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.


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





Goliath: Life & Loathing in Greater Israel

Blumenthal-GoliathIf there ever were a manual designed to instruct colonial administrators on how to best manage an oppressed population there’s little doubt that one of its leading principles would be to repeatedly, and emphatically, portray every resort to violence, no matter how egregious, as an heroic attempt to promote peace. Such is the case with Israel’s long, brutal, and US-backed (crucial detail) occupation of Palestine. After the Palestinian Authority’s decision to seek membership in the International Criminal Court, what Newsweek described as Abbas “[rolling] the statehood dice”, US and Israeli officials wasted little time in venting their rage. While Israel reacted “by saying it will withhold $120 million of tax and customs receipts it collects on behalf of Palestinians each month” (a reality that flatly contradicts the Israeli self-image as a fortress of “democracy” and not a military occupier), the US State Department, in typical paternalistic fashion, condemned Palestinians for making a move that “badly damaged the atmosphere for peace.” Conversely, US military support for Israeli atrocities, a policy that made 2014 the most devastating year for Palestinians in terms of casualties since 1967, did not “badly damage the atmosphere for peace.” These crimes, as our colonial instruction manual would surely contend, enhanced “peace.”

Anyone observing this state of affairs could learn a great deal by asking how a worldview of this kind is sustained, and more importantly, what we can do to undermine it. Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel offers a deeply unsettling look into what is often called “the only democracy in the Middle East” and in doing so challenges readers to defy these propagandistic constructs which exert such tremendous influence on American attitudes and US political discourse generally. Separated into ten parts, bearing titles like “Indoctrination Mills”, “This Belongs to the White Man”, and “Feeling the Hate”, Blumenthal is unsparing in his examination of a country drowning in toxic ideologies of racism, nationalism, aggressive militarism, and ethnic supremacy. Reading Blumenthal’s study it’s extremely difficult to ignore the fact that the anti-Arab (and in many cases anti-African) racism within Israel extends far beyond the confines of illegal settlements. The Israeli political establishment has not only legitimized these hateful ideologies but has been in the lead in ensuring that they are treated with the reverence of sacred truths.

One glaring example in the legal realm is the 2010 Acceptance to Communities Law. Proposed by Israeli Knesset member David Rotem, this law “officially [sanctioned] ethnic segregation in the small Jewish towns planted across the Galilee and the Negev Desert.” Policies of this kind conform neatly to Israeli public opinion, which views Arabs as a “demographic threat” to be contained, if not expelled entirely in accordance with exclusivist doctrines of ethnic purity. “A poll taken in August 2012 by Tel Aviv University statistician Camil Fuchs revealed that a majority of Israeli twelfth-graders supported the total deportation of non-Jewish African asylum seekers living in the country, and the expulsion of their Israeli-born children.” Meanwhile, “almost half of secular high schooler seniors declared their refusal to live next door to an Arab,” and “nearly 90 percent of their religious counterparts endorsed the segregationist view.” Openly racist viewpoints of this kind are the rational results of a society with a school system geared toward “the transmission of nationalist attitudes through Israel school textbooks, both through implicit and explicit messaging”, an educational model Blumenthal described as “systemic and comprehensive.”

Along with Israeli atrocities in the Palestinian territories, these racist attitudes are given scant, if any, attention in mainstream US discourse. Part of this silence can be attributed to the routine hypocrisy that ignores unpleasant realities about so-called allies while amplifying those of declared enemies, but another, much deeper reason may lie in the fact that the United States is not immune to this brand of systemic racism. Indeed, US political and media elites almost certainly identify with it. This congruence between race relations in the US and those within Israel came into sharp focus in the aftermath of the highly publicized murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. In addition to casting light on the close cooperation between Israeli security forces and US police departments, these events demonstrate how state violence relies heavily on obscuring the humanity of oppressed populations, whether it be through everyday forms of racial discrimination, which constitutes the core of apartheid regimes, or the dissemination of Founding myths designed to whitewash the historical grievances of others. Just as political elites in Arizona worked feverishly to purge public school curriculums of ethnic studies programs that provided an alternative to the Eurocentric narratives of establishment discourse, Israeli public figures have dedicated themselves to removing any trace of the Palestinian Nakba from the historical record. “Since the foundation of the State of Israel,” Blumenthal writes, “Palestinian students in the country’s segregated Arab schools have been forbidden from learning about the Nakba.” He continues, “though textbooks in Arab schools are replete with Holocaust history, references to the Nakba have been completely omitted.”

Given the savage assault on the Gaza Strip last summer, and the enthusiastic support for it within the US Congress (“progressives” included), it’s incredibly tempting to succumb to defeatism. But only if one ignores the enormous sacrifices of the Palestinian people. If this—the courageous and irrepressible spirit of Palestinians—is acknowledged one can easily adopt the opposite approach: a moral urgency to denounce the indignities of a social and political order that values degradation above human affirmation and the consolidation of power above the defense of the powerless. Very much in the tradition of classic texts like W.E.B. Dubois’ The Souls of Black Folk, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, and Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism, Blumenthal’s Goliath takes what could have been a very dispassionate work of investigative journalism and brings it to life it with emotionally moving glimpses into the lives of those on the other side of the gun. Whether it’s his writings on the resilience of the Tamimi family after being subjected to a litany of tragedies at the hands of Israelis—wrongful arrests, imprisonment, exile and murder—or the families of the Abu Eid Refugee Camp whose homes were demolished under Benjamin Netanyahu’s “campaign of ‘Judaization’”, these stories serve as an inspiration to all who are sincere in their desire for justice in the region.

This brings us back to the second half of the opening question: what can we do to undermine the easy resort to dehumanizing clichés and violence? A recent editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz acquires new meaning in the context of Blumenthal’s book and provides a possible answer. Summing up the general mood in Israel, the board observed, in disturbingly casual tone, “Few things are more popular in Israel than making life harder for Palestinians.” The horrors concealed in this throwaway line merits more than idle contemplation when the US contribution to this policy is fathomed. As journalist and activist Ali Abunimah eloquently stated in his latest appearance on Democracy Now! “I’ll tell you what didn’t help the atmosphere [for peace] … during the summer in Gaza when dozens of people were being killed every day by Israeli bombs, when entire neighborhoods were being destroyed and carpet-bombed by Israeli shelling, when, during that time, the Obama administration, President Obama, decided to resupply the Israeli military with bombs so it could continue to murder people in Gaza. To put it mildly, that didn’t help the atmosphere.” As much as this book puts Israel under the magnifying glass, we must not lose sight of the country that has consistently undersigned these policies of state terror, namely the United States. Meaningful change requires more than negotiations over Israeli and Palestinian borders, (central as they are to a just resolution). It also requires long-lasting social, cultural and political transformations within our own society. Goliath is essential reading in helping us embrace this grave responsibility.









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.







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

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.










No US Strategy Left Iraq Better

Iraq pictureThe subject: “In Iraq, 2013 has been the deadliest year since 2008, and the rising death toll could be a potential harbinger of things to come. After the bloodiest civil war period of 2006-07, violence in the country dropped off as a result of the US military’s “surge” strategy. But after US troops left on Dec. 18, 2011, Iraqis were left to come to terms with nearly a decade of war. It soon became apparent that the deep inter-ethnic fissures that almost tore the country apart were merely bandaged, but not remedied.”

XB: The opening statement of this report deserves some scrutiny. It is stated that violence in Iraq “dropped off as a result of the US military’s ‘surge’ strategy.” A brief look at the empirical record challenges this assumption.

Nir Rosen writes extensively about the surge in his book Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World. Writing on the surge he notes that “the extent to which Americans protected Iraqi population during the surge has been romanticized.” He proceeded to support this statement by pointing out that “American airstrikes killed more than 250 civilians in Iraq in 2006 but more than 940 in 2007 and another 400 in 2008. Thus Americans killed more civilians in 2008 than in 2006, at the peak of the civil war.”

The methods of warfare adopted during the “surge” also posed extreme threats to the civilian population. For example, the US military engaged in “terrain denial” operations. Terrain denial operations involved using military artillery in areas populated by civilians. This was in direct contradiction to the “population-centric” methods laid out in the COIN (counterinsurgency) manuals. Moreover, Rosen points out that “airpower advocates have noted [that] more bombs were dropped in 2007 in [the Multi-National Division Baghdad’s] area of operations than at any time earlier in the war.” The MND-B was the “major institutional proponent of executing the surge.”

So to say the surge was responsible for the “dropping off” of violence, as the opening of this report states, is to engage in the romanticizing that Rosen highlights in his book, a portrayal he also describes as a “proverbial truth” of “success” in “the American defense establishment.” The fact that RT has come to adopt this “proverbial truth” makes for interesting commentary on just how deeply sophisticated the American public relations industry remains.


Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World by Nir Rosen

Obama & the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment?

9781137278395A recent article published in Mother Jones magazine headlined “Barack Obama’s Had a Pretty Damn Good Presidency” praises the current administration for its “top achievements” in foreign and domestic policy. Consistent with prevailing attitudes, Kevin Drum cites “[ending] the war in Iraq”, “[reversing] Bush torture policies” and “[eliminating] Osama Bin Laden,” as three of Obama’s several signature accomplishments. The fact that Drum was able to list these as “achievements” is a testament to the depth of historical illiteracy that has come to occupy such a prominent position in American journalistic circles. Fortunately, scholarship exists to challenge these ideological conventions. Fawaz Gerges’ Obama and the Middle East offers an insightful picture of Obama’s policies in the Middle East with a historical context that demolishes talk about presidential “achievements.” Spanning generations from the early years of the Cold War to the present, Gerges’ traces the “structural-institutional continuity,” that has shaped presidential policies in the Middle East. The genesis of US interventionism in the Middle East can be examined in the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected premier Mohammad Mossadegh.

Mossadegh entered US cross hairs in 1951 when he nationalized the Iranian oil industry, freeing the country from the economic grip of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (BP). Truman responded to this move by adopting a plan conceived by Winston Churchill to “neutralize” the democratic leader and “restore the shah’s authority.” Truman’s policy was implemented under the Eisenhower administration on August 19th 1953 when the CIA in coordination with British intelligence deposed Mossadegh, ensuring the shah’s return to power and condemning ordinary Iranians to decades of US-backed tyranny. A “fifty-fifty profit sharing” agreement was installed under the control of “an international consortium  of western oil companies,” and Mossadegh was sentenced to three years in prison. Shortly after news of the coup reached the US the New York Times Editorial page hailed the fall of Mossadegh as a warning to other leaders who choose to go “berserk with fanatical nationalism.” “It is perhaps too much to hope that Iran’s experience will prevent the rise of Mossadeghs in other countries,” the Times concluded. The scorn for democracy within elite circles that emerged in 1953 persists in 2013. One of the more recent illustrations of this culture of imperialism appeared on CNN when former Obama administration official Van Jones reminisced on the days when “the U.S. could just sort of thump out dictators like in Iran.” No one questioned Jones on who this “dictator” was or what gave the US the right to “thump” him out.

Alongside Gerges’ examination of the US destruction of Iranian democracy he also dedicates a large portion of the book to examining the US-Israeli alliance and how the “Israel-first” school has undermined the prospect for a regional peace settlement. Beginning after the 1967 war, the Israel-first school is based on “assumptions of cultural affinity, common values, and shared strategic interests,” between the US and Israel. “Israel’s utility as a deterrent force against Soviet regional allies,” (powers that disobey US demands) was the main “strategic interest” fulfilled, one that continues today in US-Israeli criminality in their efforts to isolate Iran. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and international terrorist Henry Kissinger is one of the major proponents of the Israel-first school. Among his major contributions to Middle East “peace” was his decision to sabotage a diplomatic initiative launched in 1969 by Secretary of State William P. Rogers. This initiative was designed “nudge the warring factions”–Israel and Egypt–“to accept a peace settlement.” “My aim was to produce a stalemate until Moscow urged compromise or until … some moderate Arab regime decided that the route to progress was through Washington,” Kissinger proudly stated. More than four decades later in 2011 President Obama honored Kissinger’s legacy of warlordism when he condemned the Palestinian Authority for pursuing a bid for statehood at the UN General Assembly. “Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N.,” Obama proclaimed before the General Assembly. In accord with Kissinger and the Israel-first doctrine “peace” would  only come “through Washington.”

These well-documented and verifiable historical parallels escape respected intellectuals and journalists like Kevin Drum who suggest that while Obama’s “national security” policies are “pretty bad” we should assess his record by “ordinary human standards, not by standards of perfection.” Yet Obama’s policies are not only “pretty bad” by “ordinary human standards” but flagrantly criminal by the standards of international humanitarian law, an observation that holds true in several domains. Take for example the Obama administration’s economic sanctions against Iran, routinely portrayed as a legitimate foreign policy instrument or, more absurdly, a peaceful alternative to war. In a departure from this preferred narrative Gerges cites the analysis of the prominent Iran scholar Gary Sick  who concludes that the US policy of “cutting off from the US financial system any foreign banks that continue to transact business with the Central Bank of Iran … is intended to prevent Iran from receiving payment for its oil.” Gerges adds that this is “the equivalent of an act of war and effectively a financial blockade of Iran’s oil ports that would deprive the country of more than half its budgetary revenues.” Incidentally, it’s fascinating to observe how this act of war resonates with US officials. A recent Foreign Policy article on the Treasury Department’s participation this economic assault quotes former US ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker as completely dismissive of, if not gratified by, this culture of criminality. “The Iranians called [the sanctions] illegal and immoral, … The message I took away was that meant yes, the sanctions are working,” Crocker reportedly stated when questioned about the future of US policy.

Similar departures from orthodoxy can be found in Gerges’ commentary on the Iraq war. Unlike Drum he acknowledges that Obama did not “end” the war in Iraq but was forced to terminate the war or as he writes “Iraqi prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki could not accede to America’s demand and grant legal immunity to American soldiers if they violated the country’s laws … Fierce popular opposition inside Iraq to continuing the American military presence forced [Obama’s] hand. Afterward, the Obama policy team portrayed the military withdrawal from Iraq as the fulfillment of the president’s pledge when he campaigned for office.” These are crucial insights because they reveal that the assertion that Obama “ended” the war is not only unfaithful to the historical record but an insult to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who courageously resisted US hegemony in forcing the withdrawal. In agreement with the “structural-institutional continuity” of the “free press” the urgent demands of the populations we punish are of marginal interest. After all, condemning President Obama for taking credit for the hard-won struggles of ordinary Iraqis wouldn’t meet the criteria of judging him by “ordinary human standards.” Such criticism  judges him by “standards of perfection.”

Gerges’ study is particularly timely in lieu of recent revelations in Rolling Stone magazine detailing how a US Special Operations unit euphemistically known as the A-Team participated in the kidnapping and murder of innocent Afghan villagers as a part of their so-called  counter-insurgency campaign. An accompanying video on the website shows an Afghan Security official brutally flogging a hogtied prisoner while US Special Forces indifferently watch. Apart from seriously calling into question Drum’s assertion that the Obama administration “reversed” Bush torture policies, this gruesome video is deeply symbolic of a culture of cruelty that has thoroughly permeated American political, academic, and media institutions. Indeed, the callous indifference of the US soldiers who witnessed this exercise in sadism is worthy of condemnation but how do we respond when an entire society adopts this reaction to much greater atrocities? How do we respond when a family from northern Pakistan visits Washington–as the Rehman family did recently–to expose the horrors of President Obama’s drone program and only five Congress members attend to hear their testimony? Are the Congress members who refused to attend any different from the soldiers coldly watching an act of torture as if it were an innocuous experiment? Are the journalists on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS and other channels morally distinguishable from these soldiers when they uncritically accept White House characterizations of dead civilians as “militants”? These are pertinent questions as we approach what may be the end of America’s “moment” in the Middle East, questions that we can begin to address more substantively through Gerges’ work.