ISIL hits Syrian Regime in Shiite northwest, killing 150

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The leftist Beirut daily al-Safir reports that security in Syria broke down dramatically on Monday, as seven bombs timed to go off simultaneously hit soft targets in the Syrian Mediterranean cities of Jebleh and Tartus, killing some 150 persons and wounding 225
, the vast majority of them innocent noncombatants. Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), took responsibility for the carnage. The cities that were struck are vital transportation hubs.

Al-Safir says that the bombs were timed to hit commuters and students going to their exams. The Daesh claim of responsibility explicitly mentioned that the victims were hit because they were `Alawite Shiites. (Daesh, a hard line Salafi group, poses as a champion of Sunni Muslims).

The attacks were carried out, it said, by ten suicide bombers, two of them driving car bombs. They split into two teams of five each to target the two cities.

It is worth mentioning that Russia has naval docking rights at Tartus, and used an airport near the city to bring in the heavy military equipment it used to attack al-Qaeda, Daesh and other groups. It is thus a highly symbolic target.

It is near to the port of Latakia, the lifeline of the capital of Damascus.

Jebleh is in Latakia Province, a regime stronghold.

Some had attributed the attacks to the Freemen of Syria (Ahrar al-Sham), which on its twitter feed expressed satisfaction at the killing of Shiites. And, there were questions about the Daesh claim of responsibility, since it used a vocabulary different from its usual one.

Al-Safir says that the attacks were likely intended by Daesh to send the message that despite its losses in other provinces (it was expelled from Palmyra, e.g.), it is still relevant. Tartus, the capital of the province of the same name, and Jebleh in Latakia are Alawite Shiite population centers that oppose Daesh and other Sunni fundamentalists and are bedrocks of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. On the other hand, al-Safir points out that Tartus has doubled in size because of an influx of Sunni refugees, so that the numbers of Sunnis and Shiites in the city may just about be even. That is, many of the victims were likely displaced Sunnis.

That point brings up another theory, evident on social media from Tartus, in which locals speculated that the refugee population contained covert Daesh cells who carried out the attacks.

The hard line Salafi fundamentalists, including al-Qaeda, took neighboring Idlib province to the east and seemed poised to conquer Latakia and expel its Alawites when, in fall of 2015, Russia intervened and pushed the Salafis out of Latakia.

The proximity of al-Qaeda and the Freemen of Syria to these cities on the face of it makes it more likely that they are behind the bombings, though the tactics used are those of Daesh. Daesh’s population center is very distant, in eastern al-Raqqa Province.

The attacks put the lie to rumors that Tartus was relatively safe because of a secret international agreement.

In Jebleh the bombs went off at 9 am, 2 at a civil transportation garage and a third at the municipal electricity offices. A fourth was set off a the entrance of a hospital emergency room, killing and wounding medical personnel.

In Tartus, the gate of the city was closed for a while. The hospitals are calling for blood donations.

About a year ago, an attempt to set off a car bomb in Tartus was foiled.


Related video:

Euronews: “ISIL claims responsibility for multiple deadly attacks in Syria”

US Centcom Commander in Syria to Coordinate Kurds, Arabs against ISIL

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Robert Burns of AP reported on the visit inside Syria of the head of the US Middle East Command (Centcm), Army Gen. Joseph Votel, to assess the progress in US training of the Syrian Democratic Forces division. It is said to comprise 25,000 Kurdish fighters of the leftist YPG or People’s Protection Units along with 5,000 or 6,000 Arab fighters allied with the Kurds against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL).

A few dozen US troops are on the ground there, training the SDF, but the latter complain that Washington has provided them with no medium or heavy weaponry.

The US press pool was instructed not to say in what kind of aircraft Votel arrived or where exactly he met with the SDF, but the Arabic press is saying it was at Kobane, the largely Kurdish town that US air support helped save from deadly Daesh assaults.

