Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 02 Oct 2014 09:24:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Lessons from French Morocco: “Fanaticism Anxiety” about Muslims has been with us since the Colonial Era Thu, 02 Oct 2014 04:28:10 +0000 By Edmund Burke III

Today we hear a great deal about the question of what went wrong in Middle Eastern societies. For an historian of the early twentieth century world, it’s déjà vu all over again. Similar questions and similar anxieties were being voiced a century ago. Very much like fin de siècle Europeans, we seem to have civilizations on the brain, even as the world changes at vertiginous speed.

In 1900 media fulmination about the threat posed by alleged Muslim fanaticism dominated the headlines. Then as now, nineteenth century European tabloid railings against the Sudanese Mahdi and pan-Islamic conspiracies were a proven way to sell newspapers. Then as now, the lords of empire sought to spook metropolitan populations into supporting military interventions by manufacturing Muslim rebels. Then as now, this helped win continued public support for endless war and colonial expansion. Thus our current preoccupations with al-Qaida, Somali hijackers and ISIS fanatics, fit rather well in the museum of imperialist culture.

The French colonial experience provides a salient example. French Algeria was a veritable bestiary of what not to do, ranging from such Islamophobic policies of closing mosques, libraries and Islamic schools to demonizing sufi brotherhoods as the sources of alleged pan-Islamic insurgency. By 1900, French colonial experts and metropolitan officials had become convinced that a change was needed. They looked to the model of British India for an example of what worked, and to Morocco as the potential site where they could “get it right” by introducing the model of British India. But before they could do that, they first had to get acquiescence of the other European powers and contend with Moroccan resistance.

Still an independent state in 1900, Morocco was coveted by no less than four major European powers. Indeed, Europe would several times come to the brink of war in the period 1900-1912 over what was then called “the Moroccan Question.” In order to deploy the “scientific imperialism” tool kit, a systematic French effort to study Moroccan society and its culture and institutions was required. Yet as late as 1900, European ignorance about Morocco was profound.. Few studies existed, and those that did traded heavily in orientalist clichés. Morocco was viewed as a “Tibet on the doorstep of Europe.” And France was only slightly better informed about Morocco than its main rivals–Britain, Spain and Germany

What makes the Moroccan case so interesting is that the Moroccan colonial archive was created in the span of a single generation in the heyday of “scientific imperialism.” Thus from the start “Moroccan Islam” was intended to provide support for the French colonial project. In Morocco we get to see the elaboration of a colonial archive—a task that took a century for the British to accomplish in India. We also get to see the uses to which ethnographic knowledge was put in the elaboration of the colonial project. This story is the very opposite of the U.S. experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.

My book The Ethnographic State: France and the Invention of Moroccan Islam, 1900-1930 argues that the construction of the Moroccan ethnographic state structured, organized, and institutionalized the way in which both non-Moroccans and Moroccans understood the Moroccan polity. In an important sense it created modern Morocco.

The creation of the Moroccan colonial archive was a substantial if little known sociological achievement. The most complete inventory of a Muslim society undertaken by a European state, the Moroccan colonial archive provided a comprehensive survey of Moroccan society, group by group, city by city, institution by institution.

At its best, the Moroccan colonial archive was notable both for the rapidity with which it had been assembled (1900-1918) as well as for its interpretive understanding of Moroccan society. In this it challenges current understandings of the relationship of culture and power, even as it ultimately confirms them.

Furthermore, the Moroccan colonial archive legitimized the French protectorate, while also providing the model for the protectorate government. In the political struggle over which European power would be able to take over Morocco, France argued that its expert knowledge of Moroccan society made it the most qualified to take over Morocco. In this way, the Moroccan colonial archive provided the symbolic capital that enabled France to assert its intellectual authority over its European rivals.

The Ethnographic State also inserts the creation and successive reinventions of Moroccan Islam into their complex French, Moroccan, international and global contexts. In this way it seeks to reinvent the study of colonial representations. That is, it seeks to reinvent the discussion of colonial representations as a historical not just a discursive subject.

Finally, the Moroccan colonial archive also provided the ideological template for the French protectorate over Morocco, a model of indirect rule that claimed to be deeply respectful of Moroccan traditions and culture and pre-existing Moroccan state structures. By governing through the sultan and his makhzan officials and showing respect for established procedures, so it is said, France was able to provide its colonial rule with legitimacy in the eyes of both Moroccans and Europeans. The French protectorate over Morocco under Resident General Hubert Lyautey posed as the very essence of enlightened colonial rule.

In fact, however, the protectorate government was based not upon the complex and historically grounded understandings of Moroccan society produced by the researchers of the Mission scientifique du Maroc, but instead upon the social binaries of French colonial Algeria that it claimed to have rejected. So successful was the French marketing of the idea of the protectorate, however, that few observers (French or Moroccan) were willing to criticize the gap between expressed ideals and actual practices.

Edmund Burke, III is Research Professor of modern Middle Eastern and World history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he directs the Center for World History. Burke is the author and editor of numerous books and articles on Middle East and North African history, orientalism, environmental history and world history. His new book is The Ethnographic State: France and the Invention of Moroccan Islam


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Statement by Professors of Jewish Studies in North America Regarding the AMCHA Initiative Thu, 02 Oct 2014 04:27:15 +0000 Received by email attachment)

Statement by Professors of Jewish Studies in North America Regarding the AMCHA Initiative

We the undersigned are professors of Jewish studies at North American universities. Several of us have also headed programs and centers in Jewish studies. Many of us have worked hard to nurture serious, sustained study of Israeli politics and culture on our home campuses and elsewhere . It is in this latter regard that we call attention to the activities of an organization called the AMCHA Initiative whose mission is “investigating, educating about, and combatting antisemitism at institutions of higher learning in America.” Most recently , AMCHA has undertaken to monitor centers for Middle Eastern studies on American campuses including producing a lengthy report on UCLA’s in which that center is accused of antisemitism. AMCHA has also circulated a list of more than 200 Middle Eastern stud ies faculty whom it urges Jewish students and others to avoid because, it asserts, they espouse anti -­‐ Zionist and even antisemitic viewpoints in their classrooms. It goes without saying that we, as students of antisemitism, are unequivocally opposed to any and all traces of this scourge. That said, we find the actions of AMCHA deplorable. Its technique of monitoring lectures, symposia and conferences strains the basic principle of academic freedom on which the American university is built.

Moreover, it s definition of antisemitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless. Instead of encouraging openness through its efforts, AMCHA’s approach closes off a ll but the most narrow intellectual directions and has a chilling effect on research and teaching. AMCHA’s methods lend little support to Israel, whose very survival depends on free, open, and vigorous debate about its future. Universities and colleges are designed to provide opportunities to students to consider the world around them from a wide r ange of perspectives. The institutions where we teach, as well as many others we know well ( including those appearing on AMCHA’s list ) , offer a broad array of courses dealing with Israel and Palestinian affairs. None of these, whether supportive or critical of Israeli policy, ought to be monitored for content or political orientation.

We find it regrettable that AMCHA, so intent on combatting the boycott of Israel, has launched a boycott initiative of its own. This further degrades the currency of academic freedom. AMCHA’s tactics are designed to stifle debate on issues debated in Israel and around the world, and the presumption that students must be protected from their own universities is misguided and destructive. Efforts such as these do not promo te academic integrity, but rather serve to deaden the kind of spirited academic exchange that is the lifeblood of the university.

Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley
David Biale, University of California, Davis
Matti Bunzl, University of Illinois, Champagne
Urbana Hasia R. Diner, New York University
Nathaniel Deutsch, University of California, Santa Cruz
John M. Efron, University of California, Berkeley
Yael Feldman, New York University
Charlotte Fonrobert, Stanford
Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth
Hannan Hever, Yale University
Marion Kaplan, New York University
Ari Y. Kelman, Stanford
Shaul Magid, Indiana University
Frances Malino, Wellesley College
Barbara E. Mann, Jewish Theological Seminary
Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan
David N. Myers, University of California, Los Angeles
Anita Norich, University of Michigan
Derek Penslar, University of Toronto/University of Oxford
Riv-Ellen Prell, University of Minnesota
Aron Rodrigue, Stanford
Marsha Rozenblit, University of Maryland
Naomi Seidman, Graduate Theological Union
Jeffrey Shandler, Rutgers
Eugene Sheppard, Brandeis
Sarah Abrevaya Stein, University of California, Los Angeles
Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan
Sam Wineburg, Stanford
Diane Wolf, University of California, Davis
Steven J. Zipperstein, Stanford


Related video added by Juan Cole:

TheRealNews: “Chris Hedges on “Israel’s War on American Universities” Full Event”

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Denying ISIL Legitimacy and the problem of Radical Returnees Thu, 02 Oct 2014 04:25:57 +0000 By Akil N. Awan via The National Interest

Last week, President Barack Obama chaired a special meeting of the UN Security Council in which member states passed a resolution establishing an international legal framework to help prevent the recruitment and transport of would-be foreign fighters from joining terrorist groups. As expected, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2148 on Foreign Terrorist Fighters passed unanimously.

Hardly surprising, considering the alacrity and sheer audacity with which ISIS continues to expand in Syria and Iraq, drawing foreigners from every corner of the globe, willing to fight and die for its nascent Caliphate. Indeed, some estimates place the number of foreign fighters within ISIS at around 12,000 individuals, originating from no less than eighty-one different countries; a truly globalized mobilization on an epic scale.

As realization gradually dawns upon the international community of the grave consequences for both state and society, should citizens decide to take up arms with brutal and extreme outfits like ISIS, many countries have scrambled to instate strategies for dealing with not just the recruitment of fighters, but also the inevitable influx of returnees once the conflict is over.

Fighters returning from the front lines, brutalized by the ravages of war and potentially suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, may prove incapable of easily slipping back into their respective host societies. More ominously, some will also have engaged in horrific sectarian violence or egregious human-rights violations that have become hallmarks of the conflict. The social media accounts of some Western Jihadists, tweeting images of grisly executions and “selfies” with severed heads, or the prominence of individuals like Jihadi John, the Briton who was shown brutally beheading American and British hostages, is testament to the barbarity many fighters have not just been immersed within, but have positively relished. Naturally, these revelations will prove all the more troubling, should these men choose to return home. Indeed, a small minority may have already brought violence back with them, as the recent example of Mehdi Nemmouche clearly shows; Nemmouche spent more than a year fighting in Syria and is now the prime suspect in an anti-Semitic attack on a Jewish museum in Belgium that left four people dead in May.

How then, should states deal with their errant sons, who choose to return home once the conflict has lost its glamour and appeal?

Essentially, there are really only three options on the table.

Firstly, states could potentially opt to revoke citizenship. The Canadian government has just announced precisely that, citing its long-established Canadian Passport Order, which gives officials the right to terminate citizens’ travel papers. However, for most countries, this is likely to be a nonstarter. Unless the accused happened to possess dual nationality, it would be deemed illegal to render a person stateless under existing UN conventions and therefore violate international law, as British governmental lawyers recently established. Moreover, IS has issued new passports to their fighters, many of whom publicly burnt their original national identity documents in response. And so invalidating citizenship would inadvertently place Islamic State’s claims to sovereignty and allegiance on equal footing with bona fide nation-states, and therefore only serve to reinforce the perception of IS as a legitimate alternative polity in the international order.

The second option would be to rehabilitate returnees by disengaging them from violence (commonly referred to as de-radicalization). The British government, in the panicked wake of the Jihadi John situation, recently announced that British jihadists returning from Iraq and Syria would be forced to attend “de-radicalization” programs, “in order to reverse their warped brainwashing.” Whilst this strategy is far preferable to rendering individuals stateless, for those of us who study radicalization, and attempt to understand the heady appeal that ISIS, Al Qaeda or indeed any form of violent extremism holds for some young people, these sorts of pronouncements do pose some concerns.

For a start, the term radicalization itself is highly problematic, being born out of necessity in the post-9/11, and particularly, post-7/7 world, in which the alarming inability of policy makers to explain the advent of home-grown terrorism to an increasingly anxious and accusing public led to the rise of the term as a means of encapsulating the phenomenon in an inscrutable but self-explanatory bubble. In other words, radicalization gave us a tidy means of packaging our uncertainty and incomprehension without necessarily engaging with or interrogating why these things might be happening. So, the underlying mechanisms and factors involved in radicalization are still not at all well understood by academics. In fact, many scholars have critiqued the unhelpfulness of the term, with some even calling into question the phenomenon’s existence. Consequently, if we are not quite sure what causes radicalization, or even of what it actually is, then the prospect of reverse-engineering a viable remedy in response (i.e. de-radicalization), remains an unlikely possibility.

More problematically, radicalization and de-radicalization have functional analogues in now-obsolete terms like “brainwashing” and its antonym “de-programming.” The former was extensively employed during the 1960s and ’70s to describe and explain the appeal of religious sects, cults and new-age movements to young people, whereas the latter described the unethical coercive interventions made by their families and psychotherapists to reverse and rescue them from their “lifestyle choices.” Needless to say, both of these controversial concepts have been comprehensively debunked since then, and have now dropped out of common parlance.

So what, then, does this bode for de-radicalization strategies? Well, many countries, including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Singapore, Germany, Yemen and the UK, have experimented extensively with these types of interventions, with varying degrees of success. However, what is now patently clear is that many “successful” de-radicalization programs have not de-radicalized extremists per se, but rather, have instead disengaged them from violence at home. In other words, they have simply modified behavior using a range of incentives, rather than fundamentally altering beliefs and attitudes. The Saudis, for example, who run one of the most lauded programs, have enjoyed some success by throwing money at the problem, financing apartments, weddings and new lifestyles for would-be Jihadist penitents, in attempts to engender loyalty to the regime by acting as the magnanimous paternalistic state. Ironically, the Saudis used the same strategy to forestall the Arab Spring from gaining traction within the Kingdom, extending additional benefits worth around $127 billion to citizens, in order to assuage political and economic dissent.

Like many others, the Saudis have also invested heavily in theological de-radicalization, using regime clerics to undermine the distorted religious underpinnings of Jihad. However, considering that Saudi Arabian petrodollars have been largely responsible for exporting the puritanical, intolerant and fundamentalist strain of Islam that is most closely associated with Jihadism, it is highly questionable whether we should be looking to them for guidance on this issue. Moreover, if, as we now know, religion is less of a motive for, and more a motif of, violent extremism, then no amount of moderate, mainstream reading of scripture is likely to have a significant impact. The same holds true for those individuals who may have already internalized a retrograde and extreme religious ideology, and are likely to view de-radicalizing religious authorities as tainted by complicity with and subservience to a secular “illegitimate” state. Perhaps most importantly, rates of recidivism do not particularly inspire confidence in these methods, with significant numbers of graduates of this type of de-radicalization program having already returned to violent extremism.

So we need to be clear that de-radicalization does not represent some easy panacea. This process will take time and patience, in which we focus on disengaging young people from violence, but also acknowledging the uncomfortable truth that we may not be able to cognitively change their beliefs and attitudes in many cases. If, for example, a young jihadist was politically radicalized by anger at the West’s intervention in Iraq, viewing it as predicated on deceit, greed and neoimperialism, and being largely responsible for the quagmire that is now Iraq, then de-radicalization is unlikely to change that view, particularly when it is shared by many in wider society. However, rehabilitative intervention might be able to de-legitimize violence as a response, and aim for political socialization of the individual towards other more legitimate modes of political engagement instead. Both policy makers and academics will also need to adopt a much more nuanced understanding of the problem that they define as radicalization, before they can provide other useful solutions and answers.

