The Palestinian-Israelis’ Selma Moment?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

Ayman Odah, leader of the Joint Arab List, the party representing Palestinian-Israelis and elements of the Israeli left, responded late Tuesday to the news that Israelis of Palestinian descent came out in droves to vote. Their turnout in the last Israeli election had only been 56%. Odah said from his home on Mt. Carmel in Haifa that he was sure his list would get 15 seats of the Israeli parliament’s 120. Exit polls were showing the list with about 13, but final results won’t be presented to the president until Thursday.

Odah told reporters, “This is a historic day for the Arab masses. We shall respond to racism and to those who want to expel us and kick us out. Will will be the third force in the Knesset . . . we are going to defeat the Right and win 15 seats and affect political decision-making in Israel.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu, for all the world like George Wallace in Alabama in the 1960s, warned that the minority in Israel was heading to the polls in large numbers and that the Right wing in Israel was in danger as a result.

Odah continued, in Arabic, “Tomorrow, Binyamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett will wake up to find themselves in the opposition.” That is, he was saying that the leaders of the far-right Likud and Jewish Home parties would be in the powerless minority. Odeh was disappointed in this aspiration, given the Likud win.

Netanyahu charged that the left wing parties were busing Palestinian-Israelis to the polls.

In an unprecedented move, Odah said he would study any proposal from Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog that showed a commitment to peace. This was before it became clear that Netanyahu’s Likud had won. It is a little unlikely that the Joint Arab List would have been invited to help form a government, and the JAL’s Balad Party coalition partner objected to any such thing. The small rightwing parties Herzog needs to get to 61 seats of 120 are racist and would likely not have agreed to sit in a cabinet with Palestinian-Israelis.

Palestinian-Israelis as Israeli citizens technically have the vote if they live in neighborhoods and villages recognized by the Israeli state. In the past, they have had as many as 12 seats in parliament but since they were divided into small parties and lacked unity, it did not really matter. There was also more consensus among Jewish Israelis in the past. Given the present polarization of left and right and the united front of the Palestinian-Israelis and their Israeli Communist allies, their good performance this time could, as Odah says, make them a swing vote on some issues and give them genuine influence.

You could compare this moment to the post 1964 period in American politics when African-Americans mobilized, having gotten fuller voting rights, and you ended up with a Congressional Black Caucus that simply had no counterpart in the 1950s. In some ways, today is the Selma moment of the Palestinian-Israelis.


Related video:

CCTV: ” ‘Joint Arab List’ emerges as third-largest political group in Israel”

The Impotence of the Big Dick strain of American Nationalism

By Nan Levinson | (

Let’s face it: we live in a state of pervasive national security anxiety. There are various possible responses to this low-grade fever that saps resolve, but first we have to face the basis for that anxiety — what I’ve come to think of as the Big Dick School of Patriotism, or (since anything having to do with our present version of national security, even a critique of it, has to have an acronym) the BDSP.

The BDSP is based on a bedrock belief in how America should work: that the only strength that really matters is military and that a great country is one with the capacity to beat the bejesus out of everyone else. Think of it as a military version of 50 Shades of Grey, with the same frisson of control and submission (for the American citizen) and the assumption that a good portion of the world is ripe to be bullied.

The BDSP is good citizenship conflated with JROTC, hosannas to sniper kills, the Pentagon’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War — what are we celebrating there anyway? — Rudolph Giuliani pining for a president who loves America in Reaganesque fashion, and the organizers of South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day, who wouldn’t let the local chapter of Veterans For Peace march with their banners because, so the story goes, they didn’t want the word “peace” associated with veterans.

Of course, the Big Dick School of Patriotism isn’t new — revolutionary roots, manifest destiny, history as the great pounding of hooves across the plain, and all that. Nor is it uniquely American, even if there is something culturally specific about our form of national hubris on steroids. Still, there have been times in our history when civilians — some in power, some drawing strength from numbers — have pushed back against the military and its mystique, or at least have demanded an accounting of its deeds. And of course, until the Cold War bled into 9/11, there was no national security state on the present gargantuan scale to deal with.

As he was leaving office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned against the overweening power of what he called “the military-industrial complex.” As a senator, J. William Fulbright similarly warned of “the arrogance of [American] power” and used his Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship to challenge the Vietnam War — whereupon Fred Friendly, president of CBS News, got that network’s executives to agree to preempt “Captain Kangaroo” and cover those hearings live.

On the populist side, there was General Smedley Butler, who campaigned against the military in his retirement, the Bonus Marchers of Great Depression Washington, and of course the massive antiwar resistance and remarkable insubordination of American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Similarly, some soldiers from the all-volunteer force of our era worked to undermine the U.S. occupation of Iraq in various (though far less pervasive) ways, including conducting “search and avoid missions” in which they would park, hang out, and falsely report that they were searching for weapons caches.

These days, no one in America directly takes on the military. Not the president, who just requested $534 billion for the new Pentagon budget, plus an additional $51 billion for supplemental war funding. Not Congress, where the range of debate over an “authorization” of war in Iraq and Syria goes from “hawks,” who want assurances that we’ll blow ISIS to oblivion by any means, to “doves,” who want assurances that there will be no “boots on the ground” while we blow ISIS into oblivion. Certainly not the courts, which, among other things, have consistently refused to let military objectors invoke their right to disobey illegal orders. And not American citizens who are now well trained to spend their time thanking their all-volunteer warriors for their sacrifices before turning back to the business of everyday life.

It seems to matter little to anyone that, since 9/11, what is supposed to be the greatest fighting force in the world has been stymied by modestly armed insurgencies — in response to which we keep buying our military yet newer props like the wildly overpriced, over-touted, and underachieving F-35 fighter plane, and sending them back to clean up the very messes they helped produce not so long before. There never seem to be any consequences to this repetitive course of action. Well, none if you don’t count the squandering of whatever political capital this country had after 9/11, or the way a million or so veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan will require costly care for the rest of their lives, or the billions spent on war rather than the environment, infrastructure, education, or [fill in your favorite civic need here].

Okay, it’s true that a tiny crew of largely overlooked politicians like Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Barbara Lee of California did try to limit war funding; that Obama did finally resist calls for invading Syria (before he began bombing it); and that the Supreme Court did rule that the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which criminalized lying about military awards, was unconstitutional.

But how much attention gets paid to all that? Massively less than to the glories of American Sniper.  Or to Commander-in-Chief Obama reassuring soldiers that, regardless of race, creed, class, religion, or whom we choose to love, “when it comes to our troops, when it comes to you and your families, as Americans we stand united. We are proud of you. We support you. And we can never thank you enough.”

And why would anyone with political ambitions claim otherwise when there’s no gain, no glory in it? After all, the American public may be weary of war, but a widely-cited annual poll found a majority of them in favor of taking on ISIS, even if it embroils us in a big-dick war in Syria. 

Making the Military into a Clique

So what gives? How do you explain an America in which, despite the disastrous record of the U.S. military these last 13 years and the growth of extremist Islamic groups in the same period, there is essentially no pushback in this country.  One obvious answer is that it’s easy to keep valorizing the military when you have nothing to do with it. That big, busy, well-funded world-unto-itself currently includes less than 1% of the population. Add in their families and the civilians who work on or near military bases (or in the Pentagon) and, as a rough estimate, perhaps you have something in the vicinity of 5% of Americans who interact with the military on a regular basis. For the other 95% or so, the rest of us, what that military does, especially in distant lands, is just a blip on the busy-busy screen of our consciousness. Yet the further we get from the military, the more beguiled we are by it.

It helps, of course, that young Americans don’t have to worry about being drafted against their wishes. The last citizen was drafted in 1973 and, despite calls in these years for the reinstatement of conscription, no one in the BDSP seems in any hurry to do so. “One lesson learned from Vietnam,” the father of a Marine told me, “is if you’re going to start a war, don’t even pretend to threaten the sons and daughters of the upper middle class and the rich.”

It isn’t just the absence of threat that distances the public from American war making, however. It’s also the inbred nature of the military itself.  In the Vietnam years, when about one-third of the troops who fought were conscripts, all soldiers spent a year “in-country.” This meant individuals rotated in and out of the war zone at different times rather than as intact units, and soldiers circulated back into civil society regularly. This was certainly good for civil society — we heard about the war directly from the people fighting it — but it wasn’t so great for the armed forces.

So when the change came to an all-volunteer service, the military made a point of training and deploying units together to increase cohesion. And cohere they do, from a long, grueling period of training and indoctrination through an all-encompassing military world in which you live, work, and play with the same people 24/7 to the secret handshake of shared jargon and experience that is meant to bond you for life.

Not coincidentally, this makes dissent within the military ever less likely. A number of soldiers and marines have told me over the years that they deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan with their units despite misgivings about the wars they were to fight because, if they hadn’t, someone else — usually someone they knew — would have had to go in their stead. The result of all this cohesion is the sort of cliquishness that would make a 13-year-old whispering in a school cafeteria blush. I’d guess that it also makes politicians who aren’t fully enrolled members of the BDSP leery of challenging the military on what may be matters of life and death.  It certainly leaves the citizenry in that position.

Yet separate from us as those soldiers may be, they’re still our troops, our movie heroes, and (I suspect) our source of guilt, because they fought our wars while we were otherwise engaged. Contemporary war may be sanitized for the American public and no longer televised Vietnam-style, but all that shaking of our heroes’ hands and wringing of our own hands about their victimization comes out of some sense of responsibility sloughed off. 

The Personnel Is Political

A draft would certainly make a difference in this increasingly strange civilian-soldier nexus, but its absence is hardly the only reason that Americans now hold our armed forces sacrosanct in a way that once would have seemed foreign indeed. For starters, the military functions as a powerful lobby in Washington, which is increasingly effective when it comes to reinforcing a hands-off approach to its affairs and blocking outside scrutiny. Take, for example, the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013.  It would have moved prosecution of felony-level sexual assault cases from the military chain of command, which controls most aspects of an enlistee’s life, to independent military prosecutors. Trust us, insisted the top brass, we can police ourselves, never mind that one in five servicewomen reported unwanted sexual contact and 25% of them said the offender was someone in their chain of command. The bill fell to a filibuster in the Senate last year.

One strategy the military employs in dealing with Congress is something called “jointness.” It’s a relatively recent coinage for cross-service cooperation in research, planning, procurement, and operations. While it’s focused on increasing operational flexibility and efficiency among branches of the military, it’s also meant to heighten intra-service collaboration when it comes to lobbying for funding. (The stratagem of awarding lucrative contracts in key congressional districts of both parties doesn’t hurt either.)

Although the Pentagon’s budget has decreased in recent years, that follows enormous growth in the post-9/11 decade — as much as 40% in real terms between 2001 and 2012. The administration’s new budget request is supposed to take into account the end of two costly wars, yet it still exceeds the $499 billion cap called for by sequestration, and that base budget is only part of what we’re spending overall on American war-making.

When you’re a hammer, the saying goes, everything looks like a nail. And when more than half of the federal discretionary budget goes to the military, every international problem looks like a job for them. According to the National Security Strategy report the White House released in February, “Any successful strategy to ensure the safety of the American people and advance our national security interests must begin with an undeniable truth — America must lead.” And who will be, as they say, at the tip of the spear? “Our military is postured globally to protect our citizens and interests, preserve regional stability, render humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and build the capacity of our partners to join with us in meeting security challenges.”

In other words, one attitude that increasingly grips this country is that, if it’s going to be done at all, it’s probably going to be done by the military. It has been sold to us as the best, maybe the only functioning part of the government. Not surprisingly, then, the most recent annual Gallup poll found that almost three-quarters of those surveyed had “quite a lot” or a “great deal” of confidence in the military.  Since 2001, that public confidence has never fallen below 66%.

In touting “Toward the Sounds of Chaos,” its most recent recruiting campaign for the Marines, ad agency J. Walter Thompson claims that enlistment “provides an opportunity to face down everything from traditional warfare to the natural disasters that necessitate highly organized humanitarian assistance.” This spreading send-in-the-Marines mentality — one form of the post-9/11 BDSP way of life — keeps us from a reasonable assessment of the best uses of our military forces.

Last fall, for instance, President Obama dispatched about 3,000 Army personnel to Liberia to build and staff treatment facilities for Ebola patients. Once upon a time, the U.S. was quite capable of mounting a genuine civilian humanitarian relief mission. Now, if you’ve got thousands of physically able workers on the payroll with a job description that includes risk, I suppose that deploying them to a disease zone makes sense. Still, if you needed hospitals built and staffed, wouldn’t it make more sense to send in civilian builders, nurses, and doctors? 

Be Afraid, Very Afraid

In truth, the Big Dick School of Patriotism is invested in keeping only one “branch” of government functional: the U.S. military and the national security state that goes with it, even as it trumpets constant terrors and threats this country must face.

The National Security Strategy lists terrorism, cyber-vulnerability, climate change, and infectious diseases as rising threats to global security. That’s a frightening enough quartet and hardly a complete list of actual dangers. Amid them, our headlines fill regularly with “threats” that are nightmarish, but soon dissolve like bad dreams in the morning light. The latest, from a video by the Somali terrorist organization al-Shabab, was to the Mall of America in Minnesota and, farfetched as it was, the media and the political class ran with it. I found the Mall of America pretty scary on a regular shopping day, but such endless threats and the hysteria that surrounds them do make our self-protective instincts kick in. Jeh Johnson, the head of Homeland Security, even warned mall-goers to be particularly careful because, he said, “it’s the environment we’re in, frankly.”

Is it?  It’s increasingly hard to tell in BDSP America. Fear can be a useful political tool because people who believe they’re surrounded by enemies are primed to accept almost anything. When you feel you’re losing control, the response is often to try to get more control, which is part of the appeal of the BDSP crew, with their exaltation of swarms of people in uniforms equipped with tanks and guns.

When that swarm is reputedly the best trained, most effective military since the Roman Legions exited the planet, that ought to be a lot of control. Except, of course, that it isn’t. Or tell me that things don’t seem more out of control now than 13 years ago, after calamity rained from the sky and the BDSP types whooshed in to save us all.

The eternal emphasis on militarism, even when it’s portrayed as triumphalism, has the effect of ratcheting up anxiety. Security is one of the basic things a government owes its citizens, but security is both a state of being and a state of mind. If security is always at issue, how can we ever feel safe?

In the end, maybe the Big Dick School of Patriotism comes down to this: we embrace the idea of an all-powerful military because at a time when the world seems such a fragile and hostile place, if even our military won’t keep us safe, who will?  

Unless there just might be a better way to go through the world than by carrying a big dick?

Nan Levinson’s new book, War Is Not a Game: The New Antiwar Soldiers and the Movement They Built (Rutgers University Press), is based on seven years she spent not-quite-embedded with military-related antiwar groups around the country. As a freelance journalist, she writes about the military, free speech, and other aspects of civil liberties, culture, and technology. She teaches journalism and fiction writing at Tufts University.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World. 

Copyright 2015 Nan Levinson



US Military in Mosul

Apartheid Forever: Israel’s Netanyahu rules out Palestinian Citizenship Rights

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, under extreme pressure over the real possibility that he will lose the March 17 elections, has made a powerful appeal to his far right wing constituency by openly admitting that he will never allow a Palestinian state and that he intends to flood Israeli squatters into East Jerusalem and its environs to make sure this Occupied territory never returns to the Palestinians.

Millions of Palestinians whose families were violently expelled from their homes by Jewish settlers in Mandate Palestine in 1947-48 remain stateless. These include the people of Gaza, the West Bank (four million) and a million or more in diasporas in Lebanon, Syria, and other countries. A million Palestinians are now citizens in Israel, and others have rights of citizenship in far-flung places like Chile and Honduras, as well as the United States. But I figure five million at least remain stateless.

Statelessness is rare in today’s world, a result of reforms initiated by the international community after the horrors of World War II and its preceding decades. Franco rendered many on the Spanish Left stateless after his victory in the Civil War in 1939 (not to mention massacring tens of thousands of them). The White Russians lost citizenship after their revolt against the Communists failed. The Nazis took citizenship rights away from Jews, Gypsies and others in Europe. In fact, the Holocaust was made practically possible in part by the denial of citizenship to Jews, which left them with no access to courts or other levers of social power that might have combated the monstrous Nazi plans for genocide.
Millions were stateless in the 1930s and 1940s, and their lack of citizenship rights often exposed them to ethnic cleansing or loss of property and displacement.

The Palestinians are the last major stateless population. Stateless people do not have rights as most people understand the term. Their situation in some ways resembles slavery, since slaves also were denied the rights of citizenship. Stateless people’s property is insecure, since people with citizenship rights have better access to courts and to ruling authorities. Palestinians never really know what they own, and Israeli squatters routinely steal their property with impunity. Squatters dig tube wells deeper than those of the Palestinian villagers, lowering aquifers and causing Palestinian wells to dry up. Squatters go on wilding attacks, chopping down entire olive orchards (a prime source of Palestinian income) or beating up Palestinians. If Palestinians assemble peacefully to protest the loss of their farms to ever-expanding squatter settlements, the Israel army arrests them, including, often, children, who are taken away from their families and put in jail. Palestinians can be held for long periods without being charged. The prisoners are sometimes tortured.

Netanyahu and the Israeli right-of-center say they want to keep Palestinians homeless and without citizenship rights in a state because they fear a Palestinian state will make claims on Israel and present a security challenge. Netanyahu said Sunday that if Israel relinquished the West Bank it would become a bastion of Muslim radicalism (but West Bankers are substantially more secular than the Jewish population of West Jerusalem).

But in fact, Netanyahu and the right are dedicated to Greater Israel, to annexing the West Bank territory and finding a way to expel the Palestinians from it. The Palestinians are not a security challenge– they are like the guard at a bank getting in the way of bank robbers. The bank robbers feel a need to knock him out or kill him, remove him from the scene.

But it is shameful to have Israel preside over 4 million stateless people forever. This is Apartheid. And Netanyahu has just made Apartheid the official policy of Israel, just as South African leader P.W. Botha dedicated himself to making black South Africans stateless and without the rights of citizenship. The only fig leaf Israel had for its Apartheid was the farce of the “peace process” and a pro forma ritual invocation of a “future Palestinian state.” Now Netanyahu has ripped off the fig leaf and stands naked before the world. Botha was called by his victims the “Great Crocodile.” It would be better epithet for Netanyahu than “Bibi.”

Related video:

Wochit General News: “Netanyahu: No Palestinian State If I’m Reelected”

Top 5 ways Netanyahu sabotaged US and Israel Interests

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Binyamin Netanyahu is fighting the most difficult political battle of his life. His party seems likely to come in smaller than the center-left coalition of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni– though in parliamentary systems what really matters is who can put together a majority after the election. Netanyahu still has some possibility of succeeding in that regard. On Sunday, in a rare public display of his unhinged paranoia, he opined that foreign governments were sending money into Israel to his rivals, conspiring with “leftists” to unseat him. Famously, Netanyahu’s campaign is the one with the foreign money– that of Sheldon Adelson and other sketchy American billionaires.

But whether he gets another term or not, Netanyahu will be remembered for the damage he did to US interests, and those of Israel itself.

1. Netanyahu scuttled the George Mitchell peace process initiated by President Obama when he first took office in 2009. He pledged a freeze of squatter settlements on Palestinian territory for 6 months in spring of 2009, then just as negotiations with the Palestinians were to begin in earnest, Netanyahu abruptly cancelled the freeze, ensuring that the talks would fail. (There is no reason for the Palestinians to negotiate for their share of the cake if Bibi is going to gobble it up in front of their eyes while they are talking to him.)

2. Netanyahu scuttled the 2013-14 Kerry peace talks. He allowed one of his cabinet members to smear Mr. Kerry as having ‘messianic’ pretensions. He kept announcing increased new squatter settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, aiming to drive the Palestinians away from the negotiating table. Then he started demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ even though over a fifth of Israelis are not Jews (most of them are Palestinian-Israeli).

3. When the peace talks predictably failed as a result of his machinations, Netanyahu launched a brutal assault on the Gaza Strip in which his indiscriminate fire killed nearly 2000, mostly non-combatants, and wiped out entire neighborhoods. Every time the Israeli government does something like that before the cameras of the world press, much of the world starts to hate the United States.

4. Netanyahu involved himself in US domestic politics, campaigning for Mitt Romney in 2012 and giving President Obama unseemly lectures when they were both on camera at the White House..

5. Netanyahu conspired with John Boehner to undermine the president’s negotiations with Iran by giving a speech to Congress only two weeks before his own election. This blatant interference in US foreign policy is not unusual for other countries, but most of them aren’t honorary members of the Republican Party such that they can sabotage as insiders.

Related video:

Wochit General News: “Trailing Before Election, Israel’s Netanyahu Accuses Foreign Powers of Trying to Topple Him ”

Could Sunni-Shiite Rift make Tikrit a Pyrrhic Victory? Al-Azhar & Shiite Militias

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

The foremost Sunni Muslim seat of learning, al-Azhar University in Cairo, has stirred controversy by issuing a considered legal opinion (fatwa) condemning the Shiite militias or “Popular Mobilization Forces” that are now fighting alongside the Iraq army to take Tikrit back from Daesh (ISIL or ISIS).

To be fair, the al-Azhar has also condemned Daesh or ISIL. In fact, the Egyptian state has turned on political Islam in general and says it is fighting a Daesh branch in the Sinai Peninsula.


But the timing of the opinion and its call for the Iraqi army to reconsider cooperating with the Shiite militias has given many Iraqis the impression that religious Sunnis in Egypt prefer Daesh to Shiites.

Traditional Sunnism viewed Shiites as heretics (the differences between the two are about religious authority after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad and resemble in a vague way splits in Christianity such as that between Protestantism (I would argue it is more like today’s Sunni Islam) and Catholicism (perhaps today more like Shiite Islam).

But from the 1950s, al-Azhar began a Dar al-Taqrib or office for Sunni-Shiite ecumenism. In 2005, the major Amman Statement condemned the practice of excommunicating or calling Muslim non-Muslims, whether they are Sunni or Shiite. The Saudi Wahhabi branch of Islam wasn’t as enthusiastic for this ecumenism, but even in Saudi Arabia the late King Abdallah put two Shiites on his national legislative advisory counsel, the embryo of the future Saudi parliament.

Also to be fair, some of the Shiite militias have in fact been involved in ethnic cleansing campaigns and in atrocities against Sunnis, especially in 2006-7 but also more recently. Many Sunni Iraqis are afraid that they will commit reprisals against non-combatant Sunni populations who have cooperated with Daesh. (Sunnis who committed war crimes under the banner of Daesh should be arrested and tried; non-combatants are helpless once they have been conquered and should be left alone).

But the fact is that there are perhaps 50,000 militiamen fighting in Takrit, a much larger number than the regular Iraqi army, and they are functioning as the US National Guards do, being local forces that can be called up for national campaigns. WSJ alleges that Iranian commander Qasim Solaimani, who is coordinating the Tikrit campaign, has been trying to moderate their behavior toward local Sunnis because he wants to improve Iran’s relations with Iraq’s north and west in the aftermath of the Daesh, fiasco, in which Iraqi Sunnis allied even with the horrible Daesh to escape Shiite rule.

The al-Azhar ruling demonstrates the bind in which the current Iraq situation puts Sunnis in other countries. They almost universally despise Daesh/ ISIL, but it is hard for them to cheer Shiite militiamen on as they conquer a Sunni bastion like Tikrit.

The Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) newspaper in Jordan exemplifies these anxieties, writing that the Tikrit campaign could put an end to terrorism in Iraq (most Jordanians really hate Daesh) or it could unleash a new round of it if the Shiites are not prudent and restrained (Jordanians are strong Sunnis on the whole).

Some news outlets are alleging that the al-Azhar ruling was a favor to Saudi Arabia. Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal is said to be upset that the Tikrit campaign is spreading Iranian Shiite power into Sunni Iraq. Saudi Arabia just announced another $3 billion grant to the government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

A more measured response from Iraqi Intellectuals takes the position that the al-Azhar clerics are not close enough to the scene to appreciate the ways in which the Shiite militias have moderated and become an arm of the regular Iraqi army. The article just cited also quotes an Egyptian jurist who argues that it isn’t right for a religious authority to give a fatwa about something when it is distant and not on the ground, but should leave that to local Muslims facing the threat.

Could a Netanyahu loss in Israeli Elections change Everything?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Israeli polling is suggesting that Binyamin Netanyahu’s party might get only 21 seats or less in the 120-seat Israeli parliament, with his rivals, the Zionist Union, getting 24 or 25. There is even the possibility of the gap between the two widening and Netanyahu doing even worse.

The party that gets the most seats will have the opportunity to try to put together a government coalition of 61 seats or more– a majority that can survive a vote of no confidence.

Although Netanyahu tries to make the issue far-away Iran, which is bogged down in Iraq now, the Israeli public is on the whole not buying his scare-mongering. Economic issues like high rents and a growing wealth gap and undue influence of billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson on the Likud Part of Netanyahu all loom larger as issues than does Tehran.

The Palestinian-Israeli bloc, made up of what the Israelis call “Arab Israeli” parties and the Communist Party, now looks as though it could be the third biggest party. If the Palestinian-Israelis, who are 20% of the population, are able to do that well, they could well decide to back the Zionist Union of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, bringing the latter in striking distance of the 61 seats they need.

Netanyahu is portraying this outcome as disastrous for Israeli security.

But such a government might well be willing to settle the Palestine issue with Secretary of State John Kerry and the Palestine Authority, pulling Israel back from the brink of declining into full Apartheid and international isolation. Livni has said she’d be willing to use police to remove some Israeli squatters from the Palestinian West Bank. Of course, that is a thorny and intractable problem and the hundreds of thousands of Israeli squatters are a powerful lobby against peace, so there is no guarantee a new government can have more success than the old.

While Livni is no liberal (she would rotate the prime ministership with Herzog if they won), and will watch the negotiations with Iran like a hawk, she is in the end a pragmatist, and Obama would probably see an end to Israeli direct interference in his negotiations with Iran.

On the other hand, if Netanyahu wins, likely he will continue policies that make it unlikely for Israel to survive another half century in the region. Israel’s economy is fragile and a third of its trade is with Europe, with which Israel also has extensive technology transfer. Growing European boycotts over the Israeli scuttling of the peace process and determined colonization of the West Bank will begin to bite.


Related video:

Reuters from Thursday: “Israel’s Herzog takes election momentum to Tel Aviv market”

Iran’s Khamenei: GOP Letter Disgusting, shows Decline of American System

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei spoke Thursday about the letter signed by 47 Republican senators that had been sent to him warning that any nuclear deal he concluded with President Barack Obama would have no staying power.

Khamenei called the letter “stupid” and “disgusting and said he was negotiating with backstabbers.

He blamed the letter on the fact that they had been recently addressed “by a Zionist clown,” referring to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

He complained that the Senators had accused Iran of supporting terrorism, which, he said, “is laughable.” (Iran sees Hizbullah and Hamas as legitimate resistance movements). He countered that it was the United States that created ISIL (Daesh), the world’s worst terrorist organization by its invasion of Iraq. He also accused Israel, which he said that the US backs to the hilt, of being a terrorist state.

He said that when an administration concludes an agreement with someone, the next administration is bound to honor it, but that in the US this principle has been discarded. The GOP senators had pledged, he said, to make any agreement with the Obama administration “as though it never existed.” “This is the utmost in the decline of political ethics … that is, this system is a system on the verge of oblivion, such that a person sees these things in it… They actually said they want to give Iranians a lesson so that we would understand their laws. We don’t need the lessons of those people!”

The BBC translates: “The Supreme Leader added that “the official of the Islamic Republic know their job well and know that if an agreement is reached how they should behave so that the American government can not renege on their promises.”

BBC Monitoring translated some further phrases of the speech. He called for a “rational” resolution to the problems between the West and Iran. Referring to nuclear energy, he said “By avoiding superficial outlooks, we need to understand where the challenges and issues stem from, and we should look for a rational solution in this way.”

Khamenei used the GOP letter to push for less dependence on petroleum exports and less state control of the economy– i.e. he pushed in the second point something of a Republican agenda of cutting down on state dominance of the economy in favor of wide participation in it by private individuals. BBC quotes him:

“If we look carefully, it becomes clear that the reason behind the damage we have incurred because of the sanctions is the country’s dependence on oil, government-controlled economy and the lack of public participation in the economy.”

“If we had not made the country’s economy and the life of the nation dependent on oil, and if we had avoided the mistake of the beginning of the revolution, which was making everything government-run, and if we had really involved people in economic activities, could the enemy have inflicted this damage upon us by imposing sanctions on oil and on the public sector?”

Source: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader website in Persian 0948 gmt 12 Mar 15


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wochit General News: “Khamenei Slams Republican Letter on Iran, U.S. Known for ‘deceit'”

Dear Sweden: HR Dispute with Saudis makes this a good time to adopt Electric Cars

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

First, the new left wing government in Sweden cancelled an arms sale to Saudi Arabia, even though Prime Minister Stefan Lofven favored it. (He had been a union rep friendly to the Swedish arms industry). Foreign Minister Margot Wallström put her foot down, however, and won the argument. She had been vocal in criticizing the Saudis for jailing and flogging blogger Raif Badawi, tweeting that this attempt to stop a modern form of expression must be halted.

