(Enhanced) Interrogations ‘R’ Us

Extremely rare are the times when I applaud the action of the US Congress, but I do so now with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the abuses and crimes committed by the Central Intelligence Agency in the forever war on terror.  The five year investigation has revealed repeated acts of what any normal person would label torture and the deliberate misleading of Congress and even the White House about what the CIA was actually doing.  The charges are all based on documentation, and the Committee did not interview spooks because the Justice Department was carrying on its own investigation – and what would be the point anyway?

One should of course suspect the motives of any politician, but Senator Dianne Feinstein’s outrage seems genuine; she is after all a hawkish Democrat who supports the drone program.  And who could gainsay Senator John McCain?  He is a Republican, an extreme hawk and most important, the only member of Congress who has actually been tortured.  One might think his opinions on the subject of torture would carry some serious weight.

liberal patriot

liberal patriot

conservative patriot

conservative patriot

But no.  The Republican heavyweights are condemning the report as politically motivated and a danger to American lives, and inasmuch as it is difficult to deny the CIA actually did these things, they maintain that none of it was torture and that it was perfectly legal and necessary to gain information to protect America.  Former President Bush, during whose administration this crap went down, seems unaware that anything wrong was done, but it appears that he and Colin Powell were not even informed of the program for several years.  Of course Dick Cheney, the puppet master of the Bush administration, knew and has dismissed the Senate report as “hooey.”  Inasmuch as he is one of the few people in the universe who believes the invasion of Iraq was a good thing, I cannot understand why anyone would solicit his opinion.

As expected, the CIA has denied any wrongdoing, emphasizing that it was all sanctioned by Congress and the White House, including the Attorney General – “We were just following orders.”  Apart from the suspicion that Attorneys General always provide cover for their Presidents, it is clear that the President and Congress did not know the extent of the CIA’s actions.  And why would anyone assign any credibility to the CIA?  Not only are they an intelligence agency, engaged in deception and secrecy, but the CIA also has a long, long history of exceeding its mandate and lying to the government.   Feinstein claims the agency spent $40 million to prevent the release of this report; a former spokesman for the CIA (there is a veritable blitzkrieg of former spooks on the news) says the money was used for a “secure facility” to house the documents the Committee wanted.  Now, which of these explanations is more believable?

The Republicans, the CIA and the Pentagon are all saying this is the wrong time to release this report because it will endanger American lives around the world (implying that there is a good time and thus that what the report says is true), which is absolute nonsense.  American lives are already threatened everywhere.  Is there anyone hostile to the US who did not already believe we were torturing people?  Do ISIS and their friends need an excuse?  They claim this will improve ISIS recruitment.  Is there any potential jihadist who would refuse to believe we were doing this without being presented with proof?  They claim this is a bad time because we are at war around the planet.  When will we not be at war?  The Republicans claim the release of the report is politically motivated.  Then why was it not released before the last election?  Further, once the Republicans take control of the Intelligence Committee next year nothing like this report will ever see the light of day.   The Republican Party stakes a claim to being the defender of American values yet constantly demonstrates a willingness to violate those values.

traitor

traitor

traitor

traitor

Hardly able to deny what the CIA was actually doing, its defenders simply assert that it was not torture but only “enhanced interrogation” of “enemy combatants,” essentially arguing that if we call it something else, it is something else.  If what the report describes is not torture, it is hard to see what is.  The Gestapo hung shackled prisoners from the ceiling; was that “enhanced interrogation”?  Stalin’s NKVD employed sleep deprivation, assembly line interrogation, cramped cells and beatings; was that “enhanced interrogation”?  If this was not torture, then why did the agency go to such lengths to do it outside the US?

