I wanted to highlight two articles dealing with the oppression and mutilation of Gaza which have recently appeared in Counterpunch. Each of them has something interesting and powerful to say about the situation there.
I have never traveled to the Middle East, and have in my time met only a handful of Israeli Jews or Arabs, or Palestinians. Yet the events in that beleaguered realm weigh heavily on my mind each day. Wherever my government’s support and therefore my tax money is used to unjustly maim, kill, and otherwise deprecate fellow human beings who strive for only a small part of the comforts I enjoy in the warmth of my den, there my thoughts are turned inexorably.
Why does Israel wreak such havoc on Gaza? The mainstream press is devoid of meaningful answers. Is it because of the sporadic rocket fire on Israeli cities such as Sderot and Ashkelon? Not hardly; even within the context-bleeped framework of Israeli yarn-spinning presented in the media these days, this does not make sense. If Israel merely wished the rocket fire to end, she could find much less bloodthirsty and roundly devastating ways to achieve this than indiscriminately killing Palestinians four hundred-fold and risking the lives of Israeli troops in a potential ground assault. There would be no need to put an economic stranglehold on an entire population for years running, just to stop some rockets. Why, come to think of it, she could simply offer Gaza all that it has asked for: self-determination and a real end to the Israeli occupation.
Does Israel fear Hamas, and truly see no way forward while it operates? No—we can easily imagine that living under the threat of Hamas rockets is a terrible existence for Israelis in the country’s south, to be sure. But this is of no more real concern to the Israeli government than the threat of terrorism at home was to the Bush administration when launching its incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems to me that the largest threat posed by Hamas is that, for Israel, there will be no way backwards while it exists. Because, unlike the government of Abbas in the West Bank, Hamas has no appetite for the sugar dripping from the forked tongues of Israeli officials who would promise Gazans peace and give them only continued subjugation on terms that Washington and Tel Aviv see fit. Hamas will continue to call international attention to the travesties unfolding in the region, and will not shirk from defending itself against the occupiers, even when unfortunate and deplorable violence remains its only meaningful mode of self-expression among a world community which is all thumbs.
In Jennifer Loewenstein’s piece, “If Hamas Did Not Exist,” the situation is summed up admirably:
Strip away the clichés and the vacuous newspeak blaring out across the servile media and its pathetic corps of voluntary state servants in the Western world and what you will find is the naked desire for hegemony; for power over the weak and dominion over the world’s wealth. Worse yet you will find that the selfishness, the hatred and indifference, the racism and bigotry, the egotism and hedonism that we try so hard to cover up with our sophisticated jargon, our refined academic theories and models actually help to guide our basest and ugliest desires. The callousness with which we in indulge in them all are endemic to our very culture; thriving here like flies on a corpse.
Strip away the current symbols and language of the victims of our selfish and devastating whims and you will find the simple, impassioned and unaffected cries of the downtrodden; of the ‘wretched of the earth’ begging you to cease your cold aggression against their children and their homes; their families and their villages; begging you to leave them alone to have their fish and their bread, their oranges, their olives and their thyme; asking you first politely and then with increasing disbelief why you cannot let them live undisturbed on the land of their ancestors; unexploited, free of the fear of expulsion; of ravishment and devastation; free of permits and roadblocks and checkpoints and crossings; of monstrous concrete walls, guard towers, concrete bunkers, and barbed wire; of tanks and prisons and torture and death. Why is life without these policies and instruments of hell impossible?
The answer is because Israel has no intention of allowing a viable, sovereign Palestinian state on its borders.
What role does the United States play in this terrible conflict which brings such misery to the lives of Palestinians and many Israelis? I haven’t the space or the energy to delve into a complete history of U.S.-Israel relations. But Washington’s support of Israeli hegemony and its persistent ideology of victimhood has been openly voiced at times, and even those whose only knowledge of world events comes from the usual suspects among media outlets are generally aware that Israel operates largely with American military equipment, American diplomatic support, and American tax dollars—a portion of which are directly funneled back into American arms dealers. Ralph Nader, in his “Open Letter to President Bush,” expresses his thoughts on the matter:
Your spokespeople are making much ado about the breaking of the six month truce. Who is the occupier? Who is the most powerful military force? Who controls and blocks the necessities of life? Who has sent raiding missions across the border most often? Who has sent artillery shells and missiles at close range into populated areas? Who has refused the repeated comprehensive peace offerings of the Arab countries issued in 2002 if Israel would agree to return to the 1967 borders and agree to the creation of a small independent Palestinian state possessing just twenty two percent of the original Palestine?
