on sovereignty

Watching the first U.S. Presidential debates today was like watching a contest to see who could out perform the other with respect to American hegemony and supremacy. It was like watching who could make more blunders to prove who did not know anything about the regions they discussed (both of them said the “Iranian Republican Guard,” when it is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard; the Republican refers to Iraq). And watching McCain try to pronounce Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s name was classic and comic and tragic all at once. It was not a particularly thrilling debate. None of the economic or foreign policy issues they discussed showed much of a difference between the two candidates. But that was to be expected. It would have been different if Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney and Independent candidate Ralph Nader had been present. Then we would have seen a real debate with issues addressed in a substantive manner. A website that is supposed to feature Nader, McKinney, and others in an alternative or a response debate is supposed to appear today on the Voter Watch website, but I don’t think it’s online yet.

But back to debate in which only two candidates were allowed to participate in the U.S. so-called democracy. Here are some interesting highlights. This one shows McCain’s delusional mindset:

MCCAIN: And I want to tell you that now that we will succeed and our troops will come home, and not in defeat, that we will see a stable ally in the region and a fledgling democracy.

The consequences of defeat would have been increased Iranian influence. It would have been increase in sectarian violence. It would have been a wider war, which the United States of America might have had to come back.

So there was a lot at stake there. And thanks to this great general, David Petraeus, and the troops who serve under him, they have succeeded. And we are winning in Iraq, and we will come home. And we will come home as we have when we have won other wars and not in defeat.

This one shows Obama alluding to his plans to bomb Pakistan:

And we’ve got a choice. We could allow our troops to just be on the defensive and absorb those blows again and again and again, if Pakistan is unwilling to cooperate, or we have to start making some decisions.

This one shows McCain admitting that Israel is the 51st American state:

My reading of the threat from Iran is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it is an existential threat to the State of Israel and to other countries in the region because the other countries in the region will feel compelling requirement to acquire nuclear weapons as well.

Now we cannot a second Holocaust. Let’s just make that very clear. What I have proposed for a long time, and I’ve had conversation with foreign leaders about forming a league of democracies, let’s be clear and let’s have some straight talk. The Russians are preventing significant action in the United Nations Security Council.

I have proposed a league of democracies, a group of people – a group of countries that share common interests, common values, common ideals, they also control a lot of the world’s economic power. We could impose significant meaningful, painful sanctions on the Iranians that I think could have a beneficial effect.

The Iranians have a lousy government, so therefore their economy is lousy, even though they have significant oil revenues. So I am convinced that together, we can, with the French, with the British, with the Germans and other countries, democracies around the world, we can affect Iranian behavior.

This one shows Obama confuses Iraq and Iran (his use of Republican Guard) and that Obama also sees Israel as America’s 51st state:

Well, let me just correct something very quickly. I believe the Republican Guard of Iran is a terrorist organization. I’ve consistently said so. What Senator McCain refers to is a measure in the Senate that would try to broaden the mandate inside of Iraq. To deal with Iran.

And ironically, the single thing that has strengthened Iran over the last several years has been the war in Iraq. Iraq was Iran’s mortal enemy. That was cleared away. And what we’ve seen over the last several years is Iran’s influence grow. They have funded Hezbollah, they have funded Hamas, they have gone from zero centrifuges to 4,000 centrifuges to develop a nuclear weapon.

So obviously, our policy over the last eight years has not worked. Senator McCain is absolutely right, we cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran. It would be a game changer. Not only would it threaten Israel, a country that is our stalwart ally, but it would also create an environment in which you could set off an arms race in this Middle East.

Now here’s what we need to do. We do need tougher sanctions. I do not agree with Senator McCain that we’re going to be able to execute the kind of sanctions we need without some cooperation with some countries like Russia and China that are, I think Senator McCain would agree, not democracies, but have extensive trade with Iran but potentially have an interest in making sure Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon.

But we are also going to have to, I believe, engage in tough direct diplomacy with Iran and this is a major difference I have with Senator McCain, this notion by not talking to people we are punishing them has not worked. It has not worked in Iran, it has not worked in North Korea. In each instance, our efforts of isolation have actually accelerated their efforts to get nuclear weapons. That will change when I’m president of the United States.

Here is McCain struggling to pronounce Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s name:

Senator Obama twice said in debates he would sit down with Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Raul Castro without precondition. Without precondition. Here is Ahmadinenene (ph), Ahmadinejad, who is, Ahmadinejad, who is now in New York, talking about the extermination of the State of Israel, of wiping Israel off the map, and we’re going to sit down, without precondition, across the table, to legitimize and give a propaganda platform to a person that is espousing the extermination of the state of Israel, and therefore then giving them more credence in the world arena and therefore saying, they’ve probably been doing the right thing, because you will sit down across the table from them and that will legitimize their illegal behavior.

Okay, I am being reductive a little bit, but when you’re dealing with politicians who are reductive, the discourse tends to spiral downward quickly. You can read the entire transcript yourself if you like. The word Palestine was never mentioned once. Hamas was mentioned. The state of Israel was mentioned. But not Palestine. But the entire discourse of foreign policy whether in relation to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iran was all about a total disregard for sovereignty. I find this rather intriguing given that Obama is from the state of Hawai’i. Hawai’i is the 50th state in the U.S. and was made a state in 1959 (note this is after World War II when the U.S. likes to pretend it was attacked by Japan; this was not part of the U.S. during World War II). But it was done so against the will of the indigenous people of these islands. There was an amazing episode of the program “Inside USA” on Al Jazeera today called “The Other Hawai’i.” The entire episode focused on the history of Hawai’i and its struggle for sovereignty. Although the U.S. recognized Hawai’i’s independence in 1826, in 1898 U.S. President McKinley began the process of illegally annexing Hawai’i. Then as now it was corporate greed and colonialism that motivated American designs on annexing new territory; Haunani-Kay Trask’s A Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai’i makes this point clear:

The decade of the 1850’s witnessed a struggle between those planters seeking annexation to avoid U.S. sugar tariffs, and a monarchy attempting to preserve its sovereignty while fending off military interventions and a growing foreign element in the Kingdom. The first annexation treaty was drafted by Americans in the King’s government, and it sought Hawai’i’s admission as a state in order to guarantee Native rights. But Kamehameha III was opposed to annexation and the Treaty remained unsigned at his death. His successor, Prince Alexander Liholiho, ascended the throne in 1854. He terminated ongoing negotiations for annexation to the United Sates, substituting a policy of “sovereignty with reciprocity.” Concerned that American sugar planters in Hawai’i would agitate for annexation to circumvent both the high U.S. sugar tariff and competition with sugar from the Philippines and other foreign markets, Liholiho attempted to ease their fears through a reciprocity treaty that would satisfy the planters’ demand for profit. To protect Hawaiian independence, meanwhile, he coupled his reciprocity position with an independence policy. Under this plan, the U.S., France, and Britain would agree to respect and maintain the independence of Hawai’i.

The interesting thing about the program on Al Jazeera today–which I will definitely post if/when it becomes available on Youtube, is that it did not just give this history and also discuss the current resistance movement with respect to ensuring native Hawai’ians learn their history, language, and culture, but also that it weighed in on the various strategies people are considering within this movement. There were those who feel like accepting the Congress and President Bill Clinton’s “apology” in 1993 is a step in the right direction; others feel that this is a sign that their fate will be that of those Native American tribes on the mainland. The text of the “apology” is very interesting. I’ll quote some of it below, the part that goes over some of the historical material where the U.S. admits its colonial mistakes through the use of its military, government, missionaries, and sugar corporations:

Whereas, from 1826 until 1893, the United States recognized the independence of the Kingdom of Hawaii, extended full and complete diplomatic recognition to the Hawaiian Government, and entered into treaties and conventions with the Hawaiian monarchs to govern commerce and navigation in 1826, 1842, 1849, 1875, and 1887;

Whereas, the Congregational Church (now known as the United Church of Christ), through its American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, sponsored and sent more than 100 missionaries to the Kingdom of Hawaii between 1820 and 1850;

Whereas, on January 14, 1893, John L. Stevens (hereafter referred to in this Resolution as the “United States Minister”), the United States Minister assigned to the sovereign and independent Kingdom of Hawaii conspired with a small group of non-Hawaiian residents of the Kingdom of Hawaii, including citizens of the United States, to overthrow the indigenous and lawful Government of Hawaii;

