Archives for September 2011

Noam Chomsky: Is the world too big to fail?

FEATURED ARTICLE  by NOAM CHOMSKY

The democracy uprising in the Arab world has been a spectacular display of courage, dedication, and commitment by popular forces – coinciding, fortuitously, with a remarkable uprising of tens of thousands in support of working people and democracy in Madison, Wisconsin, and other US cities. If the trajectories of revolt in Cairo and Madison intersected, however, they were headed in opposite directions: in Cairo toward gaining elementary rights denied by the dictatorship, in Madison towards defending rights that had been won in long and hard struggles and are now under severe attack.

Each is a microcosm of tendencies in global society, following varied courses. There are sure to be far-reaching consequences of what is taking place both in the decaying industrial heartland of the richest and most powerful country in human history, and in what President Dwight Eisenhower called “the most strategically important area in the world” – “a stupendous source of strategic power” and “probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment,” in the words of the State Department in the 1940s, a prize that the US intended to keep for itself and its allies in the unfolding New World Order of that day.

Despite all the changes since, there is every reason to suppose that today’s policy-makers basically adhere to the judgment of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s influential advisor A.A. Berle that control of the incomparable energy reserves of the Middle East would yield “substantial control of the world.” And correspondingly, that loss of control would threaten the project of global dominance that was clearly articulated during World War II, and that has been sustained in the face of major changes in world order since that day.

‘Grand Area’

NATO troops have to guard pipelines that transport oil and gas that is directed for the West.

– Jaap De Hoop, former NATO Secretary-General

From the outset of the war in 1939, Washington anticipated that it would end with the US in a position of overwhelming power. High-level State Department officials and foreign policy specialists met through the wartime years to lay out plans for the postwar world. They delineated a “Grand Area” that the US was to dominate, including the Western hemisphere, the Far East, and the former British empire, with its Middle East energy resources. As Russia began to grind down Nazi armies after Stalingrad, Grand Area goals extended to as much of Eurasia as possible, at least its economic core in Western Europe. Within the Grand Area, the US would maintain “unquestioned power,” with “military and economic supremacy,” while ensuring the “limitation of any exercise of sovereignty” by states that might interfere with its global designs. The careful wartime plans were soon implemented.

It was always recognised that Europe might choose to follow an independent course. NATO was partially intended to counter this threat. As soon as the official pretext for NATO dissolved in 1989, NATO was expanded to the East in violation of verbal pledges to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It has since become a US-run intervention force, with far-ranging scope, spelled out by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who informed a NATO conference that “NATO troops have to guard pipelines that transport oil and gas that is directed for the West,” and more generally to protect sea routes used by tankers and other “crucial infrastructure” of the energy system.

Grand Area doctrines clearly license military intervention at will. That conclusion was articulated clearly by the Clinton administration, which declared that the US has the right to use military force to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources,” and must maintain huge military forces “forward deployed” in Europe and Asia “in order to shape people’s opinions about us” and “to shape events that will affect our livelihood and our security.”

The same principles governed the invasion of Iraq. As the US failure to impose its will in Iraq was becoming unmistakable, the actual goals of the invasion could no longer be concealed behind pretty rhetoric. In November 2007, the White House issued a Declaration of Principles demanding that US forces must remain indefinitely in Iraq and committing Iraq to privilege American investors. Two months later, President Bush informed Congress that he would reject legislation that might limit the permanent stationing of US Armed Forces in Iraq or “United States control of the oil resources of Iraq” – demands that the US had to abandon shortly after in the face of Iraqi resistance.

In Tunisia and Egypt, the recent popular uprisings have won impressive victories, but as the Carnegie Endowment reported, while names have changed, the regimes remain: “A change in ruling elites and system of governance is still a distant goal.” The report discusses internal barriers to democracy, but ignores the external ones, which as always are significant.

The US and its Western allies are sure to do whatever they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world. To understand why, it is only necessary to look at the studies of Arab opinion conducted by US polling agencies. Though barely reported, they are certainly known to planners. They reveal that by overwhelming majorities, Arabs regard the US and Israel as the major threats they face: the US is so regarded by 90 per cent of Egyptians, in the region generally by over 75 per cent. Some Arabs regard Iran as a threat: 10 per cent. Opposition to US policy is so strong that a majority believes that security would be improved if Iran had nuclear weapons – in Egypt, 80 per cent. Other figures are similar. If public opinion were to influence policy, the US not only would not control the region, but would be expelled from it, along with its allies, undermining fundamental principles of global dominance.

The invisible hand of power

Support for democracy is the province of ideologists and propagandists. In the real world, elite dislike of democracy is the norm. The evidence is overwhelming that democracy is supported insofar as it contributes to social and economic objectives, a conclusion reluctantly conceded by the more serious scholarship.

Elite contempt for democracy was revealed dramatically in the reaction to the WikiLeaks exposures. Those that received most attention, with euphoric commentary, were cables reporting that Arabs support the US stand on Iran. The reference was to the ruling dictators. The attitudes of the public were unmentioned. The guiding principle was articulated clearly by Carnegie Endowment Middle East specialist Marwan Muasher, formerly a high official of the Jordanian government: “There is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” In short, if the dictators support us, what else could matter?

The Muasher doctrine is rational and venerable. To mention just one case that is highly relevant today, in internal discussion in 1958, president Eisenhower expressed concern about “the campaign of hatred” against us in the Arab world, not by governments, but by the people. The National Security Council (NSC) explained that there is a perception in the Arab world that the US supports dictatorships and blocks democracy and development so as to ensure control over the resources of the region. Furthermore, the perception is basically accurate, the NSC concluded, and that is what we should be doing, relying on the Muasher doctrine. Pentagon studies conducted after 9/11 confirmed that the same holds today.

It is normal for the victors to consign history to the trash can, and for victims to take it seriously. Perhaps a few brief observations on this important matter may be useful. Today is not the first occasion when Egypt and the US are facing similar problems, and moving in opposite directions. That was also true in the early nineteenth century.

Economic historians have argued that Egypt was well-placed to undertake rapid economic development at the same time that the US was. Both had rich agriculture, including cotton, the fuel of the early industrial revolution – though unlike Egypt, the US had to develop cotton production and a work force by conquest, extermination, and slavery, with consequences that are evident right now in the reservations for the survivors and the prisons that have rapidly expanded since the Reagan years to house the superfluous population left by deindustrialisation.

One fundamental difference was that the US had gained independence and was therefore free to ignore the prescriptions of economic theory, delivered at the time by Adam Smith in terms rather like those preached to developing societies today. Smith urged the liberated colonies to produce primary products for export and to import superior British manufactures, and certainly not to attempt to monopolise crucial goods, particularly cotton. Any other path, Smith warned, “would retard instead of accelerating the further increase in the value of their annual produce, and would obstruct instead of promoting the progress of their country towards real wealth and greatness.”

Having gained their independence, the colonies were free to ignore his advice and to follow England’s course of independent state-guided development, with high tariffs to protect industry from British exports, first textiles, later steel and others, and to adopt numerous other devices to accelerate industrial development. The independent Republic also sought to gain a monopoly of cotton so as to “place all other nations at our feet,” particularly the British enemy, as the Jacksonian presidents announced when conquering Texas and half of Mexico.

For Egypt, a comparable course was barred by British power. Lord Palmerston declared that “no ideas of fairness [toward Egypt] ought to stand in the way of such great and paramount interests” of Britain as preserving its economic and political hegemony, expressing his “hate” for the “ignorant barbarian” Muhammed Ali who dared to seek an independent course, and deploying Britain’s fleet and financial power to terminate Egypt’s quest for independence and economic development.

After World War II, when the US displaced Britain as global hegemon, Washington adopted the same stand, making it clear that the US would provide no aid to Egypt unless it adhered to the standard rules for the weak – which the US continued to violate, imposing high tariffs to bar Egyptian cotton and causing a debilitating dollar shortage. The usual interpretation of market principles.

It is small wonder that the “campaign of hatred” against the US that concerned Eisenhower was based on the recognition that the US supports dictators and blocks democracy and development, as do its allies.

In Adam Smith’s defence, it should be added that he recognised what would happen if Britain followed the rules of sound economics, now called “neoliberalism.” He warned that if British manufacturers, merchants, and investors turned abroad, they might profit but England would suffer. But he felt that they would be guided by a home bias, so as if by an invisible hand England would be spared the ravages of economic rationality.

The passage is hard to miss. It is the one occurrence of the famous phrase “invisible hand” in The Wealth of Nations. The other leading founder of classical economics, David Ricardo, drew similar conclusions, hoping that home bias would lead men of property to “be satisfied with the low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations,” feelings that, he added, “I should be sorry to see weakened.” Their predictions aside, the instincts of the classical economists were sound.

The Iranian and Chinese ‘threats’

The democracy uprising in the Arab world is sometimes compared to Eastern Europe in 1989, but on dubious grounds. In 1989, the democracy uprising was tolerated by the Russians, and supported by western power in accord with standard doctrine: it plainly conformed to economic and strategic objectives, and was therefore a noble achievement, greatly honoured, unlike the struggles at the same time “to defend the people’s fundamental human rights” in Central America, in the words of the assassinated Archbishop of El Salvador, one of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the military forces armed and trained by Washington. There was no Gorbachev in the West throughout these horrendous years, and there is none today. And Western power remains hostile to democracy in the Arab world for good reasons.

Grand Area doctrines continue to apply to contemporary crises and confrontations. In Western policy-making circles and political commentary the Iranian threat is considered to pose the greatest danger to world order and hence must be the primary focus of US foreign policy, with Europe trailing along politely.

Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy

– Martin van Creveld, Israeli military historian

What exactly is the Iranian threat? An authoritative answer is provided by the Pentagon and US intelligence. Reporting on global security last year, they make it clear that the threat is not military. Iran’s military spending is “relatively low compared to the rest of the region,” they conclude. Its military doctrine is strictly “defensive, designed to slow an invasion and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities.” Iran has only “a limited capability to project force beyond its borders.” With regard to the nuclear option, “Iran’s nuclear programme and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.” All quotes.

The brutal clerical regime is doubtless a threat to its own people, though it hardly outranks US allies in that regard. But the threat lies elsewhere, and is ominous indeed. One element is Iran’s potential deterrent capacity, an illegitimate exercise of sovereignty that might interfere with US freedom of action in the region. It is glaringly obvious why Iran would seek a deterrent capacity; a look at the military bases and nuclear forces in the region suffices to explain.

Seven years ago, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld wrote that “The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy,” particularly when they are under constant threat of attack in violation of the UN Charter. Whether they are doing so remains an open question, but perhaps so.

