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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Iran Command 

Interesting news from Israel: (from Haaretz)

In an effort to upgrade Israel's preparedness for a possible confrontation with Iran, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has appointed Israel Air Force Commander Major General Elyezer Shkedy as the IDF's "campaign manager" against countries that do not border on Israel - primarily Iran.

The appointment was made before the war in Lebanon.

As part of his new responsibilities, Shkedy will act as "GOC Iran Command": He will oversee battle plans and manage the forces if war breaks out. According to a security source, Shkedy will be the "orchestra conductor," but will coordinate with the Mossad and Military Intelligence, and with the IDF's various operational branches.

The security source noted that during the 1991 Gulf War, the IDF did not have a "campaign manager" for Iraq. Instead, the IAF, the intelligence agencies and the ground forces each operated within their own areas of responsibility and authority.

I still can't believe this Iran campaign is for real, but it really seems like it lately. What's on the table -- because, lord knows, there aren't enough troops for anything else -- has got to be either an American or Israeli air campaign with maybe some special forces guys on the ground ala Hersh's "The Coming Wars" ... but if such were to occur wouldn't predominantly Shi'ite Iraq just go crazy? -- the puppet government falls, mass abductions of Americans, etc.? I guess on the plus side bombing Iran is probably the quickest way of ending Iraq's civil war: imagine the pan-Arab solidarity fostered by Israel's attack on Hezbollah cranked up an order of magnitude.

Good Old Raed... 

Raed from Read in the Middle ran into problems at JFK a couple of weeks ago -- I missed this one as I've been MIA lately, but the story got picked up by the BBC yesterday. Briefly, Raed was accosted for wearing an antiwar t-shirt with some Arabic writing on it -- a crime which is, you know, apparently now punishable by harassment by morons ... Here's an excerpt from his post (I like the highlighted bit):

The Jet Blue woman was asking me again to end this problem by just putting on a new t-shirt, and I felt threatened by Mr. Harmon's remarks as in "Let's end this the nice way". Taking in consideration what happens to other Arabs and Muslims in US airports, and realizing that I will miss my flight unless I covered the Arabic script on my t-shirt as I was told by the four agents, I asked the Jet Blue woman to buy me a t-shirt and I said "I don't want to miss my flight."

She asked, what kind of t-shirts do you like. Should I get you an "I heart new york t-shirt?". So Mr. Harmon said "No, we shouldn't ask him to go from one extreme to another". I asked mr. harmon why does he assume I hate new york if I had some Arabic script on my t-shirt, but he didn't answer.

The woman went away for 3 minutes, and she came back with a gray t-shirt reading "new york". I put the t-shirt on and removed the price tag. I told the four people who were involved in the conversation: "I feel very sad that my personal freedom was taken away like this. I grew up under authoritarian governments in the Middle East, and one of the reasons I chose to move to the US was that I don't want an officer to make me change my t-shirt. I will pursue this incident today through a Constitutional rights organization, and I am sure we will meet soon". Everyone said okay and left, and I went back to my seat. [ ... ]

Then they re-issued me a small boarding pass for seat 24a, instead of seat 3a. They said that I can go to the airplane now. I was the first person who entered the airplane, and I was really annoyed about being assigned this seat in the back of the airplane too. It smelled like the bathrooms, which is why I had originally chosen a seat which would be far from that area.

It sucks to be an Arab/Muslim living in the US these days. When you go to the middle east, you are a US tax-payer destroying people's houses with your money, and when you come back to the US, you are a suspected terrorist and plane hijacker.

The BBC story is here.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

What's Happening in Mexico? 

UPDATE: Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic Policy Research, during the Democracy Now! interview referenced in the initial post:

JUAN GONZALEZ: And these massive demonstrations that have been occurring now in Mexico City for weeks, they have gotten very little coverage here in the United States. I’m thinking back to when the massive protests in the Ukraine and some of the other Russian republics over allegations of election fraud. But there hasn't been much coverage here in the U.S. press of these protests right with our southern neighbor.

MARK WEISBROT: No. Not very much. And especially the allegations, like the one I just said before. That's not even allegation. That's a verifiable fact, that you have the majority of ballot boxes where the votes don’t add up, the ballots aren't kept track of. So that hasn’t -- the media hasn't made an issue out of that. And they haven't made any issue out of the fact that the tribunal is withholding the results. And I’m actually worried that they're going to not even wait until the August 31 deadline. They’re going to announce the result before the public gets to see what happened in the two recounts that they already did.

AMY GOODMAN: What does this mean for the future of Mexico?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, I think it's huge. I mean, the issues in this election are very big. Mexico has had a terrible economic failure over the last 25 years. The total economic growth has been about 17% per capita over a 25-year period, as opposed to 99% from 1960 to 1980. And it's been a terrible failure, a terrible economic failure.

Apparently, Weisbrot is well-informed, if perhaps, only partially so, because, while the timing is accurate, the method seems to have been altered. From Reuters, about an hour ago:

Mexico's electoral court will give its verdict on Monday on a partial recount of votes in the July 2 presidential election, which leftists say was rigged against them.

The court will hold a public session at 8 a.m.to give the results of the recount this month at 9 percent of polling stations, a court spokesman said on Sunday.

It was not clear whether the court would also give a revised vote count for the overall election, in which ruling party conservative Felipe Calderon came out ahead with a margin of some 244,000 votes out of 41 million cast.

Mexico has been in turmoil since the election, with Calderon planning his cabinet while leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador calls rallies and sit-ins to push for a full recount of every vote cast.

The electoral court is widely expected to reject Lopez Obrador's demand for a full recount and most analysts expect it eventually will confirm pro-business former energy minister Calderon as president-elect.

It is hard to understand how this is going to persuade people to accept the initial results. It does, however, appear to be consistent with a strategy of marginalizing left opposition so that they can be violently suppressed.

INITIAL POST: Who won the Mexican election? It is hard to know. Narco News, a Central and South American grassroots journalism effort created by Al Giordano, has consistently asserted that Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, the left candidate of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, the PRD, was the victim of massive vote fraud orchestrated by the two parties who dominate Mexican political life, the National Action Party, the PAN, and the Institutional Revolution Party, the PRI:

Finally, the hard numbers are starting to come in. In the “partial recount” of paper ballots from the July 2 presidential election in Mexico, ordered by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (known as the Trife), the recount has been completed in 10,679 precincts of the 11,839 ordered by the court (about 9 percent of Mexico’s 130,000 precincts). From these precincts, Narco News has obtained the following preliminary numbers that confirm the massive and systematic electoral fraud inflicted on the Mexican people:

In 3,074 precincts (29 percent of those recounted), 45,890 illegal votes, above the number of voters who cast ballots in each polling place, were found stuffed inside the ballot boxes (an average of 15 for each of these precincts, primarily in strongholds of the National Action Party, known as the PAN, of President Vicente Fox and his candidate, Felipe Calderón).

In 4,368 precincts (41 percent of those recounted), 80,392 ballots of citizens who did vote are missing (an average of 18 votes in each of these precincts).

Together, these 7,442 precincts contain about 70 percent of the ballots recounted. The total amount of ballots either stolen or forged adds up to 126,282 votes altered.

If the recount results of these 10,679 precincts (8.2 percent of the nation’s 130,000 polling places) are projected nationwide, it would mean that more than 1.5 million votes were either stolen or stuffed in an election that the first official count claimed was won by Calderon by only 243,000 votes.

Among the findings of this very limited partial recount are that in 3,079 precincts where the PAN party is strong and where, in many cases, the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) of candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador did not count with election night poll watchers, one or more of three things occurred: Either the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE, in its Spanish initials) illegally provided more ballots than there are voters in those precincts, or the PAN party stole those extra ballots, or ballots were forged.

“Taqueo and Saqueo”

These preliminary recounts demonstrate mainly two kinds of fraud: “taqueo,” or the stuffing of ballot boxes with false votes as if putting extra beans inside a taco, and “saqueo,” or “looting,” that is, the disappearance of legitimate ballots cast.

A significant problem, now, for Mexican democracy (for those who claim that the election was fair, and also for those who view this evidence as proof of electoral fraud) is that there is no way to tell, inside each ballot box, which of the ballots were legal and which were not; nor which ballots were stolen and which were not.

In some past post-electoral disputes for state and local offices, the Trife electoral court has opted, based on this kind of evidence, to annul the results from those precincts where stuffing or looting occurred.

If the Trife follows the law and its own established precedents, and annuls the results in these 7,442 precincts where the fraud took place, it would reverse the official results and López Obrador would emerge the victor by more than 425,000 votes nationwide.

Greg Palast, discussed here previously in the context of the Republican effort to create a permanent electoral majority by manipulation of the franchise, is also dubious:

. . .The precinct-by-precinct returns were quite otherworldly. I used to teach statistics and what I saw in Mexico would have stumped my brightest students.