The pro-Muqtada al-Sadr Iraqi news site,, denounced Votel’s visit as a clear violation of Syrian sovereignty, saying the US had declined to coordinate the visit with the legitimate Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. The site also accused the US of supporting, not just the leftist Kurds and their allies, but also hard line Salafi groups like the Army of Islam and the Freemen of Syria; it even said US support extended to the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front (this is not true), and that Saudi Arabia and Turkey were also behind the Salafis.

The Mahdi Army or Peace Brigades of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are fighting as a militia in Syria on the side of the government of Bashar al-Assad against the Salafis.

Votel’s visit, contrary to what Nahrainet says, had nothing to do with the Salafi groups. Rather, his 11 hours inside Syria were spent with the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are ideologically as far to the left as the Salafis are to the Right. It is in fact a remarkable development that the US should be putting its hopes for defeat of Daesh in Kurdish militias that were more or less Communists during the Cold War. In the post-Soviet period they have evolved in an anarchistic direction and could be called post-communist. The mixture of anarchism and socialism makes them sound like the Syndicalists of the early 20th century, alongside whom George Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War.

Votel’s visit was likely in preparation for a new, major campaign against Daesh, perhaps even an assault on Raqqa, the capital of the phony caliphate. The US appears to be eager to have the opposition militias, including Salafis, take and hold as much territory in Syria as they can before a permanent ceasefire sets in. Otherwise, there is a danger that with Russian backing the al-Assad regime could roll up a lot of the rebel forces and so reestablish its stability.

Russia is also friendly with the Syrian Kurds, so some of Washington’s new haste to deploy the SDF against Daesh may derive from fear that otherwise they might go to Russia for backing.

While the Obama administration’s initial commitments inside Syria were small, when you have a situation where the Centcom commander is illegally sneaking into another country to consult with 31,000 US-backed local troops, the potential for mission creep and troop escalation is serious.


Related video:

AFP from last Month: “Syria Kurds train new army to protect ‘federal region'”

Baghdad on Lockdown not from fear of ISIL but of poor Protesters

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Baghdad was a ghost town on Saturday,, as security forces fanned out, blocking key roads into the Green Zone, the area downtown, closed off by blast walls, that houses parliament and foreign embassies.

On Friday, over a hundred protesters were wounded and at least 2 died as crowds poured into the Green Zone for a second time in a month. Some attacked the home of Iraqi prime minister Haydar al-`Abadi. In response, he ordered a curfew in the capital that lasted until Saturday morning. Security forces expelled the crowds from the Green Zone, using live ammunition and tear gas.

On Saturday, huge crowds of mourners came out in East Baghdad, protesting the deaths and woundings of the protesters, and continuing their protest of the lack of security and services in the capital. In the past week a wave of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) bombings has killed dozens in the Iraqi capital, and several attacks targeted poor Shiite districts.

The hundreds of protesters who came to Baghdad’s Tahrir Square (liberation square) on Friday and then invaded the Green Zone have been characterized as “the poorest of the poor”, Shiite followers of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. That is, this turmoil is in part a class struggle between the disadvantaged Shiites in Iraq and the Shiite state bourgeoisie of post-Baath Iraq. One group is outside the system of well-heeled parties who control government patronage and the distribution of proceeds from the oil industry. The other group, much smaller, uses government positions to reward their party members.

Whether this class struggle can be contained or tamped down will determine Iraq’s future, since a Shiite on Shiite struggle would inevitably benefit Daesh and delay the decisive move on Mosul.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV News: ” Baghdad protests: 4 killed, 90 injured in riots in Baghdad’s Green Zone”

Egyptians “shocked” at Lieberman Appointment, note Barak’s accusation of “fascism” in Tel Aviv

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

What do Israel’s Arab neighbors think about the political earthquake that struck PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s cabinet on Thursday and Friday? Netanyahu invited into his government the far right Yisrael Beitenu ultra-nationalist party and offered the minister of defense position to extremist Avigdor Lieberman. He appears to have attempted to mollify the old defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, by offering him the foreign ministry. Yaalon angrily declined and announced his resignation from the government.

