Sunday, January 24, 2016

Media More Outraged by Possible Murder by Putin Than Definite Murder by Obama

The British government, whose foreign policy is overtly hostile to their Russian counterpart, declared last week that their investigation into the killing of a former Russian intelligence agent in London nearly a decade ago concluded there is a "strong probability" the Russian FSB security agency was responsible for poisoning Alexander Litivenko with plutonium. They further declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin "probably approved" of the act. The British investigation, which was likely politically motivated, seemingly raised more questions than it answered. But American corporate media were quick to use the accusations against Putin to demonize him, casting him as a pariah brazenly flaunting his disregard for international conventions.

The Washington Post (1/23/16) editorial board wrote that "Robert Owen, a retired British judge, has carefully and comprehensively documented what can only be called an assassination... Mr. Owen found (Andrei) Lugovoi was acting 'under the direction' of the FSB in an operation to kill Mr. Litivenko - one that was 'probably approved' by the director of the FSB and by Mr. Putin."

Actually, Owen did not find that former KGB operative Lugovoi was acting under the direction of the FSB to kill Litivenko. He found there was a "strong probability" this was the case. This means that even in Owens's view, there is not near certainty, which would meet the legal standard of reasonable doubt that would preclude a guilty judgement. There is even more doubt that even if it were the case the FSB ordered the murder, they did so on Putin's orders.

The New York Times editorial board (1/21/16) finds the investigation's results "shocking." For the Times, this confirms a pattern of Putin's rogue behavior. They claim Putin's "deserved reputation as an autocrat willing to flirt with lawlessness in his global ventures has taken on a startling new aspect."

Both of the prestigious and influential American newspapers argue that the British findings impugn Putin's respectability in international affairs. The Times says:
Mr. Putin has built a sordid record on justice and human rights, which naturally reinforces suspicion that he could easily have been involved in the murder. At the very least, the London inquiry, however much it is denied at the Kremlin, should serve as a caution to the Russian leader to repair his reputation for notorious intrigues abroad.
The more hawkish Post says: "This raises a serious question for President Obama and other world leaders whose governments do not traffic in contract murder. Should they continue to meet with Mr. Putin as if he is just another head of state?"

Putin's alleged "sordid record on justice and human rights," which is taken for granted without providing any examples, is seen as bolstering the case for his guilt in the case of the poisoning death of Litivenko. This, in turn, adds to his "notorious" reputation as a violator of human rights.

The Post draws a line between the lawless Putin and the respectable Western heads of state, such as Obama. Though they frame their call to treat Putin as an outcast as a question, it is clearly intended as a rhetorical question.

It is curious that The Post draws a contrast between Putin and Obama, whose government is supposedly above such criminality. The newspaper does not mention the U.S. government's drone assassination program, which as of last year had killed nearly 2,500 people in at least three countries outside of declared military battlefields. Estimates have shown that at least 90 percent of those killed were not intended targets. None of those killed have been charged with any crimes. And at least two - Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdul Rahman - were Americans.

Obama himself is personally responsible for those killed by missiles launched from unmanned aircraft over the skies of sovereign countries. Several news reports have indicated that Obama is presented in meetings each week by military and national security officials with a list of potential targets for assassination. Obama must personally approve each target, at which point they are added to the state-sanctioned "kill list."

The British government has also assumed for itself the power to assassinate its own citizens outside a declared battlefield. Last fall, Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the deaths of two British citizens in Syria, who were subsequently disposed of in a lethal drone strike.

The Washington Post editorial board (3/24/12) claimed that Obama was justified in carrying out lethal drone strokes that kill American citizens "to protect the country against attack." Their lone criticism was that "an extra level of review of some sort is warranted."

After it was revealed that an American hostage was inadvertently killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, The Post (5/1/15) said that the issue of whether the American government continues to conduct drone strikes should not be up for debate. "(T)here is little question that drones are the least costly means of eliminating militants whose first aim is to kill Americans," they wrote.

While they tacitly accept the legal rationale for Obama's assassination program, the New York Times editorial board at least demonstrated some skepticism. In "A Thin Rationale for Drone Killings" (6/23/14), they called the memo "a slapdash pastiche of legal theories - some based on obscure interpretations of British and Israeli law - that was clearly tailored to the desired result." They say that "the rationale provides little confidence that the lethal action was taken with real care."

