After Stonewall… Washington presents itself as global leader on gay rights

Counterpunch had rather poor timing with its end of January issue of its magazine “headlined by Jeffrey Blankfort’s searing history of the Israeli lobby in American politics. Blankfort charts the rise of AIPAC, how it craftily avoided having to register as a foreign agent, how it has played presidents against congresses, and congresses against presidential administrations.”
John B. Judis is a senior editor at the New Republic and the author of Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, from which parts of this article were adapted.

And then the bill stalled. In his State of the Union address, President Obama was blunt: “Let me be clear: If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.” The following week, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would not bring the bill to the floor. Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and one of the bill’s original sponsors, gave a speech on the Senate floor, acknowledging the need to give diplomacy a chance. And AIPAC itself, while maintaining that it still supported the bill’s thrust, backed off, saying the time was not right for Congress to take up the legislation. It was a humiliating public retreat for one of Washington’s most powerful lobbies.

The defeat has been portrayed largely as a failure of tactics — a question of “who played the Washington game better?” In the Huffington Post, Trita Parsi, an Iran expert who supports the nuclear talks, attributed AIPAC’s defeat to the “careful groundwork” and “intense mobilization” practiced by a “pro-diplomacy coalition” of nonprofits. In the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, a proponent of the bill, charged that AIPAC had been “almost entirely ineffective on the issue it supposedly cares most about. It failed to persuade Reid to move the bill.”

Undoubtedly, Beltway maneuvering played some role in consigning the sanctions bill to purgatory, but its defeat also revealed two growing weaknesses in AIPAC that run deeper than shortcomings in its ground game.

The first concerns AIPAC’s political base. For its first 30 years, AIPAC’s directors were well-known liberal Jewish Democrats; its natural base was among Jewish Democrats; and in Congress, it relied on Democrats for support. Today, AIPAC’s director is a Republican; Jewish Democrats are increasingly skeptical of Israel’s conservative government; and in the Senate debate on Iran sanctions, AIPAC had to rely on Republicans who may have backed the bill as much out of opposition to the Obama administration as out of support for AIPAC and Israel’s government.

The second weakness, which is related to the first, has to do with AIPAC’s fundamental orientation as a lobby for Israel — and, almost invariably, for official Israeli policy.

In the past, AIPAC could convincingly maintain to Jews, Democrats, and official Washington that America’s interests and Israel’s interests, as articulated by their governments, were similar if not identical.

In the past, AIPAC could convincingly maintain to Jews, Democrats, and official Washington that America’s interests and Israel’s interests, as articulated by their governments, were similar if not identical. That fundamental confluence of interests was called into question during the debate over the sanctions bill — by senators who had been among AIPAC’s most dependable allies and by commentators in the media.

These frailties have nothing to do with tactics and everything to do with the fact that the very conditions that had made the organization such a success no longer obtain — a trend that began well before the sanctions debate. ….

A few Senate and House members continued to question whether AIPAC was an agent of a foreign government, but the charge didn’t stick. There were several reasons why. First, the United States saw Israel as an important ally in the Cold War. In 1970, Israel helped the United States by threatening to intervene in Jordan to quash a Palestinian revolt against King Hussein. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, Israel became America’s major military ally in the Middle East against the Soviet Union. In 1981, Ronald Reagan’s administration signed a “strategic cooperation agreement” with Israel. Thus, when AIPAC and other lobbying groups promoted policies that favored Israel, they could convincingly argue that those policies also benefited the United States. ….
 In the late 1970s, popular support for Israel was further enhanced by renewed interest in the Holocaust, as evidenced in President Jimmy Carter’s support for a memorial museum in Washington and the release of a spate of books, movies, and television shows, including the hit 1978 miniseries Holocaust. ….
Under Kenen, AIPAC had been a one-man operation, but under Amitay and Dine, it took off. It went from having 8,000 to 55,000 members, which gave it a base of wealthy Jewish donors who could be called upon to back or oppose candidates, and it created an impressive communications, research, and lobbying operation. The best indication of AIPAC’s power was its success in winning money and arms for Israel. From 1974 until the Iraq war, Israel was the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. (The 1978 Camp David Accords, often cited as the reason for Washington’s substantial aid to Israel, actually produced only a one-year bump in the amount provided.) If House or Senate members defied AIPAC by criticizing aid budgets or supporting weapons programs for Israel’s adversaries, AIPAC summoned its supporters to fund opposing candidates. ….
Even its defeats managed to showcase the organization’s growing power. In 1981, it fought Reagan’s proposed sale of AWACS reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia, an important ally of the United States. AIPAC got 36 of 46 Senate Democrats to oppose the sale, but its lobbying effort could not sway enough Republicans. Saudi Arabia got its planes, but AIPAC exacted retribution. In 1984, it helped Democrat Paul Simon oust Republican Sen. Charles Percy, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, whose support had helped bring the sale to the Senate floor. Dine boasted, “All the Jews in America, from coast to coast, gathered to oust Percy.… And American politicians … got the message.” ….
Not long ago, AIPAC was considered nearly untouchable, and the suggestion that U.S. security interests might conflict with Israeli interests was a subject that could provoke heated, even vitriolic responses. In 2007, scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer argued inThe Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy that AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbyists successfully pressured politicians to back an “uncritical and uncompromising relationship with Israel.” Their views, first published in a2006 article, were denounced as “anti-Semitic” in theWashington Post, the New Republic, and other mainstream publications. When former AIPAC staffer M.J. Rosenberg described members of the pro-Israel lobby as “Israel firsters” in a 2011 column that he wrote for Media Matters, a liberal nonprofit, he too was denounced as anti-Semitic — and Media Matters stopped running his column.
But as AIPAC has explicitly sided with Netanyahu over Obama, prominent liberal-leaning commentators and policy experts have begun to criticize the organization more freely. As columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times last fall:
[N]ever have I seen more lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s. I’m certain this comes less from any careful consideration of the facts and more from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.
But severing AIPAC’s remaining ties to liberals and Democrats could ultimately prove fatal, even to an 800-pound gorilla.

It’s nice of the WaPo to lament the sorry state of Haitian democracy but it becomes farcicial to do so as the newspaper of Washington without mentioning the outsized role of the U.S. government in paving the way to the present reality:

Haiti must end its de facto moratorium on democracy, By , Published: February 27

It doesn’t get much more establishment than Foreign Affairs so it’s quite something to see this discussion of Washington hypcrisy published here:

Hypocrisy Hype: Can Washington Still Walk and Talk Differently? By Michael A. CohenHenry Farrell and Martha Finnemore, FROM OUR MARCH/APRIL 2014 ISSUE


Still, even if one grants Farrell and Finnemore the benefit of the doubt, or concedes that even false accusations of American hypocrisy are harmful, it is difficult to accept their larger claim: that Washington’s alleged inability “to consistently abide by the values that it trumpets” will harm the national interest by changing the way other countries act toward the United States. Manning’s and Snowden’s leaks proved embarrassing, and Washington has had to deal with some short-term diplomatic fallout. But the leaks are highly unlikely to have lasting diplomatic effects. For the sake of comparison, consider the impact of the U.S.-led “global war on terrorism.” After 9/11, U.S. actions and policies on a wide range of issues, such as torture, detention, and preventive war, pointed to a fairly wide gulf between the country’s stated principles and its actual behavior. And during the Bush administration, Washington treated some of its close European allies so poorly that their leaders responded by publicly distancing themselves from the United States. In 2002, for example, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder successfully ran for reelection by trumpeting his opposition to U.S. plans to invade Iraq.

Yet none of these actions led to a wholesale change in the transatlantic alliance or to global bandwagoning against Washington. The reason should be somewhat obvious: foreign countries, particularly close U.S. allies, continue to rely heavily on American diplomatic, military, and economic power. Farrell and Finnemore assert that the potential gap between Washington’s stated values and U.S. actions “creates the risk that other states might decide that the U.S.-led order is fundamentally illegitimate.” But that risk is vanishingly small: after all, the U.S.-led order greatly (even disproportionately) benefits U.S. allies, and even some rivals. Germany might be angry about the fact that the NSA bugged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private cell phone, but not so angry that it will leave NATO or fundamentally change its bilateral relationship with the United States. Likewise, it is hard to imagine that Brazil would curtail its significant economic ties to the United States because of the NSA’s spying on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff — or, for that matter, that China would disengage from the World Trade Organization because the United States is hacking Chinese computers.

Farrell and Finnemore never explain why other countries would respond to U.S. hypocrisy (real or imagined) by taking steps that could end up doing them more harm than good. Throughout the post–Cold War era, even when the United States has taken actions that other countries opposed, those countries have nevertheless maintained their fealty to the U.S.-led liberal world order. That is not a bug of the international system: it is its most important feature, and an indication of its strength.

This should hardly come as news to Farrell and Finnemore, who have long been insightful observers of international politics. But they perhaps should have looked more closely at some of the very evidence they cite. Consider, for example, their interpretation of remarks made in 2010 by then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who said that the national security implications of Manning’s leaks would be “fairly modest.” Farrell and Finnemore claim that Gates downplayed the impact of the leaks because they did not reveal anything that was truly unexpected. But that’s not why Gates thought the effect of the leaks would be mild. “The fact is,” Gates said, “governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets. . . . Some governments . . . deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. . . . So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us.”

Gates’ full statement, which Farrell and Finnemore disregard, is perhaps the most compelling refutation of their thesis: an unusually candid reminder of precisely how international cooperation works in the U.S.-led global order. Farrell and Finnemore are right to acknowledge that hypocrisy is the “lubricating oil” of that order. But they err in believing that is going to change anytime soon.

MICHAEL A. COHEN is a Fellow at the Century Foundation.


We hoped to provoke a good debate with our essay, and we are grateful to Michael Cohen for his admirably clear and forcefully argued response. Cohen’s case is not convincing, however. He argues that the United States is not hypocritical, although its allies and enemies are. He then writes that even if the United States were hypocritical, it would not matter, since other countries would still have no choice but to continue to work with it. Both claims are wrong.

Hypocrisy is, in fact, a pervasive element of U.S. foreign policy. For decades, Washington has extolled human rights, free trade, democracy, and the rule of law while also supporting unsavory regimes and pursuing opportunistic trade policies. In recent years, the U.S. government has condemned other states for engaging in torture at the same time that its intelligence agencies were waterboarding detainees or shipping them off to be interrogated in countries whose security services are notorious for conducting torture. The Obama administration has reformed such policies but declined to prosecute the senior officials responsible for introducing them — a failure that is especially striking when contrasted with the zeal with which the administration has pursued leakers such as Chelsea Manning.

Nor is U.S. hypocrisy limited to the issue of torture. Consider just a few more examples. The cables Manning obtained and that the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks released suggest that the Bush administration knew that civilian casualties in Iraq were higher than it ever acknowledged. And yet the administration dismissed the estimates of outside groups as inflated. Meanwhile, Snowden’s leaks revealed that the National Security Agency has worked in secret to weaken cryptographic standards that it claimed to be improving. In another vein, last year, an unnamed senior U.S. official admitted to Craig Whitlock of The Washington Post that the United States gives countries that cooperate on counterterrorism a “free pass” on human rights while trying to “ream” less pliant governments. So, for example, last July, when Egypt’s army toppled the country’s first freely elected government, the Obama administration did everything it could to avoid even acknowledging that a coup had taken place. As for the hypocrisies relating to U.S. trade and economic policy, these are too many to list and describe.

As our original essay showed, American condemnations of Chinese cyber-incursions hypocritically ignore Washington’s own attacks on Beijing’s computers. The United States has at times emphasized a distinction between “legitimate” incursions, aimed at military and political targets, and “illegitimate” ones, aimed at stealing commercial and technological secrets. But this distinction is unconvincing to those outside the small club of technologically advanced countries with an interest in protecting their intellectual property. Indeed, even the United States, when it was at an earlier stage of economic development, once had laws actively encouraging the pirating of foreign technology.


Cohen argues that other countries are hypocritical. We agree. American hypocrisy has not become more problematic because other governments are sincerely outraged by Washington’s behavior (although some foreign officials are genuinely shocked and unhappy). Rather, the real trouble is that the hypocrisies of the United States and those of other countries no longer reinforce each other. As we argued in our essay, countries that used to prefer to turn a blind eye to objectionable American behavior can now no longer ignore it. One case in point is Brazil’s reaction to the revelations of NSA spying on its state-owned oil company, Petrobras. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff would likely have preferred to pretend that the spying had not happened, so that she could continue to build economic ties with Washington. But public anger at the revelations in Brazil led her to aggressively curtail relations and introduce legislation forbidding the export of Brazilians’ personal data overseas. This reaction is, of course, hypocritical. But Brazilian hypocrisy now cuts against U.S. hypocrisy rather than reinforcing it, by highlighting the contradiction between U.S. exhortations for a free and open Internet and its exploitation of that openness to compromise foreign computer systems.

European outrage at NSA spying is partly for show. European governments have their own spies and sometimes monitor their own citizens in intrusive ways. Yet the current outrage reflects genuine anger among citizens and is likely to have far-reaching consequences. Forthcoming European legislation will likely mandate harsh penalties for American firms that share the personal data of Europeans with the U.S. government, a restriction that will likely lead to a major transatlantic confrontation. U.S. President Barack Obama has described EU-U.S. electronic information-sharing arrangements as crucial to counterterrorism. Thanks to the scandal prompted by Snowden’s leaks, such arrangements are now threatened.

U.S. hegemony rests on military force and economic might as well as hypocrisy. Yet armies and money only go so far. Even the most powerful states need to persuade and exhort as well as impose. Over time, revelations of U.S. hypocrisy will tend to corrode this form of soft power. The United States will encounter increased resistance from allies, as advocates for civil liberties in other democracies decry American hypocrisy and stoke public outrage. Washington’s adversaries will use evidence of American hypocrisy as ammunition in their attacks on the U.S.-led liberal order. Finally, the decentralized international community that establishes the Internet’s technical standards will embrace stronger cryptography, which will make the NSA’s surveillance far more difficult and costly.

American hypocrisy has long remained unchallenged and deeply intertwined with U.S. foreign policy. This makes it nearly invisible to many members of the foreign policy elite, even ones as thoughtful as Cohen. One result is a good deal of inconsistency in the ways that U.S. officials have responded to the Manning and Snowden scandals, seeming to vacillate between denying that the leaks pose a major problem and harshly overreacting against those who have exposed the emperor’s nudity. Sooner or later, however, if the United States wants to remain able to convince others through the force of its legitimacy rather than just through threats or bribery, Washington must acknowledge the past importance of hypocrisy as well as its new limits.

the motorized paramilitary militias known as colectivos, which have been out in full force to guard the late Hugo Chávez’s leftist politics. ….
Thanks to ubiquitous crime reporting, many Venezuelans believe that violence is endemic in all segments of society. But official statistics contradict that. According to the National Survey of Victimization, crime is far more frequent in the shantytowns of the country’s main cities than anywhere else. In 2009, 64 percent of the country’s homicides took place among the poorest segment of the population. The majority of criminals and victims were men between the ages of 18 and 44. All this is to say that, not surprisingly, crime is concentrated in the areas where work and education are hard to come by, guns are easily available, and violence serves as a pathway to power and social status. ….
The president declared that he would “deactivate” armed groups and gangs (referring not only to bands of criminals but also to paramilitary groups called revolutionary collectives), promising to make them “exchange their guns for rackets and violins.”

Chicago, long been one of America’s most notorious torture cities, has still not reformed:

Despite more than three decades of litigation and oversight by federal judges, Cook County Jail remains a “civic embarrassment” where violence is so pervasive that correctional officers take inmates on “elevator rides” –code for beatings out of view of security cameras, said lawyers who filed a proposed class-action lawsuit Thursday.

The lawsuit by the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University decried a “culture of lawlessness” at two of the jail’s maximum-security divisions, backing up the claim with sworn statements from nearly 90 inmates, some of whom alleged they were beaten by officers using handcuffs as brass knuckles.

One inmate who alleged he was beaten and pepper-sprayed by officers wrote in his statement that a high-ranking jail official told him, “Where does the Constitution say we’re not supposed to be beating?” ….

The suit by the MacArthur Justice Center, however, alleged that rather than preventing violence at the jail, the county writes it “off in monetary settlements once the bones are broken.”

At a news conference, David Shapiro, an attorney for the legal clinic, called the jail ”an ongoing bloodbath.”

“If you think it is safe, you might as well think the world is flat,” he said.

The lawsuit alleged that “a violent, sadistic, cruel and sometimes racist and homophobic bravado pervades the ranks” of correctional officers.

”The sadistic violence and brutality in…the Cook County Jail are not the work of a few rogue officers,” the suit said. “Instead, these violations demonstrate systemic problems that have remained unchecked at the highest levels of Cook County government.”

Shapiro said the lawyers uncovered the “hellish” conditions at the jail about a year and a half ago while there researching an unrelated suit about parolees.

Shocked by the stories of violence told by detainees, the legal clinic began filing Freedom of Information requests with county and state officials seeking disciplinary histories, grievances and other records, Shapiro said.

Attorneys also sent letters to hundreds of inmates in maximum-security Divisions 9 and 10 asking about their treatment, Shapiro said. Lawyers interviewed more than 100 inmates and wound up taking signed declarations from 88 inmates who claimed to be victims of or witnesses to abuse.

Sheila Bedi, another MacArthur attorney, said Cook County taxpayers pay for the culture of violence in the jail. In the last three years alone, the county has paid out more than $9 million related to about 250 civil rights lawsuits stemming from jail abuse, she said.

Bedi said the horrific conditions have a lasting effect on inmates, most of whom will eventually be returned to society scarred by the experience.

“What will their lives be like when they return home to their families and communities?” she said.

Washington is capitalizing upon the gay rights movement to push its ‘soft power’ by presenting itself as a global leader on the issue. That does not of course mean that it will be willing to sacrifice important alliances by actually cutting ties to long-time dicatorships like Museveni’s Uganda.

The United States has long lobbied President Yoweri Museveni to reject the law. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton raised it with Museveni when she visited Uganda in 2012. She also celebrated the African nation’s cooperation with U.S. counter­terrorism work and visited a military installation where surveillance drones are based.

The White House called the new measure “abhorrent” and signaled that it could cut aid to Uganda. At least three European countries have moved to withdraw millions of dollars in direct support to Museveni’s government.

The latest from Snowden’s leaks: the British government has stored your Yahoo webcam videos from wherever you are in the world.

The British spy agency GCHQ, aided by systems provided by the National Security Agency, collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to its databases, regardless of whether the users were intelligence targets, according to a report in the Guardian on Thursday.

The program was code-named Optic Nerve, according to documents obtained by the British newspaper from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Between 2008 and 2010, and in one six-month period in 2008, the agency collected webcam images, “including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications,” from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally, the paper reported. ….

But Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “Yahoo deserves the majority of the blame here” for not shielding customers’ privacy. “The technology to protect your users doesn’t require some kind of Manhattan Project,” he said. “It’s just sitting there. Anyone can use it.”


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