I suspect a lot of people would like to believe Chuck Hagel's confirmation as secretary of defense shows that Obama has broken the back of the Israel lobby and will now move U.S. Middle East policy in a direction that would be better for us, better for Israel, better for the Palestinians, and maybe even better for the entire region.
Don't count on it.
It is of course a very good thing that the Senate confirmed Hagel. He had excellent credentials for the job, had done nothing to disqualify himself, and to have been denied the post on the basis of the lobby's slander would have been truly disheartening. And there's no question that the antics of the Emergency Committee for Israel (note: for Israel, not the U.S.), the Washington Free Beacon, Elliot Abrams, Ted Cruz, Jennifer Rubin, et al. ultimately did more harm to themselves than to Hagel. They revealed both their preference for innuendo over facts and their belief that support for Israel matters more than any other aspect of U.S. defense policy. As I've noted before, their behavior merely confirmed what some of us have been saying for a very long time, and they did so center-stage with the spotlight on. Very gratifying indeed.
But it would be a huge mistake to conclude that the lobby's clout has been broken and that Obama will now be free to chart a new course. For starters, the behavior of several senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee shows that they are still mightily beholden to groups like AIPAC and extremist Christian Zionists, not to mention some unrepentant neoconservatives. Chuck Hagel was about as bulletproof a candidate as one could ask for (decorated war hero, defense and intelligence expert, successful businessman, respected ex-senator, etc.) and that didn't stop these zealots from unloading the SIOP against him. The fact that they ultimately failed is important, but so is the fact that they could even make an issue of it. The lobby failed to stop Ronald Reagan from selling AWACs to Saudi Arabia in 1981, but they made him work really, really hard to get the deal through and he never took them on again.
Injustices do not become any less unjust the longer they are unaddressed; and when it comes to the “war on terror” launched by George W. Bush following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, those injustices continue to fester and to poison America’s soul.
One of those injustices is Guantánamo, where 166 men are still imprisoned, even though 86 of them were cleared for release by a task force established by the president four years ago. Another is Bagram in Afghanistan (renamed and rebranded the Parwan Detention Facility), where the Geneva Conventions were torn up by Bush and have not been reinstated and where foreign prisoners seized elsewhere and rendered to U.S. custody in Afghanistan remain imprisoned. Some of those men have been held for as long as the men in Guantánamo, but without being allowed the rights to be visited by civilian lawyers: the men in Cuba were twice granted visitation rights by the Supreme Court — in 2004 and 2008 — even though those rights have since been taken away by judges in the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., demonstrating a susceptibility to the general hysteria regarding the “war on terror” rather than a desire to bring justice to the men in Guantánamo.
Another profound injustice — involving the kidnapping of prisoners anywhere in the world, and their rendition to “black sites” run by the CIA or to torture dungeons in other countries — also remains unaddressed.
Some of “America’s Disappeared” eventually turned up at Guantánamo, and the foreign prisoners held at Bagram also fit into that category. What happened to others, however, is as unknown now as it was six years ago, when six NGOs — including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reprieve — issued a report (PDF), “Off the Record: U.S. Responsibility for Enforced Disappearances in the ‘War on Terror,’” identifying 39 prisoners whose whereabouts were unknown
Jack Straw is a Member of Parliament (UK) and was foreign secretary, 2001-2006
'All options remain on the table”, goes the mantra. This is code for saying that the West retains the choice of using military force to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. We’ll hear it repeated this week, as negotiations between Iran and the “P5 +1” (the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and Germany) resume in Kazakhstan. On occasions, I’ve used the phrase myself. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve become convinced that it is a hindrance to negotiations, rather than a help.
If Iran were to attack Israel, or, say, one of its Arab neighbours, international law is clear: the victim has the right to retaliate. But such an attack is highly improbable. Under Article 42 of the UN Charter, the Security Council can authorise military action where there’s a “threat to international peace and security”. Such resolutions were the legal basis for the actions against Iraq in 1991 and 2003, and Libya in 2011. But there are no such Article 42 resolutions against Iran; and there won’t be – China and Russia would veto them.
There are Security Council resolutions against Iran under Article 41, but this Article explicitly excludes measures involving the use of force. These resolutions have progressively tightened international sanctions against Iran, because of its lack of full co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). With even tougher measures imposed by the US and the EU, sanctions have severely restricted Iran’s international trade, and led to the collapse of its currency, and high inflation.
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