In a reply to one of my comments in the New York Times, a reader writes:
“”… unemployment rate among Palestinian men.”
A jobs program? Good grief…”
The comment, quite obviously, cherry picks one sentence out of about 25 minutes’ worth of interview of Senator Bernie Sanders by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
When such a comment is made by an anonymous reader who goes by Marcus Aurelius from “earth,” one knows to give it the appropriate amount of weight. But when an entire newspaper essentially misrepresents the political opponent of the candidate it has endorsed in the same manner, such comments merit closer examination.
In the aftermath of Brussels, the New York Times and many of its pro-Clinton readers defer to Hillary Clinton as the authority in matters of foreign policy and national security in their commentary. But, does her stint as Secretary of State earn her such authoritativeness? Does the absence of any mention of her opponent, Bernie Sanders, in this editorial on handling counter-terrorism amount to journalistic malpractice?
One needs to examine a few related issues in order to answer that question. First and foremost, foreign policy needs to be defined. What are secretaries of State in charge of and what does their purview entail? From the U.S. State Department website:
Under the Constitution, the President of the United States determines U.S. foreign policy. The Secretary of State, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, is the President’s chief foreign affairs adviser. The Secretary carries out the President’s foreign policies through the State Department and the Foreign Service of the United States.
Created in 1789 by the Congress as the successor to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of State is the senior executive Department of the U.S. Government. The Secretary of State’s duties relating to foreign affairs have not changed significantly since then, but they have become far more complex as international commitments multiplied. These duties — the activities and responsibilities of the State Department — include the following:
Serves as the President’s principal adviser on U.S. foreign policy;
Conducts negotiations relating to U.S. foreign affairs;
Grants and issues passports to American citizens and exequaturs to foreign consuls in the United States;
Advises the President on the appointment of U.S. ambassadors, ministers, consuls, and other diplomatic representatives;
Advises the President regarding the acceptance, recall, and dismissal of the representatives of foreign governments;
Personally participates in or directs U.S. representatives to international conferences, organizations, and agencies;
Negotiates, interprets, and terminates treaties and agreements;
Ensures the protection of the U.S. Government to American citizens, property, and interests in foreign countries;
Supervises the administration of U.S. immigration laws abroad;
Provides information to American citizens regarding the political, economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian conditions in foreign countries;
Informs the Congress and American citizens on the conduct of U.S. foreign relations;
Promotes beneficial economic intercourse between the United States and other countries;
Administers the Department of State;
Supervises the Foreign Service of the United States.
While the position itself comes with a great deal of responsibility, it isn’t as autonomous as, say, that of a CEO at a large corporation, even with the board of directors. While the Secretary of State advises the President of the United States on policy matters and, as an adviser, exerts a certain degree of influence, he or she isn’t free to make policy decisions on his or her own. The president makes the decisions on overall policy, accounting for variables such as national security, intelligence, economic, and other factors before directing his secretaries of State, Defense, Treasury and others to manage the policies they are tasked with managing.
What is the State Department in charge of? From the Wikipedia:
The DOS promotes and protects the interests of American citizens by (1) ‘Promoting peace and stability in regions of vital interest’; (2) ‘Creating jobs at home by opening markets abroad’; (3) ‘Helping developing nations establish investment and export opportunities’; and (4) ‘Bringing nations together and forging partnerships to address global problems, such as terrorism, the spread of communicable diseases, cross-border pollution, humanitarian crises, nuclear smuggling, and narcotics trafficking’.
As you can see, both from State’s own definition of the duties of its secretary and the Wiki on what the department actually does, diplomacy entails the practical application of human rights, economics, trade, health, environment, and security policies that promote stability at the international level.
So, it is interesting to see and hear people and organizations who are dissenters of Senator Sanders make fun of his “single-issue” approach, when economic stability isn’t only at the foundation of American domestic policy, but also at the heart of international relations, including peace and security.
In his interview with Anderson Cooper and in answer to a question about the meaning of an even-handed policy in the Middle East, Senator Sanders said:
“What it means is that if we want lasting peace in the Middle East, we have got to obviously make sure that the security and the independence of Israel remains intact. That is not a debate.
Israel must continue to exist as an independent free state. But if we are going to have lasting peace, we have also got to work with the Palestinians. And what that means, we have got to recognize that for in Gaza, for example, in Gaza, you got an unemployment rate of 44 percent, you have people living in horrific poverty. You have a community that was destroyed.”
There is nothing ridiculous or funny about the senator’s statement about the living conditions in Gaza in particular, and throughout the West Bank. There is no country or territory in which practically half the population is unemployed and living in squalor, and there is no unrest of some type. That doesn’t exist in the US and it certainly doesn’t exist overseas.
On even-handedness in US foreign policy, Cooper and Sanders had this exchange:
“COOPER: But do you think the U.S. has not been even-handed up till now?
SANDERS: Right. I do not think so. I think that overwhelmingly the United States time and time again has looked aside when Israel has done some bad things. I think, for example, that the growth of settlements in Palestinian territory is not acceptable to me, and not conducive to the peace process.
I think that the kind of destruction that was racked on — racked on Gaza during that war was way above what needed to be done for military purposes. A lot of civilians were killed. A lot of hospitals and schools and apartments, what destroyed above and beyond what had to be done.
So look, I think there is no question that there’s enough blame to go around on both sides. Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorist attacks, against Hezbollah, against Hamas. But I think the United States is stronger when we work with both sides.”
The US continues to look aside as atrocities are perpetrated through the military excesses allowed by the right wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Sanders’ answer provides a clear indication that, as a Zionist Jew and President of the United States of America, he would not turn a blind eye to such atrocities as the one in this Los Angeles Times headline earlier today: “Graphic video appears to show Israeli soldier shooting Palestinian man in the head.”
Sanders’ foreign policy approach and commitment to human rights and economic equality are a big part of the reason why Arab Americans are voting for Sanders in large Arab American communities across the country. His views reflect those of many American Jews, when it comes to Israel and its behavior. One cannot assume that the American Jewish community is monolithic in its politics or economics. The neoliberal-progressive split exists in that community just as it exists in other ethnic communities.
What is that split all about? It is as much about how problems are approached as it is about who it is those approaches benefit, within the context of how institutions are maintained, preserved, or changed. If “institution” means power concentration, then the neoliberal approach will favor spreading some power through the top echelons, while the progressive approach will favor returning the power to the people while making concessions to the top. Neoliberals will favor making as few sweeping changes as possible and making tweaks to defuse crises. Progressives will advocate for sweeping reforms in the face of failing institutions and procedures.
Hence the gulf in the approaches of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in dealing with peace between Arabs and Israel and establishing a Palestinian state. While both Clinton and Sanders are committed to the Zionist state, Sanders will neither turn a blind eye to military and human rights excesses and bases any resolution of long-standing disputes on a sound foundation of economic equality and environmental policy. Sanders’ approach is constructive in that it seeks to redress long-standing inequities at the heart of existing conflicts: the lack of statehood for the people of Palestine, abject poverty, non-existent infrastructure, endemic unemployment and what has increasingly become very harsh, inhuman treatment of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli occupying forces. This approach stands in stark contrast to Clinton’s reactive approach to conflict resolution in the Middle East.
The same contrasts exist between the two candidates on counter-terrorism. While both seek to eliminate ISIS, Sanders’ approach is based on coordinating, directing and supporting all Muslim nations to actively take part in military action to defeat ISIS, with material and auxiliary support from the United States and its European allies, rather than the direct involvement in conflicts which has not only exacerbated tensions between Arabs and the West, but given birth to Al Qaeda and ISIS. That approach stems from an understanding and respect for the cultural issues associated with Western intervention in Muslim societies and their effect since US and allied involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Sanders is unwilling to keep repeating the mistakes of the past. Clinton’s approach is to double down on what the United States has been doing in the Middle East, leading the attack on ISIS from the air with some strategic boots on the ground in Syria.
In her speech to AIPAC, Clinton expressed this view on settlements:
“Everyone has to do their part by avoiding damaging actions, including with respect to settlements. Now, America has an important role to play in supporting peace efforts. And as president, I would continue the pursuit of direct negotiations. And let me be clear—I would vigorously oppose any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution, including by the U.N. Security Council.”
This is more slap on the wrist policy than it is showing intent to back views and policies that promote the possibility for peace. Bernie Sanders, when addressing the issue of settlements was unequivocal:
“I think, for example, that the growth of settlements in Palestinian territory is not acceptable to me, and not conducive to the peace process.”
Sanders’ view is in line with the views of progressive and liberal Jews, the progressive and liberal left, millennials, Black millennials, and very importantly, American Arabs. If the pursuit of peace in the Middle East is going to be a serious US effort again, it is essential that the next president be tough with Israel on settlements. Sanders will be. Clinton telegraphed to AIPAC that she would not. Moreover, she told those gathered at the conference that one of her first acts as president would be to invite Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House. Given the relationship between Netanyahu and President Obama, this is not only a slap in the president’s face, but also a clear signal to the Israeli left that it will have no support from the next US administration. There is far more of a difference between Clinton and liberal and progressive Democrats, than Clinton and the Republicans who spoke at AIPAC. All pandered to the ultra-conservative group.
But if Hillary Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy doesn’t sit well with many parts of the Democratic party tent, then what she said about Los Angeles gangs at a panel at the University of Southern California on March 24th, in the context of counter-terrorism in the U.S., should be downright frightening:
None of the discussion, up until that point, had centered on the African American community, but specifically addressed integration and alienation of certain elements of communities (Islamic and Somali were the only two specifically named), and how to best build bridges between diverse communities and the cities they are settled in. This was about building lines of communication and facilitating the flow of information to the authorities through the community and the municipality. African Americans have never engaged in terrorism activity and presented a threat to U.S. society, not even at the height of the Black Power movement for civil rights. Gang violence is not equivalent to terrorism. That Clinton associates counter-terrorism with gangs and drugs is highly problematic. It should send shivers down the spines of civil rights activists, given what we know about continued surveillance of civil rights organizations by the FBI and other federal agencies, and after this past year and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and its confrontations of Clinton, Sanders, and Martin O’Malley early on in the primary. If anything, this is yet another sign that Hillary Clinton still holds the same views of the so-called “super-predator” threat.
This sort of approach is the polar opposite to Sanders’ when it comes to dealing with civil dissent and even insurgency. Whereas Sanders wants to transform the society we live in and have, as an express goal, a better general sense of well-being, economic opportunity and racial justice – all of which remove the social conditions that are fertile recruiting grounds for organizations such as ISIS – Clinton prefers the intrusion of government into community, rather than address underlying societal problems. Sanders is opposed to much of the effort to grow the surveillance state. Clinton wants to find new ways to expand it – certainly is opposed to shrinking it.
As civil rights giant, Medgar Evers, said, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” You can bomb the heck out of Syria, Iraq, Libya, parts of the Sinai, and even Gaza, and Morocco. But to stop North African and other Arab immigrant communities from producing more ISIS soldiers, the European nations in which they live must change the racial environment and the societal conditions in which immigrants live in. Ideally, an American president would be able to lead Europe into changing its racial attitudes toward its own immigrant communities. But America is hardly equipped to lead in this area, and won’t be until it finally confronts its original sin and atones for it.
ISIS isn’t only the end-result of a hegemonic evil that is embodied in the leadership of a terrorist organization, or of those who enabled its rise and success, but the moral, cultural and economic failures of the Western world.
To put it bluntly, more surveillance on U.S. and foreign citizens may occasionally lead to the thwarting of single or even multiple terrorist acts, it won’t prevent them all. In the grand scheme of things, U.S. homegrown terror is far more of a threat than Islamic terror. While U.S. and allied intervention, with or without the cooperation of Arab and Muslim nations on the ground may eradicate most of ISIS and even its leadership, but it won’t destroy ISIS or future terrorist organizations like it, and it won’t destroy the idea of it.
Eradicating as much of ISIS as is possible is only one prong of what must be a multi-faceted plan to transform our societies. Economic and civil inequalities, when at their most extreme, are at the root of insurgency movements. Keeping our societies at an equilibrium will go a very long way. Moving away from militarized policing and the surveillance state and opening our societies to enlightenment, rather than closing them with fear, will help attenuate the fears and heal the wounds created by terror, greed, and the fight for supremacy of one culture over others.
In “Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son,” James Baldwin wrote:
“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when one is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream one has long cherished or a privilege one has long possessed that one is set free — one has set their self free — for higher dreams, for greater privileges.”
Incrementalism isn’t change. It is only the preservation of a slightly altered version of the world we now live in. If real change is to be brought about, it must be all-encompassing and thorough. It must be equal, not authoritarian. It needs to be progressive, to counter-balance the conservative swing our nation has been on for quite some time. We’ve effected real change once before. We can do it again. Foreign policy, is economic and social policy for us and the rest of the world. If we treat ourselves fairly, we thrive. Treat the world fairly, it thrives with us.
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In Tuesday’s Arizona Democratic Primary, there were a lot of irregularities. Watch:
Transcript of Final Five interview with Senator Bernie Sanders