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Obama with Drama: Translating his comments on Israel’s Netanyahu from the Vulcan

Sun, 22 Mar 2015 - 6:07am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Now that Leonard Nimoy is most unfortunately no longer with us, Barack Obama is the primary exemplar in American popular culture of the maddeningly calm, excruciatingly logical way of speaking that Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry forever associated with the alien race, the Vulcans and the character Mr. Spock. Mr. Spock’s opposite was the plain-spoken, irascible Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (played by DeForest Kelley). Obama needs a little Bones-speak sometimes.

In an interview with The Huffington Post on Saturday, Obama reacted to the Israeli election campaign, the victory of far right wing Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, and his electoral rhetoric pledging no Palestinian state. What exactly he said, however, is a little obscured by Vulcan-speak, and here I offer a translation into plain, blunt English:

The Vulcan: “Well, I had a chance to speak to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, congratulated his party on his victory. I did indicate to him that we continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel, if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic. And I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.”

English translation: “For appearances sake I had to call that son of a bitch and pretend to congratulate him. But I let him know that his outrageous torpedoing of any Palestinian state has two consequences:

1. Israel isn’t a democracy any more– you don’t get to call yourself that if you plan to rule 4 million Occupied people with martial law forever.

2. The Palestinians and the Americans are not falling ever again for this two-faced lying bastard’s charade of “peace talks” that actually just provide a fig leaf to massive and expanding Israeli theft of Palestinian land. (And I’d just like to apologize to George Mitchell and John Kerry for putting them on that Judas Cradle, which we can now rename “Netanyahu Cradle.”

The Vulcan: OBAMA: “… the status quo is unsustainable. And … while taking into complete account Israel’s security, we can’t just in perpetuity maintain the status quo, expand settlements. That’s not a recipe for stability in the region.

HUFFPOST: “Is there any reason at this point to believe that he’s serious about a Palestinian state?”

OBAMA: Well, we take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.”

English Translation: “Hell will freeze over before Netanyahu lets the Palestinian people go. But with all the turmoil in the Middle East, the Israeli creeping annexation of the Palestinian West Bank and permanent siege of the Gaza Strip are going to blow up in his face and in America’s. We don’t really care if he gets popped in the kisser, but the USA is not going down with the “INS Netanyahu.” Since he’s a roadblock in the way of a superpower achieving its policy goals, we’ll just go around the s.o.b. If we have to, we’ll haul his ass before the United Nations Security Council or the International Criminal Court.”

The Vulcan: “HUFFPOST: And what was your reaction to his warning on Election Day about Arab voters heading to the polls “in droves”?”

OBAMA: We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions. That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly. And I think that that is what’s best about Israeli democracy. If that is lost, then I think that not only does it give ammunition to folks who don’t believe in a Jewish state, but it also I think starts to erode the meaning of democracy in the country.

English Translation: “Israelis of Palestinian heritage going to the polls in droves is bad? Netanyahu’s attitude toward Palestinian-Israelis makes 1960s Southern governors like George Wallace and Orval Faubus look like effing Nelson Mandelas in comparison. He’s creating a Jim Crow atmosphere, coding 6 million Israeli Jews as “white people” and putting all the other nearly two million Israelis under the sign of the N-word. That isn’t a democracy and if it is what Israel stands for now, no one but the other flaming racists and fascists in the world is going to be pro-Israeli. And you can imagine how I feel about the mofo basically using the N-word. You have to wonder if that’s his real problem with me.”

The Vulcan: “HUFFPOST: … “What impact do you think the Israeli elections are going to have on your ability to sell any Iranian nuclear agreement to both the American public and this Congress?”

OBAMA: “I don’t think it will have a significant impact. . .

What is going to have an effect on whether we get a deal done is, number one, is Iran prepared to show, to prove to the world that it is not developing a nuclear weapon, and can we verify that in an intrusive, consistent way.

And frankly, they have not yet made the kind of concessions that are I think going to be needed for a final deal to get done. But they have moved, and so there’s the possibility.

The other thing is going to be me being able to show not just the American people or the Israeli people but the world that, in fact, we have mechanisms in place that will prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon. And that the deal that is made not only is verifiable, but it also makes it much less likely that Iran is able to break out than if we have no deal at all. And that’s an argument that we are going to have to make, if we have a deal.”

English Translation: “That little piss-ant isn’t what’s standing in the way of a deal. It’s the Iran side’s unwillingness to accept terms we can sell to the Europeans. If Iran comes through, Western European corporations are going to descend on Tehran like revelers descending on New Orleans at Mardi Gras, and there won’t be a thing Nutty-yahoo can do about the collapse of international sanctions on Iran. We’re doing the Israelis a favor here by getting Iran under regular inspections and back under an NPT regime, and if they can’t see that they can go suck on a lemon.”


The Huffington Post interview:

Via Huffington Post

Tunisia needs Rights and Economic Development, not a ‘War on Terror’

Sat, 21 Mar 2015 - 11:43pm

By John Hursh | (Informed Comment) –

On Wednesday afternoon, gunmen attacked the Bardo Museum in Tunis, killing at least 20 people. Many more people sustained serious injuries. The casualties included foreign tourists and Tunisians, although most victims were foreigners. Tunisian leaders and citizens strongly condemned the attack. Foreign governments and human rights organizations offered similar condemnations, while also pressing Tunisian leaders to reject heavy-handed responses and to remain committed to the rule of law. As Eric Goldstein, Human Rights Watch Deputy Director, Middle East and North Africa Division, stated, “Tunisian authorities should show through their response that their commitment to the rule of law is unshaken.”

Despite such statements, the effects of this attack will reverberate throughout Tunisian politics. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi faces an especially difficult test. Essebsi, a Minister of the Interior during Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime, must show political restraint and respect human rights to retain democratic legitimacy. Restraint will likely prove challenging given Essebsi’s previous position and his need to deliver on campaign promises of restoring stability and eliminating extremism. Similarly, secularist politicians may use this attack to reiterate their argument that Islamist politics are incompatible with democracy, particularly as the ISIS threat to North Africa increases and large numbers of Tunisians continue to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Such a move would be a mistake. Instead, Tunisian leaders and policymakers should recognize that extremist violence has little if any connection to moderate Islamist groups such as Ennahda. Instead, this attack suggests a much more unsettling point by illustrating the inability of the current secular-led government or the moderate Islamist Ennahda to prevent extremist violence. While this attack was the first incident of massive civilian violence since 2002, when al-Qaeda operatives killed nineteen people by bombing the Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, extremist groups have killed about 40 security force personnel since the 2010–2011 Revolution. Security concerns plagued Ennahda after it won 89 of 217 seats in the 2011 Constituent Assembly election. These concerns culminated in the assassinations of leftist politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, which enraged the country and nearly derailed Tunisia’s democratic transition.

Secular political parties including Nidaa Tounes capitalized on the public’s dissatisfaction with Ennahda’s handling of extremist violence as well as other shortcomings to win the 2014 elections. Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda now control parliament through an unlikely coalition. This attack will put stress on this uneasy relationship, although both parties have called for the swift adoption of a draft terrorism law.

In addition to political tension, Tunisia faces difficult security issues. On Thursday, Tunisian Minister of the Interior Rafik Chelli announced that the two gunmen responsible for the attack received training at a jihadist camp in Libya. Importantly, Chelli also noted that extremists recruited the gunmen at Tunisian mosques before they travelled to Libya last September. Although they received training in Libya, the gunmen remain unlinked to any militant group, which raises additional concerns about “homegrown” extremists acting outside of established militant organizations. Accordingly, Tunisian security forces face an extremely difficult situation, as Libya continues its descent into armed conflict and as militant groups such as Ansar al Sharia and Okba Ibn Nafaa operate in the Chaambi Mountains along the Algerian border. Some analysts even suggest that the increased pressure Tunisian security forces applied to militants within the Chaambi region may have contributed to the museum attack, as militants sought to strike a soft target with symbolic importance.

Tunisian politicians had already prioritized stronger counterterrorism capabilities, but many political leaders called for immediate improvements following Wednesday’s attack. This response is understandable, and perhaps necessary, but better counterterrorist services will not improve Tunisia’s struggling economy, which remains significantly depressed following the Revolution. While the link between poverty and extremism is hardly a casual relationship, within Tunisia, extremist recruiters have used the struggling economy as a valuable recruitment strategy. As University of Oxford historian Mark Almond noted the day following the attacks: “The fundamentalists consider poverty to be their best recruiting-sergeant; the recession, which hit post revolution when the Europeans left, is radicalizing young Tunisians.”

The promise of stronger security forces also raises the unsightly specter of the Ben Ali regime, which justified the repression of civil society and the harsh treatment of political opponents through a “fight against terrorism.” While the current government would almost certainly refuse these tactics, detainee abuse remains a legitimate concern and Tunisian human rights attorneys report that those returning from fighting abroad often experience torture upon their return. Likewise, pledges of support from “Western” governments to improve Tunisian security forces, though again perhaps necessary, could provide extremists another key recruiting tool.

Perhaps most of all, this attack demonstrates the immense challenges that Tunisia faces as it continues its democratic transition. While calls for unity and improved economic opportunity are important, these pronouncements will not change the daily life of most Tunisians. Moreover, this attack and the influx of Tunisians joining ISIS stand in stark contrast to the peaceful vigil that followed the attack and the stubborn persistence of Tunisian politicians remaining faithful to democratic ideals. Rather than a simple choice between violence and peace, this contrast demonstrates that inclusive, democratic societies will always face challenges from extremist groups unwilling and uninterested in joining a society premised on a respect for others.

The Bardo Museum attack was a cowardly act of intolerant militants and those responsible should be held accountable. Nonetheless, larger issues such as unemployment—particularly youth unemployment—remain unresolved. While this attack was undoubtedly a tragedy, structural issues such as unemployment and corruption stemming from the Ben Ali regime present a greater long-term threat to Tunisia’s security and its fragile democracy. Since the Revolution, politicians and citizens have rejected violence and demonstrated their ability to compromise on key points. Whether this success can continue absent economic improvement remains uncertain, but refusing to equate moderate Islamist groups such as Ennahda with violent extremists or to blame them for such violence is another important step in this process.

John Hursh is an independent researcher and consultant specializing in North Africa. He completed an LL.M. degree at McGill University in 2014, writing a thesis: “Women’s Rights and Women’s Land Rights in Postcolonial Tunisia and Morocco: Legal Institutions, Social Discourse, and the Need for Continued Reform


Related video added by Juan Cole:

France24: “Fears for Tunisia and its economy following terrorist attacks”

Jerusalem a Tinderbox that could Explode: EU Report

Sat, 21 Mar 2015 - 11:35pm

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) – A leaked EU report cautioned that Jerusalem has reached its highest point of “polarization and violence” since the Second Intifada in 2005, according to international news sources.

Describing the upsurge of a “vicious cycle of violence … increasingly threatening the viability of the two-state solution,” the report blames increasing tensions on the continuation of “systematic” settlement building by Israel in “sensitive areas” of Jerusalem, according to the Guardian.

Also included is criticism of disproportionate policing towards Palestinian residents, as well as their rampant evictions and home demolitions throughout occupied East Jerusalem in 2014.

The report calls for greater European sanctions against settlement construction, providing suggestions of possible punitive measures against extremist settlers and products made in settlements.

The warnings come as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces international criticism for openly denying the possibility of an independent Palestinian state, which he confirmed would never come into fruition if he was reelected.

Netanyahu’s Likud party won the most seats in Tuesday’s elections, in which he made last minute pleas to the right wing and settlement blocs to cast their ballots.

International pressure has not effectively prevented the continuation of settlement construction in the past, and critics argue Netanyahu’s policies encourage and facilitate rapid expansion of settlements and their protection.

Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem face ongoing pressure and discrimination, as the Israeli government has a stated aim of “Judaizing” Jerusalem, which means ensuring eternal Jewish control over the city through a policy of limiting Palestinian rights to residency and construction while building homes specifically for Jews across the city.

