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Becoming 89: A Poem

13 Nov

Becoming 89

 

Somehow as the sun sets

The thrill of being alive startles

 

Is it love alone

Or your starlit smile

 

The play of Istanbul

The enchantment of kediler

 

This thrill of life persists

Despite the world

 

Despite unimaginable

And hideous atrocities

 

We must not avert our eyes

Or escape to the suburbs of the mind

 

The faith of this hour

Is anxious patience

 

Panic prescribed as sanity

‘Thanks Greta’

 

Remember to observe bravery

Along the Gaza fence

 

Remember refugees

Human and desperate

 

And those killed and maimed

Because their skin is darker

 

Or their god(s) differ

Despite being the same

 

Then and only then

Succumb to flowers and maidens

 

Only then visit forests

To bless magical animals

 

While living and dying

Keep your gaze, affirm

 

This impossible faith

By smiles, by tears

 

This forever fervor

Keeping birthdays precious

 

To be old and engaged

Is to be truly young

 

To be old and enraged

Is to be truly young

 

To affirm the affirmable

And fight the abominable

 

Is to be truly young

Great fortune at 89

 

 

 

 

Richard Falk

Istanbul, November 13, 2019

Did the West Win the Cold War?

6 Nov

Did the West Win the Cold War?

 

 Posing the Question

 Such a question seems little more than a provocation until the effects of the interval between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the present are critically examined in relation to their principal effects. On closer inspection I am not quite prepared, although almost so, to say that the peoples of the world lost ground as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and emergence of the United States as the so-called ‘sole surviving superpower.’

 

Generally, it was rather automatically assumed almost never challenged, that the outcome of the Cold War was a victory for liberal values, including human rights, political democracy, economic growth, and certainly world peace. There was the added popular view that since democracies supposedly do not go to war against each other, and if Communism was discredited on both ideological and materialist grounds, then democracy would spread naturally and quickly, and the world would become in the process more peaceful and its people better off.

 

It was also assumed with the end of strategic conflict among the most powerful states that substantial resources would be freed to devote more generously to improving the social and economic wellbeing, end extreme poverty, protect the environment, and invest in the renewal of aging infrastructures of countries in the West long stressed by the security rigors of the Cold War.

 

This positive sense of the end of the Cold War was powerfully reinforced by the ideological self-confidence that produced such triumphalist expressions as ‘the end of history’ or ‘the second American century.’ The outcome was seen as a moral victory for capitalist democracies and a defeat for socialist authoritarian states. Even China seemed throw in its red towel, zestfully embracing its new role as a rising star in the capitalist world market, and many countries, especially in Asia did grow at unprecedented rates, raising living standards beyond all expectations and attaining a higher status as international actors. The legitimacy of capitalism and constitutionalism were not seriously challenged as the legitimate foundations of world order for the first time in 150 years, underscoring the demoralization of the political left, and its disappearance of the left and fascist right as political forces almost everywhere.

 

Without doubt, the United States could have taken advantage of this global setting to champion a post-Cold War global reform movement in ways that would in all likelihood have been benevolent, but it chose not to do so. Instead, it gave its energies to taking short-term materialist advantage of the geopolitical vacuum created by the abrupt Soviet withdrawal from the global scene. One can only wonder how the world might have evolved if a Gorbachev-like leader who espoused a global vision was running the show in Washington while Russia produced someone with the mentality of Reagan or the elder Bush, neither of whom embraced ideas any more enlightened than making the world safe for American economic, political, and cultural hegemony.

 

 

American Geopolitical Myopia

 

In more concrete terms this meant giving priority in American foreign policy to such retrograde global goals as ‘full-spectrum dominance’ with respect to military superiority and in solidifying its global sphere of influence, what was sometimes given historical specificity as ‘the globalization of the Monroe Doctrine.’ George H. W. Bush did use the occasion of the First Gulf War in 1991 to proclaim ‘a new world order,’ by which he meant that the UN could become the geopolitical instrument of the West that it was intended to be in 1945—a peacekeeping mechanism to promote Western interests, which in that instance meant restoring Kuwaiti sovereignty after Iraq’s aggression and annexation. Washington, soon worried by seemingly vesting authority, responsibility, and expectations in the UN, even as as a geopolitical legitimating tool, and quickly abandoned the new world order, put the idea ‘back on the shelf’ as a prominent American diplomat at the time put it. Bush’s Secretary of State told a private gathering shortly after the First Gulf War that his boss made a mistake by connecting the new world order with UN peacekeeping rather than with spread of neoliberal globalization to the four corners of the planet. American global idealism, always hedged by a realist calculus, was definitely undergoing a normative eclipse.

 

If the elder Bush had seen the collapse of the Soviet Union as something more than a geopolitical checkmate, we might be living in a different, more hopeful and responsible world. He had the visionary opportunity to strengthen the UN in a variety of ways, including weakening the right of veto, increasing popular participation by establishing a world parliament, proposing a global tax to achieve more independent financing, and calling for a serious world nuclear disarmament conference that might also have directed attention toward the broader horizons of global demilitarization, but it was not to be. Militarism was too entrenched in government and the private sector. More generally, capitalism was seen as having proven itself the most robust and creative means of fostering wealth and growth, and creating decent societies, that the world had ever known. Unlike World Wars I & II, the Cold War despite the language and periodic crises and dangerous confrontations, didn’t end with widespread elite or public anxieties that it was necessary to adopt important measures to avoid any repetition, which could be construed either as Cold War II or World War II. The triumphalist mood engendered an unchallenged mood geopolitical complacency toward the future, which had the ironic effect of creating a materialist obsessiveness, a kind of market-driven Marxism (that is, neoliberal globalization) that celebrated and depended upon a consumerist ethos that disregarded the damage being done to the physical, cultural, and psycho-political environments of humanity.

 

 

 

 

Why the West Lost the Cold War

 

Why, then, even if account is taken of these emergent patterns, should we take seriously my provocation that more critically considered, the West actually lost the Cold War? I will give my responses in abbreviated form.

 

–the end of the Cold War created an open road for predatory capitalism: the collapse of socialism as an alternative approach to economic development and state/society relations cleared the ideological path, leading Western leaders to be comfortable about regarding capitalism as ‘the only game in town.’ Without the ideological challenge of socialism, backed by the geopolitical leverage of the Soviet Union, capitalism felt a declining need to show a human face, becoming a victim of its own success. In practice, this meant rolling back social protection, weakening regulation, and privileging the efficiency of capital over the wellbeing of people. [See my Predatory Globalization: A Critique, Polity Press, 1999] In other words, capitalism needed the challenges posed by socialism and a vibrant labor movement to realize its own humanist potentials. In its post-Cold War enactment, preoccupations with economic growth were useful political distractions from the rising inequality and the adoption of a precautionary approach to increasing ecological concerns.

 

–the end of the Cold War induced after twenty years a process that led to the legitimation of democratically elected autocratic leadership that manipulated public outrage over failures to raise lower and middle class living standards, while catering to the ultra-rich. In this respect, due to the disappearance of ideological cleavages, the phenomenon of ‘choiceless democracies’ discouraged political participation, making political parties unsatisfactory vehicles for divergent political views and as sources of creative solutions for societal challenges. The Democratic Party seemed pragmatically as tied to Wall Street and Goldman Sachs as were the ideologically aligned Republicans.

 

–the end of the Cold War led the United States to lose a sense of direction, seemingly adrift when it lost the Soviet Union as its ‘indispensable enemy,’ seeming essential for achieving social cohesion and a wider sense of purpose. This loss was most controversially, yet effectively, articulated by Samuel Huntington in his Foreign Affairs article, “The Clash of Civilizations.” His postulate of ‘the West against the rest,’ with particular attention to political Islam exerting pressures along the fault lines of Western Civilization, was given aa decisive, although misleadinng credibility by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the two symbolic embodiments of American power—trade and war-making. In some respects, the anarchic character of global terrorism was a more disruptive threat to the security of the established order than was the Cold War. Insecurity became pervasive, verging on hysteria, complicating lives and underscoring that after the Cold War the world had become a global battlefield with no place, however well protected by military means escaping the torments of vulnerability and the inconveniences of ‘watch lists,’ intrusive surveillance, security checks at airports, public buildings, and even hotels and stores. In this context Iran has become the statist embodiment of the indispensable enemy, with China and Russia as default options. When the indispensable enemy lacks deterrent capabilities, dangers of military confrontation heightened, especially as her, that the enemy is pronounced ‘evil,’ and such a tag is reciprocated by the weaker adversary.

 

–the end of the Cold War strengthened the political will in Washington to make the world order more congenial in light of the foregoing considerations, with particular attention to the Middle East due to a sense of dependence on access to the oil reserves of the region. What was championed as ‘democracy promotion’ was tried in the Iraq War of 2003, generating a series of disastrous reactions ranging from a costly intervention and occupation that achieved none of its strategic goals relating to democracy, containment of Iranian influence,  permanent military bases, reduced oil prices, and a victory over counterterrorism. In fact, the American occupation of Iraq was administered in a highly dysfunctional manner that not only generated national resistance, but gave rise to the most extremist non-state political formation the modern world has ever known, ISIS or Daesh, as well as to the disruptive intensification of sectarian tensions within Iraq and regionally. In effect, the end of the Cold War leading to Soviet collapse and disengagement, allowed the United States to pursue in a less restrained manner more ambitious goals, yet still leading to disastrous results. Regime-changing interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya resulted in quagmires or in political outcomes that undercut the initial goals, spread turmoil and distrust of American global leadership. Only late in 2019 does there seem to be some hope for restored regional stability due to the frustration of U.S. goals, Russian reinvolvement during the terminal stages of the Syrian ‘international civil war,’ and Saudi moving toward a possible accommodation with Iran. The unappreciated irony is that the last best hope for stability in the region is to restore a geopolitical discipline that encourages all actors to behave more cautiously.

 

–the end of the Cold War has serious diminished the quality of world order in several crucial dimension, including even the likelihood of war fought with nuclear weapons. With less incentive to ensure war prevention and maintain alliance cohesion and in light of greater political independence by many states, international cooperation has declined at the very time when it is most needed in relation to ecological protection (climate change, biodiversity, acidification and rising sea levels). Combat and climate change have induced large-scale migratory movements that have pushed many more affluent countries in ultra-nationalist directions with adverse consequences for human rights, democratic forms of governance, international law, and the authority of and support for the UN System (as expressed by withheld dues and budgetary stresses). When the Cold War raged, the West used internationalism and humanitarian diplomacy not only as venues for propaganda, but to gain the higher moral, ideological, and political terrain in relations to the Soviet Union and socialist management of the economy. With the Soviet collapse, countries pursued economic gains in imprudently in ways that produced the current crises of inequality and corruption in many countries and a general situation of ecological malaise.  

 

 

 

 

 

A Concluding Note

 

This contrarian argument does not contend that the Soviet Union (or Russia) won the Cold War, although after a period of decline and austerity, the return of Russia to the ranks of geopolitical leaders with less ideological and imperial baggage (considering the independence of countries in East Europe and Central Asia), such a case could and perhaps should be made.

 

The main claim in this essay is that the end of the Cold War was not, as triumphalists claimed, so much of a victory for world capitalism in its neoliberal modes and of constitutional democracy as it was assumed to be in the early 1990s. It became an occasion for less regulated economic globalization and for new violent political encounters that has made the world into a global battlefield in an unresolvable struggle between non-state extremist multinational networks and various established sovereign states. In the process, due to internal and international moves away from global responsibility by the United States, a global leadership vacuum has emerged while a variety of unchecked dangerous trends imperil the human future.

 

The initiial, and perhaps decisive failure to assert global leadership after the end of the Cold War involved a failure at a moment of global fluidity to seek reforms to facilitate various forms of environmental protection, denuclearization and demilitarization, and the enhancement of the normative order via a stronger UN and a greater acceptance of international law as serving the national interests of geopolitical actors. The United States enjoyed the historic opportunity to lead such an effort, but other countries were remiss in not putting forward proposals and creating pressures that might have induced more constructive American behavior at such a potentially opportune time. It seems especially a lost opportunity from the perspective of the present in which cosmopolitan sentiments have been so pervasively pushed aside by nativist forms of ultra-nationalism.

Declining Protection of Human Rights: Why?

31 Oct

The Future of Human Rights: Regressive Trends and Restorative Prospects

 

Points of Departure

 

Reviewing the global situation, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zaed Raad Al Hussein of Jordan, opened a 2018 conference devoted to the 25th anniversary of the 1993 UN Conference on Human Rights and Development held in Vienna, on a decidedly pessimistic note. Instead of doing the usual on such occasions, that is, celebrating the progress made since the earlier event, Prince Zaed emphasized the disturbing evidence of regression with respect to a broad range of issues bearing on the protection of human rights embedded in international treaty instruments as evidenced by the practice of states. He insisted that without fundamental changes in patterns of governance by sovereign states and in the operation of the world economy it would be naïve to expect an improved international atmosphere for human rights.

 

In the background of these remarks was the realization that we live in a state-centric world, which means that there is a significant degree of correlation between the quality of national governance and the presence of a political will on the part of leaders of sovereign states that is dedicated to the realization of human rights. In this regard the most important factor contributing to the declining protection of human rights is the disturbing global trend since the year 2000 away from liberal democracies and toward illiberal democracies. The essence of illiberalism is a resurgent nationalism that devalues international sources of authority such as international law and the UN, and exhibits an unconditional reliance on sovereign rights to act autonomously unless their internal public order system challenges geopolitical strategic priorities (as is currently the case with Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba). At this time, there are almost no important countries that have not embraced this hyper-nationalism of illiberal democracy, which is generally abetted by an autocratic governing style that is impatient with constraints associated with constitutionalism and the rule of law.

 

The more human rights form of liberalism is especially concerned with patterns of governing, avoiding the abuse of citizens by oppressive mechanisms and facilitating participation in the governing process by way of political parties and rights of free expression. This liberal perspective tends to overlook the relevance of economic dimensions, including the impact of the market and the establishment of social protection mechanisms to overcome poverty and to meet needs of individuals relating to health, education, and housing. The collapse of the Soviet Union was interpreted in the West as demonstrating the superiority of capitalism and the failure of socialism, which also had the effect of removing socialism as a political alternative in many countries, which contributed to the rise of unrestrained capitalism internationally and nationally, definitely weakening the performance records of governments with respect  to economic and social rights quite independently of the trend toward illiberal democratic leadership. The efforts by the United Nations to put forward Sustainable Development Goals associated with economic and social challenges substitutes a voluntary process of governmental policymaking for the obligatory commitments of international human rights law, and seems to lack the kind of political traction needed for reaching the ambitious goals set for attainment by 2030.

 

Ever since 1945 the leader of international liberalism was the United States, which gave human rights considerable visibility in the Cold War Era. The liberal West regarded human rights as essentially reduced in scope to civil and political rights while the socialist East proclaimed their support of economic and social rights as providing the material pre-conditons of human dignity for all. Human rights in these two forms were a competitive ideological focus for these geopolitical rivals, strongly reinforced in the West by the emergence of transnationally organized NGOs dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, but overwhelmingly associating human rights with civil and political rights, and not according serious attention to economic, social, and cultural rights. This civil society activism led many observers to conclude that human rights only concerned political and civil rights, a view never accepted in the global South, which tended to privilege economic, social, and cultural rights. In truth, the U.S., much more than its more social democratic European allies, never accepted the view that ‘human rights’ extended to the material needs of people, and always viewed such help ambivalently, as given by governments at their discretionrather than as a matter of obligation. This meant that even the provision of food or health care was voluntary, and not a matter of right. With the style and substance of Trump’s leadership, it has become clear that the international human rights of vulnerable people do not inform public policy unless market manipulations operate to raise wages, reduce unemployment, and improve living standards. Human rights, as rooted in international sources of legal and moral authority, are rendered irrelevant by such an orientation, and are viewed as obstacles to the efficient promotion of investment and trade, which according to such thinking, operate best when governed by market forces rather than by moral sentiments and legal norms.

 

During the Cold War there was some political motivations for achieving progress with respect to human rights, especially after Jimmy Carter in 1976 made human rights an essential feature of American foreign policy. In the following years, the ideological rivalry with the Soviet Bloc led both sides to claim that their version of human rights was superior to that of their adversary. In essence, the Western claim was that the freedom of the individual was being protected, while in the Soviet bloc the claim was that the collective wellbeing of society was upheld. The practical influence of human rights reached its climax in the anti-apartheid campaign that combined pressure exerted inter-governmentally and by way of the UN with influences of transnational grassroots activism, especially via sanctions and boycotts, given expression in a robust BDS set of initiatives. With illiberal democracies now running the international show, the sun has set temporarily for the human rights movement, and is further threatened by ongoing and unmet challenges throughout the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Threats and Challenges to Human Rights

 

Against this background, a number of threats can be mentioned as intensifying the trend toward the decline of human rights as a framework relevant to the behavior of states internally (state/society relations) and internationally (state to state relations). Basically, the current atmosphere highlighting the legitimacy of ultra-nationalism from a geopolitical standpoint translates at the level of policy into a reciprocal posture of ‘see no evil, hear no evil,’ and thus shields from accountability those that ‘do evil’ to their own people and to others. Rather than provide full expositions of the most salient developments adverse to the implementation of human rights, threat will be enumerated and identified:

 

  • Exclusionary nationalism: hostility to those seeking asylum due to forced departures from combat zones or economic/ecological disaster areas leading to a global migration crisis expected to worsen in coming years; illiberal responses include walls, detention centers, mistreatments, family separations, arbitrary and cruel deportation procedures and policies. Discriminatory attitudes toward immigrants, especially severe if racist criteria of exclusion relied upon.
  • Autocratic political leadership: autocrats are intolerant of dissent and oppositional activity, which leads to interferences with freedom of expression, control of media and criminalization of oppositional journalism, interferences with academic freedom, endorsement of excessive force and police brutality, suppression of minorities, violence against dissenters.
  • Remnants of Colonialism: international failures to implement the right of self-determination, including dismantling of oppressive structures, in relation to several outstanding unresolved conflicts associated with European colonialism, including Palestine, Kashmir, Western Sahara. These failures produce prolonged suffering for entire peoples who are systematically oppressed.
  • Counterterrorism: reliance on torture, denial of POW status to terrorist suspects, non-compliance with international humanitarian law (Geneva Conventions), drone warfare on battlefields without boundaries. Modern states find themselves vulnerable to terrorist tactics, and often suspend their compliance with human rights standards to secure information or to express a vindictive hatred of such adversaries.
  • Capitalism: deference to market forces, capital over people, with gross inequality and poverty resulting, and economic and social rights completely marginalized as normative limits on public policy.
  • Climate Change: the failure to take prudent steps to control greenhouse gas emissions in conformity to the consensus among climate scientists encroaches upon and threatens the right to life and the right to health, among other rights, and completely rejects the efforts to achieve an international order capable of and dedicated to the realization of human rights for all, an encompassing obligation set forth in Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Technological Innovation: the expected accelerated reliance on robots and automation threatens the livelihoods of millions throughout the world, and undermines prospects for decent work; the meta-data surveillance by state and market forces subverts privacy and threatens fundamental freedoms; genetic engineering poses additional threats to human dignity that are not yet fully appreciated or even understood.

 

 

 

 

Expectations for the Future

 

The most haunting questions concern whether these pressures adverse to compliance with and implementation of human rights are likely to diminish or even be reversed in the years ahead. A number of key factors to consider will be identified here as questions, but as with the case of adverse trends, the issues will not be fully discussed.

 

  • Can Liberal Democracy be Restored and Enhanced? It would seem that prospects for restoring and enhancing liberal democracy vary from country to country, and reflect particular conditions involving the procedures for selecting leaders and the strength of legislative or parliamentary institutions and judicial independence, the resilience of the constitutional order, the gravity of perceived security threats, role of money, impact of special interest lobbies, corporatized media. Enhancement of liberalism would involve two broad sets of developments—the inclusion of economic and social rights as internationally protected human rights and the recognition that climate change and declining biodiversity have major impacts on fundamental human rights.

 

  • Can the Global Migration Crisis be Resolved or Mitigated at its Source? It appears that migration pressures will be resisted by countries that feel threatened by large-scale entry of immigrants, especially if their arrival is massive and without legal documentation. The only solution in a state-centric system of world order is by addressing as many of the conditions giving rise to departure and displacement through economic assistance and a global approach to conflict resolution and economic/ecological crises.

 

  • Can American or Equivalent Responsible Global Leadership be Restored or Enhanced? The 2020 US elections may overcome the current global leadership vacuum if a more internationally oriented American president is elected, especially if the new leader values international law, the UN, and human rights, and is sensitive to the importance of international cooperative given ecological imperatives. It is also possible that other configurations of responsible global leadership will emerge. China, Russia, the EU each could help restore current leadership responsive to global challenges either by their individual initiative or in a collaborative relationship. Trump self-consciously relinquished the non-militarist sides of America’s prior leadership role, proclaiming that he was elected president of the United States, not the world. The future of international human rights depends on benevolent global leadership.

 

 

  • Will the deepening Ecological Crisis give rise to more Effective Global Governance? In effect, will the increasing evidence of deteriorating ecological stability resulting from global warming, diminished biodiversity, and other signs of disharmony between human activity and the natural surrounding act as a wakeup call for the elites and publics of the world, inducing an atmosphere of urgency that includes vesting greater authority in international institutions and an international framework of environmental regulation? So far, the reactions have been dominated by short-termism accompanied by denialism and escapism, with the default option being technological innovation when the situation impinges to an extent that can no longer be denied. As a consequence human rights are weakened, especially in relation to the right to life and health.

 

  • Will the Prominence of Post-Human Scenarios hasten the Recognition of a Bio-Ethical Crisis? We are increasingly confronted by end-of-the-world scenarios based on the occurrence of a variety of apocalyptic events or assessments that the planet is on its way to becoming uninhabitable. Will this reality of bio-eco-ethical-spiritual crisis lead to the formulation of new radical thought and political movement responsive to the challenges, reflecting the recognition that present modes of problem-solving and policy-making are not capable of providing adequate responses?

 

 

  • Can Capitalism be Reformed Sufficiently to be Reconciled with Humane Global Governance? To address the adverse trends it will be necessary, at minimum, to evolve a more regulated world economy that is sensitive to ethical and ecological considerations. This requires limits on profitability, consumerism, and environmental disregard, including on release of greenhouse gasses. It may be that some fusion of capitalism and socialism would be alone capable of preserving the autonomies of the private sectors with the responsibilities to uphold human rights, including rights of the unborn. This could happen as the extreme inequalities of income and wealth create a public mood seeking a more equitable and sustainable brand of economic development more in accord with the norms contained in the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

 

  • Does a Positive Future for Humanity Depend on a Politics of Impossibility? The present world situation suggests two points of attention: a series of dystopian trends as offset by the realization that only utopian solutions can bring relief and nurture hope. Politics as the art of the possible seems very inadequate as response to the challenges facing a human rights culture except to lengthen the interval available for adjustments, but this will fall short both of what is needed and what is desirable. To meet needs and satisfy desires depends then on the emergence and embrace of ‘a politics of impossibility.’ It is important to recognize that what seems impossible happens—for instance, the collapse of worldwide European colonialism, the transformation of the South African apartheid regime, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the attainment of gay rights in many settings. The impossible happens when enough people insist through thought, action, and faith that it must happen. Change of this fundamental sort comes from below in unpredicted surges, which themselves constitute responses to populist discontent and struggle.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The main objective of this essay is to sketch the profound challenges to human rights that arise from a series of interrelated and overlapping developments, and to give some sense that to restore and enhance human rights is a difficult undertaking that now seems almost impossible given the ultra-nationalist outlook of the governments of most leading states. Yet the future is uncertain, and will be influenced by what peoples variously situated choose to do or refrain from doing. Under these conditions of menace and uncertainty there is every reason to struggle for what is necessary and desirable even if it seems presently impossible of attainment.

 

Casting Doubt: Trusting Whistleblowers More Than International Institutions–Syrian CW Attack on Douma

27 Oct

Courage Foundation Panel Challenges International Finding of Syrian Reponsibility

For the 2018 Attack on Douma  

 

 

An independent British civil society organization, Courage Foundation, convened a panel of persons with diverse professional backgrounds relevant to the assessment of a challenge directed at the reliability of a respected international institution—the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The statement below, carefully drafted by the collective efforts of the panel reflects an acceptance of the lengthy presentation of the case against the reliability of allegations that the Syrian Government was guilty of a lethal chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb town of Douma (East Ghouta) on April 7, 2018 that was relied upon by the U.S. Government to justify a retaliatory strike against Syrian targets. The panel statement and process was greatly strengthened by the participation of Jose Bustani, former and initial Director General of OPCW, who while not physically present at the Brussels meeting was fully briefed by the whistleblower in Brazil, and took part in the preparation and endorsement of the final statement.

 

The panel, of which I was a member, met in Brussels on October 14, 2019, examined documents, reports, and listened to testimony. It drafted the statement printed below after discussion, which was subsequently modified and edited by email exchanges among the panelists. The Courage Foundation has its offices in Great Britain and is an organization dedicated to support for whistleblowing activities. It did not interfere with or exert influence upon the deliberations of the panel, which occurred in closed executive sessions with no Foundation personnel present. The statement issued by the panel is printed below. It can also be found at the link provided by the Courage Foundation:
https://www.couragefound.org/2019/10/opcw-panel-statement

 

 

In my view this inquiry into the authenticity of the allegations against the Syrian Government is important for its own sake, and beyond this, for the serious implications of the conclusion that despite its reputation, OPCW, is not a trustworthy organization in carrying out its assigned role of impartially investigating and validating or invalidating charges of violations of the International Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Not only did the panel find that OPCW tampered with the evidence to produce an outcome desired by the geopolitical actors involved in this instance, it tried to silence its own senior civil servants to such an extent as to produce what I would call ‘a reluctant but extremely credible whistleblower,’ a senior inspector with 17 years of experience with OPCW, and a member of the team that carried out the on-site investigations of the Douma allegations.  

Once again, as with Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Chelsea Manning, as well as those still anonymous individuals exposing the wrongdoings of the Trump presidency, whistleblowing, and its protection and insulation from punitive actions has become an indispensable dimension of sustainable democracies. Not only is there a lack of transparency and accountability with respect to the undertakings of major national governments, but there is a deliberate manipulation of evidence and obstruction of procedures designed to protect the citizenry against abuses of state, and in the case of major states, especially the United States, to protect the public interest. If you believe in substantive democracy, you will hail whistleblowers as heroes of our time, and exert a maximum effort to oppose the efforts of governments to punish, prohibit, and demonize this crucial means of bearing witness and truth-telling.

 

Finally, it should be observed that the retaliatory strike following the allegations preceded the OPCW investigation, and involved an extremely legally doubtful use of international force in any event. Of course, such issues are outside the mandate of the OPCW, whose functions are limited to monitoring compliance with the provisions of the international treaty. According to the UN Charter, such an international use of force is only legally justified as an act of self-defense against a prior armed attack or as a result of formal authorization by the Security Council. There is nothing in the CWC itself that allows parties to act as international vigilantes entitled to take unilateral punitive steps against violators. In the course of Syrian civil strife since 2011, it has been treated as an issue of international vigilantism to regard ‘the red line’ related to the use of chemical weapons was crossed, to identify the perpetrator, and to justify a retaliatory use of force. The United States has claimed the authority to act in this manner, including determining on its own the scope, targeting, and scale of any retaliatory undertaking.  

 

 

 

Panel Criticizes ‘Unacceptable Practices’ in the OPCW’s investigation of the Alleged Chemical Attack in Douma, Syria on April 7th 2018

Posted on October 23, 2019

The Courage Foundation convened a panel of concerned individuals from the fields of disarmament, international law, journalism, military operations, medicine and intelligence in Brussels on October 15th. The panel met with a member of the investigation team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international chemical watchdog. On this basis the panel issued the following statement:

Based on the whistleblower’s extensive presentation, including internal emails, text exchanges and suppressed draft reports, we are unanimous in expressing our alarm over unacceptable practices in the investigation of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, near the Syrian capital of Damascus on 7 April 2018.  We became convinced by the testimony that key information about chemical analyses, toxicology consultations, ballistics studies, and witness testimonies was suppressed, ostensibly to favor a preordained conclusion.

We have learned of disquieting efforts to exclude some inspectors from the investigation whilst thwarting their attempts to raise legitimate concerns, highlight irregular practices or even to express their differing observations and assessments —a right explicitly conferred on inspectors in the Chemical Weapons Convention, evidently with the intention of ensuring the independence and authoritativeness of inspection reports.

However belatedly, we therefore call on the OPCW to permit all inspectors who took part in the Douma investigation to come forward and report their differing observations in an appropriate forum of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, in fulfillment of the spirit of the Convention. They should be allowed to do this without fear of reprisal or even censure.

The panel advances these criticisms with the expectation that the OPCW will revisit its investigation of the Douma incident, with the purpose of clarifying what actually happened. This would help to restore the credibility of the OPCW and work towards demonstrating its legally mandated commitment to transparency, impartiality and independence. It is of utmost importance to restore trust in the verification procedures relied upon to implement the prohibitions of the CWC.

Panel members:

José Bustani, Ambassador of Brazil, first Director General of the OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France,

Richard Falk, Professor of International Law, Emeritus, Princeton University; Visiting Professor, Istinye University, Istanbul

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief, Wikileaks

John Holmes, Maj Gen (retd), DSO OBE MC

Dr. Helmut Lohrer, MD, Board member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and International Councilor of its German Affiliate

Prof. Dr. Guenter Meyer, Centre for Research on the Arab World (CERAW) at the University of Mainz

Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence (retd); member, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (www.samadamsaward.ch)

 

In Praise of Kamila Shamsie Home Fire

13 Oct

In Praise of Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire

 

It took the withdrawal of the Nelly Sachs Prize to make me familiar with the fine literary achievements and compassionate politics of Kamila Shamsie. Selfishly, I cannot thank the Dortmund City Council enough for its outrageous behavior, evidently canceling the award because a right-wing newspaper outed Shamsie as a supporter of the BDS Campaign. I can imagine Shamsie’s feeling of hurt as well as disappointment as this incident unfolded. In her novels, she has manifested an uncannny awareness, more so than any writer I have encountered, of the precarious existence of ethnic, gender, and civilizational outsiders, especially Muslims, if they happen to reside in the supposedly once more tolerant West. Her words of eloquent response to the Dortmund about face express both her magnetic literary personality and moral intelligence: “It is a matter of great sadness to me that a jury should bow to pressure and withdraw a prize from a writer who is exercising her freedom of conscience and freedom of expression; and it is a matter of outrage that the BDS movement (modelled on the South African boycott) that campaigns against the government of Israel for its acts of discrimination and brutality against Palestinians should be held up as something shameful and unjust.”

  

Germany seems particularly susceptible these days to Islamophobic tropes, especially those given traction at the expense of Muslims, Palestinians, and immigrants. It seems that even 75 years after the Holocaust the German political establishment is still attempting to convince themselves, as well as the State of Israel, that the Holocaust was a national anomaly. Seeking to prove the unprovable, Germany and Germans have chosen to fall in love with Israel precisely because it is the nation state of the Jewish people, and for this reason alone it can do no wrong as we all know that love is blind. In their vain effort to make such a surreal posture credible, Germany insists on going even further, as if to drive the point home to any doubters, by converting Israel’s critics into Germany’s adversaries, somehow forgetting that the locus of the anti-Semitic gene present in the German body politic is situated on its far right, and is definitely not to be found even among the most uncompromising supporters of the BDS Campaign. To suggest otherwise, as is the inescapable implication of the Dortmund action, is to slander a writer of exquisite moral sensitivity. Her actions as a citizen exhibits a strong bond between her sense of right and wrong that infuses her novels and her nonviolent engagements on the side of justice for the Palestinian people. Bonds of this nature are what keep democracy alive, and should be celebrated now more than ever, not condemned.   

 

Evaluated from a more humanistic perspective, this incident confirms the impression that Germany as a nation has learned nothing from its past. To side with Israel is to side with an apartheid government that imposes a regime of daily victimization upon the Palestinian people (treating them as enemy aliens in what once Palestine!). To regard those who oppose this Israeli behavior as if they are the miscreants is to learn nothing from the rightly repudiated German past. It is to be complicit in its repetition.

 

Under these circumstances, my expression of personal gratitude to Dortmund may seem odd, yet it is quite easy to explain. If it had not been for the withdrawal of the prize, I would not have become an avid reader of Shamsie. The prize might have caught my wandering eye, as should earlier some of the dazzling reviews of Home Fire, but with a busy life along with an array of self-indulgent distractions, I would almost certainly not have taken such a drastic step as to acquire the novel, and then find myself so overwhelmed by its literary quality and brilliant commentaries on the human condition that I immediately obtained, and then read with uncharacteristic concentration, Burnt Shadows in two ten hour days of uninterrupted reading. Reflecting on this experience, which I wish is being replicated by others shocked into a similar response to mine, I became appreciative that, depending on circumstances, we sometimes become more intellectually and culturally indebted to acts of negation than to those of affirmation. It may be that those favoring the Dortmund jury reversal supposed that withdrawing the prize would have the valued added of lessening interest in Shamsie’s writing, and instead it seems to be spreading the word that she is a great writer!