The CIA now asserts that whatever you call them, these interrogations produced valuable information in the war against terror (saving American lives again!).  Not only does the evidence not support that contention, but the whole history of torture argues otherwise.  The traditional non-coercive interrogation methods of the FBI and military have a proven record of results, while torture manifestly does not.  I have never been tortured, but it sure seems that the average individual will tell you whatever you want in order to stop the pain.  Stalin arrested millions of people, virtually all of them innocent of any crimes, yet the vast majority ended up signing confessions and in some cases performing in the show trials of the 1930s.  Torture does not produce information; it produces cooperation.

enhanced interrogator

enhanced interrogator

enhanced interrogator

enhanced interrogator

And suppose the torture did lead to any information.  Is that a valid reason for violating our basic values, of becoming like the Nazis or the Soviets or ISIS?  Once again, the people who trumpet the loudest about freedom not being free and how many men died for our way of life always seem to be the most willing to surrender those freedoms and values in the interest of security.  If we (rightly) celebrate those willing to give their lives in defense of our values, how can we justify violating them on the grounds that it might save lives.  If we are so concerned with saving Americans, why do we not negotiate with terrorists, as Europe and even Israel do?  If conservatives and others are so damned concerned about American lives, why do they not attend to gun control or drunk driving?  The hypocrisy is awe inspiring.

Torture is not only wrong and ineffective, it is illegal, whatever sundry Attorneys General have said.  It is cruel and unusual punishment, and the prohibition applies to non-citizens and “enemy combatants,” who are actually POWs in a new kind of war.  Doing it in Cuba or Poland makes no difference – agents of the US government are still torturing people.  We are also bound, at least in theory, to international law, many of whose conventions we have authored and pledged to uphold, and every one of those instruments prohibits torture under any circumstances.  Unfortunately, America’s regard for international law now goes only so far as our national interests, undermining one of our strongest assets, our long tradition of being the good guys, or at least the better guys.  Another bit of American exceptionalism down the drain of Realpolitik and stupidity.

Ultimately Congress and the White House are to blame for this disgusting episode, allowing the CIA (and NSA and god knows who else) to do pretty much whatever it pleased, including spying on and lying to them.  The Republicans are now actually defending this, and the ever mysterious Obama backed off from any serious investigation and appointed as director of the agency a career CIA official, who is now defending the organization.  What goes on in the minds of these people?

Who is this guy?

Who is this guy?

Nothing will change, except possibly a few unimportant cosmetic touches (we no longer bug Chancellor Merkel’s private telephone).  It has all happened before.  We are already being told that no one will be charged with any crimes, which is hardly a surprise; we already know from the blatant lies of James Clapper, the current Director of National Intelligence, that contempt of Congress does not apply to some people.  One can only hope that the UN and various European countries will take legal action against these traitors and at least deprive them of free foreign travel, but of course America will go into bully mode to prevent this.  What the hell happened to my mother country?

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No Worry Unless You Have Something To Hide

(I have nothing novel to say here; even allowing for the technology, no state in antiquity, even Egypt under their god-king, experienced this level of surveillance. I just need to vent on this subject.)

 

President Obama’s assault on the First and Fourth Amendments is in full swing. (The Second is completely safe.) It was bad enough to learn what our government was doing – in our name – under the Bush administration, but Obama’s security apparatus and his actions to protect it are staggering. We may no longer have renditions and blatant torture (force-feeding and prolonged periods of solitary confinement may qualify), but a Democratic and supposedly progressive President is actually laying the foundations of a police state, and Congress is helping, having found a bipartisan cause.

 
The public had long been aware, if unconcerned, of the constitutionally and morally questionable things the CIA has been doing, especially in conjunction with our seemingly endless wars, but inasmuch as the operations generally affect only other countries, the American public is mostly unconcerned. The recently revealed surveillance programs of the NSA, however, do affect Americans, and while most of our citizens have probably never heard of the Fourth Amendment, they do understand when they are being spied on. And so do our closest allies, even if their spooks and governments are enthusiastically cooperating with ours.

Amerikanische Reichssicherheitsdienst

Amerikanische Reichssicherheitsdienst

The situation has become even more threatening – and surreal – with the revelation of the Insider Threat Program, something right out of Stalinist Russia. By this directive federal employees and contractors are legally bound to watch for and report “high-risk persons or behavior” among their fellow workers, and failure to do so could result in penalties, including criminal charges. And any leaks concerning the program and its operation will be treated as espionage, even if the leak reveals illegal behavior. The only thing missing to complete the journey back to Moscow in the 1930s is any reference to “counterrevolutionaries, Trotskyites and wreckers.” Will this vigilance be rewarded with medals? Perhaps “Hero of America” or “Order of Washington”?

 
But wait, there’s more! In the name of security the government will also violate the First Amendment! That’s two Amendments for the price of one administration! No government has been friendly to leakers, not because of the typically stated reason of security but since the leak usually reveals the government has been doing something questionable, like monitoring all private communications. Under the Great Engineer of American Security, however, leakers are now being prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917, even though they are not passing information to a foreign government, which I mistakenly thought was part of the basic definition of espionage.
Unless of course the news media is considered a foreign entity, which is certainly the view of every autocrat, even the elected ones, like Recep Erdoğan of Turkey, who is close to setting records for jailing journalists. The traditional method for punishing journalists, like Judith Miller of Valeria Plame fame, is to demand the names of their sources and then jail them for contempt when they will not reveal them. In the case of John Risen, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who was threatened with contempt if he did not testify against a former CIA source, a federal appeals court has just ruled that he was not covered by the First Amendment. This means that potentially every reporter is facing jail if he does not reveal sources.

 
And now there is a new twist: the journalist receiving the leaked information can also be charged with committing a crime, the exact nature of which the administration has not made clear. Journalist Glenn Greenwald was recently threatened with such a charge. Does this mean if you find a pile of classified documents on the ground, read them and talk to your friends about them, you are eligible for criminal prosecution? On the other hand, the government can spy on you all it wants apparently. For years the government has been monitoring Risen’s phone calls and emails, not in pursuit of a terrorist but to discover his sources. So, the security agencies can acquire taps on innocent civilians for the fairly specious reason that someone is revealing things to them.

 
The public opposes the NSA PRISM program by a 2 to 1 margin, but a recent effort to halt it was defeated in Congress, the amendment to the Defense bill being the subject of intense lobbying by the President (the liberal guy), the spooks and the contractors who make stuff for the spooks. Those who support the NSA of course talk about damaging our security, suggesting they know better than the average American, which has some basis in truth since we can find out virtually nothing about the program – or that it even existed until Snowden popped up. “Trust us” is not very convincing, coming from people who have regularly lied to the public.

 
The biggest joke of all is the fact that Obama touts his administration as the most transparent ever, when in fact it is actually one of the most opaque in history. The secrecy mania is out of control. In fiscal year 2011 more than 92 million documents were classified at a cost of more than $11 billion; the full numbers are unknown because at some agencies classification and its cost are classified. Are these all secrets that could harm the country if revealed?  That is hard to believe.  Classification covers mistakes, malfeasance, outright criminality and violations of the Constitution and civil rights, and very important, it enhances the status of the bureaucrat doing the classification.

 
And all this behavior for what? Because without such massive surveillance and secrecy one or two terrorists might blow up some people? Is this a sufficient reason to assault our own Constitution and freedom, especially when innocents are being killed in far greater numbers because of our love affair with the gun and inclination to solve problems with violence? Surveying the increased and constitutionally dubious powers of the government and its security apparatus and the concomitant free fall of America’s image in the world, I can only conclude that the 9/11 terrorist have won.

What a Choice!

Why is there no Democratic Policy Guide to match the Republican version?  Well, most simply, while Democrats are as self-serving and dependent on big money as their Republican friends, their party is not nearly so blatantly anti-science, pro-Christian, heartlessly pro-wealth and abusive of females as the GOP.  The Democrats may not do as they say, but what they say – with some glaring exceptions – generally makes sense for an industrialized society in the 21st century.  Their geopolitical thinking of course appears firmly rooted in the 20th century, but even that is attractive contrasted with the Republicans, all of whose policies seem appropriate for the Gilded Age (excepting of course that the Robber Barons of that time actually produced goods and services for the country).  The economic ignorance – or dissimulation – of the GOP is breath-taking, especially considering that even a superficial knowledge of the last hundred years of American history reveals that laissez-faire capitalism can only damage a modern society and generate massive economic inequality.  They are classic extremists, who have set the bar very high.  What positions would Democrats need to take to be as radically to the left as the Republicans are to the right?  Stalinism?  Maoism?

