The Revelations of WikiLeaks: No. 3—The Most Extensive Classified Leak in History

The “Iraq War Logs” disgorged an unprecedented profusion of documents, military reports and videos, reports Patrick Lawrence. 

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

For WikiLeaks, 2010 was an exceptionally eventful year. In April the transparency organization released “Collateral Murder,” the video of U.S. Army helicopters as they shot more than a dozen Iraqis in Baghdad. That proved a worldwide shock and put the 4-year-old publisher on the global media map.

“Afghan War Diaries,” a cache of 75,000 documents, followed in July.

Three months later, on Oct. 22, 2010, WikiLeaks released an even more explosive trove: 391,831 documents and videos it named Iraq War Logs.” This superseded “Afghan War Diaries” as by far the most extensive leak of classified material in U.S. history. It shone a stark light on the U.S.–led coalition’s conduct in Iraq after its 2003 invasion, when the nation had erupted into a violent sectarian war. Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, said the Logs “constituted the most comprehensive and detailed account of any war ever to have entered the public record.”

The source for the “Iraq War Logs” was once again Chelsea Manning, who by then was in a military prison awaiting trial on charges connected to “Collateral Murder” that wound up including 22 counts of theft, assisting the publication of classified intelligence and aiding the enemy.

The Documents

With the publication of  the “Iraq War Logs,” WikiLeaks disgorged an unprecedented profusion of documents, military reports and videos.

The Logs cover the six-year period from Jan. 1, 2004, (a matter of months after the 2003 invasion) to Dec. 31, 2009.  WikiLeaks  partnered with The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Al Jazeera and Le Monde to disseminate the Iraq Logs. 

Taken together, the Logs portray Iraq under allied occupation as the scene of lawless mayhem and violence. Codes of conduct were routinely ignored, shootings were often indiscriminate and torture of detainees was regularly treated as acceptable practice. Innocent civilians were under constant threat of U.S.-led coalition gunfire and arrest, interrogation, and mistreatment by allied military units and the Iraqi army and police.

Among the Logs’ most significant revelations:

Torture of Detainees

The Iraqi military and police systematically tortured prisoners — including women, children and other civilians — with the tacit approval (and at times the complicity) of U.S. forces. On numerous occasions U.S. troops were directly responsible for the torture of detainees. Here is a typical report of prisoner abuse by a Special Operations unit. The incident occurred on Feb. 2, 2006; the report conveys the routine fashion in which the coalition treated such events. The detainees name, the Special Operations unit’s name, and the location of the incident are deleted:

ALLEGED DETAINEE ABUSE BY TF ___ IN ___ 2006-02-02 17:50:00

AT 2350C, IN ___, WHILE CONDUCTING OUT-PROCESSING, DETAINEE # ___ REPORTED THAT HE WAS ABUSED DURING HIS CAPTURE. DETAINEE IS MISSING HIS RIGHT EYE, AND HAS SCAR___ ON HIS RIGHT FOREARM. DETAINEE STATES THAT HIS INJURIES ARE A RESULT OF THE ABUSE THAT HE RECEIVED UPON CAPTURE. DIMS INDICATE THAT THE DETAINEE WAS CAPTURED ON ___ IN ___, AND THE CAPTURING UNIT WAS TASK FORCE ___. THE DETAINEES CAPTURE TAG NUMBER IS ___. IN PROCESSING PERSONNEL STATE THAT THE DETAINEE___ CAPTURE PHOTO DEPICTS A BANDAGE OVER HIS RIGHT EYE, AND INJURY TO HIS RIGHT FOREARM. THE DETAINEE HAS COMPLETED THE DETAINEE ABUSE COMPLAINT FORM, AND WE ARE SEEKING A SWORN STATEMENT FROM THE DETAINEE. PER ORDER OF Task force ___, THE DETAINEE ___ TRANSFERRED AS SCHEDULED, AND CONTINUE CID INVESTIGATION UPON ARRIVAL AT ___ GHRAIB.

There are many thousands of similar reports detailing the violent misconduct of coalition and Iraqi forces.

Among WikiLeak’s key revelations, scarcely mentioned in U.S. media reports, were the American army’s secret orders effectively requiring U.S. military units to ignore thousands of cases of “green-green” torture, violence and murder — incidents involving Iraqi detainees held at Iraqi army bases, police stations and prisons. The list of common green-green practices makes repellent reading. Accounts of such incidents, sometimes accompanied by video shot as they occurred, detail beatings of blindfolded prisoners; stabbings; electrocutions; whippings with wires; and sodomy with hoses, water bottles and other objects.

The first U.S. orders covering these incidents were issued in June 2004, two months after the torture practices of U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib broke into the news. The orders were called Frago 242, meaning “fragmentary orders.” Providing there was no U.S. involvement in an incident, American forces were told not to investigate it “unless directed by higher headquarters,” or HHQ. Frago 039, a subsequent order issued in April 2005, required U.S. troops to report green-green incidents; U.S. troops would report more than 1,300 cases of green-green torture to their commanding officers. But, once again, they were ordered to take no further action. Frago 242 and 039 were clear breaches of U.S. responsibility in Iraq.

Please Make a Donation to Our
Spring Fundraising Drive Today!

Here is an example of the reports U.S. forces routinely filed after Frago 242 and Frago 039 were issued. It recounts the apparent murder of a detainee while in Iraqi custody. The incident occurred on Aug. 9, 2009, in Ramadi. Iraqi officials termed the detainee’s death a suicide, while the U.S. report found the detainee’s injuries “consistent with abuse.” The U.S. military closed the case the following October; there is no indication any action was taken:

Date: 2009-08-27 09:00:00

Type: Suspicious Incident

Category: Other

Tracking no.: 20090827090038SLB413998

Title: (SUSPICIOUS INCIDENT) OTHER RPT RAMADI IRAQI CTU : 1 UE KIA

Summary: WHO: RAMADI PGC TT

WHAT: Reports possible detainee abuse

WHEN: 270900C AUG 09

WHERE: Iraqi CTU in Ramadi IVO (38S LB 413 998)

HOW: At 270900C AUG 09, the PGC TT reports possible detainee abuse IVO (38S LB 413 998). On 26 Aug 09, a PGC TT (which included a USN Corpsman) conducted a post mortem visual examination of JASIM MOHAMMED AHMED AL-SHIHAWI, an individual arrested in conjunction with a VBIED interdicted NE of Camp Taqaddum (SIGACT Entry DTG: 241130CAug09). The detainee was transferred from the IHP in Saqlawiah to the Iraqi CTU in Ramadi for questioning and while in custody, reportedly committed suicide. The PGC TT personnel conducting the post mortem examination found bruises and burns on the detainee`s body as well as visible injuries to the head, arm, torso, legs, and neck. The PGC TT report the injuries are consistent with abuse. The CTU/IP have reportedly begun an investigation into the detainees death. An update will be posted when more information becomes available. The SIR is attached.

CLOSED 20091019

On Oct. 24, 2010, two days after WikiLeaks published the “Iraq War Logs,” Al Jazeera released “U.S. Turns a Blind Eye to Torture.” The video details the Frago 242 and 039 stipulations as revealed in the Logs. While some incidents were eventually investigated — apparently including the one in Ramadi — there is no record of Iraqi personnel receiving a sentence for misconduct. The Al Jazeera report traces knowledge of the orders to “the highest levels of the U.S. government” — including, the video makes plain, Donald Rumsfeld, then defense secretary.

Civilian Deaths

For the first two years following the 2003 invasion, U.S. military authorities denied keeping records of civilian deaths in Iraq. Only in 2005, when the Defense Department began reporting statistics to Congress, did it emerge that the military had in fact compiled such records. But the DoD’s reports were too imprecise to constitute a reliable record: Deaths and injuries were combined, as were civilian and Iraqi army casualties. And the official numbers were consistently lower than other contemporaneous figures, according to Iraq Body Count, an investigative nongovernmental group based in London. In the five-year period the Logs cover, U.S. military logs put the number of Iraqi casualties at 109,032, some 60,000 of whom were civilians.

The “Iraq War Logs” did much to clarify the casualty question. In a detailed report, Iraq Body Count said the Logs made it possible, for the first time, to combine disparately sourced data to build a significantly more complete picture.

Iraq Body Count estimated that the Logs “will add in the order of 15,000 previously unrecorded Iraqi civilian deaths to the public record.” It concluded: “A final accounting of the human tragedies contained in the Iraq War Logs will require much time and painstaking effort, but it is now at least possible.”

Checkpoint Incidents

“Iraq War Logs” include nearly 14,000 incidents the U.S. military labeled “escalation of force” events. This principle requires military units to take a series of non-lethal steps before resorting to deadly force. These incidents occurred in a variety of circumstances. The Logs underscore the frequency of them at U.S. military checkpoints or near U.S. convoys and patrols. These incidents appear to reflect the U.S. military’s often random, undisciplined use of force during the period covered in the Logs.

The Logs reveal that some 680 Iraqi civilians were fatally shot in such incidents; roughly 2,000 others were injured. Casualties included families, pregnant women, and physically or mentally impaired Iraqis. These incidents commonly involved innocent people who unwittingly strayed too close to a U.S. checkpoint. They very often reflected disproportionate use of force by U.S. troops.

Al Jazeera published a thorough report on checkpoint shootings on Oct. 23, 2010, the day after WikiLeaks released the Logs. The Daily Telegraph published a report on Oct. 24 detailing numerous similar cases. Both noted an incident described in the Logs and dating to September 2005. It is more typical than exceptional. Here is a portion of Al Jazeera’s report:

“In September 2005, after going through an appropriate escalation, two soldiers from the 1–155thinfantry opened fire on an approaching vehicle with M249 machine guns. Both poured 100 bullets into the car—five or six seconds of sustained fire from a gun capable of shooting 1,000 rounds per minute.”

The shooting killed a man and a woman in the car’s front seat and wounded children aged 6 and 9 in the rear seat. “Relatives of those killed,” Al Jazeeranotes, “were later awarded $10,000 compensation from the U.S. military, which found the soldiers violated their rules of engagement.”

Al Jazeera’s analysis of the Logs indicated that the number of escalation-of-force incidents fell sharply in 2008, to fewer than 1,600 from more than 3,500 the previous year. “That was due, in part, to new rules intended to protect civilians—but also because Iraqi security forces, instead of Americans, had taken over an increasing number of checkpoints,” Al Jazeeera’s Gregg Carlstrom wrote. “‘Escalation of force’ incidents by Iraqi troops are not often reported by the U.S. military.”

Shootings from Helicopter Gunships

The Apache helicopter videotaped and featured in “Collateral Murder” was known as Crazy Horse 18. The Logs reveal that several Apaches in the Crazy Horse unit  conducted a series of fatal attacks in addition to the July 2007 incident recorded in the video released as “Collateral Murder” in April 2010. The most noted of these sheds light on the legal rationale U.S. forces often claimed to justify their conduct.

The incident occurred near Baghdad on Feb. 22, 2007, when Apache 18’s crew identified two insurgents on the ground below the aircraft who were trying to surrender. While tracking the two men, Apache 18’s crew radioed a military attorney at a nearby air base to seek legal guidance. “Lawyer states they cannot surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets,” the Logs entry reads. Crazy Horse first launched a Hellfire missile at the insurgents. They were killed by a 30mm cannon in a subsequent strafing run.

“Iraq War Logs” comprises reports and other documents detailing a very wide range of incidents during the five years of military engagement they cover. In releasing the Logs, WikiLeaks classified them under various headings, indicating the number of incidents in each category. “Enemy Action” records 104,272 events. There were 31,234 “Criminal Events” and 1,328 reports of “Friendly Fire.” The WikiLeaks site includes a search engine that greatly facilitates research in the vast trove of documents it sent into the public domain on Oct. 22, 2010.

Official Reaction

Because Assange  had announced the imminent publication of “Iraq War Logs,” U.S. officials were able to brace for their release, although none knew the size and contents of the Logs or the planned date of publication. A Pentagon spokesman, Col. Dave Lapan, told CNN  the Pentagon had a team of 120 experts “who are poised to immediately begin reading any documents on the WikiLeaks site.” He added: “We don’t know how these documents might be released, when these documents might be released, in what number they might be released. So we’re sort of preparing for all eventualities.”

Once the Logs were published, official reactions were mixed. While some American and British officials did focus on the troubling contents, most resorted to what amount to boilerplate condemnations of WikiLeaks for endangering the lives of military personnel serving in Iraq.

James F. Jeffrey, Washington’s ambassador to Baghdad at the time, said some of what WikiLeaks published “may or may not be 100 percent correct.” As quoted by The Associated Press, he added, “We are very troubled by any claim of any action undertaken — first of all by our own forces, or by our allies and partners, the Iraqi forces.” Jeffrey, it is to be noted, made these remarks before an audience of Iraqis.

Human rights officials at the U.N. called for the U.S. and Iraq to investigate the many indications of torture found in the Logs, including evidence that U.S. forces continued to turn over detainees to Iraqi authorities despite knowledge that Iraqis were torturing them. In London, Nick Clegg supported calls for an investigation. Speaking on a BBC talk show, the deputy prime minister at the time added, “We can bemoan how these leaks occurred, but I think the nature of the allegations made are extraordinarily serious. I think anything, anything that suggests that you know basic rules of war and conflict and of engagement have been broken or that torture has in any way been condoned are extremely serious and need to be looked at.”

Many other officials summarily condemned WikiLeaks for releasing “Iraq War Logs” — typically without addressing the revelations. In a videotaped statement, Hillary Clinton, as U.S. secretary of state, asserted, “We should condemn in the most clear terms the disclosure of any classified information … which puts the lives of United State and partner service members at risk.” In a Twitter message the day of the release, Mike Mullen, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, stated flatly, “Another irresponsible posting of stolen classified documents by WikiLeaks puts lives at risk and gives adversaries valuable information.”

Elsewhere, Britain’s Defense Ministry released an emailed statement. “We condemn any unauthorized release of classified material,” it read. “This can put the lives of UK service personnel and those of our allies at risk and make the job of Armed Forces in all theaters of operation more difficult and more dangerous. It would be inappropriate to speculate on the specific detail of these documents without further investigation while the Iraq Inquiry is ongoing. There is no place for mistreatment of detainees and we investigate any allegation made against our troops….”

In Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused WikiLeaks of attempting to undermine his effort to form a new government by provoking public animosity “against national parties and leaders, especially against the prime minister.” The Interior Ministry responded more directly to the contents of the Logs. “We will not turn a blind eye to any of these matters,” Deputy Minister Hussein Kamal stated in a Reuters interview. “Everyone responsible for any crimes will be prosecuted and justice will take its course.”

Media Response

The reactions of global media to “Iraq War Logs” were also mixed. All of the media given advance access to the Logs reported on their findings in multiple stories and videos. Notable among these were Al Jazeera and The New York Times.

The New York Times set up an interactive site called “The War Logs,” which featured a search mechanism enabling readers to sift through the Logs’ immense inventory of documents according to topic.

At the same time, the Times’ treatment of the Logs was in important respects defective. Alone among major global media, it effectively erased the complicity of U.S. forces in the torture of Iraqi detainees, sanitizing its reports of such incidents to suggest Iraqi military and police units acted autonomously and without the knowledge of U.S. authorities. 

Al Jazeera featured print and video pieces, an index by subject, and a glossary to help readers and viewers decipher often-difficult military terminology.

In the run-up to the release of the “Iraq War Logs,” many news outlets began to focus as much on the WikiLeaks organization and Assange’s personality as they did on the publisher’s latest (and most extensive) release — a pattern that has been evident ever since. “Since the publication of the ‘Afghan War Diaries,’ internal strife has wracked WikiLeaks,” CNN reported the day the Iraq documents were published. “Some in the mostly secretive group of volunteers — computer security specialists, journalists, aid workers, many with day jobs — have quit, citing disagreements with the way the group conducts business.”

Such reports were numerous and consistently portrayed WikiLeaks and its founder in the most unfavorable light possible. Assange and those around him acknowledged “growing pains,” as Assange put it shortly before releasing “Iraq War Logs.” In addition to staff and organizational changes, money had become a challenge by this time. Examining leaks is “a very expensive process,” Assange said at an August press conference in London. Assange’s reference was to roughly 15,000 documents that were withheld awaiting review when WikiLeaks released the initial 75,000 documents comprising the “Afghan War Diaries.”

Two pieces of journalism deserve to be singled out.

On the day before WikiLeaks published “Iraq War Logs,” Democracy Now! countered the widespread official accusations that WikiLeaks’ publications endanger Americans and U.S. national security. “WikiLeaks sparked condemnation from the U.S. government when it released the 91,000 Afghan war logs in July,” host Amy Goodman noted. “The White House and the Pentagon accused the website of irresponsibility. They claimed they were putting people’s lives in danger. But The Associated Press recently obtained a Pentagon letter reporting that no U.S. intelligence sources or practices were compromised by the leak.”

The featured guest on the program that day was Daniel Ellsberg, who was passing through New York en route to London, where he was to join Assange in a press conference. The Democracy Now! program’s virtue lay in connecting WikiLeaks to the history of whistleblowing in the U.S. 

The man who in 1971 leaked the hidden history of the Vietnam War was eloquent in his defense of Assange and WikiLeaks in this context. “I’ve waited 40 years for a release on this scale,” he told Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. “I think there should have been something on the scale of the Pentagon Papers every year. How often do we need this kind of thing? We haven’t seen it. So I’m very glad that someone is taking the risk and the initiative to inform us better now.”

On the day the Logs were released, The New York Times sent Iraqi journalists working in its Baghdad bureau around the country to record the reactions of ordinary Iraqis. The Times was careful to explain that it was not a scientifically conducted opinion poll, but “rather a snapshot of the feelings expressed by some ordinary Iraqis on the streets in the first few hours after the publication.”

The results were published in the Times’ “At War” blog. They constitute a brief but salient record of how events appeared among people on the receiving end of them — a rarity in American reporting from abroad. Not surprisingly, the Times reporters found that most of the Iraqis they interviewed — reports on 34 were published —were grimly aware of the events the “Iraq War Logs” documented and saw justice in their release into the public realm.

“I do not think that what is there is a surprise to Iraqis,” Umm Taha, a 30-year-old translator, said. “What is important is that the facts have become legally installed, and there are documents that no one can deny.”

“These are shameful crimes, and I am sure that the worst were hidden,” said Yahoo Raaid,38, an engineer in Mosul. “America said that it sent its troops from afar to spread democracy and freedom for Iraqis, but what happened is that Iraq became a center and base for terrorists to settle their problems with their enemies in Iraq.”

Zubaida Hatem, a pharmacist aged 26, said, “I was not shocked by what I heard. Of course it will be a big deal in other countries, but the reason we see it as it is, not as something huge, is because of what we are suffering here inside Iraq. We have witnessed terrible things, so this is nothing compared with the reality on the streets …. It made [me] remember the ones that I lost. My uncle died in the sectarian violence during 2006, and this reminded me of him. Whenever we want to forget something happens and brings back all the pain.”

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via The Floutist.

Please Make a Donation to Our
Spring Fundraising Drive Today!




THE ANGRY ARAB: The UAE and the Arab Counter-Revolution

As’ad AbuKhalil looks at Gulf rulers vying to play top host to U.S. interests in the Middle East.

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

The political role of the United Arab Emirates has changed dramatically since the death of its founding ruler, Shaykh Zayed bin Sultan. 

He was officially succeeded by his son, Khalifah bin Zayed, in 2004 but the latter has been largely distant from governmental affairs for health and other reasons. The actual reins are held by Abu Dhabi’s highly ambitious Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed.  Muhammad has been the effective ruler, along with his brothers on his mother’s side, Fatimah bint Mubarak, who control all the key posts of government. 

The current de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, has largely emulated Muhammad (known commonly as MbZ, while Muhammad bin Salman is commonly known as MbS). 

Under Shaykh Zayed, the UAE avoided internal Arab conflicts and steered its foreign policy largely according to the pan-Arab consensus.  While the country was charted by the British colonial powers it smoothly made the transition to a strong alliance with the U.S.  Despite tensions with Saudi Arabia it mainly avoided open conflicts. 

Shaykh Zayed was a loyal ally, or client, of the U.S. and its interests in the region. And while generally deferring to Saudi hegemony, he paid lip service to the pro-Palestinian sentiment of the Arab population. In the early 1970s he even welcomed Leila Khalid, the famous commander of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, to the UAE and is said to have made a donation to the PFLP (a small subset of which defected after the incident and started their own small organization). 

Muslim Brotherhood in Ministries 

Shaykh Zayed was uneducated and was not known for speech-making.  His country benefited from the educated Palestinian community. He also invited Muslim Brotherhood functionaries to fill various posts in justice and education ministries. 

Zayed, for instance, invited Hasan Al-Turabi, the famous Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood leader, to help draft the UAE constitution.  This was a time when both the UAE and Saudi Arabia enthusiastically welcomed Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members to combat the tide of secular Arab nationalism and leftism in the region.  

In his last year, Zayed increasingly surrendered power to his sons and his last political role was in 2003 when he proposed an initiative according to which Saddam Husain would relinquish power in return for the U.S. backing away from war with Iraq (an initiative in which neither the U.S. nor Saddam showed any interest).

MbZ has taken the UAE in a very different direction. He has clearly wanted to make the UAE a sort of new Arab Israel, which could serve the interests of the U.S. MbZ was interested in military-intelligence affairs and built up his power from that basis.

Please Make a Donation to Our
Spring Fundraising Drive Today!

His rule has been characterized by 1) establishment of covert, but strong relations with Israel;  2) an open war against the Muslim Brotherhood;  3) competition with Qatar and Saudi Arabia for regional dominance, especially after the demise of Saddam’s regime;  4) direct involvement in Palestinian affairs through the agency of Muhammad Dahlan, the notoriously shady Palestinian intelligence figure; and 5) heavy lobbying in Washington, with disregard for Arab public opinion on all matters.

MbZ was not satisfied with being one of many loyal allies/clients of the U.S. in the Middle East.  He has sought to rival Israel in serving as a strategic partner of the U.S. in the region and outdo Jordan in providing intelligence and military services.  His military emphasizes special forces and hosts one of the biggest U.S. intelligence stations in the world.  MbZ also invested in buying influence in Washington. 

Intense D.C. Courtship  

The role of his D.C. ambassador, Yousef Al-Otaiba, who courted journalists, officials, and think tank experts with unprecedented intensity, has become well-known.  UAE money flowed into think tanks, and the UAE received favorable coverage in Western media.  It also helped that Al-Otaiba established a strong friendship with the Israeli ambassador and the Israeli lobby began to promote both Saudi and UAE regime interests in Washington, after both regimes had abandoned a verbal commitment to the Palestinian cause.

Arab lobbies — no matter what states or interests they represent, no matter how well-funded they are — can’t achieve great success without the blessings of the Israeli lobby.

The AWACs sale to Saudi Arabia during the Reagan years was an exception: a time when the Saudi regime — supported by a different Republican Party prior to the rise of the Evangelical Zionists — prevailed against the Israeli lobby.

The Saudi and UAE regime took a back seat to Qatar in 2011 and 2013.  For the first few years of the Arab uprisings, Doha was in the driver’s seat. The Saudi King, Abdullah, was too feeble to run the affairs of his own government, let alone the affairs of the Arab regional system. Qatari foreign ministers ran the Arab League in the first few years after the Arab uprisings and arranged for the ouster of Syria from the Arab League. 

Qatar, after all, was celebrating the victory of its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia, Libya and most importantly Egypt. They also were on the ascendancy in Yemen.  The Arab counter-revolution was in Doha’s hands during this time: the Qatari regime was making sure that the popular protests didn’t get out of hand and didn’t  disturb the Arab regional system. 

The Qatari regime also negotiated a deal between the local Muslim Brotherhoods and the Israeli lobby in Washington, according to which the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would not challenge the Egyptian-Israeli treaty, and the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood would stop an article criminalizing normalization with Israel, which  was high on the protesters’ agenda, from entering the new constitution.

Quietly Sponsoring a Coup in Egypt

But the UAE was not dormant during those times. It was quietly sponsoring a coup in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood, and preparing for an open war against it throughout the Arab world, in every country where the Brotherhood may have had a chance of electoral success. 

The UAE created a front (the Egyptian youth movement, Tamarrud) and worked with Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to oust the first freely elected president in the country’s history. 

It also supported the relics of the ancien regime in Tunisia, and sponsored Gen. Khalifa Haftarin in Libya.  In 2015, when Salman ascended the Saudi throne, MbZ became the chief counsel and advocate for Salman’s son MbS in Washington. 

The two seemed to agree on the need to expel Qatar from the affairs of Arab politics and to engineer together a tougher war on Iran.  They both launched — with Western support — the war on Yemen assuming, wrongly, that it would be over in a few weeks. 

The current era in Arab politics is largely the design of MbZ with the enthusiastic support of MbS.  But the two personalities are quite different. While MbS is flashy and outspoken, MbZ keeps a low-profile.  MbS likes to impress Western audiences (and he succeeded in doing that until the murder of Jamal Khashoggi last year). MbZ, by contrast, only cares about impressing the White House and his interlocutors in Tel Aviv. 

MbZ is now trying to influence events in Sudan and Algeria where he maintains close ties to the ruling militaries and wants to prevent democratic rule in both countries. Protest signs against UAE and Saudi intervention were visible in Sudanese demonstrations that led last month to the fall of  President Omar al-Bashir (MbZ intelligence advisor, Muhammad Dahlan, visited Sudan the other day). 

In Yemen, MbZ has been quite assertive and even clashed with the Saudi regime to promote his own clients there. The ability of MbZ to continue playing his leadership role on behalf of the U.S. and Israel may not last forever. In the meantime, however, MbZ has emerged as Israel’s enforcer in the region; a role that is bound to earn him accolades in Washington, and especially on Capitol Hill. 

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

Please Make a Donation to Our
Spring Fundraising Drive Today!




UK Israel Lobby Adds Muscle as US Lobby Weakens

British politics are being plunged into a stifling silence on the longest example of mass human rights abuses sanctioned by the West in modern history, writes Jonathan Cook.

By JonathanCook
Jonathan-Cook.net

For decades it was all but taboo to suggest that pro-Israel lobbies in the United States such as AIPAC used their money and influence to keep lawmakers firmly in check on Israel-related issues — even if one had to be blind not to notice that that was exactly what they were up to.

When back in February U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar pointed out the obvious – that U.S. lawmakers were routinely expected to submit to the lobby’s dictates on Israel, a foreign country – her colleagues clamored to distance themselves from her, just as one might have expected were the pro-Israel lobby to wield the very power Omar claimed.

But surprisingly Omar did not – at least immediately – suffer the crushing fate of those who previously tried to raise this issue. Although she was pressured into apologizing, she was not battered into complete submission for her honesty.

She received support on social media, as well as a wavering, muted defense from Democratic grandee Nancy Pelosi, and even a relatively sympathetic hearing from a few prominent figures in the U.S. Jewish community.

The Benjamins Do Matter

Omar’s comments have confronted – and started to expose – one of the most enduring absurdities in debates about U.S. politics. Traditionally it has been treated as anti-Semitic to argue that the pro-Israel lobby actually lobbies for its chosen cause – exactly as other major lobbies do, from the financial services industries to the health and gun lobbies – and that, as with other lobbies enjoying significant financial clout, it usually gets its way.

Omar found herself in the firing line in February when she noted that what mattered in U.S. politics was “It’s all about the Benjamins” – an apparent reference to the 1997 Puff Daddy song of the same name in which Benjamins refer to $100 bills. She later clarified that AIPAC leverages funds over congressional and presidential candidates.

The claim that the pro-Israel lobby isn’t really in the persuasion business can only be sustained on the preposterous basis that Israeli and U.S. interests are so in tune that AIPAC and other organizations serve as little more than cheerleaders for the two countries’ “unbreakable bond.” Presumably on this view, the enormous sums of money raised are needed only to fund the celebrations.

Making the irrefutable observation that the pro-Israel lobby does actually lobby on Israel’s behalf, and very successfully, is typically denounced as anti-Semitism. Omar’s comments were perceived as anti-Semitic on the grounds that she pointed to the canard that Jews wield outsized influence using money to sway policymaking.

Allegations of anti-Semitism against her deepened days later when she gave a talk in Washington, D.C., and questioned why it was that she could talk about the influence of the National Rifle Association and Big Pharma but not the pro-Israel lobby – or “the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

That pro-Israel lobbyists – as opposed to Jews generally – do have dual loyalty seems a peculiar thing to deny, given that the purpose of groups like AIPAC is to rally support for Israel in Congress.

Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a key backer of Republican candidates for the presidency, has never hidden his passion not only for Israel but specifically for the ultra-nationalist governments of Benjamin Netanyahu.

In fact, he is so committed to Netanyahu’s survival that he spent nearly $200 million propping up an Israeli newspaper over its first seven years – all so he could assist the prime minister of a foreign country.

Similarly, Haim Saban, one of the main donors to Democratic presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, has made no secret of his commitment to Israel. He has said: “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”

Might Saban and Adelson’s “Benjamins” have influenced the very pro-Israel – and very anti-Palestinian – positions of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates? You would have to be supremely naïve or dishonest to claim not.

‘No Bernie-Like Approach’

This point really should be beyond doubt by now. This month The New York Times published an unprecedented essay in which author Nathan Thrall quoted political insiders and lobbyists making plain that, as one would expect, the pro-Israel lobby uses its money to pressure congressional candidates to toe the lobby’s line on Israel.

Some of the lobby’s power operates at the level of assumption about what Jewish donors expect in return for their money. According to the Times, some three-quarters of all donations over $500,000 to the major political action committee supporting Democratic nominees for the U.S. Senate race in 2018 were made by Jews.

Though many of those donors may not rate Israel as their main cause, a former Clinton campaign aide noted that the recipients of this largesse necessarily tailor their foreign policy positions so as not to antagonize such donors. As a result, candidates avoid even the mild criticism of Israel adopted by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic party’s challenger to Clinton in the 2016 presidential race and a primary contender for 2020.

“There’s no major donor that I can think of who is looking for someone to take a Bernie-like approach,” said the aide. Sanders raised his campaign funds from small donations rather these major funders, leaving him freer to speak openly about Israel.

Other insiders are more explicit still. Ben Rhodes, a former confidant of Barack Obama, says the lobby effectively tied Obama’s hand’s domestically on efforts to promote peace. “The Washington view of Israel-Palestine is still shaped by the donor class,” he told Thrall, adding: “The donor class is profoundly to the right of where the activists are, and frankly, where the majority of the Jewish community is.”

Joel Rubin, a former political director at lobby group J Street and a founding board member of the centrist Jewish Democratic Council of America, concurred: “The fight over Israel used to be about voters. It’s more about donors now.”

All of these insiders are stating that the expectations of major donors align candidates’ U.S. foreign policy positions with Israel’s interests, not necessarily those of the U.S. It is hard not to interpret that as reformulation of “dual loyalty.”

What’s so significant about the Times article is that it signals, as did the muted furor over Omar’s comments, that the pro-Israel lobby is weakening. No powerful lobby, including the Israel one, wants to be forced out of the shadows. It wants to remain in the darkness, where it can most comfortably exercise its influence without scrutiny or criticism.

The pro-Israel lobby’s loyalty to Israel is no longer unmentionable. But it is also not unique.

As Mondoweiss recently noted, Hannah Arendt, the Jewish scholar and fugitive from Nazi Germany, pointed to the inevitability of the “double loyalty conflict” in her 1944 essay “Zionism Reconsidered,” where she foreshadowed the rise of a pro-Israel lobby and its potential negative impacts on American Jews. It was, she wrote, “an unavoidable problem of every national movement of a people living within the boundaries of other states and unwilling to resign their civil and political rights therein.”

For that reason, the U.S.-Cuban lobby has an obvious dual loyalty problem too. It’s just that, given the Cuban lobby’s priority is overthrowing the Cuban government – a desire shared in Washington – the issue is largely moot.

In Israel’s case, however, there is a big and growing gap between image and reality. On the one hand, Washington professes a commitment to peace-making and a promise to act as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. And on the other, the reality is it has offered full-throated support for a series of ultra-nationalist Israeli governments determined to destroy any hope of peace and swallow up the last vestiges of a potential Palestinian state.

The Lord’s Work

It’s important to point out that advocates for Israel are not only Jews. While the pro-Israel lobby represents the views of a proportion of Jewish Americans, it is also significantly comprised of Christians, evangelicals in particular.

Millions of these Christians – including Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – can be accused of dual loyalty too. They regard Israel’s role in Biblical prophecy as far more important than the future of the U.S., or mankind for that matter.

For many of these evangelicals, bringing about the end of the world by ensuring Jews return to their Biblical homeland – triggering a final reckoning at the Battle of Armageddon – is the fulfillment of God’s will. And if it’s a choice between support for Washington’s largely secular elites and support for God, they know very definitely where they stand.

Again, the Times has started to shine a light on the strange role of Israel in the U.S. political constellation. Another recent article reminded readers that in 2015 Pompeo spoke of the end-times struggle phrophesied to take place in Israel, or what is often termed by evangelicals as “The Rapture.” He said: “We will continue to fight these battles.”

During his visit last month to Israel, he announced that the Trump administration’s work was “to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains. I am confident that the Lord is at work here.” 

Divorced from Reality

If the debate about the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. is for the first time making a nod to truth, the conversation about the pro-Israel lobby in the U.K. is becoming more and more divorced from reality.

Part of the reason is the way the Israel lobby has recently emerged in the U.K. – hurriedly, and in a mix of panic and damage-limitation mode.

Given that for decades European countries largely followed Washington’s lead on Israel, pro-Israel lobbies outside the U.S. were much less organized and muscular. European leaders’ unquestioning compliance was assured as long as Washington appeared to act as a disinterested broker overseeing a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. As a result, Europe was in little need of vigorous pro-Israel lobbies.

But that illusion has now been shattered, first by the explicit Greater Israel ideology espoused by a series of Netanyahu governments, and latterly by Donald Trump’s occupancy of the White House and his vehement backing of Israeli demands, however much they violate international law.

That has left European policy towards Israel – and its enabling by default of Netanyahu and Trump’s efforts to crush Palestinian rights – dangerously exposed.

Popular backlashes have taken the form of a rapid growth in support for BDS, a grassroots, nonviolent movement promoting a boycott of Israel. But more specifically in Britain’s case, it has resulted in the surprise election of Jeremy Corbyn, a well-known champion of Palestinian rights and anti-racism struggles generally, to lead the opposition Labour Party.

For that reason, Jewish leadership groups in the U.K. have had to reinvent themselves quickly, from organizations to promote the community’s interests into vehicles to defend Israel. And to do that they have had to adopt a position that was once closely identified with anti-Semitism: conflating Jews with Israel.

This, we should remember, was the view taken 100 years ago by arch anti-Semites in the British government. They regarded Jews as inherently “un-British,” as incapable of assimilation and therefore as naturally suspect.

Lord Balfour, before he made his abiding legacy the 1917 Declaration of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, helped pass the Aliens Act to block entry to the U.K. of Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. Balfour believed Jewish immigration had resulted in “undoubted evils.”

Lobby Cobbled Together

Also significantly, unlike the U.S., where the pro-Israel lobby has maintained fervent support for Israel as a bipartisan matter over decades, the need for an equivalent pro-Israel lobby in the U.K. has emerged chiefly in relation to Corbyn’s unexpected ascent to power in the Labour Party.

Rather than emerging slowly and organically, as was the case in the U.S., the British pro-Israel has had to be cobbled together hastily. Israel’s role in directing this immature lobby has been harder to hide.

Most of the U.K.’s Jewish leadership organizations have been poorly equipped for the task of tackling the new sympathy for Palestinian rights unleashed in the Labour Party by Corbyn’s rise. The Board of Deputies, for example, has enjoyed visible ties to the ruling Conservative Party. Any criticisms they make of the Labour leader are likely to be seen as having an air of partisanship and point-scoring.

So unusually in Britain’s case, the chief pro-Israel lobby group against Corbyn has emerged from within his own party – in the form of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

The JLM is trumpeted in the British media both as a venerable Jewish group, more than a century old, and as one that is widely representative of Jewish opinion. Neither claim is true.

The JLM likes to date its origins to the Poale Zion organization, which was founded in 1903. A socialist society, Poale Zion affiliated itself not only with the British Labour Party but also with a wide range of anti-Palestinian Zionist organizations such as the World Zionist Organisation and the Israeli Labour Party. The latter carried out the ethnic cleansing of the vast majority of Palestinians in 1948 and the party’s leaders to this today publicly support the illegal settlement “blocs” that are displacing Palestinians and stealing their land.

But as the investigative journalist Asa Winstanley has shown, before the unexpected ascent of Corbyn to the Labour leadership in 2015, the JLM had largely fallen into dormancy.

It was briefly revived in 2004, when Israel was facing widespread criticism in Britain over its brutal efforts to crush a Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories. But the JLM only really became active again in 2015.

According to a covert recording of a private JLM event in late 2016, its then chair Jeremy Newmark said he and other activists had agreed to reform the group in September 2015 in response to “the rise of Jeremy Corbyn” and “Bernie Sanders in the States.” Corbyn has been elected Labour leader only days previously. According to the transcript, Newmark told the other activists that it would be the “start of a struggle and a battle we will all be engaged in for months and probably years ahead of us.” He added that the JLM would be a suitable vehicle for their work because of the “rights and privileges” it enjoyed as a Labour Party affiliate organization.

Front for Israeli Embassy

The motive behind the JLM’s resuscitation was also revealed by an undercover documentary made by Al-Jazeeraaired in early 2017. It showed that the JLM was acting as little more than a front for the Israeli embassy, and that the mission it set itself was to weaken Corbyn in the hope of removing him from the leadership.

Early on, the JLM and other pro-Israel lobbyists within the party realized the most effective way to damage Corbyn, and silence solidarity with the Palestinian cause, was to weaponize the charge of anti-Semitism.

Support for Palestinian rights necessarily requires severe criticism of Israel, whose popular, rightwing governments have shown no interest in making concessions to the Palestinians on self-determination. In fact, while Westerners have debated the need for urgent peacemaking, Israel has simply got on with grabbing vast tracts of Palestinian land as a way to destroy any hope of statehood.

But pro-Israel lobbyists in the U.K. have found that they can very effectively turn this issue into a zero-sum game – one that, in the context of a British public conversation oblivious to Palestinian rights, inevitably favors Israel.

The thrust of the lobby’s argument is that almost all Jews identify with Israel, which means that attacks on Israel are also attacks on Jewish identity. That, they claim, is a modern form of anti-Semitism.

This argument, if it were true, has an obvious retort: if Jews really do identify with Israel to the extent that they are prepared to ignore its systematic abuse of Palestinians, then that would make most British Jews anti-Arab racists.

Further, if Jewish identity really is deeply enmeshed in the state of Israel, that would place a moral obligation on Jews to denounce any behavior by Israel towards Palestinians that violates human rights and international law.

And yet the very Jewish leaders claiming that Israel is at the core of their identity are also the ones who demand that Jews not be expected to take responsibility for Israel’s actions – and that to demand as much is anti-Semitic.

Could there be a clearer example of having your cake and eating it?

Nonetheless, the JLM has very successfully hijacked the debate within Labour of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to silence criticism. It has worked hard to impose a highly controversial new definition of anti-Semitism that conflates it with criticism of Israel. Seven of the 11 examples of anti-Semitism used to illustrate the new definition relate to Israel.

Arguing, for example, that Israel is a “racist endeavor,” the view of many in the growing BDS movement and among Corbyn supporters, is now being treated as evidence of anti-Semitism.

For this reason, the JLM has been able to file a complaint against Labour with the Equality and Human Rights Commission arguing that the party is “institutionally anti-Semitic.”

Labour is only the second political party after the neo-Nazi British National Party to have been subjected to an investigation by the equality watchdog.

Despite its claims, the JLM does not represent Jewish opinion in the Labour Party. The JLM says it has 2,000 members, though that figure – if accurate – includes non-Jews. Attendance at its annual general meeting this month could be measured in the dozens.

As one Jewish critic observed: “There are some 300,000 Jews in Britain. The Jewish Labour Movement claims to represent us all. So why were there fewer people at their AGM [annual general meeting] than at my Labour Party branch AGM?”

Many Jews in the Labour Party have chosen not to join the JLM, preferring instead to act as a counterweight by creating a new Jewish pressure group that backs Corbyn called Jewish Voice for Labour.

Even a new JLM membership drive publicized by former Labour leader Gordon Brown reportedly brought only a small influx of new members, suggesting that support for the JLM’s anti-Corbyn, pro-Israel agenda is very limited inside Labour.

Speaking for ‘the Jews’

The re-establishment of the JLM has one very transparent aim in mind: to push out Corbyn, using any means at its disposal. At its annual general meeting, the JLM unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in Corbyn, describing him as “unfit to be Prime Minister.” The resolution declared that “a Labour Government led by (Corbyn) would not be in the interests of British Jews.”

One Jewish commentator derisively noted the JLM’s arrogance in speaking for all British Jews at a time of Conservative government-imposed austerity: “I would not presume to proclaim what is in the interests of ‘the Jews’, but I really cannot imagine that the person who drafted this resolution had any real experience of meeting unemployed Jews, Jewish pensioners and single mothers just scraping by, or Jews who are struggling as they use under-resourced mental health services.”

In other circumstances, a group of people operating inside a major political party using underhand methods to disrupt its democratic processes would be described as entryists. Some 2,000 pro-Israel fanatics within Labour are trying to overturn the overwhelming wishes, twice expressed at the ballot box, of the Labour membership, now numbering more than 500,000.