The third and final option being mooted by some governments, is to seek a punitive, rather than rehabilitative, response by criminalizing all those who return from fighting in Syria. And whilst we certainly should hold those who have committed crimes accountable, in the absence of clear evidence of criminality, this is simply not feasible for the rest. Not only is it impracticable and cost-prohibitive, but also morally indefensible, considering that some of the young men and women who traveled there to fight did so for largely altruistic reasons, moved by the plight of Syrians suffering under Assad’s brutal regime. Of course, others had far less idealistic motives, stirred by the thrill of adventure, or escapism from the ennui of their lives back home, or simply swept up in the raw euphoria of being part of the Jihadist zeitgeist. Many of these young people will no doubt have made mistakes in their youthful exuberance that they will surely come to regret later. How many of us are now proud of every life decision we made at the age of nineteen?

Perhaps most importantly, those who willingly return, have at some level rejected the Jihadists’ penchant for bloodshed and violent excess, along with their frighteningly dystopic and intolerant vision of the future. Perhaps, like George Orwell, Laurie Lee and other International Brigadeers who travelled abroad to fight in the Spanish Civil War, but later returned disenchanted and jaded by their experiences, Jihadist returnees will also become effective proselytizers against the lost innocence of youthful naiveté and soured idealism.

Naturally, as the military action against IS gains traction, we also have to be cognizant of the fairly remote possibility that in desperation, IS may retaliate by directing foreign fighters to return to their host countries, with the aim of “bringing the war home” through domestic terrorist attacks. So we will need to find mechanisms for differentiating between genuinely disenchanted returnees and those who may feign remorse and disillusionment in order to infiltrate their host societies.

However, the discussion of hypothetical sleeper agents and Manchurian candidates is distracting from the very real prospect at hand—that we have an opportunity before us to utilize these disillusioned young men and women as assets in our war against IS, in the same way that we already successfully employ ex-members in the various struggles against gangs, drugs, crime and even terrorism.

These individuals have stared into the abyss and found it wanting. Instead, they have chosen to renege on the path that promised violence, death and martyrdom, and that surely is some small victory for our way of life, and one that should be celebrated and utilized to delegitimize IS for others.

Akil N. Awan is Assistant Professor in Modern History, Political Violence and Terrorism at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research interests are focused around the history of terrorism, radicalization, social movements, protest, and new media. In addition, he is also Research Associate with the New Political Communication Unit, with the Centre for Public History, and the Centre for Minority Studies. Dr. Awan is regularly consulted by government bodies, think-tanks, media and other organizations in his fields of expertise, and has served in an advisory capacity to the UK Home Office, the Foreign Office, the US State Department, and the US Military amongst others. Most recently, he served as special advisor on Radicalization to the UK Parliament, and as academic expert on Genocide to the UK House of Lords delegation to Srebrenica. Follow him on Twitter: @Akil_N_Awan.

Mirrored from The National Interest by the author’s permission.


Related video added by Juan Cole:


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Palestine goes to UN Security Council to Demand Israeli Withdrawal by 2016 Thu, 02 Oct 2014 04:10:16 +0000 By Juan Cole

AP reports that Palestine is presenting a resolution to the United Nations Security Council calling for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, by 2016. Palestine will argue that Israel has systematically and over decades violated all the international laws regulating military occupations, and that it is quickly marching toward being an Apartheid state (Apartheid is itself a form of crime against humanity).

The UN Security Council has five permanent and ten rotating members, but each of the five permanent members can exercise a veto. The United States, despite prevaricating statements attempting to represent itself as an honest broker, has almost always vetoed any UNSC resolution criticizing Israeli actions, even though these actions clearly violate the Hague Regulations on Occupied Territories, the Geneva Conventions, the Rome Statute and other bodies of international law.

So the likelihood is that the US will veto the resolution of Mahmoud Abbas. Though who knows, maybe a lame duck Barack Obama will finally show some spine and simply abstain instead of vetoing. The UNSC can put economic sanctions on Israel if it is defied (just as it has sanctioned Iran and North Korea, two other egregious violators of international human rights norms.)

If the US does veto the resolution, then Washington is clearly saying that it is all right with American elites if Israel goes on stealing Palestinian land on a vast scale and expropriating and oppressing the stateless Palestinians under its boot.

In that case, Palestinian circles are suggesting that Mahmoud Abbas will have no choice but finally to go to the International Criminal Court to charge Israel with crimes against humanity (i.e. systematic war crimes). This step is serious, since the US cannot block the ICC and any judgment it delivered against Israel would be taken seriously in the European Union and many other countries.

I wrote last spring:

Palestine president Mahmoud Abbas … signed a some 15 international treaties and UN legal instruments, including the Geneva Conventions, in preparation for going to the International Criminal Court over Israel’s illegal flooding of hundreds of thousands of Israeli squatters into the West Bank. These squatters have for the most part never paid Palestinians for the land on which they build their homes. They completely exclude Palestinians from their colonies on Palestinian land. Often they prevent Palestinian farmers from harvesting their crops near the settlements. They commit vandalism against Palestinian property and sometimes just shoot down Palestinian civilians. Over time, they aim to make an Palestinian state impossible by turning it prospective territory into Swiss cheese…

. . . the Palestinians signed the UN instruments and treaties that would strengthen their hand when and if they take their case to the International Criminal Court. They are also joining more UN agencies and committees, something both Israel and the US have opposed, since they don’t want Palestine recognized as a state by the international community before Israel itself can set the terms for such a state.

The ICC was established by the 2002 Rome Statute, so that previous generations of Palestinians would not have been able to resort to it. Even then, it could only take up cases of member nations, and since Israel had not signed the treaty and Palestine was not a member state, the ICC could not consider the case of Palestine until recently. Another way a non-member state can be taken to the ICC is if the UN Security Council forwards a case to it. But the US screws over the Palestinians by consistently vetoing any UNSC ruling against Israel.

When the United Nations General Assembly voted in 2012 to admit Palestine as a non-member UN observer state’]) United Nations General Assembly voted in 2012 to admit Palestine as a non-member UN observer state (the same status as the Vatican enjoys), however, it opened the door for Palestine to take Israel’s squatting policy to the ICC. Palestine as an observer state can sign the Rome Statute and can initiate a case against Israel. Previous to 2012, Palestinians had no standing before the court since they were not recognized as a state at all.

The Palestinian leadership is said to have unanimously backed Abbas in taking this step.

Abbas said, “We do not want to use this right against anyone, and do not want a confrontation with America. For we have an excellent relationship with it.” He praised Secretary of State John Kerry for his energetic diplomacy on the issue.

“We just could find no other path forward.” Given Israeli footdragging on the prisoner release, Abbas said, he was going to join UN organizations and agencies. He had agreed to put that off for 9 months, but that period has come to a close.

Palestine has gained nothing from the negotiations, since Israel has increased the size of the settlements and announced thousands of new housing units on Palestinian land since August when they began. In essence, Israel has been grabbing up the very territory over which the negotiations are being held– sort of like if you’re talking with friend how to share a piece of cake when suddenly he starts eating it up.



Related Video:

Euronews: “Abbas describes Israel’s ‘war of genocide’”

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Netanyahu’s Nuclear Hypocrisy on Iran; In fact, Everyone in the ME needs to Disarm Wed, 01 Oct 2014 04:32:25 +0000 By Farhad Malekafzali

With negotiations to limit Iran’s enrichment in return for easing of economic sanctions on the verge of failure, hopes for a step-by-step diplomacy to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program are once again dashed.

The decade old debate regarding Iran’s nuclear program has largely centered on denying Iran capacity to build nuclear weapons because Iran’s leaders are too fanatical to be trusted with nuclear weapons and thus if they are allowed to build nuclear weapons, they would use them not as deterrence but rather to attack Israel or the “West.” As Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu stated before the UNGA on September 30, 2014:

“Once Iran produces atomic bombs, all the charm and all the smiles will suddenly disappear. They’ll just vanish. It’s then that the ayatollahs will show their true face and unleash their aggressive fanaticism on the entire world. There is only one responsible course of action to address this threat: Iran’s nuclear military capabilities must be fully dismantled. Make no mistake – ISIS must be defeated. But to defeat ISIS and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war.”

Therefore, with the threat of military action in the background, economic sanctions are used to compel the regime to end its nuclear weapons program.

Since 2007, with intelligence reports showing Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003, the focus of US policy has shifted to preventing Iran from developing even an independent civilian nuclear technology, ostensibly to deny Iran the know-how to develop nuclear weapons quickly in the event of a crisis, what is called breakout technology.

A fundamental question not raised by mainstream media and some established academics and the likes of Netanyahu is if Iran wants the capability to develop nuclear weapons, what could be her reasons.

One possible reason, and the most obvious, is that Israel, less than a thousand miles away, has hundreds of nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them to targets deep inside Iran. As with the United States and the Soviet Union after WWII, if one side has nuclear weapons, it would be difficult to expect the other side not to develop the same capabilities. To refrain from doing so would be to place national security at the mercy of another country, your foe. In fact, once parity is achieved, the relationship between nuclear powers is supposed to stabilize. There would be no temptation to use nuclear weapons, even to put pressure on the other side for political reasons (nuclear blackmail) out of fear of escalation. Rationality, a shared human trait, dictates that neither side would risk nuclear annihilation.

Any nuclear attack would bring massive retaliation that result in mutual destruction. In the case of Iran and Israel, Iran will not be able to destroy Israel’s retaliatory capabilities. Israel’s nuclear weapons are spread on land, in the air and on submarines. But even if Iran could destroy Israel’s capacity to retaliate, the relatively short distances and the prevailing easterly winds will guarantee that its nuclear blasts over Israel would shower its own people with deadly radioactive material in a rather short order.

Second, Iran does not have a modern conventional force while Israel has a large stockpile of latest American made weapons and well-trained personnel to use them. Iranians, in contrast, have been denied access to modern conventional weapons for at least 25 years including defensive systems such as the Russian SAM-300 surface to air missile system largely because of American pressure.

Lastly, there is a large American military presence around Iran. U.S. Navy has been present in Persian Gulf since the 1980s. Since 2002, U.S. ground forces have been stationed in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. The United States has invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq in clear violation of international norms and based on manufactured evidence in only the last dozen years. It has armed Saudi Arabia and UAE heavily for the past twenty years with some of America’s most sophisticated missiles and fighter-bombers. Sitting in Tehran, it is difficult for the rulers of Iran not to fear an American invasion. As far as they can see it, if Saddam Hussein had nuclear capability, he would still be in power in Iraq. Nuclear weapons or more likely the capability to build them in a hurry could act as an independent deterrence against the United States and its regional allies.

Given Iran’s weak conventional forces, even nuclear disarmament is only a first step that should be followed by deep cuts in offensive conventional weapons in the whole of Middle East. It is unlikely for Iran, as a rational actor, to abandon the only means of deterrence available to it if the threat of an American invasion remains on the table. Arms reductions by US allies to defensive levels and departure of US forces are the only rational foreign policy options that would insure the security of every state in the region while still fitting into the United States’ and Israeli security interests, even if the central issue of Israeli occupation-Palestinian rights is left untouched.

Israel does not need a conventional force with powerful offensive capability. It has peace treaties with two of its neighbors, Egypt and Jordan. It would have been able to sign a favorable peace treaty with Syria in 2006 if it had wanted to, and the weakened Assad would be at least as ready to sign one today. The Arab League’s 2002 proposal offering Israel both recognition and full diplomatic relations in return for Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders is still on the table. As for US’ Arab allies, even with cuts in their armed forces, they will have enough to keep themselves in power. For the US, departure of its ground forces from the region alone can do much to improve its negative image among the Arab and Muslim publics. There is no reason for maintaining a naval presence in the Persian Gulf either. Countries in the region depend on oil revenues for the bulk of their annual national budgets and thus have no logical reason to disrupt the flow of oil. A major obstacle to all of this, of course, is the profitable arms market. US sells 70% of the world’s weapons and most of that in the Middle East. Israel is the seventh largest exporter of arms worldwide.

Farhad Malekafzali is a political scientist and a teaching fellow at the University of Oregon.


Related video added by Juan Cole

‘Global threat worse than ISIS’: Netanyahu lashes out at Iran once again

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Failure Is Success: How American Intelligence Works in the Twenty-First Century Wed, 01 Oct 2014 04:31:24 +0000 By Tom Engelhardt

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: My new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (with an introduction by Glenn Greenwald), is now available everywhere.  If you've been a TomDispatch obsessive all these years, it’s your job to make it a success.  I’m counting on you!  If you want to support TomDispatch in an even bigger way, I’ll send you a signed, personalized copy of the book for a $100 donation to this site (which truly does help keep us alive). Check out the offer at our donation page.

About Shadow Government, Adam Hochschild, author most recently of To End All Wars, had this to say: “Tom Engelhardt is an iconoclast, but he also is the latest exemplar of a great American tradition. Like George Seldes and I.F. Stone before him, he has bypassed conventionally minded newspapers and magazines, and with his remarkable website and in books like this, found a way of addressing readers directly about the issues central to our time. Again and again, he goes to the heart of the matter, drawing on his awesomely wide reading, his knowledge of history, and his acute political radar system that uncovers small but deeply revealing nuggets of news and often makes me feel, enviously: how could I have missed that?”  And then there’s the book’s stunning cover photo (as well as the ones inside) by Trevor Paglen whose shots of the headquarters of our various intelligence services make you feel as if you’ve landed on another planet, which in a way you have. Tom]

Failure Is Success
How American Intelligence Works in the Twenty-First Century
By Tom Engelhardt

What are the odds? You put about $68 billion annually into a maze of 17 major intelligence outfits. You build them glorious headquarters.  You create a global surveillance state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities.  Your employees even morph into avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for… well, the salacious hell of it.  Your employees even use aspects of the system you’ve created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane world, that act of “spycraft” gains its own name: LOVEINT.

You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet.  You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees, creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first order.  You break into the “backdoors” of the data centers of major Internet outfits to collect user accounts.  You create new outfits within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted among those 17 agencies).  Your leaders lie to Congress and the American people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt.  Your acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of events and regularly rubberstamp them — and whose judgments and substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to know about.

You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn’t make it into our world.  You even have the legal ability to gag American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects that would displease you (and they can’t say that their mouths have been shut).  You undoubtedly spy on Congress.  You hack into congressional computer systems.  And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell the American public anything unauthorized about what you’re doing, you prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American people as if they were a foreign population).  You do everything to wreck their lives and — should one escape your grasp — you hunt him implacably to the ends of the Earth.

As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the intelligence-corporate complex.

What They Didn’t Know

Think of the world of the “U.S. Intelligence Community,” or IC, as a near-perfect closed system and rare success story in twenty-first-century Washington.  In a capital riven by fierce political disagreements, just about everyone agrees on the absolute, total, and ultimate importance of that “community” and whatever its top officials might decide in order to keep this country safe and secure.

Yes, everything you’ve done has been in the name of national security and the safety of Americans.  And as we’ve discovered, there is never enough security, not at least when it comes to one thing: the fiendish ability of “terrorists” to threaten this country.  Admittedly, terrorist attacks would rank above shark attacks, but not much else on a list of post-9/11 American dangers.  And for this, you take profuse credit — for, that is, the fact that there has never been a “second 9/11.”  In addition, you take credit for breaking up all sorts of terror plans and plots aimed at this country, including an amazing 54 of them reportedly foiled using the phone and email “metadata” of Americans gathered by the NSA.  As it happens, a distinguished panel appointed by President Obama, with security clearances that allowed them to examine these spectacular claims in detail, found that not a single one had merit.

Whatever the case, while taxpayer dollars flowed into your coffers, no one considered it a problem that the country lacked 17 overlapping outfits bent on preventing approximately 400,000 deaths by firearms in the same years; nor 17 interlocked agencies dedicated to safety on our roads, where more than 450,000 Americans have died since 9/11.  (An American, it has been calculated, is 1,904 times more likely to die in a car accident than in a terrorist attack.)  Almost all the money and effort have instead been focused on the microscopic number of terrorist plots — some spurred on by FBI plants — that have occurred on American soil in that period.  On the conviction that Americans must be shielded from them above all else and on the fear that 9/11 bred in this country, you’ve built an intelligence structure unlike any other on the planet when it comes to size, reach, and labyrinthine complexity.

It’s quite an achievement, especially when you consider its one downside: it has a terrible record of getting anything right in a timely way.  Never have so many had access to so much information about our world and yet been so unprepared for whatever happens in it.

When it comes to getting ahead of the latest developments on the planet, the ones that might really mean something to the government it theoretically serves, the IC is — as best we can tell from the record it largely prefers to hide — almost always behind the 8-ball.  It seems to have been caught off guard regularly enough to defy any imaginable odds. 

Think about it, and think hard.  Since 9/11 (which might be considered the intelligence equivalent of original sin when it comes to missing the mark), what exactly are the triumphs of a system the likes of which the world has never seen before?  One and only one event is sure to come immediately to mind: the tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden. (Hey, Hollywood promptly made a movie out of it!)  Though he was by then essentially a toothless figurehead, an icon of jihadism and little else, the raid that killed him is the single obvious triumph of these years.

Otherwise, globally from the Egyptian spring and the Syrian disaster to the crisis in Ukraine, American intelligence has, as far as we can tell, regularly been one step late and one assessment short, when not simply blindsided by events.  As a result, the Obama administration often seems in a state of eternal surprise at developments across the globe.  Leaving aside the issue of intelligence failures in the death of an American ambassador in Benghazi, for instance, is there any indication that the IC offered President Obama a warning on Libya before he decided to intervene and topple that country’s autocrat, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011?  What we know is that he was told, incorrectly it seems, that there would be a “bloodbath,” possibly amounting to a genocidal act, if Gaddafi’s troops reached the city of Benghazi.

Might an agency briefer have suggested what any reading of the results of America’s twenty-first century military actions across the Greater Middle East would have taught an observant analyst with no access to inside information: that the fragmentation of Libyan society, the growth of Islamic militancy (as elsewhere in the region), and chaos would likely follow?  We have to assume not, though today the catastrophe of Libya and the destabilization of a far wider region of Africa is obvious.

Let’s focus for a moment, however, on a case where more is known.  I’m thinking of the development that only recently riveted the Obama administration and sent it tumbling into America’s third Iraq war, causing literal hysteria in Washington.  Since June, the most successful terror group in history has emerged full blown in Syria and Iraq, amid a surge in jihadi recruitment across the Greater Middle East and Africa.  The Islamic State (IS), an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which sprang to life during the U.S. occupation of that country, has set up a mini-state, a “caliphate,” in the heart of the Middle East.  Part of the territory it captured was, of course, in the very country the U.S. garrisoned and occupied for eight years, in which it had assumedly developed countless sources of information and recruited agents of all sorts.  And yet, by all accounts, when IS’s militants suddenly swept across northern Iraq, the CIA in particular found itself high and dry.

The IC seems not to have predicted the group’s rapid growth or spread; nor, though there was at least some prior knowledge of the decline of the Iraqi army, did anyone imagine that such an American created, trained, and armed force would so summarily collapse.  Unforeseen was the way its officers would desert their troops who would, in turn, shed their uniforms and flee Iraq’s major northern cities, abandoning all their American equipment to Islamic State militants.

Nor could the intelligence community even settle on a basic figure for how many of those militants there were.  In fact, in part because IS assiduously uses couriers for its messaging instead of cell phones and emails, until a chance arrest of a key militant in June, the CIA and the rest of the IC evidently knew next to nothing about the group or its leadership, had no serious assessment of its strength and goals, nor any expectation that it would sweep through and take most of Sunni Iraq.  And that should be passing strange.  After all, it now turns out that much of the future leadership of IS had spent time together in the U.S. military’s Camp Bucca prison just years earlier.

All you have to do is follow the surprised comments of various top administration officials, including the president, as ISIS made its mark and declared its caliphate, to grasp just how ill-prepared 17 agencies and $68 billion can leave you when your world turns upside down. 

Producing Subprime Intelligence as a Way of Life

In some way, the remarkable NSA revelations of Edward Snowden may have skewed our view of American intelligence.  The question, after all, isn’t simply: Who did they listen in on or surveil or gather communications from?  It’s also: What did they find out?  What did they draw from the mountains of information, the billions of bits of intelligence data that they were collecting from individual countries monthly (Iran, 14 billion; Pakistan, 13.5 billion; Jordan, 12.7 billion, etc.)?  What was their “intelligence”?  And the answer seems to be that, thanks to the mind-boggling number of outfits doing America’s intelligence work and the yottabytes of data they sweep up, the IC is a morass of information overload, data flooding, and collective blindness as to how our world works.

You might say that the American intelligence services encourage the idea that the world is only knowable in an atmosphere of big data and a penumbra of secrecy.  As it happens, an open and open-minded assessment of the planet and its dangers would undoubtedly tell any government so much more.  In that sense, the system bolstered and elaborated since 9/11 seems as close to worthless in terms of bang for the buck as any you could imagine.  Which means, in turn, that we outsiders should view with a jaundiced eye the latest fear-filled estimates and overblown “predictions” from the IC that, as now with the tiny (possibly fictional) terror group Khorasan, regularly fill our media with nightmarish images of American destruction.

If the IC’s post-9/11 effectiveness were being assessed on a corporate model, it’s hard not to believe that at least 15 of the agencies and outfits in its “community” would simply be axed and the other two downsized.  (If the Republicans in Congress came across this kind of institutional tangle and record of failure in domestic civilian agencies, they would go after it with a meat cleaver.)  I suspect that the government could learn far more about this planet by anteing up some modest sum to hire a group of savvy observers using only open-source information.  For an absolute pittance, they would undoubtedly get a distinctly more actionable vision of how our world functions and its possible dangers to Americans.  But of course we’ll never know.  Instead, whatever clever analysts, spooks, and operatives exist in the maze of America’s spy and surveillance networks will surely remain buried there, while the overall system produces vast reams of subprime intelligence.

Clearly, having a labyrinth of 17 overlapping, paramilitarized, deeply secretive agencies doing versions of the same thing is the definition of counterproductive madness.  Not surprisingly, the one thing the U.S. intelligence community has resembled in these years is the U.S. military, which since 9/11 has failed to win a war or accomplish more or less anything it set out to do.

On the other hand, all of the above assumes that the purpose of the IC is primarily to produce successful “intelligence” that leaves the White House a step ahead of the rest of the world.  What if, however, it’s actually a system organized on the basis of failure?  What if any work-product disaster is for the IC another kind of win.

Perhaps it’s worth thinking of those overlapping agencies as a fiendishly clever Rube Goldberg-style machine organized around the principle that failure is the greatest success of all.  After all, in the system as it presently exists, every failure of intelligence is just another indication that more security, more secrecy, more surveillance, more spies, more drones are needed; only when you fail, that is, do you get more money for further expansion. 

Keep in mind that the twenty-first-century version of intelligence began amid a catastrophic failure: much crucial information about the 9/11 hijackers and hijackings was ignored or simply lost in the labyrinth.  That failure, of course, led to one of the great intelligence expansions, or even explosions, in history.  (And mind you, no figure in authority in the national security world was axed, demoted, or penalized in any way for 9/11 and a number of them were later given awards and promoted.)  However they may fail, when it comes to their budgets, their power, their reach, their secrecy, their careers, and their staying power, they have succeeded impressively.

You could, of course, say that the world is simply a hard place to know and the future, with its eternal surprises, is one territory that no country, no military, no set of intelligence agencies can occupy, no matter how much they invest in doing so.  An inability to predict the lay of tomorrow’s land may, in a way, be par for the course.  If so, however, remind me: Why exactly are we supporting 17 versions of intelligence gathering to the tune of at least $68 billion a year?

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt

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Related video added by Juan Cole

The Real News: “U.S. Intelligence Official: No Evidence ISIS Planning Imminent Attack on America”

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Drone Strikes as much an Obama Legacy as Health Care: John Oliver Wed, 01 Oct 2014 04:27:09 +0000 John Oliver

“The United States has launched a huge number of drone strikes under President Obama.
It’s widely accepted and extremely terrifying”

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Drones (HBO)

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$22 Billion to Fight ISIL in same Year Congress cut $8.7 bn in Food Stamps Wed, 01 Oct 2014 04:02:28 +0000 By Juan Cole

It was all the way back in February, so the memory of this headline has faded:

” Congress passes $8.7 billion food stamp cut

By Ned Resnikoff

It’s official: 850,000 households across the country are set to lose an average of $90 per month in food stamp benefits.

The Senate on Tuesday voted 68-32 to send the 2014 Farm Bill – which includes an $8.7 billion cut to food stamps – to President Obama’s desk. Nine Democrats opposed the bill, and 46 members of the Democratic caucus voted for it, joining 22 Republicans.”

The GOP Congress’s assault on the American working class has been waged with the pretext that the Federal government has no money (what with being in debt and all). This despite the money being owed to the American people on the whole, and despite the long tradition of deficits in government budgets, which have seldom in history been balanced. But note that when there was a Republican president in the zeroes, the same voices did not demand austerity, but ran up the deficit with obvious glee.

In contrast, Congress has no problem with the war on ISIL in Iraq and Syria, which could cost from $18 bn to $22 bn a year. Admittedly, in military terms this expense is relatively small. The point is that the same people who have trouble justifying a safety net for the working poor and find it urgent to cut billions from the programs that keep us a civilized society rather than a predatory jungle– the same people have no difficulty authorizing billions for vague bombing campaigns that are unlikely to be successful on any genuine metric.

The failure of an air campaign in Syria where there is no effective fighting force on the ground allied with the US, which could take advantage of the bombings, is becoming evident at Kobane. Despite US and other aerial bombings, ISIL fighters have moved to only a couple of miles from the besieged Kurdish city.

In contrast, in Iraq the Kurdish Peshmerga have taken a few villages and a border crossing with Syria back from ISIL in the past couple of days, and may have benefited in this push from close air support from the US and other governments. Even there, while intervention to stop the Kurdish capital of Erbil from falling to ISIL might be justifiable, helping the Kurdish Peshmerga capture Sunni Arab towns is a more delicate proposition.

In any case, all of a sudden I guess cost is no object for the Tea Party and its fellow travelers.


Related video

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