Defending Israeli War Crimes

In response to a series of reports by human rights organizations and international legal scholars documenting serious large-scale violations of international humanitarian law by Israeli armed forces in its recent war on the Gaza Strip, 10 U.S. state attorneys general sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defending the Israeli action. It is virtually unprecedented for state attorneys general — whose mandates focus on enforcement of state law — to weigh in on questions regarding the laws of war, particularly in a conflict on the far side of the world. More significantly, their statement runs directly counter to a broad consensus of international legal opinion that recognizes that Israel, as well as Hamas, engaged in war crimes.

The wording of the letter closely parallels arguments by Bush administration officials in support for Israel’s devastating offensive during their final days in office. Having been signed nearly 11 weeks after the end of the fighting and made public only late last month, it may have been part of an effort to undermine tentative efforts by the Obama administration to take a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A statement by state attorneys general putting forth a legal rationale for the large-scale killings of civilians is particularly distressing as concerns about civilian casualties from U.S. air and missile strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan has grown.

The attorneys general signing on to the letter included Republicans Rob McKenna of Washington, Mike Cox of Michigan, John Suthers of Colorado, Bill McCollum of Florida, Jon Bruning of Nebraska, and Mark Shurtleff of Utah. Signatories also included such prominent Democrats as Richard Cordray of Ohio, Patrick Lynch of Rhode Island, Jack Conway of Kentucky, and Buddy Caldwell of Louisiana.

Facile Legal Reasoning

The legal rationale put forward in the March 30 letter is extraordinarily facile. For example, they claim that the war waged on the civilian infrastructure of the Gaza Strip was taken in furtherance of Israel’s “right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.” In reality, however, while Article 51 does allow countries the right to resist an armed attack, it doesn’t grant any nation the right to engage in such a disproportionate response.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak admitted that the Israeli invasion had been planned for months, back when a six-month cease fire was still in effect. Even when Hamas resumed firing rockets into Israel in December, following a deadly Israeli raid into Gaza the previous month, there were few casualties. Indeed, not a single Israeli had been killed by Hamas rocket attacks for more than half a year prior to Israel launching its war on December 27. During the subsequent three weeks of fighting, Palestinians killed 10 Israelis, three of whom were civilians, while Israeli forces killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians.

Incredibly, these attorneys general insist that these mass killings by Israeli forces were “justified and, in our view, met the international legal standards.”

The attorneys general also ignored the fact that Article 33 of the UN Charter explicitly prohibits nations going to war unless they “first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.” However, Israel — with strong bipartisan U.S. support — had refused to even meet with Hamas to negotiate a long-term ceasefire, which Hamas had offered prior to the breakdown of the six-month lull in return for a lift in the Israeli siege of the enclave.

The letter correctly accuses Hamas, which had lobbed rockets into civilian-populated areas in southwestern Israel, of violating Article 48 of Protocol I to the Geneva Convention of 1948, which states: “Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.”

However, the attorneys general refused to acknowledge that Israel had also violated that same provision on a far grander scale. While virtually every human rights organization, intergovernmental organization, and international legal authority that researched this recent conflict recognizes both Hamas and Israel were guilty of war crimes, these attorneys general still insist that Hamas alone was to blame and that Israel’s actions were perfectly legal.

Ignoring the Facts

Human Rights Watch (HRW) — which has been highly critical of Hamas attacks on civilian areas of Israel as well as repression by the Islamist group of Palestinian opponents within the Gaza Strip — reported during the fighting that in using heavy shelling against heavily-populated civilian areas, “Israel is committing indiscriminate attacks in violation of the laws of war.” In a comprehensive report published in March, HRW noted that “Israel’s repeated firing of white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza during its recent military campaign was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes.”

Similarly, while Amnesty International also “found evidence of war crimes and other serious violations of international law by all parties to the conflict” and attacks by both sides against civilian areas in which no fighters were present, the attorneys general insisted that the Palestinian side alone was guilty of such illegal actions.

An independent United Nations inquiry documented six major Israeli attacks against UN buildings, including schools in which children were killed, noting that actions by Israeli forces “involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries and extensive physical damage and loss of property.” The report concluded that “no military activity was carried out from within the United Nations premises in any of the incidents.”

Without presenting any evidence to the contrary, the attorneys general categorically rejected such findings, insisting that Israel was engaged only in “a limited and directed action against the source of Hamas’s military acts.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) focused on other war crimes, noting how the “Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded,” citing instances in which Israeli forces prevented Red Cross or other medics safe access to assist seriously wounded civilians. The Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights reported with “certainty” that Israel violated international humanitarian law by attacking medics, damaging medical buildings, engaging in indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and delaying medical treatment for the injured. The ICRC declared Israel’s “delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable.” In addition, Israel rejected pleas by international humanitarian agencies by closing border crossings days at a time, denying access to food, medical supplies, fuel, and water sanitation equipment. Despite this, the attorneys general instead praised Israel for “allowing the entrance of humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

A report by a delegation of prominent U.S. attorneys which visited Gaza Strip soon after the fighting reported that “that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians during the Gaza offensive.” The Israeli press has reported testimony of Israeli soldiers who killed Palestinian civilians under highly permissive rules of engagement that allowed soldiers to kill any Palestinian in certain areas regardless of whether they were armed, and were ordered to intentionally destroy civilian property. An investigation by the British newspaper The Guardian revealed a series of Israeli missile attacks against clearly distinguishable civilian targets.

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories Richard Falk, noting Israel’s “unlawful uses of force on a large scale” against Gazan society as a whole, referred to the operation as a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, as set forth in the Geneva Conventions.” Falk, an American Jew and emeritus professor at Princeton University who is arguably the country’s preeminent international legal scholar, also noted the illegality of Hamas rocket attacks into Israel, but stressed that Israeli airstrikes “were aimed at civilian areas in one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world.”

Ignoring such evidence, the attorneys general insisted that Israel was directing its artillery, bombings and missile attacks only towards “the source of Hamas’s military attacks” and the Israeli government should therefore not be held responsible for any military action which harmed Palestinian civilians because they did so “unintentionally.”

Defending Mass Killings of Civilians

These attorneys general try to absolve Israel of any responsibility of the hundreds of civilian deaths by accusing Hamas of “using these civilians as human shields.” They provide no evidence for this charge, however, save for a quote from the notoriously right-wing editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

Independent human rights groups have accused Hamas of less-severe violations of international humanitarian law, such as not taking all necessary steps it should to prevent civilian casualties when it positioned fighters and armaments too close to concentrations of civilians. However, this isn’t the same thing as deliberately using civilians as shields. Furthermore, the nature of urban warfare, particularly in a territory as densely populated as the Gaza Strip, makes the proximity of retreating fighters and their equipment to civilians unavoidable in many cases.

Even if Hamas were using human shields in the legal definition of the term, it still does not absolve Israel from its obligation to avoid civilian casualties. Amnesty International has noted that the Geneva Conventions make it clear that even if one side is shielding itself behind civilians, such a violation “shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians.”

To argue otherwise, as do these attorneys general, is a dangerous legal position for the chief law enforcement official of a state to take, such as ordering their state police to kill innocent people in a hostage situation. By this logic, if a botched bank robbery led the would-be robbers to hold bank employees and customers at gunpoint, these attorneys general could then order state patrolmen to kill the gunmen and hostages alike, defending their action on the grounds that the bad guys were using “human shields.”

Denying Political Reality

It’s not just this flawed legal reasoning that underscores how this initiative by these attorneys general was based not upon a legitimate interpretation of law but for narrow ideological purposes. They reveal their political prejudices in their insistence in the letter to Clinton in claiming that “Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005” but that the Palestinians failed to establish “a flourishing independent state.” In reality, despite the removal of illegal Israeli settlements and the withdrawal of occupation forces from that crowded urban enclave, Israel has maintained sole control over Gaza Strip’s airspace and territorial waters, thereby prohibiting movement of people and goods by land and sea, as well as largely controlling the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt. Effectively preventing any exports or imports, except for occasional humanitarian aid, the economy has collapsed and, even prior to the war, the territory was experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis. Since Israel’s “withdrawal,” the Israeli government has also controlled the Gaza Strip’s electricity, water and telecommunications and has periodically engaged in air strikes and armed incursions into the enclave, murdering and kidnapping suspected militants. No people could reasonably be expected to establish “a flourishing independent state” under such circumstances. Furthermore, in maintaining their siege on the enclave, Israel legally remains the occupying power.

The attorneys general go on to accuse Hamas of taking advantage of Israel’s “withdrawal” to “cause a civil war with the Palestinian Authority, leading to a coup d’etat in 2007.” However, while Hamas is indeed guilty of innumerable political intrigues and inexcusable violence towards its Palestinian opponents, this is a gross misrepresentation of recent history: Rather than making war against the Palestinian Authority, Hamas was part of the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, they controlled the legislative branch of government as well as the post of prime minister and most other ministries as a result of winning the plurality of the vote in parliamentary elections in January 2006. The following year, Saudi officials negotiated a power-sharing agreement between Hamas and Fatah, which still controlled the presidency. U.S. officials, however, unsuccessfully encouraged President Mahmoud Abbas to renounce the agreement, dismiss the entire government and abolish parliament.

The Bush administration then began secretly arming Fatah groups to enable them to fight Hamas and pushing Fatah to stage a coup. This is what led Hamas to launch a countercoup by overrunning Fatah offices and taking full control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Alvaro de Soto, former UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, stated in his confidential final report leaked to the press a few weeks before the Hamas takeover that “the Americans clearly encouraged a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas” and “worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah with recognition and weaponry.” De Soto also recalled how in the midst of Egyptian efforts to arrange a cease-fire following a flare-up in factional fighting earlier that year, a U.S. official told him that “I like this violence…[I]t means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas.”

Though all this has been well-documented and is widely known in both Israel and Palestine, this bipartisan group of attorneys general has instead sought to defend the Bush administration’s provocative and illegal intervention by putting the entire blame on Hamas.

This letter to the Secretary of State was put together by a right-wing group calling itself the American-Israel Friendship League (AIFL), which boasts that the organization has sent 42 states attorney general to Israel in the past 21 years. It refers to the letter as “a strong rejoinder to those who have castigated Israel over its role in Gaza and used it in an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish State.”

Dangerous Precedent

The Bush administration strongly supported Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip as an extension of its “war on terror.” It was in the name of this “war on terror” that President George W. Bush shamelessly politicized the U.S. Justice Department to justify spying on nonviolent dissidents at home and the torture of suspects abroad. Now we have a bipartisan group of state attorneys general who have shown themselves similarly willing to politicize their offices by putting forward twisted and perverse interpretations of the law in the name of fighting terrorism. Unless these rogue attorneys general are challenged by elected officials and ordinary citizens in their respective states for their signing on to such a reckless statement, it could mark a dangerous precedent regarding respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Hawkish Union Leaders Hurting Teachers and Your Kid

Despite a new presidential administration and an expanded Democratic majority in Congress, teachers and their unions are under unprecedented assault through budget cuts and so-called reform efforts geared toward giving corporations increased access to, and management responsibilities for, public schools.

Unfortunately, as a result of years of support for a right-wing U.S. foreign policy, the once-powerful teachers union — the American Federation of Teachers — has so damaged its credibility and alienated its membership that its position has been seriously weakened.

Albert Shanker, who served as the union’s influential president for nearly a quarter-century until his death in 1997, was an outspoken supporter of the Vietnam War and U.S. military intervention in Central America, as well as a booster of President Reagan’s dangerous escalation of the nuclear arms race and dramatically increased military spending.

He was a board member of the Committee for a Democratic Majority, a coalition of hawkish Democrats founded by Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, D- Wa., and Professor Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who later served in the Reagan administration.

Although outspoken in its criticism of Communist regimes and leftist governments — even to the point of supporting right-wing terrorists attacking Nicaragua — the AFT under Shanker was reticent to criticize autocratic allies of the United States.

Shanker was also virtually the only prominent trade unionist to join the Committee on the Present Danger, the influential right-wing group that accused President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger of engaging in “unilateral disarmament.”

Shanker and his colleagues claimed that Soviet Russia was somehow getting stronger than the United States and its allies and that the Soviets posed “a clear and present danger” to America’s national security when, in reality, the Soviet Union was actually falling way behind the West in its strategic capabilities, and its whole decrepit system was collapsing.

Following his death in 1997, Shanker protégé Edward McElroy took over the AFT presidency, where he and AFT Secretary-Treasurer Nat LaCour served as AFL-CIO vice presidents. Although much of the national labor federation has moved to the left since the 1970s, McElroy and LaCour stood out for their unrepentant right-wing agenda, serving as the only members of the AFL-CIO executive council to support the George W. Bush doctrine of preventative war.

Support for the Iraq War

In January 2003, anti-war activists were scrambling to prevent a U.S. invasion of Iraq by challenging the Bush administration’s ludicrous claims about Iraq having reconstituted its chemical- and biological-weapons capabilities, offensive delivery system and nuclear weapons program.

In an apparent effort to discredit such efforts and give credibility to the Bush administration’s fearmongering, the AFT leadership went on record claiming that Iraq posed “a unique threat to the peace and stability of the Middle East” and the national security interests of the United States.

This decision to parrot the Bush administration’s alarmist and unsubstantiated rhetoric regarding Iraq’s alleged military capabilities came in the face of substantial evidence to the contrary presented by U.N. arms inspectors, independent arms control specialists, investigative journalists, academic journals and analyses by independent research institutes that cast serious doubts upon such allegations.

However, the AFT leadership in Washington apparently believed it knew more than arms-control experts on the ground in Iraq, insisting that, in order to avoid war, “there can be no equivocation. The Iraqi regime must disarm.”

Given that the Iraqi regime had already disarmed as required years earlier and were already allowing unfettered inspections inside Iraq, this demand by the AFT leadership appears to have been simply an excuse to back a U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country.

In light of public-opinion polls indicating that the only reason a majority of Americans would support a U.S. invasion of Iraq was if they believed that Iraq constituted a threat to the national security of the United States, the decision of the leadership of one of the most powerful labor unions in the country — particularly one representing hundreds of thousands of primary, secondary and university teachers — to go on record making such false claims contributed significantly to the political climate that made possible the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

To this day, the AFT leadership has never apologized for misleading its members and the American public about Iraq’s WMDs or the alleged Iraqi threat.

Even after U.S. forces invaded and occupied Iraq, and the Bush administration admitted that Iraq had not failed to disarm as it and its supporters in AFT executives had claimed, the AFT continued to support the war.

At the 2004 AFT biannual convention, the leadership rebuked anti-war elements of the union by passing a resolution declaring, in part, that “we urge the Bush administration, the Congress and the American people to reject calls for the precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces.”

It did not define what “precipitous” meant, and the resolution listed no criteria for when, or under what conditions, leaders believed U.S. forces should come back home, a choice of words widely interpreted to mean support for an indefinite U.S. military occupation.

This hawkish stance was in sharp contrast to the AFL-CIO as a whole and most of its other member unions, which had gone on record in opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq and in support of the withdrawal of American troops from that country.

There was widespread opposition within the union to the AFT’s continued support for the war, however. In addition to rank-and-file opposition to the occupation in terms of its impact on the people of Iraq, including Iraqi trade unionists, there was also concern raised among the membership regarding its economic costs, pointing out how supporting a war that could eventually cost as much as $3 trillion would make it difficult for the U.S. government to increase funding for education.

Meanwhile, the AFT leadership backed its hawkish position on Iraq with action: The majority of AFT’s political contributions (funded from the dues of its members) in 2004 and 2006 went primarily to candidates who supported the Iraq war.

Although the union later criticized the Bush administration for misleading the nation about Iraq’s WMDs, it was far more forgiving of Democrats who had done the same.

Despite the fact that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., in a 2002 meeting with McElroy, LaCour and other union leaders, had insisted that Iraq had somehow reconstituted its WMDs and constituted a threat to the United States — which union officials later acknowledged played a major role in formulating their January 2003 statement — the AFT endorsed her 2008 presidential bid against Barack Obama, who had opposed the war and challenged the false claims of an Iraqi threat.

To this day, Clinton has refused to apologize for misleading union leaders on Iraq’s military capabilities or for her vote authorizing the war. The union poured in hundreds of thousands of dollars in key primary states in an unsuccessful effort to defeat Clinton’s anti-war challenger, with AFT president McElroy insisting that — despite the Clinton-backed invasion having alienated much of the international community from the United States — it was she, not Obama, who would “improve America’s standing in the world.”

Backing Bush on Lebanon

The AFT has also been eager to endorse the wars of America’s allies. The AFT leadership was able to push through a resolution in the 2006 convention defending another aspect of the Bush administration’s militaristic agenda in the Middle East: support for Israel’s assault that summer on Lebanon, which killed nearly 800 Lebanese civilians, destroyed billions of dollars worth of that country’s infrastructure and caused widespread environmental damage.

As with the decision by the AFT leadership in 2003 to repeat the Bush administration’s false claims about Iraq, the 2006 resolution repeated a series of false claims by the Bush administration regarding the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and the Palestinian Hamas movement.

For example, the resolution claimed that Hezbollah “proudly takes credit for the 1983 bombing of the Beirut barracks” that killed 258 U.S. Marines. In reality, though, while some individuals who later became part of that extremist Islamist group may indeed have been involved in that attack, Hezbollah has repeatedly denied having any role.

Requests from AFT to provide evidence to back its claim that Hezbollah “proudly takes credit” for the attack have remained unanswered.

In defending Israel’s war on Lebanon and its bloody assault on heavily populated areas of the besieged Gaza Strip, the AFT went on record claiming that Hezbollah and Hamas were “holding the people of Lebanon and the Palestinians in Gaza hostage,” as part of an effort to back the Bush administration’s insistence that it was these Palestinian and Lebanese militias that were ultimately responsible for the deaths of their countrymen, not the indiscriminate bombardments of civilian areas by U.S.-supplied Israeli forces.

This was also apparently an effort by the AFT to discredit human rights groups like Human Rights Watch, which published detailed empirical reports rejecting the Bush administration’s claims that Hamas and Hezbollah used human shields or were otherwise responsible for the large numbers of civilian deaths.

The AFT has refused to respond to requests to provide evidence countering the findings of these reputable human rights organizations.

The AFT also went on record claiming that the aims of Hezbollah and Hamas are to “carry out the agendas of Iran and Syria.”

Most analysts familiar with the parties, however, argue that the provocative actions by these indigenous Islamic groups were based upon their own issues and that neither the Iranian nor Syrian governments — despite some limited financial and military support — had any operational control over these militias.

Passing a resolution claiming that these militias were somehow being directed by foreign governments — governments that happened to be targeted by the Bush administration for sanctions, diplomatic isolation and possible military action — appears to have been part of an effort by the AFT leadership to give credence to the administration’s efforts to further its broader Middle East agenda, despite the lack of evidence to support such accusations.

Similarly, in an effort to undermine Syrian efforts to reopen negotiations with Israel and the United States, the AFT resolution claimed that both Hezbollah and Hamas were attacking “Israeli cities and civilians with rockets, mortars and other heavy weapons supplied to them by … Syria.”

In reality, the Hezbollah rockets fired into Israel were exclusively of Iranian origin, and the smaller less-sophisticated Hamas rockets fired into Israel were largely homemade, with components smuggled in from Egypt.

Again, the AFT has refused to provide evidence to back its claims of Syria supplying Hezbollah with rockets or its claims about Syrian or Iranian control of Hezbollah and Hamas.

While the AFT has done an admirable job of pushing the need to close the learning gap between middle-class white children and low-income children of color here in the United States, the union rejects such notions of equality when it comes to young Israeli and Arab victims of political violence.

While categorically denouncing Hezbollah and Hamas for the deaths of Israeli civilians, at no point has the AFT ever expressed any concerns over the far greater number of civilians, including hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian children, who have been killed in recent years by U.S.-supplied weapons and ordnance provided to Israel during that period.

To the AFT, the deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza or Lebanon, like the hundreds of thousands of civilians who have died as a result of the AFT-backed U.S. war on Iraq, are apparently not of concern to them.

AFT’s New Leadership

Last year, McElroy was succeeded as president by Randi Weingarten, who had led the important New York City chapter of the union.

Weingarten — the first openly lesbian president of a major American union — has put forward an agenda that not only pushes for improved benefits for teachers and support staff in the nation’s public schools, but advocates increasing state and federal funding for education and making it possible for schools to serve as community centers that could offer health and nutrition services for needy children (both of which are critical for the learning process).

Such a progressive agenda has been damaged, however, by her support for AFT’s militaristic foreign policy, as well as her anti-Arab racism

In 2007, she contributed to a racist smear campaign that led to the dismissal of a newly appointed Arab American school principal who had previously worked in an office in which some young volunteers printed out T-shirts that read “NYC Intifada.”

In the face of vicious right-wing attacks falsely accusing her of supporting terrorism, the principal — a native Arabic speaker — had correctly pointed out that intifada simply means “shaking off” and does not connote violence.

However, Weingarten — who does not speak Arabic — writing on the opinion page of the New York Post, falsely claimed that the use of the word was actually an endorsement of “rampant violence and bloodshed” and constituted warmongering.

In reality, the word came into common usage in the West during the first Palestinian intifada (1987-93) against the Israeli occupation, which — while it included well-publicized incidents of stone-throwing and several slayings of suspected collaborators — was largely nonviolent, consisting primarily of peaceful demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, tax refusal, occupations, blockades and the creation of alternative institutions.

The Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence, in a comprehensive study of resistance activities during the first two years of the uprising in Palestinians’ occupied homeland, noted that 92 percent of the actions called for by the popular committees were explicitly nonviolent.

Intifada was also used by the Lebanese in their successful nonviolent uprising in 2005 against Syrian domination of their government and the ongoing presence of Syrian troops in their country.

As far back as 1986, intifada was used to describe the nonviolent insurrection in Sudan against the U.S.-backed dictatorial regime of Jafaar Numeiri. It is currently being used in reference to the nonviolent resistance struggle in Western Sahara against Moroccan occupation forces.

Any survey of the academic literature on this topic (including the Middle Eastern section of my book Nonviolent Social Movements (Blackwell Publishers, 1999) confirms that the origins and use of the term intifada are very different from what Weingarten claimed.

Despite efforts by me and other Middle East scholars to get her to withdraw the statement, however, she has refused to correct the disinformation. It is profoundly disturbing that a union representing educators would elect someone so willing to distort the facts in order to pursue such a racist agenda.

Costs to the Union

Now, with teachers being laid off in record numbers and educational rights under assault, the AFT is trying to mobilize its membership against the onslaught.

In addition to facing massive budget cuts, teachers — along with allies in organized labor, community groups and university schools of education — are battling “reformers” largely aligned with corporate interests.

There is a growing movement to hand over urban schools to anti-union corporations and to appoint as heads of school boards corporate executives with little to no background in education.

The Obama administration, while not completely giving in to the “reformers,” has largely failed to defend the teachers and their allies. The administration’s refusal to rescind No Child Left Behind makes it likely that the overemphasis on standardized testing rather than more holistic approaches to learning — along with the decreasing input allowed by teachers and community groups — will probably continue.

Despite the urgency of the issues at hands, many thousands of AFT members — angered at their leadership’s anti-Arab bigotry and support for war in the Middle East — are no longer active in the union.

Many of us in recent years have even been withholding the portion of our union dues that support the AFT’s political activity, not wanting it to be used to promote the union’s right-wing foreign policy agenda or have our money go to the campaigns of pro-war Democrats endorsed by the AFT’s political action committee.

Dissent to the union’s hawkish policies has not been welcomed by many in the leadership. (For example, the outgoing president of my union local referred to my opposition to the AFT’s support for the Iraq war position as “demagoguery,” and the incoming president of my local, an outspoken supporter of the war, accused me of “aligning with the forces in the world that would like nothing better than to see the USA fail in Iraq.”)

Fortunately, there is a strong and growing progressive wing in the union, which succeeded in reversing the AFT’s position in support of the Iraq war at the 2006 convention. A number of major locals, and even entire statewide chapters, broke with the national leadership even before that in coming out against the war.

In addition, AFT dissidents have been disproportionately represented in Labor Against War and other progressive union activities that challenged the Bush agenda in the Middle East.

These efforts have been primarily supported by the AFT’s younger members, however, who are now losing their jobs by the thousands.

As a result, until the AFT abandons its right-wing foreign policy agenda, the union’s credibility will continue to be compromised, and embattled teachers will be without the kind of leadership they so desperately need.

Hillary Clinton’s First 100 Days

Hillary Clinton has received mixed though generally favorable reviews, both internationally and domestically, during her first 100 days as secretary of state. Public opinion polls in the United States give her a more than 70 percent-positive rating.

Still, concerns linger regarding her eight years in the Senate, during which she supported some of the more controversial initiatives of the Bush administration, such as the U.S. invasion of Iraq, criticisms of the World Court and United Nations, and defense of Israeli occupation policies and military offenses against its neighbors.

Clinton has been slow to appoint a number of key officials, including regional assistant secretaries, and many of the appointments she has made have been of center-right veterans of the foreign policy establishment, many of whom were prominent in her husband’s administration — not the younger, more innovative figures many had hoped to see. Indeed, given that Barack Obama as a candidate promised not just to end the war in Iraq but to “end the mindset that led to the war in Iraq,” the prominent State Department roles given to supporters of the illegal invasion of that oil-rich country have been disturbing.

In certain ways, Clinton’s path has been made easier simply by the fact that her boss is not George W. Bush. Indeed, the enthusiasm overseas for Obama’s election has been unprecedented. Yet the penchant for unilateralism and disregard for the views of its allies for which the Bush administration became so notorious was also in evidence during her husband’s administration, such as the Clinton administration’s support for Israeli occupation policies, the enactment of the embargo of Cuba, and the continuation of draconian sanctions, accompanied by unauthorized air strikes, against Iraq, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.

Despite this, Clinton has demonstrated that U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration will be very different from that under Bush. In one of her first actions as secretary, she met with a large group of career State Department personnel — well-regarded experts in their respective fields who were consistently ignored under the previous administration — to thank them for their service and welcome their input.

On her trips abroad, she has put her experience as a campaigner to work, spending as much time listening as talking, trying to shore up the image of the United States, so badly damaged under the Bush administration. Her style is far more frank and open than the conservative intellectual Condoleezza Rice or the career military officer Colin Powell.

It is not unusual for a president to want to be his own secretary of state, but rarely has a secretary so badly wanted to be her own president. Despite this, she has demonstrated an ability to be a willing subordinate to the commander in chief.

Despite her decidedly hawkish record while on Capitol Hill, Clinton has shown herself willing to adjust to the more moderate policies of Obama. For example, despite her harsh criticism during the primary campaign of Obama’s call to negotiate with Iran, it was Clinton herself who invited the Islamic Republic to take part in multiparty talks on Afghanistan.

Similarly, while in Israel, she raised concerns about Israel’s mass demolition of Palestinians’ homes and construction of new settlements in the occupied West Bank.

While referring to policies that constitute flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions as simply being “unhelpful” is certainly an understatement, this was still more criticism of Israel than she ever said publicly during her eight years in the U.S. Senate.

Still, while most of the international community recognizes that a unified Palestinian Authority — which would include moderate members of Hamas — is necessary for the peace process to move forward, Clinton told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on that same trip that a coalition government with a party that does not recognize Israel’s right to exist would be unacceptable, even threatening to cut off all humanitarian aid. By contrast, she has expressed no similar concern that Israel’s new coalition government is dominated by hard-line parties that oppose Palestine’s right to exist, and has even pledged to continue sending billions of dollars in unconditional military and economic aid to that right-wing government.

Human-rights activists were disappointed in her deliberate downplaying of human-rights violations during her visit to China. And she has had awkward moments during her travels responding to questions about U.S. military bases, now in more than 130 countries around the world.

Yet she has also emphasized the importance of “soft power” — the use of America’s political, diplomatic, economic and human capital to advance the country’s strategic interests — rather than reliance primarily on military means. She has stressed the need for international action to fight climate change. And she gained the respect of many in Latin America by acknowledging, during a trip to Mexico, U.S. culpability in the violence in the northern part of that country resulting from the insatiable appetite of Americans for illegal drugs.

Unfortunately, the fundamental problems with U.S. foreign policy in the early 21st century, rooted in hegemonic aspirations and imperial designs, go far beyond what Secretary of State Clinton or even President Obama can change on their own. Even the most enlightened foreign affairs minister or prime minister in 19th-century London could not fundamentally change the character of the British Empire. For those of us desiring a more radical change in the United States’ role in the world, we cannot simply hope for change emanating from Washington.

Instead, we must recognize our responsibility as citizens to bring about the change ourselves.

Interview: The Afghanistan Mess (audio)

“Middle East scholar Dr. Stephen Zunes talks about how U.S. imperial hubris helped create, and continues to deepen and intensify the deadly chaos in Afghanistan. “The war not only was raised some moral and legal questions, but it has not resolved the situation, it has made matters worse. The problem is that there has been a gross oversight on the military side of the equation. The really important issues have been overlooked.”

Audio File: