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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Obama Says Iraq Combat Mission Is Over Declares a ‘Time to Turn the Page’ to Domestic Concerns By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and HELENE COOPER

Text of the Speech

In his second address from the Oval Office, President Obama reminded America that, in giving Iraqis responsibility for their own security, he was fulfilling a campaign promise.

Few Iraqis Have a Clear View of Future

A Trillion-Dollar Catastrophe. Yes, Iraq Was a Headline War by Simon Jenkins

What Obama Won't Say Tonight by Ray McGovern

The Speech President Obama Should Give About the Iraq War (But Won’t) by Juan Cole

The Speech President Obama Should Give About the Iraq War (But Won’t)

by Juan Cole

Here is the speech that I wish President Obama would give about the Iraq War, but which neither he nor any other president ever will.

U.S. Announces New N. Korea Sanctions - Council on Foreign Relations

U.S. Announces New N. Korea Sanctions

The White House announced new sanctions against North Korea (WashPost), which target weapons providers, luxury goods producers, and financial services involved in money laundering, counterfeiting, and narcotics trafficking. The sanctions come in response to the March sinking of a South Korean warship, which an international investigation blamed on North Korea. The announcement came days after former president Jimmy Carter visited North Korea to secure the release of an American activist. The sanctions would make it illegal for U.S. companies to do business with firms found to be helping North Korea with illicit activities. The sanctions may complicate the relaunch of talks on North Korea's nuclear arms program, which the Obama administration said it is still hoping to resume. The U.S. announcement came hours after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il told Chinese President Hu Jintao during a four-day visit to China that North Korea wanted to rejoin Six Party Talks (KoreaTimes) on denuclearization. South Korea, a member of the talks, has said the talks can only resume after North Korea admits to the March 26 attack (Bloomberg) and apologizes.


On, Weston Konishi, associate director of Asia-Pacific studies at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, says there have been so many rounds of sanctions against North Korea that there's not much added benefit to additional measures.

In an interview with, Marcus Noland, of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said that Washington's new sanctions against North Korea, focusing on international financial institutions and banking systems, are likely to have more impact than trade sanctions.

This CFR Analysis Brief examines heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, in part fueled by U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises.


This CFR Crisis Guide examines politics on the Korean Peninsula.
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Coming Nuclear Flashpoint

India’s role in Afghanistan is hailed as a triumph of soft power. In fact, it has just made conflict with Pakistan more likely.

Coming Nuclear Flashpoint

UN climate panel ordered to make fundamental reforms

UN climate panel ordered to make fundamental reforms
United Nations (AFP) Aug 30, 2010 - An international review panel on Monday called on the UN global climate change body to carry out fundamental reforms after embarrassing errors in a landmark report dented its credibility. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was caught in an international storm after it admitted that its landmark 2007 report had exaggerated the speed at which Himalay ... more

'Where is the reset?': sceptical Putin asks in interview

Moscow (AFP) Aug 30, 2010 - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Monday he wanted to believe in the much-vaunted "reset" in ties between Moscow and Washington but indicated he was somewhat sceptical about the US administration's intentions. He voiced unease about US plans for a missile defence shield in Europe, saying ongoing talks with several European countries on hosting missile interceptors ran counter to ... more

'Where is the reset?': sceptical Putin asks in interview

'Where is the reset?': sceptical Putin asks in interview
Moscow (AFP) Aug 30, 2010 - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Monday he wanted to believe in the much-vaunted "reset" in ties between Moscow and Washington but indicated he was somewhat sceptical about the US administration's intentions. He voiced unease about US plans for a missile defence shield in Europe, saying ongoing talks with several European countries on hosting missile interceptors ran counter to ... more

Saudis amass U.S. weapons to confront Iran

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (UPI) Aug 30, 2010 - A proposed $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, one of the largest-ever U.S. weapons sales, marks the consolidation of America as the kingdom's main arms supplier after years of strain following 9/11. The deal, which includes Boeing F-15SA Strike Eagle fighters, also underlines Riyadh's determination to confront the threat it perceives from Iran, Saudi Arabia's rival for regional su ... more

South Sudan to end use of child soldiers 'by year's end'

Juba, Sudan (AFP) Aug 30, 2010 -
South Sudan vowed on Monday to end its use of child soldiers by the end of the year, as the former rebel force works to transform itself into a regular army ahead of a 2011 independence referendum. More than 22,000 former child fighters with the Sudan People's Liberation Army have returned to civilian life in the past decade, but some 900 children remain under arms, according to the UN Child ... more

Monday, August 30, 2010

McCarthy in Israel by Neve Gordon

On May 31, I joined some 50 students and faculty members who gathered outside Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to demonstrate against the Israeli military assault on the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid toward Gaza. In response, the next day a few hundred students marched toward the social-sciences building, Israeli flags in hand. Amid the nationalist songs and pro-government chants, there were also shouts demanding my resignation from the university faculty.
One student even proceeded to create a Facebook group whose sole goal is to have me sacked. So far over 2,100 people (many of them nonstudents) have joined. In addition to …
(Full article …)

Direct talks will fail – is that what the US is planning on? Tony Karon The National, Abu Dhabi

August 30. 2010 

There is more chance of Saddam Hussein’s elusive weapons of mass destruction suddenly turning up in Iraq than there is of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas agreeing on the terms for a two-state solution in Washington this week. That does not mean the direct talks being orchestrated by President Barack Obama are pointless. On the contrary, they represent a moment of truth, not for the Israelis or the Palestinians, but for Mr Obama, who is creating a crisis by forcing irreconcilable differences between the two sides onto the table. The question now becomes, what is Washington prepared to do once the Israelis and Palestinians fail to agree.

Iraq’s Dysfunctional Democracy By Jon Basil Utley

It was doomed from the start by a fatal constitutional flaw: proportional representation.

Direct talks déjà vu Posted By Stephen M. Walt

President Obama is hosting a dinner for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sept. 1, in order to kick off the new round of direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. As regular readers know, I don't think this effort will go anywhere, because the two sides are too far apart and because the Obama administration won't have the political will to push them towards the necessary compromises.
Furthermore, there are now a few hints that the Obama administration is about to repeat the same mistakes that doomed the Clinton administration's own Middle East peacemaking efforts and the Bush administration's even more half-hearted attempts (i.e., the "Road Map" and the stillborn Annapolis summit). Last week, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronoth provided a summary of a conference call between Obama Middle East advisors Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and David Hale and the leaders of a number of influential American Jewish organizations. According to the article (whose accuracy I cannot vouch for), the goal of the direct talks will be a "framework agreement" between the two sides that would then be implemented over a period of up to ten years.
Excuse me, but haven't we seen this movie before, and isn't the last reel a bummer? This idea sounds a lot like the Oslo Accords, which also laid out a "framework" for peace, but deferred the hard issues to the end and repeatedly missed key deadlines. Or maybe it's another version of the Road Map/Annapolis summit, which offered deadlines and bold talk  and led precisely nowhere. Or perhaps what they have in mind is a "shelf agreement" -- a piece of paper that sits "on the shelf" until conditions are right (i.e., forever). It is this sort of charade that has led veteran observers like Henry Siegman to denounce the long-running peace process as a "scam," and Siegman is hardly alone in that view.
Here's the basic problem: Unless the new "framework" is very detailed and specific about the core issues -- borders, the status of East Jerusalem, the refugee issue, etc., -- we will once again have a situation where spoilers on both sides have both an incentive and the opportunity to do whatever they can to disrupt the process. And even if it were close to a detailed final-status agreement, a ten-year implementation schedule provides those same spoilers (or malevolent third parties) with all the time they will need to try to derail the deal. I can easily imagine Netanyahu and other hardliners being happy with this arrangement, as they would be able to keep expanding settlements (either openly or covertly) while the talks drag on, which is what has happened ever since Oslo (and under both Likud and Labor governments). Ironically, some members of Hamas might secretly welcome this outcome too, because it would further discredit moderates like Abbas and Fayyad. And there is little reason to think the United States would do a better job of managing the process than it did in 1990s.

Iraq's next chapter: power shift as Awakening languishes Nir Rosen, Foreign Correspondent, The National, Abu Dhabi

BAGHDAD // On a recent Friday in Baghdad, hundreds of men strolled slowly to the Abu Hanifa mosque in the Sunni bastion of Adhamiya. Many wore pristine white dishdashes and white caps. They walked under the watchful gaze of dozens of Iraqi soldiers.

Iraqi army pickup trucks and Humvees were parked in empty streets. In the main square, concrete blast walls surrounded the mosque, which was a shrine to the important Sunni theologian Abu Hanifa, founder of the Hanafi school of Islam.

Unlike what one might hear in other mosques, particularly Shiite ones, this Friday sermon abstained from politics. Sheikh Abdel Sattar Abdel Jabbar spoke only of religion.

This was perhaps out of fear. More likely, it was out of futility and a sense of acceptance that in the new Iraq, many Sunnis will not regain the lofty status they held during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

That angers Mutlab, who provided only his first name to protect himself. As a member of a Sunni militia group, he fought al Qa’eda militants alongside the US forces.

“We are made to work in sanitation and we fought the terrorists,” he said.

“It was better before. We ruled the street. Nobody could talk to us – not the army, nobody. We communicated directly with the Americans. Now nobody respects us.”

* * * * *

The sermons at the Abu Hanifa mosque were not always tranquil.

Adhamiya was the last district of Baghdad to fall to the US-led invasion in 2003 and the last place Saddam Hussein made a public appearance before he went into hiding.

After the fall of Baghdad to the United States, the first Friday sermon in Abu Hanifa compared the cataclysm to the venerable city’s seizure by the Mongols in 1258. It also called for unity between majority Shiites and minority Sunnis.

But that was not to be. The disbanding of the Baath Party and the Iraq army by occupation authorities in May 2003 helped create a political and security vacuum, which in turn triggered sectarian violence and sent Iraq spiraling towards near-civil war. For the next two years, sermons from the Abu Hanifa mosque railed against the occupation. Adhamiya, home to prominent Iraqi families for generations as well as middle-class Sunnis, became a bastion of the resistance. Eventually, it fell under the control of groups inspired by al Qa’eda.

Fighters clashed frequently with the US and Iraqi security forces, which brought down waves of retaliation on Adhamiya. Shiite militias even tried to hit the mosque with mortars after the Shiite shrine in Samara was blown up in 2006. They called Adhamiya “Saddamiya”.

In 2007, a sea-change occurred, as many Sunni insurgents turned their attention from attacking US troops to battling al Qa’eda. These local Sunni militias, known as Awakening groups, were funded and supported by the US military.

Khalili Ibrahim, one of the leaders of the Awakening in Adamiya, was one of those insurgents who chose to collaborate with US forces after fighting them. Why? They were the enemy of his enemy – Iran, he said. “Now the Americans were leaving, but the Iranians are staying.”

The Awakening groups are widely considered one of the reasons Iraq was brought back from the edge of anarchy.

“They saved Iraq,” Ibrahim recalled last year. “If the Awakening wasn’t here then the American and Iraqi armies couldn’t enter Adhamiya for 20 years.”

Ibrahim was killed by a sniper’s bullet in March.

Still, the alliance did not slow the Sunnis’ political eclipse in the post-Saddam era. Nor did it improve the prospects of those Sunnis who carried the fight against al Qa’eda. Under Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, many of his men could get jobs only as cleaners, Ibrahim had said.

Ibrahim’s successor as head of the Awakening in Adhamiya, Muntasar Abu Amna, is a massive man of 32 years, with folds of fat on the back of his neck. His thick hand never strayed from his pistol.

Mr Amna, a former taxi driver, had taken part in the Awakening from the start. Now, he said, there were fewer than 200 members left.

Sitting on a bench in the main square next to the Abu Hanifa mosque, Mr Amna smoked and drank tea with some of his friends, even though the Ramadan fast was not over.

They disagreed about whether the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, who led a coalition of mostly Shiite candidates in the March elections, should return to power.

Neither Mr al Maliki nor his rival, Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister, has been able to cobble together a majority to form a new government. Yet Mr al Maliki, the incumbent, seems most likely to emerge from the gridlock as Iraq’s new premier.

“We don’t care if Maliki is prime minister, as long as he doesn’t distinguish between Sunnis and Shiites,” Ali al Ubedi said.

A taxi driver sitting next to him disagreed. “If it’s Maliki, then sectarianism will return,” said the driver, Hisham, who would give only his first name. “The government hurt us more than al Qa’eda did.”

Although the longtime friends all agreed that Iraq’s Sunnis were weak and unable to halt their slide to the sidelines of the country’s political life, Mr al Ubeidi said an effective government was more important than how Sunnis and Shiites were represented in the upper echelons of power.

“There is no electricity, no water,” he said. “I don’t care who is in charge as long as he improves services. The people are tired. They just want a government.”

* * * * *

Adhamiya is now home to many Sunnis displaced from majority Shiite areas. Their bitterness about a system they say does not respond to their needs and reward their contributions to stability permeates every conversation.

Although the Awakening groups were once thought of as a new militia that could undermine any future Iraqi government at will, these fears appear to have been baseless. Instead, once powerful Awakening leaders are dejected, their power emasculated.

Gen Mustafa Kamil Shadid was once the powerful Awakening boss in south Baghdad and a crucial partner with the US military during its troop increase in 2007.

There had once been 5,000 Awakening men in his area, and now there were barely 200, Gen Shadid said. At least 500 of his militiamen were in Iraqi prisons.

Gen Shadid has been the target of at least four assassination attempts, the latest in July. Meanwhile, the thousands of al Qa’eda militants that he says he arrested are walking free.

“They have all been released by bribing judges and police. There are 50 guys in south Baghdad. If I arrest them, there won’t be any more attacks. But I’m not allowed to make arrests.

“Now a man who was an Awakening general is made a janitor and a man who was a janitor is made a general.”

Gen Shadid said the US forces had promised him a top government job in security or defence, but they betrayed him.

“They are the occupier. That is their policy,” he said.

Now he waits for word from Washington about his asylum application. He resents being treated like any other Iraqi applicant.

“I am not just an informer,” he said. “The Americans should send a plane to take me and my family to America. They know what I did for them. But do you think another General Mustafa will come after I leave?”

Outreach precedes Mideast talks By: Laura Rozen

August 30, 2010 04:33 AM EDT

Sunday, August 29, 2010

For Obama, Steep Learning Curve as Chief in War

Susan Walse/Associated Press
President Obama was on hand when the body of an Army sergeant killed in Afghanistan arrived at Dover Air Force Base.

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* Erekat: Israeli religious figure urging genocide of Palestinians Netanyahu distances himself from remarks by Shas spiritual leader who said earlier that all Palestinians should perish.

Erekat called on the Israeli government to denounce the remarks by Israel's former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and to take action against racist remarks by other elected officials. He also criticized Israel for allowing the incident to pass without condemnation.
Yosef had said during his weekly Shabbat sermon that the Palestinians, namely Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, should perish from the world. Yosef, a founder of the Shas Party, also described Palestinians as evil, bitter enemies of Israel.
"All these evil people should perish from this world ... God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians," Yosef had said.
The 89-year-old is a respected religious scholar but is also known for vitriolic comments about Arabs, secular Jews, liberals, women and gays, among others.
"Is this how the Israeli government prepares its public for a peace agreement?" Erekat said, days before Israeli and Palestinian leaders were scheduled to meet in Washington for the launch of renewed direct peace negotiations.
"While the PLO is ready to resume negotiations in seriousness and good faith, a member of the Israeli government is calling for our destruction," Erekat said. "It is an insult to all our efforts to advance the negotiations process."
Erekat called on Israel "do more about peace and stop spreading hatred" and said Yosef's comments could be placed within the larger context of Israel's "policy against a Palestinian state" such as settlement expansion, home demolitions, among other things.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday distanced himself from Yosef's remarks, but stopped short of a condemnation. "Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's remarks do not reflect Netanyahu's views, nor do they reflect the stance of the Israeli government," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.
"Israel plans to take part in peace negotiations out of a desire to advance toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians that will end the conflict and ensure peace, security and good neighborly relations between the two peoples," the statement continued.
Israeli Arab MK Jamal Zahalka, chair of the Balad Knesset faction, sent a letter to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, demanding that Yosef be investigated and tried for racist incitement and incitement to murder.
"Yosef's comments are especially dangerous because he keeps repeating himself again and again, so he must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," MK Zahalka said.
According to Zahalka, Yosef is not a minor public figure, but a spiritual leader whose religious edicts are adhered to by hundreds of thousands of followers, and his comments can be interpreted as permission to kill Palestinians.
Zahalka added, "If, heaven forbid, a Muslim spiritual leader were to make anti-Jewish comments of this sort, he would be arrested immediately."
MK Ahmed Tibi, chair of the United Arab List-Ta'al Knesset faction, also responded to Yosef's comments, saying that the rabbi "has long since turned into the biggest blasphemer, the evilest purveyor of hatred and killing, which are contrary to all religions."
MK Tibi called upon Yosef to reconsider his call for all evildoers to die, "because without realizing it, he is calling for his own death."
In the past, Israel has accused the Palestinian government of incitement against the Jewish state, including by naming streets after Palestinian militants.
The Palestinian Authority has dismissed such allegations, though U.S. President Barack Obama told Abbas earlier this year he needs to do more to halt incitement against Israel.

Carter: Breaching the Wall With North Korea from RealClear Politics by Boston Globe

Former President Jimmy Carter provokes understandable anger from some fellow Americans when he makes his periodic visits to North Korea and other dictatorships. Carter has long chosen to advance his own vision of global engagement, rather than that of the administration in power. His prickliness can offend Democrats and Republicans alike; not for him is the easy post-presidential bonhomie of the Bushes and Clintons.

A U.S. Architect On The War In Iraq Speaks Out from War News Updates by War News Updates Editor

An Architect of U.S. Strategy Waits to Pop Cork -- Wall Street Journal

Retired U.S. Army Col. Pete Mansoor invested nearly three years of his life deployed in Iraq, a period he calls the defining experience of a 26-year military career. But as the combat mission there officially ends, he says he doesn't feel like celebrating.

With Iraq's politicians still deadlocked over the formulation of a new government months after March elections, Col. Mansoor says he feels the mission he invested so much of himself in—including the loss of two dozen soldiers under his direct command—remains unaccomplished.

Read more ....
 This is a must read. We are leaving Iraq with a bad taste in our mouths, and a growing feeling that the job .... whatever that job was .... is not completed.

Modern Poverty in the Richest Nation on Earth from Foreign Policy Journal by Antonio Graceffo

Modern Poverty in the Richest Nation on Earth

Even in one of the world’s richest countries, a significant percentage of the population slips deeper and deeper into debt.

America's Top Military Chief: Debt is Main Threat to U.S. National Security ... Pentagon Must Cut Spending from Washington's Blog by George Washington

From one of THE best blogs out there:

In February 2009, the head of U.S. intelligence - Dennis Blair - said that the global financial crisis was the largest threat to America's national security. All of America's intelligence agencies apparently agreed.

The same month, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - Admiral Mullen - also agreed.

Now, Mullen is focusing on a specific economic threat. Specifically, Mullen is focusing on the debt:
The national debt is the single biggest threat to national security, according to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Tax payers will be paying around $600 billion in interest on the national debt by 2012, the chairman told students and local leaders in Detroit.

"That's one year's worth of defense budget," he said, adding that the Pentagon needs to cut back on spending.
But at least war is good for the economy, right? At least spending on defense will help the economy recover and climb out of this pit of debt. no?
Actually, no.

Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has said that war can be very bad for the economy. For example, in 2003, Stiglitz wrote:
War is widely thought to be linked to economic good times. The second world war is often said to have brought the world out of depression, and war has since enhanced its reputation as a spur to economic growth. Some even suggest that capitalism needs wars, that without them, recession would always lurk on the horizon.

Today, we know that this is nonsense. The 1990s boom showed that peace is economically far better than war. The Gulf war of 1991 demonstrated that wars can actually be bad for an economy.
Stiglitz has said that this decade's Iraq war has been very bad for the economy. See this, this and this.
And as the New Republic noted last year:
Conservative Harvard economist Robert Barro has argued that increased military spending during WWII actually depressed other parts of the economy.

Also from the right, Robert Higgs has done good work showing that military spending wasn't the primary source of the recovery and that GDP growth during WWII has been "greatly exaggerated."

And from the left, Larry Summers and Brad Delong argued back in 1988 that "five-sixths of the decline in output relative to the trend that occurred during the Depression had been made up before 1942."
As I noted in January:

All of the spending on unnecessary wars adds up.

The U.S. is adding trillions to its debt burden to finance its multiple wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc.

Two top American economists - Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff - show that the more indebted a country is, with a government debt/GDP ratio of 0.9, and external debt/GDP of 0.6 being critical thresholds, the more GDP growth drops materially.

