American Jews are taking back their power from Israel

March 27, 2015

The last month has seen the greatest change in the US relationship with Israel in more than 40 years, maybe since the 1973 war, or possibly even Suez, or the creation of the state. We see President Obama repeatedly faulting the Israeli prime minister’s conduct, politicians boycotting the Israeli p.m.’s speech in Washington, and suggestions in the official pressthat Democrats are going to run against Israel in the next election season. The 1991 fight between George Bush and Yitzhak Shamir that helped elect Bill Clinton and Rabin doesn’t approach what we are seeing today. Yesterday the White House chief of staff got rousing cheers in Washington from J Street, the liberal Zionist group, as he slammed Israel as an occupier: “An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end.”

Why is this rupture happening now? Why didn’t it happen during any number of earlier provocations, from the building of Har Homa settlement outside Jerusalem to the fomenting of the Iraq war to the slaughter of Cast Lead?

This moment must be seen primarily as a generational Jewish moment. Our politicians and newspapers are speaking out because they are licensed by a segment of the official Jewish community that is deeply troubled by Israel’s behavior. In 1967, American Jews fell in love with Israel and made a solemn promise to protect the country through thick and thin. Nearly fifty years later the same community is reconsidering that vow. What we are seeing is a transfer of power from the Israeli Jewish community to the Diaspora Jewish community that Benjamin Netanyahu failed to anticipate even as he precipitated it. This transfer will not be reversed, and it marks the end of the traditional Israel lobby, though not the end of the “special relationship” between the countries.

The old lobby that so influenced US policy on the conflict for 40 years was based on a simple principle: There must never be daylight between the US administration and the Israeli government, no matter who was in power in Israel, a former terrorist, a war criminal, a rightwing lunatic. No daylight was the motto of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC holds a profound trust: it justly believes its support to be crucial to Israel’s survival, and it was able to maintain order in the official Jewish community behind the No-daylight principle through massacres and colonization because the American Jewish community deferred to the Israeli one. The deference is encapsulated by Bill Kristol’s response in an Upper West Side synagogue to Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street some years ago: It would be “cavalier” of me to sit here in comfort and criticize Israel even if I wondered about its actions, Kristol said. That attitude was reinforced by the Holocaust message, Never again, and by the Jewish religious instruction that Jews in Israel are aliyah, higher, while we in the west are yoredim, or lower.

Liberal secular Jews accepted that back seat. We were in no position to criticize Israel because we didn’t live there and our children didn’t serve in armies. My mother is typical: a liberal Democrat who votes against war and has never been to Israel, she puts photos of her best friend’s children in Israeli uniform on the refrigerator and bites her tongue about the occupation.

No doubt there have been many moments of strain between the liberal Jewish community and Israel. Sabra and Shatilla, Cast Lead, Lebanon, Operation Defensive Shield during the Second Intifada. At each of these horrors, segments of the Jewish population fell out of love for Israel, from Breira to Jews Against the Occupation to Jews Say No, but that splintering didn’t really matter in the official world. The lobby was able to marginalize dissidents so that there were no fractures in the monolith that dealt with establishment politicians. Even the group that has been the leading critic of the settlements – Americans for Peace Now — refused to leave the Conference of Presidents, a very conservative no-daylight organization, lest Peace Now lose access to power as a member of the Jewish inner circle. Peace Now valued Jewish solidarity higher than its human rights principles.

The lobby would not lose power—said MJ Rosenberg, an AIPAC apostate—until congresspeople such as Jerrold Nadler got buttonholed by reporters about their blind support for Israel. That moment finally seems to be upon us, and the question is, Why did things change now? What was special about this provocation?

The Jewish community split on Israel not because of Netanyahu’s racism or his massacres or his rubbishing of the two-state solution; but because he acted in such a way as to place American Jews’ loyalty to the United States in doubt by making the historic speech to Congress on March 3 that even the New York Times has called “subversive.” It was one thing for American Jews to support Israel when the argument could be made that American and Israeli interests aligned. Louis Brandeis helped form Zionist pressure groups in the first place by stating that it was the American way for ethnic groups to show loyalty to their own kind. But the Netanyahu speech to Congress was a shocking and unprecedented interference by a foreign leader in our politics. A generation from now people won’t believe that this even happened. It did happen. A warmongering prime minister sought to undermine a president’s peacemaking policy by coming to Congress at the invitation of Republicans to fight the president’s deal with Iran. The power-play surely reflected the importance of conservative Jewish money in our political process– Bill Kristol’s group the Emergency Committee for Israel had given $1 million to make the career of the Republican freshman senator at the head of insurgency– and it was agonizing to Jews and Democrats who are also beholden to the lobby. The New York Times stated their dilemma plainly: they would “need to make an awkward, painful choice between the president of their country and their loyalty to the Jewish state.” Their loyalty to the Jewish state! Those words are shocking and nearly seditious; and many Democrats made a clear choice, they were on Obama’s side. The Netanyahu speech was surely popular in Israel – when I was there last week, even young people at the polls praised him for his strength – and it delighted the neoconservatives, but it angered liberal Jews.

It took a while for that outrage to coalesce over the six weeks between the announcement of the speech in January and the speech in March. For some time, the main response in the Jewish community was to wish the speech did not happen. J Street pleaded with the Prime Minister not to make Americans have to choose sides over Israel. And even AIPAC worked behind the scenes to try and make the nightmare go away. But the speech went forward, and it did what J Street and AIPAC both feared: it caused Americans and American Jews to have to take a stand. This was a no-brainer for liberal Jews. They would be with their president. As MJ Rosenberg has often said, if American Jews are faced with a choice between open dual loyalty and walking away from Israel, they will walk away from Israel. (We know which side our bread is buttered.)

Of course many other Americans were angered by Netanyahu’s act of daring. But I believe that Jews drove the political shift. You can see that in Chris Matthews’s handling of the matter. Today he is one of the biggest critics in our media of Netanyahu and his speech. He talks about it every night. But in the first couple of days of the outrage he had nothing to say, even though the outrage was as obvious then as it is now, and his first comments were strained. He was awaiting the cue, waiting to see where the Jewish establishment (the sort of people he works for, the heads of Comcast in Philadephia, pro-Israel Jews) was going to line up. When Matthews saw that elements of the Jewish establishment were going to criticize the speech forcefully, he began to criticize it more and more strongly. Today he is a leader on the issue, and he is echoing J Street’s line: Netanyahu has savaged the two-state solution, which the world believes in. Last night Matthews praised J Street as a strong group and the big winner of the Netanyahu scandal; and at J Street’s conference, Morton Halperin (father of Mark Halperin, who appears on Matthews) said that the Prime Minister was a racist who had blocked the two state solution.

Today for the first time in decades, we can see an open divide inside the Jewish establishment over Israel. AIPAC is for tightening Iran sanctions; it devoted its policy conference to that push. J Street is all for the president’s deal; its policy conference was about getting a deal with Iran. AIPAC is urging the president to patch up his relationship with Netanyahu in a hurry; but J Street revels in the new daylight. Netanyahu was repeatedly attacked from the stage at J Street. The young people cheered whenever there was criticism of the occupation.

The moment is generational because six years ago J Street tried to pull off this same political move and it failed. In the belief that American Jews opposed settlements, it resolved to drive a wedge in US politics between those who supported settlements and those who opposed them. That was also President Obama’s policy. He said that the settlements must end. But there was massive pushback inside the Democratic Party Jewish community toward any criticism of the settlement project. Obama folded at the U.N., and J Street folded too. It began talking instead about settling on borders (i.e., accepting the settlement blocs). The president made sure that the Democratic Party supported Israel’s control over Jerusalem in 2012, surely to capture Haim Saban’s millions.

But today U.S. policy is getting shaken up. At J Street this year they cheered for a Palestinian state and the president’s chief of staff indicated that the U.S. would take Netanyahu on over settlements. Chris Matthews campaigns for the two-state solution every night. Will this shift make any difference in the conflict? I don’t think so. It is too late for the two state solution; any real effort to establish a viable Palestinian state would start a civil war in Israel. We are at the beginning of a tumultuous period inside Israeli society, as Noam Sheizaf warned J Street; while Nabila Espanioly stated that Israeli “fascism” is at our door. Americans are finally waking up to what Israel is.

The significance of the rupture is the political and psychological shift inside the American Jewish community. The civil war will begin here. For two generations the Jewish community was unwilling to criticize Israel. In the face of events that would cause a Jewish uprising in the U.S. — from racist atrocities to policies merging church and state–  the Jewish community was silent because it had made a vow in the 1970s to provide political life support to Israel.

Today that deal has been broken; and the American discourse will only get better. J Street tried to circumscribe the official statements on its stage to Zionists, and Halperin pledged to fight the boycott movement; but free speech is free speech, and many panelists expressed heretical views. Marcia Freedman spoke up for cultural Zionism, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum called for Jewish spaces to open their doors to anti-Zionists, and Huda Abu Arqoub called for the boycott and downfall of the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli politicians who appeared at J Street looked dazed and lost. When the rockstar of Israeli Labor, 29-year-old Stav Shaffir, called for “separation” from Palestinians, the hall was silent. Once this American conversation begins, it will never end. More and more Jews will understand that Zionism is incompatible with liberalism. And Jewish Voice for Peace and the BDS movement will be the beneficiaries.

For forty years we saw the demise of the Jewish intellect in blind support of Israel. A leading liberal community had abandoned its post. The overreach by a thuggish racist foreign leader in American politics has stirred that community to life. America won’t be the same.

area148.com

NY Times lowers its standards by publishing John Bolton

March 27, 2015

The New York Times Thursday published a prominent opinion piece entitled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”

The author was John R. Bolton, a former State Department official and, for a brief period, US ambassador to the United Nations, under the administration of George W. Bush. He became an influential figure in the administration after serving as a lawyer in the Bush campaign’s successful operation to steal the 2000 election by stopping the vote count in Florida.

Bolton, it must be said, has been calling for an immediate military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities—by either Israel or the US, or both—for at least the last seven years. On each occasion, he has warned darkly that unless his prescription for intensive bombing followed by “regime change” was adopted within days, the world would face the threat of an Iranian nuclear attack.

Thursday’s column was no different. “President Obama’s approach on Iran has brought a bad situation to the brink of catastrophe,” Bolton writes. He is referring to the attempt by Washington, together with the other member nations of the UN Security Council plus Germany, to negotiate restrictions on a nuclear program that Iran insists is strictly for civilian purposes in return for easing punishing economic sanctions.

“Even absent palpable proof, like a nuclear test, Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons has long been evident,” according to Bolton. Despite the lack of “palpable proof,” Bolton insists that Iran’s unwillingness to “negotiate away its nuclear program” and the inability of sanctions to “block its building of a broad and deep weapons infrastructure” constitute an “inescapable conclusion.”

He continues: “The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.”

Bolton, who has made an entire career of suppressing “inconvenient truths,” allows that he would prefer an all-out US bombing campaign, but would accept a US-backed attack by Israel.

“The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary,” he writes. He adds that this military onslaught must be combined with US efforts “aimed at regime change in Tehran.”

What is involved here is an open appeal for the launching of a war of criminal aggression and incitement of mass murder. The unbridled militarism expressed in Bolton’s column would not be out of place in the writings of Hitler’s foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, the first to hang at Nuremberg after his conviction on charges of crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in organizing the Nazi regime’s wars of aggression.

The question arises, why has he been given a forum in the editorial pages of the New York Times, the supposed newspaper of record and erstwhile voice of American liberalism?

The obvious answer is that any differences the Times editorial board—or for that matter the Obama administration—have with Bolton over Iran are of an entirely tactical character. All of them stand by the principle that US imperialism has the unique right to carry out unprovoked “preemptive” war anywhere on the planet where it perceives a potential challenge to its interests.

Not so long ago, Bolton, who personifies this arrogant and criminal policy, and the Times were on the same page politically and on essentially the very same lines he presents in his latest column on Iran.

In 2002, Bolton was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and a point man in the Bush administration’s campaign to prepare a war of aggression against Iraq based upon the lies that Saddam Hussein was developing “weapons of mass destruction” and preparing to hand them over to Al Qaeda.

Bolton, described by one of his former colleagues at the State Department as “the quintessential kiss up, kick down kind of guy,” had been an advocate of aggression against Iraq at least since 1998, when he joined other right-wingers in signing an “Open letter to the president” demanding such a war.

In the run-up to war, he played a central role in manufacturing phony evidence of the existence of Iraqi WMD. This included the promotion of the crude forgeries indicating that Iraq was seeking to procure yellowcake (concentrated uranium) from Niger.

During this same period, the Times provided invaluable assistance to this propaganda campaign. Its senior correspondent Judith Miller was working in alliance with administration officials and right-wing think tanks to confirm and embellish upon the lies about WMD. Thomas Friedman, the paper’s chief foreign affairs columnist, was churning out column after column justifying what he readily acknowledged was a “war of choice” against Iraq, justifying it in the name of democracy, human rights and oil.

As the reputed newspaper “of record,” the Times set the tone for the rest of the corporate media, which together worked to overcome popular opposition to a war in the Middle East.

The results are well known. The war claimed the lives of over a million Iraqis, devastated an entire society and threw the whole region into chaos. In the process, some 4,500 US troops lost their lives, tens of thousands more were maimed and wounded and some $2 trillion was expended. A dozen years later, the Obama administration has launched a new war in Iraq, supposedly to halt the advance of ISIS, a force that it effectively backed in the war for regime change in Syria.

No one has ever been held accountable for these war crimes; not Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bolton and others who conspired to drag the American people into a war of aggression based upon lies. And not the editors of theTimes who produced the propaganda that facilitated their conspiracy.

On the other hand, those who oppose war—from Private Chelsea Manning, who exposed war crimes in Iraq, to Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was sickened by the atrocities carried out against the people of Afghanistan—are submitted to a media lynching and then given the full measure of “military justice.”

In publishing Bolton’s column, the Times is making sure that it burns no bridges to the most right-wing and sociopathic layers of the American ruling establishment. While it may differ with them now over an imminent bombing of Iran, future US wars—including against Russia or China, where the propaganda mills of the Times are grinding once again—will undoubtedly bring them back into sync.

www.zoneasia-pk.com

The minorities of India

March 27, 2015

Area 14/8

Has India’s mainstream media decided to pay mere lip service to secularism and liberalism while ignoring daily attacks on them by the extremist Sangh Parivar in which the Bharatiya Janata Party is embedded? Going by the media’s silence on several recent developments, that seems to be the case.

No newspaper noticed the irony of a representative of the Sangh Parivar – the very current that inspired the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi – being invited to the unveiling of his statue in London. This event was organised mainly by the Tories, who never had any love lost for Gandhi, with an eye on the British-Gujarati vote in the coming election.

Earlier, Britain’s prosperous Gujarati businessmen lobbied the Cameron government to reach an odious rapprochement with Narendra Modi, who had long faced global isolation for the 2002 anti-Muslim violence. The rapprochement happened a year before he emerged as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. It was rationalised on the ground that Gujarat offers “dynamic and thriving” opportunities in “business” (yes) and “education”(hardly)!

Again, many papers criticised the Parivar’s hysterical campaigns against Love Jihad and Ghar Wapsi. But very few trenchantly criticised the premises on which they are based, or noted the effect they have had in debasing the national discourse or making the religious minorities insecure.

Many commentators went along with the Parivar premise that all Indian Muslims and Christians are converts from Hinduism (not true), and therefore the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has the right to reconvert them (which it doesn’t, thanks to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of conscience).

The Parivar has further poisoned the climate by unleashing three offensives: attacking Christian institutions; pushing brazenly majoritarian policies in BJP-ruled states; and making communal appointments to the Indian Council of Historical Research. The Parivar’s Long March through the institutions will prove more damaging to democracy than Ghar Wapsi.

Christian institutions have come under vicious attack especially since RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat accused Mother Teresa a month ago of using charitable work as a cover for religious conversion. In Delhi, five churches were attacked in nine weeks. A 71-year-old nun was raped in West Bengal and a church was vandalised in Hissar in Haryana. Christians have also been subjected to reconversion drives in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

BJP MP Subramanian Swamy added insult to injury by saying that churches and mosques, unlike Hindu temples, are not holy places, but mere buildings that can be demolished. Haryana’s chief minister, no less, defended the Hissar attackers by claiming that the church priest was trying to convert Hindu men by promising them brides, as if that justified crass vandalism!

Not to be left behind, VHP joint general secretary Surendra Jain called the 1857 anti-British revolt an anti-Christian war and threatened similar wars against conversions. He asked whether a Hanuman temple would be allowed in the Vatican. Worse, he said sexual exploitation of nuns was part of Christian, not Hindu, culture; the Pope is so worried about it that he’s promoting gay sex. This disgusting anti-Christian tirade impelled former Punjab police chief Julio Ribeiro to say “I feel I am on a hit list”. He hinted that Modi failed to stop the attacks. Ribeiro’s intervention will have a massive impact in India and abroad.

BJP-ruled governments are subverting democracy in multiple ways: lifting the ban on their employees from joining the RSS (Chhattisgarh), making the teaching of the Bhagwad-Gita compulsory in schools (Haryana), and punishing possession, sale or consumption of beef with five years’ imprisonment (Maharashtra).

Allowing state employees to join the RSS undermines the principle of a politically impartial bureaucracy, which is at the heart of a rule-of-law society. The RSS is not a social or cultural organisation. It’s a political entity. It lays down the BJP’s political line and nominates its key organisational personnel. Gujarat similarly lifted the RSS ban in 2000, but reversed the step under Vajpayee’s orders. Yet the move sent a signal to the bureaucracy and police whose dreadful impact became visible in 2002.

The BJP is taking its proselytisation drive even to posh private schools like Ryan International (133 branches), whose managing director is the BJP women’s front secretary. Its staff and students are being recruited into the BJP on pain of salary cuts or other punishment.

Take beef. Surveys show that three-fourths of all beef sold is consumed by Hindus, especially poor, mainly Dalit, Hindus. Not only is beef a cheap source of good-quality protein. Banning the slaughter of old and unproductive cattle will deprive huge numbers of butchers of their livelihoods, increase pressure on shrinking pastures, and further degrade the environment.

The whole idea that the majority’s food preferences should be imposed upon the rest is profoundly undemocratic. No pious upper-caste Hindu should be forced to eat beef, or watch cows being killed. But equally, no Muslim, northeastern tribal, Christian or Dalit should be deprived of the choice of eating what they like.

Take the new ICHR appointments. The Modi government has broken the long-standing convention of reappointing members who have completed one term (of the maximum of two they can hold), and purged the council of accomplished secular-minded scholars.

The 18 new appointees, barring a couple, are close to the Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana, an obnoxiously obscurantist group, some of whose members believe the Taj Mahal is a Hindu temple, and the Ramayana is a historical, not religious-mythological, text! Among the new members are physicist MD Srinivas, and Michel Danino, who has written about the mythical ‘lost river’ Saraswati, and made fantastic claims about science in ancient India.

The Parivar’s new aggression seems to be related to a larger understanding reached between the BJP and the RSS, which became evident at the Sangh’s just-concluded Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha. The RSS has set aside its differences with the BJP on Jammu and Kashmir, the Land Acquisition Ordinance, and raising foreign investment in insurance, etc, to back the ruling alliance solidly. These differences aren’t trivial. Some actions of the PDP-BJP alliance are directly at odds with the RSS’ core positions on Kashmir, but the very fact that the alliance is in power is a coup for the Sangh. Similarly, the Bharatiya Kisan Union has problems with the land ordinance, but the RSS has told it not to oppose it.

The RSS believes that with the BJP in power with a majority, it has a unique opportunity to mainstream itself by capturing social and state institutions, and opening up issues long considered settled, such as Hinduism’s socio-cultural primacy, religious conversion, etc, which could help redefine India as a Hindu society.

The RSS needs the support of state power to do this and grow. So it’ll back the BJP’s pro-corporate neoliberal economic policies. The BJP, in turn, will give the Parivar a good deal of freedom to push its ultraconservative social agenda. That’s why Modi has done nothing to restrain the Parivar, barring issuing a weak, vague statement against inciting religious hatred.

The Parivar is no longer ‘fringe’; it’s an almost equal partner of the BJP. Despite the strenuous efforts of some confused, and some very devious, elements to give it semi-respectability, the BJP remains an extremist party, with a hardline, expansionist Hindu-supremacist agenda – and a menace to democracy.

Iran replaces US in Yemen

March 27, 2015

To understand how the hurried evacuation of U.S. special operations forces from Yemen is connected to Iran’s regional strategy, look no further than Atheel al-Nujaifi, the Sunni governor of Iraq’s Nineveh Province.

On Sunday, Nujaifi sent a letter to U.S. leaders warning that his country was at a tipping point with regard to Iranian influence. As U.S. forces wait on the sidelines in an Iranian-led campaign to liberate Tikrit, Nujaifi said he worried that his country was being lost to Iran.

In other words, what has just happened in Yemen — where an Iranian-armed and advised militia has overthrown a pro-American government — could happen soon in Iraq.

Nujaifi, whose province includes Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul, addressed his letter to Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and asked that it be placed into the record for a hearing this week on the administration’s strategy against the Islamic State. The Iraqi governor also sent copies to President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, Secretary of State John Kerry and John Allen, the retired Marine general who is U.S. envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State.

Royce told me that he agrees with Nujaifi that the administration has failed to challenge Iran’s efforts to expand throughout the Middle East.  “The fact that the governor is compelled to reach out directly to us in Congress speaks volumes about the sway that Iran holds over critical positions in the government in Baghdad,” he said.

Nujaifi wrote that Iran “has essentially taken over the fight in Iraq against ISIS.” He added, “But the threat goes even deeper — there is a grave and immediate threat that Iran is taking over decisive points in the government of Iraq itself.”

Some may see that as a statement of the obvious. It has been a refrain for years that America did the fighting in Iraq but Iran won the war. Iran’s Shiite government already has considerable influence with the Shiite-majority that rules Iraq today

But this was not always the case. In 2008, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent forces to fight Iranian-backed special groups in Basra. And even though many Sunni Arabs boycott the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad today,  some Sunni politicians, including Nujaifi and new Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi, are still trying to protect Iraq’s independence from Iran.

Since America’s troop withdrawal in 2011, Iran’s influence has grown, but Iraq is still in play. When Obama agreed last summer to begin bombing Islamic State targets and send military advisers to the country, many Iraqi Sunnis were hopeful that American influence would blunt Iran’s expansionism.

Nujaifi is now warning that this isn’t what happened. He said in his letter that he still has faith that Iraq’s prime minister, Haidar al-Abadi, was working to protect his country’s independence. But at the same time, Nujaifi warned about several recent developments that would undermine this goal.

The first is the presence in Iraq of Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s powerful Quds Force. He said Suleimani led the campaign in Iraq to funnel roadside bombs used by insurgents against U.S. military convoys in the last decade.

Nujaifi also warned about recent public statements from the leaders of Shiite militias welcoming the Iranian presence in Iraq and the role of Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis, a militia leader who is now in charge of the Iraqi volunteers fighting the Islamic State. In his letter he said that Muhandis, too, was responsible for terrorist attacks on U.S. soldiers.

Al-Nujaifi writes that he was particularly worried about Iran’s recent shipment of  Fajr-5 artillery rockets and Fateh-110 missiles to Iraq’s military. “In addition to the billions of dollars in weapons and military equipment that Iran has previously provided,” he wrote, “this gives Iran the crucial ability to directly influence, even control, elements of the Iraq Government.” These weapons also make the Shiite militias deadlier, and undercut the authority of Defense Minister Obeidi.

Over the last two years, U.S. intelligence agencies watched a similar development in Yemen, with Iranian arms shipments to the Houthi militias. A recently retired senior U.S. intelligence official told me the Houthis were poorly organized and ineffective until they started getting better arms from Iran.

Now that the U.S. has no presence in Yemen — the embassy was evacuated in February along with the CIA station in Sana, the capital — other regional actors are filling the void. On Monday, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal, said his country was preparing steps to counter Iranian aggression. Over the weekend, Yemen’s weakened president, Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi, asked other Gulf States to intervene as well.

Yet the U.S. seems remarkably blase about all this. On Monday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf acknowledged the Iranian role in arming the Houthis, but said that she did not expect Kerry and his negotiating team to raise Iran’s role in Yemen with the Iranian delegation at nuclear negotiations this week in Switzerland.

“Those conversations are complicated and difficult enough as it is without putting in all these other difficult issues,” Harf said. “Often issues in the news come up sort of in passing on the sidelines of these conversations, but the negotiations are focused on the nuclear issue.”

If a deal is reached before the end of March, it will require even more sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for more intrusive inspections. Royce said that even before the negotiations began, when the U.S. unfroze some Iranian assets at the end of 2013, ambassadors for Gulf countries predicted the cash would be used to destabilize the region: “We’re seeing today what every Gulf ambassador predicted Iran would do, we’re seeing Iran destabilize the region.”

U.S. allies in the Middle East — from Israel to Saudi Arabia — are certainly worried about Iran’s nuclear program. But as they watch events unfold in Iraq and Yemen, they must also wonder whether an agreement from such an aggressive country will be worth the paper it’s written on.

tacstrat.com

The minorities of India

March 27, 2015

Has India’s mainstream media decided to pay mere lip service to secularism and liberalism while ignoring daily attacks on them by the extremist Sangh Parivar in which the Bharatiya Janata Party is embedded? Going by the media’s silence on several recent developments, that seems to be the case.

No newspaper noticed the irony of a representative of the Sangh Parivar – the very current that inspired the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi – being invited to the unveiling of his statue in London. This event was organised mainly by the Tories, who never had any love lost for Gandhi, with an eye on the British-Gujarati vote in the coming election.

Earlier, Britain’s prosperous Gujarati businessmen lobbied the Cameron government to reach an odious rapprochement with Narendra Modi, who had long faced global isolation for the 2002 anti-Muslim violence. The rapprochement happened a year before he emerged as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. It was rationalised on the ground that Gujarat offers “dynamic and thriving” opportunities in “business” (yes) and “education”(hardly)!

Again, many papers criticised the Parivar’s hysterical campaigns against Love Jihad and Ghar Wapsi. But very few trenchantly criticised the premises on which they are based, or noted the effect they have had in debasing the national discourse or making the religious minorities insecure.

Many commentators went along with the Parivar premise that all Indian Muslims and Christians are converts from Hinduism (not true), and therefore the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has the right to reconvert them (which it doesn’t, thanks to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of conscience).

The Parivar has further poisoned the climate by unleashing three offensives: attacking Christian institutions; pushing brazenly majoritarian policies in BJP-ruled states; and making communal appointments to the Indian Council of Historical Research. The Parivar’s Long March through the institutions will prove more damaging to democracy than Ghar Wapsi.

Christian institutions have come under vicious attack especially since RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat accused Mother Teresa a month ago of using charitable work as a cover for religious conversion. In Delhi, five churches were attacked in nine weeks. A 71-year-old nun was raped in West Bengal and a church was vandalised in Hissar in Haryana. Christians have also been subjected to reconversion drives in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

BJP MP Subramanian Swamy added insult to injury by saying that churches and mosques, unlike Hindu temples, are not holy places, but mere buildings that can be demolished. Haryana’s chief minister, no less, defended the Hissar attackers by claiming that the church priest was trying to convert Hindu men by promising them brides, as if that justified crass vandalism!

Not to be left behind, VHP joint general secretary Surendra Jain called the 1857 anti-British revolt an anti-Christian war and threatened similar wars against conversions. He asked whether a Hanuman temple would be allowed in the Vatican. Worse, he said sexual exploitation of nuns was part of Christian, not Hindu, culture; the Pope is so worried about it that he’s promoting gay sex. This disgusting anti-Christian tirade impelled former Punjab police chief Julio Ribeiro to say “I feel I am on a hit list”. He hinted that Modi failed to stop the attacks. Ribeiro’s intervention will have a massive impact in India and abroad.

BJP-ruled governments are subverting democracy in multiple ways: lifting the ban on their employees from joining the RSS (Chhattisgarh), making the teaching of the Bhagwad-Gita compulsory in schools (Haryana), and punishing possession, sale or consumption of beef with five years’ imprisonment (Maharashtra).

Allowing state employees to join the RSS undermines the principle of a politically impartial bureaucracy, which is at the heart of a rule-of-law society. The RSS is not a social or cultural organisation. It’s a political entity. It lays down the BJP’s political line and nominates its key organisational personnel. Gujarat similarly lifted the RSS ban in 2000, but reversed the step under Vajpayee’s orders. Yet the move sent a signal to the bureaucracy and police whose dreadful impact became visible in 2002.

The BJP is taking its proselytisation drive even to posh private schools like Ryan International (133 branches), whose managing director is the BJP women’s front secretary. Its staff and students are being recruited into the BJP on pain of salary cuts or other punishment.

Take beef. Surveys show that three-fourths of all beef sold is consumed by Hindus, especially poor, mainly Dalit, Hindus. Not only is beef a cheap source of good-quality protein. Banning the slaughter of old and unproductive cattle will deprive huge numbers of butchers of their livelihoods, increase pressure on shrinking pastures, and further degrade the environment.

The whole idea that the majority’s food preferences should be imposed upon the rest is profoundly undemocratic. No pious upper-caste Hindu should be forced to eat beef, or watch cows being killed. But equally, no Muslim, northeastern tribal, Christian or Dalit should be deprived of the choice of eating what they like.

Take the new ICHR appointments. The Modi government has broken the long-standing convention of reappointing members who have completed one term (of the maximum of two they can hold), and purged the council of accomplished secular-minded scholars.

The 18 new appointees, barring a couple, are close to the Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana, an obnoxiously obscurantist group, some of whose members believe the Taj Mahal is a Hindu temple, and the Ramayana is a historical, not religious-mythological, text! Among the new members are physicist MD Srinivas, and Michel Danino, who has written about the mythical ‘lost river’ Saraswati, and made fantastic claims about science in ancient India.

The Parivar’s new aggression seems to be related to a larger understanding reached between the BJP and the RSS, which became evident at the Sangh’s just-concluded Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha. The RSS has set aside its differences with the BJP on Jammu and Kashmir, the Land Acquisition Ordinance, and raising foreign investment in insurance, etc, to back the ruling alliance solidly. These differences aren’t trivial. Some actions of the PDP-BJP alliance are directly at odds with the RSS’ core positions on Kashmir, but the very fact that the alliance is in power is a coup for the Sangh. Similarly, the Bharatiya Kisan Union has problems with the land ordinance, but the RSS has told it not to oppose it.

The RSS believes that with the BJP in power with a majority, it has a unique opportunity to mainstream itself by capturing social and state institutions, and opening up issues long considered settled, such as Hinduism’s socio-cultural primacy, religious conversion, etc, which could help redefine India as a Hindu society.

The RSS needs the support of state power to do this and grow. So it’ll back the BJP’s pro-corporate neoliberal economic policies. The BJP, in turn, will give the Parivar a good deal of freedom to push its ultraconservative social agenda. That’s why Modi has done nothing to restrain the Parivar, barring issuing a weak, vague statement against inciting religious hatred.

The Parivar is no longer ‘fringe’; it’s an almost equal partner of the BJP. Despite the strenuous efforts of some confused, and some very devious, elements to give it semi-respectability, the BJP remains an extremist party, with a hardline, expansionist Hindu-supremacist agenda – and a menace to democracy.

area148.com

Failing society and its grim consequences

March 27, 2015

Even as tragedy surrounds us, what is still more tragic is the fashion in which we allow thinking to be distorted and events twisted to fit specific notions. In many cases these notions are social constructs, built by a media that follows a specific, narrow tunnel of thought and apparently seems hell-bent on ensuring no one looks far beyond its confines.

The fact that the media is essentially united in its perspective, despite the multitude of channels, means that the tunnel it has set up is a constricted one with no windows or peep holes that would allow in light.

The aftermath of the bomb blasts that killed 15 church-goers on a Sunday morning in the impoverished Youhanabad locality of Lahore has been horrific at many different levels. The children killed, the wage-earners taken away or those who will carry permanent scars have been spoken about too little. Instead focus has been shifted to the two men allegedly beaten and burned alive as suspects by a mob immediately after the blasts. There is some ambiguity as to precisely what happened – who these men were and where they came from with some accounts suggesting they were in police custody before being set upon by the mob. An inquiry into the incident is needed.

But regardless of the details, the incident itself was horrific. It cannot, and must not, be condoned. We should however ask if it was more horrific, more terrible, than the bombing itself. The stories from that act of targeted terrorism have received only limited coverage. We know little about the three-year-old girl, now an orphan, whose parents had come from Mian Channu to seek work. Perhaps they were praying for a better life when they were torn apart by the blast. There has been little effort to look at the prospects of the family with four children whose father was killed; or at the many other tragedies that mingle with the blood left on the church floor.

Yet, somehow, these have been placed somewhere to the side. The talk focuses essentially on the mob killings, on the woman driver caught in a protest who ran over two persons. It is the victims of these incidents who draw deep sighs and shakes of the head. Yes, they deserve this. But so too do those killed by the bombings. We must also ask ourselves some hard questions. To what degree is the fact that they were non-Muslim tied in to the response? Certainly, everywhere we see some hesitation in accepting them as our own people, no different under our law and the laws of humanity to the Muslim majority.

Somehow the mobs of Christians are depicted as being especially savage, especially unruly, with effort made to describe the chaos they had created for days in parts of the city. The language used cannot be insignificant either: ‘rioters’, ‘violent mobs’, ‘unruly youth’. All these terms have been used more often than the more neutral word ‘protesters’. The peaceful vigils staged in churches, schools and elsewhere have received only passing attention. They do not make news as do the unfortunate actions of other groups.

The condemnation that has poured in is in contrast to the reaction which followed the November 2014 burning, in their own brick kiln, of a young Christian couple Saima and Sajjid Masih in Kot Radha Kishan. There is no evidence that suggests the husband and wife, dragged away by a mob of 500 to 600 people – or should we say ‘Muslims’ to replicate the pattern seen in the Lahore case – had committed the blasphemy they were accused of. Their small children watched as their parents were beaten; so did the few policemen present there.

But we witnessed little of the outrage, the anger, the fury over attacks on shops that we see now. Different standards exist and we forget easily, too easily, that in other incident young men have been beaten to death for alleged theft, robbers burnt alive in Karachi.

The mob actions in Lahore are then not unique. Yes, they are unacceptable – just as much as the others that have come before. But we live in a time of bias, in some cases so deeply rooted that it is not even recognised. Within this world some people are less equal than others. Certainly, Saima and Sajjid Masih’s horrendous fate does not move us as much as that of the two men killed months later in Lahore. Is the second name of the victims the factor? Do we just allow ourselves to drift wherever the media takes us or where opinions push us? These are certainly factors to think about.

Beyond the manner in which we have moulded our view of society, even when we claim not to be prejudiced, is the issue of increasing incidents of mob violence and dangerous vigilantism. This stems largely from the fact that people believe they have no access to justice; that there is no one to hear their grievances. Certainly, the Christians would feel this way.

There has been no success in preventing the periodic violence they suffer, not even after the 2013 Peshawar church attack that killed at least 80; not after the murders at the brick kiln or attacks in other places. We have also created a different kind of discrimination, with Christians, and other minority groups held away from the mainstream and prevented from making social, economic or professional progress.

Anger then is inevitable. It is this lurking anger in society that has led to so many incidents of violence that we see. The minorities are worse affected than other groups, but everyone suffers in one way or the other. The Christians of Youhanabad clearly reacted in an unfortunate rage. Their actions cannot be justified. But perhaps we should be making a greater effort to understand them so that they are not repeated. If we do not do so, they will be and we will see the same suffering again and again.

We also need to weld our society better together. It is in danger of falling apart. Justice is a primary ingredient in this process. So is a sense of equality and fair play. These do not exist at the moment. Inequity is also caused by economics and class stratification, not just religion. At the present moment, we seem bent on creating divide and supremacy for certain groups above others.

Non-Muslim schoolchildren are generally forced to study Islamiat in most parts of the country due to a lack of choice. Books on ethics are being introduced but in a strangely mono-centric approach to the world, these compare other religions to Islam. Perhaps we need to focus on teaching humanity and civic sense in a far broader approach to a topic that has become essential to our survival as a nation.

In the meanwhile, the repercussions from Youhanabad continue for all who live there. Both Christians and Muslims in the area suffer as a result of heightened tensions between the two groups. A huge role has been played by external elements in stirring these up and the consequences of course are grim for a community that already suffers deprivation and all that arises from it. There is much that needs to be thought about. Sadly, no one appears to be willing to do the thinking.

Area 14/8

The real face of Israel exposed in election results

March 27, 2015

Elections are public windows onto national hopes and concerns, and this was certainly the case with the March 2015 voting in Israel. You just have to look through that window with analytical eyes to assess those national yearnings in their essential details.

At first glance the campaigning suggested that most Israelis were focused on economics. This would not be unusual. Just about all democratic elections are fought over bread and butter issues, and Israel has evolved into a society that is harshly divided between haves and have-nots. However, as it turned out, this campaign theme could not have been of primary importance. This is so because the man who symbolises the dysfunctional economic status quo, Benjamin Netanyahu (aka Bibi), actually won the election. Indeed his hard-right Likud Party improved its position in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, from 19 to 30 seats. Obviously, something else was motivating the Israeli voter. What was it?

The answer to that question is fear – or, in Israeli terms, the issue of security. Netanyahu stoked this fear with warnings of a massive Arab Israeli turnout and other examples of racist-tinged propaganda, and this led many Israeli Jews to decide, in the privacy of the voting booth, that they were more afraid of Palestinians than of poverty. At the same time most of these voters refused to face the fact that much of this fear is self-induced.

Israel has evolved into one of the most racist countries on earth and at the heart of its racism is the ideologically driven desire for a state reserved primarily for Jews. To accomplish this, Israel as a nation has dispossessed and oppressed the Palestinians. This practice has prevailed for so long that 60 percent of Israeli Jews cannot envision an end to the resulting struggle. So fear of Palestinian resistance, with its implied threat of destruction, or at least transformation, of the Jewish state has always been their ultimate security issue.

It would seem that concern over security and its attendant fear caused enough Israelis, who would have otherwise voted their pocketbooks, to vote instead for the “no Palestinian state on my watch”, free-marketeer Bibi Netanyahu. And that allowed his Likud Party to win.

Given that so many Israeli Jews voted for Netanyahu’s Likud Party or one of the parties allied to it, what can they look for as a result? Well, they can hope against hope for their longed-for security. However, objectively speaking, this expectation is foolhardy. This will be Netanyahu’s fourth term as prime minister and Israel is still the least safe place on the planet for Jews. In addition, thanks to Netanyahu’s policies, life for Jews outside of Israel is less, rather than more, secure.

Also, Netanyahu has adopted positions and policies which, if pressed forward (as they now surely will be), can only rebound negatively on Israel in the international arena. Over time these policies have upset most of the governments of the western world (an exception being the US Congress), and that feeling may now grow and make more likely stronger reactions both from the Europeans, the United Nations, and the White House as well.

Israel’s voters can also look forward to an emboldened Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel movement, which will no doubt pick up supporters as a result of Netanyahu’s re-election. Then there is the allegation of Israeli war crimes now being considered by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Bibi’s return to power will ensure that this process continues.

Finally, many Israelis can expect to stay poor under Netanyahu’s free market policies.

In the near run things may not change much for the Palestinians. With Netanyahu re-elected, any Israeli talk of compromise, if it is articulated at all, will be recognized as empty propaganda. We can speculate that if Likud’s strongest rival, the Zionist Union headed by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, had won the recent election, they would perhaps have muddied the waters for the Palestinians – perhaps reopening ‘negotiations’ with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian National Authority, probably then causing the latter to put on hold Palestinian charges of Israeli war crimes at the ICC, and then tempting the aging Abbas with some form of Bantustan. That is the very best the Palestinians could have gotten from any Zionist government.

It is realisation of this hard fact that many Palestinians and their supporters would rather see Netanyahu in charge: the issues then at least remain crystal clear rather than fogged over by false hopes.

On the bright side of the equation the united Arab List did very well in the recent election and garnered 14 seats. This makes the Israeli Arab coalition the third largest bloc in the Knesset and thus a potential major opposition voice. Arab Israeli leaders will now demand seats on parliamentary committees. They will almost certainly be ignored or, at best, relegated to unimportant places. For the rest of the world, their poor treatment will become more obvious and Israel’s claim to democratic status all the less persuasive.

The sad truth is that the present leaders of the mainstream Jewish community in the US have long favoured the Likud leadership in Israel. Some of these Jewish leaders believe that tough-minded Likudniks are the best hedge against the ‘inevitable’ next Holocaust, while others will back whoever is in charge because they are ideologically fixated on Israel as their cause celebre. Thus, all of them are no doubt pleased with Netanyahu’s return to power. This is also the case for the US’s Christian Zionists who are motivated by religious delusions about what it takes to bring about the Second Coming of their preferred god. It is a mistake to see these attitudes as generational. In both cases they will be with us for a long time. For all these people, Netanyahu’s re-election means business as usual.

The consequences of Netanyahu’s victory for liberal American Jews and their organisations is really problematic. If they can hold onto their membership, they might press on despite all. On the other hand, many liberal Jews might just give up and become quiet, which of course is what the hard-line Zionists want. But it is also likely that liberal Zionist organizations will lose members to more relevant and outspoken organisations such as Jewish Voices For Peace. That would be a move in a progressive, and realistic, direction.

Then there are the Republican Party officials. Their comfort level with the Bibi and his Likudniks is a matter of style and character. President Obama, and no doubt many other Democrats, would have preferred Netanyahu’s political demise and replacement with a Herzog-Livni coalition. Obama wants Zionists willing to at least put on a front of flexibility.

Finally, there is Netanyahu’s obsession with the Iran question and US negotiations with that country. Bibi will no doubt feel emboldened by his electoral victory, and once he forms his coalition and consolidates power, the White House can expect him to resume his nagging and nay-saying ways on this issue. Once the deal with Iran is struck (and I think it will be), one can anticipate Netanyahu’s collusion with the Republicans to undermine and, if they can, ultimately sabotage President Obama’s one notable contribution to a more peaceful and stable world.

area148.com

China’s rising interest in Europe

March 26, 2015

Chinese investors have a powerful attraction to companies in the European Union, and their targets are increasingly high-profile. In recent days, they’ve shown interest in an 18-building compound on Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz and in the Italian tire-maker Pirelli. For some unfathomable reason, Europe considers Chinese investors, even state-owned ones, more benign than, say, Russian ones.

Until 2011, China was mostly a receiver of European investment, but then the debt crisis drove down asset prices. Some governments became desperate to privatize, and venerable corporations got less picky about potential investors. Chinese buyers acquired Volvo in Sweden, a large stake in Peugeot Citroen and fashion house Sonya Rykiel in France, the Piraeus Port in Greece, Pizza Express restaurants and the upscale clothing maker Aquascutum in the U.K. Chinese investment increased exponentially:

ChineseEUdfi

BAKER & MCKENZIE / RHODIUM GROUP

Last year — when the Peugeot and Pizza Express deals were made — Chinese merger and acquisition activity in Europe set a new record. Although Chinese investment in the U.S. has also grown, outstripping U.S. flows into China, Europe has proved more welcoming (data in millions of U.S. dollars):

Chinese M&A activity

China holds only about 1 percent of the European foreign direct investment stock — not enough to worry about. But this doesn’t include local booms in private Chinese investment, like those in Portuguese or Latvian real estate under those countries “golden visa” programs. Europe is relatively cheap, it’s open, and it’s got things that Chinese companies are after: technology and household names.

The Pirelli deal is about the latter. The bidder, China National Tire & Rubber Company, part of the state-owned giant ChemChina, sells 20 million tires a year, but no one has ever heard of its brands, Rubber Six and Aeolus. It doesn’t have Pirelli’s glorious racing history or its famous calendar. The Italian company seems overvalued — trading at 23 times earnings, compared with 16 for Michelin and 11 for Korea’s Kumho. Yet it has the fifth most valuable tire brand in the world, and the other two European brands in the top five, Michelin and Continental, belong to much bigger companies that make unwieldy targets for acquisition.

For an ambitious buyer with plenty of money and production capacity, Pirelli is the perfect deal. Its market cap is only $7.5 billion (tiny compared with ChemChina’s revenue last year of almost $40 billion), and its name can propel the Chinese tire giant to international prominence. It’s a bit like when the Chinese company Geely bought Volvo — not just for its technology but for its international recognition. Although the market has already overshot ChemChina’s initial offer price, premium and all, it would need to go much higher before Pirelli becomes too expensive for what is essentially an arm of the Chinese government.

Therein lies a problem.

Most Chinese investment in Europe goes into existing, established firms. There are almost no greenfield projects. There’s nothing wrong with private companies — such as Pizza Express buyer Hony Capital, potential Potsdamer Platz investors Fosun International and Ping An Insurance, or Volvo savior Geely — buying into European firms. Cross-border business is common these days. But when old European brands fall into the hands of Chinese state companies, it becomes geopolitics, too: European countries are, in effect, lending part of their heritage to the octopus that is the Chinese government so it can expand its global influence. “For the moment, Chinese investment seems like money falling from the sky, but it could turn … into a Trojan horse introducing Chinese politics and values into the heart of Europe,” Princeton University’s Sophie Meunier wrote in a 2014 paper.

European investors in China are required to set up joint ventures with Chinese partners, and other restrictions apply in specific industries. The EU is trying to negotiate for more openness, but Europe remains at a disadvantage. This isn’t just about reciprocity, however. Openness to investment by Chinese state entities means support for a regime that is not necessarily Europe’s friend and that certainly doesn’t share its values. It’s no better than throwing European markets open to state-owned Russian energy giants such as Rosneft and Gazprom. They would gladly buy up everything they could, if only to strengthen Moscow’s negotiating position with the EU.

These days, European governments are wary of Russian investments, even the private kind. The U.K. is forcing billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s company LetterOne to sell off the North Sea oil production facilities it acquired with the German energy company Dea. It’s not clear what makes state-owned Dongfeng Motor or ChemChina more acceptable.

Europe needs a coherent policy for dealing with foreign direct investment, setting out clear guidelines for what’s permissible, which investors are welcome and which are not. Why not require state-owned companies to put money into greenfield projects only? There is a clear rationale for such deals, including the investment of Chinese nuclear companies in the Hinkley power plant project in the U.K. It would also make sense to require foreign state-owned companies to work with local partners and take only non-controlling stakes, while allowing more freedom for private players. In China, of course, even private companies can serve as instruments of government policy. But at least they are, first and foremost, market agents that deserve equal opportunity to compete.

Tacstrat

Info war can badly harm ISIS

March 26, 2015

The worry mongering over ISIS can’t gloss over a telling fact: ISIS foes are defeating the terrorist group in major battles.

In Kobani, ISIS members died by the thousands. A coalition of Shia militias, Iraqi government forces and anti-ISIS Sunni tribesman are making progresstowards ejecting ISIS from Tikrit. What’s needed now is to capitalize on those defeats and complement kinetic action with a cohesive information war campaign driven by a powerful, credible narrative that demoralizes, divides, confuses, and frustrates ISIS members in order to blunt their effectiveness as fighters, and undermine their expectations, destroy their momentum, and quash any hope of victory in creating a sustainable Islamic State or caliphate.

Messages that should drive that campaign include three key points. First, the defeat of ISIS is inevitable. That would provide a counter-narrative that blunts and discredits the ISIS propaganda terror strategy whose themes are that its members are fearsome warriors, resistance to ISIS domination means death, and that ISIS victory is inevitable. That mindset has permeated the atrocity pornography that ISIS has touted over social media. It has proven crucial to suppressing opposition and winning converts to its cause.

The size of ISIS forces remain unclear. Estimates range between 18,000 and 31,000 individuals. ISIS does not publicize its losses. A late January Pentagonestimate put the number that ISIS had lost at over 6,000 men, including half its top command. General Lloyd Austin now puts the number at 8,500. ISIS is recruiting a thousand new fighters a month but losses that steep hurt.

In a strategic blunder, ISIS chose to stand and fight at Kobani, near Turkey’s border. At first, pundits predicted that the Kurdish defenders—including hundreds of female fighters—were doomed. Instead U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish fortitude turned the battle into a killing field that cost ISIS thousands of valuable fighters. The loss deprived the terrorist group of momentum and showed it could be beaten.

Recruits have signed up with ISIS for different reasons. As Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan have keenly observed, these include missionary zeal, the theology of a “purified” Islam, money, hostility to Shiites, talk of justice, and its pan-Sunni philosophy.

But the one thing that binds and drives them has been the conviction that they would succeed. An information strategy would need to obliterate that belief, replacing a sense of inevitable victory with one of inevitable defeat. Success for ISIS requires more than winning battles. It requires seizing and holding territory. If that goal collapses, the dream of establishing a state and a caliphate falls, eviscerating expectations and ISIS’s core rationale for its cause.

Second, an information strategy must exploit the inherent tensions that exist among a terrorist group comprised of actors from many different countries and cultures. The mixture is combustible and renders ISIS politically unstable. An obvious tension point to divide and demoralize is to mock and belittle the better treatment accorded foreign fighters over local ones. Foreigners have received apartments, higher salaries, cars, and the safety of being based in cities, while local fighters have been dispatched to front lines. These are sensitive points that can trigger anger, hostility, and division, and undermine unity and the credibility of leadership.

Third, belittling the image of ISIS members as fearsome warriors by branding them as incompetent cowards. They initially seized Raqqa, Syria amid weak resistance. The group rampaged through Iraq as a heavily politicized Iraqi army threw down its arms, despite possessing overwhelming numbers and superior equipment, and fled. Indeed, militants slaughtered perhaps 1,700 soldiers—mostly Shiites—from Camp Speicher, a former U.S. military base outside Tikrit.

For a period, pundits muttered that Baghdad itself might fall. Kobani and initial successes at Tikrit have restored reality to that picture. Far from being brilliantly led, ISIS is now confronted by adversaries that will stand and fight, and carry the battle to ISIS. One can argue that ISIS is not well led and that while foot soldiers die, its leadership hides in safety. We can exploit that behavior to discredit, divide, and demoralize.

No formula governs how this information war campaign should be devised and executed. In my view, it ought to be led by regional neighbors, not the United States or the West. One element of the information war ought to widely mock and belittle ISIS and its members with biting humor and satire by people like Egypt’s Bassem Youssef, who now resides in Boston. Satire is a well-entrenched feature of Arab media. Humor may not be the only tool to use against ISIS, but as a symbol of depraved tyranny and authority, it’s an ideal target for it. Regional neighbors should recruit other satirists to help win this information war.

The campaign should also press regional neighbors to mobilize Islamic scholars to follow King Abdullah’s lead and label ISIS “Khawarij,” declare its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a false Caliph, and declare ISIS members apostates and the act of joining ISIS, apostasy. Such testing would be especially valuable in reframing the conflict away from ISIS’s view that it is Islam versus Christianity conflict to one of medievalism versus modernism.

Evil cannot be defeated. It must be eradicated. Kinetic operations offer one key aspect of achieving that goal. But information warfare is equally essential in dealing with ISIS. The United States and its allies have yet to forge and execute a viable strategy—led by regional players, not the United States—for one against this implacable enemy. The sooner, the better.

ZoneAsia-Pk

Why Indian media loves Haqqani

March 25, 2015

ZoneAsia-Pk

When you see a former Pakistani ambassador being hailed in India for his views, it has to be for all the wrong reasons. There is no doubt that the amount of attention Hussain Haqqani gets from Indian media is unprecedented for a Pakistani national. One can easily come across his various articles and interviews on various newspapers and channels, circulating like wildfire. What makes Mr. Ambassador so special and cherished across the border? To state the obvious, he loves to spew venom against the state. Moreover, when a man of this stature makes claims in favor of the Indian narrative, it provides a certain degree of legitimacy to the propaganda against Pakistan. In his latest interview to NDTV, he again presents a lopsided picture on India-Pakistan relations, putting the onus of blame on the latter.

He claims that “Mr. Modi initially made it very clear that he wanted to reach out. And once he reached out, the onus was on the Pakistani side.” It may be true that Narendera Modi took the first initiative as the Indian Prime Minister by inviting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his oath taking ceremony along with other heads of states. However, instead of being a gracious host to Nawaz Sharif, Modi issued a blunt warning to Sharif that Islamabad must prevent militants on its territory from attacking India. Later, he also canceled the foreign secretary level bi-lateral talks that were to take place in Islamabad. Therefore, to create an impression that a civil-military imbalance had anything to do with the faltering India-Pakistan ties is highly misleading.

His failure to acknowledge the Peshawar attack as a defining moment in the fight against terrorism further highlights his short-sightedness. With an ongoing military operation and National Action Plan in place, the military is zeroing in on extremist elements from all corners; Karachi operation being one such example. It is highly irresponsible of Hussain Haqqani to propagate a contrary picture of Pakistan’s fight against terrorism based on assumptions when the country is passing through such a critical juncture.

In addition to that, India has been actively involved in supporting terrorism in Pakistan; Indian weapons have been recovered multiple times from militants in North Waziristan and Balochistan. Pakistan has officially highlighted Indian involvement along with material proofs to the Indian authorities to bring their attention to cross-border support being provided to terror outfits by RAW. While Hussain Haqqani easily fails to mention the Indian involvement in terrorism in his interviews to his Indian friends, he focuses on the “Pakistani obsession with Kashmir”, conveniently forgetting the atrocities being committed by the Indian state and Indian military on the people of Kashmir for decades. Why does he never mention India’s obsession with Balochistan and its open support to the militant separatist elements there?

It is ironic that Mr. Ambassador truly believes that his imprudent statements on Indian media are in the best interest of the country. He sees this criticism as a form of self reflection but this is far from the truth. A far cry from constructive criticism, his reckless articles and interviews are focused more on destructive criticism for the country and its institutions.


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