Monday, April 19, 2010

A taboo being challenged in Washington

A taboo being challenged in Washington
Saad N. Jawad

Although some have quibbled with what exactly he said, there is little doubt that General David Petraeus, the commander of the US Central Command who also served as commanding general of the multinational forces in Iraq from January 2007 to September 2008, was voicing broad US dissatisfaction with Israel and its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians when he was recently quoted as saying that the Arab-Israel conflict is fomenting anti-US sentiments in the Arab world. Significantly, he went further to imply that this conflict is putting the lives of US soldiers in jeopardy, and that Israeli intransigence is harmful to US interests.

Petraeus' attitude is not new in American circles. It represents the realistic views and attitudes that have started to develop in the US since the publication in 2006 of two books, one by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt about the harm to US interests the pro-Israel lobby in the US does (Walt by the way was Gen. Petraeus' advisor when he did his PhD at Princeton in 1987), and one by former president Jimmy Carter, "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid".

It would appear that Petraeus, profiled in 2009 by Foreign Policy Magazine as eighth on its list of "Top 100 Global Thinkers" and a PhD holder in international relations, has also come to believe that the unconditional support the US is giving Israel is the real cause behind the antagonistic attitude the people of the Arab and Islamic regions hold toward the US. He is aware that the US, unlike Britain and France, had no colonial past in the Middle East until 2003 and the occupation of Iraq.

In 1956, most Arabs respected the position of US President Dwight Eisenhower during the war against Egypt. Arabs and Muslims held no grudge against the US until 1967, when America wholeheartedly and unreservedly supported the Israeli aggression and occupation of more Arab land. All terrorist and extremist movements in the area that have targeted the US were established because of and are nourished by the expulsion and dispossession of the Palestinian people, their continued killing, especially the unwarranted and excessive use of force in Gaza last year, the Israeli occupation of Arab land and the failure of the US to adopt a balanced position.

When he served in Iraq, Petraeus would have seen firsthand the catastrophic consequences of the war and subsequent occupation, and he will be aware of the role Israel played in promoting and pushing for that war. It is not a secret anymore that the Zionist lobby and pro-Israel neoconservatives in Washington pursued the occupation of Iraq to fulfill an Israeli agenda. Philip Zelikow, a former member of President George W. Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, even at the time said that, "the real threat from Iraq was not a threat to the US.... The unstated threat was the threat against Israel.... The American government does not want to lean too hard on it rhetorically because it is not a popular sell."

Petraeus has surely come across the Israel factor in and around Iraq during his service. Israel is one significant element keeping Iraq chaotic. And for any objective and balanced observer, what is happening in Iraq undermines the interests of the US though it serves Israeli interests. Israeli leaders and the influential lobby in Washington were pushing the US administration as far back as 1990 to attack Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein's regime, and managed to keep the country under draconian and inhuman sanctions until 2003 and the invasion. But US plans to create a stable base in Iraq were foiled by a series of unwarranted and unstudied decisions taken immediately after the occupation, decisions that were all produced by people loyal to Israel rather than the US.

As a military man, Petraeus must have realized that Israel is no longer a strategic ally or necessity for the US. It may have been an asset during the Cold War when the US needed to contain the Soviet Union's attempts to infiltrate the oil rich Middle East. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, Israel has become a burden and liability to America. Because of Israel, the US has vetoed more than 32 resolutions in the Security Council, is paying $3 billion a year in cash support and is furnishing it with all its military machinery.

What is the payback? Israel embarrasses the US and Europe with its intransigence and defiance. The encirclement and bombing of Gaza and the assassination of a leading member of Hamas in the United Arab Emirates using European passports are just the latest examples.

For almost six decades, the subject of Israel's influence in US policy-making circles and the harmful effect it is having on American interests was a taboo subject in Washington. It is not anymore. Slowly but surely, a space is being opened up in the US for an open and honest discussion about the US-Israel alliance and the benefit of antagonizing a whole region for the sake of an ally that is no more than an economic burden, an ally that was ready to pass classified US material, NSA codes.... to the Soviet Union to get more exit visas for Jews to migrate to Israel, and an ally that was ready to provide China with sensitive military technology for its own selfish interest....

Maybe one should not expect a major shift in Washington in the short term, but it is happening. The latest CIA report, that cast doubt over Israel's survival beyond the next 20 years, is another indication of this shift....?

Saad N. Jawad is a professor of political science at Baghdad University.

Little Baghdad
Mark Perry

When, at the end of World War II, George Marshall received word that Germany had surrendered, he put on his best uniform and visited Harry Truman. "Mr. President," he said. "I am pleased to announce that we've defeated Germany." Truman smiled: "I'm happy to hear that, General," he responded, "because for a while there I thought we were fighting the British."

The British and Americans worked well together in World War II, but even the best alliance is not seamless: Marshall's protege General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell referred to the British as "f-cking pigs", Douglas MacArthur refused to cooperate with them during the Pacific War ("they just want their colonies back"), and Eisenhower's friendship with Winston Churchill earned him the enmity of George Patton: "Ike's the best general the limeys have," he said.

Franklin Roosevelt was only marginally less critical. He had two goals in the war: to defeat the Axis powers--and to end the British Empire. Roosevelt blamed the British for the war, describing British colonialism as one of its primary causes. Churchill was uncomfortably aware of this, but he knew the facts: the UK needed America not only to defeat Germany, but to survive. So it was with a sense of relief that Churchill welcomed December 7, 1941: it meant that his country was saved. But he was careful: thousands of dead at Pearl Harbor were not cause for celebration.

Sadly, some of Israel's most ardent American friends have failed to follow Churchill's example. In the aftermath of 9/11, the New Republic's Martin Peretz ("Israel, The United States, and Evil") was nearly gleeful. Finally, America could "grasp Israel's human losses"; finally the Israeli-American alliance was "bonded in blood"; finally "we Americans no longer need any instructions in how it feels to be an Israeli." Put another way, 9/11 might have been bad for America, but it was good for Israel.

Really? The brain-dead view of our history holds that we defeat our enemies and come home with our views intact. The reality is quite different: we defeat our enemies (or not, as the case may be) and then we marry them. Or set them up in business. There's a neighborhood called "Little Saigon" blocks from where I live. Then too, fighting people is a subversive experience: we learn about them. Once upon a time it was acceptable to refer to people as "dirty Japs," or "filthy Huns" or "gooks"--or, more recently, "Hajis". Not anymore. They're now our neighbors.

It's useful to keep all of this in mind when reflecting on what General David Petraeus said about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict several weeks ago: that the conflict "foments anti-American sentiment, due to a US perception of favoritism toward Israel." Petraeus' public words went further: the problems caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict head the list of challenges faced by the US in the region.

The outpouring of rage among the pro-Israel advocates was interesting: that Petraeus never said what he said, that he said it but didn't mean it, or that he said it but it only showed his ignorance. This last view--repeated by columnist Andrew McCarthy in the National Review ("Petraeus' Israel Problem")--holds that "Petraeus is echoing the narrative peddled incessantly by leftists in the government he serves and by Islamists in the countries where he works." What Petraeus really needs, McCarthy says, is a better understanding of the "totalitarian, iniquitous, misogynistic, homophobic, virulently anti-western and anti-Semitic culture that dominates Muslim countries."

Those who believe Petraeus, meanwhile, are "leftists," "terrorist groupies" or "Hizballah flunkies".

My God, man, I don't even hear this tripe in Israel. Rarely, if ever, do you hear anyone articulate Petraeus' real message: that if the United States wants to win the war on terror we have to address the region's most fundamental issues.

Of course, my country's senior military officers aren't delusional; they know that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won't end the war on terror. But they're convinced that it will remove an arrow from the quiver of our enemies. And even if it doesn't, isn't it worth doing anyway? And there's another message. There's not only a deep strain of anti-colonialism in the American military, there's a strong sense that not only does America come first, no one comes second. We're willing to fight with our friends as a part of a coalition (in fact, that's our preference), but we'll only do so if we're the ones in charge. We're even willing to shed our blood with our allies, but only for our interests, not theirs. The message was clear for Churchill and it is just as clear for Binyamin Netanyahu: we don't need to prove that we're committed to Israel's security, they need to prove that they're committed to ours. Israelis can do that by working to resolve their conflict with the Palestinians. If they do, they'll remain a strategic asset and an ally. If they don't, they won't. It's just that simple.

Unfortunately, the Petraeus controversy has failed to spark a useful debate about US-Israel relations. The language surrounding the controversy has been divisive and polarizing. It'll only get worse, especially if Israel attacks Iran. If that happens, Americans will die. At which point, I'm quite sure, we'll hear Andrew McCarthy extol the virtues of killing Iranians: they're a bunch of "misogynistic", "homophobic" "anti-Semites" anyway so what the hell. And (I'm also quite sure) that even as the bodies of our dead arrive at Dover Air Force Base, we'll hear Martin Peretz tell us that while all those dead young men and women are bad for America, they're actually good for Israel. Because the lives lost will reinforce our "bond of blood" with our Israeli FALSE allies....

But don't try to peddle that garbage in the Pentagon.....?

Mark Perry is the author of Partners in Command, George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace.