Tag Archives: Bipartisan Consensus

A Tale of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam         

23 Jan

[Prefatory note: This post if a modified and revised version of the previous post. I have rarely done this, but due to comments received, and further reflections on my part, I felt there was some aspects of the essay that should be clarified or elaborated. There are threemain points: what we learn about CNN from its treatment of Marc Lamont Hill; the special treatment accorded those that challenge that pillar of the bipartisan consensus that relates to unconditional support of Israel; the targeting of leading African Americans who dare speak out on mainstream controversial issues, a dynamic that goes back to Martin Luther King’s public opposition to the Vietnam War.]



A Tale of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam          


In my last post I complained about the news approach of CNN, and by indirection, the MSM. I complained that by being Trump-obsessed CNN helps pacify the American political scene, making us view demagogic politics as ‘a reality show.’ Beyond this obsession is inexplicable redundancy in which successive news programs cover the latest episode of Trump’s soap opera from virtually identical viewpoints, while ignoring the whole panorama of developments throughout the world.


It is an aspect of what the most perceptive commentators on the decline of democracy have begun with reason to call our post-political ‘democracy,’ which seems the reverse side of the coin in a plutocracy. Keeping the public entertained and diverted allows the grossly unjust and unequal distribution of wealth and income almost to disappear from the radar of discontent.  Part of this post-political reality show is to reduce the operative sphere of American politics to ‘the bipartisan consensus’ established in the United States after 1945. Such a pattern of subtle indoctrination provides an apolitical certificate of permanent approval to global militarism, neoliberal capitalism, and unconditional support for Israel.


Instead of weakening its grip on the national public imagination after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the socialist alternative, by declaring geopolitical peace and acting accordingly, the governing elites went in the opposite direction: privileging capital accumulation at the expense of human wellbeing and equity; a militarized unipolarity that overrides international law, UN authority, human rights, and international morality. It this reconfigured ‘bipartisan consensus’ that became the ideological sequel to the Cold War rivalry. It guides both the deep state and the established leadership of both political parties, which also underpins CNN’s diversionary approach to news coverage. In effect, Trump must go, or at least be managed, so that the bipartisan consensus can flourish.


The Israeli pillar of the bipartisan consensus is somewhat surprisingly more rigidly enforced in public space than the seemingly thicker pillars of global militarism and neoliberal capitalism. CNN occasionally stumbles by allowing a progressive critic of the Pentagon or Wall Street to get some air time. Such occurrences are hard to avoid ever since Bernie Sanders opposed Hilary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, and put these issues on the national agenda. Nothing much happens except maybe a backroom reprimand to the producers of the news programs. It is not the same if the Israeli pillar of the bipartisan consensus is shaken even if only slightly. Then heads fall, and a visible reaffirmation of the consensus position is mandatory. CNN despite its wish to be trusted will not hesitate to treat any perception of sharp criticism of Israel as intolerable. The test of sharpness is whether it agitates militant Zionism as illustrated by the their malevolent reaction to the Hill speech.


The CNN dismissal of Marc Lamont Hill is the toxic icing on this particular cake. Hill a professor at Temple University and a regular consultant to CNN was dismissed in deference to unidentified Zionist pressures. Hill’s sole ‘wrong’ was to deliver a humane speech at a UN conference. He did voice support of Palestinian self-determination and other rights. Yet no fair reading of what Hill said at the UN or scrutiny of his overall career would reach any conclusion other than that this was a reasoned call for justice for Palestine along a path in which both Jews and Arabs could coexist within the same contested territory.


Apparently, the closing line of his talk was enough to agitate Zionist militants, which led CNN immediately to dismiss Hill: “free Palestine, from the river to the sea.” It remains murky, and probably will remain so, whether tearing this phrase from the clear intention of the talk was a convenient pretext for outside forces to mount their attack on Hill. The alternative view is that this singled phrase was all that was read by those who indignantly ranted about an anti-Semitic screed delivered at the UN. I am reminded of my own experience two years ago when my co-authored UN report was viciously denounced with no indication of it having been read beyond the title that contained the word ‘apartheid.’ This was enough of a red flag to make the American ambassador, Nikki Haley, adopt a hysterical tone when asserting her arrogant demand that the UN denounce the report, which as with CNN was dutifully done.


As Hill himself explained in a column published in the Philadelphia Inquirer [Dec. 1, 2018]: “Critics of this phrase have suggested that I was calling for violence against Jewish people. In all honesty, I was stunned, and saddened, that this was the response.” As Hill points out both Israelis and Palestinians have used that phrase over the years to describe their intentions, including for various proposals of co-existence, especially either the two-state Oslo goal line or the secular binational democratic one-state vision that Hill and many of us favor. To consider such a sentiment to be an anti-Semitic trope is a Zionist slur against someone whose life and scholarly work has been dedicated to social justice and in opposition to all forms of ethnic hatred and intolerance. Given the recent troubles of Angela Davis and Alice Walker it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that African Americans are especially targeted if perceived by Zionist gatekeepers as overtly pro-Palestinian, and somehow vulnerable to being discrediting. The racist message being delivered: ‘Stay in your racist lane, or else!”


Of course, I am not suggesting that white critics of Israel, if seen as vulnerable, are not targeted for punitive treatment as was the unjustified treatment of Norman Finkelstein, Stephen Salaita, Rahab Abdel Hadi, and many others illustrate. It is rather a matter of blocking African American supporters of Palestinian solidarity because they can speak with a special authenticity about ethnic victimization. In this regard, it is hardly accidental that post-apartheid South Africa is of all governments in the world the one most supportive of the Palestinian national struggle.


Surely, a rather grotesque irony is present. These African American cultural and intellectual leading personalities are being implicitly instructed to limit their concerns and activism to their own  grievances associated with the treatment of African American. The abuse of Palestinians, in effect, is none of their business. The message to Jews is somewhat analogous, although interestingly different. If as a Jew you speak too candidly in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle you are not only an anti-Semite, but likely to be labeled ‘a self-hating Jew.’ Here the embedded assumption is that to be authentically Jewish is to remain silent when it comes to Israeli crimes of abuse inflicted on the Palestinian people.  

As Michelle Alexander reminded us in her breakthrough column, Martin Luther King, Jr., was widely perceived as ‘brave’ when he spoke out against the Vietnam War in his famous speech of April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church. It was not a provocation by that stage in the war for white liberals to be publicly opposed to the Vietnam War, and certainly would not be an occasion for the appropriate use of words like ‘brave’ or ‘courageous.’ But for an African American to do so back then was existentially different. It was treated as tactically questionable and even impudent for a black man to act as if fully enfranchised and had the same right as white persons to be a citizen of conscience when it came to issues outside the domain of race. The chastening reality that King was assassinated in the following year, which either intentionally or not served as a reminder that black folks, however distinguished and acknowledged, will be punished it they dare act as if they enjoy the same spectrum of universal rights as the rest of us.


For King to so enter the main lane of political controversy on Vietnam was to cast himself as an uppity black who offended even some mentally colonized African American leaders who at the time lamented, or at least regretted, this supposed distraction from fighting for civil rights in America. The message delivered by dog whistle to many liberals, black and white, was ‘let others worry about the Vietnamese people and American militarism. This is none of your business. Stick to race.” A deeper irony here is that part of the reason that the Vietnamese prevailed in the war against all odds is partly because they derived strength from expressing solidarity with other liberation struggles and seeking as much support from non-Vietnamese peace oriented groups as possible.


We can take note of this subtle form of liberal racism as long pervading American political culture. To observe it so crudely resurfacing in relation to this dismissal of Hill by CNN suggests that despite liberal claims, little progress has been made in dissolving the structures of what might be called ‘deep racism.’ What is more for Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, and Don Lemon to remain silent in the face of the Hill dismissal exposes two lamentable features of how this ‘most trusted name in news’ operates: first, it bows to Zionist pressures to enforce the insidious expanded definition of anti-Semitism is itself malicious. CNN went even further, as Hill’s talk fairly read was actually supportive of the existence of Israel, the wellbeing of Jews in Israel, and explicitly repudiated anti-Semitism as properly understood. CNN’s reflex reaction called for apology not dismissal. Thus, what CNN did fell even outside the contours of the recent Zionist insistence on an inflammatory definition of anti-Semitism’ as extended to Israel as well as to Jews. Further, these lead news journalists, who nightly claim to walk the high moral ground, have maintained their public silence in the face of this crippling encroachment on freedom of expression resulting from the dismissal of Hill. Surely, an instance of self-censorship run amok.


Make no mistake, what befell Marc Lamont Hill also serves as a warning to CNN to stay within the confines of its lane as lead propagandist of the bipartisan consensus. It is also a reminder to the rest of us that trusting CNN’s public face is a fool’s errand. The wider effect of Hill’s experience is to send an intimidating warning to anyone in the African American community that they better watch their words or they should expect, at the very least, to receive a rhetorical lynching.


The Hill case shows this to be hardly alarmist. The warning was gratuitously reinforced by the response of Hill’s academic employer. Instead of doing the right thing, giving a fair reading to the UN speech, and then supporting their faculty member, Hill was verbally lynched by the president and chair of the board at Temple University in the harshest imaginable language. In the public press there were calls for dismissal from his tenured position. For what? Speaking out on a controversial issue at a UN conference in a manner completely in harmony with human rights and global justice.