Nonetheless, last week the JLM started to show its hand more publicly. It has been noisily threatening to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. In the circumstances that would at least be an honorable – if very unlikely – thing for it to do.

Instead it announced that it would begin scoring local and national Labour politicians based on their record on anti-Semitism. After the JLM’s frantic lobbying for the adoption of the new anti-Semitism definition, it seems clear that such scores will relate to the vehemence of a candidate’s criticism of Israel, or possibly their ideological sympathy with Corbyn, more than overt bigotry towards Jews.

That was underscored this week when a senior Labour politician, Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, came under fire from the JLM and Board of Deputies for comments he made in 2014, during Israel’s attack on Gaza, that only recently came to light. He was recorded saying: “The enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Jewish people, the enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists.” He had previously denied making any such comment.

Mike Katz, the JLM’s new chair, responded: “Insulting a core part of their [Jewish people’s] identity and then dissembling about it is shameful behaviour from a senior frontbencher in our party, let alone someone who aspires to administer our justice system.”

According to the Labour Party’s own figures, actual anti-Jewish prejudice – as opposed to criticism of Israel – is extremely marginal in its ranks, amounting to some 0.08 percent of members. It is presumably even less common among those selected to run as candidates in local and national elections.

The JLM has nonetheless prioritized this issue, threatening that the scores may be used to decide whether activists will campaign for a candidate. One might surmise that the scores could also be serve as the basis for seeking to deselect candidates and replace them with politicians more to the JLM’s liking.

“We have got elections coming up but we are not going to put that effort in unless we know people are standing shoulder to shoulder with us,” said Katz.

Need for Vigorous Debate

Paradoxically, the JLM appears to be preparing to do openly what pro-Israel lobbyists in the U.S. deny they do covertly: use their money and influence to harm candidates who are not seen as sympathetic enough to Israel.

Despite claims from both U.S. and U.K. pro-Israel lobby groups that they speak for their own domestic Jewish populations, they clearly don’t. Individuals within Jewish communities are divided over whether they identify with Israel or not. And certainly, their identification with Israel should not be a reason to curtail vigorous debates about U.S. and U.K. foreign policy and Israeli influence domestically.

Even if the vast majority of Jews in the U.S. and U.K. do support Israel – not just in a symbolic or abstract way, but the actual far-right governments that now permanently rule Israel – that does not make them right about Israel or make it anti-Semitic for others to be highly critical of Israel.

The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews support a narrow spectrum of politicians, from the militaristic right to religious fundamentalists and fascists. They view Palestinians as less deserving, less human even, than Jews and as an obstacle to the realization of Jewish rights in the whole of the “Land of Israel,” including the Palestinian territories. Does that make them right? Does their numerical dominance excuse their ugly bigotry towards Palestinians? Of course not.

And so it would be the same even were it true that most Jewish members of the Labour Party supported a state that proudly upholds Jewish supremacism as its national ideology. Their sensitivities should count for nothing if they simply mask ugly racist attitudes towards Palestinians.

Lobbies of all kinds thrive in the dark, growing more powerful and less accountable when they are out of view and immune from scrutiny.

By refusing to talk frankly about the role of pro-Israel lobbies in the U.K. and the U.S., or by submitting to their intimidation, we simply invite Israel’s supporters and anti-Palestinian racists to flex their muscles more aggressively and chip away at the democratic fabric of our societies.

There are signs that insurgency politicians in the U.S. are ready for the first time to shine a light into the recesses of a political system deeply corrupted by money. That will inevitably make life much harder for the pro-Israel lobby.

But paradoxically, it is happening just as the U.K.’s Israel lobby is pushing in exactly the opposite direction. British politics is being plunged into a stifling, unhealthy silence on the longest example of mass human rights abuses, sanctioned by the west, in modern history.

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. He blogs at Jonathan Cook.net.




Whose Blood, Whose Treasure?

America’s senior generals find no exits from endless war, writes William J. Astore for TomDispatch.

By William J. Astore
TomDispatch.com

“Veni, Vidi, Vici,” boasted Julius Caesar, one of history’s great military captains. “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed that famed saying when summing up the Obama administration’s military intervention in Libya in 2011 — with a small alteration. “We came, we saw, he died,” she said with a laugh about the killing of Muammar Gaddafi, that country’s autocratic leader. Note what she left out, though: the “vici” or victory part. And how right she was to do so, since Washington’s invasions, occupations, and interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere in this century have never produced anything faintly like a single decisive and lasting victory.

“Failure is not an option” was the stirring 1995 movie catchphrase for the dramatic 1970 rescue of the Apollo 13 moon mission and crew, but were such a movie to be made about America’s wars and their less-than-vici-esque results today, the phrase would have to be corrected in Clintonian fashion to read “We came, we saw, we failed.”

Wars are risky, destructive, unpredictable endeavors, so it would hardly be surprising if America’s military and civilian leaders failed occasionally in their endless martial endeavors, despite the overwhelming superiority in firepower of “the world’s greatest military.” Here’s the question, though: Why have all the American wars of this century gone down in flames and what in the world have those leaders learned from such repetitive failures?

The evidence before our eyes suggests that, when it comes to our senior military leaders at least, the answer would be: nothing at all.

Let’s begin with General David Petraeus, he of the surge fame in the Iraq War. Of course, he would briefly fall from grace in 2012, while director of the CIA, thanks to an affair with his biographer with whom he inappropriately shared highly classified information. When riding high in Iraq in 2007, however, “King David” (as he was then dubbed) was widely considered an example of America’s best and brightest. He was a soldier-scholar with a doctorate from Princeton, an insurgent general with the perfect way — a revival of Vietnam-era counterinsurgency techniques — to stabilize invaded and occupied Iraq. He was the man to snatch victory from the jaws of looming defeat. (Talk about a fable not worthy of Aesop!)

Though retired from the military since 2011, Petraeus somehow remains a bellwether for conventional thinking about America’s wars at the Pentagon, as well as inside the Washington Beltway. And despite the quagmire in Afghanistan (that he had a significant hand in deepening), despite the widespread destruction in Iraq (for which he would hold some responsibility), despite the failed-state chaos in Libya, he continues to relentlessly plug the idea of pursuing a “sustainable” forever war against global terrorism; in other words, yet more of the same.

Here’s how he typically put it in a recent interview:

“I would contend that the fight against Islamist extremists is not one that we’re going to see the end of in our lifetimes probably. I think this is a generational struggle, which requires you to have a sustained commitment. But of course you can only sustain it if it’s sustainable in terms of the expenditure of blood and treasure.”

His comment brings to mind a World War II quip about General George S. Patton, also known as “old blood and guts.” Some of his troops responded to that nickname this way: yes, his guts, but our blood. When men like Petraeus measure the supposed sustainability of their wars in terms of blood and treasure, the first question should be: Whose blood, whose treasure?

When it comes to Washington’s Afghan War, now in its 18th year and looking ever more like a demoralizing defeat, Petraeus admits that U.S. forces “never had an exit strategy.” What they did have, he claims, “was a strategy to allow us to continue to achieve our objectives… with the reduced expenditure in blood and treasure.”

Think of this formulation as an upside-down version of the notorious “body count” of the Vietnam War. Instead of attempting to maximize enemy dead, as General William Westmoreland sought to do from 1965 to 1968, Petraeus is suggesting that the U.S. seek to keep the American body count to a minimum (translating into minimal attention back home), while minimizing the “treasure” spent. By keeping American bucks and body bags down (Afghans be damned), the war, he insists, can be sustained not just for a few more years but generationally. (He cites 70-year troop commitments to NATO and South Korea as reasonable models.)

Talk about lacking an exit strategy! And he also speaks of a persistent “industrial-strength” Afghan insurgency without noting that U.S. military actions, including drone strikes and an increasing reliance on air power, result in ever more dead civilians, which only feed that same insurgency. For him, Afghanistan is little more than a “platform” for regional counterterror operations and so anything must be done to prevent the greatest horror of all: withdrawing American troops too quickly.

In fact, he suggests that American-trained and supplied Iraqi forces collapsed in 2014, when attacked by relatively small groups of ISIS militants, exactly because U.S. troops had been withdrawn too quickly. The same, he has no doubt, will happen if President Trump repeats this “mistake” in Afghanistan. (Poor showings by U.S.-trained forces are never, of course, evidence of a bankrupt approach in Washington, but of the need to “stay the course.”)

Petraeus’s critique is, in fact, a subtle version of the stab-in-the-back myth. Its underlying premise: that the U.S. military is always on the generational cusp of success, whether in Vietnam in 1971, Iraq in 2011, or Afghanistan in 2019, if only the rug weren’t pulled out from under the U.S. military by irresolute commanders-in-chief.

Of course, this is all nonsense. Commanded by none other than General David Petraeus, the Afghan surge of 2009-2010 proved a dismal failure as, in the end, had his Iraq surge of 2007. U.S. efforts to train reliable indigenous forces (no matter where in the embattled Greater Middle East and Africa) have also consistently failed. Yet Petraeus’s answer is always more of the same: more U.S. troops and advisers, training, bombing, and killing, all to be repeated at “sustainable” levels for generations to come.

The alternative, he suggests, is too awful to contemplate:

“You have to do something about [Islamic extremism] because otherwise they’re going to spew violence, extremism, instability, and a tsunami of refugees not just into neighboring countries but… into our western European allies, undermining their domestic political situations.”

No mention here of how the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq spread destruction and, in the end, a “tsunami of refugees” throughout the region. No mention of how U.S. interventions and bombing in Libya, Syria, Somalia, and elsewhere help “spew” violence and generate a series of failed states.

And amazingly enough, despite his lack of “vici” moments, the American media still sees King David as the go-to guy for advice on how to fight and win the wars he’s had such a hand in losing. And just in case you want to start worrying a little, he’s now offering such advice on even more dangerous matters. He’s started to comment on the new “cold war” that now has Washington abuzz, a coming era — as he puts it — of “renewed great power rivalries” with China and Russia, an era, in fact, of “multi-domain warfare” that could prove far more challenging than “the asymmetric abilities of the terrorists and extremists and insurgents that we’ve countered in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan and a variety of other places, particularly since 9/11.”

For Petraeus, even if Islamic terrorism disappeared tomorrow and not generations from now, the U.S. military would still be engaged with the supercharged threat of China and Russia. I can already hear Pentagon cash registers going ka-ching!

And here, in the end, is what’s most striking about Petraeus’s war lessons: no concept of peace even exists in his version of the future. Instead, whether via Islamic terrorism or rival great powers, America faces intractable threats into a distant future. Give him credit for one thing: if adopted, his vision could keep the national security state funded in the staggering fashion it’s come to expect for generations, or at least until the money runs out and the U.S. empire collapses.

Two Senior Generals’ Lessons from Iraq War

David Petraeus remains America’s best-known general of this century. His thinking, though, is anything but unique. Take two other senior U.S. Army generals, Mark Milley and Ray Odierno, both of whom recently contributed forewords to the Army’s official history of the Iraq War that tell you what you need to know about Pentagon thinking these days.

Published this January, the Army’s history of Operation Iraqi Freedom is detailed and controversial. Completed in June 2016, its publication was pushed back due to internal disagreements. As the Wall Street Journal put it in October 2018: “Senior [Army] brass fretted over the impact the study’s criticisms might have on prominent officers’ reputations and on congressional support for the service.” With those worries apparently resolved, the study is now available at the Army War College website.

The Iraq War witnessed the overthrow of autocrat (and former U.S. ally) Saddam Hussein, a speedy declaration ofmission accomplished by President George W. Bush, and that country’s subsequent descent into occupation, insurgency, civil war, and chaos. What should the Army have learned from all this? General Milley, now Army chief of staff and President Trump’s nominee to serve as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is explicit on its lessons:

“OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] is a sober reminder that technological advantages and standoff weapons alone cannot render a decision; that the promise of short wars is often elusive; that the ends, ways, and means must be in balance; that our Army must understand the type of war we are engaged with in order to adapt as necessary; that decisions in war occur on the ground in the mud and dirt; and that timeless factors such as human agency, chance, and an enemy’s conviction, all shape a war’s outcome.”

These aren’t, in fact, lessons. They’re military banalities. The side with the best weapons doesn’t always win. Short wars can turn into long ones. The enemy has a say in how the war is fought. What they lack is any sense of Army responsibility for mismanaging the Iraq War so spectacularly. In other words, mission accomplished for General Milley.

General Odierno, who commissioned the study and served in Iraq for 55 months, spills yet more ink in arguing, like Milley, that the Army has learned from its mistakes and adapted, becoming even more agile and lethal. Here’s my summary of his “lessons”:

* Superior technology doesn’t guarantee victory. Skill and war craft remain vital.

* To win a war of occupation, soldiers need to know the environment, including “the local political and social consequences of our actions… When conditions on the ground change, we must be willing to reexamine the assumptions that underpin our strategy and plans and change course if necessary, no matter how painful it may be,” while developing better “strategic leaders.”

* The Army needs to be enlarged further because “land power” is so vital and America’s troops were “overtaxed by the commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the decision to limit our troop levels in both theaters had severe operational consequences.”

* The Iraq War showcased an Army with an “astonishing” capacity “to learn and adapt in the midst of a war that the United States was well on its way to losing.”

The gist of Odierno’s “lessons”: the Army learned, adapted, and overcame. Therefore, it deserves America’s thanks and yet more of everything, including the money and resources to pursue future wars even more successfully. There would, however, be another way to read those lessons of his: that the Army overvalued technology, that combat skills were lacking, that efforts to work with allies and Iraqi forces regularly failed, that Army leadership lacked the skills needed to win, and that it was folly to get into a global war on terror in the first place.

On those failings, neither Milley nor Odierno has anything of value to say, since their focus is purely on how to make the Army prevail in future versions of just such wars. Their limited critique, in short, does little to prevent future disasters. Much like Petraeus’s reflections, they cannot envision an end point to the process — no victory to be celebrated, no return to America being “a normal country in a normal time.” There is only war and more war in their (and so our) future.