Settlers often receive protection by private security forces contracted by the state, while Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem lack citizenship rights and are instead classified only as “residents” whose permits can be revoked if they move away from the city for more than a few years.

Via Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

DW: “Jerusalem – Three Religions, Three Families | Faith Matters”

Iran’s Lakes becoming Deserts as Climate Change, Dams provoke Aridity

Sat, 21 Mar 2015 - 11:30pm

AFP | –

“Nazar Sarani’s village in southeast Iran was once an island. It is now a desert, a casualty of the country’s worsening water crisis. Climate change is blamed, but so too is human error and mismanagement. A voiced AFPTV report.”

AFP: “As lakes become deserts, drought is Iran’s new problem”

Palestinian Women: The Oppressed of the Oppressed

Sat, 21 Mar 2015 - 11:28pm

By Mel Frykberg | –

GAZA CITY (IPS) – Israel’s siege of Gaza, aided and abetted by the Egyptians in the south, has aggravated the plight of Gazan women, and the Jewish state’s devastating military assault on the coastal territory over July and August 2014 exacerbated the situation.

In a resolution approved by the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women on Mar. 20, Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory was blamed for “the grave situation of Palestinian women.”

Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

The 45-member commission adopted the resolution – which was sponsored by Palestine and South Africa – by a vote of 27-2 with 13 abstentions. The United States and Israel voted against, while European Union members abstained.

“Women’s suffering doubled in the Gaza Strip in particular due to the consequences of Israel’s latest offensive, as they have been enduring hard and complicated living conditions,” said Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in a statement released on Mar. 8 to mark International Women’s Day.

“During the 50-day Israeli offensive, women were exposed to the risks of death or injury because of Israel’s excessive use of lethal force as well as Israel’s blatant violations of the principles of distinction and proportionality under customary international humanitarian law,” said PCHR.

During the war, 293 women were killed (18 percent of the civilian victims) and 2,114 wounded, with many sustaining permanent disabilities.

However, inherent cultural, religious and legal implications have also played a part in making life untenable for Gaza’s female population.

The world of 40-year-old Islam Iliwa from Zeitoun in Gaza City was shattered during a night of heavy bombardment last year during the war.

The divorced mother of three children, aged 10 to 16, lost nearly everything when an Israeli air strike destroyed her home and with it the business that she had worked so hard for years to build up.

Iliwa had been living in Dubai when she and her husband divorced, a move that makes it particularly hard for women to reintegrate into conservative Arab society.

The divorce was traumatic but Iliwa was determined to make a go of her life and moved back to Gaza in 2011 with the money she had saved up while working in Dubai.

Under Islamic law, the father would have been given automatic custody of their three children at their respective ages.

However, Iliwa decided she would pay her husband to sign custody of the children over to her as well as forfeit her rights to child support.

“I told him I would survive without him and make a good life for myself and my children,” Iliwa told IPS.

“On arriving back in Gaza, I poured my life savings of 20,000 dollars into a small business which sold cleaning materials,” she said.

“In a good month before the war I was able to earn about 2,400 dollars and my business was growing. However, my home and the little factory I built were both destroyed during the Israeli bombing attack. My son Muhammad was also injured,” recalled Iliwa, as she broke down and wept at the bitter memory.

Iliwa and her three children were forced to flee to a U.N. shelter, along with hundreds of thousands of other desperate Gazans.

When it was safe to leave the shelter, after a ceasefire had been reached, Iliwa and her children were destitute and homeless.

However, the plucky mother of three has been able to rent a new home and slowly rebuild her business with the help of Oxfam, even though she is now making a fraction of what she used to.
Related IPS Articles

Palestinian Grassroots Resistance to Occupation Growing
Families See Hope for Justice in Palestinian Membership of ICC
Israeli Arrest Campaign Targets Palestinian Children

The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

A rise in domestic violence has aggravated the situation with women having little recourse to societal or legal support with many Palestinians believing that this is a private matter between spouses.

Under Palestinian law, the few men that are arrested for “honour killings” receive little jail time and women beaten by husbands would have to be hospitalised for at least 10 days before police would consider intervening.

According to PCHR’s documentation, 16 women were killed last year in different contexts related to gender-based violence.

Last year, U.N. Women in Palestine released a statement saying that they it was “seriously concerned” about the killings, highlighting that the “worrying increase in the rate of femicide demonstrated a widespread sense of impunity in killing women”.

A 2012 survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) said that 37 percent of Palestinian women were subject to some form of violence at the hands of their husbands, with the highest rate in Gaza at 58.1 percent and the lowest in Ramallah at 14.1 percent.

Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) explained that the difficult economic circumstances, poverty and unemployment, were the reasons behind the spike in domestic violence.

“These factors reflect negatively on men’s psychological status. They became more stressed and angry as they can’t support their families financially, live in crowded conditions and have no privacy,” PCDCR told IPS.

“There has also been a reversal in gender roles where women accept low-paying jobs which men consider below their status as the head of families or single women/widows are forced to take on the breadwinner role.

“This has all fed into men’s feelings of inadequacy and to them taking their frustrations out on their female relatives,” PCDCR told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris

Licensed from Inter Press Service

Yemen Bombing: It’s not ISIL and it’s not Sunni-Shiite Conflict

Fri, 20 Mar 2015 - 11:41pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

The massive twin bombings at mosques in the capital that shook Yemen on Friday, killing over 100 and wounding many more, were immediately claimed by Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). Since the mosques were largely attended by members of the Houthi movement in Zaidi, Shiite Islam and Daesh is ultra-Sunni, the bombings also suggest Sunni-Shiite conflict of the sort that has characterized Iraq’s recent sectarian violence.

But Daesh doesn’t in fact have a toehold in Yemen, and it clearly is not only franchising itself to Muslim radicals but also making grandiose claims to be behind everything any of them does. If radicals were involved at all in Yemen, it would be al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has a long history of terrorism in Yemen and of targeting the West with it, as with the underwear bomber over Detroit in 2009.

But in any case the issue isn’t primarily one of radical Zaidi Shiism versus radical strains of Sunni Islam. The two great branches of Islam can, by analogy, be understood as similar to Protestantism (Sunnism) and Catholicism (Shiism) in Christianity. This analogy is extremely inaccurate, of course, but maybe it helps understand some of the basic divisions. Sunni clerics are more like pastors than priests and aren’t owed much authority, and many strains of Sunnism are iconoclastic in modern times. Shiite clerics must be obeyed by the laity and have a hierarchy, although it is much less formal than in Catholicism, and Shiites are frequenters of shrines and in Iran and Pakistan even put up pictures of Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet whom they see as his successor, a la Peter in Catholicism.

Zaidi Shiism, just to make things more complex, doesn’t have ayatollahs and is often thought of as between Shiite and Sunni Islam in many of its emphases.

The reason the mosque bombing can’t be seen as primarily sectarian is that religion alone almost certainly did not drive it. About a third of Yemenis are Zaidi Shiites, and the proportion is much higher in the north. Many Zaidis felt targeted by the hard line Wahhabi Islam of neighboring Saudi Arabia, whose leaders tried to proselytize them and denounced Shiism as heresy. The Houthi movement arose as a response to Wahhabi incursions, and it gradually came into conflict with the secular Yemeni government, which was financially supported by Saudi Arabia and appears to have supported the proselytizing. Several battles between the two sides were fought in the north in the past decade. The Houthis also fought local Sunni radicals who had joined al-Qaeda. Although conspiracy theorists see the Houthis as Iran-backed, they are in fact largely a local movement with local grievances and their form of Shiite Islam is very different from that in Iran.

Last September the Houthis took over the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, having become a movement of political Islam. They subordinated the government to themselves.

Recently several government officials, including President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, have fled south to Aden and established a rump government there. Note that some of them are secular Zaidis, Arab nationalists, and not religious. Six southern Yemen provinces have announced that they won’t follow directives from the Houthi government in Sanaa. There is also just in general a strong secessionist movement in south Yemen, which doesn’t want Mansour Hadi or any northerner as president and wants an independent South Yemen (which existed 1967-1990 before unification).

Elements of the Yemen air force loyal to the Houthi government in Sanaa tried to bombard Mansour Hadi’s presidential mansion in Aden the day before the bombing.

So this is political. The Houthi movement has politicized Zaidi Islam, after the Saudis politicized hard line Sunni Islam. The Houthis have all kinds of enemies now– secular Arab nationalists loyal to the Aden government, Sunnis who resent Houthi dominance of largely Sunni cities like Taizz, southern secessionists, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Any of these could have hit the mosques, not because they hate Shiism but because they oppose the Houthi take-over of Yemen’s government in the north.

When religion is deployed for political purposes and there is no separation of religion and state, religion acts like a political movement and throws up political opposition. Where politics is violent, so is religious politics.

Countries were there is a separation of religion and state have much less religious violence, because there is no point in deploying religion for political purposes where religion is barred from attaining them.

Related video:

Yemen: Dozens die in suicide attacks on Sanaa mosques – BBC News

Even if they can Defeat ISIL/ Daesh, Can Iraqi Politicians Get together? The Surprising Answer

Fri, 20 Mar 2015 - 11:33pm

By Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | ( –

Former political enemies are forming new, non-sectarian alliances to prepare for an extremist-free future. Shiites are partnering with Sunnis and Kurds to support progressive decision-making. Can it work?

There have been some quiet negotiations going on in Iraq’s Parliament for some time now.

Members of the Ahrar block in Baghdad – the political wing of the Sadrist movement led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr which has 34 seats in the 328 seat Parliament – have been holding talks with members of the Iraqiya coalition, which has 24 seats and which is led by one of Iraq’s Vice Presidents, Ayad Allawi.

 The talks have been held out of the public eye as the politicians involved see themselves preparing for Iraq’s future once the extremist group known as the Islamic State, which is causing many security problems in the country presently, is expelled. Most of the country’s, and the world’s, attention has been on the fighting between pro-government groups and the Islamic State, or IS, group in Salahaddin recently.

But as the military campaign progresses, politicians have started talking about what happens after the IS group has been beaten back. The security crisis has not only created military problems, it has also given rise to new alliances that don’t necessarily fit the political landscape of the past.

“The aim of the negotiations with Allawi is the formation of a new, united political bloc inside the government and the Parliament capable of implementing reforms in politics, security and society,” MP Jawad al-Shihaili from the Ahrar bloc told NIQASH. “The bloc wants to help pass a number of important laws which will serve in the interests of all Iraqis – Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish – and which will support the al-Abadi government’s efforts at reform.”

“This new bloc hopes to help make new decisions which will serve the political process better – this has witnessed serious setbacks,” MP Maysoon al-Damluji, a member of the Iraqiya bloc, told NIQASH. “It will be a cross-sectarian and multi-ethnic bloc and there are many others who want to join us.”

After several meetings, the two groups first to talk to one another, have succeeded in reaching agreement on several issues they consider important; they have also agreed to try and expand the alliance and to reach out to other political groups.

Allawi is also responsible for national reconciliation in Iraq and he has started negotiations with several Iraqi Kurdish politicians to try and persuade them to join the new alliance. Previously Iraq’s Kurdish parties had refused to join any other political alliance but in this case they have expressed a willingness to join.

Today there are three major groups dominating Iraq’s political landscape. These are the largest bloc in the Parliament consisting of Shiite Muslim-majority parties, a similar, smaller bloc composed mostly of Sunni Muslim parties and then the Iraqi Kurdish group.

The parties that support the government led by current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi are concerned that al-Abadi’s rule is being undermined by his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, and those who still support al-Maliki. The feeling is that the al-Maliki team want to thwart any successes claimed by al-Abadi and punish al-Abadi for taking up the job instead of al-Maliki. This new cross-sectarian alliance seeks to support al-Abadi against such political threats.

