What the Fall of Ramadi and Palmyra Means: ISIS On The Rampage

CounterPunch

The capture of Ramadi in central Iraq on 18 May by the Sunni-dominated fundamentalist group Islamic State, and only three days later the fall of the ancient city of Palmyra in the heart of Syria, have shocked Arab and Western governments alike. Taking control of Ramadi and Palmyra, cities more than 400 miles apart, and in different countries, so quickly is no mean feat.

Subsequent reports indicated that the Syrian government’s last border crossing between Iraq and Syria had also fallen to Islamic State forces, giving them control of the entire border between the two countries. This frightening new reality means that the frontier is now open to Islamic State, who can move from one country to the other at will.

The radical Islamic militia continues its murderous campaign elsewhere, too. It claimed that one of its suicide bombers blew up a Shia mosque in Saudi Arabia’s eastern town of Qadeeh, killing and wounding scores of people.

Events like these belie claims of success in recent military operations by the United States and allies against the Islamic State’s command structure and fighters on the ground. America’s strategy, often repeated, has been to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State, just as Washington’s aim was to deal with al-Qaida. That strategy continues to be in a state of failure, because Washington is unable to prevent the phenomenon of one extremist organisation morphing into several splinter groups which are far more dangerous.

The causes of Islamic State’s growth are multifaceted. So is the significance of its dramatic advances in the battlefield. Ramadi in Anbar province, barely 70 miles from the capital Baghdad, was where the American-sponsored “Sons of Iraq” (Sahwa) militia started in order to counter al-Qaida nearly a decade ago. Born out of expediency, that alliance was forged between the US occupation forces and members of the overthrown Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussain and Sunni tribes.

Now that Iraq is under Shia rule, the alienation among Sunnis is strong for two main reasons. The sense of loss of identity, depersonalisation and lack of opportunities, and the perception of abandonment by the United States, add fuel to the fires burning in the region. Both in Iraq and Syria, government authority is absent in vast areas, leaving a dangerous vacuum. The void is filled by fanatics who have sectarian zeal, appetite to settle matters by violence and weapons in abundance.

A strategy whose objectives are mixed up, and which is based on sheer opportunism, lacks consistency and is likely to fail. In Iraq, Saddam Hussain, leading a Sunni minority and secular dictatorship, was deposed. Saddam’s overthrow released soldiers of his Ba’athist army and alienated Iraq’s Sunni tribes. But then, many of the same were enticed by the United States with money and weapons to fight al-Qaida. With that phase over and a Shia-dominated regime in Baghdad, the Sunnis were out of favour again. They turned from allies to enemies.

The nature of war between government forces and Islamic State in Iraq is full of irony. The Iraqi military is heavily equipped with American weapons and is supposedly well trained, but clearly lacks the will to fight. IS forces, too, have plenty of weapons, originally supplied by Washington to the “Sons of Iraq” militia to fight al-Qaida, or captured from the Iraqi military.

The US strategy in Syria has been to overthrow the Assad regime and thus eliminate an old rejectionist challenge to American–Israeli supremacy in the Middle East. Again, expediency drove the United States and anti-Assad forces closer. Western arms supplied to anti-Assad groups that are described as “moderate” have often been seized by more fanatical and trigger-happy groups like Islamic State.

Events in recent years have demonstrated again and again that alliances with extremist groups to destabilise countries tend to produce a boomerang effect. From Libya to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the effects have been devastating. The region is destabilised. Human misery is indescribable. External powers are eager to intervene when it is least helpful and display withdrawal symptoms when the going gets tough or it does not suit them.

Accounts of the fall of Palmyra, site of two-thousand-year-old Roman-era ruins and artefacts, speak of large-scale evacuation of nearby communities by Syrian troops as they withdrew. There was no intervention by US aircraft which have been deployed in recent months to target Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Residents left behind face atrocities from IS militants.

North of Palmyra lie oil and gas fields under Syrian government control. Does the US goal to depose President Assad in Syria explain why American air power did not intervene in the battle for Palmyra, and may not do so in the battle for the oil fields nearby? After all, the loss of those oil fields would be a big setback against the Syrian regime whereas a US intervention against Islamic State in that battle would help the Assad regime.