Whereas, in pursuance of the conspiracy to overthrow the Government of Hawaii, the United States Minister and the naval representatives of the United States caused armed naval forces of the United States to invade the sovereign Hawaiian nation on January 16, 1893, and to position themselves near the Hawaiian Government buildings and the Iolani Palace to intimidate Queen Liliuokalani and her Government;

Whereas, on the afternoon of January 17,1893, a Committee of Safety that represented the American and European sugar planters, descendants of missionaries, and financiers deposed the Hawaiian monarchy and proclaimed the establishment of a Provisional Government;

Whereas, the United States Minister thereupon extended diplomatic recognition to the Provisional Government that was formed by the conspirators without the consent of the Native Hawaiian people or the lawful Government of Hawaii and in violation of treaties between the two nations and of international law;

But the most interesting comes at the very end where there is a “disclaimer” stating: “Nothing in this Joint Resolution is intended to serve as a settlement of any claims against the United States.” In other words, it is an empty apology as Noenoe Silva points out in the show. No reparations. No land returned. No removal of the excessive number of U.S. military bases on the islands. There are 150 military installations in Hawai’i from every brach of the military; it is, in fact, the most militarized place on earth. And as Kaleikoa Ka’eo stated in the program, if the U.S. government is looking for weapons of mass destruction–including nuclear weapons–they should look no further than the U.S. military bases in Hawai’i, which are also the source of never ending environmental devastation. Moreover, the program also highlighted the problem of more forced removal of indigenous Hawai’ians from their land. There is a community of homeless indigenous people who live on the beach and live off the land; the government now has instituted a form of ethnic cleansing whereby they will be removed into shelters. This is to make the beaches look prettier for the tourists. Of course, the question of Native Hawai’ian sovereignty–or any other indigenous people in the Americas–was not on the agenda last night.

But what about other settler colonialisms? Just as the U.S. doesn’t recognize Hawai’ian sovereignty, it also doesn’t recognize the sovereignty of Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, Iranians, or Pakistanis. That is clear. And actually Mahmoud Abbas spoke to the United Nations General Assembly this week about illegal Israeli settlers:

“It is strange that we hear unacceptable and unexplainable justifications for the continuation of settlement activity in east Jerusalem and the rest of Palestinian lands which they treat as if it was not occupied territories,” said Abbas.

“They think peace is achievable without ending the occupation of Palestinian lands occupied in 1967 including the Syrian Golan Heights and the Lebanese Sheba farms,” he explained, adding “occupation of Jerusalem should also come to an end as it is the capital of the future Palestinian independent state.”

Abbas suggested that international monitoring was necessary if real solutions were to be implemented with a vision of ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He added that the international Quartet must also make more efficient efforts, as well as the UN Security Council and other UN organizations.

Unfortunately, Abbas continues to speak in a framework that does not even mention Israeli settlers on all of historic Palestine’s land. Nor does he mention, at least in the brief piece I quoted from above, anything of the intensifying illegal settler violence in the West Bank. Despite videos on the Internet, and countless eyewitness accounts of this violence nothing changes. It merely gets worse. Every day. Even the New York Times ran a story about illegal settlers this week. Some friends here who are from villages around Nablus tell me that they fear, feel, and think that this settler violence is orchestrated not necessarily to push Palestinians out of Palestine in another form of ethnic cleansing, but also to push Palestinians off their land and into the cities. Burning olive trees and making it impossible for Palestinians to farm because water is diverted to illegal Israeli settlements for swimming pools and their sewage is dumped onto Palestinian land–all of this contributes to this recent method of Israeli ethnic cleansing (on this see an excellent article: How do you explain to a Palestinian child he must ration his drinking water so an Israeli can swim?). Some Palestinians in and around Nablus resisted this over the weekend as they reclaimed their land during Friday prayer.

Back home in the U.S. we have presidential candidates like McCain who say they are not interested in helping negotiate and sort of solution for Palestinians. This amidst the recent criticisms of the Quartet’s failings. Meanwhile, comedian Sarah Silverman has tried to capture the Zionist American youth in a bid to support Obama with a somewhat clever, if offensive (there is blatant racism in this clip as she compares an elderly Jewish woman “Nana” to a young Black man because “we’re all the same inside” and see the quote below about Obama himself and one more, which I won’t repeat here because it is X rated and too offensive to type), video and movement called “The Great Schlep.” It asks Jewish Americans to travel to Florida to convince their grandparents to vote for Obama. But first she lays out the probably racism (yes, there is a long history of Jewish racism against Blacks in the U.S.; and no, don’t throw out old, tired arguments about the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.):

You know why your grandparents don’t like Barack Obama? Because his name sounds scary. It sounds Muslim. Which he’s obviously not. Yes, Barack Hussein Obama. It’s a super f)(*&^% sh(*&^ name. But you’d think somebody named Manischewitz Guberman might understand that. The name Barack is a Hebrew word. It means lightening.

But then she gets to the real reasons why Jews should vote for Obama. Why? Well, because, as she says, it’s all about the foreign policy:

“Here are some fun facts. Barack Obama’s foreign policy is much more stabilizing and much better for Israel.”

This new campaign is funded by something called the Jewish Council for Education and Research. On their website they state one of their goals as:

In 2008, JewsVote.org is supporting Sen. Barack Obama for president and six other Congressional candidates who share the American Jewish community’s core public values: a robust First Amendment, equal rights for all, broad-based economic and educational opportunity, cultural liberalism, vigilance in the face of oppression, respect for the natural world, a strong but not belligerent foreign policy, and support for Israel.

On the Jews Vote.org website in the above-quoted paragraph if you follow the interactive video display (the reality version, not the rumor version) you see that one of the “realities” that the Jews Vote campaign promotes: “Obama would be a steady hand for Israel”; “Dennis Ross is Obama’s Middle East Advisor”; “Obama is a Christian and has never been a Muslim.” The layers of Islamophobia (the sense of relief the simple comment and its syntax reveals), Zionist support for the state of Israel, and the mere mention of Ross’ name reveals the political underpinnings of this project. It doesn’t take much for people to discover what Ross (who is closely aligned with Likudnik Benjamin Netanyahu) is really about. Here is one little parenthetical statement by the late Edward Said, which pretty much sums it up:

(The American team led by Dennis Ross, a former Israeli-lobby employee – a job to which he has now returned – routinely supported the Israeli position which, after a full decade of negotiation, consisted in handing back 18 per cent of the Occupied Territories to the Palestinians on highly unfavourable terms, with the IDF left in charge of security, borders and water. Naturally enough, the number of settlements has more than doubled since then.)

In a nutshell between the candidates themselves–or at least those we are allowed to watch debate–will bring more of the same when it comes to people whose land is occupied, whose land is invaded, whose land is subjected to the environmental devastation that militarism brings with it.

Addendum. On second thought, maybe McCain and Obama are right. Maybe Israel is the United States’ 51st state. Here are two items that might lead one to reconsider:

1. The Blue and White Star of David will wave on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles as the Consulate General of Israel becomes the first Israeli Consulate office in North America to fly the flag of Israel outside its front door.

Thousands of Southlanders are expected to witness this historic event, which will take place on Sept. 28 at 1 p.m., outside the office of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, 6380 Wilshire Blvd. This event, which was organized to commemorate Israel’s 60th anniversary, particularly strikes a So-Cal chord given that Los Angeles is home to the world’s largest Israeli community, outside of Israel itself.

Featured speakers include Consul General of Israel Jacob Dayan and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. During a trip to Israel earlier this year, Villaraigosa was personally presented the Israeli flag by Israel’s President Shimon Peres.

Prior to the raising of Israel’s flag, U.S. Marines will first raise the American flag, followed by members of the California National Guard raising California’s flag. History will follow when Israel Defense Forces soldiers will then raise the flag of Israel. Consul General Dayan explains, “This triumvirate of flags symbolizes the strong, mutually supportive bond that’s been built between Israel and the United States as a whole, as well as between Israel and California specifically.” Adding, “We deeply value these relationships and wanted to take the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary to recognize these bonds in a big way.”

2. U.S. European Command has deployed to Israel a high-powered X-band radar and the supporting people and equipment needed for coordinated defense against Iranian missile attack, marking the first permanent U.S. military presence on Israeli soil.

More than a dozen aircraft, including C-5s and C-17s, helped with the Sept. 21 delivery of the AN/TPY-2 Transportable Radar Surveillance/Forward Based X-band Transportable, its ancillary components and some 120 EuCom personnel to Israel’s Nevatim Air Base southeast of Beersheba, said sources here and in Stuttgart, Germany.


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