Pouring Gas on the Afghanistan Bonfire

Pouring Gas on the Afghanistan Bonfire

By Chris Hedges

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan grind forward with their terrible human toll, even as the press and many Americans play who gets thrown off the island with Barack Obama. Coalition forces carried out an airstrike that killed up to 95 Afghan civilians in western Afghanistan on Friday, 50 of them children, President Hamid Karzai said. And the mounting bombing raids and widespread detentions of Afghans are rapidly turning Afghanistan into the mirror image of Iraq. But these very real events, which will have devastating consequences over the next few months and years, are largely ignored by us. We prefer to waste our time on the trivia and gossip that swallow up air time and do nothing to advance our understanding of either the campaign or the wars fought in our name.

As the conflict in Afghanistan has intensified, so has the indiscriminate use of airstrikes, including Friday’s, which took place in the Azizabad area of Shindand district in Herat province. The airstrike was carried out after Afghan and coalition soldiers were ambushed by insurgents while on a patrol targeting a known Taliban commander in Herat, the U.S. military said. Hundreds of Afghans, shouting anti-U.S. slogans, staged angry street protests on Saturday in Azizabad to protest the killings, and President Hamid Karzai condemned the airstrike.

The United Nations estimates that 255 of the almost 700 civilian deaths in fighting in Afghanistan this year have been caused by Afghan and international troops. The number of civilians killed in fighting between insurgents and security forces in Afghanistan has soared by two-thirds in the first half of this year.

Ghulam Azrat, the director of the middle school in Azizabad, said he collected 60 bodies after the bombing.

“We put the bodies in the main mosque,’’ he told the Associated Press by phone, sometimes pausing to collect himself as he wept. “Most of these dead bodies were children and women. It took all morning to collect them.”

Azrat said villagers on Saturday threw stones at Afghan soldiers who arrived and tried to give out food and clothes. He said the soldiers fired into the crowd and wounded eight people, including one child.

“The people were very angry,” he said. “They told the soldiers, ‘We don’t need your food, we don’t need your clothes. We want our children. We want our relatives. Can you give [them] to us? You cannot, so go away.’ ”

We are in trouble in Afghanistan. Sending more soldiers and Marines to fight the Taliban is only dumping gasoline on the bonfire. The Taliban assaults, funded largely by the expanded opium trade, are increasingly sophisticated and well coordinated. And the Taliban is exacting a rising toll on coalition troops. Soldiers and Marines are now dying at a faster rate in Afghanistan than Iraq. In an Aug. 18 attack, only 30 miles from the capital, Kabul, the French army lost 10 and had 21 wounded. The next day, hundreds of militants, aided by six suicide bombers, attacked one of the largest U.S. bases in the country. A week before that, insurgents killed three foreign aid workers and their Afghan driver, prompting international aid missions to talk about withdrawing from a country where they already have very limited access.

Barack Obama, like John McCain, speaks about Afghanistan in words that look as if they were penned by the Bush White House. Obama may call for withdrawing some U.S. troops from Iraq, but he does not want to send them all home. He wants to send them to Afghanistan, or to what he obliquely terms “the right battlefield.” Obama said he would deploy an additional 10,000 troops to Afghanistan once he took office.

The seven-year war in Afghanistan has not gone well. An additional 3,200 Marines were deployed there in January. Karzai’s puppet government in Kabul controls little territory outside the capital. And our attempt to buy off tribes with money and even weapons has collapsed, with most tribal groups slipping back into the arms of the Taliban insurgents.

Do the cheerleaders for an expanded war in Afghanistan know any history? Have they studied what happened to the Soviets, who lost 15,000 Red Army soldiers between 1979 and 1988, or even the British in the 19th century? Do they remember why we went into Afghanistan? It was, we were told, to hunt down Osama bin Laden, who is now apparently in Pakistan. Has anyone asked what our end goal is in Afghanistan? Is it nation-building? Or is this simply the forever war on terror?

Al-Qaida, which we have also inadvertently resurrected, is alive and well. It still finds plenty of recruits. It still runs training facilities. It still caries out attacks in London, Madrid, Iraq and now Afghanistan, which did not experience suicide bombings until December 2005. Al-Qaida has moved on. But we remain stuck, confused and lashing about wildly like a wounded and lumbering beast.

We do not have the power or the knowledge, nor do we have the right under international law, to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan. We are vainly trying to transplant to these countries a modern system of politics invented in Europe. This system is characterized by, among other things, the division of the Earth into independent secular states based on national citizenship. The belief in a secular civil government is to most Afghans and Iraqis an alien creed. It will never work.

We have blundered into nations we know little about. We are caught between bitter rivalries among competing ethnic and religious groups. We have embarked on an occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan that is as damaging to our souls as it is to our prestige and power and security. And we believe, falsely, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have the right to wage war.

We divert ourselves in our dotage and decline with images and slogans that perpetuate fantasies about our own invulnerability, our own might, our own goodness. We are preoccupied by national trivia games that pass for news, even as the wolf pants at our door. These illusions blind us. We cannot see ourselves as others see us. We do not know who we are.

“We had fed the heart on fantasies,” William Butler Yeats wrote, “the heart’s grown brutal from the fare.”