But Iran’s threat goes beyond deterrence. It is also seeking to expand its influence in neighbouring countries, the Pentagon and US intelligence emphasise, and in this way to “destabilise” the region (in the technical terms of foreign policy discourse). The US invasion and military occupation of Iran’s neighbours is “stabilisation.” Iran’s efforts to extend its influence to them are “destabilisation,” hence plainly illegitimate.

Such usage is routine. Thus the prominent foreign policy analyst James Chace was properly using the term “stability” in its technical sense when he explained that in order to achieve “stability” in Chile it was necessary to “destabilise” the country (by overthrowing the elected government of Salvador Allende and installing the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet). Other concerns about Iran are equally interesting to explore, but perhaps this is enough to reveal the guiding principles and their status in imperial culture. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s planners emphasised at the dawn of the contemporary world system, the US cannot tolerate “any exercise of sovereignty” that interferes with its global designs.

The US and Europe are united in punishing Iran for its threat to stability, but it is useful to recall how isolated they are. The nonaligned countries have vigorously supported Iran’s right to enrich uranium. In the region, Arab public opinion even strongly favours Iranian nuclear weapons. The major regional power, Turkey, voted against the latest US-initiated sanctions motion in the Security Council, along with Brazil, the most admired country of the South. Their disobedience led to sharp censure, not for the first time: Turkey had been bitterly condemned in 2003 when the government followed the will of 95 per cent of the population and refused to participate in the invasion of Iraq, thus demonstrating its weak grasp of democracy, western-style.

After its Security Council misdeed last year, Turkey was warned by Obama’s top diplomat on European affairs, Philip Gordon, that it must “demonstrate its commitment to partnership with the West.” A scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations asked, “How do we keep the Turks in their lane?” – following orders like good democrats. Brazil’s Lula was admonished in a New York Times headline that his effort with Turkey to provide a solution to the uranium enrichment issue outside of the framework of US power was a “Spot on Brazilian Leader’s Legacy.” In brief, do what we say, or else.

An interesting sidelight, effectively suppressed, is that the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal was approved in advance by Obama, presumably on the assumption that it would fail, providing an ideological weapon against Iran. When it succeeded, the approval turned to censure, and Washington rammed through a Security Council resolution so weak that China readily signed – and is now chastised for living up to the letter of the resolution but not Washington’s unilateral directives – in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, for example.

While the US can tolerate Turkish disobedience, though with dismay, China is harder to ignore. The press warns that “China’s investors and traders are now filling a vacuum in Iran as businesses from many other nations, especially in Europe, pull out,” and in particular, is expanding its dominant role in Iran’s energy industries. Washington is reacting with a touch of desperation. The State Department warned China that if it wants to be accepted in the international community – a technical term referring to the US and whoever happens to agree with it – then it must not “skirt and evade international responsibilities, [which] are clear”: namely, follow US orders. China is unlikely to be impressed.

There is also much concern about the growing Chinese military threat. A recent Pentagon study warned that China’s military budget is approaching “one-fifth of what the Pentagon spent to operate and carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” a fraction of the US military budget, of course. China’s expansion of military forces might “deny the ability of American warships to operate in international waters off its coast,” the New York Times added.

Washington has converted the island into a major military base in defiance of vehement protests by the people of Okinawa.

Off the coast of China, that is; it has yet to be proposed that the US should eliminate military forces that deny the Caribbean to Chinese warships. China’s lack of understanding of rules of international civility is illustrated further by its objections to plans for the advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington to join naval exercises a few miles off China’s coast, with alleged capacity to strike Beijing.

In contrast, the West understands that such US operations are all undertaken to defend stability and its own security. The liberal New Republic expresses its concern that “China sent ten warships through international waters just off the Japanese island of Okinawa.” That is indeed a provocation – unlike the fact, unmentioned, that Washington has converted the island into a major military base in defiance of vehement protests by the people of Okinawa. That is not a provocation, on the standard principle that we own the world.

Deep-seated imperial doctrine aside, there is good reason for China’s neighbours to be concerned about its growing military and commercial power. And though Arab opinion supports an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, we certainly should not do so. The foreign policy literature is full of proposals as to how to counter the threat. One obvious way is rarely discussed: work to establish a nuclear-weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the region. The issue arose (again) at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference at United Nations headquarters last May. Egypt, as chair of the 118 nations of the Non-Aligned Movement, called for negotiations on a Middle East NWFZ, as had been agreed by the West, including the US, at the 1995 review conference on the NPT.

International support is so overwhelming that Obama formally agreed. It is a fine idea, Washington informed the conference, but not now. Furthermore, the US made clear that Israel must be exempted: no proposal can call for Israel’s nuclear programme to be placed under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency or for the release of information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities.” So much for this method of dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat.

Privatising the planet

While Grand Area doctrine still prevails, the capacity to implement it has declined. The peak of US power was after World War II, when it had literally half the world’s wealth. But that naturally declined, as other industrial economies recovered from the devastation of the war and decolonisation took its agonising course. By the early 1970s, the US share of global wealth had declined to about 25 per cent, and the industrial world had become tripolar: North America, Europe, and East Asia (then Japan-based).

There was also a sharp change in the US economy in the 1970s, towards financialisation and export of production. A variety of factors converged to create a vicious cycle of radical concentration of wealth, primarily in the top fraction of 1 per cent of the population – mostly CEOs, hedge-fund managers, and the like. That leads to the concentration of political power, hence state policies to increase economic concentration: fiscal policies, rules of corporate governance, deregulation, and much more. Meanwhile the costs of electoral campaigns skyrocketed, driving the parties into the pockets of concentrated capital, increasingly financial: the Republicans reflexively, the Democrats – by now what used to be moderate Republicans – not far behind.

Elections have become a charade, run by the public relations industry. After his 2008 victory, Obama won an award from the industry for the best marketing campaign of the year. Executives were euphoric. In the business press they explained that they had been marketing candidates like other commodities since Ronald Reagan, but 2008 was their greatest achievement and would change the style in corporate boardrooms. The 2012 election is expected to cost $2bn, mostly in corporate funding. Small wonder that Obama is selecting business leaders for top positions. The public is angry and frustrated, but as long as the Muasher principle prevails, that doesn’t matter.

While wealth and power have narrowly concentrated, for most of the population real incomes have stagnated and people have been getting by with increased work hours, debt, and asset inflation, regularly destroyed by the financial crises that began as the regulatory apparatus was dismantled starting in the 1980s.

None of this is problematic for the very wealthy, who benefit from a government insurance policy called “too big to fail.” The banks and investment firms can make risky transactions, with rich rewards, and when the system inevitably crashes, they can run to the nanny state for a taxpayer bailout, clutching their copies of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.

That has been the regular process since the Reagan years, each crisis more extreme than the last – for the public population, that is. Right now, real unemployment is at Depression levels for much of the population, while Goldman Sachs, one of the main architects of the current crisis, is richer than ever. It has just quietly announced $17.5bn in compensation for last year, with CEO Lloyd Blankfein receiving a $12.6m bonus while his base salary more than triples.

It wouldn’t do to focus attention on such facts as these. Accordingly, propaganda must seek to blame others, in the past few months, public sector workers, their fat salaries, exorbitant pensions, and so on: all fantasy, on the model of Reaganite imagery of black mothers being driven in their limousines to pick up welfare checks – and other models that need not be mentioned. We all must tighten our belts; almost all, that is.

Teachers are a particularly good target, as part of the deliberate effort to destroy the public education system from kindergarten through the universities by privatisation – again, good for the wealthy, but a disaster for the population, as well as the long-term health of the economy, but that is one of the externalities that is put to the side insofar as market principles prevail.

Another fine target, always, is immigrants. That has been true throughout US history, even more so at times of economic crisis, exacerbated now by a sense that our country is being taken away from us: the white population will soon become a minority. One can understand the anger of aggrieved individuals, but the cruelty of the policy is shocking.

Targeting immigrants

Who are the immigrants targeted? In Eastern Massachusetts, where I live, many are Mayans fleeing genocide in the Guatemalan highlands carried out by Reagan’s favourite killers. Others are Mexican victims of Clinton’s NAFTA, one of those rare government agreements that managed to harm working people in all three of the participating countries. As NAFTA was rammed through Congress over popular objection in 1994, Clinton also initiated the militarisation of the US-Mexican border, previously fairly open. It was understood that Mexican campesinos cannot compete with highly subsidised US agribusiness, and that Mexican businesses would not survive competition with US multinationals, which must be granted “national treatment” under the mislabeled free trade agreements, a privilege granted only to corporate persons, not those of flesh and blood. Not surprisingly, these measures led to a flood of desperate refugees, and to rising anti-immigrant hysteria by the victims of state-corporate policies at home.

Much the same appears to be happening in Europe, where racism is probably more rampant than in the US One can only watch with wonder as Italy complains about the flow of refugees from Libya, the scene of the first post-World War I genocide, in the now-liberated East, at the hands of Italy’s Fascist government. Or when France, still today the main protector of the brutal dictatorships in its former colonies, manages to overlook its hideous atrocities in Africa, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy warns grimly of the “flood of immigrants” and Marine Le Pen objects that he is doing nothing to prevent it. I need not mention Belgium, which may win the prize for what Adam Smith called “the savage injustice of the Europeans.”

The rise of neo-fascist parties in much of Europe would be a frightening phenomenon even if we were not to recall what happened on the continent in the recent past. Just imagine the reaction if Jews were being expelled from France to misery and oppression, and then witness the non-reaction when that is happening to Roma, also victims of the Holocaust and Europe’s most brutalised population.

In Hungary, the neo-fascist party Jobbik gained 17 per cent of the vote in national elections, perhaps unsurprising when three-quarters of the population feels that they are worse off than under Communist rule. We might be relieved that in Austria the ultra-right Jörg Haider won only 10 per cent of the vote in 2008 – were it not for the fact that the new Freedom Party, outflanking him from the far right, won more than 17 per cent. It is chilling to recall that, in 1928, the Nazis won less than 3 per cent of the vote in Germany.

In England the British National Party and the English Defence League, on the ultra-racist right, are major forces. (What is happening in Holland you know all too well.) In Germany, Thilo Sarrazin’s lament that immigrants are destroying the country was a runaway best-seller, while Chancellor Angela Merkel, though condemning the book, declared that multiculturalism had “utterly failed”: the Turks imported to do the dirty work in Germany are failing to become blond and blue-eyed, true Aryans.

