Why One of the World’s Leading Peace Advocates Threatened to Punch Me in the Face

I have rarely ever come face to face – only inches in fact – with such anger. Certainly not at an academic conference. And certainly not from such a prominent figure: chancellor of Australian National University, former attorney-general and foreign minister, former head of the International Crisis Group, and one of the world’s most prominent global thinkers.

Yet here I was with Gareth Evans, cursing at me, ripping my badge off, and threatening to punch me in the face.

What prompted his outburst was my raising the issue of his support for the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia during its savage repression in the occupied island nation of East Timor. Since the March 17 conference at the University of Melbourne – at which I, like Evans, was a plenary speaker – was about the first anniversary of the Arab revolts, the organizers came to his defense by insisting that I had raised an issue that was off-topic. In reality, it was very relevant.

Gareth Evans is perhaps best known internationally as the world’s principal intellectual architect and proponent of the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), which calls for Western military intervention in crisis areas to prevent massacres of civilians. He was particularly outspoken in his support for what he referred to as “the overwhelming moral case” for the controversial NATO military intervention in Libya, which went well beyond the original mandate to protect civilians to effectively become the air force of the rebel coalition. Evans has insisted that his advocacy for the intervention was unrelated to oil or to Gaddafi’s traditional hostility to Western interest, but out of purely humanitarian concern.

At the time Evans began advocating for foreign intervention in Libya, less than 300 civilians had been killed by Gaddafi’s forces. However, as foreign minister, Evans supported close security cooperation with the Indonesian military during its brutal occupation of East Timor, in which over 200,000 civilians died. Furthermore, Evans denied, downplayed and covered up for a number of Indonesian atrocities and, during this time in office, was the only foreign minister in the world to formally recognize Indonesian sovereignty over that illegally occupied territory.

Evans’ blatant hypocrisy is now being used by opponents of R2P – including apologists for Gaddafi, Assad, and other tyrants – to back their contention that R2P is not an example of benign liberal internationalism, but simply an excuse for imperialist intervention.

The Incident

During the opening plenary of the conference when both Evans and I were in the audience, I thought it appropriate to ask an Egyptian speaker – who had expressed his disappointment at continued Western support for the military junta in Egypt – about perceptions in his country of Western double-standards. I prefaced my question by noting how the American and British governments were opposing the repressive regime in Syria while supporting the repressive regime in Bahrain, how Washington had called for greater democracy in Egypt while arming its autocratic military rulers, and how the principal advocate for Western intervention against the Libyan regime to stop repression under the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” had, as foreign minister of Australia, supported far greater repression by the Indonesian regime against the East Timorese.

Before I could get to the actual question, Evans shouted out, “Are you referring to me?” I answered, “Yes, actually.” “That’s crap!” he yelled. I began to explain why I thought it was a valid statement when the conference organizer asked me to proceed with my actual question, which I did.

At the end of the session and as the group in the auditorium exited for a coffee break, Evans rushed over to me and launched into his expletive-filled tirade, demanded to know who I was, ripped off my conference badge, threatened to punch me in the face, and insisted that he had in fact never supported Indonesia’s repression.

In order to diffuse a situation in which I felt physically threatened, I said, “If I misrepresented you, I apologize,” and eventually he stormed off.

In an interview about the incident with the Sydney Morning Herald two days later, he blamed me entirely for the incident, and quoting Clive of India, said, “I stand astonished at my own moderation.”

Evans’ Record

Evans claimed my assertion was “as ignorant as it was offensive.” Similarly, he later told the Sydney Morning Herald that my allegation was ”disgustingly defamatory.”

However, the record shows otherwise.

In early 1991, despite reports by Amnesty International and other human rights groups documenting the contrary, Evans had stated that East Timor’s “human rights situation has, in our judgment, conspicuously improved, particularly under the current military arrangements.” When Indonesian forces massacred 430 civilians at a funeral in the capital of Dili nine months later, Evans falsely described the mass killings as simply “an aberration, not an act of state policy.” In the face of international outrage at an Indonesian “investigation” of the tragedy which blamed the massacres on the nonviolent protesters, Evans claimed there was “no case to be supremely critical” of the regime. He insisted that the Indonesian dictatorship had “responded in a reasonable and credible way” and argued that “essentially punitive responses from the international community are not appropriate” (a very different perspective than he would later take toward non-ally Libya).

Evans was also a strong advocate of close Australian security cooperation with the Indonesian dictatorship despite its widespread mass killings of civilians, even though Evans later admitted that “many of our earlier training efforts helped only to produce more professional human rights abusers.” During the period in which Evans was foreign minister, Australia engaged in more military exercises with Indonesia than with any other country.

Perhaps Evans’ most notorious role as foreign minister was in his signing of the Timor Gap Treaty with his Australian counterpart in 1989, which gave Australia access to oil and gas reserves in the territorial waters of occupied East Timor. This “historically unique” agreement, in Evans’ words, came despite provisions in international law forbidding the exploitation of natural resources in occupied territories which fail to benefit the country’s inhabitants. Rutgers University professor Roger Clark, one of the world’s foremost authorities on international law, referred to the agreement as “the same as acquiring stuff from a thief. The fact is that they have neither historical, nor legal, nor moral claim to East Timor and its resources.”

In order to sign the treaty, Australia became the only country in the world to formally recognize Indonesia’s illegal annexation of the territory, in direct contravention of basic international legal statutes forbidding the expansion of any country’s territory by force and the legal principle than non-self-governing territories be granted the right of self-determination.

Despite no less than three UN Security Council resolutions demanding East Timor’s right to independence and an eventually successful worldwide campaign to end the occupation, Evans insisted that the Indonesian conquest was “irreversible” and declared “the sovereignty issue as effectively closed.” A few years later, when his Labour Party was in opposition, he worked hard to weaken a proposed plank in the party platform supporting an end of the occupation and the right of the East Timorese for self-determination. When Indonesia eventually conceded to international pressure to live up to its international legal obligations and offer independence to East Timor in 1999, Evans referred to it as “a fit of pique.”

Since East Timor finally became independent, much has come to light regarding the extent of the regime’s genocidal campaign against the people of that island nation, which lost one-third of its population in the course of the Australian-backed occupation. Yet Evans insists to this day that “the notion that we had anything to answer for morally or otherwise over the way we handled the Indonesia-East Timor relationship, I absolutely reject.”

Aftermath

Rather than come to my defense following Evans’ public outburst and threats against me, the principal organizer of the conference, Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh, faulted me for provoking Evans, asking “what else could he do?” and prevented me from explaining to the assembly the factual basis of my allegations. Similarly, the brief article in the Sydney Morning Herald regarding the incident appeared to put most of the blame on me.

Australians, then, appear to be as much in denial of their political leaders’ complicity in war crimes as are my fellow Americans. (Indeed, the U.S. role in supporting Indonesia’s occupation is as sordid as that of Australia.) And they appear to be just as contemptuous of those of us who have the temerity to expose them.

The irony is that I deeply respect much of Evans’ work, particularly those addressing peace and disarmament issues. I was so impressed with his book on the United Nations, I assigned it as a required text in some of my courses in the 1990s. However, his failure to come to terms with his shameful role in East Timor will forever be an albatross around his neck.

Evans certainly is not alone regarding his moral culpability for the horror of the Indonesian occupation. Indeed, quite a number of other prominent Australian political leaders – as well as American political leaders, including Henry Kissinger and Richard Holbrooke – have much to answer for as well. However, none have won such widespread accolades, honors, awards, and recognition as a liberal internationalist and peace advocate as Gareth Evans. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, he could get worked up into such a fit at someone publicly challenging such a positive image.

In many ways, Evans’ attack on me is but an extreme example of the contempt that Western governments and their supporters have for scholars, human rights activists, and others who raise critical questions regarding their support for occupying powers that engage in gross violations of international humanitarian law, be they Indonesia, Morocco or Israel. However, we must never succumb to such intimidation by those who seek to undermine the post-WWII international legal order and deny or justify the slaughter of innocents.

It was the tireless efforts of Australian human rights activists – along with their counterparts in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and elsewhere – who eventually shamed their governments into ending their support for Indonesia’s occupation and helped set East Timor free. However, if we do not also hold our politicians accountable for their collusion in such tragedies, there will be little to stop them from doing so again.

John Hall: Still the One?

In the face of expected Republican gains this year, receiving the support of MoveOn, one of the country’s largest progressive advocacy groups, is of particular importance for Democratic candidates. One of only a handful of House incumbents to receive the coveted endorsement by MoveOn’s political action committee is Democrat John Hall, who represents the 19th district in upstate New York.

John Hall is the former front man for the band Orleans (“Dance with Me,” “Still the One,” etc.) As a solo act, he was the writer of a number of additional songs of note, including “Power” — recorded by Holly Near and others — which became something of an anthem of the anti-nuclear movement. He was one of the co-founders of Musicians United for Safe Energy (M.U.S.E.) and was a long-time supporter of various progressive causes, through which I got to know him personally. In what was initially seen as a progressive victory, Hall was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 19th district in upstate New York back in 2006.

Since being elected to Congress, however, Rep. Hall has moved far to the right. Despite hopes that he would become a leading voice in support of human rights, Hall has instead gone in the opposite direction. Last year, he shocked his progressive supporters by co-sponsoring two resolutions defending a series of war crimes by a right-wing Middle Eastern government allied with the United States and endorsing war against Syria and Iran.

Hall’s first resolution (H. Res. 34), passed last January during Israel’s massive assault on the heavily-populated Palestinian enclave of the Gaza Strip, insisted that the high numbers of civilian casualties was not the result of yet another implementation of the Dahiya Doctrine — the widely-known Israeli military policy of inflicting overwhelmingly disproportionate casualties on civilian populations in urban settings — but a result of Hamas using “human shields.” Subsequent detailed empirical studies by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Human Rights Council, however, failed to find any such cases of Hamas deliberately using civilians against their will to deter attacks. His second resolution, written long after these studies had been published, similarly insisted there was widespread evidence of Hamas using human shields, but when asked to give even a single example of Hamas doing so, his office refused comment.

Rep. Hall did not stop with this apparent fabrication, however, in his effort to defend the killing of over 700 civilians by Israeli armed forces. His resolution “calls on all nations … to lay blame both for the breaking of the calm and for subsequent civilian casualties in Gaza precisely where blame belongs, that is, on Hamas” (emphasis added). Even putting aside disagreements among outside observers as to whether Hamas was indeed the party primarily guilty for “the breaking of the calm,” Hall appears to be making the argument that if one party initiates a conflict, then the other party therefore has no moral or legal responsibility for war crimes they may subsequently commit. This constitutes a radical reworking of international humanitarian law, essentially legitimizing massive war crimes by a nation’s armed force if the other side allegedly initiates hostilities. Such an re-interpretation, for example, would mean that the large-scale civilian casualties inflicted by Russian forces in Georgia during the 2008 conflict between those countries lies solely with the Georgian government, since they initiated the conflict by shelling civilian areas in South Ossetia.

In reality, international humanitarian law forbids the killing of civilians, even if the other party is using and human shields and even if the other party started the war.

As various human rights groups began to detail the widespread violations of international humanitarian law by both Hamas and the Israeli government during that three-week conflict, Rep. Hall helped launch a campaign to discredit those who documented such war crimes. Even the UN-sponsored commission chaired by the highly-respected South African jurist Richard Goldstone was not immune from Hall’s attacks. When it appeared that the findings of this blue-ribbon panel was to be referred to the UN Security Council, Hall co-sponsored another resolution (H. Res. 867) insisting that the mission’s report was “irredeemably biased.” Given that the Goldstone mission largely reiterated those of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other groups, this was widely interpreted as an attack on the human rights community as a whole, particularly as Hall appears to have deliberately misrepresented what was actually in the report.

The report contained over 70 pages detailing a series of violations of the laws of war by Hamas, including rocket attacks into civilian-populated areas of Israel, torture of Palestinian opponents, and the continued holding of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. However, as part of his desperate effort to discredit the report by making it appear to be biased against Israel, Hall only referred to its criticism of Israeli conduct, failing to acknowledge anywhere in his 1600-word resolution that the report criticized the conduct of both sides. In fact, despite the report’s extensive documentation of Hamas assaults on Israeli towns — which it determined constituted war crimes and possible “crimes against humanity” — Hall’s draft resolution insisted that it “makes no mention of the relentless rocket and mortar attacks.”

The Goldstone mission report, totaling 575 pages, contains detailed accounts of deadly Israeli attacks against schools, mosques, private homes, and businesses nowhere near legitimate military targets, which they described as “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.” In particular, the report cites 11 incidents in which Israeli armed forces engaged in direct attacks against civilians, including cases where people were shot “while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags.” Hall’s resolution, however, claims that such charges of deliberate Israeli attacks against civilian areas were “sweeping and unsubstantiated.” His office refused to comment as to why he found the meticulously-detailed report, which largely reiterated findings of previous reputable human rights investigations, of such questionable validity.

Hall’s resolution also claims that the Goldstone commission report somehow denied Israel’s right to self defense. In reality, the report only reiterated that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have the right to attack civilians. Hall’s office refused to say where in the report was this alleged questioning of Israel’s right to use military force to defend itself, an apparently indication that Rep. Hall believes that killing innocent civilians should be considered a legitimate act of self-defense, at least if the perpetrator is a U.S. ally. Hall even goes as far as insisting that Goldstone’s report is part of an effort “to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel and deny it the right to defend its citizens” and that the report’s very existence “can be used to delegitimize other democracies and deny them the same right.” This is but one example of the extent of Hall’s demagoguery: In insisting that documenting a given country’s war crimes is tantamount to denying that country’s right to exist and its right to self defense, Hall is clearly attempting to discredit defenders of international humanitarian law and intimidate them into silence.

Indeed, the resolution calls on the Obama administration not only “to oppose unequivocally any endorsement” of the report, but to even oppose unequivocally any “further consideration” of the report in international fora. Instead of debating its merits, therefore, Hall decided to instead pre-judge its contents and disregard the actual evidence put forward. Indeed, there is no indication that he even actually bothered to read the report.

Hall’s resolution resolves that the report is “irredeemably biased” against Israel, an ironic charge given that Justice Richard Goldstone, the report’s principal author and defender, is Jewish, a longtime supporter of Israel, chair of Friends of Hebrew University, president emeritus of the World ORT Jewish school system, and the father of an Israeli citizen. Goldstone was also a leading opponent of apartheid in his native South Africa and served as Nelson Mandela’s first appointee to the country’s post-apartheid Supreme Court. He was a principal prosecutor in the war crimes tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, took a leading role in investigations into corruption in the UN’s “Oil for Food” program in Iraq, and was also part of investigations into Argentina’s complicity in providing sanctuary for Nazi war criminals.

Hall also singles out Goldstone Commission member Christine Chinkin for attack in his resolution for noting, prior to her joining the commission, that Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip’s civilian infrastructure was not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire, which she also condemned. Chinkin is an internationally respected British scholar of international law, feminist jurisprudence, alternative dispute resolution and human rights who — like Justice Goldstone — had never shown any ideological bias against Israel.

Yet Hall, in an effort to justify war crimes by a U.S. ally, decided to co-sponsor a resolution attacking the integrity of some of the world’s most respected and principled defenders of human rights. Hall apparently believes that the credibility of any human rights defender must be attacked if they dare raise questions about the conduct of a U.S. ally. This may actually be the underlying purpose of his resolution: to jettison any consideration of international humanitarian law from policy debates in Washington. The cost, however, will likely be to further isolate the United States from the rest of the world, just as President Barack Obama was beginning to rebuild the trust of other nations.

Indeed, Hall’s resolution appears designed in part to undermine Obama’s efforts to reverse the saber-rattling of the Bush administration toward hostile governments in the region and to goad Israel, as an American proxy, to make war. Following earlier clauses in the resolution that define Israel’s massive military assault on the civilian infrastructure of the Gaza Strip as a legitimate defense of its citizens and that make the exaggerated assertion that Iran and Syria are “sponsors” of Hamas, the final clause in his resolution “supports Israel’s right to defend its citizens from violent militant groups and their state sponsors.” (emphasis added.) In short, Hall is calling for a unilateral Israeli attack on Syria and Iran.

http://www.alternet.org/story/145945/why_democrat_john_hall_does_not_deserve_an_endorsement_from_moveon.org/

The Other Occupation: Western Sahara and the Case of Aminatou Haidar

Aminatou Haidar, a nonviolent activist from Western Sahara and a key leader in her nation’s struggle against the 34-year-old U.S.-backed Moroccan occupation of her country, has been forced into exile by Moroccan authorities. She was returning from the United States, where she had won the Civil Courage Award from the Train Foundation. Forcing residents of territories under belligerent occupation into exile is a direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which both the United States and Morocco are signatories.

Her arrest and expulsion is part of a broader Moroccan crackdown that appears to have received the endorsement of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Rather than joining Amnesty International and other human rights groups in condemning the increase in the already-severe repression in the occupied territory during her visit to Morocco early this month, she instead praised the government’s human rights record. Just days before her arrival, seven other nonviolent activists from Western Sahara – Ahmed Alansari, Brahim Dahane, Yahdih Ettarouzi, Saleh Labihi, Dakja Lashgar, Rachid Sghir and Ali Salem Tamek – were arrested on trumped-up charges of high treason and are currently awaiting trial. Amnesty international has declared them prisoners of conscience and called for their unconditional release, but Clinton decided to ignore the plight of those and other political prisoners.

Almost exactly one year ago, Haidar was in Washington D.C. receiving the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award. The late Senator Ted Kennedy, while too ill to take part in the ceremony personally, said of Aminatou Haidar, “All who care about democracy, human rights, and the rule of law for the people of the Western Sahara are inspired by her extraordinary courage, dedication and skilled work on their behalf.”

Patrick Leahy, speaking in place of Kennedy, praised Haidar’s struggle for human rights against Moroccan repression and promised that, with the incoming Obama administration, “Help was on the way.” Unfortunately, Obama ended up appointing Clinton, a longtime supporter of the Moroccan occupation, to oversee his foreign policy.

It is not surprising that Morocco sees Haidar as a threat and that Clinton has not demanded her right to return to her homeland. Not only is her nonviolent campaign an embarrassment to a traditional American ally, but having an Arab Muslim woman leading a mass movement for her people’s freedom through nonviolent action challenges the widely held impression that those resisting U.S.-backed regimes in that part of the world are misogynist, violent extremists. Successive U.S. administrations have used this stereotype to justify military intervention and support for repressive governments and military occupations.

Moroccan Occupation

In 1975, the kingdom of Morocco conquered Western Sahara on the eve of its anticipated independence from Spain in defiance of a series of UN Security Council resolutions and a landmark 1975 decision by the International Court of Justice upholding the right of the country’s inhabitants to self-determination. With threats of a French and American veto at the UN preventing decisive action by the international community to stop the Moroccan invasion, the nationalist Polisario Front launched an armed struggle against the occupiers. The Polisario established the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in February 1976, which has subsequently been recognized by nearly 80 countries and is a full member state of the African Union. The majority of the indigenous population, known as Sahrawis, went into exile, primarily in Polisario-run refugee camps in Algeria.

By 1982, the Polisario had liberated 85 percent of the territory, but thanks to a dramatic increase in U.S. military aid and an influx of U.S. advisers during the Reagan administration, Morocco eventually was able to take control of most of the territory, including all of its major towns. It also built, thanks to U.S. assistance, a series of fortified sand berms in the desert that effectively prevented penetration by Polisario forces into Moroccan-controlled territory. In addition, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Morocco moved tens of thousands of settlers into Western Sahara until they were more than twice the population of the remaining indigenous Sahrawis.

Yet the Polisario achieved a series of diplomatic victories that generated widespread international support for self-determination and a refusal to recognize the Moroccan takeover. In 1991, the Polisario agreed to a ceasefire in return for a Moroccan promise to allow for an internationally supervised referendum on the fate of the territory. Morocco, however, refused to allow the referendum to move forward.

French and American support for the Moroccan government blocked the UN Security Council from providing the necessary diplomatic pressure to force Morocco to allow the promised referendum to take place. The Polisario, meanwhile, recognized its inability to defeat the Moroccans by military means. As a result, the struggle for self-determination shifted to within the Moroccan-occupied territory, where the Sahrawi population has launched a nonviolent resistance campaign against the occupation.

Nonviolent Resistance

Western Sahara had seen scattered impromptu acts of open nonviolent resistance ever since the Moroccan conquest. In 1987, for instance, a visit to the occupied territory by a special UN committee to investigate the human right violations sparked protests in the Western Saharan capital of El Aaiún. The success of this major demonstration was all the more remarkable, given that most of the key organizers had been arrested the night before and the city was under a strict curfew. Among the more than 700 people arrested was Aminatou Haidar, then 21 years old.

For four years she was “disappeared,” held without charges or trial, and kept in secret detention centers. In these facilities, she and 17 other Sahrawi women underwent regular torture and abuse.

The current Sahrawi intifada began in May 2005. Thousands of Sahrawi demonstrators, led by women and youths, took to the streets of El Aaiún protesting the ongoing Moroccan occupation and calling for independence. The largely nonviolent protests and sit-ins were met with severe repression by Moroccan troops and Moroccan settlers. Within hours, leading Sahrawi activists were kidnapped, including Haidar, who was brutally beaten by Moroccan occupation forces. Sahrawi students at Moroccan universities then organized solidarity demonstrations, hunger strikes, and other forms of nonviolent protests. Throughout the remainder of 2005, the intifada continued with both spontaneous and planned protests, all of which were met with harsh repression by Moroccan authorities.

Haidar was released within seven months as a result of pressure from Amnesty International and the European parliament. Meanwhile, nonviolent protests have continued, despite ongoing repression by U.S.-supported Moroccan authorities. Despite the continued disappearances, killings, beatings and torture, Haidar has continued to advocate nonviolent action. In addition to organizing efforts at home, she traveled extensively to raise awareness internationally about the ongoing Moroccan occupation and advocate for the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination. For this reason, she has been forced into exile from her homeland.

U.S. Increases Backing for Morocco

As the repression grew, so did U.S. support for Morocco. The Bush administration increased military and security assistance five-fold and also signed a free-trade agreement, remaining silent over the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Western Sahara while heaping praise on King Mohammed VI’s domestic political and economic reforms.

However, the occupation itself continues to prove problematic for Morocco. The nonviolent resistance to the occupation continues. Most of the international community, despite French and American efforts, has refused to recognize Morocco’s illegal annexation of the territory.

As a result, the Moroccan kingdom recently advocated an autonomy plan for the territory. The Sahrawis, with the support of most of the world’s nations, rejected the proposal since it is based on the assumption that Western Sahara is part of Morocco, a contention that the UN, the World Court, the African Union, and a broad consensus of international legal opinion have long rejected. To accept Morocco’s autonomy plan would mean that, for the first time since the founding of the UN and the ratification of the UN Charter more than 60 years ago, the international community would be endorsing the expansion of a country’s territory by military force and without consent of the subjected population, thereby establishing a very dangerous and destabilizing precedent.

In addition, Morocco’s proposal contains no enforcement mechanisms, nor are there indications of any improvement of the current poor human rights situation. It’s also unclear how much autonomy Morocco is offering, since it would retain control of Western Sahara’s natural resources and law enforcement. In addition, the proposal appears to indicate that all powers not specifically vested in the autonomous region would remain with the kingdom.

Despite this, Secretary of State Clinton appeared to endorse Morocco’s plans for annexation under the name of autonomy. In an interview during her recent visit she refused to call for a referendum on the fate of the territory in accordance with a series of UN Security Council resolutions. Instead, she backed Moroccan calls for “mediation,” which would not offer the people of the territory a say in their future, as required by international law and reaffirmed in the case of Western Sahara by a landmark opinion of the International Court of Justice.

Meanwhile, key House Democrats have weighed in support of Morocco’s right of conquest as well, with Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-NY, who chairs the Subcommittee on the Middle East, joining Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD signing a letter endorsing Morocco’s autonomy plan. Prominent Republicans signing the letter included Minority Leader John Boehner, R-OH; House Republican Whip Roy Blunt, R-MO; and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-IL. Indeed, more than 80 of the signers are either committee chairmen or ranking members of key committees, subcommittees and elected leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives; yet another indication in this post-Cold War era of a growing bipartisan effort to undermine the longstanding principle of the right of self-determination.

It is particularly ironic that Morocco’s autonomy plan has received such strong bipartisan support since the United States rejected a more generous autonomy plan for Kosovo and instead pushed for UN recognition of that nation’s unilateral declaration of independence. This double standard is all the more glaring given that Kosovo is legally part of Serbia and Western Sahara is legally a country under foreign military occupation.

Next Steps

Given the reluctance of the Obama administration to publicly demand that the Moroccans end their forced exile of Aminatou Haidar and release political prisoners, their freedom may depend on the willingness of human rights activists to mobilize on their behalf. Indeed, this may be the only hope for Western Sahara as a whole.

Western Sahara remains an occupied territory only because Morocco has refused to abide by a series of UN Security Council resolutions calling on the kingdom to end its occupation and recognize the right of the people of that territory to self-determination. Morocco has been able to persist in its defiance of its international legal obligations because France and the United States, which wield veto power in the UN Security Council, have blocked the enforcement of these resolutions. In addition, France and the United States served as principal suppliers of the armaments and other security assistance to Moroccan occupation forces. As a result, nonviolent action by the citizens of France, the United States and other countries that enable Morocco to maintain its occupation would be as least as important as the Sahrawis’ nonviolent resistance against Morocco’s occupation policies. Such campaigns played a major role in forcing the United States, Australia and Great Britain to cease their support for Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor. Solidarity networks in support of Western Sahara have emerged in dozens of countries around the world, most notably in Spain and Norway, but not yet in the United States, where it could matter most.

A successful nonviolent independence struggle by an Arab Muslim people under Haidar’s leadership could set an important precedent. It would demonstrate how, against great odds, an outnumbered and outgunned population could win through the power of nonviolence in a part of the world where resistance to autocratic rule and foreign military occupation has often spawned acts of terrorism and other violence. Furthermore, the participatory democratic structure within the Sahrawi resistance movement and the prominence of women in key positions of leadership could serve as an important model in a region where authoritarian and patriarchal forms of governance have traditionally dominated.

The eventual outcome rests not just on the Sahrawis alone, but whether the international community, particularly those of us in the United States, decide whether such a struggle is worthy of our support.

http://www.alternet.org/story/144334/the_other_occupation%3A_western_sahara_and_the_case_of_aminatou_haidar/

Republicans and Democrats Come Together to Launch Unprecedented Attack on International Law

In a stunning blow against international law and human rights, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution on Tuesday attacking the report of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict. The report was authored by the well-respected South African jurist Richard Goldstone and three other noted authorities on international humanitarian law, who had been widely praised for taking leadership in previous investigations of war crimes in Rwanda, Darfur, the former Yugoslavia, and elsewhere. Since this report documented apparent war crimes by a key U.S. ally, however, Congress has taken the unprecedented action of passing a resolution condemning it. Perhaps most ominously, the resolution also endorses Israel’s right to attack Syria and Iran on the grounds that they are “state sponsors of terrorism.”

The principal co-sponsors of the resolution (HR 867), which passed on a 344-36 vote, included two powerful Democrats: House Foreign Relations Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) and Middle East subcommittee chairman Gary Ackerman (D-NY). Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) successfully pushed Democrats to support the resolution by a more than 6:1 margin, despite the risk of alienating the party’s liberal pro-human rights base less than a year before critical midterm elections.

The resolution opens with a series of clauses criticizing the original mandate of the UN Human Rights Council, which called for an investigation of possible Israeli war crimes only. This argument is completely moot, however, since Goldstone and his colleagues — to their credit — refused to accept the offer to serve on the mission unless its mandate was changed to one that would investigate possible war crimes by both sides in the conflict.

As a result, the mandate of the mission was thereby broadened. The House resolution doesn’t mention this, however, and instead implies that the original mandate remained the basis of the report. In reality, even though the report contained over 70 pages detailing a series of violations of the laws of war by Hamas, including rocket attacks into civilian-populated areas of Israel, torture of Palestinian opponents, and the continued holding of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, there is no acknowledgement in the 1,600-word resolution that the initial mandate had been superseded or that the report criticizes the conduct of both sides. In fact, despite the report’s extensive documentation of Hamas assaults on Israeli towns — which it determined constituted war crimes and possible “crimes against humanity” — the resolution insists that the mission’s study “makes no mention of the relentless rocket and mortar attacks.”

The Goldstone mission report — totaling 575 pages — contains detailed accounts of deadly Israeli attacks against schools, mosques, private homes, and businesses nowhere near legitimate military targets, which they accurately described as “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.” In particular, the report cites 11 incidents in which Israeli armed forces engaged in direct attacks against civilians, including cases where people were shot “while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags.” The House resolution, however, claims that such charges of deliberate Israeli attacks against civilian areas were “sweeping and unsubstantiated.”

Both the report’s conclusions and most of the particular incidents cited have been independently documented in detailed empirical investigations released in recent months by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, among others. Congressional attacks against the integrity of the Goldstone report, therefore, constitute attacks against the integrity of these reputable human rights groups as well.

Equating Killing Civilians with Self-Defense

In an apparent effort to further discredit the human rights community, the resolution goes on to claim that the report denies Israel’s right to self defense, even though there was absolutely nothing in the report that questioned Israel’s right to use military force. It simply insists that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have the right to attack civilians.

The resolution resolves that the report is “irredeemably biased” against Israel, an ironic charge given that Justice Goldstone, the report’s principal author and defender, is Jewish, a longtime supporter of Israel, chair of Friends of Hebrew University, president emeritus of the World ORT Jewish school system, and the father of an Israeli citizen.

Goldstone was also a leading opponent of apartheid in his native South Africa and served as Nelson Mandela’s first appointee to the country’s post-apartheid Supreme Court. He was a principal prosecutor in the war crimes tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, took a leading role in investigations into corruption in the UN’s “Oil for Food” program in Iraq, and was also part of investigations into Argentina’s complicity in provided sanctuary for Nazi war criminals.

Having 80% of the U.S. House of Representatives go on record attacking the integrity of one of the world’s most respected and principled defenders of human rights is indicative of just how far to the right the U.S. Congress has now become, even under Democratic leadership. Indeed, if Goldstone can be criticized for being biased, no one can escape such a charge. In doing so, Congress has served notice to the human rights community that they won’t consider any human rights defenders credible if they dare raise questions about the conduct of a U.S. ally. This may actually be the underlying purpose of the resolution: to jettison any consideration of international humanitarian law from policy debates in Washington. The cost, however, will likely be to further isolate the United States from the rest of the world, just as Obama was beginning to rebuild the trust of other nations.

Indeed, the resolution calls on the Obama administration not only “to oppose unequivocally any endorsement” of the report, but to even oppose unequivocally any “further consideration” of the report in international fora. Instead of debating its merits, therefore, Congress has decided to instead pre-judge its contents and disregard the actual evidence put forward. (It’s doubtful that any of the supporters of the resolution even bothered actually reading the report.)

The resolution even goes so far as to claim that Goldstone’s report is part of an effort “to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel and deny it the right to defend its citizens and its existence can be used to delegitimize other democracies and deny them the same right.” This is demagoguery at its most extreme. In insisting that documenting a given country’s war crimes is tantamount to denying that country’s right to exist and its right to self defense, the resolution is clearly aimed at silencing defenders of international humanitarian law. The fact that the majority of Democrats voted in favor of this resolution underscores that both parties now effectively embrace the neoconservative agenda to delegitimize any serious discussion of international humanitarian law, in relation to conduct by the United States and its allies.

License for War?

Having failed in their efforts to convince Washington to launch a war against Syria and Iran, neoconservatives and other hawks in Washington have now successfully mobilized a large bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives to encourage Israel to act as a U.S. surrogate: Following earlier clauses that define Israel’s massive military assault on the civilian infrastructure of the Gaza Strip as a legitimate defense of its citizens and that make the exaggerated assertion that Iran and Syria are “sponsors” of Hamas, the final clause in the resolution puts Congress on record supporting “Israel’s right to defend its citizens from violent militant groups and their state sponsors” (emphasis added). This broad bipartisan congressional mandate for a unilateral Israeli attack on Syria and Iran is extremely dangerous, and appears designed to undercut the Obama administration’s efforts to pursue a negotiated path to settling differences with these countries.

Misleading Accusations

There are other clauses in the resolution that take quotes out of context and engage in other misrepresentations to make the case that Goldstone and his colleagues are “irredeemably biased.”

One clause in the resolution attacks the credibility of mission member Christine Chinkin, an internationally respected British scholar of international law, feminist jurisprudence, alternative dispute resolution, and human rights. The resolution questions her objectivity by claiming that “before joining the mission, [she] had already declared Israel guilty of committing atrocities in Operation Cast Lead by signing a public letter on January 11, 2009, published in the Sunday Times, that called Israel’s actions ‘war crimes.'” In reality, the letter did not actually accuse Israel of “atrocities,” but simply noted that Israel’s attacks against the civilian infrastructure of the Gaza Strip were “not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire.” The letter also noted that “the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.” In short, it was a preliminary assessment rather than a case of having “already declared Israel guilty,” as the resolution states.

Furthermore, at the time of the letter — written a full two weeks into the fighting — there had already been a series of preliminary reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Committee of the Red Cross documenting probable war crimes by Israeli armed forces, so virtually no one knowledgeable of international humanitarian law could have come to any other conclusion. As a result, Chinkin’s signing of the letter could hardly be considered the kind of ideologically motivated bias that should preclude her participation on an investigative body, particularly since that same letter unequivocally condemned Hamas rocket attacks as well.

The resolution also faults the report for having “repeatedly downplayed or cast doubt upon” claims that Hamas used “human shields” as an attempted deterrence to Israeli attacks. The reason the report challenged those assertions, however, was that there simply wasn’t any solid evidence to support such claims. Detailed investigations by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch regarding such accusations during and subsequent to the fighting also came to same conclusion. As with these previous investigations, the Goldstone report determined that there were occasions when Hamas hadn’t taken all necessary precautions to avoid placing civilians in harm’s way, but they found no evidence whatsoever that Hamas had consciously used civilians as shields at any point during the three-week conflict.

Despite this, the House resolution makes reference to a supposed “great body of evidence” that Hamas used human shields. The resolution fails to provide a single example to support this claim, however, other than a statement by one Hamas official, which the mission investigated and eventually concluded was without merit. I contacted the Washington offices of more than two dozen co-sponsors of the resolution, requesting such evidence, and none of them were able to provide any. It appears, then, that the sponsors of the resolution simply fabricated this charge in order to protect Israel from any moral or legal responsibilities for the more than 700 civilian deaths. (Interestingly, the report did find extensive evidence — as did Amnesty International — that the Israelis used Palestinians as human shields during their offensive. Israeli soldiers testifying at hearings held by a private group of Israeli soldiers and veterans confirmed a number of such episodes as well. This fact was conveniently left out of the resolution.)

In another example of misleading content, the resolution quotes Goldstone as saying, in relation to the mission’s investigation, “If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven.” However, no such investigation carried out on behalf of the UNHRC has ever claimed to have obtained evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, the normal criterion for proof in a court of law. This does not, however, buttress the resolution’s insistence that the report was therefore “unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy.” What the fact-finding mission did find was probable cause for criminal investigations into possible war crimes by both Hamas and the Israeli government. Another spurious claim of bias is the resolution’s assertion that “the report usually considered public statements made by Israeli officials not to be credible, while frequently giving uncritical credence to statements taken from what it called the `Gaza authorities’, i.e. the Gaza leadership of Hamas.” In reality, the report shows that the mission did investigate such statements and evaluated them based upon the evidence. The resolution also fails to mention that while Hamas officials were willing to meet with the mission, Israeli officials refused, even denying them entrance into Israel. The mission had to fly Israeli victims of Hamas attacks to Geneva at UN expense to interview them. The mission found these Israelis’ testimony credible, took them quite seriously, and incorporated them into their findings.

The resolution goes on to claim that the report’s observation that the Israeli government has “contributed significantly to a political climate in which dissent with the government and its actions . . . is not tolerated” was erroneous. In reality, it has been well-documented — and has been subjected to extensive debate within Israel — that the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has interrogated and harassed political activists as well as suppressed criticism and sources of potential criticism of actions by the Israeli military, particularly non-government organizations such as the dissident soldiers’ group Breaking the Silence.

No Accountability

The House resolution is particularly vehement in its opposition to the report’s recommendation that, should Hamas and Israeli authorities fail to engage in credible investigations and bring those responsible for war crimes to justice, the matter should be referred to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution. The resolution insists this is unnecessary since Israel “has already launched numerous investigations.” However, Israeli human rights groups have repeatedly criticized their government’s refusal to launch any independent investigations and have documented how the Israeli government has refused to investigate testimonies by soldiers of war crimes. (At this point, the only indictments for misconduct by Israeli forces during the conflict have been against two soldiers who stole credit cards from a Palestinian home.)

The primary motivation for the resolution appears to have been to block any consideration of its recommendation that those guilty of war crimes be held accountable. Since the ICC has never indicted anyone from a country which had a fair and comprehensive internal investigation of war crimes and prosecuted those believed responsible, the goal of Congress appears to be that of protecting war criminals from prosecution.

As a result, the passage of this resolution isn’t simply about the alleged clout of AIPAC or just another example of longstanding congressional support for Israeli militarism. This resolution constitutes nothing less than a formal bipartisan rejection of international humanitarian law. U.S. support for human rights and international law has always been uneven, but never has Congress gone on record by such an overwhelming margin to discredit these universal principles so categorically. This is George W. Bush’s foreign policy legacy, which — through this resolution — the Democrats, no less than their Republican counterparts, have now eagerly embraced.

http://www.alternet.org/story/143752/republicans_and_democrats_come_together_to_launch_unprecedented_attack_on_international_law/?page=entire

Democrats Ignore Shocking Findings of Atrocities in Gaza War

On October 1, the Obama administration successfully pressured the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva to drop its proposal to recommend that the UN Security Council endorse the findings of the Goldstone Commission report. The report, authored by renowned South African jurist Richard Goldstone, detailed the results of the UNHRC’s fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict. These findings included the recommendation that both Hamas and the Israeli government bring to justice those responsible for war crimes during the three weeks of fighting in late December and early January. If they don’t, the report urges that the case be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible prosecution.

The Obama administration has declared — in the words of U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice — that such a recommendation is “basically unacceptable.” It has insisted that any legal remedies be handled by the respected parties internally. Since neither Hamas nor the Israeli government will likely prosecute those responsible for war crimes, the administration’s action will essentially prevent these Palestinian and Israeli war criminals from ever being brought to justice.

Indeed, the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress appear to be continuing the Bush administration’s policy of ignoring and denouncing those who have the temerity to report violations of international humanitarian law by the United States or its allies.

The Role of the UN

The UN has special responsibility for human rights in territories under belligerent military occupation, since the treatment of civilians in such territories falls under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel withdrew its illegal settlements and its soldiers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, in belated compliance with a series of UN Security Council resolutions. But the territory legally remains under this status as a result of the continued Israeli siege of the region, including the blockading of its port, control of its air space, as well as most land access. The original mandate given by the UNHRC was for the creation of a commission to investigate “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel, against the Palestinian people.”

Goldstone, who has had a longstanding reputation for fairness and objectivity and previously led the war crimes prosecutions for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, is a Zionist Jew and longtime supporter of Israel. Goldstone agreed to accept the appointment only if the commission’s mandate were expanded to look at the actions of both sides of the conflict. The HRC agreed to these conditions and the investigation went forward looking into violations of international humanitarian law by both Israel and Hamas. The Goldstone Commission report cited in detail a whole series of violations of the laws of war by Hamas, including rocket attacks into civilian-populated areas of Israel, torture of Palestinian opponents, and continued holding of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

What has upset Obama administration officials and congressional Democrats, however, was that the report also concluded that Israel’s military assault on Gaza was “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish humiliate and terrorize a civilian population,” citing Israel’s deadly attacks against schools, mosques, private homes and businesses nowhere near legitimate military targets. These conclusions echo detailed empirical reports released in recent months by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, among others.

Response to Report

Despite the report’s evenhandedness, both Hamas and the Israeli military rejected the commission’s finding. They denied ever targeting civilian populations and claimed that their actions were in self-defense.

The United States has rejected the commission’s findings as well, calling it “deeply flawed.” Rather than challenge the content of the meticulously documented 575-page report, U.S. officials have instead issued strong but vague critiques. For example, Ambassador Rice was particularly critical of the report’s recommendation that those Palestinians and Israelis suspected of war crimes should be tried before the International Criminal Court. “Our view is that we need to be focused on the future,” she argued. Though Rice had argued just a few months earlier during a UN debate on Darfur that war crimes charges should never be sacrificed for political reasons, she reinforced Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley’s insistence that the report “should not be used as a mechanism to add impediments to getting back to the peace process.”

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill Democrats were echoing their Republican counterparts in denouncing the Goldstone report. Sixteen leading Senate Democrats joined an equal number of Republicans in signing a letter written by the Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attacking what they insisted was a “biased report.” The recently appointed Democratic senator praised the State Department’s efforts to quash the report, claiming that “legitimizing the report sends a dangerous message to countries defending themselves against terrorism.”

The letter insisted that any legal action regarding Israeli human rights abuses must not be taken up in international fora. Instead, despite the Israeli government’s long history of covering up war crimes by its armed forces, the Israeli justice system should handle the matter internally. The signatories praised what they called “the extraordinary measures taken by the Israel Defense Forces to minimize civilian casualties,” acknowledged the State Department for publicly raising its significant concerns about the report, and called upon the Obama administration to “denounce the unbalanced nature of this investigation.” Among the 32 signatories were such leading Democratic liberals as Carl Levin (D-MI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) , Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Russ Feingold (D-WI).

That the report examined violations of international humanitarian law by both sides does not alter these senators’ insistence of bias since, according to the letter, “the vast majority of the report focuses on Israel’s conduct, rather than that of Hamas.” The senators fail to note, however, that the ratio of civilian casualties inflicted by the Israelis relative to those inflicted by Hamas was more than 250:1, which would seem to indicate a legitimate reason to focus primarily on the former. Furthermore, these senators ignore the likelihood that the report’s criticism of Hamas would have likely been longer and harsher had the Israeli government agreed to meet with the commission and allow its members to visit Israel. In their effort to hear from both sides, the UN was forced to fly Israeli victims to Geneva for interviews.

In the House of Representatives, Elliot Engel (D-NY) and Shelley Berkley (D-NV), senior members of the Middle East subcommittee, issued a joint statement claiming the Goldstone Commission report was “biased against Israel.” Even more critical of the report was Gary Ackerman (D-NY), whom the Democrats have named the Mideast subcommittee chairman and vice-chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. “In the self-righteous fantasyland inhabited by the authors, there’s no such thing as terrorism, there’s no such thing as Hamas, [and] there’s no such thing as legitimate self-defense,” he said. In reality, the report refers to “terrorism” (or “terror” or “terrorists”) more than 100 times, mentions Hamas more than 400 times, and failed to challenge the dubious claim that Israel launched its war on Gaza in self-defense. Ackerman even goes so far as to claim that the commission believes that “war is like a sporting event or a debate, rather than the most ghastly, destructive, chaotic phenomenon we human beings are capable of creating.” In truth, the report goes into graphic detail of the violence, destruction, and terror the conflict inflicted on both sides.

These Democratic critics have insisted that the Goldstone Commission Report ignored how the Israelis supposedly went to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties by dropping leaflets and sending robo-calls to Palestinian homes warning them of impending attacks. In reality, the report examined these claims in detail, but concluded that many of the calls and leaflets were sent out too late or were too vague for civilians to reach safety. Furthermore, Israeli calls for civilians to flee to downtown Gaza City led those who heeded such advice right into the line of Israeli fire, as when the Israelis attacked the UN compound and school with mortars and phosphorous bombs where hundreds of fleeing residents had sought refuge. The Goldstone Commission report confirmed the conclusions of previous investigations that there were no legitimate military targets in the area. Furthermore, the report cited 11 incidents where Israeli armed forces engaged in direct attacks against civilians, including cases where people were shot “while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags.”

The Democratic Party leadership, however, apparently believes such attacks against civilians constitute legitimate self-defense. Not surprisingly, Ackerman, Engel, Berkley and other Democratic House leaders defending Israel’s attacks on civilian targets in the Gaza Strip also insisted that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq constituted legitimate self-defense.

And it is not just the Democratic Party’s old guard that attacks human rights groups and the UN for their defense of international humanitarian law. Gary Peters (D-MI), without mentioning any specifics, condemned the Goldstone Report as “flawed,” insisting that it “unfairly criticizes Israel despite its strong efforts to protect all civilians,” and that is was yet another example of Israel being “wrongly assailed for defending its own borders and citizens.” In reality, neither the UN report nor the reports from Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch in any way question Israel’s right to defend its own borders and its citizens.

This past January, the entire U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution by a 390-5 margin (with 22 abstentions) claiming that Hamas alone deserved the blame for the high civilian death toll and that Israel was simply exercising its “right to self-defense.” The resolution also insisted that Hamas used Palestinian civilians as human shields — a charge repeated by Engel and Berkley, among others, in their attack on the Goldstone Commission report. Exhaustive investigations by the commission, Amnesty International, and others found no evidence of even one such incident during the three-week conflict.

Impunity

On the one hand, the Obama administration and congressional Democrats have insisted that the issue stay confined to the UN’s Human Rights Council. On the other hand, they have repeatedly attacked that body as being “anti-Israel.” Why, then, would they insist that the issue remain confined to an entity that they consider biased against Israel?

If the matter is taken to the UN Security Council, as the Goldstone Commission recommended, it would place debate on violations of international humanitarian law by a key U.S. ally before a body that, unlike the UNHRC, has an enforcement mechanism. It would also allow far greater media exposure of Israeli war crimes, the bulk of which were implemented using U.S. weapons systems and ordinance.

Washington Democrats are even more concerned about the issue going before the International Criminal Court where those Palestinians and Israelis guilty of war crimes might actually face justice. The Obama administration and congressional Democrats are determined that such war criminals be granted impunity.

This latest assault against the human rights community by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats is not an example of their being too “pro-Israel.” Indeed, such war crimes and other gross and systematic human rights abuses by the Israeli government endanger Israel’s security, and have led to the rise of extremist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah in the first place. Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership in Washington has joined the Republicans in a campaign, in effect, to kill the messenger: attack the United Nations, Amnesty International, or anyone else — be they journalist, scholar, activist, or even one of the world’s most respected jurists — who dares put forward credible evidence of human rights abuses by the United States or its allies.

“A culture of impunity in the region has existed for too long,” Goldstone told the UNHRC when presenting his report. “The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible war crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point.” The Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress are part of this problem, not part of its solution.

http://www.alternet.org/story/143233/democrats_ignore_shocking_findings_of_atrocities_in_gaza_war/?page=entire

As Obama Tries to Shift the Debate, Will Democrats Continue to Endorse Israel’s Colonization of the West Bank

President Barack Obama has inherited a difficult challenge in pushing Israel to end the expansion of its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. With the right-wing Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu categorically rejecting the idea of a freeze and with Democratic-controlled Congress ruling out using the billions of dollars of U.S. military aid to Israel as leverage, the situation remains deadlocked.

Along with many Israelis and other supporters of Israel, Obama recognizes that these settlements are one of the chief obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Given that Israel cannot be secure unless the Palestinians are also given the right to a state of their own and that a viable Palestinian state cannot be created as long as Israel continues colonizing Palestinian land on the West Bank, Obama sees a settlement freeze as critical.

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan and other foreign policy dilemmas facing the new administration, however, the Democrats cannot blame Obama’s challenges primarily on the legacy of George W. Bush. In the case of the Israeli settlements, much of the blame belongs to former President Bill Clinton and other Democrats who helped facilitate Israel’s dramatic expansion of its West Bank settlements in the 1990s.

The Purpose of the Settlements

Although the 1967 Israeli invasion of the West Bank, then controlled by the Kingdom of Jordan, was initially justified to create a “buffer zone” to protect Israelis, it soon became apparent that the actual goal was to expand Israeli territory.

With enough Israelis living in sizable developments throughout the occupied territory, so went the reasoning, the demographics would be altered so as to make it impossible for a contiguous Palestinian state to emerge. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan acknowledged that although the settlements did not help Israel’s security situation, they were still needed since, “without them the IDF would be a foreign army ruling a foreign population.”

Ariel Sharon, who prior to becoming prime minister served as the housing minister in earlier right-wing governments overseeing settlement expansion, bragged in 1995 that these settlements were “the only factor” that had prevented then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from agreeing to withdraw from the occupied territories entirely as part of the 1993 Oslo Agreement.

Sharon, who has been praised as a peacemaker by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democratic leaders, expressed his pride in the fact that this had “created difficulties” in the negotiations with the Palestinians. Indeed, had Israel’s Labor governments not had to worry about the domestic political consequences from such a withdrawal as a result of these illegal settlements, there would probably have been peace years ago.

Now with right-wing parties dominating Israeli politics and nearly a half-million Israeli settlers on land that was to become a Palestinian state, it will be even more difficult.

The Palestine Authority — including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his Fatah party, and the Palestine Liberation Organization — have already recognized exclusive Israeli control of 78 percent of Palestine, yet the Israelis have insisted on expanding their control over much of the remaining 22 percent through this colonization drive. While the Palestine Authority has administration over the majority of the West Bank’s Palestinian population, Israeli occupation forces still control much of the land in between these towns and cities, with hundreds of checkpoints severely restricting the movement of people and goods within the West Bank, in order to protect these settlements. Clashes between right-wing settler militias, often back by the Israeli army, and local Palestinians are common.

These settlements and the swathes of territories connecting them to each other and to Israel divide the Palestinian-controlled territory into 43 noncontiguous cantons separated by Israeli checkpoints, thereby making the creation of a viable Palestinian state virtually impossible. Indeed, this appears to be the principle reason for Israel’s colonization drive and why so many U.S. officials have supported it.

It is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention for any country to transfer its civilian population onto lands seized by military force. A landmark 2004 ruling by the World Court underscored the obligation of signatories such as the United States to make a good-faith effort to enforce such international legal obligations on countries with which they have influence, but Democratic congressional leaders joined President George W. Bush in denouncing the decision. Furthermore, under U.N. Security Council resolutions 446, 452, 465 and 471, Israel is explicitly required to withdraw from these settlements, but successive Democratic and Republican administrations — with support of congressional leaders of both parties — have blocked the United Nations from enforcing these resolutions.

A History of Inaction

As part of an annex in the 1978 Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin promised a five-year settlement freeze. When the Israelis resumed construction after only three months, President Jimmy Carter refused to hold Begin to his promise, even though Carter acknowledged that these settlements were illegal and the United States was given the role of guarantor of the peace treaty. This was not the last time the Israeli government would promise to freeze settlements only to break that promise with the knowledge that the Democratic leadership in Washington would let them get away with it.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush insisted on a settlement freeze as a condition to granting a controversial $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel. In response, leading members of Congress — including the leading candidates for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination — attacked Bush from the right by calling on the president to grant the loan guarantee unconditionally.

These predominantly Democratic critics claimed that the loans were to be used for housing for Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, despite the fact that none of the money in the loan agreement was actually earmarked for such purposes and Israel had thousands of unoccupied housing units then available, even in the city of Beersheva, where most of the recent immigrants were initially being settled.

Indeed, the Israeli government acknowledged that the loans were more of a cushion than anything vital to the economy. Despite this, Democratic leaders like Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, insisted that Bush was “holding Soviet Jews hostage” and challenged the administration’s assessment that expanding Israeli settlements was an obstacle to peace.

Under pressure from the Democrats — who then controlled both houses of Congress — as well as incipient Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton, Bush capitulated and approved the loan guarantee with Israel in July 2002, getting the Israelis to only limit new construction to the “natural growth” of existing settlements. By the following year, however, it became apparent that Israel, with the acquiescence of the new Clinton administration, interpreted this restriction so liberally that the number of new Israeli colonists in the occupied territories grew faster than ever.

Indeed, this infusion of billions of dollars worth of U.S.-backed loans were critical in enabling Israel to embark on the dramatic expansion of Israeli settlements in the coming years.

When the Oslo Accords were signed in September 1993, the Palestinians pressed to address the settlements issue immediately. The Clinton administration, however, insisted that such discussions be delayed. By putting off such a fundamental issue as the settlements as a “final status issue,” the United States gave the Israelis the ability to continue to create facts on the ground even as the peace process slowly moved forward.

Clinton knew this would make a final peace agreement all the more difficult, yet at no point did the administration insist that Israel stop the expansion of Jewish settlements and confiscation of land that the Palestinians and others had assumed was destined to be part of a Palestinian state.

It is only because of these settlements that the boundaries for a future Palestinian state envisioned by Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the July 2000 summit at Camp David took its unviable geographic dimensions, which forced Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to reject it. Barak, with the support of Clinton, insisted on holding on to 69 Jewish settlements in the West Bank, where 85 percent of the settlers live.

Furthermore, under Barak’s U.S.-backed plan, the West Bank would have been split up by a series of settlement blocs, bypass roads and Israeli roadblocks, in effect dividing the new Palestinian “state” into four noncontiguous cantons, requiring Palestinians and much of the country’s domestic commerce to go through Israeli checkpoints to go from one part of their state to another.

In addition, according to this proposal, Israel would also control Palestinian water resources in order to give priority of that scarce resource to the settlements.

There is little question that the failure of Camp David could have been avoided had Bill Clinton used his considerable leverage to halt the settlement expansion at the start of the peace process. Even top Clinton administration officials like Robert Malley have acknowledged that the United States had not been tough enough on Israel for its settlement drive, and this failure to do so was a major factor in the collapse of the peace process.

Despite this, in October of that year, the U.S. House of Representatives, with only 30 dissenting votes, adopted a Democratic-sponsored resolution that claimed that Israel had “expressed its readiness to take wide-ranging and painful steps in order to bring an end to the conflict, but these proposals were rejected by Chairman Arafat.”

Pelosi to this day insists that Barak had made “a generous and historic proposal,” and Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, claimed during committee hearings that Arafat’s rejection of Barak’s proposal was indicative of the Palestinians’ determination “to destroy Israel.” In the view of congressional Democrats, then, if you refuse to accept the large-scale foreign colonization of your country, you are not interested in peace.

Subsidizing Colonization

Clinton did not just tolerate the expansion of settlements, he actually encouraged it. Under pressure from peace and human rights groups, Bush had attached a provision to the 1992 loan-guarantee agreement requiring the president to deduct the costs of additional settlement activity from the $2 billion annual installment of the loan.

In October 1993, the U.S. officially announced to Israel that there would be a $437 million deduction in the next year’s loan guarantee due to settlement construction during the 1993 fiscal year. However, State Department Middle East peace talks coordinator Dennis Ross (whom Obama has appointed to a key State Department post addressing regional issues) immediately let the Israeli government know that the United States would find a way to restore the full funding. Within a month, Clinton authorized Israel to draw an additional $500 million in U.S. military supplies from NATO warehouses in Europe.

A similar scenario unfolded the following year: After deducting $311.8 million spent on settlements from the1995 loans, Clinton authorized $95.8 for help in redeploying troops from the Gaza Strip and $240 million to facilitate withdrawal from West Bank cities, based on the rather dubious assertion that it costs more to withdraw troops than to maintain them in hostile urban areas.

Clinton explicitly promised the Israelis that aid would remain constant regardless of Israeli settlement policies. What resulted, then, was that the United States began, in effect, subsidizing the settlements, since the Israelis knew that for every dollar that they contributed to maintaining and expanding their presence in the occupied territories, the United States would convert a loan guarantee into a grant.

Over 100 settlements lie outside what most observers consider could realistically be annexed to Israel under a mutually acceptable peace plan. Between the Oslo II accord in September 1995 and the start of final-status talks in March 2000, successive Israeli governments were envisioning maintaining all but the most isolated of these settlements, which would restrict the territory of a Palestinian state into a series of noncontiguous cantons.

Following Arafat’s rejection of that strategy and the subsequent outbreak of violence in Israel and the occupied territories that fall, Clinton and Barak largely abandoned this strategy by December, belatedly expressing an openness to reducing them to a much smaller number of settlement blocs. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over the next few weeks came close to producing a final peace agreement, but with George W. Bush assuming office in the United States and Ariel Sharon become prime minister in Israel, they were suspended.

Over the next eight years, the Israelis reverted back to the old strategy with no apparent objections from the Bush administration or congressional Democrats.

Demographics

A particular sore point for Palestinians over the settlements arose from the Oslo Accords, which refer to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a “single territorial unit, the integrity and status of which will be preserved during the interim period.” This was essentially a prohibition against either side taking steps that could prejudice the permanent-status negotiations. As a result, the Palestinians — when they signed the agreement — assumed that this would prevent the Israelis from building more settlements.

Furthermore, as the principal guarantor of the Oslo agreement, the United States was obliged to force Israel to cease its construction if they tried to do so. However, Israel and the United States have refused to live up to their obligations, and — since the signing of the Oslo Accords — the total number of settlers in the occupied territories has nearly doubled from approximately 250,000 to close to a half-million, moving onto land that the Palestinians assumed would be returned to the 3 million Palestinians that already live there and the large numbers of refugees who would presumably be resettling to the new Palestinian state.

To the shock of much of the international community, the Clinton administration also insisted that the Fourth Geneva Convention and the four U.N. Security Council resolutions addressing the settlements issue were suddenly no longer relevant. In 1997, the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution sponsored by France, Portugal, Sweden and Great Britain calling on Israel to cease its settlement activities and come into compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention. Shortly thereafter, the United States vetoed a second resolution calling on Israel to cease construction of an illegal settlement in an environmentally sensitive area near Bethlehem designed to complete the encirclement of Arab East Jerusalem.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright had called on the United Nations to no longer draft resolutions dealing with settlements since “these issues are now under negotiations by the parties themselves.”

In reality, neither the Fourth Geneva Convention nor the U.N. Security Council resolutions can be superseded by a bilateral agreement, particularly when one of the two parties (in this case, the Palestinians) insist they are still relevant. Indeed, none of the other 14 members of the Security Council accepted the Clinton administration radical reinterpretation of international law in their support for Israel’s settlement policies. Furthermore, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — backed by a broad consensus of international legal scholars — repeatedly insisted that these Security Council resolutions were still valid.

Given the gross asymmetry in power between the Palestinians under occupation and the Israeli occupiers — whose primary military, economic and diplomatic supporter was also the chief mediator in the negotiations — it was rather obvious that the U.S.-led peace process would be unable to stop settlement expansion. It appears, then, that the Clinton administration’s insistence on sidelining the United Nations was to enable Israel to do just that.

It was during this period that the Israelis began building a massive highway system of 29 roads totaling nearly 300 miles, designed to perpetuate effective Israeli control of most of the West Bank.

These highways — designed to connect the settlements with each other and with Israel proper — are creating a series of borders and barriers, in effect isolating Palestinian areas into islands. In addition, since Israel has defined these highways as “security roads,” they reach a width of 350 yards (50 yards of road plus 150 yards of “sanitized” margins on each side), the equivalent of 3 1/2 football fields. This has resulted in the destruction of some of the area’s richest farmland, including olive groves and vineyards that have been owned and farmed by Palestinian families for generations.

The impact of such a massive road system in an area the size of Delaware is staggering, and has serious political, economic and environmental implications.

As part of what Clinton referred to as “implementation funding” of the 1998 Wye River Agreement, in which Israel agreed to withdraw from an additional 14 percent of the West Bank, the United States offered $1.2 billion in supplementary foreign aid to the Israeli government. Most of the funding was reserved for armaments, but much of the nonmilitary funding was apparently earmarked to build these “bypass roads” and security enhancements for Israeli settlers in the occupied territories.

Such direct subsidies for Israeli settlements placed the United States in violation of Article 7 of U.N. Security Council Resolution 465, which prohibits member states from assisting Israel in its colonization drive. So, not only has the United States allowed Israel to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions in continuing to maintain and expand its illegal settlements, Clinton placed the United States itself in violation of a U.N. Security Council mandate as well.

Once filled with enormous hope with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Palestinians have since seen more and more of their land confiscated and more and more Jewish-only settlements and highways constructed, all under the cover of a U.S.-sponsored “peace process.”

It was frustration over the failure of the peace process to end Israel’s colonization drive that contributed to large numbers of Palestinians rejecting the diplomatic approach of Fatah and other moderate nationalists and embracing Hamas. Indeed, prior to this dramatic growth in settlements during the 1990s, Palestinian support for Hamas was less than 15 percent. Now it is close to a majority.

Ironically, the Democrats’ criticism during the 2008 election campaign of the Bush administration’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was that they were not engaged enough, in contrast to the Clinton administration, whose policies were widely praised. It is important, however, to remember that it was the former Democratic administration’s policies on Israeli settlements that have largely contributed to the dangerous impasse we see today.

http://www.alternet.org/news/140414/as_obama_tries_to_shift_the_debate,_will_democrats_continue_to_endorse_israel’s_colonization_of_the_west_bank/?page=entire%0B

Obama Gathering a Flock of Hawks to Oversee U.S. Foreign Policy

In disc golf, there’s a shot known as “an Obama” — it’s a drive that you expect to veer to the left but keeps hooking right.

In no other area has this metaphor been truer than Barack Obama’s foreign policy and national security appointments. For a man who was elected in part on the promise to not just end the war in Iraq but to “end the mindset that got us into war in the first place,” it’s profoundly disappointing that a majority of his key appointments — Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Dennis Blair, Janet Napolitano, Richard Holbrooke and Jim Jones, among others — have been among those who represent that very mindset.

As president, Obama is ultimately the one in charge, so judgment should not be based upon his appointments alone. Indeed, some of his early decisions regarding foreign policy and national security – such as ordering the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, initiating the necessary steps for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and ending the “global gag rule” on funding for international family-planning programs – have been quite positive.

But it’s still significant that the majority of people appointed to key foreign policy positions, like those in comparable positions in the Bush administration, appear to be more committed to U.S. hegemony than the right of self-determination, human rights and international law.

Supporters of Wars of Conquest

Though far from the only issue of concern, it is the fact that the majority of Obama’s appointees to these key positions were supporters of the invasion of Iraq that is perhaps the most alarming.

Obama’s defenders claim that what is most important in these appointments is not their positions on a particular issue, but their overall competence. Unfortunately, this argument ignores the reality that anybody who actually believed that invading Iraq was a good idea amply demonstrated that they’re unqualified to hold any post dealing with foreign and military policy.

It was not simply a matter of misjudgment. Those who supported the war demonstrated a dismissive attitude toward fundamental principles of international law, and disdain for the United Nations Charter and international treaties which prohibit aggressive war. They demonstrated a willingness to either fabricate a non-existent threat or naively believe transparently false and manipulated intelligence claiming such a threat existed, ignoring a plethora of evidence from weapons inspectors and independent arms control analysts who said that Iraq had already achieved at least qualitative disarmament. Perhaps worst of all, they demonstrated an incredible level of hubris and stupidity in imagining that the United States could get away with an indefinite occupation of a heavily populated Arab country with a strong history of nationalism and resistance to foreign domination.

Nor does it appear that they were simply fooled by the Bush administration’s manufactured claims of an Iraqi threat. For example, Napolitano, after acknowledging that there were not really WMDs in Iraq as she had claimed prior to the invasion, argued that “In my view, there were lots of reasons for taking out Saddam Hussein.” Similarly, Clinton insisted months after the Bush administration acknowledged the absence of WMDs that her vote in favor of the resolution authorizing the invasion “was the right vote” and was one that, she said, “I stand by.”

Clearly, then, despite their much-touted “experience,” these nominees have demonstrated, through their support for the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, a profound ignorance of the reality of the Middle East and an arrogant assumption that peace, stability and democratic governance can be created through the application of U.S. military force.

Given that the majority of Democrats in Congress, a larger majority of registered Democrats nationally, and an even larger percentage of those who voted for Obama opposed the decision to invade Iraq, it is particularly disappointing that Obama would choose his vice-president, chief of staff, secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security and special envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq from the right-wing minority who supported the war.

But the Iraq War isn’t the only foreign policy issue where these Obama nominees have demonstrated hawkish proclivities. In previous articles, I have raised concerns regarding the positions of Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Below is a list of some additional foreign policy appointees who are troubling …

A Friend of Death Squads Heading Intelligence

One of the most problematic Obama appointees is Admiral Dennis Blair as Director of National Intelligence. Blair served as the head of the U.S. Pacific Command from February 1999 to May 2002 as East Timor was finally freeing itself from a quarter century of brutal Indonesian occupation. As the highest ranking U.S. military official in the region, he worked to undermine the Clinton administration’s belated efforts to end the repression, promote human rights and support the territory’s right to self-determination. He also fought against Congressional efforts to condition support for the Indonesian military on improving their poor human rights record.

In April 1999, two days after a well-publicized massacre in which dozens of East Timorese civilians seeking refuge in a Catholic church in Liquica were hacked to death by Indonesian-backed death squads, Blair met in Jakarta with General Wiranto, the Indonesian Defense minister and military commander. Instead of pressuring Wiranto to end his support for the death squads, he pledged additional U.S. military assistance, which, according to The Nation magazine, the Indonesian military “took as a green light to proceed with the militia operation.” Two weeks later, and one day after another massacre, Blair phoned Wiranto and, rather than condemn the killings he “told the armed forces chief that he looks forward to the time when [the army will] resume its proper role as a leader in the region.”

Blair’s role in all this is well-known. The Washington Post, for example, reported several months later that “Blair and other U.S. military officials took a forgiving view of the violence surrounding the referendum in East Timor.” I was interviewed on NBC Nightly News at the time and spoke directly to Blair’s meetings earlier that year.

Combined with Obama’s selection of supporters of Morocco’s occupation and repression in Western Sahara and Israel’s occupation and repression in Palestine to other key foreign policy and national security posts, perhaps it is not surprising that he would pick someone who supported Indonesia’s occupation and repression in East Timor. That his pick for DNI would have acquiesced to massacres facilitated by U.S.-backed forces, however, is particularly disturbing.

A Super Hawk at the Pentagon

Obama’s decision to Bush appointee Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense was a shock and a betrayal to his supporters who believed that there would be a change in the Pentagon under an Obama administration.

Gates’ record of militarism and deceit includes his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, where he apparently took part in the cover-up of the Reagan administration’s crimes. Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh expressed frustration that Gates – well-known for his “eidetic memory” – curiously could not recall information his subordinates, under oath, had sworn they had told him. The special prosecutor’s final report noted, “The statements of Gates often seemed scripted and less than candid.” Indeed, the best the final report could say was that “a jury could find the evidence left a reasonable doubt that Gates either obstructed official inquiries or that his two demonstrably incorrect statements were deliberate lies.”

In addition, Howard Teicher, who served on the National Security Council staff during the Reagan administration, submitted a sworn affidavit that Gates engaged in secret arms transfers to Saddam Hussein’s regime during the 1980s in violation of the Arms Export Control Act. During this same period, according to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who served as Gates’ branch chief, Gates was personally involved in the apparent manipulation of intelligence regarding Iran and the Soviet Union in order to back up questionable policies of the Reagan administration.

The quintessential hawk, Gates advocated a U.S. bombing campaign against Nicaragua in 1984, according to the Los Angeles Times, in order to “bring down” that country’s leftist government, arguing that “the only way that we can prevent disaster in Central America” is for the United States to “do everything in its power short of invasion to put that regime out.” Given there are today a number of Latin American countries under leftist governments more strategically significant than the tiny impoverished Nicaragua with which Gates was once so obsessed, one wonders how, as Obama’s Secretary of Defense, he will advise the new president to deal with these countries.

As he has for most of his career, Gates has been far to the right not only of the American public, but even that of the foreign policy establishment, most of which recognized that Nicaragua under the Sandinistas was of no threat to U.S. national security and that a bombing campaign would be a blatant violation of international law.

Unable to convince his superiors to bomb Nicaragua, Gates became a major supporter of the illegal supplying of arms to the Nicaraguan Contras, a notorious terrorist group responsible for the deaths of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians. In choosing Gates to head the Defense Department, Obama appears to be giving a signal that his opposition to international terrorism is limited to those who target Americans and their allies, not to terrorism overall.

Another Super-Hawk at NSC

Recently-retired Marine General Jim Jones -– who, like Gates, is a Republican and was a supporter of Senator John McCain in the November election –– has been named as Obama’s National Security Advisor. A pragmatic leader who reportedly opposed the decision to invade Iraq and has questioned the unconditional U.S. support for some of Israel’s more aggressive policies, Jones’ appointment is nonetheless troubling.

As NATO commander earlier this decade, Jones pushed for an expanded NATO role in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Perhaps not coincidentally, he joined the board of directors of Chevron soon after his retirement from the military as well becoming president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, which has called on the U.S. government to engage NATO “on energy security challenges and encourage member countries to support the expansion of its mandate to address energy security.”

Jones opposed any deadline for a withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq, which sits on top of the second largest oil reserves in the world, declaring that “I think deadlines can work against us, And I think a deadline of this magnitude would be against our national interest.” A passionate supporter of the Vietnam War who apparently supported a U.S. invasion of Laos and Cambodia as well, Jones considered the war’s opponents to essentially be traitors. More recently, he has used rhetoric remarkably similar to that of defenders of that war to call for a dramatic escalation of the war in Afghanistan on the grounds that American “credibility” would be at stake if the United States withdrew.

The Nation’s contributing editor Robert Dreyfus, who refers to Jones as Obama’s “most hawkish advisor,” quotes a prominent Washington military analyst noting that “He’s not a strategic thinker,” but he will certainly join other Obama appointees in pushing the administration’s foreign policy to the right.

A Dangerous Pick for Special Envoy

Obama’s choice for special envoy to perhaps the most critical area of U.S. foreign policy – Afghanistan and Pakistan – has gone to a man with perhaps the most sordid history of any of the largely disappointing set of foreign policy and national security appointments.

Richard Holbrooke got his start in the Foreign Service during the 1960s in the notorious pacification programs in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam. In the late 1970s, Holbrooke served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. In this position, he played a major role in formulating the Carter administration’s support for Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and the bloody counter-insurgency campaign responsible for the deaths of up to a quarter million civilians. In a particularly notorious episode while heading the State Department’s East Asia division, Holbrooke convinced Carter to release South Korean troops under U.S. command in order to suppress a pro-democracy uprising in the city of Kwangju against the Chun dictatorship, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. He also convinced President Jimmy Carter to continue its military and economic support for the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.

In the former Yugoslavia, he epitomized the failed U.S. policy toward autocratic rulers that swings between the extremes of appeasement and war. He brokered a peace agreement in Bosnia which allowed the Serbs to hold on to virtually all of the land they had seized and ethnically cleansed in the course of that bloody conflict and imposed a political system based upon sectarian divisions over secular national citizenship. During the 1996 pro-democracy uprising in Serbia, Holbrooke successfully argued that the Clinton administration should back the Milosevic regime in suppressing the movement so to not risk the instability that might result from a victory by Serb democrats. In response to increased Serbian oppression in Kosovo just a couple years later, however, Holbrooke became a vociferous advocate of the 1999 U.S.-led bombing campaign, creating a nationalist reaction that set back the reconstituted pro-democracy movement once again. The young leaders of the pro-democracy movement, which finally succeeded in the nonviolent overthrow of the regime, remain bitterly angry at Holbrooke to this day.

Scott Ritter, the former chief UNSCOM inspector who correctly predicted the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and a disastrous outcome for the U.S. invasion, observes that “not only has he demonstrated a lack of comprehension when it comes to the complex reality of Afghanistan (not to mention Pakistan), Holbrooke has a history of choosing the military solution over the finesse of diplomacy.” Noting how the Dayton Accords were built on the assumption of a major and indefinite NATO military presence, which would obviously be far more problematic in Afghanistan and Pakistan than in Europe, Ritter adds, “This does not bode well for the Obama administration.”

The Mixed Record of Susan Rice

The post of U.S. representative to the United Nations, which is being treated as a cabinet-level post in the Obama administration, is now held by Susan Rice, a protégé of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Perhaps the most impressive intellectual on Obama’s foreign policy team, she was a Rhodes Scholar who studied under Oxford professors Adam Roberts and Benedict Kingsbury at Oxford, strong supporters of international law and the United Nations.

Serving under President Clinton in the National Security Council and later as assistant Secretary of State for Africa, she helped reverse the decades-old policy of support for Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, she received praise from civil society groups in Africa for her support for human rights but also criticism for her strident support for economic liberalization and free trade initiatives.

Though seen by many as one of the most moderate of Obama’s foreign policy team, she – like some of the more hawkish Obama appointees – is also handicapped by her tendency to allow her ideological preconceptions to interfere with her analysis.

Though, unlike most of Obama’s other top foreign policy appointees, she has serious reservations about invading Iraq, she naively bought into many of the myths used to justify it. For example, back in 2002 – years after Iraq had disarmed itself of its chemical and biological weapons and eliminated its nuclear program – she declared, “It’s clear that Iraq poses a major threat” and, despite the success of the UN’s disarmament program, she insisted “It’s clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that’s the path we’re on.”

In February 2003, Colin Powell testified before the United Nations that Iraq had somehow reconstituted its biological and chemical weapons arsenal and its nuclear weapons program and had somehow hidden all this from the hundreds of United Nations inspectors then in Iraq engaged in unfettered inspections. None of this was true and his transparently false claims were immediately challenged by UN officials, arms control specialists, and much of the press and political leadership in Europe and elsewhere. (See my article written in response to his testimony: Mr. Powell, You’re No Adlai Stevenson.)

Rice, however, insisted that Powell had “proved that Iraq has these weapons and is hiding them and I don’t think many informed people doubted that.” In light of such widespread and public skepticism from knowledgeable sources, Rice’s dismissal of all the well-founded criticism was positively Orwellian: those who blindly accepted Powell’s transparently false claims were “well-informed,” while the UN officials, arms control specialists, and others knowledgeable of the reality of the situation were presumably otherwise.

What this means is that Rice will have a serious credibility problem at the United Nations, whose remarkable success at disarming Iraq she summarily dismissed. When Rice speaks out in important debates about international peace and security in the UN Security Council, including possible genuine threats, there will inevitably be some questions as to whether she should be believed. This raises the questions as to why Obama would choose someone with a potentially serious credibility in such a sensitive position just as the United States is trying to restore its influence in the world body.

Some Bright Spots?

There have been some somewhat hopeful appointments as well. One is that of Leon Panetta, former Congressman and the first chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, to direct the CIA. He has been praised for his principled opposition to the abuse of detainees under the Bush administration and his forced resignation from the Nixon Justice Department for opposing the administration’s opposition to school desegregation.

The major concern is that Panetta – a former Republican known as a centrist who tends to seek compromise more than he is one to shake things up – will likely find himself as simply another part of the center-right national team Obama is putting together, especially since he will be serving under DNI director Blair. As The Nation’s Dreyfus put it, “He’s no match for the hardheaded spooks who run the place, and he’s no match for the military brass who are elbowing their way to more and more control of intelligence spending and priorities.”

On the one hand, when the best that can be said of a nominee for an important national security position is that he opposes school segregation and believes that the U.S. government should not be engaging in torture, it is indicative of just how for down the bar has been lowered. At the same time, Panetta’s appointment is a clear signal that the Obama administration will not tolerate the kind of abuses that occurred under its predecessor.

Another potentially positive appointment is that of George Mitchell as special Middle East envoy. Though a hawkish supporter of right-wing Israeli governments during his days in the Senate, the report of his 2000-2001 commission on Israeli-Palestinian violence was surprisingly balanced and reasonable. Its failures rested in the limitations imposed upon it by the Clinton Administration and the failure of the Bush administration to follow through on its recommendations. The question now is whether Mitchell and President Obama will be willing to effectively challenge Israel’s refusal to withdraw the bulk of its illegal settlements from the occupied West Bank to make a viable Palestinian state possible. (See my article: Is Mitchell Up to the Task?)

Obama as Commander-in-Chief

Even though many of Obama’s key foreign policy appointments are not that different than previous administration, it is important to remember that Barack Obama will be a very different commander-in-chief than George W. Bush.

For one thing, unlike the outgoing president, Obama is non-ideological, very knowledgeable and highly intelligent. He was quite prescient about the irrationality of invading Iraq, even speaking at an anti-war rally at a time when most Americans supported going to war and – prior to becoming a national figure – he espoused a number of progressive positions on issues ranging from human rights to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In other words, even if Gates does call for bombing Venezuela, Obama is not going to do that. Even if Napolitano comes to him claiming that invading Iran is necessary to defend the homeland, Obama will recognize the folly of such a recommendation. Even if Clinton renews her attacks on the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court, Obama is unlikely to go along with them. Even if Jones argues for sending in the Marines to capture Saudi oil fields, Obama will not take such a recommendation seriously.

It is also quite possible that all this is a shrewd political move on Obama’s part of placing center-right appointees in visible positions to better enable him to pursue a more progressive foreign policy, not unlike Bush using the moderate Colin Powell to sell the Iraq war. Had George McGovern won the 1972 presidential election, he would have likely appointed a number of prominent figures from the hawkish Democratic foreign policy establishment to key positions to assuage skeptics as well, but that does not mean he would have abandoned the core principles which had been the basis of his campaign and his entire political career.

Another reason that an Obama administration will not likely be as far to the right as these appointments may imply is that his electoral base – energized by popular opposition to the Iraq War – is perhaps the most progressive in history when it comes to foreign policy. It is also the most engaged and organized base the party has ever seen. Once the relief of Bush’s departure and the glow of Obama’s inauguration has worn off, he will have to face the millions of people responsible for his election who will expect him to keep his word regarding “change you can believe in.”

Indeed, with a few conscientious exceptions, Democratic officials have rarely led in terms of a more progressive foreign policy. They have generally abandoned hawkish policies only after being forced to do so by popular mobilizations. From Vietnam to Central America to the nuclear arms race to South Africa to Iraq, Democratic leaders initially allied with the Republicans until they recognized their political futures were at stake unless they listened to the rank-and-file Democrats for whom they were dependent for their re-election. Then, and only then, were they willing to change course.

As a result, what may be most important will not be the people that Obama appoints, but the choices we give them.

http://www.alternet.org/world/123508/obama_gathering_a_flock_of_hawks_to_oversee_u.s._foreign_policy_/?page=entire

Virtually the Entire Dem-Controlled Congress Supports Israel’s War Crimes in Gaza

In a direct challenge to the credibility of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Red Cross and other reputable humanitarian organizations, an overwhelming bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress has gone on record supporting President George W. Bush’s position that the Israeli armed forces bear no responsibility for the large and growing numbers of civilian casualties from their assault on the Gaza Strip.

As of this writing, at least 400 civilians have been killed by Israeli forces, primarily using U.S.-supplied weaponry.

Shattering hopes that an expanded Democratic congressional majority and a new Democratic administration might lead to a more moderate foreign policy, the resolutions put forward an extreme reinterpretation of international humanitarian law, apparently designed to exonerate nations with superior firepower from any liability for inflicting large-scale civilian casualties.

The Senate resolution, primarily written and sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., passed the Senate by unanimous consent on a voice vote. Among the 33 co-sponsors were such otherwise liberal Democratic senators as Barbara Boxer, Calif,; Richard Durbin, Ill,; Carl Levin, Mich.; Sherrod Brown, Ohio; Barbara Mikulski, Md.; and 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry, Mass.

An even stronger House resolution, sponsored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., passed the House by a lopsided 390-5 roll call vote (with 22 members voting “present”). Both resolutions placed the blame for the death and destruction exclusively on the Palestinian side and are being widely interpreted as a rebuke to the international human rights community and the United Nations, which have cited both Hamas and the Israeli government for war crimes.

The resolutions favorably quote Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice extensively, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, regarding responsibility for civilian deaths and for the causes of the conflict. No one else is cited in the resolutions, indicating who Pelosi, Reid and the resolutions’ other sponsors see as the authoritative sources of information on international humanitarian law in the region.

Although some analysts are already referring to the Gaza war as “a final and eloquent testimony to the complete failure of the neoconservative movement in United States foreign policy,” Pelosi, Reid and virtually the entire Democratic membership of Congress have decided to ally themselves with this failed ideology of the outgoing Bush administration rather than blaze a new trail of moderation and common sense in anticipation of new leadership in the White House. Indeed, Pelosi’s and Reid’s strategy in pushing through these resolutions may have been part of an attempt to box in Obama — to force him to continue Bush’s hard-right foreign policy. That is, a policy in which, in the name of the “war on terror,” fundamental principles of international law are deemed to be expendable.

To the Right of Bush

Some of the language in the resolution put forward by Pelosi, Reid and their colleagues even place the Democratic Party to the right of the Bush administration. For example, while the Jan. 8 U.N. Security Council resolution — which received the endorsement of Rice and other administration officials — condemns “all acts of violence and terror directed against civilians,” the congressional resolution only condemns the violence and terror of Hamas.

Indeed, just as the Security Council unanimously passed its resolution stressing “the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza,” Congress immediately weighed in with language apparently designed to prevent one. The Senate and House resolutions called for a cease-fire only on the condition that it “prevents Hamas from retaining or rebuilding the capability to launch rockets and mortars against Israel.” Given that most of these rockets and mortars are of a rather crude design that can be made in local machine shops from scrap metal and other easily obtainable materials, and is therefore the kind of capability that can not really be completely eliminated, it appears that this clause would make a cease-fire impossible.

Emboldened by this strong bipartisan support from the legislative branch of its most important ally, Israel rejected the U.N.’s terms for a cease-fire.

Also on Jan. 8, Israeli forces killed two U.N. humanitarian aid workers as they were attempting to provide relief supplies, and the International Red Cross released a strongly worded statement noting that the Israeli military had “failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded.” The Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders noted that “Palestinian humanitarian aid and health workers have been killed, and hospitals and ambulances have been bombed.”

Congress, however, went on record in the resolutions praising Israel for having “facilitated humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

Both resolutions “hold Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire,” despite the fact that there had been scores of minor violations during the months of the cease-fire by both sides and that Israel had launched a major incursion into the Gaza Strip on Nov. 4, 2008, assassinating several Hamas leaders, an action the Israeli press speculated was designed to provoke Hamas into not renewing the cease-fire when it expired the following month. Israel then tightened its siege on Nov. 5, banning even humanitarian aid from coming through. Hamas appeared willing to renew the cease-fire in return for Israel renouncing further such incursions and lifting the siege, but Israel refused.

While these Israeli provocations do not justify Hamas’ failure to renew the cease-fire and certainly not Hamas’ decision to once again begin firing rockets into civilian-populated areas of Israel — which is a war crime — the language of the resolutions gives a very misleading understanding of the events leading up to the war. Ironically, despite blaming Hamas exclusively for not renewing the cease-fire, the resolutions also claim that returning to the terms of that cease-fire agreement “is unacceptable.”

Yet these were by no means the most egregious misrepresentations in these Democratic-led congressional initiatives.

Redefining International Humanitarian Law

In perhaps the most dangerous clause of the resolution, the House called “on all nations … to condemn Hamas for deliberately embedding its fighters, leaders and weapons in private homes, schools, mosques, hospitals and otherwise using Palestinian civilians as human shields.”

According to international humanitarian law, however, “human shields” require the deliberate use of civilians as a deterrent to avoid attack on one’s troops or military objects. Despite repeated calls to the offices of the resolutions’ principal Democratic sponsors, not one of them could provide a single example of this actually occurring during the current wave of fighting. Similar accusations in a 2006 resolution supported by Pelosi, Reid and other Democratic leaders during the five weeks of devastating Israeli attacks on Lebanon that summer were later systematically rebuked in a detailed and meticulously researched 249-page report by Human Rights Watch. (See my article “The Democrats and the “Human Shields” Myth”).

In this resolution, the Democrats appear to be attempting to redefine just what constitutes human shields. Despite this desperate effort to rationalize the large-scale killing of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces, the fact that a Hamas leader lives in his own private home, attends a neighborhood mosque and seeks admittance in a local hospital does not constitute the use of human shields. Indeed, the vast majority of leaders of most governments and political parties live in private homes in civilian neighborhoods, go to local houses of worship and check in to hospitals when sick or injured, along with ordinary civilians. Furthermore, given that the armed wing of Hamas is a militia rather than a standing army, virtually all of their fighters live in private homes and go to neighborhood mosques and local hospitals, as well.

In short, Pelosi and other congressional leaders appear to be advancing a radical and dangerous reinterpretation of international humanitarian law that would allow virtually any country with superior air power or long-range artillery to get away with war crimes.

Hamas is certainly guilty of less-severe violations of international humanitarian law, such as not taking all necessary steps it should to prevent civilian casualties when it positions fighters and armaments too close to concentrations of civilians. However, this is not the same thing as deliberately using civilians as shields. And, as Human Rights Watch noted, even the presence of armed personnel and weapons near civilian areas “does not release Israel from its obligations to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and civilian property during military operations.” Furthermore, the nature of urban warfare, particularly in a territory as densely populated as the Gaza Strip, makes the proximity of retreating fighters and their equipment to civilians unavoidable in many cases.

It is also important to note that, even if Hamas were using human shields in the legal definition of the term, it still does not absolve Israel from its obligation to avoid civilian casualties. Amnesty International has noted that the Geneva Conventions make it clear that even if one side is shielding itself behind civilians, such a violation “shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians.” Despite claims by some members of Congress to the contrary, Israel’s Jan. 6 attack on the U.N. school in Gaza, which killed more than 40 civilians, was still a war crime, even if Israeli forces were being fired upon from the vicinity. (The argument by those defending this atrocity is comparable to claiming that it would be legitimate for a SWAT team, in order to kill some bank robbers shooting at them, to also kill the bank employees and customers being held hostage since the bad guys were using “human shields.”)

Rewriting the U.N. Charter – and the Magna Carta

Pelosi’s resolution not only undermines international humanitarian law, it seeks to resurrect a fallacy that has been rejected by Western legal thought since the Magna Carta. In an effort to absolve Israel for the hundreds of civilian casualties it has inflicted with U.S.-supplied weaponry, the House resolution “calls on all nations … to lay blame both for the breaking of the calm and for subsequent civilian casualties in Gaza precisely where blame belongs, that is, on Hamas.”

In reality, however wrong — morally, legally and politically — Hamas’ decision to not renew the cease-fire, it simply does not absolve Israel of its responsibility under international humanitarian law for the far greater civilian deaths its armed forces have inflicted upon the Palestinians in Gaza. Indeed, it has long been a principle of Western jurisprudence that someone who is the proximate cause of a crime cannot claim innocence simply because of the influence of another party. By refuting this nearly 800-year old legal principle, this becomes, literally, a reactionary piece of legislation.

In support of the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, the House also goes on record citing the Israeli invasion as part of Israel’s “right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against Hamas’ unceasing aggression, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter.” In reality, the U.N. Charter explicitly prohibits nations going to war unless they “first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.” Israel — with strong bipartisan U.S. support — has refused to even meet with Hamas. Furthermore, while Article 51 does allow countries the right to resist an armed attack, it does not grant any nation the right to engage in such massive and disproportionate warfare against densely packed cities and refugee camps.

Not a Product of AIPAC

It appears that these two resolutions, unlike some similar measures in recent years, were not drafted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee AIPAC, the influential “pro-Israel” lobby. Nor were they primarily the initiative of right-wing Republican House leaders like Ohio Rep. John Boehner, or his predecessor Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, as were previous resolutions related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The lack of Democratic input on such resolutions has been used on a number of occasions in the past by Democratic staff members on Capitol Hill in an effort to excuse congressional Democrats for voting in favor of such initiatives, arguing that they ended up voting for a particular resolution in order to “show support for Israel,” but did not necessarily approve of the specific wording of the resolution.

They have no such excuses this time, however, since these resolutions came primarily out of the offices of Pelosi, Reid, and House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Howard Berman, D-Calif.

There appears to be little popular support for such an unqualified endorsement of Israeli war-making, however, with public opinion — particularly among Democrats — largely opposed to the assault on Gaza. And the American Jewish community has never seen so much dissent over Washington’s support for Israel’s militaristic and self-defeating policies toward the Palestinians. Despite the myth that it is somehow “political suicide” to oppose such resolutions, every Democrat who failed to vote for a similar 2006 House resolution supporting Israel’s attacks on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip was re-elected that November by a bigger margin than they were two years earlier. Furthermore, virtually all of the principal authors and sponsors of this year’s resolutions come from safe districts.

One of major reasons these Democrats support such right-wing legislation is not because AIPAC is all-powerful, but because there is so little pressure in the other direction to counter it. For example, MoveOn, Democracy for America, Council for a Livable World, and other “progressive” political organizations that endorse candidates for national office continue to back Democrats who support dangerous militaristic policies in the Middle East. (Ironically, if Democrats Nita Lowey, N.Y.; Robert Wexler, Fla;, John Hall, N.Y.; Henry Waxman, D-Calif.; Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas; Carolyn Maloney, N.Y.; Edward Markey, Mass.; and other co-sponsors of the House bill were running for the Israeli Knesset instead of the U.S. House of Representatives, their positions on human rights and international law in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would put them on that legislature’s right wing.)

Since the next congressional election is nearly two years away, it is too early to tell whether the growing opposition within the progressive community to U.S. support for the large-scale Israeli attacks against Palestinian civilians will be sufficient to deny those who defend Israeli war crimes the endorsements of progressive groups in the 2010 campaign. Given that like-minded organizations in previous decades denied their support for Democratic hawks who defended human rights abuses by U.S.-backed governments in Central America, Southeast Asia, Southern Africa and other conflict regions, it should be possible.

The problem is that there is still a fair amount of anti-Arab racism, which seems to take the perspective that the human rights of Palestinians somehow don’t count. It’s telling, for example, that Pelosi, the chief sponsor of the House resolution, has been praised by progressive publications for her “consistent support for human rights.” Similarly, the late Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., also an outspoken defender of Israeli human rights abuses, was repeatedly re-elected to chair the ironically named congressional Human Rights Caucus and was eulogized in a number of progressive periodicals following his death last year as Congress’ “leading defender of human rights.” (See my article Lantos’ Tarnished Legacy.)

Israel would not be able to get away with its ongoing attacks against Palestinian civilians were it not for the support of the Bush administration. The Bush administration would not be able to get away with supporting these atrocities were it not being backed by the Democratic-controlled Congress, including many of its otherwise more liberal members. And the overwhelming support by congressional Democrats of Bush’s stance would not be possible were it not for the continued acquiescence of the progressive community to these Democrats’ embrace of his right-wing militaristic agenda in the Mideast.

Peace between Israel and Palestine may not be possible until progressive activists stop seeing members of Congress who support such resolutions as powerless victims of some mythical cabal of wealthy Jews and instead hold them just as accountable for their actions as those who took comparable right-wing positions regarding Central America or East Timor in previous years, or those who embrace such policies regarding Iraq and Iran today. Instead of protesting in front of Israeli consulates, demonstrators will need to focus their protests more on congressional offices, as well as engage in more disruptive tactics, such as sit-ins and other forms of nonviolent direct action. It may require withholding campaign contributions, supporting progressive challengers in primary races and threatening to back Green or other third-party challengers in the general election.

There are signs this may be possible. The past couple of weeks have witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of concern on the plight of the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. In addition, while the corporate media is as biased in support of U.S. client states as ever, much of the widely read independent news/opinion Web sites — which are increasingly important in shaping public opinion — have had a fair amount of critical coverage. This could be significant in that the more the conflict is addressed in terms of human rights and international law, and the less it is addressed in terms of Israel versus Palestine, the less likely the debate will be dominated by those with rigid ideological agendas.

This should also help make it easier to recognize how U.S. policy is not just bad for the Palestinians, but ultimately bad for Israel as well, as Israeli militarism goaded on by U.S. politicians from Bush to Pelosi has left the Jewish state increasingly isolated in the world and has greatly contributed to the growing ranks of Islamic extremists, such as those drawn to Hamas.

And, should Barack Obama — who has refused to join the chorus of other Democratic leaders in backing the Israeli invasion — decide as president to finally apply some “tough love” towards Israel in the face of a hostile Congress, he is going to need the American people to back him up.

http://www.alternet.org/story/119252/virtually_the_entire_dem-controlled_congress_supports_israel%27s_war_crimes_in_gaza/?page=entire

Hillary Clinton’s Disdain for International Law — PART TWO

The appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is nothing less than a betrayal of the anti-war constituency responsible for Barack Obama winning the Democratic Party nomination and his subsequent election as president of the United States. The quintessential Democratic hawk, Senator Clinton has proven to be one of the leading militarists on Capitol Hill and her appointment as the country’s chief foreign policy representative serves notice to the international community that the change they had hoped for will not be forthcoming.

Clinton has demonstrated a marked preference for military confrontation over negotiations. In a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations last year, she called for a “tough-minded, muscular foreign and defense policy.” Similarly, when her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination Senator Barack Obama expressed his willingness to meet with Hugo Chavez, Raoul Castro or other foreign leaders with whom the United States has differences, she denounced him for being “irresponsible and frankly naive.”

What alarms most international observers, however, is her penchant for military solutions to complex political problems and her longstanding propensity to lie and exaggerate about alleged threats against the United States and its allies in order to justify her militaristic policies. As Secretary or State, she would have extraordinary influence in assessing real or imagined threats which could be used to convince President Obama, Congress and the American public to engage in acts of war.

Clinton’s False Claims of Threats

In order to justify her vote to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in October 2002, despite widespread and public skepticism expressed by arms control experts over the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq had somehow re-armed itself, Senator Clinton was insisting that Iraq’s possession of biological and chemical weapons was “not in doubt” and was “undisputed.” This was completely untrue, as Iraq had completely disarmed itself of such proscribed weapons years earlier.

She also claimed, despite the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iraq’s nuclear program had been completely eliminated, that Iraq was “trying to develop nuclear weapons.” Again, it became clear after the U.S. invasion of Iraq revealed no nuclear program that Clinton had lied again.

This did not stop her from making similar false allegations against Iran. Even though the IAEA had similarly reported that Iran no longer had an active nuclear weapons program — a fact confirmed by a National Intelligence Estimate representing a consensus of the United States’ sixteen intelligence agencies, which reported that Iran had ended its nuclear weapons program back in 2003 — Clinton had been insisting for years that Iran did have an active nuclear weapons program. Less that a week before the release of the NIE, Clinton declared unequivocally that “Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.”

Non-existent WMDs were not the only false claims Clinton made to justify a U.S. invasion of Iraq. For example, she insisted that Saddam had given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to al Qaeda terrorists. This came despite top strategic analysts correctly informing her that there were no apparent links between Saddam Hussein’s secular nationalist regime and the radical Islamist al-Qaeda, despite doubts of such claims appearing in the National Intelligence Estimates made available to her, and despite a subsequent definitive report by the Department of Defense which noted that not only did no such link exist, but that no such link could have even been reasonably suggested based upon the evidence available at that time.

Clinton’s Subsequent Support for the War

Even after U.S. forces invaded and occupied Iraq and confirmed that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, active WMD programs, offensive delivery systems, or ties to al-Qaeda as she and other supporters of the war had claimed, Clinton defended her vote to authorize the invasion anyway. As a result, she essentially acknowledged that Iraq’s alleged possession of WMDs was not really what motivated her vote to authorize the war after all, but was instead a ruse to frighten the American people into supporting the invasion. Her actual motivation appears to have been about oil and empire.

During the first four years following the invasion, Clinton was a steadfast supporter of Bush administration policy. When Representative John Murtha (D-PA) made his first call for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in November 2005, she denounced his effort, calling a withdrawal of U.S. forces a big mistake. In 2006, when Senator John Kerry sponsored an amendment that would have required the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq in order to advance a political solution to the growing sectarian strife, she voted against it. She came out against the war only when she began her presidential campaign, recognizing that public opinion had turned so decisively in opposition that there was no hope of her securing the Democratic nomination unless she changed her position.

She has also decried Iran’s “involvement in and influence over Iraq,” an ironic complaint for someone who voted to authorize the overthrow of the anti-Iranian secular government of Saddam Hussein despite his widely predicted replacement by pro-Iranian Shiite fundamentalist parties. She has also gone on record repeating a whole series of false, exaggerated and unproven charges by Bush administration officials regarding Iranian support for the Iraqi insurgency, even though the vast majority of foreign support for the insurgency has come from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries and that the majority of the insurgents are fanatically anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite.

Iran

It is not likely just a coincidence that the other country whose offensive military capabilities about which Clinton has made false accusations in order to justify possible military action also happens to be sitting on top of huge oil reserves. For example, in response to the Bush administration’s ongoing obsession with the supposed “Iranian threat,” Senator Clinton argued that Bush has not been obsessive enough. In a speech at Princeton University in 2007, she argued that the White House “lost critical time in dealing with Iran,” and accused the administration of choosing to “downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations” as well as “standing on the sidelines.”

She has insisted that “we cannot take any option off the table in sending a clear message to the current leadership of Iran — that they will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons.” During the campaign, she denounced Obama’s intentions to pursue negotiations with the Iranians, a clear indication of her preference to resolve such conflicts by military means.

Senator Clinton was the only Democratic member of Congress seeking the presidential nomination to support the Kyl-Lieberman amendment which, among other things, called on the Bush administration to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps — the largest branch of the Iranian military — as a foreign terrorist organization. To designate a branch of the armed forces of a foreign state as a terrorist organization would have been unprecedented and was widely interpreted to be a backhanded way of authorizing military action against Iran. Indeed, Virginia Senator Jim Webb referred to it as “Cheney’s fondest pipe dream.”

She initially justified her vote in part because of the Revolutionary Guard’s alleged involvement in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, a position she has had trouble defending since it was revealed such a program has not existed for at least four years prior to the resolution. In language remarkably similar to her discredited rationalization for her 2002 vote to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq, she claimed that it was not actually a vote for war, but simply to give Bush a means “to apply greater diplomatic pressure on Iran.” (Fortunately, Senator Clinton’s position was too extreme even for the Bush administration, which designated only the al-Quds Force — a sub-unit of the Revolutionary Guards which doesn’t always operate with the full knowledge and consent of the central government — as a terrorist organization.)

Though Iran’s threat to the national security of the United States is grossly exaggerated, it is a far more powerful country today in terms of its military prowess than was Iraq in 2002, when Senator Clinton supported invading that country because of its alleged danger to U.S. national security. It would be naïve, therefore, to ignore the very real possibility that, as Secretary if State, she would find reason to advocate an invasion of Iran as well.

Nuclear Issues

Senator Clinton has also shown little regard for the danger from the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries, opposing the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions challenging the nuclear weapons programs of such U.S allies as Israel, Pakistan and India. Not only does she support unconditional military aid — including nuclear-capable missiles and jet fighters — to these countries, she even voted to end restrictions on U.S. nuclear cooperation with countries that violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

By contrast, Senator Clinton insists that the prospect of Iran joining its three southwestern Asian neighbors in developing nuclear weapons “must be unacceptable to the entire world” since challenging the nuclear monopoly of the United States and its allies would somehow “shake the foundation of global security to its very core.” Despite this, she refuses to support the proposed nuclear weapons-free zone for the Middle East, as called for in UN Security Council resolution 687, nor does she support a no-first use nuclear policy, both of which could help resolve the nuclear standoff. Indeed, she has refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against such non-nuclear countries as Iran, even though such unilateral use of nuclear weapons directly contradicts the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the same treaty she claims the United States must unilaterally and rigorously enforce when it involves Iran and other countries the U.S. government doesn’t like.

When Senator Obama noted back in August that the use of nuclear weapons — traditionally seen as a deterrent against other nuclear states — was not appropriate for use against terrorists, Clinton rebuked his logic by claiming that “I don’t believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or nonuse of nuclear weapons.”

Senator Clinton also criticized the Bush administration’s decision to include China, Japan and South Korea in talks regarding North Korea’s nuclear program and to allow France, Britain and Germany to play a major role in negotiations with Iran, claiming that instead of taking “leadership to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists … we have outsourced over the last five years our policies.” In essence, as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton would likely be even more unilateralist and less prone to work with other nations than the Bush administration on such critical issues as non-proliferation.

Latin America

In Latin America, Senator Clinton argues that the Bush administration should have taken a more aggressive stance against the rise of left-leaning governments in the hemisphere, arguing that Bush has neglected these recent developments “at our peril.” In response to recent efforts by democratically elected Latin American governments to challenge the structural obstacles which have left much of their populations in poverty, she has expressed alarm that “We have witnessed the rollback of democratic development and economic openness in parts of Latin America.”

Apparently wishing that the Bush administration could have somehow prevented the elections of leftist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere, she argues that “We must return to a policy of vigorous engagement.” Though she has not clarified what she means by “vigorous engagement,” regional examples in recent decades have included military interventions, CIA-sponsored coups, military and financial support for opposition groups, and rigged national elections.

She has also supported Bush’s counter-productive and vindictive policy towards Cuba, insisting that she would not end the trade embargo — recently denounced in a 184-4 vote by the United Nations General Assembly — until there was a “democratic transition” in that country, even while supporting free trade agreements with undemocratic governments elsewhere. She has even backed Bush’s strict limitations on family visitations by Cuban-Americans and other restrictions on Americans’ freedom to travel.

The Balkans

Under her husband’s administration, Senator Clinton was an outspoken advocate of using the blunt instrument of military force to deal with complex international problems. For example, she was one of the chief advocates in her husband’s inner circle for the 11-week bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 to attempt to resolve the Kosovo crisis.

Though she had not indicated any support for the Kosovar Albanians’ nonviolent campaign against Serbian oppression which had been ongoing since she had first moved into the White House six years earlier, she was quite eager for the United States to go to war on behalf of the militant Kosovo Liberation Army which had just recently come to prominence. Gail Sheehy’s book Hillary’s Choice reveals how, when President Bill Clinton and others expressed concerns that bombing Serbia would likely lead to a dramatic worsening of the human rights situation by provoking the Serbs into engaging in full-scale ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Hillary Clinton successfully pushed her husband to bomb that country anyway. As predicted, the bombing campaign precluded a diplomatic settlement and vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing ensued.

Israel

Regarding Israel, Senator Clinton has taken a consistently right-wing position, undermining the efforts of Israeli and Palestinian moderates seeking a just peace that would recognize both the Palestinians’ legitimate national rights and the Israelis’ legitimate security concerns. For example, she has defended Israeli colonization of occupied Palestinian territory, has strongly supported Israel’s construction of an illegal separation barrier deep inside the occupied territory, and has denounced the International Court of Justice for its near-unanimous 2004 decision calling on Israel to abide by international humanitarian law.

Indeed, Senator Clinton has consistently put the onus of responsibility on the occupied Palestinians rather than their Israeli occupiers.

Senator Clinton was also an outspoken supporter of Israel’s massive military assault on the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in 2006, which took the lives of at least 800 civilians. She claimed that the carnage was justified since it would “send a message to Hamas, Hezbollah, to the Syrians [and] to the Iranians,” because, in her words, they oppose the United States and Israel’s commitment to “life and freedom.” Despite detailed reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch noting that there was no evidence to suggest that Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians as human shields, Senator Clinton has repeatedly insisted that they did, in an apparent effort to discredit these human rights groups and absolve Israel of any responsibility for the enormous civilian casualties inflicted during the assault.

Senator Clinton’s statements were challenged by her opponent in the 2006 Democratic primary for Senate in New York, union activist Jonathan Tasini, who pointed out that “Israel has committed acts that violate international standards and the Geneva Conventions.” Her spokesperson, however, dismissed Tasini’s concerns about Israeli violations of international humanitarian law as “beyond the pale.” Senator Clinton’s supporters also denounced him as “anti-Israel,” even though he is a former Israeli citizen who has lost close relatives in the Arab-Israeli wars and to Palestinian terrorism, his father fought with Zionist forces in the Israeli war of independence, and has repeatedly referred to himself as a “friend of Israel.”

Clinton even continues to defend Israel’s decision to launch the devastating 2006 war on Lebanon even though an Israeli government report released last year acknowledged it was a major setback to Israeli security. (See my article U.S. Role in Lebanon Debacle .)

Syria

Senator Clinton has also aimed her militaristic sights at Syria. In a typical example of her double-standards, she was a co-sponsor of the 2003 “Syrian Accountability Act,” which demanded — under threat of sanctions — that Syria unilaterally eliminate its chemical weapons and missile systems, despite the fact that nearby U.S. allies like Israel and Egypt had far larger and more advanced stockpiles of chemical weapons and missiles, not to mention Israel’s sizable arsenal of nuclear weapons. (See my article, The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony.)

Included in the bill’s “findings” were charges by top Bush Administration officials of Syrian support for international terrorism and development of dangerous WMD programs. Not only have most of these particular accusations not been independently confirmed, they were made by the same Bush Administration officials who had made similar claims against Iraq that have since been proven false. Yet Senator Clinton naively trusted their word over independent strategic analysts familiar with the region who have challenged many of these charges. Her bill also called for strict sanctions against Syria as well as Syria’s expulsion from its non-permanent seat Security Council for its failure at that time to withdraw its forces from Lebanon according to UN Security Council resolution 520.

This could hardly be considered a principled position, however, since she defended Israel’s 22-year long occupation of southern Lebanon that finally ended just three years earlier which was in defiance of this same resolution, as well as nine other UN Security Council resolutions. Nor had she ever called for the expulsion of Morocco, Turkey or Indonesia from the Security Council when they held non-permanent seats despite their violations of UN Security Council resolutions regarding their occupations of neighboring countries.

Despite the fact that Syria is far weaker than it was 20 years ago when it was being generously armed by the Soviet Union, Senator Clinton insists that it is now “among the most difficult and dangerous [countries] in the world” and that it somehow poses “direct threats to … neighbors … and far beyond the region.” She also offered her “strong support” for Israel’s unprovoked air strikes in northern Syria in September. She has echoed the administration’s charges that Syria is a major supporter of Hamas, even though the bulk of the Islamist Palestinian group’s foreign support has come from Saudi Arabia and Iran, not the secular regime in Damascus. And, despite Syria’s longstanding opposition to Sunni extremists and Iraqi Baathists — the major components of the insurgency fighting U.S. forces in Iraq — she has also accused Syria of backing anti-American forces in that country.

In short, it appears that the State Department under Hillary Clinton will not be unlike that of the State Department under Madeleine Albright, where — as with her successors in the Bush administration — U.S. foreign policy was based upon militarism, confrontation and unilaterialism. This is not what most voters were expecting in electing Barack Obama as president. As a result, the anti-war movement must continue to challenge U.S. foreign policy under an Obama administration just as vigorously as we did under the Bush administration.

http://www.alternet.org/world/109359/hillary_clinton’s_disdain_for_international_law_–_part_ii/

Hillary Clinton’s Disdain for International Law — PART ONE

For those hoping for a dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy under an Obama administration — particularly regarding human rights, international law, and respect for international institutions — the appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is a bitter disappointment. Indeed, Senator Clinton has more often than not sided with the Bush administration against fellow Democrats on key issues regarding America’s international legal obligations, particularly international humanitarian law.

This will be particularly disappointing for those in the international community who were so positive about Obama’s election as president. The selection of Hillary Clinton, at best, represents a return to the policies of her husband’s administration.

Because the Bush administration had taken things to new lows, many seem to have forgotten the fact that the Clinton administration had also greatly alienated the international community. Regarding Iraq, Iran and Israel, the Clinton administration engaged in a series of policies which put the United States sharply at odds with most of its Western allies and a broad consensus of international legal scholars. And these were not the only issues during the Clinton years over which the United States found itself isolated from the rest of the international community: there was U.S. opposition to the land mine treaty, the strengthening of the embargo against Cuba, support for Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, foot-dragging on the Kyoto Protocols, support for Turkey’s vicious military offensive in the Kurdish regions of that country, among others.

Even worse, Hillary Clinton allied herself with the Bush administration on many its most controversial actions, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, threats of war against Iran, support for Israel’s 2006 offensive against Lebanon and 2002 offensive in the West Bank, opposition to the International Criminal Court, attacks against the International Court of Justice, and support for the unrestricted export of cluster bombs and other anti-personnel munitions used against civilian targets.

Hostility Toward Human Rights

Senator Hillary Clinton has opposed restrictions on U.S. arms transfers and police training to governments that engage in gross and systematic human rights abuses. Indeed, she has supported unconditional U.S. arms transfers and police training to such repressive and autocratic governments as Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Equatorial Guinea, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Kazakhstan, and Chad, just to name a few.

Senator Clinton voted to send tens of billions of dollars unconditionally to Baghdad to prop up Iraq’s U.S.-backed regime during the height of its repression, apparently unconcerned about the well-documented reports of death squads being run from the Interior Ministry that were killing many thousands of unarmed Sunni men.

She has also refused to join many of her Democratic colleagues in signing a letter endorsing a treaty that would limit arms transfers to countries that engage in a consistent pattern of gross and systematic human rights violations.

Not only has she been willing to support unconditional military assistance to repressive regimes, she has little inclination to control weapons that primarily target innocent civilians. Senator Clinton has refused to support the international treaty to ban land mines, which are responsible for killing and maiming thousands of civilians worldwide, a disproportionate percentage of whom have been children.

She was also among a minority of Democratic Senators to side with the Republican majority in voting down a Democratic-sponsored resolution in 2007 restricting U.S. exports of cluster bombs to countries that use them against civilian-populated areas. Each of these cluster bomb contains hundreds of bomblets that are scattered over an area the size of up to four football fields and, with a failure rate of up to 30 percent, become de facto land mines. Civilians account for as much as 98 percent of the casualties caused by these weapons.

Senator Clinton also has a record of dismissing reports by human rights monitors that highlight large-scale attacks against civilians by allied governments. For example, in the face of widespread criticism by reputable human rights organizations over Israel’s systematic assaults against civilian targets in its April 2002 offensive in the West Bank, Senator Clinton co-sponsored a resolution defending the Israeli actions, claiming that they were “necessary steps to provide security to its people by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas.” She opposed UN efforts to investigate alleged war crimes by Israeli occupation forces and criticized President Bush for calling on Israel to pull back from its violent re-conquest of Palestinian cities in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, when Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other reputable human rights groups issued detailed reports regarding Israeli war crimes during that country’s assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, Senator Clinton insisted they were wrong and that Israel’s attacks were legal. Furthermore, though these groups had also criticized the radical Lebanese group Hezbollah for committing war crimes by firing rockets into civilian-populated areas in Israel, exhaustive investigations revealed absolutely no evidence that they had used the civilian population as “human shields” to protect themselves from Israeli assaults. Despite this, Senator Clinton, without providing any credible evidence to the contrary, still insists that they in fact had used human shields and Hezbollah, not the U.S-supplied Israeli armed forces, were therefore responsible for the deaths of more than 800 Lebanese civilians.

In Senator Clinton’s world view, if a country is considered an important strategic ally of the United States, any charges of human rights abuses — no matter how strong the evidence — should be summarily dismissed. Indeed, despite the Israeli government’s widespread and well-documented violations of international humanitarian law, Senator Clinton has praised Israel for embracing “values that respect the dignity and rights of human beings.”

Clinton’s Opposition to the United Nations

Senator Clinton has also been one the Senate’s most outspoken critics of the United Nations, even appearing outside the UN headquarters in New York twice during the past five years at right-wing gatherings to denounce the world body. For example, she has falsely accused the UN of not taking a stand against terrorism, even though terrorism has become — largely at the insistence of the United States — a major UN focus in recent years.

Senator Clinton’s hostility to international law and the UN system is perhaps best illustrated by her opposition to the International Criminal Court. In 2002, Senator Clinton voted in favor of an amendment by right-wing Senator Jesse Helms that prohibits the United States from cooperating in any way with the International Criminal Court and its prosecution of individuals responsible for serious crimes against humanity, such as those responsible for the genocide in Darfur. In addition, this vindictive law also restricts U.S. foreign aid to countries that support the ICC. Nicknamed the “Hague Invasion Act,” the bill also authorizes the president of the United States “to use all means necessary and appropriate to free members of United States military and certain other allied persons if they are detained or imprisoned by an international criminal court,” including military force.

The International Court of Justice (also known as the World Court, which essentially serves as the judicial arm of the United Nations) has also been a target of Senator Clinton’s hostility toward international law. For example, in 2004, the ICJ ruled by a 14-1 vote (with only the U.S. judge dissenting, largely on a technicality) that Israel, like every country, is obliged to abide by provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Laws of War, and that the international community — as in any other case in which ongoing violations are taking place — is obliged to ensure that international humanitarian law is enforced. Affronted that an important U.S. ally would be required to abide by its international legal obligations and that the United States should help ensure such compliance, Senator Clinton strongly condemned the decision.

At issue was the Israeli government’s ongoing construction of a separation barrier deep inside the occupied Palestinian West Bank, which the World Court recognized — as does the broad consensus of international legal scholarship — as a violation of international humanitarian law. The ICJ ruled that Israel, like any country, had the right to build the barrier along its internationally recognized border for self-defense, but did not have the right to build it inside another country as a means of illegally annexing occupied Palestinian territory. In an unprecedented congressional action, Senator Clinton immediately introduced a resolution to put the U.S. Senate on record “supporting the construction by Israel of a security fence” and “condemning the decision of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the security fence.” In an effort to render the UN impotent in its enforcement of international law, her resolution (which even the then-Republican-controlled Senate failed to pass as being too extreme) attempted to put the Senate on record “urging no further action by the United Nations to delay or prevent the construction of the security fence.”

Clinton’s resolution also claimed that “the International Court of Justice is politicized and critical of Israel,” ignoring that the World Court has actually been quite consistent in its rulings. In the only other two advisory opinions issued by the ICJ involving occupied territories — South African-occupied Namibia in 1971 and Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara in 1975 — the court also decided against the occupying powers.

In addition, in what was apparently an effort to misrepresent and discredit the UN, Clinton’s resolution contended that the request by the UN General Assembly for a legal opinion by the ICJ referred to “the security fence being constructed by Israel to prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel.” In reality, the UN request said nothing regarding security measures preventing terrorists from entering Israel. Instead, the document refers only to the legal consequences arising from “the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory…” Moreover, the UN statement referred to the secretary general’s recently released report on the occupation, which reiterated the longstanding international consensus that Occupied Palestinian Territory refers only to the parts of Palestine seized by Israel in the 1967 War, not to any part of Israel itself.

Senator Clinton’s resolution also represented a departure from any previous congressional resolution in that it referred to the West Bank not as an occupied territory but as a “disputed” territory. This distinction is important for two reasons: The word “disputed” implies that the claims of the West Bank’s Israeli conquerors are as legitimate as the claims of Palestinians who have lived on that land for centuries. And disputed territories — unlike occupied territories — are not covered by the Fourth Geneva Convention and many other international legal statutes. As a lawyer, Senator Clinton must have recognized that such wording had the affect of legitimizing the expansion of a country’s territory by force, a clear violation of the UN Charter.

Support for the Illegal Use of Force

The UN Charter forbids its member states from using military force unless under direct attack or authorized by the UN Security Council. Customary international law allows for pre-emptive war only in cases of an imminent threat, such as troops massing along the border or missiles being loaded onto launchers. Senator Clinton, however, believes that the United States had the legal right to invade Iraq, even though it constituted no threat to the national security of the United States and there had been no authorization by the UN Security Council to use force. Indeed, when the United States launched its invasion of Iraq in March 2003 in defiance of widespread global condemnation of this act of aggression, she voted for a Republican-sponsored resolution categorically declaring that the war was “lawful.”

Senator Clinton has tried to rationalize her support for this illegal war by claiming that the UN authorized member states to take military action against Iraq in November of 1990. However, that resolution (687) only referred to using such means to enforce resolution 678, which demanded that Iraq withdraw its occupation forces from Kuwait. Once Iraqi forces withdrew — which took place more than a dozen years prior to the 2003 invasion — the resolution was moot.

Similarly, her claim that invading Iraq constituted a legitimate act of self-defense is particularly disturbing. Even if Saddam Hussein had been developing chemical and biological weapons as Senator Clinton falsely alleged, Iraq would have been just one of 40 countries to have developed such arsenals and Iraq had no delivery systems left that were capable of attacking other countries, much less the United States. Her belief that the United States somehow has the right to invade another country simply on the suspicion that it might be developing weapons for future use constitutes a radical departure from international legal norms and is a clear violation of the UN Charter. Hillary Clinton, however, believes the United States should not be bound by such restrictions and that the United States has the right to invade any country that the president believes could even potentially be a threat some time in the future.

Senator Clinton claims that she voted to authorize war against Iraq in October 2002 because “we needed to put inspectors in.” However, Saddam Hussein had by that time already agreed to a return of the weapons inspectors. Furthermore, Senator Clinton voted against the substitute Levin amendment, which would have also granted President Bush authority to use force, but only if Iraq defied subsequent UN demands regarding the inspections process. Instead, Senator Clinton voted for the Republican-sponsored resolution to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his own choosing regardless of whether inspectors returned. Indeed, unfettered large-scale weapons inspections had been going on in Iraq for nearly four months at the time the Bush administration launched the March 2003 invasion that Senator Clinton had voted to authorize.

Clinton also claimed that the absence of UN personnel in Iraq during the preceding four years was because Saddam “threw out inspectors.” In reality, the inspectors were ordered out in December 1998 by President Bill Clinton in anticipation of the four-day U.S.-led bombing campaign, which was widely condemned at that time as a flagrant violation of international law. (See my article Hillary Clinton Again Lies about Iraq.)

A politician who supported preventive war in the past might do so in the future as well. Indeed, Senator Clinton has criticized Bush for allowing the Europeans to lead the diplomatic efforts with Iran over their nuclear program, insisting that the United States should keep “all options on the table,” presumably meaning military force.

Implications of Clinton as Secretary of State

Though an overwhelming majority of Americans, according to public opinion polls, believe that human rights and international law should be a cornerstone of American foreign policy, Senator Clinton has repeatedly prioritized the profits of American arms manufacturers and the extension of Washington’s hegemonic reach in parts of the world. It is ironic that, with the long-awaited return of the Democratic Party to power, the new Secretary of State essentially advocates a clear break with the internationalist and law-based principles espoused by such previous Democratic leaders as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.

Hillary Clinton is not the first hawk to be appointed to a key position by Obama. The selection of Joe Biden as his vice-president, the pro-war militarist chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was seen as a slap in the face to his dovish constituency. (See my articles Biden’s Foreign Policy “Experience” and Biden, Iraq, and Obama’s Betrayal.) Obama’ defenders insisted that his appointment had more to do with political considerations that would enhance the likelihood of an electoral victory in November, that the vice-president does not have a formal role in foreign policy formulation, and should therefore not be interpreted as a harbinger of subsequent appointments.

Then came the selection of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. (See my article Is Obama Screwing His Base with Rahm Emanuel Selection?) Obama’s defenders emphasized that the White House position was more administrative than policy-oriented, that Emanuel was more a political operative than a policy-wonk, and that his appointment had more to do with his political skills than his political opinions.

Then came the word that Obama was going to keep Robert Gates, Bush’s current Secretary of Defense and a proponent of the Bush’s disastrous Iraq policy, as the Pentagon chief. Obama’s defenders then insisted that Gates wasn’t as bad as his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld, that continuity in such a position was important in time of war, and that Gates could provide cover from right-wing attacks in the face of an eventual U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Then came the apparent selection of the recently-retired Marine General James Jones, a prominent hawk who supported John McCain for president, as Obama’s national security advisor. Obama’s defenders pointed out that his role would simply be that as an advisor, not a policy maker, and that someone with his strategic understanding and international contacts would be a positive influence.

With the selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, however, it is no longer possible to make any more excuses. It is getting harder to deny that Barack Obama intends to tilt his foreign policy to the right.

This is not simply a situation where Obama desires an opportunity to listen to alternative perspectives from hawks as a means of strengthening his dovish proclivities. These hawkish perspectives have long been dominant in Washington and in the mainstream media, so even without these appointments, Obama would be getting plenty of this kind of feedback anyway. It appears that he has appointed Clinton and these other hawks because he does not have any principled objections to their disdain for human right and international law.

It is important to remember, however, that it has been rare for elected Democratic officials to take the lead in building a more progressive foreign policy. From Vietnam to South Africa to the nuclear freeze to Central America to East Timor to Iraq it has been mass movements which have forced the Democrats away from their initially right-wing militarist agenda to one more supportive of human rights and international law. Hillary Clinton’s about-face on Iraq just prior to her run for president is but one example of how popular pressure can turn an unrepentant war hawk into an anti-war candidate.

As a result, while it is important to recognize the serious implications of the Clinton appointment, it is also important to realize that the ultimate direction of Obama’s foreign policy will not be determined by his Secretary of State, but by the American people.

http://www.alternet.org/story/109264/hillary_clinton%27s_disdain_for_international_law_–_change_we_can_believe_in/?page=entire

Bush’s Unauthorized Attack on Syria Killed Civilians; Dems Silent

A raid by U.S. forces into Syria last month was not only a major breach of international law, but has resulted in serious diplomatic repercussions which will likely harm U.S. strategic interests in the region. On October 25, four U.S. Army helicopters entered Syrian airspace from Iraq, firing upon laborers at the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal; two of the helicopters landed and eight commandoes reportedly stormed a building. By the time it was over, eight people had been killed, at least seven of whom were civilians, including three children.

It is believed to be the first time the United States has ever engaged in ground combat operations in Syria. And, though Congress did not authorize any operations against that country, there appears to be virtually no opposition in the Democrat-controlled Congress to President George W. Bush unilaterally deciding to attack Syria, even when the casualties appear to have been almost exclusively innocent civilians.

Claim of Counter-Terrorism

The apparent target of the raid, who was the sole non-civilian casualty (though no evidence of finding his body has been publicly reported), was Abu Ghadiya, whom the United States has accused of helping to smuggle foreign fighters into Iraq for the an extremist Salafi Sunni group known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). There appears to have been no effort by the Bush administration, however, to ask the Syrian government to either arrest Abu Ghadiya or extradite him.

An administration official told The Washington Post, “You have to clean up the global threat that is in your backyard, and if you won’t do that, we are left with no choice but to take these matters into our hands.” In reality, there was no indication that Abu Ghadiya had any relationship with the branch of Al-Qaeda headed by Osama bin Laden which does have a global reach. (Many analysts see AQI as simply an Iraqi-led group that simply appropriated the name.) Furthermore, the Syrians have been quite aggressive in tracking down suspected al-Qaeda cells that did.

For example, former CIA director George Tenet had praised Syria for providing the United States with intelligence dossiers on al-Qaeda in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and had called for increased intelligence cooperation with the Syrian regime. In one example, intelligence provided by Syria helped thwart a potentially devastaing attack on the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain.

Syria’s secular government, which has itself been the target of the very kind of hard-line Salafi Sunni terrorists the U.S. claims they were targeting, would have little motivation to knowingly allow someone like that to operate within their territory. Nor would they want to facilitate the growth of such dangerous groups destabilizing their neighbor Iraq. Indeed, a recent National Intelligence Estimate noted how Syria had “cracked down on some Sunni extremist groups attempting to infiltrate fighters into Iraq through Syria because of threats they pose to Syrian stability.”

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem just completed a visit to Great Britain, where he and British foreign minister David Miliband issued a joint statement declaring that “tackling al-Qaeda and groups inspired by it was a high priority” and that the two governments had “agreed to work more closely together to tackle this threat.”

Syria is among a small minority of Arab countries which have formally recognized the Iraqi government, which also raises questions as to why they would seek to destabilize it. Furthermore, Syria’s closest regional ally is the Shia government of Iran, which served as the exiled base for the major Shia parties which currently control the Iraqi government and which have been a target of hard-line Sunni groups like AQI, which are fanatically anti-Iranian and see Shiism as apostasy.

Iraqi President Jalal Talbani noted that Syria does not currently pose a threat to Iraq’s stability. Indeed, the Iraqi government specifically condemned the attack, which originated in its territory, declaring that “The Iraqi government rejects U.S. aircraft bombarding posts inside Syria. The Constitution does not allow Iraq to be used as a staging ground to attack neighboring countries.”

Guerrilla Infiltration

There is no question that there are places along Syria’s 300-mile border of Iraq, much of which is sparsely-populated desert and mountains, where foreign fighters have illegally crossed the border, including some who have allied with groups like AQI which have engaged in acts of terrorism. Neither the Bush administration nor its Congressional supporters, however, have been able to make a convincing case that Syria has been encouraging such infiltration or why they would choose to do so.

In part as a result of U.S. pressure, the Syrian government has moved as many as 10,000 troops to the Iraqi border to guard against such infiltration. The State Department has acknowledged that Damascus “upgraded physical security conditions on the border and began to give closer scrutiny to military-age Arab males entering Syria.” In a report published late last year, the State Department also noted how the Syrian government had “worked to increase security cooperation with Iraq,” including hosting “a meeting of technical border security experts representing Iraq’s neighbors, the United States, and other countries” as well as participating “in two ministerial-level Iraq Neighbors’ Conferences.” In addition, high-level Syrian officials had been scheduled to meet with their Iraqi counterparts, as well as U.S. officials, later this month.

The report also noted that “According to U.S. and Iraqi officials, 2007 witnessed a marked reduction in the flow of foreign terrorists transiting through Syria into Iraq.” This year, the number of foreign fighters reportedly entering Iraq from Syria, once estimated as high as 100 a month, had been reduced by more than 80 percent. General David Petraeus, commander of Central Command, which oversees U.S. security concerns in the Middle East, acknowledged that “Syria has taken steps to reduce the flow of foreign fighters through its borders with Iraq.”

As a result, it makes little sense as to why the United States would choose to attack Syria now.

Diplomatic Fallout

The diplomatic fallout for the U.S. attack, a clear violation of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, was widespread. French president Nicolas Sarkozy, expressing his “serious concern” over the U.S. attack, called for “the strict respect of the territorial integrity of states.” European Union foreign affairs spokesman Javiar Solana also expressed his concern, as did the governments of Russia, China and a number of NATO allies, including Germany and Great Britain.

The attack may have put the Status of Forces Agreement into further jeopardy. In response to the attack, the Iraqi government is now demanding that the agreement include a specific ban on American forces using Iraqi territory to attack neighboring countries.

Meanwhile, the Syrian government ordered the Damascus Community School – the highly acclaimed American institution – closed along with the U.S. Cultural Center. The U.S. Embassy has cut back its hours. The Syrians have also threatened to cut off cooperation with the United States regarding Iraqi border security.

The Silence of the Dems

Given that the October 26 raid was an unauthorized and illegal attack, killed innocent civilians, resulted in negative diplomatic fallout, and likely increased rather than decreased the threat of terrorism in Iraq, it would appear to be a great opportunity for the Democrats to attack the Bush administration for its dangerous and reckless action.

Yet, even in the course of the final dramatic week of the presidential campaign, neither Barack Obama nor Joe Biden uttered a word of criticism. And, despite contacting the offices of every single Democratic member on both the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, I was unable to find any criticism from any of these leading Congressional Democrats either.

The raises the serious possibility that, even under an Obama administration and an expanded Democratic Congressional majority, such militaristic policies may continue. This is particularly disappointing given that many observers had hoped that Syria would be the focus of a likely early diplomatic victory of an Obama administration.

Sabotaging the Next Administration

Indeed, this may have been what may have motivated the Bush administration’s otherwise questionable timing for the attacks.

Obama has been critical of the Bush administration’s efforts to sabotage peace negotiations between Israel and Syria, which would likely result in the return of Syria’s Golan province, currently under Israeli military occupation, in return for full diplomatic relations, security guarantees, and an end of Syrian support for anti-Israeli extremists. Indeed, Obama would likely have the United States become actively involved in the peace process, currently under the auspices of Turkey.

In addition, the alliance by the secular Baathist regime in Syria with the mullahs of Iran has always been more of an alliance of convenience than one rooted in any common ideology, so there were those in Obama’s foreign policy team that were hoping that they could wean Syria away from the Iranians and provide enough incentives for that country to become a more responsible member of the international community. Syria recently formally recognized Lebanon for the first time, a country which had historically been part of Syria until wrested away, in a classic divide-and-rule act of colonialism, just prior to independence by French occupation forces after World War I. Along with the renewed peace talks with Israel, there appeared to be signs that the Syrians would be willing to strike some kind of grand bargain with the West under a more enlightened U.S. administration.

Last month’s attack may have been designed to make this more difficult. Not only has it set back moderate elements in Syria, it has emboldened those in Washington and the mainstream press to start egging on Obama to continue Bush’s policy. For example, the Wall Street Journal editorialized, “Mr. Obama has promised he’ll engage Syria diplomatically as part of an overall effort to end the conflict in Iraq. If he really wants to end the war faster, he’ll pick up on Syria where the Bush Administration has now ended.”

Obama’s refusal to criticize the U.S. attack on Syria raises the troubling prospect that, rather than pursue the diplomatic route as hoped, he will instead take the newspaper’s advice. This may be just what the Bush administration had planned.

http://www.alternet.org/story/106329/bush%27s_unauthorized_attack_on_syria_killed_civilians%3B_dems_silent/?page=entire

Obama and the Middle East: Will He Bring About “Change?”

The strong showings by Senator Barack Obama of Illinois in the early contests for the Democratic presidential nomination don’t just mark a repudiation of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy and “war on terrorism.” They also indicate a rejection of the Democratic Party establishment, much of which supported the invasion of Iraq and other tragic elements of the administration’s foreign policy.

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that voters found Senator Obama’s opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in contrast to the strong support for the invasion by his principal rivals for the Democratic Party nomination, a major factor contributing to his surprisingly strong challenge to Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the race for the White House. Indeed, while his current position on Iraq is not significantly different than that of Clinton or the other major challenger, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Obama’s good judgment not to support the war five years ago has led millions of Democratic and independent voters to find him more trustworthy as a potential commander-in-chief.

At the same time, while he certainly takes more progressive positions on Middle East issues than Senator Clinton or the serious Republican presidential contenders, he backs other aspects of U.S. policies toward Iraq, Iran, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that have raised some troubling questions. This is one factor that has tempered support for the trailblazing African-American candidate among liberal and progressive voters.

Iraq in the Illinois State Senate

In October 2002, while Senators Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were in Washington leading Congressional efforts to authorize President George W. Bush to invade that oil-rich country at the time and circumstances of his choosing, Obama–then an Illinois state senator who had no obligation to take a stand either way–took the initiative to speak at a major anti-war rally in Chicago. While Clinton and Edwards were making false and alarmist statements that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was still a danger to the Middle East and U.S. national security, Obama had a far more realistic understanding of the situation, stating: “Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors.”

Recognizing that there were alternatives to using military force, Obama called on the United States to “allow UN inspectors to do their work.” He noted “that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.”

Furthermore, unlike the the Iraq War’s initial supporters, Obama recognized that “even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” Understanding the dangerous consequences to regional stability resulting from war, Obama accurately warned that “an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.”

Iraq in the U.S. Senate

Once elected to the U.S. Senate, however, his anti-war voice became muted. Obama supported unconditional funding for the Iraq War in both 2005 and 2006. And–despite her false testimonies before Congress and her mismanagement of Iraq policy before, during, and after the U.S. invasion in her role as National Security Advisor–Obama broke with most of his liberal colleagues in the Senate by voting to confirm Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state during his first weeks in office.

Obama didn’t even make a floor speech on the war until a full year after his election. In it, he called for a reduction in the number of U.S. troops but no timetable for their withdrawal. In June 2006, he voted against an amendment by Senators Russ Feingold and John Kerry for such a timetable.

In addition, during the 2006 Democratic congressional primaries, he campaigned for pro-war incumbents–including Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman against his eventually victorious primary challenger Ned Lamont–and other conservative Democrats fighting back more progressive anti-war challengers.

Iraq as a Presidential Candidate

It was only after the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton, called for setting a date to withdraw U.S. combat troops, and only after Obama formed his presidential exploratory committee, that he introduced legislation setting a date for troop withdrawal. And it was only this past spring that he began voting against unconditional funding for the war.

In a speech before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in November 2006, Obama appeared to buy into the Bush administration’s claims that its goal in Iraq was not about oil or empire, but to advance freedom, by criticizing the Bush administration for invading Iraq for unrealistic “dreams of democracy and hopes for a perfect government.” Instead of calling for an end to the increasingly bloody U.S.-led military effort, he instead called for “a pragmatic solution to the real war we’re facing in Iraq,” with repeated references to the need to defeat the insurgency.

Despite polls showing a majority of Americans desiring a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces, he acknowledged that U.S. troops may need to stay in that occupied country for an “extended period of time,” and that “the U.S. may have no choice but to slog it out in Iraq.” Specifically, he called for U.S. forces to maintain a “reduced but active presence,” to “protect logistical supply points” and “American enclaves like the Green Zone” as well as “act as rapid reaction forces to respond to emergencies and go after terrorists.”

Obama has committed to withdraw regular combat troops within 16 months and launch diplomatic and humanitarian initiatives to address some of the underlying issues driving the ongoing conflicts. He has also pledged to launch “a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic initiative to help broker and end of the civil war in Iraq, prevent its spread, and limit the suffering of the Iraqi people.”

If elected, as president Obama would almost certainly withdraw the vast majority of U.S. forces from Iraq. Yet thousands of American troops would likely remain to perform such duties as he has described as necessary. Indeed, he has explicitly ruled out any guarantee for a total U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by the end of his first term in 2013. At the same time, he has recognized the need to “make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq” and has increasingly emphasized that most U.S. troops that remain in the area should be “over the horizon,” such as in Kuwait, rather than in Iraq itself.

Iran: Mixed Messages

Obama has criticized the Bush administration for its belligerent policy toward Iran and has warned against precipitous military action. In addition, though being out on the campaign trail when the vote was taken made it impossible to formally go on record, Obama has harshly criticized Senator Clinton for supporting the bellicose Kyl-Lieberman amendment targeting Iran, which many saw as paving the way for the Bush administration to launch military action against that country.

Despite this, Senator Obama has appeared to buy into some of the more alarmist and exaggerated views of Iran’s potential threat. For example, he has referred to Iran–a mid-level power on the far side of the globe that currently does not have a nuclear weapons program and is nearly a decade away from having the capability to produce nuclear weapons–as a “genuine threat.”

In remarks Obama prepared for a speech to an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Forum in March of last year, he said: Iranian nuclear weapons would destabilize the region and could set off a new arms race. Some nations in the region, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, could fall away from restraint and rush into a nuclear contest.” He has not been able to explain why–given that Israel itself has had nuclear weapons for at least 35 years and no other Middle Eastern country has yet gone nuclear–Iran obtaining nuclear weapons would suddenly lead other countries in the region to immediately follow suit.

Because of this alleged threat, Obama insisted that “we should take no option, including military action, off the table.” One option he has not endorsed, however, is the proposed establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free zone for the Middle East, similar to initiatives already undertaken in Latin America, Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. Rather than embrace such a comprehensive approach to non-proliferation in the Middle East, he apparently accepts the Bush administration’s contention that the United States gets to decide which Middle Eastern countries can have nuclear weapons and which ones cannot.

To his credit, Obama has distinguished himself from both the Bush administration and Senator Clinton in supporting direct negotiations with Iran, arguing in his speech at the AIPAC policy forum that “sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions should be our primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.” At the same time, this raises the question as to why he has he not also called for aggressive diplomacy and tough sanctions against Israel, India, and Pakistan for their already-existing nuclear arsenals, especially since these three countries–no less than Iran–are also in violation of UN Security Council resolutions regarding their nuclear programs.

Israel: Shifting Positions

Earlier in his career, Obama took a relatively balanced perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, aligning himself with positions embraced by the Israeli peace camp and its American supporters. For example, during his unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2000, Obama criticized the Clinton administration for its unconditional support for the occupation and other Israeli policies and called for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He referred to the “cycle of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians, while most Democrats were referring to “Palestinian violence and the Israeli response.” He also made statements supporting a peace settlement along the lines of the Geneva Initiative and similar efforts by Israeli and Palestinian moderates.

During the past two years, however, Obama has largely taken positions in support of the hard-line Israeli government, making statements virtually indistinguishable from that of the Bush administration. Indeed, his primary criticism of Bush’s policy toward the conflict has been that the administration has not been engaged enough in the peace process, not that it has backed the right-wing Israeligovernment on virtually every outstanding issue.

Rejecting calls by Israeli moderates for the United States to use its considerable leverage to push the Israeli government to end its illegal and destabilizing colonization of the West Bank and agree to withdraw from the occupied territories in return for security guarantees, Obama has insisted “we should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests” and that no Israeli prime minister should ever feel “dragged” to the negotiating table.

Despite Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s refusal to freeze the construction of additional illegal settlements, end the seizure of Palestinian population centers, release Palestinian political prisoners, or enact other confidence-building measures–much less agree to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state–Obama claimed in his AIPAC policy forum speech that Olmert is “more than willing to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will result in two states living side by side in peace and security.” And though, as recently as last March, Obama acknowledged the reality that that “nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people,” as a result of the stalled peace process he has since placed the blame for the impasse not on the Israeli occupation but on the Palestinians themselves.

In addition, rejecting calls by peace and human rights activists that U.S. military aid to Israel, like all countries, should be contingent on the government’s adherence to international humanitarian law, Obama has called for “fully funding military assistance.”

Backing Israeli Militarism

In the face of widespread international condemnation over Israel’s massive attacks against Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure during the summer of 2006, Obama rushed to Israel’s defense, co-sponsoring a Senate resolution defending the operation. Rather than assign any responsibility to Israel for the deaths of over 800 Lebanese civilians, Obama claimed that Hezbollah was actually responsible for having used “innocent people as shields.” This assertion came despite the fact that Amnesty International found no conclusive evidence of such practices and Human Rights Watch, in a well-documented study, had found “no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack,” an analysis confirmed by subsequent scholarly research.

(When I contacted Obama’s press spokesperson in his Senate office to provide me with evidence supporting Obama’s claim that, despite the findings of these reputable human rights groups, that Hezbollah had indeed used “human shields,” he sent me the link to a poorly-documented report from a hawkish Israeli research institute headed by the former chief of the Mossad–the Israeli intelligence service that itself has engaged in numerous violations of international humanitarian law. The senator’s press spokesman did not respond to my subsequent requests for more credible sources. This raises concerns that an Obama administration, like the current administration, may be prone to taking the word of ideologically driven right-wing think tanks above those of empirical research or principled human rights groups and other nonpartisan NGOs.)

Indeed, Obama’s rhetoric as a senator has betrayed what some might view as a degree of anti-Arab racism. He has routinely condemned attacks against Israeli civilians by Arabs but has never condemned attacks against Arab civilians by Israelis.

Closet Moderate?

Unlike any other major contenders for president this year or the past four election cycles, Obama at least has demonstrated in the recent past an appreciation of a more moderate and balanced perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As president, he may well be better than his more recent Senate votes and public statements would indicate. Though the power of the “Israel Lobby” is often greatly exaggerated (see my articles The Israel Lobby Revisited and The Israel Lobby: How Powerful is It Really?), it’s quite reasonable to suspect that pressure from well-funded right-wing American Zionist constituencies has influenced what Obama believes he can and cannot say. As an African-American whose father came from a Muslim family, he is under even more pressure than most candidates to avoid being labeled as “anti-Israel.” Ironically, a strong case can be made that the right-wing militaristic policies he may feel forced to defend actually harm Israel’s legitimate long-term security interests.

Still, Obama has indicated greater interest in promoting a comprehensive peace settlement, acknowledging that the “Israeli government must make difficult concessions for the peace process to restart.” And, unlike the Bush administration, which successfully pressured Israel not to resume peace negotiations with Syria, Obama has pledged never to block an Israeli prime minister from the negotiation table. (See my article: Divide and Rule: U.S. Blocks Israel-Syria Talks.)

As a result, several prominent Americans allied with the current Israeli government have expressed deep concern about the prospects of Obama’s election while Democrats aligned with more progressive Israeli perspectives have expressed some cautious optimism regarding Obama becoming president.

How Much Change?

Despite building his campaign around the theme of “change you can believe in,” there are serious questions regarding how much real change there would be under an Obama presidency regarding the U.S. role in the Middle East. While an Obama administration would certainly be an improvement over the current one, he may well turn out to be quite sincere in taking some of the more hard-line positions he has advocated regarding Iran, Israel, and Iraq.

However, many are holding out hope that, as president, Obama would be more progressive than he is letting on and that he would take bolder initiatives to shift U.S. policy in the region further away from its current militaristic orientation than he may feel comfortable advocating as a candidate. Indeed, given how even the hawkish John Kerry was savaged by the right-wing over his positions on Middle East security issues during his bid for the presidency, the threat of such attacks could be enough to have given Senator Obama pause in making more direct challenges to the status quo during the campaign. In other words, he could be open to more rational and creative approaches to the Middle East once in office.

However, many are holding out hope that as president, Obama would be more progressive than he is letting on and that he would take bolder initiatives to shift U.S. policy in the region further away from its current militaristic orientation than he may feel comfortable advocating as a candidate. Indeed, given how even the hawkish John Kerry was savaged by the right-wing over his positions on Middle East security issues during his campaign for the presidency, the threat of such attacks could be enough to have given Senator Obama pause in making more direct challenges to the status quo as a candidate. But he could be open to more rational and creative approaches to the Middle East once in office.

The Illinois Senator’s intelligence and independent-mindedness, combined with what’s at stake, offers some hope that at least for pragmatic reasons–if not moral and legal ones–a future President Obama would have the sense to recognize that the more the United States has militarized the Middle East, the less secure we have become. He would perhaps also recognize that arms control and nonproliferation efforts are more likely to succeed if they are based on universal, law-based principles rather than unilateral demands and threats based upon specific countries’ relationship with the United States. And that exercising American “leadership” requires a greater awareness of the needs and perceptions of affected populations.

Most importantly, given that the strength of the anti-war movement brought Obama to his position as a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, just such a popular outpouring can also prevent him from further backsliding in the face of powerful interests that wish to see U.S. policy continue its dangerous course. Those who support peace and human rights in the Middle East and beyond must be willing to challenge him–as both a candidate and as a possible future president–for advocating immoral or illegal policies that compromise the security and human rights of people in the region and here in the United States.

http://www.alternet.org/story/73715/obama_and_the_middle_east%3A_will_he_bring_about_%22change%22/?page=entire

Hillary Clinton’s Militarism Exposed

While much attention has been given to Senator Hillary Clinton’s support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, her foreign policy record regarding other international conflicts and her apparent eagerness to accept the use of force appears to indicate that her fateful vote authorizing the invasion and her subsequent support for the occupation and counter-insurgency war was no aberration. Indeed, there’s every indication that, as president, her foreign policy agenda would closely parallel that of the Bush administration. Despite efforts by some conservative Republicans to portray her as being on the left wing of the Democratic Party, in reality her foreign policy positions bear a far closer resemblance to those of Ronald Reagan than they do of George McGovern.

For example, rather than challenge President George W. Bush’s dramatic increases in military spending, Senator Clinton argues that they are not enough and the United States needs to spend even more in subsequent years. At the end of the Cold War, many Democrats were claiming that the American public would be able to benefit from a “peace dividend” resulting from dramatically-reduced military spending following the demise of the Soviet Union. Clinton, however, has called for dramatic increases in the military budget, even though the United States, despite being surrounded by two oceans and weak friendly neighbors, already spends as much on its military as all the rest of the world combined.

Mama Warbucks

Her presidential campaign has received far more money from defense contractors than any other candidate — Democrat or Republican — and her close ties to the defense industry has led the Village Voice to refer to her as “Mama Warbucks.” She has even fought the Bush administration in restoring funding for some of the very few weapons systems the Bush administration has sought to cut in recent years. Pentagon officials and defense contractors have given Senator Clinton high marks for listening to their concerns, promoting their products and leveraging her ties to the Pentagon, comparing her favorably to the hawkish former Washington Senator “Scoop” Jackson and other pro-military Democrats of earlier eras.

Clinton has also demonstrated a marked preference for military confrontation over negotiation. In a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, she called for a “tough-minded, muscular foreign and defense policy.” Similarly, when her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination Senator Barack Obama expressed his willingness to meet with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro or other foreign leaders with whom the United States has differences, she denounced him for being “irresponsible and frankly naive.”

Senator Clinton appears to have a history of advocating the blunt instrument of military force to deal with complex international problems. For example, she was one of the chief advocates in her husband’s inner circle for the 11-week bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 to attempt to resolve the Kosovo crisis.

Though she had not indicated any support for the Kosovar Albanians’ nonviolent campaign against Serbian oppression which had been ongoing since she had first moved into the White House six years earlier, she was quite eager for the United States to go to war on behalf of the militant Kosovo Liberation Army which had just recently come to prominence. Gail Sheehy’s book Hillary’s Choice reveals how, when President Bill Clinton and others correctly expressed concerns that bombing Serbia would likely lead to a dramatic worsening of the human rights situation by provoking the Serbs into engaging in full-scale ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Hillary Clinton successfully pushed her husband to bomb that country anyway.

Military Intervention

She has also defended the 1998 U.S. bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan which had provided that impoverished African country with more than half of its antibiotics and vaccines, falsely claiming it was a chemical weapons factory controlled by Osama bin Laden.

Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, Clinton went well beyond the broad consensus that the United States should go after al-Qaeda cells and their leadership to declare that any country providing any “aid and comfort” to al-Qaeda “will now face the wrath of our country.” When Bush echoed these words the following week in his nationally-televised speech, she declared “I’ll stand behind Bush for a long time to come.”

She certainly did. Clinton voted to authorize the president with wide-ranging authority to attack Afghanistan and was a strong supporter of the bombing campaign against that country, which resulted in more civilian deaths than the 9/11 attacks against the United States that had prompted them.

Despite recent pleas by the democratically elected Afghan president Harmid Karzai that the ongoing U.S. bombing and the over-emphasis on aggressive counter-insurgency operations was harming efforts to deal with the resurgence of violence by the Taliban and other radical groups, Clinton argues that our “overriding immediate objective of our foreign policy” toward Afghanistan “must be to significantly step up our military engagement.”

Nuclear Weapons

Particularly disturbing has been Senator Clinton’s attitudes regarding nuclear issues. For example, when Senator Obama noted in August that the use of nuclear weapons — traditionally seen as a deterrent against other nuclear states — was not appropriate for use against terrorists, Clinton rebuked his logic by claiming that “I don’t believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or nonuse of nuclear weapons.”

Senator Clinton has also shown little regard for the danger from the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries, opposing the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions challenging the nuclear weapons programs of such U.S allies as Israel, Pakistan and India. Not only does she support unconditional military aid — including nuclear-capable missiles and jet fighters — to these countries, she even voted to end restrictions on U.S. nuclear cooperation with countries that violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

She has a very different attitude, however, regarding even the possibility of a country the United States does not support obtaining nuclear weapons some time in the future. For example, Senator Clinton insists that the prospect of Iran joining its three Southwest Asian neighbors in developing nuclear weapons “must be unacceptable to the entire world” since challenging the nuclear monopoly of the United States and its allies would somehow “shake the foundation of global security to its very core.” She refuses to support the proposed nuclear weapons-free zone for the Middle East, as called for in UN Security Council resolution 687, nor does she support a no-first use nuclear policy, both of which could help resolve the nuclear standoff. Indeed, she has refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against such non-nuclear countries as Iran, even though such unilateral use of nuclear weapons directly contradicts the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the same treaty she claims the United States must unilaterally and rigorously enforce when it involves Iran and other countries our government doesn’t like.

Senator Clinton also criticized the Bush administration’s decision to include China, Japan and South Korea in talks regarding North Korea’s nuclear program and to allow France, Britain and Germany to play a major role in negotiations with Iran, claiming that instead of taking “leadership to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists … we have outsourced over the last five years our policies.” In essence, as president, Hillary Clinton would be more unilateralist and less prone to work with other nations than the Bush administration on such critical issues as non-proliferation.

Latin America

In Latin America, Senator Clinton argues that the Bush administration should take a more aggressive stance against the rise of left-leaning governments in the hemisphere, arguing that Bush has neglected these recent developments “at our peril.” In response to recent efforts by democratically elected Latin American governments to challenge the structural obstacles which have left much of their populations in poverty, she has expressed alarm that “We have witnessed the rollback of democratic development and economic openness in parts of Latin America.”

Apparently wishing that the Bush administration could have somehow prevented the elections of leftist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere, she argues that “We must return to a policy of vigorous engagement.” Though she has not clarified what she means by “vigorous engagement,” regional examples in recent decades have included military interventions, CIA-sponsored coups, military and financial support for opposition groups, and rigged national elections.

She also supports Bush’s counter-productive and vindictive policy towards Cuba, insisting that she would not end the trade embargo — recently denounced in a 184-4 vote by the United Nations General Assembly — until there was a “democratic transition” in that country. She has even backed Bush’s strict limitations on family visitations by Cuban-Americans and other restrictions on Americans’ freedom to travel.

Israel and Palestine

Regarding Israel, Senator Clinton has taken a consistently right-wing position, undermining the efforts of Israeli and Palestinian moderates seeking a just peace that would recognize both the Palestinians’ legitimate national rights and the Israelis’ legitimate security concerns. For example, she has defended Israeli colonization of occupied Palestinian territory, has strongly supported Israel’s construction of an illegal separation barrier deep inside the occupied territory, and has denounced the International Court of Justice for its near-unanimous 2004 decision calling on Israel to abide by international humanitarian law.

Senator Clinton has consistently put the onus of responsibility on the occupied Palestinians rather than their Israeli occupiers.

She has been particularly outspoken in her condemnation of the Palestine Authority, even prior to Hamas gaining the majority in their parliament, for publishing textbooks which she claims promotes “anti-Semitism,” “violence,” and “dehumanizing rhetoric” and thereby breeds a “new generation of terrorists.” On several occasions she has blamed this alleged anti-Semitic indoctrination — and not the Israeli occupation — for Palestinian violence.

The only source she has cited to uphold these charges, however, has been the Center for the Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP), a right-wing Israeli-based group whose board includes Daniel Pipes and other prominent American neo-conservatives, which was founded in 1998 as part of an effort to undermine the peace process by attempting to portray the Palestinians as hopelessly hostile to Israel’s existence. It has been directly challenged by other studies from more objective sources.

Senator Clinton’s insistence on repeating the propaganda of long-discredited reports by a right-wing think tank instead of paying attention to well-regarded investigations by credible scholars and journalists may be a dangerous indication of how little difference there is between her and Bush in terms of what sources she would rely upon in formulating her policies.

Israel and Lebanon

Senator Clinton was also an outspoken supporter of Israel’s massive military assault on the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip last summer, which took the lives of at least 800 civilians. She claimed that the carnage was justified since it would “send a message to Hamas, Hezbollah, to the Syrians [and] to the Iranians,” because, in her words, they oppose the United States and Israel’s commitment to “life and freedom.” Despite detailed reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch noting that there was no evidence to suggest that Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians as human shields, Senator Clinton has repeatedly insisted that they did, in an apparent effort to discredit these human rights groups and absolve Israel of any responsibility for the enormous civilian casualties inflicted during the assault.

Senator Clinton’s statements were challenged by her opponent in last year’s Democratic primary for Senate in New York, union activist Jonathan Tasini, who pointed out that “Israel has committed acts that violate international standards and the Geneva Conventions.” Her spokesperson, however, dismissed Tasini’s concerns about Israeli violations of international humanitarian law as “beyond the pale.” Senator Clinton supporters also denounced him as “anti-Israel,” even though he is a former Israeli citizen who has lost close relatives in the Arab-Israeli wars and to Palestinian terrorism, whose father fought with Zionist forces in the Israeli war of independence, and has repeatedly referred to himself as a “friend of Israel.”

Clinton even continues to defend Israel’s decision to launch the devastating 2006 war on Lebanon even though an Israeli government report released earlier this year acknowledged it was a major setback to Israeli security.

Syria

Senator Clinton has also aimed her militaristic sights at Syria. In a typical example of her double-standards, she was a co-sponsor of the 2003 “Syrian Accountability Act,” which demanded — under threat of sanctions — that Syria unilaterally eliminate its chemical weapons and missile systems, despite the fact that nearby U.S. allies like Israel and Egypt had far larger and more advanced stockpiles of chemical weapons and missiles, not to mention Israel’s sizable arsenal of nuclear weapons. (See my article, The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony.)

Included in the bill’s “findings” were charges by top Bush Administration officials of Syrian support for international terrorism and development of dangerous WMD programs. Not only have most of these particular accusations not been independently confirmed, they were made by the same Bush Administration officials who had made similar claims against Iraq that have since been proven false. Yet Senator Clinton naively trusts their word over independent strategic analysts familiar with the region who have challenged many of these charges. Her bill also called for strict sanctions against Syria as well as Syria’s expulsion from its non-permanent seat Security Council for its failure at that time to withdraw its forces from Lebanon according to UN Security Council resolution 520.

This could hardly be considered a principled position, however, since she defended Israel’s 22-year long occupation of southern Lebanon that finally ended just three years earlier which was in defiance of this same resolution, as well as nine other UN Security Council resolutions. Nor had she ever called for the expulsion of Morocco, Turkey or Indonesia from the Security Council when they held non-permanent seats despite their violations of UN Security Council resolutions regarding their occupations of neighboring countries.

Despite the fact that Syria is far weaker than it was 20 years ago when it was being generously armed by the Soviet Union, Senator Clinton insists that it is now “among the most difficult and dangerous [countries] in the world” and that it somehow poses “direct threats to . . . neighbors . . . and far beyond the region.” She also offered her “strong support” for Israel’s unprovoked air strikes in northern Syria in September. She has echoed the administration’s charges that Syria is a major supporter of Hamas, even though the bulk of the Islamist Palestinian group’s foreign support has come from Saudi Arabia and Iran, not the secular regime in Damascus. And, despite Syria’s longstanding opposition to Sunni extremists and Iraqi Baathists — the major components of the insurgency fighting U.S. forces in Iraq — she has also accused Syria of backing anti-American forces in that country.

Iran

In response to the Bush administration’s ongoing obsession with Iran, Senator Clinton’s view is that the Bush has not been obsessive enough. In a speech at Princeton University last year, she argued that the White House “lost critical time in dealing with Iran,” and accused the administration of choosing to “downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations” as well as “standing on the sidelines.”

She has insisted that “we cannot take any option off the table in sending a clear message to the current leadership of Iran — that they will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons.” Though going to war is still very high on her list of options, apparently supporting a nuclear weapons-free zone for the entire Middle East, normalizing economic and strategic relations in return for eliminating Iran’s nuclear weapons capability, and other possible negotiated options are not.

In defending her vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq in 2003, she has claimed that Bush “deceived all of us” in exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. Yet, when it comes to the similarly exaggerated Iranian threat, she has again repeated the Bush administration’s talking points almost verbatim. Indeed, as recently as last month she was insisting that “Iran is seeking nuclear weapons,” even though the consensus of the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies was that Iran ended its nuclear weapons program back in 2003.

Senator Clinton was the only Democratic member of Congress seeking the presidential nomination to support the Kyl-Lieberman amendment which, among other things, called on the Bush administration to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps — the largest branch of the Iranian military — as a foreign terrorist organization. To designate a branch of the armed forces of a foreign state as a terrorist organization would be unprecedented and was widely interpreted to be a backhanded way of authorizing military action against Iran. Indeed, Virginia Senator Jim Webb referred to it as “Cheney’s fondest pipe dream.”

She initially justified her vote in part because of the Revolutionary Guard’s alleged involvement in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, a position she has had trouble defending since it was revealed such a program has not existed for at least four years.

In language remarkably similar to her discredited rationalization for her 2002 vote to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq, she claimed that it was not actually a vote for war, but simply to give Bush a means “to apply greater diplomatic pressure on Iran.” (Fortunately, Senator Clinton’s position was too extreme even for the Bush administration, which designated only the al-Quds Force — a sub-unit of the Revolutionary Guards which doesn’t always operate with the full knowledge and consent of the central government — as a terrorist organization.)

She has also decried Iran’s “involvement in and influence over Iraq,” an ironic complaint for someone who voted to authorize the overthrow of the anti-Iranian secular government of Saddam Hussein despite his widely predicted replacement by pro-Iranian Shiite fundamentalist parties. She has also gone on record repeating a whole series of false, exaggerated and unproven charges by Bush administration officials regarding Iranian support for the Iraqi insurgency, even though the vast majority of foreign support for the insurgency has come from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries and that the majority of the insurgents are fanatically anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite.

Though Iran’s threat to the national security of the United States is grossly exaggerated, they are a far more powerful country today in terms of their military prowess than was Iraq in 2002, when Senator Clinton supported invading that country because of its alleged danger to U.S. national security. It would be naïve, therefore, to ignore the very real possibility that, if elected president, she would find reason to invade Iran as well.

A Liberal?

Given Senator Clinton’s militaristic foreign policy, why are so many of her supporters apparently in denial of this unfortunate reality?

Part of the problem is that most of the public criticism of the former first lady has been based on false and exaggerated charges from the far right, often infused with a fair dose of sexism. As a result, many liberals become defensive and reluctant to criticize her. Many also ironically start believing some of the lies of the far right when they claim she is some kind of left-winger. There is also an understandable nostalgia for the eight years of relative peace and prosperity under her husband’s administration after the horrors of nearly seven years under President George W. Bush, which have made it easy to forget the lesser but very real failings of President Bill Clinton.

There is also the fact that after 43 male presidents, the prospect of finally having a woman as chief executive is understandably appealing. Yet, what’s the advantage of a female president if her foreign policies are still centered on patriarchal notions of militarism and conquest? What would it mean to the women of Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Lebanon and other countries who would suffer as a result of her policies? Did the position of British women improve as a result of the militaristic policies of their first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher?

These are the kinds of questions, along with a critical examination of her overall foreign policy record, that need to be considered by Democrats before making Hillary Clinton their nominee for president.

http://www.alternet.org/story/70860/hillary_clinton%27s_militarism_exposed/?page=entire

Hillary Clinton Can’t be Trusted on Iraq

Public opinion polls have consistently shown that the majority of Americans — and even a larger majority of Democrats — believe that Iraq is the most important issue of the day, that it was wrong for the United States to have invaded that country, and the United States should completely withdraw its forces in short order. Despite this, the clear front-runner for the Democratic Party nomination for president is Senator Hillary Clinton, a strident backer of the invasion who only recently and opportunistically began to criticize the war and call for a partial withdrawal of American forces.

As a result, it is important to review Senator Clinton’s past and current positions regarding the Iraq War. Indeed, despite her efforts in response to public opinion polls to come across as an opponent of the war, Hillary Clinton has proven to be one of the most hard-line Democratic senators in support of a military response to the challenges posed by Iraq. She has also been less than honest in justifying her militaristic policies, raising concerns that she might support military interventions elsewhere.

Pre-War Militarism

Senator Clinton’s militaristic stance on Iraq predated her support for Bush’s 2003 invasion. For example, in defending the brutal four-day U.S. bombing campaign against Iraq in December 1998 — known as Operation Desert Fox — she claimed that “[T]he so-called presidential palaces … in reality were huge compounds well suited to hold weapons labs, stocks, and records which Saddam Hussein was required by UN resolution to turn over. When Saddam blocked the inspection process, the inspectors left.” In reality, as became apparent when UN inspectors returned in 2002 as well as in the aftermath of the invasion and occupation, there were no weapons labs, stocks of weapons or missing records in these presidential palaces. In addition, Saddam was still allowing for virtually all inspections to go forward at the time of the 1998 U.S. attacks. The inspectors were withdrawn for their own safety at the encouragement of President Clinton in anticipation of the imminent U.S.-led assault.

Senator Clinton also took credit for strengthening U.S. ties with Ahmad Chalabi, the convicted embezzler who played a major role in convincing key segments of the administration, Congress, the CIA, and the American public that Iraq still had proscribed weapons, weapons systems, and weapons labs. She has expressed pride that her husband’s administration changed underlying U.S. policy toward Iraq from “containment” — which had been quite successful in defending Iraq’s neighbors and protecting its Kurdish minority — to “regime change,” which has resulted in tragic warfare, chaos, dislocation, and instability.

Prior to the 2003 invasion, Clinton insisted that Iraq still had a nuclear program, despite a detailed 1998 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), subsequent studies that indicated that Iraq’s nuclear program appeared to have been completely dismantled a full decade earlier, and a 2002 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that made no mention of any reconstituted nuclear development effort. Similarly, even though Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs had been dismantled years earlier, she also insisted that Iraq had rebuilt its biological and chemical weapons stockpiles. And, even though the limited shelf life of such chemical and biological agents and the strict embargo against imports of any additional banned materials that had been in place since 1990 made it physically impossible for Iraq to have reconstituted such weapons, she insisted that “It is clear … that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.”

In the fall of 2002, Senator Clinton sought to discredit those questioning Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and others who were making hyperbolic statements about Iraq’s supposed military prowess by insisting that Iraq’s possession of such weapons “are not in doubt” and was “undisputed.” Similarly, Clinton insisted that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 2005 speech at the UN was “compelling” although UN officials and arms control experts roundly denounced its false claims that Iraq had reconstituted these proscribed weapons, weapons programs, and delivery systems. In addition, although top strategic analysts correctly informed her that there were no links between Saddam Hussein’s secular nationalist regime and the radical Islamist al-Qaeda, Senator Clinton insisted that Saddam “has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.”

The Lead-Up to War

Though the 2003 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq was inaccurate in a number of respects, it did challenge the notion of any operational ties between the Iraqi government and Al-Qaeda and questioned some of the more categorical claims by President Bush about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD). However, Senator Clinton didn’t even bother to read it. She now claims that it wasn’t necessary for her to have actually read the 92-page document herself because she was briefed on the contents of the report. However, since no one on her staff was authorized to read the report, it’s unclear who could have actually briefed her.

During the floor debate over the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq, Clinton was the only Democratic senator to have categorically accepted the Bush administration’s claims regarding Iraq’s alleged chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, Iraq’s alleged long-range missile capabilities, and alleged ties to al-Qaeda. (Some Democratic senators accepted some of those claims, but not all of them.)

In the months leading up the war, Senator Clinton chose to ignore the pleas of the hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating in her state and across the country against the war and similarly brushed off calls by religious leaders, scholars, community activists, and others to oppose it. Perhaps most significant was her refusal to consider the anti-war appeals by leaders of the Catholic Church and virtually every mainline Protestant denomination, which noted that it did not meet the traditional criteria in the Christian tradition for a just war. Instead, Senator Clinton embraced the arguments of the right-wing fundamentalist leadership who supported the war. This categorical rejection of the perspective of the mainstream Christian community raises concerns about her theological perspectives on issues of war and peace.

In March 2003, well after UN weapons inspectors had been allowed to return and engage in unfettered inspections and were not finding any WMDs, Senator Clinton made clear that the United States should invade that Iraq anyway. Indeed, she asserted that the only way to avoid war would be for Saddam Hussein to abide by President Bush’s ultimatum to resign as president and leave the country, in the apparent belief that the United States had the right to unilaterally make such demands of foreign leaders and to invade and occupy their countries if they refused. Said Senator Clinton, “The president gave Saddam Hussein one last chance to avoid war and the world hopes that Saddam Hussein will finally hear this ultimatum, understand the severity of those words, and act accordingly.”

When President Bush launched the invasion soon thereafter and spontaneous protests broke out across the country, Senator Clinton voted in favor of a Republican-sponsored resolution that “commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President . . . in the conflict against Iraq.”

Aftermath of invasion

Even after the U.S. forces invaded and occupied Iraq and confirmed that — contrary to Senator Clinton’s initial justification for the war — Iraq did not have WMDs, WMD programs, offensive delivery systems, or ties to al-Qaeda, she defended her vote to authorize the invasion anyway. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that December, she declared, “I was one who supported giving President Bush the authority, if necessary, to use force against Saddam Hussein. I believe that that was the right vote” and was one that “I stand by.”

In the face of growing doubts about American forces involved in a deepening counter-insurgency war, she urged “patience” and expressed her concern about the lack of will “to stay the course” among some Americans. “Failure is not an option” in Iraq, she insisted. “We have no option but to stay involved and committed.” Indeed, long before President Bush announced his “surge,” Senator Clinton called for the United States to send more troops.

During a trip to Iraq in February 2005, she insisted that the U.S. occupation was “functioning quite well,” although the security situation had deteriorated so badly that the four-lane divided highway on flat open terrain connecting the airport with the capital could not be secured at the time of her arrival and a helicopter had to transport her to the Green Zone. Though 55 Iraqis and one American soldier were killed during her brief visit, she insisted — in a manner remarkably similar to Vice President Cheney — that the rise in suicide bombings was evidence that the insurgency was failing.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” that same month, she argued that it “would be a mistake” to immediately withdraw U.S. troops or even simply set a timetable for withdrawal, claiming that “We don’t want to send a signal to insurgents, to the terrorists, that we are going to be out of here at some, you know, date certain.” Less than two years ago, she declared, “I reject a rigid timetable that the terrorists can exploit.” And, just last year, on an appearance on ABC’s Nightline, she described how “I’ve taken a lot of heat from my friends who have said, ‘Please, just, you know, throw in the towel and say let’s get out by a date certain. I don’t think that’s responsible.” When Representative John Murtha made his first call for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in November 2005, she denounced his effort, calling a withdrawal of U.S. forces “a big mistake.”

As recently as last year, when Senator John Kerry sponsored an amendment that would have required the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq in order to advance a political solution to the growing sectarian strife, she voted against it.

Rewriting History

Senator Clinton has never apologized for her vote to authorize the invasion. She insists that her eagerness for the United States to invade Iraq had nothing to do with its vast petroleum reserves. Like President Bush, she claims that she did not lie about her false accusations about Iraq’s weapons programs. She says she was misled by faulty intelligence, though she has refused to make public this intelligence that she claims demonstrated that Iraq had somehow reconstituted its WMD.

Senator Clinton has also claimed that Bush — at the time of the resolution authorizing the invasion — had misled her regarding his intention to pursue diplomacy instead of rushing into war. But there was nothing in the war resolution that required him to pursue any negotiations. She has tried to emphasize that she voted in favor of an unsuccessful amendment by Senator Byrd “which would have limited the original authorization to one year.” However, this resolution actually meant very little, since it gave President Bush the authority to extend the war authorization “for a period or periods of 12 months each” if he determined that it was “necessary for ongoing or impending military operations against Iraq.”

Despite the fact that Iraq had several weeks prior to the October 2002 vote already agreed unconditionally to allow UN inspectors to return, she categorically insisted that her vote “was a necessary step in order to maximize the outcome that did occur in the Security Council with the unanimous vote to send in inspectors.”

She has also subsequently claimed that her vote “was clearly intended to demonstrate support for going to the United Nations to put inspectors into Iraq” and was “not a vote for pre-emptive war.” The record shows, however, that Senator Clinton voted against an amendment by Senator Carl Levin that would have allowed for U.S. military action to disarm Iraq of any weapons of mass destruction and weapons systems pursuant to any future UN Security Council resolution authorizing such military actions, which would presumably have taken place had Iraq not allowed the inspectors back in as promised. In other words, she not only was willing to ignore U.S. obligations under the UN Charter that forbids such unilateral military actions by its member states, she tacitly acknowledged that she was unconcerned about supporting UN efforts to bring inspectors back into the country. Indeed, in her floor speech, she warned that this vote “says clearly to Saddam Hussein – this is your last chance – disarm or be disarmed” and the resolution that she did support clearly authorizes President Bush to invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his own choosing, regardless of whether inspectors were allowed to return to Iraq and regardless of whether the Bush administration received UN support.

Senator Clinton has never criticized the Bush administration for its flagrant violation of the UN Charter or its responsibility for the deaths of the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. She has limited her criticism to the way the administration handled the invasion, implying that, as president, she would do invasions better. Indeed, she insisted that while not regretting her vote to authorize the invasion, she did regret “the way the president used the authority.”

Senator Clinton has criticized the administration for not acting to gain more international support for the invasion, ignoring the fact that they actually had tried very hard to do so but failed. The Bush administration was unable to get authorization for the use of force from the UN or, with the exception of Great Britain, to get any substantial troop support from other countries not because they didn’t try, but because the vast majority of the international community recognized that an invasion of Iraq was illegal and unnecessary.

Current Policy

A careful look at her current policy toward Iraq reveals that Senator Clinton is not as anti-war as her supporters depict her.

She would withdraw some troops, just as President Bush has been promising to do eventually, but insists that the United States should maintain its “military as well as political mission” in Iraq for the indefinite future for such purposes as countering Iranian influence, protecting the Kurdish minority, preventing a failed state, and supporting the Iraqi military. On ABC’s “This Week” in September, she insisted that “withdrawing is dangerous. It has to be done responsibly, prudently, carefully, but we have said that there will be a likely continuing mission against al-Qaeda in Iraq. We have to protect our civilian employees, our embassy that will be there.”

If Senator Clinton were really concerned about the threat that al-Qaeda currently poses in Iraq, however, she would never have voted to authorize the invasion, which led to the predictable rise of al-Qaeda and other militant groups in that country. Similarly, there would not be the huge embassy complex nor would there be tens of thousands of civilian employees she insists that U.S. troops are necessary to defend if the United States had not invaded Iraq in the first place. In addition, only because the United States overthrew the stridently secular anti-Iranian regime of Saddam Hussein has Iran gained such influence. And since the risks of a collapse of Iraq’s internal security was one of the main arguments presented to her prior to her vote, Clinton should not have voted to authorize the invasion if a failed state was really a concern for hers.

Since most estimates of the numbers of troops needed to carry out these tasks range between 40,000 and 75,000, the best that can be hoped for under a Hillary Clinton presidency is that she would withdraw only about one-half to two-thirds of American combat forces within a year or so of her assuming office. Indeed, she has explicitly refused to promise, if elected president, to withdraw troops by the end of her term in 2013. As Senator Clinton describes, it, “What we can do is to almost take a line sort of north of, between Baghdad and Kirkuk, and basically put our troops into that region — the ones that are going to remain for our anti-terrorism mission; for our northern support mission; for our ability to respond to the Iranians; and to continue to provide support, if called for, for the Iraqis.” This hardly constitutes a withdrawal.

Senator Clinton tries to downplay the risk of keeping U.S. forces bogged down indefinitely by emphasizing that she would put greater emphasis on training the Iraqi armed forces. But much of the Iraqi armed forces are more loyal to their respective sectarian militias than they are to protecting Iraq as a whole. Nor has she expressed much concern that the Iraqi armed forces and police have engaged in gross and systematic human rights abuses. As with her backing of unconditional military assistance and security training to scores of other allied governments that engage in a pattern of gross and systematic human rights violations, she appears unconcerned not only with the immorality of such a policy but the long-term strategic risks from the blowback that would result from the United States becoming identified with repressive regimes.

Little Difference from Bush

As her record indicates, Senator Clinton’s position on Iraq differs very little from that of President Bush. For her to receive the nomination for president would in effect be an endorsement by the Democratic Party of the Iraq war.

In 2004, the Democrats selected a nominee who also voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq, falsely claimed that Iraq still had WMDs, and — at that time — insisted on maintaining U.S. troops in that country. As a result, Senator John Kerry failed to mobilize the party’s anti-war base and went down to defeat. What timid concerns Kerry did raise about President Bush’s handling of the Iraq war during the campaign were used by the Bush campaign to focus attention away from the war itself and highlight the Democratic nominee’s changing positions. Had the Democrats instead nominated someone who had opposed the war from the beginning, the debate that fall would have been not about Senator Kerry’s supposed “flip-flopping” but the tragic decision to illegally invade a country on the far side of the world that was no threat to us and the squandering of American lives and tax dollars that have resulted.

If the Democrats select another war supporter as their nominee in 2008, the result may well be the same as 2004. Large numbers of people will refuse to vote for the Democratic nominee as part of a principled stance against voting for someone who authorized and subsequently supported the Iraq war. And Republicans will highlight the Democratic nominee’s shifting positions on Iraq as evidence that their opponent is simply an opportunistic politician rather than the kind of decisive leader the country needs.

http://www.alternet.org/story/70416/hillary_clinton_can%27t_be_trusted_on_iraq/?page=entire

Iraq: Five Years Later, We Can’t Forgive or Forget

Last week marked the fifth anniversary of the congressional vote granting President George W. Bush unprecedented war-making authority to invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his own choosing. Had a majority of either the Republican-controlled House or the Democratic-controlled Senate voted against the resolution or had they passed an alternative resolution conditioning such authority on an authorization from the United Nations Security Council, all the tragic events that have unfolded as a consequence of the March 2003 invasion would have never occurred.

The responsibility for the deaths of nearly 4,000 American soldiers, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, the waste of over a half trillion dollars of our national treasury, and the rise of terrorism and Islamist extremism that has come as a result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq rests as much in the hands of the members in Congress who authorized the invasion as it does with the administration that requested the lawmakers’ approval.

Those who express surprise at the refusal of today’s Democratic majority in Congress to stop funding the war should remember this: the October 2002 resolution authorizing the invasion had the support of the majority of Democratic senators as well as the support of the Democratic Party leadership in both the House and the Senate.

Seven Senators

Seven of the 77 senators who voted to authorize the invasion — Fred Thompson (R-TN), John McCain (R-AZ), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and John Edwards (D-NC) are now running for president. While the Republicans candidates remain unapologetic, the Democratic candidates have sought to distance themselves from their vote, arguing that what is important in choosing a president is not how they voted in the past, but what she or he would do now.

Such efforts to avoid responsibility should be rejected out of hand. While I personally support a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as logistically feasible, there is considerable debate among knowledgeable, ethical, and intelligent people — including those who also opposed the invasion — as to what to do now. No reasonable person, however, could have supported the resolution authorizing the invasion five years ago.

On this and other web sites — as well as in many scores of policy reports, newspaper articles, academic journals and other sources — the tragic consequences of a U.S. invasion of Iraq and a refutation of falsehoods being put forward by the Bush administration to justify it were made available to every member of the House and Senate (see, for example, The Case Against a War with Iraq). The 2003 vote authorizing the invasion was not like the vote on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution on the use of force against North Vietnam, for which Congress had no time for hearings or debate and for which most of those supporting it (mistakenly) thought they were simply authorizing limited short-term retaliatory strikes in response to a specific series of alleged incidents. By contrast, in regard to the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Congress had many months to investigate and debate the administration’s claims that Iraq was a threat as well as the likely implications of a U.S. invasion; members of Congress also fully recognized that the resolution authorized a full-scale invasion of a sovereign nation and a subsequent military occupation of an indefinite period.

Violating International Legal Conventions

Those who voted in favor of the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq did so despite the fact that it violated international legal conventions to which the U.S. government is legally bound to uphold. The resolution constituted a clear violation of the United Nations Charter that, like other ratified international treaties, should be treated as supreme law according to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. According to articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter, no member state has the right to enforce any resolution militarily unless the UN Security Council determines that there has been a material breach of its resolution, decides that all nonmilitary means of enforcement have been exhausted, and then specifically authorizes the use of military force.

This is what the Security Council did in November 1990 with Resolution 678 in response to Iraq’s ongoing violations of UN Security Council resolutions demanding its withdrawal from Kuwait, but the Security Council did not do so for any subsequent lesser Iraqi violations. The only other exception for the use of force authorized by the charter is in self-defense against armed attack, which even the Bush administration admitted had not taken place.

This effective renunciation of the UN Charter’s prohibition against such wars of aggression constituted an effective repudiation of the post-WWII international legal order. Alternative resolutions, such as one authorizing force against Iraq if authorized by the UN Security Council, were voted down by a bipartisan majority.

Some of those who voted for the war resolution and their supporters have since tried to rewrite history by claiming the resolution had a stronger legal basis. For example, in a recent interview with The Progressive magazine, Elizabeth Edwards claimed that the resolution supported by her husband, then-Senator John Edwards, involved “forcing Bush to go to the U.N. first.” In reality, not only was no such provision included in the resolution that passed, Edwards voted against the resolution amendment that would have required such a precondition, arguing that “our national security requires” that “we must not tie our own hands by requiring Security Council action.”

Concerned Scholars

Members of Congress were also alerted by large numbers of scholars of the Middle East, Middle Eastern political leaders, former State Department and intelligence officials and others who recognized that a U.S. invasion would likely result in a bloody insurgency, a rise in Islamist extremism and terrorism, increased sectarian and ethnic conflict, and related problems. Few people I know who are familiar with Iraq have been at all surprised that the U.S. invasion has become such a tragedy. Indeed, most of us were in communication with congressional offices and often with individual members of Congress themselves in the months leading up to the vote warning of the likely consequences of an invasion and occupation. Therefore, claims by Senator Clinton and other leading Democratic supporters of the war that they were unaware of the likely consequences of the invasion are completely false.

The resolution also contained accusations that were known or widely assumed to be false at that time, such as claims of Iraqi support for al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States. A definitive report by the Department of Defense noted that not only did no such link exist, but that no such link could have even been reasonably suggested based on the evidence available at that time.

The resolution also falsely claimed that Iraq was “actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability.” In reality, Iraq had long eliminated its nuclear program, a fact that was confirmed in a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1998, four years prior to the resolution.

The resolution also falsely claimed that Iraq at that time continued “to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability.” In reality, as the U.S. government now admits, Iraq had rid itself of its chemical and biological weapons nearly a decade earlier and no longer had any active chemical and biological weapons programs. This likelihood that Iraq no longer had operational chemical or biological weapons was brought to the attention of members of Congress by a number of top arms control specialists, as well as Scott Ritter, the American who headed UNSCOM’s efforts to locate Iraq’s possible hidden caches of chemical and biological weapons, hidden supplies or secret production facilities.

No Evidence

Virtually all of Iraq’s known stockpiles of chemical and biological agents had been accounted for and the shelf life of the small amount of materiel that had not been accounted for — which, as it ends up, had also been destroyed — had long since expired and was therefore no longer of weapons grade. There was no evidence that Iraq have any delivery systems for such weapons, either. In addition, the strict embargo, in effect since 1990, against imports of any additional materials needed for the manufacture of WMDs, combined with Iraq’s inability to manufacture such weapons or delivery systems themselves without detection, made any claims that Iraq constituted any “significant chemical and biological weapons capability” transparently false to anyone who cared to investigate the matter at that time. Indeed, even the classified full version of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, while grossly overestimating Iraq’s military capability, was filled with extensive disagreements, doubts, and caveats regarding President Bush’s assertions regarding Iraq’s WMDs, WMD programs, and delivery systems.

The House and Senate members who now claim they were “misled” about Iraq’s alleged military threat fail to explain why they found the administration’s claims so much more convincing than the many other reports made available to them from more objective sources that presumably made a much stronger case that Iraq no longer had offensive WMD capability. Curiously, except for one excerpt from a 2002 National Security Estimate released in July 2003 — widely ridiculed at the time for its transparently manipulated content — not a single member of Congress has agreed to allow me any access to any documents they claim convinced them of the alleged Iraqi threat. In effect, they are using the infamous Nixon defense from the Watergate scandal that claims that, while they have evidence to vindicate themselves, making it public would somehow damage national security. In reality, if such reports actually exist, they are clearly inaccurate and outdated and would therefore be of no threat to national security if made public.

Democrats’ Responsibility

The Democrats who voted to support the war and rationalized for it by making false claims about Iraq’s WMD programs are responsible for allowing the Bush administration to get away with lying about Iraq’s alleged threat. For example, Bush has noted how “more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate — who had access to the same intelligence — voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.” In a speech attacking anti-war activists, Bush noted how “Many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: ‘When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security.'”

Indeed, the fact that 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry voted in favor of the resolution likely cost the Democrats the White House and, should Senator Clinton — who claimed, in justification of her vote to authorize the invasion, that Iraq’s possession of such weapons was “not in doubt” and was “undisputed” — get the nomination, it could also threaten the Democrats’ hopes for victory in 2008. Similarly, should Senator Dodd, Senator Biden, or former Senator Edwards — who also made false claims about Iraqi WMDs — get the nomination, it could have a similarly deleterious impact to the Democrats’ chances.

It’s also important to recognize that not everyone in Congress voted to authorize the invasion. There were the 21 Senate Democrats — along with one Republican and one Independent — who voted against the war resolution. And 126 of 207 House Democrats — including presidential contender Dennis Kucinich — voted against the resolution as well. In total, then, a majority of Democrats in Congress defied their leadership by saying no to war. This means that the Democrats who did support the war, despite being over-represented in leadership positions and among presidential contenders, were part of a right-wing minority and did not represent the mainstream of their party.

The resolution also claimed that “the risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States . . . or provide them to international terrorists who would do so… combine to justify action by the United States to defend itself.” In other words, those members of the House and Senate who supported this resolution believed, or claimed to believe, that an impoverished country, which had eliminated its stockpiles of banned weapons, destroyed its medium and long-range missiles, and eliminated its WMD programs more than a decade earlier, and had been suffering under the strictest international sanctions in world history for more than a dozen years, somehow threatened the national security of a superpower located more than 6,000 miles away. Furthermore, these members of Congress believed, or claimed to believe, that this supposed threat was so great that the United States had no choice but to launch an invasion of that country, overthrow its government, and place its people under military occupation in the name of “self-defense,” regardless of whether Iraq allowed inspectors back into the county to engage in unfettered inspections to prove that the WMDs, WMD programs and weapons systems no longer existed.

International Opposition

The U.S. invasion of Iraq was opposed by virtually the entire international community, including Iraq’s closest neighbors, who presumably had the most to be concerned about in terms of any possible Iraqi military threat. However, the members of Congress who voted to authorize the invasion were determined to make the case that the United States — with the strongest military the world has ever known and thousands of miles beyond the range of Iraq’s alleged weapons and delivery systems — was so threatened by Iraq that the United States had to launch an invasion, overthrow its government and occupy that country for an indefinite period.

This shows a frighteningly low threshold for effectively declaring war, especially given that in most cases these members of Congress had been informed by knowledgeable sources of the widespread human and material costs which would result from a U.S. invasion. It also indicates that they would likely be just as willing to send American forces off to another disastrous war again, also under false pretenses. Indeed, those who voted for the war demonstrated their belief that:

the United States need not abide by its international legal obligations, including those prohibiting wars of aggression;
* claims by right-wing U.S. government officials and unreliable foreign exiles regarding a foreign government’s military capabilities are more trustworthy than independent arms control analysts and United Nations inspectors;
* concerns expressed by scholars and others knowledgeable of the likely reaction by the subjected population to a foreign conquest and the likely complications that would result should be ignored; and, faith should instead be placed on the occupation policies forcibly imposed on the population by a corrupt right-wing Republican administration.

As a result, support for the 2002 Iraq War resolution is not something that can simply be forgiven and forgotten.

Was Hezbollah a Legitimate Target?

The Bush administration and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress have gone on record defending Israel’s assault on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure as a means of attacking Hezbollah “terrorists.” Unlike the major Palestinian Islamist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah forces haven’t killed any Israeli civilians for more than a decade. Indeed, a 2002 Congressional Research Service report noted, in its analysis of Hezbollah, that “no major terrorist attacks have been attributed to it since 1994.” The most recent State Department report on international terrorism also fails to note any acts of terrorism by Hezbollah since that time except for unsubstantiated claims that a Hezbollah member was a participant in a June 1996 attack on the U.S. Air Force dormitory at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.

While Hezbollah’s ongoing rocket attacks on civilian targets in Israel are indeed illegitimate and can certainly be considered acts of terrorism, it is important to note that such attacks were launched only after the U.S.-backed Israeli assault on civilian targets in Israel began July 12. Similarly, Hezbollah has pledged to cease such attacks once Israel stops its attacks against Lebanon and withdraws its troops from Lebanese territory occupied since the onset of the latest round of hostilities. (The Hezbollah attack on the Israeli border post that prompted the Israeli assaults, while clearly illegitimate and provocative, can not legally be considered a terrorist attack since the targets were military rather than civilian.)

Indeed, the evolution of this Lebanese Shiite movement from a terrorist group to a legal political party had been one of the more interesting and hopeful developments in the Middle East in recent years.

Like many radical Islamist parties elsewhere, Hezbollah (meaning “Party of God”) combines populist rhetoric, important social service networks for the needy, and a decidedly reactionary and chauvinistic interpretation of Islam in its approach to contemporary social and political issues. In Lebanese parliamentary elections earlier last year, Hezbollah ended up with fourteen seats outright in the 128-member national assembly, and a slate shared with the more moderate Shiite party Amal gained an additional twenty-three seats. Hezbollah controls one ministry in the 24-member cabinet. While failing to disarm as required under UN Security Council resolution 1559, Hezbollah was negotiating with the Lebanese government and other interested Lebanese parties, leading to hopes that the party’s military wing would be disbanded within a few months. Prior to calling up reserves following the Israeli assault, Hezbollah could probably count on no more than a thousand active-duty militiamen.

In other words, whatever one might think of Hezbollah’s reactionary ideology and its sordid history, the group did not constitute such a serious threat to Israel’s security as to legitimate a pre-emptive war.

Having ousted Syrian forces from Lebanon in an impressive nonviolent uprising last year, the Lebanese had re-established what may perhaps be the most democratic state in the Arab world. Because they allowed the anti-Israel and anti-American Hezbollah to participate in the elections, however, the Israeli government and the Bush administration ”with strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill” apparently decided that Lebanon as a whole must be punished in the name of “the war on terror.”

Inverse Reaction to Threat

Just as Washington’s concerns about the threat from Iraq grew in inverse correlation to its military capability ”culminating in the 2003 invasion long after that country had disarmed and dismantled its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons program” the U.S. focus on Hezbollah has grown as that party had largely put its terrorist past behind it. In recent years, the administration and Congress ”in apparent anticipation of the long-planned Israeli assault ”began to become more and more obsessed with Hezbollah. For example, not a single Congressional resolution mentioned Hezbollah during the 1980s when they were kidnapping and murdering American citizens and engaging in other terrorist activities. In fact, no Congressional resolution mentioned Hezbollah by name until 1998, years after the group’s last act of terrorism noted by the State Department. During the last session of Congress, there were more than two dozen resolutions condemning Hezbollah.

In March of last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution by an overwhelming 380-3 margin condemning “the continuous terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hezbollah.” Despite contacting scores of Congressional offices asking them to cite any examples of terrorist attacks by Hezbollah at any time during the past decade, no one on Capitol Hill with whom I have communicated has been able to cite any.

Adding to the hyperbole is the assertion that Hezbollah threatens not just Israel but the United States, despite never having attacked or threatened to attack U.S. interests outside of Lebanon. Cited as evidence in the nearly unanimous March 2005 House resolution is testimony from former CIA director George Tenet (who also insisted that the case for Iraq having offensive weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk,” in which he made the bizarre accusations that Hezbollah is “an organization with the capability and worldwide presence [equal to] al-Qaida, equal if not far more [of a] capable organization” and “[t]hey’re a notch above in many respects” which puts them in a state sponsored category with a potential for lethality that’s quite great.”

In reality, other than a number of assassinations of political opponents in Europe during the 1980s and 1990s, it is highly debatable whether Hezbollah has ever launched a terrorist attack outside of Lebanon. The United States alleges as one of its stronger cases that Hezbollah was involved in two major bombings of Jewish targets in Argentina: the Israeli embassy in 1993 and a Jewish community center in 1994, both resulting in scores of fatalities. Despite longstanding investigations by Argentine officials, including testimony by hundreds of eyewitnesses and two lengthy trials, no convincing evidence emerged that implicated Hezbollah. The more likely suspects are extreme right-wing elements of the Argentine military, which has a notorious history of anti-Semitism.

Not every country has failed to recognize Hezbollah’s evolution from its notorious earlier years. The European Union, for example, does not include Hezbollah among its list of terrorist groups. As a result, in yet another effort to push the U.S. foreign policy agenda on other nations, last year’s House resolution also “urges the European Union to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.” This may be the first and only time the U.S. Congress has sought to directly challenge EU policy on a non-trade issue.

The Europeans have had far more experience with terrorism, are much closer geographically to the Middle East, and historically have had stronger commercial, political, and other ties to Lebanon than the United States and are therefore at least as capable as the U.S. Congress of assessing the orientation of Hezbollah. Furthermore, the European Union has had no problem labeling al-Qaida, Islamic Jihad, or Hamas as terrorist organizations, which suggests that it would have extended the same designation to Hezbollah if the facts warranted it. Both Republican and Democratic House members, however, most of whom have little knowledge of the complexities of contemporary Lebanese politics and apparently fearing European criticism of a U.S.-backed Israeli attack on Lebanon, arrogantly insisted they knew better and that they had the right to tell the European Union what to do.

The Rise of Hezbollah

Hezbollah did not exist until four years after Israel first invaded and occupied southern Lebanon in 1978. The movement grew dramatically following Israel’s more extensive U.S.-backed invasion and occupation of the central part of the country in 1982 and the subsequent intervention by U.S. Marines to prop up a weak Israeli-installed government. In forcing the departure of the armed forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization and destroying the broad, left-leaning, secular Lebanese National Movement, the U.S. and Israeli interventions created a vacuum in which sectarian groups like Hezbollah could grow.

During the early 1990s, following the end of the Lebanese civil war, a revived central Lebanese government and its Syrian backers disarmed most of the other militias that had once carved up much of the country. By contrast, as the Israeli attacks continued, Hezbollah not only remained intact, it grew. Years of heavy Israeli bombardment led hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Shiites to flee north, filling vast slums in the southern outskirts of Beirut. From these refugees and others who suffered as a result of these U.S.-supported Israeli assaults Hezbollah received the core of its support. The Hezbollah militia became heroes to many Lebanese, particularly as the U.S.-led peace process stalled.

The Hezbollah also periodically fired shells into Israel proper, some of which killed and injured civilians. Virtually all these attacks, however, were in direct retaliation for large-scale Israeli attacks against Lebanese civilians. The United States condemned Hezbollah not just for occasional attacks inside Israel but also for its armed resistance against Israeli soldiers within Lebanon, despite the fact that international law specifically recognizes the right of armed resistance against foreign occupation forces. The United States was apparently hoping that enough Israeli pressure against Lebanon would force the Lebanese to sign a separate peace treaty with Israel and thereby isolate the Syrians. U.S. officials greatly exaggerated the role of Syria in its control and support for Hezbollah, seemingly ignoring the fact that Syria had historically backed Amal, a rival Shiite militia. By contrast, while the radical Iranian Revolutionary Guards did play a significant role in the initial formation of Hezbollah in 1982, most direct Iranian support diminished substantially in subsequent years. The emphasis by the United States in subsequent years on Hezbollah’s ties to Iran has largely been to discredit a movement that had widespread popular support across Lebanon’s diverse confessional and ideological communities.

By the mid-1990s, greater casualties among Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in occupied southern Lebanon led to increased dissent within Israel. In response to public opinion polls showing that the vast majority of Israelis wanted the IDF to withdraw unilaterally, Martin Indyk ”President Clinton’s ambassador to Israel who had also served as his assistant secretary of state for the Middle East ”publicly encouraged Israel to keep its occupation forces in Lebanon. In other words, the United States, while defending its sanctions and bombing against Iraq on the grounds of upholding UN Security Council resolutions, was encouraging Israel ”against the better judgment of the majority of its citizens”to defy longstanding UN Security Council resolutions demanding Israel’s unconditional withdrawal. In an interesting display of double standards, the wording of the 1978 resolution demanding Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon was virtually identical to the resolution passed twelve years later demanding Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait, for which the United States went to war.

The Hezbollah militia finally drove the Israelis and their proxy force out of Lebanon in a hasty retreat in May 2000. In the wake of the failure of those advocating a more moderate ideology and a diplomatic solution, the military victory by Hezbollah greatly enhanced its status.

For more than a dozen years, the Hezbollah militia had restricted its armed activities to fighting Israeli occupation forces, initially in southern Lebanon and ”following Israel’s withdrawal in 2000”in a disputed border region with Syria still under Israeli military occupation. Both the Bush administration and Congress, however, have sought to blur the distinction between armed resistance against foreign occupation forces, which is generally recognized under international law as legitimate self-defense, and terrorism, which”regardless of the political circumstances”is always illegal, since it targets innocent civilians. (Few Americans, for example, would have labeled the sporadic attacks by Kuwaiti resistance fighters against Iraqi occupation forces during the six months Saddam’s army occupied their country in 1990-91 as acts of terrorism. By contrast, had the Kuwaiti resistance planted bombs on buses or in cafes in Baghdad or Basra, the terrorist label would have been quite deserved, however illegitimate Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait may have been. The same holds true for apologists for Palestinian terrorism who attempt to justify the murders of innocent Israeli civilians on the grounds that it is part of the armed struggle against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.)

Despite some unconfirmed reports linking individual Hezbollah operatives with Palestinian terrorist groups, it appears that the movement as a whole had become another one of the scores of former terrorist groups and political movements with terrorist components that have evolved into legitimate political parties in recent decades. These include the current ruling parties or ruling coalition partners of the governments of Israel, Algeria, Uruguay, Zimbabwe, and Afghanistan. Indeed, some prominent leaders of the U.S.-backed Islamic coalition in Iraq were once part of organizations labeled terrorist by the U.S. State Department and a few have even maintained longstanding ties with Hezbollah.

Rather than welcoming Hezbollah’s important shift away from the use of terrorism to advance its political agenda, however, the Bush administration and Congress—in apparent anticipation of a U.S.-Israeli assault against the group and its supporters—instead became increasingly alarmist about the supposed threat posed by this Lebanese political party. And, given the refusal by the Lebanese government to ban the political party and their inability to disband the militia, the United States has given Israel the green light to attack not just Hezbollah militia, but the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon as well.

Why Hezbollah?

Given the number of dangerous movements in the Middle East and elsewhere that really have been involved in ongoing terrorist activities in recent years, why this obsession over a minority Lebanese party that had, prior to last month’s assault by Israel, largely left terrorism behind?

A key component of the Bush Doctrine holds that states supporting groups that the U.S. government designates as “terrorist” are as guilty as the terrorists themselves and are therefore legitimate targets for the United States to attack in the name of self-defense.

This doctrine applies not just to Lebanon, but to Syria and Iran as well, the two countries that the neoconservative architects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq have proposed as the next targets for attack. Though outside support for Hezbollah has declined dramatically from previous years, Syria and Iran have traditionally been Hezbollah’s primary backers. By formally designating Hezbollah as a “terrorist organization” and exaggerating the degree of Syrian and Iranian support, the Bush administration and Congress are paving the way for possible U.S. military action against one or both countries some time in the future. Just as Soviet and Cuban control over leftist movements and governments in Central America and Africa during the 1980s was grossly exaggerated in order to advance the Reagan administration’s global agenda, a similar, bipartisan effort is afoot to exaggerate Syrian and Iranian control over Hezbollah.

During the Cold War, nationalist movements that coalesced under a Marxist-Leninist framework, such as the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam, were depicted not as the manifestation of a longstanding national liberation struggle against foreign domination, but part of the global expansionist agenda of international communism. As such, sending more than a half a million American troops into South Vietnam and engaging in the heaviest bombing campaign in world history was depicted as an act of self-defense for “if we do not fight them over there, we will have to fight them here.” Once American forces withdrew, however, Vietnamese stopped killing Americans. Similarly, Hezbollah stopped attacking French and American interests when they withdrew from Lebanon in 1984. As noted above, they largely stopped attacking Israelis when they withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 (with the exception of the Shebaa Farms, which they claim is part of Lebanon).

Therefore, a second reason for the U.S. government’s disproportionate hostility toward Hezbollah may be to convince Americans that radical Islamist groups with a nationalist base will not stop attacking even after troop withdrawal. The Bush administration has insisted that the United States must destroy the terrorists in Iraq or they will attack the United States. But the rise of Islamic extremist groups and terrorist attacks in Iraq came only after the United States invaded that country in 2003. And if Americans recognized that attacks against Americans by Iraqis would stop if U.S. forces withdrew, it would be harder to justify the ongoing U.S. war. Similarly, if Americans recognized that terrorist attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad would likely cease if Israel fully withdrew its occupation forces from the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip and allowed for the emergence of a viable independent Palestinian state, they would no longer be able to defend their financial, military, and diplomatic support for the ongoing occupation, repression, and colonization of those occupied Palestinian territories by the right-wing Israeli government. (As with Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad did not come into existence until after years of Israeli occupation and the failure of both secular nationalist groups and international diplomacy to end the occupation.)

This, of course, is not what the Bush administration or Congressional leaders want people to think, however, since it would make it far more difficult to defend the wars in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon. Therefore, it is politically important to convince Americans that Hezbollah is a terrorist group engaged in “continuous terrorist attacks” that constitute an ongoing threat to the national security interests of the United States and its allies.

The tragedy is how easily the mainstream media and the American public are willing to believe these simplistic misinterpretations of the complex Lebanese political situation, and how easily the war on terrorism can be manipulated to justify a U.S.-backed offensive against a small democratic country’s civilian infrastructure.

http://www.alternet.org/story/40009/was_hezbollah_a_legitimate_target/?page=entire

Don’t Blame Israel

The official rationales for the U.S. invasion of Iraq are now widely acknowledged to have been fabricated: that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction threatening the national security of the United States and that the Iraqi government had operational ties to al Quaida. As the backup rationalization — bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq — loses credibility, increasing attention is being given as to why the U.S. government, with broad bipartisan support, made such a fateful decision.

There are a number of plausible explanations, ranging from control of the country’s oil resources to strategic interests to ideological motivations. One explanation that should not be taken seriously, however, is the assertion that the right-wing government of Israel and its American supporters played a major role in leading the United States to invade Iraq.

The government of Israel and its supporters here in the United States deserve blame for many tragic policies in recent years that have led to needless human suffering, increased extremism in the Islamic world, decreased security and rampant violations of the U.N. Charter, international humanitarian law and other international legal principles. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, however, is not one of them.

Claims of a Major Israeli Role

There are four major arguments made by those who allege a key role by Israel and its American supporters in leading the United States to war in Iraq:

1. Despite propaganda by the Bush administration and its bipartisan supporters on Capitol Hill, Iraq was not a military threat to the United States. As a result, the invasion had to have been done to protect Israel from an Iraqi attack.

To begin with, Iraq, during the final years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, was no more of a threat to Israel than it was to the United States. Virtually all Iraqi missiles capable of reaching Israel had been accounted for and destroyed by UNSCOM. The International Atomic Energy Agency had determined that Iraq no longer had a nuclear program, and virtually all the country’s chemical weapons had similarly been accounted for and destroyed, or otherwise rendered inoperable. All this was presumably known to the Israelis, who actively monitored United Nations disarmament efforts in Iraq and had the best military intelligence capabilities in the region.

Though observers were less confident regarding the absence of biological weapons, the Israelis recognized that there was no realistic threat from that source either. Respected Israeli military analyst Meir Stieglitz, writing in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, stated categorically that “there is no such thing as a long-range Iraqi missile with an effective biological warhead. No one has found an Iraqi biological warhead. The chances of Iraq having succeeded in developing operative warheads without tests are zero.” Similarly, it is highly doubtful that Iraq would have been able to attack Israel with biological weapons or by other means. For example, it is hard to imagine that an Iraqi aircraft carrying biological weapons, presumably some kind of subsonic drone, could somehow make the 600-mile trip to Israel without being detected and shot down. Israel — as well as Iraq’s immediate neighbors — have long had sophisticated anti-aircraft capability.

More fundamentally, if the United States was really concerned with Israel’s safety from Iraqi attack, why did the U.S. government provide Iraq with key elements of its WMD programs during the 1980s, including the seed stock for its anthrax and many of the components for its chemical weaponry, when Iraq clearly did have the capability of striking Israel? How could the pro-Israel lobby — which was no more influential in 2002 than it was 15 years earlier — have the power to push the United States to invade Iraq while Saddam was no longer a threat to Israel, when the lobby was unable to stop U.S. technology transfers to Iraq at a time that it really could have potentially harmed Israel?

2. Though Iraq had no connection with al-Qaeda, it was supporting other terrorist groups that were attacking Israel. A U.S. invasion was seen as a means to stopping the terrorist threat targeted at the Jewish state.

Saddam Hussein did support the Abu Nidal group, a radical secular Palestinian movement, during the mid-1980s, though it tended to target moderate leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization as much as it did Israelis. Ironically, the Reagan administration dropped Iraq from its list of states sponsoring terrorism at that time in order to be able to transfer arms and technology to Saddam Hussein’s regime that would have otherwise been illegal. Iraq was put back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism immediately following its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, despite evidence that Iraq’s support for international terrorism had actually declined. Abu Nidal himself became chronically ill not long afterward, and his group had been largely moribund for more than a decade when Saddam Hussein had him killed in his Baghdad apartment in 2002.

Iraq did support a tiny pro-Iraqi Palestinian group known as the Arab Liberation Front, which was known to pass on much of these funds to families of Palestinians who died in the struggle against Israel. These recipients included families of Palestine Authority police and families of nonviolent protesters, though some recipients were families of suicide bombers. Such Iraqi support was significantly less than the support many of these same families had received from Saudi Arabia and other U.S.-backed Arab monarchies, which — unlike Iraq — also provided direct funding for Hamas and other radical Palestinian Islamists.

In any case, given that Israeli occupation forces routinely destroyed the homes of families of suicide bombers and the Iraqi money fell way short of making up for their losses, it was hardly an incentive for someone to commit an act of terrorism, which tends to be driven by the anger, hopelessness, and desperation of living under an oppressive military occupation, not by financial incentives.

3. Individuals and organizations sympathetic to Israel strongly supported the invasion. Sizable numbers of otherwise dovish Jewish members of Congress voted in support of the war resolution and the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), long considered one of the most powerful lobbying groups on Capitol Hill, pushed Congress to authorize an invasion on behalf of Israel.

While AIPAC undeniably has influenced congressional votes regarding Israeli-Palestinian concerns and related issues, it did not play a major role in lobbying members of Congress to vote in favor of the resolution authorizing a U.S. invasion of Iraq, in large part because they knew there was already such overwhelming bipartisan support for taking over that oil-rich country that they did not need to.

More fundamentally, there are far more powerful interests that have a stake in what happens in the Persian Gulf region than does AIPAC, such as the oil companies, the arms industry and other special interests whose lobbying influence and campaign contributions far surpass that of the much-vaunted Zionist lobby and its allied donors to congressional races.

It is noteworthy that in the authorization of the use of force for the 1991 Gulf War, the majority of Jewish members of Congress voted against the war resolution, which is more than can be said for its non-Jewish members. In the more lopsided vote authorizing the use of force in October 2002, a majority of Jewish members of Congress did vote in the affirmative, though proportionately less so than did non-Jewish members.

Today, the American Jewish community, like most Americans, is turning against the war. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, along with its chairman of the board, Robert Heller, recently sent a letter to President Bush stating, “We call not only for a clear exit strategy but also for specific goals for troop withdrawal to commence after the completion of parliamentary elections.”

4. Pro-Israel Jewish neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle and others were among the key architects of the policy of “preventative war” and strongest advocates for a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

While it is true that a disproportionate number of Jews could be found among the policy makers in Washington who pushed for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, it is also true that a disproportionate number of Jews could be found among liberal Democrats in Congress and leftist intellectuals in universities who opposed the invasion of Iraq. Furthermore, while a number of prominent neoconservative intellectuals are of Jewish background and some of them even advised Benyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government during the 1990s, they have tended not to be religious nor have they strongly identified as Zionists in an ideological sense.

It should also be noted that these same neoconservatives, while in the Reagan administration during the 1980s, were advocates of a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua and Cuba as well as a nuclear first strike — in a so-called “limited nuclear war” — against the Soviet Union. In short, they are hawks across the board, not just in regard to the Middle East. Support for Israel has always been seen as part of a broader strategic design to advance perceived U.S. interests in the region.

Furthermore, the most prominent and influential proponents of the U.S. invasion of Iraq — Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney — are neither Jewish nor prone to put the perceived interests of Israel ahead of that of the United States. Indeed, strong U.S. strategic interests in the Persian Gulf region, home of most of the world’s known oil reserves, have existed for many decades and even pre-date the establishment of modern Israel.

Has the War Really Helped Israel?

To argue that support for Israel and/or pressure by supporters of Israel was a crucial variable in prompting the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq assumes that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has been good for Israel.

While Israel had little to worry about regarding Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s final years in power, they certainly do now: Key leaders of Iraq’s current government and likely future government are part of fundamentalist Shiite political movements heavily influenced by Iran. These movements are strongly anti-Zionist in orientation and some have maintained close ties to other radical Arab Shiite groups, such as the Lebanese Hizbullah, whose militia has battled Israel for more than 20 years.

The most powerful of the dominant parties of the U.S.-backed governing coalition has been the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose 15,000-strong paramilitary unit, known as the Badr Brigade, was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which also helped train the Hizbullah.

Meanwhile, the anti-government and anti-U.S. insurgents in Iraq are dominated by Sunni Salafists and radical Arab nationalists, both of whom tend to be anti-Israel extremists. Thanks to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, these insurgents are becoming stronger and increasingly sophisticated fighters gaining valuable new experiences in urban guerrilla warfare as well as terrorist tactics. These Iraqi insurgents have developed close ties with radical Jordanian and Palestinian groups with the means and motivation to harm Israeli civilians and Israel will undoubtedly feel their impact.

As a result, rather than goading the United States into taking military action against Syria, the Israeli government has been cautioning the United States to back off from its pressure against the Assad regime, fearing that if the Baathist leader was overthrown, more radical elements could come to power or that the country could be thrown into a destabilizing civil war. Similarly, public opinion polls show that a sizable majority of Israelis oppose pre-emptive military action against Iran for fear that an attack on that large Islamic country could have serious negative consequences to Israeli security interests.

As part of its desperate strategy to defend its disastrous policies in Iraq, the Bush administration and its supporters are now using the defense of Israel as an excuse. While such claims have no more validity than claims that Saddam Hussein had operational ties to al Qaida or still possessed WMDs, it carries the additional danger that Israel and its American Jewish supporters will end up getting blamed for the whole Iraqi debacle.

The American Jewish newspaper The Forward noted how a number of pro-Israel American activists and prominent Israelis had criticized recent comments by President George W. Bush and other prominent Republicans who have recently played the Israel card to justify the increasingly unpopular war. For example, Dani Rothschild, a retired Israeli major general who had served as the Israeli army’s top administrator in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, noted how “it could put Israel in a very awkward situation with the American public, if Israel would be the excuse for losing more American soldiers every day.”

Using Israel as an excuse for unpopular U.S. policies in the Middle East is nothing new. Over the past decade, I have had the opportunity to meet with a half-dozen Arab foreign ministers and deputy foreign ministers and have asked each of them why their government was still so friendly with the United States, given U.S. policy toward the Palestinians, the Iraqis and other Arabs. Every one has answered to the effect that U.S. officials had explained to them that the anti-Arab bias in U.S. foreign policy was not the fault of the U.S. government itself, but was the result of wealthy Jews essentially running U.S. foreign policy.

In short, American officials are utilizing classic anti-Semitic scapegoating by blaming an alleged cabal of rich Jews behind the scenes for being responsible for a widely perceived injustice as a means of deflecting attention away from those who actually are responsible.

This does not mean that everyone who overstates the role of Israel in propelling the United States to war with Iraq is guilty of anti-Semitism. They just happen to be wrong. Because this particular argument parallels dangerous anti-Semitic stereotypes that exaggerate Jewish power and influence, however, it is a particularly grievous misinterpretation, not just because it reinforces longstanding oppressive attitudes against a minority group, but because it diverts attention away from those who really are responsible for the continuing tragedy in Iraq.

Indeed, that has largely been the functional purpose of anti-Semitism throughout Western history: to misdirect popular anger at economic injustice, disastrous military campaigns or other failures by political and economic elites onto a convenient and expendable target. It is critical, therefore — particularly for those who identify with the peace movement — to resist buying into the myth that it was Israel and its supporters who were responsible for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

http://www.alternet.org/story/30797/don%27t_blame_israel/?page=entire

A Hurricane of Consequences

As it is beginning to appear that the death toll in southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi from Hurricane Katrina may surpass that of 9/11, once again questions are being raised regarding the Bush administration’s distorted views as to what constitutes national security.

Much of the criticism thus far has focused on the failure of authorities to evacuate the tens of thousands of low-income residents in New Orleans who lacked the means to leave for higher ground inland and the slowness and inefficiency of the federal response following the rupture of the levees protecting the city, much of which lies below sea level. (Some have compared the U.S. government’s reaction unfavorably to its response to the devastating tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean region in December, though the U.S. response to that disaster was actually even slower and far less generous financially.)

Still others have noted the growing evidence that the increase in recent years in the frequency of such mega-hurricanes as Katrina is a result of global warming. The Bush administration has aggressively undermined international efforts to forcefully address such potentially catastrophic changes in the world’s climate as a result of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and other industrialized nations. It also appears that the Bush administration’s decision to undercut the authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a once-independent unit of government, by subsuming it into the Department of Homeland Security — with its over-emphasis on the threat from international terrorism — limited FEMA’s ability to better prepare for the long-predicted scenario of disastrous flooding resulting from a major hurricane striking New Orleans.

Perhaps the decision by the Bush administration that most directly contributed to the high numbers of unnecessary deaths, however, was the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Iraq war has cost the federal government more than $200 billion thus far, resulting in cutbacks in a number of emergency preparedness projects which appear to have lessened the ability of Louisiana authorities to cope with the hurricane, including providing charter busses to complete the evacuation of the city before the storm struck. Furthermore, Walter Maestri, the emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, which includes New Orleans’ western suburbs, noted in June of last year that anticipated funding to strengthen the levees had been diverted to pay for the war.

Indeed, federal assistance to the Southeast Louisiana Flood Control Project dropped precipitously following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Also contributing to the carnage is the fact that at least 35% of the Louisiana National Guard, long serving as the front line in hurricane relief efforts, have been unable to respond to the crisis because they are far away in Iraq. The numbers that could have been on the ground participating in relief operations have been reduced further as a result of the dramatic drop in recruitment over the past two years: Hundreds of men and women who would have otherwise enlisted or re-enlisted in the National Guard have failed to do so due to the prospect of being sent to fight in that bloody counter-insurgency war.

Perhaps even more significant has been the absence of equipment critical for emergency responses. WGNO-TV, the ABC affiliate in New Orleans, reported on August 1 that, “Dozens of high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators are now abroad,” warning that “in the event of a major natural disaster, that could be a problem.” They interviewed Lieutenant Colonel Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard, who observed that “The National Guard needs that equipment back home.”

As a result of the absence of these high-water vehicles and other equipment that could have been used in the aftermath of the flooding, it appears that many hundreds of people died while waiting to be rescued. Even Thomas Donnelly of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute observed that, “This is what happens when you take Guardsmen and put them on the conveyor belt into Iraq.”

In neighboring Mississippi, which took the brunt of the hurricane’s 145-mile per hour winds and 20-foot storm surge, 4,000 members of the state’s National Guard — a full 40% of its total troop strength — are currently in Iraq. The Washington Post quoted Lt. Andy Thaggard, a Mississippi National Guard spokesman, as saying, “Missing personnel is the big thing in this particular event — we need our people.” Louisiana’s 256th Infantry Brigade and Mississippi’s 155th Armored Brigade, both of which are currently in Iraq, include engineering and support battalions specializing in disaster relief.

President George W. Bush’s priorities were apparent the day after the hurricane struck the Gulf Coast: Rather than immediately returning to Washington to coordinate the federal response, he flew out to San Diego to give a major speech where — except for a few lines at the outset — he avoided mentioning the unfolding tragedy and instead focused upon rationalizing for his war in Iraq, comparing it to the struggle against the Axis powers in World War II.

Don’t count on the Democrats to take advantage of this opportunity to challenge the Bush administration’s misplaced priorities, however. Democratic leaders, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and other leading contenders for the 2008 presidential nomination, have largely supported President Bush’s Iraq agenda and therefore share in the blame. Louisiana’s hawkish Democratic senator Mary Landrieu, along with the majority of her Democratic Senate colleagues, voted in support of the October 2002 joint resolution authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Even as the drain on the federal budget resulting from the ongoing war and the heavy reliance on their states’ National Guard to suppress the resulting insurgency became apparent, they have largely supported the Bush administration’s request to continue funding the war.

Similarly, Democratic U.S. Representative William Jefferson, whose Second Congressional District in New Orleans is now mostly underwater, also voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq. He defended his vote on the absurd grounds that Iraq somehow posed a threat to America’s national security, a particularly twisted perspective for the representative of a constituency so vulnerable to natural disaster, a full 30% of whom lived below the poverty line even prior to Hurricane Katrina.

The public is doing it what it can to try to make up for the failure of its elected leadership. By providing shelter for those fleeing the devastated areas, making financial contributions to relief efforts and other measures, the American people have once again demonstrated enormous caring and generosity. Such efforts will and should continue. However, this laudable energy must also be focused on holding accountable the politicians of both parties who — out of their eagerness to invade an oil-rich country on the other side of the globe — allowed so many of their fellow Americans to suffer and die needlessly.

http://www.alternet.org/story/25041/a_hurricane_of_consequences/?page=entire

Rightward Ho!

Against the backdrop of ongoing death and destruction in Iraq as a result of the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation, the Democratic Party formally adopted their 2004 platform on July 28 at their convention in Boston. The platform focused more on foreign policy than it had in recent years. It represented an opportunity to challenge the Republican administration’s unprecedented and dangerous departure from the post-World War II international legal consensus forbidding aggressive wars, as well as a means with which to offer a clear alternative to the Bush Doctrine.

Even the Republican Party under Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 did not openly challenge such basic international principles as the illegitimacy of invading a sovereign nation because of unsubstantiated claims they might some day be a potential security threat.

Yet not only have Senators John Kerry and John Edwards continued to defend their support of the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, the 2004 Democratic platform complains that the administration “did not send sufficient forces to accomplish the mission.” The most direct challenge to Bush administration policies in Iraq contained in the platform is its alleged failures to adequately equip American forces.

The only thing the 2004 Democratic Party platform could offer opponents of the war is a sentence which acknowledges “People of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq.” As the Los Angeles Times editorialized, “Indeed they do. That is why we have elections, and it would have been nice if the opposition party had the guts to actually oppose it.”

While the foreign policy segments of this year’s Democratic Party platform had some positive elements, there are serious problems not only in what it did not say, but also in much of what it did say.

For example, the platform justifies the ongoing U.S. military occupation of Iraq by claiming “having gone to war, we cannot afford to fail at peace. We cannot allow a failed state in Iraq that inevitably would become a haven for terrorists and a destabilizing force in the Middle East.” This ignores the fact that Iraq’s instability and the influx of foreign terrorists is a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion and occupation authorized and supported by the Democratic Party’s presidential and vice presidential nominees.

To those who are disturbed at Senator Kerry’s support for invading foreign countries in defiance of the United Nations Charter, the platform asserts “With John Kerry as commander-in-chief, we will never wait for a green light from abroad when our safety is at stake.” However, there is nothing in the UN Charter which limits the right of the United States or any government to genuine self-defense. Such language may be preparing the way for a President Kerry, like President Bush, to launch invasions or other military actions against foreign countries in defiance of international law by simply claiming that “our safety is at stake,” just as Kerry did from the Senate floor in justifying his support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

One possible target for American forces under a Kerry administration is Iran. The platform implies an American right to such military intervention by stating that “a nuclear-armed Iran is an unacceptable risk to us and our allies.” No concern is expressed, however, about the already-existing nuclear arsenals of Iran’s neighbor Pakistan or of nearby Israel. Iran has called for a nuclear-free zone in the region, which the Democrats appear to reject, apparently because it would require America’s regional allies to get rid of their nuclear arsenals as well. The Democrats, like the Republicans, believe that instead of pushing for multilateral and verifiable arms control treaties, the United States can effectively impose a kind of nuclear apartheid, unilaterally determining which countries can have nuclear weapons and which countries cannot.

Furthermore, like the neo-cons in the Bush administration, the Democrats appear to have rejected the longstanding doctrine of nuclear deterrence in favor of policy based upon risky, destabilizing, and illegal unilateral pre-emptive military strikes.

The Democrats appear to be similarly selective regarding democracy. For example, the platform calls for strategies to “end the Castro regime as soon as possible and enable the Cuban people to take their rightful place in the democratic community of the Americas.” Significantly, there are no similar calls anywhere in the platform to end any of the scores of non-socialist dictatorships currently in power throughout the world or of enabling the people oppressed by these regimes—many of which receive significant U.S. military and economic support—to join the democratic community of nations. Similarly, the platform promises to “work with the international community to increase political and economic pressure on the Castro regime to release all political prisoners, support civil society, promote the important work of Cuban dissidents, and begin a process of genuine political reform,” yet there are no calls for such pressure on any right-wing dictatorships.

Strategic parity has long been considered the most stabilizing relationship between traditional antagonists if the goal is peace and security. When it comes to American allies like Israel, however, the Democrats instead appear to be committed to maintaining that country’s military dominance of the region, with the platform pledging “we will insure that, under all circumstances, Israel retains its qualitative edge.”

Regarding the city of Jerusalem, the Arab-populated eastern half of which was seized by Israeli forces in 1967 and subsequently annexed, the platform insists that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and should remain undivided.” This has been widely acknowledged as yet another Democratic attack on the UN Charter, which forbids any nation from expanding its boundaries through military force, as well as a rejoinder to a series of UN Security Council resolutions calling on nations to not recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem. It can also be reasonably viewed as an effort to undermine last year’s Geneva Initiative and other Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts which call for Israeli control of Jewish neighborhoods and Palestinian control of Arab neighborhoods in a city which would serve as the co-capital of Israel and Palestine with full access to holy places by people of all faiths.

In yet another attack on international legal principles, the platform also dismisses as “unrealistic” any obligation for Israel to completely withdraw from lands seized in its 1967 conquests and denies Palestinian refugees’ right to return, insisting that they instead only be permitted to relocate to a truncated Palestinian state which Israel might allow to be created some time in the future.

Despite pressing domestic needs, the Pentagon budget now constitutes over half of all federal discretionary spending. The United States spends almost as much on its military as the rest of the world combined. Never in history has one power been so dominant on a global scale. Yet this is not enough for the Democrats. The Democratic Platform insists that the U.S. military “must be stronger, faster, and better armed.”

Ironically, the first reason mentioned in the platform as to why, despite pressing needs at home, “we must strengthen our military” is the “asymmetrical threats we now face in Iraq”—threats that were non-existent until the U.S invaded that country, a decision authorized and supported by Kerry, Edwards and the Democratic leadership of both houses in Congress.

This does not mean that a majority of Democrats support such right-wing foreign policies. For example, a poll just prior to the convention showed that 95% of the delegates oppose the decision to invade Iraq, something that both their presidential and their vice presidential nominees have steadfastly refused to do.

That the delegates were prevented from even challenging the platform or voting to include an anti-war plank is a demonstration of how undemocratic the “Democratic” Party has become. Even in the 1968 Democratic convention, when the target of anti-war activists was the incumbent Democratic administration and when most state delegations were dominated by the party establishment, the delegates were allowed to propose, debate and vote upon an anti-war plank, which—despite its defeat on the convention floor—did give opponents of the Vietnam War an opportunity to express their views before the convention and the national media.

It is also a sign as to just how far to the right the Democratic Party leadership has become as compared to the rank-and-file, which could severely weaken the enthusiasm of the party base the Kerry campaign needs to counter the Republicans’ advantage in funding during the fall campaign.

Finally, it is a reminder that should Kerry and Edwards be elected, those who support international law, human rights, and adequate funding for domestic needs will have to continue their struggle as much as ever.

More ‘Right’ on Israel Than Bush

The moment images of Saddam Hussein’s capture flashed across TV screens around the world, John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman jumped on the opportunity to lash out at Howard Dean for not supporting the war on Iraq, even as they congratulated the Bush White House for a job well done.

It was not, however, the first time that the two Democratic candidates have attacked the former Vermont governor for being too “liberal” on foreign policy. Nor is Iraq the only issue where the Democratic leadership — and its anointed heirs — have revealed an unmistakably rightwing agenda.

It is a less-known fact that when it comes to the Israel/Palestinian issue, the Democratic establishment is virtually indistinguishable from the Bush administration.

The less-than-moderate position was on blatant display back in September when Dean was attacked by two of his principal rivals as well as the House Democratic leadership for calling on the United States to take a more “even-handed role” as the chief mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On Sept. 3, Dean declared that the United States should work to “bring the sides together” and “not point fingers” at who is to blame.

He was immediately attacked during a televised debate on Sept. 9 by Joe Lieberman, who described his comments as a move to “compromise our support for Israel,” arguing that a more balanced position in the peace process was tantamount to “breaking commitments to longtime allies.”

When Dean pointed out that Israel would have to remove an enormous number of settlements in the Occupied Territories to achieve peace, Senator Lieberman strongly objected, insisting that the number of settlements evacuated by Israel should be up to the parties in negotiations. In reality, despite eight years of peace talks in the ’90s, throughout which Palestinians demanded that Israel withdraw from its settlements in the Occupied Territories or even just suspend construction of new ones, the number of settlements has nearly doubled. Sharon’s insistence on incorporating most of these settlements into Israel is, in fact, one of the most important obstacles preventing the negotiation of a final peace agreement.

Senator Kerry, however, claimed just the opposite in his response to Dean’s policy statement, declaring that if Dean called for a more even-handed approach as president, “it would throw this volatile region into even more turmoil.”

Such desperate attacks by two presidential hopefuls who now see the upstart Dean surging ahead of them in public opinion polls should not be surprising. What is far more significant, however, is the decision of leading Democratic members of the House of Representatives to join the fray.

In an open letter dated Sept. 10, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Assistant Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez led dozens of other top Congressional Democrats criticized Dean for his statements. Other signatories included such Democratic stalwarts as Howard Berman, Gary Ackerman, Robert Matsui, Tom Lantos, Nita Lowey, Barney Frank, Patrick Kennedy, Edward Markey, Ellen Tauscher, Linda Sanchez, Jose Serrano, Harold Ford, and Shelley Berkley.

The letter characterized Dean’s call for a more balanced approached by the U.S. government in the peace process as questioning Israel’s right to exist in peace and security. In their letter, the House Democratic leadership also declared that U.S. policy must be “based on unequivocal support for Israel’s right to exist and to be free from terror,” even though Dean has never given even a hint of believing anything to the contrary.

Ignoring Governor Dean’s repeated and categorical denunciation of Palestinian terrorism, the House Democratic leaders also declared that Americans must “raise our voices against all forms of terrorism” and that “this is not the time to be sending mixed messages.”

To have virtually the entire Democratic House leadership openly criticize a policy statement made by their own front-runner is unprecedented. It is also indicative of Pelosi’s determination to make clear that such voices of moderation have no place in the Democratic Party.

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are essentially pushing the age-old fallacy: support for Ariel Sharon equals support for the state of Israel.

In March, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders signed a letter to President Bush opposing the White House-endorsed Middle East “road map,” which they perceived as being too lenient on the Palestinians. The authors insisted that the peace process must be based “above all” on the end of Palestinian violence and the establishment of a new Palestinian leadership. There was no mention of any reciprocal actions by the Israeli government. The letter also came out in opposition of any other government or other entity monitoring progress on the ground.

In response to widespread reports issued by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other groups charging Israeli occupation forces of committing human rights abuses during its military offensive in the West Bank last year, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders went on record declaring that the Israeli attacks were completely justifiable and were aimed “only at the terrorist infrastructure.” Pelosi also praised President Bush’s “leadership” in supporting Sharon, whom the president declared to be “a man of peace,” In fact, in a speech before the AIPAC convention in April, Pelosi denounced President Bush for suggesting that Israel needed to freeze construction of new settlements in the Occupied Territories, claiming that it gave comfort to Israel’s enemies.

The irony is that moderate Israelis have repeatedly called upon the Bush administration to take a more even-handed approach in the peace process, and to press Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to compromise on the settlements and other issues. Kerry, Lieberman, and the House Democratic leadership, however, demand that Dean should instead follow lock step in support of President Bush’s strident backing of Israel’s rightist government.

The Democratic establishment appear to have adopted the same logic of the Republicans, who insist that only by supporting Bush administration policies can one support America, or in this case, Israel.

Dean’s background makes the charges of anti-Israeli sentiment even more far-fetched. His wife, Judith Steinberg Dean, is Jewish and has close connections with mainstream Zionist circles. Their children have been raised Jewish. His campaign co-chair, Steve Grossman, is the former president of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). His only trip to Israel, which took place last fall, was organized and paid for by AIPAC and he did not meet with any prominent Palestinians or Israeli peace activists. Dean has described his attachment to Israel as “visceral.”

In fact, Dean is widely seen as a hawk on Israel and Palestine. He has stated that his position is closer to the right-wing AIPAC, which allies itself with Israel’s ruling Likud Bloc, than it is to Americans for Peace Now, which identifies with the Israeli peace movement and the more liberal Israeli parties.

Much to the chagrin of peace and human rights advocates, Dean supported the Bush Administration’s recent $9 billion loan guarantee to Sharon without adding conditions, such as freezing new settlement activity in the Occupied Territories. Dean has repeatedly stated his belief that the major issue in the conflict is Palestinian terrorism, not the Israeli occupation that has spawned it. He has told the Washington Post that Israel has every right to assassinate Hamas “terrorists” as “enemies in a war.”

Such positions have led many Democrats concerned about peace and human rights in the Middle East to abandon Dean and back the campaign of Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who supports the position of the Israeli peace movement, and the Zionist Left.

Dean’s perspective is essentially that of former President Clinton and his chief Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross, which corresponded closely to that of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and the hawkish wing of the Labor Party. While such a position proved inadequate in securing the peace and is well to the right of the Israeli peace movement, the Clinton/Ross/Barak position did at least accept in principle the idea that substantial Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories was necessary and desirable in order to end the violence and make Israel secure.

What is disconcerting about the Democratic leadership is not only that it has rejected the position of the Israeli left, but also that of Israeli centrists as articulated by Dean and other supporters of the Clinton administration.

It is unclear what political advantage the Democratic leadership can gain by attacking Dean’s position on Israel. According to a poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland this May, a clear majority of Americans recognize that the Bush administration is biased towards Israel. Moreover, when asked about what position the United States should have, a full 73 percent stated that the United States should not take either side in the conflict.

In other words, Senators Kerry and Lieberman and the House Democratic leadership have gone on record supporting the policies of the Bush administration against the will of an overwhelming majority of the American people.

In many respects, Howard Dean is a quintessential centrist Democrat. However, he has been able to attract a following that, on average, is considerably to his left in large part because he had the common sense to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq and to forcefully articulate the frustration and anger among rank-and-file Democrats against the Bush administration.

Perhaps that is why Kerry, Lieberman, and the Democratic Congressional leaders hope to use Israel to undermine Dean’s extraordinary popularity, since his anti-war stance exposes their own shameless pandering to the Bush agenda.

It is unclear whether Israel as an issue will affect Dean’s chances for the party’s presidential nomination. But the attacks from his own party seem to have blunted his candor. In his first major foreign policy address on Dec. 15, Dean said little about Middle East peace, and took pains to straddle the fence: “Our alliance with Israel is and must remain unshakeable, and so will be my commitment every day of our administration to work with the parties for a solution that ends decades of blood and tears.”

The flap over Israel does, however, make one simple fact painfully evident: when it comes to the Middle East, there is truly no difference between Democratic leadership and the White House.

http://www.alternet.org/story/17438/more_%27right%27_on_israel_than_bush/?page=entire