We are propelled forward not by logic or compassion or understanding but by fear. We have created and live in a world where violence is the primary form of communication. We have become the company we keep. Much of the world—certainly the Muslim world, one-fifth of the world’s population, most of whom are not Arab—sees us through the prism of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. We are igniting the dispossessed, the majority of humanity who live on less than two dollars a day. And whoever takes the White House next January seems hellbent on fueling our self-immolation.

On Iraq, Biden Is Worse than McCain

On Iraq, Biden Is Worse than McCain

by Robert Dreyfuss

Barack Obama may be doing the one thing that might have seemed impossible: he’s picking a running mate whose ideas about Iraq are even worse than, and stupider than, John McCain’s.

Obama, whose mushy Iraq plan excites no one, is marrying his own’s flawed ideas — which mostly revolve around beefing up US forces in Afghanistan and unilaterally attacking Pakistan — with Biden’s discredited notion of partitioning Iraq into three squabbling mini-states.

Indeed, last year it was the passage by the US Senate of a resolution in favor of Biden’s dangerously misguided ideas that sparked an outburst of Iraqi nationalism. More than the Blackwater killings, more than US efforts to forcibly privatize Iraq’s oil, it was the Biden idea of splitting Iraq into three pieces that galvanized Iraqi Arab nationalists. (It does, of course, excite the Kurds no end.)

Perversely, by selecting Biden, Obama might in fact hasten the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, if only because Iraqis won’t be able to stomach Vice President Biden pompously lecturing them on why Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds can’t live together.

As the always astute Reidar Visser points out, Biden has quietly suppressed talk of his partition plan even on his own web site, in cleaning up his act in preparation for being named Obama’s running mate. Noting that Obama himself seems unable to think of Iraq in other than the Sunni-vs.-Shiite paradigm, Visser points out:

Arguably, the addition of Joe Biden to the Obama ticket might aggravate these tendencies, because in the past Biden has been a leading American voice in promoting an interpretation of Iraq as a country of three mutually hostile and internally stable population blocks. His various “plans for Iraq”, while frequently misunderstood, in different ways reinforce the view that the main problem in Iraq has to do with a centralised state structure and coexistence issues. Like many others in American politics, Biden has failed to acknowledge the emerging non-sectarian trends in Iraq, seeking instead to push ideas about “Sunni federalism” during his visit to the Anbar governorate.

Need we point out that, in addition, Biden joined McCain in voting for the war resolution in 2002 that propelled the United States into Iraq? How, exactly, does Obama enhance his anti-war stand by selecting a pro-war hawk as his running mate? Among other things, Obama makes it impossible for himself to criticize McCain’s pre-2003 Iraq bloodlust by selecting a bloodthirsty Democrat as his running mate.

Obama selects Biden to reassure the US ruling elite

Obama selects Biden to reassure the US ruling elite

By Patrick Martin

The selection of Senator Joseph Biden as the vice-presidential candidate of the Democratic Party underscores the fraudulent character of the Democratic primary campaign and the undemocratic character of the entire two-party electoral system. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the supposed protagonist of “change,” has picked as his running-mate a fixture of the Washington establishment, a six-term US senator who is a proven defender of American imperialism and the interests of big business.

The rollout of the Biden selection over three days of escalating media attention, culminating in the text-message announcement early Saturday and a kickoff rally in Springfield, Illinois, is a metaphor for the entire Obama campaign. His presidential candidacy represents not an insurgency from below, but an effort to manipulate mass sentiments, using Internet technology and slick marketing techniques, aided by a compliant media, to produce a political result that is utterly conventional and in keeping with the requirements of the US ruling elite.

Long gone are the days when the selection of a vice-presidential candidate by one of the two major big business parties involved a complex balancing act between various institutional forces. In the Democratic Party, this would have involved consultations with trade union officials, civil rights organizations, congressional leaders and the heads of particularly powerful state and urban political machines.

Today, neither party has any substantial popular base. In both parties there is only one true “constituency”: the financial aristocracy that dominates economic and political life and controls the mass media, and whose interests determine government policy, both foreign and domestic. The selection of Biden, the senator from a small state with only three electoral votes, whose own presidential bids have failed miserably for lack of popular support, underscores the immense chasm separating the entire political establishment from the broad mass of the American people.

Obama has selected Biden to provide reassurance that, whatever populist rhetoric may be employed for electoral purposes in the fall campaign, the wealth and privileges of the ruling elite and the geo-strategic aims of US imperialism will be the single-minded concerns of a Democratic administration.

An establishment figureBiden has been a leading figure in the political establishment for three decades. He was first elected to the US Senate from Delaware in 1972, when Richard Nixon was president and Obama was 11 years old, and he has held that position through seven administrations. He has headed two of the most important Senate committees: Judiciary, which vets nominations to judicial positions, including the Supreme Court, and Foreign Relations, which Biden chaired in 2001-2002 and again since the Democrats regained control of the Senate in the 2006 election. Biden ran for president 20 years ago and again this year.

In the 1990s, with Bill Clinton in the White House, Biden was one of the principal proponents of US intervention in the former Yugoslavia, a role that he describes in his campaign autobiography, published last year, as his proudest achievement in foreign policy. In the mid-1990s he called for the US to arm the Bosnian Muslim regime against Serbia, and then advocated a direct US attack on Serbia during the 1999 Kosovo crisis, joining with a like-minded Republican senator to introduce the McCain-Biden Kosovo Resolution, authorizing Clinton to use “all necessary force” against Serbia.

This legislative proposal provided a model for a 2002 congressional resolution authorizing Bush to wage war against Iraq, which Biden co-authored with Republican Senator Richard Lugar. The Bush administration opposed the Biden-Lugar resolution, because it was limited to ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, and successfully pressured the Democratic-controlled Senate to adopt a broader war resolution, for which Biden voted.

On domestic policy, Biden is a conventional liberal whose roots go back to the Cold War era. He combines occasional populist bromides about concern for the poor and downtrodden with close relations with the trade union bureaucracy and unquestioning defense of the profit system. Like every other senator, he has “looked after” the interests of those big corporations with major operations in his state, including the Delaware-based MBNA, the largest independent issuer of credit cards until it was acquired in 2005 by Bank of America.

In this capacity, Biden was one of the most fervent Democratic supporters of the reactionary 2005 legislation overhauling the consumer bankruptcy laws, making it much more difficult for working class and middle-class families to escape debt burdens exacerbated by the corrupt and misleading marketing tactics employed by companies like MBNA. The 2005 law has compounded the problems of distressed homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure.

Biden defended the bankruptcy bill during the Senate debate and voted for the legislation along with the overwhelming majority of Republicans, including John McCain. Obama opposed the bill, and has attacked it repeatedly during the 2008 campaign as a punitive measure against working families.

Employees of MBNA were the biggest single financial supporters of Biden’s campaigns over the past two decades. In 2003, MBNA hired the senator’s son, Hunter Biden, fresh out of law school, quickly promoting him to the position of executive vice president. (While his father is not wealthy by US Senate standards, Hunter Biden has since become a hedge fund multi-millionaire).

Biden has occasionally taken positions slightly more liberal than those of Obama, most recently voting against the bill (which Obama supported) authorizing a massive expansion of government surveillance of telephone calls and e-mail, and providing legal immunity to the giant telecom firms that collaborated with such illegal spying over the past seven years. But he is a fervent supporter of the USA Patriot Act, defending it during the recent Democratic primary campaign against criticism by some of his opponents.

Biden and the war in IraqSenator Obama prevailed over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nomination contest in large part because she had voted in October 2002 to authorize the Iraq war, while Obama, not then a US Senator, verbally opposed the decision to go to war. This difference in political biographies was utilized by Obama’s campaign to make an appeal to antiwar sentiment, although Obama’s record once he arrived in the Senate in January 2005 was indistinguishable from Clinton’s.

Biden’s record on Iraq makes his selection as the vice-presidential candidate all the more cynical, since he was an enthusiastic supporter of the war far longer than most Senate Democrats. He advocated measures to drastically increase the scale of the violence in order to win the war, including the dispatch of 100,000 additional US troops and the breakup of Iraq into separate Sunni, Shia and Kurdish statelets—on the model of the former Yugoslavia—which would presumably be more easy to control.

In the run-up to the launching of the unprovoked US aggression in March 2003, Biden echoed Bush administration propaganda. At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s notorious appearance before the United Nations Security Council in February 2003, Biden gushed, “I am proud to be associated with you. I think you did better than anyone could have because of your standing, your reputation and your integrity …” Every major element of Powell’s indictment of Iraq has since proven to be false.

Once the Bush administration’s lies about weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi connections to Al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks had been exposed, Biden began to express increasing alarm over the failure of the Bush administration to find an adequate rationale for maintaining public support for the war.

He bemoaned the Bush administration’s failure to sell the war effectively to the American people. In a speech to the Brookings Institution in June 2005, he declared, “I want to see the president of the United States succeed in Iraq…His success is America’s success, and his failure is America’s failure.”

Biden was particularly critical of the rosy forecasts of imminent success in Iraq being issued by the Pentagon and White House, which were at odds with the reality on the ground. “This disconnect, I believe, is fueling cynicism that is undermining the single most important weapon we need to give our troops to be able to do their job, and that is the unyielding support of the American people. That support is waning.”

Only after public opinion turned decisively against the war did Biden shift from advocating escalation to a limited pullout of US troops. A Washington Post column in late 2005—which noted the convergence of views of the longtime senator from Delaware and the newly elected senator from Illinois, Barack Obama—described Biden as “an early and consistent supporter of the US intervention against Saddam Hussein.”

Once the Democrats regained control of Congress in the November 2006, Biden became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he played a major role in the capitulation by the congressional Democrats to the Bush “surge” policy. Millions of antiwar voters had cast ballots for the Democrats seeking an end to the war, but the White House escalated the war instead, and the Democrats postured impotently and then went along.

The Democratic-controlled Congress meekly submitted after Bush vetoed modest restrictions on the conduct of the war, and in May 2007 passed full funding for military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. When several Democratic senators voted against the funding bill as a protest—including Clinton and Obama—Biden denounced them for undermining the safety of the troops.

Two weeks after this critical vote, Biden denounced antiwar critics of the Democratic Congress, claiming, “We’re busting our neck every single day” trying to end the war. There could be no end to the war, he said, until a significant number of Republican senators defected, to provide the two-thirds majority needed to override a Bush veto, or until a Democratic president was in the White House. “We’re funding the safety of those troops there till we can get 67 votes,” he declared.

