Posts Tagged ‘US foreign policy’

Chomsky: ‘US foreign policy is straight out of the mafia’

November 7, 2009

Noam Chomsky is the west’s most prominent critic of US imperialism, yet he is rarely interviewed in the mainstream media. Seumas Milne meets him

Seumas Milne, The Guardian/UK, November 7, 2009

Noam ChomskyNoam Chomsky: ‘Obama’s campaign rhetoric was completely vacuous’ Photograph: Rex Features

Noam Chomsky is the closest thing in the English-speaking world to an intellectual superstar. A philosopher of language and political campaigner of towering academic reputation, who as good as invented modern linguistics, he is entertained by presidents, addresses the UN general assembly and commands a mass international audience. When he spoke in London last week, thousands of young people battled for tickets to attend his lectures, followed live on the internet across the globe, as the 80-year-old American linguist fielded questions from as far away as besieged Gaza.

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Noam Chomsky: no change in US ‘Mafia principle’

November 1, 2009

Middle East Online, Nov. 1, 2009

‘It is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric’

Top American intellectual sees no significant change of US foreign policy under Obama.

By Mamoon Alabbasi – LONDON

As civilised people across the world breathed a sigh of relief to see the back of former US president George W. Bush, top American intellectual Noam Chomsky warned against assuming or expecting significant changes in the basis of Washington’s foreign policy under President Barack Obama.

During two lectures organised by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, Chomsky cited numerous examples of the driving doctrines behind US foreign policy since the end of World War II.

“As Obama came into office, Condoleezza Rice predicted that he would follow the policies of Bush’s second term, and that is pretty much what happened, apart from a different rhetorical style,” said

“But it is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric. Deeds commonly tell a different story,” he added.

“There is basically no significant change in the fundamental traditional conception that we if can control Middle East energy resources, then we can control the world,” explained Chomsky.

Chomsky said that a leading doctrine of US foreign policy during the period of its global dominance is what he termed as “the Mafia principle.”

“The Godfather does not tolerate ‘successful defiance’. It is too dangerous. It must therefore be stamped out so that others understand that disobedience is not an option,” said Chomsky.

Because the US sees “successful defiance” of Washington as a “virus” that will “spread contagion,” he explained.


The US had feared this “virus” of independent thought from Washington by Tehran and therefore acted to overthrow the Iranian parliamentary democracy in 1953.

“The goal in 1953 was to retain control of Iranian resources,” said Chomsky.

However, “in 1979 the (Iranian) virus emerged again. The US at first sought to sponsor a military coup; when that failed, it turned to support Saddam Hussein’s merciless invasion (of Iran).”

“The torture of Iran continued without a break and still does, with sanctions and other means,” said Chomsky.

“The US continued, without a break, its torture of Iranians,” he stressed.

Nuclear attack

Chomsky mocked the idea presented by mainstream media that a future-nuclear-armed Iran may attack already-nuclear-armed Israel.

“The chance of Iran launching a missile attack, nuclear or not, is about at the level of an asteroid hitting the earth — unless, of course, the ruling clerics have a fanatic death wish and want to see Iran instantly incinerated along with them,” said Chomsky, stressing that this is not the case.

Chomsky further explained that the presence of US anti-missile weapons in Israel are really meant for preparing a possible attack on Iran, and not for self-defence, as it is often presented.

“The systems are advertised as defense against an Iranian attack. But …the purpose of the US interception systems, if they ever work, is to prevent any retaliation to a US or Israeli attack on Iran — that is, to eliminate any Iranian deterrent,” said Chomsky.


Chomsky reminded the audience of America’s backing of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during and even after Iraq’s war with Iran.

“The Reaganite love affair with Saddam did not end after the (Iran-Iraq) war. In 1989, Iraqi nuclear engineers were invited to the United States, then under Gorge Bush I, to receive advanced weapons’ training,” said Chomsky.

This support continued while Saddam was committing atrocities against his own people, until he fell out of US favour when in 1990 he invaded Kuwait, an even closer alley of Washington.

“In 1990, Saddam defied, or more likely misunderstood orders, and he quickly shifted from favourite friend to the reincarnation of Hitler,” Chomsky added.

Then the people of Iraq were subjected to “genocidal” US-backed sanctions.

Chomsky explained that although the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was launched under many false pretexts and lies, was a ” major crime”, many critics of the invasion – including Obama – viewed it as merely as “a mistake” or a “strategic blunder”.

“It’s probably what the German general staff was telling Hitler after Stalingrad,” he said

“There’s nothing principled about it. It wasn’t a strategic blunder: it was a major crime,” he added.

Chomsky credited the holding of elections in Iraq in 2005 to popular Iraqi demand, despite initial US objection.

The US military, he argued, could kill as many Iraqi insurgents as it wished, but it was more difficult to shoot at non-violent protesters in the streets out on the open, which meant Washington at times had to give in to public Iraqi pressure.

But despite being pressured to announce a withdrawal from Iraq, the US continues to seek a long term presence in the country.

The US mega-embassy in Baghdad is to be expanded under Obama, noted Chomsky.


Chomsky stressed that public pressure in the ‘West’ can make a positive difference for people suffering from the aggression of ‘Western’ governments.

“There is a lot of comparison between opposition to the Iraq war with opposition to the Vietnam war, but people tend to forget that at first there was almost no opposition to the Vietnam war,” said Chomsky.

“In the Iraq war, there were massive international protests before it officially stated… and it had an effect. The United Sates could not use the tactics used in Vietnam: there was no saturation bombing by B52s, so there was no chemical warfare – (the Iraq war was) horrible enough, but it could have been a lot worse,” he said.

“And furthermore, the Bush administration had to back down on its war aims, step by step,” he added.

“It had to allow elections, which it did not want to do: mainly a victory for non-Iraqi protests. They could kill insurgents; they couldn’t deal hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. Their hands were tied by the domestic constraints. They finally had to abandon – officially at least – virtually all the war aims,” said Chomsky.

“As late as November 2007, the US was still insisting that the ‘Status of Forces Agreement’ allow for an indefinite US military presence and privileged access to Iraq’s resources by US investors – well they didn’t get that on paper at least. They had to back down. OK, Iraq is a horror story but it could have been a lot worse,” he said

“So yes, protests can do something. When there is no protest and no attention, a power just goes wild, just like in Cambodia and northern Louse,” he added.


Chomsky said that Turkey could become a “significant independent actor” in the region, if it chooses to.

“Turkey has to make some internal decisions: is it going to face west and try to get accepted by the European Union or is it going to face reality and recognise that Europeans are so racist that they are never going to allow it in?,” said Chomsky.

The Europeans “keep raising the barrier on Turkish entry to the EU,” he explained.

