Bernie Sanders’s Refreshingly Sane Foreign Policy

In his speech last week, Sanders said what every presidential candidate ought to say about ISIS and the Middle East.

Source: AlterNet

Author:Sean Illing / Salon


How Bush & Cheney’s ‘Cowboy Diplomacy’ Provoked Iran’s Nuclear Growth

This is a major achievement that we cannot let Republican war-hawks derail.


Author: Colin Taylor

Emphasis Mine

President Obama achieved a historic victory this week by signing a deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions while enabling the isolated nation to rejoin the international community. Republicans across the board erupted in fury without even reading the bill, so ingrained is the knee-jerk automatic rejection of anything President Obama says or does. Some even came out of the woodwork, like former Vice President and admitted war criminal Dick Cheney, who decided it was time to rear his ugly head up once again and criticize our President for rectifying a crisis which was his fault.

For it was under the George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s adminstration that Iran drastically expanded their nuclear program. The Islamic Republic of Iran had 164 centrifuges in 2003, and wanted to negotiate in order to get the sanctions that have been crippling their economy and stunting the growth of their middle class– which coincidentally repressed the growth of civil society and helped keep the theocratic regime secure. Cheney responded that “We don’t talk to evil,” and threatened war and more sanctions. In response to the disrespectful offer, Iran began drastically expanding their nuclear program. Just two years later, the Iranians had constructed 5,000 centrifuges, and had built 8,000 by the end of the Bush Administration.

Jon Chait of NY Mag notes that using Cheney’s own logic that he attempts to smear Obama with paints a very different picture of Cheney’s vendetta against Iran: “What’s more, the expansion of Iran’s power under Bush was not limited to the blossoming of its nuclear program. In 2003, an extremely hostile neighboring regime (that had launched a war against it two decades before) was deposed, creating a power vacuum that Iran filled. Cheney seems to have played a role there. A Cheney-style analysis of the Bush administration’s Iran policy would conclude that it was carrying out a deliberate plan to elevate Iran’s standing.”

What’s more, Cheney and the rest of the jingoist hyper-nationalists in the Republican Party are utterly off the mark with their fear-mongering statements and doomsday prophecies. “This is the first time that the number of centrifuges Iran operates will have been reduced. No other policy has achieved this. The critics can’t touch this.” writes Trita Parsi. “The critics said Iran would never honor its word. They were wrong. The IAEA has consistently attested that both the United States and Iran have lived up to their commitments.” Iran has wanted to negotiate and was willing to roll back their program the whole time, but Bush and Cheney never wanted to negotiate- so once again, President Obama had to clean up their mess.

This is a major achievement that we cannot let Republican war-hawks derail. Cheney must not be allowed to re-write the narrative and let the world forget that the Iranian nuclear program is just another entry on his long list of failures and crimes. The Republican Party cannot see anything beyond their desperate hunger for the White House, and will say and do anything in their ham-fisted efforts to grasp it. We cannot let the people who have already done so much damage to our nation and to stability in the world get away with their crimes, and we cannot let them torpedo this bright opportunity for a better future- not only for us, but potentially for the rest of the world.

The Middle East is on Fire, Thanks to US!

The scholar speaks about America’s past foreign policy blunders and the failures of the mainstream media.

Source: Jacobin, via AlterNet

Author:Dan Falcone and Saul Isaacson / Jacobin


The U.S. in the Middle East: A Remarkably Rich Menu of Foreign-Policy Failures

n a recent speech, noted retired U.S. diplomat, Charles Freeman Jr., offers a frank assessment of the “remarkably rich menu of U.S. foreign-policy failures” in the Middle East. Most, he says, are due to America’s noisy but strategy-free approach, adding, “don’t just sit there, bomb something” isn’t much of a strategy. But, to cure the dysfunction in U.S. Middle East policy, Freeman says, we must cure the dysfunction and venality of our politics.

Source: PortSide

Author: Charles Freeman

Emphasis Mine

I want to speak with you today about the Middle East. This is the region where Africa, Asia, and Europe come together. It is also the part of the world where we have been most compellingly reminded that some struggles cannot be won, but there are no struggles that cannot be lost.

It is often said that human beings learn little useful from success but can learn a great deal from defeat. If so, the Middle East now offers a remarkably rich menu of foreign-policy failures for Americans to study.

• Our four-decade-long diplomatic effort to bring peace to the Holy Land sputtered to an ignominious conclusion a year ago.

Our unconditional political, economic, and military backing of Israel has earned us the enmity of Israel’s enemies even as it has enabled egregiously contemptuous expressions of ingratitude and disrespect for us from Israel itself.

• Our attempts to contain the Iranian revolution have instead empowered it.

Our military campaigns to pacify the region have destabilized it, dismantled its states, and ignited ferocious wars of religion among its peoples.

• Our efforts to democratize Arab societies have helped to produce anarchy, terrorism, dictatorship, or an indecisive juxtaposition of all three.

In Iraq, Libya, and Syria we have shown that war does not decide who’s right so much as determine who’s left.

• Our campaign against terrorism with global reach has multiplied our enemies and continuously expanded their areas of operation.

• Our opposition to nuclear proliferation did not prevent Israel from clandestinely developing nuclear weapons and related delivery systems and may not preclude Iran and others from following suit.

• At the global level, our policies in the Middle East have damaged our prestige, weakened our alliances, and gained us a reputation for militaristic fecklessness in the conduct of our foreign affairs. They have also distracted us from challenges elsewhere of equal or greater importance to our national interests.

That’s quite a record.

One can only measure success or failure by reference to what one is trying to achieve. So, in practice, what have U.S. objectives been? Are these objectives still valid? If we’ve failed to advance them, what went wrong? What must we do now to have a better chance of success?

Our objectives in the Middle East have not changed much over the course of the past half century or more. We have sought to

1. Gain acceptance and security for a Jewish homeland from the other states and peoples of the region;
2. Ensure the uninterrupted availability of the region’s energy supplies to sustain global and U.S. security and prosperity;
3. Preserve our ability to transit the region so as to be able to project power around the world;
4. Prevent the rise of a regional hegemon or the deployment of weapons of mass destruction that might threaten any or all of these first three objectives;
5. Maximize profitable commerce; and
6. Promote stability while enhancing respect for human rights and progress toward constitutional democracy.

Let’s briefly review what’s happened with respect to each of these objectives. I will not mince words.

Israel has come to enjoy military supremacy but it remains excluded from most participation in its region’s political, economic, and cultural life. In the 67 years since the Jewish state was proclaimed, Israel has not made a single friend in the Middle East, where it continues to be regarded as an illegitimate legacy of Western imperialism engaged in racist removal of the indigenous population. International support for Israel is down to the United States and a few of the former colonial powers that originally imposed the Zionist project on the Arabs under Sykes-Picot and the related Balfour Declaration. The two-state solution has expired as a physical or political possibility. There is no longer any peace process to distract global attention from Israel’s maltreatment of its captive Arab populations.

After years of deference to American diplomacy, the Palestinians are about to challenge the legality of Israel’s cruelties to them in the International Criminal Court and other venues in which Americans have no veto, are not present, or cannot protect the Jewish state from the consequences of its own behavior as we have always been able to do in the past. Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza are fueling a drive to boycott its products, disinvest in its companies, and sanction its political and cultural elite. These trends are the very opposite of what the United States has attempted to achieve for Israel.

In a stunning demonstration of his country’s most famous renewable resource — chutzpah — Israel’s Prime Minister chose this very moment to make America the main issue in his reelection campaign while simultaneously transforming Israel into a partisan issue in the United States. This is the very opposite of a sound survival strategy for Israel. Uncertainties about their country’s future are leading many Israelis to emigrate, not just to America but to Europe. This should disturb not just Israelis but Americans, if only because of the enormous investment we have made in attempts to gain a secure place for Israel in its region and the world. The Palestinians have been silent about Mr. Netanyahu’s recent political maneuvers. Evidently, they recall Napoleon’s adage that one should never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake.

This brings me to an awkward but transcendently important issue. Israel was established as a haven from anti-Semitism — Jew hatred — in Europe, a disease of nationalism and Christian culture that culminated in the Holocaust. Israel’s creation was a relief for European Jews but a disaster for the Arabs of Palestine, who were either ethnically cleansed by European Jewish settlers or subjugated, or both.  But the birth of Israel also proved tragic for Jews throughout the Middle East — the Mizrahim.

In a nasty irony, the implementation of Zionism in the Holy Land led to the introduction of European-style anti-Semitism — including its classic Christian libels on Jews — to the region, dividing Arab Jews from their Muslim neighbors as never before and compelling them to join European Jews in taking refuge in Israel amidst outrage over the dispossession of Palestinians from their homeland. Now, in a further irony, Israel’s pogroms and other injustices to the Muslim and Christian Arabs over whom it rules are leading not just to a rebirth of anti-Semitism in Europe but to its globalization.

The late King `Abdullah of Saudi Arabia engineered a reversal of decades of Arab rejectionism at Beirut in 2002. He brought all Arab countries and later all 57 Muslim countries to agree to normalize relations with Israel if it did a deal — any deal — with the Palestinians that the latter could accept. Israel spurned the offer. Its working assumption seems to be that it does not need peace with its neighbors as long as it can bomb and strafe them. Proceeding on this basis is not just a bad bet, it is one that is dividing Israel from the world, including Jews outside Israel. This does not look like a story with a happy ending.

It’s hard to avoid the thought that Zionism is turning out to be bad for the Jews. If so, given the American investment in it, it will also have turned out to be bad for America. The political costs to America of support for Israel are steadily rising. We must find a way to divert Israel from the largely self-engineered isolation into which it is driving itself, while repairing our own increasing international ostracism on issues related to Israel.

Let me turn, very briefly, to the second U.S. objective in the region, security of access to energy supplies. Triumphalist nonsense about North American energy independence has just suffered a major comeuppance, as Saudi Arabia has shown its capacity to let oversupply rip, bankrupting or sidelining frackers and forcing mass layoffs in our previously booming oil and gas industry. The Middle East, where two-thirds of global fossil fuel reserves are located, still matters.

The question, therefore, is not whether untrammeled access to the energy resources of the Persian Gulf is essential to global prosperity. It is. Rather, it is whether the United States should or even could indefinitely bear the sole burden of ensuring access to Gulf energy resources on our own. Should we seek to share responsibility for assuring energy security with Europe and countries like China, India, Japan, and Korea that are far more dependent on Middle East oil than we are? Current U.S. policy assumes that “no” is the answer. Watch that space!

The third U.S. objective, sustaining freedom of transit through the region, is more subtle still. Tens of thousands of U.S. military flights transit Saudi and Egyptian airspace annually en route between Europe and Asia. Flight clearance is a fundamental privilege of sovereignty. It is done  in the region on an incredibly labor-intensive ad hoc basis. There are no agreements obligating countries there to grant it. The prevailing overflight regime reflects relationships with the countries of the region that are now fraying. Transit is not currently in jeopardy but it cannot be counted upon. Every once in a while, to remind us of this reality, the Saudis refuse permission for overflight. These refusals remind us of the importance to our position as a world power of cordial relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the other countries of the Red Sea-Persian Gulf area.

Our fourth objective has been preventing the rise of a serious threat to Israel, energy flows, or freedom of navigation through the region’s air and sea space.

First: a little history.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and regional allies like Egypt and Syria seemed to pose such a threat. The United States balanced it with our own security partnerships. In 1964, we dropped our arms embargo on Israel. Nine years later, in 1973, we delivered massive military assistance to Israel to enable it to avoid defeat in war with Egypt and Syria. We have since become committed to sustaining Israel’s military supremacy in the region. To keep Egypt at peace with Israel, since 1979 we have provided it with generous subsidies. In 1994, we added Jordan to this equation.

After the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, we first bolstered Saudi Arabia as a counter to the Islamic Republic of Iran and then helped Iraq avoid defeat in its eight-year war with Iran. In 1990, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq annexed Kuwait and threatened to dominate the region and hence global oil prices, we and the Saudis organized coalitions including Egypt, Pakistan, and Syria to dislodge Iraq from Kuwait, reduce its power to levels that Iran could balance, and thus end the threat it posed to the Gulf Arab states. So far so good.

But in 1993, the Clinton Administration abruptly abandoned the effort to use Iraq to balance Iran. Instead, it proclaimed a policy of “dual containment,” under which Washington undertook unilaterally to balance both Baghdad and Tehran simultaneously. This made sense in terms of our interest in protecting Israel from either Iraq or Iran, but it placed the primary burden of defending Persian Gulf energy resources on the United States rather than on the Gulf Arabs or the international community. It secured a place for U.S. forces astride the routes between Asia and Europe. But it also required the creation of a long-term U.S. military presence in the Gulf Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom was strapped for cash but we wanted  it to pay for our presence and, amidst popular resentment, it did. The stationing of U.S. troops on soil considered by many Muslims to be sacred and off-limits to unbelievers was a political irritant that helped stimulate the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

A fully justified and brilliantly executed U.S. punitive raid on al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan somehow morphed into a military campaign to pacify Afghanistan and save it from militant Islam. Most Muslims, like the rest of the world, stood with Americans on 9/11. We have long since squandered that support. Over time, we began to kill Muslims we suspected of opposing us with drones — remote-controlled robots that rain death from the sky, killing militants along with their families, friends, and coreligionists as well as innocent bystanders.  The practical effect of this is that we kill one (possible) terrorist and get ten free.

Meanwhile, our invasion of Iraq in 2003 accomplished none of its declared objectives but ended domestic tranquility in that country and resulted in a huge number of Arab deaths. No country, other than Israel, had urged us to attack Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction were found there. We were not welcomed as liberators. We staged elections but did not transform the country into a democracy. Iraq neither embraced Israel nor became our ally. In 2011, at Iraqi insistence, we withdrew, leaving behind a divided, shattered, and embittered country. We not only failed to impress the world with our power, as the proponents of the war hoped we would, we demonstrated our limitations. We showed that our military can defeat armies and militias but that it cannot bend foreign societies to our will, pacify their populations, or refute their ideas.

The net effect of our invasion and occupation of Iraq was to install a pro-Iranian Shiite-majority government in Baghdad that tyrannized Iraq’s Sunni minority. Thus, we at once added Iraq to the list of Iran’s client states and incubated a new crop of anti-American terrorists.

Earlier, we had driven Iran’s enemies from power in Afghanistan. In 2006, Israel’s aerial maiming of Lebanon elevated the Iranian-supported Shiite Hezbollah to the commanding heights of Lebanese politics. We did not respond to efforts by Damascus to dilute its dependence on Iran by establishing a more cooperative relationship with us.

In sum, we carelessly sponsored the rise of the very sort of anti-Israel and anti-Gulf Arab alliance our policies were aimed at precluding. We handed Iran dominant influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. The Arab uprisings of 2011 added Bahrain to the list of places where Iran can exploit Shiite grievances. Now pro-Iranian Houthi tribesmen have seized control of much of Yemen. The Gulf Arabs see Iran encircling them.

The Saudis and others in the Gulf remember the days when the United States saw the Shah’s Iran as the regional gendarme. Their fears that those days might come again are far-fetched but understandable, given all that has happened. As a result of U.S. bungling in Iraq and elsewhere Iran has, after all, greatly expanded its reach in the region. Gulf Arab apprehension about the proposed agreement to cap and constrain Iran’s nuclear programs is less about a military threat from Iranian nuclear weapons than about the possibility that we and other members of the U.N. Security Council will effectively acknowledge, if not endorse, Iran’s new proto-hegemony in the region.

America is at war with the renegade Islamist insurgency that calls itself “the Islamic State.” (I see no reason to dignify it with that title and, like most people in the region, I prefer to call it by its pretentious Arabic acronym, “Daesh.”) For many reasons, the Gulf Arabs doubt our reliability. Iraq has emerged as the most effective regional opponent of Daesh. The Gulf Arabs fear that we Americans may be driven to make common cause with Iran to combat Daesh.

Despite Mr. Netanyahu’s recent public hysteria about Iran and his efforts to demonize it, Israel has traditionally seen Iran’s rivalry with the Arabs as a strategic asset. It had a very cooperative relationship with the Shah. Neither Israelis nor Arabs have forgotten the strategic logic that produced Israel’s entente with Iran. Israel is very much on Daesh’s list of targets, as is Iran.

For now, however, Israel’s main concern is the possible loss of its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. Many years ago, Israel actually did what it now accuses Iran of planning to do. It clandestinely developed nuclear weapons while denying to us and others that it was doing so. Unlike Iran, Israel has not adhered to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or subjected its nuclear facilities to international inspection. It has expressed no interest in proposals for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. It sees its ability to bring on nuclear Armageddon as the ultimate guarantee of its existence.

Unlike Israel, Iran does not have nuclear weapons and seems prepared to settle for more conventional means of ensuring its security. Despite all the pain our sanctions have inflicted and whether the current nuclear negotiations with it succeed or fail, Iran seems destined to exercise strategic suzerainty in a major part of the Middle East

Like the Israelis, the Saudis do not trust Iran to halt at nuclear latency if there is a deal with it by the United States and its Security Council partners. But unlike the Israeli prime minister, Riyadh judges that, if the negotiations with Iran fail to produce an agreement, this will precipitate an Iranian decision actually to build a nuclear deterrent. An agreement would confer added prestige on Iran.  That’s bad. A nuclear deterrent would give Iran added freedom from U.S. or other coercion. That’s worse.

The Saudis have little confidence in U.S. protection, given America’s inadvertent  empowerment of Iran and incubation of Daesh, as well as the erratic behavior of the United States during the Arab uprisings that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. They now seem to be building a coalition to counter Iran and contain Daesh, with or without the United States.

In recent weeks, King Salman has met in rapid succession with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan, President Al-Sisi of Egypt, and President Erdoğan of Turkey. After initially seeing Daesh as a useful opponent of Iran’s allies in Damascus and Baghdad, the Saudis have concluded that it is a menace that they must confront. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is Daesh’s next intended battleground. It is also the Saudi gateway to Syria, in whose affairs Turkey is also a key player. The threat to Jordan is such that Amman  may now finally be regaining the regional backing it lost when it sided with Saddam Hussein in 1990.

Egypt and Turkey have been at odds over the Muslim Brotherhood and related issues. Egypt fears the Brotherhood, while Turkey sees it as a democratic Islamist movement that is not only legitimate but a potential pan-Arab antidote to Daesh. King Salman has begun an effort to persuade the Egyptians and Turks  to reconcile and resolve their differences. This will not be easy but, given the stakes for his Kingdom, Salman is likely to persist.

King Salman’s interest in convening the recent flurry of dialogue was, however, far from limited to Daesh and matters of religious interpretation. His main concern was undoubtedly how to balance and contain Iran.  There is a potential division of labor between the countries with which he met. Pakistan could extend nuclear deterrence to the Gulf Arabs. Egypt could provide the military mass and manpower the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs lack. Turkey’s powerful army could flank Syria and Iran to the north.

All three of these countries have significant armaments industries. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs are the world’s largest importers of armaments. There are real synergies to be gained by cooperation among the parties who have just gathered in Riyadh. The fact that these are being explored signals momentous change.

In 2006, then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice infamously proclaimed the birth of a “new Middle East.” A new order in the Middle East is now belatedly coming into being. But it is not the one Secretary Rice envisaged. The influence of the United States and the prospects for the peaceful integration of Israel into the region have both been adversely affected by the events of the past fifteen years.

To many, Israel now seems to have acquired the obnoxious habit of biting the American hand that has fed it for so long. The Palestinians have despaired of American support for their self-determination. They are reaching out to the international community in ways that deliberately bypass the United States. Random acts of violence herald mayhem in the Holy Land.

Daesh has proclaimed the objective of erasing the Sykes-Picot borders and the states within them. It has already expunged the border between Iraq and Syria. It is at work in Lebanon and has set its sights on Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.

Lebanon, under Saudi influence, has turned to France rather than America for support. Hezbollah has intervened militarily in Iraq and Syria, both of whose governments are close to Iran. Egypt and Turkey have distanced themselves from the United States as well as from each other. Russia is back as a regional actor and arms supplier.

The Gulf Arabs, Egypt, and Turkey now separately intervene in Libya, Syria, and Iraq without reference to American policy or views. Iran is the dominant influence in Iraq, Syria, parts of Lebanon, and now Yemen. It has boots on the ground in Iraq.

And now Saudi Arabia seems to be organizing a coalition that will manage its own nuclear deterrence and military balancing of Iran.

To describe this as out of control is hardly adequate. What are we to do about it?

Perhaps we should start by recalling the first law of holes — “when stuck in one, stop digging.” It appears that “don’t just sit there, bomb something” isn’t much of a strategy. When he was asked last summer what our strategy for dealing with Daesh was, President Obama replied, “We don’t yet have one.” He was widely derided for that. He should have been praised for making the novel suggestion that before Washington acts, it should first think through what it hopes to accomplish and how best to do it. Sunzi once observed that “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” America’s noisy but strategy-free approach to the Middle East has proven him right.

Again the starting point must be what we are trying to accomplish. Strategy is “the discipline of achieving desired ends through the most efficient use of available means” [John Lewis Gaddis].Our desired ends with respect to the Middle East are not in doubt. They have been and remain to gain an accepted and therefore secure place for Israel there; to keep the region’s oil and gas coming at reasonable prices; to be able to pass through the area at will; to head off challenges to these interests; to do profitable business in the markets of the Middle East; and to promote stability amidst the expansion of liberty in its countries. Judging by results, we have been doing a lot wrong.

Two related problems in our overall approach need correction. They are “enablement” and the creation of “moral hazard.” Both are fall-out from  relationships of codependency.

Enablement occurs when one party to a relationship indulges or supports and thereby enables another party’s dysfunctional behavior. A familiar example from ordinary life is giving money to a drunk or a drug addict or ignoring, explaining away, or defending their subsequent self-destructive behavior.  Moral hazard is the condition that obtains when one party is emboldened to take risks it would not otherwise take because it knows another party will shoulder the consequences and bear the costs of failure.

The U.S.-Israel relationship has evolved to exemplify codependency. It now embodies both enablement and moral hazard. U.S. support for Israel is unconditional.  Israel has therefore had no need to cultivate relations with others in the Middle East, to declare its borders, or to choose peace over continued expansion into formerly Arab lands. Confidence in U.S. backing enables Israel to do whatever it likes to the Palestinians and its neighbors without having to worry about the consequences.

Israel is now a rich country, but the United States continues to subsidize it with cash transfers and other fiscal privileges. The Jewish state is the most powerful country in the Middle East. It can launch attacks on its neighbors, confident that it will be resupplied by the United States. Its use of U.S. weapons in ways that violate both U.S. and international law goes unrebuked. 41 American vetoes in the United Nations Security Council have exempted Israel from censure and international law. We enable it to defy the expressed will of the international community, including, ironically, our own.

We Americans are facilitating Israel’s indulgence in denial and avoidance of the choices it must make if it is not to jeopardize its long-term existence as a state in the Middle East. The biggest contribution we could now make to Israel’s longevity would be to ration our support for it, so as to cause it to rethink and reform its often self-destructive behavior. Such peace as Israel now enjoys with Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians is the direct result of tough love of this kind by earlier American administrations. We Americans cannot save Israel from itself, but we can avoid killing it with uncritical kindness. We should support Israel when it makes sense to do so and it needs our support on specific issues, but not otherwise. Israel is placing itself and American interests in jeopardy. We need to discuss how to reverse this dynamic.

Moral hazard has also been a major problem in our relationship with our Arab partners. Why should they play an active role in countering the threat to them they perceive from Iran, if they can get America to do this for them? Similarly, why should any Muslim country rearrange its priorities to deal with Muslim renegades like Daesh when it can count on America to act for it? If America thinks it must lead, why not let it do so? But responsible foreign and defense policies begin with self-help, not outsourcing of military risks.

The United States has the power-projection and war-fighting capabilities to back a Saudi-led coalition effort against Daesh. The Saudis have the religious and political credibility, leadership credentials, and diplomatic connections to organize such an effort. We do not.

Since this century began, America has administered multiple disappointments to its allies and friends in the Middle East, while empowering their and our adversaries. Unlike the Gulf Arabs, Egypt, and Turkey, Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Tehran. Given our non-Muslim identity, solidarity with Israel, and recent history in the Fertile Crescent, the United States cannot hope to unite the region’s Muslims against Daesh.  Daesh is an insurgency that claims to exemplify Islam as well as a governing structure and an armed force. A coalition led by inhibited foreign forces, built on papered-over differences, and embodying hedged commitments will not defeat such an insurgency with or without boots on the ground.

There is an ineluctable requirement for Muslim leadership and strategic vision from within the region. Without it, the existing political geography of the Arab world — not just the map drawn by Sykes-Picot — faces progressive erosion and ultimate collapse. States will be pulled down, to be succeeded by warlords, as is already happening in Iraq and Syria. Degenerate and perverted forms of Islam will threaten prevailing Sunni and Shi`a religious dispensations, as Daesh now does. If indeed Saudi Arabia is finally prepared to organize a regional coalition to enable it to deal directly with these issues, we should welcome this and give it our backing, while seeking to assure that it does not damage Israel’s security, impede our transit through the region, or otherwise harm our interests.

I come at last to our objectives of promoting trade and liberal values.

The need for considered judgment and restraint extends to refraining from expansive rhetoric about our values or attempting to compel others to conform to them. In practice, we have insisted on democratization only in countries we have invaded or that were otherwise falling apart, as Egypt was during the first of the two “non-coups” it suffered. When elections have yielded governments whose policies we oppose, we have not hesitated to conspire with their opponents to overthrow them. But the results of our efforts to coerce political change in the Middle East are not just failures but catastrophic failures. Our policies have nowhere produced democracy. They have instead contrived the destabilization of societies, the kindling of religious warfare, and the installation of dictatorships contemptuous of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

Frankly, we have done a lot better at selling things, including armaments, to the region than we have at transplanting the ideals of the Atlantic Enlightenment there. The region’s autocrats cooperate with us to secure our protection, and they get it. When they are nonetheless overthrown, the result is not democracy or the rule of law but socio-political collapse and the emergence of  a Hobbesian state of nature in which religious and ethnic communities, families, and individuals are able to feel safe only when they are armed and have the drop on each other. Where we have engineered or attempted to engineer regime change, violent politics, partition, and ethno-religious cleansing have everywhere succeeded unjust but tranquil order. One result of our bungled interventions in Iraq and Syria is the rise of Daesh. This is yet another illustration that, in our efforts to do good in the Middle East, we have violated the principle that one should first do no harm.

Americans used to believe that we could best lead by example. We and those in the Middle East seeking nonviolent change would all be better off if America returned to that tradition and forswore ideologically motivated hectoring and intervention. No one willingly follows a wagging finger. Despite our unparalleled ability to use force against foreigners, the best way to inspire them to emulate us remains showing them that we have our act together. At the moment, we do not.

In the end, to cure the dysfunction in our policies toward the Middle East, it comes down to this. We must cure the dysfunction and venality of our politics. If we cannot, we have no business trying to use an 8,000-mile-long screwdriver to fix things one-third of the way around the world. That doesn’t work well under the best of circumstances. But when the country wielding the screwdriver has very little idea what it’s doing, it really screws things up.

[Charles Freeman, Jr., served in the United States Foreign Service, the State and Defense Departments in many different capacities over the course of 30 years. Most notably, he worked as the main interpreter for Richard Nixon during his 1972 China visit and served as the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992, during the Persian Gulf War. In February 2009, unnamed sources leaked that Freeman was Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair’s choice to chair the National Intelligence Council in the Obama Administration. After hostile criticism from prominent supporters of Israeli policy, he withdrew his name from consideration, charging he had been the victim of a concerted campaign by what he called “the Israel lobby”.]




Noah Chomsky on why the right hates social security.

It’s a very successful program. A large number people rely on it. It doesn’t pay munificently, but it at least keeps people alive, not just retired people, people with disabilities and others. Very low administrative costs, extremely efficient, and no burden on the deficit, doesn’t add to the deficit. The effort to try to present the Social Security program as if it’s a major problem, that’s just a hidden way of trying to undermine and destroy it.

From an interview on Democracy Now, see link below.

(N.B.:  While little is new,  it is presented very well.)

AARON MATÉ: Noam, you mentioned entitlements, and obviously this is an issue that’s come up a lot in the deficit debate. Governor Rick Perry, the Republican presidential hopeful, has called it a Ponzi scheme. But even Democrats seem to buy into this narrative that it’s in crisis. Can you address that?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Social Security is not in any crisis. I mean, the trust fund alone will fully pay benefits for, I think, another 30 years or so. And after that, taxes will give almost the same benefits. To worry about a possible problem 30 years from now, which can incidentally be fixed with little—a little bit of tampering here and there, as was done in 1983—to worry about that just makes absolutely no sense, unless you’re trying to destroy the program. It’s a very successful program. A large number people rely on it. It doesn’t pay munificently, but it at least keeps people alive, not just retired people, people with disabilities and others. Very low administrative costs, extremely efficient, and no burden on the deficit, doesn’t add to the deficit. The effort to try to present the Social Security program as if it’s a major problem, that’s just a hidden way of trying to undermine and destroy it.

Now, there has been a lot of opposition to it since—you know, since the 1930s, on the part of sectors of extreme wealth and privilege, especially financial capital. They don’t like it, for several reasons. One is the rich don’t barely—for them, it’s meaningless. Anyone with—you know, who’s had a fairly decent income, it’s a tiny addition to your retirement but doesn’t mean much. Another is, if the financial institutions and the insurance companies can get their hands on this huge financial resource—for example, if it’s privatized in some way or vouchers—I mean, that’s a huge bonanza. They’ll have trillions of dollars to play with, the banks, the investment firms and so on.

But I think, myself, that there’s a more subtle reason why they’re opposed to it, and I think it’s rather similar to the reason for the effort to pretty much dismantle the public education system. Social Security is based on a principle. It’s based on the principle that you care about other people. You care whether the widow across town, a disabled widow, is going to be able to have food to eat. And that’s a notion you have to drive out of people’s heads. The idea of solidarity, sympathy, mutual support, that’s doctrinally dangerous. The preferred doctrines are just care about yourself, don’t care about anyone else. That’s a very good way to trap and control people. And the very idea that we’re in it together, that we care about each other, that we have responsibility for one another, that’s sort of frightening to those who want a society which is dominated by power, authority, wealth, in which people are passive and obedient. And I suspect—I don’t know how to measure it exactly, but I think that that’s a considerable part of the drive on the part of small, privileged sectors to undermine a very efficient, very effective system on which a large part of the population relies, actually relies more than ever, because wealth, personal wealth, was very much tied up in the housing market. That was people’s personal wealth. Well, OK, that, quite predictably, totally collapsed. People aren’t destitute by the standards of, say, slums in India or southern Africa, but very—suffering severely. And they have nothing else to rely on, but what they—the, really, pittance that they’re getting from Social Security. To take that away would be just disastrous.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Noam Chomsky. He has a new book out, 10 years after his book 9-11. This is called 9-11: Was There an Alternative? We’ll come back to this conversation in a minute. And if you’d like to get a copy of the full show, you can go to our website at Stay with us.”

Emphasis Mine.


Did ‘we’ Lost the War(s)?

It became politically critical the way Nixon grasped at “Peace with Honor” as fig leaf modesty to cover our withdrawal from Vietnam. To be absolutely plain: Our military has been ineffective, in shocking contrast to initial war expectations. After 9/11 we worshiped our forces as Gods of War, and yet after ten years of heroic effort they could not meet even the most limited of US war goals

From HuffPost, By Michael Vlahos

Official Disclaimer: This is my take, and mine alone.

I thought at least someone would ask the question. This is after all a solemn commemorative occasion. It is perhaps our only real moment for constructive reflection, because this anniversary also effectively marks the end of the war itself.

It is almost as though we collectively decided not to say it, and focus instead on a fitting and proper emotional memorial — never the word, defeat.

But we will learn nothing and gain nothing from ten years of tragedy, waste, and ruin unless we face up to it. And facing up does not mean asking, “Did we win?” Not winning, as the coachman says in The Wizard of Oz, is a horse of a different color. It is for example the correct question to have asked at the end of the Korean War (Answer: No we did not win. But we did not lose either).

So how do we know we lost? The history of war shows us two stainless measures: One is emotional and one is objective. You have lost when you feel you have lost, no matter what you say in public. You have lost when your instruments of war fail to achieve your goals, and instead lead you to a place of strategic vulnerability and disadvantage — when you are in a worse situation coming out of war than going in.

The 9/11 War is a straight-up defeat on both counts. Our nation today is depressed and disheartened and feels itself in steep decline. The US military — the instrument we chose to achieve our goals — not only failed to achieve them: Its very enterprise has led to a world situation of severe vulnerability and disadvantage to the United States.

Emotional defeat is a quick review because it is so visible and clear:

  • We feel weak. We were in budget surplus going into war, and now we are going to top 100 percent GDP debt very soon — and a third of that will be paid to the war. Hence actual unemployment is at 1934 levels, and will hover there very much longer than it ever did after 1934.
  • We feel in decline. We feel China stole a march on us and we will never catch up. How we were startled by a report that China would surpass us by 2016, even though the message was couched in the deceptive measure of purchasing power parity. Yet we still feel like our time has passed.
  • We feel we have nothing to show for 200,000 casualties — which must include the yet uncounted wounded by TBI, PTSD, and toxic dust. They will witness and testify for this war for decades to come.
  • We feel divided as a nation. Republicans believe Democrats are socialist “defeatocrats” and thus traitors to the American idea. Democrats believe Republicans are sweatshop-loving Scrooges whose worldview is closer to medieval Taliban than modern American ideals. The only belief both share is a judgment that national political leadership has failed. Utterly.

Naturally all this is voiced, cacophonously. It is just that the wild surround sound is not connected to the very thing that caused it: The war.

Objective defeat seems like the more difficult argument because it is so hotly denied. But the very denial of objective defeat actually makes it a stronger argument, because denial is in itself powerful evidence for the prosecution.

Evidence falls into three baskets: Did the use of military force achieve our goals? How well has the military adapted to difficulties and shortcomings? What is the military’s concluding assessment?

    • Goals: The US Government has put forward many different war goals at different times and from different sources within Government. Yet the overarching goal announced in strategic initiation and six-year follow-through was twofold: The “transformation of the Middle East” into democratic polities according to US standards, and the extirpation of terrorism and its source, “violent extremism.” Specific benchmark-goals within this strategic framework were the establishment of democratic polities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the maintenance of “stability and security in the Greater Middle East” (US official policy since 1991).None of these goals has been achieved, and as a consequence of the Arab Spring, stability and security in the Greater Middle East has also been lost. Iraq and Afghanistan are not stable, let alone democratic polities. Violent extremism, as defined by US leadership (i.e., al-Ikhwan), is an increasingly powerful and legitimate force in Muslim politics. Indeed it can be argued that military force in the short term highly encouraged and hardened Islamist “extremism.” In the longer term, because of the ways force was used to seduce occupied societies to adopt US political forms, our “kinetic” military administration encouraged wider popular revolution, even against “stable” tyrants that were America’s most valued “friends and allies in the region.”
    • Adaptation: The US military responded so slowly that its adaptation to military failure came too late to contain the dynamic surge of a changing Arab consciousness inspired by US military action. Moreover US military adaptation was operational rather than strategic — meaning the military chose to try only a different palette of techniques to bring resistance to heel. This approach is called counterinsurgency (COIN). But COIN has been an utter failure in Afghanistan (COIN in Iraq was of the storybook variety). Why? Because COIN believes that a larger community’s actively resistant consciousness can be broken by limited (even soft) techniques. Truth is that committed insurgent communities can be broken only through the slaughter or removal of military-age males and by placing the rest of the community in concentration camps. So far Americans have shown themselves incapable of wholeheartedly embracing such a strategy.Hence the US military adapted too little and too late. They also adopted the wrong approach. Honing our skills in 9-11-style COIN as advertised — the occupation and administration of entire countries — is waste. The American people will be unwilling to risk repeat defeat and debacle for the foreseeable future. But as to practical future courses of action, we can already see chaotic irregular environments awaiting us — whose scale and horror in coming decades will not permit even the thought of another Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • Assessment: I know of no military person, fraternity, or institution willing to utter the forbidden word: Defeat. Instead we are all just moving ahead and leaving a bitter past behind. This is both a terrible strategic mistake and a potential national tragedy in the making. To be absolutely plain: Our military has been ineffective, in shocking contrast to initial war expectations. After 9/11 we worshiped our forces as Gods of War, and yet after ten years of heroic effort they could not meet even the most limited of US war goals. This is not to say that our soldiers did not do their utmost. Furthermore their sacrifice in itself represents a stern civic message to the 99 percent of Americans who stayed home and “went shopping.”But their efforts achieved only marginal results. Even the shining narrative of “The Surge” was in the end just brilliant propaganda. The so-called “Sons of Iraq” came to us and wiped out AQI on their own, while it was the enemy “Mahdi Army” whose winning power-drills ethnically cleansed Baghdad — and now Iraq is his and we are out. Was our military poorly charged and led by Supreme Command (our leaders)? Yes. Were they given a task that we can admit now was unattainable? Yes. Can we see also that war has changed, and that there are conflict environments whose very nature makes submission to us unlikely? Yes. But even a shield-wall of denial cannot avoid what our senses tell us: That in not attaining, they — we — were defeated.

Yet harshest light shows nothing to so many who blithely insist that there were big “wins” coming out of 9/11, and that this is enough. They sanctimoniously aver that we defeated Al Qaeda, like a commonplace truth brooking no argument. Case closed.

This argument about Al Qaeda is reminiscent of Harry Summers telling an NVA colonel: “You know you never defeated us on the battlefield.” To which Col. Tu famously replied, “That may be so. But it is also irrelevant.” Defeating Al Qaeda was simply not the US main war goal after Tora Bora — instead it became critical only recently. It became politically critical the way Nixon grasped at “Peace with Honor” as fig leaf modesty to cover our withdrawal from Vietnam.

Defeating “Al Qaeda and Associated Movements” (AQAI) thus becomes like a Vietnam-era changeling — a strategic switcheroo. Yet pretending the dime-store trophy we now hold up is what we were all about these past ten years is also like asking us to throw away the whole decade — and in turn this becomes yet another badge of defeat.

But why bring up Vietnam again? Because right now our defeat in Vietnam should be a lodestar to the American military. Because our military transcended defeat in Vietnam. Because they faced up to an honest defeat, the US military made defeat a utility of virtue. Because of Vietnam our military transformed itself, and emerged as a force so potent it practically brought down the great Soviet Empire on its own.

America’s military services must find their utility of virtue in the 9/11 War. Our officers, our enlisted men and women need to answer questions like:

What are the limits of military effectiveness in the world today? How can the military be effective in the chaotic irregular environments of the human future? How can the military help national leaders understand changing limits and possibilities to military use? How can our military reinforce, rather than weaken, America’s world relationships and the nation itself?

Embracing defeat is an unsung virtue — but right now such virtue is necessity.”

Emphasis Mine.


Why do (some) Christians LOVE War?

There are no “blessed wars”. Yet virtually all evangelical, conservative and many mainstream church leaders were active supporters of the Bush wars.

From Alternet: (By Gary G. Kohls, Consortium News)

There are no “blessed wars”. Yet virtually all evangelical, conservative and many mainstream church leaders were active supporters of the Bush wars.When Gulf War I ended (during George Bush the Elder’s presidency), General Norman Schwartzkopf, the field commander, triumphantly proclaimed, “God must have been on our side!”

Such statements aren’t unusual for glory-seeking dictators, kings, princes, presidents and generals, regardless of what religion justified their particular war, but I cringed when I heard this self-professed Christian warrior claim God’s blessings on the war that made him famous.

I cringed when I heard Schwartzkopf claim God’s blessings on the carnage that he helped orchestrate because similar claims have been used to rationalize killing throughout history, from ancient times to some of the darkest days of the modern era.  Jesus’s God would not be on the side of the war-makers, but on the side of the peacemakers, the compassionate and long-suffering ones who work to prevent killing and to relieve the suffering of the victims of war.

As the German Nazis went about their systematic purging of any and all leftist or anti-fascist groups – Jews, socialists, homosexuals, liberals, communists, trade unionists and conscientious objectors to war – they insisted that God was on their side, too.

Adolf Hitler claimed that he was doing God’s will. German soldiers, both in WWI and WWII, went into battle with the words “Gott Mit Uns” (God With Us) inscribed on their belt buckles….

Though Hitler’s Nazi regime represented an exceptional form of horror in the industrialized slaughter committed during the Holocaust and related mass killings, it must be acknowledged that other countries, including the United States, have undertaken actions that have destroyed other populations and cultures, often with the blessings of religious leaders.

In the last two decades, the two Bush administrations mounted wars in the Persian Gulf region that had the consent (or acquiescence) of the majority of U.S. church leaders, with prayers from Billy Graham in the White House the night before the invasions began.

Virtually all Christian evangelical, conservative and many mainstream church leaders and their congregations were active supporters of the Bush wars.

Only four American Catholic bishops voted in opposition to Bush the Elder’s Gulf War I (at an annual conference of U.S. Catholic bishops). In Gulf War II, Pope John Paul II declared that the war was contrary to the teachings of Jesus, but most American Catholic leaders and parishioners ignored the pontiff’s warnings and supported the war. Most American Protestants did the same.

Yet, General Schwartzkopf and both Presidents Bush are in “good” company when it comes to believing that God is on their side in war. All U.S. presidents and presidential candidates in recent memory, even President Obama, end their speeches with “May God Bless the United States of America,” the equivalent of the German military’s “Gott Mit Uns.”  …

A major unasked question is “what should be the role of religion (specifically Christianity) in the starting and perpetuation of politically motivated wars?”

If war-makers mix religion and politics by invoking God’s blessings on the cannons and the cannon fodder, shouldn’t the churches, which are supposed to be the consciences of the nation, apply core Christian ethical principles to the war question and refuse to cooperate with the slaughter of fellow children of God?

(N.B.: What are “core Christian Ethics”?)

Sadly, for the past 1,700 years, Christian churches have not done so. They have largely failed in their moral obligation to teach and live the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount.

(N.B.: The “Golden Rule” is older that Christ – see Lao Tzu, for example.)

One only has to read the gruesome history of the many “holy wars” and atrocities committed in the history of Christendom, including the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the wars of the Reformation and counter-Reformation, the various genocides including the Nazi Holocaust…

Recall how, when military spokesmen try to explain away the deaths of non-combatants in these wars, they invoke the term “collateral damage” (the euphemism for the unintended killing and maiming of innocents in wartime) and quickly dismiss those deaths by spouting the unconvincing phrase that Schwartzkopf and all other apologists for war use: “we regret the loss of innocent life.”

And they piously mouth these equally insincere words: “our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.” The same rote phraseology too often comes from the lips of religious leaders…

How can the legalized mass slaughter of war, often progressing to the point of genocide, be a part of a Christian tradition that started out with a small group of inspired, oppressed and impoverished peasants who were trying to live by the highly ethical, nonviolent teachings of their pacifist leader?

Interestingly, the active pacifism of the early Christian church did prove to be successful – and even practical. During the first few centuries of Christianity, enmity and eye-for-an-eye retaliation were rejected. The Golden Rule and the refusal to kill the enemy were actually taught in the church.

Gospel non-violence was the norm, so the professed enemies of those communities of faith were not provoked to retaliation because there was nothing against which to retaliate. Rather, enemies were befriended, prayed for, fed, nourished and embraced as neighbors – potential friends who needed understanding and mercy.

The church survived the persecutions of those early years and thrived, largely because of its commitment to the nonviolence of Jesus. It was not until the church was co-opted by the Emperor Constantine in the early 4th Century that power and wealth changed the priorities of church leaders.

Today, American Christianity is at risk of going the way of the pro-war “Christianity” of pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany, which may in the long run discredit the faith much the way Christianity lost credibility among many Germans because their churches and church leaders facilitated those destructive wars.

The vast majority of Germans before World War II were baptized members of a Christian church, but since WWII ended church membership has fallen sharply and the number of Germans attending weekly worship services is now estimated to be in the single digits.

The psychological and spiritual wounding of the soldiers and their families in the two world wars stripped the German churches of their moral standing….The world would have been far better off if the Christian leaders of the world had been faithful to the ethical teachings of the gospels and quit making blasphemous appeals to God on behalf of war, whether with those “Gott Mit Uns” belt buckles or the “God Bless America” political sloganeering.”

Emphasis and notes mine.


Elections Matter!


Change: “…he also spoke of a knowledge deficit about Islam in the U.S. and the West, and said that “we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam.”
Obama intends to DISTANCE himself from the policies of his predecessor, the wildly UNPOPULAR George W. Bush, and present a new image to the Muslim and Arab worlds. 


From McClatchy:

CAIRO — President Barack Obama, courting Muslims internationally, said Thursday that the United States does not accept the legitimacy of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory and that “just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s.”

In a speech he conceived well before his election last November, aimed at repositioning U.S. standing in the Middle East in the wake of the Iraq war, and drafted with the help of prominent Muslim-Americans, Obama told an audience at Cairo University that “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.”

The relationship, he said, should be founded on mutual interests and respect and “the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition.”