So, in Iraq as well as Syria, contradictions in American policy abound. Islamic State poses a serious threat to the Iraqi government which Washington does not want to collapse. In Syria, on the other end, the American agenda is the exact opposite – to engineer the end of the Assad regime. Just as the United States helped raise a Sunni tribal militia called “Sons of Iraq” to counter the threat of al-Qaida some years ago, opportunism now requires Washington to sustain a Shia regime in Baghdad. To protect that regime, the US is now supporting a predominantly Shia militia, described as the “Popular Mobilisation Units”. In Iraq, America and Iran are in tacit alliance with each other. In Syria they support opposite sides.

With such contradictory motives in Iraq and Syria, America’s strategy against Islamic State cannot succeed.

[END]

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From Strange to Bizarre: The Mutations of Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy

CounterPunch

President Barack Obama and his officials are saying some very strange things about events in the Middle East and Ukraine. The White House was loud in its support for factions who were united only in opposition to President Viktor Yanukovych. The Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s leaked telephone conversation with the American ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, revealed much more about how the State Department was secretly plotting for regime change in Kiev before Yanukovych was abruptly removed from power in a political coup in February.

In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington in December 2013, Nuland admitted that the United States had spent five billion dollars since Ukraine became independent following the Soviet Union’s breakup in 1991 in “developing democratic institutions and skills in promoting civil society” and what she described as “a good form of government.” Nuland claimed that all of it was necessary to “achieve the objectives of Ukraine’s European.”

After the opposition takeover in Kiev, the referendum in Crimea where people voted in overwhelming numbers to join the Russian Federation, and the wishes of Russian minorities in the east, brought a very different response from Washington. The Crimean referendum was denounced as illegal and a sham. Ukraine remains in turmoil. Russia on one hand, and the United States and the European Union on the other, are locked in a struggle for influence in Ukraine. It is a struggle whose final outcome is far from certain.

In Syria, devastated by three-years of civil war, with external powers pouring oil in the conflict, President Bashar al-Assad has also won an overwhelming victory. Fears of the Crimean and Russian minorities in the new Ukraine are understandable. For Ukraine is a broken and vulnerable state, with armed far-right and left groups dominating parts of the country where anarchy rules. Western governments seem obsessed about freedom and democracy, but we hardly hear about security and welfare of Ukraine’s minorities. In Syria, the civil war has extracted a very high toll. If the western narrative was to be believed, then all Syrians are united against Assad, so any election leading to his victory must be fraudulent.

The Assad dynasty has ruled Syria with the iron fist for decades. The dynasty might well have been overthrown in the uprising which began in 2011 if a better alternative was present. The truth is that many of Syria’s minorities, Christians, Jews, Druze, Kurds and Assad’s own Alawites, are terrified by the cruelty of, and conflict within, Assad’s opponents, foreign Salafists in particular. Three years since the uprising began, Western governments, US, British and French, are in a strange situation of their own making. They have lent moral and material support to the enemies of Assad, but are weary and worried of them, for anti-Assad fighters are no lovers of the Western governments and values they preach. What has happened in Libya is a lesson.

History shows that great powers, instead of learning from mistakes, keep repeating the same follies. Ceaseless ideological propaganda, whatever its origin and nature, makes a feeble cover for real motives.

Assad’s victory was by a whopping margin – he secured nearly 89 percent of the vote. It was a win like any other dictator’s, but there is little doubt that many Syrians were scared of the other side, and preferred Assad. The American Secretary of State John Kerry, smarting from his debacle in the Israel-Palestinian talks which were sunk by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, quickly moved on. Syria provided an escape route. Kerry described Assad’s victory as “meaningless” and “a great big zero.”

It gets more and more bizarre. Nearly a year after Egypt’s army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi overthrew the country’s elected President Mohammed Morsi and abolished the fragile political order which had evolved after Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow, there was another presidential election at the end of May. Thousands were killed and even more thrown into jail in the months before. Sisi took 97 percent of the vote, virtually the whole country, while Muslim Brotherhood leaders and supporters languish in jail. If Assad’s election was “meaningless” and a “great big zero” for the Obama administration, then think of Sisi’s victory margin?

When a ruthless dictator and America’s proxy is in trouble, Washington is slow to respond to events, hoping that the dictator will eventually overcome opposition and it will be all right in the end. South Vietnam, Cambodia, Iran, Egypt and beyond, examples are aplenty. More than three decades after the fall of the Shah of Iran and President Jimmy Carter’s bungled handling of the crisis in what was America’s policeman in the Persian Gulf, Barack Obama faced a similar crisis in Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak was in trouble. Obama dithered.

Mubarak’s rule collapsed under relentless popular pressure, but while the military had disintegrated with the fall of the shah in Iran, the Egyptian armed forces remained intact. Egypt’s 2011 revolution was incomplete in comparison with the Iranian revolution of 1979. The military-led counterrevolution in 2013 has taken Egypt back to the Mubarak era.

For a country born out of a revolution, the United States is remarkably counterrevolutionary. Now that Egypt is again ruled by a former army chief, the White House has said that President Obama is looking forward to working with Sisi “to advance our strategic partnership and the many interests shared by the United States and Egypt.” The White House claimed that “elections [there] were held in accordance with Egyptian law.”

That Egyptian law, which Obama has so readily accepted as the basis of a closer relationship with Sisi’s government, originates from a constitution which has been heavily criticized for granting the military sweeping powers. The 2014 constitution was introduced after a coup which overthrew Egypt’s freely elected president, abolished parliament and abrogated the 2012 constitution, approved by the Egyptian electorate in a far more relaxed political environment. In cozying up with Sisi, Obama denies that there was ever a coup.

Never mind Obama’s idealism and soaring rhetoric – that was a long time ago, five years ago in fact. Now it is time to build a legacy, so he will do anything. Obama’s foreign policy is a charade.

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Back to the state of nature

AL JAZEERA

US commando raids in Libya and Somalia show American power, and its limits, where anarchy rules after state destruction. 

Recent events in Libya and Somalia have brought into focus some of the grimmest aspects of destroyed state structures, and consequences thereof. In Tripoli, US commandos seized Abu Anas al-Liby, al-Qaeda’s man described as a mastermind of the 1998 American embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. In the Somali coastal town of Barawe, an attack by American commandos failed to kill or capture the leader of al-Shabab, Ahmed Abdi Godane, and the Americans were forced to withdraw.

Several days after came the audacious kidnapping and detention of the Libyan Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, by armed men in the capital. Zeidan was later released, but together these events inform us a good deal about failing states.

Coming immediately after the Westgate massacre of shoppers in Nairobi, the US commando raids were certainly dramatic, exhibiting America’s ability to project military power in distant lands where order is fragile. The raids enabled the Secretary of State John Kerry to proclaim that they, meaning terrorists, “can run but they can’t hide” – words that echoed the language used during the George W. Bush presidency in the previous decade.

However, Kerry’s remarks also reflected the new reality after Iraq and Afghanistan – reality in which the world’s sole hegemon, the United States, is no longer capable of staying and nation-building.

America has been forced to change warfare. Its goal now is to economise in terms of money, and reduce its military casualties. Libya and Somalia illustrate this reality, but the new type of warfare also involves risks. After America’s commando operation in Tripoli, Libya demanded that Washington explain the attack on Libyan territory, insisting that any Libyan citizen should be prosecuted in Libya. The United States is surely not going to heed that demand.

There are dangers, however, as the kidnapping of Libya’s prime minister in his own capital has shown. In a country divided into many fiefdoms under the control of rival warlords, America’s seizure of al-Liby, and his flight out of Libya, may encourage potential recruits.

The Western “humanitarian” military intervention in Libya on behalf of the anti-Gaddafi forces two years ago has clearly brought a string of unwelcome consequences. Gaddafi’s warnings that al-Qaeda was behind the Libyan uprising, whose success would make the country a hub of the organization, were dismissed as propaganda. Gaddafi’s fears were, in part, based on a long history of repression under his own regime, and his cooperation with western governments in the “war on terror”. Libya today shows that his warnings had some merit.

The reasons of al-Liby’s capture by the Americans go beyond the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Tanzania. Washington’s concerns include expansion of al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Libya – and radical fighters, weapons and expertise reaching extremist groups in Syria, enlarging the threat to Western interests in the region. Libya after Gaddafi has become a key source of weaponry to armed groups in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Niger, Mali and other countries which are unstable.

The collapse of order in Libya is part of a phenomenon seen far and wide in the region. From Afghanistan to the Arab world, including Libya and its North African neighbours, and from Somalia in the east to Nigeria in the west of the African continent, a growing number of states have suffered catastrophic failures. Still others are on the edge.

There is a sense of return to Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature (Leviathan 1651) in which legitimate governance and positive law are absent. Hobbes said that in such a state there is “no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

The development of conditions which are akin to Hobbes’ 17th century nightmare is a remarkable occurrence. The peculiarities of each failing state may vary today. The trigger of upheaval may be unique. The victor and the vanquished, and the scale of lawlessness, may be different. But the pattern is consistent.

Often, that pattern involves a population revolting against despotism or dictatorship, prompting external players to enter the conflict, escalation of violence and breakdown of institutions that leads to a state of nature. It is a condition in which people live without a common power which keeps them in awe, self-preservation is their only goal, and they are in a state called war.

The end of World War II in 1945, and freedom for old colonies thereafter, generated relief, happiness and excitement, but there were to be other consequences, most seriously the Cold War. The Germans and the Japanese were defeated. Instead, the Americans and the Soviets emerged as new global masters, and the competition for resources and influence continued.

For more than four decades, a tenuous peace existed in Europe, but savage proxy wars were fought in other continents. The aim was to control resources, and land and sea routes for trade. After World War II, the Cold War fuelled regional conflicts along the Silk Road, the Persian Gulf, the Suez Canal and in the Indian Ocean while Europe enjoyed a shaky peace. The Soviet Union’s demise as a superpower, marking the end of the Cold War around 1990, was thought to end the era of destructive wars. Today, such claims would be a misrepresentation of history.

[END]

The illusion of American exceptionalism

AL JAZEERA, September 18, 2013

Despite Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, the idea of American exceptionalism remains embedded in the US psyche. 

In his struggle for Congressional approval to launch an attack on Syria, President Obama once again invoked American exceptionalism that puts America above the rest, and bequeaths to it the right, and the duty, to fix things.

Using superlatives as befits such occasions, he told Americans that the United States had been “the anchor of global security” for seven decades. And he claimed that not only does it mean “forging international agreements” ­- it also means “enforcing” them. Further, as “Commander-in-Chief … and the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy”, Obama spoke of America’s heavy “burden of leadership” that has made the world a “better place”.

In his 1830s masterpiece Democracy in America, French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville described the position of Americans as “exceptional” ­for their “strictly puritanical origin, exclusively commercial habits, even the country they inhabit”. America’s role in the 20th century, particularly in WWII and the Cold War, ascertained its status as the most powerful nation. Neoconservative thinkers and policymakers, somewhat prematurely, started to use terms like the “New American Century” and “American empire”. However, while claims of US exceptionalism meaning the world’s most lethal military power may be credible, assertions of exceptionalism in other respects are open to challenge.

Liberty as an element of exceptionalism is not unique in America’s case, either meaning the freedom to act or the absence of coercion, as 19th century English philosopher John Stuart Mill articulated in his work On Liberty. One has to read US history with a critical eye to appreciate the limits of freedom as well as the presence of coercion. Egalitarianism as a political doctrine may be enshrined in America’s constitutional documents, but claims of equality of individuals in terms of political, economic, social and civil rights hardly stand up to scrutiny. From slavery to modern America, numerous examples show that the case for egalitarianism is weak at best.

Individualism fares rather better, but still we witness a phenomenon called “the tyranny of the majority” which de Tocqueville warned against in the 1830s. Privilege and elitism in politics, military and business are so widespread in the US, as in Europe and elsewhere, that the case for populism as an essential ingredient of exceptionalism is difficult to sustain. Laissez-faire economics and globalisation in the form of completely free markets really never existed. When there are fewer regulations there is coercion by those with power making and imposing their own rules. So what is exceptional about US exceptionalism?

The truth is that other countries claim exceptionalism of their own: Britain for its role as an imperial power; France for liberty, fraternity and equality since its own revolutionary period in the late 18th century; Greece, which traces its roots to ancient history when it was the cradle of Western civilisation and the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy and literature; indeed other cradles of civilisation, Egypt, China, India; and the Soviet Union for mass industrialisation and full employment. The list goes on. America is not the only “shinning city upon a hill” – it is rather more crowded over there. Alas, they all come with a dark side that warrants reflection and self-examination.

The story of America’s rise as the undisputed global hegemon runs through the 20th century, and a series of savage wars. The Allied victory over Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in WWII was one high point, from which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, emerged. However, in a devastated but exceedingly militarised world there was going to be only one hegemon in the end.

That point arrived around 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet empire, but not before four decades of vicious regional wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Angola, Mozambique, and in Central and South America. The Americans and the Soviets both suffered setbacks in individual conflicts, but the US was the last hegemon standing.

Imperial Britain lost its colonies in years starting immediately after WWII, becoming a relatively minor power, but continued to punch above its weight. London’s close liaison with Washington, and its ability to influence US policy and actions at crucial times, gave successive British governments power to serve their international ambitions by proclaiming a “special relationship” with the US.

From the American CIA and British SIS intelligence plot which overthrew Iran’s democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, to being an integral part of America’s worldwide military-intelligence network in the 21st century, the UK’s crucial, often secretive, role during the Cold War and the post-Soviet world deserves critical examination. Britain’s conduct helps to explain America’s own behaviour.

But ultimate triumph leaves the victor with euphoria and hubris. The sense of being the global master promotes a state of mind which becomes addicted to self-worshipping and misinterpreting others. Assertions of exceptionalism humiliate and radicalise, and often do not recognise the extent of resistance they produce. These are some of the lessons of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, three major conflicts involving great powers in the last six decades.

In the end, though, there comes a point when even the unconquerable, the “exceptional”, must accept that the tide has turned, and a new quest for consent must begin. What happens in coming weeks and months will indicate whether we are at such a juncture.

[END]

In Orwellian Egypt, a state of denial rules

AL JAZEERA, August 6, 2013

Behind the bloody conflict in Egypt is a state of denial among competing actors of each other’s place in society. 

A society in which important actors live in denial of each other’s interests and legitimacy is a society threatened by the abyss. There is ample evidence of this destructive phenomenon through the history of the Middle East, as elsewhere.

One of the biggest casualties of the phenomenon of Arab awakening was Egypt’s ruler Hosni Mubarak, whose fall in February 2011 looked like a pivotal event strong enough to accelerate democratic change across the region. Two years on, the prospects are bleak. After the recent military coup, Egypt is in the midst of a civil conflict which is bloodier and more repressive. The continuing violence and schism are more depressing than the final weeks and months of the Mubarak regime.

Authoritarian rule, rebellion and repression have shaped mindsets throughout Egypt’s social hierarchy. The collapse of Mubarak’s autocratic rule had sparked new hopes of an open and enlightened era, free of corruption and mismanagement. But those with power to control and coerce have a strong instinct to reassert themselves when they see their grip weakening. An essential feature of that instinct is to dismiss the legitimate existence and interests of others. It is by denying the legitimacy of the others that powerful actors claim their own legitimacy.

When General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the removal of a freely elected president and suspension of the constitution, the army chief’s assertion was unmistakable, and his choice of words strange in the light of recent events. The army acted, according to General al-Sisi, because Morsi “had failed to meet the demands of the Egyptian people.” This despite the fact that Mohamed Morsi had won the presidential election a year before; and a constitution had been approved. There had been complaints that the document was too Islamist and vested too much power in the presidency, but it was supported by almost a two-thirds majority of Egyptian who voted.

