Monthly Archives: January 2012

Israel’s War On Democracy (and why Americans should care)

Israel’s War On Democracy (and why Americans should care)

Dispatches From The Edge

Jan. 31, 2012

From its birth more than 60 years ago, Israel has always presented itself as “an oasis of democracy in a sea of despotism,” an outpost of pluralism surrounded by tyranny. While that equality never fully applied to the country’s Arab citizens, Israel was, for the most part an open society. But today political rights are under siege by right-wing legislators, militant settlers, and a growing religious divide in the Israeli army, all of which threaten to silence internal opposition to the policies of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Since that may include a war with Iran—and the probable involvement of the U.S. in such a conflict—the move to stifle dissent should be a major concern for Americans.

The U.S. media has reported on growing tensions between Israeli women and the ultra-orthodox Haredim over the latter’s demand for sexual segregation of schools, public transport, and public life. But while orthodox Jews spitting on eight-year old girls for being “immodestly dressed” has garnered the headlines, the most serious threats to democratic rights have gone largely unreported, including a host of proposed or enacted laws. Some of these include:

*A law that allows Jewish communities to bar Arab families from living among them. Arabs make up about 20 percent of the population.

*A law that makes it illegal to advocate an academic, cultural or economic boycott of Israel, including settler communities.

*A law that would limit the power of the Supreme Court.

*A law that bars any state institutions, including schools and theaters—from commemorating the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe,” the term Palestinians use to describe the loss of their lands in the 1948 war that established Israel.

*A law that prohibits Palestinians from living with their Israeli spouses within Israel proper and denies them citizenship.

*A law that drops Arabic as an official language.

*A law that requires anyone obtaining a driver’s license to swear loyalty to the state.

*A law that would limit the number of petitions non-governmental organizations, including peace and human rights groups, could file before the Supreme Court.

*A law that forces human rights and peace groups to limit the money they can receive from abroad, and forces them to go through burdensome registration requirements.

Tzipi Livni, former foreign secretary and head of the Kadima Party, told the Knesset that Arab states were “trying to become a democracy, while we—with these bills—are headed toward dictatorship.”

Most of these laws are being pushed by Israel’s rightwing Likud and Yisreal Beiteinu parties, but the proposal to drop Arabic comes from the Kadima Party. Ram-rodding many of these laws are Lukid’s so-called “fantastic four”: Danny Danon, Yariv Levin, Tzipi Hotovely, and Ofir Akunis.

“We are in the process of reducing freedom of speech and the freedom of association, and we are infringing on the right to equality, especially vis-à-vis the Israeli Arab,” Mordechai Kremnitizer, a professor of law and vice-president of the Israel Democracy Institute told the Financial Times.  “We are also weakening all the elements in society that have the function of criticizing the governments, including the courts.

Israeli society is filled with sharp divisions on everything from war with Iran to growing economic inequality. Israel has the highest poverty rate out of the 32-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and ranks twenty-fifth in health care investment. The poverty rate for Israeli Arabs is between 50 and 55 percent.

Starting in the 1980s, Israel began dismantling its social safety net, a trend that Netanyahu sharply accelerated when he served as finance minister in 2003. While slashing money for housing, education, and transport, he cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations.

Most of all, however, Israeli governments poured the nation’s wealth into colonizing the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, where, according to Shir Hever of the Alternative Information Center based in Jerusalem, Israel has spent about $100 billion. A vast network of bypass roads, security zones, and walled settlements siphoned off money that could have gone for housing, education and transportation in Israel. Special tax rebates and rent subsidies for settlers added to that bill. Some 15 percent of the Israeli housing budget is used to support four percent of its population in the Occupied Territories. Add to that the 20 percent the military budget sucks up, and it seems increasingly clear that the settlement endeavor is no longer sustainable.

Wealth disparity—a handful of families control 30 percent of Israel’s GDP—was partly behind last summer’s social explosion that at one point put some 450,000 people into the streets of Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem demanding reductions in rent and food prices. But so far, organizers of those massive demonstrations have avoided making the link between growing income inequality and Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories. Many of these new laws are aimed at organizations that have been trying to do precisely that.

There are other divisions as well. Israelis are split down the middle over whether to attack Iran—43 percent yes, 41 percent no—but 64 percent support the creation of a Middle East nuclear free zone, and 65 percent feel that neither Israel nor Iran should have nuclear weapons. Those are not exactly the home front sentiments that a government wants when it is contemplating going to war.

Besides the avalanche of right-wing legislation coming out of the Knesset, Israel is increasingly at war with itself over the role of religion in daily life, a conflict that is playing out in one of Israel’s core institutions, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

Two years ago, soldiers of the Kfir Brigade, a unit deployed in the West Bank, unveiled banners declaring they would refuse orders to remove settlers. By international law, all settlements in the Occupied Territories are illegal, but Israel claims that only unregistered “outposts” are against the law and subject to removal. The soldiers held signs that read, “We will not expel Jews.” Six of them were arrested and spent 30 days in the stockade.

The soldiers were graduates of army-sponsored “hesder yeshivas” that allow orthodox soldiers to divide their time between active service and Torah study. Settler rabbis rallied around the six and even provided money for some of the soldiers’ families.

Writing in the progressive Jewish weekly, the Forward, Columnist J.J. Goldberg says that a “secret report” in 2008 warned that such “yeshiva graduates comprise 30 percent of the junior officer corps and rising. In a decade they will be the military’s senior commanders. If a peace agreement is not reached in 15 years or so, Israel may no long have an army willing to carry out its side.”

A majority of Israelis support some kind of compromise to achieve a settlement with the Palestinians, but in the most recent set of talks, the Netanyahu government made it clear that Israel will not surrender any settlements, any part of Jerusalem, or the Jordan Valley. In essence, Palestinians would be forced to live in isolated enclaves surrounded by networks of restricted roads and over 120 settlements. The Netanyahu proposal not only violates numerous United Nations resolutions and international law, no Palestinian government that accepted such an offer would survive for long.

But Israelis who protest an offer that is widely seen as little more than a way to kill the possibility of serious negotiations may find themselves treated in much the same way as Israel has dealt with its Arab citizens.

Those who agitate against the current government may find themselves hit with the new libel law that no longer requires plaintiffs to prove they were damaged and increases awards six-fold. Bloggers, who lack institutional support, are particularly fearful of the new law. Organizations critical of the government that try to raise money from sources outside the country could face huge fines.

According to Hagai El-Ad, director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, there is growing resistance within Israel to the attempt to silence critics, as well as pressure from abroad, including the American Jewish community. Even a pro-Netanyahu hawk like the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman warns “the very democratic character of the state is being eroded.” That resistance has delayed some of the more odious proposals, but the “fantastic four” and their allies are pushing hard to get them on the books.

Why should Americans care? Because if Netanyahu silences his domestic opponents, he will have carte blanche to do as he pleases. And if Tel Aviv attacks Iran, it will be very difficult for the U.S. to keep clear of it. For starters, the IDF will be firing U.S.-made cruise missiles, flying American-made F-15s, and dropping “made in the USA” bunker busters. With the exception of the monarchs from the Gulf states, no one in the Middle East—or most of the world—is going to give Washington a pass on this one.

Does America need another war? If it doesn’t protest the assault on democracy in Israel, it may get one, whether it likes it or not.



Filed under Middle East

The U.S., Indonesia & the NY Times

The U.S., Indonesia & The Times

Dispatches From The Edge

Jan. 20, 2012

Why is the New York Times concealing the key role that the United States played in the 1965 coup in Indonesia that ended up killing somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million people? In a story Jan. 19—“Indonesia Chips Away At the Enforced Silence Around a Dark History”—the Times writes that the coup was “one of the darkest periods in modern Indonesian history, and the least discussed, until now.”

Indeed it is, but the Times is not only continuing to ignore U.S. involvement in planning and carrying out the coup, but apparently doesn’t even bother to read its own clip files from that time that reported the Johnson administration’s “delight with the news from Indonesia.” The newspaper also reported a cable by Secretary of State Dean Rusk supporting the “campaign against the communists” and assuring the leader of the coup, General Suharto, that the “U.S. government [is] generally sympathetic with, and admiring of, what the army is doing.”

What the Indonesian Army was doing was raping and beheading communists, leftists, and trade unionists. Many people were savagely tortured to death by the military and its right-wing Muslim allies in the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah. A number of those butchered were fingered by U.S. intelligence.

According to a three-part series in the July 1999 Sydney Morning Herald, interviews with Indonesian political prisoners, and examinations of U.S. and Australian documents, “Western powers urged the Indonesian military commanders to seize upon the false claims of a coup attempt instigated bu the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), in order to carry out one of the greatest civilian massacres of the 20th century and establish a military dictatorship.”

General Suharto claimed that the PKI was behind the assassination of six leading generals on the night of July 30, 1965, the incident that ignited the coup. But the Herald series included interviews with two of the men involved in the so-called September 30 putsch, both of who claim the PKI had nothing to do with the uprising. At the time, the PKI was part of a coalition government, had foresworn violence, and had an official policy of a “peaceful transition” to socialism. In fact, the organization made no attempt to mobilize its three million members to resist the coup.

The U.S. made sure that very few of those communists—as well as the leaders of peasant, women, union, and youth organizations— survived the holocaust. According to U.S. National Security Archives published by George Washington University, U.S. intelligence agents fingered many of those people. Then U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Marshall Green, said that an Embassy list of top Communist leaders “is being used by the Indonesian security authorities that seem to lack even the simplest overt information on PKI leadership at the time…”

The U.S. was well aware of the scale of the killings. In an April 15, 1966 telegram to Washington, the Embassy wrote, “We frankly do not know whether the real figure [of PKI killed] is closer to 100,000 or 1,000,000, but believe it wiser to err on the side of the lower estimates, especially when questioned by the press.”

Besides helping the military track down and murder any leftists, the U.S. also supplied the right-wing Kap-Gestapu movement with money. Writing in a memo to then Assistant Secretary of State McGeorge Bundy, Green wrote “The chances of detection or subsequent revelation of our support in this instance are as minimal as any black bag operation can be.”

States News Service reporter Kathy Kadane interviewed several former diplomats and intelligence agents and found that the list turned over to the Indonesian security forces had around 5,000 names on it. “It was really a big help to the Army,” former embassy political officer Robert J. Martens told Kadane. “They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that is not all bad. There is a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.”

At the time, Washington was beginning a major escalation of the Vietnam War, and the Johnson administration was fixated on its mythical domino theory that communists were about to take over Asia. The U.S. considered Indonesia to be a strategically important country, not only because it controlled important sea passages, but also because it was rich in raw materials in which U.S. corporations were heavily invested. These included Richfield and Mobil oil companies, Uniroyal, Union carbide, Eastern Airlines, Singer Sewing Machines, National Cash Register, and the Freeport McMorRan gold and copper mining company.

At the time, Indonesian President Sukarno was one of the leaders of the “third force” movement, an alliance of nations that tried to keep itself aloof from the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The 1955 Bandung Conference drew countries from throughout Asia and Africa to Indonesia to create an anti-colonialist, non-aligned movement. It also drew the ire of the U.S, which refused to send a representative to Bangdung.

In the polarized world of the Cold War, non-alignment was not acceptable to Washington, and the U.S. began using a combination of diplomacy, military force and outright subversion to undermine countries like Indonesia and to bring them into alliances with the U.S. and its allies. The CIA encouraged separatist movements in the oil-rich provinces of Sumatra and Sulawesi. The British and the Australians were also up to their elbows in the 1965 coup, and France increased its trade with Indonesia following the massacre.

The relations between Jakarta and Washington are long and sordid. The U.S. gave Indonesia the green light to invade and occupy East Timor, an act that resulted in the death of over 200,000 people, or one-third of the Timorese population, a kill ratio greater than Pol Pot’s genocidal mania in Cambodia. Washington is also supportive of Indonesia’s seizure of Irian Jaya (West Papua) and, rather than condemning the brutality of the occupation, has blamed much of the violence on the local natives.

The Cold War is over, but not U.S. interests in Asia. The Obama administration is pouring military forces into the region and has made it clear that it intends to contest China’s growing influence in Asia and Southeast Asia. Here Indonesia is key. Some 80 percent of China’s energy supplies pass through Indonesian-controlled waters, and Indonesia is still a gold mine—literally in the case of Freeport McMoRan on Irian Jaya—of valuable resources.

So once again, the U.S. is turning a blind eye to the brutal and repressive Indonesian military that doesn’t fight wars but is devilishly good at suppressing its own people and cornering many of those resources for itself. The recent decision by the White House to begin working with Kopassus—Indonesia’s equivalent of the Nazi SS—is a case in point. Kopassus has been implicated in torture and murder in Irian Jaya and played in key role in the 1999 sacking of East Timor that destroyed 70 percent of that country’s infrastructure following Timor’s independence vote. Over 1500 Timorese were killed and 250,000 kidnapped to Indonesian West Timor.

It appears that Indonesians are beginning to speak up about the horrors of the 1965 coup. Books like Geoffrey Robinson’s “The Dark Side of Paradise” and Robert Lemelson’s documentary film, “40 Years of Silence: an Indonesian Tragedy,” are slowly wearing away at the history manufactured by the military dictatorship.

But the U.S. has yet to come clean on its role in the 1965 horror, and the New York Times has apparently decided to continue that silence, perhaps because once again Indonesia is pivotal to Washington’s plans for Asia?



Filed under Asia, China, FPIF Blogs, Indonesia, Oil, Pacific

Cyber War: Hype or Reality?

Cyber War: Reality or Hype?

Dispatches From The Edge

Jan. 10, 2012

During his confirmation hearings this past June, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned the Senate, “The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems.” It was powerful imagery: a mighty fleet reduced to smoking ruin, an expansionist Asian power at the nation’s doorstep.

But is “cyber war” really a threat? Can cyber war actually “cripple” the U.S., and who might these computer terrorists be? Or is the language just sturm und drang spun up by a coalition of major arms manufacturers, the Pentagon, and Internet security firms, allied with China bashers aimed at launching a new Cold War in Asia?

The language is sobering. Former White House Security Aide Richard Clarke, author of “Cyberwar”, conjures up an apocalyptic future of paralyzed U.S. cities, subways crashing, planes “literally falling out of the sky,” and thousands dead. Retired Admiral and Bush administration National Intelligence Director, Mike McConnell grimly warns “The United States is fighting a cyber war today and we are losing.”

Much of this rhetoric is aimed at China. According to U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, the Chinese government has launched a “predatory” campaign of “cyber theft” that has reached an “intolerable level.” U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) charges that a “significant portion” of “cyber attacks” on U.S. companies “emanate from China.” Former CIA and National Security Agency director Michael Hayden told Congress, “I stand back in awe of the breadth, depth, sophistication, and persistence of the Chinese espionage effort against the United States of America.”

China has been accused of hacking into the Pentagon, the International Monetary Fund, the French government, the CIA, and stealing information from major U.S. arms maker Boeing, and the Japanese firm Mitsubishi. The latter builds the American high performance fighter, the F-15.

The Pentagon has even developed a policy strategy that considers major cyber attacks to be acts of war, triggering what could be a military response. “If you shut down our power grid,” one Defense official told the Wall Street Journal, “maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks.”

But consider the sources for all this scare talk: Clarke is the chair of a firm that consults on cyber security, and McConnell is the executive vice-president of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Both are currently doing business with the Pentagon.

Arms giants like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and other munitions manufactures are moving heavily into the cyber security market. In 2010, Boeing snapped up Argon ST and Narus, two cyber security firms with an estimated value of $2.4 billion. Raytheon bought Applied Signal Technology, General Dynamics absorbed Network Connectivity Solutions, and Britain’s major arms firm, BAE, purchased Norkom and ETI.

“There is a feeding frenzy right now to provide products and services to meet the demands of governments, law enforcement and the military,” says Ron Deibert, director of the Canada Center for Global Security Studies.

There are big bucks at stake. Between the Defense Department and Homeland Security, the U.S. will spend some $10.5 billion for cyber security by 2015. The Pentagon’s new Cyber Command is slated to have a staff of 10,000, and according to Northrop executive Kent Schneider, the market for cyber arms and security in the U.S. is $100 billion.

But is cyber war everything it is cracked up to be, and is the U.S. really way behind the curve in the scramble to develop cyber weapons?

According to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, in his New Yorker article “The Online Threat,” the potential for cyber mayhem has “been exaggerated” and the Defense Department and cyber security firms have blurred the line between cyber espionage and cyber war. The former is the kind of thing that goes on, day in and day out, between governments and industry, except its medium is the Internet. The latter is an attack on another country’s ability to wage war, defend itself, or run its basic infrastructure.

Most experts say the end-of-the-world scenarios drawn up by people like Clarke are largely fiction. How could an enemy shut down the U.S. national power grid when there is no such thing? A cyber attack would have to disrupt more than 100 separate power systems throughout the nation to crash the U.S. grid.

Most financial institutions are also protected. The one example of a successful cyber attack in that area was an apparent North Korean cyber assault this past march on the South Korean bank Nonghyup that crashed the institution’s computers. But an investigation found that the bank had been extremely remiss in changing passwords or controlling access to its computers. According to Peter Sommer, author of “Reducing Systems Cybersecurity Risk,” the cyber threat to banks “is a bit of nonsense.”

However, given that many Americans rely on computers, cell phones, I-Pads, smart phones and the like, any hint that an “enemy” could disrupt access to those devices is likely to get attention. Throw in some scary scenarios and a cunning enemy—China—and it’s pretty easy to make people nervous.

But contrary to McConnell’s statement, the U.S. is more advanced in computers than other countries in the world, and the charge that the U.S. is behind the curve sounds suspiciously like the “bomber gap” with the Russians in the ‘50s and the “missile gap” in the 1960s. Both were illusions that had more to do with U.S. presidential elections and arms industry lobbying than anything in the real world.

The focus on the China threat certainly fits the Obama administration’s recent “strategic pivot” toward Africa and Asia. China draws significant resources from Africa, including oil, gas, copper, and iron ore, and Beijing is beginning to reassert itself in south and east Asia. The U.S. now has a separate military command for Africa—Africom—and the White House recently excluded U.S. military forces in the Asia theatre from any cutbacks. Washington is also deploying U.S. Marines in Australia. As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the National Defense University this past August, “We know we face some long-term challenges about how we are going to cope with what the rise of China means.”

But James Lewis, an expert on Chinese cyber espionage, told Hersh that the Chinese have no intention of attacking U.S. financial services since they own a considerable portion of them. According to Lewis, “current Chinese officials” told him “a cyber-war attack would do as much economic harm to us as to you.” The U.S. is China’s largest trading partner and Beijing holds over a trillion dollars in U.S. securities.

There is also a certain irony to the accusations aimed at China. According to the New York Times, the U.S.—and Israel—designed the “Stuxnet” virus that has infected some 30,000 computers in Iran and set back Teheran’s nuclear program. The virus has also turned up in China, Pakistan, and Indonesia. In terms of cyber war, the U.S. is ahead of the curve, not behind.

What all this scare talk has done is allow the U.S. military to muscle its way into cyber security in a way that could potentially allow it to monitor virtually everything on the Internet, including personal computers and email. In fact, the military has resisted a push to insure cyber security through the use of encryption because that would prevent the Pentagon from tapping into Internet traffic.

Does China really pose a threat to the U.S.? There is no question that China-based computers have hacked into a variety of governmental agencies and private companies (as have Russians, Israelis, Americans, French, Taiwanese, South Koreans, etc.—in short everyone spies on everyone), but few observers think that China has any intention of going to war with the much more powerful U.S.

However, Beijing makes a handy bug-a-boo. One four-star admiral told Hersh that in arguing against budget cuts, the military “needs an enemy and it’s settled on China.” It would not be the first time that ploy was used.

If the Pentagon’s push is successful, it could result in an almost total loss of privacy for most Americans, as well as the creation of a vast and expensive new security bureaucracy. Give a government the power to monitor the Internet, says Sommers, and it will do it. In this electronic field of dreams, if we build it, they will use it.



Filed under Asia, China, Military, Pacific