Saturday, August 07, 2004

9/11 Commission misses the core issue....

While it is true that the bi-partisan 9/11 Commission worked very hard to reform the intelligence infrastructure, their efforts addressed what was at best a tangential issue given that the war against hatred can NOT be won until the root causes are addressed.

The following article was written by an insightful individual who understands that ignoring the core issues will lead to...naught:

>>Everyone wants to say that the people who died on Sept. 11 died for something meaningful. The commission's answer is reform of the intelligence bureaucracy-something that will never be reformed. The way to make sure the victims of 9/11 died for something meaningful would be to reform our policy in the Middle East.<< 6, 2004 -

The New York Observer

Richard Ben Cramer Says Commission Missed Boat Blowing Off Israel Policy9/11 Report Misses One Crucial Point: Mideastern Policy by Philip Weiss

A month or so back, Bob Kerrey loped in late from a meeting of the 9/11 commission to the New School stage to have a discussion with the author Richard Ben Cramer about his new book, How Israel Lost: The Four Questions. The throaty author offered his keystone for negotiations in the Middle East-"Give back the land"-but the university president shrugged off the suggestion. No one in the Arab world has ever really cared about the Palestinians, he said, and there are no opportunities for young people in the Arab world anyway, that's the problem. The two men talked past one another.

The commission of which Mr. Kerrey is a member has now published its report, and what was supposed to be an act of soul-searching has been ruined by the same blind spot the former Senator showed onstage. The report skirts America's one-sided support for Israel over the Palestinians. It says that the Arabs don't like us because of their own failed societies and the lack of opportunity for young people.

Once again, the Middle East shows itself to be the third rail of American politics. With the exception of retired leaders like Jimmy Carter and George McGovern and brave writers like Richard Ben Cramer, no one dares to open his mouth about what is obviously the main irritant in our relationship with fundamentalist Islam: We are contemptuous of the Palestinians' rights to self-determination."

Americans can't understand why Arabs don't think of them as honest and decent purveyors of democracy," Mr. Cramer said. "Well, this is why."

The 9/11 commission report contains just a few quiet mentions of the Palestinian issue, as an aside. Yes, American policy in the Middle East is one of the "staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world," but the commission insists on describing that policy as a "choice" we have made, like the choice to invade Iraq."Those choices must be integrated," it says, "with America's message of opportunity to the Arab and Muslim world."

That's crazy. That's like corporate investors in South Africa back in the 1980's saying that the policy of tolerating apartheid should be "integrated" with a message of opportunity for young blacks in America. You can't integrate such things; they are inherently contradictory. And meanwhile, the destruction of hope in the occupied territories is central to the Arab understanding of how our society behaves.

Ignoring this grievance is dangerous to ourselves. As Mr. Cramer's book shows through the telling of powerful, simple stories, 37 years of occupation have damaged the soul of Israeli democracy. The most painful story in the book is of Yossi, a brave and kind settler in the occupied territories who tries to reach out to his Palestinian neighbors with a vision of a new society in which Israeli and Palestinian children will grow up side by side. Yossi is burned out by other members of his settler community.

As a boy, Mr. Cramer had celebrated Israel as a place of glorious dreams. Now he sees two societies embittered and toughened by nationalist violence. Both sides in the Middle East thrive on the occupation. It has become wrapped up in their identities and their politics. And the mission of Israel changed, he writes, "from the rescue of the Jewish people to the rescue of the Jewish state's occupation."

The Israeli rationalization for occupation is the same rationalization now offered for our occupation: The Arabs are dangerous, and besides, there are no democracies in the Arab world. Which gives us a right to go in and install a democracy. Very democratic. No wonder that one of the critical factions supporting our invasion and occupation of Iraq has been right-wing supporters of Israel, on the grounds that "everyone has to do it-it's the only way to handle the Muslim world."

The obvious truth that occupation is itself dangerous and terrorism-producing is now understood by most Americans, post-Iraq, but it is still not acceptable talk among our leaders.The 9/11 commission report demonstrates this fact. It ascribes the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to such vague sociocultural factors as stagnant economies and "the decline from Islam's golden age." The kids there are jealous of our wealth and freedom. The "indifference, cynicism and despair" of autocratic Arab societies are all to blame. Our policy in Israel has nothing to do with it.

This is like arguing that Timothy McVeigh and his friends wanted to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City because they were unemployed and lacked all hope. There will always be unemployed and desperate people. The issue is what triggers a drifting maniac like McVeigh, or drifting maniacs in fundamentalist Islam, to such radical acts. And the answer in both cases is real grievance. McVeigh was angered by government actions against extremists in northern Idaho and Waco, Texas, in 1992 and 1993. As painful as it is to say, one positive effect of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was that it helped prompt a long-overdue investigation by the government of the Waco case (a flawed investigation, but an investigation nonetheless).

This time around, people should stop psychologizing Arab youth and actually listen to what they say about what angers them. The answer is that our country is dreadfully one-sided in the Middle East. This powder keg will never be defused till we distance ourselves from Israel's repressive policies-as well as continue to condemn suicide bombing and corruption in Palestinian society.

Our leaders are failing us. Just as our leaders didn't want to hear the arguments that Iraq was already contained and that the evidence of W.M.D.'s was flimsy two years ago, they continue to turn a deaf ear to reports of Israeli repression. Leading editors say that the issue is just too complicated to sort out, and lift their hands helplessly. When Senator Fritz Hollings argued that the Israeli lobby played a role in our Iraq policy, he was attacked as an anti-Semite. Mr. Cramer's book has been attacked not once but twice in reviews in The New York Times."

If newspapers take the risk of considering it," Mr. Cramer says, "then they have to defend themselves by giving it to someone who will tear it up."The danger here is that thanks to the silence of people who know better, or ought to, our democracy is giving up ground to nationalists and extremists.. The extremism of the Israeli right and Palestinian suicide bombers is being mirrored by the Bush administration's militarists and the suicide bombers in Iraq.

This is not the American dream. As Mr. Cramer points out, occupation and brutalization go hand in hand. "Within months of becoming an occupying power, we saw the horrors of what American boys and girls will perform when they have unchecked power," he says, referring to the prison-abuse scandal. "And the larger American public, I think, is reconsidering the fundamental assumption that Israelis have for so many years offered us-that they are like us."

The Middle East is now a critical American issue not only because it threatens more terrorist attacks on our soil, but because we are damaging our own hard-won values, of free speech, individual freedom and multiculturalism, in order to rationalize repression by a leading ally. The 9/11 report is a further step in that ugly process, and a giant wasted opportunity.Everyone wants to say that the people who died on Sept. 11 died for something meaningful. The commission's answer is reform of the intelligence bureaucracy-something that will never be reformed. The way to make sure the victims of 9/11 died for something meaningful would be to reform our policy in the Middle East.<<

As long as our political leaders continue ignoring this vital issue, nothing will change regardless of how many "evildors" are killed in the process.


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