Voter ID laws passed by dozens of states prevent Americans from choosing from two parties, neither of whom care about their concerns. At a certain point, you have to wonder: do multiple wrongs make a right?
“Rarely has a president been confronted with so many seemingly disparate foreign policy crises all at once,” The New York Times noted about Obama on July 23rd. What the paper didn’t/won’t/can’t say is: Rarely has a president caused so many of his own crises.
This summer, most of Obama’s problems follow from his unwillingness to respect democracy overseas.
The U.S. government supports democracy in other countries — but only if the elections go its way. If not, anything goes to obtain a favorable outcome: economic sabotage, backing violent coups d’état, installing dictators to replace democratically-elected leaders, even ginning up all-out war.
Three recent examples showcasing U.S. contempt for electoral democracy include Egypt, and two places making news this week, Palestine and Ukraine.
Egypt’s 2012 election, the first after the overthrow of U.S.-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak, is a recent case of American perfidy that’s embarrassing going on tacky. Mohamed Morsi of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party, won the presidency in elections international observers called as fair and transparent as could be expected in a nascent democracy.
The thing to do, of course would have been to congratulate Morsi, the Brotherhood and the Egyptian people, and offer assistance upon request.
Rather than accept the results, however, the Obama Administration “channeled funding … [that] … vigorously supported activists and politicians who have fomented unrest in Egypt.” A year later, Morsi was overthrown by a coup that restored Mubarak’s military junta minus the ailing former tyrant. Ignoring American law, Obama continues to finance General Abdel Fata al-Sisi’s violent, oppressive regime, which many human rights groups describe as even more brutal than Mubarak’s. Morsi, a democratically-elected leader whom a principled American president should demand to be restored to power, rots in a prison whose jailers are paid by American taxpayers.
To add Orwellian insult to neocolonialist injury, Secretary of State John Kerry is still saying that Egypt’s post-Morsi junta is “transitioning to a democracy.” Kerry’s mouthfart came a day after al-Sisi sent three foreign journalists away for long prison terms.
Overshadowed by Israel’s latest brutal swat-a-fly-with-laser-guided-missiles invasion and bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip is the fact that, as in Egypt, the United States got the elections it demanded in Palestine, only to succumb to buyer’s remorse after the ballots were counted.
The Palestinian elections of 2006 are hardly the most thrilling story ever told, so I won’t be surprised if you decide to look at this story about the guy who sent his wife a spreadsheet detailing all the excuses she gave him for not having sex and never look back.
Still here? Here’s an abridged recounting of an episode that not only sheds some light on the current conflagration between Israel and Palestine, but reveals the methods used by Israel and its allies to undermine Palestinian self-governance — and belies America’s loudly proclaimed commitment to democracy to boot.
Israeli leaders like to complain that the Palestinian side doesn’t offer them a viable partner with whom to negotiate peace. Read the following, however, and Israel’s right-wing government’s real agenda becomes clear: to demoralize and divide the Palestinian people in order to sap their resistance to economic and military oppression.
In the Palestinian legislative elections of 2006, held both in the West Bank and Gaza in response to pressure from the United States, Hamas beat Fatah (Yasir Arafat’s more moderate party), 44.45% to 41.43%, entitling it to 74 seats in parliament over Fatah’s 45. (The current split, in which Hamas rules Gaza and Fatah has the West Bank, followed a later internal military clash.)
Israel’s interference with the 2006 elections began during campaign season, when it preemptively arrested and jailed 450 members of Hamas because they were involved in the elections as candidates or campaign workers. Despite this and other acts of sabotage, including trying to ban residents of East Jerusalem from voting, the elections went off well. The European Parliament’s spokesperson called the vote “extremely professional, in line with international standards, free, transparent and without violence.”
The thing to do would have been to congratulate Hamas and the Palestinians, and offer assistance upon request.