Now, candidate Obama.  Granted, he actually knows (or has people who know) some basic economics (e.g., austerity and deficit pay-off are the worst thing to engage in during a recession) and granted, he inherited a mammoth mess and has lately faced a hostile Congress (including his own party).  But his actions bespeak a man who cannot be bothered to exert himself to fight for his promises and who is just as enamored with the apparatus of national security and the power of the government, especially the Presidency, as any red-blooded conservative.  In fact, this may be the one area where the Democrats outdo the Republicans: hypocrisy.

Being a “progressive” politician apparently does not mean any more commitment to the truth than being a conservative does.  His campaign lies are not as staggering as those of Paul Ryan, but the lies are there (Obama: 1 of 50 statements false; Romney, et al.: 1 of 10), and he avoids the serious media as diligently as Mitt.  After all, they check facts.  Better to talk to People magazine and friendly local radio stations than the White House Press Corps with their annoying regard for facts.  Better the social networks, where disregard for truth is pretty much part of the system.

Obama promised the most transparent White House ever.  That used to be emblazoned on the official White House web site, but I can no longer find it.  Wow!  Are they being honest about their need to be opaque?  All governments want to control their image and avoid letting the public know anything embarrassing, but the present administration might be considered the most opaque ever had it not been preceded by the Bush administration.  Actually, in one area of image control Obama is outdoing his predecessor.   In 1917 Congress passed the Espionage Act, which, as the name suggests, was designed to provide the government with the tools to prosecute those supplying American secrets to a foreign power, i.e., spies. In the 95 years since then the Act has been used on nine occasions to prosecute Americans responsible for leaking classified information not to a potential enemy state but rather to the American media, and thus the American public.  Of those nine instances of the Espionage Act being thusly misused six fall under the Obama administration.  And now he is apparently putting incredible pressure on London to get Julian Assange in a position where he can be extradited to the United States.

Only one aspect of the Bush security apparatus has been eliminated, torture in interrogations, which probably still goes on in the back rooms and undisclosed locations of our countless intelligence agencies. Otherwise, Guantanamo remains open, detainees will receive military trials, we still have detention without trial and none of the provisions of the Constitutionally questionable Patriot Act have been rescinded.  On other fronts, the “too-big-to-fail” banks are now even bigger, and the financial industry appears to be no more regulated now than it was when the economy collapsed.  We are still in Afghanistan, and despite the fact that both the American and Afghani peoples do not want us there, despite the increasingly obvious evidence that the war is a failure, we will be keeping – and losing – our troops there for another year.  Is he afraid of “looking weak” or perhaps the huge collection of war contractors have been on the horn to their purchased congressmen?  To be fair, however, were the Republicans in control, we would be sending more troops to Afghanistan and would still be in Iraq.

Oh, the drones.  Clearly, Bush was a piker when it came to blowing up people around the world, and if anything, Obama is even more oblivious to international law than Bush was.  He has no concern for national sovereignty beyond our own, and while his rhetoric on the Middle East was promising, he has done absolutely nothing in that area except to get more entangled in Israel’s plans to wage a war of aggression.  Perhaps I am unfair here, because who knows what is going on behind the closed doors of diplomacy?  On the other hand, his Attorney General has publically assured us that all of his boss’ activities around the globe are perfectly legal according to international law, a staggering expression of self-serving nonsense.

There seems to be something wrong with Barack Obama, something that goes beyond just being another politician, but for all his faults he and his party are so much better than the increasingly screwball Republicans that were the economy in slightly better shape he would not have to campaign at all.  Nevertheless, I am sick of voting for the lesser of two evils and will drop out of the system.  I am tempted to think in Baader-Meinhof terms and hope that Romney and friends have their chance to ruin the country and demonstrate how utterly wrong they are about most everything, but it is after all my country, and all they are likely to produce is extremism from the other end of the political spectrum.  The nation is in serious trouble.

