Category Archives: Analysis

Blood on the Streets of Bahrain

By Rannie Amiri – CounterPunch

Bahrain has one of the most advanced medical systems in the Middle East, the best ICT sector in the region and the fastest growing economy in the Arab world.

But despite all these accomplishments, the country seems to be missing just one little thing: a doctor who can identify signs of torture.

– Benjamin Joffe-Walt writing for Change.org, 12 November 2010

February 14th was Bahrain’s turn for its “day of rage” against the striking social, political and economic inequities found in the tiny island kingdom. For those familiar with its modern history, however, they know there was no need to dub it such; Bahrainis have long raged against policies of exclusion, marginalization and sectarianism embodied in al-Khalifa family rule.

To fully appreciate Bahrain’s inherent volatility, it is important to understand both its demographics and political structure. These have been detailed in past essays which new readers can review. Briefly, of 1.2 million people in the Persian Gulf nation, only about 530,000 are Bahraini nationals. Of these, at least 70 percent are Shia Muslims. The king, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and the al-Khalifa dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for two centuries, are Sunni Muslims.

If meaningful, representative, democratic institutions were present in the country, the sectarian incongruity would be a mere footnote. Unfortunately, that is far from the case. The civil, political and human rights of Shia citizens have been trampled on for decades by the monarchy. This wholly belies the claim that Bahrain is a beacon of democracy and reform among Persian Gulf nations (a notion likewise promulgated by its stalwart ally, the United States).

The notorious citizenship laws—giving non-Bahraini Sunnis expedited citizenship and voting rights in a backdoor attempt to alter the state’s confessional makeup—is one of many examples of how the monarchy has long bred resentment and anger among the majority population.

The disenfranchised, poverty-stricken Shia hold no significant positions in government. Although they comprise 80 percent of the labor force, they are absent from the public sector. They are completely unrepresented in the security services: of the 1,000 employed in the National Security Apparatus, more than two-thirds are non-Bahraini (Jordanians, Egyptians, Pakistanis etc.) and overwhelmingly Sunni. Bahraini Shias constitute less than five percent of the NSA and occupy only low-level positions or act as paid informants.

The paramilitary Special Security Forces operates under the supervision of the NSA and numbers 20,000—90 percent of whom are non-Bahraini. The SSF does not include a single Bahraini Shia officer.

These security forces, housed in Manama’s upscale neighborhoods of course, are routinely unleashed on Bahraini Shia protesting their lot—imported henchmen serving to oppress the king’s subjects.

Last summer, the government rounded up dozens of human rights workers, religious leaders and opposition figures who demanded an end to the regime’s habitual use of torture. Twenty-five were charged with “contacting foreign organizations and providing them with false and misleading information about the kingdom.” Half were charged with attempting to stage a coup. . In total, 450 have been arrested, including the well-known pro-democracy blogger Ali Abdulemam.

Claiming they were tortured by security forces before being put on trial, the government’s expert medical examiner concluded the bruises, wounds, cuts and burns found on detainees’ bodied were not the result of torture.

Indeed, its specter looms over all those who oppose al-Khalifa rule.

In February 2010, Human Rights Watch released a landmark report titled “Torture Redux: The Revival of Physical Coercion during Interrogations in Bahrain.” It chronicles the routine use of torture and degrading treatment for the purpose of extracting confessions from political opponents. The organization’s 2011 World Report reaffirms the practice continues. Even more disturbing, Bahraini children have not been spared physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the secret police.

But choosing Feb. 14 as Bahrain’s day of rage was not done randomly. It marked the tenth anniversary of the referendum on the National Action Charter, which Sheikh Hamad promised would transform the Kingdom into a constitutional monarchy, and the ninth anniversary of the 2002 constitution purportedly enacting it.

It was all for show. Despite Bahrain’s elected parliament, real power lies with the upper house Shura Council. The Shura Council has the authority to approve or rescind any legislation passed by the lower house Council of Representatives. Shura members, unsurprisingly, are directly appointed by the king.

Monday’s protestors, who acted peacefully by all accounts, were met by riot police using live ammunition. Scores were injured. The uprising’s first martyr, 27-year-old Ali Abdul Hadi Mushaima, was killed by a gunshot wound to the back. At his funeral procession Tuesday, security forces fatally shot Fadel Salman al-Matrouk, 31, a mourner who had gathered with others in front of the hospital where Mushaima died.

Sensing the potential for unrest, the king granted each Bahraini family $2,650 in cash before protests even began. After Mushaima and al-Matrook’s deaths, he went on television to express his regret and promise an investigation into their deaths. As in Egypt, the regime’s actions woefully lagged behind events on the ground.

Thousands of Bahrainis occupied Manama’s Pearl Roundabout Tuesday and Wednesday, with the youth at the helm. They chanted, “No Shiites, no Sunnis, only Bahrainis.”  Tents were set up and preparations were made for a long peaceful encampment.

Early Thursday morning, while protestors slept, the situation took an ugly, violent turn. Riot police stormed through the camp, killing four and injuring 100. Sixty people are reported missing (numbers at the time of this writing, all likely to increase). Tanks were out in full force as hundreds flooded into hospitals. Manama is now in lock-down.

Statements of those present come from an AP report:

“They were beating me so hard I could no longer see. There was so much blood running from my head … I was yelling, ‘I’m a doctor. I’m a doctor.’ But they didn’t stop.”

“We yelled, ‘We are peaceful! Peaceful!’ The women and children were attacked just like the rest of us … They moved in as soon as the media left us. They knew what they’re doing.”

“Then all of a sudden the square was filled with tear gas clouds. Our women were screaming. … What kind of ruler does this to his people? There were women and children with us!”

Bahrainis’ demands are clear: the resignation of Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa—who has governed since 1971—to be replaced by an elected premier, the release of all political prisoners, a new constitution, an end to the systematic discrimination against Shias and all forms of sectarianism, repeal of the citizenship laws, fairness in distribution of jobs and housing, freedom of the press and religion, and an end to torture.

The al-Khalifa monarchy and its imported mercenaries are at a crossroads. The protestors’ demands are reasonable and legitimate. The king would be wise to accede to them before overthrow of the entire regime becomes their only acceptable alternative. After Thursday’s violent crackdown against unarmed civilians, there may now be no other option.

Advertisements

The Egyptian Revolution and Democracy

By Brian NapoletanoPalestine Chronicle

Washington’s response to the Egyptian revolution suggests that US officials have no desire to see democracy

Imperial conquests have always had their ideological justifications. Even in earlier ages, exterminating a people, exploiting their resources, stealing their lands, and enslaving their children were generally non-starters when it came to firing up the local populace for another military campaign. Accordingly, the Romans “civilized” the barbarians, the Spanish conquistadores “brought the gospel” to the “New World,” and the English were “shining the light of civilization” on the Indian subcontinent. Although most history books tend to minimize the genocide and slavery that accompanied Europe’s string of conquests (including North America), few have any illusions about the true objectives of Rome, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, and other countries’ imperial adventures. Similarly, when future students of history read about the mission undertaken by the US government to “spread democracy” at the dawn of the twenty-first century, they too will most likely understand its true motives far better than most of the intellectuals and analysts who frequently appear in the news media today.

The recent democratic revolution in Egypt provides a number of insights into the gap between the US government’s ostensible and actual commitments to democracy in Northern Africa and Western Asia. According to most accounts in the popular media, Washington’s enthusiasm for the revolution was tempered by its desire for “stability” in the region. Specifically, US officials, according to this framing of the revolution, wanted to support the democratic revolution, but had to consider what sort of message such support would send to their other allies in the region. Underlying this explanation is the fact that the US is allied to a number of regimes that are not democratic, and may soon be facing popular uprising similar to the one that took place in Egypt.

An alternative interpretation of Washington’s response to the Egyptian revolution, however, suggests that US officials have no desire to see democracy establish itself in the North Africa or West Asia, their public pronouncements—repeated endlessly by the major news media—notwithstanding. While this interpretation is not likely to appear in the New York Times or the Washington Post, it is far more consistent with the available evidence and the historical record than is the one based on a stability-democracy trade-off. The essence of this alternative is that what US officials call democracy, and therefore would like to see established in Egypt and the rest of the region, bears only a superficial resemblance to democracy proper, or the form of democracy that was embodied in the Egyptian revolution.

Insofar as democracy is defined in its literal sense, it entails public participation in the important decisions that affect everyone’s lives, a government that is responsive to the will of the majority while simultaneously respecting the rights of the minority to try to gain majority support through unrestricted speech, dissent, and equal access to the press, a respect for individual dignity, and a commitment to creating the conditions that will allow each member of society to develop her potential to his own satisfaction. Insofar as this form of democracy can be considered a means instead of an end, it is a means by which each individual expresses her individual sovereignty, and it is a process through which society learns to govern itself. Its basic principles are, for the most part, consistent with those contained (in various forms) in the US Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and corresponding treaties on social, economic, civil, and political rights, and in most textbooks on government and society.

US and other policymakers, however, consider such a definition of democracy naïve at best, and in most cases consider it dangerously misguided. They adhere to an alternative definition of democracy  as a means by which a prescribed set of policies is legitimized with a public mandate. In this form of democracy, most of the policies and programs that actually affect the public are moved out of the democratic realm and into the economic market, where authoritarian institutions dominate the decision-making process with little to no democratic accountability. Instead, the production of goods and services is determined by a layer of technocrats whose primary objective is to maximize the bottom line, while a layer of bureaucrats ensures that the transfer of public resources from state institutions to the private sector is not disrupted by a change in political leadership.

One of the defining features of this ersatz version of democracy is how little influence the public actually has on the most important decisions that affect everyone’s lives. From issues that affect the rights of minorities… to widespread social issues, such as the provision of health care and the allocation of public resources, the public is virtually excluded from the decision-making process. On the other hand, periodic elections are typically a key component of this formal democracy, and popular governments to which the US is opposed (e.g. Hamas and the Patido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) are frequently accused of subverting, fixing, or not even holding elections. As the recent presidential election in the United States illustrated, however, the outcomes of elections in the formal version of democracy have very little bearing on the economic and social policies and programs adopted by the state.

Politicians frequently conflate the “popular” and the “formal” definitions of democracy, and the popular media rarely, if ever, challenge this equivocation. As a result, commentators must then invent elaborate explanations to account for the disparity between Washington’s professed democratic values and the seemingly anti-democratic policies it implements. The Egyptian revolution, however, offers an example of a popular democratic movement that defies Washington’s moribund political model and the reforms it offers as palliatives.

By most accounts, the popular uprising in Egypt formed in response to the Mubarak regime’s failure to meet the criteria of popular democracy. The overwhelming majority of the country was unified behind a simple desideratum: Mubarak’s immediate resignation. The Obama administration initially sided with Mubarak. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who considers Mubarak a family friend, was among the first US officials to comment on the situation, and emphasized that Mubarak’s regime was an important US ally that had consistently helped the US maintain “stability” in the region.

In the 28 January speech that he coordinated with Mubarak, Obama condescendingly reminded the protesters that they had “a responsibility to express themselves peacefully,” regardless of the violence inflicted on them by the country’s US-trained and equipped security and military forces. Although Obama offered nothing more than vacuous statements about Egypt’s future, promised no specific reforms, and evinced no commitment to backing the protesters’ demands, Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung claimed at the end of January that the Obama administration had “firmly aligned itself … with the protest movement that has overtaken Egypt” by “calling for an ‘orderly transition’ to a more representative government.” the administration merely called on Mubarak to implement cosmetic reforms, while protesters were demanding his immediate resignation.

As late into the revolution as 7 February, the LA Times was reporting that the administration had “dampened” its “sense of urgency” regarding a transition from Mubarak’s regime, and instead “aligned itself with power-brokers such as new Vice President Omar Suleiman, who are urging a more stable, if much slower, move to real [i.e. formal] democracy.” The Times described this policy as consistent with  the Obama administration’s “goal of maintaining stability in the Middle East,” even at the expense of democracy. Meanwhile, Obama’s “crisis envoy” to Egypt, Frank Wisner—a longtime advocate for and personal friend of Mubarak—openly called for Mubarak to retain power in Egypt, a statement to which the Obama administration responded by claiming that Wisner was only speaking in his “private capacity.”

Once the protesters finally forced Mubarak out of office the White House performed a volte-face. In his carefully worded response to Mubarak’s resignation, Obama congratulated the Egyptian people on toppling the regime, and announced that the US government stands “ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary, and asked for, to pursue a credible transition to a democracy.”

Obama did not, however, apologize to the Egyptian people for the military and political support, including some of the weapons and training used against the protesters themselves, that the US government had been giving to Mubarak for several years.

Self-identified “realists” and other key elements of the US foreign policy establishment have largely praised the Obama administration’s “balanced” response to the Egyptian revolution. Most of the media have portrayed the US government as having refrained from direct involvement in or obstruction of the revolution, and have praised Obama for maintaining a delicate balance between the need for “regional stability,” which consists largely of regimes willing to tolerate—and frequently facilitate—Israeli apartheid and US “counter-terrorism” operations, on the one hand, and the desire to promote the spread of democracy on the other. This prompted the Obama administration to adopt, according to the narrative, a non-interventionist approach to the protest, which was the best the US could do under the circumstances.

While this narrative has won praise for Obama among both hawks and doves, it neglects two important factors: that funding for the training and equipment used by the same police, security, and military forces that were arresting, “disappearing,” and torturing protesters was provided by US taxpayers, and that the US and other governments’ habit of backing dictators—which has been almost universally condemned by the public and by international human rights organizations—has been identified as the key source of much of the anger directed at the US for more than 50 years, yet the habit continues.

Despite the acknowledged absence of any democratic credibility, the Egyptian government was the largest single recipient of US military and other aid after that other paragon of democracy in the region, Israel. Moreover, most of this aid had little to do with encouraging democracy or protecting the Egyptian people from Mubarak’s human rights abuses—Obama had actually cut funds for democracy-promotion initiatives from $50 million to $20 million in 2008, and cut aid to Egyptian civil society from $32 million to $7 million. Even without these cuts, these investments in democracy promotion programs (which are themselves frequently co-opted by the CIA to serve as propaganda platforms) and civil society comprised an insignificant proportion of the roughly $1.5-2 billion that the Egyptian government received from the US annually, principally in the form of military aid.

Egypt’s security forces have a long tradition of collaboration with US intelligence and police agencies, and Egypt was the US government’s initial partner in the illegal “extraordinary rendition” program that started under the Clinton administration. Moreover, recent embassy cables released by WikiLeaks confirm that the FBI has been supplying training and intelligence, including visits to the FBI’s training center in Quantico, Virginia, to Egypt’s repressive SSIS. The tear gas canisters and concussion grenades that police used against the protesters provided further evidence of US support, as many of them still bore their US manufacturing identifications.

While Obama praised the Egyptian military on behalf of the soldiers who refused to open fire on civilians, he failed to mention the officers who had issued such orders. He also failed to mention reports carried by the Guardian that Human Rights Watch has documented 119 arrests of pro-democracy activists, that the organization believes that many more have been “disappeared,” and that HRW’s Daniel Williams has expressed concerns that Mubarak’s resignation could be eclipsed by the US-trained military’s recent foray into torture and political repression.

The torture sessions that accompanied the “interrogation” of protesters arrested by the military, which receives approximately $1.5 billion in US aid annually, led many to conclude that the primary objective was intimidation rather than the identification of foreign instigators, particularly as pro-government protesters who were arrested by the military were handed over to the police and then released. The numerous accounts of torture and abuse by the Egyptian military that have begun to emerge contrast sharply with Obama and the media’s portrayal of soldiers as impartial observers to the unrest and as buffers between Mubarak’s hired thugs and the protesters.

While a number of media reports acknowledged US aid to the Mubarak regime, most of them portrayed Washington as having been placed in a “difficult situation” by the uprising, and continued to describe US backing for dictators like Mubarak as a “necessary evil” in light of the need to maintain “stability” in the region. Very few, however, offered further details on what is embodied in a stability important enough to merit military and political aid to a regime that routinely violates basic human rights, beyond explaining that such stability involves a level of repression severe enough to keep the population intimidated, but not so severe that it triggers a revolution.

One of the more convincing explanations of why such stability is so important to US policymakers was offered by the political scientist Vijay Prashad in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!. According to Prashad, the stability that Mubarak imposed on Egypt was valuable to the US for three reasons (which he described as two pillars, one of which I have separated into two parts): Mubarak’s willingness to participate in the CIA’s illegal extraordinary rendition program and other “counter-terrorism” operations allowed the US to pursue its geopolitical objective of projecting hegemony over the region, his role as Washington’s apologist in a region that is both rich in natural resources and where US foreign policy has created widespread resentment among the public reduced the risk of political backlash to US economic and trade policies in the region, and his willingness to uphold the Egypt-Israel treaty of 1979 ensured that Israeli apartheid would not face a united challenge among the Arab nations. When journalists such as the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson refer to the “political vacuum” created by Mubarak’s resignation and the need to retain stability, they are primarily referring to Washington’s hopes that whoever replaces Mubarak will continue to maintain these three features of Israeli policy.

This “necessary evil” of backing brutal dictators because they uphold US interests and of blocking efforts to establish democracy has been a consistent feature of US foreign policy worldwide, and was already identified by the US National Security Council in 1958 as one of the primary reasons for the animosity towards the US that some in the Middle East evince. More than 50 years later, the popular uprising against Mubarak revealed a remarkable continuity in US policy. Unable to continue attributing this “pragmatic” doctrine to the “Soviet threat,” apologists now invoke the threat of “international terrorism” as the justification for Washington’s attachment to various dictators and repressive regimes. In the Middle East alone, the list of regimes that have received US backing, despite their hostility to human rights and basic democratic principles, includes Mohammad Rezâ Shâh Pahlavi in Iran, Saddam Hussein in Iraq (until he tried to assassinate the elder Bush), Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, Hussein bin Talal and Abdullah II bin al-Hussein in Jordan, Camille Nimr Chamoun in Lebanon, every Israeli regime from David Ben-Gurion to Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied Palestinian territories, and countless others.

Just as analysts in 1958 cautioned that Washington’s intimate relationships with brutal dictators was more likely to foster the growth of Stalinism than to deter it, contemporary analysts such as Michael Scheuer—a former CIA analyst and one of the architects of the extraordinary rendition program—have repeatedly warned that continued support for repressive regimes in the Middle East is more likely to trigger even more violent terrorist attacks than it is to deter them. This suggests that something other than the security of the US public is motivating Washington’s policies.

An erroneous conclusion frequently drawn regarding the reasons for US policies in North Africa and West Asia is that the Zionist lobby is responsible for the invidious policies endorsed by Washington. While Israel’s unmatched influence on US policy could explain some of the disregard for the rights of Palestinians, it fails to explain the consistency with which the US has backed dictatorships in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, and ignores the fact that Washington has demonstrated that it will readily cut off Israel’s political and military support should Israeli actions be deemed inimical to Washington’s overriding political and economic interests.

A more accurate characterization of Washington’s attitude is that maintaining Israel as an extension of US hegemony and the most powerful military force in the region is consistent with US geopolitical objectives. Washington’s insouciant disregard for the interests of the majority of the Arab population is consistent with its attitude toward other regions of strategic interest, such as South and Central America and Southeast Asia. US policymakers tolerate Israeli apartheid because the strategic advantages of retaining Israel as a subaltern state outweigh the deleterious effects that such backing has on US prestige. As examples such as Cuba, Venezuela, Vietnam, Russia, and others have demonstrated, the US government can easily turn a population against itself even when Israel’s not involved.

Moreover, providing military aid to Israel has proven to be exceptionally lucrative for US weapons contractors. Whatever influence the Zionist lobby might wield, it pales in comparison to the money and influence wielded by corporations such as General Electric, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. A number of other corporations, including Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard , and the Bobcat Company, also profit from the Israeli occupation by providing armored bulldozers to the Israeli Defense Forces, security systems, construction materials, and other resources to expand and entrench the illegal settlements.

In essence, the US government has repeatedly failed to push Israel into making peace with Palestinian people primarily because the Washington has no significant vested interest in doing so. While support for Israel’s apartheid government has done little to endear the US to much of the Arab population, Israel remains a loyal client state dependent on US military aid and political backing, and therefore a useful projection of US foreign policy in the region.

Discussions of US national security tend to be more frank than other political presentations, and offer more specific insights into what Washington means by “stability” in a given region. A consistent theme in US foreign policy and national security throughout the twentieth (and twenty-first) century has been has been cheap access to “raw materials” and “foreign markets.” Similarly, the US’ primary economic competitors, Europe and China, also require the same access for their firms to remain competitive. Hence, the economic competition between companies in these regions translates into a global geopolitical struggle for control over the world’s energy and agricultural resources. As a region abundant in the former and situated at a crossroads between Asia, Europe, and Africa, the Middle East has been a center of such struggle for decades. Accordingly, Washington is willing to tolerate Israeli apartheid and any other anti-democratic governments if doing so allows it to exert more control over the region’s energy resources than its principal competitors.

The media frequently confuse this issue by conflating the need to control the Middle East’s energy resources with the US’ economic dependence on inexpensive petroleum. However, the US does not need Middle Eastern oil for its own consumption—most (almost 60%) of the refined petroleum imported into the US from its 15 largest suppliers is actually provided by Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and other American countries, while only 22% comes from the Middle East (including Algeria). The need to control the flow of oil from the Middle East is more closely related to China and Europe’s dependence on the region’s oil supply, and the competitive economic relationship between the three regions, than to outright dependence on the supply by the US. While it is a bit of an oversimplification, the truth is stretched far less by suggesting that the US backs dictatorial regimes in the Middle East so that its companies can out-compete those of Europe and China than it is by suggesting that the US is actually concerned with promoting the spread of popular democracy in the region.

As the Obama administration’s response to the Egyptian revolution indicates, the US government does not support the growth or spread of popular democracy. While they do favor a system that maintains a veneer of democratic legitimacy through periodic elections, the absence of such legitimacy does not preclude a steady supply of US weapons and training. Essentially, democracy is acceptable insofar as it does not threaten the interests or power of the US’ dominant economic institutions. Consequently, Washington would much rather have seen Mubarak undertake superficial reforms to remain in power than an open revolution, and is already advising its other allies in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and elsewhere to undertake the former and stave off the latter.

The public is not always pacified by such reforms, however, and as living conditions continue to deteriorate for the poorest segments of society worldwide, challenges to US hegemony can be expected to occur more frequently. When such threats have arisen in the past, Washington has openly embraced dictatorships before conceding to the people of the Northern Africa, Western Asia, or any other region the right to determine their own destiny. In contrast to narratives that portray it as an impartial observer to Egypt’s revolution, the US government had been working for years to prevent the Egyptian government from becoming democratic. That the Egyptian people succeeded in spite of Washington’s efforts is a testimony to their strength and determination.

If democracy is to survive in Egypt, then it must also be allowed to thrive elsewhere. While the revolution has drawn attention to the gap between official rhetoric and US policies, it cannot be expected to significantly alter Washington’s attitude by itself. Instead, such change will require a concerted effort by the US public.

Accordingly, the ultimate outcome of the Egyptian revolution also depends on the willingness of the people of the US and its allies to follow their Egyptian counterparts’ example and demand popular democracy in their own countries. Only then can they hope to achieve more just and humane foreign policies that respect democracy, protect human rights and other basic standards, and subordinate economic considerations to the needs of the public.


Brian Napoletano is a member of the International Socialist Organization and the former Public Relations officer for Purdue University Students for Justice in Palestine.

The US as Israel’s Enabler in the Middle East

By Kathleen ChristisonCounterPunch

Egypt is important to the United States almost entirely because it signed a peace treaty with Israel

About ten days ago I had a particularly interesting discussion about Israel and its relationship to U.S. policy in the Middle East and to the events swirling there now, in Egypt and throughout the Arab world.  My interlocutor is one of the most astute commentators, particularly on U.S. policy, in the alternative media, but he made it clear that, to his mind, Israel does not play a role of any notable relevance to what the United States is doing in the region.

