I was reluctant to review this book. With all the dramatic developments in the Middle East today—the ISIS crisis, the siege of Kobanê, the deepening nightmare in Syria, the escalating repression in Egypt, the fate of Tunisia’s democratic transition, the sectarianization of regional conflicts driven by the Saudi-Iranian rivalry—delving back into the 2003 invasion of Iraq seemed rather less than urgent. It’s hard enough just to keep up with the events unfolding day-to-day in the region. Reading—let alone reviewing—a detailed study of the internal processes that led to the United States toppling Saddam Hussein over a decade ago seemed remote, if not indeed a distraction.
But I’m glad I set these reservations aside and took the assignment. This forcefully argued and meticulously researched (with no fewer than 1,152 footnotes, many of which are full-blown paragraphs) book turns out to be enormously relevant to the present moment, on at least three fronts:
The US Senate report on CIA torture has brought back into focus the rogues gallery of the Bush-Cheney administration—the same cast of characters who engineered the 2003 Iraq invasion. This book shines a heat lamp on that dark chapter and many of its protagonists.
There is talk of a neoconservative comeback in Washington. This thoroughly discredited but zombie-like group are now angling for the ear of Hillary Clinton, who might be the next US president. Ahmad’s book provides a marvelously illuminating anatomy of the neocons, which has lessons that apply directly to this movement’s potentially ominous next chapter.
As members of an organization committed to peace and justice, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria (CISPOS), it was disheartening for us to see an article in Huffington Post that falsely alleges that we are working “in sync with neocon warhawks to produce and sustain a perpetual state of U.S. war.” Coleen Rowley and Margaret Sarfehjooy’s article “Selling ‘Peace Groups’ on US-Led Wars” does not provide insightful analysis and is constructed on unfounded claims.
The article is fallout from the widespread controversy in the peace movement over how to respond to the brutal war in Syria.
Many anti-war pundits and activists have bought into U.S. propaganda that the U.S. is actively supporting the Syrian rebels to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria. They point to the 1997 Project for a New American Century plan for regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. They believed Hillary Clinton in 2012 when she said the Assad regime must go and that the international community stands with the Syrian people. In fact…the U.S. has given very little training, small weapons, and funds to very few rebel groups. Congress recently dropped $300 million for the Syrian rebels from the defense bill, almost completely cutting what the Syrian opposition already saw as paltry support from the U.S. On the other hand, the CIA has long had a working relationship with Assad, sending him numerous terrorist suspects to torture as part of their rendition program. Assad has provided Israel with a secure border.
Adam Curtis has released another brilliant film, perhaps his finest. Bitter Lake is long, but it’s worth it. It’s visually stunning and examines history in Curtis’s usual manner, with a focus on incompetence, irrationality, complexity, the surreal, the absurd, and the macabre. He’s perfected his form of storytelling and woven together strands from previous films into one epic.
Adam Curtis’s latest film is available on the iPlayer, for Brits, for another 29 days; but for those outside Britain, you might want to watch it quickly on youtube before it’s taken down.
From the moment someone writes with foreign blood
they begin to write with their own
from ‘From the Moment’ by Ihor Pavlyuk (translated by Steve Komarnyckyj)
If your heart has lost its way, your feet are sure to also.
Hryhorii Skovoroda (translated by Naomi Foyle)
Going to Oxford would have been highlight enough. It was a bright March day, I was staying with old friends and reading at a poetry gig in the evening – the perfect mini-break from a dreary winter in my Brighton basement flat. Jonathan Meades’s abrasive defence of Brutalism still scouring my perception of urban space, I insisted on a cycle tour of the monstrous grey jewels in the university’s crown of gargoyles and spires, further amusing my hosts by bursting into phrasebook Ukrainian whenever we sat down for tea. No linguist, I simply hoped my pronunciation was not too atrocious. Invited to join the English PEN launch tour of A Flight Over the Black Sea by Ihor Pavlyuk, I wanted to at least try to say dobryi vechir – good evening – to the poet and our mutual translator Steve Komarnyckyj. That night, my apparently singular preoccupations converged in an image that haunts me still: Ihor, clad in a traditional black and red embroidered shirt, reciting his pagan poems of sea and steppe between the slender concrete pillars of St Antony’s College. What at first seemed an elegant coincidence soon started to resonate rather more unnervingly. As Steve’s translations scattered blood and thorns into the room, the ecclesiastic, Brutalist-lite columns began to ghost a painful history, their slim grey trunks and ceiling branches evoking the dark forests of Russian Orthodox and Soviet repression that subtly shadow Ihor’s poems. An inescapable synchronicity was at work: looking back I’m not surprised that before the year was out I had been compelled again from my writer’s bunker, this time straight to Ukraine.
For other articles in this series 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
On the 7th of April 2004, then United Nations Secretary General to the Commission on Human Rights, Kofi Annan, launched his Action Plan to Prevent Genocide:
We must never forget our collective failure to protect at least 800,000 defenceless men, women and children who perished in Rwanda 10 years ago. Such crimes cannot be reversed. Such failures cannot be repaired. The dead cannot be brought back to life. So what can we do?
In my series of articles about Israel’s ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people, I tackle this assertion through different aspects of prevention mechanisms that have been put forth by the United Nations, such as The Convention of Prevention of Genocide, the UN Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide statements, and other reports and documents. In this article, I’d like to discuss Annan’s plan, which is an overarching document and a promise of the UN to endangered communities that asses the dangers as they happen, and to bring it to task about its inaction to prevent Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian People.
Sonali Kolhatkam, co-author of the book, Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence says the new President in Afghanistans’ approach to governing depends on US protection of his presidency.
UNE Center for Global Humanities and its founding director, Anouar Majid, host Jonathan Israel on Radical Enlightenment and the Making of the French Revolution (1750-1800). Jonathan Israel’s work is featured on the List Muse 100 Best History Books of All Time list.