APPROACHING IRAN: THE FLAWS OF IMPERIAL DIPLOMACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

28 Jun

[Prefatory Note: This post consists of six segments devoted to relations of the West to Iran, centering on whether the United States post-Trump will attempt to reduce tensions with Iran or opt for continuity, and greater policy coordination with Israel’s new post-Netanyahu leadership. Naphtali Bennett, Israel’s new Prime Minister, has already made clear that he views Iran no differently than Netanyahu, opposes a return to the 2015 Nuclear Program Agreement (JCPOA) and seems to have authorized at unprovoked attack on the Karaj facility on June 23rd that produces centrifuges needed to obtain enriched uranium.

When the U.S. Government withdrew from the hard bargained Obama Era nuclear agreement in 2018 accompanied by a revamping of sanctions against Iran, tensions once again dangerously escalated. Biden pledged as a candidate for the American presidency to restore JCPOA, but has so far shown only a limited commitment to rejoin the earlier agreement, and seems to be insisting on a new agreement that is more restrictive of Iran’s nuclear program and even its regional political activity. The U.S. Government seems to forget that it was its actions that led to the breakdown of the agreement, and that Iran continued to comply for an entire year before embarking upon a more ambitious program of nuclear enrichment, accumulating three tons above the agreed limits, ten times the amount allowed by the lapsed agreement, yet still short of the level of enrichment need to produce nuclear weapons. Six rounds of negotiations have taken place during recent months in Vienna among the five remaining parties to the 2015 agreement (China, Russia, France, UK, Germany) and Iran, as well as indirect negotiations between Iran and the U.S. with the other governments serving as intermediaries.

Authoritative voices from Vienna tell us that an agreement is ‘within reach,’ whatever that may mean, yet they also say its restoration remains uncertain due to Israeli pressures, the recent election of a hardline Iranian President—Ebrahim Raisi, and the American insistence on a longer timeline for the agreement as well as a reported demand that Iran cease its support for ‘terrorist’ entities in the region and reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium.

The Western media fails to understand the relevance of Iranian grievances with respect to its nuclear program, seems totally insensitive to double standards in its reportage, and so the issue is portrayed to the public in an exceedingly misleading manner. Among Iranian grievances the following are especially important: Iran is portrayed as a supporter of terrorism in the region while there is virtually no mention of the blatant pattern of Israel ‘terrorism’ against Iran, and specifically against its nuclear program that has breached no international norms. In the period 2010-2012 four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated by Israel: Masoud Alimohammedi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad, Mostafa Ahmed Roshan. As recently as November 2020 Iran’s leading nuclear scientist associated with Iran’s program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed by a Mossad operation while driving in a car near Tehran. The U.S. has done its share of state-sponsored terrorism: disabling 1,000 centrifuges by cyber Stuxnet attacks back in 2010 and assassinating a leading military and political figure, Qasem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 while he was on a diplomatic peace mission in Iraq. Israel also seems responsible for periodic attacks on the Natanz nuclears facility, as well.

For further contextualization it is well to recall that it was Trump who ruptured JCPOA when it was working well, which was confirmed by assessments of U.S. intelligence reports. Maybe even more important was the U.S. failure to object to such Israeli violation of Iranian sovereign rights, as well as aggressive acts that violated the basic norms of the UN Charter, as well as to curb its own recourse to overt and covert violations of Iran’s legal rights.

Despite this abusive pattern Iran refrained from challenging the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal, or even coupling its commitment to refrain from acquiring the weapons or even the capability to produce the weaponry with a demand for a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone. This pattern should remind us that Western colonialism is largely dead, yet Western imperialism persists almost undetected by the normative radar by which international behavior should be judged. Antony Blinken’s ‘rules-governed’ international order has some gaping black holes, and Iran continues to be victimized in the process, while Blinken’s silence is totally overlooked.

Finally, two statements indicative of Israel’s rogue behavioral ethos toward Iran. The Defense Minister, and alternate opponent of Netanyahu, Benny Gantz speaking on June 24, 2021 put his view of Iran in direct language: “..a murderous and dangerous enemy, building arms of terror around the State of Israel, seeks to acquire a nuclear weapon to threaten Israel, and the stability of the entire region.” Iran’s ‘arms of terror’ presumably contrast with Israel’s ‘weapons of self-defense,’ such are the distortions of hegemonic political discourse. Allon Ben David writing in Ma’ariv on the same day as Gantz spoke was engagingly candid in masking Israeli embrace of terror as a peacetime tactic: “..the Mossad and IDF will contribute in their quiet way part of the effort to delay Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.” The word ‘quiet’ is code talk for ‘secret,’ and the quiet work consists of killing scientists and planting explosives in Iran’s nuclear facilities, or even sending drones on armed missions carried out in Iranian or Syrian territory.

Two interviews are also included that address Iranian leadership issues. It is almost comical that one hears shouts of indignation about an extremist leader being elected in Iran, whereas discussing Bennett’s extremist support of the unlawful encroachment of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territories or refusal to support the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state is hardly mentioned, or set off against Biden’s endorsement of a two-state solution.]

APPROACHING IRAN: THE FLAWS OF IMPERIAL DIPLOMACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

(1) Responses of Richard Falk to Interview Questions of journalist Niloofar Adibnia (19 April 2021)

What is your analysis of the Vienna meeting?

The so-called ‘indirect talks’ in Vienna likely have several distinct goals. (1) Holding the talks include the purpose of involving the four other P5 (Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and Germany) in the process of restoring American participation in and Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, known as JCPOA, and also, as the ‘5 +1 Agreement’; the U.S. and Iran separately interact with representatives of these five governments, which in turn inform U.S. and Iran, which then in turn provide responses; it is a dialogue with intermediaries; (2) The indirectness of the process allows each side to make an assessment as to whether it is worth the risks of international failure and domestic backlash as a result of disagreements as to the respective expectations of the two sides in a high profile diplomatic effort at restoring JCPOA along the lines of its original character in 2015; (3) The Vienna process also should be helpful in identifying sticking points with respect to the removal of sanctions on Iran, the restraint of Iranian regional diplomacy in the Middle East, and any further adjustments such as reparations for ‘nuclear terrorism’ or agreed ceilings on uranium enrichment, allowing both countries to decide how serious these gaps are.

Will the Vienna Summit Lead to the Revival of the Nuclear Deal?

I think part of the purpose of the Vienna talks is to allow the parties to determine whether the timing is right at present for a renewal of JCPOA. The U.S. is under pressure from Israel, and some Arab states not to participate again within the JCPOA framework unless new burdensome conditions are imposed on Iran. On its side, Iran is likely unwilling to alter its enrichment levels without assurances that ‘nuclear terrorism’ will be treated as a criminal disruption in the future, and appropriate steps taken including reparations. Iran may also insist upon unconditional removal of sanctions in view of its experience during the Trump presidency. In opposition, Biden may insist on flexibility with respect to sanctions relief in the event that Iran enriches uranium beyond agreed levels.

Will the US lift sanctions?

I think the sanctions will be lifted by stages if Iran agrees to return to the 2015 enrichment levels, and perhaps, agrees to transfer any stockpile of enriched uranium beyond these levels in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal in 2018 to an international depository or placed in a depot subject to periodic inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The nuclear agreement is not likely to become again operative unless the U.S. sanctions are completely removed. It is assumed that Iran learned its lesson of relying on the U.S. commitment to lift sanctions when Obama was president, while experiencing their reinstatement in harsher form when Trump became president. Undoubtedly, this sequence partly explains the discrediting of the so-called ‘moderates’ in Iran and their replacement by the ‘hardline’ faction, making diplomatic de-escalation seem somewhat more problematic

Do you think the nuclear deal will be revived?

It seems as though there exists a political will on both sides to proceed cautiously in that direction, with the intention of reviving the 2015 arrangements regulating Iran’s nuclear program. Whether this political will is strong enough on both sides remains to be seen as does whether some of the issues turn out to be non-negotiable, and hence deal breakers. Such include enrichment ceilings, treatment of ‘nuclear terrorism. There is also some uncertainty arising from domestic politics in both countries. Will Biden give priority to satisfying Israeli concerns or to reaching a major diplomatic goal of reviving JCPOA? Will Iran insist on a clear pledge of unconditional irreversible removal of the sanctions?

Is there a determination to keep the nuclear deal alive?

I think there is a widespread desire on both sides to give renewed life and relevance to the nuclear agreement,
But there are competing forces on both sides that are more ambivalent about the agreement or are even opposed to its existence. At this point it is difficult to determine with any confidence whether the pro-agreement forces in both countries are strong enough to withstand pressures from anti-agreement forces. The impact of other issues may turn out to be decisive. Will the Natanz attack harden Iran’s demands or soften the U.S. diplomatic stance? So far the indications are not encouraging, and even less so after the Karaj attack on Iran centrifuge production facility. The American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has called Iran’s lifting of the enrichment ceiling from 20% to 60% as ‘provocative’ without putting forth the slightest gesture of criticism of its Natanz attack, widely presumed to have been carried out by Mossad operatives acting on Israel’s behalf.

Will Iran return to full implementation of its nuclear obligations in the nuclear deal?

I cannot imagine the revival of JCPOA unless Iran agrees to comply, and maintains compliance. The more important question is whether Iranian compliance requirements will be set by reference to the initial standards agreed upon in 2015 or whether there will be new standards reflecting intervening developments and to some extent negotiating demands accepted, and. going into effect when the agreement is again operative.

what is your analysis about sabotage on natanz? can it derail vienna negotiation?can it lead to war?

It would seem that Israel intended the attack on the Natanz underground facility as a provocation that would by inducing a major Iranian retaliation and make progress in the Vienna talks problematic. Some have thought that the attack was only designed to give Israel a seat at the Vienna table. The attack should be internationally condemned as a form of ‘nuclear terrorism’ as well as a serious violation of Iran’s sovereign rights. The relative international silence, including by the IAEA is disappointing, and the Blinken response referred to above is unacceptable.

I do not think this event will lead either to the breakdown of the Vienna indirect talks or to regional war, although both possibilities certainly exist. It may delay reaching an agreement in Vienna, and has already raised regional tensions. My view is that with tensions rising in relation to China and Russia, the U.S. will not irresponsibly escalate the conflict dimensions of its relations with Iran, but there are many surrounding complications that
make such speculation unreliable.

We can only hope that peace-oriented pressures on both sides hold sway, and JCPOA again becomes operative. Many will hail this as a diplomatic breakthrough if this happens, and when sanctions are removed, Iranian societal life will benefit greatly, improving the regional and international atmosphere.

(2) Responses of Richard Falk to Amir Mohadded Ismaeli Questions for Mehr News Agency (April 14, 2021)

Q1: Who’s behind Natanz sabotage?

At this point, we have only the uncontested reports that Israel is responsible, having virtually confessed as much. Apparently Israel used Mossad to carry out the attack on the Natanz underground nuclear enrichment facility on April 10, 2021. The attack came only a day after new more advanced cetrifuges began operating at Natanz. The attack took the form of a major explosion 65 meters below the ground. The explosives used are believed to have been smuggled past security guards by being sealed within a steel table and then detonated from a remote location. The complete destruction of the power distribution supply system used to make the centrifuges work has been confirmed as the main damage. It has been estimated by Israelis that it might take Iran as long as nine months to make the facility operational again.

The United States has officially declared that it had no role in this act of sabotage, but it is hard to believe that Washington did not have advance knowledge, and there is no evidence of any attempt to prevent the attack from being carried out or complaints after the fact. Israel leaders although evasive, seemed to justify the attack as part of the country’s defense against the controversial assumption that despite Tehran assurances, Iran is developing the capacity to produce nuclear warheads that could be attached to missiles or rockets, posing dire threats to Israeli security. Iran continues to deny that it is seeking a nuclear weapons capacity. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, has vowed unspecified ‘revenge’ for the attack on Natanz, but there is no indication that this is meant to signal a reversal of Iran’s policy toward the acquisition of the weaponry.

In the background, is the reality of Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal that seems to stay below the radar of proliferation concerns and overlooks Iran’s reasonable apprehension of what this could mean in the future for its own security.

Q2: In your view, what purposes are behind this sabotage?

On the basis of circumstantial evidence, contrary to the posture taken by Israel that the Natanz incident was directed at slowing Iran race to the nuclear weapons threshold, I believe the attack had as its primary purpose, a provocation designed to escalate tensions between Iran and Israel, and encourage the U.S. to stick with the Trump approach to relations with Iran. More immediately, the attack is sure to complicate current efforts in Vienna to create the conditions leading to the resumption of U.S. participation in JCPOA through direct negotiations. As is widely understood, Iran has been demanding that its compliance with JCPOA depends upon an American commitment to terminate the sanctions imposed during the Trump presidency in conjunction with its unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in 2018.

This hypothesis of provocation is reinforced by the highly belligerent statements made by Netanyahu when asked about the Natanz attack. Instead of a denial or even a claim of Israeli worries, he chose to treat the relationship between the two countries as a relation between two enemies poised to destroy one another. He is quoted as claiming that the ‘fanatical regime’ governing Iran without doubt intends to acquire nuclear weapons so as to destroy Israel in pursuit of their ‘genocidal goal of eliminating Israel.” Netanyahu added that Israel would continue ‘to defend itself against Iran’s aggression and terrorism’ as if Iran was the provocateur. Such language offers an official indirect justification for what happened an Natanz, as well uses warlike language of implacable hostility.

I suspect that Israel by such high-profile sabotage and incendiary language is doing its best to tie the hands of the Biden presidency, agitate pro-Israeli sentiments in the U.S. Congress and Western media. The secondary objective is to obstruct the Iranian nuclear program, which is consistent with such past acts of aggression as the disabling of centrifuges through the insertion of the Stuxnet virus back in 2010 as well as through targeted assassination of leading nuclear scientists, including Iran’s leading nuclear specialist, Mohsen Fakhrizadez in November 2020. This pattern of covert violence has long violated Iran’s sovereign rights and has been understandably denounced by Iranian officials as ‘nuclear terrorism.’

What is uncertain at this time is whether Israel will commit further provocations, how Iran will react, and whether the United States will take the bait, and either delay JCPOA negotiations or demand Iranian compliance with new conditions beyond the original agreement before it lifts or even eases the sanctions or resumes its own participation.

Q3: Do you think there is a coordination between the US and Israel for implementing the sabotage?

It is difficult to say. There is some reason to believe that if there was such coordination it would not be necessary for Israel to take the risks arising from such serious provocations. As with the Obama diplomacy that led to the agreement in 2015, there are differences between the U.S. interest in regional stability and the Israeli determination to keep destabilizing Iran so as to realize at some point its undisguised goal of regime change.

At the same time, with the COVID challenge uppermost as a policy priority for Biden, there may be some level of coordination, involving reassurances to Israel that it will not make things easy for Iran with respect to the sanctions or JCPOA. Biden seems eager to avoid diversionary issues in America that would allege that the U.S. is failing to uphold reasonable Israeli security demands.

As of now, resort to the ‘indirect talks’ in Vienna suggest that both sides are proceeding cautiously, keeping their options open. The next month or so will make clearer whether the U.S. will separate its search for normalization with Iran due to pressures arising from its special relationship with Israel or will pursue a diplomatic course in accord with its national interest. It will never be able to satisfy Israel and reach a negotiated agreement with Iran. It must choose, and hopefully opting for peace and diplomacy rather than coercion and hostility.

Q4: Some scholars believe that the International Atomic Energy Agency and JCPOA parties should clarify their stances and condemn this sabotage, as it’s been done while Iran has been trying to revive the agreement in Vienna. What do you think?

I do believe that if an investigation confirms Israeli responsibility for the Natanz attack it should be condemned by the International Atomic Energy Agency and by the parties to JCPOA (that is, the five Permanent Members of the Security Council and Germany). Such a step would be a major step toward depoliticization of regional tensions, and offer some hope that the current crisis atmosphere can be overcome. What is being called ‘the shadow war’ between Israel and Iran is dangerous and every effort should be made to end it. It also should be acknowledged as widely as possible that Israel has the main responsibility for recourse to this surge of war-mongering propaganda and acts of aggression that violate international law and the UN Charter. The UN should stop watching such dangerous and unlawful events in a spirit of silent detachment, and take its own Charter responsibilities seriously.

(3)Zahra Mirzafarjouyan interview questions, May 30, 2021, Mehr News Agency

1- An Israeli leader described Islamic revolution as “earthquake of century”. What have been the effects of the Imam Khomeini-lead revolution in the region that worried Israelis?

Imam Khomeini made clear his opposition to Israel and the Zionist Project of establishing a Jewish state inside the Islamic World, although he was also clear that he regarded Judaism as an authentic religion deserving respect. When I had a meeting with Imam Khomeini in Paris days before he returned to Iran, he said explicitly that so long as Jews were not active in supporting Israel, it would be ‘a tragedy for us if they left Iran after the revolution.’ His outlook was anti-Israeli, but not anti-Semitic.

I am not familiar with this quote although it makes sense. Israel had enjoyed positive relations with Iran during the period of the Shah’s rule. The Islamic Revolution was perceived as an immediate threat to Israel because it sought to reclaim political control for the ancestral peoples, long resident in the region under the auspices of a political movement espousing Islamic principles and opposed to all forms of secular and Western penetration, especially in the form of a settler colonial state. And such a movement had successfully challenged the Pahlavi regime in Iran, which had the most elaborate modernized internal security apparatus in the region. If it could in Iran, it was supposed that such revolutionary movements could and would succeed elsewhere in the region.

Whether ‘earthquake of the century’ is an overstatement can be discussed, and challenged. It competes with the Russian and Chinese Revolutions and the rise of Hitler, World Wars I & II as alternative candidates for such an assertion. Possibly, seen in the context of the Middle East, and from the perspective of Israel, it was seen as an extreme disruptive event, with an anti-Israeli mobilizing potential that would influence the peoples of the region, and at the same time deprived Israel of its most sympathetic support as centered previously in Iran.

2- What features of the Islamic Revolution have worried the western powers?

I suppose the most worrisome aspect of the Islamic Revolution from the perspective of the West was its resolve to eliminate all forms of Western influence—geopolitical, political, economic, and cultural. In this sense, the events in Iran could be interpreted as anti-imperial as well as anti-colonial, that is, not only opposing European colonialism but its sequel taking the form of the project of U.S. influence in strategic partnership with the hostile regimes and Israel.

A second source of concern was the rejection of Western ideas about governance and the place of religion in the life of society. Western ideas of political legitimacy rested on a premise of separating church and state, while the Islamic Revolution favored their organic connection, giving primacy to religious leadership, although accompanied by a political sphere that was legitimated by periodic free elections.

Other issues involved imposing religious traditions contrary to Western cultural ideas. This can be observed, especially, in relation to the dress and appearance of women, and with respect to education, social life, and entertainment.

The West celebrates ‘freedom’ by reference to social practices, including music, consumption of alcohol, pornography, and tolerance of anti-religious ideas. It perceived Iran after the Islamic Revolution as prohibiting what in the West were regarded as achievements of the Enlightenment and modernity.

In the end, the most fundamental opposition to the Islamic Revolution arose from the belief that political Islam would be resistant to Western penetration and hegemonic control after the collapse of European colonialism, and thus threatened crucial Western strategic interests, including access to energy, security of Israel, ideological anti-Marxist solidarity, and neoliberal globalization.

3- How do you see the role of Imam Khomeini in uniting the Muslim world?

I believe that Imam Khomeini had a major impact in demonstrating to the Muslim world
the mobilization of national populations could be effective in challenging corrupt and decadent forms of political leadership. It gave rise to Islamic activism and extremism, which in turn produced Islamophobic reactions in Europe and North America. Iran itself
opposed such Sunni extremism associated with ISIS and the Taliban as in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Imam Khomeini has so far failed in uniting the Muslim world, especially if measured by the outlook of governing elites. Indeed, it seems more reasonable to conclude that his
Influence has led to deeper divisions and a rise in sectarian rivalries, especially in the Middle East. Imam Khomeini was as opposed to the Gulf dynasties, especially Saudi Arabia, than he was about Israel, secularism, and Western influence. In turn, these conservative monarchies, although purporting to adhere to Islamic law and practices,
were severely threatened by populist advocacy of an Islamic orientation of government. It is no secret that Gulf monarchies, along with Israel, opposed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood anywhere in the region, especially Egypt. Islam from below, as in Iran, was
consistently opposed by Sunni elites in the region.

4- Imam Khomeini always hated compromising with arrogant powers and Zionists and believed in resistance. How has the culture of resistance been able to change the balance of power in the region?

Except for Iran itself, I do not see any shift in the balance of power in the region arising from Imam Khomeini’s support for a culture of resistance. It could be argued that the Arab uprising of 2010-11 reflected a certain influence of the Imam and the Iranian experience of revolutionary success inspired people to act collectively in mounting challenges to the status quo. Even if this is so it must be offset by counter-revolutionary moves that followed these uprisings, producing chaos in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and intensifications of the harsh rule of Arab monarchies. It may be correct that Western influence has somewhat declined, and is being now challenged by other extra-regional forces, China and Russia. These changes are affecting the role of global geopolitics in the Islamic world, but I don’t associate these developments with manifestations of a culture of resistance.

Iran’s foreign policy has enjoyed a measure of success in Lebanon, Palestine, and above all, Syria, but it seems premature to speak of a new balance of power in the region. The Palestinian resistance is the most impressive example of a culture of
resistance that is active in the region. Although the Palestinian struggle has been led for 20 years by Hamas, its movement of resistance seems remote from any direct influence by Imam Khomeini, whom I believe would be disappointed that his legacy has not extended beyond Iran.

(5) Responses of Richard Falk to Questions posed by Javad Arab Shirazi(May 9, 2021) (Press TV)
Q#1: Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei on Friday marked the International Quds Day, voicing confidence that the downward movement of the Zionist regime has already started and “it will never stop”. What do you think?
I agree with the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the Israeli apartheid state has suffered a series of defeats in the symbolic domain of politics in the first months of 2021: the preliminary decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the Prosecutor possesses the legal authority to investigate allegations of Israel’s criminality in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem that occurred after 2015; influential reports by the Israeli NGO, B’Tselem and by the leading U.S. NGO, Human Rights Watch conclude that the practices and policies of Israel throughout Israel and occupied Palestine constitute the international crime of apartheid; and significant worldwide increases in global solidarity initiatives in support of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights, including the inalienable right of self-determination enjoyed by every people.

These symbolic advances suggest that Palestine is winning the Legitimacy War fought between Israel and Palestine over the relative legal, moral, and spiritual entitlements in their struggle. The record of the struggles against colonial rule since 1945 suggest that the side that prevails in a Legitimacy War eventually controls the political outcome. In this respect, the statement of Ayatollah Khamenei about a downward Israeli spiral accords with the flow of history.
At the same time Israel will not easily accept defeat. It has tried to deflect attention by accusing individuals and even institutions, such as the UN and ICC, of being ‘antisemitic.’ This is a display of ‘the politics of deflection.’ Such deflection attempts to wound the messenger rather than heed the message. Israel also enjoys the geopolitical backing of the United States and to a lesser extent, the European Union, and has benefitted from ‘the normalization agreements’ reached in 2020 with several Arab governments as encouraged by the Trump presidency during its last months. These factors suggest that it will be a difficult and likely prolonged struggle.
In the meantime, the Palestinian people are being severely subjugated in their own homeland, including ever since the Nakba in 1948 being victimized by ethnic cleansing on a massive scale. It is necessary to appreciate that symbolic successes do not translate immediately into substantive results, and often have the opposite short-term effects because the oppressor senses its vulnerability. Such an experience is currently the fate of the Palestinian people.

Q#2: The Leader said the policies of the oppressive and cruel capitalism “have driven a people out of their homes, their homeland and their ancestral roots and instead, it has installed a terrorist regime and has housed a foreign people therein.” What are your thoughts on this?
My response to the prior question addresses this language on the level of the existential suffering of the Palestinian people within and outside their homeland, including in refugee camps in neighboring countries and through the dispersion of Palestinians in involuntary exile around the world.
I think that the abuses of capitalism are not essential aspects of the basic crimes of displacement and oppression of the Palestinian people so as to enable the Zionist Project to succeed in establishing a Jewish state in the Palestinian homeland. These crimes are virtually acknowledged in Israel’s Basic Law of 2018. Capitalist patterns of exploitation of Palestinian labor and resources are part of this overall picture but incidental to the apartheid and colonial structures that exert comprehensive control over Palestinian activities.

Q#3: “Today, the situation in the world is not like those days. We should keep this reality within sight. Today, the balance of power has swung in favor of the world of Islam. Various political and social incidents in Europe and in the United States have laid bare the weaknesses and the deep structural, managerial and moral conflicts among westerners. The electoral events in the US and the notoriously scandalous failures of the hubristic and arrogant managers in that country, the unsuccessful one-year fight against the pandemic in the US and Europe and the embarrassing incidents that ensued, and also the recent political and social instabilities in the most important European countries are all signs of the downward movement of the western camp”, the Leader said. What do you think?

There is much evidence of Western decline as the quoted language of Ayatollah Khamanei suggests, but the world future remains obscure. Historical tendencies appear to favor the rise of Asia and a more multipolar world order. There are also indications of Western, particularly U.S. decline, as in its handling of the COVID pandemic and prolonged failure to update and improve the quality of its infrastructure, spending excessively on armaments instead of investing
in a sustainable and equitable future.

Yet there are some contradictions that prevent any assured image of the future. At present, there are prospects of a dangerous confrontation between China and the United States, which could confirm Chinese ascendency or lead to regional conflict, and possibly wider tensions in the form of a second cold war. It is also possible that prudence and humane judgment will lead to a geopolitics of accommodation, allowing proper attention being given to managing global challenges of unprecedented magnitude.

It is not clear to me that the Islamic world can escape from the constraining logic of statism, particularly in the Middle East where sectarian strains and regional rivalries appear stronger at present than religious and civilizational bonds.

There is also uncertainty arising from the novelty of global scale challenges amid many inequalities causing both impulses toward cooperation and withdrawals from internationalism in the form of exclusive forms of statism. The modern world system has never been challenged as a totality by anything like climate change in the past, and whether it has the flexibility and resilience to adapt remains to be seen, although the evidence to date is not encouraging. The failures to suspend sanctions during the pandemic in response to humanitarian appeals and the vaccine diplomacy emphasizing profits over people that accompanied the COVID suggest that the political elites have not caught up with history, and are ill-equipped to conceive of national wellbeing beneath the bluer skies of human wellbeing.

There is a need for forward-looking global leadership that is informed by a commitment to the global public good. It may be that this leadership could emerge from below, from a transnational movement animated by a struggle for ecological balance and species identity.
Instead of patriots of the nation or state, patriots of humanity; instead of entrepreneurs for profit, guardians of nature. New values and new identities to sustain a responsible anthropocentrism.

(5)Interview Questions from Javad Arabshirazi, Press TV on domain seizures (June 23, 2021)

Q#1: In what seems to be a coordinated action, a similar message has appeared on the websites of a series of Iranian and regional television networks that claims their domains have been “seized by the United States Government.” The notice, which appeared late Tuesday on the website of English-language television news network Press TV as well as a number of other Iranian and regional news channels, cited US sanctions laws for the seizure and was accompanied by the seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US Department of Commerce. What is your take on this?

A#1: It is important to recall that a similar seizure of Iran-related news sites occurred on October 7, 2020. It was justified at the time as the implementation of U.S. sanctions and directed at preventing alleged dissemination of ‘disinformation.’ It was further claimed that the step was taken in response to threatss to U.S. national security and its ‘democratic process.’ Significantly, the identification of the seized website domains was a result of cooperation between the U.S. Government and the high tech giants Twitter, Google, and Facebook. Such a move was seen in 2020 as an effort to increase pressure on Iran by way of improper interference with its sovereign rights, an intensifying of coercive pressures.

The rationale of this latest phase of domain seizures repeats the earlier pattern of justification, again with accusations that these supposed Iranian news outlets were disguised governmental operations that used their media platforms to subvert democratic procedures in the United States. Again this time the seizures were presented as implementations of the U.S. sanctions procedures. The timing is suspicious, coming a few days after a new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected and just prior to the resumption of a seventh round of talks in Vienna to negotiate indirectly the restoration of U.S. participation in the Iran Nuclear Program deal of 2016 coupled with a phasing out of the sanctions.

These developments raise crucial questions about motivation and goals: does it reflect Israeli influence designed to prevent restoring U.S. participation in and Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, the technical name of the nuclear deal? Or is it a reaction to the outcome of the Iranian presidential election, which resulted in a landslide victory for a candidate presented as hostile to the West, and particularly to Israel and the United States? Perhaps, the best answer is to postulate a combination of factors. It should be noted that an American spokesperson for the government in Washington claims that the election of Ayatollah Raisi is not relevant to the Vienna diplomacy as whoever was president of Iran, it was asserted, the final decision on such issues of vital policy would be made not by an elected official but by the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Q#2: Do you believe that the move shows Washington’s selective view towards freedom of speech and democracy?

A#2: If the seizures turn out to be official acts of the U.S. Government, it would express a serious moral hypocrisy and double standards, and unlawful encroachment on sovereign rights. The U.S. seeks to control the public discourse on matters of international concern, especially if part of the background is conflict and strife as here. There are also in the U.S. ongoing struggles behind the scene between moderate and hardline attitudes toward Iran, which also reflects degrees of direct and indirect Israeli influence. The more aggressive tendencies opposes moves toward normalization, favoring high tensions. Having one-sided presentations of conflictual situations tends to inhibit compromise and normalization of relations among states, producing an atmosphere of might makes right.

Q#3: The US is in possession of the mainstream media and can easily change and distort narratives around the world. What has irked the US government? Why do you think a TV network like Press TV should be seized by the US government?

Control of the political narrative is an important dimension of geopolitics in the digital age. Fake news and manipulation of reality are coercive means if deployed in uncontested political settings. By shutting down Press TV the US is attempting to deprive Iran of its capacity to challenge hostile propaganda, and put forth its own counter-narrative of controversial events, and more generally of peace, justice, and democratic governance. In effect, being able to exercise monopoly control of media platforms is a crucial representation of power, as important in some settings as guns and missiles. Underneath this manipulation of information is an extremely dangerous tendency to substitute one-sides propaganda for truth and dialogue.

Why Biden Must Win: It is not about Democracy, its about Fascism

9 Oct

[Prefatory Note: Responses to an Iranian journalist, Javad Heiran-Nia Interview Questions on U.S. Elections (8 Oct 2020).]

Why Biden Must Win: It is not about Democracy, its about Fascism

  1. What is the most important issue affecting the upcoming US presidential election? (Economy; Foreign Policy; Domestic Policy; etc.)

For the voters in America the most important issues at this time are the (mis)management of the health crisis by Trump and the impact on the recovery of the U.S. economy. At this point there is a surge of criticism directed at the present U.S. leadership with respect to the Coronavirus pandemic: more infections and deaths per capita than almost any country in the world, intentional disregard of guidance by health specialists, dishonest and irresponsible reassurances, and economic relief favoring the rich and influential while understating the economic distress caused others by the loss of jobs, food insecurities, and threats of eviction. There is little interest, at least up to this point, in foreign policy with the single exception of international economic relations and geopolitical tensions with China. Both candidates for the presidency seem to adopt anti-Chinese positions, but Biden seems less militaristic and provocative than Trump. Biden refrains from blaming China for the virus, and seems somewhat less likely to embrace a strategy in East Asia that will lead to a second cold war.

For the peoples of the Middle East and elsewhere, the foreign policy implications of the elections assume greater importance. As with China, Trump seems more inclined than Biden to push the anti-Iran coalition of Israel, UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia toward the brink of war, with the hope that the persistence of ‘maximum pressure’ will cause destabilization in Iran, and if possible, regime change. Biden would not likely change very much in terms of alignment, but might be expected to be more cautious in endorsing aggressive policies, and might even restore the agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program negotiated toward the end of the Obama presidency. At the same time, Biden might be more inclined than Trump to push an anti-Russian approach that could take the form of regional and global confrontations, as well as arms races in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Europe.  

One cost of such foreign policy initiatives is to weaken the attention given to challenges  that can only be solved by multilateral cooperation at a time when it is most needed, especially in relation to climate change, the control of nuclear weaponry, migration flows, and health issues. As noted above, Biden is much more likely to renew American support for ‘liberal internationalism’ than Trump, and can almost certainly be expected to do so unless geopolitically distracted.

There are other hot spots around the world that are capable of generating dangerous foreign policy crises, especially in relation to Korea or India/Pakistan.

2. Which candidate has the best chance of winning? (Trump or Biden)

As of now, it appears that Biden will win the election rather decisively, but in 2016 there existed a comparable clear outlook close to vote, reinforced by public opinion polls. It created a strong impression that Hillary Clinton would win easily over Donald Trump, a view almost universally shared by the media, and reportedly even by the Trump campaign. The American political mood is unstable, and could be influenced by developments in the coming weeks as the date of the election approaches that are supportive of Trump’s campaign for reelection as, for example, violent riots in American cities, a further surge in the financial markets, a crisis in the Middle East or the Korean Peninsula. .

Additionally, there are a series of factors that sow doubt about present expectations of a Biden victory that go beyond which candidate will gain the most votess: first of all, Biden could win the popular vote by a wide margin, and yet lose the election because of the way in which the peculiar American institution of the Electoral College determines the outcome of presidential elections by counting the results on a federal state by state basis rather than nationally. This happened in 2016, Hillary Clinton winning by wide margins in New York and California, but losing close votes in such battleground states as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan. According to the Electoral College a candidate receives the same number of electoral votes assigned to a state if he wins by one vote or 10 million votes. The value of the vote in states where one party dominates, an individual vote becomes of diluted value, whereas if both parties are more or less of similar popularity, the value of an individual vote is inflated. The question posed is whether the Electoral College vote will again override the popular vote as it did in 2106.

Secondly, it is well known that Republican control of governments in the 50 states making up the U.S. has resulted in a variety of voter suppression schemes that make it harder to vote, and particularly affects African Americans and the very poor, making voting more difficult i cities and the rural South. Trump has also attacked mail-in voting as subject to mass fraud although the evidence in no way supports the accusation. Less votes are seen as helping Trump. Republicans are better organized and more disciplined than Democrats, although the Democrats have devoted great energy this year to getting out the vote.

Thirdly, Trump has intimated that he can only lose the election if it is has been ‘rigged’ by the Democrats. The reality seems to justify a different complaint that targets the Republicans. Much of the rigging that occurred in 2016 was attributable to Russia, and definitely worked in Trump’s favor, being intended to do so. Back then such partisan interference seemed welcomed by the Republican campaign, and likely would be again.  There are concerns that similar interferences might occur again this time around as Russia continues to prefer Trump to Biden, although there seems to be a greater effort in 2020 to insulate the election process from outside interferences, especially in relation to social media.

It is important to grasp a basic ideological feature of recent American elections of the presidency. Ever since the unified response to fascism during World War II the political parties have accepted a ‘bipartisan consensus’ that almost completely excludes certain crucial policy commitments from political controversy. The most important of these is overinvestment in the military, the predatory features of global capitalism, and so-called ‘special relationships’ with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and European alliance partners. This consensus held up throughout the Cold War, was sustained during the banner years of neoliberal globalization in the decade of the 1990s, and reinvigorated after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon after George W. Bush launched the war on terror, and Barack Obama continued it. 

Bernie Sanders challenged this consensus as it impacted upon policy discourse during his two campaigns to obtain the Democratic Party nomination, but his efforts were rejected by the party elite because he threatened the consensus, defied the ‘deep state,’ worried the Washington foreign policy establishment, and frightened the large private sector donors whose funding support depended on respecting the bipartisan consensus. In this sense, the Democrats successfully subordinated in their own party all radical elements that enjoyed movement support, especially among youth. The Republicans sidelined their moderate leadership, giving over control of the party to extremists that formed the base of Trump support. And so while the Democratic Party establishment neutralized the progressive Sanders’ challenge the Republican Party was radicalized from the right giving Trump control over all mechanism.

In part, it is this issue of party identity, and its relation to the governmental structures of power, that may be the most important effect of the November elections. If Biden wins, the bipartisan consensus is reaffirmed, while if Trump somehow prevails, the bipartisan will be further weakened, and even threatened by replacing the consensus with a right-wing policy agenda. If Biden loses, the consensus will be further discredited by its mistaken view that moving toward the political center is what wins election. What evidence exists by polls and other measurements of public opinion suggest that Sanders would have been a stronger candidate than Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020, but for reasons suggested above, adhering to the bipartisan consensus was more important or Democrats than winning elections. 

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Climate Change in an Unjust World

23 Nov

Climate Change in an Unjust World

–It is a great pleasure to participate once again in this annual Congress on Agricultural and Food Ethics. The fact that it coincides with the UN COP-26 Summit on CC taking place is especially appropriate for at least two reasons: (1) it recognizes the degree to which ethical limits pertaining to agriculture and all aspects of food security are being tested by the worsening of the climate change crisis; (2) looking ahead it becomes apparent that conflict patterns and the source of the majority of migrants will arise from global warming impacting on agriculture and food security in ways that call attention to the unjustness of the world on many levels, including geoeconomics, ecological, political, with the ethical lines most crudely drawn to display the boundaries between the Global North and the Global South.

–My topic is somewhat broader than the explicit focus of the Congress as it does not directly consider the agricultural and food dimensions of an unjust world. Yet if the specificity of the victimization of societies and peoples in the Global South are analyzed it will be quickly appreciated that the nature of their vulnerability to climate change reflects above all the relevance of agriculture and food security. There is little doubt that these more vulnerable countries, whose challenges have been aggravated by neoliberal globalization, gross inequalities, elite corruption, the paucity of resources, exploitative foreign investments, as well as the vagaries of climate. Such practices as large-scale land-grabbing by foreign companies to enable the development of industrial agriculture often disrupting communities inhabited by people dependent on traditional farming and agricultural become among those hardest hit by CC and least able to cope with it. These conditions of deprivation, which characteristically exhibit the cumulative impacts of various forms of injustice, including the greening of Europe at the ecological expense of Africa. In effect, the dynamics of climate change, including adjustments made to lessen or postpone its impacts—‘buying time’—have the effects of reproducing and accentuating the myriad injustices of the global system of international order;

–a root reality of injustice experience in the way global warming points to data that shows that the 1% of the world population is currently subject to barely livable climate conditions, This figure is expected to increase in the future reaching an incredible anticipated 19% by 2070. What should disturb us is that literally all of the affected countries are situated in the Global South, mainly Africa and large portions of Northern South America and Central America. It is estimated that these extreme conditions of livelihood will alone produce more than a billion climate refugees; in addition, even the rich countries of the Gulf may face severe crises in coming decades if the fossil fuel phase out is implemented in the Global North as seems increasingly likely. This core of CC adaptation is almost certain to take no more than minimal account of the inequities of the preoccupation in the North with reducing carbon emissions as rapidly as possible, which will entail its own more local adjustment calamities, and would lead these governments to give much attention by way of funding to the effect of softening the human impacts of such dislocations. It seems evident as never before in human history that it has become an urgent and practical necessity to find win/win solutions to CC challenges. This will not be easy as Western capitalism and geopolitics has ascended the ladders of wealth and power by relentlessly pursuing win/lose logics. It may be time to appreciate and learn from Chinese mastery of a win/win approach to foreign policy as exemplified by their Road and Belt Project and their ascent from a poor and weak nation to a challenger for the top position. Of course, the challenges of development are not the same as those of CC but the reliance on soft power as a prime policy mechanism is highly relevant both ecologically and ethically.

–Climate change in the world we know operates as what policy analysts call ‘threat multipliers.’ For instance, Syria suffered from poverty, discontent, and ethnic/religious tensions before 2011, but when climate change seemed responsible for drought in the North, undermining agriculture as a way of life, it internally displaced Syrians in the North, aggravating tensions elsewhere in the country. This Syrian crisis was further aggravated by a Chinese food shortage at the time that led China to make large purchases on world markets driving food prices much higher. This produced a tipping point in Syria where long simmering tensions turned to massive violence at a time of regional upheaval known as the Arab Spring. The resulting decade long civil strife caused more than 494 & 606k deaths, and more that 6.7 million internally displaced and 5.1 refugees (3.8m in Turkey, 670k Germany). It also exported extremes of chauvinistic or anti-migrant nationalism throughout the Global North, especially in Europe. Gross injustices were intensified for the direct victims of the Syrian strife that illuminate patterns of victimization on a global scale. The tragedies experienced by Syrians forced to leave their homeland in search of livelihoods and even subsistence to support themselves and families encountered hostility wherever they went, and were treated as disposable human beings;

There is some moderately good news: Quincy Institute—rethinking national security to overcome grip on policy of political class holding onto obsolete paradigm of ‘political realism’ what Anatol Lieven in an important article calls the anachronistic influence of ‘residual elites’ [“This is not a failure of the Biden administration alone. Rather, it stems from deeply embedded cultures, traditions, and interests within the U.S. establishment as a whole. America today is suffering from an acute case of “residual elites” — elites that came into being in one historical context and to meet one set of historical challenges, and are by nature unfit to deal with a new historical era and a new set of national tasks.”] that are out of touch with threats to national security; in the U.S. seems more enlightened about CC than the foreign policy establishment, elevating the dangers of CC high above those being caused by the deepening geopolitical rivalry with China. Will the leaders listen? Will the public, especially the

awakening youth, exert enough pressure to make the political class cut themselves off from the militarist mind-set and traditional special interests.

–increased recognition that the cost of not offsetting the damage being caused by CC with substantial financial assistance will cause local conflict, material shortages, and generate streams of climate migrants desperate to escape the devastation and loss of livelihood due to rising sea levels, extreme weather events, industrial agriculture that lead to massive human displacements as well as mutually beneficial interdependence of natural habitats and human wellbeing;

–only a transnational ethos of human solidarity based on the genuine search for win/win solutions can hope to respond effectively to the magnitude and diversity of the growing CC challenge. Only a transition to such an ethos alter the world trend of retreating into nationalist enclaves of protectionism that intensified the political and psychological fragmentation of the world. A midway position between the functionally necessary and the ethically desirable meta-nationalist perspective would be what is being called ‘responsible statecraft’ by the richer, more powerful countries—an acknowledgement of their rising national self-interest in maximizing CC adaptation and mitigation efforts at their source. For this to work it requires a sufficient consensus in the Global North to apportion assessments for assisting countries in need, mainly in the Global South, while encouraging responsible internal statecraft in the recipient countries.

–altering the present mismatch between gravity and proximate causes of harm and mobilizing effective responses; importance of civil society activism and local initiative, also procedures for responsibility, accountability, and enlightened self-interest, precautionary principle; overcoming short-termism; reciprocity present due migrants, source of food supply, overall stability, promotion of basic human rights.

On the Collective Will of the Human Species to Survive

23 Nov

The human will to survive is often uncritically taken for granted, which was of little consequence prior to the advent of the nuclear age in 1945. That the first atomic explosion was the event chosen by the scientific community agreed to signal the advent of the age of the Anthropocene is of added significance. The general understanding of the Anthropocene is that of human activity that is impactful on the basic equilibrium of the planetary ecosystem. Subsequent developments associated with the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming have confirmed the alarming extent of reckless human agency with respect to the ecological equilibrium of the planet.

The inverse effects of the Anthropocene have received less attention, that is, of the ecological backlash that imperils the survival of the human species. For the first time in world history the intentional activities of the human species endanger its own existence and future, as well as various global, regional, and local ecosystems that have collapsed or are collapsing. Of course, throughout world history species in particular locales have behaved in ways that brought about their collective destruction, and this certainly includes the human species. In the past, there have been waves of non-human extinction that have altered the biodiversity of the planet. {see Collapse; Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: The Unnatural History (2014)]. The scale of past threats to human existence were all at the sub-species level, affecting the destinies of imperiled society or civilization. [See Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004)].

What is unique about the present historical conjunction of circumstances is that the dominant threats so far posed in this century are directed toward the species as a whole. This threat is compounded by the realities of human experience that have been organized so as to promote sub-species survival, especially, at the level of the territorial sovereign state. This fundamental organizational feature of world order in strongly reinforced by ideologies of nationalism that rely on sub-species optics of appraisal, and unreflectively solidify sub-species loyalty as the loftiest aspiration of a fragmented species. Extra-nationalist identities do exist, sometimes strongly, in the form or religious affiliation, civilizational sentiments of belonging, ethnic, ideological, and gender bonding of various sorts. What does not exist with sufficient strength to counter the tyranny of sub-species primacy are mechanisms of sufficient capability to protect the distinctly human interest in species survival or the global interest in essential forms of inter-species coexistence.  

After the major wars of the prior century, there were let loose strong bio-political impulses on the part of publics and leaders of victorious powers to regulate and even institutionalize the human interest. The Just War Doctrine had earlier tried to give a religious and quasi-legal underpinning of universal justice to recourse to and conduct of war, but its interpretation was subordinated to the interpretive manipulations and geopolitical ambitions of leaders of sovereign states especially in the West, making clear that sub-species priorities prevail over international law whenever they clash. The historical disruptions of the major 20th century wars gave rise a widespread sense of human jeopardy in the West that led to the establishment of global institutions. The carnage of World War I led to the establishment of the League of Nations and the atom bomb imparted a sense of urgency after World War II to the prevention of a feared World War III. Yet the outcomes of these institutional strivings did not seriously challenge sub-species dominance, and provided convenient venues for global communication and cooperative arrangements that served the reciprocal and mutual interests of sovereign states while leaving global hierarchies intact. Despite the rhetoric of globalism, the heavy lifting of war prevention was self-consciously attached to the nationalist mechanisms of sub-species management of statist and alliance security systems that featured deterrence and crisis management. The UN has proved to be valuable in many contexts, despite being designed to fail when it came to the protection of species well-being as distinct from promoting the interests of one category of sub-species political actors, that is, dominant sovereign states. This deliberate dynamic is signaled in the case of the UN by giving the most dangerous states a generalized veto power that indirectly confers impunity and non-accountability. UN deference to geopolitics was also expressed by leaving funding under the control of the member governments, and by curtailing the authority of the chief executive officer, the Secretary General. This shortcoming of the UN was more telling than the earlier experience with the League as the atomic bomb forewarned of an unprecedented apocalyptic menace to the entire species, a new reality in human experience, perhaps not entirely new, given earlier experiences with pandemics that created political imaginaries of the end of the world and the acknowledged possibility that a giant meteor might crash into the planet changing its orbit and habitability. 

Europe has experimented since after World War II with efforts to overcome the dangers of sub-species conflict at the level of the region, with mixed results. Its achievements include almost totally avoiding intra-regional warfare of the sort that had ravaged Europe for centuries, as well as defending Western Europe against real or imagined threats posed by feared Soviet aggression (a result achieved with the help of the American-led NATO alliance).  Europe also established a common currency that allowed European economies to flourish over a period of seven decades, and also facilitated trade and travel with Europe. At the same time, regional identity never took root, and most Europeans continued to define themselves by reference to their country, a dynamic manifested most clearly by the BREXIT withdrawal of the United Kingdom from European Union membership despite the material benefits of belonging. Even if the EU manages to fulfill most of the dreams of its supporters it would still be a sub-species actor, perhaps with a more enlightened outlook, but still subject to the priorities and worldview associated with sub-species perspectives on the formation of global policy. If there were any doubts about this, they were removed in recent years by the hostile receptions accorded to migrants from combat zones in the Middle East and African countries most victimized by global warming.

Even if nuclearism as security posture and near catastrophe didn’t tip the balance in the direction of species due to its abstract character and the coherence of the sub-species regimes set up to exert allegedly rational control under geopolitical auspices, I would have supposed that climate change would do the necessary job of reconstructing in globalist directions the way we think, feel, and act. [See Martin J. Sherwin, Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis (2020)] Unlike recourse to nuclear war, which stimulated a genre of dystopian literature and scenarios of doom, the climate change threats were confirmed as virtual certainties by a strong consensus prevailing among those climate experts, and presented to the world by a host of reliable interpreters, including the UN Panel on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [See especially dire warnings, Sixth Assessment Report 2021: The Physical Basis (on climate system and climate change)]. In other words the knowledge paradigm that was associated with modernity, which was supposedly based on science, rationality, empirical observation, data, and experimental validation, would have led to transformative energies that gave emergency backing to a species-scale imperative to transcend national interests in favor of human and global interests.[Naomi Oreskes & Erik W. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2004)] Yet despite the evidence, the sub-species framework for problem-solving remains unchallenged except by civil society activists. [Robert C. Johansen, Where the Evidence Leads: A Realistic Strategy for Peace and Human Security (2021)]

There is a widespread recognition that the COP-26 Glasgow Climate Change Summit was a major disappointment. Not only was the sub-species architecture entrusted with responding to the multiple challenges, but disparities of national circumstances precluded meaningful levels of sub-species cooperative arrangements and left the commitments that were made in the aspirational language of pledges and voluntary undertakings.. Entrenched interests exerted far too much influence, as did embedded notions of ‘political realism,’ which continued to link security of people to governmental protection against military threats and geopolitical rivalry and paid far too little attention to the critical challenge of a looming bio-ecological-ethical-political-spiritual crisis that cannot be overcome without the emergence of robust collective will of the human species to survive, which implies a radical transformation of what makes life worth living for most human inhabitants of the planet.  

Is This a Sputnik Moment? or a Paranoid Geopolitical Moment?

6 Nov

US Military Interests Are Promoting a Culture of Fear With China

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley listens to a question during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on September 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley listens to a question during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on September 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington,

[Prefatory Note: What follows is a slightly modified interview with Daniel Falcone that was publisher on Nov. 5, 2021 by TRUTHOUT. It attempts to challenge the pathological geopolitics that diverts attention from climate change and the global justice agenda in a period of growing dangers.]

Daniel Falcone introduction: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley recently interpreted China’s testing of a hypersonic missile as designed to evade U.S. nuclear defenses as “very close” to a “Sputnik moment” for the United States. The comments underscore an ongoing pattern on the part of the U.S. government and corporate media structure that reinforces and instigates dangerous preexisting geopolitical tensions with China, a rhetorical theme unnecessarily produced by a Sinophobic bipartisan U.S. political elite.

In this interview, international relations scholar Richard Falk provides the historical context of Sputnik and summarizes U.S. interests in promoting a culture of fear with China. Falk also outlines how prospects for a new Cold War could ultimately subside due to increased focuses about the climate emergency and COVID, thus rendering geopolitics less relevant, which is both fortunate and unfortunate for its own sets of reasons. 

Daniel Falcone: On Bloomberg Television, Gen. Mark Milley referred to China’s hypersonic weapons test as close to a “Sputnik moment” that has our attention. Can you comment on the meaning of this language and provide historical context.

Richard Falk: I interpret General Milley’s remark as primarily intended to raise security concerns relating to the deepening geopolitical rivalry with China, or perhaps as a reflection of these. To call the hypersonic weapons test by China “close to a Sputnik moment” was suggesting that it was posing a systemic threat to American technological supremacy directly relevant to national security and the relative military capabilities of the two countries. The reference to a Sputnik moment was a way of recalling an instance when the geopolitical rival of the day, which in 1957 was of course the Soviet Union, suddenly caught the U.S. by a frightening surprise, becoming the first sovereign state with the capacity to send a satellite into space with an ability to orbit the Earth, and possibly in the future by this means dominate the political life of the entire planet. 

This capacity was not in of itself a threat but was taken to mean that the Soviet Union was more technologically sophisticated than was understood by the public, and apparently even by the U.S. intelligence. It was politically used as a spur to increased investment in space technology, and it led some years later to a triumphant moment for the United States when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, enabling the U.S. to reclaim the lead in the space dimension of the Cold War rivalry and to indirectly recover confidence in its military prowess and geopolitical preeminence. In retrospect, the actual relevance of the Sputnik moment was in the domain of symbolic geopolitics without real relevance to the course or outcome of the Cold War, or even the course of space exploration, although it may havCe infused these technological developments with the feverish spirit of Cold War competition. 

Supposedly the aim of the Chinese test is to develop a supersonic missile capable of encircling the Earth by means of a spatial orbit and a flexible reentry capability, which is perceived as having the ability to evade radar and existing defense systems currently in use to intercept incoming missiles. In that sense, Milley’s pronouncement in the course of the Bloomberg interview can best be understood as an intensification of the slide toward geopolitical confrontation, and an accompanying arms race with China, a set of circumstances that already possesses many features of a second Cold War, although occurring under radically different historical circumstances than the rivalry with the Soviet Union, and with its chief political actors much less similar in their modes of behavior.

It will likely become the beginning of agitation and a campaign to increase the bloated defense budget still further, which is as always likely to find a receptive and gullible bipartisan audience in the U.S. Congress. No recent statement by a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has enjoyed such success as Milley in setting off national security alarm bells, uncritically highlighted and endorsed by mainstream media.

What I found surprising, yet in keeping with the mobilization of anti-China public opinion, was the failure of both Milley and the commentary to suggest a different twist to this news item. It could have been presented a dangerous and expensive technological threshold that calls for mutual restraint and possibly agreements limiting further developments or even contemplating cooperative arrangements. President Joe Biden or Secretary of State Antony Blinken could have used the occasion to declare that the world at this stage could not afford such costly and risky distractions, as an all-out arms race in space. 

It seems that this Sputnik moment by an imaginative military leader could have been turned into an opportunity for peace rather than a threat of future war. It might have provided a dramatic moment to embark upon a path of reconciliation with China that would benefit not only the two countries but humanity in general. Of course, such a turn would be viciously attacked by the militarists in both parties as weakness instead of strength. Remember the derision heaped on President Barack Obama for daring “to lead from behind” in the 2011 North Atlantic Treaty Organization intervention in Libya. Given the mess resulting from that military operation, there is reason to view Obama’s reluctance as a show of strategic wisdom as well as prudence. 

Q: Is this a political statement in your estimation, or a sober comment by high-ranking official?

I do consider Milley’s statement, made without qualifications and accompanying comments, as providing the basis for two possible lines of response: a geopolitical reflex of alarm and heightened tensions in keeping with the confrontational character of recent American foreign policy, or a measured reaction that urged mutual restraint and a search for a cooperative framework with respect to the militarization of space in the interests of world peace, but also with respect to the avoidance of an expensive and highly uncertain extensions of arms competition. 

The fact this “road not taken” was not even mentioned by Milley as an alternative is deeply disappointing, although in keeping with the prevailing mood in Washington. As well, the feverish media reportage of his provocative sounding of Sputnik alarm bells suggests that public policy debate is taking place in an atmosphere of ideological closure if the issue involves China. This should be deeply worrying.

Q: President Biden recently participated in a CNN “town hall” and again instigated China. China does not seem to be intimidated by the United States. Can you elaborate on how that reality impacts heads of state overall?

We are witnessing once again a superpower interaction that threatens to dominate international politics — this time in a global setting still trying to recover from the COVID pandemic and faced with dire warnings in the form of a consensus from climate experts that if more is not done with a sense of urgency to address climate change, catastrophic harm will result. In this new configuration of global social, political and ecological forces, if rationality prevails, geopolitics will be moved to the sidelines so as to focus on ecological challenges that cannot be ignored or deferred any longer. It is unfortunate that that political will in the U.S. remains mainly geared toward addressing real and imagined traditional security threats stemming from conflict and nothing else when it comes to foreign policy. 

Q: Some advocates for peace are worried that a failed or stalled infrastructure legislative package will force liberal Democrats into more hawkish positions in order to show “resolve.” Can you comment on the validity of this concern?

A persisting shadow hovering over American politics is the sobering realization that there seems to be no down side for hawkishness by a politician when it comes to embracing the warped logic of geopolitical rivalry or military spending. Whether this will have an impact upon the bargaining component of the search for sufficient support in Congress to fund a domestic infrastructure program is not knowable at this time, but it would come as no surprise. Many liberal Democrats do not depart from the bipartisan mainstream if the issues at stake are defense, Israel and now China, especially when a favored domestic program seems in jeopardy. 

Q: NPR has reported on how “Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on countries to support Taiwan’s participation in the United Nations. The self-governed island has not been a member of the body since October 1971, when the U.N. gave Beijing a seat at the table and removed Taiwan.” What are the regional implications of the Taiwan factor regarding Biden’s and Milley’s remarks? How is this pertinent and what is happening here? 

It was a most unfortunate departure from the Shanghai Communique of 1972 establishing relations between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to speak in favor of giving Taiwan a more active role in the UN system. First, it seemed contrary to the spirit of what was agreed upon with respect to Taiwan in 1972, centering on an acceptance by Washington of a “One China” policy. As Henry Kissinger has argued, the language used deliberately avoided endorsing the PRC view of “One China,” leaving open the interpretation followed by Washington that Beijing could only extend its territorial sovereignty to Taiwan by way of a diplomatic agreement with Taiwan (formerly, the Republic of China, which had lost the right to represent China at the UN). 

Despite efforts by Taiwan to gain diplomatic recognition as a separate political entity, it has only managed to secure a favorable response from 15 countries, and not one “important” country among them, with even the United States refraining. At one point, Taiwan did attempt to become a member of the UN, but the effort was firmly rejected by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, relying on UN General Assembly Resolution 2756, which set the terms of Chinese representation in 1971, relegating Taiwan (what had been represented by China at the UN until that time as the Republic of China) as “the province of Taiwan” within the larger reality of China. A strenuous U.S. effort in 1971 to retain the Republic of China as a participant in UN activities was rejected, leaving the PRC as the sole representative of China.

What makes the Blinken comment doubly inflammatory is that it occurred in the midst of increasing overall U.S.-China tensions with a growing focus on the security of Taiwan. With China apparently testing the nerves of Taiwan and the resolve of the United States by a naval buildup and air intrusions, for Blinken to choose this moment to support an increased independent status for Taiwan is either misguided or clearly meant to be provocative. Such irresponsible talk was further amplified by Biden’s implications that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if attacked rather than calling for a tension reducing diplomatic conference. Then comes General Milley’s “Sputnik moment” remark, as if the Chinese security challenge has crossed a threshold of strategic threat to the United States that it dares not ignore. Further signals of hostility were sent to China by activating the QUAD informal alliance (U.S., Japan, India and Australia) some months ago, and more recently establishing the AUKUS alliance, which included Australian development of nuclear-powered submarines.

There are two lines of structural threat that seem to be creating an atmosphere of pre-crisis confrontation: firstly, the so-called Thucydides Trap by which a hitherto dominant power faces an ascending challenger and opts for war while it still commands superior military capabilities rather than waiting until its rival catches up or gains the upper hand; the Milley comment and reaction must be viewed in this light. And secondly, the insistent belligerent assertion that what is at stake with Taiwan is the larger ideological struggle going on in the region and world between those governments that are democracies and those that are authoritarian. The Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, in a recent articlein Foreign Affairs stridently articulated this theme, and so imparted larger meaning to what was at stake by keeping Taiwan safe and independent.

From a longer temporal perspective, the right-wing of the political class in Washington has never gotten over the trauma of “losing China” as if it were the U.S.’s to lose! It is the persistence of this geopolitical hubris that edges Taiwan tensions ever closer to an armed encounter, with true losers on both sides. A further reason to favor diplomatic de-escalation while there is still time is the apparent realization that the U.S. cannot match China in the South China Sea by relying on conventional weapons and can only avoid defeat by having recourse to nuclear weaponry. This is not alarmism. It has been openly declared by leading voices in the Pentagon.

This geopolitical context should not lead the world or the region to overlook the well-being of the 23.5 million people of Taiwan. Given what is at stake, the best approach would be to restore the “constructive ambiguity” that was deliberately written into the Shanghai Communique, and work for an atmosphere where Taiwan and the PRC can negotiate their futures on the basis of common interests. Although the recent experience in Hong Kong suggests that this, too, is a treacherous path, but less so than flirting with a geopolitical flare-up that could easily get grotesquely out of hand.

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Colin Powell: In Life and Death

22 Oct

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a slightly modified text of an interview published under a different title in CounterPunch on October 22, 2021. The interview was conducted by an increasingly influential independent journalist, Daniel Falcone.]

OCTOBER 22, 2021

Photograph Source: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – CC BY 2.0

Colin Powell died on Monday at the age of 84. Born in New York City in 1937, he attended City College where he studied geology. Over the course of his high-ranking military and government career he formulated the Powell Doctrine and later became known for justifying the illegal Iraq War in 2003. In this interview, international relations scholar Richard Falk reflects on Powell’s life and the US reaction to his passing: including the relevance of identity politics, the question of moderation, his contribution to the horrors of Vietnam and Iraq, and US governmental hypocrisy in the wake of its January 2020 assassination of the comparable Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani.  

Daniel Falcone: As the US media mourns the death of Colin Powell and regrets the passing of a “memorable and principled statesman,” can you comment on how the actual history competes with this memory and knowledge construction of this notable figure?

Richard Falk: The legacy of Colin Powell is a complex one that will take time to sort out. There is no doubt that he projected the public image of an African American who was moderate and genuine in his commitment to national military and diplomatic service, and a patriot in the traditional sense of supporting his country, ‘right or wrong.’ He had a notable career in both the armed forces and diplomacy, becoming the first African American to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. These achievements set Powell on a high pedestal, a role model for persons of color, long excluded from the pinnacles of power and influence.

At the same time, for an African American in the last half of the 20th Century to identify with the Republican Party seemed to many problematic, even taking account of Powell’s chosen professional identity as a rising military officer. Born and growing up in liberal New York City makes this embrace of American conservatism even stranger and made one wonder whether he was a career opportunist, or someone alienated from his racial identity.

Such negative suspicions were generally overcome of his post-political life when Powell exhibited a different posture. He abandoned his Republicanism, and endorsed successive Democratic presidential candidates: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden. Powell called Trump ‘a national disgrace’ and openly supported his
impeachment. This turn toward the Democrats strengthens the view that Powell’s essential identity was linked to a sense of what he believed it meant to be an American of moderate persuasion and maybe some feeling late in his life that led him to emphasize racial solidarity with Obama, who had strong credentials as an anti-racist moderate. Then with the advent of Trump and Trumpism Powell seemed unhesitant about denouncing Republican extremism, I suspect as viewing it a deviation from his idea of what the Republican Party stood for, as well as his conception of ‘the American way.’ Powell also added to his positive image by engaging actively in charitable work for disadvantaged persons after his retirement.

At the same time, throughout his professional career stayed in his lane so far as anti-racism, national politics, and a globally aggressive U.S. foreign policy was concerned. It is not surprising that with such a profile, extravagant bipartisan praise was immediately forthcoming from stalwarts of both political parties with the announcement of his death. It was important for the American establishment to show the country and the world, especially at this time, that whatever the accusations of Black Lives Matter or the fallout from the police murder of George Floyd, that the American political class was not racist and would celebrate an individual of color for what he accomplished.

Yet, from the perspective of his role as a major international figure in the implementation of American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, where he lent prominent justification for, and leadership of the policies enacted in Iraq after 1990. Powell’s low point came when he provided the highest profile justification of the invasion and occupation of Iraq by way of testimony before the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003. Powell later admitted that his presentation had been misleading and mistaken as to its allegations that Iraq possessed prohibited biological weapons and was intent on developing nuclear weapons. Powell made the official case for the Bush presidency for the Iraq War on a large global stage. The Iraq War commenced six weeks later and proved a humanitarian disaster for the Iraqi people and an expensive and revealing political failure for the United States, which had the unwanted effect of shifting regional influence towards Iran when its main geopolitical goal was to minimize and at worst, contain it.

Powell had been admired in the post-Vietnam period for his insistence that the U.S. should not engage in international uses of force unless its national interests were significantly involved, and it was prepared to devote sufficient military forces to ensure success without enduring major American casualties. What was dubbed ‘the Powell Doctrine’ earned Powell the moniker of ‘reluctant warrior,’ but in retrospect he was not nearly reluctant enough. Although he was reportedly skeptical about the case for invading Iraq in 2003, he went along with the Bush/Cheney resolve to remove Saddam Hussein from power and afterwards to engage in state-building and democracy promotion in the course of a prolonged occupation.

Although Powell accepted responsibility for arguing a false case as to weapons of destruction before the UN Security Council during which he described Saddam Hussein as posing ‘an imminent danger to the world,’ he refrained from opposing the war. In fact, Powell would later comment, “I think we had a lot of successes in Iraq. Iraq’s terrible dictator is gone.” But so are hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians gone, and the country plunged into ongoing chaos. This reality is rarely acknowledged, and when Madelaine Albright notoriously did so in a ‘60 Minutes’ interview, she tried hard to walk it back with all sorts of evasive explanations that showed no disposition to accept responsibility for the criminal character of the sanctions imposed during the 1990s or the devastation and chaos after 2003.

A second stain on Powell’s record came earlier, when as a major in the U.S. Army serving in Vietnam, he was assigned to investigate the My Lai massacre of March 16, 1968. This was a terrible war crime when at least 300 Vietnamese civilians who lived in a small rural village were shot dead in cold blood by U.S. military personnel acting on orders. In his report, Powell seemed to be exonerating the culprits of this atrocity, incredibly concluding that “relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.” The report did admit that unfortunate incidents of this kind occur in wars, but there was no attribution of guilt for what was viewed around the world as a grotesque atrocity.

With Powell, it will be up to respected historians to draw a line between Powell as adhering to the ethics of a professional soldier and diplomat and Powell as faithful executor of the criminal aspects of American foreign policy in the period that he served as Chairman of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1989-1993, and as Secretary of State, 2001-2005. In this regard, it should not be forgotten that the Nuremberg Judgment concluded that carrying out ‘superior orders’ or acting in the line of duty was no defense in the war crimes prosecutions of surviving high ranking military and civilian Nazi officials.  

Provisionally, what stands out in the aftermath of his death is that Colin Powell was a breakthrough national political figure who undoubtedly helped create new opportunities for black leadership and prominence, and subsequently refused to go along with the Republican Party’s embrace of reactionary extremism after 2016. A more balanced and nuanced evaluation of his role and degree of responsibility will have to wait. Powell was comfortable as a lead member of the American political class during the heyday of neoconservatism, which encouraged a diplomacy of intervention and overseas militarism in the years after the Soviet collapse. At the same time, Powell was never himself perceived as a neocon, and during his time as Secretary of Defense was seen as an opponent of the rashest neocon policies.

Daniel Falcone: Do you think that the US, from the Democrats’ perspective, see this as a special loss regarding their consistent efforts to rebrand their party and their credibility within the concept of “law and order?”

Richard Falk: I think by the time of his death Colin Powell had lost most of his relevance to the politics of the country. He might have seemed to some the perfect embodiment of the Biden determination to restore an atmosphere of bipartisan consensus that prevailed during the Cold War and the early years of reaction to the 9/11 attacks. To some extent the Biden approach has succeeded in mobilizing the country for confrontational geopolitics directed at China. Internally however it does not seem as though bipartisanship could be restored, despite reflecting Powell’s preferences for moderation along the entire political spectrum.

Quite the contrary, with Trunp’s cheerleading from the sidelines, toxic polarization remains prevalent within national context.

Daniel Falcone: Can you talk about the career of Powell and the Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani (a person killed by the US) and draw any comparisons to the reactions and contextual framing of each?

Richard Falk: It is in many ways an apt, intriguing, and revealing comparison. Both military figures were admired professionally within their countries and enjoyed respect and the affection within their respective societies. As reflects the national style and the global power hierarchy, Soleimani was assassinated through a CIA-led operation while Powell died a natural death. Powell was undoubtedly perceived by U.S. governmental adversaries as complicit in the implementation of American foreign policy, including its aspects that seemed to violate international law, including the UN Charter, but geopolitical primacy ensures de facto impunity for its principal political and military figures.

In this sense, Powell was an efficient military commander who was closely associated with post-colonial American foreign policy, which had a particularly destructive impact on the Middle East. Soleimani, similarly, was portrayed as responsible for leading Iran’s armed resistance to the American occupation of Iraq and the extension of its influence elsewhere in the region (in addition to Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Gaza, and Lebanon). Soleimani was described by U.S. Government as engaged in ‘terrorism’ while Powell was viewed in many foreign circles as an agent of unlawful American interventions and encroachments on national sovereignty. It remains for us to think about the implications of geopolitical realities resulting in the assassination of sub-altern leading figures while impunity unto natural death is enjoyed by their hegemonic opponents. The people of Iran and of the United States looked upon these two quite different military figures as fallen heroes.

Will history and historians judged them differently?

Daniel Falcone: What does it say about the organized left, that progressives and Democratic Socialists within the US government are waxing nostalgic about Powell? Has the spectrum shifted so far right in your view?

Richard Falk: Powell is a somewhat ambiguous political figure from a progressive perspective (and to some extent, for opposite reasons, from a current Republican perspective). He seems to have ascended the heights of American life as a person of color, deriving from a humble background. In My American Journey Powell describes his ascent in these words, “Mine is the story of a black kid of no early promise from an immigrant family of limited means who was raised in the South Bronx.”

That such a personal narrative should evoke widespread meta-political approval should no surprise, indeed it is the fulfillment of the American dream, extended to a representative of a racial category that had been generally excluded from dreams that included ascending to the upper reaches of leadership in the armed forces and foreign policy. Celebration of these achievements were solidified by Powell’s non-abrasive personality and style, as well as by his record of professional competence.

I think that Powell would have received great praise in any era, but perhaps his non-confrontational manner and overall moderation are especially appreciated by a broad spectrum of public opinion when Trumpism has taken over control of the Republican Party. To affirm Powell is partly to exhibit nostalgia for the pre-Trump politics of comparative moderation, although the excesses of the Reagan and two Bush presidencies make this affirmation of the American past somewhat sentimental, and a matter of degree.

In sum, I believe, American liberals, and even many progressives, want to present themselves as part of the anti-Communist, pro-Israeli, and pro-law and order mainstream. Of course, thankfully there were some notable exceptions, although too few, including Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Edward Said, Daniel Berrigan, Medea Benjamin, and Daniel Ellsberg. Like Colin Powell, these exceptions are mostly male, and unlike him, are all white. So it goes!

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ON DENIGRATING THE HUMANITIES

18 Oct

[Prefatory Note: Having spent more than 70 years within privileged enclaves of advanced education, my only regret is the weakness of community cohesion due to evaluations of the worth of faculty members by relying on market assessments, that is, what a person could earn outside the university if put up for sale, or what a rival university might offer to lure a person elsewhere. My vague thoughts along these lines were given focus by the brutal frankness of this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Joshua Angrist. This post reflects on Professor Angrist unqualified rationale for leaving his faculty position at Hebrew University in Jerusalem for a higher paying professorship at MIT. It would might seem crass to choose your country of residence by reference to its material offerings, especially if your preferred country provided you with a decent living, as was the case here, but to denigrate the humanities because they were being equally valued at an Israeli university with economics and computer science is what makes Professor Angrist emblematic. The put down of literature is mindlessly irresponsible and civilizationally obtuse at a time of unprecedented bio-ethical-ecological crisis when the humanities alone offer essential insight into prospects for a transformational adjustment.]

