Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Accidentally on Purpose

With the Israeli bombing of a UN camp and the killing of four UN peacekeepers, we really do seem to be in a "deja vu" all over again phase. Already UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is under attack for condemning the "apparently deliberate targeting by Israeli Defense Forces of a UN Observer post."

It is reminiscent of the trouble his predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali got himself into last time the Israelis tried shock and awe on Lebanon back in 1996, when he failed to suppress a report that said pretty much the same thing about the IDF shelling of the UN post in Qana, which macerated some 106 Lebanese civilians to death.

It is worth remembering that of all UN Secretary Generals, Annan has done most to end Israel's isolation in the organization and maintained the closest relations with Israel's friends in the US. In the end, however, he is also an S-G who sets great store by protecting UN staff, and so the palpable anger of his statement is entirely understandable.

"This coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long established and clearly marked UN post at Khiyam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that UN positions would be spared Israeli fire. Furthermore, General Alain Pellegrino, the UN Force Commander in south Lebanon, had been in repeated contact with Israeli officers throughout the day on Tuesday, stressing the need to protect that particular UN position from attack."

So to accept it was yet another accident presupposes a level of incompetence or insubordination in the Israeli army that should see result in some serious court-martials, but never does. That feeling was doubtless exacerbated when the IDF shelled the site and prevented a rescue operation.

So what could be the motive? It is clear that there are many in the IDF with a profound contempt for the UN and all it stands for, and who would not shed many tears at such an accident. It may also rankle that UNIFIL has,with the dearth of Western reporters in much of South Lebanon, provided independent corroboration of many incidents of IDF attacks on civilians. One only has to think of the fate of the USS Liberty in 1967 for being in a position to observe what the IDF was up to when the Israeli's bombed and shelled an American ship for over an hour, killing 34 American sailors and wounding 170 more.

And most sinisterly of all, there are many Israelis-including the government only a few days ago, who do not want an international force between them and their targets in Lebanon, who would have no great scruples about bombing a UN compound "accidentally on purpose."

This time, the "collateral damage" is not just four dead UN personnel. The bombing scotches any realistic chance of a reinforced UN or multinational peacekeeping force-which it is worth remembering that Israel itself opposed until a few days ago, and which the war party in Israel sees as a potential obstacle to their attempts to emulate Ariel Sharon's disastrous invasion in 1982. (See the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom's ad in Ha-Aretz at the end of the article).

Already, while many countries have endorsed the general idea of putting foreign troops on the Lebanese side of the border, there has been a complete lack of specific volunteers-for the understandable reasons that the attack on Khiyam now so forcibly demonstrates.

Third world militaries like the Fijians and Ghanaians make lots of money out of providing peacekeepers for UNIFIL and seem to think weekly humiliation by the Israelis and Hezbollah is worth it. There are few serious military powers would contemplate sending their troops for IDF target practice, let alone Hezbollah attacks. And who knows? If any were so bold as to put in contingents, they may well stand up to Israeli incursions as well.

Some Israel supporters are already arguing that the bombing could not have been deliberate because it was a public relations disaster for Israel. Excuse me, but only an American or Israeli commentator could say that. Manifestly, for the rest of the world, the whole Israeli campaign is a PR disaster, with massive majorities even in Blair's Britain regarding the Israeli attack as a massively disproportionate reaction, let alone how Israel's assault is turning Hezbollah into the toast of the Third World. There is some added piquancy that both the Lebanese and Iraqi prime ministers (until this week at least champions of the democratic "New Middle East") are condemning Israel's assault.

Condoleezza Rice's statement that it is "too early" for a ceasefire, when only five hundred were dead and countless more dismembered, should go down with Madeleine Albright's since regretted statement that the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children as a result of sanctions was "a price worth paying."

Since Annan is already going at the end of year, which puts him beyond reach of Bolton's veto, we can but hope that he will not be browbeaten by Rice, Bolton or Bush, but will use the sacrifice of the UN observers to shame the Security Council into demanding an immediate ceasefire.

And who knows, while he is still angry, he may wish to remind them that Israel was defying Resolution 242 for many decades before 1559, and that it has to be a crucial foundation for any peace settlement for the region.

Gush Shalom Ad
BACK TO 1982

THEN: The war was prepared well in advance.
THIS TIME: The same.

THEN: We went to war only to protect "the Peace of Galilee".
THIS TIME: We go to war to protect Haifa and Afula, too.

THEN: We waited for a provocation (the attempt on the life of Ambassador Argov).
THIS TIME: We waited for a provocation (the capture of two soldiers).

