The Lingering Effects of Iraq War Lies

[The Progressive March 27, 2023] Twenty years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the country remains unstable, with one of the most corrupt and dysfunctional governments in the world. It is unable to provide Iraqis with many of the basic services previous generations had known. Rival militia groups are battling for influence, and serious human rights abuses are ongoing. Thousands of U.S. troops remain in the country to this day, ostensibly to counter the presence of ISIL/ISIS cells and Iranian militia groups, both of which emerged as a direct result of the 2003 invasion.
The cumulative cost of the war for American taxpayers will end up at well over $3 trillion, adding to the national debt and giving deficit hawks the excuse to resist needed expansions, and even to impose cuts in important domestic spending. On the environmental front, the war is estimated to have resulted in the release of hundreds of millions of additional metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere…

Trump’s Dangerous and Cynical Attack on Syria

Let’s not pretend that Thursday night’s U.S. missile strike on Syria’s Al Shayrat air base has anything to do with concern for the civilian victims of the regime’s apparent April 3 chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

We Know They Lied about Iraq’s WMDs, but It Gets Worse

Sir John Chilcot’s report on Great Britain’s role in the Iraq War confirmed what many have long assumed: the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair—and, by extension, the administration of President George W. Bush—deliberately misled us, exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and Iraq in order to justify the 2003 invasion of that country.

This is a travesty of justice. The thousands of American casualties, trillions of dollars of expenditures, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, and the rise of sectarianism, terrorism, Islamist extremism, and the other negative consequences of the invasion have been disastrous.

But even worse, even if Iraq really did have the proscribed “WMDs”, delivery systems, and weapons programs at the time of the invasion, the war would have still been illegal and unnecessary. Here’s why.

At the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq roughly two dozen countries had chemical weapons, biological weapons, or nuclear programs with weapons potential. The mere possession of these programs is not legitimate grounds for invasion. Those who claim that the invasion would have somehow been justifiable if Bush and Blair had been telling the truth about Iraq’s WMDs and related programs are effectively saying the United States somehow has the right to invade dozens of other countries as well.

In fact, since the United States has chemical and nuclear weapons, it would presumably give other nations the right to invade us.

Defenders of the invasion and occupation claim that Iraq was in violation of UN Security Council resolutions regarding its program. But the United Nations determined—and the United States later acknowledged—they were not.

Furthermore, there was no authorization of force by the UN Security Council. The UN Charter—which, as a signed and ratified international treaty, has the force of “supreme law” according to the U.S. Constitution—declares unequivocally in Articles 41 and 42 that the UN Security Council alone has the power to authorize the use of military force against any nation in noncompliance of its resolutions.

The U.N. Security Council alone had the authority to determine what, if any, action to take regarding current or future Iraqi violations. The final pre-war UN resolution (1441) declared that any alleged violations be brought forward by the inspection teams consisting of experts in the field, not by any member state, and that at such a time the Security Council would “convene immediately in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance.”

Today there are three other countries in violation of UN Security Council resolutions regarding non-conventional weapons (as there were back in 2003). UN Security Council resolution 487 calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the trusteeship of the International Atomic Energy Agency. UN Security Council resolution 1172 calls on India and Pakistan to eliminate their nuclear arsenals and long-range missiles.

Not only have successive U.S. administrations blocked the Security Council from enforcing these resolutions, the United States has provided all three countries with nuclear-capable jet fighters and other military assistance and has subsequently signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with India.

To be clear, not only were charges by American and British officials that Iraq was violating the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty false, neither government expressed concern that Israel, India and Pakistan had never signed on. Furthermore, the NPT requires that the nuclear weapons states at the time of its signing make good-faith efforts to pursue complete nuclear disarmament, which the United States and Great Britain (along with France, Russia, and China) have failed to do. As a result, it is these countries, not Iraq, that were and are in material breach of the NPT.

Even if Iraq had WMDs, the threat of massive retaliation by regional forces—such as nuclear-armed Israel—as well as U.S. forces permanently stationed in the region provided a more than sufficient deterrent to Iraq using the weapons beyond its borders.

A costly invasion and extended occupation were completely unnecessary.

While the additional evidence provided by the Chilcot Inquiry of the duplicity by the British and American governments regarding Iraq’s military capabilities certainly merit attention, let’s not pretend that Iraq actually possessing such weapons and weapons programs would have justified the war.

To do so would just open the door for future disastrous military engagements against countries that really might have such capabilities.

Obama administration undermines UN disarmament efforts

Though the United States may have taken the lead in the international diplomatic initiative against Iran’s nuclear program, the Obama administration has also taken the lead in undermining the United Nations’ efforts to promote nuclear arms control and disarmament elsewhere.

In a series of moves that received very little media attention in this country, the United Nations General Assembly in December adopted 57 resolutions recommended by the U.N.’s Disarmament and International Security Committee. However, the United States, more than any other member state of the 193-member body, cast votes in opposition to many of these modest efforts.

Unlike resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council, resolutions of the General Assembly are nonbinding. At the same time, they are a strong indication of world opinion on key international issues. The Obama administration, therefore, has put itself on record that the U.S. is an outlier in the global consensus on the need to take stronger action against the nuclear threat.

For example, the U.S. was one of only seven countries to vote against a resolution calling for accelerating the implementation and monitoring of nuclear disarmament commitments and was one of only three countries to vote against a paragraph in the resolution emphasizing the importance of a successful review conference for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) later this year.

In a resolution stressing the fundamental role of the NPT in achieving nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation and urging India, Israel and Pakistan to accede to it as non-nuclear-weapon states, the U.S. was the only country other than these three last NPT holdouts to vote against it. The U.S. was also the only country to join these three countries in voting against the call for them to place their nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

While the U.S. is willing to impose strict sanctions against Iran simply for having the potential of converting its thus-far peaceful nuclear energy program into a weapons program, the Obama administration is simultaneously willing to defend allied nations that — unlike Iran — have refused to sign the NPT and have already developed nuclear weapons. Indeed, the U.S. provides nuclear-capable jet fighters to all three countries, and President Barack Obama recently signed an expanded nuclear cooperation agreement with India.

Notwithstanding the end of the Cold War, both Russia and the U.S. still have several thousand nuclear weapons on high alert, which has long concerned those aware that the threat of a cataclysmic nuclear exchange is still with us. Unfortunately, the U.S. was one of only four countries to vote against a resolution calling on nuclear-armed countries to decrease the operational readiness of those systems. The Obama administration also placed the U.S. on record as the only country in the world to vote against a paragraph in that resolution encouraging nuclear-armed states to “promptly engage and consider the interests of non-nuclear-weapon States in further reducing the operational status of nuclear weapons systems.”

In addition, the U.S. was one of only four countries to vote against a resolution calling for measures to prevent the placement of nuclear weapons in outer space. The U.S. was also one of only four countries opposing a resolution calling for the establishment of a nuclear-free weapons zone in the southern hemisphere and for states with nuclear weapons to withdraw any reservations or interpretive declarations contrary to those treaties. And the Obama administration also placed the U.S. on record as one of only five countries to vote against a resolution calling on “Member States, international organizations and civil society to continue to enrich discussions on how to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negations in the relevant United Nations bodies.”

It has been more than 30 years since the pastoral letter on war and peace from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops put the church on record recognizing the immorality of nuclear weapons and the urgency of nuclear disarmament. The end of the Cold War less than a decade later gave hope that this was an achievable goal. Even traditional Cold Warriors like former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz have now gone on record recognizing the imperative of nuclear disarmament.

Despite being an unrivaled superpower with conventional military capabilities more powerful than the rest of the world combined, the U.S. still insists on undermining efforts to control and eliminate nuclear weapons.

The Obama administration’s obstructionism is broader than that, however. U.S. opposition to efforts by the U.N.’s Disarmament and International Security Committee went beyond their efforts at nuclear arms control. For example, the U.S. cast one of only four negative votes against a resolution that called for providing assistance to countries affected by the use of ammunition containing depleted uranium, including identifying and managing contaminated sites and material.

And the U.S. was one of only two countries to vote against a resolution calling for a prohibition of the development and manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems for such weapons.

While the attention of the mainstream media, Congress and the American public continues to focus on Iran and whether the Obama administration was being tough enough in its negotiations with the Islamic State group, there has been virtually no attention to our own government’s far more dangerous diplomatic efforts to undermine multilateral initiatives promoting nonproliferation, arms control, and disarmament. Not only does the U.S. have by far the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, but the U.S. is the only country to have actually used nuclear weapons against another nation, crimes most American politicians still defend to this day.

As Americans, therefore, we have a particular obligation to challenge our government’s dangerous nuclear policies. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Answering Obama’s UN Address

During the Bush administration, I wrote more than a dozen annotated critiques of presidential speeches. I have refrained from doing so under President Barack Obama, however, because – despite a number of disappointments with his administration’s policies — I found his speeches to be relatively reasonable. Although his September 21 address before the UN General Assembly contained a number of positive elements, in many ways it also contained many of the same kind of duplicitous and misleading statements one would have expected from his predecessor.

Below are some excerpts, followed by my comments.

“War and conflict have been with us since the beginning of civilizations. But…the advance of modern weaponry [has] led to death on a staggering scale.”

Very true. Too bad the United States remains the world’s number-one exporter of weapons, ordnance, and delivery systems in the world, most of which are provided to autocratic regimes and other governments which have used these weapons against civilian populations. For example, after more than 800 civilians were killed by U.S.-armed Israeli forces in a three-week assault on crowded civilian neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip in early 2009, the Obama administration rebuffed calls by Amnesty International for an international arms embargo on both the Israeli government and Hamas by actually increasing unconditional military aid to Israel.

“At the end of this year, America’s military operation in Iraq will be over. We will have a normal relationship with a sovereign nation that is a member of the community of nations. That equal partnership will be strengthened by our support for Iraq — for its government and for its security forces, for its people and for their aspirations.”

The repressive and autocratic Iraqi regime, dominated by sectarian Shi’ite political parties, will continue to be largely dependent on the United States, which maintains a sprawling embassy complex with thousands of employees in the heart of the Iraqi capital. The United States will continue to employ and direct tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries and others throughout the country even after the formal withdrawal of U.S. troops. This hardly constitutes an “equal partnership.”

“One year ago, when we met here in New York, the prospect of a successful referendum in South Sudan was in doubt. But the international community overcame old divisions to support the agreement that had been negotiated to give South Sudan self-determination. And last summer, as a new flag went up in Juba, former soldiers laid down their arms, men and women wept with joy, and children finally knew the promise of looking to a future that they will shape.”

The successful referendum leading to the independence of South Sudan is indeed an impressive and positive achievement. By contrast, the United States (along with France) has blocked the UN from enforcing a series of Security Council resolutions calling for a referendum by the people of Western Sahara for self-determination, illegally occupied by Morocco since its 1975 invasion. This double standard is particularly striking given that the new nation of South Sudan emerged from what was universally recognized as Sudanese territory, whereas the UN recognizes Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory.

The Arab Spring

“One year ago, the hopes of the people of Tunisia were suppressed. But they chose the dignity of peaceful protest over the rule of an iron fist. A vendor lit a spark that took his own life, but he ignited a movement. In a face of a crackdown, students spelled out the word “freedom.” The balance of fear shifted from the ruler to those that he ruled. And now the people of Tunisia are preparing for elections that will move them one step closer to the democracy that they deserve.”

It’s easy to praise a pro-democracy uprising after it has overthrown a dictator, but it should be remembered that the Obama administration was a strong supporter of the autocratic regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali almost to the very end. As the popular, largely nonviolent civil insurrection commenced in December, Congress approved an administration request for $12 million in security assistance to Tunisia, one of only five foreign governments provided direct taxpayer-funded military aid in the appropriations bill. As protests increased in January and the Tunisian regime gunned down pro-democracy protesters, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her concern over the impact of the “unrest and instability” on the “very positive aspects of our relationship with Tunisia” and insisted that the United States was “not taking sides.”

“One year ago, Egypt had known one President for nearly 30 years. But for 18 days, the eyes of the world were glued to Tahrir Square, where Egyptians from all walks of life — men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian — demanded their universal rights. We saw in those protesters the moral force of non-violence that has lit the world from Delhi to Warsaw, from Selma to South Africa — and we knew that change had come to Egypt and to the Arab world.”

Lauding the “moral force of non-violence” in the cause of freedom is significant, particularly coming from the president of a country that Martin Luther King – who led the Selma protests to which Obama referred – identified as the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” Indeed, it is significant that a U.S. president would acknowledge the power of strategic nonviolent action, which has for so long been ignored in Washington and serves as a refreshing contrast to the previous administration, which argued that democracy could only be advanced in the Middle East through U.S.-led invasions.

However, it’s important to remember that just one month prior to the Egyptian revolution, Obama and the then-Democratic Congress approved an additional $1.3 billion in security assistance to help prop up Hosni Mubarak’s repressive regime. Just days before the dictator’s ouster, Secretary of State Clinton insisted that “the country was stable” and that the Mubarak government was “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” despite the miserable failure of the regime to do so for nearly 30 years in power. Asked whether the United States still supported Mubarak, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Egypt remains a “close and important ally.” As during the Tunisian protests, the Obama administration tried to equate the scattered violence of some pro-democracy protesters with the far greater violence of the dictatorship’s security forces, with Gibbs saying, “We continue to believe first and foremost that all of the parties should refrain from violence.”

In an interview with the BBC
in 2009 just prior to Obama’s visit to Egypt, Justin Webb asked the president, “Do you regard President Mubarak as an authoritarian ruler?” Obama’s reply was “No,” insisting that, “I tend not to use labels for folks.” Obama also refused to acknowledge Mubarak’s authoritarianism on the grounds that, “I haven’t met him,” as if the question was in regard to the Egyptian dictator’s personality rather than his well-documented intolerance of dissent. Referring to Mubarak as “a stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States,” Obama went on to insist that, “I think he has been a force for stability and good in the region.”When the BBC’s Webb asked Obama how he planned to address the issue of the “thousands of political prisoners in Egypt,” he replied that the United States should not try to impose its human rights values on other countries.

“The measure of our success must be whether people can live in sustained freedom, dignity, and security. And the United Nations and its member states must do their part to support those basic aspirations. And we have more work to do.”

If President Obama really believes this, it makes it difficult to explain why he plans to veto a UN Security Council resolution recognizing the “basic aspirations” of the Palestinians for national self-determination.

“Already, the United States has imposed strong sanctions on Syria’s leaders. We supported a transfer of power that is responsive to the Syrian people. And many of our allies have joined in this effort. But for the sake of Syria — and the peace and security of the world — we must speak with one voice. There’s no excuse for inaction. Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime, and to stand with the Syrian people.”

International sanctions against the Syrian dictatorship are indeed appropriate, and Obama is correct in calling for the Security Council to act. Unfortunately, the United States has little credibility in this regard, given its long history of blocking the UN from enforcing sanctions against allied regimes – including Indonesia (during its occupation of East Timor) and South Africa (when the then-apartheid regime was occupying Namibia) – and other countries that have, like the Syrian regime, massacred thousands of unarmed opponents.

“Throughout the region, we will have to respond to the calls for change. In Yemen, men, women, and children gather by the thousands in towns and city squares every day with the hope that their determination and spilled blood will prevail over a corrupt system. America supports those aspirations. We must work with Yemen’s neighbors and our partners around the world to seek a path that allows for a peaceful transition of power from President Saleh, and a movement to free and fair elections as soon as possible.”

This is a welcome change from Obama’s previous support for the Saleh regime. Indeed, in his first two years of office, U.S. security assistance to the Saleh dictatorship increased five-fold from the Bush administration. Despite suspending U.S. support to the dictator’s repressive security forces, however, Obama has refused to call for international sanctions, as he has with Syria.

“In Bahrain, steps have been taken toward reform and accountability. We’re pleased with that, but more is required. America is a close friend of Bahrain, and we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc — the Wifaq — to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people. We believe the patriotism that binds Bahrainis together must be more powerful than the sectarian forces that would tear them apart. It will be hard, but it is possible.”

It has been Bahrain’s government, controlled by the Sunni minority, not the pro-democracy opposition, which has been playing the sectarian card. And some key members of Obama’s own administration, such as special advisor Dennis Ross, have disingenuously exaggerated Iranian support for the mostly (though not exclusively) Shi’a pro-democracy opposition movement.

Unfortunately, rather than advocating sanctions, as the president has done with Syria, the U.S. Defense Department announced just a week before Obama’s speech a proposed sale of $53 million of weapons and related equipment to Bahrain’s repressive sectarian regime. According to Maria McFarland, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch, “This is exactly the wrong move after Bahrain brutally suppressed protests and is carrying out a relentless campaign of retribution against its critics. It will be hard for people to take U.S. statements about democracy and human rights in the Middle East seriously when, rather than hold its ally Bahrain to account, it appears to reward repression with new weapons.”

“We believe that each nation must chart its own course to fulfill the aspirations of its people, and America does not expect to agree with every party or person who expresses themselves politically. But we will always stand up for the universal rights that were embraced by this Assembly. Those rights depend on elections that are free and fair; on governance that is transparent and accountable; respect for the rights of women and minorities; justice that is equal and fair. That is what our people deserve. Those are the elements of peace that can last.”

The nature of such universal rights is indeed in their universality. Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems to have embraced the same double standards of previous administrations in supporting human rights based more on a given government’s relationship with the United States than its actual human rights record.

“Moreover, the United States will continue to support those nations that transition to democracy — with greater trade and investment — so that freedom is followed by opportunity.”

Unfortunately, increased U.S. trade and investment has frequently taken place under a neo-liberal model that has actually lessened opportunities for small indigenous entrepreneurs and has harmed sustainable development practices. The result has been increased inequality and the enrichment of undemocratic elites at the expense of the poor majority.

“We will pursue a deeper engagement with governments, but also with civil society — students and entrepreneurs, political parties and the press.”

Here and at a number of other points in his speech, Obama – to his credit – has emphasized the agency of ordinary people rather focusing exclusively on the role of states and international organizations. At the same time, his administration’s continued support for autocratic regimes and occupation armies that suppress civil society raises serious questions regarding his commitment.

“We have banned those who abuse human rights from traveling to our country. And we’ve sanctioned those who trample on human rights abroad. And we will always serve as a voice for those who’ve been silenced.”

The United States has taken such actions only with human rights abusers from countries that don’t support U.S. policy. The Obama administration has been far more tolerant of human rights abusers from countries with which the United States is allied.

Palestinian Statehood and Middle East Peace

“One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine. I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences… It’s well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.”

Obama’s stated support for the establishment of a Palestinian state based roughly on Israel’s pre-1967 borders is far more explicit than that of any previous president, subjecting him to harsh criticism from both Republicans as well as a number of Congressional Democrats. However, given that the Palestine Authority has already “provided assurances” for Israel’s security by agreeing to, as part of a final peace settlement, an internationally supervised disarming of any and all irregular militias, a demilitarization of their state, and the banning of hostile forces from their territories, only to be met by Netanyahu’s continued refusal to withdraw from the occupied territories, it raises questions as to why Obama implied that both sides needed to “bridge their differences.”

“Now, I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I. But the question isn’t the goal that we seek — the question is how do we reach that goal. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.”

The main reason that UN resolutions have failed to resolve the conflict is that the United States has vetoed no less than 42 otherwise unanimous Security Council resolutions calling on Israel to live up to its international legal obligations and has blocked the enforcement of scores of other Security Council resolutions Washington allowed to pass.

“Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.”

The UN Charter and international law has always put the impetus on the occupying power, not the country under occupation, in reaching an agreement on issues that divide them. UN Security Council resolution 242, long considered the basis of a peace settlement and cited in a number of subsequent resolutions, reiterates the illegality of any nation expanding its territory by force, yet Obama now insists that the two sides must “reach agreement” on that question. Similarly, UN Security Council resolutions 252, 267, 271, 298, 476, and 478 – passed without U.S. objections during both Democratic and Republican administrations – specifically call on Israel to rescind its annexation of Jerusalem and other efforts to alter the city’s legal status. Yet Obama also now insists that occupied East Jerusalem be subjected to an “agreement” between the occupying power and those under occupation.

“Ultimately, peace depends upon compromise among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, long after our votes have been tallied. …And that is and will be the path to a Palestinian state — negotiations between the parties.”

Obama puts forward this false symmetry between Israel – by far the strongest military power in the region – and the weak Palestinian Authority, which governs only a tiny series of West Bank enclaves surrounded by Israeli occupation forces. The United States rejected calls for negotiations by Iraq when it occupied Kuwait and never insisted that Kuwaiti statehood could only be reclaimed through “negotiations between the parties.”

“We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve. There’s no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long. It is precisely because we believe so strongly in the aspirations of the Palestinian people that America has invested so much time and so much effort in the building of a Palestinian state, and the negotiations that can deliver a Palestinian state.”

In reality, the United States long opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state and did not formally endorse the idea until as recently as 2003. As far back as 1976, the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 22 percent of Palestine under Israeli occupation, which included strict security guarantees for Israel. Now Obama is preparing yet another veto to block Palestinian national aspirations.

“But understand this as well: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day…. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth.”

Israel would be far more secure behind internationally recognized and guaranteed borders than an archipelago of illegal settlements and military outposts amid a hostile population. The Palestinian Authority, backed by the entire Arab League, has already pledged security guarantees for, and full diplomatic relations with, Israel in return for its withdrawal from the occupied territories. If the United States really cares about Israeli security, it would force Israel’s right-wing government to accept the reasonable proposals of “land for peace.”

“Each side has legitimate aspirations — and that’s part of what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in the other’s shoes; each side can see the world through the other’s eyes. That’s what we should be encouraging. That’s what we should be promoting.”

The legitimate aspirations – for peace, security, and national self-determination – for both Israelis and Palestinians cannot be denied, and Obama is one of the first American presidents to even acknowledge that the Palestinians, and not just the Israelis, have such legitimate aspirations. Indeed, his potential Republican rivals in next year’s presidential election have attacked him for such even-handedness.

However, even if one agrees that both peoples indeed have equal rights to such aspirations, the fact remains that Palestine remains occupied and Israel is the occupier. The Palestine Authority is only asking for 22 percent of historic Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza Strip), but the Israelis are insisting that that is too much. The right-wing Israeli government—backed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress—insists on annexing much of the West Bank in a manner that would leave a Palestinian “state” with only a series of tiny, non-contiguous cantons surrounded by Israel, much like the infamous Bantustans of apartheid South Africa. Obama, then, is putting forward a false symmetry in regard to a very asymmetrical power relationship.

“This body — founded, as it was, out of the ashes of war and genocide, dedicated, as it is, to the dignity of every single person — must recognize the reality that is lived by both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live lives of peace and security and dignity and opportunity. And we will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and each other’s fears. That is the project to which America is committed. There are no shortcuts. And that is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks and months to come.”

Unfortunately, in the more than 20 years since Palestinians and Israelis sat down and started listening to each other in negotiations, Israel has more than doubled the number of colonists in the occupied Palestinian territories in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a series of UN Security Council resolutions, and a landmark 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, all of which call on Israel to unconditionally withdraw from these settlements. The United States has pledged to veto any sanctions or other proposed actions by the United Nations to force Israel to live up to its international legal obligations.

Israel is also violating provisions of the Road Map, the Tenet Plan, the Mitchell Plan, and various other interim peace agreements that call for a freeze in additional settlements. Israel is continuing to expand these illegal settlements despite repeated objections from Washington, but Obama has steadfastly refused to condition any of the billions of dollars of U.S. aid to the rightist Israeli government to encourage them to stop. Given that Netanyahu has pledged to continue building these settlements on the very land the Palestinians need to establish a viable state regardless of negotiations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not surprisingly come to the conclusion that continued talks are pointless.

Obama’s insistence that the UN not recognize a Palestinian state without Israel’s agreement despite its recognition by more than 130 countries also reveals a double standard, given that the United States supported Israel’s application for membership in the UN back in 1948 without demanding that it first sit down with the Palestinians and negotiate borders and other issues. More recently, the United States did not demand that Kosovo negotiate an agreement with the Serbs regarding its independence and has supported its membership in the UN, even though legally Kosovo is a province of Serbia, whereas the UN recognizes the West Bank as a territory under foreign belligerent occupation.

Nuclear Weapons

“America will continue to work for a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons and the production of fissile material needed to make them.”

This statement is ironic, given that the United States is one of only a handful of countries that has yet to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was originally adopted more than 15 years ago.

“And so we have begun to move in the right direction [on nuclear proliferation]. And the United States is committed to meeting our obligations. But even as we meet our obligations, we’ve strengthened the treaties and institutions that help stop the spread of these weapons.”

This is hardly the case. For example, as part of a 2006 nuclear cooperation agreement with India – one of only three states to refuse to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) – a bipartisan majority of Congress voted to amend the U.S. Non-Proliferation Act of 2000, which had banned the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology to any country that refuses to accept international monitoring of its nuclear facilities. The U.S.-Indian agreement also contravened the rules of the 40-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which had controlled the export of nuclear technology and to which the United States is a signatory. This agreement was itself a violation of the NPT, which had called on existing nuclear powers not to transfer nuclear know-how to non-signatory countries. So Obama is not being honest in claiming that the United States is committed to meeting its obligations or strengthening treaties and institutions to prevent further nuclear proliferation.

“We must continue to hold accountable those nations that flout [non-proliferation treaties and obligations].The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful. It has not met its obligations and it rejects offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power. North Korea has yet to take concrete steps towards abandoning its weapons and continues belligerent action against the South. There’s a future of greater opportunity for the people of these nations if their governments meet their international obligations. But if they continue down a path that is outside international law, they must be met with greater pressure and isolation. That is what our commitment to peace and security demands.”

The United States hardly believes that countries that refuse to meet their international legal obligations regarding nuclear non-proliferation should be “met with greater pressure and obligations.” In addition to its nuclear cooperation treaty with India, the United States has blocked the UN Security Council from enforcing resolution 1172, which calls on India and Pakistan to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, and from enforcing resolution 487, which calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the trusteeship of the International Atomic Energy Commission. The United States has also provided all three countries with nuclear-capable fighter aircraft. This comes despite the fact that although Iran merely “cannot demonstrate that its [nuclear] program is peaceful,” India, Pakistan, and Israel actually possess dangerous nuclear arsenals and sophisticated delivery systems. In Obama’s worldview, enforcement of international legal obligations regarding nuclear non-proliferation should not be universally enforced but instead only applied to governments the United States doesn’t like.

International Norms and Cooperation

“To combat the poverty that punishes our children, we must act on the belief that freedom from want is a basic human right.”

Ironically, the United States is the only country other than the failed state of Somalia that has refused to ratify the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, designed to protect the economic, social, and cultural rights of children.

“To preserve our planet, we must not put off action that climate change demands. We have to tap the power of science to save those resources that are scarce. And together, we must continue our work to build on the progress made in Copenhagen and Cancun, so that all the major economies here today follow through on the commitments that were made.”

This is disingenuous in the extreme. The United States has joined China as the primary roadblock to meaningful action on the most serious threat to the planet today. Indeed, the United States is the only one of the 191 countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol to have failed to ratify it. In addition, according to The Guardian, following the 2009 Copenhagen summit ending with only a non-binding statement by the United States and four other countries, “The immediate reason for the failure of the talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama.” Regarding the subsequent Cancun summit in 2010, John Prescott, former British deputy prime minister and subsequently the Council of Europe’s climate change rapporteur, noted how the United Stated “shared the blame” along with China “for the lack of a legally-binding deal.”

“And to make sure our societies reach their potential, we must allow our citizens to reach theirs. No country can afford the corruption that plagues the world like a cancer.”

The governments of Afghanistan and Iraq are ranked by Transparency international as among the four most corrupt on the planet. Not only have thousands of Americans lost their lives and hundreds of billions of U.S. tax dollars been squandered supporting these regimes, they are totally dependent on the United States to stay in power. Given such leverage, it raises the question of whether the Obama administration is at all serious about fighting corruption.

“No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”

Obama is the first president to so explicitly defend the rights of sexual minorities before the UN, and this is indeed positive. Unfortunately, the United States continues its close economic and strategic cooperation – including large-scale police and security assistance – with Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and (until recently) Yemen, in which homosexuality is grounds for execution, as well as Pakistan and other countries, where gays and lesbians can be sentenced to life in prison. It’s questionable as to whether the Obama administration would maintain such close strategic relationships with countries that treated religious or ethnic minorities similarly.

“And no country can realize its potential if half its population cannot reach theirs. This week, the United States signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation. Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down the economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. This is what our commitment to human progress demands.”

Also that week, close U.S. ally Saudi Arabia sentenced a woman to a public lashing for driving a car. Indeed, despite Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan remaining perhaps the most misogynist regimes on the planet, the Obama administration apparently has few qualms about close strategic cooperation with their security forces, which enforce such sexist laws.

“Peace is hard, but we know that it is possible. So, together, let us be resolved to see that it is defined by our hopes and not by our fears. Together, let us make peace, but a peace, most importantly, that will last.”

One reason peace is so hard to attain is that the United States remains the world’s number one exporter of arms, has vetoed more UN Security Council resolutions over the past 40 years than all other member states combined, has a military budget nearly as large as all the other nations in the world put together, and maintains military forces in over half the countries of the world. Until there is a change in the Obama administration’s policies, the president has little credibility in preaching to the world about the importance of “peace.”

WikiLeaks Cables on Western Sahara Show Role of Ideology in State Department

Over the years, as part of my academic research, I have spent many hours at the National Archives poring over diplomatic cables of the kind recently released by WikiLeaks. The only difference is that rather than being released after a 30+ year waiting period — when the principals involved are presumably dead or in retirement and the countries in question have very different governments in power — the WikiLeaks are a lot more recent, more relevant and, in some cases, more embarrassing as a result.

However, those of us who have actually read such cables over the years find nothing in them particularly unusual or surprising. Indeed, the only people who would be surprised or shocked by what has been released in the recent dump of diplomatic cables are those who have a naïve view that the U.S. foreign policy is not about empire, but about freedom, democracy, international law, and mutually-respectful relationships between sovereign nations. There is little indication that the foreign governments in question are particularly surprised at any of the content in these cables either.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume the interpretations of events by State Department personnel contained in these documents are accurate reflections of reality. While many career Foreign Service officers are sincere and dedicated people, the nature of their role forces them to see the world from inside the prism of a hegemonic power. They cannot expect to have a more enlightened view of developments within a Middle Eastern state than, for example, a representative of the British Foreign Office would have had a century earlier.

For my doctoral dissertation on what motivated U.S. military intervention in Latin America and the Middle East during the 1950s, I spent many hours reviewing cables sent to and from U.S. embassies in Guatemala and Iran in the months prior to the U.S.-backed coups in those countries. I read frantic messages sent by senior diplomats in the U.S. embassy and top officials in the State Department and the White House regarding what they feared to be imminent Communist takeovers of those countries. Neither of these fears was based on reality, of course, but it was widely believed to be true.

By contrast, there is absolutely nothing in the hundreds of cables I reviewed in the lead-up to the coups indicating that the desire to overthrow Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossedegh was based primarily on his nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company or that the plans to overthrow Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz was based upon his nationalization of some lands owned by the United Fruit Company. It was based on a sincere, if grossly exaggerated, fear that there was a real threat that these countries would become dominated by pro-Soviet Communists. This certainly does not rule out the likelihood that powerful corporate interests which had a stake in ousting these nationalist leaders helped create the climate that led to such paranoid speculation. However, as far as those who made the key decisions were concerned, it appears to have been based primarily on this fear of Communist takeovers.

There is a tendency among critics of U.S. foreign policy to assume a level of rationality in decision-making that has led to the emergence of many popular conspiracy theories. Yes, there have certainly been conspiracies. Yes, in the final analysis, powerful corporate interests do play an important role in U.S. foreign policy. Yet what is often overlooked is the role of ideology, of the way that those embedded in U.S. embassies are willing to take the prevailing line simply because that it what they are pre-disposed to believe and they didn’t have the opportunity or the willingness to figure things out otherwise. This is why, absent of corroborating evidence, I’m skeptical about leaked documents regarding large-scale Iranian support of Iraqi insurgents and other claims which appear to legitimate U.S. militarism.

Our man in Rabat

One of the clearest examples of this phenomenon of allowing ideology to interfere with honest reporting comes in a recently-released cable from the U.S. charge d’affairs in the U.S. embassy in Morocco, Robert P. Jackson.

In his lengthy analysis regarding the conflict over Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, he makes the preposterous assertion that the independence struggle is essentially an Algerian creation, ignoring decades of popular resistance and longstanding Sahrawi nationalism which pre-dated Algeria’s support for the nationalist Polisario Front. He bases this claim on the fact that because the Polisario has failed to claim Sahrawi-populated parts of southern Morocco as part of the Western Sahara state, this somehow proves that the struggle is “less nationalist than geopolitical, linked to the much older dispute between Algeria and Morocco, and hardly boosts the case for an independent state.”

In reality, the reasons for this distinction between the two Sahrawi-populated regions is that the Polisario — unlike Morocco and its supporters — understands international law: The Sahrawi-populated Tefaya region is universally-recognized as part of Morocco whereas Sahrawi-populated Western Sahara is recognized as a non-self-governing territory under foreign belligerent occupation and therefore has the right to self-determination, including the option of independence. If Morocco would allow the Tefaya region to become part of an independent Western Sahara, there certainly would be no objections by the Polisario, but they simply understand that they have a much stronger case regarding Western Sahara itself. Instead, this U.S. diplomat implies that this willingness to recognize this important legal distinction somehow delegitimizes the nationalist struggle.

Jackson goes on to criticize the United Nations for recognizing the Polisario, along with Morocco, as the two principal parties in the conflict, insisting that the Algerians — who have no claim to Western Sahara — are the key to peace because of their support for the Polisario. Rather than pressure Morocco to abide by a series of UN Security Council resolutions and a landmark decision by the International Court of Justice to allow for an act of self-determination, he calls on UN special envoy Christopher Ross, a veteran U.S. diplomat, to “budge [Algerian] President Bouteflika and his government” to allow Morocco to consolidate their conquest.

This cable is very reminiscent of the longstanding effort by State Department officials during the Cold War to delegitimize national liberation struggles by claiming they were simply the creation of Cuba, the Soviet Union, or some other nation-state challenging U.S. hegemony. Indeed, in a throwback to Cold War rhetoric, Jackson insists that the Polisario Front, which has been recognized as the legitimate government of Western Sahara by over 80 governments, is “Cuba-like.” In the cable, Jackson calls for U.S. support for Moroccan calls for a census and audit of international programs in Polisario-led refugee camps, but not support for the international call for human rights monitors in the occupied territory. In addition, rather than recognizing the right of Sahrawi refugees to return under international law, he unrealistically suggests that the Sahrawi refugees all be resettled in Spain.

Contradicting findings by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other observers which provide evidence to the contrary, he insists that “respect for human rights in the territory has greatly improved” and “once common beatings and arbitrary imprisonment have also essentially ceased.” Despite an unprecedented level of popular resistance against the occupation, he insists “support for independence is waning.” He praises Morocco’s development efforts in the occupied territory, even claiming that Al Aioun, the occupied Western Sahara capital, is “without any Shantytowns,” which is news to those of us who have actually been there and seen them.

In a rare moment of candor, Jackson acknowledges that Morocco’s “hard-line stance may have been bolstered by what was perceived in the Palace as uncritical support from Washington.” However, he falsely claims that most governments in the UN Security Council support Morocco’s “autonomy” plan for Western Sahara, which not only promises a very circumscribed level of self-governance but prohibits the people of Western Sahara from voting on the option of independence as required under international law.

Not long after this cable was written, Jackson was promoted by President Obama to his first post as full ambassador, to the U.S.-backed dictatorship in the Republic of Cameroon. This serves as yet another example that a willingness to tow the official line rather than critically examining the evidence is the key to advancement in the U.S. Foreign Service.

New Arms Deal to Israel Stokes Militarism

The recently announced deal for the United States to provide Israel with 20 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets marks yet another blow for arms control advocates and those who had hoped the Obama administration would resist continuing with the Bush administration’s policy of further militarizing the Middle East. Once again rejecting calls from the peace and human rights community to link arms transfers to adherence to human rights and international law, the $2.75 billion deal is one of the largest arms procurements by the state of Israel. This is the first part of a series of US taxpayer-funded arms transfers to Israel that is expected to total more than $30 billion over the next decade.

In the wake of Israel’s massive assault on heavily populated civilian areas of the Gaza Strip last 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, President Barack Obama refused to heed Amnesty’s call.

During the fighting just prior to Obama assuming office, 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 US-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, “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 US 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, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization initially called for a suspension of US 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 Smart. “The Obama administration should immediately suspend US 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. There was initially some hope that Obama might express his displeasure toward controversial Israeli policies like the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories by rejecting the planned increase in military aid for this fiscal year, but not only did he refuse to do so, this announcement amid Netanyahu’s brazen defiance of calls to suspend further Israeli colonization in the occupied West Bank makes it apparent that Obama has no intention of linking military aid to rightist governments to adherence to their international legal obligations.

Obama Tilts Right

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. Indeed, the Obama administration announced a $60 billion arms sale to the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, the largest in history. Such arms sales to Arab governments can then be used for increased taxpayer-funded arms transfers to Israel, such as this recently announced one, which will be highly profitable to the politically influential maker of the F-35s, Lockheed Martin.

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 a reporter asked at his first press conference last year 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 that the country 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 US military support for governments which develop nuclear weapons.

Another major obstacle to Amnesty’s calls for suspending military assistance is Congress. Republican leaders like Reps. John Boehner (Ohio) and Eric Cantor (Virginia) have long rejected calls by human rights groups to link US 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 Rep. Barney Frank (Massachusetts), at a press conference last year in which he put forward a proposal to reduce military spending by 25 percent, 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 nonmilitary 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 – primarily through the use of US-supplied weapons – 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, US 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 US 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 US 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, US 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 US 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 Maj. Gen. and Knesset member Matti Peled, – who once served as the Israel Defense Forces’ 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 US weapons to challenge Israel. Indeed, Israel announced its acceptance of a proposed Middle Eastern arms freeze in 1991, but the US government, eager to defend the profits of US 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 percent of those arms transfers were of US 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 US 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 US aid to the Israeli government hasn’t been as beneficial to Israel as many would suspect. US 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 US arms merchants.