I would say that he has a bit of a blind spot about Israel — a not uncommon phenomenon among progressive thinkers.  But perhaps the current turmoil in the region will ultimately open his eyes and those of others who minimize Israel’s centrality to U.S. policy.  Recent events unfolding in Egypt and surrounding Wikileaks-released State Department cables and al-Jazeera-released Palestinian papers dealing with Palestinian-Israeli talks are demonstrating graphically, as no other series of events probably ever has, that the United States does what it does in the Middle East in great measure because of Israel — to protect and safeguard Israel from Arab neighbors who object to its treatment of its Palestinian subjects, from Muslims with similar grievances, from criticism of Israel’s military exploits against neighboring states, from the ire of other states still threatened by Israel, from governments in the region that challenge Israel’s nuclear monopoly or attempt to develop their own arsenals to defend against Israel.

It is instructive to remember that Egypt is important to the United States almost entirely because it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and helps guarantee Israel’s security, guarding its western border, helping its military assaults on other Arab countries, closing the tunnels into Gaza through which Hamas smuggles some weapons and the Gazan population obtains food and other essentials, undermining Hamas’s rule in Gaza.  The United States also regards Egypt as an important cog in the machine of its “war on terror” and its war on Islamic radicalism, a collaboration also closely linked to Israel’s security interests.

Egypt is obviously important in the region in its own right.  Its size and strategic location guarantee that it will always have considerable influence in Middle East politics, and it has long been the heart of Arab culture, even without U.S. help.  The last three weeks of the Egyptian people’s struggle for democracy have further enhanced its importance, capturing the imagination of people around the world (with the exception of many, perhaps the majority, in Israel and among the curmudgeonly right in the United States, including Israel’s U.S. supporters).

But the fundamental reality is that the United States would not have the close military, political, and economic relationship it has had with Egypt for the last thirty-plus years were it not for the fact that Egypt is friendly with Israel and the fact that, in the words of Middle East expert Rashid Khalidi, Egypt has always acquiesced “in Israel’s regional hegemony.”  The $1.5 billion annually in military aid, and the $28 billion in economic and development assistance across the last 35 years would not have been given had not Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar Sadat virtually begged for and then finally signed a peace treaty with Israel that removed Egypt, the largest Arab military force, as a threat to Israel, abandoning the Palestinians and the other Arab parties to their own devices.  With Egypt out of the picture and indeed often assisting, Israel has been free to launch military assaults on several of its neighbors, including Lebanon twice and Gaza and the West Bank repeatedly, and free to expand settlements, absorb Palestinian territory, and severely oppress Palestinians without fear of retaliation or even significant disagreement from any Arab army.

Israeli commentator Aluf Benn has pointed out furthermore that, with Mubarak in office, Israel could always feel safe about its western flank if it were to attack Iran, but now Israel will not dare attack when it can no longer rely on Egypt’s “tacit agreement to its actions.”  Whoever replaces Mubarak would, by this reasoning, be too concerned about popular rage if he were to collaborate with Israel.  “Without Mubarak, there is no Israeli attack on Iran.”

For Israel and therefore for the United States, the U.S. investment of billions in Egypt over the years has been well worth the cost.  The loss of the “stability” that Egypt provided — meaning Israel’s loss of certainty that it remained the secure regional dominant power — has been a huge game-changer for Israeli and U.S. strategic calculations.

Before the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the United States never considered that Egypt was quite the strategic asset that it became when it surrendered its military capability in the interests of Israel.  The same can be said about the United States’ relations with several other Arab states.  Its involvement in Lebanon over the years — including its effort to remove Syrian forces from Lebanon — has been almost entirely linked to Israel’s interests there.  The fallout from Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon still reverberates: in response to the invasion, the United States sent a contingent of Marines, which became involved in direct fighting with Lebanese factions, leading in turn to a devastating bombing of Marine headquarters that killed 241 U.S. personnel in 1983; Hizbullah, representing a besieged Shiite population in southern Lebanon, arose as a direct result of Israel’s invasion; the spate of kidnappings of U.S. personnel by Hizbullah throughout the 1980s grew out of hostility to the U.S. because of its support for Israel; Israel withdrew from a two-decade-long occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, leaving behind a strengthened Hizbullah; continued conflict along the border led to Israel’s brutal assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, which failed to defeat the Islamic organization or undermine its popularity; and as a result, the United States has for years pursued efforts to undermine Hizbullah and, essentially, to maintain Lebanon as an Israeli sinecure.

Jordan has been a minor U.S. ally for decades, but its conclusion of a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 enhanced its standing in U.S. eyes and gained the small state on Israel’s eastern border additional U.S. military and economic aid.  The State Department’s official profile of Jordan relates the U.S. rationale for its good relationship with Jordan more or less directly to Israel, although without ever mentioning Israel: “U.S. policy seeks to reinforce Jordan’s commitment to peace, stability, and moderation.  The peace process and Jordan’s opposition to terrorism parallel and indirectly assist wider U.S. interests.  Accordingly, through economic and military assistance and through close political cooperation, the United States has helped Jordan maintain its stability and prosperity.”  The allusions to “reinforcing” Jordan’s commitment to “peace, stability, and moderation” and to maintaining Jordan’s “stability and prosperity” are obvious references to helping keep the area, and particularly Israel’s border, quiet.  Just as clearly, “indirectly assist[ing] wider U.S. interests” refers to the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security interests.  “Moderation” in State Department jargon is a code word for a pro-Israeli stance; “stability” is code for a secure environment that benefits Israel primarily.

It is safe to say that neither Lebanon nor Jordan would be at all as important to the United States if it were not considered necessary to keep each of these bordering countries in a stable, quiescent state for Israel’s security.  The same situation does not apply in Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. has vital oil interests quite apart from Israel’s concerns.  But at the same time, it is the case that the U.S. has managed to tame any Saudi impulse to speak out on behalf of the Palestinians, or any other Arabs under Israeli siege, and align the Saudis at least implicitly on the Israeli side of most issues, whether this is the 2006 attack on Lebanon or the 2008-2009 assault on Gaza or the supposed threat from Iran.  The day when the Saudis were angry enough with United States over its support for Israel to impose an oil embargo, as occurred in 1973, is long over.

The recent Wikileaks releases of State Department cables and particularly al-Jazeera’s release of a raft of Palestinian documents dealing with negotiations over the last decade also demonstrate with striking clarity how hard the United States works, and has always worked, to help Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating process.  U.S. support for Israel has never been a secret, becoming less and less so in recent years, but the leaked documents provide the most dramatic picture yet of the United States’ total disdain for all Palestinian negotiating demands and its complete helplessness in the face of Israeli refusal to make concessions.  It is striking to note from these papers that the U.S. role as “Israel’s lawyer” — a description coined by Aaron David Miller after his involvement in negotiations during the Clinton era — is the same whether the administration is Bill Clinton’s or George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s.  Israel’s interests and demands always prevail.

Beyond the Arab world, U.S. policy on Iran is dictated more or less totally by Israel.  The pressure to attack Iran — either a U.S. attack or U.S. support for an Israeli attack — which has been brought to bear for most of the eight years since the start of the war on Iraq, has come entirely from Israel and its supporters in the United States.  This pressure is quite open and impossible to deny the way Israel’s pressure for the attack on Iraq has been.  If the United States ever does become involved in a military assault on Iran either directly or through backing up Israel, this will be because Israel wanted it; if there is no attack, this will most likely be, as Aluf Benn surmises, because Israel got cold feet in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution.

Israel, and the desire to ensure its regional hegemony, also played a substantial role in leading the United States into war in Iraq, although this view is a harder sell and a much more controversial  position among progressives and conservatives alike than is anything else about U.S.-Israel-Arab relationships.

My progressive interlocutor, for instance — who has strongly opposed the U.S. adventure in Iraq, equally strongly opposes any possibility of an attack on Iran, and was undoubtedly uncomfortable with U.S. vacillation about pressing for Mubarak’s departure — disagreed totally with my suggestion that Israel and its neocon supporters were a factor in getting the United States into the Iraq war.  Early in our discussion, he talked at length about the neocons, their erstwhile think tank, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and the overriding neocon-PNAC interest in advancing U.S. global hegemony, and he made the point that when George W. Bush came to power, an entire think tank was moved into the administration.  But, despite this recognition of neocon objectives and the success they enjoyed in advancing them, he would not agree that PNAC and the neocons were as much interested in advancing Israel’s regional hegemony as they were in furthering U.S. imperialism.

When, on the other hand, I observed that not only had Bush moved a think tank into the administration, he had also effectively moved the Israel lobby, or its then most active wing, into the highest rungs of his administration’s policymaking councils, my friend readily agreed: oh, of course, he asserted quite vigorously, they — meaning the neocons — “are all Likudniks.”  There is some kind of disconnect here, which he seemed not to notice: although, on the one hand, he acknowledged the neocons’ very close connection to Israel, he does not on the other hand agree that the neocons did anything in a policy sense for Israel.  As if they had checked their pro-Israel sympathies at the doors of the White House and the Pentagon when they officially became policymakers.  As if they had discarded their own long history of pro-Israel advocacy and the policy guidance that many of them had long been giving to Israeli leaders — guidance that included an actual advisory written for the Israeli government in 1996 to move against Iraq.

It has been clear to most analysts for years, even decades, that the United States favors Israel, but this reality has never been revealed so explicitly until recent events laid the relationship bare, and laid bare the fact that Israel is at the center of virtually every move the United States makes in the region.  There has long been a taboo on talking about these realities, a taboo that has tied the tongues of people like my interlocutor.  People do not mention Israel because they might be called anti-Semitic, they might be attacked as “singling out” Israel for criticism; the media fail to discuss Israel and what it does around the Middle East and, most directly, to the Palestinians who live under its rule because this might provoke angry letters to the editor and cancelled subscriptions by Israel supporters.  Congressmen will not endanger campaign funds by talking honestly about Israel.  And so Israel is taken off everyone’s radar screen.  Progressives may “mention Israel in passing,” as my friend told me, but they do no more.  Ultimately, because no one talks about it, everyone stops even thinking about Israel as the prime mover behind so many U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.

It is time we began noticing.  Everyone in the Middle East already notices, as the Egyptian revolution has just made clear.  And probably everyone throughout the world also notices.  We should begin listening to the world’s people, not to their leaders, who tell us what they think we want to hear.


Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and the author of several books on the Palestinian situation, including Palestine in Pieces, co-authored with her late husband Bill Christison.  She can be reached at kb.christison@earthlink.net.

Will the Afghan Surge Succeed?

By M. Shahid AlamDissident Voice

It is likely that the ‘surge’ is primarily a political move to try to pass off the retreat from Afghanistan as another ‘mission accomplished.’

More than eight years after dismantling the Taliban, the United States is still mired in Afghanistan. Indeed, last October it launched a much-hyped ‘surge’ to prevent a second Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, not imminent yet, but eminently possible.

The first dismantling of the Taliban was a cakewalk.

In 2001, the United States quickly and decisively defeated the Taliban, killed, captured or scattered their fighters, and handed over the running of Afghanistan to their rivals, mostly Uzbeks and Tajiks from the Northern Alliance.

Unaware of Pashtoon history, American commentators were pleased at the smashing victory of their military, convinced that they had consigned the Taliban to history’s graveyard.

Instead, the Taliban came back from the dead. Within months of their near-total destruction, they had regained morale, regrouped, organized, trained, and returned to fight what they saw as a foreign occupation of their country. Slowly, tenaciously they continued to build on their gains, and by 2008 they were dreaming of taking back the country they had lost in 2001.

Could this really happen? That only time will tell, but prospects for the Taliban today look better than at any time since November 2001.

In 2001, the United States had captured Afghanistan with the loss of only twelve of its own troops. Last year it lost 316 soldiers, and the British lost another 108. The numbers speak for themselves.

The United States had occupied Afghanistan with 9000 troops. When Obama took office in January 2009, these numbers had climbed to 30,000. In October, US troop strength in Afghanistan had more than doubled. This does not include tens of thousands of foreign contractors and some 200,000 Afghan troops armed and trained by the Americans.

Yet, NATO could not deter the Taliban advance.

That is when President Obama ordered a troop surge. US troop strength will soon reach 100,000. At the same time, the United States is inviting Taliban fighters to defect in return for bribes. In tandem, President Karzai – for the umpteenth time – is offering amnesty to defecting Taliban fighters. So far, there have been no high-ranking defections.

Can the United States defeat these men – returned from the dead – it calls terrorists? It is a vital question. It should be, since the United States claims that if the Taliban come back, Afghanistan will again become a haven for Al-Qaida, their training ground and launching pad for future attacks against Western targets.

How did the Taliban stage this comeback?

Simply, the answer is: by finding strength in their handicaps. If you had compared the defeated Taliban in December 2001 to the Mujahidin in 1980, you would conclude that history had closed its books on them irrevocably.

The Mujahidin brought several advantages to their fight. All Afghan ethnicities opposed the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. They had financial, military and political support from all the Western powers. President Reagan honored them as freedom-fighters. They also had support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. In addition, tens of thousands of foreign fighters would join the Afghan Mujahidin.

In comparison, Taliban prospects looked quite dismal after their rout in November 2001. Nearly all the factors that favored the Mujahidin worked against the Taliban. Taliban support was confined mostly to one Afghan ethnicity, the Pashtoons. In the United States and its European allies, they faced a more formidable opponent than the Mujahidin did in the Soviet Union.

There was not a single Muslim country that could support the return of the Taliban: the US forbade it. Worst of all, the Pakistani military, partly for lucre and partly under US pressure, threw its forces against the Taliban. Under the circumstances, few Muslim fighters from outside Pakistan have joined the Taliban.

Their goose was cooked: or so it seemed.

Nevertheless, the Taliban defied these odds, and now, some eight years later, they have taken positions in nearly every Afghan province, with shadow governments in most of them. Is it possible to reverse the gains that Taliban have made in the face of nearly impossible odds?

What can the US do to weaken the Taliban? They have few vulnerabilities because the United States has been so effective in denying them any help from external sources. They have built their gains almost exclusively on their own strengths: and these are harder to take away.

What then are some of these strengths? Unlike the Mujahidin, the Afghan resistance against the United States is less fractious. The Taliban make up the bulk of the resistance. Other groups – led by Haqqani and Hekmatyaar – are much smaller. The Afghan resistance has a central leadership that the Mujahidin never had.

Unlike the Mujahidin, the Taliban do not have the technology to knock out the helicopters, drones or jets that attack them from the air. On the ground, however, they have technology the Mujahidin did not have. They have acquired suicide vests and, more importantly, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) developed by the resistance in Iraq. Indeed, the Taliban claim to have improved upon the IEDs they acquired from Iraq.

Notwithstanding their apparent lack of sophistication, the Taliban leadership have proved to be savvy in their use of videos, CDs, FM radio stations, and the internet to publicize their gains, build morale, and mobilize recruits.

Despite the satellites, drones, spies on the ground, and prize money for their capture, much of the Taliban leadership has evaded capture. In particular, Mulla Omar remains a ghost. He has not been seen or interviewed since 2001. Yet he remains in touch with his commanders through human couriers.

Afghanistan’s corrupt government is another Taliban asset. They have spawned a tiny class of Afghan nouveau riche battened by drug money, government contracts and cronyism. President Karzai implicates the US occupation in the blatant corruption of his own government.

It appears that there is little that the United States can do to neutralize these elusive advantages. Instead, it tries to blame and shift the burden of the war on Pakistan. It continues to pressure and bribe Pakistan’s rulers to mount full-scale military operations against the Taliban support network in Pakistan.

More and more, Pakistan’s military leaders have been caving under these pressures, escalating their wars against their own population. This has provoked a backlash. A new faction of the Taliban has emerged to launch deadly attacks against military and civilian targets in Pakistan. These attacks are destabilizing Pakistan. In turn, the US uses these attacks to push Pakistani rulers into greater capitulation to its demands.

In addition, President Obama has dramatically escalated drone attacks against the Taliban support network in Pakistan. In tandem, Pakistan too has been launching more massive air and ground attacks against their hideouts. However, none of this has deterred the escalating Taliban attacks against NATO and Afghan forces.

No one suggests that the Taliban can match the credentials of America’s freedom fighters in the late eighteenth century. The latter were committed to the proposition that all men are created equal, barring a few rarely mentioned exceptions. The Taliban are zealots and misogynists, but only a tad more so than the Mujahidin whom the West embraced as freedom fighters.

The West celebrated the Mujahidin’s victory over the Soviets. The same people, fighting under a different name, have now pushed the United States into a costly stalemate. Will the US prolong this stalemate, and push Pakistan too over the brink? Or will it accept the fait accompli the Taliban have created for them, accept its losses, and save itself from greater embarrassment in the future?

Once or twice, the United States has retreated from unwinnable wars and survived. It is likely that the ‘surge’ is primarily a political move to try to pass off the retreat from Afghanistan as another ‘mission accomplished.’ Let’s hope that this stratagem works somehow, because the alternative is likely to be much worse for all parties involved in this unwinnable war.

The Navi and the Palestinians

By Bouthaina ShaabanCounterPunch

Through Avatar I lived the story of the Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan and Lebanese peoples and the wars waged against them

Despite the technological effects with which the director of Avatar crams his movie, the reason behind its popularity is not only these technological effects but the themes which touch every human conscience. This is in addition to the symbolism of the movie concerning the conflict between peoples and their invaders – from Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine. The source of all these conflicts is, as usual, the greed which is usually masked by other pretexts and justifications.

Through Avatar I lived the story of the Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan and Lebanese peoples and the wars waged against them; where the West treats these peoples as if they were the children of the “Navi” tribe with their blue clothes in their planet Pandora.

Settlers landed on planet Pandora driven by the greed for its wealth. Their calculations were focused on the material gains which they can only get through possessing the land and its natural resources. To be able to do that they had either to kill or expel the Navi who are tied to their land, nature, holy tree and their customs which show equal respect to human life and nature, in bleak contrast to the attitude of the invading settlers who mock sanctities and human respect for nature. They only see the things which give them large amounts of money.

This contrast between the values of two cultures is at the essence of the creation of Israel. For seventy years, it has killed the Palestinians on a daily basis, Judaized their holy places, settled their land, confiscated their water, uprooted their trees, mocked their beliefs, their commitment to their land and their way of life. Those who created this settlement armed it to the teeth with hatred, and provided it with weapons of mass destruction.

The movie needs only the Navi natives of planet Pandora to raise the Palestinian flag and the invaders to carry the Israeli flag to become a detailed reading of the Israeli settlement of Palestine with modern cinematic techniques, but also with symbolic nuance that illustrates the nature of this conflict.

I suggest that demonstrators against Israeli occupation wear the blue shirts of the Navi tribe in order to make it easier for westerners to understand their cause. Invaders always target the people’s beliefs and holy places; that is why Israel is committing another robbery by confiscating Islamic holy places in the Sanctuary of Abraham (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) in Hebron, Bilal Mosque, which like al-Aqsa Mosque, are branches of the holy tree for hundreds of millions of Muslims who defend them in as much as they defend their land.

The media machine divides people into two types: the first is definitely a native, strictly a Muslim Arab; and the second is the Israeli settler who cannot be touched by the charge of terrorism even if he committed the most heinous terrorist crime in full sight of the whole world. Otherwise, how can we explain that Muslims are accused of terrorism and assassinated on mere suspicion, while those who converged in Dubai from different capitals of the world, armed with cutting edge technology and equipped with European and Australian passports to carry out a terrorist operation are not accused of terrorism?

Avatar tells the story of the natives of planet Pandora and shows the injustice meted out by the greedy invaders against the Navi people. Who would dare produce a movie about Palestine which tells the story of Arabs’ struggle for justice and freedom on planet earth and for salvation from the oppression of Israeli settlers and their biblical pretexts.

Political Islamic and Jihadi Movements

By Chafiq JaredahConflicts Forum

As far as Islamic resistance movements are concerned, the objective framework is social activism, not power.

It is appropriate to adopt caution, and to beware making hasty analysis, when it comes to passing judgment on problematic issues, whose dimensions, meanings and significance are unclear: One such issue that falls into this zone requiring caution and patience is the discourse centred around what is known as Political Islam.

Hence, what do we mean by Political Islam? Is the term exclusively linked to the knowledge derived from Islam as a faith – as distinguished, in its reading and interpretation, from the Islam of worship and Da’wa (Islamic ‘Call’) and another component that is political, and which largely is based on the game of conflicting and common interests? Or, is it a historiography of the era that followed the fall of the Ottoman State, and the outbreak of conflicts in the region between the ruling authorities, and certain ideological and religious trends that led to the broader Islamic rising, represented by the emergence of Islamic movements?

Is Political Islam an expression of severance between the Islamic movements and the traditional religious institutions – be they the scientific universities, or the statutory councils affiliated with the ruling regimes in the region? What is clear is that each explanation and descriptive label has its own distinguishing characteristics; and consequently, carries in its wake, its own special conception that gives definition to its particularity. But in distinguishing between Islam as source of worship and its political orientation is mere superficiality, given that Islam is essentially based on a comprehensive system that incorporates both the personal, as well as the political affairs, of the individual human being and the community of which he is a part. The establishment community and political administration in the Mohammedan Prophetic Message were given a similar status to prayer when The Prophet said: “Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish worship… (Sura Hajj, verse 41).

This is a key concept grasped in the Islamic interpretations of the Holy Qur’an to the extent that the so-called traditional Islamists have dealt with the political dimensions as an Islamic whole, even though they differentiated, at the practical level, between the originality of the theoretical interest in politics in Islam; and on questions of political practice, such as: how should the Muslim deal with the ruler – be he just or unjust? Is the criteria the ruler’s competence at Tashreeh (law making); or the ruler’s quality of justice and his traits? What is the required system? Khilafat? Imamite? Emirate? Sultanate? Or other types?

This debate coincided with a discussion between ‘ends’, which may be described as Islamic, and the ‘means’ that lead to achieving that ‘end’, such as establishing the state, the party or the movement – which constitute temporal issues, rather than religious matters. This distinction, as such, however, does not mean that such temporal issues are unimportant, or do not constitute obligations, for what is meant by the ‘temporal’ here is that which is subject to changes and is adaptable – according to interests, realities and circumstance.

This apart, politics stands as a norm expressing Islamic principles within current historical ‘time’: any flaw in this norm will deeply affect the other doctrinal, ethical, and legal aspects – for it is not possible, according to Islam, for the individual to become ‘perfect’ outside of the framework of the community and the administrative, political and ethical order. More than that, the Sharia cannot be complete; nor can worship be ‘perfect’ unless they march in step with the system of political governance. Aspects of financial giving, such as zakat (almsgiving) and khoms (fifth), should be seen as a political system whose intent is the fulfilling of both society’s civil and humanitarian needs. In addition, the verdicts of the judiciary are legal rulings that cannot be appropriately implemented unless there is an administrative procedure that possesses authority and therefore has a political existence.

Thus, the followers of traditional or official Islam would not deny the role of politics and worldly affairs as being of an interest to Islam; they may, nevertheless, argue that in the manner and timing of political activity, Islamic movements have tended to pursue their interest in politics firstly; and, only later, and secondly, have focussed on actualising the political work, action and commitment within their own movements. This has extended even – in their charting their course – to believing that worshipping Allah cannot be perfect, until and unless, these movements establish a state of divine justice on earth.
This latter notion underlies the theory of divine governance, which was based on several concepts:

A. Authority rests with Allah alone; Allah is the source of law-making, and He, be He exalted, is the only source of legitimacy.
B. Any ruling made – other than which Allah has revealed – has no legitimacy.
C. Acquiescence to any ruling – whether or not it is just – coming from outside of the religious legitimacy amounts to tacit acceptance of despotism.
D. Accordingly, any link to corrupt society or an illegitimate system must be rejected: It demands that we should rebel against such a society and system.
E. The only possible solution is to exert efforts to establish an Islamic state – even if by force. Any political or Da’wa (Proselytising) activity, other than for this objective, is a waste of time. Silence in the face of injustice, is tantamount to acquiescence of a corrupted and corrupting system.

This theory has influenced the Sunni Islamic movements such as Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbu-Tahrir (Liberation Party), Al-Jamaa al-Islamia (Islamic Group), along with their offshoots in Islamic countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey, or Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It has, furthermore, influenced Shi’a Islamic movements such as Hizbu Dawa al-Islami (the Islamic Call Party), Monazamat al-Amal al-Islami (Islamic Action Organization) and other groups in Gulf and Arab countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and others.

This theory has come to distinguish between what we can call the Islamic revival era and its reformist thought which was inaugurated by Jamal-Deen al-Afghani, Mohammed Abdo, Rasheed Rida and their disciples, in addition to the era of the Islamic movements or what some like to call the Haraki (Activist) Islam which was initiated in 1929 with martyr Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt, whose though was extended by two key intellectual figures:

The first of which was Sayed Qutb, who was hanged following an order from Jamal Abdel Nasser. It was his book Maalem fi Tariq (‘Milestones’), in which Qutb underlined the need to establish an Islamic society and governance combined with his rejection of all un-Islamic models that was extensively quoted at his trial. As usual, such ideas have deep impact when coupled with sacrifice, blood and martyrdom: They turn from ideas into schools of thinking that become the models for later generations. Later, Qutb’s ideas were extended by Abu al-A’la al-Mawdudi of Pakistan, al-Mustalahat al-Arbaa fil-Quran el-Karim (the Four Terms in the Holy Quran) in which he dealt with the meaning of the Divine governance in a way that intersected with Ma’lem fi Tariq.

This established the idea of Islamic governance stimulating fierce debate, until events intervened:

1. The 1967 war, and the spread of frustration in the Arab street – coupled with the concern over the nationalist and leftist influence in the region. These two elements fuelled scepticism of the nationalist and leftist currents, which increasingly were seen to be either conspiracies; or the ‘games’ of nations.
2. The loss of prestige of nationalism in Arab states after the war and a return to the Za’im (traditional leader) model of despotism directed against one’s own people. This led people to look for genuine choice in their lives: one of the most important of these choices was to turn to Islam.
3. The impact of the Palestinian cause on the Arab and Islamic conscience which led to a greater awareness of the conflict as a cause for the entire Arab World – especially after Israel’s invasion of Lebanese territories and its occupation of the capital Beirut.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 prompted some Islamic movements or groups to engage in serious armed resistance, which demanded real sacrifice, and which did not hesitate to spare the Occupation Forces. Later – 1987 – the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, emerged in Palestine. Although the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon was Shi’i; whereas, the Islamic Resistance in Palestine was Sunni, the unity of cause, the closeness of the geography, the common history and a shared enemy, created the catalyst towards a trans-sectarian experience. It launched a new consciousness based on this shared resistance experience, rather than on prior conceptions and prejudices.

It is remarkable to note when considering these two movements that:

A. They have not become involved in conflict with their own communities; but rather have remained focussed on Israel. This suggests that their cause is not one of confronting injustice – as is the case with most movements – but to resist occupation. This has given them the characteristic of national liberation movements.
B. They have sought, through resistance, to couple Islam to a nationalist project. The experience of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon has enjoyed an additional factor – its adaptation to the pluralist reality that distinguishes Lebanon as a country.
C. The two movements have been able to present a unity of cause, whilst maintaining organizational diversity and whilst exercising a national role.
D. The movements have become windows into the Islamic world – including countries such as Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, and Pakistan. In order to do this, they have disregarded the confessional [Sunni-Shi’i] divide; indeed, one can even say that they have managed to step past regimes and establish relationships with the peoples in the region.
E. They represent the rare example of movements that have ignored confessional and sectarian differences,
F. And which have achievements in battles, liberation of land in 2000, and victories over the Israeli invasions of 2006 and 2008, to their credit. These successes have spread a positive culture of achievement, self-confidence and a rehabilitation of the history of resistance such that the Arab and Islamic street has recovered much of its self-confidence and therefore its readiness to place trust in these movements.

4. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran: It is widely-known that Iran adopts Shi’i Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), a fiqh that has for a long time been absent, due to pressures and crises, from the work of constructing a state and a society – until, that is, Imam Khomeini (may Allah sanctify his soul) came with the Wilayatul-Faqih (the Jurist’s Guardianship) doctrine, which proposed:

First: Although the Sharia is the source of governance – legitimacy of that governance cannot be assured unless the people’s consent also is obtained. This is so, because the will of people is the religious and natural doorway to the establishment of Islamic governance. In this aspect, there is a deliberate coupling of the sacred and the temporal in the principles underpinning an Islamic state.

Second: The notion of the Ummah (Community of Believers) as the frame-work in which the political structures are built, does not invalidate commitment to national borders; rather, effective law-making is seen to be one that respects the national characteristics and aspirations – provided that this nationalist particularity does not begin to mould the religious interest. This is because the apostolic vision in Islam extends to the human being in his or her capacity as a human, rather than as a representative of any one nation.

Third: The criterion by which society, life and states is viewed, is founded on the basis of seeing the ‘good’ in them. It is not to label them as Jahilia (pre-Islamic society) or Takfir (to label as infidel); rather it affirms that true infidelity, at the political level, is injustice and aggression. Therefore, there can be no objection to openness to international relations – provided these relations are based on the interests of nations and peoples. This contrasts with the principles on which many Islamic movements and parties were founded.

5. A few months after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, an incident occurred in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, when Juhaiman al-Utaibi led a revolt against the king and against the regime of Saudi Arabia. This act of defiance opened a window – for general Sunni Islamic movements, as well as some Salafi movements, to act outside of the legal framework of order in consequence to the introduction of the US army into Saudi Arabia, and the regime’s subsequent silence on this event. For certain of these movements, matters came to a head when the US occupied the state of Iraq.

6. Then we have the events of September 11 2001, when al-Qaeda, which is led by Saudi Osama bin Laden and his right-hand man, the Egyptian Ayman A-Zawaheri launched the attack on the US. The Afghanistan-based organization was under the protection of Mulla Omar, the leader of the Taliban movement that observed the Hanafi Fiqh (jurisprudence) while adopting, as al-Qaeda, the Salafi vision that understood politics, as well as Jihad, within a specific and defined meaning, based on:

– The frustration arising from the experience of the Islamic Brotherhood movements: This has paved the way for movements, in Egypt and elsewhere, to adopt armed action – by movements such as al-Jamaa al-Islamiya in Egypt, Pakistan and Algeria; the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement that executed Anwar a-Sadat; the Takfir and Hijra (immigration) movements and many others. Ayman a-Zawaheri has lived the experiences of these movements. He met bin Laden in Afghanistan. It is known that the latter was a student of the Salafi leader and theorist Abdallah Azzam, who led the Arab groups in the Afghanistan war against the Soviets and who was martyred in mysterious circumstances.

All this has paved the way for a compound vision emerging that has mixed Salafism with the revisionist thought of the movements emerging from the Brotherhood, which was already committed to the notion of Islamic governance.

– Salafism has also been defined by a deviation from the authority of the religious or legitimate establishment and by the emergence of individuals who embarked on fatwa (religious rulings) which issued in a arbitrary, and sometimes even whimsical, fashion – thus making some of these movements form what (it has been agreed amongst them to be called) ‘fatwa councils’. This has made it possible to create new religious marjaiat (religious authorities) outside the framework of the historic ones, thus allowing, some chaos which has been amply demonstrated in Iraq – through the correspondence between Abu Mus’ab a-Zarqawi, Samir al-Maqdisi and Ayman a-Zawaheri. The latter two – as may be recalled – condemned a-Zarqawi’s behavior for failing to submit his actions to a fatwa council. There were even cases in which a group had two authorities: the emir, and the Faqih (jurist). We might observe in a city or a village, or even a neighbourhood in Iraq more than one group having its own emir and faqih.

– Salafism has also been characterised by violent acts emanating from a severe confessional (Sunni-Shia) mentality, and the extreme whimsical attitudes that we observed earlier that recognised neither pact nor honour – so that the norm, as far as they are concerned, has become one that anyone who disagreed with them, is against them, – be he Muslim or non-Muslim; unjust or just; ruler or ruled. The entire social, civil and religious structure was targeted as the intention became manifest: the use force and slaughter against all infidels. And people were labelled as ‘infidels’ merely for disagreeing with the emir or his particular group.

– It has also been identified by its propensity to attract bands of immigrants from the west in order to benefit from their scientific expertise. These immigrants lived in isolation in the western societies from which they came. They have proved unable, due to their upbringing, to adapt to life in the west; or to be in reconciliation with it: therefore they have used their scientific and technical minds and skills to create terror in western countries. This is an outlook which they have brought with them to Arab and Islamic countries, and which was turned against western interests – until finally agreement emerged, amongst Salafists, that the conflict must be focused on:

– either confronting the west and its worldwide interests, for it represented the origin of the problem,
– establishing the khilafat state. If the concept had not succeed in Afghanistan, it was to be established in one of the Arab countries. This was justified on the grounds that the establishment of a khilafat in the Arab world would topple other Arab regimes in favour of the khilafat state. This state would then launch a conflict against the west. This is the reason behind the large-scale security and military shift of Salafi movements into Iraq.
– or; it should be focused on confronting the sectarian [Sunni-Shia] and religious obstacles to the achievement of a khilafat. Hence were the horrible acts carried out by a-Zarqawi and his followers against the Shia, certain Sunnis, and Christians.

Here we are, today, facing three different classifications of Islamic movements:

Type one: the traditional institutions, especially those affiliated with the authority and that regard that submission to the ruler as a necessary issue. These have become institutions with marginal influence their peoples, and on the conscience of Islamic movements.

Type Two: the political Islamist movement, which I believe, applies most to the Islamist Salafi and Dawa (call unto Islam) movements that consider seizing power as their ultimate norm and objective. These are movements that have turned, in a great deal of their activism, into violent movements that adopt the policy of force as their chosen methodology, and,

Type Three: the Islamic resistance: these are movements concerned with rejecting and resisting occupation. As far as they are concerned, the objective framework is social activism, not power. Consequently, they are more of liberation movements than revolutionary, or ones committed to the overthrow of established order.

The importance of recognising the characteristics of the three principal types is essential and necessary. In my opinion these three currents will see a great deal of friction and reconciliation efforts before they can settle on common convictions. Finally, I do believe that tyranny and occupation represent the ultimate justification for using, and resorting to violence, in order to resolve problems.

21st Century Strategy: Militarized Europe, Globalized NATO

By Rick RozoffGlobal Research

The new Strategic Concept, in addition to codifying a 21st century and expeditionary NATO, will fully launch global NATO, the world’s first international military axis

With the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms expiring last December 5 and its successor held up almost three months in large part because of U.S. missile shield provocations in recent weeks, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is forging ahead with the formulation and implementation of a new Strategic Concept.

On February 5 Russia unveiled its new military doctrine, which identified further NATO expansion eastward to its frontier and American and NATO interceptor missile deployments on and near its borders as the “main external threats of war.” [1]

On February 23 NATO held its fourth seminar on the new – 21st century – Strategic Concept decided upon at the sixtieth anniversary summit in April of 2009 in Strasbourg, France and Kehl, Germany. After previous meetings in Luxembourg, Slovenia and Norway, the final – and far most important – meeting was held in Washington, DC. Entitled Strategic Concept Seminar on Transformation and Capabilities, it was conducted at the National Defense University in the nation’s capital.

The Strategic Concept endorses expansion of the bloc deeper into the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, broadening global partnerships outside the Euro-Atlantic zone and consolidating an interceptor missile system to cover all of Europe as a joint U.S. and NATO project.

Russian concerns and NATO designs are at complete loggerheads, which accounts for among other problems a new START agreement remaining in limbo. And for Russia’s new military doctrine.

The results of the four seminars, masked as deliberative proceedings and even public information forums when in fact all important matters were decided years in advance, will be presented to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on May 1 and formally adopted at the NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal this November.

The meetings that matter, those in the American capital where the White House and the Pentagon are situated, were presided over by former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former chief executive officer of Royal Dutch Shell Jeroen van der Veer and their Group of Experts, alternatively Wise Men. The speakers at the Washington seminar included the U.S. foreign policy triumvirate of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser James Jones, the last NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander from 2003-2006. Other talks were given by the same principals on the preceding evening.

The U.S. permanent representative to NATO, Ivo Daalder, and Alliance chief Rasmussen also gave presentations.

Gates demanded the world’s only true military bloc and certainly the sole one currently involved in a war “uphold the long legacy that has made NATO the most successful military alliance in history.” [2]

All the American speakers laid particular emphasis on NATO’s Article 5, in effect a mutual assistance provision for armed conflicts.

Robert Gates: “Few would have imagined that the first invocation of Article 5 in the alliance’s history would follow an attack on the United States homeland by a non-state entity based in a nation far beyond NATO’s traditional borders….”

“[T]he Strategic Concept must be clear that Article 5 means what it says: an attack on one is an attack on all. The concept also must go further to strengthen Article 5’s credibility with a firm commitment to enhance deterrence through appropriate contingency planning, military exercises, and force development.”

Hillary Clinton: “I want to reaffirm as strongly as I can the United States’ commitment to honor Article 5 of the NATO treaty. No Ally – or adversary – should ever question our determination on this point. It is the bedrock of the Alliance and an obligation that time will not erode.” [3]

Ivo Daalder: “Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which says that an attack against one is an attack against all, remains the bedrock of the alliance. And in order to have that Article 5 operate effectively in the world that we live in today, we need the deployability of forces, we need the ability for forces to move from different places across territory, we need to be prepared through exercising and planning to show and ensure that NATO is prepared to confront the threats that we face….” [4]

James Jones went even further in stating “NATO must be more lean, agile, and flexible to effectively address the security challenges before it. NATO must move beyond its doctrine of static defense of the 20th Century to become a more proactive Alliance for the modern era.”

“NATO must be prepared to address, deny, and deter the full spectrum of threats, whether emanating from within Europe, at NATO’s boundaries, or far beyond NATO’s borders.” [5]

NATO and American officials were equally unequivocal on the deployment of global interceptor missile facilities in Europe and beyond. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said “Clearly, the development of a common Missile Defence capability will be more efficient and more cost effective if it is developed in common.” [6]

More specifically, he said that “missile defence has become a strategic imperative. To my mind, missile defence makes the most sense in an Alliance context. That way, you get forward-based sensors and infrastructure. Allied defence systems can fill the gaps in the US system’s coverage.” [7]

Daalder linked that project with NATO’s Article 5:

In his words, it is necessary “to make territorial missile defense a mission of this alliance, a mission to defend against a new kind of armed attack, that which arrives on ballistic missiles, whether these weapons come from Iran and hit Western Europe or North Korea and towards North America. In both instances, they would be a responsibility for Article 5 to be dealt with.”

Specifically mentioning the “120-some-thousand troops” from fifty nations serving under NATO command in Afghanistan and ongoing NATO naval operations in the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa, he added: “Those are the kinds of operations that we are engaged in, that we are likely to continue to engage in, some of which will follow under Article 5. A defense against ballistic missile attack – even those of ballistic missiles come from very far if they attack NATO territory – would be an Article 5 contingency.”

Daalder came to his current post as U.S. ambassador to NATO from being Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and before that director for European Affairs on the National Security Council from 1995-1996, where he was responsible for the Clinton administration’s Bosnia policy.

He was an avid supporter of and advocate for the wars against Yugoslavia in 1999 – co-authoring a 2000 book titled Winning Ugly: NATO’s War to Save Kosovo – against Iraq in 2003 and against Afghanistan from 2001 to the present.

In his years at Brookings he co-authored a number of articles with James Goldgeier, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, including a 2006 piece called “For global security, expand the alliance” which stated “since the challenges NATO faces are global, its membership should be as well.”

The authors added “NATO must become larger and more global by admitting any democratic state that is willing and able to contribute to the fulfillment of the alliance’s new responsibilities.

“NATO’s ability to bring together countries with similar values and interests to combat global problems is constrained by the exclusively trans-Atlantic character of its membership. Other democratic countries share NATO’s values and many common interests – including Australia, Brazil, Japan, India, New Zealand, South Africa and South Korea – and all of them can greatly contribute to NATO’s efforts by providing additional military forces or logistical support to respond to global threats and needs.” [8]

In the same year Daalder and Goldgeier wrote an article for Foreign Affairs, the publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, entitled “Global NATO.” In contents included the contention that “the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has gone global” and that its alleged “forward defense often requires a global military reach.” [9]

The new Strategic Concept, in addition to codifying a 21st century and expeditionary NATO (the terms are those of Alliance officials and advocates), will fully launch global NATO, the world’s first international military axis.

The project promoted by Daalder and his colleagues since the early 1990s is to be brought to fruition. He was given his post last year to assist in achieving that objective.

In the tendentious journalism he practiced in the pages of major U.S. dailies and journals while senior fellow at the Brookings Institution from 1998-2009 Daalder frequently criticised the ineffectuality of the United Nations, and his program for a global NATO – his exact term, recall – is meant not to supplement but to supplant the UN. [10]

Madeleine Albright, who delivered the opening and closing remarks at the February 23 Strategic Concept seminar, has similarly derogated the role of the UN; she who was U.S. ambassador to the organization from 1993 to 1997 when she led the successful effort to depose UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1997 after conspiring behind his back with Kofi Annan to obtain UN authorization for NATO’s bombing of Bosnian Serb positions in August and September of 1995. (The following month Annan was appointed UN special envoy to NATO.)

In speaking of “our vision for a revitalized Alliance for the 21st century,” Hillary Clinton celebrated Albright’s efforts throughout the post-Cold War period in her address in Washington on February 22: “She helped bring some of the countries represented here tonight into NATO in the late 1990s – an effort that many questioned at the time but which I believe has proven to be a major success. She played a central role in developing NATO’s last Strategic Concept eleven years ago.”

The vision of what NATO is to become in the new millennium was officially disclosed by Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on February 7 at the annual Munich Security Conference. He unabashedly called for a global NATO.

Ahead of the Strategic Concept meeting in Washington, he urged that “NATO can be the place where views, concerns and best practices on security are shared by NATO’s global partners. And where … we might work out how to tackle global challenges together.” [11]

His view was seconded by Madeleine Albright, who said “I think we are talking about how we can have some coordinating mechanism for all the various organizations that exist in the world.” Raising a rhetorical question as to “which organization can make the biggest difference,” she answered it with “While I am a great admirer of the United Nations, I know what it can and cannot do.” [12]

A Russian news source responded eleven days later by revealing “NATO’s new strategy authorizing the alliance to use force in any part of the globe arouses deep concern in Moscow.

“Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said this strategy contradicts the United Nations’ Charter.”

Russia’s Lavrov warned that with the Alliance’s new Strategic Concept “NATO’s sphere of interests may cover the entire world.” [13]

That is precisely what the new doctrine and policy is designed to effect and what Rasmussen, Albright, et al. bluntly state its intention to be. The United Nations and international law will take a back seat to global NATO.

The United Nations and international law will take a back seat to global NATO

NATO “is working on a new military strategy which will let the alliance…use force globally,” of which Russia Foreign Minister Lavrov said “It does not fully comply with the UN Charter, and, of course, raises our concerns.” [14]

Not only does the Western military bloc’s plans to undermine, supersede and ultimately scrap the entire post-World War II international diplomatic and security order “not fully comply with the UN Charter,” it is a direct attack on it.

The new concept also reiterates and intensifies the complete militarization of Europe, the retention of U.S. nuclear arms and the stationing of missile shield components there and the deployment of the continent’s troops to war zones abroad. 35 of 41 European nations have deployed troops to Afghanistan on NATO’s behest, for example. [15]

It also advocates the right of the North Atlantic military bloc to intervene anywhere in the world and is increasingly reviving discussion of activating its Article 5 provision for confrontation with Russia in Europe and the South Caucasus.

Earlier this month Belgian Prime Minister Belgian Yves Leterme stated that his nation and Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway would issue a joint declaration urging consideration of the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands are among five NATO countries housing the warheads, the others being Italy and Turkey. [16]

Nevertheless NATO’s position is to support the continued basing of American nuclear weapons, and the bloc will defer to Washington’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, scheduled to be submitted to Congress last December but delayed for several months.

NATO is the Pentagon’s nuclear Trojan horse in Europe.

After the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in April of 1949 – four months before the Soviet Union successfully tested its first atomic bomb – the U.S. began to station nuclear weapons in Europe, as many as 7,300 by the early 1970s. [17]

The Pentagon retains as many as 350 nuclear weapons in the five nations mentioned above, a full twenty years after the end of the Cold War.

At the Strategic Concept seminar on February 23 in Washington Ivo Daalder repeated the sixty-year NATO position on nuclear weapons in stating, “We need to continue to rely on a deterrence based on a mix of conventional and nuclear forces.”

He also linked three integral components of NATO’s now global strategy – the threat to employ nuclear weapons, a worldwide interceptor missile system and the bloc’s Article 5 war clause – in asserting that “we need, in the new environment, to make territorial missile defense a mission of this alliance, a mission to defend against a new kind of armed attack, that which arrives on ballistic missiles, whether these weapons come from Iran and hit Western Europe or North Korea and towards North America. In both instances, they would be a responsibility for Article 5 to be dealt with.”

To underscore the point – that NATO would marshal the combined military might of its 28 member states in Europe and North America in alleged defense of any member requesting it – he added, “A defense against ballistic missile attack – even those of ballistic missiles come from very far if they attack NATO territory – would be an Article 5 contingency.”

“We would like the alliance to embrace the notion that the territorial defense of our – of – that territorial missile defense is a mission of NATO and therefore ought to be a fundamental part of what NATO does on a day-to-day basis. Whether that’s in the Strategic Concept or is a separate decision at the Lisbon summit is less important. Article 5 is going to be in the Strategic Concept. Ballistic missiles that are directed at the territory of a NATO state would be an armed attack and therefore fall under the definition of Article 5.

“We believe NATO should be in the business of missile defense. The United States has offered its new approach to missile defense as its U.S.-funded contribution to a NATO system. And we hope that by Lisbon [the NATO summit in November], the entire alliance will embrace this as a mission and we move forward together in defending against the threats that are out there in the 21st century.”

Defense Secretary Gates spoke in the same vein: “The threat from rogue nations is real – in particular Iran, which is focusing its efforts on short-and-medium-range missiles that could strike most of Europe. Last year, the Obama administration announced a new plan for missile defense in Europe – a phased, adaptive approach that will give us real capabilities in a shorter period of time than the previous plan. We consider this a U.S.-funded contribution to NATO missile defense, which is critical to the collective-defense mission….”

Collective defense, sometimes deemed collective self-defense, are the NATO codewords for activating Article 5 and ordering all members to respond militarily to a threat – real or fancied – to one or more members.

Clinton followed suit in stating “Missile defense, we believe, will make us safer because, clearly, we see a threat. We see a threat that is emanating from the Middle East and we see a threat that can only be addressed in the spirit of collective defense.”

Targeting the same countries earlier identified by Daalder (two of the three so-called axis of evil nations identified as such by former president George W. Bush), she said, “nuclear proliferation and the development of more sophisticated missiles in countries such as North Korea and Iran are reviving the specter of an interstate nuclear attack. So how do we in NATO do our part to ensure that such weapons never are unleashed on the world?”

In no manner does Iran raise the “specter of an interstate nuclear attack” and Clinton knew that. But it is the pretext required by the U.S. and NATO to base interceptor missile sites along Russia’s western borders from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

The excuse needed to support Clinton’s demand that, more than twenty years since the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, NATO members still “need to invest in deterrence, nuclear deterrence as well as missile defense….”

The U.S. nuclear shield, linked with NATO’s Article 5, is being extended from Europe to Asia, the Middle East and ultimately the entire world. Global nuclear NATO.

In keeping with the conference held on NATO’s new Strategic Concept in London last October 1, hosted by Lloyd’s of London, in which the bloc’s Secretary General Rasmussen identified no less than seventeen nominal threats – all of them non-military in nature and all of them without geographical limitations – that NATO was prepared to respond to, [18] the Washington conference also highlighted the boundless and timeless mandate that NATO was arrogating to itself.

Rasmussen’s speech on February 23 included these observations:

“We must face new challenges. Terrorism, proliferation, cyber security or even climate change will oblige us to seek new ways of operating.

“As we deploy in operations with over 40 participating countries – Allies as well as partners – we have to move beyond a multinational force to become a truly unified force – a force where information and capabilities are shared among all to the benefit of all, and to get the job done.

“I have decided to establish a new division at NATO Headquarters to deal with new threats and challenges. Naturally Allied Command Transformation will be a key partner for this new division, which will become operational after the summer.” [19]

The previous evening Rasmussen spoke at Georgetown University in Washington, DC and elaborated on the Alliance’s Article 5 in practice rather than just in theory:

“The problems of the 21st century can only be solved multilaterally. And there is no stronger, more effective framework for that cooperation than NATO. But did you know that, on September 12th, all of America’s Allies in NATO declared that they considered this attack on America as an attack on them as well? Did you know that NATO sent aircraft to patrol the skies here in the United States? Did you know that all NATO countries put their ports and airfields at US disposal for the operation into Afghanistan? Or that most of them sent Special Forces, alongside US soldiers, in the initial military response?

“44 countries have soldiers in Afghanistan, under NATO command. Sharing the risks, the costs and the burdens with the United States. The non-US members make up 40% of the total number of forces. They also take 40% of the casualties.” [20]

He also indicated which nation NATO may next invoke its collective military assistance clause against: Russia. Unnamed but not needing to be in the context he was discussing.

“Our NATO Ally Estonia suffered a few years ago from a sustained, directed cyber attack that shut down a lot of essential services.

“Luckily, Estonia was able to withstand the attack. but NATO was called upon to provide advice and assistance, and we’ve set up a team that can deploy wherever needed, to support any Ally in case they come under this kind of attack.”

Rasmussen also singled out Iran and North Korea as potential targets for NATO action, as Clinton and Daalder also did. Those two nations will be at the center of NATO’s new international strategy.

He repeated his call at the Munich Security Conference for a NATO-initiated and -dominated worldwide security force:

“A key priority for me is to enhance NATO’s ‘connectivity’ with the broader international community, by building new ties to civilian actors – the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, all the way to the NGO community. We are also deepening our partnerships with countries from across the globe, from Australia to Japan. I believe we should also reach out to the rising stars of this century, such as China and India….And we are pushing ahead with the transformation of our military forces, to make them more flexible and useable.”

“NATO is a permanent Alliance, with a multinational political and military structure, and with over 60 years of experience in security cooperation. Put another way, we are no ad-hoc coalition of the willing. And this gives NATO a degree of competence, credibility and legitimacy that encourages even non-NATO countries to put their forces under NATO command.”

Daalder also advocated a sweeping, borderless agenda for the military bloc: “In order to provide security for NATO, it is important that one tackles…challenges and threats, if necessary, at the source, which means that NATO will have to operate beyond the territorial confines of the North Atlantic Treaty. And it does, which is why we’re in Afghanistan. We have 120-some-thousand troops, and growing, in Afghanistan….We have a counter-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden because the security of our economic lifeline is affected by the degree to which we can provide security for the ships that are crossing those lines.”

“NATO is an actor in a globalized world. And NATO will be involved as an actor in that globalized world, far from the shores, as it has been today, when it has launched the largest military operation in the history of the alliance, 5,000 kilometers from the headquarters in Brussels.”

Hillary Clinton also defined the world as NATO’s area of responsibility: “Some of the new dynamics we’re dealing with were beginning to appear in 1999 when NATO last revised its Strategic Concept. For example, we faced the question of whether the Alliance would engage in out-of-area operations. Today, NATO ships are combating piracy off the Horn of Africa. NATO’s Training Mission in Iraq has provided instruction to more than 14,000 Iraqis. We have agreed to work together to counter the missile threat from the Middle East. And in the last two and a half months, Allies have answered President Obama’s call to support ISAF’s mission in Afghanistan and are scheduled to increase their contributions by nearly 10,000 troops. In an interconnected world, we cannot defend our people by crouching behind the geographic boundaries of the Alliance.”

“We were glad to see the Alliance welcome Albania and Croatia last year. And there can be no question that NATO will continue to keep its doors open to new members.” An allusion to the remaining former Yugoslav states not yet full NATO members – Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro and behind them Kosovo and Serbia – and the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.

“NATO must also forge deeper partnerships with leading democracies beyond the Euro-Atlantic community. We are already working with many of these nations in Afghanistan. And we must find ways to build on these efforts and encourage more regular cooperation. We have already determined the need for a NATO that can operate at strategic distance.”

Clinton, Rasmussen, Albright, Jones and Daalder alike made claims for NATO’s global role, but the address by Pentagon chief Robert Gates was in some ways the most blunt and revealing of all.

The website of The Australian gave the title “Peace culture weakens NATO” to an account of his comments, which included his boast that “more than 120,000 troops are serving as part of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan – and thousands more are on their way,” and his insistence on “the expectation that everyone will fulfill their Article 5 responsibilities and duties.” [21]

The following are further excerpts from his address:

-At the strategic level, the greatest evolution in NATO over the last two decades is the transition from a static, defensive force to an expeditionary force – from a defensive alliance to a security alliance.

-It is clear that our security interests are no longer tied solely to the territorial integrity of member states, as instability elsewhere can be a real threat. Just consider the types of missions undertaken by NATO over the last two decades – from Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Kosovo, to counter-terrorism in the Mediterranean and counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden, to the massive, multi-faceted stability, reconstruction, and counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.

As Rasmussen and Clinton both mentioned alleged threats to Estonia where the only nation presenting them could be Russia, so Gates targeted the same country in his stressing “the core goal of defending the territory of member states from attack – a point made more relevant after Russia’s invasion of Georgia and its recent military exercises on NATO’s border, the largest of that type since the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

The “core goal” he spoke about is that addressed in NATO’s Article 5, which states:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Gates like the other American speakers at the seminar invoked Iran as the justification for interceptor missile deployments, but repeated mention of Estonia and Georgia pertain exclusively to Russia.

He then launched into a diatribe against a fictitious peace contagion enveloping Europe – when almost the entire continent is now absorbed by NATO and practically every nation on it has sent troops to a war zone in Asia, “5,000 kilometers from NATO headquarters.”

Indicting European NATO allies’ unwillingness to match U.S. military spending – slated to reach an unprecedented $708 billion next year – Gates said, “Since the end of the Cold War, NATO and national defense budgets have fallen consistently – even with unprecedented operations outside NATO’s territory over the past five years.”

If anyone still cherishes hope for a peace dividend a generation after the end of the Cold War, Gates has nothing but contempt for them:

“These budget limitations relate to a larger cultural and political trend affecting the alliance. One of the triumphs of the last century was the pacification of Europe after ages of ruinous warfare. But, as I’ve said before, I believe we have reached an inflection point, where much of the continent has gone too far in the other direction. The demilitarization of Europe – where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it – has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.”

A cultural infection of pacifism. A non-existent demilitarization of Europe which threatens peace. Sentiments of this type have not been voiced in Europe itself since the late 1930s and early 1940s, when like now most of the continent was united under one politico-military power.

Notes

1) NATO Expansion, Missile Deployments And Russia’s New Military Doctrine
Stop NATO, February 12, 2010
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/nato-expansion-missile-deployments-and-russias-new-military-doctrine
2) United States Department of Defense
http://www.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1423
3) Remarks at the NATO Strategic Concept Seminar
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Ritz-Carlton Hotel
Washington, DC
February 22, 2010
United States Department of State
http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/02/137118.htm
4) On New Global Doctrine
Special Briefing on the Future of NATO
Ivo Daalder
Permanent Representative to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
Washington, DC
February 23, 2010
United States Department of State,
http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/rm/2010/137121.htm
5) Atlantic Council, February 24, 2010
6) Remarks by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the fourth
Strategic Concept Seminar on Transformation and Capabilities, Washington DC
February 23, 2010
http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/opinions_61647.htm?selectedLocale=en
7) Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at Georgetown
University
February 22, 2010
http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/opinions_61566.htm?selectedLocale=en
8) International Herald Tribune, October 12, 2006
9) Foreign Affairs, September/October 2006
10) West Plots To Supplant United Nations With Global NATO
Stop NATO, May 27, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/08/29/154
11) Reuters, February 7, 2010
12) Ibid
13) Voice of Russia, February 18, 2010
14) Russia Today, February 18, 2010
15) Afghan War: NATO Builds History’s First Global Army
Stop NATO, August 9, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/afghan-war-nato-builds-historys-first-global-army
16) Michel Chossudovsky, Europe’s Five “Undeclared Nuclear Weapons States”
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=17550
17) NATO’s Secret Transatlantic Bond: Nuclear Weapons In Europe
Stop NATO, December 3, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/12/03/natos-secret-transatlantic-bond-nuclear-weapons-in-europe
NATO’s Sixty Year Legacy: Threat Of Nuclear War In Europe
Stop NATO, March 31, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/08/27/natos-sixty-year-legacy-threat-of-nuclear-war-in-europe
18) Thousand Deadly Threats: Third Millennium NATO, Western Businesses Collude
On New Global Doctrine
Stop NATO, October 2, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/thousand-deadly-threats-third-millennium-nato-western-businesses-collude-on-new-global-doctrine
19) Remarks by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the fourth
Strategic Concept Seminar on Transformation and Capabilities, Washington DC
February 23, 2010
20) Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at Georgetown
University
February 22, 2010
21) NATO Strategic Concept Seminar
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, National
Defense University, Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
http://www.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1423

Egypt’s Nuclear Option: President ElBaradei?

By Rannie AmiriCounter Currents

ElBaradei thus faces a colossal, entrenched political and security infrastructure that has no appetite for reform

“For someone like myself to be unable to run for president, this is a disaster. How can a constitution bar 99 percent of the people from running?”

– Former IAEA Director-General and Nobel Prize laureate Mohammad ElBaradei, in an interview with Egypt’s Dream Television, 18 February 2010.

Mohammad ElBaradei returned to a hero’s welcome and the jubilation of thousands at Cairo’s International Airport last week. Some carried signs reading, “ElBaradei is the whole nation’s hope,” and “ElBaradei for president of Egypt” while others chanted, “You can’t go back, we need you!” and “We want change!”

It must have been a foreboding scene for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Such displays are officially prohibited under the country’s Emergency Law and security forces had already warned those planning to greet ElBaradei that any unauthorized gathering would not be tolerated. Despite this, a vast cross-section of Egyptian society including the young and old, liberal and conservative, Christian and Muslim, and poor and wealthy, still showed up to cheer his homecoming.

ElBaradei’s arrival appeared to herald the beginning of campaign season as Egypt gets ready to hold a presidential ballot in 2011. Mubarak has not officially announced if he will seek re-election or not, but there is widespread belief he is grooming his son Gamal to succeed him.

With this expectation, constitutional roadblocks have already been erected to prevent someone exactly like ElBaradei from challenging him.

Egypt’s constitution was amended in 2007 to require presidential candidates to be members of a recognized party for a minimum of one year, and for that party to have existed for at least five. Independent candidates – as ElBaradei would be considered should he run – are forced to secure the endorsement of 250 members from the People’s Assembly (lower house of parliament), the Shura Council (upper house of parliament) and municipal councils. As expected, all are dominated by Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), essentially precluding independents from running.

ElBaradei thus faces a colossal, entrenched political and security infrastructure that has no appetite for an outsider’s attempt (as Egyptian media has been keen to describe it) at reform. Indeed, the nearly 30-year rule of Mubarak has not seen a single day without the cover of Emergency Law.

Enacted after President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981, these laws give Mubarak’s government sweeping authority to arrest without warrant, detain without charge, censor media and curtail freedom of assembly.

ElBaradei appreciates the challenge quite well. As a result, he has positioned himself less as a presidential contender and more as a facilitator of change:

“I believe that the time has come for Egypt to make a serious move towards real democracy … This is what I am advocating and is my primary goal: creating the environment that enables the Egyptians to feel that they are in charge of their destiny.”

The question many are now asking is not whether ElBaradei will beat Gamal in 2011, but if he will even be allowed to run. He stated:

“I am ready to throw myself into Egyptian political life on the condition that there are free elections, and the first step toward that would be a constitutional amendment under which I can be a candidate and others as well.”

In stark contrast to the conditions imposed on presidential candidates described above, ElBaradei stipulated that any bid of his would be contingent on guarantees of independent judicial review and international oversight of the election by the United Nations.

Many believe that is extremely unlikely to happen.

The strategy of Mubarak’s regime has always been to make people believe they have only two choices: the NDP (re: Mubarak) or the Muslim Brotherhood (which is banned). The last independent challenger to Mubarak, Ayman Nour, was thrown in jail on trumped up charges of forgery after he garnered seven percent of the vote in the 2005 election. Framing themselves as representing stability and continuity, Mubarak and the NDP have effectively left citizens with no real alternative.

With this in mind, ElBaradei recognized he could well be regarded as a type of “savior” and has wisely cautioned against it:

“I am worried that people have reached such a level of despair that they are waiting for one person to save them, but I would like for Egypt to save itself.”

One would assume that focusing on the responsibilities of the Egyptian people and their pressing needs (poverty, lack of access to medical care and education, ending corruption) might find a sympathetic ear. But this has certainly not been the case.

The editor of the widely-circulated government-owned daily, Al-Ahram, said ElBaradei was “ill-informed” and “an American stooge” (apparently unlike his own president). A government minister remarked that ElBaradei knew nothing of Egypt’s problems because of his time spent abroad. Even the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, possibly sensing he may draw away support, have distanced themselves from him.

An Al-Ahram columnist recently wrote, “(ElBaradei’s) rosy dreams will fade when he discovers that none of those searching for a loaf of bread … even knows his name.”

I don’t how ElBaradei would respond, but I suspect he would say it is far more important to ensure they have bread to eat than to worry about the person they got it from.

Challenging History: Why the Oppressed Must Tell Their Own Story

By Ramzy BaroudPalestine Chronicle

History is also shaped by collective movements and popular struggles

When American historian Howard Zinn passed away recently, he left behind a legacy that redefined our relationship to history altogether.

Professor Zinn dared to challenge the way history was told and written. In fact he went as far as to defy the conventional construction of historical discourses through the pen of victor or of elites who earned the right of narration though their might, power and affluence.

This kind of history might be considered accurate insofar as it reflects a self-seeking and self-righteous interpretation of the world by a very small number of people. But it is also highly inaccurate when taking into account the vast majority of peoples everywhere.

The oppressor is the one who often articulates his relationship to the oppressed, the colonialist to the colonized, and the slave-master to the slave. The readings of such relationships are fairly predictable.

Even valiant histories that most of us embrace and welcome, such as those celebrating the legacy of human rights, equality and freedom left behind by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela still tend to be selective at times. Martin Luther King’s vision might have prevailed, but some tend to limit their admiration to his ‘I have a dream’ speech. The civil rights hero was an ardent anti-war champion as well, but that is often relegated as non-essential history. Malcolm X is often dismissed altogether, despite the fact that his self-assertive words have reached the hearts and minds of millions of black people throughout the United States, and many more millions around the world. His speech was in fact so radical that it could not be ‘sanitized’ or reinterpreted in any controllable way. Mandela, the freedom fighter, is celebrated with endless accolades by the very foes that branded him a terrorist. Of course, his insistence on his people’s rights to armed struggle is not to be discussed. It is too flammable a subject to even mention at a time when anyone who dares wield a gun against the self-designated champions of ‘democracy’ gets automatically classified a terrorist.

Therefore, Zinn’s peoples’ histories of the United States and of the world have represented a milestone in historical narration.

As a Palestinian writer who is fond with such luminaries, I too felt the need to provide an alternative reading of history, in this case, Palestinian history. I envisioned, with much hesitation, a book that serves as a people’s history of Palestine. I felt that I have earned the right to present such a possible version of history, being the son of Palestinian refugees, who lost everything and were exiled to live dismal lives in a Gaza refugee camp. I am the descendant of ‘peasants’ – Fellahin – whose odyssey of pain, struggle, but also heroic resistance is constantly misrepresented, distorted, and at times overlooked altogether.

It was the death of my father (while under siege in Gaza) that finally compelled me to translate my yearning into a book. My Father was a Freedom Fighter, Gaza’s Untold Story offered a version of Palestinian history was not told by an Israeli narrator – sympathetic or otherwise – and neither was it an elitist account, as often presented by Palestinian writers. The idea was to give a human face to all the statistics, maps and figures.

History cannot be classified by good vs. bad, heroes vs. villains, moderates vs. extremists. No matter how wicked, bloody or despicable, history also tends to follow rational patterns, predictable courses. By understanding the rationale behind historical dialectics, one can achieve more than a simple understanding of what took place in the past; it also becomes possible to chart fairly reasonable understanding of what lies ahead.

Perhaps one of the worse aspects of today’s detached and alienating media is its production of history – and thus characterization of the present – as based on simple terminology. This gives the illusion of being informative, but actually manages to contribute very little to our understanding of the world at large.

Such oversimplifications are dangerous because they produce an erroneous understanding of the world, which in turn compels misguided actions.

For these reasons, it is incumbent upon us to try to discover alternative meanings and readings of history. To start, we could try offering historical perspectives which try to see the world from the viewpoint of the oppressed – the refugees, the fellahin who have been denied, amongst many rights, the right to tell their own story.

This view is not a sentimental one. Far from it. An elitist historical narrative is maybe the dominant one, but it is not always the elites who influence the course of history. History is also shaped by collective movements, actions and popular struggles. By denying this fact, one denies the ability of the collective to affect change. In the case of Palestinians, they are often presented as hapless multitudes, passive victims without a will of their own. This is of course a mistaken perception; the Palestinians’ conflict with Israel has lasted this long only because of their unwillingness to accept injustice, and their refusal to submit to oppression. Israel’s lethal weapons might have changed the landscape of Gaza and Palestine, but the will of Gazans and Palestinians are what have shaped the landscape of Palestine’s history.

Touring with My Father was a Freedom Fighter in South Africa, in a recent visit, was a most intense experience. It was in this country that freedom fighters once rose to fight oppression, challenging and eventually defeating Apartheid. My father, the refugee of Gaza has suddenly been accepted unconditionally by a people of a land thousands of miles away. The notion of ‘people’s history’ can be powerful because it extends beyond boundaries, and expands beyond ideologies and prejudices. In that narrative, Palestinians, South Africans, Native Americans and many others find themselves the sons and daughters of one collective history, one oppressive legacy, but also part of an active community of numerous freedom fighters, who dared to challenge and sometimes even change the face of history.

South Africa has; Palestine will.

NYT, Ethan Bronner and Conflicts of Interest

By Jonathan CookPalestine Chronicle

Bronner’s situation is “the rule, not the exception”

A recent assignment of mine covering Israel’s presumed links to the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh provoked some more thoughts about the New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner. He is the Jerusalem bureau chief who has been at the centre of a controversy since it was revealed last month that his son is serving in the Israeli army. Despite mounting pressure to replace Bronner, the NYT’s editors have so far refused to consider that he might be facing a conflict of interest or that it would be wiser to post him elsewhere.

Last week, when suspicion for the assassination in Dubai started to fall on the Mossad, a newspaper editor emailed to ask if I could ring up my “Israeli security contacts” for fresh leads. It was a reminder that Western correspondents in Israel are expected to have such contacts. The point was underlined later the same day when I spoke with a leftwing Israeli academic to get his take on Mabhouh’s killing. I had turned to this Ashkenazi professor because he counts many veterans of the security services as friends. At the end of the interview, I asked him if he had any suggestions for people in the security services I might speak with. He replied: “Talk to Eitan Bronner. He has excellent contacts.” Naively, I asked how I could reach this expert on the veiled world of the Israeli security establishment. Was he employed at the professor’s university? “No, ring the New York Times bureau,” he responded increduously. Oh, that “Eitan”!

A more interesting question than whether Bronner is now facing a conflict of interest over his son serving in the Israeli army is whether the NYT reporter was facing such a conflict long before the latest revelations surfaced. Could it be that it is actually incumbent on Bronner, as the NYT’s bureau chief, to have such a conflict of interest?

Consider this. The NYT has form when it comes to turning a blind eye to reporters with conflicts of interest in Israel — aside, I mean, from the issue of the reporters’ ethnic identification or nationality. For example, I am reminded of a recent predecessor of Bronner’s at the Jerusalem bureau — an Israeli Jew — who managed to do regular service in the Israeli army reserves even while he was covering the second intifada. I am pretty sure his bosses knew of this but, as with Bronner, did not think there were grounds for taking action.

Shortly after I wrote an earlier piece on Bronner, pointing out that most Western coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict is shaped by Jewish and Israeli journalists, and that Palestinian voices are almost entirely excluded, a Jerusalem-based bureau chief asked to meet. Over a coffee he congratulated me, adding: “I’d be fired if I wrote something like that.”

This reporter, who, unlike me, spends lots of time with the main press corps in Jerusalem, then made some interesting points. He wishes to remain anonymous but has agreed to my passing on his observations. He calls Bronner’s situation “the rule, not the exception”, adding: “I can think of a dozen foreign bureau chiefs, responsible for covering both Israel and the Palestinians, who have served in the Israeli army, and another dozen who like Bronner have kids in the Israeli army.”

He added that it is very common to hear Western reporters boasting to one another about their “Zionist” credentials, their service in the Israeli army or the loyal service of their children. “Comments like that are very common at Foreign Press Association gatherings [in Israel] among the senior, agenda-setting, elite journalists.”

My informant is highly critical of what is going on among the Jerusalem press corps, even though he admits the same charges could be levelled against him. “I’m Jewish, married to an Israeli and like almost all Western journalists live in Jewish West Jerusalem. In my free time I hang out in cafes and bars with Jewish Israelis chatting in Hebrew. For the Jewish sabbath and Jewish holidays I often get together with a bunch of Western journalists. While it would be convenient to think otherwise, there is no question that this deep personal integration into Israeli society informs our overall understanding and coverage of the place in a way quite different from a journalist who lived in Ramallah or Gaza and whose personal life was more embedded in Palestinian society.”

And now he gets to the crunch: “The degree to which Bronner’s personal life, like that of most lead journalists here, is integrated into Israeli society, makes him an excellent candidate to cover Israeli political life, cultural shifts and intellectual life. The problem is that Bronner is also expected to be his paper’s lead voice on Palestinian political life, cultural shifts and intellectual life, all in a society he has almost no connection to, deep knowledge of or even the ability to directly communicate with … The presumption that this is possible is neither fair to Bronner nor to his readers, and it’s really a shame that Western media executives don’t see the value in an Arabic-speaking bureau chief living in Ramallah and setting the agenda for the news coming out of the Palestinian territories.”

All true. But I think there is a deeper lesson from the Bronner affair. Editors who prefer to appoint Jews and Israelis to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are probably making a rational choice in news terms — even if they would never dare admit their reasoning. The media assign someone to the Jerusalem bureau because they want as much access as possible to the inner sanctums of power in a self-declared Jewish state. They believe – and they are right – that doors open if their reporter is a Jew, or better still an Israeli Jew, who has proved his or her commitment to Israel by marrying an Israeli, by serving in the army or having a child in the army, and by speaking fluent Hebrew, a language all but useless outside this small state.

Yes, Ethan Bronner is “the rule”, as my informant notes, because any other kind of journalist — the goyim, as many Israelis dismiss non-Jews — will only ever be able to scratch at the surface of Israel’s military-political-industrial edifice. The Bronners have access to power, they can talk to the officials who matter, because those same officials trust that high-powered Jewish and Israeli reporters belong in the Israeli consensus. They may be critical of the occupation, but they can be trusted to pull their punches. If they ever failed to do so, they would be ejected from the inner sanctum and a paper like the NYT would be forced to replace them with someone more cooperative.

When in later years, these Jerusalem bureau chiefs retire from the field of battle and are promoted to the rank of armchair general back at media HQ – when they become a Thomas Friedman paid to pontificate regularly on the conflict — they can be trusted to talk to those same high-placed officials, explaining their viewpoint and defending it. That is why you will not read anything in the NYT questioning the idea that Israel is a democratic state or see coverage suggesting that Israel is acting in bad faith in the peace process.

I do not want here to suggest there is anything unique about this relationship of almost utter dependence. To a degree, this is how most specialists in the mainstream media operate. Think of the local crime reporter. How effective would he be (and it is invariably a he) if he alienated the senior police officers who provide the inside information he needs for his regular supply of stories? Might he not prefer to turn a blind eye to a scoop revealing that one of his main informants is taking bribes, if publishing such a story would lose him his “access” and his posting? This is a simple cost-benefit analysis made both by the reporter and the editors who assign him that almost always favours the powerful over the weak, the interests of the journalist over the reader.

And so it is with Israel. Like the crime reporter, our Jerusalem bureau chief needs his “access” more than he needs the occasional scoop that would sabotage his relationship with official sources. But more so than the crime reporter, many of these bureau chiefs also identify with Israel and its goals because they have an Israeli spouse and children. They not only live on one side of a bitter national conflict but actively participate in defending that side through service in its military.

This is a conflict of interest of the highest order. It is also the reason why they are there in the first place.