 

Perhaps, if writers in Britain had not organized a joint letter of solidarity with Shamies to the London Review of Books, the abstraction of learning about a cancelled prize would not have overcome my habitual sloth, and I would have moved on. I was also drawn to look for myself at the work in question by Shameis’ unrepentant response,  defending her BDS support as something she did as a citizen, which in any event should have had no bearing on whether her novel was more deserving of recognition than were the other short listed competitors for the prize. Until this happened, I would have thought the Nelly Sachs Prize honored literature, rather than kneeling at the altar of political correctness. From now on whenever Germany does something similar, I will do my best to make them pay, not only by joining the protest, but by embracing the work that they repudiated. Let these prizes remain noteworthy, but only if future cancellations serve more as magnets than as repellents. My fear is that foundations and selection groups that give such prizes will in the future become more wary, do their homework better, and bypass candidates whose sympathies with the Palestinian struggle might stir the waters of controversy. It is worth realizing that much of the evil in the world is what is done off camera, behind closed doors, and we who wish for other realities, never get wind of what is going on. Self-censorship may be more destructive of freedom of expression than censorship. Dortmond’s rationale for retraction can be discussed, rejected, overcome. If Home Fire had been quietly put aside by the jurors in their deliberations, it would have aroused no protest, enlisted no new circle of admirers, and no positive voices reminding us that BDS is dedicated to nonviolent liberation, nothing more, nothing less. 

 

Yet before touching on the qualities that make me so admiring of Home Fire, I would comment a bit more on what seems like a panic attack. We need to ask what made the folks in Dortmund act so inappropriately as to make themselves appear both craven and foolish? At first glance, it seems that these days right-wing pressure works more often than it should, although ironically, it is the far right that is the incubator of real anti-Semitism.  The true face of Jew hatred revealed itself in the very recent Halle incident in which a right-winger aimed to slaughter Jews at a German synagogue on the Yon Kippur holiday. Further, even granting the Zionist feverish campaign to brand BDS as expressive of the so-called ‘new anti-Semitism,’ to treat Shameis’ support of a cultural boycott as enough to induce the city of Dortmund to withdraw the prize seems to signal societal panic, maybe a reaction to the rise of the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim AfD (Alternative for Germany). It is of more than passing interest that the AfD was not content as were the mainstream German parties in the Bundestag with calling BDS ‘anti-Semitic’ but wanted the non-violent movement formally banned altogether. The resolution adopted in May 2019 by a rare cross-alliance of political parties was itself a lamentable response to pressures being exerted by Zionist groups may have set the stage for the Dortmund retreat. It was followed shortly by a similar action in Aachen where an award was withdrawn from Walid Raad, an Lebanese innovative artist with a world reputation because he reportedly refused to denounce BDS, carrying the imperative of political correctness a menacing step further.

 

 

****************************************************************************

 

Part of the dark charm of Home Fire is a tribute to Shameis’ ‘see it all eyes’ that illuminate the complexities of Islamic jihadism, how it appeals to those ‘out of place’ around the world, wounding and rupturing the flow of life for those burdened and blessed with a hybrid ethnic, religious, and class identity. Shamsie tells us that her narrative inspiration for Home Fire is the Greek play of Antigone where a heartbroken sister defies her uncle, Creon, the king of Thebes, by burying her rebellious brother who died on a field of battle, and thus declared a traitor by Creon; by law he was denied the right of burial and his body left to rot on the battlefield until he was restored to dignity by the defiant Antigone. Sophocles depicted this classic instance of overriding the law of the land by acting in obedience to the transcendent law of the human heart, given concreteness over the centuries by natural law jurisprudence and more recently, by the universal principles of human rights. Shamsei imparts her meaning by choosing a tag line from Sophocles that appears alone on a page preceding the novel: “The ones we love.. are enemies of the state.”

 

Reading Shamsei made me recall my experience 30 years ago when I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The novel made me realize, although growing up in the racially self-righteous, self-segregated liberal confines of Manhattan, that until I read Beloved, I had never grasped the existential horrors of post-slavery racism in the United States, especially throughout the South, and more subtly in the rest of the country. Similarly, until I read Home Fire I never thought empathetically about the intimate lives of terrorists and their loved ones, pitting love within a family against what the state decrees as the limit of acceptable conduct and the moral ambiguities arising from the dreadful harm done to innocent others by terrorist violence, whether by the state or its enemies.  The perpetrators are also victims, and the victims can become perpetrators propelled by a vicious retaliatory logic that finds words to justify even beheadings; a jihadist in Home Fire says this: “..what you do to ours we will do to yours..” In other words, when we free ourselves from liberal forms of political indoctrination to experience the radical and reactive otherness that produces delicate negotiations between love and law the simple verities of moral truisms evaporate before our eyes. If we nurture our spiritual selves, a formidable challenge, those brave enough would almost always choose the path cleared by the heart rather than mechanically adhering to the cold logic of those who insist on observing the law however unjust. A signal achievement of Home Fire is to weave a credible tale of such nurturing through the selfless passions of Aneeka, a luminous being, compelled by sibling love to respond to her hapless terrorist twin brother, Pervais. The fact that Aneeka is studying in London to become a lawyer, while Pervais is enchanted by digital mysteries of recorded sounds, somehow heightens the tension between law and love, with a romanticized forgetfulness when it comes to prudence in a public domain of discriminatory vigilance in the world after the 9/11 attacks.

 

Shameis’ has produced a moral fable for our times. It is given novelistic and societal complexity by the apparent innocence of the twins, Pervais killed by a colleague in the course seeking to come home to Britain because after becoming disillusioned by his exposure to ISIS, and Aneeka herself defying a vindictive British law denying any right of return even to British citizens if officially declared to be terrorist suspects. With deep symbolic resonance, the corpse of Pervais was sent to his ‘ethnic home,’ Pakistan, where Aneeka traveled to perform her own version of a sacred burial ritual. We are told in a sprightly Note of Acknowledgement at the very end of the book, in case it did not earlier cross our minds, that Shameis’s work was foreshadowed by the exploration of these themes in Sophocles’ most memorable play, Antigone. Even though I studied Greek theater literature as a student some decades ago, I admit that I never on my own drew the connections between Home Fire and Antigone, and when instructed, I found it worth knowing, but quite irrelevant to my intense enjoyment of this extraordinary novel. The idea of loyalty to love by performing a proper burial may retain a certain symbolic relevance in our world, but it is less inscribed in the modern sensibility than it was in ancient times when such ritual matters were regarded as concerns of ultimate significance, although Shameis brings it to life because the characters and plot are so emotionally enveloping.

 

I found Shameis’s electric feel for language, including the radiance of the conversational dialogue and the creation of vivid and sympathetic characters interacting in the course of an ingenious plot that addressed several distinctive themes of this particular historical moment are some of the elements that make this novel so exciting as a de-Orientalizing work of fictive art. By reading Home Fire we learn what is excluded from reading newspapers or listening to politicians. Shameis has a special talent for conveying the wonderfully non-conformist dimensions of human lives struggling for meaning and love in our chaotic, confused, and violent world. Even the older sensible sister of the twins, Isma, burdened with parenting  them from their childhood, gives principled prudence its due, and yet the book opens ironically with Isma’s own interrogation ordeal at Heathrow as she departs Britain to earn a graduate degree at an American university. Her extremely unpleasant exit experience results from nothing more incriminating than her racial and religious identity, and more plausibly, by her being marked for special attention at immigration portals due to their awareness that her abandoning father died an al Qaeda militant en route to Guantanamo.

 

This novel was for me an experience of adult education at its best as well as an absorbing artistic reading pleasure. What we learn, above all, is that judging and assessing others from their outside appearances and external criteria produces false impressions that often lead to tragic outcomes. We also learn that grief, forgiveness, and empathy are among the most powerful private emotions that contrast favorably with the cruel opportunism of those who hitch their wagon to the conventional wisdom of state power as intrusively enacted in ways that disrupt the lives of gentle people.

 

Dortmund was quite right to select Home Fire for a literary award, which also informs us deeply about the vulnerability and fragile live of those at the Muslim edge of Western societies, especially if they are unwilling or unable to compromise beliefs and identity. Kamila Shamsie teaches us by her artistry to understand better the worlds we so unknowingly inhabit. We should also pause long enough to notice her way of living, feeling, and acting as if humanity was her true native country. 

Iran’s Gulf Peace Proposal: HOPE

7 Oct

[Prefatory Note: My interveiw on the Hormuz Peace Endeavor (HOPE); Gulf Peace & Security—Javad Heiran-Nia (Oct 6, 2019), to be published in Farsi.]

 

1-President Rouhani, President of Iran, in his speech at the UN General Assembly depicts Iran’s plan for Persian Gulf security and sub-regional order. What is your assessment of this plan?

As I understand President Hassan Rouhani’s plan it concentrates upon regionalizing the protection of navigation and safeguarding of energy flows in the Persian Gulf with a particular emphasis on providing security for oil tanker traffic. The proposal comes against a background of months of warmongering threats, harsh sanctions, and dangerous incidents that pose unacceptable risks of provoking violent incidents, and even war. The Hormuz Peace Endeavor as set forth by Rouhani, with the brilliantly appropriate acronym of HOPE, relies upon, and proposes a regionalization of responsibility as the recommended method for upholding future peace and security, vesting exclusive authority for this new undertaking in countries with territories neighboring the Persian Gulf. To make the plan operative, and contribute to a broader stability, the Rouhani plan insists on the prior removal of U.S. military forces from the Gulf countries as a vital precondition. This is an understandable, and constructive, vital element in this innovative approach, yet it is likely to be such a major stumbling block as to make HOPE a non-starter. Such an outcome would be sad and discouraging, and it would be up to enlightened governments and an aroused public opinion to prevent this from happening.

In its most fundamental features, HOPE should be perceived as an initiative that contrasts with the American backed Alliance for Safety and Protection of Maritime Navigation (MESA). The suggested initial membership of MESA consists of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Australia, UK, and of course the US. MESA is an undisguised geopolitical alliance structure that presupposes the perpetuation, and even the aggravation, of present conflict patterns rather than proposing a scheme that looks toward reconciliation. The dominant members of MESA are global actors that have a colonial past in the Middle East, while its regional members are central players in the anti-Iran coalition. The contrasting visions of HOPE and MESA security for the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz could not be more divergent.

I agree with the motivations for the arrangement as outlined by President Rouhani in his speech to the General Assembly. It is structured in a manner that identifies security with peace, regional presence, and territorial proximity, and seeks both the exclusion of global geopolitics and a sidelining of sectarian tensions, which is to be achieved by the inclusion of the Sunni-led Gulf Cooperation Council GCC) in the administration of the plan. HOPE also favors giving the UN a supervisory and backup role, while showing respect for international law. As would be expected, MESA conspicuously ignores the UN and international law. I wish that political conditions allowed HOPE could become the framework for reducing tensions and establishing a Gulf peace system, which if successfully implemented would likely have additional stabilizing effects throughout the Middle East. HOPE could also set a valuable precedent for resolving other intra-regional conflicts non-violently, especially those rooted in legacies of colonial exploitatiion.

 Unfortunately, the initiative seems unrealistic at this time given the way geopolitics is being practiced in the region as epitomized by the ‘maximum pressure’ approach adopted by the Trump presidency, which includes unlawful sanctions inflicting severe hardships on the Iranian people. This shift to coercive diplomacy is also leading to the total breakdown of the 2015 JCPOA, which while operational, had met regional nonproliferation concerns until the provocative Trump unilateral withdrawal from the agreement in 2018.

The United States will doubtless refuse to remove its military presence from the Gulf, and will almost certainly be supported in that posture by several Arab governments, most notably Saudi Arabia, and by the non-Gulf state of Israel whose leverage in Washington should never be overlooked. In justification for this refusal it would be argued that without the military capabilities of the U.S. there could be a breakdown of internal order in several Gulf countries. This prospect point both to the crippling lack of self-confidence on the part of the monarchies on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf. It calls attention to the awkward reality that several of these government would likely collapse if not propped up by the American military presence.

The wider concern surrounds the widely held view that such an American disengagement from the Gulf would alter the regional balance of power throughout the Middle East. Further, it would be assumed that the new balance would swing in favor of Iran if the event U.S. agrees to end its military presence in the Gulf sub-region even if it does so gradually, and in a manner coordinated with the effective implementation of HOPE. Overall, such a process would undoubtedly contribute to peace and stability throughout the entire Middle East.

 

 2- The important point of this plan is to give the United Nations a supervisory role. This role did not exist in Iran’s earlier plans for the Persian Gulf. Why is such a role justified for the UN?

The UN role is essential and highly desirable, but would only become feasible in the event that it enjoyed the passive backing, that is, at least the absence of active resistance,  on the part of the United States and Saudi Arabia. For reasons set forth in the prior response, it seems wildly improbable to expect any acceptance of a UN role in relation to any proposal of the sort that Rouhani outlined so long as Donald Trump is the U.S. President. Even without Trump, there would likely be strong resistance in Washington, Riyadh, and Tel Aviv to the removal of American military forces. The UN could not undertake such a delicate mission without the genuine political backing of the Arab Gulf countries, and this cannot be obtained under current conditions without encouragement by the United States.

 

3-While the United States seeks to link Persian Gulf security to the Bab al-Mandeb Strait and the Shamat region, Iran believe that the security 0f Persian Gulf region is belong to this region. Linking Persian Gulf Security to Other Areas Doesn’t it complicate the region’s security issues?

 

The agreement is only understandable and constructive if limited in its scope to the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Introducing other areas within the scope of the plan makes it even more unlikely to be seriously considered, much less politically capable of realization. An expanded ambition for HOPE introduces several complications into a setting that is already an almost impossible diplomatic impasse. Such broadening would also make opposition to the initiative seem more reasonable. Iran should maintain its advocacy of HOPE as the alternative to the kind of precarious situation that exists presently, which would likely deteriorate further if the counter-plan of MESA becomes operational.

 

4-The United States is working to make the issue of Persian Gulf security more international in the form of a maritime coalition and more countries entering the Persian Gulf. Iran, however, believes that regional security should be provided by regional countries, including the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, along with Iran and Iraq. Which perspective will find the dominant aspect?

The underlying conceptual issue is whether to entrust the security of the Persian Gulf to an arrangement that relies on an accommodating initiative overseen by regionalgeopolitics rather than to continue the high-tension pressures exerted by globalgeopolitics. In the abstract such reliance makes great sense, but if the proposal is evaluated politically is seems situated more in the realm of utopianism rather than in the domain of pragmatic problem-solving, The political difficulty with a regional approach is the question of whether enough trust exists, or can be brought into being, to embark on a plan that so undermines the intrusive regional role of the United States and requires a highly unlikely show of national self-confidence by the Gulf monarchies. Any removal of the U.S. as military supporter of the conflictual status quo, as already suggested, would be fiercely resisted given the present atmosphere by at least Israel and Saudi Arabia, and maybe by others as well, including the UAE and Egypt.

It should be remembered that ever since World War II, and to some extent earlier, the West regarded control of the Persian Gulf and the region to be a high strategic priority. After World War I the region was effectively subject to the authority and administration the European colonial powers. This European security arrangement persisted until the U.S. displaced Britain and France in 1956 in the aftermath of the Suez Operation, which had the unexpected outcome of shifting global management of regional affairs from Europe to the United States.

The Carter Doctrine, as enunciated in 1980 in the context of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, made it clear that the United States was committing itself to recourse to  a major war, if necessary, to keep the Soviet Union from increasing its regional influence in ways that threatened Western control over access and supply lines associated with energy markets in the Gulf.

After the Cold War ended, the increasingly conservative American foreign policy establishment saw the Middle East as replacing Europe as the core of its global strategic ambitions, and interfered in the internal affairs of several countries believing it could solidify this ambition for regional hegemony in the Middle East by promoting regime change in countries that resisted its geopolitical policies in the region, centering on Gulf oil, Israeli security, and nuclear nonproliferation. The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 became another policy rupture that made the American homeland seems vulnerable to extremism that emanated from the Islamic world, although ironically its ally Saudi Arabia with which the U.S. had a Special Relationship was closely and visibly linked to this mega-terrorist while Iran, the supposed adversary, had no connection whatsoever. Nevertheless, the Middle East became a primary combat zone in the new American emphasis on global counterterrorism, which along the way produced the first battlefield without borders in human history, while hostility toward Iran was actually intensified.

The 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq shattered the viability of a Washington option to impose its political will on crucial Middle East countries beneath the banner of ‘democracy promotion,’ counter proliferation, and counterterrorism, but it didn’t transform alignments or give rise to any intention to disengage militarily, although there were significant shifts in tactics after the Iraq disaster. The failure in Iraq to produce a stable sequel to the autocratic rule of Saddam Hussein reminds us that the confrontation between Iran and the West can be traced back to the 1953 coup, notoriously engineered by the CIA. This epic instance of a regime changing intervention restored the Shah to power, displaced the democratically elected nationalist leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, from power 25 years later, handed out economic prizes to the largest American oil companies, reasserting colonialist priorities at the expense of Iran’s inalienable right of self-determination.  It also led to Islamic Republic, a total repudiation of both the internal and international goals of what had been hailed by Washington in 1953 as a great strategic victory.

This historical narrative suggests that for the United States to give HOPE a chance it would have to become willing to repudiate its approach to Gulf security maintained over the course of more than 60 years. Yet HOPE offers the region and Washington a new opportunity to realign its foreign policy with peace, justice, international law, and the authority of the UN. The plan outlined by President Rouhani should be further developed by the government in Tehran. It should be presented to the world as a serious and constructive proposal. As such it would constitute a formidable diplomatic challenge to the ways of war, threat, and risk that currently prevail and cannot end well. HOPE needs to win the struggle to convince world public opinion before it can expect to achieve the intended, highly desirable, diplomatic breakthrough. Such a result would be a great victory for those forces dedicated to peace, justice, and law, and not only in the Gulf.

 

 

 

Will Confronting Iran Lead to War or Peace?

1 Oct

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a slightly modified version of an interview published in The Nation on September 25th, following the September 14th attack on Saudi oil facilities. It follows a pattern with respect to Iran of accusations, denials, and public uncertainties. This combination of elements, given the leadership in Washington and Tehran, one blustering, the other inflexible, can easily produce an unintended stumble into war. A second shorter interview is appended, conducted prior to the attacks by an Iranian journalist, M.J. Hassani of Tasnim News Agency. It illustrates the seeming rigidity of Iran’s Supreme Guide, considered as having the final word on government policy, exceeding that of the elected leadership.]

 

Daniel Falcone Introduction to the Interview: After accusations of Iranian drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, Iranian officials and authorities indicated that “full-fledged war” with the United States could be imminent, prompting Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state oil company, to suspend oil production by nearly 6 million barrels per day. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to the purported aggression as an “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.” The allegations caused other countries to ostracize Iran at the United Nations General Assembly and significantly complicated the prospects of a multilateral nuclear deal.

 

Falcone: Can you provide some context for this latest series of headlines regarding the “Iranian threat.” Is this just “old wine new bottles?”

 

Falk: The magnitude of this attack on Saudi oil facilities makes the situation more dangerous even if it is considered as nothing more than a quantitative escalation of Iran’s response to US sanctions and other provocations, an Iranian version of Trump’s proclaimed policy of applying ‘maximum pressure’ to bring Iran to its knees. Yet it could be a qualitative escalation if the attack is treated as the biggest test of the US commitment to dominance in the region since 1956 when the US sided with the UN in calling for France, the UK, and Israel to withdraw from the Sinai after the Suez Operation. As Falcone suggests, the American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, made war-mongering remarks, including calling the attacks ‘an act of war.’ It is hard to deny that such an attack is an act of war, but against whom, by whom, has not been firmly established.

And yet, the hawks in the room clamor for blood, and do not seem to mind if the result is an all out regional war. Stephen A. Cook, the respected Council on Foreign Relations Middle East expert, endorsed this qualitative line of interpretation when he ended his analysis of the attack with some inflammatory words: “If Trump does not respond militarily, the United States should just pack up and go home.” [see Cook, “This is the Moment that Decides the Future of the Middle East,” Flash Points, Sept. 18, 2019]

 

At the same time, Trump seems to be inclined, at least for the present, to regard the attacks on the Abqaiq oil processing facility and the Khurais oil field as a big serving of the old wine. Trump in typical fashion has displayed both bluster and restraint. At least verbally Trump has spoken in a muscular vein, insisting that if Iranian responsibility for the attack can be demonstrated, then he will retaliate in some proportionate manner. Even under these circumstances, possibly with his eye on November 2020, Trump seems determined to avoid acts that would start an unwanted war. Although ambiguously, Trump still somewhat surprisingly appears to be keeping the diplomatic door ajar. He has been quoted as saying, probably much to Israel’s chagrin, “I know they [the Iranians] want to make a deal..at some point it will work out.” It will not work out if Trump uses this transactional language when approaching the religious leadership of Iran, even if directed at President Rouhani who leads the moderate forces in Tehran. To talk of ‘a deal’ is to demean the process, and helps explain the deep distrust of any American move toward negotiation that was unreservedly expressed recently by Iran’s supreme guide, Ayatollah Khamenei. U.S. leaders and diplomats should by now have learned that the language of the bazaar does not work if the objective is to find an agreement that serves the interests of both sides.

 

 

Falcone: With Iran, Trump seems to be caught in a pickle. On the one hand, he needs to undo the Obama legacy in the region with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On the other hand, he runs the risk of looking like a neoconservative. What’s going on in your estimation?

 

Falk: I think you are correct in sensing the conflicting pressures on Trump. He cannot go back on his repudiation of the JCPOA agreed upon in 2015 and its Obama approach without seeming to be giving in to Iran’s pressure. At the same time, he evidently does not want to follow the Bolton/neocon/Pompeo path that leads to open military action, and most likely followed by a devastating war. In this sense, Trump’s ideal outcome would be some sort of diplomatic accommodation that he could ‘sell’ as a demonstration that ‘maximum pressure’ has yielded results. Whether he could spin such an outcome as a victory outside of his base seems doubtful as there would be many critics who would insist that any such result, even if it disguised the revival of JCPOA with another round of negotiations and a new name, would be viewed as at best a repetition of what had been achieved by the P5 + 1 Obama diplomacy of 2015. In fact, it now seems that to get any agreement with Iran there would have to be a much more solid commitment by the US and its allies that sanctions could not be again re-imposed on Iran in the future without a collective decision by the parties to the agreement. Such a condtion might possibly also be reinforced requiring a confirming decision on sanctions by the UN Security Council. If I were negotiating on Iran’s behalf, I would certainly insist on ironclad assurances that sanctions could not be renewed by a unilateral decree issued in Washington. Perhaps, Iran could be persuaded to accept some joint arrangements on regional peacekeeping and nonintervention that could be sold in Washington, and maybe even in Jerusalem and Riyadh as curtailing Tehran’s projection of regional power.

 

Falcone: John Bolton was recently fired. Can you talk about his role in the administration to get us to this point. I’m wondering if his dismissal is mere optics and the Bolton-Pompeo foreign policy is firmly in Trump’s hand.


Falk: We should realize by now that Trump’s highly quixotic style is resistant to all attempts at rational analysis. We do not really know whether Trump was reacting to Bolton’s belligerence with respect to foreign policy or to his aggressive, pushy personality that has long offended many prominent persons without achieving promised foreign policy victories. For instance, his advocacy of maximum pressure did not produce the desired regime change in Iran, or even a pullback on its regional involvements as in Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. All it did was to raise regional tensions to dangerous heights.

 

It does not appear that there is any sign of an ideological shift in the White House, although there does seem to be a more complex approach preferred by Trump, which fuses bluster and threats with this resolve to avoid outright combat, war, and any course of action that might lead to American casualties. This zigzag pattern of diplomatic maneuvering has so far seemed capable of absorbing Trump’s drastic mood swings and off the chart impulsiveness. The fact that it drives crazy the rational think tank gurus who dominate the Beltway can be regarded as a plus for Trump. Perhaps, the best explanation of Bolton’s dismissal was his fiery independence, which must have been fundamentally at odds with Trump’s insistence on low-profile deference from his top advisors and the shaping and reshaping of foreign policy on the basis of a constant search for transactional gains (even at the cost of diplomatic setbacks), which treats global policymaking as if it is just a replica of how to succeed in the urban real estate market without trying too hard.

 

It is lamentable that Bolton’s successor as National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien, seems to be a milder version of the same hawkish pedigree, although seemingly more bureaucratic, less ascerbic, in style. A few years ago, O’Brien published a book of essays [While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis] that was highly critical of the supposed passivity of Obama’s foreign policy. In recent years, as State Department coordinator of hostage releases O’Brien has proven his value by being a Trump enthusiast, which in the present climate is the best credential a person can have who seeks a promotion to a high-status position in the federal government.

Falcone: How does oil, sanctions, and our relations with the Saudis contribute to the rising tensions in the region and the dangerous possibility of escalations?

 

Falk: There is no doubt that the sanctions imposed on Iran, coupled with the repudiation of the JCPOA, has escalated the conflict, and resulted partly from Washington seeking to please the Saudis and Israelis by adopting a more confrontational approach to Iran. As well, in the background is the dream scenario of toppling the regime, or at least forcing it to plead for mercy. There is no doubt that sanctions have caused great harm as measured by social and economic conditions in Iran, a collective and indiscriminate punishment mainly inflicted on the Iranian civilian population. Such coercion violates the UN Charter and international law. This punitive behavior against Iran resembles what was done to the Iraqi population in the twelve years after the First Gulf War. The frustrations with this reliance on sanctions eventuated in a devastating attack and occupation of Iraq initiated by George W. Bush in 2003. The Iraq War ended in a costly strategic failure given its supposed goals, including a boost to extremism concretely exhibited by the rise of ISIS almost in direct response to the heavy-handed American occupation policies in Iraq.

 

The prolonged strife in Yemen is part of this mindless militarism. It has included strong American backing for a brutal Saudi intervention from the aiir that has caused widespread suffering on the part of a largely helpless society, posing serious threats of massive famine and disease epidemics

Falcone: I’ve noticed whenever Trump wants to avoid delivering a foreign policy message and tone that sounds like Bush or Clinton he trots Pence out there to do the dirty work. Is this, in your view, to promote war with Iran yet try to create an intentional distance from neoliberals and neoconservatives?

 

Falk: As always, it is hard to interpret the logic behind Trump’s moves, or even to believe that a discoverable logic exists. He seems to act without calculating gains and losses unless money is involved, but is focused on trying to achieve immediate results that bring him notoriety if not glory. If there is a policy failure, then Trump does his best to shift the blame to others. Perhaps, because confronting Iran is a risky kind of diplomatic venture, it is best to put Pence out in front as often as possible, and thus seek to distance himself from responsibility if and when policy breakdowns occur. Trump consistently personalizes foreign policy and his leadership role demands above all that media attention is focused on himself. Trump stretches the reality of almost any situation to implausible extremes making it necessary to exonerate himself from distasteful and dysfunctional behavior by inverting and inventing facts, lying when it seems helpful, and disseminating fake news without blushing.

Falcone: Of course Israel will always be pertinent in figuring out the US method to the madness concerning Iran. How can following the US-Israeli alliance help us to get a sense of potential war with Iran. Or has this war already been underway?

 

Falk: The connections with Israel are vital to an understanding of the US role in the Middle East, and especially in the context of Washington’s ‘special relationships’ with Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Israeli relationship is more deeply rooted in American politics than is the Saudi connection, which seems interest-based, relating not only to oil but also to its status as the world’s primary arms purchaser. With respect to both countries, it is arguable that these special relationships are contrary to American national interests in the Middle East, and also lead to behavior contrary to America’s professed values. With regard to the Saudis, their huge investment in the dissemination worldwide of a fundamentalist Wahabist doctrine of Islam would seem radically at odds with the US counterterrorist strategy, especially since 9/11. If Iran’s indirect involvement in the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities is established, then it would allow us to make a challenging comparison with the Saudi direct and indirect involvement in the 9/11 attacks, which according to the official version of the events implicated 15 Saudis of the 19 hijackers.

 

Most damaging is the FBI evidence of Saudi support for the attacks that killed almost 3,000 Americans that has been withheld all these years until families of victims finally obtained their release. The efforts of the presidency of George W. Bush with inappropriate help from the FBI director at the time who happened to be Robert Mueller, to shield Saudi embassy officials and others close to the royal family from any accountability, or even scrutiny. Only the pressure of survivors and survivor families seems finally to be prying some of this information loose in the course of a law suit charging Saudi complicity in 9/11. Shockingly, yet to be expected, hardly a word appears in the mainstream media, and even now Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, is invoking the state secrets act to justify on national security grounds withholding evidence that evidently would further incriminate Saudi Arabia. These developments coming to light 17 years after 9/11 should give pause to those who still question the primacy of geopolitics and the unacceptable behavor of the deep state when it comes to the conduct of American foreign policy or even the protection of national interests and the wellbeing of American citizens. It also raises haunting questions about the effects of these two special relationships, and reminds us of the ugly connivance and coverup of the Israeli assault on the USS Liberty back in 1967 that killed 44 American naval personnel. For those who seek the full exposure of this incident, I urge a reading of Joan Mellen’s Blood in the Water, written with the cooperation of leading officers of the Liberty who survived the attack. In effect, bad as Trump is on these issues, he cannot be blamed for everything. These pernicious special relationships long preceded his presidency, and were bipartisan.

 

As for Israel, the relationship has definitely turned Arab public opinion and popular sentiments strongly against the US, and made the US continued dominance in the region depend on propping up anti-democratic autocratic leaders. The whole policy of confronting Iran has for many years been driven by the Netanyahu leadership, gravely weakening America’s role as a responsible global leader, and risking a war that would be a humanitarian and geopolitical disaster.

 

How far Israel, as a state, and Netanyahu, personally, are to blame for the escalated confrontation with Iran is difficult to assess, but it would seem to be substantial. What stands out for me is how supposed American ‘patriots’ can continue to swallow the toxic kool aid of these two special relationships. It may be time to reconsider what constitutes patriotism and what constitutes treason. In a world where Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning,  and Julian Assange are viewed as criminals but John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and Donald Trump are viewed as national patriots there is something terribly wrong with our political language.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tasnim News Agency Interview Questions, M.J. Hassani, 17 Sept 2019

Hassani: On Tuesday, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei deplored the US’ calls for talks with Iran as a trick and said that Tehran will not negotiate bilaterally or multilaterally with Washington at any level. What do you think about Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks?

Falk: With all due respect, I think that Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks are phrased in too unconditional language. I believe that it is not desirable to shut the door to what I call ‘restorative diplomacy,’ and thereby avoid any further devastation caused by the current reliance on ‘coercive diplomacy’ by the adversaries of Iran and by Iran’s ‘active resistance.’ Trump is unpredictable and impulsive, and should not be challenged so directly as he might act irrationally in ways that could be mutually catastrophic. At the same time, the Iranian religious leader is correct to express the view that Iran will not engage in normalization talks so long as the United States and Israel seek to impose unacceptable restraints on Iran as a sovereign nation, while they engage in unrestrained and unaccountable military action throughout the entire Middle East.

 

Hassani: The reason behind this approach is that Iran sees the US calls for negotiation as a trick aimed at imposing its demands on the Islamic Republic and pretending that the “maximum pressure” policy has worked. This is while Iran has not given in to the US pressures so far. Is the reason justified? How do you assess Iran’s policy of “active resistance” against the US?

I agree with the view that Iran should not be lured into a negotiation that gives the US a public relations victory by claiming the success of its ‘maximum pressure’ approach, but this should be done by Tehran in ways that also expresses Iran’s search for an improved regional and global political atmosphere that is geared toward peace and co-existence rather than war and hostility. I believe Iran has effectively made its point that it will not back down in the face of harsh sanctions and other hostile acts that are contrary to international law. Now it can seize the initiative by proposing a constructive approach that shows that it seeks normalization on the basis of sovereign equality, and is not seeking confrontation for the sake of confrontation.

 

Hassani: Iran has described the US return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the removal of sanctions against the Islamic Republic as the only way that Washington can hold talks with Iran. How do you see the prospect of open diplomacy between Iran and the US as well as the other parties to the JCPOA?

Falk: Trump has wrongly, and for regressive political reasons, condemned the JCPOA, but would have incredible political difficulty and embarrassment if he now were to affirm it. The motivation for condemning JCPOA had to do with his efforts to repudiate Obama’s diplomacy and to show total solidarity with Israel, and is not really about the 2015 agreement, except incidentally. I think Iran should propose to reconvene the countries that negotiated in 2015, and produce a new agreement based on intervening developments, but making it clear that this would not be an acceptance of any preconditions put forward by Washington, and would not relate to non-nuclear issues.

 

Hassani: Can we regard the Islamic Republic’s strategy of “active resistance” against the US pressures as successful given Ayatollah Khamenei’s assertions?

Falk: I think ‘active resistance,’ depending somewhat on how it is defined has been successful so far, but in some ways a dangerous and high risk policy if adhered to much longer. Iran, having made its point effectively, should move to higher ground by proposing constructive deescalating steps such as reconvening the P5 +1 group to come up with a new framework agreement covering Iran’s nuclear program and the ending of US sanctions. The way forward should not be a continuation of the present, but an effort to occupy this high ground of law, morality, and peaceful conflict resolution. It may also be appropriate at this time to propose an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, which likely would be rejected by Trump, but would put Iran in a favorable light internationally as creatively engaging in restorative diplomacy. Taking a longer view, Iran should consider reviving discussion of a nuclear free zone for the entire Middle East, including Israel, a country that acquired nuclear weapons by stealth and covert assistance from those states now most objecting to Iran’s nuclear program.