Moralizing Military Intervention

11 Nov
[Prefatory Note: I am republishing my review essay that appeared in International Dialogue: A Multilateral Journal of World Affairs 6:2016. It discusses two excellent studies of humanitarian intervention, a post-colonial trope allowing the United States and West Europeans to feel morally satisfied while projecting military power to distant lands, often with devastating consequences for the people being protected, and sometimes, even being rescued from tyranny and brutal repression. In some respects, what progressive critics call ‘regime-change’ the champions of such policy like the terminology of ‘humanitarian intervention,’ or even better, ‘Responsibility to Protect’ or R2P. Donald Trump interestingly portrayed Hillary Clinton accurately as a regime-change advocate, and pledged not to make such mistakes if elected. We will wait, see, and hope that at least this time, he means what he says. The Middle East has been the testing ground for this ‘new geopolitics’ but its antecedents can be traced back several centuries as the Klose edited collection of essay clearly demonstrates. Both studies are notable for highlighting the non-humanitarian motivations that accompany such undertakings, which are often hidden from public view, and need to be highlighted to comprehend this latest twist in the conduct of international relations.] 

 

The Emergence of Humanitarian Intervention: Ideas and Practice from the Nineteenth Century to the Present

Fabian Klose (ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 364pp.

 

The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention

Rajan Menon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 235pp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union there has been an upsurge of international undertakings that have claimed humanitarian justifications for military interventions in foreign societies. A second kind of justification for such interventions all of which are launched by Western countries (especially the United States) was associated in this period with the global “war on terror” initiated during the presidency of George W. Bush in response to the 9/11 attacks of 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In other words, this upsurge in interventions draws partly on a normative rationale drawn from religion, morality, and law and partly from a security rationale premised on stretching the law of self-defense to meet the distinctive challenge of transnational mega-terrorism. The central question raised is whether this contemporary practice of intervention has been beneficial from the perspective of either humanitarianism or security.

There are some crucial considerations that bear on the use of force given the hybrid structure of world order as partly state-centric and partly geopolitical. The state-centric part is, by and large, anti-interventionist seeking to safeguard the autonomy of territorial sovereign states based on ideas of juridical equality embedded in the rule of law. The geopolitical part is, by and large, interventionist as a reflection of the international reality that only the more powerful states possess the capabilities and the geopolitical ambition to intervene. As might be expected these two dimensions of world order are often in tension when concrete cases arise. For geopolitical actors that are also states the two ordering principles are reconciled by privileging sovereignty for oneself and maintaining an option to intervene with respect to all other states except those that are themselves geopolitical actors.

One way to resolve this underlying tension is to condition humanitarian intervention on a grant of authority by the UN Security Council (UNSC). However, the UNSC is structured in such a way that only when the dominant members, the permanent five or P-5, are in agreement can an authorizing decision be reached. And even on those rare occasions when such authorization is forthcoming as was the case with the First Gulf War of 1991 or the 2013 NATO intervention against the Qaddafi government in Libya, the UN loses any capacity to supervise what has been authorized because operational control is taken over by the geopolitical actor(s) delegated to use force. In this sense, the tension between statism and geopolitics is not overcome by reliance on the UN even when it is capable of reaching a decision, but merely somewhat disguised. In essence, whenever an intervention occurs, its contours are controlled by geopolitics despite UN authorization and reliance on a humanitarian rationale. Further, the UN is too weak to insist that an intervention be confined to humanitarian ends, and geopolitical actors are not willing to intervene militarily unless they possess strategic and self-interested reasons for doing so.

Against this background it is a pleasure to welcome two excellent books that explore the ins and outs of humanitarian intervention, arriving at the essentially convergent and unsurprising conclusion that such behavior is more a geopolitical than a normative phenomenon. The Klose edited collection is generally analytic and empirical in tone, with several strong historical chapters, while Menon’s book is a tightly argued polemic directed against those liberal internationalists who during the Obama presidency have championed the dawn of a new era of humanitarian intervention resting on the implementation of universally shared values.

The contrary thesis of Menon’s book is conveyed by his title, The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention. In effect, he is instructing us on the basis of a very scrupulous consideration of doctrine, cases, and results that claims by the West, especially by the United States, to have engaged in a series of “humanitarian interventions” is a snare and delusion, with a shabby record of performance. Menon associates the word ‘conceit’ with its dictionary definition of “a fanciful idea” that embodies an “excessive appreciation of one’s own opinion or worth.” As applied to the controversies about humanitarian intervention, Menon insists that advocates so greatly exaggerate “the worldwide spread of universal norms and their acceptance by the international community” as to make their argument “little more than a conceit” (10). In a rhetorical flourish Menon tells his readers that “[h]umanitarian interventionists are intoxicated by the grandeur and moralism of their transformative program” (178).

Menon develops his case carefully, accurately presenting the arguments with which he disagrees, with his main targets obviously being the liberal internationalists who pushed Barack Obama to intervene in a series of countries in the Middle East with disastrous results. In this regard, it happens to be three influential women—Hilary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power—who have been most prominently carrying the torch of humanitarian intervention during the Obama presidency. Menon does not doubt their sincerity, but he is highly critical of their tendency to separate an affirmation of humanitarian goals from any acknowledgement of the relevance of geopolitical motivations and complications.

As he points out, by neglecting the difficulties of achieving the posited humanitarian goals, the weakness of a humanitarian rationale for the use of force is ignored, and disappointing results ensue. Menon points out that sovereign states are deeply reluctant to sacrifice their own citizens for the purpose of promoting positive humanitarian results. Equally discrediting is the startling failures of intervening states to invest sufficiently and effectively in post-intervention reconstruction, thereby leaving in ruins what they were pledged to fix. As the persisting chaos in Iraq and Libya vividly illustrates, the fact that a dictatorial and abusive regime was replaced does not insure that a society will be better off as a result of the intervention. Especially in Iraq, there is every reason to suppose that the war planners in the Pentagon and the State Department would quietly rejoice if a new strong man emerged who proved capable of imposing order in the manner of Saddam Hussein. In this sense, one of the implicit caveats of the Menon critique is “beware of what you wish for.” In effect, he shows that more often than not, the unintended consequences of intervention create new monsters more formidable than those destroyed. Perhaps, this point can be driven home by pointing out that the American intervention in Iraq led to the formation of ISIS, and its later spread to a series of other countries, including Libya.

Menon also questions the normative argument from two main angles. First of all, he believes that disagreements among major states generally prevent any consensus being formed as to the application of humanitarian norms. And further, that many states in the post-colonial global setting are very reluctant to endorse any right of the West to override sovereignty by way of military intervention. In this regard he views the pretensions of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm with a suspicious eye. The abstractness and vagueness of the norm allows states to interpret its meaning in very self-serving ways, which ensures that its role in conflict situations will be more a reflection of geopolitics than of normative agreement. In Menon’s words “[h]umanitarian intervention can never become an ethically driven pursuit disentangled from power and interests” (11). This assessment rests on Menon’s underlying embrace of realism as the foundation of political behavior involving international uses of force: “Great powers seldom, if ever, surrender their privileges for the greater good” (159). Supposing here that the greater good is the prevention of mass atrocities by demonic governments, Menon is saying that normative considerations to the extent invoked serve as window dressing, and will not generate meaningful action unless reinforced by an accompanying geopolitical motive of sufficient magnitude.

Although Menon does not make the argument, the refusal of liberal democratic states to act collectively to prevent the Nazi persecution of Jews and others is a dramatic confirmation of his underlying argument about the structure of international political life. His main effort is to discredit the liberal claim that after the fall of the Soviet Union there existed a broad humanitarian movement in international society that generated a strong enough headwind to uphold the contention that atrocities could be prevented and punished through the instrumentalities of humanitarian intervention and R2P. I believe Menon brilliantly explicates the several fallacies of the interventionists, while at the same time keeping the door open for intervention in reaction to atrocities when geopolitical forces are effectively aligned and the likely costs realistically taken into account.

With respect to costs, Menon exhibits further well-reasoned skepticism. He shows that throughout history, those who favored the use of force understated the costs and difficulties of proposed undertakings. In this sense, it is not only that humanitarians are naïve in their enthusiasm but also that the militarists (often the politicians rather than the professional military) view intervention threw rose-tinted glasses. Recent experience that confirms the immense difficulties of turning the military superiority enjoyed by an intervening state or coalition of the willing into the desired political outcome. This realization alone should give rise to a posture of caution and restraint when it comes to embarking on any military intervention.

Menon sustains his narrow critique of humanitarian intervention with lucid analysis and a scholarly mastery of relevant materials. There are a few red lines he refuses to cross. There is not a single mention of Israel/Palestine, and the prolonged plight of the civilian population of Gaza, nor is there any insight given as to what could be done to protect the people of Syria from the horrifying spectacle of atrocity. Although Menon advocates a kind of pragmatism in shaping responses, he does not discuss the complicity of geopolitical actors in crimes against humanity, genocide. As well, there is no reference to the relevance of neoliberal globalization to decisions bearing on whether to intervene or not.

The Klose volume manages a consistently high quality throughout its fifteen chapters, but it is much harder to review. The book lacks the coherence and focus of the Menon effort. If there is a common theme it is this idea of impurity when it comes to military intervention. In an introductory chapter Klose adopts a strong formulation of this view: “if the purity of humanitarian purposes is the sole criterion defining the concept of humanitarian intervention, then it never existed and will never exist. It is an absolute myth that states would risk or have ever risked the lives of their soldiers just to follow the altruistic call of humanity” (13). While Menon devotes his energy to those who are claiming that intervention for humanitarian purposes has become possible and is desirable, the Klose contributors, mainly Europeans, are trying to set forth the mixed motives that color many shades of gray when appraising the main instances of humanitarian intervention throughout modern history dating back to the struggle to stop the international slave trade.

There are two contributions of this historical approach to our understanding of humanitarian intervention. The first is to affirm the degree to which past claims of humanitarian intervention were always covering over geopolitical priorities that alone explained why, for instance, Christians were protected if abused in the declining decades of the Ottoman Empire while the victimization of other minorities was ignored. The second it to deepen our historical awareness in ways that stress continuity with the past rather than the contentions of discontinuity, which Menon tries to refute by a largely ahistorical exposure of the inconsistencies, selectivity, and disappointments associated with the post-Cold War practice in humanitarian intervention/R2P.

What neither book confronts clearly is a core discontinuity bearing on the diminished agency of military force as instruments of intervention. The anti-colonial wars as well as the major instances of post-1945 intervention reveal a pattern of political outcomes in which the weaker territorially based resistance side has mostly prevailed over the stronger foreign intervening side. The Vietnam War should have taught this lesson to American policymakers, but failed to do so, probably due to the militarized bureaucracy that now governs in the United States.

Let me end with words of praise. Both of these books are fine works of scholarship that inform and deepen our understanding of the formidable challenges arising from the commission of atrocities in distant countries. Syria illustrates the particularly toxic mixture of a regime repeatedly committing atrocities and involuntarily offering a haven of sorts for planning mega-terrorist operations against the West. In such a situation it is not even clear whether responding to the acute humanitarian concern posed by the Assad regime will have negative spillover effects on efforts to address the ISIS threat. In such circumstances, an agonizing passivity still seems the least bad option for Washington.

 

Trump and Clinton: National versus Global Perspectives

6 Nov

 

 

It is not often that Medea Benjamin, the charismatic founder of Code Pink, offers us her insight into a troublesome American reality that is almost simultaneously confirmed by the New York Times, the virtual bible for secular liberals in the United States. Yet it happened, most surprisingly, in a positive portrayal of one thin slice of Trump loyalists—veterans of recent foreign wars. Medea reports on a conversation with such a veteran on a train out West, and was impressed that he felt Clinton much more likely than Trump to get Americans killed in a future distant war disconnected from any reasonable defense of the homeland. The New York Times in a front-page feature article reached this same plausible conclusion on the basis of a wider scan of relevant evidence.

 

Here are two disturbing realities worth pondering as we come closer to this most potentially momentous of American presidential elections. While the civilian national security establishment in the United States is outspokenly supportive of the Clinton candidacy, many combat veterans seem to consider Trump less of a warmonger despite his loose talk about crushing the enemies of America. Is it that the national security establishment has entered the arena of partisan politics because it is so worried about Trump’s petulant style and go it alone adventurism or because it finds Clinton’s record of military internationalism strongly to their liking? Or maybe a combination?

 

The second cluster of observations concerns the split between those of left liberal persuasion who reside in America and those living abroad, especially in the Euro-Mediterranean region. Those outside, whether American citizens or not, think of what these bitter rivals are likely to do once ensconced in the White House, and it makes them fearful. Typical is the view of Slavoj Žižek, the celebrity Slovenian public intellectual: he believes that Trump is ‘apparently less dangerous’ than Clinton, a view overwhelmingly held among Russian elites, and not just Putin. In complementary fashion Julian Assange insists, with the weight of Wikileaks on his shoulders, that the American political class will not allow Trump to win. Such opinions are also shared by many expatriates (as well as in country America First isolationists who are all in for Trump) who consider Clinton fully committed to continuing the American global domination project, no matter its costs, with twin ominous dangers of raising tensions with both Russia and China.

 

Those of us on the left who live mainly in the United States see the risks and dangers differently. We are more inclined to repudiate unconditionally anyone with Trump’s unsavory views on nuclear weapons, race, women, Muslims, immigrants, climate change, guns, and torture without bothering to look further. And if this is not enough, then Trump’s commitment to appoint justices to the US Supreme Court who embrace a jurisprudence that resembles the approach of the recently deceased arch conservative, Anthony Scalia, lower taxes on the super-rich, and is cavalier about the menaces posed by nuclear weaponry and global warming, is more than enough to turn many, including most disappointed Sanders’ enthusiasts, into reluctant Clinton supporters. Additionally, those with Wall Street portfolios also have reasonable fears that Trump’s rejection of trade agreements and commitments to scrap existing arrangements and negotiate better deals with China and others, as well as make countries being defended by American military power pay their fair share will lead to an unraveling of the world economy, collapsing stock markets, and a return of protectionist policies leading to a new economic downturn reviving grim memories of ‘beggar thy neighbor’ trade wars and the Great Depression of the 1930s, which also operated as one incubator of the rise of fascism. Trumpism might also destabilize security arrangements to such an extent that several states will go all out to acquire their own stockpile of nuclear weapons, and a series of regional nuclear arms races ensue.

 

We learn from this recital of competing fears, what has always been implicit, but now becomes apparent, that the United States is a global Behemoth whose missteps have for decades harmed the wellbeing of peoples around the world. For this reason, continuity with the past tends not to be viewed favorably by many foreign progressive observers, especially the projection of American military power throughout the planet. Trump for all his flaws is perceived as embodying a crucial discontinuity, and this alone makes him attractive for the very same reasons that Clinton appeals to many mainstream Republican and neocon foreign policy analysts. Additionally, Clinton is seen domestically as less of an uncertain quantity. She is predictable and stable, which explains the overwhelming support she receives from the American political class, including the media, Beltway think tanks, Silicon Valley, liberal centers of learning, and much of the military industrial complex.

 

Even though my months spent in Turkey each year have made me a partial expatriate, I still regard the political choices primarily from an insider’s perspective. This helps me justify to myself why I am a reluctant supporter of Clinton, which in the end strikes me as a clear choice, which would hold up even internationally if properly appraised. Although it is naïve to expect that Clinton has learned to be more cautious about the use of American military power on the basis of past failures of regime-changing interventions and muscular geopolitics, it feels grotesquely naïve to trust Trump with the ‘nuclear football,’ as well as to risk a mighty economic crash or the dire consequences of neglecting climate change (a hoax according to Trump), which if any materializes, would be catastrophic far beyond the borders of the United States, and as usual in such circumstances deliver the most crushing blows to the poorest and most vulnerable among us here at home and abroad.

 

One aspect of the conventional wisdom is to say that Clinton has experience that shows she can get things done. In contrast, Trump is almost proud of his lack of experience, and the prospect of his twisting Congressional arms to reach a compromise in support of his policy initiatives seems like what in American football talk is called ‘a hail Mary.’ Yet reflecting on this prospect the contrast may not be so clear. After all Clinton as president will almost certainly face a Republican dominated Congress determined to nullify her presidency by all means at its disposal. Trump as winner, which at present remains an improbable outcome, would enjoy a tactically sympathetic Congress controlled by Republicans, who despite themselves being sharply divided, would probably join with centrist Democrats to be more legislatively effective than a Clinton presidency.

 

What is most deeply worrisome about the Trump candidacy, win or lose, is the degree to which it has empowered a hitherto relatively dormant proto-fascist underclass, which for its own reasons of alienation had long been boycotting mainstream politics (at least since Reagan), although gradually building a populist base during the last decade via the extremist Tea Party. Trump now has a movement at his disposal that can create havoc either as the mobilized base of an extremist leadership or as the militant vortex of a disruptive opposition that could pose a threat to the future of the republic, especially if mega-terrorist incidents on a 9/11 scale were to happen in the West, and especially within the United States, or economic hard times recur.

 

To the extent I equivocated earlier in this electoral cycle, it was to consider seriously giving my vote to the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein. I think third party candidates have every right to seek as widespread support as they can gain, and that existing rules restricting their participation in national debates should be relaxed to allow their voices to be heard nationally. This would make such political alternative more competitive with the big money machines that the two major parties have become, and create a live possibility of candidates whose program and character can be affirmed, freeing persons like myself from the demoralizing dilemma of voting for the lesser of evils. If American democracy is going to be strengthened it must begin to give the citizenry political alternatives that resonate with our ‘better angels.’

 

I admit voting for Ralph Nader back in 2000 when it seems that Nader’s votes in Florida swung the election to George W. Bush with some help from the Supreme Court. Few strangely cast blame on the 300,000 or so Democrats who voted for Bush in that same Florida election, and were hence a much larger factor in explaining the outcome. Liberals are scornful of those who voted for Nader, while giving a pass to their more wayward fellow Democrats, perhaps partially forgiven because at least they didn’t ‘waste’ their vote.

 

My vote for Nader represented a rejection of the lesser of evils argument. I was also influenced by my perception back then of Al Gore as militarist and unapologetic champion of neoliberal globalization, making Nader the only candidate to express views that I could endorse in good faith. In retrospect, I did underestimate the leverage of neoconservative forces surrounding Bush, and wanting, partly on Israel’s behalf, to restructure the Middle East by what became euphemistically described as ‘democracy promotion’ but can be more realistically described as forcible ‘regime change.’ It was the 9/11 attacks in 2001 that gave the Bush presidency a political climate within which to pursue this disastrous neocon program in the Middle East, centering on the attack and occupation of Iraq starting in 2003, and undoubtedly a primary cause of much of the suffering and turmoil that now afflicts the region as a whole. It is reasonable to believe that Gore would have responded similarly to 9/11 with respect to Afghanistan and the tightening of homeland security, but likely would have acted more prudently in the Middle East, although even this is far from a certainty.

 

Perhaps, I can end by taking note that American presidential elections generally, and this one in particular, should be understood as a type of two-level political exercise. On its primary level, the election is treated by both sides as inward looking, and determined by which side is most persuasive with voters on domestic policy issues. This domestic focus has itself become quite problematic, affected by Republican efforts at ‘voter suppression’ (ways to deny the vote to African Americans and Hispanics), by relentless fundraising favoring the priorities of the most wealthy, and by a variety of ways to manipulate results in the few key ‘battleground states’ that determine which side wins enough electoral college votes to gain the office of the presidency. For the sake of balanced perspective, it should be acknowledged that there have been serious infringements on the proper exercise of the right to vote ever since the United States became a republic.

 

Then there is the secondary level of this American electoral process where people around the globe view American elections as directly affecting and threatening their lives in a variety of tangible ways. These people situated in various parts of the world are victimized (or benefitted) by the American global state but are disenfranchised by being denied any voice, much less a vote. From the primary level, Russian efforts to meddle in American elections are totally unacceptable, but viewed from the secondary level, are completely understandable. Putin is not irresponsible to believe that vital Russian interests are at stake, and that Trump is less likely than Clinton to engage in inflammatory confrontations. From a nationalist perspective, Trump’s possible encouragement of Putin’s concerns seems treasonous; from a global perspective, Russia is acting prudently by acting nonviolently to avoid an electoral outcome in the United States that could have grave consequences for its future wellbeing, and for that matter, so is Julian Assange and Wikileaks. 

 

In this respect, there is a real erosion of global sovereignty in the sense of self-determination that results from this non-territorial salience attributed to the effects of an American presidential election. For a truly legitimate political order of global scope, we need to begin thinking of how to construct a global democracy that is responsive to the multiple experiences of political, economic, and cultural globalization and facilitates some form of legitimating univesal participation in the governing process.

 

To aspire to such an end presupposes the ethos of ‘citizen pilgrims,’ those who transcend national identities in their journey toward a promised land of peaceful co-existence, equitable distribution of material goods, ecological vigilance and sensitivity, a culture of inclusive human rights, and above all, enhanced and variegated spirituality. It may sound utopian, and it is. I believe we are reaching a biopolitical threshold that increasingly equates prospects for human survival with the achievement of an eco-political utopia. This presupposes that utopianism must soon become the new realism of a politics dedicated to a benign human future.  

UNESCO Censures Israel’s Administration of Jerusalem

4 Nov

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a modified version of an opinion piece that was published in Middle East Eye, November 3, 2016.]

 

 

 

 UNESCO, Palestine, and Israel

 

In response to UNESCO resolutions adopted in October that were highly critical of Israel’s protection of sacred and cultural Islamic heritage sites in Jerusalem, there is again a fiery confrontation between Israel and this UN organ whose actions have so often touched the raw nerves of Western political sensibilities. The main UNESCO resolution ‘deeply deplores’ Israel’s failure to stop a series of excavations and related activities in East Jerusalem, which are declared to be harming Islamic sites in Jerusalem, and above all complains about Israel’s interference with worship and serenity at the Al Aqsa mosque. The resolutions also complain about Israel’s general failure to cooperate with UNESCO’s cultural and religious conservation work in Jerusalem, especially in the ‘Old City,’ even to the point of refusing visas to UN officials seeking to carry out their duties.

 

Of course, not far in the background is Israel’s hostility toward UNESCO that has been pronounced ever since 2011 when Palestine was admitted to UNESCO as a member state over the vigorous objections of Israel, the United States, as well as several European countries. Unlike the Security Council, where the US could singlehandedly block full UN membership, there is no veto in either the General Assembly or in UN specialized agencies. Israel has refused all cooperation with UNESCO ever since Palestine gained membership, which presupposes that Palestine qualifies for membership because it has the credential of a state. Obligingly, the U.S. reinforced Israel’s hostility by withholding its annual contributions ever since, which amounts to a hefty 22% of the UNESCO budget.

 

This New Controversy

 

This latest initiative raised substantive issues high on the UNESCO agenda. This contrasts with the earlier status fight about admission to the agency, which was limited in scope to a procedural matter, that is, whether or not Palestine qualifies as a state entitled to membership. Here, Israel insists that UNESCO is aligning itself with a sinister Arab effort to minimize, or even erase, Jewish historic and religious connections with Jerusalem, and specifically with the area around Al Aqsa Mosque and the nearby Noble Sanctuary. The resolution fails to mention explicitly Jewish connections with the Temple Mount and Western Wall, using only Arab names for these places of overlapping religious significance, although in its general language it was acknowledged in the UNESCO text that all three monotheistic religions possessed historical connections with the Old City in Jerusalem that should be respected. It is accurate for Israel to assert that the Temple Mount and Western Wall are the very most sacred of all Jewish holy places, a reality that should have been acknowledged. It was somewhat invidious, and not really relevant, for the Israeli denunciation of the UNESCO action, to point out that Al Aqsa ranked only third in the Islamic canon, behind Mecca and Medina, and thus seemingly had a lesser claim on UNESCO’s protection if competing claims were at issue. Actually, this line of attack is a red herring as there was no UNESCO attempt to denigrate Jewish claims; the resolutions were devoted to pointing out Israel’s failures of responsibility with Islamic sites.

 

Nevertheless, in a typically diversionary spirits, Israel’s top politicians insisted that to approach UNESCO’s role in Jerusalem in such an allegedly partisan manner effect was deeply offensive to Jewish concerns. Netanyahu, never at a loss for invective, put his objection this way: “Saying that Israel doesn’t have a connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying the Chinese don’t have a connection to the Great Wall.” He went on, “Through this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost the little bit of legitimacy that it has.” Let’s be clear. The UNESCO resolutions in no way denied Jewish connections with the holy sites of Jersualem, it just failed to acknowledge them by name. There was no ‘absurd decision’ as the resolutions were above all a fully legitimate, even overdue, call to Israel to start performing its proper role of protecting Islamic sites as Occupying Power in accord with law, and in the interest of cultural preservation. There were strong grounds to believe that Israel was administering Jerusalem in ways that were threatening in various ways to the integrity and enjoyment of Islamic sites. From this perspective it was in no way relevant to mention, much less criticize, Israel’s protection of Jewish sites as they were being fully protected by Israel, likely over-protected and allowed to encroach in unacceptable ways on Islamic sites.

 

Jordan, among the several Arab sponsors, praised UNESCO’s “historic decision” as supportive of the very genuine struggle to preserve the status quo in Jerusalem in the face of Israeli efforts to create as much of a Jewish city as possible, diminishing by stages the Palestinian and Islamic character of the place. In recent years there was particular reasons for concern about Israel’s effort to administer the holy sites in Jerusalem, especially Al Aqsa. Such an evenhanded role conflicted with Israel’s preoccupation with promoting the primacy of Jewish traditions and memories, and deliberately at the expense of Muslim and even Christian concerns.

 

There has been a series of violent encounters at Al Aqsa during several recent religious holidays. This much beloved mosque was increasingly endangered as a serene place of worship by Israeli policies and practices in recent years. Israel has in the past been severely criticized for the failure to fulfill its legal responsibilities with respect to holy sites in Jerusalem as ‘Occupying Power.’ With respect to Al Aqsa Israel was specifically charged with denying access to Muslim worshippers and not taking adequate steps to curb the campaign of settler extremists to assert aggressively Jewish claims in the mosque area leading to violent encounters.

 

Appraising the UNESCO Initiative

 

Overall, it would seem that there are two kinds of understandable reactions to this latest UNESCO initiative. It was entirely appropriate and even necessary for UNESCO members and the organization to complain about Israel’s failures to uphold its several responsibilities with respect to holy and heritage sites throughout Jerusalem. It is one more illustration of Israel’s pattern of defiance when it comes to discharging its obligations as set forth in the Geneva Conventions and other international treaties. In these circumstances, it was appropriate for UNESCO to act, and given developments in Jerusalem in recent years, even with a sense of urgency.

 

At the same time, it was inappropriate and seems irresponsible for the resolution to avoid an explicit acknowledgement of the Jewish connections to Temple Mount and Western Wall. The UNESCO drafters should have anticipated that by referencing only the Arabic names the resolutions would be sufficiently provocative to give Israel a rather plausible pretext for voicing a hostile reaction, and thereby evading the substantive criticism that was the core of the initiative. These wider politics also led a politically acute Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, to join Israel, the United States, and some European states in condemning the resolutions, calling them an irresponsible incitement of violence, swallowing Israel’s bait to place all blame on the provocation and give no attention at all to the genuine substantive issues that lie at the heart of UNESCO’s mission.

 

This unwillingness to mention both the Jewish and Arab names for the holy sites in Jerusalem had the dysfunctional effect of shifting attention away from the legitimate concerns of Palestinians and others in the Islamic world about the overall failure of Israel to uphold its responsibilities in Jerusalem, which included a variety of efforts to Judaize the city by stages. These unacceptable occupation policies verge on ethnic cleansing with a focus on undermining the Palestinian presence in relation to religious and cultural claims, residence rights, building permits, and family reunification. Thus, Israeli failures to carry out the legal responsibilities associated with being an Occupying Power with respect to non-Jewish holy and cultural heritage sites should be understood as an inflammatory implementation of Israel’s unlawful annexation of Jerusalem.

 

It is possible that this question of acknowledgement might not have avoided Israel’s condemnation of UNESCO’s initiative. It seems likely that Israel was enraged by this successful move by Palestine to sidestep Israel’s attempt to oppose any Palestinian effort to gain legitimacy and attention for its statehood claims. In this regard Israel’s most basic objection to the resolution likely involved the adoption of its title “Occupied Palestine,’ giving Palestine the status it is aspiring to establish on its own without any prior agreement by Israel. This by itself infuriates the Netanyahu leadership in Israel, which is evidently seeking to exclude any possibility of Palestinian statehood, and seeks to avoid the legal complications of occupying a foreign state as it proceeds with its own territorial expansion. Finally, it should be appreciated that Palestine has only resorted to this symbolic chessboard of UN legitimation after twenty years of frustration and setbacks resulting from Oslo diplomacy.

What Are We to Think?

29 Oct

 

 

A cascade of developments should make us afraid of what seems to be emerging politically in the United States at this time. Although politicians keep telling us how great we were or will be or are. Donald Trump has ridden a wave of populist enthusiasm touting his brand with the slogan ‘make America great again’ emblazoned. One wonders whether he means ante-bellum America, Reagan America, the America that decimated native Americans, the Indian Nations, or more likely, militia America.

 

By contrast, Hilary Clinton reassures her rallies that is ‘America is great now’ but it can be made even better. She foregoes any criticism of the America of drones, regime-changing interventions, hazardous no-fly zones, special forces, and counterterrorist terrorism, views Israeli behavior through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses, promises to do more militarily than Obama in the Middle East, blows hot and cold the trade winds shift from Sanders to Wall Street, and only has hard words for the banker and hedge fund operators when voters are listening.

 

This is a sad moment for procedural democracy where voting was once seen as the indispensable guaranty of vibrant republican governance. When money and mediocrity controls the process, and we are forced to choose between the lesser of evils, and even the lesser of evils generates nightmares, there is serious trouble brewing in the body politic.

 

The maladies are not just on the top of the socioeconomic pyramid, although there is plenty of sickness at the lofty heights of wealth and power. The political culture is sending warning sign after warning sign without giving rise to the slightest sign of restorative energies.

 

A few of these telltale signs can be mentioned to provide content to an insistence that a condition of societal urgency exists:

 

–When massacres of innocent persons occur in public places (schools- Sandy Hook; theaters-Aurora; night clubs-Orlando), gun sales surge in the days that follow; we are in the midst of a populist climate that has embraced ‘Second Amendment fundamentalism,’ so much so that Trump when asked at the third presidential debate what he hoped the Supreme Court would do, responded by declaring his priority to be upholding an unrestricted right to bear arms; Hilary Clinton was deemed brave and an anti-gun militant because she favored background checks and closing of gun show loopholes, hardly prospects that would send the NRA to the trenches except to tighten further their already firm grip on the political process!

 

–When a group of armed white militia members, led by the Bundy brothers (Ammon and Ryan) take over a Federal wildlife reserve in eastern Oregon in January of this year, using threats of violence prevent its operations for several days, initially vowing to die if necessary to oust the Federal Government from Malheur National Wildlife Refuge before eventually backing down, the jury in a criminal trial with mistaken foregone conclusions, astoundingly and unanimously found them not guilty of any crime, we know that the hour of violent populism is upon us. Simultaneously in Standing Rock North Dakota hundreds of unarmed native Americans and their supporters are being arrested and charged with trespass and riot crimes for protesting an oil pipeline being constructed near to their reservaion;

 

–When it looked like Trump would be defeated in a Clinton landslide, the election was, according to Trump, ‘rigged’ in favor of the Democrats, and the option of rejecting the outcome was kept wide open by the Republican candidate. Trump supporters were not shy about thinking that even violent resistance would be justifiable to keep ‘a criminal’ out of the White House. Trump even vowed in their TV debate to put Clinton in prison for corruption and her violation of classification laws shortly after he is sworn in as the next president. He does not object when his revved up crowds chant ‘lock her up’ or ‘jail her.’ If nothing else, Trump’s campaign reminds us that legitimate political competition presupposes a certain framework of civility and a clear willingness to part company with populist violence. Such minimal civility doesn’t have to concede much about the character and record of the opponent, but it does need to avoid language and sentiments that signals extremists to man the barricades. When Trump gives overt permission to his followers to remember their second amendment rights he is encouraging violence to overcome the problems of governance if he should lose the election. With such guidance, the country would mount a train that has only one stop—fascism in some form.

 

My claim here is not only the tainting of the electoral process, but the violent disposition of the political culture. It is not even necessary to invoke growing nativist hatreds directed at immigrants, Muslims, family planners, adherents of Black Lives Matter, and transgender and native American activists to recoil from this inflamed cultural moment. Underneath, yet integral, are the wider structural issues associated with neoliberalism, inequality among and within states, wage stagnancy, impotent labor movement, collapse of socialist alternatives, and the right-wing overall monopoly of visionary, highly motivated politics. Trump supporters are wildly enthusiastic about their candidate, while Clinton backers are under motivated and lacking in conviction.

 

This is not only an American problem. Similar patterns are visible in all parts of the world, although there is everywhere a national coloring that produces significant differences. In this regard, the structural pressures dispose politics in all parts of the world to move in authoritarian directions as conditioned by a wide diversity of national circumstances.

 

Yet the United States does pose a special threat of its own world wide, and is not only menacing its own future. It controls the dominant arsenal of nuclear weapons, it maintains a network of bases spread around the world, militarizes oceans and space, sends its predator drones and special ops kill squads to find prey wherever on the planet it perceives threats. This militarized and unaccountable global security system is reinforced by preeminent diplomatic and economic leverage, and emboldened by a self-serving ideology of ‘American exceptionalism,’ What happens in the United States is of great, often decisive, importance to the wellbeing of the many countries, especially in the global South, that lack both voice or exit capabilities (Hirschman), and thus find themselves captive of history’s first, and possibly, last ‘global state.’      

Interview on Palestine for Middle East Eye with Hilary Wise

17 Oct

Prefatory Note: What follows is an interview published in Middle East Eye and conducted and edited by Hilary Wise, who is very proud that her ‘Hilary’ has only one ‘l’ unlike our current presidential candidate, who with help from several sources, most of all, from her opponent, seems on the road to victory on November 8th. I want above all that Palestine will not suffer the fate of other oppressed people, and be written off as ‘a forgotten struggle,’ or worse, ‘a lost cause.’]

 

“Apartheid, annexation, mass displacement and collective punishment have become core policies of the state of Israel.” Such a clear and uncompromising statement may be unusual for a high-flying academic and former top UN official, but it is typical of Richard Falk.

With his tall, spare frame, neatly trimmed white beard and quiet, scholarly demeanour, Falk appears the epitome of a retired professor. He is indeed an Emeritus Professor of International Law at Princeton University, but “retired’ is not a word in his vocabulary, even at the age of 85.

His pages-long bibliography on issues as diverse and complex as racism, the Iraq war and climate change bears witness to his intellectual energy and the breadth of his political commitment. Still travelling the world speaking on a wide range of topics, his latest book Palestine Horizon: Toward a Just Peace will be published in a few months’ time.

“Apartheid, annexation, mass displacement and collective punishment have become core policies of the state of Israel”Why Palestine?

As for many of his generation, including Noam Chomsky, the Vietnam war played a major role in Falk’s political education: “Two transformative visits to ‘the enemy,’ North Vietnam, led me to understand the war from the perspective of a low tech society utterly vulnerable to high tech warfare, and changed my commitment from opposition to an imprudent war to the rejection of an unjust and immoral war. It was this basic shift in political consciousness that underpins my approach to Israel/Palestine.”

Responding to the Zionist claim that Israel is unfairly singled out for criticism in a world full of brutally oppressive regimes, Falk points to two distinguishing features. One is the unprecedented role played by the UN, in endorsing the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and in partitioning Palestine.

The second is “the UN’s continuing inability to challenge Israel’s policies and practices that defy Security Council Resolution 242 and the international consensus proposing an independent sovereign state of Palestine”.

Known as an authoritative voice on Palestine from the late 1990s, it was as UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine from 2008–2014 that Falk came to prominence worldwide. It is an unpaid job that few would envy, as the path of opposition to Israel’s policies is strewn with wrecked careers and ruined reputations. But Falk picked up this hottest of political hot potatoes without hesitation.

Part of his commitment stems from the fact that he is both American and Jewish. The US clearly provides Israel with unparalleled political, economic and military support and, “as a Jew it concerns me that this state that claims to be a Jewish state – itself problematic given its ethnic composition – fails to live up to international legal and moral standards”.

For him, being Jewish means being “preoccupied with overcoming injustice and thirsting for justice in the world, and that means being respectful toward other peoples regardless of their nationality or religion, and empathetic in the face of human suffering, whoever and wherever victimisation is encountered.”

The cost of commitment

The vilification Falk has endured is inevitable, given his reputation for combining legal rigour with unflinching candour. From the outset, his appointment as special rapporteur was vehemently opposed by Israel and its supporters. When he arrived to assume his duties, he was put in jail near Ben Gurion airport and has since been excluded from Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Like many others who speak out on this issue, he has come up against pro-Israel groups which have sought – generally unsuccessfully – to get events he participated in cancelled, or speaking invitations withdrawn.

On the special venom reserved for Jewish critics of Israel, he recalls: “My worst moment with respect to being Jewish occurred when the Wiesenthal Institute in Los Angeles listed me as the third most dangerous anti-Semite in the world in their annual identification of the ten most dangerous anti-Semites in 2013.” He adds wryly, “Although hurtful, such a designation did give me the sense that I must be doing something right in my UN reports to get such prominent attention.”

Even his Turkish-born wife Hilal Elver, herself a highly distinguished academic, found herself in the firing line when she was about to be appointed UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food.

“UN Watch mounted a vicious campaign accusing her falsely of being a front for my views and sharing my alleged bias toward Israel. She actually had never taken public positions of any kind on political issues and had never published anything critical of Israel except for a short piece that raised some questions about the political uses of Israel’s desalination technology.

In the end, her appointment was approved by the Human Rights Council, but the adverse publicity made it a painful experience, especially for her, but also for me.”

Despite the obstacles, as Special Rapporteur Falk was tireless in monitoring and cataloguing events in the region in scrupulous detail. The conclusions he has drawn, especially in relation to Israel’s multiple violations of international law, are couched in unambiguous language, with terms such as “apartheid,” or “state-sponsored terrorism” and “ethnic cleansing,” being carefully defined and justified. And he has met the voices of his critics from the unconditional supporters of Israel with calm rational rebuttals.

Children bear the brunt

Of all aspects of the occupation and dispossession of the Palestinian people, the plight of children – be they the thousands killed and maimed in Gaza, or the hundreds detained every year in Israeli jails – has commanded his special attention.

A very recent contribution to the field of Palestinian human rights is Falk’s preface to a heart-rending collection of testimonies: “Dreaming of Freedom; Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak.”

Of the extortion of confessions from children he writes: “In a manner that I encountered in apartheid South Africa, maintaining innocence is usually punished worse than confessions, whether true of false, and thus there is no incentive whatsoever to hold out. What is even more dehumanising is the demand of Israeli officials that these Palestinian teenagers implicate their friends and neighbours.”

“Maintaining innocence is usually punished worse than confessions, whether true of false”
To Israel’s claims that the killing and imprisonment of young Palestinians – largely for the crime of throwing stones at military vehicles – is justified, he counters that physical resistance to many years of oppression, however ineffective, is “a natural and entirely understandable response to the brutalities and indignities of military occupation, especially if carried on in violation of international humanitarian law”.

He calls for the International Committee of the Red Cross “first to study the subject of children under occupation, and then to prepare a draft convention and convene a meeting of governments and legal experts to consider this special challenge of child prisoners in circumstances of belligerent occupation”. Failing that, he proposes that the UN Human Rights Council or the secretary general appoint a commission to prepare such a convention.

On the related question of calling Israel to account for alleged war crimes in Gaza, he admits that the political obstacles to any prosecution are immense: “It seems unlikely that the ICC [the International Criminal Court] will embark on such a politically difficult journey, especially since Israel will not cooperate with any issuance of arrest warrants.” He doubts whether the International Court of Justice would be any more effective: ”Israel would have to agree, which is inconceivable, or at least allow Israeli defendants to be brought before the court in the Hague.“

Another legal route, that of seeking an advisory opinion from the UN General Assembly, such as that issued in 2004, strongly condemning the construction of the separation wall, carries immense moral authority. Admittedly, he says, the latter proved ineffective in reining in Israel’s appetite for settlement and annexation, but the symbolic value of such measures and the encouragement they provide to civil society movements should not be underestimated.

The road ahead

A realist as well as an idealist, Falk sees no likelihood of Israel modifying its policies in the near future: “I do think that Israel is likely to continue mounting periodic attacks on Gaza for a variety of reasons, including the competitive edge gained in the arms market from field testing weapons and tactics.”

“I do think that Israel is likely to continue mounting periodic attacks on Gaza for a variety of reasons, including the competitive edge gained in the arms market from field testing weapons and tactics.”
“Jeff Halper’s The War Against the People makes this argument in a detailed and persuasive way. Halper also shows that these arms connections with more than 100 countries also have diplomatic side benefits, by giving foreign governments incentives not to take strong positions against Israel at the UN or elsewhere.”
Nevertheless, he finds reason for hope. “There have been major shifts of attitudes here in the US, especially among younger people, including Jews. Israel has lost its early image of being an idealistic and dynamic society that is a successful political model in a region that is dominated by military and religious autocracies.”

He also speaks of Palestinian civil society activists and their leaders as “increasingly the most authentic representatives of the Palestinian people,” and strongly supports the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) launched in 2005, which has become the centre of a growing global solidarity movement.

“If the BDS campaign can continue to build support and mount pressure,“ he says, “it has some chance of inducing Israeli political elites to recalculate their interests, and seek compromise and accommodation based on the equality of the two peoples. This is essentially what happened in South Africa, which also seemed like an impossibility – until it happened.”

Against this campaign are ranged the forces of a powerful pro-Israel lobby fighting worldwide to equate any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Falk finds this understandable: “Israeli think tanks in recent years have accurately concluded that what they call ‘the delegitimation project’ is a greater danger to Israeli security than is the prospect of revived Palestinian armed struggle.”

Clinton hostility to BDS

In relation to the upcoming elections, he is deeply disturbed by Hillary Clinton’s pledge to major Jewish donors that, if elected, she will oppose BDS. For Falk, this is a position that poses constitutional questions of repressing freedom of expression and nonviolent political advocacy. “Criticism of a political movement or of state policies and practices is treated as if it were hate speech – which totally contradicts the idea that citizens in a democratic society have the right and even the duty to follow their conscience with respect to public issues.”

Having witnessed many unforeseen political convulsions and transformations around the world, from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Arab Spring, Falk does not despair of an eventual just solution in Palestine. He sees a “settler colonial society” like Israel as a complete anachronism in the 21st century and is certain that “the flow of history is on the side of the Palestinians”.

“The only humane and practical solution,” he says, “is to work out some kind of arrangement that shares Palestine on the basis of equality, whether as one state or two.”

But there is a prerequisite for peace: “To reach such a goal, the Israeli leadership would also have to acknowledge, in an open formal process, the wrongs inflicted on the Palestinians over the years since the establishment of Israel in 1948, starting with the Nakba (catastrophe).”

An impossible dream? Falk refers again to the sea-change wrought in South Africa, with its courageous Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “If the regional situation turns against Israel and if the US is not unconditionally supportive, then unexpected changes should not be ruled out.”

Was the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 Wrongly Awarded?

15 Oct

[Prefatory Note: The Nobel Prize for 2016 was given to the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, in recognition of his efforts to end internal civil strife that had continued in the country for over half a century. An agreement was achieved with the main rebel group, but depended for final adoption on approval by the citizens of Colombia through a referendum. This was unexpectedly defeated, leaving the future of the country in doubt. The NYT initiated a discussion of the merits of this award to Santos through its mechanism of ‘Room for Debate’ in which several individuals are invited to submit comments. My comment critical of the award is printed below, and is followed by an even more critical comment by Fredrik S. Heffermehl, a Norwegian jurist who has taken a special interest in the Nobel Peace Prize, especially making a great effort to call attention to the failure of the Norwegian committee that is responsible for deciding on recipients to adhere to the will and intentions of Alfred Nobel who established this most coveted of international awards at the end of the nineteenth century. The two other comments published in this debate on the opionion pages of the NY Times were contributed by Jeffrey Goldberg of the New School of Social Research in New York City and Michael Kazin of Georgetown University.]

 

 

 

NY Times–The Opinion Pages

  • OCTOBER 11, 2016

What the Nobel Peace Prize Prizes

INTRODUCTION

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia.

John Vizcaino/Reuters

 

Five days after his nation voted down his effort to end a 52-year conflict with leftist rebels, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a peace treaty. President Barack Obama won the prize only nine months into his presidency.

Should the Nobel Prize be awarded for concrete achievements, or is it important to recognize those who aspire to peace? What is lost or gained when awards are given for aspirations?

 

 

 

 

The New York Times

Should the Nobel Prize only be given for actual achievements, or is it important to recognize those who aspire to peace?

 

 

 

 

THE OPINION PAGES

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee Has Stretched the Understanding of the Prize

Richard Falk is Milbank Professor of International Law, Emeritus, at Princeton University, and author of “Power Shift: on the New Global Order.”

 

 

The Nobel Committee insisted that this year’s peace prize was given to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia because he tried so hard to achieve peace, even though he failed, and to encourage efforts to revive the process. It remains to be seen whether those efforts will succeed. Thorbjorn Jagland, former chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the peace prize, observed that “since there is so little actual peace in the world, we have to award those who are trying.”

Without moral clarity with respect to the recipient, only the greatest achievement can overcome the taint of a compromised past.

But should the award be a way of encouraging efforts to achieve peace or to honor the achievement of peace? I think that both kinds of contributions to a peaceful world are consistent with the wishes of Alfred Nobel, although I think the selection committee stretched the understanding of peace beyond what Nobel had in mind by honoring human rights and environmental activists (for example, Shirin Ebadi in 2003, Lech Walesa in 1983 and Al Gore in 2007) whose activities however admirable are not easily linked to peace as understood by Nobel.

It’s even worse when the award is bestowed either prematurely, as with President Barack Obama in 2009, or against the background of a career that seemed disposed to war-making and complicity in human rights abuses, as in the case with the 1973 award to Henry Kissinger. There are occasions when an award can be given for a lifetime of struggle for peace as was the case when Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences received the award in 1995 for “their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms.” Such encouragement seems entirely appropriate.

Obama’s Prague speech, given prior to his Nobel Prize, inspired many by depicting his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. In retrospect, the Nobel Committee was indulging in wishful thinking. Obama, although internationally moderate in many respects, escalated the American military involvement in Afghanistan just weeks after receiving the award, and worse, never really used the eight years of his presidency to push forward the Prague vision.

Finally, the Santos award is questionable for several reasons. For one thing, Santos served as Defense Minister under Alvaro Uribe, who earlier pushed a vicious paramilitary campaign led by Santos against the guerillas. For another, unlike prior Nobel awards for peacemaking efforts (U.S./Vietnam, Israel/Egypt, Israel/P.L.O.), the counterpart in negotiations, the rebel leader Ronrigo Londono, was not a co-recipient or even mentioned in the citation.

What emerges from this commentary is the importance of moral clarity with respect to the recipient, without which only the greatest actual achievement can overcome the taint of a compromised past.

 

 

 

THE OPINION PAGES

Nobel’s Will Determines What the Peace Prize Should Recognize

 

Fredrik S. Heffermehl, a retired Norwegian lawyer, is the author of “The Nobel Peace Prize, What Nobel Really Wanted,” and director of Nobel Peace Prize Watch.

October 13, 2016

 

Since writing a book with a legal analysis of Aflred Nobel’s intention I have been reminding the world that the will Nobel wrote in 1895 is decisive in all questions about the prizes, even though its criticism has been frequently ignored. If the testament covers an issue, one may debate the wisdom of Nobel, but he is dead and the will is final. If it doesn’t cover an issue, the floor is open.

 

He said all five prizes should go to those who have conferred the greatest benefit on humanity.” Above all the will is important on the core question of who can win. Surprisingly many seem to think that to answer such questions they just need to go to the will and make sense of what the words mean to them. But legal interpretation is about what the testator intended and requires extensive study of evidence and circumstance. What counts in law is what the words must have meant to Nobel irrespective of the words he used, said the Swedish jurist Torgny Haystad.

 

So, does Nobel’s will require that the prize only recognize achievements? A mere linguistic analysis of the words is not conclusive. More helpful is to note that all his five prizes should go to those who have conferred the greatest benefit on humanity, and also consider the zeitgeist of boundless optimism and hopes of changing the plight of mankind through major inventions. As he signed the will he also took steps to buy a Swedish liberal paper, writing that he wished to end armaments and other remnants from Medieval times, this is also evidence of what went on in his head in 1895.

 

The will´s most helpful word to identify Nobel´s intention is that prizes were to benefit the champions of peace and the evidence, mainly letters, show that by this expression he meant the movement for ending armaments through co-operation and nations relying on courts of law instead of strength in the battlefield. These ideas for a specific new, peaceful world order were inspired by Nobel’s friend, the prominent peace advocate Baroness Bertha von Suttner.

As long as the Nobel committee is loyal to his vision of peace, I would allow it considerable leeway. But without even considering the question of achievement or aspiration, neither President Obama nor President Santos should be considered the champions of peace who Nobel had in mind. Nobel envisioned global disarmament, not mere resolution of national conflicts, as Santos tries to accomplish. And since receiving his prize, Obama has hardly pursued such a path.

 

 

 

 

 

The Nobel Prize Recognizes That Aspiring to Peace Makes Peace More Likely

Jeffrey C. Goldfarb is Michael E. Gellert Professor and chairman of the Department of Sociology at the New School for Social Research, editor in chief of Public Seminar and author of “Reinventing Political Culture: the Culture of Politics and the Politics of Culture in American Life.”

UPDATED OCTOBER 11, 2016, 1:43 PM

 

Given President Barack Obama’s stewardship of American foreign policy after winning his Nobel Peace prize, it would seem that the award this year to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia may have been a mistake. In both cases, the award was as much about aspiration as achievement, and sometimes aspiration is just not enough.

But then again, sometimes it is, and sometimes the recognition of the aspiration has a way to turn it into achievement.

Obama recognized the ideals of Gandhi and King, and knew he wouldn’t be able to adhere to their ideals absolutely.

 

Obama was awarded the prize for his “efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Yet, he escalated the war in Afghanistan, and the war there and in Iraq continue. The U.S. drone program has been expanding during Obama’s watch. And under Obama’s leadership, the U.S. has continued to be engaged in further military actions in North Africa and the Middle East.

On the other hand, Obama has helped de-militarize American foreign policy, winding down two wars. He has publicly and clearly affirmed U.S. commitments to respect the Geneva Agreements and ended the American use of torture. And under Obama’s leadership, American military engagements have been multilateral and debated in and supported by the United Nations.

 

The prize is awarded in the tough zone that exists between ideal and reality.

 

Obama’s Nobel lecture was about this. He confronted the paradox of awarding the Peace Prize to the commander in chief of the world’s premiere superpower. He recognized the ideals of Gandhi and King, as he knew he wouldn’t be able to adhere to their ideals absolutely. But he has confronted the hard realities of a complex world mindful of the ideals, distinguishing himself on the world stage.

And this indeed is what President Santos has done. He has resolutely worked to “bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end,” trying to convince all parties to the conflict that a just peace has been achieved, one that properly balances the ideals of peace, with the pursuit of justice and accountability. While because of the complex political situation in Colombia, he has not achieved his goal to date, in his aspirations, he has kept the ideal alive, which the Nobel Committee rightly recognized and honored.

And this may be politically significant: the very recognition of the aspiration makes more likely the achievement of peace.

 

 

The Nobel Can Reward Thankless Efforts for a Crucial Goal

Michael Kazin is a professor of history at Georgetown, editor of Dissent magazine and author of “War against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918,” to be published in January.

UPDATED OCTOBER 11, 2016, 3:21 AM

 

It is hardly novel to award the peace prize for a goal that has not yet been accomplished. President Woodrow Wilson won in 1919 for championing a League of Nations the United States did not join. A French and a German diplomat shared the prize in 1927 for “contributions to Franco-German reconciliation” – at the time, more a hope than an achievement. The lovely aspiration became a bad joke when Hitler’s armies rolled into Paris thirteen years later. The Norwegian committee had better foresight when it gave the prize to Lech Walesa in 1983 and Desmond Tutu a year later. Within a decade, both their causes had triumphed.

The prize sends a message about how societies should work, instead of how they actually do. It rewards service in the quest of a peaceful world.

 

Such prizes always send a message of how societies should work instead of how they actually do. And shouldn’t there be at least one universally celebrated form of recognition that rewards diligent service in the quest of a truly peaceful world?

 

If so, two of the most worthy recipients were American feminists – Jane Addams and Emily Green Balch. Addams won the award in 1931 for decades of pacifist organizing. As one of the leaders of the movement to stop World War I, she got condemned as a traitor and a coward. In the wake of that horrific conflict, however, she seemed more like a prophet. The Nobel committee saluted Addams for holding “fast to the ideal of peace even during the difficult hours when other considerations and interests obscured it from her compatriots and drove them into the conflict.” Balch received the honor in 1946. With Addams, she had created the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – an organization whose members devoted themselves to exposing the cruel U.S. occupation of Haiti as well as campaigning for international disarmament.

 

Pacifism has never been a sizeable movement, in any land or in the world at large. In his great 1910 essay, “The Moral Equivalent of War,” William James pointed out that men from every nation were willing, even eager, to fight—and most women supported them—because war seduced as well as horrified. It was, he wrote, a mark of “the strong life…of life in extremis.” In contrast, peace advocates appeared weak, soft, and ineffectual. But this is all the more reason to signal, with the world’s most prestigious medal, that stopping both current and future wars is one of the greatest and most urgent tasks of all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Okinawa Should Matter

12 Oct

 

[An earlier version of this post appeared in the Japanese publication, Ryukyu Shimpo. The article is devoted to a critical discussion of Okinawa’s role in serving American and Japanese strategic interests. Since the end of World War II Okinawa has been a mostly unhappy host of American military bases, and the issue has been prominent at times on the agenda of the Japanese peace movement. The interplay of overseas bases and U.S. foreign policy is a crucial and often hidden dimension of the global projection of American power, which gives rise to friction with and opposition from the peoples living in the vicinity of the bases. This has certainly been the case in relation to Okinawa. The essay below offers some reflections on this underlying reality, as well as the linkage between this network of foreign military bases and the emergence of the first global state in history, a new political phenomenon that should not be confused with ‘empires’ of the past.]

 

Remembering Okinawa

 

When President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima in May of 2016 there was an effort to persuade him to put Okinawa on his travel itinerary, but as has happened frequently throughout the long tortured history of Okinawa, the request was ignored, and the people of the island were once more disappointed. In an important sense, Okinawa is the most shameful legacy of Japan’s defeat in World War II, exceeding even the sites of the atomic attacks by its daily reminders of a continued colonialist encroachment on Okinawan national dignity and wellbeing.

 

Actually, Okinawa is being victimized by overlapping exploitations with that of the United States reinforced and legitimized by mainland Japan. For the United States Okinawa serves as a hub for its strategic military operations throughout the Pacific, with at least 14 separate military bases occupying about 20% of the island, with Kadena Air Base having been used for B-29 bombing missions during the Korean War more than a half century ago, the island being used as a major staging area throughout the Vietnam War and as a secret site for the deployment of as many as 1,000 nuclear warheads in defiance of Japanese declared no-nukes policy. Actually, in recent years Okinawa rarely receives global news coverage except when there occurs a sex crime by American servicemen that provokes local outrage, peaceful mass demonstrations followed by the strained apologies of local American military commanders.

 

Japan’s role in the misfortunes of Okinawa is more than one of a passive acceptance of the enduring side effects of its defeat and humiliation in World War II. After a series of military incursions, Japan finally conquered Okinawa and the Ryukyu island chain of which it is a part in 1879, and then imposed its rule in ways that suppressed the culture, traditions, and even the language of the native populations of the islands. What is virtually unknown in the West is that Okinawa was the scene of the culminating catastrophic land battle between the United States and Japan in the Spring of 1945 that resulted in the death of an astounding one-third of the island’s civilian population of then 300,000, and its subsequent harsh military administration by the United States for the next 27 years until the island was finally turned back to Japan in 1972. Despite an estimated 60-80% of Okinawans being opposed to the U.S. bases, confirmed by the recent election of an anti-bases governor of prefecture, the government in Tokyo, currently headed by a dangerous militarist, Shinzo Abe, is comfortable with the status quo, which allows most of the unpopular continuing American military presence to be centered outside of mainland Japan, and hence no longer a serious political irritant within the country.

 

What the plight of Okinawans exemplifies is the tragic ordeal of a small island society, which because of its small population and size, entrapment within Japan, and geopolitical significance, failed to be included in the decolonizing agenda that was pursued around the world with such success in the last half of the 20th century. This tragic fate that has befallen Okinawa and its people results from being a ‘colony’ in a post-colonial era. Its smallness of current population (1.4 million) combined with its enclosure within Japanese sovereign statehood and its role in pursuing the Asian strategic interests of the United States, as well as joint military operations with Japan make it captive of a militarized world order that refuses to acknowledge the supposedly inalienable right of self-determination, an entitlement of all peoples according to common Article 1 of both human rights covenants. In this respect Okinawa, from a global perspective, is a forgotten remnant of the colonial past, which means it is subjugated and irrelevant from the perspective of a state-centric world order. In this respect, it bears a kinship with such other forgotten peoples as those living in Kashmir, Chechnya, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Palau, Marianas Islands, among many others.

 

There are other ways of being forgotten. I have for many years been concerned about the Palestinian ordeal, another geopolitical and historical casualty of Euro-American priorities and the colonialist legacy. Here, too, the indigenous population of Palestine has endured decades of suffering, denials of basic rights, and a dynamic of victimization initiated a century ago when the British Foreign Office issued the Balfour Declaration pledging support to the world Zionist movement for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland in historic Palestine, later placed under the tutorial role of the United Kingdom with the formal blessings of the League of Nations until the end of World War II. Instead of Japan playing the intermediate role as in Okinawa, it is Israel that pursues its own interests and teams with the United States and Europe as a strategic partner to carry forward its shared geopolitical goals throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Of course, there are crucial differences. Japan is constrained as a partner by its postwar peace constitution, which Abe is keen to circumvent and dilute, while Israel has become a military powerhouse in the region, enjoying a special relationship with the United States that includes the incredible assurance by Washington of a military capability capable of defeating any foreseeable combination of Arab adversaries. Also, unlike Okinawa, there are no American military bases in Israel. There is no need for them. Israel acts as an American surrogate, and sometimes even vice versa. Yet the result is the same—force projection unconnected with self-defense, but vital for upholding regional strategic interests that involves maintaining a visible military presence and offering allies in the region credible promises of protection.

 

When we raise questions about the future of Okinawa, we come face to face with the role and responsibility of global civil society. The Palestinian goals appear to remain more ambitious than those of the Okinawans, although such an impression could be misleading. The Palestinian movement is centered upon realizing the right of self-determination, which means at the very least an end to occupation and a diplomacy that achieves a comprehensive, sustainable, and just peace. For Okinawans, long integrated into the Japanese state, earlier dreams of independence seem to have faded, and the focus of political energy is currently devoted to the anti-bases campaign. Taking moral globalization seriously means conceiving of citizenship as borderless with respect to space and time, an overall identity I have described elsewhere under the label ‘citizen pilgrim,’ someone on a life journey to build a better future by addressing the injustices of the present wherever encountered.

 

In this respect, acting as citizen pilgrims means giving attention to injustices that the world as a whole treats as invisible except when an awkward incident of lethal abuse occurs. Okinawa has been effectively swept under the dual rugs of statism (Okinawa is part of the sovereign state of Japan) and geopolitics (Okinawa offers the United States indispensable military bases), and even the mainly Japanese peace movement may have grown fatigued and distracted, being currently preoccupied with its opposition to the revival of Japanese militarism under Abe’s leadership. Whether attention to the plight of Okinawa will give rise to false hopes is a concern, but the aspiration is to produce an empowering recognition throughout the world that for some peoples the struggle against colonialism remains a present reality rather than a heroic memory that can be annually celebrated as an independence day holiday. Until we in the United States stand in active solidarity with such victims of colonialist governance we will never know whether more can be done to improve prospects of their emancipation. This awareness and allegiance is the very least that we can do if we are to act in the spirit of a citizen pilgrimage.