George H.W. Bush’s Bitter Legacy in the Middle East

The avalanche of funeral hagiography drowned any possible discussion of what Bush did to the Middle East. As’ad AbuKhalil writes that he rallied despots against Iraq and established a new, tyrannical security order in the region.  

Sequel to ‘British Betrayal’ of WWI

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

Any sober assessment of late President George H.W. Bush’s political legacy was drowned last week by the avalanche of hagiography by the mainstream media. This served, in part, the role of catharsis. The more loudly the members of the media praised Bush, whose family has testy relations with President Donald Trump, the more it helped them vent their animosity towards the current president.  

Lost in this anti-historical, fact-free binge was any possible discussion of Bush’s most important legacies, one of which is certainly his great fake-out of Arab interests in the Middle East. Almost every U.S. president since Harry S. Truman has been more pro-Israel than his predecessor. The sole exception to this was George H.W. Bush. But via the war against Iraq, his administration wound up embracing Israeli interests and regional hegemony to such a degree that it left lasting damage to peace and stability in the region. 

H.W. Bush was adept at changing ideologies to suit the venue. The man who emerged from the “moderate” wing of the East Coast Republican Party became the political heir of President Ronald Reagan, who wooed the Religious Right and made abortion a litmus test for all Supreme Court nominees. 

While Bush did not leave a presidential memoir, (he is the first since Franklin D. Roosevelt not to do so), he did coauthor a book with Brent Scowcroft, his national security advisor, “A World Transformed.”  This offers evidence of Bush’s close ties with Arab Gulf despots and the deposed Egyptian strongman Husni Mubarak, who served as his chief advisor on the region. 

Bush was obviously impressed by the fabulous wealth and hospitality of Arab potentates.  At one point in the book, during a stay in one of King Fahd’s marble guest palaces, he marvels at the chandeliers, the air conditioning and goes on at length about a lavish state dinner. “I had never seen so much—and of nearly every conceivable type of food.” 

Wealthy Arab Friends 

Bush’s ties with wealthy Arabs served him well. Lebanese businessman Najad Isam Faris and Syrian businessman Jamale Daniel helped the business career of Bush’s son, Neil. With his network of Gulf associates, Bush served as a prized advisor to the Carlyle Group, the global, private equity firm based in Washington, D.C., with a specialty of investing in companies that depend on government contracts.

Bush’s footprints in the region begin with his oil-business years in Texas. At that point, in the 1950s, oil companies often served as a chief lobbying force for Gulf regimes against the Israeli lobby. This was not due to any humanitarian concern for the plight of the Palestinian people. It was due to the usual financial motivation. The Israel lobby opposed closer ties between the U.S. and all Arab countries, which compelled oil businesses to defend their Gulf suppliers. Since the Israeli lobby opposed U.S. arms sales to Middle East regimes, it had other big-business opponents as well.

Later in his life, Bush also dealt with the Middle East as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as director of the CIA. (The deputy chief of Saudi intelligence during Bush’s time at the CIA, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, was one of the few foreign dignitaries invited to attend the funeral). 

When the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, paid tribute last week to Bush  he concealed a long history of Israeli detestation for the man. 

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As Ronald Reagan’s vice president, Bush—along with James Baker, the White House chief of staff, and Caspar Weinberger, the secretary of defense—had the coolest attitudes towards Israel of any in the administration, which was otherwise loaded with ardent Zionists. Bush was vilified for his 1991 remark that he was a “one lonely guy” battling “a thousand lobbyists on the Hill.”

Nonetheless Bush toed the pro-Israeli line and championed the cause of Soviet Jewish dissidents and the sponsorship of the emigration of Jews from Ethiopia, Syria and the former Soviet Union to Israel.  He also recruited ardent Zionists (Jack Kemp, Condoleezza Rice and Dennis Ross) for his administration.

As president, Bush was branded an anti-Semite in 1991 for “deferring” for 120 days $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel. He did this to prevent Israel from putting the money toward settlements in the occupied lands of 1967. Bush was also trying to persuade Israel to join the U.S.-sponsored peace process. 

Serious About Settlements

This was the only time the U.S. government treated the settlements and the Israeli role in the peace process as a serious matter. The Obama administration did voice mild protestations about the settlements, which violate international law. But after Bush, the settlements never again caused any serious irritation to U.S.-Israeli relations.

The Bush administration also, at one point, banned Ariel Sharon, the Israeli militarist and politician, from entering U.S. government buildings due to his statements against the U.S. role in the peace process. (When Jack Kemp, housing secretary at the time, wanted to meet with Sharon, James Baker instructed him to meet outside government offices). 

But in Iraq, the Bush administration began the process of removing a regime that the Israel government had been complaining about for years. This was before Israel discovered the Iranian danger. It was also many years after Israel rid itself of the Egyptian danger thanks to the Camp David Accords between the despotic Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the Israeli government under the auspices of the American human rights president, Jimmy Carter. Going forward, the U.S. bombed everything on Israel’s bombing wish list in Iraq.

Bush was intent on going to war against Iraq in 1990. He sent Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense, and Colin Powell, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, to Riyadh to persuade the king that U.S. troops were needed on the ground in Saudi Arabia to protect the kingdom from an Iraqi invasion (U.S. ships had moved before Cheney stepped foot on Saudi soil). 

Rallying Against Iraq 

The H.W.Bush administration rallied Arab despots against Iraq and established a regional tyrannical order. Even the Syrian regime rose above its previous conflicts with the U.S. and got on board. Together, they denied Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s president, the one condition that he sought for withdrawal. As Bush admits in the book he coauthored, that sole condition was access to the Persian Gulf.

From 1991 on, most members of the U.S. armed forces—especially the Air Force—began to train over (or on) Arab lands.  Today that means bases and military activities in Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Syria (illegally), not to mention other places where the U.S. maintains secret military and intelligence bases (it was leaked to the press a few years ago that Dubai hosts one of the largest CIA bases in the world). 

Bush exploited the Gulf War to impose a security regime where the U.S.—and not the local despotic clients—called the shots.  Furthermore, Bush introduced the misuse of the U.N. as “an added cloak of political cover for U.S. wars and actions,” as is described on page 416 of the book he coauthored.

In targeting Iraq, Bush begin to eliminate the biggest (albeit exaggerated) Arab military power. He also pushed Arab governments to sit face-to-face with Israel in Madrid without securing any concessions from Israel at all. 

The “peace process” under Bush was just as it had been under his predecessors and successors. It amounted to empty promises of U.S. rewards for Arab participation in the war on Iraq. It was a repeat of the “British betrayal” of World War I, when, in exchange for help fighting against the Ottoman Empire, Arabs thought they would earn  independence.

 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

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The Bushes’ ‘Death Squads’

George H.W. Bush was laid to rest on Wednesday but some of his murderous policies lived on through his son’s administration and until this day, as Robert Parry reported on January 11, 2005.

How George W. Bush Learned From His Father

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

By refusing to admit personal misjudgments on Iraq, George W. Bush instead is pushing the United States toward becoming what might be called a permanent “counter-terrorist” state, which uses torture, cross-border death squads and even collective punishments to defeat perceived enemies in Iraq and around the world.

Since securing a second term, Bush has pressed ahead with this hard-line strategy, in part by removing dissidents inside his administration while retaining or promoting his protégés. Bush also has started prepping his younger brother Jeb as a possible successor in 2008, which could help extend George W.’s war policies while keeping any damaging secrets under the Bush family’s control.

As a centerpiece of this tougher strategy to pacify Iraq, Bush is contemplating the adoption of the brutal practices that were used to suppress leftist peasant uprisings in Central America in the 1980s. The Pentagon is “intensively debating” a new policy for Iraq called the “Salvador option,” Newsweek magazine reported on Jan. 9.

The strategy is named after the Reagan-Bush administration’s “still-secret strategy” of supporting El Salvador’s right-wing security forces, which operated clandestine “death squads” to eliminate both leftist guerrillas and their civilian sympathizers, Newsweek reported. “Many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success – despite the deaths of innocent civilians,” Newsweek wrote.

Central America Veterans

The magazine also noted that a number of Bush administration officials were leading figures in the Central American operations of the 1980s, such as John Negroponte, who was then U.S. Ambassador to Honduras and is now U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.

Other current officials who played key roles in Central America include Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Central American policies at the State Department and who is now a Middle East adviser on Bush’s National Security Council staff, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a powerful defender of the Central American policies while a member of the House of Representatives.

The insurgencies in El Salvador and Guatemala were crushed through the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians. In Guatemala, about 200,000 people perished, including what a truth commission later termed a genocide against Mayan Indians in the Guatemalan highlands. In El Salvador, about 70,000 died including massacres of whole villages, such as the slaughter carried out by a U.S.-trained battalion against hundreds of men, women and children in and around the town of El Mozote in 1981. 

The Reagan-Bush strategy also had a domestic component, the so-called “perception management” operation that employed sophisticated propaganda to manipulate the fears of the American people while hiding the ugly reality of the wars. The Reagan-Bush administration justified its actions in Central America by portraying the popular uprisings as an attempt by the Soviet Union to establish a beachhead in the Americas to threaten the U.S. southern border.

[For details about how these strategies worked and the role of George H.W. Bush, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]

More Pain

By employing the “Salvador option” in Iraq, the U.S. military would crank up the pain, especially in Sunni Muslim areas where resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq has been strongest. In effect, Bush would assign other Iraqi ethnic groups the job of leading the “death squad” campaign against the Sunnis.

One Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Perhmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with discussions,” Newsweek reported.

Newsweek quoted one military source as saying, “The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving the terrorists. … From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.”

Citing the Central American experiences of many Bush administration officials, we wrote in November 2003 – more than a year ago – that many of these Reagan-Bush veterans were drawing lessons from the 1980s in trying to cope with the Iraqi insurgency. We pointed out, however, that the conditions were not parallel. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Iraq: Quicksand & Blood.”]

In Central America, powerful oligarchies had long surrounded themselves with ruthless security forces and armies. So, when uprisings swept across the region in the early 1980s, the Reagan-Bush administration had ready-made – though unsavory – allies who could do the dirty work with financial and technological help from Washington.

Iraqi Dynamic

A different dynamic exists in Iraq, because the Bush administration chose to disband rather than co-opt the Iraqi army. That left U.S. forces with few reliable local allies and put the onus for carrying out counterinsurgency operations on American soldiers who were unfamiliar with the land, the culture and the language.

Those problems, in turn, contributed to a series of counterproductive tactics, including the heavy-handed round-ups of Iraqi suspects, the torturing of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the killing of innocent civilians by jittery U.S. troops fearful of suicide bombings.

The war in Iraq also has undermined U.S. standing elsewhere in the Middle East and around the world. Images of U.S. soldiers sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners, putting bags over the heads of captives and shooting a wounded insurgent have blackened America’s image everywhere and made cooperation with the United States increasingly difficult even in countries long considered American allies.

Beyond the troubling images, more and more documents have surfaced indicating that the Bush administration had adopted limited forms of torture as routine policy, both in Iraq and the broader War on Terror. Last August, an FBI counterterrorism official criticized abusive practices at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more,” the official wrote. “When I asked the M.P.’s what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment, and the detainee was not to be moved. On another occasion … the detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night.”

Despite official insistence that torture is not U.S. policy, the blame for these medieval tactics continues to climb the chain of command toward the Oval Office. It appears to have been Bush’s decision after the Sept. 11 attacks to “take the gloves off,” a reaction understandable at the time but which now appears to have hurt, more than helped.

TV World

Many Americans have fantasized about how they would enjoy watching Osama bin Laden tortured to death for his admitted role in the Sept. 11 attacks. There is also a tough-guy fondness for torture as shown in action entertainment – like Fox Network’s “24” – where torture is a common-sense shortcut to get results.

But the larger danger arises when the exceptional case becomes the routine, when it’s no longer the clearly guilty al-Qaeda mass murderer, but it is now the distraught Iraqi father trying to avenge the death of his child killed by American bombs.

Rather than the dramatic scenes on TV, the reality is usually more like that desperate creature in Guantanamo lying in his own waste and pulling out his hair. The situation can get even worse when torture takes on the industrial quality of government policy, with subjects processed through the gulags or the concentration camps.

That also is why the United States and other civilized countries have long banned torture and prohibited the intentional killing of civilians. The goal of international law has been to set standards that couldn’t be violated even in extreme situations or in the passions of the moment.

Yet, Bush – with his limited world experience – was easily sold on the notion of U.S. “exceptionalism” where America’s innate goodness frees it from the legal constraints that apply to lesser countries.

Bush also came to believe in the wisdom of his “gut” judgments. After his widely praised ouster of Afghanistan’s Taliban government in late 2001, Bush set his sights on invading Iraq. Like a hot gambler in Las Vegas doubling his bets, Bush’s instincts were on a roll.

Now, however, as the Iraqi insurgency continues to grow and inflict more casualties on both U.S. troops and Iraqis who have thrown in their lot with the Americans, Bush finds himself facing a narrowing list of very tough choices.

Bush could acknowledge his mistakes and seek international help in extricating U.S. forces from Iraq. But Bush abhors admitting errors, even small ones. Plus, Bush’s belligerent tone hasn’t created much incentive for other countries to bail him out.

Instead Bush appears to be upping the ante by contemplating cross-border raids into countries neighboring Iraq. He also would be potentially expanding the war by having Iraqi Kurds and Shiites kill Sunnis, a prescription for civil war or genocide.

Pinochet Option

There’s a personal risk, too, for Bush if he picks the “Salvador option.” He could become an American version of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet or Guatemala’s Efrain Rios Montt, leaders who turned loose their security forces to commit assassinations, “disappear” opponents and torture captives.

Like the policy that George W. Bush is now considering, Pinochet even sponsored his own international “death squad” – known as Operation Condor – that hunted down political opponents around the world. One of those attacks in September 1976 blew up a car carrying Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier as he drove through Washington D.C. with two American associates. Letelier and co-worker Ronni Moffitt were killed.

With the help of American friends in high places, the two former dictators have fended off prison until now. However, Pinochet and Rios Montt have become pariahs who are facing legal proceedings aimed at finally holding them accountable for their atrocities.

[For more on George H.W. Bush’s protection of Pinochet, see Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

One way for George W. Bush to avert that kind of trouble is to make sure his political allies remain in power even after his second term ends in January 2009. In his case, that might be achievable by promoting his brother Jeb for president in 2008, thus guaranteeing that any incriminating documents stay under wraps.

President George W. Bush’s dispatching Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to inspect the tsunami damage in Asia started political speculation that one of the reasons was to burnish Jeb’s international credentials in a setting where his personal empathy would be on display.

Though Jeb Bush has insisted that he won’t run for president in 2008, the Bush family might find strong reason to encourage Jeb to change his mind, especially if the Iraq War is lingering and George W. has too many file cabinets filled with damaging secrets.

This is how this article originally appeared on Consortium News.

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry, the founding editor of Consortium News, broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. His last book, America’s Stolen Narrative, can be obtained in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

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The Bushes: Fathers and Sons ( With Apologies to Turgenev)

In a story worthy of the great Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, in the Bushes’ case the sins of the son were visited upon the father, who neglected an opportunity to stop them from happening, as Ray McGovern explains.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

Picture the late George H. W. Bush being welcomed with open arms last night by three of the Gang of Six white-collar criminals he pardoned on Christmas Eve, 1992, just before he left office. Waiting for him were former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, plus swashbuckling, CIA covert action chieftains “Dewey” Clarridge and Clair George — all of them charged (and George convicted) of perjury.

What a celebration is in store when the other three of the gang eventually join them. They are Robert McFarlane, the CIA’s Alan Fiers, and former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams — all of whom had already pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress before Bush Sr. let them off the hook.

It caused an outcry in some circles, as The New York Times reported: “Bush Pardons 6 in Iran Affair, Aborting a Weinberger Trial; Prosecutor Assails ‘Cover-Up.’”

Cover-up indeed. George H. W. Bush was up to his neck in the crimes of Iran-Contra, and so was his protege, Bobby Gates. Gates was so demonstrably involved that he had zero chance of being confirmed as CIA director the first time it was tried. In 1991, Bush had to move mountains to get him confirmed. Gates knew where the bodies were buried, so to speak, and could be counted on to keep them six feet under. (I learned all this well after I spent four years, from 1981 to 1985, for the CIA briefing then-Vice President Bush with The President’s Daily Brief.)

Lessons for Today

At risk of stating the obvious, is it not clear that, by the time the Supreme Court made Bush Jr. president, CIA operatives had long since internalized the idea they could literally get away with murder? It is not widely known, but several of the detainees in CIA custody following 9/11 died under torture. This came despite the lawyerly advice of Jonathan Fredman, Esq, chief counsel to CIA’s Counterterrorist Center on torture guidelines.

On October 2, 2002 Fredman briefed interrogators at Guantanamo to resolve questions they had about unfamiliar interrogation techniques, like water-boarding. With creepy nonchalance, Fredman claimed (falsely) that “the language of the [torture] statutes is written vaguely,” and summed up the legalities in this way: “It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”

Needless to say, the Nicaraguan Contras, whom Bush Senior and his favorite CIA, now-pardoned, covert action operatives supported, paid no heed to such niceties in the violence facilitated by the crimes of Iran-Contra.
We are not supposed to blame sons for the sins of the father. And vice versa, we should also be careful not to blame fathers for the sins of sons. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to give Bush 1 total absolution in this case, as I found out after I wrote Bh Sr. suggesting that junior had fallen in with bad companions and that the consequences would likely be serious.

Writing to Bush

George H. W. Bush and I had a longstanding professional and, later, cordial relationship. For many years after he stopped being president, we stayed in touch — mostly by letter. On January 11, 2003, as the invasion of Iraq was gaining momentum, I wrote a letter to the elder Bush asking him to speak “privately to your son George about the crazies advising him on Iraq,” adding “I am aghast at the cavalier way in which the [Richard] Perles of the Pentagon are promoting the use of nuclear weapons as an acceptable option against Iraq.”

My letter continued: “That such people have the President’s ear is downright scary. I think he needs to know why you exercised such care to keep such folks at arms length. (And, as you may know, they are exerting unrelenting pressure on CIA analysts to come up with the ‘right’ answers. You know how that goes!)”

His reassuring answer–not to worry about any influence the “crazies” might have on his son was a great disappointment. 

The elder Bush may not have been fully conscious of it, but he was whistling in the dark, having long since decided to leave to surrogates like former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former Secretary of State James Baker the task of highlighting publicly the criminal folly of attacking Iraq. 

Or the father may have tried privately; who knows.  It was, in my view, a tragedy that he did not speak out publicly.  He would have been very well aware that this was the only thing that would have had a chance of stopping his son from committing what the Nuremberg Tribunal defined as “the supreme international crime.” 

Junior is the poster child for the crying need in this country for basic instruction on parenting. See what “Mission Accomplished” looks like in the Middle East today.

After the invasion, Bush Sr. somewhat came to his senses, blaming his sons’ “iron-ass advisers”–namely Messrs. Cheney and Rumsfeld—for the disaster.

It didn’t get Senior off the hook. A lot of damage W. caused can be attributed — pure and simple — to poor parenting.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He worked for the senior Bush when he was director of the CIA and then briefed him mornings, one-on-one, with the President’s Daily Brief during the first Reagan administration. In Jan. 2003, Ray co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and still serves on its Steering Group.

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Israel’s Overlooked Strategic Losses in Wars Against Arabs

After conventional Arab armies failed to deter Israeli invasions, Lebanese and Palestinian volunteers have changed the strategic balance in the Middle East, writes As`ad AbuKhalil.

2006 Lebanese War Changed Power Calculus

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

In South Lebanon, the Museum for Resistance, also known as the Mlita Museum, for the town in which it is located, is a wildly popular tourist attraction and a place where you can run into Arabs visiting from around the region.

In it, Hizbullah—the political party with an armed wing that, with Iranian assistance, emerged in response to the Israeli invasion of 1982—celebrates its military successes, displaying weapons captured from the occupation army and replicas of some of its military tunnels. 

The museum enshrines an important realization for the country: that while conventional Arab armies failed to deter Israeli invasions, Lebanese and Palestinian volunteers succeeded in holding the mighty Israeli army at bay and have become the real defenders against Israeli attacks and occupation.  As such, the museum offers testimony to the current nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  The U.S. and other Western powers want to disarm Hizbullah while denying the Lebanese Army the weapons to deter Israel.  In other words, they want to return Lebanon to its former state of weakness.

The problems this situation poses for Israel are often overlooked given its apparently clear strategic advantage.

Israel’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction is still being protected by Western countries from scrutiny or even criticism. The Obama administration guaranteed Israel a most generous financial assistance program for the next decade. Israeli’s 100-percent occupation of Palestine remains immune from U.N. or other international condemnation. Israeli citizens’ settlement building in Palestine territories—despite violating international law—has not caused a rift between Israel and either the European Union or the U.S.

Egypt, meanwhile, remains committed to the peace treaty with Israel and to security coordination with the occupation state, as does Jordan.   And Israel does not fear an assault from any Arab state or a combination of Arab states. (Arab threats—largely rhetorical—have only been intended to pacify popular anger.)

But things are not as secure for Israel as they might seem. 

The Resistance Persists 

A century after the Balfour Declaration, the Arab-Israeli conflict has not ended.  Early Zionist thinkers and leaders—influenced by racist European attitudes about the natives—never considered that the Palestinians would continue to resist Zionism for so long. This in itself is a big failure for Zionism as it defies the long-held belief that force is the only language that Arabs understand. At the same time, economic offers and political ploys have not deceived the Palestinians—or Arabs—into accepting the Israeli occupation project either. 

The resistance is not only tenacious, its effectiveness reached a new level in 2000. That year, after an escalating pattern of resistance operations that began in 1982—first by secular (communist and Syrian nationalist) groups and later by Hizbullah—the Israeli occupation army was forced to withdraw from South Lebanon.

Israel’s biggest strategic loss came in 2006 during the Lebanese-Israeli War, when armed groups (not part of an Arab conventional army) resisted Israeli assaults and deterred a ground offensive against Arab territory. Unless you have studied the performance of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon between 1970 and 1982, it’s difficult to fathom how seriously this changed the power calculus of Lebanese and Palestinian resistance groups vis-à-vis Israel. 

But the significance of that war—and most importantly on Arab perceptions of it—was obscured by Saudi regime propaganda intent on undermining the standing of any resistance, leftist or Islamist, Sunni or Shi`ite.  The House of Saud began to promote sectarian hatred and agitation and emphasize the losses for the Arab side to downplay the precedent set by the war.  (Examples of this are so pervasive it would be unfair to single out any one broadcaster or publication.)

During the invasions of Gaza, Israel failed again to advance or even to prevent primitive Hamas rockets from firing; all claims to the (fake) successes of the Iron Dome air defense system notwithstanding. 

This is a marked contrast to previous confrontations. In 1978, Israel invaded Lebanon and the PLO’s resistance was disorganized and largely spontaneous.  Four years later, in the face of the 1982 massive Israel invasion, the PLO failed again to formulate a joint resistance plan. Fighting was stiff in some cases, such as at the refugee camp`Ayn Al-Hilwi and the medieval-era Beuafort castle. And later at Khaldah, on the outskirts of Beirut, the PLO did implement a defense plan for Beirut (designed by West Point graduate Abu Al-Walid), which explains why Israel never dared to invade West Beirut until after the evacuation of PLO forces from Lebanon. Overall, however, the PLO resistance record pales in comparison to that of Hamas and Hizbullah, in Gaza and South Lebanon, respectively.

Former Psychological Advantage

Israeli strategy in dealing with the Arabs was based on massive, indiscriminate use of force and the promotion of the Israeli soldier as invincible and terrifying. This produced a psychological advantage that, from 1948 to 1967, sowed fear and resignation.

More recently, however, the image of the mighty Israeli soldier and a fearful Arab resistance has been reversed.  In the 2006 war, Israeli soldiers in South Lebanon were terrified by Hizbullah fighters who prevented the enemy army from advancing one inch into Lebanese territory.  I grew up in Lebanon in the 1960s and 1970s, when Israel used to bomb and invade at will. This no longer happens because Israel has come to fear Hizbullah.

Another problem for Israel is its once-vaunted intelligence, which has developed a reputation for clumsiness. The failed raid in Gaza (by an elite unit of the Israeli occupation army) is the most recent example. In 2010, Dubai police plastered the faces of top agents of Mossad, the intelligence agency, around the world in the wake of the assassination of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, a co-founder of the military wing of Hamas. Before that, in 1997, there was the botched assassination attempt on Khalid Misha`l’, the Doha-based former leader of Hamas, by Mossad agents.

In the 2006 war with Lebanon, Israel’s intelligence failures included the famous and (almost) comical kidnapping of a poor man whose only crime was that his name was Hasan Nasrallah, the same as that of the Hizbullah leader. Presumably, Mossad experts on the Arab world assumed there was only one Hasan Nasrallah in all of Lebanon.

Hizbullah and Hamas, meanwhile, have run intelligence operations that the PLO has rarely ever matched. Hizbullah’s 2012 kidnapping of Israeli soldiers is an example of careful preparations and reliable intelligence.  Hizbullah and Hamas have special operatives monitoring the communications of the Israeli military.  Hizbullah has its own Hebrew language school. PLO organizations, by contrast, had so few Hebrew speakers they often had to rely on Hebrew teachers from the Institute of Palestine Studies in Beirut to translate important documents. 

The Arab-Israeli conflict is not about to end anytime soon.  Trump’s “Deal of the Century” hinges on the belief that Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman can convince the Palestinians to give up their cause.  This is a conflict that is unlikely to end in compromise, and the Israeli occupation state has made it clear that historical Palestine belongs to the Jewish people and that the Palestinians represent a mere nuisance on the land.

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 also runs the popular blog The Angry Arab News Service.

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Newly Elected Progressives Face Palestine Taboo

After they won their primaries, some young progressives curbed their pro-Palestine rhetoric.  Now they are in Washington getting oriented. Next up: early test votes in the new year sponsored by the pro-Israel lobby, writes As`ad AbuKhalil.

Newly-Elected Progressives
Confront 
AIPAC Test

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

People in the pro-Palestinian community worldwide will be watching to see if any of the new left-wing progressives elected in the midterms will dare speak out—and vote against—the wishes of the Israel lobby.

The answer will likely come early next year, in test votes sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, after the 116thCongress convenes. If the past is any guide, Democratic leaders will insist on strict subservience from newcomers to the party’s foreign policy priorities, which include U.S. sponsorship and defense of the Israeli occupation and war crimes.

Some members-elect voiced remarkable criticism of Israel in the primaries. Rashida Tlaib, from Michigan, may have gone the furthest, by calling for one state in Palestine. Ilhan Omar, from Minnesota, referred to Israel’s “evil doings” and condemned apartheid in Israel.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from New York, spoke against the occupation of Palestine.

After the primaries, however, Tlaib, Omar and Ocasio-Cortez softened their rhetoric. In a post-victory interview, Tlaib said that both sides (occupiers and occupied?) have “so much more in common.” Ocasio-Cortez was quoted as favoring a two-state solution and believing “absolutely in Israel’s right to exist” (as an apartheid occupation state?). She has expressed faith in U.S. legitimacy as “a force of good” in the world and shrugged off any serious understanding of the Middle East.

Antonio Delgado, who upset a GOP incumbent in upstate New York, caught heat during the general campaign for his positions on Israel. When he rejected the “democratic” label for Israel, his comment was widely described by news media as a regrettable gaffe.   

The one Palestinian-American male candidate, Ammar Campa-Najjar, a Democrat who campaigned in San Diego, was the least critical of Israel and the only one who lost. He went to lengths to ingratiate himself with the Israel lobby, having changed his religion and name in the past. He even condemned his grandfather, Abu Yusuf An-Najjar, a PLO diplomat killed by Israeli terrorists in Beirut in 1973, as a “murderer.”

The nature of U.S. public attitude towards Israel is changing. A few decades ago, isolationist conservative Republicans were the most likely to be detractors. That role has shifted to liberals in big cities. These days, southern Baptists  and conservative Republicans in rural America are providing Israel some of the staunchest support.

Automatic Support for Israel

But this change doesn’t mean much in Congress. On Middle East issues, Democrats and Republicans remain ardent and automatic supporters of Israel.

Despite the War Powers Act of 1973, designed to check the president’s power to commit the country to an armed conflict, the president retains quasi-imperial powers of foreign policy making. Given voters’ worship of the military, representatives are often afraid to reject wars and interventions that presidents seek. To be accused of “failing to support the troops” is fatal to candidates from both parties. California Rep. Barbara Lee famously cast the lone vote against the authorization of military force following Sept. 11, 2001.

The two ruling parties, meanwhile, muzzle democratic discussion of their foreign policy agenda. Through the nominating process, the big wigs of the Democratic Party are able to sideline dissent. The Republican primaries, meanwhile, can seem like contests for the greatest show of fanaticism in supporting Israel. Even in local elections–for mayors and city council—defiance of AIPAC can kill off contenders’ chances. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, dominated by Democrats, break with AIPAC influence on votes, but the caucus leadership is closely aligned with the pro-Israel lobby.

The internal Democratic split (between its leadership and the liberal base) on Israel is comparable with that of liberal European political parties. The Socialist Party of France, for instance, pursues a traditional pro-Israeli agenda despite pro-Palestine sympathy within its ranks. The same had been true of the Labour Party in the U.K., until the rise of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. The United States has come to insist on a pro-Israeli plank from its European allies. In the 1970s, European nations often held positions on the PLO and on Palestinian self-determination that broke with U.S. doctrine. Since then, however, European disagreement with the U.S. on the Arab-Israeli question has diminished.

AIPAC, and its unofficial research arm, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, have managed to establish themselves as the moral and authoritative sources of legislation and information on all matters related to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Middle East.  The lobby has succeeded through intimidation, as detailed in “They Dare to Speak Out,” a book by former Illinois Rep. Paul Findley, a Republican. One successful method has been conflating any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. This tactic has been most effective in discouraging U.S. politicians from opposing Israel.

Not a ‘Jewish Lobby’

It must be stressed that AIPAC is not a “Jewish lobby,” but a pro-Israel lobby. Its champions are not exclusively Jewish.  Anti-Semites wish to portray the lobby in classically bigoted terms, as a Jewish conspiracy. But some of its most ardent adherents have been non-Jewish U.S. presidents, members of Congress and administration officials. 

On Palestine, Congress has changed substantially over the years.  In the early 1980s, a few lawmakers, from both parties, still dared to challenge AIPAC, which was founded in 1963. In his 1985 book, former Congressman Paul Findley, now 97, describes some of them. Back then, a wing of the Republican Party even stood for “even-handedness” in the Middle East.

By the end of the 1980s, few of these moderating voices on Israel were left. They’d either retired or lost their seats. 

Since the 1990s, dissent on Israel is virtually absent in the upper house of Congress. The late Robert Byrd, from West Virginia, who died in 2010, was the last senator who dared to vote against legislation favored by AIPAC.

Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Diane Feinstein of California, both in their 80s, are mildly critical of Israel, but still vote with AIPAC most of the time. (Feinstein only recently started criticizing Israel perhaps because support in her state is secure). “Social Democrat” Sen. Bernie Sanders gets heralded for challenging Israel. But that only shows the depth of the general silence. In fact, Sanders usually criticizes Israel in the most restricted terms: (“I am not a fan of Netanyahu.”)

In the House, in recent years the number of members who–on rare occasions–vote to defy the Israeli agenda, has risen. But unlike in previous years, little is ever said about the rights of Palestinians or directly against AIPAC.

Dennis Kucinich, former member of Congress from Cleveland, and a former presidential candidate, may have been the last member to publicly champion the Palestinians. (He once told me that he made it a point to speak about Palestine weekly.) He lost his seat after redistricting in 2012. 

The question now is whether some of those new faces in Congress, who carried the progressive torch in the campaigns, have the courage of a Kucinich on Israeli matters. Will any of them break the taboo against speaking for Palestine or against AIPAC? Their silence regarding the on-going Israeli assault on Gaza so far is deafening.  

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 also runs the popular blog The Angry Arab News Service.

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Clapper’s Credibility

Former DNI James Clapper had his own words read back to him by Ray McGovern, exposing his role in justifying the Iraq invasion based on fraudulent intelligence.

Clapper Admits Gross Intelligence Failure
on Iraq WMDs But Still Escapes Justice

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s key role in helping the Cheney/Bush administration “justify” war on Iraq with fraudulent intelligence was exposed on Tuesday at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. His own words were quoted back to him from his memoir “Facts and Fears: Hard Truths From a Life in Intelligence.” Hard truths, indeed.

Clapper was appointed Director of National Intelligence by President Barack Obama in June 2010, almost certainly at the prompting of Obama’s intelligence confidant and Clapper friend John Brennan, later director of the CIA. Despite Clapper’s performance on Iraq, he was confirmed unanimously by the Senate. Obama even allowed Clapper to keep his job for three and a half more years after he admitted that he had lied under oath to that same Senate about the extent of eavesdropping on Americans by the National Security Agency (NSA). He is now a security analyst for CNN.

In his book, Clapper finally places the blame for the consequential fraud (he calls it “the failure”) to find the (non-existent) WMD “where it belongs — squarely on the shoulders of the administration members who were pushing a narrative of a rogue WMD program in Iraq and on the intelligence officers, including me, who were so eager to help that we found what wasn’t really there.” (emphasis added) . 

So at the event on Tuesday I stood up and asked him about that. It was easy, given the background Clapper himself provides in his book, such as:

“The White House aimed to justify why an invasion of and regime change in Iraq were necessary, with a public narrative that condemned its continued development of weapons of mass destruction [and] its support to al-Qaida (for which the Intelligence Community had no evidence).”

What Clapper chokes on — and avoids saying — is that U.S. intelligence had no evidence of WMD either. Indeed, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had put him in charge of the agency responsible for analyzing imagery of all kinds — photographic, radar, infrared, and multispectral — precisely so that the absence of evidence from our multi-billion-dollar intelligence collection satellites could be hidden, in order not to impede the planned attack on Iraq. That’s why, as Clapper now admits, he had to find “what wasn’t really there.”

Members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) who have employed Clapper under contract, or otherwise known his work, caution that he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. So, to be fair, there is an outside chance that Rumsfeld persuaded him to be guided by the (in)famous Rumsfeld dictum: “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

But the consequences are the same: a war of aggression with millions dead and wounded; continuing bedlam in the area; and no one — high or low — held accountable. Hold your breath and add Joe Biden awarding the “Liberty Medal” to George W. Bush on Veteran’s Day.

Shocked’

Clapper writes:

“… we heard that Vice President Cheney was pushing the Pentagon for intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and then the order came down to NIMA [the National Imagery and Mapping Agency] to find (emphasis in original) the WMD sites. We set to work, analyzing imagery to eventually identify, with varying degrees of confidence, more than 950 sites where we assessed there might be WMDs or a WMD connection. We drew on all of NIMA’s skill sets … and it was all wrong.”

“To support his [Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003] speech, NIMA (which Clapper headed) had gone through the difficult process of declassifying satellite images of trucks arriving at WMD sites just ahead of the weapons inspectors to move materials before they could be found, and my team also produced computer-generated images of trucks fitted out as ‘mobile production facilities used to make biological agents.’ Those images, possibly more than any other substantiation he presented, carried the day with the international community and Americans alike.”

“[For] the invasion of Iraq on March 20, six weeks after Powell’s speech, NIMA … prepared a prioritized list of our suspect [WMD] sites with specific locations. … Using this information, they [the fourteen-hundred-member international Iraq Survey Group] went from site to site but found almost nothing. We were shocked. … The trucks we had identified as “mobile production facilities for biological agents” were in fact used to pasteurize and transport milk.”

As for those mischievous trucks allegedly used “to move materials before they could be found,” as Scott Ritter, former chief UN weapons inspector for Iraq, has pointed out, they were clearly decontamination vehicles. UN inspectors had visited the site in question. It was an ammunition bunker, and the decontamination vehicle was a water truck used to keep the dust levels down because of the sensitive fuses located in the bunker. These were known facts but Clapper chose to ignore them.

Nor did he give up easily, before he could resist no longer and admit, as he writes, that “it was all wrong.” In late October 2003, Clapper briefed Washington media on his latest guesses as to what really happened to the (notional) WMD. The Washington Times’s Bill Getz wrote a long article replete with detailed quotes from Clapper, starting with: “Iraqi military officers destroyed or hid chemical, biological and nuclear weapons goods in the weeks before the war, the nation’s top satellite spy director said yesterday. Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, head of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, said vehicle traffic photographed by U.S. spy satellites indicated that material and documents related to the arms programs were shipped to Syria.”

In his book, Clapper refers to that briefing and says he conceded “we’d made some assumptions we shouldn’t have … “ and admitted that “I was still baffled that no WMD sites had been discovered. I mentioned that in the days before the invasion started, we saw a lot of cars and trucks fleeing the country into Syria. … I probably should have clarified what a stretch it would be” to suggest the WMD had been transported to Syria.” Well, yes, that would have prevented further embarrassment.

During the Q and A I was sorely tempted to quote Hans Blix, the then head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, who on June 23, 2003 quipped to the Council on Foreign Relations, “It’s sort of puzzling that you can have 100 percent confidence about WMD existence, but zero certainty about where they are.” But that would have brought loud boos from the docile audience at Carnegie, and gotten me off on the wrong foot.

Instead, I cited to Clapper his most grievous offense against the profession of intelligence analysis — his inordinate eagerness to please whatever superiors he was working for at the time, and give them the information they lusted after to “justify” things like war.

I observed that exactly two years ago, the Obamas and Clintons were desperate to blame Trump’s victory on Russian interference. And so, I asked, was this a repeat performance? Had Clapper snapped to and again “found what really wasn’t there?” This, I emphasized, was the conclusion of VIPS, including two former Technical Directors at NSA. 

From ‘WMD” to ‘Russian Hacking’

I noted that after Clapper had briefed President Obama on January 5, 2017 on the evidence-impoverished “Intelligence Community Assessment” alleging that Russian President Putin had personally ordered the “Russian hacking,” Obama seems not to have been persuaded. I asked Clapper why the President told a press conference on January 18, 2017 that the conclusions of the intelligence community regarding how “Russian hacking” of Democratic National Committee emails had gotten to WikiLeaks were “inconclusive.” Clapper said he could not explain why the President said that. 

Travel tip for Clapper: do not travel abroad to any country bold enough to invoke the principle of universal jurisdiction which includes the duty to arrest those suspected of war crimes when their home country fails to do so. Your mentor Donald Rumsfeld had a close brush with this international form of Lady Justice in October 2007, when he abruptly fled Paris upon learning that the Paris Prosecutor had been served a formal complaint against him for authorizing torture.  The complaint noted that authorities in the U.S. and Iraq had failed to launch any independent investigation into Rumsfeld’s responsibility, and also noted that the U.S. had refused to join the International Criminal Court, which might have had more routine jurisdiction.

Former President George W. Bush, too, had a close call in February 2011. When Bush heard that criminal complaints had been lodged against him in Switzerland, he decided not to take any chances and abruptly nixed longstanding plans to address a Jewish charity dinner in Geneva. Thus, both Rumsfeld and Bush were spared the humiliation that befell Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who had been head of Chile’s military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990. While on a trip to the United Kingdom in 1998, Pinochet was arrested on a Spanish judicial warrant and was held under house arrest until 2000.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. Among his duties as a CIA analyst was chairing National Intelligence Estimates and preparing/briefing the President’s Daily Brief. He is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




The Saudi-US Crisis Will Pass

U.S.-Saudi ties have withstood crises in the past and will withstand this one, says As’ad AbuKhalil.

Washington and Riyadh Have Had Worse

Crises and Will Survive Khashoggi Murder

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

Nobody in Washington, Republican or Democrat, welcomes the crisis in U.S.–Saudi relations prompted by the murder in Istanbul of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi defector, on October 2. Maintaining good relations with the Saudi royal family has been a high bipartisan priority since President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King  Abdul Aziz ibn Saud made their Faustian bargain in 1945:  The U.S. would shield the Saudi kingdom’s tyranny from criticism in exchange for a share of oil revenues and Riyadh’s political loyalty (and American arms sales).

The relationship has continued this way in the decades since—and will still do so. The U.S. has covered up a long history of Saudi crimes and conspiracies; during the Cold War it used the Saudis to spread extremist jihadi ideologies to counter secular Arabs that tilted towards Moscow. More recently, the Saudi regime was not freelancing when it cultivated the likes of Osama bin Laden: He was part of a Saudi-U.S.-Pakistani effort to recruit, arm, and finance fanatical Muslims from around the world to undermine the progressive secular regime in Afghanistan.

If history is any guide, it is highly likely that Washington and Riyadh are collaborating behind the scenes to cover up the truth of the Khashoggi case and preserve the relationship as it has been for the past 85 years.

Beside the current crisis, there have been other dust-ups in the history of U.S.-Saudi relations. The 1973 oil crisis was the most serious, and it nearly undermined the alliance.  Back then the Saudi regime couldn’t ignore the rising tide of Arab sentiment against U.S. intervention on the side of Israel in the 1973 war.

King Faisal was adamant in discussions with Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s secretary of state and national security adviser, that Israel should withdraw from occupied Arab territories in return for lifting the oil embargo. Contrary to his public statements, Faisal hadn’t rejected Israel’s occupation of Palestine since the 1948 war.  Reflecting in part the king’s deep anti-Semitism, Faisal only refused to recognize Jewish religious rights in Jerusalem.

When reminded of the significance of the Wailing Wall (Buraq Wall for Muslims), he recommended construction of a new wall where Jews “could weep.” But Faisal’s firm stance didn’t last long: New U.S. arms sales were enough to make him abandon his insistence that Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories was a necessary condition for the restoration of oil sales to the West.

Another crisis arose with the broadcast of the movie “Death of a Princess” in 1980. The British-made film was based on a true story about the beheading of a Saudi princess who fell in love with a commoner. After the movie was shown in Britain, the Saudi government did not want U.S. television stations to broadcast it. The American oil lobby put enormous pressure on PBS stations around the country not to air it. Very few stations did, and the bilateral relationship was secured. 

There were other crises in the relationship in the 1980s between the Saudi government and Congress: Under pressure from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Congress opposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia, even as administrations (Democratic and Republican) favored them. AIPAC dropped its objections to weapons sales after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the establishment of secret contacts between Israel and Gulf countries.

This is the background from which to view the current, relatively minor crisis in comparison. The Khasshogi killing wouldn’t have amounted to much if the U.S. mainstream media didn’t make a strong case against the Saudi royal family (while suddenly discovering the Saudis’ war on Yemen), and if the Turkish government hadn’t leaked so many gruesome details about the murder in the Saudi’s Istanbul consulate.

Trump’s Waffles

The Trump administration—in line with successive U.S. administrations–—first tried to minimize the significance of the crime.  President Donald Trump typically reminded Americans of the value of arms sales to the Saudi kingdom. But his subsequent statements were inconsistent: First he’d mention $10 billion in arms sales and then he’d promise to sanction the regime. He even uncharacteristically, for a U.S. president, pledged to let Congress decide on sanctions once an investigation is completed. (Which of several investigations he didn’t say.)

It’s not a stretch to believe the Trump administration has been working covertly with the Saudis to come up with a coverup story. The Saudi’s multiple explanations have been unconvincing from the start. The intent of CIA Director Gina Haspel’s trip to Istanbul seemed to be to shield the Saudi regime from the murder and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s involvement. Haspel may have been behind Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s surprising reluctance to reveal “the naked truth,” as he’d promised.

The U.S. almost certainly wanted the Turkish government’s raw intelligence to better advise the Saudis on the coverup. After Haspel’s meeting with Trump upon her return the Saudis admitted it was premeditated murder.

The U.S. likely mediated between Erdogan and MbS, given the animosity between the Turks and Saudis. Outlines of a deal are emerging. The Saudis now refer to their former occupiers as “sisterly Turkey,” though bin Salmon previously included it in the region’s “axis of evil.” Official Saudi rhetoric has also changed towards Qatar, which the Saudis and their allies have blockaded since last year. MbS and Adel Jubeir, his foreign minister, have made conciliatory statements about Doha in the last few days, something unthinkable a month ago.

Western and Turkish media keeps the Khassoghi story alive. But AIPAC, UAE and Israeli pressure has been exerted on the U.S. not to abandon bin Salman. For Israel, he is the opportunity of a lifetime: a rising Saudi prince in line to be king who is unburdened by political or religious attachment to ditch the Palestinians and continue his hostility toward Iran.

It is to Washington’s advantage that MbS has been weakened. He might now abandon his proclivity for adventurism and become a more traditional Saudi despot deferring to DC on key decisions. But that should make him also be more cautious about confronting Iran and endorsing Trump’s “deal of the century” for the Palestinians. The U.S. is still capable, though, of maneuvering to replace him if he becomes no longer useful, despite Saudi threats to align itself with China and Russia, or quit its embrace of Israel. 

The relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has survived previous crises. It will survive this one.

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 also runs the popular blog The Angry Arab News Service.

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Despite Saudi Crisis, US Increases Threats Against Iran

Though the U.S.-Saudi alliance may have been weakened because of the Khashoggi murder, both countries are still targeting Iran as new US sanctions are announced on Sunday, writes Marjorie Cohn of Truthout. 

By Marjorie Cohn
Truthout

The alleged torture, murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, widely believed to have been carried out on orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, may put a crimp in Donald Trump’s plans to escalate his aggression against Iran.

Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel are unified in their hatred of Iran, albeit with different motives. Iran has been in the crosshairs of the United States since the 1979 Iranian Revolution overthrew the vicious, US-installed puppet Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi; indeed, in 2002, George W. Bush initiated Iran into his “axis of evil.” Saudi Arabia, home to the two holiest Muslim sites, sees Shiite Iran as a rival for regional hegemony. And Israel considers Iran an “existential threat.”

Trump administration officials and outside experts said that possible repercussions on an elaborate plan to squeeze the Iranians have dominated internal discussions about the fallout over what happened to Mr. Khashoggi,” David Sanger reported in The New York Times.

The allegations against the Saudi crown prince “have already had an effect” on Israel, “effectively freezing the push to build an international coalition against Iran’s regional influence, the top priority for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” Ben Hubbard and David Halbfinger, citing “analysts,” wrote in the Times.

White House officials are worried the mushrooming crisis with Saudi Arabia could “derail a showdown with Iran and jeopardize plans to enlist Saudi help to avoid disrupting the oil market.”

Trump Still Ramps It Up

Following the dangerous and foolhardy withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — which pleased Israel and Saudi Arabia, the Trump administration is slated to announce on Sunday that companies doing business with Iran — including purchasing oil or making investments in the country — will be forbidden from doing business in the United States. The imposition of these punishing sanctions are intended to result in a full embargo of Iran’s oil. 

Trump will need Saudi military and political cooperation if, “as threatened,” Iran retaliates against his oil embargo by taking “reciprocal, physical action to halt Saudi and Gulf states’ oil exports via the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf and the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, at the mouth of the Red Sea,” Simon Tisdall noted in The Guardian. “If this crisis point is reached, escalating confrontations across the region cannot be ruled out.”

The Trump administration is relying on Saudi Arabia to pump extra oil once Iran is out of the market. But Congress is considering whether to punish Saudi Arabia for the Khashoggi case.

To penalize what the Saudis care about most – oil revenue – would be to undercut the Iran policy and send the price of gasoline and heating oil significantly higher, just as winter approaches,” Sanger noted.

Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Times, “It’s a neat trick if you both sanction a country and partner with them at the same time,” adding, “it’s not easy to keep the focus on Iran’s behavior when the Saudis are doing terrible things to journalists and dissidents, and bombing children in Yemen.”

The Khashoggi murder has shone a spotlight on the commission of Saudi war crimes in Yemen, aided and abetted by the United States. In a New York Times opinion piece, Sen. Bernie Sanders called for ending US military support to Saudi Arabia. But Sanger cited administration sources as saying, “the issue of limiting American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which Mr. Trump has said would threaten American jobs, pales in importance [to the plan to squeeze Iran].”

Meanwhile, Trump continues to rattle the sabers at Iran.

Taliban Targeted

On Oct. 23, the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, comprised of the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, designated nine individuals “associated with the Taliban,” some of whom have “Iranian sponsors.” A Bush-era executive order authorizes the Office of Foreign Assets Control to block the assets of anyone or any group designated as a terrorist.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the terrorism designations in a press release, stating that the United States is “targeting key Iranian sponsors providing financial and material support to the Taliban.” He added, “Iran’s support to the Taliban stands in stark violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions and epitomizes the regime’s utter disregard for fundamental international norms.”

In a May speech, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would “crush” Iran with new sanctions so severe that regime change could result.

Moreover, on Oct. 5, the White House released its long-awaited 25-page counterterrorism strategy, which calls Iran “the most prominent state sponsor of terrorism.” It pledges to fight Iran and “radical Islamist” militants to eliminate the terror threat against the United States.

In fact, Iran has not used aggressive military force against a hostile neighbor for more than 200 years. Curiously, the new U.S. counterterrorism strategy fails to identify Saudi Arabia, which is targeting civilians and killing thousands of them in Yemen (and backing extremists in Syria and elsewhere), as a terrorist threat.

Eric Margolis, a veteran war correspondent in the Middle East, reported in July that the Pentagon has prepared plans for an air attack on Iran:

The Pentagon has planned a high-intensity air war against Iran that Israel and the Saudis might very well join. The plan calls for over 2,300 air strikes against Iranian strategic targets: airfields and naval bases, arms and petroleum, oil and lubricant depots, telecommunication nodes, radar, factories, military headquarters, ports, water works, airports, missile bases and units of the Revolutionary Guards.

The National Coalition to Prevent an Iranian Nuclear Weapon, a group of more than 50 prominent foreign policy experts, released a statement saying, “The Trump Administration’s Iran strategy is to assert maximum economic, political and military pressure to change Iran’s behavior and threaten, if not cause, collapse of the regime.” That strategy, they added, “has left Iran the option of either capitulation or war.”

Many in Congress are worried that Trump may be gunning for Iran. They are trying to prevent him from mounting a preemptive strike.

Will Congress Stop an Attack?

On Sept. 28, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), joined by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), introduced the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2018. It would prohibit the United States from appropriating money that could lead to war with Iran unless Congress expressly approves. The legislation makes clear that a preemptive attack on Iran would be illegal under the War Powers Act and the US Constitution.

The Udall bill notes that “the International Atomic Energy Agency repeatedly verified that Iran has continued to comply with it nuclear-related obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” US noncompliance with the JCPOA, the bill continues, “risks an unnecessary conflagration with Iran through the use of sanctions against both allies and adversaries in the region and throughout the world, absent a clear diplomatic path for resolving the crisis.” The bill quotes Trump’s tweet that Iran “[w]ill suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.”

Congress explicitly provided in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019, “Nothing in this Act may be construed to authorize the use of force against Iran or North Korea.”

In April, a bipartisan bill to replace the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force (AUMF) was introduced in the Senate and is currently pending in the Foreign Relations Committee. The proposed bill would allow the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia, al-Qaeda, ISIS (also known as Daesh), the Taliban and their “associated forces.” But by its terms, “associated forces” specifically excludes “a sovereign nation.” So, the new AUMF would not cover Iran.

That wouldn’t stop Trump from purporting to rely on the 2001 AUMF to attack Iran, however. Although specifically limited to those responsible for 9/11, Bush, Obama and Trump have all used it to justify at least 37 military operations, many of them unrelated to 9/11.

Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and an advisory board member of Veterans for Peace. The editor and contributor to The United States and Torture: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues, Cohn testified before Congress about the Bush interrogation policy.




As a Saudi Citizen in Exile, I Know What the Regime Does to Silence its Critics

As a Saudi citizen exiled in Washington, D.C., since 2000, Ali al Ahmed has experienced first-hand what the Saudi government is willing to do to silence its critics inside and outside the country.

By Ali al Ahmed

The murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul after visiting the Saudi consulate there on Oct. 2 is disturbing but not surprising to me and other dissident writers and activists who provide a critical view of the kingdom and have paid for it, usually with exile or prosecution of our family members.

As a Saudi citizen exiled in Washington, D.C., since 2000, I have seen and experienced first-hand what the government is willing to do to silence its critics inside and outside the country. These actions date back to as early as 1979, when dissident activist and author Naser Al Saeed was abducted from Beirut, Lebanon, in December of that year.

His fate remains unknown, but it is widely believed that the Saudi intelligence service paid PLO gunmen to kidnap and fly him back to Riyadh, where he was secretly killed. (Ironically, Khashoggi worked for many years with Turki Al Faisal, the man who ran Saudi intelligence at the time and is suspected of carrying out that operation.)

Opposing the Saudi royal family — especially if you advocate a progressive alternative to the current regime — is a dangerous undertaking, a fact that has never been far from my mind since moving to Washington in 2000 after my graduate studies in Minneapolis.

Once I became a recognized voice for reform and democracy, the Saudi government used carrots and sticks to silence me. In March 2004, the Saudi Embassy seized my passport when I attempted to renew it and offered me a one-way ticket home. The government has since quietly made me a stateless person by rescinding my nationality, which I discovered only when my family tried to process a legal document back home.

The monarchy has also been trying to convince me to return home since 2002. In 2007, a senior Saudi intelligence officer traveled to Washington to arrange a meeting between former Saudi crown and then head of Saudi intelligence (and brother of the present King), Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, and myself at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Tyson’s Corner.

Prince Muqrin asked me to return home with a promise of wealth and safety. I responded by asking for a public apology to my parents, and my mother in particular, for putting her in prison. He replied, “The state doesn’t apologize.”

The government also used Arab nationals to lure me to Malaysia and Lebanon, countries known for handing dissidents over to the Saudi government. I had the good sense to decline these invitations and made the U.S. government aware of them.

A WikiLeaks Revelation

WikiLeaks document sent in 2013 from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs to its embassy in Washington (at the time led by the current Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubair) ordered the surveillance of the Institute for Gulf Affairs (IGA), an independent think tank I founded in 2001.

What’s more, the document accurately noted that the IGA was going through financial challenges — a detail that was known only to me and my staff and which we later learned was leaked to the government by a Saudi national who worked with us for a time and later joined the government.

In recent months, I have received many phishing emails designed to hack into my account. One of them was particularly disturbing because it illustrated how far the Saudi government is prepared to go to silence its critics in Washington. The email included a photo of me attending a public event at the American Enterprise Institute, which could only mean that a government agent reported my presence, extracting my image from a video and sending it to me in a phishing email.

This past June, the head of The Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee, Salman Al Ansari, called me a terrorist after I reported on his links to antisemitism. I responded with a lawsuit, currently being tried in D.C. Superior Court.

I’ve received dozens of death threats, some of them serious.

In one case, a young Saudi man told me he would come to Washington to kill me after I tweeted that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman was “feeble-minded” for paying $200 billion to build a mega solar project that would supplant China as the world’s leading supplier of solar panels. I gave that information to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, and thankfully they denied him a visa.

The government also tries to coerce me by squeezing my family, a common Saudi tactic. Two of my brothers were arrested, and one of them has been in prison for over 20 years just for being my brother. My nephews were also arrested; one of them has been sentenced to eight years in prison for attending one protest.

My family — parents, siblings, nephews, cousins, and many relatives and friends — is no stranger to political persecution. Two of my cousins were killed during the 1979 uprising, the first Arab popular uprising. I myself was imprisoned at age 14 and avoided capture narrowly on several occasions by fleeing the country.

My story is not unique: the Saudi government routinely persecutes other dissidents. Last month, prominent social media star and satirist Ghanem Al Dosary (our own Jon Stewart) was assaulted by several Saudi nationals in front of Harrods, the famed London department store. This attack in broad daylight was captured on video, yet none of the assailants have been arrested and the British government has yet to provide an explanation for its inaction.

A few weeks ago, a young man in West Virginia contacted me through a mutual friend to seek help with his asylum application. This individual, Mr. Hamad AlSudairi, had been stabbed by a Saudi national after hearing him criticize corruption in Saudi Arabia. Such mild condemnation is sufficient cause for a pro-regime zealot to attempt murder. The case is now before a West Virginia court.

The forced disappearance of Khashoggi by the government of Saudi Arabia is an attempt to intimidate other dissidents into silence and/or surrender. Unfortunately for the Saudi regime, history teaches us that despots can never succeed in completely suppressing the voices of freedom.

Speaking for myself, I can say that I have inherited that spirit of dissent in order to fully empower our people and to establish a modern government with full rights for all. This dream will never die, no matter what the cost. We only have one life, and we must make it worthwhile.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Caller.

Ali al Ahmed is the founder and President of the Institute for Gulf Affairs.

 




America’s Bloody Ally

The U.S. continues to support the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia—as a key ally—even after the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the horrendous five-year bombing campaign on Yemen, writes Ann Wright.

By Ann Wright
in Istanbul
Special to Consortium News

Killing is not new for Saudi Arabia. While the world’s media has been focused on the horrific murder and dismemberment of Saudi defector Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul the Saudi’s horrendous five-year bombing campaign on Yemen has been overshadowed.

This bombing has killed over 16,000 people, destroyed water and sewage infrastructure, left one million people with cholera and created a naval blockade that has starved 13 million of the most vulnerable: children and the elderly. The United States facilitates the bombing by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, refueling Saudi bombers and providing intelligence reportedly to decrease the number of civilian casualties, which it appears it has not done.

Outside the Crime Scene

On Oct. 13, just after midnight, after the closing ceremonies of the conference I was attending in Istanbul, I travelled to the Saudi Consulate to stand in vigil for the disappearance and, believed at that time to be the probable murder of Khashoggi. I was also there to acknowledge the catastrophic Saudi war on Yemen and U.S. complicity in that war.

The barricades set up by police were shining in the lights from the street lamps and from the spotlight that the Saudi Consulate had outside its now-infamous front door.

No Istanbul police nor consulate security guards were visible. The street was eerily silent. Barricades blocked traffic. “POLIS” signs hung on the barricades. None of the daytime activity from domestic and international television crews or print journalists was happening. The Saudi consul-general’s home, next door to the consulate (where it has now been reported Khashoggi’s body may be buried), was dark.

New friends from Istanbul whom I met at the conference, accompanied me.  They had been to many vigils at the consulate in the past 10 days.

As we stood at the barricades, lights from a car in an alley flashed on, and several men emerged. I thought that we were going to have some sort of interaction with consulate guards or Istanbul police, but when TV cameras followed the men out of the car, we realized they were journalists. They said they have a 24-hour stakeout on the door of the consulate.

The journalists became interested that I was a former U.S. diplomat and asked my opinion of what was happening. I told them that I knew what the journalists were reporting about the disappearance of Khashoggi.

However, I mentioned violent actions have been associated with diplomatic facilities in the past. U.S. government personnel assigned to U.S. embassies, or using a U.S. embassy as diplomatic cover, had been a part of rendition, torture and deaths of people the U.S. alleged were part of terrorist activities after Sept. 11, 2001. Six days after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush signed a covert memorandum that authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to seize, detain and interrogate suspected terrorists around the world.

The CIA Connection

U.S. Embassy personnel arranged for the flights of U.S. government or private aircraft to pick persons up from one country and “render” them to other countries where they were tortured in “black sites.” Recently, a citizen’s commission in North Carolina published its report, “Torture Flights: North Carolina’s Role in the CIA Rendition and Torture Program,” that documented the use of private, U.S.-government contracted jet aircraft owned by Aero Contractors. Their flights originated from small, private airports in North Carolina with destinations all over the world to deliver alleged suspects. The report says the CIA abducted and imprisoned at least 119 individuals before the practice was officially ended and repudiated by Presidential executive order in 2009 during the Obama administration.

According to the report:

Many of the prisoners were taken to CIA “black sites,” where they experienced beatings, prolonged stress positions, temperature extremes, long-term isolation, various water tortures, mock executions and sexual abuse. In violation of international law, the CIA transported some prisoners to foreign custody where they were subject to torture and abuse. Kidnapping, torture and secret detention occurred without respect for victims’ innocence or guilt and absent any legal process for them to contact their abductions.

One of the U.S. government employees who was deeply involved in the rendition and torture during this period was CIA station chief Gina Haspel, now the director of the CIA. She flew to Istanbul on Oct. 22 ominously to represent the Trump administration during the Turkish investigation into the death of Khashoggi.

A few days before she arrived, on Oct. 19, the Saudi government finally acknowledged that Khashoggi died in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, claiming his death was the result of a fight that broke out between him and the 15 Saudi government officials, including four members of the Royal Guard and members of the Saudi Air Force and Army, who had flown into Istanbul on Oct. 2 and who left later in the day.

The audio that the Turkish government says it has includes recorded cries of Khashoggi as he was dismembered while still alive. The audio, which has not be released, reportedly captured the words of Salah Muhammad A. Tubaigy, chief of forensic evidence in the security division of the Saudi interior ministry, who was cutting him apart.  He supposedly heard to tell the others in the room, the consul’s study, to “Put on earphones and listen to music.”

The latest information leaking from the Turkish government indicates that the dismemberment of Khashoggi was filmed and Skyped to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s senior aide, Saud al-Qahtani, who has since been reportedly sacked from his position. Al-Qahtani was reportedly Mohammad bin Salman’s right-hand adviser/enforcer in the kidnapping and interrogation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and of the detention and shakedown of many wealthy Saudi elite in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.

Other than offering mild condolences to Jamal Khashoggi’s family, the Trump administration has slowly indicated concern about what happened in the Saudi diplomatic compound. But in a recent campaign stop, Trump applauded the actions of an official who “body-slammed” a journalist, and recall that in a Feb. 17, 2017, tweet, President Trump called the media “the enemy of the people.”

Journalists I spoke with in Istanbul cited President Trump’s comments on the U.S. press as one of the causes of the impunity of authoritarian governments to jail critical journalists, though such arrests certainly predate Trump’s presidency.  Turkey has had more imprisoned journalists than any other country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Istanbul is filled with journalists who are exiled from their countries for their views on authoritarian regimes—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen. Journalists that I spoke with in Istanbul are fearful that the authoritarian governments from which they fled may attempt to silence their dissent by violent means such as the Saudi government used against Jamal Khashoggi.

Turkey’s Inconsistencies

Istanbul lets Middle Eastern-exiled journalists report from Turkey, but it is ironic that since the failed coups in July 2016, the Turkish government has jailed more than 150 Turkish journalists on charges of terrorism offenses for articles or social media posts. President Erdogan’s administration has shut down more than 180 media outlets, putting around 2,500 journalists and media workers out of work.  On the World Press Freedom index, Turkey is 157 out of 180 countries.  Of all the imprisoned journalists worldwide, one-third are in Turkish prisons.

The Committee to Protect Journalists states that worldwide in 2018, 44 journalists have been killed. In 2017, 262 journalists disappeared, and 61 are missing globally. From 1992 to 2018, 1,323 journalists have been killed.

Some members of the U.S. Congress are calling for the Trump administration to distance itself from the Saudi regime due to the murder of Khashoggi and take serious steps, including stopping weapons sales and sanctions. Little connection is made to the horrific number of deaths in Yemen from Saudi and U.S. bombings, with the exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ reintroduction of Senate Joint Resolution 54, which calls for the end of refueling and intelligence sharing after Congress reconvenes (and hundreds more Yemenis have been killed).

As the Saudi regime murders in its own country, its diplomatic missions in Turkey and through its proxy militias in Syria, Iraq, and other countries, the U.S. wrongly continues to support this dictatorship—as a key ally of the United States.

Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a colonel.  She was also a U.S. diplomat and was in U.S. embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the U.S. government in March 2003 in opposition to the lies the Bush administration was stating as the rationale for the invasion, occupation and destruction of Iraq. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”

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