Taking Aim at Russia’s ‘Underbelly’

Exclusive: While loudly complaining about “Russian aggression,” the U.S. government escalates plans for encircling Russia in a modern “Great Game,” writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Two hundred years after the “Great Game” for domination of Central Asia began with the Russo-Persian Treaty of 1813, Washington is maneuvering to increase its military presence on Russia’s underbelly, this time through a “counterterrorism partnership” with Tajikistan and its neighbors.

Last month, the Pentagon announced plans for $50 million in new military aid to Central Asia — with a focus on Tajikistan — to “counter the Taliban, ISIL [an acronym for Islamic State], and other regionally-based terrorist groups, and to promote stability in the region.” The aid will also help the U.S. military get its feet in the door by enabling “interoperability and collaboration” with local partner armed forces.

map-tajikistan

The program comes at a time when the United States and NATO are trying to counter Moscow by providing billions of dollars in new aid to Russia’s neighbors, from the Baltic States and Ukraine to Georgia, and stepping up naval exercises in the Black Sea. The announcement follows a visit last November by Secretary of State John Kerry to Tajikistan and other former Soviet republics in the region, where he pledged “U.S. security cooperation.”

It also represents the first major escalation of U.S. military aid to Central Asia since the Pentagon sponsored an intensive training program for special forces in Kyrgystan and Tajikistan in 2012 and 2013. That operation, ostensibly aimed at boosting narcotics enforcement, was criticized by researchers who noted that it would simply eliminate competitors of the country’s biggest drug trafficking rings, which are led by high-level politicians and state officials.

The new military aid program, if approved by Congress, aims to offset reverses suffered by Washington in the region in 2014. That year the government of Kyrgyzstan closed a major U.S. air base, which had been implicated in notoriously corrupt dealings with the country’s former president. Kyrgyzstan also joined the Eurasian Economic Union, a common market that includes Russia, and terminated an aid agreement with Washington.

The United States is not Tajikistan’s only suitor, however. The chief of staff of Pakistan’s army, General Raheel Sharif, met earlier this month with Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, to discuss “cooperation between national armies and law enforcement agencies of Tajikistan and Pakistan in the fight against modern threats and challenges, including terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking.”

His visit came just one day after a leading Chinese military official told President Rahmon that Beijing was ready to “enhance military cooperation and multilateral counter-terrorism collaboration with Tajikistan.”

Tajikistan is already a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which promotes military cooperation and intelligence sharing with China, Russia and other member states. Tajikistan is also a key transit country for a huge new gas pipeline slated to run from Turkmenistan to China. China’s longer-run plans call for Tajikistan to become the first link in a planned commercial route from China to Europe’s markets, called the Silk Road Economic Belt.

For now, Russia still enjoys the strongest presence in Tajikistan. It stations several thousand troops in the country to support border security. Moscow recently earmarked $1.2 billion to train and equip Tajikistan’s army and plans to hold major joint exercises in coming days. Russia hopes to prevent Islamist insurgents from moving out of Afghanistan and destabilizing other Muslim countries on or near Russia’s southern border.

All of the governments courting Tajikistan are turning a blind eye to the corruption and brutality of the country’s regime — which even the Russian media note is becoming “totalitarian.” This May, voters in Tajikistan will almost certainly approve a referendum to anoint President Rahmon “Leader of the Nation” and amend the Constitution to exempt him from the two-term limit.

Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in February accused the Rahmon government of “arresting, imprisoning, and torturing members of the country’s peaceful political opposition” and even kidnapping critics who live abroad.

One critic of the Rahmon regime was shot dead in Istanbul; another was seized in Moscow, where he had lived for a decade, and flown home to serve a 13-year prison sentence.

Said one senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, “Tajikistan is in the midst of the worst political and religious crackdown since the end of the country’s civil war,” which claimed the lives of up to 100,000 people in mid-1990s. “Hundreds of people [are] landing behind bars for no other reason than their peaceful political work. Tajikistan’s human rights crisis is expanding by the day, but the response of Washington, Brussels, and other international partners has fallen seriously short.”

Human rights groups called on the Obama administration to “designate Tajikistan a ‘country of particular concern’ under the International Religious Freedom Act, for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious and political freedoms without further delay.”

So far, however, the Pentagon’s plans for a closer “counterterrorism partnership” appear to be trumping the cause of human rights in Washington. And the European Union, also hoping to wean Tajikistan away from Russia, pledged 251 million Euros for development funding.

For millions of people suffering under corrupt, repressive regimes in Tajikistan and the other “Stans” of Central Asia, such interventions perpetuate the “Great Game” that foreign powers have played at their expense for two centuries. From the U.S. perspective, perpetuating our mindless military competition with Russia in such distant lands is both counterproductive and inhumane. It’s time for Washington to stop playing the Game.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran”; “Saudi Cash Wins France’s Favor”; “The Saudis’ Hurt Feelings”; “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Bluster”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; andHidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.”]




Neocons Sulk over Iran Nuke Deal

Official Washington’s neocons, who wanted so much to “bomb-bomb-bomb” Iran, are now sulking as the nuclear agreement isn’t producing the horrors that they predicted, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

One of the arguments recited most frequently by those wanting to keep Iran ostracized in perpetuity — so frequently that it has achieved the status of cliché — has been that the partial sanctions relief provided for in the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program would lead to increased “nefarious” and “destabilizing” behavior by Iran in the Middle East because it would have more financial resources for such activity.

(The public discourse about Iran is surely responsible for one of the biggest increases in usage of the adjective nefarious.)

It is easy to see why those determined to defeat the agreement came to rely so heavily on this argument (while ignoring the fact that the sanctions to be relieved were always intended to help induce Iranian concessions on nuclear matters, which they did). Much of the other rhetoric that the anti-agreement forces voiced, about centrifuges and uranium stockpiles and breakout times and the like, concerned subjects on which it was clear, upon even the most casual reflection, that the agreement was superior to the alternative of not having the agreement.

So opponents clung tenaciously to the notion of sanctions relief not only making bad behavior more financially feasible but also automatically leading to such behavior. Still hoping either to sabotage the agreement or at least to limit any rapprochement with Iran, the opponents continue to cling to that argument.

The argument was never valid, for multiple reasons. The supposedly “destabilizing” Iranian regional policies actually have been reactive to what others have been doing much more than destabilizing. The amount of money said to be involved in the sanctions relief gets routinely overstated. Most of the funds that had been frozen are already committed to settling accounts elsewhere rather than being available for any new endeavors in the Middle East.

Political imperatives will require the regime to give overwhelming priority, in using whatever resources are left, to repairing domestic economic damage and shortfalls, not running up new bills overseas. Most important, the argument rests on the fallacy that Iranian regional policy is determined by how many rials the Iranian regime has in its bank account, rather than by the political, diplomatic, and security considerations that normally lead a regime to conclude that a particular activity beyond its borders either is or is not in its interests.

The argument assumes that senior Iranian policymakers routinely call in the finance minister and central bank governor and ask, “How much money do we have this month for nefarious behavior in the Middle East?” and then proceed to max out their account by indulging in such behavior. No other regime operates that way, and there is no reason to believe the Iranian regime does either.

If the argument were at all valid, then we should have expected to see a decrease in costly Iranian regional activity when the sanctions were imposed in the first place, and perhaps a further decrease when oil prices plunged. After all, if the Iranians did not ratchet down their activity when their financial resources went down, there is no reason to expect them to ratchet the activity up when resources increase.

But no one has painted such a picture of decreased Iranian activity because there simply is not evidence for such a correlation between financial resources and regional activism. The pro-ostracism, anti-agreement forces certainly have not painted such a picture, which, however logically necessary it is for their argument about increasing nefarious behavior, would go against the thrust of most of the other negative things those forces routinely voice about Iran. (Logical consistency across their many arguments was never a strong point of the anti-agreement forces.)

Now the nuclear agreement is in force, and we can look for any evidence of changes in Iranian regional activity. What certainly should count as significant evidence is the recent report that Iran is withdrawing from Syria a significant portion of the Revolutionary Guard Corps forces that it had deployed there. That’s right: this is Iranian regional activity — violent activity, involving combat — that is going down, not up.

Surely those observers who can be expected to be watching like a hawk whatever Iran is doing in the region would have noticed. It’s not as if the report was confined to inconspicuous places. The report first appeared on Israeli television and was replayed in other Israeli news outlets.

The Israeli report, according to which Iran is withdrawing all of a 2,500-strong fighting force while leaving 700 military advisers in Syria, is consistent with a brief comment by Secretary of State John Kerry in a Congressional hearing less than two weeks ago that Iran had withdrawn a “significant number” of its Revolutionary Guard Corps troops from Syria. But from the people who have said so much about financial windfalls from sanctions relief and how that would lead to Iran doing more destabilizing things in the region, we get no comment. Radio silence.

It is easy to imagine what we would be hearing right now from our friends at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Israel Project, and other prominent anti-agreement, pro-ostracism voices if the report had instead been about an increase in Iranian troops in Syria. It would be shouted from the rooftops that this was strong evidence that the much-warned-about, post-agreement surge in nefarious Iranian behavior was under way.

Those determined to keep shining a negative light on Iran have not had a good fortnight. Besides the reporting about the withdrawal from Syria, there was the strong showing by moderate supporters of President Hassan Rouhani in the Iranian elections. Typical of the way the pro-ostracism people are couching the news right now is an opinion piece by Dennis Ross titled “Why the Nuclear Deal Hasn’t Softened Iran’s Hard-Line Policies.”

Most of the piece rehearses familiar facts about the shortcomings of the Iranian electoral system and the internal influence that hardline elements exert through certain institutions that they control. As far as external Iranian behavior is concerned, there is an all-too-familiar reliance on catchphrases, firmly in the “nefarious and destabilizing” tradition, that are thrown at the reader as if we should take them for granted, with no effort to match them with any evidence of what Iran actually is or is not doing.

Ross’s piece refers, for example, to “continued regional aggression” by Iran. My dictionary defines aggression as “an unprovoked attack or invasion.” You know — such as Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, or the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Where’s the Iranian aggression?

Then there is reference to Iran “employing terror” and “using the Shiite militias to subvert and coerce its neighbors.” In Syria, what Iranian forces and their Hezbollah allies have been doing is helping to prop up the incumbent regime after it came under an armed revolt, with terrorist groups prominent among the opposition.

In Iraq, Iranian forces and Shiite militias also have been supporting the incumbent regime and opposing ISIS — which puts them on the same side of that conflict as the United States. Ross says we should “make the Iranians pay a high price for bad behaviors” while offering them a way out that rejects their “demand” for “regional dominance,” and he suggests that pressure could work in the same way it did with the nuclear negotiations.

But it strains one’s imagination to think of any way such a vague bill of particulars, so divorced from what is actually transpiring on the ground, ever could be translated into a meaningful demand at a negotiating table, let alone a clause in a negotiated agreement. It’s just a recipe for punishment in perpetuity, no matter what Iran does.

And what does Ross say about the new development concerning the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria? Not a word.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




The Honduras Killing Field

The murder of prominent Honduras environmental activist Berta Caceres recalls Hillary Clinton’s role in supporting a right-wing coup in 2009 that ousted an elected progressive president and turned Honduras into a killing field, writes Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

An apparent resurgence of death-squad violence in Honduras, including the March 3 murder of prominent Honduran indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres, is a harsh reminder of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in defending a 2009 coup that ousted leftist President Manuel Zelaya and cleared the way for the restoration of right-wing rule in the impoverished Central American nation.

Caceres, the recent winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, was murdered in her hometown of La Esperenza, Intibucá, in the highlands near the Salvadoran border. Her good friend and close associate, Gustavo Castro, was shot twice but survived the assassination and is now being held against his will by the Honduran Government.

Castro held Cáceres in his arms as she lay dying and played dead to avoid his own execution. He has since been forcibly stopped from leaving Honduras.

The Honduran Government has characterized the killing of Cáceres as a common burglary gone bad, but her friends and close associates reject the government claims as preposterous and part of an emerging cover-up.

In a statement, COPINH, the indigenous rights group that Cáceres was closely associated with, characterized her close-range murder as an assassination. In a press release the day after the murder, the group talked about the multiple death threats that Caceres faced prior to her slaying.

“In the last few weeks, violence and repression towards Berta, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated,” COPINH stated. “In Rio Blanco on February 20th, Berta, COPINH, and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats and repression as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally-financed Honduran company DESA.

“As a result of COPINH’s work supporting the Rio Blanco struggle, … Berta had received countless threats against her life and was granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. On February 25th, another Lenca community supported by COPINH in Guise, Intibuca was violently evicted and destroyed.”

Cáceres received the Goldman Environmental Prize after she led a high-profile, peaceful campaign to stop one of the world’s largest dam builders from pursuing the Agua Zarca Dam, which would have effectively cut off the ethnic Lenca people from water, food and medicine. When Caceres won the Goldman Prize last year, she accepted in the name of “the martyrs who gave their lives in the struggle to defend our natural resources.”

Friends, co-workers, intellectuals and activists are outraged by the killing and many track this and many other murders of activists in Honduras back to the tenure of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. They say Clinton’s lead role in supporting the 2009 oligarch-backed coup that drove the elected progressive President Zelaya from power. Zelaya’s ouster opened the door to a restoration of right-wing rule and out-of-control “free trade.” Honduras soon became the murder capital of the world.

When the Honduran military removed Zelaya from power, the international community – including the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the European Union – condemned the coup and sought Zelaya’s restoration. But Secretary of State Clinton allied herself with right-wing Republicans in Congress who justified Zelaya’s removal because of his cordial relations with Venezuela’s leftist President Hugo Chavez.

In her memoir, Hard Choices, Clinton took credit for preventing Zelaya from returning to Honduras, as if it were a major victory for democracy instead the beginning of a new era of death-squad violence and repression in Honduras.

“We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras,” Clinton wrote, “and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.” In other words, rather than support the right of the elected president to serve out his term, Clinton allowed his illegal ouster to lead to an interim right-wing regime followed by elections that the Honduran oligarchs could again dominate.

Since then, the violence in Honduras has spiraled out of control driving tens of thousands of desperate Hondurans, including unaccompanied children, to flee north to the United States where Clinton later supported their prompt deportation back to Honduras.

On Tuesday, I spoke with Beverly Bell from Other Worlds who worked closely with Berta Cáceres and Gustavo Castro. She was deeply concerned about the safety of Castro and other close associates of Cáceres. She described the situation as follows:

“One person saw the assassination, Gustavo Castro Soto, coordinator of Otros Mundos Chiapas / Friends of the Earth Mexico. A Mexican, Gustavo had come to Berta’s town of La Esperanza to provide her with peace accompaniment, and spent the night at her house on her last night of life. Gustavo himself was shot twice and survived by feigning death. Berta died in his arms.

“Gustavo was immediately detained in inhumane conditions by the Honduran government for several days for ‘questioning’. He was then released and accompanied by the Mexican ambassador and consul to the airport in Tegucigalpa. He was just about to go through customs when Honduran authorities tried to forcibly grab him. The Mexican government successfully intervened, and put Gustavo into protective custody in the Mexican Embassy.”

But according to Bell, the matter didn’t end there: “The Honduran government issued a warning that Gustavo may not leave the country. In a gross violation of international sovereignty, the Honduran government has reclaimed Gustavo from the Embassy, taking him back to the town of La Esperanza for questioning.”

In a March 6 note to close friends, Gustavo Castro wrote, “The death squads know that they did not kill me, and I am certain that they want to accomplish their task.” Shortly after the murder of Berta Cáceres, I interviewed her close friends Beverly Bell, Adrienne Pine and Andres Conteris.

The interviews follow in two parts below, first the interview with Beverly Bell and Adrienne Pine, an associate professor at American University and a Fulbright Scholar who has been doing research in Honduras for nearly two decades. She is the author of Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras.

The second interview is with Conteris, a producer with Democracy Now! Spanish language programming, who lived for years in Honduras and was there throughout the military coup in 2009. He worked as a human rights advocate in Honduras from 1994 to 1999 and is a co-producer of “Hidden in Plain Sight,” a documentary film about U.S. policy in Latin America and the School of the Americas.

DB: Beverly let me start with you. … There was more than one person shot, correct, Beverly Bell?

BB: There were actually three people shot … in addition to Berta, who was shot fatally. Her brother was also shot and a third person, who will be familiar with many of your listeners, and that is Gustavo Castro, who is the coordinator of the social and economic justice group, Otros Mundus, “other worlds” in Spanish, in Chiapas, who has also worked very closely with Berta for years. He spent the night in Berta’s house, as part of a peacekeeping team, which Berta had had for many years now, off and on, because her life has always been so at risk.

And he was shot in the ear, he is okay from that, but the concern that you mention is Gustavo went down this morning to give his testimony to the local court, and he is a very inconvenient witness to them. … So there is an international alert out right now to guarantee Gustavo Castro free passage back to Mexico, together with his wife.

DB: Now, that’s a double-edged sword, because if they hold him, he’s in danger, his life is in danger. And if they release him, his life is in danger. His life is in danger as being a witness to the murder, right?

BB: That’s absolutely correct. In Honduras, pretty much anybody’s life is in danger for anything that relates to peace, to justice, to indigenous rights, to participatory democracy, and notably to opposing the role of the U.S. We are working with peace accompaniment teams right now to try and guarantee Gustavo’s safe passage to Mexico, if the government doesn’t let him go. …

DB: We know that the United States government, Hillary Clinton played a key role in overthrowing the duly elected president, leading us down this path of regular mass murder of human rights activists, and anybody who resists sort of free trade government so what can we say? Has the U.S. expressed its deep concern about the killing?

BB: Yes, cynically and sickly, the U.S. came out … lamenting the murder of Berta Cáceres. And yet, we know that the U.S. has funded to the tune, well this year alone of more than $5,500,000 in military training and education. We know that many of the people who have threatened Berta’s life over the years have been trained at the School of the Americas.

We know that the U.S. government has stood fiercely by the horrible succession of right-wing governments that followed the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Zelaya. And as you mentioned, Hillary Clinton was deeply involved in that. In fact, she even bragged about it in her recent book.

DB: I know, that is shocking that she is proud, this self-declared human rights activist and sophisticated diplomat was proud to brag in her book that she played the key role in keeping Zelaya from going back and assuming his legitimately won presidency. So this is your, as we have called her before, the deposer in chief. And, on that note, let’s bring into the conversation anthropologist Adrienne Pine, who has spent many years, written extensively about Honduras. Adrienne I know that you’re at an airport now, but let me get your initial response to what happened here.

AP: Well, with Bertita, it’s hard to talk about her in the past tense. She’s one of the most amazing activists and advocates I’ve ever met. And also, one of the most compassionate, wonderful people. The fact that they would kill her really sends a message. I mean this is an intentional message that all Hondurans, I think, would understand as such that nobody is safe. Berta, has a sort of, what those of us in the international solidarity community had considered…she had just some sort of protection because she was so well known, because she had won the Goldman prize.

And, of course, we have learned since the coup, the U.S. supported military coup, and I think Beverly laid that out very well, we’ve learned that the international protective measures actually don’t count for much, in Honduras. But this is really ramping up of the criminalization of activism that has occurred since the U.S.-supported military coup in 2009, and it really speaks to the incredible impunity that reigns right now in what is in fact a military dictatorship, a U.S.-supported military dictatorship. That, I think you’re right, it would not have been possible without the direct intervention of Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State.

Berta Cáceres blood is on Hillary Clinton’s hands.

DB: And, of course, Donald Trump could not have been more violently right-wing when it comes to what happened in Honduras. He could have never out-done her. Because she was more sophisticated, and understood better how to solidify the right-wing, representing corporate America, and make sure that things continued ever since the Monroe Doctrine. Let me come back to you, if I could, I’m getting a little bit angry, Beverly Bell. Let me ask you to talk a little bit about Berta. How you met her, when’s the last time you spoke with her?

BB: I spoke with her, I guess, a couple of months ago, and it was the same content as so many of our conversations have been over the last 15 years, or so, that we’ve worked with each other, which was yet another threat. And how we were going to get protection for her, from what was a long, long, long journey of hideous oppression. She has been terrorized, she just a week or two ago, she and a whole team of people who were at the site of a river which the Honduran government and a multi-national corporation had been trying to dam, but which had been blocked by the organization that she headed, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras or COPINH.

A bunch of them were put into a truck and taken away. And it was certainly shaky hours there for a while until they emerged free. So just to answer your question, I have worked with Berta, very, very closely for about 15 years. I’m sitting right now in a house in Albuquerque where she used to live with me. We have fought together, like so many others, against the World Bank, against the U.S. government, against so-called free trade accords, against Inter-American Development Bank, against the Honduran government, against the Honduran oligarchy.

Basically Berta has stood for pretty much anything that any of your listeners would believe is right. She has been at the forefront for decades of the movement for indigenous rights, for indigenous sovereignty, for the environmental protection of land and rivers, for women’s rights, for LGBQ rights in a country that has grossly persecuted and assassinated LGBQ activists. She is, as Adrienne said, just the most extraordinary person, certainly one of the most that I have ever known and it is impossible to speak of her in the past tense.

And, in fact, I have refused to because Berta’s spirit has impacted so many people around the world. If you could be in my in-box today and see the countries from which condolences and denunciations have come, it’s amazing who she has touched, and that spirit will live on in the fight of all of us, for justice, for indigenous rights, for a world that is not tyrannized by the U.S. government, by trans-national capital, and by the elites of various countries.

DB: I’m sure, Beverly Bell, her spirit will be on the tongues and in the hearts of many women as they celebrate, if you will, International Women’s Day. … I’m sure she had some plans for that. It’s an amazing assassination. It’s troubling. Adrienne Pine, when is the last time you saw Berta? What did she mean to you?

AP: It’s so hard for me to accept. I think, like Beverly said she was somebody who I stood with side by side on more times than I could count … protesting the U.S. military base. We’ve been tear gassed together. And she’s helped me through a number of very dangerous situations. It’s hard. It’s hard to lose somebody who was not just such an amazing leader, but also such a good friend,  and not just to me but to so many people.

Bertita lives on, with all of us. And I think the most important thing right now if you look at the social network…Beverly is right. My in-box is exploding with condolences, as well. And if you look at the social networks right now, Honduras is ready to rise up, at the murder of somebody who was so dear, so beloved by so many people. And I think one of the things that’s special about Berta which Beverly also mentioned is that she has a much longer trajectory than many of the activists, in Honduras. I mean, she has been on it for many decades fighting the forces that only recently following the coup the massive number of Hondurans came out to join her to fight the forces of corporatization, destruction of indigenous land, the violence of the patriarchy as Beverly mentioned. I mean she has been right all along.

And people in Honduras are furious. There are lots of different protests around the country that have been organized. There’s a protest in Washington, D.C. tomorrow, at the State Department, that’s been organized. And I think it’s going to be pretty big. She’s just moved people around the world, so deeply. And I think if Honduras is giving a signal that nobody is safe in Honduras then around the world we need give a signal that this regime cannot stand, any longer. And the U.S. has to stop supporting it.

DB: And, Adrienne, say a little bit more about the way in which she resisted. … I mean, it’s important for people to understand that in the face of so many threats…the idea that she won the Goldman Environmental prize here, given out here with huge fanfare in San Francisco. I mean, it really is clearly a message to everybody on the ground. But say a little bit more about what she meant to the people on the ground, how she worked with people. What were some of the actions that she helped to organize? You mentioned some protests and demonstrations, but is there one issue? This was about this dam. I guess resisting this dam was huge in Honduras. It means a lot to the corporate 1%, and a lot to the people who were resisting it.

AP:  Well, absolutely. I mean the Aqua Zarca Dam, that Berta and her organization, COPINH. managed to successfully stop was an incredible victory for the Lenca people, and for the people of Honduras against the corporatization that is part and parcel of the U.S.-supported military coup of 2009, which was fundamentally a neo-liberal coup, and which vastly increased vulnerability of the already most marginalized groups, that Berta herself was part of, the indigenous groups of Honduras.

And so as somebody who had been organizing to resist this kind of government and corporate intrusion on sovereign indigenous lands and waters for decades, Berta was a natural leader. After the coup, when those forces became even stronger, against the participatory democracy, in Honduras, and Berta really stood alone in that. She was a woman leader among mostly male leaders.

And you’ve got a social movement that has traditionally been male led and there were a whole lot of feminists during the resistance movement that stood up against that. But Berta was just amazing. She held her own in very male-dominated forum, and it was through her inclusive insistence on fighting the patriarchy alongside the fight against the predatory violence of capitalism and neo-liberal capitalism, and U.S. militarism.

I mean, she tied it altogether in a way that very few Honduran leaders have managed to do. And yet she was uniquely not about her ego. I mean, she was somebody who gave so much to so many people. And I think that’s why in the protests people weren’t afraid to go up to her. She would … it’s hard to put into words. I mean I’m devastated by this loss and I’m not the primary mourner. I think there are thousands of people today who are devastated just as much as I am.

DB: And back to you Bev Bell. So maybe describe a little bit from your perspective what this loss looks like.

BB: As Adrienne said it’s huge. There are two indigenous movements in Honduras, and both of them have really been about the construction of indigenous identity. Which is to say that both the Garifuna people, that is the afro-indigenous people who reside on the Atlantic coast, and the Lenca people of which Berta was one, had had their indigenous identity stamped out. And Berta, and remarkably another woman, Miriam Miranda, who has also been terrorized and persecuted, who was head of the Garifuna indigenous movement had been able to shape together, with so many other people whom they pulled into participatory leadership, as Adrienne said.

They really were not about the sort of top down leaders that we see, well certainly in the U.S. government, but also in so many social movements, and in the NGO context in the U.S. They really were about empowering everybody, and led with humility. It’s huge. There is not anyone else in COPINH who is anywhere close to the capacity or the stature of Berta.

Most campesinos indigenous peoples are denied the right to education. They’re denied a lot of things that would allow them to also become leaders. That Berta who grew up in a very, very humble home, was able to become a leader was remarkable and really was due to her mother who was a fierce fighter. She was the mayor of the town, and the governor of the state, in a time when women were neither of those things.

And Berta grew up, for example, listening to underground radio from Cuba and Nicaragua that they had listened to, secretly, during the revolutions there. She was very engaged in the revolution in El Salvador. She has just had an incredible history that is really unparalleled. So the loss is huge. It’s irreparable, and as we said it’s not just a loss for Honduras, but for social movements everywhere, because Berta was all over.

I mean, she just met with the Pope in Italy, a couple of weeks ago. She was a leader in global social movements, not just Honduran ones, and not just indigenous ones. However, it is important to say and I know that Berta would say this: That the social movements in Honduras are strong. She loved to say that Honduras is known for two things. First, for having been the military base for the U.S.-backed Contra, and secondly for Hurricane Mitch. But in fact Honduras holds another fact which is that it is home to an extraordinary movement of feminists, of environmentalists, of unionists, of many sorts of people. And they are much stronger because of the life of Berta Cáceres. And that is not hyperbole. She single-handedly helped shape the strength of that social movement. But they will live on, and they are a part of the legacy of Berta Cáceres.

DB: Well, I know Adrienne it’s not going to be the last word on this subject. But, for the moment, what do you think you’re going to be doing in the context of fighting this fight, and standing with your friend and friends, where you’ve worked so long…how you’ve worked so long within Honduras. I swear there’s a traffic jam between my heart and my mind here, but final words, from you for now.

AP: You know I think we need to stand by the people of Honduras, who have been given a clear message that their lives are at risk, if they stand up for their own rights. And in part, a big part of what that means is standing up for democracy here in the United States. And if we had had a democratic system, and if we had been able to decide for ourselves as a people if we wanted to allow that coup to stand, I don’t think that would have happened.

And instead Hillary Clinton who is now running for president, is…and she proudly made sure that that coup would stand. I think we need to fight here at home for democracy, just as strongly as it is fought in Honduras, and in solidarity with people around the world. I mean, this is a call to action. We have to honor Berta’s life, by continuing to fight, and fighting even stronger. …

DB: It’s a tragedy that is has to be in this context and I hope we can continue this dialogue about these important issues and I’m sure there are going to be many people on the ground who are going to need these microphones, who are going to need the support of all of us, to resists this policy that was really instituted by Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State.

ANDRES THOMAS CONTERIS

DB: We are now joined by Andres Conteris who is the founder of Democracy Now en Espanol, and who was in Honduras during the 2009 coup, all through the coup. We spoke to him many times, several times from the palace as the coup was in progress. …

AC: It’s a very difficult day because of the news that we’re talking about, and the horrible assassination of dear Bertita.

DB: Tell us a little bit about your time with her, your impression of what her work was like, what she was like?

AC: Well, I’m very glad to follow both Beverly and Adrienne, who have spoken very eloquently about Berta’s life. I go back a little bit further because I lived in Honduras from 1994 to 1999. And when I met Berta was in May of 1997. I can recall it very clearly. And it has to do very much with the context of what just happened today, in Honduras.

At that time there was a horrible assassination of an indigenous leader, in Honduras. He was part of the nation of the Chorti, the Mayan Chorti people. It’s 1 of 8 different indigenous communities in the nation, in Honduras. … His name was Candido Amador. He was assassinated in May of 1997 and what Berta, and her partner, Salvador, at the time, and other indigenous leaders did is, they gathered all indigenous nations in Honduras at that time, and they organized the most amazing pilgrimage to the capital.

And, Dennis, it was so awesome to be there at the time, and to see the stalwart nature in which these people were willing to risk everything, and leave their communities, and not even know how they would get back home. And go and camp in front of the presidential palace. It was incredible. And that is the context in which I met Berta. And she was such a leader of her people. And the entire indigenous peoples that gathered together, and collaborated with one another very closely to resist this kind of repression, that slaughtered Candido Amador at that time.

And what happened, Dennis, was truly amazing. The President, because he was going to go to receive this human rights prize had to do everything to get rid of them. And he ordered a military eviction, a forced, militarized, brutal repression against the indigenous who were camped out in front of his presidential palace. But they refused to leave the capital. And they only moved 2 miles away, and then just continued to camp out there.

And that put him, the president, in a dilemma whereby he was then forced to negotiate. And this is where Berta’s skills just really came forward. She was part of a negotiation of an accord that the president signed. And representatives from each of the indigenous nations also signed it. And what they did is they put together what they called a commission of guarantees or  a guarantors commission, which was an signed by international leaders and human rights leaders  in order to guarantee the compliance of this accord.

I was invited by Berta and Salvador to be part of that guarantors commission. And as part of it, then, in the following months one of the clear memories that I have is that the government, of course, was not living up to the agreements that it had promised for education, for electrification, for health. And most of all, for land for the indigenous people. And they were not living up to these accords. And so I was part of non-violent training of the indigenous who were rising up. And they engaged in occupations of embassies, like the Costa Rican embassy for one. And they also did a blockade of the tourist attraction that is most popular in Honduras which are the Mayan ruins.

And I spent the night with the Chorti people and with Berta Cáceres, in front of those ruins, blocking them so that tourists could not go, so the government would be forced to negotiate in a much more honest way, with the indigenous. And that is how I knew Berta, living her life in her country. She was always there accompanying her people. She would make sure that everyone had enough to eat and she would not tend to herself until she knew …

Well what Berta would do is just make sure that the people were really as cared for as much as possible. And this she showed in so many clear ways. But one thing that needs to be said is that she was not only a leader of her people, a leader in the environmental movement, a strong model for women, a strong model for indigenous leaders, but she was an amazing mother herself. She’s a mother of four children, and one of whom I was just with last week. It’s her oldest, her name is Olivia.

And I was there in the town La Esperanza where Berta was assassinated. And Olivia is turning out to be the spitting image of her mother, in so many ways. She’s 26 years old. She’s the age now when I met Berta in 1997. And Olivia is now basically becoming one of the women leaders, one of the indigenous leaders that is leading her people. And it’s just incredible and impressive to see that.

I remember joking with Olivia just last week about her mother, Berta, being concerned for her during the coup, because she was at the university protesting the violent military coup. And, Berta, of course, was concerned, as a mother for her daughter. And her daughter said “Hey, you lived out in El Salvador, for instance, the revolution. Give me a chance to live out my revolution during my age.”

So, of course, Berta wanted to do that but she also is a mother and she’s got two children who are studying medicine in Buenos Aires. Another, a daughter, who is in Mexico City, studying. And then her oldest daughter, Olivia, is there in La Esperanza working with indigenous people and organizing them.

DB: A huge, huge loss, that the family is probably devastated. We know that people are rising up right now in Honduras and the loss to the community is hard to evaluate.

AC: It’s really unspeakable. I’ve not been able to talk to Mama Berta, who is Berta’s mother, who I saw last week. Mama Berta, as Beverly shared was the Mayor of La Esperanza, the Governor of the Department…but also Mama Berta is this incredible midwife. She helped to give birth to probably over 1,000 people over the decades. And she is an incredible woman herself. And I cannot imagine how devastated she is right now, with this incredibly horrible, horrible news. …

One other thing before I go, and it’s important to point out that there’s a petition going around on social media to sign to make sure that the U.S. Congress guarantees an international investigation into this brutal murder and also, Senator [Patrick] Leahy has already signed a statement with regard to this assassination. You know, Berta was in Washington, D.C. and met with over 30 members of Congress, many of whom she met personally including Senator Boxer.

So Berta’s name is familiar in Washington. And so this should be a very important event that causes change in U.S. policy towards Honduras, which I’m so glad both Adrienne and Bev mentioned the complicity of Hillary Clinton in the coup in Honduras. And not pressuring, at all, this horrible regime of Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is very, very complicit in the horrible human rights violations against LGBT, against women, against journalists, and against Indigenous and against others in the country.

It’s been documented that Honduras is near the murder capital of the world, outside of hot wars going on. And it’s very much related to the militarized situation that this man, Juan Orlando Hernandez, who came to power in an illegitimate way. Hillary Clinton did not denounce that, she did not denounce the coup strong enough.

DB: Did not denounce? … She made sure that the coup was sustained and it is really troubling Andreas, on the one hand her work as deposer in chief sent people running out of the country, and turned it into the murder capital. …

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.




Why GOP Bigwigs Fear Trump

A desperate Republican establishment is going all out to stop Donald Trump who has rallied the GOP “base” that the bigwigs have long manipulated and sold out, explains ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The Donald Trump phenomenon and the suddenly frantic efforts within the Republican Party to try to stop Trump have led some observers to believe American politics are at a major inflection point, one where a familiar line-up of political parties and their backers could be substantially revised. Even some commentators who generally support the Republican Party are talking seriously about the possibility of the party breaking up.

There is some valid basis for such talk, given that this party has come to embrace positions and interests that have no business sticking together. The political coalition has more or less worked, but it has not rested on substantive logic. So a destabilizing iconoclast with just enough political cleverness, as Trump has, can expose the artificiality of it rather easily.

Foreign policy is not the main front on which the exposure is taking place, but it may be among the first places where exposure becomes too obvious to ignore. Neoconservatives, whose realization of their earlier plans, culminating in the launching of a major offensive war in the Middle East, was made possible by infiltrating the foreign policy of a Republican administration, already are looking for a new home. That process may accelerate if Marco Rubio loses the Florida primary.

The fragility of this part of what has been the Republican coalition is demonstrated by how little Trump has had to do to cause the neoconservative alarm bells to sound. He has not even advanced a coherent alternative foreign policy to shoot down. All he has done is to stray slightly from neoconservative orthodoxy: pointing out that the Iraq War was a big mistake and — even though Trump declares himself to be a strong supporter of Israel — committing the sin of suggesting that impartiality would be advisable in a U.S. attempt to help to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An even bigger disjunction represented by the Republican Party is between the economic interests of a wealthy elite and the fears, xenophobia, and social-issue fixations of the hoi polloi whose votes the elite relies on to put its preferred economic policies in place. Not only is there no logical, substantive connection between these two aspects of what has come to be the Republican agenda; the economic policies are contrary to the interests of most of the ordinary citizens who are casting the votes.

In an era of secular stagnation with insufficient demand, many of those voters would be better off with fiscal policies different from what typically has been in the Republican agenda. The basic divide underlying this part of the Republican disjunction is between the one percent that provides the money to political candidates and that portion of the 99 percent that is the target of the campaigns that this money finances and who have been voting for those candidates.

Trump, by not being beholden to the donors of money and making a big deal out of the fact that he is not, has been well placed to start tearing down some of the curtains that have covered this divide within the party.

The extraordinary political turmoil we are witnessing is not, as some of the stop-Trump activists would like us to believe, a contest of Donald Trump versus the Republican Party. Trump’s candidacy has functioned as a catalyst, but the energy for the turmoil ultimately comes from collision of matter and antimatter that have been the different elements of the Republican coalition.

That this is more about the party itself than about Donald Trump is reflected in how it has only been very recently that many within the party have started excoriating Trump, with most of those same people not having seen fit to do so earlier. The same Mitt Romney who made an anti-Trump speech this week was delighted to have Trump’s endorsement in 2012.

In the current campaign, it was only a few debates ago that some candidates (most notably Ted Cruz) were treating Trump with respect because they hoped to get his backers when his campaign finally failed. It was only after it became apparent that the campaign was not failing that the excoriation began in earnest and the race to the bottom reached the gutter that the contest for the Republican nomination is now in.

Fareed Zakaria sums up well what has been going on here: “Republicans have fed the country ideas about decline, betrayal and treason. They have encouraged the forces of anti-intellectualism, obstructionism and populism. They have flirted with bigotry and racism. Trump merely chose to unashamedly embrace all of it, saying plainly what they were hinting at for years. In doing so, he hit a jackpot.”

Robert Kagan, although he is one of the named targets of Zakaria’s criticism (for having downplayed the anti-intellectualism that Sarah Palin represented in the 2012 campaign), is, now that he is one of the first of the neoconservative fraternity to jump ship, at least as blunt in describing how Trump is not hijacking the Republican Party but instead is “the party’s creation, its Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker.”

Kagan asks, “Was it not the party’s wild obstructionism — the repeated threats to shut down the government over policy and legislative disagreements, the persistent calls for nullification of Supreme Court decisions, the insistence that compromise was betrayal, the internal coups against party leaders who refused to join the general demolition — that taught Republican voters that government, institutions, political traditions, party leadership and even parties themselves were things to be overthrown, evaded, ignored, insulted, laughed at?”

That is in addition to what Kagan describes as “the party’s accommodation to and exploitation of the bigotry in its ranks” and “the Obama hatred, a racially tinged derangement syndrome” that has portrayed the President as “not only wrong but also anti-American, un-American, non-American.”

The ingredients would seem to be in place for a major transformation of American politics and the American party system, perhaps equivalent to the Republican Party’s own displacement of the Whigs in the 1850s. But several other factors are likely to prevent that from happening.

One is the constitutional structure and electoral system in the United States, with an executive led by a strong president and a first-past-the-post method of electing members of Congress. In some other advanced democracies, perhaps with a parliamentary system and elections that use party lists and proportional representation, a crisis as severe as the one currently afflicting the Republican Party would very likely lead to the party’s break-up and the formation of new parties and new coalitions — somewhat like what happened to Italy’s Christian Democrats in the mid-1990s. But in the United States the electoral mechanics are stacked against even an ad hoc third party candidacy.

Another factor is that with the deepened and intensified partisanship in American politics, party identification has increasingly become for many people a major part of self-identification. It is a cultural thing as much as a political or economic thing. This pattern is sustained not only by what political parties themselves say and do but also by ideologically defined talk radio and other self-selected media exposure.

Despite the fact that party membership in the United States is in many respects a very loosely defined status — most Americans do not carry a party membership card in their wallets — viewing oneself as a conservative or liberal or Republican or Democrat is for many as much a part of self-identification as religion or ethnicity is for people in many other countries.

A very important factor in sustaining the Republican coalition has been, to be blunt, how poorly most citizens understand important issues. Donald Trump may be the only candidate who openly acknowledges how much he loves having voters who are poorly educated, but he is hardly the only one to rely heavily on the thought processes, such as they are, of that demographic. Most voters do not understand Keynesian economics, and the Republican establishment relies on the fact that they don’t.

Neither do most voters, who may have heard enough to get a sense of how dysfunctional Washington and especially the U.S. Congress have been in recent years, follow the legislative process closely enough to attribute the dysfunction to a particular political party engaging in what Kagan calls “wild obstructionism.” One can say all one wants about which party a segment of the population ought to support as being in that segment’s best interests, but what matters politically is what those citizens believe, or misbelieve.

Accentuating all of this is how much beliefs among the American public that are relevant to public policy — even purely factual beliefs about what is, and not just what ought to be done — have become corollaries of party identification. This is basically a tribal phenomenon, in which people believe certain things because the elders of the tribe to which they belong tell them to believe those things.

In the United States many beliefs are held largely because elders (i.e., politicians, assisted by the priests of talk radio) in the tribe (i.e., political party) with which a citizen identifies say it is so. A vicious and self-referential circle is sustained, in which political parties are able to hold on to most of their followers even amid a party crisis because the parties inculcate beliefs that lead the followers to view that party, rightly or wrongly, as being in their best interests.

In a post-Citizens United world this has become all the more true with respect to the ability of moneyed interests to buy the ads and finance the campaigns that sustain the beliefs.

Polling repeatedly has demonstrated major party-based divisions in American perceptions even when the question is factual rather than asking for a value or a preference, and even when there is no obvious aspect of the demographics other than party identification that should lead to the beliefs involved.

This is true, for example, of factual questions relating to climate change. Polling shows that self-identified Republicans and especially conservative Republicans are much less likely than Democrats to believe that the planet is warming up within our own lifetimes and that human activity is the major reason. This difference cannot be explained by the personal experiences of the respondents, and for the vast majority it cannot be explained by any careful looking at the relevant climate science. The different beliefs exist because prominent figures in the Democratic and Republican parties are saying different things on the subject and thus providing cues for their party adherents to follow.

It would be good for the Republic if the current Trump-induced turmoil in the Republican Party did lead to a shake-up of the American political system in which that party as we know it today went the way of the Italian Christian Democrats — but with an outcome after the dust settles that is a better fit for the American body politic than the outcome in Italy (which has produced its own partial counterparts to Donald Trump in the persons of the tycoon/playboy Silvio Berlusconi and the entertainer/comedian Beppe Grillo).

A good outcome for the United States would be one that yielded a responsible center-right party whose agenda corresponded more closely to the interests of its followers than the current Republican Party does and that would offer a principled and informed opposition to liberal programs rather than relying on obstructionism and obscurantism.

Besides being good for the Republic, for this political scientist the transition would be fascinating to watch. But it’s probably not going to happen.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Sleepwalking Toward Catastrophe

Because the mainstream U.S. media remains neocon-dominated, there has been little rational debate about the risks of stumbling into nuclear war with Russia, as James W Carden writes.

By James W Carden

One question that the no-doubt intrepid debate moderators of the forthcoming Republican and Democratic debates might bestir themselves to ask the remaining candidates is: Given the fact that the U.S. and Russia are now circling one another on the Black Sea, in Ukraine, and in the skies over Syria, it is possible that policymakers are not completely alive to the risks inherent in such maneuverings?

The question is well worth asking since the world balance in 2016 is not only dangerous, it carries risks far in excess to the last time the great powers accidentally stumbled, into catastrophe. After all, unlike in the summer of 1914, today, all the great world powers have nuclear weapons. A brief consideration of The Great War reveals startling parallels with the situation that obtains today.

In the days immediately following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand no one could have imagined what was ahead – and this points to a lesson that is still very relevant today: that in international affairs the intentions of other nation-states are essentially unknowable. As such, the pre-war status quo collapsed under the weight of that uncertainty.

What followed stands as a vivid example of what the political scientist Robert Jervis has called “the security dilemma.” This posits that when a state undertakes measures to increase its security, those measures will inevitably be seen as offensive rather than defensive by other states, who will then take counter-measures to increase their own security, and so on. In other words, so-called “defensive” weapons are not seen as “defensive” in the eyes of the states against which they are aimed.

As the eminent scholar of Europe, Professor David Calleo, has written, the Germans didn’t see themselves as aggressors. “The Imperial Germans,” he writes, “maintained they were waging war for defensive purposes, they were protecting their national unity from the wrath of the French who were determined to undo it.” The Entente Powers saw things differently.

It is also instructive to note the way democratic societies behaved in the run-up to the First World War. Today, well-funded and influential think tanks endlessly promote the idea that the U.S. ought to engage in a crusade to promote democracy abroad because “democracies don’t fight each other.” Yet the Great War puts the lie to that assertion, especially when you consider that the voting franchise in Germany was more inclusive than America’s at the time.

Democratic peace theory also purposefully ignores one of democracy’s principal problems: that when it comes to war, its citizens are prone to fall prey to a mob mentality. And a mob mentality and a war fever is exactly what gripped the democracies in Europe in the run-up to the Great War.

In an editorial published a week before hostilities broke out, The Nation magazine reported that: “In Vienna, in Paris, in Berlin, in St Petersburg, there were signs of acute mania affecting large bodies of people. Mob psychology often shows itself in discouraging and alarming forms, but is never so repulsive and appalling as when it is seen in great crowds shouting for war. Lest we forget indeed – about nothing does the mob forget so quickly as about war.”

The editorial went on to conclude: “If one looked only at these surface manifestations, one would be tempted to conclude that Europe was about to become a gigantic madhouse.”

Professor Calleo recounts that after Chancellor of Germany, Bethmann-Hollweg, was deposed, he wrote that he too saw the role of public opinion as “the crucial element – how else to explain the senseless and impassioned zeal which allowed countries like Italy, Rumania, and even America not originally involved in the war, no rest until they too had immersed themselves in the bloodbath?”

Today’s rush, likewise senseless and impassioned, to restart the Cold War is largely a product of the mutual admiration society that has sprung up between the Pentagon, hawkish administration officials, and their unscrupulous admirers in the media.

The propaganda churned out by Washington’s ‘military-media—think tank complex’ would have been all too familiar to the poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, both of whom served on the front lines of the Great War in France.

Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum est” was written at the front in 1917 and describes the death of a fellow soldier who had been gassed by the Germans. In the poem’s final stanza, Owen directly addresses a civilian war propagandist back in England, telling him that if he had seen first-hand the horrors of war:

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori

It is sweet and right to die for your country”

Owen was killed at the front a week before the Armistice was signed. His friend Sassoon survived. Unlike Owen, Sassoon lived a long life and produced some of the best known anti-war literature of the day.

At the front he produced what may be his most memorable offering, Suicide in the Trenches, in which he too castigated the hearty band of war propagandists cheering from the sidelines:

“You smug faced cowards with kindling eye

Who cheer as soldier lads march by

Sneak home and pray you’ll never know

The Hell where youth and laughter go”

One can’t help but wonder what Owen and Sassoon might have made of the legions of armchair generals and assorted foreign policy hangers-on who make up the ever expanding ranks of the New Cold Warriors in Washington today.

James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the U.S. State Department. [This article is adapted from a lecture given to students at the Moscow State University in February.]




Creating Russia/China Bogeymen

Relying on the most unreliable propaganda, Washington’s foreign policy establishment is seeking massive new military spending to counter Russian and Chinese “aggression” — when a more sober analysis would show these “threats” to be wildly exaggerated, as Gilbert Doctorow explains.

By Gilbert Doctorow

Where Russia is concerned – and now also China – one can count on Foreign Affairs magazine to feature articles presenting the bogeymen in a form that the U.S. security and international affairs establishment prefers, irrespective of whether this particular bogeyman has any basis in real-life facts.

These renditions are preferred because they support policy recommendations – and in particular, defense appropriations – which the establishment wants to see approved by the White House and by Congress.

I do not mean to suggest that all articles fit this generalization because occasionally dissenting views are allowed some space, especially if they are badly argued. But the great majority does fit this mold and the American people are the big losers by this disservice because the public, including the expert community, is deprived of objective examinations of these very important and powerful countries.

In turn, these distorted analyses actually can turn these countries into existential threats to the United States by provoking dangerous reactions to American policy even when Russia or China had no aggressive intent in the first place.

Because of this imbalance within elite policy circles, there is a cluelessness within the U.S. media and among the popular pundits who are given air time and print pages. Because they tend to repeat what the elite “experts” have been writing, the fault for any clash is blamed on the supposedly volatile Russians and enigmatic Chinese. The fuller context is always missing.

If the initial U.S. actions were mentioned or analyzed, the reaction from the Russians and the Chinese would be better understood and might even be modified or forestalled. But instead the reaction is taken as a starting point and then a policy recommendation is developed to neutralize the Russian or Chinese response, thus opening a new action-reaction cycle rather than resolving the existing one. In this way, tensions are escalated to the breaking point, which in our still nuclear age is not very smart and looks more like a death wish.

Whatever the future holds for Russia, the featured specialists in the field also seek to instill in us the certainty that the outcome can only be threatening to world security. Either Russia is getting too strong and thus aggressive and dangerous as it flexes its muscles – or Russia is imploding and therefore behaving aggressively, dangerously and unpredictably to distract the populace by xenophobic nationalism. The guiding editorial line of Foreign Affairs – in order to paint Russia in the most frightening tones – is heads I win, tails you lose.

(For purposes of this essay, I have chosen Foreign Affairs as a marker for the broad spectrum of U.S. expert publications in international affairs because the magazine has the greatest circulation in its class. But the sins of the magazine’s editor Gideon Rose are not his alone, to be sure.)

Collapsing Russia?

A month ago, Foreign Affairs published yet another dispatch on the pending ruination of Russia submitted by a repeat offender, Professor Alexander J. Motyl of Rutgers University and Columbia’s Harriman Institute. The purple prose title, for which we may surely thank the coy FA editors, is “Lights Out for the Putin Regime. The Coming Russian Collapse.

Ever since the onset of the Ukrainian confrontation over Crimea and the Donbass in 2014, Motyl has been riding the whitewater flow of events in the region, his mood alternating between euphoria and deep depression according to the prospects for the heroic Maidan regime at any given moment.

It appears, strangely, that he is now once again celebrating the imminent demise of the Russian government at the very time when the numbers on the Ukraine’s economy have hit rock bottom – along with the confidence in Kiev shared by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. The absurdity of Motyl’s essay was well exposed by an article in Russia Insider by staff writer and editor Riley Waggaman.

Perhaps to show off a new horse in its stable, Foreign Affairs has just published an article about the threat from Russia predicated on its weakness written by a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, Robert D. Kaplan. His “Eurasia’s Coming Anarchy” has the single merit of extending the theory to explain the parallel threat from China, with the subtitle, “The Risks of Chinese and Russian Weakness.”

This ambitious attempt to take out two eagles with a single pebble assembles as many trite assumptions about the subject countries as the author could scoop up and dump in one place. Kaplan then surrounds the banalities and fallacies with argumentation that does not stand a test of logic.

Kaplan’s article opens with a couple of unexceptional assertions. One is that we are witnessing a historical turning point: “for the first time since the Berlin Wall fell, the United States finds itself in a competition among great powers.” The realization that China and Russia represent “great powers” in itself suggests we are dealing with a more realistic author when compared to President Barack Obama and his dismissal of Russia as a “regional power” just two years ago.

Kaplan’s second factual starting point — namely that both countries are experiencing “steadily worsening” economies and “economic turmoil” — also is reasonable. However, from this point on, Kaplan loses his grip on reality.

We are told that the leaders of China and Russia are no doubt suffering “from a profound sense of insecurity, as their homelands have long been surrounded by enemies, with flatlands open to invaders.” Yes, but that’s true of most nations, including many leading European states, and is far less relevant in an age of intercontinental ballistic missiles when similar “insecurity” can be felt by leaders even in countries surrounded mostly by water.

Kaplan then adds that both countries “are finding it harder to exert control over their … immense territories, with potential rebellions brewing in their far-flung regions.” This dubious assertion leads straight into his argument that the “prospect of quasi anarchy in two economically struggling giants” is worrisome.

Here is where the oft-repeated neoconservative reasoning emerges: domestic problems in autocratic regimes translate into belligerence and nationalism. The same charges have been brought in the past by historians and political scientists against all kinds of regimes experiencing hard times, but today’s conventional wisdom is that democratic nations like the United States have robust governance, whereas the authoritarian or autocratic regimes are fragile and more in need of artificial manipulation of public opinion to stay in power.

Moreover, we are told that aggression coming out of strength is easy for other states to interpret whereas aggression coming out of weakness can result in “daring, reactive, and impulsive behavior, which is much harder to forecast and counter.” How convenient that this formulation fits perfectly the description of Russian President Vladimir Putin by nearly all the U.S. media. No doubt it will be soon applied to President Xi and his associates.

But is Kaplan’s supposition true? Much of the international aggression that we have seen in recent decades has come from supposedly strong democratic nations, including the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (along with Great Britain and other members of the “coalition of the willing”) in 2003 and the U.S.-European “regime change” in Libya in 2011. Weren’t those military invasions “daring” and “impulsive”? Clearly, they weren’t sober and thought-through.

So, as Kaplan reveals his selective approach to reality, the reader is forewarned. Kaplan has no objective grasp of reality and will say whatever he deems useful to bring us to his prescribed conclusion.

Unsubstantiated Untruths

About Russia under Putin, Kaplan offers a sampling from the wild and unproven accusations that litter the popular press. The Russian president’s goal has been clear: “to restore the old empire,” though this has been done not with troops but by building “a Pharaonic network of energy pipelines,” by helping politicians in neighboring countries, by intelligence operations and by getting control of local media.

Apart from those “Pharaonic” pipelines, the toolkit ascribed to Putin rather closely resembles the modus operandi of the American Empire (or for that matter, many other past and present world powers and even regional powers). U.S. officials boast endlessly of America’s “soft power” or what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls “smart power,” a U.S. toolkit that also includes the machinations of the National Endowment for Democracy and similar U.S.-funded groups; financial and economic strangulation of recalcitrant countries; and deployment of the U.S. Navy and American troops when the other techniques don’t succeed. (Just ask countries in Latin America for details.)

Yet, American foreign policy “experts” like Kaplan operate with an extraordinarily myopic view of the world, finding U.S. application of power “good” and anything even remotely similar from an adversary “bad.”

According to Kaplan’s version of events, Putin turned from subterfuge to military force only recently when his domestic economy began to fail. Thus, in Kaplan’s analysis, there were Russian interventions in Georgia in 2008, in Crimea in 2014, and in Syria in 2015 – while he ignores the unique circumstances attached to each incident.

With his broad brush, Kaplan avoided explaining what preceded these alleged “aggressions.” Rather than explaining the roles of other countries – Georgia in attacking South Ossetia, the U.S. supporting a violent coup in Ukraine (and the Crimeans voting overwhelming to join Russia), and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni powers fueling an armed jihadist rebellion in Syria – Kaplan presents the interventions as occurring in a vacuum, explained only by the aggressive motives of a diseased regime in Moscow.

So, for instance, the intervention in support of Syria’s government was “to restore Moscow’s position in the Levant – and to buy leverage with the EU by influencing the flow of refugees to Europe.”

Kaplan also charts Russian “aggression” against an economic crisis associated with falling energy and raw material prices on world markets and Western sanctions. In this thinking, Russia has nothing to sell the world outside of military equipment because its rulers “never built civil institutions or a truly free market.” And for good measure, Kaplan reminds us that “the corrupt, gangster led economy of Russia today exhibits eerie similarities to the old Soviet one.”

To keep this failing state together in the face of severe internal problems, Putin uses foreign policy and “nurses historical grudges concerning Russia’s place in the world,” Kaplan insists. In this Putin is creative, calculating and “even deceptively conciliatory at moments.” Hence, Putin’s current claims to help the West fight the Islamic State.

But Kaplan argues all of this will ultimately be to no avail since the regime is brittle and overly centralized. Kaplan predicts a possible coup against Putin such as toppled Khrushchev in 1964. Or Russia may simply break up in the midst of chaos, as happened after the 1917 revolutions. The North Caucasus, Siberia and the Far East may loosen their ties. This could end in a “Yugoslavia lite.” Then the global jihadist movement would move in.

Alternatively Kaplan presents us with the scenario of the Russian bear attacking Baltic states, a scary dream sequence that is popular at the moment among the NATO general staff. In this scenario, Europe is disunited, NATO is weak, Russia has been sowing discord with its Nord Stream 2 project, European will is being undermined by right-wing and left-wing nationalist movements which were spawned by slow economic growth.

I have cited above many but not all of what passes for nuggets of insight about Russia and Europe in Kaplan’s essay. In fact, the building blocks of his essay are off-the-shelf distortions and propaganda that have little or no basis in reality if one pauses to inspect each one separately. Simply put, the author does not know what he is talking about.

Policy Recommendations

In the case of Kaplan, the pre-selected policy recommendation which he peddles is rather innocent and will disappoint those looking for adventure. It is that the United States should exercise caution in dealing with Beijing and Moscow: the “first task should be to avoid needlessly provoking these extremely sensitive and domestically declining powers.”

At the end of the essay, he puts this in more prescriptive language: “Although congressional firebrands seem not to realize it, the United States gains nothing from baiting nervous regimes worried about losing face at home.” He urges against entertaining any aspirations of fomenting regime change, suggesting that building democracy should be left to the Russians themselves.

Nevertheless, Kaplan then makes recommendations that could clearly be read by the Russians as foreshadowing military or political intervention. He falls back on Teddy Roosevelt’s famous maxim “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” meaning stepped-up appropriations for the U.S. military. Specific recommendations include adding more submarines to the U.S. naval presence in the Baltic Sea, increasing the numbers of U.S. military personnel in front line NATO states on the eastern reaches of the alliance (as Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has just requested), and generally raising the Defense Department budget to restore ground troop strength levels.

This validation of “inside the box” policy will surely go down well with the generals and admirals. Whether it will avoid stirring up the Russians or ensure greater American security is an entirely different matter.

To be fair, we should be thankful that the author of this ignorant essay has more instinct for survival and common sense than a great many other experts who populate the pages of our international relations journals. Many of them are lusting for a “regime change” project in Moscow, learning nothing from the failures in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere and apparently assuming that the U.S. can simply dictate who the new rulers of Russia will be.

Yet, Kaplan relies on the very same building blocks of argumentation that are very often used to justify more provocative policies, such as stationing permanent rather than rotating NATO forces at Russian borders or stepped-up information warfare and financing of opposition groups within Russia.

The problem with painting a propagandized image of Russia to suit policy recommendations rather than actually studying the Russian reality and then designing rational policy is that the former approach ignores risks and threats that may actually exist in relations with the subject country.

These U.S. “experts” may position themselves well for job promotions within the foreign policy establishment or for getting published in prestigious publications like Foreign Affairs but they are blinding the American public to the real opportunities and dangers in relations with other nuclear powers.

There are, in this case and most others, two sides to the argument. And, from the Russian side, many actions by the United States and NATO have a threatening appearance, including the expansion of NATO up to Russia’s borders and recent U.S. nuclear policies.

Over the past quarter century, one of the most provocative moves was the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, prompting the Kremlin to adopt counter measures that do indeed present existential threats to the American homeland. However, such real threats are not publicly discussed because to do so would require placing blame on U.S. officials. It is a preferred storyline to simply portray all the dangers as emanating from Moscow and Beijing.

 

Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future?(August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to eastwestaccord@gmail.com © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016




Finding Security by Helping the ‘South’

Official Washington’s new group think is that more money must be poured into the Military-Industrial Complex to continue wars in the Middle East and hem in Russia and China on their borders. But the real security threats come from mass dislocations in the Third World, says ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller.

By Graham E. Fuller

It does not take much imagination to see where refugees are taking the world over the longer run. This issue currently lies at the heart of some very ugly American politics. It is also tearing apart one of the noblest political experiments in human history, the European Union. It is radicalizing broad regions of the world and fueling global violence, from Myanmar to Tunisia and South Africa.

The basic conclusion is simple: either the North goes to the South, or the South comes to the North. The meaning of South coming North is already clear: conditions in the South are driving refugees to flee to the North.

Most refugees bring along serious political, social, economic and cultural problems of their homelands which complicate their ready integration into the North. This is especially true in smaller, and hence more culturally fragile countries in Europe, nation-states that possess unique cultural and social balance that any major influx of foreigners will disrupt.

There is only one unique Netherlands or Denmark, or Estonia, or Norway. They are not classical immigrant nations as are the vast spaces of the U.S., Canada, Australia, even Russia and Latin America.

This larger long-term movement of populations is certain. Existing conditions in large numbers of countries in the South are becoming untenable: poverty, disease, misgovernance, conflict, environmental degradation, unemployment.

Many of these blights are locally generated. But the West cannot deny its role in this as well. Western imperialism, remember, took over most of the known world for a good century or more; its sole purpose was to benefit the imperial metropole through resource extraction; the world order was designed to facilitate those gains. Its blessings to the colonized were mixed, to say the least.

But the blame game is not important here as the current reality is that we face a global problem of massive proportions however we ascribe the causes. And affixing blame does not solve the problem either. What is certain is that the problem today has now arrived on the doorstep of the affluent North.

The problem of migration of a billion people or so in decades ahead is daunting. It represents the paramount security problem for Western states. We are speaking of economic and social dislocations, a rise in unemployment and crime, the rise of nativist neo-fascism, greater Western involvement in the geopolitical crises and conflicts of the rest of the world. All this threatens the fracturing of the painfully constructed modern European order.

When we speak of malnourishment of hundreds of millions, loss of habitat under global climate change, greenhouse gasses emerging out of the ravished Amazon rain forest, social desperation, pandemics, violent competition for scarce resources, these are surely more urgent security issues for the West than ownership rights over rocks and atolls in the South China sea. Or the balance of military power in the Black Sea Basin. Or the degree of security and insulation that Latvians can be promised from the proximity of a powerful Russian state.

Meanwhile, military budgets continue to rise in the U.S. to fight wars that do not reflect meaningful global reality of the modern interconnected age. Over the last decades the U.S. and Europe have been fundamentally defeated in most Third World conflicts at high cost in blood and treasure, often leaving the situation worse than it was.

More to the point, what good has come out these optional U.S. wars of choice, either for the U.S. or for the tortured terrains in which they were devastatingly fought?

There is little to be gained in fine debates over whether the U.S., or NATO, or Russia, or China bear greater blame for global competition. The true geopolitical stakes may be lower today than in anytime in the past. The real issue is whether continued massive funding for such traditional armchair balance-of-power strategies is productively spent and is addressed to the true crisis of the future: gross global inequality of life.

In the U.S. we have (partially) come to understand that the wellbeing of the poor is not just a local problem but a national one. National dimensions require national solutions for the greater wellbeing of all society.

In the end there is no security behind gated communities. Islands of wellbeing in the middle of neglect and hardship are unsustainable and unethical. Nor can Western welfare islands long exist globally, insulated from a world of gross inequities.

They are poor and lazy one might say. But they struggle harder to live each day than the average Western suburbanite. And most people in the world in any case do not really want to leave their homes for some foreign country where they don’t know the language or customs. But if things get bad enough, they will come, even at high personal risk as we witness today.

Fences, patrol boats, walls, checkpoints, buying off countries to serve as refugee half-way houses, more draconian immigration laws, feel-good invective against the immigrants lurking just outside our gates, all this is fantasy, just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

If we don’t want the South coming North, then the only other option is for the North to go South. No, not in the old punitive way. In many respects the North has already “been South” in past centuries, and it hasn’t always been a pretty sight.

This is not to dismiss some fine Western-sponsored technological projects and NGOs like Doctors Without Frontiers. But sadly these contributions are only a drop in the bucket. Vastly more is called for. Remember the hugely generous American Marshall Plan at the end of World War II aimed at rebuilding a devastated Europe, including Germany? It was not conceived as philanthropy but as an integral part of American security policy.

How to improve conditions across the developing world? U.S. foreign aid in this capacity has been miniscule less than 1 percent of the annual U.S. budget. Yet wasteful and unproductive Pentagon budgets run to some 54 percent of U.S. annual discretionary spending. (More if we consider bloated security and intelligence institutions.)

Are we more secure today? From ISIS? From refugees? From terrorism? From Russia and Chinese border politics on their peripheries?  Where are our security priorities?

A Marshall Plan for the South wouldn’t it be a gross waste, money down foreign rat holes, propping up corrupt elites siphoning off the monies? Partially true, but might not all these terms similarly apply to many U.S. defense expenditures and the vast hangers-on of the military industrial complex with its corruptions, overruns and pork barrel?

So to divert some 50 percent (for starters) of this security budget to Investment in a more stable South might be money well spent. And who loses from a redirection of security spending, other than the huge arms industry, and the think tank acolytes and consultants that feed off them?

There is no easy blueprint on how to render the South more livable so that larger percentages of its populations will not feel compelled to flee to our shores. From Mexico and Central America, from the Middle East and Africa.

The problem is self-evident and multi-faceted, and no, money won’t do it all. But a couple of hundred billion “wasted” in Africa and Latin America on infrastructure projects, schools, clinics, roads might actually improve things a lot more than our non-stop wars.

How have the trillions we have wasted in worsening lives in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, served our security needs? Or stopped the refugee flow North? Washington security experts need to develop some real-world thinking about the implications of how peoples’ lives around the world will impact the rest of us.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan. (Amazon, Kindle) grahamefuller.com




Meaning Behind the Republican Bile

There has been little inspirational about the U.S. presidential race, especially on the Republican side where insults have replaced argument and bigotry has become a cheap currency for winning over voters, but there are also significant lessons in this debased debate, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

As the Republican primary plays itself out, cruelty has become a campaign come-on to voters who say they are frustrated and angry with traditional politics. Frustrated and angry feelings short-circuit critical thinking and create a yearning for the quick emotional release that comes with vengeful speech and acts. Donald Trump has become a master manipulator of this situation.

Trump has the type of personality that lends itself to using such an approach. He is a bully acting out. You can see this when he denigrates his opponents as losers. On the other hand, he is self-aggrandizing, always describing himself as a winner. And, apparently, he has little capacity for self-reflection about his own speech and actions.

Some have described Trump as a textbook case of narcissistic personality disorder. Whether or not that is how you want to label him, he certainly has no problem publicly promoting cruelty. And, a subset of the American population responds positively to his abusive behavior. Here are a few examples:

Trump tolerates and indeed supports physical attacks on opponents who show up at his rallies. He sometimes encourages his supporters to violence by saying that he would like to punch protesters in the face. In the summer of 2015 he promised that if members of Black Lives Matter showed up at his rallies, “they would have a fight on their hands. I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself, or if other people will.”

That prediction came true in Birmingham, Alabama, in November of last year, when a Black Lives Matter protester who simply shouted “black lives matter” was roughed up and insulted during a Trump rally.

The next day Trump justified the actions of his supporters. “He [the protester] was so obnoxious and so loud” that “maybe he should have been roughed up.”

At another rally, this one in Vermont on a frigid January 2016 evening, when confronted with protesters, he told his security people to steal their coats before ejecting them. “Throw them out into the cold. Don’t give them their coats no coats confiscate their coats.”

Muslims and Torture

Those are specific local displays of Donald Trump’s ability to act cruelly and encourage others to do so as well. But this dangerous trend goes on at a larger scale as well. For instance:

Trump has used unwarranted generalizations against groups he is suspicious of – generalizations that place group members in the sort of danger that comes with public stereotyping. This is particularly true when it comes to Muslims on the one hand and Mexicans on the other.

Trump appears to lump all Muslims in the same category as those who, to use his words, are “chopping off our heads in the Middle East.” Those who want “to kill us” and “knock out our cities.” Such a generalization ratchets up an already dangerous level of Islamophobia and sets the stage for other publicly proclaimed positions such as the closing of U.S. borders to all Muslims until such time as “our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Actually, there are a lot of people in and out of the U.S. government who already know what is going on. However, because the answer to this question has to do with longstanding, special-interest-driven foreign policies, “our representatives” have, for political reasons, never moved to rectify matters.  And, its questionable whether Trump as president would respond any differently.

Trump’s generalization about Muslims has apparently helped promote popular acceptance of another particularly cruel and misplaced policy proposal – the revival of the use of torture (often euphemistically called “enhanced interrogative methods”). Thus he has recently proclaimed, “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work, torture works. Believe me, it works.” This was followed by a typical Trumpism: “only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work.”

Just how does he know this with such certainty? Has he ever tortured anybody in order to get specific information? Has he ever been tortured for information he held? Indeed, did he do any research on the subject before passing judgment?

The truth about the efficacy of torture is just the opposite. It has been known not to work at least since the early Eighteenth Century when Cesare Beccaria and other Enlightenment figures began to publicly call attention to the fact that there was no evidence that torture produced truthful confessions or other trustworthy information. Most professional interrogators since that time, with the exception of the small cadre of CIA torturers gathered around George W. Bush, have concluded that someone being tortured will tell their tormentors anything he or she thinks will stop the pain, regardless of its veracity. Obviously the consensus of expert opinion on this matter means as little to Donald Trump as it did to George W. Bush.

Mexicans and Mass Deportation

Donald Trump has declared that he wants to deport just about every illegal resident of the United States – of which there are an estimated 11.3 million. Though he claims that he would do this “humanely,” the size of such an operation would certainly entail the uprooting of thousands of families and the impoverishment of hundreds of thousands of individuals. In other words, it is one of those socio-political operations that cannot help but result in acts of official cruelty and the encouragement of dangerous xenophobic sentiments

Most of the immigrants at risk are people from Mexico who cross the southern U.S. border clandestinely. Trump’s solution is twofold: 1. Build a wall along that roughly 2,000-mile border. “I will build a great wall and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” In addition he would add 25,000 new immigration agents and deploy drones to watch the border. 2. Deport all the Mexicans who are illegally resident in the U.S., most of whom, according to Trump, come from the dregs of Mexican society.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime.” This belies the research that shows that most immigrants are more law-abiding than native citizens.

Trump also works on the assumptions that Mexican immigration increases unemployment and holds down wages. But is this really true? If there is any competition for jobs it would be for underpaid work that Americans, even the undereducated, tend not to want – thus creating the employment opportunities that attracts “illegals” across the Mexican border in the first place.

Trump Is Not Alone

The difference between Trump and the other candidates, both Republican and Democrat, is that he openly panders to emotions and fears that generate support for cruel actions and policies. Though other candidates might not act this way during the campaign, they might, if given the chance, prove every bit as capable of initiating cruel acts and policies in the name of “American interests.” Given her actions in relationship to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, we know this is certainly true of Hillary Clinton.

It might well be that most presidents have acted cruelly at some point during their term of office. Take for example President Barack Obama, who, on the one hand, put an end to President George W. Bush’s practice of torture while, on the other hand, expanded an infamous and on-going campaign of drone murder. Nonetheless, the vast majority of presidents have not personally sought to stir up hatred, though ambitious demagogues and the rightwing media often do.

It is important to understand that there is always a subset of any population, including that in the United States, susceptible to the posturing and rhetorical style of a person like Donald Trump (who, by the way, often strikes poses and speaks in a fashion reminiscent of Benito Mussolini). This susceptible subset is looking for simple answers forcefully presented; they have a longstanding resentment of minorities and immigrants; they distrust the political establishment; and they feel disenfranchised. Their feelings and fears mean more to them than the nation’s Constitution or other laws.

The number of such people becomes larger or smaller depending on economic and social circumstances. But they never go away entirely – their numbers never drop to zero.

In the case of Trump’s appeal to the American public, my estimate is that this number may currently stand at one-quarter to one-third of the adult population.

The Trump phenomenon stands as a powerful reason why it is in the nation’s interest that the government pay attention to issues that hold to a minimum public resentment: issues such as general equality of opportunity, fairness in the market place, tax equity, combating discriminatory practices, the serious problem of special-interest influence in politics, as well as the need to enhance social services ranging from unemployment insurance and Social Security to the right to health care and education.

Trump’s popularity also stands as a powerful reason why the government must see to the dissemination of accurate information on such issues as immigrants and the economy, the real consequences of “free trade” treaties, the positive and necessary role of regulation, and last but certainly not least, the positive role of Muslims in America.

To the extent that both the Republicans, as well as the more conservative Democrats have stood in the way of such things, they have bred the frustration and dissatisfaction that Trump now exploits. Thus they have only themselves to blame for the rise of Donald Trump. Of course, that is little solace to the rest of us.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

 




Faulting Sanders for Lacking Experts

Frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who has the backing of nearly the entire Democratic foreign policy establishment, taunts Bernie Sanders about his lack of a similar roster, but ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar says what’s more important is the judgment of the potential president.

By Paul R. Pillar

Bernie Sanders has become a primary focus of a common quadrennial subject for foreign policy wonks and presidential campaign watchers: the “teams” of advisers who affiliate with different campaigns. Ostensibly these advisers provide their respective candidates with wisdom and expertise that are inputs to coherent positions that the candidate takes on relevant issues during the campaign and, if their candidate wins, to coherent and sound policies while in office.

Sanders has drawn criticism for being thin on foreign policy advisers. It is a news item when he finally takes steps to assemble a foreign policy “team.” Contrasts are drawn with the army of foreign policy advisers, numbering in the hundreds, who are listed as affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Sanders’s campaign may warrant criticism for thinness on foreign policy, but not on any scale measured by the number of advisers who have been signed up. Rather, it is a matter of relatively small attention to foreign policy in the candidate’s own speeches in contrast to his heavy emphasis on the primarily domestic economic matters that he has made into his leitmotif.

This relative inattention may be a matter of discomfort to many who like much of what they hear from Sanders on those domestic issues but realize that foreign policy is a very large and important part of any presidency. The situation may also discomfort those who expect that a Sanders foreign policy probably would be more to their liking (or at least less objectionable) than what any of the other candidates in either party would be apt to offer but would like to hear more from Sanders to be confident about that.

The American Conservative magazine, in a report card that grades all seven remaining major party presidential candidates according to how much their stated positions indicate they would follow a foreign policy of “realism and restraint,” gives Sanders a higher overall grade (a B) than any of the other six.

The teams or armies of advisers have more to do with other games being played than with helping a candidate to espouse wise policies on the campaign trail or to formulate wise policies while in office. For one thing, short-term politics nearly always trumps wisdom, as indicated by, among much other evidence, flip-flops that nominees execute between primary season, when they are appealing to a party base, and the general election campaign, when they seek support from a broader electorate.

Moreover, it is hard to believe that, for example, any one of those hundreds of individuals on the Clinton campaign’s advisory roster can realistically hope to have much influence on what comes out of the candidate’s mouth in a debate.

The main game being played with all of those advisory rosters is the game of getting appointed to desirable jobs in the next administration. Although the rosters do include some old hands who are no longer on the make, the campaign advisory relationship has become the single most used channel for obtaining a senior executive branch job.

Aspiring job-seekers have to exercise their political prediction skills in trying to determine which horse will win the race and thus to which horse they should hitch their wagon. Campaigns have been known to take advantage of this situation by telling potential advisers that if they do not sign up with the campaign early, well before the party’s nominee has been determined, they can forget about thumbing through the Plum Book and getting an appointment in any administration led by that candidate.

So who gets placed in senior policy-making jobs is in large part a matter of election predictions and luck, as well as personal maneuvering and connections. This is all an awful way to staff a government. Most other advanced democracies do not staff their governments that way. Most of them, after an election results in a change in political control from one party to another, have a far smaller turnover of policy-makers at the top, with a professional bureaucracy already in place to execute their policies; that is part of what a truly professional bureaucracy does.

Meanwhile an advantage to a campaign of having a large roster of purported advisers is that a large number of people who write op-eds and otherwise participate in public discourse will be restrained about anything that could be interpreted as criticism of the candidate. Good for the candidate; not so good for free-wheeling and uninhibited public discourse about the issues.

Some concerns that have been expressed about the thin foreign policy advisory roster of Sanders, that this raises doubts about the ability to staff a Sanders administration and to hit the ground running once in office, are ill-founded. Whoever is the next president, he or she will be supported by foreign policy teams that are large, experienced, and well positioned to implement the new president’s chosen policies. Those teams have names such as the Department of State and Department of Defense.

It does behoove us, as a caveat to all of the above, to glance at those rosters of campaign advisers to catch any patterns that may constitute a warning flag about the direction the aspiring president would take. This is especially true if there are patterns of signing up people associated with directions of the past that are known failures.

Observers have noticed, for example, the strong pattern of Marco Rubio’s foreign policy advisers being associated with past neoconservative policies, including the disastrous Iraq War. In this case the candidate’s own statements seem to be going in the same direction as those advisers’ predilections, a fact possibly related to Rubio’s stick-to-the-talking-points campaign style that Chris Christie so ruthlessly highlighted. The American Conservative‘s report card on realism and restraint gives Rubio the lowest marks of any candidate: straight Fs.

Apart from such warning flags, it is appropriate for American voters to focus much more, as nearly all voters will, on the candidate rather than the advisers. Even the tiny sliver of the electorate who might care about who will be appointed assistant secretary of state or NSC senior director for some critical region would have a hard time gaming out that consideration as a reason for supporting one candidate rather than another.

The post-election maneuvering for appointments involves too many non-substantive variables for the outcome to be predictable. Implied debts to donors may also have as much to do with some aspects of an administration’s foreign policy as the past positions of senior appointees. Intelligently choosing a presidential candidate, even if the chooser focuses narrowly on some aspect of foreign policy, is still far from an exact science and involves not only declared positions on issues of most concern but also the demonstrated judgment, temperament, and experience of the candidate.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Testing Out Repression in Israel

Jeff Halper, co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, sees the brutal practice of destroying Palestinian homes and similar tactics as part of an experiment in social repression that can have broader implications as income inequality spreads across the globe, as he told Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

Israeli author and human rights activist Jeff Halper who has challenged the Israeli practice of destroying Palestinian homes (usually for simply building after being denied a permit) attempts to answer the question why the world continues to accept such repeated brutalities perpetrated by the Israelis against a million-plus locked-down, very poor Palestinians.

Halper detects a quid pro quo, a violent marriage of convenience in which “Israel offers its expertise in helping governments pursue their various wars against the people and, in return, they permit it to expand its settlements and control throughout the Palestinian territory.”

Halper’s latest book, War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification, focuses on “global Palestine,” and “how Israel exports its Occupation, its weaponry, its models and tactics of control and its security and surveillance systems, all developed and perfected on the Palestinians, to countries around the world engaged in asymmetrical warfare, or domestic securitization, both forms of “war against the people.”

He contextualizes Israel’s globalization of Palestine within the capitalist world system. Inherently unequal, exploitative, violent and increasingly unsustainable, Capitalism must pursue innumerable wars against the people if it is to enforce its global hegemony. These are precisely the types of wars, counterinsurgency, asymmetrical warfare, counter-terrorism, urban warfare and the overall securitization of societies, including those of the Global North, in which Israel specializes.

Halper, whose activism also includes work for over a decade as a community organizer in the working-class Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, is a coordinator of the Wars Against the People project of The People Yes! Network; he has served as the Chairman of the Israeli Committee for Ethiopian Jews; he was an active participant in the first attempt of the Free Gaza Movement to break Israel’s crippling economic siege on the Gaza Strip by sailing into Gaza in 2008; he’s an active member of the international support committee of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Palestine; and he was nominated by the American Friends Service Committee for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, together with the Palestinian intellectual and activist Ghassan Andoni.

Halper spoke recently with Dennis J Bernstein.

DB: Let’s talk a little bit about house demolitions, before we get into this book and what you’re talking about in terms of the way in which Israel perfects and then exports oppression. Talk a little bit about your work with the houses.

JH: Well, I’m an Israeli activist. I grew up in the States, actually, in Minnesota, but I’ve lived in Israel now for more than 40 years. I’ve been involved all those years with the Israeli peace movement. And for the last 20 years I’ve been the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, as you mentioned. We call ourselves ICAHD.

And that’s a political organization that’s trying to fight the Israeli occupation, and achieve a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But [we also operate] in order to give people an idea of what occupation means, which is kind of an abstract term sometimes, and how it works, and what Israel’s intentions are.

Now, as an anthropologist, I tried to read political intentions from what the powers are doing on the ground, not from what they’re saying. We took the issue of house demolitions as our focal point. Israel has demolished 47,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories since 1967, since the occupation began. [T]hat’s on the background of about 60,000 homes that were demolished in 1948, in what the Palestinians call the Nakba. Thousands and more are demolished inside Israel all the time, of Israeli citizens, all of whom are Arabs. For example, there is one Bedouin community in the Negev that’s been demolished now 90 times, and rebuilt.

DB: Same community.

JH: The same community. And we’ve all gone out and rebuilt with them, and it’s been re-demolished. Because they want to build a military settlement on top. And this is inside Israel. And a lot of these Bedouin men serve in the Israeli army. So one of the points of house demolitions is that we can’t really separate the occupation from Israel itself.

We think the two state solution is gone, it’s over. And basically Israel has created already one state which is an apartheid state. I mean, there’s only one government, one army, one water system, one currency between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, in the entire country. We don’t even call the occupied territories, “occupied,” we call them Judea and Samaria. Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, the Palestinian side has been annexed.

So there is one country today. And what the house demolition issue shows is that, yes, in fact Israel is still demolishing homes, still ethnically cleansing the Palestinian population, after 70 years. And so what we do is we … first of all, we resist demolitions. I get in front of bulldozers, we resist. We also rebuild homes. We built 189 homes, which takes quite a bit of resources, activists coming from all over the world.

So if you think of it in political terms, 189 political acts of resistance, of Israelis and Palestinians, and Internationals together. I think that is meaningful. And then we take what we learn on the ground, our analysis is genuinely grounded, and we go abroad, like I am now here in the Bay Area, to try to work with the activists. First of all, to update them on what’s happening and to give them focus.

But in general, as you are saying, to raise this issue that’s so difficult to raise in the mainstream American media, or even in universities. You can get fired for raising this issue.

DB: And you do.

JH: And people have been, that’s right. So we’re trying to go from the micro to the macro. From actually resisting demolitions on the ground, but really from there with our pictures and our maps and our analyses, to say “Why is Israel demolishing these homes? Where is it going with this whole thing?” And then bringing that analysis forward to try to mobilize the international community to finally end the occupation.

DB: Before we jump into the bigger picture, I want you to paint a little bit more of a picture of the nature of house demolition. So, what happens? Somebody shows up at your house? How’s that work?

JH: Well, there are three kinds of demolitions, actually. Just briefly, you know if you think of demolition, you think well, these must be homes of terrorists. That’s what Israel leads you to think, but it’s not true. Of the 47,000 homes in the occupied territories that have been demolished, about 1 percent were demolished for security reasons. It has nothing to do with security or terrorism or anything like that. Those are what we call punitive demolitions. In fact, Israel demolishes most homes in military incursions.

For example, last summer, the summer of 2014, in the assault on Gaza, 18,000 homes were demolished, and not targeted. It’s kind of collateral damage that have not been rebuilt. And you think, “It’s the Middle East,” but it can be pretty freezing in Gaza in the winter. And these homes have not been rebuilt. The third way of demolishing, that we work most on, is that Israel simply has zoned … it uses very dry-grade, Kafkaesque mechanisms to control Palestinians.

So it zoned the whole of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as agricultural land. So, although most of it is desert, the Aegean Desert, when a Palestinian who owns land comes to the Israeli authorities and says, “I want to build a home,” their answer is, “Sorry, but this is agricultural land.” Of course, if you want to build an Israeli settlement … I mean there are 600,000 Israelis. They live on that same land in the occupied territory. But, of course, Israelis sit on the planning councils.

So if you want to rezone from agriculture to residential, it takes you a second. So it’s really the manipulation of law and planning. And so that’s the point. Palestinians since 1967, we’re talking about 50 years now, have not been allowed to build new homes. You have children, and your children have children, and you have nowhere to live. And if you build a home, you are building illegally, right, because … you don’t have a building permit. And so immediately you get a demolition order from the Israeli army and they can come any time. They can come tomorrow morning, they can come next week, they can come in five years, maybe you’ll win the lottery [and] they’ll never come. Who knows? So even if you’re living in your home, year after year, you are not living as securely, relaxed. Your home is not your castle.

DB: Because there always could be that knock on the door.

JH: I talked to many Palestinian women that say to me, “The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is I look out the window, to see if there are bulldozers, the army, police. And if the coast is clear, I get dressed and wake up the kids and start making breakfast.” That’s the psychological state that Palestinians are living in.

DB: Let’s talk about this book. Let’s talk about how you say Israel uses the occupied territories as a training ground, a weapons and control of people training ground, which is then exported. It’s sort of Israel’s front line, forward trade. This concept, and these weapons, and this technology, and these techniques, are then sold to the rest of the world. Set that up for us.

JH: Over all the years of my activism, it was kind of a question that was in the back of my mind, nagging me all the time. And that was, “How does Israel get away with this?” After all, we’re in the Twenty-first Century, we’re well after the period of colonialism. Human rights [and] international law have entered into the public consciousness. I mean, they kind of matter to people.

Here you have a brutal occupation, on T.V. all the time. I mean, this isn’t happening in the Congo or Vietnam. This is in the glare of television cameras, in the Holy Land, no less! How does Israel get away with it? And the usual explanations … you know, AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] and Christian fundamentalists and the Israeli lobby, and guilt over the Holocaust … it just doesn’t work. That doesn’t explain why China supports Israel the way it does, and Nigeria, India.

There was some big elephant in the room that we weren’t talking about, that I wasn’t seeing myself, to explain that. And as I sort of looked up at Israel’s place in the world, I suddenly discovered, in a way, that actually, the quid quo pro is that Israel delivers to elites all over the world. Whether you are here in the global north, (the United States or Europe), in the middle, (Brazil, India, China, Turkey, Mexico), or a poor country in the global south, you all have elites, that are struggling for control.

And I put this within the context of the capitalist world system. You have a neoliberal world system. OXFAM came out with a report two weeks ago. Now, 1 percent of the population controls half the resources: most of humanity has been excluded as surplus humanity. You have more and more repression, especially as resources are being extracted from poor people. And they’re excluded. So there’s more and more resistance. … You had the Occupy Movement and you’ve got Black Lives Matter. There’s more and more resistance, so that the capitalist world system, itself, and all the different elites that are dependent upon it, somehow have to start looking more and more towards repression.

In other words, capitalism always tried to have a happy face: Ronald McDonald, and Hollywood and Walt Disney. But the more people are starting to see through it, and are starting to see those inequalities …, the velvet glove over the iron fist has to come [off]. And so the elites are getting more and more insecure. But the kinds of wars they’re fighting are not the wars we think of. You know, Rambo and F16s and tanks … they’re not those kinds of wars. They are what generals actually are calling, “Wars Amongst the People.” I took that to say what that really is, which is, “War Against the People.” In other words, urban warfare, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism. It’s also called asymmetrical wars. There are a million terms.

So, really the elites in every country, and then if you take it within the world system, the capitalist elites certainly, the capitalist part of the corporation, and so on, are looking for, “How do we keep the people under control?” Now, where’s a better place to go for a model than Israel? The United States doesn’t have that experience. Europe hasn’t had colonial wars for 50 years now. So Israel is in the middle of an ongoing century-long war of counterinsurgency against the Palestinian people.

All these years, it has the tactics, it has the methods, it has the weaponry. It has the systems of security, systems of surveillance, all in place to export. And so that’s, I think, how you can explain how Israel gets away with it. It delivers for the elites. “We’ll deliver you the means of repressing your own populations, and in return you let us keep the occupation.”

DB: I’m not sure how to ask this question, but is there evidence of the training ground part of this, in which, say, for instance, weapons are introduced for the first time on the battlefield, or drones, in Palestine? How does this theory [work], in terms of testing the weapons first and then exporting war?

JH: Well, first of all I document it and write about it in my book. There are a thousand footnotes, in the book.

DB: We love footnotes.

JH: But what’s interesting is the Israeli arms dealers, security companies are proud of this. I mean we’re talking now … this could be seen in two ways. This could be seen as being critical of Israel, and the capitalist world. I think people understand that that’s where we’re coming from in this program. But I could be saying the same thing, and I could sound like the Israeli Chamber of Commerce. “Wow, that’s great, I mean Israel developing these effective systems, they’re helping keep the bad people and the terrorists under control, they’re securing us. Wow, that’s great.” And so [on].

DB: And they are training police departments in the U.S.

JH: That’s right, exactly. Especially, not especially, but also in California. So, in other words, the arms companies, and the security companies, (there’s about 500 of them in Israel, alone, which is an old country), think this is a great thing. In other words, they’re not embarrassed by it, and so the best source of information is just their web sites. Because what’s the point of developing a cutting edge surveillance system on Palestinians. You know there are 600 checkpoints in the West Bank. You’ve got millions of Palestinians that you can use as guinea pigs: literally in a laboratory. No wonder Israel is leading in airport security, and runs airports all over the United States.

But there’s no point in developing these systems if you’re not marketing them, if you’re not selling them, if you’re not making a name for yourself. So, in fact, all these 500 companies in Israel that sell this stuff, all have web sites. And they’re all blaring their product. So it’s not hidden. On the contrary, like I’m saying, if you put it within a certain context, this is actually seen as a positive contribution to the world. If you look at the world, from, you know, the way the media that you mentioned, present it, it’s good that Israel is helping us defend ourselves against terrorists.

But putting it in a critical way within the world system, we show that, in fact, security is not a neutral term. There really isn’t security. The security is really defined by the interests of the ruling classes. Writing the book, I’m aware of the fact that that’s language that kind of sounds old fashioned. But it really isn’t. It really is … even more today, it’s truer than it was before.

The ruling classes are much more organized, they have much more fire power, are much more coordinated with each other, and so on. And actually, with scarcer and scarcer resources, they have a much more focused agenda, in terms of extraction and control. So actually, the term “ruling class” should be more in use today. The ruling classes have their interests and they package it under the word “security” because who doesn’t want to be secure? And what I’m saying in the book, and that’s why the subtitle talks about global pacification, is I’m saying, “We’re actually being pacified.”

In other words, we’re being repressed to a point where we can’t resist. So you wanna be secure? Fine. Do you want to be pacified? And once you start using words like “pacification,” that raises questions that the word security doesn’t raise. Who’s pacifying me? How are they pacifying me? Why are they pacifying me? And so my book, I hope, it gives you sort of a window into the way the large world system works. I call it Globalized Palestine. In a sense, Israel over Palestine is a microcosm of the Global North over everybody else. And so I think it is a very useful book for beginning to understand global realities that we live in.

DB: You know, it’s interesting, if you read back some of the literature of the capitalists of the early 50’s, the visionaries among them understood about the problems that would be faced in terms of the shrinking resources. And they talked extensively about the kinds of, sort of, defense and weapon systems, and the way in which our way of life would have to be protected. This is just part of that curve.

JH: That’s right. And to her credit, the only one that really is using the word capitalism, that word up front in her analysis, is Naomi Klein. With The Shock Doctrine and now her new book on climate change and capitalism [This Changes Everything]. But it’s like that joke: One fish asks another fish, “How’s the water?” and the other fish says,”What water?” You know, you are living in this system. And it is so encompassing, and it affects everything that we do. Who our enemies are. How we dress. What our values are. How we talk. What language … everything. What we eat. And it’s an unsustainable system. But it’s a system that we’ve kind of internalized. We don’t even think about it anymore.

And so that’s, I think, the value of critical analysis, and bringing back that language, including language like pacification, is that really shows us that we’re in fact living in a very political water. And not just some normal, everyday reality that is inevitable.

DB: And how would you describe the security relationship, the security sharing relationship, between the United States and Israel?

JH: The United States is the primary global capitalist power. You know, it has a tremendous global reach. American corporations, more than any others, are dependent on the smooth flow of capital coming from what’s called the Third World, or the global south. And of course, you’ve got, with the neoliberalism in the last 50 years, you’ve got again, within the United States the 99 percent/one percent split. Even here there’s a lot of agitation, and people are starting to get it, and so on. And so the United States has a tremendous stake in this. But the United States is locked into the old concept of war.

For example, the Pentagon just spent, I don’t know, a trillion dollars on a new F-35: cutting edge stealth bomber. You know, a great toy. But it has no military use whatsoever. Even the generals say, “We don’t need [it].” [Robert] Gates, when he was Secretary of Defense, tried to cancel it. But you know how Congress works; you have every congressional district putting together pieces of it. So it’s jobs. But you’re locked into these huge, expensive weapon systems. … So that’s where Israel comes in.

And, of course, the United States is a tremendous, tremendous supporter of Israel. And I don’t think it’s just because of shared values. I think it’s because Israel really delivers for the United States. It provides very sophisticated, high-tech components, for weapon systems. For example, this F-35, Israel couldn’t produce that. But a lot of the cockpit, and the electronics and avionics, and the targeting systems are Israeli. And Israel becomes a kind of a surrogate for the United States, especially in countries where it’s hard for America to work. You know, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, the parts of Africa that are rough.

You know, American business people are constrained because there are laws against bribes and giving bribes, and working with the mafias. These countries, a lot of them, are mafia-type countries. Israel doesn’t have any of those constraints.

DB: For instance, if you went through Central America in the 1980’s and you saw the new Salvadoran death squad army or the Guatemalan death squad, if you didn’t look at the main insignia you would think they were wearing Israeli uniforms. They were certainly trained by Israelis.

JH: And they had their Uzis.

DB: And they had their Uzis.

JH: And they were armed. And don’t forget Israel was a key part of the Contra-Iran scandal around the Nicaraguan conflict. Israel is really more than an agent of the United States. I think Israel is really providing that key strategic support in “Wars Amongst the People” in a way that the United States really isn’t geared to doing. It’s too big, the Pentagon is too big, the systems are too fancy. And Israel is supplying that middle- to lower-level type technology that’s the most effective.

DB: What do you think of when you hear, “Is there a chance for peace?” Or the Israeli Prime Minister saying he’s searching desperately for a partner for peace? What goes through your mind? How do you respond to that? Here in the U.S. press, in the New York Times, they simply quote it like stenographers.

JH: That’s right. I think people are getting it. I don’t want to say, “even Americans,” but it’s not easy for you guys, with your media. It’s not too easy for you.

DB: It’s real hard. You have to really look up something.

JH: Obama, for example, two days ago signed into law a bill giving Israel $40 billion in new American arms over a ten-year period, 2018-2028, and basically outlawing BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that people are using like we did with South Africa, to put pressures on Israel, to end the occupation. Now it’s American law, or it’s going through, at least, to be American law, that the United States won’t deal with companies or countries in Europe or other places that support BDS. So it’s very actively supporting Israel. It isn’t just some generalized thing. And as long as that happens, especially Congress, as long as Congress is in Israel’s pocket, uncritically, we have to say here from Bernie Sanders to Trump.

We’re talking across the board Israel has nothing to worry about. And so it can pursue these interests of itself, in terms of keeping the occupation. That is why Israel doesn’t … there’s no pressure on Israel to end the occupation. Because if it has the American Congress on its side, on the one hand, and Germany on its side in Europe, that keeps Europe in line. Nobody can touch us. We’re home free. And they can insult Obama, and they can say terrible things about Kerry. I mean, Netanyahu is a conservative Republican, and he says it.

You know, he can go to Congress, here he gets Republicans to invite him to the American Congress, both sessions of Congress, including the Democrats come. And in his 20-minute talk, this is a number of months ago, his 20-minute talk against making the agreement with Iran.

So here he’s going against the President and American government policy, a foreign head of state, invited by the American Congress including the President’s own party, to speak out against an American government policy. And in his 20-minute talk he was given a standing ovation 42 times! The Israeli press was laughing. The Israeli press said it’s like the North Korean parliament.

So it’s hard, it’s almost hard to explain the degree to which Israel has penetrated into American politics. It’s almost like a domestic American issue, like apple pie, and that’s what makes it very difficult. But I think that Americans aren’t aware of how isolated they’re becoming, in the world, because of this uncritical support for Israel. Because it isn’t only supporting Israel against Palestinians. Palestinians have a special emblematic status among oppressed peoples in the world. Here’s a little people that’s standing up to Israel, the Israeli army, the American neo-colonialism, Europe, and it’s resisting. It hasn’t been defeated. So that gives hope to oppressed peoples.

But beyond that, when you are in the U.N. in repeated votes and it’s the United States, Israel and Micronesia, against everybody else, including your European allies, you know, it sends a message to the world that the United States is completely out of sync, and it’s hostile to human rights. And that I think isolates the United States in a way that the American people don’t really appreciate.

DB: Wow. Well, that is all a mouthful Dr. Jeff Halper. We just have 30 seconds left, but let me just ask you this. You must have been arrested. People don’t love what you’re doing in Israel. Are you afraid to do what you do? Why do you do what you do?

JH: I mean, I always say jokingly, but it’s true, “Israel is a vibrant democracy if you are Jewish.” If you’re Jewish you have that privilege. You have that space to do it. Nobody bothers me.

DB: By the way, that’s what Jeane Kirkpatrick said about South Africa, she said it’s a partial democracy, the whites have a chance to vote.

JH: Exactly. And that’s the situation. But if you’re not Jewish it’s a pretty repressive place to live, pretty violent. And now, of course, there’s legislation going through the parliament to marginalize us as well. If we go to parliament the left groups, just the left groups, are going to have to wear a tag. As if we’re foreign lobbies.

DB: Maybe a yellow star?

JH: We’re playing with what that tag is going to look like. But really it’s true. They’re not even aware of the background, the implications. You know, Israel is becoming so fascistic, really. I mean I’m not just using that as a slogan, that it’s replicating very dark times of other countries. It’s an irony that here Israel would do something like that.

DB: So are you afraid?

JH: No, I’m not afraid. I mean, certainly things could happen. And it’s getting harder and harder to protest in Israel. But I’m not afraid. You know, I just keep plugging on, what can I tell you?

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.