Those with a sense of irony may recall that Benjamin Franklin, one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, warned that the newly liberated colonies should be wary of allowing Germans to immigrate, because they were too swarthy; Swedes as well. Into the twentieth century, ludicrous myths of Anglo-Saxon purity were common in the US, including among presidents and other leading figures. Racism in the literary culture has been a rank obscenity; far worse in practice, needless to say. It is much easier to eradicate polio than this horrifying plague, which regularly becomes more virulent in times of economic distress.

I do not want to end without mentioning another externality that is dismissed in market systems: the fate of the species. Systemic risk in the financial system can be remedied by the taxpayer, but no one will come to the rescue if the environment is destroyed. That it must be destroyed is close to an institutional imperative. Business leaders who are conducting propaganda campaigns to convince the population that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand full well how grave is the threat, but they must maximize short-term profit and market share. If they don’t, someone else will.

This vicious cycle could well turn out to be lethal. To see how grave the danger is, simply have a look at the new Congress in the US, propelled into power by business funding and propaganda. Almost all are climate deniers. They have already begun to cut funding for measures that might mitigate environmental catastrophe. Worse, some are true believers; for example, the new head of a subcommittee on the environment who explained that global warming cannot be a problem because God promised Noah that there will not be another flood.

If such things were happening in some small and remote country, we might laugh. Not when they are happening in the richest and most powerful country in the world. And before we laugh, we might also bear in mind that the current economic crisis is traceable in no small measure to the fanatic faith in such dogmas as the efficient market hypothesis, and in general to what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, 15 years ago, called the “religion” that markets know best – which prevented the central bank and the economics profession from taking notice of an $8tn housing bubble that had no basis at all in economic fundamentals, and that devastated the economy when it burst.

All of this, and much more, can proceed as long as the Muashar doctrine prevails. As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous bestselling political works, including 9-11: Was There an Alternative? (Seven Stories Press), an updated version of his classic account, just being published this week with a major new essay – from which this post was adapted – considering the 10 years since the 9/11 attacks.

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For Palestinians not to see Europe as an enemy, it’s a ‘no’ to America’s dangerous game

FEATURED ARTICLE  by JOHN V WHITBECK

The number of UN member states extending diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine has now risen to 131, leaving only 62 UN member states on the wrong side of history and humanity.

If one ignores small island states in the Caribbean and the Pacific, almost all of the non-recognisers are Western states, including all five of the settler-colonial states founded on the ethnic cleansing or genocide of indigenous populations and all eight of the former European colonial powers.

It appears that the current American strategy to defeat the State of Palestine’s UN membership application is to try to deprive Palestine of the required nine affirmative votes in the Security Council by convincing all five European members (including Bosnia & Herzegovina, which has recognised the State of Palestine) and Colombia (the only South American state which has not recognised the State of Palestine) to abstain, leaving only eight affirmative votes and thus making America’s lone negative vote not technically a “veto”.

Even though everyone knows that the Security Council would approve Palestinian membership unanimously if the United States announced its support, the explanation and expectation behind this strategy is, apparently, that, in the absence of a “veto”, no one would notice America’s fingerprints all over this result, no one (notably in the Arab and Muslim worlds) would be outraged by America’s blocking of Palestine’s membership application and Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues would crawl back into the hamster cage from which they have so recently and dramatically escaped, duly chastened and docile, and resume running mindlessly on the Israeli-American exercise wheel.

This is not simply a breathtakingly naïve strategy but an extraordinarily dangerous one – and not only because the Ramallah leadership, having experienced enlightenment and a spine transplant, has also recovered its self-respect and human dignity and will not be crawling back into its cage.

An American veto would be neither a big deal nor a bad thing. It would unequivocally confirm the sad and humiliating reality, now almost universally recognised, that the United States of America is enslaved to Israel, paying tribute and taking orders. By doing so, an American veto would definitively disqualify the United States from playing any significant role in any genuine Middle East “peace process” which would replace the fraudulent one which the United States has been controlling and manipulating on Israel’s behalf for the past 20 years and, thereby, would finally give peace a chance.

Indeed, since state observer status would confer on the State of Palestine virtually all the same benefits as member state status (most importantly, right of access to the International Criminal Court, where it could sue Israelis for war crimes, including settlement building, and crimes against humanity), an American veto in the Security Council followed by an upgrade to state observer status by the General Assembly might actually be the most constructive possible result for Palestine – even better than full UN membership with American acquiescence but with the United States maintaining its monopoly stranglehold on any “peace process”.

One might then realistically hope that the new emerging international force, the “BRICS” countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – all current members of the Security Council which have recognised the State of Palestine and are on record as planning to vote for Palestinian membership), and the European Union could jointly mobilise the true international community behind a genuine and urgent effort to actually achieve peace with some measure of justice.

On the other hand, America’s unanimous European abstention strategy, if successful, would have catastrophic consequences. While the Arab and Muslim worlds have learned to expect the worst from the United States, they have, at least until now, maintained some hope that Europe is not their enemy. If Palestine’s membership application were to be defeated by a united Western front, the world would be confronted by a fundamental clash of the “West against the Rest”, resurrecting memories of the most arrogant and contemptuous periods of Western imperialism and colonialism and confirming the belief, already widespread in the Arab and Muslim worlds, that the Judeo-Christian world is at war with the Muslim world.

Of course, it is within the power of one man to prevent this ugly scenario from playing out. Are the prospects of a few more votes for himself and less campaign money for his eventual Republican opponent really more important to America’s multi-racial president than preventing a long-running clash of civilisations, cultures, races and religions and permitting – indeed, promoting – progress toward a more peaceful, just and harmonious world?