Here's the conundrum: The nation's tens of thousands of polling stations report to the capital in random order after the polls close. Therefore, statistically, you'd expect the results to remain roughly unchanged as vote totals come in. As expected, AMLO was ahead of the right-wing candidate Calderon all night by an unchanging margin -- until after midnight. Suddenly, precincts began reporting wins for Calderon of five to one, the ten to one, then as polling nearly ended, of one-hundred to one.

How odd. I checked my concerns with Professor Victor Romero of Mexico's National University who concluded that the reported results must have been a "miracle." As he put it, a "religious event," but a statistical impossibility. There were two explanations, said the professor: either the Lord was fixing the outcome or operatives of the ruling party were cranking in a massive number of ballots when they realized their man was about to lose.

How could they do it? "Easy pea-sy," as my kids would say. In Mexico, the choices for president are on their own ballot with no other offices listed. Those who don't want to vote for President just discard the ballot. There is no real ballot security. In areas without reliable opposition observers (about a third of the nation), anyone can stuff ballots into the loosely-guarded cardboard boxes. (AMLO showed a tape of one of these ballot-stuffing operations caught in the act.

The "9% solution" was the TRIFE's ham-fisted attempt to chill out the several hundred thousand protesting supporters of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who had gathered in the capital and blocked its main Avenue. Lopez Obrador, the Leftist challenger known by his initials AMLO, supposedly lost the presidential vote by just one half of one percent of the vote.

I say "supposedly" lost because, while George Bush congratulated his buddy Felipe Calderon on his victory, the evidence I saw on the ground in Mexico City fairly shrieks that the real winner was challenger AMLO.

James K. Galbraith, a professor in government at the University of Texas at Austin, echoes Palast:

An analysis by the physicist Luis Mochán of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, based on the real-time evolution of the vote count and the distribution of vote totals by polling place, can be found on the Internet. It’s not easy reading, but is immensely worthwhile. It’s possible that Mochán’s work inaugurates a new era in real-time checking for vote fraud, made possible by the simplicity of Mexico’s first-past-the-post direct vote and the rich electoral data sets that can be made instantly available. Call it the age of transparency, in collision with an oligarchy of thugs.

Mochán’s work calls attention to at least four important anomalies in the count.

Calderón’s percentage lead in the count started at around 7 points and diminished steadily in percentage terms through the first part of the count. This corresponded to a remarkably constant absolute differential between Calderón and AMLO as the count progressed. Is this normal? The count depended on the arrival of the boxes; if this were random, then the proportions should have held roughly constant while absolute differentials widened, as actually happened to the differential between Calderón and the third major candidate, Madrazo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, for most of the evening. Why did the Calderón-AMLO differential follow a different rule?

The PREP results went on view only after the first 10,000 boxes had been processed. If those boxes resembled what came later, then extrapolating backward should produce a line intersecting the origin—each candidate should have started with zero votes. For Calderón this is the case, but for AMLO it is not: The AMLO intercept is actually at minus 126,000 votes. Thus, the first 10,000 boxes were markedly different from those that followed. How?

There are gross anomalies in the number of votes counted per five-minute interval as the count finishes. Over the course of the evening, the pattern of vote counts set a normal range for this variable. As the last boxes came in, however, it was radically violated, with many more votes piled in, per interval, than normal for the rest of the count. Moreover, toward the very end, PREP reset the box count, which regressed from 127,936 at 1:17 p.m. on July 3 to 127,713 at 1:50 p.m., meaning that records for 223 boxes disappeared. Thirty-three minutes had by then passed with no updates. When they resumed, there were updates with absurd results: more than 6,000 votes per box at 1:50, and then updates with large negative votes per box at 1:57 and 2:03.

From a statistical point of view, the distribution across boxes of votes earned by each candidate should be smooth. For Madrazo it is. But for Calderón and AMLO it isn’t. In Calderón’s case, the distribution appears to be shifted out, with the shift localized among the last 40,000 boxes counted. In the case of AMLO, the distribution tails off abruptly from its peak. It is in the difference between the slightly fat distribution for Calderón and the shaved distribution for AMLO that the final outcome is to be found. A graph of the differences in Calderón’s and AMLO’s votes per box, which ought to follow a normal curve, does not. Over a certain range, Calderón’s margins appear abnormally large.

Professor Mochán does not claim to explain these anomalies. More time and closer investigation remain necessary. But he does conclude that it “is reasonable to suspect that there could have been a manipulation of the results reported by the PREP.” It is true that the PREP is not an official count—that was done at the district offices, with equally serious anomalies alleged. But PREP reported the box-by-box results as they flowed in-and as such it constitutes a vital instrument for the detection of patterns of manipulation and fraud.

Let me go further than Mochán. The evidence he assembles is consistent with the following possibilities:

That Felipe Calderón started the night with an advantage in total votes, a gift from the authorities.

That as the count progressed this advantage was maintained by misreporting the actual results. This enabled Calderón to claim that he had led through the entire process—an argument greatly repeated but spurious in any case because it is only the final count that matters.

That toward the end of the count, further adjustments were made to support the appearance of a victory by Calderón.

Add these elements together, and there is no reason to accept the almost universal view that the election was close. AMLO might have won by a mile.

More recently, the Center for Economic Policy Research also recently issued a short study objecting to the lack of transparency in the counting of ballots, emphasizing some peculiarites that warrant further inquiry, with Mark Weisbrot describing their findings on Democracy Now!

Meanwhile, the perspective of the American press can be summarized in this passage from an Associated Press article published on August 10th:

The count must wrap up by Sunday, after which the Federal Electoral Tribunal will review the results and decide by Sept. 6 whether to declare a president-elect or annul the election.

The initial results gave Felipe Calderon, the pro-business candidate of conservative President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, a lead of 240,000 votes, or less than 1 percent, over leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, former mayor of Mexico City.

The partial count could change those results, but it was considered unlikely to tip the balance in favor of Lopez Obrador, whose supporters have been disrupting life in the capital for more than a week to press their charge he was robbed of an election victory by fraud.

The San Francisco Chronicle is an American newspaper that has actually called for a recount of all ballots, but, given the extent of fraud, ballot spoilage and other irregularities, as observed by Giordano elsewhere in his article, what, if anything, would it reveal? Contrary to the belief of the editorial page editors at the Chronicle, probably not anything that will induce people to have confidence in the Mexican political system.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

2 For the Price of 1 

***A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES***

Yesterday, in the Guardian:

David Cameron is on course for a possible general election win, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today that shows support for the Conservatives climbing to a lead that could give them a narrow majority in the Commons, while Labour has plunged to a 19-year low.

The Tories have gained over the last month while support for Labour has fallen heavily in the wake of the recent alleged terror plot against airlines. An overwhelming majority of voters appear to pin part of the blame for the increased threat on Tony Blair's policy of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mistrust of Blair and the Labor government is pandemic:

The findings will shock many at Westminster who had expected Labour to gain ground following John Reid's high-profile handling of the alleged plot against transatlantic airlines. Carried out over the past weekend, following the series of terror arrests, the poll shows voters do not believe the government is giving an honest account of the threat facing Britain. Only 20% of all voters, and 26% of Labour voters, say they think the government is telling the truth about the threat, while 21% of voters think the government has actively exaggerated the danger.

Meanwhile, in the United States:

The arrest of terror suspects in London has helped buoy President Bush to his highest approval rating in six months and dampen Democratic congressional prospects to their lowest in a year.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday, support for an unnamed Democratic congressional candidate over a Republican one narrowed to 2 percentage points, 47%-45%, among registered voters. Over the past year, Democrats have led by wider margins that ranged up to 16 points.

Now 42% of Americans say they approve of the job Bush is doing as president, up 5 points since early this month. His approval rating on handling terrorism is 55%, the highest in more than a year.

The boost may prove to be temporary, but it was evidence of the continuing political power of terrorism.

Additional comment is superfluous, isn't it?

***MILITARY NEO-LIBERALISM***

In Afflicted Powers, the authors, Iain Boal, T. J. Clark, Joseph Matthews and Michael Watts, characterize this phenomena:

. . . It is only as part of this neoliberal economic firmament, as which a dominant capitalist core begins to find it harder and harder to benefit from "consensus" market expansion or corporate mergers and asset transfers, that this new preference for the military option makes sense. Military neo-liberalism seems to us a useful shorthand for the new reality; but in a sense the very prefix "neo" concedes too much to the familiar capitalist rhetoric of renewal. For military neo-liberalism is no more than primitive accumulation in disguise.

With Iraq proving itself a more difficult opportunity for such activity than anticipated (see Naomi Klein's seminal article, Baghdad: Year Zero: Pillaging Iraq in search of a neocon utopia), the field has been expanded to include Lebanon:

Lebanon's 15-year economic and social recovery from civil war was wiped out in the recent Israeli offensive against Hezbollah, the UN development agency has said.

"The damage is such that the last 15 years of work on reconstruction and rehabilitation, following the previous problems that Lebanon experienced, are now annihilated," said Jean Fabre, a spokesman for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on Tuesday.

Lebanon's relatively healthy progress towards the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which cover a range of social and economic targets, "have been brought back to zero," he told journalists.

"Fifteen years of work have been wiped out in a month."

Fabre estimated that overall economic losses for Lebanon from the month-long conflict between Israel and Hezbollah totalled "at least 15 billion dollars, if not more".

As a result, the country lacks the ability to fulfill basic human needs for survival:

The most urgent issues are the need for clean water and sanitation and to clear unexploded munitions, relief agencies said Tuesday.

Underground waterpipes and sewers were destroyed in 10 out of 12 war-struck communities visited by the UN Children's Fund in recent days, and a similar scale of damage was reported elsewhere.

"Everywhere we go... everybody is talking about water and the need for it," said Paul Sherlock, a UNICEF water specialist.

To stave off more immediate needs, 100,000 litres of bottled water will be delivered every week to villages in southern Lebanon where thousands of people have tried to return to their homes, the agency said.

Meanwhile, temporary water tanks will gradually be set up in Nabatiyeh and villages along the Israeli border until water systems are restored.

"There's a huge job to be done on the infrastructure," Sherlock said.

"But access to water also runs into the problem with unexploded ordnance, because you have to dig among the rubble to sort pipework out, so it's a very dangerous game right now," he added.

At least five Lebanese children were killed in recent days when they picked up unexploded munitions, and more than a dozen have been injured, UNICEF said.

No need to worry, though, G-8 donors are riding to the rescue:

Upcoming donor meetings to raise funds for rebuilding war-damaged Lebanon could be an opening for Western lenders to look for fresh commitments from Beirut to resume politically difficult economic reforms.

Lebanese officials say the 34-day Israeli war against Hizbollah guerrillas will erase growth this year and increase the country's already massive public debt load, which has been rolled over thanks to economic support from the Arab world.

An August 31 donor meeting in Sweden will seek to raise immediate reconstruction funds for the estimated $3.6 billion in war damages and will likely be followed by a later meeting in Beirut for wider economic support.

The country was growing at a healthy 6 percent before the war broke out on July 12 but Lebanese politicians have bickered for months over draft reform plans, especially the privatization of the power and telecommunications sectors, higher taxes and lower spending.

Western lenders are signaling they are willing to help with overall economic support if Lebanon agrees to adopt reforms, possibly seeking an International Monetary Fund program as a signal of its commitment to reform and to frame how donor money could be best used.

The enthusiasm for IMF involvement is telling, if one recalls recent analysis by Gabriel Kolko:

. . . the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been undergoing both a structural and intellectual crisis. Structurally, its outstanding credit and loans have declined dramatically since 2003, from over $70 billion to a little over $20 billion today, leaving it with far less leverage over the economic policies of developing nations--and even less income than its expensive operations require. It is now in deficit.

A large part of the IMF's problems are due to the doubling in world prices for all commodities since 2003 -- especially petroleum, copper, silver, zinc, nickel, and the like -- that the developing nations traditionally export. While there will be fluctuations in this upsurge, there is also reason to think it may endure because rapid economic growth in China, India, and elsewhere has created a burgeoning demand that did not exist before, when the balance-of-trade systematically favored the rich nations.

Kolko identifies the alarming consequences:

As early as 2003 developing countries were already the source of 37 percent of the foreign direct investment in other developing nations. China accounts for a great part of this growth, but it also means that the IMF and rich bankers of New York, Tokyo, and London have far less leverage than ever. Growing complexity is the order of the world economy that has emerged in the past decade, and with it has come the potential for far greater instability, and dangers for the rich.

Kolko's article is fascinating, and well worth reading in its entirety, which you can do through the link provided. While it is certainly a stretch to say that the G-8 actively instigated this war (although certainly not nearly so much if one limits the accusation to the United States), such concerns place the willingness of the G-8 to support Israel from the inception of this conflict, as well as its subsequent insistence upon a UN ceasefire resolution in favor of Israel, despite defeat on the battlefield, in a new light.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

David Grossman: The Lebanese, Invisible to the End 

UPDATE 2: Raed Jarrar of Raed in the Middle and Global Exchange, describing his recent experience in Lebanon on Democracy Now!:

And people were furious against the U.S., people were furious against Israel. And, I mean, even for me, I mean, it was such a, like, catch-22, because even for me as an Arab and Muslim who just immigrated to the U.S. last year, I was shouted at, because I’m a U.S. taxpayer, and I was accused with other people in the delegation who went to visit one shelter where Lebanese refugees were staying. We were accused of funding the war and buying these bombs by our money. So we were kicked out of these refugee camps, because they told us, “If you are good Americans, go and try to stop your government. Don't come here and apologize in our shelters.”

So you can feel that even the sense of anti-Americanism and, like, hatred to the U.S. increased very much in a very unfortunate way that even prevents us, as people who are representing the antiwar or peace and justice movement, from going there. It's like burned bridges with many countries in the Middle East. And like, you know, it made Israel and the U.S. less secure, made Hezbollah, as a means or tool for armed resistance, one of the only choices that people are supporting. So what happened there during the last one month’s war against Lebanon is so tragic. It’s just a tragic, devastating political mistake that turned the region into more extremism and into more potentiality to have violence.

If you click on the link for the interview, you can also read about how he was harassed by Jet Blue and airport security when he boarded a flight from D. C. to San Francisco, California.

UPDATE 1: Mike Whitney nails it:

The coverage of the Lebanon fiasco in the Israeli media is alternately narcissistic and hysterical. The details of the massive destruction to Lebanon’s civil infrastructure and environment are brushed aside as inconsequential; the 1,300 civilian deaths, irrelevant. The only thing that matters is Israeli suffering; everything else is trivial. While Lebanon is busy digging out another 300 or so corpses from the rubble of their destroyed homes, Israel is preoccupied with its loss of “deterrents” or its battered sense of “invincibility”.

It is an interesting study in the prevailing megalomania of Israeli society, a culture as pathologically self-absorbed as its American ally. It’s no wonder security is so hard to come by when people are so lacking in empathy.

INITIAL POST: On Monday, I posted about the hypocrisy of David Grossman, and associated intellectuals in the purported Israeli peace movement. Grossman, like his associates, Amos Oz and A. P. Yehoshua, supported the war in Lebanon, and, even worse, consigned the dead, the wounded and the displaced Lebanese to invisibility. Even as they spoke out for a ceasefire before last weekend's IDF ground invasion, they emphasized it in terms of the lives of Israelis, not Lebanese.

And, then, Grossman receives the shattering news: his son had died in Lebanon. Was this the personal motivation for his advocacy of a ceasefire all along? Fear about the safety of his son? Certainly, we can all strongly empathize with such a fear, and it would explain the paradox as to why Grossman supported the war in its initial stages, as necessary for the defense of Israel, despite the horrific consequences for the Lebanese, and then opposed the expansion of it, even though Hizbollah's effective resistance should have, according to Grossman's perspective, increased the threat.

All of this, if true, is understandable, an acceptable expression of human frailty that many of us might display in similar circumstances. Wrapped within a man's love for his son is, however, something sinister. Grossman, through his silence, his unwillingness to acknowledge what the IDF has done to the Lebanese, refuses to acknowledge that the Lebanese possess a similar humanity, that they suffer as he did when he learned of his son's death, as they have done over 1,300 times, and deserve our compassion for the hardships that they, unlike the Israelis, must still endure.

Today, the Observer published a translation of Grossman's eulogy for his son. As one reads it, the Lebanese remain invisible, as they will be the next time the IDF attacks Lebanon, and the intellectuals of the Israeli peace movement again choose cowardice and social acceptability over personal integrity. I can only hope that the translation provided by the Observer is a partial one, or that Grossman has made some highly visible public statements in recent days about the many personal tragedies experienced by the Lebanese as well, because, otherwise, there is a coldheartness, a self-centeredness in his remarks, when he could have reached out to those on the other side of the divide, people who have also lost loved ones.

In this respect, Grossman has become a tragic symbol of the narcissism of Zionism, a social doctrine that justifies the indiscriminate killing of the Lebanese in the name of power politics, but romanticizes the deaths of its own as the most profound personal loss. It echoes a similar moral myopia in this country, where the voluntary enlistees of an army that has inflicted the most unspeakable brutalities in Iraq have been transformed into victims, especially if they have been killed or maimed by the resistance, with the experiences of the Iraqis themselves relegated to a distant, secondary status. Hence, there is a peculiar logic to periodic Pentagon malapropisms that disassociate participants in the Iraqi resistance from their own country.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Vacation Time 

It is unlikely that I will be posting here until Sunday or early next week, as I am going on a brief vacation. Meanwhile, according to Robert Fisk, over 1300 dead have now been discovered in Lebanon:

They are digging them up by the hour, the swelling death toll of the Lebanon conflict. The American poet Carl Sandburg spoke of the dead in other wars and imagined that he was the grass under which they would be buried. "Shovel them under and let me work," he said of the dead of Ypres and Verdun. But across Lebanon, they are systematically lifting the tons of rubble of old roofs and apartment blocks and finding families below, their arms wrapped around each other in the moment of death as their homes were beaten down upon them by the Israeli air force. By last night, they had found 61 more bodies, taking the Lebanese dead of the 33-day war to almost 1,300.

In Srifa, south of the Litani river, they found 26 bodies beneath ruins which I myself stood on just three days ago. At Ainata, there were eight more bodies of civilians. A corpse was discovered beneath a collapsed four-storey house north of Tyre and, near by, the remains of a 16-year old girl, along with three children and an adult. In Khiam in eastern Lebanon, besieged by the Israelis for more than a month, the elderly village "mukhtar" was found dead in the ruins of his home.

Not all the dead were civilians. At Kfar Shuba, dumper-truck drivers found the bodies of four Hizbollah members. At Roueiss, however, all 13 bodies found in the wreckage of eight 10-storey buildings were civilians. They included seven children and a pregnant woman. Ten more bodies were disentangled from the rubble of the southern suburbs of Beirut - where local people claimed they could still hear the screams of neighbours trapped far below the bomb-smashed apartment blocks. The Lebanese civil defence organisation - almost as brave as the Lebanese Red Cross in trying to save lives under fire - believe at least three families may be trapped in basements deep below the wreckage.

Thus did the IDF, with the thunderous support of the US Congress, exercise Israel's right to defend itself. Conversely, I recall one of the chants during the Saturday march and rally in San Francisco against this war: US planes, US bombs, Israel out of Lebanon.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

The Personal Tragedy of David Grossman 

UPDATE 2: From Updates on the Aggression Against Lebanon: more people that Grossman, Oz and Yehoshua, as intellectual and purportedly moral voices of the Israeli peace movement, seek to erase from our consciousness:

15:35 al-Jazeera: most bodies pulled out from under rubble in Ainata not identified yet

15:34 Red Cross: 11 bodies pulled out from under rubble in Ainata

14:08 al-Jazeera: 6 bodies pulled out from under rubble in al-Teebeh

00:20 Lebanese security forces say that 2 Lebanese civilians, including 1 child, killed and 5 wounded in southern Lebanon in cluster bomb explosions following implementation of ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israeli

And, from the Angry Arab News Service, the passionate, personal commentary of Hanady Salman, managing editor, As-Safir in Beirut:

As of yesterday, new stories will unveil : those returning to find .. nothing. Those returning to find their loved ones under the rubble. But returning anyway. 7 a.m. ( or 8) was the official time for the cease fire on Monday morning. People were on the roads at 7 sharp. I am so proud. Sad, hurt, but proud. Proud of my people, proud of their resistance, proud of their commitment and dignity. Hussein Ayoub, my colleague, finally found his mother today. Ten minutes ago actually. He went to Aynatha in the morning and the rescuers were able to pull her out of the rubble of a house where she, and some 17 other people had taken refuge. We don’t know when she was killed. But at least he was able to recognize her body. She was 75. His father was killed by the Israelis in 1972. We will be fine, I hope. We will burry our dead, the way they deserve to be buried, we will remember them as long as we live. We will tell their stories to our children; they will tell their own children the story: the story of a great people, one that never lost faith despite all the crimes, pains and injustices. One that started rebuilding the minute the fighting stopped. Rebuilding although they know that the enemy might destroy everything again, as it did so many times before. We will also tell them the stories of our enemy : how they killed our children, our elderly, how they hit us from the air, from the sea and from the ground and how we prevailed. How they starved our families in their villages, killed them on the roads, bombed their houses, their shelters, their hospitals, they even bombed vans carrying bread to them; and how in return we did not give up.

As for the rest of us, we should also remember those who professed to believe in peace, in non-violence, in the necessity of people of different cultures to live and work together, who, when confronted with the planned, systematic destruction of Lebanon, a deliberate effort to subordinate the identity of the Lebanese to the Zionist project, were not just mute, but publicly rationalized such brutality.

UPDATE 1: Yitzhak Laor, in the London Review of Books, evaluates the performance of Israel's peace activist intellectuals:

Amos Oz, on 20 July, when the destruction of Lebanon was already well underway, wrote in the Evening Standard: ‘This time, Israel is not invading Lebanon. It is defending itself from a daily harassment and bombardment of dozens of our towns and villages by attempting to smash Hizbullah wherever it lurks.’ Nothing here is distinguishable from Israeli state pronouncements. David Grossman wrote in the Guardian, again on 20 July, as if he were unaware of any bombardment in Lebanon: ‘There is no justification for the large-scale violence that Hizbullah unleashed this week, from Lebanese territory, on dozens of peaceful Israeli villages, towns and cities. No country in the world could remain silent and abandon its citizens when its neighbour strikes without any provocation.’ We can bomb, but if they respond they are responsible for both their suffering and ours. And it’s important to remember that ‘our suffering’ is that of poor people in the north who cannot leave their homes easily or quickly. ‘Our suffering’ is not that of the decision-makers or their friends in the media. Oz also wrote that ‘there can be no moral equation between Hizbullah and Israel. Hizbullah is targeting Israeli civilians wherever they are, while Israel is targeting mostly Hizbullah.’ At that time more than 300 Lebanese had been killed and 600 had been injured. Oz went on: ‘The Israeli peace movement should support Israel’s attempt at self-defence, pure and simple, as long as this operation targets mostly Hizbullah and spares, as much as possible, the lives of Lebanese civilians (this is not always an easy task, as Hizbullah missile-launchers often use Lebanese civilians as human sandbags).’

The truth behind this is that Israel must always be allowed to do as it likes even if this involves scorching its supremacy into Arab bodies. This supremacy is beyond discussion and it is simple to the point of madness. We have the right to abduct. You don’t. We have the right to arrest. You don’t. You are terrorists. We are virtuous. We have sovereignty. You don’t. We can ruin you. You cannot ruin us, even when you retaliate, because we are tied to the most powerful nation on earth. We are angels of death.

The entirety of the article is well worth reading for its insight into the IDF's cultural dominance of Israeli society, and the unwillingness of anyone to contest it. Hat tip to the Angry Arab News Service.

INITIAL POST: On July 20th, David Grossman, a novelist and Israeli peace activist, supported the Israeli attack upon Lebanon, an attack that has killed over 1,000 Lebanese, created over 900,000 refugees and destroyed much of the country's infrastructure and economy:

Hizbullah's surprise blitz against the Galilee, Israel's northern region, proves - if anyone needed proof - how sensitive and explosive this region is, and how little it takes to bring it to the brink of war. Israel has launched a counter-attack, and it has every right to do so. There is no justification for the large-scale violence that Hizbullah unleashed this week, from Lebanese territory, on dozens of peaceful Israeli villages, towns and cities. No country in the world could remain silent and abandon its citizens when its neighbour strikes without any provocation.

In language echoing Alan Dershowitz, Grossman rationalized the consequences upon the Lebanese people:

Israel has attacked Lebanon because that country is officially responsible for Hizbullah. It is also the address from which missiles are being fired at Israeli cities. Hizbullah's leaders are members of the Lebanese cabinet, and participate in setting the country's policies. Even those who hope for an immediate end to violence and the opening of negotiations must acknowledge that Hizbullah deliberately created the crisis.

On the date of the publication of Grossman's column in the Guardian, the IDF had already killed 306 Lebanese civilians, 20 during a notorious airstrike in southern Lebanon when it attacked a convoy of civilians fleeing their village after being warned to do so, and displaced approximately 500,000 people. The IDF had targeted homes, schools, village centers and vehicles, including ambulances. One-third of the dead were Lebanese children. As reported by NPR, in urbanized south Beirut, block after block, whole roads were choked with chunks of cement, twisted metal and wiring from buildings that crumbled under the barrage of Israeli ordnance.

Read Grossman's Guardian column carefully. Nowhere does he express the slightest remorse at what the IDF had already done to Lebanon, or express any compassion for what the Lebanese have experienced. Indeed, the entire subject goes unmentioned. A highly regarded novelist, known for his humanism, antiseptically writes with the emotion of a bureaucrat. His mind was sharp, but his heart was still.

To his credit, Grossman had, at least, awakened to the fact that no military victory was possible, even if he closed his eyes to the collective punishment of the Lebanese:

What began as a justified Israeli response to aggression now looks like a trap with two doors, one for each side. Neither can defeat the other, but neither can concede. As the popular saying in these parts goes, each adversary is willing to lose an eye if that is the price to pay for gouging both of its enemy's eyes. Now is precisely the moment when the international community must step in, mediate, formulate a compromise, and save both sides from self-destruction.

Sensing the peril from the escalation of the war through a massive invasion of ground forces, Grossman again expressed opposition to it about a week ago, but, again, in ambiguous, if not cynical fashion:

Acclaimed Israeli authors Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, and David Grossman publicly stated their opposition Thursday to the cabinet's decision to expand ground operations in Lebanon, calling for a diplomatic solution to the crisis based on the proposal put forth by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

This past Sunday, the literary giants published an advertisement in the press calling for a cease-fire and negotiations. Critics felt the demand for a halt in the fighting was late in coming, and that the advertisement was aimed both at justifying the war as well as an attempt to distance the authors from the war.

The three men convened a joint news conference with reporters Thursday afternoon, a rarity in the world of Israeli literature, a few meters from the Defense Ministry compound at the Kirya in Tel Aviv. Later Thursday evening, Meretz and Peace Now are to stage a large demonstration in the vicinity.

"The literary people who are sitting here thought that Israel initiated a just war," said the organizer of the joint briefing, Professor Nissim Calderon. "After yesterday's cabinet meeting, they feel that the decision to widen the war is mistaken, and that [we] need to go from a military operation to a diplomatic operation."

Again, if the linked Haaretz article accurately reflects the content of the advertisement and the remarks at the press conference, little, if any, alarm was expressed over the extent of the carnage inflicted by the IDF, which, by that time, included 759 known dead Lebanese civilians, through killings of refugees at Qana and farmworkers at Qaa, and increasing numbers of refugees, approaching the 900,000 currently reported. Nor was there any mention of the fact that Hizbollah has been killing significantly more IDF soldiers than Israeli civilians, while the IDF has been killing far more Lebanese civilians than Hizbollah.

Now, David Grossman's son is dead:

There were an estimated 30,000 Israeli Defence Force (IDF) troops in the 30km strip of Lebanon south of the Litani river yesterday. But last night they were still fighting battles with Hizbullah close to the Israeli border, and suffering their heaviest casualties to date - 24 dead on Saturday with another heavy toll expected yesterday.

Among the dead was staff sergeant Uri Grossman, the 20-year-old son of David Grossman, one of Israel's most celebrated authors and peace activists who three days ago issued a public appeal with two other writers for the government to end the war.

One must ask the impertinent question: Did David Grossman abandon his initial support for the war for any reason other than the prospect that the resilience of Hizbollah and its allies in southern Lebanon would result in the unanticipated deaths of large numbers of Israelis in combat? Robert Fisk reports 43 dead IDF soldiers within a 24 hour period on Sunday.

From the West Coast, the record is no doubt incomplete, but, based upon what we already know, it appears that the Lebanese have only been, at best, a fleeting presence in his thought. I empathize with his grief, but shudder at his apparent erasure of the far greater suffering of the people of Lebanon. Perhaps, there is something very telling in it, and, maybe, something hopeful as well, because Israelis will eventually discover that they cannot personally avoid what they have done to Lebanon. In other words, the return of the repressed, and the consequences are likely to be both unpredictable and profound.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Some Light Weekend Reading 

Generally, I try to avoid being just another portal, but, from time to time, I consider it worthwhile to identify some interesting articles. With the weekend upon us, here's some relaxed reading to provide context to the turbulent events of recent weeks and beyond.

First, Mother Jones has an informative interview with Tariq Ali. In his free ranging responses, Ali directly addresses many subjects of importance, such as his opinion of the Cuban revolutionary project, as implemented by Castro, the negative impact of NGOs around much of the world, the reform of Islam, the emerging implausibility of a two state solution in Palestine, and, the right of the Lebanese, and especially, Hizbollah, to resist the Israeli invasion:

MJ: How can you support Hezbollah’s actions—or those of Hamas—given both groups’ adherence to a fundamentalist ideology that you make no secret of disliking?

TA: Well look, I don’t agree with their religious views, obviously. I’m not a believer. That’s hardly a secret: I state it in public. However when a country is invaded and attacked and people resist it’s important to speak up and to say they have the right to resist and to defend their right to resist. The whole history of the 20th century is a history of resistance groups which are either nationalist or, in large parts of the Muslim word, religious groups, including for instance in Libya and the Sudan. There, the groups resisting the Italian invasion were ones that [Europeans] couldn’t support politically—but nonetheless they defended them against attack. When Mussolini invaded Abyssinia and Albania in the name of European civilization and said he was going to wipe out these backward feudal despotisms, most people in the West defended the Ethiopians and the Albanians against the Italian onslaught and said they had the right to resist. So it’s on that principle—that when people, whoever they may be, you may not like them, but when they decide to resist, you have to defend their right to do so.

Second, John Ross describes the ongoing protests in Mexico City against the refusal to recount the ballots of the presidential election in Mexico:

The encampments stretch from the Periferico out in the ritzy Polanco district nine kilometers east to the Zocalo in the crumbling old quarter of the city. The great square has been sectioned off into 31 state camps where AMLO's [Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's] people live under enormous tents, the origin of which is uncertain. Some of the encampments function better than others. The Oaxaca delegation, veterans of such camp outs (striking teachers back home have been occupying the state capital's main plazas for three months) are said to have the best "cocina". Oaxacan cuisine is internationally celebrated. Meanwhile the folks from Campeche have run out of money and will soon be heading back to that far-off southern state.

AMLO sleeps with the delegates from the states--albeit in a fenced-off enclave under a private tent. It is not the first time that Lopez Obrador has encamped in the Zocalo. In 1995, after big-time electoral fraud in his home state of Tabasco, the leftist led hundreds of ragtag campesinos in a 1300-kilometer odyssey, "the Exodus for Democracy", which bedded down on these rain-soaked stones for weeks. Later, he would govern the capital from City Hall on one corner of the Tiennemens-sized Square and if he does ever ascend to the presidency, he has promised to move into the National Palace on another corner.

Extending west from the Zocalo, AMLO's people in the 16 delegations or boroughs of the capital have set up their own encampments. The Cuauhtemoc and Carranza delegations occupy Madero Street on a strip of the Centro Historico refurbished by Lopez Obrador in collusion with the third richest tycoon in the known universe, Carlos Slim. The contours of the old quarter or Centro Historico roughly correspond to the island of Tenochtitlan, the heart of the Aztec empire.

AMLO's encampments here bear more than a passing resemblance to those set up on these same streets by the "damnificados" refugees) from the killer 1985 earthquake that may have taken as many as 30,000 lives--the damnificado movement was the "caldo" (soup) in which Mexico's resilient civil society was brewed. In fact, some of those living on the streets now, lived on them back then. At a meeting in one of the tents on Madero and Motelinia to hash out food supply problems, Tona Lechuga from nearby Regina Street recalls how food stores were organized after the 1985 cataclysm. "We need to do this right" she insists, "We have an army to feed."

Lastly, we have another obituary for Murray Bookchin, by Mike Small in the Guardian:

His magnum opus was The Ecology of Freedom (1982). "The domination of nature by man stems from the very real domination of human by human," he wrote. "The long-term solution to the ecological crises is a fundamental shift in how we organise society, a new politics based on face-to-face democracy, neighbourhood assemblies and 'the dissolution of hierarchy'."

For Bookchin there was a clear distinction between ecology, which wanted to transform society, and environmentalism, which wants to ameliorate the worst aspects of capitalist economy. In Remaking Society (1990) he wrote: "To speak of 'limits to growth' under a capitalistic market economy is as meaningless as to speak of limits of warfare under a warrior society. The moral pieties that are voiced today by many well-meaning environmentalists are as naive as the moral pieties of multinationals are manipulative. Capitalism can no more be 'persuaded' to limit growth than a human being can be 'persuaded' to stop breathing."

And, don't forget, there are protests against the Israeli attacks upon Lebanon and Gaza in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle this weekend.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Partition of Lebanon 

UPDATE: Incisive military analysis by As'ad Abukhalil, Angry Arab News Service, superior to anything on CNN or Fox:

I am no military expert, but I can state this: Israel's campaign against Hizbullah has been an abysmal failure, while Israel's campaign against Lebanese civilians has been a great success. Supporters of Israel should be very proud.


INITIAL POST: It is a rather peculiar aspect of the psychology of war: the greater the resistance, the greater the grandiosity, the more extravagant the anticipated outcome. Perhaps, it has always been this way. One can imagine Roman generals promising more land and more gold in response to unanticipated initial reversals.

Hence, Israel, having lost the war in Lebanon militarily, symbolically and morally, while paradoxically retaining the ability to inflict catastrophic loss of life and property, seeks to partition southern Lebanon through indefinite occupation and the expulsion of the indigenous population. It is remarkable, however, as noted by Ran Ha'Cohen, that much of the G-8, currently operating through the UN, continues to align itself with Israel in this endeavor:

The U.S. has so far blocked any attempt to make Israel cease its fire. Now that Israel is about to reach its desired territorial aims, the U.S. deems it the right time to anchor Israel's occupation in a UN Security Council resolution.

According to the current resolution draft, the UN Security Council "calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations." Note the asymmetry, as well as the term "immediate." While Israel is occupying Lebanon, Hezbollah – or, as it is often called in Lebanon, "the resistance" (al-muqawama) – is not allowed to take any military action against this occupation. If it does, the resolution draft allows Israel to defend its occupation militarily, as long as it uses "non-offensive" means. Thus the UNSC, perhaps for the first time, waives the moral and internationally accepted legal principle of the right of occupied peoples to resist occupation. The resolution draft not only forbids Hezbollah resistance to the occupation, but also legitimizes Israel's right to defend its occupying forces against any Lebanese resistance.

Of course, as reported here on Sunday, the Lebanese, like Karim Makdisi, recognize the mendaciousness of the UN better than anyone else:

The draft UN resolution proposed by the US and France on Saturday thus seems strangely out of place, as though Israel had won this war decisively and is in a position to dictate the terms. The draft does not reflect either the reality of a balance of terror that clearly exists between Hizbullah and Israel today, or the political unity that this war has created in Lebanon and across the Arab world. As such, it has come as a shock to many people in the region. In the words of the influential Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri (who is mediating between Hizbullah and the Lebanese government), "if Israel did not win the war and it gets all this, what would have happened if it had won the war?"

Here are some preliminary observations on this draft resolution:

1. It clearly adopts the Israeli narrative that this war was begun by Hizbullah"referred to dismissively as an "armed group" "on 12 July when it "abducted" (as opposed to "captured") two Israeli soldiers, and makes clear that to prevent the "resumption of hostilities" Hizbullah must be banned in all areas between the Blue Line and Litani River. Elsewhere, the text refers to the Sheba'a farms as "disputed or uncertain" as opposed to "occupied."

2. It calls for a "cessation of hostilities" until an international force is deployed, as opposed to the "immediate cease fire" that the Lebanese government has repeatedly demanded. This gives Israel the face-saving mechanism it needs to justify the heavy costs of this war to its own public, given its pledge not to stop the war until an international force is in place in southern Lebanon.

3. It further calls on Hizbullah to cease all "attacks" while Israel must only cease "offensive military operations." Given that Israel has all along stated that this war is in self-defense, this phrasing clearly gives Israel the green light to continue to hit Hizbullah targets whenever it interprets the need for self defense.' And since 'Hizbullah targets' apparently includes the full spectrum of civilian installations throughout the country as well as all civilians in Lebanon, Israel could interpret this to mean a green light for the continuation of its onslaught.

4. It refers to the "unconditional release" of Israeli soldiers, but only to "encouraging the efforts aimed at resolving the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel." It says nothing about the exchange of prisoners, a key Lebanese demand.

5. It does not heed Lebanon's demand for an immediate lifting of the Israeli siege of Lebanon. Rather it makes clear that airports and ports will be reopened only for "verifiably and purely civilian purposes." In other words, everyone and everything going in and out of the country will be monitored, thus turning Lebanon into a new Gaza.

6. There is no mention of an international investigation into Israel's savage attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure as Lebanon's Prime Minster has repeatedly demanded. There is moreover no reference to war crimes, international humanitarian laws or the Geneva Conventions.

7. The heart of this draft resolution calls for a permanent ceasefire based on the disarming of "all armed groups in Lebanon" under UN resolution 1559, and the deployment in Lebanon (as opposed to Israel, or both countries) of an "international force" under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to help implement a "long term solution." The Lebanese government has insisted that the disarming of Hizbullah must be part of Lebanon's national dialogue in the context of the Taif Accords, and that the Lebanese army should be the main player in securing southern Lebanon, with an expanded UNIFIL there to assist it as needed.

In other words, the G-8 has expanded upon its determination that only Israel has a right of territorial self-defense to include the extermination of the Shia communities of southern Lebanon, as elaborated by Ahmad Samih Khalidi:

. . . What Israel now seeks is less of a secure border, and more of a major rearrangement of the Lebanese domestic scene that will crush resistance not only in Lebanon, but by extension in Palestine as well, and wherever else it may exist across the seething Arab Muslim world.

If Hizbullah, as many have argued, is indeed the people of south Lebanon and the voice of Shia Lebanese empowerment, then the Israelis seem to believe that the best means of defeating them is to disperse them, uproot the communities in which they thrive, and destroy the infrastructure that sustains them and provides them with their means of livelihood.

That is why Israel has been pounding away at the Shia areas of south Beirut that Hizbullah evacuated even before the bombing began. That is why it is attacking Shia population centres in the Beka'a valley in the east of the country. And that is why it is deliberately depopulating south Lebanon, driving almost a million civilians northwards in the hope of destroying what remains of the area's infrastructure, so as to make it impossible for its residents to return home any time in the near future. As in Gaza - which has been hit by 12,000 artillery shells over the past six weeks - Israel is creating a system of free fire and buffer zones, where it will be free to act in response to any "provocation".

Sadly, there is really not much new here. Depopulation is a longstanding Israeli expedient, used sometimes for grand strategic purposes, as in the 1948 war in Palestine, and at other times for less grandiose aims, but no less painfully, as in Lebanon in the 1978, 1982 and 1996 invasions.

The difference this time is in the purposeful destruction of the social and economic structure of the south, and the rest of the country. With no popular sea to swim in, Hizbullah's fighters will have been denied a secure social base for a long time to come. And now there seems to be the additional goal of creating a new socio-demographic reality in Lebanon, one that will make an impact on the already fragile domestic confessional and sectarian balance. After "cleansing" the south, Israel expects the rest of Lebanon, with support from the international community, to continue the elimination of Hizbullah - politically if possible, but by force of arms if necessary.

But facts on the ground, a favorite phrase of the Israelis in regard to the expropriation and settlement of the occupied territories, appear, in this instance, to be compelling the US, the British and the French to call upon long discredited powers of transubstantiation, the proverbial power to turn lead into gold, to transform a debacle into an opportunity for territorial expansion. Francis Bacon failed, and, likewise, the great powers are failing in Lebanon as well.

Today, for example, 15 IDF soldiers killed, 25 wounded in southern Lebanon, with anecdotal accounts indicating that a mass resistance to the invasion has emerged:

According to Mohammed, some of those keen to join the war have made it south and have been allowed to remain in their villages to defend them. "There is Hizbullah in the villages but there are others there as well. You can go back to your village and defend it if you can reach it, but Hizbullah will not allow you to accompany them on their operations."

A senior Hizbullah member who asked not be named said: "Religiously it is not permitted to waste people's lives by putting them in danger when they are not adequately trained. There are volunteers who help with supplies and other things."

Young women are among those eager to volunteer. Sitting with three friends in one of the Zarif school's empty classrooms recently converted into a women's prayer room, 21-year-old Sanine says: "As a woman I can help in many non-military ways. I can help the wounded; I can provide food and bring supplies. We all want to help in anyway we can."

Despite ideological differences, many young leftists are also now backing the fight against Israel. They see Hizbullah as filling the vacuum left by the largely ineffective Lebanese government and respect what they see as the dedication and competence of the fighters.

Samir, a 21-year-old journalism student and member of the Lebanese communist party, is helping to distribute supplies at the school in Zarif. "Every boy and man here longs to go and fight in the south. We will fight eventually."

Are these echoes of Madrid and Leningrad merely verbose posturing? If not, Israelis may soon find themselves traumatically adjusting to life in the absence of the military superiority of the IDF. As for the US, we can only hope that the war in Lebanon does not reach these shores again.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Poor Misunderstood Michael Ledeen 

I finally read James Bamford's Rolling Stone piece "Iran: The Next War" which argues that Feith's crew, the Office of Special Plans, lobbied for a war with Iran before a single shot was fired in Iraq. Bamford finagled a face-to-face interview with neoconservative extraordinaire Michael Ledeen -- which is pretty interesting -- but I think he, maybe unconsciously, beefs up Ledeen's role in the affair in order to make the Ledeen sit-down the centerpiece of the article. I'm sorry to say I didn't find the Rolling Stone exposé that ground-breaking. It's not that I don't find the allegations credible; it's that virtually none of them are new.

In late August of 2004, this material had a minor foothold in the corporate press and was all over the blogosphere. A murky first glimpse of the Larry Franklin espionage story appeared on CBS News followed by a wave of commentary and revelation that covered the same ground as Bamford's contribution. Josh Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Glastris's cleverly titled "Iran-Contra II?" in Washington Monthly basically broke the story. Marshall, Rozen and others elaborated in increasing detail and incomprehensibility on their respective blogs, until Juan Cole finally spelled the whole thing out on Informed Comment -- to quote my summary of Cole's post at the time:

The pro-Likud faction of the Department of Defense was conspiring with Israel's Likud party, the proto-fascist Italian intelligence agency SISMI, would-be Iranian revolutionary Ghorbanifar, and the Iranian anti-Khomeini terrorist organization MEK to overthrow the government of Iran. The overthrow was going to occur after Iraq was taken care of. [ ... ] The neoconservatives in the State Department successfully blocked an agreement between the USA and Iran in which Iran would have given up five high-level agents of al-Qaeda in exchange for chief operatives of MEK. The agreement was blocked to prevent a thawing of the relationship between the US and Iran and to keep MEK intact for use in the overthrow.