Yet they do not chastise Obama for his "intrigues abroad" nor do they condemn this as an example of his "sordid record on justice and human rights," language they used for Putin. The idea that relying on what are transparently inadequate legal justifications for killing an American citizen without due process would merit prosecution is clearly beyond the limits of discussion for the Times.

Recently Faheem Qureshi, a victim of the first drone strike ordered by Obama in 2009 (three days after his induction as President), who lost multiple family members and his own eye, told The Guardian that Obama's actions in his native lands are "an act of tyranny. If there is a list of tyrants in the world, to me, Obama will be put on that list by his drone program."

Surely both The New York Times and Washington Post disagree with Qureshi, because they believe the U.S. government is inherently benevolent and its motives are beyond reproach. But based on their editorials about the British investigation of the Litivenko poisoning, if Putin was responsible and was described by Qureshi in the same way, they would wholeheartedly agree.

The U.S. government and its allies in NATO, like Great Britain, have a clear agenda in vilifying Russia and its President. The US-NATO alliance supported the government that came to power in Ukraine in 2014 through a coup. After provinces in Eastern Ukraine - the vast majority of whose population is ethnically Russian and Russian-speaking - refused to recognize the NATO-backed coup government in Kiev, the Russian government supported them.

It should be easy to see how, from Russia's perspective, the Ukranian conflict can be understood as an extension of NATO encroachment towards Russia's borders that has continued unabated since James Baker told Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 NATO would move "not an inch east."

"We're in a new Cold War," Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian studies and politics, told Salon. "The epicenter is not in Berlin this time but in Ukraine, on Russia's borders, within its own civilization: That's dangerous. Over the 40-year history of the old Cold War, rules of behavior and recognition of red lines, in addition to the red hotline, were worked out. Now there are no rules."

Additionally, Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2011 throughout that country's civil war, and more recently its direct military intervention in the conflict that has turned the tide against US-backed rebels, has strongly rankled Washington.

The language used by top government officials to describe Russia has been astoundingly combative. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the man in charge of the entire US military, claimed Russia is responsible for aggression and is "endangering world order."

The U.S. government's hyping of the Russian "threat" has been used to justify massive spending on the U.S. space program and other military expenditures, such as $1 trillion to upgrade nuclear weapons.

One could even argue that the narrative of an aggressive and belligerent Russia is the principal justification for the continued existence of the NATO itself, two and a half decades after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The alliance allows the US military to be stationed in hundreds of bases throughout Europe under the guise of a purely defensive organization.

The U.S.'s most prominent media organizations should demonstrate the strongest skepticism towards the policies and actions of their own government. At the very least, they should hold their own country's leaders to the same standards as they do others. But time and again, the media choose to act as a mouthpiece to echo and amplify Washington's propaganda. They do the government's bidding, creating an enemy and rallying the public towards a confrontation they would otherwise have no interest in, while allowing the government to avoid accountability for its own misdeeds.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The New York Times's Double Standard on Iran's Nuclear Program

As the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified over the weekend that Iran has completed the measures necessary to comply with the nuclear deal reached last July with the P5+1  governments,  the New York Times Editorial Board proclaimed "the world is now safer for this." They lauded the deal as a "testament to patient diplomacy" and President Barack Obama's "visionary determination to pursue a negotiated solution to the nuclear threat."

The Editorial Board takes for granted that Iran presents a threat. Iran has always maintained it has never intended to build nuclear weapons, and that it's nuclear program was strictly meant to use nuclear technology as a source of energy production. In fact, in 1957 the United States government itself provided Iran with its first nuclear reactor while the country was ruled by U.S. ally - and murderous dictator - Shah Reza Pahlavi. Iran would later sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1968 and ratify it two years later.

Several years ago Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that "(w)e believe that nuclear weapons (in the world) must be obliterated, and we do not intend to make nuclear weapons." Previously he had said making nuclear weapons was a "sin."

But regardless of their professed intentions, the New York Times is skeptical the Iranian government can be trusted. They claim that there still exist "daunting challenges ahead" as the other parties to the agreement need to ensure "the deal is strictly adhered to." The New York Times's skepticism is unsurprising. While the Times certainly will not repeat George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil" language, they internalize the same ideological framework.

Is the Times's skepticism warranted by the Iranian government's record? That would be hard to argue, as the revolutionary regime in power since 1979 has never invaded another country. Unstated and assumed to be self-evident is the idea that Iran is dangerous and unable to be trusted because it is not aligned with Washington. Rather, it exercises its own independent foreign policy outside of American control.

If there were not a double standard in play, the Times would treat the United States government with the same skepticism as Iran. After all, the United States, which possesses at least 7,200 nuclear warheads, is the only country in history to have used nuclear weapons - twice, against a country seeking for months to negotiate a conditional surrender.

Unlike Iran, the United States is not complying with the NPT. As a state already in possession of nuclear weapons, the United States has a responsibility under its treaty obligations to pursue disarmament. The Times itself detailed the U.S. government's own modernization of its nuclear weapons in a front-page article on January 11.

The article by William J. Broad and David E. Sanger notes that Obama promised to work towards nuclear disarmament early in his presidency, saying he would "reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy."

However, the $1 trillion plan that later emerged called for the modernization of current nuclear weapons by redesigning and improving them. The Times quotes a critical report developed by two former national security officials as saying Obama's plan could be seen "as violating the administration's pledge not to develop or deploy" new nuclear weapons. Neither the report nor the Times questions whether this is also a violation of the government's obligations under the NPT.

The Times shows a graphic depiction of the enhancements, including a steerable fins, a navigation system and safety features. "The result is a bomb that can make more accurate nuclear strikes and a warhead whose destructive power can be adjusted to minimize collateral damage and radioactive fallout," the caption reads. This may make them "more tempting to use," according to critics.

The title of the article, "As U.S. Modernizes Nuclear Weapons, 'Smaller' Leaves Some Uneasy," is evidence that the debate around the Obama administration's plan is seen as a matter of strategy and cost efficiency, rather than as a violation of international law and a threat to peace. The people left "uneasy" are all close to the national security establishment. Their concerns don't have to do with the program's contravention of the U.S. government's responsibilities under the NPT. The debate is merely one of philosophical differences between policy makers.

Despite Iran's compliance with the nuclear agreement (their continued compliance with the NPT is not even mentioned), the Times Editorial Board states that this doesn't mean they "should not be subject to criticism or new sanctions for violation of other United Nations resolutions or American laws." Indeed, they had previously called the Obama administration's plans to impose new sanctions for Iran's ballistic missile tests "wise."

Aside from the dubious position that the U.S. government should unilaterally impose sanctions related to UN resolutions, they claim that Iran should be subject to the extraterritorial application of American laws. Under international law, no state is bound to respect the domestic laws of another state. The U.S. Supreme Court declared "the laws of no nation can justly extend beyond its own territories except so far as regards its own citizens. They can have no force to control the sovereignty or rights of any other nation within its own jurisdiction."

The Times does not call for any legal or economic repercussions against the United States. The U.S. government's $1 trillion program to upgrade its nuclear weapons is not in any way presented as a grave threat that affects the rest of the world. They don't demand controls by outside powers the U.S. must strictly adhere to, as they do for Iran. Their framing of the story and absence of any editorial condemnation makes it clear the paper views the actions of the U.S. government as unquestionably beyond reproach.

The paper's calls for the strict enforcement of the nuclear deal and application of new sanctions on the Iranian government are not grounded in any moral or legal principles. They are a reflection of the Times's acceptance of the U.S. government's patronizing doctrine that threats to peace only emanate from countries outside of American control, who must be dealt with using coercion and punishment that the U.S. itself is always exempt from.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Interview with Gorilla Radio

I spoke with Chris Cook of Pacific Free Press and Gorilla Radio about my articles on Jimmy Carter's legacy (Part 1 and Part 2). The podcast is available at the Gorilla Radio Web site:

http://www.gorilla-radio.com/index.php?id=848



Friday, January 15, 2016

Letter to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

This letter was delivered to Senator Gillibrand electronically on January 15, 2016. I encourage you to write to Senator Gillibrand or to your own Senator and share your thoughts about this issue.

Honorable Senator Gillibrand:

I read in Haaretz recently that along with seven other Senators you visited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the nuclear deal with Iran. While I applaud you for supporting this monumental deal, I am disappointed that you feel the need to placate a rogue state who presents a grave danger to the Middle East and is one of the world's worst human rights violators.

According to Haaretz, you said you discussed with Netanyahu “the ongoing threats from Iran and its proxies, terrorism and violent extremism in the region, the future of Israel, and how the United States can continue to work with Israel to ensure its security.”

In case you are not familiar with history, the only time in the last 300 years Iran has invaded another country was under the Shah, a client sponsored and propped up by the United States. Unlike Israel, Iran is not occupying another nation's land, stealing its water and transferring its own civilian population into its territory in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Iran, unlike Israel, has signed and complied with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. (Israel is one of only four states in the world not to have signed the NPT.) In fact, Israel is the only nation in violation of UNSC Resolution 687, which declares “the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons.”

Israel has at least 200 nuclear weapons and has for at least the last 30 years. During the 1980s, Israel provided the charges to detonate nuclear weapons to the apartheid South African regime, making the most despised government in the world a nuclear power.

Last fall, the United Nations General Assembly sought to counter “the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East” with a resolution recognizing that this “would pose a serious threat to international peace and security.” This threat necessitates “the immediate need for placing all nuclear facilities in the region of the Middle East under full-scope safeguards of the Agency.”

The resolution passed by a margin of 151-4. Only the United States, Israel, Canada and Micronesia voted against it. In a separate resolution, the U.S. and Israel stood alone against 177 other countries who supported further efforts to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. That resolution calls for a “prohibition on the development and manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons.”

Even without its WMD, Israel would pose a grave threat to peace with its army and conventional weapons alone. Israel has repeatedly violated the sovereignty of its neighboring countries, the most flagrant example being the aggressive invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982 which killed 20,000 people. Unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Israel has even attacked the United States itself. In 1967, Israeli warplanes bombarded the USS Liberty, killing 34 American servicemen. Israel’s possession of WMD only compounds their destructive capacity.

If you truly seek to lessen the ongoing threats of extremist violence in the Middle East, you should be concerned about Israel's military occupation of Palestine and its denial of citizenship and human rights to Palestinians. You should work to end the ideological, economic, military and diplomatic support by the United States government that is essential to maintaining the occupation.

Otherwise any reasonable person would dismiss your professed goal to bring peace to the region as flagrant hypocrisy -  the type of condescension to the people of the Middle East and beyond that has made US foreign policy so despised around the world.

I urge you to help bring the United States in line with the international consensus by holding Israel - and the United States itself - to the same standards you apply to others. Thank you for consideration and I would welcome a response.

Sincerely,

Matt Peppe

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Jimmy Carter's Blood-Soaked Legacy Part 2

Five months ago, I wrote an article titled “Jimmy Carter’s Blood-Soaked Legacy about how the former President’s record in office contradicted his professed concern for human rights. Despite campaigning on a promise to make respect for human rights a central tenet of the conduct of American foreign policy, Carter’s actions consistently prioritized economic and security interests over humanitarian concerns. 

I cited the examples of Carter’s administration providing aid to Zairian dictator Mobutu to crush southern African liberation movements; financially supporting the Guatemalan military junta, and looking the other way as Israel gave them weapons and training; ignoring calls from human rights activists to withdraw support from the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia as they carried out genocide in East Timor; refusing to pursue sanctions against South Africa in the United Nations after the South African Defence Forces bombed a refugee camp in Angola, killing 600 refugees; financing and arming mujahideen rebels to destabilize the government of Afghanistan and draw the Soviet Union into invading the country; and providing aid to the military dictatorship in El Salvador, despite a letter from Archbishop Oscar Romero - who was assassinated by a member of a government death squad weeks later - explicitly calling for Carter not to do so.


This list was not meant to be exhaustive, but merely to highlight some of the most prominent contradictions between Carter’s ideals and his actions. After subsequent research and reader feedback, I realized there were many examples I had not mentioned. Their significance to the history of American foreign policy, and the repercussions they produced, is worth exploring in a subsequent analysis.  


Carter announced in early December that he is cancer free. Sadly, that news was followed shortly thereafter by the tragic, premature death of his 28-year-old grandson. But Carter seems to have maintained his positivity. He has kept up his public schedule and says that healthwise he still feels good.


A person’s record and legacy should be debated while they are still alive - rather than after they are gone, when nostalgia or reluctance to speak ill of the dead can easily lead to embellishment and historical revisionism. And a person should be able to defend himself and his actions. Otherwise, it is merely an academic exercise instead of a demand for accountability. In this spirit, I present six more foreign policy positions that demonstrate Carter’s prioritization of American political and economic hegemony over actual support for human rights while he held the highest office in the United States.


Vietnam


Article 21 of the Paris Agreement in 1973 stipulated that “the United States will contribute to healing the wounds of war and to postwar reconstruction of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and throughout Indochina.”


When asked in 1977 if the United States had a moral obligation to help rebuild Vietnam, Carter responded that “the destruction was mutual. You know, we went to Vietnam without any desire to capture territory or to impose American will on other people. We went there to defend the freedom of the South Vietnamese. And I don’t feel that we ought to apologize or to castigate ourselves or to assume the status of culpability.”


The United States went to Vietnam after they could not convince the French to further continue a war to recolonize Vietnam. The Geneva Accords reached between France and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1954 called for a temporary division of Vietnam pending unification, which was to take place after national elections two years later. 


In 1955, the Eisenhower administration began granting direct aid and providing American military advisers to the Bao Dai monarchy. Ngo Dinh Diem assumed control later that year through a fraudulent election. Knowing he would be trounced by the Communist party, he declined to participate in reunification elections called for by the peace agreement.. 


The United States government was indispensable to the survival of the Diem regime - and after complicity in Diem’s assassination, the Theiu regime. They funded and organized the police, military and intelligence services and were complicit in the reign of terror they unleashed on the South Vietnamese. Throughout the military dictatorship, tens of thousands of people were imprisoned without charges or trial; tortured and held in notorious Tiger Cages; assassinated extrajudicially; and displaced forcibly from their homes and transferred to concentration camps as American forces “helped to defend the freedom of the South Vietnamese.”


The South Vietnamese people are still suffering from the refusal to grant reparations for the devastation wrought by the U.S. military. More 100,000 Vietnamese have been killed or injured (an average of 2,500 per year) due to land mines and other ordnance dropped on Vietnam that did not explode on impact. 


Residents also still suffer the horrific after effects of chemical weapons. The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of chemical defoliants, including including Agent Orange, throughout South Vietnam. The President’s Cancer Panel in 2010 determined that “(a)pproximately 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities and a half million children born with birth defects.”


Had Carter not so flippantly dismissed the U.S.’s role in the destruction of Vietnam and recognized its responsibility to uphold their obligation to pay reparations, likely tens of thousands of lives of lives may have been saved with funds that could have been used for demining, and the cleanup and treatment of chemical agents that have gone on spreading the horrors of war for decades after the fighting ended. 


Nicaragua


“Carter Must End Aid To Somoza,” proclaimed an editorial in The Harvard Crimson in September 1978. The paper demanded that the U.S. government cut off all forms of aid to the dictatorship of Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza, who was using indiscriminate force to try to crush a popular revolutionary movement to oust him, so the Nicaraguan people could choose their own manner of governance.


William Blum writes in Killing Hope that with the Somoza regime on the verge of collapse, “Carter authorized covert CIA support for the press and labor unions in Nicaragua in an attempt to create a ‘moderate’ alternative to the Sandinistas.” The Carter administration’s plan, according to Blum, was to allow the Somoza regime to take part in a new government, while leaving the state’s military and security institutions largely in tact.


The Sandinistas were victorious in July 1979, as Somoza was forced to flee the country in disgrace. They were able to dismantle the dictatorship and create a new revolutionary government. 


The meddling and funding for opposition organizations by the Carter administration, however, would pale in comparison to the full-scale terrorism and aggression that would follow under Ronald Reagan, who had by then taken over as President. 


Cambodia


Starting in March 1969, President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger waged a massive, secret bombing campaign (Operation Menu) on Cambodia in which the U.S. military was instructed “anything that flies on anything that moves.” 


The American aggression likely caused higher than official estimates of 150,000 Cambodian civilian deaths. When the operation was discovered by a Congressional Committee, it was not even included in the impeachment articles against Nixon, much less used as a basis to refer Nixon and Kissinger for prosecution for war crimes. 


Radicalized, destitute and shell-shocked by the destruction wrought by the American bombing, Pol Pot and his previously marginal Khmer Rouge were able to rally enough recruits to seize control of the government in 1975. 


It is generally accepted that the Khmer Rouge’s massacres in the Killing Fields and drastic measures to create a primitive agrarian society amounted to genocide. On the high end, two million deaths is a common number - though that number has likely been highly inflated for anti-Communist propaganda purposes. The American establishment and media were loudly outspoken against Khmer Rouge atrocities, especially considering the near unanimous silence regarding the nearly simultaneous genocide by the Indonesian military taking place in East Timor. 


But, strangely, after a Vietnamese invasion in 1978 ousted them, the Khmer Rouge lost their status as evil Communists, as the official American foreign policy narrative recast them as victims of Vietnamese aggression.


The Carter administration began supporting the Khmer Rouge, who had been relegated to remote rural sections of the country, by financial and diplomatic means. Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski reportedly told an American journalist he “encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot… Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support him, but China could.” 


