Willful Ignorance

February 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

Several of the crazier representatives of the Republican Party and some of the shameless hacks employed by Fox News have attacked President Obama because he does not label ISIS or ISIL or any of the groups affiliated with those organizations as “Islamic Extremist” or “Islamofacist Extremists” or some other catchy label associating the armed thugs with the religion of Islam.  Various “experts” on combating terrorism have pontificated that “accurate labeling” is essential to effectively opposing terrorism.

These attacks have implied that failing to identify the terrorists with Islam implies some kind of unwillingness to “call a spade a spade” – a sort of unmanly, weak hesitation to be blunt and forceful.

I agree that it is time to call a spade a spade.  There are three possible explanations for these attacks:  First, they may result from stupidity and ignorance.  Second, they may be the result of minds so consumed with hate and bigotry that rationality has been overwhelmed.  Third, they may be a political strategy based on the assumption that the American public is so stupid that such attacks will be effective to gain political points.

This is not a close question.  There is no “on the other hand” or “maybe they have a point” here.  These attacks are unadulterated stupidity.

Why?

The proper motive for any media-based attack on ISIS or ISIL is not to influence or change the minds of members of ISIS or ISIL.  That is a futile exercise.  The only sensible response to members of ISIS or ISIL members is to kill them and destroy their organization and its philosophical and ecclesiastical claims.  That task must be led and accomplished by  legitimate leaders and adherents of Islam. When secular leaders attack ISIS and ISIL, their appeal is directed to people who have not yet succumbed to the false claims of Islamic legitimacy.  We should do nothing to lend credence to those claims.

This is not the time for a new Christian Crusade.  It is also not the time for another “Global War on Terror” waged with the same ignorance and futility that characterized the recent War in Iraq.

Haven’t we learned anything?   Is our collective memory so deficient that we can’t recall the outcome of that foolishness?

Our public posture toward ISIS and ISIL should be exactly what President Obama has articulated:   We are not going to be drawn into a war against Islam.  ISIS and ISIL are not legitimate representatives of Islam.  Their actions do not have any legitimate roots in the religion of Islam.  They are lying about that.  They are trying to mask  their bloodthirsty activities with the language and rhetoric of Islam.

The last thing we should do is assist them by agreeing that they represent some part or sect with any legitimate claim to ties with Islam.

The KKK Example

After the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan was born as a violent response to Reconstruction.  It was a lawless group of frustrated Southerners who sought to instill fear and horror through lynchings and murders and beatings mostly, but not entirely, directed at black men and women.

The KKK continued long after Reconstruction ended and new forms of KKK  organizations have persisted to the present day.

Throughout its bloody history, the KKK has claimed legitimacy by masking its hateful rhetoric with Christian religion.   The burning cross is the universally recognized symbol of its public activities.  Here is a link to KKK’s present website:  KKK  If you click on the “about” button, the first sentence is “The Loyal White Knights is a law abiding Christian Organization.

From the beginning of this wretched organization’s existence, there have been brave and steadfast opponents eager and willing to publicly oppose it.  But never, so far as I am aware, did the opponents choose to refer to the KKK as a “Christian extremist organization”  or as a “Christian rogue sect”.  Does anyone think that would have been an effective way to oppose the KKK?  Of course not!  Why on earth would the KKK’s opponents want to associate it with the Christian religion?

Which should, but apparently does not, suggest to the ignorami who are attacking Obama that perhaps his approach is sensible and theirs merely exposes their misunderstanding of how to oppose terrorism.

Bob

 

 

Advertisements

How To Incite Violence

November 22, 2014 § 1 Comment

In response to the murderous attack on Jews worshiping at a Jerusalem synagogue, Netanyahu ordered the demolition of the family homes of the two murderers.  He also ordered the demolition of the family homes of two others who recently committed violent attacks in Jerusalem.

All of the attackers are dead.  The razing of their homes does not punish them.  It punishes their families.  The United States has declared this reaction by Israel “counterproductive”.   Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Great Britain have denounced it.

This kind of collective punishment is a continuation of the policy that produced the war on Gaza that destroyed thousands of homes and killed over two thousand Palestinian civilians in response to mostly ineffective missiles launched from Gaza into Israel.

Here is a link to a Haaretz article that describes the issue:  Demolitions

I believe this persistent policy raises an ethical policy well known to lawyers:

A client is entitled to be zealously defended by his lawyer, regardless of how immoral or illegal his conduct has been.  But a lawyer may not, in any way, facilitate a client’s engagement in illegal or immoral conduct.  If he does, the lawyer becomes complicit in the illegal or immoral activity.

I believe Israel has placed the United States squarely in the middle of this dilemma.  We continue to furnish arms, supplies and money to Israel while Israel continues to engage in conduct that offends basic rules of fairness and  justice.  Collective punishment imposed on innocent people in response to violent acts by individuals violates international law.

This latter principle is sometimes subject to nuanced exceptions.  For example, when a drone bombs a house to kill an enemy, innocent people are often killed.  Such tragedies are excused as “collateral damage”.  In my opinion this excuse is a lame one in some instances but, regardless of that argument, the Israeli policy of home demolition is different.  The home demolitions ordered this week are specifically aimed at innocent victims.

We impose “sanctions” on Iran and Russia when they pursue policies that violate our values.  I think we should consider whether sanctions should be imposed when Israel does the same thing.

It also seems chutzpah  for Netanyahu to accuse Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas of “inciting” the violent episode at the Jerusalem synagogue.  The “incitement” is plainly related to the brutal occupation of Palestine by Israel, the expansion of illegal settlements on the West Bank, the network of checkpoints that serve as daily interference with normal travel by Palestinians and conflicts between Jews and Muslims at Jerusalem’s holy sites.  The demolition of homes of families who had nothing to do with the crimes committed by two now dead family members will certainly incite more violence.

One final thought:  Suppose, after two brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, Barack Obama had ordered the demolition of their families’ homes.  Do you have any doubt that a federal court would have granted a Temporary Restraining Order, prevented the demolition and probably ordered an immediate psychiatric examination of Obama to see if he was deranged?

During the recent Israeli war on Gaza, Netanyahu often said, “How would you Americans react if Mexico was lobbing missiles into your country?”   It was an effective argument because our history is replete with disproportionate responses to minor events.  The explosion on the Maine and subsequent war against Spain; the naval bombardment of Vera Cruz on 1914, in response to the arrest of 6 sailors in Tampico; and the assault on Ft. Sumter triggering the Civil War come to mind.  But I’ll bet he doesn’t make a similar argument about the home demolitions, because we have a legal system that wouldn’t permit it and a set of values that wouldn’t condone it.  We don’t punish the families of wrongdoers.

From Those Who Know ISIS Best: “No Thanks”

September 15, 2014 § 6 Comments

I just got around to reading yesterday’s New York Times.  I just read two stories that made me angry.

One reports that, when Secretary of State Kerry asked Mr. Sameh Shoukry, the Prime Minister of the Military Government of Egypt, to join the effort to stop the growth and spread of ISIS, he responded, ‘Egypt believes it is very important for the world to continue their efforts strongly to fight this extremism.’  But Egyptian officials declined to specify what help they would provide in the campaign against ISIS, and Mr. Shoukry made it clear that he also had in mind fighting Islamist militants at home and in neighboring Libya.”

Translation:   “Oh, you mean those crazy ISIS people?  Oh no, we wouldn’t be interested in becoming involved in that problem.  After all, they’re in Iraq and Syria, aren’t they?  We’re too busy with our own issues to help you out over there.  Good luck, though!”

The other story reveals how ISIS picks up over a million dollars a day by selling oil they steal from Syria and Iraq and selling it on the black market in Turkey.  When President Obama asked Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to crack down on that illegal avenue of funding, a Turkey “senior official” described the talks as “sensitive”.   The real response came a few days later.  Here is how it went:

“Turkey declined to sign a communiqué on Thursday in Saudi Arabia that committed Persian Gulf states in the region to counter ISIS, even limited to the extent each nation considered ‘appropriate.‘ Turkish officials told their American counterparts that with 49 Turkish diplomats being held as hostages in Iraq, they could not risk taking a public stance against the terror group.”

Translation:   “We are grateful  you guys  decided to send your pilots over here to  stop ISIS.  They’re real scary dudes.  We hope not too many of your young people are shot down.  It would be terrible if they are captured by ISIS.  But we think we may be able to make deal to save our diplomats.  And besides, our people really like the bargain prices for that black market oil.  Good luck!”

Yesterday I posted my reaction to Obama’s pledge to stop ISIS.  I think he allowed himself to be bullied into making an unwise promise and violated the Constitution.   After further thought, and after these two stories confirm what I expected to be the reaction of the countries located in the Levant [see yesterday’s post to find out what “Levant” means.], I have a sort of “Plan B” reaction.

If President Obama intended to declare war on ISIS, he, at least, should have negotiated with  Middle Eastern countries who face more imminent threats from ISIS than we do, before announcing his decision.  That would have given Secretary some leverage.  By making the commitment first and recruiting allies second, he left his negotiator nothing with which to negotiate.  Why should Turkey, Egypt, Syria or Saudi Arabia become involved in an expensive and dangerous conflict with ISIS when all they have to do is make encouraging but meaningless noises while American men, women and  taxpayers do the all the fighting and bill paying?

Here is a link to the Egypt story:  Egypt

Here is a link to the Turkey story:  Turkey

To paraphrase President Obama, this was a dumb way to start a war.

 

The Truth In Gaza and A Bodyguard of Lies

August 2, 2014 § 5 Comments

Winston Churchill famously declared, “In wartime, truth is so precious she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”  As I try to sift through the cacophony of accusations about blame for the deaths and injuries of innocent civilians in Gaza, I recall that statement.  The Friday evening suspected capture of an IDF officer by Hamas has evoked a violent response that appears to have extinguished, at least for now, the flickering candle of hope that the carnage might soon end.

The Incident

Friday evening, about 9:30 pm local time, some Hamas soldiers emerged from a tunnel near the Israeli/Gaza border.  IDF soldiers, arriving there to destroy the tunnel,  encountered them.  One Hamas soldier appeared to be wearing suicide explosives.  A firefight ensued.  Both sides sustained casualties and an IDF officer was seen being dragged into the tunnel.  It has been assumed that he was captured.  Hamas has denied  that they have him.  President Obama has called for his immediate and unconditional release.

The Aftermath

This incident occurred during the first hour of an agreed ceasefire.  It was a plain violation of that agreement.  Some have suggested that the Hamas troops may have been unaware of the ceasefire.  Brief cease fire periods had occurred intermittently during the previous ten days. The fact that the firefight occurred less than an hour after the cease fire began lends some credence to that possibility,  but there is no evidence either to confirm or refute it.

Israel immediately declared that the ceasefire arrangements had been breached and, within an hour,  began a wholesale assault on Rafah, a small village near the  incident’s location.  using both tank-mounted artillery and areal bombardment.  At least 65 Palestinian civilians were killed and about 350 were injured.    Since then, Hamas has renewed the launching of rockets into Israel and Israel has resumed assault on targets in Gaza as well as a wide-ranging search for the captured soldier.

The Guardian has posted a comprehensive account of the incident.  Here is a link:  Guardian

Media Reports and Reactions

These events have been reported and discussed at length by journalists and commentators in Israel and around the world.   Some have likened the capture of the IDF soldier to the kidnapping of an Israeli man several years ago, which led to extended negotiations.  Finally, after five years in captivity, the Israeli was released in exchange for the release of over a thousand Hamas members and supporters held by Israel.  Others have objected to this comparison, arguing that capturing opposing soldiers is a normal and generally accepted occurrence during a war,  not usually thought of as a kidnapping.

Here is another account of the incident from BBC which I found helpful because it includes a timeline and some details conveniently organized as well as a video of the newscast.   BBC  .

Here is blog post by a Haaretz writer, Peter Beinart.  Beinart  This blogger is a liberal American journalist who has been writing and reporting on Israeli issues since 1985.  He is a practicing Jew whose parents were Holacost survivors.  He has definite opinions that conflict squarely with those of Benjamin Netanyahu and his political supporters, opinions he makes no effort to conceal.

I offer his views of the background of the present conflict because the facts he cites are different from those often cited by both American and Israeli  news sources.   Beinart is a controversial but respected journalist, having worked for the N.Y. Times, New Republic as well as Haaretz.  He has written a book about some aspects of Israeli history.

The current dispute was briefly debated by Beinart and Alan Dershowitz and another commentator during a news program I found interesting.  Dershowitz  .

Some Thoughts of Mine

I am put off by the constant claim by spokesmen for Israel that Hamas uses  “human shields” as tactics in their war against Israel.  I am skeptical of these claims.

First, when a family is destroyed while in their home because the building where their home is located is flattened by Israeli-launched missiles or bombs, it is a stretch for me to accept the idea that they were “human shields”.   The Israeli spokesmen explain this kind of carnage results because someone from the building fired on IDF troops; or because the IDF had information that some Hamas member was in the building; or because Hamas told the occupants not to respond to an Israeli warning by leaving the building.  The first two of these justifications seem insufficient to me and the third seems extremely improbable.

Taking number three first, I find it incredible that a mother would put her children, herself or her other family members in danger out of loyalty or devotion to Hamas.  My advice to Israel:  Stop using this one.  It won’t sell.

One and Two are also troublesome to me.  They would be reasonable rules of engagement if opposing armies were facing each other on a battlefield where lines were drawn and plainly recognizable.   In that case, if fired upon, any army would fire back with whatever force was available.  But the war in Gaza is urban warfare conducted in tightly packed neighborhoods where there are very limited numbers of safe places.  In those circumstances, I think it is incumbent on the IDF to make diligent efforts to determine whether a building is occupied by innocent civilians before destroying it.  The pictures I have seen don’t show little cottages where single families live.  They show multistory buildings where several apartments are located.  The occupants can’t control every nook or cranny where some marksman may be crouching.  It is not reasonable to me that anything less than a complete atmosphere of passivity and tranquility is required to avoid being targeted for a massive assault.

Finally, like anyone else, I bring to these judgments my own history.  WWII occurred when I was ten or eleven.  I read Life magazine and watched newscasts in darkened theaters, waiting for Saturday afternoon cowboy movies.  One episode I remember very well concerned Lidice, a small town in Czechoslovakia.  Some British commandos killed Reinhard Heydrich, a Nazi official and a close friend of Hitler, near that town.  There was a claim that one or more people in Lidice were complicit in the killing.  In response, the Germans executed 192 men and sent all the women and children to concentration camps, where most of them died.  Here is link to an a account of that event:  Lidice  .

To my young eyes and ears, that was a frightening event.  I thought it was unbelievably brutal and vicious.  The idea of mass punishment for the acts of specific individuals was shocking to me.  I am long years away from that memory.  My judgments are now informed by many other events.  I neither equate nor relate Israel to the evil minds that caused that horror.  But I realize that  childhood experience  affects my reaction to justifying innocent death and injury by citing hostile actions of unrelated combatants.

My Tort Lawyer Brain

For over fifty years I made my living trying lawsuits and arguing about liability for civil wrongs, or torts.  A fundamental principle underlying the concept of tort law is:  Every person is responsible for the natural consequences of his or her acts and omissions.  The application of this principle to human intercourse depends on the concept of causation.  That is, “What are the ‘natural consequences’ of particular acts or omissions?”  Centuries of experience with these ideas has crafted some rough outlines to guide and inform the answers to this question.

One answer is:  A person’s behavior will not be judged according to his claim of personal intent. Adults are not allowed to protest, like thoughtless children, “I didn’t mean to.”  Their acts and omissions   will be measured against the behavior of a fictional and imaginary “reasonable person.”  So, when Israel’s defenders say, “Hey!  You know us!  We don’t believe in killing innocent children.  Those are the beliefs of the other guys, not us.”, their acts and omissions will  drown out their words unless they conform to “reasonable person” rules.

Some things are undeniable:  Artillery shells and bombs are not precision killers.  When they are aimed at civilian neighborhoods, the intent to kill civilians is obvious unless reasonable steps have been taken to insure that civilians have been evacuated.  But, even if this is impractical, the shelling and bombardment may be excusable if it is the only way to accomplish a reasonable goal.  This, as I understand it, is Israel’s defense.   That’s why they destroy the electric power system that is essential for providing potable water.  That’s why they shell and bomb Rafah because it might be harboring the captors of an IDF soldier.

One thing about which I have seen little comment is the ability of Israel to visually monitor everything and every movement within Gaza.In my last post on this blog I included a link to a July 23,,2014, Haaretz story.  The link was  labeled “Revenge”.  The writer described an incident when some Hamas soldiers emerged from a tunnel wearing IDF uniforms.  At first, the Israeli forces were confused.  Then they used an areal photograph, taken by a drone, which enabled them to see that the Hamas soldiers were carrying Kalashnikov rifles, not IDF rifles.

This raises a question:  If that kind of surveillance is available, why can’t the IDF tell whether  women and children have entered a building and have not emerged?   Are they using the technology available to them to avoid killing innocent people,  or are they using it only to more efficiently destroy neighborhoods?

Further Discussion of the Human Shield Argument

The universally condemned “Human Shield” tactic is designed to prevent an opposing force from attacking the shielded force by hiding behind innocent civilians.  The success of the tactic requires that the attacking combatants be made aware of the civilian shield.

In order to fit the IDF’s assault on civilians in Gaza into this model, it must be assumed that they are aware that they are killing and wounding innocent civilians.  This precludes any claim that they do not intend to harm innocent civilians.  It assumes that the IDF is aware that their rules of engagement endanger innocent civilians and elects to proceed anyway.

I don’t see how they can have it both ways.  Either they don’t know that innocent civilians are endangered when they loose their missiles or drop their bombs, or they know  they are slaughtering innocent civilians and have made the moral calculus that killing their target is sufficiently important to justify the “collateral damage”.

The tragedy of the Gaza conflict is that Hamas gains strength and leverage, regardless of which alternative is true.  In this time of 24-hour-news-cycles and ubiquitous TV screens, Youtube and Iphone cameras, the pictures of grieving mothers and dead children are doing more damage to Israel than the generally ineffective Hamas rockets.  Israel should heed the bitter lessons learned by Bull Connor and LBJ:    Pictures of children attacked by police dogs are powerful weapons.  The picture of a naked Vietnamese girl, skin burned by Napalm, standing alone in the middle of a road, was indelibly etched on enough brains to defeat the war plans of a President determined to win against a much less powerful adversary.

The Moral Difference

When I think about these issues I never forget or ignore a vital fact:  Israel represents and embodies a core of compassion, morality and devotion to justice that is, so far as I can discern, entirely foreign to Hamas.  Israel would never identify with, or ascribe to, the kind of hatred expressed in the founding document upon which Hamas is based.  The first paragraph includes this statement:  “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.‘  The document goes on for several pages and never deviates from this kind of violent rhetoric.  I don’t recommend that my readers waste their time reading the whole document but, so that it will be available for reference, I offer this link:  Hamas  .

The pages of Haaretz demonstrate that, even in the emotional cauldron of war, while sons and daughters are in uniform and in harms way, there is an active debate within the Israeli community.   While most Israelis support the actions and tactics that I find objectionable, there is a vocal and articulate minority that opposes them.  And that minority has not been muzzled or suppressed.  It is easy to imagine how differently this kind of public debate would be treated by Hamas.

The tragedy of the Gaza conflict in Gaza is, as I see it:  Israel is behaving in ways that are contrary to the ideas and principles that have guided it during centuries of struggle and strife.   We should never do anything to weaken or threaten Israel, especially when their enemy is so bereft of morality and justice.  But we should do whatever we can to stop them from furnishing their enemies with ways to undermine their reputation for humane justice, not merely because of our concern for Israel, but also because the better part of our own cultural values demand it.

The New American Terrorists

October 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

First, a Correction Notice

I have made some corrections to my last post (www.bobsremonstrance.com “A Mind Meld, a Grok and A Couple of Reactions”).  The substance has not changed, but I have removed two or three “that”‘s that escaped my notice when I originally edited it.  “That” is a word almost always as useless in a written piece as “you know” in a conversation.  I ordinarily  excise the “that”‘s that creep in but, this time, I missed some.

Also, in memory of my high school English teacher,  I cleaned up a sentence in the part about “Crime and Punishment”.   I originally wrote: “The novel is an engaging description of a part of Russian society, set in St. Petersburg.”  My only excuse is an aging brain.  The sentence now reads, “The novel, set in  St. Petersburg, is an engaging description of a part of Russian society”

Finally, I removed the redundant word “mental” from my effort to describe Styron’s long window into the mind of Peyton.  I wrote that he described her “mental musings”, as if “musings” could be other than “mental”.  So “mental” is now gone.

Is There A Conspiracy?

I have long considered those who interpret current events as the product of conspiracies to be CooCooBirds.  So, with great hesitation, I present my version of the present struggle over funding our government and paying our bills.  I hope I am wrong, but the evidence seems persuasive that we have among us a cadre of powerful and wealthy individuals who want to convert the democratic republican government of the United States of America  into a plutocratic corporate oligarchy.

American Business Community:  Has It Been  The Dog That Didn’t Bark?

I have a friend who never tires of rebuking his liberal comrades for claiming and assuming that the GOP is the party of business.  He insists that the Tea Party insurgency within the Republican Party has separated it from  the interests and policies of American capitalism.  As he analyzes the issue it reminds me of the epic struggles within the labor movement in the 1930’s when factions allied with the Communist Party sought leadership roles.  There were some unions in which they had some success but the newly organized CIO, notably the Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers, fought back in a series of epic convention battles.  The Communists were effectively drummed out of the labor movement and never gained any significant power in unions.  My friend contends that the relationship between the Tea Party and the GOP is similar to the Commies versus the CIO.

In the last week the press has reported that agents of the Chamber of Commerce and some representatives of Wall Street’s financial community met privately with House Speaker Boehner and other GOP leaders.  They  expressed alarm at the prospect of a government default if the “debt ceiling” is not raised.   In apparent response, Boehner stated he will not allow that to happen.  The Tea Party members, led by Ted Cruz continues to threaten a default.  It remains to be seen how this will play out.  Boehner’s statement is interesting.  He is not promising that his party will not threaten a default; just that they won’t allow a default.  How kidnapping extortion works when there is no threat to shoot the hostage is a mystery.

Those who insist GOP policies no longer align with those of the  capitalists point to these reports as confirmation of their argument.  I see the matter somewhat differently.  I perceive the Tea Party as the latest iteration of a movement, attitude and set of policies that have roots planted long before they acquired the clever “Tea Party label .  They can be summarized with three words:  Hate the Government.

This history can be traced through rhetorical artifacts.   In 1978, Alan Greenspan told a Finance Committee, “”Let us remember that the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today’s environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.”  A Wall Street Journal article quoted a Reagan staffer who summarized the idea with a bumper sticker quip, “Starve the Beast”.  St  Ronnie, in his 1981 inaugural address, said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  Grover Norquist stated the goal plainly:  “I simply want to reduce it [the govenment] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bath tub.” The Great Communicator told his adoring followers,  “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’.”

These ideas, repeated and elaborated over and over by hate radio hosts like Limbaugh, Hannity and dozens of others scattered throughout the country, embedded  themselves in mainstream consciousness and had powerful effects.  I believe they relate to the present political climate and the outsize influence of the “Tea Party” in the same way that the Taliban’s ideas  related to the advent of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  This “hate the government” policy is to our democracy as the dogmas of Sharia are to Muslim ideas of government.  It is true that the Taliban does not represent the policies of the majority of Muslims.  Most Muslims do not favor government run according to Sharia law.

Unlike the labor movement, however, the Muslim/Arab community, while some representatives have disclaimed allegiance to Al Qaeda, has mounted no vigorous public opposition to the growth of that extremism.  Recent developments in Egypt reflect how timidly and ineffective such opposition has been.

And, also unlike the labor movement, the American business community, far from denouncing the growing political clout of these government haters, have favored, with generous financial support, candidates who have based their campaigns on these “hate the government” policies.

Why Did  the Business Dog Not Bark?

I began by asking myself why the corporate business community would permit the Republican Party to threaten the stability of our financial system by failing to make timely interest payments on our debt.  I assume the Koch brothers, the Club for Growth, the other controlling owners of Big Oil and  the complex of Wall Street banks and hedge funds could exert a powerful influence on the policies of the GOP  should they choose to do so.  They have certainly paid handsomely for that kind of access.  So, intimately involved as they are in the domestic and international financial markets, why would they allow a US default that would do immediate and long term damage to the reputation of U.S. bonds?  To oversimplify, why would they want to damage the ability of the U.S. government to borrow money at low rates of interest?

When I stated the question in this simple way, I caught a glimpse of the answer:  If their goal is to weaken and, if possible, destroy the ability of the U.S. government to create and maintain programs that protect ordinary working class citizens from the turbulence of unregulated capitalism, they would prefer that the funding of such programs be dependent on the power to tax, not the ability to borrow.

Government, like private enterprise, cannot grow if it lacks access to borrowed money at reasonable interest rates.  Powerful corporate businesses are intuitively and invariably opposed to taxes and government regulation.  The Supreme Court  has enabled such interests to wield virtually unlimited power to favor obedient politicians and to punish disobedient ones.  Thus armed, they probably are confident  they can prevent large tax increases.  And, if taxes must be raised, they have shown impressive ability to insure they are levied against the middle class, not the corporate ruling class.

I believe the silence and indifference of the business community to the growth of these ideas has resulted, in part, from changes in the nature and makeup of that community.  The wealth and power of American capitalism has become more concentrated in the financial system.   Engine Charley Wilson’s claim that “What’s good for General Motors is good for America” seems quaint in today’s America.  General Motors owes its existence to a Democratic Party president and a financial life preserver tossed by the government.  Wall Street banks have become so powerful and so capable of capsizing the American economy that the Attorney General has pronounced them “too big to fail and too big to jail”.

I believe the present conspiracy is the result of a very long train of events that were engineered by a relatively small group of people who were active in business, but who did not comprise the mainstream of business leaders.  They created think tanks, institutes, foundation-funded university and college chairs and fellowships.  They promoted candidates whose rhetoric identified the federal government as the enemy.

The complicity of the mainstream business community consists, I believe, in its enthusiastic embrace of the results of these political tactics.  They have eagerly applauded the destruction of the labor movement.  They have railed against fair taxes.  They have bitterly opposed reasonable regulations.  They have contributed large amounts of money in support of  candidates who preached hostility toward the government in which they  sought elective office .  The business community has, like Dr. Frankenstein, created a fiend they did not fully understand or expect.

We will soon discover whether American capitalism will forswear its Faustian bargain with the Tea Party and force a return to rational politics.  Regardless of the brash claims of independence by the Tea Party office holders, I believe if they were told that pursuit of their destructive policies would net them a few hundred million dollars worth of opposition  when they run for re-election, their devotion to principle might wane.  So long as the opposition of  Wall Street is limited to “tut tut” and “shame on you”, I agree with the Tea Partiers:  “These guys are not for real.”

Safe Havens for Domestic Political Terrorists

During the past ten years, using arcane political ploys, too complicated to  attract the attention of ordinary voters, the corporate plutocrats and their client state office holders have  created a network of what the British once called “rotten boroughs”, voting districts composed of like-minded constituents who would return representatives to Congress regardless of how dramatically their views differ from those of the majority of Americans.  These were and are safe havens for the Tea Party caucus.  They are the American Afghanistan.  In Texas this was engineered by Tom Delay, a creation of corporate lobbyists.

Who Are These Terrorists?  What Do They Want?

The carefully crafted political climate in those districts has enabled the election of a group of Congressmen who regard government as the enemy.  They are not anarchists.  They favor government policies that protect property rights, provide for an expanding military force and other services that facilitate business activities.  So far as concerns such functions as the “safety net” and promoting the “general welfare”, they regard such expenditures as charity, inappropriate for taxpayer support.

The above described political strategy and policies have been accompanied by an effective media campaign powered by Fox News and talk radio.  An echo chamber has been created in which a significant percentage of our citizens live and work.  There they are relentlessly bombarded with reasons for hostility toward their government, especially the federal government.  So-called “social issues” like abortion and gay marriage are featured.  The Bill of Rights is interpreted to be important as protection of  gun ownership and property rights, but as a hindrance to apprehension and punishment of suspected criminals.  Above all, taxation to pay for relief from poverty is denounced as theft and an invitation to moochers and lazy loafers.  Government regulation is blamed for interfering with the pursuit of profits and healthy competition.

Federal laws enabling workers to bargain through labor unions have been gutted.   There is no “labor movement”; only a few vestigial survivors of the struggles that occurred during the first half of the twentieth century.  The only effective organizations capable of exercising significant influence on national political policy are private corporations.  Political party organizations are generally ineffective.  Political candidates create ad hoc organizations that disappear after elections.

What If They Prevail?

The end result of these developments is easy to envision.   If the policies they represent prevail, the decisions affecting the lives and fortunes of ordinary Americans will not be made in the halls of government in Washington D.C..  They will be made in the board rooms of a few corporations with enough power and money to control lower tiers of lesser corporations whose success depends on access to capital and favorable treatment by the tycoons of finance.  The profit motive  and free market capitalism will replace any thought of empathy, compassion or fairness as determinants of government policy.  Workers with no bargaining power, facing fierce competition for jobs, will be forced to accept whatever employers choose to offer.  The “Iron Law of Wages”, rejected as morally unacceptable by Ricardo, will become the hallmark of American labor policy.

We’ve Seen An Earler Version of This Movie

Our history offers a preview of how this looks.  In the early 1900’s a few powerful business giants controlled the railroads, the coal, the iron and the Wall Street banks that, in turn, operated the United States as a corporate subsidiary.   This was the age of the “Robber Barons”.

That earlier period of institutionalized selfishness and greed did not permanently change our country because its victims fled westward into the still sparsely populated frontier of our vast land.  Also, in the 1920’s, the Wall Street casino, operating without any significant regulation, created a gigantic bubble of exuberant greed that finally popped.  FDR and his brain trust cleared away the wreckage and established a new system based on a balance between capitalism and government.  That effort was aided by the financial stimulus required by our  mobilization to fight WWII.

How Did Domestic Political Terrorism Become a Political Strategy?

Fifty years later, led by Ronald Reagan, the government began dismantling the balance established by the New Deal.  He began by attacking labor unions.  He used his office to demean and discredit every government program designed to alleviate poverty and enable the underprivileged to enjoy a reasonably comfortable middle-class life.  He used his skills as an actor to spin yarns about “Welfare Queens”.  He inspired a generation of government haters to follow his example and design ways to foster distrust and hostility toward the United States government.

This effort, in the past five or six years, has emboldened a group of angry ideologues, calling themselves the “Tea Party”, to claim the right to set minimum standards of political purity for the Republican Party.  Like Al Qaeda, they are so loosely organized that identifying their responsible spokesmen is difficult.  They have an agenda, but no formally elected or appointed leaders.  They operate like free-ranging enforcers of their ideology.   They have demonstrated their ability to intimidate members of the GOP holding public office who, if they stray from the dictates of the Tea Party, find themselves opposed by primary candidates more aligned with its dogmas.  Ted Cruz, a first-term Senator from Texas, is their Supreme Leader.  His current fatwah requires a jihad against the Affordable Care Act.

The Sequester

In 2011, the President and the leadership of this terrorist group made a deal.  It was in the form of a promise to make a deal.  They promised to reduce the federal deficit by a stated amount by January 1, 2013, and, to insure that they would bargain in good faith on ways to achieve that goal, they agreed that, if they failed to keep that promise, a group of  budget cuts would be imposed in ways thought to be so irrational as to  be unacceptable to either political party.

The negotiations that followed revealed that, contrary to expectations, the domestic terrorist group declared they were agreeable to the irrational budget cuts and, hence, would not agree to any reasonable alternative.  On January 1, 2013, an impasse occurred and the damaging budget cuts took effect in March, 2013.  The domestic terrorists were emboldened by what they regard as their successful strategy aimed at weakening and crippling the federal government, thus fulfilling their promise to the electorate in their Afghanistan districts.  They learned that, by focusing on sabotage rather than governance, they could not only survive, but exercise power.

The similarity of this recent history to the strategy of the Bolsheviks following the 1917 Russian revolution is remarkable.

What Happens Next?

I think, during the next few weeks, this domestic terrorist group will mount an assault on the financial system of the United States by forcing a default on our bonds.   If they are successful, the economy may gradually slide into a new form of recession.   This time, weakened by the debt default, the government may not have the ability to counter the faltering economy with financial stimulus money.  Any chance of moving forward with gun safety laws or immigration reform will disappear.  The wish list of America’s most powerful and ruthless corporate enemies of the federal government will become the agenda of the Tea Party’s next fatwahs.

If this happens, it is difficult for me to believe that it will occur by accident.  It will convince me that there has, indeed, been a well thought out and deftly executed conspiracy to take over our government by a corporate plutocracy.  I know this sounds like Joe McCarthy and the John Birch Society in  the 1950’s railing about the “communist threat”.  I only hope it proves to be as goofy as that.

Bob

Bush’s Dumb War and Obama’s Global Track and Whack War

August 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

Summary

This essay will be my response to Jeremy Scahill,’s book, “Dirty Wars:  The World is a Battlefield”.   The book is a 528 page indictment of George W. Bush and Barack Obama for waging a “Global War on Terror” featuring military invasions of over a hundred countries; bombing raids based on generalized probability, rather than specific targeting of suspected “terrorists”; maintenance of secret prisons  where inmates  were interrogated and, during the Bush years routinely tortured; imprisonment for indefinite terms without access to courts or lawyers, and drone aircraft used for surveillance, missile and bombing attacks causing death and injury to thousands of civilians who had nothing to do with the bombing of New York in September, 2001.

The book is based on evidence scrupulously gathered and compiled by Scahill, an accomplished and courageous reporter.  The text is followed by 92 pages of notes, detailing the sources and interviews of countless people, warlords, former and active members of the military and CIA with personal knowledge of the events and practices described in the book, family members of victims of the raids, attacks and “snatch and grab” activities that filled the prisons scattered in remote locations in the Middle and Near East, as well as other reporters and analysts who shared their investigative efforts through published sources.  There is no doubt that Jeremy Scahill has an opinion and point of view concerning the subject matter of his book but, unlike the politicians and apologists who defend the practices he describes, Scahill states his opinions plainly, backs them with facts, and does not disguise them with artful words designed to deceive the reader.

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld – The Dumb War

      The Dumb Designation of a Crime as a War

A group of criminals flew planes into two office towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C..  They did so as part of a carefully planned conspiracy directed by Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader and strategist.  Unfortunately for our country, and fortunately for militant Islamist groups around the world, the damage and harm done by the conspirators was enhanced because it happened when our government was in the hands of some ruthless and radical men who had been waiting impatiently for more than twenty years for an opportunity to reshape the rules that protect Americans from abusive government power.

In the 1970’s, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon used the powers of the presidency to wage war in Vietnam and Cambodia without effective oversight by the Congress or the courts.   Because it involved thousands of young male conscripts, over 50,000 of whom died there, the pain of those losses, expressed by millions of outraged and grieving American mothers, forced Congress to take steps to limit presidential power to make war.

Bob Eckhardt, a brilliant Congressman from Texas, drafted the War Powers Act of 1973.  Congress enacted it.  Nixon vetoed it.  Congress overrode his veto and adopted it.  It was intended to require active Congressional involvement in decisions to wage wars.

By September, 2001, three developments had occurred that weakened the force of the 1973 law.  First, the draft was ended and the military was staffed with professional soldiers , so war threats no longer affected a broad cross-section of American families.  Second, the Reagan years had spawned a new and powerful group of GOP political leaders who were committed to restoring power to the presidency.  They were called “neo-conservatives”.  They preached the “exceptionalism” of America and appealed to a kind of jingoistic patriotism, a new iteration of the “Mainifest Destiny” of the 1840’s and 1850’s, a doctrine used to justify the relentless war on native Americans and wars against Mexico, the Philippines and Cuba.  Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were early and enthusiastic neo-cons.  Third, the 1990-91 Gulf War against Iraq required only six months, had minimum loss of American life and was ended as a clear victory that enabled Americans to enjoy the overwhelming “shock and awe” inflicted on Saddam Hussein’s overrated army.

So, given these facts, the 9-ll bombing afforded Cheney, Rumsfeld and the compliant President Bush an opportunity to rid the presidency of the nettlesome restrictions imposed by the War Powers Act, as well as the Bill of Rights, the domestic and international laws against torture of prisoners, and the laws against assassinations imposed by Presidents Ford and Carter.  Cheney & Co. regarded all those measures, including the Constitution, as barriers to the proper exercise of presidential power.  Therefore, instead of proceeding to apprehend the criminals who designed and enabled the bombing, it was marketed according to an in-apposite metaphor: as an episode in the “Global War on Terror” perpetrated by “Islamoterrorists”.  It was compared to the December 7th bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Instead of taking advantage of the almost universal offers of assistance from other industrialized nations throughout the world, and tracking down Osama bin Laden and his co-conspirators, arresting them if possible and killing them if not, the Congress adopted an ambiguously worded hunting license to President Bush and turned him loose on the world and the United States Treasury.  The enemy was undefinable and the battlefield was boundless.   It was a war against a weapon:  any plan or device intended to terrorize people, and the enemy was anyone suspected of planning to use such a weapon and anyone suspected of helping anyone to obtain or use such a weapon against the United States.

This was without precedent in the history of the world.   Wars had been fought over territory,  over trade routes and advantages, over religious differences, over competing claims to sovereignty and political leadership positions.   No war had ever been fought over the use of a weapon.

A state of war is essentially a state of lawlessness.   Homicide, theft, malicious destruction of property, assault and battery are all legal if committed during a war on a battlefield against an enemy.  Modern weaponry has rendered the distinction between civilian and military targets meaningless because, when a bomb is dropped or a missile fired toward a suspected enemy , there is no practical way to insure that innocent persons will not suffer injury or death.  So, when an American president is given the right to use the most powerful military arsenal in the world against a undefinable enemy in an unlimited battlefield, all laws, including the Constitution, intended to protect against abusive power are nullified if they impose limits on waging that war.

There are so-called “laws of war” that impose humane limits on the brutality of armed conflict.  Even those weak limits were cast aside by an exquisite feat of sophistry:  The lawyers for the “Global War on Terror” [GWOT] claimed that the GWOT warriors were immune from prosecution because they were soldiers in a war, but their victims were not entitled to the protection of the “laws of war” because they were not actually soldiers.  They were “enemy combatants” who, like spies caught without uniforms, could be dealt with summarily.  The Supreme Court finally set some limits on this absurd argument, but still refused to accord GWOT prisoners the rights of prisoners accused of or convicted of crimes who are held without trial for indefinite terms of years.

     A Dumb Way to Wage a Dumb War

After Congress adopted the “Authorization for Use of Military Force”, the AUMF hunting license, Cheney and Rumsfeld decided to shroud their GWOT in a veil of secrecy that would avoid oversight by the legislative branch of government and First Amendment oversight in the form of public scrutiny.  The CIA was designed as the official agency for secret activity in foreign territory but, over the many years of its existence, the CIA adopted certain rules that limited its use of lethal force and prohibited it from engaging in the torture of prisoners.  Not only that, but the CIA operated according to an established system of oversight by Congress.  That attention to the Constitution’s system of “checks and balances” was unacceptable to the Bush GWOT team.

Rumsfeld solved this problem by using his job as Secretary of Defense to empower the Joint Special Operations Command [JSOC] to be the main force used to wage the GWOT.  The CIA was relegated to a support role.

JSOC  is seldom mentioned in the press.  Its activities are secret.   It was formed in response to the failed mission to rescue Iran hostages during the Carter administration.  Its members were highly trained men recruited from Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, Delta Force and other elite groups from different branches of the military establishment.  They are a “private army” subject to the command of the President.  JSOC was used to engineer the killing of Che Guevera, illegally supply the Contras with arms and support, and engage in various other covert operations in Latin America.  It was perfect for Rumsfeld’s purposes.

The sidelining of the CIA resulted in a turf war and several times both CIA and FBI officials protested the way Cheney and Rumsfeld conducted their GWOT, especially their use of secret prisons where prisoners were subjected to “enhanced interrogation”.

     The Killing of Abu al Harithi and Kamal Derwish aka Ahmed Hijazi   

On November 3, 2002, a JSOC team located Abu al Harithi in Marib, Yemen.  He was one of the people responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.  The information was sent to the CIA headquarters in Langly, Virginia and to a CIA command center in Djibouti.  An armed drone was launched.  It located Harithi in a car driving through Marib.  A five-foot-long Hellfire missile was fired at the car, hitting it and killing Harithi and Ahmed Hijazi, an American Citizen born in Buffalo, New York.  Before moving to Yemen, Hijazi had been an “unindicted conspirator” in the prosecution of the “Lackawanna Six”, a group of men charged with supporting al Qaeda.  He was neither tried nor convicted of any crime.

Before the strike, CIA Director George Tenet told Ali Abdullah Saleh, the President of Yemen, that the killing would be kept secret so that Saleh would not be embarrassed for allowing US military operations in his country.  Soon afterward, however, an unnamed US source claimed credit for the killing and that was reported in the American press.  Saleh was “highly pissed”.  He had released the “cover story” that he and Tenet had agreed on:  that the car hit a land mine.  Ultimately, he was mollified with generous infusions of money and arms that enabled him to hold on to his tenuous grasp of power.

This was the first killing of an American citizen not on a battlefield since Gerald Ford banned political assassinations in 1976.  Amnesty International and the ACLU denounced it and called on the US government to “bring to justice” those responsible.   This  was  ignored.  The President and members of Congress expressed satisfaction that “terrorists” had been killed.

This was only the beginning.  A command center was established on the USS Mount Whitney, a ship sailing in the Gulf of Aden and around the Horn of Africa.  During the ensuing months JSOC offensives in Somalia, Yemen, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti were directed from it.

    Dumb Snipe Hunts

A snipe hunt is a mean trick typically played on a city kid by usually older kids raised in the country.  It is played at night.  The victim is told that he and the other kids are going on a snipe hunt.  He is told that a snipe is nocturnal animal who can be trapped in a gunny sack held open; that it is attracted by a light.  He is told that the small animal will not bite him and is good to eat.  He is then led into the woods, given a flashlight, told to hold open a gunny sack, to sit and wait for a snipe.  He is assured that the other  “hunters” will be at other locations similarly occupied.  After being left there for as long as the pranksters feel is sufficient, he is rescued and  teased about foolishly believing the phantom snipe story.  There are variations, but this is the core idea.

For several years, beginning in 2002, the President of the United States and his team of GWOT warriors and Iraq invaders engaged in not one, but two snipe  hunts:  The first was initiated by Rafid Ahmed  Alwan al Janabi, an engineering school dropout also known as Curveball, who told Bush’s eager listeners that he had personal knowledge that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction”,  The second was  triggered by a Czech counterintelligence source who claimed that Mohamed Atta, one of the 9-11 hijackers, met in Prague in April, 2001, with Ahmad Samir al Ani, an Iraqi consulate.

Curveball proved to be a deranged con man who tried to score a green card from the willingly gullible Bush team by making up this story.  The Czech government, after an intelligent investigation, declared that there was no credible evidence to support the alleged Prague meeting.

Before these snipe hunts were exposed, Rumsfeld and his JSOC army imprisoned thousands of men and women and subjected them to horrific forms of torture in a doomed effort to extract from them information about the WMD’s and the al Qaeda connection with Saddam Hussein’s government.   Rumsfeld personally held weekly meetings to receive updates on the success of these efforts and sent memo after memo urging more and more severe methods to obtain the information he required.  He was like a hapless kid, crouching in the dark, waiting for a snipe that never came.  Disreputable lawyers like John Yoo were kept busy contriving new definitions of the word “torture” to protect Rumsfeld and his subordinates from criminal prosecution as war criminals.

[To be fair, it is true that Bill Cliinton and some members of both US and British intelligence forces began talking about Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” before the advent of the Snipe Hunters.  The difference is that they did not launch a GWOT based on their suspicions.  And, most important, they listened to other, conflicting, opinions within the intelligence community.  When the USS Cole was attacked in October, 2000, President Clinton did not

“Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial ”

That reaction awaited the Snipe Hunters.]

      The Dumb War Dictionary

In order to achieve their goals of unfettered power while avoiding criminal prosecution or impeachment, President Bush and his GWOT warriors had to re-define several words and phrases that affect the application of various US laws.  For example, American law distinguishes between “covert operations” and “clandestine operations”.  Covert operations are military incursions into other countries that are not only secret, but are also done in a way that the US Government can deny responsibility for them.  Covert operations require a presidential finding that must be shared with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees before the operation begins.  Those restrictions were imposed as a result of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Iran-Contra scandal.

Clandestine operations are secret military operations in foreign countries.  They do not require a presidential finding nor do they require the involvement of Congress.  Clandestine operations typically were used when invasions were planned.  In the language of the military “Standard Operating Procedure” they are referred to as “Preparing the Battlespace”.   For example, before D-day in WWII, clandestine operations were used to disrupt anticipated defensive actions by the German military.

Rumsfeld and his team viewed the entire ex-US world as a “battlespace” that could be “prepared” by JSOC operations.  He not only wanted to bypass Congressional oversight and the bother of a presidential finding, he also wanted the ability to launch these clandestine operations without wading through the Pentagon’s chain of command.  In other words, he wanted his own private army to send wherever he chose without having to account to anyone but himself and his hand-picked subordinates.   The fact that this had no resemblance to any reasonable interpretation of the terms and phrases upon which he was relying did not deter him.

He encountered opposition from Pentagon brass who rightly felt that they were being benched.  He also found himself in a running war with the FBI and the CIA who also felt that they were being relegated to supporting decisions and choices over which they had no control or influence.  Despite these problems, Rumsfeld, with the powerful backing of his friend and mentor Dick Chaney, had his way.  He became, in effect, a super general, able to invade, kill and destroy whoever and whatever he chose wherever he chose, so long as it was outside the United States.  He became the most powerful snipe hunter in the history of the world.

     Dumb War in Somalia:  A Debacle

Even before the GWOT began Somalia was a failed state:   a mostly rural territory larger than France with few resources, inhabited by desperately poor people surviving under the ad hoc rule of a network of war lords.  The CIA operated in Somalia through shifting alliances with some of the war lords.  Al Qaeda had a few agents there, but they were not a major force.  When the GWOT began in Somalia, the CIA used its client war lords as contractors, armed with US weapons, funded with US money and supported by US air power to stage raids in rural villages and kill suspected al Qaeda supporters and others who harbored or protected them.

Those raids were done with vicious brutality and the resulting resentment was focused on the American sponsors.  By 2004, news of the Iraq invasion and the abuses at Abu Graib convinced the Somali Muslim population that the US was waging war against Islam.  To halt, or at least moderate, the lawless chaos that prevailed, local Muslims organized a system of sharia courts to enforce order.  This system became known as Islamic Courts Union or ICU.

In a short time, the ICU grew strong enough to control a substantial part of Somalia and, at one point, controlled Mogadishu.  In response, JSOC and the CIA launched large scale bombing attacks on Somali villages where ICU was in control.  In addition, the US sponsored and supported an invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia, a neighboring country with which Somalia had gone to war in the 70’s and which had continued a hostile relationship since then, featuring periodic cross-border raids.

A full scale war ensued, with US air strikes supporting the invaders.  The ICU was finally vanquished, the war ended and the Ethiopian troops withdrew.

The Ethiopian invasion disrupted the ICU but  it also attracted large numbers of young men from other countries, who considered the conflict in Somalia to be an attack on Islam.  These men became easy recruits for al Qaeda and ultimately organized a new insurgency called al Shabab that became the most powerful and effective al Qaeda organization in East Africa.  In 2009, a report for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluded, “In many areas al-Shabab is the only organization that can provide basic social services, such as rudimentary health facilities, food distribution centers, and a basic justice system rooted in Islamic law.”

The influx of foreign fighters steadily increased and al Shabab gained control of more territory than any other al Qaeda group in history.  The dumb GWOT strategy, in a few years, had converted a failed state with little or no power to a territory similar to Afghanistan before 9-11, where al Qaeda could recruit and train its forces and expand its potential for harm to America.  In the process, it had furnished ready-made propaganda for al Qaeda to use throughout the world to encourage Muslims to hate America.

