Club Nuke: Iranians Need Not Apply

The United States and the other major world powers now have, at least in principle, a nuclear deal with Iran, but like President Woodrow Wilson’s dream, the League of Nations, America may end not being a party to the agreement because of a Congress full of self-interested, partisan, ignorant and bought members.  And the intense lobbying of that warmongering turd in Tel Aviv.

Details of the agreement are in short supply because of the veil of secrecy that seems to have settled over everything Washington does (get ready for the corporate give-away of the Pacific and Atlantic free trade agreements), but Iran will apparently back off from producing enriched uranium sufficient for a bomb and allow inspection of the entire nuclear supply chain.  In return the sanctions will be lifted, but only gradually rather than immediately as Teheran had desired (still being discussed).  One of the chief negotiators, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, was satisfied that the deal would allow the world adequate time to catch the Iranians cheating, and I am far more inclined to believe an MIT physicist than any politician.

their physicist

their physicist

our physicist

our physicist

Can Iran be trusted?  Of course not, no more than any other government, including that of the US.  But what else is there?  Do nothing, increase the sanctions or go to war with Iran, which may happen if we do nothing, inasmuch as Israel may attack the Iranians anyway, expecting the US to help.

Enhancing the sanctions seems pointless.  The current regime of sanctions is seriously hurting the Iranian economy and thus the Iranian people, but not the nuclear program.  During the period the sanctions have been in effect the nuclear development has not just continued but expanded.  Iran is able to earn enough money selling oil to cover the relatively minor cost of the program, and it would be very difficult to shut off the income completely.  Further, many countries, including Russia and China, are anxious to do business with Iran, and holding the sanctions coalition together will become very difficult.  And without these powers the effectiveness of the sanctions will evaporate.

Military action would be a costly disaster.  Israel made it look easy by bombing reactors in Iraq and Syria, but Iran would be vastly different.  Senator Tom Cotton, seemingly a complete idiot, claims it would be like President Clinton’s bombing of Iraqi weapons facilities in 1998 and only take several days.  He is another tedious example of the morons we are electing.  The Iranian installations are scattered over a country that is four times the size of Iraq, and many are deep underground.  Iran has a sophisticated air defense system that would first have to be neutralized, and many of the facilities would have to be bombed multiple times.  Meanwhile, the Iranians would be able to cause havoc with shipping in the Gulf, expanding the scope of the war and causing a crisis in the world energy markets.  And the history of the twentieth century has demonstrated that one of the best ways to increase popular support for a regime is to bomb the country, something the Republican Party is apparently unaware of.

There is of course absolutely no discussion of what would be a legal casus belli for assaulting Iran, a sad sign of the time.  Apart from seizing our embassy in 1979, Iran has not attacked the US or supported anyone who has attacked the US.  On the contrary, we helped overthrow their legitimately elected government in 1953, gave serious economic and military support to Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked (and losing) 1980-1988 war against them and actually shot down one of their civilian airliners in 1988 (for which Washington refused to apologize).  Who the hell is the threat here?

former Middle Eastern friend

former Middle Eastern friend

Middle Eastern friend

Middle Eastern friend

Middle Eastern friend

Middle Eastern friend

The US position is that Iran threatens the stability of the Middle East and our interests therein.  Forgotten of course is that the US engaged in a massive and completely unjustified invasion of Iraq that has resulted in the most serious instability in the region since the First World War.  Or that our Gulf allies, especially the medieval and oppressive kingdom of Saudi Arabia, have supported the international Arab terrorism that led to 9/11 and other attacks on America.  Granted, the US has economic (and Israeli) interests in the Middle East, but the notion that because Iran might be a threat to those interests, we are justified in attacking her is a negation of the whole idea of the bellum iustum.  In 1941 Japan felt that America was a threat to her interests in the eastern Pacific and consequently bombed Pearl Harbor.  I suppose the difference is that the Japanese were bad guys for wanting to seize oil assets, while we are good guys because we want to bring peace and democracy to the world while securing our oil supplies.  Well, in the thirties and forties the Japanese were bad guys, but I wonder now if we are indeed still the good guys we have traditionally been seen as.  I suspect the people living under the kings and dictators we have supported do not see it that way.

The hypocrisy in all of this is staggering.  As the people who actually invented nuclear weapons and who continue to upgrade thousands of warheads, who are we to tell someone else they cannot have them?  That we are immensely powerful is the only reason I can come up with; “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must,” says Thucydides.  And besides Pakistan, which is the only state in the region that possesses nuclear weapons?  Why, Israel, which has not been compelled to even admit their existence.  Nor have they been asked to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, while their neighbors have been constantly cajoled and even threatened by Washington.  In all the discussion over Iran’s nuclear program I have yet to hear a single mainstream journalist bring up the fact of Israel’s arsenal.

Israel's already got 'em

Israel’s already got ’em

Iran tries to make nukes

Iran tries to make nukes

Because they are the good guys, like us.  These are the good guys who have been violating basic international law for decades, who are colonizing territory conquered from others, who imprison children for throwing stones and who periodically engage in military action that is little more than a slaughter of innocents.  This is the shinning democracy that treats its Arab citizens in a way that would make Jim Crow proud and some of whose ministers periodically publically call for expelling them.  These are the good allies who lie to us, spy on us, insult us and blatantly interfere in our politics.  These are the good friends who assassinate anyone they deem threatening, who detain and even torture Palestinian-Americans and who in 1967 (while we were materially supporting them in the Six Day War) deliberately attacked the USS Liberty in international waters, killing 34 American sailors and wounding another 171.  Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary their official policy (and ours) is still that it was an “accident.”

Now, the present government of Iran is hardly attractive, but when has Washington had any problem dealing with unattractive governments, like that of Iran’s next door neighbor to the west?  As mentioned, they have plenty of reason to be annoyed with America, and when exactly have they injured us, beyond the embarrassment of having our embassy staff being held hostage?  They support terrorism, but those groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, have never threatened the US and are only interested in local affairs, to wit, Israel and Lebanon.  In fact, Hezbollah was born in response to Israel’s rather indiscriminate invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and Hamas was actually created by Israeli security services in order to undermine Fatah and is thoroughly radicalized by Israel’s inhumane treatment of Gaza.  Yes, Israel was created in an environment where all her neighbors despised her (with some good reason), but she has only herself to blame that almost 70 years later they still do.

Not that they can do much about it beyond shooting ineffective rockets into the Light Unto the Nations.  With American support Israel has by far the strongest and most dangerous military in the Middle East and possesses hundreds of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.  The constant wailing by Netanyahu (and his Congressional ass-kissing friends) about the threat to Israel’s existence rings a bit hollow.  (Incidentally, ill-educated politicians and journalists, this is not what the adjective “existential” means.)  Yes, Teheran is constantly talking about driving Israel into the sea, but this has become a meaningless mantra repeated by Israel’s enemies and certainly has a lot to do with the character of the Iranian regime.  And suppose Iran had a deliverable nuclear weapon?  While the mullahs and the supreme leader are religious whackos, they are manifestly not stupid and must understand that even attempting to toss a nuke in Israel’s direction would result in national suicide.  Of course, the Saudis and their Sunni friends would be overjoyed to see Iran turned into a vast plain of glass.

Nobody wishes to see a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, but it has already begun: Israel has nuclear weapons.  I expect a major motivation for an Iranian bomb is national pride, but it might just also be that they are also nervous.  They were pushed around before and during World War Two by oil companies and the Allies and then had their government overthrown in 1953 by the US and Britain, allowing the Shah to emerge as a brutal dictator supported by the West.  The US then diplomatically and materially supported Saddam during the Iran-Iraq War, and in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan America now has Iran almost literally surrounded by bases.  And there is the increasingly bellicose Israel, which has always had unqualified American support.  The Iranian desire for nuclear weapons might actually have something to do with fear and a history of being of being bullied.

 We've got those suckers covered

We’ve got those suckers covered

I find the Shia, which is centered in Iran, to be the more attractive part of Islam, the part that actually enjoys a rich cultural heritage from its long association with Persia.  The Sunnis appear to represent little more than ancient Arab culture, which dovetails with the values of the modern world as well as the medieval Sunni kingdoms in the Gulf, which is to say, very little.  Despite their retro-theocracy the Iranians, at least in the urban areas, are very secular and interested in the west, and while their hostility towards the Taliban and ISIS certainly has a large sectarian component, the fact is these are interests shared by the US.  Keep in mind that the stink of Wahhabism and Al-Qaeda and terror directed towards America emerged from Saudi Arabia.  If we could cooperate with the USSR under Stalin, I see no reason why we cannot cooperate with Iran.

Well, there is a reason: Israel.  Clearly, Netanyahu and his paladins are not interested in defusing the Iranian situation through diplomacy, since it is a fine distraction from the mounting domestic problems in Israel, and Iranian support for Hamas is an excellent cover for the outrageous treatment of Gaza.  Israel is well on its way to becoming an apartheid state, a development that hardly required Netanyahu’s blatant declaration against a two state solution to be recognized.  Yet none of this will deter Congress, especially the Republicans, from supporting him, apparently because of a widespread belief in some powerful Jewish financial cabal that will doom their reelection chances should they cross the Israeli Reich.  Or they are simply stupid, about which we will be reminded when the Republican Presidential Primary Circus comes to town.  Incidentally, so strong is the pro-Israel grip that Webster’s now offers as a second definition of “anti-Semitism” any criticism of the state of Israel.  If that is the case, then I have met two anti-Semites with numbers tattooed on their forearms.

Here is a simple proposal: Iran gives up her nuclear weapons program and Israel gives up hers.  Sure.





Where Are the Assyrians When You Need Them?

In its efforts to redefine barbarism ISIS has bulldozed the remains of the millennia old Assyrian city of Nimrud and has now begun demolishing the Greek/Parthian city of Hatra, crimes against humanity that for an ancient historian surpass their slaughter of innocents.  The destruction of Hatra is a particularly great loss, inasmuch as it is – or was – the finest surviving example of a Parthian city, with standing walls surrounding well preserved temples and statuary.  For these acts every member of this disgusting organization should be exterminated and refused burial; those who are captured should be handed over to the families of their victims.  Seriously.







There is, however, a certain irony in the assault on Nimrud, one doubtless unappreciated by the thugs and sociopaths of the “Caliphate.”  The Assyrians, who figure largely in the Old Testament because of their destruction of Israel and subjugation of Judah, are chiefly remembered for their extraordinary cruelty, and the Assyrian Empire may well be the first state in history to recognize that terror could be an instrument of foreign policy rather than just a fun time (though the Assyrians never practiced genocide, as the Israelites did against the Amalekites).  In this regard Assyria might be seen as the spiritual precursor of ISIS, setting a standard of cruelty that even the Caliphate has not matched; it has apparently not yet occurred to them to decorate trees with severed heads or flay captives alive, standard Assyrian practice.  On the other hand, the centuries of Assyrian civilization produced a body of art, architecture and literature, while it appears the Caliphate will leave nothing more than promotional videos.

King Jehu of Judah submitting to Shalmaneser III

King Jehu of Judah submitting to Shalmaneser III

Assyrians flaying rebels

Assyrians flaying rebels

Assyria had a long history.  The Assyrian heartland was what is now northern Iraq, and the city of Assur on the northern Tigris River dates back to the 26th century BC, though it was only a Sumerian (southern Iraq) administrative outpost and not actually Assyrian.  The Assyrians, speaking an east-Semitic language, appeared in perhaps the 24th century, but until the mid-21th century Assyria, then known as Subartu, was dominated first by the Akkadian Empire, centered south of Baghdad, and then by the Neo-Sumerian Empire of 3rd Dynasty Ur, located far to the south.  With the collapse of the Empire of Ur in c. 2000 BC Assyria seems for the first time to have become an actual urban kingdom rather than a collection of tribes.

The new kingdom enjoyed independence until the 1750s, when it fell to the Babylonian Empire of Hammurabi.  After his death in 1750 it was independent again until the 15th century, when it was conquered by the Mitanni immediately to the west.  The Mittanni were destroyed in c. 1350 by a coalition including Assyria under King Ashur-uballit I, who established the Middle Assyrian Empire, expanding west into former Mitanni territory and briefly controlling Babylon.  It was during this period, in the reign of Shalmaneser I (1274-1245), that Nimrud was built.  This all came to an end in the 11th century because of internal problems and the great Catastrophe, a movement of Indo-European peoples south and east through the Balkans and Anatolia that fractured the entire power structure of the Near East.  From 1077 to 911 the Assyrian state was weak and occupied with domestic disturbances, but remained intact amidst the general collapse.

From 911 to 824 Assyria was an imperial state again, the King’s armies campaigning almost every year.  During this period Assyria was the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean, controlling territory from the Persian Gulf through Syria almost to the frontier of Egypt.  Ashurnasirpal II (883–859) moved the capital from Assur to Nimrud but also began extensive building in Nineveh, which then became the capital and heart of Assyria, as subsequent kings, especially Sennacherib (704-681), lavished their attention on it.  By the seventh century BC Nineveh was possibly the largest city in the world, encompassing some 1900 acres behind its seven and half miles of walls and supporting a population of more than 100,000.

Nineveh - restored gate

Nineveh – restored gate

Neo-Assyria Empires

Neo-Assyria Empires

From 824-744 Assyria stagnated, but then Tiglathpileser III (744-727), establishing a new ruling dynasty, initiated phase two of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, during which it became easily the largest empire the Near East had yet seen, stretching from the Gulf to Armenia and from the Zagros Mountains of Iran west through Syria and Palestine and south to Nubia.  It was also the most modern.  Tiglathpileser reformed the administration of the state, achieving the internal stability that had eluded the Assyrians for centuries, and created what appears to be the first professional standing army in history.  He also replaced, where possible, the subject states with a system of provinces governed by Assyrian officials, and woe to those who revolted.

Tiglathpileser III

Tiglathpileser III

The Assyrians terrorized (and stabilized) the Near Eastern world for more than a century, but maintaining the Empire consumed vast amounts of wealth and manpower, and by the last quarter of the seventh century the state was exhausted.  And surrounded by enemies.  In 625 Babylonia broke free under the Chaldeans (Neo-Babylonians), and the Assyrians were unable to recover this valuable territory.  In 615 Assyria was invaded by a new group, the Medes, an Indo-European people who had established themselves in northwestern Iran, and they were soon joined by the Chaldeans, Scythians and Cimmerians.  Nineveh finally fell in 612, and Assyria simply ceased to exist as a state, although the last Assyrian king, the usurper Ashur-uballit II, did not disappear until 610.

The world rejoiced.  “Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her?  Whence shall I seek comforters for thee?” said the Hebrew prophet Nahum.  Nineveh was never again occupied, and today its ruins stand on the Tigris River in Mosul, now occupied by ISIS, which has already destroyed stretches of the original city wall.  Two and a half millennia later Nineveh is being laid waste again.

The Chaldean (Neo-Babylonian) Empire absorbed Assyria and much of its empire, but its days were also numbered.  In 539 Babylon was captured by the Persian king Cyrus II the Great (559-550), who had defeated the Medes in c. 550 and united the Iranian people under his rule.  Cyrus then proceeded to conquer just about everything from the Aegean to the Indus River; his son Cambyses II (530-522) added Egypt.  The Achaemenid Persian Empire made that of Assyria seem small (though much of the eastern provinces were junk territory), and it was a far different operation.  Fear of the Persian military of course helped secure the Empire, but Persian policy emphasized respect for local populations and cultures, presaging the greatest political structure of antiquity, the Roman Empire.

The Persian Empire ended in 330 with the assassination of its last king, Darius III, whose throne passed to Alexander the Great.  After the Macedonian’s death in 323 the Asiatic part of the Empire, including Assyria, fell to his general Seleucus, whose descendants would rule the area for the next century and a half.  During the period of Seleucid rule the Empire continually shrank, as a new force, the Parthians, a former subject people in northeastern Iran, expanded westwards and ran up against the frontiers of Roman power in Anatolia and Syria-Palestine by the end of the millennium.  Parthia and Rome would duke it out for the next couple of centuries, when in AD 227 the Arsacid Parthian dynasty gave way to the Sassanid Persians, who would rule the area until the Arab conquest in the seventh century AD.  Throughout this period the wealthy fortress city of Hatra, southwest of Mosul, played a key role in the constant wars.  And now it is being razed by a group that makes the Mongols look polite.

Parthian Empire

Parthian Empire

To identify the ISIS barbarians with the Assyrians would be an insult to the Assyrians, for all that they were known for their cruelty.  Assyria was a state that existed for the better part of two millennia, playing a crucial role in the history of the ancient Near East and producing a wealth of art and architecture.  ISIS is nothing.  That the Iranians are now playing a serious role in the fight against the Caliphate scum may be a good omen: after all, it was Iranians – the Medes – who initiated the destruction of the Assyrian terrorists.

Of course the presence of the Iranians concerns the US, especially the with-us-or-against-us conservatives, who have trouble understanding the complexities of foreign affairs.  (One is reminded of the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.)  America has conveniently forgotten that the Iranians certainly have reason to be pissed off at us, inasmuch in 1953 the CIA engineered the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minster Mohammad Mosaddegh and subsequently supported the increasingly oppressive Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown in 1979.  Pity, the Iranians strike me as natural allies, despite their whacko government.  Not only is the Shia the more cultured segment of Islam, but the Iranians, at least the urban populations, are secular, certainly when contrasted with our 7th century friends in the Gulf.

Shah Mohammad Pahlavi

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

Mohammad Mosaddegh

Mohammad Mosaddegh



Is Everything a Threat to National Security?

I was recently sent a gun camera video clip of an American aircraft, presumably a helicopter, “degrading” (what a wonderful euphemism for slaughtering) a unit of ISIS troops after dark.  The fighters, who seemed confused, were mostly taken out by canon fire from the helicopter, though a few guided weapons were called in, a seemingly pricey way to kill one man.  Though I understand that dehumanizing the enemy is valuable to any military, I am normally uncomfortable with this video game warfare, but not this time.  The victims in this case have in effect dehumanized themselves, making traditional bad guys, like the Huns or Mongols or Waffen SS, look relatively benign.  Evil exists in the world, and this is it.

Guys with small dicks

Guys with small dicks

Consequently, I am delighted to see my country participate in blowing these guys up, even if it means the military will clamor for more money.  After all, we bear some considerable responsibility by taking out Saddam Hussein, who for all that he was a thug did maintain a seemingly stable and secular state.  All we did was leave another thug, this one of the Shia persuasion, and a sham Iraqi army equipped with American weaponry just asking to be stolen.

Threat to national security

Threat to national security

Threat to national security

Threat to national security

But is ISIS really a threat to American national security?  They are definitely a threat to Turkey because of its long frontier with Syria and Iraq, and Turkey seems finally to be waking up to the danger and has announced it will respond if ISIS destroys the Suleyman Shah Shrine commemorating the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. Oddly enough, though this shrine is in Syria, it is legally part of Turkey and technically would trigger a NATO response if attacked, which of course would involve the US.  They are obviously a threat to Iraq, but it has never been clear to me why this jury-rigged and now collapsing state is a major concern to the security of American citizens.  They could threaten Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, which because of oil do involve American interests, but most of these places have serious if small military forces and immense amounts of money.  Lebanon, the new Kurdistan and Jordan are friends and already swamped with refugees, but what they have to with the security of the American homeland is not immediately apparent.

Ottoman tomb in Syria

Ottoman tomb in Syria

ISIS is theoretically a threat to Israeli security, but the opinion of the American Congress notwithstanding, Israel is not the United States and to my mind is an ally of questionable value.  She also has perhaps the strongest military in the region and is clearly willing to employ it, regardless of civilian casualties inflicted on the Arab populations.  The Israelis in fact seem disinterested, knowing that Washington cannot call upon them because of the bad publicity, and Tel Aviv had never shown much concern over Muslims killing one another.  As Prime Minister Netanyahu just demonstrated in a speech to the UN, they have their own interests, Iran and Hamas.  The possibility that Iran might obtain a nuclear weapon and then be so inconceivably stupid as to use it on Israel was clearly a much bigger concern for Bibi.  And while Hamas, an organization midwifed by Israeli security services, is a loathsome group, comparing them to ISIS as he did is like comparing a Brown Bess musket to a Kalashnikov.

Threat to national security

Threat to national security

Threat to national security

Threat to national security

Of course Washington has not claimed that we risk seeing an ISIS expeditionary force landing on American shores; the threat is the export of jihadists from the so-called Caliphate, trained terrorists who will kill Americans.  There is no denying this, but unless they are able to kill large numbers of citizens this would appear a rather expansive definition of “national security.”  Domestic security in the wake of 9/11 is such that it is now extremely unlikely that any attack even remotely close to that scale could take place, and in any case if the deaths of thousands of Americans is a national security question, we have far more compelling issues.  According to the FBI, in a five year period – 2008 to 2012 – 45,105 Americans were murdered with firearms, yet the government seems disinclined to take any real action on this issue.  In the same period 52,793 Americans died from drunk driving, but this is never mentioned as a threat to national security.  Apparently it only counts if some foreign ideology is involved.

One would suppose that the people who are directly threatened by ISIS, the Turks and sundry Arab states, would be the ones most concerned about stopping these sociopaths, but ancient tribal hostilities prevent that.  Turkey – or at least Recep Erdoğan – would like to see ISIS destroy the Kurds, even though the jihadists are the greater danger and new oil-rich Kurdistan offers an unprecedented opportunity for cooperation.  The Gulf states, medieval kingdoms with 21st century weaponry, are reluctant to attack fellow Sunnis, who are in fact attacking the Alawites (a Shia group) in Damascus, and are afraid of Shiite and non-Arab Iran.  Iran, which has no qualms about killing ISIS Sunnis, is reluctant to cooperate with the Gulf states and especially the United States.  The government in Baghdad seems more interested in maintaining its sectarian-based political power than protecting their rump state, which actually makes them more like the American Congress than their medieval friends.

Threat to national security

Threat to national security

Threat to national security

Threat to national security

Well, ISIS may not be a threat to American national security, but for once my government is bombing people who seriously need killing.  The Taliban are medieval creeps and al-Qaeda are anti-American jerks, but ISIS is truly evil and an offense to civilization.

This is ISIS

This is ISIS


Iraq Redux

(My apologies for the long delay between posts, but I had a lot of distractions.  I hope to return to a post every week to week and a half.)


The Romans often fought series of wars, returning to the same battlefield because of unfinished business or a failed settlement.  Examples abound in the later Republic: three Punic wars over a century, four Macedonian wars in sixty-six years, three Mithridatic wars in a quarter century.  (During WW I there were twelve battles of the Isonzo River in Italy in two and a half years, surely some sort of record.)  America has fought two Iraqi wars: driving Saddam out of Kuwait in 1990-1991 and destroying the Saddam government in 2003-2011.  And now we are creeping towards a Third Iraqi War, as the US desperately searches for a way to repair the damage resulting from a completely botched post-war settlement.


Invading Iraq in 2003 was utterly pointless in terms of American interests.  Saddam had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11; he was in fact second only to the Saudi Royal family on Al-Qaeda’s to-do list.  His was a thoroughly secular administration, one of the places Gulf royalty went to in order get a drink and get laid.  His government was oppressive, but it was stable and anti-Islamist, and when was Washington ever troubled by oppressive governments?  He was an implacable enemy of Iran, for which we have a hatred bordering on the completely irrational, and he was zero threat to anyone except his own people.

former ally

former ally

Why the Neocons were so determined to go to war with this character is not at all clear.  Frustration from the government’s inability to strike back at the actual terrorists?  Embarrassment from seeing our accusations against Saddam prove baseless?  Israeli interests?  Whatever the case, we were forced to invent hidden weapons of mass destruction in order to create some threat to the United States and ultimately justified our invasion with the claim that Saddam had violated provisions of the armistice or 1991.  In effect, we declared war on a country that had done us no harm and was not threatening us.  This is the sort of thing that makes our demands that persons like Vladimir Putin observe international law ring a bit hollow.


The war, which was not to be paid for by Iraqi oil as promised, was easily won, but as is generally the case, the peace was not.  Not only did the Bush administration have no plan for securing a stable post-Saddam Iraq, apparently presuming it would just spring into being, but it sometimes seemed that they were trying to plunge the country into chaos.  Disbanding the Iraqi army rather than co-opting it left Iraq with no indigenous force to police the country, presenting the American military with a task for which it was not really prepared.  The Americans would consequently look more like occupiers than liberators, especially when the Pentagon began hiring foreign mercenaries for many policing duties.  Dismissing every public servant who was a member of the Ba’athist party was utterly foolish, immediately robbing the country of much of its human infrastructure.  Most of these people were Ba’athists simply because it was a requirement for keeping their jobs; even the Nazis were not treated to such a drastic measure.


Seemingly the only plan for post-war Iraq was to make it a democracy, which all Iraqis would eagerly embrace, as did the Germans and Japanese after WW II.  At least that is what Cheney and friends kept reminding us, conveniently ignoring the vast differences between those countries and Iraq.  Germany and Japan were actual nations with relatively homogeneous populations, and they had centuries of history as established communities.  Iraq has never been a nation.  For millennia it has simply been the center or part of a variety of empires, most recently the Ottoman, and it only became a “state” in 1920, when according to the Sykes-Picot Agreement it became a British mandate under a client king, Faisal.  It became an independent kingdom in 1932 and a republic in 1958 after a coup.  The borders of this state, determined by the French and British according to their interests, enclose three distinct and generally hostile populations: the Kurds in the north, the Sunni Arabs in the center and the Shiite Arabs in the south.


This is not a country.  It is an arena, and with the removal of the authoritarian regime of Saddam the games began, even while the American military was still present.  A devastating civil war was prevented only by sending in more American troops and massively bribing Sunni leaders.  It could easily be predicted (as I and others did) that with the withdrawal of American forces the society would begin to unravel.  Washington’s man, Nouri al-Maliki, immediately began establishing a Shia dictatorship and taking action against the Sunni minority (35%).  He established relations with Hezbollah, designated a terrorist organization by the US, and Shiite Iran, considered an enemy by the US since 1979.  Democracy is crumbling, sectarian violence is on the rise and threatening to break up the country and Baghdad now courts Teheran and aids their interests.

Shiite thug and "ally"

Shiite thug and “ally”

Now, Dick Cheney, in a flight of fancy that even by his lofty standards is mind-boggling, is blaming the whole crisis in Iraq on Obama because he pulled out our troops.  Cheney of course ignores, as do other Republican critics, that Obama had absolutely no choice inasmuch as Malaki refused to agree to the Status of Forces conditions required by the US, namely, that American troops be granted legal immunity.  So what do Cheney and other right-wing idiots think Obama should have done?  He could have agreed that American forces were subject to Iraqi law, which would have had the conservatives howling, or he could simply kept the troops there on American terms, which would have made the American army an occupying force, which the hawks probably would not have any trouble with.  (Why does the media waste time interviewing Cheney the Undead and providing a soapbox for his nonsense and outright lies?)

the Undead

the Undead


And through our utter mismanagement of Iraq we have helped create ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), a Muslim fundamentalist group so despicable and cruel that even al-Qaeda will have little to do with them.  One of the circumstances that led to the emergence of these barbarians is the Syrian civil war, but their spectacular success in Iraq is clearly due to Malaki’s Shiite dictatorship.  The average Iraqi Sunni wants nothing to do with the ISIS murderers, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend and Sunni communities are supporting them, a deal with the devil.

the golden age of the 7th century

the golden age of the 7th century


This places Washington in a very tough spot, one reminiscent of Vietnam’s invasion of communist Cambodia in 1978, which presented the US with a choice between two unpleasant regimes.  Obviously, ISIS is the far more disgusting group (as was the Khmer Rouge) and threatens America with terrorism, but supporting Maliki presents some serious problems.  Propping up a dictator has never been a problem for Washington, and this is a dictator we pretty much created, but the Maliki government is aligned with Iran, which is supposedly the big threat in the region and a country we have despised since they had the temerity to overthrown the oppressive regime of the American-installed Shah.  We would consequently be indirectly working with a country that Israel thinks should be bombed immediately.  Malaki has also joined Iran in supporting Hezbollah, designated a terrorist organization, and is sympathetic to Bashir Assad, currently the biggest mass murderer in the region.  More important, helping Maliki means taking sides in the growing sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites and can only lead to more trouble, since anti-America terrorists are all Sunnis, as are our “friends” in the gulf.


Well, it seems we will be helping Maliki, though constantly trumpeting that the price he must pay is to create a more inclusive government, which absolutely no one believes he will do.  The advisors are already arriving, though what they can do for an army that is riddled with corruption and lacking any motivation, at least in the case of the Sunni soldiers, is not at all clear.  Of course American involvement in Vietnam also began with advisors, but popular disgust with our recent wars should keep actual fighting forces out of Iraq, though you never know how stupid politicians will be.  Air strikes then, and according to the President, airstrikes without collateral damage, which I suppose means declaring that anyone killed by a strike is by definition the enemy.


And why are we getting involved at all?  Because ISIS clearly represents a threat to American national security, which in reality of course means little, since it appears that virtually everything is a threat to national security.  If they prevail, they will establish an Islamic state that will be churning out terrorist to send to America.  I have written previously on why I feel the terrorism threat has been stretched completely out of proportion in the interest of enhanced government power.  9/11 was the Reichstag fire for the Bush administration, and Obama, as would be expected of any administration, is not about to surrender any of the powers gained by his predecessors.  Has not more than a decade of homeland security made us any safer?  No one, even those armed with firearms, will ever again be flying planes into buildings, and how does one get a bomb onto a planes these days?


It is quite easy to put together a car bomb in this country, and that can happen whether or not ISIS rules in Iraq.  Yes, an American citizen could get training from ISIS and then reenter the US, but it hardly takes a genius to build a bomb (see Timothy McVeigh or the Zarnaev brothers) and in any case one can get instruction in plenty of places, including our ally Pakistan.  And one cannot fail to notice that the people crying the loudest about terrorism and national security seem completely unconcerned about the now regular shootings in American schools.  (One might also notice that while our intelligence apparatus is snooping on virtually everyone on the planet, it failed completely regarding the Crimea and ISIS.)


Oh, there is the oil, but I thought we were on the edge of energy independence.


What to do then?  Jordan must receive serious aid and be protected (a useful job for Israel) but otherwise ignore the whole thing.  Why are we so damned concerned that Iraq not break up into three states?  Because it would further accentuate the total failure of our ill-considered invasion of Iraq?  Iraq is manifestly not a real state and the hostilities are simply too great, especially for a culture that seems to slip so easily into violence (which is perhaps hypocritical for an American to say).  The Kurdish north is essentially now an independent state, and if anything, this has created more stability in the area.  Given the history of Iraq in the past half century, it is simply impossible for us to guarantee peace without occupying the entire country for a very long time.


ISIS actually establishing a “caliphate” of any permanence is a bit hard to believe.  The Iraqi Sunnis have already made it clear that they do not like the ISIS fanatics, and one can expect a violent falling out should this Sunni alliance actually topple the Malaki “democracy.”  It is difficult to see how a group with essentially no real support among the Iraqi (or any other) population can erect a state with any hope of lasting.  Political entities based solely on terror are incredibly unstable; ask the Assyrians.  Meanwhile, the moment the caliphate begins training terrorists for a campaign against America, we blow away every government/military facility we can identify, while pumping resources into the hands of the opposition.  We can pretend they are clients of the Soviet Union – it will be like old times.


A final note: Syria has just bombed suspected ISIS positions inside Iraq, apparently killing for the most part innocent Iraqis.  Assad versus ISIS.  Now there is a great choice, reminiscent of choosing between Hitler and Stalin.  In any case, Assad has now attacked another country, which used to be an act of war, but this is something the US can hardly complain about anymore.  It would be wonderful to shoot down Syrian warplanes, but then we would be aiding both Malaki the Thug and ISIS.  The Middle East is certainly an interesting place.

Bibi Tells It Like It Is (Not)


(The five statements in this piece come from Dale Sprusansky, “Netanyahu’s AIPAC Speech: 5 Lies,” Washington Report On Middle East Affairs, May 2014, pp. 36-37.)


On March 4 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu gave a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel’s powerful lobbying organization. One certainly does not expect an Israeli politician speaking to AIPAC to present a completely objective view, but Bibi’s total disregard for facts is breathtaking. The sad fact of course is how many members of the US Congress believe the Prime Minister’s words, which he himself clearly knows to be lies.

In the Middle East bludgeoned by butchery and barbarism, Israel is humane; Israel is compassionate. Israel is a force for good.”


"Please like me."

“Please like me.”

Bibi gives the salute to the Volksgenossen

Bibi gives the salute to the Volksgenossen

No one can deny that the Middle East is indeed awash with “butchery and barbarism,” and Syria’s Bashir Assad is setting the bar to new heights. But for any sane person to honestly describe Israel as “humane” is absolutely absurd. Can the treatment of Palestinians, especially in the vast open air prison of Gaza, be considered humane and compassionate? Her actions in operations like Cast Lead in Gaza would be described as “barbarism” by most civilized people, and the constant violation of international covenants, particularly the colonization of the West Bank, is in my opinion barbaric according to the established norms of the post-WW II world. “Butchery” is certainly not a term that can be generally associated with Israel, but the slaughter in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982, enabled and supported by the Israeli army, is aptly described by the word. And if Israel is anyway a force for good, it is only in contrast to the despicable regimes that inhabit the region.

“(Israel has) values that move us to treat sick Palestinians, thousands of them from Gaza. They come to our hospitals. We treat them despite the fact that terrorists from Gaza hurl thousands of rockets at our cities.”

Israelis may have such values, but the state of Israel manifestly does not. Some Palestinians have found help in Israeli hospitals, but because of the extreme difficulties involved in crossing into Israel, far more sick and desperate people are denied any such succor. For Netanyahu to mention “values” in the same sentence as “Gaza” is a sick joke. The world – excepting of course the US – recognizes Gaza as little more than a huge prison camp, sealed off from the world and regularly assaulted by one of the strongest militaries on the planet. Because of the Israeli blockade, people are actually suffering severe malnutrition, and Palestinian public facilities that patently have nothing to do with any ability to attack Israel are regularly destroyed. For Hamas or whoever to shoot missiles into Israel is barbaric, but consider the whole picture. In the last seven years Palestinians in Gaza have fired some 9000 usually ineffective rockets at Israel; in two years, 2005-2006, Israel fired 15,000 very effective shells into Gaza. And there are the ever wildly unequal casualties: in the period since 2008 30 Israeli civilians have been killed, as opposed to 1867 Palestinians in Gaza.

“Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, where the civil rights of all citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, are guaranteed.”

Even if Israel did not openly discriminate against non-Jewish citizens, this would still be a ludicrous statement. How is it possible for a state, 20% of whose citizens are not Jewish, to be both a “Jewish state” and a democracy? If the term is not completely meaningless, there must be discrimination: if it is a Jewish state, then the implication is that Jewish citizens are somehow more suitable than non-Jewish, that this is their state. And the fact is that Arab citizens are indeed discriminated against, both unofficially – and now with increasing violence – and officially. How could it not be? Israel is in a virtual state of war with the inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank and seizing more and more Palestinian land. How are the Palestinians of Israel, most of whom have relatives in the occupied territories, supposed to respond to these actions of “their” government? Meanwhile, Arab ghettos have become a prominent feature of the Israeli landscape. I have personally witnessed this, and that was twenty years ago.

There are perhaps a hundred “unregistered” Arab villages in Israel, recognized as illegal, though they have been there for centuries. The inhabitants cannot get public services or building permits, which means any repairs to a home invites the arrival of the government bulldozers. Meanwhile, their ancestral lands are being appropriated by Jewish communities, some of which openly declare “Jews only,” apparently missing the incredible irony. The legal Center for Arab Minority Rights identifies some 50 or more laws that openly discriminate against Palestinian citizens. Most damning, however, 93% of the land in Israel is owned by the state or quasi-state entities, and non-Jews cannot legally buy or lease that land. It is after all a Jewish state.

Consider Avigdor Lieberman, the thug who is currently Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has proposed a two state plan that would not only incorporate West Bank Jewish settlements as part of Israel, but also assign some Israeli Arab areas to the Palestinian state. So much for being a citizen. He believes that Arab members of the Knesset who even speak to Hamas are terrorists and should be executed. He would also like all Israeli citizens to swear an oath of loyalty or lose their citizenship, demonstrating, I suppose, that he is an equal opportunity fascist.

Reichsminister Lieberman

Reichsminister Lieberman

“Israel, the one country in the Middle East that protects Christians and protects the right of worship for everyone.”

Well, the Turks might disagree with this proposition, and the Syrian Christian community has enjoyed the protection of the Assad government, though certainly not because of any humanitarian concerns. The Palestinian Christian community, meanwhile, has been steadily declining, and it is clear that the Israeli occupation is at least partly responsible. Access to the holy sites in Jerusalem is apparently not part of Netanyahu’s definition of “right of worship,” since it is extremely difficult for non-Israeli Palestinians to obtain a permit to visit the holy city. It is also indisputable that Israeli Jews are steadily taking over the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, and there seems little concern for the religious concerns of non-Jews. The Ministry of Religious Affairs, in pursuance of 1967 law for the protection of holy sites, has designated 135 Jewish sites and not a single one for other religions. See also Ironies from Israel #1: Archeological Hypocrisy.

Welcome to Bethlehem

Welcome to Bethlehem

“(Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon) would open up a Pandora’s box of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and around the world.”

This is not so much a lie as an incredible exercise in hypocrisy. Leaving aside the consideration that it is not entirely clear that Iran is dead set on obtaining a weapon, the fact is that aside from Pakistan the only nuclear power in the Middle East is Israel. Everyone knows this, but the US and Israel play a stupid game of never mentioning it – or that Israel had actually cooperated with apartheid South Africa in weapons development. And while Washington is badgering everyone in the Middle East to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has, no American politician dares even bring up the subject in the case of Israel. Given Israel’s history of doing whatever she pleases, regardless of international law, it might be considered understandable if places like Iran were a bit paranoid. Admittedly there is some truth concerning proliferation: a Shiite bomb in Iran could easily drive the Sunni Gulf autocracies to start shopping around, as if the ruling elites in Teheran could possibly be stupid enough to start threatening a nuclear strike. Given the strength of its military and the unqualified support of the US, it is certainly questionable that Israel requires a nuclear arsenal, and a first step in dealing with Iran might be simply admitting that Israel actually possesses such weapons. But given the attitude of Washington, that will never happen.

Sprusansky ends his article with “The time is coming when lies no longer will suffice.” Given the growing detachment of the American Congress from reality, that time is likely to be very far off indeed.

Ten Years Ago On a Lone Dark Night Someone Got Killed…

(On the occasion of the ten year anniversary of our invasion of Iraq I am posting an updated version of a piece written in December 2011 when the President announced the “end” of the war.)

On 19 March 2003 the United States bombed the Presidential Palace in Baghdad, beginning an eight year war in Iraq. Those eight years came at a stiff price. 4486 American military personnel were killed and 30,327 were wounded, 500 of them amputees, and it is estimated that some 20,000 veterans of the war now suffer some sort of psychological problem. 1487 coalition troops died, along with 281 media and aid workers; 10,569 were wounded. The war cost us about $1.7 trillion, and we are still paying, despite the fact that Iraq is now producing more oil than Iran. The war quickly eliminated the world-wide support for America in the wake of 9/11, fomented more anti-American feelings in the Muslim world, blew our reputation for moral behavior and distracted the US from serious operations against al-Qaeda.



The price for the Iraqis was much greater. The butcher’s bill is very hard to calculate, but while the media now regularly tosses off 100,000 dead, a variety of investigating NGOs has set that as the absolute minimum, suggesting 600,000 as more realistic; some estimates exceed a million. And they continue to die, as the expended depleted uranium ordinance and other toxins of modern war produce birth defects and cancers. Almost two million people fled the country, and a million internal refugees were produced. What little infrastructure the country possessed under Sadam was utterly destroyed, and it appears that the Sunni dictator has simply been replaced by a Shiite one. Meanwhile, all those billions in aid from the US flow into the pockets of the increasingly autocratic Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his completely corrupt government apparatus. Even their very country is falling apart, as the north has emerged as a more or less independent Kurdistan.

And what do we all get in return for this massive expenditure by the American and Iraqi people?



It is clear now, as it was to many then, that Saddam was absolutely no threat to anyone except his own people, and rather than “protecting” America the conflict has only exacerbated the terrorist problem and immensely strengthened the position of Iran. Iraq, once a bulwark against Iran (remember Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam?) is under its emerging Shia dictatorship already falling rapidly under Iranian influence. Only two states in the region have refused to go along with the Arab League and condemn the bloody Syrian government: Iran and Iraq. Indeed, Iranian aid to the Syrian government appears to be moving through Iraq. Under the guise of a program of reconciliation Baghdad is even releasing prisoners accused or convicted of murdering Americans, and as the economic frosting on this ineptly baked cake, it is primarily non-American companies that are signing up to exploit Iraqi resources, should that ever be possible.

Meanwhile, American diplomatic personnel will be hiding out in the biggest and most heavily fortified embassy on the planet, a target so protected that even American journalists are not allowed to see it. Bereft of troops, we will be hiring 5000 mercenaries to protect these people, further enhancing our wonderful image in the region. We get to look like an imperial power and pay mightily without enjoying any of the benefits associated with such a status. And outside the walls of Fortress America, euphemistically called the Green Zone, the life of the average Iraqi is, unbelievably, worse than it was under Sadam.

We got nothing out of the war. (Well, if you are Haliburton or Blackwater Mercenaries or the armaments industry, you actually got plenty, and the Pentagon certainly had a grand time.) Perhaps we learned something from this mistaken adventure? Not likely.



We promptly repeated the whole thing in Afghanistan. Trashing the Taliban for harboring our enemies was fine, but then, as if Iraq had never happened, we determined to create a democracy among people who have not a clue as to what that or nationhood means. The ill-advised and ineptly conducted war of aggression against Iraq appears almost sensible compared to our current hemorrhaging of lives and money for an unbelievably corrupt and ineffective government of an area that is even less of a country than the one time Ottoman province.

Even now, that blatant and shameless cheerleader for the war, the national media, is hypocritically discussing the mistakes of the war while saying virtually nothing of its own disgusting role. Perhaps as a measure of their ignorance and certainly of their arrogance, the neo-con architects of the war are unrepentant. Donald Rumsfield, who should be in prison for criminal incompetence as Secretary of Defense, at least had the good grace to resign and disappear. Dick Cheney, another of those hawks who somehow never found the time to serve (“I had other priorities in the 60s than military service”) and who appears to have been a prime mover in launching the war, even now claims it was justified, though he seems unable to say exactly why. (Perhaps I am biased: his wife put me on an academic black list of “Americans behaving badly.”) Paul Wolfowitz, recognized as the major architect of this stupid policy, continues to defend it, though Richard Pearle, another neo-con mover of the war, now denies he had any serious role, which is simply laughable. (Perhaps I am biased again: in a recent interview he responded to questions about the war by stating that looking back on history does not teach us anything. So much for my profession – and his intelligence or honesty.) These are the bozos who implemented a disastrous and dishonest foreign policy, yet they all still prosper, unlike the 4500 dead American soldiers and the entire country of Iraq.

traitor and idiot

traitor and idiot

So, happy anniversary. The date should be remembered, because this is when American seriously began to shed its historic image as the good guy, the protector of the weak and defender of freedom, the foe of brutality and torture. And in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somali and god knows where else the beat goes on.

our democrat in Baghdad

our democrat in Baghdad

Grass Roots on Israel

Nobel Laureate author Günter Grass has just published a short poem entitled “What Must Be Said,” in which he accuses Israel, with its undeclared stockpile of nuclear weapons and constant threat of attacking Iran, of being the real threat to peace in the Middle East.  The poem is hardly likely to enter the corpus of great literature, but in it Grass makes valid points that must in fact be made and has stirred a discussion – at least in Germany – that has been constantly avoided.

Granted, Grass has undermined his position and unnecessarily provided material for his critics by suggesting that Israel is poised to launch a nuclear strike that would destroy the Iranian people, something Tel Aviv is not likely to consider doing.  Even the ever-compliant United States would (I hope) bristle at the use of a nuclear weapon, and in any case in the highly unlikely event that Israel’s incredibly powerful conventional defenses were inadequate, the US would be obliged to step in.

Nevertheless, Grass’ basic point is certainly correct: the only Middle Eastern nation west of Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons is Israel, which has never even been asked to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, let alone accept inspection of its facilities.  This bit of grand hypocrisy is hardly surprising, given that America and to a lesser extent Europe have historically granted the Jewish state a blanket dispensation when it comes to accepted international law and behavior.

Critics are screaming at the barest suggestion that Iran may be the victim here, but this is perhaps not as outrageous as it first appears, certainly not from the Iranian point of view.  The West overthrew their democratically elected government in 1923, imposed the utterly ruthless Shah, occupied the country during World War II, created and supported a militarily powerful Israel and encouraged Saddam Hussein in his decade-long war against them.  And now, because of the interests of Israel and the Sunni oil barons, America has declared its (albeit reluctant) willingness to engage in a war of aggression because Iran might be working on nuclear weapons and might have one in a few years.  For all that Iran is controlled by a collection of ideological numbskulls there is at least an aura of victimhood, and certainly no rational person could ever consider imperial Israel a victim.

For the obvious reason of its Nazi past criticism of Israel is very infrequent in Germany.  (Because of domestic politics it is also very infrequent in America, but the utterings of a European author typically do not stir the interest of the self-absorbed American media.)  Clearly, the atrocities of the Third Reich neither justify bad behavior on the part of Israel nor require reasonable Germans to be silent, but as Grass predicts in the poem, any criticism of Israel will result immediately in the accusation of anti-Semitism, which is exactly what happened.

Criticizing Israel is of course no more anti-Semitic than criticizing Germany is anti-German, and Israeli citizens in fact do it every day (only to be branded “self-loathing”).  But so great is western guilt and Zionist influence that it is now generally accepted that gainsaying Israel is in fact anti-Semitic; the latest edition of Webster’s does offer as the second definition of “anti-Semitism” criticizing Israel.  So, one does so at one’s own risk.

Sundry Germans, particularly newspaper columnists, immediately jumped on Grass as an anti-Semite, especially the Jewish writer Henryk Broder, who described the novelist as “the prototype of the educated anti-Semite,” in part for labeling the appropriation of Palestinian land as a criminal act (which of course it is by established international law).  As can easily be imagined, the extreme right-wing government in Tel Aviv promptly branded Grass an unrepentant Nazi, and Interior Minister Eli Yeshai barred the author from ever entering Israel, a petty measure already taken against others, such as linguist Noam Chomsky and Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maquire, who dared criticize Israel.  (In 2001 there were calls, unsuccessful, to do the same to Daniel Barenboim, who had the temerity to conduct a piece by Richard Wagner; these people are off the deep end.)  To their credit even some German politicians condemned this fit of Israeli pique.

Grass has on numerous occasions demonstrated himself to be something of a jerk, but he is undeniably a world-class novelist and certainly no ignoramus.  Whether or not one agrees with his appreciation of Israel and its nuclear arsenal, he has clearly made a valid point about the danger of criticizing the Jewish state, a point most Germans apparently agree with.  And a point amply demonstrated by the reaction of Israel, which once again has chosen to erect a wall rather than confront rationally those who dare object to its actions, whether they be Palestinian farmers or German authors.

What must be said

Why have I kept silent, held back so long,

on something openly practised in

war games, at the end of which those of us

who survive will at best be footnotes?
It’s the alleged right to a first strike

that could destroy an Iranian people

subjugated by a loudmouth

and gathered in organized rallies,

because an atom bomb may be being

developed within his arc of power.

Yet why do I hesitate to name

that other land in which

for years – although kept secret –

a growing nuclear power has existed

beyond supervision or verification,

subject to no inspection of any kind?

This general silence on the facts,

before which my own silence has bowed,

seems to me a troubling, enforced lie,

leading to a likely punishment

the moment it’s broken:

the verdict “Anti-semitism” falls easily.

But now that my own country,

brought in time after time

for questioning about its own crimes,

profound and beyond compare,

has delivered yet another submarine to Israel,

(in what is purely a business transaction,

though glibly declared an act of reparation)

whose speciality consists in its ability

to direct nuclear warheads toward

an area in which not a single atom bomb

has yet been proved to exist, its feared

existence proof enough, I’ll say what must be said.

But why have I kept silent till now?

Because I thought my own origins,

tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,

meant I could not expect Israel, a land

to which I am, and always will be, attached,

to accept this open declaration of the truth.

Why only now, grown old,

and with what ink remains, do I say:

Israel’s atomic power endangers

an already fragile world peace?

Because what must be said

may be too late tomorrow;

and because – burdened enough as Germans –

we may be providing material for a crime

that is foreseeable, so that our complicity

will not be expunged by any

of the usual excuses.

And granted: I’ve broken my silence

because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;

and I hope too that many may be freed

from their silence, may demand

that those responsible for the open danger

we face renounce the use of force,

may insist that the governments of

both Iran and Israel allow an international authority

free and open inspection of

the nuclear potential and capability of both.

No other course offers help

to Israelis and Palestinians alike,

to all those living side by side in enmity

in this region occupied by illusions,

and ultimately, to all of us.

Günter Grass

(Translated by Breon Mitchell)

And Breathed in the Face of the Foe As He Passed

Nations, certainly the more democratic ones, feel compelled to engage in often blatantly hypocritical action when dealing with “friends” considered vital to national interests.  Consequently, the United States, which has constantly trumpeted to the world its support of democracy and human rights, has seen no problem in supporting and cooperating with sundry dictatorial regimes with abominable human rights records.  During the cold war this generally took the form of supporting any military dictator who claimed to be fighting a communist insurgency, which policy could actually go as far as participating in the overthrow of a democratically elected government, as in the case of Chile and Iran.  Now one only need replace the word “communist” with “terrorist” or “Islamicist” to see the same policy continuing, as recently in Yemen with Ali Abdullah Salah.  And of course there is oil and convenient military bases.  How often have you heard Washington, full of praise for the Arab Spring and condemnation of rulers like Assad and Ahmadinejad, complaining about the bloody repression of protestors in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia?

Of course, nations do not typically have friends but rather interests, and maintaining those interests, which seem inevitably to fall under the wonderfully vague term “national security,” often conflicts with the stated values of a democratic nation.  Perhaps that is simply life in the big city.  Certainly, American voters are going to be far more concerned with the price of gas than the plight of peaceful and justified demonstrators getting their heads beaten in by our friends, even if those friends operate a political and social system that is more at home in the 11th century than the 21st.  Squishy sentimentality about human rights or idealistic notions of international law cannot obstruct the business of the nation.

This all makes sense if your priority is the welfare of your own nation regardless of how the inhabitants of some other country might suffer.  What is harder to understand, however, is violating the traditional norms of international behavior and injuring the reputation of the country pursuing actions that not only do not serve national interests but in fact injure them.   And taking such action in the face of massive popular opposition, which on the face of it might seem imprudent for a democratically elected government.  But in the case of bombing Iran, apparently not.

The stated aim of this prospective madness is protecting what actually must be a friend, Israel, since it is very difficult to see how this ally has ever served American interests.  Our intelligence agencies have stated that it will be at least three years before Iran can produce even a crude deliverable weapon, and any objective analysis of the Iranian government strongly suggests that for all their sometimes bizarre behavior they are not irrational and suicidal enough to launch a nuclear device at a country that possess several hundred easily delivered nuclear bombs.  The militaries of both Israel and the US do not want to attack Iran.  The majority of the populations of both these democracies do not want to attack Iran.  Some 70% of all Americans do not want to attack Iran and want to dissuade Israel from doing so, and even 69% of Republicans agree.

So why the hell are we on the verge of doing this?  For the simple reasons that the Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, faces serious domestic problems and needs to satisfy the extreme hawks and – let us be honest – aspiring fascists in his coalition and that this is a Presidential election year in the United States.  Obama is not stupid, but he is political, and despite the evidence of widespread anti-war sentiment and the fact that American Jewry is rapidly losing its traditional unquestioning commitment to Israel he nevertheless cannot resist the half century old political imperative to NEVER criticize or obstruct our “most important ally.”  It must seem particularly important to him to pander to a foreign government (which he clearly despises) since the Republican candidates have almost come to blows in their claims to be the ultimate Zionist.  They have already savaged him for throwing Israel under the bus, seemingly for not being enthusiastic about the colonization of the West Bank, despite the absence of any bus anywhere on the horizon.

Allowing your foreign policy to be determined by domestic politics is never healthy for a country, even one as powerful and militarily invincible as the United States.  But to alter your foreign policy judgments and act counter to the clear will of the voters because of a largely imaginary political advantage is incomprehensible.  The historian is reminded of the Great War, during which the political leaders of Britain, France and Germany all fell over one another making promises (which they had no intention of keeping) to the Zionists because of the completely imaginary gentile notion of an incredibly powerful and united world Jewry.

Because, at least initially, of European and American guilt, the huge American Jewish community, the astute propagandizing of the young and very western Jewish state and the intransigence and foreignness of unattractive Arab dictatorships, America allowed herself to fall into exactly the kind of “passionate attachment” George Washington warned against.  The result has been the unqualified and for us counterproductive support of a country that routinely and blatantly violates the international law this country is in fact sworn to uphold, making us look like hypocritical fools when we legitimately protest the aggressive and inhumane actions of other nations.  How can we complain about Russian and Chinese vetoes of UN action against Bashir Assad when the US, alone except for American territories and apartheid South Africa, consistently vetoed even the mildest criticism of Israeli behavior?  And remember, the deliberate Israeli attack in June 1967 on the USS Liberty, resulting in 34 dead American sailors, is still officially considered, against all evidence, an “accident.”

And now we are on the edge of the precipice, on the verge of a disastrous (and immoral) war against Iran, which would certainly disrupt oil supplies and dramatically affect the global economy, possible turning the recession into an outright depression.  Which party, I wonder, will get the blame when gasoline prices in America soar?  All this because of the political needs of a small handful of individuals in Israel and the United States.

The image of the tiny democratic David holding off with our aid the evil Arab Goliath was never quite accurate and is now a sick joke.  The most powerful military and the only nuclear weapons between France and Pakistan belong to Israel, which has now settled a half million colonists on territory belonging to the Palestinians, with no end in sight except the ultimate creation of a greater apartheid Israel.  The current government in Tel Aviv, with the seeming connivance of the judiciary, has already limited free speech in Israel and is allied with the ultra-orthodox communities, which are completely at odds with the essentially secular society of the majority.

Shortly after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War Israeli philosopher Yeshaya Liebowitz wrote: In the first stage we shall see euphoria, upon our return to our ancient sites.  Next we shall see the emergence of a messianic, radical and dangerous nationalism.  In the third stage we shall see Israeli society becoming more brutal and the emergence of a police state.

It is coming true, as Israel in its treatment of the Palestinians and its own minorities engages in a more and more convincing impersonation of the Third Reich.  We are complicit.  Worse, we are becoming Israel.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast.

For Israel to launch a military strike against Iran would simply be madness and have repercussions far beyond Israel and the Gulf.  Such an attack would of course be an act of war, but that has never bothered Israel, which seems to think that the fact of the Holocaust grants her the right to violate international law and take whatever action she might deem necessary to her security.  And the unqualified support of the United States, caught in a seeming stranglehold because of Israel’s immense influence in American elections, allows her the power and protection to act as she pleases, even if it is clearly against the interests of the United States.

Iran, however, is not Syria or Lebanon or Iraq and is very likely to defend her national sovereignty and honor by retaliating.  This might be of little concern to the world at large if this simply meant a war between Israel and Iran, although in the unlikely event that Israel is desperate she would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons, which would be disastrous.  But able to reach Israel only with a few missiles Iran is almost certain to assert herself as a victim of aggression by employing irregular forces to attack US interests around the world and cause a shutdown of the oil passing through the Straits of Hormuz, which Gulf would send the price of oil skyrocketing and quite possibly turn the global recession into a full scale depression.  Further, America is bound to come to the aid of Israel if she is attacked, apparently regardless of why, and the result would be another costly and unjustified war for the US and a disaster of Biblical proportions for Iran.

It appears from the events of recent decades that America has fully adopted the international mechanisms and attitudes pioneered by the Israelis (and sundry loathsome states before them): contempt for the national sovereignty of other states, disregard for international law when it is inconvenient, the murder of individuals considered enemies and the acceptance of outright military aggression if there is perception of some future threat.  These are of course the positions taken by the very people responsible for the Holocaust.

Implicit in the support of a subservient America and European countries with guilty consciences is that Israel is a “good guy,” living in a neighborhood inhabited by various “bad guys,” of whom Iran is clearly one.  Israel is a tiny democracy whose very existence is continually threatened by surrounding autocracies.  Unmentioned is the fact that Israel is also an outpost of understandingly attractive western culture (even if Jewish) in a sea of supposed inferior Arab culture.  Further, completely missing from the established image of evil and predatory neighbors is the righteous indignation of the locals at having an essentially European state established on their homeland by an organization – the UN – created and controlled by westerners bent on assuaging their guilt.

A tiny Jewish David surrounded by Muslim Goliaths, that has been portrait of Palestine.  Yet, even in 1948 the American OSS predicted that the new state of Israel would have no problem defeating the invading Arabs, and in 1967 the successor CIA estimated it would take the Israelis no more than two weeks to crush their opponents, which they in fact did in half that time.  Today of course Israel has the most powerful military in the region, limited only by the need of resupply by the Americans, but she still presents the strategic arguments of the mid-twentieth century: “We must control the
West Bank because Israel is so tiny and vulnerable” or “We must retain the Golan Heights because from there Syrian artillery could pound Tel Aviv.”  It does not take any serious military education to understand how obsolete and nonsensical such propositions are; the high ground and other territorial considerations become irrelevant if you have complete control of the air, which Israel has maintained since the Six Day War.

As yet it is too soon to tell if the Arab Spring will actually produce functioning democracies, but it is certainly clear that Israel is something less than completely democratic.  At heart is the contradiction inherent in the very nature of Israel: it claims to be both a democracy and a Jewish state.  What exactly does that mean for the 25% of the Israeli citizen body who are not Jews?  It means discrimination of course, a discrimination exacerbated by the fanaticism of the “settlers” and the growing political influence of the ultra-orthodox sects, who do not even like most of their fellow Jews.  The Israeli Foreign Minister has actually publicly called for the expulsion of non-Jews, the sort of ethnic cleansing normally associated with especially vile governments.

Finally, one might ask by what right do Israel, America, Britain and
France require that Iran produce no nuclear weapons and back up that demand with the threat of military action.  Behind this blatant double-standard there is clearly the arrogance of power: we have the military and economic resources to bar you from the nuclear club.  At least the Athenians were more honest when they justified their unjust and immoral bullying of the tiny island of Melos: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”  That Israel itself has nuclear weapons and has never even been asked by the US to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty must strike others in the region as a particular example of American hypocrisy.

After six decades an understandable Israeli concern for security has evolved into an almost irrational paranoia fed by incredible arrogance and self-righteousness.  Hearing a head of state call for your annihilation must certainly be unnerving, but is the Israeli government so foolish that it takes the utterly simplistic view that the outlandish rhetoric of Ahmadinejad actually represents the policy of a state in which the centers of power lie elsewhere?  Are the rulers of Iran so completely idiotic or suicidal that they would seriously threaten Israel with a nuclear weapon, knowing it would mean the complete destruction of their country?

The government of Iran is obviously repressive and champions a religious ideology unpleasant for most westerners and hostile to the Sunni autocrats beloved by the west for their oil, but there is an Iranian point of view.  In 1941 the western allies invaded and occupied Iran as a staging area for supplying the Russians, and in 1953 Britain and America conspired to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh and replace it with the autocratic and ultimately terror-filled rule of the Shah.  Since 1979, when the Revolution overthrew the hated Shah, America has maintained a constant hostility towards Iran and has become even more identified as the enabler and protector of Israel.  And the Iranians are not likely to forget who supported Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Iran.

Because of the embedded image of Israel as the “good guy” and the cowardice of the American political establishment in the face of the Israeli lobby, there is little official attention is given to the non-Israeli perspective in the Middle East.  Could it be that the other states in the region fear Israel as much as she expresses fear of them?  Israel after all possesses several hundred nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them and has shown an increasing lack of restraint in resorting to military action.  In her modern history Iran has never attacked her neighbors, while Israel feels free to assault anyone she deems hostile or an obstacle to her policies, including even the Americans (the attack on the USS Liberty in 1967).  Iran may support groups unfriendly to Israel, but at the same time Israel feels free to murder any individual considered an enemy, most recently Iranian physicists.  Finally, what other state in the area is engaged in actual territorial aggrandizement and colonization?

Unfortunately, seeing the other guy’s point of view has never been an American strong suit.


I Fought in Iraq and All I got Was This (Bloody) T-Shirt?

On December 12 President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the end of the war in Iraq.  Those eight years of war came at a stiff price.  Approximately 4500 American troops were killed, and some 33,000 received significant wounds; how many thousands will suffer psychological problems in the future can only be guessed at.  The war cost taxpayers a trillion dollars, and the expenses continue despite the departure of our military.  The war quickly eliminated the world-wide support for America in the wake of 9/11, fomented more anti-American feelings in the Muslim world and distracted the US from operations against al-Qaeda.

The bill for Iraq is far greater.  Saddam is dead, but so are more than 100,000 (perhaps many more) Iraqis, and 1.6 million are still refugees abroad.  Over one million internal refugees were also created.  What little functioning infrastructure the country possessed before the invasion has been mostly destroyed, and 23% of Iraqis live in utter poverty, earning $2 or less a day.

And what do we all get in return for this massive expenditure by the American and Iraqi people?

It is clear now, as it was to many then, that Saddam was absolutely no threat to anyone except his own people, and rather than “protecting” America the conflict has only exacerbated the terrorist problem and immensely strengthened the position of Iran, beckoning the US into another armed conflict.  That the new democratic Iraq would be a beacon of freedom and hope in the region has not played out, and the present toppling of authoritarian governments in the Arab world owes absolutely nothing to American efforts.

Whether or not Iraq now has a functioning democracy remains to be seen, and in any case the current government is unable to provide even basic services for its people, who are still being blown up on a regular basis.  Unfortunately for the US, Iraq has also failed to become a compliant “ally” and serve American interests in the region.  Quite understandably, the Iraqis refused to continue granting the American forces immunity from Iraqi law and prosecution, which with the war officially ended would go a long way to marking the American military as an occupying force.  Predictably, Obama took credit for removing our troops, though he actually had no say in the matter, and the Republicans, seemingly unaware of the meaning of “national sovereignty,” complained that we were leaving without having finished the job.

It is not even clear if Iraq can succeed as a country, whatever the nature of its government.  The Kurdish north is already on the brink of becoming a separate state and is increasingly under the influence of Turkey.  Iraqi Sunnis are somewhat less than enthusiastic about the Shiite dominated government and its ties to Iran, and Sunni insurgent activity threatens to turn into an outright civil war, especially if the government proves unable to alleviate the miserable conditions in which most Iraqis live.  Being a province carved by the Ottomans out of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious area is hardly a strong foundation for a nation state.

And for all our blood and treasure and newly enhanced imperial reputation?  Iraq, once a bulwark against Iran (remember Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam?) is already falling rapidly under Iranian influence.  Only two states in the region have refused to go along with the Arab League and condemn the bloody Syrian government: Iran and Iraq.  Under the guise of a program of reconciliation Baghdad is even releasing prisoners accused or convicted of murdering Americans, and as the economic frosting on this ineptly baked cake, it is primarily non-American companies that are signing up to exploit Iraqi resources, should that ever be possible.  Few outside Washington would consider this a successful foreign policy outcome.

Meanwhile, American diplomatic personnel will be hiding out in the biggest and most heavily fortified embassy on the planet, a target so protected that even American journalists are not allowed to see it.  Bereft of troops, we will be hiring 5000 mercenaries to protect these people, further enhancing our wonderful image in the region.  We get to look like an imperial power without enjoying any of the benefits associated with such a status.

On the other hand, this ill-advised and ineptly conducted war of aggression appears almost sensible compared to our current hemorrhaging of lives and money for an unbelievably corrupt and ineffective government of an area that is even less of a country than the one time Turkish province: Afghanistan.