According to columnist William Pfaff, financial support started by the Carter administration and continued by the Reagan administration to the Khmer Rouge totaled more than $15 million annually. 


Despite the fact they had been driven from power, with American support the Khmer Rouge managed to maintain their UN seat - as the Carter administration had refused to recognize the government installed after the Vietnamese invasion. 


The remnants of the Khmer Rouge fought a guerilla war until Pot’s death in 1998. There is no precise count of the dead and injured that resulted from the fighting so long after the regime was ousted, but it is known that hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes and became refugees. 


The Carter administration’s decision to fan the flames of violence for frivolous reasons - mainly to punish Vietnam for their defeat of American forces five years earlier - was a scandalous example of vindictiveness. 


South Korea


In December 1979, the South Korean military led by General Chun Doo Hwan led a coup d’ état in which Chun imprisoned potential military rivals and cleared the way to his succession as dictator. On May 17, 1980, Chun declared martial law across the country. The next day, popular protests emerged in the city of Kwangju in opposition. 


Chun’s support from the United States would be crucial to maintain legitimacy as he brought in the military to crush the uprising. 


“The White House had tacitly shelved President Carter’s human rights campaign in its anxiety that nothing should ‘unravel and cause chaos in a key American ally’,” writes The Guardian. “It agreed to continue supporting thuggish General Chun Doo Hwan, a major figure behind the coup who was by now imposing stringent military rule.”


Journalist Tim Shorrock studied more than 3,500 documents obtained by FOIA request and determined that more than mere complicity, the Carter administration played a “significant background advisory role in the violent 1980 military crackdown that triggered the May 18 citizens’ uprising.” 


William Gleysteen, who Carter had personally appointed ambassador to South Korea, told Chun the U.S. would not object if he were to use the military to quell large-scale student protests. 


Shorrock notes that declassified documents show that “U.S. officials in Seoul and Washington knew Mr. Chun’s contingency plans included deployment of Korean Special Warfare Command troops, trained to fight behind the lines in a war against North Korea. The ‘Black Beret’ Special Forces, who were not under U.S. command, were modeled after the U.S. Green Berets and had a history dating back to their participation alongside American troops in the Vietnam War.” 


On May 22, Shorrock writes, “the Carter administration approved further use of force to retake the city and agreed to provide short-term support to Mr. Chun if he agreed to long-term political change.”

The Special Warfare troops carried out a massacre in which officially 200 people were killed, but estimates place the likely number of victims 10 times higher. Chun continued ruling as a dictator until 1988. 

The George H. W. Bush administration would whitewash American involvement during the 1980 uprising by claiming the U.S. government had no knowledge of the use of the Korean special forces and did not approve of any such actions. Chun’s dictatorship in South Korea would continue until popular protests were able to force democratic elections in 1988. 


Philippines 


In September 1972, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in Proclamation No. 1081. It would not be lifted until three days before the end of Jimmy Carter’s tenure as President in 1981. 


This would not prevent the Carter administration from continuing the billions of dollars provided by the U.S. government to the Marcos dictatorship in military aid. As he had with Indonesian Major General and President Suharto, Carter kept the spigot flowing to a dictator who demonstrated not just lack of respect, but outright hostility to the human rights of his subjects.  


The quid pro quo in the Philippines was a Military Bases Agreement agreed to in December 1978. The Filipino-American socialist newspaper the Katipunan said that after signing the agreement, the Carter administration ignored Marcos’s many human rights violations.


“Especially now, in light of renewed threats to its imperialist hegemony of the world, the Carter administration has made it very clear that such considerations as human rights, democracy, etc., take a back seat, to the protection of American global interests, insofar as U.S.-R.P. relations are concerned,” the paper wrote in April 1980. 


The Katipunan said that political considerations led Carter’s State Department to reverse their previous condemnation to claim the Marcos regime was improving its record. “The State Department might as well have congratulated Marcos for torture, salvaging, mass arrests, indefinite detention, etc.,” they wrote. 


The Middle East


No one is more responsible for the vast proliferation of foreign U.S. military bases - now about 800, compared to about 30 for the rest of the world combined - than Jimmy Carter. 


Any rational geopolitical analysis of the post-war period until Carter’s presidency would have concluded the Soviet Union had absolutely no intention of military expansion beyond their immediate satellite states. But Carter - like each of his predecessors since World War II - was delusional in his imagination of a Soviet threat behind every corner. His anti-communist, Cold-War strategy called for a military presence everywhere American economic interests existed. Using the phantom “Soviet threat,” Carter laid out what became known as the Carter Doctrine.


