Anyone old enough to think about “America’s” role in the world ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. For example, one ought to be able to argue firmly against U.S. intervention in other countries without feeling obliged to downplay or deny the real crimes that the tyrant du jour has committed. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees.
I can see the temptation here. Many people believe that all one needs to do to establish a case for intervention is to portray the target as egregiously bad. Consequently, a noninterventionist may think that the easiest way to rebut the interventionist is to deny the claim that the target is as bad as “they say.” But this is a lousy, shortsighted, and ultimately self-defeating move. For one thing, it implies that intervention would be acceptable if the target were that bad. Unsurprisingly, it’s better to stick to principle.
The principle of foreign nonintervention has nothing to do with the record of the foreign government in question. It is perfectly coherent to identify Ruler X as a brutal dictator and to oppose a U.S. government action aimed at regime-change and nation-building. Thus the noninterventionist has no need to blunt the move toward intervention by misstating or obscuring facts to make the targeted ruler appear less bad than he really is. If someone is puzzled by the statement “The ruler is as horrible as you say, but that is no justification for intervention,” it’s the noninterventionist’s job to straighten that person out because he clearly misunderstands the nature of noninterventionism.
The world is full of egregiously bad rulers — as distinguished from merely garden-variety bad ones — but when the matter turns to U.S. foreign and military policy, the appropriate question is, “So what?” As I say, the case for nonintervention doesn’t rest on the target’s record. So noninterventionists should have no trouble identifying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (among many others) as egregiously bad guys while also opposing U.S. government action against them.
Noninterventionists should also be able to state, assuming of course it is true, that a particular bad ruler is not as bad in every respect as the interventionists say without being smeared as an apologist for that ruler. For example, we can note that Assad, although a brutal dictator, has protected religious minorities, such as Christians, from the fanatical Sunni Muslims, such as al Qaeda and the late Islamic State. (Assad himself is a member of a religious minority, the Alawites, which is in the Shia branch of Islam.) Acknowledging Assad’s record of protecting minorities does not make one a fan, much less a tool, of the Syrian ruler. Similarly, one ought to be able to point out that U.S. sanctions are partly responsible for Venezuela’s problems without being accused of defending or overlooking Maduro’s authoritarian state socialism, which by nature will always harm the very people it is perhaps intended to benefit.
Thus the case for nonintervention is independent of Assad’s policy toward minorities and the consequences of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela. (Those sanctions should end.) Nonintervention stands on its own merits.
I find it necessary to discuss what ought to be obvious because recently I’ve seen people committing these fallacies: a few noninterventionists have appeared to suggest that a potential target of U.S. intervention, Maduro, isn’t really so bad, while some interventionists have accused noninterventionists of being soft on some demonstrably horrible rulers.
Another fallacy I’ve encountered is the equation of noninterventionism with nationalism, specifically with a belief that national borders are sacrosanct. The fallacy here is in thinking that the libertarian case for nonintervention rests on a reverence for national boundaries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Noninterventionism and open (i.e., essentially abolished) borders go hand in hand.
So why the iron rule against nonintervention if borders are not sacrosanct? Albert Jay Nock and Murray Rothbard both answered this question: as long as we live in a world of states, to minimize the harm, we are obliged to keep the state we labor under on, as Nock put it, as short a leash as possible. This is true in domestic policy, but it is even more urgent in foreign affairs since presidents have frightening and acutely lethal autonomy in that realm. We should need no reminder that when the U.S. government intervenes in a foreign conflict, it makes things worse — much worse — especially for noncombatants. So nonintervention is motivated not only by a wish to keep the state as small as possible, but also to minimize bloodshed by abstaining from exacerbating other people’s conflicts. Bluntly put, we must keep states from clashing. It’s got nothing to do with a reverence for borders.
In the harsh light of 21st-century American foreign policy, we can see that the cause of nonintervention has never been more urgent. Let’s not burden it with irrelevant considerations.
Americans’ free-speech and other rights are being violated by state laws aimed at stifling the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement against Israel’s illegal rule of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, both conquered over half a century ago. Twenty-eight states have enacted anti-BDS laws or executive orders that prohibit state agencies and state-financed entities, such as colleges, from doing business with any person or firm that hasn’t pledged never to boycott Israeli goods.
Appropriately, these laws have come under fire as violations of both free speech and the right to engage in boycotts, which consist of peaceful decisions not to buy products of a particular origin.
The latest case to hit the news is concerns journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin and the state of Georgia. Martin explained the case in a January 11 tweet:
After I was scheduled to give keynote speech [about the media, not about BDS] at an upcoming @GeorgiaSouthern [University] conference, organizers said I must comply w/ Georgia’s anti-BDS law & sign a contractual pledge to not boycott Israel. I refused & my talk was canceled. The event fell apart after colleagues supported me.
Georgia’s State Senate passed an anti-BDS bill which states that “a company or individual seeking a procurement contract worth at least $1,000 with any state agency would have to certify playing no party in a boycott of Israel.” When making his claim for passage on the floor of the Senate, Senator Judson Hill cited companies like HP and Motorola as examples of companies that use Israeli technology, and stated that boycotting any products or companies that were developed in Israel goes hand in hand with discriminating against the people of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole. [Emphasis added.]
