The Budget’s Foreign Policy Handcuffs

Hopes that a Democratic administration with an expanded Democratic congressional majority might lead to a more ethical, rational, and progressive foreign policy were challenged with last week’s passage of the 2009 omnibus budget bill, which included many troubling provisions regarding the State Department and related diplomatic functions.

In the House of Representatives, all but two dozen Democrats supported and all but 20 Republicans opposed the bill. It passed the Senate by voice vote, believed to have been mostly divided by strict party lines.

While the Obama administration had little to do with putting the bill together and seemed willing to wait to put its imprint on the budget for the 2010 fiscal year, it was nevertheless disturbing that the new president didn’t challenge the inclusion of segments of the legislation that seemed to be designed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, and other Democratic congressional leaders to undercut his authority to pursue a different Middle East policy than his predecessor.

Most notably, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders refused calls for conditioning U.S. military aid to Israel, Egypt, and other countries in the region on their adherence to internationally recognized human rights standards. In addition, in reaction to the United Nations Human Rights Council raising concerns about human rights abuses by Israel and other U.S. allies in the region, Pelosi’s bill bars the use of any U.S. funds to be appropriated as part of the annual contribution of UN member states to support the Council’s work.

Also problematic is that — while Congressional Democrats formally dropped their longstanding opposition to Palestinian statehood in the 1990s (in contrast to President Barack Obama, who has supported Palestinian statehood since his days as a student activist in the early 1980s) — the Democratic-sponsored appropriations bill contains a series of measures which appear to be designed to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Fueling the Arms Race

Challenging the widespread consensus by arms control specialists and other observers that the Middle East already has too many armaments, Pelosi and the Democrats have clearly determined that, in their view, the region doesn’t have enough armaments and that the United States must continue its role as supplier of most of the region’s weaponry. As teachers, librarians, social workers, health care professionals, and other Americans are losing their jobs due to a lack of public funding, the Democrats’ appropriation bill pours billions of dollars’ worth of taxpayer funding into sophisticated weapons for both Israel and neighboring Arab states. And, with his signature, it appears Obama agrees with these distorted priorities.

Pelosi and the Democrats made clear their outright rejection of recent calls by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to suspend U.S. military aid to Israel in response to the use of U.S. weapons in war crimes during the assault on the Gaza Strip in January, instead siding with the former Bush administration in allocating $2.5 billion of unconditional military aid to the Israeli government this fiscal year.

Rather than being directed toward counterterrorism or other defensive measures, the bill stipulates that funds will be used for the procurement of advanced weapons systems, roughly three-quarters of which will be purchased from American arms manufacturers.

An additional $1.3 billion in foreign military financing is earmarked for the Egyptian dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, $235 million for the autocratic monarchy in Jordan, $58 million for Lebanon, and $12 million for the repressive regime in Tunisia. The only other country specifically targeted for military aid in this legislation is Colombia, which will receive $53 million.

While last year’s appropriations bill blocked Egypt from access to part of its military aid until it had taken clear and measurable steps to “adopt and implement judicial reforms that protect the independence of the judiciary” and “review criminal procedures and train police leadership in modern policing to curb police abuses,” such provisions were removed from this year’s bill, yet another indication of the Democratic majority’s lack of concern for human rights.

Sabotaging a Palestinian Unity Government

As European governments and others, recognizing that some kind of government of national unity between Fatah and the more moderate elements of Hamas is necessary for the peace process to move forward, Pelosi and her colleagues are attempting to sabotage such efforts. This year’s appropriations bill prohibits any support for “any power-sharing government” in Palestine “of which Hamas is a member,” unless Hamas unilaterally agrees to “recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm, and accept prior agreements, including the Roadmap.”

By contrast, there are no such provisions restricting the billions of dollars of aid to the emerging coalition government in Israel, which includes far right parties that have likewise refused to recognize Palestine, renounce violence, support the disarming of allied settler militias, or accept prior agreements, including the roadmap.

In short, to Pelosi and other Democratic congressional leaders, Palestinians simply do not have equal rights to Israelis in terms of statehood, security, or international obligations. The Democrats are willing to sabotage any Palestinian government that dares include — even as a minority in a broad coalition — any hard-line anti-Israeli party, yet they have no problems whatsoever in pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into supporting an Israeli government dominated by hard-line anti-Palestinian parties.

There’s a word for such double-standards: racism.

Other Anti-Palestinian Provisions

Migration and refugee assistance are other areas where the anti-Palestinian bias of Pelosi and other Democratic leaders becomes apparent. There are dozens of countries in which the United Nations, assisted in part through U.S. aid, is involved in relief operations, including those dealing with Rwandans, Kurds, Congolese, Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, and other refugee populations from which terrorist groups operate or have operated in the recent past. However, Pelosi and the Democratic leadership have determined that it’s among Palestinian refugees alone that the State Department is required to work with the UN and host governments “to develop a strategy for identifying individuals known to have engaged in terrorist activities.”

Pelosi’s bill stipulates that not less than $30 million in funds for migration and refugee assistance should be made available for refugee resettlement in Israel. None of the other 192 recognized states in the world are specifically earmarked to receive this kind of funding, which is normally made available on assessment of humanitarian need. In recent years, successive Israeli governments have encouraged immigrants to live in subsidized Jewish-only settlements, illegally constructed on confiscated land in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights, in violation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions and a landmark advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice. The inclusion of this funding is widely interpreted as an effort by Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers to encourage further Israeli colonization in occupied Palestinian and Syrian territory so as to decrease the likelihood of a peace settlement.

Only $75 million in aid is allocated to the West Bank and none of it is allocated to the Palestinian Authority itself. In contrast, annual U.S. economic assistance to Israel (which doesn’t include the billions in military aid) goes directly to the Israeli government and has usually totaled more than 15 times that amount, even though the per-capita income of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is less than one-twentieth that of Israeli Jews.

Pelosi’s bill contains lengthy and detailed conditions and restrictions on programs in the West Bank, with extensive vetting, reporting, and auditing requirements required for no other place in the world. This year’s bill adds requirements that all funds are subjected to the regular notification procedures, also an unprecedented requirement. There are also a number of other stipulations not found for any other nations, such as the provision banning any assistance to the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation.

Despite all the additional administrative costs such restrictions require, the bill caps administrative expenses at $2 million; no such limitations exist involving aid to any other nation.

The Democrats’ goal appears to be to make it all the more difficult for Palestinians — already suffering under U.S.-backed Israeli sieges — to meet even their most basic needs for health care, education, housing, and economic development.

Roadblocks for Palestinian Statehood

Though the United States remains the world’s number one military, economic, and diplomatic supporter of repressive Middle Eastern governments — including absolute monarchies, military juntas, and occupation armies — the appropriations bill includes language insisting that the “governing entity” of Palestine “should enact a constitution assuring the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and respect for human rights for its citizens, and should enact other laws and regulations assuring transparent and accountable governance.” No such language exists in regard to any other nation.

There are also provisions blocking U.S. support for a Palestinian state unless it meets a long list of criteria regarding perceived Israeli security needs. Again, no such conditions exist for any other nation in terms of its right to exist.

One target of Pelosi and other Democratic leaders is the Palestinians’ desire to regain the Arab-populated sections of East Jerusalem, which have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. In addition to its religious significance for both Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims, Jerusalem has long been the most important cultural, commercial, political, and educational center for Palestinians and has the largest Palestinian population of any city in the world. Given the city’s significance to both populations, any sustainable peace agreement would need to recognize Jerusalem as the capital city for both Israel and Palestine.

In an apparent effort to delegitimize any Palestinian claims to their occupied capital, however, Pelosi’s bill prohibits any “meetings between officers and employees of the United States and officials of the Palestinian Authority, or any successor Palestinian governing entity” in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem “for the purpose of conducting official United States Government business with such authority.” Even if the Israelis do agree to end their occupation of Arab East Jerusalem, Pelosi and the Democrats have inserted language that no funds could be used to create any new U.S. government offices in Jerusalem that would interact with the Palestinian Authority or any successor Palestinian government entity.

Nuclear Nonproliferation

Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues continue to pursue nonproliferation based on ideological litmus tests rather than universal law-based principles. For example, the bill requires that any assistance to Russia be withheld until the Russian government has “terminated implementation of arrangements to provide Iran with technical expertise, training, technology, or equipment necessary to develop a nuclear reactor, related nuclear research facilities or programs, or ballistic missile capability.” However, there are no such restrictions on the United States itself continuing its nuclear cooperation with India, despite India’s maintaining and expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1172, nor are there any objections included regarding ongoing U.S. ballistic missile development with Israel, despite Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal and its ongoing violation of UN Security Council Resolution 487.

The appropriations bill stipulates that the United States will support the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency — which successfully dismantled Iraq’s nuclear program in the early 1990s — “only if the Secretary of State determines (and so reports to the Congress) that Israel is not being denied its right to participate in the activities of that Agency.” This appears to be an effort to prevent one of the means by which the United Nations could conceivably pressure Israel into ending its ongoing violation of Resolution 487, which calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the trusteeship of the IAEA. There are no other countries whose potential exclusion from the IAEA would jeopardize U.S. funding.

Moving Forward

It should also be noted that there were a number of positive changes to the FY2009 budget impacting the Middle East. Language that required the State Department to designate the birthplace of U.S. citizens born in Israeli-occupied parts of greater East Jerusalem as “Israel” — thereby effectively recognizing Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestinian territory — was dropped. There was also a new segment in the bill directing the Secretary of State to report on Moroccan suppression of human rights in the occupied Western Sahara.

Most significant is a provision banning nearly all cluster-bomb exports to Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, an initiative which had been defeated during the last session of Congress thanks to near-unanimous Republican opposition, as well as negative votes from such leading Democratic senators as Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. Obama — who, in contrast, voted in favor of the resolution — apparently helped to insure the inclusion of this provision in the bill, which has been applauded by human rights groups.

Meanwhile, a number of additional anti-Palestinian amendments introduced from the floor by Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) were voted down after vigorous lobbying by Americans for Peace Now and other liberal groups.

Nevertheless, it’s disappointing that so many other right-wing provisions involving the Middle East were included in the omnibus spending bill, particularly since this year’s appropriations were put together by a Congress with the largest Democratic majority in decades.

It will be President Obama, and not the Democratic-controlled Congress, who will ultimately determine the direction of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere in the coming years. Unfortunately, even assuming the best of intentions by a president who came to office in large part due to popular dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. policy in the region, he won’t be able to fundamentally change the direction of that policy if Congress continues to pursue policies supporting militarization, occupation, and repression.

The U.S. and Afghan Tragedy

One of the first difficult foreign policy decisions of the Obama administration will be what the United States should do about Afghanistan. Escalating the war, as National Security Advisor Jim Jones has been encouraging, will likely make matters worse. At the same time, simply abandoning the country — as the United States did after the overthrow of Afghanistan’s Communist government soon after the Soviet withdrawal 20 years ago — would lead to another set of serious problems.

In making what administration officials themselves have acknowledged will be profoundly difficult choices, it will be important to understand how Afghanistan — and, by extension, the United States — has found itself in this difficult situation of a weak and corrupt central government, a resurgent Taliban, and increasing violence and chaos in the countryside.

Many Americans are profoundly ignorant of history, even regarding distant countries where the United States finds itself at war. One need not know much about Afghanistan’s rich and ancient history, however, to learn some important lessons regarding the tragic failures of U.S. policy toward that country during the past three decades.

The Soviet Union invaded in December 1979, after the Afghan people rose up against two successive communist regimes that seized power in violent coup d’états in 1978 and 1979. The devastating aerial bombing and counterinsurgency operations led to more than six million Afghans fleeing into exile, most of them settling into refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan. The United States, with the assistance of Pakistan’s Islamist military dictatorship, found their allies in some of the more hard-line resistance movements, at the expense of some very rational enlightened Afghans from different fields and aspect of life.

The United States sent more than $8 billion to Pakistani military dictator Zia al-Huq, who dramatically increased the size of the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) to help support Afghan mujahedeen in their battle against the Soviets and their puppet government. Their goal, according to the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was “to radicalize the influence of religious factions within Afghanistan.” The ISI helped channel this American money, and billions more from oil-rich American allies, from the Gulf region to extremists within the Afghan resistance movement.

Extremist Education

The Reagan administration sensed the most hard-line elements of the resistance were less likely to reach negotiated settlements, but the goal was to cripple the Soviet Union, not free the Afghan people. Recognizing the historically strong role of Islam in Afghan society, they tried to exploit it to advance U.S. policy goals. Religious studies along militaristic lines were given more importance than conventional education in the school system for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The number of religious schools (madrassas) educating Afghans rose from 2,500 in 1980 at the start of Afghan resistance to over 39,000. The United States encouraged the Saudis to recruit Wahhabist ideologues to come join the resistance and teach in refugee institutes.

While willing to contribute billions to the war effort, the United States was far less generous in providing refugees with funding for education and other basic needs, which was essentially outsourced to the Saudis and the ISI. Outside of some Western non-governmental organizations like the International Rescue Committee, secular education was all but unavailable for the millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. None of these projects could match the impact the generous funding for religious education and scholarships to Islamic schools in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. As a result, the only education that became available was religious indoctrination, primarily of the hard-line Wahhabi tradition. The generous funding of religious institutions during wartime made it the main attraction of free education, clothing, and boarding for poor refugee children. Out of these madrassas came the talibs (students), who later became the Taliban.

This was no accident. It seemed that such policies were intentionally initiated that way to drag young Afghans towards extremism and war, and to be well prepared not only to fight a war of liberation, but to fight the foes and rivals of foreigners at the expense of Afghan destruction and blood. And the indoctrination and resulting radicalization of Afghan youth that later formed the core of the Taliban wasn’t simply from outsourcing but was directly supported by the U.S. government as well, such as through textbooks issued by the U.S. Agency for International Development for refugee children between 1986 and 1992, which were designed to encourage such militancy.

Often mathematics and other basic subjects were sacrificed altogether in favor of full-time religious and indoctrination. Sardar Ghulam Nabi, an elementary school teacher in a Peshawar refugee camp, stated that he was discouraged by the school administration to teach Afghan history to Afghan refugee children, since most of the concentration and emphasis was placed on religious studies rather than other subjects.

This focus on a rigid religious indoctrination at the expense of other education is particularly ironic since, while the Afghans have tended to be devout and rather conservative Muslims, they hadn’t previously been inclined to embrace the kind of fanatic Wahhabi-influenced fundamentalism that dominated Islamic studies in the camps.

It seemed during the Afghan wars that no one cared and valued Afghan lives. Afghans became the subject of struggle between different rival and competing ideologies. The foreign backers of Afghanistan didn’t care about the impact and consequences of their policies for the future of Afghanistan. Milt Bearden, the former CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan during the Afghan-Soviet war, commented that “the United States was fighting the Soviets to the last Afghan.” According to Sonali Kolhatkar, in her book Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence (Seven Stories Press, 2006), some in the United States saw the Soviet invasion as a “gift.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, former President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, even claimed that the United States helped provoke the Soviet invasion by arming the mujahideen beforehand, noting how “we did not push the Russians to intervene but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.” Once they did, he wrote to Carter, “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.”

Professor Hassan Kakar, a renowned Afghan historian formerly of Kabul University now exiled in California after spending time in a Afghan prison during the communist era, notes in his book how the competition between the Afghan left and right had been previously confined to a verbal debate, comparable to those taking place in intellectual and other politicized circles in other developing countries during the late Cold War period. With the invasion of Soviet troops and the U.S. backing of the mujahideen, however, it took the shape of direct armed conflict. The conflict evolved into open confrontation backed by the two Cold War rivals and other regional powers. Afghanistan was split and divided into different ideological groups, resulting in bloodshed, killing, destruction, suffering, and hatred among Afghans.

A whole generation of Afghan children grew up knowing nothing of life but bombings that destroyed their homes, killed their loved ones, and drove them to seek refuge over the borders. As a result, they became easy prey to those willing to raise them to hate and to fight. These children, caught in the midst of competing extremist ideologies from all sides, learned to kill each other and destroy their country for the interests of others.

Most Afghans with clear vision and strategic insight were deliberately marginalized by outside supporters of the Afghan radicalization process. Members of the Afghan intelligentsia who maintained their Afghan character in face of foreign ideologies and were therefore difficult to manipulate were threatened, eliminated, and in some cases forced into exile. One was Professor Sayed Bahauddin Majrooh, a renowned Afghan writer, poet, and visionary. Another was Aziz-ur-Rahman Ulfat, the author of Political Games, a book that criticized the politics of the U.S.-backed Afghan resistance movements based in Pakistan. Both were among the many who were assassinated as part of the effort to silence voices of reason and logic.

The Hezb-e-Islami faction, a relatively small group among the resistance to the Soviets and their Afghan allies, received at least 80% of U.S. aid. According to Professor Barnett Rubin’s testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, the militia — led by the notorious Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — conducted a “reign of terror against insufficiently Islamic intellectuals” in the refugee camps of Pakistan. Despite all this, Rubin further noted how “both the ISI and CIA considered him a useful tool for shaping the future of Central Asia.”

Assassinations of Afghan intellectuals deprived Afghan refugees of enlightened visionaries who would have represented the balanced Afghan character of religious faith, cultural traditions, and modern education. What these early victims of extremist violence had in common was opposition to the radicalization and hijacking of the Afghan struggle for purposes other than Afghan self-determination. The Afghan resistance to the Soviets was a nationalist uprising that included intellectuals, students, farmers, bureaucrats, and shopkeepers as well as people from all the country’s diverse ethnic groups. Their purpose was the liberation of their country, not the subjugation and radicalization of their society by bloodthirsty fanatics. Some Afghan field commanders with clear conscience and strategic insight also took a different approach than radical Afghan leaders supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who — with U.S. acquiescence — sought to replace hard-line communist puppets with hard-line Islamist puppets.

Abdul Haq

Among these was the legendary Afghan resistance leader Abdul Haq (Full disclosure: Haq was the uncle of Khushal Arsala, one of this article’s co-authors). He realized that the Afghans’ legitimate struggle for their independence and self-determination was being intentionally dragged towards fanatical indoctrination for the interests of others. In a letter to The New York Times he wrote:

We started our struggle with the full support and determination of our people and will continue regardless of the wishes or commands of others. We don’t want to be an American or Soviet puppet…I would like you to be with us as a friend, not as somebody pulling the strings. The struggle of our nation is for the establishment of a system that assures human rights, social justice and peace. This system does not threaten any nation.

Haq openly criticized the United States and its allies’ support for extremists among the resistance through the Pakistani government, warning U.S. officials of the dire consequences of such support for the radicalization of Afghan society through the support for extremists. In a 1994 interview with the Times, he warned that terrorists from all over the world were finding shelter in his increasingly chaotic country and that Afghanistan “is turning into poison and not only for us but for all others in the world. Maybe one day the Americans will have to send hundreds of thousands of troops to deal with it.” Noting that Afghanistan had been a graveyard for both the British and Russians, he expressed concerns that soon American soldiers could be flying home in body bags due to Washington’s support for extremists during the Afghan-Soviet War during the 1980s and then abandoning the country following the Communist government’s overthrow in 1992.

Preference for Extremists

In a 2006 interview on the PBS documentary “The Return of the Taliban,” U.S. Special Envoy to the Afghan Resistance Peter Tomsen observed how the leadership of the Pakistani army

wanted to favor Gulbuddin Hekmatyar with seventy percent of the American weapons coming into the country, but the ISI and army leadership’s game plan was to put Hekmatyar top down in Kabul, even though he was viewed by the great majority of Afghans — it probably exceeded 90 percent — of being a Pakistani puppet, as unacceptable as the Soviet puppets that were sitting in Kabul during the communist period. However, that was what the [Pakistani] generals wanted to create: a strategic Islamic [ally] with a pro-Pakistani Afghan in charge in Kabul.

Hekmatyar was extremely useful to Pakistan not only because he was rabidly anticommunist, but also because — unlike most other mujahideen leaders less favored by Washington — he wasn’t an Afghan nationalist, and was willing to support the agenda of hard-line Pakistani military and intelligence leaders. Pakistan’s support for radical Muslim domination has been in part for keeping the long-running territorial dispute with Afghanistan over Pashtun areas suppressed. Islamist radicals like Hekmatyar, Burhanuddin Rabbani, and later the Taliban mullahs tended to de-emphasize state borders in favor of uniting with the Muslim Umma (community of believers) wherever it may be — in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kashmir, the Middle East, or Central Asia.

Many State Department officials were wary of U.S. support for Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly was quoted as saying that Hekmatyar “is a person who has vehemently attacked the United States on a number of issues…. I think he is a person with whom we do not need to have or should not have much trust.” However, even when the State Department — over CIA objections — succeeded in cutting back on U.S. support for Hezb-e-Islami, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia would then increase its aid and, with CIA assistance, recruited thousands of Arab volunteers to join the fight, including a young Saudi businessman named Osama bin Laden.

The renowned journalist Ahmed Rashid stated in his book the Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia that

CIA chief William Casey committed CIA support to a long-standing ISI initiative to recruit radical Muslims from around the world to come to Pakistan and fight with the Afghan Mujahideen. The ISI had encouraged this since 1982 and by now all the other players had their reasons for supporting the idea. President Zia aimed to cement Islamic unity, turn Pakistan into the leader of the Muslim world and foster an Islamic opposition in Central Asia. Washington wanted to demonstrate that the entire Muslim world was fighting the Soviets Union alongside the Afghans and their American benefactors. And the Saudis saw an opportunity both to promote Wahabbism and get rid of its disgruntled radicals…which would eventually turn their hatred against the Soviets on their own regimes and the Americans.

After having their country largely destroyed and its social fabric torn apart as pawns in a Cold War rivalry, the Soviets were finally forced out in 1989 and the communist regime was overthrown two years later.

While Hizb-e-Islami and other U.S. and Pakistani-backed groups weren’t truly representative of the Afghan people, they had become the best-armed as a result of their foreign support. Wanting power for themselves, they soon turned the capital city of Kabul into rubble as the remaining infrastructure surviving from the Soviet-Afghan war was destroyed by a senseless civil war.

Afghanistan became a failed state. In the three years following the fall of the Communist regime, at least 25,000 civilians were killed in Kabul by indiscriminate shelling by Hezb-e-Islami and other factions. There was no proper functioning government. Educational institutions, from elementary schools to university buildings, weren’t spared in the violence. Most of the teachers and students again joined refugees in the neighboring countries. The chaos and suffering created conditions such that when the Pakistani-backed Taliban emerged promising stability and order, they were welcomed in many parts of the country.

Once in power, the Taliban — made up of students from the same refugee religious institutions promoted and encouraged by the United States and its allies — shrouded Afghan society in the darkness of totalitarianism and illiteracy. They didn’t value modern scientific education. They barred girls from school. With the help of Arab recruits originally brought in with support of the United States to fight the Soviets, they destroyed Afghan cultural heritage and attempted to transform Afghanistan into a puritanical theocracy. Fanatics and criminals from all over the world found safe-haven in Afghanistan, thanks to the blunders made by U.S. policymakers who created, promoted, and encouraged fanaticism against the Soviet Union.

In October 2001, in an interview with Newsweek, Abdul Haq said:

Why are the Arabs here? The U.S. brought the Arabs to Pakistan and Afghanistan [during the Soviet war]. Washington gave them money, gave them training, and created 10 or 15 different fighting groups. The U.S. and Pakistan worked together. The minute the pro-Communist regime collapsed, the Americans walked away and didn’t even clean up their shit. They brought this problem to Afghanistan.

One week after this interview, Abdul Haq — an opponent of the 2001 U.S. intervention and one of the few Afghans capable of uniting his country under a nationalist banner — was captured by the Taliban and later executed. U.S. forces in the area ignored pleas for assistance to rescue him and his comrades while they were being pursued and in the period soon after their capture.

Afghans are still paying the price for the Taliban’s continued destruction in Afghanistan from their bases in Pakistan. Taliban remnants are killing and threatening school staff members and burning down educational facilities. Their heinous crimes mean that the young minds needed to drag the country out from current miserable situation are being deprived of their desperately needed education. And, despite strong evidence of ongoing support for the Taliban by elements of the ISI and the Pakistani military, the Bush administration continued to send billions of dollars worth of arms and other support for the Musharraf dictatorship in Pakistan.

Implications for Today

The consequences of U.S. policy towards Afghanistan through the 1980s and 1990s played a major role in the Taliban’s rise and al-Qaeda’s subsequent sanctuary. The September 11 attacks brought the United States directly into battle in Afghanistan for the first time, and U.S. troops are to this day fighting the forces of former Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami allies.

The United States has made many errors during the more than eight years of fighting, but one of most dangerous was repeating the tragic mistake of placing short-term alliances ahead of the Afghanistan’s long-term stability. During the 1980s, the United States was so focused on defeating the Soviets and the Afghan communists that an alliance was made with Islamist extremists, who ended up contributing to the country’s destruction. In this decade, the United States has been so focused on defeating the Taliban and al-Qaeda it’s made alliances with an assortment of drug lords, opium magnates, militia leaders, and other violent and corrupting elements which have contributed to the country’s devastation still further.

There’s no easy answer to Afghanistan’s ongoing tragic situation. Nor is the question of the most appropriate role the United States can now play after contributing so much to this tragedy.

What’s important, however, is recognizing that Afghanistan’s fate belongs to the people of Afghanistan. Indeed, any further efforts by the United States to play one faction off against the other for temporary political gain won’t only add to that country’s suffering but — as we became tragically aware on a September morning eight years ago — could some day bring the violence home to American shores.

Neocons 1, Obama 0

The Obama administration’s choice to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC) recently withdrew in face of a concerted right-wing attack. Veteran diplomat Chas Freeman would not have had to face Senate confirmation. Instead, he had to face attacks in the right-wing press and blogosphere. His withdrawal was a victory for Bush-era neoconservatives and their allies regarding intelligence and broader Middle East Policy.

The NIC chairmanship is structured to offer a skeptical view on U.S. intelligence. With his broad knowledge and experience in East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Latin America, Freeman would appear to be an ideal appointee. Fluent in both major dialects of Chinese, he accompanied President Richard Nixon on his historic 1972 trip to China. Later, he served as principal deputy assistant secretary of State for African affairs, assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs, and as ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War. After retiring from the State Department, Freeman succeeded former senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern as head of the Middle East Policy Council, a centrist Washington think tank.

Those closest to Freeman have confirmed that his decision was indeed his own. Neither the president nor Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who had offered Freeman the position, asked him to withdraw his acceptance of the NIC post. At the same time, the White House’s refusal to come to Freeman’s defense in the face of misleading and defamatory attacks is reminiscent of the Clinton White House’s abandonment of assistant attorney general nominee Lani Guinier in similar circumstances back in 1993.

The Sin of Being Right on Iraq

Freeman announced his withdrawal just hours after Blair praised Freeman before the Senate Intelligence Committee for his “wealth of knowledge and expertise in defense, diplomacy and intelligence.” The seven Republican members of the committee didn’t, however, welcome these attributes when they spoke out strongly against his appointment. Particularly upsetting to Freeman’s right-wing opponents were his statements acknowledging the disastrous consequences of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a decision backed not only by Republicans but by such key Senate Democrats as Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), an outspoken supporter of the invasion, kept pressing Blair on the Freeman appointment during the hearing, to which Blair replied that such criticism was based on a misunderstanding of the position. “I can do a better job if I’m getting strong analytical viewpoints to sort out and pass on to you and the president than if I’m getting precooked pablum judgments that don’t really challenge,” Blair said. Lieberman, clearly unsatisfied with Blair’s response, promised he would continue to press the issue.

Freeman had raised the ire of war supporters in his articles and speeches exposing the errors of Bush policy in the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. “Al-Qaeda has played us with the finesse of a matador exhausting a great bull by guiding it into unproductive lunges at the void behind his cape,” Freeman said, noting how invading Iraq appeared to the world’s Muslims as “a wider war against Islam.” Freeman further observed: “We destroyed the Iraqi state and catalyzed anarchy, sectarian violence, terrorism, and civil war in that country.”

Not surprisingly, the bipartisan group attacking the appointment was led by such staunch supporters of the invasion of Iraq as Representatives Mark Kirk (R-IL), Steve Israel (D-NY), John Boehner (R-OH), Shelley Berkley (D-NV), and Eric Cantor (R-VA). Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), another outspoken supporter of the invasion of Iraq, insisted that “Freeman was the wrong guy for this position.” Schumer even tried to take credit for Freeman’s withdrawal, claiming, “I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing.”

By contrast, those supporting intelligence assessments based on the facts rather than ideology had praised the appointment as an example of a shift away from the Bush administration policy. Freeman has “spent a goodly part of the last 10 years raising questions that otherwise might never get answered — or even asked — because they’re too embarrassing, awkward, or difficult,” Dan Froomkin of NiemanWatch observed. “For him to be put in charge of [the NIC]…is about the most emphatic statement the Obama administration could possibly make that it won’t succumb to the kind of submissive intelligence-community groupthink that preceded the war in Iraq.”

James Fallows of The Atlantic noted how “anyone who has worked in an organization knows how hard it is, but how vital, to find intelligent people who genuinely are willing to say inconvenient things even when everyone around them is getting impatient or annoyed. The truth is, you don’t like them when they do that. You may not like them much at all. But without them, you’re cooked.”

Smear Campaign

In the days following Blair’s appointment of Freeman, the attacks grew more and more bizarre. For example, since the Middle East Policy Council had received some grants from some Saudi-based foundations, Freeman was accused of thereby being “on the Saudi payroll” and even being a “Saudi puppet.” In The New Republic, Martin Peretz insisted that Freeman was “a bought man.” But it’s certainly not unprecedented for presidential appointees to have worked with nonprofit organizations that have received support from foreign governments. Indeed, Dennis Ross, appointed last month as Special Advisor for the Gulf and Southwest Asia, is still listed as the board chair of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, which is supported by the Israeli government.

To set the record straight, Blair told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Freeman had “never lobbied for any government or business (domestic or foreign)” and that he had “never received any income directly from Saudi Arabia or any Saudi-controlled entity.”

In another irony, the person identified as the principal orchestrator of the attacks against Freeman — including the charge that he was a Saudi agent — was Steven Rosen, former director of the right-wing American-Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Rosen currently faces espionage charges for transferring classified materials to the Israeli government. M.J. Rosenberg, a former colleague of Rosen who now serves as policy director of the Israel Policy Forum, said “you couldn’t have picked anyone less credible to lead the charge” against Freeman. But Rosen’s smear campaign was apparently credible enough to force Freeman to turn down the position.

Another line of attack was that Freeman, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, was a “China apologist.” Critics cited quotes allegedly made by Freeman, many taken out of context, that appeared to justify repression by the Beijing regime, including the 1989 crackdown against pro-democracy activists. According to Blair, however, Freeman — who has spoken of the Tiananmen Square massacre as a “tragedy” — wasn’t describing his own views but was simply observing what he considered to be “the dominant view in China.” Similarly, a number of leading China experts came to Freeman’s defense as well, with Jerome Cohen noting that claims of Freemen endorsing the 1989 repression were “ludicrous” and Sidney Rittenberg observing that as a U.S. diplomat in Beijing, Freeman was “a stalwart supporter of human rights who helped many individuals in need.”

Yet Peretz falsely claimed that Freeman had “made himself a client of China” and was a man with “no humane or humanitarian scruples” who wanted the United States to “kow-tow to authoritarians and tyrants.” Nor did it stop the National Review from claiming that Freeman’s appointment proved “you can go directly from effectively working for the Saudis and Chinese to being the country’s top intelligence analyst.”

None of those attacking Blair’s appointments on the grounds of supposedly supporting authoritarian regimes has ever raised concerns about Admiral Blair himself. Blair served as the head of the U.S. Pacific Command from February 1999 to May 2002, as East Timor was finally freeing itself from a quarter-century of brutal Indonesian occupation. As the highest-ranking U.S. military official in the region, he worked to undermine the Clinton administration’s belated efforts to end the repression, promote human rights, and support the territory’s right to self-determination. He also fought against congressional efforts to condition support for the Indonesian military on improving their poor human rights record.

When human rights activists raised concerns about having a defender of death squads as the Director of National Intelligence, the Obama White House rushed to Blair’s defense, something they were clearly not willing to do for Chas Freeman.

Criticizing Israeli Policies

Freeman’s rightist critics also claimed that Freeman was “anti-Israel.” For instance, Freeman rejected the Bush administration’s policy of defending Israeli violence against Palestinians while insisting that the Palestinians had to unilaterally end their violence against Israelis. A number of Freeman’s critics cited in horror Freeman’s observation that until “Israeli violence against Palestinians” is halted, “it is utterly unrealistic to expect that Palestinians will stand down from violent resistance.”

Freeman has been concerned for some time that U.S. policy is radicalizing the Palestinian population to the point of jeopardizing Israel’s security interests. The United States had “abandoned the role of Middle East peacemaker to back Israel’s efforts to pacify its captive and increasingly ghettoized Arab populations,” he observed. “We wring our hands while sitting on them as the Jewish state continues to seize ever more Arab land for its colonists. This has convinced most Palestinians that Israel cannot be appeased and is persuading increasing numbers of them that a two-state solution is infeasible.”

Ironically, a number of prominent Israeli academics, journalists, security analysts, military officers, and political leaders have made similar observations. Freeman’s critics, however, believe that expressing such concerns makes Freeman — in the words of the Wall Street Journal — an “Israel basher.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a strident supporter of Israeli government policies, claimed that Freeman’s views were “indefensible” and urged President Barack Obama to withdraw his appointment.

In his withdrawal statement, Freeman reiterated his concern that “the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for U.S. policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel.” He went on to observe that this “is not just a tragedy for Israelis and their neighbors in the Middle East; it is doing widening damage to the national security of the United States.”

Obama’s Silence

A number of diplomats and other State Department professionals who had known Freeman as a colleague spoke up in favor of his nomination, and challenged the defamatory and libelous attacks against him. For example, a letter signed by former UN ambassador Thomas Pickering, former ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis, former ambassador to Afghanistan Samuel Neumann, and more than a dozen other current and former ambassadors noted: “We know Chas [Freeman] to be a man of integrity and high intelligence who would never let his personal views shade or distort intelligence assessments.”

Similarly, a group of prominent former intelligence officials called the attacks against Freeman “unprecedented in their vehemence, scope, and target,” noting how they were perpetrated by “pundits and public figures…aghast at the appointment of a senior intelligence official able to take a more balanced view of the Arab-Israel issue.”

Yet despite so many mainstream officials coming to his defense, the Obama White House chose to remain silent.

Most pundits, as well as Freeman himself, have blamed the so-called “Israel Lobby” for forcing him out. While AIPAC itself was apparently not involved in the smear campaign, many of Freeman’s harshest critics were among the strongest supporters of the Israeli right. However, the battle over Freeman’s appointment was about a lot more than simply his views on Israel — or Saudi Arabia or China; it was about the integrity of our nation’s intelligence system. Those who most exploited the false claims about nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction” in order to frighten the American public into supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq were the most eager to deny Freeman the chairmanship of the NIC.

And Freeman’s willingness to ask the big questions frightened many on the right. For example, following 9/11, Freeman shared his disappointment that “instead of asking what might have caused the attack, or questioning the propriety of the national response to it, there is an ugly mood of chauvinism.” His ability to look inward instead of simply attack “the other” is what apparently made him unworthy in the eyes of his critics.

Prior to Freeman’s decision to withdraw, Chris Nelson of the influential Nelson Report, a daily private newsletter read by top Washington policymakers, wrote: “If Obama surrenders to the critics and orders [Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair] to rescind the Freeman appointment to chair the NIC, it is difficult to see how he can properly exercise leverage, when needed, in his conduct of policy in the Middle East. That, literally, is how the experts see the stakes of the fight now under way.”

Obama apparently didn’t order Freeman’s appointment to be rescinded. But Obama’s refusal to come to Freeman’s defense will make it all the more difficult for the president to challenge future right-wing attacks on his administration’s policies in the Middle East and beyond. Smelling victory, the right will only become bolder in challenging any progressive inclinations in Obama’s foreign policy.

As Joe Klein so aptly put it in his Time blog, “Barack Obama should take note. The thugs have taken out Chas Freeman. They will not rest. Their real target is you, Mr. President.”

Presentation: Nonviolent Action in the Islamic World

Dr. Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, discusses the long history of strategic nonviolent action throughout the Islamic world, in the Middle East and beyond. Based in part on the social contract implied in Islamic teachings which advocate the withdrawal of obedience from unjust authority, nonviolent civil insurrections have played a major role in the struggle for freedom and human rights for more than a century. Dr. Zunes, looks at case studies from Iran, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Mali, Western Sahara, Indonesia, Pakistan, and others.

Obama and Israel’s Military: Still Arm-in-Arm

In the wake of Israel’s massive assault on heavily populated civilian areas of the Gaza Strip earlier this year, Amnesty International called for the United States to suspend military aid to Israel on human rights grounds. Amnesty has also called for the United Nations to impose a mandatory arms embargo on both Hamas and the Israeli government. Unfortunately, it appears that President Barack Obama won’t be heeding Amnesty’s call.

During the fighting in January, Amnesty documented Israeli forces engaging in “direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Gaza, and attacks which were disproportionate or indiscriminate.” The leader of Amnesty International’s fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip and southern Israel noted how “Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the USA to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes.” Amnesty also reported finding fragments of U.S.-made munitions “littering school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes.”

Malcolm Smart, who serves as Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East, observed in a press release that “to a large extent, Israel’s military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with U.S. taxpayers’ money.” The release also noted how before the conflict, which raged for three weeks from late December into January, the United States had “been aware of the pattern of repeated misuse of [its] weapons.”

Amnesty has similarly condemned Hamas rocket attacks into civilian-populated areas of southern Israel as war crimes. And while acknowledging that aid to Hamas was substantially smaller, far less sophisticated, and far less lethal — and appeared to have been procured through clandestine sources — Amnesty called on Iran and other countries to take concrete steps to insure that weapons and weapon components not get into the hands of Palestinian militias.

During the fighting in early January, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization initially called for a suspension of U.S. military aid until there was no longer a substantial risk of additional human rights violations. The Bush administration summarily rejected this proposal. Amnesty subsequently appealed to the Obama administration. “As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights,” said Malcolm Smart. “The Obama administration should immediately suspend U.S. military aid to Israel.”

Obama’s refusal to accept Amnesty’s call for the suspension of military assistance was a blow to human rights activists. The most Obama might do to express his displeasure toward controversial Israeli policies like the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories would be to reject a planned increase in military aid for the next fiscal year and slightly reduce economic aid and/or loan guarantees. However, in a notable departure from previous administrations, Obama made no mention of any military aid to Israel in his outline of the FY 2010 budget, announced last week. This notable absence may indicate that pressure from human rights activists and others concerned about massive U.S. military aid to Israel is now strong enough that the White House feels a need to downplay the assistance rather than emphasize it.

Obama Tilts Right

Currently, Obama is on record supporting sending up to $30 billion in unconditional military aid to Israel over the next 10 years. Such a total would represent a 25% increase in the already large-scale arms shipments to Israeli forces under the Bush administration.

Obama has thus far failed to realize that the problem in the Middle East is that there are too many deadly weapons in the region, not too few. Instead of simply wanting Israel to have an adequate deterrent against potential military threats, Obama insists the United States should guarantee that Israel maintain a qualitative military advantage. Thanks to this overwhelming advantage over its neighbors, Israeli forces were able to launch devastating wars against Israel’s Palestinian and Lebanese neighbors in recent years.

If Israel were in a strategically vulnerable situation, Obama’s hard-line position might be understandable. But Israel already has vastly superior conventional military capabilities relative to any combination of armed forces in the region, not to mention a nuclear deterrent.

However, Obama has failed to even acknowledge Israel’s nuclear arsenal of at least 200-300 weapons, which has been documented for decades. When Hearst reporter Helen Thomas asked at his first press conference if he could name any Middle Eastern countries that possess nuclear weapons, he didn’t even try to answer the question. Presumably, Obama knows Israel has these weapons and is located in the Middle East. However, acknowledging Israel’s arsenal could complicate his planned arms transfers since it would place Israel in violation of the 1976 Symington Amendment, which restricts U.S. military support for governments which develop nuclear weapons.

Another major obstacle to Amnesty’s calls for suspending military assistance is Congress. Republican leaders like Representatives John Boehner (OH) and Eric Cantor (VA) have long rejected calls by human rights groups to link U.S. military aid to adherence to internationally recognized human rights standards. But so have such Democratic leaders, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who are outspoken supporters of unconditional military aid to Israel. Even progressive Democratic Representative Barney Frank (MA), at a press conference on February 24 pushing his proposal to reduce military spending by 25%, dismissed a question regarding conditioning Israel’s military aid package to human rights concerns.

Indeed, in an apparent effort to support their militaristic agenda and to discredit reputable human rights groups that documented systematic Israeli attacks against non-military targets, these congressional leaders and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of their colleagues have gone on record praising “Israel’s longstanding commitment to minimizing civilian loss and…efforts to prevent civilian casualties.” Although Obama remained silent while Israel was engaged in war crimes against the civilian population of Gaza, Pelosi and other congressional leaders rushed to Israel’s defense in the face of international condemnation.

Obama’s Defense of Israeli Attacks on Civilians

Following the 2006 conflict between Israeli armed forces and the Hezbollah militia, in which both sides committed war crimes by engaging in attacks against populated civilian areas, then-Senator Obama defended Israel’s actions and criticized Hezbollah, even though Israel was actually responsible for far more civilian deaths. In an apparent attempt to justify Israeli bombing of civilian population centers, Obama claimed Hezbollah had used “innocent people as shields.”

This charge directly challenged a series of reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. These reports found that while Hezbollah did have some military equipment close to some civilian areas, the Lebanese Islamist militia had not forced civilians to remain in or around military targets in order to deter Israel from attacking those targets. I sent Obama spokesperson Ben LaBolt a copy of an exhaustive 249-page Human Rights Watch report that didn’t find a single case — out of 600 civilian deaths investigated — of Hezbollah using human shields. I asked him if Obama had any empirical evidence that countered these findings.

In response, LaBolt provided me with a copy of a short report from a right-wing Israeli think tank with close ties to the Israeli government headed by the former head of the Israeli intelligence service. The report appeared to use exclusively Israeli government sources, in contrast to the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, which were based upon forensic evidence as well as multiple verified eyewitness accounts by both Lebanese living in the areas under attack as well as experienced monitors (unaffiliated with any government or political organization) on the ground. Despite several follow-up emails asking for more credible sources, LaBolt never got back to me.

Not Good for Israel

The militaristic stance by Congress and the Obama administration is hardly doing Israel a favor. Indeed, U.S. military assistance to Israel has nothing to do with Israel’s legitimate security needs. Rather than commencing during the country’s first 20 years of existence, when Israel was most vulnerable strategically, major U.S. military and economic aid didn’t even begin until after the 1967 War, when Israel proved itself to be far stronger than any combination of Arab armies and after Israeli occupation forces became the rulers of a large Palestinian population.

If all U.S. aid to Israel were immediately halted, Israel wouldn’t be under a significantly greater military threat than it is today for many years. Israel has both a major domestic arms industry and an existing military force far more capable and powerful than any conceivable combination of opposing forces.

Under Obama, U.S. military aid to Israel will likely continue be higher than it was back in the 1970s, when Egypt’s massive and well-equipped armed forces threatened war, Syria’s military rapidly expanded with advanced Soviet weaponry, armed factions of the PLO launched terrorist attacks into Israel, Jordan still claimed the West Bank and stationed large numbers of troops along its border and demarcation line with Israel, and Iraq embarked on a vast program of militarization. Why does the Obama administration believe that Israel needs more military aid today than it did back then? Since that time, Israel has maintained a longstanding peace treaty with Egypt and a large demilitarized and internationally monitored buffer zone. Syria’s armed forces were weakened by the collapse of their former Soviet patron and its government has been calling for a resumption of peace talks. The PLO is cooperating closely with Israeli security. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel with full normalized relations. And two major wars and a decade of strict international sanctions have devastated Iraq’s armed forces, which is in any case now under close U.S. supervision.

Obama has pledged continued military aid to Israel a full decade into the future not in terms of how that country’s strategic situation may evolve, but in terms of a fixed-dollar amount. If his real interest were to provide adequate support for Israeli defense, he wouldn’t promise $30 billion in additional military aid. He would simply pledge to maintain adequate military assistance to maintain Israel’s security needs, which would presumably decline if the peace process moves forward. However, Israel’s actual defense needs don’t appear to be the issue.

According to late Israeli major general and Knesset member Matti Peled, — who once served as the IDF’s chief procurement officer, such fixed amounts are arrived at “out of thin air.” In addition, every major arms transfer to Israel creates a new demand by Arab states — most of which can pay hard currency through petrodollars — for additional U.S. weapons to challenge Israel. Indeed, Israel announced its acceptance of a proposed Middle Eastern arms freeze in 1991, but the U.S. government, eager to defend the profits of U.S. arms merchants, effectively blocked it. Prior to the breakdown in the peace process in 2001, 78 senators wrote President Bill Clinton insisting that the United States send additional military aid to Israel on the grounds of massive arms procurement by Arab states, neglecting to note that 80% of those arms transfers were of U.S. origin. Were they really concerned about Israeli security, they would have voted to block these arms transfers to the Gulf monarchies and other Arab dictatorships.

The resulting arms race has been a bonanza for U.S. arms manufacturers. The right-wing “pro-Israel” political action committees certainly wield substantial clout with their contributions to congressional candidates supportive of large-scale military and economic aid to Israel. But the Aerospace Industry Association and other influential military interests that promote massive arms transfers to the Middle East and elsewhere are even more influential, contributing several times what the “pro-Israel” PACs contribute.

The huge amount of U.S. aid to the Israeli government hasn’t been as beneficial to Israel as many would suspect. U.S. military aid to Israel is, in fact, simply a credit line to American arms manufacturers, and actually ends up costing Israel two to three times that amount in operator training, staffing, maintenance, and other related costs. The overall impact is to increase Israeli military dependency on the United States — and amass record profits for U.S. arms merchants.

The U.S. Arms Export Control Act requires a cutoff of military aid to recipient countries if they’re found to be using American weapons for purposes other than internal security or legitimate self-defense and/or their use could “increase the possibility of an outbreak or escalation of conflict.” This might explain Obama’s refusal to acknowledge Israel’s disproportionate use of force and high number of civilian casualties.

Betraying His Constituency

The $30 billion in taxpayer funds to support Israeli militarism isn’t a huge amount of money compared with what has already been wasted in the Iraq War, bailouts for big banks, and various Pentagon boondoggles. Still, this money could more profitably go toward needs at home, such as health care, education, housing, and public transportation.

It’s therefore profoundly disappointing that there has been so little public opposition to Obama’s dismissal of Amnesty International’s calls to suspend aid to Israel. Some activists I contacted appear to have fallen into a fatalistic view that the “Zionist lobby” is too powerful to challenge and that Obama is nothing but a helpless pawn of powerful Jewish interests. Not only does this simplistic perspective border on anti-Semitism, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Any right-wing militaristic lobby will appear all-powerful if there isn’t a concerted effort from the left to challenge it.

Obama’s supporters must demand that he live up to his promise to change the mindset in Washington that has contributed to such death and destruction in the Middle East. The new administration must heed calls by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to condition military aid to Israel and all other countries that don’t adhere to basic principles of international humanitarian law.