Instead, the Bush Administration and its allies cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority, ended diplomatic relations and imposed trade and other economic sanctions. Three months after Hamas formed its first government, in June 2006, Israel invaded Gaza and the West Bank, demolished and bombed civilian and government infrastructure, and arrested 25% of the members of parliament “because technically they were members of a terrorist organization although they may not be involved in terrorist acts themselves.” The U.S., which supplied the weapons used in the attacks, cited Israel’s “right to defend itself.”
Hamas, U.S. government-controlled media frequently reminds readers and viewers, is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. So to people who don’t hold tickets to the Way Back A Decade Ago Machine, the actions of America, Israel and their allies vis-à-vis Hamas, which rules Gaza, seem reasonable. They’re terrorists! They shoot rockets at Israel! (Really lame rockets, but still.)
Hamas remains boxed in and desperate under Obama. Israel and Egypt’s al-Sisi regime, the two largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid military hardware, have shut the territory’s land crossings to Israel and Egypt and imposed a naval blockade on the Mediterranean coastline. Despite dozens of tunnels built to smuggle in goods, the West’s sanctions regime has been successful; Gaza’s economy has tanked, and unemployment among its 1.8 million people has risen to 38.5%. (The highest rate in the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930s was 25%.) Shooting rockets at civilians isn’t a great way to make friends — but desperation makes people do stupid things.
What the U.S. media doesn’t want you to know is: Hamas is popular. They won the last election, and they’d probably win again if one were held now. By pushing regime change in Gaza, therefore, the U.S. wants to replace a popular government with an unpopular one…in other words, subverting democracy.
Ukraine is yet another case of a democratically-elected ruler overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup.
Viktor Yanukovych won the Ukrainian presidency in 2010 elections that were widely believed to have conformed to international standards according to foreign observers. The thing to do would have been to congratulate him and the Ukrainian people on a fair election, and offer assistance upon request. But the U.S. was wary of Yanukovych, worried he might not easily be tamed. (Sample American punditry at the time: “The Ukrainians need to expand their relationship with the International Monetary Fund.”)
He didn’t. Finally, in November 2013, Yanukovych sealed his fate by siding with neighboring Russia over a pending EU association agreement — thus rejecting closer ties to the West and the United States. Street protests that led to Yanukovych’s ouster in February 2014 were likely indigenous, but would almost certainly not have succeeded in driving the president into exile without the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in covert U.S. funding to the Maidan organizers.
Though more of a money-motivated oligarch than a creature of the far right, current Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to accommodate right-wing factions, including neo-fascists, in Ukraine. Moreover, whatever you think of Poroshenko, he is not the legitimate ruler of the country. Nevertheless, President Obama has recognized him as such and offered economic and military hardware in his civil war against Russian-speaking separatists in the eastern part of the country.
I’ll close with a quote from Noam Chomsky: “For Washington, a consistent element is that democracy and the rule of law are acceptable if and only if they serve official strategic and economic objectives. But American public attitudes on Iraq and Israel/Palestine run counter to government policy, according to polls. Therefore the question presents itself whether a genuine democracy promotion might best begin within the United States.”
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
As the largest, most expansionary military empire in history and the world’s number one arms supplier, often to both sides in conflicts, the United States is once again offering, hilariously, to broker a peace agreement, this time between Hamas in Gaza, and Israel. First you start the war, or at least expand it, then you get credit for making peace!
Learning the Lessons of Egypt
I’m not much for sports analogies, but any athlete knows about the home field advantage. It’s easier to win if you play your game, not your opponent’s.
This is even more true in politics. Playing by your enemy’s rules is a mug’s game.
For whatever reason, conservatives and right-wing activists — the latter distinguishable from the former because they want to push past stodgy establishmentarianism into radical reactionism (e.g., fascism and its close relatives) — understand that he who makes the rules usually wins the fight. Whether it’s the aggressive redistricting of Texas voting districts engineered by Karl Rove on behalf of Republicans, or the brutalist media activism of FoxNews and other Murdoch properties like The Wall Street Journal, or hiring goons to beat up election officials during the 2000 Florida recount, right-wingers get that politics is war, no Queensbury rules. Only victory matters.
Leftists — not soft, smooshy liberals but real, honest-to-a-nonexistent-God socialists and communists — get it too. Not that you could tell from recent history, at least in the United States. They’re dispirited and disorganized. Nevertheless, they remember enough Marx and Mao to remember that might makes right.
Liberals, on the other hand, can’t manage to internalize this depressing, historically proven fact.
Columnist’s Note: At this point, if you’re a seasoned reader of opinion essays, you no doubt expect me to list examples of liberal wimpiness. Al Gore giving up in 2000. Obama not getting anything done with a Democratic Congress a few years after Bush rammed through a raft of right-wing legislation through…a Democratic Congress. Next should follow the usual exhortation to grow a pair.
A reasonable assumption, but I’m taking a different tack this time: liberals don’t understand why others refuse to get suckered.
On the morning of Thursday, August 15th, NPR interviewed a “liberal intellectual” in Egypt, where the ruling military junta had ordered soldiers to slaughter hundreds of nonviolent demonstrators staging sit-ins to protest the coup d’état that toppled the democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party. As is typical in these pieces, we were given no explanation as to why this man was picked to represent the reaction of the Egyptian public to the crackdown. Fluency in English? Friend of the reporter? Well-connected publicist? They didn’t say. Regardless of the reason, the effect was to anoint this “liberal” as a reasonable, albeit extraordinarily well-educated, Average Joe. Whether or not NPR producers intended it, Mr. Egyptian Liberal Voice of Reason served as the voice of NPR and thus, by extension, of American liberalism.
NPR’s pet Egyptian liberal Thursday was “novelist Alaa al-Aswany, who protested against the Mubarak regime and criticized ousted president Mohammed Morsi during his time in office.”
Al-Aswany wasted no time discrediting himself — “No, there is no military rule in Egypt, and there will never be a military rule in Egypt. And what happened is that we are living in a transition period” — before an observation I found unintentionally illuminating: “We must have the constitution first, of course. And then after that, the election. And I believe that there would be civil elected president and elected parliament who will take over.”
What about the Muslim Brotherhood? They should participate in the democratic process, he said.
On the same network, on the same show, Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations was pointing out that “it’s hard to make a credible claim if you’re an Egyptian liberal” because they supported the military coup.
“There is something called the Repression Radicalization Dynamic,” said Cook. “And one can imagine Muslim Brothers saying that they tried to play by the rules of the political game. They were shut out, shut down and now being hunted and they have no recourse but to take up arms against the state. We’ve seen that before, in fact, in Egypt, in the mid-1990s. There was a low-level insurgency which killed anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 people. Throughout the Arab world we’ve seen it in places like Algeria.” In 1992 the Front Islamique de Salut (FIS) was expected to win Algeria’s elections. The military, acting with the backing of the U.S., canceled the election, prompting the coining of the term the “American Veto.” The Americans also effectively vetoed Hamas’ win of fair elections in Gaza in 2006.
From Algeria to Gaza to Egypt, the message to Islamists is clear: don’t follow the West’s rules. Electoral democracy is for them, not for you. If you play the West’s game, if you work within their system, they’ll do whatever it takes, including cheating, to prevent you from winning. If you win anyway, they’ll overthrow you in a coup. And if you demonstrate — peacefully, nonviolently, just the way they tell you you’re supposed to, they’ll shoot you like dogs.
I’m pretty sure Islamists — and other radicals who seek political power — have learned their lesson. Goodbye ballot boxes, hello guns.
Liberals, on the other hand, clearly haven’t. Not only do they themselves insist on accepting the rhetorical framework of the right, they expect everyone else to do so as well.
Of course, there may well be a simple if unpleasant explanation for that. Stylistic differences (e.g., George W. Bush vs. Barack Obama) aside, when push comes to shove, liberals side with authoritarianism — even though the autocrats in question plan to get rid of them sooner or later — over their leftist “allies.” We’ve seen it over and over, from Germany in 1848 to Washington in 2013, where a liberal president presides over an empire of torture camps, fleets of killer robot planes, and a police state that makes East Germany’s Stasi look penny ante.
Liberals are right-wing.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
Activists Finally Fight Back—And Win
They call themselves activists. But leftist activists rarely do anything. They march. They chant. They whine.
Then they go home, satisfied that they’ve said their piece without taking a personal risk.
Oppressive governments love such phony “activists.” Not only can they carry on as usual, they point to the toothless demonstrators as evidence that they’re not so bad. Each side legitimizes the other.
Since the ’70s, passive resistance has become a religion of sorts among American “activists.” The exceptions, such as 1999’s Battle of Seattle between Seattle riot cops and anti-WTO protesters, have been notable—not least because they mark the few times the left has won.
So when Israel dispatched a group of armed commandos to seize a flotilla of Turkish ships attempting to break its blockade of the besieged Gaza Strip, they had every reason to expect the usual pathetic pacifist response: rolling over and playing dead.
“We prepared for an operation involving light resistance,” an Israeli navy officer told The Jerusalem Post about the clash on the Mavi Marmara, the biggest ship. “We anticipated that the soldiers would get spat at and maybe slapped. We did not expect that the soldiers would be met by a mob armed with bats, knives and metal pipes.
“We thought there would be verbal and passive violence, but not to the level we encountered,” the Naval officer continued. “Everyone who came toward us wanted to kill us.”
For the record, the Turkish activists (no quotes, as they’re worthy of the name) claim the Israelis opened fire first. Nilufer Cetin, wife of the Navi Marmara’s engineer, recalled: “The operation started immediately with firing. First it was warning shots, but when the Mavi Marmara wouldn’t stop these warnings turned into an attack,” she said.
IDF forces shot and killed nine passengers in the melée. Up to 60 passengers and 10 IDF soldiers were injured.
Whether the Turks defended themselves or attacked first, no one will ever know. Nevertheless, their willingness to use violence is notable. Here were lefties with guts!
This naturally came as a shock to government officials in Israel and its allies, not to mention the media outlets they control. Government thugs view violence as their exclusive purview. They’re free to bomb and torture and blockade and starve and otherwise oppress hundreds of millions of innocents. Let one of their victims fight back, however, and they’re stunned.
Officials responded to the Navi Marmara incident like any bully who finally gets the bloody nose he deserves.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon accused the convoy of a “premeditated and outrageous provocation” and described the flotilla as an “armada of hate.”
“The provocation was as cynical as it was carefully orchestrated,” complained Ralph Peters in the right-wing New York Post.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a spokesperson for the IDF, said: “They chose to use violence. They had stocks different kinds of sticks, of knives, of metal objects. They took two pistols from our navy SEALs. They used the entire magazines on these pistols. They wounded our soldiers.”
Interesting perspective. In the official narrative heavily-armed commandos who take over a ship on international waters are not “choosing to use violence.” Only individuals forced to resort to sticks and knives have “chosen” violence over the path of peace. As for the gunplay, the SEALS might have avoided getting shot had they not brought guns with them in the first place. Or if they’d stayed home.
It goes without saying that the friends and families of the nine who died will never get over what happened. But they can take some comfort in the fact that they died for a noble cause: ending the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, home to 1.5 million stateless Palestinians whose lives have been devastated by the resulting economic collapse. Nine lives have been lost; thousands will be saved when the blockade ends.
A U.N. fact-finding mission recently concluded that Israel’s blockade of Gaza should be prosecuted as a war crime at the International Criminal Court if it continues through September: “Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy, could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed,” wrote South African Judge Richard Goldstone, head of the panel.
Was violence justified against the Israelis, even in self-defense? Maybe yes, maybe no. The point is: it worked. Had the six hundred-plus Turkish activists acted like American lefties, allowing themselves to be led off like sheep to be arrested, processed and deported, the blockage of Gaza—and the resulting humanitarian crisis—would have continued without an end in sight.
Instead—because of those pipes and axes and knives—the embargo is doomed. Israel finally went too far. The activists finally went far enough.
(Ted Rall is the author of the upcoming “The Anti-American Manifesto,” to be published in September by Seven Stories Press. His website is tedrall.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL