Fight the Real Enemy: Terrorism, Not Immigration

What is most disturbing about the dramatic and disruptive decision by the U.K. electorate to leave Europe is how much of it is apparently rooted in anti-immigrant sentiment.

British authorities have already reported an alarming spike in anti-immigrant hate crimes since the “Brexit” referendum.

Fear of terrorist attacks is causing not just a rise in xenophobia, but an erosion of civil liberties, a rise in anti-Muslim activity, and the threat of further Western military intervention in the Middle East.

As in the United States, most Muslims in Europe are the children or grandchildren of immigrants. But unlike the largely middle class and assimilated Muslim community in North America, European Muslims are disproportionately part of the underclass, often in segregated neighborhoods, facing discrimination in employment, harassment by police, and an uncertain future.

Unmoored youth in Europe are targeted for recruitment by terrorist groups who recognize their susceptibility to indoctrination and their desperation to find community and a mission in life—or through death.

Islam is not the primary motivator for their acts of terror; these recruits generally know little about the Quran or Islam.

The poverty of Europe’s Muslim neighborhoods is not new. What is new is the dramatic increase in terrorist cells over the past dozen years or so—which coincides with the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. The so-called “Islamic State,” which was behind the Paris and Brussels attacks and other terrorist plots, was founded and led by Iraqis radicalized by the U.S.-led counterinsurgency war during the previous decade.

The vast majority of European governments, including those of France and Belgium, opposed the U.S.- led 2003 invasion, in part out of fear that it would create a backlash by radical Salafist movements in the Middle East that could spread to their own Muslim communities.

Tragically, this is exactly what is happening.

Much of the backlash is being projected on other victims of U.S. policy: refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East. Many of these new refugees from Iraq and Syria, rather than being from a poor underclass, are well-educated doctors, lawyers, and professors, forced to flee when threatened by members of ISIS, which has seized many of the urban areas of northern Syria and Iraq.

Indeed, most of the poor cannot afford the costs of the smugglers who charge exorbitant rates to transport people from refugee camps in southeastern Turkey to the country’s west coast and place them on the boats to make the crossing to Greece to begin their travel north and west.

Refugees who become immigrants have a lower crime rate than the native population. When allowed to integrate, they tend to become productive citizens, start small businesses, and put a lot more money into the social system than they take out. The large numbers of professionals among the Syrian asylum-seekers could be an asset to the aging European population. The birthrate in most European countries is so low that, without immigrants, the continent would actually lose population, some countries by double-digits within the next thirty years.

Terrorist attacks in Europe also encourage more hawkish elements in both Europe and the United States advocating increased Western military intervention in the Middle East. That, however, plays into the hands of extremists, who would portray themselves as the defenders of the Islamic world, and persuade susceptible youth to join them to battle Western imperialism.

And the overt racism displayed by many Brexit supporters in Britain will likely be used by Islamist extremists to convince such alienated European Muslims that acceptance and integration is impossible.

The last thing we need are attitudes and policies that not only have serious moral and economic consequences, but will only encourage terrorism.

Pick Your Poison: Clinton Vs. Trump on Foreign Policy

In their remarks to the nation following the Orlando massacre, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump made their differences—and disturbing similarities—crystal clear.

Trump attacked Hillary Clinton for refusing to label the violence carried out by a mentally-disturbed American-born gunmen of Muslim background as a manifestation of “radical Islam.” He reiterated his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States and to subject American Muslims to special surveillance and restrictions.

To her credit, Hillary Clinton rejected such bigotry. However, she called for returning to the “spirit of 9/12,” ignoring how that reaction to 9/11 resulted in a major crackdown on civil liberties and preparation for war. She stated:

“The attack in Orlando makes it even more clear, we cannot contain this threat. We must defeat it.”

Though there is no evidence of any operational ties between ISIS and the lone Orlando gunman, she piled on, saying:

“We should keep the pressure on ramping up the air campaign, accelerating support for our friends fighting to take and hold ground.”

Sam Adler-Bell, a journalist and policy associate with The Century Foundation, observed:

“I fear we’ve already begun to enlist the 49 dead into the project of American empire, here and abroad, into the endless, borderless war that began on 9/12.”

In previous weeks, both incipient nominees had given what have been called “major foreign policy addresses.” Though both lacked detail and substance, Clinton made a strong case that Trump really does not have the experience, knowledge, or temperament to be commander-in-chief.

Still, while former Secretary of State Clinton would be among the most experienced and knowledgeable nominees on foreign policy in modern history, she is probably the most hawkish Democratic nominee in decades.

Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies noted:

“She talked about all of the crazy stuff that Donald Trump has said. That’s easy to do, [but] the choice between the kind of chaos of Trump’s policy, that’s so incredibly dangerous, versus a very clear militaristic commitment to regime change and U.S. domination in [Clinton’s] foreign policy, is not much of a choice.”

In certain areas, Clinton has even placed herself to the right of the incipient GOP nominee. For example, Trump has questioned why Americans must pay for overseas bases, carrier groups, and other forward deployment to defend wealthy European, Middle Eastern, and Western Pacific allies who could afford to defend themselves, but whose military budgets are only a fraction of those of the United States. Clinton has denounced what she refers to as his threat “to abandon our allies in NATO.”

She has denounced Trump for wanting to negotiate directly with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and calls instead for a U.S.-led military buildup in East Asia, including a costly missile defense system in Japan. Harkening back to the rhetoric once used against liberal Democrats by their hawkish electoral opponents, Clinton said that if her opponent is elected, “they’ll be celebrating in the Kremlin.”

Rather than support collective security arrangements, a stronger United Nations, expanding nuclear-free zones, or other multilateral efforts, Clinton insists that “if America doesn’t lead, we leave a vacuum—and that will either cause chaos, or other countries will rush in to fill the void.” Anything short of U.S. primacy “is not an outcome we can live with.”

This drew a rebuke from Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs:

“This kind of arrogance—that America and America alone must run the world—has led straight to overstretch: perpetual wars that cannot be won, and unending and escalating confrontations with Russia, China, Iran, and others that make the world more dangerous. It doesn’t seem to dawn on Clinton that in today’s world, we need cooperation, not endless bravado.”

Clinton falsely accused Trump of saying he would “stay neutral on Israel’s security.” In reality, Trump said that in order to effectively mediate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the United States should take a more neutral position in the negotiations. A longstanding assumption in the field of conflict resolution is that mediators shouldn’t take sides.

The sad fact is that American voters this November will probably be forced to choose between a Republican nominee who thinks the United States should ban Muslims from entering the country versus a Democratic nominee who thinks the United States has a right to invade Muslim countries; a Republican nominee who agrees with George W. Bush that it’s okay to torture prisoners in the name of fighting terrorism versus a Democratic nominee who agrees with Benjamin Netanyahu that it’s okay to bombard crowded civilian neighborhoods in the name of fighting terrorism; a Republican nominee who supports building a wall on the border to keep Mexicans out of the United States versus a Democratic nominee who supports Israel building a wall far beyond its border to keep Palestinians out of Palestine.

Overall, Trump may be the bigger militarist. Though he has attacked Clinton for backing the invasion of Iraq and the bloody counter-insurgency war that followed, archived interviews have indicated that Trump did not actually oppose the war as he’s claimed. Same with U.S. intervention in Libya. Indeed, in both cases, Trump called for an even greater use of force, including seizure of oil fields for U.S. economic benefit. He also agrees with Clinton to militarily intervene in Syria to create “safe zones” for refugees and to escalate U.S. bombing against ISIS.

Trump’s call for pulling U.S. forces back from overseas is accompanied by a call for such countries as Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia to develop their own nuclear weapons. He opposes the nuclear agreement with Iran. He has falsely accused President Obama of having “supported the ouster of a friendly regime in Egypt . . . and then helped bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power in its place.” He charges that Obama, whose administration has given unprecedented amounts of aid to Israel and blocked the United Nations from addressing human rights concerns, “has not been a friend to Israel,” saying the President has “snubbed and criticized” what he calls “the one true Democracy in the Middle East.”

Trump also claims “our nuclear weapons arsenal”—on which Obama plans to spend nearly $1 trillion over the next thirty years—“has been allowed to atrophy and is desperately in need of modernization and renewal.” He has criticized Obama’s cancellation of the missile defense program, despite extraordinary cost and highly dubious efficacy. He pledges to dramatically increase military spending.

“Our military,” he laments, “is depleted, and we’re asking our generals and military leaders to worry about global warming”—which, according to Trump, does not exist.

Clinton, throughout her career, has been a hawk. Not only did she support the Iraq War, she has backed the Israeli and Moroccan occupations, the Honduras coup, various allied dictatorships, higher military spending, and a more interventionist foreign policy. She’s thumbed her nose at the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and various reputable international human rights and arms control agencies.

Yet, ironically, her foreign policy agenda will likely be treated as the “left” wing of the debate by the mainstream media this fall, and perhaps for the next four to eight years.

This is why those of us who have a truly progressive vision of foreign policy need to mobilize and put on the pressure.

The good news is that Clinton has been forced to downplay her hawkish tendencies in order to get the Democratic nomination, while Trump is on the verge of winning the Republican nomination by exaggerating his dovish tendencies. This indicates that an increasing number of American voters are questioning the militarization of U.S. foreign policy.

With only a few exceptions, virtually every change in U.S. foreign policy—including ending the Vietnam War, accepting the Central American peace plan, imposing sanctions on apartheid South Africa, curbing the nuclear arms race, ceasing support for Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, and phasing out most U.S. involvement in Iraq—came not from the initiative of enlightened politicians but from the American public.

Elections are important. Yet just as important are the other forms of pressure we can provide to force a saner and less militaristic foreign policy.

Morocco continues occupation of Western Sahara, in defiance of UN

As Morocco continues to defy the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and much of the international community in its continued occupation of Western Sahara, the United States continues supporting that autocratic government.

Morocco has illegally occupied the former Spanish colony for more than 40 years. Despite promising to hold an internationally-supervised referendum on the fate of the territory in return for a 1991 cease fire with the nationalist Polisario Front, the kingdom has strengthened its grip on the territory and recently expelled the civilian members of the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, or MINURSO.

Long-time Polisario Secretary General Mohamed Abdelaziz died at the end of May. He also served as president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which has been recognized by 84 nations and is a full member state of the African Union. Abdelaziz ended up facing, during his final weeks in office, the biggest crisis in the stalemated conflict in years.

The illegal expulsion was prompted by a visit in April by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the refugee camps in Algeria where upwards to 150,000 Western Sahara refugees have been living since they fled invading Moroccan forces in 1975. While there, he told reporters “I was very saddened to see so many refugees and, particularly, young people who were born there. The children who were born at the beginning of this occupation are now 40 or 41 years old.”

This innocuous observation infuriated the Moroccans, who objected to the secretary-general’s reference to Morocco’s control of the territory as an “occupation.” The U.N. General Assembly has used that term in resolutions regarding Western Sahara (34/37 and 35/19) and the consensus of international legal opinion is that the country is a non-self-governing territory under foreign belligerent occupation. (Indeed, the European Court of Justice recently struck down the European Union’s trade agreement with Morocco for its failure to distinguish Western Sahara status accordingly.) However, in the view of the Moroccans, having the U.N. secretary-general use the term was a violation of U.N. “neutrality” on the fate of the territory.

Within days, the Moroccan regime organized an anti-U.N. rally in the capital of Rabat, closed down a U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara liaison office, and expelled all 84 of MINURSO’s civilian personnel.

U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric immediately denounced Morocco’s actions as being “in clear contradiction” of its international obligations and a challenge to the authority of the U.N. Security Council, which had authorized the MINURSO.

Rather than condemn Morocco’s flagrant violation of international legal obligations, however, Kurtis Cooper, the acting spokesperson for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, could only state that the United States supported MINURSO and “the U.N.-led process to bring about a peaceful, sustainable, and mutually-agreed solution to conflict in Western Sahara.”

Rather than reiterate the call to allow the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara to fulfill its mission to oversee a referendum by the people of Western Sahara on whether to be an independent country or be incorporated into Morocco, however, Cooper referred to the much-maligned Moroccan proposal to grant the territory some limited “autonomy” in return for international recognition of their illegal annexation as “serious, realistic, [and] credible.”

At the end of April, the United States drafted a Security Council resolution simply expressing “concern” over MINURSO’s inability to fully carry out its mandate as a result of the Morocco’s expulsions. When other Security Council members pressed for stronger language, it was upgraded to “regret,” but far less than the condemnation most countries had wanted. The resolution went on to ask the secretary-general to report within 90 days on whether the mission’s operations have been restored “to full functionality,” and if not “to consider how best to facilitate achievement of this goal.” Given that Morocco has declared their decision to expel the peacekeepers “irreversible,” it is questionable as to why the U.S. insisted on waiting 90 days.

New Zealand’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard van Bohemen, told the Security Council “It should not have been like this. … The resolution should have stated the reality, that the expulsion of the civilian component has seriously compromised the mission and its ability to discharge its mandate.”

For those of us who have actually been to Western Sahara, there is no question that it is an occupation. Any verbal or visual expression of support for self-determination is savagely suppressed. Even calls for social and economic justice can be dangerous. The young sociologist Brahim Saika, a leader of a movement of unemployed Sahrawi professionals demanding greater economic justice, was tortured to death while in Moroccan detention in April. Freedom House has ranked Western Sahara as among the dozen least free nations in the world, along with Tibet, Uzbekistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. Indeed, of the more than 70 countries I have visited — including Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Indonesia under Suharto — Western Sahara is the most repressive police state I have ever seen.

Despite its timid response to the Morocco’s recent provocations, the Obama administration still recognizes Western Sahara’s distinct status. Respecting the international legal consensus that Western Sahara was not part of Morocco, the administration made sure that U.S. foreign aid goes exclusively to Morocco and not into Western Sahara. However, pro-occupation members of Congress inserted language into this year’s omnibus spending bill stating that U.S. foreign aid to Morocco “shall be made available for assistance for the Western Sahara.”

The House Appropriations Committee provided a related nonbinding report of their intentions stressing “economic development,” including having the administration “support private sector investment in the Western Sahara.” The intent was to push the U.S. government to undermine the international boycott and divestment campaign against companies supporting the occupation. As with the Israeli-occupied territories, ethical and legal concerns regarding companies supporting the colonization and economic exploitation of territories seized by military force has led to international opposition.

The Obama administration, caught between their support for international law and a conflicting Congressional mandate, announced that they would spend $1 million to “support the people of the Western Sahara to form meaningful linkages with civil society organizations and local government.” The hope is that such aid will support some of the grassroots efforts by indigenous groups to improve the poor human rights situation in the occupied territory.

However, given the level of repression in Western Sahara, the aid could end up going to one of the pro-occupation front groups made up of Moroccan settlers the regime has set up in the territory, not those with a genuine popular indigenous base.

Defending Israel’s Attacks on Civilians—A Harbinger for Clinton’s Presidency?

A fight is brewing as Democrats prepare to debate U.S. policy on Israel at their national convention in July. Bernie Sanders’ appointees to the platform committee Cornel West and James Zogby plan to challenge the party establishment’s uncritical support for an increasingly aggressive, right wing Israeli government.

While the large-scale civilian casualties inflicted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in military operations in recent years have raised concerns both within Israel and internationally, Hillary Clinton—the almost-certain Democratic nominee for President—has repeatedly gone on record defending the IDF’s conduct. Not only has she failed to even once raise concerns about the thousands of civilian deaths inflicted by Israeli forces, she has been a harsh critic of human rights organizations and international jurists who have.

Going well beyond the normal “pro-Israel” rhetoric expected of American politicians, she has defended Israeli attacks on heavily-populated civilian areas as legitimate self-defense against terrorism, even in cases where the Obama administration and members of Congress—including Sanders—have raised objections.

Her statements raise serious questions as to what kind of rules of engagement she would support for U.S. forces in the “War on Terror.”

As Secretary of State, Clinton took the lead in blocking any action by the United Nations in response to a 2009 report by the UN Human Rights Council which—like previous reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other groups—documented war crimes by both Israel and Hamas.

When Israeli forces attacked a UN school housing refugees in the Gaza Strip in July 2014, killing dozens of civilians, Sanders condemned it as “terribly, terribly wrong” and the U.S. State Department issued a statement saying that it was “appalled” by the “disgraceful” shelling. By contrast, Clinton–when asked about the attack during an interview with The Atlantic–refused to criticize the massacre. She argued that since Hamas had begun the conflict by firing rockets into civilian-populated areas of Israel, the Israeli government was therefore not legally or morally culpable for killing Palestinian civilians, claiming that “the ultimate responsibility” for the deaths at the school “has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.”

In reality, however wrong Hamas indeed was, such actions simply do not absolve Israel of its responsibility under international humanitarian law for the far greater civilian deaths its armed forces have inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza. Indeed, it has long been a principle of Western jurisprudence that someone who is the proximate cause of a crime cannot claim innocence simply because of the influence of another party. For example, if someone starts a bar fight and the person he punches ends up shooting him and a group of innocent bystanders, the shooter cannot claim innocence because the other guy initiated the conflict.

Similarly, when asked in an interview about the nearly 1500 civilians killed by Israeli forces during the 2014 war on the Gaza Strip, Clinton insisted, “I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to Hamas rockets,” which were responsible for six civilian deaths. When, during a debate prior to the New York primary, Sanders pushed her to acknowledge that Israel used disproportionate force during that military campaign, she responded “You have a right to defend yourself,” even though Sanders was not disputing that. She insisted the civilian deaths were because of “the way that Hamas places its weapons” and that Hamas “often has its fighters in civilian garb.” However, independent human rights investigators found very few of the Palestinian civilian deaths were a result of such actions. More than 500 of the civilians killed were children and hundreds more were trapped inside buildings nowhere near Hamas military operations.

Following reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other investigators documenting war crimes committed by both Hamas and Israeli forces that summer, Clinton condemned what she referred to as “this enormous international reaction against Israel, and Israel’s right to defend itself, and the way Israel has to defend itself. This reaction is uncalled for and unfair.’”

Such a callous attitude towards civilian deaths is not new or restricted to territories controlled by Hamas. In 2002, during an Israeli military offensive in the West Bank, Amnesty International reported:

“The IDF acted as though the main aim was to punish all Palestinians. Actions were taken by the IDF which had no clear or obvious military necessity; many of these, such as unlawful killings, destruction of property and arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, violated international human rights and humanitarian law.”

In response, Sen. Clinton introduced a resolution in the Senate saying the IDF’s actions were “necessary steps to provide security to [Israel’s] people by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas.”

During the 2006 Israeli military offensive in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch criticized the “systematic failure by the IDF to distinguish between combatants and civilians,” noting how “in dozens of attacks, Israeli forces struck an area with no apparent military target. In some cases, the timing and intensity of the attack, the absence of a military target, as well as return strikes on rescuers, suggest that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians.”

Again, Clinton co-sponsored a Senate resolution unconditionally defending Israel’s conduct during the 35-day conflict, which resulted in the deaths of more than 800 Lebanese civilians. Though Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel did not commence until after Israel began its bombing campaign, Clinton responded to those expressing concerns about civilian casualties by saying, “If extremist terrorists were launching rocket attacks across the Mexican or Canadian border, would we stand by or would we defend America against these attacks from extremists?”

In attempting to justify such illegal conduct, Clinton is not just trying to appear to be “pro-Israel.” Israelis themselves, through such organizations as the human rights groups B’Tselem and the veterans group Breaking the Silence, have also been highly critical of the IDF’s attacks on non-combatants.

Clinton’s posture may be more of a reflection of her lack of respect for international humanitarian law, her apparent belief that attacking civilian-populated areas is legitimate self-defense if done in the name of fighting terrorism, and a perceived need to discredit those who say otherwise. And, since she has frequently linked Israeli and American fights against terrorism, she may be laying the groundwork as president to use the same tactics.

Having called for an escalated U.S. military response to ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Clinton as President might use a similar rationale to order massive U.S. air strikes on Mosul, Raqaa, and other Islamic State-controlled cities, regardless of civilian casualties.

That prospect is far more worrisome than a divisive platform fight over Israel at the Democratic convention in July.

Republican Candidates Defend Killing Civilians to Fight Terrorism—and So Do Democrats

There has been a lot of consternation expressed in the media at a series of statements by Republican presidential candidates during their most recent debate and elsewhere in which a number of them appeared to be advocating the large-scale killing of civilians through aerial bombardment as a legitimate means of defeating the so-called “Islamic State.” (ISIS or IS)

These statements did not simply rationalize military operations that result in large numbers of civilian deaths, which politicians in both parties have supported for decades, but actually advocate the killing of civilians as a legitimate tactic in counter-terrorism warfare.

Let’s put aside for a moment the irony of killing innocent people as a means of fighting a terrorist group that kills innocent people and the fact that it would result in blowback that would almost certainly increase the threat of terrorist attacks against the United States. Such operations would constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other principles of international law to which the United States, like all governments and armed groups, is legally bound.

Yet the three leading Republican candidates for president are not bothered about that. Donald Trump has called on killing families of terrorist suspects. Ted Cruz has called on “carpet bombing” Syrian cities controlled by IS and see if “sand can glow in the dark.” When moderator Hugh Hewitt asked Ben Carson, “So you are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians?” he responded, “You got it. You got it.”

Governor Jeb Bush, a supposedly moderate voice in the debate, underscored Republican hostility to international humanitarian law in his criticism of the Obama administration’s failure to take more aggressive action in civilian-populated areas, saying they should “get the lawyers off the backs of the fighting forces.”

Although more liberal commentators have expressed appropriate outrage at such remarks, they have failed to note that, for a number of years now, prominent Democrats have also been advocating these very dangerous ideas as well, with Democratic leaders also defending the large-scale killing of civilians in the name of “fighting terrorism.”

Et Tu, Hillary?

Among the most outspoken Democrats who have defended the killing of civilians in areas controlled by terrorist groups, exonerated those responsible for specific war crimes, and advocated the effective rewriting of international humanitarian law to legitimize the killing of civilians has been former senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

For example, in response to concerns raised by Israeli and international human rights groups about the nearly 1,500 civilians killed by Israeli forces during the 2014 war on the Gaza Strip, Hillary Clinton insisted, “I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to Hamas rockets.” When pressed further about civilian casualties, she replied, “Israel has a right to defend itself,” implying that she believed that attacks on civilians somehow constituted legitimate self-defense.

When Israeli forces attacked a UN school housing refugees in the Gaza Strip in July 2014, killing dozens of civilians, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) condemned it and the U.S. State Department issued a statement saying that it was “appalled” by the “disgraceful” shelling. By contrast, Hillary Clinton—when asked about the attack during an interview with The Atlantic—refused to criticize the massacre, saying, “[I]t’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war.” Though investigators found no evidence of Hamas equipment or military activity anywhere near the school, Clinton falsely alleged that Hamas was firing rockets from an annex to the school.

More tellingly, she appeared to argue that since Hamas had been firing rockets into civilian-populated areas of Israel, the Israeli government was not legally or morally culpable for their killing of Palestinian civilians, claiming that “the ultimate responsibility” for the deaths at the school “has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.”

In reality, however wrong Hamas has been in firing rockets into Israel, such actions simply do not absolve Israel of its responsibility under international humanitarian law for the far greater civilian deaths its armed forces have inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza. Indeed, it has long been a principle of Western jurisprudence that someone who is the proximate cause of a crime cannot claim innocence simply because of the influence of another party. For example, if someone starts a bar fight and a person ends up shooting him and a group of innocent bystanders, the shooter cannot claim innocence because the other guy initiated the conflict.

Yet the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination has repeatedly defended Israeli military campaigns that have resulted in the deaths of more 4000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians during the past fifteen years in the name of “self-defense” against “terrorism,” criticizing findings by human rights monitors, international jurists, and investigative journalists—as well as by Israeli veterans’ and human rights organizations–demonstrating otherwise as being “flawed” and “biased.”

Redefining International Humanitarian Law

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, there has been a bipartisan effort to redefine international humanitarian law to justify the large-scale killing of civilians. For example, recent years have seen a series of resolutions passed by lopsided bipartisan majorities defending Israel’s attacks on civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Lebanon that have attempted to exonerate the U.S.-backed Israeli armed forces for the thousands of civilian casualties—which have greatly outnumbered military casualties—by claiming that the Arab militia groups were using “human shields.”

International humanitarian law defines “human shields” as the deliberate use of civilians to deter attacks on one’s troops or military objects. Investigations by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the U.S. Army War College, and others have failed to find a single documented case of any civilian deaths caused by Hamas, Hezbollah, or other Arab militant groups using human shields while fighting Israeli forces. These investigations have documented other war crimes by these groups, including not taking all necessary steps it should to prevent civilian casualties when it positions fighters and armaments too close to concentrations of civilians. However, this is not the same thing as deliberately using civilians as shields.

As a result, a 2009 resolution drawn up by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi attempted to exonerate Israel for the hundreds of civilian deaths inflicted by its armed forces by redefining what constitutes human shields. The resolution called on the international community “to condemn Hamas for deliberately embedding its fighters, leaders and weapons in private homes, schools, mosques, hospitals and otherwise using Palestinian civilians as human shields.”

However, the fact that a Hamas leader lives in his own private home, attends a neighborhood mosque, and seeks admittance to a local hospital does not constitute “embedding” them for the purpose of “using Palestinians as human shields.” Indeed, the vast majority of leaders of most governments and political parties live in private homes in civilian neighborhoods, go to local houses of worship, and check into hospitals when sick or injured, along with ordinary civilians. Furthermore, given that the armed wing of Hamas is a militia rather than a standing army, virtually all of its fighters live in private homes and go to neighborhood mosques and local hospitals.

In short, this resolution—passed by an overwhelming 390-5 vote—puts both political parties on record advancing a radical and dangerous reinterpretation of international humanitarian law that would allow virtually any country with superior air power or long-range artillery to get away with war crimes. In the eyes of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the IS-controlled city of Raqqa, or other urban areas controlled by recognized terrorist organizations should be considered a free-fire zone.

What neither Republican nor Democratic leaders have acknowledged, however, is that even if a terrorist group was using human shields in the narrower legal definition of the term, it still does not absolve armed forces from their obligation to avoid civilian casualties. Protocol I of the Fourth Geneva Convention makes clear that even if one side is shielding itself behind civilians, such a violation “shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians.”

For example, if a botched bank robbery resulted in the robbers holding bank personnel and customers hostage and firing at police from inside the building, it still would not be legitimate for a SWAT team to kill the hostages as well because they were being used as “human shields.”

These efforts by Hillary Clinton and congressional leaders to both broaden the definition of human shields and legitimize the killing of civilians as a response is quite troubling, especially at a time of the growing militarization of police here in the United States and the increasing concerns over their use of excessive force against unarmed civilians. It also serves as a troubling reminder that comments like those heard in the Republican debate and elsewhere are becoming more acceptable among political leaders of both parties.

Indeed, a House-passed resolution in July 2014 absolving Israel for responsibility for the large-scale civilian causalities inflicted by its armed forces in the Gaza Strip, due to the alleged use of human shields by Hamas, also declared (correctly in these cases) that “Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other foreign terrorist organizations typically use innocent civilians as human shields.” The inclusion of that clause in a resolution defending the killing of civilians under such circumstances appears to have been designed to pave the way for just the kind of military onslaught on civilian areas of Syria and Iraq that the Republican candidates have in mind.

The Legacy of 9/11 and the War on Intellectuals

Ten years after 9/11, for the first time, a plurality of Americans recognizes that US policy in the Middle East played a major role in the attacks. It was not, as George W. Bush famously put it, simply because, “They hate our freedom.”

As a Middle East specialist, I engaged in scores of interviews and wrote a number of widely circulated articles in the days, weeks and months following the terrorist strikes arguing this very point.

Both out of respect for those killed and their loved ones as well as my own deep-seated feelings of anger and horror, I did not mince words regarding the perpetrators of the attacks and their supporters. I even supported the right of the United States and its allies to engage in (a limited and targeted) military response to the very real threat posed by al-Qaeda. However, I also thought that it was critical to examine what may have motivated the horrific attacks, which I found important not only in preventing future terrorism, but also to avoid policies that could further exacerbate the threat. Indeed, I barely allowed myself to grieve over the horror of 9/11 due to my fear – which ended up being tragically prescient – of the far greater terror my government would unleash on the Middle East.

My argument was that the more the United States has militarized the region, the less secure the American people had become. I noted how all the sophisticated weaponry, brave fighting men and women, and brilliant military leadership the United States possessed would do little good if there were hundreds of millions of people in the Middle East and beyond who hated us. Even though only a small percentage of the population supports Osama bin Laden’s methods, I argued, there would still be enough people to maintain dangerous terrorist networks as long as his grievances resonated with large numbers of people.

I went on to explain how, as most Muslims recognized, bin Laden was not an authority on Islam. He was, however, a businessman by training, who – like any shrewd businessman – knew how to take a popular fear or desire and use it to sell a product: in this case, anti-American terrorism. The grievances expressed in his manifestos – the ongoing US military presence in the Gulf, the humanitarian consequences of the US-led sanctions against Iraq, US support for the Israeli government and US backing of autocratic Arab regimes – had widespread appeal in that part of the world. I quoted British novelist John le Carre’s observation that, “What America longs for at this moment, even more that retribution, is more friends and fewer enemies.”

I reiterated how there was nothing karmic about the events of 9/11, but that history had demonstrated how the United States did not become a target for terrorists because of its values, as President Bush and others claimed, but because it had strayed from its values of freedom, democracy and rule of law in implementing its policies in the Middle East. Furthermore, I argued that a policy based more on the promotion of human rights, international law, and sustainable development, and less on arms transfers, air strikes, punitive sanctions, and support for occupation armies and dictatorial governments, would make Americans a lot safer.

I repeatedly emphasized that, whatever the failings of a government in its foreign policy, no country deserves to experience such a large-scale loss of innocent lives as the United States experienced on 9/11. Yet, I also stressed that the hope of stopping extremists who might resort to such heinous acts in the future rested in part on the willingness of Americans to recognize what gave rise to what veteran journalist Robert Fisk described as “the wickedness and awesome cruelty of a crushed and humiliated people.” To raise these uncomfortable questions about US foreign policy was difficult for many Americans, particularly in the aftermath of the attacks. Indeed, many were afraid to ask the right questions because they feared the answers. Still, I was convinced that it could not have been more important or timely.

Raising such questions was not popular, however. Detectives investigating a crime trying to establish a motive are generally not accused of defending the criminals. Fire inspectors inspecting the ruins of a building for the cause of the blaze are not accused of defending its destruction. Yet I found myself, along with scores of other Middle Eastern scholars, being attacked for supposedly defending terrorism.

Within a few months, I found my dossier – along with seven other professors specializing in the Middle East – compiled by Campus Watch, a project of the right-wing Middle East Forum, led by the Islamaphobic intellectual and occasional Bush administration adviser Daniel Pipes. The list of “anti-American” professors who had the audacity to raise concerns over certain US policies also included some of the top scholars in the field, including John Esposito at Georgetown, Joel Beinin at Stanford, Ian Lustick at the University of Pennsylvania, Rashid Khalidi of the University of Chicago and the late Edward Said at Columbia.

Rarely able to respond effectively to specific arguments by scholars of the Middle East regarding the negative political, strategic, economic, legal and moral ramifications of US policy in the region, supporters of US policy in the region resorted to misrepresenting our arguments to make them appear extreme, naive, cynical or simply foolish.

For example, my Campus Watch dossier included the following:

Prof. Stephen Zunes of the University of San Francisco believes that the US – a “superpower (that) puts far more emphasis on weapons shipments and air strikes than on international law” – is almost entirely to blame for Sept. 11.

The phrase “is almost entirely to blame for Sept. 11” was not in quotation marks because I never said that. The complete quote – which I had written in an op-ed column for the Baltimore Sun the day after the attacks – referred to the well-documented link between militarization and terrorism, arguing that:

It is no coincidence that terrorist groups have arisen in an area where the world’s one remaining superpower puts far more emphasis on weapons shipments and air strikes than on international law or human rights.

Various manifestations of this Campus Watch claim that I had said that 9/11 was “our fault” soon made its way to Fox News, MSNBC, radio talk shows throughout the nation and even into my short biographical entry in Wikipedia.

Soon thereafter, a number of my speaking invitations were rescinded. For example, I received a last-minute cancellation of my scheduled presentation on international law at the Arizona Bar Association’s annual convention, which had been scheduled six months earlier, following the director and his board of governors being told I was “anti-American.” Even though none of them bothered to read my prepared remarks, they banned me from speaking on the grounds that their rules forbid presentations that were “ideological in nature.”

Attacks against intellectuals who raised questions about the relationship between US policy and the rise of Islamist extremism went beyond simply misrepresenting our views, but portraying such scholars as having a radically different mindset, a radically different worldview or a radically different lifestyle than ordinary Americans. As a result, they could portray our analysis as being the result of a calculated ideological agenda or the distorted perspective emanating from a perverse subculture. Not surprisingly, virtually all the assumptions about me in the angry emails appearing in my Inbox – which inevitably followed an appearance on a talk show or the publication of an op-ed column – are false.

For example, for opposing the Bush administration’s response to 9/11, I was accused of: being a partisan Democrat (I am not a registered Democrat; I never voted for Clinton; and I was an outspoken opponent of Clinton’s foreign policy); being on the public payroll (I work at a private Catholic college and have never received a paycheck from any government entity); having the views I do because I’m from San Francisco (I was born and raised in North Carolina as the son of a small-town minister); never having done any “real work” (I spent most of my twenties in a series of low-paying blue collar jobs); being Muslim, Jewish, atheist, Arab, Communist, Nazi or gay (none of the above); and that I sip lattes (I prefer my coffee black).

Another strategy against professors critical of Bush’s “war on terror” was to raise the concerns of parents over the kind of education their children were receiving in the hopes of getting nervous admissions officers and other administrators to silence us. One tactic used was to convince the public that what a professor might write in an op-ed column or say in a public debate on the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 was identical to what the professor was “telling his students.” Not only did this issue only rarely came up in the scores of lectures I give every semester, the approach a professor takes to such a topic in a classroom is very different in both style and substance to what he or she may take as a citizen activist or political analyst. As editorial writers or media pundits, we are expected to put forward our personal opinions in a forceful manner. As a classroom teacher, by contrast, we are expected to present a broad and comprehensive scholarly overview of the subject matter appropriate for the level of the students, and to present various contending interpretations of the issues at hand. I know of very few professors of any ideological persuasion who fail to recognize that distinction.

This did not stop right-wing commentators from conflating these two distinct roles in an attempt to goad university administrators into attempting to rid their campuses of professors who expressed concerns about US policy, even if it was limited to forums outside of the classroom. For example, in a nationally broadcast talk show on Fox News, host Sean Hannity claimed that Campus Watch was doing “American parents a favor” by citing “the extreme left-wing agenda like Mr. Zunes” so that parents, “when they’re making decisions about whether or not to send their kids to Mr. Zunes’ college like the University of San Francisco, they’ll have at least some knowledge of where these people that will be educating their children are coming from.”

Being tenured at a university with applications for admission steadily growing every year, I was not worried about the USF administration’s response when the phone calls and emails from worried parents and alumni began pouring in in response to Hannity’s statement. No doubt Middle Eastern scholars in a less secure situation, however, had to think twice about publicly raising questions about US policy in the region.

Perhaps more disturbingly, the attacks on Middle Eastern scholars were not limited to individuals who raised concerns over the Bush administration’s policies, but the entire field of study. For example, Martin Kramer of the right-wing Washington Institute for Near East Policy argued in his book, “Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America,” that, “The field is pervaded by hostility to American aims, interests, and power in the Middle East, and peopled by tenured radicals.”

Regional specialists, given our unique understanding of parts of the world which few policymakers know firsthand, can play an invaluable role in the foreign policy sphere. Middle East scholars from across the ideological spectrum were almost uniformly opposed to a US invasion of Iraq and other Bush administration policies post-9/11 because we had a good sense of the tragic consequences that would likely result. And yet, like Southeast Asia scholars 40 years earlier, who forewarned the tragedy that would unfold by a US war in Vietnam, we were ridiculed and ignored and found our loyalty to our country questioned.

The United States, like other great powers, has made many tragic mistakes in its foreign policy, but never have the stakes been higher. Whatever crimes our government has committed in the past in Central America or Southeast Asia, no Nicaraguans or Vietnamese ever flew airplanes into buildings. By attacking the credibility of Middle East specialists who understand the dangerous ramifications of US policy, it is the right – not the left – which is endangering our national security.

Indeed, my decision to become a more public intellectual following the 9/11 tragedy was motivated by my understanding of how US policy in the Middle East was putting all of us in danger, and by my desire to do my part to make America safer.

In the months leading up to the October 2002 vote authorizing the invasion of Iraq, I provided extensive material to a number of Congressional offices of prominent Democrats raising serious questions regarding the administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein had somehow reconstituted his “weapons of mass destruction” and offensive delivery systems, or that he had operational ties to al-Qaeda. I also provided these offices and committee staff with what later proved to be rather prescient predictions of the disaster that would result from a US invasion and occupation. I later learned that a number of these offices failed to take my arguments seriously and successfully resisted requests that I be allowed to testify before relevant Congressional committees because they had heard I was “extreme” and “far left” in my views.

Attacks against scholars raising critical concerns in the post-9/11 era did not cause most of us to lose our jobs or stop us from speaking out. However, it did cause political leaders, journalists and millions of ordinary citizens to not trust some of the country’s most critical intellectual resources in formulating policies in the subsequent decade. As the wars continue in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond, and as anti-Americanism in the Middle East reaches an all-time high, the consequences of these efforts are tragically clear.

The Killing of Bin Laden and the Threat of Al Qaeda

The killing of Al-Qaeda founder and leader Osama bin Laden is not likely to have a profound impact one way or the other in the struggle against the terrorist organization and its allied groupings. On the one hand, Al-Qaeda may face a potential leadership void and internal divisions. On the other hand, the organization has decentralized in the ten years since the United States and allied forces drove them from their sanctuaries in Afghanistan and terrorist cells operate independently from bin Laden’s leadership and a whole new generation of terrorists subscribing to the apocalyptic and genocidal ideology has sprung up as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The good news, however, is that Al-Qaeda and like-minded groups have been seriously weakened in recent months. Indeed, far more significant than bin Laden’s death has been the nonviolent pro-democracy insurrections that have been sweeping the Arab world in that they are empowering civil society, instilling hope, and creating models of governance that are much less likely to breed terrorists.

Bin Laden always insisted that only through subscribing to his apocalyptic reactionary ideology and genocidal methods could Muslim peoples overthrow oppressive and corrupt U.S.-backed Arab dictatorships. Indeed, his first attack against U.S. interests was a residential compound of U.S. soldiers training the repressive Saudi internal security forces back in 1995. However, bin Laden and his followers never came close to overthrowing any Arab regime. Most Arabs found his methods not only morally reprehensible, but recognized how he gave dictatorial governments an excuse to crack down even harder against all dissent. Instead, millions of Middle Easterners are recognizing — as did Filipinos, Poles, Chileans, Serbs and others before them — that strategic nonviolent action is far more powerful and effective. The masses calling for freedom, liberty, and social justice directly counter bin Laden’s medieval visions of a theocratic dictatorship to which very few Muslims aspire.

While the sense of triumphalism and celebration of bin Laden’s death is inappropriate, in many respects, the Obama administration handled the situation well. Any killing of a prominent leader by hostile forces could conceivably cause a backlash — and, ideally, it would have been better had he been captured and tried in an international tribunal — but the circumstances of his death will hopefully minimize any anti-American reaction.

Bin Laden was killed as part of a firefight as commandos assaulted his compound, not as a result of assassination by an anonymous drone launched in a control center thousands of miles away. Despite formal denials by both sides, there was clearly some cooperation with Pakistani authorities, so it was not a unilateral American operation. It appears that there were no civilian casualties. Bin Laden was buried in accordance with Muslim ritual, rather than having his body unceremoniously displayed in a propaganda show.

How this contrasts with the policies of Bush administration: If there was any logic to the madness of 9/11, it was the hope that the United States would overreact and launch massive ground invasions of Middle Eastern countries, like the Soviets did in Afghanistan a generation later. Bin Laden knew that the inevitable large-scale killings of civilians and blatant neo-imperialist agenda inherent in such ill-fated efforts would radicalize a whole new generation of extremists to bin Laden’s cult-like heresy in the name of Islam. Bush fell right into his trap, naively believing that a decentralized network of underground terrorist cells could be destroyed through high-altitude bombing, and sending U.S. forces into fighting bloody counter-insurgency wars in Islamic countries with a long tradition of resistance to foreign invaders.

To Obama’s credit, he recognized the folly of invading Iraq, correctly noting that unilaterally taking over a country that was no threat to us and had absolutely no operational ties to Al-Qaeda would be a major distraction from the fight against an organization that really was a threat. Ironically, however, most of his key appointments to relevant positions in his administrations were supporters of the illegal and unnecessary war: Joe Biden as vice president; Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State; Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense; Janet Napolitano as Secretary for Homeland Security; Richard Holbrooke as special advisor for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Dennis Ross as special advisor for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia; among others. His willingness to appoint people who clearly had difficulty distinguishing real threats from phantom threats raised serious questions regarding whether he really took the threat from Al-Qaeda seriously.

However, the final demise of Osama bin Laden appears to have come not through the indiscriminate use of force against entire nations, but through a well-planned precisely-targeted paramilitary operation based upon solid intelligence painstakingly gathered over many months.

Similarly, improved intelligence and interdiction, combined with breaking up the financial networks that supplied Al-Qaeda operatives, have done far more the prevent another 9/11-type attack than military operations.

Ultimately, the way to stop the threat of the kind of mega-terrorism that came to America’s shores nearly ten years ago is not simply through killing terrorists but in ending policies that help create them. As most Muslims long recognized, bin Laden was never an authority on Islam. He was, however, a businessman by training who — like any shrewd businessman — knew how to take a popular fear or desire and use it to sell a product: in this case, anti-American terrorism. The grievances expressed in his manifestos — the ongoing U.S. military presence in the Middle East, the humanitarian consequences of the U.S. policy in Iraq, U.S. support for the Israeli government, and U.S. backing of autocratic Arab regimes — have widespread appeal in that part of the world. Even if only a tiny percentage of Muslims accept bin Laden’s ideology and tactics, it will be enough to replenish the ranks of Al-Qaeda and like-minded groups as long as the United States continues to pursue such misguided policies.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/bin-laden-may-be-dead-but_b_857108.html

60 Second Expert: The U.S. in Yemen

Much attention has recently been focused on the poverty-stricken country of Yemen. The planning of the Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight by al-Qaeda members in Yemen and other incidents have revealed that al-Qaeda cells in Yemen represents a genuine threat. However, if the U.S. yet seeks a military solution to a complex political, social and economic situation, however, it could prove disastrous to both Yemen and U.S. security interests.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. Forty percent of Yemenis are unemployed and live on a per capita income of $600 per year. As a result, though there is much need for sustainable economic development in the country, most U.S. aid has been military particularly since the growing prominence of al-Qaeda in the country.

As Washington contemplates whether or not to increase its military role in Yemen, it must keep in mind that Yemen is one of the most complex societies in the world with considerable tribal divisions and political rivalries, including two other major insurgencies unrelated to al-Qaeda. Thus, sending U.S. forces or increasing the number of U.S. drone strikes carries serious risks. Such actions could result in the expansion of armed resistance, and the strengthening of Islamist militants and anti-American sentiment.

Any military action against al-Qaeda and Islamists should be Yemeni-led. Washington should also press Yemen’s increasingly autocratic government to become more democratic and less corrupt. There should also be a significant increase in development aid for the poorest rural communities that have essentially served as havens for radical Islamists and the growth of al -Qaeda’s presence in Yemen.

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

Yemen: The Latest U.S. Battleground

The United States may be on the verge of involvement in yet another counterinsurgency war which, as is the case in Iraq and Afghanistan, may make a bad situation even worse. The attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight by a Nigerian man was apparently planned in Yemen. There were alleged ties between the perpetrator of the Ft. Hood massacre and a radical Yemeni cleric, and an ongoing U.S.-backed Yemeni military offensive against al-Qaeda have all focused U.S. attention on that country.

Yemen has almost as large a population as Saudi Arabia, but differently lacks much in the way of natural resources. What little oil the country has is rapidly being depleted. Indeed, Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per-capita income of less than $600 per year. More than 40 percent of the population is unemployed and the economic situation is increasingly deteriorating for most Yemenis as a result of a U.S.-backed structural adjustment program imposed by the International Monetary Fund.

The county is desperate for assistance in sustainable economic development. The vast majority of U.S. aid delivered to the country, however, has been in the form of military assets. The limited economic assistance made available has been of dubious effectiveness and has largely gone through corrupt government channels.

Al-Qaeda’s Rise

The United States has long been concerned about the presence of al-Qaeda operatives within Yemen’s porous borders, particularly since the recent unification of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of the terrorist network. Thousands of Yemenis participated in the U.S.-supported anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan during the 1980s, becoming radicalized by the experience and developing links with Osama bin Laden, a Saudi whose father comes from a Yemeni family. Various tribal loyalties to bin Laden’s family have led to some support within Yemen for the exiled al-Qaeda leader, even among those who do not necessarily support his reactionary interpretation of Islam or his terrorist tactics. Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have served as migrant laborers in neighboring Saudi Arabia. There, exposure to the hardline Wahhabi interpretation of Islam dominant in that country combined with widespread repression and discrimination has led to further radicalization.

In October 2000, al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the U.S. Navy ship Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 American sailors. This led to increased cooperation between U.S. and Yemeni military and intelligence, including a series of U.S. missile attacks against suspected al-Qaeda operatives.

Currently, hardcore al-Qaeda terrorists in Yemen — many of whom are foreigners — probably number no more than 200. But they are joined by roughly 2,000 battle-hardened Yemeni militants who have served time in Iraq fighting U.S. occupation forces. The swelling of al-Qaeda’s ranks by veterans of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Iraqi insurgency has led to the rise of a substantially larger and more extreme generation of fighters, who have ended the uneasy truce between Islamic militants and the Yemeni government.

Opponents of the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq correctly predicted that the inevitable insurgency would create a new generation of radical jihadists, comparable to the one that emerged following the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the Bush administration and its congressional supporters — including then-senators Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton — believed that a U.S. takeover of Iraq was more important than avoiding the risk of creating of a hotbed of anti-American terrorism. Ironically, President Obama is relying on Biden and Clinton — as well as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, another supporter of the U.S. invasion and occupation — to help us get out of this mess they helped create.

Not a Failed State

Yemen is one of the most complex societies in the world, and any kind of overreaction by the United States — particularly one that includes a strong military component — could be disastrous. Bringing in U.S. forces or increasing the number of U.S. missile strikes would likely strengthen the size and radicalization of extremist elements. Instead of recognizing the strong and longstanding Yemeni tradition of respecting tribal autonomy, U.S. officials appear to be misinterpreting this lack of central government control as evidence of a “failed state.” The U.S. approach has been to impose central control by force, through a large-scale counterinsurgency strategy.

Such a military response could result in an ever-wider insurgency, however. Indeed, such overreach by the government is what largely prompted the Houthi rebellion in the northern part of the country, led by adherents of the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam. The United States has backed a brutal crackdown by Yemeni and Saudi forces in the Houthi region, largely accepting exaggerated claims of Iranian support for the rebellion. There is also a renewal of secessionist activity in the formerly independent south. These twin threats are largely responsible for the delay in the Yemeni government’s response to the growing al-Qaeda presence in their country.

With the United States threatening more direct military intervention in Yemen to root out al-Qaeda, the Yemeni government’s crackdown may be less a matter of hoping for something in return for its cooperation than a fear of what may happen if it does not. The Yemeni government is in a difficult bind, however. If it doesn’t break up the terrorist cells, the likely U.S. military intervention would probably result in a greatly expanded armed resistance. If the government casts too wide a net, however, it risks tribal rebellion and other civil unrest for what will be seen as unjustifiable repression at the behest of a Western power. Either way, it would likely increase support for extremist elements, which both the U.S. and Yemeni governments want destroyed.

For this reason, most Western experts on Yemen agree that increased U.S. intervention carries serious risks. This would not only result in a widespread armed backlash within Yemen. Such military intervention by the United States in yet another Islamic country in the name of “anti-terrorism” would likely strengthen Islamist militants elsewhere as well.

Cold War Pawn

As with previous U.S. military interventions, most Americans have little understanding of the targeted country or its history.

Yemen was divided for most of the 20th century. South Yemen, which received its independence from Great Britain in 1967 after years of armed anti-colonial resistance, resulted from a merger between the British colony of Aden and the British protectorate of South Arabia. Declaring itself the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, it became the Arab world’s only Marxist-Leninist state and developed close ties with the Soviet Union. As many as 300,000 South Yemenis fled to the north in the years following independence.

North Yemen, independent since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, became embroiled in a bloody civil war during the 1960s between Saudi-backed royalist forces and Egyptian-backed republican forces. The republican forces eventually triumphed, though political instability, military coups, assassinations, and periodic armed uprisings continued.

In both countries, ancient tribal and modern ideological divisions have made control of these disparate armed forces virtually impossible. Major segments of the national armies would periodically disintegrate, with soldiers bringing their weapons home with them. Lawlessness and chaos have been common for decades, with tribes regularly shifting loyalties in both their internal feuds and their alliances with their governments. Many tribes have been in a permanent state of war for years, and almost every male adolescent and adult routinely carries a rifle.

In 1979, in one of the more absurd episodes of the Cold War, a minor upsurge in fighting along the former border led to a major U.S. military mobilization in response to what the Carter administration called a Soviet-sponsored act of international aggression. In March of that year, South Yemeni forces, in support of some North Yemeni guerrillas, shelled some North Yemeni government positions. In response, Carter ordered the aircraft carrier Constellation and a flotilla of warships to the Arabian Sea as a show of force. Bypassing congressional approval, the administration rushed nearly $499 million worth of modern weaponry to North Yemen, including 64 M-60 tanks, 70 armored personnel carriers, and 12 F-5E aircraft. Included were an estimated 400 American advisers and 80 Taiwanese pilots for the sophisticated warplanes that no Yemeni knew how to fly.

This gross overreaction to a local conflict led to widespread international criticism. Indeed, the Soviets were apparently unaware of the border clashes and the fighting died down within a couple of weeks. Development groups were particularly critical of this U.S. attempt to send such expensive high-tech weaponry to a country with some of the highest rates of infant mortality, chronic disease, and illiteracy in the world.

The communist regime in South Yemen collapsed in the 1980s, when rival factions of the Politburo and Central Committee killed each other and their supporters by the thousands. With the southern leadership decimated, the two countries merged in May 1990. The newly united country’s democratic constitution gave Yemen one of the most genuinely representative governments in the region.

Later in 1990, when serving as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Yemen voted against the U.S.-led effort to authorize the use of force against Iraq to drive its occupation forces from Kuwait. A U.S. representative was overheard declaring to the Yemeni ambassador, “That was the most expensive ‘no’ vote you ever cast.” The United States immediately withdrew $70 million in foreign aid to Yemen while dramatically increasing aid to neighboring dictatorships that supported the U.S.-led war effort. Over the next several years, apparently upset with the dangerous precedent of a democratic Arab neighbor, the U.S.-backed regime in Saudi Arabia engaged in a series of attacks against Yemen along its disputed border.

Renewed Violence and Repression

In 1994, ideological and regional clan-based rivalries led to a brief civil war, with the south temporarily seceding and the government mobilizing some of the jihadist veterans of the Afghan war to fight the leftist rebellion.

After crushing the southern secessionists, the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh became increasingly authoritarian. U.S. support resumed and aid increased. Unlike most U.S. allies in the region, direct elections for the president and parliament have continued, but they have hardly been free or fair. Saleh officially received an unlikely 94 percent of the vote in the 1999 election. And in the most recently election, in 2006, government and police were openly pushing for Saleh’s re-election amid widespread allegations of voter intimidation, ballot-rigging, vote-buying, and registration fraud. Just two days before the vote, Saleh announced the arrest on “terrorism” charges a campaign official of his leading opponent. Since that time, human rights abuses and political repression — including unprecedented attacks on independent media — have increased dramatically.

Obama was elected president as the candidate who promised change, including a shift away from the foreign policy that had led to such disastrous policies in Iraq and elsewhere. In Yemen, his administration appears to be pursuing the same short-sighted tactics as its predecessors: support of a repressive and autocratic regime, pursuit of military solutions to complex social and political conflicts, and reliance on failed counterinsurgency doctrines.

Al-Qaeda in Yemen represents a genuine threat. However, any military action should be Yemeni-led and targeted only at the most dangerous terrorist cells. We must also press the Yemeni government to become more democratic and less corrupt, in order to gain the support needed to suppress dangerous armed elements. In the long term, the United States should significantly increase desperately needed development aid for the poorest rural communities that have served as havens for radical Islamists. Such a strategy would be far more effective than drone attacks, arms transfers, and counterinsurgency.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/yemen-the-latest-us-battl_b_416314.html

The U.S. and Afghan Tragedy

One of the first difficult foreign policy decisions of the Obama administration will be what the United States should do about Afghanistan. Escalating the war, as National Security Advisor Jim Jones has been encouraging, will likely make matters worse. At the same time, simply abandoning the country — as the United States did after the overthrow of Afghanistan’s Communist government soon after the Soviet withdrawal 20 years ago — would lead to another set of serious problems.

In making what administration officials themselves have acknowledged will be profoundly difficult choices, it will be important to understand how Afghanistan — and, by extension, the United States — has found itself in this difficult situation of a weak and corrupt central government, a resurgent Taliban, and increasing violence and chaos in the countryside.

Many Americans are profoundly ignorant of history, even regarding distant countries where the United States finds itself at war. One need not know much about Afghanistan’s rich and ancient history, however, to learn some important lessons regarding the tragic failures of U.S. policy toward that country during the past three decades.

The Soviet Union invaded in December 1979, after the Afghan people rose up against two successive communist regimes that seized power in violent coup d’états in 1978 and 1979. The devastating aerial bombing and counterinsurgency operations led to more than six million Afghans fleeing into exile, most of them settling into refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan. The United States, with the assistance of Pakistan’s Islamist military dictatorship, found their allies in some of the more hard-line resistance movements, at the expense of some very rational enlightened Afghans from different fields and aspect of life.

The United States sent more than $8 billion to Pakistani military dictator Zia al-Huq, who dramatically increased the size of the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) to help support Afghan mujahedeen in their battle against the Soviets and their puppet government. Their goal, according to the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was “to radicalize the influence of religious factions within Afghanistan.” The ISI helped channel this American money, and billions more from oil-rich American allies, from the Gulf region to extremists within the Afghan resistance movement.

Extremist Education

The Reagan administration sensed the most hard-line elements of the resistance were less likely to reach negotiated settlements, but the goal was to cripple the Soviet Union, not free the Afghan people. Recognizing the historically strong role of Islam in Afghan society, they tried to exploit it to advance U.S. policy goals. Religious studies along militaristic lines were given more importance than conventional education in the school system for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The number of religious schools (madrassas) educating Afghans rose from 2,500 in 1980 at the start of Afghan resistance to over 39,000. The United States encouraged the Saudis to recruit Wahhabist ideologues to come join the resistance and teach in refugee institutes.

While willing to contribute billions to the war effort, the United States was far less generous in providing refugees with funding for education and other basic needs, which was essentially outsourced to the Saudis and the ISI. Outside of some Western non-governmental organizations like the International Rescue Committee, secular education was all but unavailable for the millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. None of these projects could match the impact the generous funding for religious education and scholarships to Islamic schools in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. As a result, the only education that became available was religious indoctrination, primarily of the hard-line Wahhabi tradition. The generous funding of religious institutions during wartime made it the main attraction of free education, clothing, and boarding for poor refugee children. Out of these madrassas came the talibs (students), who later became the Taliban.

This was no accident. It seemed that such policies were intentionally initiated that way to drag young Afghans towards extremism and war, and to be well prepared not only to fight a war of liberation, but to fight the foes and rivals of foreigners at the expense of Afghan destruction and blood. And the indoctrination and resulting radicalization of Afghan youth that later formed the core of the Taliban wasn’t simply from outsourcing but was directly supported by the U.S. government as well, such as through textbooks issued by the U.S. Agency for International Development for refugee children between 1986 and 1992, which were designed to encourage such militancy.

Often mathematics and other basic subjects were sacrificed altogether in favor of full-time religious and indoctrination. Sardar Ghulam Nabi, an elementary school teacher in a Peshawar refugee camp, stated that he was discouraged by the school administration to teach Afghan history to Afghan refugee children, since most of the concentration and emphasis was placed on religious studies rather than other subjects.

This focus on a rigid religious indoctrination at the expense of other education is particularly ironic since, while the Afghans have tended to be devout and rather conservative Muslims, they hadn’t previously been inclined to embrace the kind of fanatic Wahhabi-influenced fundamentalism that dominated Islamic studies in the camps.

It seemed during the Afghan wars that no one cared and valued Afghan lives. Afghans became the subject of struggle between different rival and competing ideologies. The foreign backers of Afghanistan didn’t care about the impact and consequences of their policies for the future of Afghanistan. Milt Bearden, the former CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan during the Afghan-Soviet war, commented that “the United States was fighting the Soviets to the last Afghan.” According to Sonali Kolhatkar, in her book Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence (Seven Stories Press, 2006), some in the United States saw the Soviet invasion as a “gift.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, former President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, even claimed that the United States helped provoke the Soviet invasion by arming the mujahideen beforehand, noting how “we did not push the Russians to intervene but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.” Once they did, he wrote to Carter, “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.”

Professor Hassan Kakar, a renowned Afghan historian formerly of Kabul University now exiled in California after spending time in a Afghan prison during the communist era, notes in his book how the competition between the Afghan left and right had been previously confined to a verbal debate, comparable to those taking place in intellectual and other politicized circles in other developing countries during the late Cold War period. With the invasion of Soviet troops and the U.S. backing of the mujahideen, however, it took the shape of direct armed conflict. The conflict evolved into open confrontation backed by the two Cold War rivals and other regional powers. Afghanistan was split and divided into different ideological groups, resulting in bloodshed, killing, destruction, suffering, and hatred among Afghans.

A whole generation of Afghan children grew up knowing nothing of life but bombings that destroyed their homes, killed their loved ones, and drove them to seek refuge over the borders. As a result, they became easy prey to those willing to raise them to hate and to fight. These children, caught in the midst of competing extremist ideologies from all sides, learned to kill each other and destroy their country for the interests of others.

Most Afghans with clear vision and strategic insight were deliberately marginalized by outside supporters of the Afghan radicalization process. Members of the Afghan intelligentsia who maintained their Afghan character in face of foreign ideologies and were therefore difficult to manipulate were threatened, eliminated, and in some cases forced into exile. One was Professor Sayed Bahauddin Majrooh, a renowned Afghan writer, poet, and visionary. Another was Aziz-ur-Rahman Ulfat, the author of Political Games, a book that criticized the politics of the U.S.-backed Afghan resistance movements based in Pakistan. Both were among the many who were assassinated as part of the effort to silence voices of reason and logic.