Even now, anyone who cherishes the democratic spirit should insist that CNN reinstate Hill with an accompanying apology for the considerable damage done to his reputation and the psychic anguish inflicted. Also, I would hope that the academic senate at Temple, or some similar body does not imitate CNN by maintaining a stony silence. Even after the fact it would send a different message if the university community summoned the political will and commitment to academic freedom to censure their administrators for their outrageous remarks of condemnation directed at Hill, and along the way chide CNN for caving in, and then refusing to make amends. Hill deserves nothing less, and if this kind of punitive behavior is not repudiated by his university community it sends a chilling and obnoxious message—defamation works as a means to discredit Israeli critics, especially if African American, and the media and universities should blacklist such troublesome characters if they seek smooth sailing.




Toward Geopolitical Disengagement: Uncertain yet Desirable

13 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The post below was published in Middle East Eye on 30 December 2018, and is here reproduced with some modification. Humility in assessment is necessary as what we see tends to be partial and incomplete. Radical uncertainty is the appropriate interpretative outlook, which means that the future could break either bad or good. For a region that has endured so much suffering and abuse, I offer fervent wishes that we will be surprised by hopeful developments during coming months. Altready the shakeup of regional politics and perceptions due to the Trump withdrawal move is ambiguous in its implications, but seemingly leading in the positive direction of U.S. political disengagement, and an end to the delusions of being ‘a force for good.’



Toward Geopolitical Disengagement: Uncertain yet Desirable


Ever since the World War I travesties of Sykes/Picot and the Balfour Declaration, the Middle East has been the scene of geopolitical rivalries and unfolding nationalist narratives that veered uneasily between extremes of tyranny and chaos. A second post-Ottoman milestone was crossed in 1956 when the United States displaced its main European allies, the UK and France as the principal manager of Western interests in the region, which at the time centered on the Cold War containment of the Soviet Union, safeguarding Western access to Gulf oil and trade routes, and sustaining Israeli security. A further phase emerged after the ending of Cold War geopolitical bipolarity. This was soon followed by the 9/11 attacks on the United States, which supplied the pretext for a series of disastrous interventions in the name of counterterrorism.


Post-colonial Turmoil


Then came the uprisings of 2011 consisting of a series of popular movements displacing several authoritarian regimes, followed by an array of foreign interventions, proxy wars, prolonged strife, and massive civilian suffering throughout the region. One result of these anti-authoritarian uprisings has been a surge of counterrevolutionary violence and intensified repressive tendencies. Beyond this, U.S./Saudi/Israeli extreme hostility toward Iran has threatened for years to explode into a regional war of great ferocity.


Into this maelstrom of violence and disorder, the ascent of Trump to U.S. leadership two years ago seemed a huge dump of oil on these already raging fires in the Arab world. Such apprehensions were quickly realized: giving the green light to the Saudi/UAE ultimatum directed at Qatar, going all out to help Israel impose an apartheid state on the Palestinian people, and building a war mongering alliance with Riyadh and Tel Aviv to produce some sort of final showdown with Iran. And worst of all, remaining complicit in the Saudi intervention in Yemen, a humanitarian catastrophe that has pushed over 17 millions Yemenis to the brink of starvation.



Syrian Withdrawal


As the world has learned, often painfully, Trump is the least predictable  and most irresponsible political figure ever to govern in the United States. On the home front, his policies have been ideologically coherent, leaning far to the right on such varied matters as immigration, trade, taxes, law enforcement policies, and respect for constitutional guidelines. On foreign policy, there has been Trumpist bluster and erratic behavior, but nothing very disruptive other than perhaps the Jerusalem embassy move, that is, until the sudden announcement of the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from Syria a few days ago, to be followed by reducing by 50% the combat presence of American forces in Afghanistan.


This Syrian move has shaken the national security establishment in Washington, and supposedly further undermined confidence in America’s global role among NATO allies and, above all, upset Israel and Saudi Arabia. In this case, Trump overrode the unanimous advice of his hawkish advisors and ministers, failed to consult with allies, and justified the withdrawal by misleadingly claiming the defeat of ISIS.  The magnitude of the government crisis was signaled by the announced resignation of General Jim Mattis, Secretary of Defense, and underscored by his letter condemning the president’s approach in all but name. This letter of resignation was immediately treated as scripture by Democrats, as well by such stalwarts of liberalism as CNN and the NY Times. It even led several Republicans to at last step forward to denounce Trump’s new Syria policy, contending that it betrays the Kurds, rewards the Russians and the Assad regime, and is red meat for the undefeated ISIS legions.


Assuming that Trump does not pull the rug out from under his own initiative, it certainly merits deserve a more balanced consideration, and quite likely a favorable assessment. The American military presence in Syria was always problematic, too modest to be a game changer, but significant enough to prolong the Syrian agony. With respect to ISIS, it may not be defeated, but the main players in Syria at this point—the Syrian government, Russia, and Iran all have strong immediate incentives to carry the fight against ISIS to a successful conclusion. We cannot know what Turkey will do with respect to the Kurds operating close to its border in northern Syria and supposedly linked to the armed struggle movement of the PKK centered in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq. We can hope that Erdogan gave Trump some assurances when they talked of foregoing an escalation of anti-Kurdish military efforts and the Syrian Kurds and their allies among the Turkish Kurds will on their side explore deescalating options.

What we can be encouraged by, especially if account is also taken of the withdrawal of half of the American combat contingents in Afghanistan, announced just one day later, is that Trump seems to be giving substance to his long deferred campaign promise to end foreign interventions and give emphasis to restoring the quality of life in the United States. If this is indeed the case then it is bad news for the Saudi and Israeli hawks. They expected Trump to lead this most unholy of alliances to the gates of Tehran, maybe not by military means, but at least by intensified forms of coercive diplomacy and a variety of destabilizing tactics. Trump has deservedly earned a reputation for habitual inconsistency, or for staying the course once a policy comes under fire. At least for the moment, it would seem that the Syrian withdrawal, even if slowed down by deep state pushback, is best understood as part of a larger political disengagement from failed military adventures in distant countries at great cost and almost no political results. If this happens, it will be a major defeat for the ‘bipartisan consensus’ that promoted U.S. global militarism ever since the end of World War II as the twin sibling of neoliberal globalization.


All and all, what emerges is certainly not a pretty picture yet there are grounds to be more positive than the strongly negative reactions of the political elites in America and Western Europe. The disavowing of foreign military intervention by the United States is long overdue, given the record of political failure and the trail of suffering left behind. Yet more important, and undoubtedly not part of any coherent revision of grand strategy by Trump, is the possibility that a reduced political engagement by the United States in the Middle East will encourage regional moves toward moderation, self-determination, and co-existence. Such disengagement would allow the realities of a post-colonial Middle East to break freer of the shackles of geopolitics. Even the Israeli leadership might feel encouraged over time to reconsider their approach to the Palestinian national movement, and shift their focus from seeking an apartheid victory to envisioning a political compromise that presupposes the true equality of both peoples with a single secular democratic state.


The context of the Syrian withdrawal is also consistent with the drift of several recent regional developments. First of all, the grotesque murder of Kamal Khoshoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul has made it less feasible than before to join hands with the leadership in Riyadh, and solidify the anti-Iran alliance with Israel and the United States. As well, the dreadful Saudi  intervention in Yemen, undertaken with American support, has already caused massive suffering, and threatens to produce what is already being called the worst famine in the last hundred years. Moves at a Stockholm Conference of the parties agreed on the establishment of a UN presence to open the main Yemeni port at Hudaydah, handling 80% of food imports. If this initiative holds it would be a hopeful step back from the brink of a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. If this de-escalation gains momentum it would  likely reinforce the sense of geopolitical disengagement that is now associated with removing American troops from Syria, but might also encourage ending US complicity in the Yemen War.


These conjectures about a possibly better future for the Middle East in 2019 are beset by profound uncertainties. Aside from Trump further giving way to militarist counter-pressures, there is the possibility that he has at last crossed the red line of reluctant acceptance by the Republican Party facing its own lose/lose future. Such a dilemma could translate into a determined effort to force Trump from presidential power one way or another. He would then be replaced by the current vice president, Mike Pence, seemingly an ideological colleague on the home front, but unlikely to buck the national security establishment on its core global posture, namely, an unshakable belief in the benevolence and efficacy of American military power. Pence would be freed to produce a foreign policy that was both independent of Trump’s 2016 campaign for the presidency and not twisted to such an extent to satisfy Israel’s ambitions.


There are also disturbing alternative futures for the Middle East in the aftermath of the Syrian withdrawal. These include a surge of ISIS terrorist attacks in Europe and North America, a bloodbath in Syria as Damascus consolidates its victory in the civil war, and a major Turkish offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria. None of these developments can be ruled out, and if occurring, would alter for the worse what we can reasonably hope for in the region as 2019 unfolds.


Yet for the first time in the 21stCentury it is possible to envision positive developments in the region as reducing the level of violence and turbulence. Even if these moderating developments occur, the situation throughout the region still has a long way to go to achieve peace, stability,

humane governance, and justice.


As well, prospects are bleaker than ever for a sustainable peace for Israel and Palestine. Hardliners are in firm control in Israel, with a seeming resolve to carry the Zionist project in its most expansive form to a victorious finish. Although such an outcome is implausible, what is likely is a hardening of the apartheid structures oppressing the Palestinian people as a whole and an even more embittered resistance and increasingly militant global solidarity movement.