Das Mitt Romney Lied

(This updated version of the Horst Wessel Lied (the official anthem of the NSDAP) scans like the German original (you can sing it), and the lyrics are actually a relatively close translation.  The actual Lied follows for comparison, at least for those who know any German.)

The banner high! The columns tightly bounded!

Mitt Romney walks with quiet, steady tread.

Paul Ryan, whom red scum and socialists have hounded,

Will march with him and see all freedoms dead.

 

The streets are filled with we who gather billions.

The streets are filled with we the corp’rate pawns!

It’s true that voters can be bought in all their millions.

The day for business and for greed now dawns!

 

For one last time will liberals be crying!

For battle stand conservatives to arms!

Soon Romney’s banners will be up and flying.

Obama’s fall will end false commie charms!

 

The banner high! The columns tightly bounded!

Mitt Romney walks with quiet, steady tread.

Paul Ryan, whom red scum and socialists have hounded,

Will march with him and see all freedoms dead.

 

 

Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!

SA marschiert mit ruhig, festem Schritt.

Kam’raden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,

Marschier’n im Geist in unser’n Reihen mit.

 

Die Straße frei den braunen Batallionen.

Die Straße frei dem Sturmabteilungsmann!

Es schau’n aufs Hakenkreuz voll Hoffnung schon Millionen.

Der Tag für Freiheit und für Brot bricht an!

 

Zum letzten Mal wird Sturmalarm geblasen!

Zum Kampfe steh’n wir alle schon bereit!

Bald flattern Hitlerfahnen über allen Straßen.

Die Knechtschaft dauert nur noch kurze Zeit!

 

Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!

SA marschiert mit ruhig, festem Schritt.

Kam’raden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,

Marschier’n im Geist in unser’n Reihen mit.

President Obama and His Stone Cold Killers

Barack Obama’s fall from grace has been startling.  The laurel of the Nobel Peace Prize rests uneasy on the brow of a man who possesses and uses the power to kill anyone virtually anywhere on the planet, seemingly free from any oversight whatsoever.  Apart from a better command of the English language it is becoming difficult to discern any difference between Obama and his predecessor, as he carries on the post-9/11 crusade of increased domestic surveillance, violation of international law and the endless war against terrorism that supposedly justifies this behavior.

Of all his promises to dismantle the immoral, legally questionable and frequently counterproductive practices of the Bush security apparatus he has kept only one: to ban the use of torture in interrogations (and one wonders how thoroughly this is observed in the back rooms and undisclosed locations of our countless intelligence agencies).  Otherwise, Guantanamo remains open, detainees will receive military trials, more troops were sent to Afghanistan, none of the provisions of the Patriot Act have been rescinded, Israel continues to determine our policy in the Middle East, the “too-big-to-fail” banks are now even bigger and the military budget continues to grow.

In contrast to that of Bush his was to be the most transparent administration in history, when in fact it may be even more opaque.  At this very moment he is using the ever popular “executive privilege” to withhold information potentially damaging to his Attorney General, Eric Holder.  But much more telling are his efforts to plug leaks to the media.  In 1917 Congress passed the Espionage Act, which, as the name suggests, was designed to provide the government with the tools to prosecute those supplying American secrets to a foreign power, i.e., spies.  In the 95 years since then the Act has been used on nine occasions to prosecute Americans responsible for leaking classified information not to a potential enemy state but rather to the American media, and thus the American public.  The legality of this use of the law has been questioned and the issue is still not settled, but this is of course a quibble for any government interested in employing this very useful political weapon.  Of those nine instances of the Espionage Act being misused six fall under the Obama administration.

On the foreign front Obama is as oblivious to traditional international standards of behavior as was Bush.  Regard for national sovereignty (except our own) continues to erode, as we carry on drone strikes in Pakistan against their wishes and violate the air space of Iran and other countries.  Despite the objections of the Afghan government our military continues launching the night raids universally hated by the Afghanis.  We are threatening a sovereign nation, Iran, with military action because they might be enriching uranium which might be used for a bomb which might be used against Israel, if the Iranian government could possibly be that stupid and suicidal.  We have implemented economic and financial sanctions against them that would be considered tantamount to an act of war if done to us.  We have fully adopted the Israeli notion that if you think a state might be a threat at some time in the future, you are justified in attacking them, an understanding of international relations that Hitler would have delighted in.  And our chief legal authority, Attorney General Holder, has assured us that all this is completely in accordance with international law.