Besides a key difference to be discussed below, Bamford is telling the same story. In fact, the most interesting thing about "Iran: The Next War" has been Ledeen's reaction to it -- he freaked out and issued an, I kid you not, your-reporter-must-be-on-drugs-type denial to Rolling Stone and then posted even more comments on the rightwing Captain's Quarters. One wonders, why all the fuss about some allegations that are two years old?

I think the answer might be that, god help me, Ledeen has a legitimate beef. Bamford got the big picture wrong, and Juan Cole et al. had it right, or at least were closer to the truth. Bamford's argument is that Ledeen and friends were pushing for a US military invasion of Iran; Ledeen says that he lobbied for no such thing and that anyone who is familiar with his writings would know this. Ledeen's claim is surprisingly correct. Ledeen constantly writes about fomenting democratic revolution in Iran and supporting Iranian dissident groups and so forth, but that's all he advocates in print -- in one piece he even comes out against bombing suspected Iranian nuclear sites. He calls for regime change, but not an invasion by US armed forces.

What's going on here? This is a man Jonah Goldberg quoted as follows, "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." -- and he's soft on Iran?

No, Ledeen's position is a standard neoconservative position. Remember neoconservatism is an ideology in which an enlightened elite makes policy decisions in lieu of the brain-dead rabble. Such ideologies naturally favor secrecy over transparency. Military invasions are glaringly visible and are ostensibly subject to congressional oversight. I decode Ledeen's National Review pieces about fostering democracy in the land of the mullahs as a call for fighting an 80's-style dirty little war in Iran with a proxy army, and based on the commentary from 2004, it's pretty clear that the proxy army was going to be MEK.

Remember we first met Ledeen in the context of the Iran-Contra scandal which was all about funding and waging such wars in Latin America, as Edward Herman wrote in The "Terrorism" Industry

In articles written for Commentary and the New Republic, Ledeen argued in favor of U.S. support for right-wing terrorists ("resistance forces") such as UNITA and the Nicaraguan contras, and claimed that the Soviets had aligned themselves with the Mafia in order to use drug money to support international terrorism. In the first piece, entitled "Fighting Back," Ledeen urged the U.S. government to assassinate selected leaders of the Sandinista, Cuban, East German, Libyan, and Palestinian armed forces as a "counter-terrorism" measure [8]. In "K.G.B. Connection," after repeating the oft-told tale of the Bulgarian plot to kill the pope, Ledeen asserted that the Soviets were working with drug smugglers because they are "alarmingly short of hard cash these days." "Yuri Andropov's old organization, the K.G.B., has apparently become a major backer of drug smugglers, arms runners, and terrorists..." [9]. And all of this without a shred of evidence to support his charges.

Given what we know, I think it's reasonable to view Ledeen's recent NRO articles as advocating actions in Iran similar to those he wrote about in Commentary and the New Republic in the 80's.

Domino Theories (or a Post in which I Rip-off Billmon's Schtickt) 

Eisenhower on the strategic importance of Indochina, 1954: (from here)

[Y]ou have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the 'falling domino' principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences. [ ... ]

[W]ith respect to more people passing under this domination, Asia, after all, has already lost some 450 million of its peoples to the Communist dictatorship, and we simply can't afford greater losses.

But when we come to the possible sequence of events, the loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula, and Indonesia following, now you begin to talk about areas that not only multiply the disadvantages that you would suffer through loss of materials, sources of materials, but now you are talking really about millions and millions and millions of people.

Rumsfeld on the strategic importance of staying in Iraq, last Thursday: (from here)

I know there are calls in some quarters for withdrawal or arbitrary timelines for withdrawals. The enemies hear those words as well.

We need to be realistic about the consequences. If we left Iraq prematurely, as the terrorists demand, the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan and then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they'd order us and all those who don't share their militant ideology to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands from Spain to the Philippines. And then we would face not only the evil ideology of these violent extremist, but an enemy that will have grown accustomed to succeeding in telling free people everywhere what to do.

We can persevere in Iraq or we can withdraw prematurely until they force us to make a stand nearer home. But make no mistake, they're not going to give up whether we acquiesce in their immediate demands or not.

I guess those who don't remember propaganda are doomed to repeat it, or something...

Anecdotes from a Banana Republic 

Juan Cole flagged a couple of Lebanese blogs today. Who would've expected one to be funny?:

Lebanese Prime Minister Saniora is crying on TV again. Somebody tell him there's an acute Kleenex shortage, and that we're expecting many more grieving mothers, who should have first dibs on the scant supply.

To compensate for the relative ease of my life in besieged Beirut, I mutilate my senses every night --electricity willing-- with a dose of CNN. Last night's highlight was the riveting special, the "Arab Anger Edition". Fifteen minutes of coverage for the 12 IDF reservists who were killed after they failed to heed a warning that rockets were about to descend on their location, was followed-- not by an account of the 17 Lebanese civilian casualties-- but by a segment on how Arabs are, by nature, angry. CNN should merge with National Geographic, or at least call upon an anthropologist or two to elucidate this phenomenon.

News update: Not only did Israel threaten to liquidate Nasrallah today (which makes it sound so easy; just drop him in a jar of sulfuric acid) but they even "captured" a portrait of him. That's dash cunning of them. There’s only like 30 portraits of Nasrallah in every village in southern Lebanon. What will they demand in exchange for the portrait? Will Nasrallah surrender to secure its release? Stay tuned to CNN to find out.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The UN Backs Israel/Other Random Observations 

UPDATE 3: Two interesting articles in the Observer provide some insight about the war in Lebanon. First, some IDF pilots are beginning to wonder about the nature of their targets:

Yonatan Shapiro, a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot dismissed from reserve duty after signing a 'refusenik' letter in 2004, said he had spoken with Israeli F-16 pilots in recent days and learnt that some had aborted missions because of concerns about the reliability of intelligence information. According to Shapiro, some pilots justified aborting missions out of 'common sense' and in the context of the Israeli Defence Force's moral code of conduct, which says every effort should be made to avoiding harming civilians.

Shapiro said: 'Some pilots told me they have shot at the side of targets because they're afraid people will be there, and they don't trust any more those who give them the coordinates and targets.'

He added: 'One pilot told me he was asked to hit a house on a hill, which was supposed to be a place from where Hizbollah was launching Katyusha missiles. But he was afraid civilians were in the house, so he shot next to the house ...

'Pilots are always being told they will be judged on results, but if the results are hundreds of dead civilians while Hizbollah is still able to fire all these rockets, then something is very wrong.'

So far none of the pilots has publicly refused to fly missions but some are wobbling, according to Shapiro. He said: 'Their target could be a house firing a cannon at Israel and it could be a house full of children, so it's a real dilemma; it's not black and white. But ... I'm calling on them to refuse, in order save our country from self-destruction.'

Second, mass resistance appears to be developing among those who remain in southern Lebanon:

'I'm not like the Israelis,' Yahia said.

'I won't fight without a reason. But because I have a reason I will fight. Because this is my land, I am prepared to die for it. How could you stay silent when you see your land burn and your children get killed? The whole population here is now resisting.'

It is a crucial difference, he seems to suggest, which explains why Israel is struggling to make ground in this campaign - its soldiers are not fighting in their own villages to defend their homes. 'They hit and run,' Yahia said scathingly about the Israeli tactics. 'When they meet us they run like rabbits.'

It is something that strikes you forcefully when you reach the front line of this war. In these villages that form the strongholds of the Islamic Resistance, the men - many of them obviously fighters out of uniform - do not talk much in terms of ideology or religious fanaticism. They are not the zealots and jihadis that Israel claims. Instead, they talk about their damaged property and their livestock scattered by the shelling on the mountains. They talk about family who have fled and those who have stayed. And all the time they carefully skirt talk of the fighters. If they do talk politics it is sometimes with an unexpected spin. Several say that it is not so much the Israelis they blame for this - indeed, who they suggest would agree to a truce - but US President George Bush, who they claim is the real force behind the war.

While religion is an element, it is part of a much more complex formula. Yahia mentions that he follows Ayatollah Sistani, the moderate Shia leader in Iraq, and says he is prepared to be a martyr in this fight for his home. But it is said in a casual way. For Yahia, like the other men in the village, religion is important in the same way as his land, his home, his family and his people.

The south of Lebanon, with its Shia majority, is both strongly observant and socially conservative. 'We do have time to pray while we are fighting,' said Yahia. 'Some of us defend while others pray and then we pray while others defend. If I get an hour of rest I will try to visit my family. Otherwise we eat sand and bullets!'

As we talk, Yahia's commander and another younger fighter arrive to examine a dud shell. The older man is bearded and in his late fifties. 'I don't want to say how many fighters we have in Kfar Kila, but it is a large number. If the Israelis come again they will not get in.'

All the evidence suggests that the commander is not exaggerating. While uniformed members of the Hizbollah missile brigades in the villages around the largely Christian town of Marjeyoun are almost invisible, evidence of their presence is not. It suggests that the fighters here are more numerous, better armed and better trained than Israel imagined.

