Thursday, June 24, 2010

New Propaganda: by Robert Fisk

Following the latest in semantics on the news?
Journalism and the Israeli government are in love again.

It's Islamic terror, Turkish terror, Hamas terror, Islamic Jihad terror, Hezbollah terror, activist terror, war on terror, Palestinian terror, Muslim terror, Iranian terror, Syrian terror, anti-Semitic terror...
But I am doing the Israelis an injustice.
Their lexicon, and that of the White House – most of the time – and our reporters' lexicon, is the same. Yes, let's be fair to the Israelis. Their lexicon goes like this: Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror.
How many times did I just use the word "terror"? Twenty. But it might as well be 60, or 100, or 1,000, or a million.

We are in love with the word, seduced by it, fixated by it, attacked by it, assaulted by it, raped by it, committed to it.
It is love and sadism and death in one double syllable, the prime time-theme song, the opening of every television symphony, the headline of every page, a punctuation mark in our journalism, a semicolon, a comma, our most powerful full stop.

"Terror, terror, terror, terror".
Each repetition justifies its predecessor.

Most of all, it's about the terror of power and the power of terror.
Power and terror have become interchangeable.
We journalists have let this happen.
Our language has become not just a debased ally, but a full verbal partner in the language of governments and armies and generals and weapons.

Remember the "bunker buster" and the "Scud buster" and the "target-rich environment" in the Gulf War (Part One)?
Forget about "weapons of mass destruction". Too obviously silly.
But "WMD" in the Gulf War (Part Two) had a power of its own, a secret code – genetic, perhaps, like DNA – for something that would reap terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. "45 Minutes to Terror".

Power and the media are not just about cosy relationships between journalists and political leaders, between editors and presidents.
They are not just about the parasitic-osmotic relationship between supposedly honourable reporters and the nexus of power that runs between White House and State Department and Pentagon, between Downing Street and the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, between America and Israel.

In the Western context, power and the media is about words – and the use of words.
It is about semantics.
It is about the employment of phrases and their origins. And it is about the misuse of history, and about our ignorance of history.
More and more today, we journalists have become prisoners of the language of power.
Is this because we no longer care about linguistics or semantics? Is this because laptops "correct" our spelling, "trim" our grammar so that our sentences so often turn out to be identical to those of our rulers? Is this why newspaper editorials today often sound like political speeches?

For two decades now, the US and British – and Israeli and Palestinian – leaderships have used the words "peace process" to define the hopeless, inadequate, dishonourable agreement that allowed the US and Israel to dominate whatever slivers of land would be given to an occupied people.
I first queried this expression, and its provenance, at the time of Oslo – although how easily we forget that the secret surrenders at Oslo were themselves a conspiracy without any legal basis.

Poor old Oslo, I always think.
What did Oslo ever do to deserve this?
It was the White House agreement that sealed this preposterous and dubious treaty – in which refugees, borders, Israeli colonies, even timetables – were to be delayed until they could no longer be negotiated.
And how easily we forget the White House lawn – though, yes, we remember the images – upon which it was Clinton who quoted from the Koran, and Arafat who chose to say: "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr President."
And what did we call this nonsense afterwards? Yes, it was "a moment of history"! Was it? Was it so?

Do you remember what Arafat called it? "The peace of the brave". But I don't remember any of us pointing out that "the peace of the brave" was used by General de Gaulle about the end of the Algerian war.
The French lost the war in Algeria. We did not spot this extraordinary irony.
Same again today. We Western journalists – used yet again by our masters – have been reporting our jolly generals in Afghanistan, as saying their war can only be won with a "hearts and minds" campaign.

No one asked them the obvious question: Wasn't this the very same phrase used about Vietnamese civilians in the Vietnam War?
And didn't we – didn't the West – lose the war in Vietnam?
Yet now we Western journalists are using – about Afghanistan – the phrase "hearts and minds" in our reports as if it is a new dictionary definition, rather than a symbol of defeat for the second time in four decades.

Just look at the individual words we have recently co-opted from the US military.
When we Westerners find that "our" enemies – al-Qa'ida, for example, or the Taliban – have set off more bombs and staged more attacks than usual, we call it "a spike in violence".
Ah yes, a "spike"! A "spike" is a word first used in this context, according to my files, by a brigadier general in the Baghdad Green Zone in 2004.

Yet now we use that phrase, we extemporise on it, we relay it on the air as our phrase, our journalistic invention. We are using, quite literally, an expression created for us by the Pentagon.
A spike, of course, goes sharply up then sharply downwards. A "spike in violence" therefore avoids the ominous use of the words "increase in violence" – for an increase, of course, might not go down again afterwards.

Now again, when US generals refer to a sudden increase in their forces for an assault on Fallujah or central Baghdad or Kandahar – a mass movement of soldiers brought into Muslim countries by the tens of thousands – they call this a "surge".
And a surge, like a tsunami, or any other natural phenomena, can be devastating in its effects.

What these "surges" really are – to use the real words of serious journalism – are reinforcements. And reinforcements are sent to conflicts when armies are losing those wars. But our television and newspaper boys and girls are still talking about "surges" without any attribution at all. The Pentagon wins again.

Meanwhile the "peace process" collapsed. Therefore our leaders – or "key players" as we like to call them – tried to make it work again.
The process had to be put "back on track".
It was a train, you see. The carriages had come off the line. The Clinton administration first used this phrase, then the Israelis, then the BBC. But there was a problem when the "peace process" had repeatedly been put "back on track" – but still came off the line.
So we produced a "road map" – run by a Quartet and led by our old Friend of God, Tony Blair, who – in an obscenity of history – we now refer to as a "peace envoy".
But the "road map" isn't working.

And now, I notice, the old "peace process" is back in our newspapers and on our television screens.
And earlier this month, on CNN, one of those boring old fogies whom the TV boys and girls call "experts" told us again that the "peace process" was being put "back on track" because of the opening of "indirect talks" between Israelis and Palestinians.

This isn't just about clichés – this is preposterous journalism. There is no battle between the media and power; through language, we, the media, have become them.

Here's another piece of media cowardice that makes my 63-year-old teeth grind together after 34 years of eating humus and tahina in the Middle East.
We are told, in many analysis features, that what we have to deal with in the Middle East are "competing narratives". How very cosy. There's no justice, no injustice, just a couple of people who tell different history stories. "Competing narratives" now regularly pop up in the British press.

The phrase, from the false language of anthropology, deletes the possibility that one group of people – in the Middle East, for example – is occupied, while another is doing the occupying. Again, no justice, no injustice, no oppression or oppressing, just some friendly "competing narratives", a football match, if you like, a level playing field because the two sides are – are they not? – "in competition". And two sides have to be given equal time in every story.

So an "occupation" becomes a "dispute". Thus a "wall" becomes a "fence" or "security barrier".
Thus Israeli acts of colonisation of Arab land, contrary to all international law, become "settlements" or "outposts" or "Jewish neighbourhoods".
It was Colin Powell, in his starring, powerless appearance as Secretary of State to George W Bush, who told US diplomats to refer to occupied Palestinian land as "disputed land" – and that was good enough for most of the US media. There are no "competing narratives", of course, between the US military and the Taliban. When there are, you'll know the West has lost.

But I'll give you an example of how "competing narratives" come undone. In April, I gave a lecture in Toronto to mark the 95th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian genocide, the deliberate mass murder of 1.5 million Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Turkish army and militia. Before my talk, I was interviewed on Canadian Television, CTV, which also owns Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper. And from the start, I could see that the interviewer had a problem. Canada has a large Armenian community. But Toronto also has a large Turkish community. And the Turks, as the Globe and Mail always tell us, "hotly dispute" that this was a genocide.

So the interviewer called the genocide "deadly massacres". Of course, I spotted her specific problem straight away. She couldn't call the massacres a "genocide", because the Turkish community would be outraged. But she sensed that "massacres" on its own – especially with the gruesome studio background photographs of dead Armenians – was not quite up to defining a million and a half murdered human beings. Hence the "deadly massacres". How odd! If there are "deadly" massacres, are there some massacres which are not "deadly", from which the victims walk away alive?
It was a ludicrous tautology.

Yet the use of the language of power – of its beacon words and its beacon phrases – goes on among us still.
How many times have I heard Western reporters talking about "foreign fighters" in Afghanistan?
They are referring, of course, to the various Arab groups supposedly helping the Taliban. We heard the same story from Iraq.
Saudis, Jordanians, Palestinian, Chechen fighters, of course.
The generals called them "foreign fighters". Immediately, we Western reporters did the same. Calling them "foreign fighters" meant they were an invading force. But not once – ever – have I heard a mainstream Western television station refer to the fact that there are at least 150,000 "foreign fighters" in Afghanistan, and that all of them happen to be wearing American, British and other NATO uniforms.
It is "we" who are the real "foreign fighters".

Similarly, the pernicious phrase "Af-Pak" – as racist as it is politically dishonest – is now used by reporters, although it was originally a creation of the US State Department on the day Richard Holbrooke was appointed special US representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But the phrase avoids the use of the word "India" – whose influence in Afghanistan and whose presence in Afghanistan, is a vital part of the story.
Furthermore, "Af-Pak" – by deleting India – effectively deleted the whole Kashmir crisis from the conflict in south-east Asia.
It thus deprived Pakistan of any say in US local policy on Kashmir – after all, Holbrooke was made the "Af-Pak" envoy, specifically forbidden from discussing Kashmir.
Thus the phrase "Af-Pak", which completely avoids the tragedy of Kashmir – too many "competing narratives", perhaps? – means that when we journalists use the same phrase, "Af-Pak", which was surely created for us journalists, we are doing the State Department's work.

Now let's look at history.
Our leaders love history.
Most of all, they love the Second World War. In 2003, George W Bush thought he was Churchill. True, Bush had spent the Vietnam War protecting the skies of Texas from the Vietcong. But now, in 2003, he was standing up to the "appeasers" who did not want a war with Saddam who was, of course, "the Hitler of the Tigris".

The appeasers were the British who didn't want to fight Nazi Germany in 1938. Blair, of course, also tried on Churchill's waistcoat and jacket for size. No "appeaser" he.
America was Britain's oldest ally, he proclaimed – and both Bush and Blair reminded journalists that the US had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Britain in her hour of need in 1940.

But none of this was true.
Britain's oldest ally was not the United States. It was Portugal, a neutral fascist state during the Second World War, which flew its national flags at half-mast when Hitler died (even the Irish didn't do that).
Nor did America fight alongside Britain in her hour of need in 1940, when Hitler threatened invasion and the Luftwaffe blitzed London.
No, in 1940 America was enjoying a very profitable period of neutrality, and did not join Britain in the war until Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbour in December 1941.
Similarly, back in 1956, Eden called Nasser the "Mussolini of the Nile". A bad mistake.
Nasser was loved by the Arabs, not hated as Mussolini was by the majority of Africans, especially the Arab Libyans.
The Mussolini parallel was not challenged or questioned by the British press. And we all know what happened at Suez in 1956.

When it comes to history, we journalists let the presidents and prime ministers take us for a ride.
Yet the most dangerous side of our new semantic war, our use of the words of power – though it is not a war, since we have largely surrendered – is that it isolates us from our viewers and readers.
They are not stupid. They understand words in many cases – I fear – better than we do. History, too.
They know that we are drawing our vocabulary from the language of generals and presidents, from the so-called elites, from the arrogance of the Brookings Institute experts, or those of the Rand Corporation.

Thus we have become part of this language.

Over the past two weeks, as foreigners – humanitarians or "activist terrorists" – tried to take food and medicines by sea to the hungry Palestinians of Gaza, we journalists should have been reminding our viewers and listeners of a long-ago day when America and Britain went to the aid of a surrounded people, bringing food and fuel – our own servicemen dying as they did so – to help a starving population.
That population had been surrounded by a fence erected by a brutal army which wished to starve the people into submission.
The army was Russian.
The city was Berlin.
The wall was to come later. The people had been our enemies only three years earlier. Yet we flew the Berlin airlift to save them.

Now look at Gaza today: which Western journalist – since we love historical parallels – has even mentioned 1948 Berlin in the context of Gaza?

Instead, what did we get? "Activists" who turned into "armed activists" the moment they opposed the Israeli army's boarding parties.
How dare these men upset the lexicon? Their punishment was obvious. They became "terrorists". And the Israeli raids – in which "activists" were killed (another proof of their "terrorism") – then became "deadly" raids. In this case, "deadly" was more excusable than it had been on CTV – nine dead men of Turkish origin being slightly fewer than a million and a half murdered Armenians in 1915.
But it was interesting that the Israelis – who for their own political reasons had hitherto shamefully gone along with the Turkish denial – now suddenly wanted to inform the world of the 1915 Armenian genocide.

This provoked an understandable frisson among many of our colleagues. Journalists who have regularly ducked all mention of the 20th century's first Holocaust – unless they could also refer to the way in which the Turks "hotly dispute" the genocide label (ergo the Toronto Globe and Mail) – could suddenly refer to it. Israel's new-found historical interest made the subject legitimate, though almost all reports managed to avoid any explanation of what actually happened in 1915.

And what did the Israeli seaborne raid become? It became a "botched" raid.
Botched is a lovely word. It began as a German-origin Middle English word, "bocchen", which meant to "repair badly".
And we more or less kept to that definition until our journalistic lexicon advisors changed its meaning. Schoolchildren "botch" an exam. We could "botch" a piece of sewing, an attempt to repair a piece of material. We could even botch an attempt to persuade our boss to give us a raise.

But now we "botch" a military operation. It wasn't a disaster. It wasn't a catastrophe. It just killed some Turks.
So, given the bad publicity, the Israelis just "botched" the raid.
Weirdly, the last time reporters and governments utilised this particular word followed Israel's attempt to kill the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, in the streets of Amman.
In this case, Israel's professional assassins were caught after trying to poison Meshaal, and King Hussain forced the then Israeli prime minister (a certain B Netanyahu) to provide the antidote (and to let a lot of Hamas "terrorists" out of jail). Meshaal's life was saved.
But for Israel and its obedient Western journalists this became a "botched attempt" on Meshaal's life. Not because he wasn't meant to die, but because Israel failed to kill him. You can thus "botch" an operation by killing Turks – or you can "botch" an operation by not killing a Palestinian.

How do we break with the language of power?

It is certainly killing us. That, I suspect, is one reason why readers have turned away from the "mainstream" press to the internet.
Not because the net is free, but because readers know they have been lied to and conned; they know that what they watch and what they read in newspapers is an extension of what they hear from the Pentagon or the Israeli government, that our words have become synonymous with the language of a government-approved, careful middle ground, which obscures the truth as surely as it makes us political – and military – allies of all major Western governments.

Many of my colleagues on various Western newspapers would ultimately risk their jobs if they were constantly to challenge the false reality of news journalism, the nexus of media-government power.
How many news organisations thought to run footage, at the time of the Gaza disaster, of the airlift to break the blockade of Berlin? Did the BBC?
The hell they did!
We prefer "competing narratives". Politicians didn't want – I told the Doha meeting on 11 May – the Gaza voyage to reach its destination, "be its end successful, farcical or tragic".
We believe in the "peace process", the "road map".
Keep the "fence" around the Palestinians. Let the "key players" sort it out. And remember what this is all about: "Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Are Foreign Lives of Equal Worth to Ours?

Are Foreign Lives of Equal Worth to Ours?
by Adil E. Shamoo,
June 19, 2010

When a U.S. civilian is murdered in a foreign land or in the United States, we rightfully feel angry, sad, and some of us demand vengeance.
These are normal, primordial, and instinctive feelings of group loyalty and herd mentality that have bound communities and countries for thousands of years. Should such human traits, which are often beneficial, emotional and irrational, continue to justify the retaliatory killing of innocent civilians in the 21st century?

After the tragic murder of nearly 3,000 U.S. citizens on 9/11, the United States toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan and killed and captured hundreds of al-Qaeda leaders and members. However, Afghanistan lost as many as 32,000 citizens since the U.S. invasion in 2001.
The U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan was followed immediately by a plan to invade Iraq and topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The invasion went ahead despite the inconclusive evidence that Iraq posed any immediate threat to the United States or was involved in 9/11. In the years and months following the invasion, evidence that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction and was not involved in the 9/11 attacks has become distressingly clear. Iraq by all accounts has suffered a few hundred thousand deaths, a million wounded, and the destruction of its infrastructure for economics, health, and education.

The U.S. engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq continues on a massive scale. We still have nearly 200,000 troops and contractors in the two countries. The argument is that our enemy is still plotting to kill us here in the United States and elsewhere. The plan seems to be to keep retaliating and punishing the plotters in both countries to force them to submit to our will. In the process, whether it is admitted or not, we have killed and injured tens of thousands of civilians not involved in trying to kill us.

More recently, the United States is trying to lessen the number of civilians killed or injured.
How do Afghan and Iraqi civilians view the injuries or deaths of tens of thousands of their countrymen and women? How do they view the continued killing and wounding of hundreds or thousands of non-combatants? How would we view this number deaths and injuries among our own population?

As citizens of the United States, we face the moral obligation to not only understand the tragedy of the loss of civilians, as U.S. President Barak Obama declares, but to reduce to a minimum or eliminate civilian deaths, if at all possible. Every innocent civilian killed or wounded in Afghanistan and in Iraq has a mother, father, sister, or brother, and in these close-knit tribal communities many more who are considered very close relatives. The families and friends of those harmed in these conflicts could carry with them the need for vengeance for decades to come.

More recently, we have entered a covert and overt war against the Taliban in Pakistan. In Pakistan, a country in which the United States is not officially at war, U.S. actions and offensives have killed and wounded a large number of Pakistani civilians. The high civilian death toll is in part a consequence of the Taliban living and hiding with the people of Pakistan in dense urban centers. The killing and wounding of innocent Pakistanis is also troubling because Pakistan is a large country with nuclear weapons. The killing of innocent Pakistanis will result in increased hatred and cries for revenge that is becoming a part of Pakistan cultural norms. This situation could destabilize the country and put the safety of the nuclear arsenal at risk.
The United States needs to face the moral paradox that stems from the lack of regard for Afghan and Iraqi lives in comparison with the value placed on the lives and safety of those living in the United States.

As U.S. citizens, we value the lives of our fellow countrymen manyfold over the lives of other citizens. How else could we allow our government to continue this policy of killing and wounding our opponents in such disproportion to the number of casualties of U.S. troops and contractors for nearly nine years after 9/11.

I know that there will be loud protest of this view. However, we need to remember that the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes the equal worth of all human beings across the globe.

The U.S. military has achieved a killing machine that is less encumbered by popular views of war than at other times in our history.
The military has mechanized and contracted out the war machinery in order to minimize the impact on U.S. citizens.
The mechanization of the war can be potentially beneficial to individuals, but also very dangerous to our democracy.

This mechanization of war has also resulted in treating other nations’ citizens as less than equal to citizens of the United States.
U.S. military actions kill innocent civilians in a repeated and almost routine manner.
However, modern communications are informing people around the world that U.S. policies value other citizens less than its own.
The human instinct of herd mentality can’t serve as justification for the indiscriminate killing of civilians outside U.S. borders.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Poster Boy for "Dual Loyalties" Joe Biden: In Israel's Service

Israel appears to be in more serious trouble diplomatically than at any time in its history following the botched attack by an “elite” commando squad on the Mavi Marmara in the early morning hours of June 1 that left at least nine dead and scores wounded. Thanks to Al-Jazeera and Iran’s PressTV, whose reporters were aboard the ship, much of the world was able to watch the attack unfold on its TV and computer screens and the result has been an avalanche of outrage and ongoing protests against the Jewish state. Within Israel this has led to finger-pointing and calls for resignations while its hasbara machinery has gone rapidly into damage-control and disinformation mode.
Lest we forget, the first U.S. official to give Israel’s bloody assault a thumbs up sign was Vice President Joe Biden. The former Delaware senator has been a key part of Israel’s hasbara branch, American section, since entering the Senate in 1973 and on the Wednesday following the Israeli attack, he appeared on the Charlie Rose Show where he showed no hesitation in defending Israel’s handling of the raid, something that President Obama had been reluctant to do.
On the following morning, Jerusalem Post Editor David Horvitz speaking for 45 minutes to Congressional staffers and AIPAC members on a conference call praised Biden’s performance. “It is not entirely clear in Israel where America stands,” he said, but “Israel was very pleased with what Joe Biden had to say.”
But isn’t that why Joe was picked for the job? Was it not to get the vote and the money from those Jews who were afraid that Barack Obama --who they suspected of being a closet Muslim—was no true friend of Israel?
Obama picked Biden “who is about as close to the pro-Israel community as any member of either house,” observed MJ Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer, on TPM Café, just after Biden’s selection. “Biden is rated 100 per cent by AIPAC … When he goes to the synagogues in Florida, he goes not as a visitor but as ‘mishpocha’ [family]. The Jews simply love the guy.”
“Bottom line,” concluded Rosenberg, “the Biden choice pretty much eliminated Obama's ‘Jewish problem.’" That was then and now it doesn’t seem to matter what position Obama takes, Biden seems to answer to his real boss. And it ain’t Barack.
Appearing on the Charlie Rose show was but the latest assignment for Biden in his long career of serving Israel, the first 35 years of which he was drawing salary and gaining political clout as a US Senator for a state whose population is only slightly larger than that of San Francisco (783,600 to 776,733).
“Look,” Biden told Rose in a rambling monologue in which he confused Ehud Barak with Ariel Sharon, “you can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not ... but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know — they're at war with Hamas — has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in. And up to now, Charlie, what's happened? They've said, ‘Here you go. You're in the Mediterranean. This ship — if you divert slightly north you can unload it and we'll get the stuff into Gaza.’ So what's the big deal here? What's the big deal of insisting it go straight to Gaza? Well, it's legitimate for Israel to say, ‘I don't know what's on that ship. These guys are dropping eight — 3,000 rockets on my people.’ ”
No big deal, Joe, at least nine dead, or four less than the number of Israelis killed since the first Palestinian rocket was fired from Gaza. And notice how easily he says “my” and pretends that rockets are still being fired from Gaza.
That “my” was not a Freudian slip. Like scores of other US politicians who have traded their political souls for access to the seemingly bottomless checking accounts of Israel’s American supporters, Biden has become a poster boy for “dual loyalty.” Given that he has done this as a member of Congress and continues to do so while now a heartbeat from the White House should probably qualify him for a treason trial and a cell next to Jonathan Pollard.
Back in 2007, on one of his many visits to Israel, he told a Shalom TV interviewer that the Jewish state was "the single greatest strength America has in the Middle East." Going beyond the standard AIPAC scripted boilerplate, Biden stated, "When I was a young senator, I used to say, 'If I were a Jew I'd be a Zionist.' I am a Zionist," he said. "You don't have to be a Jew to be a Zionist."
Asked about his prospective cell neighbor, sentenced to life-imprisonment in 1985 for turning over mounds of top secret information to Israel, Biden spoke of leniency for Pollard but not a pardon.
"There's a rationale, in my view, why Pollard should be given leniency, “said Biden. But there is not a rationale to say, 'What happened did not happen and should be pardoned.'" In other words, should Biden become president, it is likely that Pollard would be freed.
Looking at Biden’s track record, it would seem that he has not just been a key cheerleader for Israel; he has aspired to be a member of its coaching staff.
Speaking to an AIPAC meeting in 1992, he was quoted by the organization’s Near East Report as saying that it was time to “tell the American people straight out that it’s in our naked self-interest to see to it that the moral commitment and political commitment is kept with regard to Israel and that Israel is not the cause of our problem, but the essence of the solution.” This was in response to President George H.W. Bush’s second refusal to support Israel’s demand for $10 billion in loan guarantees. Which of America’s problems Israel was able to solve Biden didn’t mention.
In December, 1995, two years after Oslo, he spoke at an AIPAC meeting in San Francisco and told a lunchtime audience that included most of the Bay Area’s public officials that they needed to spend more time educating new members of Congress about the wonders of Israel and its strategic value to the US:
“Be prepared to both convert and be prepared to deal with those who are not converted....
“Israel is taking more chances on her security today than any time in her history....Arabs make peace with Israel only when they realize that they can’t drive a wedge between the US and Israel. We cannot afford to publicly criticize Israel.” This past March, back in Israel on a “fence-mending” assignment, just before he was blindsided by the announcement of Israel’s plan to build 1600 new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem, Biden had modified his “can’t drive a wedge” to read “there is no space between.”
At that time Biden gave his San Francisco speech, he had taken in over $100,000 from pro-Israel PACs which was small change compared to what he had received in individual donations. By far the largest of these came in 1988, when he made his first bid for the presidency. It was a $1.5 million gift from San Francisco financial real estate magnate Walter Shorenstein, who was, by no coincidence, AIPAC’s main man in California as well a major player in the state’s Democratic Party. It turned out to be a poor investment since that was the year that Biden was caught plagiarizing a speech by British Labor leader Neil Kinnock and had to withdraw from the race.
In 2007, true to form, Biden took the lead in the Senate in rejecting the Iraq Study Group's conclusion that the United States would not be able to achieve its goals in Iraq unless it "deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict,” a view taken more recently by Gen. David Petraeus.
"I do not accept the notion of linkage between Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict," Biden said during his opening remarks at a January 17, 2007, Senate hearing. "Arab-Israeli peace is worth pursuing vigorously on its own merits, but even if a peace treaty were signed tomorrow, it would not end the civil war in Iraq.” It was not that the study group said that it would but it was convenient straw man for Biden.
It was not his first comment on Iraq. It may be recalled that on May 1, 2006, Biden had co-authored an op-ed piece for the NY Times with his guru, Leslie Gelb, a former Times columnist and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, that called for Iraq to be divided into three confessional states. It was starkly similar to what had been written in a policy paper back in 1982 by Oded Yinon, a senior Israeli foreign affairs official, in which he wrote that, “To dissolve Iraq is even more important for us than dissolving Syria. In the short term, it's Iraqi power that constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.” Gelb had first raised the issue in an op-ed in the Times in November, 2003.
During the 2008 election campaign Biden was outraged to find his loyalty to Israel being questioned by what he reportedly thought was AIPAC but which turned out to be the Republican Jewish Coalition. The RJC had accused him of not towing the AIPAC line on one or two occasions which caused Biden to defend his willingness to oppose AIPAC on some pieces of legislation.
In a 20-minute conference call with members of the Jewish media that September, Biden said it was up to the Israelis to make decisions about war and peace, including whether to launch a strike aimed at disrupting Iran’s nuclear program.
“This is not a question for us to tell the Israelis what they can and cannot do,” said the Democratic vice presidential candidate. “"Israel has the right to defend itself and it doesn't have to ask, just as any other free and independent country. I have faith in the democracy of Israel. They will arrive at the right decision that they view as being in their own interests.” That as vice-president his job would be to protect US interests and not Israel’s and that an attack on Iran might jeopardize American interests either had not occurred to him or was of no concern.
In the interview, Biden tried to position himself as being even more pro-Israel than AIPAC, vigorously defending his record of occasionally breaking ranks with the pro-Israel lobby. “AIPAC does not speak for the entire American Jewish community,” he said. “There’s other organizations as strong and as consequential.”
Moreover, Biden insisted, "I will take a back seat to no one, and again, no one in AIPAC or any other organization, in terms of questioning my support of the State of Israel."
“Insiders at the lobby were more bemused than offended by the outburst” wrote the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Ron Kampeas, “saying they regarded Biden as essentially pro-Israel. Sources familiar with the situation said the Obama camp’s explanation was that Biden had mistakenly thought it was AIPAC who had criticized him, as opposed to the RJC.”
Upset at the RJC’s questioning of Biden’s pro-Israel credentials The New Republic’s Marty Peretz, entered the lists in his behalf. Wrote Peretz in TNR and the Jerusalem Post in September,2008:
“If ever there was a true friend of Israel in the United States Senate it is Joe Biden. Oh yes, there were also Owen Brewster, Republican from Maine, and Guy Gillette, Democrat from Iowa. But that goes back to the very founding of the state.
“This is not hyperbole about Biden. It is true. And it is so not just on a philosophical basis but in deeds, too. Biden is a true friend on both a higher and a deeper level, and he has been that for three and a half decades. It is reckless for Jews to trifle with such allies. We have, as I've said, many friends. But what we do not have is many such allies - formidable, expert, truly passionate.”
Following the election and now, as vice-president, Biden continued to merit Peretz’s confidence. Speaking at AIPAC’s 2009 policy conference in Washington, he began by describing how he had been warmly welcomed on a visit to Israel in 1973 as a freshman senator by Prime Minister Golda Meir and befriended by Yitzhak Rabin. Then, to loud rounds of applause, he told his audience:
“[W]e have to pursue every opportunity for progress while standing up for one core principle: First, Israel's security is non-negotiable. Period. Period. [sic]Our commitment is unshakeable. We will continue to provide Israel with the assistance that it needs. We will continue to defend Israel's right to defend itself and make its own judgments about what it needs to do to defend itself.”
Toward the end of his speech, Biden timorously advanced a position that has long been official US policy. “You're not going to like my saying this,” he said, but [do]not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts, and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement.” There was no applause.
In 1994, Biden was a key player in one of the ugliest episodes in American political history and one that characterizes the subservience of Washington to Israel in its way much as did the cover-up of Israel ‘s attack on the USS Liberty 53 years ago on June 8th.
It featured a star chamber recantation before a confirmation hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Biden, of Strobe Talbott, former Soviet affairs analyst for Time, of an article he had written, following his nomination as Deputy Secretary of State by Bill Clinton. Talbott was facing the inquisition as a result of a major article he had written for the magazine in 1981, “What to do about Israel” (9/7/81). In it, Talbott had advocated a new policy towards Israel-US relations that would “rescue that relationship… starting with the delusion that Israel is, or ever has been, primarily a strategic ally.”
While expressing the obligatory degree of affection for Israel, Talbott had not been equivocal. Referring to problems that had been created for the Reagan administration by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Talbott wrote in words, especially pertinent today, “His country does need the US for its survival, but the sad fact is that Israel is well on its way to becoming not just a dubious asset but an outright liability to American security interests, both in the Middle East and worldwide.”
Talbott was referring to Israel’s destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak and a deadly bombing raid over Beirut that killed over 100 people and wounded 600 more, most of them civilians. Talbott had advised that, “If Israel continues to take international law into its own hands as violently—and as embarrassingly to the US—as it did in Baghdad and Beirut, then the next display of US displeasure ought to be more sustained and less symbolic. It might include severe cutbacks in American military aid, which is $1.2 billion for fiscal ’81 alone.[It is now officially $3 billion].
Pressed to recant, Talbott uttered the required response. As reported by the New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse,
“‘I do want to set the record straight on the question of my view of Israel as a strategic asset,’ he said, sounding chastened and contrite. ‘On that I have simply changed my opinion.’
“On the other hand, straining to reassure supporters of Israel, Mr. Talbott said, ‘I have always believed that the US-Israeli relationship is unshakable. Second, I have always believed that a strong Israel is in America’s interest because it serves the cause of peace and stability in the region…’
“During his 21 years at Time, Mr. Talbott often criticized Israel. Today he took a markedly different tone, portraying himself as a friend of Israel.”
In the article Talbott, had written that “Begin recognized that American Jews wield influence far beyond their numbers, but he also knew that there is considerable pent-up irritation in the US with the power of the pro-Israel lobby (which includes, of course, many non-Jews).” It was clearly his own opinion, as well.
Biden, according to the NY Times, jumped on that statement, calling it,“totally inappropriate,” to which Talbott, “asserting that no sight was intended,” noted that this “was simply a statement of fact,” and turned to Sen. Bernard Metzenbaum from his home state of Ohio for confirmation. Metzenbaum said that he was “satisfied” with Talbott’s remarks, but, “Maybe, in retrospect, he might have changed some phrases or some paragraphs.”
Mind you, Talbott had questioned Israel’s strategic value to the US in 1981, in the heart of the Cold War when he was considered one of the main stream media’s ranking Soviet experts. Before going before the Senate, he had become a senior advisor on the former Soviet Union to the Clinton White House. By 1994, with the Soviet bloc no longer in the picture, it was generally agreed, even in Tel Aviv, that Israel’s value to the US had been severely diminished.
Biden went on, citing the same article, noted that Talbott also had written: "Israel has been a credit to itself and its American backers."
Playing the role of Torquemada, he asked Talbott, “Do you believe that?"
"Yes, senator, I do," he obediently replied.
His “conversion” process having been completed, Talbott received the senator’s and subsequently the Senate’s approval.
The reader should not be left with the impression that Joe Biden’s prime passions are limited to the love of Israel.
While in the Senate, he was a key supporter of the credit card industry, much of which is based in Delaware thanks to its cozy industry friendly tax laws and he was a key beneficiary of its campaign contributions. In return, he became a leading supporter of the "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005" which, despite its title, made it harder for consumers to get protection under bankruptcy.
Biden was one of the first Democratic supporters of the bill and voted for it four times until it finally passed in March, 2005. Twisting the truth, a spokesman for Sen. Obama told the NY Times, "Senator Biden took on entrenched interests and succeeded in improving the bill for low-income workers, women and children."
But even the Times wasn’t buying that. Biden, the paper noted, was one of only five Democrats who voted against a proposal that would require credit card companies to provide more effective warnings to consumers about the consequences of paying only the minimum amount due each month. Obama had voted for it.
Biden differed with Obama again when he helped to defeat amendments which would have strengthened protections for people forced into bankruptcy who have large medical debts or are in the military. He was also one of four Democrats who sided with Republicans to defeat an effort, supported by Obama, to shift responsibility in certain cases from debtors to the predatory lenders who helped push them into bankruptcy.
So why did Obama pick Biden for his running mate? We already know the answer.
June 11 - 13, 2010

Hypocrisy Reigns

Things internationally are so dispiriting there's nothing left to do but fantasize. I picture Turkey, as a member of NATO, demanding that the alliance come to its defense after being attacked by Israel. Under Article 5 of the NATO charter an armed attack on one member is deemed to constitute an armed attack on all members. That is the ostensible reason NATO is fighting in Afghanistan — the attack against the United States on September 11, 2001 is regarded as an attack on all NATO members (disregarding the awkward fact that Afghanistan as a country had nothing to do with the attack). The Israeli attack on a Turkish-flagged ship, operated by a Turkish humanitarian organization, killing nine Turkish nationals and wounding many more can certainly constitute an attack upon a NATO member.

So, after the United States, the UK, Germany, France and other leading NATO members offer their ridiculous non-sequitur excuses why they can't ... umm ... er ... invoke Article 5, and the international media swallows it all without any indigestion, Turkey demands that Israel should at least lose its formal association with NATO as a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue. This too is dismissed with scorn by the eminent NATO world powers on the grounds that it would constitute a victory for terrorism. And anti-Semitism of course.

Turkey then withdraws from NATO. Azerbaijan and five other Central Asian members of NATO's Partnership for Peace with Turkic constituencies do the same. NATO falls into a crisis. Remaining member countries begin to question the organization's policies as never before ... like please tell us again why our young men are killing and dying in Afghanistan, and why we send them to Kosovo and Iraq and other places the Americans deem essential to their endlessly-threatened national security.

When Vice President Biden tells the eminent conservative-in-liberal-clothing pseudo-intellectual Charlie Rose on TV that "We have put as much pressure and as much cajoling on Israel as we can to allow them [Gaza] to get building materials in," 1Rose for once rises to the occasion and acts like a real journalist, asking Biden: "Have you threatened Israel with ending all military and economic aid? ... Have you put the names of Israeli officials on your list of foreigners who can not enter the United States and whose bank accounts in the US are frozen, as you've done with numerous foreign officials who were not supporters of the empire? ... Since Israel has committed both crimes against the peace and crimes against humanity, and since these are crimes that have international jurisdiction, certain Israeli political and military personnel can be named in trials held in any country of the world. Will you be instructing the Attorney General to proceed with such an indictment? Or if some other country which is a member of the International Criminal Court calls upon the ICC to prosecute these individuals, will the United States try to block the move? ... Why hasn't the United States itself delivered building materials to Gaza?"

When Israel justifies its murders on the grounds of "self-defense", late-night TV comedians Jay Leno and David Letterman find great humor in this, pointing out that a new memoir by China's premier at the time of the 1989 Tiananmen Square violent suppression defends the military action by saying that soldiers acted in "self-defense" when they fired on the democracy activists. (2)

When Israel labels as "terrorists" the ship passengers who offered some resistance to the Israeli invaders, the New York Times points out that the passengers who resisted the 9-11 highjackers on the plane which crashed in Pennsylvania are called "heroes". (As an aside, it's worth noting that the United States uses 9-11 as Israel uses the Holocaust — as excuse and justification for all manner of illegal and violent international behavior.)

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reminds its readers that in 2009 Israel attacked a boat on international waters carrying medical aid to Gaza with former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney aboard; and that in 1967 Israel attacked an American ship, the USS Liberty, killing 34 and wounding about 173, and that President Johnson did then just what President Obama is doing now and would have done then — nothing.

And finally, Secretary of State Clinton declares that she's had a revelation. She realizes that what she recently said about North Korea when it was accused of having torpedoed a South Korean warship applies as well to Israel. Mrs. Clinton had demanded that Pyongyang "stop its provocative behavior, halt its policy of threats of belligerence towards its neighbors, and take irreversible steps to fulfill its denuclearization commitments and comply with international law." (3) She adds that the North Korean guilt is by no means conclusive, while Israel doesn't deny its attack on the ship at all; moreover, it's not known for sure if North Korea actually possesses nuclear weapons, whereas there's no uncertainty about Israel's large stockpile.

So there you have it. Hypocrisy reigns. Despite my best fantasizing. Is hypocrisy a moral failing or a failure of the intellect? When President Obama says, as he has often, "No one is above the law" and in his next breath makes it clear that his administration will not seek to indict Bush or Cheney for any crimes, does he think that no one will notice the contradiction, the hypocrisy? That's a callous disregard for public opinion and/or a dumbness worthy of his predecessor.

And when he declares: "The future does not belong to those who gather armies on a field of battle or bury missiles in the ground", (4) does it not occur to him at all that he's predicting a bleak outlook for the United States? Or that his conscious, deliberate policy is to increase the size of America's army and its stockpile of missiles?

Comrades, can the hypocrisy and the lies reach such a magnitude that enough American true believers begin to question their cherished faith, so that their number reaches a critical mass and explodes? Well, it's already happened with countless Americans, but it's an awfully formidable task keeping pace with what is turned out by the mass media and education factories. They're awfully good at what they do. Too bad. But don't forsake the struggle. What better way is there to live this life? And remember, just because the world has been taken over by lying, hypocritical, mass-murdering madmen doesn't mean we can't have a good time.

The creative writing: To the editor of the Donponews

To the editor of the Dongpo Newspaper

Re: The creative writing class
I am sorry to notify you that I decline your invitation to attend the above-mentioned class.

Frankly speaking, I was baffled, dismayed, shell-shocked, and finally disappointed over the opening salvoes of three panelists whose opinions were outdated, pseudo-scientific, and para-psychological flapdoodles, when I attended the first session of the creative writing on May 28.

Immediately after the session, I realized that I was in the GIGO game…
Although acronym GIGO was originally coined for information technology sector as “Garbage In Garbage Out”, meaning that the integrity of output is dependent on the integrity of input, it refers here as one accepts erroneous, worthless or wrongful information, one gets false conclusion as the true and rightful option.
In plain terms, you discharge a pile of shits when you eat shit, or you think, talk, behave, and argue like a shit when you learn shitty stuffs

Mr. Moon, the first panelist who identified himself as a science critic, does not appear to have any academic credentials as he announced that he majored in the international trade at school…that is, his profession has got nothing to do with science but making tons of money in trade.
I was amazed about his gall to recommend watching TV program, “Ghost Buster”, to the audience, insinuating that soul lives on forever even after the body perishes. In other words, soul is immortal, separable from the body at death.
The funny part was his assertion that he does not attend church service on Sunday as many S Koreans do routinely attend the religious gatherings, vaguely suggesting that he has his own spiritual entity which determines his destiny.

Mr. Byon, the second panelist, introduced himself as a theoretician that he has had researched for over two decades on the subject of communism, capitalism, Karl Marx, Dostoevsky, etc., and told the audience about Karl Marx that the Marxism is nothing more than a product of hatred on riches, since Karl was so indigent that Marx’s poverty caused a vitriolic anger against the bourgeoisies.
I was so baffled on Mr. Byon’s theory (?) that I was almost choked off with a series of guffaw…

Mr. Jee, was a final straw on the camel’s back… even though he was introduced as an author of the best-selling book, later I found out that he is a fortune-teller (a Jum-jeng-ee) selling his ware of “Qi” to the ignorant S Korean immigrant community in order to make a living in Canada,
The term “Qi” comes as close as possible to constituting a generic designation equivalent to English word “energy” and Mr. Jee tried to explain that “Qi”, which originated from the Chinese conceptual system, is the essential part of life.
Most of S Korean fortune-tellers attempt to sell their merchandise, “Qi”, claiming that symptoms of various illnesses are often believed to be the product of disrupted, blocked or unbalanced “Qi” movement through the body and the “Jum-jeng-ee” has a tool to cure for the illnesses by manipulating “Qi” flows in the various part of the body.

Lastly, I noticed that the “Dongpo newspaper” is similar to the carbon-copy of the tabloid Toronto Sun, the champion of yellow journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead propagates eye-catching, scandal-mongering, or lascivious headlines to sell more news paper.
The newspaper does not provide much information about Canadian society to the S Korean community…instead the pages are full of jingoistic, right-leaning, and conservative articles about the S Korean politics that gives not much values or help for the immigrants.

I attended the first session because I wanted to learn how to write a “faction” in the format of roman-a-clef…based on my past life in S Korea where I have wasted my life over three decades, and I have no intention going back into the cultural and intellectual “Dark Age” by joining your class that the above-mentioned lecturers would have a field day.
In addition, I do not expect you, editor, or other recipients of this email would give me a rebuttal due to their lack of facility in English language…but I always welcome your critical comment sans F-words on my email letter either in English or Korean language.
If anyone is interested in finding who I am, he or she may read my blogs at or .

Friday, June 11, 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

NGOs: the West's soft instrument for hegemonic policies

NGOs: the West's soft instrument for hegemonic policies
by Tahir Mahmoud
(Sunday, June 6, 2010)


"Western NGOs skilfully exploit the unpopularity of corrupt regimes in order to further the foreign policy objectives of their own governments. Since foreign NGOs have the money to implement vital projects, many local NGOs which are sincere in improving the conditions in their own countries become vulnerable to manipulation by receiving grants from outsiders. Lack of funding forces local NGOs in the developing world to surrender their integrity and lose their identity as truly non-governmental bodies since they become the extended arm of foreign governments."


Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become an important political tool in the hands of the West. Like the word “aid”, the NGOs (they also use the alias non-profit organizations) are used to penetrate and undermine other societies, especially in the Muslim world. Looked at superficially, the concept of NGOs may appear practical and beneficial, but the manner in which they are used by the US and the West in general is not only a distortion of their original aim but borders on the scandalous.

The role of US-backed NGOs was best summarized by Allen Weinstein, one of the founders of the National Endowment for Democracy who stated in a 1991 Washington Post article: “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” In order to be able to identify which NGOs are used as political instruments there is need to examine their links with state institutions, their operational modes and the sources of their funding.

It was US President John F. Kennedy (1961–63) who pioneered the politicization of NGOs when he US established the Peace Corps in 1961. Even though the Peace Corps is a government organization, its concept and model were later used to establish several other NGOs backed by the US government. The so-called Peace Corps sends American “volunteers” to promote “the understanding of Americans abroad.” The Peace Corps was the answer to the Soviet Union’s grass roots activism in Latin America and Africa. In 1981 anti-communist training was provided to Peace Corps volunteers and the US government hired Dean Coston Associates, a consulting firm, to train volunteers to undermine communist efforts by presenting communism in a negative light. However, since the Peace Corps is known as a governmental organization it does not always succeed in portraying its agenda or policies as unbiased. It seems that this weakness in the Peace Corps was first realized by US President Ronald Reagan who helped establish another NGO, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), in 1983, in order to promote “democracy.” NED is directly financed by the US Congress and has played an important role in advancing US interests in different parts of the world to the detriment of local populations. In the mid-1980s, the NED openly backed Manuel Noriega in Panama and the anti-Castro groups in order to advance US hegemony in Central America. Today through so called grants, the NED finances several anti-Islamic groups that work to sabotage the Islamic system of governance in Iran.

Since the 1980s, the US has adopted a more sophisticated approach to advancing its agenda through NGOs. One contemporary example of “NGO” work is the involvement of the Open Society Institute (OSI) in the so-called “Rose Revolution” in Georgia which brought to power a staunchly pro-US government. Instead of being directly involved, the US government remained in the background by using individuals such as George Soros, the billionaire financier, who funds the OSI. Organizations such as the OSI are given political and economic space to operate independently as long as their work does not impede US global designs at the strategic level. This provides the US a way to implement certain policies without taking official responsibility and therefore cannot be held directly liable politically, socially, economically and in some cases even legally.

The operational mode of US-backed NGOs is quite simple. They finance so-called projects and programs in many impoverished countries where the ruling system does little to improve the life of its citizens. Such brutal and corrupt regimes are sustained in power by the US itself; examples of Azerbaijan, Egypt, and Pakistan readily come to mind. In such cases it becomes easy for foreign NGOs to attract the local population to cooperate with it because the alternative is often unemployment and starvation. By providing even minimum services which the local government should have but does not provide, US-backed NGOs project themselves as benefactors of people. This garners support for them among local populations.

Western NGOs skilfully exploit the unpopularity of corrupt regimes in order to further the foreign policy objectives of their own governments. Since foreign NGOs have the money to implement vital projects, many local NGOs which are sincere in improving the conditions in their own countries become vulnerable to manipulation by receiving grants from outsiders. Lack of funding forces local NGOs in the developing world to surrender their integrity and lose their identity as truly non-governmental bodies since they become the extended arm of foreign governments.

Apart from NGOs that focus on social services, there are several so-called think-tanks and foundations that play an important role in policy formulation and implementation. The US has the world’s largest number of think-tanks which not only serve as policy formulation institutions, but also as a staffing center for the US government to recruit experts from various fields. Think-tanks and foundations became incorporated into the “non-governmental” scheme of the US government in the early 1900s. While foundations deal mainly with financing individuals and organizations, think-tanks are supposed to provide a non-biased second opinion. However, even though think-tanks claim to provide alternative perspectives they often promote policies that benefit their financiers. RAND Corporation, one of the leading US think-tanks, established in 1945 right after the Second World War by the commander of the US Air Force, General Henry H. Arnold, offers a good example. In 2008, RAND spent $230.07 million on research. Many RAND studies directly or indirectly advocated large military spending and in particular spending on the air force. The US Air Force contributed $42 million to RAND in the same year.

The so-called NGOs that are financed by the US government are an important part of US policy to advance its hegemonic goals. It is likely that during the presidency of Barack Obama the NGO sector may be used even more frequently as a tool of US foreign policy. In 2009 Obama openly proclaimed that Americans cannot only rely on their military and need a “civilian national security which is as well trained and funded.” Since NGOs often play a positive role in a society’s development, serious thought must be given to how best to protect NGOs from government manipulation. The best way to do this would be by making the NGOs less dependent on direct governmental funding. One way would be to establish an independent international fund for supplementary NGO funding.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Korea staredown by Ron Jacob

Korea Staredown

While Washington and Seoul ramp up the rhetoric against the government in Pyongyang following their conclusion that the sinking of a Republic of Korea (South Korea) military ship was an intentional attack by Pyongyang's navy, Beijing is publicly wondering if the ship actually sunk because it hit a US-placed mine in Korean waters. Because of this doubt, China is currently refusing to sign on to any sanctions against the nation of North Korea. While unable to ascertain the actual cause of the ship sinking with the information publicly available, it is difficult for this writer to not draw parallels to the destruction of the USS Maine in 1898. Like the sinking of the Republic of Korea's boat, the circumstances of the Maine sinking were difficult to ascertain. Many historians belove that the explosion that caused the sinking was due to an internal fire on the ship, while the US government and its cohorts in the US media (especially William Randolph Hearst) blamed the sinking on a Spanish mine in the Cuban harbor where the explosion occurred. As any reader of US history knows, it was this sinking that provided the United States with the excuse it needed to chase Spain from the western hemisphere and begin the long march of modern US imperialism.

It is not my intention here to prove what or who is responsible for the sinking of the South Korean warship. However, it is useful if we review the history of the Korean peninsula over the past couple decades to understand how things got to the current situation. Foremost among recent causes leading to the present standoff between Pyongyang and Seoul are the election of George Bush in 2000 in the US and the election of Lee Myung-bak to the presidency of the Republic of Korea in 2007. Both men and the forces they represent are not only ideologically opposed to the regime in Pyongyang, they were and are determined to make that regime and its people suffer until the regime is gone. This is despite their public statements claiming they have no animosity toward the northern Korean people. Their actions speak otherwise. Despite the fact that the two states of the Korean peninsula are still officially at war, serious efforts were made to reconcile during the 1990s. These efforts increased substantially after a series of truce violations almost erupted into conflict in 1993. The southern Korean people elected an administration and legislature genuinely interested in rapprochement with their northern brethren. Despite US efforts to block it, aid flowed into the north and goodwill exchanges became a matter of course. Washington, meanwhile, did send aid for a few years but never did fulfill their end of the agreement made after the near war in 1993.

Then George Bush was elected in 2000. It wasn't more than a year or so that Mr. Bush purposely turned back the clock on Washington's approach to Pyongyang. After naming the Pyongyang regime part of a so-called "axis of evil," the White House began to once again isolate the regime and refused to fulfill the remainder of the aforementioned 1993 accords. Pyongyang saw these moves as belligerent and restarted its nuclear weapons program, eventually producing a few nuclear bombs. The government in Seoul at the time was displeased with Washington's belligerence but was unable to influence the much stronger nation's change in policy. Pyongyang's test of one of those weapons in 2006 heightened tensions in the region and gave room for Lee Myung-bak and other rightwingers in southern Korean politics an opening to take power.

Notoriously corrupt, Lee has managed to keep out of prison and consolidate both economic and political power. The first rightwing South Korean president since the 1980s, his actions include refusing to acknowledge the Kwangju rebellion memorial holiday as president and a series of economic policies that tend to favor the wealthy classes. His foreign policy is more in line with the desires of Washington than his predecessor, whom some Koreans criticized for what they perceived to be Seoul’s handouts to northern Korea without conditions. Lee’s government has restricted freedom of assembly and increased press restrictions as well as championing his Christian religion and putting into place policies that discriminate against Buddhists. His foreign policy is more in line with the desires of Washington than his predecessor, whom some Koreans criticized for what they perceived to be Seoul’s handouts to northern Korea without conditions These accusations logically return the debate back to why there are two Koreas in the first place.

As I wrote in a piece several years ago:

Near the end of the Second World War, right before the U.S. dropped the bomb on Japan, the Soviet Union moved into northern Korea to fight the occupying Japanese troops. Within weeks of Japan's surrender, democratic groups of Korean peasants, merchants, and workers formed local governing organizations and begin to organize a national assembly. The U.S. and U.S.S.R., meanwhile, chose to maintain a "temporary" occupation of the country with the 38th parallel as the dividing line. This occupation was to end after the Koreans established their own government, and Korea was to reunite. However, after the United States realized that the makeup of any Korean-organized government would be anti-colonial, it reneged on its promise.

Within weeks of the election of a popular national assembly, the Soviet Union began to withdraw its forces. The U.S., however, increased its military strength and coordinated security with the remnants of the hated Japanese army. At the same time, Synghman Rhee, an ultra-right Korean politician who was living in America, was flown back to Korea (with the assistance of the US intelligence community). He immediately began to liquidate the popular movement in Southern Korea and, with the complete support of the U.S. military, refused to acknowledge the existence of the newly elected national assembly. In the weeks following his installment as ruler of Southern Korea, over 100,000 Korean citizens were murdered and disappeared. The United States military provided the names of many of the victims.

After realizing that the United States had no plans to withdraw its troops, the Soviet Union put its withdrawal on hold and asked for assistance from the People's Republic of China. In the days and weeks that passed, military units from the south persistently forayed into the northern half of Korea, testing its defenses. Eventually, although the exact details remain unclear, Northern Korean and Chinese troops attacked. On June 25, 1950, the U.S. responded, using the authority of the U.N. Security Council, and the Korean war began. Three years and one month later an armistice was signed between the warring sides. The toll in lives was: 52, 246 US soldiers, an estimated 4 million Koreans on both sides of the parallel (mostly civilians), 1 million Chinese soldiers, and another 4000 soldiers from armies that allied themselves with the United States.

Ever since, the US has refused to sign a peace treaty, even when Seoul wanted them to. The current tension over the sinking of the South Korean ship in March 2010 and the assertion that the North Korean military was responsible has ratcheted that tension to its highest levels since 1993. So far, Seoul has been rational and measured in its response. Pyongyang denies the charges. The world awaits. Pyongyang is not blameless in this situation. It is possible that their navy did sink the South Korean ship. Their actions on the world stage appear to be those of a paranoid nation. Indeed, they are not unlike Israel in that regard.

However, unlike Israel, Pyongyang's greatest enemies are not disenfranchised people living in poverty under occupation. In fact, Pyongyang's enemies include the world's most heavily armed nation and several of its subordinates. Perhaps they have a reason to be paranoid. After all, it's not like they can call on a world power to back them up like Israel can. Indeed, Washington could sign a peace treaty with Pyongyang and make the entire region considerably safer. Yet it has refused to do so for almost sixty years and twelve US administrations.