The US 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

Neither the recently-announced $2.75 arms deal nor even the $30 billion total over the next decade to support Israeli militarism is a huge amount of money compared with what has already been wasted in the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, and various Pentagon boondoggles. Still, this money could more profitably go toward needs at home, such as health care, education, housing, the environment 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 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.

Senate Again Undermines Obama’s Middle-East Peace Efforts

Once again, as President Barack Obama began pressuring the right-wing Israeli government to freeze the expansion of its illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, leading Congressional Democrats have joined in with Republicans to try to stop him.

Recognizing that increased Israeli colonization on occupied Palestinian land would seriously threaten the viability of an independent Palestinian state that could emerge from the peace talks and thereby make the process worthless, and recognizing that he would lose any popular mandate to continue negotiations under such conditions, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to withdraw from the negotiating table. As a result, Obama has been trying to get the rightist Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to extend the partial freeze on new construction of the Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In an apparent effort to undermine administration’s efforts, Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Robert Casey joined with Republican senators Johnny Isakson and Richard Burr in preparing a letter to President Obama that criticizes Abbas’ threat to withdraw from the talks while completely ignoring the threatened resumption of Netanyahu’s illegal colonization drive that would prompt it. According to the letter, “…it is critical that all sides stay at the table. Neither side should make threats to leave just as the talks are getting started.”

There is no mention in the letter that Netanyahu should abide by commitments of previous Israeli governments to freeze the settlement drive nor is there any mention of the five UN Security Council resolutions and the 2004 World Court decision calling on Israel to withdraw from the already-existing settlements. Instead, they praise the right wing prime minister for “not abandon(ing) the talks.”

It appears that Boxer and the other initiators of the letter decided that rather than emphasize the importance of both sides refraining from taking actions that would undermine the credibility of the negotiations, they were determined to put the U.S. Senate on record putting all the blame for the possible collapse of the talks on the Palestinians and none on the Israelis.

In response to international calls for pressure on Israel to live up to its international legal obligations to withdraw from Palestinian territories seized in the June 1967 war in return for security guarantees, the letter also insists that the United States “not to attempt to impose an agreement on the two parties,” and – despite the gross asymmetry in power between the Israeli occupiers and the Palestinians under occupation – that a peace settlement must be “embraced by both sides.”

The letter was strongly criticized by the liberal Zionist group Americans for Peace Now and praised by the right-wing American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC.)

Back in April, Boxer and Isakson initiated another letter, which was signed by 76 senators (half of whom were Democrats), to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton implicitly rebuking President Obama for challenging Israel on its illegal settlements, insisting that “differences are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies.” The letter, which criticized the Palestinians for conditioning talks on a settlement freeze, insisted that “Progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the U.S. and Israel.”

Ironically, despite the efforts of senators like Boxer, Russ Feingold, Patty Murray and others who have signed such letters to undermine President Obama’s peace efforts in the Middle East, liberal groups like Democracy for America and MoveOn have recently been praising Boxer, Feingold, Murray, and other signatories as “progressive heroes” deserving support for their re-election.

It is hard to get excited about defeating Republican challengers, however, when incumbent Democrats embrace the same right-wing foreign policy and try to undermine President Obama when he tries to do something right.

Arming the Saudis

The Pentagon has announced a $60 billion arms package to the repressive family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the largest arms sale of its kind in history. Rejecting the broad consensus of arms control advocates that the Middle East is too militarized already and that the Saudis already possess military capabilities well in excess of their legitimate security needs, the Obama administration is effectively insisting that this volatile region does not yet have enough armaments and that the United States must send even more.

According to reports, Washington is planning to sell 84 new F-15 fighters and three types of helicopters: 72 Black Hawks, 70 Apaches and 36 Little Birds. There are also reports of naval missile-defense upgrades in the works.

Though supporters of such arms sales argue that if the United States did not sell weapons to the oil-rich kingdom, someone else would, neither the Obama administration nor its predecessors have ever expressed interest in pursuing any kind of arms control agreement with other arms-exporting countries. A number of other arms exporters, such as Germany, are now expressing their opposition to further arms transfers to the region due to the risks of exacerbating tensions and promoting a regional arms race.

The United States is by far the largest arms exporter in the world, surpassing Russia — the second-largest arms exporter — by nearly two to one.

The Iranian Rationalization

The ostensible reason for the proposed arms packages is to counter Iran’s growing military procurement in recent years, though Iranian military spending is actually substantially less than it was 25 years ago. Furthermore, Iran’s current military buildup is based primarily on the perceived need to respond to the threatened US attack against that country, a concern made all the more real by the US invasion and occupation of two countries bordering Iran on both its east and west in recent years.

This US insistence on countering Iran through further militarizing this already overly militarized region is particularly provocative. Not only has the United States refused to engage in serious negotiations with Iran regarding mutual security concerns, but it has discouraged its regional allies from pursuing arms control talks or other negotiations that could ease tensions between the Arab monarchies and the Islamic Republic. If the Obama administration were really interested in addressing its purported concerns regarding Iranian militarization, it would be willing to engage in more serious diplomacy to limit the procurement of conventional arms on a region-wide basis.

In addition to alleged worries about Iran as a military threat to the region, US officials have also tried to justify the arms package as a means to respond to Iran’s growing political influence. However, most of Iran’s enhanced role in the region in recent years is a direct consequence of the decision by the Bush administration — backed by the current vice president, secretary of state, secretary of defense, and other leading Obama administration officials — to overthrow the secular anti-Iranian regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and replace it with a new government dominated by pro-Iranian Shiite parties. Another key element of Iran’s growing influence is the earlier US decision to oust the anti-Iranian Taliban of Afghanistan and replace it with a regime dominated by tribal war lords, a number of whom have close Iranian ties. Similarly, Iranian influence has also increased in the Levant as a direct consequence of US-backed Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, which have strengthened popular political support for Hamas and Hezbollah and their ties to Iran.

Iran’s emergence as a major regional military power also took place as a result of earlier American arms transfers. Over a 25-year period, the United States pushed the autocratic regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi to purchase today’s equivalent of over $100 billion worth of American armaments, weapons systems and support, creating a formidable military apparatus that ended up in the hands of radically anti-American Shiite clerics following that country’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

Rather than respond to these setbacks by further militarization, the Obama administration should, instead, seriously re-evaluate its counterproductive propensity to try to resolve Middle Eastern security concerns primarily through military means. Instead of meeting the legitimate defensive needs of America’s allies, the proposed deal is yet another arrogant assertion of American military hegemony. As US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns put it in 2007 in response to a previous arms package to the Saudis, such weapons transfers “say to the Iranians and Syrians that the United States is the major power in the Middle East and will continue to be and is not going away.”

As exiled Saudi activist Ali Alyami of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia put it, “Appeasing and protecting the autocratic Saudi dynasty and other tyrannical regimes in the Arab world will not bring peace, stability, or an end to extremism and terrorism.”

There is also the possibility that, as with Iran following the 1979 revolution, US arms provided to the Saudis could end up in the hands of radical anti-American forces should the government be overthrown. The Saudi regime is even more repressive than Iran’s in terms of its treatment of women, gays, religious minorities and political dissidents. Indeed, seeing their countries’ wealth squandered on unnecessary weapons systems pushed on them by the US government and suffering under their despotic rulers kept in power in large part through such military support are major causes of the growing appeal of anti-American extremism among the people of the Middle East.

More Arms, Less Security

US officials insist that the Saudis alone are responsible for their procurement of these sophisticated weapons. Yet, underneath this convenient claim of Saudi sovereignty that supposedly absolves the United States of any responsibility in the arms purchases and their deleterious effects, lies a practice that can be traced as far back as the 1940s: The U.S Defense Department routinely defines the kingdom’s security needs, often providing a far more pessimistic analysis of the country’s security situation than do more objective strategic analyses. Conveniently, these alleged needs lead directly to purchases of specific US weapons.

