Israel’s Window to Bomb Iran

Exclusive: Israeli leaders continue to pound the drum about taking out Iran’s nuclear program and some hardliners may want to strike soon, fearing the window of opportunity will close if President Barack Obama wins reelection and is less susceptible to political pressures, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern observes.

By Ray McGovern

There are mounting signs that the right-wing Israeli government may think the timing is right for an attack on Iran, with growing alarms inside Israel about alleged Iranian progress on building a nuclear bomb and with President Barack Obama fearing loss of key Jewish political support in 2012 if he doesn’t go along.

On Sept. 26, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Iran’s alleged progress, telling interviewer Charlie Rose that “time is short” before Iran obtains nuclear weapons and poses a direct threat to Israel and the rest of the world.

Yet, the key factor in any Israeli decision to send its aircraft and missiles to Iran is the degree to which Netanyahu and other hard-line Likud leaders believe that President Obama is locked into giving blanket support to Israel, particularly as Election 2012 draws near.

The Israelis might well conclude that the formidable effectiveness of the Likud Lobby and kneejerk support of the U.S. Congress as well as still powerful neoconservatives in the Executive Branch (and on the opinion pages of major American newspapers) amount to solid assurance of automatic support for pretty much anything Israel decides to do.

If Israel translates this into a green light to attack Iran, the rest of the world, even Washington, may get little or no warning.

Netanyahu and his associates would presumably be reluctant to give Obama the kind of advance notice that might allow him to consult some adult political and military advisers and thus give him a chance to try to spike Israeli plans.

Consequences of blindsiding? There would be a strong argument in Tel Aviv that past precedent amply demonstrates that there are few if any consequences for blindsiding Obama on Israeli actions.

There is also the precedent of how an earlier generation of Likud leaders reacted to a possible second term by a Democratic president who was suspected of having less than total loyalty to Israel.

In 1980, Prime Minister Menachem Begin was angered by President Jimmy Carter’s pressure that had forced Israel to surrender the Sinai in exchange for a peace treaty with Egypt. Begin made clear to his followers at home and abroad that Carter, if freed from the political pressure of facing reelection, might push Israel into accepting a Palestinian state. So, Begin quietly shifted Israel’s political support to Republican Ronald Reagan, helping to ensure Carter’s lopsided defeat.

Similarly, some Israeli hard-liners suspect that Obama in a second term might be liberated from his fear of Israeli political retaliation and thus renew pressure on Netanyahu to halt Jewish settlements in the occupied territory of Palestine and to reach a true accommodation with the Palestinians.

Under this analysis, a second-term Obama might add to Israel’s growing isolation in the Middle East, which even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta noted Sunday, telling reporters that Israel must restart negotiations with the Palestinians and work to restore relations with Egypt and Turkey.

“Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena?” Panetta asked. “And that’s what’s happening.”

A Very Bad Year

Indeed, 2011 has been the worst year in recent memory for Israel, ushering in a highly unfavorable sea change in its strategic position.

Israel has lost the support of formerly friendly governments in Egypt and Turkey and finds itself increasingly isolated internationally, as the occupation of Palestinian territory begins its 45th year and the plight of the Palestinian people garners more and more attention and sympathy.

As Netanyahu and his right-wing advisers look at the new constellation of stars, it is a safe bet they discern an imperative to readjust them in Israel’s favor.

But, by attacking Iran? Okay, I know it sounds crazy. It is crazy. The question, however, is whether it sounds crazy to Israel’s leaders, accustomed as they are to a reality in which the tail can wag a large dog at will.

Besides, the Israelis are sounding increasingly desperate and the notion of attacking Iran and involving the U.S. might well be seen by desperate leaders as a way to stem further erosion of their strategic position, or at least to show they still have a very powerful supporter.

In my view, an attack on Iran would have a two-fold purpose: (1) to set back Iran’s nuclear development program and infrastructure, and (2) to mousetrap Washington into an even closer military relationship with Israel. Let’s put some context around these one by one.

First, the bugaboo about an Iranian nuclear weapon. Let me say at the outset that I could readily believe that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon. There are all sorts of reasons why one could understand Tehran seeing this as a reasonable course of action.

(As has been pointed out, Iraq had no nukes and we know what happened to it; North Korea has a handful of nukes and we know what did not happen to it.)

Trouble is, it doesn’t matter what I, or anyone else, might believe. For substantive analysts faith-based analysis is not an option (or, at least, it didn’t use to be). Empirical evidence is the coin of the realm for us.

Unlike Israel, which has refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has some 200 to 300 nuclear weapons, Iran did sign the NPT and insists it has no interest in nuclear weapons, only enriched uranium for medical research and energy. Unlike Israel, Iran has allowed UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors in to verify compliance with its commitment not to build nukes.

Still, there continue to be “beliefs,” and suspicions that Iran, for example, may be laying the groundwork for an eventual break-out capability, and Tehran has not always fulfilled all its obligations under the safeguards regime.

Yet, despite the spin often applied to IAEA reports by the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) and particularly The New York Times, the IAEA has never detected the diversion of enriched uranium from declared sites for the purpose of building a nuclear weapon. That is fact.

Intelligence Analysts Thwart War

Beyond that inconvenient truth, some other recent history may be worth bearing in mind.

In 2007, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, with full-throated support from Israel and the FCM, were drumming up support for countering what they claimed was Iran’s determination to build a nuclear weapon.  On Oct. 22, 2007, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States insisted publicly that “very little time” remained to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Really? Even were there to have been a nuclear program hidden from the IAEA, no serious observer expected Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon until several years later. Actually, truth be told, every other year since 1995 U.S. intelligence had been predicting that Iran could have a nuclear weapon in about five years.

It became downright embarrassing, like a broken record. The repetition was punctuated by the likes of former CIA Director James Woolsey, a dyed-in-the-wool neocon who kept warning that the U.S. may have no choice but to bomb Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program.

In mid-2006, Woolsey, who has called himself the “anchor of the Presbyterian wing of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs,” put it this way: “I’m afraid that within, well, at worst, a few months; at best, a few years; they [the Iranians] could have the bomb.” That was five years ago.

The Russians Get It Right

In early October 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin, unencumbered by the Likud Lobby which enforces Washington’s neocon-dominated “group think,” publicly mocked the “evidence” that had been adduced to show that Iran intended to make nuclear weapons.

Then, during a visit to Iran on Oct. 16, 2007, Putin sprinkled salt on the wounds of “bomb-Iran” neoconservatives; he warned, “Not only should we reject the use of force, but also the mention of force as a possibility.”

This brought an interesting outburst from President Bush the next day at a press conference.

Q. “Mr. President, I’d like to follow on Mr. — on President Putin’s visit to Tehran about the words that Vladimir Putin said there. He issued a stern warning against potential U.S. military action against Tehran. Were you disappointed with [Putin’s] message?”

Bush: “I — as I say, I look forward to — if those are, in fact, his comments, I look forward to having him clarify those. And so I will visit with him about it.”

Q. “But you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon?”

Bush: “I think so long — until they suspend and/or make it clear that they — that their statements aren’t real, yes, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. And I know it’s in the world’s interest to prevent them from doing so. I believe that the Iranian — if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace.

“But this is — we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously.”

Honest Intelligence

Just weeks later in November 2007, the U.S. intelligence community completed a formal National Intelligence Estimate in the best tradition of speaking truth to power. The NIE was the fruit of a bottom-up investigation of all evidence over the years on Iran’s nuclear activities and plans.

But the NIE’s conclusions bore no resemblance to what Bush, Cheney, their Israeli counterparts and the FCM had been claiming about the imminence of a nuclear threat from Iran.

The following is from the paragraph introducing the Key Judgments of the NIE of November 2007 that headed off war with Iran:

“A. We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.

“Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.”

Having reached these conclusions, it is not surprising that the NIE’s authors make a point of saying up front (in bold type) “This NIE does not (italics in original) assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons.”

There being no guarantee that, even with an honest Estimate, reason would prevail in the White House, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and other senior officers like CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon took the unusual step of insisting that the Estimate’s key judgments be declassified and made public.

They calculated, correctly, that this would put an iron rod into the wheels of the juggernaut then rolling toward a fresh disaster, war with Iran.

Recall that Adm. Fallon, who became CENTCOM commander in March 2007, let the press know that there would be no attack on Iran “on my watch.” He was fired in March 2008.

His senior military colleagues, while not as outspoken as Fallon, shared his disdain for the dangerously simplistic views of Bush and Cheney on the use of military power.

Bush and Cheney Aghast

What is perhaps most surprising is the disarming (if that is the correct word) candor with which George W. Bush has explained his chagrin at learning of the unanimous judgment of the intelligence community that Iran had not been working on a nuclear weapon since late 2003.

Bush lets it all hang out in his memoir Decision Points. Were one to assume that he and Cheney were genuinely worried about a threat from Iran, a long sigh of relief, or at least some follow-up questions, might have been reasonably expected in reaction to the NIE’s judgment.

Instead, Bush complains revealingly that the NIE “tied my hands on the military side,” noting that the NIE opened with the “eye-popping” high-confidence finding that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003.

The former president adds that the “NIE’s conclusion was so stunning that I felt it would immediately leak to the press.” He writes that he authorized declassification of the key findings “so that we could shape the news stories with the facts.” Facts?

Sure. New and different “facts.” Did not the experience on Iraq prove that the “intelligence and facts” could be “fixed around the policy,” as the famous Downing Street Memo of July 23, 2002, put it regarding the need for the U.S. and U.K. to cook the intelligence and facts to “justify” attacking Iraq?

On Iran, though, a crestfallen Bush writes, “The backlash was immediate. [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad hailed the NIE as a ‘great victory.’” Bush’s apparent “logic” here is to use the widespread disdain for Ahmadinejad to discredit the NIE through association, i.e. whatever Ahmadinejad praises must be false.

But can you blame Bush for his chagrin? Alas, the NIE had knocked out the props from under the anti-Iran propaganda machine, imported duty-free from Israel and tuned up by neoconservatives here at home.

How embarrassing. Here before the world were the key judgments of an NIE, the most authoritative genre of intelligence report, unanimously approved “with high confidence” by all 16 intelligence agencies and signed by the Director of National Intelligence, saying, in effect, that Bush and Cheney had been lying about the nuclear threat from Iran.

Quid Est Veritas?

In his memoir, Bush laments: “I don’t know why the NIE was written the way it was. Whatever the explanation, the NIE had a big impact, and not a good one.” Spelling out how the Estimate had tied his hands “on the military side,” Bush included this (apparently unedited) kicker:

“But after the NIE, how could I possible explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”

Well, bummer!

Thankfully, not even Dick Cheney could persuade Bush to repair the propaganda juggernaut and let it loose for war on Iran. The avuncular Cheney has made it clear that he was very disappointed in his protégé. On Aug. 30, 2009, he told “Fox News Sunday” that he was isolated among Bush advisers in his enthusiasm for war with Iran.

“I was probably a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues,” Cheney said when asked whether the Bush administration should have launched a pre-emptive attack on Iran before leaving office.

And it is entirely possible that the Iran-war juggernaut would have been repaired and turned loose anyway, were it not for strong opposition by the top military brass who convinced Bush that Cheney, his neocon friends and the Israeli leaders had no idea of the chaos that war with Iran would bring.

Regrettably, Adm. Mullen just retired, and Adm. Fallon was fired in 2008 for speaking truth. It is far from clear that their replacements will be as able to act as counterweight to the neocons who continue to wield extraordinary influence in Official Washington.

For the record, despite the periodic alarums being raised among the usual suspects about the growing danger from Iran, U.S. intelligence analysts and top officials, to their credit, have continued to play it straight, so far as I can tell.

Although they have pretty much worn out the subjunctive mood in their testimony to Congress, the bottom line is that there is no new intelligence information that would warrant significant change in the judgments of the NIE of November 2007.

There is still no intelligence to “justify” a preventive attack on Iran (as if preventive attacks are ever justified under international law).

And this time senior intelligence officials should be called to testify under oath about the evidence and analytical conclusions, before Israel gets the U.S. embroiled in another catastrophic war that would make Iraq and Afghanistan look like a skirmish.

Mousetrapping the President

I promised, so many paragraphs ago, to address how Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu might see an attack on Iran as “mousetrapping” Washington into an even closer military relationship with Israel.

My own sense is that, despite his recent bravura performance in Washington, which included a speech to a joint session of Congress in which Republicans and Democrats competed to see who could jump to their feet fastest and applaud the loudest at every phrase uttered by the Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu is running scared.

I believe he thinks he needs the U.S. now more than ever. And on that I would have to agree.

This shone through his answers to David Gregory of NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sept. 25. Gregory could hardly get a word in edgewise, but that was good in a way, since a loquacious Netanyahu provided ample grist for analysis. The Prime Minister seemed to be reaching, and came across, at least to me, as defensive:

GREGORY: “Israel is arguably as isolated as it’s ever been in the midst of Arab spring. Turkey has turned against you, the Arab world has moved away from dictators who supported Israel, had peace treaties with Israel, and is now more negative towards Israel. In this day and age, at this particular moment, despite Israel’s well-known and substantial security concerns, how can you occupy Palestinian territory at this moment?”

NETANYAHU: “Well, you’ve got two assumptions in your questions, and I want to parse out and actually suggest that they’re wrong. The first one is that we’re isolated. Well, we’re not isolated in this country, which happens to be the strongest country on earth.

“I walked yesterday in the — in, in Central Park. You know, people met me. Jewish-Americans, but many non-Jewish-Americans and they said, ‘Keep the faith. We’re strong. Be strong. We’re with you.’

“A former lieutenant colonel in the Marines who’s now a teacher met me in a restaurant in New Jersey, great view of the United — of New York City. He said, ‘We’re with you all the way. Stay strong.’ A New York NYPD policeman, he says, ‘I’m not Jewish. We support you. Stay strong.’ America supports Israel in unparalleled way, unprecedented ways, number one.

“Every one of the U.S. presidents represents and acts on the tremendous innate friendship of the American people to Israel. And by the way, a piece of news, Israel is the one country in which everyone is pro-American, opposition and coalition alike.

“And I represent the entire people of Israel who say, ‘Thank you, America.’ And we’re friends of America, and we’re the only reliable allies of America in the Middle East.”

However, there can be little doubt with Israel’s loss of key allies in Turkey and Egypt that its strategic position in the region is more tenuous than it has been in recent memory. Grassroots movements are also taking root in America showing sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, even if Official Washington continues to march in lockstep behind Netanyahu.

Yet what matters most, in my view, is how Netanyahu and his associates read Obama; specifically, how afraid is he of diverging one iota from the pro-Israel stance he has adopted. There is quite enough evidence they feel he is putty in their hands, and it is hardly necessary to rehearse that here.

Let me instead try to draw a lesson from my experience last summer as a passenger on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, “The Audacity of Hope.”

Activism Exposes Cowardice

When we made a break from Greece for the high seas on July 1, it was a mere 33 minutes before a Greek Coast Guard boat intercepted us. After a standoff of well over an hour, black-clad, black-masked commandos showed up in a black rubber boat, climbed onto the Coast Guard boat, and pointed their machine guns at us.

It was more than a little bizarre: not one of us 37 passengers, 12 media journalists, or five crew flinched, much less hit the deck. When our captain discerned that his delaying tactics would not prevent us from being boarded, he acquiesced to the Greek Coast Guard orders to return to Piraeus, where “The Audacity of Hope” was (and is still) impounded.

We later learned that on that same day, the government of Greece issued a directive without precedent in that legendary seafaring nation. The order prohibited any boat from leaving Greek ports bound for Gaza.

It was clear that the Israeli government was pressuring Athens, in private and in public, to stop the ten boats of this year’s flotilla from setting out for Gaza. It is unlikely, though, that Israel alone would have been able to reverse four millennia of Greek history and embarrass the Greeks so pointedly.

It became obvious to me that it was Washington that brought the most decisive pressure to bear on the Greeks. Why? In short, because Obama has far more influence with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou than with Netanyahu. And this, despite the $3 billion the U.S. gives Israel every year.

Before leaving the United States, I was cautioned by a source with access to senior staffers at the National Security Council that not only did the White House plan to do absolutely nothing to protect our boat from Israeli attack or boarding, but that White House officials “would be happy if something happened to us.”

The way this happy message was phrased was that NSC officials would be “perfectly willing to have the cold corpses of activists shown on American TV.” Former UK Ambassador Craig Murray was told essentially the same thing by former colleagues reporting what they had learned from senior State Department officials.

In other words, senior national security and foreign policy officials in Washington were claiming they viewed with equanimity the possibility that we would meet the same type of welcome given by the Israeli Navy to last year’s flotilla to Gaza though, on sober reflection, it appears to me that the Obama administration’s preferred outcome was that we simply be bottled up in Greece.

In last year’s attempt to break the Gaza blockade, Israeli commandos attacked the flotilla on the early morning of May 31, 2010, in international waters. The commandos killed eight Turkish civilians and a 19-year-old American, Furkan Dogan. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan protested, and Turkey continues to demand an Israeli apology, compensation, and an end to the blockade of Gaza.

In contrast, not a whimper came from President Obama. Actually, it gets worse. The White House and State Department did their level best to duck any responsibility to protect American citizens; instead, Official Washington spread the erroneous notion that Dogan was not a red-white-and blue American but rather some sort of hybrid “Turkish-American.”

They knew that was incorrect. He was born in Troy, New York; he never applied for Turkish citizenship.

Blockade’s Legality

As for the legality of the Israeli blockade, happily, there remain at the State Department some sticklers for international law, apparently with the courage to quit loudly if State were to give its blessings to the outlandish notion that the Israeli blockade is legal.

There are enough recalcitrant professionals, experts on the Law of the Sea and international conventions, to put their weight down behind the notion that all countries, Israel included, should abide by those laws. Thankfully, their professionalism prevented even further embarrassment from U.S. behavior vis-à-vis international law.

That stubborn professionalism may account for one of the most bizarre State Department press conference I have seen. On June 24, AP reporter Matt Lee and some of his colleagues decided to be more matter-of-fact than diplomatic with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, the wife of Robert Kagan, a neoconservative national security adviser to Vice President Cheney from 2003 to 2005 (and now a Washington Post columnist).

Asked directly, three times, whether the U.S. government considers the Israeli blockade of Gaza legal, Ms. Nuland would give no answer.

“I am not a Law of the Sea expert,” she insisted (four times). Her talking points were that the U.S. Boat to Gaza should not be a “repeat of what happened last year” (four times).  As though last year’s flotilla was responsible for the attacks by Israeli naval commandos and this year’s flotilla would be considered responsible as well.

It seems likely that, however discreet we passengers on “The Audacity of Hope” tried to be with our messaging, U.S. officials became aware that we were on the verge of making a break for the high seas and Gaza (damn the torpedoes and commandos).

What seems clear in retrospect is that, whereas macho officials at State and the NSC would have been comfortable, as they claimed, seeing our cold corpses on U.S. TV, Obama had the presence of mind to consult his handful of adult advisers who understood that something had to be done, and quickly, since a PR disaster was in the making.

An attack on a U.S.-registered boat endangering us passengers, including author Alice Walker (not to mention the journalists on board from The New York Times, CBS, CNN, Democracynow.org, et al.) was to be avoided at all costs.

Mr. Milquetoast himself could not match Obama in pandering to the Israelis. That said, the President does try to keep to a minimum those times when it is acutely embarrassing to defend the kind of Israeli behavior the rest of the world finds heinous.

If there were a “repeat of what happened last year,” it would prove more difficult this time to avoid criticizing Israel (though, when push came to shove, Obama could probably summon the political “courage” to remain silent again).

However, if President Obama could not summon up the courage to ask Prime Minister Netanyahu to ensure safe passage for “The Audacity of Hope,” that display of timidity would not be lost on the Israeli leaders; one can imagine them being amused by it.

But if he did ask Netanyahu, Obama apparently received the gesture that seems to have become Netanyahu’s trademark in reacting to entreaties from Washington (right thumb on nose, fingers flapping).

In that case, Obama would have been forced to recognize that his influence with Netanyahu is nil, and rather than risk a dust-up with Israel, the safer course would be to put the screws to the less formidable Greeks to bring us back to shore and keep us there.

Fortunately for Obama, considerable leverage was available on Greece since it was in dire economic straits and in need of another fiscal bailout. With bigger fish to fry, so to speak, Greek Prime Minister Papandreou did what he was told and kept us ashore.

The middle-level Greek officials, including some of the Coast Guard, whom we encountered, were very apologetic, virtually holding their noses as they forced us to comply.

So, put yourself in the position of Netanyahu and his colleagues. Try to see Obama as they do and reflect on the various political equities and strategic considerations mentioned above. If you were Netanyahu, would you worry very much that Obama might get in the way if Israel decided to take a whack at Iran?

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served a total of 30 years as a U.S. Army officer and then a CIA analyst, and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




The Rise of Modern Barbarism

For several decades, the American Right has been fanning the flames of animosity among white men angered over what they see as their reduced status and other threats from modernity. Now that brush fire is threatening to sweep across the nation engulfing whatever decency remains in U.S. politics, Lawrence Davidson notes.

By Lawrence Davidson

Has anyone noticed that the political air is wafting rancid lately? That is the smell of modern barbarism.

Modern barbarism is a malodorous umbrella concept. Underneath the umbrella are lots of fetid phobias, isms and other behaviors: Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, semi-fascism, scapegoating, stereotyping, bullying, libeling and a growing, aggressive intolerance of everything and everyone who is not to the liking of the modern barbarian. Here are some recent instances of this phenomenon.
  
Michael Quigley, a Democratic congressman from Chicago, made the New York Times on Sept. 24 by promoting the virtues of tolerance and diversity, and lamenting the suffering that occurs when tolerance fails.

Out and about in his Chicago district, he stopped in at a meeting of the American Islamic Conference. He made a short speech to the 100 or so conferees during which he said “discrimination comes in many forms, many shapes and many guises. You have my pledge to work with you to fight them, and I think it is appropriate for me to apologize on behalf of this country for the discrimination you face.”

Rep. Quigley was correct about the growing levels of Islamophobia that confront Muslim Americans. Islamophobia is a delusional mind-set which mistakes the general for the particular, which condemns an entire group (which happens to have a billion plus members) for the particular actions of a very few. There is no logic to such an overreaching generalization. It is irrational.
 
Within days of Quigley’s brief presentation he came under harsh attack on conservative Web sites, radio shows and TV, with at least one death threat posted at a Fox News site which remained there at week’s end despite requests that it be removed. His office also was inundated with hundreds of angry calls, e-mails and faxes.

Then, Bill O’Reilly weighed in, again on Fox, denying that there was anything to apologize for. “What discrimination?” O’Reilly asked. “Statistics don’t support claims of bias against Muslim Americans.”

O’Reilly was simply wrong about this. As Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) commented, O’Reilly would “have to be living under a rock” to believe there was no evidence.

Both federal statistics on work-place complaints of discrimination and a recent report issued by the CAIR in conjunction with the Center for Peace and Gender at the University of California at Berkeley have documented the rise of Islamophobia since the 9/11 attacks.
 
Despite O’Reilly being factually wrong on the issue of rising prejudice against Muslim Americans, Quigley’s apology continued to draw scorn. Soon some right-wing spokesmen were trying to use the apology to call attention to what they believed to be the violent nature of Muslim culture.

Ralph Peters, who might be thought of as a professional anti-Muslim, called Quigley, who is just 51 years old, a “silly old fool” and said you might as well “apologize for preventing them [Muslims] from beating their daughters to death for flirting.”

First of all such violence is not a trait of Islam. Secondly, the United States could be made to look like hell on earth for women simply by over-concentrating on nationwide instances of spousal abuse. Such is the danger of mistaking the particular for the general.
 
Cheers and Jeers
 
At about the same time, Islamophobia was playing havoc with Republican politics in Florida. Nezar Hamze, a long time Republican as well as CAIR’s South Florida director, was systematically discriminated against (to the point of the purposeful changing of local party selection rules) when he stood for election to the Broward County Republican executive committee.

Usually those who want to serve on this committee are automatically accepted. It was “the first time … anyone could recall … [someone being turned down] in a county where Republicans complain about being outnumbered by Democrats,” according to a McClatchy news article.

When Hamze’s membership in the Executive Committee was denied, the 300 or so people present at the meeting “cheered loudly.” Those cheers were strikingly similar to the foot stomping and applause that have been heard from the audiences attending the Republican presidential primary debates.

At the Republican debates it is not only Islamophobia that is on display, but rabid reactions to gay rights, scorn for the vulnerability of the uninsured, and calls for the blood of those on death row.

To this you can add the following stances that have come to the fore under the influence of a wave of modern barbarism centered in the ranks of the Republican Party: Tea Party assertions that environmentalism is “unbiblical” and cutting taxes for the rich is righteous; health care reform is “the equivalent of drug dealing” (Rick Santorum); there is a serious threat of America turning into a “secular atheist country … dominated by radical Islamists” (Newt Gingrich); “those who believe in evolution are part of a cult following” (Michele Bachman); and the friendly embracing of fundamentalists who believe that the Statue of Liberty is a “demonic idol” (Rick Perry).
 
Who are these people who give tea a bad name and show up at presidential debates only to behave as if they are enjoying a bear-baiting exhibition?

Actually, they are Richard Hofstadter’s politically paranoid, Eric Hoffer’s true believers, and Ortega y Gasset’s revolting masses. They are people who are always with us even in the midst of modernity. And they obviously feel that here in America, it is now their time.

Maybe they are correct. They have captured one of the two main parties in the U.S., taken at least temporary control of the House of Representatives, and fashioned a slate of Republican presidential hopefuls in their own image.

As has been noted in a Concord Monitor editorial, in the midst of the cheering and jeering of these modern barbarians “not one Republican candidate … spoke up to admonish the crowd and call for civility.”
 
For the rest of America to ignore what is going on here is the equivalent of turning one’s back on a mugging in progress. And what is being mugged is the entire country.

Actually, this threat has been building for some time. What do you think Ronald Reagan was doing, in terms of both domestic and foreign policies, if not laying the ground for George W. Bush.

And the Democrats too have done their share to prepare the ground. Bill Clinton helped deregulate the economy to the delight of the devotees of greed and corruption, while simultaneously destroying the lives of millions of Iraqi innocents through draconian sanctions.

President Obama has allied with racists in the Middle East and let go free torturers and war criminals who worked for the U.S. government. Indeed, how many of us, politicians and voters, have turned a blind eye to the repeated bipartisan orgies of blood that sacrificed millions in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places.

Who are these people? Well, intellectually speaking they are our lumpen-proletariat. The one-dimensional thinkers and political savages that, until recently, had dwelled on the fringes of the conservative movement.

However, in another way they are a reflection of all of us and our frustrations with the built in inadequacies of the democratic system. Winston Churchill was right when he said that democracy was the worst political system, except for all the others.

The recurrent corruption, constant double standards, favoritism, and influence peddling can get us all down. But what sets the modern barbarians apart is their simple-minded intention to essentially dismantle government with nothing but a vague and vengeful minimalism in mind as a replacement.

They are, if you will, intimations of our collective political id. So, Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde. Who will it be? If you think you really share the character of Dr. Jekyll, then you better assert yourself. Get active, get political, speak out, take a progressive stand. Otherwise, modern barbarism will have its way.

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 Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Enduring Terror Double Standards

Exclusive: President Barack Obama ordered the targeted killing of al-Qaeda figure and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki despite the lack of any legal due process. But the same week, the U.S. government continued to turn a blind eye to a Cuban-American terrorist harbored in Miami, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Former Vice President Dick Cheney may have expressed the pervasive American double standard on human rights best during a NBC “Today” show interview when host Matt Lauer asked if Cheney’s support for waterboarding would carry over to its use by a foreign adversary against an American suspected of spying or caught conducting a covert operation.

“We probably would object to it,” responded Cheney, “on the grounds that we have obligations towards our citizens and that we do everything we can to protect our citizens.”

As for how that attitude matched up with his enthusiastic support for waterboarding detainees in the “war on terror,” Cheney explained that “we weren’t dealing with American citizens in the enhanced interrogation program.” He then added, “the fact is, it worked.”

In other words, one set of rules on torture applies to the United States and another set applies to the rest of the world, with gradations depending on how close a country or an individual is to the United States. The only consistency is the hypocrisy, and the only measure is whether something “worked.”

Similar double standards were also on display this past week with disparate attitudes applied toward “terrorism” depending on who is doing the terrorizing.

On Friday, President Barack Obama announced the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen of Yemeni extraction who had turned on the United States and joined with al-Qaeda operatives to plot attacks against Americans.

Because Awlaki allegedly collaborated in terrorist attempts to kill Americans, including the botched “underwear” bombing over Detroit on Christmas 2009, he was hunted down and killed by a CIA drone attack with no due process beyond Obama putting Awlaki’s name on a “capture-or-kill” list.

However, also last week, with virtually no attention in the U.S. news media, Venezuela expanded on its appeal to the United States to extradite CIA-trained Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles to face charges of not only masterminding the mid-air bombing of a Cubana airliner in 1976 but engaging in acts of torture and other crimes while serving in a Venezuelan intelligence agency four decades ago.

The United States has been harboring Posada since 2005, with the Bush administration and now the Obama administration refusing to take action to ensure that Posada faces justice for these grave crimes. Instead of extraditing Posada to Venezuela, the U.S. government has bungled minor cases against him for illegal entry and perjury.

As a result, Posada, now 83, has gotten to live out his golden years in relative comfort in Miami supported by the influential Cuban-American community, much as his terrorist co-conspirator Orlando Bosch did.

In being spared punishment for the 1976 Cubana Airline bombing, which killed 73 people including the Cuban youth fencing team, the pair also enjoyed the invaluable assistance of the Bush Family, including George H.W. Bush, Jeb Bush and George W. Bush.

New Charges

Venezuela’s new extradition request results from investigations into political repression from the 1960s to the 1980s, including thousands of kidnappings, “disappearances” and acts of torture.

Posada has been implicated in some of these human rights crimes because after receiving CIA training for covert operations aimed at Fidel Castro’s Cuba Posada in 1967 went to work for the feared Venezuelan intelligence agency, known as DISIP, where he became chief of operations.

One recently revealed case implicating Posada involved two women Brenda Hernandez Esquivel and Marlene del Valle Esquivel whose home in Maracay was raided in 1973 by state security agents searching for “subversive elements.”

In the raid, three men were killed, one after opening the door and two others after surrendering, the complaint alleges. Later, the women were taken to DISIP’s local headquarters where they say they were abused by Posada, who was known as “Commissioner Basilio,”

Regarding Brenda Hernandez Esquivel, Posada noted that she was pregnant and told his officers that “the seed must be finished off,” which was accomplished by kicking the woman in the abdomen killing the unborn child, according to the complaint. Afterwards, the woman said she barely escaped attempts by the officers to drown her.

Posada is also alleged to have used a lit cigarette and feigned executions to torture Marlene del Valle and her six-month-old child as a means to extract information.

Later, the two women say they were moved to DISIP headquarters in Caracas where they were subjected to further torture until ultimately being released.

Three years later, Posada and Bosch allegedly had a bomb placed onboard a Cubana Airlines plane that was carrying 73 people, including the Cuban youth fencing team from Caracas to Havana. Though Bosch and Posada have formally denied masterminding the Cubana Airlines bombing, evidence in U.S. government files makes the case of their guilt overwhelming.

Declassified U.S. documents show that soon after the Cubana plane was blown out of the sky on Oct. 6, 1976, the CIA, then under the direction of George H.W. Bush, identified Posada and Bosch as the masterminds of the bombing.

But in fall 1976, Bush’s boss, President Gerald Ford, was in a tight election battle with Democrat Jimmy Carter and the Ford administration wanted to keep intelligence scandals out of the newspapers. So Bush and other officials kept the lid on the investigations. [See Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Secret Cables

Still, inside the U.S. government, the facts were well known. According to a secret CIA cable dated Oct. 14, 1976, intelligence sources in Venezuela relayed information about the Cubana Airlines bombing that tied in Bosch, who had been visiting Venezuela, and Posada, who was his host and was still a senior DISIP officer.

The Oct. 14 cable said Bosch arrived in Venezuela in late September 1976 under the protection of Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, a close Washington ally who assigned his intelligence adviser Orlando Garcia “to protect and assist Bosch during his stay in Venezuela.”

On his arrival, Bosch was met by Garcia and Posada, according to the report. Later, a fundraising dinner was held in Bosch’s honor. “A few days following the fund-raising dinner, Posada was overheard to say that, ‘we are going to hit a Cuban airplane,’ and that ‘Orlando has the details,’” the CIA report said.

“Following the 6 October [1976] Cubana Airline crash off the coast of Barbados, Bosch, Garcia and Posada agreed that it would be best for Bosch to leave Venezuela. Therefore, on 9 October, Posada and Garcia escorted Bosch to the Colombian border, where he crossed into Colombian territory.”

In South America, police began rounding up suspects. Two Cuban exiles, Hernan Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, who got off the Cubana plane in Barbados, confessed that they had planted the bomb. They named Bosch and Posada as the architects of the attack.

A search of Posada’s apartment in Venezuela turned up Cubana Airlines timetables and other incriminating documents.

Posada and Bosch were charged in Venezuela for the Cubana Airlines bombing, but the case soon became a political tug-of-war, since the suspects were in possession of sensitive Venezuelan government secrets that could embarrass President Andres Perez.

A New Day for Terrorists

After President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush took power in Washington in 1981, the momentum for unraveling the mysteries of the Cuban Airlines bombing and other anti-communist terror plots dissipated. Reagan’s ramped-up Cold War trumped any concern about right-wing terrorism.

Indeed, Reagan and Bush found right-wing extremists like Posada useful again and surely weren’t eager to offend Miami’s politically powerful Cuban community.

In 1985, Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison where he was awaiting trial. In his autobiography, Posada thanked Miami-based Cuban activist Jorge Mas Canosa for the $25,000 that was used to bribe guards who allowed Posada to walk out of prison.

Another Cuban exile who aided Posada was former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, who was close to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. At the time, Rodriguez was handling secret supply shipments to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, a pet project of President Reagan.

After fleeing Venezuela, Posada joined Rodriguez in Central America and began using the code name “Ramon Medina.” Posada was assigned the job of paymaster for pilots in the White House-run Contra-supply operation.

By the late 1980s, Orlando Bosch also was out of Venezuela’s jails and back in Miami. But Bosch, who had been implicated in about 30 violent attacks, was facing possible deportation by U.S. officials who warned that Washington couldn’t credibly lecture other countries about terrorism while protecting a terrorist like Bosch.

But Bosch got lucky. Jeb Bush, then an aspiring Florida politician, led a lobbying drive to prevent the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from expelling Bosch. In 1990, the lobbying paid dividends when Jeb’s dad, President George H.W. Bush, blocked proceedings against Bosch, letting the unapologetic terrorist stay in the United States.

In 1992, also during the Bush-41 presidency, the FBI interviewed Posada about the Iran-Contra scandal for 6 ½ hours at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. Posada filled in some blanks about the role of Bush’s vice presidential office in the secret Contra operation.

According to a 31-page summary of the FBI interview, Posada said Bush’s national security adviser, former CIA officer Donald Gregg, was in frequent contact with Felix Rodriguez.

“Posada recalls that Rodriguez was always calling Gregg,” the FBI summary said. “Posada knows this because he’s the one who paid Rodriguez’ phone bill.” After the interview, the FBI agents let Posada walk out of the embassy unmolested. [For details, see Parry’s Lost History.]

Harboring Terrorists

In 2005, when Posada eventually made his way into Miami, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made little effort to capture him. Posada was detained only after he held a news conference.

Then, instead of extraditing Posada to Venezuela to stand trial for a terrorist mass murder, George W. Bush’s administration engaged in a lackadaisical effort to have him deported somewhere else for lying on an immigration form.

During a 2007 court hearing in Texas, Bush administration lawyers allowed to go unchallenged testimony from a Posada friend that Posada would face torture if he were returned to Venezuela. The judge, therefore, barred Posada from being deported there.

After that ruling, Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez accused the administration of “a cynical double standard” in the “war on terror.” As for the claim that Venezuela practices torture, Alvarez said, “There isn’t a shred of evidence that Posada would be tortured in Venezuela.”

Posada came to personify the hypocrisy of George W. Bush’s famous declaration that harboring a terrorist was no better than being a terrorist.

On May 2, 2008, Posada was feted at a gala fundraising dinner in Miami. Some 500 supporters chipped in to his legal defense fund and Posada arrived to thundering applause. In a bristling speech against the Castro regime, Posada told his supporters, “We ask God to sharpen our machetes.”

Venezuelan Ambassador Alvarez protested the Bush administration’s tolerance of the dinner. “This is outrageous, particularly because he kept talking about [more] violence,” Alvarez said.

Similarly, his alleged co-conspirator in the Cubana Airlines bombing, Orlando Bosch, showed no remorse for his violent past.

In a TV interview, reporter Manuel Cao on Miami’s Channel 41 asked Bosch to comment on the civilians who died when the Cubana plane crashed off the coast of Barbados.

Bosch responded, “In a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant [Fidel Castro], you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.”

“But don’t you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?” Cao asked, noting the presence of Cuba’s amateur fencing team that had just won gold, silver and bronze medals at a youth fencing competition in Caracas. “The young people onboard?”

Bosch replied, “I was in Caracas. I saw the young girls on television. There were six of them. After the end of the competition, the leader of the six dedicated their triumph to the tyrant. She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant.

“We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that everyone who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny.”

[The comment about Santo Domingo was an apparent reference to a meeting by a right-wing terrorist organization, CORU, which took place in the Dominican Republic in 1976 and which involved a CIA  undercover asset.]

No Outrage

Though Bosch was allowed to die in peace earlier this year, the Obama administration’s Justice Department did prosecute Posada on perjury charges (a case that was lost when the jury apparently sympathized with the anti-communist militant).

Still, Obama has shown no interest in seeking justice for the Cubana Airlines victims. To do so would surely have political repercussions in the swing state of Florida in 2012.

The U.S. news media remains similarly blasé about Posada walking free, in contrast to their fury over Libya’s supposed role in the mid-air bombing of Pan Am 103, which killed 270 people in 1988. The widely presumed guilt of Muammar Gaddafi’s government was often cited as justification for seeking violent “regime change” in Libya this year.

At leading news outlets, such as the New York Times, Libyan guilt for the Pan Am 103 bombing was stated as flat fact, even though the evidence was much weaker indeed threadbare compared to what exists against Posada and Bosch on the Cubana Airlines case. [For more on the Pan Am 103 case against Libya, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Through the US Media Lens Darkly.”]

There is also a strong U.S. media consensus that President Obama did the right thing in ordering the targeted killing of Awlaki even though there was no criminal indictment, no evidence presented to a grand jury, no formal legal proceeding of any sort.

By contrast, the U.S. government’s calculated neglect of Venezuela’s repeated requests that Posada be turned over for criminal prosecution for acts of terrorism and torture draws virtually no media attention at all.

Perhaps the true meaning of “American exceptionalism” is that the rules apply to every nation except America. Ultimately, Dick Cheney seems to be right, that the U.S. government feels no obligation to enforce international laws against terrorism and torture if American officials or their friends are the ones implicated.

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.




‘Occupy Wall Street’ Movement Grows

The economic distress caused by out-of-control Wall Street greed finally has prompted a dramatic public response in the form of protesters occupying a park in the Financial District of New York City. Slowly, the movement has attracted broader support, reports Danny Schechter.

By Danny Schechter

There was a rumor on Friday that the band Radiohead would be dropping by the #Occupy Wall Street encampment. They had just been on “The Colbert Report” and their fan base is huge among the very demographic of younger people drawn to the protests now beginning their third week.

And so more people came than organizers expected. Loads of people!  Except, alas, for Radio Head. The band had reportedly called to express support that led some to conclude that they were on the way.

This demonstrates again the power of celebrity to draw a crowd. What did impress the activists in Zuccotti Park in the Financial District is that the Radiohead fans actually stuck around and took part in the activities and a march that went north to Police Headquarters protesting the pepper-spraying of activists.

That police action against #Occupy Wall Street protesters had the other unintended consequence of persuading the news media, which had convinced itself that this growing assembly was not worth covering, to cover it.

Soon, thanks to research by the mysterious “Anonymous,” activists were able to identify the police commander responsible for using a chemical weapon against female protesters.

His name is Anthony Bologna, and soon his email was hacked and his record of alleged earlier abuse incidents was publicized, apparently along with his online porn collection.

Then, Jon Stewart stepped in Thursday with a report on the cop he called “TONY BALONEY,” ridiculing him and the police force.

Perhaps, that is why the NYPD was more restrained Friday night and backed down with threatened arrests of a group of activist bicyclists called Critical Mass, that had shown up to show solidarity.

When it was announced at a nightly meeting (called the “General Assembly”) that the bikers were at risk, hundreds of activists rushed out to show some solidarity to them and, then, there were no arrests.

Perhaps this incident was evidence of a sign I saw reading “The power of the people is greater than the people in power.”

#Occupy Wall Street has yet to attract the 20,000 militants they had hoped for but it’s growing and, more importantly, retaining its sense of community, non-violence, and sense of a tolerant community. It is a decentralized.

Most important is that similar actions are already taking place in other cities like a march on Friday in Boston against the Bank of America. An even bigger one is being planned for Washington in October.

Other organizations are supporting this emerging movement. Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union say they “applaud the courage of the young people on Wall Street” and are planning to turn out their members next week.

I saw tee-shirts of UAW members and met some activists from the Salvadorian community. Already #Occupy Wall Street sent over a hundred people to back a protest by postal workers trying to save their jobs and the Post Office.

The longer this lasts, and is allowed to last, the more it is likely to grow.

Already intellectuals and writers like Chris Hedges are praising the protesters as “the best among us” and are imploring the rest of us to get involved:

“There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolt taking place on Wall Street and in the financial districts of other cities across the country or you stand on the wrong side of history.

“Either you obstruct, in the only form left to us, which is civil disobedience, the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler.”

Veteran activist Carl Davidson writes:

“Young rebels often manifest a moral clarity that awakens and prods the rest of us. Through their direct actions, they become a critical force, holding up a mirror for an entire society to take a look at itself, what it has come to, and what choices lay before it.

“The historic example is the four young African American students that sat at a lunch counter and ordered a cup of coffee in Greensboro, North Carolina back in 1960. The Wall Street protests are thus a clarion call to the trade unions and everyone concerned with economic and social justice.”

This weekend, Occupy Wall Street is promising to make an assessment of it strengths and weaknesses and to begin a debate about next steps.

The last two weeks have been a tremendous learning experience for the activists who even doubted their staying power. Now their non-organization has organized with a food committee, media center, sanitation department and task force to encourage more debate.

David Degraw of AmpedStatus.com that pushed for the protests sees the movement defining itself. He told me on my weekly News Dissector Radio Show on Progressive Radio Network that he expects more clarity to emerge from a debate that’s already underway.

He writes, “As the occupation of Wall Street moves into its third week, there are many questions about the organizers behind the ongoing protests and the origins of the 99% Movement.”

He has encountered resistance from parties unknown to his efforts to encourage a debate.

“As AmpedStatus was pushing for a decentralized global rebellion against Wall Street and actively supporting the Egyptian uprising against the IMF and Federal Reserve, the attacks on the site escalated. In what appeared to be a fatal blow, the entire ISP network that the AmpedStatus.com site was hosted on was knocked offline, hundreds of sites were also affected and the AmpedStatus.com web hosting provider said that they would no longer be able to host the site unless it was moved to a service that was significantly more than we were paying or could afford.

“With a very limited budget, and in complete desperation, AmpedStatus put out a call for help.”

The computer whiz Anonymous stepped in and helped the site recover. It is now on the leading edge of the movement. Other sites like Livestream carry the events around the clock the way Al Jazeera reported on the uprising in Egypt. #OccupyWallStreet disseminates tweets around the clock

Many in the media wrote off the young people in Egypt, and proved to be as out of touch as much of the American media is today. As Bob Dylan sang decades ago to a reporter from Time Magazine, “There’s something happening and you don’t know what it us, do you”

News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs about the protests on News Dissector.com. His latest film, Plunder The Crime of Our Time” called for protests against financial crime. (Plunderthecrimeofourtime.com) Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org.




Finding Peace in Religious Scholarship

Some neoconservatives, Christian fundamentalists and right-wing Jews insist that a “clash of civilizations” is underway with Islam and that peaceful coexistence is not an option. But Rev. Howard Bess, a Baptist, sees hope from fair-minded scholarship about the Bible and the Qu’ran.

By the Rev. Howard Bess

Every Sunday I lead an adult Sunday School discussion class.  Just now we are reading and discussing Stephen Prothero’s book, God Is Not One.

The title might be a bit unsettling to some, but it makes a point. When a religious person says “My God is one and one only, and there is no other God,” dialogue dies in a world that is desperately in need for gracious communication. Prothero is determined to initiate and encourage respectful argument.

I am a Christian and my commitment to Christ is fixed. Prothero does not ask that I change my mind about my faith. However, he does ask that I become familiar with other faiths and be fair in my understanding of them.

The first challenge in the book is Islam. In order to meet the demand for fairness, I pulled my copy of the Qu’ran from the shelf with a commitment to read the Qu’ran entirely. I have begun a process.

I have read, studied and interpreted my own special volume, the Bible, for a lifetime. I become annoyed when people misquote, misrepresent and tear from context the words of the Bible.

I am especially sensitive about reading the Bible in the context in which it was written. I always want to know who wrote it, when did the person write it, to whom were the words directed, what was the context. I have found that if I ask these basic questions, the Bible makes more sense and its messages are clearer.

If this is a reasonable way to approach my special book, should I not give the same effort to reading the Qu’ran?

According to Muslim tradition, the Qu’ran has no author other than Allah, the common Arabic word for God, with Allah’s words passed down to the prophet Muhammad.

Muhammad was a bright, thoughtful man who was an illiterate. He could neither read nor write. The tradition is that Allah spoke the sacred messages to Muhammad, word for word, line by line, verse by verse. Muhammad repeated the words to other people, the words were shared, and eventually they were written down in Arabic.

The message of Allah became fixed for all time. In the faith of Islam, Muhammad was the final prophet. Revelation was completed and contained wholly in the Qu’ran. It would be tempting to move on from Muhammad, but my curiosity has been tweaked. Who was Muhammad?

Out of our growing discussions, Darlene went to the shelves of our library to see what we had. We were surprised. We actually had some good material, not read thoroughly and certainly not digested for our present dialogues. I dived into Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad, a Prophet for Our Times. My reading table is becoming cluttered, but my understanding is growing.

Muhammad was born in 570 CE in the city of Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia. As a child he was orphaned. Besides that, we know almost nothing of his childhood or early manhood.

During the years of his growing up, Arab tribalism was still the basic social and political structure of Arabia. The basis of ethics and morality was the good of the tribe. Religion was not well defined, and no God was greater than the good of the tribe.

The traditional life of the nomadic tribe was very difficult with constant conflict between tribes for water and grazing land. Wars and killing were endless and people lived by a conscience trained only by the survival ethic of the tribe.

Some tribes drifted into populated areas but kept their tribal identities. The city of Mecca had become a population center and came to be dominated by successful businessmen and traders. Many Arabs made the transition from herders to businessmen.

The presence of a highly successful clan of Jews added to the tensions of the City. Mecca had become a center of both great wealth and great poverty. Outside of the tribe there was no concern for the sick, the elderly or the impoverished.

What made Muhammad different is a matter for speculation. He became one of the successful businessmen, accumulating wealth but never enslaved to his wealth.

For contemplation, he often retreated to a mountain cave north of Mecca, where he considered the problems of Mecca: the greed, the injustice and the arrogance. According to Islamic tradition, Allah began giving Muhammad sacred words when he was 40. The core of the message was that God was one, a unity who demanded complete allegiance.

When Muhammad began sharing his message to the people of Mecca, he was not taken seriously. At the time, he was a minor voice with a message that challenged the social and economic forces that ruled the city.

However, soon, his message and leadership proved successful. The city and an entire region changed their ways. Indeed, there has been no social revolution in history that made such an impact on so many people in such a short time.

Muhammad was committed to a just and decent society in which every person is treated with respect. To represent Muhammad otherwise is a travesty to his life and a misrepresentation of the Islam he initiated.

It is true that the major religions of the world are different and cannot be harmonized without doing damage to the basic concepts of each faith. But there is value in Prothero’s message of understanding and respect for one another’s beliefs.

I need to get back to my reading. I want to be prepared for the class discussion next Sunday.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is hdbss@mtaonline.net .




Alice Walker Fights Anti-Palestinian Bias

Pulitzer-winning author Alice Walker sees a reflection of the injustice done to African-Americans in today’s treatment of the Palestinians, leading her to object when the artwork of Palestinian children is barred from U.S. museums and to join a flotilla that challenged Israel’s blockade of Gaza, as Dennis Bernstein reports.

By Dennis Bernstein

Alice Walker is Pulitzer Prize winning poet, author and activist. She participated recently in the U.S. Boat to Gaza, which was a part of the Freedom Flotilla, to break the Israeli embargo on the Gaza Strip.

Last year, a flotilla was attacked by Israeli commandos and a number of people were killed and wounded. Walker’s boat was stopped by Greek authorities before it could traverse the eastern Mediterranean to Gaza.

DB:  I want to start with the recent attempt by the Children’s Museum of Oakland to prevent Palestinian kids from showing their art. You wrote a very moving piece on your web site. It was very personal. Could you just briefly outline what you wrote and your response to this censorship?

AW: Well, I was basically saying that the children need to have exposure of their art because it will be a wonderful way to help them heal from the trauma of being bombed and watching their friends, and sometimes parents, die.

And it’s unconscionable that any adults, especially in this part of the world, and lo and behold in Oakland would want to deprive these children of a venue in which they could expose some of their grief and some of their pain, and of course, some of their art.

And so I just very strongly urge all of us to go to see this art. I’m not sure where it will be shown.

DB: There was an opening I should tell you around the corner, at a beautiful gallery, there were about five hundred people, there was a marching band, there was beautiful food out front, and a lot of people marveled at the extraordinary art that was shown around the corner from the Children’s Museum.

I think they had a better shot there. And now they are getting requests for it to be a traveling exhibition around the world. It is incredible. Can I ask you to share the personal part of what you wrote?

Because I have seen as a teacher the impact of, very troubled kids, oppressed kids, kids who have faced difficult times being able to get through it, through self-expression.

And this, the part of this that bothered me the most is that the exhibit was advertised, the invitations were sent out, the workshops were set up, the kids were excited and they were told “No, it wasn’t going to happen.” Could you share the personal side of what you wrote?

AW: There are a couple of things. One is, I was injured myself, as a child. I was playing cowboy and Indians with my brothers and one of them accidentally shot me in the eye. And that led to a lot of suffering, and a lot of grief and a lot of pain.

And I started writing poetry at that time when I was eight or nine years old. And my relatives encouraged me to share it, to show it to people. And that was a part of my healing. And so I could easily see that that could help these children.

That having the venue denied to them is a way of making them remain locked in their own private suffering. And this is something that adults with money, in this case, could do to these little kids.

And they are doing it but it is at great risk to their own souls to do this to children; to force them to remain unexpressed or to try to force them to remain unexpressed in their suffering.

The other part that was so, that came to mind as I was writing this essay was how in 1939 Marian Anderson had been denied.

DB:  The great singer

AW: The great contralto. She had been denied a venue at the Constitution Hall, at Constitution Hall in D.C. by the Daughters of the American Revolution, who were just upset that the place was going to be integrated.

And, so Anderson’s friends, including the President, [Franklin] Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt came to her defense and she was allowed to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

And she actually attracted seventy-five thousand people of all colors and kinds, and everything. And it was one of the biggest turn outs ever, up to that time, at the Lincoln Memorial.

And so I was just reminding us, that these battings and attempts to censor people, they often backfire. And that is something that we should remember.

It strengthens us as well, because we begin to see the forces that are against us. They are fleshed out, they come out of the walls and woodwork, wherever they’ve been hiding and pretending to be upstanding, kind, and generous people.

They suddenly stand revealed as the really very narrow hearted people that they are, and so we don’t have to be fooled. And it’s a great thing not to be fooled by people.

To have that little bit of consciousness about who is likely to try to trip you up as you start climbing towards your freedom. Yes.

DB:  And just to take off on what you said, it is either you have a very frightening, and difficult, and terrifying, tragic experience happens to you and either you have a chance to express it to people who care and want to hear it or it gets forced down inside of you and manifests as an illness, in various ways. So it can make all the difference in the world.

AW:  It makes all the difference in the world. And in fact, one of the things that you learn from having some fairly dreadful things happen to you, is that you can survive and you can still be happy.

And I like to tell, very briefly, a little story of a leper that I came across in Hawaii, on the island of Molokai. A man whose face had just about been dissolved by his illness, and his expression of just absolute joy was shining through what was left of his face.

And he said “You know one of the things I have learned from this hard life here, is that you can have these terrible things that happen to you and you can still be happy.”

Now this is good news for anybody but especially for a child who feels just completely squashed by an imperial power that bombs its communities and its schools for twenty-two days, non-stop, a child that just has lost parts of its body.

To know that somewhere there is this teaching, and that there are these people and that someone is waiting for them on the other side of the trauma to share with them what they have gained.

You know, you don’t just lose, you sometimes gain a lot from suffering. And they can stand with you and that’s why I love the Middle East Children’s Alliance (Meca).

I love the Middle East Children’s Alliance, because their commitment to these children and to making it clear, not only to the children but to the adults in the world, what it is that we need to be doing together, which is bringing them along, helping them stand, and helping them to see that there is still a possibility of being joyful little kids.

DB:  Why did you decide to join that Flotilla?

AW: Well, I did it because I really believe that it is our responsibility. When the world is out of whack as it is almost everywhere you look. What do you do? And where do you place yourself?

And how much do we believe what we say we believe about wanting to fight the good fight for the freedom of the people of the world, and the happiness of the people of the world.

And I had been in Gaza, and I had been in the West Bank and I had met my tribe of poets, and singers, and musicians and philosophers and historians and children and we’re just people.

And you know, people everywhere deserve to be free of fear. They deserve to be free of people taking their land, and bombing their schools, and taking their water.

And so it felt like, given my own background in the South with the segregation, and I’m sitting here right now, looking at pictures of both my parents. That I have an obligation given how much I deeply understand this kind of pain, to try to be present even if we don’t get to where we were trying to get to.

We didn’t get to Gaza. But we did get ten miles off the coast of Greece.

DB: And you were turned back.

AW: We were turned back by armed commandos from the Greek coast guard. And we never got to be in confrontation directly with the Israelis. But they were working against us the whole time. They had been sabotaging the other ships, and making it really hard for us to move.

And yet there again, I can’t be discouraged, I feel so much that if you just get off your couch, if you just leave your house, if you just head out to stand with your neighbor, even if they are ten thousand miles away.

If you head out, there is a way in which you are already there. Your intention is so important, and the movement forward is so important.

DB:  You know, Alice, I’m usually very afraid about everything whatever I do, I tend to do it, but I’m frightened. Now you got on a boat knowing that the last round of the Freedom Flotilla faced extreme violence by Israeli commandos, a number of people died were wounded, how do you deal with your fear. Were you afraid?

AW:  Of course I was afraid, we’re all afraid.  But there is this realization that an earthquake could just right this minute just cover us all up with rubble, we could be sucked out of our car by a hurricane, we could be drowned in these floods that are happening.

In other words, there’s a way in which you have to start to see now, that danger is really everywhere and it’s in every moment so it is better to, I think, to then approach those areas that are dangerous and difficult in that spirit, that well I could lose my life here too at home.

And also now  the thing that I find really remarkable and I felt this way in Mississippi forty years ago, when you reach the other people who are as determined and as dedicated as you are, with the love that you have, it’s a kind of heaven.

And it’s not to be missed if you can possibly manage to get to this kind of circle of people who have evolved. I felt on the boat, in the presence of such goodness, such amazing, spirit and heart. That it made it worth whatever the sacrifice might have been, I mean if I would go, I would go with these people, and how blissful, really.

DB: Finally, and I guess this is the hardest thing for me to understand. We are seeing several recent reports surfacing out of Israel, really put together by the Israelis describing a program, an expanding program of midnight kidnappings, and torture of children as young as twelve years old, by Israeli soldiers.

Sometimes they are taken to the basements of the settlements, illegal settlements, and questioned and masked, but they are taken by hooded soldiers and my question for you and I don’t know if there is a real answer but what drives a people to go to these lengths to silence children and to repress freedom.

AW: Well, I think that one of the things that probably should not have happened for so long is that the constant reiteration of the Holocaust.

I think if we had a slavery industry so that so often you would hear horrible tales about the enslavement of black people, like every time you turn around, we would have some incredibly crazed black people who would be doing some much more violent things because the anger.

I think that whatever happens you are never permitted to evolve beyond your rage. So everything becomes an obstacle to your liberation from your own rage. So you turn into quite dangerous entities in society.

Alice Walker is the author of many books of poems and prose, including The Color Purple, A Poem Traveled Down My Arm, and A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel. For a list of Alice Walker’s work go to http://alicewalkersgarden.com/. She spoke with Dennis Bernstein on “Flashpoints,” a news program at Pacifica Radio.




Obama’s Hollow Words on Palestine

President Barack Obama struggled to explain his planned veto of UN recognition of a Palestinian state just a year after he welcomed the idea. His speech was a painful example of a leader knowing what is right and calculating that he can’t do what is right, notes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

On Sept. 21, President Barack Obama delivered his latest message to the United Nations: “I would like to talk to you about a subject that is at the heart of the United Nations the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world.”

Actually, one thing that makes the world imperfect is the lopsided power distribution at the UN. This allows the permanent members of the Security Council (particularly the U.S.) to decide when peace does or does not get pursued.

But Obama did not call attention to this problem. Instead he pointed to Libya and the alleged achievement of freedom, security and peace in that North African land. Actually, what Libya amounted to, at least in part, was the destruction of a nation with a standard of living approaching that of Spain.

This destruction happened not because it was ruled by “the world’s longest serving dictator,” but because that particular dictator had a 40-year record of being an incredible pain in the rear end of the Western ruling elites.

Be that as it may, Obama was stuck with the conundrum that the people of Libya (and Tunisia and Egypt and maybe Yemen and Syria but, of course, not Bahrain) deserve self-determination and peace, while the Palestinians are apparently still out in the cold.

Obama explained that “I believe … that the Palestine people deserve a state of their own.” However, they only can have it if they follow a course which, over the last 20 years, has proved utterly bankrupt.

Indeed, Obama saved his most emphatic language for the moment when he insisted that bankruptcy is the only way to national success for the Palestinians: “Ultimately it is the Israelis and the Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement … that is and will be the path to a Palestinian state.”

Very odd. The President tells us that Washington won’t dictate national self-determination, but it damn well can dictate the route the Palestinians must take to get it. Even if that route has proven worthless and will, most likely, lead them to their ultimate destruction.
 
Two Critics
 
Robert Fisk, the famous reporter for the British newspaper The Independent, wrote a scathing report on President Obama’s speech. Here is part of what Fisk said:

“After praising the Arab Spring … the man [Obama] dared to give the Palestinians 10 minutes of his time, slapping them in the face for daring to demand statehood from the UN. Obama even and this is the funniest part his preposterous address to the UN — suggested that the Palestinians and the Israelis were two equal ‘parties’ to the conflict.”
 
Fisk is angry and frustrated and one can only empathize with those feelings. But his piece leaves a lot unexplained. So let us look at Uri Avnery, founder and leader of Israel’s Gush Shalom peace movement, who commented on the speech this way:

“A wonderful speech. A beautiful speech. The language expressive and elegant. The arguments clear and convincing. The delivery flawless. A work of art. The art of hypocrisy. Almost every statement in the passage concerning the Israeli-Palestinian issue was a lie.

“A blatant lie: the speaker knew it and so did the audience. … Being a moral person, he [Obama] must have felt the urge to vomit. Being a pragmatic person, he knew that he had to do it if he wanted to be re-elected.”
 
Now that is more to the point. Avnery tells us why Obama was lying. Because in a land of the deceived, only really good liars get what? Get elected and then re-elected?

Well, that is probably true. However, in this particular case things are a bit more complicated. This might sound a bit shocking but, taken literally, Avnery is inaccurate. You can be critical of Israel and even sympathetic to the Palestinians and still, at least potentially, get elected to office in the United States.

Consider a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. It indicates that 42 percent of Americans are in favor of U.S. recognition of Palestinian statehood as against 26 percent opposed. Nearly one-third, 32 percent, had no opinion.

That means an energetic and savvy politician running for national office, who is also publicly in favor of Palestinian statehood, would have a pool of 74 percent of American voters to work on.

The numbers are even more impressive when considering only Democratic voters. There 54 percent are in favor of Palestinian statehood and only 14 percent opposed. These are telling numbers for a politician with pro-Palestinian sympathies if the voters are really the end game here.
 
Neglected Voters

Unfortunately, they are not. Voters are only important at the actual time of election. At all other times the politicians’ constituencies are special-interest groups. It is the special interests that supply the resources the politicians actually use to manipulate the voters at election time.

The political parties know this very well. They know that what political suicide actually consists of is putting forth a candidate that displeases the special interests. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, 95 percent of the time both Democrat and Republican parties won’t even nominate a candidate who expresses opinions favorable to the Palestinians.

Therefore, such candidates hardly ever reach the voters. So, it is not quite as Avnery puts it, that Obama speaks lies so as to be re-elected. More accurately, he speaks lies so he can be re-nominated.

There is no politician in America capable of getting a presidential nomination who could or would have made a speech more sympathetic to the Palestinians than the one given by Barack Obama.
  
The conclusion one can draw is that on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, public opinion presently has no leverage.

And, for it ever to actually have leverage, it must reach a point where it overwhelms the standard factors of special-interest influence: giving campaign funding to a candidate or choosing to give it to his or her opponent; generating lots of TV air time in favor of the candidate or creating negative attack ads against him or her; and the overall control of the information on the subject of interest to the special interest that goes to the candidates and their staff.

In other words, unless you can get the public riled up on this subject to the point where millions see it as a voting issue, politicians and their party leaders won’t respond to polls such as that recently put out by Pew. Such information simply does not indicate a level of public focus that will sway the party choices of candidates at the nomination level.
 
To make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a voting issue within the American political milieu is a tough goal, but it is not an impossible one. A growing number of local and national organizations are already engaged in this effort seeking to change public attitudes to the point that American voters will react to Israeli behavior as they once reacted to apartheid South Africa’s policies.

To name just three, there are the U.S. Campaign Against the Occupation, the Council on the National Interest, and Jewish Voices for Peace. Many others are active as well. In Europe, the effort to build public opinion to the point that it has voting leverage is also going on apace.
 
About ten years ago, I had a heated conversation with the Charge d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Israel. He told me that if I believed that the U.S. Congress could be freed from the influence of the Zionist lobby I was crazy.

“It will never happen” he told me. I disagreed with that sentiment then, and still do today.

The Pew Poll numbers show that there is fertile ground for an eventual sea change in popular opinion. And, with a lot of hard grassroots work, that change will have a powerful political impact. One must never say never.

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 Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




America’s Post-9/11 Catastrophe

President George W. Bush’s response to the 9/11 attacks by launching two open-ended wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus the sustained Republican assault on government domestic spending, have contributed to a decline in safety and health at home and abroad, reports Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship 

About a year after the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, I visited Oklahoma City and went to the bombsite with a friend who had covered the attack as a television news cameraman. 

No memorial or museum had yet been built; fencing covered with teddy bears, flags and scrawled messages surrounded an empty, grass-covered lot. There was a simplicity to that empty lot that appealed, an understated eloquence that, to me at least, said all that needed to be said. 

Now, despite all the hubbub and handwringing surrounding its design and construction, in many ways, the new 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in Manhattan captures some of that same, straightforward plainness — the names of the dead punched into bronze, the waterfalls gracing two great voids where the towers used to be, muting the noise of visitors’ voices and quieting the surrounding city. No filigree or statues.

We went to the new memorial for the first time last week. It was a perfect, end-of-summer day. Sunlight sparkled in the two pools, and you could see in one of them the wavy reflection of an American flag hanging from across the street.

When the breeze was just right, a light mist from the waterfalls caressed your face.

I was pleased, too, by the vast plaza, so reminiscent of the one that used to separate the original towers, the wind corkscrewing around their height and sending hats into orbit.

 In the next few years, when all the construction around the site has ceased and the landscaped trees and other greenery have more fully grown, this will be the place for contemplation that was intended.

And perhaps those who come here will reflect not only on the events of 9/11 but their unexpected consequences and whether we as a nation are ever prepared for what comes next.

On the afternoon we visited the memorial, I was already downtown, attending a daylong conference on post-9/11 worker protection and community health, sponsored by the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), a coalition of labor, civil rights, medical, faith-based and environmental organizations.

“Are we ready for another 9/11?” Dr. Linda Rae Murray, president of the American Public Health Association, asked us. “Hell, no! Were we ready for Katrina? Or the tornadoes? Or the H1N1 flu? We don’t have the resources; we’ve let our infrastructure disappear. No, we’re not ready.”

The World Trade Center collapse created the largest number of workplace fatalities in the history of the United States. Government bumbling and dissembling about air quality downtown and conditions at the site, the rush back to business as usual, may have irreparably killed and injured countless others.

In the words of Bruce Lippy, formerly with the International Union of Engineers, who spent weeks working on the pile, “They didn’t want to turn Manhattan into a Superfund site.”

Chip Hughes of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (part of the NIH) added, “There should be an apology.”

Many of the health consequences for those who survived and continued as rescue and recovery workers have been summed up in a recent study of 27,449 participants in the World Trade Center Screening, Monitoring, and Treatment Program. 

The stark statistics were published in the Sept. 3 issue of the British medical journal The Lancet:

Findings: 9-year cumulative incidence of asthma was 27.6% (number at risk: 7027), sinusitis 42.3% (5870), and gastro-esophageal reflux disease 39.3% (5650). In police officers, cumulative incidence of depression was 7.0% (number at risk: 3648), PTSD 9.3% (3761), and panic disorder 8.4% (3780).

“In other rescue and recovery workers, cumulative incidence of depression was 27.5% (number at risk: 4200), PTSD 31.9% (4342), and panic disorder 21.2% (4953). 9-year cumulative incidence for spirometric [lung capacity] abnormalities was 41.8% (number at risk: 5769); three-quarters of these abnormalities were low forced vital capacity.”

This doesn’t include all the others who lived, worked or studied at or near Ground Zero, inhaling smoke, ash and dust — air some have described as more caustic than Drano.

Nor does it include the cases of neurological disorders, mesothelioma, and other cancers appearing more and more among 9/11 survivors — illnesses that legislators and activists are now battling to add to the list of conditions covered by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

It was hard enough passing the Zadroga Act in the first place, beating back years of resistance and wrangling in Congress, a GOP filibuster and so-called “compassion fatigue” around the rest of the country (at the NYCOSH conference, Jon Stewart was applauded as a local hero for his role shaming opponents of Zadroga into approval).

Seeking new coverage for 9/11 cancer patients is another uphill fight against indifference and overt hostility.

So for those who will come to Manhattan from everywhere else to pause and reflect at the new 9/11 Memorial, better perhaps to consider some other implications and side effects of the terrorist attacks that impact not just the greater New York area but the entire country and beyond.

In fact, many of the issues being battled over in Washington and across the Dr. Seuss-like landscape of the 2012 election campaign have a direct bearing on future 9/11’s in America, no matter where and when they may happen. (And why do all the Republican presidential debates remind me of those cheesy paintings of dogs playing poker?)

Infrastructure? Think of all those decaying roads, bridges and tunnels, and the chaos if they fail during an evacuation.

Deregulation? If anything, 9/11 demonstrates that certain OSHA and EPA rules on safety, clean air and water need expansion and better enforcement.

Conservative attacks on public employees and organized labor? The first at the scene on 9/11 were the firemen, police, emergency medical technicians and union construction workers who stayed on the pile until the last scrap of steel was gone, not to mention the Communication Workers of America members who risked their lives restoring phones, microwave links and IT; the electricians, plumbers, and engineers.

Budget cuts adversely affect training and response times. Politics interfere with scientific research. State labs are underfunded or closing. Universal health care, if it existed, already would have taken care of many of the doctor’s appointments, tests, treatments and medications being funded, but still only in part, by Zadroga and other programs.

Another article in that Sept. 3 issue of The Lancet chronicles “Adverse health consequences of US Government responses to the 2001 terrorist attacks.”

According to its authors, Dr. Barry S. Levy and Dr. Victor W. Sidel, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq “caused many deaths of non-combatant civilians, further damaged the health-supporting infrastructure and the environment (already adversely affected by previous wars), forced many people to migrate, led to violations of human rights, and diverted resources away from important health needs.”

In Iraq, “Oil spillages, contaminated ash, unexploded ordinance, and depleted uranium at and around US military bases have all caused environmental damage.”

The health status of Afghans is “lower than almost any other country,” life expectancy at birth is 48 years, only 27 percent of the population has access to clean water.

According to the report, “The initial $204 billion spent on the Iraq War could have reduced hunger throughout the world by 50% and provided enough funds to cover the needs for HIV/AIDS medicine, clean water and sanitation, and immunization for all children in developing countries for almost 3 years.

“Within the USA, the federal budget for the 2011 fiscal year for the war in Afghanistan — $107 billion — could have provided medical care for 14 million US military veterans for 1 year.”

Domestically, “After 9/11 and the anthrax outbreak shortly afterwards, the USA and other countries have improved emergency preparedness and response capabilities, but these actions have often diverted attention and resources from more urgent health issues.”

The coalitions and alliances that have formed in the decade since 9/11 — the professionals and ordinary citizens who from day one have stepped up when official bureaucracy has not — are the one bright light shining through tragedy. But it’s not enough.

“Do we understand that we’ve been hijacked by a small group of people using government for their own benefit? This is our government,” the Public Health Association’s Linda Rae Murray declared. “It doesn’t work well but it’s ours and we have to seize control of it and put in place what we need to keep ourselves and our neighbors healthy.”

When you visit the 9/11 Memorial, think about that simple, fundamental truth as you remember the fallen, the heroes — and everyone else struggling to survive.

Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and former senior writer of “Bill Moyers Journal” on PBS.




Inside US Counterinsurgency

From the Archive: Stan Goff, the ex-U.S. Special Forces soldier who helped Pat Tillman’s family expose the Army’s cover-up of the former NFL star’s friendly fire death in Afghanistan, wrote this story about his own military experience. It was published at Consortiumnews.com on Dec. 22, 1999.

By Stan Goff

Tolemaida is hot. The whole Sumapaz River Valley is hotter than hell.

Steep, semi-arid, plenty of thorns and mosquitoes, it’s the perfect place for the Lancero School, where the Colombian military runs its toughest course of training and assessment. About 70 miles south of Bogota, Tolemaida is also home of Colombian Special Forces, kind of like the Fort Bragg of Colombia.

I’d been married for the second time for only 10 days on Oct. 22, 1992, when 7th Special Forces sent me there.

Bill Clinton was campaigning for the presidency against George H.W. Bush, and I remember the Delta guys who were billeted alongside us shrieking and carrying on when the election results came through showing Clinton’s victory. “That faggot lovin’ draft dodger! Shit!”

Delta was there training a select group of Colombian soldiers for “close-quarter battle,” which means fighting inside buildings during hostage situations and the like. We were training two battalions of Colombian Special Forces in night helicopter operations and counterinsurgency tactics.

Of course, we were there helping the Colombian army to defend democracy against leftist guerrillas who were the foes of democracy. It mattered not that only a tiny fraction of the population had the means to recruit and promote candidates or that terror stalked the population.

I’m not being cynical. I’m just awake now. It took a couple of decades.

A Military Town

Growing up, I lived in a neighborhood where everyone worked in the same plant, McDonnell-Douglas, where F-4 Phantoms were built to provide close air support for the troops in Vietnam.

My dad and mom both riveted, working on the center fuselage assembly. I just understood that it was my duty to fight the godless collectivist menace of communism.

So, I joined the Army seven months after I squeaked through high school. In 1970, I volunteered for the airborne infantry and for Vietnam.

In the years that followed, I found out that I didn’t know communism from cobblestones. All I saw in Vietnam was a race war being conducted by an invading army, and very poor people were taking the brunt of it.

I left the Army after my first hitch, but poverty coaxed me back in in 1977. Soon, I had stepped onto the slippery slope of a military career. I didn’t like garrison soldiering, but I did like to travel.

So, it was inevitable that I ended up in Special Operations, first with the Rangers, later with Special Forces.

In 1980, I went to Panama. The fences there separated us from the “Zonies” — the slum dwellers who lived in the Canal Zone. After that, I went to El Salvador, Guatemala and a host of other dirt-poor countries.

Over and over, the fact that we as a nation seemed to take sides with the rich against the poor started to penetrate — first my preconceptions, then my rationalizations, and finally, my consciousness.

Now I am the Viet Cong.

1983: The former Special Forces guy posing as a political officer didn’t even try to hide his real job at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala.

“You with the political section?” I asked. I knew what he did. I was trying to be discreet.

“I’m a fuckin’ CIA agent,” he responded.

The CIA man had adopted me out of friendship for a mutual acquaintance, one of my work associates with whom he had served in Vietnam. The CIA man told me where to get the best steak, the best ceviche, the best music, the best martinis. He liked martinis.

We stopped off one afternoon at the El Jaguar Bar in the lobby of the El Camino Hotel, a mile up Avenida de la Reforma from the U.S. Embassy. He drank eight martinis in the first hour.

The CIA man began spontaneously relating how he had participated in the execution of a successful ambush “up north,” two weeks earlier.

“North” was in the Indian areas: Quiche and Peten, where government troops were waging a scorched-earth campaign against Mayans considered sympathetic to leftist guerrillas.

He was elated. “Best fuckin’ thing I got to do since Nam.”

“You’re talkin’ kinda loud,” I reminded him, thinking this must be pretty sensitive stuff.

“Fuck them!” he shot a circumferential glare. “We own this motherfucker!”

The other patrons looked down at their table tops. The CIA man was big and manifestly drunk.

I should have known better, but I mentioned a Mayan schoolteacher who had just been assassinated by the esquadrones de muertos. It had been in the newspapers. The teacher had worked for the Agency for International Development.

My point was that it made the United States look bad, when these loose cannons pulled stunts like that. The impression was left that the U.S. government tacitly approved of assassinations by continuing to support Guatemala’s government.

“He was a communist,” stated the CIA man, without even pausing to toss down his dozenth martini. His eyes were getting that weird, stony, not-quite-synchronized look.

So that’s how it was. I never thought to thank him for peeling that next layer of innocence off my eyes.

I had to take the CIA man’s car keys from him that night. He wanted to drive to some whorehouse in Zone 1.

When we left the bar, he couldn’t find his car in the parking lot, so he pulled his pistol on the attendant and threatened to shoot him on the spot. He accused the attendant of being part of a car theft gang.

“I know these motherfuckers,” he glared. The attendant was almost in tears, when I wrested the pistol from my colleague’s hand.

We proceeded to find his car in the lot one block away. That’s when he started talking about driving to his favorite bordello.

“Gimme the keys!” he bellowed, as I danced away from him.

“I can’t.”

“I’ll kick your ass,” he said.

I reached into my pocket and grabbed three coins. When he lunged at me again, I tossed the coins into a street drain with a conspicuous jingle.

“There’s the keys,” I said.

He peered myopically into the drain for a moment, then tried to train his eyes on me. I dodged his staggering assault like he was a child. He almost fell, and I found myself wondering how I could possibly carry him.

He turned abruptly, like he’d just forgotten something, and tottered quietly away. I dropped his keys off at the political section the next day, with a note explaining where his car was.

Odd Characters

Fred Chapin was the U.S. ambassador in Guatemala. He was famous for his ability to drink a bottle of Scotch and still give a lucid interview in fluent Spanish, before his bodyguards carried him up to his room at la residencia and poured him into bed.

Chapin was credited with a well-known quote in Foreign Service circles: “I only regret that I have but one liver to give for my country.”

Embassies are collections of these idiosyncratic characters.

Mauricio, another one of these exotic individuals, was the chief Guatemalan investigator assigned to work with the Security Section at the embassy.

Dissipated to a fault, even the thugs on the bodyguard details gave him a wide berth. His reputation as a sadistic former death squad member was well known.

His history was on him, like an aura of impersonal decay. He made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. “If you need to find something out, just send Mauricio” was the provincial wisdom at Security.

Langhorne Motley, Reagan’s special ambassador to Central America, came to Guatemala to see what was being done with U.S. money, other than aboriginal genocide and the elimination of Bolshevik school teachers, of course.

I was assigned as a member of his security for a trip to Nebaj, a tiny Indian hamlet near the Mexican border. We were going to inspect a hospital.

There were no roads into Nebaj, so a helicopter was coordinated. When we finally arrived in Nebaj, the pilot and crew chief were in an animated conversation, both referring again and again to the fuel gauge.

Out of the helicopter, we were escorted through the dirt streets to an open-bed 2 1/2-ton truck by a corpulent, European-looking Guatemalan lieutenant colonel. The villagers stood in silence as we passed.

Two small children, maybe three years old, burst into hysterical tears when I walked too near them with my CAR-15 assault rifle. I tried not to speculate about their reaction or its antecedents.

The truck took us to a dusty stone foundation. Nothing more. No rooms, no walls, no nothing. This was the hospital. Motley turned to me and said, “This is a fuckin’ white elephant.”

Later, the lieutenant colonel sat us in a room at his headquarters and trotted in two “former guerrillas.” One was a skinny old man.

The other was a pregnant woman, around 25 years old.

They told us dutifully that they had been reformed by their new-found understanding of the duplicity of the communists and by the humanitarian treatment they had received at the hands of the soldiers.

It was a flat-eyed, canned recital, but it seemed to please the lieutenant colonel who sat there with a benevolent half-smile, glancing from them to us and back, judging their performance, assessing our reaction.

The skin of the two demonstration Indians almost moved from underneath with an arid, copper-tongued terror. The whole place smelled like murder to me.

Like murder.

1985: Reporters in El Salvador tended to hang out at the pool in the Camino Real Hotel, with transistor radios pressed to their ears.

I was chatting up a member of the press corps one day, having lunch at the Camino. Around 30, she worked for the Chicago Tribune.

She was just terribly excited because she had been allowed aboard a helicopter the week before, that flew into Morazan, a stronghold of leftist guerrillas. She got to see some bang-bang and was eternally grateful to the Embassy for arranging it for her.

Would I mind, she asked, taking her out for coffee or a drink somewhere in the barrios sometime? She would never think of doing it alone.

I was disillusioned. With her anemic weariness, she annihilated my concept of reporters as eccentric fearless old salts, obsessed with getting at the real story.

Bruce Hazelwood was a member of the Milgroup at the U.S. Embassy, like me a former member of the counter-terrorist unit at Fort Bragg. Hazelwood oversaw training management in the Estado Mayor, army headquarters.

Over the past five years, Hazelwood had earned an enviable reputation as a productive liaison with the Salvadoran military. He told me off the cuff once that his biggest problem was getting the officers to quit stealing.

Good-looking, strawberry blonde, freckled, charming, Hazelwood also was a favorite of the young women with the press corps.

I went with him and an Embassy entourage to visit an orphanage at Sonsonate. The women from the press pool absolutely doted on him. He rewarded them with tons of mischievous magnetism.

Billy Zumwalt, also with the Milgroup, a fellow with Elvis-like looks, did the same thing at a party. The women from the press would skin up alongside him, asking how he thought progress was coming with the human rights situation. He would ask them how it seemed to them.

Well, they’d say, there were only a few battlefield executions of prisoners still taking place, according to rumors, but they’d heard nothing else. We can’t expect them to come around overnight, now, can we?

Would you like to go dancing at an all night club later? You know where one is? I know where they all are, he’d tell them.

Zumwalt told me at a bar once that he was training the finest right-wing death squads in the world.

Privileged Sources

The reporters at the Camino Real hired Salvadoran rich kids as informants and factotums. It was very important that they be educated, English-speaking kids, 20 to 25 years old, who could keep the reporters abreast of rumors and happenings in the capital.

But the rich kids were as far from the lives of average Salvadorans as were most of the reporters.

In the street, I saw an old woman dragging herself down the sidewalk with a gangrenous leg, a crazy man shriveled in a corner, bone-skinny kids who played music for coins with a pipe and a stick.

On the bus one day in downtown San Salvador, a blind man came begging, and people who could ill afford it gave him a coin.

These people were callused, very modestly dressed, with Indian still in their cheeks.

To the slick, manicured, round-eyed, well-to-do, the poor and the beggars were invisible, as invisible as the blackened carboneros, the worm-glutted market babies, the brooding teens with raggedy clothes, prominent ribs and red eyes glaring out of the spotty shade on street corners.

They have to be invisible so they can be ignored. They have to be sub-human so they can be killed.

I was reminded of the goats at the Special Forces Medical Lab. When I was training to be a medic, we used goats as “patient models.”

The goats would be wounded for trauma training, shot for surgical training, and euthanized over time by the hundreds for each 14-week class.

Nearly every student upon arrival would begin expressing his antipathy for the caprine breed. “A goat is a dumb creature, hard-headed, homely,” we’d say.

A few acknowledged what the program was actually doing without seeking these comfortable rationalizations. A few even became attached to the animals and grew more depressed with each day.

But most required the anti-caprine ideology to sustain their activity.

1991: As a member of 7th Special Forces, I went to Peru in 1991. The reasons we went there were manifold and layered, as are many of our rationales for military activity.

We were committed, as a matter of policy, to encouraging something called IDAD for Peru. That means Internal Development and Defense.

We were involved in a nominal partnership with Peru in the “war on drugs.” Peru was in our “area of operational responsibility,” and we (our “A” Detachment) were performing a DFT, meaning a Deployment for Training.

So, we went to Peru to assist in their internal development and defense, to improve their “counter-drug” capabilities, and to train ourselves to better train others in our “target language,” Spanish.

Those were the official reasons. No briefing mentioned another part of the mission: unofficial wars on indigenous populations.

The course of training we developed for the Peruvians was basic counterinsurgency. Drugs were never discussed with the Peruvian officers. It was a sensitive issue — if you get my drift.

We were quartered in an ammunition factory outside the town of Huaichipa, for the first few weeks. Later, we moved into DIFE, the Peruvian Special Forces complex at the edge of Barranco district in Lima.

During the middle of the mission, we camped at the edge of an Indian village called Santiago de Tuna in the sierra four hours out of the capital.

Tuna is the Spanish word for prickly pear cactus fruit. Blessed with Cactus Fruit would be the direct translation. Local Indians did bring us two sacks full of cactus fruit, which was delicious and which kept everyone regular.

We became very chummy with the Peruvian officers, some of whom were easy-going fellows, and some of whom were aggressively macho. They stuffed us full of anticuchos (spicy, charbroiled beef heart) and beer every night.

Sometimes the combat veterans would get very drunk and spit all over us as they relived combat. One major couldn’t shut up about how many people he had killed, and how the sierra was a land for real men.

A lot of drinking went on. Beer with the officers and soldiers. Cocktails in the bars; pisco with the Indians, who the soldiers tried to run off because they were considered a security risk.

One Indian man, in particular, toothless and dissipated, his blood-red eyes swimming with intoxication, astonished me with his knowledge of North American Indian history. He even knew the years of several key battles in our war of annihilation.

Geronimo was a great man, he said. A great medicine man. Great warrior. A lover of the land.

A Peruvian captain said a strange thing to me, as we walked past an Indian cemetery during the gut-check forced march out of Santiago de Tuna.

Aqui hay los indios amigos.” Here are the friendly Indians. He opened his hand toward the little acre of graves.

1992: When I was training Colombian Special Forces in Tolemaida in 1992, my team was there ostensibly to aid the counter-narcotics effort. We were giving military forces training in infantry counterinsurgency doctrine.

We knew perfectly well, as did the host-nation commanders, that narcotics was a flimsy cover story for beefing up the capacity of armed forces who had lost the confidence of the population through years of abuse. The army also had suffered humiliating setbacks in the field against the guerrillas.

But I was growing accustomed to the lies. They were the currency of our foreign policy. Drugs my ass!

1999: Drug czar Barry McCaffrey and Defense Secretary William Cohen are arguing for massive expansion of military aid to Colombia.

Already, Colombia is the third largest recipient of U. S. military aid in the world, jumping from $85.7 million in 1997 to $289 million last fiscal year. Press accounts say about 300 American military personnel and agents are in Colombia at any one time.

The Clinton administration was seeking $1 billion over the next two years. The Republican-controlled Congress wants even more, $1.5 billion, including 41 Blackhawk helicopters and a new intelligence center.

The State Department claims the widened assistance is needed to fight “an explosion of coca plantations.” The solution, according to the State Department, is a 950-man “counter-narcotics” battalion.

But the request is strangely coincident with the recent military advances of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionario Colombiano (FARC), the leftist guerrillas who already control 40 percent of the countryside.

In the United States, there is a different kind of preparation afoot: to prepare the American people for another round of intervention.

McCaffrey — not coincidentally the former commander of Southcom, the Theater Command for the U.S. armed forces in Latin America — is “admitting” that the lines between counter-narcotics and counterinsurgency are “beginning to blur” in Colombia.

The reason? The guerrillas are involved in drug trafficking, a ubiquitous claim that it is repeated uncritically in the press. There is no differentiation between the FARC and a handful of less significant groups, nor is there any apparent preoccupation with citing precise evidence.

When this construct first began to gain wide currency, former U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Miles Frechette pointed out that there was no clear evidence to support the claims. His statement was soon forgotten.

We were to be prepared.

Drug Barons

In Colombia, it is well known that those who profit the most from the drug trade are members of the armed forces, the police, government officials, and the “big businessmen” of the urban centers.

The FARC taxes coca, a far cry from trafficking. The FARC also taxes gas, peanuts and furniture.

Coca also is the only crop left that keeps the campesinos’ heads above water. The peasant who grows standard crops will have an average annual income of around $250 a year. With coca, they can feed a family on $2,000 a year. These are not robber barons. They are not getting rich.

Once the coca is processed, a kilo fetches about $2,000 in Colombia. Precautions, payoffs and the first profits bring the price to $5,500 a kilo by the time it reaches the first gringo handler.

The gringo sells that kilo, now ready for U.S. retail, for around $20,000. On the street in the United States, that will break out to $60,000. There are some high rollers at the end of the Colombian chain, but the real operators are the Americans.

Still, drugs can fill in for the World Communist Conspiracy only so far. Drugs alone won’t justify this vast military build-up. For that, we also must believe we are defending democracy and protecting economic reform.

The rationales have become more sophisticated since I was in Guatemala in 1983, way more sophisticated than the blunt instrument of open war in Vietnam.

Democracy wasn’t the goal then. We were stopping communists. Drugs are a great rationale, too. But with the FARC, we can have our drug war and our war against communists.

Yet, behind the democratic facade in Colombia are the most egregious and systematic human rights violations in this hemisphere.

Except in the 40 percent of the country where the FARC holds sway, right-wing paramilitaries, supported and coordinated by the official security forces, are involved in a process that would have made Roberto D’Abuisson or Lucas Garcia or Rios Montt proud: torture, public decapitations, massacres, rape-murder, destruction of land and livestock, forced dislocations.

Favored targets have been community and union leaders, political opponents, and their families.

This July, Commander of the Colombian Army, Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel intervened in the Colombian judicial process to protect the most powerful paramilitary chief in Colombia, Carlos Castano, from prosecution for a series of massacres.

Castano’s organization is networked for intelligence and operations directly with the security forces.

That network was organized and trained in 1991, under the tutelage of the U.S. Defense Department and the CIA. This was accomplished under a Colombian military intelligence integration plan called Order 200-05/91.

The cozy relationship between the Colombian army and Castano raises another little problem for the drug-war rationale. Castano is a known drug lord. Not someone who taxes coca growers, but a drug lord.

There is also the U.S. government’s troubling history of fighting with — not against — drug traffickers. Indeed, the CIA seems to have an irresistible affinity for drug lords.

The Tibetan contras trained by the CIA in the 1950’s became the masters of the Golden Triangle heroin empires. In Vietnam and Cambodia, the CIA worked hand in glove with opium traffickers.

The contra war in Nicaragua was financed, in part, with drug profits. The CIA’s Afghan-Pakistani axis employed in the war against the Soviets was permeated with drug traffickers. Most recently, there were the heroin traffickers of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

It might make more sense for McCaffrey to find $1 billion dollars to declare war on the CIA.

Well-Oiled System

I was in Guatemala in 1983 for the last coup. In 1985, I was in El Salvador; 1991, Peru; 1992, Colombia.

People don’t generally hear from retired Special Forces soldiers. But people need to hear the facts from someone who can’t be called an effete liberal who never “served” his country.

A liberal will tell you the system isn’t working properly. I will tell you that the system is working exactly the way it’s supposed to.

As an insider on active duty in the armed forces, I saw the deep dissonance between the official explanations for our policies and our actual practices: the murder of schoolteachers and nuns by our surrogates; decimations; systematic rape; the cultivation of terror.

I have concluded that the billions in profit and interest to be made in Colombia and neighboring nations have much more to do with the itch for stability than any concern about democracy or cocaine. After reflection on my two decades plus of service, I am convinced that I only served the richest one percent of my country.

In every country where I worked, poor people’s poverty built and maintained the wealth of the rich. Sometimes directly, as labor; sometimes indirectly, when people made fortunes in the armed security business, which is needed wherever there is so much misery.

Often the companies that need protecting are American. Chiquita is a spiffed up version of United Fruit, the company that pressed the United States for the coup against Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. Pepsi was there for Pinochet in Chile in 1973.

But the top interest now is financial. The United States is the dominant force in the dominant lending institutions of the world: the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

What the United States exports, more than anything else, is credit. So the money is made from squeezing the interest out of those loans.

What that means in the Third World is that the economic elites borrow the money, with the government as their front, then bleed the population to pay the interest. That’s done through higher more regressive taxes, by cutting social services, by selling off public assets, by co-opting or crushing labor unions, and so forth.

If the governments don’t do enough, Washington pressures them to do more. At home, the American people are told that these countries need “structural adjustment” and “economic reform,” when the reality is that U.S. foreign policy often is being conducted on behalf of loan sharks.

The big investors and the big lenders also are the big contributors to political campaigns in this country, for both Republicans and Democrats. The press, which is run by a handful of giant corporations, somberly repeats this rationale again and again, “economic reform and democracy.”

Pretty soon, just to sound like we’re not totally out of touch with current events, we catch ourselves saying, yeah … Colombia, or Venezuela, or Russia, or Haiti, or South Africa, or whomever … they need “economic-reform-and-democracy.”

The Flag and the Dollar

Though phrased differently, this argument is not new. In 1935, two-time Medal of Honor winner, retired Gen. Smedley Butler, accused major New York investment banks of using the U.S. Marines as “racketeers” and “gangsters” to exploit financially the peasants of Nicaragua.

Later, Butler stated: “The trouble is that when American dollars earn only six percent over here, they get restless and go overseas to get 100 percent. The flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

“I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to defend some lousy investment of the bankers. We should fight only for the defense of our home and the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

“There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It had its ‘finger men’ to point out enemies, its ‘muscle men’ to destroy enemies, its ‘brain men’ to plan war preparations and a ‘Big Boss’-supernationalistic capitalism,” Butler continued.

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service in the Marines. I helped make Tampico, Mexico, safe for the American oil interests in 1914; Cuba and Haiti safe for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue; helped purify Nicaragua for the International banking house of Baron Broches in 1909-1912; helped save the sugar interests in the Dominican Republic; and in China helped to see that Standard Oil went its way unmolested. War is a racket.”

Like Gen. Butler, I came to my conclusions through years of personal experience and through the gradual absorption of hard evidence that I saw all around me, not just in one country, but in country after country.

I am finally really serving my country, right now, telling you this. You do not want some things done in your name.

Stan Goff retired from the U.S. Army in February 1996 after serving in Vietnam, Guatemala, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Honduras, Somalia and Haiti. He is featured in the 2010 documentary, “The Tillman Story,” about the cover-up of the friendly fire death of former NFL star Pat Tillman.




Obama’s Double Talk on Palestine

At the United Nations, President Barack Obama tried to square the circle of U.S. support for democracy and freedom across the Middle East with his threat to veto statehood for the Palestinians, a cause he championed just last year. In an open letter to the President, author Marc H. Ellis critiques Obama’s depressing double talk.


By Marc H. Ellis

Let’s face it, President Obama, your speech to the United Nations this week was all fluff, domestic political gist for the 2012 American election cycle. I refer here especially to the issue of Palestinian statehood.

Mr. President, you have been accused of being too professorial. I know that politicians have to be elected or reelected to be successful.

Thoughtful people sitting on the political sidelines have to cut politicians slack. Still, if I may, I bemoan your lackluster performance on a variety of issues. You seem to be unwilling to play political hard ball on the issues facing our country.

Yes, I know things could be worse. Yes, I can imagine one of the Republican front-runners, say Rick Perry, giving the United Nation’s speech after being elected President in 2012.

Yes, I remember President George W. Bush. I live in Texas. I can imagine President Rick Perry. I hear you loud and clear. I should be careful when I criticize.

Still, I have a basic question for you. And I ask you this as a Jew.

Even factoring in the political spin necessary to navigate the American political scene, do you really believe your own words on Palestine statehood?

I am fascinated, Mr. President. Your discussion about Palestinian statehood mostly revolves around the state of Israel, Jewish history and the Holocaust. Why is that? I listened to your words with interest:

But understand this as well: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.

Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses.

Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look(s) out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off the map.

The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are.

Those are facts. They cannot be denied.

The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors.

And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.

I read the rest of your speech as well. Closing my eyes for a moment, I picture you in your professorial mode. I hear you lecturing, from the Jewish perspective, about why Israel is important to Jews. 

You recite what has almost become rote in my community. You are right when you speak about centuries of exile and persecution, the devastation of the Holocaust and the return to our ancient homeland.

Then you turn to the Palestinians. I listen with anticipation. But Mr. President, I am disappointed.  It seems that in your historical rendering Jews, the Holocaust and Jewish history simply land on the Palestinians. Or rather there is Jewish history and then there are Palestinians who also deserve a state.

That Jews dislocated Palestinians and took their land seems incidental to you. In fact, you never mention this. You don’t use the term “ethnic cleansing,” what happened to the Palestinians in the creation of the state of Israel.

For you, Mr. President, Palestinians and Palestine are problems to be dealt with. I didn’t get the sense from your lecture that there is a flesh and blood issue that needs exposure and redress. Like what was necessary for Jews. Like what is still necessary for Jews.

It seems your presidential chalk board is filled with Jews and Jewish history. When you come to Palestinians, you turn to the board and write: “Problem.” 

Since you came back to the “problem” several times, in my mind’s eye you circle it as well. Then you return to your main subject: Jewish history.

Rockets falling into Israel from Gaza. Mr. President, have you forgotten Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s invasion of Gaza just after you were elected president?

Arabs demeaning Israel. You should accompany me on one of my lecture tours. You would hear what Jews and non-Jewish American audiences have to say about Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians. In unguarded moments and often in public, have you listened in on the discussion about Palestinians in “the only democracy in the Middle East,” our great ally, Israel?

Mr. President – and with all due respect – may I say clearly that you do not speak for me or many other Jews who do not think that “something” happened to Palestinians simply as a byproduct of Jewish history. We don’t think that Palestinians exist without a history or without a destiny in their own land.
Indeed, as you say, it could be worse, Mr. President. But perhaps it already is. When I heard your words I thought that the end had come. I held my head in my hands – Jewish history couldn’t have to come to this.

I wanted to shut your words out. I wanted you to speak about other things that you know more about or at least are closer to your heart. I wanted something other than the political spin cycle.

Yes, Jews do carry centuries of exile and persecution. European Jews did suffer six million slaughtered. I know this as a Jew. I grew up with these memories. 

But Mr. President, as a child learning of our history, I never imagined that Jews would use these centuries of exile and persecution, our six million dead, as a blunt instrument against another people. Never. Not even in my wildest imagination. No!

Hearing you I thought of how things end. How Jewish history has ended – in ethnic cleansing and occupation.

But, Mr. President, this can also be our beginning. That beginning will only come when the truth is told by Jews and Palestinians together. And yes, perhaps one day, by the President of the United States of America.

Marc H. Ellis is the director of Jewish studies at Baylor. He is the author of Judaism Does Not Equal Israel, among other books.