Notes as the imperial will starts to collapse, Pt. II

(Part I of this was here.)

Citizens here in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world have had ample chance, in the 12 years since 9/11, to see the results of U.S. military actions– in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya and (a little covertly), in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. In none of these cases have the results been anything that anyone can take pride in, to say the least.

Americans (outside the Washington Beltway) are not stupid. We have seen all these terrible outcomes… outcomes, that is, that have been terrible for our fellow-humans who are citizens of those targeted countries– but also, terrible because of the way they have helped to make the world a much more unstable and terrifying place and to further deepen the hatred for Americans in many parts of the world. The U.S.’s profligate use of military power in all these situations in the past 12 years has ended up being quite counter-productive in terms of making the word a better, safer place for Americans (and others.) And somehow, finally, an increasing number of Americans are seeing that this has been so.

Two years ago, on September 10, 2011, I wrote:

I believe that today, more Americans understand the futility and damaging nature of wars– all wars– than did ten years ago. But still, far too many of our countrymen and -women remain susceptible to arguments like those made in favor of the military “action” or military “intervention” in Libya earlier this year.

That was two years ago. Since then, a lot more Americans’ eyes have been opened as to the counter-productive nature of war– whether in Libya, in Afghanistan, Iraq, or (I hope) anywhere else in the world.

We definitely heard some of that during the meeting we had with Rep. Robert Hurt here in his district office in Charlottesville, on Thursday. And he told us, then, that the calls he’s been receiving on the Syria issue have been running “overwhelmingly” against the idea of a U.S. military attack. This is great. This is new. This is the result, in part, of new great awakening of Americans on issues of war, peace, and security. It’s the result, too, of the patient work of everyone in the anti-war movement who has kept on steadfastly organizing and making their (our) case even throughout the past 12 years of the crazy American wars.

There are three main groups of people here in the United States who, as of now, don’t see things this way. They are:

  1. Leaders of the military-industrial complex and their flaks.
  2. AIPAC (the America Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the leaders of some other prominent pro-Israeli organizations.
  3. Some liberal hawks.

Okay, let’s take the liberal hawks first, because they are the smuggest and the least well informed.

Continue reading “Notes as the imperial will starts to collapse, Pt. II”

Obama ‘wilfully’ provoking Beijing?

China Hand (Peter Lee) has a post today on what looks like a really important story: the eruption of a startling new war of words between Washington and Beijing– a phenomenon that Lee indicates could be undergirded by some serious new tensions in this world-defining relationship.
The way he tells it, the latest spat began on Sunday, at the G-20 summit in Toronto, when Obama publicly accused China of “wilful blindness” by remaining silent over North Korea’s suspected sinking of a South Korean warship in March.
Today, People’s Daily Online hit back. An unsigned editorial there said of Obama,

    His words on such an important occasion, based on ignorance of China’s consistent and difficult efforts in pushing for peace on the peninsula, has come as a shock to China and the world at large.
    As a close neighbor of North Korea, China and its people have immediate and vital stakes in peace and stability on the peninsula. China’s worries over the North Korean nuclear issue are by no means less than those of the US.
    The US president should have taken these into consideration before making irresponsible and flippant remarks about China’s role in the region.
    The facts speak for themselves, and very clearly so: China has made tremendous efforts in preventing the situation on the Korean Peninsula from getting out of control, including in the aftermath of the Cheonan incident.
    Without China’s involvement, there would not have been the Six-Party Talks, and the outbreak of yet another Korean War might well have been a possibility.
    It is thus not China that is turning a blind eye to what North Korea has done and has not done.
    Instead, it is the leaders of countries such as the US that are turning a blind eye on purpose to China’s efforts.

Lee writes in his post:

    Characterizing the US president as “irresponsible and flippant” is a convenient indicator that US-China relations are headed for the meat locker.
    Another indication is the Chinese announcement that it will conduct live fire naval exercises as a riposte to the US-ROK joint exercises scheduled June 30 to July 5, which may or may not include a US aircraft carrier sailing around the Yellow Sea between the Korean peninsula and the Chinese mainland.

He has some more material, too, about the US continuing to pursue anti-China policies in another dimension of the US-China relationship, namely the intermittent jockeying over the status of Tibet.
He concludes:

    as far as I can see, the Obama administration policy toward China is all sticks no carrots. The consequences of crossing the United States are meant to be dire, but I haven’t seen any significant proffered benefits to China for toeing the U.S. line, other than the intangible ones–like not having President Obama insult your President at high profile international forums.
    It will be interesting to watch this play out, especially in the run-up to the 2010 US congressional elections.

Indeed. Interesting, and quite possibly very depressing. Not least because the relationship with China is (like US-Turkish relations) yet another of the key aspects of US diplomacy in which the actions of dedicated pro-Israeli zealots within the US political system are currently making great and completely unnecessary problems for the true interests of the American people.
As Lee himself showed in some detail in this recent post at Asia Times Online, which detailed the degree to which Stuart Levey, the head of the US Treasury Department’s ‘Office for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence” (OTFI) now has China in his sanctions cross-hairs.
Lee unapologetically describes Levey as the “‘father’ of the North Korean atomic bomb”, explaining that it was Levey’s excessive zeal as head of OTFI in instituting sanctions in September 2005 against a small bank in Macau called the Banco Delta Asia (BDA) that had spurred Kim Jong-Il to withdraw from the six-party talks and detonate North Korea’s first nuclear bomb just weeks later, on October 9.
As Lee added laconically, a second immediate effect of Levey’s action that year was that, “America’s image as an honest broker impartially protecting the integrity of the dollar-based international financial system was seriously tarnished.”
Lee concludes the ATO article by writing,

    Given… OTFI’s rather dismal record of failure and insubordination on BDA, it is interesting that the Obama administration kept Levey in his post after it took office.

An explanation could almost certainly be found in some of the sources cited in this April 2010 post at Mondoweiss.
In it, Jeff Blankfort and Phil Weiss recall that in 2005, Levey told an AIPAC policy conference that,

    It is a real pleasure to be speaking with you today. I have been an admirer of the great work this organization does since my days on the one-year program at Hebrew University in 1983 and 1984. I want to commend you for the important work that you are doing to promote strong ties between Israel and the United States and to advocate for a lasting peace in the Middle East….

Blankfort and Weiss have more good stuff there, as well– on Levey’s also strongly pro-Israeli deputy David Cohen, as well as on Levey himself.
These guys are dug very deep into sensitive portions of the administration at this point; and they are backed up by great cohorts of AIPAC-orchestrated funders and propagandists who work at the congressional and public-discourse levels to try to keep us all living inside the AIPAC-defined blinkers.
But they are now prepared to put the core U.S. relationship with China that undergirds the entire current world economic system at risk, just because of their (Israel-motivated) zeal against Iran?
Yes, it seems so.
That was a dangerous and escalatory game to be playing back in 2005. But today, the globe-girdling balance between Washington and Beijing has shifted considerably. This time, Stuart Levey’s Israel-motivated zealotry against China could have consequences that are far, far more damaging for humanity.
Update, Wed, 10:30 am.
A friend sent me this 2006 profile of Levey from the WaPo Style section. The writer, Dafna Linzer, quotes Clinton administration official as describing Levey as “a loyal Republican, but he would not let politics color or direct a judgment that he would otherwise make.”
Linzer also notes that Levey, “spent his junior year [from college] studying at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, where he worked on an undergraduate thesis on Meir Kahane…” It seems possible from what Linzer wrote that the thesis was critical of Kahane.
But regarding U.S. politics, Levey’s politics seemed clear:

    Levey was dispatched to Florida as part of the 2000 election recount. Like many of the Republican lawyers behind Bush v. Gore , Levey joined the government shortly afterward. He chose the Justice Department, serving under then-Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson.
    Levey started out handling immigration issues. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Thompson promoted him to chief of staff and added money laundering and anti-terrorism activities to his portfolio.
    Thompson is among a long list of conservative mentors to Levey. They include Judge Laurence H. Silberman, former senator John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) and Martin Peretz, the New Republic’s editor in chief, who was Levey’s Harvard thesis adviser and who describes him as “dazzlingly smart.”

Linzer also had this:

    This February, Levey traveled to the Middle East with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shortly after Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement, had won Palestinian elections. As part of a small team of administration officials grappling with the results, Levey tried to figure out how to get money to the Palestinian people without going through Hamas.
    … On the way back from Jerusalem, Levey approached Rice on a different matter: financial levers he thought could be used to pressure Iran. Rice was impressed, her aides said, and Levey was asked to lead a task force designed to implement financial sanctions against Tehran if negotiations over its nuclear program fell apart.

So there you have it. A man without much political loyalty to Pres. Obama’s party as such. But with a lot of loyalty to AIPAC’s highly escalatory and destabilizing anti-Iran agenda.
Someone remind me why Obama kept him on again?

Tom Perriello– one of the Valiant 108!

Our local Congressman, Tom Perriello (VA-5) is ramping up for a tough re-election race this fall. He was just elected by a hair’s-breadth in November ’08, beating out the long-serving, party-switching, business-beholden, war-loving Republican, Virgil Goode.
Perriello has already been targeted by a rightwing “Tea Party” blogger who posted what he thought was the Congressman’s home address, inviting fellow rightwingers to “visit him and express their thanks” for the vote he cast in favor of the healthcare reform bill. But they got the address wrong, so it ended up being the house of the Congressman’s brother, who has several small children, that got targeted instead…
Perriello and his people are eager to get the fund-raising ball rolling well. I guess tonight is one of the quarterly deadlines.
One of the things that most impresses me about our great congressman right now is that he was one of the Valiant 108– the members of Congress who resisted AIPAC’s blandishments to sign off on the AIPAC-circulated letter recently delivered by all the other 327 members to Secretary Clinton (PDF here.)
The letter reaffirms the signers’ “commitment to the unbreakable bond that exists
between our country and the State of Israel”, etc etc. It also in effect slaps the administration’s hand for having dared to express public disquiet– oh yes, actually “condemnation”– over PM Netanyahu’s recent arrogance and law-breaking regarding East Jerusalem:

    We recognize that, despite the extraordinary closeness between our country and
    Israel, there will be differences over issues both large and small. Our view is that such
    differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence, as befits longstanding
    strategic allies.

So, huge kudos to Rep. Perriello and the rest of the Valiant 108. The numbers of those Congressmen and Congresswomen resisting the pressures to sign off any old cocktail napkin AIPAC puts in front of them is slowly growing. May their numbers increase even faster!
But I guess for that to happen, we need to make sure that a person of principle like Tom Perriello doesn’t get picked off at the polls this November. Dig deep.

On the current tipping point

    1. We really are at a tipping point.

AIPAC and its allies have really gotten their undies in a twist over last week’s confrontation between Netanyahu and Biden (and Sec. Clinton, too.)
Next week, AIPAC has its big, power-demonstrating policy conference in Washington. The list of confirmed speakers is topped by Clinton and Netanyahu. How will that go? Will it be a love-fest or some discreet form of a continued confrontation? Will one or the other find a reason not to attend? Whatever happens, it’s going to be important.
Meantime, Petraeus– along with, presumably, others in both the brass and the suits sides at the Pentagon– have started to discreetly weigh in on the real dangers Netanyahu’s current policies pose to the lives of U.S. soldiers… And in the commentatoriat even Tom Friedman has come out strongly critical of the Netanyahu government’s arrogance over Jerusalem.
AIPAC and its attack-dog allies have been fast, focused, and relentless. I’ve been receiving a stream of emailed news releases from the attack-dog group “The Israel Project”, whose head, Jennifer Mizrachi has also been robo-calling me on my cellphone to urge me to contact legislators and the Prez to urge them to reaffirm their support for Israel and back off from confronting Netanyahu over Jerusalem. The press release AIPAC itself issued Sunday publicly called on Obama TO WORK TO IMMEDIATELY DEFUSE THE TENSION WITH ISRAEL (their screech, not mine.)
And where have the alleged “counter-AIPAC” organizations like J Street, Americans for Peace Now, or even that sad little group the Council for the National Interest been all this time? Notably AWOL, compared with AIPAC, TIP, etc. J Street hasn’t put anything on their website on the Jerusalem-settlements issue, or on their email list, since March 11; APN hasn’t done anything on it March 10. And you can search CNI’s website and find nothing about it at all. Nor has the End the Occupation website.
This matters, because steering or dominating the narrative is really important in moments of crisis.
But anyway, the intense frenzy of activity from AIPAC, TIP, etc shows us that they think we are at what could well be a crisis for them. (And they are far from stupid.) After all, is the President simply going to wave away the concerns that have now, verifiedly, been voiced by the leader of Centcom about the dangers that Israel’s policies pose to the lives and wellbeing of American troops? I do not see that he can.

    2. In electoral politics, it still is ‘the economy, stupid.’

The present confrontation between an administration in Washington and a settlement-addicted Likud government in Israel harks straight back to the period in 1991-92 when Pres. George H.W. Bush and Sec. of State James Baker got into a similar confrontation with Likud leader (and lest we forget, former terrorist gunman) Yitzhak Shamir. We need to remember the political lessons from that incident– and remember them correctly.
The short version of what happened in that clash was that Bush and Baker drew their line in the sand against use of U.S. loan guarantees (however fungibly) to support the construction of settlements in the West Bank. During the Israeli elections of 1992, that principled U.S. stance persuaded Israeli voters, ever mindful of the need for good relations with Washington, to vote Shamir out and replace his government with a Labor-led coalition that enjoyed far better relations with Washington.
In the U.S. elections of later that year, however, Bush lost. The big question for us in the U.S. today, is why exactly did he lose?
The lobby people would have us believe the story that they and their allies have been spreading ever since Bush’s defeat in November 1992: that he lost precisely because he had had the temerity to confront a government in Israel. That understanding of November 1992 came to dominate many narratives and “elite” political understandings– in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
But it ain’t so!
I was here in the U.S. during that election. It was the first or second general election I voted in. Go back and read the news accounts of the time. Bush lost– and Clinton won– because of the immense power of Clinton’s slogan that “It’s the economy, stupid!” It was the terrible state of the economy then that dominated voters’ thinking– much more importantly than anything about the Middle East, including Bush’s previous set-to with Shamir. (And after all, most Jewish Americans were very happy to see Shamir replaced by Rabin.)
In the mid-term elections of November 2010, and in the presidential election of 2012, it will similarly be the state of the economy and of domestic governance in general that dominates voters’ thinking. Inasmuch as the Middle East intrudes on voters’ thinking at all– which would anyway be very trivial–only a small proportion of voters are going to end up having their behavior swayed by the screechy arguments that AIPAC and Co. make about distant Jerusalem. Many more could be persuaded by organizations or opinion leaders who take trouble to spell out the kinds of arguments about the true interests of the American people in the region, as spelled out made by Gen. Petraeus (and also, as it happens, back in November by myself.)
So we do need to underline to the President and his political advisers that they absolutely should not be be blown off course by any arguments AIPAC and and its shills might make about “Hey, don’t mess with us: Look what we did to Bush I back in 1992.” It still really is “the economy, stupid!”

    3. What Obama could do.

The administration has decided to delay, for an unstated length of time, the visit to Israel and Palestine that peace envoy George Mitchell was due to start yesterday. That’s good for starters.
The administration’s position, as described here by the WaPo’s Glenn Kessler, is that it is pressing Netanyahu to do three things:

    a. reverse last week’s approval of 1,600 housing units in a “disputed” [i.e. occupied] area of Jerusalem,
    b. make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, and
    c. publicly declare that all of the “core issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, are on the agenda in the upcoming talks.

Kessler doesn’t say this, but I understand that the administration’s position is that unless Netanyahu does these things, then Mitchell won’t be launching the promised “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinians any time soon.
Notice there, by the way, the degree to which these proximity talks are being treated by Washington as a boon or reward for Israel, which can be delayed or withheld by Washington as part of its diplomatic bargaining with the Netanyahu government. But actually, Netanyahu might in the abstract be very happy not to have the proximity talks. Why does it need them? Does Washington need them, actually, more than Israel? Maybe.
There are a lot of other things the Obama administration could do as well if it really wanted to demonstrate its commitment to achieving a fair and sustainable peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis. In no particular order of doability or anything else it could do any or all of the following, and should consider doing at least some of them.
It could,

    A. Announce the launching of an administration-wide review of all U.S. policies that have any relationship to the Israeli settlements including policies affecting economic links and trade preferences being extended to settlements as well as to Israel proper; the activities and tax status of U.S. entities, including non-profit entities, that have dealings with or in the settlements. The terms of reference of this review should explicitly spell out that its purview includes the settlements in Jerusalem as well as elsewhere (including Golan.)
    B. Announcement of a similar review of policies and entities related in any way to Israel’s illegal Wall.
    C. Commit to a series of steps aimed at speedily ending the illegal and anti-humane siege that Israel maintains against Gaza and restoring all the rights of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.
    D. Sen. Mitchell should be empowered to talk to representatives of all those Palestinian parties that won seats in the 2006 PLC election which was, let us remember, certified by all international monitors as free and fair. Obama and Co. should also inform the Egyptians and all other parties that they want and expect them to be helpful rather than obstructive in the Palestinian parties’ efforts to reach internal reconciliation.
    E. Move speedily toward giving the other four permanent members of the Security Council more real role in Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking. They all have a lot to offer and can help the U.S. get out of the very tight spot it currently finds itself in, in the Greater Middle East region.

4. Finally, beware of ‘dirty tricks’.
We should all be very aware that Netanyahu and the even more militantly settlerist parties who are in his ruling coalition (and now well entrenched in the leadership of many of his security apparatuses) will not necessarily “play fair” in any continuing confrontation with Washington. No doubt many of these forces are already thinking up a variety of “dirty tricks” they might employ to try to reduce Obama’s power domestically and internationally, to make him look weak, and to “punish” him for daring to stand up to their plan to Judaize the whole of Jerusalem while America looks impotently on.
Let’s remember the history of, for example, the Lavon Affair in 1954, in which, according to the well-sourced Wikipedia entry,

    Israeli military intelligence planted bombs in Egyptian, American and British-owned targets in Egypt in the summer of 1954 in the hopes that “the Muslim Brotherhood, the Communists, ‘unspecified malcontents’ or ‘local nationalists'” would be blamed.

A country whose leaders could in relatively recent history act as cynically as that, including against British and U.S. targets, might well today have leaders who might think along similar lines.
Including, perhaps, even an action as explosive as launching some kind of military provocation against Iran, whose counter-attack would almost certainly engulf far more of the Americans who are on the country’s borders, than of Israelis?
The U.S. military, obviously, need to redouble their efforts to prevent any such provocation. But other Israeli “dirty tricks” against the U.S., in a wide variety of arenas, are also very possible in the period ahead.

Hillary’s war-drums on Iran; Russia unwilling?

Hillary Clinton was on Capitol Hill today, telling US lawmakers that,

    “Iran has left the international community little choice but to impose greater costs and pressure in the face of its provocative steps… We are now working actively with our partners to prepare and implement new measures to pressure Iran to change its course.”

However, there has all along been considerable doubt whether China will go along with such measures, at the U.N. Then, there’s Russia…
Until today, U.S. spinmeisters had been expressing some confidence that Russia would join the “twist the screws tighter” policy. But today, Xinhua reported from Moscow that,

    Russia will honor a contract to deliver its advanced S-300 air defense systems to Iran after resolving a series of problems, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.

And yesterday, China itself reiterated its calls that the Iranian nuclear-program crisis be addressed through stepped-up diplomacy, not confrontation.
Clinton probably feels herself under some pressure from the success that AIPAC, the very powerful America Israel Public Affairs Committee, has had in its massive, well-funded campaign to get legislators to adopt resolutions mandating unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran in the event Iran refuses to dance immediately to Uncle Sam’s tune on the nuclear issue.
These resolutions have two harmful effects. They would unilaterally penalize U.S. businesses at a time that businesses elsewhere continue to trade with Iran. And they restrict the administration’s ability to commit fully to the pursuit of foreign policy, which is, of course, a responsibility reserved to the administration under the U.S. Constitution.
But hey, why should AIPAC care about mere inconveniences like that!