The world should find out in the coming weeks.

John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel.

 

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Specsavers? Ed needs a vision – express!

Ed Miliband’s conference speech has had a fair amount of criticism, but much has been about the man and not about the content. There’s no ducking the fact that he’s not the world’s greatest orator. His delivery is awkward, clumsy even, and he doesn’t have the charisma of a natural leader. Much of the criticism he receives is perhaps born of disappointment that he doesn’t meet our expectations? Yesterday, to have been distracted by the quality of his delivery would have been a mistake.

Behind talk about ‘values’ and inequality I detected an unexpressed vision of a more fraternal Britain. The callous individualism fostered by the Thatcher years has delivered a selfish, compassionless society that is deeply unhappy with itself.

Labour has an opportunity to find its soul again and reconnect with ‘the people’, not just its natural constituency, but everybody. But to do that he has to articulate a clear vision of a new, more ‘fraternal’ society. Yesterday, he made a good start.

 

Here are Peter Oborne’s comments on Ed Miliband’s speech:

 

In his speech to the Labour Conference, Ed Miliband is getting close to finding a language that speaks directly to the people of Britain. He is quite right to say that something hasn’t just gone wrong in the very bottom of society – it’s gone very wrong at the top as well.

There has been a culture of lawlessness among the very rich, among journalists and among parliamentarians just as much as on council estates, and Ed Miliband is being very bold in highlighting this. His speech is just as much a critique of the Blair-Brown years as it is of David Cameron, and what he is attempting to do is to articulate the anxiety of the squeezed people of middle Britain.

This is something which is consistent with Labour Party values, and speaks to the nation too. One of the essential tasks that any political leader faces is to find a voice, and while there are questions yet to be answered, Ed Miliband made a major step forward today.

 

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The world is ruled by Goldman Sachs – one of Ed’s ‘vested interests’

A lot of Ed Miliband’s speech today was about values. I doubt if the joker in this video has any values. He’s right about one thing though, Goldman Sachs rules the world, and something needs to be done about that – and fast. Bond traders like this poor misguided soul are trying their best to sink the Euro. They call it ‘The Big Short’ . If he gets his wish and it all comes to pass, I wonder how (or if) he’ll be able to spend his money?

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Luvs, Labour’s lost…or is it?

Party conferences, oh dear! They’re meant to be a showcase for new policies and a rallying point for the party faithful, but for us mere mortals observing the political peacocks strutting their stuff, mixing their metaphors and waxing lyrical with wise words, it’s a pretty depressing spectacle.

Depressing because collectively our politicians are a very unimpressive bunch. A second XI trying hard to be something they’re not and not convincing anybody – except for themselves. It’s a time when the mediocre get a chance to bask in the spotlight and publicly preen and polish their egos. Risible it might be, except these mini-talents are the people we elected to represent our best interests – all very depressing.

And behind these unimpressive souls are the party activists. Their egos dull and their opportunities unclear, but their purpose resolute and their loyalty sound. This week at the Labour party conference there have been some great speeches from some young party apparatchiks. They give the impression that all is not lost. They have high ideals and want to make a difference, to make change happen. It’s both refreshing, but it’s sad too because few of their ideals or their enthusiasms will survive the grinding tedium of local party politics. Those that stay the course, the dull, feverishly ambitious party clones with a keen eye on self-enrichment and a thirst for celebrity, the ones ‘at conference’ and who represent us, make us wish for something better. Unfortunately, it’s the system that chooses the players.

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The fool who lives on the hill – Barak Obama

“The US government is fed up with Israel’s leadership. It’s a hostage to its ineptitude, the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season able to force the administration to defend Israel at the UN, even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s”. This statement came from Thomas Freedman, a highly influential and consistently pro-Israel foreign policy columnist, writing in the New York Times.

Rarely does the Israeli lobby get criticised by one of its own supporters. Times are changing. Pity nobody told Barak Obama. His speech to the UN before the Palestinian application for statehood last week was so pro-Israel and anti Palestine that it was embarrassing. It was a disgrace, an insult to Palestinians. What it dis was to  illustrate the power of the Israeli lobby, and how feckless Obama is when it comes to standing up to Netanyahu. He seems untroubled by his cockiness, his overt rudeness and the fact that he and his fanatical cohorts have made the US, and its president, look weak and foolish.

It’s sad that Obama, and practically every politician on the hill, will do anything to get the Jewish vote – and Jewish money. Perhaps it’s time they gave their moral compass a good shake and stood up to the Israeli lobby and refused to accept their campaign donations. And wouldn’t it be nice if the many thousands of Jewish Americans who do not support the Israeli lobby and the actions of its bullying followers, started to make themselves heard a bit more?

M J Rosenberg’s article below may indicate that the worm has started to turn. Let’s hope so.

Even Israel’s most ardent supporters now say its lobby skews the political landscape and damages both the US and Israel

The most appalling aspect of the Obama administration’s inept handling of the upcoming UN vote on Palestinian statehood is the reason for the administration’s bumbling. Its moves are dictated by fear of offending Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, his lobby and, especially, the campaign donors who take direction from that lobby.

One can respond: So what else is new? But that is only if you get your information from some place other than the electronic or print mainstream media. There, due to a decades-long campaign of intimidation, the lobby’s actions are rarely reported.

That is because the organisations that compose the lobby – including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League – have demonstrated that even mentioning the lobby’s excessive power will lead to being smeared with the label of “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic”.

