Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The 2014 Assault on Gaza: Israel’s Intentionality; with Remarks on Left Zionism

Operation Protective Edge begins July 8, 2014
 “Locals describe intense bombardmentBBC radio report, July 29, 2014

 On August 7th    near the end of the first three- day cease fire and the exit of Israeli ground forces, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, producer and guiding spirit, cited some of the grim statistics. In addition to about 1900 deaths, and many more injured, Democracy Now reported that some 500,000 Palestinians have been displaced with 187,000 still living in U.N. emergency shelters. An estimated 10,000 homes completely destroyed, and 30,000 homes partially destroyed. At least at least 11 UNWRA officials  in Gaza were killed and electricity, sewage and water facilities were destroyed.

 How much of this carnage did Israel intend? The question seems almost silly.  Professor Noam Chomsky, on Democracy Now’s August 8, 2014 program addressed the question with his usual incisive clarity.

It’s a hideous atrocity, sadistic, vicious, murderous, totally without any credible pretext. It’s another one of the periodic Israeli exercises in what they delicately call "mowing the lawn." That means shooting fish in the pond, to make sure that the animals stay quiet in the cage that you’ve constructed for them.  (See below for another definition of “mowing the lawn.”)

About a week earlier on Democracy Now‘s July 30, 2014 broadcast ("They Thought They’d Be Safe. They Were Wrong": 20 Gazans Killed in Israeli Bombing of U.N. Shelter) , a correspondent described Israeli bombing protocols.  Viewers were informed that the assaults on Gaza

are always heavier at night. They continue throughout the day, but the heaviest assaults come at dark. And we wake up to see many people dead and to hear their stories and to see people burying their dead. And these people at this U.N. school in Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza were killed while they slept. Many of these people had come from border areas. They had heeded Israel’s warnings. Some came after leaflets were dropped on their areas, others came after their homes were destroyed by Israel, and they thought that they would be safe in a United Nations-run school. They were wrong.

None of this is new or even strange to many readers familiar with the issue. But perhaps because I was inured to (or cynical about) most major media coverage, I was more than surprised to see in the New York Times some of the details of Israel’s battering of Gazan industry.    ( “Conflict Leaves Industry in Ashes and Gaza Reeling From Economic Toll”) The Times gave the story a generous half page on A10 for August 7th and included a photo of a bombed out Gazan factory. The story went into some of the details of the destruction of 175 of Gaza’s most successful industrial plants.

The Times quoted Ali Hayek, head of Gaza’s federation of industries “whose group represents 3,900 businesses employing 35,000 people.” Mr. Hayek believes that the “occupation intentionally destroyed these vital factories that constitute the backbone of society.” (The Times article included a statement from the IDF “categorically” denying that factories were targeted;  only “facilities  and locations that have been involved in manufacturing or launching rockets” were attacked.)

 The Times article ended with a quote from Ahmad Tawasi, 30, a technician at Al Awda Co.’s  180,000 –square foot factory which had employed  600 workers. Mr. Tawasi said that if his home was destroyed he could “earn enough money to rebuild.  But without the factory, he said, ‘I don’t know what will happen.’”

The WWII Comparison

One of my colleagues likes to compare Israel’s barbarism to the Nazis. I tend to  avoid such equations  since they often provide interlocutors  with a knee-jerk, simple, means of  running away from  the issue.   Also, comparing Nazis to Israelis tends to blur the unique elements that distinguish each historical era, For example, Hitler had the military and political wherewithal to direct the death of about 6 million Jews, Gypsies, etc., and to oversee another two score or so millions of deaths of others, including about 5.6 million Germans.

Although the combined casualty lists in Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009, about 1400 killed);  the eight-day aerial assault o f November 2012, 100 Palestinian deaths); and the July - August 2014  assault on Gaza do not bear comparison with Hitler’s numbers,  I take my friend’s  larger point. The critical factor is the intentionality. What the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians in Gaza amounts to the most brutal and merciless savagery that current political circumstances allow. The death and devastation especially in the current assault has gone well beyond that which might have been predicted outside of elite Tel Aviv councils before July 8, 2014. 

There’s another and deeper personal connection. As a member of a family that narrowly managed to escape Hitler's exterminations, I grew up wondering how ordinary Germans were able to rationalize and live with the horror that their government was perpetrating.  Part of the answer must lie in the power of denial facilitated by media and government propaganda. An ambiguous, even uncertain example that somehow stuck out for me was the brief comment, as reported in the New York Jewish Week (April 8, 2014),   of a woman pained at news reports of civilian Palestinian casualties. At a  “communal dialogue” at a Jewish Community Center in Manhattan,  entitled “Israel Talks,” a woman affiliated with a  Jewish Reform Temple  who described herself as “deeply attached “ to Israel, asked, in regard to the ongoing Gaza operation, “Why do they strike at hospitals? Their mistakes are so painful.”  

I wondered if she, unlike many of her co-religionists, understood on some level that there was Israeli intentionality behind attacks on hospitals, UN shelters, schools, etc. Of course, in the end, at least in public, she felt that she had to come down on the side of “mistakes.” Was it because he was a member of the Reformed congregation rather than Orthodox that she was unable to filter out news of some of the effects of the Israeli assault? I felt certain that while she could not accept  Noam Chomsky’s characterizations , yet perhaps it was possible that there was more of the Palestinian truth that  she might be able to absorb.

Interview with a victim –what means terror?

At the end of July, Democracy Now interviewed  Amer Shurrab  a Palestinian  from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, currently doing his graduate studies in the U.S.. Shurrab is one of the survivors of a family ravaged by Israeli firepower and oppression. Five years ago, in Israel’s Operation Cast Lead operation, Amer’s two brothers were killed. They were shot while driving home  in the Fukhari region, in the middle period of a  “cease fire,” a few hundred yards after getting clearance from an Israeli tank crew.  In the end, Amer’s brothers died from their wounds when the Israelis refused to allow an ambulance to the scene for 20 hours.

Amer’s personal horror was compounded in July 2014 when he learned that four of his cousins had been killed in Gaza. On the question of intentionality, Shurrab was clear:  "Israel is deliberately targeting civilians from day one of this attack. …They have been bombing houses, wiping entire families to try to scare people into submission."

Shurrab’s last phrase raises the questions of whether it is Israel’s intention to “scare the people into submission? I doubt it. Palestinians have had more than six decades since 1948 to be familiar with the terror of Israel’s “purity of arms,” lately including drones, F-16s, shrapnel and phosphorous bombs, explicit graffiti and human waste left by departing Israeli soldiers.

Far from requiring Palestinian submission, it seems that, on the contrary, Israel deliberately provokes rocket attacks and as much Palestinian resistance as they can manufacture in order to create pretexts for their assaults, for mowing the  lawn.  And by “mowing the lawn,” we mean periodic pogroms on a scale of Cast Lead and Protective Edge. These large operations are intended emphasize the message that Palestinians  are not wanted in the land and that they will be made to suffer more and more until that time when one way or another they can be removed entirely.

 A review of the timeline of the 2014 assault by Mouin Rabbani, a senior fellow at the  Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut, writing for the London Review of Books, (“Israel Mows the Lawn”)  helps set the context. Rabbani writes that, stymied by Palestinian diplomacy, Israeli Prime Minister,  Benjamin Netanyahu, seemed “a drowning man” when he was thrown a “lifebelt” with the  disappearance of three settler youth on June 12, 2014.  Rabbani  sees a connection between  Netanyahu’s escalation and the   June 2, 2014 inauguration of a new Palestinian Authority government following the April reconciliation agreement between  Hamas and Fatah. Despite the lack of evidence that Hamas had anything to do with the teens’ disappearance, Netanyahu

held Hamas directly responsible and launched a hostage rescue operation’ throughout the West Bank. It was really an organized military rampage. It included the killing of at least six Palestinians, none of whom was accused of involvement in the disappearances; mass arrests, including the arrest of Hamas parliamentarians and the re-arrest of detainees released in 2011; the demolition of a number of houses and the looting of others; and a variety of other depredations  … On the night of 6 July, an Israeli air raid resulted in the death of seven Hamas militants. Hamas responded with sustained missile attacks deep into Israel, escalating further as Israel launched its full-scale onslaught.

Rabbani’s  timeline adds piquant substance to the conspiracy theory that the teens were murdered, not by Palestinians, but in a false-flag operation  by the Mossad in order to create a suitable  pretext for the coming operation against  Gaza. (See Cintayati, “10 Reasons .. Hitchhikers June July 2014 was an Israeli False Flag”)

The U.S. Role

BBC radio interviewed a Palestinian with U.S. citizenship who voted for Barack Obama twice. The unnamed Palestinian said:  “It was a mistake [to support Obama.]   He  helping Israel.” 
                                                           4 August 2014

One of the points, touched on from time to time on Democracy Now’s  coverage is that the U.S. has done little or nothing to stop the slaughter.  On the contrary, President Obama seemed effectively to be smoothing the way and condoning the butchery, even past the point of previous Israeli operations.  On Democracy Now’s August 6 broadcast, professor and author Norman Finkelstein, a well known critic of Israeli policy, emphasized that the U.S. was uncritically signaling its full support for the Israeli assault when it repeatedly insisted that “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

The July 31, 2014 edition of Democracy Now provided a lesson in how the U.S. can get caught in the middle as it attempts to balance its role as neutral observer with its unconditional support for Israel. On July 31 the U.S. condemned Israeli shelling of a UN school (see above) killing at least 20, but “refused to blame or condemn Israel for carrying it out.” That same day the Pentagon “confirmed its approval of an Israeli request to restock Israel’s supplies of ammunition.” Weapons  to be restocked included “mortar rounds for tanks and ammunition for grenade launchers.”  The very next day, Democracy Now reported that the U.S. got much more specific in its condemnation. The shelling of the school, Washington said, was “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.”

At first I wondered why the U.S. would make public its restocking of Israeli weaponry since officials were well aware of international condemnation of both the U.S. and Israel. Later I theorized  that  the White House  decided it needed to reassure both the public and Congress that despite it’s denunciation of the Israeli shelling it continues its solid support of Israel.

It’s a world tragedy that President Obama has turned out to be as hostile to the Palestinians – not to mention other Arabs and Muslims, and others -- as were his predecessors. In his five years in office, I don’t recall him once acting in a way that would help Palestinians in a matter of any significance.  

The Limits of Left Zionism

One of the highlights of Democracy Now’s coverage was its interview with the charismatic Yonatan  Shapira, a former Israeli captain and Air Force pilot. Shapira was one of the organizers in 2003 of 27 Air Force pilots who refused to participate in Israeli military operations against Palestinians.

One point he made in the interview could serve as a reply to those who justify what the Israelis are doing as self-defense. He uses the analogy of the rapist and victim. Apologizing for his strong language, he imagines the Israeli onslaught as “gang rape.”

I would imagine it as gang rape. And forgive me for using this hard language, but when you have a group of people raping someone, and this person that is being raped [is] starting to scratch, the first thing you want to do in order to stop the scratches is to stop the rape. And what Israel … is trying to do is to continue the rape and deal with the scratches.

And I say, stop the rape, stop the occupation, stop the apartheid, stop this inhumane ghettoization of Palestinians, and then—then—we can start talking, and we can reach peace agreements and all these beautiful words that now don’t mean anything for us.

Yonatan is probably as good as it gets as a representative of the Israeli left. Yet I couldn’t help wondering what he meant by “stopping the apartheid.”  If he’s a Zionist, as I suspect, he would intend Jewish primacy over non-Jews. I guess also that like many left Zionists, he favors the Two -State Solution not as something real for he must understand that that no present or foreseeable Israeli government will permit an independent Palestinian state in the Middle East. This has been the case ever since November 1947, when the UN General Assembly passed the Partition Resolution opening the way for the Jewish state.

The so-called Two-State Solution is merely a talking point, a way of putting off serious consideration of a modus vivendi for both peoples.  I’s also a deliberately fanciful means of thinking about the “the demographic  problem” – the higher Palestinian birth rate  -- as well as the issue  of according human and national  rights to Palestinians.  As long as the Two-State Solution remains “on the table” Yonatan  can picture in his mind a future resolution that will deal with the practical problem that Palestinians face as all the land for their “state” is gobbled up dunam by dunam (about a quarter acre), not to mention the daily oppression and humiliation they undergo.

It’s a separate question to ask whether leftists like Yonatan worry that despite their opposition to certain Israeli policies, their moral and political support for Zionism – a Jewish state in the former Palestine – indirectly aids those policies including ongoing, never-ending pogroms – mowing the lawn?  Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian  takes up the question of “The Liberal Zionists,” in an article in the New York Review of Books  . He points to the phenomenon on the Israeli left of “shooting and crying” (yorim u’vochim) defined as condemning “the horror of killing Arabs … while the killing … continues.” The critique is that by doing both –crying and shooting -- the left has its cake – expressing condemnation for Israeli policy – and they eat it too – they enjoy the benefits of continued Jewish supremacy.  

The Wish and the Dream

I later wondered if I could be wrong about whether or not Yonatan is a Zionist. Is it possible that he’s anti-Zionist?  Wishful thinking soon inspired some daydreaming. I  imagined Yonatan seeking me out to say that  like me, he has dropped his Zionism; that he has come to believe  that Palestinians  and Israelis ought to be  equal before  the law. He has decided that Jewish preeminence in Israel/Palestine was no longer acceptable.

In my daydream Yonatan was super serious and as charismatic as ever, intent on the struggle to find a way for the twelve million souls between the Jordan and the Mediterranean to share the land in a spirit of equal justice, respect for human rights and democracy for all. In that case, he explained, it could make the need for U.S. resupply, or drones, or F-16s, or hostile graffiti, supererogatory.

The End

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Israel's 2014 Assault on Gaza

There is already credible evidence that the murder of the three teens that has been the pretext of the current attack on Gaza was a false flag operation conducted by the Mossad. In addition to terrorizing and oppressing the Gaza population, the current bombing program  and invasion is  intended  as  punishment of the Palestinian people for daring to oppose Israeli oppression by attempting to unify their governments. That is why Palestinian  civilians and their infrastructure are  targeted.  

 A telling bit of evidence that the teens’ deaths was a Mossad operation  is the emergency phone call to the police made by one of the teens when  he realized that they were being kidnapped. The interruption of the call by the immediate  shooting of the boys was not inconsistent with what could be expected of an experienced  Mossad operative. 

If the murder of the teens  was really an Israeli black operation, it would only be yet another example  of the  theory that for Israeli policymakers is that there isn’t  sufficient terrorism to cover  their  ruthless intentions. It’s hardly a secret that Israelis intend to reduce the non-Jewish population to 20%  or less in Eretz Yitzroel, of  the ever-changing boundaries. They made great progress in 1948 and 1967, amounting to the expulsion of about 1.5 million Palestinians and perhaps 70,000 to 90,000 Syrian Golanis. Ever since then they’ve settled down to the long haul, making life as difficult as possible for the millions of non-Jews they want to remove.  

Critical to their purposes is the full support of the United States.  In George W. Bush and Barack Obama they have finally found U.S. presidents who are as cold towards the Palestinians as they could wish.  When Barack Obama was elected, he chose to allow the December 2008-January 2009 Cast Lead operation to go forward and to continue until the very last moment -- minutes before he took office.  
When will the current Gaza operation end? It will end when Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama agree it will end. It could end today (7.19.14) with a phone call from Obama.

Note: The Daily Jounalist.com website published this reply in their Community Question column.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Obama Oversees Endless War in Syria

 Brahimi Resigns

By  mid June 2014 the march toward Baghdad by Sunni ISIS militias had overtaken the headlines, nevertheless there was no diminution of suffering and destruction in the ongoing Syrian civil war.  That the international community has been unable  to put together  even a fig leaf of ongoing diplomacy was underlined in mid-May 2014, when Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations mediator for Syria, resigned after two years of frustrated efforts. In his last press conference, Brahimi called out   “everybody who has a responsibility and an influence in the situation” reminding them “that the question is: How many more dead? How much more destruction there is going to be before Syria becomes again the Syria we have known?”

I suspect I wasn't alone in surmising that Brahimi had in mind the U.S. and Israel as the major powers preventing an end to the war.  The cynicism driving Israeli policy is understandable.  The war weakens Syria's position as a front-line state opposing Israeli hegemony and Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. The war also forwards Israeli suppression of Hezbollah and Iranian influence. Nevertheless I  didn't expect to see pro-Israeli sentiment  so  baldly proclaimed as it was a year ago in a New Jersey Jewish community monthly,  The Jewish Voice and Opinion, where the long headline regarding the Syrian war concluded:  “The Best Scenario May Be for No One to Win” (April 2013).[1]

Surprisingly or not, a similar wish for continual fighting was advocated in a New York Times op-ed just a few months later by military strategist and historian, Edward N. Luttwak. In his article,  “In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins,” (August 24, 2013) Luttwak  argued that it would be  “ disastrous” if  Syrian President  Bashar al-Assad wins, since Israel and the Sunni Arab states would be the losers.  Nor, he wrote, would it be better for the U.S. and its allies if the rebels win, since, once in power, they would probably turn against their Western and Arab supporters.

Evidence that U.S. has intended long term stalemate in Syria appeared a year ago in Z Magazine in an article by  British  journalist  and author Nicolas J.S. Davies under  the unambiguous title:  “How the West Fueled the Ever-Growing Carnage in Syria,” (May 2013).   Davies wrote:

The more one studies the actions of the U.S. and its allies throughout this crisis, the more they seem to have been designed only to lead to ever-escalating violence. This raises the inescapable question whether, in fact, the slaughter and chaos taking place in Syria are in fact the intended result of U.S policy rather than the tragic but unintended result of its failure, as Western propaganda would have us believe.   (my emphasis) 
In stark contrast to cautious statements by U.S. officials, their actual policy appears to have consistently fostered the militarization and escalation of the crisis and to have undermined every peace initiative. In fact, their public statements may be only a smokescreen for a darker, more cynical policy. 

Davies listed a number of glaring instances of “actual” U.S. policy – which he averred contrasted with Obama administration rhetoric. For example, after Kofi Annan launched his peace plan in April 2012, the U.S. joined France and other allies for “Friends of Syria” summits promising aid, weapons and money to their Syrian proxies, ensuring the frustration of any peace plan. And after the Western allies dropped their preconditions for Assad’s departure they returned in June 2012 and “reasserted all their preconditions, killing the plan before it could get off the ground.” The U.S. also, Davies implies, tolerated, if not promoted, increased supplies to the rebels since June 2012 from the Saudis, Qatar, Libya, and other Arab monarchies.

Similarly the author of a recent article on “The shadowy flow of US weapons into Syria,” (April 2014)  doesn’t see U.S. policy as contributing to peace and stability in Syria.  The “ middle path being pursued by the US, of covertly training and arming assorted rebel groups, is likely to perpetuate the conflict, destabilize the region, and accelerate the growth of a new generation of international jihadists.”

By 2014  it’s become public  that the U.S. is providing  lethal as well as non-lethal aid to the anti-Assad forces. In May 2014, Ahmad Assi al-Jarba, Syrian rebel president of the (presumably moderate) opposition coalition, led a delegation to Washington  and confirmed reports that the rebels  had received American TOW antitank missiles.[2]   In what may have been a trial balloon, the Syrian leader pressed the Obama administration for even more powerful weaponry, including antiaircraft missiles.

Optimism in some quarters that Assad’s government may be gaining the upper hand, and might be on the verge of winning the war, especially after the ouster of rebel forces from  the key Syrian city of Homs in early May 2014,  seem to be premature.  Bill Weinberg’s WW4 Report summarized some of the evidence that the rebels remain a potent force.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) and allied groups are gaining ground in the areas around Latakia, Dara'a, al-Qunaitra and Aleppo. The FSA is in control of most of Dara'a, where a southern front is reportedly being organized. And the most reactionary elements in the insurgency, the Nusra Front and ISIS, are engaged in their own mini-civil war in Deir Al Zour and north of Aleppo.

Evidence that the suffering only increases has been noted in media reports such as a New York Times  story  headlined, “Syria Death Toll Reported to Rise by 10,000 in less than 2 Months,” (20 May 2014)   The story cited a Britain based group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,  which found that the death toll ‘in the three year war  had risen to 162,000.” The director of the group, Rami Adbdul Rahman, suggested that the death count could well be even higher: “No one,” he said, “can claim to know ‘the entire reality.”  The Times speculated that the conflict has “also displaced nearly half of the country’s population" of more than 21 million.  The regional instability due to the flight of  millions of Syrian refugees can hardly be measured. Jordan and Lebanon are the leading hosts with about a million or more refugees in each country.


Lakhdar Brahimi was not the first high profile UN sponsored mediator to recognize that he could do nothing in the face of strong powers determined that the conflict should continue. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, took on the job of UN–Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, but lasted less than a year (February –August 2012) before he resigned in frustration.  Among other things he had called for Iran to be part of the solution -- a proposal opposed by Israel and the U.S.

In mid-May 2014, The New York Times took note of a growing consensus that the U.S. has been a decisive actor perpetuating the crisis. The pull-quote from an article entitled, “U.S. Envoys See a Rwanda Moment in Escalating Syrian Crisis,” pointed to the Syrian “shadow that hangs over the Obama White House.” The article highlighted a comment made in early May 2014 by Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the U. N., in a speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum which amounted to a rebuke of White House policy.  Power rejected the all-or- nothing U.S. position on the Syrian crisis which President Obama had offered: either disengagement – as if the U.S. was actually disengaged -- or the dispatch of U.S. troops. She “bluntly declared that the world’s response had been inadequate,” making an implicit connection to U.S. inaction in the face of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Similarly the anguish of David Miliband, the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, was evident in his op-ed entitled “Why Syria is America’s Concern,” (New York Daily News, May 7, 2014.). It is not in the U.S. interest, he wrote, to be “witness … to the violent disintegration of a country at the heart of the Middle East, with untold consequences not just for innocent civilians but for the future of regional and global policies.”

There is every reason to think that President Obama well understands that the “violent disintegration” of Syria is not in the interests of the U.S. -- not to mention the Middle East or the world. The disturbing question is why he continues to promote policies that further the continued destruction of the country and the endless suffering of its people.  

Is it simply that President Obama is bound to Israeli interests, that he is in effect a prisoner of the potent Israel lobby?  Personally I doubt it. I think it more likely that he mirrors the policy of the previous George W. Bush administration and uses the screen of the Lobby to promote policies that he understands will receive pro-Zionist support.

Ironically, when it comes to Syria and other foreign and domestic policy issues President Obama has been lambasted for indecisiveness, and weakness. But when it comes to the sheer ruthlessness that it takes to implement plans  resulting in such massive suffering as we have seen, for example, in Syria and Palestine, a rather  different Obama can be discerned behind the screen of his rhetoric  and his projection of a disengaged, even  passive executive.

Instead of  decelerating from  the bloody path of unprovoked aggression  of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice et. al. he has double downed on  their terrible precedents and, in his own fashion,  he continues to oversee  the continuation of endless war and boundless suffering,
A terrible example of such ruthlessness is President Obama’s drone assassination program which has been operative since his fourth day in the White House in January 2009. The  drone program is in conflict with international law, destabilizes countries, makes civil society difficult or impossible, promotes terror rather than suppresses it, and sets a horrific precedent, as it encourages copycat imitations by state and non-state entities.

 The drone program together with the Joint Special Operations Command assassination/destabilization squads in as many 50 or more countries, highlighted in the work of journalist and author Jeremy Scahill and others, are continuations and escalations of  President George W. Bush’s unprovoked aggression. The existence of such programs points to the unstated mission of U.S. Empire which seems bent on the promotion of maximum international instability and terror as pretexts for intervention and control.

Who is Barack Obama?

Whatever one thinks of President Obama there is little doubt that he's been a disappointment to his supporters. The key difference between the Obama and Bush regimes is that the latter enabled strategies that satisfied or delighted their base. Except on the margins, Obama has done the opposite: he has overseen and institutionalized programs both at home and abroad which have demoralized and frustrated his partisans.  If we take it as a rule that policies enacted over the course of an administration are the result of White House intentions, we are left with the question of: Who is Barack Obama?

Many of the people of Syria and their neighbors and much of the rest of the world know the answer to this question.
The End

[1] The complete headline reads: “The Syrian Civil War is a Microcosm of the Religious Shifts in the Middle East that Israel Will Have to Contend With; The Best Scenario May Be  for No One to Win”
[2] “Rebels to Ask for Antiaircraft Missiles,” New York Times, 8 May 2014. By Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Letter: Hitler prevents German victory in WWII

I’ve written earlier of my admiration for Cambridge Professor Richard J. Evans’s fluency, the extent of his learning and his indefatigable industry. I’ve also complained that I see him standing like a colossus astride the scholarly gates blocking views not to his liking. His dismissive review of a new book by Paul Kennedy, Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War, is another case in point. In his NYRB review, “ What the War Was Really About”( December 5, 2013 distributed about two weeks earlier), Evans derides a recent example of a view I’ve recently stumbled upon, namely that Hitler had to work night and day against his military commanders to keep Germany from winning WWII, and from blocking Allied victory.

My letter to the NYRB follows:

New York Review of Books:

December 7, 2013
To the editor:

Re: Richard J. Evans, “What the War Was Really About,”   NYRB , December 5, 2013.

Professor Richard J. Evans dismisses Paul Kennedy’s suggestion that the Germans might have won the war as “beside the point,” writing that “Defeat was preprogrammed for the Axis by the very nature of its war aims.”

Regarding Japan few would doubt that her resources were unequal to destroying U.S. might, nor that its “brutal and sadistic behavior” in pursuit of a Co-prosperity Sphere served to doom its prospects.

But Germany is another story. Evidence suggests that it wasn’t horrific Nazi war aims, but radical interference by Hitler himself that brought German ruin. Early victories in Operation Barbarossa unveiled remarkable and still not adequately explored possibilities. Bevin Alexander (How Hitler Could Have Won WWII: The Fatal Errors that Led to Nazi Defeat [(2000]) writes of Army Group Center’s “astonishing success” advancing 440 miles in only six weeks. With few Soviet troops in their way, Guderian’s and Hoth’s tanks were only 220 miles from Moscow when Hitler issued orders that amounted to self-sabotage. He ordered a halt to the drive on Moscow, forcing instead Center’s panzer groups south to the Ukraine and north to Leningrad. Guderian was so outraged by Hitler’s deflection orders that he struggled, ultimately unsuccessfully, to force Hitler to allow him to proceed to Moscow before the end of the summer.

Surely the possibility of an early Nazi victory over Stalin and the prospect of Hitlerian world domination are topics worthy of further study.


Ronald Bleier

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Bill the Butcher: Did Hitler Deliberately Lose the War?

Bill the Butcher: Did Hitler Deliberately Lose the War?

Thanks for this, Bill. Much appreciated. I'm really glad I found you via Google. Your article represents a major breakthrough. (Perhaps there are others who are also working on this?)  I'm working on  exactly the same theme: I'd just remove the question mark and I also believe that it wasn't at all subconscious. Hitler  knew exactly what he was doing. He had developed a long term plan for destruction,  including the destruction of the German military and German society along with everything else.
Thanks for the pointer to Clark on Barbarossa. I found Bevin Alexander, How Hitler Could Have Won WWII: The Fatal Errors that Led to Nazi Defeat  (2000) perhaps the most helpful.
Best wishes,


Monday, October 21, 2013

Marci on Obama and the NSA dragnet; Stalin -- and Primo Levi on atheism

I gather a good deal of the Left needs to protect what remains of their belief in Obama.. Here's a quote from Marci Wheeler, whose invaluable blog, Emptywheel, is as critical and skeptical as it gets. Yet she's persuaded that Obama is basically a good guy getting bad advice – this time on the NSA dragnet. Marci writes: 

I suspect Obama, having been convinced by partial briefings the dragnet is great for America, also believes he can persuade the rest of us (who aren’t stuck in his partial briefing bubble) to love it too. - See more at: http://www.emptywheel.net/#sthash.7iMPDaKA.dpuf

Reminds me of what loyal Party victims said of Stalin as they were marched off to be shot in the back of the head.

If only Uncle Joe knew.

And Stalin reminds me of a passage from  the brilliant Primo Levi  who wrote that he entered Auschwitz  -- the Lager --  as an atheist, and he left a year later with the same belief. 

In discussing his atheism, Levi mentions one passing moment when he briefly considered saying a prayer to god when it seemed not unlikely that he would be chosen for the gas chambers. Levi writes that he quickly returned to his atheism, explaining:  One does not change the rules of the game at the end of the match, not when you are losing..

And then he goes on to explain why believers may have had an easier time in the Lager.

Not only during the crucial moments of the selection or the aerial bombings but also in the grind of everyday life, the believers lived better…It was completely unimportant what their religious or political faith might be…all held in common the saving force of their faith. Their universe was vaster than ours, more extended in space and time, above all more comprehensible: they had a key and a point of leverage, a millennial tomorrow so that there might be a sense to sacrificing themselves, a place in heaven or on earth where justice and compassion had won, or would win in a perhaps remote but certain future: Moscow or the celestial or terrestrial Jerusalem.

Their hunger was different from ours. It was a divine punishment or expiation, or votive offering, or the fruit of capitalist putrefaction. Sorrow in them or around them, was decipherable and therefore did not overflow into despair. They looked at us with commiseration, at times with contempt; some of them, in the  intervals of our labor, tried to evangelize us.

As an example of the power of faith, Levi  writes that  not long after the Soviet forces brought them freedom, he  made some banal—as he calls them—comments to a fellow former inmate who was giving him a haircut. Were we not fortunate, Levi  asked, to have survived our ordeal?  The  barber, astonished at such an attitude,  replied in French: “Mais, Joseph [Stalin] était là!  [But Stalin was always there to save us!]

I guess the moral is: We all  believe what we need to believe.  And by  providing us with meaning, our belief can enable our survival. And our beliefs can give meaning to our deaths and hope for our lives. And sometimes enable our survival.

And our beliefs can give meaning to our deaths, and hope for our lives. And sometimes, enable our survival.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Has Obama been engineering attacks on women and the poor?

This essay looks at the manner in which President Obama has handled two issues mostly affecting women -- abortion rights and sexual assaults in the military – raising questions about the disparity between his earnest rhetoric and the effects of his policies.
The essay begins with a damaging development which appears to threaten prosecutions of sexual assault in the military. 
The essay concludes with brief remarks about the implications of White House policy on wider national and international matters.

The issue of sexual assaults in the military rose to media prominence in the spring of 2013 largely due to news of a Pentagon study that estimated that 26,000 men and women in the military were sexually assaulted in 2012 up from 19,000 in 2011. In May, NY Senator Kirsten Gillebrand stirred debate when she grilled military brass in a Senate hearing and pressed for removing sexual assault prosecutions out of the military chain of command.

 President Obama, in turn, made a strong public statement supporting the victims of sexual abuse at a press conference. Weeks later a front page story in the New York Times informed readers that Remark by Obama Complicates Military Sexual Assault Trials.”  The word “complicates” actually seemed to downplay the effect of the president’s remark since the Times’ story indicated that it could mean an end to “almost all” prosecutions for sexual assault in the military.

What did the president say?

Answering a reporter’s question, Mr. Obama said that those who commit sexual assault in the military should be “prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged.” While these directions may have seemed appropriate to a general audience, the Times  explained that Obama’s remark “mudd[ied] legal cases across the country” because “Mr. Obama’s words as commander in chief amounted to ‘unlawful command influence,’ tainting trials as a result.”  The Times report explained that the bulk if not all prosecutions for sexual assault in the military are now under question because “defense lawyers will seize on the president’s call for an automatic dishonorable discharge…arguing that his words will affect their cases.”

The Times cited five cases where the president’s remark has already had the effect of “complicating” matters, including one at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, where “a judge dismissed charges of sexual assault against an Army officer, noting the command influence issue.”

The president’s statement raises the question of his intentions. Did he purposefully enumerate the various penalties in order to squelch such military prosecutions?   The main piece of evidence is the unusual specificity of his instructions.
President Obama said offenders should be:
 stripped of their positions,
dishonorably discharged.

The Times article cites a precedent could have provided him with a suggestion on how to proceed if he wished to block these cases.  

The president’s comments have not been the only ones cited as influencing sexual assault cases. Last year, lawyers in more than 60 Marine Corps sexual assault cases filed motions claiming “unlawful command influence” because of a series of remarks made by Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, according to a McClatchy-Tribune news report.

If the president really intended to block military prosecutions in these cases, he would be reinforcing his first term policy when there was no detectable White House action to address the problem.

In any event,  the President’s unguarded statement  is  one of a number of examples where, largely under the radar,  he seems to be pursuing  Republican  rather than  Democrat objectives on issues of particular interest to women,  especially  with regard to abortion  rights and reproductive services.    

Ronald Reagan and Abortion Rights,

 Ronald Reagan’s high profile support of the anti-abortion movement was arguably the key turning point on the road to the evisceration of abortion rights in the U.S.  President Reagan’s consistent championship of the movement gave the somewhat disreputable anti-abortion forces a new legitimacy. Since then they have moved from strength to strength.

A generation and a half later, when Republicans took lop-sided control of many governorships and statehouses in the 2010 election,  another a decisive nail was driven into the coffin of personal freedom. Although women in the U.S. are nominally free to obtain abortions, their practical access has been narrowing decade by decade. According to a mid 2012 report, a third of women of reproductive age resided in one of the 87 percent of U.S. counties without an abortion provider. And only seven states have abortion providers in more than 50 percent of their counties. (Search: lack of abortion providers in U.S.)

A self- proclaimed fan of Ronald Reagan,  President Obama, over the years  has largely  refrained from any practical steps in support women’s  concerns, and he has also presided over what has amounted to the greatest threat to their rights: the Republican takeover of state legislative seats in the 2010 election. In addition to gaining 63 House seats, and taking control of the House, Republicans in 2010 seized a total of 680 legislative seats, breaking the previous record when Democrats added 628 such seats in 1974 in the aftermath of Watergate. Five states, Minnesota, Maine, North Carolina and Alabama saw both state legislative chambers switch from Democrat to Republican.  (United States elections, 2010)

Once again the question of Obama’s motivations arises. President Obama came into office at one of those unique moments of history when he had a powerful reformist wind at his back. Had he so chosen, he could have marshaled his political capital and put into effect much of the change and hope for which America and the world was so desperate. In the event, however, the 44th president turned his back on such Democratic priorities as:  accountability for the crimes of the previous administration, Medicare for all, diplomatic rather than military solutions in foreign hot spots; putting a brake on Big Brother snooping, accountability for bankster crimes  and reform of Wall Street; aid to millions of underwater homeowners and those in danger of foreclosure; real movement on climate change, etc., etc.

Had he gone in the direction many of his supporters hoped and expected it’s likely that, as FDR before him, he would have bolstered his Democratic majorities instead of presiding over the calamitous Party reversals that eventuated. The question is not so much whether President Obama deliberately intended a Republican takeover of the House and perhaps also the Senate, but rather one of responsibility.  Was it not predictable that if Obama had the opportunity to institute a reformist agenda and chose not to, then his supporters would be confused and his opponents energized?

The Abortion Propaganda war

Those fighting to maintain abortion rights in the U.S. have largely lost the propaganda war from the moment when anti-abortion forces successfully made the issue the life of the unborn child.  Focusing on the unborn effectively marginalizes the rights of women, making it far more difficult for many to compete socially, economically and politically. The larger society is also negatively impacted since the exclusion of women from so many productive spheres restricts their opportunity to contribute.   

Pro-abortion forces have had difficulty pushing back against the totalitarian impulse to repress women, to lock them in their poverty and to handcuff them politically. Understanding the authoritarian anti-abortion movement for what it is, would also help shine a light on the Catholic Church’s exactly similar motives in prohibiting most forms of contraception and abortion services. The Church has a financial and political stake in limiting the options of their constituency, believing that repression and lack of  education and opportunity helps to maintain its power.

Many of those fighting against the abortion rights of women will protest that their motives are sincere and deeply felt.  Is it fair to charge many of the grassroots right to life supporters with same authoritarian motivations of many politicians, Church leaders and other stakeholders? The answer may be to note the disparity between their declared devotion to the human rights of the unborn with their tendency to oppose government assistance for  pregnant women and their children  once they are born.

There are always reasons that people choose one side or another, one political party or another, one policy or another. The key is to look not at what people profess, but at the effects of the policies they advocate.

President Obama and Abortion

Is there a connection between President’s Obama’s gaffe with regard to sexual assault in the military and his position on abortion?  As a Democrat, President Obama is at least nominally  100% supportive of a woman’s right to choose. But on the margins he has preferred, on more than one occasion, to snip away at abortion rights. The first such noticeable occasion was on the occasion of the “compromise” he struck with Republicans in the spring of 2011 over the remainder of the 2011 budget. 

One wonders, first of all, why such legislation couldn’t have been passed routinely in 2010 when Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress instead of waiting until Obama would be forced to bargain with the House Majority Leader and other Republicans. A similar point was made by none other than Bill Clinton in his 2011 book, Back to Work, where he asked why the country had to go through four months of  angst over the issue of raising the federal debt ceiling when appropriate legislation could have been passed when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress in 2010.

The “compromise” that President Obama struck on the remainder of the 2011 budget included agreeing to $38 billion in cuts to Democratic priorities like nutrition for poor women and children. In addition, to the apparent surprise and delight of Republicans, he  allowed  language barring the District of Columbia from using its own tax dollars to finance abortions.

Democratic outrage at the details of President Obama’s compromise and the way it was reached behind closed doors with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker, John Boehner, seemed to reach a peak in the spring of 2011.  

Democratic House members' fury at the debt ceiling deal Obama “negotiated” with the House Republicans was reflected in a tweet by Eldridge Cleaver a mild mannered Democrat from Missouri who fretted about the way in which the $38 billion in cutbacks would hurt the most vulnerable Americans.” We don’t have enough time to talk about the ways it violates our values,” he told The Daily Beast.

The Daily Beast quoted a senior Democratic lawmaker who seemed to sum up the outrage of many of his colleagues. “I have been very disappointed in the administration to the point where I’m embarrassed that I endorsed him”…“It’s so bad that some of us are thinking, is there some way we can replace him? How do you get rid of this guy?”

The morning after pill

Had Obama been a Republican president his opposition to allowing unrestricted sales of the morning after pill would not have been notable.  As it is, his opposition to such sales dismayed many for whom the controversy was more than a passing headline. In December 2011, just as the  Food And Drug Agency (FDA)  was about to approve over-the-counter availability without restriction, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA, preventing  young girls from purchasing the pill on their own. President Obama stated that he agreed with Secretary Sebelius’s decision.

After federal judge Edward Korman (appointed by Ronald Reagan),  in blunt language , overruled the administration, writing that it  had behaved ”in bad faith,”  the Obama administration backed down and allowed over the counter sales for one type of morning after pill, known as Plan B One Step. Nevertheless the administration continues to use its remaining power to oppose the cheaper two-pill version, preferring to restrict sales to young girls. The administration says they are concerned that they might not understand how to take two pills.

Whose side is he on?

The policies that discourage, even outrage many of President Obama’s current and former supporters are not limited to the relatively narrow issues of sexual assault in the military and abortion rights. The Snowden/NSA surveillance revelations along with the Obama administration’s bitter, even ferocious attacks on whistleblowers have helped unmask some of the president’s positions on freedom of the press, civil liberties, and fourth amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

 Such policies  also call to mind the administration’s operation in a zone free of laws, such as his escalation of the Bush-Cheney drone attack program, the reported 75-85 special operations squads (including the Joint Special Operations Command –JSOC) engaged in assassination and destabilization around the world (including the reintroduction of such special forces assassination teams into Iraq); the administration’s apparent determination to indefinitely maintain a core group of prisoners at Guantanamo prison, and more such hard line positions on “terror “and imperial reach.  President Obama’s policies on women and the poor are only somewhat more subtle and less high profile examples of the right-wing, authoritarian orientation of his regime.

Paraphrasing an anonymous senior Democrat at the height of Party revulsion with his tactics: “Who is this guy?”


A  New York Times July 2013  front page story on  the Republican’s upcoming  “offensive  on Obama’s goals” outlined deep cuts that Republicans say they plan to make to administration priorities. The Times  cited such  cuts  as  34% to  the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget;  50% cut to the National Endowment for the Arts and humanities, 27%  reduction to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The House bill also zeroes out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, cuts education grants for poor students by 16% and the Labor Department by 13%.

Many Democrats in   Congress will certainly fight to maintain their budget priorities. The question is how sincerely and actively will they be supported by the White House? And to what extent will the president “submit” to compromises?   Past practice suggests that President Obama will not merely preside over allowing an agenda weighted toward Republican desiderata, but that is actually the direction he prefers.

Similarly, in foreign affairs, the subject for a separate investigation, President Obama’s policy has largely been rhetoric for peace and stability while the facts it supports on the ground undermine his professed goals. 
The End