The ‘wildly inaccurate rockets,’ as reporters describe them, coming from Hamas and other groups cannot compare with the modern precision armaments and human damage generated from the Israeli side.
There are no rockets coming from the West Bank into Israel. Yet the Israeli government is still sending raiders into that essentially occupied territory, still further entrenching its colonial outposts, still taking water and land and increasing the checkpoints. This is going on despite a most amenable West Bank leader, Mahmoud Abbas, whom you have met with at the White House and praised repeatedly. Is it all vague words and no real initiatives with you and your emissary Condoleezza Rice?
Peace was possible, but you provided no leadership, preferring instead to comply with all wishes and demands by the Israeli government, even resupplying it with the still active cluster bombs in south Lebanon during the invasion of that country in 2006.
The arguments about who started the latest hostilities go on and on with Israel always blaming the Palestinians to justify all kinds of violence and harsh treatment against innocent civilians.
From the Palestinian standpoint, you would do well to remember the origins of this conflict which was the dispossession of their lands. To afford you some empathy, recall the oft-quoted comment by the founder of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, who told the Zionist leader, Nahum Goldmann:
‘There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz; but was that their [the Palestinians] fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?’
Alfred North Whitehead once said: ‘Duty arises out of the power to alter the course of events.’ By that standard, you have shirked mightily your duty over the past eight years to bring peace to both Palestinians and Israelis and more security to a good part of the world.
I hope for the sake of all that the violence and hostility can end. Yes, that is my sincere wish, but it is not my highest hope. My highest hope is that a peace can be achieved without the usual price of humiliation, continued subjugation, and business as usual that has in the past been so carefully tacked on by Israel when dealing with her “attackers.” As history has amply demonstrated, peace at the price of sovereignty and the basic human rights of a people is a peace in name only. One can achieve peace by allowing one’s self to be beaten into submission. Peace is always viscerally preferable to violence, but one must ask: what does it mean?
Or, “21st Century Colonialism: an Introduction”
Saturday, December 27, a day when many revelers in the west were still feeling too full to take down Christmas decorations and were perhaps solidifying plans for a joyous New Year’s, has been called the bloodiest day in the history of Gaza since the beginning of the Israeli occupation over forty years ago.
Israeli air assaults have killed dozens if not hundreds of Palestinians, and this amid a years-long embargo imposed by Israel which has emaciated the Gazan economy and citizenry on every imaginable level of existence. The embargo followed the free Palestinian election of a Hamas-led government. Israel roundly blames Hamas for sporadic rocket fire against civilian targets in Israel, but collectively punishes 1.5 million Gazans in retribution.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, told reporters that Israel is determined to “change realities on the ground.” There are fears that the air strikes may be a prelude to a ground offensive, as Israel has called forth large numbers of reservists. Israel has bombed tunnels which were being used to bring minimal amounts of food and humanitarian supplies into Gaza from Egypt, citing suspicions that weapons were also being imported.
The U.S. government insists that Hamas is responsible for the bloodshed on both sides of the border, much as it once insisted that Native Americans could have avoided much violence and misery had they only been a bit more reasonable.
Unfortunately, violence will only beget more violence. It is my feeling that, while the devastation on both sides is deplorable, Israel is using an iron fist to subjugate those whose lands and sovereignty it has molested, people with a fighting spirit and a sense of self-worth that no machinery of war can conquer—people who have been deliberately put into a position in which guerilla fighting in the face of F-16 jets and U.S. billions is, they feel, their only hope of resistance.
The BBC reports:
Israeli F-16 bombers have pounded key targets across the Gaza Strip, killing at least 225 people, local medics say.
Most of those killed were policemen in the Hamas militant movement, which controls Gaza, but women and children also died, the Gaza officials said.
About 700 others were wounded, as missiles struck security compounds and militant bases, the officials added.