Al-Watan (The Nation, Cairo) reported these events, then noted that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak decried he “seeds of fascism” he sees infesting Netanyahu’s current government and Israeli society.

The changes matter to Egypt because the officer corps, led by former field marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is also the president, has to deal with the Israeli ministry of defense quite a lot, over issues of mutual concern in Gaza and Sinai, for instance. Making the Egyptians deal with Lieberman is a slap in the face to Cairo, given that he once suggested destroying the Aswan Dam and sweeping the Egyptians into the sea. Knowing that the erratic and extremist Lieberman has his finger on the nuclear button must also be nervous-making for the al-Sisi government. The pan-Arab leftwing London daily, al-Quds al-`Arabi, reported that circles around al-Sisi were “shocked” at the prospect of having to work with Lieberman, and that they consider his appointment a “red line” after he threatened them with genocide.

On the other hand, the anti-al-Sisi organ, Aljazeera, accused al-Sisi of admiring Netanyahu and of talking to him warmly every week. (Aljazeera favors the Muslim Brotherhood whereas al-Sisi and Netanyahu both see it as a threat).

Yaalon said when he resigned “I fought with all my might against manifestations of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society, which are threatening its sturdiness and trickling into the armed forces, hurting it already. . .”


Related video:

Euronews: “Netanyahu reshuffle means Israel being taken over by ‘extremists”

Israel: Netanyahu replies to Officers’ charges of Fascism, makes far Right Lieberman their boss

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bolstered his majority and rid himself of a troublesome voice of conscience Thursday by appointing the extremist Avigdor Lieberman minister of defense. This move strengthened Netanyahu’s hand politically, removing a critic in the form of Moshe Yaalon, the previous minister of defense. But it also sent a signal to Israel’s officer corps, which has been showing distinct unease at Netanyahu’s march of the country into Mussolini territory.

Part of the dispute is over the cold-blooded murder allegedly committed by a 19-year-old Israeli soldier with an extremist background, who was caught on camera killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant, Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif. Sharif had committed a knife attack before being incapacitated and searched. The video showed Azarya rushing back over, shouting angrily, and shooting the prostrate twenty-one year old in the head.

The Israeli officer corps insisted that Azarya be tried for manslaughter, apparently over the objections of Netanyahu, who called the soldier’s parents and expressed sympathy for him. The far, far-right Lieberman led a virulent campaign on behalf of Azarya.

This incident, and the extremist Israeli attacks on Palestinians, so alarmed deputy chief of staff 3Maj. Gen. Yair Golan that he went so far as to liken the “sickening” processes he saw taking place in Israel to Nazi Germany in the 1930s (note: not the 1940s, when the Holocaust took place).

Netanyahu rebuked the general, but Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon backed him. He gave his own speech in which he said that Israelis must comprehend the limits of power and “meticulously safeguard our purity of arms and our humanity, not lose our heads, … eradicate racism, violence, verbal and physical attacks on women and exclusion of the other.”

Netanyahu has now replaced Yaalon (a man of the right himself) with Avigdor Lieberman, who has been accused of racism. Lieberman once talked about destroying the Aswan Dam and sweeping 80 million Egyptians into the Mediterranean. He is in favor of expelling Palestinian-Israelis from Israel and taking away their citizenship unless they swear fealty to a Jewish state. He has been shadowed for years by corruption allegations, which even went to trial inconclusively. Lieberman, who wants to move around millions of Palestinians whose families have been living in the area from time immemorial, is a fairly recent immigrant from Moldova. In his youth, there, he worked as bouncer in a club.

This is no ordinary cabinet reshuffle. It is another step taken by the Israeli leadership into the dark side, as even its top generals recognize. Putting the civilian Lieberman, who has no particular military experience, over people like Gen. Golan as their boss sends the signal that the officer corps is to sit down and shut up, and let Netanyahu continue to move Israeli politics in the Mussolini direction.

Israeli journalists are fearful of criticizing Netanyahu. Rivals have accused him of trying to control the media. Human and civil rights in Israel and especially in the Occupied Territories where millions of Palestinians live, stateless, under Israeli military rule or under siege, and worsening by the month.

Netanyahu’s appointment drew forth a lot of hand wringing in the Israeli centrist and left of center press.

BBC Monitoring translated Yossi Verter, who wrote in Haaretz,

“Even in terms of the devoid of shame, morals and reins Israeli politics, the day which began with talk about a regional peace conference conducted by Buji Herzog and ended with the proposal to appoint the neighbourhood thug, Avigdor Lieberman, as defence minister, was one of the maddest and unexpected. The dismissal of Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon from his office at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv can have only one logical explanation: Binyamin Netanyahu’s growing fear of the imaginary axis Ya’alon-Eizenkot-Golan and the rest of the generals at the General Staff, who voice, each in his own turn and style, sane voices that are perceived at the Prime Minister’s bureau and official residence as a threat, defiance and challenging the rule of the imperial family.” (– Haaretz).

Yossi Yahushua wrote in Yediot Aharanot, BBC Monitoring says,

“Now it remains to be seen how Lieberman, who arrives with combative statements, will work with the level-headed officers at the top of the security establishment like Gadi Eizenkot, Yair Golan, Aviv Kochavi and Sami Turgeman… It is not the fear of a civilian defence minister or a right-wing man as the fear of an uncontrolled person who spoke extremely, mostly against the position of the security establishment which he will soon lead. Lieberman’s tuition fees could endanger the lives of all of us.”

Even in the pro-Netanyahu, freely distributed rag funded by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, Haim Shine wrote, “In my opinion the appointment of Lieberman as defence minister is not fitting . . . There is no precedent in Israeli history to a defence minister in the image and behaviour of Lieberman. It is very regrettable that we reached this time.”

Source: Quotes package from BBC Monitoring, in English 19 May 16

It is indeed regrettable that we have reached this time.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Netanyahu Pulls Off a Piece of Political Sleight of Hand Worthy of “House of Cards”

Baghdad takes Rutba from ISIL: Jordan-Iraq Commercial Route to Reopen

by Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iraqi forces have taken Rutba in al-Anbar province, hundreds of kilometers west of the provincial capital, Ramadi, which is also now in government hands (though much of its population is displaced). Only a few dozen Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) forces were in Rutba in the end and Iraqi armor and artillery forced them out.

BBC Monitoring translated from al-Mada,

“Al-Anbar police chief, Gen Hadi Rozaij, announced on 17 May that all areas located in Al-Rotba district of Al-Anbar Province, west of Baghdad, were completely recaptured and that the Iraqi flag was raised on its buildings, privately-owned Al-Mada Press news website reported.

He said that tens of Islamic State group (IS, also ISIS/ISIL) were killed and that the forces started to comb the residential areas for any explosive devices left by the extremist group, Al-Mada Press said.”

Jordan has announced that it is now preparing to reopen the border crossing with Iraq. Authorities in the kingdom are especially eager to reopen the land route between Basra and al-Zarqa’, so as to bring petroleum to the refinery in the latter.

One of the sticking points in the negotiations is the Jordan doesn’t want the guards on the Iraqi side to consist of members of the Shiite militias or popular mobilization units. Jordan is a Sunni country (10% of its population is Christian), and its leaders view Shiite Islam with distrust. They consider the Shiite militias to have committed atrocities against Sunni populations, so they don’t want them right on their border. Given the bad security situation in Baghdad these days, with another big loss of life from multiple Daesh bombings on Tuesday, it is not clear that the government can spare the troops for border duty hundreds of kilometers from the Iraqi capital.

The road from Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad has been an economic lifeline for both countries for decades. During the heavy US/UN sanctions of the 1990s, Jordanian truckers and smugglers helped Iraq sidestep the economic boycott. Jordan’s own economy, with few profit centers, benefits from trade with Iraq.

One of the casualties of the rise of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) in 2014 in western and northern Iraq was precisely this commerce between Jordan and Iraq. Jordan, overwhelmed with Syrian refugees and struggling economically, is desperate to see the road to Baghdad reopened.

The Jordan Times reported in April, “Jordan’s exports to Iraq in 2015 stood at $690 million compared to $1.16 billion in 2014. . .” And 2014 had already seen a sharp drop in trade because of the fall of Mosul and al-Anbar Province to Daesh.

Jordan only has a nominal GDP of about $35 billion, so a gain in trade of half a billion or perhaps as much as a billion dollars is quite significant for its prosperity.

The question is whether, given the parliamentary infighting and governmental paralysis in Baghdad, the Iraqi government can keep the road clear of Daesh elements.


Related video:

Newsbeat Social: “Iraq Recaptures Rutba from ISIS”

Posted in Featured,Iraq | 2 Responses | Print |

Can Iran sue the US for Coup & supporting Saddam in Iran-Iraq War?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iranian members of parliament have approved the details of a bill that insists US compensate Iran for its crimes against that country.

The bill comes as a result of a $2 billion judgment against Iran entered by a US court and backed by an act of the US Congress, on behalf of the families of Marines killed in a Beirut bombing in 1983. Iran was allegedly behind the attack, though responsibility for it was attributed to a fundamentalist Lebanese Shiite splinter group that was a predecessor of Hizbullah.

BBC Monitoring translated from the website of the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency (ICANA) in Persian 0622 gmt 17 May 16:

“The bill is entitled “Requiring the government to pursue compensation for damages incurred as a result of US actions and crimes against Iran and Iranian nationals”.

It was unveiled following a controversial US Supreme Court ruling that allows the use of nearly two billion dollars from Iran’s frozen assets as compensation for US “victims of terrorist acts sponsored by Iran”.

Of the 203 MPs present at the open session, 131 voted “Yes”, 10 “No”, and nine abstained.

Details of the bill

Article 1 of the bill, which was passed on 17 May, lists the following nine events as instances of “US crimes”:

“1) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the 1953 coup d’etat [that removed popular democratic leader Mohammad Mossaddeq from power];

“2) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the Nozheh [Nojeh] coup d’etat [a foiled attempt in 1980 by a group of armed forces personnel that sought to topple the newly formed Islamic Republic];

“3) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the Imposed War [Iran’s name for the 1980s war with Iraq];

“4) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the martyrdom of over 223,000, and the self-sacrifices of another 600,000 (war prisoners and war disabled) [still referring to the Iran-Iraq war];

“5) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the martyrdom of 17,0000 assassinated martyrs [no elaborations provided];

“6) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the attacks on oil rigs [during the Iran-Iraq war];

“7) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of anti-Iran espionage conducted, sponsored or supported by the United Sates;

“8) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of blocking, seizing or interfering with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s assets and finances – including those of government and public organisations and institutions, as well as Iranian officials;

“9) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the actions undertaken, as well those which will be undertaken in the future, by the usurping Zionist regime – which have been carried out with the support or partial role of the US;”

The differences are not moral or legal high ground, but practical. Iran just doesn’t have possession of US assets that it can sequester. In contrast, the US froze billions in Iranian accounts in the US after the 1979 revolution. (This is Iran’s money and the US has no legal right to it, contrary to what Donald Trump keeps alleging).

It is not in fact clear that Iran was responsible for the 1983 bombing, though allies of Iran were.

But it certainly is the case that the US overthrew the elected government of Iran in 1953 and imposed a brutal dictatorship on the country, so as, in part, to dictate to Iran the terms on which it could export petroleum. And, it certainly did trillions of dollars of harm to Iran as a result.

It is also the case that the Reagan administration sided with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its war of aggression on Iran, supplying Iraq with weaponry and intel and even precursers for biological and chemical weapons. The chemical weapons were used on Iranian troops at the front. When Iran sought to have Iraq condemned for chemical weapons use at the UN Security Council, the Reagan administration ran interference for Saddam Hussein and prevented a UNSC condemnation of Baghdad.

Just to show that hypocrisy never goes out of style, Iraq’s use of chemical weapons was cited as a casus belli by the George W. Bush administration for its war of aggression in 2003.

So, yes, I think the harm the US did Iran during the Iran-Iraq War could well also be worth trillions. The blocking of a UNSC condemnation of Iraqi chemical weapons use alone would be worth that.

Iran won’t see a dime.

But it is the case that in a world where courts are making claims for universal jurisdiction, the US should be careful about litigating past political and military conflicts. Washington’s list of crimes is so long that sooner or later it will boomerang on the US elites.


Related video:

PressTV: “Iran MPs want US to pay for damage inflicted since 1953”

Posted in Featured,Iran | 18 Responses | Print |

British PM Cameron’s tiff with Trump over Muslims: The Hypocrisy Factor

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

When Donald Trump announced his monstrous and yet daffy plan to exlude Muslims from the United States (what with being, himself, both monstrous and yet daffy), British Prime Minister David Cameron called him out. The plan, he said, is “divisive, stupid and wrong.”

Trump gave an interview with Piers Morgan on British TV on Monday in which he threatened the United Kingdom with retaliation.

“It looks like we’re not going to have a very good relationship. Who knows, I hope to have a good relationship with him but it sounds like he’s not willing to address the problem either . . . Number one, I’m not stupid, okay? I can tell you that right now. Just the opposite. Number two, in terms of divisive, I don’t think I’m a divisive person, I’m a unifier, unlike our president now, I’m a unifier.”

Thereby proving that Cameron was right on all three counts. The prime minister’s office said he stood by his remarks. (Good on him!)

But what shouldn’t be lost in all this is that Cameron himself hasn’t exactly been good on Muslim issues in the UK. He’s been supercilious, condescending, and tone deaf. And he’s made some stupid and divisive proposals, as well.

Britain has a population of about 64 million. Of those, about 3.1 million are Muslims, about 5 percent of the population. In 2015, 13 Muslims were elected to the British parliament, six of them women, and three of them in Cameron’s party.

The US has more Muslims, but is a much bigger country, so their percentage here is much smaller, about 1% or maybe more depending on how many exactly there are (no one knows– the estimates range from 3 to 6 million).

Obviously, Trump’s discourse about Muslims is a much bigger thing in the UK, where the proportion of Muslims is similar to the proportion of Asian-Americans in the US.

Cameron wants to Muslims who don’t learn English well enough to pass a test within 2 and a half years of arrival. Asked if he would split up families by, e.g., sending out a mother of children and wife resident with her husband, he said there could be no guarantee of staying if the person kept failing the English test.

This proposal is just about as objectionable as Trump’s own ideas. There are millions of people in the US who don’t have very good English, or any at all. If Trump had threatened to arrest and deport them and break up families, even if they were legal immigrants, wouldn’t that be as outrageous as some of the other things he has said?

Cameron maintained that the reason for which a few tens of thousands of recently immigrated Muslim women did not know English was because their husbands are backward and controlling and keeping them isolated. That they might be busy raising children and running households and that they might not have avenues into British society– or even that they might not be good at languages– doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.

Then there was Home Minister Theresa May’s daffy allegation that there there was a sophisticated Salafi plot to take over 21 Birmingham schools in poor, disproportionately Muslim, areas. It was based on what is now widely considered a fraudulent letter. An investigation didn’t find any such plot. It found some problems at five of the schools, not surprising given that they are in extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Cameron and his cabinet were so enthusiastic about Netanyahu’s brutal assault on defenseless little Gaza in 2014 that his only Muslim cabinet member, Lady Sayeeda Warsi, felt she had no choice but to resign.

So the idea of Cameron as a defender of Western Muslims or a condemner of Islamophobia is downright weird.

What the exchange shows is that the paternalistic, paranoid and casually insulting discourse of the Cameron crew about Muslims has been overshadowed by the truly monstrous and daffy Trump.


Related video:

New York Daily News: “Donald Trump to David Cameron: I’m not stupid, ok?”

Trump’s Politics of Whiteness and the CIA tip that Jailed Nelson Mandela

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The revelation that the Central Intelligence Agency provided the tip to the Apartheid South African government that led to Nelson Mandela’s arrest should come as no great shock, though the public confirmation is perhaps surprising.

Nor is it unconnected to the popularity of Donald Trump, who is proposing a new Apartheid regime with regard to American Muslims.

Mandela went on to lead South Africa in the 1990s toward a racially inclusive new model of democracy.

Although the allegation is that the CIA was worried Mandela was a Communist controlled by the Soviet Union, the actual subtext was that white, racially-segregated South Africa was seen by many in Washington as a good thing. The US firmly supported the Apartheid regime despite its massive human rights abuses, right into the 1980s under Reagan. That it was an ally against Communism was all to the good. But part of what defeating Communism entailed was repressing economically exploited, working class groups like Black South Africans.

Until 1964, much of the US (and not just the Deep South) was itself governed by Apartheid laws that demeaned African-Americans and often denied them the vote, so there was fellow-feeling between elements in Washington and those in Pretoria.

Americans have a fairy tale that they tell themselves, that they have been a force for democracy and human rights. But in fact, sometimes they haven’t. A lot of the time they haven’t. The US has made coups against elected governments (1953 in Iran) and supported dictators instead, when it suited Washington elites. The US has supported the repression and statelessness of the Palestinians. And often fears about uppity working classes are racialized in American discourse.

Donald Trump’s politics are to a degree about racial hierarchies and the restoration of the pecking order that obtained before the Civil Rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In other words, they hearken back to the days of American Apartheid.

He has questioned the US citizenship of our first African-American president, attempting to paint his eight years in office as illegitimate. Birtherism is a little bit like those Rambo movies of Sylvester Stallone, which relitigated the Vietnam War. If white America was in fact defeated by Asian Vietnam, at least the former could have its victory in the fantasyland of Hollywood. Likewise, Birtherism was a way of imagining that McCain and Romney were the rightful presidents, because the Black guy was actually from Africa and not American at all.

Likewise, Trump’s intimation that Latino Americans are for the most part criminals (this is not true), his allegation that China is walking all over the US with regard to trade, and his proposal to exclude Muslims from coming to the US, are all reasertions of the primacy of white America. They are ways of denying that the US is on the way to becoming a majority non-white country (Asians, Latinos, African-Americans are already the majority in California, the most populous state). They are ways of denying that China is a rising world power or that the Muslims world is flexing its muscles in the aftermath of decolonization.

Political Scientist Robert Vitalis has argued that racial hierarchy was at the core of International Relations theory in the US academy in the first half of the 20th century:

” Racism and imperialism are the twin forces that propelled the course of the United States in the world in the early twentieth century and in turn affected the way that diplomatic history and international relations were taught and understood in the American academy. Evolutionary theory, social Darwinism, and racial anthropology had been dominant doctrines in international relations from its beginnings; racist attitudes informed research priorities and were embedded in newly formed professional organizations . . . Within the rigidly segregated profession, the “Howard School of International Relations” represented the most important center of opposition to racism and the focal point for theorizing feasible alternatives to dependency and domination for Africans and African Americans through the early 1960s.”

The jailing of Mandela for much of his adult life came about because he took direct action against a regime that deprived him and his people of their right to vote, of their right to be equal to other citizens, and even in the case of the Bantustans, of their citizenship rights. These actions were taken by people who thought of themselves as “white” against people they categorized as “Black.” They were taken on the grounds of racial prejudice and discrimination. The United States of America sided with the operators of the Apartheid state. There isn’t any doubt where Trump would have stood in those days, either.

But those days are over, and Trumpism is not the wave of the future; it is a pitiful nostalgia for a shameful imagined past.


Related video:

Nelson Mandela on Oprah Winfrey’s show from 2000

Top 3 Signs Bill Clinton didn’t kill himself to “give” the Palestinians a State

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Former President Bill Clinton on Saturday claimed “I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state,” and maintained that he secured an agreement, which the Palestinians turned down. In fact, no such text was ever presented to the Palestinian side, and then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak kept flaking out on commitments previously made, leaving the Palestinian negotiators with nothing to agree to. Negotiator Aaron Miller later admitted, “There was not a formalized, written proposal that covered the four core issues. There was no deal on the table. None of the issues were explained enough in detail to make an agreement, though the Israelis made an interesting argument on Jerusalem.”

No time here to go into the paternalist and colonial language about “giving” the Palestinians a state. They are a stateless people because they are unrecognized; they would get a state by recognizing them as such, not giving them anything.

Here are signs Clinton didn’t put himself out that much:

1. From the time Clinton presided over the handshake between Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in 1993 to the end of Clinton’s term, the number of Israeli colonists on the Palestinian land from which Rabin had pledged to withdraw just about doubled. In 1993 there were between 95,000 and 116,000 Israeli squatters in the West Bank and Gaza. By 1996 there were 147,000. By 2000 there were about 200,000. These numbers do not include the squatters in East Jerusalem, which Israel has illegally annexed in contravention of the UN charter. This stab in the back by the Israelis of the Palestine Authority undermined the possibility of a Palestinian state. Did Clinton kill himself stopping this vast expansion of Israeli squatters on Palestinian land? No. Did he do anything at all about it? No.

2. Israel agreed to withdraw its troops from the West Bank by the end of 1998. It did not. Its troops are still there, guarding sometimes murderous or vandalizing Israeli squatters who are trying to displace the Palestinians from their homes. Did Bill Clinton kill himself to get the Israeli troops out of Palestine? No. Did he do anything at all about this collapse of Oslo process commitments on Israel’s part? No.

3. Donald Neff writes that in

“March, 1995 . . . President Clinton invoked the [UN Security Council] veto after all 14 other members approved a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Israel to rescind a decision to expropriate 130 acres of land in Arab East Jerusalem.23 The Clinton administration exercised two more vetoes in 1997, both of them on resolutions otherwise unanimously supported by the 14 other Security Council members. The draft resolution was critical of Israel’s plans to establish a new settlement at Har Homa ⁄ Jabal Abu Ghneim in East Jerusalem in the midst of Palestinian housing.”

So did Bill Clinton kill himself stopping Israeli large scale theft of Palestinian land while he was supposedly being an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians? No.

Clinton was the most partisan President for Israel in our country’s history, and was anything but even-handed in his approach to the Palestinians. The Palestinians complained that they’d get an Israeli proposal, reject it, then get the same one from the Americans; there wasn’t really any difference between the positions of those two.

Clinton also defended the brutal Israeli assault on defenseless little Gaza in 2014, blaming it on Hamas and suggesting that they had craftily manipulated world media into blaming the Israelis for killing nearly 2000 Palestinians. Mr. Clinton did not address the issue of proportionality, the key one for critics of the assault. Nor did he address the Occupation, the displacement of Palestinian families to Gaza by the Israelis, or the siege of Gaza, contravening the Geneva Conventions if 1949.

Bill Clinton’s partisanship for the Israeli side and refusal to act as an honest broker, refusal to stop squatter settlements, refusal to let the UN Security Council demand of Israel that it stop contravening international law, and failure to get an actual text to which Palestinian negotiators could assent, all these defects doomed the Oslo process and doomed the world to more turmoil coming out of this interminable conflict. It also encouraged the Israeli side to think they could get away with anything and so warped them into a Likud far-right regime and an Apartheid state.

Bill Clinton didn’t kill himself getting a Palestinian state. His one-sided approach to the negotiations ensured that there would be none. Ever.

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Bill Clinton: ‘I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state