Monday, July 30, 2012
Mitt Romney’s foreign policy speech to the Jerusalem Foundation in Israel on Sunday qualified him to be President—of Israel. His observations were as remarkable for what he didn’t say as for what he did. They could have been written by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, for they parallel his thinking almost exactly, and they were sharply at odds with current U.S. policy toward the region.
Mr. Romney didn’t mention the Palestinians (although he later made an invidious comparison of Palestinians to Israelis that was deemed racist by Palestinian officials), nor did he offer any remarks on the settlements in the West Bank—arguably Israel’s most pressing problem. Indeed, he explicitly called for Americans not to engage in any criticism of Israel at all, since Israelis seemed to be capable of self-critique.
What Mr. Romney did do in his talk was primarily to lambaste Iran.
He trotted out a laundry list of accusations against Iran, virtually all of which have been discredited fabrications or shown to be wildly exaggerated caricatures of Iranian thought and behavior. Among these was the hoary old accusation that Iranians had threatened to “wipe Israel off the map”—a fabrication so well known that it has its own Wikipedia page. He also repeated the old saw that Iran is the “chief State supporter of terrorism,” an unsupported assertion left over from the Bush administration. He also cited the discredited claims that the Iranian government supplied weapons used to attack Americans in Iraq—something the U.S. military tried desperately to prove with absolutely no success.
He said, “When Iran’s leaders deny the Holocaust . . .” branding them as Holocaust deniers. Iran’s leaders, in fact, have never denied the Holocaust. To be sure, they have questioned its causes and results in ways that are inaccurate, but they never denied that it happened. There was even a widely applauded popular film in Iran dealing with the Holocaust and an Iranian historical figure who saved Jews from being killed.
Of course, no one denies Iran’s dismal domestic human rights record—something that should be of concern to the whole world—but Mr. Romney barely touched on this one legitimate accusation of wrongdoing on the part of the Iranian government.
These broad swipes at Iran would be just garden-variety neoconservative palaver if it weren’t for the additional steps Mr. Romney took in advancing a case for armed conflict against the Islamic Republic—steps that were both reckless and ignorant. The case is based on the favorite neoconservative hobby-horse: Iran’s nuclear program.
Mr. Romney hinted broadly that the United States would support a military strike against Iran. This would not be to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon as is current U.S. policy, but rather to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity. This is code for shutting down or destroying Iran’s entire nuclear development program.
Mr. Romney seems unaware of the complexities of the Iranian case. Iran is signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) along with all other states with nuclear development, except for Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The treaty grants all signatories the inalienable right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Iran is engaged in uranium enrichment to provide fuel for nuclear generation of electricity. However, Iran is not alone in doing this. Nineteen other world states who are signatories to the NPT do so as well, and at least two, Japan and Brazil, have stated openly that they are prepared to manufacture nuclear weapons if the need arises. Even if there were any proof that Iran had a nuclear weapons program, they are far from producing even nuclear reactor fuel. Mr. Romney said, cagily, they are “five years closer” to producing a nuclear weapon—but those attacking Iran have been saying this every year since 1990, and Iran is no closer.
The history of nuclear development in Iran also involves the United States directly. The U.S. government urged the Iranians to start their program in 1970 as a move toward modernization. The nuclear facilities they are now developing are a direct outgrowth of those mutually approved plans.
The complexity of this issue is apparent to the Obama administration, which is why diplomacy has been urged by every foreign policy adviser as a means of creating confidence and settling misunderstandings and differences between Iran, the United States and its allies. Brute force designed to damage Iran’s nuclear facilities has been decried as dangerous and useless by American and Israeli military and intelligence officials.
The most ironic part of Mr. Romney’s speech came toward the end when he stated: “If you want to hear some very sharp criticisms of Israel and its policies, you don’t have to cross any borders. All you have to do is walk down the street and into a café, where you’ll hear people reasoning, arguing, and speaking their mind. Or pick up an Israeli newspaper – you’ll find some of the toughest criticism of Israel you’ll read anywhere. Your nation, like ours, is stronger for this energetic exchange of ideas and opinions.”
If Mr. Romney had taken this observation to heart and showed even a modicum of nuance in his remarks, he might have appeared statesmanlike. As it was, his speech was little more than a screed of right-wing slogans designed to please his Israeli host, and the Americans who support the most extreme right-wing policies of the Israeli government. His need to pander may go even further. Part of his live audience in Jerusalem was Israeli-supporter, billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is bankrolling Mr. Romney’s campaign with unlimited amounts of money.
William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He has lived and worked in the Middle East for over 40 years. He visited Iran last November, and Israel in June of this year. He is the author of The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other. (University of Chicago Press, 2008)
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Mitt Romney's recently broadcast speech in Israel is a shameful pastiche of accusatory lies and half-truths about Iran, echoing the very worst, discredited misinformation. This is pandering to the right wing of both Israel and the United States on a new level. Not even the most rabid right-wing politicians in the United States have dared to trot out an attack with such completely blatant chicanery. This talk is practically calling for a military attack on Iran. In fact, Romney has all but pre-authorized such an attack, while implying that the United States wouldn't necessarily participate. So, a President Romney would egg on an Iranian attack without taking responsibility for pulling the trigger or involving the U.S. This is both reckless and cowardly. He curiously references and praises many members of the Israeli Press and their criticism of the Israeli government, and the balance such dialog brings to politics there. Too bad he couldn't reflect the same balance in his own assessment of Israeli right-wing attacks on Iran. Indeed, he goes on to say that the United States shouldn't criticize Israel at all.
University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Commentary by William O. Beeman: An Israeli tour bus was bombed in Burgas, Bulgaria. Since that time Israel has been trying to demonstrate that Hezbollah and by extension the Iranian government was responsible. Thus far no one has claimed responsibility, and Prime Minister Netanyahu, despite loud proclamations of Hezbollah guilt in the affair has not produced one iota of evidence that Hezbollah was actually involved. Investigator Gareth Porter dissects this matter, concluding that the Israeli claims have no merit.
The Netanyahu claim in interviews on Fox News Sunday and CBS Face the Nation of “rock solid” intelligence on the bombing was accompanied by an announcement that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would travel to Brussels Monday to meet with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and foreign ministers of nine EU member states to persuade them to put Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organisations.
Netanyahu, who usually emphasises Iran’s role in terrorism, focused primarily on Hezbollah’s alleged culpability.
Unlike the United States, the EU has never officially considered Hezbollah to be a terrorist organisation, but Netanyahu believes that pinning the Bulgarian bombing on Hezbollah gives him political leverage on the EU to change that.
Lieberman was quoted Sunday as saying the bombing in Bulgaria “has changed the way in which Hezbollah is seen”.
For months, Netanyau has been building a case that Iran has been carrying out a worldwide campaign of terrorism. That narrative is based, however, on a systematic and highly successful Israeli campaign of shaping the news coverage of a series of murky allegations about terrorist actions or efforts in Baku, Tibilisi, Bangkok and Delhi, and into stories fitting neatly into the overall narrative.
Netanyahu used sweeping language about the alleged intelligence underlying his charge that Hezbollah carried out the Bulgarian tourist bombing, but refused to offer any further information to back it up.
In the interview on Fox News Sunday, Netanyahu said, “We know with absolute certainty, without a shadow of a doubt that this is a Hezbollah operation….” But despite being asked by interviewer Chris Wallace for some indication of the nature of the intelligence, he would say only that information had been shared with “friendly agencies”.
When the heads of Mossad and Shin Bet, Tamir Pardo and Yoram Cohen, briefed the Israeli cabinet Sunday on those agencies’ efforts against what were described as Iranian and Hezbollah plans for terrorism in more than 20 countries, they were not reported to have presented hard intelligence supporting the claim of Hezbollah responsibility for the Bulgarian bombing.
If the Israeli government did share intelligence information on Hezbollah and the Bulgarian bombing with the Central Intelligence Agency as Netanyahu claimed, it did not register with the senior U.S. officials on Jul. 19.
When a “senior U.S. official” was quoted by the New York Times that day confirming the Israeli assertion that the bomber who carried out the operation was “a member of a Hezbollah cell operating in Bulgaria”, he was apparently merely making assumptions rather than relying on any hard evidence.
Also on Jul. 19, Pentagon press secretary George Little said, “I don’t know that anybody has assessed attribution for this cowardly action….”
On Jul. 20, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration was “not in a position to make a statement about responsibility”.
Netanyahu declared immediately after the news of the Bulgarian bus bombing Jul. 18 that Iran was responsible for the attack. In support of the charge, he cited recent alleged terrorist incidents in a number of other countries. “All the signs lead to Iran,” he said.
But Netanyahu offered no proof, and the Israeli Embassy in Washington acknowledged to CNN on Jul. 19 that it had no proof that Iran was the instigator of the attack.
Netanyahu also argued in his Fox News interview as well as in an appearance on CBS Face the Nation that an Iran/Hezbollah connection to the bombing of the Israeli tourist bus could be reasonably inferred from a Hezbollah terrorist plan that had been discovered in Cyprus only a week earlier.
“The whole world can see who it is,” said Netanyahu on Fox News Sunday. “You would have known or been able to surmise it from Cyprus a week ago.” A “Hezbollah operative” in Cyprus was caught planning “exactly the same attack, exactly the same modus operandi”, he said.
But the case to which Netanyahu referred is much less clear-cut than his dramatic description. In fact, it is unclear who the alleged Hezbollah operative really is and what he was actually doing in Cyprus. The 24-year-old Lebanese man with a Swedish passport was arrested in his hotel room in Limossol Jul. 7 – just two days after he had arrived in the country — following an urgent message sent to Cyprus from Israeli intelligence that the man intended to carry out attacks, according to Haaretz Jul. 14.
The Israeli press have portrayed the unnamed Lebanese as “collecting information for a terror attack” being planned by Hezbollah (Israel Hayom) and as identifying the “vulnerabilities that would allow for maximal damage among a group of Israeli tourists in their first hours on Cyprus ” (Ynet News).
But those descriptions may not reflect what the Lebanese man was actually doing. A senior Cypriot official told Reuters a week after he was taken into custody, “It is not clear what, or whether, there was a target in Cyprus.” And other Cypriot authorities were reported by the Cyprus Mail Jul. 20 and by Associated Press Monday to have said they believe the man was acting alone.
The Cypriot Greek-language newspaper Phileftheros reported that he was found with information on tour buses carrying Israeli passengers, a list of places favoured by Israeli tourists, and flight information on Israeli airlines that land in Cyprus, suggesting that he planned to detonate explosives on board a plane or bus.
But despite an intensive search, no indication has been found that the man is linked to any explosives.
A lone individual arrested in his hotel room without any explosives hardly presents a close parallel to the bus bombing in Burgas. Contrary to Netanyahu’s breathless description of what happened in Cyprus, the arrest may turn out to have been an overreaction by Mossad to unconfirmed information the agency had obtained three months earlier that someone might be interested in harming Israeli tourists in Cyprus, reported by Ynet News Jul. 15.
Details that have emerged about the cases of Lebanese and Iranian citizens arrested at the insistence of Mossad in Thailand in January and Kenya in June also suggest that sensational press accounts of alleged terrorist plans by the suspects inspired by the Israelis may have been highly distorted, and that the individuals arrested may turn out not to be terrorists at all.
*Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
Monday, July 02, 2012
Illinois Anti-Marriage equality commentator mis-quotes Reverend John Piper (Star-Tribune Letter of the Day)
Letter of the Day (July 2): The Rev. John Piper
- Updated: July 1, 2012 - 8:40 PM
Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute has taken it on herself to interpret the Rev. John Piper's sermon on the Minnesota marriage amendment ("Pastor showed way to clarity on amendment," June 26). She concludes that although Piper did not direct his parishioners to vote for the amendment, his sermon was tantamount to calling for a positive vote.
Higgins' commentary disturbed me greatly. Was she actually present for the sermon? She doesn't say so.
Also, why is she speaking for the pastor when he would be perfectly capable of answering for himself if he had been mischaracterized by the Star Tribune report in question ("Key pastors opt out of marriage fight," June 21).
Higgins' article strikes me as yet another out-of-state attempt to influence Minnesotans' vote on the amendment.
WILLIAM O. BEEMAN, MINNEAPOLIS