The United States of Israel

There is no polite way to say this, but Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the most repellent and dangerous politicians in the world today.   He is a man who trades on fear and war, a cynical and amoral manipulator without a trace of honesty in his entire body,  who lies as easily as he breathes.   In 2012 he warned the United Nations that Iran was a year away from manufacturing a bomb, even though his own security services had told him something entirely different,

Last year he deliberately used the murders of three Israeli teenagers to manipulate Israeli public opinion into supporting the ferocious and strategically meaningless slaughter in Gaza.

He also manipulates his most powerful ally.  In public Netanyahu never ceases to express his love and gratitude to the United States, which props up Israel’s military machine.  Yet in private he’s not always so respectful.  Back in 2001 he told a group of settlers in the West Bank ‘I know what America is.  America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.’

Netanyahu cannot be ignored entirely, not as long as Israelis are crazy enough to keep voting for him.  But no country with any respect for truth or even its own national interest would actually invite a man like this to speak to its own elected representatives if it didn’t have to, let alone invite him in order to undermine the policy of its elected president. But this exactly what happened yesterday when Netanyahu went to Washington, following an ‘invitation’ arranged between Republican speaker of the House John Boehner and the Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer.

This demarche was deliberately intended to torpedo the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and pave the way for a new bill imposing harsher sanctions on Iran. His audience knew what he was going to say,  because everyone always knows what Netanyahu is going to say when it comes to Iran.   Yesterday all the usual buttons were pushed; references to the Holocaust and condemnations of the ‘genocidal’ Iranian regime; Hezbollah and Iran’s ‘march of terror’; five-minutes-to-midnight warnings of nuclear war; and ominous references to ‘Munich’, because Israel’s enemies are always Hitler in Netanyahu’s eyes.

And not only to him.   To the moronic Republican party, whose collective brain is now so rotted by the paranoia, war and militarism and Zionist propaganda that it has been injecting into its veins for years that it no longer even knows how to think, Netanyahu’s was deep, deep stuff, a real clarion call.

Never mind that on Sunday 200 former Mossad veterans took the unprecedented step of staging a public press conference to condemn their own prime minister’s visit as a danger to Israel’s security and argue against imposing new sanctions. None of this had any impact on the glassy-eyed zombie-politicians who sat there in their silk ties and suits and their world-historical facial expressions, sucking up Netanyahu’s fearmongering, warmongering poison like alien seed pods in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

Because make no mistake about it, politicians who allow the leader of another country to insult and undercut their own elected government have had their minds well and truly snatched, or maybe they never had any to begin with.

When it was over the congressmen and senators got to their feet like one man, because they are in fact one man, and delivered no less than 26 standing ovations of the type that Stalin used to get when he announced a new five-year-plan.  Of course with Stalin it was Russians praising a Russian and the penalty might have been death if you didn’t stand up.

For the bozos who paid homage to the Great Liar yesterday, the worst that could happen was that their career trajectories might be altered.   But such is the hold that Israel now exercises over the Republican Party that even showing up wasn’t enough, you had to physically express your joy and rapture.  So Kentucky senator Rand Paul was criticized afterwards for looking ‘less than enthused’ and ‘clapping halfheartedly.’

Oh give me an absolute break already.   Whether they actually believed Netanyahu or were merely concerned about their careers and the cash that comes with them, these congressmen and senators effectively colluded with the leader of a foreign state in order to promote its foreign policy objectives and undermine those of their own.

It ought to be disturbing, and alarming, even from the point of view of America’s own national interest, that the leader of a nominal ally would be prepared to do this, and would receive support in doing so.   It ought to provide pause for thought as to why this has happened and what its potential ramifications are, and whether this relationship is entirely healthy.  But none of this is likely to come from those who participated in the weird spectacle that took place yesterday, who showed no evidence that they were capable of thinking anything at all, beyond what the Great Liar wanted them to think.

The Strategy of Blood

If the twists and turns of US foreign policy in the Middle East were ever presented to a Hollywood producer as a script or treatment for a movie or a tv drama, it is very likely that it would be sent back for serious revision because of their seeming contradictions and sheer plot implausibility.

Imagine your wannabe scriptwriter explaining that the US is currently supporting a rebellion in Syria with the Muslim Brotherhood at its core, while providing de facto support to the al-Sisi regime’s vicious repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.  Or that in Iraq, Obama is preparing to carry out air strikes against the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) – a Syrian rebel group which may have initially been trained by the United States military.

