If Thomas Friedman Weren’t a Propagandist Looking at the “Arab-Muslim Sea”

iran israel deal
That President Obama’s recent agreement with Iran limiting its nuclear enrichment capabilities stands as a diplomatic victory remains largely undisputed in the most prestigious circles of academic and journalistic discourse. Without this deal Iranians, much like their Iraqi and Afghan neighbors, would have suffered the wrath of the US armed forces the argument goes. Disregarding the fact that Iran, as a signatory the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has a legal right to enrich uranium and evidenced no intention to develop a nuclear weapon, the world is justified in breathing a sigh of relief knowing that “the greatest threat to world peace” is exercising its power less belligerently.

Nonetheless, this pause in international violence and aggression is unlikely to survive if some of the media’s most dedicated servants to power have their way. Enter New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. In an article that can only be described as a toxic brew of anti-Arab racism, blatant falsehoods, and borderline criminal incitement we are provided a graphic illustration of the resilience of imperial doctrines in the American press and the psychological ease with which its most ardent enthusiasts petition its demands.

Headlined If I Were an Israeli Looking at the Iran Deal Friedman begins by stating if he were an “Israeli grocer” he would “hate [the nuclear deal] for enshrining Iran’s right to enrich uranium, since Iran regularly cheated its way to expanding that capability, even though it had signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.” Notice Iran is “cheating” by disobeying US demands to restrict its capabilities, a capability legally protected under the NPT, but Israel (a non-signatory to the NPT) is not “cheating” in its casual disregard for every conceivable norm of non-proliferation.

Furthermore, it is not the nuclear deal that’s responsible for “enshrining Iran’s right to enrich uranium,” but the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Not only has this been repeatedly declared by Iranian government officials but in 2012 the Non-Aligned Movement affirmed Iran’s “inalienable right to develop research, production and uses of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” Only under the assumption that the majority of the world and established international law should be subordinated to US rules of Good Behavior can we take Friedman’s contention seriously.
nonproliferationThe same can be said of his condemnation of “Iran’s proxy, the Lebanese Shiite militia, Hezbollah.” Hezbollah, according to Friedman, “started an unprovoked war with Israel,” in 2006 “and when Israel retaliated against Hezbollah military and civilian targets, Hezbollah fired thousands of Iranian-supplied rockets all across Israel.” Here we have a total inversion of the historical record. That the 2006 war was a war of aggression by Israel (Washington’s proxy), and not Hezbollah, is so well documented that any argument otherwise can only be interpreted as a deliberate evasion of the facts if not apologetics for Israeli violence.

As scholar and activist Steven Salaita observed in his 2008 collection of essays Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims and the Poverty of Liberal Thought, “the immorality of Israel’s wanton destruction [of Lebanon] does not present much of a political or ethical debate for those who would distinguish between military targets and civilian ones, or between terrorists and ordinary people. The problem is that American media repeatedly omitted either distinction, thereby transforming Israel’s aggression into an act of self-defense.” Hence, Friedman can write about how Israel “retaliated against Hezbollah military and civilian targets (my emphasis)”, the implicit assumption being Lebanese civilians were just as culpable in their deaths as Hezbollah fighters.

And the easy resort to dehumanization did not end here. Friedman proceeds to inhabit the mind of an Israeli general, proud and confident in the assertion that “No enemy will ever out-crazy us into leaving this region”, a sentiment with a great deal of merit in lieu of recent history. Yet we gain the most insight into the unadulterated racism that influences commentators like Friedman when he lays out Israel’s war strategy:

“Israel plays, when it has to, by what I’ve called ‘Hama rules’ — war without mercy. The Israeli Army tries to avoid hitting civilian targets, but it has demonstrated in both Lebanon and Gaza that it will not be deterred by the threat of civilian Arab casualties when Hezbollah or Hamas launches its rockets from civilian areas. It is not pretty, but this is not Scandinavia. The Jewish state has survived in an Arab-Muslim sea because its neighbors know that for all its Western mores it will not be out-crazied. It will play by local rules.”

Israel, a nation with a first world military and nuclear weapons, unleashes an aerial assault on densely populated strip of land, 50% of whose inhabitants are children. Over 2,100 people are killed, the majority Palestinian civilians. Hamas, a military faction under foreign occupation without a navy, air force, tanks, or a hegemonic military superpower bankrolling its soldiers, fires low-grade rockets into Israel killing 73 people, the majority Israeli soldiers (66). That anyone can be aware of this disparity in power and designate Hamas as the exemplar of “war without mercy” defies rational explanation, as does the ludicrous claim that “the Israeli Army tries to avoid hitting civilian targets.”
palestineIt takes little effort to see that a vulgar racism underlies these conclusions. Nightmarish scenarios of the Jewish state being swept away by the turbulent “Arab-Muslim sea,” compels this island of western civilization and “Western mores” to “play by local rules”, namely the rules of “savages.” Inherent in this characterization is a sharp distinction between enlightened, restrained, white, Europeanized (“this is not Scandinavia”) Jews and crazy, impulsive, uncivilized Arabs so maniacal in their desire to kill Israelis that they would readily sacrifice the lives of their children to achieve this end (this human shield myth has also been thoroughly refuted).

Perhaps the greatest irony of Thomas Friedman’s latest contribution to the booming industry of anti-Arab racism is that he embodies perfectly the mindless bloodlust and impulsive thinking that he so baselessly directs at the people of Gaza and Lebanon. Informing readers on what he’d do as Israeli Prime Minister to diffuse any suspicions about Iranian misbehavior, Friedman states the following:

“So rather than fighting with President Obama, as prime minister I’d be telling him Israel will support this deal but it wants the U.S. to increase what really matters — its deterrence capability — by having Congress authorize this and any future president to use any means necessary to destroy any Iranian attempt to build a bomb. I don’t trust U.N. inspectors; I trust deterrence. And to enhance that I’d ask the U.S. to position in the Middle East the U.S. Air Force’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a precision-guided, 30,000-pound ‘bunker buster’ bomb that could take out any Iranian reactor hidden in any mountain. The Iranians would get the message.”

Essentially, Friedman is proposing that President Obama hold together a diplomatic agreement by threatening to drop a 30,000 lb. bomb on a sovereign country (a blatant violation of the UN prohibition against the threat of force in international affairs) citing the Mafioso doctrine that such an exercise in “deterrence” would force Iranians to “get the message.” Apparently, the “local rules” of military savagery expands beyond the provinces of ultra-violent, ethno-supremacist occupier states. These rules also must be advanced by their ideological courtiers in the American press lest the menacing unpeople of the “Arab-Muslim sea” get the impression that they can’t be “out-crazied.”

Any student of history will immediately recognize that Friedman is not the first and will by no means be the last to espouse this imperialist, orientalist, and racist worldview. Indeed, the perceptions put forth in his article permeate our academic, political, and intellectual culture so deeply that it would not be an exaggeration to describe them as foundational to the American national self-image. Nevertheless, the regularity of its expression does little to diminish its insidious influence in how we, as citizens of declining empire, think of the world around us and the solutions available to solve its many crises. So while Friedman peers out at the world through the eyes of Israeli generals and prime ministers we should dare to look at the world from the perspective of those who are victimized by their decisions. Hesitation in this regard would only prolong the needless suffering that only a genuine culture of solidarity with the oppressed can combat.

Source:

The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/12/opinion/thomas-friedman-if-i-were-an-israeli-looking-at-the-iran-dealhtml.html?ref=international&_r=0

http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/prepcom12/documents/WP24.pdf

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mehdi-hasan/gaza-israel_b_5624401.html

Confusing Righteous Indignation With Hatred: Dismantling Michael Eric Dyson’s Critique of Cornel West

Dr. West and I (Jan. 2012)
Dr. West and I (Jan. 2012)

“The righteous indignation of a Martin Luther King Jr. becomes a moment in political calculation and that makes my blood boil.”

–Dr. Cornel West

Arguably the most valuable aspect of democratic culture is the freedom afforded those who choose to dissent. Without constant, unimpeded criticism of the status quo societies collapse into paralysis or, in the direst of circumstances, one or another form of tyranny. Unfortunately, this ability to voice criticisms of power is not always taken advantage of. In fact, the temptation to succumb to ideological conformity is sometimes strongest in societies that purport to champion traditions of liberty. A textbook case of such conformity can be found in the two latest articles (here and here) by Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson in the establishment liberal journal The New Republic.

Responding to what he describes as Dr. Cornel West’s “rage against President Barack Obama”, Dyson condemns the former Princeton professor and public intellectual for his “callous disregard for plural visions of truth”, a malady that can be overcome only through “the prophet’s duty of pitiless self-inventory.” Undoubtedly, the desire to carry out a “pitiless self-inventory” is surely an essential characteristic needed to critically engage with the most pressing problems of the day, a characteristic Dyson ought to have in abundance, at least if he counts himself immune to the hypocrisies he now attributes to his erstwhile mentor.
dyson_westAmong the many crimes appended to Dr. West’s bill of indictment are his impassioned criticisms of Obama’s defenders, who he accuses of sacrificing elementary principles of justice for access to centers of privilege and power. “West’s attacks on me were a bleak forfeiture of 30 years of friendship,” intones Dyson. “It was the repudiation of a fond collegiality and intellectual companionship, of political comraderie and joined social struggle.” Putting aside the tone of West’s criticisms, which are of marginal significance compared to the substance of them, it’s worth investigating what kinds of critiques led to the end of this companionship. Dyson’s original TNR piece features three YouTube videos. In one 43 second video Dr. West, during an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! , describes Obama as a “Rockefeller Republican in Blackface.” Presumably, this was posted to illustrate Dr. West’s penchant for “verbal brutalities”, a term Dyson used to describe West’s “hateful language” in his subsequent article. The two other videos feature a BBC appearance of Dr. West urging Obama not to become “the friendly face of American empire,” and another appearance on C-SPAN (quoted above) where he decries the hypocrisy of Obama conducting his swearing-in ceremony with Dr. King’s Bible while perpetuating policies (drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia for example) that radically depart from King’s emancipatory message.

Again, ignoring the tone of West’s critiques, it’s undeniable that there is a thread that connects them, namely a principled opposition to imperial power and corporate criminality. Notably, even in the Democracy Now! video, despite its brevity, West brings attention to Obama’s “imperial foreign policy at work.” Indeed, if Dyson were truly interested in writing a “sharp polemic” (his self-description) he would at least devote some attention to these hugely consequential topics of global importance. Why else would they reappear in Dr. West’s critiques with such frequency and clarity? Strangely, Dyson’s “self-inventory” yields no results. As the intrepid sportswriter and Nation contributor Dave Zirin observed shortly after the publication of Dyson’s first piece:

The word ‘Palestine’ or ‘Palestinian’ does not once make its way into Dyson’s piece. Neither does ‘Wall Street’ or ‘immigration.’ The word ‘drones’ only comes up in a quote attributed to West. We can debate how sincere West’s commitments are to these issues or whether they are a cover for his hurt feelings and heartbreak that Dyson posits is at the root of all the discord. But they should be reckoned with.

Likewise, author and investigative journalist Max Blumenthal, in a piece written for AlterNet, observed, “BDS might be sweeping American campuses, but Dyson has been largely silent on Israel’s endless occupation. Dyson carps about character assassination, but he is reticent on drone assassinations. Since Obama entered the Oval Office, Dyson has had much more to say about Nas than the NSA.”

Moreover, Dyson’s second article—one which he introduces as “a few lines to address the most salient responses,” to his original article—also devotes zero attention to drone warfare, Israeli criminality, NSA surveillance or imperial power quite generally. Briefly, Dyson addresses this oversight in his second article, arguing he would “leave the breadth and depth of West’s political activities to his advocates or biographers,” since he was more interested in “probing the vituperation that clouds West’s political stances no matter their variety or virtue.”

Discarding the fact that one doesn’t have to be an “advocate” or a “biographer” to expound on Dr. West’s or anyone else’s “political activities” (how one could host a political show on MSNBC with this standard is a mystery to me), that Dyson chooses not to inspect, in the least, the “variety and virtue” of West’s criticism of Obama only reinforces the reasonable suspicion that Dyson is either unwilling to denounce, or more insidiously, in complete agreement with these policies. Particularly glaring is this oversight since it was explicitly brought to his attention via Zirin’s critique, providing him ample opportunity to dispel any false assumptions.

Incidentally, what of the “vituperation” that “cloud’s” Dr. West’s criticism? Is that a crime? Uncontroversially, compared to words that would be uttered by the victims of Obama’s drone policies West would likely be counted too generous. Not only have approval ratings for Obama’s policies in Pakistan equaled those earned by President Bush, an impressive feat, but the New York Times recently reported that drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan have “incited deep resentment toward the United States” (my emphasis). That this “deep resentment” may sometimes find its way to the Oval office and is sometimes directed at the man who, in the wake of the tragic killings of two western hostages in Pakistan, took “full responsibility” for drone policy is not only understandable but perfectly rational. Is it completely inconceivable that Dr. West may empathize with their outrage? Rather than criticize those who are filled with resentment over these criminal policies, Dyson ought to dedicate more time to trying to stop these policies that foster such righteous fury.
drones pewAnd this is where Dr. Dyson and Dr. West part ways. While Dyson falsely accuses West of having his judgment clouded by “vituperation”, his own judgment is, it seems, irreversibly clouded by infatuation, not with the individual that is President Obama, but the power and achievement that he embodies (a form of power that is, at bottom, very reactionary). Examples of this infatuation are as plentiful as they are cringe-inducing. Whether it’s Dyson’s impassioned MSNBC speech announcing his talent in “riding the Obama bandwagon hard” or his less comical, but equally troublesome, appeal to 2012 voters to “join me” in “helping [Obama].” As for sustained criticism? Dyson once “riled the White House” when he bravely denounced Obama as a “gifted leader whose palpable discomfort with discussing race made him a sometimes unreliable and distant narrator of black life.” With critics like this who needs commissars?

Graphic as these testimonials are, they are of secondary importance to what Dyson doesn’t say and what these silences imply. Historically, it has always been incredibly easy to tear down public figures, especially those as vocally anti-authoritarian as Dr. West, on the grounds that they are uncivil or too vigorous in their criticism. Take the example of Native American Studies professor and Palestinian solidarity activist Steven Salaita. After condemning Israeli atrocities in the Gaza Strip during the 51 day massacre last summer he was denied a teaching position at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Reacting to Salaita’s condemnation of Israeli crimes, university Chancellor Phyllis Wise declared that UIUC could not tolerate “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them”, a justification the widely read Academe Blog deemed “ridiculous.” Fundamentally, Dyson’s dissatisfaction with Dr. West is of the same brand.

Without venturing into hagiography, which is always an unattractive trait for those genuinely committed to critical thought, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of Dr. West as a voice of dissent and social uplift, not only in the Black community but in the United States as a whole. From the numerous arrests that he has undergone in the spirit of grassroots civil disobedience, to his outreach to the younger generation, to his defense of political prisoners like Mumia Abu Jamal and Palestinians languishing in the open air prison of the Gaza Strip, no amount of “philosophical meditation on prophetic vocation, scholarly craft and writerly art” can diminish his contributions to our national discourse and the movements that spring from them, a combination that is helping to construct a more just society. Legendary German socialist Rosa Luxemburg famously remarked that “those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” It’s about time Dr. Dyson joined Dr. West and noticed his own.

Sources:

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121640/michael-eric-dyson-responds-cornel-west-all-black-lives-matter

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121550/cornel-wests-rise-fall-our-most-exciting-black-scholar-ghost

http://www.thenation.com/blog/204769/cornel-west-not-mike-tyson

http://academeblog.org/2014/08/22/chancellor-phyllis-wise-explains-the-firing-of-steven-salaita/

http://www.pewglobal.org/2012/06/13/global-opinion-of-obama-slips-international-policies-faulted/

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/25/opinion/regret-over-a-drones-deadly-damage.html?smid=fb-share

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-warren-weinstein-killed-20150423-story.html

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/cornell-wests-radical-critique-race-and-us-brutality-middle-east-driver-michael

No Compensation: Drone Killing of Western Hostages Reveals Glaring Double Standard on Civilian Deaths

CIA drone strikeNo one remotely interested in US foreign policy can ignore the fact that massive civilian death has become an integral part of US warfare. Often termed “collateral damage”, these deaths are explained as the inevitable outcome of US hi-tech weaponry which often cannot discriminate between legal targets and innocent bystanders. Nonetheless, we can gain valuable insight into the reigning moral culture of certain societies by examining how powerful actors who wield these weapons respond to these deaths. Are the deaths acknowledged with remorse and sympathy or are they simply written off as the consequence of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”? Sometimes the news cycle offers us case studies to test this question.

Such a case study can be observed in the killing of two western hostages, Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. An American and an Italian, they were killed in a US drone strike targeting a “suspected Al Qaeda compound,” in Pakistan. As the Wall Street Journal reported “The incident also underscores the limits of U.S. intelligence and the risk of unintended consequences in executing a targeted killing program that human-rights groups say endangers civilians.” That drone strikes “endanger civilians” has been well documented for several years by reputable organizations like Reprieve and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Latest statistics reveal between 2,449 and 3,949 people have been killed in Pakistan since 2004. Of that figure between 421 and 960 were civilians (172-207 children killed). Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan are among the other countries targeted by drone strikes with the civilian death toll in Yemen between 65 and 96.

Unlike the tragic deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto, none of these deaths elicited serious commentary within the US press beyond the predictable dismissal of unfortunate “collateral damage.” In fact, this indifference sometimes ventured into pure callousness. Take for example White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ response to the extrajudicial killing of Denver born teenager Abdulrahman Awlaki, a killing Attorney General Eric Holder rationalized on the grounds that he was “not specifically targeted.” After being asked by a reporter why this strike was authorized, Gibbs coldly replied that Abdulrahman “should have had a more responsible father,” a reference to Anwar Awlaki who was killed weeks before his son met the same fate. Needless to say, Gibbs would be ridiculed as a mindless sociopath if he expressed a similar sentiment in response to the deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto, who, like Abdulrahman Awlaki, were not implicated in any crime. So the question is where does this indifference come from and, more importantly, what measures can be instituted to overcome it. Scholarship has plenty to say in this regard. MIT professor John Tirman explores this in his exhaustive study of civilian deaths The Death of Others. “The very fundamental norm of nation building and national survival as enabled by violence against savages,” Tirman observes, “is enormously consequential for how the deaths of the savages will be viewed.”

Further into the text Tirman adds:

“Correlating beliefs in a just world with beliefs in American ‘values’ is an essential addendum to understanding indifference … It is a foundation of American culture and has been from the beginning, and it powerfully shapes the attitudes and behavior of Americans from childhood. In its sheer explanatory power for the ‘American experience,’ it really has no rivals. It is an account of the entire scope of European immigration, expansion, and subjugation of the indigenous tribes, class conflict, and finally, American globalism.”

Therefore, engaging with the roots of American indifference to the deaths of others entails far more than merely becoming more “sensitive” to civilian suffering but a much more fundamental reevaluation in our complicity in crimes against humanity and what we can do to terminate these crimes given our ability to influence state policy. Recent polling illustrates that such an engagement has been severely lacking. Global polls published by Pew Research reveal the US as an international outlier in their support for drone strikes. Opposition in other countries is not only held by majorities but overwhelming majorities. In Lo Porto’s native Italy only 18% of its citizens supported drone strikes. MSNBCNevertheless, US public opinion has remained relatively stable in the face of these enormous costs to civilian populations abroad. It was only after the deaths of these two western hostages that MSNBC raised the question if US drone policy should be changed. If one believes in an afterlife, there were no doubt hundreds of Yemeni, Pakistani, and Somalian ghosts asking themselves why this question could not be raised after their deaths. The huge role that pure racism plays in entrenching popular indifference to non-western victims of drone strikes cannot be ignored. In Tirman’s words, “because of the long history of racism in America, its powerful political effects over the whole of American history, and its insinuation into U.S. expansion, its plausibility as the base of indifference is apparent.”

Further insight how racism serves as “the base of indifference” can be deciphered in the rules of engagement surrounding the Obama administration’s drone policy. In all the commentary that has flooded newspapers and television programs about these tragic killings, not one person has thought to ask what right the US has to bomb Pakistan in the first place. Legal questions of this kind are inconceivable. Instead we are subjected to presidential platitudes about the unintended outcomes inherent in the “fog of war.” Incidentally, this question about the legality of drone strikes is alive and well outside of circles of US power. PakistaniNot only has the Pakistani High Court in Peshawar condemned drone strikes as an act of aggression but UN official Ben Emerson has raised many, albeit mild, criticisms of the Obama administration’s drone program, particularly what he described as “a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.” When Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar attempted to enter the US to testify about drone strikes his entry was blocked. “Before I started drone investigations I never had an issue with US visa. In fact, I had a US diplomatic visa for two years,” Akbar remarked when interviewed by the UK Guardian. None of these valiant efforts to shed light on the US drone program influenced US policy makers or public opinion in the slightest regard nor were there any polls on MSNBC (as there have been since the killing of the two western hostages) asking viewers to go online and vote if drone policy should be rethought.

There’s plenty more that could be said about the illegality and blatant immorality of a program world-renowned political dissident Noam Chomsky has described as “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times”, but these insights should suffice in exposing the glaring double standard that drives media discourse about drones and, by association, the hideous policies that increase civilian casualties outside the gaze of public scrutiny. Perhaps if the people of Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia could magically evolve into blonde haired, blue-eyed white people this conversation would have emerged earlier. It’s utterly disgraceful that it took the tragic deaths of two western aid workers for it to finally begin but that doesn’t diminish the significance of the fact that this conversation has begun and that’s a promising start for all genuinely concerned about human life both in the “west” and abroad.

Sources:

The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars by John Tirman

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/

http://www.pewglobal.org/database/indicator/52/

http://www.wsj.com/articles/american-italian-hostages-killed-in-cia-drone-strike-in-january-1429795801

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/16/us-un-drones-idUSBRE92E0Y320130316

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/24/us-accused-drone-hearing-lawyer-visa-pakistan

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/19/noam-chomsky-obamas-drone-program-most-extreme-terrorist-campaign-modern-times

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/pakistani-court-declares-us-drone-strikes-in-the-countrys-tribal-belt-illegal-8609843.html

On the Significance of Social Media Activism

reviewsocialmedia
Any honest observer of contemporary activist struggles would be remiss to ignore the substantial influence of social media in bringing together disparate groups struggling to achieve a common goal. Contributions of social media activism to political discourse are numerous from gruesome images filtering out of occupied territories to raw footage of militarized police brutalizing nonviolent protestors. Undoubtedly, political agitation cannot be confined to the physical realm. Mass movements crucially depend on the rapid circulation of information and images, which, more often than not, occurs in cyberspace.

The social media activism that accompanied Israel’s seven week assault on the Gaza Strip offers a paradigmatic illustration of the central role Internet users play in galvanizing mass support for marginalized populations. As journalist Yousef al-Helou stated in his assessment of the impact of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter in generating support for Palestinians fleeing in terror under Israeli bombs:

“Citizen journalism from Palestine is especially valuable for those who are looking for information which has not been filtered through a Western agenda. Social media has definitely weakened the Israeli narrative, as Palestinians are able to connect directly with overseas audiences and tell the stories that they feel are important. Hundreds of thousands of tweets exchanged reports, opinions, and challenges to mainstream news reports and to each other.”

This adversarial spirit—the willingness to present “challenges to mainstream news reports”—is a thread that unites several of the most prominent social media campaigns and is reflective of the public’s desire to move away from the highly corporatized and anti-septic discourse of the establishment press toward more non-mediated and participatory forms of information sharing.

Not unlike other trends toward democratization, this blossoming in social media activism has elicited a fair amount of criticism from centers of privilege and power. Perhaps the most recent iteration of this elite backlash can be found in an article published in New York Magazine by former New Republic journalist Jonathan Chait. Decrying the rise of political correctness, a “system of left-wing ideological repression”, Chait targets social media and its broad influence as culpable in spreading this virus:

“Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate. Two decades ago, the only communities where the left could exert such hegemonic control lay within academia, which gave it an influence on intellectual life far out of proportion to its numeric size. Today’s political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach. And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate, the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary beyond that of the old.”

Echoing such establishment manifestos like the Powell Memo, which infamously denounced the failure of “institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young” (schools), Chait’s criticism conveys a palpable sense of alarm, a fear that the hallowed corridors of “respectable” discourse are being intruded upon by less qualified and less enlightened commoners. Fundamentally, Chait’s article conveyed, as Glenn Greenwald put it in a stinging critique, “anger over being criticized in less than civil and respectful tones by people who lack any credentials (and thus entitlement) to do so.” This is a sentiment that is as pernicious as it is pervasive and the elite response to social media activism is just one of its more visceral manifestations.
chait
Incidentally, similar objectives to stem the tide of social activism’s “vast cultural reach” likely lay behind the concerted efforts on the part of the telecommunications industry to eliminate net neutrality, a campaign that was recently dealt a devastating defeat thanks to a grassroots movement of “guerrilla activism”, much of it online, dedicated to preserving the “the principle that all Internet traffic must be treated equally.” Responding to the FCC’s decision to uphold these basic rules of net neutrality, the campaign director of Free Press stated “this is probably the most important ruling in the history of the FCC.” In these hard-won achievements we can discern the significance of social media, not only as a virtual public square where dialogue and reflection on some of the most important issues of our time can flourish, but as a space whose mere existence constitutes a grave threat to those whose power relies on the erasure of these sites of democratic expression (the National Security Agency’s regime of electronic surveillance, a legal monstrosity hauntingly portrayed in Laura Poitra’s award winning documentary CitizenFour, is one of the more obvious opponents of Internet freedom in this respect.)

hasbaraUnderstandably, this is why “companies such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner Cable, had lobbied furiously against [net neutrality], spending tens of millions on lobbying and on so-called ‘astroturf’ efforts to pay third party groups to support their position.” Faced with the inability to manage the formation attitudes and opinion online, power systems have pursued the same tactic applied to the print media, namely exercising stricter control over the medium. Sometimes this control rises to the level of law enforcement, as the Obama DOJ made clear in a recent announcement that they would be “willing to indict people who assist ISIS with its use and production of social media”, a decision that “raises questions about where the government would draw the line between support for a terrorist group and legally protected free speech.” Indeed, if pro-ISIS propaganda is criminalized why not criminalize other forms of propaganda?

For example, why not criminalize the Facebook administrators who created a fan page for Chapel Hill murderer Craig Stephen Hicks? In fact, if we accept that issuing indictments in response to social media propaganda is the proper course of action (one would hope we don’t) then it probably would be more reasonable to indict these propagandists since gun related killings committed by non-Muslims vastly outnumber deaths associated with so-called Islamic terrorism. Or why not indict US citizens who regurgitated Israeli hasbara manufactured in IDC Herzliya “war rooms”? How was this not apologetics for terrorism? Naturally, certain forms of propaganda, namely those types which conform to elite US opinion, will pass under the DOJ’s radar more easily than other “anti-American” forms. Consequently, this decision risks converting policies with the ostensible purpose of combating “terrorism” into effective weapons against political opponents (terrorist or not).

Whether it’s a battle for Internet freedom, the publication of humanizing representations of Palestinians or the fight for social and governmental policies that affirm the urgent, inspirational demand that #BlackLivesMatter, it’s abundantly clear that the struggles currently underway cannot be reduced to petty ideological contests waged from the safety of our computers. To the contrary, these struggles raise profoundly consequential questions about the social, cultural, and political evolution of not only our society but, when one considers the unprecedented forms of solidarity that social media activism is able to foster, the fate of us all globally.

Source:

http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/social-media-weapon-choice-gaza-israel-conflict-1807202428

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/01/not-a-very-pc-thing-to-say.html

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/23/justice-department-we-ll-go-after-isis-twitter-army.html

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/02/26/net-neutrality-thanks-unprecedented-guerrilla-activism-campaign/

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/01/28/petulant-entitlement-syndrome-journalists/

http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/israel-student-union-sets-war-room-sell-gaza-massacre-facebook

https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:om1AfiYiBA0J:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Craig-Stephen-Hicks/1535483460072616+&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

 

 

The “Rift” That Never Was: How Hyping Obama-Netanyahu Gossip Preserves the Status Quo Against Iran & Palestine

Disrespect IV
Among the myriad tactics employed by the establishment right in the US, a category which increasingly includes Democrats and Republicans, a favorite is what can be called the repositioning of the political center. Under this logic radical, militarist policies are normalized as legitimate responses to “imminent” threats by “liberals” while “conservatives” lambaste presidential decisions, no matter how egregious, as being too “soft on terror.” One of the more recent applications of this framework could be detected during the US bombing of Iraq and Syria. When President Obama decided to commence an air war against the Islamic State, a clear violation of international law, the dominant theme within elite media was that this was behavior emblematic of a “reluctant warrior.” “The Bible makes it clear that leadership is unpredictable: That the most powerful people often don’t get to choose what they themselves will do,” opined David Brooks in an embarrassingly effusive Op-Ed in the New York Times. “History is full of reluctant leaders, too. President Obama is the most recent.”

Arguments of this kind are extremely convenient in that they foreclose entirely peaceful alternatives while reducing the debate to how hard we should pummel the “enemy”, and not the much more consequential question of what legal or moral right we have to engage in such acts of aggression. Furthermore, this tactic obscures the consensus between both political factions that violence is justified, rendering critical analysis of this area of agreement more difficult. It therefore should come as no great surprise that this tactic has surfaced once again, this time in the context of the ongoing US-Israeli hostility to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Current debate has it that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is undermining President Obama’s Iran policy in his decision to deliver a speech before the US Congress promoting his more aggressive stance against Iran and its nuclear program. “White House officials remain furious with Netanyahu for failing to notify the administration about the address to Congress, a breach of diplomatic protocol,” reported John Hudson of Foreign Policy. New York Times columnist, and noted expert on everything Iranian, Roger Cohen echoed this sentiment, observing that the Israeli Prime Minister’s actions made Obama “furious, with cause,” adding, “He has been a firm supporter of Israel,” and “His patience with its leader is at an end” (my emphasis).

Exaggerations aside, Cohen’s assessment is worth further analysis in one crucial respect, namely his acknowledgement that Obama has been “a firm supporter of Israel”, an understatement when one takes a look at the diplomatic record. Numerous scholars, from Rashid Khalidi and Max Blumenthal to more mainstream commentators like Hillary Mann Leverett and Fawaz Gerges have been unambiguous in their acknowledgement that the Obama administration has been an uncritical advocate for Israeli militarism and diplomatic sabotage. Since November 2008, Israel has carried out three major military assaults against the Gaza Strip: Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense, and Operation Protective Edge. In all three cases Obama vigorously embraced the Israeli line that any display of Israeli terror, regardless of how many civilians it kills, falls under the rubric of “the right to self-defense.” During Operation Protective Edge the Obama administration went as far as blocking a UN inquiry into war crimes carried out in the Gaza Strip.

Writing on Obama’s policy with regard to Israel-Palestine, London School of Economics professor Fawaz Gerges stated “US politicians, including Obama, are trapped in a political culture that promotes conformity and groupthink on Israel and strongly discourages dissenting voices. After a promising start, the new president dared not to exert real pressure on Israel to stop the construction of settlements on the West Bank and to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians.” While Gerges attributed this to a combination of Obama’s “timidity” and his being “trapped” by external forces beyond his control, other critics have been less generous. In his extensive review of US policy in Israel-Palestine Brokers of Deceit Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi was unequivocal in his description of Obama as an unprincipled cheerleader for Israeli brutality:

“Crucially, since Barack Obama first stated his view on this topic, he has always accepted a constant, central element of Israel’s self-presentation: its victim status, to which it has always clung fiercely and aggressively. In his public statements he has always accepted as well a related proposition, dear in particular to the heart of Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli right wing, and its followers in the United States, but widely believed farther afield: that the state of Israel and the Israeli people, indeed the entire Jewish people, are in a state of perpetual existential danger.”

Incidentally, it is precisely this argument—that Israel is facing an existential threat from Iran—that Benjamin Netanyahu aims to invoke in his speech to Congress, a point conceded by Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Moreover, this is also the argument that various media organizations are laboring to portray as antagonistic (and not compatible) to Obama’s policies despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. So the Obama administration’s decision to sale 55 “bunker buster” bombs to Israel in 2011, a move widely interpreted as a preparation to attack Iran’s underground nuclear facilities, does little, if anything, to interfere with the perception that Obama is opposed to Netanyahu’s policies. In fact, in some vital respects Obama’s policy vis-à-vis Iran has gone considerably beyond his “neoconservative” predecessors. As Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett state in their authoritative study of US-Iran relations Going to Tehran “[the Obama administration] did nothing to rein in the anti-Iranian covert programs it inherited from its predecessor; indeed, leaked documents show that such programs (including ties to groups whose actions in Iran, had they been taken in Israel or many other countries, would be condemned as terrorism) intensified after Obama came in.”

More troubling, “the Obama administration used nuclear talks with Iran primarily as a way to set the stage for more coercive measures—tougher sanctions and, at some point, military strikes—and to bring international partners and the American public on board” (my emphasis). Another glaring illustration of just how supportive Obama is of the US-Israeli status quo in the region can be found in his decision to boycott a nuclear non-proliferation conference in Helsinki on the dubious pretext that the “political turmoil in the region and Iran’s defiant stance on non-proliferation,” made US participation impossible. When Israel’s attendance was requested the Obama administration denounced it as an act of “coercion.” Predictably, this blatant disregard for international law (as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Iran has a legal right to enrich uranium) was misleadingly described in USA Today as indicative of “clashing visions of disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.” Perhaps this description is correct, if consciously escalating the threat of nuclear proliferation by shielding the one state with a nuclear monopoly in the Middle East (Israel) from any form of international scrutiny can be described as a “vision of disarmament and non-proliferation” (disarmament for “enemies” and proliferation for “allies”).
White House Statement
To the limited extent that there does exist any animosity between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama it has virtually no impact on the substance of US-Israeli policy. In tactical terms, Obama’s resort to military force may be more calculated than Netanyahu’s but to read this as representative of a split between Obama’s position and the Israeli Prime Minister’s is to ignore these much larger areas of strategic and ideological overlap which, if left unchecked, will only add to the horrors currently enveloping the region. Much more significant, and thus underreported, is the growing divide between the US public and centers of power. Latest public opinion polls reveal a noticeable shift in American attitudes towards Israeli aggression. After Operation Protective Edge Gallup reported that 51% of Americans under 30 said that “Israel’s aggression in Gaza [was] unjustified.” Meanwhile, Pew reported “among 18-29 year olds, 29% blamed Israel for the current wave of violence, while 21% blamed Hamas.” These are the political transformations that would dominate headlines in a genuinely democratic society, not the highly personalized, gossipy squabbles between two war criminals, which may deserve lengthy analysis in the National Enquirer or the Globe but not anywhere where the fate of humanity should be a high priority.

 

 

Sources:

Leverett, Flynt Lawrence., and Hillary Mann. Leverett. Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Khalidi, Rashid. Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Gerges, Fawaz A. Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment? New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/julian-borger-global-security-blog/2011/sep/27/iran-nuclear-weapons

http://inthesetimes.com/article/14387/nuclear_iran_gravest_threat

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/report-israel-seeking-to-upgrade-its-nuclear-weapons-capabilities-1.392957

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/13203-latest-gallup-poll-shows-young-americans-overwhelmingly-support-palestine

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2012/11/11/mideast-nuke-talks-npt/1697215/

http://fair.org/blog/2013/09/27/nyt-columnist-you-cant-trust-shiites/

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/01/dermer-on-netanyahu-boehner-and-iran/385003/

http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/02/04/democrats-huddle-with-israeli-ambassador-to-discuss-delay-of-netanyahu-speech/?wp_login_redirect=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/06/opinion/roger-cohen-israel-needs-a-grown-up.html?ref=opinion&_r=0

https://xavierobrien.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/the-reluctant-imperialist-obama-gets-a-boost-from-the-servants-quarters/

A Critique of Nick Kristof’s “Both Sides” Narrative

kristof
Since Israel commenced its latest round of mass murder against the occupied population of Gaza there has been a flood of commentary on the political and military dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict. One recurring theme that appears is the “both sides” narrative. The “both sides” narrative holds that Israel and Gaza are both responsible for horrible crimes and it is the task of more sober and less zealous intermediaries to bring both recalcitrant parties to “the negotiating table.” This narrative serves a dual function. First, it conveniently erases the historical context crucial to meaningfully analyze any international conflict. Secondly, it carefully excises the US role in precipitating the current situation in Gaza. It’s therefore no surprise that New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof advances this narrative in perfect form in his latest article on the topic. “Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong in the Middle East?” asks the header. According to Kristof, “this is a war in which both peoples have a considerable amount of right on their sides,” and “The failure to acknowledge the humanity and legitimate interests of people on the other side has led to cross-demonization.” Surely, it would be unwise to portray any people as uniformly demonic or uniformly angelic but what does stating this obvious truth tell us about the situation on the ground? More important is the question of what effects Israeli power has on Palestinians and vice versa.

Discarding the veracity of this “cross-demonization” claim, it’s hard to escape the fact that articles have not been published detailing how Palestinians congregate on hilltops to watch Israelis be slaughtered by US-supplied weaponry. Yet scenarios of this kind have played out in Sderot. Elsewhere in Israel, angry mobs march through the streets to chants of “Death to Arabs!” Perhaps if the genocidal character of these chants weren’t made into a reality on a regular basis they could be taken less seriously, but as the ruins of Shejaiya demonstrate, this is not the case. Nonetheless, Kristof is adamant in his illusions, writing “Israelis are absolutely correct that they have a right not to be hit with rockets by Hamas, not to be kidnapped, not to be subjected to terrorist bombings” just as much as “Palestinians are absolutely right that they have a right to a state, a right to run businesses and import goods, a right to live in freedom rather than relegated to second-class citizenship in their own land.”

Another question can be asked here, namely have Palestinians been “subjected to terrorist bombings”? If the perspective of world-renowned human rights lawyer and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Raji Sourani is of any significance, they certainly have. Appearing on Democracy Now! Sourani harshly condemned the “state-terrorism” of Israeli forces bombarding Shejaiya. When asked to respond to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that he wanted the Palestinians he was terrorizing “to be safe” Sourani responded “[Netanyahu] is the same like bin Laden.” Doubtless, Kristof would dismiss such a perspective as another temper tantrum that has become so common among Palestinians who just can’t comprehend that Israel tries to “minimize civilian casualties.” The fact that over 75% of the casualties in the latest assault are civilians, 20% of which are children, is of minor importance here. Kristof would much rather treat this as more evidence that Hamas is violent “toward its own people.”

Furthermore, Sourani failed to mention that there aren’t enough Palestinians trying to move towards “huge Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns.” Because if there’s anything that Nick Kristof is famous for, it’s his passionate commitment to world peace and “Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns.” Among the Gandhian campaigns of non-violence that Kristof has advocated in the past was when he, in the words of a FAIR media report, “[turned] a single prominent case of rape into a justification for war.” After Libyan woman Eman al-Obeidy “burst into the reporters’ hotel in Tripoli with her story of gang-rape and torture”, Kristof (in accord with his deep Gandhian principles) informed readers that if the US “had not intervened in Libya, Gadhafi forces would have reached Benghazi and there might have been thousands of Eman al-Obeidys.”

Given that Kristof was moved to the point of advocating the bombing of an entire country over the rape of a woman, it’s quite peculiar that he didn’t issue an impassioned plea for a US “humanitarian intervention” in Tel Aviv after a 2011 report surfaced detailing how Israeli authorities carried out “physical, verbal and, on occasion, sexual abuse of Palestinian children,” locked in its prisons (a violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions). Most of the child prisoners were arrested for throwing stones, a crime that just “doesn’t cut it” if you’re serious about non-violence in Kristof’s book.But most interesting is Kristof’s proposal to resolve this war on “both sides”: “For Israel, this is a chance to use diplomacy to achieve what gunpowder won’t: the marginalization of Hamas.”

So Israel must marginalize the democratically elected leadership of the territory that will play an integral role in any meaningful ceasefire proposal to ensure they don’t play a role in crafting that proposal? Implementation of this “marginalization” strategy would almost certainly close the door to any type of unity government, a goal of Prime Minister Netanyahu which scholar Norman Finkelstein highlighted as one of the factors that precipitated the current crisis. Kristof is basically advocating the reimposition of the so-called Egyptian ceasefire proposal, which in honest circles would be called the “Washington ceasefire proposal” since it was crafted in Washington with the assistance of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Similarly omitted is any reference to Hamas’ ceasefire proposal which only demands of Israel what is already demanded of it under international law namely a lifting of the state of siege against Gaza. Israeli journalist Gideon Levy described the proposal as “just” and went on to challenge Israelis to “read the list of [Hamas] demands and judge honestly whether there is one unjust demand among them.”

None of this vital historical or political context is highlighted in this “both sides” narrative, even less the fact that the US continues to legally and ideologically exonerate Israeli war criminals for these crimes under the pretext that they “have the right to defend themselves”, a right which Palestinians are unworthy of. Consequently, when State Dept. Spokesperson Jen Psaki was directly asked if Palestinians had the right to defend themselves she responded, as if perplexed by the very notion, “what are you trying to say?” It’s this doctrine–that Israel is free to carry out military aggression under the banner of “self-defense” while Palestinians are obligated to refrain from actual self-defense mislabeled as “aggression”–that illustrates just how intellectually dishonest this “both sides” narrative is. How else would one describe a narrative that allows for statements like “Israel responded to aggression by invading Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, and Gaza in 2008″ (my emphasis)? Apparently, Hezbollah is so “aggressive” that they don’t even have to cross into Israel–which is what military aggression means under international law–to commit what the Nuremberg Tribunal called the “supreme crime” of military aggression. They are plenty “aggressive” enough within their own borders. One can only speculate on the nature of Kristof’s assessment of South Africa’s “response” to Angolan “aggression” in 1975.

Anyone with a vague understanding of the historical record could dismantle these myths with considerable ease but what’s more troubling is how they endure in the pages of the purportedly “free press.” It’s quite clear that an ideological campaign has long been underway to whiteout these uncontroversial truths about Israeli crimes and the US role in promoting them. The removal or reassignment of well established mainstream journalists like NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin (now reinstated), CNN’s Diana Magnay and most recently MSNBC’s Rula Jebreal provide dramatic confirmation of this trend. So to return to Kristof’s central question: “Who’s right” in the Middle East? If this brand of journalism is any indication of where the minds of the power elite reside, it definitely isn’t the United States.

Sources:

http://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/chanting-jerusalem-ethnicity.html

http://www.buzzfeed.com/dorsey/israeli-crowd-cheers-as-missile-hits-gaza-live-on-cnn

http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/18578/did-israel-spark-violence-to-prevent-peace-offense

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/opinion/sunday/nicholas-kristof-whos-right-and-wrong-in-the-middle-east.html?referrer&_r=4

http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/8216humanitarian-war8217-in-libya8212or-the-regular-kind/

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/fact-sheets/3044-child-prisoners

http://www.democracynow.org/2014/7/21/palestinian_human_rights_lawyer_raji_sourani

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/opinion/sunday/nicholas-kristof-whos-right-and-wrong-in-the-middle-east.html?referrer&_r=4

The State of the Union Address: An Exercise in Moral Illiteracy

gty_barack_obama_state_union1_wy_140128_16x9_992Presidential statements should always be treated with a great deal of skepticism. The capacity to obscure, fabricate or lie is a skill that comes easily to political elites and the commissars who construct the required narratives to insulate them from public scrutiny. For this reason, anyone with a minimal interest in democratic governance will not passively accept the pronouncements of the powerful. President Obama’s recent State of the Union Address provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to this ideal, a commitment that should be treated with a high degree of seriousness and urgency. Generally, press responses to the State of the Union speech conformed to the typical pattern of distortion and deceit. Christi Parsons and Kathleen Hennessey of the Los Angeles Times published an article shortly after Obama’s address titled State of the Union: Obama asks Congress to reverse economic inequality. The most revealing aspect of this article is its willingness to accept presidential statements at face-value. Obama “promised to flex his power to boost wages, protect the environment and channel resources to education …,” Parsons and Hennessey remarked.

More independent minds would be compelled to inspect the accuracy of this statement. How exactly did President Obama vow to “protect the environment”? The president conveyed this by “[reminding] listeners of his power to regulate power-plant emissions, noting that the shift to cleaner energy would require ‘tough choices,'” or to cite one of the more dramatic phrases from Obama’s address: “climate change is a fact.” Without a doubt, climate change is an undeniable fact, not only to the President of the United States but to all serious climate scientists as well, which makes Obama’s other statements nothing short of alarming. Hailing the prospect of “energy independence”, Obama went on to endorse oil production and the highly destructive process of hydraulic fracturing. “The ‘all the above’ energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working,” the president gushed. “And today America is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades … One of the reasons why is natural gas. If extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change,” and “it’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar too.”

cartoon frackingIn response to Obama’s glorification of the “booming” oil and natural gas industry 350.org founder Bill McKibben published a harsh critique in which he stated “Fracking isn’t a solution,” but “a disaster for communities and the climate.” Characterizing Obama’s address as “lip service”, McKibben went on to note “you can’t say you care about ending cancer and then go buy a carton of cigarettes–and you can’t say you care about the climate and then go dig up more fossil fuels.” Executive Director of Greenpeace Phil Radford responded to Obama’s address by acknowledging while it was “good to hear that President Obama plans to move forward with his plan to address climate change,” (a curious preface) “his administration continues to undermine this plan by encouraging the extraction of coal, oil and gas from our public lands and waters, unlocking huge quantities of carbon pollution.” None of these grim realities are likely to penetrate the president’s entrepreneurial cocoon where the “booming” profits of oil giants override grave issues of collective survival. Incidentally, it’s not difficult to imagine the majority of the international community joining McKibben and Radford in their protests.

Last November the Obama administration demonstrated its willingness to “protect the environment” when they dispatched a team of diplomats to “delay emission cut commitments” at the UN climate conference in Warsaw. Details of this policy was revealed by Nitin Sethi of The Hindu. Sethi cited a leaked memo which instructed US diplomats to resist any effort on the part of the international community to bring the US into a system “where there is a legal compensation mechanism available for small, vulnerable countries, who otherwise don’t have [a] voice …” in global climate policy. In a message to US diplomats prior to the conference Secretary of State John Kerry warned that “A central issue will be whether loss and damage continues to fall within adaptation or whether it becomes a separate, third pillar … which we believe would lead the [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] to focus increasingly on blame and liability, which in turn would be counterproductive.” Contemplating the consequences of ignoring the risk of environmental catastrophe, President Obama expressed his desire “to be able to say yes we did” when “our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world …,” but for the children of Bangladesh, the Philippines or the Maldives such desires would be “counterproductive”, an impediment to satisfying the higher needs of Exxon Mobil, Chevron and other beneficiaries of the nation’s flourishing fossil fuel mafia.
drone_protest_pti_reuters_670Similar tendencies characterized the very limited attention devoted to matters of US foreign policy. Maybe the most glaring omission was the decision not to talk about what Noam Chomsky has accurately described as “the most extreme terrorist campaign going on in the world today”, the drone assassination program. Obama vowed to “[impose] prudent limits” on the drone program, a toothless proposal as it leaves unaddressed the fact that the program is clearly illegal. Drone strikes not only violate Pakistani sovereignty but they also violate the long-standing prohibition against extrajudicial assassinations as articulated in Executive Order 12036 and the Hague Conventions. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, arguably the leading authority on drone strikes, has reported that more than 2,400 people have been murdered in these attacks in the last five years. Bureau analysis also confirmed that following Obama’s high-profile speech on constraining drone strikes “more people were killed in Pakistan and Yemen in the six months after the speech than the six months before. And the casualty rate also rose over the same period.”

With the exception of a small minority of countries, global public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to drone strikes. Pew Research reports “in 31 of 39 countries surveyed last spring, at least half of the public disapproved of the attacks.” This past December the Yemeni the parliament passed a law banning drone strikes citing “the importance of protecting all citizens from any aggression” and “preserving the sovereignty of Yemeni air space.” Pakistan’s High Court in Peshawar raised similar legal objections in their ruling that drone strikes constitute “criminal offenses” carried out in violation of Pakistani sovereignty and present a challenge to Pakistan’s “autonomy and independence.” For President Obama to call for the imposition of more “prudent limits” on a policy the Yemeni parliament and a Pakistani judicial body have accurately condemned as military “aggression” (more bluntly, international terrorism) is about as morally and legally sensible as an al-Shabab fighter or a Taliban warlord suggesting more “prudent limits” on acid attacks and car bombings.  Investigate journalist Jeremy Scahill said it best in a tweet shortly after Obama’s address: ” Translation: I will only bomb *some* wedding parties.”
edward-snowden-interview-vom-ndr-german-engli-L-EGmgvuWhere drone terrorism received sparse coverage, other topics were ignored almost entirely. Since his revelations last June, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has fundamentally transformed the national conversation about privacy, security, journalism and the role of state-corporate forces in our lives. So profound has Snowden’s impact been that even the New York Times, the epitome of establishment journalism, published an editorial demanding that President Obama “tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.” Norwegian politicians Baard Vegar Solhjell and Snorre Valen have now nominated Snowden for a Nobel Peace Prize citing his “[contribution] to a more stable and peaceful world order.”  Furthermore, public opinion polls have been critical of NSA programs. According to a recent USA Today / Pew Research Center poll “most Americans now disapprove of the NSA’s sweeping collection of phone metadata,” and “they’re inclined to think there aren’t adequate limits in place to what the government can collect.” 70% of Americans “say they shouldn’t have to give up privacy and freedom in order to be safe from terrorism,” and 45% of the American public think Snowden’s exposures have “helped … the public interest” (43% say the disclosures “harm” public interest).To limit discussion of this highly consequential topic to an extremely brief and meaningless comment on “reform” evinces a contempt for democracy that eludes rational explanation. The limited treatment of this topic also exhibits a seething hatred of the “community of nations” victimized by the NSA, a community Obama hypocritically claimed Iranians would be able to “rejoin” if they are able to “convince” the godfather they “not building a nuclear bomb”, a nuclear bomb that only exists in the warped imaginations of western political elites and their loyalists in the commissar class (there is ample evidence of this).

In a recent interview with Edward Snowden broadcast on German television he responded to allegations within elite circles that his act of dissent was treasonous by making the following statement: “If I am a traitor, who did I betray? I gave all of my information to the American public, to American journalists who were reporting on American issues. If they see that as treason I think people really need to consider who do they think they are working for. The public is supposed to be their boss, not their enemy.” It’s this conception–that the public should be the boss of state and corporate power and not its servants–that President Obama, Congress and their associates in corporate America find so threatening and it’s this threat that compels them to force unpleasant facts about American political culture into the margins whether it be about climate change, state-terrorism or mass surveillance. Quite apart from preserving the state of the union by attending to the needs of the public, Washington elites and their corporate backers would much rather enrich themselves at any cost. The gap between official rhetoric and actual policy makes this transparently obvious. In its entirety, this year’s State of the Union address can best be described as an exercise in moral illiteracy, the hallmark of a political and intellectual culture that is either unable or unwilling to examine its own crimes in an honest and constructive fashion. Nothing about the current predicament we find ourselves in is graven in stone. Societies in the past have gone through worse forms of oppression. President Obama demanded that 2014 be a “year of action.” Putting aside the sincerity of this sentiment, it will be up to an informed and morally courageous public to ensure that this “year of action” doesn’t leave behind the wreckage that inevitably follows in societies that avoid serious self-reflection.

 
Sources:
 http://ecowatch.com/2014/01/28/obama-sotu-climate-fracking/
 http://chomsky.info/onchomsky/20131002.htm
http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-state-of-the-union-obama-2014-20140128,0,2195484.story#ixzz2rlJsRgUP
 http://350.org/press-release/sotu/
 http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/us-to-oppose-mechanism-to-fund-climate-change-adaptation-in-poor-nations/article5351162.ece
 http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/full-text-of-obamas-2014-state-of-the-union-address/2014/01/28/e0c93358-887f-11e3-a5bd-844629433ba3_print.html
 http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2014/01/23/more-than-2400-dead-as-obamas-drone-campaign-marks-five-years/
 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/opinion/edward-snowden-whistle-blower.html
 http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/01/20/poll-nsa-surveillance/4638551/
 https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/10/polls-continue-show-majority-americans-against-nsa-spying
 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/29/edward-snowden-nominated-nobel-peace-prize
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/10/23/report-questions-drone-use-widely-unpopular-globally-but-not-in-the-u-s/
http://www.dawn.com/news/1074289/yemen-parliament-bans-drone-attacks-news-agency
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/pakistani-court-declares-us-drone-strikes-in-the-countrys-tribal-belt-illegal-8609843.html
https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/05/09-8
http://www.wideasleepinamerica.com/2013/12/panic-predictions-propaganda-iran-nuclear.html