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Culture war games: those to whom evil is done

Those Who Don’t Investigate the Past Are Doomed to Repeat It
By Stephen M. Walt

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a day and a half on board the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt as it conducted exercises off the coast of Florida in preparation for an extended deployment. It was a fascinating experience, and one of the activities that impressed me most was watching night landings by the ship’s F-18 squadron. An especially interesting part, at least for me, was observing the debriefing each pilot had to undergo after every flight, in which members of the crew went over each landing and explained what the pilot had done correctly and what needed to be improved. The purpose of these sessions was clear: To maintain a high level of performance, you had to learn from any mistakes you made so you could do better in the future.

One of the supposed strengths of democracies is their tolerance for open discussion, which makes it easier to identify mistakes, alter course, and hold those responsible accountable.

The evaluative process would never be perfect, but it was almost certainly better than a top-down effort to impose a official party line or suppress all inquiries into controversial policy decisions. To use late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ memorable phrase, a democratic “marketplace of ideas” was preferable to a government monopoly.

I used to believe that view wholeheartedly, but growing evidence the “marketplace of ideas” is pretty easy to rig has undermined my confidence. One obvious problem is secrecy: It’s much harder to evaluate what is going wrong when governments can conceal what they are doing from the public (or when they selectively leak information to bolster their cases). The willingness of some officials to deceive the public in the past helped fuel the epidemic of conspiracy theories that now pollutes public discourse and encourages people to dismiss information they don’t like as nothing more than “fake news.”


The marketplace of ideas breaks down even more when certain orthodoxies become so deeply engrained hardly anyone ever questions them, and those who do in a serious and sober way are soon dismissed or marginalized. As journalist Walter Lippmann warned, “When all think alike, no one thinks very much.” When conventional wisdoms go unquestioned, a powerful country can keep doing the same dumb things over and over because challenging the consensus is professionally risky.

Anything that interferes with a society’s ability to think carefully and critically about its past conduct and identify what is working and what isn’t reduces its capacity to learn from mistakes and makes it far more prone to repeat them.

Realism Must Guide Our Reaction to Russia’s Invasion
By Tanner Greer

Failure to slow down and examine the assumptions and motivations behind our choices may lead to decisions that feel right in the moment but fail to safeguard our interests, secure our values or reduce the human toll of war in the long run.

Americans should be particularly sensitive to the dangers of moral fervor and intuitive judgment overwhelming the slower, more bureaucratic processes behind most foreign policy. As the political scientist Michael Mazarr recounts in his book “Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy,” an exhaustive study of the decision-making process behind the invasion of Iraq, this was exactly the reason the Bush administration blundered its way into catastrophe two decades ago.

Dr. Mazarr contrasts two modes of foreign policy decision making: The first follows what he calls a “logic of consequences.” Policymaking in this mode is concerned with the ultimate outcomes of a proposed policy; it is obsessed with managing the costs and benefits needed to secure its goal. The second approach, “the logic of appropriateness,” is driven instead by the moral imperative to do the right thing.

Even very experienced officials — such as those that led the Bush administration — can fall prey to the “logic of appropriateness” when the circumstances conspire against consequentialist thinking. Sept. 11 imbued the administration’s debates with a moral outrage that, though justified by the horror of the attacks, clouded officials’ long-term thinking. The Bush team was seized by an intuitive conviction that securing the United States from future terrorist attacks could occur only by disrupting Middle Eastern society as forcefully as the terrorists had disrupted America’s. But this judgment was never exposed to careful scrutiny. Fear of a repeat terrorist attack led the Bush administration to speed up the decision-making cycle and suspend the review process that would have forced the administration to question faulty assumptions about Saddam Hussein’s intentions or more carefully weigh the potential consequences of war. The result was that the administration seriously engaged with the consequences of its decisions only long after they had been made.

This is a danger policymakers forced by crisis to act outside formal decision-making processes face, especially if the crisis inspires the sort of indignation and horror that powered American policy after Sept. 11.

History Repeats Itself In ‘Cultures Of War’

CONAN: One of the comparisons that you make that people will be interested in is how the decision-makers arrived at a plan which was tactically brilliant and strategically idiotic in the case of both Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Iraq.

Prof. DOWER: Yeah, well, the – I was very interested, in the book, in a number of questions. And one was the failure of intelligence and with this the failure of imagination that 9/11 revealed.

And as you noted in your introductory comments, the immediate connection everyone made was Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and not only was this treacherous, infamous, atrocious act on the part of the enemy, the Japanese and al-Qaeda, but it also was an enormous failure of intelligence.

But what really interested me – and so I went back and I reread all the studies of why Pearl Harbor, why the disaster at Pearl Harbor, why we were caught short, compared it to what we know about 9/11. But to me the interesting thing became that there were(ph) two intelligence failures that are very similar, 1945 and 2001.

That was followed by the invasion of Iraq, and that was a true intelligence disaster. I mean that was simply appalling, and there was no thinking ahead. And then the comparison gets very interesting when you think of the fourth intelligence failure, and that was the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, because what they pulled off was very brilliant.

It was a brilliant attack on Pearl Harbor and some 20 other locations in Southeast Asia, tactically brilliant, and in the phrase I picked up, was a phrase we always used for the Japanese, came from a very famous historian, Samuel Elliot Morrison, American historian who said it was tactically brilliant and strategically imbecilic.

And so the interesting comparison to me then became Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Iraq, and I saw many, many similarities between those two intelligence disasters and felt that the phrase strategically imbecilic applied in the American case and not just in the Japanese case.

CONAN: We saw the results of the Japanese strategic imbecility: They failed to account for America’s incredible ability to be productive, to produce all the – replace, well, triple, double, quintuple all of the ships and airplanes lost at Pearl Harbor. What was the strategic imbecility in the case of Iraq?

Prof. DOWER: Well, in both the case of Iraq – in the case of Iraq, as in the case of the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, there was no end game. There was no looking ahead to anticipate what do we after the – they were mesmerized by the initial opening offensive activities and there was no long-range thinking of: How is this – how are we going to bring this to an end?

And the Japanese simply did not take psychological considerations into account. They knew the Americans had more industrial capacity, but they didn’t – they thought the Pearl Harbor attack would demoralize the Americans.

Yamamoto, Admiral Yamamoto, the man who devised the Pearl Harbor attack, said: We will hope this attack will, you know, so weaken their morale that they will not respond effectively, which was of course just the opposite, just exactly the opposite.

The Americans went into Iraq with absolutely no real understanding at the top levels, at the top levels, of the nature of the society they were taking on, of the potential eruptions and factionalism and internal strife and opposition that they would face in Iraq.

The interesting thing, Neal, is that if you really look at the record, you look at what’s going on at the top levels of the Bush administration, and they simply have no imagination about what to expect in Iraq.

Prof. DOWER: Well, one of the things I deal with is failures of intelligence, but there’s a whole chapter that really parallels that called “Failure of Imagination.” And that is the failure to imagine what the adversary is like.

And you may remember former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in later years, when he was agonizing, really, over the failures in Vietnam. And he says we never understood them. We never understood, and he’s talking the simplest things, that there was a civil war going on there. We never understood how this people could fight against, effectively against such a technologically advanced enemy as we were.

And so this failure of imagination, I think, is – absolutely permeates what we do and also what the Japanese did. The Japanese failed to imagine the Americans’ response. And it goes in many directions though.

One is a failure to understand the grievances of the other side. In other words, when President Bush responded to 9/11, it took a little while before he really articulated effectively America’s response, and that was the war on – the war on terror, and the same speech, that we are combating evil.

And it came in September 22nd, a few weeks after September 11, or 11 days later. And his speechwriter at the time said the wonderful thing about this speech was it didn’t acknowledge that there were any grievances on the other side. It simply pointed out, you know, that they were evil.

And that was the famous thing: They hate our freedoms. But of course, there were – if you look at their grievances, what was behind the terror, there were all sorts of things which are actually coming home today.

There were – if you read al-Qaeda’s proclamations, bin Laden’s proclamations, he’s talking about autocratic governments in Egypt and in other areas. Now we talk about that. He’s talking about many other things that were grievances, that it doesn’t mean you agree with the grievances, but it means you better understand them, or else you’re just going to be creating more and more terrorists.

We did not look at the experience of Middle Eastern countries in being invaded by Western powers over and over, from World War I on. And so we were unprepared by a very fierce reaction against occupation in Iraq.

I think this failure of imagination also extends not simply to their grievances. What is it – what is it that makes people become terrorists? What is it that drove the Japanese to take on that incredibly insane war? But also the failure of imagination extends to: What are their capabilities?

And because the Americans were so overwhelmed with confidence in their extraordinary military power – and it is extraordinary – completely failed to imagine how capable asymmetrical resistance could be.

It goes back to Vietnam, goes into Iraq. It’s what Glenn mentioned we’re seeing in Afghanistan today. So it’s a very vexing problem that keeps coming up again and again, this failure of imagination concerning others that affects the larger failure of intelligence.

And it’s not a lack of data. It’s a lack of thinking. It’s a lack of empathy in the sense of being able to just imagine what they are thinking and what they’re capable of.

Regret for the War on Terror Is Not the Same as Remorse
By Norman Solomon

While indescribable pain, rage, and fear set the US cauldron to boil, national leaders promised that their alchemy would bring unalloyed security via a global war effort. It would become unceasing, one in which the deaths and bereavement of equally innocent people, thanks to US military actions, would be utterly devalued.

In tandem with Washington’s top political leaders, the fourth estate was integral to sustaining the grief-fueled adrenaline rush that made launching a global war against terrorism seem like the only decent option, with Afghanistan initially in the country’s gunsights and news outlets filled with calls for retribution. Bush administration officials, however, didn’t encourage any focus whatsoever on US petro-ally Saudi Arabia, the country from which 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers came. (None were Afghans.)

By the time the United States began its invasion of Afghanistan, 26 days after 9/11, the assault could easily appear to be a fitting response to popular demand. Hours after the Pentagon’s missiles began to explode in that country, a Gallup poll found that “90 percent of Americans approve of the United States taking such military action, while just 5 percent are opposed, and another 5 percent are unsure.”

Such lopsided approval was a testament to how thoroughly the messaging for a “war on terror” had taken hold. It would have then been little short of heretical to predict that such retribution would cause many more innocent people to die than in the 9/11 mass murder. During the years to come, the foreseeable deaths of Afghan civilians would be downplayed, discounted, or simply ignored as incidental “collateral damage” (a term that Time magazine defined as “meaning dead or wounded civilians who should have picked a safer neighborhood”).

What had occurred on September 11 remained front and center. What began happening to Afghans that October 7 would be relegated to, at most, peripheral vision. Amid the righteous grief that had swallowed up the United States, few words would have been less welcome or more relevant than these from a poem by W.H. Auden: “Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return.”

Unmasking Horror — A special report.; Japan Confronting Gruesome War Atrocity
By Nicholas D. Kristof

Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army conducted research by experimenting on humans and by “field testing” plague bombs by dropping them on Chinese cities to see whether they could start plague outbreaks. They could.

Scholars and former members of the unit say that at least 3,000 people — by some accounts several times as many — were killed in the medical experiments; none survived.

No one knows how many died in the “field testing.” It is becoming evident that the Japanese officers in charge of the program hoped to use their weapons against the United States. They proposed using balloon bombs to carry disease to America, and they had a plan in the summer of 1945 to use kamikaze pilots to dump plague-infected fleas on San Diego.

The research was kept secret after the end of the war in part because the United States Army granted immunity from war crimes prosecution to the doctors in exchange for their data. Japanese and American documents show that the United States helped cover up the human experimentation. Instead of putting the ringleaders on trial, it gave them stipends.

Partly because the Americans helped cover up the biological warfare program in exchange for its data, Gen. Shiro Ishii, the head of Unit 731, was allowed to live peacefully until his death from throat cancer in 1959. Those around him in Unit 731 saw their careers flourish in the postwar period, rising to positions that included Governor of Tokyo, president of the Japan Medical Association and head of the Japan Olympic Committee.

By conventional standards, few people were more cruel than the farmer who as a Unit 731 medic carved up a Chinese prisoner without anesthetic, and who also acknowledged that he had helped poison rivers and wells. Yet his main intention in agreeing to an interview seemed to be to explain that Unit 731 was not really so brutal after all.

Asked why he had not anesthetized the prisoner before dissecting him, the farmer explained: “Vivisection should be done under normal circumstances. If we’d used anesthesia, that might have affected the body organs and blood vessels that we were examining. So we couldn’t have used anesthetic.”

When the topic of children came up, the farmer offered another justification: “Of course there were experiments on children. But probably their fathers were spies.”

“There’s a possibility this could happen again,” the old man said, smiling genially. “Because in a war, you have to win.”

When Tokyo Burned
By Spencer Cohen

In 1943, at Dugway Proving Ground, southwest of Salt Lake City, the U.S. Army built a Japanese village with rows of Japanese-styled homes, furnished with tatami mats and paper screens—targets to test bombs, alongside a German counterpart nearby. The goal was to understand which weapons burned the homes quickest and most effectively.

Two years later, on March 10, 1945, U.S. B-29 bombers raced above Tokyo. The pilots flew low, between 5,000 and 9,000 feet, dropping 1,665 tons of incendiary bombs on tightly packed wooden houses in the city’s eastern lowlands—areas selected for their high flammability and population density. A rancid smell crept into the planes, and a cloud of smoke covered the city, obscuring an estimated 100,000 people killed and nearly 16 square miles burned to the ground below. In June 1947, as U.S. forces assessed the damage on the ground, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that this was “[b]y far the most effective air attack against any Japanese city.” And, as the first low-flying U.S. raid of the war, it “resulted in a greater degree of death and destruction than that produced by any other single mission in any theater during World War II.”

In 1937, Japanese forces bombed the Chinese capital of Nanjing, killing hundreds of civilians. A few months later, in 1938, they began a long bombing campaign against Chongqing, where the Chinese government had fled to establish a new capital. Over the next five years, multiple raids would kill more than 10,000 Chinese civilians. It was one of many Japanese bombing campaigns during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The photograph of a Chinese child crying in the ruins of a Shanghai rail station, snapped in August 1937, was one of the most influential images in stirring U.S. sanctions against Japan. Though U.S. and European officials criticized the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, as they would German attacks, Allied forces soon adopted the tactic themselves.

Tokyo was not the only city to be firebombed. The attacks decimated cityscapes, killed tens of thousands of people, hampered industry, and dampened morale. And the atomic bombs were the final act, killing many in blinding flashes on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945; Japan surrendered days later, on Aug. 15.

Soon after, U.S. forces arrived in Tokyo. The heavy hand of U.S. occupation authorities, under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, censored most writings on the air raids and atomic bombs, fearing opposition to its authority and comparisons between U.S. and Japanese wartime acts, the latter on trial in Tokyo from 1946. The atomic trauma came to light anyway, even before the occupation ended, in 1952. This was, in part, because of the writings of the physician Takashi Nagai, before he died of radiation exposure caused by his research and aggravated by the blast; the grotesque and epic Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki; and other visual and written accounts of atomic devastation. Stories of bombs falling on Tokyo, of the city in flames—already cast aside by U.S. censorship—were further overshadowed by this atomic trauma, which also helped form the basis of Japan’s postwar “victim consciousness,” or higaisha ishiki.

Katsumoto Saotome, chronicler of Tokyo firebombing, dies at 90
By Phil Davison

Mr. Saotome was at home with his parents and sisters March 10, 1945, when 334 low-flying American B-29 “Superfortress” warplanes firebombed the city, leveling much of it. The devastation presaged the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that August, followed weeks later by Japan’s unconditional surrender.

The atomic bombings were front-page news around the world, with memorial sites and museums set up by postwar Japanese governments. But Mr. Saotome said the firebombing of Tokyo, using a jellied petroleum prototype of what would become napalm, fell from memory in the wider world. (The jelly even set fire to local rivers where Tokyo residents, including Mr. Saotome’s family, fled to get away from the land fires.)

The Irish Times in 2005 quoted one B-29 pilot, Chester Marshall, as saying: “At 5,000 feet you could smell the flesh burning. … I couldn’t eat anything for two or three days. You know it was nauseating, really. We just said ‘What is that I smell?’ And it’s a kind of a sweet smell, and somebody said, ‘Well that’s flesh burning, had to be.’ ”

Mr. Saotome noted that the death toll in Tokyo, although less than the atomic attack on Hiroshima (140,000 dead), was higher than the one in Nagasaki (70,000) and far higher than the estimated 25,000 dead from the Allied firebombing of the German city of Dresden in February 1945. He said he believed postwar Japanese governments tried to downplay the Tokyo bombing so as not to exacerbate relations with its American occupiers.

Despite losing his childhood home during the attack, and seeing so many of his friends and neighbors dead, Mr. Saotome’s writings were never intended as anti-American, he said, but always “pro-peace.”

After all, he told the Nikkei Weekly, the Japanese had carried out an indiscriminate air raid on civilians on the Chinese city of Chungking in 1938.

“This ‘eye for an eye’ mentality was paid for by the suffering of civilians,” he said.

In 1990, he published a children’s book titled “Tobe Tobe Hiyoko” (Fly, Fly Away, Little Chick), based in part on one of his recollections: While anticipating an aerial raid of some kind, neighbors of Mr. Saotome killed a rooster, kept by a child as a pet, because of its loud crowing.

“I want children to understand that people sometimes vent their frustration on the harmless when their lives are in constant threat,” he told the Daily Yomiuri in 1990.

‘Bomber’ is one of the greatest British antiwar novels ever written
By Malcolm Gladwell

“We British are not an imaginative people,” the activist Vera Brittain wrote, in the opening sentence of her 1944 book “Seed of Chaos.” “Throughout our history wrongs have been committed, or evils gone too long unremedied, simply because we did not perceive the real meaning of the suffering which we had caused or failed to mitigate.”

Brittain was referring to the decision during the Second World War by Arthur Harris, head of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command, to send hundreds of planes, night after night, to bomb the residential neighborhoods of German cities. Harris was resolutely unsentimental about his decision. He once wrote that it “should be unambiguously stated” that the RAF’s goal was “the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany … the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale.” His nickname was “Butcher” Harris, a sobriquet employed with a certain grudging respect, on the understanding that butchers can be useful in times of war. Harris was a psychopath. Twenty-five thousand people in Cologne once burned to death, in one night, on his orders. And Vera Brittain’s point was that the people of England acquiesced to his decision because they did not have the imagination to appreciate what those deadly bombing campaigns meant to those on the ground.

“Butcher” or “Bomber” Harris engaged in what the English military euphemistically described as “area bombing” — that is to say, the wholesale destruction of cities and towns — because the bombing crews of that era simply weren’t accurate enough to hit strategic targets. If you cannot hit power plants and weapons factories and ammunition depots with any precision, then you make a virtue out of indiscriminately leveling neighborhoods. “Butcher” Harris pretended his tactics served some greater military purpose. They didn’t. Area bombing was just a fancy term to describe what you do when you can’t do what you actually want to do.

Today, of course, we can hit power plants and weapons factories and ammunition depots with precision. And when a country — like Russia, in the Ukrainian war — hits apartment buildings and hospitals with their bombs, it’s because they chose to, and the rest of us, as a result, have permission to judge them by their intentions. But in the aerial campaigns of the Second World War, what was the value of judging intentions? Very little of what anyone intended ever happened. By the 1960s, in the UK, the full history of WWII was starting to trickle out, and it was becoming obvious that the bombing campaigns against Germany that were crowned in glory during the war were actually stupid, bloody, ill-conceived wastes of resources and human life: The efforts of Harris and his cohorts did not speed the end of the war, they probably prolonged it.

Malcolm Gladwell on the Hard Decisions of War
By Thomas E. Ricks

The unexpected hero of Gladwell’s story is Curtis LeMay — yes, that one, the general who firebombed Tokyo and dozens of other Japanese cities and then, decades later, supposedly advocated bombing the Vietnamese back into the Stone Age. (Gladwell partly excuses this notorious phrase, saying it was likely the work of a ghostwriter.) The villain, or at least loser in this account, is another Air Force general, Haywood Hansell, who had tried to win the war in the Pacific through the precision-bombing of Japan. In Gladwell’s account, Hansell’s relatively more humane approach didn’t work. One historian tells the author that Hansell “was not the kind of man who was willing to kill hundreds of thousands of people. He just didn’t have it. Didn’t have it in his soul.” After a few months in command of the B-29 raids on Japan, Hansell was dismissed and replaced by LeMay, who was told to come up with a new plan.

What could be more American than the story of LeMay, a gruff, cigar-chewing Ohioan who made his way through the state university by working night shifts at a foundry? He was hardly a theorist, and especially not someone out to make war more humane. LeMay was instead, in the words of the military historian Conrad Crane, “the Air Force’s ultimate problem solver.” As Gladwell tells it, the practical problem was how to win the war as quickly as possible. LeMay’s solution was to saturate Tokyo with napalm bombs, killing as many as 100,000 people in about six hours, and then to go on and firebomb dozens of other Japanese cities, killing thousands upon thousands, sometimes when the target cities were of little or no military value. This ferocious approach may have helped end the war, but there is no question that it was horrible.

Gladwell argues that LeMay’s savage firebombing campaign succeeded, and that, combined with the two atomic bombs that followed, shortened the war. “Curtis LeMay’s approach brought everyone — Americans and Japanese — back to peace and prosperity as quickly as possible,” he writes. Had the war gone on longer, into the winter of 1945-46, he suggests, millions of Japanese could have died of starvation.

Yet he also concludes that in the long run, in the years that followed, the idealistic Hansell was right to believe that an air campaign based on precision strikes was possible. So, he asserts, “Curtis LeMay won the battle. Haywood Hansell won the war.” The evidence for this, of course, is the ability of today’s “stealthy” radar-evading bombers to drop ordnance from great heights and have them guided to precise points on a given target — say, a hardened aircraft hangar or an enemy intelligence agency’s power system.

But I don’t think the ghost of LeMay can be put to rest so easily. The American military’s precise new way of information-based warfare so far has been tested only in relatively small and short bombing campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, the gunboat wars of our time. Precision-guided munitions are hugely expensive, and the stockpiles of them are surprisingly small. What would happen with bombing in a really big war remains to be seen. So it is probably too early, far too early, to believe that wide-area, city-destroying attacks that kill large numbers of civilians have become a horror only of the past.

The Fog of War: Transcript

Lesson #5: Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
EM: The choice of incendiary bombs, where did that come from?

McNamara: I think the issue is not so much incendiary bombs. I think the issue is: in order to win a war should you kill 100,000 people in one night, by firebombing or any other way? LeMay’s answer would be clearly “Yes.”

“McNamara, do you mean to say that instead of killing 100,000, burning to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in that one night, we should have burned to death a lesser number or none? And then had our soldiers cross the beaches in Tokyo and been slaughtered in the tens of thousands? Is that what you’re proposing? Is that moral? Is that wise?”

Why was it necessary to drop the nuclear bomb if LeMay was burning up Japan? And he went on from Tokyo to firebomb other cities. 58% of Yokohama. Yokohama is roughly the size of Cleveland. 58% of Cleveland destroyed. Tokyo is roughly the size of New York. 51% percent of New York destroyed. 99% of the equivalent of Chattanooga, which was Toyama. 40% of the equivalent of Los Angeles, which was Nagoya. This was all done before the dropping of the nuclear bomb, which by the way was dropped by LeMay’s command.

Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Killing 50% to 90% of the people of 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional, in the minds of some people, to the objectives we were trying to achieve.

I don’t fault Truman for dropping the nuclear bomb. The U.S.—Japanese War was one of the most brutal wars in all of human history ? kamikaze pilots, suicide, unbelievable. What one can criticize is that the human race prior to that time ? and today ? has not really grappled with what are, I’ll call it, “the rules of war.” Was there a rule then that said you shouldn’t bomb, shouldn’t kill, shouldn’t burn to death 100,000 civilians in one night?

LeMay said, “If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.” And I think he’s right. He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?

The Dehumanization of War
By Kelly Denton-Borhaug

In Japan, my students and I have had the distinct privilege of meeting atomic bomb survivors, or hibakusha as they are known there. One hibakusha, an elderly, somewhat stern man, told us that he was outside of the city of Nagasaki with his brother when the second bomb exploded. The two boys rushed into the city to search for their father and finally found his body near his workplace, burned (like Sakue’s mother) almost beyond recognition.

We listened as his testimony viscerally evoked that horror from so long ago as if it had only taken place days earlier. He remembered how, as a child, when he tried to prepare the body for burial, he touched his father’s head and the skull crumbled beneath his fingers, while parts of the brain oozed into his hands.

During our conversation with that elderly man in Nagasaki, one moment was particularly unforgettable. Despite the harsh struggle and war-time brutalization he endured as a child, the elder we now experienced was a soul of deep reflection and humane philosophical searching. During the question-and-answer period following his testimony, he told us about his life-long struggle to understand what had happened to him and why. He mentioned a book that helped him better grasp how the world arrived at such a place of inhumanity and violence, historian John Dower’s award-winning history, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.

“I know that book!” I blurted out. He stared at me, and I stared back. Dower’s history had also deeply impacted my life and thought, so I felt a sudden powerful connection with that hibakusha and was simultaneously rendered speechless after my outburst, overwhelmed and amazed by the journey that man had taken in his life to meet me then and there.

Dower’s investigation helped me better understand two truths about violence. First, dehumanization always precedes and paves the way for the horrors of war. Human beings won’t kill other humans if they truly believe their lives are as worthy as their own. In his book, Dower vividly exposes the dehumanizing, racist imagery that enveloped both the United States and Japan in the early 1940s. The Japanese were portrayed here as “vermin” and “apes,” “inferior men and women,” “primitive and childish” creatures. They were “the Yellow Peril” or “the menacing Asian horde.” Versions of such tropes of dehumanization lubricated the eruption of violence that followed and have emerged repeatedly in human history.

And it wasn’t just the Americans. Japanese cartoons from the era depicted Westerners as a kind of vermin like lice, caricatured President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a demon, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and FDR as “debauched ogres” looming over Mount Fuji, a sacred symbol of Japan. American cartoons typically drew Japanese bodies in bright yellow.

I remember my mother, who grew up in California during that war, remarking on a Japanese flag I brought home from one of my trips. “That was such a symbol of hatred when I was a child,” she told me. And such dehumanization paved the way for devastating violence as the only possible solution. Both sides plummeted into “victimage rhetoric” that portrayed the “enemy” as barbaric, irrational, and irredeemably violent, while “we” were moral, rational, and sensible. Tragically, this way of thinking justified the horrors to come. Given such an enemy, only through colossal destruction could we save the world, or so people came to think.

Dower’s book reveals a second truth about violence as well: dehumanization does more than just enable war. It also generates an annihilating energy all its own through which the atrocity-laden destruction of war multiplies exponentially. In the case of the Pacific front in World War II, violence begat ever greater violence and the hunger for it grew ever deeper and more insatiable until there was a veritable “frenzy of violence” on both sides in the final year of that war. More than half of all American deaths occurred in that single year and that was when the kamikaze, or suicide plane, became “the consummate symbol of the pure spirit of the Japanese” to “turn back the demonic onslaught.”

Meanwhile, the Americans abandoned precision bombing and initiated the full-scale firebombing of Japanese cities. The firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945 burned to death more than 100,000 civilians in a single night. More than 60 cities were similarly targeted, killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese in a final paroxysm of violence that preceded Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In these terrible recent days, we again can hear the drumbeats of dehumanization in Ukraine, Israel, and the Gaza Strip, as grief explodes in the face of unimaginable violence, loss, injury, and the sort of pain that rips at the very fabric of our world. Human beings are once again being described as “animals.” The other side is pure “evil.” The only remedy for such a conflict, people imagine, is to wipe the enemy out and achieve “full victory.” Indescribable destructive force against the other is rationalized as necessary because of the terrible violence wreaked on us.

But we won’t find our way out of such a morass of violence through more of the same, or through the further dehumanization of people we call our enemy. In the end, dehumanization destroys us, too, even if we don’t realize it.

Wrath of the Centurions
By Max Hastings

Before​ examining the most notorious war crime of the Vietnam era, it seems useful to glance at some other modern horror stories. At 2.15 p.m. on the afternoon of 10 June 1944, a company of the 2nd SS panzer division, ‘Das Reich’, entered the small French town of Oradour-sur-Glane, herded most of its population, swollen by refugees, into barns and garages, the women and children into the church, then killed them with firearms and grenades. The panzergrenadiers had been informed that Oradour was a hotbed of Resistance activity and were seeking revenge for the abduction nearby, on the previous evening, of a popular battalion commander. The regimental war diary recorded, entirely mendaciously, that Resistance arms and ammunition had been found in almost every house. A situation report to divisional headquarters announced 548 ‘enemy dead’. The true figure appears to have been 642, all of whom were innocent civilians. When a stunned parent reached Oradour late that afternoon, found the place deserted and asked where all the children were, a German responded succinctly: ‘Alles kaputt.’ In 1980 a German veteran whom I interviewed for a book told me of a conversation about the massacre with one of those who carried it out, who said confidingly: ‘Speaking as one old SS man to another, Herr Muller, it was nothing. In Russia, we did such things every day.’

The 1953 trial in Bordeaux of 21 of those who carried out the Oradour killings proved an acute embarrassment for France, still traumatised by its experience of occupation. Fourteen of the accused proved to be Alsatians – French citizens. Following their convictions, all but one were quickly amnestied by the Paris government. Its attitude may have been influenced by the fact that the French army had carried out many more recent mass killings of civilians in the course of suppressing revolts in Algeria (1945) and Madagascar (1947), and was even then committing massacres in Indochina, still a French colony.

The British army for years sustained a legend that it achieved success in its colonial ‘brushfire wars’ through the efforts of kindly Tommies in winning hearts and minds. Recent studies – for instance, David French’s excellent The British Way in Counter-Insurgency 1945-67 – show that in Malaya, Cyprus, Aden and Kenya British soldiers in fact displayed frequent brutality, often condoned by their officers. In all of Britain’s counterinsurgency campaigns, especially in Kenya, substantial numbers of unlawful killings of civilians took place, even if there is no credible evidence of anything on the scale of My Lai.

We may go further, and notice that during and after the Second World War, scarcely any Allied soldiers, sailors or airmen were prosecuted for war crimes, though there was ample evidence to support charges, had there been the will to pursue them. SS prisoners, for example, were frequently shot out of hand. There was at least one large-scale killing of German PoWs on the Canadian front in Normandy. I have interviewed many former Allied fighter pilots who admitted to deliberately strafing – killing with cannon, rockets and bombs – civilians in Germany during the relatively carefree days just before the war ended.

My point is not to suggest that the American soldiers who committed the My Lai massacre behaved no worse than British or French soldiers in similar circumstances; or even that the US army should be compared institutionally with the Waffen SS, which it certainly should not. It is to remind ourselves that the unique selling-point of soldiers, even if tarted up in fancy-dress uniforms and bearskins, is that they are trained killers.

It is a constant challenge for leaders on the battlefield to ensure that the young men carrying lethal weapons under their command shoot the right people and do not shoot the wrong ones. In all armies, control and disciplined restraint are sometimes lost. Soldiers who participate in armed conflict emerge morally compromised – how could they not, when they have been killing their fellow man? Veterans and historians alike must simply debate in what degree a given army at a given time and place has dirtied its hands.

It deserves notice that the communists murdered in cold blood far more innocent people during their February 1968 occupation of Hue than the My Lai killers did. The Vietcong were merely smart enough not to allow their massacres – or their frequent disembowellings and live burials of village chiefs who declined to support them – to be recorded on camera, as My Lai was, or to become the object of war crimes trials.

We need to keep reading about My Lai for the same reason we must continue to struggle to understand the men who carried out the Holocaust: only by acknowledging how low men can sink in wars is there any hope of training and conditioning them to rise higher.

Reconciliation at My Lai
By Dan Kaufman

Three American soldiers, Hugh Thompson, Glenn Andreotta, and Larry Colburn, were flying close to the ground that day in a helicopter. As scouts they approached My Lai first, at around 7:30 a.m. They drew no fire and after checking the perimeter, returned to the village. Shortly afterward, they caught sight of what their fellow American soldiers had done: there were bodies stacked four or five high in an irrigation ditch. “They were bleeding out, dying in the ditch,” Colburn said. “If they weren’t dead yet, they were pretending to be.” Andreotta, who was killed on a mission three weeks after My Lai, thought he saw something move in the pile of bodies. A small boy had lifted his head. “He was drowning in blood from the people in the ditch. He had to move to take a breath and that’s when Glenn saw him,” Coburn said. “I remember thinking, I don’t want to go into this ditch. I will, but I do not want to. Glenn handed the boy, Do Ba, up to me. We took him to the little hospital.”