Other confusing narratives thicken the plot still further.  After years of sabrerattling with Iran over its nuclear program – not to mention various forms of ‘cyberwar’ and special operations inside the Islamic Republic that include bombings and assassinations carried out by jihadist groups, the US has begun discussions to enlist Iranian help in countering ISIS.  But such collaboration is proving difficult, because the US doesn’t want Nouri al-Maliki to remain in power, even though it wanted him back in 2010, because his administration is now deemed to be too corrupt and sectarian to deliver ‘stability.’

Instead it wants a ‘government of national unity’ possibly headed by the fraudster and all-round conman Ahmad Chalabi, another Shia politician with dubious allegiances who the Bush administration once favoured back in 2003, before it discovered that Chalabi was a possible Iranian intelligence asset.  Meanwhile, the Syrian government, which the US wants to overthrow,  has also begun carrying out air strikes against ISIS, which seems to signify that Syria and the United States are on the same side, except that the US is in fact continuing to promote ‘regime change’ in Syria, by supporting rebels whose most effective military forces are – ISIS!

And now the Obama administration is requesting $500 million from Congress for an ‘overseas contingency operation’ that will train and equip ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels, at which point the would-be producer of ‘US Foreign Policy – the movie’ is likely to say ‘you’ve lost me kid’ and walk away with their latte in hand.

According to National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, this aid is intended to ‘help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats, and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement.

Elsewhere, administration officials are saying that the aid package has been increased in response to the rise of ISIS in Iraq, and that it is intended to ‘help build the capacity of the moderate Syrian opposition and our partners in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq to manage the growing spillover effects of the Syrian conflict.’

None of these explanations make logical sense on any level.   Firstly the rebels, whether ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ do not represent the ‘Syrian people’, any more than Assad does – they represent sections/factions of the Syrian population which the US has chosen to support in order to further its strategic interests in the region.

American military aid is not intended to ‘defend’ anyone, but to exacerbate and extend the conflict, and will ensure that many more Syrians die.  The ‘provision of essential services’ is nothing but a phony humanitarian figleaf, intended to disguise what is in fact the deliberate the intensification and escalation of violence and destruction in pursuit of its ‘regime change’ agenda.

If the US was seriously interested in protecting the ‘Syrian people’, it would have used its power and influence, in partnership with all relevant parties, to try and demilitarize the conflict and stop the fighting.   Instead it has done the opposite throughout the war, and now it wants to ‘stabilize areas under opposition control’, even if that means the disintegration and fragmentation of Syria itself – and perhaps Iraq too.

The notion that this will lead to a ‘negotiated settlement’ is a joke in very poor taste.   The US might believe – or pretend to believe – that these ‘stabilised areas’ will give the ‘moderate rebels’ a stronger hand in future political negotiations, but the more ‘stabilised’ these areas become the least inclined they will be to pursue ‘negotiations’, and the more likely it is that these ‘stabilised’ areas will fight each other in order to dominate the rebellion, and in order to undermine the ‘stabilised’ areas controlled by ISIS.

At the end of all this, there is likely to be very little of Syria remaining.    As for ‘counter terrorist threats’.  Please.  Everything that the US has done in Syria and the Middle East for the last ten years has facilitated, boosted and empowered ‘terrorist threats’ across the region.

It has done this essentially in three ways 1) By creating the instability/destabilisation in which groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS can prosper 3) By providing such groups with a cause celebre/rallying cause/recruitment tool and 3) Through facilitation/ training either direct or channelled through proxies.

ISIS is merely one more product of this ‘politics of chaos.’  The idea that weapons and training can be restricted to ‘moderate’ rebels rather than ‘extremists’ is another fantasy/delusion intended for propaganda consumption.  Such distinctions have proven difficult, and generally impossible to enforce in Syria, and it is doubtful whether the US or any of the other states looking to overthrow Assad have any interest in enforcing them.

The most likely outcome is that ISIS will end up with more weapons, just as the al-Nusrah Front did before it – as long as the former continues to demonstrate its military capabilities against Assad.    So why would the US help an organization in one country when it is supposedly seeking to prevent its ‘spillover effects’ in another?  A clue may be found in a New York Times op ed by the conservative American strategist Edward Luttwak in August last year, entitled ‘Syria: America Loses if Either Side Wins.’

Luttwak is a particularly ruthless and amoral exponent of American realpolitik, who once approved the genocidal counterinsurgency campaigns waged by the Guatemalan military  in the 70s and 80s.   As the title suggests, his preferred outcome in Syria is a ‘prolonged stalemate’, in which the Assad regime and its opponents fight each other endlessly without either side gaining victory.  In this way, Luttwak argues:

‘By tying down Mr. Assad’s army and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies in a war against Al Qaeda-aligned extremist fighters, four of Washington’s enemies will be engaged in war among themselves and prevented from attacking Americans or America’s allies.’

Neat huh?   And how can the US achieve this ‘indefinite draw’?   According to our imperial grand strategist, ‘ the only possible method for achieving this is to arm the rebels when it seems that Mr. Assad’s forces are ascendant and to stop supplying the rebels if they actually seem to be winning.’

Of course Luttwak notes that this is a ‘tragic’ choice, from the point of Syria, but then, he argues, things are bad enough there already so what will it matter if the war goes on and on?

There is no evidence that the US has formally adopted these recommendations, but the strategy of playing off American enemies/competitors against each other is not new.  During the Iran-Iraq war the US shifted back and forth between the two sides and sometimes provided weapons and military assistance to both of them at the same time in order to ensure that both were weakened and neither gained the upper hand.

Those who approved this strategy were not concerned with how many Iraqis or Iranians died in order to achieve this outcome, and it may well be that what is about to happen in Syria will follow the direction that Luttwak has outlined.

It may well be that such an outcome requires the deaths of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people, a trail of wrecked cities and broken states, and an endless ‘war of all against all’ throughout the Middle East.  But exponents of ‘American exceptionalism’ have never shown any scruples about such matters in the past, and there are clearly those who, as Madeleine Albright once said in a different context, believe that the price is ‘worth it’ if America’s enemies can ‘bleed’ and the Imperium and its allies can inherit the ruins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iran and the US: Friends at Last?

In a period of pretty much unrelenting geopolitical gloom in the Middle East, the deal reached between Iran and the 5+1 countries is a positive development for various reasons.

Firstly, and most importantly, it lays the basis – however tentatively – for the diplomatic resolution of  a festering and extremely dangerous confrontation that has threatened for more than a decade to turn into an all-out regional war,  whose destructive consequences would have been absolutely horrific for Iranians, and which  would almost certainly have sucked a number of countries into a vortex of violence of incalculable proportions.

Many powerful states have wanted this outcome for some time; Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.   A rancid collection of neocons and ‘liberal interventionists’, and American Likudniks have also called repeatedly for ‘the West’ to blast Iran or ‘the Mullahs’ – with the usual sigh of resignation at the inevitable deaths of alien dark-skinned folk that would have resulted from their noble intentions.

But then, as Niall Ferguson and Melanie Phillips and so many others have argued, you couldn’t just allow an irrational state motivated by nothing less than a desire for collective religious suicide/martyrdom to acquire nuclear weapons, just so its entire population could blow themselves up in order to get to heaven.

Yes, these crazed arguments were seriously made, with the same level of intellectual gravitas with which Netanyahu equated Iran’s nuclear program with preparations for Holocaust II ie. none at all.

Now, as a result of this deal,  the people who would have died as a consequence of lies and idiotic fantasies like this will now live, and the people who wanted to see them dead will have to gnaw their own hands and batter their keyboards with rantings about ‘appeasement’ and why-Obama-is-Neville Chamberlain op eds.

And this represents a major defeat for Israel and Saudi Arabia,  both of whom have been conniving and manipulating to push the world’s only superpower into whacking Iran for them.   Even worse, from their point of view,  it now turns out that Iran and the US have been secretly negotiating with each other for months.

The fact that the United States has chosen to talk to a leading member of the ‘axis of evil’ is also something of a turn around.  Following Obama’s rediscovery of diplomacy in Syria, the deal may well represent a recognition, however unacknowledged, that the US military simply cannot afford to fight another major war that will wreck yet another Muslim country in order to save it, even if some sections of its foreign policy establishment would still like to.

So all this is good.   But it isn’t a time for jubilation.  The deal could unravel, and you can bet than there many people who will be seeking to make sure that it does, in Tel Aviv and Riyadh and beyond.

It’s also worth remembering what was done in order to force Iran to do this.   The sanctions regime imposed by the United States since the Clinton years and subsequently widened over the nuclear issue, have inflicted huge damage on the Iranian economy.

Despite the usual insistence from its architects that these measures were intended to target the Iranian government not the Iranian people, ordinary Iranians, as always, have borne the brunt of them.

Unemployment in Iran is now as high as 35 percent, mainly because factories have been forced to close because they can’t import raw materials and vital parts.  Inflation is at least 22 percent.   The cost of food, water, fuel and electricity has hit ordinary Iranians who are least able to afford it.    The price of vegetables has risen by 100 percent.

According to the International Affairs Review, ‘ blue collar workers in downtown Tehran can barely afford meat, while luxury cars are ubiquitous in the neighborhoods of North Tehran’.  In addition, lack of spare parts has resulted in numerous plane crashes, in which as many as 1, 700 people may have died. 

The 5+1 countries are perfectly aware of these consequences, despite the customary references to ‘humanitarian’ exceptions to sanctions.   The ‘White House Fact Sheet’ on the Geneva deal  will now allow ‘License safety-related repairs and inspections inside Iran for certain Iranian airlines’, among other things, so hopefully passenger planes will stop crashing.

But most sanctions will remain in place, such as the prohibitions on buying Iranian oil that have reduced Iran’s oil output from 2.5 millions barrels per day at the beginning of 2012 to 1.5 million – a ‘ loss of $80 billion that Iran will never be able to recoup’ as the report puts it.

That is a prohibition  that Saudi Arabia will be particularly keen to keep in place.  But most of the sanctions will remain in effect to ensure Iran’s compliance with the Geneva conditions, such as US restrictions on trade, which will continue to deprive Iran of ‘ access to virtually all dealings with the world’s biggest economy.’

Then there are the  ‘  targeted sanctions related to Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, its destabilizing role in the Syrian conflict, and its abysmal human rights record, among other concerns,’ which will also remain in place.

Excuse me?  Iran’s destabilizing role in the Syrian conflict?  That Iran and Hezbollah have helped Assad is one thing – but to call this ‘destabilizing’ given the role played by the West and its Gulf allies in Syria is really, let’s just say, a highly subjective interpretation of what has gone on these last few years.

So hypocrisy and dishonesty remain the nature of the game here, such as the White House’s declared intention to ‘ facilitate transactions for medical expenses incurred abroad.  We will establish this channel for the benefit of the Iranian people.’

Very generous, and no doubt working class Iranians will now be rushing off to hospitals all over the world to take advantage of this dispensation.

And then there is the following:

The American people prefer a peaceful and enduring resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and strengthens the global non-proliferation regime.  This solution has the potential to achieve that.  Through strong and principled diplomacy, the United States of America will do its part for greater peace, security, and cooperation among nations.

Just to recap: there is no evidence that Iran was seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon,  and there is nothing illegal about its desire to acquire nuclear energy.   The sanctions were an arbitrary measure imposed by a handful of powerful states for purely geostrategic purposes.

If  ‘global non-proliferation’ was really is the object of all this, then Israel would long ago have been called for its own possession of nuclear weapons.  But it never has and it’s difficult to imagine that it ever will be

So there is nothing ‘principled’ about US diplomacy, and nothing principled about the sanctions.  And as for ‘greater peace, security, and cooperation among nations’, don’t get me started.

But at least, for the time being, the tide of war has receded and the warmongers have been thwarted.

And given the events of the last decade, that can only be reason for cautious optimism.

Sanctions: War that Doesn’t Speak its Name

In today’s Guardian, Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Deghan report on the impact on ordinary Iranians of sanctions imposed by the ‘international community’ to pressure the regime into abandoning its nuclear program.   The article describes how

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses have been put at imminent risk by the unintended consequences of international sanctions, which have led to dire shortages of life-saving medicines such as chemotherapy drugs for cancer and bloodclotting agents for haemophiliacs.

Borger and Deghan note that

Western governments have built waivers into the sanctions regime – aimed at persuading Tehran to curb its nuclear programme – in an effort to ensure that essential medicines get through, but those waivers are not functioning, as they conflict with blanket restrictions on banking, as well as bans on “dual-use” chemicals which might have a military application

As a result, according to Naser Naghdi, the director general of Darou Pakhsh, the country’s biggest pharmaceutical company:

‘There are patients for whom a medicine is the different between life and death. What is the world doing about this? Are Britain, Germany, and France thinking about what they are doing? If you have cancer and you can’t find your chemotherapy drug, your death will come soon. It is as simple as that.’

Iranians are also dying in other ways.  Last year the New York Times reported that more than 1,700 Iranian airline passengers and crew had died because Iranian passenger planes were not able to get spare parts, due to sanctions imposed by the United States dating back to the Clinton era – whose effects have been compounded by those imposed more recently.

The Guardian insists that the lack of medicines is an ‘unintended’ consequence of sanctions, and that both the EU and the US are looking into ways of strengthening ‘ safeguards for at-risk Iranians’, but it is difficult to take such claims seriously.

In the twentieth century it became an established tenet of ‘modern’ warfare that the political and military objectives of war could no longer be achieved simply by defeating an opposing army on the ‘battlefield’, but on directing military force against the enemy economy or ‘infrastructure’,  or in order to break the will or ‘morale’ of the civilian population to continue with the war and support  a particular government or regime.

From World War II to the ‘low-intensity wars’ of the Cold War, in the two Iraq wars and the murky battlefields of the ‘war on terror’,  these principles have been put into practice in various military and quasi-military means that include the wholesale bombing of cities,  the ‘surgical’ bombings of Iraq during the two Gulf wars, and the use of death squads and other forms of state terror in counterinsurgency campaigns and ‘wars on terror.’

In the past twenty years, Western states have developed a new and – from a PR point of view, extremely attractive – means of waging war on civilians without explicitly have to declare that this is what is actually taking place.   The use of the sanctions instrument as a form of undeclared war against civilians first emerged during the sanctions imposed on Iraq after the first Gulf War.

In Invisible War: the United States and the Iraq Sanctions (2010) Joy Gordon attributes the lack of medicines and other crucial goods to the fact that

‘The United States insisted that Iraq seek permission for each item, rather than approving categories of permitted goods, and the United States insisted as well that each item be approved on a case-by-case basis, without the use of precedent or criteria for approval…Because of the consensus decision-making rule, each approval required the agreement of the entire committee.  Any single member of the [multinational] committee could unilaterally block the purchase of any contract for humanitarian goods by withholding its approval.’

These procedures resulted in frequently interminable delays, with disastrous consequences for the Iraqi population.  By 2000, UNICEF calculated that 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five had died as a result of the war, malnutrition and curable diseases for which medicines were not available.

These consequences were so dire that Denis Halliday, assistant secretary general to the United Nations, resigned his post as co-ordinator of humanitarian relief to Iraq in 1998 in protest at what he called ‘ a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals.’

The British diplomat Carne Ross, who served as the UK’s Iran expert to the United Nations during the 1990s and later resigned in protest at the 2003 Iraq war, similarly declared that ‘In many ways, the sanctions on the Iraqi people were worse than the war because the economy was taken back decades and the health service deteriorated massively.’

This not how sanctions were depicted by the governments that were imposing them.  In so far as the negative humanitarian consequences of sanctions were recognized at all, they were blamed on the corruption or negligence of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Occasionally, a different logic could be perceived, for those who wanted to look.  There was Madeleine Albright’s notorious’ ‘the price, we think the price is worth it’ response to an interviewer who pointed out that more civilians were dying as a result of sanctions than had died during Hiroshima.

There was the senior US Air Force officer, who suggested that Iraqi civilians might be complicit in the continuation of Saddam’s regime, and added that ‘The definition of innocents is a little unclear.  They do live here, and ultimately the people have some control over what goes on in their country.’

From the point of view of the ‘international community’, or at least some of its members therefore,  Iraq civilians were being punished in order to ‘contain’ Saddam and sanctions also had the more longterm and amorphous objective of pressuring a ‘guilty’ population to overthrow the regime.

The ‘area bombing’ of German and Japanese cities during World War II was intended to bring about a similar objective.  But the beauty of sanctions, from the point of view of the handful of countries that are powerful enough to impose them,  is that their impact is not immediately visible and easily ignored, evaded or blamed on the targeted government.

In effect, sanctions make it possible to wage war on civilians without ever saying so explicitly.  To democratic governments that pride themselves on their humanitarianism and their determination to limit ‘collateral damage’, this is an extremely valuable instrument of coercion and pressure.

And that is why you can bet that no matter how bad things get in Iran, someone, somewhere will have already concluded that the cost is ‘worth it’.