Thursday, December 15, 2016

Who pulled Tony Blair's strings?

Tony Blair “believes that the arc of history still bends towards progress and enlightenment,” a recent profile in the New Statesman proclaimed.

The former prime minister’s casual attire and views on the popular TV show “Strictly Come Dancing” were carefully noted by the London weekly, eager to publicize his re-engagement in British politics. Blair’s reverential interviewer did not shy away completely from the Iraq war, yet seemed more concerned about its effects on Blair’s own wellbeing than about its actual victims.

By using the phrase “arc of history,” the interviewer was probably invoking Martin Luther King’s aphorism “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” A reputedly serious magazine twisted the words of a civil rights leader to laud a war criminal.

With just a few exceptions, the mainstream press has failed to properly scrutinize Blair’s activities. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, phony intelligence was treated as incontrovertible by stenographers masquerading as journalists. After Blair left Downing Street, the stenographers labeled him a “Middle East peace envoy.”

Blair stepped down as an “envoy” last year. There are still many questions about his post that have not been properly examined. Here is one such question: who precisely did he serve?

Formally, Blair was a representative of the Middle East Quartet – the US, European Union, United Nations and Russia. In reality, many of his activities appear to have either been directed from or closely watched by Washington officials.

That fact was implicitly acknowledged now and then – such as when John Kerry, the secretary of state, tasked Blair with drawing up a plan for boosting investment in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Blair was not a full-time envoy; his lucrative activities as a corporate lobbyist meant he was often away from his quartet desk. Who, then, was running his office in Jerusalem?

Penchant for praise

As well as being the largest donor to the Quartet envoy’s office – providing $13.5 million between 2007 and 2013 – the US supplied some of its top personnel.

Robert Danin was head of Blair’s office from 2008 to 2010. Danin, who had previously worked in both the State Department and the National Security Council, shared Blair’s penchant for praising Israel when it did not deserve any praise.

For example, when Israel agreed in 2010 that a small number of trucks carrying goods could be allowed into Gaza, Danin claimed there had been a “positive step forward.” Danin avoided saying publicly that Gaza was under an Israeli siege.

Today, Danin makes his living as an “expert” with the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.

He has used that position to advocate that the relationship between Israel and the US should be properly consummated. Writing in the journal Foreign Affairs earlier this year, Danin recommended that the Israeli government seek a formal pact with the US.

Entering into a treaty-based alliance with the US would “not necessarily have a significant practical effect on Israeli freedom of maneuver,” he argued. That is a fancy way of saying that Israel would still be able to behave with impunity in oppressing the Palestinians and bombing its neighbors.

Hugging Israel tighter

Another career diplomat, Gary Grappo, succeeded Dannin as Blair’s head of office. Grappo’s bio states that he had previously led the “super-sized political division” at the US embassy in Baghdad.

Grappo’s faith in imperial aggression remains strong – despite being exposed to its messy consequences. In a 2014 opinion piece, he advocated that the US be more forceful in “fighting and defeating terrorism, especially the jihadist-kind that pervades much of the Middle East.”

By displaying greater vigor “US foreign policy might also regain the moral and political high ground, where America and its friends want it to be,” he added. Unless I missed something, Grappo did not state when the US last commanded the moral high ground.

Grappo has now moved on to manage his own firm, Equilibrium International Consulting. Its website promises “sober, balanced and insightful perspectives” on the Middle East to firms and institutions dealing with the region.

For their sake, I hope that there is more balance and insight in what he tells his clients than in what he writes. Many of his comments parrot official US and Israeli propaganda – such as his patently absurd allegation that Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza was “launched” by Hamas.

Grappo, who has also served in Riyadh, pays particularly close attention to Saudi Arabia. Last year, he suggested that Saudi Arabia and Israel should liaise on security and intelligence matters.

The case admittedly has a perverse logic: the Israeli and Saudi ruling elites are both proficient in abusing human rights, so they might as well swap notes. The ongoing Saudi war crimes in Yemen bear some similarities to Israel’s offensives against Gaza and Lebanon.

Grappo, however, did not express himself in such crude terms. Instead, he tried to convey the impression that his motives were altruistic. Greater cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel would “set the stage for the first-ever meaningful and constructive dialogue about the Palestinian question,” he wrote.

He also wants the US to have the same kind of bond with Saudi Arabia that it has with Israel. His rationale – based on observations he made while working for Blair – is that “the US was always far more succesful in getting the Israelis to do things that they felt uncomfortable doing” when it embraced them as tightly as possible.

Alas, Grappo has not specified what results American hugging can yield.

Under Barack Obama’s presidency, the US embrace of Israel has become tighter than ever. The awarding of a $38 billion military aid package to Israel is the most tangible manifestation of that embrace.

Tony Blair was included within that embrace and never showed any desire to be released from it.

・First published by The Electronic Intifada, 12 December 2016.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Europe's "turbo boost" for war industry will benefit Israel

White supremacists are about to take up residency in the White House. Climate change deniers are mapping out the future of environmental policy. A man who seems to be constantly losing his temper on Twitter will – in less than two months from now – lead a nuclear-armed superpower.

And what are Europe’s top politicians doing in preparation for Donald Trump’s presidency? Are they asserting an alternative worldview to the heady blend of imperialism and capitalism that has intoxicated Trump’s entourage?

No, they are still parroting the old idea that the US should be constantly copied.

A new paper by the European Commission is particularly repugnant. Lamenting that the EU “lags behind” the US in military strength, it recommends steps to rectify that apparent problem.

The most troubling of the proposals would involve setting up a new scheme under which taxpayers’ money would be splurged on developing more advanced weapons. Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s president, covets a “defense fund” to, in his words, “turbo boost [military] research and innovation.”

Juncker is a right-wing ideologue, who has strong-armed Greece into introducing painful and far-reaching economic reforms.

There is no public clamor in Europe for bolstering the weapons industry. Juncker and his – largely unaccountable – colleagues are driving through their proposals on military research in much the same way as they foisted austerity on Greece.

The new paper is the latest in a series of EU blueprints on military research. And Israel’s war strategists have helped shape the underlying agenda.

Juncker’s suggestion of a “defense fund” chimes with the recommendations previously made by the European Security Research and Innovation Forum (ESRIF). Bringing together lobbyists from major weapons producers with sympathetic civil servants, that club was assembled by the EU authorities in 2007.

Why catch up?

Though Israel is not a member of the European Union, ESRIF was eager to avail of the “expertise” it had gained from oppressing the Palestinians. Nitzan Nuriel, a retired Israeli brigadier general, took part in the forum’s activities.

Nuriel has an impressive career history – for those who find cruelty impressive. He won promotion after it emerged that he had ordered troops serving in a battalion he commanded to torture Palestinian detainees in 1987.

He went on to hold senior positions in military units occupying both the West Bank and Gaza and play a prominent role in Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

Following that invasion, Nuriel joined Israel’s National Security Council, a body that advises the Israeli prime minister, and soon became director of its “counter-terrorism bureau.” He sat on ESRIF in that capacity.

The forum advocated that the EU’s activities on “security” research – a euphemism for innovation which may have military applications – should grow. Israel’s war industry has soaked up numerous grants from those activities until now.

Juncker’s new effort to “turbo boost” weapons innovation is essentially a sequel to a “security” research scheme which came into effect in 2007.

It is too early to say if Israel will directly get money should Juncker’s dream of a “defense fund” materialize. There can be little doubt, however, that these kinds of proposals stand to benefit Israel’s arms manufacturers.

Israel has carved out a lucrative niche for itself in the global weapons market by investing heavily in drones and cybersecurity software, both of which feature in the European Commission’s new paper.

The EU’s governments have committed themselves to the objective of having drones made in Europe’s factories by 2025. Attaining that goal will almost certainly require some Israeli technology or expertise.

France and Britain are the two EU countries to have made the greatest use of drones to date. Drones flown by both the French and British militaries were Israeli-designed.

Israel has deployed the same type of drones as those used by France in Mali and Libya and Britain in Afghanistan during its major operations against Gaza.

Contrary to the impression conveyed by the Brussels elite, none of this is necessary.

If Europe lags behind the US in military might, then why should it catch up? Why should Europe’s leaders be part of a contest to prove they can fetishize the war industry just as much as their American counterparts?

And if catching up requires cooperation with Israel, that’s all the more reason to quit the contest.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 2 December 2016.