Further American Complicity in the Mid-East
After the Israelis, the Egyptian military have been the greatest recipients of American military generosity. In 2012 they responded to the Arab Spring uprisings with another brutal coup. Regardless, the Pentagon continued the aid.
Two years later, despite warnings from some officials that the U.S. could be implicated in war crimes, Obama sent massive weapon sales, intelligence and troops to the Saudi thugs for their war in Yemen. The campaign has killed over ten thousand people, wounded 40,000, made two million children malnourished and created yet another massive refugee flow. Ninety percent of Yemen’s ten million people now require humanitarian aid. In terms of American consciousness, this tragedy is a textbook example of mainstream media neglect and obfuscation. And the Saudis, writes Vijay Prashad,
…have begun to rely upon al-Qaeda to conduct the ground war…So the West has tacitly allied with al-Qaeda in this conflict.
The Kill List:
Prior to the 2012 election, Obama told the media about “Terror Tuesday.” Each week on that day his advisors submitted a list of foreign terror suspects. Many of the entries had no names, but were based solely on metadata (such as which SIM card was calling whom, when, and for how long).
Each Tuesday he signed the list, condemning people halfway across the world, some of them American citizens, to extrajudicial execution by drone attack. The CIA made it clear in late 2014 that this murder-by-drone program was counterproductive, but Obama continued it. Jakob Reimann summarizes the implications of a policy that has killed over 5,000 people:
The bitter irony herein is self-evident: the studied constitutionalist Obama is acting as prosecutor, judge and executioner at the same time, thus abandoning the separation of powers — the cornerstone of a constitutional democracy…authorized the execution of people who often happened to be in their family circle or in public places when the drones struck. Time and again, the U.S. has bombed wedding parties, as well as, most cynically, a funeral ceremony of drone victims. As an act of retaliation, the children of alleged terrorists are also killed by drones…(to which) former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs once so despicably declared, “…you should have a far more responsible father.”…The proportion of civilians killed in drone strikes is inevitably extremely high. In Pakistan, for example, only 4 percent of casualties were confirmed al-Qaeda members. Because of this blatant injustice, drone killings are widely regarded to be the main recruiting tool for new terrorists. This is Obama’s legacy: he has made the illegal drone war the norm…
The obvious metaphor here is trying to douse a fire with gasoline, and it leads once again to the basic question: naïve, ignorant and colossally stupid policies – or cynical, deliberate and colossally stupid policies? Either way, says Noam Chomsky, the drone program is “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times.”
In 2011 the African Union offered a plan to avoid further violence in the internal struggles of oil-rich Libya. As with Syria and Ukraine, the U.S. ignored it, opting instead to escalate hostilities. It sent 26,000 air sorties costing over $1 billion, allegedly to intervene for humanitarian reasons. Obama dismissed criticism from Congressional liberals, saying that his unilateral actions didn’t amount to a “war.”
But it was yet another case of regime change, and it was easily sold to the American public because even though Muammar Gaddafi (whom Obama had met with only two years before) had become an ally in the war on terror, the media had cultivated his Arab bad guy image for decades.
As I wrote in Chapter Eight of my book, “It is as if the U.S. keeps them on ice, allowing them to quietly do their work until it needs to reveal them as the Devil’s latest incarnation. Then they become expendable…” Hillary Clinton crowed, “We came, we saw, he died.” Her emails, later released, revealed that her concern was less about human rights and more about oil and about blocking Gaddafi’s plan to harness Libya’s funds to establish independent financial organizations located within the African Union and an African currency that could serve as an alternative to the dollar.
Predictably, as with Saddam Hussein, the strongman’s death led to chaos. Libya, which formerly had the highest standard of living in all of Africa, is a failed, impoverished state. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have fled hoping to reach Europe. Of the 2,500 refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2016 alone, most had taken this route. And the power vacuum has allowed ISIS to expand into the country.
Obama eventually admitted that Libya was his “biggest regret” – but not because he had destroyed a nation and killed thousands of civilians but because he hadn’t planned for “the day after.” Again we have to ask: good-intentioned mistake or deliberate policy?
The Libya intervention marked the third time in a decade that Washington embraced regime change and then bungled the consequences. Are our leaders really that stupid? Or – again we ask, cui bono? Who profited from yet another ratcheting-up of instability in the Mideast? Certainly ISIS did. And if they did, then media coverage and American public opinion grew more fearful and more willing to support the continuation of the same stunningly ignorant policies. In this perfect, impenetrable, vicious circle of cause-and-effect, the ultimate winner was Obama’s primary sponsor, the Deep State. And Trump.
It is important to acknowledge that any presidential servant of these corporate powers would have pursued the same policies across the globe – Romney, McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore and especially Hillary Clinton. It’s a very old story, as old as the American empire. General Smedley D. Butler wrote:
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business…I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
But this truth does not absolve Obama, and I continue the criticism because of the lingering, naïve, liberal idealism that still insists: At least he wasn’t as bad as ______. Remember please: when we speak of the mythic image of the King (or at least the man upon whom we have projected that image), we are speaking about ourselves and our own desperate quest to make sense of our complicity in violence, to convince ourselves of our own innocence. The King embodies us. What we’re really saying is: At least we weren’t as bad as ______.
Israel / Palestine:
For eight years Obama perpetuated the obscene lies of his predecessors – that Israel is a democracy; that his government sought a peaceful solution to the conflict; that the Palestinians deserved human rights and their own political autonomy; that the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank was inappropriate; and that its apartheid policies, its ongoing siege and its ethnic cleansings in Gaza were regrettable, yet always justified by Palestinian provocations.
For most of those years he was part of the chorus warning about Iranian nuclear goals, while ignoring the open secret that Israel possesses 200 nukes. And for eight years, just like his predecessors, he gave the Israelis – even as they became increasingly belligerent and mendacious, insulted him personally and intervened in the Iran negotiations – all the money and arms they requested.
His celebrated feud with Netanyahu may have been based in personal animosity, but it meant nothing in practical terms. Watch what we do, not what we say. After each of the Gaza invasions – including the 2014 atrocity that killed 550 children – Obama quickly resupplied the depleted Israeli arms.
Behind this charade are three simple facts. The first is that Israel has served for decades as the American empire’s primary surrogate in the Mideast, and successive U.S. governments of both parties have fallen over themselves to richly reward it for its services. The second is that Israel’s genocidal policies – indeed, its entire economy – are greatly dependent on American aid. The third fact is that the U.S. – at any single moment in the last forty years – could have immediately brought peace to Israel/Palestine by simply threatening to plug this financial pipeline.
And, as a 2012 Congressional Resources Service report documented, “Almost all U.S. aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance.” But in September of 2016, with no need to appease the domestic Israel lobby because he wasn’t running for re-election, he raised that amount to $3.8 billion/year and guaranteed it for ten years, even though Israeli citizens enjoy state benefits such as universal heath care that U.S. citizens would literally die for.
The White House bragged that it was the largest military aid deal in history. Immediately afterwards, Israel announced news, “deeply troubling” to the State Department, of increased settlement construction. “So,” writes Greenwald,
…Israel — in the words of its most loyal benefactor — is moving inexorably towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation…And the leading protector and enabler of this apartheid regime is the U.S. — just as was true of the apartheid regime of the 1980s in South Africa…(and it) has attempted to render illegitimate all forms of resistance to it. Just as it did with the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela…
That same month, Obama told the U.N., “Surely, Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel, but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.” Ali Abunimah, however, pointed out that “It was classic Obama: tricky and deceptive language that seeks balance where there is none – equating alleged Palestinian ‘incitement’ with real Israeli colonialism and occupation – and floating lofty goals belied by his actions.”
This is false equivalency, a topic I’ll return to in a future blog. The aid deal sent seven messages to the world, writes Zeina Azzam:
- Might makes right.
- A shot in the arm for the Middle East arms race.
- Israel = Impunity.
- Palestinian lives don’t matter.
- Funding Israel’s military is more important than funding American social programs.
- Destruction trumps construction.
- US citizens’ public opinion doesn’t count.
In December 2016 the illegal demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories for Israeli settlements reached a 10-year high. Obama’s decision to abstain on the U.N. vote demanding a halt to settlement construction angered Israel and the war hawks, but it had absolutely no practical import. John Kerry’s final speech as Secretary of State bewailed the problem – which had been removed from the Democratic Party platform five months before at Clinton’s insistence.
I cite these events and quotes partially because we could easily insert them into the narrative of any administration going back to Jimmy Carter, but also because Obama was simply the most hypocritical – and, given the two slaughters that occurred in Gaza under his watch, the most deadly – of them all.
But sometimes things are simpler than we think: any child could look at what radical Muslims, religious or secular, have been saying, quite publicly, for decades about why they fight – Stop raiding our homes. Stop funding autocrats who steal everything. Stop bombing us – and ask, why don’t we just get the hell out of there and let them make their own destinies?
But the Mideast was by no means the only area where the American empire was working overtime under the cover of a benign, rational and caring president. Read Part Eleven here.