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The Political Animal

The Revolution with No Name

delalibWhen it seemed to some at the end of the Cold War that we had also reached the end of history, more than ever, every act of rebellion and revolution seemed cause to celebrate an elevated human spirit. After a long winter of merely staving off an enemy’s further success, now freedom was rising with people uprising, and cheer was in the air. We got, relatively peaceful and colored (orange and rose), revolutions and “springs” that sprang of the hope – so richly did the sap of it rise in great municipal squares around the world – that all that is necessary to topple tyranny is for good people to yearn in multitudes together in city centers, suffer only small losses against brutish police while their uplifting cause is broadcast to the world via iPhone and tweeted the encouragement of the well-fed and meaning.

Hold, now, candles up to the night, under music, for the next inspiring Apple or Nike commercial.

Nothing could stop universal liberation now.

Except as it turned out, lots of the colors faded, and the springs were either false or soon broken, which many people, it seemed, failed to notice. More begin to now.

The course of revolutions was never swift and sure, glorious or quickly final. There were counter revolutions, restorations, and failed republics, great dictators along the way before decades might cast a shadow of the original dream. The promise of the French Revolution was not soon borne out: eighty one years passed between the storming of the Bastille and the final establishment of republican government never again to depart.  Three quarters of a century after the Russian Revolution waited the collapse of Soviet barbarity and then Yeltsin on a tank  just to deliver, so far, ninety-three years later, Vladimir Putin on horseback.

The American Revolution stands more and more exceptional, especially for those who make Exceptionalism the currency of their daily political barter and harangue, though not so exceptional that many of the same won’t pretend that all it requires is a freedom agenda and a perpetual footing for war to spring the world’s restive and aspiring masses, properly watered, into the same colorful bloom.

For many, after Iraq and Afghanistan and those departed springs, it could be Syria that has taken so much the bloom off that rose, though there was Iran in 2009 before it. The right’s interventionists predictably made the failure of that revolution Barack Obama’s failure, though never a credible case was made by never a soul that a president’s greater public encouragement of the “Green” revolution would have led to anything other than the same dismal end with many more dead in the street.

Somewhere now in the consciences of some, not in those of others, arises amidst the inspired freedom calls also the moderating memory – the recollection, in the moral vision of King, that while, he hopefully told us, the arc of history bends toward justice, it is in the first place long. What is it that we provoke with our policies and acts, our encouraging words and cheers, and how, most importantly of all, have we prepared not others, but only ourselves to face what it is that we invoke in the world?

What do we invoke in the world? American troops still in Iraq and not to leave Afghanistan even after thirteen years if some would have their way. The same people would have led the U.S. to enter – oh, let us not argue for the moment over just how – the Syrian civil war. They wanted us, too, to be “all Georgians now” in 2008, when Russia sent troops into South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And now there is Ukraine, hotter by the day, with Venezuela just a little on the back burner. North Korea, too, there is always the threat of North Korea, and if, likely, no negotiated settlement is reached with Iran over its nuclear program – just how many air campaigns, missile strikes, policing actions, proxy wars, full-fledged attacks, and all out wars do the impassioned eminences of American imperial militarism believe the United States can conduct at once or in just a decade or two, after a decade or two, without inflaming the world and putting the torch to America’s own democracy?

What is neither reasonably nor honorably, which is not to say  uncontested about Ukraine:

  • that Victor Yanukovych was the most corrupt of oligarchs and a malleable instrument of Russian imperial policy
  • that Russia’s invasion of Crimea is both illegal and unjustifiable.

Still, it is so that not many conclusions necessarily follow from these truths.

From the start there have been divisions over the identity and nature of those behind the anti- Yanukovych protests, with Timothy Snyder in The New York Review of Books and Steven Cohen in The Nation prominent opponents pitting freedom-loving liberals against the right wing nationalists the Russians want to cast as fascists. Snyder does not have to be wrong for Cohen to be partly right. Not all American revolutionaries were Tom Paine and Alexander Hamilton. Some retained their monarchical tastes. And do we not receive our very terminology of political right and left from the French Revolution? And did not the Bolsheviks out maneuver a host of competing and more moderate parties during the Russian Revolution? A revolution is never one thing.

Going back to the 2004 Orange Revolution, the evidence of Ukrainian liberal leaning toward the West is clear enough, particularly in the western Ukraine. The problem of Ukraine 2014, whatever the Russians say, is not who is behind the uprising, but what the West thought it was doing in Ukraine and what thought it gave to what the Russians would do when the West did it. The evidence is that what the Europeans and the U.S. thought they were doing was far too simple minded, and that barely a competent thought was given to what the Russians would do.

One does not have to be Henry Kissinger, characteristically unmindful of moral considerations, not to be James Kirchik, treating geopolitical fault lines as cause for a modern crusade on a high horse to the New Jerusalem. One need not be Kirchik to know which side acts more, in King’s words, to uplift human personality, or Kissinger to know when acts are better guided by the possible. The world is not remediated by zealotry.

The most telling words of anyone, by far, in these events were uttered by Vladimir Putin himself when he finally spoke to the public.

I think they sit there across the pond in the U.S., sometimes it seems … they feel like they’re in a lab and they’re running all sorts of experiments on the rats without understanding consequences of what they’re doing.

This striking observation reveals much. First, for the man who in the past year has emerged as the American right’s latest master strategist, the personal resentment – what should not guide the policy of master strategists – is palpable. Second, the words nonetheless confirm what many on the right have already charged – that Putin holds Obama in contempt. Third, Putin is right. The conclusion of amateurish fooling around in Ukraine, without “understanding consequences of what they’re doing,” is escaped only through partisan rationalization.

But a greater understanding of the mistakes here escapes both Putin and Obama’s home front critics. When all those EU diplo-  and technocrats were luring Ukraine toward membership, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, declaring the EU could get fucked, was picking and choosing who should govern Ukraine after a successful rebellion, it was not, clearly, just the Americans who were wearing lab coats. And it was not the Obama administration, but many of its current critics, before this administration, who have publicly desired all these years to bring the “defensive” lines of NATO right to the borders of Russia, about which the Russians were expected to think what – “Oh, we know, you’re the good guys, we shouldn’t worry”?

Steven Cohen has been infuriated by his own critics calling him a Putin apologist – and why should anyone so intimately connected to The Nation ever be considered tainted by anti-American apologetics – yet it is true that one can, without Cohen’s soft sell of Putin’s autocracy, understand matters from a Russian perspective. It is what fundamentally competent strategists do, and what is required to be done if one wants actually to accomplish a strategic goal and not simply posture about it before the alter of world-historical righteousness.

What stretch of imagination is required to recognize that Putin would not perceive Nuland’s and all the others’ lab set ups benignly? Nuland et al. may envision themselves as no more than traveling preachers tending to their flock’s greater yearning for nearness to democracy, but how much empathetic projection is needed to intuit that Putin, or any Russian leader, would likely see them as outside agitators firing up the flock, stirring up trouble in his own neighboring parish, about which, it just so happens, he cares a little and has an interest? How much geography and history must one know to recognize the significance of Ukraine to Russia? Or that Crimea, once, in 1954, in very different times, literally given to Ukraine for Soviet administrative and political purposes, would not now, seemingly pick-pocketed from Russia’s geopolitical hip, be simply given up with a shrug and a smile? “Oh, well, you win this time. Come back at ya with Mexico when I get a chance.”

Unsurprisingly, entreaties to true believers that they try reversing roles have been facilely dismissed. The U.S., they insist would hardly, in contrary circumstances, invade and annex part of Canada. The easy reply to that easy claim is that, no, obviously, the United States is not Russia. To whom other than rankest of crank extremists on either end of the political spectrum does that case need to be made? Less facile is to wonder just how obvious it is that the United States would not act similarly. American interventions in behalf of national interests are a twentieth century historical marker. Had the Canadian or Mexican governments been toppled during the Cold War by Marxist leaning street protests, how hard is it to conjure the frenzied calls, particularly from the right, for American action? In fact, the United States has maintained possession of Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, occupied by treaty signed under the duress of colonial domination, even as the internationally recognized government of Cuba has for more than fifty years protested that continued foreign occupation. Once the American Civil War was over, the U.S. began covertly to supply arms to Juarez in Mexico, in opposition to the French-installed Emperor Maximilian. The 1823 Monroe Doctrine declared that European interference, not in a neighboring country, but anywhere in the Western Hemisphere would be considered “manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”

None of this is to argue an equivalence between the United States and Russia. These commonalities alone create none such. Rather it is to hold out Russian interest in Ukraine as obvious and its response to events easy to have anticipated. That Putin would seek to regain Crimea, which had long been part of Russia. That he might opportunistically lie in wait for eastern Ukraine. That no election in May will invalidate the license Putin feels now even more strongly, as has the West all along as well, to work clandestinely to shape the future of whatever Ukraine will remain. Still, unprepared for the response so far, Western voices rail against it as a behavioral outlier.

When freedom agenda crusaders, particularly, rail so obviously about how good we are, and how bad is the autocrat of the day, they despoil statecraft with a simplistic Manichaeism. In this mode of thinking, Putin knows he is bad – chooses to be bad, like Satan in rebellion against God. He mentally spurns and is rejected by the goodness he recognizes and that in a better world would have been his. His opposition to “us” is thus a kind of private wound, a closely nurtured insufficiency that justifies itself in devilishness, while all the while he actually knows just how bad he is.

This is a misunderstanding of personality at its core.

While it is standard operating procedure to identify all of Putin’s lies, which, of course, are many, identifying Putin particularly with lying exhibits just that core misunderstanding. The autocrat is not fundamentally a liar, but a bullshitter.

Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point in a set or system of beliefs, in order to avoid the consequences of having that point occupied by the truth. This requires a degree of craftsmanship, in which the teller of the lie submits to objective constraints imposed by what he takes to be the truth. The liar is inescapably concerned with truth-values. In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth. On the other hand, a person who undertakes to bullshit his way through has much more freedom. His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared to fake the context as well, so far as need requires.

Regarding Ukraine, we see that Putin does more than simply lie, in the claim, for instance, that uniformed troops in Crimea without insignia are not Russian, which no one believes: greater, he fakes the context of Ukraine entirely. The authentic individual lie is meant to deceive, to be mistaken in the greater context for the truth. Bullshit, however, is intended to confuse, so that the truth disappears. This is what all autocrats intend, the vanishing of the truth beneath the panorama that is their vision of the world – the extension of their own egos. The truth that is manifest in history is that autocrats believe in what they are doing.

To strategize against the likes of Putin, then, one must work with that understanding, along with historical and geopolitical fundamentals. From that perspective, there is no question of the autocrat’s commitment to negotiations as a matter of preferred principle, some shared belief that talking together,  regardless of conflicting interests, is always preferable to conflict. The autocrat will employ – as Assad has done – Mao’s policy of fight, fight, talk, talk until one way or the other he gains as much as possible of what he wants. (And, yes, the date on that linked article about Iran is 2005, under the Bush administration, not 2014.)

Effective negotiations against the autocrat will have two characteristics. They will offer the autocrat a less costly, limited win more easily achieved than through other means, and they will deliver to democrats their own limited win that blocks any near-term further success by the autocrat through continued conflict or subterfuge. Absent that second characteristic, democrats will have been outmaneuvered, as the U.S. thus far has been outmaneuvered on Syria, where a failure even to come close to meeting the February 6 deadline for the removal of all chemical weapons has been allowed to pass with barely comment from the Obama administration, let alone action of any kind. At the same time, the administration had a vision of Syrian peace talks, but, astonishingly, apparently believing that Assad actually wanted to talk, rather than use the talks to delay, had no strategy for the talks whatever beyond the idea of them. And now there is the distraction of Ukraine.

Contrary to the belligerent harangues of American militarists, however, the West and the Obama administration have not been outmaneuvered because they – really, the U.S. – are not prepared to shake a militant fist at every trouble spot and throw punches often. They are adrift because they had no coherent strategy either to accomplish the kind of end they sought in Ukraine. Obama has a proper global vision for the twenty-first century – a U.S. that resorts to military action only rarely, in vital or self-defense, and no longer multiple times a decade in vestigial Cold War defense of imperial interests, no longer in bearing the burden of ill-conceived humanitarian interventions on behalf of everyone else,. There is, too, the belief that in time, centers of power and concern will shift to Asia. All this is good, but it is a partial geo-strategic position, not a plan for getting there. Not a plan, most of all, for how to act in long term consonance with a part of the nation’s vital self-definition: a great democracy standing unselfishly, yet with a mature understanding of historical development, in support of democracy for all nations.

One senses that Obama embraces such a national self-definition with very great, truly conservative reserve. Thus he has no regional and global strategy for playing this role, and was as unprepared as were the Europeans for the entirely foreseeable response of Putin, who quite reasonably, by his lights, took developments in Ukraine as aggressive meddling in his interests. The militarists will assert that they are advocating the aggressive resolve that won the Cold War. But for all the necessary military preparedness, Western success in the Cold War was ultimately a holding action in which one side outlasted the inner contradictions of the other. On a contrasting track, with the exception of Korea, nearly every coup, proxy war, or semi-proxy war the U.S. fought during the Cold War was just as ultimately a disaster, for the U.S., the third nation involved, or both.

It is probable that a long end game in Ukraine would have been no different with planning than it may be now: re-absorption of Crimea into Russia, with some or all of the remainder of Ukraine, amid continuing contention with Russia, aligned now toward the West. Adequately prepared, with continuing contention thus perhaps moderated, and with all the pro forma legal and diplomatic objections to the Russian annexation of Crimea, Ukraine might have been successfully framed as a win for democracy – because it would have been, as it still may be – rather than as a crisis.

To avoid careening from one crisis to another, however, a clearer vision of future roles is required. The militarist American right will prefer a long continuation of the United States’ Cold War imperial leadership. That self-destructive vision needs to be dimmed. However, inadequately, Obama’s presidency came at the right time finally to begin to turn those lights out. More, though, is needed. Some clearer articulation of a more sharply defined strategy is required by a center-left neither committed to defining the American role via military action nor allergic to the legitimacy of it. A coherent expression of the international role of democracies in the twenty-first century must be formulated. An evangelizing freedom agenda is simply cold warriorism without the defensive rationale. It is a formula for endemic and destructive global conflict, which is an occurrence in nature sufficient to need no assist from the laboratory coats. Still, democratic nations cannot be expected in their intercourse with other nations not, by their very nature as democracies, to give expression to the character and promise of political freedom. They cannot be expected not to share their knowledge of this freedom and its rewards with those who seek it. But we must always understand what we are doing when we do so in any given context, with what chances of producing good rather than harm to those we hope to help, and to even more around them. We must consider how it advances a larger project, or retards it. We must consider the conflicting interests of others, and we must do it without the kind of righteous arrogance that produced during the Cold War, in Graham Greene’s words, a self-delusive American innocence of good intentions, in Vietnam, that was “like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.”

Essential to any new strategy will be a significantly elevated role for Europe and other democracies. Europe particularly has enjoyed a nearly free ride on the American people and their economy for over six decades. One strong expression of American leadership can be leadership to end that state of affairs and to bring mature democracies more fully into actively funding and engaging the defense of freedom. Another will be a recognition that the United Nations has run its course. It is exhausted as an instrument of assertive and effective action in support of the many supreme paper principles it has enunciated over its life. It is used by the worst tyrants in the world, through cynical manipulation of ideal expressions and exercise of institutional powers, to thwart actual amelioration and change in the world, such as what might have been possible in Syria without the veto power of Russia and China. It is time to start on the long course of superseding the United Nations with a new Global Union, in which the extent of a member nation’s institutional role is determined by a measure of its actual adherence to organizationally expressed principles of democratic practice and human and civil rights.

That would be a freedom agenda too, and the beginnings of a plan to help the many future Ukraines the world and history still has to offer.

AJA

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The Political Animal

Syria, the Limits of Interventionism, and the International Order

Geschichte / Deutschland / 19. Jh. / Friedrich Wilhelm III.  / Regierungszeit / Vormärz / Wiener Kongreß 1814-15Noted in the comments to the previous post, “A Plague: Contesting Syria, in Context,” is the posting of a reply to it at his blog from my ever wry blogging compadre, Snoopy the Goon. Please do  read it here. Below is my response to, ahem, the Goon.

Dear Snoopy,

How do we go on after that John Lennon crack? I believe forgiveness is all. (Well, something, anyway.) And then there is your introduction. Okay.

I think there is not that much disagreement between us, some points needing just some clarification and refinement.

