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Friday, June 27, 2008

Change, What Change?

´╗┐CounterPunch Diary

by Alexander Cockburn (June 13-15 2008)

On Tuesday June 3 Barack Obama claimed the greatest prize the Democratic Party can offer, namely his nomination as its candidate for the presidency. The very next day the salesman of "change" raced from Minnesota back to Washington and publicly abased himself at the feet of an organization whose prime mission is to ensure that change unpalatable to the state of Israel will never be pressed by the United States government. The terms of Obama's surrender exploded like rhetorical cluster bombs across the Middle East. To Israel and its Arab neighbors it surely signaled that whoever moves into the White House next January, there will be no swerve from Bush's role as guarantor of Israeli intransigeance.

The conferences of the American Israel Public Committee have become showcases for the political clout of this lobbying group. The clout is real . A politician angering the Lobby can see campaign funds dry up and surprise challenges by well financed opponents. Back in September, 1991 President George Bush Sr, took on the Lobby pointing out that the US spends nearly $1,000 a year for every Israeli and suggested this was extortion at the hands of AIPAC. "I'm up against some powerful forces", he said at his press conference. "They've got something like 1,000 lobbyists on the Hill working the other side of the question. We've got one lonely little guy here doing it." He want [sic] that particular battle, but some count the resultant enmity of AIPAC as a serious factor in his defeat by Clinton the following year. If so, George Jr took the lesson to heart.

As US representatives and senators and their staffs crowded the back of the convention center, the audience of 7,000 from across the US cheered as politician after politician marched to the rostrum for the politically rewarding declarations of loyalty to Israel.

Before he began his drive to the nomination Obama took good care to get the support of influential American Jews in Chicago like the Crown family, associated with the aerospace firm, General Dynamics.

As I wrote here back in February, a notorious scandal of the Kennedy years was JFK's defense secretary, Robert McNamara, overruling all expert review and procurement recommendations and insisting that General Dynamics rather than Boeing make the disastrous F-111, at that time one of the largest procurement contracts in the Pentagon's history. The suspicion was that Henry Crown of Chicago was calling in some chits for his role in fixing the 1960 JFK vote in Cook County, Illinois, to the impotent fury of the teenage Hillary Clinton, who was a poll watcher for Nixon. Crown, of Chicago Sand and Gravel, had $300 million of the mob's money in General Dynamics' debentures, and after the disaster of the Convair, General Dynamics needed the F-111 to avoid going belly-up, taking the mob's $300 million with it.

Henry Crown has passed on to the great pork barrel in the sky, but his descendants in the Crown clan are devoted contributors to Obama, giving him tens of thousands of dollars, as a glance at the website of the Center for Responsive Politics swiftly attests. The Crown family is still deeply involved in the affairs of General Dynamics. Lester and James Crown have both had seats on the company's board in recent years. General Dynamics has ties to Israeli military contractors. A 2003 General Dynamics corporate handout cited by Chicago Indymedia proclaimed "a strategic alliance with Aeronautics Defense Systems, Ltd", an Israeli firm based in Yavne. Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd is the firm that developed the Unmanned Multi-Application System (UMASa) aerial surveillance tool which the Israeli military uses to "provide a real-time 'bird's eye view' of the surveillance area to combatant commanders and airborne command posts". The Indymedia story quoted then-Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as saying the agreement between General Dynamics and Aeronautics Defense Systems to bring together "both companies' state-of-the art technologies in defense and homeland security" was "additional proof of the technological and commercial benefits that alliances between industries from the US and Israel can produce". An eye in the sky over Gaza ends up as a dollar in Obama's war chest.

On January 11 of this year, hot on the heels of an editorial praising Obama as a Friend of Israel in the rabidly Zionist New York Sun, Lester Crown circulated a testimonial through the Jewish community, expressing his eagerness "to share with you my confidence that Senator Barack Obama's stellar record on Israel gives me great comfort that, as President, he will be the friend to Israel that we all want to see in the White House - stalwart in his defense of Israel's security, and committed to helping Israel achieve peace with its neighbors. Few public figures inspire as much hope and optimism as Barack Obama. Please pass on this message to all who are interested."

Worried about rumors fanned by the Clinton campaign that he was still a secret Muslim, Obama insisted that before the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania, a state with a politically significant Jewish vote, his campaign start a Hebrew-language blog in Israel.

So Obama came to this year's AIPAC conference determined to dispel all remaining doubts that he's a Friend of Israel. "We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran", he assured AIPAC". I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power. Everything and I mean everything." He swore he wouldn't talk to the elected representatives Palestinians, Hamas. To thunderous applause he declared, "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided".

As Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli writer and peace activist expostulated here furiously in the wake of this last sentence: "Along comes Obama and retrieves from the junkyard the outworn slogan 'Undivided Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel for all Eternity'. Since Camp David, all Israeli governments have understood that this mantra constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to any peace process. It has disappeared - quietly, almost secretly - from the arsenal of official slogans. No Palestinian, no Arab, no Muslim will make peace with Israel if the Haram-al-Sharif compound (also called the Temple Mount), one of the three holiest places of Islam and the most outstanding symbol of Palestinian nationalism, is not transferred to Palestinian sovereignty. That is one of the core issues of the conflict. On that very issue, the Camp David conference of 2000 broke up".

Obama's foreign policy advisors were tearing their hair out and the next day his campaign issued a clarification. "Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties" as part of "an agreement that they both can live with". All the same, they insisted, Jerusalem in Obama's eyes must be the capital of Israel.

Obama's most egregious talent is the ability to adapt his rhetoric with ominous speed, to allay any suspicion among the powerful, that he really will rock the boat in a way they might not care for. Earlier in the campaign he was criticized for not wearing the American flag as a lapel pin. At the AIPAC event he wore a double lapel pin, with both the US and Israeli flags. Is there a "real Obama" waiting to emerge, once the messy business of pleasing the voters is over? Not really.The making of the "real" Obama is an ongoing project, ad the AIPAC an important marker in the evolution of "change".

Although Obama's groveling got wide coverage across the Middle East, the press here, from the New York Times to Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" (see Muhammad Idrees Ahmad's piece on this site last week) kept silent. It was evidently taken as a given, unworthy of editorial remark, that a man who might very well be the next president, was de-activating the policy of "change" precisely where it is most needed at the behest of the men Jon Stewart edgily derided on his show as "the elders of Zion". Stewart fired off some pretty sharp comments about AIPAC, on the grovelfest, somewhat to my surprise, since I'm not a big Stewart fan, having found that it has become a cultic affair, devoted to the greater glory of Stewart, somewhat in the same manner as "Democracy Now" for Goodman's devotees, who approach her broadcasts as yet one more variety of religious experience.

The sequestration of the American people from important world news is one of the prime tasks of the press here. A couple of weeks ago Patrick Cockburn had two very important scoops - and - outlining the precise terms of the secret "agreement" the US is trying to ram down the throat of the Iraqis on permanent military bases. It was a huge political story in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. It was covered in Europe. I found a detailed account of Patrick's scoops, with intelligent comment, in Trinidad's leading paper. But I found almost nothing here. Not in the New York Times, not in the Washington Post, not on the networks. On June 12 Goodman and Gonzalez did have Patrick on "Democracy Now" and did a useful interview with him. And on Friday June 13, CSPAN had Patrick on its Washington Journal program and CSPAN's viewers learned what their government is up to.

Asian Fury at Laura Bush

First Ladies are expected to pick an issue and make it their own. Ladybird Johnson toiled to make America more beautiful. Nancy Reagan said No to drugs. Laura Bush has taken Myanmar, aka Burma, to her heart. But now she's put her foot in it.

In the wake of the terrible cyclone the First Lady said the United States would consider sending relief assistance to Burma only if the Burmese military junta accepts a US disaster assistance response team to assess the scope of the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis. Many in the region think the prime role of such a team would be to prep international opinion for "humanitarian intervention". "'The US first lady's political demands were inappropriate', said Aung Naing Oo, an exiled Burmese political analyst. 'This is a time when people are dying and suffering to a horrible degree, so if the US really wants to help, it can help without making political demands'."

The cynical way the US has responded to the killer cyclone and the resentment this has caused in Asia is the subject of Peter Lee's fascinating report in the new crackerjack edition of our newsletter.

Here also are terrific pieces by Kevin Alexander Gray and Jeffrey St Clair.

A taster from Kevin, on "Why Blacks Keep Quiet About Obama":

"Black people always have to navigate race fear; the long Democratic primary season has just underlined that. Joking, comedian Jon Stewart asked Obama, if elected, "Will you pull a bait and switch and enslave the white race?" Kinda funny. Except that's precisely the sentiment that underlies white race fear. I've heard the same thing said in seriousness by more than one white person. "If Obama gets the White House what will they want next?" Or, "if Obama wins, blacks will think they're running things" ... Give a listen to the corporate media, and it's pretty clear what tune black voices are supposed to be singing. Obama is constantly called on to swear allegiance to America - to prove he isn't swearing allegiance to blacks. The other way to say that is he's supposed to swear allegiance to white, not black, America. Meanwhile, the back end of that deal is that black Americans are required to substitute Obama for real structural racial progress. As in, "You got your nominee. See, we're not so racist or bad after all. Now shut up!"

Jeffrey St Clair writes on Los Angeles' weapon of mass destruction: air. By the time average LA-born kids reach eighteen, they will have breathed enough toxic air to place them 344 times over what the EPA considers an acceptable lifetime exposure to these contaminants.

All this in the new CounterPunch newsletter, for subscribers only.

Footnote: A shorter version of the first item in this Diary ran on The First Post last Friday.

Alexander Cockburn can be reached at

Bill Totten


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