IPS Blog

U.S. Support for Israel Mirrors 80s Support for El Salvador Junta

It’s like the 1980s all over again.

During that decade, the Reagan administration – with the support of Congress – sent billions of dollars worth of unconditional military and other support to the right wing-junta in El Salvador, just as the Obama administration is today with the right-wing government in Israel.

When Salvadoran forces massacred 700 civilians in El Mozote, Congressional leaders defended the killings, saying that the U.S-backed operation was “fighting terrorists.” Similarly, when Israel massacred over 700 civilians in the Gaza Strip early last year, Congressional leaders defended the killings for the same reason.

When Amnesty International and other groups investigated the El Mozote killings and found that it was indeed a massacre targeted at civilians by the Salvadoran army, members of Congress denounced these reputable human rights organizations as “biased.” There was a similar reaction when Amnesty and other groups documented similar Israeli war crimes, with Congressional leaders accusing them of “bias.”

Even when the Salvadoran junta murdered international humanitarian aid workers, that right-wing government’s supporters in Washington insisted that the victims were actually allied with terrorists and that they somehow provoked their own deaths. We’re now hearing the same rationalization regarding the attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla in the eastern Mediterranean.

The difference is that, back in the 1980s, members of Congress and the administration who were responsible for such policies were targeted with frequent protests, including sit-ins at Congressional offices and other kinds of nonviolent direct action. Unlike supporters of the El Salvador’s former right-wing government, however, today’s Congressional supporters of Israel’s right-wing government seem to be getting a free ride.

Senators Barbara Boxer, Ron Wyden, Russ Feingold, Barbara Mikulski, and Carl Levin – who led the attack against Justice Goldstone and others who documented Israeli war crimes – are still supported by many so-called “progressives” who apparently believe that, despite these senators’ attacks on basic human rights, they should still get their vote, campaign contributions, and other support. For example, here in California, Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans and singer/songwriter Bonnie Raitt, who were active in opposition to U.S. policy in Central America during the 1980s, are major contributors to Boxer’s re-election campaign. The willingness to challenge such right-wing Congressional militarists has substantially diminished.

The problem is less a matter of the power of AIPAC and the “pro-Israel lobby” as it is the failure of those on the left to demand a change in Obama administration policy. Progressives must recognize that the lives of Arab civilians are as important as the lives of Central American civilians; that it is just as inexcusable for the United States to support a government that kill passengers and crew on a humanitarian flotilla in international waters as it is to kill nuns, agronomists and other civilians working in the Salvadoran countryside; and that, when it comes to international humanitarian law, the differences between the policies of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama are not as great as we would like to think.

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Philip Metres

Philip MetresA weekly featured poem of provocation and witness. You can find more poetry and arts news from Blog This Rock.

For the Fifty (Who Formed PEACE With Their Bodies)

In the green beginning,
in the morning mist,
they emerge from their chrysalis

of clothes: peel off purses & cells,
slacks & Gap sweats, turtle-
necks & tanks, Tommy’s & Salvation

Army, platforms & clogs,
abandoning bras and lingerie, labels
& names, courtesies & shames,

the emperor’s rhetoric of defense,
laying it down, their child-
stretched or still-taut flesh

giddy in sudden proximity,
onto the cold earth: bodies fetal or supine,
as if come-hithering

or dead, wriggle on the grass to form
the shape of a word yet to come, almost
embarrassing to name: a word

thicker, heavier than the rolled rags
of their bodies seen from a cockpit:
they touch to make

the word they want to become:
it’s difficult to get the news
from our bodies, yet people die each day

for lack of what is found there:
here: the fifty hold, & still
to become a testament, a will,

embody something outside
themselves & themselves: the body,
the dreaming disarmed body.

-Philip Metres

Used by permission.

Reader Challenge: Do Alternate Cheonan Narratives Ring True?

Asia Times Online periodically provides a forum for Kim Jong-il mouthpiece Kim Myong Chol. In an early May article titled Pyongyang sees US role in Cheonan sinking, he suggests that the incident may have been the result of friendly fire on the part of the United States.

Is it possible that North Korea carried out the daring act of torpedoing a South Korean corvette participating in a US-South Korean war exercise? The answer is a categorical no. The circumstantial evidence is quite revealing, showing who is the more likely culprit.

Among the evidence he cites:

The disaster took place precisely in the waters where what the Pentagon has called “one of the world’s largest simulated exercises” was underway. This war exercise, known as “Key Resolve/Foal Eagle” did not end on March 18 as was reported but actually ran from March 18 to April 30.

North Korean submarines are not stealthy enough to penetrate heavily guarded South Korean waters at night and remain undetected by the highly touted anti-submarine warfare units of the American and South Korean forces. A North Korean submarine submarine would be unable to outmaneuver an awesome array of high-tech Aegis warships, identify the corvette Cheonan and then slice it in two with a torpedo before escaping unscathed, leaving no trace of its identity.

Or as Lex, who frequently writes for Scholars & Rogues, put it:

If that’s how good the DPRK is, I’m not so sure we want to be rattling sabers.

Sticking the knife in and twisting, Chol declared that “the US repeated the kind of friendly fire incident for which it is notorious in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, another alternative narrative, in the form of an open letter to Hillary Clinton, finds neither the United States nor South Korea culpable. Its author, S.C. Shin, a civil investigator recommended by Korean National Assembly to investigate the sinking of Cheonan, seeks only to stay their hand from retaliating. He writes: “I could not find even a slight sign of ‘Explosion’ but could find so many evidences of grounding in/out of the vessel.”

Chin provides a detailed analysis, complete with images, of the shallow and rocky area where he believes the Cheonan went aground, to which the initial Mayday calls also attested. He further provides pictures of damage to the hull and propeller blade which show (drawn from his bullet points): “No penetration, No burn damage, No heat, No splinters, Cable covers are not damaged, Oil tank and dump area not damaged at all.”

If the boat was hit by a torpedo, he asks:

How are the bodies of victim who were found near the cutting area so clean while a big explosion [supposedly] broke out that is enough to tear down the vessel in two?

  • How could the bottom of the hull no& penetrations by splinter at all?
  • Why couldn’t we find even dead fish in that area . . . ?
  • Why nobody got otolaryngologic disease at all? Even no nose-bleeding.

The crew of the Cheonan, Chin maintains, actually managed to free the ship, but another incident followed when it then collided with another ship (because it had lost the ability to steer?).

Chin also cites the initial reports, which, of course, may have just been attempts to head an international incident off at the pass.

Won See-hoon, director of South Korea’s National Intelligence, . . . told a South Korean parliamentary committee in early April . . . that there was no evidence linking North Korea to the Cheonan’s sinking. South Korea’s Defense Minister Kim Tae-young backed him up, pointing out that the Cheonan’s crew had not detected a torpedo, while Lee Ki-sik, head of the marine operations office at the South Korean joint chiefs of staff agreed that “No North Korean warships have been detected . . . (in) the waters where the accident took place.”

Obviously, if there’s any merit to these alternative narratives (not conspiracy theories, at least in this instance) them, they deserve a hearing to prevent an international incident. Do Focal Points readers find them credible and compelling? Also, let’s try to dissect the motives on the part of South Korea and the United States for representing a grounding and/or accident as an act of aggression.

Who Killed Hatoyama’s Career?

Yukio Hatoyama’s political career is dead, and Washington’s fingerprints are all over the murder weapon.

Hatoyama Announces To Quit Japan's Prime MinisterThe Japanese prime minister announced yesterday that he’s resigning and taking his number 2, the head of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Ichiro Ozawa, with him.

The press has made a big thing about Japan’s political instability, that Hatoyama is the fourth prime minister to step down in four years. But this was a resignation that could have been avoided.

The Obama administration never warmed to Hatoyama. Washington didn’t like his critique of American-led globalization. His calls for a more equal partnership with the United States fell on deaf ears.

But it was the Okinawa base issue that sealed the deal. The Japanese prime minister had the temerity to call for a renegotiation of the 2006 deal that would close the Futenma Marine Corps base in Okinawa, shift thousands of Marines to Guam, and build a new base elsewhere in Okinawa for the remainder. The Obama administration went into overdrive in its efforts to persuade Hatoyama and his upstart DPJ to change their minds.

It wasn’t just a matter of convincing the prime minister or his party. The DPJ’s ruling coalition partners were against the relocation plan. And the vast majority of Okinawans rejected the 2006 plan. Tens of thousands of protestors gathered in a mass demonstration in April. Another 17,000 formed a human chain around Futenma in May.

So, Hatoyama was in a quandary. He couldn’t afford to piss off Washington. And he couldn’t afford to alienate his own constituencies. So, he committed political suicide by accepting the fiat from Washington and then resigning.

“Hatoyama’s popularity collapsed, in large measure, because he could not make up his mind,” writes Blaine Harden in The Washington Post.

That’s not exactly true. The prime minister was flawed in many ways. He was inexperienced. There were some shady financial dealings in his political circles.

But he couldn’t make up his mind because he was in an impossible position, a position that the United States forced him into. In my opinion, Washington used the Okinawa base as a weapon against a politician that it didn’t fundamentally trust.

Japanese voters wanted a big change when they supported the Democratic Party of Japan last August. They didn’t realize that the U.S. government was not interested in big change in Japan, not if it challenged U.S. interests in the region.

Japanese voters can still make new leaders. But the United States reserves the right to break them.

Oil Begins to Hit Florida Beaches; Disaster May cost BP $37 Billion

A small amount of oil has reached Florida’s Panhandle, the Wall Street Journal reports. A much larger “sheen” remains less than 50 miles away. According to the latest estimates, cleaning up the oil gushing from BP’s deepwater well could cost the company $37 billion, Bloomberg News reports. As OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower put it, when corporations promise to clean up a mess, things rarely go as they say. “This lesson is literally oozing over us in the form of the Gulf of Mexico’s disastrous oil slick,” Hightower said in a recent column.

Aftermath of the Israeli Flotilla Attack

Howard Zinn’s statement rings true for any nation, whether it be Israel, Palestine, or the United States: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

The Institute’s Israel/Palestine expert, Phyllis Bennis, had a scathing statement out today on The Huffington Post, on the Israeli military’s “massacre” of nine-plus activists. She says:

By coincidence, I am in Istanbul at the moment. In Turkey, home to most of the dead and injured among the international activists, 10,000 people marched from the Israeli consulate to the city’s main square, while thousands more took to the streets in Ankara, expressing outrage and demanding international accountability and immediate action to end the blockade of Gaza.

Maybe someone in the Israeli intelligence services or in the military really believed that the high profile threats that the Gaza Freedom Flotilla would “not be allowed” to reach Gaza shores would somehow convince the 700+ human rights defenders to simply give up. That they would agree to turn their 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid over to the Israeli military in the hope that the IDF, which has enforced an illegal and crippling siege against the 1.5 million Gazans for more than 3 years, would abide by their claim that they would send the aid on to Gaza… a Gaza that Israel continues to assert is not facing the humanitarian catastrophe that has been documented by the United Nations, by Amnesty International, by every Israeli and Palestinian and international human rights organization working in the region.

But anyone who knew anything about the Gaza boats knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Our own Netfa Freeman overlaid interviews of people protesting Israel, protesters’ chants, speeches, and music to create an audio story of the Gaza flotilla attack. It runs about 20 minutes long, but is worth every second.

CODEPINK provides an interactive timeline of the flotilla attack in Gaza yesterday, including firsthand stories of the attack – which they describe as “nothing short of state-sponsored terrorism.” It’s not quite complete yet, but should be a great resource for information as it comes.

Al-Jazeera is also liveblogging updates on the attack’s aftermath.

Kevin Drum wonders: How will this end?

There are now planned protests at Israeli embassies worldwide, if you want to let your country’s leaders know that you’re against the Israeli government’s actions.

Israel Plans to Meet Next Aid Ships with more Force

Two more activist-manned ships are traveling to Gaza to deliver aid, just a day after Israeli soldiers killed at least nine volunteers aboard vessels attempting to bring supplies. The commando-style raid, the deaths, and the arrest of nearly 700 activists sparked global condemnation, yet the Israeli military intends to meet the next ships with even more “aggressive force,” The Jerusalem Post reports. “Israel has decided that it is better to be perceived as savage than as weak,” Phyllis Bennis, an Institute for Policy Studies fellow and an OtherWords contributor, wrote on the Huffington Post op-ed. Many of the dead and injured are believed to be Turkish, and the incident is wrecking relations between Turkey and Israel.

Italy: Tomatoes and the Color Purple vs. Silvio

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, increasingly under attack by trade unions angered at his austerity proposals and a feckless economic program that has produced virtually no growth, now finds himself besieged on the Internet. There is a certain irony that this rightwing media mogul should find himself beset by the electronic media.

Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi looks down during a news conference at Palazzo Chigi in RomeThrough his massive holding company, Fininvest, Berlusconi owns Mediaset, one of the largest communications companies in Europe. It controls Italy’s three most watched channels, as well as Telecinco in Spain. Because he controls the government, Berlusconi also dominates the public station, RAI. What Italians see on their televisions is what Silvio wants them to see, and that means sports, soaps, and news shows that look like a joint undertaking by Fox News and Victoria’s Secret.

Shortly after a quarter of a million people turned out in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo last October to challenge Berlusconi’s control of the media and the Prime Minister’s efforts to make himself immune from the law, the “Purple Movement” sprang up on the Internet. According to one of the group’s founders, Emanuele Toscano, purple is the “symbolic color of battle for the affirmation of democracy, for the respect of our Constitutional Charter as the foundation of civilized living, for the defense of a free and plural information system.”

Using Internet tools like Face book, the “Purples” set up a nationwide network of Internet users, who turned out leaflets, organized transportation, and on Dec. 5 put several hundred thousand people into Rome’s San Giovanni Square for a “No Berlusconi Day.” The Rome police estimated the crowd 90,000, but even Berlusconi cabinet member, Robert Calderolli, put the number at 350,000.

Dec. 5 was Italy’s first Internet-promoted demonstration, similar in many ways to the massive 1999 demonstrations against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Seattle.

“The net is a natural incubator of dissent,” argues Toscano, although the “Purples” also used old-fashioned methods as well, like handing out leaflets downloaded off the web, and flooding local newspapers with letters. The latter strategy was essential because only about one-third of Italy’s 60 million people are connected to the Internet, and only seven million of those use it with any regularity.

Other on-line groups, like “More People Love Tomatoes than Silvio Berlusconi,” have sprung up, and the torrent of Internet opposition, coupled with growing union resistance, is starting to seriously dent the Prime Minister’s popularity. His poll numbers have plummeted from 49 percent approval in January, to 35 percent in May.

Political figures all over the continent are taking a beating because of the current recession, but nothing like Silvio. Even Europe’s basket case, Greece, gives its Prime Minister, George Papandreou, a 43 percent approval rating—a drop of 10 percent—and crisis-wracked Spain and Portugal have seen their prime ministers’ poll numbers fall only 3.5 percent and 4.5 percent respectively.

Some of Berlusconi’s wounds are self-inflicted, including his squabbles with rightwing allies in the Parliament, his sexual escapades, his fight with the Catholic Church, and his rather bizarre falling out with Rupert Murdoch. His admiring use of a quote by fascist leader Benito Mussolini during a Paris news conference on May 27 is not liable to help.

Italian unions are gearing up for a one-day general strike to protest Berlusconi’s austerity package, and Guglielmo Epifani, head of the General Confederation of Italian Unions (CGIL), has called for a June 12 protest in Rome. “The cuts are all concentrated on workers, the same old recipe that leaves out the high wage earners,” Epifani told the Financial Times. The austerity package calls for a three-year wage freeze.

Besieged on the streets, hounded by the Purples and the Tomatoes on the Internet, the Capo di tutti capi of Italian politics looks headed for a fall.

Kentucky Adopts Civil Rights Resolution

Following the uproar about Rand Paul’s views on civil rights–in particular, how he doesn’t think it’s the government’s job to guarantee them–Kentucky state lawmakers have adopted a resolution “declaring any form of discrimination to be inconsistent with American values,” the Associated Press reports. Paul’s views have made Kentucky “a laughingstock,” said state Sen. Gerald Neal, the majority-GOP legislature’s only African-American member, and the resolution’s author. OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul addresses Paul’s political fortunes in his latest column, which concludes: “If these people ever do get into office, we won’t need term limits. About one term is all the public will be able to stand.”

Israel: When You Circle the Wagons, Shoot Outward!

Were it not for the ongoing humanitarian tragedies, it would be amusing to watch Israel self-destruct. For a regime that once seemed the embodiment of competence and self assurance, it now appears to be suffering some sort of terminal grand mal, thrashing around and blindly smashing the crockery and furniture.

An Israeli holds a national flag on the beach near the Ashdod port in southern IsraelIsrael seems clearly bent on demonstrating what its opponents have long claimed — that it is a dangerous and illegitimate regime operating beyond the confines of international law and moral principle. The attack on the Gaza flotilla — with lethal force, in international waters — is the latest demonstration of its apparently infinite counterintuitive capacity. The offered defense of these indefensible actions — “They made me do it!” — would embarrass even a petulant five-year-old.

Complexity science heads don’t do prediction. In a non-linear system, where slight changes in initial conditions, agent interactions and perturbations across systems boundaries combine to generate unpredictable outcomes, the future is always uncertain. But we can learn over time to see patterns and probabilistic vectors, and therefore better anticipate surprises.

So, taking all that into account, let me suggest that Israel as we know it, will cease to exist in the foreseeable future. Its own internal inconsistencies — multiplied by demographics, and the continuing evolution of sociopolitical and humanitarian norms — will administer the coup de grâce.

Here’s why.

Social systems — which include communities, companies, marching bands and nation states — succeed or fail because of their relative coherence, which is what underpins their adaptive capacities. Adaptiveness is key, because as anthropologist L.S.B. Leakey put it so beautifully, “The lesson of evolution is, change . . . or perish!”

System coherence is determined in large part by:

  • The strength of shared “identity.” (Who are we? Why are we here? What are our values?)
  • The relative facility or friction of interactions. (How easy or hard is it to take concerted action?)
  • The strength and clarity of networks and information flows. (Does the intelligence necessary to make informed decisions get to those who need it in a timely fashion?)
  • The strength of relationships within and across system boundaries. (Because structures and actions are relationships made visible.)

These are all “nested” within a complex stew of interconnected and often fluid boundaries, continually evolving “initial conditions” and the (often contradictory) rules of the overlapping systems.

In a nutshell, Israel lacks coherence. The narrative that has held it together for the past 60 years — and blinded the outside world to the uglier realities — is eroding rapidly. The political divisions within the country make concerted action almost impossible. The social networks lack “requisite variety,” so objective realities are ignored. And relationships are dissolving as even traditional supporters back away from a regime increasingly seen as rabid and isolated.

Bottom line, Israel has become “condensed” and non-adaptive. And if a system can’t adapt — if it can’t “co-evolve” with its environment — it dissolves.

Time frames are always uncertain. Sometimes they are longer than one would imagine, because the system has more resilience than expected. More often, however, they tend to be shorter, because of another characteristic of complex systems, which is “iteration.” What that means is that small changes can have significant effects after they have passed through the emergence-feedback loop a few times. This is sometimes called the “snowball” effect. (A snowball gathers more snow on each roll and quickly goes from a ball the size you throw, to one that throws you.)

Israel cannot survive as a pariah/apartheid state. Like any modern state, it is entirely reliant on trans-boundary relationships and flows, from diplomatic recognition to raw materials and export markets. Its vaunted high-tech industry is worthless without willing foreign buyers. Because those markets can be served by a number of competitors, client loyalty is vital to success. As Israel slips further beyond the pale of civilized behavior, that loyalty will prove both highly transient and nearly impossible to recover once it’s gone.

So what will emerge in Israel’s place? After all the pushing and pulling, a bi-national, and perhaps even a bioregional state seems most viable. (See “The Only Path to a Middle East Picnic?“) After all, Palestine (like all the nations surrounding it) is a made-up entity. A vestigial remnant of European colonial days with arbitrary, and often irrational, boundaries. Redrawing those lines with goals of equity, diversity and social justice would have profound benefits for residents of the region and beyond.

One way or another, Israel appears to be on the way out. The big question is whether it will be with a bang or a whimper.