Additionally all is not necessarily well within the three major political groupings themselves. The larger parties in the Shiite Muslim alliance – such as the State of Law bloc headed by al-Abadi and previously headed by al-Maliki, the Ahrar and Muwatin blocs – were unable to choose a president for the group because of conflicts between Ammar al-Hakim, who heads the Muwatin, or Citizen, bloc and Ali al-Adeeb, a senior member of the State of Law party who is close to al-Maliki.

The Shiite bloc came up with some special rules to regulate how they would do business in Parliament in order to stop any one part of the bloc becoming too dominant, as had happened during al-Maliki’s time. But the rules haven’t really been applied and the Sadrist group have been highly critical about this, blaming an angry al-Maliki and his supporters.

The Sunni Muslim group of parties have similar problems; they’ve also been unable to choose a leader for the group and they often criticise one another.

Despite tensions between Iraqi Kurdistan’s two major political parties about the Iranian role in Iraq, the Iraqi Kurdish parties are probably the most coherent and united group.

There have also been new alliances formed on the ground during the security crisis and these remain underrepresented in the political sphere – for example, the Sunni Muslim tribal groups in Salahaddin, Anbar and Diyala who have joined with Shiite Muslim forces to fight against the IS group. Politicians from these areas who have distanced themselves from the fighting are not well thought of by locals there anymore.

For all these reasons and more, the different political actors have started to try and work on new and more effective alliances. Members of all three of the major groups concede that they’ve failed to run Iraq effectively – instead they have postponed major decisions, such as amending the Iraqi Constitution and how best to distribute oil wealth.

While these signs are positive, it does beg the question as to whether this kind of political activity can put an end to sectarian-related conflict in Iraq? The answer: It seems unlikely. The current political system, which emerged after 2003, is based on maintaining sectarian balance and the social problems created by sectarianism in the country over the past decades seem unlikely to be forgotten or resolved in the short term.

It is also important to remember that the sectarian struggle in the Middle East is regional – it would be hard for Iraq’s political actors to forget about their supporters with a sectarian bias outside of the country either.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

ABC News: ” Iraqi Prime Minister on ISIS: “We Have to Stop Them” ”

Unprecedented CO2 Crimes: Next time, Let’s Call it “Cyclone ExxonMobil”

Fri, 20 Mar 2015 - 11:23pm

By David Ray Griffin, author of “Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis?” (Clarity Press, 2015). | –

There are several widespread misconceptions about global warming and climate change. Many of these have been fostered by groups funded by fossil-fuel companies, especially ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, to prevent legislation that might curtail their profits. Here are 5 common misconceptions.

“Global Warming” and “Climate Change” Are Two Terms for the Same Thing

Climate denialists have claimed that “alarmists” first spoke of “global warming” but then, when the global warming trend ended, switched to “climate change.”

But these terms refer to different phenomena: “Global warming” refers to the increase of the planet’s average temperature (in which there has been no pause), while “global climate change” refers to effects of global warming. These terms, which have both been used for many decades, are related as cause and effect.

Cold Weather Disproves Global Warming

The false idea that “global warming” and “climate change” are synonyms led to the assumption that winters should always get warmer, which in turn led to the claim that the idea of global warming is contradicted by especially cold and snowy winters. Such winters, it has been suggested, show God’s sense of humor.

But global warming can bring about climate change of various types: intensifying drought, making hurricanes and tornadoes more intense, making snowstorms as well as rainstorms heavier, and making winters colder in places (temporarily) as well as summers hotter.

We Can Always Adapt to Climate Change

It is commonly thought that no matter what kinds of climate change occur, we will be able to adapt. But CO2-caused climate change is 10 to 100 times faster than previous climate changes, making impossible the ways in which plants and animals previously adapted. And if plants and animals go extinct, we will not avoid the same fate – as Elizabeth Kolbert pointed out in her 2014 book, The Sixth Extinction.

Asked what portion of the population would be able to adapt to a global temperature increase of 4˚C (7˚F), the University of Santa Barbara’s Ira Leifer said: “just a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica.”

Clean Energy Receives More Subsidies than Fossil-Fuel

The president of the American Petroleum Institute said: “The oil and gas industry gets no subsidies, zero, nothing.” It is true that the industry receives no check from the U.S. Treasury. But according to the World Trade Organization, “a subsidy is any financial contribution by a government, or agent of a government, that confers a benefit on its recipient.”

According to Joseph Stiglitz, “hidden in the [U.S.] tax code are billions of dollars of subsidies to the oil and gas industries.” And according to the International Monetary Fund, the subsidies for fossil fuels worldwide are 12 times greater than those for clean energy.

Clean Energy Could Never Replace Fossil-Fuel Energy

Repeating the refrains, “sometimes the sun shines, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes the wind blows, sometimes it doesn’t,” fossil-fuel lobbyists claim that the intermittent nature of clean energy means it will always need to be backed up by fossil-fuel energy.

However, besides the fact that solar and wind energy, if employed together, can supply electricity most of the time, there are now batteries to store the energy until needed. In addition, there is hydro power, wave energy, tidal energy, and geothermal energy. Clean energy could electrify the world many times over.

Conclusion: Continued global warming will produce more climate change, including colder and snowier winters, and climate change will get to a point at which humans will be unable to adapt. To avoid this fate, we need an escalating carbon tax, in addition to giving subsidies to clean, not dirty, energy. If fully supported, clean energy might save us.

David Ray Griffin is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University and author of “Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis?” (Clarity Press, 2015).

Obama might stop vetoing UNSC Resolutions re: Israel after Netanyahu rejected Palestinian state

Fri, 20 Mar 2015 - 11:08pm

RT | –

The US is “evaluating” its policy towards Israel in the wake of Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election and campaign statements. This could involve passing a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements.

President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
on Thursday to congratulate him on winning the March 17 election,
and used the opportunity to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to a
two-state solution that would result in a “secure Israel
alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine

The president also brought up Netanyahu’s campaign comment about
Israeli Arabs, a White House official told Reuters. Angered by PM
Netanyahu’s statement against Palestinian statehood, Washington
is now ready to re-access its options in US-Israeli relations.
The warning came directly from President Obama to his counterpart
in the phone call, and was later explained by the White House.

Our policy decisions need to be reconsidered – and that’s
what we will do
,” the White House press-secretary Josh
Earnest said at a briefing.

During the election, Netanyahu accused his opponents of busing
Israeli Arabs to the polls “in droves.” The White House
condemned the comments as “cynical, divisive election-day
” that “erode the values critical to the bond
” the US and Israel, spokesman Josh Earnest told
reporters Thursday.

Earnest characterized Netanyahu’s campaign promise to block
Palestinian statehood as “walking back” from Israel’s
commitments to a policy that enjoyed bipartisan support in the
US, and formed a basis for US actions on behalf of Israel in the
UN and elsewhere.

The White House spokesman was echoing the statement of his State
Department colleague. “Based on the prime minister’s
comments, the United States is in a position going forward where
we will be evaluating our approach with regard to how best to
achieve a two-state solution
,” State Department spokeswoman
Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday. “But that doesn’t mean
that we’ve made a decision about changing our position with
respect to the UN,
” she added.

EXCLUSIVE: U.S. is edging toward supporting a U.N. resolution
on Israel-Palestine, report @John_Hudson &

— Foreign Policy (@ForeignPolicy) March
19, 2015

Foreign Policy magazine reported Thursday that Washington had
told its allies it would continue to block any measures against
Israel in the UN Security Council in case opposition candidate
Isaac Herzog won the election, but “signaled a willingness to
consider a UN resolution in the event Netanyahu was

The more the new government veers to the right the more
likely you will see something in New York
,” FP quoted an
anonymous Western diplomat as saying.

The magazine speculated that Washington might abstain from voting
on the UN resolution condemning the construction of Israeli
settlements in the West Bank, thus letting it pass. “I could
see that as a possibility
,” Ilan Goldenberg, former member
of the Obama administration’s Mideast peace team told FP.

The rift between US and Israel is more based on a clash of
personalities rather than fundamental bilateral relations Eric
Draitser, independent geopolitical analyst, told RT.

“There has definitely been a rift that has grown in the personal
relations between Netanyahu and Obama; between the Israeli regime
that he leads and the Obama administration. Part of it has to do
with extreme racism and belligerent rhetoric.”

>US officials insist they would never cut military aid to Israel, nor would they support
Palestinian membership in the International Criminal Court.
“But they feel no similar inhibition about settlements, which they consider utterly indefensible,” liberal columnist Peter Beinart wrote in the Israeli daily Haaretz on Thursday.

Beinart claims that top Obama officials “loathed
Netanyahu before, but the Israeli PM’s comments about Palestinian
statehood, settlements, and Arab voters in particular, “drove
them to new levels of fury

Another sign that the US may rethink being “Israel’s
” was the recent appointment of former Clinton adviser
Rob Malley as the White House’s point man on Israel, reports
Politico. Malley had been forced to resign from the Obama
campaign in 2008, after Jewish groups dubbed him an
“Israel-basher” due to his contacts with Hamas, considered by
Israel and the US to be a terrorist organization.

Israel’s shield no more? | AP Photo

— POLITICO (@politico) March
19, 2015

Domestic politics may play a role in the White House’s
calculations as well. “The worse relations between the White
House and Israel get, the more Hillary can appease the American
Jewish establishment by running to Obama’s right, and promising
to repair the rift,
” an unnamed US official told Beinart.

But as US enters the election cycle, the US – Israeli
“fundamental relationship” is to be observed.

“Whatever the new incoming administration is going to be they
will be moving further and further to the right,”
said, which means realigning itself with the “powerful”
Israel lobby, or standing “shoulder to shoulder with

Netanyahu has reportedly already softened his stance on
Palestinian statehood, saying he would be open to it “if
circumstances improve

BREAKING: Israel’s Netanyahu says still committed to
Palestinian statehood if circumstances improve.

— The Associated Press (@AP) March 19,

The White House, however, appears unwilling to let him walk back
the campaign phrasing. “Words do matter,” said Earnest.

Something fundamental has changed,” Beinart wrote of
the mood in the Obama administration, adding that, “officials
stress that they retain a deep, visceral commitment to the
survival of the Jewish state. But they foresee terrible days for
Israel ahead

Via RT


RT: “Obama threatens to withdraw US support for Israel in UN”

Will Palestine now take Israel’s Netanyahu to Int’l Criminal Court for War Crimes?

Thu, 19 Mar 2015 - 11:34pm

By Kate Shuttleworth and Joe Dyke |

JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (IRIN) – Shortly before Israel’s elections on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that as long as he remained in power there would be no independent Palestinian state.

“Whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel,” he said.

The announcement was a major part of a strategy that saw Netanyahu rise from polling several points behind the more liberal Zionist Union a few days before the vote to surprise election victory and a likely fourth term in office.

While the election was fought more over economics than relations with the Palestinians, where does his explicit rejection of the two-state solution leave the peace process?

Backing down

For some, Netanyahu’s statement was merely a reflection of what they had long feared – that he has little interest in an independent Palestinian state. While Israeli and Palestinian officials continue to pay lip service to American-led peace talks, there have been no significant breakthroughs in recent years. Some fear his comment was merely a blunt statement of what was in fact unspoken policy.

“Netanyahu’s statement confirms the view that he and the former government did not seriously engage in a peace process,” one European diplomat told IRIN.

Yet since the election victory, Netanyahu’s allies have sought to row back on the statement.

Tzachi Hanegbi of Netanyahu’s Likud party and the deputy foreign minister in the previous government, told IRIN that Likud was still committed to negotiations with the Palestinians.

“I believe the [new] administration will make an effort to renew the negotiations. We will be very delighted to renew the negotiations, we believe it’s in the interests of both people, the Israelis and the Palestinians, to have a dialogue and discuss and to try and find a common denominator in the issues that are so crucial to both people.”

He refused to be drawn on whether the next government would be willing to support an independent Palestinian state in any form.

Critics also allege that Netanyahu’s party used the fear of the Arab vote to drum up support. The Joint List, a coalition of four predominantly Arab parties, had a major breakthrough at this election – becoming the third largest bloc in the Knesset.

In an apparent attempt to get out the Jewish vote, Netanyahu warned that Arabs were voting in their “droves.”

Ahmed Tibi, a Joint List parliamentarian, said that Netanyahu’s victory meant little change would be forthcoming. “It seems that the Israeli Jewish public did not want to change the reality. We wanted Israel to change its reality and cooperate with democratic process,” he said.

Netanyahu’s approach has also contributed to increasingly tense relations between Israeli Jews and Arabs, said Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund – which advocates coexistence between the communities.

“Nobody has a right to incite against Arabs and Netanyahu is supposed to represent all citizens, including the 20 percent of Arab Israeli citizens,” Abu Rass said. “These kinds of statements from Netanyahu widen the gaps between Arabs and Jews and worsen the ethnic discourse and do not contribute to democracy.”

Going it alone?

Netanyahu’s choice of coalition partners is likely to influence whether he formally engages with the peace process in the coming months. He has said that it could take several weeks to form a government.

Salman Shaikh, director at the Brookings Center Doha think tank, said that if Netanyahu’s Likud party were to form an alliance with the Zionist Union then he would have to commit to a breakthrough in the peace process as it was a key part of the latter’s campaign. “But I don’t think that is going to happen – [Netanyahu] would need to back down on his promises,” he said.

In the absence of such an alliance, there appears little impetus for serious bilateral talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

This could encourage the Palestinians to ramp up their attempts at international recognition, rather than through direct negotiations. Last year the Palestinians announced their intention to join the International Criminal Court, with their accession due to be confirmed on April 1. This comes after numerous attempts to gain recognition of Palestine at the United Nations, with resolutions in the Security Council vetoed by the United States.

Saed Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator during the last round of talks, announced that Netanyahu’s victory made the need for the Palestinians to pursue an international approach to independence more important.

“Now, more than ever, the international community must act. It must rally behind Palestinian efforts to internationalize our struggle for dignity and freedom through the International Criminal Court and through all other peaceful means,” he said.

“The Palestinians will not go through any process now [after Netanyahu’s statement],” Shaikh said. “They will be looking for international action now. They are forced to start a process that has not got internationally-backed parameters.”

The European diplomat said foreign diplomats were increasingly in agreement that direct Israeli-Palestinian talks are unlikely to yield results. “The two-state solution needs stronger international engagement, it will not come from a bilateral process,” he said.

The European Union has already announced its commitment to working with the new government on the peace process, but the diplomat added that there was increasing support within European countries for bringing the Palestinian issue back to the “Security Council with broader support.”

That could force the US into a corner. Shaikh said the US would have to decide whether it was seriously looking to pressure Israel into concessions, or merely looking to maintain the status quo.

“The only other way [for a peace process to move forward] is for the US to insist on it, put down parameters,” he said. This could begin with the “US withdrawing its veto within Security Council on certain measures and could go into a phrase of taking more positive action,” he said.

“We are going to see this thing move into the international domain and the big question is what will the US do?”

Via IRIN Humanitarian News


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Palestinian statehood buried in the Israeli ballot box”

10 Foot Sea Level Rise Concern: Warm Water Reaching Antarctic Fast-Thinning Glacier

Thu, 19 Mar 2015 - 11:27pm

Jackson School of Geoscience News | University of Texas, Austin | –


Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) in the Jackson School of Geosciences have discovered two seafloor gateways that could allow warm ocean water to reach the base of Totten Glacier, East Antarctica’s largest and most rapidly thinning glacier. The discovery, reported in the March 16 edition of the journal Nature Geoscience, probably explains the glacier’s extreme thinning and raises concerns about how it will affect sea level rise.

Totten Glacier is East Antarctica’s largest outlet of ice to the ocean and has been thinning rapidly for many years. Although deep, warm water has been observed seaward of the glacier, until now there was no evidence that it could compromise coastal ice. The result is of global importance because the ice flowing through Totten Glacier alone is sufficient to raise global sea level by at least 11 feet, equivalent to the contribution of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet if it were to completely collapse.

“We now know there are avenues for the warmest waters in East Antarctica to access the most sensitive areas of Totten Glacier,” said lead author Jamin Greenbaum, a UTIG Ph.D. candidate.

The ice loss to the ocean may soon be irreversible unless atmospheric and oceanic conditions change so that snowfall outpaces coastal melting. The potential for irreversible ice loss is due to the broadly deepening shape of Totten Glacier’s catchment, the large collection of ice and snow that flows from a deep interior basin to the coastline…”

Read the whole thing

Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: “Hidden paths could be behind Antarctic glacier melt: study”

Top 5 Signs of the Decline and Fall of the American Republic

Thu, 19 Mar 2015 - 11:25pm

By Tom Engelhardt | (

Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of “we the people.”

Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.

1. 1% Elections

Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests.  (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)

Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper.  A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election.  He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present.  Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.”  It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future.  (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)

Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.

The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice.  So the early primaries — this year mainly a Republican affair — are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)

Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat.  By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.

In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below — and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.

2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)

In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc.  Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.

However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted.  An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications.  If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought.  But it didn’t happen in some third-world state.  It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which — even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred — should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.

Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11.  Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country.  Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization.  The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations doing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting.  Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torture, drone strikes, and — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden — intelligence gathering and spying.  You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.

All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy.  And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.

Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.

3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency

On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall.  In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%.  (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.)  The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%.  All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.

It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of delegitimizing itself.  Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.

What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing?  Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing.  They are proving capable of acting effectively to delegitimize the presidency as well.  House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president’s Iranian nuclear negotiations and the letter signed by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this.  They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.

The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“treason!”) or, as Jon Stewart did on “The Daily Show,” as part of a repetitive tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy.  It is, in fact, neither.  It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to take on and potentially take out the presidency.

In the twenty-first century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state.  The Republican Party — its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats — seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security.  As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state.  A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and the like.  While it has launched an unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.” 

4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government

One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight.  Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment.  But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon — the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government — gets remarkably little attention.  In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own.  Its growth has been phenomenal.  Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians.  The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace. 

Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering.  Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century to shame.  That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor.  As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.

New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state.  In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China).  Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones.  Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that “mimics a cellphone tower.” This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to “the homeland,” is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces.  And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.

News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives.  Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage.  At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”

This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure.  And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hard to keep what it’s doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know.  Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).

5. The Demobilization of the American People

In The Age of Acquiescence, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them.  In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?

After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes.  Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.

The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military.  It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era.  In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs.  Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.

Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.

The Birth of a New System

Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.”  Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be.  In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual.  Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design.  Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion.  In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention.  Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

[Note: My special thanks go to my friend John Cobb, who talked me through this one.  Doing it would have been inconceivable without him.  Tom]

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Wikipedia Sues NSA For Spying Program”

Iraq: Shiite Militia atrocities During Fight Against ISIL & Iraq’s Response

Thu, 19 Mar 2015 - 11:21pm

Human Rights Watch | (New York) –

Militias, volunteer fighters, and Iraqi security forces engaged in deliberate destruction of civilian property after these forces, following US and Iraqi air strikes, forced the retreat of Islamic State fighters (also known as ISIS) from the town of Amerli and surrounding areas in early September 2014, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Iraqi government should rein in the militias and countries participating in the fight against ISIS, including the United States and Iran, should ensure military operations and other related support in the fight against ISIS are not paving the way for such abuses.

The 31-page report,  “After Liberation Came Destruction: Iraqi Militias and the Aftermath of Amerli,” documents, through field visits, analysis of satellite imagery, interviews with victims and witnesses, and review of photo and video evidence, that militias looted property of Sunni civilians who had fled fighting, burned their homes and businesses, and destroyed at least two entire villages. The actions violated the laws of war. Human Rights Watch also documented the abduction of 11 men during the operation, in September and October.

“Iraq can’t win the fight against ISIS’s atrocities with attacks on civilians that violate the laws of war and fly in the face of human decency,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Militia abuses are wreaking havoc among some of Iraq’s most vulnerable people and exacerbating sectarian hostilities.”

On March 2, 2015, Iraqi security forces and Shia militias launched an assault on Tikrit, the capital of Salah al-Din province, to rout ISIS from the area. Tikrit was the scene of a massacre of at least 1,000 Iraqi soldiers by ISIS last June.

At the end of August, following a three-month siege by ISIS, ground operations by pro-government Shia militias and Iraqi and Kurdish government ground forces, supported by Iraqi and United States air strikes, pushed ISIS away from Amerli, in Salah al-Din province. Except for some sporadic clashes, the area has since remained largely free of ISIS fighters, residents say.

Following the operations to end the siege, militias, volunteer fighters, and Iraqi security forces raided Sunni villages and neighborhoods around Amerli in Salah al-Din and Kirkuk provinces. Many were villages that ISIS had passed through and in some cases used as bases. Militias appear to have planned at least some of the attacks in advance, raising questions as to whether government political and military bodies that oversee the militias are responsible for planning the attacks.

Elsewhere in Iraq and in Syria, Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses and war crimes by al-Qaeda and later ISIS, that most likely amount to crimes against humanity.

Many Sunni residents fled the area during the ISIS siege of Amerli. Individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that ISIS had targeted the homes and property of those believed to be linked to the Iraqi government but otherwise had not attacked residents.

Twenty-four witnesses, including Peshmerga officers and local sheikhs, told Human Rights Watch they saw militias looting villages around Amerli after the offensive against ISIS ended and just before militias destroyed homes in the town. They said they saw militiamen taking items of value – such as refrigerators, televisions, clothing, and even electrical wiring – out of homes, then setting the houses on fire.

Residents told Human Rights Watch that the militias, whose vehicles and insignias identified them as including the Badr Brigades, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq, Kita’ib Hezbollah, and Saraya Tala’a al-Khorasani, destroyed, in part or entirely, numerous villages between the towns of al-Khales, in southern Diyala province, and Amerli, about 50 kilometers north.

Officers of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces that joined the government in the Amerli operation told Human Rights Watch they saw 47 villages in which militias had destroyed and ransacked homes, businesses, mosques, and public buildings.

Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights Watch corroborated witness accounts. The imagery showed that most of the damage resulted from arson and intentional building demolition inflicted after militias and security forces had lifted the Amerli siege and ISIS had fled the area, between early September and mid-November.

Human Rights Watch did not document reports of killings of civilians in this operation but has documented allegations of militia killings and other abuses in numerous other areas of Iraq in several reports in 2013 and 2014. Media reports of militia abuses during the course of fighting increased dramatically in late 2014 and 2015. On February 17, the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr condemned militia abuses and announced a freeze of the activities of the two militias he oversees, Youm al-Mawoud and Saraya al-Salam, that had also been fighting against ISIS.

In a March 12 letter, Prime Minister Abadi’s office responded to Human Rights Watch’s February 25 letter conveying the main findings of the report. The prime minister’s office acknowledged that there were “individual lapses unconnected to government conduct.” The response noted that there were arrests in some of these individual cases, but that alleged victims did not appear before the court to testify regarding their allegations. It stated that abuses attributed to Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) forces were in fact committed by ISIS, and that “most of the material from Internet websites” was “false footage.”  The response did not comment on satellite imagery evidence showing that most arson damage took place after the areas in question came under militia and Hashd al-Shaabi control.

The Iraqi government should rein in the militias with the aim of disbanding them, Human Rights Watch said. Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi should take immediate steps to protect civilians in areas where militias are fighting, assess and provide for the humanitarian needs of people displaced by militias, and hold accountable militia leaders and fighters responsible for serious crimes, such as those documented in this report.

In a December 18, 2014 opinion article in the Wall Street Journal, al-Abadi pledged to “bring … all armed groups under state control. No armed groups or militias will work outside or parallel to the Iraqi Security Forces.” The abuses that Human Rights Watch documented show that it is imperative for al-Abadi to make good on this pledge.

The United Nations Human Rights Council should publicly document crimes by militias and security forces against civilians as well as the crimes of ISIS, Human Rights Watch said. Countries providing military assistance to Iraq, including the United States and Iran, should require the government to show that it is taking effective steps to end the very serious crimes by militias.

“Iraq clearly faces serious threats in its conflict with ISIS, but the abuses committed by forces fighting ISIS are so rampant and egregious that they are threatening Iraq long term.” Stork said. “Iraqis are caught between the horrors ISIS commits and abusive behavior by militias, and ordinary Iraqis are paying the price.” 

Via Human Rights Watch

Republic of Iraq’s Response to Human Rights Watch

March 18, 2015


Republic of Iraq

Prime Minister’s Office

March 12, 2015

Mr. Joe Stork

Deputy executive director of the Middle East section

Human Rights Watch

Having read your letter dated February 26, 2015, we deeply appreciate your care in investigating the information that reaches you regarding oversight of the conduct of all parties to the fighting in Iraq, and we instructed the relevant bodies to read it and respond to the questions directed to the Iraqi government in this regard.

These clarifications follow here.

I. Leadership of military operations (Tigris operations)

1. The Sulayman Bek region and surrounding areas (eastern Salah al-Din province) has witnessed the control previously of al-Qaeda and currently ISIS, and the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, since April 2013. Terrorists took control of the region of Sulayman Bek and most of the surrounding villages, with the exception of some villages that were cooperating with the security apparatus such as Maftul al-Kabira, Maftul al-Saghira, and Sarha, and areas of Sulayman Bek, as these organizations forcibly displaced most of the residents of these areas.

2. After the events in Nineveh and the security collapse of some provinces, among them eastern Salah al-Din, there were violent battles, a severe conflict with them, and skirmishes. Terrorist elements booby-trapped streets, homes, and government institutions as a means of inflicting the largest number of casualties among the security apparatus. Some citizens of the Shia Turkmen villages were also killed after their homes were destroyed, and this for a period of three months.

3. Most of the residents of Sunni and Shia villages were displaced by terrorist organizations, as the villages were emptied of their occupants. Some of these families left in fear of the might of terrorists there or to distance themselves from the battlefield.

4. During the operation to break the siege on Amerli, the battle was extremely violent and protracted, during which all manner of heavy weaponry and air raids were used, which led to the destruction and burning of more citizens’ homes.

5. During the battles to purge Sulayman Bek, Amerli, and surrounding villages, no civilians or families were seen in these villages.

6. There are individual cases involving some Kurdish civilians, for example, against the homes of terrorists. They were indeed torched or demolished as a result of what they experienced and their own homes being demolished by these terrorists. But some of these elements were detained and turned over to the judiciary.

7. The area of eastern Salah al-Din, since the beginning of the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, was one of the areas (Salah al-Din, Kirkuk, Diyala) that most embraced terrorism, as it is the connecting point between the three provinces.

8. Through the foregoing, the leaders of the operations took measures against all legal infractions by elements infringing human rights, which had destroyed or burned the property of innocent people. The authorities did labor under one constraint: the harmed parties did not appear before the judiciary to give their statements to the investigating judge and so [the charged persons] were released as a rule. This happened more than once.

9. The authorities, in coordination with the local administration, helped to repatriate families to their regions after they were purged of ISIS elements, and helped to restore the infrastructure of their areas in coordination with the service departments in the province.

10. Investigative committees were formed for violations that did occur, and the offenders were brought before the judiciary, as in the Mus`ab Bin `Umayr Mosque. Persons accused in cases of kidnapping were referred to the judiciary, and the pursuit of the rest continues.

11. The leaders of the operations took care to involve members of the tribes of the region taken over by ISIS and to approach [tribal] leaders for the purpose of incorporating them into the ranks of the security apparatus to preserve their areas. 12. There was high-level coordination with the Popular Mobilization forces [al-Hashd al-Sha`bi] and resistance factions, and incidents cited in the report of the Human Rights Watch mission were prevented.

13. The leaders of the operations received no complaint with regard to the issues cited in the mission’s report. Rather citizens offered information on the occurrence of such cases, and we made efforts to issue arrest warrants for offenders. After they were detained, no claimants of personal harm appeared before the judiciary to give their statements, which puts the security apparatus in an embarrassing position before the judiciary.

II. Leadership of the Popular Mobilization

Investigations and inquiries were made to determine the veracity of information circulating about violations in areas liberated by our armed forces. A department was formed within the Popular Mobilization to monitor the conduct and incidents in these areas committed by heroic Iraqi forces. Investigative measures were taken to examine the available information in this regard. The findings of these investigations indicate that the incidents that took place in these areas were committed by criminal ISIS gangs in an attempt to smear the epic heroism of our forces from the army and the Popular Mobilization. Moreover, the fact of individual lapses is hidden from no one. Deterrent measures were taken against those with proven involvement, and those responsible for all explicitly criminal acts were referred to the Iraqi judiciary , insofar as the tolerant teachings of the revealed religions are the course along which our armed forces proceed. The directives from virtuous religious authorities to our armed forces to respect human rights and protect citizens are the best testament to the general outline of sound objectives. We also submit that most of material from internet websites are alleged, false footage, and an examination has not established its veracity.

For our part here, we laud the humane attention of Human Rights Watch and its previous engagement with the Iraqi government in exposing some individual lapses, which are wholly unconnected to any government conduct (Popular Mobilization), as we hope for continued cooperation in the future in the service of all of humanity.

We hope that this report is sufficient, and we reiterate the concern of the government of the Republic of Iraq to follow up on any lapses or practices; all legal measures will be taken against their perpetrators.

Best regards,

Dr. Muhsin al-`Ilaq

Director of the Prime Minister’s Office

Published by Human Rights Watch


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Vice News from a month ago: “The Battle for Iraq: Shia Militias vs. the Islamic State”

Tom Friedman & funding ISI: Israel/Iran Derangement Syndrome

Thu, 19 Mar 2015 - 11:13pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Being a liberal Zionist was always a tough thing to pull off, but it is becoming increasingly just impossible. The intrinsic contradiction between wanting social justice and equity at home and supporting a militaristic and Apartheid Israel abroad produces what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. It is hard to believe two opposite ideologies at the same time. And the effort seems to have driven the New York Times‘s Tom Friedman bonkers. Many otherwise sensible people who are strong supporters of Israel have concluded that Iran is so dire threat to it that extraordinary measures against Tehran are in order. Friedman seems to have abruptly joined this group (he used to be more measured on Iran). Now he seems to suggest that if the choice is between a US grand coalition against Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) that includes a de facto alliance with Iran, or a grand coalition against Iran that might include Daesh/ISIL, he actually favors the latter.

His rationale is that the US has removed Iran’s enemies twice before, overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan and then Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and making Iran into a regional hegemon. If, he seems to say, the US crushes ISIL, it will be consolidating Iranian regional power. He doesn’t bring up Israel, but his commitment to it must be driving this bizarre calculation that leads him to want to arm the beheaders and ethnic cleansers and traffickers of young girls. (He doesn’t bring up that he was all for overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq, which means he was part of the problem he is now describing).

Iran is not a strategic threat to the United States. It has a small underfunded regular military and the neighborhood volunteers of the Basij that are counted by Iranophobes in their armed forces are not trained soldiers. US intelligence has dropped Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbullah as terrorist threats this year, making the opposite calculation of Friedman, that if the choice is between letting ISIL run wild or de facto allying with Iran and its Lebanese ally, the latter is far preferable.

Digby takes Friedman and Marco Rubio and others who have engaged in this reasoning apart here

But Friedman is not a Rubio. What accounts for him being in this category of Daesh-supporters when he is not a conservative (in the American political sense of conservative)? It is his Zionism. For Israel, Daesh is just a manifestation of chaos and not threatening to Israel which has the best military in the Middle East. But for many Israelis and supporters of Israel, it is the big conventional rejectionist states and armies with their potential for nuclear weaponry that are the real danger. That is why Friedman supported Bush’s Iraq War, as well. Apparently, for this strain of Zionism, the Middle East has to be in flames and broken up by constant American military invasions and special ops covert actions and coups in order to keep Israel from having any peer militarily in the region. Daesh is just a set of gangs and aids in keeping Syria and Iraq in chaos, so from this point of view, it is a good thing and should be armed to cause more chaos.

It is a monstrous point of view that would come as a surprise to most Americans when put like this, but all Middle Easterners understand that it is exactly the kind of policy Israeli hawks pursue and urge the US to pursue.

I don’t think most Jewish Americans will be able to go along with Friedman on this one. Mostly they are liberals or leftists. Liberalism in the contemporary American sense of the word is about valuing human rights more than property rights, believing the law should be equally applied to everyone, and giving everyone a chance in life. That is why liberals commemorated the Selma march but many conservatives did not. Most strains of American Conservatism accept that there are social hierarchies, that some people are better than others, and believe the poor and disadvantaged are that way mostly because they are lazy or have other character flaws, assuming they live in a society where property rights trump all the others and capitalism has an unfettered hand.

Zionism as Jewish nationalism posits that Jews have a claim to the territory of Palestine by virtue of having historical ties and ancient presence there. It is just 19th century Romantic ethnic nationalism, which imagined eternal “peoples” or “races” such as Greeks, Germans, etc., that have special ties to a territory (blood and soil). This is a stupid theory of history and completely crazy. We know when the Greeks came into the peninsula. We know when the German tribes came into Germany. And neither of those was an ethnic group, just a language. There are no “pure” “races” in the 19th century sense and linguistic and cultural groups move around quite a lot in history, and locals adopt language and culture from invaders. Zionism, like all central European theories of race and nation in the 19th century, is a lie.

Worse, as it has come to be practiced, Zionism in Israel involves making non-Jews second-class citizens inside the state, and keeping Palestinians in the Occupied territories stateless and without basic human rights. It is hierarchical. The Israeli center and left parties refuse to go into coalition with the Palestinian-Israeli parties. That is just racism– as though a Hungarian party refused to be in coalition with one that had a lot of Romany voters. Hierarchies of this sort, ethnic and economic, are supported by conservatism, not by liberalism or the left.

To keep this going (and to be fair, Friedman himself wants a Palestinian state to solve at least part of this problem) is hard to impossible, and the invidiousness of the situation attracts regional political entrepreneurs who support the Palestinians, like the current Iran regime. If the US has to play whackamole with everyone in the Middle East who objects to the sordid goings-on in Israel/Palestine, we’ll eventually be bankrupt and without regional allies, and the region itself will collapse and present more severe security threats of the Daesh sort.

In contrast, a de facto US rapprochement with Iran to squelch the Daesh/ ISIL threat before it metastasizes further (see: Tunisia) is clearly in the interest of the United States and its people, including Jewish Americans.

Related video:

The Young Turks: “Defense Industry Whores Release Nuclear Iran Ad To Scare America”

Mideast Reacts with Horror: “Israel has elected Extremism and Racism”

Wed, 18 Mar 2015 - 11:46pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Observers in the Arab press who contemplated the victory of far right Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu in the Israeli elections express emotions from “concern and anxiety” to out and out horror at the potentially destructive impact it will have on the region.

Barhoum Jaraisi writes in the Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad (Tomorrow) that in voting so many seats to the far right wing Likud Party, the Israeli electorate has chosen “extremism and racism.” He points out, however, that Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu still has a choice of what kind of government to form. The Israeli parliament has 120 seats and the ruling coalition needs 61. Likud appears to have gotten about 30. There are two ways for it to gain the other 31 or more. Netanyahu could form a government of national unity with the center-left Zionist Union (something its leader, Isaac Herzog, appears to have ruled out late Tuesday. Such a government would have a better footing with the international community. Or, he says, Netanyahu could cobble together a smaller majority of right- to – far – rightwing parties and exclude the center and the left, producing a government that many in the international community would feel extremely uncomfortable with.

Ziad Halaby writes from East Jerusalem in that Netanyahu’s win shows that you can always get more votes in Israel by showing you can direct a war than by promising peace. He says that Netanyahu’s win means the end of the two-state solution. He argues that in stealing the issues for his Likud Party of support for Israeli squatter settlements in the Palestinian West Bank and scaremongering about war with Iran and other countries, Netanyahu cannibalized his other far right wing allies, taking seats from The Jewish Home (Ha-Bayit ha yahudi) and Yisrael Beitenu (Israel our Home), the former a squatter-based party and the latter mainly serving a Russian Jewish constituency that arrived in the 1990s and after. Both lost seats to Likud. Halaby believes that Netanyahu will put together a far right wing government and drop any fig leaf of moderation for the outside world. The message of the election is the worrying one, he says, that the Israelis don’t want to withdraw from territories they occupied in 1967 and don’t want a Palestinian state.

Jihad al-Khazen in the pan-Arab London Daily al-Hayat (Life) argues that Israel is now, after the 1990s collapse of Afrikaaner South Africa, the primary exemplar in the world of the racist, Apartheid state with regard to its policies in the Occupied West Bank. Khazen worries that Netanyahu’s pledge to keep millions of Palestinians stateless and subjected to the Israeli jackboot is actually a call for a third, fourth and fifth Palestinian uprising (Intifada) and possibly a turn to extremism and rise of a Palestinian leadership willing to attempt to do real harm to Israel, say with chemical gas attacks. It is a dark vision but Khazen is one of the few to see the real possibility of a civil war in the West Bank that could be momentous for the history of the region.

Related video:

AFP: “Palestinians in Gaza react to Netanyahu election victory”

Growing Up in Syria: Children Images and War

Wed, 18 Mar 2015 - 11:22pm

Asaad Al-Saleh | (Informed Comment)

When I wrote my book, “Voices of the Arab Spring” (Columbia UP, 2015), I did not feature testimonials by children. Though the book surveys participants from various backgrounds—in age, politics, and education— – children were excluded for a proper reason. They should stay out of politics, though adults in the Middle East are hardly listening, especially where I come from: Syria. In the Middle East, and elsewhere, children have been used repeatedly to enhance various political stands—sometimes contradictory ones. During the bloodiest confrontations of the Arab Spring, between the Syrian regime and the hundreds of factions fighting it, children have become victims of the violence resulting from both the uprisings and the subsequent civil war. Despite this tragedy, children are still used in the rhetoric of revolt, war, and Jihad.

Reports and studies marking the fourth anniversary of the uprising and civil war in Syria show that more than 4 million people are refugees outside the country and 7.6 million are internally displaced, almost half of these are children whose need for assistance is only partially matched. Of the 200,000 killed in the 4 year span of the conflict, over 10,000 were children, some of whom died as a result of torture. Citing the international standards to identify the percentage civilians being targeted in war, which should not exceed 2%, reports on Syria point out that the percentage of targeted children and women reached 4.5 %. On the same occasion, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) raised awareness about the emotional trauma affecting Syrian children, some of whom suffering from the effects of rape and the loss of parents. Labeling them as the “lost generation,” The UNICEF also reported that more than 20 percent of Syrian schools either destroyed taken as shelter by displaced families.

Also in Syria, children’s images are used as a participatory medium in the revolt and the war. For the regime of Bashar al-Assad, defending children has been the rhetoric it used to show that its enemies are abusing children while the regime is protecting them. In September 2013, the regime put on its public TV the 16-year-old girl named Rawan Qadah, who gave details about the alleged “Jihad sex” she was asked to perform upon the request of her father. The opposition immediately responded by stating that Rawan had been kidnapped, forced to tell the same lies the regime was spreading about its opponents, and appeared too young to be a “witness” verifying the regime’s claims. Rawan’s story demonstrates how children can be easily recruited for political agendas in areas of war.

For some revolutionaries, or those who revolted peacefully in Syria four years ago, it was inevitable to use children as they called for regime change and world attention to al-Assad’s crimes. This position draws from the assumption that children are “part of the revolution” and, therefore, their role must be presented. The world cares about children, and the situation in Syria was so desperate. Thus, children were used to provoke people’s emotions and turn more attention, political pressure, and eventually humanitarian or military intervention to “help” or “save” the children. Still not ethical.

As for the terrorists in Syria, children are considered the future of Islam, as envisioned by al-Qaeda or ISIS. Their participation in the terrorists’ agendas, most of which are symbolic but sometimes extremely graphic, is done without the least attention to legal, moral, or psychological issues. One of the early instances of using children’s images was done by Jabhat al-Nusra (The Support Front), an infamous affiliate of al-Qaeda. In June 2013, a video of a child, about 5 years old, was circulated by al-Nusra to celebrate their dogma. The child, who was carried on a man’s shoulder, was chanting a song full of bigotry and terrorism rhetoric:

Our leader is Bin Laden … O, you who terrorized America
We destroyed America …with a civilian airplane

The [World] Trade Center became a heap of sand

O, you Nusayri Police… wait for us O Alawites
We are coming to slaughter you … without any Convention

[The child is given a knife to pretend that he is killing someone, before continuing:]
They say I am a terrorist … it is my honor, I replied.
Our terrorism is praised …. a divine call

Children often play games fantasizing themselves as heroes with guns to fight the bad guys. But in Syria they are being dragged into real war zone, even as instigators. The image industry in Syria circulates hundreds of images belonging to children carrying conventional weapons or dressed in military costumes, and more recently playing with slaughtered heads as part of ISIS propaganda.

Such visibility is hardly the outcome of genuine consent of the child since he or she are not cognizant of their roles and the consequence of such participating functions. These children are growing up in one of the ugliest war zones in the Middle East. One day they will tell stories full of bad guys, including who let this war drags on and on.

Asaad Al-Saleh is Assistant Professor of Arabic Literature and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Utah and author of Voices of the Arab Spring

Facing Down Anti-Muslim Bigotry Through Faith in America

Wed, 18 Mar 2015 - 11:09pm

David Schanzer | (ISLAMiCommentary) –

Address to Islamic Association of Raleigh (NC)

David Schanzer

As-salamu alaykum.

Thank you so much for the invitation to address you this afternoon. I am very pleased to be included in this wonderful celebration.

I know we are gathering today with very heavy hearts. I was out of town last month during the unspeakable tragedy in Chapel Hill and was unable to be with you during the vigils and funeral for Deah, Yusor and Razan.

As a professor of young students, as a resident of Chapel Hill, and a father of three daughters, just thinking about the loss you have suffered fills me with great sadness.

Before I begin my prepared remarks for today, I just want to say to you this afternoon that I am sorry.

I am totally comfortable saying I am sorry even though I had absolutely no responsibility for what happened.

But still I am sorry.

I am sorry that we live in a country where anyone can buy, possess and brandish a deadly firearm – virtually no questions asked.

I am sorry that when mentally ill Muslims act violently they are assumed to be al Qaeda terrorists, but when a non-Muslim commits a brutal, execution style murder, he is immediately labeled just an angry individual.

And mostly, I am sorry that we have lost three such beautiful people – who made the world a better place and made their community so proud.

May their memory forever be a blessing.

* * *

I’ve been asked to speak today about Islamaphobia in America.

I’d like to start out my talk by saying that I am not a big fan of the term Islamaphobia. Let me tell you why.

I think the term Islamaphobia lets Americans off way too easy.

Many, many Americans are fearful of Islam and they don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

Graphic added by Juan Cole

First off, every public opinion poll shows that Americans know very little about Islam and most of them do not have a friend or even an acquaintance who is a Muslim.

It is very easy to fear something you know very little about.

Second, one thing Americans do know about Islam is that the vast majority of people living in the Middle East are Muslims. And when Americans look at the Middle East, they do not like what they see.

They do not like seeing Iranians chanting “Death to America,” they do not like to see persecution against Christians, they do not like the violence and brutality of the extremists, and they do not like the subjugation of women that they see abroad in many Muslim-majority countries.

Now, you know and I know that the chaotic situation in the Middle East has everything to do with politics, history, culture and power and very little to do with Islam.

Most Americans don’t know that and so when they see violence and turmoil in the Middle East – it makes them afraid of Islam.

But I think that what Muslims in America are experiencing today, and have been experiencing both before and since 9/11, is more than the mere backlash from fear of Islam.

It is deeper and more pernicious.

First, there is the official discrimination at the airports and at the borders that is so pervasive that it cannot be denied with a straight face. How is it that we trust Muslim doctors to perform complex surgery in our hospitals but then when they travel three miles to the airport that same day they are automatically turned into objects of suspicion and distrust? This is blatantly wrong and should not continue in America in 2015.

Then there is the portrayal of Muslims by the entertainment industry:

  • in which virtually every Muslim character is a violent extremist,
  • where Middle Easterners are portrayed not as human beings but as targets down the barrel of a sniper’s rifle, and
  • where there is a total absence of any effort to show the suffering, the decency, and the humanity of Muslims here in the United States and around the globe.

And then there is the American media that has utterly failed in its duty to explain to the American public what the true sources of al Qaeda and ISIS terrorism are.

Instead, the media has lazily labeled this phenomenon as “Islamic terrorism” and thereby connected and tarnished the religion followed by 1.2 billion people around the globe with the actions of probably less than 1/1000th of a percent of the Muslims in the world today.

Finally, we have the highly funded cottage industry of haters who spend their professional lives attempting to convince the American people that Muslims around the world, including here in America, are a deep threat.

These haters claim that Muslims are a threat because they are violent, they seek and will obtain excessive political power, and because they want to impose a barbaric way of life on the United States and the American people.

But these individuals have no facts to support any of their claims.

The fact is, as I have documented with my colleague Charles Kurzman at UNC, that acts of terrorism by Muslim Americans are extremely rare.

In the 13 ½ years since 9/11, there have been 50 fatalities in the United States attributable to acts of terrorist violence. This is 50 too many in my view, but it is very important to place this in context.

During this same period, there have been 200,000 murders in the United States. If this weekend is like an average weekend – there will be about 50 homicides in the US – the same number of victims of terrorism by Muslim Americans in over 13 years.

In 2014 alone, 136 people were killed by gunmen in mass shooting incidents. So, in one year, crazed gunmen have killed almost three times as many people as Muslim American terrorists have in the 13 years since 9/11

And by the way – people were 6 times more likely to be struck by lightning in 2014 than to be killed by a Muslim American terrorist.

These facts, however, do not penetrate the media, they do not impact the entertainment industry, and they most certainly are ignored by the grass roots organizations that have as their sole purpose to spread falsehoods about Islam in America.

The combination of these powerful influences have had a dramatic effect on much of the American public.

It has stimulated, solidified, and engrained more than just fear of Islam, but actual hate and loathing of Islam, of Muslims, and all things Islamic.

This, my friends, is not mere Islamaphobia, but anti-Islamic bigotry. And we ought to call this terrible phenomena by its name – bigotry – because that it what it is – plain and simple.

It is high time that this form of bigotry takes its rightful place next to anti-African American bigotry which we call racism, and anti-Jewish bigotry that we call anti-Semitism, and anti-women bigotry that we call sexism – all of which are unacceptable in modern discourse.

* * *

So what are we to do about this anti-Muslim bigotry that is proliferating, that is shaming our country, making the lives of Muslim Americans more difficult and less enjoyable, and, I believe, making the United States less safe?

I am hardly an expert in how to cure a society of bigotry, but I have a few suggestions.

I really believe that this problem has to be addressed from the bottom up, not from the top down. That is how you build political support that can push change, first locally, and then at national levels of our government, and then against the elements of society that are most resistant to change.

So I would let the national organizations that defend Muslim civil rights to worry about Fox News, and Hollywood, and the Texas Legislature. Here, you should focus on your neighbors, your schools, and especially the youth of our community.

It is great that you have opened your beautiful mosque today to the community, but that is not enough. You need to reach out to your neighbors, get to know them. Don’t be the mysterious Muslim that lives down the street. Open your home during your festivals. Talk to your neighbors at the bus stop in the morning.

Your goal is not really to teach them about Islam – although that is fine. Your goal needs to be to get them to know you as a human being, as a North Carolinian, and an American. And once they know you and like you – that will teach them everything then need to know about what Islam is and what it is not.

I also believe that if we want to fight bigotry, Muslims need to be fully engaged in a range of community activities. It is not enough to get to know your neighbor or your co-workers. People need to see you at PTA meetings, at youth soccer, at the community street fairs. Don’t speak out only about issues of concerns to Muslims – be a voice on issue like school budgets, or air pollution, or building parks or whatever you care about. Again, once people see you are just like them – these other things will take care of themselves.

I think that when you are attacked, there is a temptation to be insular. If our children are chastised at school, let’s build our own schools. If women are stared at in the local gym because they dress modestly, let’s build our own gyms.

I would suggest resisting that temptation. There is a beautiful Jewish Community Center right next to my temple in Durham but I am not a member. I do not want to live in a world where Jews only swim with Jews, and African Americans only swim with African Americans and so on.

My last suggestion is that you have faith. Not the faith that you practice here in this mosque. But faith in America.

You know, when people talk about immigrants in America, we like to talk about the paradigm of the American dream. This is the idea that America is open to everyone that is willing to work hard and play by the rules. And if you do, you will succeed economically, you will be accepted, and you will become an American.

Now we all know that the reality for immigrants to America has been much different. There are elements of truth to the American dream, but also elements of myth.

The truth is that every immigrant group that has come to these shores – the Irish, the Italians, the Germans, the Japanese and Chinese, the Mexicans and Latinos, and people from all over the globe – they have had to struggle to fit in and to be accepted.

The immigrant experience is a hard one. There has been bigotry and discrimination. There has been violence. There have been tears and there has been pain. But over time these things subside, there is acceptance, there is peace.

The other part of the myth is that our immigrants become “Americanized.” This too is only partially true. Sure, the children of immigrants, and their children’s children speak English better and take on more typically American customs than the prior generation.

But America changes as well from this experience of infusion of new ideas, new foods, new languages, and new cultures. We benefit from the energy that immigrants bring. Their commitment to the ideals of justice and freedom actually strengthens our resolve to be the beacon that the myth of the American dream talks about.

This is the great thing about America that makes us a great country and different, in my view, from any other place in the world.

We are more adaptable, more open to change, more accepting than other countries. America is always trying to improve itself, to make our country better, and to help improve the world. We will keep trying until we do so.

Last week on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, President Obama said it so well. Speaking of the events that took place fifty years ago and the courage of those who crossed the bridge to fight for what they believed was right and just, the President said:

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

So, my friends, when I say, have faith, I mean to have faith in this idea that America will perfect itself.

We will recognize that what is happening to Muslim Americans in these decades after 9/11 is wrong, unjust, and patently un-American. We will do better. Muslim Americans will take their rightful place as a part of the American tapestry as those that have come before have done in due course.

Change will not come fast enough. Solutions will be partial and flawed. But I do have faith and I hope you do too.

Dr. King famously said that “the arc of the universe is long, but ends in justice.” So I hope that as you endure the trials and travails, hardship and heartache, but also happiness and wonder, you will keep this mind.

Yes the arc is long, but I do believe it will end in justice.

Thank you so much for the honor of speaking with you this afternoon.

Duke professor David Schanzer shared with ISLAMiCommentary his prepared remarks to the Islamic Association of Raleigh (NC) this weekend during their annual open house “Welcome to my Mosque. ” The open house was presented as “an opportunity for friends and neighbors from other faiths to know about Islam.” Schanzer was invited to speak on Islamophobia. About 200 people were in attendance.

David H. Schanzer is an Associate Professor of the Practice at the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy and the Director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. He teaches courses on counterterrorism strategy, counterterrorism law and homeland security at Duke. Prior to his academic appointments, he was the Democratic staff director for the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security from 2003 to 2005. His positions in the executive branch include special counsel, Office of General Counsel, Department of Defense (1998-2001) and trial attorney, U.S. Department of Justice (1992-1994). Schanzer is also core faculty with the Duke Islamic Studies Center and a regular contributor to ISLAMiCommentary.

Via ISLAMiCommentary

The Palestinian-Israelis’ Selma Moment?

Tue, 17 Mar 2015 - 11:44pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

Ayman Odah, leader of the Joint Arab List, the party representing Palestinian-Israelis and elements of the Israeli left, responded late Tuesday to the news that Israelis of Palestinian descent came out in droves to vote. Their turnout in the last Israeli election had only been 56%. Odah said from his home on Mt. Carmel in Haifa that he was sure his list would get 15 seats of the Israeli parliament’s 120. Exit polls were showing the list with about 13, but final results won’t be presented to the president until Thursday.

Odah told reporters, “This is a historic day for the Arab masses. We shall respond to racism and to those who want to expel us and kick us out. Will will be the third force in the Knesset . . . we are going to defeat the Right and win 15 seats and affect political decision-making in Israel.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu, for all the world like George Wallace in Alabama in the 1960s, warned that the minority in Israel was heading to the polls in large numbers and that the Right wing in Israel was in danger as a result.

Odah continued, in Arabic, “Tomorrow, Binyamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett will wake up to find themselves in the opposition.” That is, he was saying that the leaders of the far-right Likud and Jewish Home parties would be in the powerless minority. Odeh was disappointed in this aspiration, given the Likud win.

Netanyahu charged that the left wing parties were busing Palestinian-Israelis to the polls.

In an unprecedented move, Odah said he would study any proposal from Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog that showed a commitment to peace. This was before it became clear that Netanyahu’s Likud had won. It is a little unlikely that the Joint Arab List would have been invited to help form a government, and the JAL’s Balad Party coalition partner objected to any such thing. The small rightwing parties Herzog needs to get to 61 seats of 120 are racist and would likely not have agreed to sit in a cabinet with Palestinian-Israelis.

Palestinian-Israelis as Israeli citizens technically have the vote if they live in neighborhoods and villages recognized by the Israeli state. In the past, they have had as many as 12 seats in parliament but since they were divided into small parties and lacked unity, it did not really matter. There was also more consensus among Jewish Israelis in the past. Given the present polarization of left and right and the united front of the Palestinian-Israelis and their Israeli Communist allies, their good performance this time could, as Odah says, make them a swing vote on some issues and give them genuine influence.

You could compare this moment to the post 1964 period in American politics when African-Americans mobilized, having gotten fuller voting rights, and you ended up with a Congressional Black Caucus that simply had no counterpart in the 1950s. In some ways, today is the Selma moment of the Palestinian-Israelis.


Related video:

CCTV: ” ‘Joint Arab List’ emerges as third-largest political group in Israel”

The Impotence of the Big Dick strain of American Nationalism

Tue, 17 Mar 2015 - 11:29pm

By Nan Levinson | (

Let’s face it: we live in a state of pervasive national security anxiety. There are various possible responses to this low-grade fever that saps resolve, but first we have to face the basis for that anxiety — what I’ve come to think of as the Big Dick School of Patriotism, or (since anything having to do with our present version of national security, even a critique of it, has to have an acronym) the BDSP.

The BDSP is based on a bedrock belief in how America should work: that the only strength that really matters is military and that a great country is one with the capacity to beat the bejesus out of everyone else. Think of it as a military version of 50 Shades of Grey, with the same frisson of control and submission (for the American citizen) and the assumption that a good portion of the world is ripe to be bullied.

The BDSP is good citizenship conflated with JROTC, hosannas to sniper kills, the Pentagon’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War — what are we celebrating there anyway? — Rudolph Giuliani pining for a president who loves America in Reaganesque fashion, and the organizers of South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day, who wouldn’t let the local chapter of Veterans For Peace march with their banners because, so the story goes, they didn’t want the word “peace” associated with veterans.

Of course, the Big Dick School of Patriotism isn’t new — revolutionary roots, manifest destiny, history as the great pounding of hooves across the plain, and all that. Nor is it uniquely American, even if there is something culturally specific about our form of national hubris on steroids. Still, there have been times in our history when civilians — some in power, some drawing strength from numbers — have pushed back against the military and its mystique, or at least have demanded an accounting of its deeds. And of course, until the Cold War bled into 9/11, there was no national security state on the present gargantuan scale to deal with.

As he was leaving office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned against the overweening power of what he called “the military-industrial complex.” As a senator, J. William Fulbright similarly warned of “the arrogance of [American] power” and used his Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship to challenge the Vietnam War — whereupon Fred Friendly, president of CBS News, got that network’s executives to agree to preempt “Captain Kangaroo” and cover those hearings live.

On the populist side, there was General Smedley Butler, who campaigned against the military in his retirement, the Bonus Marchers of Great Depression Washington, and of course the massive antiwar resistance and remarkable insubordination of American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Similarly, some soldiers from the all-volunteer force of our era worked to undermine the U.S. occupation of Iraq in various (though far less pervasive) ways, including conducting “search and avoid missions” in which they would park, hang out, and falsely report that they were searching for weapons caches.

These days, no one in America directly takes on the military. Not the president, who just requested $534 billion for the new Pentagon budget, plus an additional $51 billion for supplemental war funding. Not Congress, where the range of debate over an “authorization” of war in Iraq and Syria goes from “hawks,” who want assurances that we’ll blow ISIS to oblivion by any means, to “doves,” who want assurances that there will be no “boots on the ground” while we blow ISIS into oblivion. Certainly not the courts, which, among other things, have consistently refused to let military objectors invoke their right to disobey illegal orders. And not American citizens who are now well trained to spend their time thanking their all-volunteer warriors for their sacrifices before turning back to the business of everyday life.

It seems to matter little to anyone that, since 9/11, what is supposed to be the greatest fighting force in the world has been stymied by modestly armed insurgencies — in response to which we keep buying our military yet newer props like the wildly overpriced, over-touted, and underachieving F-35 fighter plane, and sending them back to clean up the very messes they helped produce not so long before. There never seem to be any consequences to this repetitive course of action. Well, none if you don’t count the squandering of whatever political capital this country had after 9/11, or the way a million or so veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan will require costly care for the rest of their lives, or the billions spent on war rather than the environment, infrastructure, education, or [fill in your favorite civic need here].

Okay, it’s true that a tiny crew of largely overlooked politicians like Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Barbara Lee of California did try to limit war funding; that Obama did finally resist calls for invading Syria (before he began bombing it); and that the Supreme Court did rule that the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which criminalized lying about military awards, was unconstitutional.

But how much attention gets paid to all that? Massively less than to the glories of American Sniper.  Or to Commander-in-Chief Obama reassuring soldiers that, regardless of race, creed, class, religion, or whom we choose to love, “when it comes to our troops, when it comes to you and your families, as Americans we stand united. We are proud of you. We support you. And we can never thank you enough.”

And why would anyone with political ambitions claim otherwise when there’s no gain, no glory in it? After all, the American public may be weary of war, but a widely-cited annual poll found a majority of them in favor of taking on ISIS, even if it embroils us in a big-dick war in Syria. 

Making the Military into a Clique

So what gives? How do you explain an America in which, despite the disastrous record of the U.S. military these last 13 years and the growth of extremist Islamic groups in the same period, there is essentially no pushback in this country.  One obvious answer is that it’s easy to keep valorizing the military when you have nothing to do with it. That big, busy, well-funded world-unto-itself currently includes less than 1% of the population. Add in their families and the civilians who work on or near military bases (or in the Pentagon) and, as a rough estimate, perhaps you have something in the vicinity of 5% of Americans who interact with the military on a regular basis. For the other 95% or so, the rest of us, what that military does, especially in distant lands, is just a blip on the busy-busy screen of our consciousness. Yet the further we get from the military, the more beguiled we are by it.

It helps, of course, that young Americans don’t have to worry about being drafted against their wishes. The last citizen was drafted in 1973 and, despite calls in these years for the reinstatement of conscription, no one in the BDSP seems in any hurry to do so. “One lesson learned from Vietnam,” the father of a Marine told me, “is if you’re going to start a war, don’t even pretend to threaten the sons and daughters of the upper middle class and the rich.”

It isn’t just the absence of threat that distances the public from American war making, however. It’s also the inbred nature of the military itself.  In the Vietnam years, when about one-third of the troops who fought were conscripts, all soldiers spent a year “in-country.” This meant individuals rotated in and out of the war zone at different times rather than as intact units, and soldiers circulated back into civil society regularly. This was certainly good for civil society — we heard about the war directly from the people fighting it — but it wasn’t so great for the armed forces.

So when the change came to an all-volunteer service, the military made a point of training and deploying units together to increase cohesion. And cohere they do, from a long, grueling period of training and indoctrination through an all-encompassing military world in which you live, work, and play with the same people 24/7 to the secret handshake of shared jargon and experience that is meant to bond you for life.

Not coincidentally, this makes dissent within the military ever less likely. A number of soldiers and marines have told me over the years that they deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan with their units despite misgivings about the wars they were to fight because, if they hadn’t, someone else — usually someone they knew — would have had to go in their stead. The result of all this cohesion is the sort of cliquishness that would make a 13-year-old whispering in a school cafeteria blush. I’d guess that it also makes politicians who aren’t fully enrolled members of the BDSP leery of challenging the military on what may be matters of life and death.  It certainly leaves the citizenry in that position.

Yet separate from us as those soldiers may be, they’re still our troops, our movie heroes, and (I suspect) our source of guilt, because they fought our wars while we were otherwise engaged. Contemporary war may be sanitized for the American public and no longer televised Vietnam-style, but all that shaking of our heroes’ hands and wringing of our own hands about their victimization comes out of some sense of responsibility sloughed off. 

The Personnel Is Political

A draft would certainly make a difference in this increasingly strange civilian-soldier nexus, but its absence is hardly the only reason that Americans now hold our armed forces sacrosanct in a way that once would have seemed foreign indeed. For starters, the military functions as a powerful lobby in Washington, which is increasingly effective when it comes to reinforcing a hands-off approach to its affairs and blocking outside scrutiny. Take, for example, the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013.  It would have moved prosecution of felony-level sexual assault cases from the military chain of command, which controls most aspects of an enlistee’s life, to independent military prosecutors. Trust us, insisted the top brass, we can police ourselves, never mind that one in five servicewomen reported unwanted sexual contact and 25% of them said the offender was someone in their chain of command. The bill fell to a filibuster in the Senate last year.

One strategy the military employs in dealing with Congress is something called “jointness.” It’s a relatively recent coinage for cross-service cooperation in research, planning, procurement, and operations. While it’s focused on increasing operational flexibility and efficiency among branches of the military, it’s also meant to heighten intra-service collaboration when it comes to lobbying for funding. (The stratagem of awarding lucrative contracts in key congressional districts of both parties doesn’t hurt either.)

Although the Pentagon’s budget has decreased in recent years, that follows enormous growth in the post-9/11 decade — as much as 40% in real terms between 2001 and 2012. The administration’s new budget request is supposed to take into account the end of two costly wars, yet it still exceeds the $499 billion cap called for by sequestration, and that base budget is only part of what we’re spending overall on American war-making.

When you’re a hammer, the saying goes, everything looks like a nail. And when more than half of the federal discretionary budget goes to the military, every international problem looks like a job for them. According to the National Security Strategy report the White House released in February, “Any successful strategy to ensure the safety of the American people and advance our national security interests must begin with an undeniable truth — America must lead.” And who will be, as they say, at the tip of the spear? “Our military is postured globally to protect our citizens and interests, preserve regional stability, render humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and build the capacity of our partners to join with us in meeting security challenges.”

In other words, one attitude that increasingly grips this country is that, if it’s going to be done at all, it’s probably going to be done by the military. It has been sold to us as the best, maybe the only functioning part of the government. Not surprisingly, then, the most recent annual Gallup poll found that almost three-quarters of those surveyed had “quite a lot” or a “great deal” of confidence in the military.  Since 2001, that public confidence has never fallen below 66%.

In touting “Toward the Sounds of Chaos,” its most recent recruiting campaign for the Marines, ad agency J. Walter Thompson claims that enlistment “provides an opportunity to face down everything from traditional warfare to the natural disasters that necessitate highly organized humanitarian assistance.” This spreading send-in-the-Marines mentality — one form of the post-9/11 BDSP way of life — keeps us from a reasonable assessment of the best uses of our military forces.

Last fall, for instance, President Obama dispatched about 3,000 Army personnel to Liberia to build and staff treatment facilities for Ebola patients. Once upon a time, the U.S. was quite capable of mounting a genuine civilian humanitarian relief mission. Now, if you’ve got thousands of physically able workers on the payroll with a job description that includes risk, I suppose that deploying them to a disease zone makes sense. Still, if you needed hospitals built and staffed, wouldn’t it make more sense to send in civilian builders, nurses, and doctors? 

Be Afraid, Very Afraid

In truth, the Big Dick School of Patriotism is invested in keeping only one “branch” of government functional: the U.S. military and the national security state that goes with it, even as it trumpets constant terrors and threats this country must face.

The National Security Strategy lists terrorism, cyber-vulnerability, climate change, and infectious diseases as rising threats to global security. That’s a frightening enough quartet and hardly a complete list of actual dangers. Amid them, our headlines fill regularly with “threats” that are nightmarish, but soon dissolve like bad dreams in the morning light. The latest, from a video by the Somali terrorist organization al-Shabab, was to the Mall of America in Minnesota and, farfetched as it was, the media and the political class ran with it. I found the Mall of America pretty scary on a regular shopping day, but such endless threats and the hysteria that surrounds them do make our self-protective instincts kick in. Jeh Johnson, the head of Homeland Security, even warned mall-goers to be particularly careful because, he said, “it’s the environment we’re in, frankly.”

Is it?  It’s increasingly hard to tell in BDSP America. Fear can be a useful political tool because people who believe they’re surrounded by enemies are primed to accept almost anything. When you feel you’re losing control, the response is often to try to get more control, which is part of the appeal of the BDSP crew, with their exaltation of swarms of people in uniforms equipped with tanks and guns.

When that swarm is reputedly the best trained, most effective military since the Roman Legions exited the planet, that ought to be a lot of control. Except, of course, that it isn’t. Or tell me that things don’t seem more out of control now than 13 years ago, after calamity rained from the sky and the BDSP types whooshed in to save us all.

The eternal emphasis on militarism, even when it’s portrayed as triumphalism, has the effect of ratcheting up anxiety. Security is one of the basic things a government owes its citizens, but security is both a state of being and a state of mind. If security is always at issue, how can we ever feel safe?

In the end, maybe the Big Dick School of Patriotism comes down to this: we embrace the idea of an all-powerful military because at a time when the world seems such a fragile and hostile place, if even our military won’t keep us safe, who will?  

Unless there just might be a better way to go through the world than by carrying a big dick?

Nan Levinson’s new book, War Is Not a Game: The New Antiwar Soldiers and the Movement They Built (Rutgers University Press), is based on seven years she spent not-quite-embedded with military-related antiwar groups around the country. As a freelance journalist, she writes about the military, free speech, and other aspects of civil liberties, culture, and technology. She teaches journalism and fiction writing at Tufts University.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World. 

Copyright 2015 Nan Levinson



US Military in Mosul

United Nations: 100,000 Gazans Still Homeless Since Summer Attack

Tue, 17 Mar 2015 - 11:28pm

By IMEMC News & Agencies | –

The official UN death-toll for the 2014 war shows that 1,549 Palestinian civilians were killed in comparison to four Israelis, and 504 Palestinian children were killed for one Israeli child.

PNN reports that, in the Gaza Strip, the seven weeks of hostilities between Palestinian armed groups and the Israeli military, during July and August 2014, resulted in an unprecedented level of loss and human suffering, which aggravated the already fragile situation that preceded the conflict.

A total of 1,549 Palestinian civilians, a third of them children, were killed and around 11,000 people were injured; 13 per cent of the housing stock was damaged or destroyed, including some 20,000 homes totally destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, leaving over 100,000 people displaced; unexploded ordnance spread over Gaza pose a serious threat to the life of Palestinians and humanitarian workers; and access to already insufficient basic services has been further undermined. Four Israeli civilians were killed during the hostilities and hundreds injured.

Gaza remains in crisis, with most of the 100,000 made homeless by last year’s war still homeless. The United Nations has had to suspend assistance to families made homeless by the war because of a $600 million shortfall in promised donations.

The ban on exports has no plausible justification on grounds of Israel’s security. It leaves factories idle and most Gazans dependent on food aid.

The ban on import of construction materials causes huge hardship (most of the 100,000 made homeless by the war are still homeless).

The restrictions on humanitarian aid (running at half the pre-blockade levels) is another form of collective punishment.

It’s true that some building materials can be used for military purposes, but this is a vicious circle. The more the Israelis attack Gaza, the more that Palestinians in Gaza want to be defended. The result can be that it strengthens rather than weakens support for Hamas.

In any case what is the alternative? The West Bank has been demilitarised for more than 10 years with the Palestine Authority police enforcing a strict ban on arms of all kinds, but what has been their reward? This has just eased the way to the Israelis stealing more land to build settlements, ransacking and demolishing homes, turning a blind eye to settler violence, putting peaceful demonstrators in jail and killing hundreds of Palestinians. The Gazans see what has happened in the West Bank and do not want to be defenceless.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation renounced violence nearly 30 years ago but their strategy of non-violence only makes sense if it is backed by international action to put pressure on Israel to end settlement-building and land theft and allow an independent Palestinian state within viable and secure borders. It is our failure to deliver our part of the bargain that is the trouble.

Israeli naval forces shot and killed a Palestinian fisherman who was fishing west of Gaza city, in unclear circumstances. On another 30 occasions, Israeli forces opened fire at Palestinian boats sailing near the Israeli-imposed 6 nautical mile fishing limit, including one incident resulting in the injury to two fishermen and in damage to their boat, and another in the detention of six fishermen.

Two Palestinians were injured by explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Gaza, including a farmer northwest of Rafah city and a man in his house in Nuseirat Refugee Camp. Since the ceasefire of August 2014, 11 Palestinians, including a child, were killed in ERW incidents, and another 42, including 16 children, were injured.

The Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah crossing in both directions for one day (9 March), allowing 361 Palestinians, mainly patients and students, to leave and 956 people to cross into Gaza. The crossing has been continuously closed since 24 October 2014, following an attack in Sinai, except for 12 days on which it was opened, but with restrictions.

Funding Needs

US$ 175 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency shelter programme, for which a total of US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 545 million. UNRWA urgently requires US$ 100 million in the first quarter of 2015 to allow refugee families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies.

As presented in UNRWA’s oPt Emergency Appeal, for its 2015 emergency operations in Gaza, the Agency is seeking USD 366.6 million, including USD 127 million for emergency shelter, repair and collective centre management, USD 105.6 million for emergency food assistance, and USD 68.6 million for emergency cash-for-work. More information:


The Israeli blockade of Gaza entered its 8th year in June 2014 and continues to have a devastating effect as access to markets and people’s movement to and from the Gaza Strip remain severely restricted. The economy and its capacity to create jobs has been devastated, with the majority of the population becoming dependent on humanitarian aid to meet basic needs. The number of Palestine refugees relying on UNRWA for food aid has increased from fewer than 80,000 in 2000 to almost 868,000 today.

Gaza: Facts and Figures

1.26 million refugees out of 1.76 million total population

8 refugee camps

Almost 12,500 staff

252 schools for almost 240,000 students

21 health centres

16 relief and social services offices

12 food distribution centres for almost 868,000 refugees

Living under a tightened land and sea blockade since 2007

Shattered local economy

Long standing restrictions on movement of people and goods has led to a de-development of Gaza

Potentially unliveable place by 2020.



Related video added by Juan Cole:

BBC from a few months ago: Drone footage of Gaza