But Chomsky said Turkey did become an independent actor in March 2003 when it followed its public opinion and did not take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Turkey took notice of the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its population, which opposed the invasion.

But ‘New Europe’ was led by Berlusconi of Italy and Aznar of Spain, who rejected the views of their populations – which strongly objected to the Iraq war – and preferred to follow Bush, noted Chomsky.

So, in that sense Turkey was more democratic than states that took part in the war, which in turn infuriated the US.

Today, Chomsky added, Turkey is also acting independently by refusing to take part in the US-Israeli military exercises.

Fear factor

Chomsky explained that although ‘Western’ government use “the maxim of Thucydides” (‘the strong do as they wish, and the weak suffer as they must’), their peoples are hurled via the “fear factor”.

Via cooperate media and complicit intellectuals, the public is led to believe that all the crimes and atrocities committed by their governments is either “self defence” or “humanitarian intervention”.


Chomsky noted that Obama has escalated Bush’s war in Afghanistan, using NATO.

NATO is also seen as reinforcing US control over energy supplies.

But the US also used NATO to keep Europe under control.

“From the earliest post-World War days, it was understood that Western Europe might choose to follow an independent course,” said Chomsky.”NATO was partially intended to counter this serious threat,” he added.

Middle East oil

Chomsky explained that Middle East oil reserves were understood to be “a stupendous source of strategic power” and “one of the greatest material prizes in world history,” the most “strategically important area in the world,” in Eisenhower’s words.

Control of Middle East oil would provide the United States with “substantial control of the world.”

This meant that the US “must support harsh and brutal regimes and block democracy and development” in the Middle East.


Chomsky tackled the origins of the Somali piracy issue.

“Piracy is not nice, but where did it come from?”

Chomsky explained that one of the immediate reasons for piracy is European counties and others are simply “destroying Somalia’s territorial waters by dumping toxic waste – probably nuclear waste – and also by overfishing.”

“What happens to the fishermen in Somalia? They become pirates. And then we’re all upset about the piracy, not about having created the situation,” said Chomsky.

Chomsky went on to cite another example of harming Somalia.

“One of the great achievements of the war on terror, which was greatly hailed in the press when it was announced, was closing down an Islamic charity – Barakat – which was identified as supporting terrorists.

“A couple of months later… the (US) government quietly recognised that they were wrong, and the press may have had a couple of lines about it – but meanwhile, it was a major blow against Somalia. Somalia doesn’t have much of an economy but a lot of it was supported by this charity: not just giving money but running banks and businesses, and so on.

“It was a significant part of the economy of Somalia…closing it down… was another contributing factor to the breaking down of a very weak society…and there are other examples.”


Chomsky also touched on Sudan’s Darfur region.

“There are terrible things going on in Darfur, but in comparison with the region they don’t amount to a lot unfortunately – like what’s going on in eastern Congo is incomparably worse than in Darfur.

“But Darfur is a very popular topic for Western humanists because you can blame it on an enemy – you have to distort a lot but you can blame it on ‘Arabs’, ‘bad guys’,” he explained.

“What about saving eastern Cong where maybe 20 times as many people have been killed? Well, that gets kind of tricky … for people who… are using minerals from eastern Congo that obtained by multinationals sponsoring militias which slaughter and kill and get the minerals,” he said.

Or the fact that Rwanda is simply the worst of the many agents and it is a US alley, he added.

Goldstone’s Gaza report

Chomsky appeared to have agreed with Israel that the Goldstone report on the Gaza war was bias, only he saw it as biased in favour of Israel.

The Goldstone report had acknowledged Israel’s right to self-defence, although it denounced the method this was conducted.

Chomsky stressed that the right to self-defence does not mean resorting to military force before “exhausting peaceful means”, something Israel did not even contemplate doing.

In fact, Chomsky points out, it was Israel who broke the ceasefire with Hamas and refused to extend it, as continuing the siege of Gaza itself is an act of war.

As for the current stalled Mideast peace process, Chomsky said that despite adopting a tougher tone towards Israel than that of Bush, Obama made no real effort to pressure Israel to live up to its obligations.

In the absence of the threat of cutting US aid for Israel, there is no compelling reason why Tel Aviv should listen to Washington.

What can be done?

Chomsky stressed that despite all the obstacles, public pressure can and does make a difference for the better, urging people to continue activism and spreading knowledge.

“There is no reason to be pessimistic, just realistic.”

Chomsky noted that public opinion in the US and Britain is increasingly becoming more aware of the crimes committed by Israel.

“Public opinion is shifting substantially.”

And this is where a difference can be made, because Israel will not change its policies without pressure from the ‘West’.

“There is a lot to do in Western countries…primarily in the US.”

Chomsky also stressed the importance of taking legal action in ‘Western’ countries against companies breaking international law via illegitimate dealings with Israel, citing the possible involvement of British Gas in Israeli theft of natural gas off the coast of Gaza, as one example that should be investigated.

In conclusion of one of the lectures, Chomsky quoted Antonio Gramsci who famously called for “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

Mamoon Alabbasi can be reached via: .

Faith in Obama’s Foreign Policy Fading Fast

September 10, 2009

Analysts See Obama’s First Eight Months Rife With Failure

by Jason Ditz,,  September 09, 2009

Eight months into his administration, analysts and advocates of President Obama’s foreign policy platform are quickly losing faith with a series of failures and what they see is an increasing backpeddling toward the bellicose policies of his predecessor.

A dramatic escalation in Afghanistan, the centerpiece of his foreign policy, has led to abject failure, rising violence, and calls from military brass for yet another new policy, coupled with yet another escalation. Even looking past the disastrous results on the ground, many officials are growing disillusioned with the president’s unwillingness to define any of his goals in the war, even as he throws ever increasing numbers of troops at it.

His promise of an Iraq pullout was abandoned almost immediately, and his new plan for a drawdown is forever being pushed back by rising violence, and far from withdrawing the administration is actually increasing its overall force size.

On Iran the promise to seek a diplomatic solution has given way to public rejections of calls for talks and the same speculation, hostile rhetoric, and calls for international action that the Bush Administration was forever falling back on.

The most notable change the administration tried was to press Israel harder on peace talks, and while this provided for plenty of interesting opportunities to watch anti-Obama protests in Israel, a few months of rejections on Israel’s part led to the administration publicly and embarrassingly backing off on all of its demands.

Europe’s Complicity in Evil

September 10, 2009

By Paul Craig Roberts, Information Clearing House, Sep 9, 2009

Address to Mut zur Ethik Conference, “Sovereignty or Imperialism,” Feldkirch, Austria,  September 5,  2009

There is is a widespread supposition that Obama, being black and a member of an oppressed race, will imbue US foreign policy with a higher morality than the world experienced from Bush and Clinton.  This is a delusion.

Obama represents the same ideology of American “exceptionalism” as other recent presidents.  This ideology designates the United States as The Virtuous Nation and supplies the basis for the belief that America has the right, indeed the responsibility, to impose its hegemony upon the world by bribery or by force.  The claim of American exceptionalism produces a form of patriotism that blinds the US population to the immorality of America’s wars of aggression.

Nothing is any different under Obama.  Obama has escalated war in Afghanistan; started a new war in Pakistan; tolerated or supported a military coup that overthrew the elected president of Honduras; is constructing 7 new US military bases in Colombia, South America; is going forward with various military projects designed to secure US global military hegemony, such as the Prompt Global Strike initiative that intends to provide the US with the capability to strike anywhere on earth within 60 minutes; is working to destabilize the government in Iran, with military attack still on the table as an option; supports America’s new military African Command; intends to encircle Russia with US bases in former constituent parts of the Soviet Union; has suborned NATO troops as mercenaries in US wars of aggression.

How should Europe react? Europe should disassociate from the United States and go into active opposition to US foreign policy.  Europeans should demand that their governments withdraw from NATO as it serves no European interest. The two aggressive militarist powers, the US and Israel, should be sanctioned by the UN and embargoed.  Instead, Europe is complicit in US and Israeli war crimes.

Because of the cold war, Europe is accustomed to following US leadership.  The financial convenience of the shelter provided by US military power negated independent European foreign policies.  In effect, Western European countries became US puppet states.

How does Europe escape from a subservient relationship of many decades?  Not easily.   The US is accustomed to calling the shots and reacts harshly when it meets opposition. For example, French opposition to Bush’s invasion of Iraq brought about instant demonization of France by the US media and members of Congress.

The US government uses financial sanctions and threatened leaks of sensitive personal information gathered by its worldwide spy networks to discipline any independent-minded European leader.

Europe is essentially captive and forced to put US interests ahead of its own.  Consequently, unless Europeans find their courage and discard their servile status, Europe will be badgered into more wars and eventually led into a devastating war with Russia.  One European country can do little, but concerted action would be effective.  For example, why do not Europeans protest that the war criminal Tony Blair was given a post in the EU?

The Obama administration’s attitude towards self-determination and the sovereignty of the people is that these grand-sounding concepts are useful platitudes with which to mask the hegemonic interests of the US government.  US money and propaganda foment “velvet” or “color” revolutions that turn more countries into American puppet states.

The platitudes are useful also to disguise the overthrow of US civil liberties, such as habeas corpus, due process, and prohibitions against torture and preemptive arrest.

During the cold war era, one of the mainstays of US propaganda against the Soviet Union was the inability of Soviet citizens to travel within their country without the government’s permission.  This indignity has now been inflicted upon US citizens. As of September, 2009, US citizens can no longer travel within their country by air without the permission of the Transport Security Administration.

The Obama administration has adopted the Bush administration’s search procedures. Under these rules travelers’ computers, cell phones, and other devices can be seized for searches that can take up to 30 days.  If you are on your way to a meeting and your presentation is on your computer and your contacts’ numbers are on your cell phone, you are out of luck.

“Terrorist threat” is the excuse for these Gestapo practices.  However, there have been no domestic acts of terrorism in 8 years.  The few “plots” that led to arrests were all instigated by FBI agents in order to keep the nonexistent threat alive in the public’s mind. Yet, despite any real terrorist threat the police state continues to gain ground. Considering the extent of America’s oppression of peoples abroad, one would expect much more blowback than has occurred, assuming that 9/11 was not itself an inside job designed to provide an excuse for America’s wars of aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

Europe must look beyond the empty American political rhetoric about “freedom and democracy” and recognize the emerging Brownshirt American State.  Democracy is slipping away from America.  Its place is being taken by an oligarchy of powerful interest groups, such as the financial sector, the military/security complex about which President Eisenhower warned, and AIPAC.  Political campaign contributions from interest groups determine the content of US domestic and foreign policy.  A country in which  political elites are above the law and can violate with impunity both laws against torture and constitutional protections of civil liberties is not a free country.

American political leaders and the American people need Europe’s help in order to avoid the degeneration of the American political entity.  American freedom, as well as sovereign independence elsewhere in the world, require criticisms of US foreign and domestic policies.  The US media, which was concentrated into a few hands during the Clinton administration, functions as a Ministry of Propaganda for the government.  It was the New York Times that gave credibility to the neoconservative propaganda and forged documents that were used to sell the invasion of Iraq to the public.  It was the New York Times that sat for one year on the evidence that the Bush administration was committing felonies by violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It was not until  after Bush was re-elected that the reporter was able to force his story through editorial opposition.  Americans need criticism from Europe to compensate for the absence of an independent American media. Americans need outside help in order to reach an understanding of the immorality of their government’s policies, because they receive no such help from their own media. Without Europe’s help, Americans cannot regain the spirit of liberty and tolerance bequeathed to them by their Founding Fathers.  America herself is a victim of the neoconservative and liberal internationalist pursuit of US hegemony.

We in America need to hear many voices telling us that it is self-defeating to become like an enemy in order to defeat an enemy. As Germans learned under Hitler and Russians learned under Stalin, it is the internal enemy–the unaccountable elite that controls a country’s government–that is the worst and most dangerous enemy.

If America has enemies who are against “freedom and democracy,” then America herself must make certain not to sacrifice her own civil liberties, and the sovereignty of other peoples, to a “war on terror.”  Acts of terror are a small cost compared to the cost of the erosion of civil liberties that took centuries to achieve.  Far more people died to achieve liberty than have died in terrorist attacks.

The United States cannot pretend to be a guarantor of liberty when the US government takes away liberty from its own citizens.

The United States cannot pretend to be a guarantor of peace and democracy when the US government uses deception to attack other lands on false pretenses.

Europe, whose culture was wrecked by 20th century wars,  Europe, which has experienced tyranny from the left-wing and from the right-wing, has a right to its own voice.

America needs to hear this voice.

Paul Craig Roberts

Hon. Paul Craig Roberts was educated at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Virginia, the University of California, Berkeley, and Oxford University where he was a member of Merton College. Dr. Roberts has held numerous academic appointments, including Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and William E. Simon Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University. Dr. Roberts served in the Congressional Staff in the House and Senate and was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Treasury by President Ronald Reagan. He was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 1987. Dr. Roberts is author of ‘Alienation and the Soviet Economy’ and ‘The Supply-Side Revolution’. He is coauthor with Matthew Stephenson of ‘Marx’s Theory of Exchange, Alienation, and Crisis’. He is coauthor with Karen LaFollette Araujo of ‘Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy and ‘The Capitalist Revolution in Latin America’. He is coauthor with Lawrence Stratton of ‘The New Color Line’ and ‘The Tyranny of Good Intentions’. His latest book, ‘How The Economy Was Lost’, will be published by CounterPunch in October 2009. Dr. Roberts is a columnist for Creators Syndicate in Los Angeles.

American public: We don’t want to rule the world

August 28, 2009

The US public largely opposes America’s foreign wars and economic meddling. They need a voice in US foreign policy

Mark Weisbrot | The Guradian/UK, Aug 27, 2009

Americans are famous for not paying much attention to the rest of the world, and it is often said that foreign wars are the way that we learn geography. But most often it is not the people who have little direct experience outside their own country that are the problem, but rather the experts.

The latest polling data is making this clear once again, as a majority of Americans now oppose the war in Afghanistan, but the Obama administration is escalating the war, and his military commanders may ask for even more troops than the increase to 68,000 that the adminstration is planning by the end of this year.

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Here We Go Again With the Iranian Nuclear Scare

March 10, 2009

Eric Margolis | Khaleej Times, March 9, 2009

While the United States was fighting for its economic life, Obama administration officials and the media issued a blizzard of contradictory claims over Iran’s alleged nuclear threat, leaving one wondering who is really charge of US foreign policy?

Much of the uproar over Iran’s so-far non-existent nuclear weapons must be seen as part of efforts by the Israeli lobby to block President Barack Obama’s proposed opening to Teheran, and to keep pressing the US to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

Israel’s supporters and most Israeli military experts insist Iran has secret weapons programmes. Israel knows about covert nuclear programs, having run one of the world’s largest and most productive.

The hawkish Hillary Clinton’s naming of veteran Israel supporter Dennis Ross as her special adviser on Iran and the Gulf suggest she is more interested in building future domestic political support than securing balanced advice.

Meanwhile, confusion over Iran grew sharply.  New CIA director, Leon Panetta, said ‘there is no question, they (Iran) are seeking that (nuclear weapons) capability.’

Pentagon chief Adm. Mike Mullen claimed Iran had ‘enough fissile material to build a bomb.’ Fox News claimed Iran already had 50 nuclear weapons.  While the American Rome burns, here we go again with renewed hysteria over MWMD’s –  Muslim Weapons of Mass Destruction. Wars drums are again beating over Iran.

The czar of all 16 US intelligence agencies, Adm. Dennis Blair, stated Iran could have enough enriched uranium for one atomic weapon by 2010-2015. But he reaffirmed the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate that Iran does not have nuclear weapons and is not pursuing them.  Defence Secretary William Gates backed up Blair. So does the UN nuclear agency.  Some of the confusion over Iran comes from misunderstanding nuclear enrichment, and lurid scare stories.

Iran is producing low-grade uranium-235 (LEU), enriched to only 2.5 per cent, to generate electricity. Teheran has this absolute right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its centrifuge enrichment process at Natanz is under 24-hour international inspection.  Iran’s soon to open nuclear plant at Bushehr cannot produce nuclear weapons fuel.  Its spent fuel will be returned to Russia.

Today, some 15 nations produce LEU U-235, including Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France, and Japan.  Israel, India and Pakistan, all covert nuclear weapons powers, refused to sign the non-proliferation treaty.  North Korea abrogated it. UN inspectors report Iran has produced 1,010 kg of 2-3 per cent enriched uranium for energy generation, insists Iran. Theoretically that is enough for one atomic bomb.

But to make a nuclear weapon, U-235 must be enriched to over 90 per cent in an elaborate, costly process. Iran is not doing so, say UN inspectors.

Highly enriched U-235 or plutonium must then be milled and shaped into a perfect ball or cylinder. Any surface imperfections will prevent achieving critical mass.  Next, high explosive lenses must surround the core, and detonate at precisely the same millisecond. In the gun system, two cores must collide at very high speed.  In some cases, a stream of neutrons are pumped into the device as it explodes.

This process is highly complex.  Nuclear weapons cannot be deemed reliable unless they are tested. North Korea recently detonated a device that fizzled.  Iran has never built or tested a nuclear weapon.  Israel and South Africa jointly tested a nuclear weapon in 1979.

Even if Iran had the capability to fashion a complex nuclear weapon, it would be useless without delivery. Iran’s sole medium-range delivery system is its unreliable, inaccurate 1,500 km ranged Shahab-3. Miniaturizing and hardening nuclear warheads capable of flying atop a Shahab missile is another complex technological challenge.

It is inconceivable that Iran or anyone else would launch a single nuclear weapon.  What if it didn’t go off? Imagine the embarrassment and the retaliation.  Iran would need at least ten warheads and a reliable delivery system to be a credible nuclear power.

Israel, the primary target for any Iranian nuclear strike, has an indestructible triad of air, missile and sea-launched nuclear weapons pointed at Iran.  An Israeli submarine with nuclear cruise missiles is on station off Iran’s coast. Iran would be wiped off the map by even a few of Israel’s 200 nuclear weapons.  Iran is no likelier to use a nuke against its Gulf neighbours. The explosion would blanket Iran with radioactive dust and sand.

Washington would do better to stop worrying about Iran and focus on its economic meltdown.

Eric S Margolis is a veteran US journalist who has reported from the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan for several years

The Israel Lobby’s Power Comes from The American Ruling Class

March 4, 2009
by John Spritzler |, March 4, 2009

Among those who, like myself, oppose Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, there is an important debate about a fundamental question. The debate is about how to explain the fact that the American government supports Israel virtually unconditionally with more economic, military and diplomatic aid than it gives to any other country.

One commonly believed explanation is that the “Israel Lobby”–consisting of organizations like AIPAC and a host of other pro-Israel Jewish organizations in the United States–has hijacked U.S. foreign policy by using its wealth and control of the mass media to buy or intimidate Congressmen. According to this view, the American government’s pro-Israel foreign policy is harmful to the interests of the non-Jewish American corporate upper class, and were it not for the power of the Israel Lobby American foreign policy, reflecting as it does the interests of the American upper class, would not be as pro-Israel as it is today.

I call this the “The Lobby Makes Them Do It” view. I think it is just plain factually wrong. The alternative view that I hold is that the Israel Lobby’s power comes from the (mostly non-Jewish) American ruling class.

The leading advocate of the “The Lobby Makes Them Do It” view is James Petras. Petras asserts that the Israel Lobby prevailed over America’s Big Oil elite to get the U.S. to invade Iraq for the benefit of Israel:

“The principal governmental architects of the war, the intellectual promoters of the war, their publicly enunciated published strategies for the war were all deeply attached to the Israel lobby and worked for the Israeli state. Wolfowitz, number 2 in the Pentagon, Douglas Feith, number 3 in the Pentagon, Richard Perle, head of the Defense Board, Elliot Abrams in charge of Middle East affairs for the National Security Council, and dozens of other key operatives in the government and ideologues in the mass media were life-long fanatical activists in favor of Israel, some of whom had lost security clearances in previous administrations for handing over documents to the Israeli government…

“In fact the US-Middle East wars prejudice the oil interests in several strategic senses. The wars generate generalized hostility to oil companies with long-term relations with Arab countries. The wars result in undermining new contracts opening in Arab countries for US oil investments. US oil companies have been much friendlier to peacefully resolving conflicts than Israel and especially its Lobbyists as any reading of the specialized oil industry journals and spokespeople emphasize. “

Just on the facts, Petras is wrong. Far from opposing the Israel Lobby, Big Oil uses that lobby. As Juan Cole writes:

“Neoconservative Jews in the US like Richard Perle, Frederick Kagan and Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute who vocally support the Iraq War (and have gotten rich off it) are a minority of a minority, and even are at odds with the Israeli security establishment! Moreover, the American Enterprise Institute, which crafted the Iraq War, gets funding from Exxon Mobil, and last I checked it was run by white Protestants. The vice chair of AEI is Lee Raymond, former CEO of Exxon Mobil and surely Dick Cheney’s old golf partner in the Dallas years. That is, the Kagans and the Rubins, who identify with the Revisionist Zionist movement on the Israeli Right, are useful idiots for Big Oil, not movers and shakers in their own right.”

The American corporate upper class, the American ruling class, is pro-Israel because they (or at least their sophisticated advisors, like Henry Kissinger, Condoleeza Rice, General James Jones, etc.) know that Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians performs a strategically crucial service for the American ruling class. The ethnic cleansing polarizes the Middle East along non-class lines, fomenting an ethnic war pitting Jews against non-Jews. The American ruling class uses this ethnic war to strengthen its domestic control over ordinary Americans, and to strengthen the control of Middle Eastern ruling elites (kings, mullahs, dictators) over ordinary people in their respective nations. These are the most important strategic objectives of the American ruling class: social control to prevent the spread of pro-democratic, pro-working class, pro-solidarity movements from overthrowing elite rule anywhere in the world.

Regarding domestic control of the American population, the key strategy of elite social control has for many decades been to rely on Orwellian wars of social control. The particular “foreign enemy” has changed over time, from Teddy Roosevelt’s Spain to Woodrow Wilson’s “Huns” to FDR’s Fascists to Truman’s Communists to Bush’s and Obama’s Terrorists. By ensuring that the American mass media refrain from telling Americans the true reason (Israel’s ethnic cleansing) why Palestinians and Arabs and Muslims take up arms against Israel, the American ruling class ensures that Americans will believe the lie that Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims are hateful, irrational, anti-semitic terrorists who kill decent Israelis “just like us” and would likewise kill Americans if we fail to obey our upper class rulers who protect us from terrorism.

Similarly, the oil-rich Middle East ruling classes, in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, use their people’s anger at Israel to strengthen their power over them, as I discuss in some detail in
How Israel Helps Saudi Arabia’s Rulers Control their Working Class and How Israel Helps the Islamic Republic of Iran Control the Iranian Working Class. James Petras is naive to think that Big Oil’s interests are prejudiced by the pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy. If the Saudi royal family, for example, were really opposed to U.S. support for Israel, then it would use its vast wealth to support pro-Palestinian forces inside the United States, to counter the Israel Lobby; but it doesn’t.

By the same token, if any members of the American mostly non-Jewish ruling class, with billions of dollars to throw around (Buffet gave away $40 billion alone!), wanted to tell Americans the truth about Zionism (the movement to create and protect a Jewish state), they could do so. They could tell Americans how Zionism is all about ethnic cleansing, how Albert Einstein (whom the Israeli government asked to be the President of Israel, and declined) always opposed the Jewish state idea because it was morally wrong, and how the Zionists betrayed European Jews during World War II by opposing rescue efforts (so there would be more dead Jews to give them greater standing at the post-war negotiations over who would “get” Palestine)–they could do so; but they don’t. If they did, they could turn the American public against Zionism and against the Israel Lobby as quickly as they turn it against a politician soliciting sex in a toilet stall.

So why don’t they do it? It is not because Zionists control the mass media. Sure, pro-Zionists do control the mass media, but billionaires could create their own anti-Zionist media if they wanted to. After all, Rupert Murdoch owns a large enough media network to do the job and at the time of his divorce in 1998 his personal fortune was only 3.3 billion pounds (less than $5 billion I imagine.) The American ruling class chooses not to oppose the Israel Lobby because they have no reason to. The Israel Lobby is an instrument (“useful idiots” as Juan Cole puts it) of the American ruling class. The Lobby spreads the lies that the pro-Israel foreign policy requires, and it keeps politicians in line who might otherwise stray from the path. The Lobby is powerful because it does the bidding of the powerful.

Very different organizing strategies against Zionism are appropriate, depending on whether one agrees with “The Lobby Makes Them Do It” view of James Petras or the view I advocate. If Petras is correct, then the natural strategy to turn U.S. foreign policy around would be to side with the likes of Big Oil against the Israel Lobby. But since Big Oil and the Israel Lobby are in fact on the same team, this is a ridiculous strategy. Instead, the strategy that makes sense is to mobilize the general public against the American ruling class around not only opposition to Israeli ethnic cleansing but also opposition to the entire anti-democratic, anti-equality agenda of the ruling class. This is a revolutionary pro-working class strategy, and only it can win.

Other articles about Palestine/Israel by John Spritzler

John Spritzler is the author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders’ Hidden Agenda In World War II, and a Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Obama and the Counterinsurgency Era

February 21, 2009

Early signals indicate that United States President Barack Obama will continue driving the “counter-insurgency era” that began under his predecessor George W Bush.

Less than one month into his administration, the most significant indicators that Obama will continue implementing a foreign policy transformation that began under the Bush administration may be found in and around his National Security appointments. Strikingly, the very rhetoric that is being used to signify change is representative of this continuity.

The first key signal came on December 1, when Obama confirmed that he would continue with Robert M Gates as secretary of defense. That day, Obama also announced that (retired) marine general James L Jones would become his national security advisor, and that Hillary Clinton would be secretary of state.

Subsequent appointments, including (retired) navy admiral Dennis Blair to director of national intelligence, and Michele Flournoy as under secretary of defense for policy, along with keeping Michael Vickers on at under secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, are all linked to Obama’s assurances that “irregular warfare” will remain at the forefront of US policy, strategy and operations for the foreseeable future.

To help solidify matters, on December 1, Gates quietly signed Department of Defense

Directive (DoDD) 3000.07, establishing the policy that “irregular warfare is as strategically important as traditional warfare”. [1]

According to the directive, irregular warfare (IW) encompasses “Counter-terrorism operations, foreign internal defense, unconventional warfare, counter-insurgency, and stability operations”.

Under 3000.07, Vickers, a former special forces and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative who is considered one of the key architects behind the CIA’s covert war with the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, becomes Gates’ “principal advisor” on irregular warfare and the person who will provide “overall policy oversight” to ensure the US military establishment is transformed to be “as effective in IW as it is in traditional warfare”.

Directive 3000.07 builds on a post-9/11 foreign policy establishment transformation that began with the Bush Administration’s National Security Strategy of 2002. According to counter-insurgency theorist (retired) colonel Thomas Baltazar and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Elisabeth Kvitashvili, the NSS of 2002 “emphasized a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to the war on terrorism”. [2]

“Whole of government” is a key term that has stuck, and is increasingly being used by the Pentagon and the counter-insurgency community.

The Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review Report, released by the Department of Defense in January 2009, calls for “a better balance between our Nation’s hard and soft power”, a shift which “requires exploring whole-of-government approaches for meeting complex security challenges”. [3]

Directive 3000.07 also built on former president George W Bush’s National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 44 and secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld’s DoDD 3000.05, both issued in late 2005. These directives had already placed Stability Operations on par with traditional operations. Likewise, the Quadrennial Defense Review of 2006, and the publication and mass promotion of the US Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24) also demonstrated an increasing emphasis on IW. [4] [5]

Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen (at the time, a key State Department advisor) said in a speech at the US Government Counter-insurgency Conference in September 2006, “True enough, the words ‘insurgency’, ‘insurgent’ or ‘counterinsurgency’ do not appear in NSPD 44, but it clearly envisages the need to deploy integrated whole-of-government capabilities in hostile environments.”

Other key, IW-related developments during the Bush administration included former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s “transformational diplomacy” initiative. Announced in January 2006, it called for “a more cooperative working relationship between American diplomats and the US military”. [6] An equally seminal moment took place in November of 2007, when Gates delivered the Landon Lecture, during which he made the “case for strengthening our capacity to use ‘soft’ power and for better integrating it with ‘hard’ power.” [7]

The integration of “soft” and “hard” power is known as “smart power”, a concept that is generally credited to Joseph Nye, a member of the US foreign policy elite, and former official under presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. But it is the 2006 CSIS Commission on Smart Power report, which Nye co-chaired, that is more likely the source for the shift in rhetoric that would be introduced by Gates and then used by the Obama administration. [8]

The fundamental argument of the report was that “the most important mandate” for the next administration would be to re-brand the US image in order that the dwindling Empire might “move from eliciting fear and anger to inspiring optimism and hope”.

Optimism and hope, under the overarching if nebulous theme of “change” were key messages of Obama’s presidential campaign. Among the major goals laid out by the report is “to prolong and preserve American pre-eminence as an agent for good”.

The report asserts that the US “cannot abandon” its military, but that it needs to strengthen the tools of soft power, which include diplomacy and development aid. The report acknowledges that the shift to “smart power” had already begun under Bush, writing: “Some elements of this approach are already occurring in the conduct of ongoing counter-insurgency, nation building, and counter-terrorism operations – tasks that depend critically but only partially on hard power.”

As with many soul-searching debates into the strategic countenance of the US over the years, this one hinges on questions of legitimacy and “credibility”. For the authors, it is not the formulation of the war on terror itself that is problematic in so much as “strik[ing] a balance between the use of force against irreconcilable extremists … and other means of countering terrorism.”

While the “war on terror” is seen as “likely to be with us for decades”, the next administration needed to find “a new central premise for US foreign policy to replace the war on terror”.

The new “central premise” appears to have already emerged. On February 6, the Pakistani press reported that Senator John Kerry, the new chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, bristled at the “the use of the term ‘war on terror'”. Rather, according to Kerry, “What we are doing is conducting global counter-insurgency.” [9]

One of the key “guiding principles” that the CSIS commission suggested to the incoming administration was to “elevate and integrate … development, diplomacy and public diplomacy into unified whole”.

The shift to an emphasis on “whole of government” capabilities (sometimes referred to as “inter-agency”, or “three-D” capabilities) is highlighted in other emerging policies and key reports.

In July 2008, the USAID released its “Civilian-Military Cooperation Policy”. Therein, USAID describes itself as being “designed to facilitate a whole-of-government approach in which US government agencies work … to provide a coordinated, consistent response in pursuit of shared policy goals.” USAID also notes in the policy how its efforts are “a key element of any successful … counter-insurgency effort”. [10]

Likewise, the touchstone US Government Counter-insurgency Guide had its signing ceremony on January 13. The three signatories were USAID administrator Henrietta Fore, Secretary of Defense Gates, and outgoing secretary of state

Rice. In the Guide’s preface, State Department Counselor, and Project for a New American Century signatory Eliot A Cohen asserts that “insurgency will be a large and growing element of the security challenges faced by the Unites States in the 21st century”. The COIN Guide is to prepare key government agencies for the “near certainty” that the US will be engaged in COIN [counter-insurgency] operations “during the decades to come”. [11]

Other key responsibilities under DoDD 3000.07 were given to the undersecretary for defense policy (USD-P), a position that is now held by Michele A Flournoy, the former president of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) think-tank. When it was announced that Flournoy would become USD-P, the Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman referred to her appointment as “a victory for the coterie of counter-insurgency thinkers that the think-tank employs and champions”. [12]

In addition to heading CNAS, Flournoy was, together with Jones, Blair, and Nye, a member of the “Guiding Coalition” of another key think-tank close to the Obama administration, the Project for National Security Reform (PNSR).

At the December 1 event announcing his appointment, Jones stressed how “National Security in the 21st century comprises a portfolio which includes all elements of national power and influence working in coordination and harmony towards the desired goal of keeping our nation safe.”

This statement echoed recommendations that would be made only two days later by the PNSR in its bi-partisan report, “Forging a New Shield”. The report’s main recommendation is that “a new national security system in which agencies work together on joint assignments and policy implementation in responding to crises and managing day-to-day national security affairs”.

Modeled on and led by one of key architects of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, which restructured the US military bringing all of the forces under one umbrella for the first time, the PNSR seeks to similarly alter the national security apparatus of the US in order that the “whole of government” can more cohesively wage global counter-insurgency.

The PNSR grew out of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, the same agency that coordinated the Iraq Study Group and the lower-profile Afghanistan Study Group. The latter was headed by Jones. One of its key recommendations, that the US increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, began to be adopted by the Bush administration and was a key foreign policy plank of Obama’s electoral campaign. Upon taking office, Obama quickly implemented another ASG recommendation by naming Richard Holbrooke as his special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan. [13]

On January 13, 2009, PNSR announced that they had received $4 million from Congress via the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Department of Defense. Both ODNI, led by former PNSR co-chair Dennis Blair, and the DoD “will oversee execution of the agreement”. [14]

The close proximity of the PNSR to the new administration is instructive for another important reason.

In 2006, army General David Petraeus and Marine Lieutenant General James Mattis established the Counter-insurgency (COIN) Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, “to facilitate the development of a culture that enables us to more effectively adapt as a whole government when called upon to deal with future COIN or COIN-like threats”. [15]

According to the COIN Center’s official pamphlet, its purpose is “to better educate and train all US ground forces on the principles and practices of counter-insurgency, and to better integrate COIN efforts among the services”.

Among members of the COIN Center’s “community of interest” listed on its website, is the PNSR. Additionally, in its pamphlet, the COIN Center lists both a current program and a “near term initiative” that it is collaborating on with the PNSR. It remains to be seen what role exactly the PNSR will play with the COIN Center. One clue is found in the COIN Center pamphlet which states:

The analytical construct the COIN Center uses for continued analysis of distributed responsibility for issues in a COIN environment is the acronym “DDD” or the “3Ds”: Diplomacy (State); Development (USAID); and Defense (DoD).” [16] That PNSR has a shared emphasis on the interagency, or 3D, process, which may be an indication of collaborative efforts to watch for.

One reason to be wary of the commitment to “irregular warfare” is that it reflects a warning issued recently by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, that US foreign policy is “too militarized”. Although the lip service paid to “smart power” might be seen to indicate a balancing effect toward civilian influence over foreign policy, the appointment of retired military

and intelligence figures to key civilian posts calls this into question. [17]

Since the Obama administration campaigned on the continuity of counter-insurgency and irregular war as key elements of US power projection under his administration, it is likely that these policies will attain a level of popular support not experienced by the Bush administration, and will see little critical scrutiny by the media. The challenge will be to shed light on and critically examine these policies as they manifest in any number of settings around the world in the days to come.


1. Department of Defense directive number 3000.07, December 1, 2008.

2 . Baltazar, Colonel Thomas and Elisabeth Kvitashvili, “The Role of USAID and Development Assistance in Combatting Terrorism,” Military Review, March-April 2007, pp. 38-40.

3. Pentagon Recommends ‘Whole-of-Government’ National Security Plans by Walter Pincus, The Washington Post, Monday, February 2, 2009.

4. National Security Presidential directive NSPD-44 December 7, 2005.

5. DoD directive 3000.05 November 28, 2005.

6. Better Jointness Needed Between Military and Diplomats , Rice Says By Steven Donald Smith. American Forces Press Service, January 18, 2006.

7. Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M Gates, Manhattan , Kansas, Monday, November 26, 2007.

8. CSIS Commission on Smart Power.

9. Kerry says Pakistan aid bill to be passed shortly, APP Feb 6.

10. Civilian-military cooperation policy July 2008.

11. US government counterinsurgency guide

12.Obama’s Pentagon Subcabinet Officials: Lynn, Flournoy by Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent, 1/8/09.

13. Afghanistan Study Group report

14.PNSR Hails Appointment of Guiding Coalition Members to Obama Administration

15.COIN Center Community Of Interest

16.US Army/US Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center.

17. Foreign Policy Beyond the Pentagon by Walter Pincus The Washington Post, February 9, 2009.

Anthony Fenton is an independent researcher and journalist based near Vancouver, Canada. He is currently co-writing a book on Canadian-US post-9/11 foreign policy integration and transformation, and can be reached at

Change (In Rhetoric) We Can Believe In

February 5, 2009

By William Blum | Axis of Logic, Feb 4, 2009

The Obama administration will not produce any significantly worthwhile change in US foreign policy; little done in this area will reduce the level of misery that the American Empire regularly brings down upon humanity. And to the extent that Barack Obama is willing to clearly reveal what he believes about anything controversial, he appears to believe in the empire.

The Obamania bubble should already have begun to lose some air with the multiple US bombings of Pakistan within the first few days following the inauguration. The Pentagon briefed the White House of its plans, and the White House had no objection. So bombs away — Barack Obama’s first war crime. The dozens of victims were, of course, all bad people, including all the women and children. As with all these bombings, we’ll never know the names of all the victims — It’s doubtful that even Pakistan knows — or what crimes they had committed to deserve the death penalty. Some poor Pakistani probably earned a nice fee for telling the authorities that so-and-so bad guy lived in that house over there; too bad for all the others who happened to live with the bad guy, assuming of course that the bad guy himself actually lived in that house over there.

The new White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, declined to answer questions about the first airstrikes, saying “I’m not going to get into these matters.”1 Where have we heard that before?

After many of these bombings in recent years, a spokesperson for the United States or NATO has solemnly declared: “We regret the loss of life.” These are the same words used by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on a number of occasions, but their actions were typically called “terrorist”.

I wish I could be an Obamaniac. I envy their enthusiasm. Here, in the form of an open letter to President Obama, are some of the “changes we can believe in” in foreign policy that would have to occur to win over the non-believers like me.


Just leave them alone. There is no “Iranian problem”. They are a threat to no one. Iran hasn’t invaded any other country in centuries. No, President Ahmadinejad did not threaten Israel with any violence. Stop patrolling the waters surrounding Iran with American warships. Stop halting Iranian ships to check for arms shipments to Hamas. (That’s generally regarded as an act of war.) Stop using Iranian dissident groups to carry out terrorist attacks inside Iran. Stop kidnaping Iranian diplomats. Stop the continual spying and recruiting within Iran. And yet, with all that, you can still bring yourself to say: “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.”2

Iran has as much right to arm Hamas as the US has to arm Israel. And there is no international law that says that the United States, the UK, Russia, China, Israel, France, Pakistan, and India are entitled to nuclear weapons, but Iran is not. Iran has every reason to feel threatened. Will you continue to provide nuclear technology to India, which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, while threatening Iran, an NPT signatory, with sanctions and warfare?


Stop surrounding the country with new NATO members. Stop looking to instigate new “color” revolutions in former Soviet republics and satellites. Stop arming and supporting Georgia in its attempts to block the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhasia, the breakaway regions on the border of Russia. And stop the placement of anti-missile systems in Russia’s neighbors, the Czech Republic and Poland, on the absurd grounds that it’s to ward off an Iranian missile attack. It was Czechoslovakia and Poland that the Germans also used to defend their imperialist ambitions — The two countries were being invaded on the grounds that Germans there were being maltreated. The world was told.

“The U.S. government made a big mistake from the breakup of the Soviet Union,” said former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev last year. “At that time the Russian people were really euphoric about America and the U.S. was really number one in the minds of many Russians.” But, he added, the United States moved aggressively to expand NATO and appeared gleeful at Russia’s weakness.3


Making it easier to travel there and send remittances is very nice (if, as expected, you do that), but these things are dwarfed by the need to end the US embargo. In 1999, Cuba filed a suit against the United States for $181.1 billion in compensation for economic losses and loss of life during the almost forty years of this aggression. The suit held Washington responsible for the death of 3,478 Cubans and the wounding and disabling of 2,099 others. We can now add ten more years to all three figures. The negative, often crippling, effects of the embargo extend into every aspect of Cuban life.

In addition to closing Guantanamo prison, the adjacent US military base established in 1903 by American military force should be closed and the land returned to Cuba.

The Cuban Five, held prisoner in the United States for over 10 years, guilty only of trying to prevent American-based terrorism against Cuba, should be released. Actually there were 10 Cubans arrested; five knew that they could expect no justice in an American court and pled guilty to get shorter sentences.4


Freeing the Iraqi people to death … Nothing short of a complete withdrawal of all US forces, military and contracted, and the closure of all US military bases and detention and torture centers, can promise a genuine end to US involvement and the beginning of meaningful Iraqi sovereignty. To begin immediately. Anything less is just politics and imperialism as usual. In six years of war, the Iraqi people have lost everything of value in their lives. As the Washington Post reported in 2007: “It is a common refrain among war-weary Iraqis that things were better before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.”5 The good news is that the Iraqi people have 5,000 years experience in crafting a society to live in. They should be given the opportunity.

Continued >>

Holbrooke: Insensitive Choice for a Sensitive Region

January 31, 2009

by Stephen Zunes | Foreign Policy In Focus, January 31, 2009

Obama’s choice for special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, arguably the most critical area of U.S. foreign policy, is a man with perhaps the most sordid history of any of the largely disappointing set of foreign policy and national security appointments.

Richard Holbrooke got his start in the Foreign Service during the 1960s, in the notorious pacification programs in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam. This ambitious joint civilian-military effort not only included horrific human rights abuses but also proved to be a notorious failure in curbing the insurgency against the U.S.-backed regime in Saigon. This was an inauspicious start in the career of someone Obama hopes to help curb the insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.

In Asia

In the late 1970s, Holbrooke served as assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. In this position, he played a major role in formulating the Carter administration’s support for Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and the bloody counterinsurgency campaign responsible for up to a quarter-million civilian deaths. Having successfully pushed for a dramatic increase in U.S. military aid to the Suharto dictatorship, he then engaged in a cover-up of the Indonesian atrocities. He testified before Congress in 1979 that the mass starvation wasn’t the fault of the scorched-earth campaign by Indonesian forces in the island nation’s richest agricultural areas, but simply a legacy of Portuguese colonial neglect. Later, in reference to his friend Paul Wolfowitz, then the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, Holbrooke described how “Paul and I have been in frequent touch to make sure that we keep [East Timor] out of the presidential campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian interests.”

In a particularly notorious episode while heading the State Department’s East Asia division, Holbrooke convinced Carter to release South Korean troops under U.S. command in order to suppress a pro-democracy uprising in the city of Kwangju. Holbrooke was among the Carter administration officials who reportedly gave the OK to General Chun Doo-hwan, who had recently seized control of the South Korean government in a military coup, to wipe out the pro-democracy rebels. Hundreds were killed.

He also convinced President Jimmy Carter to continue its military and economic support for the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.

At the UN

Holbrooke, as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the late 1990s, criticized the UN for taking leadership in conflict resolution efforts involving U.S. allies, particularly in the area of human rights. For example, in October 2000 he insisted that a UN Security Council resolution criticizing the excessive use of force by Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian demonstrators revealed an unacceptable bias that put the UN “out of the running” in terms of any contributions to the peace process.

As special representative to Cyprus in 1997, Holbrooke unsuccessfully pushed the European Union to admit Turkey, despite its imprisonment of journalists, its ongoing use of the death penalty, its widespread killing of civilians in the course of its bloody counter-insurgency war in its Kurdish region, and other human rights abuses.

In the Former Yugoslavia

Holbrooke is perhaps best known for his leadership in putting together the 1995 Dayton Accords, which formally ended the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Though widely praised in some circles for his efforts, Holbrooke remains quite controversial for his role. For instance, the agreement allows Bosnian Serbs to hold on to virtually all of the land they had seized and ethnically cleansed in the course of that bloody conflict. Indeed, rather than accept the secular concept of national citizenship that has held sway in Europe for generations, Holbrooke helped impose sectarian divisions that have made the country – unlike most of its gradually liberalizing Balkan neighbors – unstable, fractious, and dominated by illiberal ultra-nationalists.

As with previous U.S. officials regarding their relations with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Holbrooke epitomizes the failed U.S. policy toward autocratic rulers that swings between the extremes of appeasement and war. For example, during the 1996 pro-democracy uprising in Serbia Holbrooke successfully argued that the Clinton administration should back Milosevic, in recognition of his role in the successful peace deal over Bosnia, and not risk the instability that might result from a victory by Serb democrats. Milosevic initially crushed the movement. In response to increased Serbian oppression in Kosovo just a couple years later, however, Holbrooke became a vociferous advocate of the 1999 U.S.-led bombing campaign, creating a nationalist reaction that set back the reconstituted pro-democracy movement once again. The pro-democracy movement finally succeeded in the nonviolent overthrow of the regime, following Milosevic’s attempt to steal the parliamentary elections in October 2000, but the young leaders of that movement remain bitterly angry at Holbrooke to this day.

Scott Ritter, the former chief UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspector who correctly assessed the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and predicted a disastrous outcome for the U.S. invasion, observes that “not only has he demonstrated a lack of comprehension when it comes to the complex reality of Afghanistan (not to mention Pakistan), Holbrooke has a history of choosing the military solution over the finesse of diplomacy.” Noting how the Dayton Accords were built on the assumption of a major and indefinite NATO military presence, which would obviously be far more problematic in Afghanistan and Pakistan than in Europe, Ritter adds: “This does not bode well for the Obama administration.”

Ironically, back in 2002-2003, when the United States had temporarily succeeded in marginalizing Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, Holbrooke was a strong supporter of redirecting American military and intelligence assets away from the region in order to invade and occupy Iraq. Obama and others presciently criticized this reallocation of resources at that time as likely to lead to the deterioration of the security situation in the country and the resurgence of these extremist groups.

It’s unclear, then, why Obama would choose someone like Holbrooke for such a sensitive post. Indeed, it’s unclear as to why – having been elected on part for his anti-war credentials – Obama’s foreign policy and national security appointments have consisted primarily of such unreconstructed hawks. Advocates of a more enlightened and rational foreign policy still have a long row to hoe.

Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)

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