Israeli PM Ehud Olmert said the operation “may take some time”- but he pledged to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
“It’s not going to last a few days,” he said in a televised statement, flanked by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Israel said it was responding to an escalation in rocket attacks from Gaza and would bomb “as long as necessary”.
Such comments from Israeli officials amply demonstrate that, if there is a Reign of Terror in Palestine today, it is Israel which wears the ugly crown.
The Heathlander recently posted links to annual reports by various human rights organizations to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review concerning the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The article which includes the links represents the views of Richard Falk, a UN human rights investigator recently relieved of his position because of his “hostile views” toward Israel. The findings of a few of these reports are summarized below.
The State of Israel was founded in 1948, carved chiefly out of what had been colonial possessions of the United Kingdom. While many support the existence of a Jewish homeland, particularly in the wake of the events of the Second World War, fewer agree that these particular lands should have been ceded to the control of relatively new Zionist immigrants rather than to the Palestinian ethnic groups which had resided there for centuries. The Zionist settlers believed that they enjoyed a religious “right of return” to the area according to scripture, a controversial notion which, even where accepted, is not generally held to entail such brutal disregard for the sovereignty and basic human dignity of Palestinians.
Since 1967, Israel has occupied lands which were ceded to the Palestinians under a U.N. agreement, pursuing what many feel are policies of expansion, oppression, and apartheid against Palestinians. Additionally, Israel, which possesses without acknowledgment the sole known nuclear arsenal in the region, continues to threaten other surrounding powers—particularly Iran—which have criticized its occupation of Palestinian lands and cruel treatment of Palestinians. At one point or another, it has occupied lands belonging to all of its Arab neighbors; yet the Israeli government continually represents itself as an innocent victim of anti-Semitic violence, refusing to acknowledge that such violence, while unfortunate and deplorable, represents desperate guerrilla-type self-defense on the part of the disenfranchised Palestinians.
In 2006, Hamas, frequently described as an “Islamic militant” or “terrorist” organization due to its sponsorship of guerrilla activities against the Israeli military and some civilians, won free elections in Gaza. Since then Israel has aggressively boycotted the government in Gaza using blockades, military incursions, and other harmful and violent means which amount to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million citizens. The West Bank, in contrast, is now presided over by a U.S.-backed government.
The United Nations has, on too many occasions to count, reprimanded Israel and called for an end to these atrocities. Such proceedings are routinely boycotted by Israel, the United States, and sometimes a few other member states, while being overwhelmingly supported by the majority of the international community. The United States provides billions of dollars in financial and military aid to Israel annually, and is characteristically quick to defend Israeli hegemony and expansionism in the region in the name of self-defense.
The following are direct or paraphrased excerpts of just a few of the many 2008 reports to the UNHRC concerning conditions in Palestine. For the full set of reports, visit this page. These documents represent merely the latest additions to a huge book detailing many of the atrocities visited against the Palestinian people according to a pattern of U.S.-sanctioned abuse which stretches back for decades.
From Counterpunch, an article by Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions which sums up nicely the need for Israel to take responsibility for the 60-year-old refugee situation, and what incoming U.S. President Obama could do to help bring peace to the region:
Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an urgent priority. It is a conflict with global ramifications in a part of the world crucial to Western, and especially American, political and economic interests. The Israeli Occupation fuels anger and alienation among Muslims – as well as among peoples beyond the Muslim world, including in Europe – towards the US and its European allies. And the Palestinians are the gatekeepers that cannot be by-passed. No matter what peace plan is devised or how much pressure is exerted on the Palestinian leadership to accept it, until the Palestinian people everywhere, including the refugee camps, say that the conflict is in fact over, it’s not over. This is their ultimate clout. Only when a just solution is reached that genuinely addresses their grievances and needs will they signal to the rest of the Arab and Muslim worlds that the time has come to normalize relations with Israel and its American and Western patrons. This reality is obliquely acknowledged by Scowcroft and Brzezinski when they write: “Not everyone in the Middle East views the Palestinian issue as the greatest regional challenge, but the deep sense of injustice it stimulates is genuine and pervasive.”
Yet every peace initiative since 1967 has been stymied – let’s be honest – by Israel’s determination to make permanent its control of the land “between the river and the sea.” Why compromise if you can have it all? Israelis today enjoy a high degree of security (Gaza being little more than a nuisance), the settlement project proceeds unhindered, the economy (based on diamonds, arms and security) is sound and their country’s international status only rises. The status quo, far better, more predictable and more manageable than any “peace” might be, can be maintained indefinitely, especially given US support which, because of the bipartisan support Israel enjoys in Congress, does not seem threatened by the incoming Obama Administration. The problem is framing. However much Israel undermines what would otherwise be a straightforward negotiating process, it cannot be publicly criticized lest one appears to be “anti-Israel” – or worse. And non-critical engagement with Israel has never succeeded in eliciting a single meaningful concession.
The New York Times reports that the State of Israel expelled on Monday Richard Falk, a United Nations investigator of human rights in the Palestinian territories, citing his “vehement publications” criticizing Israel for committing gross human rights abuses in its treatment of Palestinians, particularly in Gaza.
Falk, a Princeton professor of international law and the UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, has come under scrutiny in Israel for calling the Gaza blockade a “crime against humanity” while offering only “cursory” reprimands to the Palestinian militants who dare attempt to defend themselves against decades of colonialist aggression and oppression in their own homeland.
He has compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi atrocities and has called for more serious examination of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks. Pointing to discrepancies between the official version of events and other versions, he recently wrote that “only willful ignorance can maintain that the 9/11 narrative should be treated as a closed book.”
In his capacity as a United Nations investigator, Mr. Falk issued a statement this month describing Israel’s embargo on Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, as a crime against humanity, while making only cursory reference to Hamas’s rocket attacks against Israeli civilian centers. Israeli officials expressed outrage.
When his appointment was announced by the Human Rights Council last spring, the Israeli representative said it was “impossible to believe that out of a list of 184 potential candidates,” the members had made “the best possible choice for the post.”
The American and Canadian representatives also expressed concerns about Mr. Falk’s possible bias. The Palestinian representative said it was curious that Israel was “campaigning against a Jewish professor” and called the nomination “a victory for good sense and human rights.” Israel objects to the mandate of the special rapporteur on grounds that it ignores all human rights violations by Palestinians, either against Israelis or against other Palestinians. More specifically, it objects to Mr. Falk.
But Jessica Montell, director of Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, countered that, even if Israel has legitimate concerns about Falk’s objectivity, expelling him in this manner is “an act unbefitting of democracy.”
Israel has shown a marked preference for the Washington-backed government of Mahmoud Abbas, while harshly punishing Palestinians in Gaza for their free election of a Hamas-controlled administration. Yet the Israeli government continues to portray itself as a neutral, objective party, insisting that ad hoc guerrilla attacks against its territory and citizens are acts of aggression rather than protest and defense.
Heedless of copious outcry among the international community and continual denouncement by the United Nations, Israel has occupied Palestinian territory for more than forty years, largely with the support of the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western governments, claiming a divine right to the land according to religious scripture through the Zionist movement, not to be confused with the faith of Judaism itself.
…and we’re merely talking dollars here, to say nothing of the military and civilian lives, national sovereignties, diplomatic standards, and international reputes which are being devoured by the New Colonialism.
In what White House spokes-Barbie Dana Perino has laughably referred to as an “attempt to muddy the waters,” a report drafted by Democratic members of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee (JEC) outlines how, in economic terms, American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing as much as double the officially reported figures—up to $1.3 trillion in direct costs, and at least that much more in tangential or derivative costs to the economy.
Only a few weeks ago, you may recall, Perino educated the White House press corps on the unexpected health benefits of global warming:
“This is an issue where I’m sure lots of people would love to ridicule me when I say this, but it is true that many people die from cold-related deaths every winter. And there are studies that say that climate change in certain areas of the world would help those individuals.”
No, Ms. Perino, I don’t enjoy ridiculing you. I’m just—at least for the moment—profoundly embarrassed that you are the principal public voice of the Chief Executive of the United States of America. And that means I don’t relish paying your salary.
On the new war report, which states that, between 2002 and 2008, the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns will have cost over $20,000 for a U.S. family of four, the BBC writes:
The White House has called the report politically motivated.
“This report was put out by Democrats on Capitol Hill,” White House press secretary Dana Perino was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. “This committee is known for being partisan and political.”
“They did not consult or co-operate with the Republicans on the committee, and so I think it is an attempt to muddy the waters on what has been some positive developments being reported out of Iraq.”
And some of the figures the report contains were labeled speculative by funding experts, the Washington Post newspaper reported.
The report was written by Democratic members of Congress’s Joint Economic Committee (JEC).
The cost of the war… is becoming the first thing the people mention after the loss of life when they are opposed to this war
The BBC’s Justin Webb in Washington says it was designed to shock Americans into stronger opposition to the war in Iraq.
The Democrats calculate that between 2002 and 2008 the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan will have cost the average US family of four about $20,900.
The report adds that the amount could rise to $46,400 over the next decade.
It cites costs such as interest payments on money borrowed from abroad to pay for the wars, lost investment in US businesses, and the cost of oil market disruptions.
Oil prices have surged since the start of the war in Iraq, from about $37 a barrel to more than $90 a barrel in recent weeks. The report says the rise has hit US consumers.
The United States is a large and diverse country, and it is as difficult to make reasonable generalities about its people as about its landscapes. There are some awe-inspiring places and spaces to experience, and I believe that people here are, for the most part, what are called good folks—just as, anywhere one goes in the world, there are mostly good folks to be found.
If you’ve never been to America, you should check it out. There are way too many superhighways and supermarkets and superfactories, of course. But I can tell you from experience that having breakfast in New Orleans’ French Quarter and camping on the Oregon seashore are both great things to do, and there are probably plenty of unique, interesting places where you live, too.
Most Americans are as friendly as can be. It’s not Mayberry in springtime everywhere all the time, by any means, but you get what I mean.
There are some Americans, though—a relatively small but increasing number of them—who believe that America is just about the only place on Earth where one can find good things and good folks. They have taken nationalism too far. They mistake warmongering for defensive posturing, confuse marketing desk rhetoric with traditional values, and apparently don’t understand the difference between the worship of symbols and patriotism, between propaganda and news. Perhaps worst of all, they equate freedom with material prosperity and quality of life with creature comfort.
September 11, 2001 was both an ineffably immense tragedy and a green light for these guys to get serious. After September 11, you could ask any question you pleased except for: Why? Why did this happen? Why would anyone want to do this to us? You didn’t have to ask that question, because it had already been answered: You’re American, and they hate your freedoms because they’re violent savages, just like them injuns was.
This crowd is in power now, and they’re enlightening the less privileged as we speak.
To them, those inside the U.S. that disagree with their pomp and bigotry are mentally infirm, treasonous deviants, and outside dissenters are both deviant (since they’re not purebred neo-cons) and subhuman (since they’re not American). They are right about everything not because they are educated and experienced but because they are American—because, by the power of Grey Skull, they are anointed by divinity, in some conceptions. They’re your go-to guys: for the only credible answers to everything from religion, to history, to the diplomatic and economic affairs of other countries, to science and the environment, to whether or not people should be taken off life support regardless of their own wishes, just ask the ultra-nationalist neo-conservative leadership of the United States of America. They’ll take it in stride, no worries.
Let us go, you and I, back in time to February of 2003. Frontline, a program on public broadcast television, aired a piece called “The War Behind Closed Doors.” This was touted as a balls-to-the-wall, nitty-gritty exposé of the “grand strategy” behind Bush’s new foreign policy as America stood at the “brink of war” with Iraq:
As the U.S. stands at the brink of war with Iraq, many are now warning about the potential consequences: the danger of getting bogged down in Baghdad, the prospect of longtime allies leaving America’s side, the possibility of chaos in the Middle East, the threat of renewed terrorism.
But the Bush administration insiders who helped define the “Bush Doctrine,” and who have argued most forcefully for war, are determined to set a course that will remake America’s role in the world. Having served three Republican presidents over the course of two decades, this group of close advisers — among them Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and perhaps most importantly, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz — believe that the removal of Saddam Hussein is the necessary first act of a new era.
In “The War Behind Closed Doors,” FRONTLINE traces the inside story of how those advisers — calling themselves “neo-Reaganites,” “neo-conservatives,” or simply “hawks” — set out to achieve the most dramatic change in American foreign policy in half a century: a grand strategy, formally articulated in the National Security Strategy released last September, that is based on preemption rather than containment and calls for the bold assertion of American power and influence around the world.
Through interviews with key Republican insiders, foreign policy analysts, and longtime White House observers, the report reveals how America got to the brink of war with Iraq — and how a war and its aftermath will put these advisers’ big idea to the test.
“The War Behind Closed Doors” follows a long-running policy battle between two of Washington’s most powerful insiders and the philosophies they represent: Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Powell, who held the top military job at the Pentagon under President George H.W. Bush and other powerful posts at the highest levels of government, is a cautious realist who represents the establishment’s abiding belief in diplomacy and the containment of foreign enemies. Wolfowitz, who built a career as a smart and tough hardliner at the Departments of State and Defense, champions the idea of preemption, striking first to defend America and to project its democratic values.
At the time the Gulf War ended in 1991, Powell was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Wolfowitz was deputy secretary of defense for policy, the third-highest ranking civilian in then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney’s Pentagon. Powell was instrumental in stopping the war short of going to Baghdad and removing Saddam Hussein. Wolfowitz and other hardliners were less than enthusiastic about that decision.
“Paul Wolfowitz believed then that it was a mistake to end the war,” says Richard Perle, chairman of the influential Defense Policy Board and a veteran of the Reagan administration. “They underestimated the way in which Saddam was able to cling to power, and the means he would use to remain in power. That was the mistake.”
Soon after the Gulf War, Wolfowitz supervised the drafting of a set of classified policy guidelines, called a Defense Planning Guidance, for how the U.S. should deal with Saddam Hussein and the rest of the world in the post-Cold War era. Wolfowitz believed containment was an old idea — a relic of the Cold War — and that America should use its overwhelming military might preemptively, and unilaterally, if need be. His draft of these policy guidelines was leaked to the press in 1992.
“Inside the U.S. defense planning establishment, there were people who thought this thing was nuts,” Barton Gellman of The Washington Post tells FRONTLINE. “The first draft said that the United States would be prepared to preempt the use of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons by any other nation, even, the document said, ‘Where our interests are otherwise not engaged.’ … It spoke of punishing or retaliating for that use, but it also said ‘preempt.’ This was the first time.”
“Wolfowitz basically authored a doctrine of American hegemony,” says historian and foreign policy expert John Lewis Gaddis, “a doctrine in which the United States would seek to maintain the position that it came out of the Cold War with, at which there were no obvious or plausible challengers to the United States. That was considered quite shocking in 1992. So shocking, in fact, that the Bush administration, at that time, disavowed it.”
As the first President Bush left office, Wolfowitz’s draft plan went into the bottom drawer, but it would not be forgotten.
“The War Behind Closed Doors” goes on to recount how the Clinton administration struggled to deal with Saddam Hussein’s defiance of U.S. and U.N. containment policies, while hawks in the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party grew increasingly impatient.
With the election of George W. Bush in 2000, however, the hawks saw a new opportunity to implement a stronger, forward-leaning American stance in the world. Yet during the new president’s first year in office, skirmishing between Colin Powell’s State Department and Rumsfeld’s Pentagon — where Wolfowitz is now the second-ranking civilian — left the adminstration’s foreign policy stalled in a kind of internal gridlock.
All that would change on Sept. 11, 2001.
Four days after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, President Bush and his Cabinet held a war council at Camp David. “From the first moments after Sept. 11, there was a group of people, both inside the administration and out, who believed that the war on terrorism should target Iraq — in fact, should target Iraq first,” says Kenneth Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (2002) and a former member of the National Security Council staff in the Clinton administration.
But Colin Powell and Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, were determined to rein in the hawks. Powell’s argument — that an international coalition could only be assembled for a war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, not an invasion of Iraq — won the day, and Iraq was put on the back burner.
Yet President Bush had made it clear that the U.S. would not stop at pursuing terrorists and bringing them to justice. “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,” the president told the nation on the evening of Sept. 11.
Four months later, with the Taliban defeated and Al Qaeda largely dispersed, Bush was ready to move on to the next phase of the war on terrorism. In his State of the Union address, he laid the groundwork for an invasion of Iraq, tying Saddam Hussein’s regime to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
“States like these,” Bush declared, “and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil arming to threaten the peace of the world. … The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”
The stage was set. Phase two was underway, and preemption would get its test case. The president had set a course for the U.S. to use its military power not only to topple Saddam Hussein but to promote democracy in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. Wolfowitz and the hawks, by all appearances, had succeeded.
“I wrote a piece in the Post two days after the State of the Union,” recalls William Kristol, editor of the influential neoconservative magazine The Weekly Standard, “saying we’ve just been present at a very unusual moment: the creation of a new American foreign policy.”
In the thirteen months since that speech, the Bush administration has moved steadily toward war with Iraq, though Colin Powell was able to convince the president to seek U.N. backing. Whether that approval is won or not, it is clear that this administration intends to alter America’s strategic relationship to the world.
So, let’s take inventory: It was all Colin Powell’s fault for being such a sissy, Paul Wolfowitz was tough and smart, and Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for 9/11 in a Dr. Claw kind of way. No more pushin’ us around with your WMDs and your secret terrorist supersquads, neither of which—if you really had them at all, which we somehow need not conclusively prove—you could possibly have come to possess without our express approval and assistance in the first place—but, hey! That was years ago. It’s the start of a Brand. New. Era. You can just imagine the specter of George Washington smiling down upon its moment of creation, just as he is about to be joined by Jesus Christ, perhaps.
I am sorry that some Americans, academic luminaries, ersatz pundits, and disinterested suburbanites among them, saw the need to make complete asses of themselves and their countrymen and countrywomen during the president of Iran’s recent visit to New York City. Curiously, I get the feeling that most of the worst offenders had, only the day before Ahmadinejad’s speeches (it having been a Sunday, you see), believed in kissing cheeks, loving enemies, universal brotherhood, and altruism to the point of self-immolation if necessary. “Half-truths, canards and lies,” as one friend described the scene, somehow abounded on Monday.
America’s massive occupation of Iraq is being resisted with weapons that may—may—have trickled in from Iran, and Tehran is to blame, even though, when American-built planes drop American-made bombs to churn up the farms, cities, arms, and legs of the Lebanese, Washington whistles absently across the Atlantic. Palestinians resist their colonial overlords with whatever desperate means are available, and Tehran is to blame. Iran wishes to exercise its right to peaceful nuclear energy without having to obtain the permission of the only nation ever to detonate atomic weapons in heavily populated civilian areas, and so Tehran is certainly on the path to a nuclear war against the world. The president of Iran quips outrageously provocative one-liners which are widely mistranslated, and that is inexcusable; the president of the United States sweeps whole nations into an ‘axis of evil’ and warns the international community to back off, and is lauded as a visionary.
Gargantuan military bases are being erected throughout Iraq and on the border with Iran. A great deal of the oil from the Gulf must pass through the Straits of Hormuz. A successful defiance of unilateral imperialism anywhere near Iraq cannot be tolerated by the neo-conservative elite management caste. Just one war could hardly constitute a whole new radiant era of murderous magnanimity, anyway.
We know what to expect, all the same hoping fervently that we must be wrong to expect it. We know who to thank for the policies and propaganda. But we live in a land where free speech is ubiquitous, and enough outcry is to injustice what water was to the Wicked Witch. This time, can there be any excuse for the inaction of concerned citizens?
Thanks to Dandelion Salad for posting this piece from Salon.com in which the always intelligent and incisive Juan Cole discusses the rather xenophobic fanfare with which the U.S. press greeted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his recent visit to New York City. Ahmadinejad spoke to the U.N. General Assembly and also to students and faculty at Columbia University.
Even if you feel that you’re inclined to disagree, I would strongly recommend visiting Salon and reading up. Like me, you’ll probably learn some things you didn’t know. Cole is always excellent in this regard.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s visit to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly has become a media circus. But the controversy does not stem from the reasons usually cited.
The media has focused on debating whether he should be allowed to speak at Columbia University on Monday, or whether his request to visit Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11 attack in lower Manhattan, should have been honored. His request was rejected, even though Iran expressed sympathy with the United States in the aftermath of those attacks and Iranians held candlelight vigils for the victims. Iran felt that it and other Shiite populations had also suffered at the hands of al-Qaida, and that there might now be an opportunity for a new opening to the U.S. . .