Tag Archives: justice

Jurisprudential Notes Toward Empowering and Liberating International Law and the United Nations

2 Jun

Jurisprudential Notes Toward Empowering and Liberating International Law and the United Nations

 

  1. Two recent exceptional books, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine (2019) by Noura Erakat and For the Love of Humanity: The World Tribunal on Iraq (2018) by Ayça Çubukçboth reject the liberal trope of assuming international law is an ally with respect to their passion for justice. Law as such is a neutral instrument, historically invented to serve the purposes of the strong, and more recently seen as useful for the weak in certain settings. When law is aligned with injustice it gives rise to resistance, which historically is associated with the hallowed tradition of civil disobedience, influential with Tolstoy, Gandhi, and more recently, Martin Luther King, Jr.. In these contexts civil disobedience can involve the nonviolent transgression of any legal norm that calls attention to the specific injustice. For instance, a refusal to pay taxes or trespass on a military base are illustrative. Armed struggle may also achieve law-generating legitimacy as was the case in the decades after World War II for anti-colonial wars or wars of national liberation. So far, there is no traditional of internationalor globalcivil disobedience. In a globalizing world, transnational activism needs such a means to protest injustice. Perhaps, the purported criminalization of the BDS Campaign directed at Israel in some Western countries gives this option to activists

 

  1. David Kennedy earlier developed the argument, if I read him correctly, that a principal value of international law in war/peace contexts is to provide a familiar and accepted discoursethat facilitates communication between representatives of governments, diplomats, and other actors. This assertion is more innovative than it appears at first glance. Most of us believe the main function and test of law’s effectiveness is whether it achieves restraints on behavior on the basis of legal prohibitions. Kennedy is skeptical of the ability of international law to shape the behavior of sovereign states in war/peace contexts, yet affirms the relevance of international law to the conduct of international relations. Instead of stressing the regulation of behavior of sovereign states, Kennedy believes that international law is primarily useful for purposes of intra-governmental and inter-governmental communication, helping policymakers determine how policy should be framed and justified. The challenge for most moderate governments is to exercise their discretion in ways responsive to a range of concerns, including humanitarian, security, and strategic. For overall discussion see Kennedy, Of War and Law (2006). There is a further point. In effect, language being inherently malleable, it is always possible to interpret the law to conform to preferred policy options reflecting societal roles and normative background. For this reason, in matters that challenge major state interests law serves mainly to communicate and clarify, but lacks the political traction to restrain. Law does allow the strong to vindicate their claims of belligerent rights as in war crimes trials of the leader(s) of defeated countries. A recent instance is the trial and execution of Saddam Hussein orchestrated by the victorious law-violating aggressor.

 

  1. By contrast, in Revisiting the Vietnam War (2018) I contend that American policies in Vietnam after 1954 were unlawful in various ways, with a special stress on the U.S. extension of the combat zone in South Vietnam to North Vietnam after 1964. In effect, international law, as well as the UN Charter, sought to be regulative with respect to behavior, as well as the incidental benefit of offering a framework for discourse among diplomats. Further, that regulative intentions giving rise to such legal norms were seeking to restrict recourse to international force to situations of self-defense strictly defined. The overriding goal of the. UN Charter is war prevention. The Nicaragua Casedecided by the World Court in 1986 confirmed the view that international law governing recourse to force was regulated in a manner entirely consistent with the UN Charter core concepts of unconditional prohibition (Article 2(4)), coupled with an exception for validclaims of self-defense made dependent on the existence of “a prior armed attack” across an international boundary. (Article 51). History is relevant. When the grief and tragedy of war remained an active memory restraint followed, not only because the law so decreed but as a reflection of the psychological anti-war mood that then briefly prevailed. 

 

  1. Such a regulative view of international law rests on a premise that there are correct and incorrect (or better and worse) modes of interpretation with respect to theapplicationof legal norms. This premise does not entail a positivist approach that restricts the meaning attributed to legal norms to the language used in formal texts or customary rules. A more appropriate interpretative approach can be adopted, enlarged to take account of context, including ethical, sociological, and historical considerations. When a country has recourse to force, claimint to act in accord with its right of self-defense or contends that its uses of force are proportional and discriminate a regulative approach can disagree by offering contrary factual and interpretative evidence. The absence of authoritative interpreters of international law make theses assessments rest to a greater degree on supposedly neutral scholarly or expert opinion, which is deemed more trustworthy as not forthcoming from a partisan source. Of course, scholars disagree just as judges disagree. For this reason the selection of judges or the appraisal of scholarly merit is crucial and often determinative of ‘the law.’ The significant differences between Brett Kavanaugh and Ruth Bader Ginsberg are not vocational or analytical as much as they are normative and subjective.

 

  1. Myres McDougal in collaboration with Harold Lasswell addressed this issue of ‘normative ambiguity.’ They attempted. to resolve the challenge of authoritativeness by reference to ‘reasonable expectations’ as assessed by reference to the values at stake in a free society. As their work was rooted in the global setting of the Cold War their inclinations were to find that American foreign policy was in most instances compatible with international law as it was assumed guided by a commitment to promote free world values and by reliance on capabilities able to bring effective power to bear on the behavior of political actors. See McDougal & Florentino Feliciano, Law and Minimum World Public Order: The Legal Regulation of International Coercion(1961); see also McDougal & Harold D. Lasswell, “The Identification and Appraisal of Diverse Systems of World Order,” American Journal of International Law53:1 (1959). Such a jurisprudential perspective regards international law as a geopolitical instrument evaluated as good or bad by reference to the normative credentials and material capabilities of political actors. These credentials are given concrete significance by assessing the degree of adherence of a domestic public order system to the values of a free society. The West, from this point of view supposedly adhered to such values, while the Soviet bloc did not. Such a framework was deeply ideological as in contested situations, for instance, Vietnam, where the differences between the Soviet and American forms of government should not have affected the legal assessment of violations of the sovereign rights of Vietnam.

 

  1. Çubukçu explores the relevance of international law in the informal setting of a people’s tribunal established to assess the legality of the Iraq War, including the subsequent occupation of Iraq. The tribunal was charged with determining whether political leaders, military commanders, and corporate officers should be held personally accountable under international criminal law. Admittedly, this is a somewhat misleading way to conceive of the central mission of the Iraq War Tribunal. This appropriation of law by those acting on behalf of civil society are doing so on the basis of already formed judgments that reflect moral convictions. Such a peoples’ tribunal is tasked with documentingviolations of international law and international crimes, and is expected to justify conclusions of criminality, which were presumed, and motivated the effort to create such a tribunal. Such a ‘judicial’ undertaking is not motivated by a search for the proper mode of interpretation. The Tribunal’s ‘jury of conscience’ did not rest its authority on the basis of having legal experts pass judgment, although it was permissible to have such individuals participate, but only to the extent that their politics are right and their reputation as exemplary citizens is high. Putting the point differently, these kinds of civic initiatives are undertaken because of anti-war sentiments being considered applicable to the judgment of belligerent behavior being challenged and the failure of formal institutions, including the United Nations, to protect a sovereign nation, in this case Iraq, from military attack and occupation. It is not an inquiry as generally understood, but a gathering of evidence and interpretative argument to mount a challenge directed at a controversial policy of a government, usually a government that enjoys impunity with respect to its wrongdoing. The conclusions of such a tribunal is ultimately an appeal to international public opinion, but usually falls short of its goals because of limits on funding available to disseminate results and antipathy of mainstream media to these activities. These tribunals are portrayed by the media as usurping the role of formal institutions and are constituted without any acceptable constitutional mandate. The underlying question is whether civil society has any lawmaking authority deserving respect. As such tribunals challenge the new political norms of post-truth society, some view their role as benevolent, others as irrelevant if not malevolent. There is no doubt that civil society exerts an influence on public opinion with respect to issues of war/peace, including accountability for war crimes. Such influence tends to be more evident in democratic societies. Yet modern democratic states rely on extensive claims of secrecy, nationalist ideology, money, and militarism to marginalize those citizens who seek to engage more fully and critically with public policy, especially the war/peace agenda, than by voting periodically. Tribunals established by citizens is a dissident mode of participatory democracy, and more important for this reason than as a contribution to upholding the rule of law.   

 

  1. Academic international law specialists rarely acknowledge any legal, moral, and political relevance to civil society initiatives that claim a residual authority to act when governments and the UN fail to do so. In this sense, the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II also proceeded on the basis of predetermined results, but because constituted by sovereign states as represented by governments, their undertaking was generally viewed as deserving of respect. The documentation of criminality was widely regarded as an invaluable form of political education. What little criticism of these legal initiatives by academic specialists did occur focused on the fact that the crimes of the victors, including the atomic bombing of Japanese cities, were excluded even from inquiry, much less accountability. In other words, since international law is treated as subject to the statist framework of world order, non-statist initiatives to pronounce on the wrongdoing of states are dismissed as without legal relevance.

 

  1. We are confronting various kinds of partisan scholarship, some overt, some hidden. Çubukçu and Erakat are notable because they make their partisanship explicit, whereas the mainstream jurisprudential traditions, whether positivist, realist, or sociological, claim an objective approach premised on the mystique of ‘the majesty of the law.’ Or as in recent debates about the Trump presidency, rhetorical flourishes such as ‘no one is above the law’ are common yet non-operational. Even before the banner of ‘fake news’ was waved so defiantly, it was obvious that law and legal order depend more on the political and ethical outlook of the interpreter than on legal training and analytical skills or even on the aura of legitimacy surrounding governmental institutions. It is usually more helpful to know the viewpoints of the judges on the U.S. Supreme Court than knowing all about the substantive ins and outs of a legal controversy being addressed.

 

  1. Shall we also admit that the law in the books will not necessarily matter unless it is accompanied by a sufficient political willto seek and achieve implementation? In international life this political will depend heavily on the attitudes of leading geopolitical actors. In domestic society the political will is shaped by what the 20thcentury Austrian sociologist of law, Eugen Erlich, called ‘the living law,’ the values and expectations of the people as the crucial indicator of effective law.For routine matters such as tourism, diplomatic representation, maritime safety governments comply because it is convenient for them to do so, or reciprocity creates mutual benefits. When war/peace is at stake, then law tends to be sidelined by geopolitics, invoked when it serves interests, evaded or refuted when it contradicts interests. The hope after the devastating war that ended in 1945 and generated a well-founded fear that a future war would involve nuclear devastation was that it would incline the most powerful state to abandon war as an instrument of policy as a matter of law reinforced by political will. Instead geopolitical actors, above all the United States and the Soviet Union opted more for prudence than prevention, continuing to advance their interests by investing heavily in military capabilities and by pragmatic recourses to international force. This post-nuclear militarism was tempered by strong efforts to limit the scale and stakes of conflict to avoid a major war that could lead to the use of nuclear weaponry.

 

  1. The substantive context matters. The state, if corruption and incompetence can be minimized, can be relied upon to act lawfully if the subject-matter is What is treated as routine shifts with time, and reflects to some extent the ebb and flow of political outlook, but generally coincides with behavior that reflects reciprocal interests as is the case with diplomatic immunity, maritime safety, and often even treatment of prisoners of war. Geopolitical actors generally have a strong interest in stability for purposes of trade, investment, travel, and communications that depends on reliable international legal frameworks. Law collapses when there is absent a political will to implement the legal norms as is the case with respect to economic and social rights. Such norms come into existence because of widely shared moral aspirations, but lack political traction to challenge entrenched private sector interests that benefit from non-compliance as with the ‘right to food’ or the ‘right to health.’ Beyond this, the absence of an international community dedicated to human interestsas distinct from national interests makes it evident that despite economic and social rights anchored in treaty law, any sense of meaningful internationalresponsibility is almost non-existent. What international relief is forthcoming in response to famine and natural disasters is invariably voluntary, a matter of good will, rather than an expression of an obligatoryresponse.

 

11.Where asymmetries of power exist, as in competing claims of sovereign rights, with respect to the delimitation of territorial boundaries or upholding the right of self-determination, law validates grievances, motivates resistance, but cannot shape political outcomes. Asymmetries of power are conventionally associated with relative military capabilities, but this has been demonstrated to be misleading in post-1945 international relations. A major recent prominent example is the overall success of the anti-colonial movement. In case after case a mobilized popular resistance of the nation overcame the superior military capabilities of the colonial power. The exceptions to this pattern involve settler colonial societies in which the native population was exterminated or marginalized as in North America, Australia, New Zealand, or somewhat assimilated as in most of Latin America. Relative military power is still highly relevant in conflicts between states, but not in their subsequent occupation. In the instances of aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq, the military superiority of the United States prevailed in the attack phase of warfare, yet during the subsequent occupation phase it endured a political defeatthat basically nullified the military victory. In the post-colonial world, popular sovereignty when effectively mobilized as resistance can often challenge geopolitical maneuvers, upholding basic rights, but at great human cost. Legitimating resistance through law as occurred in the course of the great anti-colonial struggles of the last half of the 20thcentury may have been the greatest contribution of the United Nations to peace and justice.   

 

 

12.I will end where I began, celebrating the publication of the recent books by Çubukçu and Erakat. Çubukçu helps us better understand the complex interplay of law and war from the perspective of movement politics; the geopolitical state is the target of disapproval for its behavior—trampling on the sovereign rights of the Iraqi people by waging an unprovoked war. Erakat, in contrast, explores how law has been twisted by governments to serve geopolitical interests at the expense of basic Palestinian rights, and yet normative discourse nevertheless currently serves the struggle of the Palestinian people and strengthens the political will of transnational civil society to challenge Israel.  

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading Elisabeth Weber’s KILL BOXES

11 Mar

[Prefatory Note: The purpose of this post is to recommend highly a book by Elisabeth Weber addressing the interrelated issues of torture, indefinite detention, and drone warfare from a perspective that is both humanistic and deeply steeped in European philosophical thought, treating especially the work of Jacques Derrida as illuminating and situating these complex questions of state violence and technology in the special circumstances that unfolded after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Appearing below is a review of the book that appeared in a recent issue of The Huffington Post followed by my Afterword that is printed at the end of Weber’s important book. Kill Boxes can be ordered in the normal ways, including by Amazon, which these days I mention reluctantly as it remains one of the few respected companies that continue to advertise on the Breitbart alt-right website. The publisher’s website with information about how to obtain the book can be found at https://punctumbooks.com/titles/kill-boxes-facing-the-legacy-of-us-sponsored-torture-indefinite-detention-and-drone-warfare/

 

Book Review: “Kill Boxes: Facing the Legacy of US-Sponsored Torture, Indefinite Detention, and Drone Warfare,” by Elisabeth Weber

Rebecca Tinsley, Contributor

Journalist and human rights activist

 

In her timely book, “Kill Boxes,” Elisabeth Weber ironically notes the “long history of images uniting figures of torture and sacredness or divinity.” She explores the use of “no touch” “positional” torture in which the terrified victims are forced to inflict suffering on themselves, leaving no marks. When the Abu Ghraib photos emerged, the media focused on the pornographic aspects and the exploitation of cultural sensitivities. Most commentators accepted that “a few bad apples were to blame,” rather than seeing it as standard CIA and military practice. Yet, despite the 2014 Senate report on the use of torture, those responsible have enjoyed almost total impunity. What’s more, torture is back on the political agenda, and with popular backing, according to opinion polls.

 

Weber, a professor at UC Santa Barbara, explores the writing of Jean Amery, a survivor of the Gestapo during World War Two. He described torture as being let down by one’s own flesh, and experiencing death while still alive, prompting Weber to draw parallels with the paintings of Francis Bacon. With the first blow received from an agent of the state, Amery wrote, a person’s trust in the world broke down irreparably, and with it any expectation of help. Disturbing as some might find torture, evidently the producers of the “24” phased out torture from the show’s plots because it had become “trite” and was no longer a novelty.

 

“Kill Boxes” also traces the post-Abu Ghraib shift from capturing and interrogating suspects to extrajudicial drone assassinations. The NGO Reprieve has counted 4,700 attacks on Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, all places where the US is not, officially, at war. Weber writes of the post-traumatic stress experienced by people living in places where the hum of drones overhead is constant, and where concentrating on school lessons or work is impossible if one fears attack at any moment.

 

Drawing on Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” in which the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, is transformed into an insect, Weber cites the term “bug splat,” used by drone operators to describe those they kill. As the leading interpreter of Jacques Derrida, she also examines his “two ages of cruelty;” scientifically and technologically sophisticated, and allegedly surgical and precise, as opposed to archaic, indiscriminate and bloody. As Derrida concluded, “One does not count the dead in the same way from one corner of the globe to the other.”

 

“Kill Boxes” concludes with a scorching essay by human rights authority Richard Falk. He recalls Henry Kissinger’s post-Vietnam aim to maximize effectiveness while minimizing the risk to Americans, enjoying invulnerability while the enemy is completely vulnerable. It is, Falk, warns, the surest way to convince young Muslims that only violent resistance can protect their cultural space from American aggression.

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Afterword

 Richard Falk

The United States emerged from World War II with a triumphal sense that its military power had defeated evil political forces in Europe and Asia, and should not be subject to scrutiny despite causing massive civilian casualties along the way to victory. There were few tears shed as a result of the firebombing of Dresden, an occurrence given a long literary life thanks to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five or in reaction to the firebombing of Tokyo, or even in reaction to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These two Japanese cities were selected because they had not been previously bombed in the war as they contained no important military targets and would be ideal sites to convey the extent of devastation caused by this new hyper-weapon.

 

There is little doubt that if Germany or Japan had developed the bomb and used it in a similar fashion, and then despite this, lost the war, their leaders would have certainly been charged with crimes and held accountable. What the United States learned from this major wartime experience was that military superiority ensured the triumph of justice as well as gained for the country diplomatic ascendancy and enormous economic benefits. The unpleasant fact that the vehicle for such success included recourse to genocidal tactics of warfare was put aside as irrelevant, or worse, a demeaning of a just war and those who fought it. Ever since World War II there has been this psychotic doubling of moral consciousness that fractures the coherence of law by violating its essential imperative: treating equals equally. The contrary approach of ‘victor’s justice’ is to grant impunity to the victor while imposing accountability on the loser as by way of the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials.

 

Visiting North Vietnam in June of 1968 to view what the American Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, had described as the most ‘surgical’ bombing campaign in all of history, I was shocked by the indiscriminately devastated cities that had been targeted from air. I was even more shocked by the awareness of total vulnerability of Vietnamese society to the onslaught of what was then almost limitless high tech superiority in weaponry, which translated into total American domination of air, sea, and land dimensions of the Vietnam War. One aspect of this vulnerability of this essentially peasant society, which disturbed me deeply at the time, was the relative helplessness of the Vietnamese to do anything by way of retaliation. In this respect, the war was relatively one-sided, with war thinkers at such think tanks as RAND openly advocating a gradual escalation of the pain being inflicted on Vietnamese society until the political leadership in Hanoi came to their senses and surrender as Germany and Japan had finally done two decades earlier. After lesser forms of punishment failed to achieve their desired result, American political and military leaders pondered whether to bomb the dikes in the Red River Delta that would cause flooding in heavily populated areas, thus likely producing several million civilian casualties, or use nuclear weapons with even worse results, but held back, not because of moral or legal inhibitions, but because they feared a severe political backlash and home and internationally.

 

It would be misleading to suppose that the Vietnamese were entirely helpless. The Vietnamese had the capacity to rely on relatively low tech weaponry and the advantages of fighting in their territorial homeland against a foreign enemy, to inflict significant casualties on American ground forces and even to shoot down American planes now and then, often capturing and imprisoning the pilot. Unable to overcome this Vietnamese resilience and faced with a growing political discontent at home, the U.S. Government began as early as 1968 to search for an exit strategy to cut their losses in Vietnam. The highest priority of American diplomacy was to cover up the startling reality that despite the American military juggernaut, the United States still lost the Vietnam War. This effort also failed as the outcome in Vietnam eventually became clear enough for all to see, although Washington’s effort to save face prolonged the combat for seven long years, causing tens of thousands of superfluous casualties on both sides. Of course, this was not the first time that the political resolve of a mobilized native population shifted the balance against a Western state that enjoyed a decisive military superiority. All the colonial wars after 1945 exhibited a similar pattern, perhaps most spectacularly in India, where Gandhi led a massive nonviolent movement to induce the United Kingdom to abandon its most prized colonial possession.

 

Unlike the European colonial powers that came to understand that the imperial age was over, the United States was not prepared to cut back on its global security role. Instead it made three sets of adjustments to the Vietnamese experience so that it might carry on as previously: (1) it did its best to undermine citizen opposition to non-defensive wars of choice by professionalizing the armed forces, eliminating the draft, and managing the media to minimize adverse comment during the course of a war; (2) it worked hard to find tactics and weaponry that enabled one-sided warfare, avoiding battlefield casualties for American troops while inflicting heavy damage on the adversary; (3) it struggled politically to demonstrate to the American people that its military power could again be efficiently used to achieve geopolitical goals (disguised as ‘security’) and by so doing overcome what Washington policymakers derisively referred to as ‘the Vietnam Syndrome,’ that is a post-Vietnam reluctance by the citizenry to back a distant overseas war that had nothing to do with self-defense. The United States finally found an ideal war in 1991 to rehabilitate militarism when with UN blessings it restored Kuwaiti sovereignty by forcing an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait in the First Gulf War, experiencing more American casualties due to ‘friendly fire’ than from enemy resistance. This reinstatement of American military credibility was further reinforced, again rather brutally, by the Kosovo War (1999) in which NATO achieved its political goals entirely through air power without suffering a single casualty, while causing substantial civilian casualties on the ground in Kosovo. After Serbia withdrew from Kosovo Washington think tanks began boasting about the new tactical wonders of ‘zero casualty wars,’ seeming not to be aware of the vast differences between types of warfare, thus paving the wave for frustrating repetitions of Vietnam in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.

 

When approaching Elisabeth Weber’s extraordinary group of essays on how war is being waged beneath the shadows cast by the 9/11 attacks, I find this background relevant. It especially shows how reliance on one-sided warfare was being achieved by technological and tactical innovations at the close of World War II and later by a series of adjustments to the American defeat in Vietnam. There were two important changes between the wars that occurred before and after 9/11. Perhaps, the most important of these changes was the determination and capacity of the militarily inferior enemy to retaliate in ways that inflicted important symbolic harm on their militarily superior adversary and gave rise to fear and anger among the civilian population.

 

In the period between 1945 and 2001 the wars fought could be described as ‘Westphalian Wars,” that is, wars either between territorial sovereign states or within one such state, and mainly wars involving Northern countries seeking to retain their positions of dominance in the South. In these wars the combat zone was confined to the South. After 9/11 the ensuing wars were more properly understood as North/South with reactive violence in the South directed at targets in the North, sometimes with great effect, as in the 9/11 attacks. True, the military superiority, although taking new forms thanks to technological and tactical innovations, remained in the North, particularly the United States, but the other side developed the will and capacity to retaliate, although in a manner that was accurately perceived as immoral and illegitimate, and characterized as ‘terrorism.’

 

The second fundamental change in the nature of warfare, also of a post-Westphalian character, was to make the whole world a potential battlefield including, or even particularly, the homeland. In effect, the United States developed weapons and tactics to hunt for the prey wherever on the planet they might be hiding, including within ‘sleeper cells’ in its own society. Similarly, the adversary used what ingenuity it possessed to find soft spots in ‘homeland security’ and deliver violent blows wherever it might inflict harm and cause fear, a kind of low tech ‘shock and awe.’ The entire world, without much respect for boundaries and sovereign rights, has become a global battlefield in which the so-called ‘War on Terror’ is being waged between two non-Westphalian political entities. On one side is the United States as the first ‘global state’ in history with its network of hundreds of foreign military bases, navies in all oceans, militarization of space, and its many allies among foreign countries. On the other side are a variety of non-territorial extremist networks (Al Qaeda, ISIS) spread across the globe, and capable of attracting followers in the heartland of its enemies who are willing to undertake suicide missions either by following orders or spontaneously.

 

Weber’s brilliant essays shine the bright light of philosophical, cultural, and psychological interpretation on these new patterns of violent conflict that have completely overwhelmed the outmoded Westphalian political consciousness. Her approach is heavily influenced by the complex illuminations of Jacques Derrida, especially his electrifying insights into the inevitability of living together on this planet, his profound application of the auto-immune mechanism to the kind of monstrous political behavior that these post-9/11 shockwaves have produced, and his depictions of the unnerving equivalencies between the sophisticated cruelties of the ‘civilized’ countries and the ‘barbaric’ cruelties of their supposedly primitive enemies.

 

These are fundamental realities that elude the conscience, and even the consciousness, of the political class that devises the war policies for the West, which, above all claims the high moral and legal ground for its counterterrorist campaigns. It is helpful to remember that the consciousness of the politicians and decision-makers has been shaped for centuries by a form of cynical realism misleadingly attributed to Thucydides and Machiavelli that allegedly adopts the simplistic amoral formula of ‘might makes right,’ which has the secondary effect of marginalizing considerations of law. Henry Kissinger, the arch realist of our era, makes no secret in various writings of his annoyance with ill-tutored aides that remind him of legal or moral constraints that should be considered when contemplating policy choices. For the Kissingers of this world, the only considerations that count are effectiveness and the minimization of risks, underpinned by the idea that the principal agency of history is military power the results of which tended to be mostly vindicated by nationally oriented historians, although also challenged by a few historians with revisionist interpretations.

 

What Weber’s essays of exploration help us understand is that this Kissinger worldview directly leads to torture, kill boxes, indefinite detention, and drone attacks in response to the post-Westphalian non-territorial reconfiguration of conflict that currently controls the political imagination in the West. Put more explicitly, the conventional Westphalian geopolitical constructs of deterrence, defense, and retaliation do not work in non-territorial struggles in which the combat soldiers of the enemy engage in suicide missions, lack high value targets to destroy, and do not threaten invasion or occupation. What works, then, is gaining information as to the intentions and location of the potential attackers, places of refuge, and the leaders. Given this understanding, normalized recourse to torture was an irresistibly attractive option for those who saw the world through a realist optic. As well, preventive war and preemptive tactics of taking out anyone deemed by word or deed to pose a threat to compensate for the absence of an effective reactive option; this circumstance contrasts with Westplalian patterns of warfare where the stonger side militarily always retained a retaliatory capability even if the adversary struck first. An exemplary victim of a drone strike was the extra-judicial, presidentially approved killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, accused of delivering extremist radio broadcasts from his Yemen hideout that allegedly inspired ‘homegrown terrorists’ to launch lethal attacks against Americans. The realist mentality has a hard time accepting social science findings that question the utility of torture as the preferred means to gather information, and since there is only lip service given to normative considerations, it is not surprising that torture persists despite being unconditionally criminalized internationally. True, torture is sanitized to some extent for the sake of modern liberal sensibilities by leaving the victim unscarred or transferring the suspect to a CIA ‘black site’ or to a torture-friendly foreign government by way of ‘extraordinary rendition.’ We are perceptively reminded in two of the prior essays how the CIA relied extensively on the secret use torture during the Cold War, having made a great effort to develop methods of torture that did not leave the victim physically disfigured.

 

Another puzzle of these post-Westphalian challenges involves figuring out how to retain the strategic and tactical benefits of military superiority in essentially non-territorial contexts of conflict and political inhibition. The main goal becomes how to find and destroy the enemy while losing as few lives as possible on the technologically advanced side. Drone warfare, at first glance, seems like the ideal solution, a technology that puts to ‘battlefield’ use the information procured through torture and bribery, in a manner that identifies and locates suspects in the most remote parts of the planet, and delivers precise lethal blows with supposedly minimal collateral damage to those nearby. Yet as Weber so well shows the reader, the real circle of devastation is far broader than the ‘kill box’ within which the targeted individuals are closeted. Studies have now shown that the entire surrounding communities are literally terrorized and so acutely alienated as to be receptive to extremist recruitment efforts. It is revealing that a mainstream film, Eye in the Sky, claimed to address the morality of drone strikes by limiting the civilian collateral damage to one young female street vendor in an African town while the use of the drone was justified to avoid a terrorist attack on the local market that would have killed 80 persons. What was occluded from the movie watcher was the realization that the entire community would be indefinitely traumatized by this attack launched from the sky.

 

On further reflection, drone warfare may turn out to be a Pandora’s Box for the United States. Already there are reports of ISIS making use of drone, and unlike nuclear weaponry the idea of a nonproliferation regime for drones is generally dismissed as utterly fanciful. But the seductive short-term appeal of drone warfare seems irresistible even to a Nobel Peace Prize recipient like Barack Obama. What drones offer is a way of ignoring sovereignty and geography without provoking widespread protests likely to erupt if either lots of civilians died (civilian casualties were not even counted in Iraq and Afghanistan by the Rumsfeld Defense Department as a matter of policy and if deaths do not result, while the Obama presidency ignores completely the community terrorization caused by drone strikes) or American pilots were occasionally shot down or captured. It also avoids the Guantánamo range of problems. Drone operators can sit comfortably in their Nevada office complex thousands of miles from the target, and yet have an eerily intimate relationship to the human damage done due to remote visualization technology. Weber’s commentary here tells us much about the paradoxically unnerving relationship between distance and proximity in this new era.

 

The greatest blow to our Westphalian sensibilities is undoubtedly what Derrida describes as the dynamics of the ‘auto-immune response.’ It is here that horror is reproduced by adopting methods to protect the threatened political organism, the homeland, that are no less cruel than what has been experienced. In effect, terrorism begets terrorism, and humane values, always precarious and subject to rights of exception, are explicitly subordinated to the alleged requirements of ‘security.’ The post-Westphalian turn encroaches upon the rights of the threatened society by making everyone a potential suspect, and especially implicates those who share a religious and ethnic identity with the assailants, and become too often designated as secondary targets. Weber shows the rather grotesque equivalence between the suicide bomber and the drone operator, simultaneously inflicting death and situating their bodies outside the zone of retaliatory violence.

 

One of the greatest contributions made by Weber takes the form of indicating the extreme censorship imposed on the publication of poems written by those detained at Guantánamo. The justification given was that poems might transmit coded messages, although it is hard to imagine what useful information could be conveyed by those held in conditions of prolonged captivity. A better explanation might be the reluctance of Guantánamo officials to give these prisoners an opportunity to bear witness to their sufferings and often personal and spiritual aspirations, which would undermine security by ‘humanizing’ terrorists that need to be thought of as ‘the worst of the worst’ to sustain homeland morale. Such a line of interpretation adds weight to Weber’s central claim that the humanist sensibility poses a real challenge, if not a threat, to the militarized mentality that allows the modern forms of cruelty to pass undetected through the metal detectors of ‘civilized societies.‘

 

I think a reading of Kill Boxes is particularly valuable at this time to unmask the inhumane features of post-Westphalian forms of violent conflict. We are left to ponder whether it is too late to wish for a humane future in which there is respect for and deference to the dynamics of self-determination in the non-West. We need also to seek to have the deadly mechanisms of the post-9/11 auto-immune reactive politics pass through ethical filters before carrying out their deadly missions, sometimes in foreign countries that are even remote from the declared combat zones. At the very least, the challenges posed throughout this book point to an urgent need to reconstruct international humanitarian law in light of the realities of these non-territorial patterns of transnational conflict.

 

 

 

 

 

The Irrelevance of Liberal Zionism

4 Jan

 

 

Frustrated by Israeli settlement expansion, excessive violence, AIPAC maximalism, Netanyahu’s arrogance, Israel’s defiant disregard of international law, various Jewish responses claim to seek a middle ground. Israel is criticized by this loyal opposition, sometimes harshly, although so is the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and activists around the world. Both sides are deemed responsible in equal measure for the failure to end the conflict. With such a stance liberal Zionists seek to occupy the high moral ground without ceding political relevance. In contrast, those who believe as I do that Israel poses the main obstacle to achieving a sustainable peace are dismissed by liberal Zionists as either obstructive or unrealistic, and at worst, as anti-Israeli or even anti-Semitic.

 

Listen to the funding appeals of J Street or read such columnists in the NY Times as Roger Cohen and Thomas Friedman to grasp the approach of liberal Zionism. These views are made to appear reasonable, and even just, by being set off against such maximalist support for Israel as associated with AIPAC and the U.S. Congress, or in the NY Times context by comparison with the more conservative views of David Brooks (whose son currently serves in the IDF) who published a recent ‘balanced’ column lionizing Netanyahu, “The Age of Bibi” [Jan. 2, 2014]. Of all the deformed reasoning contained in the column, perhaps the most scandalous was comparing Netanyahu to Churchill, and to suggest that his story has the grandeur that bears a resemblance to Shakespeare’s MacBeth, an observation that many would find unflattering. Of all Netanyahu’s qualities remarked upon, Brooks astoundingly finds that “his caution is the most fascinating.” According to Brooks, Netanyahu deserves to be regarded as cautious because he has refrained from attacking Iran despite threatening to do so with bellicose rhetoric. I would have thought that Netanyahu’s inflammatory threats directed at Iran, especially as combined with covert acts including inserting viruses to disable its nuclear program and assassinating Iranian scientists, would seem reckless enough for most observers. Since Brooks fails to mention the murderous attacks on Gaza, there is no need to reconcile such aggressive behavior with this overall assessment of caution.

 

At the core of liberal Zionism is the indictment of the Palestinian leadership for “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity” to recall the self-serving quip of the Israeli diplomat, Abba Eban. Roger Cohen would have us believe that prior to the collapse of the April negotiations the U.S. Government had presented a framework agreement, acceptable to Tel Aviv, that the Palestinian Authority irresponsibly and unreasonably rejected. And not only rejected, but the PA behaved in a manner that was provocative, signed some international agreements as if it already was a state. [“Why Israeli-Palestinian Peace Failed,” Dec. 23, 2014] This spin comes from Netanyahu’s chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, who is presented by Cohen as the voice of moderation, as the self-proclaimed champion of ‘two states for two peoples.’

Livni who is the leader of a small party called Hatnua, which is joined in coalition with a revamped Labor Party headed by Isaac Herzog, contesting Likud and Netanyahu. Cohen never inquires as to what sort of state she would wish upon the Palestinians, which on the basis of her past, would be thoroughly subjugated to Israeli security demands as well as accommodating the bulk of settlements and settlers while rejecting the rights under international law of Palestinians in relations to refugees.

 

When Livni was asked by Cohen whether she would suspend Israeli settlement expansion so as to get direct negotiations started once more, she indicated that she would “at least outside the major blocs.” Cohen calls her party ‘centrist,’ which is one way of acknowledging how far Israeli politics have drifted to the right in recent years. A reading of the leaked documents of the secret negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel represented by Livni showed how disinterested Israel seemed to be in two states for two peoples at that time of far less extensive settlement encroachment, as well as her overt rejection of the relevance of international law to the diplomatic process. [For a collection of the leaked documents showing Livni’s role see Clayton E. Swisher, ed., Palestine Papers: The End of the Road (2011)]

 

This expresses a second element of liberal Zionism, that despite everything the two state solution is confirmed over and over again as the only path to peace. As such, it should be endlessly activated in accordance with the Oslo formula that keeps the United States in the absurd role of intermediary and continue to insist that any Palestinian reference to rights under international law is an obstacle to peace. After more than 47 years of occupation and over 20 years of submission to the Oslo approach it would seem that it is past time to issue a certificate of futility, and the failure to do so, is for me a sure sign of either bad faith or extreme denial.

 

What is baffling is that those like Friedman and Cohen who surely know better play this game that never even raises the concrete question of how to reverse a settlement process that now includes as many as 600,000 settlers many of whom are militantly opposed to any kind of solution to the conflict that challenges their present situation. Conveniently, also, this liberal advocacy finesses the claims of the four million or so Palestinian refugees, including almost two million that have been confined to miserable refugee camps for decades, some since 1948. How can one possibly imagine a sustainable and just peace emerging from such a blinkered outlook!

 

Liberal Zionists also oppose as irresponsible and unhelpful all efforts to challenge this framework, especially any call for holding Israel to account under international humanitarian law for its excessive violence. Alternative futures based on the equality of the two peoples, such as some kind of living together within a single political community are dismissed out of hand, either because of colliding with Zionist expectations of a Jewish state or because after decades of hatred any effort at social integration would be bound to fail. Intriguingly, my experience of many conversations with both Palestinian refugees and Gazans is far more hopeful about peaceful coexistence within shared political space than are the Israelis despite their prosperity, prowess, and far greater security.

 

In a similar vein, liberal Zionists almost always oppose as counterproductive, activist initiatives taken under the auspice of the BDS Campaign. Their argument is that Israel will never make ‘painful sacrifices’ when put under pressure deemed hostile, and without these, no peace is possible. What these painful sacrifices might be on the Israeli side are never spelled out, but presumably would include disbanding the isolated settlements and maybe the separation wall, both of which were in any event unlawful. The real sacrifice for Israelis would be to give up the completion of the maximal version of the Zionist project, that of so-called Greater Israel that encompasses the entirety of the alleged biblical entitlement to Palestine. For the Palestinians in contrast their sacrifice would necessitate renouncing a series of entitlements conferred by international law, pertaining to settlements, refugees, borders, self-determination, sovereignty. In effect, Israel would sacrifice part of its unlawful dominion, while Palestine would relinquish its lawful claims, and the end result would be one of the inequality of the two peoples, not a recipe for a lasting peace.

 

A final feature of liberal Zionism is to make concessions to the Greater Israel outlook along the following lines—Israel should be allowed to control the unlawfully established settlement blocs; Israeli security concerns should be met, including by stationing military forces within the West Bank for many ears, while any Palestinian security concerns are treated as irrelevant; Palestinian refugees would be denied the right to return to their pre-1967 places of residence; Jerusalem would remain essentially under Israel’s control; no provision would be made to ensure non-discrimination against the 20% Palestine minority living within pre-1967 Israel; no acknowledgement would be made of the past injustices flowing from the 1948 dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their place of residence and the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages, the catastrophe that befell the Palestinian people, the nakba, nor the recognition that the nakba is a process that has continued to afflict Palestinians to this very moment.

 

Despite its claim of reasonableness and practicality, the liberal Zionist approach is an increasingly irrelevant presence on the Israeli political horizon, paralleling the decline of the Labor Party and the peace movement in the country, as well as the ascendancy of the Likud and the politics of the extreme right. The Israeli end game is now overwhelmingly based on unilateralism, either imposing a highly subordinated and circumscribed Palestinian state confined to parts of the West Bank or establishing Greater Israel and giving up any pretense of implementing the formula of two states for two peoples. The fact that liberal Zionism and the diplomacy of the West largely plays along with the discarded scenario of two states for two peoples is nothing more than subservience to a cruel variant of ‘the politics of delusion.’

The denigration of liberal Zionism is not meant to belittle the effort of Jews as Jews to find a just and sustainable solution for both peoples. I strongly support such organizations as Jewish Voices for Peace and Middle East Children’s Alliance, and hail the contributions of Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Ilan Pappe, and many others to the struggle for Palestinian empowerment and emancipation. 

 

Fortunately, Palestinian resistance will likely stymie the two variants of the Israeli end game mentioned above, but much suffering is almost certain to ensue before sufficient momentum builds within Israel and throughout the world for living together on the basis of equality and even solidarity, accompanied by the necessary acknowledgement of past injustices via some kind of truth commission mechanism. After such knowledge, anything will be possible!