Monday, 15 September 2014

America's Military Solution to Everything

Who’s Paying the Pro-War Pundits?
Talking heads like former General Jack Keane are all over the news media fanning fears of ISIS. Shouldn’t the public know about their links to Pentagon contractors?
September 12, 2014    
Retired General Anthony Zinni, retired General Jack Keane and former Bush administration official Fran Townsend
If you read enough news and watch enough cable television about the threat of the Islamic State, the radical Sunni Muslim militia group better known simply as ISIS, you will inevitably encounter a parade of retired generals demanding an increased US military presence in the region. They will say that our government should deploy, as retired General Anthony Zinni demanded, up to 10,000 American boots on the ground to battle ISIS. Or as in retired General Jack Keane’s case, they will make more vague demands, such as for “offensive” air strikes and the deployment of more military advisers to the region.
But what you won’t learn from media coverage of ISIS is that many of these former Pentagon officials have skin in the game as paid directors and advisers to some of the largest military contractors in the world. Ramping up America’s military presence in Iraq and directly entering the war in Syria, along with greater military spending more broadly, is a debatable solution to a complex political and sectarian conflict. But those goals do unquestionably benefit one player in this saga: America’s defense industry.
Keane is a great example of this phenomenon. His think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which he oversees along with neoconservative partisans Liz Cheney and William Kristol, has provided the data on ISIS used for multiple stories by The New York Times, the BBC and other leading outlets.

Jack Keane (Screenshot: Fox News)
Keane has appeared on Fox News at least nine times over the last two months to promote the idea that the best way to stop ISIS is through military action—in particular, through air strikes deep into ISIS-held territory. In one of the only congressional hearings about ISIS over the summer, Keane was there to testify and call for more American military engagement. On Wednesday evening, Keane declared President Obama’s speech on defeating ISIS insufficient, arguing that a bolder strategy is necessary. “I truly believe we need to put special operation forces in there,” he told host Megyn Kelly.
Left unsaid during his media appearances (and left unmentioned on his congressional witness disclosure form) are Keane’s other gigs: as special adviser to Academi, the contractor formerly known as Blackwater; as a board member to tank and aircraft manufacturer General Dynamics; a “venture partner” to SCP Partners, an investment firm that partners with defense contractors, including XVionics, an “operations management decision support system” company used in Air Force drone training; and as president of his own consulting firm, GSI LLC.
To portray Keane as simply a think tank leader and a former military official, as the media have done, obscures a fairly lucrative career in the contracting world. For the General Dynamics role alone, Keane has been paid a six-figure salary in cash and stock options since he joined the firm in 2004; last year, General Dynamics paid him $258,006.
Keane did not immediately return a call requesting comment for this article.
Disclosure would also help the public weigh Keane’s policy advocacy. For instance, in his August 24 opinion column for The Wall Street Journal, in which he was bylined only as a retired general and the chairman of ISW, Keane wrote that “the time has come to confront the government of Qatar, which funds and arms ISIS and other Islamist terrorist groups such as Hamas.” While media reports have linked fundraisers for ISIS with individuals operating in Qatar (though not the government), the same could be said about Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where many of the major donors of ISIS reportedly reside. Why did Keane single out Qatar and ignore Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? Is it because his company, Academi, has been a major business partner to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar’s primary rival in the region?
Other examples abound.

Anthony Zinni (Screenshot: Charlie Rose)
In a Washington Post story about Obama’s decision not to deploy troops to combat ISIS, retired Marine General James Mattis was quoted as a skeptic. “The American people will once again see us in a war that doesn’t seem to be making progress,” Mattis told the paper. Left unmentioned was Mattis’s new role as Keane’s colleague on the General Dynamics corporate board, a role that afforded Mattis $88,479 in cash and stock options in 2013.
Retired General Anthony Zinni, perhaps the loudest advocate of a large deployment of American soliders into the region to fight ISIS, is a board member to BAE Systems’ US subsidiary, and also works for several military-focused private equity firms.
CNN pundit Frances Townsend, a former Bush administration official, has recently appeared on television calling for more military engagement against ISIS. As the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit that studies elite power structures, reported, Townsend “holds positions in two investment firms with defense company holdings, MacAndrews & Forbes and Monument Capital Group, and serves as an advisor to defense contractor Decision Sciences.”

Fran Townsend (Screenshot: CSPAN)
“Mainstream news outlets have a polite practice of identifying former generals and former congressmembers as simply ‘formers’—neglecting to inform the public of what these individuals are doing now, which is often quite pertinent information, like that they are corporate lobbyists or board members,” says Jeff Cohen, an associate professor of journalism at Ithaca College.
Media outlets might justify their omissions by reasoning that these pundits have merely advocated certain military strategies, not specific weapons systems, so disclosure of their financial stake in the policy need not be made. Yet the drumbeat for war has already spiraled into calls for increased military spending that lifts all boats—or non-operational jets for that matter.
When the Pentagon sent a recent $2 billion request for ramped-up operations in the Middle East, supposedly to confront the ISIS issue, budget details obtained by Bloomberg News revealed that officials asked for money for additional F-35 planes. The F-35 is not in operation and would not be used against ISIS. The plane is notoriously over budget and perpetually delayed—some experts call it the most expensive weapon system in human history—with a price tag now projected to be over $1 trillion. In July, an engine fire grounded the F-35 fleet and again delayed the planned debut of the plane. How it ended up in the Pentagon’s Middle East wish list is unclear.
“I think an inclination to use military action a lot is something the defense industry subscribes to because it helps to perpetuate an overall climate of permissiveness towards military spending,” says Ed Wasserman, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School for Journalism. Wasserman says that the media debate around ISIS has tilted towards more hawkish former military leaders, and that the public would be best served not only with better disclosure but also a more balanced set of opinions that would include how expanded air strikes could cause collateral civil casualties. ”The past fifty years has a lot of evidence of the ineffectiveness of air power when it comes to dealing with a more nimble guerrilla-type adversary, and I’m not hearing this conversation,” he notes.
The pro-war punditry of retired generals has been the subject of controversy in the past. In a much-cited 2008 exposé, The New York Times revealed a network of retired generals on the payroll of defense contractors who carefully echoed the Bush administration’s Iraq war demands through appearances on cable television. 

The paper’s coverage of the run-up to a renewed conflict in the region today has been notably measured, including many voices skeptical of calls for a more muscular military response to ISIS. Nonetheless, the Times has relied on research from a contractor-funded advocacy organization as part of its ISIS coverage. Reports produced by Keane’s ISW have been used to support six different infographics used for Times stories since June. The Times has not mentioned Keane’s potential conflict of interest or that ISW may have a vested stake in its policy positions. The Public Accountability Initiative notes that ISW’s corporate sponsors represent “a who’s who of the defense industry and includes Raytheon, SAIC, Palantir, General Dynamics, CACI, Northrop Grumman, DynCorp, and L-3 Communication.” As the business network CNBC reported this week, Raytheon in particular has much to gain from escalation in Iraq, as the company produces many of the missiles and radar equipment used in airstrikes.
In addition to providing reports and quotes for the media, ISW leaders have demanded a greater reaction to ISIS from the Obama administration. In The Weekly Standard this week, ISW president Kim Kagan wrote that President Obama’s call for a limited engagement against ISIS “has no chance of success.” 

ISW’s willingness to push the envelope has gotten the organization into hot water before. In 2013, ISW suffered an embarrassing spectacle when one of its analysts, Elizabeth O’Bagy, was found to have inflated her academic credentials, touting a PhD from a Georgetown program that she had never entered.

But memories are short, and the media outlets now relying heavily on ISW research have done little to scrutinize the think tank’s policy goals. Over the last two years, ISW, including O’Bagy, were forcefully leading the push to equip Syrian rebels with advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry to defeat Bashar al-Assad.
For Keane, providing arms to Syrian rebels, even anti-American groups, was a worthwhile gamble. In an interview with Fox Business Network in May of last year, Keane acknowledged that arming Syrian rebels might mean “weapons can fall into radical Islamists’ hands.” He continued, “It is true the radical Islamists have gained in power and influence mainly because we haven’t been involved and that is a fact, but it’s still true we have vetted some of these moderate rebel groups with the CIA, and I’m convinced we can—it’s still acceptable to take that risk, and let’s get on with changing momentum in the war.” 

That acceptable risk Keane outlined has come to fruition. Recent reports now indicate that US-made weapons sent from American allies in the region to Syrian rebels have fallen into the hands of ISIS.
Keane, and ISW, is undeterred. The group just put out a call for 25,000 ground troops in Iraq and Syria.
September 12, 2014  

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Scots' Right to Self-Determination

It is almost 100 years since the Wilson-Lenin moment in world affairs - the declaration by the two emerging global powers of the 20th century of the the principle of the right of nations to self-determination, long-declared by Britain but little practised as it built and mantained its empire by the sword and gun and warship.

Scotland has its chance this week to take its destiny into its own hands and should make its own decision in the cold light of day and try to ignore the increasingly vociferous threats and blandishments from the English-dominated establishment.

Today, PM David Cameron tries the scare tactic of 'permanent' split if Scots vote for independence; last week, certain banks threatened the security of Scots' home loans should they vote for freedom.

Scots will make their own decision, despite pressures from all sides. But, in my view, a decision to break away from the UK would be a positive move for the small country that was through violence and cooptation integrated into the 'Union'. Indeed, the violent integration of Scotland, Wales and Ireland were the beginnings of England's global imperium, similarly built through a combination of bloodshed and bribery and deception.

Eire broke away in the 1920s; the Welsh and Scots more recently gained 'devolution' within the 'Union'; the north of Ireland has loosened London's grip since the late 1990s. Scotland is taking the logical next step.

The fact is that the Scots are a resourceful, proud, and confident nation who have made great contributions to science, industry, finance and intellectual developments of global import. They will be fine as an independent, free country.

The earth will continue to rotate on its axis whatever the outcome of Scotland's vote on 18 September 2014.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Israel's Collective Punishment is a War Crime

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On August 12th, USLAW released this statement on the crisis in Gaza.  It is available for download in PDF format from A companion fact sheet can be downloaded at
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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Netanyahu's manipulations

  Netanyahu's Ugly Game in Gaza

By Stephen Zunes
The murder by unknown assailants of three Israeli teens who were members of an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Back would normally have been treated by both sides as simply another senseless loss of innocent young life experienced too often by Israelis and Palestinians alike. But the right-wing Israeli government took advantage of the tragedy to whip up ultra-nationalist sentiments, engage in a new wave of repression in the occupied West Bank, launch heavy mortar attacks and air strikes against civilian targets in the besieged Gaza Strip, and now to threaten all-out war.
This latest round of violence came on the heels of failed peace negotiations in which the Palestine Authority agreed to unprecedented concessions, including accepting a settlement in which their state would be demilitarized and would encompass just 22 percent of historic Palestine, militias would be dismantled, Israeli and international forces could guard all borders, Jerusalem would be shared as both nations’ co-capital, 80 percent of Israeli colonists would be allowed to stay in their illegal settlements, and the Palestinians would renounce the right of return of refugees expelled from their homes during Israel’s 1947-49 war of independence.
By contrast, the Israelis—according to both U.S. and Israeli sources--essentially refused to make any concessions from their longstanding insistence that the Palestinians only be allowed control of a series of tiny non-contiguous cantons surrounded by Israel.  Rather than acknowledging Israel’s culpability in the failure to achieve a peace agreement, the Obama administration blamed “both sides” and insisted that the Palestinians not just recognize Israel, as they had done more than twenty years ago, but explicitly recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” Never in history has a country been required to recognize the ethnic or religious identity of another as a requirement for peace.
With Israel’s intransigence in the face of Palestinian moderation, which raised global disapproval to unprecedented levels and prompted questions even among many Israelis, Prime Minister Netanyahu apparently felt a need to change the focus, taking advantage of the kidnapping and murder to his advantage. First he insisted, without making public any evidence, that the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas was responsible and, by extension—given their recent unity agreement to join the Fatah-led Palestinian government—the Palestine Authority itself. This came despite vehement denunciation of the kidnapping and murders by Palestinian officials and aggressive actions by Palestinian security services, first to find the missing teens and then to find the perpetrators.
Israel then began air strikes on the Gaza Strip, prompting Palestinian militants—who may actually have been affiliated with groups even more extremist than Hamas—to lob home-made rockets which, unlike the Israeli attacks, have not yet resulted in any casualties, but have reinforced the Israeli determination to escalate its assault on Gaza and prepare for a possible large-scale military offensive.
President Obama, to his credit, in an article written for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, declared that "all parties must protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not vengeance and retribution” and, while praising President Abbas for his willingness to work for peace, refrained from doing the same for Netanyahu. However, Obama failed to join Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and various governments in condemning Israeli violations of international humanitarian law, including collective punishment and attacks on noncombatants.
Since the beginning of 2014, nearly thirty Palestinian civilians, including nearly a dozen children and adolescents, have been killed by Israeli security forces. Nearly 1,300 have been injured, and as many as 650 have been forcibly displaced, raising concerns among many Palestinians about the disproportionate focus placed upon the three Israeli teenagers.
Imagine the reaction by the Obama administration if the Palestine Authority had reacted to the deaths of their youth as had Israel: bombing Israeli cities, breaking into and ransacking Israeli homes, and detaining hundreds of Israelis without charge.
Obama’s call for Israelis and Palestinians to exercise restraint and peacefully settle their differences is not enough. Whatever terrible acts may be committed by one side or the other, this is not an ethnic conflict. It is an illegal military occupation of one nation by another. The United States continues to block the United Nations from enforcing resolutions demanding Israel live up to its obligations under international law, while increasing military aid even as Israeli human rights abuses have also increased. This has pushed prospects for a peaceful resolution further out of reach, and made it harder for the Palestine Authority to prevent desperate elements within its population from targeting Israelis, including innocent civilians.
The United States must  use its considerable leverage on Israel not only to prevent a full-scale assault on Gaza, but to end the occupation.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco

Israel and West Destroying Gaza

by richardjacksonterrorismblog
The problem with Gaza is that when we see its suffering, we know that our commitment to human rights stops at the Israeli border; it hurries past the apartheid wall. We do not, it seems, believe in universal human rights after all.
The problem with Gaza is that when see its dead, dust-covered children, we know that our belief in the rule of law and accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity is nothing more than fancy talk designed to seduce and distract from the ethical vacuum at the heart of our legal ethics.
The problem with Gaza is that when we see the crushed wheelchairs of the disabled, too slow to get out with a one minute warning, we know that we consider some lives to be value-less, expendable, ungrievable. The Gazan dead are collateral damage, the responsibility of the terrorists, unfortunate accidents, deserving of their deaths because of their government; there are a million reasons to discount lives, to dismiss suffering.
The problem with Gaza is that when we see its hospitals crowded with the weeping wounded, waiting for vital medicines to be allowed in by Israeli border officials, we realise that we do not consider that all people have the right to live in freedom and dignity. We have learned to accept the imprisonment of an entire people behind walls; we accept that some can enjoy the freedoms we possess while others must possess subjugation, injustice, humiliation.
The problem with Gaza is that when we see family homes, hospitals, mosques and cultural centres reduced to rubble, we know that our commitment to international law and justice is little more than political expediency, a rhetorical flourish concealing a cynical calculus.
The problem with Gaza is that when we see people running about helplessly behind the walls, desperate to escape the screaming, searching bombs, we know that we accept an international order in which the powerful terrify and debase the weak, the oppressed are denied the right to resist, and in which military might trumps morality and reason.
The problem with Gaza is that it is a mirror to the moral vacuum that is 'civilised, Western values'. It taunts us, mocking our deeply-held beliefs, our delusional self-confessed identity as civilised, democratic, advanced. We think our politicians, our institutions and our societies really do cherish human rights, democracy, rule of law and a compassionate, humane international order. We believe our media tell the truth. But when we look at what Israel does to Gaza, to the Palestinians across the colonised territories, day after day and year after year, we know that none of this is really true. Suddenly, brutally, we know that we are hypocrites, our leaders are hypocrites, our purported values are nothing but vapours; they vanish with the first breeze of a US-made Israeli attack helicopter.
The problem with Gaza is that it reminds us that our governments send arms to Israel, accept its nuclear arsenal without protest, maintain full diplomatic relations with it, allow its representatives to speak unchallenged in our media, make excuses for its illegal, immoral behaviour, and block UN resolutions which criticise its walls, its blockades, its annexation of land, its excessive violence. It reminds us that we continue to vote for politicians and political parties who refuse to speak or act on behalf of the oppressed, despite their fine rhetoric about freedom and human rights.It reminds us that we allow Israel to act with impunity by our silence, our cooperation, our normalised relations. It reminds us that we have chosen a side, and it's not the side of justice and freedom.
The problem with Gaza is that it reminds us that we are all complicit in its suffering if we do nothing.
richardjacksonterrorismblog | July 14, 2014 at 10:30 pm | Tags: Gaza, Israel, Palestine, western values | Categories: Israel/Palestine | URL: