administration intelligence agencies worked with Clinton to block “Siberian candidate” Trump.  

The template was provided by ex-MI6 Director Richard DearloveHalper’s friend and business partner.  Sitting in winged chairs in London’s venerable Garrick Club, according toThe Washington Post, Dearlove told fellow MI6 veteran Christopher Steele, author of the famous “golden showers” opposition research dossier, that Trump “reminded him of a predicament he had faced years earlier, when he was chief of station for British intelligence in Washington and alerted US authorities to British information that a vice presidential hopeful had once been in communication with the Kremlin.”

Apparently, one word from the Brits was enough to make the candidate in question step down.  When that didn’t work with Trump, Dearlove and his colleagues ratcheted up the pressure to make him see the light.  A major scandal was thus born – or, rather, a very questionable scandal.

Besides Dearlove, Steele, and Halper, a bon-vivant known as “The Walrus” for his impressive girth, other participants include:

  • Robert Hannigan, former director Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, UK equivalent of the NSA.
  • Alexander Downer, top Australian diplomat.
  • Andrew Wood, ex-British ambassador to Moscow.
  • Joseph Mifsud, Maltese academic.
  • James Clapper, ex-US Director of National Intelligence.
  • John Brennan, former CIA Director (and now NBC News analyst).

In-Bred

A few things stand out about this august group.  One is its in-bred quality.  After helping to run an annual confab known as the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, Dearlove and Halper are now partners in a private venture calling itself “The Cambridge Security Initiative.”  Both are connected to another London-based intelligence firm known as Hakluyt & Co. Halper is also connected via two books he wrote with Hakluyt representative Jonathan Clarke and Dearlove has a close personal friendship with Hakluyt founder Mike Reynolds, yet another MI6 vet.  Alexander Downer served a half-dozen years on Hakluyt’s international advisory board, while Andrew Wood is linked to Steele via Orbis Business Intelligence, the private research firm that Steele helped found, and which produced the anti-Trump dossier, and where Wood now serves as an unpaid advisor.

Everyone, in short, seems to know everyone else.  But another thing that stands out about this group is its incompetence.  Dearlove and Halper appear to be old-school paranoids for whom every Russian is a Boris Badenov or a Natasha Fatale.  In February 2014, Halper notified US intelligence that Mike Flynn, Trump’s future national security adviser, had grown overly chummy with an Anglo-Russian scholar named Svetlana Lokhova whom Halper suspected of being a spy – suspicions that Lokhova convincingly argues are absurd.

In December 2016, Halper and Dearlove both resigned from the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar because they suspected that a company footing some of the costs was tied up with Russian intelligence – suspicions that Christopher Andrew, former chairman of the Cambridge history department and the seminar’s founder, regards as “absurd” as well.

As head of Britain’s foreign Secret Intelligence Service, as MI6 is formally known, Dearlove played a major role in drumming up support for the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq even while confessing at a secret Downing Street meeting that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the [regime-change] policy.”  When the search for weapons of mass destruction turned up dry, Clapper, as then head of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, argued that the Iraqi military must have smuggled them into neighboring Syria, a charge with absolutely no basis in fact but which helped pave the way for US regime-change efforts in that country too. 

Brennan was meanwhile a high-level CIA official when the agency was fabricating evidence against Saddam Hussein and covering up Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11. Wood not only continues to defend the Iraqi invasion, but dismisses fears of a rising fascist tide in the Ukraine as nothing more than “a crude political insult” hurled by Vladimir Putin for his own political benefit. Such views now seem distressingly misguided in view of the alt-right torchlight parades and spiraling anti-Semitism that are now a regular feature of life in the Ukraine.

The result is a diplo-espionage gang that is very bad at the facts but very good at public manipulation – and which therefore decided to use its skill set out to create a public furor over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

It Started Late 2015

The effort began in late 2015 when GCHQ, along with intelligence agencies in Poland, Estonia, and Germany, began monitoring what they said were “suspicious ‘interactions’ between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents.”  

Since Trump was surging ahead in the polls and scaring the pants off the foreign-policy establishment by calling for a rapprochement with Moscow, the agencies figured that Russia was somehow behind it.  The pace accelerated in March 2016 when a 30-year-old policy consultant named George Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign as a foreign-policy adviser.  Traveling in Italy a week later, he ran into Mifsud, the London-based Maltese academic, who reportedly set about cultivating him after learning of his position with Trump. Mifsud claimed to have “substantial connections with Russian government officials,” according to prosecutors.  Over breakfast at a London hotel, he told Papadopoulos that he had just returned from Moscow where he had learned that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”

This was the remark that supposedly triggered an FBI investigation.  The New York Times describes Mifsud as “an enthusiastic promoter of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia” and “a regular at meetings of the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual conference held in Sochi, Russia, that Mr. Putin attends,” which tried to suggest that he is a Kremlin agent of some sort.  But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange later tweeted photos of Mifsud with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and a high-ranking British intelligence official named Claire Smith at a training session for Italian security agents in Rome.  Since it’s unlikely that British intelligence would rely on a Russian agent in such circumstances, Mifsud’s intelligence ties are more likely with the UK.

After Papadopoulos caused a minor political ruckus by telling a reporter that Prime Minister David Cameron should apologize for criticizing Trump’s anti-Muslim pronouncements, a friend in the Israeli embassy put him in touch with a friend in the Australian embassy, who introduced him to Downer, her boss.  Over drinks, Downer advised him to be more diplomatic.  After Papadopoulos then passed along Misfud’s tip about Clinton’s emails, Downer informed his government, which, in late July, informed the FBI.

Was Papadopoulos Set Up?  

Suspicions are unavoidable but evidence is lacking.  Other pieces were meanwhile clicking into place.  In late May or early June 2016, Fusion GPS, a private Washington intelligence firm employed by the Democratic National Committee, hired Steele to look into the Russian angle.  

On June 20, he turned in the first of eighteen memos that would eventually comprise the Steele dossier, in this instance a three-page document asserting that Putin “has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years” and that Russian intelligence possessed “kompromat” in the form of a video of prostitutes performing a “golden showers” show for his benefit at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton.  A week or two later, Steele briefed the FBI on his findings.  Around the same time, Robert Hannigan flew to Washington to brief CIA Director John Brennan about additional material that had come GCHQ’s way, material so sensitive that it could only be handled at “director level.”  

One player was filling Papadopoulos’s head with tales of Russian dirty tricks, another was telling the FBI, while a third was collecting more information and passing it on to the bureau as well.   

On July 7, 2016 Carter Page delivered a lecture on U.S.-Russian relations in Moscow in which he complained that “Washington and other western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption, and regime change.”  Washington hawks expressed “unease” that someone representing the presumptive Republican nominee would take Russia’s side in a growing neo-Cold War.

Stefan Halper then infiltratedthe Trump campaign on behalf of the FBI as an informant in early July, weeks before the FBI launched its investigation. Halper had 36 years earlier infiltrated the Carter re-election campaign in 1980 using CIA agents to turn information over to the Reagan campaign. Now Halper began to court both Page and Papadopoulous, independently of each other.

On July 11, Page showed up at a Cambridge symposium at which Halper and Dearlove both spoke. In early September, Halper sent Papadopoulos an email offering $3,000 and a paid trip to London to write a research paper on a disputed gas field in the eastern Mediterranean, his specialty. “George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?” Halper asked when he got there, but Papadopoulos said he knew nothing. Halper also sought out Sam Clovis, Trump’s national campaign co-chairman, with whom he chatted about China for an hour or so over coffee in Washington.  

The rightwing Federalist website speculates that Halper was working with Steele to flesh out a Sept. 14 memo claiming that “Russians do have further ‘kompromat’ on CLINTON (e-mails) and [are] considering disseminating it.”  Clovis believes that Halper was trying “to create an audit trail back to those [Clinton] emails from someone in the campaign … so they could develop a stronger case for probable cause to continue to issue warrants and to further an investigation.”  Reports that Halper apparently sought a permanent post in the new administration suggest that the effort was meant to continue after inauguration.

Notwithstanding Clovis’s nutty rightwing politics, his description of what Halper may have been up to makes sense as does his observation that Halper was trying “to build something that did not exist.”  Despite countless hyper-ventilating headlines about mysterious Trump Tower meetings and the like, the sad truth is that Russiagate after all these months is shaping up as even more of a “nothing-burger” than Obama administration veteran Van Jones said it was back in mid-2017.  Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has indicted Papadopoulos and others on procedural grounds, he has indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for corruption, and he has charged a St. Petersburg company known as the Internet Research Agency with violating US election laws.  

But the corruption charges have nothing to do with Russian collusion and nothing in the indictment against IRA indicates that either the Kremlin or the Trump campaign were involved.  Indeed, the activities that got IRA in trouble in the first place are so unimpressive – just $46,000 worth of Facebook ads that it purchased prior to election day, some pro-Trump, some anti, and some with no particular slant at all – that Mueller probably wouldn’t even have bothered if he hadn’t been under intense pressure to come up with anything at all.  

The same goes for the army of bots that Russia supposedly deployed on Twitter.  As The Washington Post noted in an oddly, cool-headed Dec. 2 article, 2,700 suspected Russian-linked accounts generated just 202,000 tweets in a six-year period ending in August 2017, a drop in a bucket compared to the one billion election-related tweets sent out during the fourteen months leading up to Election Day.

The Steele dossier is also underwhelming.  It declares on one page that the Kremlin sought to cultivate Trump by throwing “various lucrative real estate development business deals” his way but says on another that Trump’s efforts to drum up business were unavailing and that he thus “had to settle for the use of extensive sexual services there from local prostitutes rather than business success.”

Why would Trump turn down business offers when he couldn’t generate any on his own?  The idea that Putin would spot a U.S. reality-TV star somewhere around 2011 and conclude that he was destined for the Oval Office five years later is ludicrous.  The fact that the Democratic National Committee funded the dossier via its law firm Perkins Coie renders it less credible still, as does the fact that the world has heard nothing more about the alleged video despite the ongoing deterioration in US-Russian relations.  What’s the point of making a blackmail tape if you don’t use it?

Even Steele is backing off. In a legal paper filed in response to a libel suit last May, he said the document “did not represent (and did not purport to represent) verified facts, but were raw intelligence which had identified a range of allegations that warranted investigation given their potential national security implications.”   The fact is that the “dossier” was opposition research, not an intelligence report. It was neither vetted by Steele nor anyone in an intelligence agency. Opposition research is intended to mix truths and fiction, to dig up plausible dirt to throw at your opponent, not to produce an intelligence assessment at taxpayer’s expense to “protect” the country. And Steele was paid for it by the Democrats, not his government.

Using it Anyway

Nonetheless, the spooks have made the most of such pseudo-evidence. Dearlove and Wood both advised Steele to take his “findings” to the FBI, while, after the election, Wood pulled Sen. John McCain aside at a security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to let him know that the Russians might be blackmailing the president-elect.  McCain dispatched long-time aide David J. Kramer to the UK to discuss the dossier with Steele directly. 

Although Kramer denies it, The New Yorker found a former national-security official who says he spoke with him at the time and that Kramer’s goal was to have McCain confront Trump with the dossier in the hope that he would resign on the spot. When that didn’t happen, Clapper and Brennan arranged for FBI Director James Comey to confront Trump instead.  Comey later testified that he didn’t want Trump to think he was creating “a J. Edgar Hoover-type situation – I didn’t want him thinking I was briefing him on this to sort of hang it over him in some way.”  

But how could Trump think otherwise? As Consortium News founding editor Robert Parry observed a few days later, the maneuver “resembles a tactic out of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s playbook on government-style blackmail: I have some very derogatory information about you that I’d sure hate to see end up in the press.”  

Since then, the Democrats have touted the dossier at every opportunity, The New Yorker continues to defend it, while Timescolumnist Michelle Goldberg cites it as well, saying it’s a “rather obvious possibility that Trump is being blackmailed.”  CNN, for its part, suggested not long ago that the dossier may actually be Russian disinformation designed to throw everyone off base, Republicans and Democrats alike.

It sounds more like CIA paranoia raised to the nth degree.  But that’s what the intelligence agencies are for, i.e. to spread fear and propaganda in order to stampede the public into supporting their imperial agenda.  In this case, their efforts are so effective that they’ve gotten lost in a fog of their own making.  If the corporate press fails to point this out, it’s because reporters are too befogged themselves to notice.

Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique, and his articles about the Middle East, terrorism, Eastern Europe, and other topics appear regularly on such websites as Jacobin and The American Conservative.  

 




A Middle East with No Master

The American abandonment of diplomacy in the Middle East has allowed its clients to pretty much do what they want leading to an ongoing realignment in the region, says Chas Freeman.

By Chas W. Freeman Jr.

Time was, the countries of the Middle East relied on the United States for patronage, protection, and guidance.  Suez taught Israel, Britain, and France that without Washington’s acquiescence, their policies could not succeed.  Egypt’s defection showed Russia the limits of its ability to compete for clients in the region.  It was U.S. leadership that enabled Israel, Egypt, and Jordan to end the state of war between them.

The standing of the United States in the region derived in part from its centrality to diplomacy aimed at finding a formula for peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians and acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy by its Arab neighbors. Except on issues related to Israel, many Arab governments followed America wherever it led. The collapse of the Soviet Union erased Russian influence in the Middle East, as it did elsewhere.

To recall this history is to underscore the extent of the geopolitical changes that have occurred so far this century. The United States no longer enjoys primacy in the Middle East.  The former colonial powers need American military support to intervene in the region, but the countries of the region itself now act independently, confident that they can gain American backing for whatever they do. They do not seem to be wrong about this, judging from U.S. backing for Israel’s wars on its neighbors, Gulf Arab efforts to topple the Asad government in Syria, and the ongoing devastation of Yemen by Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.

In this century, the U.S.-managed “peace process” between Israelis and Palestinians served as a distraction while Israel evicted Palestinians from their homes, annexed their lands, and denied them self-determination. The ever less credible “peace process” ended by severely damaging U.S. diplomatic standing in the region and beyond it. Unilateral U.S. recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital capped what had come to be seen as the world’s longest–running diplomatic farce.

In the absence of strategy, a desire to sustain relationships in the region by supporting clients’ actions drives U.S. policy. The clients themselves have moved beyond relationship-driven diplomacy and are into transactionalism. The extent to which the U.S. now follows rather than leads its client states in the region is reflected in the Trump administration’s obeisance to Israeli and Saudi hostility to Iran and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA—Iran nuclear deal.)

Meanwhile, minimal commitments of force accompanied by deft diplomacy have enabled Russia to exploit the Syrian tragedy [having been invited into Syria by Damascus] to become the most sought-after external actor in the region’s affairs. Turkey, once outside the region and Russia’s NATO enemy, is again part of the Middle East, this time cooperating with Russia there more often than not.  Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all cultivating ties with Moscow.  Their objective is to correct over-reliance on the United States by diluting it.  The same purpose inspires their efforts to build markets in China and India and to enlist Chinese and Indian support for their foreign policies.

Ongoing Consequences of U.S. Invasion of Iraq

The U.S. invasion of Iraq thrust that country into anarchy and religious warfare that embittered relations between Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region.  U.S. policies focused on regime change gave Iran political hegemony in Iraq, entrenched its influence in Syria, and consolidated its alliance with Lebanese Hezbollah.  The collapse of order in the Levant spawned vicious new  terrorist movements that spread from Iraq to Syria, Somalia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and the Sahel.

From the outset, Islamist forces in Syria enjoyed support from foreign enemies of the Asad government, including Islamists, the Syrian diaspora, most of the Gulf Arab states, Turkey, Israel, and the United States.  As proxy warfare escalated, an avalanche of refugees from Syria destabilized the EU. Six hundred thousand dead and 11 million displaced Syrians later, Asad remains in the saddle in Damascus.  He has defeated his armed opposition but is beholden to Iran, its Shiite allies in Lebanese Hezbollah, and Russia for this victory. Syria’s agonies are ending in a phony war between the United States and Turkey. Israel, which wanted anarchy or partition in Syria, now struggles to contain a hostile Iranian presence there and in neighboring Lebanon. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states that sought to overthrow Asad must now find a way to live with him.

Misguided American interventions and freelancing by U.S. client states have thus transformed the region’s politics, entrenched anti-Americanism with global reach, and facilitated its spread in Africa and Asia.  The wars that did this – the pacification campaigns in Afghanistan that followed the post-9/11 punitive raid of 2001, the destabilization of Iraq, the overthrow of the Libyan government, and incoherently contradictory policies that supported mutual antagonists in Syria – have yet to end or are ending in American defeat.  No longer the playground of imperial powers, the Middle East is now dominated by religious strife, Arab efforts to roll back US-abetted Persian hegemony, and cynical manipulation of Washington’s policy decisions by U.S. client states.

Four Trends in the Region

Let me conclude with four broad observations about overall trends in the Middle East.

First, religion is back as a driver of history.  Once a contest of nationalisms, the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is now part of the region’s multi-dimensional religious strife.  Both Sunni and Shiite extremists have made violent opposition to Zionism – as opposed to support for the Palestinian cause – a central feature of their ideologies.  This position enjoys broad support in the Muslim world.  Despite common interests with Israel, Arab pragmatists are constrained by Muslim loathing of Zionism in what they can do with it.  Meanwhile, the transformation of Judaism into a racist state ideology by Zionist extremists risks separating Israel from mainstream Jews abroad, who recoil from identification with the so-called “Jewish state’s” perversion of Jewish values and its increasingly amoral and inhumane behavior.  Ironically, however, as Hindutva tightens its hold on Indian politics, India’s Islamophobia is drawing it closer to Israel, which is becoming an increasingly important source of the country’s defense imports.

Second, the rising powers that Middle Eastern countries seek to engage in their affairs are unlikely to meet their expectations. China and India are the fastest growing markets for the Middle East’s energy exporters. But China has assiduously avoided entanglement in the region’s conflicts – whether Israel-Palestine or Gulf Arab-Iran. China is now the major foreign presence in Iraq’s oil sector, a significant investor in Egyptian and Iranian industry, a growing force in engineering management and construction in the Gulf, and a lucrative market for Israeli defense and internal security technology. Indian and Pakistani labor is a mainstay of Gulf Arab economies. But with the exception of an effort to loosen Pakistan’s hold on Afghanistan by investing in the Iranian port of Chabahar, India too is keeping its distance from Middle Eastern politics.

Third, with the exception of the United States, external powers have all declined to associate themselves with Israel’s, Saudi Arabia’s, and the United Arab Emirates’ hysteria about Iran. U.S. policy follows that of Israel in its focus on Iran’s potential to become a nuclear weapons state. Americans remain in denial about our role in expanding Iran’s political sway in the region, which is the principal concern of the Gulf Arabs. Washington’s confused approach to Qatar’s blockade by the Emirates and Saudi Arabia reflects this. The U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA will not be followed by other great powers. It is more likely to isolate Israel and the United States than Iran.

Finally, there is a very real danger that the low intensity conflict now underway between Israel and Iran in Syria and the Gulf Arabs’ proxy wars with Iran could escalate into a major war. One scenario for such a war would be a Saudi-assisted Israeli assault on Iran calculated to drag in the United States or a direct attack on Iran by U.S. forces. This would likely trigger strikes on Israel by Iranian forces and their allies in Syria and Lebanon and efforts by Iran to sabotage Saudi and Emirati oil production. It is unclear how such a war would end. But, having delegated U.S. policy toward Iran to Israel and the Gulf Arabs, the United States is in no position to decide that question or very much else.

Remarks delivered to the Middle East Project by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. in Washington, D.C. on May 10, 2018.

Ambassador Freeman chairs Projects International, Inc. He is a retired U.S. defense official, diplomat, and interpreter, the recipient of numerous high honors and awards, a popular public speaker, and the author of five books.




50th Anniversary of May 1968, Paris: Memories of an Illusory Revolution

At the time it seemed that Paris had yet again become the center of a world revolution, but in time a quite diffferent legacy has emerged, recalls Diana Johnstone fifty years later.

By Diana Johnstone  Special to Consortium News
in Paris

Nineteen Sixty-Eight began with the Têt offensive, when the Vietnamese national liberation struggle suddenly showed its strength as a military force, though it was eventually beaten back into guerrilla warfare. The images of burning villages and burning children were seared into the consciousness of millions of people around the world. In the United States, Martin Luther King, whose call for an end of the war clearly linked the anti-war cause to the battle for civil rights, was assassinated on April 4.

In France, reactions to the U.S. war in Vietnam, a former French colony, were viscerally linked to the war in Algeria, which was fresh in people’s memories. For those who had supported Algerian independence from France, achieved only six years earlier, the Vietnamese people’s struggle for independence was a natural follow-on.

If anything, the Vietnamese victory was even more clearly just and inevitable. On the other side were a smaller number of diehard colonialists who hated Charles de Gaulle for giving Algeria away and dismantling the French Empire. The youth group “Occident”, rooted mainly in the law faculty in the rue d’Assas, organized commando groups to defend ill-defined “Western values” which they considered under threat.

One evening, to my great surprise, I turned out to be one of those “threats.” As I arrived late to take part in an anti-war panel in Saint Germain en Laye, near Paris, I smiled at a small group of men standing at the entrance who proceeded to knock me flat and bleeding, leaving a few of my teeth loose. That was my informal introduction to “Occident”. This sort of encounter heightened tensions, and leftist groups strengthened their services d’ordre in self-protection.

Such minor incidents concerning Vietnam helped set the mood for the street fights that inflamed the Latin Quarter in the early days of May 1968.

The revolt broke out on May 3 after police entered the sanctuary of the Sorbonne and arrested student leaders protesting the shutdown of the university at suburban Nanterre. I don’t think that at the time many people cared about the problem at Nanterre. But the sight of police occupying the Sorbonne aroused protests, and in the streets, police charged protesters.

Some ran for cover, but many fought back with surprising determination. After several days violent skirmishes grew between groups of students and baton-wielding security policy, the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS), which was met with the slogan “CRS SS!”

A State of Siege

Within a week the entire Latin Quarter was in a state of siege. May 10 was the “night of the barricades”. I happened to be there, in the streets near the Pantheon, and was struck by what seemed to me a certain mimesis.

All night, students around the Pantheon calmly built barricades, passing the paving stones from hand to hand with the same gestures they had seen in the 16-millimeter films of Vietnamese peasant women rebuilding bombed dikes.

The next day, the streets were cluttered with debris from the police charge. The Latin Quarter was occupied by rows of armed CRS, and students who had been apolitical a few days before wandered in a new landscape, transformed into an oppressed people with an occupation army to overthrow. Was there some latent desire to be like the Vietnamese, who at the time were the object of widespread sympathy and admiration – even adoration?

In between my library research and my part-time work for a movie dubbing studio, I followed those events unroll as closely as I could. I was present at many of the key happenings, the major skirmishes in the Latin Quarter, the orations at the Odéon theatre, the night of the barricades, the big marches, the speech at the Sorbonne of the student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit on his triumphant return after being expelled to Germany. I rushed to buy every edition of the daily “Action.” Yes, I was there.

But did I understand what it all meant? Hardly. Do I understand now? A little better, I think. But the French May ’68 was too ambiguous and contradictory to be easily understood. I would even venture to say that nobody did, or could, fully understand its meaning because there were so many actors performing out of different motivations, often obscure even to themselves.

I recall overhearing a chic young woman in a shop in Saint Germain des Près remark to the clerk that she had to rush to finish her shopping in order to “get back to making the revolution.”

Paris was nearly the last student population in the world to get into the spirit of the times. The revolt grew when French workers and labor unions joined the students. But such was the mystique of Paris, capital of revolution, that it was only when students in Milan or Berlin heard of the Paris events that they thought something truly momentous was happening. Many set out on pilgrimage for Paris heedless of transport strikes and gasoline shortages, to join the revolution in the Sorbonne.

However it may be interpreted, the massive French revolt of May 1968 quickly became the symbol of an era. The “events”, as they were called at the time, featuring an ephemeral revolution at the Sorbonne and the biggest general strike in French history, momentarily created the illusion of Paris as center of a worldwide revolution.

The Walls That Spoke

The extreme ambiguity of the Paris revolt was expressed in the graffiti slogans that appeared on walls around the city as if by magic. The walls seemed to talk – and indeed that was one of the slogans: “Les murs ont la parole.” It seemed that the walls themselves were announcing a new dispensation: “It is forbidden to forbid,” and in allusion to the paving stones being hurled at police, “Sous les pavés la plage” (under the paving stones the beach). Enjoyment without limits was the dominant message, down with authority of all kinds, down with work, “L’imagination prend le pouvoir” (imagination takes power), “Be realistic, demand the impossible!”

The myth of the spontaneous talking walls overlooked the fact that the most striking slogans were directly inspired by a group of radical libertarian theorists calling themselves the Situationists. Their best known exponents were Guy Debord, author of La Société du Spectacle, and Raoul Vaneigem, author of a “Traité de savoir vivre à l’usage des jeunes générations,” which exhorted the young to total revolt against existing society.

Like other radicals of the period, Situationists considered genuine, non-existent socialism (as opposed to the Soviet variety of “real existing” but false socialism) to be the ultimate goal of social revolution. But their immediate target was “consumer society” and what Debord called “the spectacle society.”

In May ’68, they had the situation of their dreams. Their triumph was fleeting and deeply ironic. The social liberation that ensued paved the way to a far greater alienation in terms of consumerism and commercial spectacle than ever. May ‘68 itself was exactly the opposite of what it seemed at the time.

The hedonistic spirit or “it is forbidden to forbid” was represented by the student rebel who came to personify May ’68, Cohn-Bendit. A news photograph showing him staring impertinently into the face of a helmeted police officer at short range was a perfect image of cheeky defiance of skittish authority. For the media, it was love at first sight, and a love that lasted.

Cohn-Bendit was nicknamed by the media “Dany the Red”. While it may have applied to his hair color, it did not fit his politics, insofar as “red” denotes communist or socialist. While loosely attached to the Anarchist Federation, Cohn-Bendit was much less concerned with liberating the working class from the chains of labor than with freeing the individual from social restraints on personal liberty.

Born in France of German Jewish refugee parents, Daniel chose to retain German citizenship in order to avoid military conscription. Studying sociology at the university of Nanterre, he delighted his fellow students with his colossal nerve. Dany had attitude. He excelled at defying authority. This talent had been fostered in the ultra-progressive Oldenwald boarding school he had attended in Heppenheim, Germany, whose slogan was “Become What You Are.” Its anti-authoritarianism pedagogy had taken on a fresh luster in the 1960s as German authoritarianism came to be blamed for the rise of Hitler, notably by the Frankfurt School philosophers.

In parallel to the political agitation going on against the United States war in Vietnam, Cohn-Bendit introduced an agitation against the authority of the university itself in regard to personal matters, challenging the ban on allowing male students to visit the rooms of girls in student dormitories. It was this incongruous mix of issues that exploded on May 3, 1968.

Workers Go For Wages

Alain Krivine’s Jeunesse Communiste Révolutionnaire(JCR) was perhaps the most conspicuous leftist organization, which played a key role by providing the service d’ordrethat protected the student demonstrators from right-wing provocateurs while preventing clashes with police from going too far. The chief of Paris Police at the time, Maurice Grimaud, later credited himself and Alain Krivine for keeping the war dance within certain bounds.

The leftists wanted to rouse the workers to make the Revolution. But when the workers massively joined the movement by going on strike in the greatest general strike in French history, the Communist-led CGT (General Confederation of Labor) succeeded in leading the strike toward negotiations and wage increases.

For the ultra-lefts, that amounted to a cowardly betrayal by the union leadership. For several years, the most ardent militants, especially the Maoists, tried to relight the flame of revolt by entering factories as ordinary workers.

While scorning the student revolt as petit bourgeois, the Maoists quickly adapted to the mood of revolt, shifting the focus of their Comités de basefrom Vietnam to French society. During the May events, the Comités de Base applied the Maoist theory of creating liberated territories in the periphery, making the revolution in cultural workplaces like schools and libraries. Employees everywhere were going on strike, reorganizing their own work, which often needed it.

Whatever its ideological significance, this tendency of over-managed people to take control of their work lives struck me at the time as the most positive aspect of the May events. A similar aspect was a seemingly spontaneous movement by artists to “serve the people” anonymously.

In the Ecole des Beaux Arts, students produced the posters that symbolized May ’68 even more than the Situationist graffiti. A close friend of mine, who before and after the revolutionary mood of the period strove to make a name for himself as an artist, was overwhelmed and for a while converted by the movement to produce art anonymously, for the pure pleasure of society, without thought of gain or glory.

While the Maoists pursued their cultural revolution and the Trotskyists tried to channel the street battles, political commentators and sociologists flocked to the scene to explain to the rebels what they were rebelling about. It was perhaps all the easier for French students to act out revolution in that they could situate themselves in a long national tradition running from the great revolution of 1789 through 1830 and 1848 to the Paris Commune of 1871. “The Student Commune” was the title of philosopher Edgar Morin’s glowing essay opening the most widely noted of the shelf-load of books that appeared in shops more quickly than the streets could be repaved: La Brèche.

Revolt on the Periphery

While the (CGT) worked to get the workers back on the job before they could be further contaminated, the massive strikes rekindled young intellectuals’ interest in their own working class as a potential “revolutionary subject”. Seen from the vantage point of publisher François Maspéro’s crowded bookstore, La Joie de Lire, in the rue Saint Sévérin, it was clear before May that the contemporary front lines of the world revolution were in the imperialist periphery, in Vietnam or Latin America, and certainly not in France.

But even as it attracted the attention of the world, the May movement looked inward, turning its back on the Third World in its effort to unfold revolution according to national patterns. Thus began the loss of interest in the Third World that soon ruined Maspéro. (He was targeted for “revolutionary” anarchist shop-lifting, in order to punish him for “exploiting” the subjects he published books about, unlike all those other publishers only interested in making money).

It is significant that La Joie de Lire was sold to Nouvelles Frontières, a budget travel agency. The sixties trips to Algeria, Cuba, China and even California in search of revolutionary models gave way to vacations in warm climates, period.

The philosopher Edgar Morin described May ’68 as an “osmosis” occurring between the “existential libertarian exigency” of some and the “planetary politicization” of the others.

The world seemed to be coming together politically when it was in fact falling apart.

The gauchistes were momentarily united by hostility to the French Communist Party. The leadership of the PCF was clearly convinced that revolution in France was a dangerous fantasy in a NATO member state and discretely worked with de Gaulle’s prime minister Georges Pompidou to restore normal order.

The hatred of French intellectuals for the French Communist Party has been an obsession overflowing political categories. Hatred for the PCF came from right, left, and center. A specialist in the matter, Cornelius Castoriadis, writing under the name of Jean-Marc Coudray in La Breche, explained why: the PCF is “neither reformist nor revolutionary”.

Prisoner of its past, the Stalinist bureaucratic apparatus is incapable, in France as almost everywhere, of turning the corner that would allow it in theory to play a new role. Not, certainly, a revolutionary role, but the role of the great modern reformist bureaucracy needed for the functioning of French capitalism, which has been recommended to it for years by volunteer advisors, knowledgeable sociologists, and subtle technicians”, Castoriadis wrote.

‘A New Period in Universal History?’

In 1968, both Maoist revolutionaries and budding technocrats saw the youth revolt as a blessed historic opportunity to snatch the working class from the clutches of the PCF. The PCF needed to be destroyed in order “to make the revolution” – or conversely to modernize French capitalism.

Whatever comes next,” declared Castoriadis, “May ’68 has opened a new period in universal history.”

This extravagant appraisal of the significance of May ’68 was by no means unusual. The exaltation of May’s spontaneity by established intellectuals was a way of celebrating the relegation of the PCF and its bureaucracy to the ashcan of history.

Castoriadis perceived an explosion of creativity, “brilliant, effective and poetic slogans surged from the anonymous crowd.” Teachers were astonished to discover that they knew nothing and their students knew everything. “In a few days, twenty-year olds achieved political understanding and wisdom honest revolutionaries haven’t yet reached after thirty years of militant activity,” he wrote.

Did this stupefying miracle really take place? It was hailed in any case: for, if innocent youth could rise from its tabula rasa and make the revolution, there was obviously no need for a structured organization like the Communist Party.

There was immense joy among intellectuals at discovering a new revolutionary subject close to themselves. Castoriadis announced that in modern societies youth is a category more important than the working class, which has become a dead weight on revolution.

But could spontaneous youth actually make the revolution? Even as he was extolling the glorious “explosion”, Castoriadis pointed to its limits. “If the revolution is nothing but an explosion of a few days or weeks, the established order (know it or not, like it or not) can accommodate itself very well. Even more, contrary to its belief, it has a profound need for it. Historically it is the revolution that permits the world of reaction to survive by transforming itself, by adapting,” he observed. The outcome could be “new forms of oppression better adapted to today’s conditions.”

Indeed, transformation and adaptation ensured that the real economic powers running the world were not seriously disturbed by all this turmoil.

All of this, I readily admit, went right past me at the time. The May events did seem to suggest that sudden, unforeseen changes were possible. That in itself was exhilarating. I watched in some wonderment as the French seemingly decided to make “the revolution”. It was in their tradition, not in mine.

At the same time, I was not happy with May ’68 because the Vietnamese and their struggle were forgotten. Ironically, one reason the French government clamped down so quickly on student activists may have been to prove Paris’ fitness as a neutral and orderly capital for the talks that were opening there between the Americans and the Vietnamese. Nobody paid much attention to those talks, and the war raged on, but in Paris, it was overshadowed by the illusion of an imminent revolution at home.

The Legacy of May ’68

Politically, the May ’68 revolution was rapidly defeated at the polls. The majority of the population turned against the disorder, as is usual in similar cases, especially when no one could see where it was heading. In a snap election in June 1968, the Gaullists won an increased majority, and the French Communist Party won 20% of the vote compared to the 3.9% of votes that went to the only party openly representing the May movement, the PSU (Parti Socialiste Unifié).

Nevertheless, both De Gaulle and the Communists were the historic losers. Whatever else it didn’t do, the May ’68 student generation succeeded in discrediting and undermining existing authority, notably the political authority of De Gaulle and the PCF, and indeed authority itself. The illusion was widespread that spontaneity would undermine the ruling class and overcome consumerism and the “spectacle society.”

On the contrary, the result has been the triumph of the “spectacle society”, the reign of images and financial power – the opposite of what May ’68 seemed to promise at the time.

The “sexual liberation” aspect of May ’68 has been exaggerated, as the French were not a puritan people to start with, just discrete. But it helped accelerate an evolution away from the legal imposition of Catholic rigidity, leading to legalization of abortion in 1975.

Many prominent ’68 revolutionaries went on to highly successful careers, especially in communications, evolving into defenders of the liberal Establishment and advocates of humanitarian wars. Cohn-Bendit’s mass media stardom enabled him to convert European Green parties from principled pacifism into support for NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia. For one reason or another, many young people in France today regard May ’68 as the mistaken illusions of their parents.

Since both De Gaulle and the French Communist Party were seen as enemies by the United States, a cui bono suspicion exists (especially among the losers) that May ’68 must have been the result of CIA manipulation. Certainly, the CIA was active against both those forces of resistance to American hegemony and would no doubt have loved to engineer May ’68. It may have tried to nudge things a bit here and there. But engineering such events is a feat beyond the power of even the most ambitious intelligence agency. May ’68 was indeed genuine – but genuinely what?

Diana Johnstone is a political writer, focusing primarily on European politics and Western foreign policy. She received a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota and was active in the movement against the Vietnam War. Johnstone was European editor of the U.S. weekly In These Times from 1979 to 1990, and continues to be a correspondent for the publication. She was press officer of the Green group in the European Parliament from 1990 to 1996. Her books include Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary ClintonCounterPunch Books (2016) and Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western DelusionsPluto Press (2002).




This is the New Italy

Years of neoliberal economic policies imposed by Brussels and by Italian politicians alike have devastated numerous industrial towns and the very fabric of Italian society, reports Attilio Moro.

By Attilio Moro  Special to Consortium News
in Brussels

Sesto San Giovanni, a town on the outskirts of Milan, used to be one of the industrial capitals of Italy.

With around 200,000 inhabitants (45,000 blue collar workers, and a robust middle class), it was the headquarters of some of the most dynamic Italian companies, including Magneti Marelli, Falck, Breda and many more.

Today Sesto is an industrial desert – the factories are gone, the professional middle class has fled, many stores have shut down, and the city is trying to reinvent itself as a medical research center.

Twenty-three kilometers (14 miles) to the north of Sesto, the town of Meda was the seat of various symbols of Italian excellence: Salotti Cassina and Poltrona Frau, both of which exported high-quality furniture all over the world and employed tens of thousands of workers and designers. They fed a number of small family-based companies providing parts and highly qualified seasonal labour. Today both companies are gone.

Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, a former chairman of Ferrari, Fiat and Alitalia, and now a public enemy because of his dismissal of the “Made in Italy” label, acquired both companies and moved them to Turkey, choosing profit over quality—and Italian jobs. Montezemolo, of aristocratic background, is a champion of Italian neoliberalism, having founded the influential “free market” think tank Italia Futura (Future Italy) in 2009.

Another victim is the town of Sora, with a population of 25,000, 80 km. (50 miles) east of Rome. Until recently Sora was an affluent commercial city, with medium-sized paper factories and hundreds of shops. Today, all of the factories are gone and 50 percent of shops have closed.

All over Italy, the neoliberal policies that led to the economic crisis and resulting social decadence have accelerated in the wake of the financial collapse of 2007.

Once The Stalingrad of Italy

Sesto San Giovanni used to be known as ‘the Italian Stalingrad’, due to the strength of its working class and the Communist Party receiving over 50 percent of the vote. Now the strongest party in town is the Lega (The League), a right wing, xenophobic party. This has been accompanied by a demographic shift, as Sesto has lost almost one third of its population, but acquired tens of thousands of immigrants, which today constitute almost 20 percent of its population.

The Italian Communist Party, once the strongest in the capitalist world, has in the meantime disappeared, together with the working class. There is also the destitution of a dwindling middle class accompanying the breakdown of the social fabric with rampant corruption. All the traditional political parties have been wiped away.

They have been replaced by the so-called ‘populists’: The Lega and the 5 Star Movement, undisputed winners of the latest elections in March, who are now in the process of trying to form a new government. The Lega expresses the frustrations of the north of Italy that is still productive (fashion, services and some high quality products), and demands lower taxes, as Italian taxes are among the highest in Europe. They also want a parallel national currency, a reduction in circulation of the Euro (which slows down exports, especially to Germany) and limits to immigration.

The 5 Star Movement, which is partly considered to be the heir of the former Communist Party but with a different social base consisting of an undifferentiated lower class replacing the disappearing working class. It advocates a moralization of the political parties and a universal basic income of 750 euros per month ($875) for the poorest to reduce the effects of the social disaster which took place in the south of the country in the last 10 years: 20 percent unemployment, affecting 40 percent of young people, making the mafia and organized crime the biggest ‘employers’ in the most critical southern regions.

This is the new Italy. The old one, the Italy of Fiat, Cassina, small family-run businesses, the Italy of the Christian Democrats, the Communist Party and vibrant working-class culture is no more.

Attilio Moro is a veteran Italian journalist who was a correspondent for the daily Il Giorno from New York and worked earlier in both radio (Italia Radio) and TV. He has travelled extensively, covering the first Iraq war, the first elections in Cambodia and South Africa, and has reported from Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and several Latin American countries, including Cuba, Ecuador and Argentina. Presently he is a correspondent on European affairs based in Brussels.

 

 




1918

On Memorial Day 2018, in the year marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, Michael Parenti contemplates the trenches and the oligarchs who caused so much unnecessary misery.

By Michael Parenti  Special to Consortium News

Looking back at the years of fury and carnage, Colonel Angelo Gatti, staff officer of the Italian Army (Austrian front), wrote in his diary: “This whole war has been a pile of lies. We came into war because a few men in authority, the dreamers, flung us into it.”

No, Gatti, caro mio, those few men are not dreamers; they are schemers. They perch above us. See how their armament contracts are turned into private fortunes—while the young men are turned into dust: more blood, more money; good for business this war.

It is the rich old men, i pauci, “the few,” as Cicero called the Senate oligarchs whom he faithfully served in ancient Rome. It is the few, who together constitute a bloc of industrialists and landlords, who think war will bring bigger markets abroad and civic discipline at home. One of i pauci in 1914 saw war as a way of promoting compliance and obedience on the labor front and—as he himself said—war, “would permit the hierarchal reorganization of class relations.”

Just awhile before the heresies of Karl Marx were spreading among Europe’s lower ranks. The proletariats of each country, growing in numbers and strength, were made to wage war against each other. What better way to confine and misdirect them than with the swirl of mutual destruction.

Then there were the generals and other militarists who started plotting this war as early as 1906, eight years before the first shots were fired. War for them means glory, medals, promotions, financial rewards, inside favors, and dining with ministers, bankers, and diplomats: the whole prosperity of death. When the war finally comes, it is greeted with quiet satisfaction by the generals.

Moguls and Monarchs Prevail

But the young men are ripped by waves of machine-gun fire or blown apart by exploding shells. War comes with gas attacks and sniper shots: grenades, mortars, and artillery barrages; the roar of a great inferno and the sickening smell of rotting corpses. Torn bodies hang sadly on the barbed wire, and trench rats try to eat away at us, even while we are still alive.

Farewell, my loving hearts at home, those who send us their precious tears wrapped in crumpled letters. And farewell my comrades. When the people’s wisdom fails, moguls and monarchs prevail and there seems to be no way out.

Fools dance and the pit sinks deeper as if bottomless. No one can see the sky, or hear the music, or deflect the swarms of lies that cloud our minds like the countless lice that torture our flesh. Crusted with blood and filth, regiments of lost souls drag themselves to the devil’s pit. “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate.” (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter” as our Dante delivered his painful message).

Meanwhile from above the Vatican wall, the pope himself begs the world leaders to put an end to hostilities, “lest there be no young men left alive in Europe.” But the war industry pays him no heed.

Finally the casualties are more than we can bear. There are mutinies in the French trenches! Agitators in the Czar’s army cry out for “Peace, Land, and Bread!” At home, our families grow bitter. There comes a breaking point as the oligarchs seem to be losing their grip.

At last the guns are mute in the morning air. A strange almost pious silence takes over. The fog and rain seem to wash our wounds and cool our fever. “Still alive,” the sergeant grins, “still alive.” He cups a cigarette in his hand. “Stack those rifles, you lazy bastards.” He grins again, two teeth missing. Never did his ugly face look so good as on this day in November 1918. Armistice embraces us like a quiet rapture. 

Not really a quiet rapture with smiling sergeants. Many troops on both sides continued killing to the bitter end, with a fury that had no mercy. In one day, November 11, the last day of war, some 10,900 men were wounded or killed from both sides, a furious rage in the face of peace, years of slaughter; now moments of vengeance.

The Fall of Eagles

A big piece of the encrusted aristocratic world breaks off. The Romanovs, Czar and family, are all executed in 1918 in Revolutionary Russia. That same year, the House of Hohenzollern collapses as Kaiser Wilhelm II flees Germany. Also in 1918, the Ottoman empire is shattered. And on Armistice Day, November 11th, 1918, at 11:00 a.m.—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—we mark the end of the war and with it the dissolution of the Habsburg dynasty.

Four indestructible monarchies: Russian, German, Turkish, and Austro-Hungarian, four great empires, each with millions of bayonets and cannon at the ready, now twisting in the dim shadows of history.

Will our children ever forgive us for our dismal confusion? Will they ever understand what we went through? Will we? By 1918, four aristocratic autocracies fade away, leaving so many victims mangled in their wake, and so many bereaved crying through the night.

Back in the trenches, the agitators among us prove right. The mutinous Reds standing before the firing squad last year were right. Their truths must not be buried with them. Why are impoverished workers and peasants killing other impoverished workers and peasants? Now we know that our real foe is not in the weave of trenches; not at Ypres, nor at the Somme, or Verdun or Caporetto. Closer to home, closer to the deceptive peace that follows a deceptive war.

Now comes a different conflict. We have enemies at home: the schemers who trade our blood for sacks of gold, who make the world safe for hypocrisy, safe for themselves, readying themselves for the next “humanitarian war.” See how sleek and self-satisfied they look, riding our backs, distracting our minds, filling us with fright about wicked foes. Important things keep happening, but not enough to finish them off. Not yet enough.

Michael Parenti is an internationally known, award-winning author and lecturer. He is one of the nation’s leading progressive political analysts. His highly informative and entertaining books and talks have reached a wide range of audiences in North America and abroad. His books include Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies; Inventing Reality, The Politics of News MediaMake-Believe Media: The Politics of EntertainmentDemocracy for the FewLand of Idols: Political Mythology in AmericaHistory as MysteryThe Assassination of Julius CaesarA People’s History of Ancient Rome and the first part of his memoir, Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid’s Life.




How to Honor Memorial Day

From the Archive: Memorial Day should be a time of sober reflection on war’s horrible costs, not a moment to glorify war. But many politicians and pundits can’t resist the opportunity, as Ray McGovern explains in this updated commentary from May 24, 2015. 

By Ray McGovern Special to Consortium News

Originally published on 5/24/2015

How best to show respect for the U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and for their families on Memorial Day? Simple: Avoid euphemisms like “the fallen” and expose the lies about what a great idea it was to start those wars in the first place and then to “surge” tens of thousands of more troops into those fools’ errands.

First, let’s be clear on at least this much: the 4,500 U.S. troops killed in Iraq so far and the 2,350 killed in Afghanistan [by May 2015] did not “fall.” They were wasted on no-win battlefields by politicians and generals cheered on by neocon pundits and mainstream “journalists” almost none of whom gave a rat’s patootie about the real-life-and-death troops. They were throwaway soldiers.

And, as for the “successful surges,” they were just P.R. devices to buy some “decent intervals” for the architects of these wars and their boosters to get space between themselves and the disastrous endings while pretending that those defeats were really “victories squandered” all at the “acceptable” price of about 1,000 dead U.S. soldiers each and many times that in dead Iraqis and Afghans.

Memorial Day should be a time for honesty about what enabled the killing and maiming of so many U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and the senior military brass simply took full advantage of a poverty draft that gives upper-class sons and daughters the equivalent of exemptions, vaccinating them against the disease of war.

What drives me up the wall is the oft-heard, dismissive comment about troop casualties from well-heeled Americans: “Well, they volunteered, didn’t they?” Under the universal draft in effect during Vietnam, far fewer were immune from service, even though the well-connected could still game the system to avoid serving. Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Joe Biden, for example, each managed to pile up five exemptions. This means, of course, that they brought zero military experience to the job; and this, in turn, may explain a whole lot — particularly given their bosses’ own lack of military experience.

The grim truth is that many of the crëme de la crëme of today’s Official Washington don’t know many military grunts, at least not intimately as close family or friends. They may bump into some on the campaign trail or in an airport and mumble something like, “thank you for your service.” But these sons and daughters of working-class communities from America’s cities and heartland are mostly abstractions to the powerful, exclamation points at the end of  some ideological debate demonstrating which speaker is “tougher,” who’s more ready to use military force, who will come out on top during a talk show appearance or at a think-tank conference or on the floor of Congress.

Sharing the Burden?

We should be honest about this reality, especially on Memorial Day. Pretending that the burden of war has been equitably shared, and worse still that those killed died for a “noble cause,” as President George W. Bush liked to claim, does no honor to the thousands of U.S. troops killed and the tens of thousands maimed. It dishonors them. Worse, it all too often succeeds in infantilizing bereaved family members who cannot bring themselves to believe their government lied.

Who can blame parents for preferring to live the fiction that their sons and daughters were heroes who wittingly and willingly made the “ultimate sacrifice,” dying for a “noble cause,” especially when this fiction is frequently foisted on them by well-meaning but naive clergy at funerals. For many it is impossible to live with the reality that a son or daughter died in vain. Far easier to buy into the official story and to leave clergy unchallenged as they gild the lilies around coffins and gravesites.

Not so for some courageous parents. Cindy Sheehan, for example, whose son Casey Sheehan was killed on April 4, 2004, in the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City, demonstrated uncommon grit when she led hundreds of friends to Crawford to lay siege to the Texas White House during the summer of 2005 trying to get Bush to explain what “noble cause” Casey died for. She never got an answer. There is none.

But there are very few, like Cindy Sheehan, able to overcome a natural human resistance to the thought that their sons and daughters died for a lie and then to challenge that lie. These few stalwarts make themselves face this harsh reality, the knowledge that the children whom they raised and sacrificed so much for were, in turn, sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, that their precious children were bit players in some ideological fantasy or pawns in a game of career maneuvering.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is said to have described the military disdainfully as “just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.” Whether or not those were his exact words, his policies and behavior certainly betrayed that attitude. It certainly seems to have prevailed among top American-flag-on-lapel-wearing officials of the Bush and Obama administrations, including armchair and field-chair generals whose sense of decency is blinded by the prospect of a shiny new star on their shoulders, if they just follow orders and send young soldiers into battle.

This bitter truth should raise its ugly head on Memorial Day but rarely does. It can be gleaned only with great difficulty from the mainstream media, since the media honchos continue to play an indispensable role in the smoke-and-mirrors dishonesty that hides their own guilt in helping Establishment Washington push “the fallen” from life to death.

We must judge the actions of our political and military leaders not by the pious words they will utter Monday in mourning those who “fell” far from the generals’ cushy safe seats in the Pentagon or somewhat closer to the comfy beds in air-conditioned field headquarters where a lucky general might be comforted in the arms of an admiring and enterprising biographer.

Many of the high-and-mighty delivering the approved speeches on Monday will glibly refer to and mourn “the fallen.” None are likely to mention the culpable policymakers and complicit generals who added to the fresh graves at Arlington National Cemetery and around the country.

Words, after all, are cheap; words about “the fallen” are dirt cheap especially from the lips of politicians and pundits with no personal experience of war. The families of those sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan should not have to bear that indignity.

‘Successful Surges’

The so-called “surges” of troops into Iraq and Afghanistan were particularly gross examples of the way our soldiers have been played as pawns. Since the usual suspects are again coming out the woodwork of neocon think tanks to press for yet another “surge” in Iraq, some historical perspective should help.

Take, for example, the well-known and speciously glorified first “surge;” the one Bush resorted to in sending over 30,000 additional troops into Iraq in early 2007; and the not-to-be-outdone Obama “surge” of 30,000 into Afghanistan in early 2010. These marches of folly were the direct result of decisions by George W. Bush and Barack Obama to prioritize political expediency over the lives of U.S. troops.

Taking cynical advantage of the poverty draft, they let foot soldiers pay the “ultimate” price. That price was 1,000 U.S. troops killed in each of the two “surges.”

And the results? The returns are in. The bloody chaos these days in Iraq and the faltering war in Afghanistan were entirely predictable. They were indeed predicted by those of us able to spread some truth around via the Internet, while being mostly blacklisted by the fawning corporate media.

Yet, because the “successful surge” myth was so beloved in Official Washington, saving some face for the politicians and pundits who embraced and spread the lies that justified and sustained especially the Iraq War, the myth has become something of a touchstone for everyone aspiring to higher office or seeking a higher-paying gig in the mainstream media.

Campaigning in New Hampshire, [then] presidential aspirant Jeb Bush gave a short history lesson about his big brother’s attack on Iraq. Referring to the so-called Islamic State, Bush said, “ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. Al-Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out … the surge created a fragile but stable Iraq. …”

We’ve dealt with the details of the Iraq “surge” myth before both before and after it was carried out. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “Reviving the Successful Surge Myth”;  “Gen. Keane on Iran Attack”; “Robert Gates: As Bad as Rumsfeld?”; and “Troop Surge Seen as Another Mistake.”]

But suffice it to say that Jeb Bush is distorting the history and should be ashamed. The truth is that al-Qaeda did not exist in Iraq before his brother launched an unprovoked invasion in 2003. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” arose as a direct result of Bush’s war and occupation. Amid the bloody chaos, AQI’s leader, a Jordanian named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, pioneered a particularly brutal form of terrorism, relishing videotaped decapitation of prisoners.

Zarqawi was eventually hunted down and killed not during the celebrated “surge” but in June 2006, months before Bush’s “surge” began. The so-called Sunni Awakening, essentially the buying off of many Sunni tribal leaders, also predated the “surge.” And the relative reduction in the Iraq War’s slaughter after the 2007 “surge” was mostly the result of the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad from a predominantly Sunni to a Shia city, tearing the fabric of Baghdad in two, and creating physical space that made it more difficult for the two bitter enemies to attack each other. In addition, Iran used its influence with the Shia to rein in their extremely violent militias.

Though weakened by Zarqawi’s death and the Sunni Awakening, AQI did not disappear, as Jeb Bush would like you to believe. It remained active and when Saudi Arabia and the Sunni gulf states took aim at the secular regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria AQI joined with other al-Qaeda affiliates, such as the Nusra Front, to spread their horrors across Syria. AQI rebranded itself “the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” or simply “the Islamic State.”

The Islamic State split off from al-Qaeda over strategy but the various jihadist armies, including al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, [then] seized wide swaths of territory in Syria — and the Islamic State returned with a vengeance to Iraq, grabbing major cities such as Mosul and Ramadi.

Jeb Bush doesn’t like to unspool all this history. He and other Iraq War backers prefer to pretend that the “surge” in Iraq had won the war and Obama threw the “victory” away by following through on George W. Bush’s withdrawal agreement with Maliki.

But the crisis in Syria and Iraq is among the fateful consequences of the U.S./UK attack 12 years ago and particularly of the “surge” of 2007, which contributed greatly to Sunni-Shia violence, the opposite of what George W. Bush professed was the objective of the “surge,” to enable Iraq’s religious sects to reconcile.

Reconciliation, however, always took a back seat to the real purpose of the “surge” buying time so Bush and Cheney could slip out of Washington in 2009 without having an obvious military defeat hanging around their necks and putting a huge stain on their legacies.

The political manipulation of the Iraq “surge” allowed Bush, Cheney and their allies to reframe the historical debate and shift the blame for the defeat onto Obama, recognizing that 1,000 more dead U.S. soldiers was a small price to pay for protecting the “Bush brand.” Now, Bush’s younger brother can cheerily march off to the campaign trail for 2016 pointing to the carcass of the Iraqi albatross hung around Obama’s shoulders.

Rout at Ramadi

Less than a year after U.S.-trained and -equipped Iraqi forces ran away from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, leaving the area and lots of U.S. arms and equipment to ISIS, something similar happened at Ramadi, the capital of the western province of Anbar. Despite heavy U.S. air strikes on ISIS, American-backed Iraqi security forces fled Ramadi, which is only 70 miles west of Baghdad, after a lightning assault by ISIS forces.

The ability of ISIS to strike just about everywhere in the area is reminiscent of the Tet offensive of January-February 1968 in Vietnam, which persuaded President Lyndon Johnson that that particular war was unwinnable. If there are materials left over in Saigon for reinforcing helicopter landing pads on the tops of buildings, it is not too early to bring them to Baghdad’s Green Zone, on the chance that U.S. embassy buildings may have a call for such materials in the not-too-distant future.

The headlong Iraqi government retreat from Ramadi had scarcely ended when Sen. John McCain, (R-AZ), described the fall of the city as “terribly significant” which is correct adding that more U.S. troops may be needed which is insane. His appeal for more troops neatly fit one proverbial definition of insanity (attributed or misattributed to Albert Einstein): “doing the same thing over and over again [like every eight years?] but expecting different results.”

As Jeb Bush was singing the praises of his brother’s “surge” in Iraq, McCain and his Senate colleague Lindsey Graham were publicly calling for a new “surge” of U.S. troops into Iraq. The senators urged President Obama to do what George W. Bush did in 2007 replace the U.S. military leadership and dispatch additional troops to Iraq.

But Washington Post pundit David Ignatius, even though a fan of the earlier two surges, was not yet on board for this one. Ignatius warned in a column that Washington should not abandon its current strategy:

“This is still Iraq’s war, not America’s. But President Barack Obama must reassure Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that the U.S. has his back, and at the same time give him a reality check: If al-Abadi and his Shiite allies don’t do more to empower Sunnis, his country will splinter. Ramadi is a precursor, of either a turnaround by al-Abadi’s forces, or an Iraqi defeat.”

Ignatius’s urgent tone was warranted. But what he suggests is precisely what the U.S. made a lame attempt to do with then-Prime Minister Maliki in early 2007. Yet, Bush squandered U.S. leverage by sending 30,000 troops to show he “had Maliki’s back,” freeing Maliki to accelerate his attempts to marginalize, rather than accommodate, Sunni interests.

Perhaps Ignatius now remembers how the “surge” he championed in 2007 greatly exacerbated tensions between Shia and Sunni contributing to the chaos now prevailing in Iraq and spreading across Syria and elsewhere. But Ignatius is well connected and a bellwether; if he ends up advocating another “surge,” take shelter.

Keane and Kagan Ask For a Mulligan

The architects of Bush’s 2007 “surge” of 30,000 troops into Iraq, former Army General Jack Keane and American Enterprise Institute neocon strategist Frederick Kagan, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned strongly that, without a “surge” of some 15,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops, ISIS would win in Iraq.

“We are losing this war,” warned Keane, who previously served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. “ISIS is on the offense, with the ability to attack at will, anyplace, anytime. … Air power will not defeat ISIS.” Keane stressed that the U.S. and its allies have “no ground force, which is the defeat mechanism.”

Not given to understatement, Kagan called ISIS “one of the most evil organizations that has ever existed. … This is not a group that maybe we can negotiate with down the road someday. This is a group that is committed to the destruction of everything decent in the world.” He called for “15-20,000 U.S. troops on the ground to provide the necessary enablers, advisers and so forth,” and added: “Anything less than that is simply unserious.”

(By the way, Frederick Kagan is the brother of neocon-star Robert Kagan, whose Project for the New American Century began pushing for the invasion of Iraq in 1998 and finally got its way in 2003. Robert Kagan is the husband of Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who oversaw the 2014 coup that brought “regime change” and bloody chaos to Ukraine. The Ukraine crisis also prompted Robert Kagan to urge a major increase in U.S. military spending. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Family Business of Perpetual War.”] )

What is perhaps most striking, however, is the casualness with which the likes of Frederick Kagan, Jack Keane, and other Iraq War enthusiasts advocated dispatching tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to fight and die in what would almost certainly be another futile undertaking. You might even wonder why people like Kagan are invited to testify before Congress given their abysmal records.

But that would miss the true charm of the Iraq “surge” in 2007 and its significance in salvaging the reputations of folks like Kagan, not to mention George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. From their perspective, the “surge” was a great success. Bush and Cheney could swagger from the West Wing into the western sunset on Jan. 20, 2009.

As author Steve Coll has put it, “The decision [to surge] at a minimum guaranteed that his [Bush’s] presidency would not end with a defeat in history’s eyes. By committing to the surge [the President] was certain to at least achieve a stalemate.”

According to Bob Woodward, Bush told key Republicans in late 2005 that he would not withdraw from Iraq, “even if Laura and [first-dog] Barney are the only ones supporting me.” Woodward made it clear that Bush was well aware in fall 2006 that the U.S. was losing. Suddenly, with some fancy footwork, it became Laura, Barney and new Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus along with 30,000 more U.S. soldiers making sure that the short-term fix was in.

The fact that about 1,000 U.S. soldiers returned in caskets was the principal price paid for that short-term “surge” fix. Their “ultimate sacrifice” will be mourned by their friends, families and countrymen on Memorial Day even as many of the same politicians and pundits will be casually pontificating about dispatching more young men and women as cannon fodder into the same misguided war.

[President Donald Trump has continued the U.S.’s longest war (Afghanistan), sending additional troops and dropping a massive bomb as well as missiles from drones.  In Syria he has ordered two missile strikes and condoned multiple air strikes from Israel.  Here’s hoping, on this Memorial Day 2018, that he turns his back on his war-mongering national security adviser, forges ahead with a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un rather than toy with the lives of 30,000 U.S. soldiers in Korea, and halts the juggernaut rolling downhill toward war with Iran.]

It was difficult drafting this downer, this historical counter-narrative, on the eve of Memorial Day. It seems to me necessary, though, to expose the dramatis personae who played such key roles in getting more and more people killed. Sad to say, none of the high officials mentioned here, as well as those on the relevant Congressional committees, were affected in any immediate way by the carnage in Ramadi, Tikrit or outside the gate to the Green Zone in Baghdad.

And perhaps that’s one of the key points here. It is not most of us, but rather our soldiers and the soldiers and civilians of Iraq, Afghanistan and God knows where else who are Lazarus at the gate. And, as Benjamin Franklin once said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served 30 years as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and CIA analyst and is now a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). 




‘Ehud Barak Gave the Order to Kill’

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak received an earful from protestors when he was in San Francisco recently to hawk his new book, as explained in this interview by Dennis J. Bernstein. 

By Dennis J Bernstein

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was on the stomp in San Francisco last weekend to promote his new memoir, My Country, My Life.  He was met by a group of highly organized young protesters who were interested in a few facts that the former Israeli PM did not include in his new memoir.

“Ehud Barak gave the order to kill 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza, with 344 children dead,” called out Lauren Holtzman, a member for Jewish Voice for Peace and one of those arrested at the event. “He declared the siege on Gaza, limiting food, medicine and water.” Holtzman was referencing  Barak’s responsibility as Israeli Defense Minister for Operation Cast Lead, the Jewish State’s bloody 2008-09 assault on Gaza.

In 2010, as prime minister, Barak launched a deadly attack against a group of international human rights activists heading to Gaza on a Freedom Flotilla that was meant to punch a hole in the punishing Israeli maritime blockade, and to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians. The flotilla was attacked by Israeli Security Forces and 10 of the unarmed human rights advocates were murdered by Israeli military gunfire.

The protest was intensified by the recent slaughters in Gaza of unarmed Palestinians. Barak’s San Francisco book promo also came only one day after Nakba Day, the annual commemoration by Palestinians around the world of the violent displacement of 750,000 Palestinians immediately following Israel’s formation on May 15, 1948. The word Nakba means “catastrophe” in Arabic.

Dennis Bernstein spoke with Lauren Holtzman on KPFA radio on May 17 in Berkeley, Ca.

Dennis Bernstein: As former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak promoted his new memoir at an event at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center (JCC) on Wednesday night.  Members of Bay Area Arab, Jewish, LGBTQ and student communities repeatedly stood up to protest, condemning Barak for war crimes committed against the Palestinians.  Joining us is one of those young protesters who had the courage to stand up and step forward, Lauren Holtzman. Could you tell us a little bit about what got you there last night?

Lauren Holtzman: Together with the Palestine Action Network, we wanted to make it clear that war criminals are not welcome in the Bay Area.  Ehud Barak oversaw the massacre of thousands of Palestinians and the killing of unarmed human rights activists, which has led us to the terrible atrocities that Palestinians are facing today. [He called Israel “a great success,” but just on [May 14] alone Israeli forces murdered 62 people for marching, for making their voices heard, for their right to live in dignity and freedom, and for their right to return to their land.

DB: Could you describe what happened last night [May 16]?

LH: There were hundreds of people protesting outside the JCC.  We brought 25 members of Arab, Jewish, LGBT and student communities with us inside the JCC to state that we do not believe that Ehud Barak should be here and that we do not welcome him.  Palestinians should be free and should have the right to return.

Israel has turned Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison.  They are unable to travel freely, to pursue an education or get medical treatment.  Israel controls virtually all entry and exit. The war on the Palestinian people has been widely condemned as a war crime by numerous organizations, in particular Operation Cast Lead under Ehud Barak in 2008-2009.  We want to make sure that he is recognized as a war criminal.

DB: Eighteen of you were arrested after you shouted down the former Israeli prime minister.  Could you describe how that went down? Also, I am very interested to know what went on inside you as you took that very courageous action.

LH: Our courage in no way equals the courage of the people in Gaza who stand up for their rights and every day continue to be shot down for peacefully demonstrating.  Inside we were met with violent reactions by some for exposing the war crimes that Ehud Barak is responsible for.

This could not happen in our name, for those of us who are Jewish, who are Arab, who are queer, for all of us who are part of the Bay Area.  It is time for our communities to take a stand for justice, for equality, and for freedom for all people.

DB: What was the prime minister’s reaction when you stood up and called him out?

LH: As loudly as we could, we named the atrocities for which he was responsible.  We said that Palestinians have the right to return. We sang “Which side are you on?”  There were people there who did not want to hear what we had to say, but we felt it was so significant what we had to say it.

DB: You said that there was a violent reaction.  What do you mean?

LH: One of the people who stood up was actually hit by one of the audience members.  Other audience members tried to mess with people’s hair and pushed us as we stood with our arms to our sides.

DB: And you were then arrested?

LH: Yes.  We weren’t actually told what was happening except that we had to leave.  Later we were handcuffed and arrested.

But I want to stress why we were there.  Both the Israeli government and the Trump administration believe in building walls to restrict the movement of people, racial and religious profiling and trampling on people’s rights.  The Trump administration has thrown its full support behind the widely condemned occupation of Palestine. We hope that people at the JCC can see this.

If you oppose Trump’s Muslim ban, his border wall, and his other policies, you must also oppose Israel’s military occupation, the apartheid wall and the routine violence against the Palestinian people.  Ehud Barak is a representative of all of that.

DB: Why do you feel you needed to step over the line like that and face arrest?

LH: Personally, as a Jewish person, I find it horrifying that the JCC, which claims to value justice, would welcome a war criminal responsible for thousands of Palestinian deaths in Gaza.  We need to be standing up against colonialism. We have a responsibility in our communities to recognize the crimes of colonialism. Silence is violence.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.  You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. You can get in touch with the author at dbernstein@igc.org.




South Korean President Moons Bolton

The summit may still be alive because it appears advisers around Trump may well be warning him not to follow his national security adviser down the road to disaster, comments Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern  Special to Consortium News

Thanks no doubt to his bellicose national security adviser John Bolton, President Donald Trump has now lost control of the movement toward peace between the two Koreas.  Trump has put himself in a corner; he must now either reject — or, better, fire — Bolton, or face the prospect of wide war in the Far East, including the Chinese, with whom a mutual defense treaty with North Korea is still on the books.

The visuals of the surprise meeting late yesterday (local time) between the top leaders of South Korea and North

Korea pretty much tell the story.  South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in drove into the North Korean side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), and Seoul quickly released a one-minute video of what, by all appearances, was an extremely warm encounter with Kim Jung-un. It amounted to a smiling, thumbing of two noses at Bolton and the rest of the “crazies” who follow his advice, such as Vice President Mike Pence who echoed Bolton’s insane evocation of the “Libya model” for North Korea, which caused Pyongyang to go ballistic. Their angry response was the reason Trump cited for cancelling the June 12 summit with Kim.

But Trump almost immediately afterward began to waffle. At their meeting on Friday the two Korean leaders made it clear their main purpose was to make “the successful holding of the North Korea-U.S. Summit” happen. Moon is expected to announce the outcome of his talks with Kim Sunday morning (Korean time).

Why is Trump Waffling?

One cannot rule out the possibility that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has some cojones beneath his girth. He has a personal, as well as a diplomatic stake in whether or not Bolton succeeds in wrecking the summit. (Trump, after all, deputized Pompeo, while he was still CIA director, to set it up.)  It’s also possible some non-crazy advisers are warning Trump about Bolton’s next “March of Folly.” Other advisers may be appealing to Trump’s legendary vanity by dangling the prospect that he may blow his only shot at a Nobel Peace Prize.

The two Korean leaders have made abundantly clear their determination to continue on the path of reconciliation despite the artificial divide created by the U.S. 70 years ago. Now, a lot depends on the unpredictable Trump. If enough people talk sense to him and help him see the dangerous consequences of letting himself be led by Bolton, peace on the Korean peninsula may be within reach.

It is no longer a fantasy to suggest that the DMZ could evaporate just as unexpectedly and quickly as that other artifact of the Cold War did — the Berlin Wall almost three decades ago.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  In 1963, when he began his 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he was responsible for evaluating Soviet policy toward China and the Far East.  Later, he prepared the President’s Daily Brief for Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, delivering it one-on-one to Reagans five most senior national security advisers from 1981 to 1985.