(HAW newsletter #5)
RESPONSE TO MIDEAST CRISIS
Issue editors: Marc Becker, Alan Dawley
Contributors: Peter Kirstein; Ghanim Khali; Roberta Gold; David Newbury; Lori Ginzberg; David Montgomery; Elizabeth McKillen; Michael Hanagan; Sonya Michel; David T. Beito; Leslie Lomas; Grey Osterud
This issue of the HAW newsletter – renamed “HAW NOTES” – contains member responses to the recent message from the Steering Committee on “The Widening Circle of Violence in the Middle East” (see below). The co-editors have culled a dozen responses from more than 50 received and organized them in rough proportion around the major question posed: should HAW expand its range of concerns? 1) Expand. About three-quarters definitely favored addressing Israeli/Palestinian issues, as well as threats to Iran and Syria. No one called for soliciting signatures on a new mission statement. There were two opposing comments on the socio-economic impact of war/empire. 2) Don’t expand. Four were definitely against going beyond Iraq. 3) Mixed. Several others were ambiguous but offered useful cautions.
What to make of the responses? While a clear and impassioned majority sees the Iraq war as part of the larger disaster of U.S. policy in the Middle East, others warn in equally impassioned terms of the divisive effect of branching out to Israel/Palestine. One useful suggestion to emerge from the responses is to avoid rendering judgment on Israelis or Palestinians and, instead, keep the focus on U.S. policy. But not just on U.S. policy in Iraq. Our official statement treats the Iraq war as an example of imperial expansion that “reaches toward domination in the Middle East.” The response from the members affirms that the Steering Committee’s message deploring the role of the U.S. government in widening the circle of violence is within the original mandate of the organization.
Message of 27 July 2006
The Steering Committee of Historians Against the War deplores the role of the U.S. government in widening the circle of violence in the Middle East. We condemn the Bush Administration’s senseless quest for military solutions to the region’s problems, exemplified by the invasion of Iraq, diplomatic and material aid for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and threats of military action against Iran. We call upon Congress and the Bush Administration to support an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon/Israel/Gaza, turn away from militarism, and embrace genuine international efforts aimed at resolving underlying political conflicts.
1. Peter Kirstein
I would hope HAW might address these three issues: 1) The need to denounce specifically civilian deaths and disproportionate military action as unjust and injurious to peace and security. 2) The need for America to end its blind support of Israel and to adopt a more balanced posture that supports decolonisation of the region. You certainly begin this line of argumentation. 3) The solution to regional conflict is ultimately political and economic. HAW might wish to expand the statement to engage in a somewhat expanded analysis. A suggestion:
"HAW believes the Iraq War, the chaos in Lebanon, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict cannot be settled through the application of military force but urges the U.S. to take the lead to demilitarize the region, create a nuclear-free zone, remove all foreign forces and initiate robust multilateral diplomacy with all concerned states and subnational groups."
2. Ghanim Khali
Historians Against the War should condemn all violence targeting civilians, the civilian infrastructure, and the disproportionate responses to problems that diplomacy may influence in all regions of the globe. That being said, HAW should expand its position to include the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Lebanese conflicts, as well as the current hostility involving Syria, and Iran. All of these issues, including the US war on Iraq, involve the United States in various ways and cannot be ignored as peripheral issues to the goals of HAW. Furthermore, I believe it would benefit HAW to research and educate on the above subjects in a way which humanizes the people of the Middle East, especially the Muslims/Arabs, who have for too long been covered most unfairly, under the umbrella of orientalist and racialist discourses. Distortions about Islam play an active role in the "War on Terrorism," which makes the religion of Islam an appropriate subject of inquiry. Also can be included topics like AIPAC in relation to US foreign policy in the Middle East and the increasingly active idea of the neoconservatives for a "New Middle East."
3. Roberta Gold
The call for cease-fire/diplomatic solutions, and further attention to the "global war on terror," are in line with HAW's mission, understood broadly as opposing war, promoting peace and justice, and basing our policy positions on an informed view of history. Of course the down side to this move is that in the U.S., opposition to Israel's current military actions is probably not as widespread as opposition to the Iraq war. So, there could be a price to pay for this new stance (but that doesn't mean we shouldn't adopt the stance).
Some folks, possibly including HAW members, may analyze the Middle East conflict through a simplistic "Jews versus anti-Semites" lens. It will be crucial to stress that supporting a cease-fire is not tantamount to anti-Semitism, and that many Jews oppose the Occupation and the current Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilians. Two American Jewish peace groups, Jewish Voice for Peace (jewishvoiceforpeace.org) and Brit Tzadek vShalom (btvshalom.org) have organized petitions and write-your-legislator campaigns, calling for a cease-fire. Yesh Gvul, the organization for "refusers" (Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the Occupation), has also called Israel's current attacks on civilians a war crime (they are at http://www.yeshgvul.org/index_e.asp). Rep. Kucinich introduced a resolution, H. Con. Res. 450, calling for an immediate cease-fire. It has picked a number of co-sponsors. HAW might consider issuing a support statement.
4. David Newbury
In a situation that is fluid, I don’t think it the historian’s role to chase the momentary headlines; instead, our role as historians is to point out the parameters by which the current issues are being framed, and raise issues that lurk outside the intense glare of the momentary media spotlight. As professionals who care about analytic rigor, we can remind people of the duplicity, mendacity, and opportunistic manipulation on the part of political actors, of whatever stripe, where this occurs. And as scholars who respect the empirical record, we can break down the slogans of the moment to inquire into empirical effects as well as the stated intentions of policy: effects on people are historical processes in the making just as much as the "realpolitik" among leaders. In short, historians can bring a longer-term vision and an awareness of relevant cases elsewhere, both useful elements in forging policy and in respecting principle. [shortened version]
5. Lori Ginzberg
I would like a statement to include 1) opposition to Israel's use of excessive/disproportionate force in Gaza and Lebanon and 2) opposition to the Israeli government's refusal to engage in negotiations with the Palestinians and 3) opposition to the Israeli and US government's refusal to recognize Hamas's election victory and its government as the justified recipient of tax revenues that Palestinians have paid to Israel.
6. David Montgomery
You have drafted an excellent statement, which certainly has my full approval. I approve especially of your inclusion of Gaza in the cease-fire appeal. That, after all, is where the fighting and bombing began, as also the arrests and killings of selected political leaders and office holders. I also think that the war in Lebanon and Gaza is so closely linked to the war against Iraq that it falls clearly within the purview of HAW. Although I have always been cautious about branching out into issues other than the one around which HAW was founded, the crisis of the Middle East does not and cannot stand still.
I remain cautious, however, about taking organizational stands on some of the other issues mentioned as possible targets of HAW activity , especially the socio-economic impact of imperialism. From the outset HAW has encompassed historians with divergent political views, among them quite a number of conservative libertarians. We must try not only to keep our ranks diverse but united. We should welcome open discussion of such issues, but limit the extent to which we take organizational stands. There are, after all, other organizations that quite properly represent their particular analyses and viewpoints. HAW's aim should always be to involve as many historians as possible and to make them feel at home, without in any way prescribing or stifling particular analyses of US power or interpretations of what is now called "globalization."
7. Elizabeth McKillen
There is always a certain danger that extending the mandate of a group beyond its original purpose might create schisms and alienate those interested only in the original issue. Nonetheless, I support HAW’s position statement simultaneously condemning the Bush administration for its invasion of Iraq, diplomatic and material support of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and threats of military action against Iran because they are so clearly interconnected. As the statement quite rightly points out, these policies are cut of the same cloth in that they embrace simplistic military solutions to political problems in the region that date back to at least World War I. By helping to widen “the circle of violence” the administration will, as many commentators have recently pointed out, further delegitimize national governments while giving strength to militia groups supporting terrorism. The Bush administration’s policies, rather than diminishing the terrorist threat, will dramatically increase it. Historians, in particular, have a responsibility to educate Americans about the interrelationships between seemingly disparate events and to warn about the dangers of unintended consequences in a region whose history is so unfamiliar to many Americans (including, apparently, Bush himself).
The goals of the mandates sought in the second paragraph, however, seem less clear to me. Does HAW really want to take a position on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or does it mean to take positions on specific U.S. policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? I support the latter but not the former because 1. it’s a little arrogant to tell other countries what their foreign policies should be and 2. it would be too divisive. Some of the other issues on the list also need clarification. For example, I can’t imagine HAW putting out a meaningful statement on the socio-economic impact of empire on the United States because the issue is simply too broad. On the other hand, I think it would be great if HAW had a conference or in other ways invited intellectual discussion on the myriad economic effects of different U.S. imperial policies on different subgroups and classes in American society. Through such a conference, HAW might even reach out to some of those subgroups, for example, labor, NAACP etc. HAW should further educate on some of these issues before it takes positions on them. I would definitely approve of extending HAW’s mandate to include promoting intellectual dialogue on all the issues it raises.
1. Michael Hanagan
I support the HAW call for a cease fire in Lebanon but don't believe that HAW should expand its mandate to include the entire Middle East. Although I think that HAW should take positions on Iraq/Afghanistan war-related issues, including a cease fire in Lebanon, I believe that we need to maintain our major focus on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As I see it, HAW should be a more-or-less, single-issue organization that focuses PRINCIPALLY on conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Let me add that I haven't reached this conclusion easily. I believe that the exclusion of the Palestinian/Israeli from the forum of public, political discussion is the most serious long-term problem in U.S. foreign policy today. But no organization can do everything. I fear that if HAW tries to open debates on this issue and to expand its focus to the entire Middle East that it will seriously divide the organization and break up the broad anti-war consensus that has emerged among historians. In the next few months, as we approach the coming election, I feel that anti-war historians may have real opportunities to participate in public debate about the nature of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pro-war supporters will welcome the chance to make this a debate about Israel. We should avoid this.
2. Sonya Michel
I do not support expanding HAW's position to include the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. HAW was initially founded to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and while the U.S. is clearly supporting Israel in the present conflict, the parallels between the two situations are thin. In the case of Iraq, the U.S. initiated an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation on the basis of a trumped-up and misconceived rationale; Israel, by contrast, is a sovereign nation responding to an unprovoked attack by an irregular militia martialed along its border, but outside the control of the sovereign nation in which it is based.
However much we may deplore the Bush administration for wantonly destroying America's social, economic and environmental fabric at home and squandering its reputation and credibility abroad, and however clumsily and incompetently they may be handling the current crisis in Lebanon (their efforts clearly made all the more difficult precisely because of Iraq and numerous other instances of American arrogance, ignorance and obtuseness around the world), it is important not to conflate this record with Israel's justified struggle for its own survival. In the absence of other allies, Israel should not be blamed for looking to the U.S. to help broker a peace, nor should it be blamed for the U.S.'s other blunders in the region. Nor should our analysis be clouded by the tendentious claims of Steven Walt, John Mearshimer, and others, that U.S. foreign policy is being steered by some sort of all-powerful "Israel lobby." Israel’s case stands on its own merits, and U.S. support for Israel in the present conflict is wholly consistent with our own geopolitical interests and stated principles.
3. David T. Beito
I oppose the proposal that the steering committee take "positions on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, U.S. threats to Syria and Iran, the so-called "global war on terror," and the socio-economic impact of empire on the United States."
Let's stick to a narrow gauge approach. Going beyond this on the Israel question will threaten to needlessly divide our membership and cut us off from potential allies. While individual members of HAW should be free to make such connections, the organization itself must remain focused on the unifying goal of opposition to the Iraq war. I write this as a long-time opponent of U.S. aid to Israel. For similar reasons, a narrow gauge approach makes even more sense on highly divisive domestic issues related to the "socio-economic impact of empire in the United States." No matter what "positions" HAW endorses, the effect will be to push away members and potential members. For example, if HAW calls for more domestic spending on government programs or increased economic regulation, it will alienate antiwar conservatives and libertarians who support smaller government, freer markets, and lower taxes. Many of these conservatives and libertarians regard the Iraq war as an illustration of the dangers of an expanding "welfare/warfare state." While we should never be afraid to express individual opinions on these questions, it would be a fatal strategic mistake for any of us to try to impose our views on the other members by forcing HAW to take a "one size fits all" organizational stand. Please note that a change in HAW's policy will only detract from the stated goal of HAW leaders to build bridges to conservative and libertarians and show greater sensitivity to their concerns.
1. Leslie Lomas
Your brief statement is excellent, and I think it's fine for HAW to broaden its concerns from Iraq to the widening crisis in the Middle East, and to U.S. foreign policy in general for that matter, but that might not leave much time for anything else.
However, I would not recommend trying to come up with detailed "positions," especially on the Israel-Palestinian – and now unfortunately – Lebanon crisis or you will end up debating the "positions" for ten years, splitting into factions over each phrase, etc. etc.
However, if you do want to formulate further statements, a couple of points that I'd make are: 1) In addition to the disaster the Israeli invasion has created in Lebanon, it is also self-destructive for Israel. 2) The right-wing militarists on all sides serve each others' purposes. Just as our invasion of Iraq has probably created more recruits for Al Qaeda than Osama bin Laden could have done my himself in ten years, Israel's actions in Lebanon have roused more sympathy and support for Hezbollah in three weeks than anything else could have done. If the countries that are powerful enough to call the shots, so to speak, i.e. Israel and the U.S., put their resources into finding political solutions instead of fomenting wars, the terrorists would have a harder and harder time finding supporters.
2. Grey Osterud
I did wonder at the omission of the name “Palestine” from the statement; “Gaza” is not a people or a nation, only a strip of refugee camps. But I think it unwise for this organization to try to take a position on Israel/Palestine questions (note the plural), in part because so many peace organizations have gone aground on the shoals of this conflict. It is one measure of the penetration of Zionist ideology that so many Americans, Jewish or not, feel compelled to take a position on this set of issues when they have no real stake in it. After all, we are not there, nor is Israel our country. It does seem important to say what this statement does, that we do not wish our own government to aid Israel materially and diplomatically, to offer them impunity from the opinion of the rest of the world as they destroy Lebanon.