One would be hard-pressed to show that boycotting Israeli goods discriminates against all Jewish people. Many Jews support BDS and condemn Israel for its brutal mistreatment of the Palestinians. Sen. Hill merely repeated the pro-Israel smear that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism, which is patently absurd. As for BDS constituting discrimination against the people of Israel — perhaps it does (except for Israelis who oppose the occupation of Palestinian territory and support efforts to end it). But why don’t Georgians and other Americans have a right to do that? It’s a peaceful decision to not buy certain products, and it violates no one’s rights.
Martin’s exclusion from Georgia Southern is under legal challenge by her, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF).
At least one other legal challenge on this issue has succeeded on constitutional grounds, and similar laws are now in the courts. Regarding the successful case, MPN Newsreports,
In 2018, Bahia Amawi, a Houston-based children’s speech pathologist who worked with autistic, speech-impaired and other developmentally disabled children, lost her job after she refused to sign a similar document. Amawi had been at her job for nine years previously without a problem. CAIR took up Amawi’s case and managed to overturn every Texas boycott law on the grounds of their unconstitutionality and she is now free to return to work. They appear confident of a similar victory in Georgia.
Quoting a previous case, federal district Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the Texas anti-BDS law “threatens to suppress unpopular ideas” and “manipulate the public debate” on Israel and Palestine “through coercion rather than persuasion.” Judge Pitman added: “This the First Amendment does not allow.”
This issue ought to be a no-brainer. By what right does a state government require contractors, including speakers, to sign what is in effect a loyalty oath to Israel (or another other country)? That those laws have passed state legislatures and been signed by governors is more evidence of the influence — dare I say power? — the Israel lobby routinely wields in American politics. The lobby along with the Israeli government works overtime to destroy the BDS movement and discredit the activists who participate in it. (See my “The Art of the Smear — The Israel Lobby Busted.”)
To address an objection (which I’ve already seen), anti-BDS laws are nothing like antidiscrimination laws that prohibit state agencies and state-funded entities from contracting with firms that practice racial, ethnic, religious, or sex discrimination. As long as states exist (hopefully for not too much longer) they will surely tax everyone without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, or sex. Therefore, it is wrong for the state — or tax-financed entities — to discriminate in hiring, contracting, etc., on the basis of those incidental characteristics. The liberal principle of equality before the law demands such nondiscrimination. But one cannot move from that reasonable principle to other kinds of conditions on contracting, particularly conditions that infringe the right to free speech (say, advocating BDS) or peaceful action (say, boycotting for any reason).
Finally, a word about BDS itself. The movement aptly models itself on the effort to boycott, divest from, and sanction South Africa during its apartheid days. Israel has deprived the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip of their rights since the war of 1967. Gaza is a prison camp under a long-standing Israeli blockade, punctuated ever few years by full-blow military assault. Peaceful protesters in Gaza have been shot by Israeli military snipers from outside the prison fence, killing hundreds and wounding tens of thousands. The Palestinians in the West Bank have no rights and are subject to military surveillance and Jewish-only settlements and roads, as well as separation wall that snakes through the territory. It is naked apartheid in that Jews have full rights while Palestinians are treated like nonpersons. Meanwhile, Israeli officials, encouraged by the Trump administration, have been moving toward formal annexation of key parts of the West Bank. Thus, no mystery surrounds the selection of Israel for boycott and divestment. (The Palestinians inside Israel, 20 percent of the population, are treated no better than second-class citizens, which is not surprising since Israel bills itself as the state of the Jewish people everywhere, not the state of all its citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity.)
I have no problem with the B and the D, and I applaud those who refuse to do business with companies and individuals associated with the oppression of the Palestinians and who liquidate investments in Israeli firms. That’s a proper and peaceful exercise of their rights. But we advocates of liberty should draw the line at S — sanctions — because we should on principle reject the state’s power to impose sanctions on anyone. Sanctions punish people who don’t wish to boycott the targets. But the right to boycott logically entails the right not to boycott. Also, if the state has the sanction power, it will surely use it against targets we wouldn’t want targeted.
I propose a different S instead: Strip Israel of its $3.8 billion annual military appropriation.
TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears occasionally on Fridays.
Trump’s “vision” for Palestine well illustrates that in his eyes (not to mention the eyes of Netanyahu, Kushner, and others), the Palestinians are mere pawns to be manipulated in the service of Israel’s and Trump’s designs.
This can be readily seen in an obscure provision of Trump’s plan, which “contemplates the possibility” that Israel and the future pseudo-state of Palestine could together redraw their boundaries so that nearly a dozen Palestinian towns within Israel, in an area adjacent to the line separating Israel from the West Bank known as the Triangle, would become part of the future pseudo-state. Were that to happen, the residents, who today are Israeli citizens, would lose that status without their consent and become citizens of the new pseudo-state. That would be an injustice.
While Palestinians are at best second-class citizens in Israel, they evidently do not like being ordered about by two entities they distrust: the Israeli government and the Israel-empowered Palestinian Authority, both corrupt and unmindful of individual rights. Netanyahu would no doubt like to see these towns transferred to the future pseudo-state (if there must be one) because that would mean fewer Palestinian Israeli voters and members of parliament. It would be ethnic cleansing by another means.
The fundamental flaw at the heart of Trump’s Palestine/Israel plan, presumptuously titled Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, is that Trump — like his predecessors — believes that the Israelis are the aggrieved party and the Palestinians are the not-fully-human aggressors inherently unworthy of even the minimum trust accorded fellow human beings. You can see this premise throughout Trump’s corrupt blueprint for the future of Israel and Palestine.
But this premise has the aggressor and the victim roles switched in defiance of the facts. The Palestinians are the aggrieved party. They were dispossessed in 1948 and 1967 and then denied full and equal rights within Israel and all rights in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. We see Trump’s attitude in a key part of Peace to Prosperity, namely, section seven on security and the associated appendices.
Before we get to that, let’s start by recognizing that although Trump brags that the Palestine he envisions would be bigger than what the Palestinians now control under the Oslo Accords, he is blowing hot air in his typical way. The Palestinians control nothing. Whatever internal security the Palestinian Authority (PA) administers in part of the West Bank is merely the result of Israel having subcontracted to the Palestinian elite the dirty internal-security work that Israel used to have to do itself. But Israel is free to override the PA whenever it sees the need and take internal security into its own hands. This is not autonomy.
So if Palestinian control is to be doubled, as Trump says, it would be a doubling of zero. Moreover, as Jonathan Cook writes, Trump’s plan misleads when it touts that Palestine would consist of 70 percent of the lands Israel has (illegally) occupied since the 1967 war. Several decades ago the main Palestinian organization and spokespeople agreed to reduce their claim to only the occupied territories, a mere 22 percent of the Palestine they had inhabited for millennia. That stunning concession never got the notice is deserved. (Only Israeli “concessions” are described as generous.) Yet Trump is demanding that the Palestinians accept only 70 percent of the 22 percent — which comes to 15 percent of the original territory the Israelis (that is, Zionists) took by force in what is called the Nakba, or catastrophe. And, Cook adds, that’s “after Israel has seized all the best agricultural land and the water sources.”
The security section and associated appendices make clear that in Trump’s (and Jared Kushner’s and Benjamin Netanyahu’s) eyes, the Palestinians are the bad guys who deserve nothing less than the closest surveillance lest they commit mass murder because they (so it is alleged) hate Jews qua Jews. So, despite the apparent creation of a sovereign State of Palestine, the Trump plan in reality would create a gerrymandered archipelago of Palestinian towns that nevertheless would contain many “Israeli conclave communities” (see the map above) and be surrounded by the State of Israel. Palestinians would have highly limited home-rule, but ultimate control would remain with Israel. That state would have complete authority over Palestine’s borders, airspace, and even the electromagnetic spectrum. Palestine would have no access to the Jordan River, because Israel would annex the Jordan Valley (as it’s about to do), or the Dead Sea. To quote the plan:
Upon signing the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, the State of Israel will maintain overriding security responsibility for the State of Palestine, with the aspiration that the Palestinians will be responsible for as much of their internal security as possible, subject to the provisions of this Vision. The State of Israel will work diligently to minimize its security footprint in the State of Palestine according to the principle that the more the State of Palestine does, the less the State of Israel will have to do…. [Emphasis added.]
As you can see, any so-called concessions are for Israel’s convenience and not out of respect for the Palestinians’ long-denied rights.
Of course, the Palestinians would be watched closely. Appendix 2B sets criteria for “Palestinian security performance,” and they contain an inducement: “As the State of Palestine meets and maintains the Security Criteria, the State of Israel’s involvement in security within the State of Palestine will be reduced.” That sounds like the League of Nations’ old mandate, that is, colonial, system under which Great Britain ruled Palestine after World War I.
But as we’ll see, those criteria are hardly objective and leave plenty of leeway for Israel to give Palestine a failing grade — which is exactly what we can expect.
We read that the “State of Palestine will have security forces capable of maintaining internal security and preventing terror attacks within the State of Palestine and against the State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Arab Republic of Egypt,” except that “these specific capabilities (i) may not (A) violate the principle that the State of Palestine in all its territory, including Gaza, shall be, and shall remain, fully demilitarized or (B) derogate the State of Israel’s overriding security responsibility, and (ii) will be agreed upon by the State of Palestine and the State of Israel.” (Emphasis added.)
And the kicker:
Should the State of Palestine fail to meet all or any of the Security Criteria at any time, the State of Israel will have the right to reverse the process outlined above. The State of Israel’s security footprint in all or parts of the State of Palestine will then increase as a result of the State of Israel’s determination of its expanded security needs and the time needed to address them. [Emphasis added.]
Just in case, of course, “the State of Israel will maintain at least one early-warning stations [sic] in the State of Palestine as designated on the Conceptual Map, which will be run by Israeli security forces. Uninterrupted Israeli security access to and from any early-warning station will be ensured.”
And: “To the extent reasonably possible, solely as determined by the State of Israel, the State of Israel will rely on blimps, drones and similar aerial equipment for security purposes in order to reduce the Israeli security footprint within the State of Palestine.” (Emphasis added.)
What a relief to know that Israel’s security footprint will be reduced through Israeli aerial surveillance — solely as determined by the State of Israel.
Let’s move on to the appendices, where some details are filled in.
Appendix 2C states that “Palestine will not have the right to forge military, intelligence or security agreements with any state or organization that adversely affect the State of Israel’s security, as determined by the State of Israel.” (Emphasis added.)
Israel of course would be free to make whatever agreement it likes, no matter how much it adversely affects the State of Palestine.
Moreover, a “demilitarized State of Palestine will be prohibited from possessing capabilities that can threaten the State of Israel.”
That is obviously vague. Defensive (and deterrent) capabilities can be always be called threatening. Israel does this with Hezbollah in Lebanon all the time. I note for the record that Israel is not similarly “prohibited from possessing capabilities that can threaten” the State of Palestine.
Congruent with the above, “any expansion of Palestinian security capabilities beyond the capabilities existing on the date this Vision is released shall be subject to agreement with the State of Israel.” Thus the Israeli state would have to approve virtually any change inside Palestine because, after all, almost anything could be construed as related to Israeli security.
We are assured that “while the State of Israel will use its best efforts to minimize incursions into the State of Palestine, the State of Israel will retain the right to engage in necessary security measures to ensure that the State of Palestine remains demilitarized and non-threatening to the State of Israel, including from terrorist threats.” There’s another blank check.
Now regarding those criteria:
The State of Palestine’s counterterrorism system must encompass all elements of counterterrorism, from initial detection of illicit activity to longtime incarceration of perpetrators. Included in the system must be: intelligence officers to detect potential terrorist activity, specially trained counterterrorism forces to raid sites and arrest perpetrators, forensics experts to conduct site exploitation, pretrial detention officers to ensure the retention of prisoners, prosecutors and judges to issue warrants and conduct trials, and post-trial detention officers to ensure prisoners serve their sentences. The system should include stand-alone detention facilities and vetted personnel.
I’m assuming, in light of Israel’s and the United States’ record in the matter, that “all elements of counterterrorism” include mass surveillance of all kinds, road checkpoints, torture, use of informants, and indefinite detention without charge, trial, or any reasonable notion of due process.
Just so the Palestinians are clear about what is expected of them, “the breadth and depth of the anti-terror activities of the State of Palestine will be determined [by Israel] by”:
The extent of arrests and interdictions of suspects, perpetrators and accomplices;
The systematic and comprehensive nature of investigations and interrogations to root out all terror networks and infrastructure;
Indictments and the extent of punishments;
The systematic and comprehensive nature of interdiction efforts to seize weapons and explosives and prevent the manufacturing of weapons and explosives;
The success of efforts to prevent infiltration of terrorists and terror organizations into the security forces of the State of Palestine.
Apparently, the Israelis will know the appropriate extent of all those things. But how? That’s not for us or the Palestinians to wonder about. But if the Palestinians fall short of expectations, you can bet the Israelis will maximize their “security footprint” inside the sovereign State of Palestine.
And speaking of vagueness, Palestine will be expected to “prohibit all incitement to terrorism.” Considering what the Israelis have regarded as incitement in the past, this sounds as though the Palestinian government will be expected to limit free speech.
And just so there’s no misunderstanding:
During the negotiations the parties, in consultation with the United States, shall attempt to create acceptable initial non-binding metrics with respect to the Security Criteria that are acceptable to the State of Israel, and in no event less stringent than the metrics used by either the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan or the Arab Republic of Egypt (whichever is stricter) with respect to the Security Criteria. Because security threats evolve, the metrics are intended to be used as a guide, and will not be binding. However, the establishment of such non-binding metrics will allow the State of Palestine to better understand the minimum goals they are expected to achieve, and take into account regional minimum benchmarks. [Emphasis added.]
To call the proposed Palestinian status one of indefinite probation with inherently subjective criteria interpreted by a sadistic probation officer would be a gross understatement
It’s clear to see that Trump’s plan is all about Israel (and its American partisans) and has nothing whatever to do with the rights of Palestinians to control their own destiny. All considerations appear subordinate to Israel’s alleged security concerns, but in fact, what really counts (since Israel faces no existential threat) is a pseudo-ethnic chauvinism. (I write pseudo because Judaism is a religion, not an ethnic or racial group, that is embraced by people of many ethnicities. See my Coming to Palestine.)
The Palestinians just don’t count. To the extent they would get anything out of Trump’s plan, it is to save Israel some trouble. Better to have Palestine elite do Israel’s dirty work.
TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears occasionally on Fridays.
Trump’s long-dreaded diktat to the Palestinians is now public. (See details here and here if you have the stomach for them.) The so-called plan of the century — the “Vision” — is pretty much what the early reports described, so I have little to add to what I wrote before. (My articles are here, here, and here. You can find more in my book Coming to Palestine.)
Suffice it say here that this “plan” is dead on arrival. The Palestinians will not be bribed by a $50 billion jobs program to give up their hope of full rights, which would never be achieved in Trump’s proposed Palestinian “state,” a fragmented territory surrounded and border-controlled by Israel. That barely begins to describe how Trump envisions Palestine. Look closely at the map accompanying this article: those red dots represent an unspecified number of “Israeli conclave communities” scattered throughout what would be Palestine. (See this.) It would bear no resemblance to a sovereign country. Israel would annex the Jordan Valley to the east of Palestine and the areas of the exclusively Jewish settlements in the West Bank — all of it territory having been acquired through war, which is illegal under international law. (See the “conceptual maps” here.) Netanyahu calls the term occupied territories a “big lie” because, he says, it is the land “where our patriarchs prayed, our prophets preached and our kings ruled.” But that is the big lie. One has no valid claim to land that others live on because one’s imagined ancestors lived there in ancient times, especially when the most likely descendants of the Israelites and Judahites are today’s Palestinians and most Jews descend from converts.
Under Trump’s Vision, Israel would have unified Jerusalem as its capital (it has it now), although Palestinian would have East Jerusalem as its capital — yeah, that’s incoherent. Of course, Israel would not be required to recognize that Palestinians were robbed of their land in 1948 and 1967. The refugees would gain neither the right of return nor compensation.
To quote the official document: “The State of Israel and the United States do not believe the State of Israel is legally bound to provide the Palestinians with 100 percent of pre-1967 territory (a belief that is consistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 [WRONG!]). This Vision is a fair compromise [sic], and contemplates a Palestinian state that encompasses territory reasonably comparable in size to the territory of the West Bank and Gaza pre-1967.”
But the Palestinians and much of the world believe, with good grounds, exactly what the “State of Israel and the United States do not believe” about the land that Israel conquered by war. The International Court of Justice nearly 20 years ago declared the occupation of the territories and the Jewish settlements illegal.
As for the size of the proposed Palestinian “state,” Yuma Patel of Mondoweiss commented, “While Trump boasted that his plan would promise a contiguous Palestinian state, doubled in size from its current form, the ‘conceptual map’ released by his administration shows a fragmented and dwindling territory, connected by a series of proposed bridges and tunnels.” (Again, look at the “conceptual map.”)
Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Trump’s shameless team of zealous Jewish nationalist-chauvinists, led by son-in-law Jared Kushner, have conspired to keep the Palestinians under the thumb of the so-called state of the Jewish people. That is intolerable.
As outrageous as Trump’s diktat is for its details, we should not overlook Trump’s presumptuousness in thinking it is his place to come up with a plan to settle the conflict between Palestine and Israel. It is not his place. A settlement is to be negotiated between the parties — without the American and Israel condescension that is always directed at the Palestinians, as though any discussion of their predicament is a favor to them for which they should be eternally grateful. In fact, bona fide negotiations would begin with an Israel apology to the Palestinians for the massive land theft and oppression it has perpetrated over so many decades.
Trump, who is unable even to disguise his contempt for the Palestinians, will be responsible for the tragedy that the future surely holds.
I’ve long thought that if you want to see through the deceptive camouflage to the truest essence of the state, you need to study the Great War, renamed World War I after the 20-year intermission between it and World War War II. As you study the prelude to the war that began in August 1914, you grasp how the rulers of each of the great European powers — Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia — shared responsibility, though not in equal measure, for the insanity that was to follow, an insanity that annihilated the flower of a generation and inflicted mind-numbing devastation throughout Europe and beyond.
Lately, I have been watching whatever documentaries and movies about the war I can find, so the appearance of a new movie, 1917, is perfect for me. This is not a movie about how or why the war that had 40 million total casualties happened. Rather, it focuses narrowly on two British privates on a mission that takes them out of the putrid trenches, across terrifying no-man’s land, and through possibly former German-held territory in France. And we accompany them throughout their ordeal; there are no cuts to other locations. I was on edge for nearly two hours. The movie’s remarkable cinematography conveys what that killing field must have looked and felt like to the poor souls thrust into it.
I enthusiastically recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see the misery that states are capable of inflicting on innocent people.
If you wonder what the post-Trump Republican Party will look like, take a glimpse at Tom Cotton, one of the US senators from Arkansas (where I live). Cotton has waged a relentless campaign for war against Iran and has supported every horror produced by the US foreign-policy establishment for the last 20 years. He makes other American hawks look like pacifists. Cotton once said that his only criticism of the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where people are held indefinitely without charge or trial, is that too many beds are empty.
Typical of take-no-prisoners warmongers, Cotton savages critics of the prowar policy that has characterized US foreign policy in the 21st century. No baseless charge is beneath him. He recently attacked the Quincy Institute in the course of remarks about anti-Semitism. (You can see what’s coming.) According to Jewish Insider, Cotton said that anti-Semitism “festers in Washington think tanks like the Quincy Institute, an isolationist blame America first money pit for so-called ‘scholars’ who’ve written that American foreign policy could be fixed if only it were rid of the malign influence of Jewish money.”
This is worse than a series of malicious lies — every word is false. In fact, it’s an attempt to incite hostility toward and even disruption of one of the bright spots on the mostly desolate foreign-policy-analysis landscape.
The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (QI) started last year with money from, among others, the Charles Koch Foundation and George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Its officers and staff include respected and sober foreign-policy analysts and journalists such as Andrew Bacevich, Trita Parsi, Jim Lobe, and Eli Clifton. Also associated with the institute are the well-credentialed foreign-policy authorities John Mearsheimer, Paul Pillar, Gary Sick, Stephen Walt, and Lawrence Wilkerson. This is indeed a distinguished team of foreign-policy “realists” who are heroically resisting America’s endless-war-as-first-resort policy.
Named for John Quincy Adams — who as secretary of state famously declared that “America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy” — QI “promotes ideas that move U.S. foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace.” The QI website goes on to state:
The U.S. military exists to defend the people and territory of the United States, not to act as a global police force. The United States should reject preventive wars and military intervention to overthrow regimes that do not threaten the United States. Wars of these kinds not only are counterproductive; they are wrong in principle.
It then goes on to indict the current foreign-policy establishment:
The foreign policy of the United States has become detached from any defensible conception of U.S. interests and from a decent respect for the rights and dignity of humankind. Political leaders have increasingly deployed the military in a costly, counterproductive, and indiscriminate manner, normalizing war and treating armed dominance as an end in itself.
Moreover, much of the foreign policy community in Washington has succumbed to intellectual lethargy and dysfunction. It suppresses or avoids serious debate and fails to hold policymakers and commentators accountable for disastrous policies. It has forfeited the confidence of the American public. The result is a foreign policy that undermines American interests and tramples on American values while sacrificing the stores of influence that the United States had earned.
This may not be pure libertarian foreign policy (“U.S. interests” is too slippery a term for my taste), but compared to what passes for foreign-policy thinking these days, it’s pretty damn good.
So why is Tom Cotton so upset? It should be obvious. QI opposes the easy-war policy of the last 20 years. Of course Cotton is upset. Take away war, and he’s got nothing in his toolbox. He certainly doesn’t want to see the public turn antiwar before he’s had a shot at high office, say, secretary of state, secretary of defense, CIA director, or even the presidency.
Cotton’s charges against QI are wrong on every count.
QI is not isolationist as long as it supports trade with the world and diplomacy as the preferred method of resolving conflicts.
It’s not a blame-America-first outfit because the object of its critique is not America or Americans, but the imperial war-loving elite of the American political establishment. Cotton is part of that elite, but that does not entitle him to identify the mass of Americans with his lethal policy preferences.
It’s not a money pit. As you can see, QI boasts an eminent lineup thinkers and writers. So the money is obviously well-spent on badly needed analysis. QI should have been set up long ago. Cotton shows his pettiness by putting the word scholars in sarcasm quotes. He should aspire to such scholarship as Bacevich, Parsi, et al. have produced.
But where Cotton really shows his agenda is his absurd claim that anti-Semitism “festers” in QI (and other think tanks — which ones?).
Cotton here is performing that worn-out trick that, alas, still has some life in it: conflating criticism of Israel and its American lobby with people who are Jewish (and who may well oppose how the Israeli state mistreats the Palestinians). I’m sure he knows better: this is demagogy and not ignorance.
On its face, the proposition that virtually anyone who criticizes Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinians and its Arab and Iranian neighbors probably hates Jews as Jews is patently ridiculous. Any clear-thinking person dismisses that claim out of hand.
Undoubtedly Cotton has in mind primarily Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of The Israel Lobby and Foreign Policy, published in 2008. (It began as an essay in The London Review of Books.) In that work, Walt and Mearsheimer reasonably attribute the lion’s share of influence on US policy in the Middle East to the Israel lobby, “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively works to move U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” They add, “[I]t is certainly not a cabal or conspiracy that ‘controls’ U.S. foreign policy. It is simply a powerful interest group, made up of both Jews and gentiles, whose acknowledged purpose is to press Israel’s case within the United States and influence American foreign policy in ways that its members believe will benefit the Jewish state.”
This is hardly controversial stuff, although reasonable people can disagree over whether the lobby was decisive in any given case.
But does anyone doubt that American champions of Israel work overtime and spend a lot of money to advance what they see as Israel’s interests? If so, see this and my book Coming to Palestine. (Many non-Zionist Jews disagree with them about those interests.) Organizations like AIPAC often boast about their influence. That they sincerely believe Israel’s interests coincide with America’s interests is beside the point. (I won’t address that dubious contention here.) That influence, which supports massive annual military aid to Israel, has helped to facilitate the oppression of the Palestinians, wars against Lebanon, and attacks on Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It has also provoked hostility to America and vengeful terrorism against Americans. (For example, the 9/11 attacks as acknowledged by the government’s commission.) Pro-Israel American political and military officials acknowledge this.
Cotton need not wonder why the lobby has succeeded so often since he himself is using the anti-Semitism canard to inhibit Israel’s critics. No one wants to be condemned as anti-Semite (or as any other kind of bigot), so we can easily imagine prominent people in the past withholding criticism of Israel for fear of being thought anti-Jewish. (It’s Israel and its champions, not Israel’s critics, who insist that Israel is the state of all Jews, no matter where else they may be citizens.) Thankfully, despite the efforts of Cotton, Kenneth Marcus, Bari Weiss, Bret Stephens, and others, the invidious conflation has lost much of its force. More than ever, people understand that to oppose the entangling alliance with Israel and to express solidarity with the long-suffering Palestinians do not constitute bigotry against Jews.
Can Cotton produce any evidence that anyone at QI believes that pro-Israel Jewish Americans should be barred from lobbying and making political donations or that such an obvious violation of liberty would fix American foreign policy? Of course not. There is no evidence. Moreover, I’m sure the QI realists understand that other interests also propel the prowar US foreign policy, including glory-seeking politicians and generals and the profit-craving military-industrial complex.
Those who reflexively and slanderously tar Israel’s critics as anti-Semites seem not to realize that the worthy effort to eliminate real anti-Semitism is undermined by their efforts to immunize Israel and its American champions from good-faith criticism.
TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears occasionally on Fridays.
So, Trump wants to add Middle Eastern nations (so far unspecified) to NATO so that the alliance can be more involved in the region. We need another obligation to go to war there like a hole in the head. That’s very peculiar for a Putin marionette who supposedly dislikes NATO, which by the way has grown already during his tenure. One always proposes larger missions for useless organizations. Such is the incoherence we’ve come to expect for the 45th occupant of the White House.
According to Politico, Trump said to reporters while describing in a call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
I think that NATO should be expanded, and we should include the Middle East. Absolutely … because this is an international problem…. And we can come home, or largely come home and use NATO. It’s an international problem. We caught ISIS. We did Europe a big favor.
So, I have actually said that I think the scope of NATO should be increased. And they should be looking for ISIS. We will help. But right now the burden is on us, and that has not been fair.
He went on:
NATO, right, and then you have M-E, Middle East. You call it NATO-ME. What a beautiful name. I’m good at names.
No, uh, if you add the two words, Middle East, at the end of it, because that’s a big problem. That’s a big source of problems. And NATO-ME, doesn’t that work beautifully, Jon? “NATO” plus “ME.”
NATO-ME — as though America hasn’t done enough damage in the region. This is our “stable genius” at work in the White House. Heaven help us.
International trade is one of the many areas in which the Trump administration has been egregiously bad. Trump himself seems to lack even the most basic knowledge about the principle of trade — he seems to think it is always zero-sum with a loser for every winner — and he’s surrounded himself with advisers who are just as ignorant.
We are indebted to George Mason University economist Donald Boudreaux for keeping a close eye on these reckless ignoramuses, who are so casual about our well-being. In the latest of a series of blog posts, Boudreaux again notes how militantly ignorant those advisers are. The latest post again demolishes trade adviser Peter Navarro, who’s never seen an American tariff he did not love. Boudreaux points that Navarro doesn’t even understand what a trade deficit is. On the one hand, Navarro praises Trump’s tariffs for combating the trade deficit while on the other he praises them for stimulating foreign investment in America. What’s wrong with that? Here’s Boudreaux:
Mr. Navarro apparently doesn’t understand the elementary fact that, because every dollar invested in the U.S. by foreigners is a dollar not spent on U.S. exports, the investments about which Mr. Navarro today boasts promote the very trade deficits that, in other contexts, he bemoans. [Emphasis added.]
When people complain about the trade deficit, they are referring to an imbalance in the merchandise account: they mean that the dollar amount of goods that Americans sell to people in a given country or all countries is less than the dollar amount of goods that Americans buy.
But merchandise is only about half the picture. A capital account also exists; that’s a comparison of the dollar value of foreign investment in America with the dollar value of American investment in other countries. When a foreigner earns a dollar from an export to America, he has a few options of what to do with that dollar, which he can’t spend at home. If he buys an American product, he leaves the merchandise account unchanged (a dollar out and a dollar in), but if he invests the dollar in America, he indeed contributes to a deficit in the merchandise account while also contributing to a surplus in the capital account. The accounts are roughly mirror images. But people ignore the capital account, and that’s just ignorant if not stupid.
So it is ridiculous to praise trade restrictions for remedying the merchandise-account deficit and for attracting foreign investment to America (which increases that deficit). If Navarro really understood or cared about the trade deficit (one need not care about it actually), he would condemn foreign investment and demand that foreigners buy American products. I’d like to see him try that.
Trump and his trade advisers would certainly flunk any course in elementary economics.
“It is, however, insane and intolerable that peace depends on the restraint of the Islamic Republic and an American president given to rage-tweeting war-crime threats,” the Cato Institute’s Gene Healy, who studies presidential power, writes in “Trump the Decider.”
“No one fallible human being should be entrusted with the war powers now vested in the presidency. Now, more than ever, Congress needs to do everything in its power to reclaim its authority over war and peace.”
By what authority did Trump order the drone-assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and key Iraqi militia commanders in Iraq, all former allies in the fight against ISIS? Writes Healy:
For now, the official rationale is classified. In terms of public justification, all we have is some hand-waving by Trump’s national security adviser about the president’s “constitutional authorities as commander in chief to defend our nation” and the 17-year old Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq (2002 AUMF). Neither comes close to vesting the president with the power to set off a whole new war.
The 2002 AUMF authorizes the president to use military force in order to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq” and enforce various UN resolutions “regarding Iraq.” Unless “45” is going to break out the presidential sharpie and change the “q”s to “n”s, that’s not going to cut it. Neither will the 2001 AUMF, as I’ve explained at length elsewhere (See: “Repeal Old AUMFs and Salt the Earth”).
Healy disposes of the “self-defense” rationale for Trump’s act of war without a congressional declaration of war. I’d only add that if no US troops were in Iraq, they would not be subject to attack by anyone there.
By now we’ve heard enough official explanations of Trump’s assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and others to realize they are all nonsense. (And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo now admits it.) Trump killed Soleimani because, egged on by his unsavory friends Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he has it in for Iran. So when the opportunity to pull off the murder-by-drone came along, he took it. It’s not as though he thought he needed a special justification. It’s good to be the king — er, president.
Most official explanations have entailed some sort of threat to US military or diplomatic personnel, “interests,” or “assets.” And sometimes one US official has had no idea what another is talking about. Trump said four embassies were threatened, but his secretary of defense said that was news to him. Other explanations tie the killings to the breach of the US embassy in Baghdad that occurred after Iran and the US had exchanged strikes in Iraq that took the lives of 25 Iraqis and one American. In other words, it was retribution not prevention. (Killing Iran’s top general while on a peace mission to Iraq seems, let’s say, disproportionate to the temporary embassy breach in which no one was killed or injured.)
If all this is confusing, don’t worry about it: Trump says none of it matters.
But I want to focus on the the initial claim, namely, that Soleimani had been planning “imminent” attacks of some unspecified nature. This, by the way, is debunked by an NBC report that the assassination was planned seven months ago. But we’ll let that go right now.
Since no such attacks occurred, we are entitled to dismiss Trump’s claim. Had attacks been imminent, why would anyone believe that killing Soleimani would stop them? Assassinating him would seem more likely to guarantee them. They were imminent after all.
But let’s go a step deeper — into the grammar, or logic, of all this. I realize that people can use words in differing ways, but I can’t shake the thought that if you are planning to do something, the planned action cannot be imminent. If you tell me something is imminent, I take that to mean the planning is over; execution is next. (Pun unintended but noticed.)
So I would advise that the next time the government tells you it’s killed someone because he was planning an imminent attack, it’s lying.
While an eerie, surreal calm has fallen over US-Iranian relations, I wouldn’t assume we’re out of the woods yet. Trump had no reason to be confident that Iran’s response to his most recent escalation of violence would be little more than symbolic. Although he’s accepted that response more or less passively for now, with Trump, things can turn on a dime. Who can tell what determines his mood at any given time?
Contemplating Trump’s January 3 escalation of the previously relatively low-level conflict with Iran, one might be struck by how casually the US government (and others of course) treat innocent bystanders. That was among my first thoughts on hearing of the Trump-ordered drone assassinations of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani, Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and others in Iraq.
By innocent bystanders, I don’t mean the commander of Iran’s Quds Force or the leaders of Iraq’s Shi’ite militias, which are part of the Iraqi security establishment, all of whom were allies of US forces in the fight against the Islamic State. (Remember the Islamic State, don’t you?, which the US had fertilized the ground for by declaring open season on Syria’s ruler and Iranian ally Assad?) I take as a given that no one among the rulers and military leaders of countries in the Middle East has clean hands. The same can be said for the rulers and military leaders from powers outside the Middle East that have intervened in the region. The case for nonintervention has never depended on the presence of good guys in any particular conflict. That case stands even when the targeted figures have been less than discriminating about whom they order shot. Interventionism is based simply on 1) the wisdom of keeping “one’s own” government on as tight a leash as possible and 2) the knowledge that the law of unintended horrific consequence is always in effect. After all we’ve lived through since 2001 — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, among others — must we really be reminded of this?
By innocent life I’m also not even referring to American military and diplomatic personnel. Americans in Iraq may indeed be killed, injured, and captured as a result of Trump’s assassinations, but they are hardly innocent. On the contrary, they are there because Bush II ordered an invasion force into Iraq and his successors have carried on the operation and have extended it beyond Iraq. Absent that program (or something equally insane), we would not now be at this juncture.
No, the innocent lives I’m talking about are Iraqi and Iranian (among others) — lives that Americans have been treating like garbage for years: the lives, that is, of foreigners. I realize that for many, and maybe most, Americans, foreign lives don’t rank high on their list of concerns. It’s the prerogative of history’s presumed chosen nation to put itself first and only, and indeed it has. You’ll often hear how many Americans have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq (or Vietnam), but rarely how many Afghans and Iraqis (or Vietnamese) were murdered by Americans. Nor will you hear how America’s economic warfare against Iranians and others have cost countless lives because of its effect on food and medical supplies.
So my thoughts are with the overlooked innocent foreign lives that are on the line. Consider their predicament of powerlessness: they won’t even be able to vote in the upcoming presidential election. (Not that the one “cherished” vote that each American 18 and older possesses is worth terribly much.) I’m beginning to see why foreigners might want to “intervene” in American elections: it’s so easy for them to be on the receiving end of America’s lethal militarist imperial foreign policy; they certainly have an interest in the outcome of US presidential elections. The only country to blame for providing an incentive for foreign election intervention is the United States itself.
The threat to innocent Iranians from a war with the US — whatever form it may take — doesn’t take much imagination. One need only look up the US record of civilians deaths in the region and beyond to see what I mean.
But let’s not overlook the potential Iraqi victims. After all, Trump had the arrogance to assassinate the Iranian Soleimani on “friendly” Iraqi soil, and Iran’s missile response (though it apparently was bloodless) also occurred there. The battleground, if it eventuates, could mainly be in Iraq. (But let’s not forget Syria.)
By the way, Soleimani flew to Iraq after Trump had urged the Iraqis to facilitate a de-escalation of tensions between Iran and US best buddy Saudi Arabia. Soleimani had flown openly to Iraq’s international airport to deliver his response to a Saudi proposal at a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. That’s when he was killed by the American drone strike ordered by Trump. Who says? Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi does.
Thus did Trump add dishonor to murder.
With the killing of the top Iranian military/political operative and Iraqi militia leaders — again, all of them US allies against the Islamic State — fragile Iraq could spin out of control, with grave consequences for regular innocent Iraqis, Shi’ite and Sunni. Iraq is mostly Shi’ite, of course, but it has pro-Iranian and not-so-pro-Iranian factions, not to mention Sunni Arab and Kurdish populations. How much influence Iran should have in Iraq’s internal affairs is a contentious matter there. (Since 2003 the US strangely has favored the pro-Iranian factions over their more nationalist rivals.) If Trump’s lethal strike ignites a civil war, no doubt he’ll be safe and sound at Mar-a-Lago or in the White House. So it’s no big deal to him. Small comfort for the bystanders thousands of miles away.
But even if the strike ends up uniting Iraqis against the US presence, the results could still be deadly to bystanders as the cycle of violence intensifies. Moreover, as veteran war correspondent Patrick Cockburn points out, with the shift in US attention from the remnants of ISIS to the Iraqi Shi’ites and Iran, “The biggest cheer in Iraq after the US drone strike [that killed Soleimani et al.] will have come from ISIS commanders in their isolated bolt-holes in the desert and mountains of Iraq and Syria.”
Sure, some American military and diplomatic personnel may bite the dust too, but that would just give Trump another pretext to order his military into heroic action. So no big deal. He’ll be adored at rallies, and maybe he’ll throw in a photo op with a Gold Star family or two.
I’m not worried about Trump. I worry for the innocent bystanders.
TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears occasionally on Fridays.
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