Archive for the ‘The Media’ Category

The Hedonists of Power

June 25, 2008

The Hedonists of Power

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080623_the_hedonists_of_power/

Posted on Jun 23, 2008

By Chris Hedges

Washington has become Versailles. We are ruled, entertained and informed by courtiers. The popular media are courtiers. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are courtiers. Our pundits and experts are courtiers. We are captivated by the hollow stagecraft of political theater as we are ruthlessly stripped of power. It is smoke and mirrors, tricks and con games. We are being had.

The past week was a good one if you were a courtier. We were instructed by the high priests on television over the past few days to mourn a Sunday morning talk show host, who made $5 million a year and who gave a platform to the powerful and the famous so they could spin, equivocate and lie to the nation. We were repeatedly told by these television courtiers, people like Tom Brokaw and Wolf Blitzer, that this talk show host was one of our nation’s greatest journalists, as if sitting in a studio, putting on makeup and chatting with Dick Cheney or George W. Bush have much to do with journalism.

No journalist makes $5 million a year. No journalist has a comfortable, cozy relationship with the powerful. No journalist believes that acting as a conduit, or a stenographer, for the powerful is a primary part of his or her calling. Those in power fear and dislike real journalists. Ask Seymour Hersh and Amy Goodman how often Bush or Cheney has invited them to dinner at the White House or offered them an interview.

All governments lie, as I.F. Stone pointed out, and it is the job of the journalist to do the hard, tedious reporting to shine a light on these lies. It is the job of courtiers, those on television playing the role of journalists, to feed off the scraps tossed to them by the powerful and never question the system. In the slang of the profession, these television courtiers are “throats.” These courtiers, including the late Tim Russert, never gave a voice to credible critics in the buildup to the war against Iraq. They were too busy playing their roles as red-blooded American patriots. They never fought back in their public forums against the steady erosion of our civil liberties and the trashing of our Constitution. These courtiers blindly accept the administration’s current propaganda to justify an attack on Iran. They parrot this propaganda. They dare not defy the corporate state. The corporations that employ them make them famous and rich. It is their Faustian pact. No class of courtiers, from the eunuchs behind Manchus in the 19th century to the Baghdad caliphs of the Abbasid caliphate, has ever transformed itself into a responsible elite. Courtiers are hedonists of power.

Our Versailles was busy this past week. The Democrats passed the FISA bill, which provides immunity for the telecoms that cooperated with the National Security Agency’s illegal surveillance over the past six years. This bill, which when signed means we will never know the extent of the Bush White House’s violation of our civil liberties, is expected to be adopted by the Senate. Barack Obama has promised to sign it in the name of national security. The bill gives the U.S. government a license to eavesdrop on our phone calls and e-mails. It demolishes our right to privacy. It endangers the work of journalists, human rights workers, crusading lawyers and whistle-blowers who attempt to expose abuses the government seeks to hide. These private communications can be stored indefinitely and disseminated, not just to the U.S. government but to other governments as well. The bill, once signed into law, will make it possible for those in power to identify and silence anyone who dares to make public information that defies the official narrative.

Being a courtier, and Obama is one of the best, requires agility and eloquence. The most talented of them can be lauded as persuasive actors. They entertain us. They make us feel good. They convince us they are our friends. We would like to have dinner with them. They are the smiley faces of a corporate state that has hijacked the government and is raping the nation. When the corporations make their iron demands, these courtiers drop to their knees, whether to placate the telecommunications companies that fund their campaigns and want to be protected from lawsuits, or to permit oil and gas companies to rake in obscene profits and keep in place the vast subsidies of corporate welfare doled out by the state.

We cannot differentiate between illusion and reality. We trust courtiers wearing face powder who deceive us in the name of journalism. We trust courtiers in our political parties who promise to fight for our interests and then pass bill after bill to further corporate fraud and abuse. We confuse how we feel about courtiers like Obama and Russert with real information, facts and knowledge. We chant in unison with Obama that we want change, we yell “yes we can,” and then stand dumbly by as he coldly votes away our civil liberties. The Democratic Party, including Obama, continues to fund the war. It refuses to impeach Bush and Cheney. It allows the government to spy on us without warrants or cause. And then it tells us it is our salvation. This is a form of collective domestic abuse. And, as so often happens in the weird pathology of victim and victimizer, we keep coming back for more.

Chris Hedges, who was a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times, says he will vote for Ralph Nader for president.

Pens and Swords – How the American Mainstream Media Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

May 30, 2008

Pens and Swords – How the American Mainstream Media Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Dandelion Salad

by Jim Miles
Global Research, May 29, 2008

Review of Marda Dunsky’s book

In an era when American foreign policy has reached the pinnacle of unilateralism by invading other countries pre-emptively, threatening others with nuclear annihilation, and abrogating in doing so many decades if not more than a century of international law development, Marda Dunsky’s book Pens and Swords presents a very strong, well-referenced argument illuminating the bias within American media reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That bias develops under two main themes – a lack of historical context, and a lack of recognition of the effects of U.S. foreign policy. Along with those two major themes, are the related ideas of weaknesses in analysing and criticizing sources, and in not providing references for what discussion there is as the arguments already fit the generally accepted ‘Washington’ consensus. Other ideas that accompany the discussion are the use of language that biases an argument, and the desire for the “amorphous if not impossible standard of objectivity.”

Overview

The book is well organized and well developed. It begins with an introduction that presents a brief summary of some current communication theory. This is followed by a discussion of the “policy mirror” between the Washington consensus and the media. Next is a limited presentation of historical context – the nakba, international law and the right of return – in order that the reader does have some background knowledge, leading into Dunsky’s first discussion on reporting on the Palestinian refugee story. From there the main presentation works through discussions of media reporting on Israeli settlements, the violence of the second intifada, the ‘war at home’ or how the local media is perceived by various sectors. The two final sections “In the Field” and “Toward a New way of Reporting…” carry significant and well-reasoned perspectives on what is happening and what could or should be happening.

There are several points along the way that deserve emphasis for their clarity and validity.

Communication theory

First is the communication theory, which defines mainstream media as “outlets that are in harmony with the prevailing direction of influence in culture at large.” In essence, “to a significant extent American mainstream journalism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict toes the line of U.S. Mideast policy.” She discusses three theoretical constructs – hegemony, indexing, and cascading – that emphasize these points respectively: “the American mainstream media…operate in the same social and economic framework as government;” “The range of discourse is exceedingly narrow…because [it] emanates from an equally narrow range of sources;” and “the mainstream media determines the level of understanding that is possible for the public and the policy makers alike.” If that does not give the mainstream media thoughts for concern, then ironically, these definitions become all that more powerful.

Refugees

The refugee problem is defined as “a root cause of the Israeli-Palestine conflict” and to omit it from context “is to omit an important part of the story.” Dunsky briefly outlines the nakba as recently viewed by ‘revisionist’ historians who deny the official Israeli narrative while using information in a large part garnered from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) archives themselves. While these ideas “depart markedly from the familiar narrative” there are other gaps in the narrative, one of the more important being “the body of international law and consensus on refugee rights in general, and Palestinian refugee rights in particular.”[1] Accompanying this is the right of return which the Israelis claim for the Jewish people of the world, but that is denied to the Palestinians in contravention of international law.

Context as a theme is obviously a major issue for any discussion of the refugee problem. American media “routinely denies its audience the contextual tools with which to assess important historical and political aspects of the issue,” and it “largely mirrors U.S. Mideast policy,” remaining “explicitly tilted in favor of Israel in the pursuit of what is officially defined as the U.S. national interest in the region.” News reports “relate what can be seen and heard, to the exclusion or relevant contextual background.” [italics in original] The message that does come across is that of the “refugees’ own transigence and the machinations of their leaders, the Arab states, and the United Nations.” While it seems almost too obvious to state, Dunsky sums up her arguments on the refugee reporting saying “if Americans had a fuller contextual understanding of the key issues…via the mainstream media, they would be better equipped to challenge U.S. Mideast policy.”

Obvious yes, but it also signifies that American culture, American society perhaps does not want to disturb its own beliefs in its exceptionalism and perfectionism that is their gift (even if by the barrel of a gun) to the world. To admit these failings of context, to examine the context in light of foreign policy would be greatly disturbing to a society educated (or inculcated) about its own greatness, exceptionalism, perfectionism, and love of democracy and freedom. And so it should be.

Israeli settlements

Similar arguments are brought forth concerning the Israeli settlements. A brief background set of information ties in the U.S. $3 billion in aid each year that supports the ability to continue the settlements. Dunsky argues, and supports, the idea that “reporting on the settlement issue bears a striking similarity to reporting on the …refugee question,” with “more weight usually given to Israeli claims and little or no reference to international law and consensus.” Also, “dramatic description is substituted for thoroughgoing analytical reporting.” And more in the same category of context: “Contextually and substantively…the stories made little or no reference to international law and consensus or to U.S. aid to Israel.”

The media references to the Israeli side generally emphasize the perspective “that Palestinian violence must be halted before negotiations can resume,” without the context of history and the idea that the very act of settlement and “its attendant military defense have been a root cause of that violence.” Frequent comments run through the text, emphasizing and referencing the lack of context and of international law and consensus in the media reports that are studied.

The intifada

The height of the intifada violence coincided with American rhetoric and anguish after 9/11 and provided a neat tie in for the Israeli government and the IDF to try and capture the argument as one of terrorism, leaving aside completely the historical context and using the American perspective of “us against them,” of democracy versus demagoguery, of “they hate us for what we are.” For the media “political discourse focused entirely on themes that were emotional, moral, and patriotic,” providing a “period of congruence for the United States and Israel.” The IDF incursions into the West Bank relied on the concept that “the campaign was to root out the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank.”

Palestine was no match for the well-organized Israeli “propaganda battlefield” and as events continued, “Arafat and the PA were linked to terror” as “repeatedly impressed on U.S. government officials and the American public through the media.” Another feature of these reports is what “amounted to transparent Israeli advocacy for a U.S. war in Iraq” as well as connections through to Iran. In sum, Dunsky says

“American journalists were operating within the sphere of cultural congruence – a comfort zone where journalistic scepticism and balance were often overshadowed or displaced by the political discourse of the Bush administration, in which a “war on terror” could be prosecuted by the United States, and, by extension, its closest ally.”

Ego and Access

The chapter “In the Field” provides an intriguing perspective on the reporters/journalists (I put those two descriptors together, not really sure where the lines between a reporter and a journalist meet or overlap or coincide) themselves. The section could be subtitled “Ego and Access” as those are the two main themes in the first set of self-reports.

Dunsky allows the reporters to speak for themselves and some of what they say is self-incriminating as to why there is a bias and lack of context. It would seem that the correspondents are well aware of media competition in the sense that they need a daily story. They worry about how the editors will deal with their report and they need a story with a different view to gain publication and so that their peers will take notice: “to attempt unfiltered reporting…not only is often discouraged by newsroom culture but can also result in swift and unstinting audience censure.” That is the ego part. The access part is the consistent iteration that access to Israeli sources was very easy and well organized and that communication with the Palestinians required more effort. That could be – although denied by the correspondents – because “most…choose to live among Israelis in West Jerusalem because of its higher standard of living rather than among Palestinians.” It is a hard denial to make, that their place of living has “had little or no effect on their actual work product.” If they have no sense of context, perhaps also their sense of place is…hmm…misplaced.

Before getting into these self-examinations, examinations that reveal all too much about ego and access, Dunsky reiterates her own two “key underlying contexts: the impact of U.S. policy on the trajectory of the conflict; and the importance of international law and consensus regarding the key issues of Israeli settlement and annexation policies and the right of return of Palestinian refugees.” As a result the journalistic product “frames media discourse on the conflict in a way that reinforces and supports rather than scrutinizes and challenges U.S. policy that in many ways undergirds it.”

Context and media failure.

The final two writers provide a much clearer analysis of the world they lived in. Gillian Findlay, ABC correspondent from September 1997 to June 2002 says “when we did try to provide context, it became such a controversial thing, not only among viewers but also within the news organization.” She was surprised by “how little our audience understood about the roots of the conflict,” and says it is a “cop out in reporting” to say there is nothing the U.S. administration can do. Speaking more globally she hits upon another truth about American media, that “the lack of context applies to so much reporting these days. It’s not just this issue.”

Chris Hedges worked for the New York Times and the Dallas Morning News off and on from January 1988 to 2003. He says “Arab culture is incomprehensible to us because we’ve never taken the time to understand it. It’s a great failing of the press that when something is incomprehensible to us, we certify it as incomprehensible to everyone.” He continues this idea when discussing the suicide bombers, “we don’t understand the slow drip of oppression” that created them and further “We’ve never taken the time to understand them….[a] fundamental failure of the coverage of Palestinians.” As for the press as an institution he says, “bureaucracies…are driven by ambition and have very little moral sense. That’s true of every institution….It’s not conducive of their own advancement.”

All of which leaves me wondering, as a critical reader, what exactly are the credentials of the writers/reporters/journalists who are in the field. Certainly being there provides them with first hand observation of current events, but do they have the academic background to understand the socio-political history of the region? Are they able and willing to look at what for me is the prime contradiction in the vast majority of American and Israeli foreign affairs and those who report on it – that what you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you are saying? That democracy does not arrive at the barrel of gun, peace does not come from pre-emptive invasions and occupations, the victim cannot be blamed for the ongoing violence against the intruders, and international law deems it all illegal? More simply put, people, nations, do not like being occupied and suppressed, and no rhetoric of any kind will make it acceptable except to an elite few cronies of the occupiers. Are the reporters able and willing to step outside of the Washington consensus, willing to take the time to provide more background information for themselves as well as their readers, or will the corporate agenda over-rule any attempts at providing context, a context that more often than not goes against the grain of the Washington consensus?

The final argument is on objectivity, seen in the introduction as an “amorphous if not impossible standard,” another argument that comes back to all media tasks being “superfluous as long as one remains within the presuppositional framework of the doctrinal consensus,” with writers well aware of “rewards that accrue to conformity and the costs of honest dissidence.”

I would hope that all journalists/writers would take the time to read Pens and Swords. The books arguments are well presented and well referenced, and the work as a whole should be placed on every journalists’/reporters’ shelf alongside similar works by other well referenced and questioning media critics [2] For any journalist who is actually wishing to pursue truth rather than ego and access, consideration and action on the ideas presented in Dunsky’s work would be a great place to start. Pens and Swords is also a great read for all mass media audiences to better inform themselves and to be able to criticize and analyze the writers/producers and their products more intelligently as well as to analyze their own place and views within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

[1] for an easily read comprehensive understanding of international law, see Michael Byers’ War Law, Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict, Douglas & McIntyre, Toronto, 2005.

[2] ]Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent (2002), and Falk and Friel Israel-Palestine on Record (2007).

www.globalresearch.ca contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of “fair use” in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than “fair use” you must request permission from the copyright owner.

For media inquiries: crgeditor@yahoo.com
© Copyright Jim Miles, Global Research, 2008
The url address of this article is: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=9113

What the Times Didn’t Tell About McCain

February 27, 2008

What the Times Didn’t Tell About McCain

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080227_what_the_times_didnt_tell_about_mccain/

Posted on Feb 26, 2008

By Robert Scheer

As Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain twisted briefly in the wind kicked up by that New York Times story suggesting he had swapped political favors for the personal favors of an attractive lobbyist for the telecommunications industry, I kept waiting for the public policy punch line. Surely the Times would spell out just what it was that McCain had delivered to big media beyond what the paper originally reported: an all-too-typical congressional request that the FCC speed up its review of a broadcast licensing dispute.

Vicki Iseman, the lobbyist in question, is praised on her company’s Web site for her “extensive experience in telecommunications, representing corporations before the House and Senate Commerce Committees,” and for “her work on the landmark 1992 and 1996 communications bills.” Now that’s a biggie, because the 1996 legislation, although you would never have learned this from the mainstream media at the time, opened the floodgates for massive media consolidation, thus rewarding media moguls for their many millions in campaign contributions. McCain was a big player on that Commerce Committee at the time, and I expected a Times revelation as to just how Iseman got McCain to help gift the media barons with their dream legislation.

The revelation never came, because the annoying reality is that McCain was one of the rare Senate opponents of the telecom bill that Iseman was pushing—as opposed to The New York Times, which like every other major media outlet pushed for the legislation (in the case of the Times, without ever conceding its own corporation’s financial bias in the matter). McCain was one of five senators (and the sole Republican) who, along with Democrats Russ Feingold, Patrick Leahy, Paul Simon and the great Paul Wellstone, voted against the atrocious legislation, which President Bill Clinton signed into law.

The Times, which now has the temerity to question McCain’s integrity on telecommunications policy, ran a shameful editorial back then, under the headline “A Victory for Viewers,” insisting after the passage of the legislation that “there was one clear winner—the consumer.” Seven years later, the paper’s “Editorial Observer,” Brent Staples, bemoaned one direct consequence of the passage of the Telecom Act, under the title “The Trouble with Corporate Radio: The Day the Protest Music Died.” Noting that “corporate ownership has changed what gets played—and who plays it,” Staples observed that the top two radio owners went from having a total of 115 stations before the act was passed to 1,400 between them afterward.

This concentration of ownership in all media was the inevitable result of the legislation that the media moguls sought. That far-reaching impact was obvious only one year after the act’s passage, as Neil Hickey noted at the time in the Columbia Journalism Review: “ … far and away the splashiest effect of the new law during the last year has been the historic, unprecedented torrent of mergers, consolidations, buyouts, partnerships, and joint ventures that has changed the face of Big Media in America.” He then offers a staggering list of massive multibillion-dollar mergers consummated during that first year.

One of the early winners was Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which quickly became the biggest owner of television stations, bolstering its lineup of media properties such as TV Guide, HarperCollins and Twentieth Century Fox; quite a gift from legislation signed by President Clinton, which perhaps explains the warm relationship that subsequently developed between Murdoch and Hillary Clinton. Murdoch sponsored a fundraiser for Clinton’s senatorial re-election campaign in 2006, but when asked during the Iowa primary about Murdoch’s vast media holdings, including Fox News, the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal, Clinton ducked the question. Avoiding any reference to Murdoch, she conceded that “… there have been a lot of media consolidations in the last several years, and it is quite troubling.”

It’s not easy to maintain an evenhanded appraisal of McCain as he appropriates the Bush mantle. Of course, I wouldn’t vote for him; he is willing to let the Iraq war go on for a hundred years, and at the rate of at least $200 billion a year, that makes a mockery of his efforts to defeat earmarks and other wasteful government spending—beginning with the massive waste in the Pentagon budget that he has done so much to expose. His capitulation on President Bush’s use of torture is even more appalling. But it is absurd to attempt to pigeonhole McCain as a patsy for corporate lobbyists when he has been in the forefront of key efforts to challenge their power.

McCain in NYC AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Mac in NYC:  John McCain courts the crowd in New York City’s Rockefeller Center on Super Tuesday.

The Lost Kristol Tapes

February 15, 2008

The Lost Kristol Tapes
What the New York Times bought: A look back at William Kristol’s two-hour appearance on C-Span just nine days after the President launched his invasion of Iraq.” /> Jonathan Schwarz” />
February 14″ /> , 2008″ />
Imagine that there were a Beatles record only a few people knew existed. And imagine you got the chance to listen to it, and as you did, your excitement grew, note by note. You realized it wasn’t merely as good as Rubber Soul, or Revolver, or Sgt. Pepper’s. It was much, much better. And now, imagine how badly you’d want to tell other Beatles fans all about it.

That’s how I feel for my fellow William Kristol fans. You loved it when Bill said invading Iraq was going to have “terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East”? You have the original recording of him explaining the war would make us “respected around the world” and his classic statement that there’s “almost no evidence” of Iraq experiencing Sunni-Shia conflict? Well, I’ve got something that will blow your mind!

I’m talking about Kristol’s two-hour appearance on C-Span’s Washington Journal on March 28, 2003, just nine days after the President launched his invasion of Iraq. No one remembers it today. You can’t even fish it out of LexisNexis. It’s not there. Yet it’s a masterpiece, a double album of smarm, horrifying ignorance, and bald-faced deceit. While you’ve heard him play those instruments before, he never again reached such heights. It’s a performance for the history books — particularly that chapter about how the American Empire collapsed.

At the time Kristol was merely the son of prominent neoconservative Irving Kristol, former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle (aka “Quayle’s brain”), the editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard, and a frequent Fox News commentator. He hadn’t yet added New York Times columnist to his resumé. Opposite Kristol on the segment was Daniel Ellsberg, famed for leaking the Pentagon Papers in the Vietnam era. Their discussion jumped back and forth across 40 years of U.S.-Iraqi relations, and is easiest to understand if rearranged chronologically.

So, sit back, relax, and let me play a little of it for you.

To start with, Ellsberg made the reasonable point that Iraqis might not view the invading Americans as “liberators,” since the U.S. had been instrumental in Saddam Hussein’s rise to power: Here’s how he put it:

“ELLSBERG: People in Iraq… perceive Hussein as a dictator… But as a dictator the Americans chose for them. “KRISTOL: That’s just not true. We’ve had mistakes in our Iraq policy. It’s just ludicrous—we didn’t choose Hussein. We didn’t put him in power.

“ELLSBERG: In 1963, when there was a brief uprising of the Ba’ath, we supplied specifically Saddam with lists, as we did in Indonesia, lists of people to be eliminated. And since he’s a murderous thug, but at that time our murderous thug, he eliminated them…

“KRISTOL: [surprised] Is that right?…

“ELLSBERG: The same thing went on in ’68. He was our thug, just as [Panamanian dictator Manuel] Noriega, and lots of other people who were on the leash until they got off the leash and then we eliminated them. Like [Vietnamese president] Ngo Dinh Diem.”

Ellsberg here is referring to U.S. support for a 1963 coup involving the Ba’athist party, for which Saddam was already a prominent enforcer—and then another coup in 1968 when the Ba’athists consolidated control, after which Saddam became the power behind the nominal president. According to one of the 1963 plotters, “We came to power on a CIA train.” (Beyond providing lists of communists and leftists to be murdered, the U.S. also gave the new regime napalm to help them put down a Kurdish uprising we’d previously encouraged.) James Crichtfield, then head of the CIA in the Middle East, said, “We really had the t’s crossed on what was happening” This turned out not to be quite right, since factional infighting among top Iraqis required the second plot five years later for which, explained key participant Abd al-Razzaq al-Nayyif, “you must [also] look to Washington.”

Yet it appears clear on video that Kristol is genuinely startled by what Ellsberg was saying.

Consider the significance of this. Any ordinary citizen could easily have learned about the American role in those two coups—former National Security Council staffer Roger Morris had written about it on the New York Times op-ed page just two weeks before the Kristol-Ellsberg broadcast. And Kristol was far more than an ordinary citizen. He’d been near the apex of government as Quayle’s chief of staff during the first Gulf War in 1991. He’d been advocating the overthrow of the Saddam regime for years. He’d co-written an entire book, The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission, calling for an invasion of that country.

Nevertheless, Kristol was ignorant of basic, critical information about U.S.-Iraq history. Iraqis themselves were not. In a September 2003 article, a returning refugee explained the growing resistance to the occupation: “One of the popular sayings I repeatedly heard in Baghdad, describing the relations between the U.S. and Saddam’s regime, is ‘Rah el sani’, ija el ussta‘—’Gone is the apprentice, in comes the master.'”

What this suggests about the people running America is far worse than if they were simply malevolent super-geniuses: They don’t know the backstory and couldn’t care less. It’s as though we’re riding in the back seat of a car driven by people who demanded the wheel but aren’t sure what the gas pedal does or what a stop sign actually looks like.

Moreover, when Ellsberg tells Kristol this information, he demonstrates no desire to learn more; nor, as best as can be discovered, has he ever mentioned it again. Really? Those colored lights mean something about whether I’m supposed to stop or go? Huh. Anyway, let’s talk more about how all of you complaining in the back seat hate freedom.

Later, when the discussion gets closer to the present. Kristol’s demeanor changes. He appears to be better informed and therefore shifts to straightforward lies:

“ELLSBERG: Why did we support Saddam as recently as when you were in the administration? And the answer is— “KRISTOL: We didn’t support Saddam when I was in the administration.

“ELLSBERG: When were you in the administration?

“KRISTOL: 89 to 93.”

This is preposterously false. First of all, Kristol worked in the Reagan administration as Education Secretary William Bennett’s chief of staff—when the U.S. famously supported Saddam’s war against Iran with loans, munitions, intelligence, and diplomatic protection for his use of chemical weapons. After George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988, Kristol moved to the same position in Vice President Quayle’s office. During the transition, Bush’s advisors examined the country’s Iraq policy and wrote a memo explaining to the incoming President the choice he faced. In a nutshell, this was “to decide whether to treat Iraq as a distasteful dictatorship to be shunned when possible, or to recognize Iraq’s present and potential power in the region and accord it relatively high priority. We strongly urge the latter view.”

And Bush chose. Internal State Department guidelines from the period stated, “In no way should we associate ourselves with the 60 year-old Kurdish rebellion in Iraq or oppose Iraq’s legitimate attempts to suppress it.” (Saddam’s gassing of the Kurdish town of Halabja has occurred less than a year before.) Analysts warning of Iraq’s burgeoning nuclear program were squelched. The Commerce Department loosened restrictions on dual-use WMD material, while Bush the elder approved new government lines of credit for Saddam over congressional objections.

And Saddam was receiving private money as well: most notably from the Atlanta branch of Italian bank BNL. BNL staff would later report that companies wanting to sell to Iraq were referred to them by Kristol’s then-boss, Vice President Quayle. One Quayle family friend would end up constructing a refinery for Saddam to recycle Iraq’s spent artillery shells. The Bush Justice Department prevented investigators from examining transactions like this, while Commerce Department employees were ordered to falsify export licenses.

As Kristol and Ellsberg discuss the buildup to the 1991 Gulf War, Kristol, of course, continues to fiddle with reality:

“KRISTOL: So you were against the liberation of Kuwait. “ELLSBERG: No, on the contrary. At that time, a number of four star military people, former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were foursquare for containing Saddam, preventing him by military means from getting into Saudi Arabia… When it came to expelling him from Kuwait, they wanted to give the blockade and the embargo [more time], on the belief of people like Admiral Crowe that that would be preferable to the deaths that would be involved in trying to expel him militarily. We didn’t test that theory.

“KRISTOL: The argument was not that the sanctions could get him out of Kuwait. The argument was that we could keep him out of Saudi Arabia. Who seriously thought he could be expelled from Kuwait by sanctions?

“ELLSBERG: Practically everyone who testified before Senator Nunn, who is no left-wing radical. And Senator Nunn himself. You’ve forgotten the history of that.

“KRISTOL: I remember the history vividly.”

Ellsberg is correct, of course: On November 28, 1990, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral William Crowe testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee and its chairman Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.). Crowe stated: “[W]e should give sanctions a fair chance… I personally believe they will bring [Saddam] to his knees”—by which Crowe meant Iraq would be “pushed out of Kuwait.” The same message was delivered by General David Jones, another former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman. The next day, the lede in a page one New York Times story was that Crowe and Jones had “urged the Bush Administration today to postpone military action against Iraq and to give economic sanctions a year or more to work.”

It’s not like Kristol could have missed all this, since the Bush administration immediately disputed such commentary—and one of its point men for the push back was none other than Dan Quayle. An early December 1990 article about a Quayle speech reported: “[Quayle] specifically cited the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee” where “voices have argued that the Bush Administration should allow time for economic sanctions against Iraq to work, getting President Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait voluntarily rather than using force to dislodge him.” (Unfortunately, there’s no available reporting on whether Quayle’s chief of staff wrote this speech for him.)

Then there’s Kristol’s curious explanation of his views on how the Gulf War ended—that moment when George H.W. Bush called upon the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam and then, despite having smashed Saddam’s army and controlling Iraq’s air space, let the dictator’s helicopter gunships take to the air and crush a Shiite uprising. There were even reports the administration forbade the Saudis from aiding the uprising and that U.S. troops blew up caches of Iraqi weapons rather than allow the rebels to use them.

Kristol, however, uses his courtier’s skills to remake reality more pleasingly:

“KRISTOL: I was unhappy in 1991 when we stopped the war and left this brutal tyrant in power. I think we betrayed the people who rose up against Saddam, a genuine popular uprising. That was a big mistake on the part of the Bush administration. A political mistake and a moral mistake.”

So that’s clear: Kristol feels the decision was immoral. Or… was it?

“KRISTOL: I don’t think these were simply immoral decisions by the president. These were judgment calls. There were reasons. There were arguments. There weren’t simply— “ELLSBERG: But they were immoral—

“KRISTOL: Well, no, that’s not so easy to call a political decision an immoral decision.

That’s fancy footwork for you! On the one hand, Kristol wants us to know that the decision was indeed “a moral mistake.” The implication is that he should be respected in the post-invasion moment of 2003 as the sort of sensitive tough guy who would indeed invade Iraq to make up for past decisions that lacked morality. On the other hand, we’re talking about a former Republican president and the present President’s father. A straightforward declaration of “immorality,” if pursued far enough, could easily hurt future employment prospects. Kristol has absolutely perfect pitch, managing to strike a blow for moral beauty in politics while maintaining career viability.

Ellsberg then asks questions aimed at just this issue:

“ELLSBERG: Did you consider doing more than disagree? Perhaps putting out the word of your dissent? Perhaps resigning with documents and revealing those to the press and the Congress? “KRISTOL [scoffing]: I had no documents to put out. There were no secrets about the President’s policy… We didn’t want to occupy Baghdad. The rebellion would have failed anyway. We would have gotten in deeper.”

Hmmm. No secrets about Bush the elder’s policy. Yet there was something that most certainly was secret about the rebellions at end of the Gulf War: Saddam was using chemical weapons to put down the Shiite uprising in the south. Rumored since 1991, this has been confirmed by the most impeccable source imaginable—the CIA’s final 2004 report on Iraq’s WMD. According to the report, the Iraqi military used Sarin nerve agent, dropped from the helicopters the U.S. had given them permission to fly.

The CIA goes onto to suggest the U.S. government knew about this at the time, describing “reports of attacks in 1991 from refugees and Iraqi military deserters.” And Gulf War veterans have said they passed such reports up the chain of command. Did Kristol know it then? Probably not. But even today there’s no sign he knows: he and the Weekly Standard appear never to have mentioned it. As with the coups in 1963 and 1968, Kristol’s ignorance is of a peculiarly convenient variety.

In any case, here’s what Kristol did know: the Bush administration made the choices it did at war’s end not because, as Kristol says, they felt “the rebellion would have failed.” Their fear was exactly the opposite: that the rebellion would succeed. Yes, the Bush administration preferred Saddam gone, but it wanted him replaced by some other, more amenable group or leader from the Sunni military elite. It most certainly did not want a popular uprising that might leave a largely Shiite government in power in Baghdad, potentially close to Iran. Even worse was the possibility Iraq could fracture, with power shifting to the oil-rich Shiite south. As an administration official told Peter Galbraith, then a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer, “[O]ur policy is to get rid of Saddam Hussein, not the regime.” Later, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained that Washington was looking for “the best of all worlds: an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein.”

Kristol’s predictions that March day in 2003 are every bit as on target as his descriptions of the past. When Ellsberg raises the possibility of the new Iraq war coming to resemble Vietnam in some fashion, Kristol insists that this is utterly preposterous: “It’s not going to happen. This is going to be a two-month war.”

Here’s the exchange when they turn to what will happen to Iraq’s Kurds:

“ELLSBERG: The Kurds have every reason to believe they will be betrayed again by the United States, as so often in the past. The spectacle of our inviting Turks into this war… could not have been reassuring to the Kurds… “KRISTOL: I’m against betraying the Kurds. Surely your point isn’t that because we betrayed them in the past we should betray them this time?

“ELLSBERG: Not that we should, just that we will.

“KRISTOL: We will not. We will not.”

This past December, we did. The Bush administration officially looked the other way while Turkey carried out a 50-plane bombing raid on Iraqi Kurdistan against the PKK, a Kurdish rebel group. Ken Silverstein of Harper’s reprinted an email from a former U.S. official there that said, in part:

“The blowback here in Kurdistan is building against the U.S. government because of its help with the Turkish air strikes. The theme is shock and betrayal… The people killed and wounded were villagers, not PKK fighters or support people… The initial explanation from Washington that the United States did not authorize the Turkish strike is bullshit, and every Kurd here knows it.”

No mention of the bombing has appeared in the Weekly Standard. It’s fair to assume, however, that Kristol will eventually call America’s actions there “a moral mistake,” while emphasizing that “these were judgment calls. There were reasons. There were arguments.”

Back in 2003, Kristol was also quite certain, almost touchingly so, that the Bush administration would be well served by relying on Iraqi exiles:

“KRISTOL: We have tens of thousands of Shia exiles [who] have come back to help contribute to the liberation of Iraq. “ELLSBERG: I’m afraid the people who propose this war have failed one lesson of intelligence history, which is not to rely too much on the knowledge of people who have left the country… The people who’ve come to this country may very well underestimate the desire of those people not to be governed by foreigners.”

This lesson of history goes back a long way. Book II, Chapter XXXI of Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy is titled “How Dangerous It Is to Believe Exiles”:

“It ought to be considered, therefore, how vain are the faith and promises of those who find themselves deprived of their country… such is the extreme desire in them to return home, that they naturally believe many things that are false and add many others by art, so that between those they believe and those they say they believe, they fill you with hope, so that relying on them you will incur expenses in vain, or you undertake an enterprise in which you ruin yourself… A Prince, therefore, ought to go slowly in undertaking an enterprise upon the representations of an exile, for most of the times he will be left either with shame or very grave injury.”

The Weekly Standard‘s archives show Kristol has published quite a few articles on how political correctness in elite U.S. universities is strangling the teaching of the Western canon. And you can understand where he’s coming from: While Kristol himself received a PhD in government from Harvard, it obviously was during a period when radical multiculturalists had completely expunged Machiavelli from the curriculum. When will the PC brigade ever learn? Teaching Toni Morrison starts wars.

Finally, there’s the most telling moment of the entire two hours, when a caller asks Kristol something he does not at all expect:

“CALLER: I wonder how we reconcile these views with how we treat the American Indians? “KRISTOL: [raising eyebrows, chuckling] Well, I think the American Indians are now full citizens of the United States of America. We have injustices in our past in treating the American Indians. I’m for equal rights for American Indians and for liberating the people of Iraq from this horrible tyranny.”

Kristol obviously finds the caller’s perspective ridiculous. But the man had, in fact, asked the most profound question possible.

After all, there is a deep cultural connection running from our conquest of the continent to the invasion of Iraq. While Americans have mostly forgotten this, the early settlers did not perceive themselves as simply pushing Indians out of the way. Rather, they came here with the very best of intentions. The 1629 seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is a picture of an American Indian, who is saying, “Come over and help us.” Three hundred seventy-three years later in 2002, Ahmed Chalabi was being paid by the U.S. government to tell Americans to come over and “help the Iraqi people.” In his book The Winning of the West, Teddy Roosevelt wrote that no nation “has ever treated the original savage owners of the soil with such generosity as has the United States.” In 2004, Fred Barnes wrote (in the Weekly Standard) that the invasion of Iraq might be “the greatest act of benevolence one country has ever done for another.”

Kristol finishes the C-Span show with a crescendo:

“The moral credentials of this war are strong. We’ll see if we follow through. I agree with Mr. Ellsberg on this, if we’re not serious about helping the Iraqi people rebuild their country and about helping promote decent democratic government in Iraq… it will be a much less morally satisfying and fully defensible war… I’m happy to be held to a moral standard. I ask that it be a serious moral standard.”

So, there you have it: a complex, rich experience to be savored by anyone who enjoys watching a master at the very peak of his craft.

Yet trying to encapsulate Kristol’s now almost five year-old chilling performance by turning it into a bitter joke only takes us so far. After all, the joke is on us.

Kristol indeed has been held to a moral standard, but it’s the moral standard of Rupert Murdoch and, more recently, the New York Times. What we learn from this dusty vinyl LP is that some of the most powerful men and institutions in our country are genuinely depraved. They provide Kristol with his prominence not in spite of performances like this one, but precisely because of them. Kristol is giving them just what they want. The fact that he’s a propagandist straight out of Pravda‘s archives makes the same impression on them as the fact that John Lennon was a great songwriter might make on you or me.

Of course he is. That’s why we bought the album.

Jonathan Schwarz is a frequent contributor to Mother Jones and co-author with Michael Gerber of Our Kampf, a collection of their humor from the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and Saturday Night Live. His website is named after a saying of George Orwell’s: “Every joke is a tiny revolution.”

Et Tu, New York Times?

February 15, 2008

Et Tu, New York Times?

By Tariq Ali
Source: Counterpunch.org

Tariq Ali’s ZSpace Page

(4 February 2008) The New York Times’ recently awoken sense of justice was dormant when Musharraf sacked the independent-minded judges, whose sin was ordering the release of the ‘terrorists’ imprisoned without proof or trial.


“And when a leading Pakistani journalist at a London news conference asked a reasonable question about the security services, Mr. Musharraf implied that he was an enemy of the state. Such intimidation is especially chilling coming from a leader whose chief political rival, Benazir Bhutto, was recently assassinated. In a nation with democratic aspirations, journalists have every right to question leaders. He still doesn’t seem to get that.”

– Editorial in New York Times, February 1, 2008

You have to hand it to the New York Times. With so much to write about they can still find time to kick General Musharraf where it doesn’t really hurt. It’s not that the sentiments expressed in the editorial are wrong. Obviously journalists should and must question their leaders without being denounced as traitors. Equally obviously elections shouldn’t be rigged. Thinking a thought unacceptable to the state should never be a furtive occupation.

What a pity that the paper of record did not lead a chorus of disapproval when Musharraf sacked all the independent-minded judges of the Supreme and High Courts in the country, or when lawyers were being bludgeoned into submission by the cops on the streets of every major Pakistani city. Neither the leaders of the US/EU combine or their media were too upset by that development. Ther judges, it was whispered, had become too proactive and were ordering the release of disappeared ‘terrorists’ who had been imprisoned without trial after ascertaining that there was no proof to detain them. This challenged the fundamentals of Guantanamo and the violation of civil liberties, the suspension of habeas corpus in Britain. Just like the Queen Bee and her drones, the politicians ordained and the global media networks and tame journos followed suit,

But values have been shifted around for this was certainly not the case in Pakistan where the prevailing feeling was that something was seriously wrong. Both the print media and the non-State TV channels carried reports after serious investigations and screened daily coverage of the campaign to defend the Judges. In other words they supplied citizens with information that can only enhance democratic accountability. It was for this reason that Musharraf imposed a temporary State of Emergency. He sacked the Judges and imposed new curbs on the media. He wanted Pakistani journalists to be more like their Western counterparts.

In justifying the attacks on the media he would often say that Pakistani journalists were rude, did not respect authority and should learn how to behave. He sometimes cited the US and British press and how well they treated their leaders. How right he was and so he wanted to bring the Pakistani media into line with their US and British counterparts. Surely the NYT should be in favour of all this. How can we forget their courageous stand when Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld were preparing to go to war? Or the slavish support for Bush not just from Fox but all the networks. Or the ghastly Tony Blair’s neutering of an already tame BBC and firing of its Chairman and Director-General because it occasionally reflected the views of the majority of citizens (staunchly anti-war)?

And do we need to go back to the atmosphere of fear and intimidation of any critical voice after 9/11? Remember the attacks on Susan Sontag, Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky? Was the word ‘treachery’ never mentioned on that occasion? Did not journalists at that time have ‘every right to question their leaders’ but didn’t?

And if one looks back at Pakistan’s record number of military rulers should not the NYT editorial writer have looked up the material of history? S/he would have found at least one NYT editorial supportive of Generals Ayub, Zia and Musharraf.

I end with a modest proposal: let us transplant the current generation of Pakistani journalists (including those sacked on Musharraf’s orders) into the US media (especially the TV networks) and send an equivalent number of US journalists to Pakistan. FoxNews can remain as it is, the US equivalent of Pakistani state TV. It will damage Pakistan but might be beneficial for the United States.

Interview: Seymour Hersh

February 11, 2008
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 07, 2008
2:05 MECCA TIME, 23:05 GMT
Interview: Seymour Hersh

By Sarah Brown

 
 

Hersh was instrumental in exposing the scandal at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison [GALLO/GETTY]

Seymour Hersh, one of the world’s best known investigative journalists,  has turned his attention to the mysterious and controversial bombing of a Syrian facility by Israel last year.

In a new article for the New Yorker magazine, the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, best known for his work exposing the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the horrific mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, says evidence indicates the bombing was a warning to Syria and its allies, including Iran.

Al Jazeera spoke to him about the bombing, why he feels the media failed on the story, and what it means for the Middle East.

Q: Why did Israel bomb a target in Syria?

[I find awful] the hubris, the arrogance of thinking that you could go commit an act of war by any definition and then say nothing about it

A: Well I don’t have the answers to that direct question – one thing that is terribly significant is that the Israel and its chief ally the US have chosen to say nothing officially about this incident and that’s what got me interested – whoever heard of a country bombing another one and not talking about it and thinking they had the right somehow not to talk about it?

In 1981 when Israel bombed the Osirak reactor in Iraq they were very noisy and public about it. In this case they said nothing publicly, but after a few weeks they began to leak [information].

They began to tell certain reporters very grandiose sort of stories about what was going on – ships arriving with illicit materials, offloaded by people in protective gear … from a port in the Mediterranean across to the bomb site, commando’s on the ground, soil samples.

And none of it turned out to be true, really, at least I could find no demonstrable evidence for it.

And so I have to say, that if this article I did generates a decision by Israel to go public with its overwhelming dossier that will answer any questions well that’s great … but they have not and [I find awful] the hubris, the arrogance of thinking that you could go commit an act of war by any definition and then say nothing about it.

Syria of course compounded the problem by being hapless and feckless in response. It took them, I think, until October 1, almost four weeks after the incident before the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, acknowledged it had actually been bombed.

Q: Why was Syria’s reaction so muted?

The bombing was seen as a message to
Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president [AFP]

A: I think they’re just hapless. I don’t think they have any idea about the 24 hour news cycle – it’s just unbeknown to them.

So what happened is: A raid takes place, they announced rather quickly there was an intrusion by the Israelis, they initially say after a couple of days that munitions were bombed, then the foreign minister says in Turkey four or five days after the incident that nothing was bombed however, bombs fell but nothing was hit.

Then, three weeks later, the president says: “Oh, well actually a building was destroyed”. You can’t programme something that inept and that’s a reality. They just weren’t very good.

But there are other factors.

Q: Such as North Korea?

A: There were North Koreans, as the Israelis claimed at the site. They were building a facility, it was a military facility, I think my guess would be. 

I was told two different things by various people inside Syria.

One said it was perhaps a chemical facility for chemical warfare, another one said more persuasively to me that “no, it was for missiles – short range missiles to be used in case we’re attacked by Israel, we’d respond asymmetrically with missiles.”

Q: Because they figure chemical weapons are of little use against a nuclear power?

A: Yes. They’re incinerated. And I’m told they made that decision much longer ago than we might think.

I’m told they really devalued the use of a chemical warhead, certainly as a deterrent, because the response is nuclear.

Q: Didn’t some of your sources tell you there was evidence to support the theory that the US wanted Israel to test Syria’s air defences because they are similar to those of Iran?

A: In the beginning. This plan was staffed – by that I mean it was staffed by the US joint chiefs of staff, it was staffed by people in the vice president’s office.

Israel does not do a raid like this without talking to the White House

The little bit I know about that process was in the summer, months before the mission, there was a lot of talk about doing the mission [and] there was a report in the intelligence community from the Defence Intelligence Agency saying that Syria had dramatically increased the capability of its radar and command control system.

[It said that it had] anti-aircraft radar close or parallel to that now known to be installed in Iran – so this was a way of testing the Syrian radar.

You can walk all over Syria and no-one cares, it’s a small country of 17 million people. But to go into Iran and check out radars by overflying any site, that leads to counter attack.

The Israelis have been overflying with impunity, there’s not much Syria can do and [the Israelis] knew Syria wouldn’t do anything.

So it was initially understood by my friends as a radar operation, it was only after the fact that they learned something else.

Dick Cheney, left, is said to have
overridden the US chain of command [AFP]

It was very hard to get information [in Israel] because they have a bar against speaking and military censorship has been imposed on this issue.

But I did get some people to say to me “Ah, that stuff about radar was [rubbish] – it was never going to happen, that’s a way or a vehicle for us to get in”.

It seems clear from what I’ve learned from my American friends and the Syrians that the Israelis came right in and the only target they had was the one they bombed.

They weren’t looking at any radar site, they just went in and whacked it.

So, then you really get to the next level of questions that I didn’t really deal with in the article because it’s so hypothetical – who authorised it?

Who did they talk to? I mean Israel does not do a raid like this without talking to the White House and I can’t find anybody that knew they were going to hit the facility beforehand. 

That could be that just I can’t find it, and if not that doesn’t mean it’s not there, and it could also be that somebody like Dick Cheney, who has done this before, overrode the chain of command.

So in other words, normally all this information about an Israeli attack would soak through to the joint chiefs, but he undercut that process perhaps – he’s done it before in other incidents – but I just can’t tell you for sure what happened here.

Q: Was the raid’s purpose to act as a potential deterrent to Iran?

A: Of course that was the idea for the US, to let the Iranians know that despite the national intelligence estimate “We’re ready to … we have a proxy and the Israelis will go bang for us if we need.”

I think the Israelis were troubled by the North Koreans there [at the site] … and they thought: ‘Whatever it is we’re not going to let them be’

But of course, for Israel, this whole mission had another point of view.

I think the Israelis were troubled by the North Koreans there [at the site], they were troubled by the building and they thought: “What the hell, whatever it is we’re not going to let them be. We’re going to hit the facility before it gets up, whatever it’s going to be.

If they thought it was nuclear I hope they’ll show us, otherwise they just hit a building that wasn’t done yet.

And the [result] was terrific for them, because it gave Olmert a big jump, a big boost of support 

Q: You mean after the war in Lebanon in 2006?

Absolutely. And also it was seen as a message to Bashar Assad, the president of Syria, who the Israelis believe has become cocky after the Hezbollah war because he was a big supporter of Hassan Nasrallah [Hezbollah leader] – he is Assad’s big buddy.

The Israelis thought that they could take him down a peg, and also the message to Bashar Assad is: “So, what’s Iran doing for you now, buddy? We go and pop you in the head and is Iran doing anything?”

And the American press and the international press end up being used on this one [story] in a scandalous way.

Q: On media culpability, this was a big issue in the lead up to the war in 2003 – questionable evidence that supposedly provides a cause for war. Is the media being manipulated again here?

 

A: The press was feckless on this and credulous and took everything at face value.

 

For me the US press – I don’t think they’ve come face to face with what happened here…. the newspapers missed without question the biggest moral story of the last decade, which is the illegal road to war in Iraq and we missed it.


And that’s not our job, it’s not our job to miss that, our job is not to listen to the president.
There were elements of the same pattern of “kiss-up” going on and that’s very disturbing.

Q: With US elections this year, do you think any foreign policy is going to change with a new president, especially towards Israel, Iran and Syria?

A:  Well certainly [it won’t change] with McCain, he’s talking about not even changing the war, which I think is a big mistake.

Somebody I know wrote a wonderful essay making the point that Iraq is a dead body, and David Petraeus, the general, and our ambassador Ryan Crocker they’re the undertakers, and their job is to keep up with the rouge and the makeup on the body for the next six months until we get past the election – that’s their goal.

[On Israel] it’s very hard, you know in America there’s just no questioning. The American Jewish influence is enormous. There’s a lot of money.

I just wish many American Jews would read the Israeli papers – particularly Haaretz – more carefully and they would see there’s really a vibrant criticism of the Israeli government … and you just don’t see that today.

I’m Jewish and I’m not anti-Semitic and I’m not anti-Israel – [Israelis] understand that, just as by the way a lot of Americans don’t understand that many of the leadership of Hamas and others.

Not everyone spends their life there wanting to kill Jews, they’re more willing than people would like to believe to co-exist, they just don’t like the system the way it works now.

Q: What do you think of Bush’s legacy to the world?He’s done more to terrify the world than anybody I know. The world is so much more dangerous.

I have a very wise friend, born in Syria, who’s a businessman in the West now.

Right after the bombing began in Iraq he said to me: “This war will not change Iraq – Iraq will change you” and so I’ve seen it come and it’s very scary.

It’s very scary to see how things are so fragile right now, nothing going on good in Lebanon nothing going on with Syria nothing going on with Iran … We can’t talk to people we don’t like?

We’ve got to negotiate, it’s the only way we’re going to resolve our problems.

 
 
 

Source: Al Jazeera

A Strike in the Dark

February 5, 2008
The New Yorker
Skip to content

Annals of National Security

A Strike in the Dark

What did Israel bomb in Syria?

by Seymour M. Hersh February 11, 2008

Israel and the U.S. have avoided comment on press reports about a nuclear facility.

Sometime after midnight on September 6, 2007, at least four low-flying Israeli Air Force fighters crossed into Syrian airspace and carried out a secret bombing mission on the banks of the Euphrates River, about ninety miles north of the Iraq border. The seemingly unprovoked bombing, which came after months of heightened tension between Israel and Syria over military exercises and troop buildups by both sides along the Golan Heights, was, by almost any definition, an act of war. But in the immediate aftermath nothing was heard from the government of Israel. In contrast, in 1981, when the Israeli Air Force destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, near Baghdad, the Israeli government was triumphant, releasing reconnaissance photographs of the strike and permitting the pilots to be widely interviewed.

Within hours of the attack, Syria denounced Israel for invading its airspace, but its public statements were incomplete and contradictory—thus adding to the mystery. A Syrian military spokesman said only that Israeli planes had dropped some munitions in an unpopulated area after being challenged by Syrian air defenses, “which forced them to flee.” Four days later, Walid Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, said during a state visit to Turkey that the Israeli aircraft had used live ammunition in the attack, but insisted that there were no casualties or property damage. It was not until October 1st that Syrian President Bashar Assad, in an interview with the BBC, acknowledged that the Israeli warplanes had hit their target, which he described as an “unused military building.” Assad added that Syria reserved the right to retaliate, but his comments were muted.

Despite official silence in Tel Aviv (and in Washington), in the days after the bombing the American and European media were flooded with reports, primarily based on information from anonymous government sources, claiming that Israel had destroyed a nascent nuclear reactor that was secretly being assembled in Syria, with the help of North Korea. Beginning construction of a nuclear reactor in secret would be a violation of Syria’s obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and could potentially yield material for a nuclear weapon.

The evidence was circumstantial but seemingly damning. The first reports of Syrian and North Korean nuclear coöperation came on September 12th in the Times and elsewhere. By the end of October, the various media accounts generally agreed on four points: the Israeli intelligence community had learned of a North Korean connection to a construction site in an agricultural area in eastern Syria; three days before the bombing, a “North Korean ship,” identified as the Al Hamed, had arrived at the Syrian port of Tartus, on the Mediterranean; satellite imagery strongly suggested that the building under construction was designed to hold a nuclear reactor when completed; as such, Syria had crossed what the Israelis regarded as the “red line” on the path to building a bomb, and had to be stopped. There were also reports—by ABC News and others—that some of the Israeli intelligence had been shared in advance with the United States, which had raised no objection to the bombing.

The Israeli government still declined to make any statement about the incident. Military censorship on dispatches about the raid was imposed for several weeks, and the Israeli press resorted to recycling the disclosures in the foreign press. In the first days after the attack, there had been many critical stories in the Israeli press speculating about the bombing, and the possibility that it could lead to a conflict with Syria. Larry Derfner, a columnist writing in the Jerusalem Post, described the raid as “the sort of thing that starts wars.” But, once reports about the nuclear issue and other details circulated, the domestic criticism subsided.

At a news conference on September 20th, President George W. Bush was asked about the incident four times but said, “I’m not going to comment on the matter.” The lack of official statements became part of the story. “The silence from all parties has been deafening,” David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post, “but the message to Iran”—which the Administration had long suspected of pursuing a nuclear weapon—“is clear: America and Israel can identify nuclear targets and penetrate air defenses to destroy them.”

It was evident that officials in Israel and the United States, although unwilling to be quoted, were eager for the news media to write about the bombing. Early on, a former officer in the Israel Defense Forces with close contacts in Israeli intelligence approached me, with a version of the standard story, including colorful but, as it turned out, unconfirmable details: Israeli intelligence tracking the ship from the moment it left a North Korean port; Syrian soldiers wearing protective gear as they off-loaded the cargo; Israeli intelligence monitoring trucks from the docks to the target site. On October 3rd, the London Spectator, citing much of the same information, published an overheated account of the September 6th raid, claiming that it “may have saved the world from a devastating threat,” and that “a very senior British ministerial source” had warned, “If people had known how close we came to World War Three that day there’d have been mass panic.”

However, in three months of reporting for this article, I was repeatedly told by current and former intelligence, diplomatic, and congressional officials that they were not aware of any solid evidence of ongoing nuclear-weapons programs in Syria. It is possible that Israel conveyed intelligence directly to senior members of the Bush Administration, without it being vetted by intelligence agencies. (This process, known as “stovepiping,” overwhelmed U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.) But Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations group responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said, “Our experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

Joseph Cirincione, the director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C., think tank, told me, “Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing. There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political.” Cirincione castigated the press corps for its handling of the story. “I think some of our best journalists were used,” he said.

A similar message emerged at briefings given to select members of Congress within weeks of the attack. The briefings, conducted by intelligence agencies, focussed on what Washington knew about the September 6th raid. One concern was whether North Korea had done anything that might cause the U.S. to back away from ongoing six-nation talks about its nuclear program. A legislator who took part in one such briefing said afterward, according to a member of his staff, that he had heard nothing that caused him “to have any doubts” about the North Korean negotiations—“nothing that should cause a pause.” The legislator’s conclusion, the staff member said, was “There’s nothing that proves any perfidy involving the North Koreans.”

Morton Abramowitz, a former Assistant Secretary of State for intelligence and research, told me that he was astonished by the lack of response. “Anytime you bomb another state, that’s a big deal,” he said. “But where’s the outcry, particularly from the concerned states and the U.N.? Something’s amiss.”

Israel could, of course, have damning evidence that it refuses to disclose. But there are serious and unexamined contradictions in the various published accounts of the September 6th bombing.

The main piece of evidence to emerge publicly that Syria was building a reactor arrived on October 23rd, when David Albright, of the Institute for Science and International Security, a highly respected nonprofit research group, released a satellite image of the target. The photograph had been taken by a commercial satellite company, DigitalGlobe, of Longmont, Colorado, on August 10th, four weeks before the bombing, and showed a square building and a nearby water-pumping station. In an analysis released at the same time, Albright, a physicist who served as a weapons inspector in Iraq, concluded that the building, as viewed from space, had roughly the same length and width as a reactor building at Yongbyon, North Korea’s main nuclear facility. “The tall building in the image may house a reactor under construction and the pump station along the river may have been intended to supply cooling water to the reactor,” Albright said. He concluded his analysis by posing a series of rhetorical questions that assumed that the target was a nuclear facility:



How far along was the reactor construction project when it was bombed? What was the extent of nuclear assistance from North Korea? Which reactor components did Syria obtain from North Korea or elsewhere, and where are they now?

He was later quoted in the Washington Post saying, “I’m pretty convinced that Syria was trying to build a nuclear reactor.”

When I asked Albright how he had pinpointed the target, he told me that he and a colleague, Paul Brannan, “did a lot of hard work”—culling press reports and poring over DigitalGlobe imagery—“before coming up with the site.” Albright then shared his findings with Robin Wright and other journalists at the Post, who, after checking with Administration officials, told him that the building was, indeed, the one targeted by the Israelis. “We did not release the information until we got direct confirmation from the Washington Post,” he told me. The Post’s sources in the Administration, he understood, had access to far more detailed images obtained by U.S. intelligence satellites. The Post ran a story, without printing the imagery, on October 19th, reporting that “U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the aftermath of the attack” had concluded that the site had the “signature,” or characteristics, of a reactor “similar in structure to North Korea’s facilities”—a conclusion with which Albright then agreed. In other words, the Albright and the Post reports, which appeared to independently reinforce each other, stemmed in part from the same sources.

Albright told me that before going public he had met privately with Israeli officials. “I wanted to be sure in my own mind that the Israelis thought it was a reactor, and I was,” he said. “They never explicitly said it was nuclear, but they ruled out the possibility that it was a missile, chemical-warfare, or radar site. By a process of elimination, I was left with nuclear.”

Two days after his first report, Albright released a satellite image of the bombed site, taken by DigitalGlobe on October 24th, seven weeks after the bombing. The new image showed that the target area had been levelled and the ground scraped. Albright said that it hinted of a coverup—cleansing the bombing site could make it difficult for weapons inspectors to determine its precise nature. “It looks like Syria is trying to hide something and destroy the evidence of some activity,” he told the Times. “But it won’t work. Syria has got to answer questions about what it was doing.” This assessment was widely shared in the press. (In mid-January, the Times reported that recent imagery from DigitalGlobe showed that a storage facility, or something similar, had been constructed, in an obvious rush, at the bombing site.)

Proliferation experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency and others in the arms-control community disputed Albright’s interpretation of the images. “People here were baffled by this, and thought that Albright had stuck his neck out,” a diplomat in Vienna, where the I.A.E.A. is headquartered, told me. “The I.A.E.A. has been consistently telling journalists that it is skeptical about the Syrian nuclear story, but the reporters are so convinced.”

A second diplomat in Vienna acidly commented on the images: “A square building is a square building.” The diplomat, who is familiar with the use of satellite imagery for nuclear verification, added that the I.A.E.A. “does not have enough information to conclude anything about the exact nature of the facility. They see a building with some geometry near a river that could be identified as nuclear-related. But they cannot credibly conclude that is so. As far as information coming from open sources beyond imagery, it’s a struggle to extract information from all of the noise that comes from political agendas.”

Much of what one would expect to see around a secret nuclear site was lacking at the target, a former State Department intelligence expert who now deals with proliferation issues for the Congress said. “There is no security around the building,” he said. “No barracks for the Army or the workers. No associated complex.” Jeffrey Lewis, who heads the non-proliferation program at the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, told me that, even if the width and the length of the building were similar to the Korean site, its height was simply not sufficient to contain a Yongbyon-size reactor and also have enough room to extract the control rods, an essential step in the operation of the reactor; nor was there evidence in the published imagery of major underground construction. “All you could see was a box,” Lewis said. “You couldn’t see enough to know how big it will be or what it will do. It’s just a box.”

A former senior U.S. intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, said, “We don’t have any proof of a reactor—no signals intelligence, no human intelligence, no satellite intelligence.” Some well-informed defense consultants and former intelligence officials asked why, if there was compelling evidence of nuclear cheating involving North Korea, a member of the President’s axis of evil, and Syria, which the U.S. considers a state sponsor of terrorism, the Bush Administration would not insist on making it public.

When I went to Israel in late December, the government was still maintaining secrecy about the raid, but some current and former officials and military officers were willing to speak without attribution. Most were adamant that Israel’s intelligence had been accurate. “Don’t you write that there was nothing there!” a senior Israeli official, who is in a position to know the details of the raid on Syria, said, shaking a finger at me. “The thing in Syria was real.”

Retired Brigadier General Shlomo Brom, who served as deputy national-security adviser under Prime Minister Ehud Barak, told me that Israel wouldn’t have acted if it hadn’t been convinced that there was a threat. “It may have been a perception of a conviction, but there was something there,” Brom said. “It was the beginning of a nuclear project.” However, by the date of our talk, Brom told me, “The question of whether it was there or not is not that relevant anymore.”

Albright, when I spoke to him in December, was far more circumspect than he had been in October. “We never said ‘we know’ it was a reactor, based on the image,” Albright said. “We wanted to make sure that the image was consistent with a reactor, and, from my point of view, it was. But that doesn’t confirm it’s a reactor.”

The journey of the Al Hamed, a small coastal trader, became a centerpiece in accounts of the September 6th bombing. On September 15th, the Washington Post reported that “a prominent U.S. expert on the Middle East” said that the attack “appears to have been linked to the arrival . . . of a ship carrying material from North Korea labeled as cement.” The article went on to cite the expert’s belief that “the emerging consensus in Israel was that it delivered nuclear equipment.” Other press reports identified the Al Hamed as a “suspicious North Korean” ship.

But there is evidence that the Al Hamed could not have been carrying sensitive cargo—or any cargo—from North Korea. International shipping is carefully monitored by Lloyd’s Marine Intelligence Unit, which relies on a network of agents as well as on port logs and other records. In addition, most merchant ships are now required to operate a transponder device called an A.I.S., for automatic identification system. This device, which was on board the Al Hamed, works in a manner similar to a transponder on a commercial aircraft—beaming a constant, very high-frequency position report. (The U.S. Navy monitors international sea traffic with the aid of dedicated satellites, at a secret facility in suburban Washington.)

According to Marine Intelligence Unit records, the Al Hamed, which was built in 1965, had been operating for years in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, with no indication of any recent visits to North Korea. The records show that the Al Hamed arrived at Tartus on September 3rd—the ship’s fifth visit to Syria in five months. (It was one of eight ships that arrived that day; although it is possible that one of the others was carrying illicit materials, only the Al Hamed has been named in the media.) The ship’s registry was constantly changing. The Al Hamed flew the South Korean flag before switching to North Korea in November of 2005, and then to Comoros. (Ships often fly flags of convenience, registering with different countries, in many cases to avoid taxes or onerous regulations.) At the time of the bombing, according to Lloyd’s, it was flying a Comoran flag and was owned by four Syrian nationals. In earlier years, under other owners, the ship seems to have operated under Russian, Estonian, Turkish, and Honduran flags. Lloyd’s records show that the ship had apparently not passed through the Suez Canal—the main route from the Mediterranean to the Far East—since at least 1998.

Among the groups that keep track of international shipping is Greenpeace. Martini Gotjé, who monitors illegal fishing for the organization and was among the first to raise questions about the Al Hamed, told me, “I’ve been at sea for forty-one years, and I can tell you, as a captain, that the Al Hamed was nothing—in rotten shape. You wouldn’t be able to load heavy cargo on it, as the floorboards wouldn’t be that strong.”

If the Israelis’ target in Syria was not a nuclear site, why didn’t the Syrians respond more forcefully? Syria complained at the United Nations but did little to press the issue. And, if the site wasn’t a partially built reactor, what was it?

During two trips to Damascus after the Israeli raid, I interviewed many senior government and intelligence officials. None of President Assad’s close advisers told me the same story, though some of the stories were more revealing—and more plausible—than others. In general, Syrian officials seemed more eager to analyze Israel’s motives than to discuss what had been attacked. “I hesitate to answer any journalist’s questions about it,” Faruq al-Shara, the Syrian Vice-President, told me. “Israel bombed to restore its credibility, and their objective is for us to keep talking about it. And by answering your questions I serve their objective. Why should I volunteer to do that?” Shara denied that his nation has a nuclear-weapons program. “The volume of articles about the bombing is incredible, and it’s not important that it’s a lie,” he said.

One top foreign-ministry official in Damascus told me that the target “was an old military building that had been abandoned by the Syrian military” years ago. But a senior Syrian intelligence general gave me a different account. “What they targeted was a building used for fertilizer and water pumps,” he said—part of a government effort to revitalize farming. “There is a large city”— Dayr az Zawr—“fifty kilometres away. Why would Syria put nuclear material near a city?” I interviewed the intelligence general again on my second visit to Damascus, and he reiterated that the targeted building was “at no time a military facility.” As to why Syria had not had a more aggressive response, if the target was so benign, the general said, “It was not fear—that’s all I’ll say.” As I left, I asked the general why Syria had not invited representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the bombing site and declare that no nuclear activity was taking place there. “They did not ask to come,” he said, and “Syria had no reason to ask them to come.”

An I.A.E.A. official dismissed that assertion when we spoke in Vienna a few days later. “The I.A.E.A. asked the Syrians to allow the agency to visit the site to verify its nature,” the I.A.E.A. official said. “Syria’s reply was that it was a military, not a nuclear, installation, and there would be no reason for the I.A.E.A. to go there. It would be in their and everyone’s interest to have the I.A.E.A. visit the site. If it was nuclear, it would leave fingerprints.”

In a subsequent interview, Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador to Washington, defended Syria’s decision not to invite the I.A.E.A. inspectors. “We will not get into the game of inviting foreign experts to visit every site that Israel claims is a nuclear facility,” Moustapha told me. “If we bring them in and they say there is nothing there, then Israel will say it made a mistake and bomb another site two weeks later. And if we then don’t let the I.A.E.A. in, Israel will say, ‘You see?’ This is nonsense. Why should we have to do this?”

Even if the site was not a nuclear installation, it is possible that the Syrians feared that an I.A.E.A. inquiry would uncover the presence of North Koreans there. In Syria, I was able to get some confirmation that North Koreans were at the target. A senior officer in Damascus with firsthand knowledge of the incident agreed to see me alone, at his home; my other interviews in Damascus took place in government offices. According to his account, North Koreans were present at the site, but only as paid construction workers. The senior officer said that the targeted building, when completed, would most likely have been used as a chemical-warfare facility. (Syria is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention and has been believed, for decades, to have a substantial chemical-weapons arsenal.)

The building contract with North Korea was a routine business deal, the senior officer said—from design to construction. (North Korea may, of course, have sent skilled technicians capable of doing less routine work.) Syria and North Korea have a long-standing partnership on military matters. “The contract between Syria and North Korea was old, from 2002, and it was running late,” the senior officer told me. “It was initially to be finished in 2005, and the Israelis might have expected it was further along.”

The North Korean laborers had been coming and going for “maybe six months” before the September bombing, the senior officer said, and his government concluded that the Israelis had picked up North Korean telephone chatter at the site. (This fit the timeline that Israeli officials had given me.) “The Israelis may have their own spies and watched the laborers being driven to the area,” the senior officer said. “The Koreans were not there at night, but slept in their quarters and were driven to the site in the morning. The building was in an isolated area, and the Israelis may have concluded that even if there was a slight chance”—of it being a nuclear facility—“we’ll take that risk.”

On the days before the bombing, the Koreans had been working on the second floor, and were using a tarp on top of the building to shield the site from rain and sun. “It was just the North Korean way of working,” the Syrian senior officer said, adding that the possibility that the Israelis could not see what was underneath the tarp might have added to their determination.

The attack was especially dramatic, the Syrian senior officer said, because the Israelis used bright magnesium illumination flares to light up the target before the bombing. Night suddenly turned into day, he told me. “When the people in the area saw the lights and the bombing, they thought there would be a commando raid,” the senior officer said. The building was destroyed, and his government eventually concluded that there were no Israeli ground forces in the area. But if Israelis had been on the ground seeking contaminated soil samples, the senior officer said, “they found only cement.”

A senior Syrian official confirmed that a group of North Koreans had been at work at the site, but he denied that the structure was related to chemical warfare. Syria had concluded, he said, that chemical warfare had little deterrent value against Israel, given its nuclear capability. The facility that was attacked, the official said, was to be one of a string of missile-manufacturing plants scattered throughout Syria—“all low tech. Not strategic.” (North Korea has been a major exporter of missile technology and expertise to Syria for decades.) He added, “We’ve gone asymmetrical, and have been improving our capability to build low-tech missiles that will enable us to inflict as much damage as possible without confronting the Israeli Army. We now can hit all of Israel, and not just the north.”

Whatever was under construction, with North Korean help, it apparently had little to do with agriculture—or with nuclear reactors—but much to do with Syria’s defense posture, and its military relationship with North Korea. And that, perhaps, was enough to silence the Syrian government after the September 6th bombing.

It is unclear to what extent the Bush Administration was involved in the Israeli attack. The most detailed report of coöperation was made in mid-October by ABC News. Citing a senior U.S. official, the network reported that Israel had shared intelligence with the United States and received satellite help and targeting information in response. At one point, it was reported, the Bush Administration considered attacking Syria itself, but rejected that option. The implication was that the Israeli intelligence about the nuclear threat had been vetted by the U.S., and had been found to be convincing.

Yet officials I spoke to in Israel heatedly denied the notion that they had extensive help from Washington in planning the attack. When I told the senior Israeli official that I found little support in Washington for Israel’s claim that it had bombed a nuclear facility in Syria, he responded with an expletive, and then said, angrily, “Nobody helped us. We did it on our own.” He added, “What I’m saying is that nobody discovered it for us.” (The White House declined to comment on this story.)

There is evidence to support this view. The satellite operated by DigitalGlobe, the Colorado firm that supplied Albright’s images, is for hire; anyone can order the satellite to photograph specific coördinates, a process that can cost anywhere from several hundred to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The company displays the results of these requests on its Web page, but not the identity of the customer. On five occasions between August 5th and August 27th of last year—before the Israeli bombing—DigitalGlobe was paid to take a tight image of the targeted building in Syria.

Clearly, whoever ordered the images likely had some involvement in plans for the attack. DigitalGlobe does about sixty per cent of its business with the U.S. government, but those contracts are for unclassified work, such as mapping. The government’s own military and intelligence satellite system, with an unmatched ability to achieve what analysts call “highly granular images,” could have supplied superior versions of the target sites. Israel has at least two military satellite systems, but, according to Allen Thomson, a former C.I.A. analyst, DigitalGlobe’s satellite has advantages for reconnaissance, making Israel a logical customer. (“Customer anonymity is crucial to us,” Chuck Herring, a spokesman for DigitalGlobe, said. “I don’t know who placed the order and couldn’t disclose it if I did.”) It is also possible that Israel or the United States ordered the imagery in order to have something unclassified to pass to the press if needed. If the Bush Administration had been aggressively coöperating with Israel before the attack, why would Israel have to turn to a commercial firm?

Last fall, aerospace industry and military sources told Aviation Week & Space Technology, an authoritative trade journal, that the United States had provided Israel with advice about “potential target vulnerabilities” before the September 6th attack, and monitored the radar as the mission took place. The magazine reported that the Israeli fighters, prior to bombing the target on the Euphrates, struck a Syrian radar facility near the Turkish border, knocking the radar out of commission and permitting them to complete their mission without interference.

The former U.S. senior intelligence official told me that, as he understood it, America’s involvement in the Israeli raid dated back months earlier, and was linked to the Administration’s planning for a possible air war against Iran. Last summer, the Defense Intelligence Agency came to believe that Syria was installing a new Russian-supplied radar-and-air-defense system that was similar to the radar complexes in Iran. Entering Syrian airspace would trigger those defenses and expose them to Israeli and American exploitation, yielding valuable information about their capabilities. Vice-President Dick Cheney supported the idea of overflights, the former senior intelligence official said, because “it would stick it to Syria and show that we’re serious about Iran.” (The Vice-President’s office declined to comment.) The former senior intelligence official said that Israeli military jets have flown over Syria repeatedly, without retaliation from Syria. At the time, the former senior intelligence official said, the focus was on radar and air defenses, and not on any real or suspected nuclear facility. Israel’s claims about the target, which emerged later, caught many in the military and intelligence community—if not in the White House—by surprise.

The senior Israeli official, asked whether the attack was rooted in his country’s interest in Syria’s radar installations, told me, “Bullshit.” Whatever the Administration’s initial agenda, Israel seems to have been after something more.

The story of the Israeli bombing of Syria, with its mixture of satellite intelligence, intercepts, newspaper leaks, and shared assumptions, reminded some American diplomats and intelligence officials of an incident, ten years ago, involving North Korea. In mid-1998, American reconnaissance satellites photographed imagery of a major underground construction project at Kumchang-ri, twenty-five miles northwest of Yongbyon. “We were briefed that, without a doubt, this was a nuclear-related facility, and there was signals intelligence linking the construction brigade at Kumchang-ri to the nuclear complex at Yongbyon,” the former State Department intelligence expert recalled.

Charles Kartman, who was President Bill Clinton’s special envoy for peace talks with Korea, told me that the intelligence was considered a slam dunk by analysts in the Defense Intelligence Agency, even though other agencies disagreed. “We had a debate going on inside the community, but the D.I.A. unilaterally took it to Capitol Hill,” Kartman said, forcing the issue and leading to a front-page Times story.

After months of negotiations, Kartman recalled, the North Koreans agreed, under diplomatic pressure, to grant access to Kumchang-ri. In return, they received aid, including assistance with a new potato-production program. Inspectors found little besides a series of empty tunnels. Robert Carlin, an expert on North Korea who retired in 2005 after serving more than thirty years with the C.I.A. and the State Department’s intelligence bureau, told me that the Kumchang-ri incident highlighted “an endemic weakness” in the American intelligence community. “People think they know the ending and then they go back and find the evidence that fits their story,” he said. “And then you get groupthink—and people reinforce each other.”

It seems that, as with Kumchang-ri, there was a genuine, if not unanimous, belief by Israeli intelligence that the Syrians were constructing something that could have serious national-security consequences. But why would the Israelis take the risk of provoking a military response, and perhaps a war, if there was, as it seems, no smoking gun? Mohamed ElBaradei, expressing his frustration, said, “If a country has any information about a nuclear activity in another country, it should inform the I.A.E.A.—not bomb first and ask questions later.”

One answer, suggested by David Albright, is that Israel did not trust the international arms-control community. “I can understand the Israeli point of view, given the history with Iran and Algeria,” Albright said. “Both nations had nuclear-weapons programs and, after being caught cheating, declared their reactors to be civil reactors, for peacetime use. The international groups, like the U.N. and the I.A.E.A, never shut them down.” Also, Israel may have calculated that risk of a counterattack was low: President Assad would undoubtedly conclude that the attack had the support of the Bush Administration and, therefore, that any response by Syria would also engage the U.S. (My conversations with officials in Syria bore out this assumption.)

In Tel Aviv, the senior Israeli official pointedly told me, “Syria still thinks Hezbollah won the war in Lebanon”—referring to the summer, 2006, fight between Israel and the Shiite organization headed by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. “Nasrallah knows how much that war cost—one-third of his fighters were killed, infrastructure was bombed, and ninety-five per cent of his strategic weapons were wiped out,” the Israeli official said. “But Assad has a Nasrallah complex and thinks Hezbollah won. And, ‘If he did it, I can do it.’ This led to an adventurous mood in Damascus. Today, they are more sober.”

That notion was echoed by the ambassador of an Israeli ally who is posted in Tel Aviv. “The truth is not important,” the ambassador told me. “Israel was able to restore its credibility as a deterrent. That is the whole thing. No one will know what the real story is.”

There is evidence that the preëmptive raid on Syria was also meant as a warning about—and a model for—a preëmptive attack on Iran. When I visited Israel this winter, Iran was the overriding concern among political and defense officials I spoke to—not Syria. There was palpable anger toward Washington, in the wake of a National Intelligence Estimate that concluded, on behalf of the American intelligence community, that Iran is not now constructing a nuclear weapon. Many in Israel view Iran’s nuclear ambitions as an existential threat; they believe that military action against Iran may be inevitable, and worry that America may not be there when needed. The N.I.E. was published in November, after a yearlong standoff involving Cheney’s office, which resisted the report’s findings. At the time of the raid, reports about the forthcoming N.I.E. and its general conclusion had already appeared.

Retired Major General Giora Eiland, who served as the national-security adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told me, “The Israeli military takes it as an assumption that one day we will need to have a military campaign against Iran, to slow and eliminate the nuclear option.” He added, “Whether the political situation will allow this is another question.”

In the weeks after the N.I.E.’s release, Bush insisted that the Iranian nuclear-weapons threat was as acute as ever, a theme he amplified during his nine-day Middle East trip after the New Year. “A lot of people heard that N.I.E. out here and said that George Bush and the Americans don’t take the Iranian threat seriously,” he told Greta Van Susteren, of Fox News. “And so this trip has been successful from the perspective of saying . . . we will keep the pressure on.”

Shortly after the bombing, a Chinese envoy and one of the Bush Administration’s senior national-security officials met in Washington. The Chinese envoy had just returned from a visit to Tehran, a person familiar with the discussion told me, and he wanted the White House to know that there were moderates there who were interested in talks. The national-security official rejected that possibility and told the envoy, as the person familiar with the discussion recalled, “‘You are aware of the recent Israeli statements about Syria. The Israelis are extremely serious about Iran and its nuclear program, and I believe that, if the United States government is unsuccessful in its diplomatic dealings with Iran, the Israelis will take it out militarily.’ He then told the envoy that he wanted him to convey this to his government—that the Israelis were serious.

“He was telling the Chinese leadership that they’d better warn Iran that we can’t hold back Israel, and that the Iranians should look at Syria and see what’s coming next if diplomacy fails,” the person familiar with the discussion said. “His message was that the Syrian attack was in part aimed at Iran.”

ILLUSTRATION: GUY BILLOUT

Kucinich blocked from MSNBC debate

January 17, 2008

New York Times:

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that MSNBC is not required to include candidate Dennis Kucinich in its scheduled Democratic presidential debate.

The seven-member court overturned Monday’s ruling by a Nevada district court judge.

The decision, which came one hour before the debate was scheduled to begin in Las Vegas, meant that Mr. Kucinich would not share the stage with the party’s three leading contenders, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. The debate is expected to begin at 9 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC.

Ritual Gloating Postmortems

December 13, 2007
ZNet | Venezuela
Ritual Gloating Postmortems
The Corporate Media v. Hugo Chavez
by Stephen Lendman; December 12, 2007

Dateline December 3, 2007 – The corporate media is euphoric after Venezuelans narrowly defeated Hugo Chavez’s constitutional reform referendum the previous day. The outcome defied pre-election independent poll predictions and was a cliffhanger to the end. Near-final results weren’t announced until 1:15AM December 3 with about 100,000 votes separating the two sides and a surprising 44% of eligible voters abstaining. On December 7, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) released the final outcome based on 94% of ballots counted. A total of 69 amendment reforms were voted on in two blocks:

 

For Block A: No – 50.65%; Si (Yes) – 49.34%;

 

For Block B: No – 51.01%; Si (yes) – 48.99%.

 

Below is a sampling of corporate media gloating. They deserve a bit of slack as they’ve waited nine years for this moment, and they may not get another for some time. Venezuelans lost, they won, but Chavez may be right saying reform lost “por ahora (for now).” In a post-election comment on Venezuelan state TV channel VTV he added: Reform is slowed but alive, and “the Venezuelan people have the power and the right to present a request for constitutional reform before (my) term (in office) finishes, of which there is still five years.”

 

Under Venezuelan law, the National Assembly (NA) can pass new socially beneficial or other legislation any time provided it doesn’t conflict with constitutional law. The Constitution can only be changed by national referenda in one of three ways – if the President, NA or 15% of registered voters (by petition) request it. The  Constitution, however, prevents the President from seeking the same amendments twice in the same term, but they can become law through popular initiatives or a constituent assembly.

 

In addition, Chavez can use his constitutionally allowed Enabling Law authority until next summer when it expires. Under it, he can pass laws by decree in 11 key areas that include the structure of state organs, election of local officials, the economy, finance and taxes, banking, transportation, the military and national defense, public safety, and policies related to energy.

 

Chavez had this authority two previous times and used it in 2001 to pass 49 legal changes to make them conform to the Constitution in areas of land and banking reform and for more equitable revenue-sharing arrangements with foreign oil companies in joint-state ventures. He wanted it this time to accelerate democratic change at the grassroots and be able to transfer power to the people through communal councils. He may also use it to advance his social and economic model based on equitably distributing more of the national wealth through investments in health care, education and social security. If these type reform measures are proposed, he’ll get strong public support for them provided he keeps them simple and explains them properly and often.

 

In his post-election comments, Chavez stressed another reform proposal is coming “next year or in three years. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same. It can be in the same direction, but in a different form, improved and simplified, because I have to accept that the reform that we presented was very complex.”

 

The pre-election debate and propaganda assault made it more complex, and the opposition out-muscled reform supporters. With proper planning and implementation, that problem is correctable, and in the meantime, the NA can enact some reforms legislatively and Chavez can do it on his own by decree. Expect that to happen and for most Venezuelans to support it enthusiastically.

 

Already, members of Venezuela’s National Indigenous Movement (MNIV) want constitutional reform reinitiated, intend to mobilize, and may begin collecting signatures for a petition drive for it. They met to strategize on December 7 after which MNIV coordinator Facundo Guanipa announced that Venezuela’s small indigenous population near-unanimously supports Chavez’s reforms according to referendum data results.

 

For now, however, the gloaters have center stage and aren’t quoting OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza’s comment that “Quite a few myths on the Venezuelan democracy are falling down. It works like all democracies….I hope the US government can acknowledge, as all of us, that it was a fair, clean process.” 

 

Don’t count on it or from the dominant media, and start off with this writer’s favorite press adversary – the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady, this time on a Journal-produced three minute video available online. She warms up fast with comments like the referendum, if passed, would have given Chave z”dictatorial power to rule for life,” and Venezuela has a “rigged electoral system.” Outrageous and false on both counts, of course, but this is typical O’Grady ranting.

 

Further, she claimed near-final tallies were available around 8:15PM, but the National Electoral Council (CNE) waited until 1:15AM to report them. In fact, reporting was delayed because the election was too close to call, and it was agreed in advance not to do it until 90% of the votes were counted. At that point, the result was announced. One other O’Grady gem was Chavez came to power in 1999 by “removing” the “old elite” implying that defeating them decisively and democratically was improper – vintage O’Grady with more from her ahead assured.

 

The Journal wasn’t through. An online op-ed read: “Venezuelans Rain on Hugo (and it’s) more than a setback for Venezuela’s messianic strongman. It is a victory for the ideal of liberty across Latin America….kudos….to the people of Venezuela (by preventing Chavez from) impos(ing) what amounted to a personal coup against that nation’s democracy. He tried to bully Venezuelans into voting for one-man rule and a hard model of socialism. They said no (and CNE waited until 1:15AM) when it became clear that there was no way to fudge the results.”

 

According to the Journal, Chavez’s package “would have eviscerated Venezuela’s civil liberties (and) end guarantees of private property.” A final jab was in the form of a warning that Chavez still controls the country’s political institutions and “remains a threat to (the) region. He’s in a race against time (to advance his) expansionist agenda (that) has the potential to undermine Colombia’s democracy, and has already destabilized Bolivia and Ecuador.” Phew, and Rupert Murdoch hasn’t yet taken over the paper he bought last summer when he finalized a deal for Dow Jones & Company.

 

Enter the New York Times and its man in Caracas, Simon Romero, whose style outclasses Journal writers but not his substance. His byline on December 3 read “Venezuela Hands Narrow Defeat to Chavez Plan” that would have granted him “sweeping new powers. Opposition leaders were ecstatic,” and Zulia State governor and Chavez 2006 presidential opponent, Manuel Rosales, said “Tonight, Venezuela has won.” His next day report trumpeted the setback saying the “vote sets roadblocks (and) has given new energy to (the) long-suffering opposition.” It’s “an expression of….government mismanagement (and) a warning to Mr. Chavez that he had finally overreached (in wanting to end presidential) term limits and greatly (centralize) his power.” It’s a “sharp rebuke (from voters to) let Mr. Chavez know (they’re reluctant) to follow him much farther up the path to a socialist future.”

 

Still more from Romero, along with Times op-ed writers, that “Reflection and Anger (came) After Defeat,” and Chavistas are “being consumed by recrimination and soul-searching” following voter rejection. “Chavez lash(ed) out at his opponents (and) dismissed (their victory) with an (unmentioned) obsenity,” and “Chavismo” needs “to embrace a more pluralistic path.”

 

That was a warm-up for op-ed writer Roger Cohen. He chimed in with a backhanded salute for “the humiliation of a 51 to 49 percent rejection to end term limits and undermine private property rights.” He stopped short of mentioning most West European and other parliamentary systems allow unlimited reelections, and the latter accusation if false. Then Cohen attacks calling Chavez a “strongman….a caudillo….a menace (and) his ‘socialismo’ equals ‘Hugoismo.’ ” He aimed to “accumulat(e) power through threats, slandering opponents as ‘traitors,’ (and) buying support with $150 million a day in oil money.”

 

It gets worse: “his crony bankers (are) pocketing millions by arbitraging the disparity between the official and black-market (bolivar) rates. Crime and drug-trafficking are thriving.” His socialism is “the Russian (equivalent of) ‘Soviets,’ (and) I salute the Venezuelan people” for imposing “The Limits of (a) 21st-Century Revolution.” On December 3, Cohen listed them in eight Venezuelan marketplace and political rules to show by his logic Chavez “can(‘t) turn back the clock far enough to change” them.

 

The Times wasn’t done, and on December 4 it lashed out editorially with “A Tale of Two Strongmen.” The other was Vladimir Putin after his December 2 parliamentary election victory. According to The Times, it was a “referendum on himself (in which he) cynically manipulated a huge victory….” Chavez wasn’t as lucky in his “latest and most outrageous power grab (so there’s) hope (Venezuelan) political competition….will now flourish.” The Times concedes he’s “still very powerful,” so “The international community will….have to keep up the pressure on (him because he) hasn’t suddenly become a democrat.”

 

The Washington Post had it’s post-election say with a similar slanderous agitprop editorial torrent – that “Mr. Chavez had proposed to make himself a de facto president for life….Polls before the vote showed only about a third of Venezuelans favored the amendments (and) Urban slum dwellers who have supported Mr. Chavez in the past had good reason for second thoughts: Thanks to his crackpot economic policies….the outcome will not restore full democracy (because Chavez) still controls the legislature, courts, national television and the state oil company, and he retains the authority to rule by decree.” False on all counts except that most democratically elected legislators and Chavez-appointed judges support Bolivarianism as embedded in the country’s Constitution they’re sworn to uphold.

 

The AP was also hostile calling Chavez “conflict-prone (with a) larger-than-life personality leav(ing) little room for compromise (that) ensur(es) more friction (in a) deeply polarized (country).” But “Sunday’s victory has energized the opposition (that can petition) for a recall referendum once Chavez reaches the midpoint of his six-year term in December, 2009.”

 

In the West as well, the Los Angeles Times was celebratory in calling Sunday’s defeat “a remarkable indictment of (Chavez’s) agenda.” But it headlined: “Chavez isn’t finished.” Even in defeat, he’ll be “able to pass many of his desired reforms legislatively” since he controls the NA and Supreme Court. The Times cited “images of huge (opposition) student marches,” but the “biggest factor (on) Sunday (was) Chavez’s own nonsensical economic policies, which have caused many of his impoverished supporters to wonder if he really knows what he’s doing.” They’re “like Soviet Russia or modern Cuba (and) Chavez’s socialist ideals are leading Venezuela to a precipice, and it’s the poor who will suffer most if it goes over the edge.”

 

Time magazine wondered “How Will Chavez Handle Defeat? (and) Why Venezuelans Turned on Chavez.” It reported “panic set in around 7PM Sunday evening,” but it wasn’t until 1:00AM that “el comandante” conceded defeat. In the view of Time writer, Jens Erik Gould, they worried more about a Chavez power grab and ability to seize private property than the proposed social benefits for the poor and popular grassroots power they’d get. But while “defeat may….slow the President down….he and his allies still have wide-reaching powers (so the) battle is far from over” with no doubt left which side Time  backs.

 

Business Week magazine was vocal about what was “Behind Chavez’s Defeat in Venezuela” in an article full of the usual kinds of errors, misstatements and pro-business slant. It said “rejection….may mean more stability for business and the economy” without ever mentioning business is booming, and the economy is one of the fastest growing ones in the world under Chavez’s “socialist vision.”

 

The article quoted the opposition saying if the referendum passed “We would have woken up in a dictatorship….a possible victory….undermined business confidence….defeat calls into question whether Chavez will be able to deepen his socialist revolution….the majority in Venezuela doesn’t share Chavez’s socialist vision….There is growing discontent with Chavez’s leadership.” Victory would have let Chavez “seize private property….curb private ownership….undermine Venezuela’s democratic and capitalist foundations, and allow Chavez to create a state styled on communist Cuba if passed.”

 

Anti-Chavez post-election rants could fill volumes. A few more follow below:

 

— the San Francisco Chronicle lamented that “Chave z(still) holds all the cards (and) The opposition has yet to find a leader that can match Chavez’s magnetic personality and charisma.”

 

— Bloomberg.com was also dismayed that one defeat won’t “likely….stop (Chavez’s) drive to socialize Venezuela’s economy….he may nationalize industries, seize property and weaken central bank independence.”

 

— the state-run Voice of America (VOA) trumpeted George Bush’s post-election comment that Chavez’s defeat is a “vote for democracy;” it never mentioned his pre-election rant about Venezuela being undemocratic;

 

— CBS News headlined “Chavez’s Democratic Authoritarianism (so) Despite (electoral defeat), Venezuela’s President will continue toward absolute rule;”

 

— the Christian Science Monitor said “Venezuela’s Chavez Defiant, Despite Defeat….few believe the results will cause (him) to alter his course,”

 

— the Financial Times in a “Chronicle of a defeat foretold” sees Chavez’s support among the poor eroding as “Venezuelans are seeing things with greater realism;”

 

— the Economist sees his “aura of invincibility….forever damaged, the battle for succession seems bound to begin soon (and) Survival strategies no longer….involve unquestioning loyalty to the ‘commandante.’ The fighting back is just beginning;”

 

— CNN was also at the forefront of what Chavez at a post-election press conference called its manipulation campaign. He said Defense Minister Rangel Briceno was “very angry by (CNN’s) manipulating campaign….all over the world,” he’s preparing to sue the cable network, and “behind (it) is the evil face of the United States;”

 

— the BBC is notorious as a “guardian of power;” it headlined “White House….welcomes the defeat of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s controversial reform….referendum….(and said) the people spoke their minds….that bodes well for the country’s future and freedom and liberty….(Venezuelans didn’t) want any further erosion in their democracy and their democratic institutions;” pro-Chavez voices or a clear explanation of the issues were nowhere in sight pre or post-election;

 

— the Chicago Tribune headlined “Chavez chastened, hardly capitulating (as) political leaders and analysts said it is too early to say whether the slim defeat….represents just a bump in the road….or the awakening of a durable and vibrant opposition;” and

 

— the London Guardian’s Seumas Milne headlined Chave zwas “Down but not out in Caracas” in writing for a paper with a long history of pro-state support and too little of it for its people. Milne, on the other hand, struck another note saying Bolivarianism suffered a setback (but) “it’s far from finished (and) Sunday wasn’t a crushing defeat.” It also “discredit(ed) the canard that the country is somehow slipping into authoritarian or even dictatorial rule….The referendum was a convincing display of democracy in action….The revolutionary process underway in Venezuela has delivered remarkable social achievements.” Halting or reversing them “would be a loss whose significance would go far beyond Venezuela’s borders (but) Chavez’s comments and commitments (show) there is no mood for turning back.”

 

Chavez is resilient and will rebound from one electoral setback. Don’t ever count him out or underestimate his influence over what co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Mark Weisbrot, says is “A historic transformation….underway in Latin America (following) more than a quarter century of neoliberal” rule. Long-time Latin American expert, James Petras, puts it this way: “The referendum and its outcome (while important today) is merely an episode in the struggle between authoritarian imperial centered capitalism (Chavez opposes) and democratic workers centered socialism (it’s hoped Bolivarianism will deliver).” The spirit of democracy thrives in Venezuela, and one electoral setback won’t derail it.

 

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

 

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US central time.

Not Through Annapolis: Noam Chomsky Says Path to Mideast Peace Lies in Popular Organizing Against U.S.-Israeli “Rejectionism”

November 28, 2007

Not Through Annapolis: Noam Chomsky Says Path to Mideast Peace Lies in Popular Organizing Against U.S.-Israeli “Rejectionism”


As the U.S. convenes a Mideast summit in Annapolis, Maryland today, we spend the hour on the Israeli-Palestine conflict with two of the world’s leading thinkers: former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and world-renowned linguist Noam Chomsky. Chomsky says U.S. backing of continued Israeli occupation and annexation of Palestinian land is the biggest obstacle to peace. He says: “The crimes against Palestinians… are so shocking that the only emotionally valid reaction is rage and a call for extreme actions. But that does not help the victims. And, in fact, it’s likely to harm them. We have to face the reality that our actions have consequences, and they have to be adapted to real-world circumstances, difficult as it may be to stay calm in the face of shameful crimes in which we are directly and crucially implicated.” [includes rush transcript]

Leaders from around the world are gathering in Annapolis, Maryland today to take part in a U.S.-sponsored summit on the Middle East. President Bush met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Monday. More than 40 organisations and countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, are attending the conference today. Hamas was not invited.A final agenda has not yet been drawn up, but a draft of a joint document was leaked to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. It makes no mention of the situation in Gaza or of core issues like the status of Jerusalem, settlements, borders, the separation wall and Palestinian refugees.

Today, we spend the hour on the Israeli-Palestine conflict with two of the world’s leading thinkers: former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and world-renowned linguist Noam Chomsky. They recently spoke at a conference in Boston, sponsored by Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian organization. The conference was titled “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel: Highlighting Issues of Justice and Equality.”

We begin with Noam Chomsky. A professor of linguistics at MIT for over half a century, Chomsky is the author of dozens of books on US foreign policy. His most recent is called “Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.” Chomsky spoke before a packed audience at Boston’s historic Old South Church.

  • Noam Chomsky. Professor of linguistics at MIT for over half a century, Chomsky is the author of dozens of books on US foreign policy. His most recent is called “Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.”

RUSH TRANSCRIPTThis transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
Donate$25, $50, $100, more…

AMY GOODMAN: Leaders from around the world are gathering in Annapolis, Maryland today to take part in a US-sponsored summit on the Middle East. President Bush met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House Monday. More than forty organizations and countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, are attending the conference today. Hamas was not invited.

A final agenda has not yet been drawn up, but a draft of a joint document was leaked to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. It makes no mention of the situation in Gaza or of core issues like the status of Jerusalem, settlements, borders, the separation wall and Palestinian refugees.

Today, we spend the hour on the Israel-Palestine conflict with two of the world’s leading thinkers: former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and world-renowned linguist and author Noam Chomsky. They recently spoke at a conference in Boston sponsored by Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian organization. The conference was called “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel: Highlighting Issues of Justice and Equality.”

We begin today with Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for over a half-century. Chomsky is the author of dozens of books on US foreign policy. His most recent is called Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. Noam Chomsky spoke before a packed audience at Boston’s historic Old South Church.

    NOAM CHOMSKY: Before saying a word, I’d like to express some severe personal discomfort, because anything I say will be abstract and dry and restrained. The crimes against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and elsewhere, particularly Lebanon, are so shocking that the only emotionally valid reaction is rage and a call for extreme actions. But that does not help the victims. And, in fact, it’s likely to harm them. We have to face the reality that our actions have consequences, and they have to be adapted to real-world circumstances, difficult as it may be to stay calm in the face of shameful crimes in which we are directly and crucially implicated.

    Well, I’ve been asked to talk about the apartheid paradigm and the proper response here, so I’ll do that, though not without some additional reservations. We have to recognize that there will be no clear answer as to the question of whether the apartheid paradigm applies in Israel or in Boston, right here, or elsewhere. The genre has, after all, only one example: South Africa. And there are similarities elsewhere in many dimensions, and it’s fair enough to bring them up, but there’s very little point debating whether they are close enough in one or another case to count as apartheid, because that will never be settled, we know that in advance.

    I’ve brought up similarities in the past, when I thought that they were appropriate. Actually, the one time I recall clearly was exactly ten years ago. That was at a conference at Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva. It was on the anniversary of the thirtieth year of the military occupation. And in the talk there, I quoted from a standard history of South Africa on elections in the Bantustans, which I’ll read; and just change a few words, and you’ll know what it’s about.

    “South African retention of effective power, through its officials in the Bantustans, its overwhelming economic influence and security arrangements, gave to this initiative of elections elements of a farce. However, unlikely candidates as were the Bantustans for any meaningful independent existence, their expanding bureaucracies provided jobs for new strata of educated Africans tied to the system in a new way and a basis for accumulation for a small number of Africans with access to loans and political influence. Repression, too, could be indigenized through developing homeland policy and army personnel. On the fringe of the Bantustans, border industry growth centers were planned as a means of freeing capital from some of the restraints imposed on industrial expansion elsewhere and to take advantage of virtually captive and particularly cheap labor. Within the homelands, economic development was more a matter of advertising brochures than actual practical activity, though some officials in South Africa understood the needs from their own perspective for some kind of revitalization of the homelands to prevent their economies from collapsing even further.”

    Well, I won’t waste time expressing the similarities to the Occupied Territories, but you can do that quite easily. Ten years ago, that was the optimistic prospect for the Occupied Territories. By now, even that’s remote, and reality is far more grim than it was then. There’s no time and, I presume, no need to review the harrowing details.

    We’re now approaching George Bush’s historic Annapolis conference, as it’s called, on Israel-Palestine, so we can anticipate a flood of deceit and distortions to set the proper framework. And we should be prepared to counter the propaganda assault, which has already begun. Just to pick a couple of examples, Bostonians could read in the Boston Globe a few days ago that at the Taba Conference in January 2001 — now quoting — “Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak accepted ideas floated by President Bill Clinton that would have produced a Palestinian state in 97 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of Gaza,” but these forthcoming gestures failed. The evil Palestinians refused Israel’s generous offers, keeping to their time-honored insistence on seizing defeat from the jaws of victory and proving they’re not partners for negotiation.

    Well, there’s one fragment of truth in this conventional fabrication: there was a conference in Taba. And, in fact, it did come close to a possible settlement, but the rest is pure invention. In particular, the conference was terminated abruptly by Prime Minister Barak. The truth is completely unacceptable, so the facts are either suppressed, as they generally are, or, as in this case, just inverted. And we can expect a good deal more of that. Actually, the truth about the Taba Conference merits attention. That week, in one week in January 2001, that was the one moment in thirty years when the United States and Israel abandoned the rejectionist stance that they have maintained in virtual isolation until the present.

    And that may suggest some thoughts about another familiar fairytale that you could read about a couple of days earlier in the New York Times, where the respected policy analyst and former high government official, Leslie Gelb, wrote that every US administration since 1967 has privately favored returning almost all of the territory to the Palestinians for the purposes of creating a separate Palestinian state. Note the word “privately.” Crucial. We know what the administrations have said publicly. Publicly they have rejected adamantly anything remotely of the sort ever since 1967 — ’76, when the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a two-state settlement on the international border, incorporating all the relevant wording of UN 242 — it’s the basic diplomatic document to which Washington appeals when it’s convenient. The US veto — it’s worth bearing in mind — is a double veto. One part of the veto is that the actions are barred, of course. And it’s also vetoed from history, as in this case, so you’ll work really hard to find it, even in the scholarly literature.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll come back to Professor Noam Chomsky’s address in Boston, and then we’ll go on to South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They were both speaking at the Sabeel conference.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We return to MIT professor and author Noam Chomsky speaking recently in Boston at the Old South Church at a conference called the Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel.

    NOAM CHOMSKY: Sometimes the public rejection of a separate Palestinian state is more articulate and considerably more extreme, so it takes a George Bush no. 1, who is reputed to be the most hostile to Israel of US presidents. In 1988, as you know, the Palestinian National Council formally accepted a two-state settlement, and the Israeli government responded. This was the coalition government of Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir. They responded by issuing a formal declaration that there can be no additional Palestinian state between Jordan and Palestine — “additional” because for Shimon Peres and his Labor coalition, Jordan already was a Palestinian state. It’s a view that’s attributed to the right wing, but that’s mistaken. This is Shimon Peres. The United States reacted to that with what was called the Baker Plan — James Baker, Secretary of State. The Bush Baker Plan endorsed Israel’s position without qualification and went on to add that any Palestinian negotiators would have to accept that framework, namely no second Palestinian state in addition to Jordan. That’s Bush no. 1, the alleged critic of Israel, and the respected diplomat James Baker. Again, the truth is inconvenient, so virtually none of this was reported, and you’ll have to work — search hard to extricate it from the web of self-serving propaganda that dominates commentary and reporting, of which Leslie Gelb’s article in the New York Times is a typical, but not unusual, example.

    Well, I’m not going to go on with that, but the diplomatic record is one of uniform rejectionism, apart from the week in Taba, and unilateral rejectionism, increasingly so. By now, virtually the entire world agrees on the two-state international consensus of the past thirty years, pretty much along the lines that were almost agreed upon at Taba. That includes all the Arab States, who actually go beyond to call for full normalization of relations with Israel. It includes Iran, although you won’t find that published here, which accepts the Arab League position. It includes Hamas; its leaders have repeatedly endorsed, called for a two-state settlement, even in articles in the US press. That also includes Hamas’s most militant figure, Khaled Meshaal, who’s in exile in Syria. And it includes the rest of the world. Israel rejects it, and the United States backs that rejection fully, not in words just, but in actions.

    Bush no. 2 has gone to new extremes in rejectionism. He’s declared the illegal West Bank settlements must remain part of Israel. That’s in accord with the Clinton position, expressed by his negotiator Dennis Ross, who explained that what he called “Israel’s needs” take precedence over Palestinian wants. That’s Clinton. But the party line remains undisturbed. Facts don’t matter. Bush, Rice and the rest are yearning to realize Bush’s vision of a Palestinian state — somewhere, someplace — persisting in the noble endeavor of the longtime honest broker.

    Well, what’s happened in the past is — of course, rejectionism goes far beyond words. It includes settlement programs, the annexation wall, closures, checkpoints, and so on. Settlements increased steadily right through the Oslo years, peaking actually in Clinton’s last year, the year 2000, right before the Camp David Accords. And the story is now being repeated before our eyes — shouldn’t surprise us.

    So to take just one example, with the Annapolis conference approaching, Israel has just confiscated more Arab land to build a bypass road from Palestinians — I’m quoting now — “in order to push the Palestinian traffic between Bethlehem and Ramallah deep into the desert and effectively bar Palestinians from the central part of the West Bank.” That’s part of the so-called E1 project, which is designed to incorporate the town of Ma’ale Adumim within Israel and effectively to bisect the West Bank. “With such policies” — continuing to quote — “With such policies enacted by the government, the famous Annapolis conference is emptied of all meaning long before it convenes.” This is quotes from the Israeli peace organization Gush Shalom. All of this is backed by the honest brokers in Washington and paid for by US taxpayers, who, incidentally, overwhelmingly join the international consensus, in opposition to their own government. But that’s not what we’re going to hear.

    Well, in fairness, it should be added that there is occasional public criticism of the settlement programs. So in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago, there was a favorable review of a very important study, which has just been translated into English, Lords of the Land by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, which bitterly condemns the US-backed Israeli programs in the West Bank and the takeover of Israeli political life by their advocates. It’s a strong and important book.

    The review, however, goes on with conventional fairytales. Among them, it tells us that within the Green Line in Israel itself, Israel is what it calls a “vibrant democracy” in which non-Jews have equal rights and, unlike the West Bank, there are no Arab villages made inaccessible, because their roads have been dug up by army bulldozers. Well, again, there’s a fragment of truth in the description. So take, for example, the village Dar al-Hanoun in the so-called Triangle, Wadi Ara, it’s older than the state of Israel, but it’s one of the innumerable unrecognized villages in Israel. So it’s true that there’s no road dug up by bulldozers, and the reason is that there’s no road. No road is permitted by the state authorities, and no construction is permitted. No services are provided. That’s not an unusual situation for Palestinian citizens, who are also effectively barred from over 90% of the land by a complex and intricate web of laws and administrative arrangements. Technically, that was overruled by the high court seven years ago, but, as far as I can determine, only technically. And we may recall that in the United States it took over a century for even formal implementation of the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing equal rights to all persons, and actual implementation of it is still remote a century-and-a-half later.

    Well, let’s turn briefly to the important question, the most important question: what can we do about it? Here, it’s useful to think about the apartheid analogy, and it’s useful to remember a little history.

    In 1963, the UN Security Council declared a voluntary arms embargo on South Africa. That was extended to a mandatory embargo in 1977. And that was followed by economic sanctions and other measures — sometimes officials, countries, cities, towns — some organized by popular movements. Now, not all countries participated. In the United States, the US Congress did impose sanctions over Reagan’s veto, but US trade with South Africa then increased by various evasions, along with concealed support for South African terrorist atrocities in Mozambique and Angola, which took a horrendous toll. It’s about 1.5 million killed and over $60 billion in damage during the Reagan years, the Reagan years of constructive engagement, according to UN analysis. In 1988, the Reagan administration declared Mandela’s African National Congress to be one of the world’s most notorious terrorist groups — that’s 1988 — while it described RENAMO in Mozambique merely as an indigenous insurgent group. That was after it had just killed about 100,000 people, according to the State Department, with, of course, US-backed African support. Thatcher’s record was similar or maybe worse. But most of this was in secret. There was just too much popular opposition.

    And the popular opposition made a difference. There was a very significant anti-apartheid movement decades after the global decision of the Security Council to bring apartheid to an end. In 1965, boycotts and other measures would not have been effective. Twenty years later, they were effective, but that was after the groundwork had been laid by activist, educational and organizing efforts, including within the powerful states, which is what matters in an ugly world.

    Well, in the case of Israel-Palestine, the groundwork has not been laid. The quotes that I just gave are perfectly representative examples; you can fill them out in books, yeah. The kind of popular measures that were effective against apartheid by the late 1980s are not only ineffective in the case of Israel-Palestine today, but in fact sometimes backfire in harming the victims. We’ve seen that over and over. It’s going to continue until the organizing and educational efforts make real progress. It’s not just the United States; the European Union is hardly different. So, for example, the European Union does not bar arms deliveries to Israel. It joined the United States in vicious punishment of Palestinians, because they committed the grave crime of voting the wrong way in a free election. And there was very little internal protest in Europe. Populations support the international consensus, but they don’t react when their governments undermine any hope for its realization.

    Well, in the coming weeks and the longer term, there’s plenty of educational and organizational activity that will have to be carried out among an American population that happens to be largely receptive, though deluged with propaganda and deceit. And it’s not going to be easy. It’s never been easy. But much harder tasks have been accomplished with dedicated and persistent effort.

AMY GOODMAN: MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, speaking recently in Boston at a conference called “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel,” sponsored by the Palestinian Christian organization Sabeel.

To purchase an audio or video copy of this entire program, click here for our new online ordering or call 1 (888) 999-3877.