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Journal Archives

Owl of Minerva's View: ISIS and Our Times

Families camp out at the Bajid Kandala refugee camp, near Iraq’s northernmost border crossing with Syria, Aug. 16, 2014. (Photo: Lynsey Addario / The New York Times)

Friday, 05 September 2014 13:10 By Noam Chomsky, Truthout | Op-Ed

It is not pleasant to contemplate the thoughts that must be passing through the mind of the Owl of Minerva as the dusk falls and she undertakes the task of interpreting the era of human civilization, which may now be approaching its inglorious end.

The era opened almost 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, stretching from the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates, through Phoenicia on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to the Nile Valley, and from there to Greece and beyond. What is happening in this region provides painful lessons on the depths to which the species can descend.

The land of the Tigris and Euphrates has been the scene of unspeakable horrors in recent years. The George W. Bush-Tony Blair aggression in 2003, which many Iraqis compared to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, was yet another lethal blow. It destroyed much of what survived the Bill Clinton-driven UN sanctions on Iraq, condemned as "genocidal" by the distinguished diplomats Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who administered them before resigning in protest. Halliday and von Sponeck's devastating reports received the usual treatment accorded to unwanted facts.

One dreadful consequence of the US-UK invasion is depicted in a New York Times "visual guide to the crisis in Iraq and Syria": the radical change of Baghdad from mixed neighborhoods in 2003 to today's sectarian enclaves trapped in bitter hatred. The conflicts ignited by the invasion have spread beyond and are now tearing the entire region to shreds.

remainder: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/26000-owl-of-minervas-view-isis-and-our-times

Gaza conflict: Drone footage reveals extent of damage

5 September 2014 Last updated at 12:08 BST

In Gaza, families are slowing returning to their homes, but for many they will find them razed to the ground.

Drone footage reveals the extent of damage to Gaza City caused by the recent conflict with Israeli that lasted 50 days, until a ceasefire was brokered.

Between 8 July and 27 August, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel.

Last week, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told the BBC Hamas had "brought only misery and suffering on both sides".


William Deresiewicz on Excellent Sheep ( discusses the miseducation of the American elite ) Harper's

August 28, 2014

By Trevor Quirk

William Deresiewicz is an under­appreciated essayist and thinker, not to mention a literary critic whose acumen is comparable to James Wood’s. After writing an essay he felt was doomed to obscurity, “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education,” he received such a strong response he decided to expand on his critique. The result, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life, is a rangy and urgent diagnosis of the compromised higher-education system in the United States. A former professor at Yale, Deresiewicz is particularly adept at articulating the kinds of unspoken assumptions — for example, that the ethos of college should be practical and professional, and that success should be defined comparatively — that make many academics and students vaguely uneasy. Given that Excellent Sheep is at heart instructive, I asked Deresiewicz six questions from the perspective of one of the students to whom it is foremost addressed.

1. Reading Excellent Sheep was somewhat therapeutic, even vindicating for me. My undergrad institution, from which I graduated two years ago, is what’s commonly called a “Boutique School,” a regional college offering something resembling the traditional liberal-arts education of which you approve. In retrospect, I seemed to have never appreciated what a gift this was; it was one of my last opportunities for uninhibited intellectual play. Do you think it falls on the student to have this realization, in the face of pressure to succeed by traditional metrics?

I’d love it if elite college students expected themselves to take the opportunity for uninhibited intellectual play. But no, I don’t think it falls on them to have that realization — at least, not primarily. It falls on the adults they encounter in high school and college to make sure they understand that that is one of the most important opportunities that college provides. As things stand now, almost everything is pushing in the opposite direction. Fortunately, there are professors and even colleges (often liberal-arts colleges or public-honors colleges) that try to get students to resist the rush to practicality and credentialism.

2. Continuing in this vein, and considering your commentary on parenting and teaching, I wonder if parents and teachers are truly capable of imparting certain lessons to their children and students, given how self-enclosed the world of a teenager or even a young adult can be. Is this solipsism biologically and psychologically innate, or is it a historical and cultural artifact of privilege — to wit, is this something that must be outgrown or can it be punctured by education? Like, would a teenager from a low-income home ever have these illusions?

remainder: http://harpers.org/blog/2014/08/william-deresiewicz-on-excellent-sheep/

The Underrated Saudi Connection

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are attracting surprisingly little attention. In Iraq, the U.S. is carrying out air strikes and sending in advisers and trainers to help beat back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (better known as ISIS) on the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The U.S. would presumably do the same if ISIS surrounds or attacks Baghdad. But in Syria, Washington’s policy is the exact opposite: there the main opponent of ISIS is the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds in their northern enclaves. Both are under attack from ISIS, which has taken about a third of the country, including most of its oil and gas production facilities.