On Denigrating the Humanities

I was reading with interest the profile of Joshua Angrist in the Jerusalem Post, the Israeli-American MIT economist who shared this year’s Nobel Prize in economics with two others when I came upon this uncongenial sentence:Angrist said he was frustrated that many salaries, particularly in academia, were set using fixed pay grades, with professors in fields such as computer science and economics being paid the same as professors of literature, instead of being set by market forces, as they are elsewhere.”

Angrist apparently was much earlier deeply at odds with the way in which academic salaries were set in Israel. His words of 15 years ago were reprinted in The Jerusalem Post:  “I was tired of the situation here. The Israeli system does not reflect the reality of pay differential by field. It’s the public system, and it’s not very flexible.” It seems to me that Israel was engaged in admirable initiative–treating a university as a community of scholars where knowledge flourished across disciplinary borders without affixing price tags on the comparative value of differing ways of knowing to be determined by market forces. An alternative approach would be to seek higher, apparently more appropriate salaries for the faculty across the board, which might have helped create a contented community instead of alienated economists and computer geeks who rushed for the exits whenever a foreign university offered more money to attract an Israel professor.

There is a further disturbing implication of Angrist’s invidious comparison. It is as if literature, and presumably the humanities overall, were a superfluous luxury in a society where computer science and economics are valued highly by the market. The language used Angrist made clear in his view that it is the market without a scintilla of doubt that deserves to be treated as the authoritative arbiter of comparative educational valuations, and specifically faculty salaries. The Israeli journalist reported what Angrist declared without comment as his article was primarily concerned with solving the puzzle of why talented Israelis, such as Angrist, were emigrating elsewhere, in effect, interpreting a damaging brain drain. It is seems that Angrist’s personal reasons for leaving Israel were not only honest but descriptive of why many other professors valued highly in the academic marketplace were drawn elsewhere by the lure of larger paychecks.

Perhaps, displaying my own cultural malaise, I recall my educational experience as being primarily valuable for what I learned and retained from courses in the humanities. As an undergraduate at Penn’s highly rated Wharton Business School. I took 17 economics courses without any lasting effect on my sense of the world, or effectiveness in it, but received inspiration and an enduring worldview from several charismatic professors in the humanities that continues to enrich my life more than 70 years later.

Especially as an undergraduate I learned to love literature and philosophy, precious lifelong gifts. I suppose I would have been less put off by Angrist’s comment if it had been uttered with even the slightest show of regret or collegial sensitivity rather than uttered in a derisive tone that conveyed, at least to me, an crude economistic attitude ‘that the market knows best.’ I should observe that Angrist and his wife deeply regretted leaving Israel, explaining the decision as purely one of choosing the material benefits offered by the job at MIT. Although American born, Angrist emigrated to Israel in 1982 when he was in his early twenties as someone committed to the Zionist vision of a Jewish state, turning down a job at Harvard after earning his PhD at Princeton so that he might resume his life in Israel, being married to an Israeli woman and having a son born in Israel. Angrist has clearly lived a bi-national life with acknowledged tensions between the material rewards of a high salary and the unproblematic satisfactions he apparently continues to derive from the Israeli dimensions of his life.

The issue is far larger than one of personal preferences. Humanities mirror the culture, its deepest strivings, grievances, shortcomings. In my experience we cannot look to economics and computer science for how we could collectively live better together as distinct from guidance as to policy and technical problems of digital communication. Humanities are the repositories of wisdom, beauty, romance, and moral grandeur in human experience, although even poets can sometimes subscribe to demonic constructions of the world around them. At this time, more than any other, when the species is struggling with a severe bio-ethical-ecological crisis we desperately need to nurture the visionary apertures of the imagination rather than disparage them.

In my preferred academic community, there would be no differentiations based on price tags, and a sense that different knowledge traditions were equally indispensable if graduates were to be engaged citizens at a time of planetary emergency as well as enjoy productive careers outside the ivy walls.

In concluding, I wish that I could dismiss Joshua Angrist’s uncongenial worldview as a regressive and idiosyncratic departure from the cultural norms rather than being compelled to acknowledge that he is far truer representative of the national, and even the global body politic, than I am. Mine remains a voice at the outer edge of cultural relevance, yet I hear faint signs of a civilizational  awakening in the primary forms of surrounding birds, trees, and flowers, and that is enough for me, yet I know it is not sufficient to rescue the collective destiny of our species speeding toward calamity. Such a liberating rescue if it comes, will come from transformational wisdom best encoded in the humanities. In the meantime, self-satisfied economists and software engineers can collect Nobel Prizes and earn lofty salaries for their day jobs, superciliously denigrating humanists from the comfort of their deck chairs on the final cruise of the restored Titanic.

The Rebranding of Antisemitism after the Holocaust

12 Oct

[Prefatory Note: there has been past influential writing taking critical aim at the Holocaust as a cover for unrelated wrongs, most notably Norman Finkelstein’s brave critique The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, 2000, updated 2015). This post is concerned with distorting the legacy of the Holocaust by appropriating antisemitism as a policy tool relied upon by Irsrael and Zionist activists to intensify Palestinian suffering and deflect attention from Israeli wrongdoing. Such exploitation dishonors and unduly complicates by (mis)remembering the justifiably hallowed and grotesque reality of the Holocaust. Perhaps, the primary expression of this phenomenon of wrongly appropriating ‘antisemitism’ is the conflation of Zion and Israel in the widely promoted and influential definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) that has been used to discredit the BDS Campaign and defame its supporters.]  

The Rebranding of Antisemitism after the Holocaust

There are no legitimate doubts about the magnitude and depravity of the Holocaust arising from mobilizing the socipathic obsession with hatred of Jews, which culminated in the satanic German resolve to puts all Jews to death solely on the basis of their ethnicity. It is no wonder that a primary legacy of the Holocaust was to render the embrace of antisemitism a hateful embodiment of evil in the post-World War II West. Yet by making the Palestinian people and their supporters bear the ongoing burdens of this grotesque genocide perverts the legacy of the Holocaust, extending the dark shadows of racism over Israel experience and identity in ugly reactive forms. As W.H. Auden reminded the world “those to whom evil is done do evil in return.”

This unfolding post-Holocaust pattern of injustice originated in the lethal interactions between Hitler’s extreme racism and the Zionist Project. Zionism is best considered a utopian undertaking of a political movement within the wider community of the Jewish people. It was launched in the late nineteenth century as a reaction to European antisemitism to establish a Jewish, ‘democratic’ state in an essentially non-Jewish society (the Jewish population of Palestine was less than 10% in 1917 at the time of the Balfour Declaration) on the basis of an arrogant colonial pledge by the British Foreign Office. It had little prospect of succeeding even with European backing expressed through incorporating the Balfour pledge into the League of Nations approach to Palestine, given the declining leverage of European colonialism. Even this pre-fascist show of largely European support for the Zionist Project was ironically motivated in part by a soft version of anti-Semitism. An attraction of Zionism to non-Jews was its programmatic dedication to reducing the Jewish presence in Europe, an approach that the Nazis later absolutized in the years following gaining control of the German government in 1933. It is of course relevant that this encouragement of Zionist goals preceded the advent of fascism in Germany, but its consummation by way of the 1947-48 War would probably not have happened had not the Holocaust turned a visionary project with little hope of realization into a real world opportunity to make the Zionist dream come true. Yet realizing this dream was organically intertwined with a prolonged Palestinian nightmare. The nakba expressing the Palestinian tragedy featuring the de facto expulsion of between 700,000 and 750,000 Palestinians in that portion of historic Palestine set aside by the UN partition resolution for a Jewish political entity. The nakba is best understood as catastrophic experience of expulsion, but underscored by denying Palestinians a right of return, which was their entitlement under international law. As Palestinian intellectuals have pointed out in recent years, the continuation of Palestinian subjugation, victimization, and discriminatory demographic policies, make it more accurate to consider the nakba as a processrather than an event in time.

It is against this background that several regressive linkages to the Holocaust warrant articulated as not frequently acknowledged for fear of being misunderstood as a mode of belittling this pinnacle of criminality. The intention here is solely to show how the Zionist experience of coping with the Holocaust while working toward their goals of Jewish ethnic sovereignty in Palestine has persisted since the establishment of Israel in ways that are harmful not only to the Palestinian people but to Jews the world over:

            –the ultra-pragmatism of those Jewish political figures who pursued and led the Zionist Project reached its heights in negotiating with the Nazi regime to arrange the permissive departure of Jews from Germany as part of the effort to achieve demographic credibility for Zionist efforts to establish a Jewish entity in Palestine. [See Tom Suarez, State of Terror for extensive narration and documentation] Such opportunism undoubtedly was responsible for saving Jewish lives, but carried over in ways that help explain Israel’s willingness to reach diplomatically and economically advantageous relations with a variety of unsavory governments in the course of its history since 1948. Again, this was an understandable embrace of an extreme form of ‘political realism’ given the degree to which Israel was regionally isolated in what was called by its leaders as ‘a dangerous neighborhood,’ and its central mission of creating a exclusivist Jewish state in an essentially non-Jewish society was subject to censure throughout the non-Western world.

This ultra-pragmatism has taken an ugly turn in recent years when Israel and its more militant supporters themselves made use of irresponsible allegations of antisemitism as a policy tool to puss back against censure and delegitimation. Critics, as well as international institutions, were stigmatized and defamed as guilty of antisemitism. In other words, this term of opprobrium was twisted, describing not the behavior of neo-Nazis and other persons clearly motivated by hatred of Jews as an ethnicity and Jewishness as a religious tradition and cultural orientation. Netanyahu’s immediate response to the International Criminal Court’s finding earlier this year that Palestinian allegations of Israeli war crimes since 2014 should be fully investigated by the prosecutor was to castigate this legal finding as ‘pure antisemitism,’ a typical if crude example of recourse to this tactic. Any fairminded jurist would appreciate the legal diligence of the ICC Chamber decision and applaud this show of political independence. Similarly, to respond to the release of a 2017 academic report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) concluding that Israel’s patterns of governance overwhelmingly justified the conclusion that Israel had become an apartheid state. [“Israeli Practice Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” E/ESCWA/EC R1/2017/1; available by accessing ,old website ‘palestine studies./org/default/files/ESCWA/2017); in the spirit of transparency, the controversial report was written by myself in collaboration with Professor Virginia Tilley. ]. A more recent example is the ongoing effort to discredit the Durban Process by maligning this UN laudable effort to launch an anti-racist initiative twenty years ago calling for the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action, which are neither anti-Israel, nor by any stretch, antisemitic. [the Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, 2001, with outcome document the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action, A/CONF. 189/12, 8 Sept 2001. Discussed in my essay, “Demonizing the Durban Process,” Transcend Media Service, Aug 16, 2021]

Legacies of the Holocaust: Impacts on Zionist political style, European Diplomacy, and the Rebranding of Antisemitism

My contention is that this kind of discrediting maneuver with its reliance on false accusations of antisemitism can be best interpreted as a hangover from the Zionist opportunistic style that included a willingness to cooperate with the Nazis to advance its policy priority of inducing Jews to populate Palestine. During the Nazi years Zionist opportunism extended to cooperation with the worst of antisemites, while during the existence of Israel it took the form of characterizing as antisemitic anything that the leadership found objectionable.

–A second unfortunate legacy of the Holocaust is to make mere accusations of antisemitism such a potent and intimidating weapon in the domain of symbolic politics. What the Holocaust did was to make antisemitism the crime of crimes by its foundational relationship to the Nazi genocidal ‘final solution.’ The mere prospect of being so accused of antisemitism is intimidating in the way that, for example, comparably severe criticism of Islamic policies and practices is not, at least in the West. This issue has become complicated since right-wing extremists and evangelical Christians affirm Israel for their own reasons and thus join in the condemnation of its critics. [although often accompanied by similar genuine antisemitic tropes—encouraging Jews to leave so that Jesus can return]

–A third unfortunate legacy of the Holocaust is the compensatory mechanisms active in Europe and North America for the failure to act with a greater show of empathy for the Jewish victims of Nazi persecution in the 1930s. This is especially true for obvious reasons of Germany. Angela Merkel observed, in a casual remark, that no matter what coalition government succeeds her CSU leadership will continue to support Israel’s security, implying that no foreseeable German governemtn would dare voice criticism of Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people.

There was a reluctance of liberal democracies to admit Jews as refugees or asylum seekers heightened by the economic strains of the Great Depression, a posture incidentally encouraged by the Zionist Movement that sought to close off all possible places of sanctuary other than Palestine for Jews in need of refuge. Despite this, the behavior of liberal goverments during the Nazi years helps explain the faint sense of liberal complicity in this period of Jewish ordeal, and may help account for international passivity in Europe and North America with respect to addressing Palestinian grievances. There were some signs that this mood may be slightly changing during the May 2021 assault on Gaza.

Concluding Remarks  

My main contention is that the Holocaust experience accentuated the tendencies of the Zionist movement to be opportunistic in the course of its long effort to attain, little by little, its territorial and ideological goals. This opportunism has had the further effect of greatly hampering the Palestinian struggle for basic rights, particularly the right of self-determination. Such assessments do not pretend to be the whole story of Zionist success and Palestinian frustration. Many factors also contributed shaping present circumstances, including the geopolitical muscle provided by the United States.

The UN after 75: What Next?

6 Oct

[Prefatory Note: The following post is a modified version of a text published in TMS (Transcend Media Service) on 5 October 2021. It assesses the record of the UN over the decades on the basis of its constitutional design, its operational experience, and the gap between UN capabilities and the global need for dramatically enhanced human solidarity mechanisms.]

Worthy, Worthless, and Harmful

I was recently a guest on a TV show that had as its theme “UN: Worthy or Worthless?” It struck me as a misleading question as the UN for its first 75 years was in different settings worthy and worthless, or actually worse than worthless. It was worthless, or almost so, if the appraisal if based either on the war prevention/prohibition of aggression master norm of the UN Charter or the stirring familiar words of commitment at the beginning of the Charter Preamble: “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” Such a pledge could be called almost worthless, especially its apparent grant of agency to ‘peoples’ on such grave matters of state as recourse to war, as well as by purporting to have substituted a global rule of law for war as a social institution and to have displaced the primacy of geopolitics. The implication that the strong as well as the weak were to held accountable for a peaceful resolution of conflicts or for transgressions of fundamental legal norms was pure dream talk as became obvious even by only reading beyond the Preamble to the Charter text. Yet this pretense of reaching for the stars is far from the whole UN story.

To begin with, the UN didn’t ever seriously aim as high as the words of the Preamble would lead one to believe. The UN was primarily hoped to become a lasting presence on the global stage, and this it has accomplished. The Organization managed to induce nearly every country on the planet to join, and afterwards value its membership sufficiently to stay involved during the decades of Cold War high tension that produced deep splits in world politics. It is impossible to assess whether establishing and maintaining this arena providing many venues for diplomatic contact between adversaries had a significant moderating effect on conflict that helped save humanity from a catastrophic third world war that likely would have been fought with nuclear weapons. But unlike the League of Nations the fate of UN was not decided before it was even tested by aggression and war. The original champion of the League, the United States, refused to join. This stuck a heavy blow to the birthing process of the League, whose reputation was further seriously undermined by the subsequent withdrawals of such important member states as Germany and Japan, with many others following for a variety of reasons.

By contrast, the UN has achieved and maintained a universality of participation that confirms the beliefs prevailing even among the most cynical political leaderships among national governments that it is more advantageous to be active within the UN than to rely on going it alone. Understanding why this has become so, even among detractors of internationalism as is the case with virtually the entire political class of foreign policy advisors in P-5 states who continue see global issues through the anachronistic optic of ‘political realism.’ Such realists see the UN as a useful enough foreign policy tool to retain, so long as it does not encroach on the domain of vital national interests. The UN’s survival and usefulness is a partly a result of Members and high-level UN civil servants understanding and respecting the strong constaints on its effective authority.

Framing Faustian Bargains

This mild, but indispensable governmental backing of the UN probably occurred because the Organization was deliberately designed by its founders to entail an unconditional surrender to the machinations of geopolitics. First, and foremost, by constitutional design the UN gave the winners in World War II permanent membership and a right of veto in the Security Council the only organ of the UN with authority to reach obligatory decisions. In effect, this was an acknowledgement that the UN had neither the authority nor the intention of overriding the political will of these five permanent members, and would have to live with or without their discretionary adherence to Charter norms and procedures, especially in the domain of international peace and security, and behavioral patterns based on self-restraint and prudence. Such hopes of voluntary compliance were not entirely in vain, but often seemed so, particularly at times of geopolitical confrontation, perhaps most memorably during the Cuban Missile Crisis( 1962). Catastrophic adversity was avoided throughout the Cold War mostly by good luck, although some would give credit to doctrines of mutual deterrence and the related fear factor arising from rival arsenals of nuclear weapons poised to launch missiles if attacked. The UN was usually on the sidelines anxiously watching international crises unfold, reconciled to its role as a virtual spectator, or at most, a helpless commentator. [See definitive exploration of this assertion in Martin Sherwin, Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis, (2021)] In other words, the UN by its constitutional framework and its operational reality defers to the most dangerous states in the world as signified by hard power capabilities. This affinity between hard power capabilities and P-5 status was reinforced by the fact that the five permanent members of the Security Council were also the first five countries to acquire nuclear weapons.

The second rationale for this hierarchy of membership in 1945 was to make a maximum effort to avoid a repetition of the League experience. From this perspective it was imperative to keep major states involved as active participants even if discontented with what the UN was doing in specific contexts. In practical effect, this meant mostly persuading the Soviet Union that it was in its interest to belong as in the early UN experience the Soviet Union was consistently outvoted on central peace and security issues. Franklin Roosevelt most notably was of the opinion that the UN would fare better than the League if geopolitical ambitions and rivalry were given recognition and free space within the Organization rather than being carried on by non-Members acting on their own in the unruly jungle of world politics. FDR also naively believed that the anti-fascist alliance that held firm throughout World War II would stay together to assure the peace.

