In a sound-bite society, reality no longer matters
Last month, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told assembled world leaders at the United Nations that the time had come to take action against Iran. "None disagrees," she said, "that Iran denies the Holocaust and speaks openly of its desire to wipe a member state – mine – off the map. And none disagrees that, in violation of Security Council resolutions, it is actively pursuing the means to achieve this end. Too many see the danger but walk idly by – hoping that someone else will take care of it. … It is time for the United Nations, and the states of the world, to live up to their promise of never again. To say enough is enough, to act now and to defend their basic values."
Yet, later the same month, we are informed by Haaretz, (frequently described as "the New York Times of Israel"), that the same Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had said a few months earlier, in a series of closed discussions, that in her opinion "Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel." Haaretz reported that "Livni also criticized the exaggerated use that [Israeli] Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making of the issue of the Iranian bomb, claiming that he is attempting to rally the public around him by playing on its most basic fears."
What are we to make of such a self-contradiction, such perfect hypocrisy?
And here is Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International: "The one time we seriously negotiated with Tehran was in the closing days of the war in Afghanistan, in order to create a new political order in the country. Bush’s representative to the Bonn conference, James Dobbins, says that ‘the Iranians were very professional, straightforward, reliable and helpful. They were also critical to our success. They persuaded the Northern Alliance [Afghan foes of the Taliban] to make the final concessions that we asked for.’ Dobbins says the Iranians made overtures to have better relations with the United States through him and others in 2001 and later, but got no reply. Even after the Axis of Evil speech, he recalls, they offered to cooperate in Afghanistan. Dobbins took the proposal to a principals meeting in Washington only to have it met with dead silence. The then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he says, ‘looked down and rustled his papers.’ No reply was ever sent back to the Iranians. Why bother? They’re mad."
Dobbins has further written: "The original version of the Bonn agreement … neglected to mention either democracy or the war on terrorism. It was the Iranian representative who spotted these omissions and successfully urged that the newly emerging Afghan government be required to commit to both." … "Only weeks after Hamid Karzai was sworn in as interim leader in Afghanistan, President Bush listed Iran among the ‘axis of evil’ — surprising payback for Tehran’s help in Bonn. A year later, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, all bilateral contacts with Tehran were suspended. Since then, confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program has intensified."
Shortly after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran made another approach to Washington, via the Swiss ambassador who sent a fax to the State Department. The Washington Post described it as "a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table — including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups." The Bush administration "belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax." Richard Haass, head of policy planning at the State Department at the time and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Iranian approach was swiftly rejected because in the administration "the bias was toward a policy of regime change."
So there we have it. The Israelis know it, the Americans know it. Iran is not any kind of military threat. Before the invasion of Iraq I posed the question in this report: What possible reason would Saddam Hussein have for attacking the United States or Israel other than an irresistible desire for mass national suicide? He had no reason, and neither do the Iranians. Of the many lies surrounding the invasion of Iraq, the biggest one of all is that if, in fact, Saddam Hussein had those weapons of mass destruction the invasion would have been justified.
The United States and Israel have long strived to dominate the Middle East, viewing Iraq and Iran as the most powerful barriers to that ambition. Iraq is now a basket case. Iran awaits basketization. And, eventually perhaps, the omnipresent American military bases, closing the base-gap between Iraq and Afghanistan in Washington’s encirclement of China, and the better to monitor the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea areas.
There was a time when I presumed that the sole purpose of United States hostile policy toward Iran was to keep the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons, which would deprive the US and Israel of their mideast monopoly and ultimate tool of intimidation. But now it appears that destroying Iran’s military capability, nuclear and otherwise, smashing it to the point of being useless defensively or offensively, is the Bush administration’s objective, perhaps along with the hope of some form of regime change. The Empire leaves as little to chance as possible.
Cuba and Original Sin
Since the early days of the Cuban Revolution assorted anti-communists and capitalist true-believers around the world have been relentless in publicizing the failures, real and alleged, of life in Cuba; each perceived shortcoming is attributed to the perceived shortcomings of socialism — It’s simply a system that can’t work, we are told, given the nature of human beings, particularly in this modern, competitive, globalized, consumer-oriented world.