Do Ba sat in Colburn’s lap in the helicopter on the flight to the hospital. “He was just in shock,” Colburn said. “I pulled up his little pajamas and looked at his legs and torso and saw he was covered with blood.” Do’s two younger siblings and mother were all killed. “I think he was very close to his mother,” Colburn said. “He was probably still clinging to her.” He was eight years-old.

Colburn and his two comrades managed to save at least ten people that day, but he is still haunted by those they weren’t able to help. “We saw this one woman in a fetal position in tall grass. We were hovering six to eight feet above and I motioned to her to stay where she was and stay down.” When they returned less than fifteen minutes later she had been shot in the head. “I don’t know why we didn’t just pick her up then,” Colburn said. “I will struggle with that for the rest of my life.”

Larry Colburn Heroically Intervened in the My Lai Massacre
By Ed Tant

Speaking to a large downtown crowd at the Athens Human Rights Festival on May 17, 1998—30 years after the massacre—Colburn recalled his time as a gunner on a helicopter with crew chief Glenn Andreotta and pilot Hugh Thompson. When they saw the killings happening on the ground, Thompson landed the chopper, and the three crewmen prevented even more killing by their fellow American military men at My Lai. Speaking respectfully of his pilot 30 years after their wartime experience, Colburn told his Athens audience, “Mr. Thompson was the decision-maker that day, and he led us through it.”

Colburn told the downtown crowd in 1998 that it didn’t take him long to become skeptical about the Vietnam War that he had experienced as a young man in 1968. “About the second day I was in the country, I had questions about our involvement in Vietnam,” he said.

The Secrets and Lies of the Vietnam War, Exposed in One Epic Document
By Elizabeth Becker

Brandishing a captured Chinese machine gun, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara appeared at a televised news conference in the spring of 1965. The United States had just sent its first combat troops to South Vietnam, and the new push, he boasted, was further wearing down the beleaguered Vietcong.

“In the past four and one-half years, the Vietcong, the Communists, have lost 89,000 men,” he said. “You can see the heavy drain.”

That was a lie. From confidential reports, McNamara knew the situation was “bad and deteriorating” in the South. “The VC have the initiative,” the information said. “Defeatism is gaining among the rural population, somewhat in the cities, and even among the soldiers.”

Lies like McNamara’s were the rule, not the exception, throughout America’s involvement in Vietnam. The lies were repeated to the public, to Congress, in closed-door hearings, in speeches and to the press. The real story might have remained unknown if, in 1967, McNamara had not commissioned a secret history based on classified documents — which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers.

Daniel Ellsberg, an analyst on the study, eventually leaked portions of the report to The New York Times, which published excerpts in 1971. The revelations in the Pentagon Papers infuriated a country sick of the war, the body bags of young Americans, the photographs of Vietnamese civilians fleeing U.S. air attacks and the endless protests and counterprotests that were dividing the country as nothing had since the Civil War.

The lies revealed in the papers were of a generational scale, and, for much of the American public, this grand deception seeded a suspicion of government that is even more widespread today.

Officially titled “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force,” the papers filled 47 volumes, covering the administrations of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Their 7,000 pages chronicled, in cold, bureaucratic language, how the United States got itself mired in a long, costly war in a small Southeast Asian country of questionable strategic importance.

They are an essential record of the first war the United States lost. For modern historians, they foreshadow the mind-set and miscalculations that led the United States to fight the “forever wars” of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The original sin was the decision to support the French rulers in Vietnam. President Harry S. Truman subsidized their effort to take back their Indochina colonies. The Vietnamese nationalists were winning their fight for independence under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, a Communist. Ho had worked with the United States against Japan in World War II, but, in the Cold War, Washington recast him as the stalking horse for Soviet expansionism.

American intelligence officers in the field said that was not the case, that they had found no evidence of a Soviet plot to take over Vietnam, much less Southeast Asia. As one State Department memo put it, “If there is a Moscow-directed conspiracy in Southeast Asia, Indochina is an anomaly.”

Fully disillusioned at last, McNamara argued in a 1967 memo to the president that more of the same — more troops, more bombing — would not win the war. In an about-face, he suggested that the United States declare victory and slowly withdraw.

And in a rare acknowledgment of the suffering of the Vietnamese people, he wrote, “The picture of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one.”

Johnson was furious and soon approved increasing the U.S. troop commitment to nearly 550,000. By year’s end, he had forced McNamara to resign, but the defense secretary had already commissioned the Pentagon Papers.

In 1968, Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election; Vietnam had become his Waterloo. Nixon won the White House on the promise to bring peace to Vietnam. Instead, he expanded the war by invading Cambodia, which convinced Daniel Ellsberg that he had to leak the secret history.

‘Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam’ By Nick Turse
By John Tirman

More than any other American conflict, the Vietnam War for years has been used as a cautionary tale of imperial overreach and excessive ideological zeal, though many details of the war are fading. So it’s bracing that journalist Nick Turse provides a sharply focused account of possible war crimes in that misbegotten venture.

As his title suggests, Turse is plunging into dark waters of the American way of war. It was a bloody affair, and estimates of Vietnamese deaths vary widely, but they were probably in excess of 2 million — a large number, he notes, for a country of just 19 million at the time. A policy of village destruction, heavy bombardment, free-fire zones, “relocation” of peasants and other indignities created millions of displaced people and millions of wounded. This useless bloodbath is a resilient, if vaguely understood, lesson of Vietnam.

Particularly striking is Operation Speedy Express, conducted in the Mekong Delta by the 9th Infantry Division under the command of Maj. Gen. Julian Ewell. Turse documents the savagery of Speedy Express, the gratuitous execution of thousands of civilians in pursuit of high body counts and career advancement. Thousands of dead Vietnamese, claimed by Ewell and his cohort to be Viet Cong guerrillas, were found with very few weapons. The Army was fully aware of what Ewell was doing, and rewarded him with a third star and a prestigious place at the Paris peace negotiations.

Turse poignantly asks, “Where have all the war crimes gone?” But his answers are not commensurate with his research. He spends several pages on the case of Newsweek correspondents Kevin Buckley and Alexander Shimkin and the evisceration of their long expose of Ewell by feckless editors in New York. “Had Buckley and Shimskin’s investigation been published in full form in January or February 1972,” he writes, “it might have proven to be the crest of the wave of interest in war crimes allegations, resulting in irresistible public pressure for high-level inquires.” But the My Lai massacre had already been aired and had stirred only a very brief public outrage before subsiding into indifference or, indeed, a defense of Lt. William Calley. The Winter Soldier hearings, in which Vietnam veterans told their stories of grisly atrocities in a public forum, were covered by only one major newspaper, in nearby Detroit.

Turse has the journalist’s faith that exposure will result in justice, but in the case of war, there’s little evidence that the public wants to know more about atrocities, much less act upon them. British scholar Kendrick Oliver made this argument brilliantly in his book on My Lai, showing how reactions to revealed atrocities follow a pattern that ultimately leads to a rally-round-the-troops phenomenon. One could contend that war, by its very nature — and not just in Vietnam and Cambodia, but in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan — similarly leads to indifference to civilian suffering or even to blaming the victims.

While reading Turse’s powerful case, I couldn’t help wondering if, 30 years from now, we will see another, similarly revealing book about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 2005 massacre at Haditha, Iraq, in which 24 unarmed civilians were killed by U.S. Marines, bears many resemblances to what Turse writes about Vietnam — a military coverup until an enterprising reporter got the facts, with no Marines paying a price for the slaughter. Is this the real code of military justice?

“As I came to see,” Turse writes, “the indiscriminate killing of South Vietnamese noncombatants — the endless slaughter that wiped out civilians day after day, month after month, year after year throughout the Vietnam War — was neither accidental nor unforeseeable.”

The Vietnam Exposé That Wasn’t
By Nick Turse

Buckley and Shimkin’s investigation revealed that the grossly disproportionate kills-to-weapons-recovered ratio of 14.5 to 1 achieved by the Ninth Infantry Division during Speedy Express was not due to a lack of weapons among the guerrillas, but the fact that thousands of civilians were killed.

In their analysis of disproportionate kill ratios, Buckley and Shimkin came across other atrocities, one of which would finally make waves some thirty years later. Shimkin’s review of official MACV documents found that on February 11, 1969, Ninth Infantry Division troops engaged three motorized sampans, reportedly killing twenty-one enemies, without any US casualties. On February 17, American ground and helicopter forces destroyed four sampans, killing ten, again with no US casualties. Then at 1 am on February 26, according to Shimkin’s summary of the MACV reports, “a U.S. Navy SEAL team was taken under fire by an unknown size enemy force…. Results: 21 enemy killed, two structures destroyed, and two individual weapons captured. There were no U.S. casualties.”

That last mission came to prominence when it was revealed that future Senator Bob Kerrey led the SEALs on that February 26 operation into the village of Thanh Phong. Kerrey later claimed that the civilians died in cross-fire, but Vietnamese from the village and the most experienced member of Kerrey’s team recall an outright massacre. What no one disputes is that members of the SEAL team first used knives then unleashed a fusillade of at least 1,200 rounds that left more than twenty civilians, many of them massed together in the middle of the hamlet, dead. Kerrey received a bronze star for his actions that night, and the civilians were added to the enemy body count.

In 1998 Newsweek killed a story about that massacre, by reporter Gregory Vistica. As Vistica wrote in his 2003 book, The Education of Lieutenant Kerrey, when Kerrey bowed out of the upcoming presidential race, a top editor at the magazine told him that publishing “a piece on Kerrey’s actions in Vietnam…would unfairly be piling on.” The massacre would remain Kerrey’s secret until Vistica, having left Newsweek, published an exposé in The New York Times Magazine in 2001.

Twenty-six years before its editors killed Vistica’s article, Newsweek held, and then eviscerated, Buckley and Shimkin’s story on much the same logic. In January 1972, Buckley cabled the first draft of his and Shimkin’s article from Saigon to New York. The piece exposed killing on a massive scale and appeared to conclusively answer the question that the reporters asked in the story’s lead: “Was My Lai only a particularly gruesome application of a policy which in fact killed many more civilians than were killed in that small village?”

The inside word, at MACV and the Pentagon, was that the military was deeply concerned about Buckley and Shimkin’s findings. But instead of rushing the story into print, Newsweek pushed back on the piece, with New York editors objecting to Buckley’s linking of My Lai and Speedy Express; claiming that articles about civilians killed by “indiscriminate” fire were nothing new; and requesting that the draft be radically shortened. Buckley–in heretofore private cables–responded by pointing out that the military was afraid specifically because the article dealt with command policies. “[D]ay in and day out,” Buckley wrote, the Ninth Division “killed non combatants with firepower that was anything but indiscriminate.”

Shimkin headed back into the Delta for further reporting, where he turned up more Vietnamese witnesses, and Buckley rewrote the article striving to get the piece into print before his scheduled departure from Indochina. At the opening of the new draft, Buckley wrote: “Four years here have convinced me that terrible crimes have been committed in Vietnam. Specifically, thousands upon thousands of unarmed, non-combatant civilians have been killed by American firepower. They were not killed by accident. The American way of fighting this war made their deaths inevitable.” He presciently predicted that with the Vietnamization of the war, it was likely that “there may never be an accounting for these crimes.”

Buckley handed over the reins of the bureau and took a long vacation with the article still in limbo. When he returned to New York in the spring of 1972, he again pushed for its publication, finally asking for the right to freelance it. The Newsweek editors said no, fearing it would seem as if they were too fainthearted to publish it. “At last I got a reason out of the editor Kermit Lansner,” Buckley said a few years later in an interview with Phillip Knightley, author of The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth-Maker, from the Crimea to Vietnam. “He told me that it would be a gratuitous attack on the [Nixon] administration at this point to do another story on civilian deaths after the press had given the army and Washington such a hard time over My Lai.”

The story of Speedy Express should have been more explosive than Seymour Hersh’s expose of My Lai, but it wasn’t. Buckley and Shimkin’s original 4,700-word draft was whittled down to 1,800 words. The lost material included the final paragraphs from their original draft, which closed with a series of questions they had posed to the US military that went unanswered–and a challenge:

“The facts which are readily available suggest answers to many of Newsweek’s questions. And the answers suggest that ‘Speedy Express’ was a success at a criminal price. [MACV] said that if Newsweek could provide information to indicate civilians were killed in large numbers ‘the command would like the opportunity to follow up on it.’ It has that opportunity now.”

“Pacification’s Deadly Price,” was devastated by editing that excised much of Buckley and Shimkin’s reporting, including an entire sidebar of Vietnamese witnesses. In the end, military officials were never pressed on the findings of the investigation and were able to ride out the minor flurry of interest it generated. Had the Army been called to account; had a major official investigation, akin to the Peers Commission that unraveled the details of the My Lai massacre, been carried out; had the claims of the Concerned Sergeant, the Speedy Express whistleblower, surfaced in the process; the story of Speedy Express might have transformed how the American way of warfare was understood.

The Ghosts of My Lai
By Shaun Raviv

Tran Nam was 6 years old when he heard gunshots from inside his mud and straw home in Son My. It was early morning and he was having breakfast with his extended family, 14 people in all. The U.S. Army had come to the village a couple of times previously during the war. Nam’s family thought it would be like before; they’d be gathered and interviewed and then let go. So the family kept on eating. “Then a U.S. soldier stepped in,” Nam told me. “And he aimed into our meal and shot. People collapsed one by one.”

Nam saw the bullet-ridden bodies of his family falling—his grandfather, his parents, his older brother, his younger brother, his aunt and cousins. He ran into a dimly lit bedroom and hid under the bed. He heard more soldiers enter the house, and then more gunshots. He stayed under the bed as long as he could, but that wasn’t long because the Americans set the house on fire. When the heat grew unbearable, Nam ran out the door and hid in a ditch as his village burned. Of the 14 people at breakfast that morning, 13 were shot and 11 killed. Only Nam made it out physically unscathed.

Tran Nam, the Son My villager who hid under a bed as a 6-year-old while his family fell around him, is now 56 years old. He works as a gardener at the Son My Vestige Site, a small museum dedicated to the memory of all those killed in 1968. The garden contains the brick bases of 18 out of the 247 homes that were otherwise destroyed that day. In front of each is a plaque with the name of the family that lived there and a list of the members of that family who were killed.

Inside the museum, items that once belonged to the people of Son My sit in glass cases: the rosary beads and Buddhist prayer book of the 65-year-old monk Do Ngo, the round-bellied fish sauce pot of 40-year-old Nguyen Thi Chac, the iron sickle of 29-year-old Phung Thi Muong, a single slipper of 6-year-old Truong Thi Khai and the stone marbles of two young brothers. One case displays a hairpin that belonged to 15-year-old Nguyen Thi Huynh; her boyfriend held onto it for eight years after the massacre before donating it to the museum.

At the museum’s entrance is a large black marble plaque that bears the names and ages of every person killed in Son My on March 16, 1968. The list includes 17 pregnant women and 210 children under the age of 13. Turn left and there is a diorama of how the village looked before every dwelling was burned down. The walls are lined with Ronald Haeberle’s graphic photos, as well as pictures of Calley and other soldiers known to have committed atrocities, including Meadlo and Hodges. American heroes are celebrated, like Ronald Ridenhour, the ex-G.I. who first exposed the killings (he died in 1998), and Hugh Thompson, a pilot, and Lawrence Colburn, a gunner, who saved nine or ten civilians the day of the massacre by airlifting them on their helicopter (both Thompson and Colburn later died of cancer). There are also photos of former U.S. soldiers who have visited the museum, including a Vietnam veteran named Billy Kelly who has 504 roses delivered to the museum on the anniversary of the massacre every year. Sometimes he brings them personally.

The director of the museum, Pham Thanh Cong, is a survivor himself. He was 11 years old when he and his family heard the Americans shooting and hid in a tunnel underneath their home. As the soldiers approached, Cong’s mother told him and his four siblings to move deeper inside. A member of the U.S. Army then threw a grenade into the tunnel, killing everyone except Cong, who was injured by the shrapnel and still bears a scar next to his left eye.

When we sat down, Cong thanked me for coming to the museum, for “sharing the pain of our people.” He told me it had been a complete surprise when the troops entered the village. “No one fought back,” he said. “After four hours, they killed the entire village and withdrew, leaving our village full of blood and fire.” Cong’s full-time job is to make sure the massacre is not forgotten.

For Americans, My Lai was supposed to be a never-again moment. In 1969, the antiwar movement turned one of Haeberle’s photographs of dead women and children into a poster, overlaid with a short, chilling quote from Meadlo: “And babies.” It was largely because of My Lai that returning Vietnam veterans were widely derided as “baby killers.”

Even decades later, military personnel used the massacre as a cautionary tale, a reminder of what can happen when young soldiers unleash their rage on civilians.

Vietnam War photographer on taking My Lai massacre photos: ‘It was just unreal’
By Anthony Rivas

Opposition to the war had already begun to swell prior to news of the My Lai massacre. In July of 1969, David Harris, husband to folk singer Joan Baez, was arrested for resisting the draft. Harris founded the organization known as The Resistance, which encouraged men of draft age to refuse to cooperate with draft laws.

“The fact was, this war was wrong. And I don’t mean just wrong as a mistake in policy, which it was, but it was much more than that,” Harris told ABC News. “It was wrong with a capital ‘W.’ It was the kind of wrong you send people to prison for war crimes about.”

“He decided,” Clara Bingham, author of “Witness to the Revolution,” told ABC News, “that the best way to oppose the war was not to desert — to run away to Canada. He thought, ‘Send me to jail.’ Raise your hand and say, ‘I won’t go. Hell no, I won’t go.'”

Along with Harris’ efforts, which had widespread impact as the courts filled with draft resisters, other groups had begun organizing anti-war efforts, including David Mixner, who helped found the Vietnam Moratorium Committee.

“These marches were not about politics. [it was] about life and saving lives,” Mixner told ABC News.

Survivors recall US massacre in My Lai
By Al Jazeera

Despite what happened that day 50 years ago, both Cong and Thuan said they held no ill-will towards the American people.

“We love them. Thanks to them we have liberation today because they protested against the war,” said Cong.

“I cannot forget, they killed people here, but we try to forgive them and look forward to the future,” he added.

Thuan lauded the growing relations between the United States and Vietnam today, which has seen substantial improvement since the two countries re-established diplomatic ties in 1995.

“Today, the Vietnamese and Americans people cooperate to make friendship,” she said.

“As we do that, we try to make sure there are no more massacres.”

War is a cost of holding on to history too tightly
By Stephen Kinzer

Knowing history is vital, but it’s also possible to overdose on history. Remembering the past is good. Being trapped by it is not.

Entire religions and schools of moral philosophy have been built around the value of forgiveness. That would not be necessary if forgiving were easy or common. It is, however, possible. The sterling example in today’s world is Vietnam.

Over the course of the 20th century, Vietnam suffered a harsh occupation by Japan, fought an eight-year war against French colonialists, and was the victim of a near-genocidal assault by the United States that devastated its land and killed more than a million people. Then, for good measure, it was invaded by China. Few countries have more basis for hatred, especially with these wounds so fresh. Yet Vietnam has taken the opposite path. Today, ordinary Vietnamese seem to carry no rancor toward the countries that brutalized them.

Neither does their government. Top leaders of Vietnam and Japan have met repeatedly and shaped a friendly relationship. In June the Vietnamese prime minister met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to celebrate their countries’ “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.” Three months later, President Biden was feted in Hanoi and heard Vietnam’s president salute the “truly pride-worthy and striking achievements in our cooperation.” President Emmanuel Macron of France hosted Vietnamese leaders at a state dinner and, according to the Vietnamese press agency, “spoke highly of achievements in bilateral cooperation in all fields.”

Vietnamese seem more interested in enriching their future than in remembering past outrages. That makes them rare in today’s world. More often, nations sacrifice their children to redress old wounds.

We Must Not Kill Gazan Children in Order to Protect Israel’s Children
By Nicholas Kristof

Here in Israel, because the Hamas attacks were so brutal and fit into a history of pogroms and Holocaust, they led to a resolve to wipe out Hamas even if this means a large human toll. “Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist,” declared Giora Eiland, a former head of the Israeli National Security Council. “There is no other option for ensuring the security of the State of Israel.”

I think that view reflects a practical and moral miscalculation. While I would love to see the end of Hamas, it’s not feasible to eliminate radicalism in Gaza, and a ground invasion is more likely to feed extremism than to squelch it — at an unbearable cost in civilian lives.

I particularly want to challenge the suggestion, more implicit than explicit, that Gazan lives matter less because many Palestinians sympathize with Hamas. People do not lose their right to life because they have odious views, and in any case, almost half of Gazans are children. Those kids in Gaza, infants included, are among the more than two million people enduring a siege and collective punishment.

Gaza becomes ‘a graveyard for children’ as Israel intensifies airstrikes
By Loay Ayyoub, Miriam Berger and Hajar Harb

Children have accounted for 2 out of every 5 civilian deaths in Gaza, according to Jason Lee, Save the Children’s director for the Palestinian territories. That does not include some 1,000 children the group estimates are still trapped under the rubble.

“We are now in a situation where one child is killed every 10 minutes,” he said.

More than 9,000 Gazans in total have died so far, the Health Ministry says, in Israel’s fifth and bloodiest war yet with Hamas, the militant group that controls the coastal enclave. The conflict began on Oct. 7, when Hamas militants rampaged through southern Israel, killing more than 1,400 people and taking more than 230 others hostage, including at least a dozen children.

“There are no winners in a war where thousands of children are killed,” the U.N. children’s rights committee said Wednesday in a statement calling for a cease-fire.

The Israel Defense Forces says it targets Hamas militants and infrastructure and has safeguards in place to prevent civilian causalities. It has disputed the Gaza Health Ministry’s death toll, which does not distinguish between fighters and civilians. The IDF has accused the extremist group of hiding fighters, weapons, command centers and tunnels in residential areas.

But in just three weeks of war, the number of children killed in Gaza surpassed the total number killed across all the world’s conflict zones in any year since 2019, the global charity Save the Children said Sunday.

“Gaza has become a graveyard for children,” UNICEF spokesperson James Elder said at a news briefing Tuesday. “It’s a living hell for everyone else.”

Most Gazan children have already lived through multiple wars. Nearly half of the 2.3 million people packed into the strip — one of the world’s densest urban areas — are below age 18, according to the United Nations. Most of those born since 2007, when Hamas seized power, have never left Gaza because of an Israeli blockade imposed the same year. The majority have grown up in poverty; few have had regular access to adequate medical care, education or clean water.

The latest war has underscored just how vulnerable these children are.

They are crammed into apartment buildings with dozens of relatives, in search of safety, or hiding out in U.N. shelters and schools with thousands of others, sleeping under desks where they are meant to be learning.

Some displaced children are living on the street or in tents in makeshift camps. Everywhere in Gaza, there is a desperate lack of water, food and medicine. Dehydration and diarrhea, which can be deadly for children, are on the rise.

And then there are the Israeli airstrikes, thousands and thousands of them, which rain down day and night, from north to south, on Hamas tunnels and hideouts, but also on homes, schools and places of worship.

When wounded children are rushed to hospitals, there is less and less that doctors can do to save their lives, said Ahmed al-Farra, head of the pediatric department at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza.

“The destructive power of the missiles is very strong,” he said of Israeli munitions. Many children arrive from attack sites with gruesome injuries — severed body parts, shrapnel wounds, severe burns and internal bleeding from the force of the blasts, he said.

I’m a Pediatrician in Gaza. Please Save Us From This Horror.
By Hussam Abu Safyia

Most of us have chosen to remain in northern Gaza, defying the evacuation orders because we’re unwilling to leave behind our patients, for many of whom evacuation would mean certain death. Abandoning them now would be a violation of my Hippocratic oath as well as basic human decency. My wife and six children have also stayed at the hospital with me since the violence began. I’ve tried to convince them to head south, but my wife told me that we will either live or die together. Many Palestinians in north Gaza feel the same, risking their lives at home rather than face the prospect of becoming refugees in the south.

Doctors are no strangers to tragedy or death and are trained to steel themselves against it, but the pressure we’ve been under these past few weeks is beyond any training. One of my colleagues lost his father and brother to an airstrike in the first week of the fighting; another saw his dead son wheeled in by an emergency crew. At a professional level, a personal level and most fundamentally a human level, the people of Gaza and the medics who care for them are at a breaking point. Like our patients, especially the children, this conflict will leave every one of us traumatized.

Even so, we are treating our patients to the best of our ability with the bare minimum of electricity, medicine and supplies. We sterilize wounds with vinegar, previously unthinkable in our modern intensive care unit. Drinking water ran out days ago, and the water we do have isn’t potable, contributing to a rising tide of intestinal infections and diseases not seen in Gaza in years. Our morgue filled to capacity within the first week and we’ve had to store many dead children in a nearby tent, praying that the decomposing bodies don’t contaminate the water wells or spread further disease. We fear an outbreak of cholera and typhoid. We fear for the long-term mental health impacts on the children in our care. Their little bodies are quick to injure and quick to heal, but their minds and spirits will need a lifetime of care to overcome what they have seen and experienced.

Gazans bombarded by Israel have no hope and no escape
By Nidal Al-Mughrabi

U.N. schools have become the main places of shelter for Gazans who have fled their homes, with families crowded into classrooms, some sleeping on mattresses others on blankets.

At one school in Gaza City, the sound of blasts frightened the children, keeping them and their parents awake. Many people sat outside in the open, scared they’ll be buried by airstrikes that pancake concrete buildings.

In Khan Younis, an ambulance stood at the end of an alleyway with its siren blaring, a man sat inside cradling his young daughter, their eyes staring wide from faces covered in dust. “Don’t be scared, don’t be scared,” he whispered over and over.

‘A curse to be a parent in Gaza’: More than 3,600 Palestinian children killed in just 3 weeks of war
By Isabel Debre and Wafaa Shurafa

Nearly half of the crowded strip’s 2.3 million inhabitants are under 18, and children account for 40% of those killed so far in the war. An Associated Press analysis of Gaza Health Ministry data released last week showed that as of Oct. 26, 2,001 children ages 12 and under had been killed, including 615 who were 3 or younger.

“When houses are destroyed, they collapse on the heads of children,” writer Adam al-Madhoun said Wednesday as he comforted his 4-year-old daughter Kenzi at the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central Gaza city of Deir al-Balah. She survived an airstrike that ripped off her right arm, crushed her left leg and fractured her skull.

“It’s a curse to be a parent in Gaza,” said Ahmed Modawikh, a 40-year-old carpenter from Gaza City whose life was shattered by the death of his 8-year-old daughter during five days of fighting in May.

Israeli children have also been killed. During Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 rampage across southern Israel that sparked the war, its gunmen killed more than 1,400 people. Among them were babies and other small children, Israeli officials have said, though they haven’t provided exact figures. About 30 children were also among the roughly 240 hostages Hamas took.

Israel Gaza: Children must be off limits, says father of abducted kids
By Jon Donnison

In the garden of his home in central Israel, amid the palm trees dappled in the morning sun, Yoni Asher shows me a video on his phone.

It’s of his two small girls, sitting on a bed. They’re singing Happy Birthday.

Raz, the eldest, with long fair hair, is just four years old. Her sister Aviv, darker and more like her dad, is only two.

“They made this for my birthday in July,” Yoni tells me.

But four months on, the 37-year-old father and husband is home alone.

Along with their mother Doron, they were captured on 7 October in Hamas’s unprecedented cross border attack. They are thought to be among the youngest of the 240 hostages being held in Gaza.

“The only way to describe it is hell,” says Yoni. “It’s the definition of hell.”

“How can I eat when I don’t know what my family are eating? How can I sleep when I don’t know if they if they are cold or too hot?”

“As a father, if you ever saw your children jumping on the bed, or the sofa, you worry they will fall on their head. So, imagine how I feel in this situation. Everything is frightening to me.”

I ask him how he feels about the suffering in Gaza, now under Israeli bombardment for almost a month and where the United Nations says thousands of children have been killed or injured.

“Children are children, it doesn’t matter which country they are from,” he says.

“Children need to be off limits. I can’t hate not even the children of my so-called enemies. How can you hate a child?”

And what about the hostage videos that have been released by Hamas?

“It was not easy to watch,” Yoni replies.

“They’re the ones who got kidnapped. They [Hamas] are taking advantage [of] them in a cynical and the lowest way possible, in order to make some kind of psychological battle.”

Gaza and the Empathy Gap
By Ryan Grim

One of the cruel ironies of the Hamas assault, in fact, is that the kibbutz that was home to Amir’s family, and many of the nearby villages, are populated by left-leaning Israelis who abhor both the occupation and the current Israeli government. When that right-wing government withdrew military resources from the south to help support rampaging settlers in the West Bank instead, it was understood in Israel that the political lean of the south contributed to the Israeli government’s willingness to pull those resources away.

In the wake of the assault by Hamas, many in both the U.S. and in Israel were shocked that in some corners of the internet and on some college campuses, Hamas’s violence against civilians was either excused as a necessary element of resistance or celebrated as a step toward liberation. Even if those reactions came from small, powerless pockets, any glimpse into that degree of inhumanity is chilling. It also exposes the depth of our crisis of empathy and disconnection. Notice that many of those who were rightly appalled at the cynical cheering of innocent lives lost took barely a breath before cynically cheering on the loss of innocent lives in Gaza. The Gazan population elected Hamas, so they’re guilty, too, goes one argument. (The election was in 2006, and most Gazans alive today were not yet born or of voting age at the time.) Israel warned the million people of north Gaza to flee, so if they don’t, that’s on them, goes another argument. Or, rhyming with those who defended Hamas, civilian casualties are regrettable but they’re a part of war.

For years, Israel has publicly promised that it does everything it can to minimize civilian casualties, and argues correctly that doing so is fundamentally different than deliberately targeting civilians. But what becomes of that argument when Israel dispenses with even bothering to make it — “The emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy,” Israel Defense Forces official Daniel Hagari said — and systematically deprives the civilian population of the basics it needs to survive? Perhaps a way to close our empathy gap a bit is to connect with the justified rage that was felt at those who refused to condemn the atrocities committed by Hamas and imagine how it feels to civilians on the other side — to imagine how it feels to see unconditional support being given to a military operation that is killing thousands upon thousands of innocent people.

Seeking a Moral Compass in Gaza’s War
By Nicholas Kristof

If we owe a moral responsibility to Israeli children, then we owe the same moral responsibility to Palestinian children. Their lives have equal weight. If you care about human life only in Israel or only in Gaza, then you don’t actually care about human life.

There will be no optimal solution in Gaza, any more than there was in Afghanistan or Iraq. We are fated to inhabit a world with more problems than solutions, and it’s fair to feel conflicted about next steps. Israel will face hard choices in the coming weeks; its challenge will be to respond to war crimes without committing war crimes.

We don’t want to replicate in Gaza the approach reportedly expressed by an American Army major in Vietnam in 1968: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

The counsel we Americans should offer Israel is threefold and admittedly difficult to follow. First, Israel has right on its side when it goes after its assailants. Second, urban combat has a poor record in achieving its goals — and a considerable history of horrendous casualties. Third, if your moral compass is attuned to the suffering of only one side, your compass is broken, and so is your humanity.

‘I’m Crying for All the Victims That Are Going to Suffer’
By Nicholas Kristof

No one understands terrorism more viscerally than Maoz Inon: His 78-year-old father and 75-year-old mother were among those massacred by Hamas this month in southern Israel.

He mourns his parents, and he despairs for old friends who have been kidnapped by Hamas. Yet he also fears that the unbearable losses his family endured are now being used to justify an impending ground invasion in Gaza.

“I don’t stop crying,” he told me in the hostel he runs here in Tel Aviv. “I’m crying for my parents. I’m crying for my friends. I’m crying for those who are kidnapped. I’m crying for the victims on the Palestinian side. And I’m crying for all the victims that are going to suffer.”

“We don’t sleep at night, we don’t eat, we are under emotional trauma,” he said. “We are just broken. But from these traumatized days, we must learn the lessons from history.” And foremost among them, he said, is the need to break the pattern of escalating violence that feeds hatred, creates orphans and self-replicates indefinitely.

These are Israelis in anguish at their own losses and also fearful that their suffering is being used to justify bombardments and a ground invasion of Gaza, killing innocents there and perpetuating bloodshed. I can’t emphasize enough that this attitude is the exception, but perhaps that’s why I find it so majestic.

Israeli voices questioning war are faint: ‘Some people are calling us traitors’
By Laura King

In a place where Old Testament-style language of vengeance reverberates in the electronic pings of news alerts, many Israelis readily subscribe to the notion that Hamas — whose surprise attack is marked here as causing the largest single-day loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust — must be eradicated by any means necessary.

But others see this as a moment to reflect on what this war will cost, and what will come after.

The small subset of Israelis who have made it their full-time task to oppose Israel’s iron grip on the Palestinian territories realizes that after the shock of so many deaths inside Israel proper, this work has become far more difficult — but at the same time, they say, far more urgent.

That sense of exigency is honeycombed with grief. Many in the activist community are mourning personal losses from what has become known here as Black Saturday — killings or abductions that touched their closest circles of friendship, or their own families.

“At any given time, we’re not popular in Israel,” said Dror Sadot, a spokesperson for the Israeli nonprofit group B’Tselem, which documents human rights abuses in the occupied territories. “We’re working against mainstream opinion and against the government, and our positions are not welcome among the majority of the Jewish population in Israel.”

In the dark aftermath of Hamas’ rampage, she said, “some people are calling us traitors.”

Grief is rarely uncomplicated, and even stories of shared pain sometimes splinter into angry counternarratives.

Israel rejoiced as one when 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz, who had been held hostage for 17 days in Gaza, was released Oct. 23, along with 79-year-old Nurit Cooper, a neighbor abducted from the same kibbutz.

But there was a national wave of surprise and displeasure after Lifshitz, describing conditions under which she was held, said she was treated “gently” by captors who “fulfilled all of our needs.” She also offered up a robust critique of the government and military officials who she said had failed to heed multiple warning signs of trouble on the Gaza frontier.

Lior Amihai, the executive director of Israel’s venerable rights organization Peace Now, expressed incredulity over the venom directed at Lifshitz, calling it “absurd.”

“It’s outrageous seeing an Israeli citizen who was released being attacked, just for mentioning what it was like for her,” said Amihai, who saw parallels between the ire aimed at Lifshitz and verbal assaults on Israeli human rights groups like her own.

But Amihai, together with other peace activists, also expressed sadness and disbelief over the ways in which ostensible allies inside and outside Israel had minimized the Hamas attack, while lambasting Israel over mounting civilian deaths in Gaza.

“We talk all the time about what the Israeli government does, and criticize it harshly,” she said. “When there are progressives in places of importance — universities and academics and artists — disregarding this horrific event, the terror attack that Hamas did … ”

She trailed off, then continued quietly: “It’s not to say Israel shouldn’t be criticized, and so many innocent Palestinians are dead — that is worth criticizing. But when we saw that many states ignored completely the assault that Hamas did, we felt very alone.”

The Massacre in Israel and the Need for a Decent Left
By Michelle Goldberg

Many progressive Jews have been profoundly shaken by the way some on the left are treating the terrorist mass murder of civilians as noble acts of anticolonial resistance. These are Jews who share the left’s abhorrence of the occupation of Gaza and of the enormities inflicted on it, which are only going to get worse if and when Israel invades. But the way keyboard radicals have condoned war crimes against Israelis has left many progressive Jews alienated from political communities they thought were their own.

There was the giddy message put out by the national committee of Students for Justice in Palestine, which proclaimed, “Today, we witness a historic win for the Palestinian resistance: across land, air and sea.” New York’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America promoted a rally where speakers applauded the attacks, and the Connecticut D.S.A. enthused, “Yesterday, the Palestinian resistance launched an unprecedented anticolonial struggle.” The president of N.Y.U.’s student bar association wrote in its newsletter, “I will not condemn Palestinian resistance,” leading to the withdrawal of a job offer. Over the otherwise benign slogan “I stand with Palestine,” Black Lives Matter Chicago posted a photo of a figure in a paraglider like those Hamas used to descend on a desert rave and turn it into a killing field.

“I think what surprised me most was the indifference to human suffering,” said Joshua Leifer, a contributing editor at the left-wing magazine Jewish Currents and a member of the editorial board at the progressive publication Dissent.

“I’m trying to hold on, personally, to my commitments, my values, which now feel in conflict, in a way, with the political community that I lived alongside in the United States for basically my whole adult life,” he said. “It certainly has begun to feel like a breaking point.”

Six Members of My Family Are Hostages in Gaza. Does Anyone Care?
By Alana Zeitchik

On Oct. 7. I spent the day waiting for news from my family in Israel. My cousin Sharon Cunio; her husband, David; their 3-year-old twins, Emma and Yuli; my cousin Danielle Alony; and her 5-year-old daughter, Amelia, were hiding together in their bomb shelter while Hamas went on a murderous rampage through their kibbutz. The last contact my family has had from them is a WhatsApp message simply saying, “Help, we’re dying.” By evening, my aunt had confirmed our fears: My six relatives were missing from Kibbutz Nir Oz, a community in the south of Israel about three miles from Gaza now known as a scene of brutality and destruction.

An hour after discovering they were missing, I spotted some of my family on a TikTok video. They were being carted away, surrounded by machine-gun-carrying terrorists shouting “Allahu akbar.” The pain I experienced in that moment and in so many after has been so sharp, it follows my every breath. I wake up each morning only to remember again my family is being held hostage by terrorists.

I have felt lost watching progressive friends, women’s rights activists, influencers and celebrities I admire stumble to find the words to condemn the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians, among them six of the human beings I love most in the world. Even as I sit here thinking of my family and some 240 other Israeli hostages, I scroll through my news feed and cry for the innocent Palestinian children and lives lost in Gaza. I look at the face of Mohammed Abujayyab, a man in Los Angeles who was trying to save his grandmother in Gaza, and I see my own pain reflected in his expression.

A kidnapped Israeli activist and two sons grappling with a war in her name
By Kevin Sieff

For 2½ weeks, Yonatan, 35, had forced himself to consider the unimaginable: his mother’s body identified in the ashes of her home; a video confirming that she had been executed by her captors; or his mother being killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

Suddenly, he imagined the other way things could end: his mother walking through his apartment door.

It seemed fitting that she would be among the first released. She had spent her entire adult life denouncing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, lobbying for diplomatic solutions to the conflict, ferrying children from Gaza to Israeli hospitals. If her captors searched her name on the internet, they would see that they had taken one of the country’s leading progressive activists.

She was a “peacenik,” part of a shrinking group of secular Israeli leftists who believed in communal living and a road map for peace. They had been appalled by Israel’s rightward shift and the proliferation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Like Vivian, some chose to live near Gaza, to be closer to their life’s work; on Oct, 7, they were among the first to be killed.

The brothers knew the attack might have changed their mother’s politics.

One of Vivian’s strongest allies on the kibbutz was a woman whose husband was murdered in front of her. She had forsaken the peace movement and called for revenge.

The families of other hostages, too, seemed driven by a desire for retribution, or a belief that military pressure could lead to the hostages’ release. Yonatan and Chen were still deciding what kind of activists they would be.

For years, Vivian had dragged them to protests, on trips to Gaza and the West Bank, sending them passive-aggressive text messages when they declined to attend: “Oh, you’re too busy?”

For Vivian, it made no sense to have convictions you weren’t willing to defend.

Families of Israel hostages fear the world will forget. So they’re traveling to be living reminders
By Lori Hinnant and Laurie Kellman

The photo of the white-haired woman in a golf cart, wrapped in a purple blanket and flanked by a gunman, was among the first to emerge of the hostages seized during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

But Yaffa Adar’s granddaughter is afraid that the world’s memory of that harrowing day – and the impetus to free some 240 people held by Hamas – is fading. So Adva Adar and her brother, like many other relatives of the hostages, have left Israel for what they hope will be a friendly reception in cities around the world.

Paris, Atlanta and London. Chicago and Vienna. The island of Cyprus.

They fear the alternative will be a collective amnesia, as memories of that day are replaced by news of Palestinian deaths in Gaza. Israeli social media is filled with images of the missing person flyers of the hostages being ripped down around the world.

“It’s very scary thinking that it’s going to be old news that my grandmother will stay hostage,” Adva Adar said.

Many families are turning for help to other governments — Germany, France and the United States, for example — in an implicit acknowledgement that Israel is unable to secure their loved ones’ releases.

“The priority should be first bring back the hostages before anything else. It should be the only thing on the table, and it doesn’t feel like that is the sentiment,” Ayelet Sella, who has seven family members held hostage in Gaza, said at a news conference with the families of other hostages in Paris on Tuesday.

For Oliver McTernan, who has years of experience as a mediator and hostage negotiator, only one government matters: the United States. McTernan, who has been going back and forth to Gaza for the better part of 20 years, said there is no way that more than 240 hostages being held presumably in separate locations could possibly be moved safely under bombing.

“I really would have hoped that America (in) particular and some of the European countries would have been a better friend to Israel. You know, when you’re traumatized, you need real friends who can say ‘Just hold back. … Think what the consequences of this will be.’ And I don’t see evidence of that at the moment.”

In Atlanta earlier this week, during an event that brought six relatives of hostages together with Georgia state lawmakers, Shani Segal interrupted another speaker when she announced she needed to go out in the hall because Hamas had released a video showing her cousin, Rimon Kirsht, who is among the missing.

“You see my cousin Rimon, sitting alive, skinny, and the only thing that I have in mind is: She’s alive,” Segal said.

“I want you to try and imagine not knowing for three weeks and two days if your family member is alive or not,” Segal said. “And the reason that I’m saying that is because when you try to go to bed. when you try to go to sleep, the only thing that you think is: ‘Does she have a bed? Is she eating? Is she drinking?’”

Segal argued that Americans should prioritize the plight of the Israeli hostages and pressed her family’s case to lawmakers in Georgia, even as Adva Adar did the same in Paris. Segal, like other Israelis speaking, said they were concerned for Palestinians in Gaza but believed most Palestinians were being oppressed by Hamas: “They are holding 2.3 million people hostage, not only our 240.”

‘We Are Overpaying the Price for a Sin We Didn’t Commit’
By Nicholas Kristof

“Hamas spends money building tunnels, not investing in people,” a Gaza woman told me. She was stuck in Jerusalem, where her young son was receiving cancer treatment at a Palestinian hospital.

The despair in Gaza, she said, is such that for years some young men have simply dreamed of becoming “martyrs” and winning honor by killing Israelis.

“In Gaza, there is no hope,” she said. “There is no life, there is nothing we have from living in Gaza. The only thing people can do is become a martyr.”

The woman, whom I’m not identifying for fear of retaliation by Hamas, says that she is against the killing of civilians on either side, and that now she weeps each day as she follows the bombing of Gaza and wonders if her husband and other children there will survive. Her son with cancer was sitting a few feet away, watching videos on his mom’s phone, and I looked over to see what he was watching.

It was TikToks of his neighborhood being bombed.

He was glued to the screen as videos showed areas the size of multiple football fields near his home turned into rubble; satellite imagery shows other large areas pulverized as well. No one knows how many people are caught in the wreckage, but some Gazans told me they had heard cries from inside collapsed buildings. They lack proper equipment to rescue people, so eventually, the cries stop, and a stench rises.

Despite her own opposition to Hamas, the woman said that anger at the Israeli attacks will probably boost support for Hamas in the territory.

Decades from now when we look back at this moment, I suspect it’s the moral failures that we may most regret — the inability of some on the left (and many in the Arab world) to condemn the barbaric Oct. 7 attacks on Israelis, and the acceptance by so many Americans and Israelis that countless children and civilians must pay with their lives in what Netanyahu described as Israel’s “mighty vengeance.”

When Israeli Jews were asked in a poll whether the suffering of Palestinian civilians should be taken into account in planning the war on Gaza, 83 percent said “not at all” or “not so much.”

“One of the reasons the Oct. 7 attacks were so horrible was because adult men slaughtered children,” said Sari Bashi of Human Rights Watch. “But adult men are slaughtering children every day in Gaza by dropping bombs on their homes.”

What Happens When We Lose Sight of Our Shared Humanity
By Nicholas Kristof

“Extremists need each other, support each other,” Eyad al-Sarraj, a Gaza psychiatrist who died in 2013, once lamented to me. He complained that Israel’s blockade of Gaza since 2007 had turned Hamas fanatics into popular heroes.

Now I fear we face a prolonged war that will make the dehumanization on both sides much worse.

I’m astonished by a survey finding that 51 percent of American 18- to 24-year-olds say that Hamas’s killings could be justified. Have they seen the butchery committed by Hamas?

We’ve already also observed deadly threats to Jews and assaults on them, and posters of Israeli hostages have been torn down. A 6-year-old Muslim boy was murdered in a Chicago suburb in what police say was a hate crime: The boy was stabbed 26 times.

If the dehumanization I encountered in Israel and the West Bank was profoundly depressing, I was inspired by those on both sides who press for reconciliation and peace. A Palestinian nurse from Jenin, Mohamed Abu Jafar, whose 16-year-old brother was shot dead by Israeli forces on the street in front of his school, is an example.

“The conflict will not be resolved in military actions,” he told me. “Because they can’t kill us all, and we can’t kill them all.”

Israel’s war must distinguish between Hamas and the people of Gaza
By Richard Haass

Attacking Hamas would meet the criteria set forth by the scholar Maimonides close to a millennium ago for what he termed an obligatory war, one undertaken “to deliver Israel from the enemy attacking”. But national security must be about policy as well as principle. So, yes, attacking Hamas is an obligation, but precisely how it is attacked, how the war is fought, involves choice.

Israel’s Gaza Campaign Is Entering a Moral Abyss
By Howard W. French

The nature of Israel’s campaign was captured far better in words that Netanyahu spoke to a domestic audience than in the civilizational appeal he made to international public opinion in his op-ed. “Remember what Amalek did to you,” Netanyahu said, quoting Deuteronomy 25:17. The Amalekites, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, were an ancient enemy of Israel whose clashes with Israel are described in several books in the Hebrew Bible. The full passage from which Netanyahu quoted a line, Deuteronomy 25:17-19, reads:

Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.

Netanyahu followed his quote with: “We remember and we fight.”

Netanyahu’s comparison of Hamas to Amalek was clearly meant to invoke Israel’s long history of persecution by external enemies. However, some online commentators saw it as a call to commit genocide against Palestinians because of another reference to the Amalekites that comes in the first book of Samuel. 1 Samuel 15:3 states, “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

Though Netanyahu didn’t actually cite this verse in his speech, for some, the seeming parallels between the indiscriminate violence it describes and the actions of the Israeli military in Gaza were unmistakable. Nor did Netanyahu’s comment come in isolation. Yoav Gallant, the minister of defense who called Israel’s Palestinian foes “human animals,” said of Gaza: “We will eliminate everything.” Galit Distel-Atbaryan, a Knesset member who until recently was minister of information under Netanyahu, vowed that Israel would “erase all of Gaza from the face of the earth,” adding that “the Gazan monsters will fly to the southern fence and try to enter Egyptian territory or they will die and their death will be evil.”

Some will certainly object that Israel had no choice in this matter, but I can only ascribe to that notion to a point. Israel certainly had the right to defend itself in the wake of Hamas’s clearly deliberate and despicable targeting of civilians and large-scale hostage-taking at the outset of this conflict. Of this there is no reasonable doubt. Hamas’s leaders, after all—despite having at times signaled potential acceptance of a two-state solution—remain openly committed to the violent destruction of Israel.

Like all nations, though, Israel must be held to the laws and conventions that regulate warfare, as well as to a common sense of decency and proportion. Biblical-style vengeance may be emotionally satisfying for some, and it may appeal strongly to the most religious elements of the politically embattled Israeli leader’s base, but this is a recipe for repeated and continued atrocities and the heedless violation of innocent lives. Ultimately, it is also degrading to Israel and all who support it.

Israel’s window of legitimacy in Gaza is shrinking
By The Economist

Every Israeli war is fought watching the clock, as international condemnation grows and eventually America qualifies its support. In 1973 America urged a ceasefire ending the Yom Kippur War despite Israeli forces being on the advance. In 2006, it imposed a ceasefire before Israel could achieve its objectives in Lebanon. As one Israeli official puts it, “our window of international legitimacy is limited.” That usually points towards using maximum force to inflict punitive damage and re-establish deterrence fast before the window closes.

As Gaza death toll soars, secrecy shrouds Israel’s targeting process
By Louisa Loveluck, Susannah George and Michael Birnbaum

In comments last month, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, said that every military decision-maker in the conflict should be “on clear notice that they will be required to justify every strike against every civilian object.”

International law requires militaries to make clear distinctions between civilians and militants, and to take all possible precautions to prevent civilian harm. The principle of proportionality prohibits armies from inflicting civilian casualties that are “excessive” in relation to the direct military advantage anticipated at the time of the strike.

It is an inexact standard that requires a full investigation, a difficult task in an active war zone. How Israel is selecting its targets is shrouded in secrecy, making it extremely hard for experts to judge their legality.

On Oct. 14, just a week into the war, the Israeli air force said it had dropped 6,000 bombs on Hamas targets in Gaza. By contrast, a little more than 7,300 bombs were dropped on Afghanistan by the U.S.-led coalition in all of 2019, the heaviest year of aerial bombardment there.

The United States provides the Israeli army with military and intelligence support, and is therefore required by the Geneva Conventions to ensure that bombing raids in Gaza do not breach international law.

Israel makes a desolation and may call it peace
By Ishaan Tharoor

Any determination of “genocide” is both highly fraught and usually anchored in clear legal precedents. Raz Segal, an Israeli historian of the Holocaust, argued two weeks ago that Israel was already complicit in violating at least three of the five acts of the U.N. Genocide Convention in its war on Hamas in Gaza, which has triggered a huge dislocation of the Palestinian population there and raised the specter of potential mass expulsion from Gaza.

On Tuesday, an Israeli military spokesman described the loss of civilian life in Jabalya as an unfortunate “tragedy of war.” But that sentiment belies the views of many in Israel who seek a more definitive outcome — not merely the full defeat of Hamas, but the flattening of Gaza and the entire context where Hamas emerged. Segal cited the rhetoric of numerous Israeli politicians calling for de facto collective punishment of Palestinians living in Gaza in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack — a body of statements that’s only grown in the days since.

As Israel ramps up war with Hamas, backers cheer destruction of Gaza
By Ishaan Tharoor

For Israel’s leadership and its supporters, now is the time for retribution and punishment, for a campaign that goes far beyond the periodic exercises in “mowing the lawn” that saw Israel regularly pummel Gaza with airstrikes aimed at degrading Hamas’s capabilities. “Unlike other operations, we are collapsing the governance and sovereignty of the Hamas organization,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said in a televised briefing Thursday.

An angry Israeli political class is putting forward its own dark visions of the fight ahead. Israeli lawmaker Revital Gotliv urged the use of a nuclear weapon on Gaza, to punish Hamas. “Only an explosion that shakes the Middle East will restore this country’s dignity, strength, and security!” he posted on social media. “It’s time to kiss doomsday.” An Israeli security official told the country’s Channel 13 news network that “Gaza will eventually turn into a city of tents,” all its buildings razed.

Yehuda Shaul, an Israeli peace advocate, suggested that Hamas’s war crimes have presented an already emboldened Israeli right “an opportunity” to “advance their messianic agenda.” He pointed to some lawmakers’ existing plans and proposals to resettle and reoccupy Gaza — which Israel withdrew from in 2005, and later implemented an economic blockade after Hamas seized de facto control of the territory in 2007. One of the reasons Egypt is not opening its Gaza border crossing to a stream of countless Palestinian refugees is a widespread Arab fear that this would enable a wholesale Israeli takeover of the land.

“For the far-right demagogues in power [in Israel] … this is a historical opportunity to fulfill as much of their wish list as possible: the destruction of large parts of Gaza, the elimination of Hamas’s political and military apparatus, and, if possible, the expulsion of thousands of Palestinians into the Egyptian Sinai,” noted Palestinian analyst Amjad Iraqi.

How a Campaign of Extremist Violence Is Pushing the West Bank to the Brink
By Jeffrey Gettleman

While the world’s attention has fallen on the Gaza Strip, violence in the West Bank, a much bigger and more complex Palestinian-majority area, is hitting its highest levels in years.

According to witness statements, video footage and analysts who have examined larger patterns of the violence, settler extremists in the West Bank have been attacking Palestinian homes and businesses, blowing up their generators and solar panels, burning down the tents of seminomadic Bedouin herders — and even shooting people.

United Nations officials say that since Oct. 7, the Israeli military and armed settlers have killed more than 120 Palestinians in the West Bank. (Most of those deaths occurred in clashes with Israeli soldiers.)

Even before the Hamas attacks, settler violence was hitting its highest levels since the U.N. began tracking it in the mid-2000s. According to U.N. figures, there used to be one incident of settler violence a day. Now it’s seven.

On top of that, the number of protests by Palestinian youth, furious about the relentless bombardment of Gaza, is also rising. These protests frequently lead to deadly confrontations with Israeli troops. Soldiers are also staging nightly counterterrorism raids, which the Israelis say are necessary to crack down on armed groups. But the raids, often conducted in tight alleyways and densely inhabited neighborhoods, can set off more bloodshed as well.

The West Bank, which has been rocked by major uprisings before, feels primed to explode.

Gaza and the West Bank are two separate areas that Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, effectively sealing it off and leaving its residents subject to a tight blockade that throttled its economy.

But Israel still occupies the West Bank under a highly contentious system that leaves Palestinians stateless, limits their movements, and tries them in Israeli military courts — restrictions that do not apply to settlers. The Israeli military routinely blocks roads, shoos Palestinians off streets and strictly controls access from one area to another.

Complicating the West Bank further is the growing number of Israeli settlements — more than 130 — that most of the world considers illegal because they were placed on occupied land.

As settler violence surges, West Bank Palestinians fear new displacement
By Susannah George and Sufian Taha

B’Tselem, the rights group, said settlers are using time-tested methods of intimidation and violence to force Palestinians from their homes. In recent weeks, the assaults have been more intense and more frequent.

“The scale has expanded and not just the scale but also the severity of the attacks,” said Dror Sadot, a B’Tselem spokesperson. With the eyes of the international community on Gaza, she said, many settlers feel as though they can act with “impunity.”

Settlements have begun receiving weapons from the Israeli government, part of an initiative spearheaded by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir to arm “hundreds” of communities; local armed volunteer groups are expanding and becoming more formalized.

“We will turn the world upside down so that towns are protected,” said Ben Gvir, who rose to prominence as an activist in the radical settler movement.

The Jewish population in the West Bank passed half a million earlier this year — in land once envisioned as part of a Palestinian state — and settlements have continued to expand under Israel’s right-wing government. Palestinians accuse the movement’s most radical fringe of cynically using the Hamas attack to further their long-held aim of seizing more land.

Laying Siege to Gaza Is No Solution
By Yousef Munayyer

The current Israeli government is the most far-right in the country’s history and includes politicians such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was considered too dangerous to even enlist in the Israeli military. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich—who was handed the reins of the Defense Ministry’s civil administration, putting him in charge of large parts of the West Bank—called for wiping out Palestinian villages.

The continuously deteriorating human rights situation for Palestinians prompted Michael Barnett, a professor at the George Washington University and a scholar of genocide, to write an article earlier this year for Political Violence at a Glance titled: “Is Israel on the Precipice of Genocide?” He wrote that “research on genocide over the past several decades has provided insight into the preconditions, which provide a reasonable starting point. … Many states might qualify. Israel ticks all the boxes.”

That was in March.

Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism—a genocide scholar, no less—tweeted on Sunday: “No one has the right to tell Israel how to defend itself and prevent and deter future attacks.” The White House has made clear its unwavering support for Israel and even moved naval ships to the Eastern Mediterranean to deter other actors from getting involved. This will be read in Israel as a license to commit greater atrocities than ever before. In doing so, Israel will be using U.S.-supplied weapons, which are supposed to be regulated by U.S. laws that ensure they are used for internal security and legitimate self-defense and do not escalate conflict. Washington is not merely abdicating official and moral responsibility but enabling mass atrocities at a time when all the red flags for genocide are up.

Israel’s war in Gaza and the specter of ‘genocide’
By Ishaan Tharoor

“The war is one of asymmetrical counter-genocide,” wrote Martin Shaw, a distinguished genocide scholar, in New Lines Magazine. “Hamas’ killings of Israeli civilians constituted a wave of ‘genocidal massacres,’ localized mass killings whose victims were defined by their Israeli-Jewish identity.”

On the other hand, Shaw added, Israel’s bombing and invasion of Gaza have “affected the whole population of the territory, far more extensively and deeply (except in a moral and emotional sense) than the Israeli population has been affected by Hamas’ violence.”

It’s becoming impossible to report from Gaza
By Laura Wagner

The flow of information in war zones is often halting and unpredictable, but given the scale of Israel’s assault — which U.N. experts have warned amounts to “collective punishment” in violation of international law — journalists are facing unprecedented challenges in obtaining and sharing information.

While major U.S. networks scrambled to ship star TV anchors to the relative safety of Israel, journalists within the 140-square-mile Gaza Strip are contending with a massive bombing campaign, electrical and internet outages, food and water shortages, and the psychological burden of reporting on the unfolding humanitarian crisis while living it themselves.

Reporting at Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, BBC Arabic reporter Adnan Elbursh and his team discovered their own neighbors, relatives and friends among those injured and killed.

“This is my local hospital. Inside are my friends, my neighbors. This is my community,” Elbursh said on-air. “Today has been one of the most difficult days in my career. I have seen things I can never unsee.”

Palestinian journalists also face another obstacle: challenges to their credibility.

“There is a systematic effort to discredit the very idea that there is such a thing as an independent Palestinian journalist,” said Thanassis Cambanis, a former journalist in the Middle East and the director of foreign policy think tank Century International, which he called “a pernicious and dangerous piece of the information war.”

The effect is that Palestinian journalists come up against critics who are quick to dismiss their accounts of death and destruction as biased, partisan or even fabricated.

Opinion: I am a Palestinian journalist from Gaza. I fear a media blackout of the war
By Yara Eid

Right now, my journalist colleagues who are still alive in Gaza are not only grieving their slain peers, but feel under severe threat themselves. Most of them have no access to the internet or electricity. Gaza is facing a complete media blackout. Many of my friends and people I know in Gaza have been calling me with pleas, asking that journalists come and cover what is happening in their areas that are nearly impossible to access because of the heavy and indiscriminate bombardment. It’s as though entire neighborhoods, innocent souls and dreams are being obliterated without anyone knowing.

More than 30 journalists killed since the start of Israel-Hamas war: ‘An unprecedented toll’
By Christopher Wilson

According to tracking from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 31 reporters have been confirmed dead since the fighting began on Oct. 7. Twenty-six Palestinian journalists have been killed, as well as four Israelis and one Lebanese member.

“CPJ emphasizes that journalists are civilians doing important work during times of crisis and must not be targeted by warring parties,” said Sherif Mansour, the CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, in a statement to Yahoo News. “Journalists across the region are making great sacrifices to cover this heartbreaking conflict. Those in Gaza, in particular, have paid, and continue to pay, an unprecedented toll and face exponential threats. Many have lost colleagues, families and media facilities, and have fled seeking safety when there is no safe haven or exit.”

Reporters in the area have been aware of the danger, with one filmmaker documenting the scene in Gaza beginning her reports with, “We’re still alive.” The outlet Mondoweiss said that one of the young Gazans filing reports to them included the note, “Can you kindly publish the attached stories if I die?!”

In some instances, reporters who’ve memorialized their lost colleagues were killed in subsequent airstrikes.

Axios reported last week that Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked Al Jazeera to “tone down” their coverage, but did not give specific examples of the rhetoric he wanted changed.

Al-Jazeera Gaza correspondent loses 3 family members in an Israeli airstrike
By Jack Jeffery

Al Jazeera’s chief correspondent in the Gaza Strip, Wael Dahdouh, was helping broadcast live images of the besieged territory’s night sky when he received the devastating news: His wife, son, and daughter had all been killed in an Israeli airstrike on Wednesday.

Moments later, the Qatari-based satellite channel switched to footage of Dahdouh entering al-Aqsa Hospital in Gaza before giving way to grief as he peered over the body of his dead son.

According to Al Jazeera, Dahdouh’s family members were killed by an Israeli airstrike that hit Nuseirat Refugee Camp, located in an area of Gaza where the military had encouraged people to go to stay safe. It said a number of other relatives were still missing, and it remained unclear how many others were killed.

Journalists killed in the Israel-Gaza war: A look at six lives lost
By Jennifer Hassan, Niha Masih and Ellen Francis

On Oct. 13, Abdallah was killed and six other journalists were wounded in southern Lebanon near the Israeli border when Israeli shelling struck the area they were reporting from, according to colleagues and a witness. He had turned 37 weeks earlier. The Israeli military said that it would investigate and that it was “very sorry” for Abdallah’s death, but it did not claim responsibility. Watchdog group Reporters Without Borders said an initial investigation found that the strikes on the group of journalists were targeted and that they were clearly identified as press.

Abdallah was known among his peers for reporting carefully and with empathy, while lifting the mood in difficult environments. His death sparked an uproar in his native Lebanon, as colleagues called for accountability.

“I have learned through all the years of covering conflicts and wars with Reuters from around the region that the picture is not only front lines and smoke, but the untold human stories which touch us all inside,” he wrote last year.

A media freedom group accuses Israel and Hamas of war crimes and reports deaths of 34 journalists
By Mike Corder

Reporters Without Borders called on International Criminal Court prosecutors to investigate the deaths. The organization said it already filed a complaint regarding eight Palestinian journalists it said were killed in Israel’s bombardment of civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, and an Israeli journalist killed during Hamas’ surprise attack in southern Israel.

“The scale, seriousness and recurring nature of international crimes targeting journalists, particularly in Gaza, calls for a priority investigation by the ICC prosecutor,” Christophe Deloire, director-general of the group also known by the French abbreviation RSF, said. The organization is headquartered in France.

It’s the third such complaint to be filed by the group since 2018 alleging war crimes against Palestinian journalists in Gaza. Israel says it makes every effort to avoid killing civilians and accuses Hamas of putting them at risk by operating in residential areas.

The latest complaint also cites “the deliberate, total or partial, destruction of the premises of more than 50 media outlets in Gaza” since Israel declared war against Hamas over the militant group’s bloody Oct. 7 incursion, the organization said.

Israel argues the ICC has no jurisdiction in the conflict because Palestine is not an independent sovereign state. Israel isn’t a party to the treaty that underpins the international court and is not one of its 123 member states.

Deadly Pattern: 20 journalists died by Israeli military fire in 22 years. No one has been held accountable.
By Committee to Protect Journalists

Since 2001, CPJ has documented at least 20 journalist killings by the IDF. The vast majority — 18 — were Palestinian; two were European foreign correspondents; there were no Israelis. No one has ever been charged or held accountable for these deaths.

Israel’s army is responsible for 80% of journalist and media worker killings in the Palestinian territories in CPJ’s database. The other 20% — five cases — died due to different causes. Two Palestinians were shot by gunmen in Palestinian Presidential Guard uniforms in 2007; one Palestinian was killed in what was likely an accidental explosion at a Palestinian National Authority security post in 2000. And in 2014, an Italian foreign correspondent and his Palestinian translator died on assignment while following a team of Palestinian engineers neutralizing unexploded Israeli missiles when one detonated.

Investigations into military activity are controversial in Israel, where conscription is mandatory and soldiers are broadly seen as the nation’s sons and daughters. In 2017, when Israeli soldier Elor Azaria stood trial for the extrajudicial killing of an incapacitated Palestinian assailant, mass protests erupted. Azaria’s charge was downgraded from murder to manslaughter and he was released nine months into his reduced 14-month sentence.

The degree to which Israel investigates, or claims to investigate, journalist killings appears to be related to external pressure. Journalists with foreign passports — like Abu Akleh, who had U.S. citizenship — received a high degree of international attention before the army began probes. Israeli officials appear less likely to investigate the killings of local Palestinian journalists, save for those with strong international connections. But there’s a limit to what international pressure can achieve.

In the case of British journalist James Miller, Israel faced the threat of a British request for the extradition of its soldiers and strained diplomatic tension with the British government. In 2003, Miller was shot in the neck by a soldier inside an armored personnel carrier in the Gaza Strip, but in 2005 the army absolved its troops. After a British inquest jury found in 2006 that Miller had been murdered, then-British Attorney General Peter Goldsmith wrote Israeli officials a letter, giving them a deadline to initiate legal proceedings against the soldiers involved, or they would be tried for war crimes in England, Haaretz reported. In 2009, Israel paid approximately 1.5 million pounds (US$2.2 million) in compensation to Miller’s family. After the Israeli payment, the British Ministry of Justice said it would not pursue legal claims or extradition, according to Haaretz.

The Israeli military, which never admitted responsibility in Miller’s death, initially claimed that its troops returned fire after being fired upon with rocket-propelled grenades. In video of the incident, a shot is fired, after which a member of Miller’s crew shouts, “We are British journalists.” A second shot is fired, and appears to hit Miller. The case was investigated by the Israeli military police, but then-Military Advocate General Mandelblit closed it after deciding there wasn’t enough evidence to try the soldier. (The soldier was also acquitted of improper use of weapons in a separate disciplinary hearing.)

The army said the investigation was “unprecedented in scope” and included ballistics tests, analysis of satellite photographs, and polygraph tests for those involved. However, an internal Israeli army report leaked to The Observer revealed that evidence was tampered with, army surveillance video tapes that may have filmed the killing had disappeared, and that soldiers were overheard “lying.” The report said officers assumed soldiers told the truth, and then explained away inconsistencies in their testimonies because “they were confused because of the fighting.”

Palestinian journalists have been stopped at West Bank checkpoints and told they cannot proceed to the site of military operations “for your own protection.” Nidal Shtayyeh, a Palestinian photographer for the Chinese news agency Xinhua who was previously shot in the eye while reporting, said these restrictions intensified after Abu Akleh’s killing. “So, there’s no freedom of coverage.” The lack of independent reporting works in the government’s favor, said the security adviser. “They are the only one with a narrative to say ‘this is what happened on the ground.’”

Western coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza – bias or unprofessionalism?
By Mat Nashed

Publishing unsubstantiated claims, telling only one side of the story, and painting Palestinians as nothing more than objects in Hamas’s hands are all unprofessional mistakes Western media makes while covering the conflict between Israel and Hamas, media experts and Arab journalists say.

These “double standards” reflect a broader tendency of Western media organisations to portray Muslims and Arabs as “less than human”, said Arwa Damon, a former CNN correspondent and now a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington, DC, think-tank.

“What we are seeing right now is a repeat – especially in terms of coverage – of what we saw on 9/11 where [Arabs and Muslims] were painted with this ‘terrorist’ brush and vilified,” she said.

Palestinians invited to speak to Western news channels are frequently asked if they “condemn Hamas”, while Israeli guests are seldom asked to condemn their government’s apartheid policies in the occupied West Bank or its siege and bombardment of Gaza, experts told Al Jazeera.

Michael Eisen, a Jewish journalist who was employed by the open-source scientific journal eLife, said he lost his job for sharing a headline on X (formerly Twitter) from the US satirical news website The Onion.

“Dying Gazans criticised for not using last words to condemn Hamas,” read The Onion headline, which was published on October 13.

Journalists at the BBC are understood to have objected to the United Kingdom broadcaster’s framing of the war in Gaza.

While the BBC has used words such as “massacre”, “slaughter” and “atrocities” when describing Hamas’s attack on Israel, it has refrained from describing Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in a similarly negative way, according to an email that staff at the network sent to Director-General Tim Davie, the UK’s Times reported.

Maghribi says she believes the climate of intimidation against journalists and the failure of mainstream outlets to humanise Palestinians is causing the Arabic-speaking world and Arab diaspora in the West to lose even more faith in the credibility of Western media coverage.

“We’re not just witnessing a breakdown in humanity,” she said. “We are witnessing a breakdown in the profession.”

Europe’s Largest News Aggregator Orders Editors to Play Down Palestinian Deaths
By Daniel Boguslaw

Leadership at Upday, a subsidiary of the Germany-based publishing giant Axel Springer, gave instructions to prioritize the Israeli perspective and minimize Palestinian civilian deaths in coverage, according to the employees.

“We can’t push anything involving Palestinian death tolls or casualties without information about Israel coming higher up in the story,” an employee told The Intercept, referring to push notifications, the alerts sent to millions of phones. The employees, who asked for anonymity to protect their livelihoods, said there was widespread discomfort throughout the company over the moves.

“We strongly contest the indirect allegations you make,” said Julia Sommerfeld, a representative for the German-based Axel Springer. “Neither have we directed our journalists to ignore civilian casualties in Gaza, nor have we asked our editors to manipulate news coverage, nor was corporate management involved in any editorial decisions. Upday’s editorial guidelines are based on journalistic principles and the (publicly available) Axel Springer Essentials” — a reference to a company statement of values.

Sommerfeld said, “The Upday news coverage follows these principles, and each editorial decision is taken by trained journalists.”

In its directives, Upday warned its employees not to publish any headlines that could be “misconstrued” as pro-Palestinian, according to the two employees interviewed by The Intercept. Comments made by Israeli politicians dehumanizing Palestinians were to be couched in language emphasizing the magnitude and brutality of Hamas’s attacks on Israel, which have so far led to more than 1,300 deaths, including many civilians.

The media navigates a war of words for reporting on Gaza and Israel
By Paul Farhi

Ever since armed men from Gaza crossed into Israel and killed some 1,400 people, news organizations have wrestled with how to describe who they were and whom they represented.

Were they “terrorists”? Anchors on CNN and Fox News said they were.

Or were they “militants” (The Washington Post, BBC)?

Or “gunmen” (NPR)? Or “fighters” (Al Jazeera English)?

Were they the foot soldiers of a “terrorist organization” (Business Insider) or of “the governing power in the Gaza Strip” (the New York Times)?

Words matter, particularly to news organizations that try to preserve accuracy and impartiality at moments of great passion and uncertainty. A badly chosen word in a media account — particularly during a bloody conflict involving Israelis and Palestinians — can elicit swift denunciations from readers, listeners and viewers.

The Washington Post’s standards desk decreed last week that Hamas’s attack can be called “terrorism,” ideally in the context of a quotation from an individual. “In the rare cases in which we would use it without attribution, we require approval from a department head” or deputy managing editor, The Post’s guidance says.

Also out, according to The Post: calling Hamas’s initial rampage an “invasion.”

The preferred description: “attack” or “incursion.”

A pro-Israeli watchdog group, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis, has singled out journalists over the past couple of weeks. The committee criticized Sara Yasin, a managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, for reposting tweets that used the terms “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” to describe Israel’s military response to Hamas. A Times spokesperson defended Yasin, saying, “Sharing the posts or content of others does not equal an endorsement of it.”

The BBC, meanwhile, said it has launched an investigation of six journalists in its Arab-language service whom the watchdog group accused of anti-Israeli bias for, among other things, tweets comparing Hamas militants to freedom fighters.

The biggest media furor so far involves news coverage of a massive explosion at a Gaza hospital that killed an unknown number of people this week.

The evolving story prompted some fancy linguistic footwork. The New York Times’ first headline declared, “Israeli Strike Kills Hundreds in Hospital, Palestinians Say.”

Later came a second version: “At Least 500 Dead in Strike on Gaza Hospital, Palestinians Say.”

This was followed by a more neutral construction: “Hundreds Dead in Blast at Gaza Hospital, Palestinians Say.”

While other news organizations made similar changes, few issued corrections or acknowledged the questionable nature of their initial stories.

Even days after the blast and the questions about its origin, headlines continued to describe it as a “strike,” a word that conveys planning and intention, neither of which has been established.

“Strike”? “Blast”? Or just a ghastly accident amid wider violence? In such a perilous and fraught context, precision is a virtue, a necessity and a challenge.

Omer and Omar: How two 4-year-olds were killed and social media denied it
By Marianna Spring

Omar Bilal al-Banna and Omer Siman-Tov lived roughly 23km (14.3 miles) apart, on either side of the Israel-Gaza perimeter fence. They never met, but both loved playing outside with their siblings.

The faces of these little boys have appeared on my social media feed in the past week. They were both killed as violence unfolded.

I’ve tracked down family, friends and witnesses. In both cases they tell a tragic story.

Omer Siman-Tov was killed when Hamas attacked his home in Kibbutz Nir Oz on 7 October.

Omar Bilal al-Banna was killed four days later, following an Israeli airstrike on Zeitoun, east of Gaza City.

The way the boys’ deaths have been denied by social media users is symbolic of an information battle, running in parallel with the war on the ground.

War, Crimes, Truth, and Denial
By Arnold Isaacs

To be sure, throughout human history, wars have generated lies and false beliefs. In the present era, however, those falsehoods seem to spread so much faster and more widely, arguably causing more pain than in the past. That has been visible in the current crisis in the Middle East, as well as in Ukraine, as documented in a list of nearly 100 separate false claims compiled in the early stages of that conflict by the newspaper USA Today.

Almost 80 of those items were fake or falsely captioned videos and photographic images, mostly seen on platforms that had barely existed a decade or two ago. In an ironic twist, one photo, purporting to show an explosion in Ukraine, had, in fact, been taken in Gaza in 2021. Another, that newspaper’s fact-checkers reported, wasn’t an image from any real war but from a video game. Strikingly, though on reflection perhaps not surprisingly, a video clip from the very same game was posted on Facebook recently with a caption claiming it showed Israeli anti-aircraft fire shooting a Hamas fighter plane out of the sky.

That clip was far from the only such deception appearing during the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In one of many examples, after the Al-Ahli Arab hospital explosion, a false posting, presumably by a pro-Israeli source, showed a screen-shot of a tweet supposedly from an Al Jazeera journalist reporting that he had seen “with my own eyes” a Hamas missile causing the blast and that Al Jazeera‘s coverage of the event was untrue. Fact-checkers for the French news agency AFP determined that the tweet was fake, and no Al Jazeera reporter had ever sent such a message.

It Is Impossible to Know What to Believe in This Hideous War
By Michelle Goldberg

In May of last year, the Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed while covering an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp. Israeli officials said she was shot either by a Palestinian or by an Israeli soldier aiming at a Palestinian gunman. A New York Times investigation, however, contradicted the official Israeli line. It found that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was fired from the direction of an Israeli military convoy and that “there were no armed Palestinians near her when she was shot.”

A few months later, during another round of Israeli bombing of Gaza, five Palestinian boys were killed in a cemetery. Initially, Israeli officials blamed a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket for the deaths. But as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, an army inquiry found they were actually killed by an Israeli airstrike. With the hospital explosion, it seemed history was repeating itself on a larger and more tragic scale.

As I write this, it looks increasingly likely that Israel was correct about an Islamic Jihad rocket hitting Al-Ahli hospital. That, at least, is what both early American intelligence and a number of independent experts have found. If their analysis holds up, it means the best analogy for this world-convulsing event is not the killings of five boys in Gaza last year. It is the myth of a massacre at the Jenin refugee camp in 2002.

That year, a Hamas suicide bomber killed 30 people at a Passover Seder in the seaside city of Netanya, in what was, until this month, the deadliest single attack on Jewish Israelis since the country’s founding. As part of its response, Israel Defense Forces invaded the West Bank city of Jenin, leveling dozens of refugee camp buildings. Palestinian leaders claimed Israel had committed a massacre; the Palestinian official Saeb Erekat told CNN that at least 500 people had been killed. People all over the world believed these reports; as a BBC headline put it, “Jenin ‘massacre evidence growing.’”

But Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations later concluded that the reports of a massacre weren’t true. The real Palestinian death toll was less than 60 — still an awful number but significantly fewer than what was feared. Human Rights Watch soon revealed that its researchers had found “no evidence to sustain claims of massacres or large-scale extrajudicial executions by the I.D.F. in Jenin refugee camp,” even though many of the civilian deaths “amounted to unlawful or willful killings by the I.D.F.” This finding, that the Israeli military had committed only a small fraction of the extrajudicial killings it was accused of, was not an exoneration. But it should have been a cautionary tale about accepting incendiary claims of Israeli atrocities at face value.

Analysis: The disinformation campaign
By Phillip Knightley

The problem is that although many atrocity stories are true – after all, war itself is an atrocity – many are not.

Take the Kuwaiti babies story. Its origins go back to the first world war when British propaganda accused the Germans of tossing Belgian babies into the air and catching them on their bayonets. Dusted off and updated for the Gulf war, this version had Iraqi soldiers bursting into a modern Kuwaiti hospital, finding the premature babies ward and then tossing the babies out of incubators so that the incubators could be sent back to Iraq.

The story, improbable from the start, was first reported by the Daily Telegraph in London on September 5 1990. But the story lacked the human element; it was an unverified report, there were no pictures for television and no interviews with mothers grieving over dead babies.

That was soon rectified. An organisation calling itself Citizens for a Free Kuwait (financed by the Kuwaiti government in exile) had signed a $10m contract with the giant American public relations company, Hill & Knowlton, to campaign for American military intervention to oust Iraq from Kuwait.

The Human Rights Caucus of the US Congress was meeting in October and Hill & Knowlton arranged for a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl to tell the babies’ story before the congressmen. She did it brilliantly, choking with tears at the right moment, her voice breaking as she struggled to continue. The congressional committee knew her only as “Nayirah” and the television segment of her testimony showed anger and resolution on the faces of the congressmen listening to her. President Bush referred to the story six times in the next five weeks as an example of the evil of Saddam’s regime.

In the Senate debate whether to approve military action to force Saddam out of Kuwait, seven senators specifically mentioned the incubator babies atrocity and the final margin in favour of war was just five votes. John R Macarthur’s study of propaganda in the war says that the babies atrocity was a definitive moment in the campaign to prepare the American public for the need to go to war.

It was not until nearly two years later that the truth emerged. The story was a fabrication and a myth, and Nayirah, the teenage Kuwaiti girl, coached and rehearsed by Hill & Knowlton for her appearance before the Congressional Committee, was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. By the time Macarthur revealed this, the war was won and over and it did not matter any more.

Truth and Fiction in the Israel-Palestinian Struggle
By Colin Chapman

Phillip Knightley wrote that The Independent newspaper praised the “miraculously few casualties” of the Gulf War (meaning the few British and American casualties, most of them the result of American “friendly fire”) while the horror of up to one quarter of a million Iraqis slaughtered by US-led forces was consigned to oblivion. It is just one of a myriad of examples, drawn from wars from the mid nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth, of distortion and mistruths which are painstakingly chronicled by Knightley.

In many cases, journalists were willing accomplices to the lies they were fed by officials. Robert C. Miller, a United Press correspondent covering the Korean war in 1952, put it bluntly: “There are certain facts and stories from Korea that editors and publishers have printed which were pure fabrication … Many of us who sent the stories knew they were false, but we had to write them because they were official releases from responsible military headquarters and were released for publication even though the people responsible knew they were untrue.”

The fact of the matter is, the military are often ordered by their governments to distort the truth in the “national interest.” Military manuals set out basic principles for dealing with journalists: “Appear open, transparent and eager to help. Never go in for summary repression or direct control. Nullify rather than conceal undesirable news. Control emphasis rather than facts. Balance bad news with good. Lie directly only when certain that the lie will not be found out during the course of the war.” We would be well advised to bear these dictates in mind as we read or hear the news.

During the Gulf War, respected weekly newspaper, The Economist, said that once the war started, it was right to “suspend the normal play of democratic argument” and urged correspondents to do the same, adding “The truth about the Gulf War … must await the end of the fighting.”

Column: The 20th anniversary of the Iraq war also marks a colossal failure of the mainstream media
By Robin Abcarian

Twenty years ago, this country’s mainstream media — with one notable exception — bought into phony Bush administration claims about Hussein’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, helping cheerlead our nation into a conflict that ended the lives of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The war — along with criminally poor post-war planning on the part of Bush administration officials — also unleashed horrible sectarian strife, led to the emergence of ISIS and displaced more than 1 million Iraqis.

That sad chapter in American history produced its share of jingoistic buzzwords and phrases: “WMD,” “the axis of evil,” “regime change,” “yellowcake uranium,” “the coalition of the willing,” and a cheesy but terrifying refrain, repeated ad nauseam by Bush administration officials such as then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” (The memorable metaphor was dreamed up by the late Michael Gerson, a Bush speechwriter at the time.)

Misleading a public that had been shaken to its core by the 9/11 terrorist attacks turned out to be a relatively easy task for the warmongering neocons of the Bush administration. They foolishly believed they could impose democracy on a nation with no history of it.

Bush officials also manufactured phony links between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks orchestrated by Islamist militant Osama bin Laden and his terrorist group Al Qaeda. To his lasting mortification, the late Secretary of State Colin Powell assured the world in a speech to the United Nations just before the invasion that the war was completely justified by the danger Iraq posed to the world.

“My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources,” said Powell. “These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” His statements, he later acknowledged, were patently false, many of which were provided to U.S. intelligence by unreliable sources — exiles such as Ahmad Chalabi, an Iraqi opposition leader who dreamed of ousting Hussein and taking the reins of power in Iraq.

Powell’s statements are among those documented in 2008 by the Center for Public Integrity, which compiled the hundreds of lies told by Bush and his top officials as part of a campaign aimed at persuading the American public to support the invasion of Iraq “under decidedly false pretenses.”

Most of the media, said the center, “was largely complicit in its uncritical coverage of the reasons for going to war.” There was a glaring exception to that complicity. Three reporters and an editor in Knight-Ridder’s Washington bureau were alone among the major news organizations in questioning the administration’s narrative about WMD. Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel and Joe Galloway, with their editor John Walcott, threw water on so much of what the mainstream media was reporting. The drama was captured in “Shock and Awe,” a 2017 feature film by Rob Reiner, who plays Walcott.

In 2013, on the 10th anniversary of the invasion, Walcott told me his team was driven by skepticism, journalism’s most precious resource.

“Most of the administration’s case for that war made absolutely no sense, specifically the notion that Saddam Hussein was allied with Osama bin Laden. A secular Arab dictator allied with a radical Islamist whose goal was to overthrow secular dictators and reestablish his caliphate? The more we examined it, the more it stank.”

Also, he said, rather than rely on high-ranking administration officials, they sought out lower-level staff who were not political appointees and less apt to parrot the president to stay in his good graces.

Knight-Ridder turned out story after story undercutting the administration’s (and the New York Times’, Washington Post’s and Los Angeles Times’) version of Hussein’s capabilities. Some of Knight-Ridder’s own newspapers — among them, the Philadelphia Inquirer — refused to run the stories, for fear of being contradicted, especially by the New York Times, which explained its credulous coverage of the WMD issue about 15 months after the invasion.

“It is still possible that chemical or biological weapons will be unearthed in Iraq,” wrote Times editors, “but in this case it looks as if we, along with the administration, were taken in.”

McClellan book confirms Center’s ‘Iraq: The War Card’ report
By Caitlin Ginley

In his upcoming book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, McClellan writes that “top Bush aides had outlined a strategy for carefully orchestrating the coming campaign to aggressively sell the war. . . . In the permanent campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president’s advantage.” The Politico, The New York Times, and The Washington Post obtained copies of the book and have reported some of its contents.

McClellan goes on to claim that his own comments in the White House briefing room were “badly misguided.” According to The War Card‘s database, McClellan made 14 false statements, including: “We do not need any more proof that Saddam Hussein possesses and is willing to use chemical and biological weapons,” and “We are confident that we will uncover the full extent of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program.” McClellan’s total ranks at the bottom of the Center’s tally, with President Bush leading the pack at 260 false statements, followed closely by former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s 254.

Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand
By David Barstow

By early 2002, detailed planning for a possible Iraq invasion was under way, yet an obstacle loomed. Many Americans, polls showed, were uneasy about invading a country with no clear connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Pentagon and White House officials believed the military analysts could play a crucial role in helping overcome this resistance.

Torie Clarke, the former public relations executive who oversaw the Pentagon’s dealings with the analysts as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, had come to her job with distinct ideas about achieving what she called “information dominance.” In a spin-saturated news culture, she argued, opinion is swayed most by voices perceived as authoritative and utterly independent.

And so even before Sept. 11, she built a system within the Pentagon to recruit “key influentials” — movers and shakers from all walks who with the proper ministrations might be counted on to generate support for Mr. Rumsfeld’s priorities.

In the months after Sept. 11, as every network rushed to retain its own all-star squad of retired military officers, Ms. Clarke and her staff sensed a new opportunity. To Ms. Clarke’s team, the military analysts were the ultimate “key influential” — authoritative, most of them decorated war heroes, all reaching mass audiences.

The analysts, they noticed, often got more airtime than network reporters, and they were not merely explaining the capabilities of Apache helicopters. They were framing how viewers ought to interpret events. What is more, while the analysts were in the news media, they were not of the news media. They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.

Even analysts with no defense industry ties, and no fondness for the administration, were reluctant to be critical of military leaders, many of whom were friends.

Many also shared with Mr. Bush’s national security team a belief that pessimistic war coverage broke the nation’s will to win in Vietnam, and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war.

This was a major theme, for example, with Paul E. Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 to 2007. A retired Army general who had specialized in psychological warfare, Mr. Vallely co-authored a paper in 1980 that accused American news organizations of failing to defend the nation from “enemy” propaganda during Vietnam.

“We lost the war — not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. He urged a radically new approach to psychological operations in future wars — taking aim at not just foreign adversaries but domestic audiences, too. He called his approach “MindWar” — using network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.”

The Lies We Believed (And Still Believe) About Iraq
By Charles Lewis

The full extent of deference to power and self-censorship by our obsequious major news media during the run-up to war is still not fully known; it will gradually seep out — or not — over the coming years. Some major news organizations later grudgingly acknowledged that their coverage was insufficiently critical of government pronouncements. But that did nothing to ameliorate the tragic consequences of an unnecessary war, including a financial toll of more than $2 trillion, a sum that is likely to increase substantially with benefits to war veterans over time and other expenses, as well as — far more important — the deaths of thousands upon thousands of soldiers and innocent civilians, including women and children. …

Could the Iraq War have been prevented if the public had been better informed before the invasion about the specious official statements, faulty logic, and breathtaking manipulations of public opinion and governmental decision-making processes? I believe the answer to that grim question is very possibly yes, and it will haunt me and others in my profession for years to come.

Headlines and front lines: How US news coverage of wars in Yemen and Ukraine reveals a bias in recording civilian harm
By Esther Brito Ruiz and Jeff Bachman

War entails suffering. How and how often that suffering is reported on in the U.S., however, is not evenhanded.

Take, for example, the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen in March 2015 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The media attention afforded to the crises reveals biases that relate less to the human consequences of the conflicts than to the United States’ role and relationship with the warring parties involved.

In Yemen, the U.S. is arming and supporting the Saudi-led coalition, whose airstrikes and blockades have caused immense human suffering. Meanwhile in Eastern Europe, the U.S. is arming and aiding Ukraine’s efforts by helping to counter missile strikes that have targeted civilian infrastructure and to retake occupied territories where horrific killings have taken place.

War in Ukraine is clearly seen as more newsworthy to U.S. readers. This double standard may have less to do with the actual events than that the victims are white and “relatively European,” as one CBS News correspondent put it.

Our broad search of New York Times headlines concerning the overall civilian impact of the two conflicts yielded 546 stories on Yemen between March 26, 2015, and Nov. 30, 2022. Headlines on Ukraine passed that mark in under three months and then doubled it within nine months.

Front-page stories on Ukraine have been commonplace ever since the Russian invasion began in February 2022. In comparison, front-page stories on Yemen have been rare and, in some cases, as with coverage on food security in the country, came more than three years after the coalition initiated blockades that led to the crisis.

Accountability in coverage is also vastly different. We found 50 headlines on Yemen that reported on specific attacks carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. Of them, 18 – just 36% – attributed responsibility to Saudi Arabia or the coalition. An egregious example that omits responsibility is this headline from April 24, 2018: “Yemen Strike Hits Wedding and Kills More Than 20.” A reader could easily interpret that as meaning that Yemen rebels were behind the attack rather than the Saudis – as was the case.

It is hard to imagine a Russian strike on a wedding in Ukraine headlined as “Ukraine Strike Hits Wedding and Kills More Than 20.”

As a consequence, Yemeni civilians become forgotten victims, unworthy of attention and obscured by opaque numbers, detached language on the consequences of coalition violence, and narratives of the inevitability of war. These editorial decisions obscure the role of the U.S. in Yemeni suffering – even if they do not reflect the underlying intent behind the reporting.

In both the Yemen and Ukraine conflicts, the U.S. has spent tens of billions of dollars – more than US$75 billion in humanitarian, financial and military assistance to Ukraine and over $54 billion in military support to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates between 2015 and 2021 alone.

What’s different is that the U.S. is essentially on opposite sides in these conflicts when it comes to its relationship to those inflicting the most civilian casualties. Washington officials have made open and direct declarations about the inhumanity of atrocities in Ukraine while avoiding inquiry and condemnation of those in Yemen. Our research suggests that such messaging may be supported by the news media.

How the U.S. Hid an Airstrike That Killed Dozens of Civilians in Syria
By Dave Philipps and Eric Schmitt

In the last days of the battle against the Islamic State in Syria, when members of the once-fierce caliphate were cornered in a dirt field next to a town called Baghuz, a U.S. military drone circled high overhead, hunting for military targets. But it saw only a large crowd of women and children huddled against a river bank.

Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors.

It was March 18, 2019. At the U.S. military’s busy Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, uniformed personnel watching the live drone footage looked on in stunned disbelief, according to one officer who was there.

“Who dropped that?” a confused analyst typed on a secure chat system being used by those monitoring the drone, two people who reviewed the chat log recalled. Another responded, “We just dropped on 50 women and children.”

An initial battle damage assessment quickly found that the number of dead was actually about 70.

The Baghuz strike was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State, but it has never been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. military. The details, reported here for the first time, show that the death toll was almost immediately apparent to military officials. A legal officer flagged the strike as a possible war crime that required an investigation. But at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike. The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified.

The Defense Department’s independent inspector general began an inquiry, but the report containing its findings was stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.

“Leadership just seemed so set on burying this. No one wanted anything to do with it,” said Gene Tate, an evaluator who worked on the case for the inspector general’s office and agreed to discuss the aspects that were not classified. “It makes you lose faith in the system when people are trying to do what’s right but no one in positions of leadership wants to hear it.”

Mr. Tate, a former Navy officer who had worked for years as a civilian analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Counterterrorism Center before moving to the inspector general’s office, said he criticized the lack of action and was eventually forced out of his job.

The United States portrayed the air war against the Islamic State as the most precise and humane bombing campaign in its history. The military said every report of civilian casualties was investigated and the findings reported publicly, creating what the military called a model of accountability.

But the strikes on Baghuz tell a different story.

The details suggest that while the military put strict rules in place to protect civilians, the Special Operations task force repeatedly used other rules to skirt them. The military teams counting casualties rarely had the time, resources or incentive to do accurate work. And troops rarely faced repercussions when they caused civilian deaths.

The War on Terror Is a Success — for Terror
By Nick Turse

On September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush declared a “war on terror” and told a joint session of Congress (and the American people) that “the course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain.” If he meant a 20-year slide to defeat in Afghanistan, a proliferation of militant groups across the Greater Middle East and Africa, and a never-ending, world-spanning war that, at a minimum, has killed about 300 times the number of people murdered in America on 9/11, then give him credit. He was absolutely right.

Congress had already assented to whatever the president saw fit to do. It had voted 420 to 1 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate to grant an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that would give him (and presidents to come) essentially a free hand to make war around the world.

In the wake of 9/11, 90% of Americans were braying for war. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) was one of them. “[W]e must prosecute the war that has been thrust upon us with resolve, with fortitude, with unity, until the evil terrorist groups that are waging war against our country are eradicated from the face of the Earth,” he said. More than 20 years later, al-Qaeda still exists, its affiliates have multiplied, and harsher and deadlier ideological successors have emerged on multiple continents.

As both political parties rushed the United States into a “forever war” that globalized the death and suffering al-Qaeda meted out on 9/11, only Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) stood up to urge restraint. “Our country is in a state of mourning,” she explained. “Some of us must say, ‘Let’s step back for a moment, let’s just pause, just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.’”

While the United States was defeated in Afghanistan last year, the war on terror continues to spiral elsewhere around world. Last month, in fact, President Biden informed Congress that the U.S. military “continues to work with partners around the globe, with a particular focus” on Africa and the Middle East, and “has deployed forces to conduct counterterrorism operations and to advise, assist, and accompany security forces of select foreign partners on counterterrorism operations.”

The State Department had counted 32 foreign terrorist organizations scattered around the world when the 2001 AUMF was passed.. Twenty years of war, around six trillion dollars, and nearly one million corpses later, the number of terrorist groups, according to that congressionally mandated report, stands at 69.

Why U.S. Presidents Really Go to War
By Julian E. Zelizer

“It is an inconvenient truth,” Payne writes, “rarely admitted, that leaders habitually take electoral considerations into account when making decisions about military and diplomatic strategy in war.” For every military brass or State Department expert in the situation room advising the president on the best path forward for U.S. troops, another advisor is warning about the impact these policies might have on the next election.

As former President Richard Nixon candidly acknowledged, when it comes to determining the best course of action in wartime, “winning an election is terribly important.” In a democracy, it is virtually impossible for politics to stop at the water’s edge—and despite past blunders, that may not be such a bad thing.

In War on the Ballot, Payne provides a systematic assessment of the intertwined nature of elections and foreign-policy making over the course of a presidency. He outlines five ways that U.S. elections can affect presidential wartime decision-making: delay (postponing military action until an election takes place); dampening (watering down good strategic action until the vote); spur (accelerating military activity to appear tough on defense ahead of an election); hangover (being swayed to break or fulfill campaign pledges on war based on electoral results) and spoiler (when elections interfere with or disrupt bargaining strategies).

The first three, Payne writes, tend to occur between the midterms and reelection campaigns, and the latter two in the lame-duck period when presidents are more concerned about their legacies. Importantly, Payne argues that we have to consider the different kinds of election cycles—midterms versus presidential, election versus reelection, anticipatory versus post-mortem, and more.

The chapter on Vietnam delves into how Johnson held back on acting on the domino theory and “Americanizing” the war with U.S. troops until after the 1964 election—with the notable exception of requesting the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964 after an alleged attack gave him cover to act tough. Then Johnson intensified U.S. involvement after he defeated Sen. Barry Goldwater in a landslide victory. Since he was freed from electoral concerns, Johnson could have decided to withdraw or pursue neutralization, as Vice President Hubert Humphrey urged him to do, but instead he concluded that escalation was essential to preserve his legislative coalition. His efforts to secure a peace during the lame-duck period after he decided not to run for reelection were subverted by the 1968 election cycle, especially the infamous efforts made by then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon’s campaign to subvert negotiations.

There are missteps and missed opportunities in Payne’s book. For example, Payne defines political considerations as being primarily about elections, as opposed to passing legislation and preserving congressional coalitions that are essential to protecting domestic and national security policies.

Payne would also have done well to offer more analysis of the news media—a curious absence, given that it serves as a key intermediary between presidents and the electorate in the dissemination of information (and misinformation) about war and diplomacy in the lead-up to a vote. Polling matters, but so too do the reporters who translate and analyze the data. The kinds of rational calculations that Payne emphasizes are not always possible given that voters don’t always know what is happening overseas.

During much of the period examined in the book, notions of press objectivity offered presidents considerable room to maneuver in keeping information away from the public. Early in the Vietnam War, for example, reporters often failed to interrogate the official statements they received in military briefings and went on to share that information without critical analysis. Even today, many voters have little knowledge about Washington’s role in key parts of the globe, especially as news outlets move on from hotpots where conflict rages on to cover other issues such as the latest political scandal.

The problems created by democratic pressure won’t disappear. Yet this is a feature, not a bug, in the U.S. political system. We would not want to support a politics where presidents are freed from the electorate. This is part of what separates the United States from nondemocratic nations. It has also been one of the most powerful forces in pulling presidents away from their most disastrous decisions, such as the electoral and grassroots pressure in the late 1960s and early 1970s that was essential to bringing U.S. involvement in Vietnam to an end.

Democracy isn’t always pretty, but it’s the best system that exists. When the processes work, the nation’s most powerful official can’t afford to take their eye off what voters are thinking. In turn, members of the electorate have opportunities to register their opinions, replace leaders with ones they feel can do better, and have a stake in wartime decisions made at the highest levels of power.

The fact that presidents can’t escape the electoral cage, even when conducting wars overseas, is a good thing. It remains our best check against the imperial and autocratic tendencies latent in any position of power.

Biden’s Allies Say the Quiet Part Out Loud: This War Could Be His 2024 Reset
By Michael Hirsh

U.S. voters today are mostly focused on inflation, the economy and the culture wars, and foreign policy is typically not a central issue in most presidential elections. Yet on occasion it has been — for example in 1940 when Franklin Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term because of the wars raging in Europe and Asia, despite an America First isolationist atmosphere similar to today’s. Or in 1984, when 73-year-old former President Ronald Reagan used the swirling tensions of the Cold War to neutralize his own age as an issue against a much younger former Vice President Walter Mondale. “I will not make age an issue of this campaign,” Reagan drily said in a debate. “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Foreign policy probably last played a central role in 2004 when, despite former President George W. Bush’s many mistakes in Iraq, voters proved reluctant to change leaders in the middle of a war.

