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.

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