WaPo and its rookie Jerusalem reporter Ruth Eglash, assessed

The waPo's apparently very rookie stringer Ruth Eglash has been doing a terrible job covering the tensions in Israel/Palestine. Let's take a look at her latest offering...
 Eglash/WaPoHC comments
Headline"Clashes in Jerusalem as Arab teen is buried, rocket fire continues"Ok, strictly speaking the headline is not the journo's fault. But here, why is the murdered teen referred to as "Arab" not "Palestinian"-- only space reasons? Also, regarding violence elsewhere why is only the (presumably Palestinian) rocket fire against Israel mentioned but not Israel's many continuing acts of violence against Gaza, Hebron, etc
Byline/dateline By Ruth Eglash and Griff Witte July 4 at 12:14 PM

... but at the bottom we are told: "Witte reported from London. Sufian Taha in Jerusalem, Islam Abdul-Kareem in Gaza City and Daniela Deane in London contributed to this report./ Griff Witte is The Post’s London bureau chief." Very strange. Clearly he or someone else in the WaPo bureaucracy realized Eglash's earlier reporting was weak in the extreme, so he stepped in -- from London-- and did a rewrite major enough for him to get a co-byline, though the dateline is still Jerusalem. But what about "Sufian Taha in Jerusalem, Islam Abdul-Kareem in Gaza City"? They still are relegated to the "native informants" footnote.
Lede"Israeli security forces clashed with Palestinian demonstrators in east Jerusalem on Friday after the burial of an Arab teenager who was killed in a suspected revenge attack following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students."Here, as in many of RE's earlier pieces, we have intense Palestinian/Arab confusion for an unsuspecting reader...
Para 2"Young Palestinian protesters threw rocks at Israeli police and were met with stun grenades after the body of Mohammed Abu Khieder was borne through the streets and buried in the Shuafat neighborhood of east Jerusalem."Yet again, Ms. Eglash has mis-spelled the young man's name. Do she and her editors have no respect for his family? This is even more bizarre because the caption for the WePo's own photo, shown above, spells/transliterates his family name much more accurately, as "Abu Khadeir"-- and RE's name is on that caption! Why is her/their attitude so ignorant and uncaring?
Paras 6/7"The clash came hours after militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets and two mortars into southern Israel and a day after Israel mobilized troops to border areas near Gaza. Israeli officials said the deployments were ordered as a defensive measure after dozens of rockets were fired from Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas./ The Israeli military did not immediately retaliate for Friday’s attacks but said that it responded Wednesday and Thursday with airstrikes on 16 Hamas targets in the strip, including rocket-launching sites and weapons warehouses."Here, as so often in the MSM, Israel's acts of violence are all referred to as "responding to" some antecedent act by the Palestinians. But Palestinian acts of violence are never referred to as "responding to" anything-- heaven forbid they should be described as a response to Israel's many acts of far, far more lethal physical violence, or to 47 straight years of foreign military occupation, many decades of national dispossession, uprooting, family separation, mass incarceration, military rule, etc etc... Oh no, in the Western MSM, violence in Palestine/Israel is always portrayed as as originating with the Palestinians, because, you know, well they just *are* violent by nature... (Or something.)
Paras 9/10"The BBC quoted an unnamed Hamas official Friday saying that a new cease-fire could go into effect shortly, but there was no immediate confirmation./An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said the troop mobilization did not signal an intent by Israel... " So right, they have a sub-stringer or native informant or whatever who is identified as being located in Gaza. Why couldn't "Islam Abdul-Kareem in Gaza City" get a quote from Hamas-- heck, why couldn't Ruth Eglash herself pick up the phone from Al-Quds and call a Hamas spokesman in Gaza? I suppose that "no immediate confirmation" could mean they tried to? But evidently not hard enough...
Para 12"Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, the Izze­dine al-Qassam Brigades, accused Israel of breaching the cease-fire and said Hamas was prepared to fight if Israel launched a military assault on Gaza.Well, at least they got and used a quote from a spox for the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades (i.e., not the political wing of Hamas.)
Para 15"The cross-border fire and blame came as the family of the slain 16-year-old Khieder were preparing for his funeral... "So ignorant and uncaring! The family name is Abu Khadeir (or Abu Khudair). Here, they not only mangle the Khadeir part, they also quite incorrectly drop the Abu part.
Para 19"... residents of Shuafat — the neighborhood in east Jerusalem where the Arab teen lived and where he was abducted — insisted that Jewish settlers were behind the grisly killing.... "Continuing Palestinian/Arab confusion here-- and no particular space constraints to excuse it. This may well be because Ms. Eglash herself, like many longtime sympathizers of Israel-- or is she actually Israeli?-- is confused about the status of Jerusalem. Israelis like to claim that all of Jerusalem is theirs-- indeed, their government (quite illegally) annexed the occupied Eastern part of the city in 1968. So from a mainstream Israeli point of view, the ethnically Arab residents of occupied East Jerusalem would be judged to have a status sort of like the Palestinian citizens of Israel, whom Israelis love to refer to as "Arab Israelis or Israeli Arabs"-- no P-word for them! Of course, there are many Israelis on the right who reject the use of the P-word completely, including for residents of the rest of the occupied West Bank, and Gaza. But Ms. Eglash and her editors get themselves tied up into knots on this issue. Repeatedly. One handy and respectful rule-of-thumb in such naming dilemmas: Ask the people themselves how they like to be identified!
Para 23"Israel blames Hamas for the killings, and Netanyahu has vowed that it will “pay.” The Sunni Islamist group, which Israel, the United States and the European Union have labeled a terrorist organization, has denied involvement in the deaths of the Israeli teenagers."Not worth mentioning that Netanyahu has not presented a single shred of evidence to back up his accusation, Ms. Eglash?
Para 25"With tempers running at fever pitch, incitement and racism have been rampant on Israeli social media. In response, Israeli police said they were launching an investigation into Israeli calls for revenge against Arabs, Israel Radio reported."Oh my goodness. This was in yesterday's paper, and is being endlessly recycled at the WaPo. In the meantime, many other media including even the NYT have reported that four members of an IDF Nahal Unit have actually already been disciplined because of the inciteful nature of their facebook postings. But Ms. Eglash doesn't want to do any reporting at all of her own on this matter-- surely she could just spend a bit of time on Hebrew-language social media or have one of her many helpers do that-- and do her own reporting on it? Instead of which, she and her editors just cite, in very vague terms, an already vague, days-old report from Israel Radio. Lazy or ignorant-- or trying to cover up the extent of the racist/genocidal incitement in Israeli society these days? You choose...

Brahimi on how to understand Syria

I just saw this May 18 interview with Lakhdar Brahimi. In it, the UN’s recently retired negotiator for Syria said:

I think the Russian analysis was right at the beginning, but everybody thought that it was an opinion and not an analysis. The Russians were saying that Syria is not Egypt and it is not Tunisia, and the president of Syria is not going to fall in a matter of two or three weeks. People thought that this was not an analysis, it was an expression of position: ‘We are going to support this regime’…

Maybe, maybe if people listened to them, and went to them, and said, listen you clearly know the situation in Syria better than anybody else. Let’s sit down and see how we can help Syria solve its problems. Perhaps things would have been different. But that did not happen.

I’d just like to note that the analysis that “Syria is not Egypt and it is not Tunisia, and the president of Syria is not going to fall in a matter of two or three weeks…” was not solely a “Russian” analysis. It was also the conclusion reached by several people in the United States who have studied Syria for a long time, myself included. Back in May 2011 (MP3) and again in late November 2011, I made precisely these same points during public presentations I made at two non-trivial think-tanks in Washington, DC– the Middle East Institute and SETA. So anyone in the city who was prepared to acknowledge that I had a fair bit of expertise on the topic could have heard and learned from what I said.
I don’t know how many of the people who heard me ended up being persuaded by what I said. (Why not, I wonder? An interesting question. Perhaps because I don’t have Haim Saban or the late Sidney Harman’s money behind me. Perhaps because I am female. Who knows?) But what is clear is that none of the people who opposed my positions in those panel discussions have had their analyses vindicated. I have. If anyone cares to go back and read the 80-plus earlier posts on my blog in which I wrote about Syria, from 2003 through 2013, or to read any of my earlier writings on Syria (including two books that dealt with Syria in detail), he or she is welcome to do so.
Actually, I think what happened in 2011 was not my failure to persuade members of the Washington DC power elite but rather, the absolute insistence among members of the power elite (including a number of people with alleged “expertise on Syria”, like Steven Heydemann) most simply, that “Asad has to go”– antecedently to encouraging Syrians to engage in negotiations on any other forms of reform.
This position did not come out of nowhere. It was a continuation of the strong support that most members of Washington’s elite have given for decades to a straightforward policy of “regime change” in Syria. That policy had its origins with the imposition of the first US sanctions on Syria in the late 1970s– punishments that were ratcheted up considerably in the 2000s, under George W. Bush, along with his introduction of increased covert funding to Syrian dissidents under MEPPI– a policy that Obama then continued after January 2009.
This deep and longstanding US push for regime change in Damascus is so durable that it even managed to survive several periods in which, at the surface level, relations between the two governments appeared to be somewhat improved, e.g., during Syria’s participation in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, in the Madrid peace conference of 1992, and in many years of the post-Madrid peace diplomacy; and more recently, when it gave a degree of tacit support to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. But still, regime change– the end of Baathist rule in Damascus–was the enduring bedrock of what the neocons, AIPAC, and all their zombies in Congress, the media, and the military-industrial complex continued to push for.
The eruption of “Arab Spring” protests in Tunisia and Egypt– and the undoubted excitement these protests aroused in many parts of the Arab world, including in Syria– gave them the opportunity they sought to implement their plan.
Brahimi makes some important points in his interview. But I think it’s important to note that the analysis in question was not purely “Russian”. People in Washington DC certainly had the chance to hear a very similar assessment being made.
As I’ve noted here on the blog before, it gives me no pleasure to say, “I was right on Syria.” None whatsoever. But anyone in Washington DC or elsewhere who currently claims that she or he “cares a lot” about what has happened to the Syrian people probably owes an apology to those of us who back in 2011 made a well-informed, and as it happened correct assessment of the sources and endurance of the regime’s power.
If they want to carry on pursuing their imperialistic and arrogant policies of imposing regime change on Syria and thereby keeping the country’s people trapped in the current carnage, then I suppose they are still able to do that– at least, until the Syrian people in their millions tell the “westerners” decisively to end their illegal, divisive, and extremely harmful intervention in the internal politics of sovereign Syria.
But after three long years in which the regime-changeistas’ assessments of the “imminent collapse” of the regime have all been decisively proven false, they’d do well to eat a bit of humble pie, admit they were wrong– and most importantly of all, to undertake the course correction needed to provide real help to those Syrians (all Syrians, including both supporters and opponents of the regime) who want to bring this terrible war to the speediest possible, and preferably negotiated, end.

Israeli spooks vacuuming up American ‘faceprints’

Today’s NYT Business Section has an interesting article about the increasing use of facial recognition software in security/access systems in the U.S. The main subject that the writer, Natasha Singer, was describing was the emergence of serious questions about the ethics of the whole business. The piece was subtitled, “What hath facial recognition wrought? A pioneer in the field now warns of its potential for invading individual privacy.”

The pioneer in question is Greek/French physicist Joseph Atick; and Singer quotes his views at some length. For counter-point, she provides a description of– and some quotes from– an ardent advocate of the use of facial recognition, a guy called Aharon Zeevi Farkash, whom she introduces simply as the chief executive of a company called FST Biometrics which, she does admit, is Israeli.

This man wants to vaccum up YOUR face, Americans!

This man wants to vacuum up YOUR face, Americans!

But Farkash (shown left) is no ordinary corporate CEO. This is how FST’s own website describes him:

From 1990-1993, he headed the prestigious Israel SIGINT National Unit (8200), after which he held senior positions in the [IDF’s] Planning Branch for five years. Promoted to the rank of General in 1998, he subsequently served as Head of the Technology & Logistics Branch until 2001; he then was appointed to lead the Directorate of Military Intelligence (Aman), where he served until retiring from the IDF in 2006.

Farkash thus spent 16 years in significant leadership positions in the Israeli military-intel system. Palestinian rights activist Kawther Salam, who tries to document the responsibility of individual Israeli commanders for gross rights abuses, writes about Farkash:

He was responsible for planning and implementing the assassinations of 544 Palestinian between 2002 and 2006.

… During 2004 he ordered the assassinations of 112 Palestinians. During the operations to carry out these assassinations, an additional 172 children were murdered.

Due to demolition orders given by Zeevi-Farkash, 2366 houses were destroyed.

… The actions of Aharon Zeevi-Farkash in office constitute genocide and ethnic cleansing in international laws and statutes which have also been signed and ratified by Israel.

I’m not sure I agree with Kawther that Farkash was responsible for giving the orders in these cases. But undoubtedly, he was responsible for the preparation of the plans given to the political leadership for these actions. (Maybe he would claim that in preparing those plans, he was “just following orders”. Have we heard that before somewhere?)

Singer’s article today describes two places in the United States where Farkash’s company– whose ‘C’ suite is stuffed with other men who are similarly proud to flaunt their experience in the IDF– has already installed its facial recognition systems. One is Knickerbocker Village, “a 1,600-unit redbrick apartment complex in Lower Manhattan,” which Singer describes as “a showcase for FST Biometrics”. The other is an un-named private high school in Los Angeles.

Singer writes of Farkash:

In essence, he started FST Biometrics because he wanted to improve urban security. Although the company has residential, corporate and government clients, Mr. Farkash’s larger motive is to convince average citizens that face identification is in their best interest. He hopes that people will agree to have their faces recognized while banking, attending school, having medical treatments and so on.

If all the “the good guys” were to volunteer to be faceprinted, he theorizes, “the bad guys” would stand out as obvious outliers. Mass public surveillance, Mr. Farkash argues, should make us all safer.

Really? And who is the “us” he was talking about there? For me, as a U.S. citizen, I certainly do not feel safer knowing that there are places in my country where a company run by a bunch of Israeli intel experts has been vacuuming up my “faceprint”.

Do such systematic capturings of my “faceprint” require any form of permit? At present, I believe not. (Singer’s piece provides a pretty good exploration of the many privacy issues these new technologies present, and is worth reading on that score.) But I am outraged that a company so closely associated with Israel’s SIGINT bureaucracy is allowed to be vacuuming up this kind of data anywhere in America.

I would hope that the residents of Knickerbocker Village and students and faculty at the un-named L.A. school would be outraged as well, and would work to terminate these very harmful contracts as soon as possible.

Cast Lead Plus Five

On December 27, 2008, the Israeli government launched the might of its U.S.-supplied military against the 1.6 million people of Gaza and the leadership that they– along with their compatriots in the West Bank– had elected to power back in January 2006. The Israeli war aim was to inflict such pain on the residents of Gaza that they would rise up against the quasi-government that Hamas had been running in Gaza since 2006/7. (In June 2007, Israel and the U.S. had tried to use their allies in Mohamed Dahlan’s wing of the Palestinian movement to overthrow Hamas via a coup; but that coup attempt was aborted.)

The Israeli attack of December 2008 was given the stunningly accurate name ‘Operation Cast Lead’. By the time it ended 23 days later– and with Hamas still in power in Gaza– Israel had killed more than 1,400 Gaza residents and left many thousands more maimed or wounded. It had destroyed tens of thousands of homes, just about all of Gaza’s previously bustling network of small manufacturing and ag-processing businesses, and numerous schools, bridges, and other items of vital civilian infrastructure.

International law clearly defines as terrorism any attempt to use force or violence against civilians in order to try to prod them into effecting political change. But in 2008, 2009, as in all of the past 40-plus years, Israel has enjoyed the special protection of the United States. Thus, the Israeli leaders of the time (PM Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the rest) were never called to account for the quintessentially terrorist attack of 2008-09.

Earlier this month, two rightwing Israeli strategic “experts”, Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir, published in Hebrew a study describing Cast Lead as just one example of what they say now constitutes a large part of Israel’s security doctrine: A strategy obscenely called “Mowing the Grass”, which they say, is designed to:

destroy the capabilities of [Israel’s] foes, hoping that occasional large-scale operations have a temporary deterrent effect in order to create periods of quiet along its borders.

I actually believe that Inbar and Shamir are painting too “rosy” a picture (from Israel’s POV) of Israel’s achievements in Cast Lead and the other examples they give of its “grass-mowing” military actions. Certainly, in both Cast Lead and in the prolonged assault against Lebanon that  preceded it in 2006, the prime war goal articulated at the time by Israeli leaders was regime change within the country/territory targeted. And by that metric, on both those occasions they failed miserably. It was only around a year ago, in November 2012, when yet another Israeli PM (Netanyahu) launched yet another completed unwarranted military operation against Gaza– just because he could!– that the “goal” of all such operations since Defensive Shield in 2002 became ex-post-facto redefined as “merely a bit of grass-mowing”, not actual regime change as such.

Be that as it may… The whole idea of launching mega-lethal, anti-humane “grass-mowing” attacks against one’s far less powerful neighbors is quite obscene– as is the tolerance with which most of the bought-and-paid-for U.S. political elite has responded to these uses (abuses) of the military support that the U.S. has continued unwaveringly to supply to Israel. These military assaults are particularly obscene, and indeed actually criminal under international law, when they are launched against communities like those in the West Bank or Gaza Strip that are under Israeli military occupation and that are are therefore supposed to enjoy special protection from the occupying power.

* * *

The deliberate and cruel way in which Israel employed its military force against Gaza’s people in 2008 constituted an important turning point in the way many traditionally pro-Israel people in the United States and other western countries came to view Israel. For many westerners who had previously been politically “progressive” on every topic except Israel, after Cast Lead, they shed that exception and determined that the government of Israel should be held to the same standards of international behavior as every other government in the world. They became transformed from being “progressive, except on Israel” to being “progressives, including on Israel,” or as the shorthand goes: from PEP’s to PIP’s. Over the five years since the launching of Cast Lead, the numbers of PIP’s in the United States have, blessedly, been multiplying.

As for the people of Gaza, the vast majority of them did survive the horrors of Cast Lead in one way or another; and most importantly, the integrity of their society survived it. They were not broken. I have had the good fortune to visit Gaza twice since January 2009 (building on the numerous previous visits I made to the Strip over the preceding twenty-plus years.) On both the most recent visits I found the key institutions in the Strip functioning fairly well. The Strip’s (elected) Hamas leadership continued to field some military forces within the Strip– the same ones that had managed to repulse the Israeli ground forces’ repeated attempts to seize control of Gaza City and other key locations during the latter stages of Cast Lead. But as I drove around the Strip in November 2009 and again in June 2011, there were very few signs indeed of a general militarization of society… and no sign at all of the kind of heavy-handed security presence that the rival (U.S.-backed) branch of the PA sees fit to deploy in the Swiss-cheese areas of the West Bank that they are allowed to police.

Over the past year, I have been working with Refaat Alareer, an inspiring and committed lecturer in the English Department of the Gaza Islamic University, to publish a collection of short stories written in English by young writers from Gaza. Our goal was to bring this book out to mark the fifth anniversary of Cast Lead– and we have succeeded! The formal publication date for Gaza Writes Back, Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine, edited by Refaat Alareer, is January 15, 2014– three days before the fifth anniversary of the end of Cast Lead. But we started shipping copies of the book out to interested readers about ten days ago, and many readers now have copies in their hands.

The book contains 23 stories. So starting tomorrow, December 27, Refaat and I want to ask everyone who can get hold of a copy of the book to read (and reflect upon) one story each day… which will take us all to the end of this somber, five-year anniversary.

Here on the U.S. east coast, we’re still on December 26th, so I’m going to start by re-reading the Introduction that Refaat wrote to the book.

On pp.16 and 17, he wrote this:

During the offensive, Palestinians in Gaza realized more than ever before that no one, no matter who and no matter where, is immune from Israel’s fire. Israel cast lead indiscriminately hither and thither, aiming to melt not just our bodies, which it did, but also our allegiance and our hope and our memories, which it could not do. Twenty-three days later, the people of Gaza rose to dust themselves off and to start an arduous journey of rebuilding houses and infrastructure, and reconstructing what the missiles had dispersed and scattered. Twenty-three days of nonstop Israeli hate and hostility—and Gaza rose from it like a phoenix.

The people who queued at the morgues and bade farewell to their loved ones days later queued at bakeries that did not raise their prices, and went out to the grocery stores that also did not raise their prices. And they came back home to distribute what little they bought to the people who were unable to buy because they did not have the money. The people of Gaza were never this close before. Gaza was now more deeply rooted not only in the hearts of every Palestinian, but also in the hearts of every free soul around the globe… But this is not to romanticize war. War is by all means ugly. “There was too much pain in those twenty-three days, and some of us who wrote about Cast Lead, did so to heal some of the pain caused by the horrendous memories. And no matter how beautiful the spirit of resistance that overwhelmed us, this beauty should never override the ugliness of pure injustice,” as [book contributor] Sameeha Elwan put it.

The social psychology of what Refaat was describing there would be quite familiar to, for example, any British people like my father who survived the Blitzkrieg that Nazi Germany launched against London in 1940…

So now, over the next 23 days, we’re going to be posting a short excerpt from each of the stories, every day, on the Gaza Writes Back Facebook page. I’d like to invite all readers of Just World News to buy a copy of the book (which you can do here, if you haven’t done so already: Note that we’re offering free shipping worldwide if you place your order before December 31!) And also, to join the conversations about the stories as we post the excerpts from them on the Facebook page… and of course, to recommend this amazing and important book to all your friends!

In praise of war-weariness

This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently… With regard to Obama’s step back (for now) from the brink of escalation in Syria and the rising possibilities of a negotiated de-escalation in Iran, some people here in America have lamented that these developments are “merely the result of war weariness”… As though being war-weary is some form of moral failing, and once Americans have just bucked up and re-gathered our national energies, we should all be “healed” of this war weariness and ready once again to ride off into yet another foreign war?

I demur. I am war-weary and proud of it. Indeed, I have been weary of all these wars since before they all started; and I only wish that more Americans– make that MANY more Americans– had also been war-weary back in those crucial weeks prior to the October 7, 2001 invasion of Afghanistan; those months of the buildup to the March 19, 2003 invasion of Iraq; and those crucial days and hours prior to the March 19, 2011 launching of the NATO air attack against Libya…

Not one of those wars brought a discernible net benefit to the people of the country in which it was waged. All three of those countries are still reeling today from the terrible and continuing aftershocks of the violence that the U.S. military visited upon them. All are still trapped inside pulsing circles of violence and counter-violence with no end in sight. Let’s not kid ourselves– either about the current situation of those three countries, or about the huge responsibility that the U.S. government bears for bringing them to their current plight… Meanwhile, here in the United States, every town and city is now haunted by the presence of the traumatized and often deeply troubled U.S. veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while the social-service, physical, and economic infrastructure of our country has been ripped almost to shreds by the astronomical cost of the wars.

So yes, I am war-weary. Or maybe, since I don’t want to make this only a retrospective sentiment, let me use the term war-averse instead.

Please! Let us take advantage of the present moment of sanity (in halting the rush to U.S. military hostilities in and against Syria), to connect once again with the ancient wisdoms that time after time after time have told humanity that war is (a) always harmful to the civilians in the war zone, despite all the claims about “precise targeting”, “surgical” strikes, and such; (b) always unpredictable in its political course and outcomes; and (c) always inimical to basic freedoms at home… and that tell us, therefore, that we should exert every possible effort to use means other violence and war to resolve our differences.

Yes, I am a pacifist– and more convinced of this stance than ever, these days… so you could say I am an “ideologue” on the matter, impervious to counter-arguments and un-swayable by new facts. (But really, what new facts could anyone adduce today, to persuade any reasonable person anywhere that the U.S. war on Afghanistan was, on balance, a good thing; that the U.S. war on Iraq was a good thing; or the war on Libya… or, looking forward, that a U.S. war or escalation against Syria would be a good thing, or ditto against Iran?)

But you don’t have to be a complete pacifist to reach these conclusions. There have been many, many smart thinkers throughout history, people who may not have absorbed all the wisdom of the sages of nonviolence but who, while allowing for the possibility of “ethically” waging a war in some circumstances, have nonetheless cautioned strongly about the dangers that any war carries. I’m thinking about St. Augustine, a man who broke from the nonviolent teachings of the first 400 years of Christianity and for the first time posited the idea of a “just war”– but who was so intimately familiar in his own lifetime with the destructive animal spirits that any warfare unleashes that he defined many layers of conditions and prohibitions that would be needed if any war could earn his label of “just”. Or more recently, the framers of the U.N. Charter– men reeling from the effects of two global wars within just one generation, who had seen the damages that both those wars (and also the obsessively punitive “peace” of the Treaty of Paris) had wrought. And thus, while the U.N.’s originators allowed for the possibility of some “legitimate” wars in the order they sought to build, they too defined their own tough layers of conditions that should be met if any war fought in the post-1945 world could meet their standard of “legitimacy”. And equally importantly, they issued passionate pleas for the nonviolent, negotiated resolution of international conflicts and built whole edifices dedicated to providing the mechanisms for doing so.

So yes, let’s hear it for war-weariness once again. And this time, please let the sentiment last a long time. And let’s start seriously planning how to divert all the efforts that have until now been directed to designing and building machines of destruction, control, and war into building structures of peace and human development– for all the world’s people– instead.

The Russia-Syria deal: What it means and what now?

Watching Syrian FM Walid Muallem on the TV news announcing his country’s acceptance of Russia’s plan to consign all Syria’s CW stockpile to international control and then destruction was an amazingly powerful sight. With this one stroke, all the air went out of the campaign Pres. Obama has been ramping up, to win public and Congressional support for a U.S. “punitive” military attack against Syria. (Shortly after Mouallem’s announcement, the Democratic leader of the senate, Harry Reid, withdrew the war resolution from consideration there…)

As of now, the Moscow deal looks like win-win-win all round for everyone with legitimate interests in the Syria situation:

  • First of all and most importantly, it is a win for the vast majority of the Syrian people– those who are desperate for an end to the conflict and want nothing more than to go home and see their country’s war-ravaged fabric (physical and social) repaired. Under what political circumstances? Still to be determined. But at least they have a much better chance of this happening now than if U.S. Cruise missiles had been used to further stir up the  stew of their country’s conflict.
  • It’s a win for both Pres. Obama and the American people. The American people had shown, overwhelmingly, that they (we) neither wanted nor needed this war. But Obama was still kind of hoisted on the self-created petard of his various pronouncements about Syria’s CW– not only the various ‘Red Lines’ statements he made earlier, but also all the recent statements claiming a surety of knowledge about what happened August 21st that has never yet been backed up by the public provision of any evidence. Here in the United States as around the world, there were loud calls for him to present his evidence. He never has. As this made-in-Moscow deal goes forward (which I expect it will), Obama will likely be relieved that he never has to show what, by many accounts, seems to have been a very weak evidentiary hand. Continue reading

Syria in the crosshairs of the west

2013 is very far from being the time that independent Syria has been targeted by the west (sometimes, including Israel.) The history of western intervention in the country has been long– starting from, of course, the protectorate that France established there in the wake of World War I, under the guise of a ‘Mandate’ from the League of Nations– though not, of course, from the Syrian people. In 1949, just three years after Syria won its independence from France, the CIA engineered a coup by the head of the Syrian armed forces, Hosni Zaim, against the democratically elected president Shukri Quwwatly. CIA operative Miles Copeland wrote later (Game of Nations, 1969, p.50) that he and his colleagues had judged Quwwatly “not liberal enough”… and therefore he had to be toppled by a coup. (Echoes in Egypt today, anyone? People organizing a military coup in the name of “liberalism”?)

Sticking, for now, with the record of purely American interventions in Syria, this record is long indeed, running (in more recent times) through:

  1. 1979, when the State Department put Syria on the list of “states supporting terrorism” back in 1979– which triggered economic sanctions that have lasted until today, and have been progressively tightened ever since;
  2. December 2003, when Congress– in the first flush of enthusiasm that the U.S. victory in Iraq could be speedily replicated in Syria and Lebanon– passed the punitive “Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (SALSRA)”. In late spring 2005, after the growth of the Lebanese popular movement that followed the killing of former PM Rafiq Hariri, Syria did indeed withdraw from Lebanon the troops that had been deployed there since they first went in (at, it has to be said, Washington’s urging) back in January 1976. But even the restoration of Lebanon’s sovereignty was not enough to ease up the sanctions Washington maintained on Syria. Actually, the SALSRA was a great big dog’s breakfast of a sanctions bill; and it has been cited more recently as a source of legitimacy for U.S. punitive action against Syria on account of Syria’s CW capabilities.
  3. From 2009 until today: The funding of clandestine opposition movements in Syria under the MEPPI program that George W. Bush launched (with Liz Cheney supervising much of it in the early years.) Crucially, after Pres. Obama took office, he continued this program– as was revealed in some of the Wikileaks cables in April 2011. Continue reading

Notes as the imperial will starts to collapse, Pt. II

(Part I of this was here.)

Citizens here in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world have had ample chance, in the 12 years since 9/11, to see the results of U.S. military actions– in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya and (a little covertly), in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. In none of these cases have the results been anything that anyone can take pride in, to say the least.

Americans (outside the Washington Beltway) are not stupid. We have seen all these terrible outcomes… outcomes, that is, that have been terrible for our fellow-humans who are citizens of those targeted countries– but also, terrible because of the way they have helped to make the world a much more unstable and terrifying place and to further deepen the hatred for Americans in many parts of the world. The U.S.’s profligate use of military power in all these situations in the past 12 years has ended up being quite counter-productive in terms of making the word a better, safer place for Americans (and others.) And somehow, finally, an increasing number of Americans are seeing that this has been so.

Two years ago, on September 10, 2011, I wrote:

I believe that today, more Americans understand the futility and damaging nature of wars– all wars– than did ten years ago. But still, far too many of our countrymen and -women remain susceptible to arguments like those made in favor of the military “action” or military “intervention” in Libya earlier this year.

That was two years ago. Since then, a lot more Americans’ eyes have been opened as to the counter-productive nature of war– whether in Libya, in Afghanistan, Iraq, or (I hope) anywhere else in the world.

We definitely heard some of that during the meeting we had with Rep. Robert Hurt here in his district office in Charlottesville, on Thursday. And he told us, then, that the calls he’s been receiving on the Syria issue have been running “overwhelmingly” against the idea of a U.S. military attack. This is great. This is new. This is the result, in part, of new great awakening of Americans on issues of war, peace, and security. It’s the result, too, of the patient work of everyone in the anti-war movement who has kept on steadfastly organizing and making their (our) case even throughout the past 12 years of the crazy American wars.

There are three main groups of people here in the United States who, as of now, don’t see things this way. They are:

  1. Leaders of the military-industrial complex and their flaks.
  2. AIPAC (the America Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the leaders of some other prominent pro-Israeli organizations.
  3. Some liberal hawks.

Okay, let’s take the liberal hawks first, because they are the smuggest and the least well informed.

Continue reading

Notes as the imperial will starts to collapse

In 1997, I had the good fortune to move with my family to a place sufficiently far from the hype-soaked, MIC-funded confines of Washington DC that a person could actually have real conversations in public about issues like the Palestine Question without immediately being accused of being a traitor, or an anti-semite, or worse. Our Member of Congress here in Virginia’s 5th district is currently Robert Hurt, a pleasant but fairly good-old-boy-ish Republican who first won the seat in the Tea Party-inspired upheaval of 2010.

On Thursday, I was part of a 20-person citizen delegation organized by the indefatigable peace activist David Swanson that went to see Rep. Hurt, with the two goals of (1) pressing him to express his own position on the possibility of a US military attack on Syria and (2) expressing our own opposition to such an attack. (A fairly good local-news report of the meeting is here.) On the first point, Hurt said he “remained to be convinced of the need for the attack”, but he would “listen to the president and hear the administration’s briefings with an open mind.” During the meeting, I pressed him to listen to the admin’s briefings with a critical mind, as well, and not to be afraid to ask for questions and clarifications. He said he would. This seems all the more important in light of Rep. Alan Grayson’s account in today’s NYT of just how unsatisfactory he found the briefings that he was given on the subject, in his role as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Grayson, a Democratic member from South Florida, has emerged– along with libertarian-inclined Rep. Justin Amash of Wisconsin– as a leader of the DontattackSyria movement. (Any US citizen reading this who has not yet signed the petition there should do so asap.) All the more surprising because, as MJ Rosenberg has noted, Grayson had previously had something of a reputation as an AIPAC dupe.

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Asad’s survivability, and US MSM

David Sanger in NYT today:

How did Mr. Obama find himself in this trap? Partly, it was an accident of history: in the early, heady days of the Arab uprisings, no one bet that Mr. Assad would survive this long, in a country where his Alawite sect is a minority.

Not true. Of course, responsible analysis of foreign affairs is not a casino, so what analysts do is not “bet” on possibilities; rather, they make their best assessment based on the knowledge/experience base they have and their powers of analysis. On that basis, since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, I have expressed my judgment that Pres. Asad has had much stronger support in Syrian public opinion than, for example, former Pres. Mubarak had; and that all the pundits saying “Asad won’t last until ‘the end of 2011’,” or whatever other timeframe they put on it, were ill-informed and wrong.

In 2011, based on my many decades of experience analyzing and writing about matters Syrian, I was able to have my views heard in Washington a tiny bit– at two small think tanks. Did David Sanger or any other wellpaid participant in the MSM ever seek my views, or those of other analysts who, also knowing a lot about Syrian internal affairs, voiced the same conclusions? No. Instead, they all just kept quoting the same denizens of the media-Beltway bubble (with the ‘quoting’ often led by people at the so-called ‘Washington’ Institute for Near East Policy, which is actually the AIPAC-spawned Institute for NEP… not designed to be a source of cool, impartial analysis or policy advice.)

This bubble/echo-chamber mentality among the MSM and the rest of the along-the-Acela-line elite had consequences. In April 2012, one mid-level official in the U.S. diplomatic machine told me in exasperation, “We never imagined that Asad would still be in power this long! We were convinced he would be out by the end of 2011.” I reminded this person that I had warned all along that Asad’s regime had more popular support and political resilience than the other regimes that had toppled the previous year.

Anyway, all this is just for the record at this point. But please, don’t let David Sanger get away with his claim that “in the early, heady days of the Arab uprisings, no one bet that Mr. Assad would survive this long.” I was there, David Sanger, and I was presenting my analysis. It was just that you– and too many others like you– weren’t paying attention.

Crucially, if more people in the U.S. power elite had tried to really understand the dynamics inside Syria, the Obama administration would not have taken the step, in August 2011, of declaring that “Asad has to go before there can be any intra-Syrian negotiations.” It is that position, steadfastly hewed to by the administration since then, that has condemned the Syrian people to two additional years of wrenching internal struggle and horrific levels of destruction of their infrastructure and their society.