Reactions to Gaza Flotilla 2

Nine boats of siege-busting ‘Freedom Rider’ activists are now gathering in the Mediterranean, preparing to challenge the longrunning siege that is one of the main tools through which Israel continues to stifle the lives and livelihoods of all of Gaza’s 1.6 million people.
An act of collective punishment like this siege is quite illegal under international law. Under international law, Israel has status over Gaza, as over the West Bank, only as a foreign military occupier, a status it has enjoyed for a jaw-dropping 44 years now. (Hey, even the Allied occupation of post-war Germany only lasted 14 years.) It is only that standing as occupying power that “allows” Israel to exercise control over all of Gaza’s land and sea borders, over its airspace, and even over the vital population registry that determines which Palestinians are allowed to enter into or reside in the Palestinian land of Gaza.
It is that long-running military occupation that needs to end; and we should never forget that.
Right now, there is zero movement in the “international community” towards ending Israel’s prolonged occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. There is no prospect of peace and none even of that long-running time-waster, the peace “process.” In the absence of any prospect of peace, actions to end the illegal siege through which Israel seeks to break the will of the civilian population of Gaza are a very valuable way to break the deadlock while also bringing hope to Gaza’s long-besieged civilians that no, the rest of the world has not forgotten about their plight.
I have such admiration for Freedom Riders like the amazingly talented and gutsy African-American writer Alice Walker. The essay in which she explains her reasons for joining the flotilla should be required reading in every class on Middle East politics, all around the world.
… Or Joseph Dana, an American-Israeli journalist who has decided to travel with and document the work of the flotilla, despite numerous attacks against him. Dana is great Twitterer. Follow his realtime updates here.
And then, there are all the sick attacks that Israeli government spokespeople and their fellow travelers in the U.S. State Department (including Hillary Clinton) and in pro-Israel circles in the U.S. and elsewhere make upon these courageous Freedom Riders… Including accusations from the IDF that the Freedom Riders are intent on using violence, from government sources in Israel and the U.S. that “Rafah is now open” and there are no remaining restrictions on the movement of goods or people in and out of Gaza, etc etc.
As I witnessed in Rafah with my own eyes (and suffered a bit with my sun-battered body) two weeks ago, claims that “Rafah is now open” are simply false.
In light of the above, what are we to make of this statement from an organization called “Americans for Peace Now” today? It includes this bit of verbal bullying:

    Let there be no doubt: the organizers of the flotilla are seeking to provoke a confrontation with Israel. In doing so they are playing a dangerous game. None of us knows what the consequences of their actions will be…

Oh, come on. The flotilla organizers are not seeking to “confront” the whole of Israel. They are seeking to confront the specific Israeli policy that maintains a quite illegal siege on all of Gaza’s people. And this “confrontation” is of exactly the same kind used by the Freedom Riders or lunch-counter activists in the days of the civil rights struggle in the United States.
I suppose APN, which is a U.S.-based support branch for the once-magnificent and powerful Israeli organization Peace Now, was trying to establish its pro-Israeli “muscularity” there before they made their core argument which was that Israel should simply let the flotilla make it to Gaza.
Their statement argues that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a “failed policy.” It does describe it as part of a campaign of collective punishment of the whole population of Gaza, though does not spell out the essential illegitimacy of any such collective punishment.
And nor, crucially, does the statement mention that Israel’s ongoing measures against Gaza are possible only because of Israel’s status as occupying power in Gaza: a status that is only ever intended under international law to be a temporary situation, and one that is always– and hopefully speedily–brought to end by the conclusion of a final-status peace between or among the belligerents.
APN’s statement makes it seem quite possible that Israel could continue to exercise its sway over Gaza for ever! It says:

    We recognize Israel’s right to stop and inspect ships it has genuine reason to believe are seeking to smuggle weapons into Gaza… More effective and defensible measures to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza – both via land and via the sea – must be implemented, in cooperation with Egypt, the United States, and the international community.

But how about calling for a speedy end to the occupation that Israel maintains over Gaza, which would be done in the context of a peace treaty between Israel and the PLO– like the one that the Oslo Accords stipulated should have been completed back in May 1999, but that very tragically, because of intense and often intentional Israeli and U.S. foot-dragging, is nowhere on the horizon even today.
In the context of a peace treaty, arms limitation agreements might (and should) be agreed to by both parties to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel as such would have no continuing right to inspect or control the movement of goods and people into or out of Gaza or the rest of the Palestinian state, though the Palestinian negotiators would likely agree to some form of trusted third-party monitoring.
But the idea– as seems encapsulated in the APN statement– that Israel has any unending “right to stop and inspect ships it has genuine reason to believe are seeking to smuggle weapons into Gaza”? Where did that come from? I thought APN was dedicated to achieving a fair and sustainable final-status peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Surely, they should have mentioned that?

JWN revived; Israel’s wars described

My apologies to loyal JWN readers that I haven’t posted much recently… Indeed, for most of the past three or four months I have been seriously AWOL as a blogger. It happens. I got really busy with Just World Books– and also, over both Thanksgiving and Christmas, with family things. (I’m writing this from San Francisco airport at the end of a fabulous family get-together in the Bay Area and Northern California. Fun to share Christmas festivities with so many Jewish in-laws… )
Anyway, talking of great blogging comebacks, did you see that bernhard of Moon of Alabama has taken up his keyboard again! That, after an 18-month hiatus. Hurrah!
When I’m not blogging, I miss it. This time, I even got to feeling that I almost lost my voice.
No time to lament that, however. This week is the start of the 22-day-long second anniversary of Operation Cast Lead– a.k.a. # 11 in the long, sad caravan of wars of forced regime change that Israel has launched against its neighbors since 1948. I used to describe Cast Lead as #5 in Israel’s wars of forced regime change… Then I realized I should also count a bunch of Israel’s earlier wars, nearly all of which had amongst their key geostrategic goals a forced change in the political regime of one or more neighboring countries.
So here’s my list:

    #1: Israel’s instigation and participation in the Tripartite (Israeli-British-French) assault against Egypt and Gaza in 1956, which had the goal of overthrowing Nasser. It failed in that goal.
    #2: The “Six-Day” war of 1967, which had the goals of seizing the West Bank from Jordan and hopefully also overthrowing the regimes in either Egypt or Syria. The first goal was achieved, the other two not.
    #3: Israel’s involvement in backing Jordan’s King Hussein in his anti-PLO assault of September 1970, which brought into place a very different kind of regime in Jordan– though still one headed, as before, by Hussein.
    #4: The military aid Israel gave to the campaign that the Lebanese Falangists and their Chamounist allies mounted against the PLO in Lebanon in 1976. This one was, essentially a standoff.
    #5: The direct Israeli military assault against Lebanon in 1978. This one aimed at putting pressure on the Lebanese to expel the PLO. It failed at that– but Israel did establish the Insecurity Zone deep inside south Lebanon in which it was to remain for a further 22 years.
    #6: The even bigger Israeli military assault against Lebanon in 1982. This one aimed both at direct elimination of the PLO’s self-defense capabilities in Lebanon and at pressuring the Lebanese to expel what remained of the PLO. It also aimed at installing a dependent, pro-Israeli government in Beirut. It achieved the first two of those goals but its attainment of the third of them was much more fragile and short-lived– lasting only until Pres. Amin Gemayyel made his peace with Syria in February 1984. Meanwhile, of course, Israel’s occupation presence in a huge chunk of south Lebanon fomented the birth of Hizbullah….
    #7: The large Israeli assault against Lebanon in 1993– this time, with the aim of pressuring the Lebanese to repudiate Hizbullah. Didn’t work.
    #8: The large Israeli assault against Lebanon in 1996– once again, with the aim of pressuring the Lebanese to repudiate Hizbullah. Didn’t work.
    #9: The large Israeli assault against all PA institutions in the West Bank and Gaza in 2002. This one aimed at directly destroying the PA’s ability to deliver any services to Palestinians and resulted in the dismantlement of just about all the infrastrcture the PA had built up since Oslo. It left a state of anarchy and hopelessness from which Hamas was to emerge much stronger than before…
    #10: The truly massive Israeli assault against Lebanon in 2006– once again, with the aim of pressuring the Lebanese to repudiate Hizbullah. Didn’t work.
    #11: The truly massive Israeli assault against Gaza in late 2008– with the aim of pressuring the Palestinians to repudiate/overthrow Hamas. Didn’t work.