No matter that the lobby’s most powerful component, AIPAC, brags about its power over Washington policymakers in speeches, literature and at its annual conclave, which is attended by most of Congress and often the president and the secretary of state. No matter that AIPAC’s eight-story headquarters overlooking the Capitol testifies to its wealth. No matter that members of Congress themselves – occasionally publicly and often privately – discuss the bluntness of AIPAC’s threats. No, those who dare cite its huge influence are accused of indulging in myth, much like the authors of the fantastical forgery, “The Protocols Of The Elders of Zion”.That may be changing after a bolt of illuminating lightning struck this week.

Incoherent policy

Writing in the New York Times, influential foreign policy columnist Thomas Friedman came right out and said that the lobby is the cause of America’s seemingly incoherent policy toward Israel and Palestine and for the embarrassing and dangerous sucking up to Netanyahu.

The US government, he explains, is “fed up with Israel’s leadership but a hostage to its ineptitude, because the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the UN, even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s”.

In other words, policymakers are torn between doing what is in our national interest (and consistent with our democratic values) and pleasing a powerful lobby that threatens to withhold funding from any politician that deviates from the line.

There is nothing particularly new in what Friedman says about the lobby, other than that it comes from a consistent friend of Israel – who says that his motivation in writing the column was that he has “never been more worried about Israel’s future”.

Although the lobby would like to smear Friedman, it can’t lay a glove on him. What are they going to do? Call him an anti-Semite? Try to get him fired? For what? Because he cares about Israel too much to let a right-wing politician sacrifice its future?

Nonetheless, it is unlikely that Friedman’s column will impress President Obama as much as it will infuriate Binyamin Netanyahu. This administration made its decision back when it repeatedly retreated on the matter of Israeli settlements. It will support Netanyahu no matter the cost to Israel, the Palestinians, or to the standing of the United States.

Netanyahu’s grand plan

And Netanyahu knows it. In fact, Friedman writes that, contrary to the common view that Bibi is just a bumbler, he actually has a strategy – not just for Palestine but for all the areas in which he has made such a colossal mess. And it is predicated on the power of the lobby:

“OK, Mr Netanyahu has a strategy: Do nothing vis-à-vis the Palestinians or Turkey that will require him to go against his base, compromise his ideology or antagonise his key coalition partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an extreme right-winger. Then, call on the US to stop Iran’s nuclear programme and help Israel out of every pickle, but make sure that President Obama can’t ask for anything in return – like halting Israeli settlements – by mobilising Republicans in Congress to box in Obama and by encouraging Jewish leaders to suggest that Obama is hostile to Israel and is losing the Jewish vote. And meanwhile, get the Israel lobby to hammer anyone in the administration or Congress who says aloud that maybe Bibi has made some mistakes, not just Barack. There, who says Mr Netanyahu doesn’t have a strategy?

I don’t know what this all means in terms of this week’s vote at the UN except for this: The US position, whatever it turns out to be, will be dictated by people whose sole goal is to defend Netanyahu and the status quo. I expect the president to do exactly what Netanyahu wants him to do. And, given Netanyahu’s choices of late, the outcome will be disastrous.

I feel terrible about all this. And I’m not alone. Many people who care about Israel understand that it can only survive if it ends the occupation and supports the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. In fact, the people I know who are most happy about the course Netanyahu and Obama will likely adopt at the UN are either robotic supporters of the lobby (“if Netanyahu says it, it must be right”) and those who would like to see Israel replaced by one state, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, dominated by the Palestinian majority.

Two things are terribly wrong here. Most significantly, our foreign policy in the US is being dominated by a lobby that takes its orders from an inept leader of a country that is the largest recipient of US aid – but that never does anything to make life easier for the United States. The other is that the lobby in question calls itself “pro-Israel” – but repeatedly and consistently promotes policies that endanger the very survival of Israel. For the lobby, it’s all a DC power game. Too bad that so many lives are at stake. Not to mention a 1,900-year-old dream.

M J Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.

 

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Media mogul mugs media mogul. Go! Ted Turner tells Rupie

Ted Turner is 72 – he actually looks 82 – but still feels the need grab the opportunity to plunge the knife into the back of his old adversary. He reckons 80 is far too old to be running a major corporation. He says that it’s time Murdoch stood down. According to smooth old Ted, Rupie’s well and truly past it – and to cap it all,  his feral minions are  waving two fingers to the law. He may well be right. And Ted? He’s purer than the driven snow…or perhaps he’s just smarter than the average bear and managed to cover his tracks.

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The two state solution is dead – the funeral is today

FEATURED ARTICLE  by BEN WHITE

Voting on full membership for the PLO in the UN marks the end of the Oslo accords

This week should be the end of the so-called peace process – and the ‘two state solution’. Whatever happens at the United Nations, the game is finished, and a transition to something else altogether is already underway.

This month marks 18 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords, and the declaration from the Palestinian side that they recognised Israel’s right to exist. In return, Israel recognised – the legitimacy of the PLO to represent the Palestinians. That was the exchange, and this asymmetry has shaped the ‘peace process’ ever since.

Another anniversary – this year is 20 years since the Madrid Conference that gave birth to Oslo. Two decades of negotiations and ‘temporary autonomy’; two decades of Israeli colonisation, Wall-building, and fact-making. But to best understand why this is, as Ali Abunimah put it, the funeral of the two state solution, recall a short phrase used by Israeli PM Netanyahu last week that echoed the words of former-PM Yitzhak Rabin.

Discussing the Palestinians’ UN initiative, Netanyahu said: “as long as it is less than a state, I’m ready to talk about it”. Here is Israel’s approach to decades of negotiations and ‘compromises’ in a nutshell.

Going back to 1995, and just a month before he was assassinated, the then-Israeli PM Rabin told the Knesset that “we would like this to be an entity which is less than a state”. Rabin, canonised by the high priests of ‘coexistence’, then went on to outline his understanding of a “permanent solution”: Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the “establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria”.

Then, like the surprise converts to the cause (Sharon, Olmert, etc.) that would come after him, Rabin’s talk of a Palestinian “state” was shaped by one, main motivation:  the desire to preserve “a Jewish state” and avoid “a bi-national state”.

Thus while for many in the West it was assumed that the peace process was about geography, in fact for Israel it has always been about demography. Maximum land, minimum Arabs – and through their willing partners in the Palestinian Authority, “maximum power, minimum accountability”.

Recently, a discussion was held in London on Palestinian statehood featuring several prominent Israeli commentators and diplomats. The overwhelming consensus was that ‘demography’ made a two state solution imperative in order to save Israel as a Jewish state. As Fox News regular Alon Pinkas pithily put it: “Our homeland has a lot of Arabs, tough luck”.

David Landau, former-Ha’aretz journalist and now with The Economist, was the most angst-ridden of them all. We should be rejoicing, he said, that the Palestinians under Mahmoud Abbas still want a two state solution and are not asking for ‘one man, one vote’.

To a certain extent, he’s right; it is not the current Palestinian leadership that will reframe the struggle. But that time is coming. While Palestinians and their supporters increasingly and intelligently place ‘rights’ at the centre of their campaigning, soon the recognition that Jews and Palestinians must share one country as equals will mean that the only ones left talking about a Palestinian state will be those trying to preserve a regime of Jewish ethno-religious exclusivity.

Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer, specialising in Palestine and Israel. His first book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, was published by Pluto Press in 2009, receiving praise from the likes of Desmond Tutu, Nur Masalha and Ghada Karmi.

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Palestinians need to be listened to in a different court

Forty four years of negotiations have got the Palestinians nowhere. They live under occupation, their daily lives made deliberately difficult by a bullying occupier. In reality they are being taken for a ride by a determined, ruthless right-wing Israeli government that has, up until now, no intention of entertaining any more negotiations. But the Arab awakening and the Palestinian’s determination to apply for statehood at the UN has changed the dynamic.

What the Palestinians are asking for is for their case to be heard in a different court. That is what the UN application will deliver. It won’t bring about any instant change because the US will veto their application in the Security Council, but the UN General Assembly will be able to demonstrate their support for a Palestinian state. What should follow is new negotiations leading to approval of a Palestinian state by the whole UN Security Council.

Any new negotiations need to be concluded within a very short time frame. There can be no more obfuscation and prevarication by the Israelis. Enough is enough. At the end of the process the Palestinians should re apply for full membership status and the US need to agree not to veto that application – whatever the outcome of the negotiations – in fact they need to make it clear that this is what they would do. It might be the only way to get them out of their current predicament.

 

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The ‘ungrateful ally’ that made the Island Empire a laughing-stock

It was Bob Gates, the former US Defence Secretary who called Israel an ungrateful ally. (If this is what he said in public, his private comments must have been interesting.) Ever since Netanyahu very publicly raised two fingers to his paymasters when he refused to halt the building of more settlements in the Occupied Territories and effectively brought peace negotiations to a halt, relations between the White House and Netanyahu’s right wing government have been well below freezing.

The Palestinian’s reaction to Netanyahu’s deliberate scuppering of the peace process has been to apply to the UN to be recognised as an independent state – which it will do tomorrow. But how things have changed since bully boy Netanyahu threw a spanner in the works. The Arab Spring has left Israel isolated and friendless. The US is in the same boat. It backed all the wrong horses: its Middle East policy is now in tatters and its moral compass is spinning like a top. It’s continuing blind, unquestioning support for Israel and its intention to veto the Palestinian bid in the Security Council has given it pariah status in the Middle East – and beyond.

The ramifications of the US vetoing the Palestinian bid are huge. President Obama realises this, which is why he’s been desperately trying to get the Palestinians to back down. He’s turning the screw on Netanyahu too. Bully boy has even offered to start talking again. But it’s probably too late. The die is cast.

And the root cause of America’s problems? The Israeli lobby. It has been so successful that most Americans consider that to be anti-Israeli is to be anti-American. Congress now bends to the will of the Israeli government. How? Because AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) members donate vast amounts of money towards the election campaigns of every member of Congress. Congressmen and women are actually scored by AIPAC on how well they support Israel. Get a low score and election donations dry up. And it doesn’t end there. It is positively dangerous to say anything against Israel in the US. If you do you’re accused of being anti-semitic and life can get very tough. And the media? It’s been bought, literally.

The Island Empire, the land of the not so free and the place where free speech comes at a price.

That a foreign country and the will of a fanatical minority has the ability to hold the US to ransom is unbelievable, but it’s reality. The US is going to pay a heavy price for allowing this to happen. If only Obama was prepared to sacrifice his second term and instruct the US ambassador at the UN to vote ‘yes’ tomorrow. The world would be eternally grateful. Dream on.

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