Focal Points Blog

The Oil Spills You Never Heard Of

While the news about British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizon platform blowout in the Gulf of Mexico is on a 24-hour news feed, it took a long boat ride and some serious slogging by John Vidal of The Observer (UK) to uncover a bigger and far deadlier oil spill near the village of Otuegwe in Nigeria’s Niger Delta.

“We lost our nets, huts and fishing pots. This is where we fished and farmed. We have lost our forest,” Otuegwe’s leader, Chief Promise, told Vidal.

The culprits in Nigeria are Shell and Exxon Mobil, whose 40-year old pipelines break with distressing regularity, pouring oil into the locals’ fishing grounds and drinking water. The Delta supports 606 oil fields that supply close to 40 percent of U.S. oil imports.

This past May, an Exxon Mobil pipeline ruptured in the state of Akwa Ibon, dumping more than a million gallons into the Delta before it was patched. According to Ben Ikari, a writer and member of the local Ogoni people, “This kind of thing happens all the time in the Delta…the oil companies just ignore it. The lawmakers do not care, and people must live with the pollution daily. The situation is worse than it was 30 years ago.”

Just how bad things are is not clear, because the oil companies and the Nigerian government will not make the figures public. But independent investigators estimate that over the past four decades the amount of oil released into the Delta adds up to 50 Exxon Valdez spills, or 550 million gallons. According to the most recent government figures, up to June 3, Deepwater Horizon had pumped between 24 to 51 million gallons into the Gulf.

Nigerian government figures show there have been more than 9000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are currently 2,000 official spill sites. The oil companies claim the majority of them are caused by local rebels blowing up pipelines or siphoning off the oil, and that spills are quickly dealt with.

However, the locals say most of the spills are caused by the aging infrastructure, and they and environmental groups charge that the companies do virtually nothing to clean them up. And when local people do challenge the oil giants, they say they get run off by oil company security guards.

The biggest oil disaster in the world, however, is not in Africa or the Gulf of Mexico, but in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle, where Texaco—now owned by Chevron—pumped 18.5 billion gallons of “produced water” into an area of more than 2,000 square miles. “Produced water” is heavily laden with salts, crude oil, and benzene, a carcinogenic chemical,.

According to the Amazon Defense Coalition, Chevron dumped the toxic waste directly into rivers and streams, in spite of recommendations by American Petroleum Institute that such waste be injected deep into the earth. “The BP tragedy was an accident; Chevron’s discharge in Ecuador was deliberate,” said the Coalition in a press release.

Experts estimate that 345 million gallons of oil have been discharged into the rainforest, one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. The oil and wastewater, along with “black rains” produced by the uncontrolled burning of gas, has created a nightmare for the local indigenous groups—the Secoya, Cofan, Siona, Huarani, and Kichwa.

Ecuador and the five tribes are currently suing Chevron for $27 billion, but the oil company claims it bears no responsibility for Texaco’s practices and says it will not pay a nickel if it is assessed for any of the damage.

As oil resources decrease, the pressure will be on to seek new resources in more marginal territory, including the deep ocean, tropical rain forests, and sensitive artic and tundra zones. Shell is chomping at the bit to start drilling in the Artic Ocean.

Judith Kimerling, who wrote “Amazon Crude” about the oil industry in Ecuador, toldThe Observer, “Spills, leaks and deliberate discharges are happening in oilfields all over the world and very few people seem to care.”

Except, of course, the people who live in the middle of them.

Gaza Flotilla: Prelude to a Wider War?

Looked at from a diplomatic point of view, Israel’s attack on the Gaza aid flotilla was an act of astonishing stupidity: it burned bridges to Israel’s one friend in the Middle East, Turkey; it drew world-wide condemnation for what many call an act of piracy; and it shifted the focus from Hamas to the inhumanity of the blockade. What were Tel Aviv’s decision makers thinking?

Well, a leading Jerusalem Post columnist suggests “a possible way to explain Israel’s decision to stop the flotilla to Gaza…was the Israeli government’s readiness to accept the development of a potential war with no other than Teheran.”

While the idea of jumping from the Gaza disaster into an Iranian frying pan seems insane, Shira Kaplan argues that Israel has used such “casus belli” in the past as a rationale for making war: the 1956 Suez Crisis sparked by an Egyptian move to nationalize the Canal; the 1967 Six-Day War in response to Nasser’s closing of the Tiran Straits; and the 2006 invasion of Lebanon following the seizure of two Israeli soldiers.

“Israel may very well be meaning to seize this regional crisis as a casus belli to challenge Teheran, “she writes.

There are a few developments that give one pause.

First, Israel recently deployed Flotilla 7 in the Persian Gulf, consisting of three submarines—the Dolphin, the Tekuma, and the Leviathan—armed with nuclear tipped missiles. According to an Israeli naval officer quoted in the Sunday Times, “The 1500 kilometer range of the submarines’ cruise missiles can reach any target in Iran.”

Second, the Netanyahu administration has elevated the use of unreasonable force to its standard modis operandi. The recent debacle in Dubai is a case in point. The Israelis sent a team of 27 assassins to kill a mid-level Hamas official who didn’t even merit a bodyguard. The hit not only deeply angered Dubai—which at the time had a cordial relationship with Tel Aviv—but annoyed Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany by counterfeiting their citizens’ passports.

According to the Financial Times, the Gaza flotilla calamity bears a lot of similarity to the disastrous 2006 decision to invade Lebanon. Yehezkei Dror, a member of the Winograd Committee that examined the 2006 invasion, concluded that a major reason things went wrong was that the Israeli cabinet deferred to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), which long has had a tendency to underestimate an enemy.

In the case of Gaza, however, the key decision-makers didn’t have to defer to the IDF. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are both former members of the Sayeret Matkal special forces, and the Minister of Strategic Affairs, Moshe Yaalon, is a former IDF chief of staff. According to the newspaperMaariv, Netanyahu and Barak never even bothered to hold a full cabinet discussion about the Gaza operation, and even cut out the cabinet’s five member inner core. To Netanyahu and Barak—two hammers—the Gaza flotilla was a nail.

Kaplan suggests that the Israeli government “has probably decided to come nearer to a point of no return with Teheran.” Certainly things are not going Tel Aviv’s way right now.

The Brasilia-Ankara initiative to ship 1,200 kilos of Iranian nuclear fuel to Turkey for reprocessing is gaining support, and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva is launching a full-court press aimed at getting Russia, China and France on board.

Israel has never been this internationally isolated, and its charge that the Gaza blockade is aimed at preventing Iran from establishing a foothold on the Mediterranean is gaining few supporters. But rather than backing off, Netanyahu has pulled the wagons in a circle and stepped up the rhetoric about the Iranian threat. All the talk about Iran being an “existential threat” and references to the Holocaust is the kind of language that leads people to make very bad decisions..

Right now the last thing the Obama administration needs is a war with Iran, because a war between Teheran and Tel Aviv would almost surely involve the U.S. on some level. But the Israelis are not listening much these days to Washington. The White House said it told the Israelis not to “over-react” to the Gaza flotilla, a plea that was clearly ignored.

Polls show two out of three Israelis disapprove of the attack on the flotilla, but are the two military men running the Tel Aviv government listening? Or are they about to take advantage of a crisis to launch a regional war that would make the Gaza boat attack look like a glass of spilled milk?

Part 2-The Futility of Trying to Debate Our Way to Disarmament

Tilting at Windmills

This post is part of a three-part series. Read Part 1 here. Check back tomorrow for Part 3.

Another obstacle to those who seek disarmament through policy channels is just how difficult it is to dispute “realist” arguments against disarmament. Among them, as enumerated by center-right nuclear-weapons analyst Bruno Tertrais in a recent issue of the Washington Quarterly, are:

The bottom line is that it is very difficult to explain the absence of war among major powers in the past 65 years without taking into account the existence of nuclear weapons.

[It] is far from certain that even modern conventional weapons alone would be able to hold a major power such as Russia or China at bay.

Proponents [of disarmament] argue that driving toward zero would [by demonstrating leadership or setting an example, help prevent] the emergence of a nuclear-armed North Korea and Iran. [Yet disarmament measures] have not had any impact whatsoever on the nuclear programs of India, Iran, Iraq . . . Israel, Libya . . . North Korea, or Pakistan.

Worse, Tertrais maintains in his realist-representative argument, disarmament might even incite proliferation.

Smaller countries that seek to balance Western power may actually feel encouraged to develop nuclear weapons . . . if they believed that the West is on its way to getting rid of them. … the smaller the U.S. arsenal becomes, the less costly it would be to become “an equal of the United States.”

Here’s the essence of the realist argument:

The emphasis on abolition would distract the current nonproliferation regime from the “real world” priorities of rolling back Iran and North Korea. … The argument that arms control [settling for halting the spread of nuclear weapons as opposed to abolishing them -- RW] is [a diversion] from the more valuable goal of abolition should in fact be reversed: abolition as a vision would distract from arms control.

Those who seek absolute disarmament operate under the assumption that by ratcheting back its top-end weaponry, a state eases the strains between hostile states and creates the conditions for peace. Realists flip that around and assert that defusing the tension over disputed regions such as those cited by Tertrais — Kashmir, Palestine, Taiwan, and the Korean Peninsula — is required to beget disarmament (in however distant a future).

They claim that they’re just echoing the language of the preamble to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons argument. Those signing the treaty, it reads, seek to “further the easing of international tension and the strengthening of trust between States in order to facilitate” disarmament. [Emphasis added.]

Whether or not they were intended to be the watchwords that realists and conservatives regard them as is open to debate. But when all the arguments are assembled, it becomes apparent how difficult it is to argue for disarmament without sounding like you’re soft on national security or in a state of denial about the facts on the ground.

True disarmament cannot be reasoned into existence. The simple truth is that many of us are, at heart, incapable of consenting to the continued possession of nuclear weapons until states begin to solve the underlying differences between them. However unassailable some realist logic may be, I think I speak for many in the disarmament movement when I say we simply don’t have the stomach for such a regimen.

Obama Administration Reviews Ottawa Treaty

When it comes to the US joining the Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel landmines, President Obama is getting the same nonsense from the Pentagon and State Department that President Clinton did when the treaty was being negotiated. “We need those mines to block a North Korean invasion of South Korea!”

In 2000 I had the privilege of evaluating that claim for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, Bobby Muller’s group that cares for victims of landmines around the world and started the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. For more, you can read a report I wrote, based on interviews with U.S. Army war planners and South Korean officials.

The bottom line? Ridiculous: As everybody in South Korea knows, any North Korean attack would be regime suicide for Kim Jong Il, with or without anti-personnel landmines. The planned South Korean and U.S. response is to use the anti-tank barriers they have laid along the few narrow invasion routes through the mountainous or watery DMZ (there’s a reason the Korean War was fought to a standstill along this line) and immediately use their complete control of the air to devastate the North Korean capital and then occupy it. As South Korean officials acknowledged to me, the minefields are there not to stop North Korean troops, but to stop the flood of civilian refugees they fear once the North starts imploding! The minefields are a Berlin Wall in reverse.

When it comes to balancing the limited military usefulness of a weapon with its inherent terrible humanitarian costs to civilians, presidents need to adopt a policy of “don’t ask — just tell.” The Pentagon today, as in the 1990s, can easily fight without anti-personnel landmines. All it takes is someone to tell them to do so.

Part 1-The Futility of Trying to Debate Our Way to Disarmament

You’re passionate about the abolition of nuclear weapons. But isn’t owning up to an uncompromising position on disarmament just a way of marginalizing yourself? Perhaps not. In the long run, those in the margins — grassroots types sprouting by the side of the road — may have a better chance of implementing disarmament than those steering policy limos down the middle of the road.

Take the Obama administration’s nuclear initiatives — the new START, the security summit, a revised nuclear posture review. However tentative, they might seem like steps in the right direction toward disarmament. Yet, in what can only be called a perverse experiment in cognitive dissonance, that same administration is requesting a 10 percent increase in funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration over the year before. Now fold that $7 billion into the $180 billion it’s requesting to upgrade U.S. nuclear weapons production for the next ten years. You can be forgiven for wondering what happened to the “dis” in disarmament.

Some assume that these budget hikes are the administration’s way of securing votes needed from conservative congresspersons to pass START. In reality, what it shows is how deluded are those who believe that decisions about nuclear weapons are predominantly determined by political instead of financial considerations. Darwin BondGraham, Nicholas Robinson, and Will Parrish explain at ZComm (emphasis added):

Rather than allowing a neat policy process carried out at the executive level to determine the future of the nuclear weapons complex, forces with financial . . . stakes in nuclear weaponry, working through think tanks like [the Hoover Institute], or corporate entities like Bechtel and the University of California, are actively attempting to lock in a de-facto set of policies by building a new research, design, and production infrastructure that will ensure nuclear weapons are a centerpiece of the US military empire far into the future.

According to the authors, among those forces if not necessarily with financial stakes, but acting on their behalf, are two of the “four horsemen” who, along with Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, wrote a series of op-eds for the Wall Street Journal ostensibly calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Former defense secretary William Perry is a senior fellow at Hoover, as is George Schultz, who was president of Bechtel for eight years before he became Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state. Even more worrisome, prior to her appointment as Obama’s undersecretary of Arms Control and International Security, Ellen Tauscher was a congressperson who worked to secure federal funding for the Lawrence Livermore and Sandia nuclear laboratories in her California district.

With the four horsemen’s last WSJ column, How to protect our nuclear deterrent, the cat was out of the bag. First, the title was a giveaway because as a rule only hawks or realists subscribe — as, no doubt, they were advised by some communications firm — to the re-branding of nuclear weapons as “our nuclear deterrent.” Neither offensive nor even defensive any longer, apparently they’re now just the equivalent of a big stick that we don’t need to brandish, nor even keep in plain sight. In short, proponents of nuclear arsenals can be disarming in the service of their advocacy.

“But as we work to reduce nuclear weaponry,” the four horsemen wrote, “and to realize the vision of a world without nuclear weapons, we recognize the necessity to maintain the safety, security and reliability of our own weapons.” Suddenly their support for disarmament was reduced to a cover under which the nuclear-weapons industry was making a strategic fallback to a position where it could retrench, secure in the knowledge it occupy it in perpetuity. In other words, if disarmament were a shell game, our eye is on the politics when it should be following the money.

U.S. Energy Policy Creating a New Generation of Dr. Strangeloves

President Eisenhower is well-remembered for warning the public in his final address to the nation to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence . . . by the military-industrial complex.” But it is little known that Eisenhower, in that same speech further cautioned that “we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

In May, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steve Chu announced that 42 university-led nuclear research and development projects would receive $38 million through the Department of Energy’s “Nuclear Energy University Program” designed to help advance nuclear education and develop the next generations of nuclear technologies. “We are taking action to restart the nuclear industry as part of a broad approach to cut carbon pollution and create new clean energy jobs,” said Secretary Chu. “These projects will help us develop the nuclear technologies of the future and move our domestic nuclear industry forward.”

At a time when the United States should be creating a new Manhattan Project for safe, clean, green energy from the sun, wind, and tides, the Obama administration is trying to recreate the old Manhattan project, training our best and brightest to continue to wreak havoc on the planet with nuclear know-how. Instead of letting the old nuclear complex rust in peace, the government is proactively taking the initiative to create a whole new generation of Dr. Strangeloves, enticing young people to study these dark arts by putting up millions of precious dollars for nuclear programs and scholarships.

What a disappointment that Dr. Chu, a Nobel laureate scientist, appointed by Obama for “change we can believe in”, represents the old paradigm of top-down, hierarchical, secret nuclear science. It’s just so 20th century! Chu has apparently ignored the myriad studies that show that dollar-for-dollar, nuclear power is one of the most expensive ways to meet energy needs, when lifecycle costs are compared to solar, wind, geothermal, appropriate hydropower and biomass, as well as efficiency measures. This is also true for reducing carbon emissions, as expensive nuclear power would actually exacerbate catastrophic climate change since less carbon emission is prevented per dollar spent on costly nuclear technology compared to applying those funds to clean energy sources and efficiency.

Further, countless studies, including recent reports from three communities in Germany with nuclear reactors, indicate that there are higher incidences of cancer, leukemia and birth defects in communities with toxic nuclear power plants that pollute the air, water, and soil in the course of routine operations. And a recent report from the New York Academy of Sciences, by distinguished Russian scientists, finds that deaths from the disastrous accident at Chernobyl now number over 900,000. Dr. Chu, a nuclear physicist, is well aware that the radioactive byproducts of nuclear power will remain toxic for 250,000 years and that there is no known solution to safely store this lethal brew for the eons it will threaten human health and the environment.

Americans should oppose any further funding for this failed, dangerous technology as well as the inordinate subsidies presently planned for the nuclear industry. It’s time to invest in a clean energy future that will create millions of jobs and enable the US to earn an honest dollar by developing desirable new technology to offer to the world. Instead we will be providing a growing number of countries the wherewithal and technical know-how with which to make a nuclear bomb, while subjecting their communities to the consequences of toxic radiation.

Alice Slater is the New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Will the Flotilla Attack Be Our “Kent State” Moment?

The offensive by the Congressional Democratic leadership against the Gaza humanitarian aid flotilla has now moved beyond just rhetorical support for the Israeli attack on the unarmed convoy. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, has called upon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute U.S. citizens who were involved or on board the flotilla.

Israelis demonstrate in front of the Turkish embassy on June 3, 2010 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Because the Gaza Strip is currently ruled by Hamas, according the Sherman, any humanitarian aid to the people of that territory is “clearly an effort to give items of value to a terrorist organization,” which is prosecutable under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Despite the active support of the humanitarian aid effort by a number of pacifist organizations in the United States and Europe, Sherman insists that the organizers of the flotilla have “clear terrorist ties,” dismissing critical analysis of such charges as part of the ideological agenda of “the liberal media.”

Sherman also announced he would be working with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that the more than 700 non-U.S. citizens who took part in the flotilla would be permanently barred from ever entering the United States. This would include European parliamentarians, Nobel laureates, as well as leading writers, artists, intellectuals, pacifists, and human rights activists, virtually none of whom are in the least bit sympathetic with Hamas or with terrorism.

Given the very real threat of terrorism from Al-Qaeda and other groups against the United States, it is very odd that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic Party leaders would choose — out of 255 Democrats in the House of Representatives — a paranoid right-winger like Sherman to chair the critically important terrorism subcommittee. Rather than focus on the real threats from Al-Qaeda and other dangerous organizations, it appears that Sherman is putting his energy into going after the motley group of Quaker pacifists, left-wing Jews, and other like-minded activists who boarded the ships attempted to bring medicines, school supplies, toys and other humanitarian aid to children of the Gaza Strip.

Indeed, it raises serious questions about whether the Democratic Party Congressional leadership is really concerned about international terrorism or, like the Bush administration, is attempting to use the threat of terrorism as an excuse to suppress nonviolent dissent against the policies of the U.S. government and its rightist allies.

Organizers and endorsers of the flotilla include such reputable American peace groups as Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace, Pax Christi, the American Friends Service Committee, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Resource Center for Nonviolence, War Resisters League, Women in Black and others. Supporters of this nonviolent effort to bring humanitarian aid to the people of the Gaza Strip also include such Israeli groups such as Yesh G’vul, Coalition of Women for Peace, New Profile, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, among others.

Despite this, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), insists that these groups are “pro-Hamas people.” Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) claims that the organizers of the flotilla have “links to Hamas and reportedly played a role in the attempted Millennium bombing in Los Angeles.” Rep. Ron Klein D-FL) insists that the real agenda of these peace and human rights organizations is “to bolster the terrorist Hamas government in Gaza.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) argues that Israel’s attack on the unarmed flotilla laden with humanitarian supplies part of an effort to “defend herself against terrorism.”

When prominent Democrats — including the head of an influential House subcommittee concerned with national security — begin implying that leading America and Israeli peace groups are linked to terrorism, it is no longer simply an issue of over-heated rhetoric in support of an allied right-wing government, but a McCarthyistic attack on nonviolent dissent. Indeed, it could only be a matter of time before we see Medea Benjamin, Mitchell Plitnick, and other leading nonviolent activists who have supported the flotilla hauled before Sherman’s subcommittee regarding these alleged ties to terrorism.

In many respects, however, Israel’s attack on the unarmed flotilla last weekend could be a “Kent State moment.” At the time of the 1970 shootings, National Guardsmen and police had been killing African-Americans and Hispanics with some regularity for years. When white middle class students were gunned down on a college campus, however, it woke up a whole new segment of American society, goading them into active resistance. Similarly, while the Israeli military has been killing Arab civilians for years, now that they have attacked European and American peace activists — with the support of Congressional leaders — it has created a whole new dynamic, one I witnessed personally this past Friday evening, at the annual dinner of the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, California.

Roughly 150 people gathered in the fellowship hall of a local Congregational Church this past Friday evening, including prominent liberal members of the city council and county board of supervisors, area clergy (including a local rabbi), professors, small businesspeople and other community leaders. The main speaker was Nomika Zion, founder of kibbutz Migvan in Sderot, Israel, a community which had suffered from relentless bombardment for many months from Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. Zion — a leader of the Sderot-based peace group Other Voice, which opposed Israel’s war on Gaza — argued that it was the ongoing siege of Gaza which was the biggest threat to the security and called for an end of the Israeli blockade RCNV staffperson and former Santa Cruz mayor Scott Kennedy then called on the city to come together to organize a boat to send relief supplies to Gaza Strip in an effort to end the siege, adding that he would write Rep. Sherman and Attorney General Holder and dare them to investigate and prosecute the hundreds of people in this coastal community who would support such an effort.

Israel’s rightist government and their allies in the U.S. Congress have clearly miscalculated. By claiming that the hundreds of dedicated peace and human rights activists on board those ships — most of whom in no way support Hamas or any terrorist group — as supporters of terrorism, they are mobilizing what could become a major backlash. It is a particularly bad calculation for the Democratic Party, which is going to need the support of the peace and human rights community — a key constituency of the party’s base — going into the mid-term election this fall. There are already plans for additional ships to try to run the blockade, most of which will have active participation from nonviolent activists here in the United States. We’ll see if Rep. Sherman and other Congressional leaders can stop them.

Krauthammer: Gaza Flotilla a Threat to Israel’s Existence

Would the Washington Post feature a columnist writing a weekly column which was frequently anti-Semitic? No, of course not — the Post will not have such a columnist and rightfully so. But, the Washington Post has Charles Krauthammer spewing hatred, falsehoods, and much more anti-Arab and anti-Islam rhetoric frequently. He demonizes Arabs and Muslims by his falsehoods. In fact, he was one of the most effective voices in calling for the invasion of Iraq causing hundreds of thousands of death and over a million wounded.

I am a loyal reader of Mr. Krauthammer’s column in the Post. I like to know what the other side is saying — or maybe I like to torture myself! But, Krauthammer’s most recent column on Friday June 4, 2010 got my blood boiling. He was trying to defend the Israeli commando raid of the humanitarian flotilla. He ends his article with:

The world is tired of these Jews, 6 million – that number again – hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists – Iranian in particular – openly prepare a more final solution.

He claims the humanitarian aid is an invitation to national suicide! Could he be more absurd? Israel has over 200 nuclear bombs, the strongest regional military power, supported by the only superpower, and the strongest economy. But if they allow a humanitarian aid ship through it is suicide. He claims that all Israel wanted was to search the cargo for weapons. Well, why then has Israel had a total blockade in force on Gaza’s 1.6 million Palestinian Arabs for the past four years?

During that time, couldn’t Israel have arranged for an international inspection of all humanitarian aid into Gaza? Or is it that Israel wants to prevent food and medicine from reaching the Palestinians as a collective punishment? Or is it that Israel, as one official said, wants to starve them but not kill them. The sewage system in Gaza was destroyed by Israel two years ago. The water purification system, too, was destroyed or rendered dysfunctional by the blockade. The children of Gaza are dying from diseases and malnutrition.

The Gazans live in the highest population density area in the world. They have been living under such conditions for the past sixty years since the creation of Israel, which now has one of the highest living standards in the world. So tell me: who is living in a Ghetto?

Mr. Krauthammer wants to demonize the Palestinians as an ungrateful people. But they only want freedom from mass starvation. How dare they want to attack Israel in order to attain the resemblance of livelihood? Moreover, how dare the world support a flotilla that seeks to prevent the starvation of 1.6 million people?

If the security of Israel is the issue, then why doesn’t Mr. Krauthammer support the two-state solution called for by the UN, United States and the Quartet? I would support a fully secure and safe Israel within its 1967 borders with an unarmed state of Palestine. Israel and Mr. Krauthammer would not be satisfied until all of the Arabs and Muslims become subservient to the wishes of Israel and the United States.

It would have been more appropriate if the ending paragraph of Mr. Krauthammer’s recent column stated:

The world is tired of these Palestinians, 6 million – that number again – hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Arabs and anti-Muslims – Israeli government and Mr. Krauthammer in particular – openly prepare a more final solution.

The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be

“I believe that there is absolutely nothing Israel can do that would end the unprecedented and unwarranted support the US gives it,” a reader wrote in response to my post, When You Circle the Wagons, Shoot Outward! He then cited numerous examples of Israel being “given a ‘by’ for everything it does.”

While I don’t disagree with his historical recounting, I definitely challenge his assumption that it means much of anything about the future.

In times of rapid change, historical trajectories are poor indicators of future events. Change is nonlinear. It leaps and spurts and stalls, rolls back and jumps laterally as well as vertically. (This is why the ‘experience’ we seem to value in leaders is so often a handicap – it equips them to deal with the past and instills a desire to solve old problems in old ways, because that’s what they know how to do.)

To greatly simplify the science, the behaviors of complex adaptive systems are ‘emergent’. They arise from the messy, nonlinear interactions among the ‘initial conditions’ of the moment, the rules governing the system, and the relationships among the agents that make up the system.

The initial conditions continually ‘refresh’. (A technical way of saying change is constant and the bumper sticker was right – shit happens.) As these initial conditions shift, the outcomes manifested by the system shift, too, because it’s continually ‘co-evolving’ with its environment.

The most important initial condition here is the degree of support for Israel on the part of American Jews, because of their disproportionate influence (relative to population) on American politics.

The default setting in US politics has been strongly pro Israel for 60 years. That meme was still operational during the 2008 presidential election, when each candidate went out of his way to boast about his support for the Jewish state.

However . . .

The goal of politicians is to get elected. (And reelected.) They always have a finger to the wind. (Want to know what POTUS is going to say in the State of the Union? Just see what’s running 66% or better approval in polls and focus groups, and he’ll be behind it or taking credit for it.)

So long as America’s Jewish voters were solidly behind Israel, so were elected officials. But that’s shifting. As Peter Beinart expressed it so succinctly in The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment for the New York Review of Books, ‘For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.’

There have been several key milestones along this road. The Walt and Mearsheimer piece in the London Review of Books was one. Jimmy Carter’s bestseller, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid was another. The 2008 / 2009 Israeli attack on Gaza pushed many American Jews over the edge, and gave rise to grassroots efforts such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Another Jewish Voice, and more sophisticated, inside the Beltway movements, such as J Street.

No less an American hero that CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus has argued that America’s relationship with Israel is important – but not as important as the lives of American soldiers, which Israeli intransigence threatens by providing rallying points for Al Qaeda and others.

Even in Israel, pragmatists (few though they may be) get this. ‘Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden,’ Mossad Chief Meir Dagan recently told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

This is a pattern, people.

It’s true that Israel and its supporters in America have been remarkably successful in controlling the narrative. They have spun the media, turned out the voters and bought the politicians.

But that’s a legacy model. It’s 20th century stuff. We live in an open source, post-print world. There’s too much bandwidth out there for any group to enforce message discipline or control the narrative today. Citizens with cell phones, iPads, Flip cams and Twitter, Flickr and YouTube accounts are now more important to framing narratives than the New York Times. Traditional media is, as a Pentagon official said of US Special Envoy George Mitchell, ‘too old, too slow … and too late.’

The ‘Freedom Flotilla’ organizers knew and took advantage of this. The Israelis completely misunderstood it, were suckered in, and are now paying the price. Not only did they look to all the world like criminals and thugs, they also managed to look incompetent in the process.

As the Economist put it, ‘Once admired as a plucky David facing down an array of Arab Goliaths, Israel is now seen as the clumsy bully on the block.’

Nobody likes clumsy bullies. Or votes for those who do.

For additional background, see Was Gaza Israel’s Waterloo?

Outraged by Drone Strikes? Some Drone Operators Are Too

Investigative reporter and historian Gareth Porter at IPS News writes in an article titled CIA Drone Operators Oppose Strikes as Helping al Qaeda:

Some CIA officers involved in the agency’s drone strikes programme in Pakistan and elsewhere are privately expressing their opposition to the programme within the agency, because it is helping al Qaeda and its allies recruit, according to a retired military officer in contact with them.

The interview he landed is an eye-opener.

“Some of the CIA operators are concerned that, because of its blowback effect, it is doing more harm than good,” said Jeffrey Addicott, former legal adviser to U.S. Special Forces and director of the Centre for Terrorism Law at St Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, in an interview with IPS.

Not only that, but neither are “‘The people at the top . . . believers,’ said Addicott, referring to the CIA. ‘They know that the objective is not going to be achieved.’”

Especially discouraging . . .

Addicott said the drone programme has been driven by President Barack Obama, rather than by the CIA. “Obama’s trying to show people that we’re winning,” he added. …

Within the administration, it appears that the logic behind the programme is that it has to be seen to be doing something about al Qaeda. … “Very frankly,” Panetta declared May 18, 2009, “it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership.”

CIA officers: Come to Florida, where you, too, can become a victim of PTSD while dealing out indiscriminate death from the comfort of your own console.

Be sure to read the rest of Gareth Porter’s exclusive at IPS News: http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=51706

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