By then, the Democratic presidential contest was well under way, and Biden, despite winning little support and no delegates, played an important political role. As the World Socialist Web Site noted following a candidates’ debate in August 2007, “Biden has carved out a niche as the Democratic presidential candidate most willing to publicly rebuke antiwar sentiment.”

In the course of the debate, Biden attacked those who suggested that by threatening a quick withdrawal, the US government could compel Iraqi politicians to establish a stable government in Baghdad. He denounced illusions “that there is any possibility in the lifetime of anyone here of having the Iraqis get together, have a unity government in Baghdad that pulls the country together. That will not happen…. It will not happen in the lifetime of anyone here.” In other words, the US occupation would have to continue indefinitely.

There have been numerous suggestions from Democratic Party officials and the media over the past few days that, given Biden’s reputation for verbal confrontation, his selection signals a more aggressive attitude from the Obama campaign. On his record, however, it is quite likely that Biden will be deployed as an “attack dog” against antiwar critics of the Obama campaign.

This fact makes all the more despicable the fawning embrace of Biden by purportedly “antiwar” publications like the Nation. John Nichols, Washington editor of the left-liberal magazine, wrote that the choice of Biden was an “acceptable, perhaps even satisfying conclusion to the great veep search,” which could tip the polls back in Obama’s direction.

Commenting on the Springfield rally Saturday, Nichols gushed, “When Biden went after John McCain, with a vigor and, yes, a venom that has been missing from Obama’s stump speaking, it was a tonic for the troops who have been waiting for a campaign that is more prepared to throw punches than take them.”

This response only confirms a fundamental truth about the political crisis facing working people in the United States: it is impossible to conduct a serious struggle against American imperialism, and its program of social reaction and war, without first breaking free of the straitjacket of the Democratic Party.

Working people have no stake in the outcome of the Obama-McCain contest, which will determine, for the American ruling elite, who will be their commander-in-chief over the next four years. The task facing the working class is to break with the two-party system and build an independent political movement based on a socialist and internationalist program.

We tilt at windmills as world war looms

We tilt at windmills as world war looms

Is the world drifting towards a new global war? From this week the dominant super-power, America, will for three months pass through the valley of the shadow of democracy, a presidential election. This is always a moment of self-absorption and paranoia. Barack Obama and John McCain will not act as statesmen but as politicians. They will grandstand and look over their shoulders. Their eye will stray from the ball.

Meanwhile, along history’s fault line of conflict from Russia’s European border to the Caucasus and on to Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, diplomats are shifting uneasily in their seats, drums are sounding and harsh words are spoken. The world is now run by a generation of leaders who have never known global war. Has this dulled their senses?

Dan McNeill, an American general, was recently interviewed in Kabul on how to beat the Taliban. He was not the first to conclude that this could not be done militarily but only by “winning hearts and minds”. The problem, he said, lay in the answer to the question, “Whose hearts and minds?” Was it those of the Afghan people or was it rather those of the American Congress and voters?

Both Obama and McCain have claimed that the war in Iraq has been allowed to distract attention from the war in Afghanistan. This is different from the neoconservatives, who felt the war in Afghanistan was a distraction from the more important war in Iraq.

America now thinks it has won in Baghdad and must return to Kabul – and possibly even Tehran. At the same time it must face the possibility that these conflicts may in turn be a distraction from the reemergence as world powers of Russia and China, who are already gaining the initiative in Iran and Africa. Moscow is also precipitating a nationalist resurgence in eastern Europe and among Russian minorities in the Caucasus.

The question is critical. Has the West misjudged the fault line of an impending conflict? Its global strategy under George Bush, Tony Blair and a ham-fisted Nato has declared the threat to world peace as coming from nonstate organisations, specifically Al-Qaeda, and the nations that give them either bases or tacit support. Western generals and securocrats have elevated these anarchist fanatics to the status of nuclear powers. Policing crime has become “waging war”, so as to justify soaring budgets and influence over policy, much as did America’s military-industrial complex during the cold war.

Might it be that a raging seven-year obsession with Osama Bin Laden and his tiny Al-Qaeda organisation has blinded strategists to the old verities? Wars are rarely “clashes of civilisation”, but rather clashes of interest. They are usually the result of careless policy, of misread signals and of mission creep closing options for peace.

Terrorists, wherever located and trained, can certainly capture headlines and cause overnight mayhem, but they cannot project power. They cannot conquer countries or peoples, only manipulate democratic regimes into espousing illiberal policies, as in America and Britain. By grossly overstating the significance of terrorism, western leaders have distracted foreign policy from what should be its prime concern: securing world peace by holding a balance of interest – and pride – among the great powers.

To any who lived through the cold war, recent events along Russia’s western and southern borders are deeply ominous. Moscow initially spent the 17 years since the fall of the Soviet Union flirting with the West. It had been defeated and had good reason for disarming and putting out feelers to join Nato and the European Union. It took part in such proto-capitalist entities as the G8.

In the case of Nato and the EU it was arrogantly rebuffed, while its former Warsaw Pact allies were accepted. Moscow was told it would be foolish to worry about encirclement. A nation that had never enjoyed democracy should content itself with basking in its delights. Russians in the Baltic states and in Ukraine should make their peace with emerging governments. The political clutter of the cold war should be decontaminated.

Suddenly this has not worked. The world is showing alarming parallels with the 1930s. Lights are turning to red as the world again approaches depression. The credit crunch and the collapse of world trade talks are making nations introverted. Meanwhile, the defeated power of the last war, Russia, is flexing its muscles and finding them in good working order.

On Thursday Gordon Brown told his troops in Afghanistan that “what you are doing here prevents terrorism coming to the streets of Britain”. He cannot believe this any more than do his generals. Afghanistan poses no military threat to Britain. Rather it is Britain’s occupation and the response in neighbouring Pakistan that fosters antiwestern militancy in the region. Like the impoverishment of Germany between the wars, the stirring of antiwestern and antiChristian sentiment in the Muslim world can only be dangerous and counter-productive. Yet we do it.

The Taliban are fighting an old-fashioned insurgent war against a foreign invader and recruiting Pakistanis and antiwestern fanatics to help. They have succeeded in tormenting Washington and London with visions of a destabilised nuclear Pakistan, a blood-drenched Middle East and an Iran whose leaders may yet turn to jihad. For Brown – or the American presidential candidates – to imply that these conflicts with the Muslim world are making the world “safer” is manifestly untrue.

Worse, it distorts policy. Rather than calming other foes so the West can concentrate on the conflicts in hand, it is pointlessly stirring Russian expansionism to life.

There is no strategic justification for siting American missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. It is nothing but right-wing provocation. Nato’s welcome to Georgia and Ukraine, for no good reason but at risk of having to come to their aid, has served only to incite Georgia to realise that risk while also infuriating Moscow.

Russia is well able to respond recklessly to a snub without such encouragement, so why encourage it? The more powerful state – America – surely has an obligation to show the greater caution. Any strategic decision, such as the goading of Moscow, must plan for its response. Nato’s bureaucracy, lacking coherence and leadership, has been searching for a role since the end of the cold war. That role is apparently now to play with fire.

Western strategy is dealing with a resurgent, rich and potent Russia. It has played fast and loose with Moscow’s age-old sensitivity and forgotten the message of George Kennan, the American statesman: that Russia must be understood and contained rather than confronted. The naive remarks welcoming Georgia to Nato by David Miliband, the foreign secretary, show a West far detached from such analytical truths.

Any student of McCain or Obama, of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, or of the leaders of Britain, France and Germany, might conclude that these are not people likely to go to war. They are surely the children of peace. Yet history shows that “going to war” is never an intention. It is rather the result of weak, shortsighted leaders entrapped by a series of mistakes. For the West’s leaders at present, mistake has become second nature.

There are better options

There are better options

By Daniel Levy
Israel’s response to the Iranian challenge has been out of synch with developing realities for some time. Recently though, it has become dangerously counter-productive, anchored as it is in denial. As Israel intensifies its role as threatener-in-chief, and clings to a “more sticks, bigger sticks” line, events all around are moving on.

The supposed logic behind Israel’s escalating threats, suggesting it is ready to go it alone militarily, is threefold. It pressures Iran, thereby increasing international leverage in negotiations; a nervous world feels compelled to up sanctions and deliver results; and the path is smoothed to international acceptance of possible future Israeli action. Except that the logic (always a tenuous one) is now being repudiated on all three fronts.

Iran apparently views the threats as a reason to pursue more vigorously, not desist from, its enrichment program. In general, Iran’s perception that it is the threatened party (surrounded by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Arabian Gulf) adds impetus to its weapons-acquisition program. Israeli threats only add to that momentum. Sanctions tend to be a plodding, blunt and ineffective policy instrument. Iranian technological advances have outpaced sanctions every time. Anyway, the prospects of intensifying collective UN sanctions has likely been buried in the rubble of America’s spat with Russia over Georgia and its breakaway provinces.

But the collapse of Israel’s policy has been most dramatic in eliciting a public and vocal pushback against Israeli military action – from, of all places, the United States. All of America’s top military brass have gone on record recently cautioning against a military strike against Iran – and each time after having held meetings with senior Israeli officials. It seems clear that as far as the Pentagon is concerned, there will be no third front in its broader Middle East quagmire and no military green light to Israel.

In addition to losing its efficacy, the “threatener-in-chief” position is also based on a false and now more transparently false premise – namely, that Israel has a military option that carries an acceptable level of risk. American reticence is just one consideration. Several influential studies, most recently one from the Institute for Science and International Security, in Washington, suggest that an attack would only strengthen Tehran’s resolve to acquire a bomb, and that its centrifuge program could be quickly rebuilt. An attack would very likely rally the public around the most hard-line elements of the Iranian regime. Already the saber-rattling has allowed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s faction to distract attention from its economic mismanagement and to play the nationalism card.

These concerns are well-known, but it’s worth recapping them: The region would be radically, and perhaps in the medium term irreversibly, destabilized, with a potentially huge blowback for both Israel and the U.S. Israel is understandably keen to avoid a confrontation on several fronts with Iran and its allies – but an attack would create the optimal conditions for exactly that eventuality to be realized. Iranian enmity for generations would be guaranteed and friendly regional regimes shaken, or worse. For American and coalition troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and even the Gulf, an already harsh reality would likely become untenable, and that’s even before one considers the effects on oil markets and implications for world food prices and instability, and for European dependence on Russian energy supplies. Israel quite simply cannot and should not risk it.

The good news is – there are better options. For one, Israel should be leading, or at least contributing to, rather than retarding, a policy re-think on Iran. Instead, when the U.S. sends Under-Secretary of State William Burns to sit in on talks with Iran in Geneva or considers opening an interest section in Tehran, Israel takes umbrage. The same is true when our back-channel mediators with Syria, the Turks, host Iran’s leaders.

Israel needs to encourage this direct hard-headed diplomatic engagement between its friends and Iran – contributing talking points of its own and suggesting the dialogue address a broad range of issues of concern to Israel. Israel might even wrong-foot its adversaries and advance a constructive regional dynamic by developing an offer occasionally hinted at by President Shimon Peres – that Israel will support a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction in the context of regional peace, mutual recognition and security guarantees.

Beyond that, Israel should de-emphasize its unilateral military options and stress confidence in its own deterrence capacity vis-a-vis Iran. Rather than irresponsibly scaring its own public and broadcasting fear to the region, Israel’s message can be that it is uniquely placed to meet the military challenges potentially posed by Iran. In fact, without giving anything new away, Israel might reiterate that of all regional actors, it has reason to be the least concerned by developments on the Iranian side. Mutual deterrence would be an acceptable, if undesirable, outcome. That would create the sense of this being a shared problem far more than the desperate cries of gewalt and threats of unilateral action.

Don’t expect preventive diplomacy to be swift or simple – but Israel would be making a terrible, even fatal, mistake if it attacked Iran. It does no one, least of all itself, any favors with the parrot-like repetition of the “threatener-in-chief” mantra.

Daniel Levy, a senior fellow at the New America and Century Foundations, was a former adviser in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, and was the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative.

US and Israel will soon be isolated from the rest of the world

US and Israel will soon be isolated from the rest of the world

Ian Brockwell

At first glance, the title of this article may sound too incredible to imagine and many (in the US and Israel) will dismiss it as pure fantasy. But is it?

In the last couple of weeks we have seen changes taking place that suggest the balance of global power is beginning to move in a different direction.

Despite the “valiant” efforts of the Mainstream Media (mostly controlled by those supportive of the Bush administration and Israel), in trying to “brainwash” their readers into believing that Russia is now the “bad guy” again. It is encouraging to see that their tactics are not working quite as well as they have done in the past, and people are starting to ask questions.

But what has caused this sudden change? This can be answered in two words: Greed and Stupidity!

Once upon a time, America was a great country, it really was the land of opportunity and everyone wanted to go there to make their dreams come true. Many other countries tried to copy their success and developed a more western style. Unfortunately, some time between then and now, America stopped leading by example and decided that it should “force” its lifestyle on others (whether they wanted it or not).

At some point, America abandoned its belief in “freedom and democracy” and became an “enforcer”, a country that bullied others and dictated terms to them, the very thing that the American people have been brought up to despise.

Sadly, this change in tactics has been accepted by many Americans as the “correct” thing to do and some truly believe that America has a right to impose its beliefs on others. However, if the situation was reversed, would American citizens consider this acceptable? We have already seen the reaction of some to the increase in immigrants from Mexico and the growing use of Spanish in the United States. There is also a growing fear that Islam may play a more active part in the religious make-up of the country. How would Americans feel if they were taken over (by force) by one of these groups and told that it was in their best interests? There are many who still haven´t noticed that Israel has more influence over their country than any other group in the USA.

Since Bush was “elected”, Russia has had to listen to his insults (and those of Cheney, Rice and others), but has made every attempt to respond in a diplomatic way. However, there is always a limit to what people can accept and that line has well and truly been crossed now.

Even though the Bush administration have illegally invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, and recently carried out attacks within the sovereign territory of Pakistan (killing many civilians), you do not see reports in the Russian press with headlines like “Russia demand that the US pullout of Iraq” or “The US must be punished for their invasion of Iraq”. Maybe we should, but you don´t. Russia has preferred (at least until recently) to use diplomatic methods (talk) to resolve situations. But how can you “talk” with a country that does not want to listen and seeks your destruction?

The US has been “buying” the leaders of ex-Soviet States to join them, in order to try and take control of Russia at some future date. Not to bring some “democracy and freedom” to that country, but to take its resources and move one step nearer to global supremacy.

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However, those involved in this plan (the US and Israel) have become impatient and looked to speed up the process (with the conflict between Russia and Georgia). This was their biggest mistake, but perhaps a blessing for the rest of the world. Russia (and many other countries) have seen that action must be taken quickly to rectify this problem and as a result we are likely to see a major increase in arms supplies to countries that are located near the US and Israel. These may well be of a defensive nature (initially), but the increased number of locations where missiles could be launched, will greatly reduce The US and Israel´s ability to defend themselves if they were used, thus neutralizing their ability to use their weapons at all.

News that Russia is considering supplying defensive missiles to Syria has certainly got Israel worried, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has requested a meeting with the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, to find out more. Olmert has been quoted as saying he may try and “block” any such deal, but it is unclear how he hopes to achieve that (especially as he must step down in September because of fraud and bribery charges). Perhaps if Israel weren´t the main supplier of weapons to Georgia, Russia would not be considering doing the same. What goes around comes around.
Over the next few months we can expect to see the heat turned up on the US and Israel, but the outcome is really up to them. In the meantime, we may see Europe look towards Russia as a more “stable” partner and perhaps a doorway to a much more lucrative market (not just in Russia).

Although Russia has a good supply of natural Resources, there are many areas that could benefit from European technologies and investment, but this would have to be on mutually acceptable terms (something that hasn´t always existed in the past). There is much Europe and Russia can offer each other, and maybe Europe would like the opportunity to be less dependent on America? Russia can also provide military protection as well, this is not an ability that is exclusive to America.

We have seen that many Middle Eastern countries respect and trust Russia (apart from Israel) and they have good relations with many countries that the US dislike (which is quite a long list nowadays). What better time to get around the table for a friendly chat and a few business deals? Maybe it´s time to make some “changes”, and wait for the US and Israel to behave themselves more before allowing them in to a world that can get along without threats, if they are given a chance?

Disarming the bomb in the basement

Disarming the bomb in the basement

Israel’s weapons policy jeopardises the country’s own security and undermines efforts to create a nuclear-free Middle East

Khaled Diab

Israel’s interior minister Meir Sheetrit – who is vying to take over the reins from outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert – has struck a welcome note of caution on Iran in his campaign for the ruling Kadima party’s leadership.

On Wednesday, he said: “Israel must on no account attack Iran, speak of attacking Iran or even think about it … Israel must defend itself only if attacked by Iran, but attacking Iran on our own initiative is a megalomaniacal [and] reckless idea.”

Earlier, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy also struck alarm bells against calls to bomb Iran. He warned that an attack could hurt Israel’s interests for a century. “It will have a negative effect on public opinion in the Arab world.”

In fact, the ex-intelligence chief’s opinion is that, without doing anything, Israel wins anyway. “Ahmadinejad is our greatest gift,” he told the US-sponsored Arabic-language network al-Hurra on Tuesday. “We couldn’t carry out a better operation at the Mossad than to put a guy like Ahmadinejad in power in Iran.”

According to Time magazine, another senior Mossad official opined “Iran’s achievement is creating an image of itself as a scary superpower when it’s really a paper tiger.”

Although these statements, as well as reported US opposition and murmurs of dissent in Tehran against the regime’s posturing on Israel, reduce the possibility of a military confrontation for the time being, tensions could flare up at any moemnt.

“Paper tiger” or not, Tehran’s strident rhetoric is fuelling public fear in Israel, which plays into the hands of hardliners. In addition, Israel may not trust Iran’s reassurances about its civilian nuclear intentions because Israel itself gave similar assurances but, nevertheless, went on to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.

In fact, Israel’s quest to become a nuclear power started shortly after independence, and the main driving force behind it was the country’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. The Israeli leader – who admitted to having nightmares about “a combined attack by all the Arab armies” despite Israel possessing more firepower than all the Arab countries combined – saw nuclear weapons as the main way of ensuring Israel’s strategic security. Like Iran, he was also lured by the prestige factor of joining the nuclear club.

Following the Suez fiasco, Ben Gurion became more adamant. However, many senior officials opposed his nuclear ambition for a number of reasons: they feared it would spark a dangerous escalation, draw resources away from conventional forces and cripple the struggling Israeli economy.

Despite this opposition, Ben Gurion, whose status allowed him to circumvent the cabinet and the Knesset, struck a landmark deal with France in 1957 to build a large reactor that could separate plutonium. Concerned at where this was leading, all but one of the members of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission resigned in protest at the growing military orientation of the programme.

Although the Dimona reactor was constructed in great secrecy, with not even a whisper in the Israeli press, word leaked out and in December 1960 rumours spread in the western press and were confirmed by U2 spy planes. This triggered concern in Washington and Moscow, and fear and condemnation in the Arab world. The news also took the Israeli public by complete surprise. Ben Gurion assured the world that the reactor was “designed exclusively for peaceful purposes”.

It was around this time that Israel formulated its policy of nuclear ambiguity. Faced with international criticism and internal opposition, the legendary military leader Moshe Dayan developed the concept of what he ominously called “the bomb in the basement”.

Israel began its line that it would not be the first to “introduce” nuclear weapons into the region. Pressed on what exactly that meant, the then ambassador to Washington, Yitzhak Rabin, vaguely responded that Israel would not be the first to “test” such weapons.

Israel resisted international supervision under the IAEA and only grudgingly agreed to pre-arranged American inspections to limited sections of the Dimona facility which, critics argued, allowed it to hide the military activity at the reactor behind false walls.

Experts estimate that Israel acquired a nuclear capability shortly after the 1967 war and today possesses up to 200 nuclear warheads, putting it among the top six nuclear nations, just behind the UK.

Interestingly, a 1963 CIA report predicted that a nuclear Israel would polarise and destabilise the region and would probably make “Israel’s policy with its neighbours … more, rather than less, tough”. The report also touched on the attendant dangers, such as a possible Arab quest for their own “deterrent”, as well as the damage to western interests in the region.

And, as long as Israel holds on to its nuclear arsenal, the shadow of proliferation will not go away. For at least 30 years, Arab governments, as well as Iran, have been pushing for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East. If Israel is concerned about a nuclear Iran, or the possibility that other regimes in the region will acquire the bomb, the best way it can avert this is to offer to phase out its nuclear arsenal in return for cast-iron Iranian assurances under international supervision.

That frontier mythology now threatens the world

That frontier mythology now threatens the world

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U.S. Army engineers line up in formation as a huge Stars and Stripes flag flutters on top of a Humvee as wind whips up sand in the desert outside Kuwait City, March 13, 2003.

America’s New World Order is not just under global siege, its values are now downright dangerous to our survival, fears Richard Wright.

There may be no other country in the world in which myth and history are as intimately entwined as the United States of America.

As history buff and novelist Ronald Wright (Stolen Continents; A Short History of Progress) points out in his eloquently impertinent and persuasive book What Is America?, it’s a dance of co-dependency that dates back to 1492. Without the self-serving embellishments of myth – especially that which pertains to the endlessly exploitable horizon of the frontier — American history stands to lose the rudder of progress that sustains its “manifest destiny” as the anointed leader of the free world.

But freedom’s a cunning little word, isn’t it? If evoked with due persuasiveness, it can conceal a multitude of sin and hypocrisy. It is this history of persuasion, held against 500-plus years of events, actions and policies that contradict freedom’s good name, that What Is America? deconstructs with such provocative rhetorical passion.

It would be one thing if this were an angry book – there are as many angry books out there as there are reasons to be angry – but it’s something more than that: an angry book with an excellent case.

“All who delve into American history must contend with a language of misnomer and condescension,” Wright states in his author’s foreword. “Whites are soldiers, Indians are warriors; whites live in towns, Indians in villages; whites have states, Indians have tribes.” This is the language of myth, an idiom of seductive euphemism that serves the purpose of reassuring a dominant culture that it is on the right side of history.

Right from the suggestion that the “New World” was “discovered” by Columbus, America has been cast as vast, God-given opportunity, a bounteous geographical buffet, created for the feasting of those hungry and adventurous enough to gorge on the spoils.

But America was no more discovered than it was new. As he did in previous books, Wright enlists documents and eyewitness accounts dating back to the Europeans’ first contact with the original Americans (whose semantic demotion to “Indians” is “a measure of the demographic catastrophe that gave rise to the United States”). He quickly demonstrates how the continent was actually fully “settled” – by various civilizations stretching from one tip of the Americas to the other – long before the first European ships first laid anchor.

This created a public relations problem of epic proportions: How does one portray the wholesale takeover of one populated continent by force as an act of righteous destiny? How does one render a systematic history of invasion, plunder, imperial aggression and – to use Wright’s term – ethnic cleansing, as the fulfillment of God’s intentions?

Well, what you must do is infuse history with myth, thereby setting in motion the process of “spin” that marks yet another thread linking the contemporary idea of the “New World Order” with one that began more than five centuries ago.

In Wright’s view, America was invaded, occupied and taken over. But that invasion required both justification and self-delusion to function as a nobler purpose and inevitable action. This is where the notion of “frontier” found its enduring and fundamental calling.

“In the mythology created by romantic novels and Hollywood westerns,” Wright states, “the frontier is a virgin wilderness tamed by heroic pioneers. The real frontier was a rolling three-century war zone, from 1607 to 1890, in which the continent violently changed hands.”

The taming of the geographical frontier only marked the beginning of another one: “Isolated and unschooled, the frontier became a breeding ground for militarism and religious extremism – the two aspects of American culture that outsiders, and many Americans, find most alarming today, especially when they converge in government policy as they did under Ronald Reagan and again, more strongly, under George W. Bush.”

Yes, that’s the line we’re drawing here: a history of European and subsequently American imperial impulse, justified by a half-millennium of historical makeover that connects Christopher Columbus to George W. Bush. If that seems strident or simplistic – as mapped out by What Is America?, it is neither – it is also a line that runs parallel to the thread that justifies the actions of the present with the mythology of the past.

The difference, of course, is the difference between the purposes of history and the function of mythology. If the knowledge of the past is essential to the illumination of the present, myth is knowledge’s opposite. History cautions us to proceed into the future carefully, our rear-view mirrors firmly in place. Myth insists we follow our dreams – even if it leads over the brink.

Wright’s book will not likely find sympathetic readers among those who see it as America’s mission – if not its very self-definition – to dream big. But that kind of dreaming needs to end if the world is to open its eyes to what it has become, how it became that way, and where it might be headed.

Wright flat out declares that the United States’s version of a world order threatens Earth’s very survival, “eating into Nature’s capital instead of living on her interest, wrecking the very ecosystems on which we depend.”

In the European Union, Wright sees hope: a group of nations that have collectively awakened to the necessity of a clear vision linking present, past and future. “America,” concludes Wright, “which helped set the Europeans on their new path half a century ago, must now examine its own record – the facts, not the myths – and free itself from the potent yet potentially fatal mix of forces that created its nation, its empire, and the modern world.”
Toronto author and broadcaster Geoff Pevere is The Star‘s book columnist. He appears weekly.