But U.S., Western European, Saudi, and Arab Gulf policy is to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, which happens to be the policy of ISIS and other jihadis in Syria. If Assad goes, then ISIS will be the beneficiary, since it is either defeating or absorbing the rest of the Syrian armed opposition. There is a pretense in Washington and elsewhere that there exists a “moderate” Syrian opposition being helped by the U.S., Qatar, Turkey, and the Saudis. It is, however, weak and getting more so by the day. Soon the new caliphate may stretch from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean and the only force that can possibly stop this from happening is the Syrian army.

The reality of U.S. policy is to support the government of Iraq, but not Syria, against ISIS. But one reason that group has been able to grow so strong in Iraq is that it can draw on its resources and fighters in Syria. Not everything that went wrong in Iraq was the fault of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as has now become the political and media consensus in the West. Iraqi politicians have been telling me for the last two years that foreign backing for the Sunni revolt in Syria would inevitably destabilize their country as well. This has now happened.

in full: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patrick-cockburn/war-on-terror-failed_b_5697475.html

Debunking Israel's 'self-defense' argument

July 31, 2014 6:00AM ET
by John Dugard

Israel claims that it is acting in self-defense in Gaza, thereby portraying itself as the victim in the present conflict. President Barack Obama and both houses of the U.S. Congress have endorsed this justification for the use of force. But is it an accurate assessment?

Gaza is not an independent state like Lebanon or Jordan. Israel accepts this but instead sees Gaza as a “hostile entity,” a concept unknown to international law and one that Israel has not sought to explain.

But the status of Gaza is clear. It is an occupied territory — part of the occupied Palestinian territory. In 2005 Israel withdrew its settlers and the Israel Defense Forces from Gaza, but it continues to retain control of it, not only through intermittent incursions into and regular shelling of the territory but also by effectively controlling the land crossings into Gaza, its airspace and territorial waters and its population registry, which determines who may leave and enter.

Effective control is the test for occupation. The International Court of Justice recently confirmed this in a dispute between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. The physical presence of Israel in Gaza is not necessary provided it retains effective control and authority over the territory by other means. Modern technology now permits effective control from outside the occupied territory, and this is what Israel has established.

in full: http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/7/gaza-israel-internationalpoliticsunicc.html

UN right commissioner: Israel and Hamas both guilty of war crimes

Netanyahu: Tunnels will be destroyed, with or without truce; Hagel reiterates support for Israel's right to defend itself; U.S. agrees to Israeli request for ammunition, CNN reports; ministers order military to press on with Gaza op.

By Haaretz | Jul. 31, 2014 | 3:53 PM

snip* 2:38 P.M. The UN's top human rights official is accusing Israel and Hamas militants of committing war crimes in the latest Gaza war.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says that by placing and firing rockets within heavily populated areas both sides are committing "a violation of international humanitarian law, therefore a war crime."

Pillay also told reporters Thursday in Geneva that she sees "a recurrence of the very acts" from the 2009 Gaza war in which the UN concluded Israel deliberately targeted civilians and might have committed war crimes, along with Hamas. (News Agencies) Read full article

in full: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.608121

Video: Patrick Cockburn 'IS did not act alone' in Iraq and Syria

Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn on the IS phenomenon

Tuesday 22 July 2014 17:31 BST

The Independent's Patrick Cockburn speaks to Middle East Eye about the Islamic State (IS) phenomenon, explaining that they could not have acted without international support.

While the group is a "fighting machine" that is gaining political clout for succeeding militarily against the odds, Cockburn believes that IS' broad reaching Iraq offensive could only have gone ahead with the backing of the group's donors in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf.

Since launching a large-scale offensive last month and capturing Iraq’s second city Mosul, the militant group has stirred widespread global intrigue, with the world’s analysts and policy-makers striving to find out the extent of their strength and appeal.

Before joining The Independent, Cockburn was a leading Middle East correspondent for the Financial Times and has written several books on Iraq's recent history.

in full: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/video-patrick-cockburn-did-not-act-alone-iraq-and-syria-1066782998

Noam Chomsky calls on Iran to release imprisoned journalist Marzieh Rasouli

American philosopher speaks out against sentence of 50 lashes given to Iranian journalist

Saeed Kamali Dehghan

theguardian.com, Friday 11 July 2014

The US philosopher Noam Chomsky has called on Iran to release the female journalist Marzieh Rasouli who was jailed last week to endure a sentence of 50 lashes and two years in prison.

Chomsky told the Guardian that the detention of Rasouli and at least three other female journalists in the past two months was "entirely unacceptable", urging Hassan Rouhani's administration to swiftly act for their release. Saba Azarpeik and Reyhaneh Tabatabaei are among other journalists arrested recently.

"I was surprised and distressed to learn of the detention and harsh treatment of Marzieh Rasouli and other women journalists in Iran," Chomsky told the Guardian. "Surely such actions are entirely unacceptable, and I hope and trust that they will quickly be released and compensated for their unjust punishment."

At the time Rouhani is improving relations with the west, Iran's judiciary, which is independent of his government, together with the country's intelligence and security apparatus have launched a new wave of arrests of journalists. Activists said another female reporter, Sajedeh Arabsorkhi, was also summoned to serve her one-year jail term.


B'Tselem info sheet: 52 Palestinians killed in bombings of homes in Gaza Strip, which are unlawful

A house bombed in Gaza. Photo: Muhammad Salem, reuters, 13 July 2014

According to B'Tselem's initial findings, from the start of Operation Protective Shield there were ten incidents in which Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were killed when the Israeli military bombed homes. 52 people were killed in these incidents, of them 19 minors and 12 women. An additional incident, in which six members of the same family were killed was defined by the military as a targeted killing, and was therefore not included in this figure.

Official spokespeople state that it is enough for a person to be involved in military activity to render his home (and his neighbors' homes) legitimate military targets, without having to prove any connection between his activity and the house in which he and his family live. This interpretation is unfounded and illegal. It is not a coincidence that the number of uninvolved civilians killed or injured by these bombings is growing. The law is meant to protect civilians and, unsurprisingly, violating it has lethal consequences. Euphemisms such as "surgical strikes" or "operational infrastructure" cannot hide the facts: illegal attacks of homes, which constitute punitive home demolition from the air, come at a dreadful cost in human life.

Detailed discussion:

Is it legal for the military to bomb the homes of Hamas operatives?

From 8 July 2014, when the military launched Operation Protective Shield, to early Sunday 13 July, the military bombed dozens of houses in the Gaza Strip, according to media reports and statements by the IDF Spokesperson. According to the latter, these bombings are legal because the private homes of Hamas activists are "a legitimate military objective". Is that true?

What does the law say?

International humanitarian law defines a military target as follows:

" military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage." (Article 52 (2), Protocol I Additional to the Fourth Geneva Convention)

in full: http://www.btselem.org/gaza_strip/20140713_palestinians_killed_in_illegal_attacks_on_houses

U.S. Demand for Deep Centrifuge Cut Is a Diplomatic Ploy Analysis by Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON, Jul 1 2014 (IPS) - With only a few weeks remaining before the Jul. 20 deadline, the Barack Obama administration issued a warning to Iran that it must accept deep cuts in the number of its centrifuges in order to demonstrate that its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes.

U.S. officials have argued that such cuts are necessary to increase the “breakout” time – the time it would take Iran to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade level to build a single bomb – from what is said to be two to three months at present to as long as a year or even more.
Given the past record of political interference in fuel agreements, Washington knows it faces a tough sell trying to get Iran to accept the U.S. insistence on reliance on foreign suppliers.

Tehran has made it clear that it will not accept such a demand. Dismantling the vast majority of the centrifuges that Iran had installed is a highly symbolic issue, and the political cost of acceptance would be extremely high.

But a closer examination of the issues under negotiation suggests that the ostensible pressure on Iran is part of a strategy aimed at extracting concessions from Iran on the issue of its longer-term enrichment capability.

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