Even within the villages near the Israeli-Lebanese border, they recognize that this is our war. Only Americans remain unaware, at least for now.

UPDATE 2: Rather oddly, it appears that Hizbollah is more killing more IDF soldiers, and fewer Israeli civilians, while, with the IDF, the opposite is true, they kill far more Lebanese civilians than Hizbollah:

By the end of last week, 45 Israeli soldiers had died, and as many as 250 Hizbullah fighters had perished. Thirty-three Israeli civilians had been killed in the rocket barrages, while more than 480 Lebanese had died.

Note also that Hizbollah has been consistently disputing casualty figures provided by the IDF, so the number published in this Newsweek account may well be significantly lower, acknowledged by the reporter's use of the phrase: and as many as 250 Hizbollah fighters had perished. If you didn't already know, you have to read American news articles carefully.

Furthermore, note also, that at least 759 Lebanese have died since the war began, possibly more to be discovered in the rubble of buildings, with a third of the dead children under the age of 12. Meanwhile, today, Hizbollah rockets killed 12 IDF reservists and 3 civilians in northern Israel, again, possibly much the reverse of what the IDF has done in Lebanon, where it killed 19 civilians and a Lebanese soldier. Hizbollah casualties are admittedly unknown, but it is hard to imagine that they were substantial, given the failure of the IDF to publicize claims of this nature.

Expect to see American media deemphasize Lebanese casualties even more than they have previously done. On Friday, underscored links to articles on the websites for the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post all highlighted the destruction of the bridges connecting Lebanon to Syria, without mentioning 33 farmworkers killed nearby by IDF airstrikes. The Chronicle was the only newspaper to reference the deaths in explanatory text beneath the link, and, predictably, the Times headline in the Saturday print edition failed to note the deaths as well. Bridges are more newsworthy than people in this conflict, at least when the deaths are not Israeli ones. For more on this subject, visit Eli over at Left i on the News.

UPDATE 1: Living the Zionist dream, dying in defense of Israel. Apparently, extremist Islam is not the only practitioner of a seductive death cult, one that attracts from recruits from around the world:

Three soldiers with no family in Israel (termed 'lone soldier') have been killed since the fighting started in the North and two others have been wounded. Last Tuesday Staff Sergeant Yonatan Vlasyuk from the Ukraine, who served in an elite unit and lived with an adopted family in Kibbutz Lahav, was killed. A day later, Sergeant Assaf Namer of Australia, of Golani was killed, followed Tuesday by the death of an American, Staff Sergeant Michael Levin, a paratrooper. In the same incident another lone soldier in Levin's unit, Yonatan Marcus, was wounded. Another lone soldier, Ilan Grapel, of Queens, New York, was among 20 soldiers wounded Tuesday night in the battle of Taibe.

Major Avital Knacht, who deals with lone soldiers in the IDF human resources branch, said the IDF does not give out information about the number of its lone soldiers or those serving in combat units. However, she noted that the rate of volunteering for combat units among lone soldiers is higher than in the general population. Knacht said the lone soldiers "come to Israel ready to give their all, and the best way to do that is through combat duty."

Here's more, from today's Los Angeles Times:

O'Neil, 20, and several other soldiers at the Tiberias hotel are part of a program that brings Americans to Israel specifically to join the army to fulfill their concept of a Zionist mission.

Hundreds of young Americans have taken part. They come without their families. Some are placed in a kibbutz or similar situation, and all end up in the military. After a three-year tour of duty, many stay as residents and Israel gives them financial aid with school tuition and housing.

Zionists evidently receive their reward in this world, Muslims in the hereafter. And, even more, from the London Times:

At first sight Ben and his mates could be at a wedding party on the lawns of an hotel in his native Yorkshire. Except that this hotel is a short drive from the Israel-Lebanon border and, despite his Leeds accent, Ben is an Israeli soldier. He is also cradling an Israeli-army issue Colt AR15 semi-automatic rifle stamped “Property of US Govt”.

Ben, 26, who arrived in Israel last year, is one of thousands of those serving in the Israeli military either as newly arrived citizens or on army programmes for Zionists who want to defend Israel while deciding whether to emigrate.

Earlier in the day he was ducking Hezbollah mortars in the Lebanese village of Adessa, just across the border. Now he sits chatting in two languages about two lives — as a would-be medical student in Britain and as an Israeli soldier known among his colleagues for his stamina and ability to carry a heavy machinegun over long distances.

“My father is very supportive,” he tells The Times. “My mum is a bit anxious.” Ben arrived in Israel 15 months ago and serves in the Nahal Brigade, an infantry unit with a tradition of absorbing new immigrants.

INITIAL POST (The UN Backs Israel): Lebanon, Hizbollah, and their Sunni and Amal allies, find themselves fighting a war against much of the world, a world that seeks to legitimize the permanent presence of Israel troops in southern Lebanon:

Lebanon rejects a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to end 26 days of fighting because it would allow Israeli forces to remain on Lebanese soil, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said on Sunday.

Slamming the French-U.S. draft as biased, Berri said it ignored a seven-point plan presented by Lebanon that calls for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces and the return of all displaced civilians among other things.

"Lebanon, and all of Lebanon, rejects any resolution that is outside these seven points," said Berri, who has been negotiating on behalf of Hizbollah guerrillas.

"Their resolution will either drop Lebanon into internal strife or will be impossible to implement," he told a news conference.

The draft resolution, which the Security Council is expected to vote on either Monday or Tuesday, calls for a "full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations".

A senior Israeli government official said the Jewish state views the draft favorably, because it allows Israel to respond to Hizbollah attacks once a truce takes effect and did not order Israel to withdraw its 10,000 soldiers from southern Lebanon.

Israel wants its troops to remain until an international force mandated by the United Nations can take over.

Berri said that there could be no peace while Israeli soldiers remained on Lebanese soil.

It is easy to understand Berri's blunt dismissal of the proposal, after all, in 1982, the Israelis claimed that they were conducting a limited military operation in Lebanon to expel the PLO from southern Lebanon, but then proceeded to launch a full scale invasion and remain in southern Lebanon for 18 years, until they were expelled as a result of prolonged armed resistance by the indigenous Shia population.

Yet again, the UN finds itself the role of legitimizing imperial American policies in the region, regardless of the consequences. As Tariq Ali scathingly observed after a suicide bombing of the UN headquarters in August 2003:

The bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad shocked the West, but as Jamie Tarabay of the Associated Press reported in a dispatch from the Iraqi capital last week, there is a deep ambivalence towards the UN among ordinary Iraqis. This is an understatement.

In fact, the UN is seen as one of Washington's more ruthless enforcers. It supervised the sanctions that, according to UNICEF figures, were directly responsible for the deaths of half a million Iraqi children and a horrific rise in the mortality rate. Two senior UN officials, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, resigned in protest against these policies, explaining that the UN had failed in its duties to the people of Iraq.

Simultaneously the US and Britain, with UN approval, rained hundreds of tonnes of bombs and thousands of missiles on Iraq from 1992 onwards and, in 1999, US officials calmly informed The Wall Street Journal that they had run out of targets.

By 2001, the bombardment of Iraq had lasted longer than the US invasion of Vietnam.

That's why the UN is not viewed sympathetically by many Iraqis. The recent Security Council decision to retrospectively sanction the occupation, a direct breach of the UN charter, has only added to the anger.

All this poses the question of whether the UN today is anything more than a cleaning-up operation for the American Empire?

If there was any doubt, the proposed UN resolution for a ceasefire in Lebanon dispels it. One can only look admiringly upon the political sophistication of the Lebanese: they attacked UN offices in Beirut about a week before the resolution came forward. Angered by the deaths in Qana, they understood that the UN would do nothing to protect anyone, an understanding tragically confirmed by subsequent events, and, even worse, would eventually exploit their suffering as a justification for intervening for the benefit of Israel.

Surveying the desolation around him, Robert Fisk whispers the unmentionable:

In fact, one of the most profound changes in the region these past three decades has been the growing unwillingness of Arabs to be afraid. Their leaders - our "moderate" pro-Western Arab leaders such as King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt - may be afraid. But their peoples are not. And once a people have lost their terror, they cannot be re-injected with fear. Thus Israel's consistent policy of smashing Arabs into submission no longer works. It is a policy whose bankruptcy the Americans are now discovering in Iraq.

And all across the Muslim world, "we" - the West, America, Israel - are fighting not nationalists but Islamists. And watching the martyrdom of Lebanon this week - its slaughtered children in Qana packed into plastic bags until the bags ran out and their corpses had to be wrapped in carpets - a terrible and daunting thought occurs to me, day by day. That there will be another 9/11.

In a world in which nation states cynically presume to dictate the fate of the people of Lebanon, others will emerge, to resist in their own way, no matter how gruesome and misguided. The oligopoly of violence enforced by the world's major powers dissolved a long time ago.

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