The Hezb-e-Islami faction, a relatively small group among the resistance to the Soviets and their Afghan allies, received at least 80% of U.S. aid. According to Professor Barnett Rubin’s testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, the militia — led by the notorious Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — conducted a “reign of terror against insufficiently Islamic intellectuals” in the refugee camps of Pakistan. Despite all this, Rubin further noted how “both the ISI and CIA considered him a useful tool for shaping the future of Central Asia.”

Assassinations of Afghan intellectuals deprived Afghan refugees of enlightened visionaries who would have represented the balanced Afghan character of religious faith, cultural traditions, and modern education. What these early victims of extremist violence had in common was opposition to the radicalization and hijacking of the Afghan struggle for purposes other than Afghan self-determination. The Afghan resistance to the Soviets was a nationalist uprising that included intellectuals, students, farmers, bureaucrats, and shopkeepers as well as people from all the country’s diverse ethnic groups. Their purpose was the liberation of their country, not the subjugation and radicalization of their society by bloodthirsty fanatics. Some Afghan field commanders with clear conscience and strategic insight also took a different approach than radical Afghan leaders supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who — with U.S. acquiescence — sought to replace hard-line communist puppets with hard-line Islamist puppets.

Abdul Haq

Among these was the legendary Afghan resistance leader Abdul Haq (Full disclosure: Haq was the uncle of Khushal Arsala, one of this article’s co-authors). He realized that the Afghans’ legitimate struggle for their independence and self-determination was being intentionally dragged towards fanatical indoctrination for the interests of others. In a letter to The New York Times he wrote:

We started our struggle with the full support and determination of our people and will continue regardless of the wishes or commands of others. We don’t want to be an American or Soviet puppet…I would like you to be with us as a friend, not as somebody pulling the strings. The struggle of our nation is for the establishment of a system that assures human rights, social justice and peace. This system does not threaten any nation.

Haq openly criticized the United States and its allies’ support for extremists among the resistance through the Pakistani government, warning U.S. officials of the dire consequences of such support for the radicalization of Afghan society through the support for extremists. In a 1994 interview with the Times, he warned that terrorists from all over the world were finding shelter in his increasingly chaotic country and that Afghanistan “is turning into poison and not only for us but for all others in the world. Maybe one day the Americans will have to send hundreds of thousands of troops to deal with it.” Noting that Afghanistan had been a graveyard for both the British and Russians, he expressed concerns that soon American soldiers could be flying home in body bags due to Washington’s support for extremists during the Afghan-Soviet War during the 1980s and then abandoning the country following the Communist government’s overthrow in 1992.

Preference for Extremists

In a 2006 interview on the PBS documentary “The Return of the Taliban,” U.S. Special Envoy to the Afghan Resistance Peter Tomsen observed how the leadership of the Pakistani army

wanted to favor Gulbuddin Hekmatyar with seventy percent of the American weapons coming into the country, but the ISI and army leadership’s game plan was to put Hekmatyar top down in Kabul, even though he was viewed by the great majority of Afghans — it probably exceeded 90 percent — of being a Pakistani puppet, as unacceptable as the Soviet puppets that were sitting in Kabul during the communist period. However, that was what the [Pakistani] generals wanted to create: a strategic Islamic [ally] with a pro-Pakistani Afghan in charge in Kabul.

Hekmatyar was extremely useful to Pakistan not only because he was rabidly anticommunist, but also because — unlike most other mujahideen leaders less favored by Washington — he wasn’t an Afghan nationalist, and was willing to support the agenda of hard-line Pakistani military and intelligence leaders. Pakistan’s support for radical Muslim domination has been in part for keeping the long-running territorial dispute with Afghanistan over Pashtun areas suppressed. Islamist radicals like Hekmatyar, Burhanuddin Rabbani, and later the Taliban mullahs tended to de-emphasize state borders in favor of uniting with the Muslim Umma (community of believers) wherever it may be — in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kashmir, the Middle East, or Central Asia.

Many State Department officials were wary of U.S. support for Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly was quoted as saying that Hekmatyar “is a person who has vehemently attacked the United States on a number of issues…. I think he is a person with whom we do not need to have or should not have much trust.” However, even when the State Department — over CIA objections — succeeded in cutting back on U.S. support for Hezb-e-Islami, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia would then increase its aid and, with CIA assistance, recruited thousands of Arab volunteers to join the fight, including a young Saudi businessman named Osama bin Laden.

The renowned journalist Ahmed Rashid stated in his book the Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia that

CIA chief William Casey committed CIA support to a long-standing ISI initiative to recruit radical Muslims from around the world to come to Pakistan and fight with the Afghan Mujahideen. The ISI had encouraged this since 1982 and by now all the other players had their reasons for supporting the idea. President Zia aimed to cement Islamic unity, turn Pakistan into the leader of the Muslim world and foster an Islamic opposition in Central Asia. Washington wanted to demonstrate that the entire Muslim world was fighting the Soviets Union alongside the Afghans and their American benefactors. And the Saudis saw an opportunity both to promote Wahabbism and get rid of its disgruntled radicals…which would eventually turn their hatred against the Soviets on their own regimes and the Americans.

After having their country largely destroyed and its social fabric torn apart as pawns in a Cold War rivalry, the Soviets were finally forced out in 1989 and the communist regime was overthrown two years later.

While Hizb-e-Islami and other U.S. and Pakistani-backed groups weren’t truly representative of the Afghan people, they had become the best-armed as a result of their foreign support. Wanting power for themselves, they soon turned the capital city of Kabul into rubble as the remaining infrastructure surviving from the Soviet-Afghan war was destroyed by a senseless civil war.

Afghanistan became a failed state. In the three years following the fall of the Communist regime, at least 25,000 civilians were killed in Kabul by indiscriminate shelling by Hezb-e-Islami and other factions. There was no proper functioning government. Educational institutions, from elementary schools to university buildings, weren’t spared in the violence. Most of the teachers and students again joined refugees in the neighboring countries. The chaos and suffering created conditions such that when the Pakistani-backed Taliban emerged promising stability and order, they were welcomed in many parts of the country.

Once in power, the Taliban — made up of students from the same refugee religious institutions promoted and encouraged by the United States and its allies — shrouded Afghan society in the darkness of totalitarianism and illiteracy. They didn’t value modern scientific education. They barred girls from school. With the help of Arab recruits originally brought in with support of the United States to fight the Soviets, they destroyed Afghan cultural heritage and attempted to transform Afghanistan into a puritanical theocracy. Fanatics and criminals from all over the world found safe-haven in Afghanistan, thanks to the blunders made by U.S. policymakers who created, promoted, and encouraged fanaticism against the Soviet Union.

In October 2001, in an interview with Newsweek, Abdul Haq said:

Why are the Arabs here? The U.S. brought the Arabs to Pakistan and Afghanistan [during the Soviet war]. Washington gave them money, gave them training, and created 10 or 15 different fighting groups. The U.S. and Pakistan worked together. The minute the pro-Communist regime collapsed, the Americans walked away and didn’t even clean up their shit. They brought this problem to Afghanistan.

One week after this interview, Abdul Haq — an opponent of the 2001 U.S. intervention and one of the few Afghans capable of uniting his country under a nationalist banner — was captured by the Taliban and later executed. U.S. forces in the area ignored pleas for assistance to rescue him and his comrades while they were being pursued and in the period soon after their capture.

Afghans are still paying the price for the Taliban’s continued destruction in Afghanistan from their bases in Pakistan. Taliban remnants are killing and threatening school staff members and burning down educational facilities. Their heinous crimes mean that the young minds needed to drag the country out from current miserable situation are being deprived of their desperately needed education. And, despite strong evidence of ongoing support for the Taliban by elements of the ISI and the Pakistani military, the Bush administration continued to send billions of dollars worth of arms and other support for the Musharraf dictatorship in Pakistan.

Implications for Today

The consequences of U.S. policy towards Afghanistan through the 1980s and 1990s played a major role in the Taliban’s rise and al-Qaeda’s subsequent sanctuary. The September 11 attacks brought the United States directly into battle in Afghanistan for the first time, and U.S. troops are to this day fighting the forces of former Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami allies.

The United States has made many errors during the more than eight years of fighting, but one of most dangerous was repeating the tragic mistake of placing short-term alliances ahead of the Afghanistan’s long-term stability. During the 1980s, the United States was so focused on defeating the Soviets and the Afghan communists that an alliance was made with Islamist extremists, who ended up contributing to the country’s destruction. In this decade, the United States has been so focused on defeating the Taliban and al-Qaeda it’s made alliances with an assortment of drug lords, opium magnates, militia leaders, and other violent and corrupting elements which have contributed to the country’s devastation still further.

There’s no easy answer to Afghanistan’s ongoing tragic situation. Nor is the question of the most appropriate role the United States can now play after contributing so much to this tragedy.

What’s important, however, is recognizing that Afghanistan’s fate belongs to the people of Afghanistan. Indeed, any further efforts by the United States to play one faction off against the other for temporary political gain won’t only add to that country’s suffering but — as we became tragically aware on a September morning eight years ago — could some day bring the violence home to American shores.

http://www.fpif.org/reports/the_us_and_afghan_tragedy

Bombings and Repression in Egypt Underscore Failures in U.S. Anti-Terrorism Strategy

The devastating bombings which struck the Egyptian city of Sharm al-Sheik on July 24 underscore both the extent of the threat from Islamist terrorists and the failure of the United States and its allies to effectively deal with it.

That the bombers were somehow able to get around the military checkpoints through which traffic on all the major roads leading into the city must pass is a sobering indication of the terrorists’ sophistication and their network of support. The blasts killed 88 people, nearly twice as many as did the more-publicized terrorist bombings in London two weeks earlier. And it could have been far worse: two of the three bombs went off well short of their intended targets.

Terrorist attacks this past October in Taba and Ras a-Satan, other coastal resort cities on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killed an additional 32 people.

Support for Despotic Regimes

Why has Egypt become the target of such terrorist violence?

While governments which supported the American invasion of Iraq may have become particularly attractive targets for Islamist terrorists, this is not the case with Egypt, which joined virtually all other Arab governments in opposition to the war.

And though the U.S.-led invasion has certainly increased the ranks of Islamist terrorists in the Middle East and beyond, Arab dictators such as Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak have been targeted by al-Qaida and like-minded Islamist extremists long before the ill-fated U.S. conquest of Iraq.

Indeed, support for corrupt and despotic regimes has long been recognized as the single biggest grievance of Islamists against the United States, even more so than U.S. support for Israel and the war against Iraq.

Egypt has been under Mubarak’s autocratic rule for almost a quarter century. Amnesty International and other reputable human rights groups have documented gross and systematic human rights abuses against perceived opponents of the regime, including massive detention without due process, torture on an administrative basis, and extra-judicial killings. Targets of government repression have included not just radical Islamists, but leftists, liberal democrats, feminists, gay men, independent-minded scholars, Coptic Christians, and human rights activists.

Despite promises of incipient democratic reforms, which have been hailed by the Bush White House, Mubarak has thus far refused to allow supporters of any kind of genuine political opposition to organize.

On July 30, plain-clothes Egyptian security forces, wielding truncheons, violently attacked peaceful protestors demonstrating against human rights abuses by the U.S.-backed regime. More than 1,000 uniformed security officers prevented the demonstration from taking place at Tahrir Square, in heart of Cairo, where it had been scheduled. When some demonstrators attempted to reassemble several blocks away, the police assault began. Scores were arrested, including George Ishaq and Amin Eskandar, leaders of Kifaya, the country’s leading pro-democracy group. Among those most seriously wounded were journalist Shaaban Abd al-Rahim al-Daba and trade union activist Kamal Abbas, director of the Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services in the city of Helwan.

This assault by Egyptian security forces followed a similar attack last spring against a group of women protesting peacefully for greater democracy the day of a government-managed plebiscite supposedly opening up the political process. Though the Bush administration has praised these supposed reforms as evidence of a democratic change in the Middle East, the Mubarak regime has actually strengthened its power to limit the ability of opposition political parties to challenge the government, further restricted these parties’ rights to publish newspapers, and made it virtually impossible for independent candidates to run for president.

It is tragic but not surprising that in a political system where the people are effectively barred from expressing their political grievances legally and nonviolently, some Islamist opponents have responded through terrorism.

U.S. support for the Egyptian regime, therefore, places Americans at risk. Largely as a result of the longstanding bipartisan U.S. effort to prop up the Mubarak dictatorship has led to a bare 2% of Egyptians looking favorably upon the United States, according to a recent public opinion poll. It is important to remember that Muhammed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, was an Egyptian.

Misplaced Priorities

Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world, receiving over $2 billion annually, much of that in weaponry and security assistance. Concerns expressed by pro-democracy groups in Egypt and human rights organizations in the United States that such arms and technology transfers are only making further repression possible has been rejected by Washington.

The Sharm el-Sheik bombers’ decision to target hotels catering to foreign tourists was probably not designed primarily to kill “foreign infidels” per se, but was more likely a strategic calculation designed to cripple the country’s vital tourist industry, which provides the government with needed foreign exchange but—outside of the relatively small numbers of Egyptians who work in service jobs catering to tourists—tends not to trickle down to ordinary people.

Sharm el-Sheik, which is well over 300 miles from the pyramids and most other ancient sites which have attracted Western tourists for centuries, is the country’s leading resort and international conference center. It serves as the Egyptian equivalent of Mexico’s Cancun, isolated from the country’s population centers and displaying a level of opulence few in Egypt could ever experience themselves. While the pride of many Egyptians, it serves for many others as a symbol of the Mubarak regime’s misplaced economic priorities which emphasize prestigious development projects while the country’s poor majority go without basic material needs and employment opportunities.

Egyptian Islamists have long stressed the government’s role in perpetuating the extreme social inequality and economic injustice in this country of 75 million. Unlike the progressive vision put forward by proponents of liberation theology in Latin America, however, the more radical Islamists—such as those believed to have been responsible for the July 24 bombings—have instead taken advantage of people’s legitimate grievances to advance their decidedly reactionary ideology and violent tactics.

Even putting aside the Iraq debacle, the bombings in Sharm al-Sheik—like the London bombings which preceded them—also raise questions regarding the efficacy of counter-terrorism policies by the United States and its allies.

Is high-altitude bombing and related military operations chasing down elusive al-Qaida leaders really the best way to deal with the threat from a decentralized network of underground terrorist cells? Might placing greater emphasis on intelligence-gathering, interdiction, and related measures be a more effective way to combat terrorism?

Rather than pushing for greater democracy primarily in Syria, Iran, and other countries controlled by dictatorships the United States does not like, might it serve our purposes better if we also promoted democracy in countries ruled by dictatorships like Egypt, over which the U.S. government can exert far more influence? Indeed, the overwhelming majority of al-Qaida’s leadership and members come from U.S.-backed dictatorships, not the autocratic anti-American regimes which have become the focus of the Bush administration and Congressional leaders of both parties.

Instead of providing unconditional military aid and economic support to such regimes, might we instead make assistance to foreign governments conditional on their willingness to uphold internationally-recognized standards of human rights?

And, for a fraction of the costs of what the United States has spent on its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, might greatly expanded U.S. support for sustainable grassroots economic development in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries constitute a better means to address the root causes of Islamist terrorism?

Unfortunately, not only has the Bush administration refused to reevaluate its counter-terrorism policy, no prominent Congressional Democrat has bothered to raise such questions either. Unless and until prominent voices are willing to stand up to demand a shift away from the Bush administration’s embrace of the Egyptian dictatorship and other autocratic regimes, its over-reliance on military means to fight terrorism, and its failure to support sustainable economic development in Middle Eastern countries, America’s self-destructive policies will likely continue.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/bombings_and_repression_in_egypt_underscore_failures_in_us_anti-terrorism_strategy

The U.S. and Iran: Democracy, Terrorism, and Nuclear Weapons

[Columbia.edu & Foreign Policy In Focus, July 25, 2005; Download PDF] The election of the hard-line Tehran mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, over former President Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani as the new head of Iran is undeniably a setback for those hoping to advance greater social and political freedom in that country. It should not necessarily be seen as a turn to the right by the Iranian electorate, however. The 70-year old Rafsanjani—a cleric and penultimate wheeler-dealer from the political establishment—was portrayed as the more moderate conservative. The fact that he had become a millionaire while in government was apparently seen as less important than his modest reform agenda. By contrast, the young Tehran mayor focused on the plight of the poor and cleaning up corruption. In Iran, real political power rests with unelected military, economic, and right-wing ideologues, and in the June 25 runoff election, Iranian voters were forced to choose between two flawed candidates. The relatively liberal contender came across as an out-of-touch elitist, and his ultraconservative opponent was able to assemble a coalition of rural, less-educated, and fundamentalist voters to conduct a pseudo-populist campaign based on promoting morality and value-centered leadership. Such a political climate should not be unfamiliar to American voters. [Columbia.edu & Foreign Policy In Focus, July 25, 2005; Download PDF]

Arms transfers to Pakistan undermine U.S. foreign policy goals

The Bush administration’s decision to sell sophisticated F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan raises questions regarding the administration’s stated commitment to promote democracy, support nonproliferation and fight terrorism and Islamic extremism.

Pakistani Gen. Pervaz Musharraf, who overthrew the democratically elected government in 1999, continues to suppress the established secular political parties while allowing for the development of Islamic political groups. Despite this, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who visited Pakistan in March as part of her world tour supposedly promoting democracy, had little but kind words for the Musharraf dictatorship. While acknowledging that he has yet to restore constitutional governance, she praised his willingness to perhaps hold elections in 2007.

Under Musharrafs rule, Pakistan has one of the lowest education budgets relative to gross domestic product of any country on the globe, resulting in the collapse of what was once one of the developing world’s better educational systems. This lack of adequate public education has led to the rise of Saudi-funded Islamic schools, known as madrassahs, many of which have served as recruiting grounds for-terrorists. The Congressional Research Service, in a report this past December, noted that despite promises to the contrary, Musharraf has not cracked downed on the more extremist madrassahs. Meanwhile, in contrast to the $3 billion worth of armaments the U.S. government is eager to send their way, the Bush administration is only offering $67 million in foreign aid for Pakistani education.

An administration official has claimed that the fighter jets “are vital to Pakistan’s security as President Musharraf prosecutes the war on terror.” However, these jets were originally ordered 15 years ago but the sale was suspended out of concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear program. Such sophisticated aircraft are not particularly effective in attacking a decentralized network of underground terrorist cells located in remote tribal areas of that country, where small-unit counterinsurgency operations would be more effective.

The Bush administration has tried to assuage the concerns of India, Pakistan’s military rival, by promising that India too would be able to receive sophisticated warplanes. Such “balance” will simply result in a regional arms race between these two countries, which have engaged in frequent border clashes in the disputed Kashmir region in recent years and came close to an all-out war as recently in 2002. Most disturbing is that these jets the United States is so eager to sell are nuclear-capable.

Pakistan and India are among only a handful of nations that have refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and both countries have built, tested and amassed a stockpile of nuclear weapons and nuclear-capable missiles. U.S. law prohibited the United States from sending arms to Pakistan and India as a result of their nuclear program, but President Bush–with bipartisan Congressional support–successfully had such restrictions overturned in 2001.

Pakistan and India remain in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1172–passed in 1998 with U.S. support–which calls on both countries to eliminate their nuclear weapons and their ballistic missiles. Yet rarely does anyone in the administration or in Congress ever mention this important resolution. This contrasts with the U.S. determination to go to war with Iraq in 2003 over Baghdad’s alleged violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Investigations have since shown that Iraq was in compliance with those resolutions.

The administration and Congressional leaders appear to believe that nuclear proliferation and violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions should only be of concern if the government in question is one that the U.S. government does not like.

What may be most worrisome is that Pakistan has been sharing its nuclear materials and know-how with North Korea and other rogue states. The Bush administration is ignoring this irresponsible nuclear arms bazaar and chooses to blame others for it.

Even though it was Pakistanis who passed on nuclear materials to Libya, the Bush administration told U.S. allies that North Korea was responsible, thereby sabotaging negotiations that many had hoped would end the North Korean nuclear program. Though it was Pakistan that provided Iran with nuclear centrifuges, the Bush administration is now citing Iran’s possession of such materials as justification for a possible attack against that country.

Despite evidence to the contrary, the Bush administration claims that serious breaches of security were solely the responsibility of a rogue nuclear scientist name Abdul Qadeer Khan. Unfortunately, the Pakistani military regime has not allowed U.S. intelligence access to Dr. Khan, who lives under government protection in Islamabad.

A bill known as Pakistan Proliferation Accountability Act (HR 1553) has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would block the sale of fighter jets until Pakistan fully accounts for the activities of Dr. Khan. The resolution makes no demands, however, regarding Pakistani compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1172 or the restoration of democracy. In any case, as of this writing, the bill has only nine cosponsors.

During the presidential debates last fall, both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry agreed that nuclear proliferation was the single most important national security issue facing the United States. As the proposed weapons sale to Pakistan indicates, neither Republicans nor Democrats seem serious about stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Interview of Bush Reveals Dangerous Assumptions Behind U.S. Foreign Policy

A number of critiques have been written about President George W. Bush’s responses to Tim Russert’s questions in the February 8 edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” primarily regarding his shifting rationale for the invasion of Iraq. More problematic, however, was the fact that President Bush made a number of assertions that were patently false or–at the very least–misleading. The failure of Mr. Russert to challenge these statements and the ongoing repetition of such rationales by the administration and its supporters make it all the more imperative that such assertions not be allowed to go unquestioned. The implications of Bush’s statements are quite disturbing, since they involve such fundamental issues as international terrorism, the United Nations, weapons of mass destruction, and the policy of preemption.

International Terrorism

A major Bush administration rationale for the 2003 Iraq War was Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s alleged links to the terrorist al Qaeda network and other active Iraqi involvement in international terrorism. Regarding the failure to find any evidence for such involvement, President Bush stated in his “Meet the Press” interview: “We knew the fact that he was paying for suicide bombers. We knew the fact that he was funding terrorist groups.” This statement is a stretch. Saddam Hussein’s support for Abu Nidal (a secular nationalist group composed primarily of Palestinian exiles) and other terrorists peaked during the 1980s–the very time period when the U.S. dropped Iraq from its list of countries backing terrorism in order to provide the Iraqi dictator with technical and military support. According to the U.S. State Department, the last direct involvement by the Iraqi government in an act of international terrorism was the alleged 1993 assassination attempt in Kuwait against former President George H.W. Bush.

More recently, Iraq has provided money to a tiny pro-Iraqi Palestinian faction, the Arab Liberation Front, which has passed it on to some Palestinian families of “martyrs” killed in the struggle against the Israeli occupation. Recipients have included families of suicide bombers who murdered Israeli civilians, but most of those helped have been families of militiamen killed in battles with Israeli occupation forces or families of civilians shot by the Israelis. And the amount given to families of terrorists was far less than the value of the families’ homes, which are usually destroyed right after a terrorist attack as part of Israel ‘s policy of collective punishment in the occupied territories. Thus, this minimal Iraqi assistance probably did not result in any additional terrorist attacks. Hamas, the Palestinian group responsible for the majority of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, receives most of its funding from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries.

Meanwhile, the U.S. occupation of Iraq is being justified in the name of the war on terrorism. President Bush claimed that Iraqis are fighting U.S. occupation forces, not because they resent being invaded and occupied by a foreign power, but because they “are people who desperately want to stop the advance of freedom and democracy.” In the “Meet the Press” interview, President Bush reiterated the widely accepted belief that “freedom and democracy will be a powerful long-term deterrent to terrorist activities.” Though this is undoubtedly true, the Bush administration continues to provide military, economic, and diplomatic support to Middle Eastern dictatorships and occupation armies that deny Arab and Muslim people their freedom and democratic rights. It is not surprising that the majority of the leadership, financial support, and membership in the mega-terrorist al Qaeda network stems from countries with U.S.-backed dictatorships, like Saudi Arabia.

UN Security Council Resolutions

Another unchallenged statement in Bush’s “Meet the Press” interview was the president’s assertion that the invasion of Iraq was fought in part to uphold UN Security Council resolutions violated by Iraq . Alluding to UN Security Council Resolution 1441, President Bush stated that Saddam Hussein “defied the world once again.”

Though Baghdad had defied several UN Security Council resolutions prior to unanimous passage of Resolution 1441 in November 2003, Iraq appears to have been largely in compliance at the time of the U.S. invasion. Hussein’s regime unconditionally allowed inspectors from the United Nations Monitoring and Verification Commission (UNMOVIC) unfettered access within Iraq shortly after the resolution was passed; released what evidence it had of its proscribed weapons, delivery systems, and weapons programs and their disassembly (which was initially greeted with skepticism but now appears to have been accurate); and arranged with UNMOVIC the modalities regarding interviews with Iraqi scientists, overflights of Iraqi airspace, and other UN activities. Remaining disputes were largely technical in nature and could not reasonably be considered cases of “material breach” of the UN resolution.

Citing the resolution’s warning of “serious consequences” to Iraqi noncompliance, President Bush argued: “if there isn’t serious consequences, it creates adverse consequences. People look at us and say, they don’t mean what they say, they are not willing to follow through.” Even if one were to accept the assertion that Iraq was in material breach of 1441, the resolution states that the Security Council “remains seized of the matter,” essentially reiterating the UN Charter’s stipulation that only the Security Council as a whole–not any single member–has the right to authorize the use of military action to enforce the resolution.

In any case, at the time Iraq was attacked, there were more than 100 UN Security Council resolutions being violated by governments other than Iraq . The Bush administration has opposed enforcing these resolutions by military or any other means, however, since the majority of violating governments are considered U.S. allies. As a result, the administration’s claim that invading Iraq was somehow an effort to uphold the integrity of the United Nations and its resolutions is disingenuous at best.

In the February 8 interview, President Bush rejected the idea that he rushed into war by claiming that he acted militarily only after he went “to the international community … [to] … see if we could not disarm Saddam Hussein peacefully through international pressure.” However, as is now apparent, the international community did disarm Saddam Hussein peacefully through international pressure. So, why did the United States have to invade?

Weapons of Mass Destruction

In response to Mr. Russert’s questions regarding the failure to find Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), President Bush defended the decision to invade the oil-rich country by observing: “We remembered the fact that he had used weapons, which meant he had had weapons.” No one disputes that Saddam Hussein had possessed and used chemical weapons, both against Iranian soldiers and Kurdish civilians. These war crimes took place over 15 years ago, however, at a time when the U.S.–supportive of the Baghdad regime–was downplaying and covering up Iraq’s use of such weapons. The Bush administration has failed to provide evidence that Iraq still had chemical weapons or any other WMDs during the five years prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.

President Bush’s claim that, in the months leading up to the invasion, “the international community thought he had weapons” is patently false. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had determined back in 1998, after years of inspections, that Iraq no longer had a nuclear program, and after four months of rigorous inspections just prior to the invasion, the agency gave no indication that anything had changed. UNMOVIC–though frustrated at Iraq’s failure to fully account for all the proscribed materials–similarly determined that there was no evidence of Iraqi chemical or biological weapons. Rolf Ekeus, former head of UNMOVIC’s predecessor agency, the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), declared that Iraq was “fundamentally disarmed” as early as 1996. At the United Nations and other forums, representatives of many of the world’s governments questioned U.S. and British accusations that Iraq still had WMDs.

In his interview with Russert, President Bush said: “I don’t think America can stand by and hope for the best from a madman, and I believe it is essential … that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent.” And top administration officials claimed on several occasions prior to the war that Iraq ‘s threat was already “imminent.” Now that we know this was not the case, President Bush is claiming: “It’s too late if they become imminent.” The president also argued that although Saddam Hussein may not actually have possessed weapons of mass destruction, “he could have developed a nuclear weapon over time–I’m not saying immediately, but over time.” But given the IAEA’s findings that Iraq ‘s nuclear program had been completely dismantled and with a strict embargo against military and dual-use technology and raw materials, it is doubtful that Baghdad could ever have produced a nuclear weapon.

Of greater concern to world peace is that, through this interview and related comments, President Bush’s doctrine of preemption has been expanded to include the right to invade a country if a U.S. president determines that the government of that country poses even a hypothetical threat some time in the future. As President Bush put it: “There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America,” not because he actually had weapons of mass destruction at the time of the U.S. invasion, but because “he had the capacity to make a weapon.” The president went on to claim that Washington’s chief post-invasion weapons inspector, David Kay, reported that “Saddam Hussein was dangerous with the ability to make weapons.”

Even this assertion is questionable. Kay had actually stated that Iraq’s entire infrastructure for nuclear and chemical weapons was virtually destroyed. Though Kay did believe that Iraq might have been able to produce dangerous biological agents, he felt they were far more difficult to weaponize “in a usable way.” In a February 17 story, the Boston Globe quoted former CIA counterterrorism chief and former National Security Council Intelligence Director Vincent Cannistraro as saying that the Iraqis had the “capability” of developing WMDs only in the sense that they had the knowledge of how to do so, but they did not have many of the basic components to actually produce such weapons. Only by importing technology and raw materials in the 1980s from Russia, Germany, France, Britain, and the U.S. was Iraq able to develop its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs in the first place. Thus, the administration has never been able to make a credible case for Iraq reconstituting such programs, as long as sanctions curtailed the necessary inputs.

In addition to the eight or nine nations that currently have nuclear weapons, there are more than 40 other countries that are theoretically capable of developing such weapons. At least twice that many could develop chemical and biological weapons, and a couple of dozen already have. The Bush administration has failed to make a compelling case as to why Iraq–which, unlike the other nations, allowed inspectors unfettered access to the entire country to look for such weapons, weapon components, and delivery systems–was a greater threat than all the others.

The Doctrine of Preemption

A cornerstone of Bush’s doctrine of preemptive military intervention is the notion that deterrence cannot work. In response to those who stressed containment of Iraq as an alternative to offensive war, President Bush replied: “We can’t say, ‘Let’s don’t deal with Saddam Hussein. Let’s hope he changes his stripes, or let’s trust in the goodwill of Saddam Hussein. Let’s let us, kind of, try to contain him’.”

Despite assertions to the contrary, the doctrine of containment has never assumed goodwill on the part of the other party. If there was an assumption of goodwill from the Iraqi regime, intrusive inspections and strictly enforced sanctions would not have been necessary. Besides, who was suggesting that the world not “deal with” Saddam Hussein? For a dozen years prior to the U.S. invasion, the United Nations put more time, money, and effort into successfully insuring that Saddam Hussein could no longer threaten its neighbors or its Kurdish minority than it expended on any other issue.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, appearing before “Meet the Press” in 2001, confidently stated that “we have been able to keep weapons from going into Iraq ” and that the sanctions on military and dual-use items had been “quite a success for ten years.” In a meeting with the German foreign minister in February 2001, Powell spoke of how the United Nations, the U.S., and its allies “have succeeded in containing Saddam Hussein and his ambitions” with the result that “they don’t really possess the capability to attack their neighbors the way they did ten years ago.” Iraq , continued Powell, was “not threatening America . Containment has been a successful policy, and I think we should make sure that we continue it,” he added. Instead, given that a dictator in possession of WMDs and an offensive delivery system during the 1980s was defanged by a UN-led disarmament program in the 1990s, it appears that containment did work.

One argument that Bush and his supporters have put forward is that if Saddam Hussein had developed nuclear weapons, “we would have been in a position of blackmail.” Such reasoning makes no sense. During the cold war, the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and other delivery systems pointed at the U.S. , and Washington had no defense against them, yet there were no attempts at blackmail. This was because the U.S. could have blackmailed the Soviets as well. Such a stalemate is known as deterrence and was the backbone of U.S. defense policy for decades. If it could work against a powerful totalitarian state like the Soviet Union , why wouldn’t it work against a weak third world country like Iraq ?

The only response the administration has been able to offer is that Saddam Hussein was a “madman.” This label was used by President Bush a half dozen times in his “Meet the Press” interview alone: “You can’t rely upon a madman, and he was a madman. You can’t rely upon him making rational decisions when it comes to war and peace, and it’s too late, in my judgment, when a madman who has got terrorist connections is able to act… Containment doesn’t work with a man who is a madman.”

Although Saddam Hussein certainly has a record of making poor political and strategic judgments, that does not make him a “madman.” Other heads of government have made poor decisions on issues of war and peace, including President Bush. Such behavior does not imply that the Iraqi dictator would have launched a suicidal first strike against the U.S. with a nuclear weapon.

Saddam Hussein demonstrated repeatedly while in power that he cared first and foremost about his own survival. He apparently recognized that any attempt to use WMDs against the U.S. or any of its allies would inevitably have led to his own destruction. This is why he did not use them during the 1991 Gulf War, even when attacked by the largest coalition of international forces ever amassed against a single nation and even though he still had chemical weapons and long-range missiles. (In contrast, prior to the Gulf War, Saddam was quite willing to utilize his arsenal of chemical weapons against Iranian forces, because he knew that the revolutionary Islamist regime was isolated internationally. He was similarly willing to use them against Kurdish civilians, because he knew that they could not fight back.)

President Bush still raises the idea that if Saddam Hussein had one day developed a nuclear weapon or other weapon of mass destruction, he would have “then let that weapon fall into the hands of a shadowy terrorist network.” There is no evidence that the Iraqi government ever considered such a dangerous move, even when its contacts with terrorist groups and its WMD programs were at their peaks during the 1980s. Saddam Hussein’s leadership style has always been that of direct control; his distrust of subordinates (bordering on paranoia) was one of the ways he was able to hold on to power for so long. He would never have gone to the risk and expense of developing weapons of mass destruction only to pass them on to some group of terrorists, particularly radical Islamists who could easily turn on him. When he had such weapons at his disposal, their use was clearly at his discretion alone.

At the time of the U.S. invasion last year, Iraq’s armed forces were barely one-third of their pre-Gulf War size. Iraq’s Navy was virtually nonexistent, and its Air Force was unable to even get off the ground to challenge U.S. forces. Pre-invasion military spending by Iraq has been estimated at barely one-tenth of 1980 levels. The Bush administration has been unable to explain why in 2003, when Saddam enjoyed only a tiny percentage of his once-formidable military capability, Iraq was considered so massive a threat that it was necessary to invade the country and replace its leader–the same leader Washington had quietly supported during the peak of Iraq ‘s military capability.

In his interview, President Bush claimed that his policy of preemption–demonstrated in Iraq–has had positive repercussions elsewhere, citing Libya’s decision to end its nascent WMD programs and open up to international inspections. However, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi surely must have observed that Iraq was invaded only after it had given up its WMD programs, while North Korea, choosing to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program, was not invaded. The Libyan decision, the result of a year-long series of diplomatic initiatives, seems to have come in spite of the U.S. invasion of Iraq , not because of it.

Ironically, in his interview President Bush claimed that “we had run the diplomatic string in Iraq ” at the time of the invasion but that “we’re making good progress in North Korea.” The reality, of course, is that UN-led diplomatic efforts had successfully eliminated Iraq’s WMD threat prior to the U.S. invasion but that North Korea has broken its treaty commitments and is apparently now developing nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the Bush administration refused to engage in any direct negotiations with Iraq prior to war, raising questions as to how the U.S. could have “run the diplomatic string.”

As his trump card in the NBC interview, President Bush tried to claim that the U.S., through its invasion and occupation of Iraq, was bringing democracy to that country and would thereby make the world safer, since “free societies are societies that don’t develop weapons of mass terror.” This, unfortunately, is not true. The U.S. was the first society to develop nuclear weapons and is the only country to have actually used them. Great Britain, France, Israel, and India are also considered free societies, yet they have developed nuclear weapons as well.

These last claims simply reflect a broader pattern in the interview as a whole. The interview was an opportunity for President Bush to present an honest and clear representation of U.S. policy in Iraq to the American people. Instead, his presentation was a defensive effort littered with untruthful assertions and misleading statements to justify a policy which is losing support among Americans as a whole. The American people deserved better.

http://www.fpif.info/fpiftxt/776