“In his January 1980 State of the Union address, President Jimmy Carter announced a policy change that rivaled Roosevelt’s destroyers for bases deal in its significance for the nation and the world,” writes anthropologist David Vine in Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. “Carter soon launched what became one of the greatest base construction efforts in history. The Middle East buildup soon approached the size and scope of the Cold War garrisoning of Western Europe and the profusion of bases built to wage wars in Korea and Vietnam. U.S. bases sprang up in Egypt, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the region to host a ‘Rapid Deployment Force,’ which was to stand permanent guard over Middle Eastern petroleum supplies.” 


Post-Presidency 


In my first article on Carter’s legacy, I wrote that he has - by far - the most impressive record of any American President after leaving office. I cited the examples of his condemnations of Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories and his Carter Center’s work independently verifying voting systems and electoral processes - specifically their endorsement of Venezuela’s 2013 election - as invaluable accomplishments for social justice. 


Since then, Carter has bolstered his already impressive post-Presidency record even more. First, Carter told Oprah Winfrey in a September interview that “We’ve become now an oligarchy instead of a democracy. And I think that’s been the worst damage to the basic moral and ethical standards of the American political system that I’ve ever seen in my life.”


His summation of the state of the American sociopolitical system is both precise and brutally honest. While academic studies have already reached the same conclusion, Carter putting the issue in simple terms for a mainstream audience demonstrates his willingness to take on matters that would be considered taboo for the rest of the elite class. We can hope that the impact of his statement will be similar to his calling Israeli rule over Palestinians apartheid, something also taboo among elites at the time but increasingly gaining currency in mainstream discourse. 


In October, Carter wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times calling for “A Five-Nation Plan to End the Syrian Crisis.” Carter writes that since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the Carter Center had explained to Washington that the Obama administration’s demand for Bashar al-Assad’s removal would preclude the achievement of a political solution. 


Meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin led Carter to believe that a peace proposal endorsed by the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia would gain enough support among the Syrian parties to end the fighting. 


“The involvement of Russia and Iran is essential. Mr. Assad’s only concession in four years of war was giving up chemical weapons, and he did so only under pressure from Russia and Iran. Similarly, he will not end the war by accepting concessions imposed by the West, but is likely to do so if urged by his allies,” Carter writes. 


The peace plan that Secretary of State John Kerry essentially copied from Russia - and has now endorsed as his own at the United Nations - looks very much like that laid out by Carter. There is good reason to think that if the Obama administration had not stubbornly ignored Carter’s advice four years ago - when they still believed, before Russia’s military intervention on Assad’s behalf, that they could overthrow the regime by force through proxy groups like the CIA-backed Free Syrian Army - the unimaginable violence and devastation could have been largely been avoided. 


While in power, Carter and the officials he hand-picked to serve in his administration acted with the same Cold War zeal as their predecessors to relentlessly combat - with overwhelming force and the power of the U.S. government’s diplomatic muscle- threats to global corporate capitalist dominance, both real and imagined. 


What accounts for the discrepancy between Carter’s actions in and out of office is a matter of speculation. Was it merely a change of heart? A reflection of the nature of authority? Or of the limits of the office of President and its subordination to the power of unelected, entrenched bureaucracy? 


The bottom line is that, unfortunately, when Carter was afforded the opportunity to change the direction of U.S. foreign policy after receiving a mandate from the American voters, he was unable or unwilling to do so. We can only hope this missed opportunity will not be the last.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Disingenuous Apologies for Israel's Assault on Palestinian Education

As the American Historical Association (AHA) prepares to vote this week on a symbolic resolution that affirms support for the right to education in the occupied Palestinian territories, apologists for the Israeli regime's policies against Palestinians are putting forward nonsensical rationalizations for their opposition to the measure. Writing in History News Network, University of Maryland History Professor Jeffrey Herf essentially argues that his profession has no practical value: "as historians we have neither the knowledge nor expertise to evaluate conflicting factual assertions about events in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza."

If historians should not evaluate the veracity of factual assertions about an issue then what exactly is the use of historical studies? To merely compile and organize documents? Surely a historian's job involves analytical - in addition to technical - skills.  And surely their methods include empirical analysis - no different than a scientist testing a theory. If someone says the earth is round but another person says the earth is flat, that doesn't mean the scientist should throw his hands up in the air and say "as scientists we have neither the knowledge nor expertise to evaluate conflicting factual assertions."

Historians analyzing political questions use the same principles as scientists testing a theory. Take, for example, conflicting accounts of the actions of the Belgians under King Leopold in the Congo near the end of the 19th century. Leopold claimed he treated the Congolese people benevolently as part of his "Christian duty" to help the poor. Others claimed Leopold's forces were engaged in the systematic plunder of resources carried out through massive violence. They described women held hostage by Belgian forces to force Congolese men to engage in involuntary labor, with the hands of those who did not produce enough rubber for the colonists cut off and kept as trophies. 

According to Herf's axiom, historians would not have the ability to distinguish between these competing claims. It would be outside the scope of the historical vocation to evaluate the available evidence and reach a conclusion about the truth. 

In the Congo, the African American historian George Washington Williams worked tirelessly to document the true condition of the local population under Belgian rule. As Adam Hochschild explains in his book King Leopold's Ghost, Williams's insistence on questioning the official narrative enabled him to uncover and expose the brazen lies meant to cover up the genocidal destruction of an entire society for the material enrichment of a tyrant. 

"Williams was a pioneer among American historians in the use of nontraditional sources. He sensed what most academics only began to acknowledge nearly a hundred years later: that in writing the history of powerless people, drawing on conventional, published sources is far from enough," Hochschild writes.

Much like the Belgian regime in the Congo more than a century ago, the state of Israel today covers up its crimes against Palestinians by denial, deflection and counter-accusations. They rely on the support of apologists in media, government, civil society, and academia to side with authority by accepting their justifications at face value.

Herf writes that "(i)t is fair to insist that where there is an indictment, we must pay attention to the case for the defense." Absolutely true. But we must pay attention to the evidence for the case itself, not merely conclude that the existence of a defense means there is no way to draw a conclusion about the facts.

Herf requested a response from the Israeli Embassy on accusations presented in the AHA resolution. Among their claims are that the movement of faculty, staff and visitors in the West Bank are not limited except occasionally because "Palestinian universities periodically serve as sites of violence and incitement." 

The evidence is overwhelming that movement in the West Bank is severely limited and adversely impacts education. A UN report found that checkpoints, settler violence, and long commutes present risks to West Bank students. Another UN report documented 542 obstacles to movement in the West Bank. Students from Gaza are denied permission to study in the West Bank, a policy that has been criticized by Amnesty International. The policy has been endorsed by Israel's High Court. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have raided West Bank universities. Visiting academics are denied entry to the West Bank. After arbitrarily being denied entry to deliver several lectures there, world-renowned scholar Noam Chomsky compared his treatment by Israeli authorities to that of Stalinist regimes. 

There is no evidence presented, however, to support the claim that Palestinian universities serve as sites of violence and incitement. 

Herf also quotes the Israeli Embassy defending their bombing of the Islamic University in Gaza (IUG) in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge "not because it was a university but because it was used by the terrorist organization Hamas to manufacture and fire rockets at Israeli civilians."

First, it should be noted that Hamas is not recognized as a terrorist organization by the United Nations. The description carries exactly as much weight as Hamas calling the Israeli regime a terrorist organization. But that is beside the point. The accusation is that Hamas used the university to make and fire rockets.

The source provided for this claim is "Israeli military intelligence officials." After the bombing, the IDF claimed to target a "weapons development center" within the university. This is a predictable accusation. The IDF made similar accusations after bombing the same university in 2008. A UN report on that conflict "did not find any information about their use as a military facility or their contribution to a military effort that might have made them a legitimate target."

Rami Almeghari, who teaches journalism at IUG, noted in the Electronic Intifada that the university is not run by Hamas or any other political party. Students and faculty, like those at any higher educational institutional, have varied political affiliations. Many others, like himself, belong to no party. 

"Contrary to what Israel claims," Almeghari writes, "Gaza universities do not have departments dedicated to military research or training. This is in contrast to Israeli universities which play an integral role in the military occupation and weapons development and have actively promoted the onslaught in Gaza."

None of the Israeli government's accusations are substantiated by anything other than its own word - which should be treated with the same skepticism as any criminal defendant pleading his innocence. On the other hand, a mountain of evidence from independent sources (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UNESCO, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Institute for Middle East Understanding, B'Tselem, etc.) supports the accusations in the AHA resolution. 

The idea that evaluating contrasting factual assertions and reaching a judgment is outside the scope of a historian's profession is asinine. This notion is beneficial for the propagation of state propaganda, but devastating for the advancement of human rights, including the right to education.