Then the cancellation of the arms sale and the open criticism of Saudi human rights violations has provoked the Saudis to withdraw their ambassador from Stockholm. The Gulf Cooperation Council supported the Saudis, on the grounds that Saudi law is based on Muslim canon law or sharia. However, in fact, Saudi law is mainly what the king, an absolute monarch, says it is. The Qur’an says that “there is no compulsion in religion,” which I should think makes punishment of crimes of conscience like blogging un-Islamic.

You wonder if part of the friction here is between a strong female leader like Wallström and the geriatric male chauvinist leadership of Saudi Arabia, who won’t even let women drive.

Sweden has one of the best records in Europe on avoiding carbon emissions and going green over time. It wants gasoline-free transport by 2030

But in fact, nowadays Sweden still imports about 287,000 barrels of petroleum a day. That is bad. It makes Sweden dependent on countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia.

True, with regard to power, Sweden’s nuclear plants provide 41% of its electricity, and it has a lot of hydro and biofuel, plus, increasingly, wind turbines. But it still uses fossil fuels for 31% of its electricity.

But its really big import item in fossil fuels is petroleum for autos and trucks and trains (71% of its hydrocarbon imports)– precisely the commodity of which Saudi Arabia is master.

Given this diplomatic and trade break, Sweden should adopt an even more ambitious goal, like that of Scotland and go green by 2022. And, it should above all get serious about green transportation, moving to achieve its stated goals even more quickly and robustly than it is now doing. In short, it should move quickly to electric cars and renewable energy to fuel them.

If Margot Wallström wants an independent foreign policy, she needs an even more ambitious green domestic energy policy. She needs government policies that remove subsidies for oil transportation and support green vehicles and urban mass transport.

Related video:

Euronews: “Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador from Sweden amid diplomatic row”

Ghosts of Saladin, Saddam & Khomeini: Tikrit Campaign’s Historical Meaning

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

The Iraqi forces (one-third army, two-thirds Shiite militias) that are surrounding Tikrit 80 miles north of Baghdad are not just Iraqi forces. They are mostly Shiite, though some Sunni irregulars have joined them. More important, the Tikrit campaign is being directed as to its strategy by Qasim Sulaimani, the head of the Jerusalem Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

News of the imminent fall of Tikrit on Tuesday were exaggerated. On the east bank of the Tigris, Iraqi forces took the town of al-Alam, 6 miles northeast of Tikrit, from Daesh (ISIL or ISIS). But Daesh fighters blew up the bridge over the Tigris, stranding a lot of Iraqi forces to the east. Iraqi troops and militiamen are also approaching from the south and west, but they are going very slowly because of the danger of booby-traps, car bombings, and so forth. So they are still not inside Tikrit, only on its outskirts.

But the ghost of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 looms over this campaign. Qasim Sulaimani got his military start fighting in the Iran-Iraq War. A non-ideological technocrat, Sulaimani only cares about winning battles, not about what Iranians call “the line of the Imam” or correct ideology.

Saddam Hussein was born in Tikrit in 1937 into the Sunni Arab Al-Bu Nasir clan. When he became president in an internal Baath Party putsch in 1979 he promoted other Baathists from Tikrit and other members of his clan to high office.

The other historical figure born in Tikrit was the medieval Muslim knight, Saladin (Arabic Salahuddin) the Ayyubi (1138 – 1193 CE). Famed for his conquest of Jerusalem away from the Crusaders, Saladin’s dynasty also came to power in Egypt and destroyed the Shiite Fatimid government there, replacing it with a Sunni revival under the Ayyubids.

Saddam identified with Saladin on both accounts– his defeat of the Western crusaders and his defeat of the leading Shiite power of his day. He named the province in which Tikrit is located ‘Salahuddin,’ i.e. Saladin.

In 1980, Saddam Hussein had his army invade Iran, beginning a brutal 8-year struggle reminiscent of World War I, with its trench warfare, mustard gas, and high troop casualties. Iran fought Saddam off, then began besieging Basra and threatening Baghdad. But Iran could never decisively take and hold Iraqi territory, and in 1988 Ayatollah Khomeini gave up on his fond dream of regaining Iranian sovereignty over key Shiite holy sites in Iraq.

So for Qasim Sulaimani and his Jerusalem Brigades to be directing an army of Shiite militias and regular troops in taking Tikrit away from the Sunni ‘caliph’ Ibrahim al-Samarra’i, who goes by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is beyond delicious for him. It is the ultimate revenge by Shiite Iran on the Tikriti clans.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal is said to have complained to US Secretary of State John Kerry about the projection of Iranian power into Tikrit. He feels the symbolic insult to the Sunni Arab world. The Americans are afraid that they won’t be able to keep the anti-ISIL coalition together if Iran takes the lead in this way.

This Iran-Iraq sectarian subtext gives many observers pause about the Tikrit campaign. Into the bargain, we know that hundreds of Shiite troops at nearby Speicher base were summarily murdered by Daesh when it took the base last summer. Their relatives still hold demonstrations to demand justice. Shiite militiamen view the people of Tikrit as collaborators with Daesh/ ISIL and we’re all afraid that they will conduct reprisals against them if and when the city falls to them.

The only way for this to turn out well is for the Shiites to treat the Tikritis as liberated compatriots, not as collaborators with Daesh or as Saddams’s kinsmen. The Sunni Arabs of Iraq need to be offered services and perquisites for rejoining the country. If they are not, the military conquest will prove a Pyrrhic victory.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Reuters: “Celebrations as Islamic State is forced out in town near Tikrit”

The Letter: Top 5 Similarities of GOP and Iran Hard Liners

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

47 GOP senators sent a letter to Iran on Monday warning that country that any agreement only signed off on by President Obama might not last longer than his last day in office. This intervention of the senate in a foreign policy matter is not, as some observers are saying, “unprecedented.” Congress refused to ratify the treaty presented to it By Woodrow Wilson in 1919, that involved joining the League of Nations (the predecessor of the United Nations). In the late 19th century, Arthur Schleslinger, Jr. pointed out in a Foreign Affairs article in 1972, the Senate for twenty years declined to ratify any treaty at all, and contemporary observers became convinced that it would never do so so again.

Of course, there is a difference between refusing to sign off on a president’s treaty and inserting the legislature into the negotiation directly, while it is going on.

President Obama objected, saying, “I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran. It’s an unusual coalition . . .”

And, of course, Obama is right that the right wing of the Republican Party has things in common with hard liners in Iran.

1. Many Republicans in Congress oppose abortion even in case of rape or incest. As I observed in a classic Salon article years ago, that puts the GOP right (exemplified by Sarah Palin) in the company of the clerical Guardianship Council in Iran:

“Palin’s stance is even stricter than that of the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 2005, the legislature in Tehran attempted to amend the country’s antiabortion statute to permit an abortion up to four months in case of a birth defect. The conservative clerical Guardianship Council, which functions as a sort of theocratic senate, however, rejected the change. Iran’s law on abortion is therefore virtually identical to the one that Palin would like to see imposed on American women, and the rationale in both cases is the same, a literalist religious impulse that resists any compromise with the realities of biology and of women’s lives.”

2. Many Republicans in Congress say they do not believe in evolution. Actually in this regard they are closer to Saudi Arabia than to Iran. Evolutionary theory is taught in Iranian school textbooks. But the textbooks carefully avoid discussing human evolution, very likely out of fear that it would prompt a backlash from Shiite fundamentalists. Ironically, the same compromise is made in Israeli schooling, for fear of the Orthodox.

3. Both the GOP and Iran hardliners have a fascination with foreign military entanglements. Republicans in Congress mostly say that President Obama is at fault for withdrawing US troops from Iraq in December, 2011, and that he should have kept a division in that country (they ignore that the Iraqi parliament refused to allow the troops to remain and that George W. Bush had failed to gain such an agreement). Iranian hardliners also see a national interest in having troops in Iraq, and special operations forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have been detailed to stiffen the resolve of the Iraqi army and to coordinate with Shiite militias. Ironically, since President Obama has sent 3,000 US troops back into Iraq as advisers and established a command, both the Republicans and the Iranian hardliners have gotten their wish, of forces stationed in Iraq. And ironically, the two are de facto allies in the current struggle against ISIL, though neither side would admit it.

4. Many congressional Republicans are strong partisans of nuclear energy and dismiss environmental concerns about nuclear waste. The hardliners in Iran have insisted on expanding Iran’s system of civilian nuclear reactors and enriching fuel for them in-country. Some ten reactors are now planned.

5. Both the US GOP and the Iranian hardliners are opposed to the P5 + 1 (permanent UN Security council members plus Germany) negotiations over Iran’s enrichment program. The Republicans want the unrealistic goal of no enrichment by Iran. The Iran hardliners want enrichment without international restraints, though they say they do not want a nuclear weapon. Rather, they are functioning as nationalists, insisting that Iran is an independent country and has every right to do what South Korea and Japan do every day. Like the GOP hardliners, the Iran hardliners have tried on several occasions to derail the negotiations. Last fall they accused President Hasan Rouhani of being too accommodating of the “American wolf,” saying he needed to speak to Washington “from a position of strength.” Friday prayer leaders slammed Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for talking a walk at Vienna with Secretary of State John Kerry, saying he was way too friendly with an official of a country that backed Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in his 8-year aggressive war on Iran in the 1980s.

So President Obama is perfectly correct. The GOP and Iran hardliners have a great deal in common. Only, the Iran hardliners don’t deny global warming.


Related video:

AFP: “Obama criticizes Republicans’ Iran letter”