Monday, December 28, 2015

"Israel started Hamas"

“Israel started Hamas”
P. Schultz

            Have just finished reading a very interesting book, Devil’s Game, by Robert Dreyfuss, it would seem that the “war on terror” launched by the U.S. at different times over the past few decades is more fiction than fact. That is, while the U.S. has been targeting some “terrorists,” it and its allies have been supporting others. As Dreyfuss writes: “’Israel started Hamas,’ says Charles Freeman, the veteran diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “It was a project of Shit Bet [the Israeli domestic intelligence agency], which had a feeling that they could us it to hem in the PLO.” [p. 191]

            According to Dreyfuss, the U.S. has been pursuing a flawed foreign policy of relying on right wing Islamists since the Eisenhower administration, and doing to because that administration feared that the nationalists who were active in the Middle East were or would fall under the control of communists and the USSR. To wit:

“In the early 1950s, two nationalist leaders emerged in two of the most powerful countries of the Middle East, Egypt and Iran. In Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Free Officers ousted the country’s dissolute king and threatened to spark revolution in Saudi Arabia, the heart of the world’s energy supply. In Iran, a freely elected democrat and socialist-inclined leader named Mohammed Mossadegh successfully challenged the ruling shah of Iran, forced him to flee, and asserted his country’s right to take over the oil industry from Britain’s Anglo-Persian Oil Company.” [p. 94]

            The U.S. successfully overthrew Mossadegh, with Britain’s help, and tried but failed to overthrow Nasser. In the latter case, the U.S. and Britain used the Muslim Brotherhood, while in the former case, they “mobilized a group of ayatollahs that included the ideological grandfather of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.” And there is more insofar as these actions were “compounded by yet another massive error: the U.S. decision to support Saudi Arabia as the counter pole to Arab and Persian nationalism, and to tie itself to a worldwide network of Islamists sponsored by the Saudis. It was a decision whose consequences led, indirectly, to the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocracy, the destruction of Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist international.” [pp. 94-95]

            Most interestingly, even Israel played the same kind of game, creating the group that eventually became Hamas – which means “zeal” – in order to try to defeat the PLO. “In the wake of the 1967 war, and Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the Islamists flourished with the support of both Israel and Jordan.” [p. 192] As Dreyfuss puts it, it was thought that Hamas would be “Israel’s trained zeal.” But, apparently, Hamas had and has other ideas.

            It was conservative Israelis, beginning with Menachem Begin’s Herat Party and the Likud bloc that lent formal support to these Islamists. As Dreyfuss says, “It was part of a full-court press against the PLO.” [p. 196] Begin was trying to undermine the PLO, even to the point of giving paramilitary training to members of the “so-called Village Leagues,” which were run by anti-PLO Palestinians. “David Shipler, a former reporter for the New York Times, cites the Israeli governor of Gaza as boasting that Israel expressly financed the Islamist against the PLO.” [p. 196] In this regard, Israel was aligned with Saudi Arabia, which also wanted to undermine the PLO and, hence, helped to finance these Islamist groups in Gaza.

            It is quite true as is said frequently that politics makes for strange bedfellows. But perhaps it is best not play with fire or fanatics. As one expert at the U.S. State Department put it: “I didn’t realize they’d [the Israelis] end up creating a monster. But I don’t think you ought to mess around with potential fanatics.” [p.198] This might be a warning that should be heeded today.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Maintaining the Status Quo: Mainstream Extremism

--> Maintaining the Status Quo: Mainstream Extremism
P. Schultz

Below is an article and my comments on it [posted in red], illustrating how the debate over US foreign policy is contained and limited to questions of marginal importance in order to maintain the status quo and to disguise the extremist character of that policy. A link to the article follows.

Jonathan Bernstein comments on the negative reviews of the Republican candidates’ foreign policy statements at the debate:

They’re not saying the Republican candidates are promoting foolish policies; they’re saying the entire debate, with only a handful of exceptions, was an exercise in fantasy. Fantasy it was, but not for the reasons given here. See my comments below. 

The critics are right about the debate, but it’s not as if this is unusual for a presidential primary debate among mostly hawkish candidates. It certainly isn’t unusual for Republican foreign policy arguments over the last six years. It’s correct to say most of what the candidates said on Tuesday night was divorced from reality, but then most hawkish attacks on the administration’s record have been no different. Ever since it became popular to accuse Obama of going on an “apology tour” or to assert that he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism (both of which date to his first year in office), Republican hawks have been railing against a mostly imaginary record. Even when there are genuine policy failures and horrible decisions that could and should be used against the president, hawkish critics have opted for the least credible and most preposterous lines of attack based on the fantasy record they have concocted. That makes them a fairly useless political opposition, and it guarantees that the real failings of our foreign policy don’t receive the scrutiny they should. Well, while “the real failings of our foreign policy don’t receive the scrutiny they should” might be true, it also true and more important that the question of whether our foreign policy is worthy of success never gets raised. And this is so because to raise this question would require that we raise the question of that policy’s worth in terms of its justice, its decency, or its extremism. This is one reason the Republicans rail “against a mostly imaginary record,” a tactic the Democrats don’t mind at all. Such criticisms limit the debate over US foreign policy to whether it’s “working,” or in terms used here, whether it is sufficiently “hawkish.” So from this viewpoint, the Republicans are not “a fairly useless political opposition.” Rather, they are quite useful, viz., in maintaining the status quo and disguising the extremism of US foreign policy. 

We can this most clearly in the complete failure to hold Obama accountable for his illegal war in Libya while being obsessed with the 2012 Benghazi attack that followed from that war. Note should be taken that here, Larison succeeds in doing what the Republicans obsessed with Benghazi are doing: Raising an issue, whether Obama’s war in Libya was “illegal,” that distracts us from the only important issue: Was that war part of a defensible, non-imperialistic foreign policy. Hawkish interventionists couldn’t object to Obama’s decision to start a war (and many Republicans supported that war), [Of course they did because they support the imperialistic policy that war reflects.] but they were desperate to portray him as indifferent to terrorist threats, which is itself an extension of their need to see Obama as “retreating” from the world and blind to the dangers of jihadism. This is just another version of argument that Obama is insufficiently “hawkish,” thereby passing over the issue of the character of the prevailing foreign policy of the US which aims controlling the world, including the Middle East even it means relying on jihadists and other right wing Islamists to do so. 

 Many other examples are available. Almost all Republican presidential candidates fault Obama for withdrawing residual forces from Iraq and blame the growth of ISIS on the withdrawal. They always ignore that there was no way that U.S. forces could have stayed in Iraq without being put under Iraqi jurisdiction, and they definitely ignore that the original status of forces agreement was negotiated by the previous administration. They also ignore that Iraqis opposed a U.S. military presence and a new insurgency would probably have started if the hawks had had their way. This is a nice illustration of how the Republicans help to control the character of the debate over US foreign policy because it is an argument that assumes, without any arguments at all, that the original decision to invade Iraq was correct. “Obama was weak to withdraw from Iraq,” implying without argument that the invasion of Iraq was wise or prudent. If our reality doesn’t validate their “Obama chooses decline” and “weakness is provocative” beliefs, they have to imagine another one that does. Again, to cast the debate in terms of “weakness” or “hawkishness” is to limit that debate to mere details and to avoid the only real issue: Is US foreign policy defensible or is it genuinely imperialistic? 

The reaction to the unobjectionable, modest New START may be the most telling example. Despite broad support for the treaty from the military and arms control experts, there was almost no Republican support for it in the Senate, and the critics used the most nonsensical arguments to justify their opposition. They latched on to a non-binding preamble as proof that the treaty limited missile defenses when the actual treaty contained no provisions related to this, and they complained that a strategic arms reduction treaty didn’t include tactical nuclear weapons. Mitt Romney went out of his way that year to make a fool of himself by repeating a number of ridiculous and discredited arguments against the treaty, which led Fred Kaplan to dub his attack on New START as “shabby, misleading, and thoroughly ignorant.” But this wasn’t just Romney demonstrating how little he knew. Romney was repeating the bogus objections that other hawks in his party were already making against the treaty. Besides, Obama wanted the treaty ratified, so Romney must have thought that he had to denounce it as one of the biggest sell-outs of all time. If that required making up silly reasons to oppose the treaty, so be it. The response to all this from his own party was to applaud, and later after Romney had lost the election the response was to pretend that Romney’s bad foreign policy arguments had been vindicated. A party that encourages the belief that “Romney was right” about anything important on foreign policy is one that has chosen not to take these issues seriously nor to deal with the world as it is.

I could go on for a while, but I’ll offer just one more example. Republican hawks treat is as an absolute certainty that Obama “missed an opportunity” for regime change in Iran during the Green movement protests. They are certain of this despite the fact that the protesters weren’t seeking regime change and couldn’t have achieved it even if they had been. The “opportunity” they claim that Obama missed never existed, but they insist that it was there for the taking all the same so that they can accuse Obama of “allowing” the Iranian regime to remain in power. It is one thing to complain that Obama didn’t respond to the protests as vocally as the hawks would like, but it is something else entirely to pretend that it was within Obama’s power to hasten the toppling of a foreign government by offering rhetorical support to protesters that didn’t want to overthrow their government. That is where the usual opposition carping about supposed presidential foreign policy failure crosses over into the realm of make-believe and absurdity. Unfortunately, that is where most Republican foreign policy arguments end up these days. That problem didn’t just start this cycle, it isn’t limited to the “outsider” and demagogue candidates, and it goes much deeper than most people in or out of the GOP would like to admit. Note well how limited this is, not just by the Republicans but by Larison as well. Larison asserts that the Republicans’ criticism of Obama regarding Iran are “unrealistic” because the protesting Iranians were not interested in and incapable of regime change. So the Republicans assume something unrealistic, viz., that Obama had the “power to hasten the toppling of a foreign government” when he did not. Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to ask: Should the US assume it may legitimately choose to topple foreign governments? Is this a power that is defensible, just, legitimate, regardless of whether it can be used successfully or not? Where does this power come from? Is it anything other than US hubris to claim the right to overthrow governments here, there, and everywhere? These are questions that go unasked, with results that can only be labeled suspect.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Benedict Option

The Benedict Option
P. Schultz

An email exchange on “the Benedict Option:”

On Dec 21, 2015, at 5:20 PM, CW wrote:  
I’m sending this piece to people I have had some discussions with over the last few years about the state of the world and also about the Church. I don’t know who this guy is, but he may be the guest speaker at a conservative group’s next meeting that I used to belong to and have some respect for. It also has a certain positive message (despite the overall sad themes of the article) and so it seemed appropriate for the holiday season.

On Dec 22, 2015, at 8:45 AM, Peter wrote
This is very good. Just some comments that occur to me upon first reading. 

"I commend to you again Noah Millman’s piece pointing out that Establishment politicians of the Left and Right are in many ways no better than Trump on the whole “fascist” thing. They just have a different way of talking about the things they do, to keep them respectable in polite society. In the end, I don’t believe that Trump is going to be the GOP nominee, and I believe that the American people will be forced to choose between a Democrat and a Republican who are the problem, not the solution. Don’t get me wrong here: Trump’s not a solution either. What his candidacy reveals, at least to me, is how little authority the US political establishment has.”

This is where I am at. He might have emphasized - more?  at all? - that Trump serves the status quo, as that is his role, by making the “Establishment politicians” seem moderate, when in fact they are what I call “mainstream extremists.” I even heard someone on MSNBC the other day say, seriously, “I never thought I would miss George W. Bush.” Amazingly, that war criminal is now to be longed for, probably along with Cheney. This is quite a magic trick ala’ “the sorcerer” in O’Brien’s book, “In the Lake of the Woods” who could make whole villages and even his wife disappear. Trump, with the media’s complicity, makes our extremists disappear. Poof! And they are gone! 

Recently, I have been asking myself - because there are so few I feel safe talking with about politics any longer - When is it necessary to reject, to withdraw from a corrupt regime? To “retire,” as Sheriff Bell did in No Country for Old Men, in order to “save one’s soul?” 

I have also come to respond, if asked, about voting in 2016, that I will not be voting because none of the candidates will do anything to keep us safe or increase our safety and I don’t want the blood they shed to be on my hands. [Perhaps this is what Sheriff Bell had in mind, not wanting the blood to be on his hands.] People seem puzzled by this but no one really seems to notice the accusation my response contains. Of if they do, they don’t get angry as a result. 

Having once been a Catholic, I find Dreher’s “Francis option” unconvincing. As good as he is, he will not successfully reform what is just another corrupt institution. It is great that Francis is pope and what he says and does warms the heart; but in the final analysis the institutional regime will reassert itself in the end. Consult Weber or Machiavelli. I think perhaps Dreher knows this which is why he goes with the “local option.” 

So what is one to do? Perhaps what humans have always done: Choose the private life, indulge as Dreher says, the “imagination,” by recognizing that we humans should be “on a personal quest to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain. On that quest, politics [is] simply a roadblock of stentorian baboons.” [Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All] 

And we certainly have our share of “stentorian baboons” these days. 

Hi Peter,

I told Linda this morning that I hoped that your response would have a reference to Sheriff Bell in it and , as usual, you don’t disappoint. I agree with everything you say. I would also add another reference that I have always liked- Socrates’ argument (Book 6?) that sometimes it is better just to stand by the wall to stay out of the rain. So we have a Sheriff Bell option and a Socrates option to go with the Benedict option. It’s very amusing to me that the last time I went to one of the meetings of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters, I made reference to both Sheriff Bell and Socrates’ quote and got nowhere. I also don’t care much for the Benedict option but if you secularized it a bit, it could be OK. Real liberalism assumes the search for the true, the good and the beautiful is an individual quest that is pursued in a variety of ways, sometimes alone, sometimes in voluntary groups of like-minded people. Why do so many religious people believe that the goal should be for everyone to be forced to behave according to their rules? The only path to truth that begins in freedom is peithos- persuasion. How could it be otherwise if you actually believe in anything like the spirit or the soul?  The turning of the soul is the primary experience of being and it is an individual experience. 

All teachers know (or should know) that the true “seekers” come in every shape and color and are very different from the “true believers.”  

Love the Tom Robbins quote.

Thanks for the kind words about not disappointing. Here is the full Robbins quote. I use to challenge my students with this quote and say, “What would your mindset have to be to just laugh at a Hitler? That is, really laugh at him, treat him and genuinely see him as a joke?” Some of the students would get that it would take “transforming one’s self” and “rearranging one’s perceptions” in ways that were quite difficult but others did not. I use to say to Nick when he was down because students weren’t responding to him: “Nick, if they did that they would have to rearrange their entire minds. And that’s not only a lot of work. It’s also a bit scary.”  

From Skinny Legs and All, by Tom Robbins 
            “She understood suddenly, and for no particular reason of which she was aware, that it was futile to work for political solutions to humanity’s problems because humanity’s problems were not political. Political problems did exist, all right, but they were entirely secondary. The primary problems were philosophical, and until the philosophical problems were solved, the political problems would have to be solved over and over and over again. The phrase ‘vicious circle’ was coined to describe the ephemeral effectiveness of almost any political activity.
            “For the ethical, political activism was seductive because it seemed to offer the possibility that one could improve society, make things better, without going through the personal ordeal of rearranging one’s perceptions and transforming one’s self. For the unconscionable, political reactivism was seductive because it seemed to protect one’s holdings and legitimize one’s greed. But both sides were gazing through a kerchief of illusion.
            “The monkey wrench in the progressive machinery of primate evolution was the propensity of the primate band to take its political leaders – its dominant males – too seriously. Of benefit to the band only when it was actively threatened by predators, the dominant male (or political boss) was almost wholly self-serving and was naturally dedicated not to liberation but to control. Behind his chest-banging and fang display, he was largely a joke and could be kept in his place (his place being that of a necessary evil) by disrespect and laughter. If, for example, when Hitler stood up to rant in the beer halls of Munich, the good drinkers had taken him more lightly, had they, instead of buying his act, snickered and hooted and pelted him with sausage skins, the Holocaust might have been avoided.
            “Of course, as long as there were willing followers, there would be exploitive leaders. And there would be willing followers until humanity reached that philosophical plateau where it recognized that its great mission in life had nothing to do with any struggle between classes, races, nations, or ideologies, but was, rather, a personal quest to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain. On that quest, politics was simply a roadblock of stentorian baboons.” (pp.405-406)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Some Interesting Facts for These Times

To the Editor:

            Here are some facts that seem to need emphasis in these troubling times. It would be useful, it seems to me, to keep them in mind.

            The death toll of those killed by jihadist terrorists, since Sept. 11, 2001, is about 45 people. The death toll in attacks led by those motivated by white supremacist and other extremist ideologies, is about 48 people. This according to New America, an organization located in Washington, D.C.

            In 1994, an American born Israeli physician, Baruch Goldstein, killed 29 Muslims, including 7 children, while wounding 125 in Hebron. In 2011, Anders Behring Breivik, self-proclaimed “100% Christian,” killed 77 Muslim immigrants in Norway, including 55 teenagers.

            On April 19, 1995, Tim McVeigh, a caucasian U.S. citizen and Army veteran, who thought of himself as a Christian revolutionary, bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring over 600, making his attack the deadliest terror attack in the U.S. before 9/11 and making it even now the greatest act of domestic terror ever committed on U.S. soil.

            A recent Gallup Poll found that 58% of Christians, 52% of Jews, and 43% of the non-religious thought it justified “sometimes” to target and kill civilians, while 21% of Muslims also agreed with this.

            These are just some facts. Readers can make of them what they will. But they are facts in any case.