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 This superseded “Afghan War Diaries” as by far the most extensive leak of classified material in U.S. history.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.

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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.

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PATRICK LAWRENCE: The US Moves on Iran’s Oil Market as an Expression of an Irrational Foreign Policy

Patrick Lawrence gauges the backfiring potential of Pompeo’s withdrawal on Thursday of U.S. sanction waivers from eight major importers. 

A Decisive Defeat in Long-Running
Battle with Foreign Policy Minders

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement last week that no importer of Iranian oil will henceforth be exempt from U.S. sanctions is as risky as it is misguided. The withdrawal of waivers as of this Thursday effectively gives eight importers dependent on Iranian crude — India, Japan, South Korea, China, Turkey, Taiwan, Italy, and Greece — 10 days’ notice to adjust their petroleum purchases. This is now a full-court press: The intent is to cut off Iran’s access to any oil market anywhere as part of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. “We are going to zero,” Pompeo said as he disclosed the new policy.

Nobody is going to zero. The administration’s move will further damage the Iranian economy, certainly, but few outside the administration think it is possible to isolate Iran as comprehensively as Pompeo seems to expect. Turkey immediately rejected “unilateral sanctions and impositions on how to conduct relations with neighbors,” as Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu put it in a Twitter message. China could do the same, if less bluntly. Other oil importers are likely to consider barter deals, local-currency transactions, and similar “workarounds.” In the immediate neighborhood, Iraq is so far ignoring U.S. demands that it cease purchasing natural gas and electricity from Iran.

Insights on Overreach

There are a couple of insights to be gleaned from this unusually aggressive case of policy overreach.

First, the new turn in the administration’s Iran policy appears to mark a decisive defeat for President Donald Trump in his long-running battle with his foreign policy minders. It is now very unlikely Trump will achieve any of his policy objectives, a number of which represent useful alternatives to the stunningly shambolic strategies advanced by Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and other zealots in the administration.

Weakened by relentless “Russia-gate” investigations, for instance, the president has little chance now of improving ties with Moscow or negotiating with adversaries such as Iran and North Korea, as he has long advocated.

In a Face the Nation interview Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran would be open to bilateral talks under the right conditions. It was the second time in a week that Zarif made this point. But those around Trump, not least Bolton and Pompeo, are sure to block any such prospect—or sabotage talks if they do take place, as they did Trump’s second summit with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, in late February.  

Second, this administration’s foreign policy has steadily assumed an irrational character that may be unprecedented in U.S. history. This is perilous. The administration’s near-paranoiac hostility toward Pyongyang and Moscow are cases in point. So is its evident indifference to alienating longstanding allies across the Atlantic and in Asia. As of this week, however, Pompeo’s  “down to zero” policy makes Iran the most immediate danger.

Persian Gulf Chokepoint

Iranian officials, including Zarif, now threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz, chokepoint of the Persian Gulf, if Iranian tankers are prevented from passing through it. This is an indirect warning that the Iranian military could confront the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which operates in the Gulf and adjacent waters.

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A sharp spike in oil prices is another danger with which the administration now lands itself. Taken together, U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and Iran are intended to take roughly 2 million barrels of oil a day out of the market.

Saudi Arabia has pledged to make up the lost supply, but many analysts question its ability to sustain an increase in output given the advancing depletion of its long-productive Ghawar field. Spare capacity among producers is already wafer-thin. Do we need to risk another oil crisis, given the flagging global economy? 

Trump’s foreign policy minders also risk alienating allies — South Korea, Japan, India, the Europeans — whose cooperation the U.S. needs on numerous other policy questions. In the case of China, the administration puts progress on a nearly complete trade deal and Beijing’s leverage with North Korea in jeopardy.

There are other cases demonstrating the Trump administration’s apparently thorough indifference to collateral damage and the animosity of allies. Since the U.S. abandoned the Paris climate pact and the 2015 accord governing Iran’s nuclear program, the Europeans have hardly contained their anger; they are openly furious now about the tightened sanctions against Iran. The South Koreans, frustrated with Washington’sintransigent stance toward Pyongyang, now search for ways to engage the North despite many layers of UN and U.S–imposed sanctions.

The question is why this administration’s foreign policies are so amateurish and discombobulated. Corollary question: Why is the president surrounded by policy advisers so thoroughly at odds with those of his objectives that are worthwhile?

Trump arrived in Washington an outsider: This is where answers to these questions begin. This limited the New York dealmaker to a shallow pool from which to build his administration. His never-ending Russia-gate problem further handicaps him. This administration is among the most opaque in recent history, so certainties as to its internal workings are hard to come by. But Trump may not have chosen his foreign policy team so much as its members have been imposed upon him.

However his advisers arrived in the administration, they are a toxic combination of neoconservatives, many drawn from the Heritage Foundation, and evangelical Christians. Bolton is emblematic of the former, Pompeo of the latter. This is the current complexion of American foreign policy.

Zealots and Crusaders

Both camps are populated with zealots and crusaders; both cultivate irrational world views rooted in extremist ideology and sentiment. Bolton’s obsession is the restoration of unchallenged U.S. supremacy. Pompeo is said to view adversaries such as North Korea and Iran as George W. Bush did: The U.S. is in an “end times” war with Gog and Magog, biblical manifestations of the evil abroad in the world.

To be clear, there is more wrong than right in the president’s foreign policy thinking. He was self-evidently behind the decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and the announcement in March that Washington recognizes Israeli jurisdiction over the Golan Heights.

“This is very important strategically for victory, heights, because you’re up high, very important,” Trump said over the weekend. “Fifty-two years ago this started [when Israel captured Golan from Syria in the 1967 war] and I did it quickly. Done. It’s all done.”

It is unlikely anything is all done in connection with the embassy move and the Golan Heights decision. Both run diametrically counter to international law and both have significantly damaged U.S. credibility in the Middle East. Trump, in short, makes his own miscalculations, and they are as grave as any made by the Pompeo–Bolton axis. There are few wise heads in this administration.

At the same time, Trump’s desire to negotiate with adversaries — Russia, Iran, North Korea — is entirely defensible. But the “down to zero” Iran policy to take effect this week can be read as a signal of the president’s failure to counter the foreign policy Manicheans who surround him.

There may be skirmishes to come, but the battle is over. We must now watch as extremist ideologues accelerate America’s already evident decline as a global power — along with its increasing isolation.

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 www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

 

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THE ANGRY ARAB: Deal of the Century? Which Century?

As’ad AbuKhalil explains why Palestinians will see through the latest U.S. illusion of a Middle East “peace process.”  

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

There is great speculation about the “Deal of the Century” for the Middle East, about which very little is known. What is known is that the Trump administration formulated the plan basically through bilateral talks with the Israeli government, as the Palestinian Authority has refused to talk to the Trump administration since the relocation of the U.S. embassy from occupied Jaffa (Tel Aviv) to occupied Jerusalem. 

The release of the plan has been delayed: first until after the Israeli election and now until sometime in the summer. None of the individuals tasked with formulating the plan have expertise in the Middle East, although in Washington, D.C., strong advocacy on behalf of the Israeli occupation often counts as a substitute.

This plan will be the latest attempt by a U.S. administration to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict — once and for all.  There was the Nixon administration’s famous Rogers’ Plan (named after Secretary of State William Rogers, who later resigned after complaining about National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger’s usurpation of his authority).

Before the Nixon administration, President John F. Kennedy also tried to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict only to be rebuffed by strong Zionist figures within the Democratic Party.

The origins of U.S. intervention were initially clear: that the U.S. would push for a deal based on UN Security Council Resolution  242, which calls on Israel to withdraw from “territories” it occupied in the 1967 war in return for Arab recognition and acceptance of the Israeli occupation state within the 1948 occupation. But Kissinger attached a secret appendix to the Sinai II agreement in 1975 (between Egypt and Israel) in which he pledged to boycott and ostracize the PLO, which all Arabs accepted as the legitimate and sole representative of the Palestinian people.  This exclusion of Palestinian political representation was consistent with UNSC 242, which did not mention the word “Palestinian” once, although it made a passing reference to the “refugee problem.”

Zionist Influence

And while the management of the American-led “peace process” was, during the early decades, handled by Middle East experts (known then as “Arabists,”) strong Zionist influences in successive U.S. administrations and houses of Congress marginalized their influence and slowed down the progress of the “process” — in terms of U.S. pressure on Israel.

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But the American-led “peace process” lived on for decades, not as a testimony of U.S. interest in peace in the Middle East, nor as evidence of American interest in solving the Palestinian problem, but as a way to provide Israeli occupation and aggression with a cloak of international legitimacy and to give Palestinians the illusion of “progress.”

With the Reagan administration a change occurred in the management of the “peace process;” it was taken from the Arabists and given to ardent Zionists who had no background in the Middle East. (Dennis Ross, for example, never studied the Middle East and was in fact a Soviet expert in the 1980s, before he was put in charge of the “peace process.”)

The “peace process” underwent major transformations over the years, largely to accommodate Israeli needs and preferences.  The Rogers’ Plan started as a response to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s emphasis on a “comprehensive and just” peace, which clearly precluded separate deals between Israel and any Arab state. It was this which prevented King Hussein of Jordan from reaching a separate deal with Israel. 

Nevertheless, President Jimmy Carter brokered the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel (which basically committed the U.S. to provide the Egyptian despot, President Anwar Sadat and his successors, with an annual large bribe to maintain peace with Israel despite the disapproval of the Egyptian people).  With Camp David, the “peace process” was splintered into separate “peace” deals.

The U.S. official ban on contact with the PLO was removed in the Reagan administration when Yasser Arafat agreed to read a statement faxed to him — word-for-word — by the U.S. Department of State.  The PLO was allowed into the “peace process” but only on conditions set by Israel: that the agenda would be set by U.S. and Israel and not by any Arab party. 

Initially, the U.S. worked for decades to sidestep PLO participation by anointing the Jordanian king (who is remembered by the Palestinians for the massacres of Black September in 1970) as the representative of both Jordan and the Palestinian people. But the Intifada in 1987 finally convinced the U.S. that the Palestinians are determined to insist on their self-determination.  And during the George W. Bush administration the idea of a Palestinian state was finally formally advocated by the U.S. but only within boundaries set by Israel.

No Mystery 

The new “Deal of the Century” is not a mystery.  We can read the writing on the wall and on the ground in Palestine.  The U.S. is working on a formula that does not necessarily operate on the assumption that the creation of a Palestinian state is a prerequisite for peace.  Furthermore, the U.S. plans to reduce the size of the Palestinian territory which would be theoretically managed by the Palestinian people.  The Palestinians have historically insisted on liberating 100 percent of their homeland, i.e. historic Palestine in which the Palestinians have enjoyed a majority for many centuries, and in which the Jews — as a small minority — were considered part of the local native population.

But the Zionist forces — through terrorism and through Western indulgences — persuaded Western powers that Palestinian rights to 1948 Palestine (what became declared by force as “Israel” in 1948) should never be acknowledged. 

With that principle, Western powers worked to convince Palestinians to confine their national aspirations to no more than 45 percent (in the UN Partition plan of 1947) and then to no more than 22 percent since 1967. With the U.S. entry into direct negotiations with Palestinian representatives since the Madrid Conference of 1991 (disguised as non-PLO), the Palestinians were told that they can have a homeland over most —but not all — the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem. But the American stance was not categorical because it always left it to Israel to decide on how much of the 22 percent of Palestine should the Palestinians have control over, and under which juridical conditions.

President Bill Clinton, in the famous Camp David negotiations, wanted the Palestinians to accept 91 percent of the 22 percent of Palestine, while sovereignty over the “holy sanctuary” would be shared between Israelis and Palestinians, with the Israelis having control over the land and what is underneath it (which Palestinians consider a threat to the very foundations of Al-Aqsa).  Camp David fell and Clinton — typical of him — blamed the Palestinians after having promised Yasser Arafat that he would not blame the Palestinians if the talks did not bear fruits.

What will emerge out of the “Deal of the Century” is even less than what the Palestinians have been offered before — and which they rejected.  The Palestinians will probably be promised Gaza and Area A (under the Oslo agreement, which basically covers areas that the Palestinians — only in theory—control), and East Jerusalem will be part of a united capital for Israel while the Palestinians will be allowed to name areas outside of Jerusalem as their own “East Jerusalem.”

The Israelis will continue, of course, to maintain control of air, land and sea over all Palestinian areas, and the Israeli occupation army will continue to decide who can enter and who can exit Palestinian areas.  And Israeli settlements will be untouched by any of the terms of the “deal.”

Sovereignty over those small Palestinian areas won’t be considered as the U.S. and Israel both have recently reneged on previous promises of statehood. Instead, the plan will revert to what Israel’s Menachem Begin called “autonomy” (under the Camp David negotiations), according to which the Palestinians will exercise limited municipal management of their areas (trash collection, postal service, sewage, etc). 

But it is quite clear that the Palestinians who had rejected such plans in a previous century won’t agree to them now, especially that the octogenarian Mahmoud Abbas (who is already despised and detested by his people for his corruption and fealty to the occupation) won’t dare agree to what Arafat before him had rejected. 

But Trump and his team assume that an infusion of foreign aid and new business in Palestinian areas would serve as a compensation to the Palestinians for the loss of their homeland.   But that assumption is based on a false premise: that people live by bread alone.

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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Julian Assange’s Nightmarish Future

The WikiLeaks publisher is in a maximum-security prison that has been called the UK’s Guantanamo Bay, Elizabeth Vos reports.

By Elizabeth Vos
Special to Consortium News

While Julian Assange waits for what comes next — sentencing on skipping bail in England and a U.S. extradition request — he is being held in a maximum-security prison in London that has been called the “UK’s Guantanamo Bay” and has been used to detain alleged terrorists, sometimes indefinitely

The reputation of HM Prison Belmarsh raises natural concerns about the wellbeing of the WikiLeaks publisher there.

“While many prisoners at Belmarsh say it’s difficult to see a doctor or a nurse, these services are available at the facility,” reports Bloomberg News, regarding the possibility of Assange receiving overdue medical attention. 

Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh had been used to detain high-profile national security prisoners indefinitely without charge under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001, passed six weeks after 9/11, until the House of Lords ruled it violated the British Human Rights Act.

Assange was found guilty on Thursday of skipping bail. On May 2 he is scheduled to participate in a court hearing via video link on the U.S. extradition request.

Assange’s name now tops the alphabetical roster of notables who have done time at Belmarsh or who are still there. The list includes notorious gangsters, serial killers and drug traffickers. Ronnie Biggs of the 1963 Great Train Robbery was imprisoned there.  Others are subjects of high-profile scandal, such as Richard Tomlinson, imprisoned for six months in 1997 after he gave a synopsis of a proposed book detailing his career with MI6 to an Australian publisher. Andy Coulson, a former press secretary to Prime Minister David Cameron, was imprisoned for a few months for the phone hacking scandal that engulfed News of the World while he was editor there. 

One mainstay of the inmate population are convicted terrorists. Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian cleric, was at Belmarsh until his  extradition to the United States where he is serving life in prison on 11 counts of terrorism. Rams Mohammed, Muktar Said Ibrahim and Yasin Hassan Omar were were all incarcerated there for their roles in the 2005 attempted bombings of the London underground. Anjou Choudhry completed his sentence at Belmarsh for promoting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale are identified as Islamic terrorists convicted of the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in London.  

There is legitimate concern about how Assange will fare inside Belmarsh. A 2018 survey by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons found that “91 percent of men said they had problems when they arrived at Belmarsh, which was higher than at other local prisons and more than at our last inspection,” Business Insider reported.

In 2009, the same prison authority had found extremely high amount of force used to control inmates at the prison.

Detainees were “unable to see the intelligence evidence against them and are confined to their cells for up to 22 hours a day. Their solicitors say they have been ‘entombed in concrete,’ BBC reported in 2004. 

The 2018 chief inspector’s report said the prison contains a “High Security Unit (HSU) within the already-high-security premises, which the report described as a ‘prison within a prison.’” The report went on to state that:

“The role of the high security unit (HSU) remained unclear. We were told it was for high risk category A prisoners, but such men are held in main locations in other high security prisons and we did not understand why the approach was different at Belmarsh. We noted that two of the men held were only standard risk category A prisoners and that in December 2017 two men from the main prison had been held in the HSU segregation unit. The conditions and the regime in the HSU provided prisoners with an intense custodial experience in which they could exercise little self-determination, and we were concerned that prisoners could be located there without any oversight process or redress.”

Describing the use of solitary confinement, the chief inspector’s report found: “Conditions in the unit were reasonable, but some prisoners could not have a shower or exercise every day. Those who could only be unlocked in the presence of several officers were most affected.” The report repeatedly described concerns that arose due to staff shortages, and added in a separate section: “We remained concerned about this use of designated cells, where men were held in prolonged solitary confinement on an impoverished regime.”

Individual accounts from former Belmarsh inmates published by CAGE, an advocacy group against human rights abuses that occurred as a result of the “war on Terror,” described their experiences. An anonymous prisoner who was later acquitted said: “The prison system is run in such a way as to humiliate and degrade the inmate as much as possible. The process of dehumanisation starts immediately.” In the wake of Assange’s imprisonment, CAGE published a statement, saying in part: “The UK is doing the U.S.’s dirty work by persecuting a man who exposed war crimes.”

Vigils and protests in support of Assange were held outside the prison on April 14 and April 15.

The last time Assange was held in a British prison, in 2010, he says that he was given food containing metal objects that severely damaged a tooth. This was at London’s HM Prison WandsworthThe incident caused serious injury and he did not receive proper medical treatment during the six and a half years of  his confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy. A medical report published by WikiLeaks in 2015 describes Assange’s version of the event:

‘This is Unlawful, I’m Not Leaving’

Uniformed British police officers, aided by what appeared to be plain-clothes secret police, had entered the embassy on Thursday morning when the Ecuadorian ambassador “indicated he was preparing to serve upon Mr Assange documentation revoking his asylum,” attorney James Hines, Queens Counsel, who represented the U.S. government, told the court during Assange’s bail-skipping hearing.  The Guardian quoted Hines as later telling the court that day: 

 “Officers tried to introduce themselves to him in order to execute the arrest warrant before he barged past them, attempting to return to his private room.

“He was eventually arrested at 10.15 am. He resisted that arrest, claiming ‘this is unlawful’ and he had to be restrained.

“Officers were struggling to handcuff him. They received assistance from other officers outside and he was handcuffed saying, ‘this is unlawful, I’m not leaving’.

“He was in fact lifted into the police van outside the embassy and taken to West End Central police station.”

Assange was likely referring to the 1951 Convention on Refugees that forbids a nation that has granted someone asylum from returning that person to a country where the asylee is likely to be persecuted.

Police were then filmed forcibly dragging the handcuffed, physically ill Assange from the steps of the embassy. During the arrest, Assange was seen holding a copy of Gore Vidal’s “The History of the National Security State,” as he shouted: “The UK must resist this….the UK must resist.”

Fears of U.S. Mistreatment 

In view of then CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s comparison of WikiLeaks (46:00 minutes into the above video) with Al Qaeda, while calling it a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” concerns are mounting in Assange’s camp about the harsh treatment he may face by British, and if he’s extradited, U.S.  authorities.

In the hours following the arrest, Reuters reported: “Lawyers for Assange said he may risk torture and his life would be in danger if he were to be extradited to the United States.”

On the same day, human-rights organizations and press-freedom advocates argued against the prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder. These groups included the ACLU, The Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Center for Investigative Journalism, Amnesty Ireland, Committee To Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Union of Journalists, the The Knight First Amendment Institute and Digital Rights Watch.

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald was quick to note the widespread mischaracterization of the charge against Assange as one of “hacking,” writing that the charging document and related materials indicate Assange may have attempted to help Chelsea Manning, a U.S. Army whistleblower then known as Bradley Manning, use a different username to access classified material she was legally allowed to access at the time. In other words, Greenwald says Assange is charged with helping a source preserve anonymity, a common practice by investigative reporters.

Greenwald also points out that this action has been on public record since 2011, but that U.S. authorities under the Obama administration refused to use it as a basis of prosecution due to the chill it could put on press freedom.

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UN Visitor

The UN independent expert on the right to privacy, Joe Cannataci, issued a statement following Assange’s arrest.  “This will not stop my efforts to assess Mr. Assange’s claims that his privacy has been violated,” he was quoted by the United Nations’ news service.  “All it means is that, instead of visiting Mr. Assange and speaking to him at the Embassy. I intend to visit him and speak to him wherever he may be detained.” 

Shortly before Assange’s expulsion, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer expressed alarm at reports that an arrest was imminent. If extradited, Melzer said Assange could be exposed to “a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial, and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Assange’s supporters likewise fear for his treatment in Belmarsh. 

Matthew Hoh, a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy and a former Marine, visited Assange at the embassyHe worries about the mistreatment Assange might face in custody. He believes, “When they get their hands on him, they will do things that will be criminal, it will be immoral, it will be torture,” he said during an online Unity4J vigil held days before Assange’s expulsion. 

The online Assange vigils are co-hosted by Consortium News and have been held for over a year, to maintain public awareness about Assange after Ecuador withdrew his internet access.  

Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, during a Unity4J panel,  offered his fear of what he believes will happen to Assange if he is extradited to the United States :

“He will have a hood over his head, he will be shackled and chained, he’ll be put on a black flight, he will be taken to the U.S., put into solitary confinement — which is a form of torture, it is how people break, and often break very quickly. He will be relentlessly interrogated, there will be all sorts of psychological techniques — it will be very hot in his cell and then very cold. They will constantly wake him every few hours so he will be sleep deprived. They will maybe even put him into a dry cell, where there is no water, so he will have to ask for water to go to the bathroom or wash his hands.”

Hedges continued:

“Everyone has a breaking point, and they will attempt to psychologically destroy him, and we have seen with Guantanamo that several of these detainees, most of whom were just sold to the U.S. by warlords in Afghanistan or Pakistan, are emotionally crippled for life. It will be scientific torture. I used to cover the Stasi state in East Germany, and the joke in the Stasi state was that the Gestapo broke bones and the Stasi break minds, and that’s what they’ll do. That’s what will happen. I’ve seen it with Muslims who have been entrapped in the U.S. in so-called terrorism plots, and by the time they shuffle into court, they are a zombie.”

Hedges added: “There will be a veneer of legality:  it will be the figment of law. But he will be treated like all of the people who have been disappeared into that system from around the world.”

Micol Savia, representative of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers at the United Nations, drew on Chelsea Manning’s experience of torture in U.S. custody when raising concern that Assange may be likewise abused, writing via Twitter: 

“#Assange’s eventual extradition to the US would expose him to a substantive risk of human rights violations. The likely treatment he would receive can easily be inferred from the unjust trial and detention of [Chelsea Manning] @xychelsea, who faced life in prison and was subjected to torture.”

Elizabeth Vos is a freelance reporter and regular contributor to Consortium News. She co-hosts the #Unity4J online vigil.

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7 Years of Lies About Assange Won’t Stop Now

One of the few towering figures of our time was reduced to nothing more than a sex pest and scruffy bail-skipper, writes Jonathan Cook.

By Jonathan Cook
Jonathan-Cook.net

For seven years, from the moment Julian Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, they have been telling us we were wrong, that we were paranoid conspiracy theorists. We were told there was no real threat of Assange’s extradition to the United States, that it was all in our fevered imaginations.

For seven years, we have had to listen to a chorus of journalists, politicians and “experts” telling us that Assange was nothing more than a fugitive from justice, and that the British and Swedish legal systems could be relied on to handle his case in full accordance with the law. Barely a “mainstream” voice was raised in his defense in all that time.

From the moment he sought asylum, Assange was cast as an outlaw. His work as the founder of Wikileaks – a digital platform that for the first time in history gave ordinary people a glimpse into the darkest recesses of the most secure vaults in the deepest of Deep States – was erased from the record.

Assange was reduced from one of the few towering figures of our time – a man who will have a central place in history books, if we as a species live long enough to write those books – to nothing more than a sex pest, and a scruffy bail-skipper.

The political and media class crafted a narrative of half-truths about the sex charges Assange was under investigation for in Sweden. They overlooked the fact that Assange had been allowed to leave Sweden by the original investigator, who dropped the charges, only for them to be revived by another investigator with a well-documented political agenda.

They failed to mention that Assange was always willing to be questioned by Swedish prosecutors in London, as had occurred in dozens of other cases involving extradition proceedings to Sweden. It was almost as if Swedish officials did not want to test the evidence they claimed to have in their possession.

The media and political courtiers endlessly emphasized Assange’s bail violation in the U.K., ignoring the fact that asylum seekers fleeing legal and political persecution don’t usually honor bail conditions imposed by the very state authorities from which they are seeking asylum.

Ignoring Mounting Evidence

The political and media establishment ignored the mounting evidence of a secret grand jury in Virginia formulating charges against Assange, and ridiculed Wikileaks’ concerns that the Swedish case might be cover for a more sinister attempt by the U.S. to extradite Assange and lock him away in a high-security prison, as had happened to whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

They belittled the 2016 verdict of a panel of United Nations legal scholars that the U.K. was arbitrarily detaining Assange. The media were more interested in the welfare of his cat.

They ignored the fact that after Ecuador changed presidents – with the new one keen to win favor with Washington – Assange was placed under more and more severe forms of solitary confinement. He was denied access to visitors and basic means of communications, violating both his asylum status and his human rights, and threatening his mental and physical wellbeing.

Equally, they ignored the fact that Assange had been given diplomatic status by Ecuador, as well as Ecuadorean citizenship. Britain was obligated to allow him to leave the embassy, using his diplomatic immunity, to travel unhindered to Ecuador. No “mainstream” journalist or politician thought this significant either.

They turned a blind eye to the news that, after refusing to question Assange in the U.K., Swedish prosecutors had decided to quietly drop the case against him in 2015. Sweden had kept the decision under wraps for more than two years.

It was a freedom of information request by an ally of Assange, not a media outlet, that unearthed documents showing that Swedish investigators had, in fact, wanted to drop the case against Assange back in 2013. The UK, however, insisted that they carry on with the charade so that Assange could remain locked up. A British official emailed the Swedes: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”

Documents Destroyed

Most of the other documents relating to these conversations were unavailable. They had been destroyed by the U.K.’s Crown Prosecution Service in violation of protocol. But no one in the political and media establishment cared, of course.

Similarly, they ignored the fact that Assange was forced to hole up for years in the embassy, under the most intense form of house arrest, even though he no longer had a case to answer in Sweden. They told us – apparently in all seriousness – that he had to be arrested for his bail infraction, something that would normally be dealt with by a fine.

And possibly most egregiously of all, most of the media refused to acknowledge that Assange was a journalist and publisher, even though by failing to do so they exposed themselves to the future use of the same draconian sanctions should they or their publications ever need to be silenced. They signed off on the right of the U.S. authorities to seize any foreign journalist, anywhere in the world, and lock him or her out of sight. They opened the door to a new, special form of rendition for journalists.

This was never about Sweden or bail violations, or even about the discredited Russia-gate narrative, as anyone who was paying the vaguest attention should have been able to work out. It was about the U.S. Deep State doing everything in its power to crush WikiLeaks and make an example of its founder.

It was about making sure there would never again be a leak like that of  “Collateral Murder,” the military video released by Wikileaks in 2007 that showed U.S. soldiers celebrating as they murdered Iraqi civilians. It was about making sure there would never again be a dump of U.S. diplomatic cables, like those released in 2010 that revealed the secret machinations of the U.S. empire to dominate the planet whatever the cost in human rights violations.

Now the pretense is over. The British police invaded the diplomatic territory of Ecuador – invited in by Ecuador after it tore up Assange’s asylum status – to smuggle him off to jail. Two vassal states cooperating to do the bidding of the U.S. empire. The arrest was not to help two women in Sweden or to enforce a minor bail infraction.

No, the British authorities were acting on an extradition warrant from the U.S. And the charges the U.S. authorities have concocted relate to Wikileaks’ earliest work exposing the U.S. military’s war crimes in Iraq – the stuff that we all once agreed was in the public interest, that British and U.S. media clamored to publish themselves.

Still the media and political class is turning a blind eye. Where is the outrage at the lies we have been served up for these past seven years? Where is the contrition at having been gulled for so long? Where is the fury at the most basic press freedom – the right to publish – being trashed to silence Assange? Where is the willingness finally to speak up in Assange’s defense?

It’s not there. There will be no indignation at the BBC, or the Guardian, or CNN. Just curious, impassive – even gently mocking – reporting of Assange’s fate.

And that is because these journalists, politicians and experts never really believed anything they said. They knew all along that the U.S. wanted to silence Assange and to crush Wikileaks. They knew that all along and they didn’t care. In fact, they happily conspired in paving the way for today’s kidnapping of Assange.

They did so because they are not there to represent the truth, or to stand up for ordinary people, or to protect a free press, or even to enforce the rule of law. They don’t care about any of that. They are there to protect their careers, and the system that rewards them with money and influence. They don’t want an upstart like Assange kicking over their applecart.

Now they will spin us a whole new set of deceptions and distractions about Assange to keep us anaesthetized, to keep us from being incensed as our rights are whittled away, and to prevent us from realizing that Assange’s rights and our own are indivisible. We stand or fall together.

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




The System, Youth and Democracy

When masses of students from all over the world mobilize around a utopia, adults become uncomfortable, writes Roberto Savio.

By Roberto Savio
in Rome
Inter Press Service

If we ever needed proof of how the political system has become self-referential and unable to update itself, the latest student march in more than 1,000 towns is a very good example.

Of course, politicians referred to it in declarations and, in a totally demagogic gesture, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Community and an old political fox with a lot of mileage, even kissed the hand of Greta Thunberg. She is the 16-year-old Swedish girl who, frustrated with the pace of government action to deal with climate change, launched a “school strike for climate” last year, setting off an international youth movement and widespread demonstrations in an unprecedented initiative on climate change. We are fortunate that the Asperger’s syndrome Greta suffers from brings little empathy and greater determination, so is totally improbable that she will be co-opted by flattery and recognition.

It was interesting to see the reaction of politicians.  In the Italian Parliament, for example, insiders report that the reaction was one of  “in any case they do not vote, they are too young.”

It should be recalled that in its 2017 budget, the Italian government earmarked $20 billion to save four Italian banks and just $2 billion for subsidies and support to young people. School principals from Germany to Italy declared that the duty of students is to study, not take part in demonstrations, and – as usual – a conspiracy theory circulated that because climate change is too complex an issue for young people to understand, Greta was clearly a puppet in the hands of adults.

Rush to Discredit

Newspapers dwelt on the relations between Greta Thunberg’s family and climate change campaigners to show that she had been used. Maybe so, but it is now too late to discredit her. She acted on her initiative, on goals that were hers, and the hundreds of thousands of students around the world were not copying her … she has touched a chord that was already there.

The fact is that when masses of students from all over the world mobilize around a utopia (a concept which has totally disappeared in the political world), adults become uncomfortable. It measures the distance between what we are now and what we were when young; the world was more idealistic then than now, and we all had some hope and engagement.

That distance is quite large … many of us have betrayed those ideals or put them to sleep. The way out is skepticism and paternalism.  We know the reality, we know what dreams are, and young people should listen to our experiences. In May 1968, during the student riots in France, Tristan Tzara, the father of Dadaism, shouted to the marching students from his balcony: ”Criez, criez, vous serez tous des notaires” (Yell, shout, you will all be notaries). And for those of us who have not betrayed ideals and commitments, there is the sad realization that we are a failed generation, a generation that was unable to implement its vision of a better society.

The difference is that when we were young, the most existential threat was the atomic bomb, and we took part in many marches. Today, that threat is not only coming back to haunt us with abolition of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), but there is a new existential threat: climate change.

What is very impressive is that many students speak of how they are changing their lifestyle: from not using plastic bottles, to reducing meat consumption and using less water when they brush their teeth. This change of lifestyle goes far beyond climate change, it goes to the heart of our consumption society and its values, a society in which advertising budgets are greater than those for education.

And the fact that the heavy users of the Internet, the first willing victims of commercialization of the Net, are starting to doubt the use by Google, Twitter and other platforms of people as consumers and not as citizens is a significant fact. They are now ignoring advertising. Automakers are very sad that the car is no longer a status symbol among young people … Nike, jeans and smartphones are today’s status symbols and their impact on climate is much smaller.

Extremely interesting are the reflections of a high-level staff member of the World Economic Forum in Davos: “We view with great sympathy the mobilization  of civil society … thanks to them, several gaps in the field of medical assistance, museum and art care, and many social problems, are being taken care of … this has a dual positive effect: it reduces social tensions, and it keeps volunteers busy, and out of political engagement.” In other words, civil-society activists are seen as hamsters: running all the time, and going nowhere.

The time has perhaps come for our generation to make three considerations.

No. 1: 2008 Crisis

The first is that we would do well to remember that until the crisis of 2008, with the exception of Le Pen in France, populist, xenophobic and nationalist parties were marginal. Now they are everywhere, except for Portugal, and they are frequently in power, as in Italy, Austria, Poland and Hungary, or in the government coalitions of several countries, including the Nordic countries. Nobody at that time could have thought of rabid nationalists like the U.S. Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Colombia’s Iván Duque Márquez, India’s Narendra Modi, the Philippine’s Rodrigo Duterte, Japan’s Shinz? Abe or China’s Xi Jinpeng would be at the helms of these countries. Nor could anyone have seen how the multilateral system, based on the idea of peace and cooperation, would be disintegrating.

Now we know what capitalism and finance mean when they are unchecked. We now have a financial system that is 40 times more powerful that the world of industry and services, and without any control. Since 2008, banks have been fined over $800 billion for illegal practices.

Nobody foresaw a world where 40 people would possess the same wealth as 2.3 billion people, a world where in just one minute the family owner of the Walmart supermarket chain makes the equivalent of the yearly salary of its employees. Over the last decade, fiscal paradises have hidden at least $30 trillion from the fiscal system: six times the budget of the U.S. government. Countries are now unable to act globally, while finance does so daily, unfettered.

The last decade has seen a steady deterioration of democracy, of social justice, of concern to secure a future for the young and halt the existential threat to the planet, to humans, animals and plants.

There have been only two new changes. One is the arrival of women on the political scene, with millions mobilizing against injustice and patriarchalism. Has that enormous mobilization brought about any change in legislations and budgets? Hardly. On the contrary, the prestige of dinosaurs like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Trump, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Le Pen and company has been reinforced; they are the defenders of the values of the Western civilization, against dissolution of the family and the advancement of woman (associated in the same breath with lesbians, gays and transgenders in a revealing logic).

The second is the arrival of young people who are mobilizing … so far, the extreme right has made no comment. Yet, touching on climate change, alternative energies and lifestyle is bound to create opposition soon or later. A strange destiny that of the extreme right; it is now against peace, development and social justice as central values. In a short space of time it will be against women, and now it will be against young people.

No. 2: Young People

The second consideration is this campaign by young people. Its main value is that it has put the political system in front of its responsibilities. “We have no time,” and it is true. We are all mesmerized by the Paris Agreement on climate change, with the participation of all countries of the world.  However, it is important to see how the treaty was conceived. To make a tent large enough to accommodate everybody, the rules are: every country will decide what targets it will adopt; and every country is responsible for checking implementation of its engagement. What would happen if we did that with taxes? Citizens would decide how many taxes they would pay, and all would be responsible for seeing that they complied.

Well, on the basis of the engagements taken until today, global temperature will increase by 3.5 degrees C compared with 1840. Scientists have always insisted that a reasonable limit is 1.5 degrees C, after which they speak of irreversible changes. Paris adopted the goal of 2 degrees Centigrade to make things easier.

Then Trump left the Agreement, explaining that climate change is a Chinese hoax to block American development. He has cancelled all legislation on climate control created before him, to the point that he is now opening all national parks to fossil fuel extraction. Of course, this pleases people like the Koch brothers who own almost all the coal mines; the petrochemical companies; the workers displaced by the fight against climate change, like miners. And it pleases the large numbers of Americans who see China as the main threat, and believe that America is a victim of international exploitation, especially by its allies (Canada, Europe, Japan), Trump’s withdrawal has given a perfect alibi to countries like Poland (coal) and Saudi Arabia (oil) and others for ducking the issue.

So governments now say that in 2020, when the first conference on implementation will be held, they will assess the situation. But the students are here to remind us that, according the vast majority of scientists, unless we change the present trend, by 2030 we will be over the famous threshold, of 1.5 degrees C, and they are calling for an unprecedented effort. But climate change is now is considered a left-wing issue and times are not really the best. In other words, there are many chances that we will reach 2020 and we will still be debating. The very important Laudatio Si encyclical from Pope Francis, who links climate to social justice, migration, technological progress, and so in a holistic approach, has been largely ignored.

Young people are asking us to act now. As Greta said at Davos: when we arrive in society, the damage will already have been done. This is an intergenerational call, and it is very important and powerful. “Parents, if you say you love us, why you do not take care of our future?” Should young people take a lesson from the violence of the Yellow Vests in France to be heard, instead of peaceful marches?

No. 3: Previous Grassroots Movements  

Now to the third consideration. The climate movement comes after several others grassroots movements. The most traumatic was the protest against the World Trade Organization in Chicago in 1999, when thousands protested against unchecked capitalism imposed by the Washington Consensus (a holistic neoliberal view of international and national relations, based on extreme reduction of the role of the state and unfettered capitalism). This Consensus,  subscribed to by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Treasury, changed the trend  from cooperation to competition and success. Social costs were unproductive, only trade and finance were the tools for the world. Margaret Thatcher famously said: there is no society, only individuals.

Then, in 2001, in Porto Alegre, the World Social Forum was created, a meeting place for sharing practices and views as an alternative to Davos, and started a process of conferences with several hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. This process continues today, albeit with a major loss of steam. Ten years later, in 2011, the Movement of the Indignados started in Madrid, asking for change to the democratic and financial system, and spread to 68 towns of Spain, lasting until 2015. Anti-system parties came out in 2013, and stood at the European elections of 2014.  Podemos gathered 1,253,837 votes and won four seats. The others did not make it: Partido X received 105.561 votes, the Movement of Citizens Democratic Renewal 105,688 and Recortes Zero 30,827.  Had they stood together, they would have won seven seats. But a proverb says that the left unites only in front of a firing squad.

But many other citizens’ movement took to the streets.  In 2011, there was Occupy Wall Street against greed, corruption, social inequality and the power of finance and corporations over political institutions, joined by several hundreds of thousands of people.  Some see the Arab Spring, and the massive protests of Algiers as part of the same revolt. But it is instructive to see how the political system read those events. They were classified as anarchist movements. Horizontalism (they elected no leader), autonomy from existing institutions and defiance, demonizing the rich and introducing class warfare, were considered anarchists who rejected the political system. The content of the demonstrations was obscured by how they structured themselves.

It is a fact that by acting without the rules of organization that political parties apply has been a huge handicap. Podemos, the only survivor of the Indignados wave, like the 5 Star Movement in Italy, structured itself as a political party. Like it or not, laws are made in parliament, and external protests, large as they might be (just think of the women’s movement), can be perfectly ignored, no risk except for recurring elections. But the political system today is not a free one. It is conditioned by finance, corporations, trade, armaments and technological developments (many more people will be made jobless by artificial intelligence than by migrants). The political system is hardly the representation of citizens in the old sense. There are 32,000 lobbyists in the U.S. Congress, and 16,000 in the European Parliament: not really a symptom of unfettered democracy. The Koch brothers, who donate hundreds of millions of dollars to the Republican Party at each election, have a vote like anyone else? Do they compete at an equal level?

Now, the student movement is asking those in power to introduce urgent changes on their behalf. Until now the system has been able to ignore requests from peoples’ movements, and let them fritter away, “Students do not vote” was the main comment from the system after the last large demonstration.

Yet, the students are denouncing an existential threat, which will reach the brothers Koch, as well the unemployed (but remember, the weakest will be affected much more). If the system does not listen to the voices of young people, the gap between political institutions and citizens will increase. And history tells us that voices from the street can be ignored once, twice, many times, but not for ever.

Young people are those who see clearly that climate change jeopardizes their future, already affected by precarious jobs, unemployment and a difficult future in which pensions will be minimal. They see growing injustice and lack of participation. They represent a revolt based on idealism and hard facts. They are also a minority because of our changing demography. If the political system ignores this latest mass movement, it will take an unprecedented risk. What happens will be something that will shape history. If the young people are be ignored, democracy will be in great peril … killing idealism is a very great responsibility.

Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of global governance. Adviser to INPS-IDN and to the Global Cooperation Council. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service news agency and its president emeritus.




How the Israel Lobby Got its Start

As the annual AIPAC conference wraps up in Washington on Tuesday, historian Walter Hixson looked back on the Israel Lobby’s origins in this speech last Friday to the “Israel Lobby & American Policy Conference” at the National Press Club.

By Walter Hixson

This conference speaks truth to power. We gather here because we support truth and justice in Palestine. We also insist on a free and open discussion of the Israel lobby and its impact on American democracy and world politics.

All of you already know that the Israel lobby is extremely powerful—for the record, it constitutes easily the most powerful diaspora lobby representing the interests of a foreign nation in all of American history—but you may not know how deeply rooted it is. In fact, the extensive lobbying efforts of Zionists and their Jewish and Christian sympathizers in the United States predate the creation of Israel and flourished throughout the first generation of the Palestine conflict.

As good a date as any to fix the origins of the Israel lobby in the United States is the 1942 Biltmore Conference held in the heartland of American Zionism, New York City. Zionists quickly discovered that they could mobilize Jewish organizations as well as groups such as the American Christian Palestine Committee, to pressure Congress to back the cause. The nascent lobby efficiently lined up the two main political parties in support of creation of a Jewish commonwealth, admission of masses of refugees, and crucial US financial assistance to accommodate them. Military assistance would come later.

A well-organized and effective Zionist lobby thus pre-dated the creation of Israel. It was poised to ensure that Israel would receive the diplomatic, political, and military support that would enable it to undertake decades of aggressive expansion in direct violation of myriad UN resolutions, principles of human rights, and international law. From the beginning the purpose of the lobby was to insulate the Zionist state from widespread criticism, to deflect and distort the truth about its aggression, so that it could reap the benefits of security and massive financial assistance from the most powerful country in the world.

Louis Lipsky, an American Zionist from Rochester, declared that propaganda and persuasion would provide “the armor that Israel cannot live without.” The key figure in the first generation of the lobby, however, was a little-known Zionist from Cleveland, Isaiah Leo Kenen. Working hand in hand with the Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, Kenen became the workhorse of the Israel lobby. His personal papers, available at the Center for Jewish History in New York yet largely neglected by scholars, reveal the early history of the lobby. Those and myriad other papers, along with State Department records and an abundant secondary literature, provide the research foundation for the book that I have done.

The Palestinians and the Arab world had no comparable lobby in the United States, which had the largest Jewish population in the world and millions of modernist and fundamentalist Protestants ready to line up behind the Jewish refugees in Palestine. Full awareness of the horrors of the Nazi genocide, combined with ignorance of the impact of Zionist aggression in Palestine, underlay US public support.

Buoyed by the growing U.S. support, Israel expanded its borders, rejected international mediation, and turned a blind eye to the plight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. When the UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden pressured Israel to compromise, a terrorist troika that included future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir had him gunned down in his jeep at a Jerusalem roadblock in September 1948.

The Qibya Massacre 

By that time, with a presidential election looming in November, the lobby exercised a powerful influence over the Truman administration. Zionists worked through David Niles, a White House adviser on Jewish affairs, which became an essential post in presidential administrations. Israeli patriarch Chaim Weizmann assiduously cultivated Truman with the help of the president’s former business partner, Eddie Jacobson, a Zionist from Kansas City.

Fully aware and frequently resentful of the pressure exerted on him by the Israel lobby, Truman nonetheless ultimately sided with it and against the advice of the State Department. The United States became the first nation to recognize Israel, supported a massive influx of Jewish migrants, and glossed the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles presented a greater challenge for Israel and the lobby than had Truman. The Republican administration entered office in 1953 determined to rein in Israel and forge a Middle East peace that would protect oil supplies, allow Arab moderates to fend off extremists, and support the overarching foreign policy of containment of communism. Israel appeared vulnerable when Ariel Sharon manifested a lifelong zeal for indiscriminate slaughter of vulnerable Arab people, as he orchestrated a massacre in the West Bank village of Qibya in October 1953.

Deeply alarmed by the impact the massacre might have on American public opinion, Kenen mobilized the local councils to calm the waters in the wake of the indiscriminate killing of innocent villagers in their homes. Kenen soon realized that the political power of the lobby already was so well ensconced that representatives and senators of both political parties could be counted on to line up behind Israel in a crisis. This was an important moment, as Qibya showed thatIsrael could massacre people and rely on the lobby to effectively manage the political fallout.

Israel thus could continue to lash out violently across the already expanded borders, regularly carrying out assaults disproportionate to any provocation in Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon. In 1957 Eisenhower did force Israel to pull back after it had invaded Egypt, but even then, Israeli aggression was rewarded with critical new navigation rights that would enable it to precipitate the pivotal June 1967 War.

JFK and Dimona

In the period between Suez and the 1967 war, John F. Kennedy won election backed by overwhelming Jewish political support. In 1962 JFK pronounced the existence of the “special relationship” and opened the military supply spigot by selling Israel Hawk surface to air missiles. The Israelis showed their appreciation to Kennedy by repeatedly lying to him about the nuclear research program in the desert at Dimona. They pledged not to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East when in fact they were committed to doing precisely that. Israel refused to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran, by contrast, like the overwhelming majority of nations in the world, is a signatory.

By the Kennedy years the lobby had reorganized several times and established its structural component, AIPAC, backed by influential supporters in both political parties. Kenen regularly stuffed congressional mailboxes with copies of the Near East Report, the well-edited and highly successful propaganda newsletter that he created. Inside the White House, the Jewish affairs adviser Myer “Mike” Feldman undermined efforts to rein in Israel.

The lobby ensured that the State Department and the few members of Congress who asked troublesome questions—notably Senator J. William Fulbright—were kept at bay. The lobby then targeted and in 1974 helped defeat Fulbright and drive him out of the Senate. Noting that the Kennedy administration was virtually powerless against Israel and the lobby, adviser Robert Komer, himself Jewish, asked in frustration, “What kind of relationship was this?” To Komer and the State Department diplomats it was obvious that Israel and the lobby were the tail that wagged the strategic dog of American Middle East policy.

LBJ and the ’67 War

In his blurb for my book, John Mearsheimer wrote that it is “especially good at showing how a select group of pro-Israel Americans profoundly influenced President Lyndon Johnson, who was like putty in their hands.” Johnson had been pro-Israel since his youth when his Aunt Jessie infused him with the biblical lore that God had chosen the Jews to inherit the holy land. Johnson also enjoyed the company of close Jewish friends and advisers—Eppie Evron, Abe Fortas, Arthur Goldberg, Arthur and Mathilde Krim, among others. Johnson apparently did not directly green light Israel’s initiation of the June 1967 War, but neither did he flash a red signal.

As several Israeli leaders subsequently openly acknowledged, Israel in 1967 as in 1956 launched the June war as a first rather than a last resort. The Israelis as well as the CIA knew that Israel was the more powerful force, could defeat all of its Arab rivals combined, and that is precisely what Israel did, initiating a blitzkrieg attack rather than seeking a negotiated settlement of maritime and territorial disputes.

After the war–which included the apparently deliberate attempt to sink an American spy ship, the USS Liberty, killing 34 and wounding 171 US sailors–Johnson reversed a generation of US policy upholding the 1949 borders. He acquiesced to the lobby in support of an occupation of Arab territories that extended in myriad directions far beyond the 1949 armistice lines. The lobby thus enabled Israel to exploit the sweeping military triumph by embarking on a messianic quest for the Greater Israel.

My study culminates with the pivotal decisions in 1967 initiating an illegal occupation and the emergence of a violently regressive apartheid state. Before most Americans even knew that it existed the lobby had played a pivotal role in enabling Israel to launch an aggressive war, to choose land over peace with the Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors, and to continue to thumb its nose at the UN and international law. The United States not only enabled the illegal occupation, it bolstered the IDF with advanced weaponry including tanks and F-4 Phantom jets despite Israel’s contempt for the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

By 1967, Israel and the lobby had achieved a stranglehold over modern American political life. “The U.S. position is all that can be desired,” Kenen declared after the Six Day War. “The U.S. is working like never before.”

Lobby Becomes Known

The lobby achieved its success by circumventing the foreign policy bureaucracy and applying pressure directly on the president and the Congress through campaigns to secure financial assistance, armaments, and unstinting diplomatic support for Israel. By the 1970s the lobby and Kenen himself began to be identified and chronicled by the press. Asked in 1973 to explain the operations of the lobby, Kenen responded, “I put it very succinctly in one sentence, ‘We appeal to local leadership to write or telegraph or telephone their Congressmen and urge them to call upon the President to overrule the Department of State,’ and this has been going on, now for some 20 years.” At the time of the interview the Near East Report had achieved a circulation of nearly 30,000.

As Kenen suggested, and as my book shows, throughout the first generation of its existence, from the Truman through the Johnson years the lobby successfully fended off persistent State Department efforts to forge an “impartial” or “balanced” diplomacy between Israel and the Arabs. While Israel carried out cross-border attacks, stonewalled refugees, and rejected diplomacy, the lobby successfully undermined the advice of area experts who warned that the imbalanced, pro-Israeli policy would perpetuate instability and achieve security for no one, including Israel.

American professional diplomats, often wrongly dismissed as pro-Arab or even anti-Semitic, neither of which was true, warned about the consequences, including the rise of extremism in the Arab world. Their prophecy would come full circle in the twenty-first century.

Blaming the Victim

I turn now to a broader interpretive study I have undertaken on a history of the U.S.-Israeli special relationship. When I began intensive study of Israel-Palestine several years ago, I was susceptible to the familiar stereotypes: age-old religious conflict, ancient enmities, neither side will compromise, etc., etc. Now that I know better, I am of course charged with being one-sided, so let me say this: Palestinians and Arabs are human and have made many mistakes, to be sure. The historical record clearly shows, however, that the Palestine conflict is rooted in Zionist aggression. Accelerating settler colonization has both caused and perpetuated the conflict and moreover has foreclosed genuine opportunities for a peace settlement–in 1949, even more clearly in 1967, and in the 1990s as well.

In everyday life we learn that it is inappropriate to blame the victim. The same is true in diplomatic history; no one blames Poland for being invaded in 1939. Accordingly, the focus in what follows is where it belongs, on the aggressors and their apologists. Today Israel and its American backers have become increasingly transparent in their regressive policies, claiming Jerusalem as the “eternal capital,” savagely cutting off Gaza as well as aid to the Palestinian refugees, engaging in targeted killings and collective punishment, and now the United States has signed off on another illegitimate annexation, this of the Syrian Golan Heights. All of these actions are in direct violation of international law. We may not be able to stop these actions at this moment in time, but what we can do as scholars and activists is call to account Israel and the United States for their crimes against humanity. Specifically, we must gain a clearer understanding of Israel’s core identity, and the ways in which the lobby acts to cover up Israel’s crimes.

Application of the framework of settler colonialism to explain Israeli history has been a step in the right direction, but what does this label really mean? Here is a brief overview: Animated bynationalist and religious discourses, settler states such as Israel, the United States, Australia and South Africa, among others, are congenitally aggressive. They strive to cleanse the land of its indigenous residents in the name of providential destiny, modernity, and racial hierarchy. Settler colonial states work relentlessly to establish facts on the ground. They embrace violent solutions including regular resort to massacre. They reject legal restraints and they abhor external authority.

The drive to lay claim to the biblical holy land meant that Israel would not agree to a negotiated settlement of the Palestine conflict. The “peace process” became a sham, providing cover for the establishment of ever more facts on the ground. Fueled by aggressive instincts and mythical destiny, Israel became a reactionary and a rogue state, building illegal settlements in contempt of the UN, and repressing Palestinians in contempt of human rights. Knowing that the lobby had its back, Israel ignored the State Department and rebuffed American presidents, thereby affirming Moshe Dayan’s famous quip, “Our American friends offer us money, arms, and advice. We take the money, we take the arms, and we decline the advice.” The Israeli patriarch Ben-Gurion liked to say, “It is not important what the Gentiles say, what matters is what the Jews do.”

The Israeli political system has empowered a series of bigoted, bellicose leaders who showed utter contempt for Arabs and a determination violently to dispossess them. The early Zionist leaders bore the psychic scars and traumas of the bloodlands of east-central Europe from which they came. They carried the terrible burden of the Nazi genocide that took the lives of their family members and some six million Jews.

As a result, they were quick to brand Arab leaders like Nasser as the next Hitler; diplomacy became a reprise of Munich; any effort at compromise was dismissed as appeasement. This time, they vowed, the Jews would be the aggressors. The Israeli leaders thus inherited, internalized, and perpetuated an intolerant, Hobbesian worldview that was inimical to peacemaking.

War Crimes

For most of its existence Israel has been led by men who should be held accountable for war crimes. I do not make such an accusation lightly; abundant evidence exists under international law to make the case against, at a minimum, Ben-Gurion, Dayan, Begin, Sharon, Shamir, and Netanyahu. They must be held to account in the dock of history if nowhere else.

Millions of decent, caring people live in Israel. Some of them bear a heavy burden of regret and frustration over their country’s actions, as do many of us with respect to American policies both at home and abroad. The crucial point, however, is that neither peace-minded Israeli citizens nor liberal American Jews have thus far been unable to break through the iron wall of Israel’s militant chauvinism or to unhinge the right-wing vice grip on political power. The conclusion seems inescapable: the militant and messianic settler state selects like-minded leaders.

It is essential to come to grips with the militancy at the core of Israel’s identity in order to understand the role of the Israel lobby. The lobby provides cover for Israel’s congenital aggression, its pursuit of land over peace, its flaunting of international law. While Israel carries out violent and criminal acts, the lobby functions to insulate it from criticism, to distort history and reality, in sum to provide what Lipsky described, the armor that Israel cannot live without.

Such is the hubris of imperial settler states like Israel and the United States that even as they engage in violent repression, they simultaneously insist on being loved, honored, and accredited as model democracies. Historical denial and policing of dissent are thus among the primary characteristics of the militant settler state. Efforts to unpack Israeli or for that matter American mythology and to expose the aggression that inheres within, are invariably attacked as subversive.

For Israel, like the Soviet Union of old, glasnost could become a deadly virus. For these reasons Israel and the lobby smear and condemn their critics unmercifully. Which brings us to the recent remarkable, deeply disturbing, and yet highly revealing case of Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Rep. Omar may have been guilty of hitting the send button on some loosely worded tweets—clearly as rare and heinous a crime as there is in America today. Israel’s apologists attacked Rep. Omar for linking “Benjamins” with the Israel lobby; that is for having the temerity to suggest that a politicallobbyin a capitalist society might raise and use moneyin an effort to shape public opinion and the resultant national security policy. This, of course, is precisely what the Israel lobby doesdo.

Nonetheless, Rep. Omar apologized for the tweet, showing a degree of states-woman-ship that you may never see nor hear from the Israel lobby. Think about all of the people that CAMERA and other Zionist attack groups have smeared over the years? Have you ever known themto apologize?

Israel’s vocal partisans in Congress, backed by the lobby, stepped up the Orwellian assault on Rep. Omar when she stated another rather obvious truth, namely that the lobby demands political allegiance to the state of Israel. So, we have a situation in which a lobby was created for the express purposeof promoting uncritical bipartisan support for Israel, yet when a member of Congress dares to point this out, she is viciously attacked and inundated with death threats.

Derrida and Foucault would no doubt be gratified that the Israel lobby has mastered the concept of tropes, as well as the ability to use them to manipulate an all too easily confused, Internet-addled mass society. Tropes, as the French theorists taught us, are deployed for the purpose of exercising power. While Rep. Omar herself never used the term “dual loyalty,” her critics unleashed this particular trope as if she had. She was then promptly saddled with the scarlet letter of anti-Semitism.

Unreflective journalists including the so-called liberal news media jumped on the bandwagon, affirming and spreading the word to the point that a canard effectively became the “truth,” namely that Omar had trafficked in anti-Semitic discourse. What she had done in actuality was attempt to criticize Israel and illuminate the role of the lobby. These are the reasons that she had to be smeared and silenced.

Smears and distortion undermine free speech and dissent in a supposedly democratic society, but even worse in this case they cheapen and detract from the chilling reality of actualanti-Semitism, the hate-filled stereotypes and violent attacks such as Charlottesville and especially the massacre at the Pittsburgh synagogue in October of last year.

Let’s consider another trope: “Islamic terrorism.” In the United States, in Israel, and other countries you are free to use this trope at will. It is perfectly acceptable to link the world’s second largest religious tradition, with millions of adherents in scores of countries all over the globe, with terrorism. If you say “Islamic terrorism,” there will be no lobby, no trope police to step in with smears and vilification. You are thus free to inspire people to take action, like the mass murders last week in the New Zealand mosque. If you apply “Axis of evil” or “evil-doers” to Islamic countries, that is well and good. However, if you are a non-white, Islamic-congresswoman who wears a headscarf, and you condemn as “evil” Israeli war crimes killing innocent civilians in the Gaza strip, you are branded an anti-Semite.

Watch Hixson’s full speech:

The smearing of Omar calls to mind the remark Netanyahu once made, unaware that he was being recorded, about how easy it was to manipulate discourse and to move public opinion in the United States. It also lays bare the cynical tactics of the Israel lobby. From Qibya to the killing fields of Gaza, Israel and the lobby have discovered that a tenacious and relentless propaganda campaign can cover up almost any crime, justify almost any calumny, overcome almost any political challenge. Israel and the lobby have learned to mobilize fast, to attack without restraint, to eliminate perceived threats, and ultimately to turn them to their own advantage. Israeli propaganda thus mirrors Israeli military power: both deploy campaigns of shock and awe, allowing the bodies fall where they may, ever willing to make truth the first casualty.

Then Nothing is Wrong

As I bring this talk to a close, bear with me while I engage in a final bit of historical reflection. We live in dangerous times. The distortions and deep divisions within this country sometimes remind me of the antebellum years of American history. Ominously, it was a time when the political system collapsed.

In the year 1858, the nation confronted irreconcilable national divisions as a result of its long embrace of crimes against humanity. At that moment a little known former one-term congressman from the Midwest seized the national spotlight by declaring, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” A nation, he declaimed, could “not endure, permanently, half slave and half free.”

It was true of the United States in 1858 and it is true of Israel/Palestine today. Something, somewhere, somehow, sometime is going to have to give. In 1861 Abraham Lincoln went on to become president. He famously wore a top hot, which reposes in the Smithsonian just a few blocks from where I stand today. Encircling Lincoln’s top hat is a black silk mourning band through which he honored the memory of his son Willie, who died prematurely at age 11.

I think back to Lincoln and his top hat and then to the president we have today, a flag-hugging, certifiable narcissist demagogue who sports a red MAGA ball cap. The juxtaposition of Lincoln and Trump reminds me of the famous quotation from The Education of Henry Adams. The acerbic historian and scion of the vintage American political family wrote, “The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant was alone evidence enough to upset Darwin.”

I hate to think what Henry Adams might say today.

Amid the horrific civil war over which he agonized on a daily basis, Lincoln repeatedly demonstrated his astonishing ability to say so much in so few words, including the breathtaking poignancy of his remarks at Gettysburg in November 1863. Months later in April 1864, Lincoln again revealed the epic purity of his prose in a letter to a Kentucky newspaper editor, when he declared, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”

Let me conclude in the same spirit. Let us declare here today that if demanding the right to exist while denying it to your neighbor is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

If driving people from their land and demolishing their homes is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

If asserting absolute authority over a historic city, rightful home to people of all faiths, is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

If slaughtering children for throwing stones at their oppressors is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

If the terror and deprivation that are inflicted every day upon the imprisoned people of Gaza is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

If supplying more than $125 billion to finance a regime that commits such crimes against humanity is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

If converting the Congress of the United States into a lapdog for Israeli policies is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

Let us also emphasize once again that if anti-Semitism is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

Cynical deployment of baseless charges of anti-Semitism, however, in order to legislate against free speech; stifle criticism of a foreign nation; or insist on the right to boycott an apartheid state–if these things are not wrong, nothing is wrong.

As we continue to struggle, no matter what the odds and the monies arrayed against us, let us derive inspiration from another antebellum American freedom fighter. “I am earnest,” William Lloyd Garrison declared in 1831 as he launched publication of the first issue of his anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator. “I will not equivocate . . . I will not retreat a single inch . . . AND I WILL BE HEARD.”

Thank you.

Speech on March 22, 2019, at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C.

Walter Hixson is distinguished professor of history at the University of Akron. He is author of the just-released Israel’s Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict (Cambridge University Press). He gave this talk at the “Israel Lobby & American Policy Conference” on March 22, 2019.




Trump’s Backward Move on Drone Civilian Casualties

This executive order disregards some valuable historical lessons, writes Daniel R. Brunstetter.

File 20190312 86710 8qpzlz.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over southern Afghanistan.
(AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

By Daniel R. Brunstetter,
University of California, Irvine

The Conversation

When it comes to drones and warfare, the U.S. seems to have forgotten some valuable historical lessons.

On March 6, President Trump signed an executive order that revoked the requirement, formulated under the Obama administration, that U.S. intelligence officials must publicly report the number of civilians killed in CIA drone strikes outside declared war zones.

In this decision, Trump is bringing the U.S. back to where it once was: the state of non-transparency that defined Obama’s first term.

As a researcher who has studied the ethics of war and written extensively on drones, I recognize that the U.S. has returned to a time when the CIA drone program was not governed by ethics, but shrouded in mystery, a time when it discounted the importance of civilian casualties.

One of the U.S. founding fathers understood the importance of civilian casualties.

In 1782, Benjamin Franklin, then U.S. ambassador to France, circulated a copy of a Boston newspaper with an article that detailed British atrocities against American civilians in the ongoing Revolutionary War. Franklin intended to have the article reprinted by British newspapers, which would get the story out to the British public and turn popular opinion against the government in power.

The catch: The story was completely fabricated. Franklin made it up based on anecdotes he had heard, counting on the supposition that the British public had little access to actual statistics on civilian casualties to ascertain its truth.

Recounted with pride today on the CIA’s website, Franklin’s antics touched off a public uproar in 18th-century Britain. The article was used by opposition Whig politicians to challenge continued British participation in the war.

This quaint historical anecdote reveals valuable moral lessons for today. On the one hand, it shows how civilian casualties are a tool of propaganda. On the other, it shows the role that the suffering of enemy civilians plays in establishing an eventual peace.

Obama Era

During Obama’s first term, there were hundreds of strikes in the tribal regions of Pakistan that the U.S. did not publicly acknowledge, with wildly divergent reports of civilian casualties.

During Obama’s tenure, there was warranted backlash from the international human rights community and congressional hearings at home. In the security realm, enemies of the U.S. such as al-Qaida and the Taliban used exaggerated reports of civilian deaths as propaganda to recruit new members.

In discussions about how to end what some experts were calling the forever war, a more disciplined and restrained use of drones was seen as part of the solution.

This opposition led to Obama’s ethical turn, defending drones by way of the just war doctrine. This centuries-old body of thought addresses the rights and wrongs of warfare: when a state can go to war and what it can do in war.

When it came to drones, Obama was swayed by the principle of noncombatant immunity: the moral necessity of sparing civilians from the horrors of war whenever possible. He limited drone strikes to scenarios with near certainty that there would be no civilian casualties.

Obama also decided to provide greater transparency to the American public by reporting civilian casualties. This had a strategic purpose. According to one expert who served under Obama, former intelligence officer Ned Price, reporting allowed the U.S. to “counter with facts and figures the misinformation and disinformation that terrorist groups and others issued to undermine our counter-terrorism operations around the globe.”

Step Backward

Obama’s ethical turn was a step forward. It emerged from his moral reckoning with the act of killing and the tragedy of civilians getting caught in the crossfire.

The Trump administration’s reversal on reporting civilian casualties is a step backward. It says a lot about the value – or lack thereof – placed on the lives of those living under drones. Trump’s executive order insulates the U.S. public from the tragedy of civilian deaths. Removing civilian deaths from the public view dehumanizes them, and in the process, eliminates the common threads of humanity that make peace possible.

Without public accountability, I worry that the Trump administration is paving the way for a more robust use of drones. Perhaps it will be similar to or even more permissive than Obama’s policy during his first term, when the U.S. carried out signature strikes, which targeted unidentified militants based on their behavior patterns and personal networks rather than the threat they posed. Trump has already taken steps to remove targeting constraints that had been codified under Obama.

Does discounting civilian casualties make the U.S. more secure in the long run? It’s an open question. The White House called the requirement “superfluous” and claimed that it distracts “intelligence professionals from their primary mission,” which is presumably protecting American security interests.

Despite the White House claims to the contrary, research shows that such reporting is important for preventing civilian casualties. A lack of transparency leads to the disproportionate use of drones. Such a policy risks causing more civilian casualties, and has the potential to make more enemies than friends, diminish cooperation with allies in the global struggle against terrorist groups, and put the drone controversy back in the news in a negative way.

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Franklin’s ruse demonstrates the power of using the tragedy of civilian casualties as propaganda. There is little doubt that U.S. enemies will use exaggerated reports of civilian casualties for propaganda purposes. Public transparency is a means to combat this propaganda, and perhaps more importantly, it provides a measure of checks and balance on the CIA.

More poignantly, Franklin abhorred the ease with which men kill and gloat about it. “Men,” he wrote later in 1782, “I find to be a Sort of Being very badly constructed, as they are generally more easily provok’d than reconcil’d, more disposed to do Mischief to each other than to make Reparation … without a Blush they assemble in great armies at NoonDay to destroy, and when they have kill’d as many as they can, they exaggerate the Number to augment the fancied Glory.”

Amidst this exaggerated killing, Franklin saw a common connection shared between enemies: the suffering of civilians. This made, in his mind, peace between enemies a genuine possibility.

With Trump’s executive order, the American public risks being lulled into ignorance about the plight of civilians living under drones, and does so at the peril of perpetual war with future enemies of America’s own making.The Conversation

Daniel R. Brunstetter, associate professor of political science, University of California, Irvine

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.




Return International Women’s Day to its Radical Roots

This is no time for moderate calls for equality and balance, write Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah and Ana Inés Abelenda.

By Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah in Accra and
Ana Inés Abelenda in Montevideo
Inter Press Service

The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 doesn’t resonate with us. #BalanceForBetter brings to mind slow gradual change, and assumes that if you provide women and girls with equal access then the society will automatically be better. We know that’s false. 

Access to a broken capitalist system that privileges the richest 1 percent over the rest of the world means that the most marginalized communities (including women, girls, trans and gender nonconforming people) exist in unjust, precarious and fragile societies. This coupled with the increasing privatization of what should be common resources for everyone (including the basics of land and water), as well as the corporate takeover of many public services endangers the lives and wellbeing of poor people.

In a recent submission to the United Nations Secretary General, the African Women’s Development Network for Communications (FEMNET) and the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) stated: “Neoliberal economic policies promoted around the globe by a growing majority of governments with the support and pressure of international financial institutions (including through conditional loans), have intensified the commodification of life through privatization of basic public services and natural resources.”

Corporate Takeovers

This corporate takeover of services meant to benefit everyone, of the health and education sectors in particular, primarily affect women and girls. In a 2017 report, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to education, stated: “Women and girls are frequently excluded from education. Families often favor boys when investing in education.”

The rights of girls to quality education, particularly those from the most underprivileged communities, are infringed when public schools are privatized. Research by feminist and women’s rights organizations has demonstrated the ways in which gender biases affect the choices parents make when they need to pay for education, and have to choose which children to send to school. 

It’s in this light that one must view with great concern the increasing trend of handing over the education sector to the private sector. Ghana for example, recently announced that it was seeking to privatize the management of some basic schools. This decision is being disputed by a number of teachers’ unions including the Teachers & Educational Workers Union of Ghana, the Coalition of Concerned Teachers the National Association of Graduate Teachers and the Ghana National Association of Teachers.

The general secretary of the Ghana National Association of Teachers described the move “as subtle and eventual privatization, commercialization and commodification of public education in Ghana.” This trend of government reaching out to the private sector to manage the education sector has also been witnessed in other parts of West Africa including Liberia.

There is no doubt that significant investments in the education sectors are required. Sadly, governments in the Global South are looking for these resources in the wrong places. The landmark report by the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa (also known as the Mbeki report) indicated that Africa is losing more than $50 billion per year in illicit financial flows.

As highlighted in a report by AWID, IFFs have a severe impact on the development of the continent. These resources that are lost to the continent should rather be harnessed and invested into the social sector, including education and health.

Privatization of social services and reduced social protection is at the heart of South America’s wave of neoliberal governments promoting austerity policies that deepen structural gender inequalities. Coupled with the rise of the conservative right in South America — including Brazil’s fascist new government — feminist movements from the South understand this is no time for moderate calls for equality and balance.

In Uruguay, the #8M call to action states: “Ante el fascismo, más feminismo” (In the face of fascism, we need more feminism!). It is a call for international feminist solidarity to resist daily threats that aim to bring us back centuries when it comes to social and gender justice and rights. It is also a warning that feminist movements are forging new realities not only about equality, but about radical change.

So on this International Women’s Day we call for a return to its radical roots centered on workers’ rights and justice. This doesn’t call for balance. It calls for a radical transformation of society based on the twin principles of equity and justice.

Nana  Darkoa Sekyiamah is director of information, communications and media,  Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

Ana Inés Abelenda is economic justice coordinator, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)




PATRICK LAWRENCE: It Was Kim That Walked Away

There are two sides to the story about why the second North Korea peace summit fell apart last week, writes Patrick Lawrence.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

The abrupt and unexpected failure of the second Trump–Kim summit last week raises many questions. Let’s get one out of the way before addressing the others: No, the collapse of talks between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, does not scuttle the most promising chance for peace on the Korean Peninsula since the 1953 signing of the armistice ending the Korean War. There is more to come. This was plain within hours of the summit’s end.

At this point it’s still difficult to discern even what transpired between the two leaders. The U.S. and North Korean accounts of the proceedings in Hanoi are widely at variance on key points. With history in view, it is very likely that the North Korean version comes closer to the truth than what the Trump administration is putting out and what the U.S. press is dutifully reporting.

By Trump’s account, Kim agreed to dismantle his most important nuclear production facility, at Yongbyon, roughly 60 miles north of Pyongyang. In exchange, Kim asked for all sanctions now in force against North Korea—some passed at the UN, others imposed by Washington alone—to be lifted.

Here is Trump talking to correspondents after the bust-up Thursday morning:

 “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that. They were willing to de-nuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted, but we couldn’t give up all the sanctions for that…. They wanted sanctions lifted but they weren’t willing to do an area we wanted.”

The “large portion” Trump mentioned is Yongbyon: There is no dispute about this. Pyongyang has shut down the reactor at Yongbyon twice in the past, in 1994 and in 2007. In 2008 Kim Jong-il, the reigning Kim’s father, ordered the cooling tower at Yongbyon demolished—a televised event many readers will remember. The site was reactivated in succeeding years following a series of multi-sided talks that went nowhere. 

Kangson Facility

The “area we wanted” appears to refer to an alleged nuclear facility  at Kangson, also near the North Korean capital. What the North actually does at Kangson has never been verified, but it was one of a number of sites the U.S. side also insisted Pyongyang close.

Translation of the U.S. version of events in Hanoi: Kim offered us only one item on our list while demanding we give him everything he wanted. Who could possibly agree to such a deal?

North Korean officials tell a different story. After Trump offered his post-summit description of events, the North’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, gave his own press conference; a rarity among North Korean officials. Kim had agreed to shutter the North’s main nuclear facility, by Ri’s account, if the U.S. consented to lift only the five sets of sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council in 2016 and 2017.

Unlike restrictions on weapons and nuclear-related equipment, these covered entire export sectors, including minerals, metals, coal, agriculture and seafood. These, Ri said, were the measures that directly hurt the lives and livelihoods of ordinary North Koreans. Layer upon layer of other sanctions would remain in effect.  

What’s Wrong? 

Translation of the North Korean position in Hanoi: We will take a considerable step toward denuclearization providing you take one of corresponding magnitude. Now the question changes: What exactly is wrong with such a deal?

You have to go back to Trump’s early months in office to understand what appears to have transpired in Hanoi. The administration’s initial position was simple but ridiculous: The North had to completely disarm before Washington would even begin talks.

Only when the absurdity of this maximalist demand became too obvious to sustain—”give us everything we will negotiate before we negotiate”—did the Trump administration alter its demands, if reluctantly and slightly.

Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, countered this as soon as Trump agreed last year to meet Kim, as they did in Singapore last June. The way ahead was “action for action,” in Moon’s phrase. Pyongyang’s term for the same thing is “corresponding measures.” Elsewhere the concept is called “sequencing.” Whatever one calls it, a gradual, step-by-step process is the only logical way forward after nearly seven decades of mutual distrust.

Trump’s Refusal

In effect, Kim proposed a sequenced approach when he met Trump last week. And in effect, Trump refused it. It is no wonder John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser and the administration’s hyper-hawk on North Korea, has been assuring like-minded colleagues not to fret about the Trump-Kim summits because they are guaranteed to fail.

“This kind of opportunity may never come again,” Ri, the North’s foreign minister, said at his late-night press conference. This is not where the odds lie. 

First, Moon Jae-in pledged to help mediate between the North and the U.S. as soon as the Hanoi summit collapsed. And it has been clear since Moon was elected South Korea’s president in May 2017 that control of the agenda on the Korean Peninsula has gradually passed from the U.S. to Seoul and those working with it, notably China and Russia.

Second, Moon enjoys a trustful rapport with Kim. And the latter is unquestionably serious about shifting the North’s priorities from nuclear capability to economic development. Kim wants a deal, in short.

The primary danger to future advances toward a lasting settlement in Northeast Asia lies in Washington. It has been the spoiler on the Korean question before, let us not forget. In the early 2000s, the U.S. never delivered two light-water reactors it had promised the North in exchange for its cessation of its nuclear program. After Yongbyon was shuttered in 2007, the U.S. failed to supply promised shipments of heating fuel, citing “an understanding between the parties” about which neither China nor Russia, who were also signatories to the agreement, had ever heard.

This time around, there is little question that Bolton and other hawks in the Trump administration intend to block progress as long as they can. They have just succeeded in scuttling Moon’s long-gestating plans to develop a series of cross-border economic projects. The South Korean leader had hoped that a planned communiqué to be issued at the summit’s end in Hanoi would have opened the way for these ventures to proceed. Trump and Kim never signed it.

 “We had to walk away,” Trump said at his press conference in the Vietnamese capital. It is more likely that Kim is the one who walked away first.

“It occurs to us that there may not be a need to continue,” Choe Son-hui, Kim’s vice-foreign minister, said later. “We’re doing a lot of thinking.” It is difficult to blame Pyongyang for this, given the outcome in Hanoi. 

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 www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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