Then there is the drone, in the use of which Obama has made Bush seem a piker.  Of course, it is cheap, it is an effective killer and it puts no Americans in harm’s way.  More than 2300 individuals, including three American citizens, have been executed by drone launched missiles, requiring us to believe that over two thousand people were so threatening to our security that we had to kill them all.  Well, not all of them were that threatening, since the figure includes hundreds of men, women and children who just happened to be too near someone the US decided was a top terrorist.  How many dead innocents?  Who knows?  The government is reluctant to release that sort of information, and in any case we have only their word that the actual target was himself worth killing.

Now we know the President keeps a “to kill” list, but exactly how one manages to get on this list is of course classified.  Given the great job the military did in rounding up innocent Afghan farmers for a stay at Club Gitmo, one might justifiably wonder about some of these deaths by Hellfire.  Naturally, the Attorney General assures us that these “enemy combatants” must be “senior operational leaders,” who are planning an attack, cannot be captured easily and live in a country that has given us permission to assassinate its people.  This apparently does not apply to operations in Pakistan, which constantly objects to our strikes.  Or in Yemen, where lack of intelligence has lead the military/CIA to conclude from “patterns of behavior” – routines, places visited, associates, etc. – whether an individual is a terrorist who deserves to be exploded.  Could this be getting out of hand?

It is wonderful to think of murdering barbarian scum being vaporized by American technology, but the problem is that many, if not most of those having their body parts scattered across the countryside are not in fact murdering scum but rather the inevitable innocent bystanders, or “splats” as the military more honestly calls them in private.  This is hardly endearing us to the populations we ostensibly want to help and only contributes to the creation of martyrs.  Another problem, more disturbing, is that in three instances the murdering scum were American citizens, meaning that the President, in consultation with his generals and spooks, has acted as judge and executioner in the deaths of Americans.  The slopes do not get more slippery than this.

I fear for the Republic.  Domestic surveillance, both legal and questionable, has increased dramatically in the wake of the destruction of the Reichstag..I mean, Twin Towers.  American citizens can now be detained without charge for some indefinite period, and the constant cries of “secret” and “national security” make all terrorism trials problematic with regard to evidence.  Somehow the CIA, an intelligence agency once prohibited from assassinating people, has now acquired heavy weaponry and the authority to blow up individuals around the world.  The President, on very dubious grounds, seemingly now has the right to send American military forces virtually anywhere, never mind Congressional authorization.  Like the dictators we frequently work with he may now order the execution of anyone he, the military and the intelligence agencies decide upon.  And like the Japanese seventy years ago and the Israelis more recently we have adopted the concept of the “protective reaction strike,” which allows us to attack anyone we deem potentially threatening.  This used to be called a “war of aggression” and we prosecuted Germans for it not so long ago.

The Obama administration is demonstrating something more cynical historians have long believed: the prime directive of any government, be it a democracy, military dictatorship, absolute monarchy or whatever, is to defend and increase its power.  No government, even one momentarily controlled by a liberal speaking President, will ever willingly surrender power.  And unfortunately the American people are demonstrating no inclination to change this situation, if it is even possible, given the utter stranglehold the Democratic and Republican parties hold over our system.

H.R. 4133: the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation and Screw the Taxpayer Act

On May 9 the House of Representatives passed a bill that could have a dramatic impact on America’s foreign policy and will certainly cost us a lot of money, but since any news of this legislation was virtually absent from the mainstream media, very few Americans are aware of it existence.  H.R. 4133, the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012, was slipped through the House under a rules suspension that allowed a quick vote with virtually no debate.  The bill had bipartisan backing, being introduced by Democrats Howard Berman and Steny Hoyer and two particularly loathsome Republicans, who seem to owe their primary allegiance to Israel, Eric Cantor and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.  (Actually, the bill had “tripartisan” backing, since the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Tel Aviv’s powerful instrument in America, helped write it.)  The vote was 411-2, only Ron Paul (R) and John Dingell (D) voting against.  How odd that our increasingly dysfunctional and divided government could achieve virtually unanimity on a bill, one that most Americans will never hear of.

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence and honesty already knows what actions counter to our interests Israel’s stranglehold on Washington has forced upon us, but this bill represents a mind-numbing escalation of commitment to a state whose foreign and domestic policies are at odds with what this country presumes to stand for.  In essence the bill is a blank check from the American taxpayer, who will now be obliged to support Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over all its neighbors combined, of course leaving it to Israel and its Congressional supporters (which is to say, almost all of Congress) to decide exactly what that vague phrase means.  Certainly, one thing it means is that we will be sending more of our money out of the country in order to support activities of extremely questionable legality and morality.

The legislation also affirms our commitment to the “security of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.”  This is an interesting development in our “passionate attachment” (G. Washington) to Israel.  We have of course spent decades squandering our money and international credibility on an “ally” whose value to American security and interests (apart from domestic politics) is not at all clear and which continually violates the international law we are pledged to uphold and the basic values that we trumpet to the world.  But now we have pledged (for the first time in our history, I believe) to guarantee the religious/cultural nature of a foreign country.

One might legitimately ask why we should care, unless it was to criticize an oppressive government, which we cannot do anyway in the case of Israel, but more than that, what exactly does this mean?  When the Muslim minority in Israel’s citizen body becomes the majority, as it inevitably will, will the US have to intervene?  When Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) are formally incorporated into Eretz Yisrael will we have to help enforce apartheid or deport all those Palestinians?  If a majority of Israeli citizens voted to declare Israel a secular state, would we have to prop up a minority government?  And exactly what is a “Jewish state,” especially when the majority of inhabitants of the state in question do not practice Judaism?

The legislation requires the US to supply all sorts of equipment for the “defense” of Israel.  Of course, Israel has always been able to utterly smash its enemies, requiring only resupply from a compliant Uncle Sam, and the only potentially threatening neighbor whose military might be improving is Egypt, whose major supplier, America, is hardly likely to provide her an edge.  Included in the list are refueling tankers and bunker-busting bombs, which are obviously offensive weapons, unless of course your definition of defense includes preemptive strikes against other countries, which it does in the eyes of Israel – and increasingly the United States.  What are now called “preemptive strikes” were traditionally labeled “wars of aggression.”  I wonder if the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor can be called a preemptive strike?  After all, American naval power was a threat to the continued existence of the Japanese Empire.

One particularly frightening part of the bill is the expressed desire for Israel to play an increased role in NATO, included a presence at NATO headquarters and involvement in NATO exercises.  The clear intention is that Israel ultimately become a member of NATO, thus dragging the entire European alliance into her wars and making it complicit in her continued violation of international law.  With that Israel could attack Iran or any other country with impunity, because if the victim dare fight back, the United States and the rest of NATO would be required to come to her aid.  This would be placing an assault rifle in the hands of an ill disciplined child.  But it is hard to imagine Turkey signing on to this plan, and one hopes the majority of European members would also object.  Of course, then Congress would begin looking at an actual treaty with Israel, though given the utter subservience of our politicians to Israeli interests, it would hardly be necessary.

One final slap in our face.  Washington has agreed to put up an additional $680 million (beyond the $3.1 billion we pay every year) to help Israel pay for her Iron Dome anti-missile system and the new F-35 fighter.  Israel has also requested another $168 million for security measures, while the Obama administration has asked for $99.9 million on top of that.  And to make sure poor Israel does not run out of American money the Iron Dome Support Act, introduced by Berman and the ever vigilant Ross-Lehtinen, would require our Treasury to keep shelling out the money.  And here is the joke on us: Israel has this year cut its defense budget by 5% and intends to do the same next year!  Oh, there is a second joke: the United States has absolutely no rights to the technology being developed for the Iron Dome system, which will be marketed to the world by Israel.  Perhaps we can get a special deal.

We have become a silly nation.

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.