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OK, so the Iraq war is not making the world a safer place.  A classified intelligence report confirms what many people have been saying for years and have determined simply by following the news, reading the headlines, and examining whatever non-classified evidence is available.  Common sense itself dictates that the removal of Saddam Hussein would create a power vacuum, which, if not immediately replaced by a suitable and, most importantly, functional replacement, would suck in forces of chaos and provide a breeding ground in which they can multiply.  In addition, the Iraq War made tangible, not only to Muslims but to people throughout the world, all the policies that radical extremists use as rallying points for anti-Americanism:  the American desire for cultural and political hegemony, the American desire to control Mideast oil, the American desire to control and force rather than negotiate, the American desire to protect Israel, and the American desire to erect military bases on Arab land.  The war made manifest what Muslim jihadists had been complaining about for years.  The young recruits were and continue to be impressed. 

 

Well, what would make the world a safer place? What would help eliminate terrorism?  You can start by asking Bill Clinton.  When Keith Olbermann asked Clinton, during an interview the other night, what advice he would give to Bush in the unlikely circumstance that Bush should ask him for any, he replied,

I would say that—I would give him, actually, two pieces of advice.  I would say, first of all, I think if you can find some way, consistent with our commitment to Israel’s security, to resume the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and move fairly quickly to a Palestinian state, I think that would do more to change the image of the United States and—than anything else.  I think there’s so many Arab-Muslim countries that are frightened by this instability and all this violence, and I think you would find that Israel would actually get more credit and a more positive response from other Arab nations by doing this than ever before.  And I think we would have a chance then to stabilize a lot of other problems in the Middle East.  That’s the first thing.

 

The second thing I’d say is no American president can possibly please people all over the world all the time.  If you have an unusual political, military and economic position, you’re always going to do things that some people won’t like.  But there are two things that are important.  You should look like we prefer cooperation over unilateralism and act alone only when we feel we have to.  And you should let people know that we have no anger or animosity and we wish them the best.  And if we can do it consistent with Israel’s security, let’s get back to work on this Palestinian-Israeli peace process, because that’s half the juice that’s feeding terror all around the world.

Regardless of what you think of Clinton, he is right on the money here.  Middle East resentment over US support of Israel can be found anywhere someone cares to look for it.  It is in almost all Al-Qaeda diatribes.  A peaceful and fair solution to the conflict would and must inevitably defuse this resentment because there will be nothing to hang it on any more.  Every day that the conflict continues is another day that the Palestinians serve as the embodiment of Arab and Muslim victimization and oppression.  All past resentments, over British colonialism, over the Crusades, and over efforts to control the wealth and the resources of the land have been crystallized in this never-ending conflict, almost like an icon for jihadists to raise over the heads of the underprivileged masses.  The conflict is like a centrifuge of hatred, the force of which radiates throughout the Middle East.  But now we have a competing centrifuge—the one in Baghdad that has welled up out of the power vacuum of Iraq, if I’m not mixing my metaphors too much here.

 

There will always be those unhappy with any two state solution.  Unfortunately, there will probably always be some degree of violence and terrorist activity.  But it is inevitable that it will be substantially reduced by a reasonable compromise and, as far as I can see, the Bush administration has not exerted one iota of effort towards achieving this.

 

And what about the second point—American cooperation and good will?  What does this imply?  Diplomacy, something that George Bush said at his last press conference he has no patience for.  It implies a slower, more socio-cultural approach to problem-solving, one that is sensitive to underlying causes.  Where do young jihadists come from and how are they bred?  They are bred in schools that are run by extremists and fundamentalists.  Why do parents send their children to these schools?  Because there are no other schools, or no other schools that they can afford, if they happen to be one of the many poor in this still developing part of the world.  In some places, it is a Mujahideen education or no education.  In some places, it is Mujahideen  health care and social services or no social services.  Who handed out wads of cash to the Lebanese after their homes were destroyed?  Hizballah, quicker than you can say FEMA.  Who has helped the impossibly downtrodden Palestinians in Gaza?  Hamas has, and it has done so for many years.

 

What about American hypocrisy—do you think that this wins us any friends?  Do you think that the people of the region take us seriously when we speak of Democracy, particularly when we ally with countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, provided they play by the rules? 

And, as Reza Aslan said on Real Time, we have to think about what we say and how we say it, rather than shooting from the hip:

When Bush says, ‘You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists,’ most people – particularly most moderate Muslims – think, ‘Well, I’m not with you.’

