Seeds of Crisis: The U.S., Israel and the Middle East

EI co-founder Laurie King

At a recent Palestine Center briefing, experts analyzed the current developments in the Middle East and addressed the root causes of the conflict. Halim Barakat explained the historical context which allowed for the eruption of the recent events and Laurie King-Irani discussed the meaning of democracy, terrorism and international law. Sam Husseini pointed out that the media could do a better job in informing the public of the events in the Middle East and Jim Lobe analyzed U.S. Foreign Policy toward the Middle East since 9/11. [Editor’s Note: The briefing was also televised on C-Span]

Samar Assad:

Good morning and welcome to the Palestine Center. Today’s panel will address the current crisis in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, particularly its root causes. With each day that the Bush administration blocks attempts for an immediate cease-fire more civilians are losing their lives and the scope of the destruction of infrastructure widens and deepens. The grim proof of this is the overwhelming loss of civilian life, mostly children, in a single bombing in Qana on Sunday, a repeat of a similar bombing in April 1996. The Bush administration is talking about a new Middle East. We first heard this in 2004, when at the UN, Bush spoke about America’s campaign to spread democracy and freedom in the Middle East. Today, the people of the region, in Lebanon and occupied Palestine, who exercised democracy and held free elections, those people as they hide from relentless bombings, believe that what Bush meant by a new Middle East is one of which the aim is to deliver a debilitating blow to the resistance against occupation.

Now to our experts. I will introduce them briefly and in the order in which they will speak. Dr. Halim Barakat is an author, sociologist and retired research professor of Society and Culture at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. Dr. Laurie King-Irani is an editor, anthropologist and freelance writer. She is co-founder of Electronic Lebanon and Electronic Intifada. Mr. Sam Husseini is Communication Director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. Mr. Jim Lobe is Washington Bureau Chief for Inter Press Service, an international wire service. Since 9/11 he has written extensively on the Middle East.

Halim Barakat:

From the perspective of the present Israeli-Lebanese confrontation - which I would love to say something about at the end if I have a few minutes - I wish to focus on some relevant events since 1982 when Israel also invaded Lebanon. I wish also to point out that the 1967 war, the June war, has created conditions conducive to the emergence of the spirit of resistance all over the Arab world. I perhaps can say at the present time that there are going to be a lot of events as a result of Arab anger against their own governments.

Let me being with the year 1982. The year 1982 was a decisive year in the modern life of Lebanon and a landmark in the history of the Palestine-Israel conflict. It brought to the forefront the harsh Israeli commitment to the annexation of the territories occupied in 1967, and consequently the resurgence of an Israeli peace movement. This year [1982] witnessed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon on 4 June, which brought about the Sabra and Shatila massacres that followed.

The Israeli army allowed and observed the Phalangist members doing their dirty work, although Israel had promised U.S. Representative Philip Habib not to set foot in West Beirut. The 1982 Israeli invasion aimed at that time to dismantle the PLO and the Palestinian movement that was born out of the wounds of the 1967 war. This marked the disaster of the exile of the PLO. At that time [Israeli Prime Minister] Menachem Begin in the Israeli Kensset said, “And they come to hang the Jews.”

In 1983, the French intellectual Jean Genet wrote a piece in the Journal of Palestine Studies entitled “Four Hours in Shatila.” I cannot share with you the scenes he described without losing my composure. Suffice it to mention his remarks, “I had to go to Shatila to understand the obscenity of death.”

“It will be very easy for Israel to clear itself of accusations. Journalists of all European presses are already at work clearing them.”

A Lebanese writer told Genet, “It will be very easy for Israel to clear itself of accusations. Journalists of all European presses are already at work clearing them.” I say that the American press not only protected Israel, it has misrepresented the victims by portraying them as aggressors.

The final report of the Israeli commission of inquiry into the events at the refugee camps in Beirut, 14-18 September 1982, held Israel responsible for these massacres. The link between the Phalangists Lebanese forces was formed during the civil war of 1976-1990. The Mossad was responsible for this linkage, though the founder of the Phalangist party often warned that he may resort to the Devil, meaning Israel, and never concealed his opinion that it would be necessary to use acts of violence in order to impose the exodus of Palestinian refugees.

I move to the year 1987. An incident on 8 December 1987 led to the intifada, the Palestinian uprising. An Israeli tank suddenly swerved into a line of cars on a road in Gaza, killing four men waiting near a checkpoint into the territories. Four men died and seven sustained serious injuries. Rumors spread quickly that the incident was deliberate throughout the towns and refugee camps. Over 6,000 in Jabalyia refugee camp arrived to bury the dead. The funeral erupted into a massive demonstration that continued the next day. The Israeli military used live ammunition, beatings and arrests and tear gas to disperse the angry protestors.

The news spread in the West Bank that another youth was killed on 10 December at Balata refugee camp near Nabuls. Again protestors pored into the streets, which in turn promoted further protests that lasted days and weeks, and extended into months and years to 1993 and beyond the Oslo Accord. The intifada has never been crushed. However, the [1991] Madrid Conference and the negotiations gradually shifted the focus.

In 1988, in his speech to the UN General Assembly, [Palestinian Leader Yasser] Arafat presented the Palestinian Peace Initiative on 13 December, pointing out that the PLO would seek a comprehensive settlement within the framework of the International Conference for Peace on the basis of UN Resolutions 242 and 338, to live in freedom and the right to exist in peace and security for all.

The Palestinian National Council met in Algiers from November 12-15 and announced a declaration of independence which proclaimed the state of Palestine. In the Stockholm Statement of 7 December, the Palestinian National Council agreed to enter into peace negotiations to establish a Palestinian state and accept the existence of Israel, to declare its rejection of terrorism in all its forms, and called for a solution to the Palestinian refugee [question].

The Palestinian National Council issued a political statement on 28 December 1991 that included the following salient points: securing complete Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, the reaffirmation of Jerusalem as an integral part of Occupied Palestine, and the cessation of [construction of Israeli] settlements.

On Friday 19 April 1996, Israel attacked a UN building in Qana, in which some of [Lebanon’s] residents sought refuge, and killed 106 men, women and children. The dead were buried by families-16 members of one family were buried in one tomb. (I will say something more on Qana and what is taking place now.)

In 1997, I listened to an interview with an American journalist in which he explained his image of the Gulf War. He said, “Imagine Iraq as a body. What do you do to destroy the body? You hit the nervous system. This is how you can paralyze it.” This is what Israel is trying to do at the present time in Lebanon.

In 1999, Arabs lived in a state of war in a time of peace-would it be possible to say that people can live in peace at times of war? Lebanon is trying to do so since then. Perhaps it is the only country of the world in which the people do not seem to be interested in having a state-up to that point-or even a country. And the Lebanese state behaves as if there is no such thing as people. That is taken out of a journal that I have been writing. Maybe it’s ambiguous but, I am trying to translate from Arabic to English.

In 2000, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said about war, or described war, as a human action. He talked of war as an act of humanity. On Friday 4 November the United States administration knew that there would be innocent victims, but for them this was part of what is called necessary evil and that you do what you have to do.

In 2003, it became clear that Arab governments are very weak and powerless. It turned out that they are powerless beyond what even the pessimists used to think. Perhaps Israel is the only country in the world that talks to America from above and from the position of power. Today [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice convinced the Israelis to have a cease-fire. The Israelis announced it, but then they changed their minds. And [now] we are told that Ms. Rice accepted their explanation for continuing the war. I think I will be able to address some questions you may have on the present situation in Lebanon later. Thank you.

Laurie King-Irani:

Good morning everyone and thank you for coming here in 112 degree heat-index weather. I think that it is interesting to observe that the kind of weather we are experiencing here now people are living through in Iraq and Gaza and in Lebanon without any electricity and often without any water.

What I’d like to do is to present some words and images from people who are living through this situation right now in Lebanon-and some of these words we have put on our website Electronic Lebanon, which launched, actually, the day before everything started. We kind of saw it coming and we already had templates from the Electronic Intifada and Electronic Iraq websites so it was very easy to start a whole new feed.

We’ve had all kinds of people writing to us from on the ground and, when they have internet connections, sending us their eye-witness accounts and reports and sometimes their deep emotional reactions to what is going on the ground. What I’d like to do is read part of one of these essays, or cries of the heart, that we received early on Sunday morning, and it was in fact my first awareness that something had again happened in Qana in south Lebanon.

I was about to go to bed at about three in the morning and I heard the little ringing bell on my computer telling me that I had mail. I saw that a good friend of mine - Mayssoun Sukarieh, who is a Ph. D. candidate in anthropology and education at the University of California at Berkley and is now back at her home town of Beirut - sent me a very quick note saying, “Oh God, Laurie, it’s happening again. Qana. How can this happen again? Poor, Qana.” I thought, “What’s that about?” so I turned on CNN, MSNBC, FOX - there was no news yet. I went to the different wire services and saw that yes, again Qana had been hit.

I lived in Lebanon for five years and for part of that time I worked as a journalist, and Qana was, for me, my first experience seeing the carnage of warfare up close and personal.

I lived in Lebanon for five years and for part of that time I worked as a journalist, and Qana was, for me, my first experience seeing the carnage of warfare up close and personal. Three days after the bombardment of the UNIFIL forces base, where about 800 people were sheltering and where 106 people - most of them children, about half of them children - lost their lives, I went there with a lot of journalists from Beirut. We got there about three days after the event had happened, and at that time there was a UN investigating force on the ground measuring the spaces between the impacts of the shells. What was used there are called proximity fuse shells. Those are anti-personnel weapons which are set to spray out with little knife-like implements when they are about five feet off of the ground, so they were extremely damaging and the carnage at Qana was just absolutely nauseating.

I didn’t see the actual bodies and the burnt children, but there was still the remains of people’s skulls and hair and burnt bodies that were still sticking to the walls. And the smell there was something that I would never want to experience again. So to see this happened affected me, not just as an anthropologist or somebody who is supposedly an “expert” on the Middle East - which is a word I don’t like to use, but on a deeply emotional level. Obviously for my friend Mayssoun who sent me the first report, it was the same.

Now she was watching television in Lebanon, and what she started to do was just to type out the images that she was seeing on the screen and do a quick translation of what the people who had witnessed and survived the second massacre at Qana were experiencing. She was sending these reports to friends in the States, and at that time she didn’t have any images to attach to her messages. An American friend of hers at Berkley wrote to her and said, “Well, they’re not showing these images on American TV. Please send me some footage. Please send me some photos.”

And this is what Mayssoun wrote in response:

“I am not sure how much you need to see in order to feel outrage, in order to refuse wars, in order to denounce this murder and destruction. Why should I send footage for you to see?

“I am not sure how much you need to see in order to feel outrage, in order to refuse wars, in order to denounce this murder and destruction. Why should I send footage for you to see? If the eye sees while the brain is dead, then what happens if you see? Maybe you’ll send me an apology. Write creatively about it. Try to aestheticize this. Call for theater performances with eloquently spoken words in order to give people an incentive to come here or to act. But we know they won’t come, nor will they act. What happens if you see? Will U.S. public opinion suddenly change? But can there really be people who do not yet know what is happening here? Do they need to see the bodies in order to know who to vote for in the next elections in a country where there is next to no difference between republicans and democrats? How many more massacres do you have to see to know that the state of Israel has committed terrorism? Aren’t Deir Yassin, Kafr Kassem, Safsaf, Tantoura, Sabra and Shatila, Qana I, Marwaheen, Sur/Tyre, and now Qana II information enough for you to know the meaning of terrorism?”

And just a foot note, in international law terrorism is defined as attacks on civilians, or threats of attacks on civilians, to cause fear, to cause people to flee and behave the way you want them to. Okay, back to her narrative.

“Just how many outcries to you need to hear before you act out of a commitment to humanity-a humanity that links you and me and so many people beyond the thick consumerism of gory images?”

“To tell you the truth, my friend, we have lost faith in the idea that public opinion is capable of changing anything. We have lost faith in an international community that can back us up and stop these massacres. The UN is now just another cold and unfeeling face of the United States, or it is simply an organization as helpless and powerless as we are here. Its representatives die under the bombs along side us and yet no one is allowed to condemn Israel. We have lost faith in you because we do not think that you can act on your knowledge, or that your knowledge even matters anymore. We have lost faith in you because we think your governments do not give a damn about what you think. We have lost faith in you because you do not live in a democracy and hence your opinion does not matter anyway. We have lost faith in you because your democracy got exported to us with your missiles, and we are now consuming them while you are consuming our news.”

I think what Maysoun has touched upon here in her rather passionate narrative to her friend in California are two very big issues. These issues really transcend anything that is going on simply right now in southern Lebanon, or even things that are going on right now in Gaza or Iraq. I’d have to say that we can categorize these under two headings.

One would be defining such things as democracy and terrorism. I’m sure all of you who have cable access here have turned on the TV and you hear President [George W.] Bush over and over again voicing this strange interpretation of events in the Middle East-that the evil doers hate our democracy, and they hate freedom and they are against our civilization.

So we wonder then what democracy means to this man. And if we look at his previous discourses and discussions of democracy, it’s clear that he has a rather unusual comprehension of the concept of democracy, and sees it simply as freedom. And in one of his famous speeches - I believe it was a State of the Union speech but don’t quote me on that - he talked about his desire to see the “untamed fires of freedom touch the entire world.” Well, it looks like the “untamed fires of freedom” in terms of freedom from international law, freedom from common human decency, freedom from UN security resolutions has certainly touched the people of Qana, yet again.

So that’s one thing: democracy, what does it mean? Democracy, actually classically defined has two pillars. One is equality, everybody is the same before the law, and one is justice. So we’re automatically on legal terrain and we’re automatically on the terrain of rights and duties, not just privileges and freedoms to do whatever you want. So there is a very basic subtext in what you’re seeing on the news when President Bush talks about democracy and the roots of so called “terrorism” in the Middle East in that he doesn’t seem to realize that democracy without the rule of law is a rather frightening and dangerous enterprise. In fact democracy without the rule of law simply breeds impunity, and impunity is certainly on display now in the Middle East.

[This] leads us to the other issue that Maysoun’s narrative brings out, and that is the degradation and erosion of international law, of the United Nations [and] of multilateral frameworks for solving problems. And all of this is on sick and sorry display right now in Lebanon. And I’d just like to quote a few things from an article I wrote almost two years ago. This is a sad thing, when you realize you can write the same op-ed. about every six months and you are just crying into the wilderness, but here’s what I had to say.

The Palestinians, and now the Lebanese, are to assume that they have sacrificed their very right to human rights by resisting the theft of their land, the expulsion of their people, the invasion of their villages and the longest refugee crisis in modern history, as well as the crushing effects of the suffocating and frequently callous occupation and sadistic and often lethal torture techniques. Loud warnings and outcries about the Palestinian legislative elections in January, which put Hamas in the political driver’s seat, were preceded by silence or muted warnings about Israel’s legal intransigence and gratuitous cruelty in the Occupied Territories.

Far too few leaders or opinion makers dared to raise their voices during the last decade as Israel’s military, political and intelligence establishments under [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon’s administration were busy killing, jailing or corrupting, through control over Palestinian Authority finances and external aid, any possible Palestinian leaders who might have emerged. Arafat was an ideal and highly un-photogenic whipping boy whom the Israeli and U.S. press demonized all out of proportion to his actual role in history. His successor Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, just could not play his role effectively, whether as leader of the Palestinian people or, more importantly, as a terrifying bte noir for Israelis and Americans.

Not enough scholars, journalists or diplomats have dared question the pious discourses intoned by Israeli officials and their uncritical American backers about Israel’s security having priority over Palestinian and Lebanese basic rights. Few public figures have been brave enough to challenge the numbing repetition of Israel’s mantra: its very existence is threatened by essentially evil people. It is no great feat to demonize suicide bombers. These are young men and women who, like their parents, have endured a crushing occupation that the U.S. and the EU, and now the UN, continue to ignore, or worse, to fund.

Appropriately, virtually all journalist, politicians, diplomats and scholars have spoken out strongly against the atrocity of suicide bombings - and I myself have done that - which are inexcusable violations of international law. We do not, alas, hear much about Israel’s nuclear arsenal, its violations of the Forth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Territories, its state of the art weaponry often used against international conventions, surveillance capacities, revisionist historians’ writings or the IDF’s systematic and grave violations of human rights. Not to mention the obscenely immense sums of money the U.S. Congress earmarks annually to sustain this unsustainable situation. There may be little money for New Orleans, but there’s always money for the Israeli army.

Unlike events in Las Vegas, what happens in the Middle East does not stay in the Middle East. The horrors of the Israeli invasion of 1982 and the Sabra and Shatila massacres, which Dr. Barakat was just informing us of, did not in the end express some unique historical or cultural essence or barbaric mentality peculiar to the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict or Arab and Muslim society. Rather, these atrocities constituted alarming harbingers of a world without laws. Our world in 2006, in other words.

Impunity for the atrocities of 1982, like impunity elsewhere in the region or farther afield, ultimately threatens every one of us directly or indirectly. Impunity thrives in silence and in darkness.

Impunity for the atrocities of 1982, like impunity elsewhere in the region or farther afield, ultimately threatens every one of us directly or indirectly. Impunity thrives in silence and in darkness. It feeds on lies, myths and rationalizations - all of which have been much in evidence these days on CNN, especially from Mr. Wolf Blitzer, in my opinion.

To root out impunity we must give voice to truth as clearly as we can. This is something that we all can do, instead of sitting and looking at the television and just feeling frustrated or angry. Sadly and frighteningly for us all, however, truth and objective criteria are no longer desired or welcomed in the main stream media in the United States or in Israel. Nor are fact appreciated in Lebanon, which shamefully amnestied all war criminals, both those who aided Ariel Sharon and those who opposed his brutal Operation Peace for Galilee, thus necessitating the Sabra and Shatila massacre survivors’ doomed search for justice in Brussels rather than on the blood soaked soil where their loved ones are buried.

We have seen in the last few years attempts to use international humanitarian law to try to resolve and heal some of the deep and lasting wounds of injustice in the Middle East. And the failure of these attempts - such as that of the Sabra and Shatila massacres [survivors] who tried to use the Belgian government’s anti-atrocity or universal jurisdiction legislation, which led to the Supreme Court of Belgium deciding that they had a case and assigning a prosecutor and a detective or investigator to begin looking into the files. That all came to an end because our own Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, went to Belgium on 13 June in 2003 and very abruptly told the Belgian Parliament that if they did not stop their universal jurisdiction procedure and annul their anti-atrocity legislation, Donald Rumsfeld would see to it that NATO headquarters, which is located in Brussels, would be moved to Warsaw. So, people in Brussels decided they didn’t want to lose the money, the prestige, the connections that come from having NATO in their capital city so they complied with this request and annulled the legislation and effectively ended the massacre survivors’ search for justice.

Something similar also happened after the Qana massacre in 1996. A few of the survivors tried to put together a case, a petition that was brought before the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission at their annual meeting in Geneva in March and April of the year 2000, in which they were trying to sue the state of Israel for damages for the loss of family members, children, people who had lost limbs, people who had been blinded by this event. One family in particular lost 22 members of their entire family in that particular atrocity. And the people who brought this case - one of the things I did in Lebanon was to go down and interview them because it caught my attention. I thought that was pretty interesting, people who are living in a small village, most of whom are peasants who grow tobacco, who have animals and little farms, and very few of whom have even finished secondary school - although we see now a lot of people coming back to Qana who have been outside and working and they are coming back and they have brought money and built some beautiful homes there and done a lot in that village to rebuilt, which now we see has been smashed once more - but I was very impressed that these people who really had very little power, living under Israeli occupation in south Lebanon, people who had been smashed in quite a horrible way, had decided not to act out of revenge, not to take up arms, but to use international law to get some kind of closure. And that also, of course, failed.

So if people try to use the systems of law that are there - and international humanitarian law is your law, and as I always say to people, know it, use it and hold abusers to it - if we can’t use that anymore, if international law, the United Nations, multilateral frameworks for solving problems no longer have any meaning-and I’d say that they don’t, unfortunately, largely because of the United States and Israeli unilateralism and impunity - then people are left without many options.

So if there’s anything that I’d have to say at this gathering today, it is to try to expand and increase the options that people have, both in the Middle East and here, to stop this carnage. I think that the whole region is at a tipping point, and whatever we in the past took as our frameworks and measuring sticks for analyzing events there we pretty much have to throw all of those things away because we are facing a very new, very dangerous situation and if any one thinks or imagines it will not come home here to the United States, I’m sad to say, you are probably mistaken. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it. Thank you very much for your time.

Sam Husseini:

I would like to thank The Palestine Center for organizing this gathering. I am reminded of Will Tomlins quote of “No matter how cynical you get, it is hard to keep up.” It seems to apply in retrospect as well when I learn about some things that have gone on that I have either forgotten or missed in the first place.

I am having a bit of a hard time focusing because the thing that keeps going through my mind is that I am seeing Samar with child and the sound bit that keeps resonating is of “the birth pains of the Middle East.” A highly ironic one under the circumstances since I don’t think that birth is necessarily the process that is going through people’s heads that are on the receiving end of the violence in Lebanon, or for that matter, in northern Israel and Gaza.

I would like to make some general remarks about what the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) does and take you through some of the news releases in the last several weeks, and a few even prior to that because I believe that they are relevant to getting to what I think is missing: crucial facts and relevant context, both of which I think the media should be addressing. I would also like to discuss some other recommendations that we have as well as some general remarks on the situation.

At IPA we try, as much as possible, to intervene in the news cycle as it is happening to establish some sense of the fact that a meaningful dialogue can exist when based around crucial facts and relevant context. For example, we are now in the process of putting out information on international law. A lot of attention has been paid to Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls upon militias in Lebanon to disarm. There has been virtually no attention paid to UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to the Middle East. Most of these resolutions which most obviously Israel is in violation of literally dozens calling on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands, to stop settlement activity around Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza, and so on.

There has been no sense of the meaningful role that could, and should be played by international law. The crucial piece that we want to put out has to do with the fact that many players seem to be hamstrung around the U.S. veto at the UN, which is not fully true. There is a provision within the United Nations to go around the Security Council when it cannot act to resolve a situation; it is called the Uniting for Peace resolution which empowers the General Assembly to take hold of a situation when the Security Council fails in its responsibility to secure peace in any given region.

There has been no sense of the meaningful role that could, and should be played by international law. The crucial piece that we want to put out has to do with the fact that many players seem to be hamstrung around the U.S. veto at the UN, which is not fully true. There is a provision within the United Nations to go around the Security Council when it cannot act to resolve a situation; it is called the Uniting for Peace resolution which empowers the General Assembly to take hold of a situation when the Security Council fails in its responsibility to secure peace in any given region. The United States used this power during the Suez crisis in 1956 when the threat of veto by the UK and France given their role in the Suez crisis threatened to paralyze international action. The U.S. invoked the resolution and the Suez crisis was resolved.

All of our news releases are available on our website www.accuracy.org. We put out information primarily to journalists and our primary target is U.S. journalists. We feature experts with relevant and crucial facts in a timely fashion with their contact information and we get it out to about 10,000 journalists. We also have an international presence and I would like to say a few words about that at some point. We also distribute information to the general public and anybody can sign up.

Yesterday we put out a news release and the relevant background on Qana about the first attack there in 1996, including information regarding some plaintiffs who are participating in U.S. legal action with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which I think is separate from some of the legal proceedings that Laurie mentioned. We found someone in the process of working with these folks that lost 43 members of their family in the attacks on Qana over the weekend. We put them on a news release and I don’t know how many interviews they will do or be able to do under those circumstances, but we try to find those crucial voices at a crucial time and get them out to the media.

We try to make it very easy for the media of whatever stripe to, as we say, “do the right thing.” A great deal of what we have done is to get voices within Lebanon. For example, it is very difficult for us to do this in the case of Iraq with the chaos, devastated infrastructure, and sectarian violence, and so on. In the case of Lebanon, this has been the largest attempt by us to broadcast the stories of people from the region. We did start in Gaza and we were able to get a couple of people in Gaza to speak out. Now, the news is coming from Lebanon from people there and then when people came from Lebanon we started putting their stories in the news releases.

I learned of the Qana attack, slight digression here, from Rami el-Yamin who has a brother in Lebanon and whose father just got out of Lebanon. He called me on Sunday morning. I was in front of the studios at ABC at the time, just up Connecticut Avenue, where they were taping This Week with George Stephanopoulos. There’s a media stake out there and journalists can go there and ask questions, protesters can also go there and confront the policy makers, along with the media for that matter. On this particular Sunday, Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state, was there and he gallivanted in and out and wouldn’t talk to any media.

I happened to be there with Reem Katghouda who has a show on the WPFW, the Pacifica station here in DC. She had a very long talk with the Israeli ambassador and asked him a series of questions and among the responses were blatant lies. She aired the interview on Free Speech Radio News, which airs at some obscene hour on WPFW. She asked him about cluster bombs and he said Israel doesn’t use cluster bombs, meanwhile every human rights organization, including the very mainstream in tepid ones like Human Rights Watch and so on have said they have.

I went and tried to get Nicholas Burns again and said, “Don’t you bear responsibility Mr. Burns for stopping a ceasefire when this happens?” He said, “Thank you, good day.” Paul Bremer did come out and take some questions, but my point there is that there are opportunities here, particular in Washington DC, to interact with policy makers that independent media does not take full advantage of. There is no reason why independent media should not have reporters on a day in and day out basis at these news conferences at the Pentagon and the White House and so forth. There is no reason why Arab media should not be present either.

I think a situation has developed whereby the media is playing to its audience. Arab media has certainly been providing pictures of the situation. I have been hearing now for three years that Al-Jazeera is going to be providing an English service. I don’t quite understand why they couldn’t within these three years just streamed there Arabic service with sub-text so that you would have some sense of a global dialogue because I think in some sense that is what is desperately missing in this situation and many others. Many of these Arab news outlets have substantial resources and they should have media representatives asking the tough questions at White House news conferences, Pentagon news conferences, those at the State Department, and so on and so forth. To the best of my knowledge that is happening very rarely and I don’t see any reason for that to continue. That would be a primary recommendation on my part.

Before the Qana massacre we actually talked about Qana in one of our news releases and that was because the UN compound was bombed, if you recall, last week. We had two people come in to focus on international law, John Quigley and Ian Williams. We had a slight digression on July 26 where we talked about Iraq. You had Nadia Benchman who has participated in the fast in front of the White House and she was the one who interrupted [Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri] al-Maliki’s speech before Congress where he was talking about listening to the Iraqi people and that most of them want U.S. troops out and Roger Orr who is an Iraqi who just moved to Washington DC, noting the supreme irony of the whole democracy rhetoric while al-Maliki was getting slammed left and right for saying things that most of the Iraqi’s believe in terms of condemning the Israeli aggression on Lebanon as he put it and, as one would imagine, as most Iraqi’s would put it.

The fundamental big picture and we try assailing and questioning the big picture as much as possible, is that Israel abducted two Palestinians right before the abduction of the Israeli soldier in Gaza. It was a tiny little blurb in a few newspapers. Remember Israel began its attack on Gaza with a pretext which was portrayed as the actual motivation, something that I think needs to be questioned regularly, that they were trying to free this Israeli soldier. There is virtually no reporting on the fact that the day before that Israel abducted two Palestinians. I didn’t know about it until several days later when we had somebody who is a British reporter in Nazareth point it out prominently in a column that he had written that I found on the internet. Then I went back and I found these tiny little write ups on the back pages of the British press and, in fairness, actually found a couple of blurbs about it in a couple of U.S. papers.

Similarly, you have Israeli attacks on Lebanon, which included one that resulted in the assassination on a member of Islamic Jihad. It was in the New York Times on May 29, where they quoted a Lebanese expert saying that in striking Islamic Jihad the Israelis knew that they would get Hizbollah involved too, and this is back in May. It was reported and then quickly dispensed with and forgotten.

The most functioning Arab democracy, Lebanon, is having its infrastructure pummeled by Israel and the U.S. is doing this in collusion with (meetings with) the Saudis at the White House, who are arguably the most authoritarian current regime in the Arab world.

In terms of the big picture, you are now hearing Bush talking rhetorically about linking 9/11 with Hizbollah. You are hearing the whole mantra of “The birth of a new Middle East.” What needs to happen is just plainly stating the facts. The most functioning Arab democracy, Lebanon, is having its infrastructure pummeled by Israel and the U.S. is doing this in collusion with (meetings with) the Saudis at the White House, who are arguably the most authoritarian current regime in the Arab world. Now, how is it that this can be done. How can we talk about bringing democracy to the Middle East while the U.S. government is working in conjunction with Israel, which is an expansionist and colonial power, and this is not a hair brain thing to say, and in conjunction with other authoritarian Arab regimes, most prominently the Saudis. Yet the rhetoric continues that their motive is to achieve a democratic Middle East.

I think that it is very understandable to be distraught at these things but I think that there is an element of hope in terms of continuously getting the relevant facts out, attempting new links, using technology, like the Electronic Lebanon, and other blogs. Right now you can do a Google search and find out what Assad Abu Khalil is saying on his blog and get his unique take on the situation and the various players involved. The technology is out there to make those relevant connections.

The situation can go either way. It can be poison, as in Qana, but that poison can turn to something else if we use what mechanisms are there, confront people that are saying things that are questionable in a timely fashion if those structures are built up and meaningfully used. Thank you.

Jim Lobe:

Hello. I understand my task is to discuss recent history in U.S. foreign policy and my take on it and try and bring it up to the present situation. I have a few notes and I hope that I can get through them in a reasonable period of time.

I should mention that I work for the Inter Press Service, a small international news agency based in Rome. The people who read my articles are scattered all over the world, so I don’t have to write for a U.S. audience. This is very important because, as I am sure Sam would tell you, we live within a certain political culture and people who write for that culture have to be aware of certain kinds of red lines and censor themselves accordingly and that is a constant practice for most reporters and editors, particularly when we get into the Middle East. It is just a fact of political culture, there is a political culture in every country in the world, with red lines, across which editors and writers are not expected to stray less there be certain consequences. In the United States, the Middle East is a very sensitive area, as I am sure you are aware. I have the freedom not to have to respect that and I feel that that is a big advantage in my own writing.

What I generally write about and what I will talk about today is actually pretty bloodless compared to the previous presentations. I try to analyze who is involved in foreign policy making because personalities are very important, it is not just cosmic forces working their will, and who’s up and who’s down and where they are going. That is what I try and specialize in, particularly since 9/11, because since the 1970s I have been particularly fascinated by one particular movement, namely neo-conservatives. So, things really got good for me after 9/11 when neo-conservatives more or less took power, at least for a period of time. Good for me in the sense that I got a lot more attention, bad for virtually all of the rest of the world. I never cease to feel guilty about that.

What I want to say is that what we have within the administration, since the beginning, and I won’t talk much about Congress, is a certain balance of power. The main contestants in that power are on one side the hawks. These hawks include neo-conservatives that are almost entirely Israel focused and, in my view, the democracy argument is something that is fairly post-hawk and not consistent with their views over the past 30 years.

What I want to say is that what we have within the administration, since the beginning, and I won’t talk much about Congress, is a certain balance of power. The main contestants in that power are on one side the hawks. These hawks include neo-conservatives that are almost entirely Israel focused and, in my view, the democracy argument is something that is fairly post-hawk and not consistent with their views over the past 30 years. In other words, it is a tactical rather than strategic argument. Included in this group is the Christian right, which also tends to be Christian Zionists and, hence, very Israel centered and, for lack of a better word, aggressive nationalists like [Vice President Richard] Cheney and Rumsfeld.

These groups have associated fairly intensely off and on since the mid-1970s so a lot of their ideas have bled into one another, that is, these are not necessarily discrete groups. Sometimes the media does treat them as very discrete groups, like the argument that Cheney and Rumsfeld don’t really care that much about Israel accept as a strategic asset in the Middle East, and that they don’t feel any particular emotion or loyalty towards Israel or Israel’s security. Yet, how do you explain Rumsfeld’s statement early on after 9/11, referring to Palestinians “so called” occupied territories. It reflects the views of Eugene Rostow who was a mentor of Rumsfeld’s early on in his career and was a neo-con. So, fact is, the ideas do bleed from one group to another.

The second group within the administration consists of realists of the George H.W. administration kind. Bureaucratically they reside in the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and, increasingly, within the uniformed military and what we have seen is essentially a contest, and a very dramatically shifting contest, between these two groups.

Now, the hawks were grouped together in basically a front organization, that sounds a little conspiratorial and I don’t wish to make it that way, but it was convened in the mid-1990s called the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) which probably most of you have heard of. Convened by William Kristol of The Weekly Standard and Bob Kegan at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, this group comprises the components of the hawks and has from the outset. This group was interested in two types of strategies pre-9/11: a global strategy and a regional strategy.

The global strategy, in which the assertive nationalists were particularly enthusiastic about, was written down back in 1992 and called the defense policy guidance by people in the Pentagon. It was overseen by Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby who worked for Wolfowitz, and JD Croutch, who is now the deputy national security advisor and Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, who is now the ambassador to Iraq. This global strategy was essentially one of benign U.S. hegemony in which no possible rival could be permitted to emerge from anywhere. So, either you pre-empt them or buy them off, co-opt them or confront them. It was very much focused on Eurasia, particularly the Gulf region and to some extent central Asia as well. The idea was that if you can exert uncontested domination, if you have to, over energy supplies, you essentially can prevent the emergence of any possible rival. At that time they were thinking of Japan, to a lesser extent the European Union and, as the 1990s developed, it became more and more China in their view.

That was the global strategy and a lot of the concepts in that paper, which was leaked to The New York Times and created a huge scandal because Bush himself and Scowcroft all repudiated and said “This is nuts” because it will cost us way too much money. But, that is the inspiration behind the Project for the New American Century. Essentially that was the hawks manifesto and it was written under, of course, Dick Cheney. In fact, Wolfowitz and Libby were almost fired when that document was leaked, not for leaking it, but for its content. It was Cheney that came in and saved them and kept them on.

That was a memo to [former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu which stated that the key to shifting the balance of power permanently in Israel’s favor in the region and being able to dictate to the Palestinians a final peace is to one, overthrow Saddam Hussein. Once you overthrow Saddam Hussein you de-stabilize [Syrian President] Assad and you are finished with Arab nationalism and that will permit Israel to essentially dictate the terms of peace. That represents to some extent the thinking of the neo-con/Christian right component within this hawk coalition.

The second strategy is a regional strategy. This is very much of a neo-conservative/Christian right strategy and most people point to the paper that was written by David Wormser, who now works for Cheney, in a study group that included Douglas Feith, who now works at Georgetown, Richard Perle and three or four other people. That was a memo to [former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu which stated that the key to shifting the balance of power permanently in Israel’s favor in the region and being able to dictate to the Palestinians a final peace is to one, overthrow Saddam Hussein. Once you overthrow Saddam Hussein you de-stabilize [Syrian President] Assad and you are finished with Arab nationalism and that will permit Israel to essentially dictate the terms of peace. That represents to some extent the thinking of the neo-con/Christian right component within this hawk coalition.

What you have as of 9/11 is both strategies going into effect. The realists at that moment could not give Bush a persuasive and sweeping enough strategy to grab his attention as to how to deal with 9/11. The PNAC coalition on the other hand had these kinds of plans right ready on the shelf and said, “Here, Mr. President, this is what we are going to do.” PNAC laid it out in a very important letter in The Washington Post, which nobody noticed on September 20, nine days after 9/11, which laid out the regional strategy more than the global strategy. The regional strategy was: you take out the Taliban, but you can’t possibly have a good war on terror without possibly taking out Saddam Hussein and then you have to deal with Hizbollah, and you know behind Hizbollah are Iran and Syria and if they don’t cut their support they will suffer serious consequences and, incidentally, you have to cut off Arafat.

About half of this agenda was accomplished in about a year and a half if you think about it. This was the period of neo-con dominance of the administration and indeed the zenith was the invasion of Iraq, Bush had already broken with Arafat and, more or less, cut off the Palestinian Authority or laid down conditions for the continuation or resumption of aid. They were feeling so strong at that moment, which is March - April 2003, that when the Iranians came in with a negotiating proposal in May 2003 that vowed to cover all outstanding issues, I mean this was unprecedented in terms of flexibility on the part of the Iranians, the administration, despite the very strong opposition of the realists, then concentrated in Secretary of State Colin Powell, said, “No. We are just not interested. In fact, this kind of angers us, or it irritates us.” They complained to the government of Switzerland that their ambassador, who is the protective power for Iranian interests, who actually conveyed this proposal to them, said, “That was way out of line.” So, you can see how strong they feel as of May 2003.

My argument is that as of the end of 2003, even as early as October 2003, as the Iraq insurgency began to be seen, particularly by the U.S. military, as real and something for which they were completely unprepared, the tide begins to shift within the administration and the neo-cons in particular but the hawks in general begin losing influence, they are still dominant, but the realists begin to make gains. Powell gets to do things he hasn’t done before. The control over Iraq policy has moved from the Pentagon into the National Security Council where it is then sort of parceled over to the State Department and the Military, military commanders in particular, are saying things on the record that go completely counter to the administrations view, to the hawks view at least, at the time.

In addition, there are some other things that are going on. You can see this take place specifically on the regional level because by the end of summer 2003 and the early fall 2003, October I think it was, when Israel actually attacked a Palestinian camp in Syria which they hadn’t done in a really long time, the hawks still wanted to bring down the Assad regime and there was even an incident at the border and what you see is a drawing away from this and the Americans telling the Israeli’s privately, “This attack, not a good idea at the moment. We have our hands full.”

You can also see the globalists getting very frustrated, especially the assertive nationalists, and in this group I include Wolfowitz, because even though they thought the war on terror was a great opportunity to mount their strategy their real interest was more China, and here they are having to be nice to China because things aren’t going well in Iraq. It is at this moment that Bush, on television, chews out the President of Taiwan with the President of China right next to him. I mean this is an amazing moment when you consider what the politics of the hawks were at the moment. And, finally, another moment of this is when Ariel Sharon himself puts forward his disengagement plan, which you can object to a lot, but the fact is that he can already see that things are not going well in Iraq and what hopes the neo-cons had at making peace in the Middle East were fast disappearing.

Let me get up to the present. Since then there has been a gradual erosion of power from the hawks in favor of the realists and, by the time the second administration started in January 2005 and Rice becomes secretary of state, the balance of power has effectively shifted in favor of the realists. The hawks are more down. Part of this you can see in personnel terms. For one thing, very key hawks are out of the administration, most notably Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and then, in October 2005, Scooter Libby who is a really important player in all of this.

You also have a real tell tale sign that occurred when Cheney really wanted Jon Bolton to be deputy secretary of state because that was even better than his position as under secretary of state in the first administration, a position where he systematically undermined Powell and the realists. But, for him to be deputy, that would be a real coup. Rice, realizing that her world view is not the same as Cheney’s, that she leans more towards a realist view, despite her soaring idealistic rhetoric, says, “No, he can get the UN. I don’t want him here.” That was a real signal that the balance had effectively shifted.

Finally, splits developed within the hawks, really serious splits. The neo-cons started attacking Rumsfeld for blowing the Iraq campaign, not putting enough troops and demanding his resignation. That wouldn’t score points either with Rumsfeld or with Cheney. You have Sharon actually going through with the disengagement, which split the neo-cons right in half. There are hard core neo-cons like Perle and Frank Gaffney, who is as hardline as you can get, basically saying that Sharon is a traitor and is now saying the same thing. You had more pragmatic elements, like Bill Kristol, that were saying that it was probably good in the long run.

You also had big splits over the democracy initiative with some hardline neo-cons like Daniel Pipes saying, “This is really dangerous and will empower elements that are very dangerous to us.” And others saying, “No, we believe in democracy and we have to play this out.” Reuel Marc Gerecht at the American Enterprise Institute is probably the most interesting example of that. Then you had globalists, especially at the Pentagon, who are still really interested in China and want to focus more on China and really feel bogged down in the Middle East at this point, and getting very impatient with people who are Middle East focused.

By this last spring, realists and Rice are doing well. They had maneuvered the administration into a more flexible position on North Korea, they had actually gotten Bush to agree to joining talks with Iran which provoked tremendous anger from neo-conservatives in particular who believe that Iran is the greatest threat to Israel and they began attacking her by name. Remember, Kristol had supported her for President until late 2005, early 2006, now he is attacking the State Department and saying that Rice had become the hostage. But this is a kind of burning bridges which suggests that they are losing badly. They had even recaptured the CIA from [Porter] Goss so the balance of power was really shifting in their favor.

Then comes the latest crisis, which I find very alarming. I mean it is not a 9/11, but the fact is that the hawks, and particularly the neo-cons and the Christian right, have largely succeeded in persuading not just Republicans, but Democrats too that the war on terror is back where it was in 2001 in the terms of the Project for the New American Century, that its evil-doers who are now led by Iran and perhaps not so much by al-Qaeda, which is, in Michael Ledeen’s words, the “terror master.” They are saying that the reasons that this is happening is that the West and Israel have shown tremendous weakness in the last year and a half since the hawks lost sway in Washington. After all, isn’t it obvious that when we offered to speak to the Iranians that was a clear signal to Iran to order Hizbollah to kidnap Israelis? They are saying that we are engaged in appeasement and that this is a proxy war and that we have to raise the stakes and be tougher than ever. You have calls from Perle to attack Syria and Charles Krauthammer says to invade all of Southern Lebanon and occupy it and Kristol, who is a relative moderate, saying that this is as good of a time as ever to attack the nuclear installations in Iran. What is really problematic is that senior administration officials, including Bush and Rice herself are echoing this line of an axis in which Syria and Iran are the principle evil doers and Hizbollah is simply their instrument.

Now, I don’t think that the battle is over by any means. There are realists who are making arguments every day, most recently Brent Scowcroft who wrote a brilliant op-ed and got it published in The Washington Post, whose editorial page is now hopeless on this stuff. You have Richard Armitage speaking out, and Chuck Hagel giving a very important and courageous speech on Friday. Even some Democrats privately admit they don’t like the way things are going, but a lot more work has to be done on that front. The administration, despite the rhetoric and framing, which really feeds the hawks line and gets us back to that PNAC letter from September 2001 of it all as the same war is really trying to contain the conflict and discourage the idea that this is the moment for an attack on Syria or on Iran. I don’t think Bush and I don’t even think Cheney want to go there. In any event, they have made serious gains in reclaiming if not control, at least the ability to frame the conflict that has been going on. I don’t know what will happen if it continues much longer, but I do know that if I continue to speak I will have really abused the time limit.

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