Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

Obama’s Israel Albatross

August 10, 2009

Elections and Dissonance in the Middle East

By Elaine C. Hagopian, Counterpunch, Aug 7 – 9, 2009

Obama came into office vowing to resolve the Palestine question. He also vowed to approach the ME with civility and diplomacy, especially Iran, to iron out issues of mutual concern.  The two-pronged plan was aimed at removing the Palestine question from the regional agenda, clearing the deck for improved relations with area states and resolution of existing US/ME issues. The February Israeli election yielded Netanyahu as Prime Minister presiding over an ultra right wing government.  Netanyahu rejected Obama’s call for establishing a Palestinian state.  He argued that Iran’s nuclear program with its assumed threat to Israel and to US interests was the primary issue to address, not Palestine.  With the June election of anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist, Holocaust denier Ahmedinejad, Netanyahu claimed that the danger Iran represents increased precipitously, and aggressive action was required. Therefore, Palestine should be put on the back burner. Public dissonance between the U.S. and Israel over Obama’s Palestine and Iran agenda amplified after Iran’s presidential election.  The dissonance threatens Obama’s efforts to defuse ME volatility.

President Obama entered office with a promise of business not as usual.  Although American foreign policy objectives were not changed, Obama insisted on the priority of dialogue and diplomacy to realize them, Afghanistan (and Pakistan) notwithstanding. Obama articulated two immediate goals he sought in the Middle East:  1) to resolve the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in accordance with the international consensus for a two-state solution without significantly alienating Israel.  Israel is still considered important – wrongly as Mearsheimer and Walt  (“The Israel Lobby,” LRB, 23 March 2006) would have it – to securing American economic interests and political hegemony in that region.  As such, the US must guarantee key Israeli ME interests including area dominance.  And 2) to dissolve, or at least checkmate the only regional alliance challenging US/Israeli designs in the ME,  i.e., the alliance of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and political elements in Iraq.  Moving to resolve the Palestine question is seen by Obama as contributing to deflating the Iranian-led anti-US/Israel alliance by removing it as its cause célèbre, and thus making key alliance members amenable to American outreach. The thinking is that achieving these two interdependent goals would allow less hindered US maneuverability in taming Islamist movements in the region and prevailing in the energy grand game there.

Continues >>

Dilemmas of American Empire: Can Obama Pull Off a Game-Changer in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan?

June 23, 2009
By Gary Dorrien | religion dispatchesJune 22, 2009
For Obama to steer us back to the softer side of Empire, withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan—and negotiating with Iran—he’ll have to overrule his key officials, Hillary Clinton and Dennis Ross, risk alienating Israel for its own good, and stand up to bracing public attacks. And he’ll need a hand from a strong, anti-imperial religious and secular peace movement.

Iraq War Memorial. Dogtags representing military dead. Image courtesy flickr user Ewan McIntosh

In the wake of the Bush administration’s disastrous resort to neoconservative ideology the Obama Administration is seeking to reclaim the liberal internationalist and diplomatic way of relating to the world. The United States is going to be an aggressive imperial power no matter whom it elects as president; what is called “neoconservatism” is merely an extreme version of normal American supremacism, one that explicitly promotes and heightens the U.S.’s routine practices of empire. But it matters greatly whether the American empire tries to work cooperatively and respectfully with other nations instead of conspiring mainly to dominate them. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Middle East as a whole, the legacy of George W. Bush is not very good and Obama has an overabundance of leftover crises to manage.

In Iraq the U.S. is slowly withdrawing military forces while in Afghanistan the U.S. is escalating; but in both cases the work is grinding, perilous, and ambiguous. There are no breakthroughs coming in Iraq or Afghanistan. The fix is in, and the new administration is simply trying to find a decently tolerable outcome. Iran is a different story diplomatically, where there is a real possibility of a breakthrough, but also the greatest danger.

‘We hate you because you are occupiers, but we hate Al Qaeda worse, and we hate the Persians even more.’

From March 2005 to April 2007 the eruption of a civil war, in the midst of an already ferocious insurgent war, in Iraq produced huge numbers of weekly attacks and casualties, averaging 2,000 attacks per month. The numbers then dropped dramatically as ethnic cleansing was completed in many areas, the “surge” of U.S. forces restricted the flow of explosives into Baghdad, the Mahdi Army suspended its attacks, and the U.S. co-opted Sunni insurgents. But violence has spiked again recently; it’s a perilous business to depend on buying off the opposition; and most importantly, the fundamental problems that fueled the insurgency and civil war still exist in Iraq. Meanwhile the U.S.’s price tag is approaching $2 trillion, as predicted by Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes back in 2006.

All of this will take decades to play out, well beyond the blink of an American news cycle. Iraq is broken into rival groups of warlords, sectarian militias, local gangs, foreign terrorists, political and ethnic factions, a struggling government, and a deeply corrupted and sectarian police force. The Sunnis are appalled that a Western invader paved the way to a Shiite government allied with Iran. They are deeply opposed to the new constitution. They want a strong central government that distributes oil revenue from Baghdad, and they are incredulous that the U.S. has enabled Iran to become the dominant force in the Middle East. The Shiites are embittered by decades of Sunni tyranny in Iraq and centuries of Sunni dominance in the Middle East. Arab Shiites have not tasted power for centuries, and Iraqi Shiites are determined to redeem their ostensible right to rule Iraq that was denied them in 1920.

Both sides and the Kurds have militia groups that are the real powers in Iraq. The main thing that has worked in Iraq is the U.S.’s desperate gambit to co-opt the Sunni militia groups aligned with the Awakening Movement. In the counterinsurgency playbook, buying off the opposition is a last resort. The French, British, and U.S. tried it, respectively, in Algeria, Malaya, and Vietnam. In each case the weapons given to insurgents ended up being used against the forces providing them. In this case, over 100,000 Sunni fighters have been put on the U.S.’s weekly payroll. Major General Rick Lynch, commander of the Third Infantry Division, explains why it is working, so far: “They say to us, ‘We hate you because you are occupiers, but we hate Al Qaeda worse, and we hate the Persians even more.’” In this lexicon, Iraqi Shiites are Persians, like the Iranians.

So the U.S. is paying and arming Sunni insurgents to kill people in the middle group, even as they profess to hating Shiites most of all. It’s not clear how the Awakening fighters will be removed from the dole, and Shiite leaders are not sympathetic to the U.S.’s predicament. The cooptation strategy has deeply enmeshed the U.S. in Iraqi tribal politics, lifting up certain tribes over others, and corrupting them. Tribes are forming their own militias and creating new leaders adept at cutting deals and getting access to money that was supposed to pay for reconstruction. The predatory corruption of government officials and connected tribal leaders is pervasive, direct, and unrelenting, which helps to explain why $200 billion of reconstruction aid has produced almost no reconstruction.

Iraq could explode again at any time, because Sunni leaders are demanding real power, the Shiite parties are determined not to yield it, and intra-sectarian resentments are boiling. Shiite and Kurdish leaders are stonewalling against integrating Sunnis into the army, and they are gathering the fingerprints, retinal scans, and home addresses of every Awakening fighter.

Despite all of this, important political gains have been made in the past year. Parliament is grappling seriously with the Baathist reconciliation problem, which requires tough political bargaining, and the recent provincial elections brought more Sunnis into the political process. Prime Minister Maliki, toughened by 24 years of brutally difficult exile in Iran and Syria as a functionary of a tiny, persecuted Islamist party—the Dawa Party—has proven to be a more resilient leader than many expected. To make a real difference, Iraq needs an oil deal, a new constitution, a resolution over Kirkuk, and a national election that brings more Sunnis into the government. Most difficult of all, it needs to integrate large numbers of Sunni forces into the army and police force. Above all, it needs to get the U.S. Army out.

The toxic politics of collaboration and betrayal

On the latter issue, we need to be resolute and pragmatic at the same time; and by “we,” I mean our religious communities, the movements for social justice, and the Obama Administration. President Obama has significantly compromised his campaign promise to withdraw most or all U.S. troops within 16 months of taking office. His current position is that 65 percent of our force structure in Iraq will be removed by August 2010, and all our combat troops, leaving up to 50,000 troops there in non-combat roles until December 2011. He stresses that the combat mission will end at the end of next summer, more or less as he promised, and that we need to keep a heavy force in Iraq for at least 15 months beyond that. Last month the U.S. relinquished one of its largest military bases in the Green Zone, the dramatically named Forward Operating Base Freedom. But two weeks later the administration announced its plan to keep indefinitely the entire Camp Victory complex, which has five large bases in Baghdad, and Camp Prosperity and Camp Union III, which are located near the new American Embassy in the Green Zone.

There are more announcements of this sort to come. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is already saying we will need to keep some military forces in Iraq beyond December 2011, beyond simply protecting the embassy. It isn’t clear what the distinction between combat and non-combat will mean. All soldiers are trained to fight, which the Army is currently stressing in its press statements. If a civil war breaks out, will U.S. troops take action? If not, what is the rationale for 50,000 troops? It is ethically imperative for the U.S. to be careful and deliberate in extricating itself from Iraq; we must avoid the mistakes of the British in India, the French in Algeria, and the U.S. in Vietnam. Obama gets that part. What he needs to hear is that his core supporters are serious about getting out of Iraq and are not willing to be strung along for years with half-measures.

Once an empire invades, especially a self-righteous one like the U.S., there are always reasons why it thinks it cannot leave. But sooner or later, conquered peoples have to be set free to breath on their own to regain their dignity. As long as the U.S. Army is the ultimate power in Iraq, Iraq will have no sovereignty; Shiites will be viewed in the Sunni provinces as collaborators with the invader; and Sunnis will view the Iraqi army as a creation of the invaders that puts their enemies in charge. When the occupier pulls back, the toxic politics of collaboration and betrayal will be lessened. The civil strife in Iraq is going to play itself out no matter what the U.S. does. But the U.S. set it off and we are refueling it every day we remain.

In the past two years the U.S. has, in effect, created a Sunni Army. The fate of this entity trumps a long list of daunting variables in Iraq. Sunni leaders protest constantly that the nation’s interests against Iran are not being defended. If the Sunnis and Kurds can be integrated into the Iraqi Shiite Army, which is euphemistically called the Iraq Army, Iraq has a chance of holding together as a semi-federalized state. There is no other option that averts another upsurge of death and destruction.

Advocates of breaking Iraq into three nations stress that parts of the country are already partitioned; all three of the major groups have their own military, and the Kurds have their own government and oil deal too. But the majority of Iraqi cities and provinces still have Sunni and Shiite communities living side by side. Iraq cannot break apart without igniting a horrible civil war, one that Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia would not sit out. The best hope is that Iraqis will decide for integration and sovereignty, but it is up to them to decide whether they want a unitary state, a decentralized federation, three nations, or something else. I don’t want President Obama to make that decision or to commit U.S. troops to one of these outcomes. We must hold the Obama Administration to leave Iraq by a time certain, relinquish all the military bases, and support the rebuilding of a shattered society.

Wanted: an anti-imperialist peace movement

Today we have the right president to repair the terrible damage to the U.S.’s image in the world, especially the Middle East, as Obama’s eloquent speech in Cairo demonstrated. But he is escalating the war in Afghanistan, with a rationale that leads straight to more escalation and virtual occupation.

The president has already added 17,000 combat troops and 4,000 trainers to the force of 37,000 that we had in Afghanistan. He is talking about doubling that escalation, says we have to shore up the government, and he is planning to double the size of the Afghan army with U.S. taxpayer funds. What he has not done is explain how or when we will know if any of this ramping up has succeeded.

After nearly eight years of war, Afghanistan has “quagmire” written all over it. The government is corrupt from top to bottom. It barely exists outside Kabul except as an instrument of shakedowns and graft, beginning with the family of President Karzai. The Afghan army is part of the corruption plague and opium production is expanding dramatically. More than two-thirds of the economy is centered on opium traffic.

The United States has a vital interest in preventing Al Qaeda from securing a safe haven in Afghanistan. But escalating to 60,000 troops, and warning that more may be necessary, suggests some larger objective that has not been explained or defended. If the U.S. is going to pour more troops into a country featuring a chronically dysfunctional government, treacherous terrain, a soaring narcotics trade, and a history of repelling foreign armies, it needs to spell out what, exactly, this escalation is supposed to accomplish and how the U.S. will know it has succeeded enough to get out or even to scale down.

I am more hopeful, though equally wary, about the situation in Iran, where the Bush legacy is disastrous. In 2001 Iran had a few dozen centrifuges and the government of President Mohammad Khatami helped the U.S. overthrow the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Khatami negotiated with the U.S. in the wake of 9/11, closed Iran’s border with Afghanistan, deported hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban operatives who had sought sanctuary there, and helped establish the new Afghan government. The Bush administration could have spent the succeeding years further negotiating with Iran, limiting Iran’s nuclear program, allowing it to buy a nuclear power reactor from France, and restraining it from flooding Iraq with foreign agents. Instead, Bush arbitrarily ended talks with Iran, famously consigning it to the “axis of evil.” Iran responded by electing an eccentric extremist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to the presidency, developing over 5,000 centrifuges, and threatening Israel. We barely averted a catastrophe in 2006, when Bush and Cheney wanted to bomb Natanz with a nuclear weapon until the Joint Chiefs rebelled against them.

Today there is a serious possibility that the Netanyahu government in Israel will carry out the bombing option. If it does, the entire region could explode into a ball of fire. That’s the apocalyptic scenario. The hopeful one is a game-changer based on two or three years of sustained diplomacy. The U.S. could declare that it recognizes the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It could acknowledge Iran’s right to security within its present borders and its right to be a geo-political player in the region. It could accept Iran’s right to operate a limited enrichment facility with a few hundred centrifuges for peaceful purposes. It could agree to the French nuclear power reactor and support Iran’s entry into the World Trade Organization. And it could return seized Iranian assets. In return Iran could be required to cut off its assistance to Hezbollah and Hamas, help to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, maintain a limited nuclear program for peaceful ends verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, adopt a non-recognition and non-interference approach to Israel, and improve its human rights record.

Any deal of this sort would be a dramatic breakthrough in the Middle East. It would have a positive impact on nearly every major point of conflict in the region. It would be the opposite of the Bush-neocon approach, which demonized Iran and plotted attacks against it. Obama may be the ideal president to pull off a game-changing deal with Iran. The Iranian people are remarkably inclined to pro-Americanism. The clerics that rule Iran might be willing to seize this moment, which would enhance their stature in world politics. If Obama is the president to make it happen, he will have to stand up to a firestorm of opposition in the U.S. and probably overrule his key officials in this area, Hillary Clinton and Dennis Ross. And he will have to risk offending most of Israel’s political establishment, to get something that is actually better for Israel.

Regardless of what Obama does or does not do, we need a defiantly anti-imperial peace movement that rejects the American obsession with supremacy and dominance. Forty years ago, Senator William Fulbright warned that the U.S. was well on its way to becoming an empire that exercised power for its own sake, projected to the limit of its capacity and beyond, filling every vacuum and extending U.S. force to the farthest reaches of the earth. As the power grows, he warned, it becomes an end in itself, separated from its initial motives (all the while denying it), governed by its own mystique, projecting power merely because we have it.

That’s where we are today. Now as much as ever, we need a self-consciously anti-imperial movement that seeks to scale back the military empire and opposes invading any more nations in the Middle East or Latin America or anywhere else.

How Not to Support Democracy in the Middle East

June 10, 2009

Stephen Zunes | Foreign Policy In Focus, June 8, 2009

President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo to the Muslim world marked a welcome departure from the Bush administration’s confrontational approach. Yet many Arabs and Muslims have expressed frustration that he failed to use this opportunity to call on the autocratic Saudi and Egyptian leaders with whom he had visited on his Middle Eastern trip to end their repression and open up their corrupt and tightly controlled political systems.

Imagine the positive reaction Obama would have received throughout the Arab and Islamic world if, instead of simply expressing eloquent but vague words in support of freedom and democracy, he had said something like this:

“Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.”

Could he have said such a thing?

Yes. In fact, those were his exact words when, as an Illinois state senator, he gave a speech at a major anti-war rally in Chicago on October 2, 2002.

Continued >>

Obama and the Middle East

May 13, 2009

By Gilbert Achcar | ZNet, May 12, 2009

Whether the election and inauguration of Barack Obama as 44th President of the United States will qualitatively alter U.S. Middle East policy and the regional situation remains to be seen. The fact is that Barack Obama has been much bolder with regard to U.S. relations with Latin America than he has been with regard to the Middle East during the 100 first days of his administration. This is despite the fact that, as a presidential candidate, Obama emphasized much more his difference with the Bush administration on Middle East issues, especially Iraq, than on South American issues.

Beyond the various electoral statements, the truth is that Obama ran as a candidate dedicated to bipartisan consensus in the realm of foreign policy, and singularly with regard to the Middle East. His critique of the Bush administration was restricted to the extent to which it did not fully comply with this consensus as expressed in the report of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. To put it more precisely, Obama supported the “surge,” which conformed to the recommendations of the report, and announced that he would stick to the exit (from Iraq) strategy that it envisaged. On this, he had nothing very original to say when compared to what the Bush administration was already doing since it implemented the “surge.” Hence, the very symbolic as well as significant fact that he asked Robert Gates to remain at the helm of the Pentagon — thus repeating the kind of bipartisan gesture with regard to “Defense” that Bill Clinton made when he appointed to the same position another Republican, William Cohen, for his second term.

Where Obama differed from Bush in public statements was mainly with regard to Iran: whereas the Bush administration never really agreed to comply with the recommendation of talking to Iran that was expressed in the Baker-Hamilton report, Obama made clearly the point that this was what he would do if elected, and he got attacked for precisely that reason by all the friends of the Israel Lobby. However, since his inauguration, Obama, and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have made no real substantive changes in that respect. One explanation for this is that they fear that engaging in talks with Iran at this stage might impact the forthcoming presidential election in that country in a way that would be contrary to what they deem to be U.S. interests. If this explanation is true, it implies that they will continue to “wait and see” until the election in June 2009, that is due to be held five weeks from the time of writing these lines.

After the Iranian presidential election, the Obama administration will probably move to a more serious opening in the direction of Iran, applying a carrot and stick policy — with a big carrot whereas the Bush administration only carried a big stick. They will hope for a deal with the Iranian leadership, a deal whereby Tehran would cooperate with them in stabilizing Iraq and the Middle East, each side acknowledging the interests of the other, in the same way that they are actually doing presently in Iraq, where both sides sponsor the same Maliki government in Baghdad. Such a conciliatory policy has been imposed on the U.S. government by the dire condition in which it found itself in the Middle East as a result of the disastrous policy of the Bush administration. Basically, the Obama administration faced with the Iraqi semi-debacle, at a time when its room for maneuver has been narrowed by the global economic crisis, is contemplating a reaction similar to that of the Nixon administration when it faced the Vietnam debacle. The exit strategy then was: “Vietnamize” the war, get all the troops out of Vietnam, cut a deal with Moscow and Beijing. The strategy now is: “Iraqize” the war (done through the “surge” and its reliance on the buying off of major chunks of what used to be the Sunni “insurgency” in the form of the “Awakening Councils”), get most of the troops out of Iraq (planned until 2011), cut a deal with Tehran. Both policies take place against a backdrop of severe global economic crisis.

In a sense, the new policy, if fully implemented, will require much less boldness than the one implemented by the Nixon-Kissinger team: withdrawing from Vietnam against the background of the ongoing Cold War was much more spectacular than withdrawing from Iraq in the absence of any “peer” global challenger of the United States; talking to “Red China” was much more spectacular than any conciliatory gesture toward Iran could be, all the more that it cannot be expected that Obama-Clinton will go to the same extent of sudden warming up with yesterday’s enemy as Nixon-Kissinger did in their relation with China. One important difference is that the Nixon team could play on the “triangulation” of its relations with Moscow and Beijing in light of the enmity between the two “communist” capitals. There is no situation of this kind with regard to Iran.

But the key difference is, to be sure, the role of Israel. For the Zionist state, Iran is the main enemy in the whole region, and the nuclear issue is a “red line” that would prompt the Israeli state to act militarily if it deemed that the line was crossed. We know from the revelation by The New York Times last January (David Sanger, “U.S. Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site,” NYT, January 10, 2009) that the Olmert government already asked the Bush administration for a green light to attack Iranian nuclear facilities with air strikes flying through Iraqi air space. The Olmert government wanted to take advantage of the remaining time in office of this American administration that was most cooperative with the worst plans and deeds of the Israeli state. The green light was not granted, however, for a variety of reasons related to the highly risky and uncertain character of the operation and its potential consequences in a time of unfolding global economic crisis.

The Obama administration will indeed be clearly less amenable to Israel’s hardliners than the Bush team was. And tensions between the two countries are all the likelier to unfold given that their political evolutions are presently going in opposite directions: whereas the last U.S. presidential election started a pendulum backswing after eight years of the most reactionary administration in U.S. history, the recent Israeli parliamentary election only carried on further the swing to the right that started with the election of Ariel Sharon in February 2001 in the wake of Bush’s presidential inauguration.

These are the main elements of the present picture in the Middle East: to get into other developments — the efforts of Washington’s Arab friends to foster reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas’s “Palestinian Authority,” the forthcoming parliamentary election in Lebanon, etc. — would take longer than the space of this article. However, the whole policy of the Obama administration is a pragmatic and cautious move within the guidelines described above.

Gilbert Achcar is a Professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. This article is based on the preface to the Iranian edition of Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy. Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War, and Justice by Noam Chomsky and Gilbert Achcar, edited by Stephen R. Shalom. The updated English paperback edition was published in 2008 by Paradigm Publishers.

A new Middle East under Obama?

November 5, 2008
Al Jazeera, Nov 5, 2008

Many in Egypt remain sceptical that change will come to the Middle East [EPA]

Even though Barack Obama has been elected the 44th president of the United States, there are some in the Middle East who believe his policies towards the region will differ little from those of his defeated Republican rival, John McCain.

Al Jazeera asked a number of people in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, whether Obama would bring change to the US presidency.

Omar Kamel, musician

“In terms of actual policy, I do not think there is much difference at all when it comes to Obama or McCain’s Middle Eastern viewpoints.They have both committed themselves publicly and explicitly to the Zionist cause, with Obama promising Aipac an ‘undivided Israeli Jerusalem’ as a goal.

More so, they have both said that ‘nothing is off the table’ when dealing with Iran, which implicitly means they both consider a military attack on Iran a strategic option.

That Obama has implied he would not want to use nuclear weapons is a small consolation when we consider the devastation wrought on Iraq by ‘conventional’ warfare.

Obama has also made it quite clear that he is a subscriber to the whole ‘war on terror’ notion – which to the rest of the world simply means he will continue the march of Empire Amerika.

Unfortunately, there is a geist of optimistic negative-racism that chooses to see Obama as an actual opportunity for change – when in fact he offers absolutely nothing new save for his skin colour and relative eloquence.

Obama reminds me far too much of Clinton. Clinton, quite literally, got away with murder simply because the world found him charismatic and charming.

Clinton helped destroy Iraq with sanctions and was an accomplice to the murder of over 500,000 Iraqi children and yet most people in the Middle East still like the murderer, still believe that, somehow, he was a good man.

That is my fear with Obama, that he will pacify the world as he rapes it.

At least with McCain, like Bush, the world would have been acutely aware of its rape.”

Abdel-Rahman Hussein, journalist

“There is an apathy among Egyptians regarding the US election because many say it makes no difference who wins. The US will always pursue the same policies in the region.

Even with a Democratic win in the White house, it is American – and almost by default Israeli – interests which will always come first.

The fulcrum of American policy in the region is support for Israel above all else, and both parties unequivocally adhere to that.

Additionally, as opposed to Great Britain where the divide between left and right has become less pronounced in recent years, the American political spectrum has always been more centrist.

One position both candidates straddled quite comfortably is their staunch support for Israel.

Obama’s promise to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) that Jerusalem will remain the “undivided” capital of Israel does not bode well for the future of the peace process which is currently proposing East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Nevertheless, Jewish and pro-Israel groups remain sceptical about Obama and feel he is merely paying lip service to secure the election, so again it is difficult to surmise exactly how it will pan out.”

Jen Zaki Hanna, university professor

“Unfortunately, I do not believe that Obama will have significantly different foreign and financial policies.

I considered the one person who could have brought about real change in the Middle East, to be Ralph Nader.

Nader dissected the real problem with America’s financial policies – that being the unfettered control of the transnational corporations and their lack of respect for human rights and environmental rights at home and globally.

Unfortunately, every time Nader tries to enter the presidential race he is called a spoiler for the Democrats. This just goes to shows me, and I believe others around the world and in the Middle East, that the Democrats and Republicans are one and the same.

Perhaps Hillary Clinton was the lesser of the two evils than Obama who has changed his mind multiple times on issues such as Iraqi troop withdrawal.

Both parties will always be loyal first and foremost to Israel as a necessary ingredient to US foreign policy and according to most Middle Easterners it has always meant one thing: there will be no progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

There has yet to be a Democratic or Republican party in the US which has demonstrated a real significant move on a two-state solution.

I do not think things will change now.”

Yousef Gamal il Din, broadcast journalist with NileTV

“There is also … a belief that the foreign policies of both candidates do not really vary much.The debates did not highlight key differences that will help regional problems in the Arab World, Afghanistan, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine.

My impression from talking to Egyptians who are well-read in international affairs and business is that they perceive McCain to be hawkish (more so than Obama) and that his policies would have been less-suitable for Arab interests.

Obama appears to be better for our region, but the key word here is appears.

The Middle East would look different under Obama but it will be difficult to judge because the rhetoric during the campaign does not necessarily translate into decisions or policies once the candidate reaches the White House.

Once candidates are confronted with certain realities in the White House or realities that emerge later on, they may have to adapt their policies. The international arena is very dynamic, things change very quickly.

It is difficult to accurately predict US foreign policy.”

Ahmed Samy, marketing analyst

“Israel won’t be that happy that Obama won because they might not trust that he would fully back them, even though he has said before that he would fully support them.

As for the Middle East, not much would change with Obama in office.

The situation in the region might stay the same or get a bit better or put on hold till the following elections.

The American people are the only ones to benefit if Obama wins.

Now Obama being the first black president in America is a history-making event; if he stays in office the full term, that is good. But if he gets assassinated or something like that, then it will be a tragedy.”

Ahmed Kafafi, author

“An Obama win doesn’t mean so much to me because whoever comes to power will never dare to change certain basics in the US foreign policy and assuming there will be any, those will be slight changes that would never reverse the situation in the Middle East.

I do not think Egypt and the Middle East will look any different; there is a fear that things will move from bad to worse. The financial crisis has peaked and the wealth of the Middle East is the only way out for the US.

Egyptians see the US as working for its own interests and is a big supporter of Israel. For them the US is a big power that will never ever work for their interest, so it doesn’t matter if Obama or McCain is in power.”

Robert Fisk: When it comes to Palestine and Israel, the US simply doesn’t get it

October 4, 2008

Biden and Palin hid like rabbits from the centre of the Middle East earthquake

The Independent, Saturday, October 4, 2008

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Palestinians ceased to exist in the United States on Thursday night. Both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin managed to avoid the use of that poisonous word. “Palestine” and “Palestinians” – that most cancerous, slippery, dangerous concept – simply did not exist in the vice-presidential debate. The phrase “Israeli occupation” was mercifully left unused. Neither the words “Jewish colony” nor “Jewish settlement” – not even that cowardly old get-out clause of American journalism, “Jewish neighbourhood” – got a look-in. Nope.

Those bold contenders of the US vice-presidency, so keen to prove their mettle when it comes to “defence”, hid like rabbits from the epicentre of the Middle East earthquake: the existence of a Palestinian people. Sure, there was talk of a “two-state” solution, but it would have mystified anyone who didn’t understand the region.

There was even a Biden jibe at George Bush for pressing on with “elections” – again, the adjective “Palestinian” went missing – that produced a Hamas victory. But Hamas appeared to exist in never-never land, a vast landscape that gradually encompassed all the vast and black deserts that stretch, in the imagination of US politicians, from the Mediterranean to Pakistan.

“Pakistan’s (nuclear) missiles can already hit Israel,” Biden thundered. But what was he talking about? Pakistan has not threatened Israel. It’s supposed to be on our side. Both vice-presidential candidates seemed to think that our ally in the “war on terror” was now turning into an ally of the axis of evil. Even Islam didn’t get a run for its money.

Indeed, one of the funniest reports of the week, yet another investigation of Obama’s education, came from the Associated Press news agency. The would-be president, the Associated Press announced, had attended a Muslim school but hadn’t “practised” Islam.

What on earth did this mean, I asked myself? Would AP have reported, for example, that McCain had attended a Christian school but hadn’t “practised” Christianity? Then I got it. Obama had smoked Islam but he hadn’t inhaled!

Travelling across the US this week – from Seattle to Houston to Washington and then to New York – I kept bumping into the results of America’s White House-induced terror. A well-educated, upper-middle-class lady at a lunch turned to me and expressed her fear that Islam “wanted to take over America”. When I suggested that this was pushing things a bit, she informed me that “the Muslims have already taken over France”.

How does one reply to this? It’s a bit like being informed by a perfectly sane and rational person that Martians have just landed in Tennessee. So I used the old Fisk trick when confronted by ravers of the “admit George Bush did 9/11” school. I looked at my watch, adopted a shocked expression and shouted: “Gotta go!”

But seriously. There was Biden on Thursday night, telling us that along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan – he was referring, of course, to the old frontier drawn by Sir Mortimer Durrand which most Pushtuns (and thus all Taliban) regard as fictional – “there have been 7,000 madrassas built … and that’s where bin Laden lives and we will go at him if we have actually (sic) intelligence”.

Seven thousand? Where on earth does this figure come from? Yes, there are thousands of religious schools in Pakistan – but they’re not all on the border. In another extraordinary bit of myth-making, Obama’s man told us that “we kicked the Hizbollah out of Lebanon” – which is totally untrue.

And, of course, Israel – a word that must be uttered, repeatedly, by all US candidates – became the compass point of the entire Middle East, this “peace-seeking nation … our strongest and best ally in the Middle East” (quoth Palin) of whom “no one in the United States Senate has been a better friend…than Joe Biden” (quoth Biden).

Israel was “in jeopardy” if America talked to Iran, Palin revealed. “We have got to assure them that we will never allow a second Holocaust.” Thus was the corpse of Hitler dug up yet again – just as McCain resurrected the shadow of the Second World War last week when he blathered on about Eisenhower’s sense of responsibility before D-Day. That Israel can quite adequately defend herself with 264 nuclear warheads went, of course, unmentioned, because acknowledging Israel’s real power undermines the image of a small and vulnerable country relying on America for its defence.

Israelis deserve security. But where were the promises of security for Palestinians? Or the sympathy which Americans would immediately grant any other occupied people? Absent, needless to say. For we must gird ourselves for the next struggle against world evil in Pakistan.

Biden actually demanded a “stable” government in Islamabad, which was a little bit hypocritical only a few days after US troops had crossed its sovereign border to shoot up a Pakistani house allegedly used by the Taliban. As General David Petraeus told The New York Times this week, “The trends in Afghanistan have been in the wrong direction … wresting control of certain areas from the Taliban will be very difficult.”

It’s an odd situation. Obama and Biden want to close down Iraq and re-conquer Afghanistan. The Palin College of Clichés characterised this as “a white flag of surrender in Iraq” while continuing to warn of the dangers of Iran, the name of whose loony president – Ahmadinejad – defeated McCain three times in last week’s pseudo-debate.

But it’s the same old story. All we have learned in America these past two weeks, to quote Joan Littlewood’s Oh! What a Lovely War, is that the war goes on.

The Making of Recent U.S. Middle East Policies

September 22, 2008

A New and Revealing Study of the Influence of the Neocons

By BILL and KATHLEEN CHRISTISON | Counterpunch, Sep 20 / 21, 2008

Stephen J. Sniegoski, The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel, Enigma Editions, Norfolk, Virginia, 2008

Not a few honest political analysts have long recognized the tight relationship between the Israel-U.S. partnership and the disastrous Bush administration adventures throughout the Middle East, including its backing for Israel’s systematic oppression of the Palestinians. Stephen Sniegoski has had the persistence to ferret out mountains of impossible-to-challenge evidence that this Israel-U.S. connection is the driving force behind virtually all Middle East decisionmaking over the last eight years, as well as the political courage to write a book about it.

Sniegoski’s new book demonstrates clearly how U.S. and Israeli policies and actions with respect to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the other Gulf states, and even most recently Georgia are all tied together in a bundle of interrelated linkages, each of which affects all the others. The right wing of Israeli politics, the neoconservatives in the U.S. who strongly support Israel, and the aging Israel lobby in the United States all have worked together, and are still doing so, to bring about more wars, regime changes, and instability, specifically the fragmentation of any Middle Eastern states that might ever conceivably threaten Israel.

In addition, one purpose of such wars and other changes is explicitly to intensify the discouragement of Palestinians as the latter’s potential allies are knocked off one by one, making it easier for Israel, over time, to finish off the Palestinians. That’s the theory. Those who believe it is vital to improve the human rights situation and the political outlook for the Palestinians must not only work to reverse present Israeli policies, but it is probably more important that we in the United States work even harder to reverse U.S. policies.

This is a long but quite splendid book. After a foreword by ex-Congressman Paul Findley and an introduction by Professor of Humanities Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., the text itself has 382 pages covering the entire history of the neoconservatives from the 1960s to 2008. The author has clearly spent untold hours reading all the writings he could find by not only the top few neocons but also numerous others who are far less well known but still important figures in the movement.

The neocons, by the way, are by and large not conspiratorial. They prefer to write voluminously and act openly with respect to their philosophies and actions. The word “transparent” in the title of the book emphasizes this very point. On the other hand, the neocons are also very skilled propagandists and are more than willing to spin “facts” in many situations in ways that often do not leave readers with an honest, unvarnished version of “truth.”

Sniegoski states his own main argument as follows:

“This book has maintained that the origins of the American war on Iraq revolve around the United States’ adoption of a war agenda whose basic format was conceived in Israel to advance Israeli interests and was ardently pushed by the influential pro-Israeli American neoconservatives, both inside and outside the Bush administration. Voluminous evidence, much of it derived from a lengthy neoconservative paper trail, has been marshaled to substantiate these contentions.” [Page 351]

The author then points out that

“… what was an unnecessary, deleterious war from the standpoint of [“realists” in] the United States, did advance many Israeli interests, as those interests were envisioned by the Israeli right. America came to identify more closely with the position of Israel toward the Palestinians as it began to equate resistance to Israeli occupation with ‘terrorism.’ … Israel took advantage of the new American ‘anti-terrorist’ position. The ‘security wall’ built by the Sharon government on Palestinian land isolated the Palestinians and made their existence on the West Bank less viable than ever. For the first time, an American president put the United States on record as supporting Israel’s eventual annexation of parts of the West Bank. Obviously, Israel benefited for the very reason that the United States had become the belligerent enemy of Israel’s enemies. As such, America seriously weakened Israel’s foes at no cost to Israel. The war and occupation basically eliminated Iraq as a potential power. Instead of having a unified democratic government, as the Bush administration had predicted, Iraq was fragmenting into warring sectarian groups, in line with the original Likudnik goal.” [Pages 356-357]

And yet one more quote is in order here:

“Since one is dealing with a topic of utmost sensitivity, it should be reiterated that the reference to Israel and the neoconservatives doesn’t imply that all or even most American Jews supported the war on Iraq and the overall neocon war agenda. … A Gallup poll conducted in February 2007 found that 77 percent of [American] Jews believed that the war on Iraq had been a mistake, while only 21 percent held otherwise. This contrasted with the overall American population in which the war was viewed as a mistake by a 52 percent to 46 percent margin. … [Nevertheless,] evidence for the neoconservative and Israeli connection to the United States war is overwhelming and publicly available. There was no dark, hidden ‘conspiracy,’ a term of derision often used by detractors of the idea of a neocon connection to the war. … It should be hoped that … Americans should not fear to honestly discuss the background and motivation for the war in Iraq and the overall United States policy in the Middle East. Only by understanding the truth can the United States possibly take the proper corrective action in the Middle East; without such an understanding, catastrophe looms.” [Pages 371-372]

The reader will note that the above excerpts all come from near the end of Sniegoski’s book. Before reaching this point in the book, you will be treated to informative and well-written chapters on the origins of the neoconservative movement, the Israeli origins of the United States’ Middle East war agenda, and neocon planning against Iran, as well as chapters entitled “World War IV” (a very important chapter), and “Democracy for the Middle East.” A particularly important chapter on “Oil and Other Arguments for the War” argues that oil was not as important a reason for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq as was Israel.

This book is a veritable bible on the neocons — and a frightening one. Anyone who thought that neocon thinking and policymaking had become passé with the political eclipse of the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith will be disquieted to find that these individuals were only the tip of the iceberg and that on all issues having to do with Israel neocon thinking lives on in policymaking councils and is about to be passed on to the next administration, whether it be Democratic or Republican.

Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence officer and as director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis.

Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession. They can be reached at


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