… Well, I plan to write a bunch more about these wars– and the very evident trend they reveal, wherein Israel’s attainment of ever greater, more capable, and more lethal military capabilities has been matched by a decreasing ability to realize the geostrategic goals it seeks through its wars. Simultaneously, of course, we have seen Israel’s big superpower protector also launching a couple of large wars of forced regime change in the Greater Middle East over the past decade, and neither of those resulted in a geostrategic victory, either.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the continued suffering of Gaza’s people and the rest of the Palestinians both inside and outside the homeland.

West Bank Palestinians and Golan Syrians at joint camp

I was intrigued to see the news from Maan that a summer camp has brought some 350 Palestinians from the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and from inside Israel, along with Syrian indigenes from the Golan together in Bethlehem this week.
Many people in the US seem quite unaware that there is a strong human dimension to Israel’s 42-year-long military occupation of Syria’s Golan region. Thus, while the Palestinian issue is understood by most westerners to include some very tough issues of the serious violations of basic human rights that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has inflicted on the 4.3 million Palestinian residents of those regions, the Golan issue– when it is discussed at all in the west– is discussed overwhelmingly as “purely” a strategic issue.
Little or no attention is paid to the harms that have been imposed and continue to be imposed on either (a) the 18,000 indigenous Syrian residents of Golan whose lives have been severely constrained by the imposition of firstly Israeli military law and since 1981 Israeli civilian law on the towns, villages, and farms in which they live, or (b) the more than 500,000 Syrian citizens who in the chaos that surrounded the collapse of the Syrian army’s positions in Golan in 1967 fled from their homes and farms in the region, deeper into the Syrian interior– or who are descendants of those IDPs from 1967.
You can learn more about the Syrian Golanis here.
The way Golan is discussed in the west, it is as though that entire fertile plateau was always empty of people until the Israeli settlers came along and started to “make the plateau bloom.” Yet another version of the old Zionist myth of a “land without a people for a people without a land”!
The Syrian government, for its part, has never made a big deal at all of the plight of the indigenous Syrian residents of Golan– either those who stayed in 1967, or those who left. I once asked a Syrian colleague about whether there was anything that you might call a “Golan lobby” inside Syria, that agitates there for the restoration of the rights of the Golanis. He explained that there are no special-interest lobbies inside Syria– on Golan or anything else. (I kind of knew that, already.)
Also, if the Damascus government were to launch a big international campaign about the human rights of the Golan Syrians (whether displaced, or “occupied”), then other Syrians could start to ask for more concern for their rights, as well.
But whether the Damascus government takes up this issue as a human rights issue (and not just one of “the restoration of Syria’s national sovereignty over the Golan), or not, there still is a human rights issue… And those of us who are citizens of countries that have been strong backers of Israel throughout the 42 years of Israel’s occupation of Golan need to take our share of the responsibility for ending the systematic rights abuses that running a military occupation always entails– in Golan, just as in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, and in Gaza.
Golan is like East Jerusalem, in that fairly early on in its 42-year military occupatin Israel imposed an Anschluss (annexation) on it. That happened in 1981; and since then, Israel has considered it just a regular part of Israel.
In Golan, the Israeli authorities went to great lengths, in 1981-2, to try to impose Israeli citizenship on the indigenous residents. In East Jerusalem, they haven’t ever undertaken much of a campaign to do this– probably because in E. Jerusalem there are some 270,000 indigenous residents, who would constitute one-third of the city’s voters and be a non-trivial voting bloc in Israel’s national politics, as well. The numbers in Golan are that much smaller.
Plus, most of the Syrian Golanis are Druze. The Israeli state authorities probably feel they have done a pretty good job of ensuring that Israel’s own (Palestinian) Druze community has been sufficiently bought off that it doesn’t cause them many problems; and they probably hoped that it would be fairly easy to assimilate the Golan Druze in with the Israeli-Palestinian Druze…
But that proved not to be the case. The vast majority of the still-resident Syrian Golanis have resisted having Israeli citizenship thrust upon them, though I think they have had Israel’s “Druze” education system thrust upon them, along with many other Israeli state institutions and regulations. This, while they maintained their Syrian citizenship. The Israelis and the ICRC have enabled some contacts to continue between these Syrians and their sisters and cousins residing on the other side of the disengagement line. I think a number of Syrian Golanis go to study in Damascus each year. Syrian Golani apple farers have been able to sell their beautiful produce to Syrian wholesalers, etc.
… So anyway, I’m interested to learn about the Bethlehem summer camp. I don’t know if this is the first year it’s been run; but it seems like an excellent initiative. Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation (with or without being Anschlussed), Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, and Syrian Golanis living under occupation/Anschluss all have a lot in common; but of course the Israeli authorities have always tried to maintain a strong policy of “divide-and-rule” among them. So it’s good these young people can find a way to get together among themselves.
Let’s hope that next summer, youth from Gaza can participate as well.
And that the summer after that, Israel’s occupation of all these parts of the Arab world will have ended once and for all.
(A note on the timeline here: the US has formally agreed to end its entire military occupation of Iraq by the end of 2011. That withdrawal is complicated by the sheer logistics of trucking all that military materiel out of Iraq. The logistics of trucking all Israel’s military materiel out of the West Bank and Golan are nowhere near as complex! The logistics of moving all the Israeli settlers out of the West Bank and Golan may be a little more complex… But the Israeli government, which put them in there in blatant violation of international law can doubtless find a way to do that… But anyway, I’ll give them two years to complete the process… )

