Syria seen through the eyes of a British journalist and a Dutch jihadist

Emblematic of the feeble condition of Western political thought these days are the indications that there is more agreement about the evil of terrorism than there is about the value of democracy.

Witness an observation made recently by Patrick Cockburn, a British journalist admired by many on the Left, who wrote in The Independent:

The “war on terror” has failed because it did not target the jihadi movement as a whole and, above all, was not aimed at Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the two countries that had fostered jihadism as a creed and a movement.

For those who want to distance themselves from the crude lexicon of Bush and Cheney, jihadism is supposedly a word with less charge, signalling that the term’s user is not on a crusade. Yet under this veneer of objectivity there is sometimes a surprising concordance with the neoconservative perspective.

Over a decade ago, I wrote:

Richard Perle, in quasi-theological terms, posits a “unity of terror.” In the same spirit, an editorial in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post, in reference to the terrorists who killed three Americans in Gaza this week, goes so far as to say:

Whether it was Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or perhaps even al-Qaida itself matters little and in fact tends to distract from what the West knows but often does not like to admit: The tentacles all belong to the same enemy.

Within this conception of terrorism, a phenomenon that is scattered across the globe has been turned into a beast of mythological proportions. The explicit connection is militant Islam, but whether the “tentacles” linking Islamic terrorists amount to concrete connections through finance and organization, or whether we are looking at bonds that have no more substance than a common cause or simply the common use of particular techniques of terrorism, these are all distinctions that the unitarians dismiss as distractions.

Cockburn now writes:

These days, there is a decreasing difference in the beliefs of jihadis, regardless of whether or not they are formally linked to al-Qa’ida central, now headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri. An observer in southern Turkey discussing 9/11 with a range of Syrian jihadi rebels earlier this year found that “without exception they all expressed enthusiasm for the 9/11 attacks and hoped the same thing would happen in Europe as well as the US”.

When a veteran reporter makes this kind of observation, even though he does not identify his source in any way at all, there will be many readers who treat Cockburn’s word (and thus that of an unidentified “observer”) as definitive. In so doing, they ignore the fact that this characterization of the Assad regime’s opponents perfectly mirrors the regime’s own propaganda.

One can treat Assad’s claim that he is fighting terrorists as a statement of fact. Or, one can treat it as a cynical and effective piece of political messaging — messaging one of whose purposes is to corral some sympathy from those in the West who, paradoxically, both vehemently reject the military adventurism that the neoconservatives initiated after 9/11 and yet also fully embrace a neoconservative view of unified terrorism.

When labels like jihadist and terrorist get used with sufficient frequency, the mere fact that the terms are used so frequently solidifies the sense that we know what they mean.

Any label applied to a person, however, calls out for a corrective: the voice of that person — a voice which may reinforce or undermine the stereotypes that repetition has created.

When it comes to the jihadists in Syria, we rarely hear what they have to say about themselves and if Cockburn is to be believed there’s little reason why we should be interested in hearing such individuals speak, since they all think alike and are all enemies of the West.

Earlier this year, a rare glimpse of foreign jihadists in Syria came in the form of an interview with a Dutch jihadist. Speaking in English, he provided a more nuanced picture of what has led young men like him to leave their families and join the fight against the Assad regime. Indeed, he spoke at length characterizing this more as a fight for Syrians than as one against their government.

His is just one voice. To what extent he can be taken as representative of others is open to question. Young men can easily be blinded by their own convictions or become servants of the agendas of others.

But while it’s perfectly reasonable to view with skepticism anyone’s claim that Islamic law would provide the panacea that can heal all of Syria’s wounds, the account that this former Dutch soldier gives of himself suggests to me that he knows his own mind.

He’s the kind of jihadist that both Patrick Cockburn and Bashar al-Assad would have you believe does not exist.

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Have the neocons made an unprecedented advance in nuclear weapons design?

It’s generally understood that the construction of a nuclear weapon using uranium requires highly enriched uranium — enriched to 80% or greater.

Daniel Pipes writes:

[T]he American goal for the accord was that the Iranians not “advance their program” of building a uranium nuclear bomb (and perhaps a plutonium bomb too); the apparent deal exactly permits such advancement, plus sanctions relief to Tehran worth about US$9 billion.

Under the terms of the agreement, Iran will not be able to enrich uranium above 5% and its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium will be divided in two with half being available for the production of medical isotopes and the other half diluted down to 5%. There will be no remaining stockpile with the potential to be enriched to a level required for bomb making, yet Pipes asserts that such an advance remains possible.

Has he discovered something that no one else in the world knows about: how to make a nuclear weapon with low-enriched uranium?

The NSA better keep a close eye on Pipes. He could become the next A.Q. Khan.

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Video: The neocons and 9/11

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Newt Gingrich’s deep neocon ties drive his bellicose Middle East policy

Wayne Barrett writes: Casino king Sheldon Adelson’s multi-million-dollar cache of chips-on-the-table for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign has at last made him a household name outside of Las Vegas. But it isn’t just Adelson’s brand of pro-Israel, donor-driven saber-rattling that’s pushing Gingrich into far-out positions on virtually every Middle East-related question, from applauding the assassination of Iranian scientists to painting Palestinians as an historical concoction to requiring loyalty oaths from Muslim governmental appointees.

Since his days in the House, Gingrich has always attached himself to the most extreme neocon elements of American and Israeli politics. Adelson’s $18 million in contributions since 2006 only further fueled draft ducker Newt’s already chronic case of bombast. And as record-making as Adelson’s super PAC and other gifts to Newt are, they wouldn’t cover the cost of a single airstrike on a single Iranian facility. The price tag on what Gingrich calls “maximum covert operations” and possibly a full-scale war on Iran — both acceptable to Gingrich — would surely compete with the human and fiscal costs of the last conflagration he helped drag us into—the war in Iraq that has gone almost wholly unmentioned this primary season.

If elected, Gingrich would be the first American president to emerge from the dark think-tank world born in the Reagan era that gave us the Iraq War and lusts now for an Iranian reprise. A Likudnik version of the Manchurian candidate, Newt has spent much of his post-Congress life in the grasp of warrior colonies like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the think tank where he became a senior fellow two months after he stepped down as speaker in 1999, remained until he declared for president last May, and worked at times alongside Dick and Lynne Cheney, Richard Perle, John Bolton, Michael Ledeen, and Paul Wolfowitz, the first Bush battalion to euphemistically land in Baghdad, self-dispatched well before 9/11.

As if spending three times as much time at AEI than he did as speaker wasn’t enough bloodless abstraction for him, Gingrich simultaneously became a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, where Don Rumsfeld was welcomed with open arms when George Bush finally had had enough of him and where Condoleezza Rice returned as a senior fellow after her eight years in the Bush administration. Gingrich was one of eight Hoover fellows to serve on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, the official war incubator chaired by ringleader Perle, and he also signed on as a board member of the AEI-tied Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a front group recruited by the White House.

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Syria, the ‘Zio-American plot’, and Conflicts Forum

On its website (which I created) Conflicts Forum is referred to as “an international movement which engages with Islamist movements” — a partially correct but somewhat misleading statement.

Conflicts Forum does indeed engage Islamist movements — principally Hezbollah and Hamas. It does have an international element — evident in its advisory board. But by no stretch of the imagination can it accurately be described as an international movement.

It is an operation so small it can barely be described as an organization, let alone a movement. It serves first and foremost as an institutional identity for the former senior British intelligence officer, Alastair Crooke.

In his decades-long service for the British government, Crooke was deeply engaged with resistance movements across the globe, opening up vital dialogue leading to peace deals for which politicians and prime ministers would later eagerly take credit.

That work was prematurely cut short in 2003 because of pressure from an administration in Washington that refused to recognize that governments, however powerful, must sooner or later learn how to talk to their enemies.

Having been pushed out of his official role, Crooke attempted to continue what had become a personal mission through the creation of Conflicts Forum. The problem was: how much value can dialogue yield if only one side is willing to engage?

The outcome — perhaps inevitable — was that Conflicts Forum would be unable to effectively serve as a bridge between Islamists and Western governments and instead become an informal advocate for those movements and for the Middle Eastern governments whose backing they still enjoy.

In the summer of 2009 after Iranians from across the social spectrum took to the streets en masse to reject the outcome of the presidential election, Crooke rejected the idea that this was a “genuine popular uprising“; as for the significance of the unrest he said, somewhat dismissively: “plainly for some in north Tehran it was very real”.

Two and a half years later, Crooke and his partner Aisling Byrne are engaged in a similar effort to portray unrest in Syria, not as a popular uprising but instead as the result of America’s covert war against Iran for whom Syria remains a vital ally. The people on the streets are supposedly just pawns serving a neoconservative agenda: regime change in Damascus and Tehran.

The Guardian’s Brian Whitaker justifiably pours scorn on Conflict Forum’s conspiratorial missives and those on the left who have become Assad and Ahmadinejad’s useful idiots.

Denying the authenticity of the Syrian uprising is a central plank of the Assad regime’s propaganda message – that the whole thing, as the official news agency put it recently, is a "Zio-American" plot.

To anyone who has been following events in Syria closely since last March, the regime’s conspiracy claims are not only ridiculous but terribly insulting to the thousands of protesters who have risked (and often lost) their lives in the struggle against dictatorship. Even so, there’s a small chorus of westerners who seem to be echoing the Assad line.

“Arguably, the most important component in this struggle,” Aisling Byrne wrote in an article last week, “has been the deliberate construction of a largely false narrative that pits unarmed democracy demonstrators being killed in their hundreds and thousands as they protest peacefully against an oppressive, violent regime, a ‘killing machine’ led by the ‘monster’ Assad.”

Arguably, my foot. Information about the protests has sometimes been wrong – as always happens in conflicts, especially when media access is so severely restricted – but to suggest that this has led to a “largely false narrative” is utter nonsense.

Byrne’s article has been doing the rounds on the internet – Counterpunch, the Asia Times and Countercurrents – as well as being touted enthusiastically inside Syria by the Assad regime. Running to more than 4,700 words, it’s probably the fullest exposition yet of the grand international conspiracy theory.

Of course, it’s true lots of countries have been reacting to the uprising in Syria and some are certainly trying to influence the outcome. Given Syria’s strategic importance, that is to be expected. Reacting to events, though, is not the same as orchestrating things according to some pre-conceived plan – which is what the Assad regime claims is happening, and what Byrne also seems to imply:

“What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime ‘more compatible’ with US interests in the region.

“The blueprint for this project is essentially a report produced by the neo-conservative Brookings Institute for regime change in Iran in 2009.”

There’s no harm in discussing or criticising what foreign powers may be up to with regard to Syria, even if Byrne draws some rather fanciful conclusions. Any attempts to prevent the Syrian people from making their own choices ought to be resisted, too. The overall effect of such articles, though, is to delegitimise the popular struggle – which is unfair to the protesters and also plays into the hands of the regime.

But what of the article’s author, Aisling Byrne? She is projects co-ordinator for the Conflicts Forum, based in Beirut. Its director is Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer who until a few years ago was heavily involved in British and European diplomacy relating to Israel/Palestine. Among many other things, he took part in clandestine meetings with Hamas.

Crooke left his government job and founded the Conflicts Forum in 2004 “to open a new relationship between the west and the Muslim world”, mainly through promoting dialogue with Islamist movements – something that western governments have often been reluctant to do. Members of the forum’s advisory board include Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee, and Azzam Tamimi, regarded as an unofficial voice for Hamas in Britain.

“While facing increasingly intractable problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan and elsewhere,” Conflicts Forum says on its website, “we [ie western governments] immobilise ourselves by turning away from the homegrown political forces that have the power to resolve these crises.”

Judging by Byrne’s article and another by Crooke himself in the Guardian last November, though, Conflicts Forum seems oddly reluctant to engage with the “homegrown political forces” in Syria.

There’s an inconsistency and selectivity here that is also apparent among sections of the more traditionalist left. Pro-western dictators like Ben Ali and Mubarak are considered fair game, but when it comes to toppling contrarian dictators like Gaddafi and Assad there’s lingering sympathy for them.

In Syria’s case this is further complicated by viewing the uprising through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For instance, a briefing paper on Conflicts Forum’s website examining Hizbullah’s continuing support for the Assad regime says:

“Just as Hizbullah viewed the 2009 protests in Iran as a ‘bid to destabilise the country’s Islamic regime’ by means of a US-orchestrated ‘velvet revolution’, the protests in Syria are branded a form of ‘collusion’ with outside powers who seek to replace Asad’s rule with ‘another regime similar to the moderate Arab regimes that are ready to sign any capitulation agreement with Israel’…

“Echoing Hizbullah’s stance on the Iran protests is Nasrallah’s characterisation of the US role in the Syrian uprising as an extension of the July War and the Gaza War. Since the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine had foiled the ‘New Middle East’ scheme in both these military aggressions, Washington was ‘trying to reintroduce [it] through other gates,’ such as Syria.

“With this in mind, attempts to overthrow the Assad regime are considered a ‘service’ to American and Israeli interests.”

Such views are not confined to Hizbullah, however. But how realistic are they? Many neocons hoped the invasion of Iraq would deliver a pro-Israel government there. It didn’t, and instead it strengthened Iran. 

Tunisia is no more favourably disposed towards Israel than it was under Ben Ali. Nor is Libya. Nor is Egypt – if anything, less so. And a democratic Syria would still have the same territorial issues with Israel – the occupied Golan Heights, etc – that it has now. In any case Israel seems an odd reason for denying Syrians a chance to determine their own future.

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The excommunication of Ron Paul

Steve Kornacki writes: When you’re running near the top of the polls, it’s inevitable that your opponents will gang up on you. But there’s something different about the nature of the attacks Ron Paul is now facing – and, potentially, about their implications.

In the past few days, three of Paul’s rivals – Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann – have publicly declared that the Texas congressman will not under any circumstances win the GOP nomination. Bachmann called him “dangerous,” while Gingrich said he wasn’t even sure he’d vote for Paul over Barack Obama. Another candidate, Rick Santorum, said there’s no difference between Paul and Obama on foreign policy and that he’d need “a lot of antacid” to stomach voting for Paul. And Jon Huntsman launched a scathing anti-Paul ad in New Hampshire with a simple title: “Unelectable.”

This is not a run of the mill pile-on. Paul’s foes aren’t simply telling Republicans that he’s not the best choice to be their nominee; they’re telling Republicans that he’s unfit to call himself one of them – that he’s an imposter who isn’t due even the most basic courtesy (“Oh sure, if he ends up being the nominee I’ll be with him…”) that major candidates for the nomination are typically afforded.