Specifically, Reinhart and Rogoff write:
The relationship between government debt and real GDP growth is weak for debt/GDP ratios below a threshold of 90 percent of GDP. Above 90 percent, median growth rates fall by one percent, and average growth falls considerably more. We find that the threshold for public debt is similar in advanced and emerging economies...
Indeed, it should be obvious to anyone who looks at the issue that deficits do matter.
A PhD economist told me:
War always causes recession. Well, if it is a very short war, then it may stimulate the economy in the short-run. But if there is not a quick victory and it drags on, then wars always put the nation waging war into a recession and hurt its economy.
You know about America's unemployment problem. You may have even heard that the U.S. may very well have suffered a permanent destruction of jobs.

But did you know that the defense employment sector is booming?

As I pointed out in August, public sector spending - and mainly defense spending - has accounted for virtually all of the new job creation in the past 10 years:
The U.S. has largely been financing job creation for ten years. Specifically, as the chief economist for BusinessWeek, Michael Mandel, points out, public spending has accounted for virtually all new job creation in the past 10 years:
Private sector job growth was almost non-existent over the past ten years. Take a look at this horrifying chart:

Between May 1999 and May 2009, employment in the private sector sector only rose by 1.1%, by far the lowest 10-year increase in the post-depression period.

It's impossible to overstate how bad this is. Basically speaking, the private sector job machine has almost completely stalled over the past ten years. Take a look at this chart:

Over the past 10 years, the private sector has generated roughly 1.1 million additional jobs, or about 100K per year. The public sector created about 2.4 million jobs.

But even that gives the private sector too much credit. Remember that the private sector includes health care, social assistance, and education, all areas which receive a lot of government support.

Most of the industries which had positive job growth over the past ten years were in the HealthEdGov sector. In fact, financial job growth was nearly nonexistent once we take out the health insurers.

Let me finish with a final chart.

Without a decade of growing government support from rising health and education spending and soaring budget deficits, the labor market would have been flat on its back.
Indeed, Robert Reich lamented this month:
America's biggest — and only major — jobs program is the U.S. military.
Back to my January essay:
Raw Story argues that the U.S. is building a largely military economy:
The use of the military-industrial complex as a quick, if dubious, way of jump-starting the economy is nothing new, but what is amazing is the divergence between the military economy and the civilian economy, as shown by this New York Times chart.

In the past nine years, non-industrial production in the US has declined by some 19 percent. It took about four years for manufacturing to return to levels seen before the 2001 recession -- and all those gains were wiped out in the current recession.

By contrast, military manufacturing is now 123 percent greater than it was in 2000 -- it has more than doubled while the rest of the manufacturing sector has been shrinking...

It's important to note the trajectory -- the military economy is nearly three times as large, proportionally to the rest of the economy, as it was at the beginning of the Bush administration. And it is the only manufacturing sector showing any growth. Extrapolate that trend, and what do you get?

The change in leadership in Washington does not appear to be abating that trend...[121]
So most of the job creation has been by the public sector. But because the job creation has been financed with loans from China and private banks, trillions in unnecessary interest charges have been incurred by the U.S.And this shows military versus non-military durable goods shipments:

[Click here to view full image.]

So we're running up our debt (which will eventually decrease economic growth), but the only jobs we're creating are military and other public sector jobs.

PhD economist Dean Baker points out that America's massive military spending on unnecessary and unpopular wars lowers economic growth and increases unemployment:
Defense spending means that the government is pulling away resources from the uses determined by the market and instead using them to buy weapons and supplies and to pay for soldiers and other military personnel. In standard economic models, defense spending is a direct drain on the economy, reducing efficiency, slowing growth and costing jobs.
A few years ago, the Center for Economic and Policy Research commissioned Global Insight, one of the leading economic modeling firms, to project the impact of a sustained increase in defense spending equal to 1.0 percentage point of GDP. This was roughly equal to the cost of the Iraq War.

Global Insight's model projected that after 20 years the economy would be about 0.6 percentage points smaller as a result of the additional defense spending. Slower growth would imply a loss of almost 700,000 jobs compared to a situation in which defense spending had not been increased. Construction and manufacturing were especially big job losers in the projections, losing 210,000 and 90,000 jobs, respectively.

The scenario we asked Global Insight [recognized as the most consistently accurate forecasting company in the world] to model turned out to have vastly underestimated the increase in defense spending associated with current policy. In the most recent quarter, defense spending was equal to 5.6 percent of GDP. By comparison, before the September 11th attacks, the Congressional Budget Office projected that defense spending in 2009 would be equal to just 2.4 percent of GDP. Our post-September 11th build-up was equal to 3.2 percentage points of GDP compared to the pre-attack baseline. This means that the Global Insight projections of job loss are far too low...

The projected job loss from this increase in defense spending would be close to 2 million. In other words, the standard economic models that project job loss from efforts to stem global warming also project that the increase in defense spending since 2000 will cost the economy close to 2 million jobs in the long run.
The Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst has also shown that non-military spending creates more jobs than military spending.

So we're running up our debt - which will eventually decrease economic growth - and creating many fewer jobs than if we spent the money on non-military purposes.
As I wrote last month:
It is ironic that America's huge military spending is what made us an empire ... but our huge military is what is bankrupting us ... thus destroying our status as an empire.
Even Admiral Mullen seems to agree:
The Pentagon needs to cut back on spending.

"We're going to have to do that if it's going to survive at all," Mullen said, "and do it in a way that is predictable."

Unicredit: QE Will Have Limited Impact, Fed Is Powerless

from Home Page by The Pragmatic CapitalistThe Pragmatic Capitalist submits: Apparently I am not the only one who believes quantitative easing is a "non-event". In a recent note UniCredit analysts describe why they believe the Fed is out of bullets and will have little to no impact on markets. with its "creative" new forms of monetary policy:

There are, however, two factors that suggest the yield effect will be smaller than calculated. When the US central bank began with the first round of the quantitative/credit easing in autumn 2008, the financial markets were still in panic mode. In the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the escalating economic crisis, a complete collapse of the financial markets even appeared to be a distinct possibility. The risk premiums for all asset classes were correspondingly high at the time – also for Treasuries. Thanks to its resolute intervention, the Fed was able to restore a certain degree of basic confidence on the market. The probability of a collapse was averted, and the risk premium fell dramatically. Today, in contrast, the risk premium is already very low. The possible yield effect of additional quantitative easing would, therefore,come exclusively via the higher demand for Treasuries (portfolio balance effect). The second factor that suggests yields would fell less strongly than suggested by the NY Fed model is the law of diminishing returns: The more Treasury securities the US central bank already holds, the lower the effect of further purchases becomes. Net for net, we therefore assume that even a massive additional program for the purchase of Treasury securities totaling one trillion USD would lower the yield level by only approximately 25 basis points.

Complete Story

Why Basel III is No Magic Bullet

There’s been an interesting dialogue between Streetwise Professor and Deus ex Macchiato on the matter of the practical impact of the pending Basel III rules, which will rejigger, in a pretty significant way, bank capital requirements (see here and here for details). The reason Basel III matters is that the Treasury has been touting it as the remedy for all the things that didn’t get done in the financial reform hoopla: if the banks are forced to have “enough” capital (query what “enough”) is, and better liquidity buffers, the likelihood of a financial crisis will be lower.
As an motherhood and apple pie statement, it’s hard to argue with that sort of thing, but making it operational is quite another matter. And here’s where the chat between Streetwise and Deus comes in. Per Streetwise Professor:
Risk-based capital requirements are like a regime of price controls, in this instance, risk price controls. If some risks are mispriced, and particular, priced too low, all affected institutions face the same incentives to take on those particular risks. The more institutions that fall under the capital regime, the more institutions that will take on these underpriced risks. That’s why I am very leery of global capital regimes, a la Basel. If they screw up the prices–and screw them up they will, with metaphysical certainty–the effect of the perverse incentives will be global…
This is a story about relative prices. In a risk based capital regime, some risks are mispriced relative to others. Banks load up on those mispriced risks. Since all face the same distorted pricing signal, they tend to trade the same way. They held more capital than they were required to, but that provided a false sense of security because the required levels of capital did not accurately reflect the risks.
There is, in fact, dysfunction in the financial system. That dysfunction, in the first instance, is the result of the deadly combination of implicit and explicit guarantees that stoke moral hazard, and woefully inadequate and scarily expansive capital requirements that are intended to make it difficult for banks to exploit that moral hazard, but fail to do so.
Let’s examine this a bit further. It’s important to recognize that the mispricing of risk under Basel II was a significant contributor to the global financial crisis. Eurobanks, which were subject to Basel II rules as of 2006, entered the crisis with lower capital levels than their US counterparts. Moreover, many engaged in a particular form of capital arbitrage that played a direct role in stoking the credit bubble, which was holding the AAA rated tranches of CDOs and insuring them (usually in part) to further reduce the amount of capital they had to hold. So the concern is valid.
Even with the likely (in Streetwise’s view, inevitable) mispricing of risk, the impact might not be as significant as he contends if the capital levels for the underpriced risk was still high enough. In other words, I’m not certain I buy the strong form of the “crowded trades” argument, a risk based capital regimes is inherently flawed. And Streetwise effectively concedes that point:
The capital required against certain instruments (government debt being another example) was too small relative to the true risks of those instruments. So too many banks loaded up on them.
But from a practical standpoint, his concerns are valid. The unrecognized crowded trade problem only make matters worse. Even if the authorities were to come up with a sound program, the crowding in the strategies that were cheap on a relative basis would make them riskier, and hence the render the required capital levels insufficient.
Let’s face it, the notion that we are going to have adequate private sector equity in the banking system anytime soon, if ever, is a fantasy. The way that Fannie and Freddie have stepped in to become become virtually the only mortgage issuer/securitizer, with the obvious aim of propping up the housing market and bank balance sheets, is a highly visible example of the extent of back door support to undercapitalized banks. Team Obama is of course trying to divert public attention from the continuing high level of support and regulatory forbearance via its continued iMission Accomplished “Paid back the TARP” three card monte.
Richard Smith did a bit of quick and dirty math to determine what it would take to adequately capitalize the shadow banking system:
Let’s just ignore the liquidity issue for the moment, and ignore the variety of business models of the various kinds of shadow bank, and require the shadow banks to put up a not very demanding 5% capital cushion and regulate to that, somehow. Assume, for simplicity, that we want to keep all that lovely shadow banking activity going and that shadow banks’ assets are identical in size to their liabilities; that 5% capital cushion would then be 5% of $8-16Trn. That’s between $400Bn and $800Bn of capital to raise.
Or, perhaps more likely, our shadow banks take 50% losses on 15% of their loans that they never never want to do again (the CDO bonanza, etc), and then need 5% equity on the rest. That way our shadow banks would need $925-$1,850 billion in equity. Which is impressive, but fair enough: the traditional banking system has about $1.3Trn of equity, and we know the shadow banking system is the same size, or somewhat bigger, and more prone to runs. Why, pray, should it not at least be capitalized to the same level, either by new capital, or by shrinkage?
Yves here. It is politically unacceptable to make banks raise that much capital. Not only would the firms howl blood murder, but policymakers are unwilling to take the economic hit of a quick or even attenuated return to sounder practices. So we have state subsidies of various sorts like ZIRP standing in.
That further means we have a continuing moral hazard problem. Basel III can’t solve the problem because despite the officialdom’s fantasies to the contrary, they simply won’t get enough equity into the system. That might not be as terrible as it sound if the authorities were willing to admit that and were using other approaches to monitor and reduce risk, in particular, much more aggressive regulation, and far more intervention on pay practices.
In the stone ages of investment banking, when firms were partnerships, it would have been unheard of to take on a lot of moderately long-dated, risky, illiquid, bespoke, hard to value assets and fund them in short term where they’d be exposed to rollover risks. Similarly, in those days, the major players all held a lot more in capital than was required by regulators (reg cap was regarded as overly permissive but constraining in certain circumstances, so it still needed to be managed). Investment banks were cautious not only because the partners had unlimited liability (they could lose everything) but also because they most if not all of their wealth tied up in the firm and could access it only gradually after departing, as younger partners bought them out over time. That forced them to maintain modest lifestyles relative to their net worth and to be concerned about the long term viability of the franchise.
We have a massive agency problem in the financial services industry. The crisis was a textbook case of looting. The major firms are now more powerful by virtue of being bigger and fewer, and official denials to the contrary, are in a better position to loot than before. The belief that higher capital requirements can be the mainstay of solving this problem is wishful thinking.

Japan’s Experience Suggests Quantitative Easing Helps Financial Institutions, Not Real Economy

Posted: 29 Aug 2010 12:06 AM PDT
A few days ago, we noted:
When an economy is very slack, cheaper money is not going to induce much in the way of real economy activity.
Unless you are a financial firm, the level of interest rates is a secondary or tertiary consideration in your decision to borrow. You will be interested in borrowing only if you first, perceive a business need (usually an opportunity). The next question is whether it can be addressed profitably, and the cost of funds is almost always not a significant % of total project costs (although availability of funding can be a big constraint)…..
So cheaper money will operate primarily via their impact on asset values. That of course helps financial firms, and perhaps the Fed hopes the wealth effect will induce more spending. But that’s been the movie of the last 20+ years, and Japan pre its crisis, of having the officialdom rely on asset price inflation to induce more consumer spending, and we know how both ended.
Tyler Cowen points to a Bank of Japan paper by Hiroshi Ugai, which looks at Japan’s experience with quantitative easing from 2001 to 2006. Key findings:
….these macroeconomic analyses verify that because of the QEP, the premiums on market funds raised by financial institutions carrying substantial non-performing loans (NPLs) shrank to the extent that they no longer reflected credit rating differentials. This observation implies that the QEP was effective in maintaining financial system stability and an accommodative monetary environment by removing financial institutions’ funding uncertainties, and by averting further deterioration of economic and price developments resulting from corporations’ uncertainty about future funding.
Granted the positive above effects of preventing further deterioration of the economy reviewed above, many of the macroeconomic analyses conclude that the QEP’s effects in raising aggregate demand and prices were limited. In particular, when verified empirically taking into account the fact that the monetary policy regime changed under the zero bound constraint of interest rates, the effects from increasing the monetary base were not detected or smaller, if anything, than during periods when there was no zero bound constraint.
Yves here This is an important conclusion, and is consistent with the warnings the Japanese gave to the US during the financial crisis, which were uncharacteristically blunt. Conventional wisdom here is that Japan’s fiscal and monetary stimulus during the bust was too slow in coming and not sufficiently large. The Japanese instead believe, strongly, that their policy mistake was not cleaning up the banks. As we’ve noted, that’s also consistent with an IMF study of 124 banking crises:
Existing empirical research has shown that providing assistance to banks and their borrowers can be counterproductive, resulting in increased losses to banks, which often abuse forbearance to take unproductive risks at government expense. The typical result of forbearance is a deeper hole in the net worth of banks, crippling tax burdens to finance bank bailouts, and even more severe credit supply contraction and economic decline than would have occurred in the absence of forbearance.
Cross-country analysis to date also shows that accommodative policy measures (such as substantial liquidity support, explicit government guarantee on financial institutions’ liabilities and forbearance from prudential regulations) tend to be fiscally costly and that these particular policies do not necessarily accelerate the speed of economic recovery.5 Of course, the caveat to these findings is that a counterfactual to the crisis resolution cannot be observed and therefore it is difficult to speculate how a crisis would unfold in absence of such policies. Better institutions are, however, uniformly positively associated with faster recovery.
But (to put it charitably) the Fed sees the world through a bank-centric lens, so surely what is good for its charges must be good for the rest of us, right? So if the economy continues to weaken, the odds that the Fed will resort to it as a remedy will rise, despite the evidence that it at best treats symptoms rather than the underlying pathology.

Hamas, the I.R.A. and Us By ALI ABUNIMAH

William R. Polk's Impressions of Afghanistan in August 2010

Impressions Of Afghanistan
In August 2010
By William R. Polk

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review: The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's By Andrew Feldman, August 20, 2010

Review: The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's

Pentagon's Pointless Battle Plan for China David Axe, The Diplomat

Pentagon's Pointless Battle Plan for China

David Axe, The Diplomat
AP Photo
The apparent sea change in the Pacific balance of power seemed to come all at once earlier this month. And it has seen the US military scrambling to find a new tack to allow it to preserve its dominance.
For many, the most important news was perhaps also the most mundane. Economists revised downward the pace of the United States’ recovery from the recent recession, while highlighting an anticipated $1.4-trillion budget deficit for 2010—a depth of indebtedness that President Barack Obama declared ‘unsustainable.’ Meanwhile, on August 16, economists reported that China's Gross Domestic Product had outstripped Japan's in the second quarter of the current calendar year, making China for the first time the world's second-largest economy after the United States.
Read Full Article ››

Does what happened in New Orleans stay there? Posted by Robert Greenwald

On the 5th Anniversary of Katrina “LAND OF OPPORTUNITY,” a new film asks – Is your city the next New Orleans?

The recent tragedies in Pakistan and Haiti and the unprecedented catastrophe of the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast reveal that the lessons of New Orleans have only become more relevant in the past few years

In Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. | I Have a Dream (Video)
Martin Luther King, Jr. | Full Speech
Watch the Video

Michael N. Nagler | From Churchill to Petraeus Michael N. Nagler, Truthout

: "'I have not become her Majesty's first minister to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire.' It was hard not to remember this proud declaration of Winston Churchill, as wrong headed as it was confident, when General Petraeus argued last Sunday that he had 'not come to Afghanistan to preside over a graceful exit.' Can we, unlike many, unfortunately, who will be persuaded by his reasons to delay withdrawing troops from Afghanistan until the 'job' is done, draw some lessons from the instructive parallel?"
Read the Article

Banks' Self-Dealing Super-Charged Financial Crisis Jake Bernstein and Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica:

 "Over the last two years of the housing bubble, Wall Street bankers perpetrated one of the greatest episodes of self-dealing in financial history. ... Faced with increasing difficulty in selling the mortgage-backed securities that had been among their most lucrative products, the banks hit on a solution that preserved their quarterly earnings and huge bonuses: They created fake demand."
Read the Article

Hawks Box in Obama on Afghan War Ray McGovern, Consortium News:

"Just back from Afghanistan, Marine Commandant, Gen. James Conway held a news conference to add his voice to the Pentagon campaign to disparage the July 2011 date President Barack Obama set for U.S. troops to begin leaving Afghanistan."
Read the Article
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"Monetary Shock and Awe": The Fed prepared to launch most Radical Intervention in History Bernanke's "Nuclear Option" - by Mike Whitney - 2010-08-28

New York Times Video on Bedouin Evictions

Uri Avnery: Red and Green August 28, 2010

Uri Avnery
August 28, 2010

                                                Red and Green

Channel 10, one of Israel’s three TV channels, aired a report this week that surely frightened a lot of viewers. Its title was “Who is Organizing the World-wide Hatred of Israel Movement?”, and its subject: the dozens of groups in various countries which are conducting a vigorous propaganda campaign for the Palestinians and against Israel.

The activists interviewed, both male and female, young and old - quite a number of them Jews - demonstrate at supermarkets against the products of the settlements and/or of Israel in general, organize mass meetings, make speeches, mobilize trade unions, file lawsuits against Israeli politicians and generals.

According to the report, the various groups use similar methods, but there is no central leadership. It even quotes (without attribution, of course) the title of one of my recent articles, “The Protocols of the Elders of Anti-Zion” and it, too, asserts that there is no such thing. Indeed, there is no need for a world-wide organization, it says, because all over the place there is a spontaneous surge of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli feeling. Recently, following the ”Cast Lead” operation and the flotilla affair, this process has gathered momentum.

In many places, the report discloses, there are now red-green coalitions: cooperation between leftist human-rights bodies and local groups of Muslim immigrants.

The conclusion of the story: this is a great danger to Israel and we must mobilize against it before it is too late.

THE FIRST question that arose in my mind was: what impact is this report going to have on the average Israeli?

I wish I could be sure that it will cause him or her to think again about the viability of the occupation. As one of the activists interviewed said: the Israelis must be brought to understand that the occupation has a price tag.

I wish I believed that this would be the reaction of most Israelis. However, I am afraid that the effect could be very different.

As the jolly song of the 70s goes: “The whole world is against us / That’s not so terrible, we shall overcome. / For we, too, don’t give a damn / For them. // … We have learned this song / From our forefathers / And we shall also sing it / To our sons. / And the grandchildren of our grandchildren will sing it / Here, in the Land of Israel, / And everybody who is against us / Can go to hell.”

The writer of this song, Yoram Taharlev (“pure of heart”) has succeeded in expressing a basic Jewish belief, crystallized during the centuries of persecution in Christian Europe which reached its climax in the Holocaust. Every Jewish child learns in school that when six million Jews were murdered, the entire world looked on and didn’t lift a finger to save them.

This is not quite true. Many tens of thousands of non-Jews risked their lives and the lives of their families in order to save Jews – in Poland, Denmark, France, Holland and other countries, even in Germany itself. We all know about people who were saved this way - like former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, who as a child was smuggled out of the ghetto by a Polish farmer, and Minister Yossi Peled, who was hidden for years by a Catholic Belgian family. Only a few of these largely unsung heroes were cited as “Righteous among the Nations” by Yad Vashem. (Between us, how many Israelis in a similar situation would risk their lives and the lives of their children in order to save a foreigner?)

But the belief that “the whole world is against us” is rooted deep in our national psyche. It enables us to ignore the world reaction to our behavior. It is very convenient. If the entire world hates us anyhow, the nature of our deeds, good or bad, doesn’t really matter. They would hate Israel even if we were angels. The Goyim are just anti-Semitic.

It is easy to show that this is also untrue. The world loved us when we founded the State of Israel and defended it with our blood. A day after the Six-day War, the whole world applauded us. They loved us when we were David, they hate us when we are Goliath.

This does not convince the world-against-us people. Why is there no world-wide movement against the atrocities of the Russians in Chechnya or the Chinese in Tibet? Why only against us? Why do the Palestinians deserve more sympathy than the Kurds in Turkey?

One could answer that since Israel demands special treatment in all other matters, we are measured by special standards when it comes to the occupation and the settlements. But logic doesn’t matter. It’s the national myths that count.

Yesterday, Israel’s third largest newspaper, Ma’ariv, published a story about our ambassador to the United Nations under the revealing headline: “Behind enemy lines”.

I REMEMBER one of the clashes I had with Golda Meir in the Knesset, after the beginning of the settlement enterprise and the angry reactions throughout the world. As now, people put all the blame on our faulty “explaining”. The Knesset held a general debate.

Speaker after speaker declaimed the usual clichés: the Arab propaganda is brilliant, our “explaining” is beneath contempt. When my turn came, I said: It’s not the fault of the “explaining”. The best “explaining” in the world cannot “explain” the occupation and the settlements. If we want to gain the sympathy of the world, it’s not our words that must change, but our actions.

Throughout the debate, Golda Meir – as was her wont – stood at the door of the plenum hall, chain-smoking. Summing up, she answered every speaker in turn, ignoring my speech. I thought that she had decided to boycott me, when – after a dramatic pause – she turned in my direction. “Deputy Avnery thinks that they hate us because of what we do. He does not know the Goyim. The Goyim love the Jews when they are beaten and miserable. They hate the Jews when they are victorious and successful.” If clapping were allowed in the Knesset, the whole House would have burst into thunderous applause.

There is a danger that the current worldwide protest will meet the same reaction: that the Israeli public will unite against the evil Goyim, instead of uniting against the settlers.

SOME OF the protest groups could not care less. Their actions are not addressed to the Israeli public, but to international opinion.

I don’t mean the anti-Semites, who are trying to hitch a ride on this movement. They are a negligible force. Neither do I mean those who believe that the creation of the State of Israel was a historical mistake to start with, and that it should be dismantled.

I mean all the idealists who wish to put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people and the stealing of their land by the settlers, and to help them to found the free State of Palestine.

These aims can be achieved only through peace between Palestine and Israel. And such a peace can come about only if the majority of Palestinians and the majority of Israelis support it. Outside pressure will not suffice.

Anyone who understands this must be interested in a world-wide protest that does not push the Israeli population into the arms of the settlers, but, on the contrary, isolates the settlers and turns the general public against them.

How can this be achieved?

THE FIRST thing is to clearly differentiate between the boycott of the settlements and a general boycott of Israel. The TV report suggested that many of the protesters do not see the border between the two. It showed a middle-aged British woman in a supermarket, waving some fruit over her head and shouting: “these come from a settlement!” Then it showed a demonstration against the Ahava cosmetic products that are extracted from the Palestinian part of the Dead Sea. But immediately after, there came a call for a boycott of all Israeli products. Perhaps many of the protesters – or the editors of the film - are not clear about the difference.

The Israeli right also blurs this distinction. For example: a recent bill in the Knesset wants to punish those who support a boycott on the products of Israel, including – as it states explicitly - the products of the settlements.

If the world protest is clearly focused on the settlements, it will indeed cause many Israelis to realize that there is a clear line between the legitimate State of Israel and the illegitimate occupation.  

That is also true for other parts of the story. For example: the initiative to boycott the Caterpillar company, whose monstrous bulldozers are a major weapon of the occupation. When the heroic peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death under one of them, the company should have stopped all further supplies unless assured that they would not be used for repression.

As long as suspected war criminals are not brought to justice in Israel itself, one cannot object to the initiatives to prosecute them abroad.

After this week’s decision by the main Israeli theaters to perform in the settlements, it will be logical to boycott them abroad. If they are so keen to make money in Ariel, they can’t complain about losing money in Paris and London.

THE SECOND thing is the connection between these groups and the Israeli public.

Today a large majority of Israelis say that they want peace and are ready to pay the price, but that, unfortunately, the Arabs don’t want peace. The mainstream peace camp, which could once bring hundreds of thousands onto the street, is in a state of depression. It feels isolated. Among other things, its once close connection with the Palestinians, which was established at the time of Yasser Arafat after Oslo, has become very loose. So have relations with the protest forces abroad.

If people of goodwill want to speed up the end of the occupation, they must support the peace activists in Israel. They should build a close connection with them, break the conspiracy of silence against them in the world media and publicize their courageous actions, organize more and more international events in which Palestinian and Israeli peace activists will be present side by side. It would also be nice if for every ten billionaires who finance the extreme Right in Israel, there were at least one millionaire supporting action in pursuit of peace.

All this becomes impossible if there is a call for a boycott on all Israelis, irrespective of their views and actions, and Israel is presented as a monolithic monster. This picture is not only false, it is extremely harmful.

Many of the activists who appear in this report arouse respect and admiration. So much good will! So much courage! If they point their activities in the right direction, they can do a lot of good - good for the Palestinians, and good for us Israelis, too.

Israel’s unsleeping conscience By NEIL BERRY | ARAB NEWS What does it mean to be a "friend of Israel"?

Arab news

Published: August 28, 2010
What does it mean to be a "friend of Israel"?

For the mass of Zionist opinion, a true friend of the Jewish state regards it as a beacon of Western civilization that, while having no choice but to be on a permanent war footing in order to repel Islamic enemies bent on its destruction, boasts the "most moral army in the world."
Such a "friend" turns a blind eye to observable reality, to the fact that Israel's noble pretensions are empty and that it increasingly operates not as an ethical nation but as a brutal occupying power, displaying flagrant contempt for international law and world opinion as it perpetuates the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people at whose expense it was created.
The issue of what it means to be on Israel's side is thrown into sharp relief by the career of the redoubtable Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy, who has been touring Britain to promote his excoriating new book, "The Punishment of Gaza". The veteran columnist for the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes as one for whom the righteous claims his country makes are so belied by its psychotic conduct as to be an insult to the brain. What makes Levy such an impressive figure is that he has no hesitation in voicing unqualified dismay at the kind of country Israel has become. He believes that it is candor not uncritical sycophancy that is the hallmark of one who truly cares about a country or about a fellow human being.
Addressing a packed meeting in London the other day, Levy used a brilliant analogy. If you know a drug addict, he said, and wish to show you are his friend, what do you do? Do you give him money to enable him to satisfy his craving or do you get him admitted to a rehabilitation center, in the hope that he will be weaned off his habit? Levy's point is that Israel, as addicted to the occupation of Palestinian land as it is to its self-image of eternal victimhood, is not being helped by Western countries and well wishers who persist in adopting an indulgent attitude towards it. "Friends" of this stamp ensure that Israel remains utterly blind to the disastrous consequences of abandoning all sense of moral restraint.
Levy's rhetorical gifts, his flair for translating his savage indignation into words even a child could grasp, make him an exceptional commentator. But it is more outside than inside Israel that his work is admired, albeit that there is no shortage of Diaspora Jews who regard him as a merchant of anti-Semitic lies. To the Israeli political establishment and to much of Israeli society alike, Levy is an object of contempt. As Israeli politics and public opinion have lurched to the right, his unrelenting criticism of Israel's actions has proved damaging to his newspaper's circulation, with many canceling their subscriptions in protest at what they consider to be his poisonous opinions. Israeli politicians like to point to Haaretz as testimony to Israel's democratic vibrancy, but they do so knowing that the dissenting views the paper publishes are wholly untypical of Israel's prevailing moral and intellectual climate.
A source of profound torment to him, the 2009 Gaza war convinced Levy that Israel was more divorced from moral decency and more embroiled in delusions of military omnipotence than ever before. An "evil spirit" had descended on the country, he felt. How else to explain how a supposedly enlightened columnist could describe the smoke billowing out of Gaza as a "spectacular picture"; or how Israel's deputy prime minister could say that the many funerals taking place in Gaza were proof of Israel's "achievements"; or how a newspaper could run a banner headline, "Wounds in Gaza", that referred only to wounded Israeli soldiers while ignoring thousands of blood-stained Palestinian men, women and children who could not be treated in Gaza's overflowing hospitals?
Levy recalls that after the massacres of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut in 1982 - for which the Israeli military and the then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon bore responsibility, even though the slaughter was carried out by Christian Maronite militia - great numbers of Israelis took to the streets to proclaim their horror at what had happened. Today, by contrast, many Israelis seem desensitized, indifferent to their country's violence and wanton destructiveness; there was no public outcry against the Gaza war. Levy observes that it is not when a baby is howling that you conclude it is in urgent need of medical attention but rather when the expression on its face betrays no emotion. He fears that Israel, sunk in cynicism and apathy, is losing what remains of its humanity.
If Levy places no faith in the latest peace talks in Washington, it is partly because he suspects they are designed to appease Washington in the run-up to November's mid-term US elections. Above all, it is because he believes Israel has made no meaningful effort to freeze its illegal settlement building as a demonstration that it is earnest about peace; you do not, he says, show your commitment to demolishing a building by adding an extra story to it. Only, he maintains, when Israel forgoes its occupation and makes concessions that address fundamental Palestinian grievances is the Palestine-Israel conflict likely to be resolved. Yet Levy does not see how its inner moral decay can bode anything but ill for Israel's future. Remarking that today's hegemonic Jewish state may not endure, he ended his London appearance with the reflection that few ever imagined how suddenly Soviet communism and apartheid South Africa would collapse.
Brimming with moral urgency in person and on the page, Gideon Levy is a fresh incarnation of an ancient Jewish type: The prophet without honor in his own land.
— Neil Berry is a commentator based in London. He can be contacted at:

The Purpose Of Israel’s Settlements Is To Be Difficult To Remove

I had to read Fred Barnes’ new Weekly Standard piece “In Defense of Settlers” a few times to be sure that Fred wasn’t actually putting us on. It appears he isn’t.
Things go awry beginning with the very first paragraph, in which Barnes writes, “When direct talks begin next week between Israelis and Palestinians, the fate of Jewish settlers in the West Bank — tens of thousands of them — will be a major issue in the negotiations. But the settlers themselves won’t be part of the discussion.”
Given that Netanyahu is still in the process of choosing his negotiating team, it remains to be seen whether actual settlers will be part of the discussion. But here’s an interesting fact: Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is himself a settler, living in the settlement of Nokdim, south of Bethlehem. While it’s highly unlikely that Lieberman will himself participate in the negotiations (Netanyahu wisely does his best to keep his racist former chief of staff away from decent society as much as possible), given the extreme rightist, pro-settlement orientation of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, it’s safe to say “the settlers” will very much be at the table.
Barnes goes on to channel the usual settler claims — which mirror Hamas’ claims — of a right to all of historic Palestine, as well as the canard that the West Bank is not “occupied” but rather “disputed,” which is a neat way of saying that, having lost 75% of their homeland, the Palestinians should now have to negotiate over the “disputed” remaining 25%.
Barnes notes that “a Jewish settlement has been established in the heart of Hebron.” He does not note, however, that Palestinians in Hebron are literally forced to live in cages to avoid harassment and violence by radical settlers, who live under the protection of Israeli troops and police. Nor does he note the extent to which that violence is underwritten by American “charities” like the Hebron Fund.
Things take a darker turn, however, when settler spokesman Dani Dayyan, commenting on the prospect of a Palestinian state, “raises the long-discarded idea that Jordan might become that state”:
Though its population is predominantly Palestinian, Jordan is a Hashemite kingdom. But if Hashemite rule were ended, “that would open a new horizon of possible solutions that don’t exist today,” Dayyan says. “That’s a thought for the future.” But not one that’s on the table in the Israeli-Palestinian talks to begin next week.
There are good reasons that this idea has been long discarded. Among them: The Palestinians don’t want it. The Jordanians don’t want it. There’s also the small detail that, in addition to being enormously difficult to carry out, involuntary population transfer is a crime against humanity. So don’t let’s think about it for the future, but let’s do let it be instructive as to how some Israelis (and Americans) think.
A few points. The first, and most obvious, is that there’s simply no analog on the left to this sort of thing. You won’t find writers from The Nation or The American Prospect just breezily writing about how driving the Jews out of Israel “would open a new horizon of possible solutions that don’t exist today.” And that’s a good thing. But it does point to an enormous moral asymmetry between how the American right and left view the conflict, with the mainstream left generally viewing Jewish and Palestinian national claims as equal, to be adjudicated as fairly as possible, and the right viewing Palestinian claims, at best, as an inconvenience. (If anyone brings up Helen Thomas’ recent comments, ask them when Fred Barnes can expect be fired.)
Second, it is very important to understand how difficult removing the settlements will be for Israel, both physically and politically.
Third, that’s the point. Being “difficult to remove” has always been the purpose of the settlements. Since 1967, against the advice of its own legal counsel, successive Israeli governments have used these civilians — some of whom are religious extremists, but the majority of whom have simply responded to incentives like government subsidized housing — essentially as human shields. In addition to pushing Israel’s borders farther and farther out, this has also created a highly motivated constituency against any future attempt to negotiate away the land, an artificially created political red line which subsequent Israeli governments can claim they cannot cross. Extraordinarily cynical and inhumane, yes, but also, unfortunately, effective.
In a decades-long conflict where there’s blame to go around, the settlement problem is unique in that it’s a problem that is entirely of Israel’s own making. The burden of solving it, however, will be shared