Saturday, November 08, 2014

Is Now too Late to Fix Climate Change?

It’s hard to know which is worse when contemplating   the climate crisis – the inability of our collective politics to address the issue, or the vast new power of nature to overturn our world now that we have supercharged  its processes via the burning of fossil fuels. Since it’s hard to face such a crisis when we can't see a practical path to viability, it’s too tempting to escape into denial.

Thus, when I first noticed an article on the climate crisis by Moishe Blechman, Sierra Atlantic’s  Chairman of the Publication and Climate Crisis Committees in their Fall 2014 newsletter, my first reaction was to skip it thinking I already know all the bad news I can currently handle. But later I was drawn back perhaps by its provoking title, “Arctic ice is the key indicator of climate crisis,” and perhaps also by its brevity. In the space of less than 1200 words, Blechman was able to effectively draw attention to three of the crucial issues. Interestingly, it was only after I decided to look more closely into the details of the article, that I was able to puzzle over just how sweeping and desperate is his conclusion.

Blechman points to three climate tipping points. Perhaps for reasons of space, he doesn't define “tipping point.” I found Wikipedia’s definition helpful.

A climate tipping point is a somewhat ill-defined concept of a point when global climate changes from one stable state to another stable state, in a similar manner to a wine glass tipping over. After the tipping point has been passed, a transition to a new state occurs. The tipping event may be irreversible, comparable to wine spilling from the glass: standing up the glass will not put the wine back.

The first tipping point Blechman outlines is the change and speed of the jet stream. It’s a change, he stresses, that is permanent. He explains that the new path of the jet stream circumscribes a huge loop bringing cool air much further south than it has in the past.  As we might have feared, the new cool air in the south allows mid-latitude warm air to flow into the Arctic in a warming cycle that reduces its ice cover at disquieting speeds.

The second tipping point is the warming of the oceans that are delivering extraordinary heat to Arctic ice which is melting faster than Antarctic ice because the former rests on water instead of land. We are temporarily insulated from some of the effects of global warming because 70% of the extra  heat is absorbed by the ocean but this warming is melting Arctic ice  so rapidly that  that it’s  now predicted  to be gone by 2016!

 Loss of  Arctic ice entails loss of the reflectivity of solar energy not only from the Arctic but from all of the northern lakes and expanses of Canada and Siberia, destabilizing the radiative balance.  Blechman avers that humanity is already under siege with only the 0.80 C increase in average temperature since the advent of the industrial age so that the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change call for average temperature  increase to be limited to 20 C is wholly inadequate.

The third tipping point

The third tipping point is the melting of the permafrost now gaining momentum throughout the Arctic seas and across Alaska, Canada and all of Siberia.  The permafrost consists of ancient deposits of organic matter which are released as methane and CO2..  Even scarier than CO2, methane  is released in uncountable numbers of gigatons and is 125 times more powerful than  other greenhouse gasses, with CO2 merely the trigger.  Blechman reports that in the Siberian tundra a crater emerged between 60 and 80 meters wide, reaching deep into the earth and spewing explosive vents of vast quantities of methane. Later, two more such craters were found.

Blechman underscores the threat that methane may become the “dominant climate forming agent, warming the planet inexorably … creat[ing] unsupportable changes.”  He says that the key to stability is maintaining historical Arctic ice.  And then he writes: “The only possibility to avoid a dead world is to start to cool the Arctic. A living Earth depends on putting the ice back.”
What did he say? 
He wants us to put the ice back!!!!

I guess Blechman means to emphasize that we have to start now!! if we’re going to have a chance at holding back the catastrophic loss of the Arctic ice sheet.

Yes, indeed, many will agree that it’s well past time to look the devil in the eye.  While we still have energy and hope, we must do what we can to preserve as much as we can of our global heritage.
Blechman ends with pointers to more information. He suggests that we Google the following important resources.
Arctic Emergency: Scientists Speak

Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG); and

Arctic News, especially a video: The Arctic Monster’s Rapid Rise


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 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