It’s an attitude that’s also being encouraged by some of the GOP’s most powerful opinion-shaping forces. Rush Limbaugh has been disdainful of Paul throughout the campaign, with his guest host this week – Mark Steyn – keeping up the campaign. Fox News, whose primetime hosts have alternated between ignoring and savaging Paul, has been treating him like a pariah since the last campaign, when Paul was denied a seat at a critical pre-New Hampshire debate. And the New Hampshire Union Leader, which boasts one of the country’s most influential conservative editorial pages, branded Paul “truly dangerous” on Thursday.

The roots of this anti-Paul alarmism go deeper than the racist newsletters that were sent out under Paul’s name in the early 1990s and that have attracted new attention in the past week. Sure, the newsletters (and Paul’s shifting explanations for them over the years) would help make him an unelectable GOP nominee, but rest assured the same intraparty voices would be railing against him with the same adamance even if they’d never emerged.

The reason has to do with Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy and his unapologetic mockery of the “clash of civilizations” ethos that has defined the post-Cold War GOP. Today’s Republican Party is dominated by Christian conservatives (44 percent of participants in the 2008 primaries identified themselves as evangelicals) and neoconservatives, who are united in their commitment to an unwavering alliance between the United States and Israel, confrontation with Iran, and a significant American presence in the Middle East. Paul’s warnings about “blowback” directly threaten this consensus.

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Hawks who learned nothing

Matt Duss writes: This month, after almost nine years that left 4,484 American soldiers and well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, the U.S. war in Iraq came to an end. As the troubling recent reports indicate, the new Iraq will continue to struggle with enduring political tensions and serious security challenges for years to come.

As my colleague Peter Juul and I noted in our recent report on the war’s costs, The Iraq War Ledger, the end of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime represents a considerable global good, and a nascent democratic Iraqi republic partnered with the United States could potentially yield benefits in the future. But when weighing those possible benefits against the costs of the Iraq intervention, there is simply no conceivable calculus by which Operation Iraqi Freedom can be judged to have been a successful or worthwhile policy.

While these questions will doubtless continue to be debated into the future, the holiday season and the New Year are an appropriate time to move beyond the rifts that so divided our country over this war.

But before we do, let’s take a moment to remember some of the people who got the Iraq War completely wrong. This is important not only as a historical matter, but also because many of these same people are now calling for escalation against Iran, from the same perches and sinecures whence they helped get our country into Iraq. And, as former general Anthony Zinni said in regard to the consequences of a war with Iran, “If you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’re gonna love Iran.”

It’s worth noting that a lot of people got various things wrong about Iraq at various times. This writer is no exception. But the following critics are particularly notable not only because they were completely and catastrophically wrong about the costs and benefits of the Iraq War, and more generally about the capacity of American military power to determine outcomes, but also because they tended to go about it in the most condescending way possible. They have also suffered no apparent penalty for it. Going forward, our country will be safer and more secure in inverse proportion to the amount of influence these people have. [Continue reading...]

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Gingrich on Iran: ‘we are going to replace their regime’ — bombing isn’t enough

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Gingrich ready to help Israel attack Iran — calls Palestinians an ‘invented people’

In a CNN interview Newt Gingrich volunteers to capitulate to Israeli nuclear blackmail: “I would rather plan a joint operation [against Iran] conventionally, than push the Israelis to the point where they go nuclear.”

Gingrich told The Jewish Channel that Palestinians are not a genuine nation.

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The neocons have finally snapped

M.J. Rosenberg writes: Any doubt we might have that the Israeli right has lost its mind should be eliminated by the latest column from one of its most prominent media figures, Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post.

Glick, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, has flipped out over some remarks (which we’ll get to later) made last week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman. And here is how she explains those remarks.

Her first explanation is that “the Obama administration is an ideological echo chamber in which only certain positions are permitted.”

Restrained by ideological thought police that outlaw critical thought about the dominant forces in the Islamic world today, US officials have little choice but to place all the blame for everything that goes wrong on the one society they are free to criticize — Israel.

That, in itself, borders on hilarious.

Anyone who pays even a modicum of attention to the Middle East knows that rather than “place all the blame for everything” on Israel, the Obama administration blames Israel for nothing while providing more foreign aid to Israel than to any other country, supporting it on every issue at the United Nations — often against America’s own interests — and never, ever attaching any conditions to our aid or support (as we do with every other country in the world).

The only thing President Obama has asked of Israel during his entire term is for a three-month settlement freeze, to which Israel said no. (Prime Minister Netanyahu himself says Obama has earned a “badge of honor” for his uncritical support for Israel.)

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Neocons worst fear: a shift in the balance of power in the Middle East

M.J. Rosenberg writes: Suddenly the struggle to stop Iran is not about saving Israel from nuclear annihilation. After a decade of scare-mongering about the second coming of Nazi Germany, the Iran hawks are admitting that they have other reasons for wanting to take out Iran, and saving Israeli lives may not be one of them. Suddenly the neoconservatives have discovered the concept of truth-telling, although, no doubt, the shift will be ephemeral.

The shift in the rationale for war was kicked off this week when Danielle Pletka, head of the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) foreign policy shop and one of the most prominent neoconservatives in Washington, explained what the current obsession with Iran’s nuclear program is all about.

The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a nuclear weapon and testing it, it’s Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it. Because the second that they have one and they don’t do anything bad, all of the naysayers are going to come back and say, “See, we told you Iran is a responsible power. We told you Iran wasn’t getting nuclear weapons in order to use them immediately.” … And they will eventually define Iran with nuclear weapons as not a problem.

Watch:

Hold on. The “biggest problem” with Iran getting a nuclear weapon is not that Iranians will use it but that they won’t use it and that they might behave like a “responsible power”? But what about the hysteria about a second Holocaust? What about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion that this is 1938 and Hitler is on the march? What about all of these pronouncements that Iran must be prevented from developing a nuclear weapons because the apocalyptic mullahs would happily commit national suicide in order to destroy Israel? And what about AIPAC and its satellites, which produce one sanctions bill after another (all dutifully passed by Congress) because of the “existential threat” that Iran poses to Israel? Did Pletka lose her talking points?

Apparently not.

Pletka’s “never mind” about the imminent danger of an Iranian bomb seems to be the new line from the bastion of neoconservativism.

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‘It’s time to stop the bully’: Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn on Occupy Wall Street, the Israel lobby and the New York Times

Mondoweiss interviews the founder of Adbusters: When the Occupy Wall Street protests began to attract attention in the fall, everyone wanted to know where the idea to set up a permanent protest at the heart of Manhattan’s financial district came from. The answer was the mind of Kalle Lasn, the co-editor (along with Micah White) of the anti-consumerist “culture jamming” magazine Adbusters. It was Adbusters, calling for an American “Tahrir moment,” that originally put out the call to occupy Wall Street on September 17.

But not all the attention Lasn and his magazine received was positive, though. It was the New York Times coverage of Adbusters and Lasn’s role in the Occupy movement that caused him the most grief by smearing them as anti-Semitic.

“For me, the New York Times is really important right now, because it was one of the most ugly experiences of my year, where they took a couple of quick swipes at my magazine and me personally,” Lasn told Mondoweiss in a recent phone interview. “I have such huge respect for the New York Times and I subscribe to it and I’ve been reading it every morning for the last ten years of my life.”

Now, Lasn is speaking out about the New York Times‘ refusal to print his response to two articles in the newspaper that alleged Adbusters was anti-Semitic. (Read more about the controversy here, and read this New Yorker article on the origins and future of Occupy Wall Street for more about Lasn and White.)

Mondoweiss recently caught up with Lasn for an extended interview with the sixty-nine year old activist to discuss Occupy Wall Street, Palestine, the Israel lobby and more. [Continue reading...]

The New York Times also features an article on Lasn today which includes this line: “In 2004, Adbusters published an article claiming that a large percentage of neoconservatives behind American foreign policy were Jewish.” This is a classic example of the way the New York Times subtly distorts the truth.

Lasn’s article did indeed make that claim, but to call it a claim is to suspend judgement on whether it has a factual basis. It is to say that Lasn made such an assertion but the journalist reporting it was in no position to verify or refute its validity. If there was a disputable claim it was that the 50 individuals Lasn named were indeed the most influential among the neoconservative — though Lasn himself attached the caveat that “neoconservative” is for some a badge of honor while for others an unwanted label and thus identifying who is and who is not a neoconservative is not that easy. But among those 50, Lasn pointed out that half of them are Jewish.

Now if he was pointing this out because he was conducting some kind of “Jew watch”, then he could reasonably be accused of being antisemtic. But far from doing that, he was instead asserting that the centrality that many neoconservatives give to Israel’s interests is not just coincidentally related to the fact that a disproportionate number of neoconservatives are Jews. The fact that he got attacked for pointing out a fairly obvious connection, rather than indicating that he must have had an insidious motive, much more strongly indicates how easily the neoconservatives feel threatened by anyone who highlights their ties to Israel.

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The boys who cry ‘Holocaust’

Gary Kamiya writes: We’ve been through this before. As one of the most disastrous wars in our history is coming to an inglorious end, the same neoconservative hawks who dreamed it up are agitating for a new war that would make Iraq look like the invasion of Grenada — and using the ultimate trump card in American politics to silence debate over it.

When hawks begin beating the drums for war in the Middle East, Israel is usually a big reason why. That was true in the run-up to the war in Iraq, and it is doubly true with the current hysteria over Iran. Despite disingenuous claims to the contrary, the only reason the U.S. is even talking about war with Iran is Israel. As the invaluable M.J. Rosenberg, who knows the working of the Israel lobby as only a former card-carrying member can, notes, “It is impossible to find a single politician or journalist advocating war with Iran who is not a neocon or an AIPAC cutout. (They’re often both.)”

Ever since the International Atomic Energy Agency released its overhyped, old-news report on Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s amen corner in the U.S. has been loudly calling for war.

If American politics did not contain an enormous blind spot, no one would pay any attention to what these discredited ideologues have to say. The Iraq war they championed turned out to be one of the biggest foreign-policy disasters in U.S. history. Their ignorant and Islamophobic view of the Middle East is as breathtaking as their bland willingness to commit America to yet another ruinous war against a Muslim country, this time one four times larger than Iraq and with more than twice as many people. They have a demonstrated track record of complete failure.

Yet these incompetent militarists are still taken seriously. And the reason is simple: They purport to be supporters of Israel. In American politics, you can get away with even the most cracked war-mongering as long as you claim to be “pro-Israel.” And the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card for anything having to do with Israel is the Holocaust.

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Visions of slaughter: Jennifer Rubin, Rachel Abrams and the Washington Post

Here’s the post that got this story rolling. It’s written by Rachel Abrams and appears on her blog, Bad Rachel, and is her bloodcurdling response to the release of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, on October 18:

GILAD!!!!!!!!!!

He’s free and he’s home in the bosom of his family and his country.

Celebrate, Israel, with all the joyous gratitude that fills your hearts, as we all do along with you.

Then round up his captors, the slaughtering, death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages who dip their hands in blood and use women—those who aren’t strapping bombs to their own devils’ spawn and sending them out to meet their seventy-two virgins by taking the lives of the school-bus-riding, heart-drawing, Transformer-doodling, homework-losing children of Others—and their offspring—those who haven’t already been pimped out by their mothers to the murder god—as shields, hiding behind their burkas and cradles like the unmanned animals they are, and throw them not into your prisons, where they can bide until they’re traded by the thousands for another child of Israel, but into the sea, to float there, food for sharks, stargazers, and whatever other oceanic carnivores God has put there for the purpose.

And here’s how the Washington Post got involved: Their right wing, pro-Israel, blogger, Jennifer Rubin, gave Abrams the thumbs up when she retweeted a tweet in which Abrams was promoting her post.

The Post‘s ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton says “Rubin should not have retweeted Abrams’s tweet.”

He concludes: “Rubin is not responsible for the offensive words; Abrams is. But in agreeing with the sentiment, and in spreading it to her 7,000 Twitter followers who know her as a Washington Post blogger, Rubin did damage to The Post and the credibility that keeps it afloat.”

Pexton’s analysis of Abrams’ post is less than exact. He writes:

Abrams’s post is so full of dashes it’s hard to follow, but the subject of her run-on sentence does appear to be “captors” not Palestinians in general. The language is so over the top, though —“child-sacrificing savages,” “devil’s spawn,” “pimped out by their mothers,” “unmanned animals” — it’s easy to how some people might see it as an endorsement of genocide.

The mangled sentence is indeed difficult to decipher, but this call for vengeance is not simply directed at Shalit’s captors — it includes “their offspring.” Presumably Abrams shares the view of many right wing Zionists that the children of terrorists are baby terrorists and thus she hopes for their preemptive slaughter.

Having said all that, some observers may wonder why a blogger like Abrams could garner so much attention. Pexton merely identifies her as “an independent blogger and board member of the conservative Emergency Committee for Israel” — a group so extreme that it has drawn criticism from the pro-Israel American Jewish establishment.

The context the Post‘s ombudsman failed to provide was this:

Her spouse, Elliott Abrams is a veteran of both the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations who was convicted (and later pardoned) for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal; her mother, Midge Decter, is on the board of the Center for Security Policy and was a founding member of the Project for the New American Century and the Reagan-era Committee for the Free World, which she co-directed with Donald Rumsfeld; her step-father, Norman Podhoretz, is a former editor of the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary and a widely recognized trailblazer of the neoconservative “tendency” (Norman’s son from another marriage, John Podhoretz, is currently editor of Commentary); and her sister, Ruthie Blum Leibowitz, is a columnist for the conservative Israeli daily, the Jerusalem Post.

Back in 2006, when Elliot Abrams backed an armed uprising in Gaza in an effort to overthrow the democratically elected government, what kind of encouragement was he getting from his wife? Was she also then sharing visions of mass slaughter with President Bush’s Deputy National Security Adviser who at that time was arguably the most influential Middle East policymaker inside the administration?

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The 9/11 Decade – The Clash of Civilizations?

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State Dept funding neocon-Zionist propaganda outfit

Ali Gharib reports:

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced a $200,000 grant to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Middle East media watchdog closely aligned with U.S. neoconservatives and Israel’s hawkish security establishment and rightist Likud Party. The grant was awarded “to conduct a project that documents anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and Holocaust glorification in the Middle East.” The announcement continues:

This grant will enable MEMRI to expand its efforts to monitor the media, translate materials into ten languages, analyze trends in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and glorification, and increase distribution of materials through its website and other outlets.

Finding examples of anti-Semitism is already a robust MEMRI project and one wonders why exactly they needed the cash: According to publicly available tax filings, MEMRI had nearly $5 million in revenue in 2007 and more than $4.5 million in revenue in 2008.

What’s more troubling, MEMRI has faced accusations of mistranslating items and cherry-picking incendiary sources to portray regional media and attitudes in an overly-negative fashion. One of the most common issues has been with MEMRI’s mistranslations which appear to show anti-Semitism on thin evidence. In 2007, CNN correspondent Atika Shubert checked MEMRI’s translations of a Palestinian children’s program against those provided by the cable news channel’s own interpreters:

Media watchdog MEMRI translates one caller as saying – quote - ‘We will annihilate the Jews.’ But, according to several Arabic speakers used by CNN, the caller actually says ‘The Jews are killing us.’ MEMRI told us it stood by its translation.

In other instances, MEMRI has been accused of twisting translations to portray criticisms of Israel and its driving ideology, Zionism, as anti-Semitic..

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John Robertson: Elliot Abrams bangs the drum for war against Iran

By John Robertson, War in Context, July 11, 2011

Once again, from one of those worthies privileged to call themselves “fellows” of the Council on Foreign Relations, a call for America to suck it up, be strong, hammer those bad guys into submission (and not a word about how much it costs, or how little the US can afford it).

Days ago, it was Max Boot, pounding on the guilt button of America’s supposed humiliation in Somalia, and imploring Obama to steer our military and economy more deeply into the black hole that is nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan. (For my take on that, I invite you to read this.) Now we have Elliot Abrams, another “expert” hailing from the so-called mainstream of the public diplomacy establishment, who is shocked – SHOCKED – by the deaths of US soldiers at the hands of Shii militias in Iraq, and intent on shaming Obama into doing something about it – by killing Iranians, those nefarious evil-doing people who surely are behind it all.

Here’s his historical context:

There must be very few times in American history when a foreign government is accused of killing American troops, and absolutely nothing is done about it.

Every school kid used to learn lines like “Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead,” or “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.” The War of 1812 was fought in large part due to the “impressment” of American sailors by the British, a similar example of denial of freedom that fell far short of actually killing American sailors.

Are you serious, Mr. Abrams? For those who don’t know, Mrs. Perdicaris and children were, in perspective, a minor incident; they were held captive by a local sheikh in northern Africa and were rescued, unharmed, when Teddy Roosevelt sent in a small force. There was no danger of instigating a horrific war. British impressment of American sailors did contribute to starting the War of 1812, which soon entailed a British invasion of US territory and a real threat to the American republic.

The deaths of a few US soldiers in Iraq at the hands of Shii militias with ties to – and supplied by – Iran is deplorable, but it bears absolutely no real comparison to either of these two incidents. Abrams would have us believe that any Iranian involvement in the killing of US soldiers in Iraq is unprovoked. You want to cite history, Mr. Abrams? Try this out:

  • Even as US forces were rolling into Baghdad in 2003, the word among the neocon set was that “real men go to Tehran.” This, after the Khatami government had cooperated with the US post-9/11 and had been reaching out to the US during the Clinton administration – only to be rewarded with the idiocy of Bush’s “axis of evil” SoU address in 2002.
  • Between 1980 and 1988, the US provided huge support to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq after his unprovoked invasion of Iran. The war cost as many as 1 million Iranian lives, and featured attacks by the US navy on Iranian oil installations and naval forces in the Persian Gulf. It also featured Iraqi use of poison gas against Iranian troops – a horrific violation of international law, at which the Reagan administration essentially winked and looked the other way. And, it also featured the incident of a US warship (the USS Vincennes) launching anti-aircraft rockets that destroyed an Iranian passenger plane, killing 200 passengers – an incident the Iranian government commemorated only a few days ago.
  • Speaking of the Reagan administration, and history – under Reagan, the US secretly facilitated the illegal sale of weapons to Iran and then (again, illegally) funneled the profits to anti-communist CONTRA movement in Nicaragua. When it was discovered, this bit of chicanery brought us the Iran-CONTRA scandal, which came close to trashing the Reagan administration and led to the censure and convicting of some Reagan officials, including . . .
  • Elliot Abrams! Gee, you don’t remember that, Elliot? You don’t remember that there was once a time when you were up to your neck in unseemly dealings with Iran?

Outraged by Iran now, Abrams is calling for retaliation. Want some more historical context for that?

  • An article at the time of Iran-CONTRA also noted that on his office wall, Abrams proudly featured a Likud Party poster.
  • Anyone who reads Abrams’ stuff over the last several years knows that he is one of Israeli hard-right’s most ardent defenders in the press as well as the foreign-policy mainstream. He completely backs Netanyahu/Lieberman on the issue of West Bank settlements (i.e., Israel should keep them all, and anyone who raises the issue of settlements is simply trying to distract us from the issues of Palestinian/Islamist/Iranian perfidy).
  • He would love nothing better than to see the US either back Israel’s play in a proposed military strike against Iran or launch its own such strike.

So now, Abrams conjures up the ghosts of 1812 and Teddy Roosevelt to bang the war-drum for retaliation against Iran. He says, it’s to salvage American honor.

I betcha that Bibi – that great promoter of American honor – is smiling.

John Robertson is a professor of Middle East history at Central Michigan University and has his own blog, Chippshots.

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Does the US have a strategic interest in the success of the Arab democratic revolution?

One of the most pernicious effects of the Bush era was that the neocons succeeded in turning so many progressives into realists.

Before Bush, “the national interest” was correctly viewed as the abiding concern of insular conservatives. It meant that Americans should be concerned with the rest of the world only in as much as anything going on out there could impact American interests — above all this meant American economic interests.

Now we have liberals and progressives who seem to have somehow discovered their William F Buckley Jr within — their preeminent concern has become the national interest. It’s all well and good to go and intervene in Libya, but does this serve United States’ national interests?

If realism was meant to be the antidote to neoconservatism, it’s definitely been overrated.

A neoconservative looks into a mirror and thinks he’s looking at the future. A realist looks into the future and can only see the past.

The neocon’s preeminent thinker, Robert Kagan, gave Obama this rave review after his speech on Libya last night:

With his speech tonight, President Obama placed himself in a great tradition of American presidents who have understood America’s special role in the world. He thoroughly rejected the so-called realist approach, extolled American exceptionalism, spoke of universal values and insisted that American power should be used, when appropriate, on behalf of those values. I was particularly pleased to see him place Libya in the context of the Arab Spring. This is the part of the equation that the self-described realists have missed. While in isolation acting to defend the people of Libya against Moammar Gaddafi might not seem imperative, it is in the broader context of the revolutionary moment in the Middle East that U.S. actions take on greater significance. Tonight the president began to place the United States on the right side of the unfolding history in the region.

The president also deserves credit for showing, once again, how bold and effective U.S. leadership can pave the way for multilateral efforts. He has been right to insist that others take their fair share of the burden, but he has also made clear that American leadership was essential, even indispensable.

This was a Kennedy-esque speech.

Meanwhile, Fred Kaplan at Slate was equally enthusiastic — but for different reasons:

President Barack Obama’s speech on Libya Monday night was about as shrewd and sensible as any such address could have been.

Some of his critics hoped he would outline a grand strategy on the use of force for humanitarian principles. Some demanded that he go so far as to declare what actions he would or would not take, and why, in Syria, Bahrain, and other nations where authoritarian rulers fire bullets at their own people. Still others urged him to spell out when the air war will stop, how we’ll exit, who will help the Libyan people rebuild their country after Qaddafi goes, and what we’ll do if he doesn’t go.

These are all interesting matters, but they evade the two main questions, which Obama confronted straight on. First, under the circumstances, did the United States really have any choice but to intervene militarily? Second, for all the initial hesitations and continuing misunderstandings, would the actions urged by his critics (on the left and right) have led to better results? For that matter, have any presidents of the last couple of decades dealt with similar crises more wisely?

The answers to all those questions: No.

Curiously, Obama left out any mention of the rebel fighters. They could be forgiven for now wondering whether this is mostly because Washington is reluctant to place itself alongside images of young (and not so young) men wearing keffiyehs, carrying AK-47s and RPGs.

The closest Obama came to clearly delineating the relationship between the US intervention and the Libyan revolution was here:

… America has an important strategic interest in preventing Gaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya’s borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful – yet fragile – transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power. The writ of the UN Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling its future credibility to uphold global peace and security. So while I will never minimize the costs involved in military action, I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.

Now, just as there are those who have argued against intervention in Libya, there are others who have suggested that we broaden our military mission beyond the task of protecting the Libyan people, and do whatever it takes to bring down Gaddafi and usher in a new government.

Of course, there is no question that Libya – and the world – will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

The US and its allies have taken sides in Libya, but holding back from making regime change the coalition’s military goal shouldn’t be seen as merely a PR gambit designed to protect the mission’s chosen branding: “humanitarian intervention”.

The rebels now have a fighting chance of winning, but the revolution itself cannot be completely outsourced to foreign powers.

As for the idea that the US has a strategic interest in the success of the wider revolution, I’m not about to claim that having previously displayed such a lack of interest in the rights of ordinary people across the region, the US has now been reborn as the indispensable champion of democracy that the neocons claim. But the emerging democracies across the Arab world will be keenly aware of the role that the US has had in advancing or obstructing this historic trend.

An effort to get on the right side of history has less to do with demonstrating America’s moral character than diminishing the depth of its untrustworthiness in the eyes of those it has long abused.

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