From Gaza to Aleppo: A Handy Guide for Defending War Crimes

In These Times, Huffington Post & ZNetwork.org October 7, 2016
   Given the United States’ disastrous record in the Middle East—most critically the invasion and occupation of Iraq—and the manifold lies coming out of Washington to justify its policies, many Americans are understandably skeptical about U.S. interventions and the rationalizations used to defend them. This leads many Americans to oppose both direct intervention in Syria and the arming of rebel factions—and rightly so.

Congress Pushes for War with Iran

Foreign Policy In Focus/Institute for Policy Studies June 13, 2012.
[Republished by National Catholic Reporter & ZNetwork]
In another resolution apparently designed to prepare for war against Iran, the U.S. House of Representatives, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan 401–11 vote, has passed a resolution (HR 568) urging the president to oppose any policy toward Iran “that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat…” Indeed, the rush to pass this bill appears to have been designed to undermine the ongoing international negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program… [FULL LINK]

A Reply to David Peterson: Do I really support “massive American violence” and interventionism?

David Peterson must know full well I’ve been a long-time and outspoken opponent of any U.S. interventionism in Iran. It has been a subject of scores of articles available on line, it was a major part of my doctoral dissertation, addressed in my book Tinderbox, in my speeches available on podcasts, and elsewhere. To imply otherwise is completely ridiculous. I have never ever bought into “massive American violence, and diversions onto the state of affairs inside Iran.” Peterson should know that my arguing that the United States is not being the recent protests in Iran does not mean I am not aware of the countless way the United States really has illegitimately intervened in that country to pursue its imperialist objectives… [FULL LINK]

America’s Hidden Role in Hamas’s Rise to Power

No one in the mainstream media or government is willing to acknowledge America’s sordid role interfering in Palestinian politics.

The United States bears much of the blame for the ongoing bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and nearby parts of Israel. Indeed, were it not for misguided Israeli and American policies, Hamas would not be in control of the territory in the first place.

Israel initially encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the secular coalition composed of Fatah and various leftist and other nationalist movements. Beginning in the early 1980s, with generous funding from the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the antecedents of Hamas began to emerge through the establishment of schools, health care clinics, social service organizations and other entities that stressed an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, which up to that point had not been very common among the Palestinian population. The hope was that if people spent more time praying in mosques, they would be less prone to enlist in left- wing nationalist movements challenging the Israeli occupation.

While supporters of the secular PLO were denied their own media or right to hold political gatherings, the Israeli occupation authorities allowed radical Islamic groups to hold rallies, publish uncensored newspapers and even have their own radio station. For example, in the occupied Palestinian city of Gaza in 1981, Israeli soldiers — who had shown no hesitation in brutally suppressing peaceful pro-PLO demonstrations — stood by when a group of Islamic extremists attacked and burned a PLO-affiliated health clinic in Gaza for offering family-planning services for women.

Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement), was founded in 1987 by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who had been freed from prison when Israel conquered the Gaza Strip 20 years earlier. Israel’s priorities in suppressing Palestinian dissent during this period were revealing: In 1988, Israel forcibly exiled Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad, a Christian pacifist who advocated the use of Gandhian- style resistance to the Israeli occupation and Israeli-Palestinian peace, while allowing Yassin to circulate anti-Jewish hate literature and publicly call for the destruction of Israel by force of arms.

American policy was not much different: Up until 1993, U.S. officials in the consular office in Jerusalem met periodically with Hamas leaders, while they were barred from meeting with anyone from the PLO, including leading moderates within the coalition. This policy continued despite the fact that the PLO had renounced terrorism and unilaterally recognized Israel as far back as 1988.

One of the early major boosts for Hamas came when the Israeli government expelled more than 400 Palestinian Muslims in late 1992. While most of the exiles were associated with Hamas-affiliated social service agencies, very few had been accused of any violent crimes. Since such expulsions are a direct contravention to international law, the U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the action and called for their immediate return. The incoming Clinton administration, however, blocked the United Nations from enforcing its resolution and falsely claimed that an Israeli offer to eventually allow some of exiles back constituted a fulfillment of the U.N. mandate. The result of the Israeli and American actions was that the exiles became heroes and martyrs, and the credibility of Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinians grew enormously — and so did its political strength.

Still, at the time of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, polls showed that Hamas had the support of only 15 percent of the Palestinian community. Support for Hamas grew, however, as promises of a viable Palestinian state faded as Israel continued to expand its colonization drive on the West Bank without apparent U.S. objections, doubling the amount of settlers over the next dozen years. The rule of Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat and his cronies proved to be corrupt and inept, while Hamas leaders were seen to be more honest and in keeping with the needs of ordinary Palestinians. In early 2001, Israel cut off all substantive negotiations with the Palestinians, and a devastating U.S.-backed Israeli offensive the following year destroyed much of the Palestinian Authority’s infrastructure, making prospects for peace and statehood even more remote. Israeli closures and blockades sank the Palestinian economy into a serious depression, and Hamas-run social services became all the more important for ordinary Palestinians.

Seeing how Fatah’s 1993 decision to end the armed struggle and rely on a U.S.-led peace process had resulted in increased suffering, Hamas’ popularity grew well beyond its hard-line fundamentalist base and its use of terrorism against Israel — despite being immoral, illegal and counterproductive — seemed to express the sense of anger and impotence of wide segments of the Palestinian population. Meanwhile — in a policy defended by the Bush administration and Democratic leaders in Congress — Israel’s use of death squads resulted in the deaths of Yassin and scores of other Hamas leaders, turning them into martyrs in the eyes of many Palestinians and increasing Hamas’ support still further.

Hamas Comes to Power

With the Bush administration insisting that the Palestinians stage free and fair elections after the death of Arafat in 2004, Fatah leaders hoped that coaxing Hamas into the electoral process would help weaken its more radical elements. Despite U.S. objections, the Palestinian parliamentary elections went ahead in January 2006 with Hamas’ participation. They were monitored closely by international observers and were universally recognized as free and fair. With reformist and leftist parties divided into a half-dozen competing slates, Hamas was seen by many Palestinians disgusted with the status quo as the only viable alternative to the corrupt Fatah incumbents, and with Israel refusing to engage in substantive peace negotiations with Abbas’ Fatah-led government, they figured there was little to lose in electing Hamas. In addition, factionalism within the ruling party led a number of districts to have competing Fatah candidates. As a result, even though Hamas only received 44 percent of the vote, it captured a majority of parliament and the right to select the prime minister and form a new government.

Ironically, the position of prime minister did not exist under the original constitution of the Palestinian Authority, but was added in March 2003 at the insistence of the United States, which desired a counterweight to President Arafat. As a result, while the elections allowed Abbas to remain as president, he was forced to share power with Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister.

Despite claiming support for free elections, the United States tried from the outset to undermine the Hamas government. It was largely due to U.S. pressure that Abbas refused Hamas’ initial invitation to form a national unity government that would include Fatah and from which some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders would have presumably been marginalized. The Bush administration pressured the Canadians, Europeans and others in the international community to impose stiff sanctions on the Palestine Authority, although a limited amount of aid continued to flow to government offices controlled by Abbas.

Once one of the more-prosperous regions in the Arab world, decades of Israeli occupation had resulted in the destruction of much of the indigenous Palestinian economy, making the Palestinian Authority dependent on foreign aid to provide basic functions for its people. The impact of these sanctions, therefore, was devastating. The Iranian regime rushed in to partially fulfill the void, providing millions of dollars to run basic services and giving the Islamic republic — which until then had not been allied with Hamas and had not been a major player in Palestinian politics — unprecedented leverage.

Meanwhile, record unemployment led angry and hungry young men to become easy recruits for Hamas militants. One leading Fatah official noted how, “For many people, this was the only way to make money.” Some Palestinian police, unpaid by their bankrupt government, clandestinely joined the Hamas militia as a second job, creating a dual loyalty.

The demands imposed at the insistence of the Bush administration and Congress on the Palestinian Authority in order to lift the sanctions appeared to have been designed to be rejected and were widely interpreted as a pretext for punishing the Palestinian population for voting the wrong way. For example, the United States demanded that the Hamas-led government unilaterally recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist, even though Israel has never recognized the right of the Palestinians to have a viable state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or anywhere else. Other demands included an end of attacks on civilians in Israel while not demanding that Israel likewise end its attacks on civilian areas in the Gaza Strip. They also demanded that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority accept all previously negotiated agreements, even as Israel continued to violate key components of the Wye River Agreement and other negotiated deals with the Palestinians.

While Hamas honored a unilateral cease-fire regarding suicide bombings in Israel, border clashes and rocket attacks into Israel continued. Israel, meanwhile, with the support of the Bush administration, engaged in devastating air strikes against crowded urban neighborhoods, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties. Congress also went on record defending the Israeli assaults — which were widely condemned in the international community as excessive and in violation of international humanitarian law — as legitimate acts of self-defense.

A Siege, Not a Withdrawal

The myth perpetuated by both the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties was that Israel’s 2005 dismantling of its illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of military units that supported them constituted effective freedom for the Palestinians of the territory. American political leaders from President George W. Bush to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have repeatedly praised Israel for its belated compliance with a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for its withdrawal of these illegal settlements (despite Israel’s ongoing violations of these same resolutions by maintaining and expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights).

In reality, however, the Gaza Strip has remained effectively under siege. Even prior to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the Israeli government not only severely restricted — as is its right — entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel, but also controlled passage through the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, as well. Israel also refused to allow the Palestinians to open their airport or seaport. This not only led to periodic shortages of basic necessities imported through Egypt, but resulted in the widespread wasting of perishable exports — such as fruits, vegetables and cut flowers — vital to the territory’s economy. Furthermore, Gaza residents were cut off from family members and compatriots in the West Bank and elsewhere in what many have referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison.

In retaliation, Hamas and allied militias began launching rocket attacks into civilian areas of Israel. Israel responded by bombing, shelling and periodic incursions in civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, which, by the time of the 2006 cease-fire, had killed over 200 civilians, including scores of children. Bush administration officials, echoed by congressional leaders of both parties, justifiably condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas-allied units into civilian areas of Israel (which at that time had resulted in scores of injuries but only one death), but defended Israel’s far more devastating attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip. This created a reaction that strengthened Hamas’ support in the territory even more.

The Gaza Strip’s population consists primarily of refugees from Israel’s ethnic cleansing of most of Palestine almost 60 years ago and their descendents, most of whom have had no gainful employment since Israel sealed the border from most day laborers in the late 1980s. Crowded into only 140 square miles and subjected to extreme violence and poverty, it is not surprising that many would become susceptible to extremist politics, such as those of the Islamist Hamas movement. Nor is it surprising that under such conditions, people with guns would turn on each other.

Undermining the Unity Government

When factional fighting between armed Fatah and Hamas groups broke out in early 2007, Saudi officials negotiated a power-sharing agreement between the two leading Palestinian political movements. U.S. officials, however, unsuccessfully encouraged Abbas to renounce the agreement and dismiss the entire government. Indeed, ever since the election of a Hamas parliamentary majority, the Bush administration began pressuring Fatah to stage a coup and abolish parliament.

The national unity government put key ministries in the hands of Fatah members and independent technocrats and removed some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders and, while falling well short of Western demands, Hamas did indicate an unprecedented willingness to engage with Israel, accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and negotiate a long-term cease-fire with Israel. For the first time, this could have allowed Israel and the United States the opportunity to bring into peace talks a national unity government representing virtually all the factions and parties active in Palestinian politics on the basis of the Arab League peace initiative for a two-state solution and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. However, both the Israeli and American governments refused.

Instead, the Bush administration decided to escalate the conflict by ordering Israel to ship large quantities or weapons to armed Fatah groups to enable them to fight Hamas and stage a coup. Israeli military leaders initially resisted the idea, fearing that much of these arms would end up in the hands of Hamas, but — as Israeli journalist Uri Avnery put it — “our government obeyed American orders, as usual.’ That Fatah was being supplied with weapons from Israel while Hamas was fighting the Israelis led many Palestinians — even those who don’t share Hamas’ extremist ideology — to see Fatah as collaborators and Hamas as liberation fighters. This was a major factor leading Hamas to launch what it saw as a preventive war or a countercoup by overrunning the offices of the Fatah militias in June 2007 and, just as the Israelis feared, many of these newly supplied weapons have indeed ended up in the hands of Hamas militants. Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip ever since.

The United States also threw its support to Mohammed Dahlan, the notorious Fatah security chief in Gaza, who — despite being labeled by American officials as “moderate” and “pragmatic” — oversaw the detention, torture and execution of Hamas activists and others, leading to widespread popular outrage against Fatah and its supporters.

Alvaro de Soto, former U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, stated in his confidential final report leaked to the press a few weeks before the Hamas takeover that “the Americans clearly encouraged a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas” and “worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah with recognition and weaponry.” De Soto also recalled how in the midst of Egyptian efforts to arrange a cease-fire following a flare-up in factional fighting earlier this year, a U.S. official told him that “I like this violence . it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas.”

Weakening Palestinian Moderates

For moderate forces to overcome extremist forces, the moderates must be able to provide their population with what they most need: in this case, the end of Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip and its occupation and colonizing of the remaining Palestinian territories. However, Israeli policies — backed by the Bush administration and Congress — seem calculated to make this impossible. The noted Israeli policy analyst Gershon Baskin observed, in an article in the Jerusalem Post just prior to Hamas’ electoral victory, how “Israel ‘s unilateralism and determination not to negotiate and engage President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority has strengthened the claims of Hamas and weakened Abbas and his authority, which was already severely crippled by . Israeli actions that demolished the infrastructures of Palestinian Authority governing bodies and institutions.”

Bush and an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress have also thrown their support to the Israeli government’s unilateral disengagement policy that, while withdrawing Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, has expanded them in the occupied West Bank as part of an effort to illegally annex large swaths of Palestinian territory. In addition, neither Congress nor the Bush administration has pushed the Israelis to engage in serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which have been suspended for over six years, despite calls by Abbas and the international community that they resume. Given that Fatah’s emphasis on negotiations has failed to stop Israel’s occupation and colonization of large parts of the West Bank, it’s not surprising that Hamas’ claim that the U.S.-managed peace process is working against Palestinian interests has resonance, even among Palestinians who recognize that terrorism by Hamas’ armed wing is both morally reprehensible and has hurt the nationalist cause.

Following Hamas’ armed takeover of Gaza, the highly respected Israeli journalist Roni Shaked, writing in the June 15 issue of Yediot Ahronoth, noted that “The U.S. and Israel had a decisive contribution to this failure.” Despite claims by Israel and the United States that they wanted to strengthen Abbas, “in practice, zero was done for this to happen. The meetings with him turned into an Israeli political tool, and Olmert’s kisses and backslapping turned Abbas into a collaborator and a source of jokes on the Palestinian street.”

De Soto’s report to the U.N. Secretary-General, in which he referred to Hamas’ stance toward Israel as “abominable,” also noted that “Israeli policies seemed perversely designed to encourage the continued action by Palestinian militants.” Regarding the U.S.- instigated international sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, the former Peruvian diplomat also observed that “the steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbor Israel have had precisely the opposite effect.”

Some Israeli commentators saw this strategy as deliberate. Avnery noted, “Our government has worked for year to destroy Fatah, in order to avoid the need to negotiate an agreement that would inevitably lead to the withdrawal form the occupied territories and the settlements there.” Similarly, M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Center observed, “the fact is that Israeli (and American) right-wingers are rooting for the Palestinian extremists” since “supplanting … Fatah with Islamic fundamentalists would prevent a situation under which Israel would be forced to negotiate with moderates.’ The problem, Avnery wrote at that time, is that “now, when it seems that this aim has been achieved, they have no idea what to do about the Hamas victory.”

Since then, the Israeli strategy has been to increase the blockade on the Gaza Strip, regardless of the disastrous humanitarian consequences, and more recently to launch devastating attacks that have killed hundreds of people, as many as one-quarter of whom have been civilians. The Bush administration and leaders of both parties in Congress have defended Israeli policies on the grounds that the extremist Hamas governs the territory.

Yet no one seems willing to acknowledge the role the United States had in making it possible for Hamas to come to power in Gaza in the first place.

A Reply to Stephen Gowans’ False Allegations against Stephen Zunes

[Stephen Gowans has written an article, “Stephen Zunes and the Struggle for Overseas Profits.” This is Zunes’ reply.]

Stephen Gowans’ February 18 article, “Stephen Zunes and the Struggle for Overseas Profits,” is filled with demonstrably inaccurate and misleading statements about both me and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), with whom I serve as chair of the board of academic advisors. Below is a 13-point refutation which only begins to challenge the lies and misinformation.

1) I never have and do not “defend U.S. government meddling in the affairs of other countries.” This is a complete lie. I’ve dedicated most of my academic and activist life to opposing U.S. interventionism in all its forms. I have written whole books and scores of articles opposing U.S. interference in the affairs of other countries, spoken at and taken part in numerous protests and rallies, and have even been arrested on a number of occasions protesting U.S. imperialism. If there are any doubts whatsoever to my categorical opposition to U.S. interventionism, please check out my website: www.stephenzunes.org.

2) ICNC has not been “heavily involved in successful and ongoing regime change operations, including in Yugoslavia,” nor was Yugoslavia an example of a revolution “Zunes and his colleagues assist.” Neither I nor ICNC had anything to do with the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, which took place prior to ICNC being founded in 2001. It is totally false, therefore, to claim that Serbia was a place that “ICNC considers to be the site of one of its most successful engagements” since ICNC was never engaged there prior to the 2000 uprising.

Nor, contrary to Gowans’ assertion, did I or ICNC have any contact whatsoever with Georgians or Ukrainians before the popular nonviolent uprisings in those countries.

3) Gowans’ claim that

“Wherever Washington seeks to oust governments that pursue economically nationalist or socialist policies, you’ll find Helvey (and perhaps Zunes as well) holding seminars on nonviolent direct action: in Belarus, in Zimbabwe, in Iraq (before the U.S. invasion) and in Iran”

is a complete lie. Neither Helvey nor I (who have met each other only on handful of occasions and only in the United States) have ever held seminars in any of those countries. Furthermore, I have absolutely no interest in supporting — and have always strenuously opposed — Washington’s agenda to “oust governments that pursue economically nationalist or socialist policies.”

4) One of the most bizarre quotes from Gowans is as follows:

“Zunes would be a more credible anti-imperialist were he organizing seminars on how to use nonviolent direct action to overthrow the blatantly imperialist U.S. and British governments. With the largest demonstrations in history held in Western cities on the eve of the last conspicuous eruption of Anglo-American imperialism, it cannot be denied that there’s a grassroots movement for peace and democracy in the West awaiting Zunes’ assistance. So is he training U.S. and British grassroots activists to use nonviolent direct action to stop the machinery of war? No. His attention is directed outward, not on his own government, but on the governments Washington and ruling class think-tanks want overthrown.”

As a matter of fact, for more than thirty years I have indeed been “training U.S. … activists to use nonviolent direct action to stop the machinery of war,” working with Peace Action, War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ruckus Society, Direct Action Network, Direct Action against the War, and other groups through which I have led trainings for sit-ins, blockades and other forms of nonviolent direct action against the Pentagon, military recruiters, military contractors and other targets in the military-industrial complex. Regarding the “largest demonstrations in history held in Western cities on the eve of the last conspicuous eruption of Anglo-American imperialism,” I happened to have been a speaker at the February 2003 rally in San Francisco, in which I explicitly called upon the half million people gathered to support mass nonviolent direct action to stop the invasion and other manifestations of U.S. imperialism.

My background in strategic nonviolent action is rooted in my involvement in the late 1970s in Movement for a New Society, a revolutionary cadre decidedly anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist in orientation. Of the more than one hundred seminars, trainings, workshops and related events designed to educate people on nonviolent action with which I have been involved subsequently, only three have primarily consisted of participants from countries with governments opposed by the United States, approximately a dozen have consisted primarily of those from foreign countries with governments supported by the United States, and the remaining 85% or more have been for Americans struggling against U.S. government and corporate policies.

For Gowans to claim, therefore, that I have never trained American anti-war activists or that my “attention is directed [toward] governments Washington and ruling class think-tanks want overthrown” is totally and demonstrably false.

Indeed, in the final chapter of my book Nonviolent Social Movements (Blackwell, 1999), I write:

“As militarism and corporate capitalism has become global, so must nonviolent movements. For nonviolence to continue being an effective force, it must be within the context of transnational movements which struggle not just at where the worse manifestations of institutional violence occur, but at their source — which is often in the advanced industrialized countries, particularly the United States… Those of us with an appreciation for nonviolence should … be more … willing to use it ourselves.”

5) Gowans is completely wrong to claim that “the governments Zunes really seems to be concerned about (Zimbabwe, Iran, Belarus and Myanmar) are hostile to the idea of opening their doors to unrestricted U.S. investment and exports.” Indeed, anyone who bothers to look at the extensive writings on my web site and elsewhere will note that 95% of my criticisms of dictatorships and other autocratic regimes and human rights abusers are in reference to U.S.-backed governments that adopt a U.S.-backed neo-liberal agenda and not governments opposed by the United States or those which adopt a more progressive economic agenda.

As I have observed in numerous writings, public speeches, and media interviews, the United States remains the world’s number one supporter of repressive regimes and I have repeatedly criticized the ways in which the U.S. government places so-called economic “freedom” above political freedom and human rights. Therefore, Gowans’ claim that “Zunes’ rhetoric is reminiscent of Bush’s” is completely false, since I support freedom and democracy universally (with particular emphasis on repressive U.S.-backed regimes), whereas the Bush administration speaks out for “freedom and democracy” highly selectively, targeting only regimes that challenge American hegemony. Also, unlike the U.S. government, I believe that social and economic rights — which are routinely denied under capitalism — are just as important as civil and political rights.

Gowans is also completely inaccurate in insisting that the government of Zimbabwe is “one of Zunes’ and the U.S. government’s favorite bêtes noire.” That is certainly true of the U.S. government, which hypocritically singles out Zimbabwe’s dictatorship for criticism, sanctions, and subversion while supporting similar dictatorships in Equatorial Guinea, Cameroun, Chad and other African nations. In my case, however, in the scores of articles, book chapters, public lectures, and interviews of mine in which I have expressed my opposition to repressive regimes around the world, I have never written or said anything — except in passing — about Zimbabwe. To claim, then that Zimbabwe is one of my favorite bêtes noire is a total fabrication.

Having said this, I fully acknowledge my distaste for the repressive and autocratic regimes in Zimbabwe, Belarus, Iran, and Burma. The “elections” in these countries that Gowans cites to counter charges that they are dictatorships — like similar “elections” staged by such U.S.-backed dictatorships as Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan — can hardly be considered free and fair. And just because the governments of Zimbabwe, Belarus, Burma and Iran oppose U.S. imperialism, it does not mean that they are therefore progressive or democratic, nor does it mean they are not guilty of corruption and repression.

Even though the U.S. government opportunistically and hypocritically criticizes these regimes for their lack of freedom and democracy, it does not mean that progressives like me who also criticize these regimes’ human rights abuses are therefore, in Gowans’ words, “mimicking State Department press releases.”

Gowans is also incorrect to allege that I deny that the U.S. is attempting to subvert the Zimbabwean government. Such destabilization efforts — which focus upon an institution-building advancement of the U.S. agenda — are very real and I oppose them. This is very different, however, from the solidarity work provided by independent progressive non-profit groups in foreign countries to independent progressive movements in Zimbabwe and elsewhere working for justice and human rights, which focus on popular empowerment.

6) Gowans is also completely inaccurate and misleading in claiming that the “revolutions Zunes admires (Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine) have brought pro-U.S., pro-foreign investment governments to power.” First of all, while there are certain aspects of those revolutions in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine that I do admire, I was frankly more excited and hopeful about earlier socialist revolutions in Nicaragua, Mozambique, Vietnam, and elsewhere that brought anti-U.S., anti-foreign investment governments to power.

More to the point, to claim that these Eastern European governments are all more “pro-foreign investment” than their predecessors as a result of their nonviolent revolutions is overly-simplistic. For example, despite enormous pressure from the United States and international financial institutions, the post-Orange Revolution government in Ukraine maintains the strongest state role in the economy of all but one of Europe’s 42 countries.

Like most people on the left, I have been very disappointed regarding capitalist encroachment in Eastern Europe. The examples Gowans cites, however, are terribly misleading:

a) Kosovo came under Western tutelage not as a result of a nonviolent struggle, but as the result of the 11-week NATO bombing campaign in 1999; the earlier Kosovar nonviolent struggle between 1990 and 1998 was largely ignored by the United States and other Western governments.

b) The 1999 NATO bombing campaign of Serbia — which I and most of those subsequently associated with ICNC strenuously opposed — was completely unrelated to the overthrow of Milosevic more than a year and a half later. The leaders of Otpor — the student-led movement which led the popular nonviolent uprising against the regime in October 2000 — were largely left-of-center nationalists who strongly opposed the bombing, which seriously set back their efforts as the Serbian people united against the foreign aggression. Indeed, Otpor suspended their anti-Milosevic campaign for the duration of the war and joined their fellow Serbs in opposition to the NATO attacks.

c) Capitalist penetration of Serbia and Georgia really got underway under the old Milosevic and Shevardnadze regimes, not the governments which came to power following those countries’ nonviolent revolutions. It should also be noted that the United States actually backed the Shevardnadze regime in Georgia because of its friendly relations with American oil companies and related economic interests, withdrawing its support just hours before the Rose Revolution toppled him. And, as recent events have reminded us, the post-Milosevic government of Serbia can hardly be considered a puppet regime of the United States.

7) It is simply untrue to claim that what “the ICNC and Stephen Zunes are all about” is “nonviolent direct activism in the service of US foreign policy goals.” My work through ICNC in educational projects on strategic nonviolent action has included support of Egyptians struggling against the U.S.-backed Mubarak regime, Palestinians struggling against the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation, Sahrawis struggling against the U.S.-backed Moroccan occupation, Maldivians struggling against the U.S.-backed Gayoom regime, West Papuans struggling against the U.S.-backed Indonesian occupation, and Guatemalan Indians struggling against the ramifications of U.S.-backed neo-liberal economic policies, among others. How could working with progressive activists struggling against U.S.-backed governments and policies possibly be construed as being “in the service of US foreign policy goals”?

Similarly, ICNC has provided educational materials on strategic nonviolent action to such American antiwar leaders as Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness, as well as such peace groups as the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Peaceworkers, among others. I have also been involved in ICNC-facilitated workshops on strategic nonviolence for immigrant rights groups and progressive unions here in the United States. How is working with progressive activists explicitly struggling against U.S. policies be considered as being “in the service of US policy goals”?

I would also challenge Gowans to find any evidence whatsoever to back up his charge that I have ever supported “fifth columnists” or any other opposition movement dependent upon and beholden to “U.S. and Western governments and Western ruling class foundations.”

8) ICNC is not “Wall Street-connected.” There has never been any coordination, meetings, dialogue or any other connections between ICNC and any Wall Street company or organization.

9) ICNC does not “promote nonviolent activism in the service of destabilizing foreign governments.” ICNC provides generic information and educational forums on the history and dynamics of strategic nonviolent action for indigenous struggles and NGOs concerned with human rights abuses, the oppression of women and minorities, corruption, and other abuses of power. In fact, ICNC’s legal charter explicitly prohibits the organization from initiating actions relative to any country.

ICNC provides its educational material and seminars for grass roots activists struggling for freedom and justice regardless of the ideological orientation or foreign policy of the ruling regimes in their countries. As mentioned above, virtually all of my work with ICNC — and most of ICNC’s work with foreign pro-democracy activists in general — have been with those struggling against governments supported by the United States, not governments opposed by the United States.

10) Gowans claims that I say that “nonviolent activists are pursuing ‘freedom and democracy’ in the same way [as] the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a project in bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East.” In reality, I never said anything like that. I was a leader in the U.S. movement against the invasion of Iraq and I have consistently challenged the myth that that war of aggression had anything to do with advancing freedom and democracy. Again, check out my web site.

11) Despite Gowans’ claims to the contrary, I have no associations with “dodgy U.S. ruling class foundations that hide the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy objectives behind a high-sounding commitment to peace.” The unfortunate reality in capitalist societies is that most non-profit organizations — from universities to social justice organizations to art galleries to peace groups (and ICNC as well) — depend at least in part on donations from wealthy individuals and from foundations which get their money from wealthy individuals. Just because the ultimate source of funding for various non-profit groups is from members of the ruling class, however, does not mean that ruling class interests therefore set the agenda for every such non-profit group; they certainly do in some cases, but not in many other cases, including that of ICNC.

For example, Gowans reports ominously that “Zunes has received at least one research grant from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP),” which receives U.S. government support, “and has served as a fellow of the organization,” the purpose of which he describes as “the pursuit of U.S. corporate and investor interests abroad.” I did receive one research fellowship from USIP back in 1989 — which is what makes one a USIP “fellow” — to study the role of the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations in efforts to resolve the Morocco-Western Sahara conflict. The conclusions of that research — which is finally being published later this year as a book from Syracuse University Press — put the blame for the irresolution of the conflict largely on the United States, France and other imperialist powers for supporting the Moroccan occupation. Indeed, my USIP-funded research was openly sympathetic to the struggle of the Polisario Front and the Sahrawi people for self-determination. I would be quite willing to provide Gowans or anyone else a summary of my USIP-funded research to demonstrate that there is absolutely nothing in it that could possibly be construed as being supportive of “the pursuit of U.S. corporate and investor interests abroad.”

Gowans is also incorrect to claim that I am “busy applying for grants from a phony U.S. government institute of peace.” I have not applied for a grant from USIP or any other government foundation for well over a decade.

And, despite Gowans’ claim to the contrary, ICNC president Jack DuVall has had no personal connection whatsoever to USIP, except for speaking there as part of a couple of public panel discussions.

12) Gowans’ claims that the son of ICNC’s founding director used “bombs and bullets, not nonviolent activism, to change Iraq’s regime.” In reality, Peter Ackerman’s son, a U.S. Marine, did not take part in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. (His unit, like most American combat units, was later rotated in and out of the country.) Dr. Ackerman, like everyone else I know affiliated with ICNC, personally opposed the invasion and argued that regime change in Iraq, as needed elsewhere, should come through nonviolent struggle by the subjected peoples themselves, not from foreign invaders.

13) In addition to the factual errors above, there are a series of seriously misleading statements which need to be addressed:

a) Many of Gowans’ attacks consist of guilt-by-association. For example, because ICNC founding director Peter Ackerman happens to sit on various boards which include, among others, some rather notorious neo-conservatives and other imperialists, Gowans wants readers to believe that this somehow makes me and ICNC part of their imperialist agenda. Gowans’ is certainly correctly to point out that, in the cases of many of these people, “the only freedom they’re interested in is the freedom of U.S. corporations and investors to accumulate capital wherever and whenever they please,” but they are not the ones who set ICNC’s policies. They happen to sit in the same room a few times a year with Dr. Ackerman, with whom I’ve had relatively little contact, and who has severed his operational ties with ICNC since becoming the chair of Freedom House. Yet Gowans wants readers to think that these degrees of separation are somehow a more significant indication of where I come from than my critical writings against corporate globalization, my facing down the WTO on the streets of Seattle in 1999, my repeated arrests in protests against various nefarious manifestations of corporate capitalism, and other activities. Similarly, Gowans tries to link their imperialist agenda with me because simply because I “share” their “rhetorical commitment to ‘freedom and democracy,'” ignoring everything else I have said or written which challenges such imperialist pursuits of overseas profits.

b) Referring to ICNC President Jack DuVall as a “former air force officer” is a highly-selective summary of his career prior to the founding of ICNC. DuVall served for slightly more than two years in the air force nearly 40 years ago at a time when American males were subjected to military conscription. He enlisted into a non-combat position as a young lieutenant to avoid serving in Vietnam in a war which he strenuously opposed, was glad when he was discharged, and has had no involvement with the U.S. military since then.

c) No one at ICNC was aware of Bob Helvey’s 2003 trip to Venezuela until well after the fact; I only found out about it last week. In any case, whatever he did there had nothing to do with me or ICNC. I certainly oppose any U.S-backed efforts to subvert the democratically-elected government of Venezuela. Gowans is not telling the truth, however, when he refers to Helvey’s “work in Serbia before Milosevic’s fall” where he “briefed students on ways to organize a strike and how to undermine the authority of a dictatorial regime.” That allegation has long since been refuted. Helvey was never in Serbia prior to Milosevic’s overthrow. The full extent of his involvement with the opposition student movement prior to the uprising was when he met with some Otpor activists in Budapest in a half-day meeting in April 2000, well after Otpor had already become a powerful dissident organization, had already engaged in a series of nonviolent action campaigns, and the Milosevic regime had already arrested more than 400 of their activists. In any case, Helvey has no formal association with ICNC. His book On Strategic Non-Violent Conflict is featured on ICNC’s web site, but there is absolutely nothing in it promoting U.S. intervention, imperialism, capitalism, or any other aspect of the U.S. foreign policy agenda.

http://www.zcommunications.org/a-reply-to-stephen-gowans-false-allegations-against-stephen-zunes-by-stephen-zunes

Jerusalem: Endorsing the Right of Conquest

In a flagrant attack on the longstanding international legal principle that it is illegitimate for any country to expand its territory by military means, the U.S. House of Representatives, by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, passed House Concurrent Resolution 152 congratulating Israel for its forcible “reunification of Jerusalem” and its victory in the June 1967 war.

The resolution, passed by a voice vote on June 5 — the 40th anniversary of the Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem and other Arab territories — states that U.S. policy should recognize that Jerusalem is “the undivided capital of Israel.” There is no mention that Jerusalem — which has the largest Palestinian population of any city and which for centuries served as the commercial, cultural, education and religious center for Palestinian life — should also be recognized as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The resolution was sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA), widely recognized as the Democratic Party’s chief foreign policy spokesman, and co-sponsored by such Democratic Party foreign policy leaders as Howard Berman (D-CA), Eliot Engel (D- NY), Robert Wexler (D-FL), Joseph Crowley (D-NY), and Middle East subcommittee chairman Gary Ackerman (D-NY).

Israel has formally annexed East Jerusalem and surrounding lands, unlike the rest of the West Bank, which is either under the control of Israeli military administration or the Palestine Authority. No government outside Israel recognizes this illegal annexation or supports the idea of a Jerusalem united under exclusive Israeli sovereignty. International organizations and leaders of major religious bodies throughout the world have repeatedly stressed the importance of not allowing Israel’s unilateral takeover to remain unchallenged. UN Security Council resolutions 252, 267, 271, 298, 476 and 478 — passed without U.S. objections during both Democratic and Republican administrations — specifically call on Israel to rescind its annexation and other efforts to alter the city’s legal status. Given that Article 5 of resolution 478 specifically calls on all UN member states not to recognize Israel’s annexation efforts, the Democratic-controlled Congress is effectively calling on the Bush administration to put the United States in direct violation of the UN Security Council.

Who Controls Jerusalem?

Jerusalem has been conquered and re-conquered more than 37 times in its 3000-year old history. Yet, with the establishment over the past century of clear international legal principles forbidding such military conquests and of international organizations with enforcement mechanisms, there has been a persistent hope that the fate of Jerusalem could — along with other territories seized by the Israeli armed forces — be resolved peacefully and with deference to international law. UN Security Council resolution 242, long seen as the basis for Arab-Israeli peace, emphasizes the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” Congress appears to think differently, however.

The bipartisan decision to pass a resolution celebrating Israel’s military conquest at a time when there is a growing consensus among Palestinians, Israelis, and the international community that a shared Jerusalem is imperative for a durable peace appears to have been designed to undermine the peace process. As M.J. Rosenberg, director of the Israel Policy Forum’s Washington Policy Center, observed, “Congress has a role to play in the Middle East…but that leadership is not expressed by resolutions celebrating a war but by using its authority to promote security for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Virtually no one would like to see Jerusalem return to its 1948-67 status, when it was divided by sentry posts, barbed wire, and snipers, with neither Israelis nor Palestinians able to cross to the other side. However, there are a number of other options, including making Jerusalem an international city as originally called for by the UN in 1947, creating a joint Israeli-Palestinian administration, or repartitioning the city but with full access by residents and visitors to both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

For example, the Geneva Initiative — signed by such prominent Israeli officials as former Justice member and Oslo Accord architect Yossi Beilin, former Labor Party Leader Avram Mitzna and former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg (along with equally-prominent Palestinian leaders) — call for Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods and holy sites to be under Israeli control and the Palestinian neighborhoods and Muslim and Christian holy sites to be under Palestinian control, a position that public opinion polls indicate a majority of both Palestinians and Israelis supports.

An overwhelming bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, however, in a clear rebuke of such initiatives, insists that the entire city be under exclusive Israeli control.

This led to protests by more moderate voices in the House. As Rep. David Price (D-NC) put it in the floor debate prior to the vote, since “the idea of an undivided Jerusalem under sole Israeli sovereignty has not been part of any serious peace proposal . . . in the last several years,” the resolution thereby “undermines U.S. efforts to secure the trust of all sides in the search for peace.” Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) observed how “it has long been understood that a permanent agreement about the Palestinian areas of Jerusalem will be left to final-status negotiations. . . . I think we tread on dangerous territory when Congress adopts positions that run counter to issues that have yet to be negotiated.” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) was among those noting the irony of the House passing what many would label a pro-Israel resolution that “would place Congress out of step with large parts of the Israeli political spectrum.”

The United States, like all other nations with diplomatic representation in Israel, has its embassy in Tel Aviv pending resolution of the status of Jerusalem. However, the Lantos resolution calls on President Bush to unilaterally move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem prior to a peace settlement, despite the president’s recognition, like that of his predecessors, that doing so would sabotage U.S. diplomatic efforts and needlessly evoke enormous hostility throughout the Islamic world. In the eyes of the Democratic-controlled Congress, there is nothing to negotiate: Israel is the undivided capital of Israel by right of conquest.

Israel’s Occupation

Whatever the position of the U.S. Congress might be, however, the fact remains that the residents of East Jerusalem never voluntarily ceded sovereignty to Israel through a referendum or other methods; their part of the city was seized by military force. By any definition, this constitutes a military occupation.

To this day, Israeli occupation forces patrol the streets and engage in ongoing human rights abuses against residents who oppose Israeli rule continue. The Israeli government has confiscated or destroyed homes and other property belonging to longstanding Muslim and Christian residents of the city. Several UN bodies, along with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other reputable human rights organizations have frequently cited Israel for its ongoing violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention in East Jerusalem and surrounding areas. Despite this, the House resolution commends Israel for having “respected the rights of all religious groups” during its 40-year occupation.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration, like the Clinton administration, has refused to raise any objections to Israeli occupation forces banning access by most Palestinians to the schools, hospitals, businesses, and cultural venues of Palestine’s largest city. This ban has caused enormous suffering to the population. And just as the Jordanians refused to allow Israeli Jews to visit their holy sites in the Old City when the Hashemite Kingdom controlled East Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967, Israel now severely restricts access by Palestinian Muslims and Christians from the Gaza Strip or the rest of the West Bank from visiting their holy sites in the Old City.

Despite the resolution’s claims to the contrary, those of us who have actually been to Jerusalem in recent years recognize that it is hardly a unified city. One hardly ever sees any Israelis other than soldiers and journalists in Palestinian residential neighborhoods or business districts. During one recent visit, my Israeli cab driver from the airport refused to take me to my hotel in the Palestinian half of the city, instead dropping me off at the pre-1967 dividing line and insisting I get an Arab cab for the remaining ten blocks of my trip.

Unlike the U.S. Congress, the Israeli Knesset did not pass a resolution celebrating the 40th anniversary of the conquest. Indeed, Israel’s elected institutions tend not to commemorate their wars except to honor their dead. As with Israel’s war on Lebanon last summer, Congress is willing to offer near-unanimous support for policies for which the Israelis themselves are willing to engage in serious self-criticism.

Indeed, the congressional resolution celebrating the humiliating defeat of Arab armies will likely only increase anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab world. That victory brought hope to many Israelis that, with the leverage made possible by its conquest of Arab lands, and Israeli withdrawal could be exchanged for a permanent peace agreement with its Arab neighbors. Congress, however, has it made clear in a bipartisan fashion that the most important part of the occupied territories is not subject to negotiation.

Given the centrality of Jerusalem to any comprehensive peace settlement, U.S. policy has made it extremely difficult for a lasting peace settlement to be implemented. As Rep. Price observed, “the only thing likely to fully guarantee Jerusalem as the permanent capital of Israel is the official, international recognition of Israel’s neighbors and the entire international community — and this recognition is unlikely so long as Palestinian claims to their own capital and sacred city are denied.”

What the U.S. Public Thinks

Public opinion polls in the United States show that, unlike most of their congressional representatives, a sizable majority of Americans supports a shared Jerusalem. And fortunately, despite the backing of both the Republican and Democratic leadership, there have been signs that this dangerous and reactionary policy initiative is not universally supported within Congress either. Julie Schumacher Cohen of Churches for Middle East Peace observed that the failure of the resolution to get more than fourteen co-sponsors and the avoidance of a roll call vote “may reflect a lack of confidence in the outcome of such a vote and Congressional weariness with resolutions like these that do not help move the peace process forward and undermine U.S. diplomatic efforts.” Similar resolutions regarding Jerusalem passed by Congress in previous years received even greater bipartisan support.

There is more at stake here than Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is very dangerous, in this era of American military dominance, for such a large majority of Congress to go on record challenging the principles enshrined in the UN Charter that international boundaries be recognized on the basis of law, not the force of arms.

The American public must not allow the Democratic Party, given control of Congress by the voters last November, to squander its mandate by supporting resolutions that not only undermine the rights of Palestinians and the long-term security interests of Israel and the United States, but also undermine important and longstanding principles of international law.

http://www.zcommunications.org/jerusalem-endorsing-the-right-of-conquest-by-stephen-zunes

Iraq: The Failures of Democratization

The failures of Iraqi democratization as advocated by the Bush administration should not be blamed primarily on the Iraqis. Nor should they be used to reinforce racist notions that Arabs or Muslims are somehow incapable of building democratic institutions and living in a democratic society. Rather, democracy from the outset has been more of a self-serving rationalization for American strategic and economic interests in the region than a genuine concern for the right of the Iraq people to democratic self-governance.

Many Iraqis might have dreamed about democracy. What they got instead was occupation.

The U.S. government, despite much rhetoric about democracy, imposed its own political structures on Iraq, agreed to more representative procedures and institutions only when pushed to do so by the Iraqi people, presided over the breakdown of civil order, and violated the human rights of tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens. In short, Washington acted as an occupation force. By associating its actions with democracy promotion, it ended up giving democracy a bad name.

Never About Democracy

Once the arguments about “weapons of mass destruction” and links to al-Qaida were exposed as fictions, bringing democracy to Iraq became a major rationale for the U.S. invasion. Yet the Bush administration, during most of the first year of the U.S. occupation, strongly opposed holding direct elections. Soon after occupying the country, the United States appointed an “Iraqi Governing Council” (IGC) as a consultative body. Initially, Washington supported the installation of Ahmed Chalabi or some other compliant pro-American exile as leader of Iraq. When that plan proved unacceptable, U.S. officials tried to keep their viceroy Paul Bremer in power indefinitely. When it became clear that Iraqis and the international community would not tolerate that option either, the Bush administration pushed for a caucus system in which American appointees would choose the new government and write the constitution. Only in January 2004, when that plan prompted hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to take to the streets to protest the proposed caucus system and demand a popular vote, did President Bush give in and reluctantly agree to allow direct elections to move forward.

Instead of going ahead with the poll in May as called for by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other Iraqi leaders, however, U.S. officials postponed the elections until January 2005. They argued that there was inadequate time to register voters and that the ration lists developed during the UN-supervised Oil for Food program were inadequate (though the voter rolls for the election were based in large part on the ration lists anyway.) In the meantime, however, the dramatic growth of the insurgency during the eight-month delay resulted in a serious deterioration of the security situation. By the time the elections finally took place, the large and important Sunni Arab minority was largely unable or unwilling to participate. In most Sunni-dominated parts of Arab-populated Iraq, threats by insurgents made it physically unsafe to go to the polls. In addition, the major Sunni parties — angered by U.S. counter-insurgency operations that killed enormous numbers of civilians during the months leading up to the election — had called for a boycott.

In the meantime, the U.S. occupation authorities announced they would formally transfer power to Iraqis at the end of June 2004. Originally, this transfer was planned as a grand public event, with parades and speeches. The highlight was supposed to be President Bush — already in neighboring Turkey at the conclusion of the NATO summit — coming down to join the festivities to formally hand over power.

To deny terrorists an opportunity for a dramatic strike, however, the authorities conducted the formal transfer two days early. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice informed Bush of the handover in a hand-written note, to which the president scribbled his now famous response, “Let freedom reign!” This oxymoron in many ways represents the contradictions inherent in any effort to forcefully impose a liberal democratic system through conquest and subjugation. Indeed, the small, short, hurried, and unannounced handover ceremony was hardly an auspicious beginning for Iraqi self-rule.

Democratic Transition

Washington chose Ayad Allawi as the leader of the U.S.-appointed interim government, despite polls of Iraqis showing that Allawi’s popularity ranked quite low. His earlier career as a Baathist, which included active support for political repression, combined with his later years in exile and his ties to the CIA and anti-government terrorist groups, raised concerns regarding his commitment to democracy and human rights. Not surprisingly, he proved to be an unpopular leader. His autocratic governing style and his support for offensive military actions by U.S. and Iraqi government forces, which resulted in large-scale civilian casualties, undercut any claims to democratic rule.

The interim constitution designed by U.S. occupation authorities required super-majorities in the national assembly and a consensus among the presidential council for major legislation to pass. Supporters of such a system noted that such a broad consensus was necessary to promote unity in a country emerging from dictatorship and divided by ethnic and tribal loyalties. Critics charged, however, that it crippled the new government from taking decisive action on pressing concerns and kept the country overly dependent on the United States. Indeed, it was nearly two months before an interim cabinet was approved and the transitional government could begin governing.

The transitional Iraqi government was unable to overturn many of the edicts of Bremer and his Iraqi appointees in the IGC, and was therefore unable to chart an independent course. For example, even in cases where the transitional government technically could have overturned U.S.-imposed laws, it required a consensus of the president, prime minister, vice premiers, and other government officials. As a result, virtually all these laws remained in effect. With the UN’s reluctant stamp of approval on the transitional government, the U.S.-appointed IGC filled virtually all the major positions in the interim Iraqi government — including president and prime ministers — with its own members.

Similarly, neither the transitional government nor its successors have been able to exercise much authority when it comes to security. U.S. forces have been able to operate throughout the country at will, and the “sovereign” Iraqi government has had no right to limit their activities. Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed that U.S. forces and their sprawling bases throughout Iraq — which are expanding in ways that appear to indicate an intention to stay for the long term — were no different than U.S. bases in Germany or South Korea. However, unlike Iraq, the United States does not have a right to bomb German or South Korean cities without permission of their governments.

In addition, the U.S. ambassadors have not been “just like any other ambassador” — as the Bush administration has claimed. Many of the more than 1,500 Americans attached to their “embassy” hold prominent positions in nearly every Iraqi ministry, and the ambassador’s office controls much of the Iraqi government’s budget. The new 25-hectare U.S. embassy complex under construction in the heart of Baghdad consists of 21 buildings, housing for 3,500 diplomatic and support staff, a sports center, beauty parlor, swimming pool, and American short-order restaurants. With their own water supply and power generation, the employees have electricity and water 24 hours a day, unlike virtually anyone else in that nation’s capital city.

U.S. citizens in Iraq continue to enjoy extraterritorial rights. They cannot be prosecuted in Iraq for any crime, no matter how serious. U.S. military forces — numbering over 165,000 — can move and attack anywhere in the country without the government’s consent. U.S. appointees with terms lasting through 2009 are in charge of “control commissions” that oversee fiscal policy, the media, and other important regulatory areas. U.S. appointees also dominate the judiciary, which has the power to overturn any law passed by the newly elected government.

New Iraqi Government

The long-delayed vote to elect a national assembly and write a permanent constitution finally took place on January 30, 2005. The election had few international observers, experienced widespread irregularities, was boycotted in a number of key provinces, and took place under the rule of a foreign occupying power that had imposed the electoral laws and selected the electoral commission that oversaw it.

However, despite not meeting most internationally recognized criteria for legitimacy, the election was certainly an improvement over the utter lack of electoral democracy under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Most Iraqis clearly welcomed the opportunity to participate in the process. And despite its many problems and limitations, the election was a remarkable testament to the Iraqi people’s desire for self-determination and for accountable government. Two of the country’s three major ethno-religious communities came out en masse against great odds in an impressive attempt to establish at least some semblance of self-determination — after decades of dictatorial rule followed by 18 months of U.S. military occupation. Contrary to charges by some critics, the elected representatives are not puppets of the United States. However, this direct election for the National Assembly — which was charged with writing the country’s new constitution — came despite, rather than because of, the efforts of President George W. Bush.

U.S. officials had apparently hoped for a victory by the pro-American slate led by the U.S.-appointed interim Prime Minister Allawi, whose party had superior funding and organization relative to other parties. In addition, the U.S.-organized election process allowed up to two million Iraqi-born expatriates — who would presumably be more pro-Western — to vote. Voting centers for Iraqi emigrants living in the United States were established at a number of military bases. Despite these efforts, however, Allawi’s party came in a poor third.

Exit polls indicated that Iraqis went to the polls primarily in the hope that establishing their own government would result in U.S. forces leaving their country. Parties opposed to the ongoing U.S. military presence in Iraq won the overwhelming majority of the votes.

The victorious United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which won 140 seats in the 275-seat parliament, consisted of 22 parties, dominated by Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Islamic Dawa Party. The Islamic Republic of Iran supported both of these parties while they operated in exile and underground during Saddam Hussein’s regime. The UIA-dominated government appointed Ibrahim al-Jaafari — who spent most of the 1980s in exile in Iran — as the new prime minister. The election platform of the governing United Iraqi Alliance called for a timetable for an early withdrawal of foreign forces from their country. Faced with a growing insurgency and inadequate forces of their own, however, the newly elected government soon altered its position and asked for American troops to remain indefinitely.

With pro-Iranian parties and political leaders dominating Iraqi’s elected transitional government, the new democratic Iraq did not appear to be pro-American. Indeed, U.S. officials have had a hard time accepting that a truly representative government in Iraq would not strongly support U.S. policy in the region. In short, Iraq could have a democratic government or a pro-American government. It was unlikely to have both.

In the national elections of December 15, 2005, following the U.S.-led writing of the new Iraqi constitution, the Shi’ite United Iraqi Alliance won 128 votes out of the total 275-member assembly. The Kurdish Alliance won 53 seats, and the Sunni Arab parties took a total of 55 seats, a major gain from the earlier election, which was largely boycotted by the Sunni community. Allawi’s Iraqi National List only got 25 seats. Again, it took several months before the government could be formed.

The United States sought to block al-Jaffari’s re-election as prime minister, given his refusal to crack down on sectarian militias, his close cooperation with Iran, his dependence on support from the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, his failure to forge multi-ethnic common ground, and his growing unpopularity with the Iraqi people. The United States successfully lobbied for the formation of a somewhat more inclusive government with Nouri al-Maliki, also a Dawa Party leader, as the new prime minister. While American concerns about al-Jafaari were not unfounded, many Iraqis viewed this interference as neo-colonialism. And indeed, Maliki has not been any more successful or popular than his predecessor.

Human Rights in Iraq

Saddam Hussein was indeed one of the world’s most brutal tyrants, responsible for, among other abuses, the Anfal campaign in the late 1980s, and the suppression of the popular uprisings in March of 1991. But the no-fly zones and arms embargo in place for more than a dozen years prior to his ouster in March 2003 had severely weakened his capacity to inflict large-scale violence.

Since U.S. forces took over the country, the level of violence has steadily increased, not only dwarfing the violence during Saddam’s final years in power but tripling the average annual death rates during his entire quarter century in power. In addition, the sheer randomness of the violence has left millions of Iraqis in a state of perpetual terror. Since the U.S. invasion in 2003, anywhere from 50,000 to 700,000 Iraqi civilians have died, many at the hands of U.S. forces, but increasingly from terrorist groups and Iraqi government death squads. Thousands of more Iraqi soldiers and police have also been killed. Violent crime, including kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery, has grown to record levels. There has been a dramatic proliferation of small arms, and private militias have been growing rapidly.

In addition, U.S. forces imprisoned over 50,000 Iraqis since the invasion, but only one and a half percent of them have been convicted of any crime. U.S. forces currently hold 15-18,000 Iraqi prisoners, more than were imprisoned under Saddam Hussein. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have cited U.S. forces for widespread violations of international humanitarian law, including torture and other abuses of prisoners. Despite the largely successful efforts of the Bush administration to cover up the extent of U.S. torture of Iraqi prisoners, the revelations of abuse in the Abu Ghraib prison were just the tip of the iceberg. Given that the overwhelming majority of detainees at Abu Ghraib were not terrorists or guerrillas, but simply ordinary young Iraqi men arrested in massive sweeps by U.S. occupation forces, popular outrage at the United States increased still further.

Both through the suffering inflicted upon Iraqis by American forces and the initial reluctance to allow for direct elections, the United States has not been able to establish much credibility as a force for human rights among the Iraqi people. Adding to the problem is the U.S.-backed Iraqi government itself, dominated by incompetent Shi’ite Islamist extremists closely allied with hard-line Iranian clerics. Isolated within the U.S.-fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, the Iraqi government is so weak, divided, and corrupt it can barely be considered a functional government.

Nearly four 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, and the Iraqi government still has little say over U.S. military operations within its own country. U.S. forces have expanded by integrating local Iraqi units into their command structure and away from the control of the Iraqi government.

Human rights abuses are increasing, largely at the hands of the only security branch controlled to some degree by the government. These Special Forces, populated for the most part by Shi’ite militias, have emerged as death squads that every month have killed hundreds of civilians, mostly Sunni Arab males. The death toll surpasses even that of the insurgency, which has primarily targeted Shi’ite Arab civilians. Amnesty International reports 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 “the 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.” For his efforts to alert the international community about the U.S.-backed Kurdish government, a Kurdish court sentenced Qadir to 30 years in prison, though international pressure led to his release several months later.

The Democracy of Occupation

The Soviet Red Army freed Eastern European nations from Nazi occupation at the end of World War II only to impose a Soviet-style political and economic system and foreign policy priorities on compliant governments of their own creation. Increasing numbers of Iraqis view the United States as having similarly imposed its own priorities on Iraq. The Eastern Europeans eventually won their freedom largely through protracted, nonviolent struggles to create democratic systems. The Iraqis, however, are already in open rebellion. They are using guerrilla warfare and terrorism, and much of the organized resistance does not seek a particularly democratic society as the final outcome.

The Bush administration’s declaration that American forces are no longer an occupation force but are there at the request of a sovereign Iraqi government has not been enough to assuage most Iraqis. This is the same rationalization used by the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and by the United States in South Vietnam in the 1960s. In reality, the majority of Afghans and South Vietnamese during these periods never saw the regimes in Kabul and Saigon as legitimate. Indeed, these unpopular dictatorships came to power and maintained their control only as result of superpower intervention. The majority of the subjected populations, despite enormous disadvantages in firepower, eventually forced out the foreign occupiers and their appointed successors. Similarly, the longer the United States is seen as an occupier in Iraq, the more the credibility of pro-democratic political figures will decline and support for more extremist elements will grow.

President Bush and his supporters still insist that Iraq is a model of “democracy” that other countries in the region should emulate. Just as the Soviets gave “socialism” a bad name through their conquest and occupation of Afghanistan, the U.S. conquest and occupation of Iraq along with subsequent events in that country have, in the eyes of many Muslims worldwide, tarnished the reputation of democracy. Democracy, alas, has become synonymous with war, chaos, domination by a foreign power, and massive human suffering.

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

US Christian Right’s Grip on Middle East Policy

In recent years, a politicized and right-wing Protestant fundamentalist movement has emerged as a major factor in US support for the policies of the rightist Likud government in Israel. To understand this influence, it is important to recognize that the rise of the religious right as a political force in the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon that emerged as part of a calculated strategy by leading right-wingers in the Republican Party who – while not fundamentalist Christians themselves – recognized the need to enlist the support of this key segment of the US population in order to achieve political power.

Traditionally, US fundamentalist Protestants were not particularly active in national politics, long seen as worldly and corrupt. This changed in the late 1970s as part of a calculated effort by conservative Republican operatives who recognized that as long as the Republican Party was primarily identified with militaristic foreign policies and economic proposals that favored the wealthy, it would remain a minority party. Over the previous five decades, Republicans had won only four out of 12 presidential elections and had controlled Congress for only two of its 24 sessions.

By mobilizing rightist religious leaders and adopting conservative positions on highly charged social issues such as women’s rights, abortion, sex education and homosexuality, Republican strategists were able to bring millions of fundamentalist Christians – who as a result of their lower-than-average income were not otherwise inclined to vote Republican – into their party. Through such organizations as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, the Republicans promoted a right-wing political agenda through radio and television broadcasts as well as from the pulpit. Since capturing this pivotal constituency, Republicans have won four out of six presidential races, have dominated the Senate for seven out of 12 sessions, and have controlled the House of Representatives for the past decade.

As a result of being politically wooed, those who identify with the religious right are now more likely than the average American to vote and to be politically active. The Christian Right constitutes nearly one out of seven US voters and determines the agenda of the Republican Party in about half of the states, particularly in the South and Midwest. A top Republican staffer noted: “Christian conservatives have proved to be the political base for most Republicans. Many of these guys, especially the leadership, are real believers in this stuff, and so are their constituents.”

The movement takes office The Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State recently quipped: “The good news is that the Christian coalition is fundamentally collapsing. The bad news is that the people who ran it are all in the government.” He noted, for example, that when he goes to the Justice Department, he keeps seeing lawyers formerly employed by prominent right-wing fundamentalist preacher Pat Robertson.

As the Washington Post observed, “For the first time since religious conservatives became a modern political movement, the president of the United States has become the movement’s de facto leader.” Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed marked the triumph by chortling, “You’re no longer throwing rocks at the building; you’re in the building.” He added that God “knew [President] George [W] Bush had the ability to lead in this compelling way”.

US liberals have long supported Israel as a refuge for persecuted Jews and have championed the country’s democratic institutions (for its Jewish citizens). Historically these liberals, bolstered by the disproportionate political influence of Zionist Jews within the party, prompted Democrats to adopt a hard line toward Palestinians and other Arabs. Though more hawkish on most foreign-policy issues, Republicans traditionally took a somewhat more moderate stance partly due to the party’s ties to the oil industry and in part because of Republican concern that too much support for Israel could lead Arab nationalists toward a pro-Soviet or – in more recent years – a pro-Islamist orientation. But this alignment has shifted, thanks to the influence of the Christian Right. Though Christian fundamentalist support for Israel dates back many years, only recently has it become one of the movement’s major issues.

As a result of renewed fundamentalist interest in Israel and in recognition of the movement’s political influence, American Jews are less reluctant to team up with the Christian Right. Fundamentalist leader Gary Bauer, for example, now receives frequent invitations to address mainstream Jewish organizations, which would have been hesitant toward the movement prior to the Bush presidency. This is partly a phenomenon of demographics: Jews constitute only 3% of the US population, and barely half of them support the current Israeli government.

The Israelis also recognize the Christian Right’s political clout. Since 2001, Bauer has met with several Israeli cabinet members and with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted, “We have no greater friends and allies” than right-wing American Christians.

It used to be that Republican administrations had the ability to withstand pressure from Zionist lobbying groups when it was deemed important for US interests. For example, the administration of Dwight Eisenhower pressured Israel during the Suez Crisis of 1956, the administration of Ronald Reagan sold AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System)-equipped planes to Saudi Arabia in 1981, and the administration of George H W Bush delayed a US$10 billion loan guarantee for Israel to await the outcome of the pivotal 1992 Israeli election.

With the growing influence of the Christian Right, however, such detachment is no longer as easily achieved. For the first time, the Republican Party has a significant pro-Israel constituency of its own that it cannot ignore. Top White House officials, including Elliott Abrams, director of the National Security Council on Near East and North African Affairs, have regular and often lengthy meetings with representatives of the Christian Right. As one leading Republican put it: “They are very vocal and have shifted the center of gravity toward Israel and against concessions. It colors the environment in which decisions are being made.” Indeed, the degree of the Bush administration’s support for Sharon has surprised even the most hardline Zionist Jews.

Rising power of Christian Zionists

It appears, then, that right-wing Christian Zionists are, at this point, more significant in the formulation of US policy toward Israel than are Jewish Zionists, as illustrated by three recent incidents.

After the Bush administration’s initial condemnation of the attempted assassination of militant Palestinian Islamist Abdel Aziz Rantisi in June 2003, the Christian Right mobilized its constituents to send thousands of e-mails to the White House protesting the criticism. A key element in these e-mails was the threat that if such pressure continued to be placed on Israel, the Christian Right would stay home on election day. Within 24 hours, there was a notable change in tone by the president. Indeed, when Rantisi fell victim to a successful Israeli assassination in April this year, the administration – as it did with the assassination of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin the previous month – largely defended the Israeli action.

When the Bush administration insisted that Israel stop its April 2002 military offensive in the West Bank, the White House received more than 100,000 e-mails from Christian conservatives in protest of its criticism. Almost immediately, Bush came to Israel’s defense. Over the objections of the State Department, the Republican-led Congress adopted resolutions supporting Israel’s actions and blaming the violence exclusively on the Palestinians.

When Bush announced his support for the roadmap for Middle East peace, the White House received more than 50,000 postcards over the next two weeks from Christian conservatives opposing any plan that called for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The administration quickly backpedaled, and the once-highly touted roadmap in essence died.

Good versus evil

Messianic theology is centered on the belief in a hegemonic Israel as a necessary precursor to the second coming of Christ. Although this doctrine is certainly an important part of the Christian Right’s support of a militaristic and expansionist Jewish state, fundamentalist Christian Zionism in the United States ascribes to an even more dangerous dogma: that of Manichaeism, the belief that reality is divided into absolute good and absolute evil.

The day after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Bush declared, “This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil, but good will prevail.” The United States was targeted – according to Bush – not on account of its support for Arab dictatorships, the large US military presence in the Middle East, US backing of the Israeli occupation, or the humanitarian consequences of US policy toward Iraq, but simply because they “hate our freedom”. Despite the Gospels’ insistence that the line separating good and evil does not run between nations but rather within each person, Bush cited Christological texts to support his war aims in the Middle East, declaring, “And the light [the US] has shown in the darkness [the enemies of the US], and the darkness will not overcome it [the US shall conquer its enemies].”

Even more disturbing, Bush has stated repeatedly that he was “called” by God to run for president. Veteran journalist Bob Woodward noted, “The president was casting his mission and that of the country in the grand vision of God’s master plan,” wherein he promised, in his own words, “to export death and violence to the four corners of the Earth in defense of this great country and rid the world of evil”. In short, Bush believes that he has accepted the responsibility of leading the free world as part of God’s plan. He even told then-Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas that “God told me to strike al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam [Hussein], which I did.” Iraq has become the new Babylon, and the “war on terrorism” has succeeded the Cold War with the Soviet Union as the quintessential battle between good and evil.

Cultural affinities

The esprit that many Americans have with Israel is rooted in a common historical mission. Each country was settled in part by victims fleeing religious persecution who fashioned a new nation rooted in high ideals with a political system based on relatively progressive and democratic institutions. And both peoples established their new nations through the oppression, massacre and dislocation of indigenous populations. Like many Israelis, Americans often confuse genuine religious faith with nationalist ideology. John Winthrop, the influential 17th-century Puritan theologian, saw America as the “City on the Hill” (Zion) and “a light upon nations”. In effect, there is a kind of American Zionism assuming a divinely inspired singularity that excuses what would otherwise be considered unacceptable behavior. Just as Winthrop defended the slaughter of the indigenous Pequot peoples of colonial Massachusetts as part of a divine plan, 19th-century theologians defended America’s westward expansion as “manifest destiny” and the will of God. Such theologically rooted aggrandizement did not stop at the Pacific Ocean: the invasion of the Philippines in the 1890s was justified by president William McKinley and others as part of an effort to “uplift” and “Christianize” the natives, ignoring the fact that Filipinos (who by that time had nearly rid the country of Spanish colonialists and had established the first democratic constitution in Asia) were already more than 90% Christian.

Similarly, today – in the eyes of the Christian Right – the Bush doctrine and the expansion of US military and economic power are all part of a divine plan. For example, in their 2003 Christmas card, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne included the quote, “And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”

But is such thinking normative in the US? Polls show that the ideological gap between Christian conservatives and other Americans regarding the US invasion of Iraq and the “war on terrorism” is even higher than the ideological gap between Christian conservatives and other Americans regarding Israel and Palestine.

In many respects, much of the American right may be at least as concerned about how Israel can help the US as about how the US can help Israel. Because of the anti-Semitism inherent in much of Christian Zionist theology, it has long been recognized that US fundamentalist support for Israel does not stem from a concern for the Jewish people per se but rather from a desire to leverage Jewish jingoism to hasten the second coming of Christ. Such opportunism is also true of those who – for theological or other reasons – seek to advance the American empire in the Middle East. And though a strong case can be made that US support for the Israeli occupation ultimately hurts US interests, there remains a widely held perception that Israel is an important asset to US strategic objectives in the Middle East and beyond.

Strategic calculation trumps ethno-religious card

Ultimately, Washington’s championing of Israel – like its approval of other repressive governments – is part of a strategic calculation rather than simply ethnic politics. When a choice must be made, geopolitical considerations outweigh ethnic loyalties. For example, for nearly a quarter of century, the US supported the brutal occupation of East Timor by Indonesia and to this day supports the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, despite the absence of powerful Indonesian-American or Moroccan-American ethnic lobbying forces. The US was able to get away with its support for occupations by Indonesia and Morocco because of their relative obscurity. This is certainly not the case with Israel and Palestine. (Interestingly, even though the East Timor situation involved a predominantly Muslim country conquering, occupying and terrorizing a predominantly Christian country, virtually no protests arose from the Islamaphobic Christian Right.)

The Christian Right has long been a favorite target for the Democratic Party, particularly its liberal wing, since most Americans are profoundly disturbed by fundamentalists of any kind influencing policies of a government with a centuries-old tradition of separating church and state. Yet the positions of most liberal Democrats in Congress regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are far closer to those of the reactionary Christian Coalition than to those of the moderate National Council of Churches, far closer to the rightist Reverend Pat Robertson than to the leftist Reverend William Sloan Coffin, far closer to the ultraconservative Moral Majority than to the liberal Churches for Middle East Peace, and far closer to the fundamentalist Southern Baptist Convention than to any of the mainline Protestant churches.

Rather than accusing these erstwhile liberals of being captives of the Jewish lobby – a charge that inevitably leads to the countercharge of anti-Semitism – those who support justice for the Palestinians should instead reproach congressional Democrats for falling captive to the Christian Right. Such a rebuke would be no less accurate and would likely enhance the ability of those who support peace, justice and the rule of law to highlight the profound immorality of congressional sanction for the Israeli occupation.

Those who support justice for the Palestinians – or even simply the enforcement of basic international humanitarian law – must go beyond raising awareness of the issue to directly confronting those whose acquiescence facilitates current repressive attitudes. It will not be possible to counter the influence of the Christian Right in shaping US policies in the Middle East as long as otherwise socially conscious Christian legislators and other progressive-minded elected officials are beholden to fundamentalist voting pressures. It is unlikely that these Democrats and moderate Republicans will change, however, until liberal-to-mainline churches mobilize their resources toward demanding justice as strongly as right-wing fundamentalists have mobilized their resources in support of repression.