From Kerry to Selena Gomez & Rihanna, Israel’s Claims of Precision, Compassion are Dissed

By Juan Cole

You always wonder where John Kerry the anti-Vietnam War activist went, who compared the US campaigns in Southeast Asia to the predations of the Mongols. It turns out he is still in there somewhere, just not allowed to appear before the cameras. But in a ‘hot-mic’ moment on Fox on Sunday, Kerry appeared to reference the Israeli massacre at al-Shuja`iya in Gaza by Israeli planes and/or artillery, which left 60 dead & 200 wounded. Kerry called sardonically “a hell of a pinpoint operation.” His reference is to Israeli propagandists who keep saying that Israel’s airstrikes in densely populated Gaza are “precision strikes” when very obviously they are massive and indiscriminate, having killed over 500 as of Sunday night, over 70% of them noncombatants, including women and children. Although Hamas, the combatants, are fair game, the noncombatants are not. Israel doesn’t get off the hook by saying Hamas uses human shields. First, most of those people Israel killed were not being used as human shields. Second, international law forbids military commanders to strike if it seems likely they will kill a lot of innocents.

Newsy Politics: “Fox’s Hot Mic Catches Kerry Remark On Israel-Gaza Conflict”

Kerry’s exasperation with Israeli brutality is shared around the world, though, as with Kerry, most public figures won’t express it in the open.

But some politicians and celebrities are daring to speak out.

British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg accused Israel of a “deliberately disproportionate” response to Hamas. That would would be a war crime if true.

Channel 4′s Jon Snow asked an Israeli spokesman all those same questions everyone else would like to, including why in the world Israel is bombing hospitals and old people’s homes and whether there is something wrong with their equipment or whether they have simply decided to commit war crimes if that is what it takes. Compare Snow’s actual journalism with any anchor on US network news and it is American journalism that stands shamed.

Some resorted to the tactic of tweeting “Free Palestine” and then deleting the tweet, claiming it was all a misunderstanding. This was the path chosen by Rihanna and Dwight Howard.

Rihanna is from Barbados and has Third-Worldist sympathies, occasionally deploying Arabesque imagery in her music videos.

But the award for bravery under fire must go to Selena Gomez, who posted this to her Instagram and Twitter accounts:

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 3.55.32 AM

She has declined to delete the message, and it has garnered 500,000 retweets. She did say this:

But of course when you say “Pray for Gaza,” you have chosen sides, since the Israeli right wing is fighting this war in part to crush Gaza further.

Gomez’s hashtag on this post was #wearethenextgeneration and I think she got that one absolutely correct. The Millennials are a new generation with their own perspective on world affairs. They’re less interested in organized religion than their elders. In the US, they are substantially less Northern European in their heritage and tastes (this is also true in France e.g.) The Millennials have only seen the 2006, 2008-9, 2012, and the current wars, in which Israel is the superpower and its opponents lack tanks, artillery or planes. Palestinians in such an encounter look like the underdogs, not a powerful threat. I don’t think the Israeli leadership has the slightest conception of how the tide is turning against them over their colonial policies and tactics.

Mosul w/out Christians for First time in 1,900 Years as Radical Fundamentalists Threaten Minorities

By Juan Cole

For the first time in nearly 2000 years, there are virtually no Christians in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. The community is reported to have fled en masse after the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) of radical fundamentalists warned them that they faced the choice of converting to Islam, paying a poll tax, fleeing the city, or… the sword. The incorrectly named “Islamic State,” which is a kind of criminal cartel, said that if they chose to depart, the Christians of Mosul would only be allowed to leave with the clothes on their backs, and their homes and property would be confiscated by IS. There were an estimated 3,000 Christians in Mosul, a city of about 2 million.

IS allegedly set fire to an ancient church in Mosul that goes back to the early centuries of Christianity, though some reports dispute this allegation.

Christianity may have spread to the Jews of Babylon in the time of St. Peter. Penny Young writes:

“It is thought that the Christian population of Iraq is one of the oldest in the world. In his book By the Waters of Babylon (1972) James Wellard hypothesizes that when St Peter referred to ‘the Church at Babylon’, he may have been referring to an actual Jewish Christian community in the region of the Mesopotamian city, similar to other Nazarene communities which were springing up all over the Roman Empire to the west. The word ‘church’ was figurative. The earliest dated church building to have been found in the world so far is at Dura Europos in Syria on the Euphrates close to today’s border with Iraq. The murals were painted between 232 and 256 ad, three quarters of a century before Constantine recog­nized Christianity.”