I’d like to add one more method for making the world safer—developing alternative energies, or, to start, developing an energy policy that is not an oil policy.  As Jefffrey Sachs said in The Guardian:

It always comes back to oil. The continuing misguided interventions in the Middle East by the United States and the United Kingdom have their roots deep in the Arabian sand. Ever since Winston Churchill led the conversion of Britain’s navy from coal to oil at the start of the last century, the Western powers have meddled incessantly in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries to keep the oil flowing, toppling governments and taking sides in wars in the supposed “great game” of energy resources. But the game is almost over, because the old approaches are obviously failing.

 

Just when one is lulled into thinking that something other than oil is at the root of current US and UK action in Iraq, reality pulls us back. Indeed, President Bush recently invited journalists to imagine the world 50 years from now. He did not have in mind the future of science and technology, or a global population of nine billion, or the challenges of climate change and biodiversity. Instead, he wanted to know whether Islamic radicals would control the world’s oil.

Yes, another gem from Bush’s last press conference.  George Bush’s imagination is limited indeed, if he is unable to imagine a world with alternative energy sources or a world in which oil, which has always buttered his family’s bread, is not the number one commodity.

 

But are we any closer to a clear vision?  Must a former president use TV talk shows to show us the way?  What now?

 

 

 


Digg!

A fascinating Seymour Hersh article in the current New Yorker outlines Bush administration involvement in strategic planning that led to Israeli air strikes on Hezbollah and Lebanese targets.  Such involvement would clearly explain the administration’s initial complacency in response to the bombings and its ensuing support for them.   According to the article, Israel, acting with Bush administration knowledge and backing, was waiting for an incident that would justify the air strikes, and Hezbollah’s kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers fit the bill.  Bush and Israeli strategists anticipated that the air strikes would wipe out Hezbollah and distance civilians from the organization, leading to the installation of Lebanese troops at the border.  Bush/Cheney & Co. supported this campaign, particularly since they saw it as a test run for a planned similar campaign in Iran, in which air strikes would destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities and turn Iranian popular sentiment against its hawkish and outspoken President:

The Bush Administration . . . was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

This plan backfired because the Bush and Israeli “strategists” underestimated Hezbollah strength and passion and were reluctant to follow through with ground troops.  Instead, they battered civilians, seemingly punishing them for accepting Hezbollah charity and assistance in their own communities, and, consequently, outraged not only moderate Arab states, but much of the civilized world.  The Saudis’ late July push for a cease fire is most likely what turned the tide toward US endorsement:

According to Richard Armitage, who served as Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term . . Israel’s campaign in Lebanon, which has faced unexpected difficulties and widespread criticism, may, in the end, serve as a warning to the White House about Iran. “If the most dominant military force in the region—the Israel Defense Forces—can’t pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million,” Armitage said. “The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis.”

According to Hersh’s sources, this cynical and brutish scheme was encouraged primarily by the office of the Vice President, which seems to serve as an independent arm of the executive branch, directing foreign and national security policy as it sees fit.  Apparently, Cheney and his staff, blind to mistakes that have already been made, have been working closely with Israeli officials to develop strategies for dealing with Hezbollah and for altering Mideast power relations:

“ Israel began with Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East desk of the National Security Council.” . . . The initial plan, as outlined by the Israelis, called for a major bombing campaign in response to the next Hezbollah provocation, according to the Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and Israeli thinking. Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon’s infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon’s large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah, according to the former senior intelligence official.

And:

Cheney’s office supported the Israeli plan, as did Elliott Abrams, a deputy national-security adviser, according to several former and current officials . . . Cheney’s point, the former senior intelligence official said, was “What if the Israelis execute their part of this first, and it’s really successful? It’d be great. We can learn what to do in Iran by watching what the Israelis do in
Lebanon.”

The Vice President seems indifferent to the innocent human life that is always the price to be paid for these tactics.  The images of Katrina destruction that so horrified the American public are nothing compared to some of the images that have come out of Lebanon—images of bombed apartment buildings and entire civilian neighborhoods, dead children, and ordinary people forced out of their homes and turned into refugees—refugees, that word that Americans found so distasteful when applied to themselves. 


Digg!

As the Bush administration continues to do a whole lot of nothing about the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, employing a “hands off” policy as it’s now being called, Iraq, now relegated to the bottom of page one or the top of page two, continues to teeter-totter on the brink of civil war, if not having already fallen in.   

A  startling UN report, which was issued shortly after the Israel-Lebanon crisis began, reported that an average of 100 Iraqis per day died during the month of June.  Most were victims of the sectarian violence that has been a direct result of the US occupation.  These astonishing figures have been mostly ignored by the mainstream media.  It’s not their fault; it’s just that they can’t do more than one thing at a time, and that one thing is usually whatever is hot at the moment.     

What a fortuitous fringe benefit for the Bush administration.  Almost makes you think that the Israel-Lebanon-Hizballah hostilities might last until . . . maybe November?

And, for those who would hope that squashing Hizballah in order to make Lebanon safe for democracy, and for those who would some day imagine a form of amicability between Israel and a democratic Lebanon, for those who would hope that the Lebanese would blame Hizballah for all of their troubles and look upon the Israelis and the Americans as saviors of their budding democracy, for those who believe that we’re not only winning Iraqi hearts and minds right now but Lebanese hearts and minds, refer to the following quote by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora (after 15-nation talks failed to reach an agreement on a plan to end the fighting –quoted in TIME):

Are we the children of a lesser god? Is an Israeli teardrop worth more than a drop of Lebanese blood?”

Here is an excellent opinion piece by Sidney Blumenthal, published in the Guardian UK, which describes Condi Rice’s hope for a “domino effect” [!] coming out of the current Mid East crisis: 

Israel’s attacks will demolish Hizbullah; the Lebanese will blame Hizbullah and destroy its influence; and the backlash will extend to Hamas, which will collapse. From the administration’s point of view, this is a proxy war with Iran (and Syria) that will inexplicably help turn around Iraq. “We will prevail,” Rice says.

Sung to the tune of “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.”  Oh yes, we may get a domino effect as a result of this crisis.  But it might not be the domino effect that the administration is hoping for. 

A more apt tune: When will they ever learn?   Blumenthal cites the irony of The Office of Lessons Learned and its apparent need to do more research.  I can’t find any official listing of an Office of Lessons Learned, but there has been much ado on the web regarding the Director of Lessons Learned (nice work if you can get it), Stuart Baker, and he was once on the staff of Katrina Lessons Learned (ha ha), and there is a Center for Army Lessons Learned (that also has its work cut out for it) that Baker doesn’t have anything to do with. 

Blumenthal’s piece, by the way, offers yet another variant spelling of H-b-llah, and, quite honestly, I’ve given up on trying to figure out which one is correct.

This from Reuters: 

DUBLIN, July 26 (Reuters) – An Irish army officer in south Lebanon warned the Israeli military six times that their attacks in the area were putting the lives of U.N. observers at risk, Ireland’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

Four U.N. observers were killed in an Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon on Tuesday.”On six separate occasions he was in contact with the Israelis to warn them that their bombardment was endangering the lives of U.N. staff in South Lebanon,” a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.”He warned: ‘You have to address this problem or lives may be lost’,” the spokesman said of comments by a senior Irish soldier working as a liaison officer between U.N. forces in South Lebanon and the Israelis. 

That Israel could, inadvertently or perhaps not so inadvertently, bomb a UN post, demonstrates how it could, inadvertently or not so inadvertently, bomb Lebanese civilians.  What are the rules of engagement here?  Are there any?  Does being attacked by those using terror tactics, under any circumstances, justify abandoning rules of engagement?  Israel and the US seem to believe so.    

Will this incident encourage countries to send peacekeeping forces to this region?   

In an interview with Terry Gross on last night’s “Fresh Air,” Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks, author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq said that the US Mid East policy now consciously promotes instability rather than stability.  He said that, after 9/11, the administration decided that the “policy of containment,” as described by Wolfowitz, would only cause more 9/11s and that there was a need to “roll the dice” or “drain the swamp.”  From my perspective, this means promoting conflicts (or fabricating evidence, as in Iraq) that justify the use of US and/or Israeli force, with the intention of annihilating or subduing the enemy.  We can define “enemy” as any Mid East forces that threaten US and Israeli interests, whether they be heads of secular, sovereign states such as Saddam Hussein, or militants that use terrorist or guerrilla tactics such as Hizballah, who are generally all lumped together as “terrorists.” This serves multiple and often unrelated interests: those of defense, reconstruction, and security contractors; those of the energy industry; those of idealist neo-cons who see US hegemony as the answer to the world’s ills; those of the Israeli lobby who view the US as their personal “capo di tutti capi,” and those of fundamentalist Christians who see the road to Armageddon as the road to salvation. 

So, what’s wrong with that picture?  First, it disregards the rights and interests of those that are perceived as the enemy; second, it leaves a lot of innocent victims in its wake; and third, it might not work and we just might actually get that Armageddon that is being used as a carrot for the extremists.   

In Gross’s prior, seemingly unrelated interview, Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, authors of One Party Country:The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century, describe how Republicans have the edge over Democrats because they have perfected the art (as noted above) of marshaling diverse and unrelated interests behind a single cause.  As an example they describe how, in the 1990s, Grover Norquist of the famous “Wednesday Meetings,”  got “mom and apple pie” proponent Phyllis Schafly to rally against stricter fuel efficiency standards  by describing them as “de facto family planning”  and convincing her that downsizing automobiles was just another way of downsizing American families.  

And in the prolifically reproductive 1950s where did they put the kids—in the trunk?  Yes, I know that cars were pretty big and inefficient then, but they weren’t as big as SUVs.

Peter Wallsten, by the way, is the LA Times reporter that President Bush chided and teased at an outdoor  press conference for wearing sunglasses when asking his question.  Bush, perhaps trying to appear jovial and relaxed in front of the press a la Clinton or JFK, didn’t realize that Wallston is legally blind.  He has macular eye degeneration that causes not only impaired vision but sensitivity to glare.  But what would you expect from a guy who would “massage” the German Chancellor by pouncing on her from behind?

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Bush was enjoying roast pig in Germany and preferred to talk about that when reporters queried him anout the Mideast crisis. Policy is not one of George Bush’s strong points, but avoidance is, as revealed in this morning’s NY Times:

“…he was presented with a traditional local gift in the town square here, a barrel of herring, and hours before he was scheduled to go to a barbeque with a freshly slaughtered wild boar served in his honor.

In his question-and-answer session with reporters, Mr. Bush joked about that dinner, kidding in response to a double-barreled question on the growing crisis and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

‘I thought you were going to ask me about the pig,’ Mr. Bush said.”

And this is the leader of the free world speaking. The New York Times also reports that “Mr. Bush had called the Hezbollah actions ‘pathetic.’ ” Well, that’s both an insightful and diplomatic comment, and I’m sure it will help defuse the situation. Apparently, based on other comments made, the Bush administration is blaming Arabs for the most recent eruption in this endless two-sided conflict. If Israel had been solely defending itself all these years, one might agree with that.

Some believe that the Bush administration actually considers it to their advantage to have to continually fight “terrorism” within the context of Mideast turmoil. Many reasons have been proposed: it legitimizes the continual expansion of executive branch power ( #1 priority for Dick Cheney), it provides continual fodder for the military-industrial complex and its lucrative contracts, and, according to some, it’s the self-fulfilling prophecy of a perverse apocolyptic vision.

Former CIA analyst Bill Christison argues seomething to this effect in Alexander Cockburn’s newsletter counterpunch: http://www.counterpunch.org/

It has not been mentioned much in any major news sources, perhaps because it is such a commonplace, but, in these circumstances, it gains more significance: the US has again vetoed a UN resolution censuring Israel, this time one demanding that they end the attack on Gaza.  The resolution seems fair and diplomatic enough, since it requires that Hizballah release the captive Israeli soldier in exchange for Palestinians detained by Israelis.  This from EuroNews

The United States has blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling on Israel to end its offensive in Gaza. Ten of the Council’s 15 member-nations voted in favour of the draft, put forward by Qatar on behalf of Arab states. Four countries abstained while Washington killed the text by using its power of veto. The resolution demanded the unconditional release of abducted Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit as well as Israel’s immediate withdrawal from Gaza and the release of dozens of Palestinian officials detained by Israel. 

The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, a pro-Israel lobbying group, includes on its website a long list of U.S. Vetoes of UN Resolutions Critical of Israel.  Presumably, this list is proudly displayed because it clearly demonstrates US nearly unconditional support of Israel.  

The UK Guardian has some pictures of the conflict.  This one shows a bombed apartment building in suburban Beirut.  Does this look like a military target?

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Israel is flexing its US-subsidized military might again by bombing the Beirut Airport and blocking Lebanese ports, actions that will ultimately affect thousand of civilians and, at the very least, disrupt their lives.  They also bombed areas in south Lebanon that likely included civilians.  These actions, which fail to target those initially responsible for the border raids against Israel and kidnapping of soldiers, will likely cause the crisis to escalate.  The Israel response is, yet again, a demonstration of brute force that is meant to subdue rather than defend or counter.  Apparently, there is more to come (from NY Times):

News services reported that Israeli planes dropped leaflets today over the southern suburbs of Beiruit, where Hezbollah is strong, warning residents to evacuate the area. Hezbollah said it would retaliate for any bombing there by firing rockets at the largest city in northern Israel, Haifa.

Where will this lead?  George Bush’s relative quietude is rather disturbing, given that this situation is a model for one that could cause a chain-reaction.  It reminds me a little bit of the infamous My Pet Goat Minutes.  Do you think your gas prices are high now?  If the Mideast explodes, you won’t even be able to fuel a moped, let alone an SUV. 

When will the US government realize that Israel-Arab conflict is the locus of Mideast stability and adjust its policy accordingly?  Does the Bush administration believe that ignoring this problem will just cause it to go away?  Or do US leaders believe what Israeli leaders apparently believe, that pummeling enemies with a big stick will cause them to skulk away, permanently?

The latest wave of counterattacks to come out of the seemingly never-ending cycle of violence between Israel and Palestine needs to be considered within the context of recent events.  A largely one-sided (Palestinian) cease fire had existed for fifteen months until a shell exploded on a Gaza beach. Israel initially denied that it was responsible for this shelling, but that wasn’t the only event that precipitated further violence.  This from Time: 

What prompted Hamas’ move? First, Jamal Abu Samhadana, head of a Gaza security force, was assassinated in an Israeli missile strike. But it was the Israeli shelling of a Gaza beach–killing eight, including five members of one family–that united the Palestinians in outrage. Israel expressed regret, but that didn’t placate Hamas’ military wing, which ended the cease-fire and fired at least 15 rockets into
Israel. 

It is hard to understand why the United States almost unconditionally backs
Israel in this conflict.  One answer may be found in a working research paper written by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and made available through Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  In the paper, titled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Mearsheimer of the University of
Chicago’s Department of Political Science and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard
University’s Kennedy School of Government argue that it is the strength of the Jewish lobby.  Alan Dershowitz immediately wrote a forty-four page response which not only accused the authors of lacking academic rigor, but of promoting anti-Semitism: 

. . . the real trouble with the paper is that it presents a conspiratorial view of history. This type of paranoid worldview, in which Jews manipulate and control the media and government, is not the sort of argument one would expect from prominent academics. It more closely resembles what Professor Richard Hofstadter described in “The Paranoid Style of American Politics,” in which extremists on both the far right and the far left harbor exaggerated fantasies about an individual demographic group’s influence.

Dershowitz, in his paper, also cites the Wall Street Journal’s criticism:

The authors are at pains to note that the Israel Lobby is by no means exclusively Jewish, and that not every American Jew is a part of it. Fair enough. But has there ever been an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that does not share its basic features?

Regardless of what one thinks of the argument of the working paper, I think that an open debate on this issue needs to be able to occur.  One needs to be able to admit the presence of a strong and influential Jewish lobby without being labeled an Anti-Semite or conspiracy theorist.  All sorts of lobbying groups hold sway in the
US for all kinds of different reasons, but to refer to their influence does not mean that one is harboring prejudice or characterizing them as cabals.  Think of the frequent references in the media to the lobbying power of the “Christian right” and “evangelicals.”  Think of the constant references to their direct line to the White House.  Has anyone, particularly a scholar in a forty-four page paper, stood up and said, “Wait a minute, you’re paranoid, and you must hate Christians.”  No doubt this is true for some critics of the Christian right, but for the most part, the criticism of their influence is fair-minded, and no one is afraid to speak openly about it.  No one need worry about having his career damaged or being labeled a “Christian-conspiracy theorist.” 

In fact, the Mearsheimer/Walt paper makes extensive note of Christian Evangelical involvement in lobbying efforts in support of Israel.

The Bush administration has made a gross error by focusing on regime change and occupation in order to stabilize the Middle East (ultimately, to make it safe for business) when it should have been focusing on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  That is the very first thing that needs to be done in order to stabilize the Middle East and all else will follow.  Instead, the Bush-Cheney crowd has single-mindedly and obsessively focused on Iraq.  If half the resources spent on Iraq had been spent on solving the Israel-Palestine problem, we might have a better and safer world today. 

Further, the US has hampered a resolution by so strongly supportiong Israel.  Why not introduce an embargo against BOTH parties until they come to their senses?  


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