As Robert Vitalis, director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania, looking at the history of US arms transfers to the Saudi royal family, observed:

If the billions have not been useful to the Saudis, they were a gold mine for Congresspersons compelled to cast pro-Saudi votes, along with cabinet officials and party leaders worried about the economy of key states and electoral districts. To the extent that the regime faces politically destabilizing cutbacks in social spending, a proximate cause is the strong bipartisan push for arms exports to the Gulf as a means to bolster the sagging fortunes of key constituents and regions — the ‘gun belt’ — that represents the domestic face of internationalism.
These military expenditures place a major toll on the fiscal well-being of Middle Eastern countries. Military expenditures often total half of central government outlays. Many senior observers believe that debt financing in Saudi Arabia that has been used in the past to finance arms purchases has threatened the kingdom’s fragile social pact of distributing oil rents to favored constituents and regions.

A very important factor, often overlooked, is that a number of Middle Eastern states — such as Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco — are highly dependent on Saudi Arabia for financial assistance. As Saudi Arabia spends more and more on arms acquisitions, it becomes less generous, leading to serious budget shortfalls throughout the Arab world. The result is that these arms sales may be causing more instability and, thereby, threatening these countries’ security interests more than they are protecting them.

The implications of these ongoing arms purchases are ominous on several levels. For example, one of the most striking, but least talked about for the Middle East, is the “food deficit,” the amount of food produced relative to demand. With continued high military spending — combined with rapid population growth and increased urbanization — the resulting low investments in agriculture have made this deficit the fastest growing in the world.

For these and other reasons, ultimately the largest number of civilian casualties, the greatest amount of social disorder and the resulting strongest anti-American sentiment may come as a consequence of US-supplied weapons systems and ordinance that are never actually used in combat.

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.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/the_budgets_foreign_policy_handcuffs

Letter to My Daughter

Dear Kalila,

It has been five years since you, as a 12-year old 7th grader, joined your classmates in a walk-out at your school in protest of the impending invasion of Iraq.

You are now a 17-year old high school senior just months from graduating, and the war – which we were told would only involve U.S. combat forces for a few months – is still going on. As you enter college in the fall, some of your classmates whom you have known since childhood could be entering Iraq to fight in a war that should never have been fought.

As a consequence of this war of aggression, you are entering adulthood with the United States despised throughout the world and the threat of mega-terrorism from extremist groups higher than ever. Furthermore, it appears that this war will end up costing more than 3 trillion dollars, money that you will be paying, with interest, for decades to come. This money could instead have gone to health care, education, the environment, housing, public transportation, and other human needs that could have made your life and the lives of others of your generation safer, healthier, and happier. Already, the economic impact of the war is becoming apparent in your life. Your long-promised graduation present of a European trip is looking less affordable as the dollar plummets in value and your parents are scrambling – as a result of cutbacks in federal assistance – to figure out a way to pay your college tuition next year.

As you remember, your mother and I worked very hard to try to stop this war. We so very much wish you could have avoided experiencing, as we did during our adolescence, our country engaged in a brutal counter-insurgency war in a foreign land.

I remember how much you missed me as I traveled around the country giving speeches and interviews to try to convince the public and elected officials that Iraq was not a threat to our national security and that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would be a disaster. I remember your tears as you heard me denounced on national television as a “supporter of Saddam Hussein” and claims that my research “was funded by terrorists.” And you no doubt remember the negative impact the stress and exhaustion from that period had on my health as well as my relations with you, your siblings, and your mother.

Yet I also remember your pride in seeing me speak before half a million people in San Francisco at the anti-war march, your excitement in getting to use my backstage pass to meet Bonnie Raitt, and your appreciation of being a part of history that sunny February afternoon. I have seen you attend subsequent marches on your own, still convinced that, while unable to prevent the war, you could still try to end it.

You were born in October 1990 on the eve of the first U.S. war with Iraq. We gave you an Arabic name – meaning “beloved” – in part to honor the rich cultural traditions of a people whom our government is willing kill in order to control their natural resources. In certain respects, the United States has been killing Iraqis for almost your entire life. Meanwhile, a whole generation of your peers in that unhappy land has grown up knowing nothing but war, sanctions, and related hardships.

I think about the impact the invasion has had on you and how it has affected the way you see your country and its government. You figure that if a total idiot like your dad could figure out that Saddam Hussein could not have possibly reconstructed his capability of producing “weapons of mass destruction,” you logically assume that the president, vice-president, top cabinet officials, and congressional leaders of both political parties were lying when they said that he had. As a result, instead of coming of age with a healthy skepticism about your government, I’ve seen how you and many of your peers have developed a bitter cynicism, assuming that both Republicans and Democrats are willing to lie to their constituents in order to justify imperial conquest.

Whoever becomes the next president, however, this war will continue to impact your life for many years to come. Seeing you as a beautiful, smart, and competent young woman – facing an uncertain future in this militarized, divided, and economically weakened society – I wish there was something more I could have somehow done five years ago to prevent this war from happening.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/letter_to_my_daughter

Arming the Middle East

President George W Bush announced during his recent Middle East trip that he is formally serving notice to Congress of his administration’s decision to approve the sale of bomb-guidance kits to Saudi Arabia. This announcement follows notification on five other arms deals to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait that are part of a $20 billion package of additional armaments over the next decade to the family dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf emirates announced by President George W. Bush last summer.

At that time, the Bush administration also announced taxpayer-funded military assistance totaling an additional $13 billion over this same period to the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt. Also part of this package is an additional $30 billion worth of sophisticated weaponry bound for Israel.

Altogether, these arms deals represent a major setback for those struggling to promote peace and democracy in that volatile region.

The Democratic-controlled Congress has the authority to block any or all of these proposed sales. It could also refuse to approve the military assistance packages, which altogether total $63 billion. Congress has until February 13 to block the latest portion of the arms package, consisting of 900 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, valued at $123 million. In addition to these highly advanced satellite-guided bombs, the Bush administration’s proposed arms sales to the Gulf monarchies include sophisticated guided missiles, new naval ships, and upgrades to fighter aircraft for Saudi Arabia and the five other Gulf monarchies.

However, no one among the top House or Senate leadership in either party has yet to come out in opposition to any aspect of the administration’s plans to dangerously escalate the regional arms race.

Still More Arms

Arms control analysts have consistently argued that the Middle East is too militarized already and the recipient governments already possess military capabilities well in excess of their legitimate security needs. Yet President Bush is effectively insisting that this volatile region does not yet have enough armaments, and the United States must send even more.

As disturbing as this is – depending on the time frame for the arms sales – it does not necessarily represent a dramatic increase in the rate of arms transfers. For example, since 1998, the United States has sent over $15 billion of American weaponry to Saudi Arabia alone. By contrast, even though Israel’s strategic superiority vis-à-vis all its potential regional adversaries is stronger than ever and Israel is already by far the highest recipient of U.S. military assistance, the proposed arms package to Israel marks a dramatic 25% increase over current levels.

The administration has claimed in recent years that it has disavowed the policies of its predecessors that propped up undemocratic regimes in the name of regional stability and was now dedicated to promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Nevertheless, all seven of the Arab countries included in the proposed arms packages are led by autocratic governments that have engaged in consistent patterns of gross and persistent human rights abuses. In addition, Israel – while having the only democratically elected government among the recipients – remains in belligerent occupation of much of Palestine’s West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights and has a longstanding history of using American weapons against civilians and related violations of international humanitarian law.

Though supporters of the recently announced arms sales to the Gulf argue that if the United States did not sell weapons to these oil-rich nations someone else would, neither the Bush administration nor its predecessors have ever expressed interest in pursuing any kind of arms control agreement with other arms exporting countries. A number of other arms exporters, such as Germany, are now expressing their opposition to further arms transfers to the region due to the risks of exacerbating tensions and promoting a regional arms race.

The United States is by far the largest arms exporter in the world, surpassing Russia – the second largest arms exporter – by nearly two to one.

The Iranian rationalization

The ostensible reason for the proposed arms packages is to counter Iran’s growing military procurement in recent years, though Iranian military spending is actually substantially less than it was 20 years ago. Furthermore, Iran’s current military buildup is based primarily on the perceived need to respond to the threatened U.S. attack against that country, a concern made all the more real by the U.S. invasion and occupation of two countries bordering Iran on both its east and west in recent years.

This U.S. insistence on countering Iran through further militarizing this already overly militarized region is particularly provocative. Not only has the United States refused to engage in serious negotiations with Iran regarding mutual security concerns but it has discouraged its regional allies from pursuing arms control talks or other negotiations that could ease tensions between the Arab monarchies and the Islamic Republic. If the Bush administration were really interested in addressing its purported concerns regarding Iranian militarization, it would be willing to at least give diplomacy a chance first.

In addition to alleged worries about Iran as a military threat to the region, U.S. officials have also tried to justify the arms package as a means to respond to Iran’s growing political influence. However, most of Iran’s enhanced role in the region in recent years is a direct consequence of the U.S. decision to overthrow the anti-Iranian regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and its replacement by a new government dominated by pro-Iranian Shiite parties. Another key element of Iran’s growing influence is the earlier U.S. decision to oust the anti-Iranian Taliban of Afghanistan and replace it with a regime dominated by tribal war lords, a number of whom have close Iranian ties. Similarly, Iranian influence has also increased in the Levant as a direct consequence of U.S.-backed Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, which have strengthened popular political support for Hamas and Hezbollah and their ties to Iran.

Iran’s emergence as a major regional military power also took place as a result of American arms transfers. Over a 25-year period, the United States pushed the autocratic regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi to purchase today’s equivalent of over $100 billion worth of American armaments, weapons systems, and support, creating a formidable military apparatus that ended up in the hands of radically anti-American Shiite clerics following that country’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

Rather than respond to these setbacks by further militarization, the United States should instead seriously re-evaluate its counter-productive propensity to try to resolve Middle Eastern security concerns primarily through military means. Instead of meeting the legitimate defensive needs of America’s allies, the proposed deal is yet another arrogant assertion of American military hegemony. As U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns put it, the arms package “says to the Iranians and Syrians that the United States is the major power in the Middle East and will continue to be and is not going away.”

Little Strategic Merit

The administration’s other rationales for the new arms transfers also have little merit. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for instance, claims that they are necessary to counter the influences of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. In reality, these sophisticated conventional weapons systems would be of little use against Osama bin Laden’s decentralized network of underground terrorist cells or the Lebanese Shiite party’s popular militia.

As exiled Saudi activist Ali Alyami of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia put it, “Appeasing and protecting the autocratic Saudi dynasty and other tyrannical regimes in the Arab world will not bring peace, stability, or an end to extremism and terrorism.”

There is also the possibility that, as with Iran following the 1979 revolution, U.S. arms provided to one or more of these autocratic Arab regimes could end up in the hands of radical anti-American forces should the government be overthrown. Indeed, seeing their countries’ wealth squandered on unnecessary weapons systems pushed on them by the U.S. government and suffering under their despotic rulers kept in power in large part through such military support are major causes of the growing appeal of anti-American extremism among the peoples of Middle East.

The Democratic Response

Despite holding a majority of seats in Congress, the Democratic majority will likely allow the administration to go ahead with these massive arms transfers. Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, apparently has no plans to take up a resolution blocking the proposed sale. Without action by that committee, Congress will not be able to vote on the matter.

For years, calls for the Democratic congressional leadership to eliminate or even scale back this kind of taxpayer subsidy for wealthy and powerful U.S. military contractors – referred to by critics as “merchants of death” – have been summarily rejected. Indeed, since first being elected to Congress in the late 1980s, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has voted in favor of over $50 billion of taxpayer-funded arms transfers to Middle Eastern countries that have engaged in gross and systematic violations of international humanitarian law. In her time in the leadership, she has never seriously challenged any arms transfers to the region.

When the proposal was originally outlined last summer, a group of congressional Democrats did sign a letter expressing opposition. The leading Democratic presidential contenders announced their reservations as well. However, these objections were only in regard to the proposed arms sales for Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies. There were no objections to the much larger tax-payer funded arms package to Israel.

In defending the Israeli part of the proposed package, all three major Democratic presidential candidates have placed themselves in opposition to repeated calls by human rights activists to restrict military assistance to any government that uses American weaponry against civilian targets in violation of international humanitarian law.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards argue that additional military aid is necessary to protect Israel from potentially hostile Arab states. However, given that the arsenals of most of these Arab countries are of U.S. origin, it would make more sense to simply call for an end to the large-scale arms transfers to these regimes. Furthermore, every Arab state is now on record agreeing to security guarantees and normal relations with Israel in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands seized in the June 1967 war. If these presidential hopefuls were really interested in Israel’s security, they would encourage the Bush administration to pressure Israel to enter into serious negotiations based on the longstanding principle of land for peace.

Last summer’s letter by House members opposing the proposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia totaled 141 members, less than half of what is needed to block the sales. Ironically, a reading of the letter and accompanying press release appears to indicate that the main objections these Democrats had to sending additional arms to Saudi Arabia was the government’s opposition to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, its efforts to reconcile warring Palestinian parties, and its insistence on Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands conquered in the 1967 war in return for peace.

More Arms, Less Security

U.S. officials insist that the Saudis alone are responsible for their procurement of these sophisticated weapons. Yet underneath this convenient claim of Saudi sovereignty that supposedly absolves the United States of any responsibility in the arms purchases and their deleterious effects lies a practice that can be traced as far back as the 1940s: The U.S Defense Department routinely defines the kingdom’s security needs, often providing a far more pessimistic analysis of the country’s security situation than do more objective strategic analyses. Conveniently, these alleged needs lead directly to purchases of specific U.S. weapons.

As Robert Vitalis, director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania, observed,

If the billions have not been useful to the Saudis, they were a gold mine for Congresspersons compelled to cast pro-Saudi votes, along with cabinet officials and party leaders worried about the economy of key states and electoral districts. To the extent that the regime faces politically destabilizing cutbacks in social spending, a proximate cause is the strong bipartisan push for arms exports to the Gulf as a means to bolster the sagging fortunes of key constituents and regions – the “gun belt” – that represents the domestic face of internationalism.

These military expenditures place a major toll on the fiscal well-being of Middle Eastern countries. Military expenditures often total half of central government outlays. Many senior observers believe that debt financing in Saudi Arabia that has been used in the past to finance arms purchases has threatened the kingdom’s fragile social pact of distributing oil rents to favored constituents and regions.

A very important factor, often overlooked, is that a number of Middle Eastern states – such as Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, and Morocco – are highly dependent on Saudi Arabia for financial assistance. As Saudi Arabia spends more and more on arms acquisitions, it becomes less generous, leading to serious budget shortfalls throughout the Arab world. The result is that these arms sales may be causing more instability and thereby threatening these countries’ security interests more than they are protecting them.

Even Middle Eastern countries that do not have to buy their American weapons suffer the economic consequences. For example, U.S. arms transfers cost the Israelis two to three times their value in maintenance, spare parts, training of personnel, and related expenses. It drains their economy and increases their dependency on the United States.

The implications of these ongoing arms purchases are ominous on several levels. For example, one of the most striking but least talked about for the Middle East is the “food deficit,” the amount of food produced relative to demand. With continued high military spending – combined with rapid population growth and increased urbanization – the resulting low investments in agriculture have made this deficit the fastest growing in the world.

For these and other reasons, ultimately the largest number of civilian casualties, the greatest amount of social disorder, and the strongest anti-American sentiment that results may come as a consequence of U.S.-supplied weapons systems and ordinance that are never actually used in combat.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/arming_the_middle_east