THEN: "We shall advance only 40 KM in order to eliminate the Katyushas."
THIS TIME: "We shall advance only a few kilometers in order to eliminate the rockets."

THEN: Sharon acted behind the back of the cabinet.
THIS TIME: Olmert-Peretz-Halutz act behind the back of the ministers.

THEN: We destroyed Lebanon.
THIS TIME: We are destroying Lebanon.

THEN: Only the PLO profited from the war. A few years later they returned to Palestine.
THIS TIME: Only Hezbollah will profit from the war. Their prestige in the Arab world increases every day.

THEN: We were stuck in the quagmire for 18 years.


The Israeli Peace Block

(Large ad published in Haaretz, 26.7.06)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sharon's Brainless Malice Marches On

This is a written version of what I was trying to say on Scarborough, O'Reilly etc this week. And maybe I am a hopeless optimist, but I think even they were having doubts as the pictures of Lebanese victims come in.

The Nation| posted July 20, 2006
The UN's Mideast Mission
Ian Williams

April marked the tenth anniversary of the massacre at Qana, when Israeli Defense Forces poured shells onto a UN peacekeepers' base where more than 800 Lebanese civilians had taken shelter. The shells killed 106 people and, according to some accounts, resulted in the sacking of UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali for releasing a report that showed that the IDF shelling was no accident.
A decade later, the Qana massacre all seems forgotten. But Israel's attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon and on Hamas in Gaza appear to be a replay of the 1996 military campaign known as Operation Grapes of Wrath. Then as now, civilians are caught in the crossfire between Israel and its enemies. Then as now, the attacks seem designed to demonstrate Israel's toughness for a domestic audience. Then as now, there are calls to the United Nations for an international force to quell the conflict.
Israeli leaders have become accustomed to the impunity that superpower support has given them. To use bombs supplied by Washington to destroy the Gaza power station that US taxpayers have insured to the tune of almost $50 million is the very definition of chutzpah.
There have been some changes in the world since 1996, one of them being the International Criminal Court. Ironically, if it were not for the baleful influence of Damascus, Lebanon would probably have signed and ratified the ICC treaty--which would have considerably disrupted the vacation plans of the Israeli Cabinet and military commanders now engaged in making thousands of Lebanese homeless--and a considerable number lifeless. They would have been subject to international arrest warrants and a quick trip to The Hague.
It is true that Hezbollah and the Hamas factions that are rocketing civilians are also breaking international law, but no more so than the rockets and bombs from Israeli helicopters eviscerating families on the beaches of Gaza and in the apartments of Beirut.
Only the most meager special pleading could describe Israel's counter-blast at Lebanese civilians, not to mention the ongoing attacks in Gaza, as a legitimate or proportionate response. Since the invocation of Israel guarantees a free pass in much of the Western world, it may be useful to substitute different terms.
Imagine if the British had been buzzing Dublin Castle to show their displeasure with the Irish Republican Army, whose political wing is, after all, represented in the Irish Dail. The IRA kidnap some British soldiers. In return, London blockades Ireland, shells and strafes the area closest to the Northern Ireland border, bombs Shannon and Dublin airports, knocks out roads, power stations and gas stations, in between sending in snatch squads to kill and kidnap Irish citizens and politicians it considers connected to the IRA. And in between London threatens Rome, because after all the IRA are Roman Catholics, and Boston and New York, because after all that is where the IRA were getting their money.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush and the European Union would have supported such a measured response to "terror." Like hell they would.
Luckily for all, the British finally bit the bullet and sat down with the "terrorists"; both parts of Ireland are much more peaceful for it. And by the way, London did not insist that the IRA recognize that it was right that Northern Ireland was established, nor that it should forever be a safe homeland for Irish Protestants. Almost as bad as the illegality of the Israeli assaults is their irrationality. To begin with, a massively indiscriminate attack like this is hardly the best way to persuade Gilad Shalit's captors to show mercy.
On the contrary, from the days of Likud's origins in the Stern Gang, on through the FLN in Algeria, one of the most successful tactics of terrorism has been to provoke massive collective reprisals by the authorities. And Israel's actions only create more sympathy for Hezbollah and Hamas.
If, as many observers suspect, Israel does invade Lebanon, it will show that it is still being ruled by the essentially brain-dead Ariel Sharon, with no foresight for the lethal consequences. Either the IDF stays, and suffers the type of continuous bloodletting that drove them out last time, or they ransack the place and evacuate, leaving an even more embittered and hardened Hezbollah-supporting populace.
Sadly, it would appear that George W. Bush's brain is in no better working order than Sharon's. In Iraq, he has 150,000 potential hostages to Iran, Syria and the Shiites. He has oil prices just waiting to shoot through his bubble economy. Someone should really sit down and tell him about the unintended consequences of the extrajudicial execution of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914.
And the best Bush can do is to tell Kofi Annan to get on the phone to Damascus "to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit."
The neocons who gave us Iraq seem to have persuaded Bush that if you are up to your neck in a cesspool, the only way out is down. The idea that Hezbollah is a tool of Tehran is about as substantive as the idea that Israel is a puppet of Washington. But the canard that Damascus and Tehran may be behind it all is hypnotically attractive to those who want the United States to attack them. One notes with worry that American media are accepting the Administration's simplistic fictions almost as readily as they swallowed Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.
While it is almost reflexive to appeal to the United Nations, sadly, there is little or nothing that Annan or the international body can do about this. Annan's idea for an international force has been tried before--and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was regularly targeted by the Israelis and ignored by both the Palestinians and Hezbollah. Any force there would have to be prepared to take on Israeli incursions as well as controlling Lebanese militia or it would have no legitimacy. It would likely end up being disarmed by Hezbollah rather than vice versa. The United Nations can be a useful tool in settling the crisis, but only with US support, and that support has to include pressure on Israel and some declared support for international law. Only Bush can balance that equation by getting on the phone to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and telling him to stop.
It would help if the other member states of the UN--and the Secretary General--stopped accommodating Bush's simplistic view of the world. It would also help if they had the courage to put first things first: Resolution 242, telling Israel to quit the occupied territories has been waiting for UN action long before Resolution 1559, which calls for disarming Hezbollah. If the UN could succeed in doing that, who knows--Bush might even take notice--and if he emulated his father's refusal to support settlements, even Israel might reconsider.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Alienated Nation

I have been moving and once settled in, will be posting much more frequently.

In the meantime, try this from last week,
The Washington Spectator, July 15, 2006
ALIEN NATION: America's Curious Hatred of the United Nations
By Ian Williams

To subscribe to the Washington Spectator click here.

MaximsNews is also carrying the full article.

In Max Frisch's play The Fire Raisers, the respectable Herr Biedermann prefers to accept the palpably thin excuses that his tenants offer as they haul wagonloads of incendiary materials into his house, because that is easier than taking any action.
Something like that is happening now. While the congressional and media types who magnify molehills of U.N. peccadilloes into mountains of scandal often piously invoke the need to reform the United Nations, their real and often overtly stated intention is to overthrow the world organization, its charter, and the whole corpus of international law, multilateral treaties and conventions that support its purpose. Insofar as they have a transitional program, it is to undermine the principles behind the institution, and bend it to conform to Washington's increasingly flexible perceptions of international law.
There is an Anglo-Saxon tendency to defer to people who hold sincere and fervent beliefs, so perhaps it is worthwhile to establish the essential irrationality of these U.N. detractors, measuring them not against any highfalutin ideas of international peace and brotherhood, but against the interests of the United States that Congressman Henry Hyde (R-IL), Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) and the like so often invoke.
ORPHANING THE U.N. To begin with, the United Nations was essentially a creation of the United States, designed to American specifications, and has largely served American interests. Washington usually gets what it wants from the U.N.,and especially so when what it wants is consonant with international law. More to the point is that the U.S. veto effectively stops the U.N. from ever doing anything that Washington does not want.
In years past, the U.N. has blessed the first Gulf War, maintained sanctions against Iraq and Yugoslavia, and, more recently, begun to put the squeeze on Syria, all at the behest of Washington. Even though it failed to win the organization's support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. shortly afterward persuaded the Security Council to let it have some Oil for Food surpluses and confiscated Iraqi funds.
There is some consolation in the fact that the U.N. baiters still feel the need to disguise their intentions, because despite the concerted media assault on the U.N., polls consistently show that a majority of Americans tend to support it. However, they tend to be diffident in their enthusiasm. In the missing question box at the end of most polls, they tend to tick "No" or "Undecided" if asked "Are you going to do anything about it?"
In contrast, for a significant and vociferous minority of their compatriots mention of the United Nations switches off the higher mental faculties in the same way that "terrorism" does. What they see is not a complex organization and process for helping the peoples and nations of the world take common or concerted action against global problems. They see a bogeyman, something to frighten children at night, or more usually, to get eccentrics to write checks for the causes of those preying on the fears. Since all human life is on the agenda somewhere in the U.N. system, the organization has considerable potential to incite many of the more excitable citizenry into paroxysms of rage.
Birth control, abortion, guns, (other people's) weapons of mass destruction, attacks on Israel, U.N. Heritage sites, child soldiers, the Law of the Sea: there is no end to the perceived threats to American sovereignty.
COURTING THE WACKO VOTE American "exceptionalists," from the neocons like Richard Perle to the paleocons like John Bolton and his former patron Jesse Helms, are not talking idly. They firmly believe that the U.S. does not have to follow any externally mandated rules, and they can call upon hosts of supporters to back them up almost anytime they hit at the U.N.
Michael Scanlon, the former aide to Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX), provided the perfect description of the methodology used by groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) to tap into this subculture. Scanlon, who misused Indian tribes' money to further his political schemes, describes the process perfectly.
Our mission is to get specifically selected groups of individuals to the polls to speak out against something. To that end, your money is best spent finding them and communicating with them on using the modes that they are most likely to respond to. Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them. The wackos get their information form [sic] the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet, and telephone trees.
If you want to see the process at work, look no further than than NRA leader Wayne LaPierre on the gun group's website, which urges people to buy his book The Global War on Your Guns, and perhaps more pertinently, inveighs against the U.N. as the "new face of global socialism."
No matter how many reassurances the world body had issued that it was no threat to the internal sale of weapons under any interpretation of the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, the NRA went ahead and took a cheap shot at the U.N. This is the mind-set of many Americans: when things go wrong internationally it is always the U.N.'s fault.
Similarly, oil company lobbyists inveighing against the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to control greenhouse gas emissions, can drill into the same rich wells of prejudice. While the companies offer the superficially more sophisticated argument that science has not yet demonstrably proven that the emissions cause global warming, the potent subtext is that the rejection of Kyoto and the refusal to control emissions are somehow a patriotic reaffirmation of sovereignty rather than a self-destructive demonstration of gluttony.
As senseless as the attacks can be, they can have their effects. The inflated and incendiary allegations over Oil for Food, fanned in exactly the same wacko wildfire mode, managed to divert the attention of Kofi Annan from management reforms, while driving popular American support for the U.N. to an all-time low.
It is illustrative that while for over a year columnists were flinging mud at the U.N. over allegations of corruption and abuse in the handling of Oil for Food revenues, they lost interest as soon as a report by Paul Volcker showed that it was governments and private companies that were the guilty parties. They showed no interest at all when a Bush-appointed auditor confessed that he could not track what had happened to the $10 billion in Oil for Food surpluses that the U.N. had handed over to the American occupation authorities for Iraqi redevelopment.
U.N. HATERS AT THE HELM There are immediate, short-term effects of the peculiar American hostility to the U.N. ranging from the petty, such as the grandstanding efforts of some New York State legislators to frustrate the rebuilding plans for the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan, to the profound, such as the time the U.S. threatened to veto sending reinforcements to the peacekeepers during the Rwanda genocide, because the Clinton administration did want to ask Congress for the money.
In the longer term, the anti-U.N. lobby has hobbled the signature of the U.S. on major international conventions, often despite the wishes of the State Department or the incumbent in the White House.
As a result, sometimes the U.S. fulfills the terms of treaties but refuses to ratify them, as happened with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Or it signs treaties, but then sends signals that it does not intend to carry out its obligations to fulfill the promised terms, as it did with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The U.S. now claims the right to cherry-pick which parts of international laws and conventions it intends to abide by. So, while hinting at war to stop Iran's legal, if dangerous, moves toward uranium enrichment, the U.S. offers India a deal in total violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty that it is citing against Iran.
Then again, in 2004 the Pentagon and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, pushed passage of the International Treaty on the Law of the Sea, but they were thwarted by the "backwoodsmen" in Congress, the isolationists who saw it as yet another pernicious attempt at global government. The U.S. Navy actually wanted it ratified because it would give them more freedom of passage, but such pragmatic considerations could not overcome the prejudices of the exceptionalists.
The Bush administration has taken disdain for the U.N. to previously unimaginable heights. Perhaps the most egregious gesture of official deference to the anti-U.N. lobby has been the appointment as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. of the belligerent John Bolton, who had spent decades denouncing the organization and calling for the U.S. to leave it.
His appointment by Bush while Congress was not in session gave an official blessing to the decades-long campaign against the U.N. by the conservative movement. In a similar vein, Christopher Burnham, currently in charge of the U.N.'s management and administration, and a former Bush administration official and fundraiser, actually thanked President Bush for his appointment last year, overlooking the fact that, nominally at least, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had appointed him.
"I came here at the request of the White House. My primary loyalty is to the United States of America," Burnham told the Washington Post, seemingly unaware of the oath that an international civil servant such as himself takes on appointment, giving up national loyalties. It is worth noting that for decades during which American media and politicians have berated the U.N. for "waste, mismanagement and corruption," the U.N. official in charge of management has always been an American presidential appointee.
WORLD COURT WARS The campaign against the International Criminal Court, which was spearheaded by John Bolton, exemplifies how prejudices and irrational fears militate against real American diplomatic interests while exhibiting to the world the U.S.'s brand of overt nationalism. The U.S. "unsigned" the treaty establishing the Court, setting Washington at loggerheads with allies across the world, including all the members of the European Union. It refused to consider using the Court for the trial of Saddam Hussein, which would have saved both the American and the new Iraqi administrations no end of grief. Recently, it came close to vetoing U.N. resolutions on Darfur because the Court was asked to investigate the situation there.
At no point did the U.S. under Clinton or Bush object to application of the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction over the citizens of any other country in the world. Indeed, Clinton-era negotiators actually won a sympathetic hearing for the hypothesis that American military justice was so advanced that the ICC was almost irrelevant to U.S. forces. Other nations' negotiators cut a lot of slack for Washington, and allowed many clauses that, without spelling out an overt American exception, made it in practical terms virtually impossible for an American to appear there.
Regardless of that, Bolton spent four years bullying small nations into making ritual, and in many cases dubiously legal, riders to the ICC treaty that committed them to refuse to hand over American suspects. There could rarely have been a more explicit statement of U.S. exceptionalism. The administration that has "rendered" suspects from all over the world to the U.S. (or worse, perhaps, not quite to the U.S. in the case of Guantánamo) says that it is unconscionable for any American citizen to be given due process in The Hague.
Apart from such gestures of contempt, the invasion of Iraq, the effective repudiation of the Geneva Conventions and the other instances of global anarchism perpetrated by this administration show that its attitudes to international law and the U.N.'s "constitution," the Charter, are even more cavalier than its attitude to the U.S. Constitution. After all, while distorting or ignoring the Constitution, Bush's representatives have never actually disavowed it completely, as Bolton and his ilk have with the U.N. Charter.
U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali once noted that neither the Roman Empire nor the U.S. had any patience for diplomacy, which is "perceived by an imperial power as a waste of time and prestige and a sign of weakness." However, as the Goths, Huns and Vandals, among others, demonstrated, this was a dangerous misperception for the Romans, who also tended to forget what their leaders had done to the rest of the world when they had the upper hand.
BANNING THE BLUE FLAG So what can be done about it? Ironically, what for a brief time was wacko central out in Utah provides a positive sign. The heady witches' brew of exceptionalism, paranoia, and survivalist sovereignty all came together in 2002 when the city fathers of the tiny town of La Verkin banned the U.N. flag and insignia from being displayed within the town limits. They also denied all access to United Nations forces, and required anyone working for the world organization to register their infamy at the Town Hall. It also ordered the erection of signs declaring the town to be a U.N.-free zone.
And what is good about that? Well, the good citizens of the town when they saw how their elected officials had made them a national, not to mention an international laughingstock, promptly called a town meeting and threw them out, while reversing all the eccentric ordinances. So the question really is, when are the sane people across the U.S. and in the halls of government in Washington going to emulate the Verkinites of Utah?
There are some hopeful signs that Washington may already be beginning a Verkin-emulation campaign. After all, the Senate did refuse to approve John Bolton's nomination, even if thwarted by Bush's recess appointment, and Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) emulated the little boy in the Hans Christian Anderson tale of the Emperor's new clothes by cutting down to size the wild allegations about the U.N. Oil for Food program.
There should be much more of that, and the rational wing of electors and elected should be making it plain that letting John Bolton and his crowd choose the next Secretary General makes as much sense as allowing the National Evangelical Association to choose the president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
Above all, as in Maurice Sendak's children's poem "Pierre," the moral is, "Care!" The U.N. may be boring, and sometimes bureaucratic and slow, but so is air traffic control. If someone tried to abolish that, legislators would be up in arms. When you see people trying to destabilize the world by abolishing one of the few effective tools we have for international peace and order, some determined action is called for.