How occupations end

We here in Washington DC currently have a front-seat view of how a country undertakes the ending of the military occupation by its ground forces of another country’s territory.
Today, Iraq’s elected PM Nuri al-Maliki will be meeting with Pres. Obama in the White House. Top on the agenda of their talks will doubtless be continuing disagreements over the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement (SOFA) that the two governments concluded last November, which mandates a complete withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Yes, there have been some disagreements between the two governments over how the WA will be implemented. But seeing how the US is now in the process of pulling its troops out of Iraq over the next 30 months can inform us a lot about some of the issues involved in ending Israel’s continuing military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan.
Over the past 20 years, we’ve actually seen a lot of military occupations being brought to an end. This is not rocket science. Here’s what we now know:
1. An occupation can end as a result of an agreement negotiated between the occupying power and a “sufficiently legitimate” governing authority representing the occupied area’s indigenous residents; or the occupying power can attempt a unilateral, essentially un-negotiated withdrawal. A third alternative: Of course, occupations can also be ended– as the German occupations of European countries, the Japanese occupations of Asian countries, and Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait all were– by the direct application of military force.
2. Examples of the second (unilateral) kind of withdrawal include the US’s withdrawal from the portions of southern Iraq it occupied in the course of the 1991 Gulf War, and Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from just about all of southern Lebanon. The Us withdrawal from Iraq occurred in the context of a ceasefire agreement the two governments hastily concluded; but that agreement did not end the overall state of hostilities between Saddam’s government and the US.
3. Unilateral withdrawals, because they do not end the state of hostilities between the parties, merely rearrange the furniture for the continued pursuit of those hostilities.
4. The “withdrawal” from Gaza that the Israeli government claims it undertook in 2005 did not, actually, end Israel’s formal status under international as the occupying power in Gaza, since Israel retained its control over all Gaza’s contact points with the outside world and over Gaza’s air-space; it also retained the “right” under international law to send its troops back into Gaza whenever it wished.
If Israel had not still been seen, under international law, as the occupying power in Gaza, last December’s massive Israeli assault against the Strip including the large-scale incursion of Israeli troops into it would of course have been seen as an international aggression, triggering the intervention of the UN Security Council under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. That did not happen, because Gaza is still under the same Israeli military occupation that it has been continuously since 1967. What happened in 2005 was not the ending of Gaza’s occupation, but a rearranging of the way Israel organized it.

Continue reading “How occupations end”

US military chafes under Iraq Withdrawal Agreement

Oh, pity the retreating hegemon– just for a fleeting second– as it starts to realize the implications of the drawdown of ts forces from Iraq, in compliance with the Withdrawal Agreement (PDF) concluded last November.
The WaPo’s Ernesto Londono and Karen De Young reported from Baghdad today that on July 2, two days after the deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from all the cities of Iraq,

    Iraq’s top commanders told their U.S. counterparts to “stop all joint patrols” in Baghdad. It said U.S. resupply convoys could travel only at night and ordered the Americans to “notify us immediately of any violations of the agreement.”
    … U.S. commanders have described the pullout from cities as a transition from combat to stability operations. But they have kept several combat battalions assigned to urban areas and hoped those troops would remain deeply engaged in training Iraqi security forces, meeting with paid informants, attending local council meetings and supervising U.S.-funded civic and reconstruction projects.
    … The Americans have been taken aback by the new restrictions on their activities. The Iraqi order runs “contrary to the spirit and practice of our last several months of operations,” Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, commander of the Baghdad division, wrote in an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post.
    “Maybe something was ‘lost in translation,’ ” Bolger wrote. “We are not going to hide our support role in the city. I’m sorry the Iraqi politicians lied/dissembled/spun, but we are not invisible nor should we be.” He said U.S. troops intend to engage in combat operations in urban areas to avert or respond to threats, with or without help from the Iraqis.

Hullo?! Earth to Gen. Bolger! Why did he think it would somehow be “okay” to keep “several combat battalions assigned to urban areas”?
Maybe he should go and read the text of the Withdrawal Agreement, as duly concluded between his (and my) government and the Government of Iraq last November.
The WA states, Article 24, clauses 1 and 2:

    1. All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.
    2. All United States combat forces shall withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages, and localities no later than the time at which Iraqi Security Forces assume full responsibility for security in an Iraqi province, provided that such withdrawal is completed no later than June 30, 2009.

And in Article 4, clauses 1, 2, and 3:

    1. The Government of Iraq requests the temporary assistance of the United States Forces for the purposes of supporting Iraq in its efforts to maintain security and stability in Iraq, including cooperation in the conduct of operations against Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, outlaw groups, and remnants of the former regime.
    2. All such military operations that are carried out pursuant to this Agreement shall be conducted with the agreement of the Government of Iraq. Such operations shall be fully coordinated with the Iraqi authorities
    3. All such operations shall be conducted with full respect for the Iraqi Constitution and the laws of Iraq. Execution of such operations shall not infringe upon the sovereignty of Iraq and its nation interests, as defined by the Government of Iraq. It is the duty of the United States Forces to respect the laws, customs, and traditions of Iraq and applicable international law.

So it really is small wonder that the combat battalions Bolger had kept deployed– and also quite frequently employed– inside Baghdad and other cities since June 30 have been running into a lot of opposition from the Iraqi forces, and perhaps also from some para-military formations operating with the knowledge of the Baghdad government.
For example, as the waPo writers note, on Thursday night there was a mysteriously sourced “rocket strike on a U.S. base in Basra on Thursday night that killed three soldiers. ”
But why were those US soldiers still inside Basra at all?
Bolger says that the US forces inside urban areas have been engaging in operations to “to avert or respond to threats, with or without help from the Iraqis”?
Threats to whom? Threats to themselves and their own– at this point illegal– presence inside the cities, it seems.
Just get the heck out of the cities, Gen. Bolger! That is what our government agreed with the Iraqi government would happen.
But thus far, it apparently hasn’t. So it is the US forces that have been contravening the terms of the WA. And no amount of “spinning/lying/dissembling” on Gen. Bolger’s behalf can change that.
It is not clear to whom Bolger sent the reported email. But evidently he was venting some of his frustrations there:

    “Our [Iraqi] partners burn our fuel, drive roads cleared by our Engineers, live in bases built with our money, operate vehicles fixed with our parts, eat food paid for by our contracts, watch our [surveillance] video feeds, serve citizens with our [funds], and benefit from our air cover,” Bolger noted in the e-mail.