The constitution, no doubt, was controversial and divisive, pushed through in a rush against a vocal opposition – a minority as the referendum result showed. However, a military coup was definitely not a remedy. For when mistakes are made in a democracy, the perpetrators must be punished through the ballot box, and decisions should be altered likewise.

A military coup which deposes an elected leader and repression mean the very anti-thesis of democracy and the rule of law founded on popular consent. Both holders and contenders of power are responsible for the crisis in Egypt.

ElBaradei and expedient alliances with the army

Morsi lived in denial of forces pitted against him, to his peril. The regime entrenched now in Cairo is dismissive of Morsi, his party, his supporters and independent Egyptians who disapprove of the military coup. Crowds of protestors are treated harshly. Orders of the new regime that opposition crowds must disperse face defiance despite heavy-handed tactics. Protesters are accused of threatening security. Media outlets have been forced to close. General al-Sisi has all but declared his own “war on terror” and the interior ministry has announced the resurrection of the Mubarak-era state security services.

The army has been empowered to arrest citizens, thus assuming the role of internal policing. General al-Sisi may formally be defence minister and army chief under a civilian president and a civilian prime minister. In truth, it is he who rules Egypt with an iron fist. The rest is a façade, giving cover to the new draconian order.

Erstwhile champions of democracy, identified with Egypt’s liberal and secular forces, find themselves on the spot, not least Mohamed ElBaradei, occupying the post of vice president following the Morsi government’s overthrow. Few would have thought that ElBaradei, ex-chief of the UN’s Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and, to many, a symbol of the conscience of Egyptians involved in a painful struggle for democratic freedoms, would be sitting at the pinnacle of power, installed at the military’s pleasure. But the bizarre has happened.

The future of civilian politicians making accommodations with military dictators is seldom promising. In Egypt, the masses have despised officials of past dictatorial regimes. The schism in the wake of the recent coup is evidence of something similar. It has happened elsewhere, perhaps most notably in Pakistan under General Ziaul Haq, who was killed when his plane was bombed in 1988, and more recently General Pervez Musharraf, who is in detention and facing multiple charges.

The armed forces have ruled Egypt for six decades and still look invincible. It is nonetheless difficult to predict the future when a country is so polarised. Suggestions that Egyptian society is split between the pro- and anti-Morsi camps, or between supporters of Morsi and the military, are too simplistic. The conflict is far more complex and multi-layered. Many opponents of the deposed president are protesting now that the military is back in power.

Orwellian Egypt

Paradoxes are many in Egypt. President Morsi won the election and the Muslim Brotherhood gained legitimacy under the law, but then persisted with constitutional manoeuvres which, to many, looked like creeping power grab. Morsi concluded, unwisely, that the Egyptian military establishment had been tamed after some top military officers were removed.

The Brotherhood in government failed to realise that the army was down but by no means out. The articulate minority of liberals and secularists was not going to be silent. Egypt had just stepped out of a totalitarian era, but still was prone to slipping back in. An important Arab country such as Egypt in a region of great strategic interest for foreign powers was unlikely to be left to its people to make choices. For there is evidence that the military coup happened under America’s close watch.

The Obama administration was in discomfort at Egypt’s elections, and can barely contain its relief mixed with delight at the overthrow of Morsi by the military. Ensuring that Egypt remained under US influence, by keeping the army on its side, was far more important than democracy. The primacy of Egypt’s usefulness over what was morally right or wrong was all important. So the notion of a “democratic” coup was born, and hailed by the American Secretary of State John Kerry, who claimed that the soldiers were “restoring democracy” when they overthrew Morsi. Kerry’s statement was an exercise in absurdity.

One is reminded of George Orwell, author of the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, who said, “It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it. Consequently, the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy.” Orwell’s words have a strange resemblance with Egypt in 2013.

[END]

UN Watch Better Watch Itself: The Demonization of Richard Falk

Jeremy R Hammond writes in a guest column, originally published in CounterPunc   

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Richard Falk

The Zionist organization UN Watch has cited a commentary by Professor Richard Falk on the Boston bombings in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon demanding that that Prof. Falk be reprimanded for it. Prof. Falk, who serves as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, originally posted the commentary on his blog and I republished it, as I often do his writings, with his kind permission, in Foreign Policy Journal, which version UN Watch links to in its letter. As one should expect, the letter from UN Watch is characterized by its dishonesty and vain attacks on Prof. Falk’s character that deflect attention away from and fail to address the substance of what he wrote.

The UN Watch letter begins with the lie that Prof. Falk in his article “justifies the Boston terrorist attacks”. The UN Watch letter also falsely claims that Prof. Falk blamed the Boston terrorist attacks on Israel and characterized the attacks as “due ‘retribution’ for American sins”. Where Mr. Falk discusses Israel in the article, it is in the larger context of blowback for U.S. foreign policies, including the 9/11 attacks, which, as the 9/11 Commission noted in its report, were motivated in no small part by U.S. support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. Nowhere in his commentary does Mr. Falk blame Israel for or otherwise connect Israel to the bombings in Boston. As for the word “retribution”, where it appears in Mr. Falk’s article, it is in the context of a quote from someone else. What Falk actually wrote was:

Listening to a PBS program hours after the Boston event, I was struck by the critical attitudes of several callers to the radio station: …. Another caller asked “is this not a kind of retribution for torture inflicted by American security forces acting under the authority of the government, and verified for the world by pictures of the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib?”

Nowhere did Falk say the attack was “due” or “justified”. The letter goes on this way with its fabricated charges against Falk’s character. At the UN Watch blog, the letter is prefaced with the remark that Falk “was recently expelled by the Human Rights Watch [HRW] organization”. The link directs readers to a video embedded in another UN Watch blog post claiming that Falk was “Removed For Anti-Semitism”, the source for that claim being none other than Hillel Neuer, the Executive Director of UN Watch and author of the letter to the Secretary-General. In fact, the reason Mr. Falk left HRW’s local support committee in Santa Barbara, California, was because of HRW’s “longstanding policy, applied many times, that no official from any government or UN agency can serve on any Human Rights Watch committee or its Board. It was an oversight on our part that we did not apply that policy in Richard Falk’s case several years ago when he assumed his UN position.” But the truth just doesn’t serve Neuer’s or his organization’s agenda, so he prefers to make up lies to demonize an honorable man.

The UN Watch’s lies have been parroted elsewhere by unscrupulous so-called “journalists” who don’t let little things like honesty or integrity get in the way of an opportunity to manufacture a sensational headline.

Ann Beyefsky, for example, at Breitbartunashamedly lies that “Richard Falk has published a statement saying Bostonians got what they deserved in last week’s terror attack” before accusing him of “antisemitism” for his criticisms of Israeli policies in his role as Special Rapporteur for the U.N. The fact that Mr. Falk is himself Jewish shouldn’t cause anyone to be surprised that he would face such a charge; indeed, this kind of intellectually and morally bankrupt accusation is standard fare for apologists of Israel’s constant violations of international law. It certainly comes as no surprise that Beyefsky is unable to produce any quotes from Mr. Falk to back up any of her disgraceful lies about him.

The JTA (Jewish Telegraph Agency) repeated in a headline the lie that Falk “pins blame for Boston Marathon bombing on ‘Tel Aviv’” and repeats the falsehood that Falk “called the Boston attack ‘retribution’ for the actions of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan”, which leads one to wonder whether the author of the JTA story even bothered to read Falk’s article or relied entirely on UN Watch’s distortions of it for its own reporting.

The Times of Israel also picked up the story, stating that Falk “has a history of provocative and outrages [sic, i.e., “outrageous”] statements, both supporting Islamic terror and bashing Israel.” The Times of Israel would have a very hard time indeed finding any substantiation for its lie that Falk has made statements “supporting Islamic terror”; and “bashing” Israel is the usual euphemism for legitimately criticizing Israel’s constant violations of international law. Just as instructively, the “outrageous” statement referred to in this case is Falk’s remark that “The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance… the United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks”. The Times of Israel spins this observation into the dishonest headline, “UN official says US had Boston attack coming”; the idiom “to have something coming” meaning, of course, that the outcome is deserved. This headline is just another lie. Yet Mr. Falk neither said nor implied that the U.S. deserved the attacks in Boston.

To offer several more examples of the disingenuous responses to Mr. Falk’s article, Mark Leon Goldberg at UN Dispatch calls Falk’s commentary a “dumb” “diatribe” and feigns not to understand Mr. Falk’s rather elementary point that the U.S. government’s policies create hatred towards the country and result in blowback such as the 9/11 attacks. John Hinderaker at the Power Line blog repeats the lie that Mr. Falk said “Boston had it coming”. Hinderaker reveals his remarkable ignorance by saying that Falk’s statement that “the neocon presidency of George W. Bush, was in 2001 prior to the attacks openly seeking a pretext to launch a regime-changing war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq”, among others, is “false” (the truth of that and other of Mr. Falk’s statements is hardly a secret and not in the least bit controversial). Hinderaker goes on to dismiss Falk as “a lousy writer”, “insane”, “a psychopath” who has a “demented frame of reference, that we associate with mental illness”, “a nut; a crank”, “a mental case”, someone who “should seek treatment for his mental illness.” Bryan Preston at PJ Media similarly repeats the lies that Falk “Justifies” the bombing in his article and said that the U.S. “had this coming”. The Global Dispatch likewise parrots the lie that “Richard Falk said in a statement that Bostonians got what they deserved”.

One is just not supposed to tell the public that U.S. foreign policy results in what intelligence analysts call “blowback”. This is a forbidden truth, reminiscent of the 2007 presidential debate when Rudy Giuliani condemned Ron Paul for making the completely uncontroversial statement that the 9/11 attacks were “blowback” for U.S. foreign policy, to which Dr. Paul replied by standing firm and repeating the uncomfortable truth before the audience. It is a point that Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, Alec Station, has also made in a commentary on the Boston bombings published atForeign Policy Journalin which he remarks that “it is blatantly obvious from the evidence the authorities have presented to date that the attackers were motivated by what the U.S. government does in the Muslim world”.

It is clear from the hysterical reactions to Mr. Falk’s commentary on the Boston bombings that his own sin is in speaking uncomfortable truths many Americans don’t want to hear about their government’s policies, as well as for his courageous stand against Israel’s lawlessness in the face of such demonization by its Zionist apologists.

An updated and extended version of the article appears at the Foreign Policy Journal website.

Jeremy R. Hammond is an independent political analyst and recipient of the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism. He is the author of The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination: The Struggle for Palestine and the Roots of the Israeli-Arab Conflict  and Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman: Austrian vs. Keynesian economics in the financial crisis. He is the founding editor of Foreign Policy Journal and can also be found on the web at JeremyRHammond.com.

[END]

Obama’s Foreign Crises

Deepak Tripathi

(History News Network, George Mason University, Virginia, December 3, 2008 )
(CounterPunch, December 1, 2008 )

The carnage in Mumbai by young, well trained gunmen is the latest chapter in the world’s most complex web of problems today. Not only is it bound to have new consequences, it also throws up fresh challenges for all concerned, not least for America’s President-elect, Barak Obama.

When a bloodbath in India’s main commercial center is played out on television screens across the world, people who have witnessed events in New York and Washington, London and Madrid, Islamabad and Bali immediately connect with a rapidly escalating phenomenon. India is no stranger to terror. Still, it has suffered a huge shock. The Indian economy, already caught up in a global recession, is bound to feel the impact. Tourism and investor confidence may suffer, at least in the short term. The political fallout may go beyond the resignation of the Home Minister, Shivraj Patil. The country faces a general election in May 2009. The governing coalition led by the Congress Party is under heavy criticism from the Hindu nationalists, as well as the population in general. More