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Archive for the ‘U.S. Foreign Policy’ Category

May God watch over Eli Israel; and if we cannot summon God, then let us watch over him ourselves.

The US.-led invasion into Iraq and the occupation that continues to ensue in its wake constitute international crimes of war. This truth is widely known and accepted, supporting evidence abounds, and counterarguments have steadily diminished in strength; there is nothing left of meaningful, emotion-neutral dialogue

…and still the cannons blaze.

It is for want of willful action on the part of the people, not for insufficient knowledge or awareness, that the prominent decision makers responsible for this horrible conflict are still able to enjoy their privileges and prestige without fear of reprisal for the evil they have committed and the suffering they have caused. Innocent blood saturates the sands of the Middle East, replenished daily as every yesterdays’ victims fade into the searing heat, and survivors of the lost can be confident they’ll be soon to follow. This uninterrupted cycle of violence and injustice is enabled by the masses who suppress their sympathy and refuse their intervention, those who instead mouth empty platitudes of patriotism and allegiance to a war-loving god. There may be no hope in these masses.

The hope for justice, for the return to peace, rests solely in the potential and the willingness of men and women to act, to resist the repugnant but seductive leadership practices, and the cultural norms they seed, of a government that openly detests and deters foreign states’ right to self-determination and self-governance on their own terms.

We are fortunate, as citizens of a free democracy, to have such an opportunity for action; I am fortunate to write the things I write without fear for my own personal safety. I need fear nothing but the frustration that accompanies the exercise of free speech unmet by a forum of concerned citizens.

But not all are so lucky. Eli Israel, a soldier currently deployed in Iraq with the Kentucky National Guard, has discontinued his involvement in a conflict he believes is illegal and unjustified. This is the sort of precedent that can reestablish a global order of peace, recover global norms of nonintervention upon which stability is based, and at long last restore honor to the American identity. But without support, it cannot do any of these things. The precedent will wither and die if not taken up collectively and sustained by the people, by us.

People of comfort, such as ourselves, can do much to protect those brave few who have the strength and courage to boldly act on the front lines. Opportunities to act on the popular but abstract adage “Support our Troops” have never been clearer.

“Please rally whoever you can, call whoever you can, bring as much attention to this as you can. I have no doubt that the military will bury me and hide the whole situation if they can. I’m in big trouble. I’m in the middle of Iraq, surrounded by people who are not on my side. Please help me. Please contact whoever you can, and tell them who I am, so I don’t ‘disappear’”– Eli Israel

Post written by Daniel Black

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Protestors gathered on Capitol Hill this past Sunday to express their disapproval of U.S.-supported Israeli occupation of Palestine, an occupation that now exceeds 40 years. A small but diverse and lively crowd, the protestors collectively argued for adherence to applicable U.N. resolutions and international law, protection of Palestinians’ individual human rights and cultural right to self-determination, and the restoration of justice as a practical means of achieving peace.

On the other side of 3rd Street, a counterdemonstration of about 50 “pro-Israel” protestors gathered to express their disagreement. Oddly, these protestors argued for the same abstract principles as their counterparts up on the hill. They claimed to be on the side of peace, supporting democratic values and human rights, and their chief argument centered on denouncing violence and terrorism.

Both groups of protestors allege that truth and moral high-ground was on their side, exclusively. If two groups of people, so diametrically divided over something, forthrightly espouse the same interests, then how can there be conflict?

The conflict, as I understand it, is preordained simply because only one truthful and accurate historical record exists. Each argument, however, employs its own version of history, allowing each to claim fundamental superiority over the other, and on the same ostensible pretenses of justice. Either selective ignorance of historical events or outright dishonesty is at work in one (or both?) of these arguments. An open-minded and independent review of history is necessary in order to responsibly choose a side.

Respecting that the stance of the American Government has been continuously and unconditionally supportive of Israel for nearly 60 years, it is wise to look outside our own mainstream sources so as to eliminate bias. The results of such inquiry, I have found, are unpleasant for those sympathetic to the Israeli cause, and the arguments of the counterdemonstrators, I had noticed, bespeak shameful but silenced awareness. Consider the substance of their central arguments (and logical rebuttals):

1. Israel has the right to exist (this perspective is undisputed by the other side; it succeeds only in distracting people from the pertinent issues)

2. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East (ignoring this argument’s irrelevancy, for democracies are as capable of human rights abuses as any other government, it is a distortion of the truth. Many pro-Palestinian parties in the Middle East -alleged terrorist organizations by the U.S. and Israel- are characteristically democratic and have acquired legislative representation in Middle Eastern governments peacefully through free elections; it is typically the governments of the United States and Israel that behave undemocratically)

3. Israel departed the Gaza Strip but has sustained over 1000 rocket attacks since. (Israel also built a wall around Gaza, isolating its inhabitants from participation in social, cultural, and political life outside. In omitting Israeli violence, which claims the lives of nearly nine times as many children as Palestinian violence, this argument does not present any new information fairly or constructively. It also fails to address the issue of occupation in the West Bank and Golan Heights, far more strategic land areas than Gaza)

4. Israel is the only country that outlawed the use of torture (also irrelevant, also a distortion, it might be worth considering that confessions obtained through torture are admissible in Israeli courts -a different discussion point for a different debate)

5. The Israeli occupation of these territories constitutes “prophecy-fulfillment” (this is an ideological perspective, effortlessly refuted by presenting an opposite ideology that is also conveniently exempt from factual or logical support)

While my personal bias is unabashedly on the side of the Palestinians, I feel these talking points are worthy of examination from any angle. Recognize that as Americans, our culture is not neutral on this issue, that outside the United States and Israel, there is widespread disapproval of Israel’s human rights record, and that this is not a politically contentious issue in the international arena, where violations of international law affect political causes negatively.

-Daniel Black

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This spring break (in the snow), I discovered Mosaic. This Peabody Award winnig show is only available on LinkTV or via a free video podcast; its relative anonymity, however, should not detract astute news consumers. Mosaic presents a collage of video clips from various Middle Eastern news sources and offers a Middle Eastern viewpoint on world events. Mosaic also publishes a weekly intelligence report. The document, itself a collection of opinion pieces and news stories relating to the Middle East, is available free of charge and by email subscription on the show’s website.

Since American media systematically excludes the opinions of Middle Easterners, Mosaic offers Americans a rare glimpse into regional Middle Eastern politics and an opportunity to witness the effects of American foreign policy on Middle Easterners. Relying on alternative news sources, the intelligence report and the TV show broaden the spectrum of news sources and opinion. This week’s edition of the intelligence report, for instance, included a story about a new University of Maryland/Zogby International 2006 Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey which found that most Middle Easterners “do not see Iran as a major threat to the region.”

When asked to identify two countries that pose the biggest threat to them, 85 percent of respondents said Israel and 72 percent said the United States. In contrast, only 11 percent identified Iran. Furthermore, a majority of respondents were supportive of Iran’s nuclear program, even though more than half also believe that Iran has ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. According to the survey, 61 percent believe that Iran has a right to a nuclear program, with only 24 percent agreeing that Tehran should be pressured to stop it.

Interestingly, two-thirds of those surveyed in the UAE and just over half in Saudi Arabia agree that Iran has a right to a nuclear program, despite the issue’s sensitivity among Gulf Arab monarchies. While broadly approving of Iran’s nuclear program, just over half — 51 percent — of those surveyed believe Iran has ambitions to achieve weapons capability, with only 27 percent believing that Iran is intent on using its program for civilian purposes.Of the world leaders admired most by respondents, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, was first, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came in third, despite the fact both are Shia Muslims and the latter is not Arab. French President Jacques Chirac and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came in second and fourth respectively.

Conversely, U.S. President George W. Bush, former and current Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair were identified as the four most disliked world leaders. Respondents also view Hezbollah more favorably since the July-August 2006 war against Israel. More than two-thirds — or 68 percent — of those surveyed said they had a more positive attitude toward Hezbollah after last year’s war; including 58 percent and 50 percent respectively in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

As much as the dire situation in Iraq, and to a lesser extent the political standoff in Lebanon, have opened up fissures between Arab Sunnis and Shias across the region, the University of Maryland/Zogby International poll shows that fundamental attitudes towards the role of the United States in the region are overwhelmingly negative. Furthermore, Sunni Arab regimes’ fears of an Iranian ascendancy are not shared by those they rule.

“The public of the Arab world is not looking at the important issues through the Sunni-Shiite divide,” Shibley Telhami, a scholar at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy who conducted the poll, told Inter Press Service. “They see them rather through the lens of Israeli-Palestinian issues and anger with U.S. policy. Most Sunni Arabs take the side of the Shiites on the important issues.”Indeed the Bush administration has a job ahead of it to win over hearts and minds in the region. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed stated they had unfavorable attitudes — 57 very unfavorable and 21 percent unfavorable — towards the United States. More than two-thirds of those surveyed, or 70 percent, said their attitudes towards America were based on U.S. policy, while only 11 percent said they was based on American values.

Despite the fact that Middle East democracy promotion forms the core of the Bush administration’s rhetoric, 65 percent of those surveyed said they did not believe democracy is a real U.S. objective in the region. In fact when asked what they considered to be motivating U.S. policy in the Middle East, “controlling oil” (83 percent), “protecting Israel” (75 percent), “weakening the Muslim world” (69 percent), and “desire to dominate the region” (68 percent) were identified as extremely important factors.

When asked what steps the United States could take to improve its regional standing, 62 percent identified brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal based on 1967 borders. A significant minority of respondents identified withdrawal from Iraq (33 percent), and withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Arabian Peninsula (22 percent) as well. More than half (52 percent) ranked U.S. policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict as “extremely important.” When asked to identify their biggest concern about the consequences of the Iraq War, just under half (49 percent) feared that Iraq may be divided, 42 percent feared Iraq remaining a destabilizing factor for the region, while 42 percent cited a continued U.S. dominance of the country as their biggest concern. Only 15 percent highlighted Iran becoming a more powerful state as a major concern. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration expected that cultivating a Shiite-led pro-Western democracy in Baghdad would weaken Iran’s theocratic republic and erode Hezbollah’s influence. A new and powerful Iraqi ally would also enable the United States to ease its strategic dependence on Saudi Arabia, an ally which became less trusted after 9/11, the administration’s thinking went.

But Iran has been able to exercise influence in Iraq and Iraq’s Shiites have cooperated with the United States on their own terms, dashing hopes of politically overhauling the Middle East through empowering Shiites. Last year’s Israel-Hezbollah war compelled the Bush administration to reverse this position and return to seeking an alliance with pro-Western Sunni regimes in an effort to contain Iran. While this latest strategy brings the Bush administration closer to the political leadership of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, the Sunni Arab populace in these countries does not see things the same way as their leaders.

In fact the Maryland/Zogby poll reveals that skepticism of the United States’ role in the region, resentment at lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and affinity for regional figures who are seen to be standing up to America and/or Israel are still widespread. And despite the sectarian conflict in Iraq and simmering tensions in Lebanon, Iran is not seen as the bogeyman of the region. Perhaps the Islamic Republic is more popular in the broader Middle East than it is within its own borders.

America’s policy in the Middle East cannot ignore Arab history, perception and opinion. If we wish to reduce the threat of ‘terrorism’ or Islamic religious extremism, we must pursue a symbtiotic relationship; American policy cannot undermine the needs and desires of Middle Easterners—such an approach generates resistance and terrorism. If we want to reduce so-called anti-Americanism then we must secede, in some respects, to the demands of the region. We must pull out of Iraq, abandon our blind support for Israeli policy towards the Palestinians (not the state of Israel), allow Iraqis to control their own natural resources, and negotiate with the regional powers.

Our current policy (to extend American hegemony and influence across the Middle East and allow American corporations to control the region’s natural resources) undermines Middle Eastern sovereignty and democracy. In crafting a new approach, we must consider the needs and viewpoints of Middle Easterners– and that’s what Mosaic is all about.

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Since the invasion of Iraq, I’ve argued that the Bush doctrine, specifically the invasion of Iraq, has radicalized Muslim extremists and increased America’s vulnerability to terrorism. What’s even more damning, still, is this administration’s willingness to risk the lives of millions of Americans to gain strategic influence in the Middle East and control over Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Prior to the invasion, the Bush administration knew that a military action against Iraq would spark a Jihadist Renaissance; they ignored this threat.

Moreover, bellicose rhetoric or action against Iran will have the same effect there, as the 9/11 attacks had here. After the attack on America, Americans united around Bush. If half of us didn’t support Bush before 9/11, the attacks forced us to rally around our President; after all, he was all we had. We trusted President Bush to protect us from the threat of terror. Who else could we have turned to? Many Americans enlisted in the army and our government promised to avenge the deaths of 3,000 innocent Americans.

The invasion of Iraq, like the conflict in Afghanistan before it, has had the same effect on extremist Muslims around the world. Thus it comes as no surprise when Mother Jones Magazine reports that “the Iraq War has generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilian lives lost; even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one-third…the Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of the Al Qaeda ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks in the past three years from London to Kabul, and from Madrid to the Red Sea.”

If we ever hope to reduce or even eliminate terror we must, as Noam Chomsky has argued, stop participating in it. We have to pull out of Iraq. We have to negotiate with Iran and Syria. We have to reassess our blind support for Israel. We have to place the security of our people ahead of economic or strategic ambition.

— Igor Volsky

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George Will’s latest column, A Lack of Courage in Their Convictions, argues that Democratic criticism of the war in Iraq is disingenuous and politically opportunist. “Indiscriminate criticism of President George W. Bush is an infectious disease that may prove crippling to congressional Democrats.” The Democrats refuse to cut off funding for the Iraq war; instead, they condemn the surge rhetorically in a non-binding resolution. “They lack the will to exercise their clearly constitutional power to defund the war. And they lack the power to achieve that end by usurping the commander in chief’s powers to conduct a war.”

I agree with George. Democrats should defund the war and bring home the troops. It’s what the Iraqis want and it’s what we want. But then, Will’s logic takes a turn for the absurd. While urging the Democrats to act on their convictions, Will writes “They can spend this year fecklessly and cynically enacting restrictions that do not restrict. Or they can legislate decisive failure of the Iraq operation — withdrawal — thereby acquiring conspicuous complicity in a defeat that might be inevitable anyway.”

If Democratic support for withdrawal demonstrates “conspicuous complicity in a defeat” George Bush’s policy has made such defeat “inevitable.” But I disagree with the premise. A resolute push for withdrawal (enforced by restricting funding) is the only strategy for saving American lives and resources; to refute American Iraqi policy is to save America from a deeper commitment.

To compare criticism to an “infectious disease” is not just demonstrative of Will’s contempt for democracy but it’s also an indication of his stark partisanship: the Democrats should cut off funding to a policy which will inevitably fail, but if they do, they will take part in a “conspicuous complicity” for failure. Will is urging the Democrats to legislate their convictions; should they do so, however, George Will will criticize them for taking his advise.

— Igor Volsky

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You can flush that New York Times apology for publishing White House propaganda in the lead up to war with Iraq “without the slightest questioning, investigation, or presentation of ample counter-evidence” right down the toilet. Tomorrow’s Times will feature an article by Michael R. Gordon, the reporter who together with Judith Miller is responsible for authoring the must dubious reports on Iraq. This piece, available online tonight, is titled Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Made by Iran, U.S. Says. In the words of the NYT apology, Gordon’s article, which claims that “the most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran,” is “insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged.”

Since its release the piece has been scrutinized by liberal bloggers Juan Cole, ThinkProgress and others. Cole disputes Gordon’s central allegation (attributed to an unnamed military source) that close to 25 percent of American deaths in the last three months were caused by explosives being smuggled in from Shiite Iran to Shiites in Iraq.

This claim is one hundred percent wrong. Because 25 percent of US troops were not killed fighting Shiites in those three months. Day after day, the casualty reports specify al-Anbar Province or Diyala or Salahuddin or Babil, or Baghdad districts such as al-Dura, Ghaziliyah, Amiriyah, etc.–and the enemy fighting is clearly Sunni Arab guerrillas. And, Iran is not giving high tech weapons to Baathists and Salafi Shiite-killers.

[…]

The attempt to blame these US deaths on Iran is in my view a black psy-ops operation. The claim is framed as though this was a matter of direct Iranian government transfer to the deadliest guerrillas. In fact, the most fractious Shiites are the ones who hate Iran the most. If 25 percent of US troops are being killed and wounded by explosively formed projectiles, then someone should look into who is giving those EFPs to Sunni Arab guerrillas. It isn’t Iran.

Finally, it is obvious that if Iran did not exist, US troops would still be being blown up in large numbers. Sunni guerrillas in al-Anbar and West Baghdad are responsible for most of the deaths. The Bush administration’s talent for blaming everyone but itself for its own screw-ups is on clear display here.

Do newspaper sales increase in times of war? Do some of the Times’ corporate sponsors benefit? Is the corporate media filled with lazy reporters unaccustomed to the shoe-leather of investigative reporting? Is the corporate media structure an echo chamber of government propaganda? The questions mount as frustration builds.

— Igor Volsky

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A quick note on this Iraq resolution business. First, I think that the entire effort is pointless. The Democrats are demanding debate on a non-binding resolution noting their displeasure with the President’s unpopular escalation strategy. All the while, they are denying the Republicans the right to inroduce their own amendments, the very same right the Democrats themselves demanded while in the minority.

The Democrats should grow a backbone, cut off funding for the escalation, and begin the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. The Democrats should also live up to their campaign promise (to lead the most ethical, democratic congress in history, blah, blah, blah) and allow for open debate on Iraq.

In the lead up to war, most of these lawmakers ignored dissent to support the 2002 resolution for war. Our country has been stifled by ‘group think.’ The Democrats should bring our troops home and restore democracy to Congress; they owe us that much.

— Igor Volsky

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