Friday, January 30, 2009

Not all war crimes are created equal

"Israel must investigate charges of crimes in Gaza: U.S." screams the Reuters headline. The reality? A bit less encouraging.

Speaking before the United Nations Security Council yesterday, UN Ambassador Susan Rice delivered an inspiring speech on the importance of respecting international law and civilian life, two areas she is uniquely qualified to pontificate on as an advocate for the invasion of Iraq -- and for violating international law in the name of "humanitarian" interventions elsewhere. But contrary to the Reuters headline, rather than demand in no uncertain terms that the Israeli government investigate charges it committed war crimes during its recent assault on Gaza, Rice suggested most those charges were simply the fabrications of anti-Israel ideologues, adding meekly that she would "expect" Israel to follow international law:
The United States is deeply concerned Mr. President about the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life in recent weeks and the tragic suffering of Palestinian civilians, who require urgent humanitarian and reconstruction assistance. Violations of international humanitarian law have been perpetrated by Hamas through its rocket attacks against Israeli civilians in southern Israel and the use of civilian facilities to provide protection for its terrorist attacks. There have also been numerous allegations made against Israel some of which are deliberately designed to inflame. We expect Israel will meet its international obligations to investigate and we also call upon all members of the international community to refrain from politicizing these important issues.
That Ms. Rice decried Hamas' violations of international law with such specificity, but could only muster up talk of certain "allegations" with respect to Israel -- "some of which", we are told without example, "are deliberately designed to inflame" -- is telling, and is a sign that when it comes to condoning Israeli war crimes the new administration will be just as craven as the old one.

While there's no doubt Hamas' rocket attacks on Southern Israel constitute violations of international law, the damage they have caused pales in comparison to the loss of life Israel inflicts with just one "errant" missile in Gaza. The fact that over 1,300 Palestinians died during the Israeli assault, compared to less than two dozen Israelis that died from the rocket attacks that allegedly justified the invasion, should put their respective crimes in perspective. Hamas commits war crimes with largely ineffective, cheaply produced rockets; Israel commits war crimes with the latest in U.S.-subsidized and manufactured weapons of state terror.

Meanwhile, consider the spurious, inflammatory allegations against Israel that Rice declined to mention:

The International Committee of the Red Cross:
The ICRC/PRCS team found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses.

In another house, the ICRC/PRCS rescue team found 15 other survivors of this attack including several wounded. In yet another house, they found an additional three corpses. Israeli soldiers posted at a military position some 80 meters away from this house ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do. There were several other positions of the Israel Defense Forces nearby as well as two tanks.

"This is a shocking incident," said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

Large earth walls erected by the Israeli army had made it impossible to bring ambulances into the neighbourhood. Therefore, the children and the wounded had to be taken to the ambulances on a donkey cart. In total, the ICRC/PRCS rescue team evacuated 18 wounded and 12 others who were extremely exhausted. Two corpses were also evacuated. The ICRC/PRCS will recover the remaining corpses on Thursday.


The ICRC believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded. It considers the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable.

Amnesty International:
Emergency medical rescue workers, including doctors, paramedics and ambulance drivers, have repeatedly coming under fire from Israeli forces in the Gaza conflict while carrying out their duties.

At least seven of them have been killed and more than 20 injured while transporting or attempting to collect the wounded and the dead.
Several ambulances were in the street below and the paramedics were plainly visible by their phosphorescent jackets, yet this did not prevent the tank crews from firing.

Under the Geneva Conventions, medical personnel searching, collecting, transporting or treating the wounded should be protected and respected in all circumstances. Common Article 3 of the Conventions says that the wounded should be collected and cared for, including combatants who are hors de combat. These provisions of international law have not been respected during the conflict in the Gaza Strip.
Human Rights Watch:
Israel should stop using white phosphorus in military operations in densely populated areas of Gaza, Human Rights Watch said today. On January 9 and 10, 2009, Human Rights Watch researchers in Israel observed multiple air-bursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over what appeared to be the Gaza City/Jabaliya area.
"White phosphorous can burn down houses and cause horrific burns when it touches the skin," said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch. "Israel should not use it in Gaza's densely populated areas."

Human Rights Watch believes that the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas of Gaza violates the requirement under international humanitarian law to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian injury and loss of life.
The United Nations:
United Nations officials on Saturday demanded an investigation into a new Israeli strike on a UN-run school in Gaza, which killed a woman and a child in the fourth such attack during its war on Hamas.

More than one dozen people were wounded when Israeli shells hit the school compound in the northern town of Beit Lahiya where some 1,600 people had taken refuge to escape fierce clashes outside, officials said.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA condemned the attack and called for an investigation.

"Just before seven o'clock this morning (0500 GMT) several rounds of shells went directly into the school compound in Beit Lahiya. There was a pause and then there was a round that directly hit the school building killing two people," said UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness.

"Where you have a direct hit on an UNRWA school where about 1,600 people had taken refuge, where the Israeli army knows the coordinates and knows who's there, where this comes as the latest in a catalogue of direct and indirect attacks on UNRWA facilities, there have to be investigations to establish whether war crimes have been committed," he said.

"This yet again illustrates the tragedy that there is no safe place in Gaza and not even a UN installation is safe," he said. "There is no place to flee."
Of course, international law has always been something of an afterthought for Rice. Take her ridiculously titled, America-as-world-saviour 2006 op/ed advocating U.S. military intervention in Darfur -- "We Saved Europeans. Why Not Africans?" -- where she and her co-authors casually dismiss longstanding restrictions against military aggression in the absence of a clearly defined immediate threat (even if it has ostensibly noble goals):
Others will insist that, without the consent of the United Nations or a relevant regional body, we would be breaking international law. Perhaps, but the Security Council recently codified a new international norm prescribing "the responsibility to protect."
"A responsibility to protect" sure does provide a wide-ranging justification for a whole host of humanitarian interventions. I have a feeling anti-war liberals may soon long for the days of the Bush doctrine . . .

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The amazing disappearing 2007 NIE on Iran

Power has a strange effect on people, turning what can otherwise appear to be decent human beings into murderers and liars. Take Barack Obama -- a man elected in no small part due to his charisma and compelling personal story -- who took just under 72 hours to kill his first innocent civilians. The day before heralding the need to respect habeas corpus with prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Obama strangely had no problem permitting the extrajudicial killings of alleged Islamic militants and innocent members of their family in Pakistan.

Though the White House proclaims that change has come to America, its increasingly evident change won't come to U.S. foreign policy, particularly with respect to the Bush administration approach of routinely violating Pakistani sovereignty -- a nuclear-armed, politically unstable (nominal) ally. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it in a press conference on Tuesday, "where continuity is appropriate, we are committed to doing that."

Take Iran, and President Obama's repetition of the Bush administration's discredited talking point about that nation's nuclear program in his much ballyhooed interview with Al-Arabiya:
Q: Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran? And if not, how far are you going in the direction of preventing it?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of U.S. power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.

Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that's not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past -- none of these things have been helpful.

But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.
Unfortunately for politicians committed to playing up the threat allegedly posed by Iran, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate declared that Iran had ended whatever nuclear weapons program it may have once had years ago. Indeed, the fact that the '07 NIE declared with "high confidence" that Iran was not pursuing nuclear weapons was once noted by Obama himself (before he attained power), and it remains the official consensus opinion of the entire U.S. intelligence community, which has every reason to play up foreign threats. More importantly, the International Atomic Energy Agency has found no evidence Iran is developing nuclear weapons -- but that hasn't stopped Obama or his secretary of state from regularly and matter-of-factly referring to Iran's "pursuit of nuclear weapons".

Obama and Clinton's statements stand in direct opposition to the findings of their own intelligence agencies. Someone -- a reporter, perhaps? -- really ought to ask them to explain why.

As for Gaza: Those hoping against hope that Obama's conspicuous silence concerning Israel's assault on Gaza was anything other than a tacit endorsement, well . . . here's Secretary of State Clinton:
We have, as I said, some short-term objectives such as a durable ceasefire, which as you know has receded somewhat today because of the offensive action against the IDF along the border.

But of course, we're concerned about the humanitarian suffering. We're concerned any time innocent civilians, Palestinian or Israeli, are attacked. That's why we support Israel's right to self-defense. The rocket barrages, which are getting closer and closer to populated areas, cannot go unanswered. And it's, you know, regrettable that the Hamas leadership apparently believes that it is in their interest to provoke the right of self-defense instead of building a better future for the people of Gaza.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Off to Buenos Aires

As much as I'd love to be part of all the transformational, historic change taking place in DC next week, I'll be leaving tomorrow evening to spend 10 days in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Any advice on where to go or where to avoid appreciated.

Inaugurating the police state

As the inauguration of Barack Obama approaches, the nation's capital is spiraling further into police-state insanity, with President Bush just yesterday preemptively declaring () Washington, DC to be in a state of emergency, which means my next post will probably be composed in a contaminated FEMA trailer. Ugly cement roadblocks can already be found miles from the inaugural events, cutting across sidewalks in residential neighborhoods -- factor in the 10,000 or so National Guardsmen and countless police that will be on hand and you have the makings of a hell-on-earth for anyway who values their civil liberties (or sanity).

But the truly fascinating thing about the upcoming inauguration is how DC has been taken over by Obama fever, and boy is it tacky. Just about every vacant retail location has been occupied by a store hawking cheap crap with Obama's face on it, beckoning tourists to come in and have their picture taken next to creepy cardboard cutouts of the president-elect and his family, some even containing mock Oval Offices. In a display of unmitigated naiveté, one store was even selling t-shirts proclaiming, "Peace: Back By Popular Demand." While I appreciate the sentiment . . . if only.

In the meantime, corporations like IKEA are attaching themselves to all the hope and change in the air by blanketing the region with Obama-themed ads, banking on the fact that upper-middle class Democratic yuppies will be so inspired by Obama's transformational ascension to power that they will rush out to purchase cheap Swedish crap in an orgy of economic stimulus.

But words can only say so much. Here's a picture:

Question: is this advertisement, which I snapped a picture of on my way home from work, for Barack Obama or Pepsi? (Here's a hint: it's part of a slick, multi-million dollar ad campaign focused largely on irrelevant appeals to youth and change aimed at selling a corporate product that -- when the P.R. is stripped aside -- has all the substance of fizzy sugar water. Hope that helps.)

If Vladamir Putin's picture was on the Moscow subway system's metro card, Western observers would undoubtedly consider it evidence of that country's descent into Soviet-style totalitarianism. Here in America? Why, it's collectible!

Meanwhile, those concerned that Obama will merely provide a fresh face for the same evil, corrupt system can at least rest assured that the liberal groups that rallied to his campaign won't merely fall in line and wait for their marching orders like those leader-worshipping right-wingers would, right?

Oh well. (For those that can't see the text in the MoveOn ads above, it reads: "I am a willing pawn of the Democratic Party masquerading as an independent, liberal anti-war activist.")

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Clinton's confirmation hearing suffers from lack of intelligence

Echoing her new boss -- and signaling that the incoming administration will be just as impervious to facts as the departing one -- future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made it clear that the phrase "Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons" and variations thereof will be a key component of the Obama administration's talking points on Iran:
As we focus on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, we must also actively pursue a strategy of smart power in the Middle East that addresses the security needs of Israel and the legitimate political and economic aspirations of the Palestinians; that effectively challenges Iran to end its nuclear weapons program and sponsorship of terror, and persuades both Iran and Syria to abandon their dangerous behavior and become constructive regional actors; that strengthens our relationships with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, other Arab states, with Turkey, and with our partners in the Gulf to involve them in securing a lasting peace in the region.
Of course, it's not as if Clinton and Obama are unaware of the fact that, according to the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, Iran ended whatever nuclear weapons program it might have had more than five years ago. Indeed, as Glenn Greenwald noted earlier this week, back in 2007 Obama himself said the NIE served as "an important reminder of what we learned with the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq: members of Congress must carefully read the intelligence before giving the President any justification to use military force" -- a statement that served both as a shot at Clinton (who didn't bother reading the NIE on Iraq before backing the '03 invasion) and as a signal to anti-war progressives that he shared their criticism of the Bush administration's beliggerent stance on Iran.

Meanwhile, Clinton's campaign also reacted to the NIE on Iran by claiming it had exposed "the latest effort by the Bush administration to distort intelligence to pursue its ideological ends." As neither Clinton or Obama have presented any information to back their more recent claims that Iran is developing nuclear weapons -- implying that the 2007 NIE was incorrect (or never happened) -- one can only assume that they too are engaged in the distortion of intelligence for political purposes.

But Obama has always been the consummate politicians willing to alter his positions when it suited his rise to power. He has never staked out positions on foreign policy based on a fundamental questioning of American execeptionalism, but rather on political considerations at the time; his much ballyhooed opposition to the Iraq war, after all, took place when he was but a state senator representing a liberal, urban district. When it came to funding the war as a U.S. senator, he had no qualms (until he started running for president). His vocal support for Israel's disastrous 2006 war on Lebanon should also provide some indication of his stance on the current war on Gaza.

During the primaries, however, all Good Liberals were (rightly) convinced that Clinton was a cold-blooded, war-mongering monster, yet ignored Obama's more hawkish comments or chalked them up to the heat of a campaign. Obama, naturally, did his part in capitalizing on progressives' distaste for Clinton, taking his future secretary of state to task for backing a resolution declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a "terrorist organization", with a statement from his campaign claiming the measure amounted to dangerous "saber-rattling" that could potentially set off a war. Yet when he had the Democratic nomination secured, the oft-alleged peace candidate declared in an address to members of AIPAC that the Guard had "rightly been labeled a terrorist organization."

Obama also has a long record of conflating Iran's civilian nuclear program with a weapons program, asserting in an April 2007 debate that Iran was in the process of developing nuclear weapons, "and I don't think that's disputed by any experts." At that time, however, the most recent report (pdf) from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated that its inspectors were "able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran," and that there was no evidence Iran had an active weapons program. 

The most recent talk of an active Iranian nuclear weapons program from both Clinton and Obama can't be construed as mere misstatements, or shorthand for fears Iran might have such a program. As it stands, their statements are at odds with the U.S. intelligence community and the findings of the IAEA. Should they have evidence to the contrary, let them show it, but until they do they should not be given the benefit of the doubt. Over the next few weeks, reporters should press them to explain why their remarks contradict the facts as we know them. Unfortunately, I'm not sure many journalists are even aware that they do.

War is the health of the state (and hack columnists)

Not every dimwitted and bloodthirsty pundit mouthing off on the Israeli invasion of Gaza is worth legitimizing with a response, but some commentators are more stridently obtuse and vicious than others -- and benefit from the prominent platforms handed to them by publications like Newsweek and The Washington Post -- and sometimes it's worth examining the actual arguments made by the over-compensating La-Z-Boy brigade. Take Carlos Alberto Motaner, "one of the most influential and widely-read columnists in the Spanish-language media," who pens an entire disingenous column on the notion that all critics of Israeli military actions are more or less driven by either 1) anti-semitism, or 2) a desire to kill Jews. Here's the nuanced argument:
Israelis are being accused of suffering too few casualties in their confrontation with the Hamas terrorists. Those who reason thus usually speak the words "disproportion" or "asymmetry" in an indignant tone. While at this writing close to a thousand Arab Palestinians have died or been wounded as a result of the bombings, the Israeli losses amount to just over a dozen.

Tel Aviv's critics -- from whom an anti-Semitic stench often rises -- do not say whether Israel should increase its quota of cadavers or if it must reduce the Arabs' quota to achieve the reasonable proportion of blood that will soothe the peculiar itch for parity that afflicts them. Nor do they specify the morally permissible number of casualties to end the rain of rockets that for years has been constantly falling on the heads of Israeli civilians.
Unfortunately, Mr. Motaner never gets around to citing any prominent voices stating the sentiments he decries, possibly because there aren't any -- a fact that would seem to undermine the straw man he constructs. Also, it never seems to occur to Motaner that perhaps some crtics of the Gaza invasion object to killing people, regardless of nationality and , and see no great moral principle behind the Israeli government's distinction between attacking civilian populations with ineffectual rockets (cold-blooded terrorism) and attacking them with the finest in U.S.-subsidized munitions (legitimate self-defense). Murder is murder, whether it's caused by a Qassam rocket or a smart bomb -- though chances are if it'll be one, it'll be the latter.

Here's more from Motaner, who seems genuinely perplexed as to why the concept of total, "all-out" war is abhorrent to some people:
This demand for "proportionality" can only be called surprising. Until this conflict began, history books everywhere always expressed great satisfaction and a certain chauvinistic pride when a nation's army inflicted on the enemy a large number of casualties, vis-à-vis a trifling price paid by "our boys." Israel is the only country expected to behave differently and, in fact, it does; I know of no other nation that announces where and when it will drop its bombs, thus enabling civilians to evacuate the territory. Of course, in this it behaves asymmetrically, because the Hamas terrorists, forever eager to cause the greatest damage possible, never announce when or where they will launch their rockets against Israel's civilian population.
First, a legalistic point -- namely, article 57, 2(c) of the Geneva Conventions, Protocol I
effective advance warning shall be given of attacks which may affect the civilian population, unless circumstances do not permit.
In other words, warning civilians of an impending attack isn't a courtesy (sometimes) granted the Palestinians out of the Israeli government's benevolent goodness, it's a law of war that if ignored (as it often is) could open up Israeli officials to charges of war crimes -- as if their actions to date haven't already. It should also be mentioned that the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip notably don't have the freedom to merely flee the conflict as Israel has maintained an increasingly stringent blockade on the region since Hamas came to power, preventing both the exodus of people and goods as well as the importation of fuel and humanitarian goods. And when residents of the Strip have heeded Israeli warnings and evacuated to several of the UN schools in the region designated for refugees, the Israeli military has had no compunction blowing up said schools up if a suspected Hamas militant (that is, a Palestinian male over the age of 12) is thought to be in the area.

But talking of "war crimes" at times feels a bit academic, as war itself is a crime against nature that -- like government -- is at best a necessary evil, and at worst an intolerable one. Indeed, the only thing mass armed conflict is really healthy for is the state, as Randolph Bourne pointed out during World War I, which invariably expands its power while spawning dime-a-dozen courtiers like Motaner (who wistfully bemoans the loss of stature the mass murder of civilians has suffered over the years). That's all the reason to give Bourne's radical advice -- that one should seek not to stop some wars, but to abolish the power structure that enables them -- a little thought:
War is a very artificial thing. It is not the naïve spontaneous outburst of herd pugnacity; it is no more primary than is formal religion. War cannot exist without a military establishment, and a military establishment cannot exist without a State organization. War has an immemorial tradition and heredity only because the State has a long tradition and heredity. But they are inseparably and functionally joined. We cannot crusade against war without crusading implicitly against the State. And we cannot expect, or take measures to ensure, that this war is a war to end war, unless at the same time we take measures to end the State in its traditional form. The State is not the nation, and the State can be modified and even abolished in its present form, without harming the nation. On the contrary, with the passing of the dominance of the State, the genuine life-enhancing forces of the nation will be liberated. If the State's chief function is war, then the State must suck out of the nation a large part of its energy for its purely sterile purposes of defense and aggression. It devotes to waste or to actual destruction as much as it can of the vitality of the nation. No one will deny that war is a vast complex of life-destroying and life-crippling forces. If the State's chief function is war, then it is chiefly concerned with coordinating and developing the powers and techniques which make for destruction. And this means not only the actual and potential destruction of the enemy, but of the nation at home as well. For the very existence of a State in a system of States means that the nation lies always under a risk of war and invasion, and the calling away of energy into military pursuits means a crippling of the productive and life-enhancing processes of the national life.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

An inconvenient truth

President-elect Barack Obama in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos:
Iran is going to be one of our biggest challenges and as I said during the campaign we have a situation in which not only is Iran exporting terrorism through Hamas, through Hezbollah but they are pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race.
The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (pdf), the consensus opinion of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies: 
We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.
Naturally, Stephanopolous asked Obama -- as any competent, professional journalist would -- to explain why he disagreed with the findings of the intelligence community and of the international inspectors on the ground:
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you have to do something about it in your first year.
So it goes. 

Meanwhile, with Dennis Ross reportedly Obama's pick to advise him on and help conduct U.S. policy toward Iran, those expecting a huge break from the Bush administration policy would seem to have every reason to be discouraged. Obama's stated willingness to at least talk with the Iranians is encouraging, but that willingness to engage will be of little comfort if his administration's ultimatums are the same as the Bush administration's -- e.g. requiring Iran to permanently outsource its enrichment of uranium, which it will never do for many nationalistic and historical reasons, while threatening military action if it does not comply.

As IPS Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe writes, Ross -- a former AIPAC lobbyist and co-founder along with Clinton-era CIA director (and prominent neoconservative) James Woolsey of the hawkish group, United Against Nuclear Iran -- is slated to "effectively manage the relationship with Iran in all its various forms, from nuclear proliferation, to support for non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah, to Iraq, and the Gulf, etc. (although at least one anti-Ross source told me that even that much has not been nailed down completely)."

For a look at what that might mean, consider this editorial in The Wall Street Journal that Ross -- along with Woolsey and fellow United Against Nuclear Iran and likely future Obama official Richard Holbrooke -- penned concerning the "threat" of Iran, which "is now edging closer to being armed with nuclear weapons." Notable for its attempts to reach the most fearful conclusions imaginable while never mentioning that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have found no evidence Iran is diverting nuclear material to a weapons program, the editorial also includes the whopper that, because of its "vast supplies of inexpensive oil and natural gas," there "is no legitimate economic reason for Iran to pursue nuclear energy."

While nuclear power may be an exceedingly expensive form of energy, that did not stop John McCain from advocating the building of dozens of new reactors over the next decade despite the U.S.'s large supplies of fossil fuels -- a platform I saw James Woolsely defend on numerous occasions for its supposed climate change and "energy security" benefits. Meanwhile, it would probably make more economic sense for Iran, as a major oil exporter, to pursue nuclear energy seeing as how every barrel of oil Iran does not use domestically it can sell on the world market -- a fact U.S. policymakers realized when they backed the Shah's nuclear efforts in the 1970s. (Whether nuclear energy is actually the best way for any country to achieve that goal is another question.)

Further insight into how Ross is likely to pursue Iranian policy can be seen in this op/ed in The Washington Post by former Senators Daniel Coats (R-IN) and Charles Robb (D-VA), which summarizes a report on Iran -- which Lobe generously terms "dreadful" -- put out by the Bipartisan Policy Center and endorsed by Ross:
[W]hile a diplomatic resolution is still possible, it can succeed only if we negotiate from a position of strength. This will require better coordination with our international partners and much stricter sanctions. Negotiations with Iran would probably be ineffective unless our European allies sever commercial relations with Tehran.


If such a strategy succeeds in bringing Iran to the table, it is important that the United States and its allies set a timetable for negotiations. Otherwise, the Iranians may seek to delay until they achieve a nuclear weapons capability.

Fourth, so that Israel does not feel compelled to take unilateral action, the next president must credibly convince Jerusalem that the United States will not allow Iran to achieve nuclear weapons capability.

Fifth, while military action against Iran is feasible, it must remain an option of last resort. If all other approaches fail, the new president would have to weigh the risks of a failure to impede Iran's nuclear program sufficiently against the risks of a military strike. The U.S. military is capable of launching a devastating strike on Iran's nuclear and military infrastructure -- probably with more decisive results than the Iranian leadership realizes.

An initial air campaign would probably last up to several weeks and would require vigilance for years to come. Military action would incur significant risks, including the possibility of U.S. and allied losses, wide-scale terrorist reprisals against Israel and other nations, and heightened unrest in the region.

Both to increase our leverage over Iran and to prepare for a military strike, if one were required, the next president will need to begin building up military assets in the region from day one.
Ross' reported appointment to a high-level position in the Obama administration having anything to do with Mideast policy should be a major cause of concern. Indeed, when someone like Hilary Mann Leverett -- a former ambassador to Egypt and onetime "terrorism fellow" at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (i.e. no pachouli-burning peacenik) -- says on national television that "There is a lot of fear and consternation that the advisers, in particular, that Hillary Clinton is bringing with her are going to make us long for the Bush days," one shouldn't expect the next four years to be all rainbows and unicorns.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Pelosi mourns "collateral damage" in Gaza

At her weekly press conference with Capitol Hill reporters this morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed how ever so concerned she was about Palestinian "collateral damage" -- euphemistic military jargon for "dead innocent men, women and children" -- but said Israel had an absolute right to defend itself and blah blah blah. See this exchange she had with one reporter (whose hand I'd like to shake):
Q: [On the House floor Dennis Kucinich] raised the issue of the Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits U.S. weapons from being used to escalate a conflict.

I have two questions. How can Israel claim self-defense when it bombs Gaza, which has no army, no air force, no navy and has been under a constant blockade? And how can Israel claim self-defense when its bombs destroy U.N. schools killing children?

So I wonder if you could answer those questions and whether you agree with him that Israel is in violation of the Arms Export Control Act?

SPEAKER PELOSI: We will have on the floor tomorrow, hopefully, tomorrow, a resolution about what is happening in the Middle East. I spoke with Prime Minister Olmert Saturday, the 3rd of January and expressed to him concerns that we have about the collateral damage that is occurring in Gaza, but also reiterating my statement that Israel does have a right, any country has a right to defend its people; in fact, it is all of our responsibility to protect and defend our people.

Q: What about the questions from Congressman Kucinich?

SPEAKER PELOSI: You know what? I understand your characterization and I'd have to see why he specifically said that, but let me say in a larger sense that we will address this issue in our resolution tomorrow and the resolution addresses the issue of a two-state solution, a cease-fire, two-state solution with a Palestinian state that is independent and secure and a Jewish democratic state that is independent and secure as well.
The funny thing about Pelosi's response is her remark that she understands the reporter's "characterization" of the events in Gaza -- as if there were any dispute of the fact that the Israeli military deliberately targeted UN schools housing hundreds of Palestinian refugees, killing more than 40 innocent civilians. Meanwhile, the resolution on the Gaza crisis she refers to does call for the protection of civilians, but only after declaring that the House of Representatives: "expresses vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizes its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against Hamas’s unceasing aggression." 

If your hoping it mentions Israel's total air, water and land blockade of the Gaza Strip in the months leading up the current crisis -- sorry, no. 

By the way, for those keeping score at home: the number of Palestinians killed so far by (U.S.-subsidized) Israeli attacks? More than 760, with another 3,200 injured. The total number of Israelis killed by rocket fire since June 2004? 18.

But wait, there's more!

At this morning's press conference, in response to another question concerning Gaza and whether she had spoken to any of Israel's leaders regarding the (dis)proportionality of their military offensive, Pelosi reminded the troublesome journalist that "you're talking about certain things from one perspective. There's a picture of some good things that are happening on the ground there as well."

Perhaps this is what she had in mind?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Blessed be the warmongers

It's bad enough when a Republican or some would-be Jerry Falwell type attempts to use religion for a reactionary political purpose like banning gay marriage, but even more egregious is the use of the pulpit to propagandize in favor of state-sponsored murder and terrorism -- a rather common phenomenon that tends to receive little attention from the mainstream media. 

Indeed, it seems only when a religious leader uses his or her position to oppose government-organized slaughter and to preach against the killings of others -- even when sanctioned by our noble, democratically elected leaders -- does the media pay any attention, as the much-maligned Jeremiah Wright learned. John McCain, after all, was only forced to distance himself from crazed "Christians United for Israel" leader and Iran war advocate John Hagee after some old tapes surfaced of him claiming the Jews brought the holocaust upon themselves.

During the Bush years many liberals became aware of the role religion appeared to play in regard to U.S. foreign policy, at least in terms of ramping up support among the religious right for armageddon-inducing wars and unflinching support for Israeli military actions. Besides being sacrilegious -- it's hard to imagine the Creator of all things endorsing militarism of any kind, "humanitarian" or not -- the use of religion to bolster the policies pursued by secular nation-states is a sure way to suppress dissent.

Perhaps that's why I found the following event listed in the January 7th Reuters Daybook so disturbing:
(MIDEAST/GAZA/CARDIN) EVENT -- Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Sallai Meridor; participate in a Jewish Community Relations Council forum "to assert Israel's right to self defense and hold Hamas responsible" for the conflict in Gaza." [sic] Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett also speaks.

Location: The Sixth and I Synagogue, 600 I Street NW
While I suppose every religious congregation has a right to hold the events and support the policies of its choosing, it strikes me as exceedingly offensive for supporters of the Israeli government -- a secular state, mind you, which represents only a minority of Jews -- to pretend to speak on behalf of the Jewish faith in defending whatever military actions the Israeli Defense Forces deign necessary, however brutal. If Senator Cardin and the Israeli ambassador wish to defend Israel's invasion of Gaza, let them do so at the National Press Club rather than hiding behind their religion at a synagogue and pretending to speak on behalf of Jews everywhere. Or is that too much to ask?

For what it's worth, when Israel was engaged in its last destructive and counterproductive war against Lebanon in 2006, I asked Cardin's fellow Maryland senator, Democrat Barbara Mikulski, whether the U.S. government's increased shipments of cluster bombs to Israel along with its refusal to call for a ceasefire in the conflict (which killed more than 1,000 Lebanese) just might encourage acts of terrorism against the United States. Her response was telling, for just as supporters of the current assault on Gaza seem incapable of any cogent argument other than shouting "rocket fire" to defend Israeli military aggression, she simply repeated the same old talking points about Israel-as-besieged-democratic-ally, declining to answer the question of whether dropping U.S.-made and paid-for munitions on innocent civilians was the best way to win Muslim hearts and minds.

The most depressing aspect of the current war on Gaza, at least from my comfortable perch in the U.S., just might be the fact that apologists for the Israeli state seem incapable of developing any new forms of argument. Instead, many only appear capable of repeating the same old tired tripe that is trotted out year after year to rationalize whatever Israeli war crimes are taking place, which "journalists" like NBC/GE's David Gregory are all too ready to parrot. Sigh.

The war on schools continues

While U.S. political leaders from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to George W. Bush are busy competing over who can issue the most effusive, over-the-top praise for the Israeli government's brutal collective punishment of the Palestinian people, the Israeli military has once again illustrated its "exemplary" commitment to avoiding civilian casualties (that is, according to respected Council on Foreign Relations fellow Max Boot) by deliberately targeting a school housing hundreds of refugees:
JERUSALEM — The Israeli military struck near a United Nations school in Gaza on Tuesday, killing at least 30 people among hundreds who had sought refuge at the school from the fighting in the beleaguered territory, the United Nations and hospital officials in Gaza said.

The officials said those killed included men, women and children. The Israeli military, in a statement, confirmed it had carried out a mortar attack on the school, saying an initial investigation suggested its forces had responded to mortar fire coming from the school.
Meanwhile, as the carnage in Gaza and the disproportionate response of the Israeli government becomes ever more apparent, Messiah-elect Barack Obama is A.W.O.L., reduced to uttering talking points about there being only one president at a time (a talking point that, peculiarly, doesn't apply to his efforts to "stimulate" the U.S. economy). As Chris Floyd notes, Obama's conspicuous silence is being read by some of his more earnest, "serious" (and deluded) supporters as simply good politics, and perhaps evidence that deep, deep down, he secretly, maybe-kinda opposes the invasion of Gaza -- all evidence to the contrary be damned.

This flight of fancy -- that Obama is some crafty, closet peacenik who will come out of his militaristic cocoon when the clock strikes midnight on January 19th -- is one that continues to pop up among both progressive supporters and conservative detractors of Obama, but it's one that has no grounding in reality. While Obama, to his credit, did indeed oppose the Iraq war, his opposition was always couched in purely pragmatic reasoning, with his 2002 speech against the invasion including several references to his opposition to "dumb wars," but most certainly not to all of them.

During the presidential campaign, meanwhile, Obama openly embraced unilaterally attacking Pakistan -- a nuclear armed "ally" of the United States -- sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan to repeat the "success" of the "surge" in Iraq (the latter which he said had succeeded beyond his "wildest dreams"), and maintaining a significant U.S. presence in Iraq until at least the end of his first term. Furthermore, since the November 4th election Obama has appointed a slew of hawks to key foreign policy positions in his administration, including the potential appointment of Dennis Ross as Special Envoy to Iran (Ross, who presumably would take the lead on talks with Iran, recently backed a startlingly hawkish, establishment-endorsed report that portrayed war with that country as inevitable should it not abandon domestic uranium enrichment, which Iran's leadership almost certainly will never do voluntarily).

Yet despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, Good Democrats and party-line Republicans continue to act as if Obama is something other than an establishment consensus-seeking politician more interested in maintaining power than in upsetting entrenched interests and political constituencies (an institutional desire not limited, by any means, to Mr. Obama). No doubt a sizable portion of those anti-war liberals awaiting the "real" Obama on inauguration day will be sorely disappointed -- before they slap "Obama/Biden 2012" stickers on their cars and begin clucking about the moral imperative of keeping [*insert nasty old Republican here*] out of the White House.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

On eating in DC

Though much of this blog is dedicated, as one commenter points out, to my "utter preoccupation with injustice seeking," sometimes even us journalists with pretenses of fighting the power need to eat. In fact, over the holiday break eating is an activity I engaged in at least twice, with varying results.

Good Stuff Eatery
Started by a failed cable "reality" cooking show contestant -- which makes liking the place that much more difficult -- this Capitol Hill burger joint is actually quite good, from the potato bread rolls to the assortment of mayos to dip one's fries in. On my second trip there this past week, the owner, "Chef Spike" himself, was in the house having promotional photos taken (complete with his trademark fedora). So far, so good. However (and you should have seen a "however" coming), about 10 minutes into enjoying my burger my girlfriend and I were asked by a photographer to relocate, immediately, so she could take some pictures of Mr. Spike looking cool -- on top of our table. Not being a terribly fussy person, this normally would have been fine with me. Just one thing: there was no place else on the first floor to sit (despite the fact that said photographer redirected us to a table with one -- count it -- one seat), meaning we were expected to take our half-eaten food up a flight of stairs. Weak. Instead, we inhaled our remaining burgers and fries (not as good as the burgers) and left.

All that said, I'll probably still go back. I'll just hate myself for doing so.

Busboys and Poets
A local coffee shop/restaurant with a penchant for progressive politics (where in August I interviewed former U.S. senator Mike Gravel concerning the case of Sami al-Arian for a story published by Inter Press Service), this past Sunday I attended a screening there of the documentary "Tulia, Texas," which recounts the story of a small, rural town where 46 men and women -- 39 of whom were African-American -- were imprisoned based on the word of one undercover narcotics agent who had an outstanding warrant and a reputation for habitual lying. The event, co-sponsored by "A.C.T.O.R.", a community group dedicated to dialogue on issues of race, was packed, a hopeful sign that more and more people are beginning to see the folly of the so-called "war on drugs". However, the packed room also meant getting any food or drink was a bit of problem.

Nonetheless (and after 30 minutes of waiting), my girlfriend was finally able to speak to a waitress and order some food, a chicken salad sandwich and some chili, both of which were delicious. Paying the check, however, induced major irony in light of the racial awareness theme of the night. While one might suspect such an event to be so politically correct it bordered on conservative satire, the bringing of the check was a moment in decidedly non-PC irony, for instead of listing my girlfriend's order by her table number, the receipt (viewable here) described her only by her race: Asian. Though not malicious and actually kind of funny, the incident is a reminder that, despite the claims of some of the more deluded that the election of Barack Obama has ushered in an era of post-racial bliss, many continue to view others as a member of a race first, and a person-with-a-name (or a table number) second.


After this post, I assure you I'll be back to issues of, you know, importance. Unless, of course, this post gets more hits than my writings about Palestine or U.S. foreign policy, in which case this blog will be dedicated to restaurant reviews and cute dog pictures from here on out.

The destruction of civilization

The Israeli government's continuing assault on Gaza, cast as a targeted strike against Hamas militants, is looking more and more to be an all-out war on the fabric Palestinian society, as the Associated Press reports:
An Israeli air strike flattened one of Gaza's best private educational institutions, the American International School which had been targeted by Islamic militants in the past.
The Israeli army said the campus on a northern Gaza hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean had been used as a launching base for rockets and was a legitimate target.

Israel has been bombing Hamas targets in Gaza for the last eight days to stop the group from sending rockets into southern Israel. More than 470 Palestinians have died so far, along with four Israelis.

Most of the school's buildings, which offered American-style curriculum in English for kindergarten through 12th grade, were destroyed by the strikes, which also killed the night watchman.

"This is the most distinguished and advanced school in Gaza, if not in Gaza and the West Bank," said Iyad Saraj, chairman of the school's board of trustees. "I cannot swear there was no rocket fired, but if there was, you don't destroy a whole school ... this is the destruction of civilization."
The school was founded in 2000 to provide "progressive education," according to the school's Web site. The school has no connection to the US government.

Saraj said the school had 250 students and many of its graduates went on to US universities such as Harvard, MIT and Princeton. "They are very good, highly educated open-minded students who can really be future leaders of Palestine," he said.
(via Lenin's Tomb)

Friday, January 02, 2009

"Take some war and call me in the morning"

Israel's continuing assault on Gaza -- which has killed at least 428 people and injured another 2,100 -- has been widely condemned by the world community, but according to the Associated Press, it has been received as an effective, albeit brutally violent, means of national mood enhancement in Israel itself:
Israelis feel empowered by attacks against Hamas

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's crushing aerial assault on Gaza has caused a significant shift in the country's mood, replacing lingering helplessness and frustration over Hamas rocket attacks with a sense of might and vindication.

In Sderot, a working-class border town that has been bombarded by thousands of Hamas rockets in recent years, residents said they haven't been this satisfied in a long time. On Wednesday, they cheered to each sound of distant explosions from Israeli airstrikes.

"You see people walking with their heads up in the air again. Finally there is some hope," said Itzik Biton, 38, who sells falafel at a fast-food stand.
As Randolph Bourne noted during WWI in his classic essay, "War is the Health of the State," military conflicts are unique in their ability to reinvigorate the public's faith in the very leaders whom, during peacetime, would rightly be seen as fallible if not outright evil and corrupt. But beyond raising support for increasing state power at the expense of civil liberties and other hallmarks of a free people, war also turns otherwise non-violent men and women into bloodthirsty monsters. 

Consider that many of those who would never dare start a fight have no compunction blessing the dropping of heavy munitions on their enemies (and their families) amid the belligerent amorality that accompanies military conflict -- a phenomenon Mark Twain captured during the Spanish-American War, and one which former New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges covered in-depth in his powerful book, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning:
The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And those who have the least meaning in their lives, the impoverished refugees in Gaza, the disenfranchised North African immigrants in France, even the legions of young who live in the splendid indolence and safety of the industrialized world, are all susceptible to war's appeal.

Don't fly Airtran

As I learned on a recent trip to Las Vegas, Airtran is a rather lousy "budget" airline. But beyond the petty complaints one could raise against practically any airline these days, the company appears to have gone above and beyond its competitors in using fear of terrorism to engage in what appears to be a clear case of anti-Muslim bigotry:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Muslim family removed from an airliner Thursday after passengers became concerned about their conversation say AirTran officials refused to rebook them, even after FBI investigators cleared them of wrongdoing.

Atif Irfan said federal authorities removed eight members of his extended family and a friend after passengers heard them discussing the safest place to sit and misconstrued the nature of the conversation.

Irfan, a U.S. citizen and tax attorney, said he was "impressed with the professionalism" of the FBI agents who questioned him, but said he felt mistreated when the airline refused to book the family for a later flight.

AirTran Airways late Thursday said they acted properly and that the family was offered full refunds and can fly with AirTran again.

"AirTran Airways complied with all TSA, law enforcement and Homeland Security directives and had no discretion in the matter," the company said in a prepared statement.

Family members said FBI agents tried to work it out with the airline, but to no avail.
"The FBI agents actually cleared our names," said Inayet Sahin, Irfan's sister-in-law. "They went on our behalf and spoke to the airlines and said, 'There is no suspicious activity here. They are clear. Please let them get on a flight so they can go on their vacation,' and they still refused."

"The airline told us that we can't fly their airline," Irfan said.
Though irrational fear is to be expected at U.S. airports, especially when the speakers on the PA system are continually braying about "terrorist alert level orange" and guards carry around intimidating semi-automatic weapons, but it should be obvious that this family never would have been treated this way had they been pasty white Midwesterners. Because they happen to be a shade darker and practice the world's third largest religion, however, benign comments about plane safety are conflated into terrorist threats.

Shame on Airtran and the hysterical passengers who ruined this family's vacation.