Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The war frenzy of Netanyahu, Gingrich, Romney and Santorum

Throughout the Weimar period, the German army and industry prepared to remilitarize rapidly. That apparatus was quick to become large and effective. Those Germans not suppressed by Hilter - some students, intellectuals, peasants, white collar workers - were revved on war and racism; to repeat and undo, as Heidegger insisted at Locarno in 1929 and again, on the 25th anniversary of his high school graduation at Konstanz in 1934, what had been done in World War I. See here. Hitler became powerfully armed by the middle 1930s, capable of waging renewed war, and struck quickly. Hitler had allied fascist regimes in Italy, Spain and Japan. And except for Russia, he prepared to fight :powers” that were amazingly disarmed (As the Soviets found out in trying to make an alliance with England just before signing the Molotov-Ribbertrop pact, England had few forces initially to put into the fray; France fell swiftly and its resistance to Vichy came largely from below…See here).

Today in Iran, a big resistance movement – those who participated in the green revolution - still exists, strengthened by the successes of Arab spring. Zeal for expansionary power is constrained to the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Sepah) called in the West the revolutionary guard, and the wretched Islamic leadership. As Paul Pillar demonstrates sadly below, there are two major powers who have behaved thuggishly in the Middle East: waged aggressions and brutalized colonized peoples. If the song being sung by Netanyahu and AIPAC were right, Iran would be one of them. But it isn’t. They speak only of themselves as the rogues they identify with others; it is the United States and Israel who have waged almost continual aggression and occupation. The United States rings Iran with 45 bases. See here. Iran has none in the local area, let alone in Europe or the Western hemisphere. Israel has some 300 nuclear weapons and a modern army with ideologues – rabbis – who praise the “justice” of slaughtering gentile children (perhaps the Revolutionary Guard to a higher power…). See here. Israel is using a phony Iranian “radical” group – MEK -to carry the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. These are murders of civilian, acts of aggression. Do the thugs who currently run Israel really look in the mirror and think they are exempt from such attacks (likewise, as other periods speed to catch up, Obama, Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum with the American use of drones)?

Netanyahu aptly describes something dangerous – would anyone want to live in the neighborhood of a country that wantonly blows up the cars of or guns down another country’s scientists - but this is projection: it is the forces of Netanyahu (not that he probably believes in the threat of Iran) and Lieberman.

Paul Pillar is an intelligence officer who challenged the Bush administration's claims about Iraq. His article below appeared in the National Interest; Steve Walt, an astute realist thinker in foreign policy and a man of principle, commented on his blog. Both speak out strikingly against the hoopla for renewed American aggression in the Middle East. In addition, even the threat of such aggression is ironic: isn’t the US just withdrawing some troops/mercenaries from the Embassy in Iraq because the US aggression and occupation – slaughtering many innocents – was hated by Iraqis and there is no future in the vast embassy the US built? See New York Times here and here. Who today can remember one plausible justification for why the US invaded? For several years, I haven't found anyone in classes, either in international studies at DU or at Metro who would speak up for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. As Richard Clarke put it in Against All Enemies, it was as if the US had responded to Pearl Harbor by attacking Mexico…

This aggression in Iraq was never popular. As a leader of the anti-movement in Denver and in Peter Boyles's words, his “cohost” on KOA in the run-up to the war, a lot of people came up to me in the street and would say: “thanks for saying that. Nobody else does.” Outside Vitamin Cottage, a rare passerby in a truck attempted to harass me about a sticker on the back of my van: "Islam Is not the enemy.' But I argued with him and he drove off...

The corporate tv and most radio, except KGNU, didn’t cover the vast preponderance of people who knew something and spoke out against the war. Today, my former student Condi Rice goes on Jon Stewart and says: “Clinton believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.” She can’t cite the Bush "material: she formerly exaggerated - “what if the smoking gun turns out to be a nuclear cloud?” - because everyone knows it is false. There is exactly nothing except citing previous authority – another liar – for the lies that Condi staked her destiny on…

A wider regional war, provoked by Israeli or US aggression against Iran, is dangerous to ordinary Israelis. It will make no Israeli safer to continue to oppress the Palestinians or engage in such aggression. In fact, Netanyahu threatens aggression against Iran to divert the eyes of the world, including young Jews in the United States who have "slipped away," from the Israeli occupation; except in the American elite and in Israel itself, the Israeli government has no credibility.

For the United States, far into the intelligence establishment, the view that attacking Iran is a travesty of the national interest (meaning in this case a common good – see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?) is common. But against the background of the war complex (the military-industrial-congressional-political-media-intelligence-think tank- academic complex), the right-wing two step in American politics continues to operate. Election seasons often feature wars and interventions to stoke up imperial Presidents (see Bruce Russett, Governing the Sword, ch 1; George Downs and David Rocke, “Gambling for Resurretion” on Lyndon Johnson’s escalation in Vietnam in Optimal Imperfections, Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, introduction). But in this case, those on the outs scream for war. They seek to clamber back into power on the idea that Obama, who competently dispensed with the mass murderer Osama Bin Laden – an unusual act for an imperial President - is “weak.” See here, here and here.

Gingrich is practically an agent of Netanyahu through Sheldon Adelson who funds both, Romney but a yoyo of the neocons and a man of no principle whatever (meaning there is nothing bad, i.e bankrolling Proposition 8 to enforce bigotry toward gays and lesbians or being a “vulture capitalist” he won’t do if he thinks it will get make him money or elected…). The Martian observer, being an observer of Earth, in Walt’s column has to puzzle over facts; these would-be leaders live on some self-destructive planet Cheney.

Again, although a Scrooge domestically, Ron Paul is a relief among American politicians about foreign policy generally. And the Obama administration is playing a dangerous game here. Attempting to draw down in Iraq, the US may well be trapped in a much greater war by the self-destructive policies of Netanyahu and this American electoral dynamic. Of course, if the US or Israel attacks, it will provoke a surge of nationalist anger in Iran, including among many who participated in the Green Revolution. The murder of innocents – scientists – by Israel is already doing a fine job of this. Neither policy will lead to democracy in Iran…

Now Obama could stand up for intelligence and decency (he has not sought such a war for electoral advantage). The crazed Right in Israel and America, however – part of the international dynamic of moving the US elite steadily to the right on torture, assassination (the widespread use of drones) and many other matters, part of America’s open descent into war criminality starting in the Bush – Cheney period - are just as dangerous now as they were with Cheney pushing for bombing Natanz until January 20. 2009…

The two columns below – Paul Pillar’s in The National Interest, a rare essay in that right-wing journal which actually lives up to its name, and Steve Walt’s post – are well worth taking in (h/t Ilene Cohen).

Deeper into Terrorism
February 9, 2012
Paul R. Pillar [2]
The National Interest

Although the assassinations of Iranian scientists have until now been followed by no indication of responsibility other than smug comments of satisfaction from officials of the most likely foreign state perpetrator, now NBC offers something more specific. According to a report by Richard Engel and Robert Windrem [3], the assassinations have been the joint work of Israel and the Iranian cult-cum-terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq. According to the report, the partnership has involved Israel providing financing, training and arms to the MEK to accomplish the hits, as well as to commit other acts of violent sabotage inside Iran. The story tracks with accusations from officials of the Iranian government, who say they base most of what they know on interrogations and captured materials from a failed assassination attempt in 2010. Such accusations by themselves would be easy to dismiss, of course, as more of the regime’s propaganda. But the NBC story cites two senior U.S. officials, speaking anonymously, as confirming the story. A third official said “it hasn’t been clearly confirmed yet,” although like the others he denied any U.S. involvement. The Israeli foreign ministry declined comment; the MEK denied the story.

With or without confirmation of details of this story, the assassinations are terrorism. (The official U.S. government definition of terrorism for reporting and statistic-keeping purposes is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”) The extra twist in this new report is the use by Israel—already widely believed to have been responsible for the murders—of the MEK, a group with a long track record of terrorism that has included American victims. Other parts of that record, including the MEK having been an arm of Saddam Hussein's security forces, have meant the group has almost no popular support within Iran. Anyone in Israel, the United States, or anywhere else hoping for a salubrious regime change in Iran would be foolish to have anything to do with the MEK.

Even more important than what is foolish is what is immoral. Terrorism denies the high ground to anyone who uses it, including the use of it in disagreements with Iran. It also hastens the slide through mutually reinforcing hostility into what may be a far more destructive form of violence (i.e., a war). Although the United States has not been involved in the assassinations, the nature of its relationship with Israel, both real and perceived (President Obama commented the other day about staying in “lockstep” with Israel on Iran), means that Israel's actions suck the United States farther down the slide.

Amid all the reasons for dismay and outrage over this, there is also an irony. One of the oft-repeated rationales for the conventional wisdom that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be unacceptable is that it would somehow turn Iran into a regional marauder that would recklessly throw its weight around the Middle East in damaging ways. Well, there is an example of a Middle Eastern state that behaves in such a way, but it isn't Iran. This state invades neighboring countries, ruthlessly inflicting destruction on civilian populations, and seizes and colonizes territory through military force. It also uses terrorist group proxies as well as its own agents to conduct assassinations in other countries in the region.

Besides terrorism, there also is, as with any prototypical rogue state, a nuclear weapons angle. This state, unlike Iran, has never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or admitted an international inspector to any of its nuclear facilities. Even though it has had a sizable arsenal of nuclear weapons for decades, it has kept its nuclear weapons program completely out of reach of any international scrutiny or arms control regime and does not even acknowledge the program's existence. It also is so intent on maintaining its regional nuclear weapons monopoly that it is using terrorism to strike at the nuclear program of a country that doesn't even have one nuclear weapon and probably hasn't made a decision to make one.

One could almost argue that this record of behavior supports that conventional wisdom about what an Iranian nuke would do to Iran's behavior. But actually it doesn't. The behavior of the state in question is made possible not by nuclear weapons but instead by its conventional military superiority over its neighbors and by the cover provided by a subservient, protective great power whose policies it is able to manipulate.

The United States needs to distance itself as much as possible from this ugliness, for the sake of adhering to its own principles as well as trying to avoid sliding any further toward catastrophe. It was good that Secretary of State Clinton quickly disavowed the most recent assassination, but distancing requires something more. Forget the lockstep business. Israel is out of step with American policy because it evidently is out of step with American values and American interests. Washington needs to proclaim loudly and repeatedly that the sort of terrorism that the NBC report describes is the antithesis of how differences with Iran ought to be settled, and that those differences need to be settled through diplomacy. Then negotiate like we really mean it. Two distinguished retired U.S. diplomats, William Luers and Thomas Pickering, have recently provided some excellent instruction [4] on how to do that.


[1] http://www.addthis.com/bookmark.php?v=250&username=nationalinterest

[2] http://nationalinterest.org/profile/paul-r-pillar

[3] http://rockcenter.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/08/10354553-israel-teams-with-terror-group-to-kill-irans-nuclear-scientists-us-officials-tell-nbc-news

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/03/opinion/envisioning-a-deal-with-iran.html

A Martian view of the Iran debate
Posted By Stephen M. Walt Friday, February 10, 2012
Paul Pillar has a great piece up at The National Interest that illuminates just how nutty the present debate about war with Iran really is. And it got me thinking.

If a sensible Martian came down to Earth and looked at the sabre-rattling about Iran, I suspect he/she/it would be completely flummoxed. For our Martian visitor would observe two very capable states -- the United States and Israel -- threatening to attack a country that hardly seems worth the effort. The U.S. and Israel together spend more than $700 billion each year on their national security establishments; Iran spends about $10 billion. The U.S. and Israel have the most advanced military hardware in the world; Iran's weapons are mostly outdated and lack spare parts. The U.S. and Israeli militaries are well-educated and very well-trained; not true of Iran. The United States has thousands of nuclear weapons and Israel has several hundred, while Iran has a vast arsenal of … zero. Iran does have a nuclear enrichment program (which is the reason for all the war talk), but the most recent National Intelligence Estimates have concluded that Iran does not presently have an active nuclear weapons program. The United States has several dozen military bases in Iran's immediate vicinity; Iran has exactly none in the Western hemisphere. The United States has powerful allies in every corner of the world; Iran's friends include a handful of minor nonstate actors like Hezbollah or minor-league potentates like Bashar al Assad (who's not looking like an asset these days) or Hugo Ch├ívez.

Moreover, the United States has fought four wars since 1990. It has bombed, invaded or occupied a half dozen countries in that period, leading to the deaths of thousands of people. Israel has been colonizing the West Bank since 1967, it invaded and occupied much of Lebanon from 1982 to 1999, and its armed forces pummeled Lebanon again in 2006 and Gaza in 2008-09.

Prominent U.S. politicians have repeatedly called for "regime change" in Iran, and U.S. government officials now report that Israel has been murdering civilian scientists in Iran, in cahoots with the MEK, a terrorist organization that is still on the State Department's terrorist "watchlist." Iran's past conduct is far from pure, but it has done nothing remotely similar in recent years.

In fact, given the various threats now facing Tehran, our Martian friend might have trouble explaining why Iran's leaders hadn't gone all-out to get themselves some sort of WMD, merely as a deterrent. And yet it is the United States and Israel that profess themselves to be terribly, terribly worried about the supposed "threat" from Iran, and who are contemplating a preventive war that most observers realize would strengthen Iran's nuclear ambitions and could only delay its program for a couple of years.

Let's be clear: There's nothing to like about the current Iranian regime -- to include its clerical rulers, its buffoonish president, and the various thugs that keep the regime in power -- and I for one am very glad I live here and not there. Nonetheless, our Martian observer might have a lot of trouble figuring out why politicians in Washington and Jerusalem were so scared. In fact, he might very reasonably conclude that both states were losing all sense of perspective, and allowing the worst sort of worst-case analysis to cloud their thinking and cut off useful avenues of diplomatic engagement. And given that the United States likes to think of itself as the "leader of the free world" and is normally expected to exercise sound judgment on a host of complex issues, that possibility is not reassuring.

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