The Undiscovered Country

Talk of such future wars — of, that is, more of the same — reminded me of the sixth Star Trek movie, The Undiscovered Country.” In that space opera, which appeared in 1991 just as the Soviet Union was imploding, peace finally breaks out between the quasi-democratic Federation (think: the USA) and the warmongering Klingon Empire (think: the USSR). Even the Federation’s implacable warrior-captain, James T. Kirk, grudgingly learns to bury the phaser with the Klingon “bastards” who murdered his son.

Back then, I was a young captain in the U.S. Air Force and, with the apparent end of the Cold War, my colleagues and I dared talk about, if not eternal peace, at least “peace” as our own — and not just Star Trek’s— undiscovered country. Like many at the time, even we in the military were looking forward to what was then called a “peace dividend.”

But that unknown land, which Americans then glimpsed ever so briefly, remains unexplored to this day. The reason why is simple enough. As Andrew Bacevich put it in his book Breach of Trust,”“For the Pentagon [in 1991], peace posed a concrete and imminent threat” — which meant that new threats, “rogue states” of every sort, had to be found. And found they were.

It comes as no surprise, then, that America’s generals have learned so little of real value from their twenty-first-century losses. They continue to see a state of infinite war as necessary and are blind to the ways in which endless war and the ever-developing war state in Washington are the enemies of democracy.

The question isn’t why they think the way they do. The question is why so many Americans share their vision. The future is now. Isn’t it time that the U.S. sought to invade and occupy a different “land” entirely: an undiscovered country — a future — defined by peace?

A retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, William J. Astore is a TomDispatch regular. His personal blog is Bracing Views.”




Is War With Iran on the Horizon?

Despite growing Trump administration tensions with Venezuela and even with North Korea, Iran is the likeliest spot for Washington’s next shooting war, says Bob Dreyfuss for TomDispatch.

The Trump Administration is Reckless Enough to Turn the Cold War With Iran Into a Hot One

By Bob Dreyfuss
TomDispatch.com

Here’s the foreign policy question of questions in 2019: Are President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, all severely weakened at home and with few allies abroad, reckless enough to set off a war with Iran?

Could military actions designed to be limited — say, a heightening of the Israeli bombing of Iranian forces inside Syria, or possible U.S. cross-border attacks from Iraq, or a clash between American and Iranian naval ships in the Persian Gulf — trigger a wider war?

Worryingly, the answers are: yes and yes. Even though Western Europe has lined up in opposition to any future conflict with Iran, even though Russia and China would rail against it, even though most Washington foreign policy experts would be horrified by the outbreak of such a war, it could happen.

Despite growing Trump administration tensions with Venezuela and even with North Korea, Iran is the likeliest spot for Washington’s next shooting war. Years of politically charged anti-Iranian vituperation might blow up in the faces of President Trump and his two most hawkish aides, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, setting off a conflict with potentially catastrophic implications.

Such a war could quickly spread across much of the Middle East, not just to Saudi Arabia and Israel, the region’s two major anti-Iranian powers, but Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and the various Persian Gulf states. It might indeed be, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested last year (unconsciously echoing Iran’s former enemy, Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein) the “mother of all wars.”

With Bolton and Pompeo, both well-known Iranophobes, in the driver’s seat, few restraints remain on President Trump when it comes to that country. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, President Trump’s former favorite generals who had urged caution, are no longer around. And though the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution last month calling for the United States to return to the nuclear agreement that President Obama signed, there are still a significant number of congressional Democrats who believe that Iran is a major threat to U.S. interests in the region.

During the Obama years, it was de rigueur for Democrats to support the president’s conclusion that Iran was a prime state sponsor of terrorism and should be treated accordingly. And the congressional Democrats now leading the party on foreign policy — Eliot Engel, who currently chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin, the two ranking Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — were opponents of the 2015 nuclear accord (though all three now claim to have changed their minds).

Deadly Flashpoints for a Future War

On the roller coaster ride that is Donald Trump’s foreign policy, it’s hard to discern what’s real and what isn’t, what’s rhetoric and what’s not. When it comes to Iran, it’s reasonable to assume that Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo aren’t planning an updated version of the unilateral invasion of Iraq that President George W. Bush launched in the spring of 2003.

Yet by openly calling for the toppling of the government in Tehran, by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposing onerous sanctions to cripple that country’s economy, by encouraging Iranians to rise up in revolt, by overtly supporting various exile groups (and perhaps covertly even terrorists), and by joining with Israel and Saudi Arabia in an informal anti-Iranian alliance, the three of them are clearly attempting to force the collapse of the Iranian regime, which just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

There are three potential flashpoints where limited skirmishes, were they to break out, could quickly escalate into a major shooting war.

The first is in Syria and Lebanon. Iran is deeply involved in defending Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who only recently returned from a visit to Tehran) and closely allied with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite political party with a potent paramilitary arm. Weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu openly boasted that his country’s air force had successfully taken out Iranian targets in Syria. In fact, little noticed here, dozens of such strikes have taken place for more than a year, with mounting Iranian casualties.

Until now, the Iranian leadership has avoided a direct response that would heighten the confrontation with Israel, just as it has avoided unleashing Hezbollah, a well-armed, battle-tested proxy force.  That could, however, change if the hardliners in Iran decided to retaliate. Should this simmering conflict explode, does anyone doubt that President Trump would soon join the fray on Israel’s side or that congressional Democrats would quickly succumb to the administration’s calls to back the Jewish state?

Next, consider Iraq as a possible flashpoint for conflict. In February, a blustery Trump told CBS’s Face the Nation that he intends to keep U.S. forces in Iraq “because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is the real problem.” His comments did not exactly go over well with the Iraqi political class, since many of that country’s parties and militias are backed by Iran.

Trump’s declaration followed a Wall Street Journal report late last year that Bolton had asked the Pentagon — over the opposition of various generals and then-Secretary of Defense Mattis — to prepare options for “retaliatory strikes” against Iran. This roughly coincided with a couple of small rocket attacks against Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone and the airport in Basra, Iraq’s Persian Gulf port city, neither of which caused any casualties.  

Writing in Foreign Affairs, however, Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks, which he called “life-threatening,” adding, “Iran did not stop these attacks, which were carried out by proxies it has supported with funding, training, and weapons.” No “retaliatory strikes” were launched, but plans do undoubtedly now exist for them and it’s not hard to imagine Bolton and Pompeo persuading Trump to go ahead and use them — with incalculable consequences.

Finally, there’s the Persian Gulf itself. Ever since the George W. Bush years, the U.S. Navy has worried about possible clashes with Iran’s naval forces in those waters and there have been a number of high-profile incidents. The Obama administration tried (but failed) to establish a hotline of sorts that would have linked U.S. and Iranian naval commanders and so make it easier to defuse any such incident, an initiative championed by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, a longtime opponent of war with Iran.

Under Trump, however, all bets are off. Last year, he requested that Mattis prepare plans to blow up Iran’s “fast boats,” small gunboats in the Gulf, reportedly asking, “Why don’t we sink them?” He’s already reinforced the U.S. naval presence there, getting Iran’s attention. Not surprisingly, the Iranian leadership has responded in kind. Earlier this year, President Hassan Rouhani announced that his country had developed submarines capable of launching cruise missiles against naval targets.  The Iranians also began a series of Persian Gulf war games and, in late February, test fired one of those sub-launched missiles.

Add in one more thing: in an eerie replay of a key argument George Bush and Dick Cheney used for going to war with Iraq in 2003, in mid-February the right-wing media outlet Washington Times ran an “exclusive” report with this headline: “Iran-Al Qaeda Alliance may provide legal rationale for U.S. military strikes.”

Back in 2002, the Office of Special Plans at Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, under the supervision of neoconservatives Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, spent months trying to prove that al-Qaeda and Iraq were in league. The Washington Times piece, citing Trump administration sources, made a similar claim — that Iran is now aiding and abetting al-Qaeda with a “clandestine sanctuary to funnel fighters, money, and weapons across the Middle East.” 

It added that the administration is seeking to use this information to establish “a potential legal justification for military strikes against Iran or its proxies.” Needless to say, few are the terrorism experts or Iran specialists who would agree that Iran has anything like an active relationship with al-Qaeda.

Will the Hardliners Triumph in Iran as in Washington?

The Trump administration is, in fact, experiencing increasing difficulty finding allies ready to join a new Coalition of the Willing to confront Iran. The only two charter members so far, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are, however, enthusiastic indeed. Last month, Prime Minister Netanyahu was heard remarking that Israel and its Arab allies want war with Iran.

At a less-than-successful mid-February summit meeting Washington organized in Warsaw, Poland, to recruit world leaders for a future crusade against Iran, Netanyahu was heard to say in Hebrew: “This is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran.” (He later insisted that the correct translation should have been “combating Iran,” but the damage had already been done.)

That Warsaw summit was explicitly designed to build an anti-Iranian coalition, but many of America’s allies, staunchly opposing Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear accord, would have nothing to do with it. In an effort to mollify the Europeans in particular, the United States and Poland awkwardly renamed it: “The Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East.”

The name change, however, fooled no one. As a result, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo were embarrassed by a series of no-shows: the French, the Germans, and the European Union, among others, flatly declined to send ministerial-level representatives, letting their ambassadors in Warsaw stand in for them.  The many Arab nations not in thrall to Saudi Arabia similarly sent only low-level delegations. Turkey and Russia boycotted altogether, convening a summit of their own in which Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Iran’s Rouhani.

Never the smoothest diplomat, Pence condemned, insulted, and vilified the Europeans for refusing to go along with Washington’s wrecking-ball approach. He began his speech to the conference by saying: “The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.” He then launched a direct attack on Europe’s efforts to preserve that accord by seeking a way around the sanctions Washington had re-imposed: “Sadly, some of our leading European partners… have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions. We call it an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.”

That blast at the European allies should certainly have brought to mind Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s disparaging comments in early 2003 about Germany and France, in particular, being leaders of the “old Europe.” Few allies then backed Washington’s invasion plans, which, of course, didn’t prevent war. Europe’s reluctance now isn’t likely to prove much of a deterrent either.

But Pence is right that the Europeans have taken steps to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In particular, they’ve created a “special purpose vehicle” known as INSTEX (Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges) designed “to support legitimate trade with Iran,” according to a statement from the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Great Britain. It’s potentially a big deal and, as Pence noted, explicitly designed to circumvent the sanctions Washington imposed on Iran after Trump’s break with the JCPOA.

INSTEX has a political purpose, too. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA was a body blow to President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and other centrists in Tehran who had taken credit for, and pride in, the deal between Iran and the six world powers (the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China) that signed the agreement. That deal had been welcomed in Iran in part because it seemed to ensure that country’s ability to expand its trade to the rest of the world, including its oil exports, free of sanctions.

Even before Trump abandoned the deal, however, Iran was already finding U.S. pressure overwhelming and, for the average Iranian, things hadn’t improved in any significant way. Worse yet, in the past year the economy had taken a nosedive, the currency had plungedinflation was running rampant, and strikes and street demonstrations had broken out, challenging the government and its clerical leadership. Chants of “Death to the Dictator!” — not heard since the Green Movement’s revolt against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection in 2009 — once again resounded in street demonstrations.

At the end of February, it seemed as if Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo had scored a dangerous victory when Zarif, Iran’s well-known, Western-oriented foreign minister, announced his resignation. Moderates who supported the JCPOA, including Rouhani and Zarif, have been under attack from the country’s hardliners since Trump’s pullout.  As a result, Zarif’s decision was widely assumed to be a worrisome sign that those hardliners had claimed their first victim.

There was even unfounded speculation that, without Zarif, who had worked tirelessly with the Europeans to preserve what was left of the nuclear pact, Iran itself might abandon the accord and resume its nuclear program. And there’s no question that the actions and statements of Bolton, Pompeo, and crew have undermined Iran’s moderates, while emboldening its hardliners, who are making I-told-you-so arguments to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.

Despite the internal pressure on Zarif, however, his resignation proved short-lived indeed: Rouhani rejected it, and there was an upsurge of support for him in Iran’s parliament. Even General Qassem Soleimani, a major figure in that country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the commander of the Quds Force, backed him.

As it happens, the Quds Force, an arm of the IRGC, is responsible for Iran’s paramilitary and foreign intelligence operations throughout the region, but especially in Iraq and Syria. That role has allowed Soleimani to assume responsibility for much of Iran’s foreign policy in the region, making him a formidable rival to Zarif — a tension that undoubtedly contributed to his brief resignation and it isn’t likely to dissipate anytime soon.

According to analysts and commentators, it appears to have been a ploy by Zarif (and perhaps Rouhani, too) to win a vote of political confidence and it appears to have strengthened their hand for the time being.

Still, the Zarif resignation crisis threw into stark relief the deep tensions within Iranian politics and raised a key question: As the Trump administration accelerates its efforts to seek a confrontation, will they find an echo among Iranian hardliners who’d like nothing more than a face-off with the United States?

Maybe that’s exactly what Bolton and Pompeo want.  If so, prepare yourself: another American war unlikely to work out the way anyone in Washington dreams is on the horizon.

Copyright 2019 Bob Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss, an investigative journalist and TomDispatch regular, is the founder of TheDreyfussReport.com. He is a contributing editor at The Nationand he has written for Rolling StoneMother JonesThe American Prospect, The New Republicand many other magazines. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.

 

 




Royal Wedding Got Triple the Media Coverage of Yemen in 2018

That ratio is symptomatic of negative trends at the major networks, writes Jim Lobe. 

By Jim Lobe
Inter Press Service

The ongoing war in Yemen, called the world’s “worst humanitarian disaster” by the United Nations and independent aid agencies since early last year, received a grand combined total of 20 minutes of coverage on the ABC, NBC, and CBS weekday evening news programs in 2018.

That compared to a total of 71 minutes that the three major networks devoted to the British royal wedding and a combined total of 100 minutes dedicated to the rescue of a dozen young cave explorers from flooding in Thailand, according to the latest annual compilation by the authoritative Tyndall Report.

By contrast, the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in September received a total of 116 minutes of coverage by the three networks, making it one of the very few foreign-based stories to make it into the top 20 most-covered network news events in 2018.

Although the Thai cave rescue was clearly a dramatic, emotional and easily accessible story of the kind that lends itself very well to television news, the number of lives at stake were a tiny fraction of those estimated to have been killed in Yemen (50,000-80,000 combatants and non-combatants), not to mention the deaths of well over 100,000 more civilians, including at least 80,000 children under the age of 5 who have succumbed to malnutrition or disease.

The lack of coverage of the Yemen disaster is symptomatic of negative trends regarding foreign news coverage by the major networks, which together remain the biggest single source of international news in the United States

Some 360,000 children there are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition, while some 20 million Yemenis are unable to “reliably feed themselves or their families [and] almost 10 million are just one step away from famine,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week. The latter figure amounts to nearly half the population of the Arab world’s poorest nation.

Falling Foreign Coverage

Overall, the lack of coverage of the Yemen disaster is symptomatic of negative trends regarding foreign news coverage by the major networks, which together remain the biggest single source of international news in the United States. An average of more than 22 million households tune into the nightly newscasts, or about four times the number of those that watch any of the three major cable channels—Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN—on a given evening.

Indeed, this year’s Tyndall Report found that network coverage from overseas fell to the lowest point since its publisher, Andrew Tyndall, began systematically tracking and coding the three weeknight newscasts in 1988. Altogether, foreign datelines accounted for only 7.5 percent of all the news generated by those programs (1,092 minutes out of 14,354 minutes) in 2018. (Each half-hour newscast contains an average of roughly 22 minutes of news content.)

“Foreign bureaus have never been so little used,” noted Tyndall in his latest report. “2018 marked a general abdication of the traditional role of the nightly newscasts, which used to provide a daily summary of major national and international news developments,” he told LobeLog in an email.

“Of particular note,” he added, “the top 30 foreign news stories [covered by the three networks’ newscasts] contained no mention of the two major western hemisphere elections—in Brazil and Mexico—and none of the major crisis in Europe; namely Brexit.”

Moreover, he wrote in his email,

the overarching international crisis facing the globe as a whole —climate change — was little covered as such, although its symptoms such as wildfires and hurricanes were presented prominently. These symptoms were confined to their domestic occurrence, however, rather than the manifestations of climate change on a global scale.

I am very pessimistic about the nightly newscasts reforming themselves and ever reverting to their traditional global mission.

Precisely because of its unparalleled reach and the influence of its major sponsors (compared to cable news advertisers), network news has always been designed to appeal to the greatest number of viewers. In important ways, the network news agenda — as shallow, superficial, sensationalistic, and increasingly inward as it is — reveals how Americans see and understand events and trends overseas.

What Did and Didn’t Get Attention

The single most network-covered story of the year, according to Tyndall’s tally, was the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at 426 minutes, followed by the ongoing probes into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election (332 minutes).

Three of the next four biggest stories involved extreme weather and its consequences — the California wildfires (242), severe winter weather (234), and Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas (203). Hurricane Michael in Florida was the 11th biggest story (134 minutes). But, as in past years, these reports, totaling over 800 minutes, were focused almost exclusively on the anticipation and immediate impact of these events rather than the possible relationship between them and climate change.

Aside from the Russian investigations, North Korean-U.S. summitry was the top foreign-policy story, clocking in at 212 minutes, making it the year’s fifth-biggest story overall. The detention of migrant children (189) ranked seventh, tied with the Parkland High School mass shooting in Florida, which was followed in turn by coverage of school safety and violence prevention more generally (184). The prosecution of President Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, (164) ranked 1oth, the winding down of the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria (133) ranked 12th,  followed by coverage of the flu season (130) and accusations of partisan bias by the FBI and Khashoggi’s assassination (116 minutes each). Police killings of civilians and the federal budget and deficit (112 each), followed by the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics (111), the Facebook controversy (107), and coverage of the Christmas holiday season (105), rounded out the top 20.

As for foreign stories, all things Russia-related — including the alleged election interference (332), U.S.-Russia diplomacy including the Helsinki summit (92); Russian-British diplomacy and the poisoning of the Russian ex-spy (54); and U.S.-Russian spy-related events (23) — led the pack with a total of 501 minutes, or a little over 3 percent of total nightly newscasts.

Immigration-related coverage accounted for nearly the same amount of coverage (493 minutes). It included the detention of migrant children (189), border restrictions and “the wall” (96), immigration reform more generally (75), Central American migrants and caravans (50), DACA Dreamers seeking permanent status (36), crackdowns on undocumented immigrants and deportations (27), and asylum-seekers (20).

The Koreas were the top foreign-policy story: In addition to the 212 minutes devoted to the summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, inter-Korean diplomacy accounted for 48 minutes, and North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs for another 42 minutes, bringing the total to just over 300 minutes (or about 2 percent of total programming), not counting the 111 minutes on the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

The Syrian civil war and Trump’s (now-modified) decision to withdraw U.S. troops were the next most-covered foreign-related stories (133), followed by Khashoggi’s assassination (116), the cave rescue in Thailand (100), the royal wedding (71), ongoing fighting in Afghanistan (54), U.S.-China trade frictions (52), and steel and aluminum import tariffs (37).

The Israel-Palestinian conflict, NATO-U.S. diplomacy (notably Trump’s trip to Brussels), and the Iran nuclear deal, including Washington’s withdrawal from it, each earned a grand total of 29 minutes of coverage by the three networks, while the earthquake in Indonesia (26) and the eruption of the volcano in Guatemala (23) gained more than Yemen’s 20 minutes in the network spotlight, one minute more than was devoted to Trump’s quick visit to London and the Lion Air jet crash (19 minutes each).

Hopes among various humanitarian, human-rights, and peace groups that the media’s strong focus on Khashoggi’s killing would draw greater public attention to the catastrophic toll suffered by the civilian population during the 4-year-old Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels and their allies in Yemen seem to have been disappointed, according to Tyndall’s findings. Of the total 20 minutes devoted to Yemen in 2018, 13 minutes preceded the Saudi journalist’s death and only seven minutes followed it. The relatively greater (but still pathetic) amount of attention before the September assassination came mostly as a result of dire warnings issued by the UN earlier in the spring. (Of the 20 minutes, CBS accounted for 11, while NBC and ABC split the remainder.)

The lack of media attention to Yemen post-Khashoggi, however, did not translate into congressional indifference. Motivated in major part by a campaign led by the Post itself (as well as other print media), Congress expressed its anger by taking up a series of resolutions that have gained momentum this year to curb U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.

America’s Worldview

If the network evening news provides as good a measure as any of how Americans perceive the world outside U.S. borders, it’s not a great picture. As noted by Tyndall himself, South America and sub-Saharan Africa, with a combined population of nearly 2 billion, simply failed to register in the news. The rise of authoritarian movements in Europe also appeared to draw a blank, as did South and Southeast Asia (apart from the cave rescue).

And, despite the multi-trillion-dollar commitment by the United States to stabilizing and securing the Middle East region over the last two decades, there wasn’t much evidence of its existence on network television besides the last throes of the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and the Khashoggi killing. Iraq, to which Washington has sent well over a million troops since the 2003 invasion, didn’t even make the top 30 foreign stories in 2018.

Both Israel and Iran can probably take some satisfaction from their relatively small media footprint last year. The increasingly bellicose fulminations from Trump, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo against Tehran are unlikely to get much popular backing — let alone public enthusiasm for a new military conflict in the Middle East — in the absence of far more intense (and negative) coverage of the kind that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been getting since the Khashoggi murder.

Israel, too, can be happy with its relative obscurity. Despite the hundreds of casualties inflicted by Israeli bullets on Palestinian demonstrators along the Gaza border last year, coverage of Israel-Palestine actually fell by nearly 50 percent, from the 42 minutes the networks devoted to the conflict in 2017, which was already a record low, to a mere 29, according to Tyndall’s calculations over the previous 30 years.

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

Jim Lobe joined IPS in 1979 and opened its Washington, D.C., bureau in 1980, serving as bureau chief for most of the years since. He founded his popular blog dedicated to United Stated foreign policy in 2007. Jim is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy for IPS, particularly the neo–conservative influence in the former George W. Bush administration. He has also written for Foreign Policy In Focus, AlterNet, The American Prospect and Tompaine.com, among numerous other outlets. 



THE ANGRY ARAB: Camp David and the Ongoing Crisis of Palestine

Recently published book by Carter official says the president was initially hostile to Sadat’s initiative toward Israel because Carter saw it as “the end of any hope of a comprehensive peace,” says As’ad AbuKhalil in this review.

Carter Worried Bilateral Israel-Egypt
Deal
Would Undermine Regional Peace

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

One would think there isn’t anything new to be said about the Camp David negotiations of 1978. There are enough books about the accords and about Egyptian-Israeli peace to fill a book case.

But the recent book by Stuart Eizenstat, President Carter: the White House Years (Thomas Dunne Books, 2018), adds information and insights to the plethora of works on the subject. It’s clear Eizenstat, a domestic policy advisor to Jimmy Carter, kept copious notes (as detailed as the notes of H. R. Haldeman in Nixon’s White House) during his years of service. And he supplemented his account by conducting interviews with Carter and other U.S. and foreign officials.

This book could emerge as one of the definitive accounts (in over a 1000 pages) of the Carter White House years, as far as the Middle East is concerned. Eizenstat was heavily involved in Mideast policy making though he wasn’t a specialist in foreign policy. But the administration relied on him as a liaison with U.S. Jewish organizations and as a back channel to the Israeli government.

Eizenstat admits “there is no other issue in American foreign policy where domestic politics intrudes more directly than the Middle East” (p. 409). While Eizenstat has a record of staunch support for Israel and hostility to its enemies—whoever they are—he does offer a few criticisms of the Israeli lobby and of the Israeli government.

At a time when Rep. Ilhan Omar has been accused of anti-Semitism merely for suggesting that AIPAC uses its financial muscle to promote its congressional agenda, Eizenstat’s statements in this regard would have been characterized as anti-Semitic if articulated by Omar or her other fellow Muslim representative, Rashida Tlaib.

He says he helped draft a speech on Arab-Israeli issues to be delivered in “New Jersey,” he wrote, “because it would be crucial to Jews in key northeastern states, as well as Florida and California” (p. 412). Of course, one can’t today speak of a “Jewish lobby.” It could be perceived as anti-Semitic. It’s also inaccurate because the pro-Israeli lobby extends far beyond the Jewish community.

Evangelical Christians, on the whole, appear to be more fanatical supporters of Israel than Jewish Americans. On the subject of Israel, there is more diversity of opinion inside the Jewish community than there is among Southern Baptists.

Carter Camp Divisions

The book explains clearly that the administration was divided between two camps: National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. Vance was motivated more by human rights while Brzezinski spoke for a less pro-Israeli foreign policy, largely from the standpoint of securing Arab support against the USSR.

Domestic policy advisors were solidly in support of the traditional pro-Israel line because they feared the impact on Carter’s prospects for re-election. Carter wavered between the two groups, Eisenstat writes. But he eventually surrendered to Israeli dictates in the negotiations. Even that wasn’t sufficient politically: Carter was perceived as hostile to Israeli interests and his support among Jewish voters, according to the author, plummeted to 40 percent in 1980.

Eizenstat reveals that Carter was initially hostile to Sadat’s initiative toward Israel in November 1977 because the president saw it as “the end of any hope of a comprehensive peace and will result only at best in a bilateral agreement between Egypt and Israel.” (p. 472). Carter was right but he went along with the initiative anyway.

Eizenstat’s account reflects the typical American bias of favoring pro-U.S. despots over despots who are not aligned with the U.S. Egyptian dictator, Anwar Sadat, receives glowing treatment by the author—who bizarrely insists on referring to him as “general” (p. 430) when Sadat never commanded troops in his life and his military role in his youth was rather minimal. It is possible that Eizenstat was deceived by Sadat’s fancy and elaborate military uniform, which was designed for him by Pierre Cardin.

Worse, he glosses over, or ignores, the anti-Semitism of Sadat, who referred to the Israeli lobby as “US Jews lobby” (p. 482), and who designed his overture toward Israel purely out of his “perception of the political influence of American Jews.” (p. 471) But what is disturbing is that Eizenstat justifies Sadat’s famous admiration for Hitler by maintaining that it was “less for his violent anti-Semitism than his opposition to the British.” (p. 430).

But that lame excuse could apply to the meeting between Hajj Amin Husseini (leader of the Palestinian national movement prior to the founding of the state of Israel) and Hitler, which has been used for decades to discredit the Palestinian national movement and to frame it as anti-Semitic. If the opposition to the British was the motive for Sadat’s admiration for Hitler, could that factor not also apply to Hajj Amin too? Surely, Hajj Amin could not admire the Nazi ideology where Arabs were perceived as an inferior race, described by Hitler as “painted half-apes.” And if the author describes Hafidh Al-Asad of Syria as a “brutal dictator”—which he was—he should have used the same term for Sadat.

3-Way Special Relationship

The author does not shy away from underlining the role of the Israeli lobby. He refers to the “special triangular relationship among Israel, the American Jewish leadership, and the Congress in effectively applying pressure on the presidency to modify U.S. policy to Israel’s benefit.” (p. 437). If Ilhan Omar or another Arab member of Congress were to offer such an explanation of the role of the lobby there would have been a hue and cry and calls for resignation. And Eisenstat was wrong in referring exclusively to the Jewish leadership in this regard when Evangelical Christians have become the guardians of Likud interests in the Republican Party.

Eisenstat, however, does not shy away from expressing outrage at Israeli interference in U.S. domestic politics; he writes about Moshe Dayan’s offer to help Carter with his domestic problems, “This was an amazing intrusion into domestic politics by a foreign minister, even from a friendly country,” Eisenstat writes (p. 466).

The author reinforces the view that then Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin fiercely defended the interests of the occupation state during the Camp David negotiations, while Sadat was casual about the whole process and disregarded his own advisors when they tried to defend Egyptian interests and sovereignty.

It also becomes clear that the PLO’s stance against Sadat and the talks was correct and that neither Sadat nor Begin were serious about offering meaningful sovereignty to the Palestinian people. While Carter initially sought to offer political rights to the Palestinians, he quickly abandoned the goal once he saw that Sadat and Begin were only interested in a bilateral agreement.

Eisenstat confirms that Begin did indeed lie to Carter: that he initially offered a settlement freeze for 5 years not for 3 months—as Begin later claimed. The author says that Carter took this lie as a personal insult and it affected his view of Israel, although he never spoke about that while president. What is disturbing about this book is that Eisenstat confirms what we have known all along: that the idea of a Holocaust museum (which came out of the office of Eisenstat during Carter’s administration) was not motivated by a desire to inform Americans of the horrific tragedy, but was instead a cynical manipulation of “Jewish American voters” who were disenchanted with Carter(p. 487).

This book underlines the devastation that the Camp David accords afflicted on the Middle East region. The U.S. secured the withdrawal of Egypt and its army from the Arab-Israeli conflict in order to permit Israel to commit more aggression and occupation against a variety of Arab territories without worrying about retribution from the Egyptian army. Far from being proud of his peace achievement, Carter should be ashamed of his role in brokering an expensive bilateral treaty—against the wishes of the Egyptian people, and contrary to the vision of a Palestinian “homeland”–which Carter had promised back in March 1977.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism” (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

If you value this original article, please consider making a donation to Consortium News so we can bring you more stories like this one. Please give to our end-of-year fund drive, by clicking Donate.




‘Rule of the Rabbis’ Fuels Holy War in Israel

Palestinians, the secular and women all face a harsher environment as theocratic tendencies are entrenched, writes Jonathan Cook.

By JonathanCook
Jonathan-Cook.net

In which country did a senior, state-salaried cleric urge his followers last month to become “warriors,” emulating a group of young men who had murdered a woman of another faith?

The cleric did so with impunity. In fact, he was only echoing other highly placed colleagues who have endorsed a book – again without penalty – urging their disciples to murder babies belonging to other religions.

Where can the head of the clergy call black people “monkeys” and urge the expulsion of other religious communities?

Where does a clerical elite wield so much power that they alone decide who can marry or get divorced – and are backed by a law that can jail someone who tries to wed without their approval? They can even shut down the national railway system without notice.

Where are these holy men so feared that women are scrubbed from billboards, college campuses introduce gender segregation to appease them, and women find themselves literally pushed to the back of the bus?

Is the country Saudi Arabia? Or Myanmar? Or perhaps, Iran?

No. It is Israel, the world’s only self-declared Jewish state.

 ‘Shared Values’

There is barely a politician in Washington seeking election who has not at some point declared an “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel, or claimed the two uphold “shared values.” Few, it seems, have any idea what values Israel really represents.

There are many grounds for criticizing Israel, including its brutal oppression of Palestinians under occupation and its system of institutionalized segregation and discrimination against the fifth of its population who are not Jewish – its Palestinian minority.

But largely ignored by critics have been Israel’s increasing theocratic tendencies.

This hasn’t simply proved regressive for Israel’s Jewish population, especially women, as the rabbis exert ever greater control over the lives of religious and secular Jews alike.

It also has alarming implications for Palestinians, both under occupation and those living in Israel, as a national conflict with familiar colonial origins is gradually transformed into a holy war, fuelled by extremist rabbis with the state’s implicit blessing.

Control of Personal Status

Despite Israel’s founding fathers being avowedly secular, the separation between church and state in Israel has always been flimsy at best – and it is now breaking down at an ever-accelerating rate.

After Israel’s establishment, David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, decided to subordinate important areas of life for Israeli Jews to the jurisdiction of an Orthodox rabbinate, representing the strictest, most traditional and conservative stream of Judaism. Other, more liberal streams have no official standing in Israel to this day.

Ben Gurion’s decision in part reflected a desire to ensure his new state embraced two differing conceptions of Jewishness: both those who identified as Jews in a secular ethnic or cultural sense, and those who maintained the religious traditions of Judaism. He hoped to fuse the two into a new notion of a Jewish “nationality”.

For that reason, the Orthodox rabbis were given exclusive control over important parts of the public sphere – personal status matters, such as conversions, births, deaths and marriages.

Biblical Justifications

Bolstering the rabbis’ power was the urgent need of Israel’s secular leaders to obscure the state’s settler-colonial origins. This could be achieved by using education to emphasize Biblical justifications for the usurpation by Jews of the lands of the native Palestinian population.

As the late peace activist Uri Avnery observed, the Zionist claim was “based on the Biblical history of the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, the kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon … Israeli schools teach the Bible as real history.”

Such indoctrination, combined with a much higher birth rate among religious Jews, has contributed to an explosion in the numbers identifying as religious. They now comprise half the population.

Today, about a quarter of Israeli Jews belong to the Orthodox stream, which reads the Torah literally, and one in seven belong to the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim, the most fundamentalist of the Jewish religious streams. Forecasts suggest that in 40 years the latter will comprise a third of the country’s Jewish population.

‘Conquer the Government’

Both the growing power and extremism of the Orthodox in Israel was highlighted in the last week of January when one of their most influential rabbis, Shmuel Eliyahu, publicly came to the defense of five students accused of murdering Aisha Rabi, a Palestinian mother of eight. Back in October they stoned her car near Nablus, in the occupied West Bank, forcing her off the road.

Eliyahu is the son of a former chief rabbi of Israel, Mordechai Eliyahu, and himself sits on the Chief Rabbinical Council, which controls many areas of life for Israelis. He is also the municipal rabbi of Safed, a city that in Judaism has the equivalent status of Medina in Islam or Bethlehem in Christianity, so his words carry a great deal of weight with Orthodox Jews.

Last month, a video came to light of a talk he gave at the seminary where the five accused studied, in the illegal settlement of Rehelim, south of Nablus.

Eliyahu not only praised the five as “warriors” but told fellow students that they needed to overthrow the “rotten” secular court system. He told them it was vital to “conquer the government” too, but without guns or tanks. “You have to take the state’s key positions,” he urged them.

Law-Breaking Judges

In truth, that process is already well-advanced.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who should have been the first to denounce Eliyahu’s comments, is closely aligned with religious settlers. Tellingly, she and other government ministers have maintained a studious silence.

That is because the political representatives of Israel’s religious Jewish communities, including the settlers, have now become the lynchpin of Israeli coalition governments. They are the kingmakers and can extract enormous concessions from other parties.

For some time, Shaked has been using her position to bring more openly nationalistic and religious judges into the legal system, including to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.

Two of its current 15 judges, Noam Sohlberg and David Mintz, are law-breakers, openly living in West Bank settlements in violation of international law. Several more judges appointed to the bench by Shaked are religious and conservative.

This is a significant victory for the Orthodox religious and the settlers. The court is the last line of defence for the secular against an assault on their religious freedoms and on gender equality.

And the court offers the only recourse for Palestinians seeking to mitigate the worst excesses of the violent and discriminatory policies of the Israeli government, army and settlers.

Chosen People

Shaked’s colleague, Naftali Bennett, another ideologue of the settlement movement, has been education minister in the Netanyahu government for four years. This post has long been a critical one for the Orthodox because it shapes Israel’s next generation.

After decades of concessions to the rabbis, Israel’s school system is already heavily skewed towards religion. A survey in 2016 showed 51 percent of Jewish pupils attended sex-segregated religious schools, which emphasise Biblical dogma – up from 33 percent only 15 years earlier.

This may explain why a recent poll found that 51 percent believe Jews have a divine right to the land of Israel, and slightly more – 56 percent – believe that Jews are a “chosen people”.

Those results are likely to get even worse in the coming years. Bennett has been placing much greater weight in the curriculum on Jewish tribal identity, Bible studies and religious claims to Greater Israel, including to the Palestinian territories – which he wants to annex.

Conversely, science and maths are increasingly downplayed in the education system, and entirely absent from schools for the ultra-Orthodox. Evolution, for example, has been mostly erased from the syllabus, even in secular schools.

‘No Mercy’ to Palestinians

Another key sphere of state power being taken over by the religious, and especially the settlers, are the security services. Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh lived for years in a settlement renowned for its violent attacks on Palestinians, and the force’s current chief rabbi, Rahamim Brachyahu, is also a settler.

Both have actively promoted a program, Believers in the Police, that recruits more religious Jews into the police force. Nahi Eyal, the programme’s founder, has said his aim is to help the settler community “find our way into the command ranks.”

The trend is even more entrenched in the Israeli military. Figures show that the national-religious community, to which settlers belong – though only 10 percent of the population – make up half of all new officer cadets. Half of Israel’s military academies are now religious.

That has translated into an increasing role for extremist Orthodox rabbis in motivating soldiers on the battlefield. In Israel’s 2008-09 ground invasion of Gaza, soldiers were issued with pamphlets by the army rabbinate using Biblical injunctions to persuade them to “show no mercy” to Palestinians.

Aggressive Youth Nationalism

Meanwhile, the rapidly growing ultra-Orthodox population has been encouraged by the government to move into West Bank settlements purpose-built for them, such as Modi’in Illit and Beitar Illit. That, in turn, is gradually fueling the emergence of an aggressive nationalism among their youth.

Once the Haredim were openly hostile, or at best ambivalent, towards Israeli state institutions, believing that a Jewish state was sacrilegious until the Messiah arrived to rule over Jews.

Now, for the first time, young Haredim are serving in the Israeli army, adding to the pressure on the military command to accommodate their religious fundamentalist ideology. A new term for these hawkish Haredi soldiers has been coined: they are known as the “Hardal.”

Brachyahu and rabbis for the Hardal are among the senior rabbis who have endorsed a terrifying book, the King’s Torah, written by two settler rabbis, that urges Jews to treat non-Jews, and specifically Palestinians, mercilessly.

It offers God’s blessing for Jewish terror – not only against Palestinians who try to resist their displacement by settlers, but against all Palestinians, even babies, on the principle that “it is clear that they will grow [up] to harm us.”

Gender Segregation Expands

The dramatic rise in religiosity is creating internal problems for Israeli society too, especially for the shrinking secular population and for women. Posters for the forthcoming election – as with adverts more generally – are being cleaned of women’s faces in parts of the country to avoid causing offence.

Last month, the Supreme Court criticized Israel’s Council for Higher Education for allowing segregation between men and women in college classrooms to spread to the rest of the campus, including libraries and communal areas. Female students and lecturers are facing “modesty” dress codes.

The council has even announced that it intends to expand segregation because it is proving difficult to persuade religious Jews to attend higher education.

Violence of the Mob

Israel has always been a society deeply structured to keep Israeli Jews and Palestinians apart, both physically and in terms of rights. That is equally true for Israel’s large Palestinian minority, a fifth of the population, who live almost entirely apart from Jews in segregated communities. Their children are kept away from Jewish children in separate schools.

But the greater emphasis in Israel on a religious definition of Jewishness means that Palestinians now face not only the cold structural violence designed by Israel’s secular founders, but additionally a hot-tempered, Biblically sanctioned hostility from religious extremists.

That is most keenly evident in the rapid rise of physical assaults on Palestinians and their property, as well as their holy places, in Israel and the occupied territories. Among Israelis, this violence is legitimized as “price tag” attacks, as though Palestinians have brought such harm on themselves.

YouTube is now full of videos of gun- or baton-wielding settlers attacking Palestinians, typically as they try to access their olive groves or springs, while Israeli soldiers stand passively by or assist.

Arson attacks have spread from olive groves to Palestinian homes, sometimes with horrifying results, as families are burned alive.

Rabbis such as Eliyahu have stoked this new wave of attacks with their Biblical justifications. State terrorism and mob violence have merged.

Destroying al-Aqsa

The biggest potential flashpoint is in occupied East Jerusalem, where the growing symbolic and political power of these Messianic rabbis risks exploding at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Secular politicians have long played with fire at this Islamic holy site, using archaeological claims to try to convert it into a symbol of historic Jewish entitlement to the land, including the occupied territories.

But their claim that the mosque is built over two Jewish temples, the last of which was destroyed two millennia ago, has been rapidly reconfigured for incendiary, modern political purposes.

The growing influence of religious Jews in parliament, the government, the courts and the security services means that officials grow ever bolder in staking a physical claim to sovereignty over al-Aqsa.

It also entails an ever-greater indulgence towards religious extremists who demand more than physical control over the mosque site. They want al-Aqsa destroyed and replaced with a Third Temple.

The Gathering Holy War

Slowly, Israel is transforming a settler-colonial project against the Palestinians into a battle with the wider Islamic world. It is turning a territorial conflict into a holy war.

The demographic growth of Israel’s religious population, the cultivation by the school system of an ever-more extreme ideology based on the Bible, the takeover of the state’s key power centers by the religious, and the emergence of a class of influential rabbis who preach genocide against Israel’s neighbors has set the stage for a perfect storm in the region.

The question now is at what point will Israel’s allies, in the US and Europe, finally wake up to the catastrophic direction Israel is heading in – and find the will to take the necessary action to stop it.

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. He blogs at https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/.




Mike Pompeo’s Deranged Foreign Policy

The U.S. secretary of state is a Christian zealot who sees the U.S. as incapable of doing ill, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson
TothePointAnalysis.com

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo started out the new year—the date was Jan. 10—preaching “the truth” about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and for reasons we will get to below, he chose to do so at the American University in Cairo. He implied that he was particularly capable of discerning the truth because he is “an evangelical Christian” who keeps a “Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and His Word, and The Truth.” This confession indicates that Pompeo is wearing ideological glasses through which he cannot possibly see the world, much less the Middle East, in an objective fashion. We can assume that the decidedly unthinking and amoral president he serves has no problem with this prophet in the State Department because Pompeo is one of the few cabinet ministers whom President Donald Trump has not fired. 

So what are Pompeo’s versions of foreign policy truth? In terms of his Cairo pronouncements, they are twofold. First, as is to be expected of a man of his temperament (he declared: “I am a military man” who learned his “basic code of integrity” at West Point), he has identified the true enemy of the civilized world. And, again not unexpectedly given his Christian zealotry, the enemy is of Muslim origin. It is the “tenacious and vicious” cabal of “radical Islamism, a debauched strain of the faith that seeks to upend every other form of worship or governance.” 

Notable Omissions

This initial “truth” is noteworthy for what it does not take into consideration, such as traditional U.S. alliances with brutal and corrupt military or monarchical dictatorships. Any move to reduce support for such regimes in the Middle East is, in Pompeo’s view, a “misjudgment” that must have “dire results.” As long as these dictatorships oppose what Pompeo opposes, their brutality and corrupt nature can be judged acceptable. For example, Pompeo praised his host, the military dictator of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil El-Sisi, who is an archetypical example of this murderous breed of ruler. He praised El-Sisi exactly because he has joined the U.S. in the suppression of “Islamists.” The Egyptian dictator, in Pompeo’s words, is “a man of courage.”

Pompeo’s second “truth” is the self-evident fact of American exceptionalism. He told his listeners that “America is a force for good in the Middle East.” Pompeo does not articulate the reference, but his claim taps into the Christian image of the U.S. as “a shining city on the hill”—a God-blessed light unto the nations. This was one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite themes. 

As proof of American’s alleged beneficence, Pompeo makes a series of dubious claims about the behavior of the United States government. Here are a few. Comments within brackets are those of this author: 

“For those who fret about the use of American power, remember this: (No.1) America has always been, and always will be, a liberating force.” [Since World War II we have been liberating dictators from their own rebelling people.] (No.2) “We assembled a coalition to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.” [The subsequent two Gulf Wars plus the U.S. imposed sanctions regime killed at least half-a-million Iraqis.] (No.3) “And when the mission is over, when the job is complete, America leaves.” [Unless the “liberated” countries’ government wants Washington to establish bases which, it seems, they almost always do. The U.S. now has some 800 military bases in 70 countries around the world.] (No. 4) The U.S. and its allies helped destroy most of ISIS, and in the process “saved thousands of lives.”[There is no official number for the civilians killed in the so-called war on terror, of which the campaign against ISIS is but a part. However, there is no doubt that, to date, it is at least in the high hundreds of thousands. ] (No.5) “Life is returning to normal for millions of Iraqis and Syrians.” [Unless you have a really perverse definition of “normal,” this is a total fantasy.]

Rescuing Foreign Policy

According to Pompeo, achievements No. 4 and No. 5 are due to the “fact” that President Donald Trump rescued U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Rescued? Rescued from what? From the foreign policy of Barack Obama, of course.

“America, your long-time friend, was absent too much. Why? Because our leaders gravely misread our history, and your historical moment. These fundamental misunderstandings, were set forth in this city in 2009.”

That claim was a direct reference to former President Obama’s speech calling for a “new relationship with the Muslim world” delivered on June 4, 2009, at nearby Cairo University. That is why Pompeo came to Egypt to make his speech, which is in essence, an indictment of Obama’s foreign policy. 

In brief, in 2009 Obama, who also claimed in his Cairo talk to be speaking the truth, had referenced the negative impact of Western imperial and colonial history toward the Middle East, and then took a pro-democracy stance that, if carried into policy, would have weakened support for traditional dictatorships in places like Egypt. Obama saw a connection between the brutality of such dictatorships and the spread of religious fanaticism—a connection that was stronger than “radical Islamist” ideology alone. Obama also implied that President George W. Bush’s post 9/11 policy, which led not only to the unnecessary invasion of Iraq, but also to a policy of official torture, resulted in the United States “acting contrary to our ideals.” In addition, Obama was ready to negotiate with those seen as enemies by Pompeo, as symbolized by his willingness to make a deal with Iran. 

Pompeo, the Christian zealot who sees the U.S. as incapable of doing ill, cannot objectively consider or perhaps even understand Obama’s positions. He dismisses them as a “misreading” of history. Obama’s brief and, in truth, largely ineffective, wavering from traditional Middle East foreign policy had, in Pompeo’s view, introduced “the age of self-inflicted American shame.” If Pompeo is short on historical understanding, he is long on hyperbole. 

Retreat and Chaos

One of Pompeo’s more disquieting propositions is that “when America retreats, chaos often follows.”

Alas, at least in the Middle East, the exact opposite is true—chaos comes from invasion. This can be demonstrated by the consequences of the actions of President George W. Bush. It was Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the results of which were predictable, that opened the region to chaos, including the growth of ISIS. The Iraq invasion also opened the flood gates of an ongoing refugee crisis (which the Syrian civil war—arguably prolonged by U.S. involvement—made even worse). Subsequent intervention in Libya, under Obama’s watch, only intensified the turmoil. However, none of these actions, or the misery they inflicted, seems have bothered the Christian sensibilities of Pompeo.

Examining the history of events can give us guides, albeit imperfect ones, for present policies and behaviors. A necessary precondition to making the most of this examination is the ability to do so as objectively as possible. Otherwise, to use Pompeo’s phrasing, we end up “making bad mistakes.” Part of the process is to be able to recognize the actual causes of events and to know when to discard traditional practices that no longer take you where you want to go.

Yet here is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisting, on the one hand, on maintaining outworn policies that support dictators. These policies have not produced the stability he thinks they have, but have rather helped bring about the very chaos he attributes to Obama. On the other hand, his Christian fundamentalism has blinded him to any objective understanding of Middle East history and America’s role in that region. That is why he ends up stating contradictions. For instance, toward the end of his talk he tells us (No. 1) “the Trump administration will also continue to press for a real and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians” and (No. 2) “we’ve adhered to our word. President Trump campaigned on the promise to recognize Jerusalem—the seat of Israel’s government—as the nation’s capital. In May, we moved our embassy there.” Those two statements are in direct contradiction to each other. However, Pompeo misses this fact entirely. This is a product of ideology compounded by ignorance.

This being the case, Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump make for strange bedfellows. Of course, both are ignorant. But, the nearest thing Trump has to an ideology is his egotism and that infamous “gut” of his that ostensibly tells him what is right and wrong. He certainly is not a believing Christian nor even an American chauvinist, but rather he is a personal chauvinist who thinks of himself as a personification of the U.S.

If Pompeo and Trump share anything (besides ignorance), it seems to be a firm dislike for everything connected to Obama. We know that Trump may well be obsessed with Obama, perhaps for racist reasons. As one Democratic Party adviser has noted, “His [Trump’s] only guiding principle seems to be to undo what Obama did. His driving motivation seems to be his animosity towards Obama.” Mike Pompeo seems in lockstep with his boss in this regard. After all, Pompeo went out of the way to indict Obama, blaming him for the death of thousands, and doing so in the same city where Obama gave his most promising Middle East initiative. Pompeo’s actions in this regard were personal and spiteful. 

So here we have it. What motivates Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: (No. 1) Christian zealotry (No. 2) American exceptionalism and (No. 3) a personal dislike of the first black president of the United States. In terms of the position he holds in the government, this is a losing combination for the rest of us. Personally, I would not trust this man to guide the ongoing relationships between my own neighbors and me, so you can imagine my horror at having to put up with him as secretary of state.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.




The Unwritten Rule Between the US and Hizbullah

The two sides have long agreed to keep their hostilities covert, writes As`ad AbuKhalil, but Israel would like that to change.  

By As`ad AbuKhalil
in Beirut
Special to Consortium News

David Hale, the U.S. under secretary for political affairs, went to Beirut last week to make anti-Iranian comments, to worry publicly about the destabilizing effects of Hizbollah in the region and to make it clear that, after Lebanon’s elections in May, the composition of the new cabinet, which has been taking months to form, is an American matter. 

His visit, in other words, made it clear that the U.S. will continue interfering in internal Lebanese affairs.

As Hale’s boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, talks up the strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, Hale may have been interested in reviving the Saudi local coalition in Lebanon. In the past that group was clustered under the March 14 Alliance, which came together in 2005 to oppose the regime in Syria and to push the Saudi-American-French agenda in Lebanon. 

Despite the overwhelming support of Western governments, Western media and Western human rights organizations, that coalition has fallen apart. And despite the usual U.S. and Saudi intervention and funding of its constituent elements in the last election, those candidates fared poorly. Some Shi`ite candidates who received Western and Saudi support drew no more than a hundred votes, and in one case, even less than that.

Hizbollah Wins Votes    

Hizbullah candidates, by contrast, did very well, proving yet again that the party has the overwhelming support of the Shi`ite community.

Given the furor that Israel is raising over attack tunnels that it claims Hizbullah is building into its territory, it’s safe to presume, that Hale’s visit was made at the  behest of Israel and aimed at bolstering a regional front against Hizbullah.

But that work is already complete. The Saudi-UAE alliance, have already declared Hizbullah a terrorist organization. The club of Gulf Arab despots is already aligned with the U.S. in its regional machinations. 

Instead, the big problem that the U.S. faces in Lebanon is the dislike of the people. It’s unpopular. Its anti-Hizbullah agenda — which is partly but not fully dictated by the Israeli lobby— puts it squarely on the side of Arab despots and Israel, both of which are widely despised in the region.

The U.S. has never considered its presence in Lebanon during the 1980s — on the side of Israeli militias notorious for committing war crimesas an occupying force. But that is how many Lebanese saw it.

However, time has passed in that regard, at least for some. Two parties — the Amal and the Progressive Socialist Party — both had militias that fought U.S.  forces. And both those parties now enjoy good relations with the U.S.

In Lebanon, the main thorn in the side of the U.S. is Hizbullah, as has been the case for decades.

Hizbullah, which is both a political party and a fighting force, officially established itself in 1985 with the issuance of its manifesto to the world. But it was born a few years earlier, during the tumultuous and horrific events that surrounded the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, when the suffering of the southern Lebanese population spawned a new wave of radicalization that was sponsored and supported by the Iranian regime.

Starting Point Conflict

Its conflict with the U.S. began in that formative period, between 1982 and 1984, when U.S.  troops were stationed in Lebanon to support and uphold the rule of right-wing sectarian militias aligned with Israel.  It was during that time,  in 1983, that the U.S. embassy in Beirut was bombed. A few months later, a U.S. Marine compound, which included French soldiers, was bombed as well.

A long-running dispute surrounds the question of who carried out the attacks. The U.S.  remains convinced that Hizbullah and that one of its key leaders — Imad Mughniyyah personally—was responsible. After the attacks the U.S. and Israel labelled Hizbullah a terrorist organization.

Hizbullah is unwavering in its declaration of the U.S. as an enemy of Lebanon and all “downtrodden people” (although the latter phrase is used less and less). But it denies attacking the barracks or embassy. It also distances itself from the Islamic Jihad Organization, which claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Despite the heated rhetoric that the two sides use against each other, the U.S. and Hizbullah have avoided direct military confrontation over the years. Instead they have fought proxy battles, from Iraq to Yemen to Syria.  Even the U.S. assassination of Imad Mughniyyah in 2008 was not—from the standpoint of the U.S.  government–really a violation of the unspoken rule of direct combat since the U.S. has made it clear that it held Mughniyyah responsible for the attacks on U.S. targets in Lebanon. 

The U.S. has been fully supportive of Israeli wars on Hizbullah (and on Lebanon as a whole), hoping that Israel would finish off the party. 

A Turning Point 

In 2006, the U.S.  was unconditional in its sponsorship and support for Israel. But Hizbullah held its ground better than any Arab army that Israel had faced over the decades. The outcome for Israel, was an embarrassing retreat.

Since then, the might and skill of Hizbullah in facing Israeli occupation and aggression seem only to increase with every new war and every new confrontation. Regardless of one’s assessment of Hizbullah’s intervention in Syria, its fighters accumulated a unique battle experience there, along different fronts—which can only decrease Israeli confidence in its abilities vis-à-vis the party in the future round of war.

The U.S. does not want a military conflict with one of the most effective and popular militias in the Arab East. And Hizbullah does not want to add more conflicts to its plate. It is already actively engaged in regional conflicts and does not wish to start a global confrontation with the U.S.

But Israel, since its founding, has tried to make its enemies the enemies of the U.S. During the long years of the Cold War, the Israeli propaganda machine was desperately searching the Arabic press to find statements that could be twisted to portray Israel’s enemies — whether Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser; or Ba`thist leaders, or the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat —  as Soviet tools. 

When Nasser and the Palestine Liberation Organization were indicating their desire for good relations with the U.S., Israeli was intent on portraying them both as the sworn enemies of the U.S.

Keeping the Fight Covert

Since its invasion of the Middle East after Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. has preferred to keep its own fight with Hizbullah covert while supporting the direct Israeli war on Hizbullah.

Israel, however, after suffering that stunning defeat in July of 2006, has become increasingly intent on having the U.S. engage Hizbullah directly. This is something that has been made clear in the speeches of Israeli leaders and in the unending supply of legislation sponsored by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, targeting Hizbullah.

As the Trump administration tinkers with the idea of retreating militarily from the Middle East — despite the opposition of the war lobby — it cannot possibly welcome a war between Israel and Hizbollah that could could spiral into a wider conflict and drag the U.S. into a heavier military intervention in the region. 

What the U.S. wants now is to create a front to challenge Iran and its allies throughout the region. But the front could not add to what already is a long list of sanctions against Iran and Hizbullah and the placement of their names onterrorist lists and watch lists.  None of that, however, is sufficient for the occupation state of Israel.  After failing to dislodge Hizbullah in one of the longest wars of its history in 2006, Israel urgently wants the U.S.  to take a shot on its behalf.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

If you value this original article, please consider making a donation to Consortium News so we can bring you more stories like this one. Please give to our end-of-year fund drive, by clicking Donate.

Please visit our Facebook page where you can join the conversation by commenting on our articles to help defeat Facebook censorship.  While you are there please like and follow us, and share this piece!