In response to many of these criticisms, defenders of Cuban society have regularly pointed out how the numerous draconian sanctions imposed by the United States since 1960 are largely responsible for most of the problems pointed out by the critics. The critics, in turn, say that this is just an excuse, one given by Cuban apologists for every failure of their socialist system. However, it would be very difficult for the critics to prove their point. The United States would have to drop all sanctions and then we’d have to wait long enough for Cuban society to recover what it’s lost and demonstrate what its system can do when not under constant attack by the most powerful nation in the world.
The sanctions (which Cuba calls an economic blockade), designed to create discontent toward the government, have been expanding under the Bush administration, both in number and in vindictiveness. Washington has adopted sharper reprisals against those who do business with Cuba or establish relations with the country based on cultural or tourist exchanges; e.g., the US Treasury has frozen the accounts in the United States of the Netherlands Caribbean Bank because it has an office in Cuba, and banned US firms and individuals from having any dealings with the Dutch bank.
The US Treasury Department fined the Alliance of Baptists $34,000, charging that certain of its members and parishioners of other churches had engaged in tourism during a visit to Cuba for religious purposes; i.e., they had spent money there. (As George W. once said: "U.S. law forbids Americans to travel to Cuba for pleasure.")
American courts and government agencies have helped US companies expropriate the famous Cuban cigar brand name ‘Cohiba’ and the well-known rum "Havana Club".
The Bush administration sent a note to American Internet service providers telling them not to deal with six specified countries, including Cuba. This is one of several actions by Washington over the years to restrict Internet availability in Cuba; yet Cuba’s critics claim that problems with the Internet in Cuba are due to government suppression.
Cubans in the United States are limited to how much money they can send to their families in Cuba, a limit that Washington imposes only on Cubans and on no other nationals. Not even during the worst moments of the Cold War was there a general limit to the amount of money that people in the US could send to relatives living in the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe.
In 1999, Cuba filed a suit against the United States for $181.1 billion in compensation for economic losses and loss of life during the first forty years of this aggression. The suit held Washington responsible for the death of 3,478 Cubans and the wounding and disabling of 2,099 others. In the eight years since, these figures have of course all increased. The sanctions, in numerous ways large and small, makes acquiring many kinds of products and services from around the world much more difficult and expensive, often impossible; frequently, they are things indispensable to Cuban medicine, transportation or industry; or they mean that Americans and Cubans can’t attend professional conferences in each other’s country.
The above is but a small sample of the excruciating pain inflicted by the United States upon the body, soul and economy of the Cuban people.
For years American political leaders and media were fond of labeling Cuba an "international pariah". We don’t hear much of that any more. Perhaps one reason is the annual vote at the United Nations on a General Assembly resolution to end the US embargo against Cuba. This is how the vote has gone:
Yes-No 1992 59-2 (US, Israel) 1993 88-4 (US, Israel, Albania, Paraguay) 1994 101-2 (US, Israel) 1995 117-3 (US, Israel, Uzbekistan) 1996 138-3 (US, Israel, Uzbekistan) 1997 143-3 (US, Israel, Uzbekistan) 1998 157-2 (US, Israel) 1999 155-2 (US, Israel) 2000 167-3 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands) 2001 167-3 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands) 2002 173-3 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands) 2003 179-3 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands) 2004 179-4 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau) 2005 182-4 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau) 2006 183-4 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau) 2007 184-4 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau)
Cuba’s sin, which the United States of America can not forgive, is to have created a society that can serve as a successful example of an alternative to the capitalist model, and, moreover, to have done so under the very nose of the United States. And despite all the hardships imposed on it by Washington, Cuba has indeed inspired countless peoples and governments all over the world.
Long-time writer about Cuba, Karen Lee Wald, has observed: "The United States has more pens, pencils, candy, aspirin, etc. than most Cubans have. They, on the other hand, have better access to health services, education, sports, culture, childcare, services for the elderly, pride and dignity than most of us have within reach."
In a 1996 address to the General Assembly, Cuban Vice-President Carlos Lage stated: "Each day in the world 200 million children sleep in the streets. Not one of them is Cuban."
On April 6, 1960, L.D. Mallory, a US State Department senior official, wrote in an internal memorandum: "The majority of Cubans support Castro … the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. … every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba." Mallory proposed "a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government." Later that year, the Eisenhower administration instituted the embargo.
Hugo the demon dictator strikes again
The latest evidence that Hugo Chavez is a dictator, we are told, is that he’s pushing for a constitutional amendment to remove term limits from the presidency. It’s the most contentious provision in his new reform package which has recently been approved by the Venezuelan congress and awaits a public referendum on December 2. The lawmakers traveled nationwide to discuss the proposals with community groups at more than 9,000 public events, rather odd behavior for a dictatorship, as is another of the reforms — setting a maximum six-hour workday so workers would have sufficient time for "personal development."
The American media and the opposition in Venezuela make it sound as if Chavez is going to be guaranteed office for as long as he wants. What they fail to emphasize, if they mention it at all, is that there’s nothing at all automatic about the process — Chavez will have to be elected each time. Neither are we enlightened that it’s not unusual for a nation to not have a term limit for its highest office. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, if not all of Europe and much of the rest of the world, do not have such a limit. The United States did not have a term limit on the office of the president during the nation’s first 175 years, until the ratification of the 22nd Amendment in 1951. Were all American presidents prior to that time dictators?
Is it of any significance, I wonder, that the two countries of the Western Hemisphere whose governments the United States would most like to overthrow — Venezuela and Cuba — have the greatest national obsession with baseball outside of the United States?
Reason Number 3,467 for having doubts about our God-given free-enterprise system
I recently bought my first cellphone and took it with me to Burlington, Vermont, only to discover that it didn’t work there. It seems that AT&T/Cingular doesn’t have cellphone towers in that area. But other phone companies do have towers there and their subscribers’ phones work. Is that not a really clever system?
To have a single national telephone system with all towers available for use by everyone would presumably upset libertarians and others who worship at the shrine of competition.. So instead we’re given another charming "market solution", and the beauty of competition is preserved. Why stop there? Just imagine the advantages in being able to call around to find out which fire station will give you the best rate should your house suddenly go up in flames.
An unwelcome guest at the table of respectable opinion
In the September edition of this report I presented a review of New York Times reporter Tim Weiner’s new book "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA". It was rather critical of the book, particularly as to what has been left out about CIA operations and the effect upon foreign peoples of these operations. The net result of these numerous omissions is to paint a picture of US foreign policy that significantly downplays the actions most destructive to the peace, prosperity, and happiness of the world. It’s an old story — the media decide which issues to cover in the first place; they then decide how many sides there are to an issue; and then they decide what type of coverage is "balanced". The major ideological problem of the American media is that they do not believe that they have any ideology.
But I wondered if I was not being somewhat unfair to Weiner in one or more cases; perhaps he had a good reason for some of his omissions; perhaps in the 700 pages, including 155 pages of small-type notes, I had missed something I thought had been omitted. I decided to send a copy of the review to him, hopefully to get his reaction, and wrote to the Times asking for his email address. I got back an email from Weiner himself which read, in full:
"Dear Mr. Blum: I read your review several days ago. And I’ve read all your books. best wishes, tw"
No challenges to anything I said; no corrections. I’d be surprised if he’s done more than skim a few pages of any of my books. His letter is his way of saying: "I really don’t want to hear from you again. Our worlds are not designed for mingling. Our truths are not the same, and neither my publisher nor the New York Times pays me to disseminate yours."
NOTES  Haaretz.com (Israeli newspaper), October 1, 2007
 Haaretz.com, October 25, 2007; print edition October 26
 Newsweek, October 20, 2007
 Washington Post, May 6, 2004
 Washington Post, July 22, 2007, p.B7, op-ed by Dobbins
 Washington Post, June 18, 2006, p.16
 White House press release, October 10, 2003
 Press release from the Cuban Mission to the United Nations, October 17, 2007, re this and preceding three paragraphs.
 Department of State, "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume VI, Cuba" (1991), p.885
 Washington Post, October 31, 2007, p.12
William Blum is the author of: Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2 Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at