Iraq was ruled by Iran (the Parthians and then the Sasanians) during the first six centuries of Christianity, and the religion became widespread in Mesopotamia, perhaps even a majority. After Arab Muslims conquered both Iraq and Iran in the 600s AD, most of the people of both gradually converted to Islam over the next four or five centuries. But in Iraq a large Christian population survived. The 1987 census gave 1.4 million Iraqi Christians out of a then population, probably, of 19 million. By 2003 the Christians were estimated at 800,000, with over half a million having emigrated during the years of harsh US/ UN sanctions, or having not been able to afford to have children. The US military occupation of Iraq gave Christianity a bad name and Iraqi Christians were most unfairly targeted as somehow American clients. Over half of the remaining Christians were said to have left by 2008, leaving about 300,000 or so. Now it appears that the remaining 300,000 are being ethnically cleansed in the north of Iraq, where most Christians had lived.

Mosul’s fleeing Christians have largely gone to Dohuk or Irbil in Kurdistan, and Kurdish officials have urged Kurds to give them refuge. Shiite shrines and institutions in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala have also offered to shelter the displaced Christians. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians had earlier gone to Syria and Lebanon, though it seems likely that they will try to get to Europe.

Christians are not the only group at risk. There are many small unorthodox Shiite communities in northern Iraq, and they are recipients of the same threats being directed against the Christians. There are also Mandaean Gnostics. In the period of the American occupation, the predecessors of IS such as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, had routinely target Christians and heterodox Shiites for bombings and attacks.

Likewise, women are suffering, since the radical fundamentalists want to impose a kind of house arrest (“seclusion”) on them. On Sunday, IS executed a woman in their stronghold of Raqqa in Syria by stoning her for alleged adultery.

A new UN report says:

“[IS] and associated armed groups have also continued to … perpetrate targeted assassinations [community, political and religious leaders, government employees, education professionals, health workers, etc.], sexual assault, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls, forced recruitment of children, kidnappings, executions, robberies.”

In the meantime, IS may be throwing its weight around without really controlling Mosul, where the Men of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order are allegedly reasserting themselves. IS fighters have gone south to Tikrit, now the front between the Baghdad government and IS territory. The Iraqi Army has apparently suffered humiliating checks at the hands of IS.

It seems like that IS will continue to play an out-sized role in Mosul and elsewhere until the Baghdad government and the Iraqi army get their act together.


Related video:

Press TV: “Christians are hurriedly fleeing from the city of Mosul following an ultimatum issued by ISIL”

Gaza meets the New Politics of the Middle East: “Islamic State,” Egypt, Turkey

By Juan Cole

The Israeli security establishment was almost certainly encouraged to launch its military assault on little Gaza by the current divisions over political Islam in the Middle East.

Hamas is an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, though they are quite separate in policies and leadership. The overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt last summer has positioned the Egyptian government as almost as big an enemy of Hamas as Israel itself. The Egyptian military blames Hamas for radicalizing the Bedouin of the Sinai Peninsula and creating a security problem for Egypt itself (in fact, the depriving of people in Sinai of government services is at the root of much of the resentment).

Indeed, some groups in the Sinai have proffered their allegiance to the so-called Islamic State now based in Mosul, Iraq.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt offered a ceasefire but it was unacceptable to Hamas because it did not call for an end of the illegal and creepy Israeli economic blockade of Gaza civilians.

Still, al-Sisi’s hostility to movements of political Islam makes him an unlikely mediator for Hamas.

Al-Sisi now backs the secular government of Bashar al-Assad against his opposition, which is now dominated by the al-Qaeda affiliate the Succor Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) and the al-Qaeda offshoot the so-called Islamic State. Al-Sisi has also expressed support for prime minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq, largely on the grounds that Baghdad is attempting to fight back against the so-called Islamic State. Jordan’s King Abdullah II is also terrified of the so-called Islamic State.

So you have a bloc of nationalist states– Egypt, Jordan, and Syria — facing off against movements of political Islam, and Hamas has to be counted among the latter. (Iraq, ruled by parties of Shiite political Islam, is trying to join the nationalists in the region in alliance against the “Islamic State”). It is therefore difficult for these states to intervene on behalf of Hamas, since they want the organization, and the whole tendency to political Islam, to drop dead.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey got into a shouting match with al-Sisi, accusing him of leaving the Palestinians of Gaza to their fates and dismissing al-Sisi as a “tyrant.” Egypt replied that Turkey was breaking the normal protocol among nations (in slamming the president so personally). Turkey’s ruling AK Party is mildly oriented to political Islam.

Then a prominent newscaster in Egypt attacked Morocco, the prime minister of which is a devotee of political Islam. Egypt had to apologize.

Even the so-called “Islamic State” turns out to be useless to Hamas.

Its leadership says that it has to tackle the “hypocrites” among the Muslims before turning to “the Jews.” This is a reference to early Islam. When the Prophet Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina, most people in the latter city came to embrace Islam, even if only pro forma. City notables who outwardly had become Muslims but inwardly resented and tried to undermine the Prophet, were termed “hypocrites” or “those in whose hearts there is a sickness”. The so-called Islamic State views all other Muslims this way.

So the struggle between nationalism and political Islam has neutralized most of the Middle East if it hasn’t made them de facto allies of Israel.


related video:

Press TV: Sisi, Abbas meet to discuss the situation in Gaza

Related book:

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East

Falluja and Gaza: Why Counter-Terrorism fails when the Problem is Political

By Juan Cole

There are such things as small terrorist groups that do a lot of harm and lack any significant social or political support. It may well be that such groups can be defeated by counter-terrorism operations.

Other so-called terrorist groups are more organic, growing out of the profound suffering and grievances of a whole population. Such groups may deploy terror (attacks by non-state actors on non-combatants), but they aren’t actually just terrorist groups. They are insurgencies. Only about 20% of insurgencies end by the decisive military defeat of the insurgents on the part of the government. Most are ended through a negotiated settlement.

In spring of 2004, some Blackwater mercenaries were hotrodding it through the Sunni Arab city of Falluja just west of Baghdad. They were attacked by an angry crowd, killed, and their bodies desecrated. Three of the four were Americans.

Newsweek reported at the time that George W. Bush took the attack as an affront to the US and said “heads must roll.” He set in motion a siege and invasion of Falluja. But in April 2004 the US lost control of southern Iraq because of the Mahdi Army uprising, and Bush was trying to transition to a civilian Iraq government instead of the failed American viceroy, Paul “Jerry” Bremer. Several members of the Iraqi governing council that was advising Bremer on the transition threatened to resign if Falluja were invaded. So Bush backed off.

But after Bush won reelection against John Kerry, he immediately returned to the plan to invade Falluja. The administration charged that Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, was based in Falluja and that large numbers of the car bombings in Baghdad were planned and carried out from there. In November of 2004, the US surrounded and then invaded Falluja. The US military destroyed the city, leaving many buildings in rubble. The population either ran away to refugee camps or stayed to risk death. The death toll will never be known.

All the Sunni Arabs in Iraq were furious about the US invasion and razing of Falluja. They announced that they would not participate in the January, 2005, elections. And that began the alienation of the Sunni Arabs from the new Iraqi government, which came to be dominated by fundamentalist Shiites and separatist Kurds.

After Falluja was invaded and partially destroyed, the car bombings went on just as before. It was not in fact indispensable to the resistance to US occupation. Indeed, Zarqawi was killed in late spring of 2006, a year and a half later, and that made no difference to the rate of violence, either.

The US misunderstood the Sunni resistance as narrow, as consisting of a few small terrorist groups. Washington thought it knew where they were based (Falluja) and was convinced that invading that city would allow them to inflict substantial attrition on the military and organizational capacity of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. US security analysts wrote me at the time saying that killing leaders was crucial, because leadership skills are rare and leaders are hard to replace.

In January of 2014, early this year, Falluja fell to the successor of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq. The Sunni Arab population of the city had been done out by a all those years of American occupation and then the high-handed Shiite dominance of PM Nouri al-Maliki. So the 2004 invasion of Falluja not only did not root out “terrorism,” it paved the way very possibly for Iraq to lose Falluja and other major Iraq Sunni Arab population centers.

Likewise, the Israeli military profoundly misunderstands Hamas. It is ridiculous to dismiss it as a terrorist organization. it is broadly based and has an important political wing.

For this reason, the Israel ground invasion of northern Gaza will be no more successful than the US invasion of Falluja. The Israelis cannot actually destroy Hamas or its capabilities as long as significant numbers of Palestinians in Gaza support it. That support is political, having to do with the organization’s role in at least trying to stand up to Israeli oppression, occupation and blockade.

Just as the enemies of the US ultimately prevailed in Falluja, so the enemies of Israel will prevail in Gaza.

Oppression and occupation produce resistance. Until the oppression and the occupation are addressed, the mere inflicting of attrition on the military capabilities of the resistance will not snuff it out. Other leaders will take the place of those killed.

If Israel really wanted peace or relief from Hamas rockets, its leaders would pursue peace negotiations in good faith with Hamas (which has on more than one occasion reliably honored truces). Otherwise, invading Gaza will have all the same effects, good and bad (but mostly bad) that the US invasion of Falluja had on Iraq.


Related video:

Falluja via RT from last March

Gaza: 4 Dead Boys on the Beach & Israel’s Precision War

By Juan Cole caught the Israeli shelling of children on the beach on film. Apparently some of the children had been playing soccer with the journalists before the barrages began! There was no warning (contrary to what Euronews suggested) and there were no military targets on the beach. There were just little boys who tried to run away and who appear to have been deliberated targeted for a second strike by an Israeli gunboat.

NBC journalists and editors appear to be angry about this incident, since, unusually for American television news, they dared be quite frank in their language about Israeli culpability. Veteran correspondent Richard Engels pointed out that despite Hamas’s largely ineffectual rockets, it is the Palestinians of Gaza who are bearing the brunt of Israeli bombardment, since they have no shelter and nowhere to go.

“It was broad daylight. There was no warning . It wasn’t the precision war Israel says it is fighting… Israel claimed that it was firing at Hamas militants at the port. But the dead were four young boys.” That is, NBC just called the Israeli military bald-faced liars, because there were no Hamas militants on that beach, just children playing.

What can we conclude from this sickening attack?

1. Israel actually has quite bad intelligence about Gaza. The Israeli navy thought it was bombarding militants when it was actually just shelling a civilian beach with little children running around on it.

2. Israel doesn’t know exactly what it is shelling. The Israelis clearly saw the four little boys running away, and deliberately fired another shell at them, killing them. The gunner surely thought he had Hamas in his sights. In fact, they were just little boys, deliberately targeted and killed as they were trying to get away.

3. Israel’s so-called warnings to Palestinians to leave are absurd, because the civilians have no place to go in tiny Gaza.

4. This is not a precision war on Israel’s part. The Israeli officers outside Gaza are just hitting any old target and then declaring it a Hamas depot.

5. Israel’s response to the incident, that it will conduct an investigation, is pure propaganda. The Israeli government almost never finds against itself. The passive aggressive phraseology is a dead giveaway.

The shelling of boys on a beach is symbolic of the aggressive paranoia of the Likud government.

Update: The Egyptian-American NBC correspondent who did the beach report, Ayman Mohyeldin, was pulled from Gaza by NBC, sparking protests within the organization and a leak of its politics to Glenn Greenwald.


GRAPHIC: Israeli shelling kills 4 Palestinian children on Gaza beach

Israel, Gaza and the Fatal Spirit of Versailles

By Juan Cole

The Egyptians appear to have floated their cease-fire agreement Tuesday morning in the press, and Hamas insisted any such proposal had to be communicated directly with them. As a result, an Israeli spokesman alleged, Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel, with an Israeli man being killed by one (the only Israeli killed in the current conflict). Over 200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by Israeli bombs since the current round of hostilities began a week ago.

The fact is that the Palestinians were not very enthusiastic about a mere cease-fire, and most had reason to distrust the current Egyptian government. The Egyptian proposal did little to address Palestinian grievances and only offered a temporary relief from Israeli bombing. The Palestinians of Gaza want the kind of settlement that will end the indignities and hardships imposed on them by Israel.

Ironically, it is a more thoroughgoing peace agreement that would most benefit Israel, as well.

After WW I, the victors treated Germany as a criminal at the Versailles Peace Conference. Harsh retribution was imposed on Germany and the country was humiliated and economically disadvantaged.

As a result, Germany re-armed in the 1930s and launched another world war.

After World War II finally ended, the US and its close allies treated Germany very differently. It was allowed to emerge in the West as a prosperous democracy. Former Nazis with no blood on their hands were rehabilitated for government service.

The vindictive and unfair treatment of Germany after WW I sowed the seeds of another war only two decades later. The magnanimous treatment of Germany after WW II led to 7 decades of peace in Europe.

Recent supporting examples include the wretched way the victorious US and its Shiite allies treated Sunni Arab Iraqis. This caused another war, the great ‘Islamic State’ War of 2014.

The Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people in 1948-49, 1967, and ever after is has been Versailles on steroids– punitive, vindictive and inhumane. Nor did the Palestinians even bear the kind of guilt for the outbreak of hostilities that Imperial Germany did in 1914 or the National Socialists did in 1939. The point of the analogy is not the guilt or innocence of parties to conflict but how to win the after-war.

The Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is wretched, and of course it causes further wars.

If anyone wanted the wars to stop, they’d adopt the policies of the FDRs and Eisenhowers toward the defeated enemy.

Palestinians in Gaza should be paid billions in reparation for the land and homes they lost in southern Israel in 1947-48.

The ban on Palestinian exports must be lifted.

The ban on importation of building materials must be lifted.

Gaza’s water crisis must be resolved.

Gaza’s electricity generation should be shifted to solar energy with international aid.

Could taking these steps start the process of getting a humane government for Gaza and of reaching genuine peace terms with Israel? Historical experience shows that magnanimity toward defeated populations has some chance of leading to peace, whereas vengeful and invidious policies toward the vanquished generally lead to further wars and conflict.


Related video:

TheRealNews: “Report From Gaza – Why Hamas Rejected Ceasefire”

Rand Paul to Rick Perry: Why Send US Troops to an Iraq that Won’t Defend Self?

By Juan Cole

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, apparently considering another run for president (assuming he can remember to do it), attacked Rand Paul as an “isolationist,” calling him “blind” to the danger of international “terrorism” and pointing especially to the rise of the so-called Islamic State in northern Iraq.

Perry said, “”That’s why it’s disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq…” Perry says that the European Muslims fighting with IS could come to the US easily for the purposes of terrorism. But it seems obvious that the US military can’t stop that in any case. If the problem is lax security, it is a Department of Homeland Security issue, not one of foreign military intervention.

The problems with Perry’s use of IS as a plot device for driving US military intervention abroad are manifold:

1. There were no al-Qaeda offshoots operating freely in Iraq in 2002, despite what Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials alleged. Far from forestalling a dire threat to the US, the Bush administration illegally invaded and occupied a country that had not attacked the US. It then destroyed its economy and dissolved its army and cooperated in a vindictive anti-Sunni set of policies on behalf of the Shiite fundamentalists it brough to power. It was precisely the bull in the china shop of US military intervention that paved the way for IS to come to prominence in northern Iraq in the first place! So what makes Perry think that another intervention won’t also boomerang?

2. It is not clear what exactly the US military could do to fight IS in Iraq. They occupied the whole country for about 8 years and weren’t able to root it out. What exactly would Mr. Perry have them do? As for a US advisory mission to the Iraqi military, it is unclear how advice will do much good when 30,000 troops drop their weapons and run away. Shall we advise them not to do that?

3. IS has never struck, as a terrorist group, at a target in the US. If it is true, as Perry, suggests, that it struck at Israeli Mossad operatives in Belgium, then that surely is a matter for the Israelis to do something about. The Israelis seem willing to deploy the billions of dollars in sophisticated weaponry US taxpayers have given them against women and children in Gaza. Perhaps they could spare some of that weaponry for avenging themselves on the actual fighters of IS. Either the Israelis are a strategic asset for the US, in which case they should be able to fight their own battles, or they are a liability, in which case we shouldn’t give them $3 bn a year and shouldn’t allow them to drag us into military misadventures in the region.

Yesterday, Rand Paul replied, arguing that Perry is ‘dead wrong.’

Rand Paul argues that Perry’s depiction of him as an isolationist is a caricature, and that in fact he and Perry agree on most of the steps the US should take in Iraq. Paul even generously admits that both of them largely agree with President Obama on these steps: “I support continuing our assistance to the government of Iraq, which include armaments and intelligence. I support using advanced technology to prevent ISIS from becoming a threat.” He also allows that US airstrikes on targets of the so-called Islamic State may be necessary.

Paul says that where he differs with Perry is that he would not send ground troops back into Iraq.

He also suggests that the policy of the US and its allies of trying to train and arm Syrian rebels has backfired, and that many of these US-backed fighters have defected to IS and other al-Qaeda offshoots. That is, interventionist policies in Syria are in part responsible for the Iraq imbroglio.

Paul says, “After a decade of the United States training the Iraq’s military, when confronted by the enemy, the Iraqis dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms and hid. Our soldiers’ hard work and sacrifice should be worth more than that. Our military is too good for that.”

He argues that there is no way a US military boots-on-the-ground mission could succeed under such circumstances.

Since, rather tyrannically, Americans have been forced into a two-party system, we don’t actually have much choice in politics.

So it matters quite a lot who is the standard-bearer for each of the two parties. On foreign policy, the Rand wing of the GOP could find some common ground with independents and Democrats on issues such as avoiding committing big military land forces abroad.

Unfortunately for the country, all the other GOP early frontrunners are talking boots on the ground overseas, and that means we have a 50/50 chance of such a catastrophe in only 3 years. Worse, some of the potential Democratic frontrunners probably agree more with Rick Perry than they do with Rand Paul. So American elections have become a crap shoot in which the country could lose it all with each election.

Rand Paul makes more sense in this exchange on Iraq and Syria than does Rick Perry, who argues by the same fearmongering about “terrorists” that caused all the trouble in the first place.


Related Video:

The Young Turks: “Perry vs Paul In Snarling CatFight – Is Romney The Savior?”

Helpless Giant: How Imperial US Elites Tied America Down All by Themselves

By Tom Engelhardt via Tomdispatch

For America’s national security state, this is the age of impunity.  Nothing it does — torture, kidnapping, assassination, illegal surveillance, you name it — will ever be brought to court.  For none of its beyond-the-boundaries acts will anyone be held accountable.  The only crimes that can now be committed in official Washington are by those foolish enough to believe that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.  I’m speaking of the various whistleblowers and leakers who have had an urge to let Americans know what deeds and misdeeds their government is committing in their name but without their knowledge.  They continue to pay a price in accountability for their acts that should, by comparison, stun us all.

As June ended, the New York Times front-paged an account of an act of corporate impunity that may, however, be unique in the post-9/11 era (though potentially a harbinger of things to come).  In 2007, as journalist James Risen tells it, Daniel Carroll, the top manager in Iraq for the rent-a-gun company Blackwater, one of the warrior corporations that accompanied the U.S. military to war in the twenty-first century, threatened Jean Richter, a government investigator sent to Baghdad to look into accounts of corporate wrongdoing.

Here, according to Risen, is Richter’s version of what happened when he, another government investigator, and Carroll met to discuss Blackwater’s potential misdeeds in that war zone:

“Mr. Carroll said ‘that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,’ Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit. ‘Mr. Carroll’s statement was made in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine,’ Mr. Richter stated in his memo. ‘I took Mr. Carroll’s threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract.’”

When officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world, heard what had happened, they acted promptly.  They sided with the Blackwater manager, ordering Richter and the investigator who witnessed the scene out of the country (with their inquiry incomplete).  And though a death threat against an American official might, under other circumstances, have led a CIA team or a set of special ops guys to snatch the culprit off the streets of Baghdad, deposit him on a Navy ship for interrogation, and then leave him idling in Guantanamo or in jail in the United States awaiting trial, in this case no further action was taken.

Power Centers But No Power to Act

Think of the response of those embassy officials as a get-out-of-jail-free pass in honor of a new age.  For the various rent-a-gun companies, construction and supply outfits, and weapons makers that have been the beneficiaries of the wholesale privatization of American war since 9/11, impunity has become the new reality.  Pull back the lens further and the same might be said more generally about America’s corporate sector and its financial outfits.  There was, after all, no accountability for the economic meltdown of 2007-2008.  Not a single significant figure went to jail for bringing the American economy to its knees. (And many such figures made out like proverbial bandits in the government bailout and revival of their businesses that followed.)

Meanwhile, in these years, the corporation itself was let loose to run riot.  Long a “person” in the legal world, it became ever more person-like, benefitting from a series of Supreme Court decisions that hobbled unions and ordinary Americans even as it gave the corporation ever more of the rights and attributes of a citizen on the loose.  Post-9/11, the corporate world gained freedom of expression, the freedom of the purse, as well as the various freedoms that staggering inequality and hoards of money offer.  Corporate entities gained, among other things, the right to flood the political system with money, and most recently, at least in a modest way, freedom of religion.

In other words, two great power centers have been engorging themselves in twenty-first-century America: there was an ever-expanding national security state, ever less accountable to anyone, ever less overseen by anyone, ever more deeply enveloped in secrecy, ever more able to see others and less transparent itself, ever more empowered by a secret court system and a body of secret law whose judgments no one else could be privy to; and there was an increasingly militarized corporate state, ever less accountable to anyone, ever less overseen by outside forces, ever more sure that the law was its possession.  These two power centers are now triumphant in our world.  They command the landscape against what may be less effective opposition than at any moment in our history.

In both cases, no matter how you tote it up, it’s been an era of triumphalism.  Measure it any way you want: by the rising Dow Jones Industrial Average or the expanding low-wage economy, by the power of “dark money” to determine American politics in 1% elections or the rising wages of CEOs and the stagnating wages of their workers, by the power of billionaires and the growth of poverty, by the penumbra of secrecy and classification spreading across government operations and the lessening ability of the citizen to know what’s going on, or by the growing power of both the national security state and the corporation to turn your life into an open book.  Look anywhere and some version of the same story presents itself — of ascendant power in the boardrooms and the backrooms, and of a sense of impunity that accompanies it.

Whether you’re considering the power of the national security state or the corporate sector, their moment is now.  And what a moment it is — for them.  Their success seems almost complete.  And yet that only begins to tell the strange tale of our American times, because if that power is ascendant, it seems incapable of being translated into classic American power.  The more successful those two sectors become, the less the U.S. seems capable of wielding its power effectively in any traditional sense, domestically or abroad.

Anyone can feel it, hence the recent Pew Research Center poll indicating a striking diminution in recent years of Americans who think the U.S. is exceptional, the greatest of all nations.  By 2011, only 38% of Americans thought that; today, the figure has dropped to 28%, and — a harbinger of future American attitudes — just 15% among 18-to-29-year-olds.  And no wonder.  By many measures the U.S. may remain the wealthiest, most powerful nation on the planet, but in recent years its ability to accomplish anything, no less achieve national or imperial success, has shrunk drastically.

The power centers remain, but in some still-hard-to-grasp way, the power to accomplish anything seems to be draining from a country that was once the great can-do nation on the planet.  On this, the record is both dismal and clear.  To say that the American political system is in a kind of gridlock or paralysis from which — given electoral prospects in 2014 and 2016 — there can be no escape is to say the obvious.  It’s a commonplace of news reports to suggest, for example, that in this midterm election year Congress and the president will be capable of accomplishing nothing together (except perhaps avoiding another actual government shutdown).  Nada, zip, zero.

The president acts in relatively minimalist ways by executive order, Congress threatens to sue over his use of those orders, and (as novelist Kurt Vonnegut would once have said) so it goes.  In the meantime, Congress has proven itself unable to act even when it comes to what once would have been the no-brainers of American life.  It has, for instance, been struggling simply to fund a highway bill that would allow for ordinary repair work on the nation’s system of roads, even though the fund for such work is running dry and jobs will be lost.

This sort of thing is but a symptom in a country of immense wealth whose infrastructure is crumbling and which lacks a single mile of high-speed rail.  In all of this, in the rise of poverty and a minimum-wage economy, in a loss — particularly for minorities — of the wealth that went with home ownership, what can be seen is the untracked rise of a Third World country inside a First World one, a powerless America inside the putative global superpower.

An Exceptional Kind of Decline

And speaking of the “sole superpower,” it remains true that no combination of other militaries can compare with the U.S. military or the moneys the country continues to put into it and into the research and development of weaponry of the most futuristic sort.  The U.S. national security budget remains a Ripley’s-Believe-It-Or-Not-style infusion of tax dollars into the national security state, something no other combination of major countries comes close to matching.

In addition, the U.S. still maintains hundreds of military bases and outposts across the planet (including, in recent years, ever more bases for our latest techno-wonder weapon, the drone).  In 2014, it still garrisons the planet in a way that no other imperial power has ever done.  In fact, it continues to sport all the trappings of a great empire, with an army impressive enough that our last two presidents have regularly resorted to one unembarrassed image to describe it: “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.”

And yet, recent history is clear: that military has proven incapable of winning its wars against minor (and minority) insurgencies globally, just as Washington, for all its firepower, military and economic, has had a remarkably difficult time imposing its desires just about anywhere on the planet.  Though it may still look like a superpower and though the power of its national security state may still be growing, Washington seems to have lost the ability to translate that power into anything resembling success. 

Today, the U.S. looks less like a functioning and effective empire than an imperial basket case, unable to bring its massive power to bear effectively from Germany to Syria, Iraq to Afghanistan, Libya to the South China Sea, the Crimea to Africa.  And stranger yet, this remains true even though it has no imperial competitors to challenge it.  Russia is a rickety energy state, capable of achieving its version of imperial success only along its own borders, and China, clearly the rising economic power on the planet, though flexing its military muscles locally in disputed oil-rich waters, visibly has no wish to challenge the U.S. military anywhere far from home.

All in all, the situation is puzzling indeed.  Despite much talk about the rise of a multi-polar world, this still remains in many ways a unipolar one, which perhaps means that the wounds Washington has suffered on numerous fronts in these last years are self-inflicted.

Just what kind of decline this represents remains to be seen.  What does seem clearer today is that the rise of the national security state and the triumphalism of the corporate sector (along with the much publicized growth of great wealth and striking inequality in the country) has been accompanied by a decided diminution in the power of the government to function domestically and of the imperial state to impose its will anywhere on Earth.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and 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 latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. 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 Young Turks: “Blackwater Made Death Threats To Keep Money Flowing & It Worked”

The Court Trial of Bibi Netanyahu

By Juan Cole

Dark Satire: Irony alert

Prosecutor: “Justices of the International Criminal Court, I shall demonstrate to you that this man (points at detained Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu in orange jump suit and manacles at accused table) is guilty of serious breaches of international law and not just of war crimes but of a pattern of systematic war crimes over time. As you know, such a pattern amounts to crimes against humanity. He is also guilty of the crime of Apartheid, which is itself a crime against humanity according to the United Nations.”

Lead Justice leans over his elevated desk. “Proceed, counselor.”

Prosecutor: “The first charge is the systematic and prolonged violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of populations in times of war and in militarily occupied territories. According to article 49,

“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Justices of the ICC, I maintain to you that Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 and that it is an occupied territory under the definition of the law. I maintain to you that Israel illegally annexed part of the West Bank to its artificial “district of Jerusalem,” itself a violation of the United Nations charter that forbids acquisition of territory by military conquest, and to which Israel is signatory. Thereafter, Israel flooded 300,000 Israelis from its own civilian population into this district, surrounding Arab East Jerusalem and isolating it from the Palestinian population of the West Bank.

I further maintain to you that Israel has settled over 400,000 Israelis from its own population in what is left of the West Bank. This is a total of 700,000 or more persons from Israeli proper settled in Occupied Palestine. Mr. Netanyahu has accelerated this squatting, and sees it increasing by 50% over the next few years. Worse, these settlers are often armed and commit violence against the native Palestinians, with the connivance of Mr. Netanyahu.”

Justice looks at Netanyahu: “How do you plead to the charge?”

Netanyahu: “Judea and Samaria are an inalienable part of Israel and not occupied territories.”

Justice: “Mr. Netanyahu, you are to plead guilty or not guilty. The status of the West Bank as an occupied territory is not in question here; it is universally recognized as such in international law.”

Netanyahu: “The terrorists will not be allowed to pose an existential threat to the state of Israel.”

Justice: “Guilty or not guilty to the charge of violating article 49, Mr. Netanyahu. Terrorism charges may be brought against Hamas leaders if you like, but they are not pertinent to your violation of article 49. As you should have learned in kindergarten, two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Defense attorney for Netanyahu whispers in his ear, then turns to Justices. “Your honors, my client pleads not guilty by virtue of Iran’s nuclear bomb.”

Justice: “Iran does not have a nuclear bomb; and if it did it would be irrelevant to the charge against you. If you insist on these histrionics, Mr. Netanyahu, I will have you gagged.”

Prosecutor: “Your honors, the West Bank, home to 2.6 million Palestinians, has become an Apartheid situation under Israeli rule. Mr. Netanyahu has denied the Palestinians the right to a nationality, and says he will forever do so. He has built large numbers of apartment complexes for illegal Israeli squatters on Palestinian land, from which all Palestinians are excluded. This pattern of systematic residential discrimination is typical of Apartheid. He has built highways that Palestinians may not drive on. He has established checkpoints that limit Palestinian mobility in the Palestinian West Bank. He has instituted a pass system identical to that of old Apartheid South Africa. He has had wells dug into aquifers for illegal Israeli squatters, lowering their level and causing Palestinian wells to run dry, in hopes of chasing Palestinians out of the West Bank. This situation meets most of the elements in the Rome Statute’s definition of Apartheid, II, C:

“Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognised trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association…”

The Palestinian West Bank under Israeli military occupation is the very face of Apartheid, your honors.”

Justice to Netanyahu: “How do you plead to the crime against humanity of Apartheid?”

Netanyahu: “Israeli security can only be guaranteed if we control the borders with Jordan.”

Justice slaps forehead. “Clerk, enter a plea of “not guilty” for Mr. Netanyahu. And schedule him for jail time for contempt of court until he apologizes for wasting our time with propaganda.”

Netanyahu defense attorney: “Your honors, we request dismissal of all these charges.”

Justice: “On what grounds, counselor?”

Counselor: “International law is clearly anti-Semitic.”

Justice (to clerk): “Clerk, please schedule defense counsel for jail time for contempt of court, as well.”

Netanyahu: “Nazi!”

Justice (to clerk): “Double the jail time for contempt of court.”

Prosecutor: “Your honors, the current Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in 1967 and which it continues to surround and blockade today, has involved numerous strikes on medical facilities, including an old people’s home and health care clinic and a medical center for the disabled. At the disabled center, two challenged persons were killed and more were wounded.

“This is a direct violation of Article 18, ‘Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.’ ”

Justice to Netanyahu: “How do you plead?”

Netanyahu: “It is very unfortunate that Hamas hides its rockets in hospitals.”

Justice: “Do you have any proof of that allegation?”

Netanyahu: “All Arabs are terrorists, so obviously the handicapped ones are, as well.”

Justice: “I give up. Bailiff, gag him!”

Justice (to Prosecutor): “Do you have more charges, counselor?”

Prosecutor: “Yes, your honor. About 1,000 more.”

Justices sigh.

Netanyahu stands and gives long muffled speech that cannot be understood because of the gag.


Related video:

Euronews: “Netanyahu says Gaza campaign may take ‘a long time’”

Palestine 1896

First film footage taken of Ottoman Palestine (Lumiere Bros.), in 1896.

Palestine 1896

h/t William Dalrymple

Kemal Karpat wrote that according to the Ottoman Census of 1893, the population of most of what is now Palestine (excluding northern areas then attached to Beirut) was as follows:

371,959 Muslims
42,689 Christians
9,000 Jews

This does not count several thousand Bedouin Palestinians. It probably undercounts women, children and the poor among the Palestinian Muslims, as well as those young Muslim men who were dodging the draft. That is, likely the real figure was more like 500,000. It also excludes thousands of Jews living in Jerusalem who had foreign citizenship because they came as retirees to the holy city, living on charitable trusts set up for the purpose of encouraging elderly Jews to study and worship there. Jews from the Russian Empire put special emphasis on this practice. That is why Jerusalem was said to be 50% Jewish. But note that Jerusalem was small then, and Jews were not so numerous elsewhere in Ottoman Palestine.