U.S. Foreign Policy: This Is Us

Last weekend a pair of horrifying massacres in the U.S. cities of El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio sent shock waves through the country. The outrage was so powerful that even President Donald Trump had to overcome his own indifference to the act and say something that, from another source, might have sounded vaguely presidential. From him it only sounded insincere, especially since he could not even remember which Ohio city had just been so badly traumatized.

Among the punditry, Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr., Professor of African-American Studies at Princeton, had perhaps the most insightful commentary. As Glaude completed his brief speech on MSNBC, he noted that when we see these horrific mass shootings, we ask, “Oh my God, is this who we are?”

Glaude answered his own question. “What we know is that this country has been playing politics for a long time on this hatred—we know this. So, it’s easy for us to place it all on Donald Trump’s shoulders. It’s easy to place Pittsburgh on his shoulders. It’s easy for me to place Charlottesville on his shoulders. It’s easy to place El Paso on his shoulders.” But then Glaude resoundingly proclaimed, “This is us! And if we’re gonna get past this we can’t blame it on [Trump]. He’s a manifestation of the ugliness that’s in us.”

Glaude is correct to point out that Trump is not inventing this, he is unleashing it, harvesting hate that has festered for decades, suppressed—but not defeated—by liberal ideals.

But as Americans so often do, we think of the Trump presidency in terms of ourselves, of what happens within our borders. For many of us, that doesn’t even extend to a place like Puerto Rico, which Trump was able to smugly neglect in a way he never would have dared to do to a mainland U.S. city. But what of our foreign policy under Trump and for years before him?

Events in Gaza, Iran, the United Kingdom, Congo, Kashmir, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and other places do not exist in isolation from the United States. Sometimes by action, sometimes by inaction, the U.S. affects events all over the world. That’s hardly news. Most Americans know it. But too few of us take it seriously enough to let it influence our votes or political activity. Read more at LobeLog

Renaming and “Rethinking Foreign Policy”

You might have noticed that the name of my blog has changed. It’s a change that’s been a long time coming, as I’ve not been comfortable with the name, “The Third Way” for quite a while. But the change represents more than a mere marketing decision.

I began this blog when I was the co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace, nearly 15 years Jstreet2017-0595ago. At that time, I liked the name of the blog. I didn’t see it as reflecting a “middle path,” or a “compromise position” on the Israeli occupation. But I felt that it represented what I was trying to present: an analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict born out of an understanding of and a sympathy for both Palestinian dispossession and lack of rights and Jewish history and realpolitik.

When I left JVP, I took the blog with me. The name still seemed to suit me for a time, but my discomfort with it soon emerged. That was in part due to my work for B’Tselem, which required me to rein in a lot of my political writing, a result of the misguided notion they held at the time that human rights work was somehow separate from political activism.

In more recent years, I’ve been sure that the name was wrong. That’s not because my views have shifted that much. They have inevitably evolved over 15 years, of course, but I still approach the issue with empathy for the shared history I have with other Jews as I work to make Americans recognize that the occupation is a horrific, ongoing crime that would have ended long ago were it not for the policies of the United States.

The name no longer fit for several reasons. First, I was writing about a lot more than the Israel-Palestine conflict. Second, the politics of the conflict had changed with the long-term split in Palestinian politics, the utter dominance of the Israeli right over Israeli policy, and the twin effects on discourse in the United States: while both parties in Washington had been pulled much farther to the right, liberal disconnect, both Jewish and non-Jewish, from Israel had grown and with it, so had more open criticism of Israeli policies.

I finally settled on the name “Rethinking Foreign Policy.” The fact that the US is the key enabler of the occupation is not given nearly enough attention. The discourse in the US sort of recognizes the huge role we play, as well as the unique position this foreign policy item occupies in US domestic politics. But it’s still discussed as an “over there” issue. No, friends, it’s a here and now issue. If the dark days of the Trump administration prove nothing else about Palestine-Israel, they prove that.

The word “rethink” has become popular lately, especially in progressive circles. ReThink Media, a very important organization working on the same issues I write about is one example. There’s a number of other really great organizations rethinking education, how to raise boys to resist the indoctrination toward sexual violence, behavioral health care and other issues. I’m not much for following trends, but this one seems like a good one.

The way Americans discuss foreign policy is rotten at the core. Our racism, belief in American exceptionalism, and apathy regarding our history, legacy, and ongoing policies that impoverish and dispossess people all around the world, as well a s here at home, underpin a lot of foreign policy thinking, including quite a bit of mainstream progressive thought. Even when intentions can go beyond those limitations, the often stodgy thinking dominated, as this field is, by excessively privileged white men is very slow to change.