Poor cry-baby. He imagines the Iraqi people should be grateful that the US military marched in and smashed up their country?
Here’s another reading assignment for him:
Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement, “Property Ownership”:

    1. Iraq owns all buildings, non-relocatable structures, and assemblies connected to the soil that exist on agreed facilities and areas, including those that are used, constructed, atered, or improved by the United States Forces.
    2. Upon their withdrawal, the United States Forces shall return to the Government of Iraq all the facilities and areas provided fro the use of the combat forces of the United States…

Just get out, Gen. Bolger. Stop chasing phantoms and your own tail there. I am sure that once the Iraqi people and their government see you exiting the cities fully as per the WA, and complying with all its other terms, they will be happy to leave you alone.
The WA and international law demand that you withdraw from the cities, and only come back in with the explicit agreement of the Iraqi government. And guess what, the US public and Congress are in strong support of the WA.
(I’ll just note parenthetically here that the WaPo piece is also larded with allegations from un-named US officials that, under Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki’s rapidly expanding sovereignty, all kinds of Iranian-backed splinter groups– with pathetically mis-transliterated names– are now active in Iraq and striking at US targets. That’s what I mean by chasing phantoms… )

Iraq: An occupation recedes

Congratulations to my Iraqi friends on the occasion of the significant (if not quite total) withdrawal of US military occupation rule from your cities and towns that has been taking place today according to the November 2008 Withdrawal Agreement between our two governments.
I wish you all the very best as you continue working to reconstruct lives, communities, and a nation that have been harmed very severely indeed by the actions and decisions of my government and its military (as well as by others.)
I am so sorry that we in the peace movement were unable to prevent the disastrous (and lie-based) decision our government took to invade your country in 2003. We tried, but we were not strong enough.
I hope that the rest of the US withdrawal, as mandated in the Withdrawal Agreement, goes ahead smoothly.
The PDF of the Agreement’s text can now be found here.) It stipulates, Article 24 (1) that:

    All United States forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.

I hope, additionally, that we in the US peace movement can work effectively with our fellow citizens here to persuade our government to pay due reparations to your country for the harm we have caused you– though of course many of these harms can never be adequately “repaired.” The 600,000-plus Iraqi citizens killed by and as a result of the US invasion and occupation cannot be brought back to life. I mourn the loss of their lives and send compassion and love to the family members and friends they left behind.
But our government is now, even if with painful slowness, doing the right thing in withdrawing the troops and ending their occupation of your country. We shall try to make sure the rest of the withdrawal occurs according to, or in advance of, the agreed timetable.
Foreign military occupation is always, in itself, a major infringement of the rights of the residents of the area occupied. How could it be otherwise when military rule is established over an entire civilian population– and this military is, furthermore, in no way directly accountable to or connected by ties of common nationality to the residents of the occupied area?
As we Americans withdraw our military occupation regime from Iraq, we must equally work to ensure that Israel, a state to which we have given– and continue to give– an extraordinary level of all kinds of support, likewise speedily ends the military occupation regime that it has maintained for 42 years over the residents of the non-Israeli territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan; and that it withdraws its troops from those areas back inside its own borders.
The US has committed many bad–indeed, under international law, illegal– acts during its six years of occupation so far in Iraq. These included the mass detentions and the major abuses in the detention facilities; the complete (and quite illegal) transformation of the political and economic order in the country; use of excessive force in numerous military engagements; and so on.
However, one violation of international law it did not commit was to seek to implant its own citizens as settlers inside Iraq.
During Israel’s 42-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza it has committed all or nearly all of the same abuses the US committed in Iraq. (Including, after the free and fair Palestinian election of January 2006, it decided to work to overthrow the results of that election; and outrageously, it received full backing from Washington in that endeavor.) But in addition to all those violations of international law, successive Israeli governments since 1967 have also worked systematically to implant large numbers of their own citizens into the occupied areas.
This has constituted a major and ongoing infraction of the natural rights of the Palestinians and the Golani Syrians to the free use of their own land’s resources. It has also made the act of withdrawing from the occupied areas, as international law stipulates must happen, that much harder for any Israeli government to contemplate. But that is the fault of all those Israeli citizens who for 42 years now have participated in, profited from, supported, or condoned the settlers’ project. Now, Israelis need to take the settlers back into their own country.
When I was growing up in England in the 1950s and 1960s our country was also facing the demographic consequences of seeing an empire retract. English settlers had gone to many countries under British rule, in good faith and with the full backing of the British government. Many had lived in those other countries for some generations. Now, they had to face the choice of either living under the newly independent national governments of those countries, or of returning “home” to an England that many of them had never even seen before.
For the Israeli settlers, returning “home” to Israel will be, by comparison, an easy matter. They all know Israel well. They will not have to move far. Those who want to stay in their current settlement homes may be offered the chance to do so– but they would have to live peaceably as foreigners under the government of an independent Palestine and would have no special privileges at all over their Palestinian neighbors. It is also possible that the PLO/PA may negotiate a land swap arrangement that would transfer some portion of the settlement areas to Israeli rule; but many of the current settlers would not be covered by it.
Anyway, that is the Palestinian issue– though we Americans can understand what occupation rule means a lot better now that we have had six disturbing years of our own foreign-occupation rule in Iraq to look back on. So let’s wish the Palestinians and Israelis well in their pursuit of a fair and durable agreement that mandates not only peace but also the end of foreign military occupation and the complete withdrawal of the troops that have maintained it.
Today, though, is primarily a day for congratulating Iraqis (and Americans) on their progress towards this goal.

Play It Again, Barry

I thought it might be interesting to look at two speeches, comparing President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan Friday to President Nixon’s Vietnamization speech on November 3, 1969. Comparative excerpts follow.
First, announce the New Strategy–
We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation with the South Vietnamese for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat ground forces, and their replacement by South Vietnamese forces on an orderly scheduled timetable. This withdrawal will be made from strength and not from weakness. As South Vietnamese forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater.
Today, I’m announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And this marks the conclusion of a careful policy review, led by Bruce, that I ordered as soon as I took office. My administration has heard from our military commanders, as well as our diplomats. We’ve consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments, with our partners and our NATO allies, and with other donors and international organizations.
Then the scary part–
Fifteen years ago North Vietnam, with the logistical support of Communist China and the Soviet Union, launched a campaign to impose a Communist government on South Vietnam by instigating and supporting a revolution. But the question facing us today is: Now that we are in the war, what is the best way to end it?
The situation is increasingly perilous. It’s been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on, and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Attacks against our troops, our NATO allies, and the Afghan government have risen steadily. And most painfully, 2008 was the deadliest year of the war for American forces.

Continue reading “Play It Again, Barry”

An officer home from Iraq: his thoughts

I enjoyed an extended chat with a jr. US Army officer, on furlough from Iraq, about the time that Phyllis Bennis here gave a stimulating guest comment that questioned the Obama Administration agenda in Iraq.
I too was sensing something awry when the WaPost Outlook section last Sunday had three separate neoconservatives (Feith, Pletka, & Scheunemann) praising “Obama’s Plan for Iraq,” presumably because it seemed to place more emphasis on “finishing the job” and equivocating on the withdrawal timetable.
On the other hand, I’ve often wondered how simply withdrawing US troops necessarily will “end the war,” especially with the multiple worm cans festering in northern Iraq. (That of course is not an argument in itself for staying, just a “grounded” check.) In any case, I am encouraged that the violence is down considerably, even as we debate the various explanations.
With such questions on my mind, I was eager to listen to this young officer current impressions. He’s been there less than half a year, ensconced in one of the large army bases near the Baghdad airport. I present here a few of his observations, without my own “spin.” For his sake, I am not going to mention his name or unit, save to say that his comments were “candid” and, as far as I could tell, unconcerned about command ramifications.
Biggest complaint: While he did frequently mention cold showers (which beats being electrocuted by one of the notorious KBR showers!), his primary gripe was about sheer, raw boredom. The army keeps him “busy.” As a young engineer-in-training, he puts in 13+ hour days , 6.5 days a week, but his duties seem largely dominated by bureaucratic “make work” the army notoriously can create to fill space. (For effect, he mentioned that his drudge work had included warehouse inventories at the massive Abu Ghraib complex.)

Continue reading “An officer home from Iraq: his thoughts”

Divide and Conquer

Success in foreign affairs, where domination is the goal, is often accomplished withn a divide-and-conquer strategy.
Conn Hallinan, 2004:

    It was “divide and conquer” that made it possible for an insignificant island in the north of Europe to rule the world. Division and chaos, tribal, religious and ethnic hatred, were the secret to empire. Guns and artillery were always in the background in case things went awry, but in fact, it rarely came to that.
    The parallels between Israel and Ireland are almost eerie, unless one remembers that the latter was the laboratory for British colonialism. As in Ulster, Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories have special privileges that divide them from Palestinians (and other Israelis as well). As in Ireland, Israeli settlers rely on the military to protect them from the “natives.” And as in Northern Ireland, there are political organizations, like the National Religious Party and the Moledet Party, which whip up sectarian hatred, and keep the population divided. The latter two parties both advocate the forcible transfer of all Arabs — Palestinians and Israelis alike — to Jordan and Egypt.

And in Iraq, there was the Samarra mosque bombing in 2006.

    The world-famed Golden Mosque, a Shiite religious shrine located in Samarra, Iraq, was bombed Feb. 22. The mosque’s golden dome was blown off in the explosion, which touched off a round of Sunni-Shiite discord across the country.

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More Warriors Needed

The US Army is currently on track to increase 65,000 people to a total of 547,000 active-duty soldiers next year, up from 482,000 before the current conflicts. There is a corresponding increase in the US Marine Corps, from 194,000 to 221,000, for a total increase of 92,000 to 768,000 ground troops.
A larger US military was first proposed by the presumptive Secretary of State, Senator Clinton along with Senator Graham in May, 2004 and has subsequently been endorsed by Senator Obama. In 2004 Clinton said, “I don’t think we have any alternatives.” In July 2005 Clinton co-introduced with Graham legislation to increase the size of the regular United States Army by 80,000 soldiers.
This 92,000 increase is apparently not enough.
According to an Army spokesman, the Pentagon actually needs not 547,000 but 580,000 soldiers, a 33,000 additional increase, “to meet current demand and get the dwell time.

    The demand for soldiers extends beyond the war zones, as commanders in other regions request troops, Undersecretary of the Army Nelson Ford said. “It’s a real challenge. It’s not just Centcom that thinks they need more soldiers; Northcom wants more soldiers, Africom wants a dedicated headquarters, Pacom wants more for 8th Army in Korea,” Ford said, referring to the U.S. Central Command, Northern Command, African Command and Pacific Command.

The New York Times, a chief promoter of the Iraq and Afghanistan imperialism, also weighed in on this matter recently in its editorial “A Military for a Dangerous New World [sic]”.

    The United States and its NATO allies must be able to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan — and keep pursuing Al Qaeda forces around the world. Pentagon planners must weigh the potential threats posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, an erratic North Korea, a rising China, an assertive Russia and a raft of unstable countries like Somalia and nuclear-armed Pakistan. And they must have sufficient troops, ships and planes to reassure allies in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
    We believe the military needs the 65,000 additional Army troops and the 27,000 additional marines that Congress [read: Senators Clinton, Graham and Obama] finally pushed President Bush into seeking. That buildup is projected to take at least two years; by the end the United States will have 759,000 [actually 768,000] active-duty ground troops.
    That sounds like a lot, especially with the prospect of significant withdrawals from Iraq. But it would still be about 200,000 fewer ground forces than the United States had 20 years ago, during the final stages of the cold war. Less than a third of that expanded ground force would be available for deployment at any given moment.

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