Democratic Party Defends Israeli Attack

Tens of thousands of Israelis protested in the streets of Tel Aviv last weekend against their right-wing government’s attack on an unarmed humanitarian aid flotilla sailing in international waters. International condemnation of the raids continued in foreign capitals. Meanwhile, in Washington, Democratic congressional leaders were lining up alongside their Republican colleagues to defend the Israeli assault. Countering the broad consensus of international legal scholars who recognize that the attack was in flagrant violation of international norms, prominent Democrats embraced the Orwellian notion that Israel’s raid, which killed at least nine activists and wounded scores of others, was somehow an act of self-defense.

The offensive by the Democratic leadership has been led by Gary Ackerman (D-NY), who serves as House Democrats’ unofficial spokesman on Middle East policy from his position as chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee on the Middle East. According to Ackerman, the killings were “wholly the fault and responsibility of the organizers of the effort to break through Israel and Egypt’s legitimate closure of terrorist-controlled Gaza.” According to Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL), due to the determination of activists on the ships to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of the besieged Gaza Strip, “Israel was left with no choice but to ensure the safety of its people.” Similarly, Democratic majority leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) insisted that in attacking an unarmed flotilla carrying humanitarian aid in international waters, Israel had simply “invoked its right to self-defense.”

To rationalize what virtually the entire international legal community recognizes as an act of war, congressional Democrats have engaged in a series of falsifications and radical reinterpretations of international law. The first involved a radically overextended notion of maritime sovereignty. The attack took place in international waters, roughly 85 miles from the Israeli coast. International maritime law has long recognized that territorial sovereignty extends only 12 miles out to sea. A Libyan effort in the 1980s to extend its claim of sovereignty into the Gulf of Sidra beyond the 12-mile limit led to a series of deadly clashes between U.S. and Libyan armed forces in order, according to then-President Ronald Reagan, to enforce America’s “global Freedom of Navigation program” to defend “our rights on and over the high seas under international law.” At the time, congressional Democrats joined their Republican colleagues in defending the use of force to challenge Libya’s illegal overreach of its maritime boundaries.

However, congressional Democrats are quite willing to grant allied governments in the region far more latitude in extending their claims to Mediterranean waters. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) argued that responsibility for the violence lay with the organizers of the flotilla, not with “those who defended Israel’s borders.” Rep. Michael McMahon (D-NY) made a similar argument that the Israeli action was justified because Israel “has the right to maintain and defend its own borders.” The flotilla was aiming directly toward the port of Gaza, not toward any area close to Israeli territorial waters, and no country recognizes the Gaza Strip as part of Israel. Nevertheless, Rep. Kendrik Meek (D-FL) insisted that Israel’s assault on the flotilla was justified because the ships were “on the verge of breaching its sovereign borders.” Similarly, Klein insisted that the ships were “threatening to breach Israel’s defenses of its coastal border,” and therefore “Israel was left with no choice but to ensure the safety of its people” by attacking the flotilla.

Redefining “Self-Defense”

The Free Gaza campaign had made clear that the cargo was exclusively humanitarian. Indeed, all of its previous eight voyages over the past two years were completely free of any weaponry or weapon parts. The plethora of peace and human rights groups participating in the flotilla would have never taken part were there any hint of arms being on board. Most crucially, customs officials rigorously inspected all the ships at their disembarkation points. Indeed, no weapons bound for the Gaza Strip were found on any of the six ships on the flotilla seized by Israel or on the seventh several days later. As a result, no reasonable person could claim that the Israelis had reason to suspect arms smuggling. The congressional Democratic leadership, however, is apparently not very reasonable.

For example, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) insisted that the Israelis attacked the flotilla to ensure that “dangerous resources do not reach the terrorist organization Hamas.” This kind of paranoia was evident on the Senate side as well, as Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) justified the Israeli attack on the grounds that the peace activists might have been trying to smuggle missiles or even a radiological weapon. Similarly, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) declared that “Israel has every right in the world to make certain that weapons are not being smuggled in.” Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) insisted that “Israel has every right to defend itself against radical activists” in order “to prevent innocent civilian aid from being used as a façade for arms trafficking” by those “threatening the safety and security of our ally Israel.”

Despite the participation of large numbers of pacifists on the ships, Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) claimed that the flotilla “was really a Trojan Horse designed to attack the Israelis.” The assault against the unarmed flotilla, according to Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), was simply a case of the Israeli government “defending…their citizens” and “exercising its right to self-defense.” Paul Hodes (D-NH) argued that Israel’s intent in attacking the flotilla was simply “to protect itself and its citizens” while House Majority Leader Hoyer insisted that “Israel — rightfully so — invoked its right to self-defense on the Mavi Marmara.” Rep Patrick Murphy (D-PA) also insisted that Israel was simply invoking its right to self-defense,” while Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) insisted that “those aboard the Mavi Marmara never intended to carry out a peaceful humanitarian mission” and that “It was only when faced with violence that the soldiers reacted in self-defense.”

The Israelis confiscated all recording equipment from those on board, only showing their carefully edited version of events surrounding their assault on lead vessel in a widely circulated videotape. The refusal to return any of the recording equipment to the kidnapped activists would normally raise questions as to what the Israeli government might be trying to hide. But that didn’t bother Democratic lawmakers, who repeatedly cited the Israeli video as “evidence” to support their case that the people defending their ship, not the ones attacking it, were the aggressors. There are conflicting reports of what happened when Israeli forces illegally boarded the Mavi Marmara, but what is known is that Israeli commandos initiated the attack on the ship using stun grenades, teargas, paintballs, and rubber-cased steel bullets. The initial response from those on board was to try to fend off the attackers off with water hoses while the ship’s passengers attempted to form a defensive cordon around the wheelhouse to prevent the attackers from seizing the ship.

Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, acknowledged that the flotilla was simply “too large to stop with nonviolent means.” Despite this, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz (D-FL) insisted that “the Israeli Navy worked to plan a non-violent interception of the flotilla and only used force when soldiers’ lives were at risk.” At least 48 activists suffered gunshot wounds and scores of others were badly beaten.

The British newspaper The Independent reported that soldiers fired down on the activists from their helicopters prior to any Israeli soldiers boarding the Mavi Marmara. One journalist reported that a man standing next to him was shot through the top of his head, killing him instantly. Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI), however, insisted that the killings were all “acts of self-defense,” while Rep. Shelley Berkeley (D-NV) blamed “passengers on the vessel, not Israeli forces, as the instigators of violence.” Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) said the “violent force [was] in fact initiated by those whose boat was boarded.” Though the overwhelming majority of those on the ships were from peace organizations like War Resisters International, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi, and others, Rep. Engel insisted that the ships were actually “filled with hate-filled provocateurs bent on violence.” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) claimed the responsibility for the killings were “those who chose to run an internationally recognized blockade and attack uniformed personnel.” Though there were no guns found on board any of the ships, Quigley insisted that the activists “shot Israeli soldiers as they landed on the main ship.”

Autopsy reports reveal that most of the victims of the Israeli raid were shot in the head at close range. Fulkan Dogan, a 19-year old U.S. citizen, was shot five times from less than 18 inches away. Similarly, despite Israeli troops using stun guns and severely beating passengers on the other ships who offered no violent resistance, Rep. Shelley Berkeley (D-NV) insisted that the Israeli seizure of the five other vessels took place “without incident,” demonstrating that “Israeli personnel had no intention to use force and only did so in self-defense.”

The Turkish crew — which, unlike the vast majority of people on board the ships, had not gone through the mandatory nonviolence training — should not have fought back. It should be noted, however, that international maritime law clearly gives crew members the right to defend their vessel from attacks in international waters. Apparently, these congressional Democrats believe, however, if you are attacked by the navy of a strategic ally of the United States, you have no right to defend your ship.

Accusations of Terrorist Ties

The most dangerous accusation by congressional Democratic leaders involves charges that the activists on board and the organizers of the flotilla had ties to terrorism. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation, and trade, called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute American participants in the flotilla. Because the Gaza Strip is currently ruled by Hamas, according to Sherman, any humanitarian aid to the people of that territory is “clearly an effort to give items of value to a terrorist organization.” Sherman also announced he would be working with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that the more than 700 non-U.S. citizens who took part in the flotilla would be permanently barred from ever entering the United States. This would include European parliamentarians and Nobel laureates, as well as leading writers, artists, intellectuals, pacifists, and human rights activists, virtually none of whom is in the least bit sympathetic with Hamas or terrorism.

A series of Democrats in Congress have joined in insisting that the organizers of the flotilla have, in Sherman’s words, “clear terrorist ties.” Indeed, Frank insists that these groups are “pro-Hamas people” and that, rather than provide aid to the people of the Gaza Strip, they were actually “seeking to land in Gaza to aid and support Hamas.” Engel insisted that the organizers of the flotilla have “links to Hamas and reportedly played a role in the attempted Millennium bombing in Los Angeles.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) insisted that the United States “must stand up for the right of Israel to defend herself against terrorism — which is what Israel did when she blocked the attempt by the Flotilla to forcefully breach the blockade.” And Rep. Ackerman claimed that the humanitarian relief effort was “to provoke a confrontation with Israel for the benefit of Hamas and as part of the international effort to delegitimize Israel’s existence.”

The very idea that pacifist, feminist, Jewish, and Christian organizations like CODEPINK, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the American Friends Service Committee would ally with a violent, misogynist, Islamic group like Hamas — much less any group that engages in terrorism — should be recognized as absurd on face value. When prominent Democrats — including the head of the House subcommittee on terrorism — imply that leading American and Israeli peace groups are linked to terrorism, it is no longer simply heated rhetoric in defense of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, but a dangerous attack on civil liberties.These congressional Democrats also ignore the fact that the Free Gaza campaign is supported by such Israeli groups such as Yesh G’vul, the Coalition of Women for Peace, New Profile, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, among others. Such organizations and their members were already being subjected to violent attacks by far right-wing groups, some of whom have openly called for the murder of Knesset members who supported the flotilla. By falsely accusing these groups of being part of an effort that supports Hamas and other terrorist groups, these members of Congress appear to be willing to put the lives of Israeli peace and human rights activists at risk.

Shutting Out the United Nations

Democratic congressional leaders were quick to praise the Obama administration for blocking the United Nations from criticizing the Israeli attack. Hoyer reiterated how the “administration and Congress are determined to prevent condemnation of Israel at the UN Security Council.” One clear role for the United Nations — given the conflicting accounts of what transpired during the Israeli attack — would be to launch an international investigation. A recent public opinion poll shows a clear majority of Americans — including 65 percent of Democrats — favor an international inquiry over allowing Israel alone to investigate the circumstances of the attack.

Despite this, congressional Democrats have also joined the Obama administration in insisting that Israel, not the UN or other international body, should conduct any investigation into the attack. This comes despite reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documenting the right-wing Israeli government’s notoriously poor record at conducting credible internal investigations regarding possible war crimes by its armed forces. Rejecting such detailed reports from reputable human rights organizations, Frank nonetheless insists “the Israeli government…has a very good record of holding the Israeli government to account,” and that “the Israeli government has a better record of legitimate self-criticism than almost any other government in the world.” Turning the consensus of international human rights organizations on its head, Frank argues that the only a group “commissioned by the Israeli government” would have credibility, while “clearly no inquiry chartered by the U.N. would have the credibility.”

Other congressional Democrats have also been lining up insisting that the right-wing Israeli government of Benyamin Netanyahu be entrusted with the investigation. Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) insisted that “We must allow Israel, not the United Nations. . . to conduct a formal investigation into the flotilla incident.” Similarly, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) has called for an “Israeli-led investigation” as have Rep. Michael McMahon (D-NY) and Rep. Sestak (D-PA), who is currently the Democratic nominee for Senate. Reid underscored his confidence in the right-wing Israeli government in noting how “Israel has pledged to carry out a transparent and thorough investigation of this incident, and I look forward to its findings.”

Denying the Humanitarian Crisis

Democrats have also lined up to defend the blockade of the Gaza Strip, even as corporate media outlets such as Newsweek acknowledge that the blockade has little to do with preventing weapons smuggling. Some have gone as far as challenging the credibility of the UN and a plethora of aid agencies that have documented the public health crisis and food shortages in the Gaza Strip. For example, Sherman insists “the health circumstances in Gaza are better than they are in many American cities.” In reality, UN officials have called the situation “grim,” “deteriorating,” and a “medieval siege.” A bare minimum of 400 truckloads of goods needs to enter Gaza each week, and only an average of 171 get in. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in 10 Gazans suffer from “chronic malnutrition,” and the UN says six in 10 Gaza households are “food insecure.”

As reported in the Israeli press, as elsewhere, Israel has repeatedly refused to allow humanitarian goods into the Gaza Strip. This fact did not stop Reid from claiming that Israel “put in place a process to ensure that legitimate humanitarian relief reached Gaza.” Similarly, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) praised Israel for “allow[ing] trucks loaded with humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza on a daily basis,” ignoring that such vehicles allowed by Israel are far less than what’s needed. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) insisted that “there are alternative methods of delivery that are available,” ignoring the fact that restrictive Israeli checkpoints have repeatedly turned away WHO medical supplies and rejected or delayed the delivery of UN food aid. Despite efforts to blame Hamas, Israel is in fact the source of the humanitarian crisis. Yet Democrats continue to be in denial.

‘Creating an Incident’

Israel had allowed five of the previous eight ships from the Free Gaza Campaign carrying humanitarian supplies to deliver their goods to the port of Gaza without interception. So there was some genuine hope that the Israelis would allow this flotilla to dock unimpeded as well. To leading Democratic lawmakers, such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), however, “this flotilla was more about creating an incident than helping people.” Similarly, Mikulski insisted that the activists “cared more about inciting a confrontation that they did about delivering aid.”

These lawmakers seem to have forgotten, however, the longstanding tradition of strategic nonviolent direct action to “create an incident.” The four African-American students who sat at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro back in 1960 weren’t just interested in a cup of coffee. Similarly, when civil rights activists protested in downtown Birmingham in 1963, there was reason to suspect that Sherriff Bull Connor would use force to break up the demonstrations.

When people struggle nonviolently for justice against an oppressive state apparatus, there is no contradiction between helping people and creating an incident.

Relations with Turkey

Much of the wrath of congressional Democrats centers on the government of Turkey, a longstanding NATO ally. Pallone demanded that Obama condemn the Turkish government for supporting the relief effort and reacting negatively to the attack, which killed nine Turks on board. According to Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-NY), “We know this tragedy was instigated by Turkey.” Though Turkey remains in NATO, Wiener went as far as referring to Turkey as “our former ally.” Similarly, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) argued that criticism of Israel’s action “neglects the role that Turkey played in staging the flotilla and Turkey’s readiness to condone this kind of brinksmanship.”

Putting the blame on Turkey for the deaths of its own citizens in international waters taking part in a multinational humanitarian relief efforts is particularly ironic given that, as recently as two months ago, many of these same members of Congress refused to support the recent House resolution commemorating the 1915 Armenian genocide on the grounds that it would offend the Turkish government.

In the world view of congressional Democrats, however, defending what is essentially an act of piracy and the murder of nine Turkish citizens is worth damaging relations with this key NATO ally, but acknowledging the genocide of one and half million Armenians is not.

Withdraw Support from the Democratic Party

This is certainly not the first time that Democratic congressional leaders have defended violations of international legal norms by U.S. allies. The history of supporting the Salvadoran junta, Nicaraguan Contras, Indonesian occupation forces in East Timor, and Moroccan occupation forces in Western Sahara all attest to the way the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, is wedded to the notion that U.S. allies should be held to a lower standard of adherence to international law than perceived adversaries.

Indeed, one can imagine the reaction of these same Democrats had it been the Iranian navy that attacked a humanitarian flotilla in international waters, killed passengers and crew members, and kidnapped 750 people (including journalists) and held them incommunicado for several days in Iran.

Republican congressional leaders have certainly done no better in supporting Israel’s raids. Yet many Democrats who have engaged in these right-wing attacks on human rights and international law consider themselves “progressive.” Democratic members of Congress have ended their defense of the Salvadoran junta, the Indonesian dictatorship, and other criminal policies only when pressured by their constituents. Peace and human rights activists should similarly raise an outcry in response to the dangerously intemperate and inaccurate statements from congressional Democrats and then deny support for the re-election of any member of Congress who continues to support this latest Israeli atrocity.

Serbia: 10 Years Later

Since the end of the U.S.-led war against Serbia, the country is slowly emerging from the wars of the 1990s. Despite lingering problems, Serbs appear to be more optimistic about their country’s future than they have for decades. The United States deserves little credit for the positive developments, however, and a fair amount of blame for the country’s remaining problems.

There have been elements of both the left and the right who have perpetuated a myth of American omnipotence, that the United States is somehow responsible for virtually all the good or evil in the world and that the millions of people who engage in political struggle, legitimate or otherwise, are simply pawns of great powers who have no role in their own destiny. Such myths in relation to what was Yugoslavia are still heard today. In reality, the U.S. role in the recent political history of Serbia, like the recent political history of the Balkans overall, is more complicated than it first appears.

While Serbian war-crimes against the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo in the late 1990s were all too real, the 11-week NATO bombing campaign was immoral, illegal, and unnecessary. The most serious atrocities, such as the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians, took place only after the bombing began. The United States and other Western powers could have pursued diplomatic options that likely would have ended the repression without resorting to war.

Among the many misleading statements of the Clinton administration and its supporters before, during, and after the war, the most absurd was that the U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign made possible Serbia’s nonviolent democratic revolution a year-and-a-half later. In fact, a large and active nonviolent movement challenged Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and his alliance with right-wing ultra-nationalists on several occasions during the 1990s. This movement, led by young people whose lives were shattered by the Serbian regime’s endless wars, supported a more pluralistic and democratic Yugoslavia, and an end to human rights abuses against both Serbs and non-Serbs. In the winter of 1996-97, for example, a mass nonviolent movement almost succeeded in overthrowing Milosevic, but it got no help or encouragement from Western government. Indeed, Richard Holbrooke, the Clinton administration’s point man for the Balkans and architect for the Dayton Accords, was among those who pressured Clinton to back Milosevic as a stabilizing influence in the region. The Serbian government crushed the pro-democracy movement (ironically, Holbrooke, who is now Obama’s special emissary to Afghanistan and Pakistan, later became one of the most virulent supporters of the war two years later).

In 1999, a re-energized student-led pro-democracy movement, coalescing around a group called Otpor (“Resistance”), had emerged. Despite efforts by Milosevic to depict the opposition as Western agents, the vast majority of students involved were actually left-of-center nationalists, motivated by opposition to their government’s increasing corruption and authoritarianism. Once the United States launched airstrikes against their country, however, they suspended their anti-government activities and joined their compatriots in opposing the NATO bombing.

The U.S.-led war gave the Milosevic regime an excuse to jail, drive underground, or force into exile many leading pro-democracy activists, shutting down their independent media and seriously curtailing their public activities. Journalists were not exempt: Milosevic’s secret police murdered Slavko Curuvija, publisher of the independent Dnevni Telegraf, soon after the bombing campaign began. Most of the population, meanwhile, rallied around the flag.

Ironically, NATO bombs targeted urban areas that were mostly anti-Milosevic. Air raids struck parts of northern Serbia in the autonomous region of Vojvodina, including areas where ethnic Serbs were a minority. NATO planes also struck the Republic of Montenegro, the junior partner in the Yugoslavia federation, setting back its efforts at becoming closer to the West and more independent from Serbia. Though U.S. officials claimed that the bombing would encourage defections in the military and possibly help bring down the regime, NATO members refused to grant even temporary asylum to Serbian draft resisters and deserters.

Fortunately, a year and half later, pro-democracy forces led by Otpor was able to regroup and — when Milosovic tried to steal the election in October 2000 — a massive wave of nonviolent action succeeded in driving him from power. The people of Serbia were able to do nonviolently what 11 weeks of NATO bombs could not. As with the democratic revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in 1989, it wasn’t the military prowess of the western alliance bringing freedom to an Eastern European country, but the power of nonviolent action by the subjugated peoples themselves.

Unfortunately, through both appeasement and war, the United States allowed Milosevic to remain in power far longer than he would have otherwise. As Milosevic’s nationalist successor Vojislav Kostunica put it, “The Americans assisted Milosevic not only when they supported him, but also when they attacked him. In a way, Milosevic is an American creation.”

U.S. Role in Serbia’s Political Transition

The Serbian opposition, on the other hand, was not an American creation. Rather than being American puppets, the Otpor leadership, as well as the political parties that have dominated Serbia subsequently, protested against the 1999 bombing of their country. They have stridently opposed Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence and carry enormous resentment over U.S. policy in the region over the past couple of decades.

A number of Western NGOs, some of which received some funding from the U.S. State Department and Western European governments, provided a limited amount of financial support for Otpor and other opposition groups. These funds helped them purchase computers, fax machines, and other equipment, and covered costs for printing and other necessities. The limited contact Otpor leaders had with U.S. officials both before and after the overthrow of Milosevic, however, revealed to them an incredible lack of understanding of the dynamics of nonviolent action and the nature of their particular struggle. While they were willing to accept some Western funds during that period, they doggedly kept to their own agenda and priorities, rejecting offers of advice or more direct assistance.

Western governments also helped fund poll-watchers to observe the presidential elections. When official counts of these elections proved fraudulent, an unarmed revolt erupted that forced Milosevic out of power within days.

While such Western aid was certainly useful in Otpor’s growth and development and in helping to expose the election fraud, it wasn’t critical to the movement’s success. Rather, it was Otpor’s message — developed by the young student leaders at its helm — that captured the imagination of a Serbian population angered by years of war, corruption, oppression, and international isolation. And there was no outside support or facilitation for the October uprising itself, which actually took Western leaders by surprise.

Indeed, Otpor’s leaders tended to be decidedly left-of-center Serbian nationalists who opposed the policies not only of the Milosevic regime and the U.S. government but of the traditional opposition parties as well. The success of the populist groundswell they generated forced the once-feuding opposition groups to unite behind a single opposition candidate, a move that made Milosevic’s defeat in the election possible. When the incumbent tried to steal the election, they were able to organize the successful uprising that forced the election results to be honored. As the Times of Great Britain describes it, rather than being part of some kind of Western plot, Otpor was inspired by the “situationists of 1968 Paris, Martin Luther King, the writings of the nonviolent resistance guru Gene Sharp and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

Echoing those who insisted that Ronald Reagan was somehow responsible for the democratic revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in 1989, some supporters of the 1999 war on Yugoslavia have tried to claim that Bill Clinton deserves credit for Milosevic’s ouster 18 months later. Neither the U.S. president’s leadership nor NATO’s vast arsenal was responsible for Serbia’s dramatic transition. Credit belongs solely to the people who faced down the tanks with the bare hands — in Serbia as well as elsewhere in the region.

Strongly nationalist parties dominated the Serbian government in the years immediately after the ouster of Milosevic and immediately clashed with Washington over extradition requests, economic issues and the status of Kosovo. Despite the recent election of a government dominated by more liberal parties, relations between Serbia and the United States remain tense, particularly over the U.S. recognition of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence last year. The Socialist Party — descendents of Marshall Tito’s partisans who established communist rule in Yugoslavia 65 years ago — has kicked out the remaining Milosevic supporters from its leadership, split with the right-wing ultra-nationalists with whom Milosevic had allied, and is now part of the current coalition government.

With the success of the democratic revolution, Otpor was unable to sustain itself as an independent movement and eventually dissolved. In 2002, some of Otpor’s former leaders founded the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). This independent NGO disseminated the lessons learned from their successful nonviolent struggle through scores of trainings and workshops for pro-democracy activists and others around the world, including Egypt, Palestine, Western Sahara, West Papua, Eritrea, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Tonga, Burma and Zimbabwe as well as labor, anti-war, and immigration rights activists in the United States.

CANVAS leaders such as Srdja Popovic and Ivan Marovic have advised pro-democracy activists against taking money from U.S.-funded agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), as they did while in Otpor. Recognizing how autocratic regimes can use such funding to discredit opposition movements, Popovic and Marovic have criticized NED and similar groups as undermining pro-democracy struggles around the world, due to what they see as its political agenda on behalf of the U.S. government. They remain harsh critics of U.S. imperialism, repeatedly denouncing U.S military intervention in Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as well as U.S. support for armed rebel groups around the world. Popovic — whose mother narrowly escaped death when U.S. forces bombed her building in 1999 — was among the CANVAS trainers for the pro-democracy movement in the Maldives prior to their victorious struggle against the autocratic U.S.-backed regime of Mahmoud Gayoom. He recently returned to the archipelago to support an effort to rescind the government’s recognition of Kosovo, during which it was revealed that government’s decision had been influenced by a $2 million bribe.

Ironically, scores of leftist websites have posted articles insisting that Popovic, Marovic, and their comrades in Otpor were simply tools of the CIA, and that their subsequent work with human rights activists through CANVAS was part of a sinister Bush administration effort at “regime change.” Along with the ongoing rationalizations for Serbian repression in Kosovo during the 1990s, such arguments revealed a profound ignorance of the complex realities of Serbian politics.

The U.S. Role in Serbia’s Economic Transition

Though the U.S. role in Serbia’s political transition was quite limited, U.S. pressure on Serbia to complete its economic transition was more direct.

The initial wave of privatization of Yugoslavia’s socialist economy, which commenced in 1990 under the leadership of Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Markovic, largely divided shares among the workers rather than simply selling them off to private capitalists. These efforts ground to a halt within a couple years, as Milosevic and his clique realized they had little to gain. The imposition of Western sanctions in 1992 in reaction to the outbreak of war did little to limit the war-making ability of Serb forces or the material comfort of Milosevic and allied elites. The sanctions did, however, enrich his coterie of wealthy supporters who profited from the resulting black market. During the sanctions period, Milosevic initiated a second wave of privatization that essentially transferred public wealth to a small group of his cronies, allowing management of enterprises still under formal state ownerships to divert much of their capital and assets to parallel private enterprises. Some of the beneficiaries of this massive scam remain among the richest people in Serbia.

During the war 10 years ago, Clinton and other NATO leaders were clear that a major goal in the war was ending what they saw as one of the last holdouts in Europe to the neo-liberal economic order. As a former banker, Milosevic had been backed by the West earlier in his political career as someone who could guide Yugoslavia in that direction, but it was clear by 1999 that he was unwilling to play by the West’s rules. In his book Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo (Praeger 2005), John Norris, who served as communications director for Clinton’s Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott during the war, wrote, “It was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform — not the plight of the Kosovar Albanians — that best explains NATO’s war.”

The third wave of privatization took place after the fall of Milosevic in 2000. Serbia’s new democratic government found itself under enormous foreign debt, with much of its industrial infrastructure in ruins. The United States and its allies bombed more than 300 state-owned factories and other publicly controlled industrial facilities, but didn’t target a single privately owned enterprise. Under pressure from the United States and international financial institutions, Serbia sold off most of the damaged factories for far less than their actual worth to local tycoons and foreign corporations.

Resistance to the Western model of globalization in most parts of the world has been led by progressive forces demanding a new more democratic and egalitarian order. In Serbia, however, resistance to the West was led by right-wing nationalists, reactionary clerics, corrupt magnates and bureaucrats unwilling to subject their ill-gotten gains to regulatory oversight. As a result, many Serbs were not prepared to resist this kind of encroachment. Many on the Serbian left welcomed the rise of liberal capitalism as an improvement over the crony capitalism under Milosevic. Similarly, whatever the limits of the Western European model, most Serbs viewed it as far more progressive than the reactionary ultra-nationalism of Milosevic and his allies. Still, the country is plagued by corruption, high unemployment, and growing inequality. Many Serbs on the left see integration into the European Union as perhaps the best they can realistically hope for at this point, and have allied themselves with pro-Europe liberals against the nationalist right.

And while privatization of the public enterprises was not the goal of Otpor and most of the pro-democracy activists, the democratic governments that they helped bring to power were given little choice. Western governments, the World Bank, and other Western-dominated international financial institutions offered desperately needed international aid and trade to revive the war-battered economy but at a price: namely, the country’s financial independence. The people of Serbia had found that the departing dictatorship and the damage from a two-and-a-half-month bombing campaign had left their country in such desperate financial shape that the trade-off of political freedom was economic dependency.

As with many other new democracies that have emerged elsewhere in recent decades, Serbs could now freely elect their own leaders. But these leaders would be subjected to the dictates of Western capital. Still, the Serbs’ history of resistance against both the forces of Western imperialism and reactionary ultra-nationalism leaves hope that a more progressive and democratic Serbia will emerge.

Pelosi the Hawk

Reports by international human rights groups and from within Israel in recent weeks have revealed the massive scale of war-crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law, committed by Israeli forces during their three-week offensive against the Gaza Strip earlier this year. Despite this, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has steadfastly stood by her insistence that the U.S.-backed Israeli government has no legal or moral responsibility for the tragic consequence of the war.

This is just one episode in a long history of efforts by Pelosi to undermine international humanitarian law, in regards to actions by a country she has repeatedly referred to as America’s most important ally in the Middle East. It’s also part of her overall right-wing agenda in the Middle East. As the powerful Speaker of the House, Pelosi could very well undermine efforts by President Barack Obama in the coming years to moderate U.S. policy toward that volatile region.

Support for the Gaza War

During the height of Israel’s devastating offensive on the Gaza Strip in January, Pelosi pushed through a resolution putting the House of Representatives on record calling “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]

Not only did the resolution ignore Israel’s attacks in Gaza in November and other violations of the ceasefire that served to “break the calm,” it put forward an extreme reinterpretation of international humanitarian law apparently designed to absolve any nation that kills large numbers of civilians, as long as the other side allegedly initiated the conflict.

The resolution favorably quoted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, regarding responsibility for civilian deaths and for the causes of the conflict, but cites no one else. Though the Gaza War should be considered “a final and eloquent testimony to the complete failure of the neoconservative movement in United States foreign policy,” as Juan Cole has written, Pelosi instead aligned herself and the Democratic congressional majority with the failed ideology of the outgoing Bush administration. Indeed, some of the language of Pelosi’s resolution was even to the right of Bush: For example, while the January 8 UN Security Council resolution — which received the endorsement of Rice and other administration officials — condemned “all acts of violence and terror directed against civilians,” Pelosi’s resolution only condemned the violence and terror of Hamas. Similarly, her resolution placed conditions for a ceasefire on the Palestinian side that was even more stringent than those advocated by the Bush administration and endorsed eventually by the Israelis.

And, despite International Red Cross reports of Israeli forces illegally preventing emergency workers from reaching wounded civilians, killing aid and health workers, and attacking hospitals and ambulances, Pelosi’s resolution went on record praising Israel for having “facilitated humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

Pelosi’s resolution also cited the Israeli invasion as part of Israel’s “right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against Hamas’s unceasing aggression, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter.” In reality, the UN Charter explicitly prohibits nations going to war unless they “first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.” Yet 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 doesn’t grant any nation the right to engage in such massive and disproportionate warfare against densely packed cities and refugee camps.

Pelosi also claimed that Hamas bore responsibility for the more than 700 deaths of Palestinian civilians because of the alleged use of “human shields.” Hamas was certainly guilty of less-severe humanitarian violations, such as not taking all necessary steps to prevent civilian casualties while positioning fighters and armaments, but this isn’t the same as 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. In any case, there have been scores of well-documented cases of civilian casualties in areas where there were no Hamas fighters.

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the influential “pro-Israel” lobby, did not draft Pelosi’s resolution, unlike some similar resolutions in recent years. The wording of the resolution came primarily out of the offices of Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Howard Berman. This was a completely Democratic initiative led by Pelosi herself.

Pelosi’s siding with the Bush administration in its defense of violations of international humanitarian law by U.S. allies was nothing new. When Bush defended Israel’s assaults on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure in 2006 and defied the international community by blocking UN efforts to impose a ceasefire, Pelosi voted in favor of a resolution commending him for “fully supporting Israel.” This Pelosi-backed resolution claimed that Israel’s actions were legitimate self-defense under the UN Charter and, despite evidence to the contrary, praised “Israel’s longstanding commitment to minimizing civilian loss and welcom[ed] Israel’s continued efforts to prevent civilian casualties.” Directly contradicting empirical studies by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and even the U.S. Army War College, all of which noted the absence of any credible evidence of even a single civilian fatality resulting from such practices, she went on recording insisting that the nearly 800 civilian deaths were a result of Hezbollah using “human shields.” Pelosi also echoed Bush’s defense of Israel’s 2002 West Bank offensive, which also was directed primarily at civilian targets. Once again contradicting findings by reputable human rights groups, she voted in favor of a resolution sponsored by right-wing Republican leader Tom DeLay claiming the massive assault was “aimed solely at the terrorist infrastructure.”

Pelosi attacked the International Court of Justice for its landmark 2004 ruling calling for the enforcement of the Fourth Geneva Convention in Israeli-occupied territories. She also voted in favor of a resolution condemning the World Court for its near-unanimous advisory opinion that Israel’s separation barrier shouldn’t be built beyond Israel’s internationally recognized border into the occupied West Bank in order to incorporate illegal settlements into Israel, warning that members of the international community would “risk a strongly negative impact on their relationship” with the United States if they dared push for the implementation of the ruling. (See my article “Attacks Against World Court by Congress Reveal Growing Bipartisan Hostility to International Law.”) And Pelosi has even gone as far as defending Israel’s use of death squads in the extra-judicial killings of suspected militants.

Pelosi’s Middle East Record

Pelosi’s right-wing agenda in the Middle East goes beyond efforts to undermine international humanitarian law. During the Bush years, she tried to push congressional Democrats to support the administration’s broader Middle East agenda. “There is no division on policy between us and President Bush, be it on Israel, Palestine or Syria,” she declared.

Nancy Pelosi doesn’t view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of the many rights and wrongs of both parties. For her, it’s all the fault of the Palestinians, and the responsibility for the violence and the failure of the peace process rests on them alone.

Pelosi has long insisted that the Palestinians’ 1993 decision to recognize Israeli control over 78% of Palestine was not enough. She has even portrayed former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s 2000 proposal to create a Palestinian Bantustan on approximately 18% of Palestine — which would have effectively divided the territory into four non-contiguous units with Israel controlling the borders, airspace, and water resources — as “a generous and historic proposal.” She further insisted that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s rejection of that proposal was indicative of the Palestinians’ lack of commitment to peace, ignoring his subsequent acceptance of President Bill Clinton’s peace plan put forward five months later. Echoing the Israeli right’s claim that the Palestinians’ various peace proposals are all just a ruse and that they simply want to destroy Israel, Pelosi insists that the conflict is about “the fundamental right of Israel to exist” and that it is “absolute nonsense” to claim it has anything do to with the Israeli occupation.

Subsequently, Pelosi has sought to undermine the road-map for Israeli-Palestinian peace. In May 2003, she signed a letter to Bush insisting that the peace process must be based not on an end to Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land seized in the 1967 war, but “above all” on the end of Palestinian violence and the establishment of a new Palestinian leadership. Though the road-map called for both Palestinians and their Israeli occupiers to simultaneously work to fulfill their obligations, she insisted that the Palestinians alone were responsible for implementing the first stage of the Road Map and failed to even mention any of Israel’s reciprocal responsibilities, such as ending the sieges and military assaults on Palestinian population centers and halting construction of additional illegal settlements.

Speaking about a visit to one of the illegal Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2004, Pelosi referred to an infiltration by local Palestinians that had taken place that morning as part of “the daily reality of Israel: even moments of peace and beauty are haunted by the specter of violence.” By implying that the Gaza Strip, seized by force by the Israeli army in 1967, was part of Israel, Pelosi apparently hoped to reinforce efforts by the Israeli right to resist compliance with a series of UN Security Council resolutions, and a ruling by the International Court of Justice to withdraw these settlements in accordance with international law.

When Israel finally withdrew its illegal settlements from the occupied Gaza Strip the following year, keeping the territory under a strict siege and blockade, she praised it as a “courageous,” “gut-wrenching” decision for Israel, as if the Gaza Strip wasn’t actually occupied territory but instead a part of Israel itself, generously given up by the Israeli government in the interest of peace..

Double Standards

Pelosi has supported strict economic sanctions and even threats of military force against Middle Eastern governments targeted by the Bush administration — such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Iran, or Syria — that were slow in complying with UN Security Council resolutions. Yet she has never publicly called on Israel to abide by any of the dozens of Security Council resolutions on international humanitarian law, illegal annexation of militarily-occupied territory, or nuclear proliferation with which that government remains in material breech. In Pelosi’s worldview, a country’s obligations to comply with the UN Charter and UN Security Council resolutions depend not on objective international legal standards but on their relations with the United States.

After supporting false assertions that Saddam Hussein had somehow reconstituted his “weapons of mass destruction” in 2002, Pelosi now claims it’s actually Iran — another oil-rich Middle Eastern nation — that “represents a clear threat to Israel and to America.” She has refused to support calls for a nuclear weapons-free zone for all of Southwest Asia, which would include nuclear states Israel, Pakistan, and India, and would link up with already existing nuclear weapons-free zones in Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the South Pacific. Instead, while believing that these U.S. allies need not be pressured to give up their nukes, she argues that Iran “must be confronted by an international coalition against proliferation.” Indeed, she threatened Iran for its nuclear program while defending Israel for its development of a sizable nuclear arsenal.

Pelosi voted in favor of sanctions against Syria based on its refusal to unilaterally give up its missiles — even though Israel (along with such other U.S. allies as Turkey, Israel and Egypt) have even more advanced missile programs — and its refusal to unilaterally give up their chemical weapons stockpiles, even though Israel and Egypt have much larger chemical weapons arsenals.

In short, Pelosi supports the position advocated by the Bush administration rejecting law-based universal standards to challenge the threat of weapons proliferation in the volatile Middle East, insisting the United States can unilaterally decide which countries can and cannot have certain weaponry.

Prior to the division of power between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in 2007, Pelosi supported Bush’s policy of refusing to resume normal relations with the Fatah-led Palestine Authority, unless the cabinet excluded members of Hamas or any party that doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, refuses to renounce violence, or fails to endorse previous agreements in the peace process. By contrast, Pelosi has raised no concerns about the new Israeli government, led by officials who refuse to recognize Palestinians’ right to statehood, refuse to renounce violence, and fail to endorse previous agreements. Indeed, despite Israel’s new foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman calling for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israel and much of the West Bank, Pelosi has not uttered a word of concern.

Moreover, Pelosi has also repeatedly pushed to increase U.S. military aid to Israel, rejecting calls by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to condition the arms transfers on an improvement in Israel’s human rights record in the occupied territories and an end to attacks on civilian population centers.

Undermining International Law

Such double standards are part of Pelosi’s larger effort to undermine international law and UN authority. She has from the beginning sought to exclude the United Nations from any role in monitoring or implementing the roadmap for Middle East peace. According to Pelosi’s aforementioned letter to Bush, allowing the United Nations or the European nations that cosponsored the roadmap to share responsibility in overseeing implementation as originally planned “might only lessen the chances of moving forward” toward peace since “the United States has developed a level of credibility and trust with all parties in the region which no other country shares.”

In short, Pelosi was arguing that the Bush administration — despite its contempt for the UN Charter and basic premises of international law and its support of Israeli occupation forces — was more reliable than the United Nations or the European Union in monitoring the peace process.

Pelosi has also supported legislation that attacks the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). For example, Pelosi faults UNRWA for making “no effort to permanently resettle Palestinian refugees,” even though this would go well beyond its mandate and be against the wishes of the majority of refugees, who insist upon returning to their homeland in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She joined far-right UN critics in raising dubious allegations that “UNRWA facilities have been used for terrorist training and bases for terrorist operations,” and that the UNRWA educational system of using textbooks and educational materials “promote anti-Semitism, denial of the existence and the right to exist of the state of Israel, and exacerbate stereotypes and tensions between the Palestinians and Israelis.”

Right-Wing not Pro-Israel

Nancy Pelosi isn’t, as some of her critics would have it, too “pro-Israel;” rather, she is simply too right-wing. Her positions on U.S. policy toward Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and a number of other nations in that region put her closer to the right-wing Christian Coalition than the moderate National Council of Churches, closer to the neoconservative Project for a New American Century than to the liberal Peace Action, and closer to right-wing Zionist groups like AIPAC than liberal Zionist groups like Americans for Peace Now or Brit Tzedek v’Shalom.

The 2006 Lebanon War, which Israel launched after months of pressure by the Bush administration to attack its northern neighbor, ended up as a disaster for Israel, as outlined by the Israeli government’s 2007 Winograd Report. During the fighting, as thousands of Israeli peace activists took the streets of Tel Aviv chanting “We will not kill or die for Bush,” Pelosi was back in Washington essentially saying, “Oh, yes you should!”

Where Pelosi’s allegiance lies in the Israeli political spectrum is not only illustrated by her opposition to the Israeli peace movement, but in her outspoken support of former prime minister and war criminal Ariel Sharon. She repeatedly praised the right-wing Israeli leader for his “remarkable leadership,” endorsing Sharon’s construction of a separation barrier deep inside the West Bank as well as his “disengagement plan,” which would eventually annex most of Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied territory into Israel.

And she has been quite intolerant of Democrats who dissent from her hawkish views, heavily pressuring House Democrats to support various resolutions supporting Bush’s Middle East policy and seeking to damage the campaigns of insurgent Democrats who challenge her right-wing views. For example, Pelosi attacked Howard Dean, early in his campaign for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, for suggesting the United States should be more “even-handed” towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She has even condemned former President Jimmy Carter for opposing Israeli occupation policies in the West Bank. No Democratic leader has ever criticized either a former president or the front-running presidential candidate of his or her own party on any issue as harshly as Pelosi criticized Dean and Carter on Israel and Palestine.

Pelosi’s views don’t reflect her role as a major Democratic fundraiser. Her antipathy toward Palestinians goes back long before she came into leadership. As a junior congresswoman in 1988, without links to wealthy national contributors, she was an outspoken opponent of Palestine’s right to exist, helping lead an effort to defeat a ballot proposition in San Francisco supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

Pelosi’s right-wing Israel policy is less a matter of AIPAC’s power and more about the inability of the progressive community in San Francisco and Democrats elsewhere to force her to do otherwise. She changed her position in support of the U.S. occupation and counterinsurgency war in Iraq only because her constituents and Democrats nationwide demanded it, fearing the political consequences of doing otherwise. She isn’t likely to change her position on these other important Middle East policy issues unless we do the same.

Unfortunately, few Democrats are even aware of how far to the right Pelosi is when it comes to the Middle East. Not only has the mainstream media failed to call attention to her Middle East agenda, but progressive publications have failed do so as well. In These Times praised Pelosi for her “solid record” on human rights issues, while Ms. Magazine lauded her for having a “voting record strong on…human rights,” failing to even mention her defense of Israeli war crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians.

Obama was initially able to withstand attacks by right-wing Republicans over the Chas Freeman appointment and tentative plans to participate in the UN Anti-Racism Conference, but he capitulated once prominent Democrats began pressuring him as well. Unless, then, rank-and-file Democrats are willing to challenge Pelosi on the Middle East, there is little hope that Congressional Democrats will allow the Obama administration to take human rights or international law seriously — not just in terms of Israel and its neighbors — but anywhere else.

Assessing the Republican Party Platform

Among the more frightening aspects of the platform is its unconstitutional assertion that the president has sole prerogative to make decisions on matters of war, rejecting any role for Congressional “interference” in foreign policy matters. This appears to be a pre-emptive assertion by the Republican Party that, in the event of a John McCain win in November, they would reject any attempt by the likely Democratic-controlled Congress to impose any checks and balances to prevent a possible war on Iran or other dangerous executive initiatives.

The Republican platform calls for the development and deployment of both national and theater missile-defense systems. These incredibly expensive weapons systems, which are unlikely to work in any case, violate arms-control agreements signed and ratified under the Nixon administration.

Also disturbing is the platform’s classification of immigration as a national security issue, which has serious ramifications in terms of the nature of legislation and enforcement. It also claims that warrantless wiretapping of American citizens is “vital” to America’s national security.

And, despite the Clinton administration’s increases in the already bloated military budget after the end of the Cold War, the Republican platform insists that “national defense was neglected and under-funded by the Clinton Administration.” The platform then calls for a significant increase in the size of the American armed forces, even though the United States – at barely 4% of the world’s population – already accounts for over one-half of the world’s military spending.

Attacking the United Nations

Nearly a full quarter of the foreign policy segment of the Republican platform is devoted to attacking the United Nations and international law. The party of the most scandal-ridden and corrupt administration in modern U.S. history ironically attacks the UN as “scandal-ridden and corrupt.” It condemns the UN for alleged discrimination against Israel, apparently for its insistence that Israel comply with international humanitarian law. And the platform applauds the successful U.S. effort to have Israel included in the UN’s regional grouping of Western European nations although Israel is located in the Middle East.

In apparent reference to unsuccessful efforts by the international community to insist that the United States and Great Britain comply by the UN charter and not launch their illegal invasion of Iraq, the platform insists that the UN should not “prevent our joining with other democracies to protect our vital national interests.” In peacekeeping operations, while maintaining that Americans should be able to command armed forces of other countries, the platform asserts that “as a matter of U.S. sovereignty, American forces must remain under American command.”

The platform rejects the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), designed to prosecute war criminals such as the Sudanese leaders responsible for the genocidal war in Darfur, claiming that it would somehow limit the ability of the United States to “act abroad to meet global security requirements.” The platform goes so far as to back legislation punishing other countries that do ratify the ICC agreement. Such legislation would authorize the president to use military force against countries – such as the Netherlands, where the ICC is located – that detain citizens of the United States or allied nations held by or on behalf of the ICC.

The platform also rejects the Law of the Sea Treaty, which defines the rights and responsibilities of the world’s nations in their use of the planet’s oceans, establishing guidelines for environmental protection and the management of marine natural resources. The treaty has been ratified by 80% of the world’s nations.

The platform condemns the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women as “radical social engineering” that fails to “respect the fundamental institutions of marriage and family.” The United States is currently the only country besides Somalia – notorious for its use of child soldiers – that has refused to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It strongly affirms the Bush administration policy of not supporting UN programs that fund family planning or other women’s health work as long as any of the funds go to any non-governmental organization that, even in activities totally unrelated to the UN-funded programs, engages in any work related to abortions.

The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

The Republican platform calls for nothing less than an outright “military victory” in Iraq, something which has eluded the United States for over five years despite its overwhelming military might. As the Bush administration has claimed every year since the 2003 U.S. invasion, “A stable, unified, and democratic Iraqi nation is within reach.” Yet, despite the relative lull in violence in recent months, such a scenario appears to be as far from reality as ever. The platform rejects any timetables for a U.S. withdrawal. Despite the ruling Iraqi coalition’s domination by sectarian fundamentalist Shia parties and their militias, the platform argues that continuing to sacrifice American lives and dollars to keep that regime in power would somehow “give us a strategic ally in the struggle against extremism.”

Using language remarkable similar to that of the Nixon administration in its defense of policies that needlessly and tragically prolonged the war in Vietnam, the platform insists that “To those who have sacrificed so much, we owe the commitment that American forces will leave that country in victory and with honor.”

The Republican platform claims that a military victory in Iraq is necessary in order to “deny al-Qaeda a safe haven” and “limit Iranian influence in the Middle East.” But al-Qaeda had no safe haven in Iraq and Iran had virtually no influence in Iraq until the Republican administration invaded Iraq and overthrew its government, which had until then successfully suppressed both pro-Iranian elements as well radical Sunnis who could potentially align with al-Qaeda.

By claiming that victory is in reach, however, the platform prepares the ground for blaming all subsequent terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda affiliates and ongoing Iranian influence in the Middle East on the Democrats for not “finishing the job” in Iraq should they win in November.

Despite ongoing reversals in Afghanistan in the face of a resurgent Taliban, the Republican platform claims that “there has been great progress” in that country. By rejecting “the Democratic Party’s idea that America can succeed in Afghanistan only by failure in Iraq,” the platform equates the redeployment of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan as surrender.

Other Middle Eastern Issues

The Republican platform singles out the Kingdom of Morocco for its “cooperation and social and economic development” even though Morocco continues its illegal occupation of Western Sahara and brutal suppression of nonviolent pro-independence activists. The family dictatorships of the Arabian peninsula are given similar praise and, despite their ongoing oppression of women, are validated for their progress “especially with regard to the rights of women.” The platform claims that these monarchies, despite their recent ties to the Taliban and other Islamic extremists, “deserve our appreciation and assistance” for their supposed support in “the war on terror.”

In contrast to those suffering under repressive U.S-backed regimes in the Gulf region, the Republican platform expresses its support for “the people of Iran who seek peace and aspire to freedom” and “have a right to choose their own government.” Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans killed in Iraq have died at the hands of Baathist, Salafi Sunni, and other anti-Iranian guerrillas, the platform claims that it is Iran that “provides weapons that are killing our troops in Iraq.” Though the United States has, in recent years, invaded two countries bordering Iran, the platform claims that it is Iran which “threatens its neighbors.” And, despite a lack of opposition to the nuclear weapons arsenals of India, Israel, and Pakistan, the platform declares that the United States “will not allow the current regime in Tehran to develop nuclear weapons.”

The platform rejects Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s proposals to negotiate with the Iranians and calls for stricter sanctions against that country. The Republicans also call for stricter sanctions against foreign companies doing business with Iran, even though such restrictions against private third-party entities directly violates provisions of the World Trade Organization that the United States insists on upholding in other contexts. More ominously, using hyperbolic language similar to that of the current Republican administration in justifying the invasion of Iraq six years ago, the Republican platform insists that “the U.S. must retain all options in dealing with a situation that gravely threatens our security, our interests, and the safety of our friends.”

Despite the withdrawal of Syrian forces and the end of Syria’s de facto control of the Lebanese government as a result of the nonviolent Cedar Revolution of 2004, the platform insists that Lebanon is neither independent nor sovereign. This language serves as a possible justification for future Israeli incursions into that country. Despite the Republicans’ support of Israel’s 1978-2000 occupation of southern Lebanon in violation of no less than 10 UN Security Council resolutions as well as its renunciation of the UN’s authority to uphold international law elsewhere in the document, the platform calls for “the full implementation of all UN resolutions concerning that country,” presumably in reference to those calling for the disarmament of militia which had fought off previous U.S.-backed Israeli assaults on Lebanon.

The Republican platform goes on record defending Israeli attacks against populated Lebanese and Palestinian areas as legitimate acts of self-defense; insists that Jerusalem be the undivided capital of Israel (but not of Palestine) and that the United States break with other nations by moving its embassy there; that there be no timetables or pressure on Israel to find a resolution in negotiations with the Palestinians; and that a final peace agreement be based upon “changes that reflect today’s realities,” presumably meaning Palestinian acceptance of the large-scale Israeli colonization of the occupied West Bank.

Latin America and Africa

The platform strongly endorses the proposed free-trade agreement with Colombia. It claims that Democratic Party opposition to the agreement is based not on concerns over the widespread repression by the Colombian regime and allied right-wing paramilitaries of labor activists and others, but because of pressure from “union bosses.” The platform also refers to the Colombian regime, which has been repeatedly condemned by human rights groups for its gross and systematic human rights abuses, as “a courageous ally.”

Though silent on far greater human rights abuses by U.S. allies, the platform singles out the government of Cuba for criticism for oppressing its people and holding political prisoners. It calls for continuing strict trade sanctions and the ban on Americans traveling to that socialist country. The platform endorses the work of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which is dedicated to hastening Cuba’s transition to a free-market economy. It also calls for “a dedicated platform for transmission of Radio and Television Martí into Cuba,” presumably meaning flying aircraft with radio and television transmitters just north of the island to broadcast propaganda from right-wing Cuban exiles based in Miami.

Similarly, the platform notes how the “promise of democracy and freedom in Africa is diminished by the government of Zimbabwe,” citing the repression of the Mugabe regime, and the violence and intimidation that has made free and fair elections impossible. However, there is no mention of Equatorial Guinea, Swaziland, Congo, Cameroon, Togo, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Gabon, Egypt, Tunisia, Ethiopia, or any other U.S.-backed regimes in Africa that engage in similar repression. While supporting sanctions against Zimbabwe, which have thus far been unsuccessful, the platform fails to consider simply withholding U.S. military aid and economic support for these other dictatorships.

More of the Same

As this platform indicates, should the Republicans win in November, U.S. foreign policy will continue in its unilateralist and militaristic direction, with little regard for international law and human rights except for their highly selective application to advance U.S. policy goals. While the Democratic platform is disturbingly similar to that of the Republicans in a number of areas – particularly regarding Israel, Afghanistan, and military spending – it parts company with the Republican Party’s emphasis on military solutions to complex political problems and American exceptionalism within the community of nations.

Most Americans see the domestic economy as the primary concern this election season. Nevertheless, the Democrats would do well to highlight their differences with the Republicans on foreign policy issues. After all, public opinion polls indicate that on most of the issues highlighted above the incumbent party appears to be out of sync with the majority of American voters.

Lebanon Intrusion

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. military intervention in Lebanon, and 25 years after a second U.S. military intervention which left hundreds of Americans and thousands of Lebanese dead, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a resolution by a huge bipartisan majority which may lay the groundwork for a third one. At a minimum, this move has crudely and unnecessarily inserted the United States into Lebanon’s complex political infighting.

In response to a brief spasm of violence between armed Lebanese factions early last month, the House passed a strongly worded resolution claiming that “the terrorist group Hezbollah, in response to the justifiable exercise of authority by the sovereign, democratically elected Government of Lebanon, initiated an unjustifiable insurrection.” House Resolution 1194 – which was sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Democrats’ chief foreign policy spokesman in the House of Representatives – also called on the Bush administration “to immediately take all appropriate actions to support and strengthen the legitimate Government of Lebanon under Prime Minister Fouad Siniora,” wording which many interpreted as a license for future U.S. military action.

What actually happened during the second week of May was not that simple. The fighting was not between Hezbollah and the Lebanese state, but between various militias allied with some of the parties of the country’s two major rival coalitions. The Lebanese army remained neutral throughout the two days of fighting and Hezbollah and its allied forces quickly and voluntarily handed over areas of Beirut they had briefly seized to the Lebanese army.

The uprising took place during a general strike to protest the Siniora cabinet’s refusal to raise the minimum wage and increase fuel subsidies in the face of rising prices in food and other basic commodities. The tense atmosphere was exacerbated by the politicized firing of a popular brigadier general in charge of security at the Beirut Airport and efforts to close down Hezbollah’s telecommunication network, which had played an important role in mobilizing defenses and relief operations during the massive Israeli bombing campaign against Lebanon in 2006. The Bush administration had been strongly encouraging the prime minister to enact such policies.

Demonizing Hezbollah

According to resolution co-sponsor Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), however, the conflict was simply a matter of the people of Lebanon being “in the throes of having their duly elected government taken away from them by terrorist organizations and rogue regimes.”

Lebanon’s “duly elected government,” a legacy of a complex system of confessional representation imposed by French colonialists as a means of divide-and-rule, consists of a slim majority made up by the May 14th Alliance, a broad coalition consisting of 17 parties dominated by center-right parties led by Sunni Muslims, a center-left party led by Druze, and far-right parties led by Christian Maronites. The opposition March 8th Alliance consists of 41 parties, led by the radical Shia Hezbollah, the more moderate Shia Amal, the centrist Maronite-led Free Patriotic Movement, as well as a various leftist and Arab nationalist parties.

Despite this complex amalgam of movements, the House resolution insists that Hezbollah had provoked “sectarian warfare” in the recent conflict, ignoring the fact that there were Muslims and Christians on both sides. One of the major combatants among the anti-Siniora forces, for example, was the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP), a Lebanese movement led by Greek Orthodox Christians.

The resolution also over-simplifies the complicated dimensions of the conflict by putting the onus for the violence exclusively on Hezbollah. For example, the resolution accuses Hezbollah of sacking and burning the buildings housing the television studios and newspaper of a pro-government party, when it fact it was SSNP partisans that did so. Similarly, the resolution also blames Hezbollah for “fomenting riots” and “blocking roads,” when in fact these were actions by trade unionists and others as part of a general strike pressing demands for greater economic justice, an agenda supported by those from across the political and sectarian divide. Such rioting and erection of barricades on major thoroughfares have occurred in dozens of other countries where governments, under pressure from the United States and international financial institutions, have attempted to impose structural adjustment programs and similar unpopular neoliberal economic policies.

Though the military actions by the militias of Hezbollah and its allies were clearly illegitimate, the hyperbolic language of the resolution went to rather absurd extremes. For example, the resolution referred to Hezbollah’s armed mobilization, in which its forces briefly controlled key neighborhoods in West Beirut, as an “illegal occupation of territory under the sovereignty of the Government of Lebanon.” By contrast, not once in Israel’s 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon between 1978 and 2000, which took place in defiance of no less than 10 UN Security Council resolutions, did Congress ever go on record condemning Israel’s actions or even referring to it as an illegal occupation that it was.

The resolution also claimed that “more than 80 Lebanese citizens have been murdered” as result of Hezbollah’s actions. However, independent reports indicate that the majority of those killed were armed combatants and that the vast majority of the killings took place outside the capital in fighting between other factions after Hezbollah ended its offensive in West Beirut. Furthermore, these same reports demonstrate that Hezbollah was far more disciplined than other militias in avoiding civilian targets.

The resolution also called on the European Union – which has already placed Hezbollah’s external security organization on its list of terrorist organizations for its involvement in assassinations overseas – to also designate Hezbollah itself as a terrorist organization. By contrast, there have been no such calls in Congress for other Lebanese parties – such as the Phalangists and the Lebanese Forces, whose militias have been responsible for at least as many civilian deaths as has Hezbollah but which are part of Siniora’s pro-Western coalition – to also be labeled as terrorist organizations.

Blaming Syria and Iran

In an apparent effort to lend support for the Bush administration’s bellicose policies toward Iran and Syria, the resolution – like a number of previous resolutions dealing with Lebanon – grossly exaggerated the influence of those two countries on Hezbollah. In reality, there is little evidence to suggest that Syrian and Iranian influence on this populist Shia party and its allies is any greater than U.S. influence on some of Lebanon’s other political factions. Indeed, many Lebanese blame the United States for much of the political crisis which has paralyzed the government during the past year and which culminated in last month’s violence as a result of the Bush administration’s pressure on Siniora and his allies to resist any compromise with the opposition on economic, political or security issues.

The parties of Siniora’s May 14 Alliance, while certainly benefiting from U.S. support and often amenable to policies pushed by the United States, ultimately make their decisions based upon their own perceived self-interests. Similarly, while Hezbollah certainly benefits from Iranian – and, to a lesser extent, Syrian – support and has often been amenable to those governments’ guidance, the Shia party is a genuinely populist, if somewhat reactionary, political movement whose leadership also makes their decisions based upon what they believe will advance their standing and their cause. Hezbollah in many ways serves as a successor to the left-leaning Arab nationalist parties of an earlier era in their resistance to Western domination and rule by traditional ruling elites.

Despite this, the resolution claims that Hezbollah’s goal in the uprising was not about the plight of the country’s poor and disproportionately Shia majority or a reaction to perceived discriminatory policies by the U.S.-back prime minister, but that it was actually an effort “to render Lebanon subservient to Iranian foreign policy.” The resolution also insists that the diverse group of opposition parties “continue to pursue an agenda favoring foreign interests over the will of the majority of Lebanese.”

The resolution went as far as calling upon the United Nations Security Council to “prohibit all air traffic between Iran and Lebanon and between Iran and Syria” on the grounds that it might be used to bring in arms to the Hezbollah militia, thereby placing a large bipartisan majority in Congress on record calling for the disruption of legitimate commercial activities between foreign countries due to the possibility that a few of the thousands of annual flights may include contraband armaments. This demand is particularly ironic given that the U.S. government transports tens of billions of dollars worth of armaments to repressive governments in the greater Middle East region every year, as well as arming private militias in Iraq and separatist guerrillas in Iran.

Sabotaging Reconciliation

The timing of the resolution, which was passed on May 22, a full two weeks after the fighting ended, appeared to some observers to have been part of a U.S. effort to undermine the sensitive talks between Lebanon’s various political factions then being hosted by the Arab League in Qatar. In passing a resolution endorsing one side and condemning the other, combined with threatening the use of “all appropriate actions” in support of one of the two sides, the House was apparently hoping to harden the negotiation positions of the pro-U.S. May 14 Alliance in order to cause the talks to fail.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) recognized the absurdity of the resolution by pointing out “This legislation strongly condemns Iranian and Syrian support to one faction in Lebanon while pledging to involve the United States on the other side. Wouldn’t it be better to be involved on neither side and instead encourage the negotiations that have already begun to resolve the conflict?”

Similarly, Rep Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), while noting the legitimate concerns regarding Hezbollah’s actions, observed, “We have to be very careful about how we dictate a certain policy in Lebanon for its effect on Lebanon and for its effect on the region,” expressing concern “that it will be seen by some as the United States trying to instigate more civil unrest in Lebanon at the same time that we say that we’re supporting the central government.” Noting correctly that the 2006 U.S.-backed Israeli war on Lebanon resulted in strengthening Hezbollah at the expense of moderate pro-Western elements, the Ohio Congressman went on to observe that “We should be doing everything we can to strengthen a process of dialogue in Lebanon. I don’t believe that this resolution accomplishes that. I think it accomplishes the opposite.”

Kucinich went on to note how U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch went to Lebanon “to basically make sure that the government took a hard-line position and that it would forestall the possibility of any dialogue.” The former presidential candidate also observed, in reference to his visits to Lebanon, that “One of the things that I thought was most telling was that there was a concern about working out an agreement without the interference of outside parties, without the interference of Iran or the interference of the United States.” (Emphasis added.)

Fortunately, despite this apparent effort to undermine a settlement, Arab League negotiators were eventually able to get Lebanon’s two major political alliances to agree to a power-sharing agreement.

Other observers, including Paul, warned of the consequences of further U.S. meddling in Lebanon’s internal conflicts. “This resolution leads us closer to a wider war in the Middle East,” Paul said. “It involves the United States unnecessarily in an internal conflict between competing Lebanese political factions and will increase rather than decrease the chance for an increase in violence. The Lebanese should work out political disputes on their own or with the assistance of regional organizations like the Arab League.”

Paul concluded by cautioning his fellow House members to “reject this march to war and to reject H. Res. 1194.” His colleagues were unwilling to heed his warnings, however, and the resolution passed with only 10 dissenting votes in the 435-member body.

Taking Sides

Though there is more than enough blame to go around on all sides for the longstanding political impasse and the more recent outbreak of violence, the Congressional resolution put the blame entirely on one side.

The resolution correctly observes how “United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701 call for the disbanding and disarming of all militias in Lebanon” but that “Hizballah has contemptuously dismissed the requirements of the United Nations Security Council by refusing to disarm.” However, there is nothing in the resolution regarding militias allied with the U.S.-backed prime minister, which are also required to disarm. Siniora’s Future Movement militia, which Hezbollah fighters battled on the streets of West Beirut, has emerged since these UN resolutions passed without any apparent disapproval from Washington.

The resolution also condemned Hezbollah for attacking buildings of rival parties, but there were no criticisms for similar actions by the other side, such as when pro-government gunmen attacked and seized the SSNP and Baath Party offices in Tripoli and stormed SSNP offices in Halba, killing seven party activists.

Yet, for the Democratic-controlled Congress, as with the Bush administration, the complex cleavages of the contemporary Middle East can be simply understood as a matter of good versus evil. “We have a situation here where a democratic, freedom-loving, sovereign people are insisting on the results of their own self-determined election that they came to through democratic processes and are doing that in the face of outside interference in the form of armed opposition, murders, assassinations that are being sponsored by Hezbollah, financed by the Iranian and Syrian regimes,” Ackerman said.

And Switching Sides

As in Iraq, the United States has a history of switching sides in terms of who is seen as the bad guy and who is seen as the good guy. For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, the United States backed right-wing predominantly Maronite militias against the predominantly Druze Progressive Socialist Party. During the 1982-84 U.S. intervention in Lebanon, U.S. forces fought the Socialists directly, including launching heavy air and sea bombardments against Druze villages in the Shouf Mountains. Now, however, the U.S. supports the Socialists, with the recent House resolution specifically defending the group.

Similarly, the United States supported the Shia Amal militia in 1985-86 when it was fighting armed Palestinian groups as well as in 1988 when Amal was fighting Hezbollah forces. Now, the United States is strongly opposed to Amal, essentially acting as if they are one with Hezbollah.

The United States supported Syria’s initial military intervention in Lebanon back in 1976 and supported the bloody Syrian-instigated coup in late 1990 that consolidated Syria’s political control of the country. Subsequently, however, the United States became a leading critic of Syria’s domineering role of the country’s government, which continued until a popular nonviolent uprising during the spring of 2005 forced a Syrian withdrawal from the country.

In a more recent example, as part of a U.S. policy to support hard-line Sunni fundamentalist groups as a counter-weight to the growth of radical Shia movements in Iraq and Lebanon, Lebanese parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri provided amnesty and released radical Salafi militants from jail. As such militants began causing problems in the northern city of Tripoli last year from a base in a Palestinian refugee camp, the U.S. then backed a bloody Lebanese army crackdown.

One of the most bizarre switches in U.S. allegiances involves former Lebanese Army General Michel Aoun, a Maronite, and his Free Patriotic Movement, the most popular Christian-led political group in the country. As an ally to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1990, the United States gave a green light to the Syrians to have Aoun overthrown as interim Lebanese prime minister in a violent coup. Not long afterward, however, the United States then switched sides to support Aoun and oppose the Syrians and their supporters. As recently as 2003, Aoun was feted by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies – a neo-conservative group with close ties with the Bush administration, which includes among its leaders Newt Gingrich, James Woolsey, Jack Kemp, and Richard Perle, as well as Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Joseph Lieberman – which declared him a champion of freedom and democracy. Aoun won similar praise by some of the very members of Congress who supported this latest resolution when he testified that year before the House International Relations Committee.

Soon after his return from exile, however, Aoun became one of the most outspoken opponents of the U.S.-backed political leaders and parties which dominate the current Lebanese government and he and his movement are now allied with Hezbollah in the March 8th Alliance. Not surprisingly, he has gained the wrath of the Bush administration and Congress.

One would think that, with a history like this, Congress would think twice before going on record in support of specific factions in Lebanon’s confusing, messy, and violent political environment. Unfortunately, over 95% of House members apparently believe otherwise.

Hezbollah’s provocative military action in May, which violated its pledge to use its armed militia only in defense of the country from Israel and not against its fellow Lebanese, has hurt its standing among the country’s non-Shia majority, who now see them more as advancing their own parochial interests than serving the role they had previously embraced as a national resistance movement against foreign occupation forces. Washington’s support for Israel’s military attacks on civilian targets in Lebanon and this latest resolution backing rival armed factions, however, does little to encourage Hezbollah to disarm or promote efforts to advance nonviolent conflict resolution and national reconciliation.

Arming the Middle East

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

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

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

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

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

Still More Arms

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

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

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

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

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

The Iranian rationalization

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

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

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

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

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

Little Strategic Merit

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

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

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

The Democratic Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Arms, Less Security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. Denial of the Armenian Genocide

It continues to boggle the mind what the Democratic leadership in Congress will do whenever the Republicans raise the specter of labeling them “soft on terrorism.” They approve wiretapping without a court order. They allow for indefinite detention of suspects without charge. They authorize the invasion and occupation of a country on the far side of the world that was no threat to us and then provide unconditional funding for the bloody and unwinnable counter-insurgency war that inevitably followed.

Now, it appears, the Democrats are also willing to deny history, even when it involves genocide.

The non-binding resolution commemorating the Armenian genocide attracted 226 co-sponsors and won passage through the House Foreign Relations Committee. Nevertheless, it appears that as of this writing that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – in response to pressure from the White House and Republican congressional leaders that it would harm the “Global War on Terrorism” – will prevent the resolution from coming up for vote in the full House.

Call It Genocide

Between 1915 and 1918, under orders of the leadership of the Ottoman Empire, an estimated two million Armenians were forcibly removed from their homes in a region that had been part of the Armenian nation for more than 2,500 years. Three-quarters of them died as a result of execution, starvation, and related reasons.

Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during that period, noted that, “When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact…” While issuing a “death warrant to a whole race” would normally be considered genocide by any definition, it apparently does not in the view of the current administration and Congress of the government he was representing.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signed and ratified by the United States, officially defines genocide as any effort “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” Raphael Lemkin was the Polish Jewish lawyer who originally coined the term “genocide” in 1944. The earliest proponent of an international convention on its prevention and the punishment of its perpetrators, Lemkin identified the Armenian case as a definitive example.

Dozens of other governments – including Canada, France, Italy, and Russia – and several UN bodies have formally recognized the Armenian genocide, as have the governments of 40 U.S. states. Neither the Bush administration nor Congress appears willing to do so, however.

Ironically, Congress earlier this year overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for refusing to acknowledge the German genocide of the Jews. That same Congress, however, appears quite willing to refuse to acknowledge the Turkish genocide of the Armenians.

While awareness of anti-Semitism is fortunately widespread enough to dismiss those who refuse to acknowledge the Holocaust to the political fringe, it appears that tolerance for anti-Armenian bigotry is strong enough that it is still apparently politically acceptable to refuse to acknowledge their genocide.

The Turkey Factor

Opponents of the measure acknowledging the Armenian genocide claim argue that they are worried about harming relations with Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire and an important U.S. ally.

In reality, however, if the Bush administration and Congress were really concerned about hurting relations with Turkey, Bush would have never asked for and Congress would have never approved authorization for the United States to have invaded Iraq, which the Turks vehemently opposed. As a result of the U.S. war and occupation of Turkey’s southern neighbor, public opinion polls have shown that percentage of the Turkish population holding a positive view of the United States has declined from 52% to only 9%.

Turkish opposition was so strong that, despite the Bush administration offering Turkey $6 billion in grants and $20 billion in loan guarantees in return for allowing U.S. forces to use bases in Turkey to launch the invasion in 2003, the Turkish parliament refused to authorize the request. Soon thereafter, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, in an interview with CNN in Turkey, expressed his disappointment that the Turkish military had not taken its traditional “leadership role” in the matter, which – given its periodic military intervention in Turkish governance – many Turks took as advocacy for a military coup. Furthermore, in testimony on Capitol Hill, Wolfowitz further angered the Turks by claiming that the civilian government made a “big, big mistake” in failing to back U.S. military plans and claimed that the country’s democratically elected parliament “didn’t quite know what it was doing.”

The United States has antagonized Turkey still further as a result of U.S. support for Kurdish nationalists in northern Iraq who, with the support of billions of dollars worth of U.S. aid and thousands of American troops, have created an autonomous enclave that has served as a based for KADEK (formerly known as the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK), which Turkey considers a terrorist group. KADEK forces, which had largely observed a cease fire prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the resulting consolidation of the quasi-independent Kurdish region, have since been emboldened to launch countless forays into Turkish territory at the cost of hundreds of lives.

Since almost all House members who oppose this non-binding resolution on the Armenian genocide were among the majority of Republicans and the minority of Democrats who voted to authorize the invasion, antagonizing Turkey is clearly not the real reason for their opposition. Anyone actually concerned about the future of U.S.-Turkish relations would never have rejected the Turkish government’s pleas for restraint and voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq nor would they vote to continue U.S. funding of the pro-KADEK separatist government in northern Iraq.

Why a Resolution Now?

Another bogus argument put forward by President Bush and his bipartisan supporters on Capitol Hill is that Congress should not bother passing resolutions regarding historical events. Yet these critics have not objected to other recent successful congressional resolutions on historic events: recognizing the 65th anniversary of the death of the Polish musician and political leader Ignacy Jan Paderewski, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Jewish Committee, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp in Poland, or commemorating the 150th anniversary of the first meeting of the Republican Party in Wisconsin, just to name a few.

These opponents of the resolution also claim that this is a “bad time” to upset the Turkish government, given that U.S. access to Turkish bases is part of the re-supply efforts to support the counter-insurgency war by U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. However, it was also considered a “bad time” when a similar resolution was put forward in 2000 because U.S. bases in Turkey were being used to patrol the “no fly zones” in northern Iraq. And it was also considered a “bad time” in 1985 and 1987 when similar resolutions were put forward because U.S. bases in Turkey were considered important listening posts for monitoring the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

For deniers of the Armenian genocide, it is always a “bad time.”

The Bush administration, like both Republican and Democratic administrations before it, has refused to acknowledge that the Armenian genocide even took place. For example, under the Reagan administration, the Bulletin of the Department of State claimed that, “Because the historical record of the 1915 events in Asia Minor is ambiguous, the Department of State does not endorse allegations that the Turkish Government committed genocide against the Armenian people.”

Similarly, Paul Wolfowitz, who served as deputy secretary of defense in President Bush’s first term, stated in 2002 that “one of the things that impress me about Turkish history is the way Turkey treats its own minorities.”

The operative clause of the resolution simply calls upon President Bush “to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian genocide, and for other purposes.” Therefore, if President Bush really doesn’t want Congress to pass such a resolution, all he needs to do is make a statement acknowledging the genocide. Not surprisingly for someone with a notorious lack of knowledge of history, however, he has refused to do so. Bush has only gone as far as acknowledging that what happened to the Armenians was simply part of “a horrible tragedy” which reflects “a deep sorrow that continues to haunt them and their neighbors, the Turkish people,” even though Turkey has never expressed sorrow for their genocide.

Failure to pass a resolution calling on President Bush to acknowledge the genocide, then, amounts to an acceptance of his genocide denial.

Genocide Denial

Given the indisputable documentary record of the Armenian genocide, it would appear that at least some of those who refuse to go on record recognizing Turkey’s genocide of Armenians are, like those who refuse to recognize Germany’s genocide of European Jews, motivated by ignorance and bigotry. Claims that it would harm relations with Turkey or that the timing is wrong appear to be no more than desperate excuses to deny reality. If the Bush administration and members of Congress recognized that genocide took place, they should have no problem going on record saying so.

One problem may be that members of Congress, like President Bush, are themselves ignorant of history. For example, the Middle East scholar most often cited by both Republican and Democratic members of Congress as influencing their understanding of the region is the notorious genocide-denier Bernard Lewis, a fellow at Washington’s Institute of Turkish Studies. In France, where genocide denial is considered a criminal offense, he was convicted in 1996 following a statement in Le Monde in which the emeritus Princeton University professor dismissed the claim of genocide as nothing more than “the Armenian version of this story.” The court noted how, typical of those who deny genocide, he reached his conclusion by “concealing elements contrary to his thesis” and “failed in his duties of objectivity and prudence.”

This is not to say that every single opponent of the resolution explicitly denies the genocide. Some have acknowledged that genocide indeed occurred, but have apparently been convinced that it is contrary to perceived U.S. national security interest to state this publicly. This is just as inexcusable, however. Such people are moral cowards who apparently would be just as willing to refuse to acknowledge the Holocaust if the Bush administration told them that it might also upset the German government enough to restrict access to U.S. bases.

Though it has been Democratic members of the House, led by California Congressman Adam Schiff, who have most vigorously led the effort this time to recognize the Armenian genocide, opposition to acknowledging history has been a bipartisan effort. In 2000, President Bill Clinton successfully persuaded House Speaker Dennis Hastert to suppress a similar bill after it passed the Republican-led Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 40-7 and was on its way to easy passage before the full House. Currently, former Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt has joined in lobbying his former colleagues on behalf of the Turkish government. And now, the current Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, despite having earlier promised to place it before a vote of the full House, appears ready to pull the bill from consideration.

Not only is this a tragic affront to the remaining genocide survivors and their descendents, it is also a disservice to the many Turks who opposed their government’s policies at that time and tried to stop the genocide, as well as to contemporary Turks who face jail by their U.S.-backed regime for daring to acknowledge it. If the world’s one remaining superpower refuses to acknowledge the genocide, there is little chance that justice will ever be served.

Adolf Hitler, responding to concerns about the legacy of his crimes, once asked, “Who, after all, is today speaking of the destruction of the Armenians?” Failure to pass this resolution would send a message to future tyrants that they can commit genocide and not even have it acknowledged by the world’s most powerful countries.

Indeed, refusing to recognize genocide and those responsible for it in a historical context makes it easier to deny genocide today. In 1994, the Clinton administration – which consistently refused to fully acknowledge Armenia’s tragedy – also refused to use the word “genocide” in the midst of the Rwandan government’s massacres of over half that country’s Tutsi population, a decision that delayed the deployment of international peacekeeping forces until after 800,000 people had been slaughtered.

As a result, the fate of the resolution on the Armenian genocide is not simply about commemorating a tragedy that took place 90 years ago. It is about where we stand as a nation in facing up to the most horrible of crimes. It is about whether we are willing to stand up for the truth in the face of lies. It is about whether we see our nation’s glory based on appeasing our strategic allies or in upholding our longstanding principles.

The Democrats and the “Human Shields” Myth

Israelis from across the political spectrum, emboldened by the interim report from the government’s Winograd Commission, which investigated Israel’s ill-fated assault on Lebanon, are expressing regrets over last summer’s conflict with their northern neighbor. Uproar over the way a relatively minor border incident managed to escalate into a full-scale war is leading to demands for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s resignation and other top government officials are under pressure or stepping down.

Meanwhile, in the United States Congress, leaders of both parties are not only still defending Israel’s decision to go to war, but its conduct of the war as well.

During the five weeks of fighting, 119 Israeli soldiers and 43 Israeli civilians were killed. It was the Lebanese who suffered the most, however. Massive Israeli bombardments took the lives of more than 1,100 people, the vast majority of whom were innocent civilians, and caused more than $3.5 billion in damage to the country’s civilian infrastructure and widespread environmental damage.

Moral and Legal Responsibility

Yet Congress continues to justify last summer’s widespread attacks on civilian targets by the U.S.-supplied Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) by claiming that Hezbollah used the Lebanese civilian population as “human shields,” thereby seeking to protect America’s closest Middle East ally from its moral and legal responsibility for its war crimes.

For example, on April 25, the House of Representatives passed by a near-unanimous voice vote a resolution (H. Res. 125) claiming that “throughout the summer of 2006 conflict with the State of Israel, Hezbollah forces utilized human shields to protect themselves from counterattacks by Israeli forces.” In defense of the Bush administration’s controversial backing of Israel’s 35-day assault on Lebanon, the Democratic-led House cited President George W. Bush’s claim that “Hezbollah terrorists used Lebanese civilians as human shields, sacrificing the innocent in an effort to protect themselves from Israeli response” and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s assertion that “`Hezbollah and its sponsors have brought devastation upon the people of Lebanon, … exploiting them as human shields.”

In an effort to make the case that it was Lebanese, not the Israeli armed forces, who were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Lebanese civilians, the resolution goes as far as claiming that “the majority of civilian casualties of that conflict might have been avoided and civilian lives saved had Hezbollah not employed this tactic.”

Similarly, as Israeli peace activists began protests against their country’s attacks on civilian targets in Lebanon last summer, the House of Representatives passed a resolution (H. Res. 921) defending the Israeli government’s controversial policies, praising “Israel’s longstanding commitment to minimizing civilian loss” and welcoming “Israel’s continued efforts to prevent civilian casualties.” The resolution, co-sponsored by Tom Lantos (D-CA)–whom the Democrats have subsequently elected to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee–passed by a 410-8 vote with four abstentions, also condemned Hezbollah for “cynically exploiting civilian populations as shields, locating their equipment and bases of operation, including their rockets and other armaments, amidst civilian populations, including in homes and mosques.”

The problem is that it appears that none of these claims appear to be true.

No Evidence Found

Investigations by independent human rights groups during last summer’s fighting did not find clear evidence that Hezbollah deliberately used civilians to shield their personnel or equipment from Israeli strikes. For example, a detailed study published at the end of the fighting in August by Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that they had found “no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack.” Similarly, Amnesty International, in a well-documented report published in November observed, “While the presence of Hizbullah’s fighters and short-range weapons within civilian areas is not contested, this in itself is not conclusive evidence of intent to use civilians as ‘human shields’, any more than the presence of Israeli soldiers in a kibbutz is in itself evidence of the same war crime.”

Human rights groups noted that the Hezbollah militia–which, like most militias, is a volunteer force whose members lived with their families – did store weapons in or near homes and some of the militia’s hundreds of rocket launchers were found within populated areas, which are indeed violations of international humanitarian law since such practices put civilians at risk. However, Amnesty reported that while “The available evidence suggests that in at least some cases Katyushas were stored within villages and fired from civilian areas,” it was only long after most of the civilian population had been evacuated and that it was “not apparent that civilians were present and used as ‘human shields’.”

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.” Similarly, Amnesty International noted how Protocol I of the Fourth Geneva Convention also makes 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.”

Wanton Attacks on Civilian Areas

In any case, the vast majority of Israeli strikes in civilian areas were nowhere near Hezbollah military activity. As Human Rights Watch noted, “In dozens of attacks, Israeli forces struck an area with no apparent military target. In some cases, the timing and intensity of the attack, the absence of a military target, as well as return strikes on rescuers, suggest that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians.”

Similarly, Amnesty International reported that Israeli forces “carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on a large scale,” including “those on civilian infrastructure” and “direct attacks on civilian objects.” Furthermore, they reported that “These attacks seem to have been aimed at inflicting a form of collective punishment on Lebanon’s people” and that “based on the available evidence and the absence of an adequate or any explanation from the Israeli authorities for so many attacks by their forces causing civilian deaths and destruction, when no evidence of Hizbullah military activities was apparent, it seems clear that Israeli forces consistently failed to adopt necessary precautionary measures.”

Though subsequent investigations have only reconfirmed that the large numbers of civilian casualties in Lebanon were a result of actions by the government of Israel, not Hezbollah, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), in a debate on the House floor on April 25 insisted that “The key reason that civilian areas were destroyed was the cynical strategy of Hezbollah guerrillas to stage their attacks from the middle of towns and residential areas” and that “the loss of civilian life in Lebanon was due solely to Hezbollah’s cruel and uncivilized use of civilian areas as military bases.”

Kucinich Raised Concerns

When Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) raised concerns about Israel’s use of cluster bombs in civilian areas which have led to the deaths of scores of Lebanese children both during and subsequent to last summer’s fighting, Rep. Ackerman responded by insisting that these dangerous anti-personnel weapons were “used in self-defense.”

Despite Ackerman’s eagerness to defend and cover-up for war crimes by this important Middle Eastern ally of the United States, the Democrats have elected him chairman of the important House Subcommittee on the Middle East, indicative that the new majority party shares their Republican counterparts’ lack of respect for international humanitarian law.

My efforts to ascertain where members of Congress get information to back up their defense of Israeli war crimes have revealed a rather startling inclination to rely on rather dubious right-wing sources for information. For example, following a speech in March, in which Senator Barack Obama repeated the myth that Hezbollah had used “innocent people as shields,” I contacted his spokesman as to what evidence the presidential hopeful had to make such charges. He referred me to a report by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies, a right-wing Israeli think tank headed by the former chief of the Mossad which maintains close ties to the Israeli government. Despite repeated requests, Obama’s office was unable to provide any other source supporting the senator’s charge. This underscores serious concerns among human rights activists that Obama and other leading Democrats, like President Bush, have the same propensity to believe the findings of ideologically-driven right-wing think tanks above those of objective scholarship, reputable journalists, or principled human rights groups and other nonpartisan organizations.

Israel’s Use of Human Shields

Ironically, while Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other reputable human rights organizations–including the Israeli group B’tselem–have demonstrated that, while there is little conclusive evidence that the Hezbollah militia used human shields as a calculated policy, the Israeli Defense Forces have used this illegal maneuver as a standard practice, particularly earlier this decade following a right-wing coalition coming to power in Israel in early 2001. A recent HRW report notes how “Human Rights Watch and Israeli and Palestinian organizations documented numerous cases of Israeli forces using Palestinian civilians as human shields.” Similarly, Amnesty International has reported how Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank “have often used Palestinians effectively as human shields, endangering their lives in violation of international humanitarian law.
There have been no Congressional resolutions condemning Israel’s use of human shields, however. Congressional Democrats essentially share the Bush administration’s practice that if you are perceived as an adversary, your crimes will be exaggerated or even manufactured, while it you are perceived as an ally, your crimes will be covered up.

During the April 25 debate over the resolution condemning Hezbollah for its alleged use of human shields, Representative Dan Issa (R-CA)–a supporter of the measure–pointed out that “The use of human shields in the Middle East is unfortunately widespread” and showed a series of photographs of Israeli forces using Arab civilians as shields, including a 2004 photograph of a 13-year-old Palestinian boy tied to the hood of an Israeli police jeep in the West Bank. In response, Ackerman claimed that soldiers responsible “were charged, and the court found them guilty, and the court banned it.” In reality, however, while the Israeli Supreme Court did ban the use of human shields in 2005, no soldiers have been sentenced for engaging in this illegal practice. To the House Democrats’ chief spokesman on U.S. Middle East policy, however, the important distinction is that there is “a difference in moral values” between the Arab “perpetrators” and the Israeli “victims” whose only fault is that they may occasionally “go too far . . . in the pursuit of terrorists and evildoers.”

From the perspective of Ackerman and most of his colleagues, despite the fact that the majority of Israelis killed in last summer’s fighting were soldiers and the vast majority of Lebanese killed were civilians, Hezbollah’s violence constitutes “terrorism” whereas the Israelis’ violence constitutes “self-defense.” In taking this position, these lawmakers are shielding the United States–which provided Israel with most of the ordinance and delivery systems responsible for the carnage and which for weeks blocked a cease fire from going into effect– rom its moral and legal responsibility as well. Indeed, according to this bipartisan viewpoint, neither the United States nor its ally bears any blame for the slaughter of hundreds of Lebanese civilians, since those deaths were actually the fault of their fellow Lebanese.

Discrediting the Human Rights Community

Now having the majority in Congress, the Democrats appear to have made it a priority to use their position to discredit reputable human rights groups in an effort to defend the policies of important U.S. allies. Indeed, some leading Democrats, in a desperate effort to defend human rights abuses by the U.S.-backed Israeli government, have attacked human rights groups directly. For example, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), a member of the Democratic Leadership Team, has said that “a lot of those organizations, Amnesty International in particular, have always had bias against Israel.”

In reality, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and similar groups with a universal human rights agenda, rather than demonstrating any bias against Israel or any other state, have been quite rigorous in their uniform standards of reporting human rights abuses. Not only has Amnesty International been outspoken against human rights abuses by Middle Eastern governments opposed by the United States and Israel–such as Syria and Iran–but Amnesty also correctly concluded that Hezbollah, in the fighting last summer, had also “committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes.” HRW demonstrated how “the scale of Hizbullah’s rocket attacks on towns and villages in northern Israel, the indiscriminate nature of the weapons used, together with statements by Hizbullah’s leader, showed that Hizbullah carried out direct attacks on civilians as well as indiscriminate attacks and attacks on the civilian population as reprisal.”

Human rights groups are not the only target of Congress in its desperate effort to advance Bush’s Middle East policy agenda. Members also appear determined to attack the press for daring to report war crimes by America’s most important Middle East ally. For example, House Resolution 125 complains that “the news media made constant mention of civilian casualties but rarely pointed to the culpability…of Hezbollah for their endangerment of such civilians.” In reality, media watchdog groups noted that the

American news media actually tended to underplay the civilian casualties in Lebanon and uncritically repeated Israeli claims that Hezbollah was to blame.
Why Democrats Defend War Crimes

Despite claims to the contrary by some Democratic members of Congress, it is not likely that their support for Israel’s war on Lebanon has been motivated by a sincere desire to show solidarity with Israel since–as the Winograd Commission’s report demonstrated–the war actually harmed Israel’s legitimate security interests. The popular reaction in Lebanon to the widespread killing of Lebanese civilians by U.S.-backed Israeli forces and the successes by the Hezbollah in resisting the IDF ground offensive has led to a dramatic increase in popular support with Lebanon and throughout the Middle East of the radical and fanatically anti-Israel Shiite group.

In defending Israel’s attacks against innocent Arab civilians, the Democrats and their Republican allies will only embolden hard-liners in Israel to use such immoral, illegal and counter-productive tactics in the future.

Nor do claims by apologists for Congressional supporters of such resolutions that to oppose Israel’s illegal and self-destructive assault on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure would endanger their chances of re-election. Polls showed that a majority of Americans found Israel’s assault on Lebanon last summer at best to have been excessive and every one of the 11 Democratic members of the House who refused to support H. Res. 921 in July 2006 supporting Israel’s attacks on Lebanon was re-elected in November by a bigger margin than they were two years earlier.

Perhaps the ultimate reason is that the Democrats’ agenda is essentially the same as the Republican administration and their Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill: to cover up for abuses of international humanitarian law by the United States and its allies and discredit human rights organizations that challenge these practices as a means of enhancing the hegemonic role of the United States in the Middle East and elsewhere.

In insisting that the large number of civilian casualties in Lebanon were a result of Hezbollah using the civilian population as human shields, Congress can try to make the case that–contrary to the findings of reputable human rights groups, United Nations agencies and others – Israel’s actions were not illegal. Otherwise, under U.S. arms control laws, the United States would be forced to restrict some of the lucrative arms exports to Israel by the politically powerful arms industry.

In addition, by challenging the credibility of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in their reports on Israeli violations of international humanitarian law in Lebanon, their reports on U.S. violations of international humanitarian law in Iraq and Afghanistan are less likely to be taken seriously by the American public. Similarly, by depicting Arab militias as sinister terrorists who use innocent civilians as shields, it makes it easier for the United States and its allies–which rely heavily on air power in their counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the heavy civilian casualties that result — to deny any legal or moral responsibility, even though the death toll from such air strikes greatly surpasses the numbers of civilians killed by the so-called “terrorists.”

Just as the American and Israeli people are beginning to challenge the morality and utility of their respective governments’ heavy-handed use of military power to address complex political challenges, the Democrats have decided to join the Republicans in rushing to defend it. As a result, it is imperative for peace and human rights groups to challenge the Democrats in Congress who continue to defend Israeli war crimes as vigorously as we do the Bush administration and Republican members of Congress.

The Israel Lobby: How Powerful is it Really?

Since its publication in the London Review of Books in March, John Mearsheimer and Steve Walt’s article “The Israel Lobby”—and the longer version published as a working paper for Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government—has received widespread attention from across the political spectrum. These noted professors put forward two major arguments: the first is the very legitimate and widely acknowledged (outside of official Washington) concern that U.S. Middle East policy, particularly U.S. support for the more controversial policies of the Israeli government, is contrary to the long-term strategic interests of the United States. Their second, and far more questionable, argument is that most of the blame for this misguided policy rests with the “ Israel lobby” rather than with the more powerful interests that actually drive U.S. foreign policy.

The Mearsheimer/Walt article has been met by unreasonable criticism from a wide range of rightist apologists for U.S. support of the Israeli occupation, including Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel (who accused the authors of being “anti-Semites”), Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz (who falsely claimed that the authors gathered materials from websites of neo-Nazi hate groups), pundits like Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes, and publications like the New York Sun and the New Republic. The authors have also been unfairly criticized for supposedly distorting the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though their overview is generally quite accurate. The problem is in their analysis.

The article has garnered unreasonable praise from many in progressive circles, who have posted it on websites, circulated it on listservs, and lauded it as an example of speaking truth to power. Though critiques in establishment circles of the bipartisan U.S. support for the Israeli occupation are unusual and welcome, progressive promoters of this article have largely failed to assess the ideological agenda of its authors and the validity of their specific arguments.

It should be noted that Mearsheimer and Walt are prominent figures in the realist school of international relations, which discounts international law, human rights, and other legal and moral concerns in foreign policy. The realist tradition downplays diplomacy not backed by military force, belittles the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations, and dismisses the growing role of international nongovernmental organizations and popular movements.

With some notable exceptions, Mearsheimer and Walt have been largely supportive of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War and subsequently. For example, during the 1980s, Mearsheimer—a graduate of West Point —opposed both a nuclear weapons freeze and a no-first-use nuclear policy. A critic of nonproliferation efforts, Mearsheimer has defended India’s atomic weapons arsenal and has even called for the spread of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear states such as Germany and Ukraine. He was also an outspoken supporter of the 1991 U.S.-led Gulf War.

It is ironic, then, that these two men have suddenly found themselves lionized by many progressive critics of U.S. foreign policy as a result of their article. Any adulation should be tempered by the authors’ blind acceptance of a number of naïve assumptions regarding America’s role in the world, such as their assertion that the foreign policy of the United States—the world’s number one arms supplier for dictatorial regimes—is designed “to promote democracy abroad.”

It is always welcome and significant when traditional conservatives, hawks, and others in the foreign policy establishment speak out against specific manifestations of U.S. foreign policy, such as when Mearsheimer and Walt joined other prominent conservatives in academia in opposing the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. However, such realist opposition grows not out of concern over any of the important moral or legal questions but out of a rational calculation that a particular war could lead to greater instability and thereby run counter to America’s national security interests. Indeed, Israel’s violation of international legal norms and its impact on the civilian population in the occupied territories are mentioned in the article primarily as a means to counter claims that U.S. policy in support of the Israeli government is based upon a moral imperative.

What progressive supporters of Mearsheimer and Walt’s analysis seem to ignore is that both men have a vested interest in absolving from responsibility the foreign policy establishment that they have served so loyally all these years. Israel and its supporters are essentially being used as convenient scapegoats for America’s disastrous policies in the Middle East. And though they avoid falling into simplistic, anti-Semitic, conspiratorial notions regarding Jewish power and influence for the failures of U.S. Middle East policy, it is nevertheless disturbing that the primary culprits they cite are largely Jewish individuals and organizations.

Also problematic are the article’s references to U.S. Middle East policy resulting in part from the influence of “Jewish voters,” since most American Jews take more moderate positions regarding Iraq, Iran, and Palestine than does Congress or the Bush administration. Similarly, while Mearsheimer and Walt do not claim that the Israel lobby is monolithic or centrally directed, they fail to emphasize how not all pro-Israel groups support the policies of the Israeli government, particularly its right-wing administrations. Groups like Americans for Peace Now, the Tikkun Community, Brit Tzedek v’ Shalom, and the Israel Policy Forum all identify themselves as pro-Israel but oppose the occupation, the settlements, the separation wall, and Washington’s unconditional support for Israeli policies.

Perhaps the most twisted argument in their article is the authors’ claim that the 2003 invasion of Iraq “was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure.” This is ludicrous on several grounds. First of all, Israel is far less secure as a result of the rise of Islamist extremism, terrorist groups, and Iranian influence in post-invasion Iraq than it was during the final years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, when Iraq was no longer a strategic threat to Israel or actively involved in anti-Israeli terrorism. Indeed, it had been more than a decade since Iraq had posed any significant threat to Israel and some of Israel’s biggest supporters on Capitol Hill were among the most outspoken voices against the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Within the Bush administration, although the neoconservatives who championed the invasion of Iraq were supporters of Israel’s rightist governments, they had for many years also been supporters of rightist governments in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere out of a belief that such alliances strengthened American hegemony. More fundamentally, the United States has had strong strategic interests in the Persian Gulf predating the establishment of modern Israel. Indeed, oil companies and the arms industry exert far more economic and ideological influence over Washington’s policy in the Persian Gulf region than does the Israel lobby. (See The U.S. Invasion of Iraq: Not the Fault of Israel and Its Supporters.)

Mearsheimer and Walt also claim that the Israel lobby has urged Washington to put “very heavy” pressure on Syria. In reality, the Israeli government—fearing instability and a rise of Islamic fundamentalism should the Assad regime be toppled—has been encouraging the United States to back off from putting too much pressure on Syria. Furthermore, dozens of House members who voted in favor of the Syria Accountability Act in 2003 have opposed a number of resolutions supporting Israeli policies. (See The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony.)

The authors’ claim that the Israel lobby is a major factor in the formulation of overall U.S. Middle East policy is plainly false. Indeed, U.S. policy in the Middle East over the past several decades—orchestrating military interventions and CIA-backed coups, backing right-wing dictatorships, peddling neoliberal economic policies through the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions, undermining the United Nations and international law, imposing sanctions against nationalist governments, etc.—is remarkably similar to U.S. policy toward Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. If the United States can pursue such policies elsewhere in the world without pressure from the Israel lobby, why is its presence necessary to explain U.S. policies in the Middle East?

If the agenda advocated by the Israel lobby was substantially at variance with U.S. foreign policy elsewhere in the world, one could make a strong case that these lobbyists were influential. However, that is simply not the case. This is why some of the most outspoken opponents of U.S. foreign policy in general and of U.S. support for Israel in particular—such as Noam Chomsky, Phyllis Bennis, Mitchell Plitnick, Simona Sharoni, Joseph Massad, Steve Niva, and Norman Finkelstein—have raised serious questions about the supposed power of the Israel lobby, noting that it is responsible, in the words of Professor Massad, for “the details and intensity but not the direction, content, or impact of such policies.”

When it comes to U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine, groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its related political action committees (PACs) have certainly influenced some members of Congress as well as some decision-makers in both Republican and Democratic administrations. Moreover, mainstream and conservative Jewish organizations have mobilized considerable lobbying resources, financial contributions from the Jewish community, and citizen pressure on the news media and other forums of public discourse in support of the Israeli government. At times, they have even created a climate of intimidation against many who speak out for peace and human rights or who support the Palestinians’ right of self-determination. But all this is very different from claiming that the Israel lobby is primarily responsible for U.S. policy in the Middle East, even when it comes to Israel.

What Motivates U.S. Support for the Israeli Government?

The unfortunate reality is that the U.S. government is perfectly capable of supporting right-wing allies in efforts to invade, repress, and colonize weaker neighbors without a well-organized ethnic minority somehow forcing Congress or the administration to do so. To claim otherwise is to assume that without the pro-Israel lobby, the United States would be supportive of international law and human rights in its foreign policy. Given that U.S. foreign policy has rarely ever been supportive of international law and human rights, except when it corresponds with short-term political interests, why should the Middle East be an exception? There was no Indonesian-American lobby responsible for the bipartisan support for Indonesia’s quarter century of brutal occupation in East Timor, nor is there a Moroccan-American lobby responsible for the bipartisan support for the ongoing Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara.

It is certainly true that the United States is, in the words of Mearsheimer and Walt, “out of step” with the vast majority of the international community on the question of Israel and Palestine. Yet the United States is also out of step with the vast majority of the international community regarding the treaty banning land mines, the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, and the embargo against Cuba. Similarly, two decades ago the United States was also out of step with the vast majority of the international community in regard to the mining of Nicaraguan harbors and support for the Contra terrorists as well as opposition to sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa and allying with Pretoria in supporting the UNITA rebels in Angola.

Mearsheimer and Walt’s observation that U.S. support of Israel runs contrary to U.S. strategic interests by stimulating anti-Americanism in the Arab/Islamic world is not an unprecedented dissenting position. During any administration, there are elements within establishment circles that come to conclusions challenging the prevailing mindset. For example, Mearsheimer and Walt joined Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jacek Krugler, and other realists who recognized that the invasion of Iraq was contrary to U.S. national security interests, but the Bush administration and a sizable majority of Congress (including the leadership of both parties) believed otherwise. Similarly, some leading realists of the 1960s, such as Hans Morgenthau, opposed the Vietnam War, but that didn’t stop an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Washington from mistakenly believing, at least until the late 1960s, that the war was somehow in America’s best interests. In other words, administrations of both parties have repeatedly proven themselves capable of acting contrary to long-term national interests without the Israel lobby forcing them to do so.

In certain narrowly defined, short-term ways, U.S. support for the Israeli government does enhance U.S. interests. In a region where radical nationalism and Islamist extremism could threaten U.S. control of oil and other strategic interests, Israel has played a major role in preventing victories by radical movements, not just in Palestine but in Lebanon and Jordan as well. Israel has kept Syria, with its radical nationalist government once allied with the Soviet Union, in check, and the Israeli air force is predominant throughout the region.

Israel’s frequent wars facilitate battlefield testing of U.S. weapons and Israel’s arms industry has provided weapons and munitions for governments and opposition movements supported by the United States. Moreover, during the 1980s, Israel served as a conduit for U.S. arms to governments and movements too unpopular in the United States to receive overt military assistance, including South Africa under the apartheid regime, Iran’s Islamic Republic, Guatemala’s rightist military juntas, and the Nicaraguan Contras. Israeli military advisers assisted the Contras, the Salvadoran junta, and other movements and governments backed by the United States. The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has cooperated with the CIA and other U.S. agencies in gathering intelligence and spearheading covert operations. Israel possesses missiles capable of striking targets thousands of miles from its borders and has collaborated with the U.S. military-industrial complex in research and development for new jet fighters and anti-missile defense systems, a relationship that is growing every year. As one Israeli analyst described it during the Iran-Contra scandal, where Israel played a crucial intermediary rule, “It’s like Israel has become just another federal agency, one that’s convenient to use when you want something done quietly.” Former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig once described Israel as the largest and only unsinkable U.S. aircraft carrier in the world.

One of the most fundamental principles in the theory of international relations is that the most stable military relationship between adversaries (besides disarmament) is strategic parity. Such a relationship provides each opponent with an effective deterrent against the other launching a preemptive attack. If the United States was concerned simply with Israel’s security, Washington would maintain Israeli defenses only to a level approximately equal to any combination of Arab armed forces. Instead, leaders of both U.S. political parties have called for insuring qualitative Israeli military superiority. When Israel was less dominant militarily, there was less consensus in Washington for backing Israel. The continued high level of U.S. aid to Israel stems less out of concern for Israel’s survival than from a desire for Israel to continue its political dominion over the Palestinians and its military dominance of the region.

The enormous amount of military aid received by Israel annually has been cited by Mearsheimer and Walt, among others, as indicative of the power of the Israel lobby. Yet the pattern of this aid merely reflects the importance of Israel to U.S. interests. Immediately following Israel’s spectacular victory in the 1967 war, when it demonstrated its military superiority in the region, U.S. aid skyrocketed by 450%. Part of this increase, according to the New York Times, apparently was related to Israel’s willingness to provide the United States with examples of new Soviet weapons captured during the war. Following the 1970-71 civil war in Jordan, when Israel exhibited its ability to deter Syrian intervention in support of the uprising against the pro-Western monarchy and thus curb revolutionary movements outside its borders, U.S. aid expanded still further. When Israel further proved its strength in successfully countering a surprisingly strong Arab military assault in October 1973, U.S. military aid burgeoned once again. These aid increases paralleled the British decision to withdraw its forces from areas east of the Suez Canal. Along with the shah of Iran, who also received massive arms and logistical cooperation as a key component of the Nixon Doctrine, Israel emerged as an important allied force in the wake of the British withdrawal.

This pattern continued when aid shot up yet again in 1977, following the election of the first right-wing Likud government in Israel. Subsequent aid boosts coincided with the fall of the shah and the ratification of the Camp David Treaty with Egypt. U.S. aid swelled still further soon after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In 1983 and 1984, when the United States and Israel signed memoranda of understanding on strategic cooperation and military planning and conducted their first joint naval and air military exercises, Israel was rewarded with an additional $1.5 billion in economic aid and another half billion dollars for the development of a new jet fighter. During and immediately after the Gulf War, U.S. aid strengthened by $650 million. In the decade following—as concerns arose regarding the threat of terrorist groups, Islamic extremists, and so-called “rogue states”— U.S. aid to Israel grew further still. A peace treaty with Jordan and a series of disengagement agreements with the Palestinians led to still additional arms transfers despite the resulting enhanced security for Israel.

Rather than being a liability, as Mearsheimer and Walt claim, the 1991 Gulf War once again proved Israel to be a strategic asset: Israeli developments in air-to-ground warfare were integrated into allied bombing raids against Iraqi missile sites and other targets; Israeli-designed conformal fuel tanks for F-15 fighter-bombers greatly enhanced their range; Israeli-provided mine plows were utilized during the final assaults on Iraqi positions; Israeli mobile bridges were used by U.S. Marines; Israeli targeting systems and low-altitude warning devices were employed by U.S. helicopters; and Israel developed key components for the widely-used Tomahawk missiles. Israel is also the fifth-largest supplier of high-tech military hardware to the United States. Not surprisingly, U.S. aid to Israel intensified still further in the 1990s, even as military support for Israel’s key Arab adversaries plummeted due to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Since the Sept. 2001 terrorist attacks, the perception of Israel as a natural ally in President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” has cemented the strategic partnership still further, as the Pentagon pre-positions equipment in Israel to enhance military readiness for intervention elsewhere in the Middle East. Israel has also been supportive of U.S. military operations in Iraq by helping to train U.S. Special Forces in aggressive counterinsurgency techniques and sending urban warfare specialists to Fort Bragg to instruct assassination squads targeting suspected Iraqi guerrilla leaders. The U.S. civil administration in Iraq, established following the 2003 invasion, was modeled after Israel’s civil administration in the occupied Arab territories following the 1967 Israeli invasion. U.S. officers have traveled to Israel and Israeli officers have traveled to Iraq for additional consulting. What’s more, Israelis have helped arm and train pro-American Kurdish militias and have assisted U.S. officials in interrogation centers for suspected insurgents under detention near Baghdad. Israeli advisers have shared helpful tips on erecting and operating roadblocks and checkpoints, have provided training in mine-clearing and wall-breaching methods, and have suggested techniques for tracking suspected insurgents using drone aircraft. Israel has also provided aerial surveillance equipment, decoy drones, and armored construction equipment. In return, Israel has reaped ever-greater U.S. support.

In short, the stronger, more aggressive, and more compliant with U.S. interests that Israel has become, the higher the level of aid and strategic cooperation it receives. A militant Israel is seen to advance American interests. Indeed, an Israel in a constant state of war—technologically sophisticated and militarily advanced, yet lacking an independent economy and dependent on the United States —is far more willing to perform tasks unacceptable to other allies than an Israel at peace with its neighbors. As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once put it, in reference to Israel’s reluctance to make peace, “ Israel’s obstinacy … serves the purposes of both our countries best.”

In contrast, Washington’s Arab allies—still suspicious of U.S. intentions and lacking the Israeli advantages of well-trained armed forces, political stability, technological sophistication, and the ability to mobilize human and material resources—could never substitute for America’s alliance with Israel. Since continued support of Israel —despite its ongoing repression of the Palestinians—has not precluded unprecedented U.S. cooperation with Egypt, Morocco, and the Persian Gulf monarchies, few policymakers have expressed concern that the U.S.-Israeli alliance will interfere with cultivating even closer strategic relationships with authoritarian Arab regimes.

In short, though counterproductive in the long-term, U.S. support for the Israeli government is rooted in the same strategic considerations that have led Washington to bolster other governments that violate international legal norms. Indeed, it strains credibility to assume that such an overwhelming bipartisan consensus of lawmakers would knowingly pursue policies they believed to be contrary to the national security interests of the United States. There is plenty of historic precedent, however, for a wide bipartisan consensus of lawmakers myopically pursuing policies which end up hurting U.S. interests. While the Israel lobby certainly contributes to this myopia through its distortions of the historical narrative and the current situation, there are plenty of other cultural, political, and related factors also at work.

As leading Israeli academic and peace activist Jeff Halper observed, “ Israel is able to pursue its occupation only because of its willingness to serve Western (mainly U.S. ) imperial interests” and has essentially become “a handmaiden of American Empire.” In other words, the Israel lobby appears powerful because Israel supports U.S. global interests. By contrast, i f Israel had a genuinely leftist government or an anti-imperialist foreign policy, the Israel lobby would not appear to be so powerful.

The Lobby’s Influence on Policymakers

The Israel lobby appears more powerful than it really is because its agenda normally parallels the interests of those who really hold power in Washington. When its agenda conflicts with those interests, its weakness becomes apparent.

American presidents are hardly powerless when it comes to pressure by the Israel lobby. Evidence suggests that whenever U.S. presidents have come to the conclusion that policies advocated by the Israel lobby were not in America’s best interests, the administration has generally won. During the Suez Crisis of 1956, just days before the presidential election, President Dwight Eisenhower—fearing a radical backlash in the Arab world if the United States failed to do otherwise—strongly condemned the Israeli/French/British invasion of Egypt. Threatening to end the tax-exempt status for Israeli bonds and related private contributions to Israel, Eisenhower forced the Israeli government to completely withdraw from Egyptian territory within months. Similarly, when Israeli forces invaded southern Lebanon in 1978, advancing as far north as the Litani River, President Jimmy Carter forced Israeli troops back to within a few miles of the border by threatening a suspension of some U.S. aid. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan successfully defeated a concerted effort by AIPAC to get Congress to block the proposed sale of advanced AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia. Ten years later, the senior President George Bush successfully fought off enormous pressure from AIPAC and delayed a $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel until after the Israeli election, thereby insuring the defeat of rightist Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who had been stonewalling the peace process much to the chagrin of the Bush administration. In 2004, the current Bush administration successfully pressured Israel to renege on a deal with China to upgrade Harpy surveillance aircraft and forced the ouster of the Israeli Defense Ministry’s director general, Amos Yaron. In short, the Israel lobby hardly has a “stranglehold” on U.S. Middle East policy, as professors Walt and Mearsheimer claim.

Though the U.S. bias in supporting the Israeli government and Washington’s double standards regarding Israeli behavior are undeniable, such official U.S. conduct is not uniquely applicable to Israel. For example, Mearsheimer and Walt correctly observe how Washington’s support for Israel despite its human rights abuses against the Palestinians “makes it look hypocritical when it presses other states to respect human rights,” but there is no mention of the equally hypocritical U.S. support for Saudi Arabia (see Time to Question the U.S. Role In Saudi Arabia), Egypt (see Bombings and Repression in Egypt Underscore Failures in U.S. Anti-Terrorism Strategy), Oman, Morocco (see Morocco and Western Sahara), and other repressive Arab regimes. Similarly, the authors are accurate in observing how “ U.S. efforts to limit nuclear proliferation appear equally hypocritical given its willingness to accept Israel’s nuclear arsenal.” But is this any more hypocritical than signing a nuclear cooperation agreement with India or selling sophisticated nuclear-capable fighter-bombers to the Pakistani government in spite of those countries’ nuclear arsenals? (See Bush Administration Stokes Dangerous Arms Race on Indian Subcontinent.)

The Israel lobby, like most lobbying groups, is most influential when it comes to Congress. Yet Congress only rarely plays a crucial role in the development of foreign policy and, in recent decades, foreign policy has become even more the prerogative of the executive branch. Congress generally plays a reactive role regarding foreign policy.

In any case, it is incorrect to assume that most members of Congress stridently defend the policies of the Israeli government because their careers would be at stake if they did otherwise. Indeed, the majority of the most outspoken congressional champions of the Israeli government are from some of the safest districts in the country and need no support from pro-Israel PACs or Jewish donors in order to be re-elected. For example, my congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi, routinely wins re-election with 80% of the vote and could easily stave off any challenge from the right in her very liberal district. (After more than a decade of communicating with her office on Middle East issues, I am convinced that her hard-line anti-Palestinian position is the result of her anti-Arab racism, not any fear that evenhandedness would harm her chances of re-election.)

Many of the cases frequently cited as evidence of the Israel lobby’s power to defeat incumbents who challenge the extent of U.S. support for Israeli policies are not as clear-cut as their proponents make them out to be.

For example, Illinois Republican Congressman Paul Findley was indeed targeted by pro-Israel PACs in his unsuccessful re-election bid in 1982, but he was also targeted by pro-union, pro-environmentalist, pro-feminist, and pro-Democratic PACs. He represented a rural district at a time when farm prices were low and he was the nominee of the incumbent party in the White House in an off-year election. Not surprisingly, several other Republican incumbents from rural Midwestern districts, who were not targeted by pro-Israel PACs, were also defeated that year.

Similarly, when Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney was defeated in the Democratic primary for renomination in 2002, there were some pro-Israel PACs that contributed to her challenger’s campaign. The bulk of her challenger’s contributions, however, came from downtown Atlanta business interests and right-wing groups incensed at McKinney’s outspoken opposition to the Bush administration on other issues. Georgia is one of the few states that allow crossover voting, and thousands of Republicans in her district voted in the Democratic primary that year, providing the margin for her defeat. In recapturing her seat two years later, McKinney acknowledged the diversity of interests responsible for her failed renomination in 2002. Yet, despite this, some still blame her defeat, like that of Rep. Findley, primarily on the Israel lobby.

Throughout most of the 1950s and 60s, it was widely assumed in Washington that there could never be diplomatic relations between the United States and communist China because of the supposed power of the pro-Taiwanese “ China lobby.” Those who raised the possibility of normalized relations were believed to be putting their political careers at risk. (There were even efforts undertaken to impeach Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas when he suggested recognizing the reality of the communist government in Beijing.) However, once President Richard Nixon, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and other national security elites realized that it was in America’s interest to open up to “Red China,” there was little the pro-Taiwan lobbyists could do about it. Similarly, if there ever came a time when those in power in Washington decided that a major shift in policy toward Israel was necessary, they could likely effect such a shift, how ever the Israel lobby might react.

Mearsheimer and Walt correctly note the bias in the mainstream media, particularly among leading columnists and other pundits, in its defense of Israeli government policies and U.S. support for such policies. It is unclear, however, whether this bias is any stronger than in other conflict regions or international policy issues in which the U.S. government is heavily invested. During the 1980s, for example, it was extremely rare to read or hear anything positive in the mainstream media about the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Articles documenting that leftist regime’s human rights abuses were more prominent than accounts of the far greater human rights abuses by rightist regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador. Today, negative press coverage regarding Cuba and Venezuela outweighs any negative stories regarding pro-U.S. governments with poor human rights records like Colombia and Mexico. Similarly, rarely is there serious critical analysis of the neoliberal model of globalization or the Pentagon’s bloated budget, nor are there many positive news stories or opinion pieces regarding groups challenging corporate greed and militarization.

This is not to say that those who challenge U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict haven’t been subjected to enormous pressure from organized right-wing forces. I have often been on the receiving end of such attacks. As a result of my opposition to U.S. support for the Israeli government’s policies of occupation, colonization, and repression, I have been deliberately misquoted, subjected to slander and libel, and been falsely accused of being “anti-Semitic” and “supporting terrorism;” my children have been harassed and my university’s administration has been bombarded with calls for my dismissal. I have also had media appearances and speaking engagements cancelled, even by groups generally supportive of the right to dissent. (For example, in 2003, just two weeks prior to its annual meeting at which I had been scheduled to speak on U.S. foreign policy and international law, the State Bar Association of Arizona rescinded its invitation after the president and board received a flurry of emails claiming that I was “anti-Israel.” A few years earlier, the Oregon Peace Institute cancelled an invitation for me to speak at a forum in Portland following similar pressure from the campaign of the first district’s Democratic nominee for Congress. And a recent peace studies conference at Hofstra University insisted at the last minute on adding a right-wing supporter of the Israeli government to their plenary program in order to counter my scheduled “anti-Israel” presentation, wherein I raised concerns about Washington’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; at no other plenary session, even those involving other left-leaning speakers on controversial issues, did the organizers at Hofstra insist upon such “balance” from the right.)

It is important to remember, however, that those who challenge U.S. policy anywhere are going to be subjected to intimidation. Recent attacks against U.S. professors specializing in the Middle East and criticism of the Middle East Studies Association are very disturbing, but no more disturbing than similar attacks against professors specializing in Latin America and the Latin American Studies Association during the 1980s. Right-wing criticism during the 1960s targeting Southeast Asia scholars was also widespread. In other words, intellectuals with empirical knowledge of any world region who dare challenge the lies and distortions of a given administration relevant to their area of research are going to be subjected to intimidation.

This is not to belittle the exceptional nature of the challenges faced by critics of U.S. support for the Israeli government. Given that Israel is the world’s only Jewish state and that some criticism of Israel really is rooted in anti-Semitism, organized attacks against those opposing Israeli policies tend to carry more resonance since they involve alleged manifestations of prejudice against a minority group. If a Jewish state were not the focus, many liberals would dismiss such attacks as passé McCarthyism and would not take them seriously. As a result, assaults on critics of Israeli policies have been more successful in limiting open debate, but this gagging censorship effect stems more from ignorance and liberal guilt than from any all-powerful Israel lobby.

A related problem is that progressive movements in the United States have failed to challenge U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine in an effective manner. For years, many mainstream peace and human rights groups have avoided taking a public position on Israel and Palestine, even while doing exemplary work regarding other injustices. Such prominent liberal groups as the Coalition for a New Foreign Policy, National Impact, and Demilitarization for Democracy have refused to include Israel in their otherwise-ambitious lobbying agenda linking arms transfers with respect for human rights.

And groups that do take a progressive position on Israeli-Palestinian issues rarely make it a legislative priority. For example, Peace Action, the largest and most influential peace organization in the country, routinely endorses House and Senate candidates who take extreme anti-Palestinian positions and defend Israeli occupation policies. Ironically, the group recently posted a link to the Mearsheimer/Walt article on its home webpage. Like many groups on the left, Peace Action is more prone to complain about the power of the Israel lobby and its affiliated PACs than to do serious lobbying on this issue or condition its own PAC contributions on support for a more moderate U.S. policy.

Meanwhile, some groups that do challenge U.S. policy on this issue have accepted funding from autocratic Arab regimes, thereby damaging their credibility. Some others have taken hard-line positions that not only oppose the Israeli occupation but challenge Israel’s very right to exist and are therefore not taken seriously by most policymakers.

In the absence of an effective counter-lobby, the Israel lobby appears more powerful than it really is. In addition, the myth of an all-powerful Israel lobby is so pervasive that it has often scared off progressive funding and organizing that could conceivably challenge it. As a result, exaggerating the power of the Israel lobby leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Real Lobby: The Military-Industrial Complex

When examining the power of the Israel lobby in negatively influencing U.S. Middle East policy, it is important to recognize the role of other lobbies that have an interest in encouraging the dangerous direction of current U.S. policy. Placing so much emphasis on AIPAC and its allied groups ignores other special interests and ideologies which also play a role in urging U.S. support for the Israeli government.

Such allied groups include fundamentalist Christians, who believe that a militarily dominant Israel is necessary for the Second Coming of Christ, but Mearsheimer and Walt mention them only in passing in their article. The authors recount, as an example of the power of the Israel lobby, how—after President Bush’s initial call on Israel to back off from its bloody spring 2002 re-conquest of West Bank cities was rebuffed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon—the administration backed down and threw its support behind the offensive. However, most accounts of President Bush’s backtracking attribute it not primarily to pressure from AIPAC and other Jewish groups but rather to the more than 100,000 emails received by the White House from Christian conservatives defending the Israeli offensive. Indeed, these Christian Zionists exercise a much more influential role in the current administration than do Jewish Zionists. (See The Influence of the Christian Right on U.S. Middle East Policy.) During his two presidential election campaigns, George W. Bush was less dependent on Jewish voters than any modern president, but no president has ever been more beholden to the Christian Right.

Other ideological factors impact U.S.-Israel policy as well. Some older liberals maintain an overly sentimental conception of Israel and are defensive—out of sympathy for a historically oppressed minority and respect for Israel’s democratic institutions—regarding any criticism of the Jewish state. And then there are anti-Arab racists and Islamaphobes who simply hate Palestinians. The American psyche also identifies with a poor embattled Israel, consciously or subconsciously. Both states were founded by European pioneers, both peoples aspired to progressive democratic principles, and both nations’ histories are replete with ethnic cleansing and widespread repression of the indigenous populations.

But the most important special interest pressing for strong U.S. support of the Israeli government is the arms industry. The military-industrial complex has a considerable stake in encouraging massive arms shipments to Israel and other Middle Eastern U.S. allies and can exert enormous pressure on members of Congress who do not support a weapons-proliferation agenda. This clout is due in part to the sheer size of the Middle East military contracts. It is far easier, for example, for a member of Congress to challenge a $60 million arms deal to Indonesia than the more than $2 billion in weapons sent annually to Israel, particularly when so many congressional districts include factories that produce this military hardware.

The arms industry contributes more than $7 million each election cycle to Congressional campaigns, twice that of pro-Israel groups. In terms of lobbying budgets, the difference is even more profound: Northrop Grumman alone spends seven times as much money in its lobbying efforts annually than does AIPAC and Lockheed Martin outspends AIPAC by a factor of four. Similarly, the lobbying budget of AIPAC is dwarfed by those of General Electric, Raytheon, and Boeing and other corporations with substantial military contracts.

Contrary to many predictions, the end of the Cold War and the significant advances in the Middle East peace process in the 1990s did not lessen U.S. military and economic aid to Israel. U.S. aid to Israel is higher now than 30 years ago, when Egypt’s massive and well-equipped armed forces threatened war, when Syria’s military was expanding rapidly with advanced Soviet weaponry, when armed factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were launching terrorist attacks inside Israel, when Jordan still claimed the West Bank and stationed large numbers of troops along its lengthy border and demarcation line with Israel, and when Iraq was embarking upon an ambitious militarization effort. Today, Israel’s borders are far less threatened. Egypt has honored a longstanding peace treaty that established a large demilitarized and internationally monitored buffer zone in the Sinai Peninsula, Syria’s military has been severely weakened by the collapse of its Soviet patron, the PLO is supporting the peace process, a peace treaty has achieved full normalized Israeli relations with Jordan, and Iraq’s offensive military capabilities have been destroyed by wars, crippling sanctions, internationally monitored disarmament, and U.S. occupation. And yet high levels of military aid to Israel continue.

Noteworthy is the often-repeated insistence by successive administrations and leaders of both political parties that U.S. aid to Israel should be increased or “kept at current levels.” If the real objective was providing adequate support for Israeli defense, U.S. officials would instead be focused upon maintaining Israel’s security requirements, and aid levels would vary according to those needs. However, Israel’s actual defense needs are not Washington’s bottom-line concern.

Matti Peled, the late Israeli major general and Knesset member, reported that as far as he could tell, the $2.2 billion figure of annual U.S. military support of Israel at that time was conjured up “out of thin air.” Such a figure, he argued, was far more than necessary to replenish stocks, was not apparently related to any specific security requirements, and had remained relatively constant during the previous several years, reinforcing his impression that “aid to Israel” is little more than a U.S. government subsidy for American munitions manufacturers. This benefit to U.S. defense contractors is multiplied by the fact that every major arms transfer to Israel creates a new demand by Arab states—most paying in petrodollar cash—for additional American weapons to challenge Israel’s increased military capacity. Indeed, Israel announced its acceptance of a proposed freeze on arms exports to the Middle East back in 1991, but the Bush and Clinton administrations, under pressure from the defense industry, effectively blocked it.

In 1993, seventy-eight senators wrote President Bill Clinton insisting that the United States send even more military aid to Israel. The lawmakers justified their request by citing massive weapons procurement by Arabs states, neglecting to note that 80% of this military hardware was of U.S. origin. If they were really concerned about Israeli security, they would have voted to block these arms transfers. Yet this was clearly not their purpose. Even AIPAC did not actively oppose the sale of 72 highly sophisticated F-15E jet fighters to Saudi Arabia in 1992, since the Bush administration offered yet another boost in U.S. weapons transfers to Israel in return for Israeli acquiescence. In many respects, U.S. aid policy serves the interests of both Israel and autocratic pro-Western Arab regimes in that all share an interest in curbing radical nationalism and Islamism and preserving the regional status quo—if necessary, by military force. In addition, for the Israelis, Arab militarism serves as an excuse for continued repression in the occupied territories and resistance to demands for greater territorial compromise. For autocratic Arab leaders, Israeli military power serves as an excuse for their lack of internal democracy and unwillingness to implement badly-needed social and economic reforms. (It is noteworthy that until 1993, the United States refused to even talk with the Palestinians while sending billions of dollars worth of military equipment to autocratic Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf, which took a much harder line toward Israel than did the PLO.) The resulting arms race has been a bonanza for U.S. munitions manufacturers, whose hopes for continued prosperity provide a major explanation for U.S. aid policy.

Though Mearsheimer and Walt observe that U.S. foreign aid to Israel comes out to “about $500 a year for every Israeli,” they ignore the fact that virtually all of the military assistance goes directly to American arms merchants and the economic aid is barely more than what Israel pays annually for interest on loans from U.S. banks for previous weapons purchases. In other words, ordinary Israelis never see that money. Furthermore, for every dollar of U.S. military aid, Israeli taxpayers are forced to pay two to three dollars to cover personnel, training, and spare parts.

The Functions of Blaming the Israel Lobby

Columbia University professor Joseph Massad—who regularly endures attacks by the Israel lobby for his defense of Palestinian rights—contends that the attraction of Mearsheimer and Walt’s argument is that “it exonerates the United States government from all the responsibility and guilt that it deserves for its policies in the Arab world.” There is something quite convenient and discomfortingly familiar about the tendency to blame an allegedly powerful and wealthy group of Jews for the overall direction of an increasingly controversial U.S. policy. Indeed, like exaggerated claims of Jewish power at other times in history, such an explanation absolves the real powerbrokers and assigns blame to convenient scapegoats. This is not to say that Mearsheimer, Walt, or anyone else who expresses concern about the power of the Israel lobby is an anti-Semite, but the way in which this exaggerated view of Jewish power parallels historic anti-Semitism should give us all pause.

Those of us who have lobbied for a more balanced U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have often, but always off-the-record, been told by congressional aides—and sometimes by members of Congress themselves—that they are not to blame for right-wing voting records on Israeli-Palestinian issues because they are the victims of pressure from the Israel lobby. Such claims, however, are frequently disingenuous and self-serving.

For example, in 1991, during a meeting with a prominent staffer of Washington Democratic Senator Brock Adams, in which I raised concerns about the senator’s hard-line anti-Palestinian voting record, the staffer insisted that the senator took such positions to appease wealthy Jewish campaign contributors. He advised that if I really wanted to change the senator’s position, I should work for campaign finance reform. In early 1992, a major sex scandal forced Senator Adams to abandon his re-election bid and any hope of ever again being elected to public office. In his remaining year as a lame-duck senator, however, he continued to vote as strongly as ever in defense of Israeli government policies. In short, Jewish money had little to do with Adams ‘ anti-Palestinian extremism. His aide, like many of his counterparts on Capitol Hill, cynically utilized the age-old anti-Semitic stereotype of “blaming the Jews” rather than acknowledging the right-wing militarist predilections of his boss.