I note your eloquent and just paean to the “warriors of the cold war,” and what their sacrifice meant to those on the other side of the “curtain.” I agree, too, that the dollars of that war were well, if not all necessarily, spent, but the strategic purpose of my overview of the arms race was not to address the justness of the mission or overspending on it, rather the pattern of hyperbolic fear mongering often to be found in it. That purpose was a foundation to arguing that a variation on such heightened stirring of the passions toward war can be found in much commentary and journalism on Syria, including that compassionate solidarity journalism you reference.

I happily take your point that most Americans on the left and right are opposed to a Syrian intervention, however different the foundations for their feelings. My criticism, though, was of those on the far left who oppose it for thoroughly dishonorable reasons and those on the right – the “superpower imperialists” – who promote it so disingenuously.

Joined with superpower imperialists are those of the left not defined here by anti-imperialism, but internationalism, and a belief in humane interventionism – the “responsibility to protect.” I share this philosophical attachment and you echo its humane considerations. I claim, too, that this heightened attention to the lives of others, across national boundaries and cultures, is a product of already existent achievements in the “slow-developing international order” that challenges your credibility. But there is an irony in this.

I often call attention to the expanding web our affective associations woven by technology. It brings us, for instance, more completely and immediately, and with more vivid reality, news of the horrors of Syria. However, what informs your (and my own) skepticism of that international order is that other human abilities – the capacity, for instance, to act in concert and successfully against the horrors in Syria – have not advanced in conjunction with technology. Because our access to the reality of war is greater than ever before, that does not mean we have learned to end any and all wars whenever our best selves simply feel they cannot bear it anymore. We learn, we witness, we think we should act – our best selves cry out for our action – but we do not know in many cases, including Syria, I argue, how to act in ways that will not make matters generally worse.

When you say that you already perceive, awfully, that Assad has won, I respond, first, that by all appearances, whatever the ultimate varieties of outcome long down the road, what was Syria before will not be again. In that sense, Assad will certainly not have won. Beyond that, as I already argued, it was not previously American or Western policy militarily to overthrow Assad or any of the other tyrants who afflict the world; we need not have been made committed to that end by the outbreak of a civil war. To the degree that Obama’s earlier rhetoric seemed to make that commitment, it was an error of which his general critics regularly remind us and for which he should be criticized. Why, now, should he be criticized for failing to live up to a mistaken promise?

Round-the-clock cable news and Twitter cannot now by their mere existence have morally enjoined us to rush foolishly to intervene in all conflicts. You put it well about Iraq; I argue it to an nth degree about Syria, that

people who commanded the invasion, which was truly a work of inspiration and meticulous planning as far as military part of it was concerned, didn’t have a smidgen of an idea what to do with the hot potato, which was post-war Iraq. Still don’t, which sad fact costs so many lives and will continue to do so for a long time.

On the other hand, about the chemical weapons disarmament program in progress in Syria, the political rather than tactical nature of the response to this development is quite remarkable.

Unless one is already predisposed against Obama, which of course many are, or wishes, in part for that reason, to harp on one’s perception of the messy way the program came about, or harp on all of the things that the program is not, as would those promoters of intervention – who are bound to be profoundly disappointed by it – there is simply no downside to the program at all. Among the many previous fears attendant with the conflict (you can look it up) was the fear that chemical weapons, beyond their possible use by Assad, would fall into the hands of Islamist terror groups. Even if, unsurprisingly, and as is already suspected, Assad is trying to cheat, the volume of dangerous chemical weapons will have been dramatically reduced in a war torn region. Our knowledge of the presence and location of any smaller, still hidden stockpiles will have been enhanced, along with the capacity to strike and destroy or capture them whenever that decision might be made. All in all, the dangers those weapons pose – from Assad or Islamist warriors – will have been dramatically reduced from what it was. Other than providing a political stick with which to club Obama, the current disarmament program, had it been offered at any time outside of Obama’s threat of a military strike, would have been received by all as an opportunity to be grasped without doubt. Nothing changes that.

Finally, I assert again, withdrawal from an imperial expanse and posture in the world does not require the sacrifice of natural and sufficient economic, cultural, and political power or of necessary unilateral military power. These are an appropriate objective for one of the world’s great democracies already the most powerful nation in the world. However, the specific mission of the Cold War is not the same as a mission to ensure unchallengeable domination of the international sphere as a de facto, but by no means formally assented to, nation among nations. The political philosophy that the world shall henceforth be uni rather than multi-polar, and that it shall be so only by the dominating will and power of the existing unipolar power to keep it so, believing unwaveringly in its own justness and exceptionalism, is inherently undemocratic, even, ultimately, tyrannical in nature, if not in purpose. I do not believe the American people, unlike its militarists and supporters of an imperial presidency, would choose to purpose the future of their nation in this way. If they would, it would not be the nation they wish to think it.

The United Nations as an organization can serve as a convenient shorthand for two centuries of evolving Western and international order in various organizational and legal regimes. The deficiencies of that order are those of the humans creating it and can be likewise conveniently highlighted by such failures as the UNHRC or UNRWA. But however slow the progress, and tragic the continuing failures, I do not think many will make the argument that the world would be better were we to return to it to a time before the Congress of Vienna or the creation of the U.N.

It is slow and creeping, it is often inadequate, it is ready for mockery, but beyond a line on a map, a pistol shot in the face, and a drone strike from above, it is what we have.

AJA

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Israel

Israel, Its Foes, and the Plain Truth

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You could find smoking guns like this all over the scene, and some people would still be smelling roses. (Maybe the one in the desert.) Adam Levick at CiF Watch brings us today, posted below, news of an astonishing, revelatory nature.

Whether attributable to the reactionary autocratic nature of their political systems, the  repression of individual creative initiative endemic to their political and cultural milieus, or a culturally ingrained Antisemitism that requires automatic opposition to any development originating in Israel, the vote in the U.N. of 31 nations to oppose encouragement of private and public sector entrepreneurship reveals a plain truth. Against the 141 nations that voted for the Israeli-proposed resolution, we find all of Israel’s historic and current Arab enemy states and every major Muslim nation joined together with any remainder of the  most politically and economically backward nations in the world: North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela. Of the three most creative human activities – artistic production, scientific inquiry, and entrepreneurial initiative – those nations of the world most direly in need of the latter have now officially rejected the very idea of it in the premier world forum. We find in this group of nations, too – absent the major players of the Cold War communist world – the core of those nations, later to be repudiated by history, that shamefully voted in 1975 to declare Zionism a form of racism.

What the Guardian won’t report: Israel wins at the UN. Israeli culture wins in the Middle East

by Adam Levick (cross-posted at CiF Watch)

On Dec. 21, 2012, a UN resolution on “Entrepreneurship for Development” was proposed by Israel, along with 97 co-sponsors.

The resolution encourages private and public sector entrepreneurship, “developing new technologies and innovative business models, and enabling high, sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth while protecting the rights of workers as the best way to deal with the challenges of poverty and job creation.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, said the following:

“The Israeli spirit of entrepreneurship and creativity prevailed at the UN today.  As a state that was founded in difficult circumstances, we have been able to create opportunities for talented people and have become an enterprising superpower. Creating a culture of entrepreneurship can work miracles and drive economies forward. Investing in human resources is a real message that Israel conveys to the developing world.”

The UN adopted it by a vote of 141 in favor to 31 against, with 11 abstentions.

The Guardian – which continually informs their readers when the UN censures the Jewish state – hasn’t reported the Israeli sponsored resolution.

Why does it matter?

If you recall, there was a huge row over comments during the US Presidential campaign suggesting that Israeli culture is a major factor in the state’s economic and social prowess in the region.

Many commentators on the far left (including ‘Comment is Free’ contributor Rachel Shabi) scolded those who would suggest a connection between culture and success – imputing racism to such arguments.

Shabi characterized the broader narrative that Israeli culture may be more conducive to success than Palestinian culture as “standard-issue superiority complex racism”.

To those so easily manipulated by au courant post-colonial causation, the stubborn reality of Israeli success (as with Western success more broadly) must be explained by Western hegemony or other global injustices.

To the far-left crowd which occupies the Guardian, the word “racism” – which is defined by a belief in the inherent, immutable, biological or genetic inferiority of a group, race, or ethnicity – has been defined so expansively as to even impute such bigotry to those observing intuitively that some cultural habits are necessarily inimical to economic achievement and social development.

Now, take a look at the countries who voted against the Israeli resolution advocating “entrepreneurship for development”.

Algeria, Bahrain, Bolivia, Comoros, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Nicaragua, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Yemen.

Do you see a pattern?

A strong majority of these states are plagued by poverty, under-development and despotism.

Oh, and  also:  The majority of these states are opposed to Israel’s very existence, and some have a shameful history of having ethnically cleansed their Jewish citizens in the twenty years following 1948.

The resolution, based on the most intuitive reasoning, was opposed because it was the Jewish state which proposed it.

By obsessing over Israel, refusing to concentrate on the real problems plaguing their societies, and working to instill the liberal cultural habits necessary to alleviate their poverty and throw off the yoke of tyranny – and ignoring the lessons on how a small, innovative, Jewish country accomplished so much in just six and a half decades – they ensure that little progress will likely be achieved.

Those in the West who continue  to indulge such nations in the fantasy that their anti-Zionist delusions are justified, even righteous, are complicit in condemning millions to poverty, tyranny and hopelessness.

 

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Israel

Not So Random Questions, Facts, & Observations about Gaza & Israel

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If forces in Mexico – drug cartels, for instance – were firing rockets and missiles into an area roughly covering 25% of the United States this is what it would look like.

If the U.S. equivalent of one million Israelis were under threat of this bombardment on a daily basis, running for cover, hiding in bomb shelters, suffering damage to their homes, roughly 45 million Americans would be victims of this terror.

Imagine the reaction of the American people. Imagine the political and national defense requirements of the U.S. government in response, even if no one had yet been killed.

The United Nations categorizes 48 nations, with a population of 832 million – nearly 1 in 8 people on the planet – as “least developed countries.” Neither the West Bank nor Gaza, since they are not countries, is on this list. However, according the CIA World Factbook ranking of the percentage of national populations living in poverty, in which Gaza is included, Gaza ranks 46th, with 38% of its population living below the poverty line. That is, 45 nations of the world have higher percentages of their people living in poverty. The list of these nations, including a very large number of African Nations, is close to identical to those on the U.N. list, but not quite. Among those nations not categorized by the U.N. as least developed nations, but with higher percentages of their populations living below the poverty line than Gaza are Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Belize.

Unlike with Hamas in Gaza, Israel is not now engaged in armed conflict with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Why is that?

If the armaments directed by Islamists in Gaza against Israel are, in fact, incapable of inflicting significant damage to military purpose – if they are so ineffectual to any practical material end – why do the extremists fire them? What is their immediate goal? What is their ultimate desire?

If, in return, Gaza periodically – now, a fourth year cycle – sustains physical destruction and casualties from Israel far beyond what Islamists inflict, why do they persist? What did they materially gain the last time? What prospect of material gain is there this time? Why (to choose a phrase) in the name of humanity do they do it?

Bibi Netanyahu is said by his critics not to be truly committed to negotiations and two states. Let us accept this for present purposes as true. It is true, too, that after more than sixty years (which is not to discount centuries) of mind-bendingly complex conflict and historical entanglement, simply affirming a commitment to anything and mouthing a willingness to negotiate are clearly not in themselves representative of a true or impending path to resolution of the conflict. This is what, in fact, Bibi Netanyahu has done, and his critics discount it. They simply do not believe him. Whatever creative thinking, diplomacy, and policy initiative might be required to break open the uncrackable nut of this problem, they have not issued from the brain trust, the intellectual think tank of the Netanyahu government. Okay. Agreed.

It is also true that there is no easier, so slicker, no more tendentious form of argument than to ground one’s arguments on the indemonstrable inner beliefs and passions of participants to the argument. Disputing arguments to the unseen is like attempting to prove a negative.

Has the pronounced position of the Benjamin Netanyahu government, every day of its administration, been that it is willing to negotiate unconditionally? I will answer that question.

Yes.

Has it been the pronounced position of the Palestinian Authority on any day of Benjamin Netanyahu leadership of Israel that it is willing to negotiate unconditionally?

No.

Has Benjamin Netanyahu publically declared his willingness to seek a two-state solution?

Yes.

Is Hamas willing to commit to a two-state solution?

No. (Hamas wishes, rather, to kill all Jews. Or simply rule them in the culminating world caliphate. Theologians, robed and unrobed, dispute this.)

Those who claim that if only Benjamin Netanyahu were Ehud Olmert, or Ehud Barak (good Ehud Barak, before he was bad Ehud Barak), or even Yitzhak Rabin or Shimon Peres, there would be a chance for peace need to point to anything ultimately accomplished by any of these Israeli leaders – in the face of Palestinian rejectionism – that substantiates that belief.

More Americans died after the United States went to war against Imperial Japan subsequent to the Pearl Harbor attack than were killed before. Does that mean the U.S. was wrong or even simply mistaken to engage the conflict? Maybe it should simply have accepted the damage thus far and not made things worse? And Germany had not even attacked the United States. Was the U.S. declaration of war against Germany, then, aggression?

Did the allies during World War Two worry, in bringing the war to Japan, that they were creating more Kamikazes? Did they consider that if perhaps they simply ceased their aggressive defense, the Japanese would alter their own aggressive designs?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not remotely comparable to the Irish Troubles. This common analogy is a weak, warm brew (or one dunk only of a Lipton’s tea bag – take your pick).

Protestant Irish are the lineal or political descendants of invaders, with no original claim to the land of Ireland.

Both Palestinian Arabs and Jews are original inhabitants of Israel-Palestine.

Nonetheless, most observers and people of good will were of the belief in the twentieth century that the Protestant Irish had long since roots in Ireland deep enough to warrant certain political claims, among which claims, considering Catholic-Protestant enmity, was autonomy (in Union with Great Britain) in Northern Ireland. A “two-state solution” had already been effected for Ireland in 1921. Palestinian Arabs rejected their two-state solution in 1948.

Rather than an internal minority rising up in violence against the State of Northern Ireland, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (more fully, historically, the Arab-Israeli conflict) is the product of an external majority’s unwillingness to acknowledge, or seeking to destroy, a separate state.

For all the enmity between Irish Protestants and Catholics, Unionists and Republicans, neither was committed by charter or theology to the genocidal destruction of the other.

The Belfast Agreement of 1998 required first a ceasefire and was predicated on IRA disarmament.

Whatever compromises were reached, the IRA was required to abandon its goal of uniting Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

Those who put forth this analogy generally articulate their case from the standpoint of human conflict as the product of misunderstanding and mistrust, however overlaid it may be with webs of historical, religious, and political complexity. In such presentations they do not acknowledge the reality of any kind of essential hate, of arrogance and absolutism. With enough patience and communication, human miscommunication can be overcome, they believe. Problems can be solved. We can all come together.

The indigenous peoples of the world – as that category was identified by the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations – Native Americans in the United States, First Nations peoples in Canada, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, the many Indigenous cultures of Latin America all wait for the First World nations’ recognition of the reality of absolutism, arrogance, and condescending hate. But those peoples already lost, to conquerors who were merciless in their conquest and are unrepentant in their rule. Fortunately for the New World’s ruling cultures, their indigenous peoples are not supplied with rockets by Syria and Iran. Fortunately for Israel, it does not have to focus on what the past week would have been like were the circumstances reversed, though it can never afford to forget.

AJA

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The Political Animal

We Have A Dream: Global Summit Against Discrimination and Persecution

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I will be attending today in New York City the NGO Global Summit Against Discrimination and Persecution. Coinciding with the opening of the 66th U.N. General Assembly, the summit is both a challenge to the U.N. and an alternative, a  counter, to the simultaneous third iteration of the 2001 misnomered, antisemitic and demopthatic Durban World Conference against Racism 2001.

Among the twenty-two participating NGOs in the Global Summit are U.N. Watch, Advancing Human Rights, and the American Islamic Congress. Advancing Human Rights – the organization behind the Mid-East focused CyberDissidents.org – was founded by Robert Bernstein after his much publicized break with Human Rights Watch, which he founded after the Helsinki Accords.

Speakers and panel participants will include dissidents and former political prisoners from Iran, China’ Iran, Cuba, and Tibet, among other nations. Mariane Pearl will be a participant. The Summit will live stream here.

Ben Cohen, media coordinator for the Summit wrote the following of its significance in yesterday’s New York Post.

All sides of the human rights spectrum are descending on New York City this week.

At one end, the tyrants, thugs and terrorism-enablers are here for the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Tomorrow, many will also hit a UN conference that promotes hate even as it pretends to be combating racism.

At the other end, you have their victims. More than 20 survivors of genocide, torture, mock executions and similar horrors come together today for a summit to highlight continued human-rights abuse.

They includes former Iranian political prisoners and a former inmate of North Korea’s gulags, but invitations to speak in the hallowed halls of the UN have not been extended to any of them.

Instead, delegates to the General Assembly will be treated to the ravings of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the sixth year in a row. They’ll also hear from Ahmadinejad’s rival for the leadership of the Muslim world, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While his army violently crushes the aspirations of the Kurdish minority back home, Erdogan will be screeching about Israeli “war crimes” at the United Nations.

Then there’s the human-rights summit — “We Have A Dream: Global Summit Against Persecution and Discrimination,” today and tomorrow at the W Hotel. There, two of Syria’s leading Internet dissidents will relate their experiences of organizing protests under the nose of Hafez al-Assad’s bloodstained regime.

At the UN, talk of Syria will focus on Russian and Chinese attempts to insulate Assad from further sanctions.

Meanwhile, Assad’s Iranian patron, Ahmadinejad — a serial Holocaust denier — will attend the racism conference.

The gathering is known as “Durban III,” because it’s the UN’s third attempt to promote the agenda drawn up at its 2001 “conference against racism” in Durban, South Africa.

The shrill outbursts of anti-Semitism that defined the first Durban confab shocked the delegations of Israel and the United States into walking out. Barely a month later, al Qaeda glorified its 9/11 atrocities with hateful rhetoric that would have been perfectly at home at the Durban parley.

Fourteen countries, all democracies, have withdrawn from Durban III before it even convenes. They refuse to affirm the declaration against racism adopted by a conference that pushed the oldest prejudice of all — hatred of Jews.

Indeed, Durban III will be a platform for some of the world’s most heinous abusers of human rights to hijack the language of tolerance. If there is such a thing as moral terrorism, this is it.

The farce on display tomorrow won’t sanitize the reputations of Ahmadinejad and those like him. It can’t deliver any answers either.

Back at the human-rights summit, courageous dissidents and exiles from China, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Iran and North Korea will offer perspectives on fighting racism and persecution that are actually worth listening to.

Moreover, they’ll send two messages.

* One to the dictators: We will not be silenced.

* And one to the countries that pulled out of Durban III: You won’t defeat the Durban legacy of lies and hate just by withdrawing. A new agenda is needed — one that places human rights, not warped ideology, front and center.

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Israel

The Moral Pathology of the UN Human Rights Council

There may be statements of this demopathy that will equal it, but no statement will ever be more essential or better and more illustratively timed. It is, of course, a pathology that afflicts many beyond the bad offices of the UNHRC. Hillel Neuer at the UN (H/T CiFWatch):

Mr. President,

History will record that the highest human rights body of the United Nations met today for no objective reason. Nothing in recent events, nothing in logic, nothing in human rights justifies today’s debate.

Our meeting is automatic—the consequence of a decision adopted four years ago, shortly after this council was created, to keep a permanent agenda item on one country only: Israel.

History will record that at a time when citizens across the Middle East were being attacked by their own government—by rifles, tanks, and helicopters—the UN focused its scarce time and attention on a country in that region where this is not happening; the only country in the region which, despite its flaws, respects the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion; the only country in the region with free elections, an independent judiciary, and the equal treatment of women; the only country where gays are not persecuted, arrested or stoned to death, but, on the contrary, march in their own annual parade, as they did in Tel Aviv three days ago.

Mr. President, that is why the logic of this agenda item represents the opposite of human rights, and why it embodies the pathologies that so discredited this council’s predecessor.

Indeed, this item is so unjust, so biased, so selective, so politicized, and so contradictory to this council’s own principles of equality and universality, that it was condemned by the Secretary-General himself, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, on 20 June 2007, the day after its adoption.

And so we ask: In its recent 5-year review, despite everything happening in the Middle East, why did the Council decide to perpetuate this item, an act that will be finalized this week by the General Assembly?

Mr. President,

History will record that when citizens were being persecuted or massacred by their own governments—in Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and elsewhere—the UN chose to turn a blind eye to the victims, and instead endorsed the cynicism, hypocrisy and scapegoating of the perpetrators.

Thank you, Mr. President

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Indian Country

Indian Rights, Human Rights

I was going to post on Israel today. Recent developments are much in the news (Jeffrey Goldberg is even pausing to consider – “This is big stuff,” he says), and more than is generally the case, there is a sense of urgency, though nothing in particular is about to happen.

But this is the point.

There is never a sense of immediacy, do not conceive of urgency, about Native America or any indigenous peoples. But Indian Country Today asks

Where do Indian nations go when United States’ courts have failed them, and justice is unattainable?

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy – the oldest continuous democratic government in North America – has long argued that Indian nations should not expect to win justice from colonizing governments, and instead must act as sovereign nations taking their quest for justice to the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms.

Though it claims to be a defender of human rights around the world, the United States is among the worst offenders of Native peoples’ rights, judging by statistics that indicate Indian women are the most raped and abused in the nation, while rampant poverty, disease, crime and unemployment are a way of life on reservations.

There’s also the inexplicably high number of Supreme Court cases decided against tribes that have led to the massive loss of Native lands and natural resources, most often without compensation.

The U.S. was even one of only four nations, along with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – “countries with the largest indigenous populations who own vast amounts of land and natural resources” – not to ratify the 2007 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Australia has since reversed its position, and Canada now indicates support.

That leaves the United States and New Zealand standing alone, refusing to support the basic human rights of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples.

If there is some dream, then, of a higher moral, if not governing, authority, who can wonder that American Indians would seek assistance there?

The United Nations Human Rights Council has a recently (2006) created process called the Universal Periodic Review.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations. As one of the main features of the Council, the UPR is designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed.

This, Native America thinks, is an opportunity.

Against that backdrop, the Human Rights Council is conducting a year-long Universal Period Review of the United States’ human rights record, holding “listening sessions” around the country, with two devoted to concerns of Native peoples.

A national report will be compiled and presented to the 47-member Human Rights Council that will make recommendations on how America can improve its compliance with international human rights obligations.

More than 100 people came to the University of New Mexico Law School to hear and present testimony from tribes and individuals about discriminatory and illegal tactics historically used by the federal government to confiscate land, natural resources, even children, and to suppress their rights to self-determination.

Among them were at least nine top-level officials from the Obama administration who were sent from the departments of Justice, Housing, Health, Education and Agriculture to listen and help formulate solutions for Indian country.

But like the dream of justice for indigenous peoples, moral clarity – moral consensus – can be a vision sought on the face of moving waters. Among the current member nations of the HRC with appalling records in human rights and democracy are China, Cuba, Egypt, Nigeria, and Russia. Many others are problematic to lesser degrees. In the matter of indigenous populations, the Taino of Cuba suffered one of the most complete genocidal destructions of an indigenous population in history. Of course, the communist government of the Castros claims to have risen above such colonial crimes, but just weeks ago dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in prison as the long-term consequence of racial discrimination in Cuba against Afro-Cubans. The HRC has amply demonstrated its pathological bias against Israel, most recently in the mockery of international human rights investigations that was the Goldstone Report, and, like the Commission on Human Rights before it, which it replaced for just this reason, has served for non-Western, Arab, Muslim, and often undemocratic nations as a vehicle through which to wield human rights values against democracies.

Yet why should Native America concern itself with these problematics of postcolonial contention and international governance? The greatest instances, by far, of genocidal destruction and conquest of indigenous populations were carried out by the Western nations. Even today, Johnson v. M’Intosh, the Supreme Court’s 1923 Dred Scot decision for American Indians, is still prevailing law – the decision justifying the conquest of Native America by right of “discovery,” through extension of the Discovery Doctrine proclaimed by the colonizing European powers, and traceable to Pope Nicholas V’s papal bull Romanus Pontifex in 1452.

Though individual Indians and Indian communities are often deeply proud of their patriotism and wartime service – visit the veteran’s cemetery on the Navajo Reservation in Window Rock, Arizona and be struck by the sea of American flags set against the sky off Route 12 – what argument can possibly be made that Native America should deny itself recourse to the organization that made its declaration of indigenous peoples’ rights, while the nation they inhabit still denies them so much justice and accepts as law a court decision that declares them “an inferior race of people, without the privileges of citizens, and under the perpetual protection and pupilage of the government”?

So the Period Review will find, without doubt, historical, pervasive, and deeply troubling violations of Native rights. And those inclined to excuse and deny the history and the violations, and who are probably opponents, even in principle, of the U.N., even before the HRC, will use the genuine weakness of the former, and the taint of the latter, to reject the findings.

The hope for some continued redress, following upon the Obama administration’s settlement of the thirteen-year Individual Indian Money Trust Fund suit, may rest only on the continued genuine good will of the current president. Two years ago, when I wrote “Aboriginal Sin” for Tikkun, I addressed, along with IIM trust suit, the Supreme Court’s 1980 finding for the Sioux regarding the theft of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Chairwoman Theresa Two Bulls of the Oglala Sioux, accompanied by Lakota attorney Mario Gonzalez, recounted the many treaty violations that led up to the “legalized theft” of more than 48 million acres of their homeland under the Indian Claims Commission….

The Lakota leadership of treaty chiefs and elected officials have long refused to accept money for the Black Hills, a sacred place….

“We’ve come to the realization that the courts of the United States are not designed to protect the Oglala Sioux’s interests in our claims to ancestral lands and resources. Rather, they are designed to protect the interests of non-Indians who have settled on tribal lands,” Two Bulls said. “The only viable remedy we have to settle our land claims is through negotiating with Congress.”

She was encouraged by President Barack Obama’s statement regarding the Sioux land claims indicating he did not believe the courts or federal government should force Sioux tribes to take settlement money for the Black Hills.

“He said he was open to bringing together all parties through government-to-government negotiations to explore innovative solutions to this long-standing issue,” she said, giving her people hope that the tribe will be able to obtain the return of federally held lands….

and compensation for the denial of the “exclusive use and occupation of the Black Hills as guaranteed by the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.”

Elections, as the truism states, have consequences. So far, in this last, for those without heath care protection. Maybe, slowly, slowly, for American Indians too.

AJA

Categories
Indian Country

for an American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

When the United Nations passed its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, only four nations voted against it: Australia, New Zealand, Canada – and the United States. Not difficult, historically, to understand why, but what millennium is this? Of course, Bush was president then. But while the Obama administration recently and laudably signaled its intention to reverse the Bush position against endorsing the U.N. Statement on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, it has not yet indicated a course of action on the indigenous peoples declaration.

While the administration ponders that course, it will get a first bite at a second apple. The Organization of American States (OAS) has produced a Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples specifically aimed at conditions in the Americas. You can send letters urging adoption of the Declaration at the Indian Law Resource Center.

(Thanks to Native America, Discovered and Conquered for bringing this to my attention.)

AJA