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

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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

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Reflections on the US Destruction of Fallujah & American Sniper

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For anyone interested, there’s a wealth of reporting and commentary on Clint Eastwood’s latest and widely celebrated film American Sniper. Responses to the war drama range from effusive praise of the “genius” of Chris Kyle to more critical condemnations of Kyle’s enthusiastic embrace of violence and the broader societal maladies that his behavior emblematized. While this discussion is definitely worth having, there is a risk that confining the conversation to the criminality or heroism of Kyle distracts from a larger issue, namely what the US bombing of Fallujah looked like from the perspective of Iraqis. After all, the setting for the many kills carried out by “The Legend”, Kyle’s wartime moniker, was this city in Iraq, also known as the City of Mosques. Unlike debate over whether or not Kyle’s actions were justified, there really isn’t much to speculate about in this regard as the deeds of the US military have been voluminously documented by some of the most respected investigative journalists and scholars of the “western” world.

Take for example the work of the unembedded journalist Dahr Jamail. In his book on the US occupation of Iraq Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq he documents, in excruciating detail, the humiliating and devastating human toll that the Iraqi people were made to endure under the onslaught of US weaponry. He opens his chapter on the Second Battle of Fallujah, the assault in which Kyle took part, with a photograph of an exasperated Iraqi. Beneath the photo is a caption that reads “Fallujan refugees at a mosque on Baghdad University campus told of the white phosphorous, cluster bombs, and other weaponry used by the US military in their city. November 2004.”
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And this wasn’t the only fact excised from the Hollywood version of the military assault. On the topic of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a person who was explicitly named in the film as a threat to US soldiers, Jamail observes “in the United States, most corporate media outlets were busy spreading the misinformation that Fallujah had fallen under the control of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.” Jamail went on to add “There was no available evidence that Zarqawi had ever set foot inside the city. It was amply evident that the resistance of the city was composed primarily of people from Fallujah itself.” Given this “amply evident” fact that the media ignored one would think that ten years after the implementation of this war crime a more intellectually honest portrait of the siege would prevail. Yet, in the film there’s a scene where this myth is repeated without a shred of skepticism or caution. Neither was there any attention paid to the fact that the US deliberately punished the Iraqi population by blocking access to vital medical aid or as Jamail notes “the humanitarian disaster in Fallujah worsened as the US military continued to refuse entry to Iraqi Red Crescent (IRC) convoys of relief supplies.” The pretext for the blockage was that aid was unnecessary since there were no civilians in the city, an absurd claim immediately debunked after “officials acknowledged that thirty thousand to fifty thousand residents remained in the city.”

Incidentally, it would be instructive to compare the response to this war crime carried out by the US military to a more recent war crime carried out by Syrian forces in their ongoing civil war. After it was discovered that Syrian forces were blocking Red Cross aid to rebel territory in Baba Amr the Australian based Sydney Morning Herald ran an article headlined Outrage as Syria Keeps Up Blockade on Red Cross. “Syria faced world condemnation as it continued to block the Red Cross from delivering desperately needed aid to the vanquished rebel stronghold of Baba Amr in the city of Homs.” No such outrage was perceptible when the US engaged in similar atrocities under comparably dire circumstances during the murderous bombardment of Fallujah. Instead, the moment was characterized by a severe climate of media repression which included an order circulated by a US-backed media commission that all news outlets “stick to the government line on the US-led offensive in Fallujah or face legal action.” Meanwhile, US forces escalated the assault by attacking and occupying the city’s hospital.

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None of this made it into Eastwood’s film, which completely glosses over the fact that this was a vicious military assault on a civilian population in a brief scene where a soldier refers to the “military aged males” in the area who were out to kill US soldiers. A radically different picture is presented in Jamail’s text, where he concludes his chapter on Fallujah with a historical analogue that must, for understandable reasons, be filtered out of any commentary heralding the military assault as valorous and brave, predictable clichés that pass for informed analysis in establishment quarters:

“The second assault on Fallujah was a monument to brutality and atrocity made in the United States of America. Like the Spanish city of Guernica during the 1930s, and Grozny in the 1990s, Fallujah is a monument to excess and overkill.”

Empirical data gathered in the aftermath of the attack conformed to this assessment. “Iraqi medical personnel in Fallujah estimated that of all the bodies they had logged in their database, at least 60 percent were women and children.” If one considers the documentation of the “first medical teams” on the scene, who “collected more than 700 bodies”, the percentage of women and children killed stands at “nearly 80 percent.” Recall this was the second time the US attacked the civilian population of Fallujah, the first time being in April 2004. In the Spring attack an estimated 736 Iraqis were killed with “60 percent of those killed [being] women, children, and elderly.” The film’s omission of any reference to the first attack on Fallujah in April is quite significant as this attack helps to explain the historical context in which the Iraqi resistance developed.

The exclusion of this highly relevant information, as many of the film’s enthusiasts contend, was not intentional. Rather, critics are reading too much into a movie that was not intended to be “political” but a “case study” on the tormented soul of an American soldier. Perhaps this argument could be taken seriously if it were not for other creative flourishes, which call into question this apolitical stance. Are we to believe that it’s a mere coincidence that Eastwood erased many of the morally repugnant realities from Kyle’s life, much of it discussed in his autobiography, while at the same time concocting, out of pure imagination, demeaning and stereotypical caricatures of Iraqis (“The Butcher” never existed)? This is highly doubtful, just as it likely was not coincidental that he dispensed with historical context entirely in his failure to mention the April assault on Fallujah as a prelude to the November assault but somehow managed to imply, in an amazingly brazen propaganda move, that the terrorist attacks of September 11 had anything to do with the Iraq war. Furthermore, neither of these distortions (the dehumanization of Iraqis and the fallacious 9/11-Iraq linkage), were they excluded from the movie, would have undermined Eastwood’s argument that the film was primarily a “case study” of Kyle. In fact, a more historically accurate depiction of the events  probably would have enhanced the film’s impact as a case study. So why the glaring misrepresentations of the historical record?

Presumably, these directorial decisions were made because it was not enough for Eastwood to revise the factual record. He had to invert it. Iraqis weren’t the victims in his portrayal. They were the aggressors. The US military wasn’t engaged in the “supreme crime” of “military aggression” in violation of every conceivable standard of international law. To borrow the language of Chris Kyle’s father, the US military invaded Iraq as “sheepdogs” with the objective to protect the world’s “sheep” from the Iraqi “wolves.” The gap between this jingoistic worldview and reality is vast and will likely grow without a concerted effort on the part of the American public to inform themselves about the war crimes that the US military committed, as a matter of policy, in the city of Fallujah. Outside the most chauvinistic of circles, condemning Chris Kyle is quite easy. It’s alot more difficult to indict the society that produced him and laid the ideological basis for his crimes.

Culture and Imperialism

51u0IYeW9DLWhenever the US decides to bomb another country it is not uncommon to have that decision accompanied by debates about the efficacy of the bombing campaign, its stated pretexts, and its long term goals. Always underlying these displays of state violence is an unavoidable truth namely that these military attacks can only take place on the scale and frequency that they are occurring because the US is an imperial power and therefore feels entitled to behave as other imperial powers before it. Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism explores this unavoidable truth in many dimensions. Drawing from the wealth of cultural and literary traditions of France, Britain, and the United States, Said demonstrates how doctrines of colonial domination permeate nearly every aspect of life within metropolitan society.

One of the sites where this colonial ideology is given full expression is in the British novel. Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park is a particularly dramatic example. In this novel, Said asserts, the pleasant and bucolic atmosphere that prevails at Mansfield can only be sustained through oppressive of slave plantations in Antigua. As Said states “If this is a novel about ‘ordination’, as Austen says, the right to colonial possessions helps directly to establish social order and moral priorities at home.” It is this kind of re-reading of classic European literature that Said terms “contrapuntal reading.” Under contrapuntal reading a work is read “with an understanding of what is involved  when an author shows, for instance, that a colonial sugar plantation is seen as important to the process of maintaining a particular style of life in England.” Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, and E.M. Forester’s A Passage to India are also subjected to contrapuntal reading. Innate to all these novels is an ongoing interaction between the reigning norms within the dominant colonial society and those within colonized societies. It was this interaction between the colonizer and colonized within the British novel that laid the basis for Said’s assertion that “imperialism and the novel fortified each other to such a degree  that it is impossible … to read one without in some way dealing with the other.”

Celebrated liberal theorists like John Stuart Mill also participated in this overarching culture of colonial domination. In his Principles of Political Economy Mill casually notes “our West Indian colonies … cannot be regarded as countries with a productive capital of their own … [but are rather] the place where England finds it convenient to carry on the production of sugar, coffee and a few other tropical commodities.” In this passage Mill adopted the “ruthless proprietary tones of the white master used to effacing the reality, work, and suffering of millions of slaves, transported across the middle passage, reduced to only an incorporated status ‘for the benefit of the proprietors.'”

Very much like members of today’s elite media, these proponents of Enlightenment ideology were critical of the crimes carried out in the domains of rival states but embraced crimes carried out by their own government. The writing of French political philosopher and author of Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville presents a classic example of this phenomenon. While harshly critical of the crimes carried out by European colonists against the indigenous and Black population of North America, he accepted French massacres against Algeria’s colonized population as legitimate: “Tocqueville said nothing ‘in 1846 when it was revealed that hundreds of Arabs had been smoked to death in the course of the razzias he had approved for their humane quality.” Within the apologetics for imperial power given by these Enlightenment philosophers one can vividly perceive the outlines of what in today’s international affairs jargon is called “humanitarian intervention” or the “right to protect.”

Another trait that 19th century European intellectual culture shares with elite opinion of the contemporary United States is that there was a strong consensus that brutally subjugating foreign populations was only problematic insofar as this use of force created difficulties for the aggressor and not the victims. “During the nineteenth century … debate over colonialism usually turned on their profitability, their management and mismanagement, and on theoretical questions such as whether and how colonialism might be squared with laissez-faire or tariff policies; an imperialist and Eurocentric framework was implicitly accepted.” Furthermore, “liberal anti-colonialists” did not “dispute the fundamental superiority of Western man or, in some cases, the white race.”

Pernicious beliefs of this kind were accepted as uncontroversial fact until the onset of decolonization and the emergence of an anti-imperialist discourse led by scholars like George Antonius, C.L.R. James, and Frantz Fanon. Realities which were previously ignored or suppressed were acknowledged and the hegemonic hold that imperial discourse exerted on mainstream scholarship was, in many respects, undermined. Said describes the emergence of this culture of resistance as a development that “effectively took away the monopoly of discourse held by Eurocentric intellectuals and politicians”, what he in another chapter terms  “the consolidated vision … of the globe.”

Though the majority of Culture and Imperialism deals with the theoretical implications of imperial power, it would be a mistake to think of it as irrelevant to the practical concerns of current political struggles. Many of these same doctrines articulated by imperial France and Britain are repeatedly endorsed by the Obama administration and its allies around the world (Israel’s colonial ideology is a prime example).  Instead of celebrating the “humanism” of the “white race”, contemporary centers of power hail the benefits of the “western liberal tradition”, “American exceptionalism”,  and its other ideological variants which encode (poorly, it should be added) long-held notions of racial supremacy. How else does one explain the behavior of a National Security State that refers to Muslims as “Mohammad Raghead” or newspapers that routinely dehumanize those whose have historically been on the receiving end of imperial violence (Palestinians, the Latin American left, the domestic immigrant population, the domestic Black population, etc.)? In this respect, Said’s Culture and Imperialism is a valuable contribution to a culture of critical analysis that is desperately needed to mitigate and ultimately, it is hoped, put an end to the lawlessness that is pushing the planet closer and closer to total destruction.

 

Some Basic Points about Obama’s War against ISIS

NYTSince Obama’s latest speech on the upcoming US war against ISIS there has been a flood of commentary, some of it very cogent and some of it alarmist in the extreme. Based on reports from experienced investigative journalists and scholars, the US war against ISIS clearly runs the risk of inflaming the violence in the Middle East further and heightening the threat of terrorism. In order to grasp these realities an honest appraisal of the origins and development of this conflict must be made, admittedly an ambitious task in a media culture drowning in misinformation and deceptive insinuation. Below are just a few basic points that are worth bearing in mind as the Obama administration escalates this assault.

  1. The US is not bombing Iraq to “fix” anything but to sustain US regional hegemony.

A common criticism of the US attempt to bomb ISIS is that it will not “fix” the situation in Iraq and Syria. This argument is extremely misplaced for two reasons:

  1. The US, as the world’s leading military superpower, is primarily concerned with consolidating economic and political control over other countries, therefore “fixing” situations is only relevant insofar as it secures these goals. Additionally, US policy has absolutely no relation to human rights (see: Israeli occupation of Palestine). In fact, a study was carried out in 1979 by Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky which revealed a correlation between US aid and human rights abuses.
  1. There is a diplomatic record that reveals that the US, quite apart from playing a constructive role in negotiations, has actively worked to undermine a peaceful resolution to this conflict. Flyntt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s commentary is particularly instructive on this count. The US role in prolonging the Syrian Civil War has stimulated the rise of ISIS and other retail terrorist organizations that turned the civil war from a conflict internal to Syria to a grave regional security threat.
  1. Aerial Bombing Does not Reduce Terror But Encourages It

Numerous reports have been published showing that drone warfare (the Obama administration’s favorite mode of terror) accelerates the threat of terrorism. This is most clearly shown in the US drone campaign in Pakistan where, according to Fawaz Gerges’ Obama and the Middle East, terror has not only increased due to drone strikes but Obama has been informed that it has this effect. The fact that the Obama administration is able to casually disregard this well documented fact shows that the reduction of terrorism is not a strategic priority for US policy makers.

It also must be noted that bombing other countries without UN authorization is an act of military aggression and a serious war crime. Much of the legal discourse over this bombing has confined itself to whether or not Obama will seek Congressional authorization. International authorization matters as well. That this is omitted in conventional narratives suggests that many media commentators have become comfortable with the US status as a rogue state.

  1. The Idea that Certain States are Too “Evil” to Work with is Diplomatically Backwards and Politically Dangerous

In addition for being responsible for a great deal of the diplomatic sabotage as it relates to the Syrian Civil war—the US distorted the meaning of the Geneva I communiques so that Assad would be forced to step down—this moralistic stance flatly contradicts official US policy.

The US has a long and sordid history of backing brutal regimes from Saudi Arabia, to Israel, to Egypt and Bahrain. To suddenly feign outrage over human rights violations illustrates a level of hypocrisy that exceeds even regular levels of duplicity (an impressive feat).

For example, the US was perfectly willing to cooperate with Bashar Assad when they kidnapped Canadian national Maher Arar and sent him to Syria to be tortured. To embrace Assad when he commits acts of torture at the behest of the US but to shun him when his cooperation is vitally needed to deal with a regional crisis further reinforces the notion that the US is primarily concerned with sustaining regional hegemony.

As Murtaza Hussain has astutely pointed out in a recent article for The Intercept, the US must work with Iran, and other regional actors, if they have any serious hope of ameliorating this violence. Hussain observes, “Rather than reflexively satisfying an emotional need to ‘do something’ in the face of atrocities committed by ISIS against American citizens, a policy of coalition-building across ideological lines could potentially eliminate the group and perhaps begin to heal sectarian divisions in the region.”

Multilateral initiatives of this kind will not emerge without concerted public pressure to force Washington elites to abandon their unilateral and ultra-militaristic policies. Doing this will create the necessary space for peaceful alternatives to be pursued.

  1. ISIS is not a threat to the United States (crawl out from under your bed).CNN poll

In an incredible display “democratic” values, the servants of power in the free press have managed to induce the necessary amounts of fear and trauma among the American public to get them to support this latest bombing. CNN has published a poll showing approximately 70% of Americans see ISIS as a threat to the United States.

This conclusion is not supported by the judgment of the FBI which has declared that ISIS presents “no credible threat to the US.” Nevertheless, the hysteria of the corporate press and many members of Congress have drowned out this verifiable fact. It’s quite amazing that the unprecedented propaganda offensive that preceded the Iraq war did not motivate those who support this current assault to be more skeptical of these efforts to frighten the American public.

The role of political party tribalism also must not be discounted here. It is not uncommon for so-called liberal Democrats to support criminal wars because a Democrat is carrying out the crimes. The large support for drone strikes among liberals is a graphic example of this unsettling reality.

  1. Public Opinion in the Middle East is Solidly Opposed to US Influence
    Pew Research

The insularity of imperial culture is particularly pernicious in its ability to filter out the viewpoints and opinions of those who reside in the outer reaches of empire. Throughout all the reports on the US bombing of ISIS one would be hard pressed to find any reference to the most current public opinion polls in Middle East.

The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project is informative in this domain. Of the nine countries in Middle East and North Africa polled, all of them, with the exception of Israel, look at the US unfavorably. Similarly, all the countries polled oppose drone strikes (Israel being the exception  again for obvious reasons.)

It’s not known if the civil war in Iraq and Syria affected these numbers but they certainly merit attention as they serve as a vigorous refutation of Obama’s nauseating homages to American exceptionalism or as he put it in his latest speech: “the endless blessings” which obligate us to take on an “enduring burden.” Perhaps the people of the Middle East can conceive of another “enduring burden” recently recognized as the “greatest threat to world peace.” Another statistical irrelevancy.

There are many more dimensions of this conflict —the role of the Gulf States in supporting ISIS, the significance of the Turkish-Syrian border, etc. — that are worth exploring and will undoubtedly increase in complexity as the Obama administration deepens its involvement in the region. What’s most important is that we not lose sight of the Iraqis and Syrians who are sure to suffer the most if the lawless policies of the Obama administration are allowed to be carried out unimpeded.

Source:

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/09/10/americas-incomprehensible-isis-policy/

http://www.pewglobal.org/database/indicator/1/group/6/

http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/08/politics/cnn-poll-isis/

http://goingtotehran.com/is-obama-trying-to-resolve-or-prolong-the-conflict-in-syria

https://xavierobrien.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/retail-realpolitik-washington-the-just-god-the-islamic-state-in-iraq/

Dismantling the Fiction of “Black Criminality”

Black criminalityAmong the many unavoidable facts that have bubbled to the surface since the murder of Mike Brown at the hands of St. Louis police is the deep racial character of the killing and the equally racial character of the police response to the popular protests that followed it. This uncontroversial fact can be perceived in the abundance of media reports exploring the dimensions of Black life in America. One of the more glaring additions to this national discussion occurred on the popular Sunday morning political program Meet the Press. Hosting a round-table on the topic of the “Racial Divide in America,” Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal remarked that we shouldn’t “pretend that our morgues and cemeteries are full of young Black men because cops are shooting them.” Rather, Riley argued, “the reality is that it’s because other Black people are shooting them and we need to talk about Black criminality.” The two white guests silently nodded in approval, granting Riley’s comment a level of legitimacy it did not deserve. Aside from the clearly degrading and dehumanizing nature of this statement, it has absolutely no basis in fact.

Anyone with a minimal level of intellectual curiosity and a mild tolerance for empirical data (admittedly, an intimidating task for America’s leading cultural managers) would have noticed this. Writing for the Daily Beast, journalist Jamelle Bouie observed that quite apart from some innate drive to kill (the “thug” mythology), internecine killings among Black people can be attributed to the geographic “proximity” of Black communities and the chronic lack of socioeconomic “opportunity.” Further, “racial exclusivity was also true for white victims of violent crime”: “86% of white victims were killed by white offenders.” Bouie also highlighted the crucial reality that “while it’s true that young Black men are a disproportionate share of the nation’s murder victims, it’s hard to disentangle this from the stew of hyper-segregation (often a result of deliberate policies), entrenched poverty, and non-existent economic opportunities that characterizes a substantial number of black communities.”

Given the transparent absurdity of this myth of “Black criminality”, one would think empirical analysis of this kind would suffice. Nonetheless, this myth and its many analogues cannot be meaningfully debunked unless that empirical critique is coupled with a critique of the ideological prejudices on which they are based. Moreover, these cultural stereotypes are not exclusive to domestic politics. They arise in international affairs as well. As Columbia University political scientist Mahmood Mamdani observed in his brilliant study Good Muslims, Bad Muslims “the history of the modern state can also be read as the history of race, bringing together the stories of two kinds of victims of European colonial modernity: the internal victims of state building and the external victims of imperial expansion.” Accordingly, within the dominant discourses about oppressed communities (Black “thugs”, Arab “terrorists”, Mexican “illegals”, etc.) there exists a sharp ideological continuity in the empire’s portrayal of the inhabitants of its internal and external colonies. That ideological continuity consists of three basic components:

1.) Excise the decisive role of the oppressors in stimulating retail violence through policies of wholesale state-violence.

The “Black criminality” myth and its analogues cannot be sustained unless the role of the oppressor is hidden from view. The violence and misery in oppressed communities is supposed to be the product of “bad culture” or “corrupted values”, not the rational outcome of social and economic policies consciously designed to dispossess and disenfranchise an entire group of people. A graphic illustration of this understanding can be found in the mainstream discussion about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. The typical line goes that Israel, the benevolent guardian, “granted” Palestinians territory in Gaza, but Palestinians, due to their backwardness and insolence, squandered this gift and transformed what could have been a shining example of prosperity into a “haven for terrorists.” As NYU Law Professor Thane Rosenbaum asked in a Haaretz article “Unoccupied for nearly a decade, why do Gaza’s people know little else aside from explosives and martyrdom?”
Wiesel

Systematically omitted from this highly deceitful narrative is the fact that Palestinians in Gaza, unlike populations in US-backed petromonarchies, were able to choose their leadership in a democratic election. Furthermore, and this is a crucial fact, the Bush administration punished Palestinians for this crime of democracy. Also excluded from this fairy tale is the suffocating state of siege that Israel refuses to lift, despite clear requirements to do so under international law. Israel is free to control Gaza’s airspace, borders, territorial waters, electromagnetic spectrum, and even the calories that Gazans are allowed to consume (what Israeli official Dov Weinglass chillingly calls “keeping Gaza on a diet”). Rarely is any of this mentioned as a precipitating factor behind Hamas “rocket” attacks. Like Jason Riley’s mythology of “Black criminality”, the Israeli government relies on the mythology of “Islamic terrorism” or Palestinian “child sacrifice”, as author Elie Wiesel described the Israeli murder of Palestinian children in one of his more appreciated hasbara soup recipes.

Other examples of this norm can be found in the US discourse on sectarianism in Iraq. When Islamic State factions moved into northern Iraq commentators were quick to reduce the internal bloodshed to “ancient hatreds”, which had been simmering just below the surface for over a thousand years. This orientalist narrative has been thoroughly debunked by journalist Murtaza Hussain, nonetheless it persists as a potent explanation of Arab “barbarism.” Any reference to the fact that the Bush administration’s criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent destruction of the Baathist government elicited the sectarian violence is beneath serious consideration in mainstream circles as is the uncontroversial fact that the Obama administration, quite apart from leaving Iraq “to its own people”, was forced out of Iraq after the Maliki government refused to grant the US legal immunity (seriously undercutting claims of US “benevolence”).

2.) Concoct frightening fairy tales about a uniquely nefarious threat with an added racial/religious label or insinuation.

Here propagandists are given free rein to let their imagination run wild. Frightening stories about the evil deeds of a domestic or foreign enemy are concocted to mold the minds of the public into the required shape. As in the first component, Israel excels in this field as well. When Israel commenced its latest round of “mowing the grass” (a euphemism for killing innocent men, women and children) it was necessary to produce elaborate horror stories, all of which were baseless, about the “terror tunnels” that Hamas fighters use to inflict death and destruction on Israeli citizens. “Israelis exchange nightmare scenarios that are the stuff of action movies: armed enemies popping up under a day care center or a dining room, spraying a crowd with machine gun fire or maybe some chemical, exploding in a suicide belt or snatching captives and ducking back into the dirt.” These are the haunting words of New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, a journalist who, in addition to producing vulgar propaganda of this kind, reserves little, if any, time for Palestinians, plausibly because she’s too busy hanging out with imperial cheerleaders like the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman.

One can document endless examples this culture of demonization from Thomas Jefferson’s condemnation of “merciless Indian savages” to 19th century hysteria surrounding the “Yellow Peril” of Chinese immigrants. In the case of the Yellow Peril, political officials received ample assistance from the intellectual community, foremost Jack London, who envisioned exterminating the entire population of China via bacteriological warfare—“the great task, the sanitation of China”—in his novel The Unparalleled Invasion. Nearly two decades prior to the publication of this genocidal fantasy the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, effectively banning Chinese immigration. Rutgers University cultural historian H. Bruce Franklin examined this phenomenon of anti-Chinese hysteria in his penetrating study War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination, writing “the snarling racism of the Yellow Peril literature expresses cultural furies that have shaped the ugliest features of American history,” among them the “savage exploitation of ‘coolie’ labor.” At bottom, this language of fear is designed to neutralize any sympathy for the victims of state-corporate power, thus clearing the way for their oppressors to commence the required task of “taming” the unpeople within the empire’s domestic colonies.

3.) Display how much you are overflowing with compassion for the victims of the fratricide.

While the erasure of the oppressors role in the creation of crises and the construction of frightening narratives certainly probes the depths of moral depravity, the third component of this mythology is arguably the most insidious. In addition to maintaining a situation where the role of the oppressor is concealed from view, the feigning of compassion for the victims of fratricidal violence is consciously carried out in order to elevate the oppressor to a moral plane over and above the oppressed. The violence of the oppressor, under this mode of thought, attains a “moral character” (the IDF is the most “moral army in the world”, America is “exceptional”, etc).  As a result, the oppressor is not only blameless for the suffering of the oppressed but their standard of morality hovers so far above that of the victim that their compassion, unable to be contained, extends just as easily to those outside their group. Embedded in this construct is a racist assumption that people of color are so tribalistic and obsessively attached  to their racial identity that any act of murder within their group is irrefutable proof that they are savages. The most common illustration of this doctrine can be found in the regular refrain among the Washington elite about disobedient leaders in foreign countries who kill “their own people.” For instance, the violence of Saddam Hussein was perfectly understandable (if loathed) when it was portrayed as being directed at “westerners” but when he used poison gas against Iraq’s Kurdish population this marked the height of savagery. Unlike violence toward “western” leaders, here he was killing “his own people”, which in the racist mind resonates like watching a warthog kill another warthog or an ape killing another ape. Killing within the group, according to this logic, is the supreme transgression of the tribal norm.
fergusiibNotice how conspicuously absent this doctrine is when the fratricide is occurring within predominately white countries. Take for example the violence in the Ukraine. How many commentators described the violence between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian factions as Ukrainians or Russians killing “their own people”? Incidentally, that phrase would be more appropriate here since both Russians and Ukrainians are of the same race, namely white. This could not be said of Saddam Hussein (an Arab) gassing Kurds (not Arabs).

And political elites in Washington are by no means alone in using this “he-kills-his-own-people” tactic. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also indulged this doctrine in a recent speech. Responding to news that the United Nation’s launched an inquiry into Israeli war crimes carried out in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, he ridiculed the UN committee for “giving legitimacy to murderous terror organizations like Hamas and the Islamic State.” “Instead of checking Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians and the use it makes of Gaza’s residents as human shields, instead of checking the massacre carried out by (President) Assad in Syria, or the massacre of Kurds by Islamic State members, the UN has decided to come and check Israel.” He continued by saying the UN committee should “go see the Syrian army,” where “they will find war crimes.”

Much like Jason Riley, who abhors “Black-on-Black crime”, Netanyahu focuses, laser-like, only on those conflicts where the violence is Arab-on-Arab. Even in the case of Hamas he made sure to note that Hamas uses the people of Gaza as “human shields.” Incidentally, it’s Israel, not Hamas, that has a history of using Palestinians as human shields. Israel also uses Palestinians as guinea pigs for their hi-tech weaponry courtesy of US tax dollars. Through this discourse of Palestinian infamy the specter of the Arab “terrorist” looms large alongside that of the Black “thug.” Anyone who objects to their liquidation under the guardianship of their moral superiors can be written off as hopelessly ignorant or utterly oblivious to why the “morgue” is really full of “young Black men” and Palestinian “terrorists.”

Generally, it’s quite easy to erupt in hysterics when confronted with violence among the oppressed. Self-reflection has always been anathema to power systems. This refusal to look in the mirror isn’t entirely irrational as serious interrogation would inevitably render these myths obsolete and undermine the very power systems that they were formulated to defend. The fact that Jason Riley could utter these patent falsehoods despite the color of his skin is a dramatic testament to just how dangerously intoxicating these fictions remain. Still, they don’t have to be accepted. Other lies have been overcome. We no longer nod in approval to descriptions of America’s indigenous population as “merciless Indian savages” nor would we remain silent in the face of racist descriptions of Chinese immigration as an ominous “Yellow Peril.” The same standard should be applied to the mirage of “Black criminality”, “Islamic terrorism”, “Mexican illegals” and other contemporary iterations of this doctrine. Such a level of intellectual honesty is demanded of those who genuinely empathize with the people of Ferguson County and the countless others in America’s colonies (internal and external) who share their tragic fate.

Sources:

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror by Mahmood Mamdani

War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination by H. Bruce Franklin

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.605297

http://www.thenation.com/article/180783/five-israeli-talking-points-gaza-debunked#

http://www.haaretz.com/mobile/1.610408

http://www.fair.org/blog/2014/06/24/time-on-iraq-war-what-did-we-do-to-deserve-this/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/15/the-trayvon-martin-killing-and-the-myth-of-black-on-black-crime.html

A Myth Scratched Out of Rock: Friedman and Obama Whitewash the History of Palestine

friedmanandobamaA partial examination of the history of state formation and global conflict suggests that we can consider it an established truth that most, if not all, nation-states rely founding myths. The founding myth of the United States is that European “explorers” “discovered” a “vast wilderness” sparsely populated with “merciless Indian savages” who, over time, faded away under the march of “civilization.” Today we recognize this as a morally grotesque whitewash of the actual story, namely that the European “explorers” were really genocidal killers who plundered and pillaged their way across the continent under the doctrine of “manifest destiny.” As the late University of Texas professor William Newcomb Jr. observed in his 1974 study on the continent’s indigenous population North American Indians: An Anthropological Perspective, “low population estimates” of the indigenous civilization that preceded the European invasion “had the effect of making the European conquest of North America more palatable to white Americans.” Moreover, anthropologists were of the view that “displacing a million or so Indians North of the Rio Grande and ultimately reducing their population to half that number is far easier to rationalize or ignore than is the extirpation of ten or fifteen times that number.”

The official seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony captures this murderous ideology perfectly in the illustration of an indigenous man holding a downward pointed spear with a scroll flowing from his mouth bearing the inscription “come over and save us.” Rightly, this kind of imagery and brutality shocks the conscience of ordinary people, yet similar myths abound today about the founding of Israel in 1948. One illuminating example of this can be found in a recent Thomas Friedman interview with President Obama that appeared in the New York Times. Asked what he thinks about Israel, Obama responded “It is amazing to see what Israel has become over the last several decades … To have scratched out of rock this incredibly vibrant, incredibly successful, wealthy and powerful country is a testament to the ingenuity, energy and vision of the Jewish people.” As pleasant and unproblematic as this description sounds, it completely revises the actual events of Israel’s founding, which was not the emergence of a nation “scratched from rock” but the forceful imposition of a another nation atop the ruins of Palestinian villages evacuated in a campaign of ethnic cleansing known as the nakba.

Obama honors PeresThis traumatic confrontation with colonialism, an integral part of the Palestinian experience, is completely ignored in Obama’s response despite the fact that it’s accepted as uncontroversial among credible scholars. As Dr. Norman Finkelstein observes in his brilliant study on Israeli criminality Beyond Chutzpah “today there is a broad consensus among scholars that Palestinians suffered ethnic cleansing in 1948… ” Israeli journalist Amira Hass makes a similar observation. In her book Drinking the Sea at Gaza, she recognizes “the long history of dispossession that had begun in 1948, when more than 700,000 Palestinians (of a population of some 1.3 million) became refugees, forced to leave their land as the Jewish national home came into being.” It’s therefore extremely disturbing to hear Obama ask “How can you preserve a Jewish state that is also reflective of the best values of those who founded Israel.” If the actual historical record, and not the mythology concocted by propagandists, matters these “values” would certainly include massacres of civilians (re: Deir Yasin) and the mass expulsion of indigenous populations. A Times article that appeared in October of 1948 captured the horror of the ethnic cleansing in evocative terms:

“… in Beersheba itself, once a thriving center for camel trading, a few inhabitants remain, and at present members of the Israeli army are systematically looting the houses which survived the bombing. It is perhaps an ancient and tacitly accepted rule of war that troops should make themselves comfortable at the expense of the vanquished … “

How strikingly prescient these words were as Israel proceeded in its colonial project decades after this catastrophe, all “at the expense of the vanquished.” It is with this knowledge that Obama’s evasions of the historical record appear not only intellectually irresponsible but unambiguously immoral. And this immorality is reinforced when he showers the architects of this ongoing tragedy with praises and accolades. Take for example Ariel Sharon, a war criminal who participated in countless atrocities, for example the Qibya massacre and the killings at Sabra and Shatila. President Obama described him as someone who “dedicated his life to the State of Israel.” This is an awfully sanitized way to describe a man who in a 1953 attack on the El-Bureig refugee camp commanded a unit that threw bombs “through the windows of huts where refugees were sleeping.” Furthermore, as the refugees attempted to flee the terrorist assault “they were attacked by small arms and automatic weapons.” This massacre, which is credited for helping to “launch Sharon’s career”, left an estimated 50 refugees dead (Israeli figures). None of these inconvenient facts are highlighted in Obama’s glorification of a state struggling to maintain “its democratic and civic traditions.” Much like the character of Uncle Ruckus from Aaron McGruder’s critically acclaimed television series The Boondocks, President Obama continually goes out of his way to lavish racists and war criminals with praises, all the while perpetuating vulgar stereotypes about the Arab menace. In his interview with Friedman he recycles the racist cliche that Israel is a model of civilization marooned in an ocean of savagery, stating “others can cause Israel pain,” because Israel is in “a really bad neighborhood.”

Uncle Ruckus pays homage. Language of this kind dovetails perfectly with the ethnocentric and supremacist rhetoric of Israeli leaders repeatedly warning the Israeli public of the looming “demographic problem”, namely too many brown people in a Jewish state. Sentiments of this kind would delight Uncle Ruckus, who finds no shame in “thanking the white man for the sunrise, for the land [he] walks on, and the air [he] breathes.” Ruckus also maintains a shrine devoted to “special white people in his life” like John Wayne (“the great white man who didn’t take no shit from niggas, injuns nor Mexicans”), George Bush Sr., and Barry Manilow. Likewise, Obama maintains his “shrine” to the “special white people in his life.” This shrine is adorned with pictures of people like Shimon Peres, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom who has lived a life “nothing short of extraordinary.” For instance, it was “nothing short of extraordinary” when Peres followed in the footsteps of Israeli Prime Minister Manachem Begin and upheld the idea that Israel had a “biblically endorsed right of possession” to the West Bank. On the territorial status of the West Bank Peres proclaimed “There is no argument in Israel about our historic rights in the land of Israel. The past is immutable and the Bible is the decisive document in determining the fate of our land.” Perhaps if Peres was an extremist of the Islamic variety who insisted that the Holy Qur’an was the “decisive document in determining the fate our land,” he would have been exiled from President Obama’s hallowed pantheon of “special white people” but this isn’t the case, therefore Washington’s incarnation of Uncle Ruckus is free to hail him as a “true founding father,” to ample applause.

It’s therefore little wonder that Obama was able to boycott the Durban Conference Against Racism under the pretext that the UN was unfairly “singling out” Israel. Apparently, Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv’s “great white man”, also must be protected.  Apart from Israeli criminals, another luminary in Obama’s sacred shrine is George W. Bush, who exercised “incredible strength and resolve … as he stood amid the rubble and the ruins of Ground Zero, promising to deliver justice to those who had sought to destroy our way of life.” Incidentally, Bush’s position in the shrine may be more elevated than that of Peres since Obama has not only honored him in word, but, more significantly, in deed, primarily through his continuation of the crimes for which his predecessor should have been punished, facts easy to perceive in the President’s recent colloquialism about violating the Geneva Conventions (“We tortured some folks”).

Underlying this enthusiastic embrace of empire and colonialism is a deeply dehumanizing portrait of those on the other side of the gun, in this case Palestinians. Unless these simplistic and racist conceptions are abandoned, these foundational myths will persist as will the intense efforts to excise from historical memory narratives which give voice to the profound suffering and loss of those living under occupation. The indignity and cruelty of occupation make necessary an honest reckoning with these imperial revisions of history and those who stubbornly ignore reality in favor of fairy tales, whether they come in the form of humanitarian killers dedicated to principles of “peace” or an ultra-violent terrorist state “scratched” into existence from a singular rock.

Sources:

The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk

North American Indians: An Anthropological Perspective by William W. Newcomb, Jr.

Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians by Noam Chomsky

Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse and Abuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History by Norman G. Finkelstein

Drinking the Sea at Gaza by Amira Hass

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/09/opinion/president-obama-thomas-l-friedman-iraq-and-world-affairs.html?_r=0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiV22pJYG7M

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/06/14/president-obama-honors-israeli-president-shimon-peres

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/04/25/obama-heaps-praise-on-bush/

After Empire: The Birth of A Multipolar World

https://i1.wp.com/img1.imagesbn.com/p/9781568587134_p0_v1_s260x420.JPGThis past week President Obama honored a gathering of WWII veterans in remembrance of the US landing at Normandy also known as D-Day. Few historical events evoke feelings of triumphalism and American exceptionalism as powerfully as this intervention in Nazi occupied Europe. Peter Baker of the New York Times described how President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin went to extreme lengths not to acknowledge one another at the commemoration. “Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin did not speak, did not shake hands and in fact seemed eager not to encounter each other, much like divorced parents both invited to a child’s graduation.” While informal meetings of this kind are of little significance in understanding the geopolitics of US-Russia relations, it does provide a striking symbol of the increasingly belligerent stance of the US as it tries to maintain its role as the world’s leading superpower. Challenges to this role can be identified in Dilip Hiro’s exhaustive study of economic and political alternatives to US global domination After Empire. Adopting a method of analysis divorced from the assumptions of Washington elites, Hiro portrays a world combating President Obama’s vision that America is “exceptional”, a notion that he embraces with “every fiber of [his] being.” This move away from the unipolar world dominated by Washington towards a multipolar world where economic and political power is distributed diversely began seven years after the fall of the Soviet Union during the Clinton administration. Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primokov foiled President Clinton’s plan to attack Iraq on the pretext that Saddam wasn’t allowing UN officials to inspect his nuclear facilities. This act of defiance “gave a preview of a multipolar world, where a superpower is successfully stymied by an alliance of great powers.” Excepting the administration of Boris Yeltsin, who was highly deferential to Washington in his adoption of “market” reforms, Russia figured prominently as a chief obstacle to US power on the international scene. Using its wealth of oil and gas resources Russia formed bonds with Iran and China, jeopardizing US hegemony in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Russia has also utilized its oil riches to develop ties with the European Union, supplying “more than two-fifths,” of its gas imports, a figure expected to “rise to half by 2030 with the exhaustion of the North Sea gas deposits.” The significance of this energy relationship may help explain why European leaders have been much more restrained than the Obama administration in taking action against Putin for his invasion of Ukraine. Germany is of particular interest in this respect. Alongside the “return of the Russian bear”, as Hiro phrases it, there is also plenty of informed commentary on the burgeoning influence of Iran as a serious actor in the international community. Unphased by threats of force from Washington, a violation of the UN Charter, Iran has served as an example to the region of independent development and has used its strategically vital energy resources to undermine US power not only in the Middle East but also in Latin America. In 2006 Iranian energy company Petropars entered into an agreement to “invest $4 billion dollars in Venezuela’s hydrocarbon industry.”

This collaboration between Venezuela and the Islamic Republic is a major source of US animosity toward the Bolivarian Revolution and the example of Hugo Chavez. Chavez’s fight for a more egalitarian and participatory form of government free from the decrees of Washington elites made him the object of extreme hostility in western circles of power. Unlike US-backed dictators like Augusto Pinochet and Jorge Videla, Chavez’s election signaled a “profound change in South America” that ended the “traditional white settler monopoly over power since the colonization of the continent by Spain.” Efforts to restore this monopoly are underway in Venezuela today in the wave of street actions aiming to overthrow the Maduro administration, a welcome prospect in Washington’s business and political establishment. Surely the powerful in America are alarmed by the formation of regional alliances like ALBA, Mercusor, CSD and UNASUR which threaten to block US economic, political and military penetration. The CSD (Conselho Sul-Americano de Defensa) is perhaps the most innovative addition to this defensive front. Designed to “block the Pentagon’s military forays into South America,” the CSD operates under a “NATO-like structure” and is likely to present an effective deterrent to US violence in the region. Similar developments can be perceived in China, a country that evolved from a primarily state centered economic system under the leadership of Chairman Mao to a more “managed”, state-guided economy with market features. With its admission into the World Trade Organization, China was officially recognized as a competitor with some of the wealthier, state-capitalist industrial countries in the world i.e. United States, France, Britain, etc.

Unlike many so-called advanced industrial powers, China did not suffer significantly in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. This was due primarily to the fact that China’s banking system is nationalized and was therefore not exposed to many of the inherent risks that accompany market-based economics. China also made major advances on the African continent, developing commercial relations with a series of African countries from Zambia and Congo Brazzaville to oil-rich Nigeria. In the six years prior to the China-Africa forum in 2006 “China’s trade with Africa had quadrupled to $48 billion,” and “nearly five hundred companies were active in Africa on their own or in partnership with local firms.” This expansion of China in Africa likely motivated the invention of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and its deepening role in Africa. The US military’s coordination with the Nigerian military in its conflict with Boko Haram offers one obvious example of this.

The growth of AFRICOM is just one sign of the US attempt to counter this shift toward a more multipolar world, as is Washington’s “pivot” to Asia and aggressive efforts to eliminate Iran’s nuclear energy program. Diverging from the propagandistic line of the establishment press, Hiro observes that there is no empirical evidence to support the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Furthermore, he notes that if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon it would serve as a “uniquely powerful deterrent” to US aggression in the Middle East. Developing nuclear weapons is “an effective step for a regime to take when its survival is at stake.” Iran’s sovereignty is indisputably threatened by US power. Evidence of this can be found in the fact that President Obama “did not cancel or repudiate the ongoing covert US program of destabilizing Iran, with a budget of $400 million.” Policymakers in the US are unable to perceive this because they lack the “empathy … to ask and understand what is driving [Iran] to behave the way it does, regard its fears as genuine, and address them.”

Last Fall when the Obama administration was preparing to militarily strike Syria, Vladimir Putin published an Op-Ed in the New York Times warning American citizens that “it is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” Regardless of what one thinks of Putin’s policies, we ignore this message at our own peril. The same can be said with regard to global public opinion. A recent WIN/Gallup poll surveying 65 countries around the world revealed that the US is perceived to be “the greatest threat to peace in the world.” The ruins of Iraq and Afghanistan serve as a horrifying reminder of just how severe a threat the US remains. While some lament the decline of the US as a global hegemon, those with a genuine desire to live in a more peaceful world can only welcome this development. Anything that impedes US military aggression and economic domination is likely to open the way for more democratic and inclusive systems where the voices of the oppressed are heard. In this era of nuclear weapons and environmental decay, such possibilities are not only desirable but very much necessary for survival.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/07/world/europe/obama-honors-moment-of-liberation-in-normandy.html?module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Europe&action=keypress®ion=FixedLeft&pgtype=article

http://www.mintpressnews.com/obama-believe-american-exceptionalism-every-fiber/191611/

http://www.wingia.com/en/services/about_the_end_of_year_survey/global_results/7/33/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-russia-on-syria.html