To this day, however, you still hear some peace and human rights activists quoting congressional aides and members of Congress as if these influential and (mostly) wealthy, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant lawmakers were actually helpless, innocent victims of a sinister cabal of rich and powerful Jews. Opposing inhumane Israeli policies is not anti-Semitic, but when those in positions of power utilize an exaggerated claim of Jewish clout in order to divert public attention from their own complicity with unpopular policies, they are indeed flirting with anti-Semitism.

Even more disturbing is the way that blaming the Israel lobby has been used in foreign capitals to get U.S. decision-makers off the hook for America’s controversial policies regarding Israel and Palestine. Another prominent professor of international relations, A.F.K. Organski, observes, “The belief that the Jewish lobby … is very powerful has permitted top U.S. policymakers to use ‘Jewish influence’ or ‘domestic politics’ to explain the policies … that U.S. leaders see as working to U.S. advantage, policies they would pursue regardless of Jewish opinion on the matter.” Organski further notes that when Arab and European leaders have raised concerns about U.S. positions, “ U.S. officials need give only a helpless shrug, a regretful sigh, and explain how it is not the administration’s fault, but that policymakers must operate within the constraints imposed by powerful domestic pressures molding congressional decisions.” My interviews with a half dozen Arab foreign ministers and deputy foreign ministers in recent years have confirmed that U.S. diplomats routinely blame the “Jewish lobby” as a means of diverting blame away from the U.S. government. This cynical excuse has contributed to the frightening rise in recent years of anti-Jewish attitudes in the Arab world.


The consequences of U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be tragic, not just for Palestinians and other Arabs, who are the immediate victims of the diplomatic support and largess of American aid to Israel, but ultimately for Israel as well. The fates of American client states have often not been positive. Though differing in many respects, Israel could end up like El Salvador or South Vietnam, whose leadership made common cause with U.S. global designs in ways that ultimately led to untold misery and massive destruction. Israeli leaders and their counterparts in many American Zionist organizations have been repeating the historic error of accepting short-term benefits for their people at the risk of compromising long-term security.

It has long been in Washington’s interest to maintain a militarily powerful and belligerent Israel dependent on the United States. Real peace could undermine such a relationship. The United States has therefore pursued a policy that attempts to bring greater stability to the region while falling short of real peace. Washington wants a Middle East where Israel can serve a proxy role in projecting U.S. military and economic interests. This symbiosis requires suppressing challenges to American-Israeli hegemony within the region.

This also requires suppressing challenges to this policy within the United States and there is no question that the Israel lobby plays an important role in this regard. However, this is primarily an issue of the Israel lobby working at the behest of U.S. foreign policymakers, not U.S. foreign policymakers working at the behest of the Israel lobby.

Unfortunately, Washington’s agenda provokes a reaction that all but precludes any kind of stable order that would enhance the long-term national security interests of the United States or Israel, much less peace or justice. U.S. policy has resulted in dividing Israelis from Arabs, although both are Semitic peoples who worship the same God, love the same land, and share a history of subjugation and oppression. The so-called peace process is not about peace but about imposing a Pax Americana. To blame the current morass in the Middle East on the Israel lobby only exacerbates animosities and plays into the hands of the divide-and-rule tactics of those in Congress and the administration whose primary objective is ultimately not to help Israel but to advance the American Empire.

The Israel Lobby: How Powerful is it Really?

Iraq Three Years after “Liberation”

Three years after U.S. forces captured Baghdad, Iraqis are suffering from unprecedented violence and misery. Although Saddam Hussein was indeed one of the world’s most brutal tyrants, the no-fly zones and arms embargo in place for more than a dozen years prior to his ouster had severely weakened his capacity to do violence against his own people. Today, the level of violent deaths is not only far higher than during his final years in power, but the sheer randomness of the violence has left millions of Iraqis in a state of perpetual terror. At least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have died, most of them at the hands of U.S. forces but increasingly from terrorist groups and Iraqi government death squads. Thousands more soldiers and police have also been killed. Violent crime, including kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery, is at record levels. There is a proliferation of small arms, and private militias are growing rapidly. A Lebanon-type multifaceted civil war, only on a much wider and deadlier scale, grows more likely with time.

Over 50,000 Iraqis have been imprisoned by U.S. forces since the invasion, but only 1.5% of them have been convicted of any crime. Currently, U.S. forces hold 15,000 to 18,000 Iraqi prisoners, more than were imprisoned under Saddam Hussein. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have cited U.S. forces with widespread violations of international humanitarian law, including torture and other abuses of prisoners.

It is not just the fear of arrest and torture that have worsened since the U.S. conquest of Iraq three years ago. Although the destruction of the civilian infrastructure during the heavy U.S.-led bombing campaign in 1991 combined with the subsequent economic sanctions led to enormous suffering among ordinary Iraqis, the United Nations’ Oil-for-Food program, despite the abuses, did substantially improve the quality of life in the years preceding the U.S. invasion. Now, deaths from malnutrition and preventable diseases, particularly among children, are again on the increase. The supply of drinking water, reliability of electricity, and effectiveness of sewage disposal are all worse than before the invasion.

As much as half of the labor force is unemployed, and the cost of living has skyrocketed. The median income of Iraqis has declined by more than half. The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) reports that the Iraqi people suffer from “significant countrywide shortages of rice, sugar, milk, and infant formula,” and the WFP documents approximately 400,000 Iraqi children suffering from “dangerous deficiencies of protein.” Oil production, the country’s chief source of revenue, is less than half of what it was before the invasion. And despite Bush administration promises to infuse billions of dollars worth of foreign aid to rebuild the country’s civilian infrastructure, only a small fraction of these ventures have been completed, and most projects have been cancelled. Close to one million Iraqis, most of them from the vital, educated middle class, have left the country to avoid the violence and hardship brought on as a result of the U.S. invasion.

Despite all this, a Harris poll at the end of December showed that a majority of Americans believe the Bush administration’s claims that Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein. Most Iraqis polled say just the opposite.

President Bush and his supporters still insist that Iraq is supposed to be a model for democracy that other countries in the region should try to emulate. In reality, the U.S. conquest and occupation of Iraq have, in the eyes of many Muslims worldwide, given democracy a bad name in the same way that the Soviets gave socialism a bad name through their conquest and occupation of Afghanistan. Democracy has become synonymous with war, chaos, domination by a foreign power, and massive human suffering. As a result, anti-American sentiment in Iraq is growing.

Amazingly, supporters of Bush policy cannot quite understand why this is the case. For example, Bush administration adviser Daniel Pipes, a leading proponent of the invasion, expressed his disappointment at “the ingratitude of the Iraqis for the extraordinary favor we gave them” by invading and occupying their country.

The Costs to the United States

One of the major sources of growing anti-American sentiment has been the Pentagon’s counter-insurgency offensives, which have resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. Though small-unit operations have been curtailed, air strikes have been increasing. From the use of heavy weaponry and phosphorous bombs against population centers in Fallujah to massive sweeps rounding up thousands of innocent men, many of which have been subjected to torture at the hands of U.S. forces, the United States is increasingly seen as an occupier, not a liberator. In Iraq’s tribal society, where the ethic of vengeance is still widespread, every civilian casualty at the hands of U.S. soldiers potentially adds to the recruitment pool of the insurgency, whose highly mobile cadres can easily slip away and resume operations in another locale or after American troops move on.

That the war has led to a growth of anti-American extremism throughout the Arab and Islamic world is no longer seriously questioned, as reports by U.S. intelligence agencies and the State Department have confirmed. Resentment also seethes from the disruption of Iraq’s economy, primarily through policies that have resulted in record unemployment, leaving nearly half the population without jobs. This economic devastation is a result not only of the commercial chaos stemming from the invasion but also of Washington’s decisions to eliminate tens of thousands of Iraqi government jobs, privatize public enterprises, give preference to foreign nationals for reconstruction efforts, and open Iraq to foreign multinationals against which local enterprises cannot compete.

The Iraq War has already cost the United States $500 billion, which is more in current dollars than the entire Vietnam War. Ongoing costs are close to $10 billion per month. With the vast majority of this money going to support the war, little is left to nurture civil society institutions, to train legislators, or to help build democracy. Despite this, there is still a clear bipartisan consensus to keep robbing the treasury to support President Bush’s desperate effort to control that oil-rich country. Not a single senator voted against the president’s most recent request to keep funding the war, and there were only 71 negative votes in the 435-member House of Representatives. Democrats, like Republicans, appear determined to force American taxpayers to keep paying for the death and destruction being wrought upon Iraq.

The Nature of the Iraqi Government

In recent months, Washington has begun to realize that several ruling officials retrieved from exile by U.S. forces—including Iraq’s prime minister—are incompetent religious fanatics closely allied with hard-line Iranian clerics. The Iraqi government is isolated within the U.S.-fortified Green Zone in Baghdad and is so weak and divided that it can barely be considered functional. Corruption is rampant.

Three years after the invasion, the Pentagon acknowledges that Iraqi forces are still “largely dependent” on American combat troops for logistics, supplies, and support. Indeed, not a single Iraqi unit is yet capable of fully independent operations.

Washington’s goal may be reasonable, but U.S. pressure on Iraqi leaders to form a more inclusive government and to replace Ibrahim al-Jaafari has created enormous resentment and is widely viewed as arrogant neocolonial interference. Furthermore, there is little to suggest that any of Jaafari’s likely replacements would be any better.

Human rights abuses are increasing, as hundreds of civilians, mostly Sunni Arab males, are killed every month by government death squads. Murders from these death squads rival even the violence perpetrated by terrorist insurgents, who have primarily targeted Shiite Arab civilians. Last month, Amnesty International reported that “not only has the Iraqi government failed to provide minimal protection for its citizens, it has pursued a policy of rounding up and torturing innocent men and women. Its failure to punish those who have committed torture has added to the breakdown of the rule of law.”

In the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, the ruling U.S.-backed coalition of two nationalist parties with sizable armed militias is not much better. Corruption is widespread, and opposition activists are routinely beaten, tortured, and killed. Kurdish-born Austrian lawyer and professor Kamal Sayid Qadir has reported that “Kurdish parties transformed Iraqi Kurdistan into a fortress for oppression, theft of public funds, and serious abuses of human rights like murder, torture, amputation of ears and noses, and rape.” These “privileges and gains achieved since 1991 by the Kurdish parties were impossible without direct American backing and support,” he added. For his efforts to alert the international community about abuses by the U.S.-backed Kurdish government, he was sentence to a year and a half in prison.

Given the dismal post-Saddam record of human rights abuses, it is questionable whether Americans should be dying to prop up either the central government in Baghdad or the Kurdish government in the North. Continued U.S. training and funding of Iraqi police and military forces will likely encourage even more anti-Americanism both in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats seem bothered by the death squads and torture. For example, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has further sullied her previous reputation as a defender of human rights by supporting billions of dollars in additional funding for Iraqi and U.S. forces, enabling them to continue engaging in human rights abuses.

Growing Questions at Home

Large segments of the American public still embrace many of the justifications for the invasion of Iraq that have long since been proven false. For example, according to a Harris Poll at the end of December 2005, 41% of adult Americans believe that Saddam Hussein had “strong links to Al-Qaida;” 22% believe that Saddam Hussein “helped plan and support the hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11;” 26% believe that Iraq “had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded;” and 24% believe that “several of the hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11 were Iraqis.” Furthermore, a plurality of Americans still accept the contention that despite a dozen years of debilitating sanctions, a barely functional military, and the complete absence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) or offensive delivery systems, “Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, was a serious threat to the United States.”

Notwithstanding these misconceptions, criticism of the Bush administration has been growing, forcing the president to finally acknowledge the widespread citizen opposition to the Iraq War. Bush says that he is willing to “listen to honest criticism” and that he has heard those who disagree with his policies, but he continues to dismiss such critics as “defeatists” who advocate policies that threaten the “security of our people” and who would “give up on this fight for freedom.”

Though acknowledging that restoring order to Iraq has been “more difficult than we expected” and that “reconstruction efforts and the training of Iraqi security forces started more slowly than we hoped,” President Bush has blamed these failures solely on the insurgency, which he describes as “Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists.” In reality, the majority of the insurgency consists not of supporters of the former Iraqi dictator nor of foreign terrorists but of Iraq nationalists and Islamists resentful of an invasion and occupation by what they see as a Western imperialist power intent on controlling their country’s rich natural resources.

Having provoked this resentment, the Bush administration now uses the insurgency to justify the continued U.S. military occupation of Iraq. Though the original rationale for the Iraq War was Saddam’s alleged WMD program, by redefining the U.S. incursion as a war on terrorism, Washington rationalizes an indefinite U.S. military presence and condones the ongoing American dominance of Iraq’s economy.

Combating terrorism cannot be done by a single nation, no matter how strong a military it maintains. For a counterterrorism strategy to be effective, a multilateral approach is essential, but the Bush administration continues to reject this reality and insists on acting alone. Moreover, combating terrorism must employ a variety of tactics, not just military action. But once again, President Bush has failed to examine the root causes behind the violence.

In the face of growing criticism over its Iraq policies, the current administration has acknowledged mistakes such as inaccurate prewar claims of Saddam’s military capability and inadequate policies to address post-invasion stabilization. However, these statements appear calculated to defend the ongoing U.S.-led war rather than to admit fault. Though Bush’s acceptance of ultimate responsibility for the failures of U.S. policy is a positive step, no one has yet been held accountable for these errors.

For example, the president says he was “responsible for the decision to go into Iraq.” Yet he defends that decision, even though the invasion was a clear violation of the United Nations Charter and was based upon false claims that Iraq—already disarmed of offensive military capabilities by the United Nations—constituted a threat to U.S. national security.

Regarding his prewar contention that Iraq still had chemical and biological weapons, an active nuclear program, and offensive weapons delivery capabilities, President Bush admits inaccuracy but attributes it to mistakes in intelligence gathering. He excuses his misjudgment by arguing that members of Congress and the intelligence branches of allied governments reviewed the same information and came to similar conclusions.

In reality, prior to the U.S. invasion, foreign governments noted that Iraq had failed to properly account for all proscribed weapons programs, and some countries suspected that Saddam had residual weapons or components banned under UN Security Council mandates, but most nations were dubious of U.S. and British claims that Iraq still constituted a military threat. Similarly, most members of Congress simply believed the intelligence presented to them by the administration rather than studies in scholarly journals and United Nations reports. It now appears that errors did not come from problems within the CIA but that administration officials deliberately manipulated intelligence data in order to frighten Congress and the American people into supporting an invasion.

Acknowledging obvious problems is a positive step for a president often considered arrogant and unaware of the havoc resulting from his decision to invade and occupy Iraq. However, until there is a serious re-evaluation of administration policies, there is little hope that such acknowledgements will improve America’s standing in the world or ease the suffering of the Iraqi people. What neither the administration nor Congress has acknowledged is that the invasion of Iraq would have been wrong even if Saddam Hussein still had WMDs and even if the post-invasion situation had been handled more responsibly.

Recently, leading figures in the Democratic Party who had largely supported President Bush’s Iraq policies are finally starting to voice their opposition in response to pressure from their constituents. However, the Democrats have yet to present much of an alternative. Their recently released defense plan entitled “Real Security” fails to renounce Bush’s preventive war doctrine and simply urges Iraqis to assume “primary responsibility for securing and governing their country with the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces.” Democrats and their apologists claim that a more forceful statement for withdrawal would risk their being portrayed as weak, but even their moderate plan was branded “a strategic retreat” by Vice President Dick Cheney. Republican Senator Christopher Bond was more honest. He noted essentially no difference between the Democratic position and that of the administration, observing, “It’s taken them all this time to figure out what we’ve been doing for a long time.”

Dealing with the Insurgency

There are dozens of armed groups in Iraq battling U.S. occupation forces and the U.S.-backed government. This resistance includes supporters of Saddam Hussein, well-armed remnants of his armed forces, other Baathists, independent nationalists, various Shiite wings, tribal-based groupings, and several Sunni Arab offshoots. The al-Qaida-inspired jihadists and the foreign fighters upon whom the Bush administration focuses represent a minority of the insurgency. Opposition is growing and, despite many differences ideologically and tactically, the various factions have demonstrated an increasing ability to coordinate their operations.

Beyond the many similarities between the war in Iraq and the one in Vietnam years ago, one key difference is in the nature of the opposition. Although some anti-Vietnam War activists naively downplayed the autocratic tendencies of the communist-led National Liberation Front (NLF), these rebels and the North Vietnamese government eventually brought relative peace and stability to the country. Despite current repression and misguided economic policies, the South Vietnamese have arguably suffered less in a reunified country under the communists than during the U.S.-led war under the corrupt and brutal Thieu regime in Saigon. Belying dire warnings from Washington prior to the war’s end, the NLF/North Vietnamese victory has not harmed the national security of the United States, and—other than its misadventure in Cambodia to root out the genocidal Khmer Rouge and a brief border war with China—Vietnam has coexisted relatively well with its neighbors and is now a full member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The same cannot be said of the armed opposition to the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad. Unlike in Vietnam, the Iraqi resistance is not unified. As a result, toppling the current leaders will not likely bring peace but rather continued violence and disorder. The insurgents also include some decidedly nasty elements that are genuinely fascistic in orientation. In the power struggle that would follow a hypothetical overthrow of Iraq’s central government, it is quite possible that the new rulers would include militant jihadists, Saddam’s wing of the Ba’ath party, or other elements far worse than those currently in power or likely to be elected next month. There is also a real risk of the instability spilling over into adjacent countries.

There are many scary scenarios that could result from the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The country could plunge into full-scale civil war, it might split into three parts (accompanied by ethnic cleansing), fundamentalist Islamic rule may emerge, Iranian extremists could exert undue influence, or this war-torn nation could become a training and logistical base for international terrorism. All of these possibilities should be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, these scenarios may even more likely occur if U.S. forces remain than if they withdraw. Bush’s war in Iraq is creating insurgents, including terrorists, faster than the Pentagon can kill them. The U.S. and British military presence is exacerbating ethnic and sectarian divisions, not lessening them. The overwhelming U.S. domination of the Baghdad government is undermining its sovereignty, weakening its standing with the Iraqi people, and compromising its ability to govern.

Many observers, even among those who opposed the U.S. invasion, concede that—although the principle of self-determination must be respected and although Iraqis are more than capable of governing themselves once stability and basic services are restored—current circumstances in Iraq may require active leadership from the outside. The United States, however, simply does not have the credibility to fill that role. There are sound proposals for an international peacekeeping force led by other Arab or Islamic states that should be considered, but these options will not be possible as long as the United States insists on orchestrating military operations.

All but the most extreme jihadists in the opposition would likely be open to a negotiated settlement to the conflict, but only if there was a clear timetable or specific achievable benchmarks for a complete U.S. withdrawal. With the bulk of the insurgents then allied with the Baghdad government, Iraqis could likely deal with the jihadists and other radical elements themselves, since the jihadists’ extreme ideology and terrorist tactics have little popular following in the country.

The Bush administration has thus far refused to discuss withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq. The new bases under construction (under no-bid contracts with Vice President Dick Cheney’s firm Halliburton) are elaborate, self-contained towns that appear to be intended for permanence. One being built outside Baghdad is more than 15 square miles. The new U.S. embassy under construction in Iraq is designed to include 21 buildings comprising residences for 1,000 American officials, a school, a warehouse, and its own utilities. As long as such an overbearing, neocolonial lightning-rod presence remains, there will be armed resistance.

There have also been reasonable proposals for the United States to maintain an over-the-horizon military presence or to conduct more modest military operations. Such a plan, however, would require putting trust in the very same people who have proven themselves profoundly ignorant about Iraq and totally inept at managing the postwar situation. Perhaps U.S. forces could provide tactical air support to Iraqi soldiers if Jihadists seize Ramadi and start marching on the Green Zone. But absent such a crisis, the only responsible option is a withdrawal of U.S. forces as soon as possible.

Americans from across the political spectrum have a kind of optimism and “can do” attitude that has served us well on many occasions. There are some situations, however, where a series of tragic mistakes and unfortunate circumstances preclude a positive outcome. Iraq may be just such a case.

The War at Home

This is my third annual article analyzing the U.S. war in Iraq and its impact. Unless the American people more fully mobilize to change U.S. policy, I will have to write these articles for many years to come.

This year’s Democratic primaries and the general election will be key tests of whether the U.S. citizenry will be willing to challenge the bipartisan support for the Iraq War, the doctrine of preventive war, and the exaggerated claims of foreign strategic threats brandished to frighten the populace into supporting war. Scores of U.S. representatives and senators who voted in October 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq are up for re-election this year, and most of them still support funding the war. If the majority of these pro-war Republican and Democratic lawmakers are re-elected, it will signal Washington politicians that the growing grassroots opposition to the war will not threaten their political careers. Despite the message it would send, some leaders in the peace movement are insisting that progressives work to re-elect pro-war members of Congress, including those who lied about Iraq still having WMDs, simply because they are Democrats. Such a strategy will virtually guarantee many more years of death and destruction in Iraq, and—as the 2004 presidential election showed us—such Democrats will probably end up losing anyway.

But a determined citizenry is the decisive factor. The anti-Vietnam War movement, the anti-apartheid struggle, the nuclear freeze campaign, and Central America solidarity efforts demonstrated that the particular individuals or party that the American people elect are less important than the choices we give them. As the old adage goes, “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.”

The United States will eventually have to leave Iraq. The question is, how many Americans and Iraqis will have to die in the meantime? For the United States to pull out, Bush and his bipartisan group of supporters would have to recognize that they cannot Americanize Iraq, establish U.S. hegemony in the Persian Gulf region, control Iraq’s vast oil reserves, or intimidate other nations by subduing an intractable insurgency. In short, the leadership of the greatest military superpower the world has ever known would be forced to accept a humiliating retreat.

It may be unrealistic to believe that the Bush administration would simply pull out of Iraq even in the face of growing popular opposition. The Nixon administration was unwilling to simply pull out of Vietnam. However, the anti-war movement forced Washington to negotiate with the South Vietnamese resistance and their North Vietnamese allies, which eventually led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Demanding negotiations that include a timetable for a total U.S. withdrawal may be the most realistic strategy that today’s anti-war movement could advocate.

Otherwise, President Bush will likely hold firm and leave the painful decisions to a Democratic successor, who would then take the blame for not “finishing the job.” This is why it is so important for Democrats to stop funding the war and to insist that President Bush negotiate a settlement to withdraw U.S. forces before he leaves office, thereby accepting full responsibility for the consequences.

Another question is, what will the United States learn from all this? Will it be just a tactical, stylistic precept that—in the words of 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry—the war against Iraq was not a mistake but rather that “the way the president went to war is a mistake”? The next time the United States invades and occupies another country, should it be done the “right way” by a Democratic administration?

Will our lesson be merely a strategic realization that, even if Washington had not made what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called “thousands” of errors in Iraq, invading and occupying a large Arab Muslim state with a strong history of nationalism is fraught with disaster?

Or will Americans finally embrace what we thought had been learned at the end of World War II—with the ratification of the United Nations Charter—that invading another country is just plain wrong?

The Israeli Raid in Jericho: The Background

The origins of the March 14 Israeli raid of a Palestinian prison in Jericho are rooted in another Israeli raid on a Palestinian city in 2001.

On August 27 of that year, Israeli occupation forces assaulted the offices of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) with a U.S.-supplied helicopter gunship and missiles. Their target was PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa, who was killed instantly. The PFLP vowed to retaliate.

The PFLP, a Marxist movement notorious for engineering a spate of airline hijackings in the early 1970s, had in previous years ended its involvement in international terrorism and had returned from exile to emerge as part of the secular leftist opposition to both the Fatah-dominated Palestine Authority and the Islamist Hamas. As a legal political party, the PFLP regularly put forward candidates in Palestinian elections, though their percentage of the popular vote rarely scored better than the low single digits. The PFLP also maintained an armed militia, though–unlike Hamas and Islamic Jihad–it primarily targeted the Israeli military and police in the occupied territories rather than civilians inside Israel.

Seven weeks after the Israeli assassination of their leader, a PFLP militant assassinated Rehavam Zeevi, head of the far-right Moledet Party, who had been serving as Israeli Tourism Minister in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s coalition government. The Moledet Party–which subsequently merged with other far right parties to form the National Alliance–is even more extremist in ideology than the PFLP, calling for the ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories.

In response to Mustafa’s murder, the State Department issued only a mild statement reiterating its opposition to Israel’s assassination policy. In subsequent months, the Bush administration–with the encouragement of both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders–dropped even this nominal opposition and began to openly defend assassinations by Israeli death squads of suspected Palestinian militants. By contrast, President Bush personally condemned Zeevi’s murder, criticized the Palestinian Authority’s failure to jail the suspected assassins and PFLP leaders, and demanded that they be punished.

When Israel violently re-occupied Ramallah four months later and launched a six-week siege on Palestinian President Yasir Arafat’s offices, President Bush expressed his understanding for the Israeli action–otherwise universally condemned in the international community–on the grounds that the suspected PFLP assassin and three alleged accomplices had sought refuge there. Bush noted how “these people are accused of killing a cabinet official of the Israel government. I can understand why the prime minister wants them brought to justice.” He added, “They should be brought to justice if they killed this man in cold blood.”

By contrast, there were no American demands to bring to justice the Israeli helicopter pilots or Israeli political and military leaders who were responsible for Mustafa’s assassination. Similarly, there was no U.S. criticism of the 1988 Israeli assassination of a member of Arafat’s cabinet, Defense Minister Khalid al-Wazir in Tunisia, much less a demand that those responsible for his murder be brought to justice. (An investigation by the Israeli newspaper Maariv revealed that the leader of the seaborne command center who oversaw al-Wazir’s murder was Israel’s then-deputy military chief Ehud Barak, who would later become Israeli prime minister, widely praised by President Bill Clinton and others as a great peacemaker.)

Arafat finally agreed to have the four PFLP militants implicated in the assassination–along with Ahmed Saadat, Mustafa’s successor as PFLP leader–jailed in return for the Israelis lifting the siege, even though the Palestinian judiciary cleared him of involvement. Arafat was also forced to agree to imprison a sixth man, Palestinian Authority finance chief Fuad Shubaki, for attempting to smuggle arms from Iran. The U.S. position has been that while it is legitimate for the United States to send arms to the Israeli government to facilitate their occupation of Palestinian territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war, it is illegitimate for the Palestinians to import arms to resist the occupation.

Though the Bush administration had rejected calls from the Palestinians to dispatch U.S. peacekeeping forces to the West Bank to separate the two sides and protect civilian populations, President Bush–not trusting the Palestinian Authority to keep the six men incarcerated–insisted that American servicemen, later joined by British servicemen, be sent into the West Bank city of Jericho to help guard the prisoners.

While U.S. and British officials had complained in recent weeks of a deteriorating security climate, they did not give Palestinian officials any notice of their sudden departure on March 14. They did, however, apparently inform Israeli officials. Though there was no evidence to suggest that the departure of the foreign prison guards would lead to an imminent release of the six men, Israeli forces moved into Jericho and assaulted the prison, killing two guards and wounding two dozen others, kidnapping the six prisoners and bringing them to Israel.

The widespread Palestinian anger in response to the Israeli attack and kidnappings went well beyond those who support the PFLP’s ideology or its retaliatory assassination of Zeevi. This latest violation of Palestine’s limited sovereignty, with the apparent collusion of the United States–the supposed guarantor of the Oslo peace process and the detention agreement–and Great Britain deepens the sense of humiliation from the nearly 29 years of U.S.-backed Israeli occupation of the West Bank. It has weakened moderate Palestinian leaders like President Mahmoud Abbas, who has argued that the U.S.-brokered peace process offers hope for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, while strengthening Hamas and other extremists who reject the peace process and Israel’s very right to exist.

Libya: More Balance Needed

Key Points

* The U.S. has maintained a hostile relationship toward the Libyan regime of Muammar Qaddafi for over two decades, including a series of military confrontations in the 1980s.

* Qaddafi’s repression at home, anti-Western foreign policy, and support for extremist movements—including terrorist groups—have fueled the anti-Libyan sentiment of successive U.S. administrations.

* U.S. sanctions against Libya have continued, despite the suspension of UN sanctions following the extradition and trial of Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie PanAm bombing.

In 1969, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi led a military coup in Libya against King Idris, an unpopular pro-Western leader. A left-leaning Arab nationalist and a harsh critic of Israel and the West, Qaddafi nationalized Libya’s foreign-controlled oil industry and ordered the closure of Wheelus Air Base, one of the largest U.S. military facilities in the world. Although Qaddafi’s anticommunism allowed for some initial cautious optimism from the U.S., diplomatic relations were downgraded in 1973 and were formally broken eight years later.

Under Qaddafi’s rule, Libya has made impressive gains in health care, education, housing, women’s rights, and basic social services. His brand of Islamic socialism, combined with the country’s relatively small population and large oil reserves, has made Libya one of the more prosperous and egalitarian societies in the developing world, even though rhetoric has outpaced performance. A decentralized political system has allowed for democracy and popular participation in some political activities.

Political repression, however, is widespread. Serving both monarchs and military rulers, Libyan law prohibits the formation of political parties and criticism of the political system. There are no independent human rights organizations or nongovernmental organizations of any kind, and the government strictly controls the press. There are hundreds of political prisoners, and torture in detention is common. Outspoken opponents of the government have been murdered, both at home and abroad.

More distressing to the U.S. has been Qaddafi’s support for extremist movements abroad, including terrorist groups, some of which may have been responsible for the deaths of American citizens. He has also been an outspoken advocate of radical third world and Arab causes.

During the early 1980s, there was a series of military clashes between the U.S. and Libya, with Libya attacking U.S. navy ships, and U.S. forces destroying Libyan military ships and aircraft and bombing coastal military installations. In April 1986, following a terrorist bombing in Berlin that killed an American G.I., the U.S. bombed Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya’s two largest cities, killing more than sixty civilians. The Reagan administration supported a wide range of covert activities targeting Libya, including disinformation campaigns, propaganda, sabotage, and encouragement of opposition groups. The U.S. also provided logistical support for French military operations against Libyan forces in the disputed Ouzou Strip region of northern Chad, and Washington encouraged Egyptian hostility toward Libya, resulting in a series of clashes along their common border.

In 1982, the U.S. initiated a series of sanctions against Libya, including an embargo on Libyan oil and a new requirement for export licenses for most American goods. Comprehensive sanctions were imposed in 1986, including a freeze of Libyan assets and a ban on all trade and financial dealings with Libya. These sanctions also forbid Americans, including journalists and academics, from traveling to Libya without permission from the U.S. government.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Washington issued a series of reports, widely circulated in the media, designed to discredit and demonize the Libyan government. These included charges of a Libyan hit squad targeting American officials, reports of coup attempts against Qaddafi, and allegations of a large underground chemical weapons factory. Subsequent investigations found all of these reports to be false.

When an investigation of the 1988 PanAm airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, fingered two Libyan intelligence agents, the U.S. and Great Britain demanded their extradition to stand trial. In 1992, as the International Court of Justice was addressing the extradition question, the U.S. successfully pressured the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Libya to force the government to hand over the suspects. These international sanctions prohibited the export of aviation, military, or petroleum equipment to Libya, banned commercial flights to or from Libya, limited Libyan diplomatic representation abroad, and placed restrictions on certain Libyan financial activities.

In 1999, all parties agreed to have the Libyans tried in the Netherlands before three Scottish judges. UN sanctions against Libya were suspended in 1999 when the two Libyan suspects were extradited for trial, though the U.S. has maintained its own unilateral sanctions. The judges made their ruling in January 2001, convicting one suspect and acquitting the other. It is still unclear whether the bombing was a rogue operation or ordered by higher-ups, including possibly Qaddafi, himself, in retaliation for the 1986 bombing raids.

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Key Problems
* Military attacks against Libya have led to civilian deaths, have violated international law, and have strengthened Qaddafi’s standing in Libya and the international community.

* Washington’s opposition to political repression and support of terrorism by the Libyan government is compromised by U.S. support of other autocratic regimes and acquiescence to terrorist activities by American allies.

* The sanctions against Libya have been largely ineffective in altering Tripoli’s behavior but have been harmful to American businesses and other interests.

U.S. hostility toward Libya appears to have been largely reactive and not based on any well-conceived strategy. Demonizing the eccentric Qaddafi, with his penchant for harsh and provocative rhetoric, has been useful in bolstering the domestic standing of successive U.S. presidents and feeding the sense of self-righteousness Americans feel for the U.S. role in the world. But it has netted little tangible benefit for U.S. policy interests. For example, Qaddafi’s 1986 claim that the entire Gulf of Sidra was within Libyan territorial waters had no legal justification. Yet the U.S. insistence on militarily challenging the claim seemed more designed as an excuse to attack the country than to enforce international law, particularly since Libya was not enforcing its claims.

More tragically, what apparently provoked the Libyan terrorists who destroyed the Pan Am airliner in 1988 were the U.S. bombing raids against Libyan cities two years earlier. The U.S. justified the air strikes on the grounds that they would prevent future Libyan-sponsored terrorism—an ironic justification, given the subsequent event. Moreover, international law only recognizes the legitimacy of the use of force for self-defense, not for retaliation. The numerous civilian casualties from the air strikes and the serious damage caused to the French embassy and other diplomatic facilities provoked outrage throughout the world and bolstered Qaddafi’s standing both at home and abroad. Indeed, Washington’s support for terrorist groups like the Nicaraguan contras, U.S. failure to extradite CIA-connected terrorists currently indicted in two Latin American countries, and America’s role in a deadly 1985 car bombing in a Beirut suburb have hampered U.S. credibility as a crusader against the Libyan regime’s alleged links to terrorism.

Although the UN sanctions against Libya never inflicted the serious humanitarian consequences that have plagued Iraq, they did retard Libya’s economic development and isolated the country internationally, discouraging liberalizing influences. The ongoing unilateral U.S. sanctions have had a similar effect. Even Qaddafi’s Libyan opponents have opposed the sanctions on the grounds that this tactic has played into the hands of the Libyan dictator.

What made the Libyans particularly reluctant to accede to initial demands to extradite the bombing suspects was the realization that the U.S. would oppose the lifting of UN sanctions even if they complied, since Washington’s target was not really the indicted men but rather the Qaddafi regime. Indeed, even though UN sanctions have been suspended against Libya, the U.S. has blocked efforts to have them completely lifted.

A particularly problematic manifestation of U.S. sanctions has been the 1996 D’Amato Act, the motivation for which may go beyond simply curbing terrorism to exerting U.S. pressure on weaker countries. The law says that the president can “determine” that a person, company, or government is in violation of the act, and the aggrieved party has no recourse to challenge the president’s determination in court or anywhere else. With such wide latitude of interpretation, a president can impose sanctions or other punitive measures based more on political considerations than on any objective criteria, thus honing the mechanisms by which the U.S. can force foreign countries to cooperate with its strategic and economic agendas.

The bill provides for an array of sanctions, including banning the sale of products of culpable firms in the United States. As with similar extraterritorial efforts regarding Cuba, even America’s strongest allies have raised vehement objections to the law, which apparently violates World Trade Organization rules. Ironically, this is the same sort of secondary boycott that the U.S. has vehemently opposed when applied by Middle Eastern states to U.S. companies doing business in Israel. If the U.S. secondary boycott is maintained, other countries are likely to take over lost American business. Thus, it will not be the targeted regime that will be hurt by U.S. policy—it will be American businesses and American credibility.

The crimes committed over the years by Qaddafi’s Libya, though frequently exaggerated and not always unique, are still very real. Similarly, double-standards are commonplace both in U.S. diplomatic history and in the foreign policies of every great power. Yet in many respects, just as Qaddafi has gained political mileage in portraying himself as a victim of a vengeful and hypocritical U.S., there are those in the U.S. who also benefit from maintaining a hostile relationship with this leader whom Americans love to hate. Hostility toward “rogue states” like Libya helps justify continued high military budgets, encourages unilateral military initiatives, and feeds the self-righteous and sanctimonious U.S. perception of its role in the world.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that Libya’s most serious offense in the eyes of U.S. policymakers does not concern human rights abuses, terrorism, nuclear ambitions, subversion, or conquest but rather the impudence to challenge American hegemony in the Middle East. Regimes like Libya and other so-called “rogue states” are preventing the U.S. from exercising its political dominance over this crucial region. By overthrowing or subjugating these regimes, American policymakers believe they will gain unprecedented leverage in shaping the future direction of the Middle East.

This brings us to the final irony. Their role as an impediment to hegemonic American ambitions lends these regimes the credibility and legitimacy they would not otherwise receive, since most Middle Eastern people resent foreign domination.

Toward a New Foreign Policy

Key Recommendations
* The U.S. should significantly ease sanctions against Libya as a means of encouraging a more pluralistic society and responsible foreign policy.

* The U.S. should promote arms control throughout North Africa and should pledge not to attack Libya unless there is clear evidence that Libya has attacked first.

* Diplomatic relations should be restored and most economic sanctions lifted; military sanctions should be retained, and any trade that could strengthen the regime’s repressive apparatus or export of violence should be stifled.

Washington needs to encourage Libya to play a more responsible role both toward its own citizens and as a member of the international community. Current policy needs an overhaul, however, if such policy ambitions are to be successful.

Many of Qaddafi’s stated objectives—encouraging sustainable broad-based economic development, promoting Palestinian rights, and defending the Arab world’s cultural, religious, and national rights from Western domination—have some legitimacy and evoke solidarity throughout the Middle East. A U.S. decision to address the legitimate concerns and adopt more responsible policies in the Middle East would rob demagogues like Qaddafi of their popular base and obstruct their dangerous policies. Such an approach would prove more successful at controlling Qaddafi than air strikes and punitive sanctions, which only appear to strengthen his power and influence.

Washington should go on record with the promise that it will not attack Libya unless there is clear evidence that Libya has attacked first. Proactively, the U.S. should promote arms control across North Africa as a means of bringing greater peace and stability to the region. Normal diplomatic relations should be restored and sanctions should be substantially liberalized to allow for normal business activity as well as academic and tourist exchanges. A whole generation of Americans has grown up with the news media and popular culture depicting Libyans as terrorists. Normal interchanges between the two countries would greatly enhance better understanding between the two peoples and minimize the risk of violence against either.

Military sanctions should remain in place. Similarly, the U.S. should maintain restrictions against commercial or other activities that could directly strengthen the regime’s repressive apparatus or foster terrorism.

Recent conflict between the U.S. and Libya has harmed the credibility of U.S. efforts to promote a more open and pluralistic society in Libya. Encouraging a greater role for international nongovernmental organizations—untainted by a direct U.S. presence—could help this process. Libya’s impressive advances in some aspects of economic development, including innovations in appropriate technology, deserve examination as possible models for development elsewhere.

Lingering concerns about potential Libyan involvement in terrorism should be addressed through international organizations and law enforcement, not through unilateral actions. Washington must renounce its support for any irregular forces or governments involved in terrorism in order to become a more effective leader in the war against terrorism. Moreover, the U.S. should acknowledge that its previous attacks against civilian targets in Libya were themselves a form of terrorism.

Similarly, Washington’s concerns about Qaddafi’s ongoing human rights violations would be enhanced if the U.S. ended its silence about human rights violations by such U.S. allies as Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco. There is nothing wrong with constraining—using economic sanctions, if necessary—regimes that export terrorism and violate human rights. However, until the U.S. is willing to end its flagrant double-standards, such efforts—even where justified—will get little international support.

Finally, if the U.S. is really interested in democratic change in Libya, it should recognize that Qaddafi is not the only important political actor in that country. Washington must analyze Libya’s social structure and regional differences. There are technocrats, ideologues, military and religious leaders, and other competing interest groups outside Qaddafi’s complete control. Together they constitute a complex internal political dynamic in Libya.

Libya should not be used as a symbol, a whipping boy, an excuse for higher military spending, or a vehicle for proving a president’s machismo. U.S. policy should be guided more by area specialists and less by military leaders and national security managers who are unfamiliar with Libya, its politics, history, and culture. The demonization of Qaddafi and Libya should be replaced by a more balanced approach that recognizes the regime’s accomplishments as well as its many serious problems.

Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of politics and chairperson of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. Zunes is also a senior analyst and the Middle East and North Africa editor at Foreign Policy In Focus.

Recommended Citation:
Stephen Zunes, “Libya: More Balance Needed” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, October 6, 2005)

Congress Overwhelmingly Endorses Ariel Sharon’s Annexation Plans

On Wednesday, June 23, 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives, in an overwhelming bipartisan vote, endorsed right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s efforts to colonize and annex large sections of the Palestinian West Bank, seized by Israel in the June 1967 war.

This was not just another “pro-Israel” (or, more accurately, “pro-Israeli right”) resolution, but an effective renunciation of the post-World War II international system based upon the premise of the illegitimacy of the expansion of a country’s territory by military force.

House Concurrent Resolution 460, sponsored by right-wing Republican leader Tom DeLay, ‘strongly endorses’ the letter sent by President George W. Bush to the Israeli prime minister in April supporting his so-called ‘disengagement’ plan. This unilateral initiative calls for withdrawing the illegal Israeli settlements from the occupied Gaza Strip, but’far more significantly’would incorporate virtually all of the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank into Israel, leaving the Palestinians with a series of non-contiguous and economically unviable cantons, each surrounded by Israeli territory, collectively constituting barely 10% of historic Palestine. (Even in the case of the Gaza Strip, Sharon’s plan would allow Israel to control the borders, the ports, and the airspace, as well as having the right to conduct military operations inside Palestinian areas at will.)

The vote was 407 in favor of the resolution and only 9 opposed.

The Bush letter so overwhelming supported by the House declares that ‘the United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan.” Indeed, the resolution appears to be part of an effort to short-circuit last fall’s Geneva Initiative, a comprehensive peace plan supported by the Palestinian leadership and leading Israeli moderates. In that proposal, the Palestinians agreed that Israel could annex some blocs of settlements, but only along Israel’s internationally recognized borders and only in exchange for an equivalent amount of territory currently part of Israel that would be granted to the new Palestinian state. According to public opinion polls, the majority of Americans’including a majority of American Jews’support this approach over the Bush-backed Sharon so overwhelming endorsed by Congress.

The resolution does not even make mention of the once highly-touted ‘road map’ for Israeli-Palestinian peace that the United States drew up with representatives of Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations. The ‘road map’ demanded that any growth in the settlements be frozen and that the remaining outstanding issues, such as borders and the status of Palestinian refugees be left for negotiations between the two parties.

Congressman Pete Stark of California, one of the nine dissenters, observed how the resolution did not call on both Israelis and Palestinians to work together to find a peaceful solution to this conflict, correctly observing that ‘all parties in the process must work together,’ something the resolution notably omitted. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Deputy minority leader Steny Hoyer (who was a cosponsor of the DeLay resolution) refused to place a resolution cosponsored by Stark (H.R. 479), which applauds Israelis and Palestinians who are working together to conceive pragmatic, serious plans for achieving peace and encourages both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to capitalize on the opportunity offered by these peace initiatives.

According to Israeli press reports, Sharon brought four separate disengagement plans to Washington requiring various degrees of Israeli withdrawal, but President Bush ended up endorsing the one which allowed Israel to annex the largest amount of Palestinian territory. Now, much to the chagrin of progressive and moderate Israelis, Congress has also chosen to throw its weight behind the most right-wing of the four proposals.

Most observers’including leading Israeli military and intelligence officials’recognize that by leaving the Palestinians with little hope of achieving a viable state through negotiations, this will only swell the ranks of extremist Palestinian groups and produce more terrorism. Congress has rejected this analysis, however, insisting that Sharon’s land grab will somehow ‘enhance the security of Israel and advance the cause of peace in the Middle East.’

The resolution calls for the Palestinian ‘state’ that could eventually emerge to be ‘based on rule of law and respect for human rights,’ but does not call on Israel to respect the rule of law and human rights, which its occupation forces and colonists’according to reputable human rights organization in Israel and elsewhere’are violating on a daily basis.

The resolution also repeatedly cites Palestinian terrorism as the obstacle to peace and security, not the Israeli occupation and repression that has spawned it. Furthermore, the resolution calls for the United States to further strengthen Israel’s military prowess and defends Israel’s right to launch attacks against Palestinian groups that ‘threaten Israeli citizens,’ which presumably includes settlers and their militias which have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including large numbers of children.

In supporting this resolution, Congress has effectively renounced UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which call on Israel’in return for security guarantees from its Arab neighbors’to withdraw from territories seized in the June 1967 war. All previous U.S. administrations of both parties had seen these resolutions as the basis for Arab-Israeli peace.

These Israeli settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deem it illegal for any country to transfer any part of its civilian population onto territories seized by military force. UN Security Council resolutions 446, 452, 465 and 471 explicitly call on Israel to remove its colonists from the occupied territories. The vast majority of these settlements that the Bush-Sharon plan seeks to formally annex into Israel were built after these resolutions were passed.

In an incredible act of chutzpah, however, the resolution claims that Israel should not be expected to withdraw from these settlements ‘in light of new realities on the ground,’ namely the settlements built in violation of these UN Security Council resolutions.

Congress, however, apparently agrees with President Bush that Sharon’s Israel, unlike Saddam’s Iraq, need not abide by UN Security Council resolutions.

In that clause, the resolution refers to the illegal settlements euphemistically as ‘Israeli population centers.’ More significantly, the resolution refers to these settlements as being ‘in Israel,’ effectively already recognizing their annexation.

The resolution also insists that supporting the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in Israel’or even in the occupied territories to be annexed by Israel under the Bush-Sharon plan’would not be ‘just’ or ‘fair.’

The Bush letter endorsed by Congress effectively destroys the once highly-touted ‘road map’ and marks the first time in the history of the peace process that a U.S. president has pre-empted negotiations by announcing support of such a unilateral initiative by one party. Both Israel and the United States continue to refuse to even negotiate with Palestine Authority President Yasir Arafat, Palestinian Prime Minister Amhed Qureia, or any other recognized Palestinian leader, on substantive issues dealing with a peace settlement.

Supporting the resolution were the fundamentalist Christian Coalition, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, and other right-wing groups. Leading the opposition to the resolution were Churches for Middle East Peace, the Tikkun Community, and similar progressive organizations. That the entire House Democratic leadership and all but a handful of Democrats overall supported the resolution is demonstrative of just how far to the right the Democratic Party has gone. In short, the Democrats, like the Republicans, now support the neo-conservative doctrine that places the right of conquest over the rule of law.

More fundamentally, Congress’ effective endorsement of an Israeli annexation of land it conquered in the 1967 war is a direct challenge to the United Nations Charter, which forbids any country from expanding its territory through military conquest. The vote, therefore, constitutes nothing less than an overwhelming bipartisan renunciation of the post-World War II international system, effectively recognizing the right of conquest.

Presidential Election Offers Little Choice for Israeli-Arab Peace

Earlier this month, in a widely quoted interview in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Dov Weisglass–Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser–acknowledged what most independent observers have known all along: that the Israeli government is not actually interested in a peace agreement with the Syrian government or the Palestinian Authority. Israel has occupied the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights since these territories were seized by the Israeli armed forces in 1967, expelling thousands of Arabs and then colonizing these territories with Jewish settlers in contravention of international law.

This past April, Sharon proposed what he referred to as a “disengagement plan,” which–while removing 7,500 Israeli colonists from illegal settlements in the occupied Gaza Strip–would maintain Israeli control of the territory while annexing large swaths of occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank in order to incorporate illegal Jewish settlements there. This was an effective renunciation of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, put forward by previous Democratic and Republican administrations as the basis for an Israeli-Arab peace settlement, which call on Israel –in return for security guarantees from its Arab neighbors–to withdraw from Palestinian territories seized in the June 1967 war.

Sharon’s plan immediately received the enthusiastic support of President Bush, who claimed that Sharon’s decision “has given the Palestinian people and the free world a chance to take bold steps of their own toward peace.” Shortly thereafter, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed resolutions by overwhelming bipartisan majorities endorsing Sharon’s proposal.

Weisglass, in his interview, explained, “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem …. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission: All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”

By contrast, former Israeli deputy foreign minister Yossi Beillin, principal architect of the Oslo Accords, observed, “it is Sharon who is not a partner for peace.” Ahmed Tibi, a member of Israel’s Knesset, added that “the American administration is a partner to Sharon’s political deceit.”

Meanwhile, Syrian President Assad and Palestinian President Arafat have resumed their calls for a permanent peace agreement with Israel based upon UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. Like a number of Arab leaders (including some allied with the United States ), both Arafat and Assad have been criticized for their autocratic rule, corrupt administrations, and inability or unwillingness to curb extremist groups operating within their jurisdictions. However, these two governments’ positions on the peace process are far more consistent with international law, UN Security Council resolutions, the positions of America ’s democratic allies, and the stated positions of previous U.S. administrations than is the Israeli position.

For example, President Arafat has spoken favorably of the draft peace agreement signed in Geneva last fall by leaders of Israel’s moderate opposition Labor Party and leading Palestinian figures. Under the agreement, a Palestinian state would be established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (with minor and reciprocal adjustments from the 1949 armistice lines), the Palestinians would recognize Israeli control of 78% of historic Palestine, Jerusalem would serve as the co-capital of both Israel and Palestine, Palestinian refugees would be settled in the new Palestinian state or in neighboring Arab states, and there would be firm security guarantees for Israel. Sharon strongly denounced the initiative, however. President Bush has refused to endorse it and a proposed Congressional resolution in support of this effort stalled after only a few dozen House members signed on.

Arafat has also reiterated his support for the “Road Map,” a peace plan put together by the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations that would establish a Palestinian state by 2005 following a series of steps to be undertaken by both Israelis and Palestinians. Sharon, however, stated in an interview in September that “we are not following the road map. I am not ready for that.”

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli insists, however, that–such comments to the contrary– Sharon actually remains committed to the road map.

President Assad, meanwhile, has offered to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel and provide internationally monitored security guarantees in return for a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Syrian lands seized in the 1967 war. Sharon, meanwhile, told Haaretz that there was “no possibility” that Israel would resume negotiations with Syria. In recently signed legislation passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress, however, Syria was blamed as being solely responsible for the failure to peacefully resolve in the conflict.

Weisglass acknowledged that Sharon moved forward with his “disengagement” plan in part because “the Geneva Initiative had gained broad support” within Israel and they needed to come up with a countermeasure that would receive U.S. backing and silence the growing domestic pressure. Not only did Sharon’s effort to suppress moderate and liberal Israeli demands for peace receive the support of the Republican administration and Republican-led Congress, it received support from the Democrats as well.

Kerry’s Response

Bush’s stance not only reverses the policies of three Democratic and four Republican administrations that had supported the concept of “land for peace,” it endorses an Israeli position that is in violation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions as well as the UN Charter itself, which forbids countries from expanding their territory by military force. Thanks to Weisglass’ admission and recent statements by Sharon , Bush’s Democratic rival John Kerry was presented with an excellent opportunity to highlight Bush’s disregard for international law and the dangers of his militaristic unilateralism.

Kerry, however, has instead gone on record defending Bush’s endorsement of the Sharon plan, telling NBC’s Tim Russert that he supports Bush “completely.” According to Kerry, “What’s important, obviously, is the security of the state of Israel, and that’s what the prime minister and the president, I think, are trying to address.”

However, the settlements that Sharon seeks to secure are not even in Israel; they are in occupied Palestinian territory. Though no government in the world currently recognizes these illegal settlements as part of Israel, Senator Kerry has joined President Bush in endorsing a proposal that these settlements and surrounding lands be incorporated into Israel anyway. Every one of these settlements, however, violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deems it illegal for any country to transfer civilians onto territories seized by military force.

In addition, UN Security Council resolutions 446, 452, 465, and 471 explicitly call on Israel to remove its colonists from the occupied territories. Both President Bush and Senator Kerry apparently believe that while violations of UN Security Council resolutions by the former government of Iraq justified draconian sanctions and even an invasion, U.S. allies like Israel can ignore them.

More fundamentally, while Israeli security interests are indeed vitally important, there are other issues that are just as important that both the president and the Massachusetts senator appear to ignore, such as Palestinian rights and international law. Furthermore, it is naïve to think that Israelis will ever be secure as long their government continues to deny Palestinians their basic human rights and runs roughshod over basic, internationally recognized legal principles. As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan observed, “Attempts by either side to achieve political goals or security through measures that injure the other are ultimately bound to fail, even if they seem to produce short-term gains.”

Kerry, however, in an open letter sent to Annan earlier this year, criticized the UN Secretary General, even questioning his commitment in the fight against terrorism for insisting that Israel, like all countries, should abide by the Fourth Geneva Conventions. Apparently, Kerry shares Bush’s belief that “You are either with us, or the terrorists.”

Prior to Weissglass’ revelations, Bush and Kerry supporters could plausibly deny that their candidates were aware of these cynical plans by Israel’s rightist government. Now, however, there are no excuses. There is no denying that both candidates are fully aware that Prime Minister Sharon has no intention of honoring UN Security Council resolutions and basic precepts of international law and that he feels that Israel has a right to try to impose a settlement on the Palestinians rather than to negotiate one through peace talks.

Yet Senator Kerry and President Bush still oppose substantive peace negotiations with the Palestinian leadership. To justify his support for the Bush administration, Senator Kerry has falsely claimed that “ Israel has no partner, no one to be able to negotiate with today” and that “Arafat refuses to … take part in a peaceful process.”

In reality, however, the Palestinian president–along with his prime minister and other Palestinian leaders–has repeatedly called for a resumption of peace negotiations, but Sharon has refused.

The unfortunately reality is that in refusing to alter their positions one iota in the face of these revelations, both Bush and Kerry have made clear that neither of them is interested in pursuing peace between Israel and Palestine. Just as they both lied about “weapons of mass destruction” in order to justify a U.S. takeover of Iraq , they are also both lying about Israel ’s desire for peace in order to justify Israel ’s takeover of the West Bank and Golan Heights . At least in regards to the United States in Iraq , neither Bush nor Kerry claims that the occupying power has the right to colonize and annex large parts of the territory it invaded. In the case of Israel, however, both are effectively rejecting the most fundamental principle of the post-World War II international system–enshrined in the United Nations Charter–which declares that it is illegal for any state to expand its territory by military force.

Last year, Senator Kerry said he would consider former president and recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter to be his special emissary in the Middle East. However, once Carter endorsed the Geneva Initiative, Kerry said Carter is no longer under consideration and that he will instead appoint someone who supports the position of the current right-wing Israeli government. Kerry apparently believes that the 22% of Palestine that would have been granted to the Palestinians under the Geneva Initiative was too much. Sharon’s plan, which he has endorsed, would leave the Palestinians with only half that much territory–and that would be divided into a series of non-contiguous enclaves surrounded by Israeli occupation forces and Jewish settlements. This paints a disturbing picture of the contempt that Kerry has, not only for international law, but for basic concepts of justice.

Senator Kerry’s position on Israel and Palestine is far closer to that of Rep. Tom DeLay than to Rep. John Conyers, far closer to the Christian Coalition than to the National Council of Churches, far closer to the Project for a New American Century than to Peace Action, far closer to the Heritage Foundation than the Institute for Policy Studies, and–in terms of Israeli politics–far closer to the rightist Likud Bloc than the liberal Meretz.

That the Democratic Party chose to nominate someone like that as its presidential candidate demonstrates how far to the right the Democrats have drifted on foreign policy issues. And it is not very smart politics: along with Iraq and globalization, Kerry’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the top concern raised by likely Nader voters as to why they will not be supporting the Democratic nominee in the final days of this extremely close election.

Bush’s and Kerry’s Disregard for Human Rights

President Bush and Senator Kerry have rightfully denounced terrorism by radical Palestinian groups and have correctly insisted that the Palestinian Authority do as much as it can to crack down on terrorist cells that could threaten Israeli civilians. However, they both have insisted that it is the Palestinians alone who are responsible for the bloodshed of the past four years and that Israeli attacks on Palestinian population centers are necessary defensive measures. This comes despite the fact that Israelis have killed three times as many Palestinian civilians as Palestinians have killed Israeli civilians.

Both Bush and Kerry defended Israel’s recent incursion into the Gaza Strip that killed over 100 people, most of whom were unarmed; at least two dozen of them were children. Reputable human rights groups, along with UN and private relief agencies on the ground, documented widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and deliberate attacks against unarmed civilians. Despite this, Kerry’s running mate, Senator John Edwards, went to great lengths during his debate with Vice President Dick Cheney to defend the Israeli assaults in the face of this worldwide condemnation, demonstrating that a Kerry administration is likely to have as little regard for human rights as the current administration.

Furthermore, both the Bush administration and Senator Kerry have defended Israel’s policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, claiming it is a justifiable means of self-defense. Both have failed to note that Israel’s assassination policy has not just targeted terrorist leaders, but has also included local political leaders and nonviolent community activists.

Senator Kerry defended Sharon’s use of death squads by saying that “The moment Hamas says, ‘We’ve given up violence. We are prepared to negotiate,’ I am absolutely confident they will find an Israel that is thirsty to have that negotiation.” In reality, the Israeli government has stated that even if Hamas made such a statement, they would not negotiate with the Islamic group. Israel even refuses to negotiate with the elected Palestine Authority, which has long since renounced terrorism.

This summer, the International Court of Justice ruled 15-1 (with only the U.S. judge dissenting) that while Israel could construct a separation barrier along its internationally-recognized border, it could not build it deep within the occupied West Bank in order to effectively incorporate Palestinian land into Israel. Both Bush and Kerry denounced the decision, with the Democratic nominee going as far as to claim that the “wall” was an act of legitimate self-defense by Israel.

Both President Bush and Senator Kerry have ruled out linking even part of the $2.5 billion military and economic aid package the U.S. sends Israel annually–or even the recently enacted $9 billion loan guarantee–to Israel’s observance of international humanitarian law. Even though arms transfers to countries that use American weapons for non-defensive purposes against civilian populations is illegal, according to the Arms Control Export Act and other U.S. legislation, and despite the fact that such aid is no longer necessary for Israel’s legitimate defense needs, Bush and Kerry insist that unconditional military aid should continue. Thus, it appears that both Bush and Kerry agree that ensuring profit for American arms merchants is more important than defending fundamental human rights.

Both campaigns have claimed that hostility toward Israel by Palestinians and other Arabs is not a result of the Israeli occupation and colonization of their lands and human rights abuses against their people, but because of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda. While the rise in anti-Semitism in Arab countries is a serious problem, it is extraordinarily misleading to claim that it is unrelated to the suffering of Arab peoples under Israeli military occupation or that it is the primary cause of Arab anger at Israel.

Why the Candidates Support the Israeli Right

President Bush’s contempt for the United Nations, international humanitarian law, and humane treatment of civilians in wartime is well-known. A number of the prominent neoconservatives in his administration served as advisers for previous right-wing governments in Israel and openly called on Israel to abandon the peace process, reoccupy lands ceded to the Palestinians in previous disengagement agreements, and unilaterally annex much of the occupied territories, policies the current Israeli government has adopted with the Bush administration’s blessings. In addition, one of President Bush’s key constituencies is the Christian Right, which supports the idea that Israeli control of Biblical lands is necessary for the Second Coming of Christ and therefore rejects the notion that Israel should make any substantive territorial compromises.

More puzzling, perhaps, is the way John Kerry has endorsed similar policies despite the absence of neoconservative ideologues in top foreign policy roles or a large Christian fundamentalist base in his party.

While many Kerry supporters have acknowledged that their candidate has indeed joined President Bush in embracing the neoconservative agenda in some key areas, they argue that the Massachusetts senator somehow has to support the policies of the rightist Israeli government in order to be elected.

There is little evidence to support such a claim, however. Public opinion polls show a solid majority of Americans–particularly Democrats–actually oppose the policies of Prime Minister Sharon and his right-wing Likud Bloc. Most Americans instead support positions advocated by the more centrist Labor party or more left-leaning Israelis who identify with the Israeli peace movement.

Secondly, as this election campaign has demonstrated on a number of issues, no matter how far to the right Kerry has gone–whether it be his vote to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq, his support for the ongoing occupation of that country, his support for increasing U.S. military spending beyond its already-record levels, his attacks on the International Court of Justice, etc.–the Republicans will still accuse him of somehow being soft and weak. Charles Krauthammer, for example, recently wrote in his nationally syndicated column that, as president, Kerry would be prone to “sacrifice Israel” in order to “appease the international community.”

Most disturbing is the tendency of many Kerry supporters who–while fully acknowledging that Kerry’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are dangerous, misleading, and well to the right of the majority of American voters–try to defend their candidate by using the time-honored tactic of “blaming the Jews.” These Kerry apologists claim that the Kerry campaign would somehow be denied Jewish votes or Jewish campaign contributions if their candidate did not give unconditional support to the policies of the current right-wing government in Israel.

These opinions belie the fact that public opinion polls show that well over 60% of American Jewish voters support a peace settlement along the lines of the Geneva Initiative. Nearly half believe the United States should take a tougher line toward the Sharon government for its human rights violations. Barely more than a quarter actually support Sharon’s policies and most of these are Jewish conservatives who will probably vote for Bush anyway.

It is also noteworthy that despite the fact that George W. Bush has been the least dependent of any modern president on Jewish voters, he has still taken the most hard-line positions in support of the Israeli right of any American president.

Some Kerry supporters may buy into such anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and really believe that powerful Jewish interests effectively control the foreign policy agenda of America’s major political parties. That, however, is letting Kerry off the hook: the only one to blame for John Kerry’s embrace of Israeli right is John Kerry.

The problem with President Bush’s and Senator Kerry’s policies is not that they are too “pro-Israel,” given how dangerous and ineffective Sharon’s policies have been regarding the long-term interests of the Jewish state. The problem is that they are too right-wing.

In other words, Kerry’s support for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was no fluke. His support for President Bush’s backing of Sharon, like his support for Bush’s request for authorization to invade Iraq, shows that he shares the Bush administration’s contempt for international law and fundamental human rights, including the belief that the United States and its allies have the right to invade and occupy Arab nations at will.

It is a demonstration of the sad state of American politics that the focus of the campaign this fall has been which candidate would take the toughest stand against terrorism rather than which candidate could best change foreign policies so as to actually prevent terrorism.

What Choice Do We Have?

Moderate and progressive Israelis, like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, had been desperately hoping that Americans would vote Bush out of office come November. So, of course, were most Palestinians. Since Kerry has become the presumptive Democratic nominee, however, most Israelis and Palestinians have little reason to care who wins: based upon statements he has made during the campaign, it appears that a Kerry administration would be as bad as–if not worse than–the Bush administration.

Indeed, the few times Kerry has separated himself from President Bush on this issue during the campaign, he has challenged Bush for not supporting Sharon enough. Does this mean that those for whom U.S. policy toward the Israel-Palestinian conflict is their number one issue should vote for Bush?

Not necessarily.

Indications are that Kerry genuinely cares about Israel ’s legitimate security interests. As a result, as president, he may be more likely than Bush to recognize that Sharon ’s policies are ultimately harmful to Israel’s long-term security and may therefore be more likely to push that government to compromise for its own good. Widely seen as far more knowledgeable and less ideological than the incumbent president, Kerry may see how substituting militarism for diplomacy only encourages terrorists and Islamic extremists who seek to destroy Israel .

Despite Kerry’s decision to block any influential foreign policy staffer from meeting with prominent American Zionists who oppose Israel ’s occupation, he has not surrounded himself, as has President Bush, with Christian fundamentalists who see the current conflict as simply a continuation of the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines.

Perhaps most significantly, an important base of the Democratic Party includes liberals who–while committed to Israel ’s right to exist in peace and security and for the United States to be a guarantor of that right–oppose the occupation and U.S. support for the occupation. Should Kerry be elected, one can hope that the base of the party will no longer choose to ignore his right-wing positions on Israel and Palestine and demand that his policies change.

If not, there will be no hope for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

The U.S. Invasion of Iraq: The Military Side of Globalization?

The major justifications for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq—Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi ties to the terrorist al-Qaida network—are now widely discredited, and Washington’s claims that its efforts are creating a democratic Iraq are also highly dubious. Although economic factors did play an important role in prompting a U.S. invasion, the simplistic notion that Iraq’s makeover was undertaken simply for the sake of oil company profits ignores the fact that even optimistic projections of the financial costs of the invasion and occupation far exceeded anticipated financial benefits. Furthermore, Saddam Hussein was already selling his oil at a level satisfactory to Western buyers, and his standing among fellow OPEC members was low, so he could not have persuaded the cartel to adopt policies detrimental to U.S. interests. So what actually motivated the United States to take on the problematic task of conquering and rebuilding Iraq?

A Return to Direct Military Interventionism

Until the buildup to the U.S. invasion, many had projected that efforts by the United States to overthrow sovereign governments—either through covert action, direct military intervention, or the use of proxy armies—was a thing of the past. However, this apparent behavior change was not a result of greater respect for international law. In fact, as the world’s sole remaining superpower, the United States has stretched international legal norms further than ever. Nor was this transformation a result of the end of the “Soviet threat,” since many governments that had fallen victim to U.S. intervention were simply nationalist and nonaligned, not communist, and superpower rivalry was less the reason than it was the excuse for Washington’s aggressive behavior.

Rather, this shift in domination style was a reflection that with the neoliberal model dominating the global economy—enforced through international financial institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank—such crude forms of hegemonic supremacy were no longer necessary. For example, if the FMLN in El Salvador or the Sandinistas in Nicaragua had won their debt-ridden countries’ most recent elections, there is little doubt that they would have been unable to restructure their economies in the socialist direction to which they had aspired 20 years earlier.

And such limitations on the economic autonomy of contemporary national governments are not restricted to small agrarian states. Today’s socialist-led government of Ricardo Lagos in Chile bears little resemblance to the socialist-led government of Salvador Allende in the early 1970s, and the electoral triumphs of the Workers Party in Brazil and the African National Congress in South Africa have been disappointing to those who had hoped for a significant reduction in the staggering levels of poverty, social stratification, and economic injustice afflicting those countries.

The IMF—through its Structural Adjustment Programs—has been able to impose legally and openly what in previous decades had to be accomplished by the CIA, the Marines, or hired mercenaries. The hegemony of American capitalism and its industrialized allies has reached unprecedented levels without the messiness of direct military intervention.

Neoliberal global economics can also explain the end of the left-leaning nationalism that was once common in the Arab world, with Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, and—to a lesser extent—Syria and Libya abandoning their semi-socialist policies to embrace what are euphemistically referred to as “free market reforms.” These Arab states also exhibit a significant reduction in their anti-Western rhetoric, support for terrorists and radical insurgents, and other behaviors disturbing to Washington.

Baathist Iraq was the only Arab state to largely resist such trends. Combining a sizable educated population, large oil resources, and adequate water supplies, Iraq was able to maintain a truly independent foreign and domestic policy. Even 12 years of draconian sanctions could not overthrow the government or make it more cooperative with Washington’s strategic and economic agenda, prompting the United States to revert to cruder forms of intervention.

This is not to imply that Saddam Hussein’s rule was anything close to being a progressive model for Third World development. Indeed, his brand of Baathism was arguably closer to true fascism than any regime in the world in recent decades. Whatever his style, however, Saddam was clearly failing to adhere to Washington’s global script.

As a result, the Bush administration was determined to impose a new order whereby this important Middle Eastern country would have no choice but to play by U.S. rules. Since simply appending a conquered nation to its conqueror’s territory is not considered acceptable behavior anymore (U.S. allies Morocco and Israel notwithstanding), a less formal system of control needed to be established. So Washington adopted a plan for Iraq that bore a striking resemblance to the British strategy in the Middle East following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Rather than formally annexing Iraq, Britain occupied the country just long enough to establish a kind of suzerainty. Iraq was made nominally independent within a few years, but Britain could effectively veto the establishment of any unfriendly government and could dominate the economy.

The United States followed a similar pattern with Cuba in 1898 heralding the process as “liberation” from the Spaniards. After several years of occupation, Washington granted formal independence to the island, retaining it as a de facto protectorate. This governing system lasted for more than five decades until it was overthrown in Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, less than a year after nationalist military officers in Baghdad ousted the monarchy established by the British. Even 45 years after the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled Havana, Washington still cannot accept a truly independent Cuba and still withholds diplomatic recognition.

A Crusade for Neoliberalism?

Under Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) chairman Paul Bremer, radical changes were imposed upon the Iraqi economy closely mimicking the infamous structural adjustment programs shackled to indebted nations by the International Monetary Fund. These include:

• the widespread privatization of public enterprises, which—combined with allowing for 100% foreign ownership of Iraqi companies—renders key sectors of the Iraqi economy prime targets of burgeoning American corporations,

• the imposition of a 15% flat tax, which primarily benefits the wealthy and places a disproportionate burden on the poor,

• the virtual elimination of import tariffs, resulting in a flood of foreign goods into the country; since smaller Iraqi companies—weakened by over a dozen years of sanctions—are unable to compete, hundreds of factories have recently shut down, adding to already-severe unemployment,

• 100% repatriation of profits, which severely limits reinvestment in the Iraqi economy,

• a lowering of the minimum wage, increasing already widespread poverty, and

• leases on contracts for as long as 40 years, making it impossible for even a truly sovereign government to legally make alternative arrangements.

It is noteworthy that there was one Saddam-era law that U.S. authorities did not overturn: the ban on public sector unions. In fact, U.S. occupation forces have violently broken up peaceful demonstrations by trade union activists.

It is also important to note that the supposedly sovereign government of Iraq, which formally took the reins of power on June 28, does not have the authority to overturn these laws. But simply attributing the U.S. invasion of Iraq to imposing militarily what the IMF could not impose itself, is an overstatement and constitutes only a partial explanation.

A New Mercantilism

Skeptics of claims that the Bush administration invaded Iraq simply for its oil correctly observe that the United States is less dependent on Persian Gulf oil than are European or East Asian countries. However, controlling Iraq—which is the largest Arab country in the gulf region, contains the world’s second-largest oil reserves, and borders three of the world’s five largest oil producers—gives the United States enormous leverage. In the coming decades, in the event of a trade war with the European Union or a military rivalry with an ascendant China, effective control over Persian Gulf oil is a trump card that Washington can play to its advantage. The invasion of Iraq, then, may represent not just a frightening repudiation of the post-World War II international system embodied in the United Nations Charter but also a return to the 19th century great-power politics of imperial conquest undertaken to control key economic resources.

In direct contravention of WTO regulations—which Washington insists upon rigorously enforcing against other nations—U.S. occupation forces have restricted investment and reconstruction efforts almost exclusively to countries that supported the U.S. invasion. Similarly, following the U.S. conquest in March 2003, American contractors and their employees were given preference over Iraqi companies and Iraqi nationals in procuring lucrative reconstruction assignments. From power stations to telecommunications, U.S. infrastructure designs are replacing Iraqi and European systems.

In the transition from the CPA to interim Iraqi control, Paul Bremer’s replacement, U.S. ambassador John Negroponte, is not—contrary to Bush administration claims—just like any other ambassador. Washington has assigned many of the more than 1,500 Americans attached to his “embassy” to prominent positions spanning virtually every Iraqi ministry, and his office controls much of the Iraqi government’s budget. (In the 1980s, Negroponte played a similar role: as the U.S. ambassador in Tegucigalpa he was widely considered to be the second-most powerful man in Honduras as a result of the large numbers of U.S. troops in the country and the dependence of the military-dominated Honduran government on Washington’s military and economic backing.)

The U.S. conquest of Iraq can perhaps be seen as a rather blatant example of the subtle shifts in U.S. policy noted in recent international economic forums. Unlike the Clinton administration’s ambitious efforts to rewrite global trade rules in order to impose a kind of free market fundamentalism on the world, the Bush administration has been more inclined to advance the parochial interests of U.S.-based corporations.


If the invasion of Iraq was indeed a last-resort effort to impose U.S. hegemonic interests upon that oil-rich country, it may portend even more serious conflicts in the future. At least two other Third World countries—Iran and Venezuela—share with Iraq the combination of a large educated population, enormous oil reserves, and adequate water resources, thereby enabling their governments to embrace an independent foreign and domestic policy. Not surprisingly, these countries have also been on the receiving end of increasingly hostile rhetoric emanating from Washington. Fortunately, it is unlikely that either country has to fear a U.S. invasion any time soon, because Iraq is turning into a total disaster.

After years of state control under Saddam’s dictatorship, there is little question that some liberalization and restructuring of Iraq’s economy is necessary, but Iraqis resent such important issues being decided by an occupying power that clearly has a strong commercial interest in their country. Indeed, besides the continuing violence and a lack of basic services, the primary grievance of Iraqis toward the U.S. occupation is that the Americans are seemingly trying to rip them off.

Like many Arab governments, Iraq under Saddam Hussein squandered billions of dollars of the nation’s wealth through corruption and wasteful military spending. Nevertheless, prior to Saddam’s ill-fated invasion of Kuwait and the resulting war and sanctions, Iraqis ranked near the top of Third World countries according to the Human Development Index, which measures nutrition, health care, housing, education, and other human needs.

Not only has the U.S. occupation failed to restore Iraqis to their pre-1991 standard of living, but most of them are poorer now than they were during more than a decade of sanctions following the devastating U.S.-led bombing campaign of the Gulf War. After all the enormous suffering that the United States and its allies inflicted upon the Iraqi people during the final dozen years of Saddam’s rule, the failure to improve conditions since his ouster has understandably led to widespread resentment. Since Iraq’s highly skilled work force is more than 50% unemployed, it is no surprise that overpaid foreign contractors—most of them performing jobs that Iraqis could do—have become targets of the resistance.

Saddam Hussein may have been to Baathism what Josef Stalin was to Marxism. But that does not mean that most Iraqis reject the anti-imperialist and semi-socialist orientation embraced by every Iraqi government between the 1958 overthrow of the British-installed Hashemite monarchy and the 2003 U.S. invasion. A poll this past spring revealed that 65% of Iraqis preferred a largely state-controlled economy featuring government subsidies of basic services, while only 6.6% supported a free-market system where private entrepreneurs have unrestricted access to the economy.

Tragically, the widespread feeling that the United States is after Iraq’s wealth and is putting the profits of well-connected American companies ahead of the livelihoods of ordinary Iraqis has fueled the very armed resistance that has rendered attempts at rebuilding—by any economic model—virtually impossible. As a result, Washington may have no more success in imposing its free market utopia on the Iraqis than Moscow had in imposing its socialist utopia on the Afghans.

Misleading Foreign Policy Statements Made by the Candidates in the Vice Presidential Debate

The list below contains what I consider to be the sixteen most misleading statements made by Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards during the foreign policy segment of their debate of October 5, followed by my critiques. This is a resolutely non-partisan analysis: eleven of the misleading statements cited are from Cheney and five are from Edwards. The quotes are listed in the order in which they appear in the transcript.


1. Cheney: “Concern about Iraq specifically focused on the fact that Saddam Hussein had been, for years, listed on the state sponsor of terror, that he had established relationships with Abu Nidal, who operated out of Baghdad;…and he had an established relationship with al Qaida.”

At the height of Iraq’s support for Abu Nidal, during the mid-1980s, the Reagan administration dropped Iraq from its list of states sponsoring terrorism in order to transfer arms and technology to Saddam Hussein’s regime that would have otherwise been illegal. Iraq was put back on the list immediately following its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, despite evidence that Iraq’s support for international terrorism had actually declined. Abu Nidal’s group had been largely moribund for more than a decade when Saddam Hussein had him killed in his Baghdad apartment in 2002.

Despite seemingly desperate efforts by the Bush administration to find a working relationship between the secular Baathist government of Saddam Hussein and the Islamist al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden, no credible links have been established. Indeed, recent reports from the 9/11 commission, the Central Intelligence Agency and other credible sources have gone on record denying that any evidence of such a relationship exists.

2. Edwards: “Saddam Hussein needed to be confronted. John Kerry and I have consistently said that. That’s why we voted for the resolution.”

Saddam Hussein’s regime was already being confronted through the United Nations Security Council, which had imposed strict sanctions upon the country and had overseen the disarmament of that country’s chemical weapons; its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs; and its offensive delivery systems. There was no need and no legal right for Kerry and Edwards to authorize President Bush to unilaterally take military action, since the dispute regarding the destruction of proscribed weapons and weapons systems and access for UN inspectors was not between Iraq and the United States but between Iraq and the United Nations. Earlier the same day that Kerry and Edwards voted to give President Bush such unprecedented authority to unilaterally invade a foreign country, they both voted against a similar resolution granting President Bush the power to use military force if it was authorized by the UN Security Council. This underscores the willingness of the Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominees to defy the United Nations Charter and to project American military power unilaterally regardless of international law.

“Global Tests” for Military Action

3. Cheney: “We heard Senator Kerry say the other night that there ought to be some kind of global test before U.S. troops are deployed preemptively to protect the United States.”

In reality, during the first presidential debate—as well as on many other occasions—Kerry has made clear that he would not give any foreign government the right to block the United States from moving preemptively against a perceived threat. Kerry has emphasized, however, that he would make a far more serious effort than has the current administration to demonstrate to the international community that such use of force was for a legitimate reason.

Kerry’s Record on Military Spending

4. Cheney: “In the mid-’80s, he [Kerry] ran on the basis of cutting most of our major defense programs.”
John Kerry’s 1984 race for the U.S. Senate was not based upon “cutting most of our major defense programs.” He did support a bilateral verifiable treaty with the Soviet Union to freeze the testing, development and deployment of new nuclear weapons and delivery systems, a proposal which—according to public opinion polls at that time—was backed by a sizeable majority of Americans. Kerry also opposed some costly weapons programs which independent strategic analysts argued were unnecessary for America’s defense needs while he supported many other weapons programs. In any case, these issues were never the basis of his campaign.

Afghanistan and El Salvador

5. Cheney: “We’re four days away from a democratic election, the first one in history in Afghanistan. We’ve got 10 million voters who have registered to vote, nearly half of them women. That election will put in place a democratically elected government that will take over next December. We’ve made enormous progress in Afghanistan, in exactly the right direction, in spite of what John Edwards said two and a half years ago. He just got it wrong.”

In Afghanistan, vote-buying, intimidation, and the enormously disproportionate resources allocated to pro-government candidates raise serious questions as to how democratic these upcoming elections will be. Currently, there are more Afghan males registered to vote than there are eligible Afghan male voters; duplicate voting cards are commonplace and can be sold on the open market. The regime, which lacks solid control of much of the country outside the capital of Kabul, was largely hand-picked by the United States. The ongoing violence and chaos in the country, along with extremely high rates of illiteracy, raise serious questions as to whether the Western-style election the United States is trying to set up will have any credibility among the Afghans themselves. Edwards’ concerns about the growing power of opium magnates and war lords—casually dismissed by Cheney—are actually quite valid.

6. Cheney: “Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had—guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress. The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. And the terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote. And today El Salvador is a whale of a lot better because we held free elections.”

First of all, the United States was not supporting freedom in El Salvador twenty years ago. According to the United Nations Truth Commission and independent human rights organizations, the vast majority of those killed in El Salvador during this period were civilians murdered by the U.S.-backed junta and its allied paramilitary organizations.

Secondly, the Salvadoran elections Cheney observed in the 1980s were not free elections. The leading leftist and left-of-center politicians had been assassinated or driven underground and their newspapers and radio stations suppressed. The election was only between representatives of conservative and right-wing parties.

Thirdly, despite threats from some of the more radical guerrilla factions, there were very few attacks on polling stations.

Fourthly, people repeatedly lined up to vote because they were required to. Failure to get the requisite stamp that validated the fact that you had voted would likely get one labeled as a “subversive” and therefore a potential target for assassination.

Lastly, El Salvador finally did have free elections in 1994, only after Congress cut off aid to the Salvadoran government and the peace plan initiated by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias—which was initially opposed by the Republican administrations then in office in Washington—was finally implemented.

Supporting the Troops?

7. Cheney: “You voted for the war, and then you voted against supporting the troops when they needed the equipment, the fuel, the spare parts and the ammunition and the body armor.”

Edwards and Kerry have voted on successive administration requests to provide equipment, fuel, spare parts, and ammunition and body armor for U.S. occupation troops in Iraq, rejecting calls by opponents of the U.S. invasion and occupation to cut off funding so the troops can come home. They did vote against a particular funding bill by the administration based primarily on the administration’s insistence that it be funded by increasing the federal deficit. Kerry and Edwards instead voted for an identical measure—which failed to win a majority –that allocated the same amount of money to the occupation but would have funded it by reducing recently-enacted tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.

Coalitions in Question in Wars Against Iraq in 1991 And 2003

8. Edwards: “What we know is that the president and the vice president have not done the work to build the coalition that we need—dramatically different than the first Gulf War.”

The senior President Bush was indeed able to build a broader coalition than his son, but that was because the 1991 war against the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait was very different than the 2003 war to impose a U.S. occupation of Iraq. While strong arguments can be made against the 1991 Gulf War, the use of forces was legally sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, consistent with the UN Charter and the international legal consensus that supports such collective security against such clear acts of aggression as Iraq’s 1990 invasion, occupation, and annexation of Kuwait. By contrast, the 2003 war against Iraq was an unmitigated act of aggression in direct contravention of the United Nations Charter and basic international legal principles going back for nearly a century. The failure to build a broader coalition, then, was not based upon the Bush administration’s lack of diplomatic acumen; even the more erudite Kerry could not have built such a coalition simply because the international community recognized that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal and unjustified.

9. Cheney: “You made the comment that the Gulf War coalition in ‘91 was far stronger than this. No. We had 34 countries then; we’ve got 30 today.”

The U.S.-led 1991Gulf War coalition included more than twice as many non-American troops, all of which were assembled prior to the launching of the war in January 1991. By contrast, troops from all but four members of the current coalition arrived after U.S. forces had marched on Baghdad, toppled the Iraqi regime and began the occupation. Their role is ostensibly that of peace keepers and the vast majority of these forces serve in non-combat roles.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein

10. Cheney: “Let’s look at what we know about Mr. Zarqawi… He set up shop in Baghdad, where he oversaw the poisons facility up at Khurmal, where the terrorists were developing ricin and other deadly substances to use.”

First of all, the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his followers were not based in Baghdad, but in the far northeastern corner of the country inside the Kurdish safe havens established by the United Nations in 1991, well beyond the control of Saddam’s government. The only evidence the Bush administration has been able to put forward linking the al-Zarqawi terror network to the Iraqi capital was a brief stay that al-Zarqawi had in a Baghdad hospital at the end of 2001, apparently having been smuggled by supporters into the country from Iran and smuggled out days later.

Secondly, not only was the Khurmal area in Kurdish areas far outside of Saddam’s reach, but journalists who visited the supposed poisons factory within hours of it being identified by Bush administration officials from satellite photos found nothing remotely resembling such a facility. U.S. Special Forces that seized control of the area weeks later came to a similar conclusion.

Finally, Zarqawi and his followers established a presence in Baghdad only after U.S. forces overthrew the Iraqi government in March 2003.

Iraq, Libya, and Iran

11. Cheney: “One of the great by-products, for example, of what we did in Iraq and Afghanistan is that five days after we captured Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi in Libya came forward and announced that he was going to surrender all of his nuclear materials to the United States, which he has done.”

First of all, in 1998, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Iraq’s nuclear program had been completely dismantled. When IAEA inspectors returned in the fall of 2002 as part of UN Security Council resolution 1441, they reported that there were no signs that the program had been revived. Despite this, the United States invaded Iraq and overthrew the Iraqi government. As a result, Qaddafi presumably recognized that unilaterally giving up his nuclear weapons program and allowing in international inspectors to verify it does not necessarily make you any less likely to be invaded by the United States.

Secondly, the agreement had been in the works for a number of years, largely as a result of a British-led diplomatic effort. That the announcement came five days after Saddam Hussein was arrested was sheer coincidence.

12. Edwards: “The reality about Iran is that Iran has moved forward with their nuclear weapons program on their watch. They ceded responsibility to dealing with it to the Europeans.”

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Iran nearly twenty-five years ago and, during the 1990s, unilaterally imposed sanctions on that country, openly called for the government’s overthrow and funded groups dedicated to that purpose. All of these initiatives took place under Democratic administrations. By contrast, the Europeans—despite outspoken criticism of certain Iranian policies and restricting certain arms and technology transfers—have maintained normal diplomatic and trade relations. It should not be surprising, then, that the Europeans have had to take the lead in resolving the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel and Palestine

13. Edwards: “If Gaza’s being used as a platform for attacking the Israeli people, that has to be stopped. And Israel has a right to defend itself.”

While it is true that some militant Palestinian groups have used the Gaza Strip as a base for lobbing shells into civilian areas of Israel, the Israeli armed forces have similarly used Israel as a platform for attacking civilian areas of the Gaza Strip. Indeed, far more Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip have been killed by attacks launched from Israel than have Israeli civilians in Israel been killed from attacks launched from the Gaza Strip. Does this mean that Palestine therefore also “has a right to defend itself” by launching a major military incursion into nearby Israeli population centers with widespread killings of unarmed civilians and massive destruction of civilian property as Israel has been doing? Apparently not, since Edwards and Kerry clearly have different standards regarding the use of force depending upon a particular government’s relations with the United States. Given that Secretary of State Powell that very afternoon criticized the disproportionate nature of the ongoing Israeli military response, Edwards is clearly placing the Democratic ticket to the right of the Bush administration.

14. Edwards: “They don’t have a partner for peace right now. They certainly don’t have a partner in Arafat, and they need a legitimate partner for peace.”

Palestinian president Yasir Arafat has repeatedly called for a resumption of substantive peace negotiations, but the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon has refused. Arafat has called for a peace settlement along the lines proposed by President Clinton in 2000, which culminated with the signing of the Geneva Initiative in December 2003 by leading Israelis and Palestinians. The agreement calls for an Israeli withdrawal from the territories it conquered in the 1967 war (with minor and reciprocal border adjustments), a shared Jerusalem as the co-capital of Israel and Palestine, the resettlement of Palestinian refugees from what is now Israel in the new Palestinian state or other Arab countries, and strict security guarantees for Israel, including the disarming of Palestinian militias. Sharon, by contrast, has categorically rejected such an agreement.

While Arafat’s rule has been corrupt and autocratic and he has been ineffective in stopping terrorism by radical Palestinian groups, his positions on the outstanding issues in the peace process is far more moderate than those of the Israeli government. Arafat certainly has blood on his hands, but no more than does Sharon, widely recognized as a war criminal for his role in major atrocities against Lebanese, Jordanian, and Palestinian civilians in previous years. In any case, Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinians and Sharon is the elected leader of the Israelis. By refusing to include one of the two major parties in the peace process, Edwards and Kerry are effectively foreclosing any realistic prospects for a negotiated peace.

15. Cheney: “In respect to Israel and Palestine, the suicide bombers, in part, were generated by Saddam Hussein, who paid $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers. I personally think one of the reasons that we don’t have as many suicide attacks today in Israel as we’ve had in the past is because Saddam is no longer in business.”

Saddam Hussein did provide money to a small Palestinian faction known as the Arab Liberation Front which passed it on to some families of terrorists killed in suicide bombings. Money was also given to families of other Palestinians killed in the fight against Israel, such as militiamen shot while defending Palestinian towns under Israeli siege and unarmed teenagers shot during demonstrations. The vast majority of the funding for Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups responsible for suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism in recent years has come from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies, governments supported by the United States. In any case, the families of suicide bombers normally have their homes destroyed by Israeli occupation forces in retaliation for the terrorist attacks, and $25,000 does not come close to recouping their losses.

16. Cheney: “The president stepped forward and put in place a policy basically that said we will support the establishment of two states. First president ever to say we’ll establish and support a Palestinian state next door to Israelis.”

The Bush administration has endorsed Sharon’s plan to annex up to half of the West Bank into Israel and leave the remaining Palestinian areas divided into a series of non-contiguous cantons surrounded by Israel. This would give the Palestinians barely 12% of historic Palestine. Furthermore, according to this plan, Israel would have control over all border crossings, the air space, and the water resources, with an unrestricted right to militarily intervene in Palestinian areas at any time. This would no more constitute a viable “state” than did the infamous Bantustans of apartheid South Africa.

While Criticizing Implementation, Kerry Endorses Bush’s Unilateralist Agenda

Democratic nominee John Kerry’s foreign policy speech at New York University has been widely hailed as a long-overdue effort to place some daylight between himself and President Bush regarding Iraq. In his September 20 address, the Massachusetts senator appropriately took the president to task for launching the war prematurely, mishandling the occupation, misleading the American public regarding the deteriorating situation on the ground, and pursuing policies that have weakened America’s security interests.

However, the speech also contained a number of disturbing elements regarding how Kerry would handle Iraq as president and why he voted to authorize the invasion in the first place. More disturbingly, Kerry’s speech appears to endorse the Bush administration’s efforts to undermine the United Nations and international law and its penchant for unilaterally imposing American military force in contravention of international norms.

Despite Kerry’s belated acknowledgement that the war was a mistake, he insists that now “we must do everything in our power to complete the mission…[and] get the job done.” This sounds disturbingly familiar to the line we heard during the late1960s and early 1970s by supposed “moderates” who argued that, while we should never have become embroiled in the Vietnam conflict, “now that we’re there, we need to stay and finish the job.”

The nearest thing Kerry seems to offer in terms of a withdrawal strategy is the Iraqi equivalent of “Vietnamization,” encouraging the government that Washington installed in Baghdad to train more Iraqis to kill Iraqis so as to minimize the number of American casualties. Kerry says it could take about four years to complete the process, which is the same amount of time between Richard Nixon’s inauguration as president in January 1969 and the Paris Peace Agreement in January 1973, among the bloodiest years of the Vietnam War. Kerry, then, is essentially proposing four more years of war. One can only think of John Kerry as a young veteran in 1971 testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asking “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Kerry has long emphasized that he could bring in allies to help the United States fight this bloody urban insurgency, citing the Bush administration’s arrogant and dismissive treatment of allies regarding U.S. policy toward Iraq. Kerry, however, has shown the same kind of arrogance: when the newly elected government of Spain announced last spring that it would fulfill its longstanding promise to withdraw its forces from Iraq unless the mission was placed under the United Nations, Kerry responded by saying, “I call on Prime Minister Zapatero to reconsider his decision and to send a message that terrorists cannot win by their act of terror.” To Kerry, apparently, if a government insists that there be a UN mandate in place before they participate in the occupation of a foreign country, they are sending the wrong message to terrorists.

While a President Kerry would indeed probably have greater respect among most foreign leaders than President Bush, the main problem in getting help in Iraq at this point is not a matter of personal style or diplomatic acumen, but the failure of the policy itself.

In bowing to growing demands that he come out against war, Kerry has begun to rewrite history to justify his earlier pro-war stance: For example, Kerry claims that under the circumstances present in October 2002, when he and his congressional colleagues made the fateful decision to grant President Bush unprecedented war-making authority, “any president would have needed the threat of force to act effectively.” Kerry went on to say that, “The idea was simple: We would get the weapons inspectors back in to verify whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.”

This is an extraordinarily misleading statement, however. Saddam Hussein had finally agreed to unconditional unfettered United Nations inspections as demanded by the UN Security Council on September 16, nearly four weeks prior to Kerry’s vote authorizing the U.S. invasion.

Similarly, Kerry claims that, had he been president, he would not have invaded Iraq. Yet when President Bush launched the invasion in March 2003, Kerry supported him, even backing a Republican-sponsored resolution which declared that the U.S. Senate “commends and supports the effects and leadership of the president… in the conflict with Iraq.”

Dismissing the UN

In any case, the fact remains that he joined the majority of his Senate colleagues in granting President Bush the right to invade Iraq at whatever time and under whatever circumstance he so chose, a decision he defends to this day. Despite the disastrous consequences of that vote, Kerry insisted during his NYU speech that “Congress was right to give the president the authority to use force to hold Saddam Hussein accountable.”

Why, though, was it up to the president of the United States to “hold Saddam Hussein accountable?” The dispute regarding the destruction of Iraq’s proscribed weapons, delivery systems, and weapons programs and the ability of UN inspectors to verify these actions was never between Iraq and the United States; it was between Iraq and the United Nations. It was therefore up to the UN Security Council, not any individual member state, to hold the Iraqi regime accountable. Kerry, however, arrogantly insists–the UN Charter not withstanding–that the U.S. government alone has the right to decide how and under what circumstances regimes being challenged by the United Nations should be dealt with.

In fact, Kerry joined the Republicans in voting down a substitute amendment proposed by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin that would have authorized the use of force against Iraq if it was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. It was the UN Security Council that had imposed these demands on the Iraqi regime in the first place and threatened Iraq with serious consequences if continued in non-compliance. However, Kerry joined the Republicans in insisting instead that President Bush should be able to launch an invasion on his own without Security Council authorization.

Ironically, when U.S. allies have defied UN Security Council resolutions, Kerry has defended them. For example, he has supported Israel’s annexation of occupied East Jerusalem, which Israeli forces seized in June 1967, despite a series of UN Security Council resolutions demanding that Israel rescind its annexation (such as resolutions 262 and 267). He has also endorsed the rightist Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s efforts to colonize large sections of the West Bank, despite a series of resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from these illegal settlements (such as resolutions 446, 452, 465, and 471).

Thus, in John Kerry’s world, the United States alone can decide which United Nations Security Council resolutions to enforce and how they are enforced. No less than President Bush, Kerry seeks to effectively overturn the post-World War II international system based upon the rule of law and collective security in order to forcibly impose a Pax Americana.

Despite the ways Kerry and his supporters might want to spin it, the Democratic nominee–like President Bush–is a militarist and a unilateralist quite willing to undermine the authority of the United Nations in order to assert American hegemony in that oil-rich region.

Indeed, the only thing more dangerous than electing John Kerry president of the United States would be to re-elect George W. Bush.

Democratic Party Platform Shows Shift to the Right on Foreign Policy

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 its 2004 platform on July 28 at its 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.”

A Platform in Defense of Unilateralism

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.

Democracy and Double Standards

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.

The Israel Exception

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.

Skewed Priorities

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.

Opposition from the rank-and-file

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.

Iraq One Year Later

A full year after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein is over, the killing continues and the quality of life for most Iraqis has actually deteriorated. Meanwhile, the United States is continuing to sacrifice lives and money in an enterprise for which the original rationales–eliminating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and its support for the al Qaeda terrorist network–are now widely acknowledged to be false.

This essay offers a brief overview of the situation on the ground and the U.S. response to it. The violence in reaction to the U.S. occupation has consisted of both urban guerrilla warfare against U.S. and other occupation forces, led primarily by Baathist and other nationalist militias, and terrorism against Iraqi and foreign civilians, presumably led by domestic or foreign radical Islamists. There is also small-scale and potentially large-scale nonviolent resistance, particularly in the Shiite community.

Armed Resistance to U.S. Occupation Forces

The guerrilla attacks, while responsible for fewer deaths overall, have been the primary concern for U.S. officials. Though dismissed simply as supporters of the old regime, their support appears to be much deeper. A CIA report at the end of last year acknowledged that “there are thousands in the resistance–and not just hardcore Baathists” and that “the resistance is broad, strong, and getting stronger.” 1

Much of the armed resistance appears to be under the control of Baathists, but–with the capture and killing of most senior Baath officials loyal to Saddam Hussein–they appear to be mid-level Baathists who were more independent and not saddled with the baggage of the old regime. For example, Samarra–which is a center of anti-occupation resistance–was also a center for anti-Saddam elements of the Baath Party. 2

To use an analogy from the Vietnam War, while the National Liberation Front (NLF, or “Viet Cong”) was certainly controlled by the Communist Party and most of its leadership was communists, the vast majority of its fighters were ordinary peasants motivated by nationalism.

As in Vietnam, the primary victims of U.S. counter-insurgency operations appear to be civilians, particularly as a result of the bombing and shelling of crowded residential areas. Human rights groups have observed that the mere presumption that fighters may be hiding in a particular area is not enough to legally justify a military response when civilians are in the area, according to international law.

Also as in Vietnam, such tactics are motivated in part by racism. For example, the New York Times quoted Captain Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, as saying “You have to understand the Arab mind. The only thing they understand is force.” 3

Armed engagements with insurgents are not always reported accurately. For example, following a three-hour battle in the town of Samarra, where U.S. forces reported that fifty-four guerrillas and no civilians were killed, local doctors and other civilian eyewitnesses spoke of minimal military deaths and widespread civilian fatalities. 4U.S. forces reportedly shelled and shot up civilian homes, a mosque, a kindergarten, pharmaceutical plant, and a minibus carrying Iranian pilgrims, as well as crushed cars with their tanks.

American responses to attacks have not been limited to exchanges of fire with insurgents, targeting communications or confiscating weapons, but punishing entire cities and neighborhoods for acts committed by a group of locals involved in attacks against occupation forces. In the words of Brigadier General Dempsey, the goal of such operations is “to communicate to the enemy that the cost of actions against [the U.S. occupation forces] is high.” 5 Often, they are not even locals, deliberately making attacks from neighborhoods and towns away from where their families live, so the retribution will fall elsewhere. 6

Another American officer, Colonel Sasaman, stated, “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them.” 7

Such heavy use of force has not only failed to achieve the intended results, but has also contributed to ongoing U.S. casualties in patrols by sizable contingents of American forces. Seeking to minimize young Americans coming home in body bags in an election year, the Bush administration, as of November, began emphasizing the use of Special Forces to make pre-emptive tactics.

Tactics by U.S. occupation forces in responses have included the demolition of houses, cordoning off whole towns and neighborhoods with razor wire, and detaining relatives of suspected guerrillas in hopes that insurgents will turn themselves in.

One American adviser described it: “We’re going to have to play their game. Guerrilla versus guerrillas. Terrorism versus terrorism. We’ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission.” 8 Similarly, a former U.S. intelligence officer has acknowledged “This is basically an assassination program. That is what is being conceptualized here. This is a hunter-killer team.” 9

In occupied Palestinian territories Israel has also used such tactics, which have been recognized as illegal and have been subjected to a series of critical UN Security Council resolutions. Senator John Kerry and other Democratic leaders in Congress have vigorously defended such actions, however, on the grounds that Israel was targeting families of terrorists and otherwise responding to attacks against civilian populations. The targets of U.S. attacks, however, don’t appear to be primarily terrorists responsible for bombings against civilians, but rather guerrillas targeting occupation forces.

In either case, such tactics are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which strictly prohibits such attacks.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly criticized the former Special Forces Commander, Air Force General Charles Holland, “for his reluctance to authorize commando raids without specific … intelligence.” 10 In his place he has promoted, as one of the key planners of these operations, Lieutenant General William (Jerry) Boykin, who has declared that Muslims are a Satanic force that “want to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army” because “we are a nation of believers.” Furthermore, he declares that Bush was “not elected” president but was “appointed by God.” 11

The United States has brought in Israeli commandos and intelligence units to train these forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; some Israelis have been brought into Iraq itself as military “consultants;” and some Americans are going to Israel to observe their occupation forces in action. 12 The hawkish Israeli military expert Martin Van Creveld has noted, however, that such tactics have not worked for Israel and will not likely work for the United States, either: “They are already doing things that we have been doing for years to no avail. The Americans are coming here to try to mimic all kinds of techniques, but it’s not going to do them any good.” 13 Indeed, it may be even less successful since, while Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians is based on a combination of security concerns and territorial expansion, the United States claims its occupation of Iraqi is to liberate Iraqi citizens. If such intimidation does not work on your perceived enemies, it is even less likely to work on those whom you want to be your friends.

It is also ironic that the United States began working with the Israelis and adopting such tactics just as four former heads of Shin Bet–Israel’s security agency–went on record condemning their country’s policies as counter-productive.

There has been little concern about the use of such tactics from Democratic lawmakers. Indeed, top Democratic members of Congress–including House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi and presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee John Kerry–have attacked President Bush from the right for criticizing Israel’s assassination policies. As a result, it would be hard for them to raise objections when such tactics are used for the purpose of protecting American troops.

Just as the ruling elites of medieval Europe used members of the Jewish community as money-lenders and tax collectors, the United States is now using the Israelis to help them with their dirty work.

Similarly, just as the United States used former collaborators with German and Japanese occupiers to help crush leftist insurgencies in the late 1940s after having “liberated” them, U.S. occupation forces have assembled teams made up of the upper ranks of Saddam Hussein’s brutal intelligence services to infiltrate the insurgency. 14 A CIA station chief acknowledged that the U.S. was “tapping into them. We have to resuscitate Iraqi intelligence, holding our nose” and have Special Forces and CIA operatives “break down doors and take them out.” 15

A Pentagon adviser has called hits “pre-emptive manhunting,” 16 and it appears to have a striking resemblance to Operation Phoenix in South Vietnam, which resulted in the assassination of 20,000 to 40,000 Vietnamese, ostensibly connected to the NLF, though many were targeted because of private grievances.

With the counter-insurgency efforts led by an anti-Islamic Christian fundamentalist general with the support from some of the nastiest elements of Israeli occupation forces and Saddam’s intelligence services, it is not surprising that the U.S. occupation is having a hard time winning Iraqi hearts and minds.

Indeed, the repression against Iraqi civilians through counter-insurgency operations by U.S. occupation forces is fueling a backlash, effectively creating resistance fighters faster than they can be killed. Milt Bearden, former chief of CIA operations in Afghanistan during the 1980s declares, “For every mujahedeen killed or hauled off in raids by Soviet troops in Afghanistan, a revenge group of perhaps a half-dozen members of his family took up arms. Sadly, this same rule probably applies in Iraq.” 17

The Terrorist Threat

The Bush administration has tried to link the very real threat to American security from mega-terrorist groups like al Qaeda to phony threats originating in Iraq. Not only has President Bush tried to link the terrorism that has grown out of the post-invasion chaos in Iraq to the devastating al Qaeda attacks on the United States two years ago, he has depicted all the current violence against Americans and other foreigners in Iraq as part of this terrorist threat.

For example, President Bush has failed to distinguish between the car bombings and other terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians and international relief workers with guerrilla attacks by the Iraqi resistance against U.S. occupation forces. As tragic as the deaths of American soldiers may be, the Fourth Geneva Convention–to which the United States is a signatory–recognizes that a people under foreign military occupation do have the right to militarily engage armed, uniformed occupation forces. This is not the same as terrorism, which refers to attacks deliberately targeted against unarmed civilians and is universally recognized as a war crime. It is therefore terribly misleading to try to convince the American public that these two phenomena are the same.

President Bush has also failed to differentiate between the increasingly disparate elements behind the attacks. Some of the violence may indeed come from those who have some connection with al Qaeda who have infiltrated Iraq since the invasion; some are supporters of Saddam Hussein’s former regime; some are Iraqi Islamists; still others are independent Iraqi nationalists who opposed the old regime but also oppose the U.S. occupation; still others may be foreign fighters who see driving American occupiers from Iraq as an act of pan-Islamic solidarity comparable to driving Soviet occupiers from Afghanistan.

In any case, President Bush now declares that a successful American-led pacification of the anti-occupation resistance in Iraq would be an “essential victory in the war on terror.” In linking the legitimate international struggle against al Qaeda with the illegitimate U.S. occupation of Iraq, it becomes possible for the administration to justify the president’s determination to “spend what is necessary” in controlling this oil-rich country and to depict those in the United States and elsewhere who oppose the occupation as being soft of terrorism. 18

It is noteworthy that only after it has become apparent that Iraq did not have the WMD programs the Bush administration had claimed, President Bush now says that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is necessary since that country has become “the central front” of the “war on terror.” In a nationally televised address last fall, President Bush declared that “the surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans. We are fighting that enemy in Iraq … today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.” 19

There appears to be no evidence, however, that those Iraqis currently fighting U.S. occupation forces in their own country actually want to somehow sneak into the United States to kill American civilians. Indeed, no Iraqis have ever been known to commit an act of terrorism against Americans on American soil.

The president’s statement is essentially a retread of the line used by supporters of the Vietnam War that “If we don’t fight them over there, we will have to fight them here.” However, more than 28 years after the Communist victory in Vietnam, the United States has not had to fight the Vietnamese on American streets and there is no indication that we ever will. The Iraqis, like the Vietnamese 35 years ago, are fighting Americans because U.S. troops are in their country and, like the Vietnamese, will presumably stop fighting Americans once U.S. troops leave their country.

Iraqi support for international terrorists–primarily small radical nationalist groups, particularly Palestinian–peaked in the 1980s (when Saddam Hussein’s regime was supported by the United States ) and has been largely non-existent since the early 1990s. Though Iraq was not a hotbed of terrorism for the last dozen years of Saddam’s rule, it is now. The destruction of Saddam Hussein’s tightly controlled police state by U.S. forces opened up the country as a haven for the world’s terrorists. The U.S. invasion resulted in the replacement of a highly centralized authority to the kind of weak state that the Bush administration, in its September 2002 National Security Strategy, noted was a breeding ground for terrorists: an inability to meet the basic needs of its citizens or control its borders. Furthermore, a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official has acknowledged that “an American invasion of Iraq is already being used as a recruitment tool by al Qaeda and other groups. 20 Similarly, Richard Clarke, a former senior White House counter-terrorism official noted, “Fighting Iraq had little to do with fighting the war on terrorism, until we made it so.”

According to Jessica Stern of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, “We’re inspiring terrorism. The Bush administration didn’t seem to have anticipated the extent to which terrorists would be drawn into Iraq and the extent to which they would be inspired by our occupation to attack elsewhere.” 21

No Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Even if some sort of Iraqi government emerges in July, it may mean little in terms of the military commitment of the United States. President Bush may be able to claim that the United States is no longer an occupying army but there at the invitation of the legitimate government of Iraq. The fact is, however, that whatever government emerges in July will be directly or indirectly appointed by the United States, which illegally invaded and occupied the country. It is less important whether the occupier sees its presence as an occupation than it does the people of the country itself. The Americans may have declared that their presence in Vietnam was at the request of the government of South Vietnam and the Soviets may have declared that their presence in Afghanistan was at the request of the government of Afghanistan, but as long as the people of a given country see them as a foreign occupying army, it matters little whether the government they install “invites” them to stay.

While it would be a mistake to believe that U.S. forces will successfully crush the Iraqi resistance in short order, it would also be a mistake to assume that the resistance will grow significantly or drive the American occupation forces out. The United States has several advantages: U.S. forces have access to sophisticated surveillance technology, which far surpasses earlier counter-insurgency campaigns, that can track down and root out resistance cells. The resistance does not have mountains and jungles in which to hide, nor an outside source of arms and support. The paranoid “snitch culture” from years of totalitarian rule makes it difficult for insurgents to create trustworthy underground networks. The use of terrorism by some resistance forces–which has primarily harmed Iraqi civilians–has alienated huge segments of the population from the resistance as a whole.

On the other hand, U.S. occupation forces have killed far more Iraqi civilians–albeit accidentally in most cases–than have the terrorists, and the occupation itself is extremely unpopular.

The violence in central part of the country, however, may not be the biggest obstacle to U.S. designs to create a stable, pro-American Iraq.

Shiite happens

The eventual undoing of the occupation may be less a result of the guerrilla movement against U.S. occupation forces, murders of alleged collaborators and foreign nationals, or terrorist attacks against civilians, than mass noncooperation, particularly from Iraq’s Shiite majority, who dominate the southern part of the country and were brutally suppressed by Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime.

While Sunni (orthodox) Islam, whose adherents are the vast majority of the world’s Muslims, is egalitarian in structure, Shia Islam, whose adherents are the majority in Iraq, has a hierarchical structure. The ayatollahs–comparable in many respects to Roman Catholic cardinals–wield an enormous amount of influence, particularly in authoritarian societies where other forms of organization were either controlled by the government or brutally suppressed.

In Iran during the late 1970s, as the brutal U.S.-backed regime of Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was collapsing, local Shiite leaders were able to organize committees to create a kind of parallel government that was able to fill the void when the Shah fled into exile in January 1979, eclipsing the secular and independent Islamic elements.

As the Sunni-dominated parts of central Iraq struggle to restore civil order and basic services a full year after the devastating American invasion, the Shiite-dominated towns and cities of southern Iraq–as well as the Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities in the center of the country–are functioning relatively well, in some cases with the blessings of U.S. occupation forces and in other cases independently. As a result, it is not surprising that the political capital of Shiite leaders is growing, as are demands for direct elections.

U.S. occupation forces have successfully postponed direct national elections on the grounds of ongoing logistical problems resulting from the disorder in many parts of the country. However, the United States has also been unwilling to proceed with local and regional elections in Shiite areas, where few of these logistical problems appear to be a factor. Needless to say, this is creating enormous resentment at U.S. occupation forces from those whom the Bush administration assumed–due to years of oppression by Saddam Hussein–would be among their strongest supporters.

Following centuries of rule by others–the Ottomans, the British, the Hashemites, and the Baathists–the Shiite majority believe it is now their time to rule. As a result, there is resentment at U.S.-led efforts to restrict their power and influence by setting up a system that allows minorities a disproportionate degree of influence. While the establishment of an Iraqi Constitution that creates some sort of federal system guaranteeing the rights of ethnic minorities may indeed be appropriate, it nevertheless has led to some resentment by the Shiites who never had such protections or self-governance when they were out of power. (To use an analogous situation in U.S. politics, it would be similar to the situation in some American cities where, just as African-Americans are on the verge of becoming the electoral majority, the city council decides to switch from at-large representation to district representation and devolves power away from city hall.)

Already, Ayatollah Sistani and other Shiite leaders have been talking of massive nonviolent civil disobedience and the creation of their own alternative governing structures, which the vast majority of Iraqi Shiites would likely support. While U.S. occupation forces may ultimately be successful in crushing the armed Sunni insurgency in central Iraq, they may find–like the Shah’s well-equipped army–they are unable to stop hundreds of thousands of unarmed people in the streets who refuse to recognize their authority.

This does not mean that Shiite-led governance in Iraq–locally, regionally, or nationally–will evolve into the kind of totalitarian theocracy that came in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. Shiite politics in Iraq, as elsewhere, contain progressive and moderate elements along with reactionary currents. The longer legitimate demands for democratic self-governance are relegated to the back burner by U.S. occupation forces–as the U.S.-backed Shah repeatedly postponed political liberalization–the more likely the extremist elements will gain ascendancy.


Despite these problems, there are surprisingly few prominent American political figures advocating an American withdrawal or even turning over Iraqi administration to the United Nations. Even former presidential contender Howard Dean, whose anti-war positions led him to be criticized by Senator Kerry and other pro-invasion Democrats, argued that now that U.S. forces have invaded Iraq, they should stay.

At the same time, while the situation could fall short of the unmitigated disaster many war opponents have predicted, the problems are serious and will not go away for some time to come.

It is no less important than it was prior to the invasion for the Bush administration’s lies to be exposed, the illegality and immorality of its actions be challenged, and realistic alternatives to the policy be brought forward.


1. Cited in Sami Ramadani, “Resistance to Occupation will Grow,” Guardian, December 15, 2003.
2. Ahmed Hashim, Middle East Institute, August 2003.
3. Dexter Wilkins, “Tough New Tactics by U.S. Tighten Grip on Iraq Towns,” New York Times, December 7, 2003.
4. Phil Reeves, “Iraqis Deny U.S. Accounts of Fierce Fight with ‘Guerrillas’,” Independent, December 2, 2003.
5. Seymour M. Hersh, “Moving Targets,” New Yorker, December 9, 2003.
6. Ibid.
7. Quoted in Wilkins, op. cit.
8. Hersh, op cit.
9. Julian Borger, “Israel Trains US Assassination Squads in Iraq,” Guardian, December 9, 2003.
10. Hersh, op cit.
11. Hersh, op. cit. Boykin was previously involved in controversial and possibly illegal counter-insurgency operations in Somalia and Colombia, which resulted in a number of civilian deaths.
12. Julian Borger, “ Israel Trains U.S. Assassination Squads in Iraq,” Guardian, December 9, 2003.
13. Ira Chernus, “Imitating Israel is Dumb U.S. Policy,”, December 15, 2003.
14. Hersh, op cit.
15. Hersh, op cit.
16. Hersh, op cit.
17. Milt Bearden, “ Iraqi Insurgents Take a Page From the Afghan ‘Freedom Fighters’,” New York Times, November 9, 2003.
18. President George W. Bush, Speech before the United Nations General Assembly, September 23, 2003.
19. President George W. Bush, Address to the Nation, September 7, 2003.
20. Jessica Stern, “How American Created a Terrorist Haven,” New York Times, August 20, 2003.
21. Cited in Robert Steinback, “Occupation Not an End to Terrorism,” Miami Herald, November 25, 2003.

Saddam’s Arrest Raises Troubling Questions

The capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by U.S. occupation forces is likely to result in one of the world’s most brutal tyrants of recent decades finally facing judgment for his crimes against humanity. It has also boosted morale in an administration desperately trying to justify its invasion and occupation of Iraq–which they initially justified on false pretenses. While U.S. allegations that Iraq actively supported the al Qaeda terrorist network and possessed weapons of mass destruction in the months prior to the U.S. invasion appear to have been deliberate falsehoods, no one can challenge the fact that Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator.

Unfortunately, Saddam’s capture will not likely improve the situation for U.S. occupation forces or for those seeking justice against war criminals.

The Impact on the U.S. Occupation

Saddam Hussein’s capture is not likely to reduce armed resistance to U.S. occupation forces. While some of the guerrillas have clear ties to Ba’athist elements associated with the former regime, Saddam was not directing guerrilla operations against American forces. He has no experience in guerrilla warfare and his military titles were exclusively those he awarded to himself. (As a young man, he was denied admittance into Iraq’s military academy.) Furthermore, there are no indications that the hide-out from which he was captured had any communications equipment capable of directing military operations.

Furthermore, most independent observers believe that the vast majority of the ongoing Iraqi resistance is based upon popular opposition to the U.S. occupation, not out of support for the former regime. Therefore, Saddam Hussein’s capture will not likely dampen the opposition.

Nor will it lead to greater cooperation by Iraqis with American occupation forces. The failure of more Iraqis to cooperate is not, as U.S. officials have asserted, because they feared Saddam Hussein would return to power. After alienating the vast majority of his own people through years of brutal and arbitrary rule before going down in ignominious defeat, it was hard to imagine him ever returning to power, even if U.S. occupation forces were eventually driven out.

The biggest fear among Iraqis is not what Saddam might do to those who work with U.S. forces but what other Iraqis might do to them if they are perceived as being collaborators with a foreign occupier. An even bigger reason why more Iraqis are not cooperating with Washington is simply their widespread opposition to the U.S. occupation itself. Saddam’s capture will not likely change that situation either.

While in power, Saddam cynically manipulated the Iraqi people’s sense of nationalism and resentment toward Western imperialism as key components in his effort to build a totalitarian state and his cult of personality. That does not mean, however, that that sense of nationalism no longer has widespread appeal among ordinary Iraqis. While Saddam Hussein may have been to Ba’athism what Josef Stalin was to Marxism, that doesn’t mean that the U.S. occupation of Iraq won’t end up looking like the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

This is why even Saddam Hussein’s harshest critics in Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab world are experiencing such mixed emotions–joy and relief that the tyrant is in custody, but a great uneasiness that his capture was engineered by U.S. occupation forces that illegally invaded and occupied a sovereign Arab nation.

What Kind of Justice?

As one of the most notorious dictators and war criminals of recent decades, international human rights groups and prominent jurists have called upon the United States to hand over Saddam Hussein to a United Nations-sponsored international tribunal to be tried for crimes against humanity.

Such a UN-backed tribunal, consisting of both local and international jurors, has indicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor, the notorious African war lord who is responsible for at least as many deaths as Saddam Hussein. Special UN-sponsored war crimes tribunals have also been set up to prosecute leaders and perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide as well as those responsible for ethnic cleansing and other war crimes in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, including former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

However, the Bush administration has refused to consider such an option in this case, instead stating its intent to turn Saddam Hussein over to a special tribunal set up by the Iraqi Governing Council, a group of pro-Western Iraqi exiles and local representatives of the country’s various ethnic communities appointed by U.S. occupation authorities. The regulations for the five-person tribunal were drafted largely by U.S. government lawyers who pointedly ruled out any direct role for the United Nations in the process.

Furthermore, while the death penalty would not be an option in the proposed international tribunal, it would be a likely outcome in the U.S.-organized proceedings. In virtually every country in recent decades where a dictatorship was overthrown in a popular uprising, one of the first acts of the new government has been to abolish the death penalty. This is not likely to occur in Iraq, however, where the government was thrown out by invading forces from the United States, the only Western industrialized democracy that still executes its prisoners.

Even though a trial as U.S. occupation authorities envision may be procedurally fair and even though Saddam Hussein certainly deserves to be brought to justice, he will likely be tried under a body set up by an occupation authority of a foreign government that illegally invaded the country. As a result, Saddam’s eventual punishment–however well-deserved–will not advance the cause of justice. It will be widely seen as a kind of “victor’s justice,” where Saddam Hussein is perceived to be tried not because of an objective assessment of the seriousness of his crimes–such as a prosecution under the International Criminal Court or some other UN-sponsored tribunal–but because he was on the losing side of a war.

For example, one of the principal war crimes for which Saddam is likely to be prosecuted is the genocidal Anfal campaign against Iraq’s Kurdish minority in the 1980s, which resulted in deaths of more than 80,000 civilians and the destruction of more than 4,000 villages.

The Bush administration appears to be in no hurry, however, to prosecute Turkish officials for their genocidal campaign against that country’s Kurdish minority during the 1990s, where over 3,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed and over two million Kurds became refugees in an operation in which more than three-quarters of the weapons were of U.S. origin. The U.S.-backed war cost over 40,000 lives, primarily Kurdish civilians. President Bill Clinton and congressional leaders of both parties successfully blocked efforts by human rights groups to stop U.S. support for the repression.

Indeed, the United States has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of concern regarding war crimes when the perpetrator is an ally.

For example, Indonesia’s General Suharto, who ruled his predominantly Muslim Southeast Asian nation for 34 years, has even more blood on his hands than does Saddam Hussein. He oversaw the purges of suspected leftists in the mid-1960s, taking over a half a million lives. His invasion and occupation of East Timor ten years later resulted in the deaths of 200,000 people, more than one hundred times the estimated number of Kuwaitis killed under the 1990-91 Iraqi occupation of that oil-rich sheikdom. Yet Suharto was a favorite ally of the United States under both Republican and Democratic administrations until the dictator was ousted by his own people in a largely nonviolent popular uprising in 1998. He currently lives in comfortable retirement with absolutely no efforts by the United States to bring him to justice.

The United States helped stymie efforts to prosecute its one-time ally General Augusto Pinochet, despite widespread crimes against humanity during his bloody rule in Chile. The Bush administration–with bipartisan support in Congress–has also given strong diplomatic, military, and financial support to Israel’s right-wing prime minister Ariel Sharon, who has been responsible for a series of war crimes over several decades.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration–again, with bipartisan congressional support–has consistently sought to undermine the International Criminal Court (ICC), established in July 2002, in the apparent belief that the United States alone has the right to determine who gets to be tried for war crimes and who does not. For example, Congress overwhelmingly passed a law in 2002 that prohibits U.S. cooperation with the International Criminal Court, restricts U.S. participation in UN peacekeeping operations to situations where U.S. forces are explicitly exempt from prosecution for any war crimes, bans the sharing of U.S. intelligence with the ICC, prohibits most foreign aid to countries that ratify the ICC statute, and authorizes the president to use “all means necessary and appropriate” to free from captivity “any U.S. or allied personnel held by or on behalf of the ICC,” including a military attack on The Hague.

The message seems to be that a war criminal will only be brought to justice if he challenges U.S. foreign policy prerogatives. By contrast, if a war criminal is an American ally, he is not only safe but will be openly supported.

Even putting aside the moral and legal questions raised by such a policy, these double-standards are likely to make Saddam Hussein come across to many as more of a martyr and victim of U.S. imperialism than the war criminal that he is. According to Harold Koh, a Yale law professor who served as assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration, “The image of him in the dock day after day will become a human symbol of the humiliation many Iraqis feel their country is being subjected to.”

As long as the United States opposes the International Criminal Court and uses the prosecution of war criminals as a sinister political tool rather than a universal principle of justice, the impact of a trial could be to increase the polarization and resistance in Iraq rather than help mend a nation that has suffered so much from dictatorship, war, sanctions, and occupation.

The United States and Saddam Hussein

Modern Iraq is a creation of British colonialists who established control over the territory following the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, essentially creating the country from three Ottoman provinces. A nationalist coup in 1958 overthrew the pro-British monarch, limiting Western influence in the country and shifting the ideological orientation toward left-wing nationalism. The Baath Party–espousing pan-Arab nationalism, socialism, and anti-imperialism–first seized power in 1963. Saddam Hussein rose to prominence in the late 1970s, purportedly with quiet U.S. support, since he favored shifting Iraq’s foreign policy away from its pro-Soviet position to that of non-alignment.

Despite imposing a brutal totalitarian system and a cult of personality around his leadership, the United States joined the Soviets, French, and British in recognizing Iraq’s importance in the regional balance of power. All maintained a largely cooperative relationship with Saddam Hussein’s exceptionally oppressive regime, much to the chagrin of human rights advocates. While U.S. officials never considered the Iraqi regime an American ally, as some critics have claimed, Iraq was nevertheless seen as a strategic asset with which the United States could cooperate throughout the regime’s dramatic military buildup in the 1980s.

Ironically, many of the organizations and individuals now calling for a UN-sponsored proceeding were active in exposing Saddam’s human rights abuses back in the 1980s while the U.S. government was covering them up.

The March 1988 massacre at Halabja–where Iraq government forces killed upwards of 5,000 civilians in that Kurdish town by gassing them with chemical weapons–was downplayed by the Reagan administration, even to the point of claiming that Iran, then the preferred American enemy, was actually responsible. The Halabja tragedy was not an isolated incident, as U.S. officials were well aware at the time. UN reports in 1986 and 1987 documented Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, which were confirmed both by investigations from the CIA and by U.S. embassy staff who visited Iraqi Kurdish refugees in Turkey. However, not only was the United States not particularly concerned about Saddam’s ongoing repression and the use of chemical weapons, the United States actually was supporting the Iraqi government’s procurement effort of materials necessary for the development of such an arsenal.

Furthermore, officials from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency were stationed in Baghdad to pass on satellite imagery to the Iraqi military in order to help them target Iranian troop concentrations, in the full knowledge that Saddam was using chemical weapons against Iranian forces.

During the 1980s, American companies, with U.S. government backing, supplied Saddam Hussein’s government with much of the raw materials for Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs. A Senate committee reported in 1994 that American companies licensed by the U.S. Commerce Department had shipped large quantities of materials usable in weapons production in Iraq, noting that such trade continued at least until the end of the decade, despite evidence of Iraqi chemical warfare against Iranians and Iraqi Kurds. Much of this trade was no oversight. It was made possible because the Reagan administration took Iraq off of its list of countries supporting terrorism in 1982, making the country eligible to receive such items. This re-designation came in spite of Iraq’s ongoing support of Abu Nidal and other terrorist groups.

As late as December 1989, just eight months prior to Iraq’s designation as an enemy for having invaded Kuwait, the Bush administration pushed through new loans to the Iraqi government in order to facilitate U.S.-Iraqi trade. Meanwhile, according to a 1992 Senate investigation, the Commerce Department repeatedly deleted and altered information on export licenses for trade with Iraq in order to hide potential military uses of American exports.

Seeking Justice

For many years, human rights activists have called upon the United States to get tough with Saddam Hussein’s regime. Iraq’s invasion of Iran, support for international terrorism, and large-scale human rights violations were all valid grounds for military sanctions. Perhaps most significant was Iraq’s use of chemical warfare against both Iranian troops and the country’s civilian Kurdish population during the 1980s–by far the largest such use of these illegal weapons since World War I. The response of the world’s nations was a major test as to whether international law would be upheld through the imposition of stringent sanctions or other measures to challenge this dangerous precedent. The United States, along with much of the world community, failed. U.S. agricultural subsidies and other economic aid flowed into Iraq and American officials looked the other way as much of these funds were laundered into purchasing military equipment. The United States also sent an untold amount of indirect aid–largely through Kuwait and other Arab countries–which enabled Iraq to receive weapons and technology to increase its war-making capacity and repressive apparatus.

When a 1988 Senate Foreign Relations committee staff report brought to light Saddam Hussein’s policy of widespread killings of Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq, Senator Claiborne Pell introduced the Prevention of Genocide Act to put pressure on the Iraqi government. However, the Reagan administration successfully moved to have the measure killed.

It is also important to note that the devastation to Iraq’s military capabilities caused by the Gulf War bombing, military sanctions, and inspections regime–combined with the safe haven created for the Kurds in northern Iraq by the United Nations–resulted in a substantial reduction in Saddam Hussein’s repression during the past dozen years as compared with the first half of his rule.

In other words, the vast majority of the war crimes committed by Saddam’s regime took place during the period in which he was supported by the U.S. government. This may be the primary reason why the United States objects to any kind of international tribunal, since it would more likely bring the U.S. role in Saddam’s repression to light than a trial set up by the Bush administration’s appointed Iraqi surrogates.

Finally, it should be noted that the twelve-year-long U.S.-led economic sanctions against Iraq, combined with the destruction of much of the country’s civilian infrastructure during the devastating five-week U.S. bombing campaign in early 1991, contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians–primarily children–from malnutrition and preventable diseases.

Given that the public health impact of such policies was well-documented for more than a decade, a case can be made that those U.S. officials responsible for such policies could themselves be guilty of war crimes and should–like Saddam Hussein–face justice in an international tribunal.