Perhaps I am overly and unjustifiably flattering myself, but I choose to believe that I offer an analysis that is relatively independent. Anyone who claims to be unbiased is either lying or simply has no knowledge of the subject under discussion, as that is the only way to escape bias. But, as many of you know, I have spent much of the past decade unemployed, so I have been able to develop my thinking, writing, and analysis without any organizational constraints. and I’d like to think that makes me a little less biased than many others.

So I am trying to inspire a basic “rethinking” of our foreign policy. That’s the approach I have pursued and will continue to do so.

I plan to do more short blog posts that will appear here in their entirety, so this site won’t just be a collection of links to my articles and appearances at LobeLog and elsewhere. While I will still write a great deal on Palestine and Israel, I will also continue to expand my writing to include other major US foreign policy issues, as I have been doing with Iran, Syria, North Korea, and the Persian Gulf. I expect to also write more about China, Latin America, Trump’s slashing of our relationships with allies like Canada and the EU, and even some domestic issues.

That’s my plan, anyway, We’ll see if I can actually pull it off. Thanks for sticking with me through all of these years, and for continuing to follow my work.

Bernie Sanders Foreign Policy Speech: A Renewal of American Purpose

Today, at Westminster College, Senator Bernie Sanders delivered a powerful, progressive view of foreign policy. This is precisely the way Democrats should be talking about international affairs. Yet, somehow, media coverage was largely absent. This demonstrated that the US media has learned nothing from their disastrous performance in the coverage of the 2016 election campaign.

In order to address this, I am posting the full text of Senator Sanders’ speech. Please link to this, share it as far and wide as you can. Continue reading

The Cold Realities of US Policy in Israel-Palestine

During the summertime war in Gaza, the two most progressive members of the US Senate stirred up controversy among their backers with 7258702972_d11e56b4ea_z (1)expressions of uncritical support for Israel. At a town hall meeting, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the lone Senate independent, responded to a questioner that Israel had “overreacted” with its 52-day bombardment and ground incursion, but then proceeded to justify Israel’s actions with the usual pro-Israel talking points about “missiles fired from populated areas” and “sophisticated tunnels.” An audience member began to shout objections, to which Sanders said, “Shut up.”

Elizabeth Warren, the Democrat from Massachusetts, went further in her defense of Israel at a meeting with constituents on Cape Cod. She said it was right for the United States to send $225 million in aid to Israel, a “democracy controlled by the rule of law,” as the bombing continued. She ventured no criticism at all of the extensive damage to civilian lives and livelihoods in Gaza. When another constituent suggested that future US aid be conditioned on Israel halting settlement construction in the West Bank, Warren replied, “I think there’s a question of whether we should go that far.” Read more at the Middle East Research and Information Project

A 4th of July Message

238 years ago today, a country declared its independence. The country that was created on that day had already begun its

Photo by Rob Roy, used under a Creative Commons license

Photo by Rob Roy, used under a Creative Commons license

campaign of genocide of the native people, was building its economy in large part on slavery and intended its vaunted “freedom” only for white, male land-owners, a very narrow slice of the new country’s population.

Since its inception, the country has been involved in countless wars and undeclared military actions and has routinely sacrificed the stability, security and the very lives of the people of other countries in pursuit of its interests, both economic and ideological.

Yes, there were ways in which, in 1776, the new country was a step forward, especially insofar as it reflected the institution of individual rights and the rule of law supplanting both the rule of God and the rule of kings. But it has long since been surpassed in any such ideals by many other countries.

Today, that country is the global superpower, and its policies have been a major factor (though, to be sure, far from the only one) in the devastation of Africa, the chaos in the Middle East and the massive proliferation of weapons of mass destruction around the globe. It is the source of the majority of the ocean of smaller weapons in the world. It exploits impoverished countries for cheap labor and persecutes those who flee those conditions to try to seek a better life within its own shores, contrary to the purported ideals on which it was founded. It is the source of the majority of the most destructive and reactionary Judeo-Christian religious forces in the world. It has distorted the basic precepts of capitalism (however flawed they might be themselves) to empower the ultra-rich and global corporations, giving those forces enormous power. It has routinely supported some of the ugliest governments in the world (it was the last country to withdraw support from Apartheid South Africa, and the examples in Latin America are too numerous to list here), and to this day, supports crimes all around the globe, as long as the criminals enforce its own policies and objectives.

Forgive me, then, if I find little reason to celebrate the anniversary of that country’s birth.