At the London Review of Books blog, Omar Hamilton outlines the many confidence-building efforts being undertaken by Israel to construct a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land, following the recent spat in Gaza. Below is Hamilton's piece in full, but do see the original for links detailing the flowers of peace that Israel is planting amongst its Palestinian brothers and sisters.
On 26 August a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was agreed, bringing a fragile end to a war that killed 2150 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 73 Israelis (mostly soldiers). Since then Hamas has not fired a single rocket, attacked an Israeli target, or done anything to break the terms of the ceasefire. Israel has done the following:
1. Annexed another 1500 acres of West Bank land 2. Seized $56 million of PA tax revenue 3. Not lifted the illegal blockade (as required by the ceasefire) 4. Broken the ceasefire by firing at fishermen on four separate occasions 5. Detained six fishermen 6. Killed a 22-year-old, Issa al Qatari, a week before his wedding 7. Killed 16-year-old Mohammed Sinokrot with a rubber bullet to the head 8. Tortured a prisoner to the point of hospitalisation 9. Refused 13 members of the European Parliament entry into Gaza 10. Detained at least 127 people across the West Bank, including a seven-year-old boy in Hebron and two children, aged seven and eight, taken from the courtyard of their house in Silwad – and tear-gassed their mother 11. Continued to hold 33 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in prison 12. Continued to hold 500 prisoners in administrative detention without charge or trial 13. Destroyed Bedouin homes in Khan al Ahmar, near Jerusalem, leaving 14 people homeless, and unveiled a plan to forcibly move thousands of Bedouin away from Jerusalem into two purpose-built townships 14. Destroyed a dairy factory in Hebron whose profits supported an orphanage 15. Destroyed a family home in Silwan, making five children homeless 16. Destroyed a house in Jerusalem where aid supplies en route to Gaza were being stored 17. Destroyed a well near Hebron 18. Set fire to an olive grove near Hebron 19. Raided a health centre and a nursery school in Nablus, causing extensive damage 20. Destroyed a swathe of farmland in Rafah by driving tanks over it 21. Ordered the dismantling of a small monument in Jerusalem to Mohamed Abu Khdeir, murdered in July by an Israeli lynch mob 22. Continued building a vast tunnel network under Jerusalem 23. Stormed the al Aqsa mosque compound with a group of far right settlers 24. Assisted hundreds of settlers in storming Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus 25. Prevented students from entering al Quds University, firing stun grenades and rubber bullets at those who tried to go in 26. Earned unknown millions on reconstruction materials for Gaza, where 100,000 people need their destroyed homes rebuilt. The total bill is estimated at $7.8 billion
“And I was like, I killed 500,000 Iraqi children with my sanctions! And George here, yuk yuk, he was like — “
“And I was like, 500,000? Hellfire boy, I can do better than that! We bagged us more than a million of them ‘Rackies, har har har!”
“Yeah — haw haw haw — you bigged it up, Texas style! And now Obama’s gonna get him some of his own!”
“Well, there’s plenty to go around, hee hee hoo! Them folks breed like jackrabbits! Hey, Bill, you were a bit of a jackrabbit yourself in your day, weren’t you, ha ha ha?
“Now don’t start with that stuff, George, hee-haw, har-har! Hillary might be in the audience, yuckity yuk yuk!”
“Reckon how many ‘Rackies she’ll rack up when she’s Prez, Bill? — Did you see what I did there? ‘Rackies, rack up? Ho ho ho!”
“Yee hee hee! This old boy’s a card, ain’t he folks? Well, I imagine she’ll get a passel of ‘em, George, don’t you worry! Har har hee hee ho!”
“As long as she leaves a few for Chelsea in 20 years, ha ha ha ha ha! Say, Bill, I’m a bit thirsty. Could you pass me some of that water?”
“Sure, George! Just lean your head back and I’ll pour it right down your gullet, haw haw heee-haw!”
“You know, Bill, I sure am BOARD of that joke, snickety snicker guffaw guffaw!”
“You slay me, George, you really do, hur hur ha ha! But seriously folks …..
Certainly the one word that comes to mind when you think of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush is “leadership.” That’s why the world is so lucky that these two sages for the ages have joined together to teach the secrets of their success to a whole new generation of leaders, as the NY Times reports.
The “Presidential Leadership Scholars Program" is a combined effort of the two men’s Presidential Libraries (those marble mausoleums where history goes to die), plus the libraries of two other great, great leaders: one-term wash-outs George Herbie Walkies Bush and Lyndon Bellyflasher Johnson.
With all expenses paid by corporate donors, participants — restricted to “mid-career professionals who generally have at least 10 years of experience and a strong record of professional achievement”. (“Yeah, I used to run a Radio Shack store at the West End Mall, then I managed a couple of Chik-Fil-As in the greater Tuscaloosa area, but lately I’ve sort of branched out into the development and export of cutting-edge crowd-management technologies to police forces here in the Homeland and to our counterterrorism allies abroad, particularly in the volatile Middle East. Reckon I could sign up?” “Say, we like the cut of your jib! Just hold on a second while I write you a check!”)
In addition to offering carefully selected mid-career professionals the unique “insights from how each president addressed pressing challenges” — including the thrilling “participation of President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton” — the programme also places a “strong emphasis on cultivating a lifelong network of participants, faculty and staff.” In other words, yet another corporate-paid vehicle for wanna-be courtiers to schmooze their way into the blood-stained porticos of the Beltway elite.
And thus do our mediocre murderous masters replicate themselves, generation after generation ….
The same lies that were told the last time around ("Sleeper cells!" "Mass Destruction of our cities!" "Unprecedented evil!" "Imminent danger!") are being trotted out again, this time in Democratic drag. Cheney and Obama, Kissinger and Kerry, working together to beat the war drums --who says bipartisanship is dead? As in 2003 (and 1991, for that matter), facts are thin on the ground -- but the bull is flowing thick and fast. So it's once more into the breach, with a military intervention to solve the problems caused by the last military intervention -- which will no doubt cause problems which can only be addressed by a future military intervention. But hey, who cares? The new iPhone is here!!
Did you know that the US government’s counterterrorism chief Matthew Olson said last week that there’s no “there’s no credible information” that the Islamic State (Isis) is planning an attack on America and that there’s “no indication at this point of a cell of foreign fighters operating in the United States”? Or that, as the Associated Press reported, “The FBI and Homeland Security Department say there are no specific or credible terror threats to the US homeland from the Islamic State militant group”?
Probably not, because as the nation barrels towards yet another war in the Middle East and President Obama prepares to address that nation on the “offensive phase” of his military plan Wednesday night, mainstream media pundits and the usual uber-hawk politicians are busy trying to out-hyperbole each other over the threat Isis poses to Americans. In the process, they’re all but ignoring any evidence to the contrary and the potential hole of blood and treasure into which they’re ready to drive this country all over again.
Facts or consequences have never gotten in the way of Congress’ lust for war before … and this time it’s no different. Sen James Inhofe (R-OK) recently said Isis militants are “rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major US city and people just can’t believe that’s happening.” (Maybe because there’s no proof that they are?) Sen Bill Nelson (D-FL) said, “It ought to be pretty clear when they … say they’re going to fly the black flag of ISIS over the White House that Isis is a clear and present danger.” (Again, who cares if they’re not?)
… Thanks to this wall-to-wall fear mongering, a once war-weary public is now terrified. More than 60% of the public in a recent CNN poll now supports airstrikes against Isis. Two more polls came out on Tuesday, one from the Washington Post and the other from NBC New and the Wall Street Journal, essentially concluding the same thing. Most shocking, 71% think that Isis has terrorist sleeper cells in the United States, against all evidence to the contrary.
… And the president is said to favor a multi-pronged approach that also relies on our “partners” – like the repressive Saudi Arabia – to train and arm the “moderate” Syrian resistance army that is fighting both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Isis in Syria. (Yes, that’s the same Saudi Arabia which, as the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin reported, have been accused of funding and supporting Isis, and the same Saudi Arabia that beheaded 19 people in just the first half of August, including eight for non-violent offenses.)
It’s also strange that we are unquestionably calling the Free Syrian Army (FSA) the “moderate” opposition and putting our faith in their abilities, despite many actual experts claiming they’re far from moderate and far from a cohesive army. As George Washington University’s Marc Lynch wrote in the Washington Post recently, “The FSA was always more fiction than reality, with a structure on paper masking the reality of highly localized and fragmented fighting groups on the ground.” The New York Times reported two weeks ago that FSA has a penchant for beheading its enemy captives as well, and now the family of Steven Sotloff, the courageous journalist who was barbarically beheaded by Isis, says that someone from the “moderate” opposition sold their son to Isis before he was killed....
I once saw the mighty Steel Pulse in concert. It was more than 20 years ago in, of all places, Knoxville. They were opening for Bob Dylan. They stepped onto the stage and proclaimed: "We are Steel Pulse, from Birmingham" -- and they didn't mean Alabama. They proceeded to fill the cavernous basketball arena with the most thunderous reggae I've ever heard -- exploding with boisterous joy, seething with a fierce thirst for justice. A night to remember.
In 2008, they covered one of Dylan's songs, a little-known single he released in 1971: "George Jackson." Jackson had been imprisoned at the age of 18 for a $70 robbery, sentenced to the maddening term of "one year to life." After a decade of self-education and principled defiance that led him to national prominence, he was killed by San Quentin prison guards during a disturbance in August 1971. Dylan recorded and rush-released the song a little over three months later. (Dylan's version is here.)
Following the police berzerkery in Ferguson, Missouri, America is going through one of its periodic -- but always brief and ineffectual -- moments of vague awareness about the virulent, brutal racism it carries in its body politic like an inoperable cancer. For a couple of weeks there, a few people in prominent positions mused in public about maybe taking a look at this race thing, just in case there might be a few little glitches in our glorious system. But that's about far as it went. And of course, most of our Prom-Peeps rushed to assure us, and themselves, that there are no racial problems in America -- except, of course, for the ones caused by the shiftless, grasping, ungrateful darkies themselves. (They've got a president, for Christ's sake! What more do these people want?)
In any event, our Prom-Peeps have now moved on to pants-wetting panic attacks about the Nazi Commie Russkies and the desert demons of Isis (aka "our former allies in the Syrian civil war"). But among those who live the American reality -- those who must live with the agonizing symptoms of the cancer -- the disease of racism continues its ravages. And as Berger shows, figures like George Jackson continue to exert a powerful symbolic relevance -- and a practical inspiration -- in the "lower depths" of the aptly-named prison-industrial complex, and beyond.
Below are a few excerpts from Berger's article. The whole thing is worth reading, and there are many links to further information.
A young black man gunned down by law enforcement. His body is then left outside for four hours. The shocking gore of the situation sparks countless protests around the country calling for an end to racism. Meanwhile, popular attention to the incident prompts investigations into the young man killed, leading some critics to suggest that his working-class background and alleged criminal activities somehow make his death justifiable.
It is not the last month in Ferguson, Missouri. It is not Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Roshad McIntosh or any of the other unarmed black men killed by police in recent weeks — though it could be. It is San Quentin, California, in the year 1971. His name was George Jackson. Though more than four decades have gone by since he was killed, his life and death signal the ways in which this country’s macabre routine of police violence against young black men and women has become institutionalized throughout the criminal justice system.
...When George Jackson went to prison in 1960, there were 200,000 people in prisons around the country. When he published “Soledad Brother“ in 1970, the rate of imprisonment was the lowest it had been in 20 years, with 96 out of every 100,000 Americans in prison. When he was killed in San Quentin in 1971, there were 300,000 people incarcerated, a rate of about 200 per 100,000 people.
Three decades later, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to stay the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams because the Crips co-founder had dedicated one of his anti-violence books to George Jackson and other well-known black activists (proving, Schwarzenegger said in a statement at the time, that Williams had not been rehabilitated), one in 100 American adults is in prison — approximately 2.3 million people. As of 2011 one in 34 adults, more than 7 million people, is under some form of correctional supervision: prison, parole or probation. Five percent of the world’s population, the United States imprisons 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
Such staggering and lopsided rates of incarceration devastate whole communities, as the families of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and so many others can attest: Not only does mass incarceration break up families but it promotes punitive and preemptive policing of black life.
… Jackson and other dissident prisoners were the canaries in the coal mine of our prison nation: Their experience being aggressively policed, excessively sentenced and brutally treated in prison has become the norm. The elements that made his case so noteworthy in 1971 — the long sentence for a petty crime, the indefinite use of solitary confinement — are now almost too mundane to be newsworthy.
As long as the United States continues to police, imprison and kill so many young black men and women, George Jackson will remain a figure whose story needs to be told.
[Young Jesse and Frank James, riding with Jesse’s good friend, Archie Clement, under the command of the “bushwhacking” guerrilla leader, “Bloody” Bill Anderson. A fairly typical day for the band of irregulars as they moved back and forth across Missouri:]
“On October 17 (1864), the guerrillas stormed into the center of Carrollton, where the 160 men of the EMM garrison [local volunteer pro-Union militia] immediately surrendered. The guerrillas marched them toward the Missouri river, picking out a man to shoot here, another there, until half a dozen bodies marked the trail of the prisoners …. Later, they forced a German farmer to guide them west; when his knowledge ran out, Archie Clement shot him, sawed off his head, and placed it on the dead man’s chest, with his hands wrapped around it. Then they resumed their march.”
I hope to write more soon of this American folk hero and the milieu from which he emerged — a history which, as expertly mined by Stiles, has much to tell us: not only about the current turmoil in Jesse James’ home state of Missouri, but also about the nature of American politics in general. Meanwhile, here’s a brief piece about Stiles’ book which I wrote some time ago: Insurgent Son: Jesse James and the Crucible of American Character.
1. It is simply a lie that Israel's slaughter in Gaza is a response to an "unprovoked attack" by Hamas. Not only is it a lie, it is a transparent, brazen lie, whose falsehood is glaringly apparent to anyone who had given even a cursory look at coverage of the Israeli government's response to the murder of three Israeli teenagers in June.
At that time, we were told in many news reports about an Israeli "crackdown" in Gaza, including mass arrests, military operations and, finally, the killing of six Hamas members. It was after these operations and these killings -- which were clear breaches of a ceasefire which Hamas had been honoring for 19 months -- that Hamas began its retaliation against Israel's unprovoked attacks.
(And no, the murder of the teenagers was not a "provocation" by Hamas, which disclaimed all connection to the crime. It was almost certainly carried out a rogue clan which has often -- conveniently -- staged provocations whenever it seems that some small movement toward peace might be made, and has been a thorn in Hamas' side for a long time. What's more, as Max Blumenthal reported, the Israeli government knew the teenagers had been murdered almost immediately, and who the likely culprits were; but the Netanyahu regime chose to wage a worldwide campaign of mendacity -- and torment the boys' parents -- by claiming they might still be alive, and launching "search" missions for them.)
These are all undisputed facts. The narrative that dominates the Washington media and political discourse -- "plucky Israel attacked without motive by demonic foes" -- is, again, an obvious lie. But that has not stopped it from being repeated endlessly, all across the political spectrum and in every form of media, day after day after day.
It is impossible that Barack Obama does not know these undisputed facts. Standing at the apex of history's most all-pervasive intelligence system -- and receiving daily digests of news reports on volatile areas like the Middle East -- he of all people knows that the Hamas rocket fire was a response to an Israeli military action, an Israeli violation of a long ceasefire.
It is also impossible that a majority, if not all, of the 100 U.S. Senators who voted to endorse the Israeli slaughter in Gaza -- including stalwart "progressives" like Al Franken and "socialist" Bernie Sanders -- did not know the truth when they cast their ballots. It is impossible that the editors and reporters of the nation's leading media organizations do not know these facts -- which they themselves reported only a few weeks ago.
Yet day after day after day, from the commanding heights of our "culture" (if the debased goon show of our public discourse deserves such a word), the Big Lie thunders forth. What's more, Obama is putting his money (or rather, our money) where his mendacious mouth is, tacking $225 million for Israel's "Iron Dome" missile defense system into a bill ostensibly meant to deal with the influx of child immigrants. Obama and the Senate Democrats are making political pawns out of these children -- most of whom are fleeing Central American hellholes created in no small part by decades of bipartisan military and political backing for repressive oligarchs. (Including, of course, Obama's support for an oligarch-militarist "regime change" coup in Honduras early in his presidency.) With the new money for Israel's military, the Democrats hope to sucker the Republicans into voting for the emergency immigration bill (from which they cut $1 billion -- hey, you don't want to coddle those kids!), or else put them in a political bind if the immigrant-hating GOP votes against the bill: "You aren't supporting plucky little Israel!"
A very cynical ploy, yes, but no matter: even if it fails and the children are left to languish, some other way will be found to get the money to Israel and, most importantly, show the world that America fully supports the massacre -- more than 800 Palestinians killed so far, including whole families, refugees at a UN shelter, patients in hospitals and other prime military targets.
Eight hundred dead -- and Obama gives the IDF a $225 million bounty. Maybe when the death count reaches a thousand, he'll buy Netanyahu a pony or something.
The July 8 ITIC report also divulged why Hamas launched its first rocket fire at Israel in more than 19 months on July 7: On that night Israeli forces had bombed and killed 6 Hamas members in Gaza. The ITIC report includes a picture of the six Hamas members. Thus, a report from an authoritative Israeli source described the provocation for the resumption of rocket fire: Hamas rocket fire began only after Israeli forces had engaged in nearly a month of military operations in violation of the ceasefire agreement and had killed 6 Hamas members in Gaza. ...
The facts show that Israeli forces had to work quite hard to get Hamas to end its cease-fire. The killing of the six Hamas members was not an isolated event. Israeli forces and settlers had gone wild on the West Bank starting on June 12 after the kidnaping of three Israeli teens. Israeli forces had also attacked 60 targets in Gaza during those three weeks of June. Then, on the night of July 7, 2014, the Israeli Air Force had attacked approximately 50 more “terrorist targets” in the Gaza Strip, as described in the ITIC report.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on July 3:
Israel’s military operations in the West Bank following the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers have amounted to collective punishment. The military operations included unlawful use of force, arbitrary arrests, and illegal home demolitions. ... Giving more details, several of the weekly reports from the Palestine Center for Human Rights (PCHR) indicate that Israeli forces and settlers killed 11 Palestinians and wounded 51 during 369 incursions into the West Bank between June 12 and July 2 and that Israeli forces raided hundreds of houses on the West Bank each week.
110 bombing raids, a military incursion, 17 killings, mass arrests -- all before Hamas fired a single rocket. This is what Obama -- and every single member of the United States Senate -- call an "unprovoked attack." They say it with a straight face -- nay, with long, somber, pious faces -- but they know it's a lie.
3. But let us imagine, just for a moment, that their deceitful narrative was true. What if Hamas just woke up one fine, clear peaceful morning and said, "Hey, let's start firing missiles at Israel, fellas! Won't that be a hoot?" The fact is that even in that scenario, it would not be an "unprovoked attack," but a legitimate act of self-defense.
How do we know this? Because one of Israel's most honored statesmen told us so. As Jonathan Schwarz notes, Abba Eban, one of the founding fathers of Israel, used his renowned eloquence to defend Israel in the UN from charges of aggression for striking first in the 1967 Six-Day War. Rising to address the global body -- where he had once served as vice-president of the General Assembly -- Eban put forth his case. The surprise attack was justified, he said, because Egypt had blockaded an Israeli port:
The blockade is by definition an act of war, imposed and enforced through armed violence. Never in history have blockade and peace existed side by side. From May 24 onward, the question who started the war or who fired the first shot became momentously irrelevant. There is no difference in civil law between murdering a man by slow strangulation or killing him by a shot in the bead. From the moment at which the blockade was imposed, active hostilities had commenced and Israel owed Egypt nothing of her Charter rights. If a foreign power sought to close Odessa or Copenhagen or Marseilles or New York harbour by the use of force, what would happen? Would there be any discussion about who had fired the first shot? Would anyone ask whether aggression had begun?
As Schwarz points out -- and which the entirety of the American political-media establishment perpetually fails to point out -- Gaza has been subject to a stringent and ruinous blockade by Israel since 2007. As noted here the other day:
Israel has imprisoned the people of Gaza in a stateless limbo while carefully controlling almost every aspect of their lives, including what medicines they can have, what manufacturing and building materials they are allowed and even, at times, how much food they are allowed to eat to keep the population weakened but just above malnutrition levels. This brutal regimen in daily life is of course punctuated with regular night raids, bombings, kidnappings, “disappearings” and almost weekly civilians deaths at the hands of Israeli overseers. This has gone on year after year.
Eban said Israel was justified in retaliating with military force when Egypt had blockaded a port for a few weeks. How much more justified would the Palestinians be in retaliating against a total blockade -- by land, sea and air -- that has lasted almost eight years?
I don't agree with lobbing missiles into cities. I believe it's wrong. But I also realize that I have the great luxury of pondering these moral and legal and philosophical questions at my leisure, in comfort and safety. I haven't seen my family half-starved, my children's growth stunted, my friends and relatives blown to bits. I haven't been trapped in stateless limbo, with no passport, no freedom, no opportunity, under threat of violent death or arbitrary arrest every moment of my life. I don't know what I would do if that was my reality. I don't know what I'd do if I saw my loved ones suffer that way, year after year. I might somehow hold on to the ideal of non-violent resistance -- or I very well might not.
But I do know that by the terms of the world's great and good -- who speak portentously of the "laws of war" and analyze in great detail the "justifications" for violent conflict -- the Palestinians have a right to resist the "slow strangulation" of the blockade ... and the "shot in the head" (and the missile in the crib) that they are now being subjected to. By Abba Eban's own reasoning, from the very first day of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, "the question who started the war or who fired the first shot became momentously irrelevant."
Note: Updated 25/7 to reflect increase in the death count.
Below is my column from the latest print version of CounterPunch Magazine. It was written back on June 10, and published a bit later. Much water has gone under the bridge since then – much fire too – but as the piece is on a more general theme, I thought I’d go ahead and put it up.
The red wheel of the "War on Terror" – which under the guiding hand of the Nobel prince of peace has mutated into a hydra-headed War on Everything and Everybody Everywhere All the Time – continues on its reckless, destructive way, bringing ruin to the present and sowing disaster for the future.
The Middle East, home of four the world's most volatile religions – Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Petrochemical Extremism – is now more unstable and violent than it has been for decades, perhaps centuries. American-led military interventions have laid waste to two societies – Iraq and Libya – and spread violent extremism throughout the region, and deep into Africa. Washington, working closely with its beloved ally – the repressive, head-chopping, woman-hating propagator of retrograde religious extremism, Saudi Arabia – is now working relentlessly to turn Syria into a hellhole of ungovernable chaos dominated by warlords, like Somalia or Afghanistan.
At every single turn, without exception, the "War on Terror" and its successor have exacerbated the problems they are ostensibly designed to quell. The depredations of these morally insane (but immensely profitable) enterprises have radicalized multitudes of people across the world, destroying whole nations, blighting the future of generations, driving many to outrage and despair, prey to ideologies that promise revenge, retribution, a new beginning. Al Qaeda – the supposed Great Satan of our Terror Warriors – is now far more powerful than ever. Once a handful of cranks controlling a few compounds in remote Afghanistan, al Qaeda-associated groups now control vast swathes of territory in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. The Pakistani Taliban, once restricted to distant border regions, now launches attacks in the urban heart of the country. Groups like Boko Haram feast on the weapons unleashed by the West's destruction of the Libyan state, and on the despair engendered by the corruption, repression and hopelessness imposed on Nigeria by Petrochemical Extremism. There are many more examples of this pernicious dynamic.
We are told this War on Everything is a war to defend "our values": democracy, liberty, tolerance, justice. Yet at every single turn, without exception, every single day, day in, day out, year after year, our Terror Warriors show the world that their "values" – which they claim are "our" values, the values of Western civilization – bring nothing but death, grief, corruption, repression, extremism, injustice. To those on the receiving end of the Terror War – and we're talking of millions upon millions of people – "Western civilization" has become a thing of dread and loathing, a crazed predator who mouths pieties and prayers while he burns down your house and kills your children. Nothing has subverted and denigrated the image of "Western values" more than the bipartisan Terror War. It is itself the greatest sustained attack on "Western values," on "our way of life," that we have seen in generations.
And this is true not only in regard to the image of Western values that the Terror War has shown to the world, but also in the way that it has been brought home against the West's own populations, especially in the United States and Britain. It is an indisputable fact that Americans and Britons are less free than before, to a marked degree: more heavily policed in what they say and do, in what they can publish and read, where they can go and can’t go; subjected to a level of pervasive, invasive surveillance far beyond the dreams of the KGB or Gestapo; subject to arbitrary detention – or even, at the President's order, extrajudicial assassination, if accused in secret of some nebulous connection to terrorism. The physical and social infrastructure of their societies are crumbling, as massive resources are redirected to sustain the gargantuan military/security apparatus and "project dominance" around the world. (And of course, another aim of this unprecedented redistribution is to starve the welfare state in order to feed the rich, whose wealth grows ever greater in a system sustained by Terror War, thus ensuring their support for its continuance.)
Far from "draining the swamp" of extremist-spawning elements, the continual interventions and drone strikes and death squads and subversions of the West’s Terror War have toxified the "swamp" beyond all measuring. Whole generations are now being raised in these conditions of howling chaos, of death and ruin and rejection and despair, with violent extremism on all sides, teaching them every day that this is the way of the world, this is the only way of the world. As Hamlet said: it is not nor it cannot come to good.
Yet still the wheel rolls on – toward ever greater dangers. For the War on Everything and Everyone is just that; it’s not restricted to the Middle East, or to Africa, or to wherever Muslims dwell. Under the wise guidance of the Nobel-belaurelled One in the White House, the Red Wheel is now “pivoting” toward Asia, trying ever more frantically to thwart the threat to Western dominance posed by the rise of China. It’s “pivoting” toward the underbelly of Russia, and pressing Western military power right up to the Russian frontier. Western elites are playing with Promethean fire – and have demonstrated, over and over again, that they have no vision, no restraint, no thought for the consequences of their actions.
We have seen unbearable horrors so far; but we may yet see horrors beyond description, beyond all imagining.
1. As Israel begins its latest ground assault on the Gaza Ghetto -- accompanied by whoops of support across the American political and media spectrum -- it is worth remembering this:
For the third time in five years, the world’s fourth largest military power has launched a full-scale armed onslaught on one of its most deprived and overcrowded territories. Since Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip began, just over a week ago, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed. Nearly 80% of the dead are civilians, over 20% of them children.
But the idea that Israel is responding to a hail of rockets out of a clear blue sky takes “narrative framing” beyond the realm of fantasy. … The latest violence is supposed to have been triggered by the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank in June, for which Hamas denied responsibility. But its origin clearly lies in the collapse of US-sponsored negotiations for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the spring.
That was followed by the formation of a “national reconciliation” government by the Fatah and Hamas movements, whose division has been a mainstay of Israeli and US policy. Israeli incursions and killings were then stepped up, including attacks on Palestinian civilians by armed West Bank settlers. In May, two Palestinian teenagers were shot dead by the Israeli army with barely a flicker of interest outside the country.
It’s now clear the Israeli government knew from the start that its own kidnapped teenagers had been killed within hours. But the news was suppressed while a #BringBackOurBoys campaign was drummed up and a sweeping crackdown launched against Hamas throughout the West Bank. Over 500 activists were arrested and more than half a dozen killed – along with a Palestinian teenager burned to death by settlers. Binyamin Netanyahu’s aim was evidently to signal that whatever deal Hamas had signed with Mahmoud Abbas would never be accepted by Israel.
Gaza had nothing to do with the kidnapping, but Israeli attacks were also launched on the strip and Hamas activists killed. It was those killings and the West Bank campaign that led to Hamas resuming its rocket attacks – and in turn to Israel’s devastating bombardment.
Over the past 14 years, Israel has killed Palestinian children at a rate of more than two a week. There seems to be no Israeli child in harm’s way that Barack Obama will not compare to his own daughters, but their Palestinian counterparts are brushed aside with mantras about Israel’s right to self-defence. The institutionalised disregard for Palestinian life in the West helps explain not only why Palestinians resort to violence, but also Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip.
2. So we are now in the midst of two major military operations where American-backed governments are killing large numbers of civilians with the full approval of the West's political and media elite. The outcome of the American-backed coup in Ukraine has devolved into a civil war which has laid waste to cities and killed hundreds of people, fighters and civilians alike. This week it also claimed the life of 295 innocent civilians on an Air Malaysia flight.
It’s obvious what happened. Undertrained rocket jockeys among the rebels mistook the airliner for a Ukrainian military transport plane and fired. That is to say, it was a ghastly accident of the sort we are always told is one of regrettable consequences of war -- when it happens to American forces or their allies. We all recall that a US Navy vessel accidentally blew a civilian Iranian airliner out of the sky in 1988. The accident occurred after the commander, William Rogers, had invaded Iranian waters and was attacking the Iranian gunboats which, naturally enough, had come to investigate this act of aggression. Distracted by the sea skirmish he had provoked, Rogers and his crew hastily fired on the airliner before its true identity could be confirmed. Rogers was later awarded the Legion of Merit for his tenure on the ship, which included the slaughter of 290 civilians.
In a similar fashion, most Western politicians and pundits have excused what seems to be Israel's gratuitous killing of four Palestinian children on a peaceful beach -- right in front of the hotel where Western reporters were staying; hardly a hotbed of Hamas "terrorism"-- as one of those inevitable, tragic "mix-ups" that happen in war. And of course, the Ukrainian military itself accidentally shot down a civilian airliner in 2001, killing 78 people, most of them Israelis flying to visit relatives in Russia. After initial denials, Ukraine finally admitted that the plane was accidentally shot down by its military forces in a missile training exercise gone awry. The government paid compensation to Israel and the victims' families, and the matter was settled.
But the Malaysian Air incident will not be given the same treatment. Indeed, the very next day, the British press was filled with screaming headlines about "Russian terror missiles" and a deliberate "terrorist attack" on the airplane, and how, if Russian involvement is shown, "there'll be hell to pay!" (As if either the Ukrainian rebels or the Kremlin would gain the slightest advantage by shooting down a civilian airplane on purpose.)
Meanwhile in the United States, similar bellicose noises were being made. The already anointed next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton, thundered that Putin "had gone too far" while the current warmer of the Oval Office seat made ready for new sanctions on Russia -- having already imposed more sanctions earlier in the week. He also made a stirring speech about the “men, women, children and infants” who were killed in Malaysian Air attack. This, from a man who each week ticks off lists of people to be assassinated around the world, and who has killed hundreds of civilians in drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. The deaths of the airline passengers is indeed a wrenching human tragedy; but it strains credulity to believe that Obama – or anyone else in the bloodthirsty Beltway elite – felt the slightest genuine remorse about the incident. They are only concerned with how politically useful it might be.
Yet we have seen a parade of Washington worthies (and their courtier pundits) expressing outrage that Russia might have supplied heavy weapons to the Ukrainian rebels. Really now! Just try to imagine the evil of intervening militarily in the internal affairs of another nation! Imagine stoking conflicts by pouring weapons into them1 The whole Beltway came down with a fit of the vapours at the very thought.
The fact is, of course, there would be no military conflict in Ukraine right now if the United States and its European allies had not backed -- with billions of dollars and feverish backroom maneuvering -- the ouster of a democratically elected president for choosing to sign an economic deal with Russia rather than the EU. This, even though elections were to be held later this year that would have almost certainly removed the corrupt president by democratic means. Instead, a new government was installed, with avowedly neo-fascist factions given prominent and powerful positions. Indeed, neofascist militias have been playing a large role in the new government's military assault on rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Now hundreds of civilians are dead -- including 40 ethnic Russians burned alive by neofascist militias in Odessa. Ukraine is mired in civil war. Russia has taken over Crimea. An airliner has been shot down. Putin's authoritarian regime has been strengthened at home. A new Cold War has begun, with all the lurking dangers of "hot war" flaring up. The world has been even more destabilized.
Seems a pretty high price to pay for one trade agreement.
But of course, it's not just about the economic deal. It's all part of the "great game" that Western powers have been playing across the world for centuries now. It's about extending dominance and bagging loot. It's about punishing, confining, degrading -- and sometimes, as in Iraq, destroying -- any nation that doesn't open itself up to exploitation or offers any resistance or any alternative to the "Washington consensus" of neoliberal predation. Washington and its Euro-satraps want a pro-Western Ukraine; they do not care about the consequences, or how much ruin, death and chaos it takes to get what they want. They also want a diminished, toothless, acquiescent Russia. Doubtless they have the same attitude toward the consequences -- which means the world is in great peril.
3. I hold no brief for Hamas, Putin, the former Ukrainian government, the pro-Russian rebels. All of them are unsavory in their various ways. But the heedless insanity of Western policy -- led by the bipartisan American elite -- is building a future in hell for us all. Meddling, pushing, arming, funding, scheming, suborning, corrupting, colluding, drone-bombing, assassinating -- everywhere, all over the world, all the time, pressing for advantage that only ever accrues to their elites … while their own countries decay under brutal, unnecessary "austerity" and near-total political dysfunction.
Because these reckless adventures do have consequences. (For a shattering view of the consequences of the American war crime in Iraq, see this piece by Dahr Jamail.) They don't simply pop up then go away when the news cycle moves on. They reverberate for years, for decades, in horrible, unseen ways. For example, consider the unbelievable folly of Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1979 -- arming "holy warriors" to destabilize Afghanistan and draw the Soviets into invading – which led directly to the "War on Terror." The CIA's machinations -- in two coups -- to put Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party into power led to the deaths of millions of people, from the two Gulf Wars, from the Western sanctions, from Saddam's repression and his American-backed war with Iran. The list could go on and on.
And why are we in the situation in Ukraine today, and the new Cold War it has engendered? (Or exacerbated.) Why is there a bristling, distrustful authoritarian regime in Russia? Why did Ukraine face such a stark choice between the West (or rather, the financial straitjacket of the EU's "austerity" program) and the dubious embrace of the Kremlin regime? How did we get from the bright promise of the early 90s, when the Soviet Union dissolved -- without civil war, without a color revolution, without NGOs and "democracy-building programs," without military intervention, without (gasp!) social media -- to the bloodstained muck of today?
There are many elements at work in the development of the current situation, of course, but one very large component is clear: the deceit, arrogance and greed of American policy in the early days of Russia's faltering steps toward democracy. And as John Walsh makes clear in CounterPunch, this destructive policy was advanced with reckless abandon by Bill Clinton and his team -- which of course included that anointed future president of the United States (AFPOTUS), Hillary Clinton.
Ever more antiwar voices are clamoring for a Stop Hillary Clinton movement in the Democratic primaries – and with very good reason. There are many alarming, indeed frightening, indictments of her tenures as one-half president in the 90s and then as Senator and Secretary of State. Her estranged relationship with truth, her callousness toward human life and her love for every imperial military adventure and regime change scheme are beyond worrisome. They are downright scary.
But the most damning indictment yet of the Clintons on the world stage comes in the book Superpower Illusions by former Ambassador to the USSR, Jack Matlock. … [Matlock writes]:
“The Clinton administration’s decision to expand NATO to the East rather than draw Russia into a cooperative arrangement to ensure European security undermined the prospects of democracy in Russia, made it more difficult to keep peace in the Balkans and slowed the process of nuclear disarmament started by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev. …
“For all of its initial talk about a ‘partnership for reform,’ the Clinton administration dealt with Russia as if it no longer counted, even in European politics. Two decisions in particular turned Russian public opinion during the years of the Clinton administration from strongly pro-American to vigorous opposition to American policies abroad. The first was the decision to extend the NATO military structure into countries that had previously been members of the Warsaw Pact – something Gorbachev had understood would not happen if he allowed a united Germany to remain in NATO. The second was the decision to bomb Serbia without authorization from the United Nations Security Council.
“There was no need to expand NATO to ensure the security of the newly independent countries of Eastern Europe. There were other ways those countries could have been reassured and protected without seeming to re-divide Europe to Russia’s disadvantage. As for the bombing of Serbia, if NATO had not been enlarged in the manner that occurred, Russia’s government would been much more willing to put pressure on Slobodan Milosevic to come to terms with the Kosovars and – if unsuccessful in this effort – more willing to vote in the United Nations to authorize military intervention…….Clinton’s actions severely damaged the credibility of democratic leaders in Russia who appealed for a more considerate attitude toward Russian national interests. …
“The Clinton administration was deaf to these appeals as well as those of George Kennan the author of the successful containment policy, who warned that enlarging NATO in the proposed manner would be the ‘most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.’ …
“The Clinton administration, without any provocation, in effect repeated a fundamental mistake made at Versailles in 1919. … The Clinton administration practically ensured that … Russia would lose its incentive to reduce nuclear weapons….My point is that the United States should have made every effort to bring the European states, West and East, and including Russia into a new security arrangement…..
“The Clinton administration’s action in bombing Serbia without U.N. approval not only enraged Russia and made close cooperation on nuclear issues more difficult, but it also sent a message to other countries with policies or practices that met American disapproval: Better get nuclear weapons as fast as you can! Otherwise, you can become a target for the U.S. Air Force.”
As Walsh notes, Hillary Clinton was an enthusiastic backer of all these actions, and has continued to be an eager champion of military adventuring, such as the ruinous "regime change" in Libya, which has spread violence, extremism -- and weapons -- throughout Africa. Indeed, she has lately been boasting of how tougher she is than Obama, making it clear that she wanted to arm the Syrian rebels -- that is, she wanted to give high-powered weapons to anti-government rebels in an internal conflict in another country: the very thing she now condemns Putin for doing.
When the Soviet Union fell, there was an opening -- a genuine opening -- to make a better world. But America's bipartisan elites refused to take that path. Instead they chose a threatening military expansion, after promising not to do it. They chose the "Shock Doctrine" tactics of hyper-capitalism, driving millions of people into desperate ruin and early deaths, while empowering gangsters and crooks whose predatory instincts fit well with the new system. At every turn, they chose policies and supported corrupt leaders and a corrupt system that led people to see "democracy" as a dirty word, a hypocritical mask for robbery and repression. They chose to keep Russia down, keep it cowed and contained; they chose, as Matlock said, to re-divide the world, seeing the Soviet collapse not as an opportunity to make a safer, more secure and prosperous future for their own people -- but as a chance to push their sick agenda of domination, greed and elite rule.
And now these same fools, and their equally foolish successors,are astonished that Russia has not become a safe and peaceful liberal democracy but has instead turned to authoritarianism -- as happens to many societies in chaos, grasping at any straw that seems to promise (however falsely) some way out of the abyss. They are astonished that the Russian regime mirrors the meddling, arms peddling and power-gaming that they have practiced ruthlessly for generations – just as they express astonishment and outrage that a people who have been violently repressed and confined for decades would dare to strike back at a regime that has killed multitudes of their children and literally sealed them up behind a concrete wall, as in Gaza.
So with the horrors raging in Ukraine and Gaza (and Iraq and Syria), we have now arrived at another turning point – yet another further turning away from sanity and humanity, toward more war, more hatred, more enmity, more grasping, more greed, and more – many, many more – needless deaths.
Israel’s disproportionate and increasingly pernicious role in American politics and policies is well-known. But Washington’s decades-long collusion of corruption with the repressive, retrograde regime of Saudi Arabia has if anything been even more disastrous for the world. Historians of the next millennium will look back on the fatal bargain that humanity has made with fossil fuels as one of the great wrong turnings in the history of homo sapiens. By the end of this century it will have burned or drowned vast portions of the planet and plunged billions of people into ruin and suffering. The benefits that arose from our oil-based civilization cannot be denied — yes, I too am glad that an ambulance can get me quickly to the hospital or fly me across the ocean to see my children — but the cost of these benefits has been immense, and there is far worse to come in the years ahead … not least for those same beloved children. One of the most deleterious effects of fossil-fuelled civilization has been the prominence that geographical happenstance has given to Saudi Arabia. Its vast reserves of oil has meant that governments of every stripe have overlooked its horrendous oppression and its global propagation of one of the most narrow and ignorant perversions of Islam. This is particularly striking given the fact that for the past 30 years, “Islamic extremism” has been the chief bugbear and bloody shirt waved by Western powers seeking to maintain and extend their dominance of world affairs. All of these powers — Washington especially — have always known that the greatest backing, financing and arming of “Islamic extremism” have come from the elite of Saudi Arabia … the same elite that the Western powers have cravenly courted, decade after decade. Without oil, Saudi Arabia would be one of the world’s pariah states, where women are oppressed to a degree unseen in any other nation, where clerics wearing 17th-century blinkers behead people for the crime of falling in love with the “wrong” person, where the political freedom of ordinary people is stifled on a level nearly commensurate with that of North Korea. But Saudi Arabia does have oil. And so its oppression, misogyny, brutality and tyranny is not only excused by the West’s great champions of democracy; it is honored, celebrated and sustained with arms deals and diplomatic support — and, of course, the trillions of dollars that have flowed to the kingdom from every corner gas station in America for decades. This collusion with extremism has grown even more deadly since 9/11 — the beginning of what looks almost certain to be a century of “war on terrorism.” Indeed, one of Saudi Arabia’s great facilitators of Islamic extremism — its longtime ambassador to Washingon, Prince Bandar — was so close to the American power structure that he was known as “Bandar Bush” — an honorary member of one of the leading families of the American ruling elite. Even while America is ostensibly fighting an ever-expanding war against “Islamic extremism,” it is coddling and colluding with the most active and effective supporter of Islamic extremism in the world, Saudi Arabia. A cynic might see in this bizarre symbiosis the perfect expression of the murderous corruption at the heart of our political world — and of our whole oil-based civilization. The horrific turmoil we are seeing in the Middle East today — particularly with the rise of ISIS — grows from that selfsame soil. In an excellent article this week, Patrick Cockburn traces the rise of ISIS in part to a long-term plan by Prince Bandar and the Saudi elite to eliminate their hated sectarian rivals, the Shiites, while protecting and extending their own repressive and illegitimate ascendancy over the Middle East — and Islam as a whole. As so often happens with these grand plans — like the neo-con vision of “remaking” the oil regions through military conquest — the Saudi scheme has gone badly awry: the puppets have cut the strings, and are now threatening the puppet-master. You should read the Cockburn piece in full, but here are a few excerpts:
How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.” The fatal moment predicted by Prince Bandar may now have come for many Shia, with Saudi Arabia playing an important role in bringing it about by supporting the anti-Shia jihad in Iraq and Syria. Since the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on 10 June, Shia women and children have been killed in villages south of Kirkuk, and Shia air force cadets machine-gunned and buried in mass graves near Tikrit. … There is no doubt about the accuracy of the quote by Prince Bandar, secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council from 2005 and head of General Intelligence between 2012 and 2014, the crucial two years when al-Qa’ida-type jihadis took over the Sunni-armed opposition in Iraq and Syria. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute last week, Dearlove, who headed MI6 from 1999 to 2004, emphasised the significance of Prince Bandar’s words, saying that they constituted “a chilling comment that I remember very well indeed”. He does not doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to which the authorities may have turned a blind eye, has played a central role in the Isis surge into Sunni areas of Iraq. He said: “Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.” This sounds realistic since the tribal and communal leadership in Sunni majority provinces is much beholden to Saudi and Gulf paymasters, and would be unlikely to cooperate with Isis without their consent. … The forecast by Prince Bandar, who was at the heart of Saudi security policy for more than three decades, that the 100 million Shia in the Middle East face disaster at the hands of the Sunni majority, will convince many Shia that they are the victims of a Saudi-led campaign to crush them. “The Shia in general are getting very frightened after what happened in northern Iraq,” said an Iraqi commentator, who did not want his name published. Shia see the threat as not only military but stemming from the expanded influence over mainstream Sunni Islam of Wahhabism, the puritanical and intolerant version of Islam espoused by Saudi Arabia that condemns Shia and other Islamic sects as non-Muslim apostates and polytheists. … The West may have to pay a price for its alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, which have always found Sunni jihadism more attractive than democracy. A striking example of double standards by the western powers was the Saudi-backed suppression of peaceful democratic protests by the Shia majority in Bahrain in March 2011. Some 1,500 Saudi troops were sent across the causeway to the island kingdom as the demonstrations were ended with great brutality and Shia mosques and shrines were destroyed. …Western powers and their regional allies have largely escaped criticism for their role in reigniting the war in Iraq. Publicly and privately, they have blamed the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for persecuting and marginalising the Sunni minority, so provoking them into supporting the Isis-led revolt. There is much truth in this, but it is by no means the whole story. … But for all his gargantuan mistakes, Maliki’s failings are not the reason why the Iraqi state is disintegrating. What destabilised Iraq from 2011 on was the revolt of the Sunni in Syria and the takeover of that revolt by jihadis, who were often sponsored by donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates. Again and again Iraqi politicians warned that by not seeking to close down the civil war in Syria, Western leaders were making it inevitable that the conflict in Iraq would restart. … Of course, US and British politicians and diplomats would argue that they were in no position to bring an end to the Syrian conflict. But this is misleading. By insisting that peace negotiations must be about the departure of Assad from power, something that was never going to happen since Assad held most of the cities in the country and his troops were advancing, the US and Britain made sure the war would continue. … Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein’s monster over which it is rapidly losing control. .. Nor is this the only point on which Prince Bandar was dangerously mistaken. The rise of Isis is bad news for the Shia of Iraq but it is worse news for the Sunni whose leadership has been ceded to a pathologically bloodthirsty and intolerant movement, a sort of Islamic Khmer Rouge, which has no aim but war without end.
Cockburn’s analogy of ISIS with the Khmer Rouge is disturbingly apt. In both cases, a volatile region whose societies were laid waste by the intervention of Western dominationists and their local partners has led to the rise of an implacable, intolerant and incredibly violent sect intent on returning the area to a fantasized “Year Zero,” upon which a genocidally purged and “purer” society can be constructed.
Cockburn believes, I think rightly, that ultimately ISIS will not succeed, just as the Khmer Rouge were eventually ousted. (By America’s hated enemy, communist Vietnam.) But, as in Cambodia, before that happens, immense suffering is in store for millions of people. What we are seeing in Iraq today are the fruits of American war crime in Iraq. Many people — even some who opposed the war — believed that the consequences of this atrocity could be contained: a tragedy, yes, and isn’t it a shame that the perpetrators got away with it, but in the end, the world moves on, and we can concentrate again on our partisan squabbles on Capitol Hill, or the latest episode of Game of Thrones. But these criminal actions, these reckless decisions, these fatal bargains with extremism and corruption, these pustulant growths of militarism and repression do not just go away. Their effects are real; they are long-lasting; they reverberate through the years in many lands, in many ways — ways which no one can foresee at the time. We are not going to go back to “normal” — not to the pre-9/11 normal, not to the pre-Iraq invasion normal. This is especially true given the fact that Barack Obama — and whoever follows him, be it Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush or some other wealthy imperial courtier — will keep following the same morally insane policies that have led to the current catastrophe. It’s not a joke; it’s not a dream; it’s not happening to someone else in another place, in another time. With every step, every new day, we are building a world of hell for ourselves and those who come after us.