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News :: War and Militarism
video/photos-No new US war on Iraq protest-Harvard Sq.
19 Jun 2014
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Harvard Square-Cambridge, Mass.-June 18, 2014:
About 40 anti-war activists, from Mass. Peace Action,
United For Justice With Peace, and other peace
organizations, staged a protest against any new
U.S. attack on Iraq.New England Cable News and
Channel 5 WCVB were there covering the protest.

I took some video and photos:


There will be a bigger protest this sat.6/21 at 1pm
outside Park St. T station in Boston.
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Re: video/photos-No new US war on Iraq protest-Harvard Sq.
20 Jun 2014
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Obama exploits Iraq crisis as pretext for war against Syria

By Patrick Martin and Joseph Kishore
20 June 2014

The Obama administration is utilizing the crisis in Iraq as an opportunity to escalate the US war drive throughout the Middle East, with Syria in the crosshairs.

On Thursday, President Obama held an afternoon press conference in which he announced that the US would send 300 military advisers to Iraq as part of a military deployment that includes plans for a bombing campaign ostensibly targeting an insurgency led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Following this announcement, a conference call was held with three unnamed administration officials. When a reporter asked whether US attacks on ISIS would be limited to Iraq, given that ISIS operates on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border, and controls significant territory in eastern Syria, one official responded that “we don't restrict potential US action to a specific geographic space.”

“The president has made clear time and again that we will take action as necessary including direct US military action if it’s necessary to defend the United States against an imminent threat,” the official added. ISIS “operates broadly, and we would not restrict our ability to take action that is necessary to protect the United States.” The official also included “our homeland” among the regions threatened by ISIS.

Citing “senior administration officials” the Washington Post reported that the administration “has begun to consider the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as a single challenge.” The situation in Iraq could “force the administration to reconsider its calculations in Syria”—including military strikes and more advanced weaponry to the US-backed opposition.

As the WSWS warned, the American ruling class has “no shortage of foul and bloody tricks up its sleeve” in response to the debacle in Iraq, a debacle created by a brutal and bloody war and occupation. The US is now seizing on the crisis it created to reverse its failure to launch air strikes against Syria last August, a retreat now widely viewed as disastrous within US ruling circles.

The diplomatic and military shift to target Syria was prepared the day before Obama’s press conference in an op-ed column published Wednesday in the New York Times, written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a leading member of the Democratic foreign policy establishment who served as director of policy planning for the State Department under Hillary Clinton from 2009 to 2011.

Slaughter’s commentary criticizes Obama’s failure to act in Syria. “Why is the threat of ISIS in Iraq a sufficiently vital interest, but not the rise of ISIS in Syria?” Slaughter asks, before concluding, “The answer … may well involve the use of force on a limited but immediate basis, in both countries.”

Slaughter’s former boss, Hillary Clinton, has in recent days given a number of interviews in which she states that she favored bombing Syria, a position that she also outlines in her newly published memoir.

With no public discussion, and in the face of widespread popular opposition, the Obama administration is now preparing to drag the country into an open-ended conflict that threatens to engulf the entire Middle East, involving Syria, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies.

Nor is the conflict confined to the Middle East. The war drive against Syria is inextricably tied to the US and European-backed campaign against Russia, a major Syrian ally. Opposition from Russia was a significant factor in the decision by the Obama administration to temporarily pull back from war against Syria last year. This was followed by the operation in Ukraine to unseat a pro-Russian government and provoke a confrontation with Russia itself.

In its reckless war fever, the foreign policy of the United States is riven by contradictions. While the operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan are supposedly aimed at targeting Islamic militants, the US and its allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar have in fact financed these forces—including ISIS—as part of the campaign against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. While the ISIS-led insurgency in Iraq is the pretext for bombing Syria, it is in fact the Syrian government, not ISIS, that would be the target.

Moreover, the civil war in Syria is a direct consequence of the civil war in neighboring Iraq deliberately instigated by the US occupation regime, which sought to crush resistance in the Sunni community by encouraging Kurdish separatism and mobilizing Shiite militias in a war of extermination in 2006-2007.

After deliberately fomenting sectarian conflict, the US is now denouncing the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for failing to unite the ethnicities and religions of Iraq.

The crisis in Iraq is also seen as an opportunity to effect a certain restructuring of Iraqi politics, in particular by removing Maliki. At Thursday’s press conference, Obama confined himself to pro forma declarations that it was up to the Iraqi people, not the US government, to decide on who should govern Iraq. But the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the administration “is signaling that it wants a new government in Iraq without Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.”

The fact is, Maliki was installed in office after the US military conquered Iraq, and he was a puppet of the occupation regime. Should Washington decide he has become too much of an obstacle, Maliki would be terminated as soon as a suitable replacement can be found.

All of this is being carried out in complete violation of international law. At Thursday’s press conference, not a single reporter thought to ask Obama what was the legal justification for the announced troop deployments. It is the position of the Obama administration that the president has the right to wage war against anyone, anywhere, without even the pretense of a Congressional, let alone popular, mandate.

Obama met with the top congressional leaders of both parties at the White House Wednesday, and according to press reports, none raised any constitutional objection to US military intervention in Iraq or the broader Middle East.

“We had a good discussion,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said, adding that Obama “indicated he didn’t feel he had any need for authority from us for steps that he might take.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, added that she did “not believe the president needs any further legislative authority to pursue the particular options for increased security assistance discussed today.”

The vast majority of the American people oppose any reentry of US military forces into the cauldron of Iraq, let alone US intervention in Syria, but this intense antiwar feeling finds no expression within the US political establishment and its twin parties of imperialist war.
20 Jun 2014
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Beyond Maliki The Real Culprits in Iraq


The beleaguered Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, is the latest in the long list of the West’s favorite political leaders turned into pariahs. The conventional wisdom now is that Maliki’s flaws and wrong policies, especially his alienation of the Sunnis and dictatorial style of governance, are at the root of Iraq’s problems, including its latest troubles with extremist Islamic militants.

Clearly, Maliki has not been a successful prime minister. Yet have his very real and assumed flaws been the only, or even the main, cause of Iraq’s problems today? Could a different person have done a better job? Or have the real culprits been structural problems, Iraq’s long and more recent history, and the policies of regional and international actors? A further question: are the grievances of Iraq’s Sunnis solely attributable to the Shias’ desire to monopolize power? What about the Sunnis’ inability to come to terms with any type of government in which the Shias have a real rather than ceremonial function?

These questions are by no means posed to minimize or underestimate the impact of the current leadership’s mismanagement and mistakes, or the corrosive influence of dissension within Shia ranks among the supporters of Maliki, the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and Ammar al-Hakim, the head of the Islamic Council of Iraq. But if viewed impartially, the weight of evidence shows that other factors have played more substantial roles in causing Iraq’s previous problems and the latest crisis than Maliki’s incompetence and dictatorial tendencies.

The most significant factor behind Iraq’s problems has been the inability of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and its Sunni neighbors to come to terms with a government in which the Shias, by virtue of their considerable majority in Iraq’s population, hold the leading role. This inability was displayed early on, when Iraq’s Sunnis refused to take part in Iraq’s first parliamentary elections, and resorted to insurgency almost immediately after the U.S. invasion and fall of Saddam Hussein.

All along, the goal of Iraqi Sunnis has been to prove that the Shias are not capable of governing Iraq. Indeed, Iraq’s Sunni deputy prime minister, Osama al Najafi, recently verbalized this view. The Sunnis see political leadership and governance to be their birthright and resent the Shia interlopers.

The Sunnis’ psychological difficulty in accepting a mostly Shia government is understandable. After ruling the country for centuries, both under the Ottomans and after independence, and after oppressing the Shias and viewing them as heretics and dregs of society, the Sunnis find Shia rule to sit heavily on them. It is thus difficult to imagine what any Shia prime minister could have done — or could now do — to satisfy the Sunnis. For example, during the early years after Saddam’s fall, once they had realized their mistake of abstaining from politics, the Sunnis made unreasonable demands as the price of cooperation, such as taking the defense portfolio. Yet considering what the Shias had suffered under Saddam, there was no possibility that they could agree.

Iraq’s Sunni Arabs have not been alone in undermining the authority of the country’s Shia leadership. Masood Barzani, who dreams of an independent Kurdistan, has also done what he can to undermine the authority of the government in Baghdad, by essentially running his own economic, oil, and foreign policies. A factor in Barzani’s attitude has been his anti-Iran sentiments, which go back to the troubles that his father, Mulla Mustafa Barzani, had with the Shah.

Iraq’s Sunni neighbors, notably Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but also Qatar, also cannot countenance a Shia government in Baghdad. In addition to the anti-Shia impact of the Wahhabi creed that is dominant in Saudi Arabia and among the Qatari leadership, this Sunni animosity has derived from the perception that a Shia government in Iraq would change the balance of regional power in Iran’s favor. Yet Maliki is the least pro-Iranian of Iraq’s Shia leaders, with the possible exception of the now-notorious Ahmed Chalabi. During Saddam’s time, Maliki belonged to the Dawa party, a rival of Iraq’s Islamic Revolutionary Council that was supported by Iran, and he spent more time in Syria than in Iran. This is one reason why the United States preferred Maliki to personalities like Ibrahim Jafari.

Moreover, Maliki tried to reach out to Turkey and to other Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. But Turkey snubbed him and supported his rival, Tariq al-Hashimi. The Arab states have also shunned him. Under these circumstances, Maliki had no choice but to move closer to Iran. Yet the idea that he has thus become an Iranian pawn is a myth with no foundation in reality. Even now, Iraq has not reestablished the Algiers Agreement of 1975 that regularized Iraqi-Iranian border disputes, an agreement which, before attacking Kuwait in 1990, Saddam had accepted. Iraq has not signed a peace treaty with Iran and competes with it in courting clients for oil exports. Iraq also has more extensive trade relations with Turkey than with Iran.

In short, by exaggerating the sectarian factor, Iraq’s Sunni neighbors have exacerbated Shia fears and made it more difficult for them to pursue a more inclusive policy vis-à-vis the Sunnis. Further, most killings in Iraq have been in Shia areas, undertaken by Sunni extremists of various kinds who are funded by Sunni governments in the region. The plight of the Shias has also not been limited to Iraq. Similar mistreatment in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan has gone unnoticed by the West, while the exclusion of Iraq’s Sunnis from leadership posts in Baghdad has been blown out of proportion. Western and especially U.S. dislike of Iran has been a major cause for the disregarding of mass killings and assassination of Shias.

Conflicting U.S. policy objectives in the region have also led it to pursue policies in Iraq that have contributed to current U.S. dilemmas. The most glaring example was the U.S. courting of Sunni insurgents and tribal leaders, both of which were thus emboldened to commit acts such as attacking the Shia shrines in Samara in 2006 and frightening the Shias that the United States would again betray them as it did at the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Wanting to isolate Iran and perhaps to bring about regime change there, the United States has also done virtually nothing to reign in the Saudis and others, including Turkey and Qatar, to prevent them from funding Sunni insurgents. Instead, Washington has blamed Iraqi unrest solely on Iranian meddling. Even today, there is no acknowledgement by the United States that the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) cannot achieve what it has been doing without outside help.

At an even more fundamental level, U.S. efforts to achieve too many contradictory and incompatible goals have been at the root of Iraq’s crisis. To date, it has proved to be difficult — indeed impossible — to eliminate Saddam but produce a stable Iraq; to isolate Iran and possibly change its regime; to get rid of Assad in Syria without exacerbating its civil war; to forge a Sunni-Israeli alliance against Shia Iran; and to convince other Shias throughout the region to continue playing second fiddle to the Sunnis.

To summarize, Nouri al-Maliki is certainly flawed and has made many mistakes. But the real culprits have been Iraq’s considerable fault lines, contradictory policies pursued by the West, and the predatory approach of Iraq’s neighbors. Thus even if Maliki is removed from office, Iraq’s situation will not improve unless these fault lines are dealt with and the policies pursued by outside states in Iraq are remedied. Rather, the situation will get much worse because the Shias are most unlikely to once again accept living under a regime that can be characterized as “Saddamism without Saddam” or, worse, what they would consider a Salafi-Takfiri government that considers them heathens deserving death.

Shireen T. Hunter is a Visiting Professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Her latest book is Iran Divided: Historic Roots of Iranian Debates on Identity, Culture, and Governance in the 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, forthcoming September 2014).

Originally published in Lobelog.
Re: video/photos-No new US war on Iraq protest-Harvard Sq.
20 Jun 2014
Supporting Democracy is So Yesterday

Washington’s Rats are Abandoning Maliki


The rat, among mammals, is one of the most successful animals on the planet. Cunning, ruthless, competitive and above all adaptable — it is able to change its habits quickly as needed to accommodate the situation it finds itself in.

When it comes to foreign policy, the US government is swarming with rats.

Just look at the situation in Iraq. The US invaded the country in 2003, claiming it was a rogue nation that had, or was trying to develop, “weapons of mass destruction.” When it became clear that this was a lie, or at best, simply not true, the stated motive for the invasion was changed to “regime change,” and the goal became “bringing democracy to Iraq.”

The US and the key US corporate news organizations loved Maliki when his party won the largest block of seats in the first parliamentary election in 2006 and he became prime minister. As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius crowed at the time, after the votes were in, “The most important fact about Maliki’s election is that it’s a modest declaration of independence from Iran.” Ignatius quickly went to the US ambassador at the time, Zalmay Khalilzad, for a comment, and Khalilzad, a neoconservative linked to the National Endowment for Democracy, obligingly told him, “His reputation is as someone who is independent of Iran.”

Khalilzad had worked assiduously (almost rat-like, one might say) behind the scenes to build a coalition of Kurds, Sunnis and Shia politicians opposed to the incumbent prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari (who was seen as Iran’s man), in order to back Maliki’s ascendancy.

In 2010, the US again backed Maliki, supporting him for a second term even though the initial results of the voting gave a plurality to his challenger Ayad Allawi. Using heavy-handed tactics and his control of the judiciary, Maliki essentially stole that election,. He did this with the approval of the US Embassy which, in 2010, was still, if not controlling the country, a major player.

Shift to the present Iraq national elections. The US, during the campaign, was clearly backing Maliki’s virtually assured re-election as prime minister. Indeed, an April 30 article in the New York Times — a steadfast voice for the Washington foreign policy establishment, hailed the parliamentary voting underway as a triumph. As reporters tim Arango and Duraid Adnan wrote:

“Millions of Iraqis voted for a new Parliament on Wednesday, defying threats from Islamist extremists, in an election that was carried out, by Iraq’s brutal standards, in remarkable peace…

“The election, the first nationwide vote since the departure of American troops more than two years ago, was seen as a referendum on Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s eight years as prime minister as he seeks his third term amid a growing Sunni insurgency that has brought the country to the edge of a new civil war.”

On May 19, after the votes were all counted (at least those in Shia regions), the Washington Post, another stalwart backer of the US foreign policy establishment, reported on the victory of Maliki’s party in the elections saying:

“The US Embassy in the capital welcomed the result, calling it ‘another milestone in the democratic development of Iraq.’”

But along the way to Maliki’s re-election plurality, something happened: a lightning-fast military campaign by Sunni insurgents, backed by a population that was furious over several years of violent attack and repression by Maliki’s police and military, and an opportunistic separatist move by Kurds in the north, suddenly put even Baghdad at risk.

Suddenly the rats in Washington, seeing their “man in Baghdad” as vulnerable, and their rickety construct in Iraq as facing collapse, aren’t so committed to democracy in the place, and are “adapting” to a new political environment.

As the Wall Street Journal reported this week:

“WASHINGTON—The Obama administration is signaling that it wants a new government in Iraq without Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, convinced the Shiite leader is unable to reconcile with the nation’s Sunni minority and stabilize a volatile political landscape. The U.S. administration is indicating it wants Iraq’s political parties to form a new government without Mr. Maliki as he tries to assemble a ruling coalition following elections…”

Democracy for Iraq? Oh that was so yesterday. Today the issue is combating the Sunni insurgency, and keeping Iran from gaining further influence over Baghdad.

Whatever one’s opinion of Maliki — and the truth is he has been a fairly typical Middle East strongman, brutally surpressing the Sunni minority on behalf of his Shia backers, and also playing hard-ball even against those Shia politicians who would be his rivals, including having them arrested — betrayal of allies noble and vile has of course been a long tradition in Washington. So has dropping any pretense of supporting democratic elections. The US backed elections in the Palestinian territories until Hamas won handily in Gaza, at which point Washington just stopped talking about democracy there, and backed Israel’s policy of turning the place into the world’s biggest concentration camp, starved of water, fuel and food.

In Ukraine, the US backed so-called “orange revolutions” and democratic elections until it decided to back a right-wing coup that drove the elected prime minister out of the country.

As the US continues to find itself increasingly challenged around the globe by countries that feel less and less intimidated by an overstretched US military, and as the dollar keeps losing ground as a reserve currency, making economic sanctions less and less potent as a tool of coercion, the rats in Foggy Bottom and the White House will have to become increasingly adaptive if they hope to continue to infest the globe as they have since the days of the Cold War.
Re: video/photos-No new US war on Iraq protest-Harvard Sq.
20 Jun 2014
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-- You have to hand it to Dick Cheney. How many people, knowing what has happened in Iraq over the last 12 years, would dare to write an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal containing this line: "Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many" -- and not be talking about George W. Bush? The man has chutzpah.

The op-ed in question was co-written with Cheney's daughter Liz, former State Department worker and failed Senate candidate. The two are forming a new organization, the Alliance for a Strong America.

Of all the former Bush administration officials who have emerged in the last few days to blame the deteriorating situation in Iraq on Barack Obama, one might think Cheney would be among the last.

It's one thing to turn on your TV and hear that Obama is a dangerous weakling from people like Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol, the ones who told us that war with Iraq would be cheap and easy, then bring a wave of peace and democracy across the Middle East.

But Cheney?

Cheney was the war's chief propagandist, who told the American public more spectacular falsehoods than anyone, including Bush himself. Cheney was the one who told us in 2002 that "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."

He's the one who tried to convince us that Saddam Hussein might have helped engineer the September 11 attacks, and who said in 2005 that the insurgency in Iraq was "in its last throes." (The war went on for 6½ more years.)

Cheney had a central role in bringing on a war in which 4,500 Americans gave their lives, tens of thousands more were gravely injured, we spent a couple of trillion dollars, and somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 Iraqis died.

Cheney's opinion appears to be that all that death and expense never really happened (he doesn't mention them), and that everything bad in Iraq can only be Obama's fault -- because the Bush administration did such a bang-up job there. "Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace," he writes. "Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory."

Would "some residual American forces" have been able to keep a lid on the unending Iraqi civil war that Bush and Cheney so effectively unleashed? We'll never really know, but here's what we do know: The agreement mandating that all American troops leave Iraq by the end of 2011 was signed by one George W. Bush, before Obama took office.

As negotiations over our departure proceeded in Obama's first term, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki -- eager to have the Americans gone so he could consolidate what would turn out to be a corrupt sectarian rule -- refused to grant American troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. Without that immunity, there was simply no way American forces could remain there. We've heard many people say Obama "should have pushed harder," but nobody says exactly what that's supposed to mean, or why al-Maliki would have given in, especially considering how he's acted since.

And what does Cheney think we should do now? He doesn't seem to have any idea. The op-ed contains precisely zero recommendations about Iraq. Defeating al Qaeda, it says, "will require a strategy -- not a fantasy." But what is that strategy? "Sustained difficult military, intelligence and diplomatic efforts"? Oh, of course -- if only we had known!

At least he's not alone in his arrogance and befuddlement. None of Obama's other critics seem to have much of an idea what we should do in Iraq, or Syria, or anywhere else. They're happy to say that whatever Obama is doing isn't enough, and it isn't strong. But if you ask them to be specific about what different decisions they would make, you'll be met with hemming and hawing.

That's because there are only bad options for America in Iraq, as is often the case in the Middle East. If you delude yourself into thinking that wars are simple and easy, and all that matters is whether you're "strong," then sometimes things become quite clear. We'll just invade, we'll be "greeted as liberators" (that was Cheney, too), and everyone will live happily ever after.

And when what actually results is not that glorious and easy victory, but a tidal wave of violence and despair, then all you need to do is wait until after you leave office, when you can blame it all on someone else.
20 Jun 2014
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Washington announced this week it was sending up to 275 troops to Iraq. We don’t know what units have gone to the imperiled nation, but we have some clues.

The Pentagon and U.S. Central Command—which overseas military operations in the Middle East—have both declined to specify who is deploying to Iraq. But reading official press releases, we know the troops came from American bases in the region.

Other reports suggest that the contingent includes both Marines and soldiers. Each of these services has forces in the area that are on call to protect Americans.

The jarheads are likely from a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team. CENTCOM has its own FAST company—members of which are seen in the picture below—but there are other detachments available as well.

These units have around 50 personnel and are designed to provide backup to American military and diplomatic posts around the world.

FAST companies were sent to Libya and Yemen after the 2012 raid in Benghazi. The Marines helped protect the embassies in Tripoli and Sanaa from possible riots or attacks.

These security forces also train regularly for various crisis scenarios. CENTCOM’s Marines trained to help protect the ground combat branch’s missile defense sites in Southwest Asia in December 2013.

The grunts probably come from a contingency response force company. After the Benghazi incident, the Pentagon told its worldwide commands to make sure they had units ready for similar emergencies.

CENTCOM’s reaction force is provided by so-called “regionally aligned forces.” This initiative pairs up troops back in the U.S. with the Pentagon’s global commands.

Now, all of the Pentagon’s regional headquarters have troops ready to go. And the Army has already gotten significant mileage out of these kinds of units.

Last December, rotating troops in Africa helped evacuate Americans from South Sudan. More recently, soldiers on guard in Europe worked with NATO allies who are worried about the situation in Ukraine.

Soldiers regularly deploy to Kuwait for these temporary tours of duty. The Army’s 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division is currently providing the manpower.

Soldiers from the brigade were already preparing to help evacuate civilians from potential hotspots shortly after they arrived. At least two companies were on call for what the Pentagon calls “non-combatant evacuation operations” by the end of 2013.

Washington has come to rely heavily on these smaller, rotating forces around the world as budgets and forces both shrink. The troops in Iraq are just the latest example of this trend.
Re: Veterans groups: No more troops in Iraq
20 Jun 2014
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Veterans groups: No more troops in Iraq

WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama announced Thursday that military advisers would be sent to Iraq, some veterans of the Iraq War railed against more military intervention in the country, warning that it would add to the violence and destruction.

More U.S. intervention will only prolong the current conflict and further destabilize the country, said Matt Southworth, an Army veteran who in 2004 deployed to Tal Afar and is a member of Veterans for Peace.

“My experience taught me that any foreign military intervention, especially if led by the United States, will only harden the resolve of the radical groups and unite the less religiously motivated into one fight against what they view is an illegitimate Iraqi government with considerable U.S. support,” Southworth said.

A former intelligence analyst, Southworth suggested five steps for the U.S. to quell the violence in Iraq:
◾ Reject another U.S. military intervention
◾ Stop unconditional military aid to Iraq
◾ Convene a conference to establish an arms embargo to Iraq and Syria
◾ Increase humanitarian efforts and funding to address the basic needs of Iraqis affected by war
◾ Publicly support a comprehensive political settlement among the key parties in the conflict

“Since the United States started getting involved with Iraq in the 1970s, we have often been a part of the problem, not a part of the solution to Iraqi political, ethnic, religious and resource issues,” Southworth said.

The veterans, speaking at the National Press Club, questioned the morality of U.S. involvement in the region.

“Any continued support for the [Iraqi] government, or military intervention in any way, is unacceptable and incredibly immoral,” said Ross Caputi, a Marine veteran who fought in the second siege of Fallujah. He is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and is on the board of directors of ISLAH, a group focusing on reparations for Iraqis. In Arabic, “islah” means repair, or reform.

The Iraqi government has been suppressing political dissent with U.S. support, said Caputi, who said the U.S. should instead focus on humanitarian efforts for Iraqis who were injured or suffer from health issues as a result of the war.

For Tim Kahlor, the father of an Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq and has post-traumatic stress disorder, the reason not to send more troops to Iraq is simple: the U.S. should focus on its own, he said.

“On this side, our kids are coming back … in bad shape and we don’t even have the funding to take care of them,” Kahlor said. “And we’re talking about spending more money on more people going into Iraq and keeping people in Afghanistan when we can’t take care of the vets on the street?

“I don’t know all the politics and stuff (of the Iraq War),” Kahlor said, “I just know as a parent, I see what happens when we bring them back and they’re not right anymore.”
Re: video/photos-No new US war on Iraq protest-Harvard Sq.
20 Jun 2014
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‘In Iraq the US is getting exactly what it want

The US wants no stable force in the Middle East, no opposition, no basis for anything that could become a stable economy, exporting oil and competing with it on the world markets, political analyst Caleb Maupin told RT.

RT:Obama said the US troops won't be going back into combat on the ground in Iraq. Will he keep his promise?

Caleb Maupin: Many US military adventures began with so-called military advisors. The classic example is Vietnam. In recent history we have seen many examples of the US using so-called military advisors to advise local officials who actually do the fighting on behalf of the US. What’s very clear in the Iraq situation right now is that the US is attempting to form a sectarian war, not only in Iraq but in the entire Middle East. ISIS/ISIL is an organization that receives support from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states that ally with the US and have worked to form and fund this kind of extremist terrorist organization and send them to Syria, engaging in civil war, and now they are in Iraq. This fighting is very helpful to the US because it makes sure that there is no stable opposition to the US and there are no stable competitors in the world market. The US wants chaos in the Middle East and this latest episode with the ISIS and sending advisors is an example of the US achieving its aim of chaos, fighting and leaving instability in the Middle East in order to remove competitors in the oil market.

RT: Around 300 so-called military advisers have been sent by Washington to Iraq. Are they really just advisers?

CM: Military advisors in Africa and different parts of the world that the US sends, they generally play the role of organizing proxy forces, forces that do what the US wants to be done. They kind of play a central role in directing them, telling them where to go. 300 military advisors could get quite a bit done in order to achieve the aims that the Pentagon would like to achieve. They work with local forces and give them a direction, that’s what generally the military advisors do.

RT: The US President also stressed the Iraq crisis should be solved politically… Hasn't the situation already passed that point?

CM: Absolutely. The US is attempting to ferment a sectarian civil war throughout the Middle East and it is achieving it very effectively. The support for ISIS from Saudi Arabia, the fighting now between the ISIS and the Maliki government – this is exactly what the US wants. It wants no stable force in the Middle East, no opposition, no basis for anything that could become a stable economy, exporting oil and competing with the US on the world markets. This is the US getting exactly what it wants.
US Policy
30 Jun 2014
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Shaky Ground -- America’s Foreign Policy Quagmire by RENEE PARSONS

After a weekend of golf in Palm Springs, President Obama returned to the White House and ordered 300 ‘boots on the ground’ (including intelligence analysts, logistic experts and special ops) into Iraq after declaring that “The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together” and that America will “not allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation” – and if you are thinking that US foreign policy is little more than an irrationally complex multitude of contradictions and a dysfunctional ideological strategy that defies logic and common sense – you would be correct.

To further confuse exactly what is the Administration’s policy, the president has recently announced that he is now prepared to take “targeted and precise military action,” a campaign of airstrikes.

And if a US government that has militarized its foreign policy with more military bases (over 1000 ‘unofficially’) in 120 countries as compared to 272 State Department embassies and consulates around the globe gives the impression that US foreign policy is dominated by military considerations rather than diplomacy, you would be correct again. See “State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire” by Stephen Glain.

And if you believe that US foreign policy is the result of a comprehensive, thoroughly vetted plan, impartially weighing geopolitical and economic risks while considering long term implications, unintended or otherwise, you would be wrong.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is a prime example of how a Secretary of State sounds more like a Secretary of Defense when he promised that “the Apaches will come and they’ll come very soon” referring to a delivery of ten Apache attack helicopters to Egypt’s military.

For instance, here’s where a ‘real’ Secretary of State could have actively pursued a negotiation with Sisi regarding the release of three al Jazeera reporters who have now been sentenced up to ten years for ‘false news’ rather than offering meaningless denunciations. Kerry further muddied his role as negotiator-in-chief with an incredibly disingenuous “The United States of America is not responsible for what happened in Libya, nor is it responsible for what is happening in Iraq today.”

And just to set the record straight, here’s a flow chart that clarifies exactly how US foreign policy choices have been decided beginning with the 1991 Gulf War and up to today’s current military interventions and assorted debacles:

In a further effort to clarify what is otherwise thought to be a mass of disorderly, incoherent and incomprehensible piecemeal choices that varies from country to country thwarting a greater understanding of exactly who are our allies, consider the following Who’s In and Who’s Out in the Middle East. The US

Supports: Shia Nouri al Maliki government in Iraq but

Opposes: Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq and the Shia-related governments of Iranian; President Hassan Rouhani and Bashar al Assad in Syria and the Shia civil war in Yemen

On the Other Hand, the US

Supports : Sunni extremist monarchy of Saudi Arabia (15 of the 19 9-11 participants were Saudi citizens) and the Sunni monarchies of Bahrain and Jordan and the Sunni extremist rebels in Syria referred to as ‘moderates’ but

Opposes: Sunni extremists of ISIS, the Taliban (which had nothing to do with 9-11) and al Qaeda affiliates but

Supports: Sunni President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan

Perhaps this simple attempt at illumination has only further muddied the waters of understanding and admittedly there are more cultural, ethnic, historic, geographic and political details than this exercise includes but hopefully you get the point. We, the American public, even those of us who consider ourselves well-informed, don’t know what the hell is going on from a policy perspective – with US relationships significantly different from one country to the next. Ok, we can guess that petroleum is the bottom line but if we add the Israeli-Palestinian crisis to the equation, what we have is an increasingly indefensible, incoherent policy that is destroying the Middle East as well as our own country better than al Qaeda had ever hoped.

And lastly, here are a couple of perplexing policy questions, the answers of which may tell us more than we want to know:

Will ISIS military brain General Ibrahim al-Douri and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi be on the president’s Tuesday morning ‘kill list’?

Since the Shia al-Sadr who was a fierce opponent of the US occupation in Iraq and the US are now both opposing ISIS, how will the Administration respond to al-Sadr’s recent announcement that he will “shake the ground’ in fighting the Sunni extremists in Iraq?
30 Jun 2014
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THE DRUMS of war are sounding again in Washington.

In the span of a week, military forces led by the Sunni fundamentalists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have gone on the offensive across northern Iraq, taking control of some of the biggest and most oil-rich cities in the country.

By Wednesday, June 18, Barack Obama was meeting with congressional leaders to tell them he didn't need congressional approval for whatever military means he might decide to deploy--based on Congress's authorization of the use of military force against Iraq that passed in 2002--which Obama had only recently called on Congress to repeal.

Obama said that the only measure he ruled out was sending U.S. troops back to Iraq--but then announced he had dispatched a few hundred U.S. military personnel. Obama also ordered an aircraft carrier and two guided-missile ships into the Persian Gulf, off Iraq's coast, and said he was weighing whether air strikes--possibly by drone, possibly by human-operated aircraft--should be used to defend the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against a Sunni insurgency that is the product of years of bloodshed in both Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile, an odd trio--Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Republican Sen. John McCain and Republican Chuck Hagel, Obama's Defense Secretary--were calling for Maliki to step down because of his failure to head off the crisis. "The Maliki government, candidly, has got to go if you want any reconciliation," said Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But it's actually typical for debates over U.S. foreign policy to produce strange bedfellows. While party ideologues may look to score points, the foreign-policy realists and practical-minded politicians don't hesitate to join hands across party lines when it comes to Washington's wars.

To the strategists of the U.S. empire, a military crisis in the country it invaded and then occupied for almost a decade certainly calls for a clear and urgent response. Only there are no U.S. responses that can repair the damage done by years of American intervention--there are only bad options to choose from for the U.S. government.

The strain of Sunni fundamentalism that drives ISIS is reactionary and repulsive. But this is the predictable outcome of sectarian divisions that the U.S. relied on--in fact, promoted--during its years as Iraq's colonial overlord.

Meanwhile, Maliki's regime--installed and blessed by the U.S. in the years before American troops withdrew in 2011--has almost no support outside of Iraq's Shia-dominated areas. Of course, while the U.S. was forced to withdraw combat troops, it still operates the world's largest embassy in Baghdad, which employs 15,000 people.)

This new stage in Iraq's civil war is the bitter fruits of "constructive chaos"--the doctrine coined by George W. Bush's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that summed up the neoconservative fantasy of redrawing the map of the Middle East after the 9/11 attacks in an attempt to lock in a new century of American dominance.

But in the end, the U.S. war caused enormous loss of life and suffering--many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead and millions more driven from their homes--cost a staggering $3 trillion, inadvertently strengthened the regional influence of U.S. rival Iran, and now threatens to pull apart Iraq and the web of regional alliances that the U.S. has largely benefited from over the course of decades.

For the people of Iraq and the rest of the region, who daily live with the consequences of "constructive chaos," the return of the U.S.--whether in the form of troops, air strikes, economic sanctions or anything else--can only mean more suffering.

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THE DEBATE gripping Washington over "what went wrong in Iraq" variously blames the Obama administration's supposedly "hasty withdrawal" of U.S. troops, the Maliki government or both. But there is a common thread uniting these and other claims--that sectarian hatred between Shia and Sunni Muslim, dating back centuries, is suddenly bursting forth.

"Al Qaeda-inspired extremists raising flags over Iraq's embattled cities triggers in me the same thing that runs through the minds of any veteran who served there, which is bitter disappointment that Iraq's leaders failed to unite for the good of their people," Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate subcommittee.

This is grotesque hypocrisy. Not only does Dempsey's statement manipulatively draw on the memory of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq--after the soldiers who survived have been denied decent medical and mental health care by the Department of Veterans Affairs--but it also ignores that the U.S. bears the chief responsibility for the sectarian violence in Iraq.

Iraq was once one of the region's most advanced countries, by economic, social and cultural measures. At least during the modern era, its various religious and ethnic communities identified with Iraq as a nation first and their other identities secondarily. In the words of Iraqi sociologist Sami Ramadani, writing in the Guardian:

Until the 1970s, nearly all Iraq's political organizations were secular, attracting people from all religions and none. The dividing lines were sharply political, mostly based on social class and political orientation. The growth of religious parties followed [Saddam Hussein's] ruthless elimination of all political entities other than the Baath Party. Places of worship became centers of political agitation and organization...

Commentators on Iraq often refer to ethnic wars waged against its Kurdish people. They fail to mention that none of these wars were popular but were ruthlessly pursued by repressive regimes, particularly Saddam's.

Yet no crime committed by Hussein was too appalling during the era when the U.S. considered him an ally. During the 1980s, he infamously used chemical weapons--supplied courtesy of the Reagan administration--against the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988, killing thousands of civilians.

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BUT THE cancer of sectarianism really took hold after Hussein's downfall with the U.S. invasion in 2003, according to Ramadani:

Every tribe in Iraq has Sunnis and Shia in its ranks. Every town and city has a mix of communities. My experience of Iraq, and that of all friends and relatives, is that of an amazing mix of coexisting communities, despite successive divide-and-rule regimes.

The most serious sectarian and ethnic tensions in Iraq's modern history followed the 2003 U.S.-led occupation, which faced massive popular opposition and resistance. The U.S. had its own divide-and-rule policy, promoting Iraqi organizations founded on religion, ethnicity, nationality or sect, rather than politics. Many senior officers in the newly formed Iraqi army came from these organizations and Saddam's army. This was exacerbated three years ago, when sectarian groups in Syria were backed by the U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

During its occupation, the U.S. consciously appealed to the resentments of the Shia communities neglected by Hussein's primarily Sunni Baath Party. According to Middle East expert Juan Cole:

The U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein of the Baath Party in 2003 in alliance with Shiite groups primarily. Those Shiite groups wanted revenge on the disproportionately Sunni Baath Party. They carried out a program of "de-Baathification," in which they fired tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs from their government jobs as bureaucrats and even teachers. They hired Shiite clients instead...

In the new Iraq, Sunni high status was turned upside down. The Sunnis had been the top graduates of the officer training academies, the equivalent of West Point. They disproportionately dominated the officer corps. They were at the top of the Baath Party. They were the rich entrepreneurs to whom lucrative government contracts were given. Now they were made unemployed, or given menial jobs, while the goodies went to the members of Shiite religious parties. Massive unemployment swept the Sunni cities in 2003-2004...

Sunni Iraqis had been, in the 20th century, cosmopolitan and often modernists. Many were liberals yearning for democracy...[Today] they have turned in desperation to rural fundamentalists who want a medieval caliphate, only because of the vast reversal in their fortunes resulting from the Bush invasion and occupation, and the unfair policies of the Shiite government, which has turned them from an elite into an underclass. They are capable, trained, educated people. They aren't going to put up with that, and if turning to al-Qaeda is the only way to avoid that fate, they are often willing now to do it.

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IN 1945, a U.S. State Department document described the Middle East's vast oil reserves as "one of the greatest material prizes in world history." At the beginning of the first Gulf War against Iraq, in 1991, Lawrence Korb, assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration, reinforced the point about U.S. imperial motivations following Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait: "If Kuwait grew carrots, we wouldn't give a damn."

Since the end of the Second World War, the U.S. has invested literally trillions of dollars and squandered countless lives--mostly Middle Eastern lives, but also those of U.S. soldiers--to guarantee American imperialism's control over the oil resources of Middle Eastern nations.

Since 1991, Iraq has paid a terrible price--millions dead, maimed or ruined by military warfare, millions more by economic warfare. This was meant to as a cautionary tale to any regime--in the Middle East or around the world--that might dare to defy U.S. interests.

Washington followed through on the 1991 pledge of Secretary of State James Baker to Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz that the U.S. would bomb Iraq back to the Stone Age. After that came a decade of sanctions--which Bill Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright responded to with the obscene statement that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children was "worth it"--another devastating war and now an ongoing nightmare of sectarian violence.

For the rulers of U.S. imperialism, all of this "collateral damage" is a mere sideshow in its pursuit of the world's greatest material prize: oil.

But what is unfolding in Iraq now poses a threat to the carefully constructed, delicately balanced, intricate web of alliances crisscrossing the Middle East that have allowed the U.S. to maintain its strategic dominance in the region and guaranteed the flow of enormous profits to multinational oil companies.

This is what really lies behind Barack Obama's talk of trying to insure "stability" in Iraq.

But "stability" for U.S. political leaders means "instability" for millions of people in Iraq displaced from their homes, fearing renewed violence, suffering from poverty and unemployment, and enduring a civilian infrastructure devastated by decades of U.S. war.

When justice is finally served, the U.S. will be compelled to pay many, many billions of dollars in reparations to the Iraqi people. Until then, our efforts need to be directed at keeping the U.S. from continuing to menace Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. Whether this takes the form of air strikes by warplanes or drones, troops on the ground or "negotiations" at the point of a gun, we must demand that the U.S. government keep its hands off Iraq.
01 Jul 2014
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The Domino Effect

Regional War Swallowing the Middle East


When the Syrian war jumped its borders into Iraq, surrounding nations had a perfect chance to peacefully cooperate. They’ve thus far refused. The war in Syria now seems to be shifting to Iraq, and the big actors in the regional drama are recklessly pushing events toward more conflict that could transform a regional proxy war into a direct multi-nation battle.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) now controls giant swaths of two nations, which are surrounded by countries that either fear ISIS or previously supported it. Old alliances are being tested as Syria and Iran come to the defense of the Iraqi government against ISIS, while the opposing alliance of U.S., Israel and the Gulf State monarchies are finding their unofficial union strained under the pressure of swelling paradoxes.

For example, the U.S. is supposedly fighting a war on terrorism, but has been in an unofficial military alliance with ISIS and other al-Qaeda groups in Syria, since all of them were actively waging war on the Syrian government.

When ISIS invaded Iraq the governments of Syria and Iran immediately offered assistance, while Obama stalled. Then, strangely, Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry “warned” Syria against its air attacks targeting ISIS in Iraq, a move that was welcomed by the Iraqi government. Kerry’s warning was also meant for Iran, which is finding itself sucked deeper into the two-nation war that now threatens Iran’s border.

As Iraq, Syria and Iran are busy fighting ISIS, what are the U.S. and Israel doing? They are continuing their war against Syria, the war that gave ISIS a new lease on life.

Iraq begged Obama to deliver promised fighter jets to fight ISIS, Obama chose instead to give extra military aid to the U.S. backed Syrian rebels, to the tune of $500 million. The Syrian rebels have been completely dominated by Islamic extremists for at least two years.

Israel, for its part, also ignored ISIS and instead bombed nine Syrian military targets. Israel has bombed Syria several times in the last year, rather than bombing ISIS or the other al-Qaeda groups attacking Syria. In reality, an emerging regional war already exists, but is being minimized or ignored by the media.

Because the U.S. would rather fund Islamic extremists in Syria, the Iraqi government requested andreceived fighter jets from Russia, which will inevitably create more strain between the Iraqi and U.S. governments, since giving and receiving military aid is a crucial way that countries cement alliances and exert influence.

When nations that receive military aid are disobedient, the big war toys are held back as a way to exert leverage. The Iraqi President, Nouri al-Maliki, let his political naivety blind him to this reality, and recently admitted that Iraq was “delusional” to rely completely on U.S. military aid, since Obama is using the ISIS threat and the withholding of aid to pressure Iraqi politicians to ditch al-Maliki, essentially a “legal” form of regime change that will act more in accord with U.S. interests against Iran and Syria. Obama has wanted to replace al-Maliki ever since the Iraqi president refused to join Obama’s war against Syria.

As the Syria-Iraq war expands, the greater the gravitational pull it will exert on surrounding nations, who can’t resist the big profits associated with mass killing. Others will participate indirectly to protect their borders, until they too are drawn in by the centripetal forces of war.

After participating in the Syrian war through proxies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Obama administration is neck deep in the Syrian-Iraqi blood bath, finding it difficult not to join the other sharks in the feeding frenzy.

Obama’s “hands off” approach to Iraq is temporary and strategic, and is in reality “hands on” behind the scenes. As the war spreads across borders Obama will find it less possible to abstain, since Iran, Syria and Russia will gain wider regional influence at his expense, which is happening by the minute.

The Syria-Iraq war is testing the resilience of decades-long alliances, even the future of the modern nation state, which lies at the foundation of post-WWII international law. This legal sanctity of the nation-state was emphasized by the Nuremberg trials after WWII, which established that the Nazis biggest war crime was not genocide or the holocaust, but the military invasion of sovereign nations, which created the conditions for regional and world war. The only legal war under international law is a defensive one.

But now regional wars are becoming commonplace, and borders are ignored as big powers pay and arm proxy militias to attack governments. More importantly, the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya have essentially eviscerated global international law, since the UN has been powerless in protecting sovereign nations against the aggression of the world’s only superpower. The U.S. invasions have created a climate where the nation-state has lost its revered status, increasing the likelihood of more war, since the old rules no longer apply.

Obama’s recent actions prove he has no intention of leaving the Middle East. As the Syrian war was spilling into Iraq, Obama requested $5 billion more for Middle East war, as if the gargantuan military budget wasn’t already enough. According to The New York Times:

“The White House is asking for $4 billion to go to the Pentagon and $1 billion to the State Department for other counterterrorism operations, including training and equipping partner countries (Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc.). Some of the money, administration officials said, would cover increased costs of Special Operations Forces that have deployed around the world, while $1.5 billion would go toward counterterrorism efforts in the neighborhood around Syria: Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.”

This $5 billion represents yet more blood money that will inevitably exacerbate the Middle East inferno. Years of ongoing U.S. military intervention — direct or indirect — has led to the unnecessary death or suffering of millions of people across the Middle East and to the large-scale destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and now Iraq again.

It is possible, as some are predicting, that Obama will complete a major diplomatic deal that includes Iran and the Kurdish section of Iraq. This, if successful, may create a temporary reprieve from the violence, while creating new ethnic-religious tensions that will inevitably explode again. Any temporary deal will not eliminate the deeper causes of the war, which lie in the waning influence of the U.S. and its allies, and the rising influence of China and Russia.All these developments emphasize the urgent need to revive the antiwar movement here in the U.S.

Those who oppose U.S. government military adventures around the world should unite and demand that no troops be sent to Iraq, that the U.S. advisers in Iraq should be brought home, and that money should be spent on jobs, education and strengthening the safety net here at home, not war.

US war on Iraq
03 Jul 2014
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Iraq - after $25,000,000,000 to train an 'army.'
When Obama Got it Right - 2002
05 Jul 2014
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That Was Then, This is Now - When Obama Got It Right -- by SERGE HALIMI

Was Barack Obama, then just an Illinois state senator, wrong back in 2002 when he thought that an invasion of Iraq would only “fan the flames of the Middle East and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al-Qaida”? Did vice-president Richard Cheney see things more clearly when he promised that US troops would be “welcomed as liberators”? Yet now it is Cheney who dares to accuse Obama of being a traitor and a fool in Iraq, concluding without shame: “Rarely has a US president been so wrong about so much, at the expense of so many” (1).

Obama currently rules out sending US troops to fight against the jihadist forces that control part of Iraq. But he has already agreed to dispatch 300 military “advisers” to the Baghdad regime, while suggesting that the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, should be replaced. The US has provided an autocratic and corrupt regime with “military advisers” before: Ngô Đình Diệm’s regime in Vietnam nearly 60 years ago. Exasperated by his ineptitude, the US let him be (or had him) killed. What followed — military escalation, region-wide violence, millions dead — may explain the American people’s reluctance to follow the warmongers this time.

Intervention by western powers has had catastrophic effects in the Arab world, too. The West has been tight-fisted over contributing to the economic and social development of Tunisia and Egypt by cancelling their debts, but spared no expense in destroying the latest enemy on “humanitarian grounds” — never invoked for US protégés such as Israel, Qatar or Saudi Arabia (2).

Obama suggested on 13 June that Iraq itself, laid waste by the US, was responsible for its current tragedy: “Over the past decade American troops have made extraordinary sacrifices to give Iraqis an opportunity to claim their own future.” This type of self-serving reconstruction of history can only embolden neoconservatives who believe that Washington’s failure to act anywhere automatically hastens the decline of US power, and the advent of universal chaos.

The Iraq war was “won” before Obama took office, Republican senator John McCain tells us. He believes any international crisis can be resolved by bombing the place and sending in the marines. On 15 March McCain had called for US troops to be dispatched to Ukraine and, on 13 May, for military intervention in Nigeria. Obama did not want to “fan the flames of the Middle East” in 2002. Will he be as wise now?

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique.
Feminist Islam
05 Jul 2014
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Ayad Akhtar’s "The Who and the What"

A Feminist Reclamation of Islam?


Ayad Akhtar’s The Who and the What: A Feminist Reclamation of Islam?

“Absolutely fantastic!” is what Ingrid, a young Puerto-Rican woman sitting next to me ….said of Akhtar’s latest work, his second play to be performed at Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theatre in New York City, which I saw June 27th 2014 during a sold-out 4-week run. “What makes it so?” I probed further. “Well,” she obligingly smiled, “it’s so realistic in its portrayal of these characters, and the actors are so convincing.” A young Pakistani-American friend of her’s sitting on the next seat over chimed in, “Yes, but I think what makes it a really important play for me is that it raises issues we Muslims need to confront and discuss.”

The title of the play points to the limitations in our own questioning to “get at” texts by asking “who” and “what” types of questions of them. Asking, as Muslims generally do (or Christians, or Jews for that matter)—“what does the text [in this case, the Quran] actually say”—is to go down a literalist dead end. Orthodox Muslims attempt to delimit and “authenticate” the “what” (the meaning) of the Holy Book, by trying to establish its veracity through a chain of the “who”—i.e by establishing the “truth” or “authenticity” of the interpreter/translator of the Prophet’s words and thus, of the Quranic text itself. Such a “dead-end” is what even culturalist, liberal Muslims are guilty of when we choose some hadith as true and discard others based on some factitious chain of command and dissemination over centuries, as though there was a way of “getting at” the “truth” of what the Prophet said or didn’t say, and which verses of the Quran thus seem authentic revelations of God or not.

Instead, Akhtar is suggesting a different approach to Islam beyond a reductive exegetical one, which is unfortunately the kind held on to in the play by the central character, a Pakistani immigrant to the USA named Afzal, who has made a success of his life here by going from being a cabbie to owning a cab company, bringing up his two daughters after his wife passes away, in material comfort and raising them as “good “Muslims.

To illustrate Akhtar’s non-orthodox approach let me quote a passage from a different context, from an essay by Norma Klahn on Latin American testimonies and their translations:

Texts, if felicitous, survive in translation and transit, in what Walter Benjamin and translation theorists following him have called an ‘after-life.’ They believe not so much in the property of the original but in its potentiality, a prolongation that continues to extract shifting and redefined meaningful reading experiences.

For them, the historical significance of the original is ensured by its trans- latability, which ‘constitutes a way of signifying—rather than a what.’ (Samuel Weber, cited in Klahn, 45).

That “way of signifying” the Prophet Muhammed’s life, of ensuring the “translateability” and hence ensuring the “after-life” of Islam and its Holy Book, the Quran—is the quest that the character of Zarina, Afzal’s older daughter– is engaged in, and which provides the source of the conflict and drama in Ayad Akhtar’s humorously provocative new play, The Who and the What.

Like Rushdie before him, Akhtar’s play is built upon questions about the Quranic and hadith literature that a large percentage of its over 3 billion Muslim believers—not just the lunatic fringe– follow to the letter around the world even in the 21st century. Whereas Rushdie alluded to the incident of the Satanic Verses, based on a story told by a man named Ibn Ka’ab, and later included in a biography of the Prophet transmitted orally by Ibn Ishaq, and as such, easier is to dismiss as a “distortion” by literalist Muslims due to its weak chain of verification, the story around which Akhter’s play revolves is harder to ignore as a false or “satanic” verse in the Quran.

This is the story about Zaynab bint Jaysh, a first cousin of Prophet Mohammed’s whose marriage he had arranged with a freed slave of his whom he had adopted, Zayd ibn Harithah. Neither party had been keen on the marriage, and it was not a happy one according to the main biographers and historians of Islam and the Prophet such as Ibn Tabari and Abu Hurayra. From Quranic verses that refer to the dissolution of the marriage and subsequent remarriage of Zaynab to the Prophet, it appears that Prophet Mohammed counseled Zayd not to divorce, but the marriage did not last. Here is the Quranic verse 37 of Sura 33 (Al Azhab) that explains what came to pass and why:

And [remember, O Muhammad], when you said to the one on whom Allah bestowed favor and you bestowed favor, “Keep your wife and fear Allah ,” while you concealed within yourself that which Allah is to disclose. And you feared the people, while Allah has more right that you fear Him. So when Zayd had no longer any need for her, We married her to you in order that there not be upon the believers any discomfort concerning the wives of their adopted sons when they no longer have need of them. And ever is the command of Allah accomplished. (

Most believing Muslims understand the above verse and its attendant incident as showing that Allah knew the Prophet was discouraging the dissolution of a clearly unhappy marriage out of his fear of “what people would say”—especially, perhaps as this marriage was one that he himself had arranged and insisted upon. Here, Allah counsels him to do the right thing, rather than the expedient one based on his fear of others’ perceptions. That the Prophet later marries-or as the verse states– Allah counsels/arranges for the Prophet to marry- the divorcee, is seen as further proof of the justice and compassion of Islam and its God and Prophet toward women, as the act of marrying the Prophet will rehabilitate Zaynab and provide her a means of support and protection after her divorce. Since, according to the mores of the society marrying ex-wives of adopted sons was not permitted, the verse above also cleared the way for Muslim men to be able to do so now by declaring that adoption was un-Islamic, in the sense not that people should stop caring for children other than their own when and as needed, but rather, that adoption should become a transparent practice where no one is confused about the real identity of the child or parent.

Obviously, this exegesis is not the only way to understand what happened, as many questions remain unresolved regarding the who , what, why of this incident and what it might reveal about the Prophet as a man with sexual desires and a penchant for possessing beautiful women otherwise forbidden to him, as Zaynab while married to his adopted son certainly would have been. Indeed, a quick google search reveals many Muslim men posting tortured questions about their prophet’s motives and behavior in this incident in the hopes of finding answers like the one I’ve laid out above which can allay their anxieties about the man they admire as one who may have lusted after another man’s wife. For some, like the fictional father in Akhter’s play, the only answer to such questions—questions his favorite and brilliant elder daughter Zarina asks in her novel about the Prophet—is to declare them heretical, and to ask that any book or tract that asks such questions or proffers a picture of the Prophet of Islam as anything but utterly pious and above any sexual hanky-panky, be destroyed. As Afzal commands his daughter once he discovers what her book is about—“You have to destroy this book—you can write another book,” calling it a “cancer” which is “destroying our family’s happiness.” When she refuses—encouraged by her husband who is a white American convert to Islam and an Imam at a local mosque, and who defends the book and his wife when he tells Afzal “She has done something important, she has reminded us our Prophet was human”—the father lashes out at them both. “I don’t ever want to hear that girl’s name again—she is dead to me” he screams, breaking household objects within reach. Earlier in the scene, he had already lashed out at his once-adored son-in-law, Eli, for his supposed inability to “control” his wife, especially her writing of such a “blasphemous” book. Afzal, (played with great aplomb by Bernard White) taunted Eli contemptuously, “what kind of man are you? What kind of Muslim?”

According to Islamic and Quranic tradition—here represented by Afzal the Patriarch, those who raise questions such as Zarina does, about the Prophet’s sexual appetite as a contributing factor to his decision to marry multiple wives (there is a portion of her book the father reads out in horror in the play, in which the Prophet is described as cupping Zaynab’s breasts in his hands)—or like her, interpret the widely-believed injunction for pious Muslim women to “veil” as a convenient ploy for the Prophet to consummate his marriage to the lovely Zeynab and/or to shield her from the admiring gazes of other men, justified by timely “arrival” of Quranic verse 53 of Sura 33 which is also referred to as “the descent of the hijab” —is to commit heresy. It is to be kin to the “munafiqeen” or “hypocrites” as they are called in the Islamic tradition, who were an influential faction in Medina at the time of the Prophet and who attempted to sow dissension in the ranks of Muslims just as Islam was gaining ascendance. By asking similar questions 1500 years later, Akhter via his character Zarina, could be seen as a “munafiq”. Within the play, the fear voiced by the father for his daughter’s safety arises out of his understanding of munafiqat’s consequences, since heresy or blasphemy is punishable by death according to Sharia Law. As he points out to Zarina, to his younger daughter Mahwish, and his son-in-law Eli, “In Pakistan she would be killed for this.”

It is Zarina’s response to her father’s fear veiled by his anger, that moves the play and its creator out of the realm of a possible accusation of munifaqat and in to the realm of a feminist interpretation of Islam (or maybe into the realm of feminist interpretation as munafiqat!). She says, quietly, “I don’t care; we can’t be so afraid.” When he still can’t stop lashing out at his daughter, accusing her of distorting Islam in her book, she lashes right back at him, “You, dad, erased and distorted me—veiling is also a metaphor!”

The problem with plays like The Who and the What is that it can easily be twisted—to use the play’s language, “distorted”–to suit the needs and prejudices of an Islamophobia industry in the USA that is alive and well and thrives on using such plays as alibis for their Islam-bashing—“you see, Islam is a backward, misogynistic religion, its prophet a sex maniac and hypocrite.” Certainly, Akhtar’s first play, Disgraced, which won the Pulitzer last year, stays largely within an Orientalist paradigm even as it seeks to challenge some of its reigning orthodoxies. And when the “family quarrel” in The Who and the What goes public in the neocolonial, imperial context such as the one we live in today, seeped in the geopolitical realities of our times where we are bombarded ad nauseum by images of poor Israeli youngsters kidnapped by evil Islamic fundamentalists from Hamas, but hear nothing about the Jewish fundamentalist settlers’ killing and maiming of Palestinian children and occupation of their lands, where we have the Laura Bushes of this world justifying US-led invasions of Muslim countries in the name of “saving Muslim women from Muslim men”—well, we have a problem. It is a problem typified by the closing remark of Charles Isherwood, in his review of the play for the New York Times:

“She has more power over you than she really wants,” Afzal says to Eli, accusing him of failing to treat his wife as a Muslim husband should. … And then, in a line that Mr. White [Afzal] delivers with a chilling casualness, he adds, “And she won’t be happy until you break her, son. She needs you to take it on, man.”

Here, the father, as Muslim Patriarch par excellence, is seen as the abusive and controlling “man of the house” —urging his son-in-law to do and be the same, as he objectifies his own daughter as “just” a woman who needs, nay wants to be “broken.” Akhtar, in this scenario ends up playing, willy-nilly, the role of the Muslim native informant, reifying western stereotypes about oppressive Muslim fathers and their oppressed Muslim daughters. However, if we can draw attention to such a reductive and dangerous politics of reception and expose it for what it is, we can also, I think, claim a different space and valence for Akhtar’s bold second play: a feminist reclamation of Islam.

For, what Isherwood doesn’t say, is something that the father knows—and which the audience has also witnessed—and which her husband can also vouch for—that the woman in question is a strong one, with a mind of her own and a personality to match. She is an obedient daughter only up to a point—one might even argue she agreed not to pursue marriage with her former boyfriend Ryan not just because of her father’s insistence but possibly because she herself is a believing Muslim and could not in the end conceive of a marriage with a non-Muslim man. Much like Kate in The Taming of the Shrew—she is a force of nature who is not easily “tamed”—and indeed, her husband, Eli wins her love not by trying to “break” her but by dealing with her as a woman possessed of a formidable intellect who knows her own mind. And Afzal too, knows this. Nay, as he himself says, he has encouraged his daughter’s willfulness, her independence of mind and spirit. Thus, his off-color comments to Eli about “breaking” his daughter as though she were a wild horse, have more to do with a crisis of masculinity than with anything else. This crisis is not just personal to Afzal, but, I believe, is at the heart of the play’s understanding of the Muslim cosmos, a crisis that has lasted 1500 years and must surely be recognized and dealt with if the text of Islam is to survive, to be “felicitous”.

If we believe as Zarina does, or as she wishes to explore in her novel—and as explicated at great length by noted Islamic feminist and sociologist Fatima Mernissi in her scholarly tome, The Veil and the Male Elite —that

The hijab-literally ‘curtain’—‘descended,’ not to put a barrier between A man and a woman, but between two men. (Mernissi 85)

then the thesis I am putting forth makes sense. The verse on the hijab descended at precisely the moment when the Prophet’s desire to consummate his marriage to the beautiful Zeynab was frustrated by the boorish behavior of his male guests who kept sitting in his living room long after the wedding banquet was over, and who the overly polite (“bordering on timid” as Mernissi describes him)—prophet of Islam, simply could not muster up enough courage to ask to leave. Finally, when they did depart, one male companion still hovered around, by the name of Anas Ibn Malik, and it is he who reported the event of the revelation of the verse about hijab as a witness. Mernissi quotes reputed Islamic historian Al-Tabari who reports Anas Ibn Malik as saying:

I don’t remember any more whether it was I or someone else who went to tell him that the three individuals had finally decided to leave. In any case, he came back to the nuptial chamber. He put one foot in the room and kept the other outside. It was in this position that he let fall a sitr [curtain] between himself and me, and the verse of the hijab descended at that moment. (qtd. In Mernissi 87)

Thus, according to Mernissi, the circumstances of this revelation point to an understanding of the notion of hijab as a tool to protect the intimacy of the wedded pair—their privacy—and to do so by excluding a third person, the man named Anas. He becomes a symbol, then, of a male dominant community that had become too invasive in the life and personal affairs of the prophet. Further, the hijab comes to symbolize the necessary separation of a public and a private sphere—the public being that sphere where the Prophet had to contend with other men, the private one being a respite from the public exercise of masculinity, a domestic space where he could be at peace with his own “femininity” .

Rather than approach the meaning of the hijab this way, Islamic exegetical tradition, which has been male dominated from the time of the Prophet to the present day, has chosen to read the meaning of the Veil as an injunction to women to cover themselves, to remain within domestic walls, to refrain from the exercise of power which has been coded male and public.

Certainly, Afzal reads evidence of the intimacy between his daughter and her husband as a loss of the latter’s “manhood”. To acknowledge that the Prophet himself could have preferred the company of his wives (at times) over that of his male Companions, and especially that he might have used the symbol of the hijab-as-sitr or curtain to demarcate a border keeping men out of his private life with women; that he could have elevated one of his wives, Hazrat Aisha, to the level of the “Mother of the Believers” and on whose advice in matters political and personal he relied; and that he could have (and did) resist his Companion Umar’s proclivity to solve the problem of control and authority by treating wilful wives with violence ( including the violence of the veil), would require of Afzal, a total rethinking of the meaning of masculinity. Explains Mernissi,

the Prophet persisted in not consenting to the hijab, not being of the same frame of mind as Umar…. He himself was very shy….which, as we have seen, in the absence of tactfulness on the part of some men of his entourage, forced him to adopt the hijab. …The hijab represented the exact opposite of what he had wanted to bring about. It was the incarnation of the absence of internal control; It was the veiling of the sovereign will, which is the source of good judgment and order in a society. Umar, who had never reflected about the principle of the individual that the new religion emphasized, could not understand this. To him, the only way of reestablishing order was to put up barriers and to hide women…. (Mernissi 185)

One could add to Umar’s prescription for “re-establishing order” Afzal’s admonition and advice to his daughter Zarina’s husband, to “break her.” After all, one only needs to “break” someone who is seen as “Other”, as a source of “fitna” or chaos, a challenger of the status quo where “real” men reign supreme on one side of the “barrier” or “curtain, and women submit to their power by staying on the “other” side, silenced behind the hijab. Part of the crisis in masculinity that Zarina’s writing-back en-genders in her father, can be traced back to the history of the early Islamic society of Muhammad’s time, where his version of masculinity was at odds with the boorish norms of his surroundings and of some of his closest Companions such as Umar who succeeded him as the Second Caliph. Rather than open up questions about who the Prophet might actually have been—a feminine or even feminized man, given his reliance since his early youth on women such as his first wife Khadija who not only was his boss, but who proposed marriage to him and which offer he accepted, living happily in monogamy with a woman 20 years his senior till she died after 25 years of wedded life—Afzal the Patriarch prefers to fall back on Umar’s version of masculinity, which rests on the denial of the intrinsic femininity that inheres in all men, of the feminine as sacred:

All the monotheistic religions are shot through by the conflict between the divine and the feminine, but none more so than Islam, which has opted for the occultation of the feminine, at least symbolically, by trying to veil it, to hide it, to mask it. Islam as sexual practice unfolds with a very special theatricality since it is acted out in a scene where the hijab (veil) occupied a central place. (Mernissi 81)

The Who and the What resignifies Islam as sexual practice, unfolding, imploding, expanding and challenging our understanding of its special theatricality as it is performed on the stage of today’s complicated and confusing world.

Fawzia Afzal-Khan is a Professor of English, University Distinguished Scholar, Director of Women and Gender Studies at Montclair State University. She can be reached at: khanf (at)

Works Cited

Klahn, Norma. “Locating Women’s Writing and Translation in the Americas in the Age of Latinamericanismo and Globalization.” In Translocalities/Translocalidades: Feminist Politics of Translation in the Latin/a Americas. Eds. Alvarez, Sonia et al. Duke University Press, 2014.

Mernissi, Fatima. The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam. Addison-Wesley, 1991.

Quran: Surat Al-’Aĥzāb (The Combined Forces).33:37.
Israel - Back to the Future
05 Jul 2014
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The Watch on the Jordan by URI AVNERY

The Arab world is in turmoil. Syria and Iraq are breaking apart, the thousand-year old conflict between Muslim Sunnis and Muslim Shiites is reaching a new climax. A historic drama is unfolding around us.

And what is the reaction of our government?

Binyamin Netanyahu put it succinctly: “We must defend Israel on the Jordan River, before they reach Tel Aviv.”

Simple, concise, idiotic.

Defend Israel against whom? Against ISIS, of course.

ISIS is the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham – a new force in the Arab world. Sham is Greater Syria – the traditional Arab name for the territory that comprises the present countries of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Together with Iraq, it forms what historians call the Fertile Crescent, the green region around the top of the desolate Arab desert.

For most of history, the Fertile Crescent was one country, part of successive empires. Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans and many others kept them united, until two foreign gentlemen, Sir Mark Sykes and M. Francois Georges- Picot, set about cutting them up according to their own imperial interests. This happened during World War I, which was set in motion by an assassination that happened 100 years ago last week.

With sublime disregard for the peoples, ethnic origins and religious identities, Sykes and Picot created national states where no nations existed. They and their successors, notably Gertrude Bell, T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill, put together three quite different communities and created “Iraq”, importing a foreign king from Mecca.

“Syria” was allotted to the French. An imperial commissioner took a map and a pencil and drew a border in the middle of the desert between Damascus and Baghdad. The French then cut Syria up into several small statelets for the Sunnis, Alawites, Druze, Maronites etc.. Later they created Greater Lebanon, where they set up a system that installed Maronite Christians on top of the despised Shiites.

The Kurds, a real nation, were cut up into four parts, each of which was allotted to a different country. In Palestine, a Zionist “national home” was planned in the middle of a hostile Arab population. The country beyond the Jordan was cut off to provide a principality for another Emir from Mecca.

This is the world in which we grew up, and which is crumbling now.

What ISIS is trying to do now is simply to eradicate all these borders. In the process, they are laying bare the basic Sunni-Shiite divide. They want to create a unified Sunni-Muslim Caliphate.

They are up against huge entrenched interests, and will probably fail. But they are sowing something much more lasting: an idea that may take hold in the minds of many millions. It may come to fruition in 25, 50 or a hundred years. It may be the wave of the future.

Seeing this picture developing, what should we do?

For me, the answer is quite clear: make peace, quickly, as long as the Arab world is as it is now.

“Peace” means not only peace with the Palestinian people, but with the entire Arab world. The Arab peace initiative – based on the initiative of the Saudi (then) Crown Prince – is still lying on the table. It offers full and unconditional peace with the State of Israel in return for the end of the occupation and the creation of the independent State of Palestine. Hamas has officially agreed to this, provided it is ratified by a Palestinian plebiscite.

It will not be easy. A lot of obstacles will have to be overcome. But it is possible. And it is sheer lunacy not to try.


The response of our leadership is the exact opposite.

The historic events and their background interest them “like the skin of the garlic”, as we say in Hebrew.

Their interest is totally focused on the effort to keep hold of the West Bank, which means to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. Which means to prevent peace.

The surest way to do so is to hold on to the Jordan valley. No Palestinian negotiator will ever agree to the loss of the Jordan valley – either by direct annexation to Israel or by the “temporary” stationing of Israeli troops in the valley for any length of time.

This would mean not only the loss of 25% of the West Bank (which altogether constitutes 22% of historical Palestine) and its most fertile part but also the cutting-off of the putative Palestinian state from the rest of the world. The State of Palestine would become an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory. Much like the South African Bantustans.

When Ehud Barak proposed this at the Camp David conference, the negotiations broke down. The most Palestinians could agree to was the temporary stationing of UN or American troops there.

This week, suddenly, the Jordan Valley demand popped up again. The picture was simple. ISIS is storming south from its Syrian-Iraqi base. It will overrun all of Iraq. From there, it will invade Jordan and pop up on the other side of the Jordan river.

As Netanyahu said: if they are not stopped by the permanent Israeli garrison there, they will appear at the gates of Tel Aviv (except that Tel Aviv has no gates).

Logical? Self-evident? Inescapable? Utter nonsense!

Militarily, ISIS is a negligible force. It has no air force, tanks or artillery. They are opposed by Iran and the US. Compared to them, even the Iraqi army is still a potent force. Next, the Jordanian army is far from a pushover.

Moreover, if ISIS came even near to threatening the Jordanian kingdom, the Israeli army would not wait for them on the Jordan River. They would be requested by the Jordanians to come to the rescue – as happened during the Black September of 1970, when Golda Meir, acting under the orders of Henry Kissinger, warned an approaching Syrian army column that Israel would invade to forestall them. That was enough.

The very idea of Israeli soldiers manning the ramparts in the Jordan valley to defend Israel from ISIS (or anyone else) is sheer idiocy. Even more idiotic than the famous Bar Lev line, which was supposed to stop the Egyptians along the Suez Canal in 1973. It fell within hours. Yet the Bar Lev “line” – reminiscent of the (futile) French Maginot Line and the (futile) German Siegfried Line of World War II – was far away from the center of Israel.

The Israel army has missiles, drones and other weapons that would stop an enemy in his tracks long, long before he could possibly reach the Jordan. The bulk of the Israeli army could move from the sea shore and cross the river within a few hours.

This whole way of thinking shows that our Right politicians – like most of their persuasion around the world, I suspect – still live in the 19th century. If I were in a less charitable mood, I would say in the Middle Ages. They might as well be equipped with bows and arrows.

(The whole thing reminds me, somehow, of a 19th century German army song: “To the Rhine! To the Rhine! To the German Rhine! / Who wants to be the watchman of the River! / Dear Fatherland, don’t worry / Steady and true stands the watch on the Rhine! / The German youngster, pious and strong / Protects the German borderland!”)

Back to the future.

The Crusaders established their kingdom in Palestine when the Arab world was splintered. Their great adversary, the Kurd Salah-al-Din al-Ayubi (Saladin), devoted decades to unifying the Arab world around them before vanquishing them on the battlefield of Hittin.

Today, the Arab world seems more splintered than ever. But a new Arab world is taking shape, the contours of which can be conceived only dimly.

Our place is within the new reality, not outside, looking on.

Alas, our leaders are quite unable to see that. They are still living in the world of Sykes and Picot, a world of foreign potentates (now American). For them, the turmoil around us is – well, just turmoil.

The founder of modern Zionism wrote 118 years ago that we shall serve in Palestine as pioneers of European culture and constitute “a wall against Asiatic barbarism.”

Our leaders still live in this imagined reality, re-phrased as “a villa in the jungle”.

So what to do when the predators in the jungle are approaching and roaring? Build higher walls, of course.

What else?

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.