The Track and Whack War

     The Pirates’ Mistake

Three months after Barack Obama became the Commander-in-Chief, some Somali pirates made the mistake of waylaying and boarding an American ship off the Somali coast.  The crew resisted and one of the pirates was wounded.  Three of the pirates left the ship in a small boat, taking Captain Richard Phillips, an American, with them as a bargaining chip.  They headed for the Somali coast.  At Obama’s order, the USS Bainbridge was dispatched to the scene and arrived the next day.  On the third day, Captain Phillips tried to escape from the pirates, but was re-captured.  Two other US vessels joined the Bainbridge.  On the morning of the fourth day, Obama, after being advised that JSOC had a team of expert marksmen capable of dealing with the escaping pirates,  authorized the team to use lethal force to free the captain.  After the team was in place, Obama and some advisers questioned them about their ability to free Phillips.  “Would there be undue risk of harm to US troops?”  “Would there be collateral damage?”  “Do you have a clear shot?”  After receiving negative answers, Obama was asked, “Do I have permission to execute?”  Obama said “Yes you do.”  The voice at the other end of the line gave an order.  Then “Pop. Pop. Pop.”  Three pirates were dead and Captain Phillips was rescued.

Barack Obama had experienced the power of heading a powerful military force.  It undoubtedly impressed him with the efficiency and capability of a JSOC team.  Admiral William McRaven, the JSOC commander became a frequent White House visitor and established a close relationship with Obama.

     Obama’s GWOT  Army

Obama focused on killing Al Qeada and groups “associated” with Al Qaeda.  His primary weapon was JSOC, using intelligence supplied by the CIA.  His CIA Director, Leon Panetta, an old hand at handling political conflicts driven by outsized egos, effectively ended the turf wars between the FBI, the CIA and JSOC.  Obama soon had a smoothly working army which he began using to kill members and supporters of al Qaeda and “associated groups”, a shifting and imprecise designation of victims, the meaning of which changed in response to a constantly changing body of information.

Obama, in other words, while he ordered the ending of prisoner torture, continued, expanded and made more effective the “Global War on Terror” begun by the Bush neo-cons.  He used JSOC forces for raids on the ground, drones, missile armed helicopters and AC130 gunships for larger scale attacks.  [To appreciate the nature of the air attacks, do a Google search for “AC130”, look at some pictures and consider how those attacks were perceived by rural villagers in Yemen, Somalia, Kenya and other African countries.]

     Rendition and Interrogation

Ali Nabhan was one of the Al Qaeda leaders and planners of terrorist activities in East Africa.  He and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed were responsible for the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  When Obama became President, both were still at large, regarded as HVT’s  (High Value Targets).  In July, 2009, Kenya security forces raided a home in Eastleigh, a slum district in Nairobi.  They arrested Ahmed Abdullah Hassan and took him to Somalia.   There, in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency,  he was interrogated by US Intelligence officials as well as by Somali interrogators.  He proved to have been a personal assistant to Nabhan and, in response to repeated interrogation by both US and Somali men, disclosed information that allowed a JSOC team, on September 14, 2009, to attack a convoy consisting of a Land Cruiser and several “technicals” (pickup trucks armed with machine guns).  All passengers in those vehicles were gunned down.  The American commandos landed and collected two of the bodies, one of whom was Saleh Ali Nabhan.

In April, 2009, CIA Director Panetta declared that the “CIA no longer operates detention facilities or black sites” and announced a “plan to decommission the remaining sites.”  Three months later, Hassan was interrogated by Americans in a secret prison basement.

     The Bombing of Majalah

On December 16, 2009, legal advisers from the State Department and the Pentagon and seventy-three other top national security officials were given a file of “baseball cards” containing the bios of three men in Yemen who were alleged to be leaders of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula).  The JSOC commander, Admiral McRaven wanted immediate authority to kill all three.  The two legal advisers were given forty-five minutes to consider the request.  A teleconference was set up.  McRaven laid out the case for “kinetic action”, saying that one of the targets, Mohammed Saleh Mohammed Ali al Kazemi,  had been tracked to a training camp near the village of Majalah.   Capturing him had been ruled out and a JSOC cruise missile attack on the camp had been decided on.

The assembled group gave their permission for the strike.  A short time later, the Pentagon lawyer watched as a satellite beamed a real life image of Majaloah.  Figures moving around the village appeared to be the size of ants.  Then, in a massive flash, they were vaporized.  In the Pentagon, the satellite feed was known as “Kill TV”.

There was no training camp.  Scahill interviewed Bin Fareed, one of the most powerful citizens of Yemen, a leader of the Aulaq tribe and Anwar Awlaki’s uncle,  who visited the killing site the next day after the strike.  “When we went there, we could not believe our eyes.  I mean, if somebody had a weak heart, I think he would collapse.  You see goats and sheep all over, you see the heads of those who were killed here and there.  You see their bodies, you see children, I mean some of them, they were not hit immediately, but by the fire, they were burned, . . . .”  The man described efforts to bury the dead:  “Some of the meat we could not reach, even.  It was eaten by the birds.  They were all children, old women, all kinds of sheep and goats and cows. Unbelievable.”  “Why did they do this?  Why in the hell are they doing this?”  “There are no [weapons] stores, there is no field for training.  There is nobody, except a very poor tribe,one of the poorest tribes in the South.”

Scahill interviewed several survivors.  One of them was spared because he had gone on an errand to a neighboring village.  “People saw the smoke and felt the earth shake – they had never seen anything like it.  Most of the dead were women, children and the elderly.  Five pregnant women were killed.”

Scahill includes statements from other survivors, all similar descriptions of horror and slaughter.

      It Gets Worse

Abdulelah Haider Shaye was a journalist in Yemen who did not conform his reporting to the interests of either the Yemen government or the interests of the United States.  He was not allied with Al Qaeda and his stories were as critical of its activities and policies as those of the US and Yemen.  He was related by marriage to “. . a radical Islamic cleric,Abdul Majeed al Zindani, the founder of Iman University  and a US Treasury Department designated terrorist” [in Scahill’s words]  Because of this connection, Shaye was able to get information about Al Qaeda that probably would not have been otherwise available, but his stories were often critical of Zindani and were not subject to a charge of bias toward Al Qaeda.

Scahill wrote that Shaye “. . . had long been known as a brave, independent-minded journalist in Yemen. . ..”  He became a target for US retaliation when he began to write stories about Majalah.  Shaye went there and published pictures of pieces of cluster bombs and Tomahawk cruise missles with “Made in the United States” stamped on them.  Among the debris found and photographed by Shaye were pieces of BLU 97 A/B cluster bomblets described by Scahill as “[bombs] which explode into some two hundred sharp steel fragments that can spray more than four hundred feet away.  In essence, they are flying land mines capable of shredding human bodies.  The bomblets were also equipped with an incendiary material, burning zirconium, that set fire to flammable objects in the target area.  The missile used in the attack [on Majalah], a BGM-109D Tomahawk, can carry more than 160 cluster bombs.”

All of this information was spread around the world, on Al Jazeera as well as other news media.  It made obvious that the claim made after the strike:  That it was done by the Yemen government, was not true.  The Yemen government did not have the kind of missiles used.

Bin Fareed reacted to the Majalah bombing by organizing a massive meeting of almost 150 of Yemen’s tribal leaders.  Old feuds and inter-tribal hatred were put aside and a crowd estimated as between 50,000 and 70,000 tribesmen assembled at Majalah in cars, according  to Fareed, “as far as the eye could see.”  A huge tent was erected and plans were made for speeches expressing outrage toward the US and the Yemen government for the attack.

The night before the speeches were scheduled, a small group of strangers came to the tent.  They identified themselves as Al Qaeda agents and asked for permission to address the crowd.  Bin Fareed refused and told them they were “idiots” who would divert attention from the purpose of his organizing:  to oppose the lawless violence, not align with Al Qaeda’s equally violent policies.  The Al Qaeda men left but, the next morning one of them, standing atop a car, spoke to the crowd and identified himself with Al Qaeda.  His speech was televised and, despite Fareed’s effort, his rally was hijacked and branded as an Al Qaeda event.  He told  Scahill, with satisfaction that,  a few days later, all of the Al Qaeda agents were killed, probably because the US was able to track them based on their appearance at the rally.

Abdulelah Haider Shaye persisted in his investigative reporting of the Majalah attack.  He worked with Al Jazeera, ABC News and the Washington Post to expose the false tales offered by the Yemen and US governments, claiming that the attack was by Yemen military forces and that it destroyed an important Al Qeada training camp.  His reports also exposed the way Saleh, the Yemen president, used the Al Qeada threat to pry money and weapons from the US.

In July, 2010, seven months after the Majalah strike, Shaye was grabbed off the street by Yemeni intelligence agents, taken to a secret location and told that to stop criticizing the Yemen government.  They told him, “We will destroy your life if you keep on talking.”  His lawyer told Scahill he was convinced the kidnapping was done at the behest of the US government.

Shaye responded to the threats by going directly to Al Jazeera after being released to describe the event in a live telecast.  Saleh had set up a special court to prosecute journalists who were critical of him.   The head of a committee to protect journalists in the Middle East and North Africa happened to be in Yemen that night.  He interviewed Shaye and found him to be a competent and courageous reporter.

About that same time, major news media outlets in the US were being told by US intelligence officials to stop working with Shaye, that he was using the money they paid him to support Al Qaeda.  Scahill interviewed both Shaye and his friend Sharaf, a cartoonist who incurred the wrath of the Yemen government by publishing unflattering cartoons of Saleh.  He was convinced that neither of them were Al Qaeda agents.

On August 16, 2010, the end of Ramadan, Sharaf’s home was surrounded by armed soldiers.  He and Shaye were taken to jail, beaten and tortured for about thirty days.  Sharaf was released in exchange of his promise to stop drawing cartoons of Saleh.  Shaye refused to make any promises, so he was charged with a long list of crimes and, a month later, brought to trial in a cage located in the courtroom.   After the charges, accusing him of being an Al Qaeda agent among other crimes, were read aloud, he made a short speech to his fellow journalists, declaring that he was being persecuted for no reason except his exposure of the violent attacks on innocent citizens.  He said, “You notice in court how they have turned all my journalistic contributions into accusations.”  As security guards dragged him away, he yelled, “Yemen, this is a place where, when a young journalist becomes successful, he is viewed with suspicion.”   He was sentenced to five years in prison.

Human rights groups and reporters who attended the trial, denounced Shaye’s treatment and branded the trial “a joke”.  Gregory Johnson, the Yemen scholar at Princeton University, who had maintained steady communication with Shaye for years, told Scahill, “It is difficult to overestimate the importance of his work.  Without Shaye’s reports and interviews we would know much less about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that we do, and if one believes, as I do, that knowledge of the enemy is important to constructing a strategy to defeat them, then his arrest and continued detention has left a hole in our knowledge that has yet to be filled.”

A group of tribal leaders and some prominent Yemen sheikhs met with Saleh and urged him to release Shaye.  Saleh agreed.  A pardon was printed and Shaye was about to be released when Saleh received a call from President Obama.  Obama “expressed concern”  that Shaye was to be released before serving his sentence.  After the call, Saleh tore up the pardon and Shaye remains in prison.

     Horror at Gardez

Mohammed Daoud Sharabuddin was a policeman who headed the intelligence department in Paktia Province, Afghanistan.  He lived near Gardez, a town in that province.  On February 12, 2010, he, his family and some friends were celebrating the naming of his son, a ritual that occurs six days after birth.

About 3 a.m., the party was winding down when someone noticed that an outside light was not on.   One of the musicians saw lasers from the perimeter of the compound focused on the grounds.   He ran back inside and told Daoud that the Taliban  was attacking.  He said they were already on the roof.

Daoud and his fifteen-year-old son went outside and were killed by sniper fire.  The family inside began hearing the attackers speaking English and realized they were Americans.  Daoud’s brother tried to stop the attack.  He went outside and shouted, “We work for the government.  Look at our police vehicles.   You have wounded a police commander.”  Three women, family members ages thirty-seven, twenty-two and eighteen, tried to get him back inside.  All four were killed.  Seven people died.  The dead women were survived by sixteen children.

One of the survivors, Mohammed Sabir, one of Daoud’s brothers, saw his brother, his niTece and his sister-in-law killed.  At 7 a..m. stunned by the violence, he stood in a room filled with American soldiers while others searched the home.  His request to take the wounded to the hospital was ignored.  The soldiers told him they would care for them.   Finally, a helicopter came but, by that time, the wounded family members were dead.

Afghans customarily bind the heads and feet of the dead.  A scarf is put around the bottom of the chin to keep the mouth  from being open.   The survivors began trying to do this, but the soldiers handcuffed them and put the men and the women in separate rooms.  Scahill interviewed the survivors.  Several of the men told him that, after being handcuffed, they saw American soldiers using knives to dig bullets out of the corpses of the womens’ bodies.  When Scahill asked one of the men to confirm this, the man said, “Yes.”   “They were taking bullets from their bodies to remove the proof of their crime.”

Some of the male members of the family were taken into custody and interrogated for three days and nights.  They were still wearing clothes bloody from the killings.  They were accused of being Taliban members, although they told their interrogators that they had actually fought against the Taliban.

United Nations investigators issued a report that was never released.  It said that the Daoud family was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; that medical treatment was wrongfully delayed; that the survivors were made to stand outside in the cold for long periods of time.

The International Security Assistance Force issued a press release claiming that, while engaged in a routine operation, an ISAF team had made a “gruesome discovery”.   After being caught in a a “firefight” at the compound, they went inside and found three women who had been “bound” and “gagged” and then executed.  The ISAF team found them in an adjacent room”.   The release stated that eight men had been held for “further questioning”.   The press release stated, “ISAF continually works with our Afghan partners to fight criminals.”

The New York Times published the ISAF account.  A Times reporter, Rob Norland, spoke to the local police chief, who confirmed many of the details of the incident.  He stated that three women had been killed by Taliban militants and appeared to have deep cuts and puncture wounds, suggesting they had been stabbed.

A month after the attack, a British journalist, Jerome Starkey, began a serious investigation of the Gardez attack.  After interviewing witnesses and viewing other evidence, he concluded that it was a tragedy followed by a cover-up.  One of the most telling items was a video of the party, showing musicians playing and people dancing.  The  Taliban is notorious for banning musical instruments.  Starkey realized that the whole Taliban story was a lie.    When he interviewed the governor of the province where the attack occurred, he was told, “The operation was a mistake.”

The ISAF continued to insist on their bogus version but, when the Times of London published a long story written by Starkey, the cover-up began to unravel.  At first, ISAF pressured other journalists to attack Starkey’s credibility.  Then NATO claimed to have a tape recording in which Starkey made statements inconsistent with his story.  When he demanded access to the tape, NATO spokesmen admitted it did not exist.

Starkey published a follow-up story describing the grief and outrage of the Afghans about the Gardez attack.

In late March, 2010, Starkey got a phone call from NATO.  The caller told him that they were issuing a new press release changing their account of the attack.  The new version admitted that the Daoud family was not allied with the Taliban, that, while the men “showed hostile intent”, they did not fire on the ISAF forces; that the women were not “bound and gagged” as originally claimed.  NATO still denied that bullets had been dug out of the women’s bodies.  A later investigation by Afghan investigators confirmed that the bullets had, indeed, been removed by the soldiers.  Starkey published another story based on that investigation.

On April 8, 2010, a huge convoy of American armored cars and land cruisers, loaded with a large number of Afghan and American soldiers arrived at the Daoud compound.  Admiral McRaven stepped out of one of them.  A sheep was unloaded from one of the vehicles and three Afghan soldiers knelt by it in the courtyard of the compound.  Afghan law includes a doctrine named nanawate that requires that when a wrongdoer comes to ones home to ask forgiveness, he slaughters a sheep at the front door and the victim is bound to accept him and his apology.  As an Afghan mullah prayed, the soldiers prepared to kill the sheep.  Hajji Sharabuddin, the family elder, stopped them.  He recognized that honor required him to let the visitors into his home.  He insisted, over McRaven’s objections, that Starkey remain in the room.  His photographer took pictures of the event.  McRaven made a short speech.  He apologized and asked for “mercy” for him and his men for “this awful tragedy”.  The Afghan generals handed the family $30,000.

When Scahill spoke with Sharabuddin months later, he said he did not accept the apology.  He said, “Initially, we were thinking that Americans were the friends of Afghans, but now we think that Americans themselves are terrorists.  Americans ar our enemy.  They bring terror and destruction.  Americans not only destroyed my house, they destroyed my family.  The Americans unleashed  the Special Forces on us.  These Special Forces with the long beards, did cruel, criminal things.”

Scahill made FOIA requests for documents pertinent to the bullet removal issue.  His requests were denied.

     The Anwar Awlaki Story

A major part of Scahill’s book concerns the killing of Anwar Awlaki and his sixteen-year-old son.  I have written about this elsewhere so I won’t repeat it here.  [See “Lynch Law” and “Lynch Lay Two”]  Scahill’s book does, however, include one charming detail of which I was not aware.

The CIA accepted the assistance of a Danish citizen, Morton Storm, a lapsed Muslim who volunteered to become a double agent.  Storm is  a former biker gang member who became a devout Muslim and then, after a sudden epiphany, became an eager anti-Muslim.  During his devout Muslim stage, he was a fan of Alwar Awlaki’s YouTube Muslim ministry and established a friendly relationship with him via email.

Awlaki told Storm that, because he was in  exile to escape US surveillance and living away from his family, he pined for another wife who would accompany him on his frequent travels.  Storm agreed to look around for one.  He then went to a local office of the CIA and volunteered his services.

With the help of the CIA, Storm found a Croatian woman who was also a fan of Awlaki and was eager to become his wife.  A video was produced featuring her, expressing her admiration for Awlaki , proposing herself as his future wife.  He responded favorably and their wedding was arranged.

Since Awlaki had made plain the fact that their marriage would involve a lot of travel, the CIA provided her with a suitcase for her wardrobe  and equipped it, without her knowledge, of course, with a homing device that would be trackable.

She met and married Awlaki and Storm was paid $250,000 by the CIA for acting as the matchmaker.

Following their marriage, Awlaki transferred her clothes from the suitcase to a plastic bag, abandoned the suitcase and the CIA plan to blow up the bride and groom as well as anyone else who happened to be in the vicinity was thwarted.

Last Sunday night, 60 Minutes included a segment in which Storm,  who has produced a self-laudatory book, complained bitterly because, according to him, he was responsible for killing Awlaki and was denied the large reward that had been promised.  The CIA claimed that his information was not vital to locating and killing Awlaki, so they refused to pay him.  Perhaps they considered a quarter of a million dollars for a plot that did not succeed was enough.

     Signature Strikes 

Three days after becoming President, Obama signed executive orders “dismantling” the Bush torture and detention programs.  He declared that we would wage war against “violence and terrorism”,but would do so in a manner consistent with “our values and our ideals”.  The next day, CIA Director Michael Hayden told the President about drone strikes planned in Pakistan near the Afghan border.  Hayden described them as targeting “upper tier” Al Qaeda and Taliban” members.

On January 23, 2009, two Hellfire missiles hit two compounds in two small villages.  Hayden reported that the “upper tier” agents had not been hit, but that “at least five Al Qaeda militants” had been killed.  Obama replied, “Good.”

The next day, John Brennan, his chief anti-terrorism adviser, told the President that most of those killed were innocent civilians.  One strike killed between seven and fifteen people, almost all civilians.  The second strike hit the wrong house and  killed between five to eight civilians, some of whom were family members of the tribal elder, who was a member of a “pro-government peace committee”.

Obama summoned Hayden for a meeting.  Hayden explained that the targets were based on “signature” findings, based on “life patterns” rather than actual intelligence specifically identifying them as Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders or members.  The CIA had reported that they were “military age males” who were part of a large gathering in a region known to contain Al Qaeda or Taliban agents or were known to have had contacts with suspected militants.  After hearing the explanation, Obama agreed that strikes could be based on such evidence, but required that the CIA Director was to have the “final say” on them.

These meetings were followed by other meetings with members of the intelligence community and Obama was made aware of the way the drone program was structured.  During the next ten months, Obama authorized as many drone strikes as Bush had in the eight years of his presidency.

As I read descriptions of these “signature” strikes, something seemed familiar about them.   One night, while half asleep, it came to me.  This was the way the McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover waged the war on communism in the United States in the 50’s and 60’s.  People were singled out based on their associations with others suspected of being communists.   If they attended meetings where ideas consistent with communism were discussed, they were targeted.  If they publicly opposed the methods of the anti-communists, they were targeted.

They weren’t killed, just jailed, ruined and black-listed.  But the method was the same.  We  weren’t at war with the USSR or with any communist country.   We had a war going on against an  loosely defined ideology named by those waging the war as “communism”.   Part of its appeal was based on fear.  In those days the fear was focused on being incinerated by an atomic bomb.  The GWOT war, also focused on an ideology, is based fear of another terror attack.

Those claimed to be communists, like those claimed to be agents of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, were not formally inducted into an organization.   Their names did not appear in official membership roles.  Their supposed adherence and approval of every objectionable idea of an ideology was presumed based on their “life pattern”.

This “life pattern” strategy used as a basis for drone strikes and lethal force should be familiar to us all.  The pity is that, when it is given a new name, we don’t recognize it.  Mayor Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk” program in New York, now the subject of conflict and public discussion, is another iteration of it.  It also bears a resemblance to the “articulable suspicion” used to justify the NSA’s surveillance programs’ focus on specific persons or groups.

It seems to me that the GWOT is being fought on bases similar to the old McCarthy/Hoover/ John Birch wars on communism and the other just cited examples,  except that Hellfire missiles and 500 pound bombs are more serious weapons than Congressional hearings and blacklists; Bloomberg’s police harassment; and NSA’s snooping.

Conclusion

I know this essay is too long.  I have touched on about ten percent of the material in Scahill’s book.  The examples I have discussed can give only a hint of the descriptions of mayhem and violence he describes, along with detailed accounts of the secrecy and deceit that characterize the efforts to conceal it.  It is not a  pleasant book but it reminds me of the importance of the First Amendment’s important protection of journalists like Jeremy Scahill, Jerome Starkey and Abdulelah Haider Shaye.

Bob

Democracy in Egypt – A Warning Label

July 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

This week’s developments in Egypt illustrate the dangerous side-effects of a dose of democracy.  In this essay I will offer my reaction.

Warning Labels

When medicine is prescribed for a patient, it comes  with a label or a pamphlet containing advice  about potential hazardous side effects that must be understood and preventive measures that should be taken.  I think if democracy is adopted as a form of government, it should be accompanied by the same kind of cautionary warning.

The Medicine

Empowering the governed to escape the oppression of tyrants, oligarchs and vestigial neocolonial puppets looks like a trend toward freedom.   Recent technological leaps in the realm of communication and social networking have been like a  dam-breaking flood that has loosed centuries of pent up rage and frustration as well as the exhilarating thrill felt by rebels who  perceive  the possibility of toppling a citadel of power theretofore thought to be impregnable.

I find it interesting and, in a way, encouraging that, when these cultural and political seismic events occurred, the model of choice for the rebels has often been the American Declaration of Independence and our form of government generally, though imprecisely, known as democracy.  [The conservatives are technically correct in insisting that the United States, as its name implies, is, in fact a republic, not a democracy like Athens.  The distinction, however, deserves notice only from academic purists and has not prevented America from being identified as a democracy.  After all, Athens had a  large component of slaves who did not participate in its “democracy”.   Except for New England town meetings , true democracy is, and has ever been, a rare form of government.]

Our Declaration of Independence has, as stated, become the inspiration for many, in the words of Emma Lazarus, “yearning to breathe free”.  It has proved far more popular and influential than its main competitor for rebellious inspiration, the Communist Manifesto.  Personally I find the latter document to be a stirring affirmation of economic justice, worthy of comparison with our Declaration of Independence.  Its focus, however, on the oppression of capitalism, does not fit the aspirations of rebels whose enemies are not private property and capitalism, but the oppression of government.  For that kind of oppression, there is no better license for rebellion than these radical words of Jefferson:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights,governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”  Ideas are the true weapons of freedom and justice and those words, expressing those ideas, are a powder keg waiting for a lit fuse.

Democracy’s Side Effects

When, following a rebellion, a new government is formed based on the outcome of a democratic election, there are some inevitable and serious side effects.  The losing side or sides, representing significant fractions of the population to be governed, are at risk for unjust treatment at the hands of the victors.  In the Middle East, the Near East and some parts of Asia, where Islam is the religious choice of large segments of the population, there is a long history of violent conflicts between different sects within that religion.  The Shiites and Sunnis as well as sects within those two branches of Islam have intermittently killed each other, either based on fear of future violence or revenge for past violence.

Of course, Islam is not unique in this regard.  Jews and Christians , in the past, have engaged in similar violent conflicts.  One part of the twisted and brutal ideology that led to the Holocaust was based on Christian antisemitism that had been latent in varying degrees for centuries in Europe.  The Crusades represented the self-righteous hostility of Christian Europe toward Islam in the Middle East.

This kind of irreconcilable hatred based on religious belief should be part of democracy’s warning label.  Democracy means that government will be administered by representatives of the faction that wins the most votes in an election.  Every election will involve only a plurality of the population.   Thus it will almost always be true that  elections will be won by less than a majority of the population to be governed.  When there are more than two competing groups vying for votes, the winner may represent only a fraction of that population.

These two facts:  First, that religious conflicts are often impossible to mediate peacefully; and Second, that democratic elections, even when they are fair and honest, will seldom empower a majority of the governed population; strongly suggest the first necessary warning:

“Enforcement of religious conformity must not entrusted to a democratic government.”

If this warning is not heeded, government becomes a vengeful mob and those whose religious beliefs are challenged and discounted become outraged.   Maintenance of order, a basic function of every government, becomes impossible without brutal suppression of dissent.

This first warning implies a second, correlative,  warning:

“Limits on the power of government must not depend upon or be subject to the outcome of democratic elections.  Those limits must be enforceable in courts whose impartiality and integrity are accepted by a majority of the total governed population .  And the procedure for  securing the judgments of those courts must involve an adversary process implemented by lawyers free to advocate all sides of every issue.”

This corollary warning, if vigorously enforced, will obviate resorts to violence by those who feel victimized and harmed by governmental policies.  They will see that their protests are fairly and fully presented to judges whom they trust.  They will not feel hopeless if their arguments are not successful.  They will realize that their interests may prevail  in future elections and that changed circumstances may demonstrate the validity of their positions.  The enforcement of government’s limits will assure them that they need not fear their government.  They will be able to trust it to protect them from their neighbors who may disagree with some or all of their beliefs and preferences.

The third warning insures the effectiveness of the first two:

“Freedom of expression must be guaranteed to all, regardless of how repugnant to elected officials or to most of the population that expression may seem.”

Democracy cannot safely be adopted unless competing views are not only tolerated, but vigorously protected.  If majority views are the only ones allowed, democracy becomes as oppressive, if not more oppressive,  than government by a dictator or an oligarchy.  The losers in democratic elections must be free to continue efforts to persuade potential voters in future elections to approve the policies they favor.  Otherwise, they are left with no alternative but violence and disorder.

The Egyptian Constitution

A friend of mine, Nivien Saleh, an Egyptian scholar, has translated the 2012 Egyptian Constitution into English.  Here is a link:  Constitution

I confess that I have not read, much less studied this long document.  I have, however, read enough of it to understand how fundamentally it fails to pay attention to anything I have advocated in this essay.  Far from omitting religion from the proper concern of government, it proclaims Islam as the “State religion” of Egypt. True, the next section provides:  “For Egyptian Christians and Jews, the principles of their religious law will be the main source in regulating their personal status, matters pertaining to their religion, and the selection of their spiritual leadership.”  (emphasis added)  This section, to me has a sinister unstated premise:  The State is granting to Christians and Jews an exception  to the general application of the State Religion.  I have no idea what “Christian Law” or “Jewish Law” consists of.  The Bible’s book of Leviticus contains a lengthy description of laws observed by Jews thousands of years ago but, so far as I know, the State of Israel does not countenance slavery or punish blasphemy with a death sentence.  [‘See Leviticus 24: 10-23.]

Part One, entitled “The Elements of the State and Society” contains three sections:  “Political Elements”; “Societal and Moral Elements” and “Economic Elements”.   The second of  these sections, in  Article 11, declares:  ” The state promotes morality, decency, and public order, as well as a high level of education and religious and patriotic values, scientific truths, the Arab culture, and the historical and civilizational patrimony of the People.”(emphasis added)   This kind of language, to one knowledgeable about historical experiments involving government prescribed morality , prompts an intuitive reaction that, roughly translated, is “According to who?”

So far as concerns freedom of expression, Article 215 establishes a “National Body for the Press and the Media” and empowers that agency as follows:  “The permissions and standards it creates ensure that the different media abide by norms of professionalism and decency, preserve the Arabic language, and observe the values and constructive traditions of society.”  In other words, “We will be watching you and you better behave in a way that does not offend our ideas of “decency” and “constructive traditions of society”.    Keep in mind that some elements of Islam believe it is not only permissible, but obligatory to kill a man who draws a cartoon depicting Mohamed.

Conclusion and Summary

I think President Morsi’s  brief and limited tenure was predictable when he permitted a religious faction of Islam to en-graft religious doctrine into the fabric of government.  I doubt that the Egyptian people who successfully ousted Mubarak  will be content to be ruled according to Sharia law or to conform to religious strictures that  do not fit their beliefs.  The successful effort to end the oppression of Mubarak was a hopeful sign to me.  I hope it will finally be followed by democracy in which warning labels are heeded.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Islam category at Robert Hall.

%d bloggers like this: