Stephen Zunes

Why These Missile Strikes Won’t Make Things Better for the Syrian People

The U.S. bombing of Syria’s Al Shayrat air base has brought more death and destruction to that country and is unlikely to deter additional war crimes by the Syrian regime. It will not ease the suffering of the Syrian people.

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Washington's Warmongers Take Aim At Iran Diplomacy

Hardliners in Tehran are not happy with the recent rapprochement between the United States and Iran and the related progress in negotiations to address Western concerns about the Iranian nuclear program. But the bigger threat may come from hardliners in the Washington, including prominent congressional Democrats.

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A Troubling Appointment: National Security Adviser Susan Rice Supports Autocrats and Disdains International Law

The selection of Susan Rice as President Obama's new national security adviser is highly problematic for those of us who believe that United States foreign policy should be more attuned to international law and human rights and that alleged threats to US national security should be based on empirical evidence rather than unsubstantiated allegations by warmongers.

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Classic Washington Hypocrisy: America Has No Legs to Stand On When It Warns Syria Against Chemical Weapons Use

If, as alleged, the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, it would indeed be a serious development, constituting a breach of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, one of the world’s most important disarmament treaties, which banned the use of chemical weapons.

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An International Law Hating Iraq War Supporter: The Case Against Secretary of State John Kerry

President Obama’s selection of John Kerry as the next secretary of state sends the wrong signal to America’s allies and adversaries alike. Kerry’s record in the United States Senate, where he currently chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, has included spurious attacks on the International Court of Justice, unqualified defense of Israeli occupation policies and human rights violations, and support for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, thereby raising serious questions about his commitment to international law and treaty obligations. Furthermore, his false claims about Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” and his repeated denials of well-documented human rights abuses by allied governments raise serious questions about his credibility.

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America Blows It on Bahrain

Editor's note: On March 15, Bahraini King Hamad, declared a state of emergency and imposed martial law to quell weeks of protests. Meanwhile, over the objections of Washington, forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates entered Bahrain to help prop up the beleaguered ruling al-Khalifa family.

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Republicans and Democrats Come Together to Launch Unprecedented Attack on International Law

In a stunning blow against international law and human rights, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution on Tuesday attacking the report of the United Nations Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict. The report was authored by the well-respected South African jurist Richard Goldstone and three other noted authorities on international humanitarian law, who had been widely praised for taking leadership in previous investigations of war crimes in Rwanda, Darfur, the former Yugoslavia, and elsewhere. Since this report documented apparent war crimes by a key U.S. ally, however, Congress has taken the unprecedented action of passing a resolution condemning it. Perhaps most ominously, the resolution also endorses Israel's right to attack Syria and Iran on the grounds that they are "state sponsors of terrorism."

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Democrats Ignore Shocking Findings of Atrocities in Gaza War

On October 1, the Obama administration successfully pressured the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva to drop its proposal to recommend that the UN Security Council endorse the findings of the Goldstone Commission report. The report, authored by renowned South African jurist Richard Goldstone, detailed the results of the UNHRC's fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict. These findings included the recommendation that both Hamas and the Israeli government bring to justice those responsible for war crimes during the three weeks of fighting in late December and early January. If they don't, the report urges that the case be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible prosecution.

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Has the Election Been Stolen in Iran?

It is certainly not unprecedented for Western observers to miscalculate the outcome of an election in a country where pre-election polls are not as rigorous as Western countries, particularly when there is a clear bias towards a particular candidate.  At the same time, the predictions of knowledgeable Iranian observers from various countries and from across the political spectrum were nearly unanimous in the belief that the leading challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi would defeat incumbent president  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad decisively in yesterday’s presidential election, certainly in the runoff if not in the first round.  This also appeared to be the assumption among independent observers in Iran itself. 

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Is Obama Screwing His Base with Rahm Emanuel Selection?

I had really wanted to celebrate Barack Obama's remarkable victory for a day or so before becoming cynical again. I really did.

And yet, less than 24 hours after the first polls closed, the president-elect chose as his chief of staff -- perhaps the most powerful single position in any administration -- Rahm Emanuel, one of the most conservative Democratic members of Congress.

The chief of staff essentially acts as the president's gatekeeper, determining with whom he has access for advice and analysis. Obama is known as a good listener who has been open to hearing from and considering the perspectives of those on the Left as well as those with a more centrist to conservative perspective. How much access he will actually have as president to more progressive voices, however, is now seriously in question.

Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel is a member of the so-called New Democrat Coalition (NDC), of group of center-right pro-business Congressional Democrats affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Conference, which is dedicated to moving the Democratic Party away from its more liberal and progressive base. Numbering only 58 members out of 236 Democrats in the current House of Representatives, the NDC has worked closely with its Republican colleagues in pushing through and passing such legislation as those providing President Bush with "fast-track" trade authority in order to bypass efforts by labor, environmentalists and other public interest groups to promote fairer trade policy.

Emanuel began his political career as a senior adviser and chief fundraiser for the successful 1989 Chicago mayoral campaign of Richard M. Daley to seize back City Hall from reformists who had challenged the corrupt political machine of this father, Richard J. Daley. Emanuel later became a senior adviser to Bill Clinton at the White House from 1993 to 1998, serving as Assistant to the President for Political Affairs and then Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy, and was credited with playing a major role in shifting the Clinton administration's foreign and domestic policy agenda to the right. Emanuel was the single most important official involved in pushing through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the bill ending Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and Clinton's draconian crime bill, among other legislation.

Leaving the administration in 1998, Emanuel worked as an investment banker in Chicago, where he amassed an $18 million fortune in less than three years prior to being elected to Congress.

As head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee since 2004, Emanuel has promoted pro-war and pro-business center-right candidates against anti-war and pro-labor candidates in the primaries, pouring millions of dollars of donations from Democrats across the country into the campaigns of his favored conservative minions to defeat more progressive challengers.

Emanuel was a major supporter of the Iraq War resolution that authorized the invasion of Iraq. Indeed, he was the only one of nine Democratic members of Congress from Illinois who backed granting Bush this unprecedented authority to invade a country on the far side of the world that was no threat to the United States at the time. Even more disturbingly, when asked by Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" whether he would have voted to authorize the invasion "knowing that there are no weapons of mass destruction," Emanuel answered that he indeed would have done so, effectively acknowledging that his support for the war was not about national security, but about oil and empire. Not surprisingly, he has also voted with the Republicans in support of unconditional funding to continue the Iraq War and has consistently opposed efforts by other Democrats to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces from that country and related Congressional efforts to end the war.

At a time of record budget deficits, Emanuel has been a passionate supporter of increased spending for the Pentagon and has resisted efforts by fellow Democrats to trim excesses in the Bush administration's bloated military budget. For example, he has repeatedly voted against amendments to cut funding for Bush's dangerously destabilizing missile defense and even voted against an amendment to identify unnecessary Pentagon spending by examining the need, relevance and cost of Cold War weapons systems designed to fight the former Soviet Union.

A major hawk regarding Iran, Emanuel has also voted against Democratic efforts to prevent the Bush administration from launching military action against that country and has joined the administration in exaggerated claims about Iran's alleged nuclear threat. He is not opposed to nuclear proliferation if it involves U.S. allies, however. Emanuel has consistently voted against a series of Democratic amendments that would have strengthened safeguards in the Bush administration's nuclear cooperation agreement with India to prevent U.S. assistance from supporting India's nuclear weapons program.

Emanuel is also a prominent hawk regarding Israel, attacking the Bush administration from the right for criticizing Israel's assassination policies and other human rights abuses. He was also a prominent supporter of Israel's 2006 attacks on Lebanon, even challenging the credibility of Amnesty International and other human rights groups that reported Israeli violations of international humanitarian law. Emanuel's father had emigrated from Israel in the 1950s, where he had been a member of the terrorist group Irgun, which had been responsible for a series of terrorist attacks against Palestinian and British civilians in mandatory Palestine during the 1940s. Emanuel himself served in a civilian capacity as a volunteer for the Israeli army in the early 1990s.

It is unclear how serious of a blow Obama's selection of Emanuel is to those who hoped that Obama might actually steer the country in a more progressive direction. It's easy to see it as nothing less than a slap in the face of the progressive anti-war elements of the party to whom Obama owes his election, particularly following his selection of Sen. Joe Biden as vice president. (See my articles "Biden's Foreign Policy 'Experience'" and "Biden, Iraq, and Obama's Betrayal.")

However, this does not necessarily mean that Obama as president will pursue nothing better than a Clintonesque center-right agenda. Someone with Obama's intelligence, knowledge and leadership qualities need not be unduly restricted by the influence of his chief of staff as less able presidents have. At the same time, this shocking appointment of Emanuel is illustrative of the need for the progressive base that brought him to power to not celebrate too long and to refocus our energies into pushing hard to ensure that the change Obama promised is something we really can believe in.

The Hope of Obama

Barack Obama's resounding victory has brought even this cynical observer of Democratic Party politics to dare to hope, believing that -- as a child of the Eisenhower era -- I will soon be witnessing the most progressive presidential administration of my lifetime.

This hope, which I fully realize may prove to be naive, rests upon Obama's personal history as a community organizer, his base of support in the party's left wing, and the remarkable shift in internal Democratic Party politics in recent years.

Obama's Background

There are a number of aspects of Obama's personal history which would seem to indicate empathy for those less fortunate. One, of course, is the fact that he is a black man in a racist society. Another is that he grew up in Indonesia (a poor Asian country) and Hawaii (the most racially diverse and economically stratified state.)

More significant, however, is Obama's political history:

Though the desperate lies and hyperbole from the Right regarding Obama's supposed far-left roots and radical associates are easily dismissible, Obama does come out of a progressive grassroots tradition.

At Occidental College in the early 1980s, he became immersed in the anti-apartheid movement. His first public speech was at an event sponsored by the Students for Economic Democracy, part of a national student advocacy group set up by former California State Senator and progressive activist Tom Hayden. Though there have certainly been student activists from the late 1960s who later moved well to the right, left-wing campus activism was not nearly as trendy during Obama's college years, which were during the heyday of the Reagan Era, when College Republicans were often the largest and most visible political group on many campuses.

Upon graduating from Columbia University, while most of his classmates were pursuing lucrative careers elsewhere, Obama began working in working-class black neighborhoods of South Chicago as an organizer for the Developing Communities Project, then reeling from the collapse of the steel industry. His salary was only $13,000 a year, plus $2,000 to purchase a beat-up Honda Civic for transportation, recognizing, in his words, "There was something more than making money and getting a fancy degree."

Rejecting Chicago's tradition of taking advantage of personal connections with elected officials to elicit a few crumbs, Obama instead embraced the organizing tradition of Saul Alinsky and other community activists of confronting officials with resolute citizens demanding accountability.

Later, as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama was recruited by hundreds of top corporate law firms and was offered a prestigious clerkship for a federal appeals court, but he turned them all down to return to South Chicago to continue working to empower people to challenge the system. (By contrast, his fellow Ivy League law school grad Hillary Clinton was then in Arkansas serving on the board of Wal-Mart.)

In the buildup to the 1992 elections, as an alternative to the national Democratic Party's emphasis on fighting for the small number of undecided voters in the middle, Obama -- as director of Project Vote! -- instead worked to expand the party's progressive base through registering traditionally underrepresented poor and minority voters, resulting in unexpectedly large Democratic victories in Illinois that year.

This history is indicative of someone who not only is cognizant of the impact government policies have on disadvantaged segments of society, but who recognizes that power ultimately comes from below.

Obama's Progressive Base

From the beginning of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, it was obvious that Obama's policy positions were not nearly as progressive as those of Dennis Kucinich or even John Edwards, and Obama did not differentiate himself much on major issues in the subsequent contests with Hillary Clinton. At the same time, public opinion polls indicated that, with some minor exceptions, Obama supporters overwhelmingly identified with the left wing of the party -- and in particular, with the peace movement -- than did Clinton supporters.

Though Obama's position regarding current Iraq policy was only marginally better than Clinton's, it was his strong and principled anti-war stance prior to the invasion that made the critical difference in the minds of millions of Democratic voters. The very week in October 2002 when Clinton -- in a desperate effort to justify her vote to authorize unprecedented war powers to President Bush -- was standing on the floor of the Senate falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein had somehow redeveloped his chemical and biological weapons arsenal and his nuclear weapons program and that he was supporting al Qaeda terrorists, Obama was speaking at an anti-war rally in Chicago, noting that Saddam did not at that time pose a threat to the United States or his neighbors and that a U.S. invasion of Iraq could end up being a disaster for both the United States and the region.

Obama's honest and prescient understanding of Iraq prior to the invasion gives hope that as president he will be less inclined to engage in such acts of reckless militarism. Indeed, he has insisted that "I don't want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place."

Even if one is to assume that Obama is more hawkish than his early opposition to the war would indicate, he surely recognizes that he owes his nomination -- and therefore his election -- to those who opposed the invasion of Iraq and who voted for him based in large part because of his anti-war position.

Indeed, exit polls from the primaries indicate that the majority of Obama supporters were to the left of their candidates' stated positions on most major foreign and domestic policy issues. Surely Obama is aware of this. And, just as leading Republican elected officials who may not personally care that much about such issues as abortion or gay rights nevertheless feel a need to satisfy their base by making appointments and supporting policies that will appease them, Obama is likely to recognize this reality as well.

Another good sign is that no serious presidential candidate in recent decades has ever raised such a high percentage of his or her contributions from small donors. Unlike the Clintons and other leading Democratic presidential contenders whose election campaigns were primarily supported directly or indirectly by powerful corporate interests, Obama's donor base is far more diverse.

Countervailing Tendencies

Admittedly, there are huge qualifiers to all of the above.

For example, Obama has also received enormous contributions from those with strong corporate ties and other special interests, to which he will likely also feel beholden. His refusal to support a single-payer health care system and his calls for increasing the already-bloated military budget are but two examples of where he may feel a need to formulate policies based more upon powerful corporate interests than his electoral base.

Furthermore, Obama's selection of Joe Biden, an early and ardent supporter of the invasion of Iraq and other dangerous and militaristic foreign policies, as his vice presidential running mate was nothing less than a slap in the face to this anti-war constituency and could be an ominous sign of the kind of people he would appoint to key foreign policy positions. (See my articles "Biden's Foreign Policy 'Experience'" and "Biden, Iraq, and Obama's Betrayal.") One the one hand, Obama's core foreign policy advisers have included some of the more critical, innovative and enlightened members of the foreign policy establishment, such as Joseph Cirincione, Lawrence Korb, Susan Rice, Richard Clarke and Samantha Power. On the other hand, his advisers have also included the likes of Dennis Ross, Anthony Lake and Merrill McPeak, whose commitment to international law and human rights have proven to be very weak.

Even if one were to assume the best in terms of Obama's political inclinations and policy agenda, he will be under enormous pressure from the Pentagon, corporate interests, Congressional Republicans and many Congressional Democrats to move to the right. The corporate media will likely be on the attack against even a hint of progressive policy initiatives, and Obama could be on the defensive from the outset. Progressives may feel obliged to focus more on defending Obama's policies -- as inadequate as some of them may be -- from such attacks than pushing him to the left.

This has led many to assume that the election of Barack Obama after eight years of Bush would simply be a repeat of the false hope from Bill Clinton's election in 1992 after 12 years of Republican rule.

However, the Democratic Party rank and file is far more engaged and -- according to recent polls -- significantly more liberal politically than it was 16 years ago. Indeed, the Progressive Democrats of America is now at least as influential within the party as the Democratic Leadership Council. People are fired up and not in the mood for Bush Lite. More Americans volunteered for and were otherwise personally mobilized on behalf of Obama's campaign than any electoral campaign in history, doing so on the belief that real change would be the result, and are therefore not willing to settle for either the status quo or the status quo ante.

There is also a new generation of Congressional Democrats, many of whom are significantly more liberal than when Clinton came to office. And there is little risk that they will lose their majorities any time soon, as was the case less than two years after Clinton became president.

In short, the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, along with an expanded Democratic majority in Congress, may be the best electoral result that progressives can reasonably hope for, given the reality of the American political and economic system. That's a huge qualifier, to be sure. But it is not insignificant. Indeed, given the power of the American president, even a small difference can make a big difference in the lives of millions of people.

Some commentators have noted that the only other Democrats elected by such a clear majority in the past century were Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, whose administrations -- despite the distraction of wars -- did more than any other presidents in advancing the rights of less fortunate. It is also important, however, that both administrations were prodded by progressive mass movements demanding it.

The key is whether the activist community is willing to continue on the offensive and take advantage of what may be an unprecedented opening in Washington to affect real change. This is an opportunity that must not be squandered.

How Washington Goaded Israel

There is increasing evidence that Israel instigated a disastrous war on Lebanon largely at the behest of the United States. The Bush administration was set on crippling Hezbollah, the radical Shiite political movement that maintains a sizable block of seats in the Lebanese parliament. Taking advantage of the country's democratic opening after the forced departure of Syrian troops last year, Hezbollah defied U.S. efforts to democratize the region on American terms. The populist party's unwillingness to disarm its militia as required by UN resolution--and the inability of the pro-Western Lebanese government to force them to do so--led the Bush administration to push Israel to take military action.

In his May 23 summit with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President George W. Bush offered full U.S. support for Israel to attack Lebanon as soon as possible. Seymour Hersh, in the August 21 New Yorker, quotes a Pentagon consultant on the Bush administration's longstanding desire to strike "a preemptive blow against Hezbollah." The consultant added, "It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it."

Israel was a willing partner. Although numerous Israeli press reports indicate that some Israeli officials, including top military officials, are furious at Bush for pushing Olmert into war, the Israeli government had been planning the attack since 2004. According to a July 21 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Israel had briefed U.S. officials with details of the plans, including PowerPoint presentations, in what the newspaper described as "revealing detail." Political science professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University told the Chronicle that "[O]f all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared. In a sense, the preparation began in May 2000, immediately after the Israeli withdrawal ..."

Despite these preparations, the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties tried to present the devastating attacks, which took as many as 800 civilian lives, as a spontaneous reaction to Hezbollah's provocative July 12 attack on an Israeli border post and its seizure of two soldiers.

Some reports have indicated that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was less sanguine than Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, or President Bush about the proposed Israeli military offensive. Rumsfeld apparently believed that Israel should focus less on bombing and more on ground operations, despite the dramatically higher Israeli casualties that would result. Still, Hersh quotes a former senior intelligence official as saying that Rumsfeld was "delighted that Israel is our stalking horse." The recent announcement of a shaky ceasefire may represent only a minor speed bump in U.S. plans. After all, the attack on Hezbollah was only the first stage of what the Bush administration apparently hopes will be a joint redrawing of the Middle East map.

On to Iran and Syria?

On July 30, the Jerusalem Post reported that President Bush pushed Israel to expand the war beyond Lebanon and attack Syria. Israeli officials apparently found the idea "nuts." This idea was not exactly secret. In support of the Israeli offensive, the office of the White House Press Secretary released a list of talking points that included reference to a Los Angeles Times op-ed by Max Boot, senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The article, "It's Time to Let the Israelis Take Off the Gloves," urges an Israeli attack against Syria. "Israel needs to hit the Assad regime. Hard," argues Boot. "If it does, it will be doing Washington's dirty work."

Iran, too, was in the administration's sights. The Israeli attack on Lebanon, according to Seymour Hersh, was to "serve as a prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran's nuclear installations." But first, the Bush administration needed to get rid of Hezbollah's capacity to retaliate against Israel in the event of a U.S. strike on Iran, which apparently prompted Hezbollah's buildup of Iranian-supplied missiles in the first place. Starting this spring, according to Hersh, the White House ordered top planners from the U.S. air force to consult with their Israeli counterparts on a war plan against Iran that incorporated an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Hezbollah. Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, the chief of staff of the Israeli military and principal architect of the war on Lebanon, worked with U.S. officials on contingency planning for an air war with Iran.

The Bush administration's larger goal apparently has been to form an alliance of pro-Western Sunni Arab dictatorships--primarily Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan--against a growing Shiite militancy exemplified by Hezbollah and Iran and, to a lesser extent, post-Saddam Iraq. Though these Sunni regimes initially spoke out against Hezbollah's provocative capture of the two Israeli soldiers that prompted the Israeli attacks, popular opposition within these countries to the ferocity of the Israeli assault led them to rally solidly against the U.S.-backed war on Lebanon.

In Israel's Interest?

In the years prior to Israel's July 12 bombing of Lebanese cities, Hezbollah had become less and less of a threat. It had not killed any Israeli civilians for more than a decade (with the exception of one accidental fatality in 2003 caused by an anti-aircraft missile fired at an Israeli plane that violated Lebanese airspace). Investigations by the Congressional Research Service, the State Department, and independent think tanks failed to identify any major act of terrorism by Hezbollah for over a dozen years.

Prior to the attack, Hezbollah's militia had dwindled to about 1000 men under arms--this number tripled after July 12 when reserves were called up--and a national dialogue was going on between Hezbollah and the government of pro-Western prime minister Fuad Siniora regarding disarmament. The majority of Lebanese opposed Hezbollah, both its reactionary fundamentalist social agenda as well as its insistence on maintaining an armed presence independent of the country's elected government. Thanks to the U.S.-backed Israeli attacks on Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, however, support for Hezbollah, according to polls, has grown to more than 80%, even within the Sunni Muslim and Christian communities.

Even Richard Armitage, a leading hawk and deputy secretary of state under President Bush during his first term, noted that "[T]he only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis."

Despite U.S. encouragement that Israel continue the war, Israel's right-wing prime minister has come under increasing criticism at home, with polls from the Haaretz newspaper indicating that only 39% of Israelis would support the planned expansion of the ground offensive. Meretz Party Knesset member Ran Cohen, writing in the Jerusalem Post, called earlier moves to expand the ground offensive "a wretched decision." Yariv Oppenheimer, general director of Peace Now, which had earlier muted its criticism of the attacks on Lebanon, noted that "[T]he war has spiraled out of control and the government is ignoring the political options available."

Not only have a growing number of Israelis acknowledged that the war has been a disaster for Israel, there is growing recognition of U.S. responsibility for getting them into that mess. A July 23 article in Haaretz about an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv noted that "this was a distinctly anti-American protest" that included "chants of 'We will not die and kill in the service of the United States,' and slogans condemning President George W. Bush." Members of Congress who have unconditionally backed Israel's attacks on Lebanon have responded to constituent outrage by claiming they were simply defending Israel's legitimate interests. In supporting the Bush administration, however, they have defended policies that cynically use Israel to advance the administration's militarist agenda.

Who's Anti-Semitic?

One of the more unsettling aspects of the broad support in Washington for the use of Israel as U.S. proxy in the Middle East is how closely it corresponds to historic anti-Semitism. In past centuries, the ruling elite of European countries would, in return for granting limited religious and cultural autonomy, established certain individuals in the Jewish community as the visible agents of the oppressive social order, such as tax collectors and moneylenders. When the population threatened to rise up against the ruling elite, the rulers could then blame the Jews, channeling the wrath of an exploited people against convenient scapegoats. The resulting pogroms and waves of repression took place throughout the Jewish Diaspora.

Zionists hoped to break this cycle by creating a Jewish nation-state where Jews would no longer be dependent on the ruling elite of a given country. The tragic irony is that, by using Israel to wage proxy war to promote U.S. hegemony in the region, this cycle is being perpetuated on a global scale. This latest orgy of American-inspired Israeli violence has led to a dangerous upsurge in anti-Semitism in the Middle East and throughout the world. In the United States, many critics of U.S. policy are blaming "the Zionist lobby" for U.S. support for Israel's attacks on Lebanon rather than the Bush administration and its bipartisan congressional allies who encouraged Israel to wage war on Lebanon in the first place.

Unfortunately, most anti-war protests in major U.S. cities have targeted the Israeli consulate rather than U.S. government buildings. By contrast, during the 1980s, protests against the U.S.-backed violence in El Salvador rarely targeted Salvadoran consulates, but instead more appropriately took place outside federal offices and arms depots, recognizing that the violence would not be taking place without U.S. weapons and support.

Israel is no banana republic. Even those like Hersh who recognize the key role of the Bush administration in goading Israel to attack Lebanon emphasize that rightist elements within Israel had their own reasons, independent of Washington, to pursue the conflict.

Still, given Israel's enormous military, economic, and political dependence on the United States, this latest war on Lebanon could not have taken place without a green light from Washington. President Jimmy Carter, for example, was able to put a halt to Israel's 1978 invasion of Lebanon within days and force the Israeli army to withdraw from the south bank of the Litani River to a narrow strip just north of the Israeli border. By contrast, the Bush administration and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress clearly believed it was in the U.S. interest for Israel to pursue Washington's "dirty work" for an indefinite period, regardless of its negative implications for Israel's legitimate security interests.

Domestic Political Implications

Given the lack of success of the Israeli military campaign, U.S. planners are likely having second thoughts about the ease with which a U.S.-led bombing campaign could achieve victory over Iran. However, the propensity of the Bush administration to ignore historical lessons should not be underestimated. A former senior intelligence official told Hersh that "[T]here is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this. When the smoke clears, they'll say it was a success, and they'll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran." Indeed, on August 14, President Bush declared that Israel had achieved "victory" in its fight against Hezbollah.

The outspoken support of congressional Democrats for Bush's policies and Israel's war on Lebanon portends similar support should the United States ignore history and common sense and attack Iran anyway. Both the Senate and House, in backing administration policy, claimed that, contrary to the broad consensus of international opinion, Israel's military actions were consistent with international law and the UN Charter. By this logic, if Israel's wanton destruction of a small democratic country's civilian infrastructure because of a minor border incident instigated by members of a 3000-man militia of a minority party is a legitimate act of self-defense, surely a similar U.S. attack against Iran--a much larger country with a sizable armed force whose hard-line government might be developing nuclear weapons--could also be seen as a legitimate act of self-defense.

Ironically, political action committees sponsored by liberal groups such as MoveOn.org, Peace Action, and Act for Change continue to support the election or re-election of Congressional candidates who have voiced support for Washington's proxy war against Lebanon despite massive Israeli violations of international humanitarian law, its serving as a trial run for a U.S. war against Iran, and its being against Israel's legitimate self-interests. And, unfortunately, on the other extreme, some of the more outspoken elements that have opposed America's proxy war against Lebanon frankly do not have Israel's best interest in mind.

As a result, without a dramatic increase in protests by those who see Washington's cynical use of Israel as bad for virtually everyone, there is little chance this dangerous and immoral policy can be reversed.

Was Hezbollah a Legitimate Target?

The Bush administration and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress have gone on record defending Israel's assault on Lebanon's civilian infrastructure as a means of attacking Hezbollah “terrorists.” Unlike the major Palestinian Islamist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah forces haven't killed any Israeli civilians for more than a decade. Indeed, a 2002 Congressional Research Service report noted, in its analysis of Hezbollah, that “no major terrorist attacks have been attributed to it since 1994.” The most recent State Department report on international terrorism also fails to note any acts of terrorism by Hezbollah since that time except for unsubstantiated claims that a Hezbollah member was a participant in a June 1996 attack on the U.S. Air Force dormitory at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.



While Hezbollah's ongoing rocket attacks on civilian targets in Israel are indeed illegitimate and can certainly be considered acts of terrorism, it is important to note that such attacks were launched only after the U.S.-backed Israeli assault on civilian targets in Israel began July 12. Similarly, Hezbollah has pledged to cease such attacks once Israel stops its attacks against Lebanon and withdraws its troops from Lebanese territory occupied since the onset of the latest round of hostilities. (The Hezbollah attack on the Israeli border post that prompted the Israeli assaults, while clearly illegitimate and provocative, can not legally be considered a terrorist attack since the targets were military rather than civilian.)


Indeed, the evolution of this Lebanese Shiite movement from a terrorist group to a legal political party had been one of the more interesting and hopeful developments in the Middle East in recent years.

Like many radical Islamist parties elsewhere, Hezbollah (meaning “Party of God”) combines populist rhetoric, important social service networks for the needy, and a decidedly reactionary and chauvinistic interpretation of Islam in its approach to contemporary social and political issues. In Lebanese parliamentary elections earlier last year, Hezbollah ended up with fourteen seats outright in the 128-member national assembly, and a slate shared with the more moderate Shiite party Amal gained an additional twenty-three seats. Hezbollah controls one ministry in the 24-member cabinet. While failing to disarm as required under UN Security Council resolution 1559, Hezbollah was negotiating with the Lebanese government and other interested Lebanese parties, leading to hopes that the party's military wing would be disbanded within a few months. Prior to calling up reserves following the Israeli assault, Hezbollah could probably count on no more than a thousand active-duty militiamen.


In other words, whatever one might think of Hezbollah's reactionary ideology and its sordid history, the group did not constitute such a serious threat to Israel's security as to legitimate a pre-emptive war.


Having ousted Syrian forces from Lebanon in an impressive nonviolent uprising last year, the Lebanese had re-established what may perhaps be the most democratic state in the Arab world. Because they allowed the anti-Israel and anti-American Hezbollah to participate in the elections, however, the Israeli government and the Bush administration—with strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill—apparently decided that Lebanon as a whole must be punished in the name of “the war on terror.”

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A Hurricane of Consequences

As it is beginning to appear that the death toll in southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi from Hurricane Katrina may surpass that of 9/11, once again questions are being raised regarding the Bush administration's distorted views as to what constitutes national security.

Much of the criticism thus far has focused on the failure of authorities to evacuate the tens of thousands of low-income residents in New Orleans who lacked the means to leave for higher ground inland and the slowness and inefficiency of the federal response following the rupture of the levees protecting the city, much of which lies below sea level. (Some have compared the U.S. government's reaction unfavorably to its response to the devastating tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean region in December, though the U.S. response to that disaster was actually even slower and far less generous financially.)

Still others have noted the growing evidence that the increase in recent years in the frequency of such mega-hurricanes as Katrina is a result of global warming. The Bush administration has aggressively undermined international efforts to forcefully address such potentially catastrophic changes in the world's climate as a result of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and other industrialized nations. It also appears that the Bush administration's decision to undercut the authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a once-independent unit of government, by subsuming it into the Department of Homeland Security -- with its over-emphasis on the threat from international terrorism -- limited FEMA's ability to better prepare for the long-predicted scenario of disastrous flooding resulting from a major hurricane striking New Orleans.

Perhaps the decision by the Bush administration that most directly contributed to the high numbers of unnecessary deaths, however, was the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Iraq war has cost the federal government more than $200 billion thus far, resulting in cutbacks in a number of emergency preparedness projects which appear to have lessened the ability of Louisiana authorities to cope with the hurricane, including providing charter busses to complete the evacuation of the city before the storm struck. Furthermore, Walter Maestri, the emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, which includes New Orleans' western suburbs, noted in June of last year that anticipated funding to strengthen the levees had been diverted to pay for the war.

Indeed, federal assistance to the Southeast Louisiana Flood Control Project dropped precipitously following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Also contributing to the carnage is the fact that at least 35% of the Louisiana National Guard, long serving as the front line in hurricane relief efforts, have been unable to respond to the crisis because they are far away in Iraq. The numbers that could have been on the ground participating in relief operations have been reduced further as a result of the dramatic drop in recruitment over the past two years: Hundreds of men and women who would have otherwise enlisted or re-enlisted in the National Guard have failed to do so due to the prospect of being sent to fight in that bloody counter-insurgency war.

Perhaps even more significant has been the absence of equipment critical for emergency responses. WGNO-TV, the ABC affiliate in New Orleans, reported on August 1 that, "Dozens of high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators are now abroad," warning that "in the event of a major natural disaster, that could be a problem." They interviewed Lieutenant Colonel Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard, who observed that "The National Guard needs that equipment back home."

As a result of the absence of these high-water vehicles and other equipment that could have been used in the aftermath of the flooding, it appears that many hundreds of people died while waiting to be rescued. Even Thomas Donnelly of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute observed that, "This is what happens when you take Guardsmen and put them on the conveyor belt into Iraq."

In neighboring Mississippi, which took the brunt of the hurricane's 145-mile per hour winds and 20-foot storm surge, 4,000 members of the state's National Guard -- a full 40% of its total troop strength -- are currently in Iraq. The Washington Post quoted Lt. Andy Thaggard, a Mississippi National Guard spokesman, as saying, "Missing personnel is the big thing in this particular event -- we need our people." Louisiana's 256th Infantry Brigade and Mississippi's 155th Armored Brigade, both of which are currently in Iraq, include engineering and support battalions specializing in disaster relief.

President George W. Bush's priorities were apparent the day after the hurricane struck the Gulf Coast: Rather than immediately returning to Washington to coordinate the federal response, he flew out to San Diego to give a major speech where -- except for a few lines at the outset -- he avoided mentioning the unfolding tragedy and instead focused upon rationalizing for his war in Iraq, comparing it to the struggle against the Axis powers in World War II.

Don't count on the Democrats to take advantage of this opportunity to challenge the Bush administration's misplaced priorities, however. Democratic leaders, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and other leading contenders for the 2008 presidential nomination, have largely supported President Bush's Iraq agenda and therefore share in the blame. Louisiana's hawkish Democratic senator Mary Landrieu, along with the majority of her Democratic Senate colleagues, voted in support of the October 2002 joint resolution authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Even as the drain on the federal budget resulting from the ongoing war and the heavy reliance on their states' National Guard to suppress the resulting insurgency became apparent, they have largely supported the Bush administration's request to continue funding the war.

Similarly, Democratic U.S. Representative William Jefferson, whose Second Congressional District in New Orleans is now mostly underwater, also voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq. He defended his vote on the absurd grounds that Iraq somehow posed a threat to America's national security, a particularly twisted perspective for the representative of a constituency so vulnerable to natural disaster, a full 30% of whom lived below the poverty line even prior to Hurricane Katrina.

The public is doing it what it can to try to make up for the failure of its elected leadership. By providing shelter for those fleeing the devastated areas, making financial contributions to relief efforts and other measures, the American people have once again demonstrated enormous caring and generosity. Such efforts will and should continue. However, this laudable energy must also be focused on holding accountable the politicians of both parties who -- out of their eagerness to invade an oil-rich country on the other side of the globe -- allowed so many of their fellow Americans to suffer and die needlessly.

Amnesty Under Attack

In what appears to be a concerted effort to discredit independent human rights advocates, the Bush administration and its allies in the media have been engaging in a series of attacks against Amnesty International, the world's largest human rights organization and winner of the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize.

Amnesty International has received support from literally millions of individuals around the world because of its steadfast defense of civil and political rights against repressive governments regardless of a given regime's ideology, economic system, or strategic alliances. Avoiding politics, Amnesty provides regular reports of the human rights situation in every country in the world based upon certain objective criteria, and focuses its advocacy work on letter-writing campaigns to free individual prisoners.

Such consistent and credible reporting and advocacy to advance the cause of human rights does not sit well with the U.S. government, however, long the world's number one military and financial backer of autocratic regimes and whose armed forces in recent years have engaged in widespread torture, extrajudicial killings, and other violations of international humanitarian law.

Following publication of a report on May 26 criticizing the abuse of prisoners by the U.S. military in detention facilities in Iraq and elsewhere, Vice President Dick Cheney blithely dismissed Amnesty International's well-documented findings, saying "I frankly just don't take them seriously." White House spokesman Scott McClellan claimed that the detailed accounting of U.S. human rights violations was "ridiculous and unsupported by the facts," while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared that Amnesty's report was "absurd."

President George W. Bush, in a press conference May 31, similarly referred to it as "an absurd report" and implied that the 44-year-old human rights organization was being used by terrorists and those "who hate America."

Ironically, at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, top Bush administration officials were regularly citing Amnesty International's human rights reports as evidence of the perfidy of Saddam Hussein's regime. For example, in reference to the Iraqi government, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld asserted that "We know that it's a repressive regime" as a result of reports by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations "about how the regime of Saddam Hussein treats his people." Rumsfeld added that a "careful reading" of Amnesty International's reports document "the viciousness of that regime."

It is one thing to criticize human rights abuses by foreign governments the Bush administration seeks to overthrow and it is quite another thing to criticize human rights abuses by the United States itself.

President Bush Fails to Make His Case

Given what is at stake, one would have thought that the administration would have made a stronger case for going to war than President George W. Bush did on Monday evening.

The weakness of the administration's position is apparent in its insistence of repeating stories of Iraqi atrocities from more than 10 to 20 years ago, such as its support for international terrorist groups like Abu Nidal and its use of chemical weapons. It was during this period when the United States was quietly supporting the Iraqi regime, covering up reports of its use of chemical weapons and even providing intelligence for Iraqi forces that used such weapons against Iranian troops. Though the 1980s marked the peak of Iraq's support for terrorist groups, the U.S. government actually dropped Iraq from its list of states sponsoring terrorism because of its own ties to the Iraqi war effort.

Two decades later, in its annual report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism," the State Department presented no evidence of any current Iraqi support for active terrorist groups, only the granting of sanctuary to some aging leaders of dormant groups.

The president's speech again presented no evidence that the decidedly secular Baath regime of Saddam Hussein and the Islamist al-Qaeda had overcome their longstanding hostility toward one another. The only charge that appears to have any credibility is that of al-Qaeda operatives from Afghanistan being seen inside Iraq, yet all of these sightings have taken place in Kurdish areas in the north that are beyond Baghdad's control.

Accusations of Iraqi possession of ballistic missiles are similarly outdated: According to a 1998 report by the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), 817 of Iraq's 819 Soviet-build ballistic missiles have been accounted for and destroyed. Iraq may possess up to a couple of dozen homemade versions, but these have not been tested and it is questionable whether they have any functional launchers.

One of the few new threats mentioned in the president's speech is the alleged development by Iraq of unmanned aerial vehicles capable of distributing chemical or biological agents over a wide area. Given that virtually all of Iraq's neighbors have sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses, however, and that the U.S. Air Force rules the skies in that part of the world, such slow-moving UAVS would likely be shot down before they even left Iraqi air space.

President Bush's demands for a new Security Council resolution on Iraqi disarmament is a classic case of moving the goalposts. The U.S. had supported the terms that were spelled out in previous resolutions, but as soon as Iraq accepted them, the administration suddenly demanded this new resolution that would usurp them.

There are provisions in the U.S. proposal -- such as insisting on the right for U.S. officials to accompany the UN inspectors (who Iraq presumes would be spying), allowing the use of force for alleged noncompliance without first seeking UNSC approval, scrapping previously agreed-upon protocols, and demanding that simple reporting errors from the Iraqi side are legitimate grounds for war -- that seem designed to simply give a legal cover for a U.S. invasion.

Claiming that the UN's credibility is at stake if it does not back up its resolutions requiring Iraqi disarmament is similarly disingenuous. There are well over 90 UN Security Council resolutions that are currently being violated by countries other than Iraq. The vast majority of these resolutions are being violated by countries that receive U.S. military, economic and diplomatic support, such as Turkey, Indonesia and Israel. Indeed, the U.S. has effectively blocked the UN Security Council from enforcing many of these resolutions.

Perhaps the most misleading statement in the president's address was that the United States "has never permitted the brutal and lawless to set history's course." Had this been the case, successive Republican and Democratic administrations would have never supported the Indonesian dictator Suharto for over three decades, as he presided over the massacre of half a million of his own people and invaded the tiny nation of East Timor, resulting in the deaths of an additional 200,000 civilians. Nor would the United States have supported governments like Turkey, Israel and Morocco, which have also invaded neighboring countries at the cost of thousands of civilian lives.

Despite President Bush's assertion to the contrary, nobody believes that Saddam should be trusted. Yet renewed UN inspections combined with satellite and aerial surveillance, ongoing military sanctions and more, make it very unlikely that the Iraq regime could proceed with the development of weapons of mass destruction.

Claims that the threat from Iraq is "far more clearly defined" than al-Qaeda prior to last Sept. 11, 2001, are totally false. Al-Qaeda was quite explicit that it was targeting the United States. The reality of that threat was clear, such as the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the attack on the USS Cole. Iraq has never claimed it was targeting the U.S. Indeed, outside of the Gulf War in 1991 and the attack on the USS Stark more than 15 years ago (which the U.S. claimed was accidental), Iraq has never directly attacked American assets at home or abroad.

There are any number of regimes in the world today -- China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, among others -- for which one can think of worst-case scenarios similar to or worse than those being brought forward regarding Iraq. Yet no country has the right to invade another based upon such worst-case scenarios. Otherwise, there would be scores of new wars breaking out all over the world.

Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor of Foreign Policy in Focus and author of "Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism." He is an associate professor of politics and chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco.

A Double-Faced Tirade On Iraq

The last time -- and only time -- the United States came before the United Nations to accuse a radical Third World government of threatening the security of the United States through weapons of mass destruction was in October 1962. In face of a skeptical world and Cuban and Soviet denials, U.S. ambassador Adlai Stevenson presented dramatic photos clearly showing the construction of nuclear missiles on Cuban soil. While the resulting U.S. military blockade and brinkmanship was not universally supported, there was little question that the United States had the evidence and that the threat was real.

Despite vastly improved reconnaissance technology in the subsequent forty years, President George W. Bush, in his long-anticipated speech before the United Nations, was unable to present any clear proof that Iraq currently has weapons of mass destruction or functioning offensive delivery systems.

Yet lack of credible evidence was only one of the problems with the president's speech.

For example, his comparison with the League of Nation's failure to stand up before Japanese, Italian and German aggression in the 1930s is completely anhistorical. The Axis powers were heavily industrialized countries that had conquered vast stretches of Europe, Asia and Africa. Today's Iraq, by contrast, is an impoverished Third World country that for twelve years has been under the strictest sanctions in world history and has long since been forced to withdraw from neighbors it once briefly occupied.

President Bush also asserted that Iraq was poised to march on other countries back when it seized Kuwait in 1990 -- a charge originally made by his father -- to demonstrate the need for unilateral American initiatives. This claim, however, has long since been disproven by subsequently released satellite photos that showed less than one-third the number of Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait than claimed by the United States and that -- rather than massing on the border as alleged -- they were actually digging in to defensive position around Kuwait City.

Virtually every delegate representing the world's nations present at the President's speech must have recognized the brazen act of hypocrisy in citing findings by the UN Human Rights Commission on Iraq, whose reports criticizing the human rights records of American allies have often been summarily dismissed by U.S. officials.

Double standards were most apparent, however, in President Bush's stress on the importance of enforcing UN resolutions.

The list of UN Security Council resolutions violated by Iraq cited by President Bush pales in comparison to the list of UN Security Council resolutions currently being violated by U.S. allies. Not only has the United States not suggested invading these countries, the U.S. has blocked sanctions or other means of enforcing them and even provides the military and economic aid that helps make these ongoing violations possible.

For example, in 1975, the UN Security Council passed a series of resolutions demanding that Morocco withdraw its occupation forces from the country of Western Sahara and that Indonesia withdraw its occupation forces from East Timor. However, then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Daniel Patrick Moynihan later bragged that, "The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. The task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success."

East Timor finally won its freedom in 1999 after 24 years of U.S.-backed occupation. Moroccan forces still occupy Western Sahara, however, with the Bush Administration supporting Morocco's defiance of subsequent UN Security Council resolutions that simply call for an internationally supervised referendum by the Western Saharan population to determine the fate of their desert nation.

Meanwhile, Turkey remains in violation of UN Security Council resolutions 353 and 354 calling for its withdrawal from northern Cyprus, which this NATO ally of the United States has occupied since 1974.

The most extensive violator of UN Security Council resolutions is Israel, by far the largest recipient of U.S. military and economic aid. Israel's refusal to respond positively to the formal acceptance last March by the Arab League to the land for peace formula put forward in UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 arguably puts Israel in violation of these resolutions, long seen as the basis for Middle East peace. There can be no argument, however, that Israel remains in defiance of a series of other UN Security Council resolutions. These include resolutions 262 and 267 that demand Israel rescind its annexation of greater East Jerusalem, as well as the more than a dozen other resolutions demanding Israel cease its violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, such as deportations, demolitions of homes, collective punishment and seizure of private property.

Unlike some of the hypocritical and mean-spirited anti-Israel resolutions by the UN General Assembly, such as the now-rescinded 1975 resolution equating Zionism and racism, these Security Council resolutions challenging Israeli policies have been well-grounded in international law.

For example, UN Security Council resolutions 446 and 465 require that Israel evacuate all of its illegal settlements on occupied Arab lands. The United States, however, insists the fate of the settlements is a matter of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In fact, the Clinton Peace Plan of December 2000 would have allowed Israel to illegally annex most of these settlements and surrounding areas into Israel. Even more disturbing, the U.S. decision to help fund Israel's construction of Jewish-only "bypass roads" in the occupied West Bank to connect the illegal settlements with Israel puts the United States in violation of Article 7 of resolution 465, which prohibits member states from facilitating Israel's colonization drive.

There is little doubt that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein is in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. The regime must indeed either be forced to change its behavior or be replaced. That, however, is a decision for the Iraqi people or the United Nations, not the United States alone.

According to Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter, no member state has the right to enforce any resolution militarily unless the Security Council determines that there has been a material breach of its resolution, decides that all nonmilitary means of enforcement have been exhausted and specifically authorizes the use of military force. This is what the Security Council did in November 1990 with Resolution 678 in response to Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, which violated a series of resolutions demanding their withdrawal that passed that August. When Iraq finally complied in its forced withdrawal from Kuwait in March 1991, this resolution became moot.

Although UN Security Council Resolution 687, which demands Iraqi disarmament, was the most detailed in the world body's history, no military enforcement mechanisms were specified. Nor has the Security Council specified any military enforcement mechanisms in subsequent resolutions. As is normally the case when it is determined that governments are violating all or part of UN resolutions, any decision about enforcement is a matter for the Security Council as a whole -- not for any one member of the Council.

If the United States can unilaterally claim the right to invade Iraq because of that country's violation of Security Council resolutions, other Council members could logically also claim the right to invade states that are similarly in violation; for example, Russia could claim the right to invade Israel, France could claim the right to invade Turkey and Britain could claim the right to invade Morocco. The US insistence on the right to attack unilaterally could seriously undermine the principle of collective security and the authority of the UN and, in doing so, would open the door to international anarchy.

Until the Bush Administration ends its gross exaggerations of Iraq's current offensive military capabilities, double standards on human rights and UN Security Council resolutions, and ongoing threats to illegally invade Iraq, the United States simply does not have the credibility to lead the international effort to challenge Saddam Hussein's regime.

Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He serves as Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project and is the author of "Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism," to be published in October by Common Courage Press.

Seven Arguments Against Bombing Iraq

The United States still appears determined to move forward with plans to engage in a large-scale military operation against Iraq to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. In the international community, however, serious questions are being raised regarding its legality, its justification, its political implications, and the costs of the war itself. Such an invasion would constitute an important precedent, being the first test of the new doctrine articulated by President George W. Bush of "preemption," which declares that the United States has the right to invade sovereign countries and overthrow their governments if they are seen as hostile to U.S. interests. All previous large-scale interventions by American forces abroad have been rationalized -- albeit not always convincingly to many observers -- on the principle of collective self-defense, such as through regional organizations like the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) or the Organization of American States (OAS). To invade Iraq would constitute an unprecedented repudiation of the international legal conventions that such American presidents as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower helped create in order to build a safer world.

Although there have been some questions raised recently about the scale and logistics of such a military operation, including such key Republicans as House Majority Leader Dick Armey and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, there has been surprisingly little dissent from leading policymakers, including congressional Democrats. This raises serious concerns, given that an invasion of Iraq constitutes such a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy and involves enormous political and military risks. It appears that war is inevitable unless there is a groundswell of popular opposition. This policy report attempts to encourage popular debate by raising a number of concerns that challenge some of the key rationales and assumptions behind such a military action.

1. A War Against Iraq Would Be Illegal

There is no legal justification for U.S. military action against Iraq.

Iraq is currently in violation of part of one section of UN Security Council Resolution 687 (and a series of subsequent resolutions reiterating that segment) requiring full cooperation with United Nations inspectors ensuring that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems, and facilities for manufacturing such weapons are destroyed. The conflict regarding access for UN inspectors and possible Iraqi procurement of weapons of mass destruction has always been an issue involving the Iraqi government and the United Nations, not an impasse between Iraq and the United States. Although UN Security Council Resolution 687 was the most detailed in the world body's history, no military enforcement mechanisms were specified. Nor did the Security Council specify any military enforcement mechanisms in subsequent resolutions. As is normally the case when it is determined that governments violate all or part of UN resolutions, any decision about the enforcement of its resolutions is a matter for the UN Security Council as a whole -- not for any one member of the council.

The most explicit warning to Iraq regarding its noncompliance came in UN Security Council Resolution 1154. Although this resolution warned Iraq of the "severest consequences" if it continued its refusal to comply, the Security Council declared that it alone had the authority to "ensure implementation of this resolution and peace and security in the area."

According to articles 41 and 42 of the United Nations Charter, no member state has the right to enforce any resolution militarily unless the UN Security Council determines that there has been a material breach of its resolution, decides that all nonmilitary means of enforcement have been exhausted, and then specifically authorizes the use of military force. This is what the Security Council did in November 1990 with Resolution 678 in response to Iraq's ongoing occupation of Kuwait in violation of a series of resolutions passed that August. The UN has not done so for any subsequent violations involving Iraq or any other government.

If the United States can unilaterally claim the right to invade Iraq due to that country's violation of UN Security Council resolutions, other Security Council members could logically also claim the right to invade other member states that are in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. For example, Russia could claim the right to invade Israel, France could claim the right to invade Turkey, and Great Britain could claim the right to invade Morocco, simply because those targeted governments are also violating UN Security Council resolutions. The U.S. insistence on the right to attack unilaterally could seriously undermine the principle of collective security and the authority of the United Nations and in doing so would open the door to international anarchy.

International law is quite clear about when military force is allowed. In addition to the aforementioned case of UN Security Council authorization, the only other time that any member state is allowed to use armed force is described in Article 51, which states that it is permissible for "individual or collective self-defense" against "armed attack ... until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security." If Iraq's neighbors were attacked or feared an imminent attack from Iraq, any of these countries could call on the United States to help, pending a Security Council decision authorizing the use of force. But they have not appealed to the Security Council, because they have not felt threatened by Iraq.

Based on evidence that the Bush administration has made public, there does not appear to be anything close to sufficient legal grounds for the United States to convince the Security Council to approve the use of military force against Iraq in U.S. self-defense. This may explain why the Bush administration has thus far refused to go before the United Nations on this matter. Unless the United States gets such authorization, any such attack on Iraq would be illegal and would be viewed by most members of the international community as an act of aggression. In contrast to the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91, it is likely that the world community would view the United States -- not Iraq -- as the international outlaw.

There is little debate regarding the nefarious nature of the Iraqi regime, but this has never been a legal ground for invasion. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978 to overthrow the Khmer Rouge -- a radical communist movement even more brutal than the regime of Saddam Hussein -- the United States condemned the action before the United Nations as an act of aggression and a violation of international law. The United States successfully led an international effort to impose sanctions against Vietnam and insisted that the UN recognize the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia for more than a decade after their leaders were forced out of the capital into remote jungle areas. Similarly, the United States challenged three of its closest allies -- Great Britain, France, and Israel -- before the United Nations in 1956 when they invaded Egypt in an attempt to overthrow the radical anti-Western regime of Gamal Abdul-Nasser. The Eisenhower administration insisted that international law and the UN Charter must be upheld by all nations regardless of their relations with the United States. It now appears that the leadership of both political parties is ready to reverse what was once a bipartisan consensus.

2. Regional Allies Widely Oppose a U.S. Attack

Although there was some serious opposition to the Gulf War in many parts of the Middle East and elsewhere, it did have the support of major segments of the international community, including several important Arab states. The Gulf War was widely viewed as an act of collective security in response to aggression by Iraq against its small neighbor. This would not be the case, however, in the event of a new war against Iraq. Instead, Washington's proposed action would be seen as an unprovoked invasion. Unlike in 1991, when most of the region supported -- and even contributed to -- the U.S.-led war effort (or was at least neutral), Arab opposition is strong today. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah has warned that the U.S. "should not strike Iraq, because such an attack would only raise animosity in the region against the United States." When Vice President Dick Cheney visited the Middle East in March, every Arab leader made clear his opposition. At the Beirut summit of the Arab League at the end of March, the Arab nations unanimously endorsed a resolution opposing an attack against Iraq.

Even Kuwait has reconciled with Iraq. This past March, Iraq and Kuwait signed a document written by Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheik Sabah al Ahmed al Jabbar al Sabah in which Iraq, for the first time, formally consented to respect the sovereignty of Kuwait. Sabah declared that his country was 100% satisfied with the agreement, and Kuwait reiterated its opposition to a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah called the pact a "very positive achievement" and expressed confidence that Iraq would uphold the agreement.

U.S. officials claim that, public statements to the contrary, there may be some regional allies willing to support a U.S. war effort. Given President Bush's ultimatum that "you are either with us or the terrorists," it is quite possible that some governments might be successfully pressured to go along. However, almost any Middle Eastern government willing to provide such support and cooperation would be doing so over the opposition of the vast majority of its citizens. Given the real political risks for such a ruler in supporting the U.S. war effort, such acquiescence would take place only reluctantly as a result of American pressure or inducements, not from a sincere belief in the validity of the U.S. military operation.

In the event of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, there would likely be an outbreak of widespread anti-American protests, perhaps even attacks against American interests. Some pro-Western regimes could become vulnerable to internal radical forces as part of such a reaction. Passions are particularly high in light of strong U.S. support for the policies of Israel's rightist government and its ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The anger over U.S. double standards regarding Israeli and Iraqi violations of UN Security Council resolutions could reach a boiling point.

3. There Is No Evidence of Iraqi Links to Al Qaeda or Other Anti-American Terrorists

In the months following the September 11 terrorist attacks, there were leaks to the media about alleged evidence of a meeting in Prague between an Iraqi intelligence officer and one of the hijackers of the doomed airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Subsequent thorough investigations by the FBI, CIA, and Czech intelligence have found no evidence that any such meeting took place. None of the hijackers were Iraqi, no major figure in Al Qaeda is Iraqi, and no funds to Al Qaeda have been traced to Iraq. It is unlikely that the decidedly secular Baathist regime -- which has savagely suppressed Islamists within Iraq -- would be able to maintain close links with Osama bin Laden and his followers. In fact, Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal, his country's former intelligence chief, noted that bin Laden views Saddam Hussein "as an apostate, an infidel, or someone who is not worthy of being a fellow Muslim" and that bin Laden had offered in 1990 to raise an army of thousands of mujaheddin fighters to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.

Iraq's past terrorist links have primarily been limited to such secular groups as Abu Nidal, a now-largely defunct Palestinian faction opposed to Yasir Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization. At the height of Iraq's support of Abu Nidal in the early 1980s, Washington dropped Iraq from its list of countries that sponsored terrorism so the U.S. could bolster Iraq's war effort against Iran. Baghdad was reinstated to the list only after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, even though U.S. officials were unable to cite any increased Iraqi ties to terrorist groups. Abu Nidal himself was apparently murdered by the Iraqis in his Baghdad apartment recently, perhaps as an effort to deny the Bush administration an excuse to attack. A recent CIA report indicates that the Iraqis have actually been consciously avoiding any actions against the United States or its facilities abroad, presumably to deny Washington any excuse to engage in further military strikes against their country. The last clear example that American officials can cite of such Iraqi-backed terrorism was an alleged plot by Iraqi agents to assassinate former President George Bush when he visited Kuwait in 1993. In response, President Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of Baghdad, hitting an Iraqi intelligence headquarters as well as a nearby civilian neighborhood.

Although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insists that Iraq is backing international terrorism, he has been unable to present any evidence that they currently do so. In fact, the State Department's own annual study Patterns of Global Terrorism did not list any serious act of international terrorism by the government of Iraq.

Besides, an American invasion of Iraq would probably weaken the battle against terrorism. It would not only distract from the more immediate threat posed by Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, but it would also likely result in an anti-American backlash that would lessen the level of cooperation from Islamic countries in tracking down and neutralizing the remaining Al Qaeda cells.

4. There Is No Firm Proof that Iraq Is Developing Weapons of Mass Destruction

Despite speculation -- particularly by those who seek an excuse to invade Iraq -- of possible ongoing Iraqi efforts to procure weapons of mass destruction, no one has been able to put forward evidence that the Iraqis are actually doing so, though they have certainly done so in the past. The dilemma facing the international community is that no one knows what, if anything, the Iraqis are currently doing.

In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War and the subsequent inspections regimen, virtually all Iraq's stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems, and capability of producing such weapons were destroyed. Inspectors with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) were withdrawn from Iraq in late 1998 before their job was complete, however, under orders by President Clinton prior to a heavy four-day U.S. bombing campaign. The Iraqi government has not yet allowed them to return. Prior to that time, UNSCOM reportedly oversaw the destruction of 38,000 chemical weapons, 480,000 liters of live chemical weapons agents, 48 missiles, six missile launchers, 30 missile warheads modified to carry chemical or biological agents, and hundreds of pieces of related equipment with the capability to produce chemical weapons.

In its most recent report, the International Atomic Energy Agency categorically declared that Iraq no longer has a nuclear program.

In late 1997, UNSCOM Director Richard Butler reported that UNSCOM had made "significant progress" in tracking Iraq's chemical weapons program and that 817 of the 819 Soviet-supplied long-range missiles had been accounted for. A couple dozen Iraqi-made ballistic missiles remained unaccounted for, but these were of questionable caliber. Though Iraqi officials would periodically interfere with inspections, in its last three years of operation, UNSCOM was unable to detect any evidence that Iraq had been further concealing prohibited weapons.

The development of biological weapons, by contrast, is much easier to conceal, due to the small amount of space needed for their manufacture. Early UNSCOM inspections revealed evidence of the production of large amounts of biological agents, including anthrax, and charged that Iraq had vastly understated the amount of biological warfare agents it had manufactured. In response, UNSCOM set up sophisticated monitoring devices to detect chemical or biological weapons, though these devices were dismantled in reaction to the U.S. bombing campaign of December 1998.

Frightening scenarios regarding mass fatalities from a small amount of anthrax assume that the Iraqis have developed the highly sophisticated means of distributing these bioweapons by missile or aircraft. However, there are serious questions as to whether the alleged biological agents could be dispersed successfully in a manner that could harm troops or a civilian population, given the rather complicated technology required. For example, a vial of biological weapons on the tip of a missile would almost certainly either be destroyed on impact or dispersed harmlessly. To become lethal, highly concentrated amounts of anthrax spores must be inhaled and then left untreated by antibiotics until the infection is too far advanced. Similarly, the prevailing winds would have to be calculated, no rain could fall, the spray nozzles could not clog, the population would need to be unvaccinated, and everyone would need to stay around the area targeted for attack.

Although Iraq's potential for developing weapons of mass destruction should not be totally discounted, Saddam Hussein's refusal to allow UN inspectors to return and his lack of full cooperation prior to their departure do not necessarily mean he is hiding something, as President Bush alleges. More likely, the Iraqi opposition to the inspections program is based on Washington's abuse of UNSCOM for intelligence gathering operations and represents a desperate effort by Saddam Hussein to increase his standing with Arab nationalists by defying Western efforts to intrude on Iraqi sovereignty. Indeed, the Iraqi defiance of the inspections regime may be designed to provoke a reaction by the United States in order to capitalize on widespread Arab resentment over Washington's double standard of objecting to an Arab country procuring weapons of mass destruction while tolerating Israel's nuclear arsenal.

A far more likely scenario for an Iraqi distribution of biological agents would be through Iraqi agents smuggling them clandestinely into targeted countries. This is what led to some initial speculation, now considered very doubtful, that the Iraqis were behind the anthrax mail attacks during the fall of 2001. To prevent such a scenario requires aggressive counterintelligence efforts by the United States and other potentially targeted nations, but this type of terrorism is not likely to be prevented by an invasion. Indeed, a U.S. invasion could conceivably encourage rogue elements of Iraqi intelligence or an allied terrorist group to engage in an anthrax attack as an act of revenge for the heavy Arab casualties resulting from U.S. bombing. One of the frightening things about biological weapons production is the mobility of operations. A "regime change" engineered by the U.S. would not necessarily ensure the closure of labs producing such weapons, since they could easily be relocated elsewhere or even continue to operate clandestinely in Iraq.

U.S. officials have admitted that there is no evidence that Iraq has resumed its nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs. Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine officer who served as chief weapons inspector for UNSCOM, responded to a query on a television talk show in 2001 about Iraq's potential threat to the U.S. by saying:

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A Bush Plan For Mideast Disaster

President George W. Bush's speech on Monday actually represents a setback for Middle East peace.

On the one hand, it is reassuring that, after thirty years of rejecting the international consensus that peace requires the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel, an American president now formally recognizes that need. The bad news is that President Bush is simply perpetuating the unfair assumption that while Israel's right to exist is a given, Palestine's right to exist -- even as a mini-state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- is conditional. This comes despite the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has at least as much blood on his hands as does Palestinian President Yasir Arafat. Indeed, far more Palestinian civilians have died at the hands of Israeli occupation forces than have Israeli civilians died from terrorist attacks.

Furthermore, despite Arafat's many faults, the Palestinian leader's positions on the outstanding issues of the peace process -- the extent of the Israeli withdrawal, the fate of the settlements, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees -- are far more moderate and far more consistent with international law and UN Security Council resolutions than are the positions of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Despite that, President Bush insists that it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who must have new leadership in order for the peace process to move forward.

The current administration's distorted priorities could not have been more apparent than in the fact that, in the course of his speech, the president mentioned terrorism eighteen times but did not mention human rights or international law even once. Nor did he mention the peace plan of Saudi Prince Abdullah -- endorsed by the Palestinian Authority and every single Arab government -- which offered Israel security guarantees and full normal relations in return for withdrawal from the occupied territories seized in the 1967 war. This is largely a reiteration of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, long considered to be the basis for Middle East peace. While President Bush mentioned these resolutions briefly in his speech, he failed to challenge Israel's false claim that it does not actually require them to withdraw from virtually all of the Arab lands they conquered 34 years ago.

The Palestinians are only insisting on control of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, which is just 22 percent of Palestine. They have already recognized Israeli control of the remaining 78 percent. However, not only did President Bush fail to demand a total withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces, he called only for a freeze on additional Israeli settlements, when international law -- reiterated in UN Security Council resolutions 446 and 465 -- requires Israel to abandon the existing settlements as well.

The fact is that, as the occupying power, the onus for resolving the conflict rests upon Israel, not the Palestinians. Just as occupation and repression can never justify terrorism, neither can terrorism justify occupation and repression.

The Palestinians have such a strong case, in fact, the Bush Administration has chosen to focus instead upon their weakest link: their corrupt and inept leadership and the terrorist reaction to the occupation.

While many if not most Palestinians would love to see Arafat go, President Bush's insistence that the United States has the right to say who the Palestinians choose as their leaders will likely breed enormous resentment. Indeed, Arafat -- in his desperate attempt to hold on to power -- can now use this American pressure as an excuse to label any reformist effort, even those led by sincere nationalists, as a form of collaboration with Israel and a tool of Western imperialism.

It is remarkable how President Bush insists on democratic governance and an end to violence and corruption as a prerequisite for Palestinian independence when his administration, as well as administrations before him, have strongly supported a series of violent, corrupt and autocratic regimes throughout the Middle East and beyond.

How can anyone take seriously his demand that the Palestinians create a political system based upon "tolerance and liberty" when President Bush arms and supports misogynist family dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, not to mention Israeli occupation forces that have engaged in brutal repression against Palestinian civilians?

It should be apparent that Bush's criticisms of Arafat's regime, however valid, are not the reason for denying the Palestinians their right to self-determination. They are simply the excuse.

Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He serves as Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project and is the author of the forthcoming book "Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism" (Common Courage Press).

Aiding the War Effort

The violence of the past year and a half between Israelis and Palestinians has left more than 2,000 people dead, torpedoed the peace process, and turned the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip into battlefields.

As the U.S. reconsiders its role in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace, the prospects for a final settlement that recognizes the security needs of Israel and the legitimate political rights of Palestinians seem worse than ever. The Bush administration has abandoned the ambitious approach of its predecessor by emphasizing "assistance" over "insistence."

Unfortunately, rather than focusing on the issues that have derailed the peace process, American assistance is emerging as a disjointed policy that urges a peaceful resolution to the conflict while boosting military aid to Israel. This military aid has been used in the widespread killings of civilians, destroyed large sections of the infrastructure in Palestinian society, and hardened Arab attitudes toward Israel.

The increases in military aid grow out of a central pillar of U.S. policy in the Middle East: strengthening America’s "strategic cooperation" with Israel.

This cooperation currently centers on two categories of U.S. military-related assistance to Israel: Economic Support Funds (ESF) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF). The larger of these two, FMF, is intended to help Israel finance its acquisition of U.S. military equipment, services, and training. FMF is scheduled to increase by $60 million each year, for a total of $2.04 billion in FY2002, as part of an ongoing plan to phase out ESF support by 2008.

Previous discussions about Israel’s security needs following peace agreements with Syria and the Palestinians and a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip foresee an additional $35 billion of U.S. military assistance, raising the potential total to more than $7 billion per year over the next seven years. This is roughly the same amount currently spent by all of the former Soviet republics combined. Such an enormous increase is based on the confusing assumption that peace agreements with once-hostile neighbors somehow make Israel less secure and require a greatly expanded Israeli military.

Already the strongest military power in the region and the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, Israel does not need additional military assistance. It has one of the most sophisticated, well-equipped, and best-trained armies in the world, and its armed forces are growing faster than those of its neighbors, whose military expenditures decreased during the 1990s. Israel’s annual military expenditures are consistently two to three times as high as those of other countries involved in previous Arab-Israeli wars combined, and Israel leads the region in the number of heavy weapons holdings, armored infantry vehicles, airplanes, and heavy tanks. Israel outpaces Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon in every major category of arms spending.

A careful review of FMF assistance reveals that this program has actually hindered the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, made the Middle East more volatile, and undermined U.S. regional interests.

If the purpose of the FMF program is to improve Israel’s security, the U.S. should reverse its increasing emphasis on military assistance and replace outdated, one-dimensional ideas about Israel’s security with a more extensive definition. Taking into account important nonmilitary aspects of Israel’s security would enable the U.S. to complement its current policy with a variety of alternative strategies designed to identify and address the causes of conflict and create conditions for a sustainable peace.

The primary short-term threat to Israeli security stems from suicide bombers based in Israeli-occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This can best be addressed by improved surveillance and interdiction and, more fundamentally, by ending Israel’s occupation, which has brought enormous human suffering while creating extremists willing to wreak carnage on Israeli civilians. Little of the U.S. security assistance helps protect Israelis from such attacks and, by providing the military hardware for an increasingly repressive occupation, results in the backlash that has manifested itself in the rise of extremist groups committed to terrorism.

The longer-term threat to Israel comes from sophisticated weaponry procured by Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf region, which are the only military systems that come close to challenging Israeli military superiority. Most of these weapons also come from the United States, however, so this threat can best be neutralized not by providing more arms to this overly militarized region, but through arms control. Indeed, Israel announced its support for a moratorium on arms exports to the Middle East in 1991, but the U.S. rejected it, raising serious questions as to whether the U.S. really has Israel’s best interests in mind.



Problems with Current U.S. Policy

The violence that erupted in September 2000 highlighted some important points about Israel’s security.

First, the most serious challenge for Israel has not been protecting its existence from hostile neighbors but rather pursuing an increasingly repressive military occupation that has created international diplomatic isolation as well as terrorist attacks.

Second, while armed attacks against Israeli occupation forces and settlers in the occupied territories, suicide bombing attacks against civilians inside Israel, and widespread condemnation by Arab governments have heightened Israeli citizens’ sense of vulnerability, Israel’s neighbors have not seriously threatened Israeli territory.

Finally, Israel’s clear military advantage has not made Israelis feel secure on a personal, individual level.

This paradox of personal insecurity in the face of overpowering military strength stems from an important distinction within Israeli security that Washington’s FMF assistance program to Israel does not address.

Israeli security has two levels: the macro, or national, level and the micro, or personal, level. The state of Israel is extremely secure in this first sense. Since its declaration of statehood and overwhelming military victory in 1948, Israel has not been attacked militarily within its internationally recognized borders. Peace agreements with Egypt -- by far its most powerful adversary -- in 1978 and with Jordan -- with which it shares its longest border -- in 1994 have inordinately improved its security. Military spending by Syria has declined dramatically, Lebanese armed forces have never been much of a threat and Iraq’s military has been decimated as a result of the Gulf War and the subsequent sanctions regime. In addition, cooperation with regional powers, such as Turkey, and decades of U.S. military assistance have combined to create a secure Israel.

At the same time, Israeli citizens continue to be the target of terrorist attacks and violent uprisings. Billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance to Israel are spent each year addressing the wrong type of security. What’s worse, FMF assistance has undermined personal security in Israel by diluting the incentives for seeking peace and by emboldening Israel to avoid making the concessions necessary for peace. This personal security will elude Israelis until the underlying causes of the conflict and the current uprising are addressed.

The current violence grows out of Palestinian frustrations with the peace process. During years of waiting for promised benefits, Palestinians have seen their standard of living steadily decline. In the seven years between the signing of the Oslo Accords and the start of the uprising in September 2000, Israeli policies—including border controls, retention of Palestinian funds, and restrictions on trade, investment, and access to water resources—resulted in growing trade and budget deficits for the Palestinians. Unemployment was hovering at 50 percent, poverty rates increased, health standards deteriorated, and any sense of opportunity among Palestinian youth began to fade.

The anger and despair that ignited the 2000 uprising and the current wave of suicide bombings stems from these policies and their effect on daily Palestinian life. The Spring 2002 re-occupation of Palestinian cities and widespread killings by Israeli forces using American armaments, detention and maltreatment of unarmed civilians, and the wanton destruction of economic and social infrastructure have only increased the Palestinian desire for revenge. This has also strengthened popular support for extremist groups like Hamas and Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, resulting in less security for Israelis.

For years, most Palestinians have viewed a negotiated peace as the clearest route to achieving their aspirations for an independent state. While they waited for the peace process to produce this result, the Israeli government dramatically expanded its illegal settlements, Jewish -- only highways, and related infrastructure in order to establish permanent control over large areas of Palestinian territory. These policies were pursued in large part to make a contiguous viable Palestinian state on the West Bank impossible and were in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a series United Nations Security Council resolutions. This was possible because of the large-scale financial, military, and diplomatic support for Israel by the United States.

As a result, many Palestinians now question the wisdom of pursuing a peace framed and sponsored by the United States. Many Palestinians see negotiation as empty promises and have begun seeking other means -- some violent -- of obtaining a homeland. As a result, a sense of insecurity grows within the Israeli population, fostered by the very policies that the U.S. and Israel pursue in the name of promoting Israeli security.

In addition to weakening U.S. credibility as a neutral mediator, massive increases in military assistance to Israel undermine U.S. attempts to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the region. When Jordan downsized its military and proposed linking further military cutbacks in the region to debt reduction in the early 90s, for example, the U.S. resisted the suggestion and continued shipping arms to Israel at record levels. Following the 1994 peace deal between Jordan and Israel, other Arab states cited Jordan’s relative military weakness as the major reason for its inability to extract more concessions from Israel. The lesson was clear: The American-Israeli military relationship makes unilateral disarmament in the Middle East fruitless, even counterproductive.

Even as Washington cites Iraq’s potential possession of weapons of mass destruction and its failure to adhere to UN resolutions to justify its severe economic sanctions on the Iraqi population and its threats to invade the country, it continues to increase military aid to Israel, a nuclear power that remains in violation of scores of UN resolutions. In fact, states like Iran, Iraq, and Syria view their own efforts to develop and acquire chemical and biological weapons as a counterbalance to Israeli weapons acquisitions.

Toward a New Foreign Policy

The U.S. must recognize that Israeli security and Palestinian rights are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent. Just as the Palestinians will not be granted their rights until Israel’s legitimate security needs are recognized, Israel will not be secure until the Palestinians are granted their legitimate rights.

The U.S. should maintain its moral and strategic commitment to Israel to ensure its survival and its legitimate strategic interests in defending its internationally recognized borders. At the same time, however, the U.S. must also be willing to apply pressure whenever the Israeli government refuses to make the necessary compromises for peace, which requires withdrawal from the occupied territories, removing colonists from the illegal settlements, sharing Jerusalem, and pursuing a just resolution for Palestinian refugees. This would require an immediate suspension of all military assistance to Israel as long as the Israeli government continues to engage in violations of international human rights standards and international law.

Such a position not only would be morally right and would be in Israel’s own security interest, but it would also end the Bush administration’s ongoing violation of the Foreign Assistance Act, which forbids security assistance to any government that "engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights" without a waiver [22 U.S.C. Secs. 2034, 2151n].

Suspension of military aid to Israel must be part of a comprehensive effort at regional arms control, including a suspension of U.S. military aid to other Middle Eastern governments, virtually all of which engage in a pattern of gross and systematic human rights violations.

Despite the threat and reality of suicide bombings, Israelis are relatively secure within their country’s internationally recognized borders compared to the soldiers and settlers in occupied Palestinian territories seized by Israel in the 1967 War. Settlements and roads in these areas—reserved for Jews only—not only create an apartheid-like situation, but also make it extremely difficult for Israeli forces to defend against a hostile population angry that foreign occupiers have confiscated what is often its best land. Israel would be far more secure defending a clearly defined and internationally recognized border than this network of illegal outposts within Palestinian territory. Israel’s official borders run for about 500 miles, whereas the demarcation lines between Israeli and Palestinian controlled areas prior to the most recent fighting were closer to 2,000 miles.

It is not surprising, then, that far more Israelis have died in the occupied territories than within Israel itself. Similarly, Israel utilizes far more of its soldiers outside the country maintaining its occupation against the Palestinians than it does defending the country’s borders or maintaining internal security. As reiterated in the recent Arab summit in Beirut, an Israeli withdrawal to within its internationally recognized borders would result in the security guarantees and fully normalized relations with Arab states Israel has long sought. This would put both Israel and its neighbors into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, long considered to be the basis for Arab-Israeli peace. While this would not satisfy some Islamic extremists, an end to the occupation would dramatically reduce their following and simultaneously increase the ability and willingness of the Palestinian leadership to crack down on potential terrorists.

A more comprehensive definition of Israel’s security would create greater flexibility in the FMF assistance program, allowing the U.S. to address the personal insecurity of Israelis. Earmarking the ongoing $60 million annual increase for desalination and waste water recycling projects would reduce Israel’s reliance on Palestinian water resources, remove an incentive for maintaining the illegal occupation, and improve Palestinian economic prospects. Other options for applying the assistance include financing joint projects on a regional energy grid or natural gas pipelines, coordinating ecological management strategies, promoting international trade and tourism, and advancing efforts to develop cooperative economic zones along national borders. Tying the region together economically creates collective incentives to promote peace while highlighting the rewards of international cooperation to Arabs and Israelis alike. In this way, U.S. security assistance could bolster Israeli security without increasing military transfers or threatening Israel’s neighbors. Such a broader vision of security is necessary if the U.S. is truly interested in promoting peace and stability for Israel and the Middle East.

Joseph Yackley is a recent graduate from the University of Chicago, with master’s degrees in Middle Eastern Studies and Public Policy Studies and currently serves as a Robert Bosch Foundation Fellow with a focus on economic development issues in the Middle East. Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project and serves as an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco.

Congress Attacks Human Rights

On Thursday, both the House of Representative and the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed resolutions defending the policies of right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in the occupied territories. Human rights activists are alarmed, both at the strong Congressional support for a repressive military occupation as well as the fact that the resolutions are being widely interpreted as an attack on the credibility of Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

Last month, Amnesty International published a detailed and well-documented report on the situation in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, noting how "the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] acted as though the main aim was to punish all Palestinians. Actions were taken by the IDF which had no clear or obvious military necessity." The report goes on to document unlawful killings, destruction of civilian property, arbitrary detention, torture, assaults on medical personnel and journalists, and random shooting at houses and people in the streets.

By contrast, the House resolution, passed by a 352-21 margin, claims "Israel's military operations are an effort to defend itself . . . and are aimed only at dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas."

This not only puts the House of Representatives in direct contradiction of reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but of Israeli peace and human rights groups like B'Tselem, Gush Shalom and Yesh G'vul. These Israeli organizations, which have many IDF reservists in their ranks, have reported that the apparent goal of the Israeli offensive was to dismantle much of the civilian infrastructure of Palestinian society. The Israeli and international news media have graphically shown the wanton destruction of homes, offices, schools and utilities with no connection whatsoever with any "terrorist infrastructure."

It is perhaps not surprising that the more harshly-worded House resolution, sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Tom DeLay, was backed by virtually the entire Republican Right. Yet the chief co-sponsor of the resolution was none other than Tom Lantos, the liberal California Democrat who chairs the Human Rights Caucus. Other prominent liberals supporting the resolution included Nancy Pelosi, Robert Matsui, Maxine Waters, Henry Waxman, Mark Udall, John Lewis, Lane Evans, Barney Frank, Edward Markey, Major Owens, David Price and Patrick Kennedy, among others.

That so many supposedly progressive voices in the House of Representatives would take the word of Tom DeLay over that of Amnesty International is indicative of how little regard there is in Congress for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization.

The House resolution also called for an increase over the already more than two billion dollars of annual military aid sent to Israel and praised President George W. Bush for his policies.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate, in a 94-2 vote, passed a similar resolution, again referring to the assault on Palestinian towns and refugee camps as a case of Israel taking "necessary steps to provide security to its people by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas," with every liberal Democrat voting in the affirmative.

Public opinion polls indicate that most Americans blame both sides for the violence, though the resolutions passed Thursday put the blame exclusively on the Palestinians. More strikingly, a Time/CNN poll revealed the 60 percent of Americans believe the United States should suspend some or all aid to Israel to force them to pull back from their offensive in the West Bank while only 1 percent believed U.S. aid should go up. Yet over 90 percent of the House of Representatives supports just such an increase in military aid.

The huge majorities in support of these resolutions can not be attributed to a need to secure the "Jewish vote" in this election year. American Jews are increasingly divided over the policies of Israel's rightist prime minister and the vast majority of the resolutions' Congressional backers are from states or districts with only tiny Jewish populations.

Similarly, most of these resolutions' supporters are from safe enough seats so as not to need campaign contributions from the conservative political action committees supportive of Ariel Sharon.

For most members of Congress, then, it is simply a reflection of their sincere ideological support for Israel's occupation policies and their low regard for internationally-recognized human rights standards as well as the failure of the peace and human rights community to mobilize as effectively on the Middle East as they have on other areas of U.S. foreign policy.

With only 17 Democrats in the House and two Democrats in the Senate voting against the bill, perhaps the biggest winner is the Green Party, that has long argued that even on an issue as basic as human rights, there is no difference between the two major parties. Already, there are growing numbers of disaffected Democrats who are beginning to realize they can not support human rights and support the Democratic Party at the same time.

The biggest loser in Thursday's votes is the struggling Israeli peace and human rights movement and their moderate Palestinian counterparts, whose defiance of their violent leaders and efforts towards reconciliation have once again been sabotaged by the U.S. Congress.

A New Path to Peace

The tragic events of September 11 have created unprecedented challenges for the peace movement, anti-interventionist forces, and other progressive activists. For the first time in the lives of most Americans, the U.S. has found itself under attack.

After more than fifty years of fabricated and exaggerated threats to national security put forward by the U.S. government, academia, and the media to justify military interventionism abroad, even many traditional critics of U.S. foreign policy now acknowledge that there does exist a very real threat to U.S. security. Indeed, there is little question that Osama Bin Laden's ideology is apocalyptic and his methods are genocidal. Furthermore, his worldview is closer to that of the European fascists of the 1930s than of the progressive third world revolutionaries of the 1970s who inspired many progressives in the West.

A significant minority of Americans, however, seriously question the wisdom of the U.S. military response. Some of these dissidents come from the pacifist tradition, taking a principled position in opposition to all war. They support nonviolent alternatives and argue that violence necessarily begets more violence. Other opponents of the Bush administration's war on terrorism come from the far left. They argue that -- given the nature of the U.S. role in the world and the powerful special interests that possess an inordinate amount of influence on policymaking -- any such military intervention is inherently imperialistic. Still others emphasize utilitarian arguments against the use of large-scale bombing and other blunt instruments of power when dealing with a decentralized network of underground terrorist cells, where more targeted police or commando operations might be more appropriate.

Part of the difficulty in building an antiwar movement has been the nature of the Bush administration's military response thus far. On the one hand, few progressives would have objected to a limited and targeted paramilitary action under international auspices, or even bombing raids targeted exclusively at Al-Qaeda facilities and nearby antiaircraft batteries. On the other hand, massive attacks against a series of Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries with the concomitant large-scale civilian casualties would have created such a backlash that the self-defeating nature of the U.S. military response would have created a credible antiwar opposition. Instead, the U.S. response has been somewhere between the two: excessive enough to raise serious moral, legal, and political objections, but limited enough so that the immediate negative consequences are not readily apparent to most Americans. Indeed, despite the failure to capture Osama Bin Laden and destroy the Al-Qaeda network, U.S. military operations have at least partially crippled the operations of the terrorist group and succeeded in overthrowing what was perhaps the most brutal totalitarian regime on the planet. While U.S. military operations were not as quick or successful as many in the Bush administration hoped, dire predictions from the left that the United States would be dragged into a quagmire comparable to the Soviet experience of the 1980s also proved to be incorrect.

Yet there are still strong utilitarian arguments against war. Given that terrorism is an international problem, it needs international solutions. This means vigorously and collaboratively pursing diplomatic, investigative, and international police channels to identify, track down, arrest, and bring to justice members of terrorist cells responsible for these crimes. Precipitous and inappropriate military action makes many nations -- particularly in the Middle East, whose support is needed to track down terrorists hiding within those countries' borders -- reluctant to cooperate in antiterrorism efforts.

The United States is good at dropping bombs, firing missiles, and other displays of military force. However, even Bush administration officials acknowledge that the most important aspects of the campaign against terrorism are non-military, including good intelligence on, interdiction of, and disruption of the financial networks which support terrorists, all of which goals require cooperation with other nations. Unfortunately, the apparent U.S. military victory in Afghanistan and threats to expand the war elsewhere is likely to make the far more important political struggle all the more difficult.

For years, progressive voices in this country called for the withdrawal of American troops from the Middle East, a more even-handed position between the Israelis and Palestinians, a cessation of support for repressive governments, an end to the punitive sanctions against the people of Iraq, and a halt to the massive arms shipments to that already overly militarized region. If those in power had heeded these demands, it would have likely prevented the rise of anti-American terrorism in the Middle East; thousands of Americans and others killed on September 11 would still be alive today. It is ironic, then, that the very militarists whose policies led to the current crisis have successfully manipulated the threat they helped create to their own political advantage while marginalizing the prophetic progressive voices who warned that such consequences might be forthcoming if such misguided policies continued.

Those supporting peace and seeking alternatives to military intervention must find a way out of this conundrum.

Short to Medium-term Strategies for the Peace Movement

The September 11 attacks have placed traditional critics of U.S. militarism and interventionism in a bind. In refusing to support military action, such critics can easily be portrayed as naively acquiescing to dangerous forces that have demonstrated both the willingness and the ability to do enormous harm to many thousands of innocent people in our own country.

As a result, many former peace activists -- even while cautioning against the more large-scale military actions advocated by administration hawks -- are, for the first time, endorsing at least some sort of military response. At the same time, there are still very real moral and legal questions regarding certain aspects of military action, even among non-pacifists. Furthermore, supporting military action feeds the very militarization of U.S. foreign policy that helped create the backlash so frighteningly manifested in the Al-Qaeda movement and other extremist activities.

Perhaps the greatest contribution progressives can make to the current situation in the short- to medium-term is exposing how the Bush administration is using the crisis to advance its right-wing ideological agenda. For example, no other country besides Taliban-ruled Afghanistan has been shown to have harbored or given any other kind of direct support to Al-Qaeda. However, there have been a series of threats by the Bush administration to extend the war to Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere, in an apparent desire to use counterterrorism as an excuse to punish regimes it doesn't like and to extend American military power. Such attacks would create a widespread anti-American backlash in the region that would severely compromise the non-military but more crucial counterterrorism efforts on which the United States must concentrate at this stage. Those opposing further U.S. military intervention must emphasize that the struggle against terrorism is too important to be sabotaged by ideologues wishing to settle old scores.

Another example regards the enormous increase in military spending advocated by the Bush administration -- with apparent support from leading congressional Democrats -- that has been justified as necessary to fund the war on terrorism. However, the vast majority of the proposed spending is for weapons systems and other expenditures having nothing to do with counterterrorism; indeed, many were originally designed to counter Soviet weapons that no longer exist. Activists can point out that, at a time of national crisis where a singularity of purpose is required, the two major parties are taking advantage of the American people and their hard-earned tax dollars to subsidize the arms industry. For example, if the terrorist attacks of September 11 proved anything, it is the folly of the assertion that a nuclear missile defense can protect us. The use of missiles, bombers, and other heavy high-tech equipment may have been partially successful in Afghanistan, where there were some tangible, if limited, targets in the form of training camps for Al-Qaeda and other military installations belonging to the allied Taliban regime. However, such weapons will be of little use against the majority of Al-Qaeda that remains intact as a network of decentralized, underground cells. As a result, antiwar activists can point out that the emphasis on heavy high-tech weaponry in the proposed federal budget is based not on its need to protect Americans from terrorism but because such weaponry is extremely profitable for arms manufacturers.

From fiscal policy to civil liberties to trade issues to environmental concerns, the entire agenda of the political right is being advanced in the name of fighting terrorism. Indeed, many progressives barely had time to grieve the tragedies of September 11 before we had to start worrying about the frightening political implications of our government's response. In addition to the threat of war, few progressives could doubt that there would soon be assaults on such areas as civil liberties, immigrant rights, saner budget priorities, human rights, international law, and arms control. Antiterrorism has become what anticommunism was during the cold war: the manipulation of an outside threat to pursue a right-wing agenda, including the suppression of legitimate dissent. Also as during the cold war, most prominent liberals have timidly accepted many of the assumptions and policies put forward by right-wing Republicans and thereby made thoughtful debate of the policies that resulted in this terrorist threat extremely difficult.

At the same time, few things make people angrier than being taken advantage of in time of genuine need. Progressives must acknowledge the reality of the terrorist threat and the necessity of a strong and effective response from our government, while at the same time exposing the perfidy of the Bush administration in cynically manipulating our genuine need for security for the sake of its rigid ideological constructs and its wealthy financial supporters.

Longer-term Strategies

In most previous cases of U.S. military intervention abroad, it was generally enough to simply demand the U.S. stay out. The current crisis, however, does require some credible alternatives to the Bush administration policy. Successful activism against war has to proceed from good policy prescriptions to introduce this shift. In previous campaigns regarding military intervention, antiwar forces have been mostly reacting to U.S. policy. To win this struggle, those desiring a more enlightened foreign policy must also be on the offensive.

Whatever the most appropriate U.S. response may be in the short term, the most important thing the United States can do to prevent future terrorism is to change its policies toward the Middle East. There can not be a successful peace movement without a movement to change U.S. Middle East policy. Such changes will certainly not satisfy the Bin Ladens and other extremists. A more rational Middle East policy, however, will seriously reduce their potential following and, by extension, their capacity to do damage. The United States should certainly not change any policy for the sake of appeasing terrorists. But progressives must push for policy changes that should be made anyway for moral or legal reasons that would simultaneously reduce the threat from terrorism. For example, it would be wrong to call for an end to the American commitment to Israel's legitimate security needs in order to appease anti-Jewish terrorists. However, peace activists should demand an end to the unconditional U.S. military, economic, and diplomatic support for Israel's rightist government and its occupation and colonization of the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- not only because it fuels the fires of anti-American extremism but also because it is wrong to support any government that violates basic principles of international law and human rights.

Building a U.S. Middle East policy based more on the promotion of human rights, international law, and sustainable development and less on arms transfers, support for occupation armies and dictatorial governments, air strikes, and punitive sanctions would make the United States much safer. It is, therefore, appealing to enlightened self-interest -- consistent with the professed values with which most Americans identify -- that can build a progressive alternative to current U.S. policy. Indeed, claims by President George W. Bush to the contrary, the United States has not become a target because of our freedom and democracy, but because U.S. Middle East policy is not about freedom and democracy. We are not hated because of our values, but because we have strayed from those values.

The emphasis on a largely military response to the threat of terrorism ignores the fact that it has been the dramatic militarization of the Middle East in recent decades, encouraged by successive U.S. administrations, that has helped create this violent anti-American backlash. Indeed, the more the U.S. has militarized the region, the less secure the American people have become. All the sophisticated weaponry, brave fighting men and women, and brilliant military leadership the United States may possess will do little good if there are hundreds of millions of people in the Middle East and beyond who hate us. Even the tiny percentage that may support Osama Bin Laden's methods will be enough to maintain dangerous terrorist networks as long as his grievances resonate with the majority. Even should there be an initially successful outcome of the military response to Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network, there will be new terrorists to take their places unless there is a critical examination of what has prompted the rise of such a fanatical movement.

There are those who argue that Osama Bin Laden's political agenda should not be taken any more seriously than those of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, late 1960s cult leader Charles Manson, or any other mass murderer. Certainly anyone who would be willing to sacrifice thousands of innocent lives for any reason is clearly a pathological killer and is unlikely to be reasoned with or appeased through negotiations.

An important distinction should be made, however. Terrorist groups whose political grievances have little political appeal -- such as the far left and far right terrorist groups which have periodically arisen in relatively open societies like those in Western Europe and the United States -- can be suppressed relatively easily. By contrast, terrorist groups whose agendas reflect those of systematically oppressed populations -- such as Palestinian Arabs, Sri Lankan Tamils, or Northern Ireland Catholics -- are far more difficult to control without also addressing the underlying political grievances. Osama Bin Laden and his network may be more like the latter, only on a regional scale. Indeed, with the dramatic rise of radical Islamic movements worldwide and the growing Arab diaspora, the threat is on a global scale.

As most Muslims recognize, Osama Bin Laden is certainly not an authority on Islam. He is, however, a businessman who -- like any good businessman -- knows how to take a popular fear or desire and use it to sell a product: in this case, anti-American terrorism. Although very few Muslims support his ideology and tactics, the grievances expressed in his manifestoes -- the ongoing U.S. military presence in the Gulf, the humanitarian consequences of the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq, U.S. support for the Israeli government, and U.S. support for autocratic Arab regimes -- have widespread appeal in that part of the world. For the struggle against terrorism to be successful, the United States must redefine security from the current militarist paradigm to one that addresses the root causes. This is where a strong progressive movement must take the lead.

The so-called "terrorism experts," like the "strategic analysts" of the cold war, are disproportionately right-wingers who have their own ideological agenda. The more narrow the focus on terrorism, the more it feeds the militarists. At the same time, simply pointing out the hypocrisy in U.S. counterterrorism policy (including U.S. support for terrorist groups over the years) is not enough. We must also offer solutions.

The Potential for Building a Movement

Support for U.S. military action is a mile wide and an inch deep. Given the nature of the threat, the vast majority of Americans believe that military action is necessary. Yet there is also a realization by many millions of Americans that Al-Qaeda was at least in part a result of a series of misguided U.S. policies over the years. Simply addressing the security aspects of terrorism, as U.S. policy currently does, is merely confronting the symptoms rather than the cause. The struggle against terrorism cannot be won until the U.S. also ceases its pursuit of policies that alienate such large segments of the international community, particularly in the Middle East and elsewhere in the third world.

The U.S. is a target of terrorists in large part due to our perceived arrogance, hypocrisy, and greed. Becoming a more responsible member of the international community will go a long way toward making the U.S. safer and ultimately stronger.

There was nothing karmic about the events of September 11. No country deserves to experience such a large-scale loss of innocent lives. Yet the willingness of Americans to recognize why some extremists might resort to such heinous acts is necessary if there is to be any hope of stopping it in the future. To raise these uncomfortable questions about U.S. foreign policy is difficult for many Americans, particularly in the aftermath of the attacks. However, doing so could not be more important or timely.

A widespread assumption is that concerned citizens must focus on electing those supportive of change if they are to change policy. While backing candidates with more enlightened views toward the U.S. role in the world certainly has its merits, history has shown that who is elected political leader is less important than what choices a well-mobilized citizenry gives those elected once they're in office. Currently, if anything, the Democrats are somewhat to the right of the Republicans on some key Middle East policy issues. It will be hard to change the policies of the Bush administration if, for example, the majority of the Progressive Caucus and the Human Rights Caucus in the House of Representatives continue their current support for the status quo.

This can change, however. The history of U.S. foreign policy in recent decades has been shaped markedly as a result of popular demands by large numbers of people putting pressure on elected officials through congressional lobbying, legal protests, civil disobedience, and public education campaigns. The Democratic Party had a pro-Vietnam War platform and nominee from the incumbent war-making administration in 1968 only to be replaced by a strong antiwar platform and antiwar nominee in 1972. In the four years in between, there were massive antiwar mobilizations by hundreds of thousands in Washington, DC and elsewhere, as well as large-scale civil disobedience campaigns, widespread draft resistance, and other forms of opposition. Similarly, in 1980, Vice-President Walter Mondale and others in the Carter administration strongly opposed the call for a freeze in the research, testing, and development of new nuclear weapons systems; by the time he ran for president in 1984, however, Mondale was an outspoken supporter of the Freeze campaign. In the intervening four years, the Nuclear Freeze Campaign and disarmament activists mobilized grass roots initiatives across the country, including the massive 1982 protest in New York City. In 1978, Andrew Young -- the African-American clergyman and former aide to Martin Luther King who served as Carter's ambassador to the United Nations -- vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for sanctions against South Africa. By 1986, the Republican-dominated Senate joined the Democratic-led House of Representatives to override a presidential veto and to impose sanctions on the apartheid state -- which was instrumental in the downfall of white minority rule.

Massive protests against the U.S. military role in Central America in the 1980s forced the U.S. government to accept the Arias peace plan, which brought an end to the bloody civil wars and led to more democratic governance in a region then-dominated by dictatorial regimes. In the 1990s, a popular movement supporting self-determination for East Timor forced a reluctant Clinton administration to cut off military aid to Indonesia, playing a key role in forcing a withdrawal by Indonesian occupation forces and eventual independence.

The key to a successful peace movement in our current situation will be to build a popular movement to change Middle East policy comparable to these successful precedents. So far, such a movement has been relatively small compared to the others, which is ironic given what is at stake. As with other movements, there are elements of the far-left and others that adhere to rigid ideological models based upon little empirical information about the conflict in question, often greatly simplifying complex historical dynamics and sometimes even buying into bizarre conspiracy theories. On some Middle East issues, certain elements within the far right can infiltrate various campaigns; for example, there is often a risk of anti-Semites becoming involved in campaigns challenging U.S. policy supporting the Israeli government. However, the biggest problem has been the timidity of the peace and human rights movements to become more involved. For example, it is very unlikely that the dozens of prominent liberals who support the bombing of Iraq or military aid to Ariel Sharon's government in Israel would do so if faced with the kind of mobilization that took place opposing U.S. policy in Central America.

Indeed, the failure of pro-peace and anti-interventionist forces to address the Middle East with the same kind of moral fervor demonstrated in campaigns regarding Southeast Asia, Central America, and Southern Africa is what has allowed the U.S. government to pursue policies that have resulted in the current crisis.

There are many opportunities for a movement for peace and justice in the Middle East to build upon existing popular movements. Those challenging the neoliberal model of globalization can observe how the economic stratification and declining access to basic needs by the Middle East's poor majority, resulting from policies of the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization have contributed to the rise of extremist groups. Human rights campaigners can note the tendency of Islamic extremists to emerge in countries where open and nonviolent political expression is suppressed. Peace activists can emphasize how the arms trade has contributed to the militarization of the region and the resulting propensity to violence.

Public opinion polls indicating popular support for U.S. Middle East policy does not mean that most Americans support that policy. It merely means that they support what they think that policy is. Many Americans actually believe their government's rhetoric that the United States actually supports democracy, international law, demilitarization, economic development, and Israeli-Palestinian peace. The challenge for the American peace movement is to expose the real nature of U.S. policy. Once this is done, the popular support for such a movement will already be there to mobilize the kind of resistance that has forced a change toward a more ethical foreign policy in previous conflicts. The threat from terrorism has in certain ways made this more difficult, as so many Americans have become angry and defensive about critiques of U.S. policy in the face of such violence and rage from foreign extremists. In other ways, however, the very seriousness of the threat has opened people up to learn more about the Middle East, why so many people in that part of the world might hate us, and what might be in the real security interests of the nation.

The Chinese character of "crisis" is a compound word consisting of "danger" and "opportunity." The dangers of the current situation are obvious. No less important are the opportunities now available for those who want to change the direction of United States policy in the Middle East and work for peace and justice.

Stephen Zunes stephen@coho.org is a Middle East Editor of Foreign Policy in Focus (www.fpif.org).

10 Things to Know About the Middle East

1. Who are the Arabs?

Arab peoples range from the Atlantic coast in northwest Africa to the Arabian peninsula and north to Syria. They are united by a common language and culture. Though the vast majority are Muslim, there are also sizable Christian Arab minorities in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Palestine. Originally the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula, the Arabs spread their language and culture to the north and west with the expansion of Islam in the 7th century. There are also Arab minorities in the Sahel and parts of east Africa, as well as in Iran and Israel. The Arabs were responsible for great advances in mathematics, astronomy and other scientific disciplines, while Europe was still mired in the Dark Ages.

Though there is great diversity in skin pigmentation, spoken dialect and certain customs, there is a common identity that unites Arab people, which has sometimes been reflected in pan-Arab nationalist movements. Despite substantial political and other differences, many Arabs share a sense that they are one nation, which has been artificially divided through the machinations of Western imperialism and which came to dominate the region with the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and early 20th century. There is also a growing Arab diaspora in Europe, North America, Latin America, West Africa and Australia.

2. Who are the Muslims?

The Islamic faith originated in the Arabian peninsula, based on what Muslims believe to be divine revelations by God to the prophet Mohammed. Muslims worship the same God as do Jews and Christians, and share many of the same prophets and ethical traditions, including respect for innocent life. Approximately 90 percent of Muslims are of the orthodox or Sunni tradition; most of the remainder are of the Shi'ite tradition, which dominate Iran but also has substantial numbers in Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen and Lebanon. Sunni Islam is nonhierarchical in structure. There is not a tradition of separation between the faith and state institutions as there is in the West, though there is enormous diversity in various Islamic legal traditions and the degree to which governments of predominately Muslim countries rely on religious bases for their rule.

Political movements based on Islam have ranged from left to right, from nonviolent to violent, from tolerant to chauvinistic. Generally, the more moderate Islamic movements have developed in countries where there is a degree of political pluralism in which they could operate openly. There is a strong tradition of social justice in Islam, which has often led to conflicts with regimes that are seen to be unjust or unethical. The more radical movements have tended to arise in countries that have suffered great social dislocation due to war or inappropriate economic policies and/or are under autocratic rule.

Most of the world's Muslims are not Arabs. The world's largest Muslim country, for example, is Indonesia. Other important non-Arab Muslim countries include Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia, as well as Nigeria and several other black African states. Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world and scores of countries have substantial Muslim minorities. There are approximately five million Muslims in the United States.

3. Why is there so much violence and political instability in the Middle East?

For most of the past 500 years, the Middle East actually saw less violence and warfare and more political stability than Europe or most other regions of the world. It has only been in the last century that the region has seen such widespread conflict. The roots of the conflict are similar to those elsewhere in the Third World, and have to do with the legacy of colonialism, such as artificial political boundaries, autocratic regimes, militarization, economic inequality and economies based on the export of raw materials for finished goods. Indeed, the Middle East has more autocratic regimes, militarization, economic inequality and the greatest ratio of exports to domestic consumption than any region in the world.

At the crossroads of three continents and sitting on much of the world's oil reserves, the region has been subjected to repeated interventions and conquests by outside powers, resulting in a high level of xenophobia and suspicion regarding the intentions of Western powers going back as far as the Crusades. There is nothing in Arab or Islamic culture that promotes violence or discord; indeed, there is a strong cultural preference for stability, order and respect for authority. However, adherence to authority is based on a kind of social contract that assumes a level of justice which -- if broken by the ruler -- gives the people a right to challenge it. The word jihad, often translated as "holy war," actually means "holy struggle," which can sometimes mean an armed struggle (qital), but also can mean nonviolent action and political work within the established system. Jihad also can mean a struggle for the moral good of the Muslim community, or even a personal spiritual struggle.

Terrorism is not primarily a Middle Eastern phenomenon. In terms of civilian lives lost, Africa has experienced far more terrorism in recent decades than has the Middle East. Similarly, far more suicide bombings in recent years have come from Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka than from Muslim Arabs in the Middle East. There is also a little-known but impressive tradition of nonviolent resistance and participatory democracy in some Middle Eastern countries.

4. Why has the Middle East been the focus of U.S. concern about international terrorism?

There has been a long history of terrorism -- generally defined as violence by irregular forces against civilian targets -- in the Middle East. During Israel's independence struggle in the 1940s, Israeli terrorists killed hundreds of Palestinian and British civilians; two of the most notorious terrorist leaders of that period -- Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir -- later became Israeli prime ministers whose governments received strong financial, diplomatic and military support from the United States. Algeria's independence struggle from France in the 1950s included widespread terrorist attacks against French colonists. Palestine's ongoing struggle for independence has also included widespread terrorism against Israeli civilians, during the 1970s through some of the armed militias of the Palestine Liberation Organization and, more recently, through radical underground Islamic groups. Terrorism has also played a role in Algeria's current civil strife, in Lebanon's civil war and foreign occupations during the 1980s, and for many years in the Kurdish struggle for independence. Some Middle Eastern governments -- notably Libya, Syria, Sudan, Iraq and Iran -- have in the past had close links with terrorist organizations. In more recent years, the Al Qaeda movement -- a decentralized network of terrorist cells supported by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden -- has become the major terrorist threat, and is widely believed to be responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Bin Laden himself has been given sanctuary in Afghanistan, though his personal fortune and widespread network of supporters have allowed him to be independent on direct financial or logistical support from any government.

The vast majority of the people in the Middle East deplore terrorism, yet point out that violence against civilians by governments has generally surpassed that of terrorists. For example, the Israelis have killed far more Arab civilians over the decades through using U.S.-supplied equipment and ordinance than have Arab terrorists killed Israeli civilians. Similarly, the U.S.-supplied Turkish armed forces have killed far more Kurdish civilians than have such radical Kurdish groups like the PKK (the Kurdish acronym for the Kurdistan Workers' Party). Also, in the eyes of many Middle Easterners, U.S. support for terrorist groups like the Nicaraguan contras and various right-wing Cuban exile organizations in recent decades, as well as U.S. air strikes and the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq in more recent years, have made the U.S. an unlikely leader in the war against terrorism

5. What kind of political systems and alliances exist in the Middle East?

There are a variety of political systems in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Morocco and Jordan are all conservative monarchies (in approximate order of absolute rule). Iraq, Syria and Libya are left-leaning dictatorships, with Iraq being one of the most totalitarian societies in the world. Egypt and Tunisia are conservative autocratic republics. Iran is an Islamic republic with an uneven trend in recent years towards greater political openness. Sudan and Algeria are under military rulers facing major insurrections.

Lebanon, Turkey and Yemen are republics with repressive aspects but some degree of political pluralism. The only Middle Eastern country with a strong tradition of parliamentary democracy is Israel, though the benefits of this political freedom is largely restricted to its Jewish citizens (the Palestinian Arab minority is generally treated as second-class citizens and Palestinians in the occupied territories are subjected to military rule and human rights abuses). The largely autocratic Palestinian Authority has been granted limited autonomy in a series of non-contiguous enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza Strip surrounded by Israeli occupation forces.

All Arab states, including the Palestinian Authority, belong to the League of Arab States, which acts as a regional body similar to the Organization of African Union or the Organization of American States, which work together on issues of common concern. However, there are enormous political divisions within Arab countries and other Middle Eastern states. Turkey is a member of the NATO alliance, closely aligned with the West and hopes to eventually become part of the European Union. The six conservative monarchies of the Persian Gulf region have formed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), from where they pursue joint strategic and economic interests and promote close ties with the West, particularly Great Britain (which dominated the smaller sheikdoms in the late 19th and early 20th century) and, more recently, the United States.

Often a country's alliances are not a reflection of its internal politics. For example, Saudi Arabia is often referred in the U.S. media as a "moderate" Arab state, though it is the most oppressive fundamentalist theocracy in the world today outside of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan; "moderate," in this case, simply means that it has close strategic and economic relations with the United States.

Jordan and Egypt are pro-Western, but have been willing to challenge U.S. policy on occasion. Israel identifies most strongly with the West: most of its leaders are European-born or have been of European heritage, and it has diplomatic relations with only a handful of Middle Eastern countries. Iran alienated most of its neighbors with its threat to expand its brand of revolutionary Islam to Arab world, though its increasingly moderate orientation in recent years has led to some cautious rapprochement. Syria, a former Soviet ally, has been cautiously reaching out to more conservative Arab governments and with the West; it currently exerts enormous political influence over Lebanon. Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Libya under Muammar Qaddafi and Sudan under their military junta remain isolated from most of other Middle Eastern countries due to a series of provocative policies, though many of these same countries oppose the punitive sanctions and air strikes the United States has inflicted against these countries in recent years.

6. What is the impact of oil in the Middle East?

The major oil producers of the Middle East include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Algeria. Egypt, Syria, Oman and Yemen have smaller reserves. Most of the major oil producers of the Middle East are part of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC. (Non-Middle Eastern OPEC members include Indonesia, Venezuela, Nigeria and other countries.) Much of the world's oil wealth exists along the Persian Gulf, with particularly large reserves in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. About one-quarter of U.S. oil imports come from the Persian Gulf region; the Gulf supplies European states and Japan with an even higher percentage of those countries' energy needs. The imposition of higher fuel efficiency standards and other conservation measures, along with the increased use of renewable energy resources for which technologies are already available, could eliminate U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil in a relatively short period of time.

The Arab members of OPEC instigated a boycott against the United States in the fall of 1973 in protest of U.S. support for Israel during the October Arab-Israeli war, creating the first in a series of energy shortages. The cartel has had periods of high and low costs for oil, resulting in great economic instability. Most governments have historically used their oil wealth to promote social welfare, particularly countries like Algeria, Libya and Iraq, which professed to a more socialist orientation. Yet all countries have squandered their wealth for arms purchases and prestige projects. In general, the influx of petrodollars has created enormous economic inequality both within oil-producing states and between oil-rich and oil-poor states as well as widespread corruption and questionable economic priorities.

7. What is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict about?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essentially over land, with two peoples claiming historic rights to the geographic Palestine, a small country in the eastern Mediterranean about the size of New Jersey. The creation of modern Israel in 1948 was a fulfillment of the goal of the Jewish nationalist movement, known as Zionism, as large numbers of Jews migrated to their faith's ancestral homeland from Europe, North Africa and elsewhere throughout the 20th century. They came into conflict with the indigenous Palestinian Arab population, which also was struggling for independence. The 1947 partition plan, which divided the country approximately in half, resulted in a war that ended with Israel seizing control of 78 percent of the territory within a year. Most of the Palestinian population became refugees, in some cases through fleeing the fighting and in other cases through being forcibly expelled. The remaining Palestinian areas -- the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- came under control of the neighboring Arab states of Jordan and Egypt, though these areas were also seized by Israel in the 1967 war.

Israel has been colonizing parts of these occupied territories with Jewish settlers in violation of the Geneva Conventions and UN Security Council resolutions. Historically, both sides have failed to recognize the legitimacy of the others' nationalist aspirations, though the Palestinian leadership finally formally recognized Israel in 1993. The peace process since then has been over the fate of the West Bank (including Arab East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, which is the remaining 22 percent of the Palestine, occupied by Israel since 1967. The United States plays the dual role of chief mediator of the conflict as well as the chief financial, military and diplomatic supporter of Israel. The Palestinians want their own independent state in these territories and to allow Palestinian refugees the right to return. Israel, backed by the United States, insists the Palestinians give up large swaths of the West Bank -- including most of Arab East Jerusalem -- to Israel and to accept the resettlement of most refugees into other Arab countries. Since September 2000, there has been widespread rioting by Palestinians against the ongoing Israeli occupation as well as terrorist bombings within Israel by extremist Islamic groups. Israeli occupation forces, meanwhile, have engaged in widespread killings and other human rights abuses in the occupied territories.

Most Arabs feel a strong sense of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, though their governments have tended to manipulate their plight for their own political gain. Neighboring Arab states have fought several wars with Israel, though Egypt and Jordan now have peace agreements and full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. In addition to much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel still occupies a part of southwestern Syria known as the Golan Heights. The threats and hostility by Arab states towards Israel's very existence has waned over the years. Full peace and diplomatic recognition would likely come following a full Israeli withdrawal from its occupied territories.

8. What has been the legacy of the Gulf War?

Virtually every Middle Eastern state opposed the Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990, though they were badly divided on the appropriateness of the U.S.-led Gulf War that followed. Even among countries that supported the armed liberation of Kuwait, there was widespread opposition to the deliberate destruction by the United States of much of Iraq's civilian infrastructure during the war. Even more controversial has been the enormous humanitarian consequences of the U.S.-led international sanctions against Iraq in place since the war, which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mostly children, from malnutrition and preventable diseases.

The periodic U.S. air strikes against Iraq also have been controversial, as has the ongoing U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states and in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. Since Iraq's offensive military capability was largely destroyed during the Gulf War and during the subsequent inspections regime, many observers believe that U.S. fears about Iraq's current military potential are exaggerated, particularly in light of the quiet U.S. support for Iraq during the 1980s when its military was at its peak. In many respects, the Gulf War led the oil-rich GCC states into closer identification with the United States and the West and less with their fellow Arabs, though there is still some distrust about U.S. motivations and policies in the Middle East.

9. How has the political situation in Afghanistan evolved and how is it connected to the Middle East?

Afghanistan, an impoverished landlocked mountainous country, has traditionally been identified more with Central and South Asia than with the Middle East. A 1978 coup by communist military officers resulted in a series of radical social reforms, which were imposed in an autocratic matter and which resulted in a popular rebellion by a number of armed Islamic movements. The Soviet Union installed a more compliant communist regime at the end of 1979, sending in tens of thousands of troops and instigating a major bombing campaign, resulting in large-scale civilian casualties and refugee flows. The war lasted for much of the next decade. The United States sent arms to the Islamic resistance, known as the mujahadin, largely through neighboring Pakistan, then under the rule of an ultra-conservative Islamic military dictatorship. Most of the U.S. aid went to the most radical of the eight different mujahadin factions on the belief that they would be least likely to reach a negotiated settlement with the Soviet-backed government and would therefore drag the Soviet forces down. Volunteers from throughout the Islamic world, including the young Saudi businessman Osama bin Laden, joined the struggle. The CIA trained many of these recruits, including bin Laden and many of his followers.

When the Soviets and Afghanistan's communist government were defeated in 1992, a vicious and bloody civil war broke out between the various mujahadin factions, war lords and ethnic militias. Out of this chaos emerged the Taliban movement, led by young seminary students from the refugee camps in Pakistan who were educated in ultra-conservative Saudi-funded schools. The Taliban took over 85 percent of the country by 1996 and imposed long-awaited order and stability, but established a brutal totalitarian theocracy based on a virulently reactionary and misogynist interpretation of Islam. The Northern Alliance, consisting of the remnants of various factions from the civil war in the 1990s, control a small part of the northeast corner of the country.

10. How have most Middle Eastern governments reacted to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and their aftermath?

Virtually every government and the vast majority of their populations reacted with the same horror and revulsion as did people in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Despite scenes shown repeatedly on U.S. television of some Palestinians celebrating the attacks, the vast majority of Palestinians also shared in the world's condemnation. If the United States, in conjunction with local governments, limits its military response to commando-style operations against suspected terrorist cells, the U.S. should receive the cooperation and support of most Middle Eastern countries. If the response is more widespread, based more on retaliation than self-defense, and ends up killing large numbers of Muslim civilians, it could create a major anti-American reaction that would increase support for the terrorists and lessen the likelihood for the needed cooperation to break up the Al Qaeda network, which operates in several Middle Eastern countries.

While few Middle Easterners support bin Laden's methods, the principal concerns expressed in his manifestoes -- the U.S.'s wrongful support for Israel and for Arab dictatorships, the disruptive presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and the humanitarian impact of the sanctions on Iraq -- are widely supported. Ultimately, a greater understanding of the Middle East and the concerns of its governments and peoples are necessary before the United States can feel secure from an angry backlash from the region.

Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He serves as a senior policy analyst and Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project.
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