Our October issue featured the story “Save Darfur: Zionist Conspiracy?” by Ned Goldstein, exploring propaganda exploitation of the genocide in Sudan by Israel and US imperialism. A companion feature by WW4 REPORT Editor Bill Weinberg, “From Darfur to Mauritania,” noted… Read moreDarfur and Zionist propaganda: our readers write
Three days after President Vicente Fox sent in thousands of federal police troops, Oaxaca City remains divided. Supporters of the Popular People’s Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO), driven from the city center, still maintain barricades in many barrios, and pledge to… Read moreOaxaca City divided; Zapatistas call for national resistance
Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog
THE ISRAEL LOBBY AND GLOBAL HEGEMONY
The Mearsheimer-Walt Thesis Deconstructed
by William X, WW4 REPORT
BUSH MOVES TOWARD MARTIAL LAW
2007 Defense Authorization Act Guts Posse Comitatus
by Frank Morales, WW4 REPORT
THE FARC ON TRIAL
Simón Trinidad Prosecution as Terror War Test Case
by Paul Wolf, WW4 REPORT
DEMILITARIZING LATIN AMERICA
International Conscientious Objectors Meet in Bogota
by Yeidy Rosa, War Resisters League
BOLIVIA: WHITHER NATIONALIZATION?
Still Waiting for Public Control of Hydrocarbons
by Gretchen Gordon, Upside Down World
BOLIVIA: COCA WARS CONTINUE
Campesino Movement Meets the New Boss?
by April Howard, Upside Down World
TRADE PROTESTS ROCK COSTA RICA
Central America’s Last Stand Against CAFTA
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
PALESTINE IN THE SAHARA
North Africa’s Forgotten Occupied Territory
by Bill Weinberg, Middle East Policy
“Efforts by ‘occupiers,’ ‘crusaders’ and ‘neo-imperialists’ to impose change from the outside…cannot succeed. In fact, neo-Salafi Islamist extremists often do a fine job of using such efforts to discredit internal reform and reformers.”
— Anthony H. Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies, in the Fall 2006 issue of Middle East Policy
“The more control, the more that requires control. This is the road to chaos.”
— Frank Herbert, The Dosadi Experiment, 1977
“The very process of control breeds disorder; just as the opposite—lack of control—also breeds disorder.”
— J. Krishnamurti, Beyond Violence, 1973
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International Conscientious Objectors Meet in Bogota
by Yeidy Rosa, War Resisters League
From July 18-20, 2006, Colombia’s National Assembly of Conscientious Objectors, (Asamblea Nacional de Objetoras y Objetores de Conciencia de Colombia-ANOOC), held its International Meeting in Solidarity with Conscientious Objection in Bogotá. Participants included representatives from within Colombia, including members of Medellín’s Youth Network (Red Juvenil), Cali’s Object Collective (Colectivo Objetarte Cali), Cauca’s Artisans of Life (Artesanos de Vida), as well as representatives from the strife-torn department of Arauca, the Afro-Colombian village of Villa Rica, and the San José de Apartadó Peace Community. Also present were representatives from conscientious objector (CO) groups in from across the hemisphere and the planet, including the Ecuador Conscientious Objection Group (Grupo de Objeción de Consciencia del Ecuador-GOCE), Paraguay’s Conscientious Objection Movement (Movimiento de Objeción de Consciencia- MOC-PY), Spain’s Conscientious Objection Movement (Movimiento de Objeción de Consciencia- MOC-ES), Serbia’s Campaign for Conscientious Objection, and the United States’ War Resisters League (WRL); as well as international organizations such as the London-based War Resisters International (WRI) and Conscience and Peace Tax International, based in Geneva.
Moderating this dialogue were representatives from Colombia’s office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-American Platform on Human Rights, Democracy and Development, and the Colombian ombudsman’s office, the Defensoria del Pueblo.
Article 18 of Colombia’s 1991 constitution states that “No one shall be obligated to act against their conscience.” Yet 1993’s law no. 48 mandates one year and eight months of military service to all those over 18 years of age. Those who pay a fine of one million pesos (roughly US$425 US), which in turn is used to finance Colombia’s ongoing 40-year war, may be exempt from military service, leaving no room for conscientious objectors not to take up arms and not contribute towards war financially. This fundamental contradiction, as well as the forced recruitment of youth by paramilitary and other armed groups, served as a springboard for a three-day discussion, held at Bogotá’s National Library.
Says Lukas, one young man participating in the conference: “In Colombia there exists the option to buy your libreta militar so that you do not have to serve the mandatory military service… This procedure is usually done illegally and serves to show the levels of corruption within the military forces.”
The event concluded on July 20, the day in which Colombia’s independence is commemorated with elaborate military parades throughout the country. Participants of the conference and some of the 300 attendees added to this parade their own finale: an action called the “Carnival of Life,” where militarism was depicted as violence, as opposed to a source of pride, and the right to conscientious objection was celebrated.
More sobering, however, was the worry on the faces of the participants traveling back to their homes in the department of Valle del Cauca, where paramilitary forces hold an intense presence. On Colombian Independence Day, it is routine for paramilitaries to conduct forced recruitment raids, snatching civilians from buses traveling through conflict-ridden regions. “They have already knocked down two transformers in our area in a show of power today,” one Colombian conference attendee said upon getting the news from home. “That means at least two months without electricity for our entire town.”
Former Dictatorships in the Vanguard
The conference served as an interchange for parallel struggles for the recognition of CO status in different countries. The CO movements in Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Paraguay are strong and organized, with many tools and experiences to share. But in a region where obligatory military service (SMO, by its common Spanish acronym) is nearly universal, failure to serve is equated with forfeiting basic civil rights such as higher education, employment and freedom of movement across national borders. Currently, conscription is mandatory in Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, Bermuda, and the Dominican Republic. As in the case of Colombia, the national constitutions of Paraguay, Ecuador and Argentina officially recognize the right to conscientious objection—due to pressure from the CO movement itself—yet there exists no enabling legislation for CO status to be fully recognized and civil rights guaranteed.
In Chile, a military dictatorship became deeply entrenched under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. All men face mandatory eight-to-twelve months of military service from the age of 18, and there are no legal provisions for conscientious objection. Since the return to democracy in 1989, however, a number of youth-led groups have organized against conscription, such as Neither Helmet Nor Uniform (Ni Casco Ni Uniforme-NCNU), the Movement for Conscientious Objection (Movimiento de Objeción de Consciencia-MOC-Chile), and the Breaking Ranks Antimilitarism and Conscientious Objection Group (Grupo Antimilitarista y Objeción de Conciencia Rompiendo Filas). On August 28, 1997, Chilean COs signed a public declaration officially appealing for the legal right to CO status to the general director of mobilization. The Chilean government is required to respond to any citizen request such as this one within 15 days—but has yet, to this day, failed to respond. Chile currently has three conscientious objector cases pending in the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.
Paraguay’s MOC-PY, formed in 1994 following both the end of military rule and the declaration of Paraguay’s first five COs the previous year, today counts over 115,000 COs nationwide. The group campaigns for the upholding of articles 37 and 129 of Paraguay’s 1992 constitution. Article 37 says “conscientious objection for ethical and religious reasons is recognized….” Paragraph 5 of article 129 says “those that declare their conscientious objections will perform service benefiting the civilian population through centers …under civil jurisdiction.” But there is no legal mechanism for alternative service, so these provisions are meaningless. MOC-PY also works closely with the Paraguay branch of Latin American pacifist network SERPAJ (Servicio Paz y Justicia), which first proposed the constitution’s reforms on the recognition of conscientious objection.
As MOC-PY member Edilberto Alvarez states: “In the context of the dictatorship, the military became a force that permeated the social fabric of all groups, such as family, school, politics and other spaces of interaction.” Cases of forced recruitment in public spaces are still reported, with missing youths reappearing months later as soldiers, to the surprise of their families and communities. Alvarez says these practices “reinforce the culture of violence, sexism, and submission, ending in psychological trauma and death.”
Ecuador’s GOCE emerged in 1994 as a response to increasing militarization despite the end of military rule 15 years earlier. With SERPAJ-Ecuador, it proposed an alternative civil service, which was presented as a reform to the constitution in 1996 and passed by the National Assembly in 1998 as Article 188. GOCE, based in Quito, currently works with COs, as well as with women, youth and environmental groups in twelve provinces throughout Ecuador. It has also established an exchange program with youth from Peru following the 1995 war between the two countries over an oil-rich stretch of jungle, the Cenepa River Valley. The group has reached out to over 7,000 youths through workshops against conscription, war toys, French nuclear testing in the Pacific and US military bases in the region.
COs in Ecuador are not able to attend public universities, work in the public sector, or leave the country, facing fines of up to $500 for every year of military service refusal, or serving one day in jail for every ten cents owed in fines, with all civil rights suspended for two years. Xavier León, a member of GOCE and a declared CO since 1999, currently has his case pending in the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. José Luis Echeverria, who declared himself a conscientious objector this past year, is currently waiting to hear from the public university where he has registered, since the right to education is officially denied to those that have not served their mandatory military service. If his right to education is refused, GOCE is prepared to bring a legal case charging discrimination based on political convictions.
In Colombia, Red Juvenil is a twelve-year-old collective committed to creating nonviolent alternatives to counter recruitment efforts by the over 200 armed groups that operate in Medellín. Despite constant harassment by the national police, Red Juvenil holds public events such as concerts and public theater in collaboration with other youth initiatives such as Antimili Sonoro, La Madeja theater group, and the Aeroteatro Pulsaciones Coloridas acrobatic and dance project. Red Juvenil also recognizes the struggle of objectors who have not declared themselves publicly, given the highly dangerous nature of public activism in Colombia. As declared CO and Red Juvenil member Jhony Arango says the group supports “all those objectors, women and men, living in this country who without declaring themselves and without organizing, assume their positions as an individual way of life.” Cali’s Colectivo Objetarte also emphasizes a multiplicity of forms of objection. The group’s Sandra Piedrahita says the group expresses their dissent from Colombia’s intense militarization “by painting murals, refusing to have bank accounts [in which war taxes are accrued] and boycotting products from multinationals that profit from the war.”
The CO movement is significantly less advanced in Bolivia, but the case of conscientious objector Alfredo Díaz Bustos in 2003 brought the issue to light. Reports of torture within the military, and the ability to buy your way out of the SMO, started a national discussion on conscientious objection. Bustos and the Bolivian government reached an “amicable settlement” after his case was taken to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights in 2005.
The Caribbean and Central America
But organizing around issues of conscientious objection is growing outside these strong cases. Despite its colonial relationship with the United States, or perhaps because of it, Puerto Rico’s antimilitarism movement identifies strongly with CO movements throughout the Latin American region. The Caribbean Peace and Justice Project (Proyecto Caribeño de Paz y Justicia-PCJP) has been working on the island since 1973, particularly around the negative impacts of US military presence in the region. Iván Broida from PCJP, in New York City for an international CO conference called Operation Refuse War in May 2006, stated: “This year marks 20 years of our campaign and festival against war toys; we feel we were a part of the success in shutting down the US Navy base at Vieques, and helped in internationalizing the struggle; and we have popularized the concepts of demilitarization and a culture of peace on the island. In the next five years, we plan to have developed a permanent counter-recruitment campaign in the schools. We want total demilitarization for the island of Puerto Rico and the entire Caribbean region.”
These issues came to public attention in Central America after the 1996 murder of Lucia Tiu Tum, a member of the National Coordination of Guatemalan Widows (Coordinadora Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala-CONAVIGUA), an organization of Maya women formed in 1988 who had lost their husbands to political violence and worked against forced recruitment and for the right of conscientious objection. René Godínez García, who works with the Weavers’ Association for Integral Maya Development (Asociacion Tejedora de Desarollo Integral Maya-TEDIMAYA), a group that addresses issues of conscientious objection and revolutionary nonviolence through textile work, emphasizes the role of indigenous women in Guatemala’s anti-militarist opposition. He states, “The participation of women in the movement has been of vital importance. Throughout the period of forced recruitment, it has been the women, the widows, the mothers, and single mothers who have reclaimed their partners and sons as victims of militarization. It was the women that organized and demonstrated in the streets to defend and demand their rights.”
In Latin American and Caribbean countries where conscription is not written into the constitution, is not enforced, or has been abolished, conscientious objection to military fiscal spending (war tax resistance), resistance to the poverty draft, campaigns against war toys, and mobilizations against US military bases have emerged. There are currently US military bases operating in Cuba, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Honduras, Aruba, Curação, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, with unofficial bases in Bolivia, and US military exercises being periodically conducted in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. This issue will be the focus of the International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases (Red Internacional Contra las Bases Militares Extranjeras) world conference, to be held in Quito and Manta, Ecuador, March 5-9, 2007.
Regional networks such as the Latin American Antimilitarism and Conscientious Objection Coordinator (Coordinadora Latinoamericana Antimilitarista y Objecion de Consciencia- CLAOC) and the Campaign for the Demilitarization of the Americas (Campaña por la Desmilitarización de las Américas-CADA) are working to create and sustain strong, long-term links between CO struggles throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. With a general remilitarization of much of the region now underway with US leadership, following the spring thaw that followed the end of the Cold War dictatorships, the work of these movements will doubtless be ever more vital in the years to come.
A shorter version of this story appears in the Fall 2006 issue of WIN, the magazine of the War Resisters League
Grupo de Objeción de Conciencia del Ecuador (GOCE)
“Nonviolence in Colombia:
A Growing Anti-Militarist Movement Demands Right to ‘Active Neutrality’ in Armed Conflict”
by Bill Weinberg
WW4 REPORT #92, September-October 2003
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
Still Waiting for Public Control of Hydrocarbons
by Gretchen Gordon, Upside Down World
On May 1, the day the Bolivian government announced the “nationalization” of the country’s vast oil and gas reserves, I went out to witness the symbolic takeover of a former Bolivian refinery that was privatized in the late 1990s.
A cheering crowd looked on as a young employee of Bolivia’s state oil and gas company, Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB), strung a YPFB banner over the metal letters spelling out the name of the Brazilian company Petrobras. Another banner hung on the front gate proclaimed “Nationalized: Property of Bolivia.”
The Gualberto Villaroel refinery on the outskirts of the city of Cochabamba is emblematic of Bolivia’s radical oil and gas privatization a decade past, and the recent faltering attempts of the current government to recover state control of this its most valuable resource.
Last week, five months after President Evo Morales’ nationalization decree, I went back to the refinery to see how things have progressed.
Standing on the entrance road of the refinery complex, David Zambrana, a worker in YPFB’s industrialization division, gives me the lay of the land. Surrounding us are the massive round tanks where unprocessed gas and liquid materials are stored, a building where gas for household cooking is bottled in small yellow tanks, various administrative offices and the heart of the complex—a giant fuels and lubricants plant.
“This is YPFB’s, this swath here,” says Zambrana, pointing to a cluster of offices and the gas bottling facility. “All the storage tanks back there and this part here belong to another company, CLHB.” Turning to face what looks like a small city of metal ducts and steam, he points to the massive fuels and lubricants plant. “That over the fence, that’s Petrobras.”
We’re standing in the middle of three different entities that before Bolivia’s oil and gas privatization were all part of YPFB, the country’s most profitable public enterprise. The boundaries are visibly awkward, having no logic in the industrial landscape of a refinery where the functions of storage, refining and bottling are all inter-dependent.
As we walk up to take a picture through the metal fence around Petrobras’ fuels plant, a worker from across the drive whistles and waves us away. Zambrana calls to him. “They‚re just taking a picture of the sign. The ‘access restricted’ caught their attention,” he says, a hint of defiance in his voice.
The privatization of Bolivia’s oil and gas industry during the 1990s was part of an ambitious economic overhaul, a condition of World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) restructuring plans implemented by the government of then-President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Along with five other key state industries, YPFB’s exploration, drilling and transportation operations were turned over to private foreign control. A few years later, the subsequent government of Hugo Banzer completed the dissolution of YPFB by selling off the country’s refineries and pipelines at bargain prices. Brazilian Petrobras paid $114 million for the Cochabamba refinery and an additional refinery in Santa Cruz. Zambrana argues that if you subtract the millions of dollars in materials, gas and derivatives thrown in for free, Petrobras actually only paid $50 million to control 90% of Bolivia’s refining capacity—the rights, the land, the machinery, even YPFB staff.
“The land alone is worth more than that,” says Zambrana. “Basically, we gave it away.”
When Sánchez de Lozada sold his privatization plan to the people of Bolivia, they were promised a road to prosperity and were assured that the Bolivian government would remain in the driver’s seat. Instead, through a series of backroom deals with foreign corporations, Bolivians watched as someone else drove off with their gas.
It was this clash between promises and reality that ignited the explosive popular demand for nationalization that brought down two Bolivian governments in the last three years and made possible Evo Morales’ historic election victory last December.
Morales’ nationalization decree promised to rewrite history, to use the second-largest natural gas reserves in South America to flip the fortunes of this, its poorest country.
Functionally, the decree includes several components: an industry-wide audit of oil and gas companies operating in Bolivia; the re-negotiation of export prices with Argentina and Brazil; increased production taxes on the country’s two most productive gas fields; and the re-negotiation of all foreign oil and gas contracts. The crux of the decree, however, is the rebuilding of YPFB into a functioning company active in all aspects of the chain of production, from exploration to commercialization. YPFB’s rebirth is to be made possible by purchasing a majority shareholding in the five different consortiums that once made up the state company, but which are now under private control.
In Bolivia’s nationalization media show back on May 1, soldiers marched in to secure oil and gas fields, and “Nationalized” banners were unraveled. The government was quick to claim victory: “This is the third and definitive nationalization of oil and gas,” announced President Morales. “We’ve completed what we promised.”
“From today onward the oil and gas will belong to all Bolivians. Never again will it be in the hands of the transnational corporations,” assured Vice President Alvaro García Linera.
The international media was more than willing to corroborate the government’s story with reports of the “seizure” of oil and gas fields and corporate assets—and warnings of mass capital flight.
As I watched outside the refinery that May Day, a Bolivian brass band played while Saul Escalera, an YPFB engineer, calmly closed out the evening and dispatched the crowd. “We have now recovered this refinery—You may now all return home.”
Five months later, the soldiers have left the gas fields. The YPFB directors overseeing the “nationalized” companies have gone back to their offices. The government has not been able to reach an agreement with private investors to buy back majority control of any of the former YPFB entities. Government regulators have had difficulty inspecting private oil and gas facilities and gaining access to financial records necessary for the audits. YPFB suffered a political scandal, and the oil and gas minister resigned, citing frustration with the lack of progress in implementing the decree.
With the October 27 deadline for the re-negotiation of contracts fast approaching, the Achilles heal of the government’s policy has been laid bare. Rather than expropriate the privatized industry, the government tried to negotiate its “nationalization.” And those negotiations have not gone very well.
Critics on the Bolivian left attribute the lack of progress to the moderate nature of the government’s approach, which technically isn’t a nationalization at all. They argue that without an expropriation, YPFB is left without capital or infrastructure and is therefore unable to be a producer, or even an effective regulator. It has no real control, and must haggle for every inch of change. From the most critical viewpoint, the country’s most valuable resource is just as firmly in the hands of foreign corporations as before, and the desperate hope of many Bolivians—that they might finally benefit from the wealth beneath their feet—remains unfulfilled.
Driving around the perimeter of the refinery along a dusty unpaved road, we approach the back of Petrobras‚ territory to take a photo of several holding tanks on the other side of the fence, Zambrana exchanges glances with the driver. He reaches up and removes the YPFB sign from the front window, placing it on the floor of the van. “You can take a picture, but take it through the window,” he says. “They’ve got a guard out.”
Though it’s been rough going, the struggle to implement Bolivia’s nationalization decree has not been entirely without successes. Despite the initial warnings of imminent capital flight or international arbitration, the government has been able to keep foreign investors engaged and even win some significant gains: a higher gas export price negotiated with Argentina will bring in an extra $110 million this year; the increased tax rate on two gas fields has generated an additional $32 million a month; and YPFB has attracted a range of new investors for several large-scale industrialization projects. But in terms of the reconstruction of YPFB, the key to the dramatic change Bolivians were promised, the government is stuck at the negotiating table.
The Cochabamba sun beats down brightly as we finish up the tour of the refinery grounds. Zambrana remains optimistic and eager about the promised changes. “When do you think the government will be able to purchase the shares from Petrobras?” I ask.
“The end of this month,” he replies, referring to the October 27 deadline in the nationalization decree. “We’re ready when the takeover comes,” he adds firmly. “We’ve got the information and the technical capacity. Almost all the workers are Bolivian, and most are ex-YPFB employees; they’re proud about the refinery returning to Bolivia.”
But negotiations with Brazil have been put on hold. Brazilian President Inacio Lula da Silva faces a runoff election October 29, and politically can’t be seen caving in to Bolivia. Waiting until after the election has stalled negotiations for four weeks, by which time the nationalization decree will have reached its six-month expiration date.
“Yeah, I read about that. But I haven’t heard anything more,” says Zambrana. “Now we’re just waiting.”
As we drive out past the refinery entrance, the bright metal letters of Petrobras glint in the afternoon sun; the YPFB sign has been removed. On the front gate, the other now somewhat disheveled banner still proclaims, “Nationalized: Property of Bolivia.”
Several feet in front of it, a Petrobras security guard stands watch.
Gretchen Gordon is an oil and gas researcher at the Cochabamba-based Democracy Center and a contributor to a forthcoming Democracy Center book on Bolivia and globalization.
This story first appeared Oct. 19 on Upside Down World
“Evo Seizes the Gas: Bolivia’s Nationalization by Decree”
by Gretchen Gordon
WW4 REPORT #122, June 2006
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
Simón Trinidad Prosecution as Terror War Test Case
by Paul Wolf, WW4 REPORT
Ricardo Palmera, a Colombian guerrilla better known as Simón Trinidad, is on trial in Washington D.C. for hostage-taking and related charges of conspiracy, aiding and abetting, and providing material support to a terrorist organization. Trinidad is well-known in Colombia for his role as a negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist guerrilla army that has battled the Colombian government for more than 40 years.
The charges stem from an incident on Feb. 13, 2003, in which a Cessna 208 surveillance aircraft crashed in a FARC-controlled region of the Colombian jungle. After the crash, and the execution of two occupants of the plane, the FARC took three other occupants captive, and have held them ever since, along with about 60 Colombian police, military, and political figures they are holding somewhere in the dense Colombian jungle. The three Americans were employed by California Microwave Systems, a US military contractor. The FARC consider them to be prisoners of war.
In January 2004, Simón Trinidad was apparently sent by the FARC leadership to Quito, Ecuador, to meet with James LeMoyne, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special representative for Colombia-FARC negotiations. The meeting was not to be. Trinidad was tracked by Colombian and US authorities and arrested by Ecuadoran authorities shortly after arrival. There he stated that he was a member of the FARC on a humanitarian mission to discuss the exchange of prisoners, and asked for the protection of the Ecuadoran government. He was shortly sent to Colombia, interrogated by the FBI, and then extradited to the US to face criminal hostage-taking charges stemming from the Cessna incident.
It’s conceded that Simón Trinidad has been a member of the FARC since 1987, working in the Caribbean Bloc in the northwest of the country. It is not alleged, however, that Trinidad had any involvement in the Cessna incident itself. He did not give the order to shoot down this plane, and was not involved in the decision to take the Americans as prisoners. It appears that Trinidad’s only involvement was to travel to Ecuador to attempt to lay the groundwork for talks on their release.
Although the Colombian government has successfully entered into negotiations with another guerrilla organization, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and with the right-wing Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AUC), no progress has been made during the administration of President Alvaro Uribe with respect to the FARC. The Colombian government has in principle agreed to negotiations under the auspices of three friendly countries, Switzerland, France and Sweden, but its position has been that a prisoner exchange would only be part of broader talks on demobilizing the FARC. Public pressure, however, forced the Colombian government to raise the issue of a separate humanitarian exchange with the FARC. The FARC responded by stating its terms for the exchange, which include the creation of a small demilitarized zone, which would be limited in duration to what would be required to exchange the prisoners.
The issue of a prisoner exchange has loomed in the background of peace negotiations since at least 1998, when Andres Pastrana was elected president of Colombia with promises of ending the war with the guerrillas. Although Pastrana’s experiment, granting the FARC a large demilitarized zone to rule as their own, ultimately ended in failure, the prisoner exchange issue has survived. In 2003, the FARC released hundreds of captives in exchange for a dozen FARC members held in Colombian prisons. Although US and Colombian officials are quick to term the prisoners as “criminals” and “hostages,” respectively, the reality is that both sides consider them canjeable—a Spanish word meaning exchangeable.
With the capture of the three Americans, and their inclusion on the list of canjeables, all this would come to an end. Trinidad’s mission to Ecuador would be met with his arrest, and extradition to the US for hostage-taking. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe gave the FARC an ultimatum: release all the prisoners, including the three Americans, or face extradition to the dreaded North America, where the harsh treatment of terrorist suspects has become legendary. The ultimatum went unanswered, and Trinidad was flown to Washington DC aboard John Ashcroft’s private jet, with an entourage of FBI agents and heavily-armed guards.
The possibility of a canje, with Trinidad himself part of the exchange, came to an abrupt end last week, one week after Trinidad’s trial began, when a car bomb injured 20 people inside the military academy in Bogotá. President Uribe not only called off negotiations with the FARC, but also announced that the Colombian military would undertake a mission to rescue the 60 prisoners held by the FARC. The announcement drew little support in Colombia, particularly among the prisoners’ family members. Nicholas Burns of the US State Department quickly arrived, announcing US support for a rescue attempt. Whatever the fate of the prisoners may be, negotiations with the FARC have hit an impasse.
Breaking New Legal Ground
The prosecutors of Simón Trinidad are breaking new legal ground, in the form of a broad expansion of US criminal conspiracy laws to hold members of a designated “terrorist” organization responsible for crimes committed by other members of the group. The FARC is being described not as an insurgent army, or even as an army of unlawful combatants, as is the case with the Guantanamo detainees. In Trinidad’s case, the prosecutor characterizes the FARC as a criminal “hostage taking conspiracy” of some 20,000 co-conspirators. Members of the designated “foreign terrorist organization” become co-conspirators through their status as members of the organization. The case represents an experiment by the Department of Justice to try a foreign insurgent using ordinary criminal conspiracy laws.
Simón Trinidad originally had a “co-defendant” in the case—the entire FARC organization. Thomas Hogan, the Chief Judge of the D.C. District Court, went so far as to summon the organization to appear in his courtroom, publishing notices in Colombian newspapers and shortcutting the extradition process. For whatever reason, this unique approach to terrorism was abandoned. The co-defendant army was dropped from the case, and the top 50 leaders of the FARC indicted separately in a drug case hailed as the largest prosecution in US history. Simón Trinidad is not a defendant in that case, nor does he show up in Colombian intelligence documents used to prepare “The FARC Indictment,” or in seized FARC documents which describe the organization’s leadership. These intelligence reports and captured documents, if admitted into evidence in Trinidad’s trial, put the government in the position of convicting a rank-and-file member of an insurgent army as a co-conspirator for crimes he could not have ordered, or even influenced.
The trial began Oct. 17 in Washington DC, and is expected to last several weeks. What is odd about this trial is that very few facts are in dispute. There is no argument that Simón Trinidad is a member of the FARC. There is no doubt that the three Americans were taken captive by the FARC, who are still holding them. There is no doubt that Trinidad knew that the FARC takes and holds prisoners. These are the elements of the charge of conspiracy to commit hostage-taking. This evidence is undisputed, but presented in the form of a slick multimedia presentation, using video clips, computer images of documents, and recordings of radio transmissions. It is supported by some 20 witnesses flown in from Colombia. The jury will not only be convinced, but impressed and perhaps even entertained. It is only the rarest of trials that is interesting to watch.
What the jury will not get to decide is whether US laws against hostage-taking should apply to this situation at all. Or whether it is appropriate to use judicial proceedings as a bargaining chip in peace negotiations. The jury will have no idea that their verdict in the trial could have far-reaching implications that go well beyond the fate of the individual defendant. They will not know the context, or the reason this prosecution is occurring. They will not know that there are some 80 cases pending against Trinidad in Colombia, in which he is being tried in absentia for other FARC activities, or that he is not permitted a private attorney of his choice. After hearing the evidence, they will be given a simple set of rules to follow, called “jury instructions.” The mechanical application of these instructions can only result in finding the defendant, and the entire 15,000-member FARC organization, guilty of hostage-taking.
Yet the prosecution’s efforts have resulted in some leakage of information, perhaps enough to confuse some jurors. The prosecution’s proof of the FARC’s “demands” for the release of the Americans—in actuality the FARC’s response to the government’s initiative—has opened the door to some mention of the prisoner exchange issue lurking behind this trial. There is no room in the jury instructions to consider these factors, and the defense’s efforts to ask witnesses questions about the subject have been cut off by the judge at every instance. Yet, it only takes one person to hang the jury, and these jurors are being asked to vote on a very abstract idea: whether the negotiator for a “foreign terrorist organization” can be held criminally responsible for the actions of his organization. It would only take one juror to say no, and the outcome is far from certain.
Paul Wolf is an attorney in Washington, and may be contacted via his websites:
“The Politics of the FARC Indictment:
A ‘Secret Formula’ Against Colombia’s Guerillas?”
by Paul Wolf
WW4 REPORT #122, June 2006
“FARC leader captured in Ecuador”
WW4 REPORT #95, February 2004
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
World War 4 Report Deconstructing the War on Terrorism http://ww4report.comContinue ReadingTHE FARC ON TRIAL
2007 Defense Authorization Act Guts Posse Comitatus
by Frank Morales, WW4 REPORT
In a stealth maneuver, President Bush has signed into law a provision which, according to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), “will actually encourage the President to declare federal martial law.” It does so by revising the Insurrection Act of 1807, a set of laws that limits the president’s ability to deploy troops within the United States. The Insurrection Act (10 U.S.C.331- 335) has historically, along with the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (18 U.S.C.1385), helped to enforce strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. With one cloaked swipe of his pen, Bush has done much to undo those prohibitions.
Public Law 109-364, or the John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 (H.R.5122), which was signed on October 17 in a private Oval Office ceremony, allows the president to declare a “public emergency,” station troops anywhere in the United States, and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to “suppress public disorder.”
President Bush seized this unprecedented power on the very same day that he signed the equally odious Military Commissions Act of 2006. In a sense, the two laws complement one another. One allows for torture and detention abroad, while the other seeks to enforce acquiescence at home, allowing the commander-in-chief to order the military onto the streets. Although not invoked in the legislation, the term for putting an area under military rule is “martial law.”
Section 1076 of the massive Authorization Act, which grants the Pentagon another $500-plus billion for its global adventures, is entitled “Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies.” Section 333, “Major public emergencies; interference with State and Federal law‚” states that “the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order” in order to “suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.”
In short, this allows the president to commandeer guardsmen from any state, over the objections of the local government, ship them off to another state, conscript them in a law enforcement and set them loose against “disorderly” citizenry—protesters, possibly, or those who object to forced vaccinations and quarantines in the event of a bio-terror event.
It is particularly ominous that the law follows new contracts for construction of emergency detention facilities. An article on “recent contract awards” in the summer issue of the slick, insider Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International reported that “global engineering and technical services powerhouse KBR [Kellog, Brown & Root] announced in January 2006 that its Government and Infrastructure division was awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract to support US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities in the event of an emergency…. With a maximum total value of $385 million over a five year term, the contract is to be executed by the US Army Corps of Engineers…for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations (DRO)—in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the US, or to support the rapid development of new programs.” The report points out that “KBR is the engineering and construction subsidiary of Halliburton.”
So in addition to authorizing another $532.8 billion for the Pentagon—including a $70 billion “supplemental provision” which covers the cost of the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan—the new law further collapses the historic divide between the police and the military.
The Posse Comitatus Act reads: “Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or Air Force as a posse comitatus [deputized law enforcement] or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.” It is the only US criminal statute that outlaws military operations directed against the American people under the cover of “law enforcement.” It has been held as the citizenry’s the best protection against the power-hungry intentions of an unscrupulous and reckless executive intent on using force to impose its will. It has now been dealt a near-fatal blow.
Despite the unprecedented nature of this act, there has been no outcry in the American media, and little reaction from our elected officials in Congress. On September 19, a lone Senator Leahy noted that 2007s Defense Authorization Act contained a “widely opposed provision to allow the President more control over the National Guard‚ [adopting] changes to the Insurrection Act, which will make it easier for this or any future President to use the military to restore domestic order WITHOUT the consent of the nation’s governors.”
Senator Leahy went on to stress that “we certainly do not need to make it easier for presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy… One can easily envision governors and mayors in charge of an emergency having to constantly look over their shoulders while someone who has never visited their communities gives the orders.”
A few weeks later, on September 29, Leahy entered into the Congressional Record that he had “grave reservations about certain provisions of the fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill Conference Report,” the language of which, he said, “subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military’s involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law.” This had been “slipped in,” Leahy said, “as a rider with little study,” while “other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals.”
In a telling bit of understatement, the senator from Vermont noted that “the implications of changing the [Posse Comitatus] Act are enormous. There is good reason for the constructive friction in existing law when it comes to martial law declarations… Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy… We fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the President to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty.”
Senator Leahy’s final ruminations: “Since hearing word a couple of weeks ago that this outcome was likely, I have wondered how Congress could have gotten to this point… It seems the changes to the Insurrection Act have survived the Conference because the Pentagon and the White House want it.”
The Pentagon, as one might expect, is to play a direct role in martial law operations. Title XIV of the new law, entitled, “Homeland Defense Technology Transfer Legislative Provisions,” authorizes “the Secretary of Defense to create a Homeland Defense Technology Transfer Consortium to improve the effectiveness of the Department of Defense (DOD) processes for identifying and deploying relevant DOD technology to federal, State, and local first responders.”
In other words, the law facilitates the “transfer” of the newest in so-called “crowd control” technology and other weaponry from the Pentagon to local militarized police units. The new law builds on and further codifies earlier “technology transfer” agreements, specifically the 1995 DOD-Justice Department memorandum of agreement achieved back during the Clinton-Reno administration.
With the president’s polls at an historic low, growing dissent to the war Iraq, and the Democrats likely to take back Congress in mid-term elections, the Bush administration is on the ropes. So it is particularly worrying that Bush has seen fit, at this juncture, to, in effect, declare himself dictator.
Sen. Leahy’s statements on the 2007 Defense Authorization Act:
Congressional Research Service report for Congress, “The Use of Federal Troops for Disaster Assistance: Legal Issues,” by Jennifer K. Elsea, Legislative Attorney, American Law Division, August 14, 2006 (PDF):
Daily Kos commentary on the 2007 Defense Authorization Act:
“John Negroponte & the Death-Squad Connection:
Bush Nominates Terrorist for National Intelligence Director”
by Frank Morales
WW4 REPORT #108, April 2006
“Bush signs Military Commissions Act”
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 18, 2006
“Halliburton wins concentration camp contract”
WW4 REPORT, May 8, 2006
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution
The Mearsheimer-Walt Thesis Deconstructed
by William X, WW4 REPORT
The lengthy essay entitled “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” first appeared in the London Review of Books in March 2006, against a backdrop of fast-escalating carnage in Iraq and renewed Israeli aggression in the Occupied Territories. It immediately sparked an outrage. Here a view long consigned to the left and right fringe—that the Israeli “tail wags the dog” of US foreign policy—was being voiced by thoroughly mainstream scholars. The authors were John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago professor and author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, and Stephen Walt, academic dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and author of Taming American Power: The Global Response to US Primacy. An expanded version was posted on the Working Paper website of the Kennedy School.
By the end of March, Harvard had announced it was removing its logo from the study. It also appended a harshly worded disclaimer to the study, stating that it “does not necessarily” reflect the views of the university. The semi-retraction came after much protest from both the mainstream and Jewish press. Finally, the Kennedy School announced that Walt would step down as academic dean at the end of June, although he would stay on as a professor.
Yet a third version of “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” appears in the Fall 2006 issue of the journal Middle East Policy, this time with additional material addressing the criticisms. In the introduction, the authors state they are also preparing a detailed “Response to Our Critics,” adding that they have been “struck by how weak and ill-founded” many of the criticisms have been.
What Mearsheimer and Walt (hereafter M&W) refer to as “the lobby” is not only the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), but a wider ideological complex of allied organizations, prominently including the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA), and the Israel on Campus Coalition
The controversy around the essay indicates how nearly all ideological struggle is narrowing to a clash of conservatisms. The opposition to M&W has come overwhelmingly from the Zionist right, which holds the upper hand in the Bush administration. M&W themselves subscribe to an American nationalist right position with overtones of xenophobia and (however much the charge has been abused) anti-Semitism. Ominously, even the anti-war “left” is increasingly lining up with the latter conservatism. There has been practically no effort to critique the essay from a position which is anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist, but also sensitive to anti-Semitism. The degree to which such perspectives have been sidelined is especially dangerous given how Israel replicates the historical cycles of Jewish scapegoating by serving as imperialism’s proxy.
What follows is an attempt to respond to “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” from a position which cuts slack neither for Israel’s real crimes, nor for US “foreign policy” (read: imperialism), nor for anti-Semitism, conscious or implicit.
M&W: “The US national interest should be the primary object of American foreign policy. For the past several decades, however, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, a recurring feature—and arguably the central focus—of US Middle East policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering US support for Israel and the related effort to spread democracy throughout the region has enflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized US security… Why has the United States adopted policies that jeopardized its own security in order to advance the interests of another state?”
To begin with, M&W accept the notion that there is a US “national interest” or even that the US is a traditional nation-state. They avoid dealing with the fact that the US is first and foremost a global empire—the first truly global empire in world history. Foreign policy debate—especially in the executive branch, but to a lesser degree in Congress as well—is concerned with the maintenance of a global empire. The situation is, mutatis mutandi, akin to that of ancient Rome, in which the citizens of one city had the right to vote for the leaders of an empire that stretched from Palestine to Caledonia. Only today, it is the citizens of one-third of a continent (North America between the Rio Grande and the 49th parallel) who vote for the leaders of an empire that essentially covers the planet, with the exception of a handful of “rogue states.” The “Latin right” and “Italian right” that defined the relatively privileged roles of subject peoples close to the Roman imperial center but still denied actual Roman citizenship are analogous to the rights of NATO and G-8 members, afforded important managerial roles in the global empire, but always under clear US leadership. The aim (largely achieved since the end of the Cold War) is a single, integrated planetary capitalist system, in which the US ruling class is assured the pre-eminent place.
The rhetoric in Washington’s corridors of power has reflected this reality rather openly at least since the formative years of the Second World War. The minutes of a series of closed meetings between the State Department and the Council on Foreign Relations beginning in 1939 explicitly charted the post-war rise of the US to the status of global empire: “…the British Empire as it existed in the past will never reappear and…the United States may have to take its place.” US leaders therefore “must cultivate a mental view toward world settlement after this war which will enable us to impose our own terms, amounting perhaps to a Pax Americana.”
As significant a turning point has been reached in the post-Cold War and especially post-9-11 era, reflected even more clearly in official rhetoric. The Cold War nomenclature of “national security” is being abandoned in favor of “global (read: imperial) security” and, most tellingly, “homeland security.” This latter formulation especially makes clear that the US continental “homeland” is perceived less as a nation-state than the seat of global governance.
As the most critical resource on the planet—that which drives the whole global leviathan in both figurative and literal terms—oil is the most imperative strategic concern of the empire. The notion of a “war for oil” has much currency in anti-war circles, but it is generally understood in imprecise and oversimplified terms. The most deluded misreading assumes that military adventures such as that in Iraq are aimed at securing cheap oil for US consumers—again, taking notions of “national security” at face value. Closer to the mark but still oversimplified is the assumption that the aim is corporate profits for the big oil companies. The Middle East military crusades are to be correctly understood—and again, as we shall see, this is stated explicitly in official parlance, albeit not that intended for public consumption—as a strategic gambit for control of oil, as the critical means of assuring continued US global pre-eminence.
Israel plays a unique role in the US-dominated global order. As the leading recipient of US aid it is by definition a client state. Although its military and economic might are disproportionate to its size and clearly decisive in a regional context, neither are sufficient to merit NATO or G-8 membership, even if these were seen as politically desirable. Yet, alone among US client states, it is afforded the relatively privileged position of our metaphorical “Latin right.” In the current US administration, it has obviously secured an especially privileged voice among imperial policy-makers.
The question of how this state of affairs has come about is a vital one, but M&W formulate it problematically from the start. Insisting on posing the query in terms of US national sovereignty, they dispense with what they call “moral” and “strategic” explanations.
M&W: “Instead, the overall thrust of US policy in the region is due primarily to US domestic politics and especially to the activities of the ‘Israel lobby.’ Other special-interest groups have managed to skew US foreign policy in directions they favored, but no lobby has managed to divert US foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US and Israeli interests are essentially identical.”
The unlikely proposition of a client state seizing control of imperial policy is taken as a fait accompli. The possibility does not even seem to have occurred to them that US elites—even if in a counter-productive strategic blunder—have perceived a convergence of US imperial and Israeli national interests at this juncture, or perceived a unique usefulness of Israel as a regional proxy. Maintaining a regional proxy (which implies a more nuanced relationship than that between the imperial center and outright puppets, such as the Cold War military dictatorships of Central America) means granting a certain degree of access to imperial power and decision-making. It does not mean a surrender of power and decision-making.
Even in cases where the privileged clients have nowhere near the degree of access to power that Israel’s ideological agents have been granted in the current administration, this error has often been evidenced. US policy on Cuba has remained essentially unchanged through both Democratic and Republican administrations since 1959. The all-too-conventional wisdom holds that this is due to the voting power of the exile establishment in Miami, and that establishment is itself encouraged to nourish the illusion of determinant influence. But the notorious Cuban American National Foundation has only won its degree of access to Washington power in the context of official concerns about the spread of the revolutionary contagion throughout Latin America, undermining US hegemony over the western hemisphere. The Miami establishment has proven its usefulness in providing a political support base for counter-revolutionary intrigues, and a pool of terrorists which the CIA has tapped not only against Fidel Castro’s regime but also against revolutionary Nicaragua in the 1980s. The notion that decisions of global strategic import are made to appease sectors of the domestic electorate is an illusion which those sectors are allowed to cultivate to ensure their loyalty and usefulness as proxies.
M&W: “Washington has given Israel wide latitude in dealing with the Occupied Territories (the West Bank and Gaza Strip), even when its actions were at odds with stated US policy.”
This is factually correct but politically meaningless. Colombia’s notoriously brutal paramilitary network, the Orwellianly-named Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AUC), has been on the US State Department’s “foreign terrorist organizations” list since 2001. The US is actually legally barred from abetting them in any way. Human rights reports have repeatedly documented the close degree of collaboration—and, in fact, personnel overlap—between the AUC and Colombia’s armed forces. Despite repeated fruitless admonishments to break ties with the AUC, the US continues to massively fund and direct the Colombian military. Colombia is the third largest recipient of US aid after Israel and Egypt. Since “Plan Colombia” was adopted in 2000, it has received some $3.5 billion in overwhelmingly military aid (about what Israel receives in a year). Some 1,000 US military advisors and contract agents closely direct the counterinsurgency war against leftist guerillas. Yet nobody has implied that Colombia has seized control of US foreign policy. It is understood that Washington is playing a hypocritical game. The admonishments and lip service to human rights serve a propaganda purpose, and no more. The actual political relationship is what matters: the AUC is a de facto extension of the Colombian military which, in turn, is an extension of US imperialism.
Arguably, Palestinian national aspirations do not pose the same threat to US imperial interests that Colombia’s restive peasantry does, especially since the Palestinian leadership has turned so thoroughly post-socialist. But Palestinians are clearly perceived by some in elite sectors as a part of the general Islamist terrorist threat, especially since the ascendance of Hamas. Israel’s ideological agents have certainly done all they can to encourage this perception. However, the manipulation is likely a two-way street: Israel is permitted a free hand with the Palestinians because it serves as a useful proxy force for US interests in other ways. Brutalization of the Palestinians is seen by some in Washington as, at best, a very small price for the maintenance of a regional “bad cop” to intimidate the Arab regimes (while the State Department itself plays “good cop”). The Israeli Defense Forces can also be seen as an extension of US imperialism, even if they have far greater autonomy than Colombia’s military. Hezbollah is certainly on the State Department terrorist list for less hypocritical reasons than the AUC, and the recent Israeli assault against Lebanon was equally certainly viewed as a proxy action by many within the Beltway. Ominously, the assault was also perceived by many in both Tel Aviv and Washington as a “test war” for an attack on Iran, a regime the US has its own overriding strategic reasons to see destabilized—about which more below.
M&W: “America’s support for Israel is, in short, unique. This extraordinary generosity might be understandable if Israel were a vital strategic asset or if there were a compelling moral case for sustained US backing. But neither rationale is convincing.”
US support for Israel is unique. Israel not only receives far more aid than any other US client, but is allowed almost perfect freedom to spend and direct non-military aid (while more traditional clients such as Colombia are obliged to earmark funds for pre-determined programs, with full accountability). But M&W’s dismissal of the “rationales” for this state of affairs reveals much about their deluded world view.
Most revealing is their apparent assumption that morality is a serious consideration in setting US foreign policy. “Every nation makes decisions based on self-interest and defends them on the basis of morality,” as the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin noted. No nation on Earth has ever been fundamentally guided by morality in its foreign policy, much less a global empire. For instance, to shore up its leadership in Europe and further reduce Russia’s influence sphere, the US launched a military campaign against Yugoslavia in the name of a supposed moral imperative to protect civilians from “ethnic cleansing” and genocide. Simultaneously, the US was underwriting and directing roughly equivalent crimes against civilian populations in Colombia—as it did in Central America not 20 years earlier, and, more directly still, in Southeast Asia not 20 years before that. Since the Iraq adventure, with its clearly fabricated justifications and its atrocities at Fallujah and Abu Ghraib, the notion of a “moral” impetus to US foreign policy is more transparent than ever.
The same naivete which is evidenced in even considering morality as an explanation for US support of Israel is equally manifested in M&W’s blithe dismissal of the “strategic asset” explanation. That the US is essentially moved in its foreign policy by strategic considerations is axiomatic and even borders on the tautological. Israel may indeed be a “strategic liability,” as M&W argue. But almost by definition, it is not perceived that way by the current administration. And, once again, rather than being hoodwinked into this perception of strategic utility by Israel’s ideological agents, it is more likely that the dominant US policy elites have granted those agents privileged access precisely because this perception already existed. It is not an either/or: obviously, the situation is self-perpetuating, like a feedback loop. But M&W can only see one side of the equation.
M&W: “Even if Israel was a strategic asset during the Cold War, the first Gulf War (1990-91) revealed that Israel was becoming a strategic burden.”
The perception that Israel is a strategic liability is growing within elite circles, and may yet result in a backlash against Israel under a future administration. But meanwhile, Israel’s perceived usefulness has outlived the Cold War. The Arab nationalism of Nasser and his emulators was not merely a threat to US interests because it was allied with the rival superpower, but also in its own right. Indeed, the nationalization of oil resources was likely a greater concern than the spread of Soviet influence even in the Cold War years. Therefore this threat has survived the Cold War. Worse still, political Islam, cultivated by Washington to undermine nationalist and communist regimes in the Cold War, has become an even more formidable threat to the one remaining superpower. Israel is especially useful because while, on one hand, it intimidates and even on occasion attacks recalcitrant regimes, it simultaneously provides the ruling elites of the Arab and Muslim worlds a scapegoat, an outside enemy on whom popular rage can be deflected. So Israel helps shore up strategic US allies in the Arab world, even while seeming to oppose them.
Elite US opinion is clearly divided between those who view Israel as a strategic proxy against Arab nationalism and radical Islam, and those who see it as a liability which paradoxically strengthens these enemies. Just as clearly, the prior tendency has the upper hand in the current administration.
M&W: “Beginning in the 1990s, and especially after 9/11, US support for Israel has been justified by the claim that both states are threatened by terrorist groups originating in the Arab or Muslim world… This new rationale seems persuasive, but Israel is, in fact, a liability in the war on terror… [S]aying that Israel and the United States are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards. Rather, the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around.”
This is a convincing argument. The problem is that M&W seem to believe either that the Bush policy-makers share this perception and are consciously acting contrary to US interests, or that, once again, they have been hoodwinked. M&W seem to dismiss even the possibility that the error is their own.
Traditionally (and for obvious reasons), that wing of the US elites most ensconced in the oil industry has been relatively closer to the Arabs, and that based in the policy think-tanks has been closer to Israel. Since 9-11, a significant portion of the prior bloc has shifted to a pro-Israel position. The apparent connivance of elements of the Saudi regime with al-Qaeda led many even in Washington’s theretofore Arabophile circles to conclude that the conservative Arab regimes were no longer reliable clients, and to switch their allegiance. It was due to this perception shift that the ideological complex M&W refer to as “the lobby” found such fertile ground. This, combined with the ideological cross-fertilization between the Beltway conservatives and their grassroots rural electoral base, with its “Christian Zionist” proclivities, accounts for the current administration’s aggressively pro-Israel posture. Note that this is largely a dynamic internal to US ruling circles—not predominantly the fruit of a “lobby.”
M&W: “As for so-called rogue states in the Middle East, they are not a dire threat to US interests, apart from the US commitment to Israel itself… President Bush admitted as much, saying earlier this year that ‘the threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel.'”
Once again, M&W display perfect blindness to the geo-strategic considerations which are propelling the US towards military aggression against Iran. Tehran’s growing sway over the Baghdad regime poses a threat to US control of Iraq and its critical oil resources. Southern Iraq, which straddles the most critical oil reserves on the planet, is already a de facto Shi’ite mini-state in Tehran’s orbit. Saddam Hussein’s 1981 invasion of Iran was undertaken, at the behest of the Gulf states and with a “green light” from Washington, precisely to keep Tehran away from these reserves. Bush’s hubristic blunder in Iraq, aimed at bringing the Persian Gulf under direct US control, has, paradoxically, only brought about precisely the reality that US policy had sought to avoid for a generation.
As if this weren’t bad enough, recent news reports indicate European Union support for an Iranian pipeline route to deliver the Caspian Basin oil resources to global markets, long proposed by Russia as an alternative to the US-favored Baku-Ceyhan route through NATO ally Turkey. The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline does not yet extend to the eastern side of the Caspian Sea, where the burgeoning Kazakh oil and gas fields are being developed. Development of the Iranian route before the Baku-Ceyhan extension to Kazakhstan is built would leave Tehran strategically positioned to control the Caspian reserves. If Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq adventures were aimed, in large part, at securing the Caspian and Persian Gulf oil reserves for US interests, both victories may now prove Pyrrhic—with the laurels going, ironically, to Axis of Evil member Iran. Worse still, once and potentially future imperial rival Russia would also be better positioned in the new Great Game for control of Eurasia.
Therefore, effecting “regime change” in Iran is a pressing strategic imperative for Washington, and the reasons have little to do with Israel. But this does not mean that Israel will not have a strategic role to play in Washington’s plans for Iran. The first element of the role is a propaganda one. In the same speech that M&W quote above, Bush also said: “I made it clear, and I’ll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally Israel.” So rather than another oil grab, itself necessitated by the counter-productive Iraq blunder, the campaign against Iran can be portrayed as the noble defense of an ally. More ominously, Israel may have a military role to play—that of throwing the first punch.
Although it has received little media attention, the current AIPAC spy scandal is closely linked to the pending aggression against Iran. The principal classified documents leaked to Israel through AIPAC concerned Pentagon strategy against Iran. They were apparently leaked by Pentagon advisor Douglas Feith’s deputy, Larry Franklin, now under indictment for spying.
Meanwhile, in comments reported in London’s Daily Telegraph of Feb. 18, 2005 under the headline “AMERICA WOULD BACK ISRAEL ATTACK ON IRAN,” Bush stated: “Clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I’d listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country, I’d be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well. And in that Israel is our ally, and in that we’ve made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if her security is threatened.”
So the scenario could well work like this: The White House goads Israel to initiate hostilities with Iran, to serve as Washington’s “attack dog,” as Israel commentator Uri Avnery put it. Then the US will be obliged to “support our ally” by jumping into the fray with overwhelming air-power. Meanwhile, as DC and Tel Aviv alike wait for the propitious moment to strike, a few AIPAC biggies and spooks are thrown to the Justice Department for show, to appease America-first nationalists and confuse the anti-war crowd about who is really playing who in this sinister game.
M&W: “Israel’s nuclear arsenal is one reason why some of its neighbors want nuclear weapons, and threatening these states with regime change merely increases that desire. Yet Israel is not much of an asset when the United States contemplates using force against these regimes, since it cannot participate in the fight.”
It is true that Israel was necessarily excluded from the coalitions assembled by the US in both operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. But just as Israel’s inclusion would have been too politically sensitive in these instances, it serves as a military proxy in situations in which direct US aggression would be too sensitive. The 2006 assault on Lebanon is the most recent example, but the pattern goes back to the 1956 war which humbled Nasser. Israel’s nuclear arsenal is tolerated by Washington despite the fact that it serves as an impetus to Iran’s nuclear ambitions because it represents the ultimate threat against the region’s recalcitrant regimes, while still allowing the US to pose as the “responsible” nuclear power whose arsenal is “permitted” by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In fact, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, presumably a response to Israel’s arsenal, also perversely serve US interests by providing a propaganda rationale for an anti-Tehran campaign mandated by other considerations: the strategic struggle for control of oil.
M&W: “A final reason to question Israel’s strategic value is that it does not act like a loyal ally. Israeli officials frequently ignore US requests and renege on promises made to top US leaders (including past pledges to halt settlement construction and to refrain from ‘targeted assassinations’ of Palestinian leaders).”
Once again, it is arbitrary for M&W to assume that these admonitions are any more serious than those made to Colombia’s government. The mere fact that Israel continues to be massively underwritten is evidence that they are not. In the case of Colombia we can assume that, admonitions notwithstanding, by continuing to unleash paramilitary terror Bogota is acting as a “loyal ally.” The case of Israel and Palestine is more complicated, but the contradictions of US policy, to the extent that they are real and not merely apparent, are more likely to reflect a division within the US ruling elites than one between those elites and foreign agents.
When M&W turn to the “dwindling moral case” for US support of Israel they finally display some refreshing cynicism:
M&W: “The United States has overthrown democratic governments in the past and supported dictators when this was thought to advance US interests, and it has good relations with a number of dictatorships today. Thus, being democratic neither justifies nor explains America’s support for Israel.”
They are certainly correct that moral considerations cannot “explain” US support for Israel, but their astonishing use of the word “justifies” reveals that, despite all their prattle about morality, they embrace the Machiavellian precepts of amoral statecraft.
When M&W address the notion that US support for Israel is warranted as “compensation for past crimes” against Jews, they become still more confused:
M&W: “There is no question that Jews suffered greatly from the despicable legacy of antisemitism [sic], and that Israel’s creation was an appropriate response to a long record of crimes. This history, as noted, provides a strong moral case for supporting Israel’s existence. Israel’s founding was also consistent with Americas’s general commitment to national self-determination. But the creation of Israel also involved additional crimes against a largely innocent party: the Palestinians.”
The establishment of Israel was an “appropriate response”—and not merely to the Holocaust, which arguably made it an inevitability in the aftermath of World War II, but to a “long record of crimes.” Yet they go on to document, persuasively if briefly, that the ethnic cleansing of the 1948 Naqba was a necessary concomitant of the establishment of a Jewish state. They do not seem disturbed by the contradiction.
This intellectual messiness becomes more blatant as M&W begin to directly address the issue they have thus far been tip-toeing around: anti-Semitism (which they insist on rendering in the lower case).
M&W: “If neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America’s support for Israel, how are we to explain it? The explanation lies in the political power of the Israel lobby. Were it not for the lobby’s ability to work effectively within the American political system, the relationship between Israel and the United States would be far less intimate than it is today.”
They have the equation precisely reversed. The intimate relationship is a result of geopolitical considerations; the special status afforded the lobby in Washington is a product, not a cause, of that relationship. M&W are obviously intimidated by the charge of anti-Semitism “The lobby is not a cabal or conspiracy,” they write. And: “To repeat: the lobby’s activities are not the sort of conspiracy depicted in antisemitic tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” But these caveats ring hollow when they portray a vast and successful effort to “bend US foreign policy.”
M&W: “AIPAC prizes its reputation as a formidable adversary, of course, because this discourages anyone from questioning its agenda.”
This is the most ironic line in the piece. Everything M&W write merely plays into the image of AIPAC as a “formidable adversary.” Their section on “Manipulating the Media” begins with the statement that “the lobby strives to shape public perceptions about Israel and the Middle East.” But they go on to portray a wide pattern of media bias. They quote Robert Bartley, the late editor of the Wall Street Journal: “Shamir, Sharon, Bibi—whatever those guys want is pretty much fine by me.” And former New York Times executive editor Max Frankel: “I was much more deeply devoted to Israel than I dared to assert.” If this is the leadership of, at least, the East Coast establishment press, “manipulating the media” would seem utterly superfluous. M&W portray what would appear to be an ingrained cultural phenomenon precisely as a “conspiracy.”
In the section entitled “The Great Silencer,” they cut to the chase, anticipating that their critique will be met with charges of anti-Semitism:
M&W: “Anyone who criticizes Israeli actions or says that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle East policy—an influence that AIPAC celebrates—stands a good chance of getting labeled an antisemite… In effect, the lobby boasts of its own power and then attacks anyone who calls attention to it This tactic is very effective; antisemitism is loathsome, and no responsible person wants to be accused of it.”
No responsible person wants to be accused of anti-Semitism, but being truly responsible (morally and intellectually) means not being intimidated into silence by disingenuous charges of anti-Semitism. The critical point M&W overlook is that irresponsible people don’t want to be accused of anti-Semitism either! Just because the charge of anti-Semitism is used cynically doesn’t mean real anti-Semitism doesn’t exist. Anti-Zionism really does serve as an acceptable cloak for genuine anti-Semites. Israel’s increasingly atrocious actions have made this cloak all the more effective, which helps account for the current upsurge of global anti-Semitism. M&W seek to minimize or actually deny this upsurge, which is the surest sign of their bad faith. Anti-Zionists repeat like a mantra that “anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism,” but a lack of concern with real anti-Semitism is the surest way to tell the difference.
M&W: “[I]n the spring of 2004, when accusations of European antisemitism filled the air in America, separate surveys of European public opinion conducted by the Anti-Defamation League and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed that it was actually declining.”
In that same spring of 2002, M&W fail to mention, a report by the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) found that attacks on Jews had increased in several European Union states. “There has been an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in five EU countries,” the EUMC said, citing France, Belgium, the Netherlands, UK and Germany. “Although it is not easy to generalize, the largest group of perpetrators…appears to be young, disaffected white Europeans.”
So as Jews are knifed and beaten (even, in one instance, at an “anti-war” rally in Paris!), synagogues torched and cemeteries desecrated, M&W are reassured by a survey in which disproportionately comfortable and middle-class citizens say “no” when asked by a phone jockey something akin to “Are you an anti-Semite?” They seem not to realize that polls exist to create public opinion, not reflect it. The survey they cite was likely an (utterly misguided) attempt to combat anti-Semitism by portraying it as marginal. The results belie the grisly facts, which point to a major resurgence of anti-Semitism which has been underway worldwide since 9-11.
M&W: “According to a recent article in Ha’aretz, the French police report that antisemitic incidents in France declined by almost 50 percent in 2005, despite the fact that France has the largest Muslim population of any country in Europe.”
Could be, but given the paroxysm of anti-Semitic violence in France that began in the spring of 2003, one wonders if this report even indicates that the attacks are back down to 2002 levels. And given the fresh upsurge in 2006 (which included the torture-killing of a Parisian Jew), one wonders if the statistics have not shot back up.
M&W: “Finally, when a French Jew was brutally murdered by a Muslim gang in February 2006, tens of thousands of French demonstrators poured into the streets to condemn antisemitism.”
The vociferous condemnation of the attack was certainly a very hopeful sign, but it is wildly ironic for M&W to cite it as evidence against an anti-Semitic upsurge. By definition, the French men and women who took to the streets after the attack were not so complacent as M&W about the threat of anti-Semitism! It is reasonable to assume most would object to their paradoxical invocation in such an argument, and would at least question M&W’s assertion that resurgent anti-Semitism “is worrisome, but it is hardly out of control.”
Alarmist overstatements are, of course, presented as easy strawmen to knock down. For instance, the US ambassador to the European Union apparently said in 2004 that the continent was “getting to a point where it is as bad as it was in the 1930s.” But M&W’s refutation is nearly as deluded as the statement itself. They write that “when it comes to antisemitism, Europe today bears hardly any resemblance to Europe in the 1930s,” seemingly blind to the ominous if imperfect parallels. “This is why pro-Israel forces, when pressed to go beyond assertion, claim that there is a ‘new antisemitism,’ which they equate with criticism of Israel.”
Claims that “anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism” do indeed dangerously muddy the water. But they are made out a desire to conflate the two phenomena so as to delegitimize the prior—not out of a desperation to find evidence of the latter! Ironically, the quote from the ambassador is footnoted to a January 2005 article in The Nation by Tony Judt in which he, likewise trying to lull his readers into complacency, argues that contemporary Jew-hatred in Europe arises mostly from Muslim immigrants with legitimate grievances against Israel and is therefore not “your grandfather’s anti-Semitism.” In other words, it must be a “new anti-Semitism”!
The incessant hair-splitting about “new” (Muslim, anti-Israel) and “old” (European, classical) anti-Semitism is almost always an attempt to portray the problem as (in Judt’s shameful word) “illusory.” There is a clear continuity between the two anti-Semitisms. The contemporary Islamist embrace of classical European anti-Semitism (in which Jews are all-powerful, corrupting, uniquely sinister) is a direct result of Zionism, and there is no contradiction between recognizing the phenomenon and the phenomenon that fuels it. It is also true that there really were rich Jewish bankers and industrialists in Weimar Germany. This didn’t make Nazism any less of a threat.
Such willful denial only weakens anti-Zionism. That charges of anti-Semitism are used, for instance, against calls for economic sanctions on Israel is predictable, and to be condemned. But equivocating on the reality of anti-Semitism undermines and even delegitimizes the condemnation.
M&W: “One reason for the lobby’s success with Congress is that some key members are ‘Christian Zionists’ like Dick Armey, who said in September 2002, ‘My number-one priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel.’ One would think that the number-one priority for any congressman would be to ‘protect America,’ but that is not what Armey said.”
Again recalling Hamlet’s “methinks (they) doth protest too much,” M&W present a cursory condemnation of the “antsemitic canard” of “dual loyalty”—and then go on to embrace precisely this canard! Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations is quoted as saying, “I devote myself to the security of the Jewish state.” With the Armey quote, they even portray this contagion as spreading to gentiles, recalling Hitler’s warnings of Germany becoming “judaized.”
After all their perfunctory disavowals of “conspiracy” theories and “dual loyalty” canards, M&W entitle their final section, apparently without irony, “The Tail Wagging the Dog.” As an example, they recall Bush’s efforts in the aftermath of 9-11 to rein in Israel’s expansionist policies in order to undermine support for extremism in the Islamic world. But in the months to come, this policy collapsed. By February 2003, a Washington Post headline read: “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.” M&W conclude: “The lobby’s influence was a central part of this switch.”
Congress evidenced the tilt first, with a May 2002 resolution stating that the US “stands in solidarity with Israel,” and that the US and Israel are “now engaged in a common struggle against terrorism.” M&W appear to attribute this shift to commentary by Robert Kagan and William Kristol in The Weekly Standard which attacked State Department efforts to rein in Israel as a terror war betrayal.
Before long, the White House itself was “caving,” in M&W’s word. “In short, Sharon and the lobby took on the president of the United States and triumphed.” They agree with former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft that Sharon has President Bush “wrapped around his little finger.”
It does not even occur to M&W that the seeming division between that wing of the ruling elites represented by Scowcroft and the State Department and the rival tendency represented by the incumbent Bush and Israel’s Congressional supporters exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium, in which one or the other may have the upper hand for a few months or years until, as in the stock market, a “correction” occurs. This serves not only to balance rival currents within the US elites, but also among their Middle East clients. In the 1980s, the US “tilted” to either Iraq or Iran in order to prolong their grueling war. Similarly, a strategic tilt to Israel is mandated when it is perceived the Arabs must be intimidated—and this perception has been widespread since 9-11. But dynamics internal to US elites and their imperial interests are invisible to M&W; everything is due to external “influence” from “the lobby.”
M&W: “Pressure from Israel and the lobby was not the only factor behind the US decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a critical element. Some Americans believe this was a ‘war for oil,’ but there is hardly any evidence to support this claim. Instead the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure.”
If M&W fail to see evidence for a “war for oil” it is because they are not looking for it. You don’t have to probe too deeply to find evidence galore that the Iraq adventure is “critically” a war for strategic global control of oil, and only secondarily (at best) a war for Israel.
In the immediate prelude to the 2003 invasion, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Staw acknowledged in an address to British diplomats that the Foreign Office had established a series of strategic policy objectives, including “to bolster the security of British and global energy supplies.” The point was made with greater accuracy in “Rebuilding America’s Defences: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” the 2000 blueprint for the creation of a “global Pax Americana” drawn up by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) for Dick Cheney (now vice-president), Donald Rumsfeld (now defense secretary), Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld’s ex-deputy), George W Bush’s younger brother Jeb and Lewis Libby (Cheney’s ex-chief of staff). The document stated: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” Control of the strategic Persian Gulf oil resources was seen as key to “maintaining global US pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.”
As some commentators recalled at the time of its release, the PNAC blueprint echoed an earlier document drawn up by Wolfowitz and Libby for the Pentagon in 1992 that said the US must “discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” The 1992 “Defense Planning Guide” stated: “In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve US and Western access to the region’s oil.” (Washington Post, March 11, 1992)
In the prelude of the Iraq invasion, the US Agency for International Development and Treasury Department drew up a policy document on Iraq which laid out a wide-ranging plan for a “Mass Privatization Program…especially in the oil and supporting industries.” This was apparently the plan being followed in the fall of 2002, months before the invasion, when the Pentagon retained Philip Carroll, a former Shell Oil CEO in Texas, to draft a strategy for developing Iraqi oil. Shell, ChevronTexaco and other majors are already working for free on technical and training projects in the Iraqi oilfields to get a “foot in the door” as US-installed Iraqi officials are drafting a law to allow private investment in the oil industry, which had been nationalized 1972.
Opponents of the “war for oil” thesis point out that Exxon and its ilk are not exploiting Iraq’s oil. And they aren’t—due to incessant guerilla sabotage of Iraq’s oil infrastructure, general social chaos, and provisions in the new constitution mandating continued state control of existing oil fields (while allowing foreign corporate control of the undeveloped fields, the big majority). These provisions for a degree of continued state control of the oil are a sop to the Iraqi people, a necessary compromise to allow the client regime to stay in power (however precariously). However, Exxon and their ilk are making a mint from war-inflated prices. Exxon’s 2005 net profits of $36.1 billion broke all records.
But the war is not fundamentally about a windfall for Exxon any more than it is protecting Israel. The fundamental imperative is preserving and extending US global dominance. It is less about “getting” Iraq’s oil for Exxon or US consumers, than keeping it off the global market, so that it won’t be used by an imperial rival such as Russia or China, or even an upstart Islamic state, to beef up military and industrial power. It is a means to prevent “advanced industrial nations from challenging [US] leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” So even the social chaos and insurgent attacks on oil infrastructure do not impede this imperative.
M&W: “According to Philip Zelikow, a former member of the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, and now a counsellor to Condoleezza Rice, the ‘real threat’ from Iraq was not a threat to the United States. The ‘unstated threat’ was the ‘threat against Israel‚’ Zelikow told an audience at the University of Virginia in September 2002. ‘The American government,’ he added, ‘doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell.'”
When the above quote was first reported in the press, one astute observer commented on a Jewish anti-occupation list-serve: “How convenient: the Bush administration is under attack because of its war on Iraq, and it blames the war on the Jews! And its own mole on the 9-11 Commission, who should not be there because he is one of the suspicious persons that the Commission should be investigating, makes the charges. This smells like disinformation to me, and a very dangerous version.”
M&W: “We do not have the full story yet, but scholars like [Bernard] Lewis and Fouad Ajami of John Hopkins University reportedly played key roles in convincing Vice President Cheney to favor the war. Cheney’s views were also heavily influenced by the neoconservatives on his staff, especially Eric Edelman, John Hannah and chief of staff [Lewis] Libby, one of the most powerful individuals in the administration.”
And on it goes. M&W usefully dissect the ideological complex that came together for the Iraq war. But they cannot discriminate between Israeli efforts to sway the administration and efforts by the administration, together with Israel, to sway the public, or at least those sectors of the public monied and influential enough to matter. The pro-war opinion pieces placed by current and former Israeli leaders in the US press (Ehud Barak in the New York Times, Benjamin Netanyahu in the Wall Street Journal) are examples of the latter, not the former. They are closer to the mark when they cite the open letters signed by JINSA and WINEP figures calling for Clinton to take action against Iraq, and note how figures from these organizations found their way under the Bush administration into elite Pentagon bodies such as the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group and Office of Special Plans. The two key figures in these bodies were, respectively, David Wurmser and Abram Shulsky. Wurmser, with fellow Pentagon civilian policy analysts Douglas Feith and Richard Perle, had authored the “Clean Break” report in 1996 for incoming Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which called for him to abandon the notion of land-for-peace. This section provides a worthwhile study, but again M&W cannot conceive that these figures were granted access because Rumsfeld and Cheney favored their agenda for their own purposes. They can only portray red-blooded but gullible Americans getting hoodwinked by wiley Jews.
M&W: “Barry Jacobs of the American Jewish Committee acknowledged in March 2005 that the belief that Israel and the neoconservatives conspired to get the United States into a war in Iraq was ‘pervasive’ in the US intelligence community.”
Note use of the loaded word “acknowledged,” which implicitly assigns the imprimatur of truth to this perception. In fact, Jacobs is speaking of his perceptions of other peoples’ perceptions: the “lobby,” with its delusions that it controls US policy, and the “intelligence community,” with its perpetual paranoia about contaminating foreign agents. This quote says very little indeed about reality.
M&W are correct to warn of the Bush administration’s “dreams of regional transformation.” Ironically, they point to the same Wall Street Journal they so recently portrayed as a tool of Israeli “influence” to back up their contention that these dreams originated in an Israeli vision of a transformed Middle East. A headline in the paper’s March 21, 2003 edition read: “President’s Dream: Changing Not Just a Regime but a Region: A Pro-US, Democratic Area Is a Goal That Has Israeli and Neoconservative Roots.”
The first moves towards this new order were seen with the embrace of a “dual containment” strategy, in which the US would introduce massive military forces to police the Persian Gulf against both Iraq and Iran, rather than playing one against the other as in the ’80s. M&W trace this policy to a May 1993 study for WINEP conducted by Martin Indyk. But given that this was after Saddam had proved himself a completely untrustworthy client with the Kuwait invasion of August 1990, this transition was inevitable in any case.
M&W fear, with very good reason, that Syria and/or Iran will be next. They present a series of ominous quotes that emanated from the neocon ideological complex in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq invasion. Wolfowitz: “There has got to be regime change in Syria.” Perle: “We could deliver a short message, a two-word message [to other hostile regimes in the Middle East]: ‘You’re next’.” An April 2003 WINEP report: Syria “should not miss the message that countries that pursue Saddam’s reckless, irresponsible and defiant behavior could end up sharing his fate.” It was also in this heady period that Congress passed the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, threatening sanctions if Syria did not withdraw from Lebanon.
M&W: “Congress insisted on putting the screws to Damascus, largely in response to pressure from Israeli officials and pro-Israel groups like AIPAC. If there were no lobby, there would have been no Syria Accountability Act, and US policy toward Damascus would have been more in line with the US national interest.”
Rather than “bully” Syria, giving Damascus “a powerful incentive to cause trouble in Iraq,” M&W would groom Bashir Assad’s torture state as a terror war ally, and in fact praise it for cooperating with the CIA against al-Qaeda, including giving “CIA interrogators access” to prisoners. From the standpoint of human freedom, both of these policies—military aggression against Syria, or cultivating it as a proxy state—are atrocious. Which one is in the US “national (read: imperial) interest” is a matter of interpretation.
M&W: “AIPAC and its allies (including Christian Zionists) have no serious opposition in the struggle for influence in Washington.”
And yet, despite their supposed marginalization, M&W can rely on quotes in defense of their position from the likes of Brent Scowcroft. The Council on Foreign Relations, the forum in which US elites have hashed out policy debates for two generations, runs a favorable review of M&W’s work in the September-October 2006 issue of its journal Foreign Affairs, absolving them of both sloppy scholarship and anti-Semitism, and urging: “May the storm kicked up by this article rage on.”
M&W do concede: “Yet there is still a ray of hope. Although the lobby remains a powerful force, the adverse effects of its influence are increasingly difficult to hide.” They concede that Washington’s blank check for Israeli expansionism may ultimately not be in Israel’s own national interest, perpetuating the Palestinian conflict and playing into the hands of extremists. Here they make a valid point—but even this is formulated problematically:
M&W: “Thanks to the lobby, the United States has become the de facto enabler of Israeli expansionism in the Occupied Territories, making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians. The situation undercuts Washington’s efforts to promote democracy abroad and makes it look hypocritical when it presses other states to respect human rights.”
We can quibble with the “thanks to the lobby” line, but more important is the notion that “human rights” or “democracy” are in the US “national interest,” or that Washington’s efforts to promote them are honest. The US exploits these issues to pry open closed economies and expand “free markets”; it is just as quick to underwrite the most brutal regimes when it is perceived that this serves imperial interests—as it is evidently perceived in the case of Israel. And after Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, we needn’t even look so far as Washington’s underwriting of Israel (or Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Colombia) for evidence of US hypocrisy.
The W&M thesis is profoundly flawed. The notion of a client state seizing control of the military and foreign policy apparatus of an empire has no remote analogue in human history. To find even a highly imperfect parallel we have to delve beyond the modern era, to the usurpation of power in the Abbasid Caliphate by the Seljuk Turkish military slave caste in the 12th century, and the later similar usurpation by the Mamluks in Egypt. But this nearly reverses the analogy, as the Seljuks and Mamluks climbed to power by serving as a fighting force for their imperial masters, as W&M argue the US does for Israel. It is true that Rome eventually came under the rule of emperors drawn from conquered peoples, such as Diocletian, an Illyrian. But Diocletian ruled in the imperial interests of Rome, not the inimical interests of his native Illyria. This is more analogous to the descendants of slaves finding their way into the US ruling circles, like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
Yet even the anti-war left increasingly chases after shadows like the supposed Zionist conspiracy, abandoning principles of anti-imperialism. They ironically abet Bush’s own propaganda in this error. Every time Bush invokes the need to protect Israel as a justification for his military adventures, the implicit message is sent that it is powerful Jews who are going to make him sacrifice the sons and daughters of the US working class on the killing fields of the Middle East. This propaganda makes it more likely that the eventual backlash against Israel will be in the context of a backlash against Jews.
Many Jews were doubtless happy at Harvard’s capitulation on the M&W essay. They shouldn’t be. It merely confirms the myth of Jewish power in the minds of the Judeophobes. M&W’s arguments should be repudiated—not silenced through intimidation. Censorship of bad speech is worse than censorship of good speech, because it paradoxically legitimizes it. In this case, the intimidation only serves to “prove” M&W’s point—for those who do not understand the historical function of anti-Semitism. Without such blatant displays of capitulation to Jewish “influence,” Jews would not make credible scapegoats in times of crisis.
Nothing could be worse for this already bad situation than Harvard’s disavowal of the study. This not only entrenches anti-Semitic paranoia, but (perhaps even worse) also entrenches Jewish “pronoia”—the illusion that the imperial power structure will protect real Jewish interests when push comes to shove. The more deeply these twin illusions are entrenched the uglier the backlash will be when it comes. And it is coming. The M&W study was the first sign.
The tradition of nativist xenophobia in American political culture goes back to the very roots of the republic. One early exemplar was George Washington’s warning of the “insidious wiles of foreign influence” in his 1796 farewell address:
“[A] passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification…. Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial, else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests.”
Washington was speaking, in barely veiled terms, of the threat from revolutionary France. His successor John Adams would instate the draconian Alien and Sedition Acts to combat this perceived foreign contagion, and bring the country close to war. But the Francophile wing of the ruling elites would recoup their losses with the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800, overturning the repressive legislation and mending fences with Paris.
Similarly, that wing of the contemporary ruling elites represented by Brent Scowcroft (and M&W) will doubtless recoup their losses eventually. Israel’s ideological complex is not likely to maintain its privileged position indefinitely. Perhaps there will even, eventually, be an aid cut-off and economic sanctions against Israel. But will this happen in the context of a global de-escalation, including justice and real self-determination for Palestine—or an orgy of anti-Jewish hatred which will only play into the hands of Israel’s advocates of “transfer,” finishing off the work of ethnic cleansing that began in 1948? The answer depends, in large part, on how accurately and usefully progressive forces can frame the debate today.
Marx was certainly subject to his own limitations, but his indispensable insights are the baby being thrown out with the bath-water on this post-ideological planet. It is still true: base determines superstructure. The global economy runs on oil, and the uniquely privileged place of the US ruling class in the global order is predicated on continued global control of oil. AIPAC and the neocons are indeed indispensably complicit in creating propaganda for the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) which is really a struggle for imperial control of the planet’s hydrocarbon resources, and they should not be let off the hook. But their ethnicity, and the imperative to protect their client state, are no more the fundamental reasons for the current hyper-interventionism than is chasing down al-Qaeda. Does this mean that either the Zionists or jihadists are irrelevant to the GWOT? By no means. But their role can only be appropriately viewed in the context of a strategic struggle for control of oil and continued US global hegemony.
“The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt Middle East Policy, Fall 2006 (PDF)
Review of “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” by L. Carl Brown Foreign Affairs, September-October 2006
US State Department on George Washington’s 1796 farewell address
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