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Former Obama Defense Official Rosa Brooks: President Obama Is In Need Of An Intervention

by on Friday, October 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm EDT in Election 2012, Foreign Policy, Politics, World

Former Defense & State Dept Official Rosa Brooks

Rosa Brooks, who served under President Obama as Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and then Special Coordinator for Rule of Law and Humanitarian Policy, offered her former boss some long-overdue advice in her new Foreign Policy Magazine piece:

“[P]ush the foreign policy ‘reset’ button.”

In it, she recalls Obama’s principled vision for U.S. foreign policy during his 2008 campaign, which won over the American people and the world alike. It offered a fresh new worldview and policy platform that departed dramatically from his predecessor’s. She then contrasts that vision with where his foreign policy stands today — in shambles.

She highlights key regions that could be fairly portrayed as policy failures, including the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, China, Latin America, and Africa. On Obama’s expanding drone campaign, she describes “a counterterrorism strategy that has completely lost its bearings — we no longer seem very clear on who we need to kill or why.”

She lays these policy failures at Obama’s door, describing him as having been a “visionary candidate,” yet a President who “has presided over an exceptionally dysfunctional and un-visionary national security architecture — one that appears to drift from crisis to crisis, with little ability to look beyond the next few weeks.”

The United States, she says, “needs more than speeches and high-minded aspirations.” The President “needs to focus on strategy, structure, process, management, and personnel as much as on new policy initiatives.” 

Brooks pulls no punches in her “intervention” attempt. She provides him with a 6-point plan of action to turn things around, should the American people grant him a second term.

A central theme that spans across many of these recommendations is a dysfunctional foreign policy team in which well-respected strategists and visionaries have been mostly replaced by inexperienced political hacks.

She describes an environment where: 

  • “The Strategic Planning Directorate has been reduced to a speech-writing shop.”
  • The “National Security Staff (NSS) lacks the personnel or the depth of experience and expertise to be the primary font of policy.”
  • “Nepotism trumps merit.”
  • Cronyism “reigns supreme when it comes to determining who should attend White House meetings,” thereby shutting out dissenting voices, “along with the voices of specialists who could provide valuable information and insights.” This “guarantees uninformed group-think.”
  • Two of Obama’s three gatekeepers, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and his Deputy Denis McDonough, are allegedly “jerks” and despise one another. “The nastiness demoralizes everyone and sends the message that rudeness and infighting are acceptable.”

She describes the President as someone who, like his predecessor, has withdrawn into a bubble. He is heavily shielded by gate-keepers, rarely attends press conferences or interacts with members of Congress, never calls anyone.

She encourages him to implore staffers to play devil’s advocate — to challenge the polices that Obama and his close circle plan to pursue, if only to highlight their weaknesses, and to make those who have his ear actually have to defend them. In short, Obama needs more dissenting opinions in the room.

Perhaps her harshest critique of the President is one which many of his earliest supporters have long complained about: Obama lacks a backbone. 

President Obama has sound moral instincts, but he often backs away from them at the first sign of resistance. He came into office with a mandate and Democratic control of both houses of Congress. Had he been willing to use some political capital — and twist a few arms on the Hill — in those early months, Guantanamo would be closed, and the United States might have a more coherent approach to national security budgeting. But on these and other issues, the president backed off at the first sign of congressional resistance, apparently deciding (presumably on the advice of the campaign aides who already populated his national security staff) that these issues were political losers.

Of course, it was a self-fulfilling prophesy; the issues became losers because the White House abandoned them. Ultimately, Congress began to view him as weak: a man who wouldn’t push them very hard. As a result, Congress pushed back hard on everything, including health care, economic stimulus, and regulation of the financial industry, and Obama was forced to live with watered-down legislation across the board.

If he gets a second term, Obama needs to start thinking about his legacy, and that will require him to fight for his principles, not abandon them. Even if he fights, he won’t win every battle — but if he doesn’t fight, he won’t win any. 

Sound advice.

Jeff Halper Breaks Israeli Left Into 3 Groups And Explains Why Each Is Incapable Of Ending The Occupation

by on Monday, October 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm EDT in Middle East, World

Chris Cox’s piece in openDemocracy is a ‘must-read’ for those who often wonder why the Israeli Left appears impotent in stymieing Israel’s ethnic cleansing policy in the occupied territories. 

To find some answers, Cox turned to 2006 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Jeff Halper, one of the Israeli Left’s most prominent voices.

Halper co-founded the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) in 1997 — an NGO whose volunteers literally risk their lives resisting the occupation. Its members place their bodies between Israeli bulldozers and Palestinian family homes, and when homes and villages are demolished they mobilize to rebuild them. 

Most recently, Halper appeared on RT to discuss a single Palestinian village which had been demolished by Israel 38 times. The village was being registered for consideration in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Unfortunately, the sheer scale of the occupation project is just far too massive for ICAHD to overcome. Israel has successfully demolished around 27,000 Palestinian structures since 1967, effectively cleansing Palestinian families from choice real estate which Israel desires for Jewish-only settlements.

So where is the Israeli Left, and why are they incapable of overturning policies that are reminiscent of those from some of the darkest periods in human history? Halper breaks the group into three “concentric circles,” and addresses why each has largely been ineffective:

Group One: ‘Mainstream Liberal Zionist Left’

[T]ypified by Israeli Labour Party[, t]his camp “fell asleep” after the failure of the Oslo process, says Halper. “They internalized (the then Israeli Prime Minister) Ehud Barak’s declaration that Israel had no partner for peace.” Since then they have been largely silent.

“[They] only woke up again last summer with the protests in Tel Aviv,” says Halper, referring to the domestic Israeli protests for social justice which continued this summer, making international headlines after one man fatally set himself on fire.

Halper criticizes this movement for being solely concerned with “creating an equal situation within Israel”, without looking beyond its borders into the Palestinian territories. “They’ve completely erased the occupation as an issue,” he says. “It’s not finished, it’s not normalized; it’s just non-existent.” […]

Group Two: ‘Activist Zionist Left’

[T]ypified by veteran Israeli NGOs such as Peace Now and Meretz, and more recently joined by groups such as Breaking the Silence, Rabbis for Human Rights and Gush Shalom.

“This group is still active against the occupation. The occupation for them is the issue. They are Zionist, so if there has to be a Jewish state, then there has to be a Palestinian state.” But this, for Halper, is where the problem with this camp lies.

They all support the two state solution. The problem with that, of course, is that it’s gone.” This is a point that Halper has been making for many years now. In 2003, he presented a paper at the UN called ‘One State: Preparing for a Post-Road Map Struggle Against Apartheid’. “So they’re caught. They’re depressed. Because the only solution they can envisage is gone – or, in their terms, going.” Halper pauses, wryly adding: “It’s never gone – it’s always ‘going’.”

“These groups are not going to get too much into the politics, because they can’t go there. So these groups are drifting away, because they can’t deal with the reality.” […]

Group Three:  ‘Non-Zionist, Anti-Zionist, Post-Zionist’ (Halper places his own NGO in this group):

“This group says, forget Zionism: we’re Israelis. We’re not defined by ideology.”

“Because these groups are not Zionist they can think outside the box. They can think in terms of, ‘Okay, so now what?’ They can talk about all kinds of possibilities – one state, bi-national state, a confederation, etc… but for the left groups that are still Zionist, there is no ‘now what?’”

But meanwhile these groups have their own problems, says Halper. “Because it is essentially a collection of activists – pure activists – they have no impact on policy. In my view, you can only be useful if you effect policy – if you have a strategy.”

“These activist groups have no political programme,” he continues. “One week they’re at Sheikh Jarrah [a Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem whose residents are struggling against eviction and demolitions], then they’re in the south Hebron hills giving food to the Bedouin communities, then the next minute, boom, they’re in Tel Aviv protesting against the government. There’s no strategy.” […]

Halper believes that the Israel Left are virtually incapable, if not largely disinterested, in liberating the Palestinians, and that only outside pressure can succeed in accomplishing this feat. For this reason he is focusing more and more of his energies on unifying the global Left in confronting the occupation.

Halper’s forthcoming book, Global Palestine: Exporting the Occupation, will expand on this theme of internationalizing the conflict.

After The Iraq Debacle, It Would Be Negligent For Americans Not To Watch Ahmadinejad’s U.N. Speech

by on Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm EDT in Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Politics, WikiLeaks, World

Shaking Hands: Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, special envoy of Pres. Ronald Reagan (Baghdad – Dec. 20, ’83)

One reason why the most powerful interests succeed in pulling the wool over the eyes of the American people is because the masses rarely if ever take the time to read or view the raw information available to them. Instead they rely on others’ interpretations. 

Everyone is guilty of this to different degrees. People’s lives are hectic, there are only so many hours in a given day. So the masses look for quick summaries, 30-minute news programs covering dozens of different news briefs that can be measured in seconds. Fast food news consumption for those on the go.

But in doing so, they become dependent upon these same powerful interests, not only to inform them about what they need to know, but how to think about these issues.

When the interests of both the public and the powerful coincide, then the public can often glean an accurate, though often ‘Cliffs Notes’-level of comprehension on any given issue. But when the public interest conflicts with the interests of the powerful on an issue, then the establishment is well positioned to massage the message and misinform, or to drop its coverage entirely, thereby ensuring the public remains uninformed.

This helps to ensure the masses vote and cheerlead against their own best interests, and in ways that further enrich the powerful. The public ends up supporting wars they later learn were unnecessary, unlawful, costly, and resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, often including members of their own families. 

A majority of Americans knew close to nothing about Saddam Hussein after Sept. 11, 2001, at a time when the Bush Administration began its propaganda campaign to mislead the country into a war with Iraq. This made the Neocons’ job very easy. By repeating talking points laced with demagoguery and fear mongering, the Bush Administration convinced a major majority of Americans that this dictator was so evil, so dangerous, so irrational, that his accelerating ‘nuclear weapons program’ made him an ‘imminent threat’ to American security.

One of the most oft-repeated phrases the Neocons used to help demonize Saddam as a monster was “he gassed his own people.”

George W. Bush on Oct. 11, 2001 (one month after 9-11):

“There’s no question that the leader of Iraq is an evil man. After all, he gassed his own people. We know he’s been developing weapons of mass destruction. … And so we’re watching him very carefully. We’re watching him carefully.”

The gassing allegation was true. Saddam DID gas the Kurds on 40-some different occasions. His largest gassing was against the Kurdish town of Halabja in March of 1988, resulting in the deaths of 5,000 people. But what George W. Bush didn’t want you to know, and could rely on the establishment media not to tell you, was that this gassing took place back when Saddam was an ally and aid recipient of the United States, during the Administration of his father, George H.W. Bush.

Samantha Power, in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, “A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide,” revealed that not only was the Bush Administration well aware of the gassing of the Kurds, they refused to even condemn it. Despite knowing definitively that Saddam was responsible, as declassified documents now reveal, the State Department went as far as to suggest that perhaps Iran was involved on some level in the gassing.

Does this fact make Saddam any less evil? Of course not. But had the public at large realized that Bush and his fellow Neocons were capitalizing on incidents that occurred nearly 15 years earlier — incidents that happened when Saddam was cozy with Bush’s own father and some of these same Neocons, and with their full knowledge — it might have led the public to question why these Neocons suddenly ‘saw the light’ on Saddam’s monstrosity. And that might have taken some of the air out of the ‘imminent threat’ bubble. 

And now Americans are being sold that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the new Adolph Hitler. This week, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly (99 votes to 1) passed a new non-binding resolution, proclaiming war to be a viable option should the Iranians gain the capability for a nuke — even if they have no intentions of creating one. The knowledge, in itself, has now been pronounced grounds for war. 

Now, you might not like Ahmadinejad, you might even find his views on any number of subjects repugnant, or his abuse of political dissidents criminal, but he is NO Adolph Hitler, NOR Saddam Hussein.

The Washington establishment is terrified that you too might draw this same conclusion. Because if Israel were to launch an attack on Iran, the U.S. would undoubtedly be dragged into war. And none of our politicians have the guts to ward Israel off by threatening repercussions (e.g. aid cuts, no more U.S.-vetoes to shield Israel from accountability at the U.N. Security Council, etc.). And no one in the mainstream media has the courage to address this unprecedented ‘tail wags dog’ dynamic.

So instead, they ALL demagogue the Iranian President, embellish his words, make comparisons to Hitler, as if to make his ‘irrationality’ and ‘evilness’ a type of conventional wisdom that must remain unchallenged, especially during prime time.

When President Ahmadinejad gave a speech at the U.N. yesterday, the U.S. delegation boycotted it, thereby sending a loud and clear message to the nation that this leader is so despicable, so evil, so threatening, that they wouldn’t dare attend.

Despite President Obama’s apparent reluctance for war, the American war drums continue to bang loudly. Each week, the threat of an Israeli attack gets heightened and PM Netanyahu continues to meddle in the U.S. Presidential Elections, blatantly trying to entrap the U.S. President into committing to war.

All Americans owe it to themselves to watch Ahmadinejad’s U.N. speech. Watch it and decide for yourselves whether the Iranian President is the depraved lunatic you’ve been told; whether his words make him such an ‘imminent threat’ to the United States, that hundreds of thousands more innocent lives are worth losing, trillions more dollars are worth spending (err borrowing); that it is worth having our gas prices tripled, and our economy ransacked.

Spare yourselves the establishment’s caricature of Ahmadinejad and just watch him for yourself:

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TRANSCRIPT (at mid-page)

VIDEO: WINEP’s Director of Research: U.S. Needs A False Flag to Start A War With Iran

by on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 1:24 am EDT in Iran, Middle East, Politics, War On Terror, World

Many of the notables who served in the Bush Administration and played key roles in misleading the United States into war with Iraq have passed through the corridors of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). In fact, the think-tank serves as an incubator for the hawkish Neoconservative ideology.  Here is how Harvard professor of Int’l […]

President Obama’s Appearance on 60 Minutes: The Good And The Bad

by on Monday, September 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm EDT in Economy, Election 2012, Middle East, Politics

President Obama and Governor Romney both appeared on 60 Minutes last night in what is being billed as an indirect debate between the two candidates. They interviewed separately, but both used it as an opportunity to level some attacks at one another and to defend themselves against the other’s talking points. Here are some of the […]

Glenn Greenwald Defends WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange’s Asylum Claim In Radio Debate

by on Friday, September 21, 2012 at 1:28 pm EDT in Europe, Politics, WikiLeaks, World

AlterNet Radio’s Joshua Holland recently invited Guardian columnist (and former constitutional lawyer) Glenn Greenwald onto his show to defend Ecuador’s granting asylum to Julian Assange. The asylum was granted based on the belief that if the UK were to extradite Assange to Sweden for questioning on sexual assault claims, Sweden would promptly extradite him to the United States, where […]

Would A Nuclear Iran Bring Stability To The Middle East?

by on Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 3:58 pm EDT in Iran, Middle East, World

Kenneth Waltz, from the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, recently wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs entitled “Why Iran Should Get The Bomb,” in which he contends that “power begs to be balanced” — that Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb would actually restore stability to the Middle East. Waltz’s is a viewpoint largely […]

Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein: U.S. policy to Israel, Palestine must change

by on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 12:21 am EDT in Election 2012, Middle East, Politics, World

Dr. Jill Stein, the prospective Green Party presidential nominee, just released a policy statement regarding Israel / Palestine on her website (which follows below). For those who have longed to hear a U.S. Presidential candidate bravely step up with a Middle East policy platform grounded in international law, human rights, and equality and justice for ALL, her statement will not […]

Clinton To Iran: We Have No Proof You Are Pursuing WMDs, So Prove You Are Not Intending To

by on Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 3:11 pm EDT in Iran, Middle East, World

Despite all intelligence agencies (in the U.S. and in Israel) reconfirming the assessment that “Iran hasn’t yet decided to pursue a nuclear weapon and has not reconstituted a clandestine nuclear weapons program,” which the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) expressed, with “high confidence,” had been abandoned in 2003, the world is nonetheless punishing (boycotting) Iran, as if it […]

Peter Beinart’s Book Explains Why Democrats Gave ‘Thundering Ovations’ At Bibi’s Speech To U.S. Joint Session Of Congress

by on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 2:48 pm EDT in Middle East, Politics, World

The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman created a bit of controversy this December when he wrote:  I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.  Well, now some […]