The Biden team appears to be betting that the new war between Israelis and Palestinians could be a kind of tipping point — the president prefers the term “inflection point” — that changes the political calculus at home. The new Middle East crisis comes amid the ongoing Ukraine war and rising Sino-U.S. tensions over Taiwan, along with a growing sense that Beijing, Moscow and Tehran are increasingly aligned against Washington and gloating over Biden’s problems at home and abroad. On Wednesday, while Biden was in Tel Aviv, Putin was meeting with Xi in Beijing at China’s Belt and Road forum, which was attended by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres among other leaders. Putin, who sat next to Xi, said such “external factors” as the Middle East crisis only “strengthen Russian-Chinese interaction” while in a statement Xi said “deepening China-Russia relations” are “not a stopgap measure, but a long-term solution.”

What it all means is that ironically, even as many Americans are drifting toward a new kind of isolationism, the country now risks getting pulled into wars on three major fronts: Europe, the Asia Pacific and now the Middle East.

“If it looks like he’s being pulled into a vortex, it’s going to be disastrous for him. But if he performs well on the world stage, then people may forget about the bumbling in Afghanistan and want to stick with his leadership,” says Sidney Milkis, a scholar of the presidency at the University of Virginia. This could prove especially true of independent voters who are undecided, such as suburban women, he said.

The question, again, could come down to whether Biden is seen as a major force for peace and stability over the next year — or things fall apart and America gets pulled into a war or two. Here, too, the president is playing a risky game: Over the past year and a half his administration has gone from avoiding any provocation of Russia to deploying long-range missiles to Ukraine and agreeing to train Ukrainian F-16 fighter pilots. Biden has also come closer than any president in memory to pledging a defense of Taiwan from Chinese aggression, and earlier this week he deployed two carrier groups to the Mediterranean that, if things go badly, could prove to be vulnerable targets for Iran.

What would success look like? Briefly, if Israel’s invasion doesn’t prove a disastrous bloodbath, creating a new wave of anti-Americanism; Hezbollah hasn’t opened a second front in Israel’s north; and Iran, Russia and China haven’t made any new provocations. But this too will be a challenge, since it’s very hard prove a negative — that is, to take credit for things that don’t happen.

In embrace of Israel’s war, Biden provokes Arab and Muslim backlash
By Ishaan Tharoor

An astonishing poll among Arab Americans published Tuesday found that backing for Biden and Democrats has cratered since Oct. 7, given the administration’s staunch support for Israel. Arab American favorability for Biden stood at 59 percent in 2020, but has now slumped to a stunning 17 percent. For the first time since the 1997 inception of the poll, conducted by John Zogby Strategies and commissioned by the Arab American Institute, a majority of Arab Americans do not identify as Democrats.

That spells trouble for Biden in the upcoming election year, given the concentration of Arab American voters in swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

“The last few weeks have really called into question — if not outright demolished — a lot of presumptions that were governing U.S. policy in the region,” Matt Duss, executive vice president of the Center for International Policy, told me at the same panel, gesturing to the Biden administration’s delusion that it could “stitch together a bunch of arms agreements with authoritarian governments and call that peace.”

U.S. Response to Israel-Hamas War Draws Fury in Middle East
By Vivian Nereim, Alissa J. Rubin and Euan Ward

Frustration with the United States has grown across the region as Mr. Blinken’s diplomatic tour presented the unusual spectacle of authoritarian Arab rulers lecturing American officials about human rights.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, told Mr. Blinken that Israel must lift its siege on Gaza and that the kingdom “rejects the destruction of infrastructure and vital services that affect their daily lives.”

The End of Biden’s Middle East Mirage
By Matthew Duss

While no one should imagine that the Saudi government cares too much for the Palestinians, it is sensitive enough to regional public opinion that the crown prince announced that normalization was on pause in the wake of Israel’s assault on Gaza.

The Biden doctrine presumed that the Palestinians could be shunted aside and offered some crumbs to keep them quiet. No attempt would be made to address a key source of violence: the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, now more than half a century old. Many, if not most, who engage with this region and its peoples have understood that is a fantasy. And over the past week, we’ve all seen quite graphically how dangerous and tragic a fantasy that is. This conflict has a way of reasserting itself on the global agenda.

Why the U.S. isn’t stopping this war, and other Middle East realities
By Nahal Toosi, Alexander Ward and Lara Seligman

Many Arab leaders despise Hamas, not least because of its Islamist roots and Iranian ties. So they wouldn’t mind seeing the group degraded.

“There has been a big difference between Arab countries’ public and private reactions,” a senior Israeli official told reporters in Washington last month. Most Arab countries regard Hamas “as enemies and want them deterred.”

Despite their disdain for Hamas, many Arab leaders are publicly and privately urging the U.S. to pressure Israel to accept a ceasefire. That’s partly because they worry that citizen fury over images of dead and wounded Palestinians could turn against them.

The Biden administration should rethink its Israeli-Palestinian policies
By Perry Bacon Jr.

I’m glad Biden and his administration rallied to Israel’s defense immediately after the heinous attacks that killed more than 1,400 Israelis. And the Israeli government not only has the right but also the responsibility to defend its citizens. The United States should be playing an active role in preventing such an attack from ever happening again in Israel. And as The Post reported Friday, Biden administration officials have been privately discouraging Israel from starting a full-scale ground invasion in Gaza, which would likely lead to massive civilian casualties.

But I’m uncomfortable with a number of things that the U.S. government has done since Oct. 7:

  1. Condoning a hyperaggressive Israeli bombing of Gaza that has killed thousands of people, including children. The New York Times recently described the bombing as “one of the most intense of the 21st century, prompting growing global scrutiny of its scale, purpose and cost to human life”;
  2. The constantly repeated refrain from administration officials that “Israel has the right to defend itself,” answering a question no one is asking (“Does Israel have the right to defend itself?”) and not giving much guidance to the actual questions (“How should Israel defend itself? How much pain and suffering should Israel inflict on Palestinian civilians in retaliation for the Hamas attacks and to prevent future ones, with the rhetorical and financial backing of the United States?”);
  3. The State Department telling its staff that it couldn’t use phrases such as “end to violence/bloodshed” and “restoring calm”;
  4. The president and his spokespersons giving statements hinting that counts of Palestinian casualties from officials in Gaza are inflated (a claim rejected by journalists and organizations not tied to the Palestinians) while not offering any alternative estimates;
  5. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly urging the Qatari government to push Al Jazeera, which it owns, to dial back its rhetoric about the war in Gaza;
  6. The lack of forceful criticism of Israel cutting off access to food and electricity in Gaza, moves that former president Barack Obama strongly condemned;
  7. Callous statements, such as White House spokesman John Kirby saying that “a cease-fire, right now, really only benefits Hamas.” A cease-fire might help Hamas but it would obviously also help everyday civilians in Gaza. In rejecting calls from progressive lawmakers on Capitol Hill for more restraint from Israel, White House spokesman Karine Jean-Pierre referred to their comments as “repugnant” and “disgraceful.”

“President Biden publicly undermining the Gaza death toll is dangerous & wrong. Questioning death tolls directly dehumanizes Palestinians. … By minimizing this, the U.S. is laying the groundwork for more death,” the U.S.-based Jewish group IfNotNow said in a tweet Thursday.

I worry this administration isn’t prioritizing Palestinian lives enough and is putting the interests of Israelis far ahead of those of Palestinians. Biden and his aides keep stating that they understand that everyday Palestinian citizens are not Hamas terrorists and had nothing to do with the Oct. 7 attacks. But their actions don’t fully line up with that. Israel’s bombing seems less a targeted effort to kill Hamas terrorists and more a general punishment for everyone who lives in Gaza in retaliation — and the United States continues to tacitly approve it.

‘People are frustrated’: Gaza war opens rift among US Democrats
By James Politi

Jill Zipin, founder and chair of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, said: “I think the Jewish community is very supportive of Biden — and the Jewish community votes.”

“How can we call for a ceasefire when there are over 200 hostages being held and when Israel has a right to self-defence? What should be called for is the surrender of Hamas,” said Zipin.

Avigail Oren, a liberal Israeli-American historian in Pittsburgh, said political dynamics were shifting rapidly and the unity within the community since the synagogue attack was at risk of coming apart. She did not believe in standing by Israel “at all costs”, but she also felt “alienated” from those who refused to condemn Hamas and did not understand that Israel had a “right to exist”.

In the Muslim community in Pittsburgh, there is palpable outrage at Biden’s stance.

“We are the leader of the free world, we are the ones who are supposed to be protecting kids,” said one 41-year-old Palestinian-American tech engineer with family in Gaza, who declined to be named out of fear that his relatives could be targeted. “How many kids have to die before our president thinks that it is necessary to call a ceasefire? Is it going to take that every single member of our community swears that they are not going to vote for him?”

White House scrambles to repair relations with Arab, Muslim Americans
By Hannah Allam and Michelle Boorstein

The open disdain toward Biden from many in a reliably Democratic bloc is among the many signs the conflict is quickly remaking U.S. domestic politics, with public fury over a Hamas attack that killed 1,400 Israelis colliding with the horror of entire families in the Gaza Strip being wiped out in Israel’s retaliatory strikes.

The events of the week were described in detail in interviews with several Arab American and Muslim advocates inside and outside the administration, nearly all of them speaking on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe their dealings with the White House.

One organizer said community concerns could be boiled down to a critical question: “Are we dealing with warmongers or are we dealing with peacemakers? Who are we dealing with?”

For many Muslims and Arab Americans, the answer came Wednesday when Biden cast doubt on the number of Palestinian casualties because the figures come from health officials who report to Hamas, which controls the territory. Historically, such figures have been accurate, according to Middle East researchers. On Thursday, Hamas released names, national ID numbers and other information for the 6,747 people included in the Gaza Health Ministry’s tally. The group said 281 bodies had not yet been identified, bringing the total to 7,028.

Biden’s remarks, which the administration later reiterated in formal statements, were interpreted by many as calling Palestinians liars, or as equating Gaza’s beleaguered medical professionals with Hamas.

The administration’s week of damage-control meetings with U.S. Arabs and Muslims began Monday at the State Department, where a small group of community representatives sat down with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The conversation was intense but remained cordial, one participant said. The visitors had strategized beforehand to keep the conversation focused on legal questions related to U.S. support for what the United Nations and other rights monitors have called Israel’s collective punishment of Gaza’s 2 million residents, about half of them children.

There were no breakthroughs, the participant said, but the meeting had helped those there understand that the administration’s reluctance to talk about a cease-fire came from an insistence that the situation not go back to the status quo of Hamas rule in Gaza. The Arab Americans and Muslims at the meeting agreed on that point.

“None of us want to return to the status quo, except bad actors who are profiting off of it,” the participant said. “And we said Hamas is not the only bad actor profiting off this, and we left it at that.”

Talks were more emotional later that evening at a separate temperature-taking meeting in which senior White House officials tried to reassure Muslim and Arab American political appointees from across government.

The event was billed as a listening session with senior administration officials, and those who showed up didn’t hold back, according to three people with direct knowledge of the meeting.

Dozens of people were in attendance — one participant estimated around 70 — from across the government, including intelligence agencies, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Participants, some in tears, spoke about their endangered family members in the Middle East, of feeling isolated and under suspicion in their government jobs, and of feeling complicit in the administration’s support for Israel’s siege.

“They feel like they’re being censored and they feel like they’re being met with suspicion, they’re not trusted” in their jobs, one person with direct knowledge of the meeting said.

At one point, the officials asked how many people in the room knew someone from Gaza. Nearly everyone raised their hands. Next came a more uncomfortable question: How many of those in the room had been pressured by friends or relatives to resign from the administration in recent days? Again, most hands shot up.

Biden has made multiple comments about the need for all sides to protect civilians. At a news conference Wednesday, he said that the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza needed to increase and that Israel needed to do “everything in its power to protect innocent civilians.” But some Muslim and Arab American leaders say words are no longer enough.

“There’s that Arab saying, ‘Don’t look at what the mouth is saying, look at what the hands are doing,’” one person involved with the White House meetings said. “Look what the hands are doing. They are stoking the flames.”

White House frustrated by Israel’s onslaught but sees few options
By Yasmeen Abutaleb

“Of course the United States has leverage — we provide Israel with $4 billion a year in grant aid,” said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who worked on Middle East issues in the Clinton administration. “But every American administration, going back to the 1970s, has been loath to use that leverage because it would be highly unpopular.”

Riedel added: “I’m sure they say all the right things — ‘You have to abide by the rules of international law’ — but in practice, there’s more and more anger across the Arab and Muslim worlds at Israel and at us. It will come at a price.”

The Biden administration now finds itself with little influence over a key ally whose military campaign could affect everything from the global economy to America’s diplomatic relationships in the region.

“They’re watching a train wreck, and they can’t do anything about it, and the trains are speeding up,” said a person familiar with the administration’s thinking, who requested anonymity to discuss internal dynamics. “The train wreck is in Gaza, but the explosion is in the region. They know that even if they were to do something, which is to condition aid to Israel, it won’t actually stop the Israelis from what they’re doing.”

At the same time, the administration is alarmed by growing violence in the occupied West Bank, a separate territory that is partly governed by the Palestinian Authority. Biden has pointedly called out extremist Jewish settlers there and decried rising violence that has killed more than 100 Palestinians since Oct. 7. Top American officials are privately urging Netanyahu to hold those settlers accountable, in part to prevent the conflict from spreading to a second or third front.

“We now have the crisis in Gaza, a crisis in the West Bank, we have an Israeli government which is not listening to the outside world, an Israeli prime minister whose approval has plummeted and who’s desperately trying to find a way to retain office by being the tough guy,” Riedel said. “I get the impression the administration is asking all the right questions and not really getting much of a coherent answer.”

This is not the State Department I know. That’s why I left my job.
By Josh Paul

A basic premise of U.S. military assistance to Israel since the Oslo Accords has been “security for peace” — the notion that if Israel can feel secure, including through the provision of billions of dollars’ worth of U.S.-funded arms transfers each year, it can more readily make the concessions allowing for the emergence of a Palestinian state. (This is also the basic job of the U.S. Security Coordinator, a State Department initiative I worked for in Ramallah for a year.)

But the track record shows that U.S.-provided arms have not led Israel to peace. Rather, in the West Bank, they have facilitated the growth of a settlement infrastructure that now makes a Palestinian state increasingly unlikely, while in the densely populated Gaza Strip, bombings have inflicted mass trauma and casualties, contributing nothing to Israeli security.

On Oct. 7, when Hamas massacred Israeli civilians, I felt sick to my stomach, both because of the horror being visited upon innocents and because I knew what would come next. Israel has a right to defend itself, but the country’s track record over a half-dozen major clashes in the past 15 years suggests that thousands of Palestinian civilians will die in the process.

Sure enough, Israeli requests for munitions started arriving immediately, including for a variety of weapons that have no applicability to the current conflict. These requests deserved the attention we would pay to any large arms package, and I urged a frank discussion. My urging was met with silence — and the clear direction that we needed to move as fast as possible to meet Israel’s requests. Concurrently, the same Congress that had previously blocked arms sales to other regimes with questionable human rights records was now pressing us to move forward to meet Israel’s demands.

The idea that U.S. arms should not be used to kill civilians has never been a controversial one in any of the four administrations I have served, dating back to my work helping rebuild the Iraqi security sector in 2004-2006.

Earlier this year, the Biden White House supposedly strengthened protections against such occurrences. Its new Conventional Arms Transfer Policy establishes a standard that transfers will not be authorized if they are “more likely than not” to be used to violate human rights.

In August, the State Department notified all its embassies of a new Civilian Harm Incident Response Guidance (CHIRG), which lays out a set of actions to be taken after a report of civilian harm resulting from use of U.S.-origin weapons. The risk is obvious that American weapons provided to Israel, especially air-to-ground munitions, will inflict civilian harm and violate human rights. But the department was so adamant to avoid any debate on this risk, even the publication of a pending department release about the CHIRG was blocked.

This is, at least in my experience, an unprecedented unwillingness to consider the humanitarian consequences of our policy decisions.

U.S. diplomats slam Israel policy in leaked memo
By Nahal Toosi

State Department staffers offered a blistering critique of the Biden administration’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war in a dissent memo obtained by POLITICO, arguing that, among other things, the U.S. should be willing to publicly criticize the Israelis.

The message suggests a growing loss of confidence among U.S. diplomats in President Joe Biden’s approach to the Middle East crisis. It reflects the sentiments of many U.S. diplomats, especially at mid-level and lower ranks, according to conversations with several department staffers as well as other reports. If such internal disagreements intensify, it could make it harder for the Biden administration to craft policy toward the region.

The memo has two key requests: that the U.S. support a ceasefire, and that it balance its private and public messaging toward Israel, including airing criticisms of Israeli military tactics and treatment of Palestinians that the U.S. generally prefers to keep private.

The gap between America’s private and public messaging “contributes to regional public perceptions that the United States is a biased and dishonest actor, which at best does not advance, and at worst harms, U.S. interests worldwide,” the document states.

“We must publicly criticize Israel’s violations of international norms such as failure to limit offensive operations to legitimate military targets,” the message also states. “When Israel supports settler violence and illegal land seizures or employs excessive use of force against Palestinians, we must communicate publicly that this goes against our American values so that Israel does not act with impunity.”

The memo concedes that Israel has a “legitimate right and obligation” to seek justice against the Palestinian militants of Hamas, who killed some 1,400 Israelis in a shocking Oct. 7 attack. But it argues that “the extent of human lives lost thus far is unacceptable” — referring to the thousands of Palestinians, most of them civilians and many children, killed by Israel in the days since.

The U.S. “tolerance” for such a high civilian death toll “engenders doubt in the rules-based international order that we have long championed,” the document states.

America Is a Root Cause of Israel and Palestine’s Latest War
By Stephen M. Walt

Washington had monopolized stewardship of the peace process ever since the Oslo Accords (which, as the name implies, came about due to Norwegian mediation), and its various efforts over the years ultimately led nowhere. Former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama repeatedly declared that the United States—the world’s most powerful country in the full flush of its so-called unipolar moment—was committed to achieving a two-state solution, but that outcome is now farther away than ever and probably impossible.

These background elements are important because the nature of the future global order is up for grabs, and several influential states are challenging the intermittently liberal and inconsistently followed “rules-based order” that the United States has championed for decades. China, Russia, India, South Africa, Brazil, Iran, and others openly call for a more multipolar order, where power is more evenly shared. They want to see a world where the United States no longer acts as the so-called indispensable power, as one that expects others to follow its rules while reserving the right to disregard them whenever they prove inconvenient.

To their credit, over the past week Biden and his foreign-policy team have been doing what they do best, namely, managing a crisis that was at least partly of their own making. They are working overtime to limit the damage, prevent the conflict from spreading, contain the domestic political fallout, and (fingers crossed) bring the violence to an end. We should all hope that their efforts succeed.

But as I noted more than a year ago, the administration’s foreign-policy team are best seen as skilled mechanics but not architects, and in an era where the institutional architecture of world politics is increasingly an issue and new blueprints are needed. They are adept at using the tools of U.S. power and the machinery of government to address short-term problems, but they are stuck in an outdated vision of America’s global role, to include how its handling of its various Middle East clients. It is obvious that they badly misread where the Middle East was headed, and applying Band-Aids today—even if it is being done with energy and skill—will still leave the underlying wounds untreated.

The two-state solution has been a diplomatic failure. It’s also still the best answer we’ve got
By Chris McGreal

Aaron David Miller, who served six US secretaries of state as an adviser on Arab-Israeli peace talks, once described American negotiators as siding with Israel rather than being neutral facilitators working for a just outcome.

“For far too long,” he wrote in 2005, “many American officials involved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, myself included, have acted as Israel’s attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations. If the United States wants to be an honest and effective broker on the Arab-Israeli issue, then surely it can have only one client: the pursuit of a solution that meets the needs and requirements of both sides.”

That may be too much of an ask. Biden has spent most of his presidency trying to avoid confrontation with Israeli leaders after his former boss, then president Barack Obama, was burned by his dealings with Netanyahu.

Obama Urges Americans to Take in ‘Whole Truth’ of Israel-Gaza War
By Lisa Lerer

In his comments on Friday, delivered at a gathering of his former staff in Chicago, Mr. Obama acknowledged the strong emotions the war had raised, saying that “this is century-old stuff that’s coming to the fore.” He blamed social media for amplifying the divisions and reducing a thorny international dispute to what he viewed as sloganeering.

“What Hamas did was horrific, and there’s no justification for it,” Mr. Obama said. “And what is also true is that the occupation and what’s happening to Palestinians is unbearable.”

He continued: “And what is also true is that there is a history of the Jewish people that may be dismissed unless your grandparents or your great-grandparents, or your uncle or your aunt tell you stories about the madness of antisemitism. And what is true is that there are people right now who are dying, who have nothing to do with what Hamas did.”

‘Nobody’s hands are clean’: Obama urges reflection amid Israel-Hamas conflict
By Olivia Alafriz

In an address to the Democracy Forum in Chicago on Friday, the 44th president said that “it is impossible to be dispassionate in the face of this carnage. It is hard to feel hopeful. The images of families mourning, of bodies being pulled from rubble, force a moral reckoning on all of us.”

“All this is taking place against the backdrop of decades of failure to achieve a durable peace for both Israelis and Palestinians, one that is based on genuine security for Israel, a recognition of its right to exist, and a peace that is based on an end of the occupation and the creation of a viable state and self-determination for the Palestinian people,” he added.

How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas
By Andrew Higgins

When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and ’80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.

“When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake,” says David Hacham, who worked in Gaza in the late 1980s and early ’90s as an Arab-affairs expert in the Israeli military. “But at the time nobody thought about the possible results.”

Israeli officials who served in Gaza disagree on how much their own actions may have contributed to the rise of Hamas. They blame the group’s recent ascent on outsiders, primarily Iran. This view is shared by the Israeli government. “Hamas in Gaza was built by Iran as a foundation for power, and is backed through funding, through training and through the provision of advanced weapons,” Mr. Olmert said last Saturday. Hamas has denied receiving military assistance from Iran.

Arieh Spitzen, the former head of the Israeli military’s Department of Palestinian Affairs, says that even if Israel had tried to stop the Islamists sooner, he doubts it could have done much to curb political Islam, a movement that was spreading across the Muslim world. He says attempts to stop it are akin to trying to change the internal rhythms of nature: “It is like saying: ‘I will kill all the mosquitoes.’ But then you get even worse insects that will kill you…You break the balance. You kill Hamas you might get al Qaeda.”

When it became clear in the early 1990s that Gaza’s Islamists had mutated from a religious group into a fighting force aimed at Israel — particularly after they turned to suicide bombings in 1994 — Israel cracked down with ferocious force. But each military assault only increased Hamas’s appeal to ordinary Palestinians. The group ultimately trounced secular rivals, notably Fatah, in a 2006 election supported by Israel’s main ally, the U.S.

Hamas traces its roots back to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group set up in Egypt in 1928. The Brotherhood believed that the woes of the Arab world spring from a lack of Islamic devotion. Its slogan: “Islam is the solution. The Quran is our constitution.” Its philosophy today underpins modern, and often militantly intolerant, political Islam from Algeria to Indonesia.

After the 1948 establishment of Israel, the Brotherhood recruited a few followers in Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and elsewhere, but secular activists came to dominate the Palestinian nationalist movement.

At the time, Gaza was ruled by Egypt. The country’s then-president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was a secular nationalist who brutally repressed the Brotherhood. In 1967, Nasser suffered a crushing defeat when Israel triumphed in the six-day war. Israel took control of Gaza and also the West Bank.

“We were all stunned,” says Palestinian writer and Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi. He was at school at the time in Kuwait and says he became close to a classmate named Khaled Mashaal, now Hamas’s Damascus-based political chief. “The Arab defeat provided the Brotherhood with a big opportunity,” says Mr. Tamimi.

In Gaza, Israel hunted down members of Fatah and other secular PLO factions, but it dropped harsh restrictions imposed on Islamic activists by the territory’s previous Egyptian rulers. Fatah, set up in 1964, was the backbone of the PLO, which was responsible for hijackings, bombings and other violence against Israel. Arab states in 1974 declared the PLO the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people world-wide.

The Muslim Brotherhood, led in Gaza by Sheikh Yassin, was free to spread its message openly. In addition to launching various charity projects, Sheikh Yassin collected money to reprint the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian member of the Brotherhood who, before his execution by President Nasser, advocated global jihad. He is now seen as one of the founding ideologues of militant political Islam.

But Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who took over as governor in Gaza in late 1979, says he had no illusions about Sheikh Yassin’s long-term intentions or the perils of political Islam. As Israel’s former military attache in Iran, he’d watched Islamic fervor topple the Shah. However, in Gaza, says Mr. Segev, “our main enemy was Fatah,” and the cleric “was still 100% peaceful” towards Israel. Former officials say Israel was also at the time wary of being viewed as an enemy of Islam.

Mr. Segev says he had regular contact with Sheikh Yassin, in part to keep an eye on him. He visited his mosque and met the cleric around a dozen times. It was illegal at the time for Israelis to meet anyone from the PLO. Mr. Segev later arranged for the cleric to be taken to Israel for hospital treatment. “We had no problems with him,” he says.

In fact, the cleric and Israel had a shared enemy: secular Palestinian activists. After a failed attempt in Gaza to oust secularists from leadership of the Palestinian Red Crescent, the Muslim version of the Red Cross, Mujama staged a violent demonstration, storming the Red Crescent building. Islamists also attacked shops selling liquor and cinemas. The Israeli military mostly stood on the sidelines.

Roni Shaked, a former officer of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, and author of a book on Hamas, says Sheikh Yassin and his followers had a long-term perspective whose dangers were not understood at the time. “They worked slowly, slowly, step by step according to the Muslim Brotherhood plan.”

In 1987, several Palestinians were killed in a traffic accident involving an Israeli driver, triggering a wave of protests that became known as the first Intifada, Mr. Yassin and six other Mujama Islamists launched Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement. Hamas’s charter, released a year later, is studded with anti-Semitism and declares “jihad its path and death for the cause of Allah its most sublime belief.”

Israeli officials, still focused on Fatah and initially unaware of the Hamas charter, continued to maintain contacts with the Gaza Islamists. Mr. Hacham, the military Arab affairs expert, remembers taking one of Hamas’s founders, Mahmoud Zahar, to meet Israel’s then defense minister, Yitzhak Rabin, as part of regular consultations between Israeli officials and Palestinians not linked to the PLO. Mr. Zahar, the only Hamas founder known to be alive today, is now the group’s senior political leader in Gaza.

In 1989, Hamas carried out its first attack on Israel, abducting and killing two soldiers. Israel arrested Sheikh Yassin and sentenced him to life. It later rounded up more than 400 suspected Hamas activists, including Mr. Zahar, and deported them to southern Lebanon. There, they hooked up with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed A-Team of anti-Israeli militancy.

Many of the deportees later returned to Gaza. Hamas built up its arsenal and escalated its attacks, while all along maintaining the social network that underpinned its support in Gaza.

Meanwhile, its enemy, the PLO, dropped its commitment to Israel’s destruction and started negotiating a two-state settlement. Hamas accused it of treachery. This accusation found increasing resonance as Israel kept developing settlements on occupied Palestinian land, particularly the West Bank. Though the West Bank had passed to the nominal control of a new Palestinian Authority, it was still dotted with Israeli military checkpoints and a growing number of Israeli settlers.

Unable to uproot a now entrenched Islamist network that had suddenly replaced the PLO as its main foe, Israel tried to decapitate it. It started targeting Hamas leaders. This, too, made no dent in Hamas’s support, and sometimes even helped the group. In 1997, for example, Israel’s Mossad spy agency tried to poison Hamas’s exiled political leader Mr. Mashaal, who was then living in Jordan.

The agents got caught and, to get them out of a Jordanian jail, Israel agreed to release Sheikh Yassin. The cleric set off on a tour of the Islamic world to raise support and money. He returned to Gaza to a hero’s welcome.

Efraim Halevy, a veteran Mossad officer who negotiated the deal that released Sheikh Yassin, says the cleric’s freedom was hard to swallow, but Israel had no choice. After the fiasco in Jordan, Mr. Halevy was named director of Mossad, a position he held until 2002. Two years later, Sheikh Yassin was killed by an Israeli air strike.

Mr. Halevy has in recent years urged Israel to negotiate with Hamas. He says that “Hamas can be crushed,” but he believes that “the price of crushing Hamas is a price that Israel would prefer not to pay.” When Israel’s authoritarian secular neighbor, Syria, launched a campaign to wipe out Muslim Brotherhood militants in the early 1980s it killed more than 20,000 people, many of them civilians.

30 years after Arafat-Rabin handshake, clear flaws in Oslo Accords doomed peace talks to failure
By Maha Nassar

The Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO, had implicitly recognized Israel in 1988. But a more formal statement was needed for Israel to agree to talks. In an exchange of letters on Sept. 9, 1993, Arafat wrote to Rabin, “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.”

In formally recognizing Israel’s right to exist, the PLO essentially gave up sole sovereign claims to 78% of the Palestinians’ historic homeland that was now claimed by Israel.

In response, Rabin wrote to Arafat that Israel would “recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.” He did not recognize the Palestinians’ right to form their own state.

In a “Declaration of Principles,” signed by Arafat and Rabin at the White House on Sept. 13, it was stated that the aim of the talks was “the implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 (from 1967) and 338 (from 1973).” Those U.N. resolutions call on Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied in 1967. But they do not explicitly call for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Since then, Israel has expropriated nearly half of the West Bank for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers, in violation of international law. It also routinely siphons off water from Palestinian underground aquifers for the use of the settlers, while depriving Palestinians access to their own water.

As a result of these and other measures, life for Palestinians became worse during the post-Oslo years, not better. As Palestinians lost further control over their lands, homes and resources, their ability to establish a state grew more distant.

Yet, by insisting that bilateral negotiations take place between a powerful state and a stateless people – rather than under the auspices of the United Nations or other international body – the Oslo framework ignored the power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians. U.S. mediators would insist that both sides needed to compromise. But Israel held far more military, economic and diplomatic power than the Palestinians.

By ignoring this power imbalance, the Oslo Accords effectively allowed Israel to continue to confiscate land and resources with no consequences. With 60% of the West Bank under Israeli control, the prospects for a viable, independent Palestinian state were undermined.

Can Israel’s Iron Wall Contain Hamas?
By Khaled Hroub

Hamas advanced its resistance in the first half of the 1990s in reaction to the PLO’s decision to pursue peace talks and diplomacy that culminated in the Oslo Accords in 1993. For many Palestinians, Oslo was a trap baited with vague promises of Israeli withdrawal and the creation of a Palestinian state. The agreement guaranteed PLO recognition of Israel in return for Israel’s recognition of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinians—but not recognizing the Palestinians as a “people.” Hamas protested that Oslo didn’t end the Israeli occupation and reiterated that, as Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi put it, “the continued presence of the occupation means the continued presence of resistance.”

In response to the killing of more than 29 Palestinians praying in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque by a fanatical Jewish settler (whose grave was transformed into a shrine revered by settlers today), Hamas launched a wave of suicide attacks inside Israel that shocked Israeli society and its leaders. The Oslo Accords collapsed over the following years amid Hamas’s continued military operations and Israel’s expanding settlements.

In September 2000, Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem accompanied by armed Israeli police, triggering a major riot and the renewed bloodshed of the Second Intifada. In response, Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement finally joined forces against the Israeli army, seemingly vindicating Hamas’s resistance approach. Israel responded mightily by crushing the Palestinian Authority and placing Arafat himself under confinement until his death in 2004. During the first month of the Second Intifada, showing the ruthlessness of the Iron Wall concept, the “Israeli army fired between twenty-eight and thirty-three thousand bullets per day against Palestinian stones and light arms,” Baconi writes.

During the Second Intifada, Hamas managed to build a strong military infrastructure, thereby cementing its significance on the resistance and political scene. Mahmoud Abbas succeeded Arafat in 2005, within the volatile regional context of U.S. President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism. Hamas felt politically vulnerable and decided to run for Legislative Council elections in 2006, opting to protect itself by becoming part of the political system. Within the year, a bloody conflict erupted between Hamas and Fatah that resulted in a split at the heart of the Palestinian national movement, with Hamas running Gaza and Fatah and its Palestinian Authority running the West Bank.

Since then, as Baconi masterfully explains, Hamas has found itself caught in the duality of resistance and governance in poverty-stricken, blockaded Gaza, failing to credibly deliver either. In Gaza, Hamas has ruled with an iron fist, suppressing its opponents and imposing religious rules—such as a dress code for schoolgirls, banning alcohol, and prohibiting women from smoking shisha pipes—while bearing the brunt of successive Israeli wars on Gaza in 2008-2009, 2012, and 2014.

“Regional misfortunes,” as Baconi refers to them, resulted in Hamas losing its Syrian backing because of its support for the popular uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. At the same time, Hamas’s relations with Iran dropped to their lowest point. In 2013, the yearlong lifeline provided by then-Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood ended with Morsi’s toppling by the army and was followed by an even more draconian blockade on Hamas from the new Egyptian regime, compounding the air, sea, and land siege already imposed by Israel.

Baconi explores how Israel managed to maintain its containment strategy. Central to this strategy was keeping an undermined Hamas in power—weak enough not to threaten Israel but strong enough internally not only to prevent the situation in Gaza from slipping into total chaos but, particularly, to stay capable of suppressing more extreme jihadi groups that could cause unanticipated troubles to Israel. To achieve this, Israel combined continuous military strikes to keep Hamas’s “lawn mowed short” with disproportionate force and heavy bombardment against civilian areas to maintain military deterrence; thus, Baconi writes, Hamas had been contained.

Israel’s High-Tech Surveillance Was Never Going to Bring Peace
By Sophia Goodfriend

Human rights advocates say the Israeli government’s tech-heavy policies helped shield Israeli society from the violence and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza. “The situation in Gaza has been repressed for so long by Israeli society,” said Miriam Marmur, the director of public advocacy at Gisha, an Israeli nonprofit that promotes freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza. “Now we’re seeing it surface in horrifying and terrifying ways.”

Israel’s belief that technology can act as a salve to geopolitical volatility mirrors global trends. From NATO- and U.S.-sponsored drone warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq to predictive policing algorithms in the United States, militaries and police forces worldwide have touted high-tech innovation as a silver bullet to quell chronic insecurity. Yet precision strikes and algorithms have done little to address the root causes of violence in all these places. Nearly two decades of drone warfare failed to eliminate al Qaeda—or stop the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. In the United States, predictive policing software, which is rarely accurate, has diverted resources from social services that might more effectively deter crime.

An Israeli approach to Palestinians that would have genuinely improved their lives and offered them hope for independence may well have strengthened the more moderate elements in the West Bank and Gaza and weakened Hamas—a group whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw political advantages in allowing Hamas to continue ruling Gaza.

As recently as 2019, Netanyahu said strengthening Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank would keep Palestinians divided politically and sabotage any chance for a viable two-state solution. It would also potentially abet the Israeli far right’s goal of annexing the West Bank.

Netanyahu is an albatross around Biden’s neck
By Edward Luce

One of the reasons that Israel’s security services were caught napping on October 7 is because the IDF’s forces were focused on the occupied West Bank. Over the past two years the territory has endured its worst violence since the end of the second intifada in 2005, as Israeli troops have launched almost daily raids. So combustible is the situation in the West Bank that the IDF was nowhere to be found when Hamas unleashed its unspeakable terror. That negligence belongs to Netanyahu.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Two Decades of Power, Bluster and Ego
By Ruth Margalit

Netanyahu thinks of himself in Churchillian terms. He would like to be remembered as the leader who faced down the Iran menace, the savior of Israel in the face of forbidding odds for the Jewish people. But the country’s 75th year will be noted for something quite different. Its democracy is dimming; the public has never been more divided. Netanyahu has pushed Israel to the brink, gradually and then suddenly.

Netanyahu’s impressive endurance in office is, in part, a reflection of his enlarged base. The Likud electorate has historically been the Mizrahi (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent), the religiously observant, the noncollege-educated and the poor. But it has expanded to include Israelis who support his conservative economic agenda and others who cite his reluctance to go to needless wars and his international connections, Mazal Mualem writes in “Cracking the Netanyahu Code.” Netanyahu has refashioned Likud from a hawkish yet liberal party into a populist party wholly in his thrall.

But a broadened Likud base, even when combined with ultra-Orthodox allies, still doesn’t amount to a majority in Parliament. For that, Netanyahu turned to the far right. Last year, he orchestrated an alliance between two competing hard-right factions in order to guarantee that their joint list made it to the Knesset and into his governing coalition. One faction, led by Bezalel Smotrich, an ultranationalist zealot and Israel’s current finance minister, represents the interests of the growing settler movement, which numbers more than 600,000 in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The second, headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir, a man convicted of support for a terrorist organization, is an offshoot of a virulent racist movement founded by the Brooklyn-born rabbi, Meir Kahane. Under Netanyahu, the Israeli left has not only diminished but is regarded by much of Israeli society as illegitimate: not Jewish enough, not patriotic enough.

By 1992, Labor had overturned Likud’s political dominance. Rabin was elected prime minister and embarked on historic peace talks with the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat. A year later, Netanyahu clinched the Likud chairmanship, ousting Shamir, his former boss. He set about excoriating the peace talks, and the subsequent Oslo Accords, every chance he had. Not that he had many: Rabin, Arafat and Israel’s foreign minister, Shimon Peres, shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 and were exalted internationally. The Israeli media, which had previously celebrated its young, Americanized diplomat, became critical of him. “The only game in town was Oslo,” Pfeffer says.

Yet Netanyahu soon won the opinion on the street. Mass-casualty suicide bombings by Palestinian terrorists on Israeli buses and on bustling promenades turned the Israeli public against the recently signed treaty. Netanyahu presented himself as a bellicose alternative to the left-wing government’s concessions. He installed himself at the sites of the attacks, lambasting Rabin. In October 1995, he gave an infamous balcony speech at a Jerusalem protest in which some protesters carried signs of Rabin dressed as a Nazi. Netanyahu later claimed that he did not witness such incitement from his perch, though other Likud politicians who were present sensed what was brewing and walked away. A month later, a Jewish extremist assassinated Rabin at the end of a peace rally in Tel Aviv.

In elections held the following year, Netanyahu defied the polls and a newly hostile press and triumphed over Peres. For right-wing voters, this was a deliverance from the Oslo debacle. For the left, there was no recovering from the bloodied circumstances that brought about his rule.

He has been compared in the Israeli press to a “weather vane” blowing with the wind. He advocated a nation-state law that relegates Arab Israelis (who make up 21 percent of the public) to second-class citizenship but was also responsible for passing an unprecedented $3 billion program to improve living conditions in Arab communities. He used to endorse a two-state solution (publicly, at least), before announcing his intention to annex parts of the West Bank when it became politically expedient. He reassured protesters that he would not pass the judicial overhaul unilaterally, then watched as his Likud base responded with outrage and announced that it would move forward anyway.

What the left “doesn’t get,” a source close to Netanyahu says, “is that he’s very flexible, and he will switch, but for him there are issues and then there are politics.” The source adds: “Iran is the big issue for him. His thinking is, Everything else I have to navigate to thwart that danger; if I’m not here, then I can’t deal with this big issue. Saudi Arabia is also very big for him right now. Principles are big issues, and the rest is pragmatism.”

Elkin, the former Likud minister, believes that Netanyahu’s sole governing ideology is his own survival. “He began with a worldview that said, ‘I’m the best leader for Israel at this time,’” Elkin says. “Slowly it morphed into a worldview that said, ‘The worst thing that can happen to Israel is if I stop leading it, and therefore my survival justifies anything.’ From there, you quickly reach a worldview of ‘The state is me.’ He believes in it wholeheartedly.”

Fighting in Gaza Marks the Start of a More Violent Era
By Khalil Shikaki

With the realization that a peaceful outcome was impossible in the short to medium term, the Israeli right began to assert itself—especially after the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president in 2016. Trump’s policies emboldened many Israeli conservatives and cleared the way for extreme anti-Palestinian policies. Israeli settlers began expanding into new areas of the West Bank, and Israel began routinely confiscating Palestinian land and demolishing homes along the way. By 2019–20, many Israelis had begun to demand the annexation of wide swaths of new territory without granting equal rights to Palestinian citizens. Adding insult to injury, several Arab states also began to normalize relations with Israel, eventually concluding the so-called Abraham Accords in 2020. As Arab states’ solidarity with the Palestinian cause receded, Palestinians themselves felt increasingly abandoned.

These pressures were particularly apparent in Jerusalem. After Washington’s 2017 recognition of the city as Israel’s capital, Israel increased the pace of illegal annexation and stepped up its efforts to change the status quo in the Old City’s holy places. Israeli police restricted Palestinian access to the al Aqsa compound, attempted to silence the call for prayer, and began granting access to larger numbers of Jewish Israelis. Authorities also moved to evict Arab East Jerusalemites from their homes and began to assert a more dominant Jewish nationalist-religious agenda throughout the city.

Inside Israel itself, the emboldened right wing also took steps to marginalize Israeli Arab citizens. Many among this latter group saw the 2018 so-called nation-state bill—which declares Israel the historic homeland of the Jewish people, establishes Hebrew as the only official language, and asserts that Jewish settlements are a “national value”—as yet another means of discriminating against Israeli Arabs to the benefit of Israeli Jews. Two years later, an amendment that would have added equality for minorities to the law, reducing the chance that it might be used to legitimize legal discrimination against Israeli Arabs, was voted down in the Knesset—Israel’s parliament. Right-wing politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also routinely incite hatred and fear against Israeli Arabs and their representatives in the Knesset. A dramatic rise in crime rates in Arab communities, moreover, compounds already existing socioeconomic problems.

Palestinian politics has been plagued by its own series of setbacks. Over the past several years, the PA has severely undermined the public’s faith in its ability to govern. Having held no general elections since 2006, the Palestinian Authority has damaged the rule of law, weakened the judiciary, curtailed media freedoms, and shrunk the space for civil society as organizations lost much of their independence from the government. The result is increasing public discontent and overwhelming demands for PA President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. Hamas’s behavior in the Gaza Strip has been no better. Unbothered by constitutional principles, norms, and rule of law, it has grown increasingly ruthless.

Thousands take to streets in Gaza in rare public display of discontent with Hamas
By The Associated Press

Hamas rules Gaza with an iron fist, barring most demonstrations and quickly stamping out public displays of dissent.

The Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, prompting Israel and Egypt to impose a crippling blockade on the territory. Israel says the closure is needed to prevent Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, from building up its military capabilities.

The closure has devastated Gaza’s economy, sent unemployment skyrocketing and led to frequent power outages. During the current heat wave, people have been receiving four to six hours of power a day due to heavy demand.

“Where is the electricity and where is the gas?” the crowds shouted in Khan Younis. “What a shame. What a shame.”

Protesters also criticized Hamas for deducting a roughly $15 fee from monthly $100 stipends given to Gaza’s poorest families by the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar.

There was no immediate comment from the Hamas authorities.

What Palestinians Really Think of Hamas
By Amaney A. Jamal and Michael Robbins

The argument that the entire population of Gaza can be held responsible for Hamas’s actions is quickly discredited when one looks at the facts. Arab Barometer, a research network where we serve as co-principal investigators, conducted a survey in Gaza and the West Bank days before the Israel-Hamas war broke out. The findings, published here for the first time, reveal that rather than supporting Hamas, the vast majority of Gazans have been frustrated with the armed group’s ineffective governance as they endure extreme economic hardship. Most Gazans do not align themselves with Hamas’s ideology, either. Unlike Hamas, whose goal is to destroy the Israeli state, the majority of survey respondents favored a two-state solution with an independent Palestine and Israel existing side by side.

Continued violence will not bring the future most Gazans hope for any closer. Instead of stamping out sympathy for terrorism, past Israeli crackdowns that make life more difficult for ordinary Gazans have increased support for Hamas. If the current military campaign in Gaza has a similar effect on Palestinian public opinion, it will further set back the cause of long-term peace.

When asked how they would vote if presidential elections were held in Gaza and the ballot featured Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and Marwan Barghouti, an imprisoned member of the central committee of Fatah, the party led by Abbas, only 24 percent of respondents said they would vote for Haniyeh. Barghouti received the largest share of support at 32 percent and Abbas received 12 percent. Thirty percent of respondents said they would not participate. Gazans’ opinions of the PA, which governs the West Bank, are not much better. A slight majority (52 percent) believe the PA is a burden on the Palestinian people, and 67 percent would like to see Abbas resign. The people of Gaza are disillusioned not only with Hamas but with the entire Palestinian leadership.

By and large, Gazans do not share Hamas’s goal of eliminating the state of Israel. When presented with three possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (as well as an option to choose “other”), the majority of survey respondents (54 percent) favored the two-state solution outlined in the 1993 Oslo accords. In this scenario, the state of Palestine would sit alongside the state of Israel, their borders based on the de facto boundary that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War. The level of support for this resolution has not changed much since 2021; in that survey, 58 percent of respondents in Gaza selected the two-state solution.

Overall, 73 percent of Gazans favored a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the eve of Hamas’s October 7 attack, just 20 percent of Gazans favored a military solution that could result in the destruction of the state of Israel.

Gazans’ views on the normalization of relations between Arab states and Israel, meanwhile, have been consistently negative. Only 10 percent expressed approval of this initiative in the most recent survey—the same percentage as in 2021. Many Gazans likely recognize that Arab solidarity is key to securing a political arrangement that includes an independent Palestinian state. If Arab countries were to settle their differences with Israel without making the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a precondition for normalization, any lingering hopes for a two-state solution would evaporate.

The vast majority of Gazans surveyed—69 percent—said they have never considered leaving their homeland. This is a higher proportion than residents of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia who were asked the same question. (For all of these countries, the most recent available data comes from Arab Barometer’s 2021–22 survey wave.) Gazans face a series of challenges, from a worsening economic crisis to an unresponsive government and a seemingly impossible path to independent statehood, but they are steadfast in their desire to remain in Gaza.

As Israel’s operations in Gaza escalate, the war will take an unfathomable toll on civilians. But even if Israel were to “level Gaza,” as some hawkish politicians in the United States have called for, it would fail in its mission to wipe out Hamas. Our research has shown that Israeli crackdowns in Gaza most often lead to increasing support and sympathy for Hamas among ordinary Gazans.

The Hamas-led government may be uninterested in peace, but it is empirically wrong for Israeli political leaders to accuse all Gazans of the same. In fact, most Gazans are open to a permanent, peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet the views of the people who live in Gaza are still often misrepresented in public discourse, even as surveys such as Arab Barometer consistently show how different these narratives are from reality.

Netanyahu’s Road to War
By Michael Hirsh

Perhaps the biggest mystery remaining—one even more puzzling than Israel’s astonishing failure of intelligence—is why Hamas would want to embark on what could end up being a collective suicide mission for the militant group. Many experts believe that the precipitating factor was the U.S.-led push to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. This frightened Islamist groups such as Hamas because, if achieved, it would have effectively removed the religious dimension to the conflict, since Saudi Arabia is known as the custodian of the two holiest mosques in Islam.

Iran may well have been a key player here, since Tehran was desperate to stop what it saw as a broader Israeli-Sunni coalition against it in the region. The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been planning the air, land, and sea attack with Hamas since August (though Hamas spokespeople are denying this). Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, is also threatening Israel’s northern border if Israel mounts a ground invasion of Gaza.

So now, both Israel and the United States find themselves embroiled in yet another Arab-Israeli war, and the geopolitics of conflict are shifting globally.

Welcome to the new, ‘new’ Middle East
By Ishaan Tharoor

In late September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his turn at the dais of the U.N. General Assembly. It’s a familiar spot for the long-ruling politico, whose previous appearances in New York included a memorable stunt in 2012 where he drew a red line through part of a cartoon bomb indicating his fears about Iran’s ongoing nuclear enrichment.

This time, Netanyahu had a different image as a prop — a map titled “The New Middle East,” depicting a section of the region shaded in green. That included all of Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, with no delineations showing occupied Palestinian territory, as well as countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. These were Arab states that either had already normalized ties with Israel or, as in the Saudi case, were locked in talks to establish formal relations with the Jewish state.

Netanyahu took out his red marker and drew a diagonal line from Dubai along the Persian Gulf, through Israel and toward the ports of southern Europe. He hailed the supposed advent of a “corridor” of prosperity that threaded together these Arab countries and Israel at the heart of a new axis of global trade connecting Asia to Europe.

“A few years ago, I stood here with a red marker to show the curse, a great curse, the curse of a nuclear Iran,” Netanyahu said. “But today, I bring this marker to show a great blessing. The blessing of a new Middle East, between Israel, Saudi Arabia and our other neighbors.”

More pressingly, the current moment also highlights the vast inequities that carve through the Middle East. Whatever the bottomless wealth of the Saudi or Emirati royals, there’s the destitution of Yemen and the enduring misery of Syria’s refugees. Whatever the confidence and prowess of Israeli’s private sector, there’s the dysfunction of neighboring Lebanon and the despair of millions of Palestinians living under more than half-a-century of occupation.

“The new Middle East’s winners embody a transactional mindset that may yet make them richer,” explained the Economist last month. “Its losers are a reminder that in a world with fewer rules and principles, no one is coming to the rescue.”

Israel’s goal in Gaza is regime change. Where have we heard that before?
By Doyle McManus

The problem with Gaza is that nobody seems to want it except Hamas.

Israel doesn’t want to occupy the territory; that’s why it left in 2005.

Egypt, which abuts the Gaza Strip to the south, doesn’t want it either.

Even the Palestinian Authority, which administers the Israeli-occupied West Bank and is led by longtime opponents of Hamas, may not want to take over — at least not right away, aboard Israeli tanks.

The PA is “the most natural address,” former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said last week in an appearance at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It doesn’t make sense to give [Gaza] back to Hamas.”

In a poll conducted in July for the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, 70% of Gaza residents said they would prefer to live under the PA than under Hamas.

But it’s not clear that the PA is up to the job. On the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority is widely regarded as inefficient and corrupt. Its leader, 87-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, hasn’t allowed elections for 17 years.

Critics of Netanyahu say the prime minister has deliberately weakened the PA by allowing Israeli settlements on the West Bank to expand, even as he quietly maintained a modus vivendi with Hamas in Gaza.

Barak and others have suggested that a post-Hamas order in Gaza might begin with an interim peacekeeping force provided by Egypt and other Arab countries.

“It would be a great blessing,” Barak said.

But that will require Israel to ask those countries, plus the United States and Saudi Arabia, for help brokering such an arrangement.

Some or all of the Arab countries involved would likely demand that Israel halt settlement expansion on the West Bank or make other concessions to the Palestinians as the price of their participation in a difficult and unrewarding mission.

All of which brings the issue back to where it started: the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, which has been gradually deteriorating for 15 years.

Israel’s strategy of mowing the lawn in Gaza didn’t just fail because Hamas is committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. It also failed because Hamas had a seemingly endless supply of potential recruits among young Gazans who saw no viable future.

The Peril in Declaring ‘I Stand With Israel’
By Howard W. French

It should not require condoning the violent tactics of groups such as Hamas or the atrocities they commit to understand that Israel’s own behavior toward Palestinians has long been deeply troubling and problematic.

If Israelis can acknowledge these things, those who count themselves as true friends of the country should be able to do so as well, and far more openly. But at least insofar as openness about this nuance is concerned, this has been a persistent problem.

This week, a striking opinion piece appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that captured this dissonance. While “I stand with Israel” was still the standard refrain in the United States, the headline read: “Israel Can’t Imprison Two Million Gazans Without Paying a Cruel Price.” The writer, Gideon Levy, spoke of Israeli arrogance: “the idea that we can do whatever we like, that we’ll never pay the price and be punished for it. We’ll carry on undisturbed.”

“We’ll arrest, kill, harass, dispossess and protect the settlers busy with their pogroms,” Levy continued. “We’ll fire at innocent people, take out people’s eyes and smash their faces, expel, confiscate, rob, grab people from their beds, carry out ethnic cleansing and of course continue with the unbelievable siege of the Gaza Strip, and everything will be all right.”

Israelis in large numbers, as well as many non-Israeli Jews and other people who sympathize with Israel as a state created in the wake of the European Holocaust, bridle and stew over comparisons between Israel and South Africa under apartheid, and it is easy to understand why.

What is harder to do, though, is to explain away how having roughly 7 million people of Palestinian descent living with unequal rights under Israeli authority, many of them confined in places such as Gaza or squirreled away in discontinuous parcels of homeland on the West Bank that are under constant pressure from expanding Israeli settlements, is consistent with ideas of democracy, or even of approximate equity.

There is nothing surprising about Hamas’s operation
By Somdeep Sen

International law prohibits states from “any military occupation, however temporary”. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 37/43 also reaffirms that people struggling for independence and liberation from colonial rule have the right to do so using “all available means, including armed struggle”. In other words, Operation Al-Aqsa Flood is part of the armed Palestinian struggle provoked by the Israeli occupation and colonialism.

It is also not surprising that the Palestinian armed factions rely on asymmetric tactics and stealth. That is because they are up against one of the most sophisticated and well-funded armed forces in the world.

For more than 16 years, the residents of Gaza have had no freedom of movement. They can leave through the Israeli-controlled checkpoints if they have an Israeli work permit or in rare cases if they have been given special permissions by Israel to receive medical treatment in the occupied West Bank for life-threatening conditions. To leave for any other part of the world, they must have a valid visa, which is difficult to obtain by stateless people, and then navigate the Egyptian authorities’ arbitrary decisions to close the Rafah border crossing and deny entry to Palestinians.

The blockade has brought the economy of Gaza nearly to a standstill. Today close to half the population is unemployed. Among the young, the unemployment rate is more than 60 percent. The food supply is also limited by the siege. From 2007 to 2010, Israeli authorities kept a calorie count of Palestinians’ nutritional needs to narrowly avoid malnutrition while restricting access to food for the people in Gaza.

Today, according to the World Food Programme, a significant portion of the population is food insecure. In 2022, 1.84 million people across Palestine – one-third of the population – did not have enough food to eat. Among these people, 1.1 million were considered “severely food insecure”, 90 percent of whom lived in Gaza.

The strip also suffers from an energy crisis. The Israeli ban on the entry of fuel into Gaza means that electricity production is severely limited. In 2023, Gaza has had only 13 hours of electricity a day. In 2017 and 2018, this was down to seven hours a day.

This has in turned caused severe problems with water provision and sanitation. The constant blackouts have prevented water treatment plants from functioning properly. As a result, untreated sewage simply flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

Gaza’s aquifers, the main source of its water, are also nearly depleted and contaminated by sea- and wastewater. A significant portion of all reported diseases in Gaza is caused by poor access to safe water.

The blockade has also taken a toll on the strip’s medical facilities. Hospitals lack basic supplies, equipment and infrastructure and are unable to handle severe cases or provide proper care for the chronically ill.

The formal justification for the operation Hamas gave was the desecration by Israelis of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, and increased settler violence against the Palestinians. But considering how well-planned it looks, it is likely that Operation Al-Aqsa Flood has been in the works from before the recent events in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Biden’s Unquestioning Support for Israel Could Be a Costly Error
By Howard W. French

A further word must be said in conclusion about the tactics of Hamas. As fully deserving of retaliation as this group is for its targeting of Israeli civilians for the most brutal and senseless of deaths, there is a problem with the frequent charge that Hamas uses the Palestinian population as human shields in this conflict. There is a narrow, tactical element of truth in this, in that Hamas has been accused of storing weapons and ammunition in civilian facilities, including mosques, universities, and residential buildings, and in this latest conflict, the group is holding nearly 200 people kidnapped from Israel as hostages in Gaza.

But this characterization also omits a lot of context: Namely, where would the place be from which Palestinians would be allowed to organize their defense and resistance? As has been widely noted, Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth. Is it conceivable that Hamas could build an aboveground headquarters that could survive the first hint of tension with Israel, which is armed by the most powerful nation on earth and protected with sophisticated shields, such as its Iron Dome anti-missile system? Never mind Hamas, though—who can presently imagine Palestinians being allowed to field any kind of army, or even a defense force?

There is nothing commendable at all about terror, and nothing to justify it, either. But when human beings are reduced to utter desperation and oblivion, only awful things can be expected.

Vengeance Is Not a Policy
By Ian S. Lustick

The fanaticism and bloodlust of the militants who carried out the attack and perpetrated war crimes—along with their leaders’ calculations, tactics, ruthlessness, mobilization skills, and readiness to die—are not products of a special Palestinian and Muslim prowess or innate evil.

They are what can—and perhaps inevitably will—happen when masses of human beings are treated as the 2.3 million human beings living in the Gaza Strip have been treated for decades. Nor can the event be explained by the undeniable incompetence, hubris, and apparent negligence of the Israeli government and its security apparatuses. Given enough time, any system designed to contain explosive and steadily increasing pressures will fail.

Israel neither recognizes Gaza (or Palestine) as a state nor Hamas as a legitimate governing authority over its inhabitants. Instructively, Israel’s initial response to the attack was to shut off all electricity, food, medicine, and water to the entire area. No state can do those things to another state, but it can do it to a territory it surrounds and dominates.

Everyone knows how brutal escaping prisoners can be, how ruthlessly prison revolts are crushed, and how many inmates uninvolved in the violence suffer as a result. We have seen the former, and we are now seeing the latter. But prison revolts are also seen as graphic signs of how ineffectively, cruelly, or counterproductively the prison was being run. They lead, often if not always, to prison reform or, in some cases, prison closure.

There Is a Jewish Hope for Palestinian Liberation. It Must Survive.
By Peter Beinart

In 1988, bombs exploded at restaurants, sporting events and arcades in South Africa. In response, the African National Congress, then in its 77th year of a struggle to overthrow white domination, did something remarkable: It accepted responsibility and pledged to prevent its fighters from conducting such operations in the future. Its logic was straightforward: Targeting civilians is wrong. “Our morality as revolutionaries,” the A.N.C. declared, “dictates that we respect the values underpinning the humane conduct of war.”

Historically, geographically and morally, the A.N.C. of 1988 is a universe away from the Hamas of 2023, so remote that its behavior may seem irrelevant to the horror that Hamas unleashed last weekend in southern Israel. But South Africa offers a counter-history, a glimpse into how ethical resistance works and how it can succeed. It offers not an instruction manual, but a place — in this season of agony and rage — to look for hope.

There was nothing inevitable about the A.N.C.’s policy, which, as Jeff Goodwin, a New York University sociologist, has documented, helped ensure that there was “so little terrorism in the anti-apartheid struggle.” So why didn’t the A.N.C. carry out the kind of gruesome massacres for which Hamas has become notorious? There’s no simple answer. But two factors are clear. First, the A.N.C.’s strategy for fighting apartheid was intimately linked to its vision of what should follow apartheid. It refused to terrify and traumatize white South Africans because it wasn’t trying to force them out. It was trying to win them over to a vision of a multiracial democracy.

Second, the A.N.C. found it easier to maintain moral discipline — which required it to focus on popular, nonviolent resistance and use force only against military installations and industrial sites — because its strategy was showing signs of success. By 1988, when the A.N.C. expressed regret for killing civilians, more than 150 American universities had at least partially divested from companies doing business in South Africa, and the United States Congress had imposed sanctions on the apartheid regime. The result was a virtuous cycle: Ethical resistance elicited international support, and international support made ethical resistance easier to sustain.

In Israel today, the dynamic is almost exactly the opposite. Hamas, whose authoritarian, theocratic ideology could not be farther from the A.N.C.’s, has committed an unspeakable horror that may damage the Palestinian cause for decades to come. Yet when Palestinians resist their oppression in ethical ways — by calling for boycotts, sanctions and the application of international law — the United States and its allies work to ensure that those efforts fail, which convinces many Palestinians that ethical resistance doesn’t work, which empowers Hamas.

Most of Gaza’s residents aren’t from Gaza. They’re the descendants of refugees who were expelled, or fled in fear, during Israel’s war of independence in 1948. They live in what Human Rights Watch has called an “open-air prison,” penned in by an Israeli state that — with help from Egypt — rations everything that goes in and out, from tomatoes to the travel documents children need to get lifesaving medical care. From this overcrowded cage, which the United Nations in 2017 declared “unlivable” for many residents in part because it lacks electricity and clean water, many Palestinians in Gaza can see the land that their parents and grandparents called home, though most may never step foot in it.

Palestinians in the West Bank are only slightly better off. For more than half a century, they have lived without due process, free movement, citizenship or the ability to vote for the government that controls their lives. Defenseless against an Israeli government that includes ministers openly committed to ethnic cleansing, many are being driven from their homes in what Palestinians compare to the mass expulsions of 1948. Americans and Israeli Jews have the luxury of ignoring these harsh realities. Palestinians do not. Indeed, the commander of Hamas’s military wing cited attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank in justifying its barbarism last weekend.

Just as Black South Africans resisted apartheid, Palestinians resist a system that has earned the same designation from the world’s leading human rights organizations and Israel’s own. After last weekend, some critics may claim Palestinians are incapable of resisting in ethical ways. But that’s not true. In 1936, during the British mandate, Palestinians began what some consider the longest anticolonial general strike in history. In 1976, on what became known as Land Day, thousands of Palestinian citizens demonstrated against the Israeli government’s seizure of Palestinian property in Israel’s north. The first intifada against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which lasted from roughly 1987 to 1993, consisted primarily of nonviolent boycotts of Israeli goods and a refusal to pay Israeli taxes. While some Palestinians threw stones and Molotov cocktails, armed attacks were rare, even in the face of an Israeli crackdown that took more than 1,000 Palestinian lives. In 2005, 173 Palestinian civil society organizations asked “people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”

But in the United States, Palestinians received little credit for trying to follow Black South Africans’ largely nonviolent path. Instead, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement’s call for full equality, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return home, was widely deemed antisemitic because it conflicts with the idea of a state that favors Jews.

It is true that these nonviolent efforts sit uncomfortably alongside an ugly history of civilian massacres: the murder of 67 Jews in Hebron in 1929 by local Palestinians after Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, claimed Jews were about to seize Al Aqsa Mosque; the airplane hijackings of the late 1960s and 1970s carried out primarily by the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Yasir Arafat’s nationalist Fatah faction; the 1972 assassination of Israeli athletes in Munich carried out by the Palestinian organization Black September; and the suicide bombings of the 1990s and 2000s conducted by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Fatah’s Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, whose victims included a friend of mine in rabbinical school who I dreamed might one day officiate my wedding.

And yet it is essential to remember that some Palestinians courageously condemned this inhuman violence. In 1979, Edward Said, the famed literary critic, declared himself “horrified at the hijacking of planes, the suicidal missions, the assassinations, the bombing of schools and hotels.” Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian American historian, called the suicide bombings of the second intifada “a war crime.” After Hamas’s attack last weekend, a member of the Israeli parliament, Ayman Odeh, among the most prominent leaders of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, declared, “It is absolutely forbidden to accept any attacks on the innocent.”

Tragically, this vision of ethical resistance is being repudiated by some pro-Palestinian activists in the United States. In a statement last week, National Students for Justice in Palestine, which represents more than 250 Palestinian solidarity groups in North America, called Hamas’s attack “a historic win for the Palestinian resistance” that proves that “total return and liberation to Palestine is near” and added, “from Rhodesia to South Africa to Algeria, no settler colony can hold out forever.” One of its posters featured a paraglider that some Hamas fighters used to enter Israel.

The reference to Algeria reveals the delusion underlying this celebration of abduction and murder. After eight years of hideous war, Algeria’s settlers returned to France. But there will be no Algerian solution in Israel-Palestine. Israel is too militarily powerful to be conquered. More fundamentally, Israeli Jews have no home country to which to return. They are already home.

The failure of Hamas and its American defenders to recognize that will make it much harder for Jews and Palestinians to resist together in ethical ways. Before last Saturday, it was possible, with some imagination, to envision a joint Palestinian-Jewish struggle for the mutual liberation of both peoples. There were glimmers in the protest movement against Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul, through which more and more Israeli Jews grasped a connection between the denial of rights to Palestinians and the assault on their own. And there were signs in the United States, where almost 40 percent of American Jews under the age of 40 told the Jewish Electoral Institute in 2021 that they considered Israel an apartheid state. More Jews in the United States, and even Israel, were beginning to see Palestinian liberation as a form of Jewish liberation as well.

That potential alliance has now been gravely damaged. There are many Jews willing to join Palestinians in a movement to end apartheid, even if doing so alienates us from our communities, and in some cases, our families. But we will not lock arms with people who cheer the kidnapping or murder of a Jewish child.

Palestinians are not fundamentally different from other people facing oppression: When moral resistance doesn’t work, they try something else. In 1972, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, which was modeled on the civil rights movement in the United States, organized a march to oppose imprisonment without trial. Although some organizations, most notably the Provisional Irish Republican Army, had already embraced armed resistance, they grew stronger after British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians in what became known as Bloody Sunday. By the early 1980s, the Irish Republican Army had even detonated a bomb outside Harrods, the department store in London. As Kirssa Cline Ryckman, a political scientist, observed in a 2019 paper on why certain movements turn violent, a lack of progress in peaceful protest “can encourage the use of violence by convincing demonstrators that nonviolence will fail to achieve meaningful concessions.”

Israel, with America’s help, has done exactly that. It has repeatedly undermined Palestinians who sought to end Israel’s occupation through negotiations or nonviolent pressure. As part of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestine Liberation Organization renounced violence and began working with Israel — albeit imperfectly — to prevent attacks on Israelis, something that revolutionary groups like the A.N.C. and the Irish Republican Army never did while their people remained under oppression. At first, as Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian political scientist, has detailed, Palestinians supported cooperation with Israel because they thought it would deliver them a state. In early 1996, Palestinian support for the Oslo process reached 80 percent while support for violence against Israelis dropped to 20 percent.

The 1996 election of Benjamin Netanyahu, and the failure of Israel and its American patron to stop settlement growth, however, curdled Palestinian sentiment. Many Jewish Israelis believe that Ehud Barak, who succeeded Mr. Netanyahu, offered Palestinians a generous deal in 2000. Most Palestinians, however, saw Mr. Barak’s offer as falling far short of a fully sovereign state along the 1967 lines. And their disillusionment with a peace process that allowed Israel to entrench its hold over the territory on which they hoped to build their new country ushered in the violence of the second intifada. In Mr. Shikaki’s words, “The loss of confidence in the ability of the peace process to deliver a permanent agreement on acceptable terms had a dramatic impact on the level of Palestinian support for violence against Israelis.” As Palestinians abandoned hope, Hamas gained power.

Hamas — and no one else — bears the blame for its sadistic violence. But it can carry out such violence more easily, and with less backlash from ordinary Palestinians, because even many Palestinians who loathe the organization have lost hope that moral strategies can succeed. By treating Israel radically differently from how the United States treated South Africa in the 1980s, American politicians have made it harder for Palestinians to follow the A.N.C.’s ethical path. The Americans who claim to hate Hamas the most have empowered it again and again.

Can Our Leaders Avoid the Terrorism Trap?
By Yousef Munayyer

… Sept. 6, 1972. The day prior, Palestinian guerrillas had killed an Israeli coach and athlete and taken nine other members of the Israeli team hostage at the Munich Olympic Village, where all the cameras of the world had assembled, and by the time a botched rescue attempt by the German police had concluded, all the hostages and most of the Palestinian guerrillas were dead.

On Sept. 6, Secretary of State William Rogers had a conversation with Nixon in the Oval Office in the presence of National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and other officials. Rogers’s message to Nixon was straightforward: What happened in Munich was a symptom. “Say Israel retaliates and blows up something in Lebanon, that doesn’t help anyone,” Rogers told Nixon. “What this does indicate to the world is that we’ve got to solve the problem. It’s a hell of a thing to have 11 Israelis killed, and it’s a hell of a thing to have millions of people homeless all these years. So the problem has to be solved.” Nixon was receptive to Rogers’s argument, but Kissinger sat quietly and was alarmed.

Kissinger left the Oval Office and telephoned the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Yitzhak Rabin, to tell him about the meeting. Kissinger had his calls taped and transcribed as well. After hearing about the Oval office meeting, Rabin feared “that those who carried out the action in Munich succeeded beyond their expectations.” Kissinger urged Rabin to go to the U.N. Security Council to try to build a global consensus around fighting terrorism even if the United States and Israel would be isolated there.

Kissinger told him going to the Security Council would “not lead to any practical results but it will focus the problem on an issue on which we can talk jointly while the great danger that I see is that in a few days people will say—as was said at the meeting this morning—we must remove the cause of this.” He urged him that they should do it “before people start thinking about the problem.”

Kissinger was concerned that if the global debate about Munich was not immediately redirected toward uniform condemnation of the Palestinian guerrillas, the more people might think about the root causes and Palestinian grievances.

Herein lies the trap of the terrorism framework. It ostensibly aims to counter political violence, but it does so in a way that ensures political violence persists—by exceptionalizing it as a form of violence that comes from a vacuum. Unlike most forms of political violence—such as interstate conflicts and civil wars, insurgencies, rebellions, or political repression—terrorism is not something we are encouraged to understand the causes of; at best, reductionist explanations chalk up motivations to ideology, which, in the Palestinian case, is transparently flawed since Palestinian political violence has always transcended ideological divides.

By adopting this framework, opponents of this violence position themselves as standing with the victims of it and condemning the perpetrators. But in reality, they are merely condemning them all to continued and more horrific rounds of carnage.

It is a framework that allows leaders with the greatest capacity to prevent such violence—in this case, the leaders of the United States and Israel—a way to absolve themselves of responsibility at the expense of the very people whom they have a responsibility to protect. At the end of the day, it is always ordinary people, not states or policymakers or the media outfits that amplify them, who pay the highest price for this commitment to not thinking.

All involved in the Israel-Hamas conflict should heed the warnings of 1982
By Kim Ghattas

There have been four wars between Israel and Hamas since the group violently took over the territory in 2007, each one ending with a return to the untenable status quo. But there are echoes of the summer of 1982, when then defence minister Ariel Sharon vowed to purge the Palestinian Liberation Organisation from southern Lebanon. He too wanted to change the Middle East.

With a nod and a wink from US secretary of state Alexander Haig, Sharon sent his troops all the way to Beirut, laying siege to the city for two months. Even though the PLO did end up leaving Lebanon, Israel’s first large-scale ground war against a non-state entity was one of its worst strategic blunders — and led to the massacre of Sabra and Shatila by Israel’s Lebanese Christian allies. We are still living with the consequences of Sharon’s hubris and Haig’s wink, including the birth of an axis of resistance from Damascus to Tehran.

Israel wanted not only to evict the PLO but also to help install a friendly government in Beirut with which to make peace, while bringing Syria to its knees, and perhaps to the table, by pummelling its armed forces in Lebanon. And all of this without making a single concession to the Palestinians.

The lesson of the past four decades is also that every attempt to wipe out Palestinian armed groups has only produced more extreme iterations and worse conundrums. Two days after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, a planeload of Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrived in Damascus and headed to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley with Syrian president Hafez al-Assad’s blessing. Since Iran arrived in the Levant, it has never left. Hizbollah — Tehran’s most successful export since the 1979 Iranian revolution — was formed, and with Iran, vowed to evict America from Lebanon and the Middle East. In 1983, the US suffered a devastating blow when suicide trucks blew up first its embassy in Beirut and then the Marine contingent of a US-French multinational Force. President Ronald Reagan pulled out the Marines, briefly keeping US warships off the coast of Lebanon.

Syria bided its time while the Soviets replenished its arsenal, becoming the ultimate arsonist of American plans in the region while posing as a firefighter. Damascus fulfils a different role today as Iran, Hizbollah and Russia maintain a heavy presence on its soil.

At its core, the current conflict is about the longest occupation in modern history, one that leaves the Palestinians dispossessed while Israel quests relentlessly for its security. But the bigger picture is one of regional shifts and global alliances reaching a critical juncture. The danger now is of more strategic blunders that will only perpetuate the violence for years to come.

Israel Could Win This Gaza Battle and Lose the War
By Stephen M. Walt

Israel pummeled the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, did it again in Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and then did so once more (on a smaller scale) in May 2021. These attacks killed several thousand civilians (perhaps a quarter of them children) and further impoverished the trapped population of Gaza, but they didn’t bring us any closer to a lasting and just solution. It was, as some Israelis commented, just a case of “mowing the lawn.”

As usual, the official U.S. response to the fighting is to condemn Hamas for its “unprovoked attacks,” express rock-solid support for Israel, and studiously ignore the broader context in which this is occurring and the reasons why some Palestinians feel they have no choice but to use force in response to the force that is routinely employed against them. Yes, it was “unprovoked” in the narrow legal sense that Israel wasn’t about to attack Gaza, which might justify preemption by Hamas. But it was surely “provoked” in the commonsense meaning of the term—that is, as a violent response to the conditions that Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere have faced for decades—even if Hamas’s willingness to deliberately attack civilians in particularly brutal ways is cruel, indefensible, and quite possibly counterproductive.

If U.S. politicians from both parties were less craven, they would rightly condemn Hamas’s actions and at the same time denounce the cruel and illegal acts that Israel routinely inflicts on its Palestinian subjects. Israeli military veterans say these things, but U.S. leaders don’t. If you ever wonder why past U.S. peace efforts failed and why many people around the world no longer see the United States as a moral beacon, here’s part of your answer.

… this new bloodletting is yet another sad reminder that in international politics, power matters more than justice. Israel has been able to expand in the West Bank and keep the Gazan population in an open-air prison for decades because it is much stronger than the Palestinians and because it has co-opted or neutralized other parties (e.g., the United States, Egypt, the European Union) that might have opposed these efforts and forced it to negotiate a lasting peace.

Yet this event—and the many clashes that preceded it—may also reveal the limits of power. War is the continuation of politics by other means, and powerful states sometimes win on the battlefield and still lose politically. The United States won all the big battles in Vietnam and Afghanistan, but it ultimately lost both wars. Egypt and Syria were badly defeated in the 1973 war, but the losses Israel suffered in that war convinced its leaders (and their American patrons) that they could no longer ignore Egypt’s desire to regain the Sinai. Hamas will never be able to defeat Israel in a direct test of strength, but its attack is a tragic reminder that Israel is not invulnerable and the Palestinian desire for self-determination cannot be ignored. It also shows that the Abraham Accords and the recent efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are no guarantee of peace; indeed, they may have made this latest conflict more likely.

Where will it lead? It’s hard to say. The smart move for all the parties would be to start with a rapid return to the status quo ante: Hamas would cease its rocket attacks, withdraw immediately from any areas it has seized, offer to return the Israelis it has captured without demanding they be exchanged for Hamas members in Israel’s custody, and both sides would agree to a cease-fire. And then the United States and others would launch a serious, evenhanded, and sustained push for a just and meaningful peace.

Why Oslo Still Has Relevance
By Serge Schmemann

The wisdom of Oslo is a credit to the negotiators, who came to recognize the validity of each other’s guiding narratives: of Israel’s return to a promised land after an unspeakable tragedy; and of the Palestinians’ dispossession and humiliating occupation. These narratives could not necessarily be reconciled, but the negotiators were able to escape the zero-sum feuding over who was in the right and acknowledge the other’s yearnings, history and grievances.

Uri Savir, a principal Israeli negotiator during Oslo, described his initial exchange with the chief Palestinian negotiator, Ahmed Qurei, in his book “The Process”: “I believe we’ve arrived at the root of the problem,” he recalled Mr. Qurei, better known as Abu Ala, saying. “We have learned that our rejection of you will not bring us freedom. You can see that your control of us will not bring you security. We must live side by side in peace, equality and cooperation.” Mr. Savir and Mr. Qurei emerged close friends from the negotiations. (Mr. Savir died last year; Mr. Qurei in February).

However it plays out, the root of the problem identified by the Palestinians and Israelis in what is still the closest they have come to an accommodation remains the same: the Palestinians will gain freedom only when Israelis find acceptance and security, and Israelis will achieve that “bitahon,” the broad Hebrew term for security that so pervades Israel’s consciousness, only when the Palestinians have sovereignty over their lives.

Is a two-state solution possible after the Gaza war?
By The Economist

There will be no serious peace process with Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition of far-right and religious politicians. That coalition is unlikely to survive long after the Gaza war, and Mr Netanyahu’s opponents hope that the next government will be more amenable to talks with the Palestinians. “We learned a lesson that we need to separate from them in a good way,” says one centrist Israeli lawmaker. “It’s time to start that discussion.” But Israeli politicians from the centre and left have avoided the issue in public for more than a decade.

On the Palestinian side, Hamas has always been eager to play spoiler. Its first suicide-bombings in the 1990s helped to scuttle the Oslo process, and the carnage it wrought during the second intifada (“uprising”) from 2000 to 2005 turned a generation of Israelis against the idea of compromise. Perhaps Hamas will fade away after the war in Gaza—but another group could take its place.

Ordinary people on both sides have lost faith in the two-state solution. A poll in September 2022 by the Israel Democracy Institute, a non-partisan think-tank, found that only 32% of Israeli Jews would support one, down from 47% five years earlier. Israeli Arabs, who make up one-fifth of the population, still endorsed the idea, although their support has also dropped, from 87% in 2017 to 71% in 2022. A plurality of Israeli Jews preferred the status quo.

Support has plummeted even further among Palestinians. A survey in June 2023 by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research found that just 28% still support a two-state solution. Some 53% of them backed the idea ten years ago, though just 39% thought it feasible.

Optimists hope that these results are squishy: people are unlikely to support something they think impossible. A meaningful peace process could push the poll numbers back up. “I don’t think our people would reject a chance to end the occupation,” says one former Palestinian minister. But the events of recent weeks could just as well harden both sides against the idea of compromise.

As ever in Israel, some of the strongest supporters of ending the occupation are the men tasked with running it. In the wake of the Hamas attack, few Israelis are talking publicly about the two-state solution—or any other solution for the conflict. But defence officials are discussing it in closed rooms. That is partly because the desired end state of the war will shape the war itself and because the Netanyahu government is incapable of holding a serious debate on Israel’s long-term strategy.

Then there is the question of who will play mediator.

The lesson from the Hamas attack: The U.S. should recognize a Palestinian state
By Daoud Kuttab

Three days before the Hamas attack, Jordan, the recognized custodian of the holy places in Jerusalem, sent a letter to the Israeli Embassy in Amman protesting the fact that Jewish “visitors” had begun praying loudly on the grounds of the al-Aqsa Mosque. At the same time, Israeli police imposed an age restriction preventing young Palestinian Muslim men from entering the mosque itself. While secular Palestinian leaders might be open to a political compromise, religious leaders are much less flexible when matters of faith are in question.

Israeli Jewish nationalists were upending a carefully orchestrated status quo agreement on Muslim holy sites, and their actions have hurt the Christian community in Jerusalem, as well. Last month in Rome, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, raised the situation with Pope Francis and mentioned it in news conferences and during his first homily. He even said that Gaza was an “open prison” — a statement that angered Israelis who have been blindly complacent for so long that they were unable to hear advice even from their friends.

The carefully planned attacks on Saturday produced atrocities that cannot be denied or justified. No righteous cause excuses the slaughter of innocents on the other side. But they also revealed a basic truth: People always want to be free of occupation and of colonial foreign settlements on their land.

Even though it is lower than before, support for the two-state solution among both Israelis and Palestinians is higher than for any other alternative. But having a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel requires recognition by the United Nations. The United States has repeatedly wielded its veto against the very same issue to which it pays lip service.

The U.N. Is Powerless to Help Gaza. That’s How the U.S. Wants It.
By Jon Schwarz

The Security Council has 15 countries. Ten are rotating members, elected by the U.N. General Assembly and serving on the council for a period of two years. Five are permanent members: the U.S., Russia, China, France, and the U.K. If any of the permanent members vetoes a resolution, it will not pass, no matter how many votes are in favor. This means that any of the permanent members can veto any action by the Security Council.

The U.N.’s charter gives the Security Council “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” — that is, anything involving war.

The structure of the Security Council was negotiated in San Francisco in 1945. The fights over it were so vociferous that the room where it took place was nicknamed “Madison Square Garden.”

The strife was straightforward. The five countries that would become the Security Council’s permanent members were essentially the victors in World War II. (China’s seat was held by Taiwan until 1971.) They all believed that their possession of exclusive veto power was a super idea, while other countries could not muster the same enthusiasm.

To the victors went the spoils. Democratic Sen. Thomas Connally of Texas was one of the main U.S. representatives in San Francisco. He straightforwardly explained that the U.S. would kill the U.N. completely rather than give up its own proposed veto power. “You may, if you wish, go home from this conference and say that you have defeated the veto,” said Connally, while tearing up a copy of a draft of the U.N. charter. “But what will be your answer when you are asked, ‘Where is the charter?’”

Francis Wilcox, a U.S. State Department official, later wrote an unusually honest academic article on what had happened. The veto was the issue “that raised the most controversy,” Wilcox explained, because it “reinforced the special position of the permanent members.” And not just that — they could also veto any attempts to amend the U.N. charter to take away their veto, thus guaranteeing that “their special position could not be changed.” For many Americans there, the veto was “defective because it would permit Russia, Great Britain, China, and France to block action in the Council,” yet “to many of those people its main virtue lies in the fact that it also gives the United States that same veto.”

The Security Council veto was used solely by the Soviet Union from the U.N.’s founding in 1945 until October 1956. Wonderfully enough, this streak was finally broken when the U.K. and France vetoed an American draft resolution calling on Israel to halt its attack on Egypt during the Suez Crisis.

Things have changed a great deal since then. The first U.S. veto to protect Israel occurred in 1972. Since then, the U.S. has vetoed about four dozen more resolutions criticizing Israel. In the decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has similarly vetoed numerous resolutions to protect its own client state, Syria, as well as itself concerning Ukraine.

In other words, since the U.N.’s founding, it has largely always been a debating society because the world’s most powerful countries, led by the U.S., want it that way.

How the World Lost Faith in the UN
By Richard Gowan

Without unified support from the Security Council, Guterres and the UN Secretariat, which has day-to-day oversight of UN peace operations, have struggled to keep the organization’s conflict management work on track. In trouble spots such as Sudan, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, governments and warring parties have refused to work with UN mediators or demanded the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers, conscious that they are unlikely to face any real penalties for doing so. The organization has managed to maintain its humanitarian presence in places such as Afghanistan, but it faces growing shortfalls in funding for this work as many Western donors trim their aid budgets while spending considerable sums on military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

Depending on the length and scope of the war between Israel and Hamas, the UN’s presence in the region may expand or shrink. If hostilities end relatively quickly, UN relief agencies will play a significant role in recovery efforts. In one post-conflict scenario that has reportedly been floated as a possibility by U.S. and Israeli officials, the UN could be asked to administer Gaza after the Israeli military clears Hamas from the territory.

The Reluctant Peacemaker
By Colum Lynch

In the days after Putin ordered troops into Ukraine in late February, Guterres appeared stunned by the Russian action, and he delivered some of his clearest and most unambiguous denunciations of a permanent member of the Security Council, characterizing the military intervention as a flagrant and illegal act of aggression against a U.N. member state and a direct threat to the U.N. Charter.

During his visit to Moscow, Guterres didn’t mince words, rebuking the Russian leadership by declaring, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a violation of its territorial integrity and against the Charter of the United Nations.”

“There is one thing that is true and obvious, and that no arguments can change,” he added at a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “We have not Ukrainian troops in the territory of the Russian Federation, but we have Russian troops in the territory of [Ukraine].”

On April 15, a group of more than 200 former U.N. officials wrote a letter to Guterres acknowledging his “appeals to stop the conflict,” but urging him to go further, according to a copy of the letter, which was first reported by the Guardian.

“We want to see a clear strategy to re-establish peace, starting with a provisional ceasefire, and the use of the UN’s capacity for good offices, mediation and conflict-resolution,” according to the joint letter, which was obtained by Foreign Policy. “We therefore implore you to intensify your personal efforts, deploying all capabilities at your disposal and acting upon lessons learnt from previous conflicts, for the cessation of hostilities and conflict resolution through peaceful means.”

“This is the raison d’être of the United Nations, which is being tested again in this case,” the letter continues. “We are horrified at the alternative, the UN becoming increasingly irrelevant and, eventually, succumbing to the fate of its predecessor, the League of Nations.”

Guterres’s low-profile diplomatic role in the weeks leading up to the war has reinforced the perception that the stature of the U.N. secretary-general role has been diminished during the past decade, according to Gerard Araud, a former French ambassador to the United Nations. Guterres and his predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, have been “less active and certainly less prestigious than some of their predecessors,” he said, which raises the question: “Where is the U.N.?”

UN chief says people are looking to leaders for action and a way out of the current global ‘mess’
By Edith M. Lederer

Insisting that international cooperation is critical, the United Nations chief delivered a dire warning to leaders from across the world Tuesday, declaring that the planet is becoming unhinged with mounting global challenges and geopolitical tensions — and warning that “we seem incapable of coming together to respond.”

“The world has changed. Our institutions have not,” Guterres said before the opening of the U.N. General Assembly’s General Debate. “We cannot effectively address problems as they are if institutions don’t reflect the world as it is. Instead of solving problems, they risk becoming part of the problem.”

Guterres opened his state-of-the-world address using the massive rainfall and dam collapses in the Libyan city of Derna as “a sad snapshot of the state of our world.” Thousands of people lost their lives — victims of years of conflict, climate chaos, leaders near and far who failed to restore peace, and all that “indifference.”

U.N. Says Israel-Gaza War Is Deadliest Ever for Its Personnel
By Nick Cumming-Bruce

The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, said on Monday that 89 employees of the U.N. agency aiding Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, had been killed in Gaza in the month of war between Israel and Hamas.

That is more “than in any comparable period in the history of our organization,” he told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York, adding that many of the employees had been killed with members of their family. The United Nations employs large numbers of Palestinians in Gaza, where almost half the working-age population is unemployed.

On Sunday, the leaders of United Nations agencies and other humanitarian groups issued a joint statement calling for an immediate cease-fire, saying, “Enough is enough. This must stop now.”

In the statement, they expressed “shock and horror” at the loss of life and called for the immediate release of hostages taken during the Hamas attacks in Israel last month. They noted that “more than 100 attacks against health care” had been reported and that “scores of aid workers” had been killed since the attacks and Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza.

Of the loss of U.N. staff members, Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for UNRWA, said: “The number goes up every day.”

“They are killed in the north, the middle and the south, men and women, some at home, some at displacement shelters, some bringing refugees to the shelters,” she added.

One staff member was killed as he waited in line for bread, she said, and another was killed at home with his wife and eight children. Most worked in the agency’s schools in Gaza, she said.

The Divided Diplomat
By Zachariah Mampilly

In September 1948, Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish count serving as the UN mediator for Palestine, was shot dead on the streets of Jerusalem by the Stern Gang, a Zionist terror outfit. His American deputy, Ralph Bunche, was quickly named as his replacement. Over the next 11 months, Bunche, who had planned to be in Bernadotte’s motorcade that fateful day but was absent because of a delayed flight, painstakingly negotiated an armistice between the belligerents. It was a brilliant achievement. He returned to a ticker-tape parade in New York City, and the mayor of Los Angeles declared July 17 “Ralph Bunche Day.” In 1950, Bunche won the Nobel Peace Prize, the first Black person in any field to be so honored, and that same year, Ebony featured him on its cover with the headline “America’s Most Honored Negro.” In 1963, President Lyndon Johnson awarded Bunche the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

His name is almost never included in the pantheon of American civil rights leaders. Nor is his name celebrated in the former European colonies of Africa and Asia, many of whose founding fathers once relied on him to champion their causes. Even his signature accomplishments—the Arab-Israeli armistice agreement and the founding of the UN peacekeeping force—are seldom acknowledged.

How did Bunche go from being “absolutely indispensable”—as Arthur Goldberg, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, described him in 1966—to largely unknown? Part of the answer is that his achievements have aged badly. The Israelis and the Palestinians are even further from peace than they were in the 1940s.

Charged with navigating some of the thorniest crises of the time, Bunche, in Raustiala’s favorable assessment, combined “optimism and realism” to achieve considerable success. Bunche’s diplomatic accomplishments alone are impressive enough to justify studying him today. But his enduring relevance lies in his role in the creation and operation of the liberal international order. Like so many U.S. strategists in the postwar era, Bunche strove to reconcile his country’s interests with his liberal internationalist values. Although he did not always succeed, these dueling impulses defined his career—just as they have continued to define U.S. foreign policy in the decades after he left his mark.

In 1928, 25 years old and having received his master’s degree, he began his doctoral studies in political science at Harvard while serving as a professor and founding head of Howard University’s department of political science.

Bunche’s dissertation examined the performance of the mandate system of the League of Nations. The mandate system, which, after World War I, assigned colonies from the defeated powers to the Western victors for administration, was devised amid a surge of global anticolonial nationalism. Bunche compared lands the French had long ruled with those it had recently acquired under the League of Nations’ auspices, arguing that the mandate system, from the perspective of its subjects, was indistinguishable from formal empire. His dissertation went on to win multiple prizes at Harvard and foreshadowed Bunche’s later role in developing the UN Trusteeship Council as a vehicle for shepherding African colonies toward independence.

Congo had been brutally misruled by Belgium for over 70 years when the winds of change blew through in the late 1950s. Belgium had little choice but to concede. After Congo’s independence in 1960, however, the Belgian government fomented the secession of the mineral-rich Katanga Province to ensure its continued control over Congo’s vast resources. This was a blatant violation of the new nation’s sovereignty. The government of Patrice Lumumba, the prime minister of Congo, appealed to both the UN and the Eisenhower administration for help.

Neither party responded in the way Lumumba imagined. The UN set up a massive peacekeeping operation, which Bunche led. But despite the Belgian government’s support for the secessionists, Bunche and his boss, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, regarded the conflict as a purely domestic dispute and refused to use the UN force to bring Katanga back into the fold. The United States, for its part, so feared Soviet encroachment in Africa that after Lumumba appealed to Moscow for help in uniting his country, the CIA sought to assassinate him. Nor did the UN get involved as Lumumba was arrested and killed with Belgian and U.S. complicity. His body was dissolved in sulfuric acid, and the remains—teeth and finger bones—were taken by a Belgian police officer charged with disposing of the corpse. The remains would not be returned to Congo until May 2022. Lumumba’s army chief, Joseph Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko), orchestrated a coup and proceeded to misgovern the country until his overthrow in 1997, all while remaining a close ally of the United States.

Although Bunche had spent his career as an academic championing African independence, his attitude toward the continent changed after he became a diplomat. As with his assessment of Palestinian leaders, whom he compared in his diary to “children,” he tended to regard Africa’s independence leaders with suspicion bordering on contempt. In 1960, for example, he privately denounced Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah as an “unprincipled demagogue.” Bunche regarded Lumumba as “a madman,” a “Congolese ogre,” a “jungle demagogue,” and an “utterly maniacal child.” For Raustiala, Bunche’s handling of the Congo crisis is evidence of his pragmatism when negotiating between the United States and the Soviet Union: “It was his skill at finding agreement,” Raustiala writes, “that ultimately turned Ralph Bunche from a successful but largely anonymous diplomat into a national and even global star.” But the episode also reveals why Bunche was criticized as a lackey of the United States by many of the same people he hoped would view him as a fair, if critical, ally. Rather than serving as evidence of his evenhandedness, Bunche’s assessment of Lumumba echoed that of U.S. Undersecretary of State Douglas Dillon, who, after meeting Lumumba, dismissed him as “irrational” and “almost psychotic.”

Bunche was, on the one hand, a committed internationalist and, on the other, a patriotic American seeking to prove that Black Americans were integral to the country’s success. In Congo and elsewhere, reflecting the United States’ common tendency to operate against its stated values, Bunche too often appeared to sacrifice his own beliefs and those of the UN in the interest of his home country.

The great risk for those who aim to be champions of compromise is that they may, in the end, become compromised themselves. For Bunche, and many others who have followed in his footsteps, the soaring rhetoric and ambition that characterizes liberal global institutions could never be squared with the stark reality of power politics driven by the national interests that shape their actual behavior.

Henry Kissinger at 100: A contradictory legacy of peace and terror
By Stephen Kinzer

Kissinger guided US foreign policy from 1969 to 1977, first as President Nixon’s national security advisor and then as secretary of state. He skillfully managed alliances and daringly rearranged the world’s political cartography. His love of order, however, blinded him to what “order” means in many countries outside Europe. He never hesitated to support leaders who pledged loyalty to Washington, no matter how grotesque their excesses. By his own admission, he failed to understand the rising Third World nationalism that shaped his era.

“I am not interested in, nor do I know anything about, the southern portion of the world from the Pyrenees on down,” he acknowledged while attending a reception at a South American embassy in 1969. When a Chilean diplomat accused him of not understanding Chile, he replied, “No, and I don’t care. Nothing important can come from the south. The axis of history starts in Moscow, goes to Bonn, crosses over to Washington and then to Tokyo. What happens in the south is of no importance.”

This stark dichotomy — master of great-power diplomacy but clueless about much of the world — shapes Kissinger’s legacy. His great gift, much lacking in Washington today, was to see the world as it is, rather than through the lens of political platitudes. Even now, he remains far more insightful than any of our leaders on great matters like Russia-Ukraine, China-Taiwan, and the future of Europe.

Most lamentable about Kissinger was his failure to extend his realistic vision beyond what he called “the axis of history.” He considered protest movements to be threats to global stability. This led him to support campaigns of murderous repression in several countries. He rejected the idea that the United States should respect the choices of others. In 1973 he promoted a coup against President Salvador Allende of Chile with succinct reasoning: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people.”

The case against Kissinger is weighty. Supporting the Chile coup, which imposed dictatorship on a country with one of the hemisphere’s oldest democracies, would be just one item. In 1971 Kissinger encouraged Pakistan to embark on a campaign against Hindu separatists that US diplomats told him at the time was genocide and “a reign of terror.” Two years later he helped President Nixon secretly bomb Cambodia. Then he gave Indonesia’s leader the go-ahead for a fierce campaign against separatists on the island of New Guinea.

Kissinger must find it maddening that some historians harp on his actions in countries he considers unimportant. He would much rather be judged by his key role in forging détente with the Soviet Union and engagement with China, which were among the greatest diplomatic triumphs of the Cold War. As for Vietnam, the verdict remains split. Some admire Kissinger’s dogged pursuit of “peace with honor,” including more than 60 negotiating sessions with his Vietnamese counterpart. Others say he prolonged and intensified the war, only to settle in 1973 for a deal that he might have had four years earlier.

The U.S. Is Not an Indispensable Peacemaker
By Trita Parsi

There was a time when all roads to peace went through Washington. From the 1978 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt brokered by President Jimmy Carter to the 1993 Oslo Accords signed on the White House lawn to Senator George Mitchell’s Good Friday Agreement that ended the fighting in Northern Ireland in 1998, America was the indispensable nation for peacemaking. To Paul Nitze, a longtime diplomat and Washington insider, “making evident its qualifications as an honest broker” was central to America’s influence after the end of the Cold War.

But over the years, as America’s foreign policy became more militarized and as sustaining the so-called rules-based order increasingly meant that the United States put itself above all rules, America appears to have given up on the virtues of honest peacemaking.

We deliberately chose a different path. America increasingly prides itself on not being an impartial mediator. We abhor neutrality. We strive to take sides in order to be “on the right side of history” since we view statecraft as a cosmic battle between good and evil rather than the pragmatic management of conflict where peace inevitably comes at the expense of some justice.

This has perhaps been most evident in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but is now increasingly defining America’s general posture. In 2000, when Madeleine Albright defended the Clinton administration’s refusal to veto a U.N. Security Council Resolution condemning the excessive use of force against Palestinians, she cited the need for the United States to be seen as an “honest broker.” But since then, the United States has vetoed 12 Security Council resolutions expressing criticisms of Israel — so much for neutrality.

As the Ukraine crisis has shown, America has been immensely effective in mobilizing the West but hopelessly clueless in inspiring the global south. While the Western nations wanted the United States to rally them to defend Ukraine, the global south was looking for leadership to bring peace to Ukraine — of which the United States has offered little to none.

In a multipolar world, shared responsibility for security can be a virtue that reduces the burden on Americans without increasing threats to U.S. interests. It is not security that we would give up, but the illusion that we are — and have to be — in control of developments far away. For too long, Americans have been told that if we do not dominate, the world will descend into chaos. In reality, as the Chinese mediation has shown, other powers are likely to step up to shoulder the burden of security and peacemaking.

The greatest threat to our own security and reputation is if we stand in the way of a world where others have a stake in peace, if we become a nation that doesn’t just put diplomacy last but also dismisses those who seek to put diplomacy first.

Too often, military defense comes off as offense
By Stephen Kinzer

Diplomacy dictates that differences between countries should be resolved through negotiation and compromise. Human nature, however, makes it difficult for people to see the world from an adversary’s perspective. The Scottish poet Robert Burns wished that were not true: “O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!” That “giftie” has not yet arrived. People instinctively believe that they see the world clearly and that other views are wrong.

The Longest Wars
By George Packer

One of the most celebrated diplomats of his generation, Richard Holbrooke helped normalize U.S. relations with China; served as U.S. ambassador to a newly reunified Germany and then to the United Nations; and, most famously, negotiated the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the war in Bosnia. But he began and ended his career struggling with how to resolve two American wars: first in Vietnam, then in Afghanistan.

In 1963, Holbrooke was a 22-year-old U.S. Foreign Service officer on his first diplomatic posting, to South Vietnam. The State Department detailed Holbrooke to the U.S. Agency for International Development in Saigon and a small, unconventional entity called Rural Affairs. It was an odd place for a young diplomat to land—unheard of, really. Holbrooke and a colleague were going to be the first Foreign Service officers sent into the field as aid workers. The agency would put them out among peasants in Vietcong strongholds where the war was being fought and have them hand out bulgur wheat, cement, fertilizer, and barbed wire. As bachelors, they were considered relatively expendable. It was an early experiment in counterinsurgency.

Holbrooke was a good writer, never better than in his youth. He wrote hundreds of letters. Let him tell it.

My job as civilian advisor to the province chief and overseer of the aid program here puts me continually in the position of advocate of plans and projects which would seek to make a reality out of the clichés that everyone pays lip service to. I don’t mind this (actually enjoy it) but it is sometimes tiring to try to get the Vietnamese to do something which is, after all, for their own good (or so we think . . .). On the other hand, when I step back just a little to look at everything, it seems to me that the Vietnamese have taken our overbearing presence rather well over the last few years. We arrive here with no knowledge of the country or of the situation and immediately start giving advice, some of which we can really turn almost into orders because of the materials and money and transportation that we fully control. I think that no American would stand for such a deep and continuing interference in our affairs, even if it appeared that survival was at stake. Yet the Vietnamese accept it, and with rather good grace.

I have my doubts, getting deeper and deeper, about our basic approach here. Recent discussions and hints I have got from various sources would indicate that out of the McNamara visits came added weight for the exponents of Victory through Air Power—the Air Force, and the armed helicopters. I feel that this is a terrible step, both morally and tactically. Of course, it would never do to actually attack policy on moral grounds in the American community here, which is a basically tough and getting tougher community (“War is hell,” justifies any horror). However, the decision to fight the VC from the air can be quite easily attacked on the simple grounds of stupidity (or as Talleyrand once said, “Sir, it is worse than a crime, it is a blunder”). The VC, I am convinced, often fire on our planes merely to draw artillery and air destruction down upon hamlets. This may sound amazing, but it is a generally accepted fact, and the reason for it that once we have committed such an act, the VC can make great propaganda hay out of it.

So, anyway, if by air power we mean to win this war, thousands of Vietnamese will die and the enemy will resist far longer; we will be making a grave mistake and I am not happy about it. Of course the irony of the whole thing is overwhelming, if one is ever stupid enough to stop and think about it. Today, in Vietnam, we are using by far worse weapons and worse—less humane—tactics than the enemy. I have no doubt at all that we kill more civilians than the VC, and with what might generally be admitted are less selective, less “right” tactics. I suppose that we are on the right side in the long run here. There is no doubt in my mind that if we lose here we will be fighting this war in other countries in Latin America and Asia within a few years. But right now, we are fighting wrong, and it hurts. In the short run terms, we really should be on the other side. Take away the ties to Hanoi and Peking and the VC are fighting for the things we should always be fighting for in the world. Instead we continue to defend a class of haves which has not yet shown its real ability to understand that the have-nots must be brought into the nation. Let that be shown, and perhaps there will be an improvement in the situation, not of our making, but to our benefit.

Counterinsurgency isn’t for everyone—it’s a sophisticated taste. In Vietnam it attracted the idealists. This attraction wasn’t what got Americans into the war. We fell into Vietnam and kept on sinking out of a mistaken belief that the policy of containment required us to stake our security and credibility on not losing another square mile of Asia to communism even though the enemy were nationalists. But counterinsurgency was part of the lure. It was what kept Holbrooke and Americans like him there.

We prefer our wars quick and decisive, concluding with a surrender ceremony, and we like firepower more than we want to admit, while counterinsurgency requires supreme restraint. Its apostles in Vietnam used to say, “The best weapon for killing is a knife. If you can’t use a knife, then a gun. The worst weapon is airpower.” Counterinsurgency is, according to the experts, 80 percent political. We spend our time on American charts and plans and tasks, as if the solution to another country’s internal conflict is to get our own bureaucracy right. And maybe we don’t take the politics of other people seriously. It comes down to the power of our belief in ourselves. If we are good—and are we not good?—then we won’t need to force other people to do what we want. They will know us by our deeds, and they will want for themselves what we want for them.

There was a Peanuts comic strip that circulated among Holbrooke and his friends in Vietnam. Charlie Brown’s baseball team has just gotten slaughtered, 184–0. “I don’t understand it,” Charlie Brown says. “How can we lose when we’re so sincere?!”

Years later, Holbrooke would describe an almost inevitable sequence of doubt and disillusionment that took place in the minds of certain Americans in Vietnam. First, they would begin to question official assessments of the war. Then, they would start to question U.S. tactics, and then, the strategy.

By 1967, Holbrooke had entered the fourth and final stage of doubt. He began to question the American commitment in Vietnam. He had returned home and taken a position as a senior aide to Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach. Nine thousand miles away from Vietnam, he could see that the true threat was on the home front, that the war was tearing his country apart. He was coming to the conclusion that the United States could never win, at least not on terms that Americans would accept. But for the few doves in government, that didn’t mean, “Let’s get the hell out of Vietnam.” It meant, “What the hell do we do now?” That was about as far as skepticism could take someone while he was still inside. The process of disenchantment was excruciatingly slow. Later on, people would backdate their moment of truth, their long-deferred encounter with the glaringly obvious. This was often inadvertent—they honestly couldn’t believe that they were so wrong for so many years.

Government service tends to turn written prose to fog and mud because it’s far better to say nothing intelligible than to make a mistake. Not in the case of Holbrooke. In 17 pages, he laid out the strategic problem by turning to history:

Hanoi uses time the way the Russians used terrain before Napoleon’s advance on Moscow, always retreating, losing every battle, but eventually creating conditions in which the enemy can no longer function. For Napoleon it was his long supply lines and the cold Russian winter; Hanoi hopes that for us it will be the mounting dissension, impatience, and frustration caused by a protracted war without fronts or other visible signs of success; a growing need to choose between guns and butter; and an increasing American repugnance at finding, for the first time, their own country cast as “the heavy” with massive fire power brought to bear against a “small Asian nation.”

North Vietnam couldn’t defeat half a million American troops, but it could drain the American public of the will to go on fighting. So Johnson had two choices. He could turn all of North and South Vietnam along with parts of Cambodia and Laos into a free-fire zone and try to knock out the enemy before dissent at home grew too strong. Or he could win back the center at home, and thus more time—not with patriotic slogans and false hopes, but by reducing the United States’ commitment. The first option was unlikely to work, because Hanoi’s will to fight was inexhaustible. The second option might work, but it would require several steps.

Johnson should change the United States’ objective—from victory over communism to a South Vietnamese government that could survive and deal with an ongoing communist threat. The United States should demand more of the South Vietnamese, militarily and politically. It should look to its own moral values and stop using airpower and artillery that killed large numbers of civilians or turned them into refugees in order to eliminate a few Vietcong: “Too many people are appalled by the brutality of the war. They feel that to fight a war of insurgency with vastly superior fire power is immoral and counter-productive. . . . Some feeling (more abroad than in the United States) is based on a feeling that the United States is calloused where non-whites are concerned.” And Johnson should announce a bombing halt over most of North Vietnam, which could lead to negotiations. “Time is the crucial element at this stage of our involvement in Viet-Nam,” Holbrooke concluded. “If we can’t speed up the tortoise of demonstrable success in the field we must concentrate on slowing down the hare of dissent at home.”

Remembering Richard Holbrooke
By Jacob Heilbrunn

Yet despite the disastrous conduct of the war he had witnessed firsthand, Holbrooke never concluded, as George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign slogan had it, that the moment had arrived for America to come home.

On the contrary, by the 1990s Holbrooke was one of the premier liberal hawks during the Serbian onslaught against Bosnia, which included herding Muslims into camps like Omarska. It wasn’t so much that he had views about foreign policy. He had convictions. He announced in Foreign Affairs that Bosnia was “the greatest collective security failure of the West since the 1930s,” extremely strong words from an official serving in the Clinton State Department. When it came to Kosovo, the New York Times columnist Roger Cohen writes that despite his years of conversations with Slobodan Milosevic, Holbrooke had no hesitation about supporting military action: “When Milosevic balked, NATO bombed — and just over a year later Milosevic would be ousted and make his way to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.” Cohen adds about Holbrooke, “I have no doubt that the free and stable Europe he worked so tirelessly to build was also his own American retort to the horrors of Auschwitz and Omarska.”

What none of the contributors to this volume mention, however, is that the efficacy of air power in the Balkans led inexorably to the delusive belief that it would be a simple matter to wage war in Iraq. It is an unfortunate omission. Holbrooke was quite explicit in arguing during the run-up to the war that while Saddam Hussein should be removed by a coalition of powers, George W. Bush was essentially on the right path. Speaking on “Charlie Rose” in September 2002, for example, he said the president had ended the disarray of that summer with “a beautifully crafted, beautifully delivered speech a week ago at the U.N., where he didn’t change his positions — an inch.” He continued: “I think Saddam Hussein is far and away the most dangerous person in leadership in the world today, and removing him, which is not related to Sept. 11, is a legitimate goal, just as removing Milosevic was a legitimate goal.” Not quite. America had responded to Serbian aggression. The Iraq conflict, by contrast, was a preventive war. Isn’t it sometimes a bit too easy to slide from liberal moralism about human rights violations to endorsing the use of American military force abroad?

Cluster Bombs and the Contradictions of Liberalism
By Stephen M. Walt

Liberalism begins with the claim that all human beings possess certain natural rights, which should not be infringed upon under any circumstances. To preserve these rights while protecting us from each other, liberals believe governments should be accountable to their citizens (typically through free, fair, and regular elections); constrained by the rule of law; and that citizens should be free to speak, worship, and think as they wish, provided that exercising these rights does not harm others. For the record: I like these principles as much as anyone, and I’m glad I live in a country where they are (mostly) intact.

For liberals, the only legitimate governments are those that subscribe to these principles, even though no government does so perfectly. When they turn to foreign policy, therefore, liberals tend to divide the world into good states (those with legitimate orders based on liberal principles) and bad states (just about everything else) and blame most if not all the world’s problems on the latter. They believe that if every country were a well-established liberal democracy, conflicts of interest would fade into insignificance and the scourge of war would disappear. Liberals also place considerable weight on the importance of norms and institutions—which underpin the vaunted rules-based order—and frequently accuse non-liberal states of violating them with callous disregard.

This view of international affairs is undeniably appealing. Instead of seeing relations between states as a relentless struggle for power and position, liberalism offers a seductive vision of forward progress, moral clarity, and a positive program for action. It allows Americans (and their closest allies) to tell themselves that what’s good for them will be good for everyone else as well. Just keep enlarging the liberal order and eventually perpetual peace will emerge in an increasingly prosperous and just world.

Because they are founded on the claim that every human being everywhere has certain inalienable rights, liberal states tend to be crusaders who see foreign policy as an all-or-nothing struggle between good and evil. George W. Bush trumpeted this view in his second inaugural address, when he proclaimed that the ultimate goal of American foreign policy was “ending tyranny in our world.” Why was this necessary? Because “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” If put into practice, however, this policy would guarantee unending conflict with countries that have different traditions, values, and political systems. These convictions can also encourage a dangerous overconfidence: If one is fighting on the side of the angels and swimming with the tides of history, it is easy to assume that victory is inevitable and won’t be that hard to achieve.

Moreover, if world politics is a Manichean clash between good and evil with humanity’s future in the balance, there are no limits on where you must be willing to fight and little reason to act with restraint. As Sen. Barry Goldwater put it in his unsuccessful campaign for president in 1964: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. … Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

If the (evil) enemy proves more resilient than expected and victory does not come quickly, then self-proclaimed liberals will begin to embrace policies or partners that they might shun in better times. George W. Bush may have extolled the virtues of liberty, but his administration also tortured prisoners.

Politics is the art of the possible, of course, and sometimes moral convictions must be compromised to achieve larger aims. The United States allied with Stalinist Russia to defeat Nazi Germany, for example, and this sort of ethical expediency is widespread. As Alexander Downes shows in his exhaustive study of civilian targeting, democracies are often just as willing to kill civilians as their authoritarian counterparts, and to do so deliberately. The British waged a brutal counterinsurgency campaign during the Second Boer War, the Allied blockade in World War I starved Germany’s civilian population, and the United States and Great Britain purposely bombed civilian targets during World War II (including the use of two atomic bombs on Japan). The United States later dropped nearly 6 million tons of bombs on Vietnam during the war there (roughly three times what it had dropped on Germany and Japan during World War II), including deliberate attacks on Vietnamese cities, and its “sanctions-happy” foreign policy has harmed civilians in Syria, Iran, and elsewhere. And when liberal states (or their allies) commit war crimes or atrocities, often their first instinct is to cover them up and deny responsibility.

There Once Was a President Who Hated War
By Stephen M. Walt

On Aug. 14, 1936—83 years ago—FDR gave a speech at Chautauqua in upstate New York, fulfilling a promise he had made at his inauguration in 1933. It is a remarkable speech, where FDR lays out his thoughts on the proper American approach to international affairs. He explains his “good neighbor” policy toward Latin America, along with his belief that although a more liberal international trade may not prevent war, “without a more liberal international trade, war is a natural sequence.”

For me, the most remarkable feature of this speech is Roosevelt’s blunt, vivid, and passionate denunciation of war, expressed with a candor that is almost entirely absent from political discourse today. After making it clear that “we are not isolationists, except insofar as we seek to isolate ourselves completely from war,” he acknowledges that “so long as war exists on Earth, there will be some danger that even the nation which most ardently desires peace may be drawn into war.”

But then he goes on:

“I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen 200 limping, exhausted men come out of line—the survivors of a regiment of 1,000 that went forward 48 hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.”

Roosevelt then reminds his listeners that war can result from many causes (including, in a passage that surely speaks to us today, “political fanaticisms in which are intertwined race hatreds”). He hopes to preserve U.S. neutrality should conflict erupt elsewhere and warns against the few selfish men who would seek to embroil the country in war solely to reap war profits. To make sure the country does not foolishly choose profits over peace, he calls for the “meditation, the prayer, and the positive support of the people of America who go along with us in seeking peace.”

Yet, for all that, FDR leaves no doubt that the American people will defend themselves and their interests if war is forced on them. In his closing paragraph, he declares: “If there are remoter nations that wish us not good but ill, they know that we are strong; they know that we can and will defend ourselves and defend our neighborhood.” And it is precisely what Roosevelt ultimately did.

Look, you don’t have to tell a realist like me that we live in an imperfect world and that perpetual peace is a pipe dream. But the difficulty of the task is precisely why it merits serious attention. Yet instead of embracing peace as a virtue, U.S. politicians go to great lengths to show how tough they are and how ready they are to send Americans into harm’s way in order to take out some alleged enemy. But how often do they talk about trying to understand the complex origins of most contemporary conflicts? How often do they try to empathize with the United States’ adversaries, not in order to agree with them but so as to understand their position and to figure out a way to change their behavior without resorting to threats, coercion, or violence? How often do prominent politicians say, as Roosevelt did, that they “hate war”?

War is bad for business (unless you’re Boeing or Lockheed Martin), and it tends to elevate people who are good at manipulating violence but not so good at building up institutions, communities, or companies. When you’re already on top of the world, encouraging the use of force isn’t prudent; it’s dumb. Peace, in short, is almost always in America’s strategic interest.

In Roosevelt’s era, Americans were still reluctant to “go abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” but they fought with unexpected ferocity when attacked. They were slow to anger but united in response. The situation today is the exact opposite—they are quick on the trigger provided that none of them have to do very much once the bullets are flying. Instead of seeing war as a tragic necessity that is to be avoided if at all possible, Americans regard it as a rather sanitary “policy option” that takes place in countries most of them cannot locate and is conducted primarily by drones, aircraft, and volunteers. Americans fight all the time but without clear purpose or firm resolve. As one would expect, they usually lose, although others often pay a much larger price than they do.

There are faint signs that this situation is changing, after nearly 25 years of mostly failed adventures abroad. The foreign-policy elite may have acquired a certain addiction to war, but longtime addicts sometimes decide to turn their lives around and kick the habit.

Can we give ‘peace’ a chance again?
By Michele L. Norris

I was a child of the ’60s and ’70s, which meant I grew up surrounded by peace signs. Stoked by the Summer of Love counterculture, longhair hippie sit-ins, Vietnam and other protests, that little circle with an upside-down tree was everywhere.

The symbol was on buttons, bumper stickers, T-shirts and black-light posters that glowed when you turned the regular lights down low. The word was embroidered on our jeans, dangled from our earrings, emblazoned in cement with rainbow-colored graffiti. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were asking the world to “Give Peace a Chance.” Marvin Gaye was asking, “What’s going on?” Cat Stevens was singing about the peace train.

Sure, a lot of that was corny and commercial and performative, but the word “peace” was in constant rotation. It was in the air we breathed. No matter how you spelled or pronounced the word, that little symbol was something everyone understood. And believed in.

The circular peace sign was conceived and designed by British textile designer Gerald Holtom in 1958 as a symbol for a Ban the Bomb protest that started in London’s Trafalgar Square. You’ve probably seen the semaphore system where years ago people in uniform waved handheld flags to convey messages.

Holtom used the semaphores for N (two arms down at an acute angle) and D (one arm straight up in the air) to create a circular symbol promoting nuclear disarmament. The signs became pins, and then banners. As the peace marches spread widely, so did that symbol. By the time the United States stepped fully into the war in Vietnam, it was ubiquitous.

We tend to think of “the peace movement” through the narrow lens of the American experience, but there was a period after World War II when massive peace marches happened on a regular basis all over the world, spurred by Cold War fears and the aftermath of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

If you slapped a peace sign on your car or jacket lapel, most people would see it as a nod to nostalgia. Yet what a hopeful nod. What if we started committing ourselves to elevating and celebrating the peacemakers among us?

The Astonishing Success of Peacekeeping
By Barbara F. Walter, Lise Morjé Howard, and V. Page Fortna

Many Americans believe that peacekeeping is ineffective at best and harmful at worst. They remember peacekeepers leaving at the first sign of trouble in Rwanda or standing inert as the Serbian army massacred Muslim civilians in Bosnia. They recall images of U.S. soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Every year, the Gallup organization asks Americans whether they think the United Nations is doing a good or bad job of trying to solve the problems it faces, and for the last 19 years, a majority of those sampled have given the organization a thumbs-down.

These negative stories have been used to help justify the United States’ deep cuts to the UN’s peacekeeping budget. From 2015 to 2018, U.S. financial support for peacekeeping fell by 40 percent. The United States is the largest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, and its cuts have reduced the overall budget from $8.3 billion to $6.4 billion, curtailing the organization’s ability to act.

Decades of academic research has demonstrated that peacekeeping not only works at stopping conflicts but works better than anything else experts know. Peacekeeping is effective at resolving civil wars, reducing violence during wars, preventing wars from recurring, and rebuilding state institutions. It succeeds at protecting civilian lives and reducing sexual and gender-based violence. And it does all this at a very low cost, especially compared to counterinsurgency campaigns—peacekeeping’s closest cousin among forms of intervention.

Researchers have found that the UN Security Council tends to send peacekeepers to the civil conflicts where peace is hardest to establish and keep—that is, conflicts with more violence than average, where levels of mistrust are highest, and where poverty and poor governance make maintaining a stable peace least likely. Recent research has also found that UN peacekeepers are sent not just to active war zones but to the frontlines. This suggests that, if anything, current empirical studies have probably underestimated just how effective peacekeeping operations can be.

Peacekeeping is also inexpensive. The United States has spent over $2.1 trillion on overseas contingency operations and Department of Defense appropriations since September 11. By contrast, it allocated less than $1.5 billion to the UN’s peacekeeping budget in 2021—one-fourth of what New York City spends on its police department per year. Imagine what the UN could do if it had more funding and the full support of its member states. A major academic study in 2019 calculated that between 2001 and 2013, the UN could have significantly cut violence in four to five major conflicts if the world had spent more on peacekeeping and provided existing operations with stronger mandates.

Since the end of the Cold War, the UN has attempted to end 16 civil wars by deploying complex peacekeeping missions. Of those 16 missions, 11 successfully executed on their mandates, and none of the 11 countries has returned to civil war. The general public tends to vividly remember failed missions—such as when peacekeepers brought cholera to Haiti—but although those cases are horrific and tragic, they are not the norm. Success stories, such as those in Cambodia, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Liberia, Namibia, and Timor-Leste, are less newsworthy but more typical. In each of these cases, peacekeepers helped stabilize a state torn apart by violence, stayed as leaders transitioned to nonviolent politics, and then departed. Today, none of these countries are perfect democracies, but they are not locked in civil war.

Sierra Leone provides a case in point. The country’s brutal civil conflict ended after UN peacekeepers were sent from 1999 to 2005 to help implement a negotiated peace agreement. The UN’s “blue helmets” helped disarm 75,000 combatants, bringing stability to the formerly war-torn country. Timor-Leste is another good example. The country’s first elections brought mass violence during which 70 percent of the country’s physical infrastructure was destroyed, including the entire electric grid and almost all homes. Hundreds were killed, and more than half the population was forced to flee. Then, in 1999, United Nations peacekeepers arrived and began administering the territory. The UN returned the country to governmental control in 2002, but peacekeepers stayed for another decade before departing. During the United Nations’ back-to-back interventions, Timor-Leste’s Human Development Index score (which includes life expectancy, education, and per capita income) increased by more than 25 percent. The country remains at peace today.

After decades of counterinsurgencies, Americans are wary of military commitments abroad. The United States, after all, has not had a lot of success in ending many of the conflicts in which it has intervened. That said, the number of civil wars around the planet is increasing, and like it or not, the international community will need to become more engaged in trying to stop internecine conflicts.

What Friends Owe Friends
By Richard Haass

If and when the dust settles, there will be a need for sustained U.S. diplomacy, with the aim of resuscitating a two-state solution. American policymakers should point their Israeli counterparts to the lessons of Northern Ireland, where British strategy in the 1990s had two tracks. On one track, British policy was focused on establishing a large security presence and arresting or killing members of the provisional Irish Republican Army and other paramilitary groups; the British objective was to signal that violence would fail, that the IRA could not shoot its way to power.

But it was the second track that accounted for the eventual success of British policy, culminating in the 1998 Good Friday (or Belfast) Agreement, which effectively ended the three decades of violence known as the Troubles. This track gave IRA leaders the chance to participate in serious negotiations that promised to bring them some of what they sought if they would eschew violence. British policy made clear that they would achieve more at the negotiating table than on the battlefield.

The United States should urge Israel, first in private, then in public if necessary, to orient its policy around building the context for a viable Palestinian partner to emerge over time. By contrast, Israeli policy has in recent years seemed intent on undermining the Palestinian Authority so as to be able to say there is no partner for peace. The aim should be to demonstrate that what Hamas offers is a dead end—but also, just as important, that there is a better alternative for those willing to reject violence and accept Israel. That would mean putting sharp limits on settlement activity in the West Bank; articulating final-status principles that would include a Palestinian state; and specifying stringent but still reasonable conditions that the Palestinians could meet to achieve that aim.

Getting there would require a willingness on Washington’s part to take an active hand in the process and to state U.S. views publicly, even if it means distancing the United States from Israeli policy. U.S. officials will need to speak directly and honestly to their Israeli counterparts. Curiously, the Biden administration has been much more forceful in reacting to Israeli judicial reform and matters of internal politics than to Israel’s approach to the Palestinian issue. But it needs to have the type of conversations with Israel that only the United States, Israel’s closest partner, can have. As significant a threat as the proposed judicial reform was (and is) to Israel’s democracy, events of the past week have revealed that an unresolved Palestinian issue poses a far greater one.

Is America Really ‘Indispensable’ Again?
By Michael Hirsh

All of a sudden, the United States is again the “indispensable nation” and a “beacon to the world”—as Biden declared in his Oct. 19 Oval Office address—and the United States is once more thrusting itself forward as the arsenal of democracy to the world. And this at a time when its defense-industrial base is shrunken and ill-prepared, its economy is sluggish, and its politics at home are polarized and, far too often, paralyzed.

For Stephen Wertheim, a political scientist at the Carnegie Endowment and the author of the influential 2020 book, Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy, this incoherence and strategic drift in Washington is a vindication of what he’s been arguing for years.

Since World War II, the U.S. idea of internationalism has become fatally intertwined with the idea of maintaining the United States’ global military dominance, Wertheim argues. Consequently, we can find no way out of this global police officer role, even as it’s strained both our economy and our sense of national identity to the breaking point. This hubris helped lead to the debacle of the Iraq invasion 20 years ago—and today it could well lead to a new disaster of overextension in the Middle East, Europe, and the Indo-Pacific, Wertheim told me in an interview. And that is partly what is causing so much alarm on Capitol Hill.

Wertheim said that until now, Biden has been acting on what political scientists call “the deterrence model of conflict.” But the growing danger is that the United States will instead get sucked into the “spiral model” as things grow out of control. “I think something is changing, because the costs of maintaining what Biden called the ‘indispensable nation’ are rising very high now, and the risks are so much higher than they ever were in the 1990s,” Wertheim said.

Charles Kupchan, a political scientist at Georgetown University and a former senior National Security Council official, says that in one respect, there was no alternative to Biden’s initial approach to both Russia and China. “Europe alone would not be able to handle what’s going on in Ukraine, and the Indo-Pacific needs a strong American presence and a steady American hand,” he said in an interview. Moreover, he said, Biden has done a good job thus far in both regions, as well as the Middle East, by keeping U.S. troops mostly out of harm’s way and letting U.S. allies and partners do the fighting.

But the deeper worry, Kupchan says, is that in calling the United States the “indispensable nation”—former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s controversial phrase from the late 1990s—Biden is “still operating in the world that was, not the world that is becoming. In the 1990s, the United States was the unchallenged hegemon. That is not the world of 2023.” Today’s world is rather one in which “power is rapidly diffusing,” Kupchan added.

Why the Global South Is Accusing America of Hypocrisy
By Oliver Stuenkel

Many developing countries see the West’s posture on Israel-Palestine as evidence that it is applying international rules and norms selectively—according to geopolitical interests rather than in a universal fashion. In conversations with me, several diplomats, both from the West and the global south, have said that this double standard will harm efforts to bring non-Western countries into Ukraine’s corner.

Brazil is a case in point. The refusal of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government to take a clear stance on the war in Ukraine has caused considerable friction and disappointment in Western capitals, which had actively rooted for Lula’s return to power and helped “coup-proof” the 2022 Brazilian presidential election after the tumultuous years of Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. Both on the campaign trail and after his inauguration, Lula has made a number of controversial comments, saying that the United States was prolonging the war and that Ukraine should cede territory to Russia. More recently, Lula argued that there was “no reason” Putin would be detained if he decided to come to Brazil for next year’s G-20 summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Faced with a considerable public backlash—Brazil is a signatory to the Rome Statute and would be legally obliged to act upon the arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC)—Lula backtracked. Yet he did so by concurrently launching a broadside against the ICC, implying that the court puts developing countries at a disadvantage because the world’s most powerful states, such as the United States, have not ratified the Rome Statute, the court’s founding document. Lula’s rhetoric reflects broader misgivings about the West’s selective application of global rules and norms rather than disagreements with the specificities of the war in Ukraine. These sorts of reservations can be expected to grow if the West does not change its response to Israel’s war in Gaza—or if it fails to convince Netanyahu to change his current military strategy.

At the U.N., Brazil has played a constructive diplomatic role in response to the conflict—attempting to negotiate a resolution for humanitarian pauses, which the United States vetoed.

My colleague Matias Spektor argues that developing countries’ accusations of U.S. hypocrisy are not necessarily a bad thing. “This is not the result of a flaw in the United States’ character,” he wrote in Foreign Affairs, “but because … [t]he United States has built its authority by delivering global public goods through universal institutions” and “couches its foreign policy in a language of moral virtue.” Yet he also warns that “many people consider hypocrisy to be worse than lying. Whereas liars mislead for gain, hypocrites go a step further by deceiving others while seeking praise for their moral virtue. They feign superiority in the process of violating the very principles they profess to uphold.”

Aware of the risks of being perceived as hypocrites, numerous Western leaders including von der Leyen now emphasize the need for Israel to respect humanitarian law in Gaza. After U.S. pressure, Israel reversed its decision to cut off Gaza’s water supply and restored the enclave’s telecommunications network.

Yet such gestures are unlikely to reverse the global south’s perceptions of Western hypocrisy, especially as civilian casualties in Gaza rise. Already, more children have died in Gaza over the past three weeks than in all armed conflicts over each of the past three years. An overwhelming majority of developing countries voted in favor of an Oct. 27 Jordanian U.N. resolution that called for an “immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.” The United States voted against the resolution, while many of its European allies followed suit or abstained.

Israel’s bombing of Gaza undercuts the West’s Ukraine moralism
By Ishaan Tharoor

“If the U.S. and other Western governments want to convince the rest of the world they are serious about human rights and the laws of war, principles they rightly apply to Russian atrocities in Ukraine and to Hamas atrocities in Israel, they also have to apply to Israel’s brutal disregard for civilian life in Gaza,” Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement after the U.S. veto.

A senior diplomat from a country in the Group of 20 major economies told me that “it’s this kind of behavior that had the Global South so cautious about what the West was doing” when they were cajoling foreign governments to follow their lead on Ukraine. The current U.S. role in blocking action on Gaza, the official added, speaking this weekend on condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to brief journalists, shows “how much of a double standard the U.S. or West’s strategy relies on.”

In Europe, there’s a growing recognition of this tension, too. “What we said about Ukraine has to apply to Gaza. Otherwise we lose all our credibility,” a senior Group of Seven diplomat told the Financial Times. “The Brazilians, the South Africans, the Indonesians: why should they ever believe what we say about human rights?”

The Human Rights vs. National Security Dilemma Is a Fallacy
By Sarah Leah Whitson

The heart of the contested sphere in the supposed rights versus interests dilemma is Washington’s military and political support to brutal governments, most prominently in the Middle East (described as America’s “partners,” “friends,” and sometimes even “allies”), that citizens are told serve U.S. interests.

Only by challenging the validity of these claimed national interests—and the credibility and legitimacy of those championing these interests—do rights advocates stand a chance of changing dangerous and harmful U.S. policies that wreak havoc on human rights around the globe. The advocacy community must affirmatively opt in to the political debates about U.S. security interests, military hegemony, and warmongering—and openly challenge the double-dealing government officials who direct U.S. policy in the service of foreign and domestic lobbying interests.

The great tragedy of the foreign-policy advocacy community, particularly the human rights community, is that it has accepted the stated dilemma between rights and interests and is reluctant to challenge Washington’s assumed national security interests. There’s a baked-in deference to, and even reverence for, the U.S. military establishment as experts dedicated and loyal to serving America’s national security interests. But given the United States’ disastrous military interventions around the world, from Vietnam to Iraq to Somalia to Afghanistan, it’s hard to understand why this deference to mythical national security expertise persists.

These U.S. wars were failures not just because of bad civilian policy decisions to go to war but because of flawed military execution, command, and control. What’s worse is the evidence of decades of lies from U.S. military commanders about how badly the wars were going: lies the world heard about Iraq, including claims of weapons of mass destruction in the country by the late Gen. Colin Powell, then secretary of state and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and lies about how well things were going in Afghanistan, year in, year out, from the likes of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Gen. David Petraeus.

It’s also hard to understand the persistent deference to military and security experts given the increasing corruption and conflicts of interest that compromise the trustworthiness of their advice. The influence of the military-industrial complex has been around for a long time, but the expansion of defense industry lobbying spending—totaling over $108 million in 2020 and $2.5 billion in the last two decades—is breathtaking. Around half of the ever-expanding budget for defense is spent on the very companies doing the bulk of the lobbying, a testament to their success.

At the same time, a virtually unregulated revolving door to the defense industry means U.S. military and security officials plan future careers at Raytheon and General Dynamics while holding their budgeting pens in the Pentagon. A stunning 73 percent of the 663 lobbyists employed by defense companies in 2020 formerly worked for the federal government.

While that revolving door previously opened only to American defense contractors, there’s now a growing group of U.S. security officials finding more lucrative foreign government paymasters, selling their tradecraft of warfare, surveillance, spying, and sabotage to Arab monarchs and emirs, who then seek to target, harass, and even murder lawyers, journalists, and activists, even inside the United States.

The American people will forever be entrapped in wars that butcher civilians abroad and wound the country’s soldiers so long as Washington remains allied to aggressive rulers who seek to dominate and destroy threats to their unjust rule. It will never be enough to argue that the U.S. government should merely conduct its wars humanely. Americans will remain complicit in the brutality of rulers who rely on both U.S. weapons and political protection to avoid accountability for their misdeeds.

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