The Soviet Union came to a dramatic appreciation of the importance of maintaining participation when its absence from the Security Council in 1950 due to a temporary protest against the refusal of the UN to recognize the Chinese Peoples Republic as representing China meant that it lost the opportunity to veto the Council decision to condemn North Korean aggression and give its blessing to the action by Western governments to join in the operations of collective self-defense on behalf of South Korea. The Soviets reacted by immediately reoccupying their seat in the Security Council and never again made such a tactical mistake. It is significant that what they didn’t do was to threaten or actually withdraw.

In a sense, this deference to geopolitics involved a pair of Faustian Bargains. In both instances, the UN refrained from its inception to make any serious attempt to impose its authority on geopolitical actors, which introduced a gaping right of exception into all Security Council proceedings. It is mostly the operational reality of this concession to hard power that leads many in the public and media to the perception that the UN is worthless as it is seen as playing no role in wars that involve the participation of P-5 members. This perception has been reinforced by patterns of unlawful behavior on the part of these five states, each of which has conducted military operations that flagrantly violated international law as well as the more specific normative architecture of the UN’s own Charter. We cannot know what would have ensued after 1945 if there had been no permanent membership and no veto in the Security Council, but we can make a good guess. The UN might have turned into a Western anti-Soviet alliance or would have completely lost its relevance as a result of political paralysis, debilitating withdrawals, and uses of force in manifest violation of the UN Charter. Another line of conjecture would seek to imagine the likely UN evolution if the FDR image of keeping the East/West alliance vibrant with a new priority assignment of keeping the peace in the dawn of the nuclear age.

Achievements of The UN System

When we turn to the case for worthiness, the argument is on one level obvious and on anther is somewhat subtle and elusive. The obvious part is that the resources and energies of the UN System are concerned with much more than the peace and security agenda, providing guidance and valuable assistance in such varied areas as development, human rights, economic and social policy, environment, health, culture, and education. Beyond these substantive domains the UN provides indispensable auspices for the management of complex interdependence for many mutually beneficial transnational undertakings. Among the most important UN contributions is host a variety of cooperative activities comprising multilateral diplomacy of global scope. The UN has a strong record of offering its facilities and backing for lawmaking treaties covering a diverse range of global concerns including the public order of the oceans, peaceful uses of outer space, protection of endangered animal species, world trade.

The subtler case regarding the UN as a worthy contributor to a better world is its role in the domain of symbolic politics, which can be understood by regarding the UN as ‘a soft power superpower.’ The UN Secretary General is almost alone as a globally respected voice of reason and empathy on the gravest issues facing humanity, but also on occasion as a gentle critic of geopolitical excess and as a trustworthy alarmist with respect to climate change and the COVID pandemic. The periodically elected administrative leader of the UN exert some influence on world public opinion through their statements of concern, but rarely challenge directly  geopolitical behavior.

More relevant is the capacity of the UN, primarily in the General Assembly, but throughout the UN System to shape perceptions of legitimacy and illegitimacy in ways that exert important influences throughout civil society. The reality of such a perception can be most easily captured by the degree to which states struggle to achieve UN approval and to avoid having the UN pass critical judgment on their behavior. The UN endorsement of the anti-apartheid campaign is one of the factors that both mobilized activism in civil society and eventually led the leadership of the South African apartheid regime to reverse course. The frantic pushback by Israel to UN-backed allegations of racism and criminality, and more recently, of apartheid is further confirmation that what the UN does symbolically matters, and sometimes deeply.

Although Currently Worthy, a Stronger UN is Possible and Necessary, although it seems Unlikely

The COVID experience exposed the essential weakness of the UN when it came to promote and protect human interests in a health crisis of global scope. The ethos that prevailed was both an exhibition of the non-accountability of the geopolitical actors, and more broadly, the prioritizing of national interests and shared civilizational values in a politically fragmented world order. The imperative of global solidarity was too weak to prevent the scandalous hoarding of vaccines, which made descriptive such pejorative labels as ‘vaccine apartheid’ or ‘vaccine diplomacy.’ This experience is disturbing beyond COVID as it offers a metaphor for the global persistence of statist world order, which is partially enacted by marginalizing the UN in the face of an acute crisis of global scale. The record of response is only slightly better when it comes to fashioning a collective response to the dire expert consensus on what needs to be done about climate change. [See Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2021)]

We are left with the haunting question of whether pressures toward unity and global public goods can replace geopolitical rivalry and ambition in the years ahead, and translate such awakening into a movement capable of achieving a UN oriented and empowered to serve, at least selectively, the human interest rather than as in the past, the interplay of national interests or the prorities of geopolitics.      

WHAT A TRAVESTY! Iron Dome Subsidy

25 Sep

For the United States to pay the bill for replenishing missiles in the Israel’s Iron Dome defense system used during the Gaza attack in May is a travesty of law and justice. And for such an initiative to gain support for such a measure by a vote of 420-9 in an otherwise hopelessly divided U.S. House of Representatives should be an embarrassment rather than the occasion for restoring this questionable Special Relationship no matter how adverse its unconditional maintenance is for the wellbeing of the people of the Middle East and the strategic rationality of American foreign policy.

Iron Dome Mystifications

There has been much false reasoning surrounding this latest promiscuous affirmation of Israeli militarism. The Iron Dome is presented to the world as a purely defensive weapon whose only role is to save the lives of innocent civilians. If that is so, why not deploy an Iron Dome system in Gaza, as Alison Weir has observed, where it is really needed by an utterly defenceless blockaded civilian population that has endured massive civilian casualties from repeated Israeli missile attacks for many years. Anyone aware of the devastation and civilian casualties endured by the Gazan population of Gaza in May would understand that Israel would have thought twice before launching such an aggressive military operation if its population and cities would have been as exposed to retaliatory strikes as are the people of Gaza. One need not be a student of military strategy to know that offense and defense are lethally interconnected under combat conditions.

Not only is the Iron Dome mispresented, but the underlying military attack, with the puzzling IDF code name “Guardian of the Walls,” was falsely described as a ‘defensive’ response to the ‘terrorism’ of Hamas and affiliated armed groups. Ignored by such media reporting is the Israeli inflammatory background and context. Rockets from Gaza were preceded by a series of Israeli provocations in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including safeguarding Jewish extremist marches through Palestinian neighborhoods with such chants as ‘death to the Arabs,’ settler violence against Palestinians, and several intrusions and interferences with Muslim worship within the Al Aqsa compound during a period of religious holidays.

Comparing Civilian Casualties

When the assessments of responsibility for loss of life and the true identity of perpetrators of terrorism are made, it is illuminating to compare the casualty statistics of these periodic Israeli military operations carried out against a totally vulnerable Gazan entrapped society. One of the prime guidelines of international humanitarian law is the requirement that any military use of force be proportionate in response; another prime norm is the prohibition directed at ‘collective punishment’ in Artlcle 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: in Operation Cast Lead, 2008-09, 14 Israelis were killed, 1434 Palestinians; in Operation Pillar of Defense, 2012, 6 Israelis, 158 Palestinians; in Operation Protective Edge, 2014, 73 Israelis, 2100 Palestinians; in Guardian of the Walls, 2021, 12 Israelis, 256 Palestinians.  

This comparison of lives lost is revealing, but even this is far from a complete portrayal of one-sidedness, as Gaza is routinely denied in the aftermath of the carnage, access to materials needed to repair the worst of the damage to people and property, quite arbitrarily for long periods, aggravating what passes for normalcy in the best of times in Gaza during intervals between massive attacks. There are frequent limited military strikes, border violence, and a host of intrusions by way of drone surveillance and sonic boom overflights.  

Against such a tormented background, the US Government should at least refrain from subsidizing Israeli militarism even beyond the already disgraceful $3.8 billion per year. Besides, the moral and legal considerations, one wonders why Israel should be a recipient of such geopolitical charity when its economy is robust, having achieved one of the world’s highest per capita incomes, with cutting edge technologies, and a profitable, expanding market for its arms industry and counterterrorism training programs. Not only should the US be ashamed, but humiliated by erecting such a platform for national bipartisanship despite remaining hopelessly split on what should be apolitical imperatives: a humane border and immigration policy, adequate funding of infrastructure and social protection, keeping the electoral process open to all citizens and preserving political democracy in the face of insurrectionary violence, and devoting all available public funds to address the multiple menaces attributable to climate change.

What About Israeli Nuclear Weapons?

The strategic perspective is also relevant. Serious war dangers in the Middle East persist in large part because the West cannot deal evenhandedly with nuclear weapons. It long ago facilitated the secret acquisition, possession, and development of this weaponry by Israel and stands committed to war if necessary to thwart Iran alleged approach of the nuclear threshold. Because Washington does not dare to challenge Israel’s nuclear option, the US is forced against its interest to join Israel (and Saudi Arabia) in confronting Iran. It should be evident to any fair-minded observer that Iran has a persuasive security case for a nuclear deterrent given constant threats and violations of its sovereignty by Israeli and U.S. military provocations. It should be obvious that security, peace, and economic development would benefit all the peoples of the Middle East if a nuclear free zone were established in the region, monitored and verified internationally. At the same time, it would reduce to near zero the dangers of a regional war and the strategic inhibitions associated with keeping Israel as the only country permitted to have such weaponry with not even a pretense of accountability.

What About Israeli Apartheid?

What would be in the foreground of subsidizing a foreign military would be some reflections about its human rights record. In the case of Israel, the fact that during the past year both B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch, both respected human rights NGOs, concluded after exhaustive study that Israel was guilty of the crime of apartheid, a conclusion also affirmed in concrete detail by the fearless Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy. Apartheid is listed among the crimes against humanity in the Rome Statute, which is the treaty framework governing the operations of the International Criminal Court. Congress turns a blind eye toward the growing consensus that Israel is an apartheid state, a conclusion virtually acknowledged by its own adoption of a Basic Law in 2018 that proclaimed Israel as the state of the Jewish people with further implication of Jewish supremacy, not only in Israel but in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, that is, in the whole of historic Palestine. And through it all, the mainstream media takes bland note of this dubious reaffirmation of support for Israel with no attempt to address the dubious implications of such diplomatic lockstep.

What About the Palestinian Right of Resistance

In view of this, at the very least the discourse on Israel/Palestine should at least acknowledge a Palestinian right of resistance operative within the limits set by international law. It is time to abandon dismissing Palestinian resistance as ‘terrorism’ and Israeli oppressive dominance as inherently ‘defensive.’

When these considerations are taken into account, we should begin to appreciate how regressive a move it was to donate $1 billion for a new supply of Iron Dome missiles at this time. We should pause to thank the Squad for standing strong, and wonder why those who in Congress stand behind the struggles of people of color of America fail to exhibit even minimal signs of solidarity with the victims of the Palestinian ordeal.

9/11 + 9/12: COMPOUNDING TRAGEDY

22 Sep

[Prefatory Note: This post is the second part of my interview with Daniel Falcone that was published by CounterPunch on

September 12, 2021. It explores further the effects of the attacks and ongoing sequences of reactions, which were appropriately attributable to the events of 9/11 and those internal moves of surveillance and detention that were independently favored by the U.S. governmental leadership, but were too controversial to take until they were able to make to claim the cover of the War on Terror. A similar, even more pronounced dualism, is helpful in distinguishing the 9/12 developments that were plausible responses to the mega-terrorist transnational attacks and those escalated responses that reflected a preexisting disposition of the neoconservative foreign policy advisory circle around President George W. Bush to use American military capabilities against governments that were geopolitical outliers with respect to the neoliberal consensus on globalization or were hostile to American alignments in the Middle East and elsewhere.]

                             Part Two

International and Internal Impacts of 9/11, 9/12

Daniel Falcone: How has foreign policy and institutional approaches to global diplomacy changed over the past two decades in your estimation?

Richard Falk: The most notable change in American statecraft during this period is the abandonment of a core emphasis on economic globalization, with a corresponding swing in national security policy to counterterrorism, tactics and technological innovations that minimize visible U.S. warfighting and casualties on distant and dispersed combat zones situated within foreign sovereign states. While this counterterrorist impulse prevailed during the Bussh presidency, it placed heavy reliance on torture to obtain information relating to potential terrorist operations and the identity operatives. In the process, it turned official policy to ‘the dark side’ of counterterrorism, which meant a dismaying repudiation of international humanitarian law with respect to the belligerent conduct, and a total denial of human rights to those accused of a terrorist connection, however remote. It was contemptuous toward those who urged compliance with international law and human rights standards. The detention center at Guantanamo became

a word of international opprobrium, dehumanizing conduct, shaming the nation, and forever tarnishing its liberal credentials.

As well, declaring a war on terror made the entire world into a potential battlefield featuring the targeting of individuals or their places of habitation as suspected of terrorist affiliation. It also foregrounded reliance on unmanned drones for attack and surveillance, the deployment of small special operations detachments with capture or kill missions in 85 countries, whose governments often were not consulted or asked for permission with respect to penetrations of their sovereign space to engage in non-accountable acts of political violence. The execution of Osama Bin Laden, given safe have in Pakistan, by such a mission was the most significant and publicized instance of this form of counterterrorism.

Other changes in warfare unrelated to 9/11 involve the use of features of digital networking to disrupt, steal industrial or state secrets, attack vital electric grids, disrupt nuclear facilities through computer viruses. In other words, cyber age conflict is characteristically carried on in mostly settings other than territorial battlefields.

During the Trump presidency these doctrinal and ideological tendencies were carried further as alliances were deemphasized and bilateral transactional relations and the search for ‘deals’ with adversaries were given high profiles. Multilateralism declined, and a chauvinistic, territorial nationalism was raucously promoted, and affected many countries, explained in part as protection against immigration by the forces of ‘radical Islam,’ but additionally as a reaction against the perceived failures of globalization, with its privileging of capital at the expense of people.

The Biden presidency commencing in January 2021 seemed to revert to the pre-9/11 and pre-globalization Cold War approach to foreign policy, reviving and initiating alliances, championing an emerging geopolitical rivalry with China, and configuring military capabilities toward more traditional forms of warfare, as well as continuing the non-territorial concerns addressed under the label of cyber security. Biden seems to view international relations through an ideological lens that seeks to align ‘democracies’ for a great struggle with ‘autocracies,’ above all with allegedly ‘socialist’ China, but secondarily with once socialist Russia. In this sense, there is a foreign policy transition under way from counterterrorism to geopolitical rivalry, although this shift could be reversed or modified by new mega-terrorist events that recalled the spectacle and trauma of 9/11. The stakes are high—global hegemony more politely described as ‘global leadership.’

What is lacking in the political scene, sadly, is any strong moves toward the demilitarization of foreign policy or related adjustment to the failures arising from the militarization of political challenges. There seems to be no discussion of what we can learn from the methods and results of China’s remarkable achievement of economic development, which overcame the extreme poverty of hundreds of millions of Chinese and spread its influence and achievements to many other countries by a win/win foreign economic policy that did not engage in intervention or state-building with respect to the internal politics of foreign countries. China’s Road and Belt Project that has brought many tangible developmental gains, especially in infrastructure, for countries throughout Africa and Asia, and virtually no military intrusions. The post-colonial West has developed nothing comparable, and is as reliant as ever on its military capabilities to hold its own geopolitically.

Daniel Falcone: What are your thoughts on how certain terminology has evolved in the context of the post 9/11 world? For example, “terrorism,” “extremism,” “state building,” “legitimacy,” and “international community” are all words that change meaning within the discourse, correct?

Richard Falk: Yes, language always reflects changing patterns of hegemonic politics, and this was certainly true in the aftermath of 9/11, more so than in 9/12 contexts. The overall effort was to stigmatize certain behaviors as beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior while legitimating other patterns of action as providing justifications for previously dubious claims to encroach upon the sovereign rights of others or ignore the human rights of adversaries. Not since the death camps of Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union has there been comparable image of abusing prisoners held in captivity. As suggested, Guantanamo is a name that defames America throughout the world. In effect, the discourse of international relations tries to provide geopolitical actors with ethical and legal justifications for their policy agendas and to discredit behavior adverse to their interests. This is especially true when new challenges emerge that make frameworks of permissible response seem insufficient.

Of the words in your question that acquired new relevance after 9/11: ‘terrorism,’ ‘state-building,’ and ‘extremism’ are particularly salient, and seem to describe the U.S. counterterrorist long-range efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, although there were antecedents for each pre-9/11. The words ‘legitimacy’ and ‘international community’ were useful in evading the strict prohibitions of international law as with respect to ‘torture,’ further disguised as ‘enhanced interrogation.’ ‘International community’ was also helpful in suggesting that the political backing of the UN reflected an anti-terrorist consensus that created an almost unconditional mandate for pursuing counterterrorist tactics without questioning their impacts on innocent civilians, in effect, an implied license to kill on suspicion or to intervene to replace governments accused of being connected with 9/11 either by providing safe haven or material support.

The most radical idea accompanying counterterrorist intervention entailed replacing the former regime with a governing process thatth would fit the broader, longer range policy priorities, political ideals, and material interests of the intrusion on sovereign space.

Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on how Bush 43 through Biden have navigated the presidency while implementing select 9/11 narratives as a backdrop?

Richard Falk: Bush rallied the country primarily by demonizing the perpetrators of the 9/11 events, characterizing them as sub-human, to be ‘hunted’ as if wild animals. More than this he lent credence to the idea that non-state political violence was inherently extremist, wherever it occurred and regardless of justification, as posing a terrorist threat to all ‘civilized’ countries. Calling upon governments throughout the world to join with the US in this war on terror, or if unwilling to do so, be treated as siding with terrorism. In effect, Bush unilaterally by geopolitical fiat invalidated a neutral diplomacy as a legitimate policy option in the context of ‘the war on terror.’ Bush also, whether knowingly or not, allowed counterterrorist foreign policy to be converted into a vehicle for executing the pre-9/11 neoconservative agenda of regime change, state-building, and democracy promotion in the Middle East where the terrorist allegations or links to 9/11 were tenuous or non-existent, yet alleged. In Afghanistan the links to 9/11 seemed self-evident and rationalized a limited counterterrorist operation against al-Qaeda. It should have not surprised any close student of American foreign policy to take note of the speed with which the initial counterterrorist justification morphed into a failed twenty year politically, materially, and psychologically failed and expensive war against the Taliban.

Next Obama came to the White House as of 2009 with a pledge of a more restrained foreign policy approach, which meant operationally that Bush’s war on terror would go on but with more outward respect for international law and a less grandiose conception of an extended counterterrorist mission in the Middle East. Obama wanted to limit counterterrorism to al-Qaeda and Afghanistan. Manifesting geopolitical ambivalence, Obama favored a troop surge in Afghanistan, apparently believing that the state-building mission was on the verge of success. Obama also rejected the regime-changing, democracy-promotion neoconservative hijacking of the 9/11 provocation for its preoccupation with restructuring the politics of the Middle East in a manner that was particularly responsive to Israel’s goals, angering Netanyahu especially when extended to Iran. A highlight of the Obama presidency was the diplomacy that produced an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program in 2015, known as Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (or JCPOA) that was designed to give assurances that Iran would not cross the nuclear threshold and the United States would over time reduce the sanctions it had imposed.

Obama went along with stretching international law so as weaken some restraints on the use of force, especially by an increased reliance on attack drones in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen where al-Qaeda operatives were active. Obama supported the 2011 intervention in Libya, although demeaned by Republicans for ‘leading from behind’ when it came to the controversial NATO-led regime changing military operation that left the country at the mercy of prolonged violent ethnic strife. Qaddafi’s Libya although autocratic, had high ratings for social development, and is a further confirmation that intervention rarely achieves its purported goals.  

When Trump’s turn came in 2015, there was a confusing mix of policies. Trump went further than any prior president in shaping American foreign policy in the Middle East to accord with the regional goals of Israel and the Gulf monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia. This led to Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and the adoption of a policy toward Iran of ‘maximum pressure.’ At the same time, Trump set the stage for withdrawal from Afghanistan, denouncing forever wars as a waste of money and lives that were costly as well as tarnishing the US reputation as a fearsome hegemon. Trump’s America first, anti-immigration, pro-military policies were less a security posture directed at would be terrorists than an effort to build a right-wing, autocratic political movement in the United States that was hostile to all forms of internationalism, including multilateral diplomacy. Trump and Trumpism intensified a nativist Islamophobia that blamed ‘radical Islam’ for terrorism and generated a related negative form of identity politics that gave aid and comfort to the white supremacy movement. This was exemplified by Trump’s comments on a neo-fascist march through Charlottesville that was resisted by protesters, contending that there were ‘good people on both sides.’ Despite the home scene, geopolitical concerns about a rising China began displacing counterterrorism at the top of the foreign policy agenda, a dynamic already started during the Obama presidency under the rubric of a ‘pivot to Asia.’

The Biden presidency is still new, and its record mixed. It has moved to correct the criminal failures of Trumpism in dealing with the COVID challenge and climate change but has irresponsibly intensified rivalry with China and has exhibited continuity with much of Trump’s policies toward the Middle East despite reaffirming the moribund two-state approach to peace between Israel and Palestine. Biden deserves credit for pushing ahead with steps to end the war in Afghanistan, despite the unnecessarily humiliating and reckless final act, and maybe finally bringing to an end the debilitating intervention/state-building cycle. One hopes he recollects and builds upon his opposition to Afghanistan troop surge and Libya policy while serving as Vice President in the Obama administration rather than recalls his enthusiasm for embarking upon the Iraq War in 2003/.   

Daniel Falcone: Scholars and writers such as Noam ChomskyLawrence Davidson and Isabel Allende have written about 9/11 – and September 11, 1973 in Chile. Can you talk about this historical analogue? 

Richard Falk: The most illuminating insight drawn from a comparison between 9/11 and the Pinochet coup against the elected Allende government in Chile 28 years earlier encouraged and then supported by Washington, relates to the humanitarian and political costs for the United States of intervention in foreign societies. The whole 9/11 impetus for the U.S. to engage in state-building overseas in the aftermath of regime-changing interventions led to an estimated 929,000 deaths, more than eight trillion dollars of wasted expenditures, counterterrorist operations in 85 countries, and an estimated 38 million displaced persons according to the Cost of War Project of the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs. This background of post-9/11 war-making is a major explanation of the unmistakable imperial U.S. decline abroad and alienating polarization within America. These failed efforts to control adverse political and economic tendencies at their source, often as in Chile were motivated by the pressures mounted by large corporate investors. They involved assaults on the most fundamental of human rights, that of the right of self-determination acknowledged as constitutive of more specific rights by being highlighted as a common Article 1 in both human rights Covenants.

This ‘war’ waged against the exercise of the right of self-determination did not begin with 9/11 but was a feature and legacy of the Cold War, receiving a second life thanks to the response of neoconservative Republican leadership to 9/11 as abetted by a history of complicit bipartisan passivity on the part of the Democratic Party opposition. We should pause in our reckoning and thank Barbara Lee as the sole member of Congress to vote against the ‘Authorization for the Use of Military Force of 2001’ legislation that to this day gives executive leadership a green light to wage war at will without either domestic constitutional oversight or respect for international law and the authority of the UN.

The United States should have learned the blowback consequences of interfering with the internal dynamics of self-determination when it conspired back in 1953 to overthrow the elected government of Mossadegh in Iran, supposedly to bolster the geopolitics of containment of the Soviet Union, but at least as much to satisfy the greed and ambition of ‘big oil.’ The whole political turn toward Islam, eventuating in the mass movement of 1978-79 led from exile by Ayatollah Khomeini, can be traced to the unifying impact on diverse strands of Iranian society due to the restored imposition of the Shah’s regime as a result of externally motivated and sustained intervention. The same lesson was made even plainer for detached observers to learn in the 1970s as a consequence of the Vietnam War where the intervention was overt and massive, and yet in the end led to a humiliating defeat.

Of course, the most relevant geopolitical pedagogy should have been absorbed as a result of the long experience of the West in Afghanistan stretching back to the time of ‘the great game’ of colonial competition to control the country. The recent post-colonial variation on the great game started with the effort to mobilize resistance to a Kabul government in the 1980s that was seen as leaning toward Moscow. With a cavalier disregard of consequences, the U.S. stimulated and supported the Islamic resistance to Afghanistan’s first secular modernizing elected government with training and weapons, including strengthening and emboldening the militia that evolved into al-Qaeda under the leadership of a charismatic religious ideologue, Osama Bin Laden! As hardly needs mention, it was this chain of imprudent moves that provided the proximate causes of 9/11 (together with the imprudent Western encroachments on the course of self-determination in the Middle East, including support for the colonizing project that produced decades of Israel/Palestine struggle with still no end in sight).

Why does this manifestly destructive and self-destructive cycle American foreign policy continue and repeat itself despite consistent failure? How can this cycle be disrupted? The political class in the United States and elsewhere in the NATO West, adheres to a worldview commonly identified as ‘political realism.’ Its central tenet is to link national interests to military superiority, with the tacit corollary that force and its threat is essential to uphold the global financial interests of neoliberal capitalism. Experience of the last 75 year increasingly demonstrates that political realism, while providing efficient geopolitical guidance during the colonial period, is dangerously out of touch with reality in the 21st century. Yet zombie-like obsolescent realism lingers because its worldview remains largely unchallenged by anti-imperial, anti-militarist, anti-capitalist ideas and oppositional politics. A new political realism, responsive to world conditions, would espouse a foreign policy that affirms the right of self-determination, shows respect for sovereign rights and international law, and recognizes the urgency of implementing human solidarity by establishing effective global problem-solving mechanisms, including the strengthening of international institutions, above all the United Nations. It would be equally important internationally, to restore trust in a humane democracy that serves the citizenry as a whole and moves to repudiate current plutocratic distortions of the social order as reflected by gross inequalities in the enjoyment and distribution of the benefits of growth and profits.

It is late in the day but let’s hope that seeds of transformative change have been planted both by the chaotic and discrediting withdrawal from Afghanistan and this anniversary occasion giving us one more opportunity to assess both the causes of and excessive 9/12 reactions to the 9/11 events. A step in the right direction would be the much belated willingness to engage in strategic self-criticism rather than to be distracted by partisan Republican accusations of tactical failures or a mind-numbing invocation of ‘American exceptionalism.’ More concretely, subjecting regime change and state-building to critique rather than focusing all attention on the bungled withdrawal dynamics might have a lasting impact on the political imagination. Such a willingness to learn from failure might actually rid the American political psyche of ‘American Exceptionalism,’ which has functioned as a huge dose of poisonous “kool-aid.” A benevolent 21st internationalism would instead give tangible expression to the imperatives of global solidarity, seeking governmental and civil society collaborators in meeting the tragic manifestations of such global challenges as climate change, pandemics, nuclearism. migration.

American democracy is under bipartisan threat due to its militarized state that orients the media propaganda machine to view internal and global security through a lens that magnifies threats and confines the political and moral imagination. Those who dare leak ‘truths’ are criminalized and faced with the vindictive choice of exile or prison (Snowden, Assange), as were those young Americans who fled to Canada and Sweden rather than fight in an immoral and unlawful war in Vietnam. A democracy that does not treat its heroes well, will not and should not endure.

[Prefatory Note: This post is the second part of my interview with Daniel Falcone that was published by CounterPunch on

September 12, 2021. It explores further the effects of the attacks and ongoing sequences of reactions, which were appropriately attributable to the events of 9/11 and those internal moves of surveillance and detention that were independently favored by the U.S. governmental leadership, but were too controversial to take until they were able to make to claim the cover of the War on Terror. A similar, even more pronounced dualism, is helpful in distinguishing the 9/12 developments that were plausible responses to the mega-terrorist transnational attacks and those escalated responses that reflected a preexisting disposition of the neoconservative foreign policy advisory circle around President George W. Bush to use American military capabilities against governments that were geopolitical outliers with respect to the neoliberal consensus on globalization or were hostile to American alignments in the Middle East and elsewhere.]

                             Part Two

International and Internal Impacts of 9/11, 9/12

Daniel Falcone: How has foreign policy and institutional approaches to global diplomacy changed over the past two decades in your estimation?

Richard Falk: The most notable change in American statecraft during this period is the abandonment of a core emphasis on economic globalization, with a corresponding swing in national security policy to counterterrorism, tactics and technological innovations that minimize visible U.S. warfighting and casualties on distant and dispersed combat zones situated within foreign sovereign states. While this counterterrorist impulse prevailed during the Bussh presidency, it placed heavy reliance on torture to obtain information relating to potential terrorist operations and the identity operatives. In the process, it turned official policy to ‘the dark side’ of counterterrorism, which meant a dismaying repudiation of international humanitarian law with respect to the belligerent conduct, and a total denial of human rights to those accused of a terrorist connection, however remote. It was contemptuous toward those who urged compliance with international law and human rights standards. The detention center at Guantanamo became

a word of international opprobrium, dehumanizing conduct, shaming the nation, and forever tarnishing its liberal credentials.

As well, declaring a war on terror made the entire world into a potential battlefield featuring the targeting of individuals or their places of habitation as suspected of terrorist affiliation. It also foregrounded reliance on unmanned drones for attack and surveillance, the deployment of small special operations detachments with capture or kill missions in 85 countries, whose governments often were not consulted or asked for permission with respect to penetrations of their sovereign space to engage in non-accountable acts of political violence. The execution of Osama Bin Laden, given safe have in Pakistan, by such a mission was the most significant and publicized instance of this form of counterterrorism.

Other changes in warfare unrelated to 9/11 involve the use of features of digital networking to disrupt, steal industrial or state secrets, attack vital electric grids, disrupt nuclear facilities through computer viruses. In other words, cyber age conflict is characteristically carried on in mostly settings other than territorial battlefields.

During the Trump presidency these doctrinal and ideological tendencies were carried further as alliances were deemphasized and bilateral transactional relations and the search for ‘deals’ with adversaries were given high profiles. Multilateralism declined, and a chauvinistic, territorial nationalism was raucously promoted, and affected many countries, explained in part as protection against immigration by the forces of ‘radical Islam,’ but additionally as a reaction against the perceived failures of globalization, with its privileging of capital at the expense of people.

The Biden presidency commencing in January 2021 seemed to revert to the pre-9/11 and pre-globalization Cold War approach to foreign policy, reviving and initiating alliances, championing an emerging geopolitical rivalry with China, and configuring military capabilities toward more traditional forms of warfare, as well as continuing the non-territorial concerns addressed under the label of cyber security. Biden seems to view international relations through an ideological lens that seeks to align ‘democracies’ for a great struggle with ‘autocracies,’ above all with allegedly ‘socialist’ China, but secondarily with once socialist Russia. In this sense, there is a foreign policy transition under way from counterterrorism to geopolitical rivalry, although this shift could be reversed or modified by new mega-terrorist events that recalled the spectacle and trauma of 9/11. The stakes are high—global hegemony more politely described as ‘global leadership.’

What is lacking in the political scene, sadly, is any strong moves toward the demilitarization of foreign policy or related adjustment to the failures arising from the militarization of political challenges. There seems to be no discussion of what we can learn from the methods and results of China’s remarkable achievement of economic development, which overcame the extreme poverty of hundreds of millions of Chinese and spread its influence and achievements to many other countries by a win/win foreign economic policy that did not engage in intervention or state-building with respect to the internal politics of foreign countries. China’s Road and Belt Project that has brought many tangible developmental gains, especially in infrastructure, for countries throughout Africa and Asia, and virtually no military intrusions. The post-colonial West has developed nothing comparable, and is as reliant as ever on its military capabilities to hold its own geopolitically.

Daniel Falcone: What are your thoughts on how certain terminology has evolved in the context of the post 9/11 world? For example, “terrorism,” “extremism,” “state building,” “legitimacy,” and “international community” are all words that change meaning within the discourse, correct?

Richard Falk: Yes, language always reflects changing patterns of hegemonic politics, and this was certainly true in the aftermath of 9/11, more so than in 9/12 contexts. The overall effort was to stigmatize certain behaviors as beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior while legitimating other patterns of action as providing justifications for previously dubious claims to encroach upon the sovereign rights of others or ignore the human rights of adversaries. Not since the death camps of Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union has there been comparable image of abusing prisoners held in captivity. As suggested, Guantanamo is a name that defames America throughout the world. In effect, the discourse of international relations tries to provide geopolitical actors with ethical and legal justifications for their policy agendas and to discredit behavior adverse to their interests. This is especially true when new challenges emerge that make frameworks of permissible response seem insufficient.

Of the words in your question that acquired new relevance after 9/11: ‘terrorism,’ ‘state-building,’ and ‘extremism’ are particularly salient, and seem to describe the U.S. counterterrorist long-range efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, although there were antecedents for each pre-9/11. The words ‘legitimacy’ and ‘international community’ were useful in evading the strict prohibitions of international law as with respect to ‘torture,’ further disguised as ‘enhanced interrogation.’ ‘International community’ was also helpful in suggesting that the political backing of the UN reflected an anti-terrorist consensus that created an almost unconditional mandate for pursuing counterterrorist tactics without questioning their impacts on innocent civilians, in effect, an implied license to kill on suspicion or to intervene to replace governments accused of being connected with 9/11 either by providing safe haven or material support.

The most radical idea accompanying counterterrorist intervention entailed replacing the former regime with a governing process thatth would fit the broader, longer range policy priorities, political ideals, and material interests of the intrusion on sovereign space.

Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on how Bush 43 through Biden have navigated the presidency while implementing select 9/11 narratives as a backdrop?

Richard Falk: Bush rallied the country primarily by demonizing the perpetrators of the 9/11 events, characterizing them as sub-human, to be ‘hunted’ as if wild animals. More than this he lent credence to the idea that non-state political violence was inherently extremist, wherever it occurred and regardless of justification, as posing a terrorist threat to all ‘civilized’ countries. Calling upon governments throughout the world to join with the US in this war on terror, or if unwilling to do so, be treated as siding with terrorism. In effect, Bush unilaterally by geopolitical fiat invalidated a neutral diplomacy as a legitimate policy option in the context of ‘the war on terror.’ Bush also, whether knowingly or not, allowed counterterrorist foreign policy to be converted into a vehicle for executing the pre-9/11 neoconservative agenda of regime change, state-building, and democracy promotion in the Middle East where the terrorist allegations or links to 9/11 were tenuous or non-existent, yet alleged. In Afghanistan the links to 9/11 seemed self-evident and rationalized a limited counterterrorist operation against al-Qaeda. It should have not surprised any close student of American foreign policy to take note of the speed with which the initial counterterrorist justification morphed into a failed twenty year politically, materially, and psychologically failed and expensive war against the Taliban.

Next Obama came to the White House as of 2009 with a pledge of a more restrained foreign policy approach, which meant operationally that Bush’s war on terror would go on but with more outward respect for international law and a less grandiose conception of an extended counterterrorist mission in the Middle East. Obama wanted to limit counterterrorism to al-Qaeda and Afghanistan. Manifesting geopolitical ambivalence, Obama favored a troop surge in Afghanistan, apparently believing that the state-building mission was on the verge of success. Obama also rejected the regime-changing, democracy-promotion neoconservative hijacking of the 9/11 provocation for its preoccupation with restructuring the politics of the Middle East in a manner that was particularly responsive to Israel’s goals, angering Netanyahu especially when extended to Iran. A highlight of the Obama presidency was the diplomacy that produced an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program in 2015, known as Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (or JCPOA) that was designed to give assurances that Iran would not cross the nuclear threshold and the United States would over time reduce the sanctions it had imposed.

Obama went along with stretching international law so as weaken some restraints on the use of force, especially by an increased reliance on attack drones in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen where al-Qaeda operatives were active. Obama supported the 2011 intervention in Libya, although demeaned by Republicans for ‘leading from behind’ when it came to the controversial NATO-led regime changing military operation that left the country at the mercy of prolonged violent ethnic strife. Qaddafi’s Libya although autocratic, had high ratings for social development, and is a further confirmation that intervention rarely achieves its purported goals.  

When Trump’s turn came in 2015, there was a confusing mix of policies. Trump went further than any prior president in shaping American foreign policy in the Middle East to accord with the regional goals of Israel and the Gulf monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia. This led to Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and the adoption of a policy toward Iran of ‘maximum pressure.’ At the same time, Trump set the stage for withdrawal from Afghanistan, denouncing forever wars as a waste of money and lives that were costly as well as tarnishing the US reputation as a fearsome hegemon. Trump’s America first, anti-immigration, pro-military policies were less a security posture directed at would be terrorists than an effort to build a right-wing, autocratic political movement in the United States that was hostile to all forms of internationalism, including multilateral diplomacy. Trump and Trumpism intensified a nativist Islamophobia that blamed ‘radical Islam’ for terrorism and generated a related negative form of identity politics that gave aid and comfort to the white supremacy movement. This was exemplified by Trump’s comments on a neo-fascist march through Charlottesville that was resisted by protesters, contending that there were ‘good people on both sides.’ Despite the home scene, geopolitical concerns about a rising China began displacing counterterrorism at the top of the foreign policy agenda, a dynamic already started during the Obama presidency under the rubric of a ‘pivot to Asia.’

The Biden presidency is still new, and its record mixed. It has moved to correct the criminal failures of Trumpism in dealing with the COVID challenge and climate change but has irresponsibly intensified rivalry with China and has exhibited continuity with much of Trump’s policies toward the Middle East despite reaffirming the moribund two-state approach to peace between Israel and Palestine. Biden deserves credit for pushing ahead with steps to end the war in Afghanistan, despite the unnecessarily humiliating and reckless final act, and maybe finally bringing to an end the debilitating intervention/state-building cycle. One hopes he recollects and builds upon his opposition to Afghanistan troop surge and Libya policy while serving as Vice President in the Obama administration rather than recalls his enthusiasm for embarking upon the Iraq War in 2003/.   

Daniel Falcone: Scholars and writers such as Noam ChomskyLawrence Davidson and Isabel Allende have written about 9/11 – and September 11, 1973 in Chile. Can you talk about this historical analogue? 

Richard Falk: The most illuminating insight drawn from a comparison between 9/11 and the Pinochet coup against the elected Allende government in Chile 28 years earlier encouraged and then supported by Washington, relates to the humanitarian and political costs for the United States of intervention in foreign societies. The whole 9/11 impetus for the U.S. to engage in state-building overseas in the aftermath of regime-changing interventions led to an estimated 929,000 deaths, more than eight trillion dollars of wasted expenditures, counterterrorist operations in 85 countries, and an estimated 38 million displaced persons according to the Cost of War Project of the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs. This background of post-9/11 war-making is a major explanation of the unmistakable imperial U.S. decline abroad and alienating polarization within America. These failed efforts to control adverse political and economic tendencies at their source, often as in Chile were motivated by the pressures mounted by large corporate investors. They involved assaults on the most fundamental of human rights, that of the right of self-determination acknowledged as constitutive of more specific rights by being highlighted as a common Article 1 in both human rights Covenants.

This ‘war’ waged against the exercise of the right of self-determination did not begin with 9/11 but was a feature and legacy of the Cold War, receiving a second life thanks to the response of neoconservative Republican leadership to 9/11 as abetted by a history of complicit bipartisan passivity on the part of the Democratic Party opposition. We should pause in our reckoning and thank Barbara Lee as the sole member of Congress to vote against the ‘Authorization for the Use of Military Force of 2001’ legislation that to this day gives executive leadership a green light to wage war at will without either domestic constitutional oversight or respect for international law and the authority of the UN.

The United States should have learned the blowback consequences of interfering with the internal dynamics of self-determination when it conspired back in 1953 to overthrow the elected government of Mossadegh in Iran, supposedly to bolster the geopolitics of containment of the Soviet Union, but at least as much to satisfy the greed and ambition of ‘big oil.’ The whole political turn toward Islam, eventuating in the mass movement of 1978-79 led from exile by Ayatollah Khomeini, can be traced to the unifying impact on diverse strands of Iranian society due to the restored imposition of the Shah’s regime as a result of externally motivated and sustained intervention. The same lesson was made even plainer for detached observers to learn in the 1970s as a consequence of the Vietnam War where the intervention was overt and massive, and yet in the end led to a humiliating defeat.

Of course, the most relevant geopolitical pedagogy should have been absorbed as a result of the long experience of the West in Afghanistan stretching back to the time of ‘the great game’ of colonial competition to control the country. The recent post-colonial variation on the great game started with the effort to mobilize resistance to a Kabul government in the 1980s that was seen as leaning toward Moscow. With a cavalier disregard of consequences, the U.S. stimulated and supported the Islamic resistance to Afghanistan’s first secular modernizing elected government with training and weapons, including strengthening and emboldening the militia that evolved into al-Qaeda under the leadership of a charismatic religious ideologue, Osama Bin Laden! As hardly needs mention, it was this chain of imprudent moves that provided the proximate causes of 9/11 (together with the imprudent Western encroachments on the course of self-determination in the Middle East, including support for the colonizing project that produced decades of Israel/Palestine struggle with still no end in sight).

Why does this manifestly destructive and self-destructive cycle American foreign policy continue and repeat itself despite consistent failure? How can this cycle be disrupted? The political class in the United States and elsewhere in the NATO West, adheres to a worldview commonly identified as ‘political realism.’ Its central tenet is to link national interests to military superiority, with the tacit corollary that force and its threat is essential to uphold the global financial interests of neoliberal capitalism. Experience of the last 75 year increasingly demonstrates that political realism, while providing efficient geopolitical guidance during the colonial period, is dangerously out of touch with reality in the 21st century. Yet zombie-like obsolescent realism lingers because its worldview remains largely unchallenged by anti-imperial, anti-militarist, anti-capitalist ideas and oppositional politics. A new political realism, responsive to world conditions, would espouse a foreign policy that affirms the right of self-determination, shows respect for sovereign rights and international law, and recognizes the urgency of implementing human solidarity by establishing effective global problem-solving mechanisms, including the strengthening of international institutions, above all the United Nations. It would be equally important internationally, to restore trust in a humane democracy that serves the citizenry as a whole and moves to repudiate current plutocratic distortions of the social order as reflected by gross inequalities in the enjoyment and distribution of the benefits of growth and profits.

It is late in the day but let’s hope that seeds of transformative change have been planted both by the chaotic and discrediting withdrawal from Afghanistan and this anniversary occasion giving us one more opportunity to assess both the causes of and excessive 9/12 reactions to the 9/11 events. A step in the right direction would be the much belated willingness to engage in strategic self-criticism rather than to be distracted by partisan Republican accusations of tactical failures or a mind-numbing invocation of ‘American exceptionalism.’ More concretely, subjecting regime change and state-building to critique rather than focusing all attention on the bungled withdrawal dynamics might have a lasting impact on the political imagination. Such a willingness to learn from failure might actually rid the American political psyche of ‘American Exceptionalism,’ which has functioned as a huge dose of poisonous “kool-aid.” A benevolent 21st internationalism would instead give tangible expression to the imperatives of global solidarity, seeking governmental and civil society collaborators in meeting the tragic manifestations of such global challenges as climate change, pandemics, nuclearism. migration.

American democracy is under bipartisan threat due to its militarized state that orients the media propaganda machine to view internal and global security through a lens that magnifies international threats and confines the political and moral imagination to the realm of coercive responses. Those who dare leak ‘truths’ are criminalized and then face the vindictive choice of exile or prison (Snowden, Assange), as were those young Americans who fled to Canada and Sweden rather than fight in an immoral and unlawful war in Vietnam. A democracy that does not treat its heroes well, will not and should not endure. Daniel Ellsberg delivered a vital message 50 years ago–the citizens of a democracy deserve to be told the truth, and a government that refuses, deserves resistance not mute obedience–that continues to be unheeded by the enforcers of the political class.


REACTING TO CRIME BY WAGING WAR(S)

20 Sep

[Prefatory Note: the post below is a somewhat edited post-publication version of Part One my responses to questions posed by Daniel Falcone, published in CounterPunch, September 12, 2021, with the title of “9/11: Doctrines of Bush, Obama, Trump & Biden.” Although online the interview was schedule in response to the national attention understandably given to the 20th annual observance of the 9/11 attacks. The focus of my response follows a different line of reasoning. In this sense, my response, as suggested by the title give to Part One, can be read as suggesting that greater transformative effects resulted from 9/12 than the tragic events of 9/11 due to the vengeful recklessness of the U.S. response, partly pushed to excess by a belligerent neoconservative pre-9/11 agenda, which became politically viable only after the provocation of the attacks. It is a reflection of the deficiencies of political pedagogy and journalistic priorities in the United States that despite all that has happened at home and abroad in the course of the last twenty years, virtually no distinct attention is given to 9/12]

9/12: Reacting to Crime by War(s)

Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on September 11, 2001 as a historical event and provide how this day continues to shape the way the United States sees itself in the world?

Richard Falk: The attack itself on 9/11 was a most momentous event from the perspective of international relations, with the salient initial effect of further undermining the dominating historic role of hard power under the control of national governments in explaining historical agency. That role was already eroded as a result of high-profile anti-colonial wars being won by the weaker side militarily, principally as a result of the mobilizing effect of the soft power stimulus of nationalist fervor and perseverance in achieving political self-determination by resisting foreign intervention and domination.

Dramatically, 9/11 revealed the vulnerability of the most powerful country, as measured by military capabilities and global security hegemony, in all of world history, to the violent tactics of non-state combatants with comparatively weak military capabilities in coercive interactions labeled by war planners as ‘asymmetric warfare.’

On the basis of minimal expenditures of lives and resources, al-Qaeda produced a traumatizing and disorienting shock on the United States and the American body politic from which it has yet to recover, generating responses in ways that are fundamentally dysfunctional with respect to achieving tolerable levels of global stability in a historical period when security threats were moving away from traditional geopolitical rivalries so as to respond to climate change, pandemics, and a series of systemic secondary effect. While not fulfilling its goals, the launching of a ‘war on terror’ produced great devastation and human suffering spread far and wide, distant from the American homeland, especially in the Middle East and Asia.

Such an efficient use of terrorist tactics by al-Qaeda, not only as an instrument of destruction, but as a mighty symbolic blow directed at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, embodiments of American economic ascendancy and military hegemony. These material effects were further magnified by the spectacular nature of visual moment unforgettably inscribed on the political consciousness of worldwide TV audiences, above all conveying the universal vulnerability of the strong to the imaginative rage and dedicated sacrifice of the avenging weak who were induced to give the lives to make a point and serve a fanatical cause.

Of course, the ‘success’ of this attack was short-lived, producing an initial wave of global empathy for the innocent victims of such mayhem, heralding widespread support and sympathy to the United States, exhibiting an outburst of internationalist solidarity, including widespread support from governments around the world and at the UN for greatly augmented efforts at criminal enforcement of anti-terrorist policies and norms. Yet this early international reaction sympathetic to the U.S. has been erased in the American memory and international perceptions, as well as long overshadowed internationally by dual damaging effects of the American over-reaction that claimed during the next twenty years many times the number of innocent victims than were lost on 9/11, but also was on the losing end of prolonged, costly interventions and state-building undertakings that went along to show that the American imperial prowess was indeed a paper tiger. This over-reaction has also contributed to counterrevolutionary impacts worldwide that are still reverberating.

The seemingly highly impulsive and reactive responses to 9/11 by the American leadership was to herald the immediate launching of ‘the war on terror,’ which should be understood as a generalized forever war against a generic type of political behavior rather than declaring was on an adversary state. Before 9/11 terrorist tactics even if prolonged and threatening to the stability of the state, were regarded as a severe type of crime or anti-state criminal enterprise, with serious policing and paramilitary implications but not a matter of military engagement on conventional battlefields. Of course, on many prior historic occasions a political movement engaged in terrorist activity as a prelude to a sustained insurrectionary challenge to the prevailing government. This U.S. response by way of war, directed not only at the al-Qaeda perpetrators mainly situated in the mountains of Afghanistan, but potentially against all forms of non-state and foreign political extremism directed at the interests of Western states, made the historical effects of 9/12 far greater internally for America and externally for the world than the grim event of the prior day when the planes flew into the World Trade Center towers, killing 2,997. The ‘forever wars,’by comparison killed as estimated 900,000 (at a cost of $8 trillion) [conservative estimates of ‘The Costs of War Project’ at Brown University].    

It is crucial to remember that 9/11 from the moment of the first explosion was politically much more than a mega-terrorist attack, however spectacular. It quickly provided a pretext for projecting American military power and political influence that the dominant wing of the political class then in control of the White House was awaiting with growing signs of impatience. It was no secret that the chief foreign policy advisors of George W. Bush wanted and needed a political mandate that would allow the U.S. to carry out a preexisting neoconservative agenda of U.S. intervention and aggression, focused on the Middle East that prior to 9/11 lacked sufficient political backing among the citizenry to become operative foreign policy. This earlier neocon foreign policy agenda was set forth in the reports of the Project for a New American Century (1997-2006), prepared and endorsed by leading foreign policy hawks with global hegemony, Israel, and oil uppermost in their thoughts. For those seeking even earlier antecedents “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for the Security of the Realm,” an Israeli policy report of 1996  prepared by influential American neocon foreign policy experts at the behest of Netanyahu is worthy of notice. The haunting reality that the 9/11 attack was masterminded and orchestrated from remote sites in Afghanistan reinforced the globalist ambitions of militarists to the effect that U.S. was significantly threatened by non-state enemies situated in geographically remote places on the planet, that deterrence and retaliation were irrelevant against such foes, and that preemptive styles of warfare were now necessary and fully justified against government that willingly gave safe havens to such violently disposed political extremism. New tactics seem needed and justified if the security of a country, however militarily capable, was in the future to be upheld against remotely situated non-state enemies. This post-9/11 strategic discourse produced a sequence of forever wars, most tellingly in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in Syria and Libya, which were quite unrelated to al-Qaeda rationale for expanding prior notion of the right of self-defense, whether understood with reference to international law or geopolitics.

Another legacy of 9/11, although also evident in the outcome of the Vietnam War, is that the side that has the military superiority no longer has reason to believe that it will attain a political victory at an acceptable cost. “You have the watches, we have the time” vividly imparts the largely unreported news that perseverance, commitment, and patience, more than military hardware however sophisticated, shape political outcomes in characteristic conflicts for the control of sovereign political space in the 21st Century. Whether this trend will continue is, of course, uncertain as war planners in governments of geopolitical actors are devoting resources and energies to devising tactics and weapons that will restore hard power potency.

The message of a changed balance of power at least temporarily, despite the startling consistency of the evidence, is one that the political class in the West, especially in the U.S. refuses to heed. The militarization of the foreign policy establishment of Western states over the course of the Cold War, is also reflective of the ‘political realist’ ideological consensus led to a costly and futile process in which security challenges were predominantly seen through a reductionist lens that impoverished the political imagination by ignoring the shifting power balances that have favored the politics of post-colonial nationalism. The previously hidden weaknesses of external intervenors were exposed. These weaknesses included the onset of geopolitical fatigue in these combat zones distant from the homeland coupled with a lack of political success at all commensurate with the effort. The military prowess of the foreign intervenors being more than offset over time by nationalist perseverance, although at great costs for the resisters. The intervenors strain to justify these foreign missions to a domestic public that gradually comes to understand that the security claims used to ‘sell’ the war were all along a phony façade partly erected to hide the benefits to special interests within and outside the governmental bureaucracy, including the defense industry and private contracting firms that complemented the explicit military presence, and were economic winners even if the government was a political loser. Although brainwashed over the years, with the help of a corporatized media, there remained a remnant of accountability to the citizenry if American lives were sacrificed in a lost war that also revealed itself to be quite irrelevant from a security perspective. The victory of the National Liberation Front in Vietnam or of the Taliban this year is not likely to alter the regional status quo to any great extent further demonstrating that the war strategy was not only a failure but superfluous from a traditional security perspective, although consequential geopolitically.

It remains to be seen whether the withdrawal from ongoing forever wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere leads to a belated recognition of what I have in the past called ‘the unlearned lesson of the Vietnam War.’ So far, this is far from clear as the inflated level of the U.S. military budget, with its huge negative domestic opportunity costs, continues to enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support. Also telling is the tendency to meet the rise of China by bellicose posturing that may have already generated a second cold war that neither the country nor the world can afford or risk turning hot. Perhaps, the American political class has temporarily learned the lesson that state-building interventions do not work under current world conditions, but still harbor reckless beliefs that geopolitical ‘wars’ remain viable options, thereby providing continued validation of inflated military spending and consequent policy orientations toward conflict and rivalry rather than conciliation and compromise. China, admittedly bears some responsibility for escalating tensions due to its provocative militarist moves in the South China Seas and economistic provocations. The Biden foreign policy has clearly designated China as a credible geopolitical rival that threatens U.S. geopolitical primacy, and hence must be confronted as well as contained, even resisted by force of arms if necessary.   

We should not overlook the lingering skepticism surrounding the official version of the 9/11 events. The official inquiry resulting in the report of the 9/11 Commission convinced few of the serious doubters as it put to convincing rest none of the reasons for doubt. As long as this, doubt remains embedded in a portion of the citizenry, no matter how castigated they may be as ‘conspiracy theorists’ and routinely maligned by mainstream media, a shadow of illegitimacy will be cast over the U.S. body politic. A truly independent second 9/11 investigation backed by the government is long overdue, but seems highly unlikely to happen. If given unrestricted access to FBI and CIA records and subpoena powers such an authentic processs could clear the air, and a crucial regenerative future for American democracy that might finally overcome the legacies of both 9/11 and 9/12.