Wednesday, September 12, 2018

US threatens to sanction Hague war crimes judges

The United States has said it will sanction, arrest and prosecute judges of the International Criminal Court if they charge Americans who served in Afghanistan with war crimes.

John Bolton, President Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, also vowed to punish any foreign government that helped the court to hold Americans or Israelis to account for alleged war crimes including torture.

He repeated a State Department announcement from earlier yesterday shutting the Palestine Liberation Organisation office in Washington, effectively the Palestinian embassy, as punishment for its calls for Israel to be investigated by the court in the Hague.

Judges are considering whether to open formal investigations into alleged war crimes by Israel in Gaza and Americans in Afghanistan.

“The United States will use any means necessary, including force, to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court,” Mr Bolton told the right-wing Federalist Society.

He proposed banning the court’s judges and prosecutors from entering the US, sanctioning any funds they had in the country and pursuing them through the American courts. He also called on the US to negotiate binding agreements with allies prohibiting them from surrendering Americans to the Hague and warned countries co-operating with the court that they could find American aid funds and military assistance cut off as a result.

Mr Bolton added that the US would let the court “die on its own”.



Trump administration orders closure of PLO office in Washington

The Trump administration on Monday ordered the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington, saying that the PLO “has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

The closure was announced by the State Department shortly before White House national security adviser John Bolton, in his first major policy speech, threatened U.S. punishment for individuals and countries that cooperate with the International Criminal Court, where the Palestinians have lodged complaints against Israel.

“The United States supports a direct and robust peace process,” Bolton said, “and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense.”

The PLO is recognized by most of the world as the “legitimate representative” of Palestinians. Its office in Washington — while not recognized as an embassy, since there is no recognition of a Palestinian state — is one of the few Palestinian vehicles for communication with the levers of U.S. power. It has survived repeated political and legislative calls to shut it down, across decades of unsuccessful U.S. efforts to forge a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis.

But Monday’s order to shutter it within 30 days comes amid the Trump administration’s systematic chipping way at the core tenets of Palestinian aspirations for any negotiations and its ramping up of financial pressure on the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank.

Late last year, President Trump declared U.S. recognition of the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This year, the State Department canceled most U.S. aid funding to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Late last month, in a move that effectively dismissed any Palestinian right of return to contested land, the administration called for a redefinition of Palestinian refu­gee status and said the United States — long the largest individual donor — would no longer fund the U.N. refu­gee aid program. Israel rejects any “right of return,” and considers the demand a main stumbling block to peace.

Last week, the administration said it would withdraw $25 million in support for six East Jerusalem hospitals that are primarily used by Palestinians. Largely church-run, they traditionally serve as the main providers of care for those referred for treatment not available in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians say those measures are designed to lay the groundwork for a yet-to-be-revealed U.S. peace proposal that they charge is already rigged in Israel’s favor. Since the Jerusalem announcement, they have refused to meet with U.S. negotiators, led by White House senior aide and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

In its statement justifying the PLO closure, the State Department said that far from cooperating, “the PLO has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise.” Although Trump has often declared “progress” in the secretive compiling of what Kushner and others have said would be a “comprehensive” plan, its release has repeatedly been delayed.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the measure the continuation of a policy of “collective punishment” by the administration. “These people have decided to stand on the wrong side of history by protecting war criminals and destroying the two-state solution,” he said.

The United States, he said, is not “part of the peace process” and does not even have the right to “sit in the room” during any negotiations. Erekat dismissed U.S. officials such as David Friedman, the ambassador to Israel, as a “group of settlers” pursuing a right-wing Israeli agenda.

Numerous Palestinian officials have said that the United States can no longer be an “honest broker” for peace. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, described Monday’s action as a form of “crude and vicious blackmail” and “clear proof of American collusion with Israel’s occupation.”

The White House has been “very upfront throughout the process and the fact that we want to see peace, we want to have those conversations, we want to help broker that deal,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “Certainly, we have a great deal of support with our friend and ally in Israel. But again, we are as committed today as we’ve ever been to the peace process.”

The announcement is likely to be widely welcomed by the Israeli government, which was on holiday Monday to mark Rosh Hashanah.



The myth of a New Nazism

In June, former UK prime minister and Labour leader Tony Blair warned that today’s rising tide of populism risked ‘a return to the 1930s’. He is far from alone in drawing such an analogy. Over the past two years, since the election of Donald Trump in the US, and the Brexit vote in the UK, a flurry of op-eds, endless political speeches and countless books have all made a similar claim: that just as the institutions of liberal democracy nurtured, and then fell to, Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party, so too might our institutions nurture and fall to contemporary fascists in populist clothing.

Yet just how accurate is this analogy? It certainly does a service for those seeking to delegitimise the Trump or Brexit votes, but does it do a disservice to history? To answer these questions, we decided to speak to associate professor of history Udi Greenberg, author of the superb The Weimar Century: German Émigrés and the Ideological Foundations of the Cold War, and, with Daniel Bessner, co-author of the essay ‘The Weimar Analogy’.

spiked review: Do you think the Weimar analogy – that, effectively, today’s populists are yesterday’s fascists – obscures the historical specificity of the rise of Nazis?

Udi Greenberg: Every analogy has its limits, but that doesn’t mean analogies can’t be useful. The question is how we use it and to what purpose, and I think the usage of the Weimar analogy for our specific moment is more distracting than helpful. That is in part because the differences between the fall of the Weimar Republic and the populist surge today far outweigh the similarities.

For a start, the collapse of the Weimar Republic happened in the midst of the worst economic crisis of the 20th century, when a third of the potential workforce was unemployed. Nothing on the scale of that economic calamity is happening today. Yes, the rise of populism is still tied to important economic transformations that have happened in the past two decades, but these do not amount to anything of the order of the Great Depression.

The analogy between today and the rise of the Nazis obscures far more than it illuminates

The Weimar Republic also fell because the fascist movement used mass violence on the streets and decimated democratic and socialist, left-wing political forces. We have not seen anything similar to that today. Even the despicable violent march of white supremacists in Charlottesville in Virginia last summer, which rightfully drew so much media attention, was nothing like the violence that erupted in the streets of Germany and other European countries in the 1930s.

So it seems to me the analogy between today and the rise of the Nazis obscures far more than it illuminates.

review: Did the intense class conflict of the 1920s and 1930s not also play a considerable role? Bolshevism, in light of the Russian Revolution, was considered a real threat, certainly in light of the Munich Soviet of 1918-19. There was so much to frighten certain sections of German society towards the National Socialists.

Greenberg: That is very accurate. The politics of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe were defined perhaps more than anything by anti-Communism, by a fear of a potential popular Communist uprising, the fear of a violent transformation of society along the lines of the Soviet model. Nothing of this kind is really in operation today in our political culture. The rise of fascism was an explicitly right-wing response to the rise of militant Communism. And that makes it very, very different from the rise of populism today.

Finally, in terms of the historical specificity of the rise of the Nazis, political life in the 1920s and 1930s was shaped by the experience of mass war. Entire nations and whole generations experienced war firsthand. The formative experience of almost all the leaders of fascist movements in Germany and elsewhere was fighting as soldiers in the First World War. The leaders of populist movements today do not have any experience of military conflict. War is not an important experience for them. It is a very distant memory, if indeed it is a memory at all in our political culture today.

review: There was also the sense then that war, and not just in the context of German nationalism, was almost a spiritually rejuvenating process, wasn’t there?

Greenberg: Indeed, fascist theory glorified war as a transcendental, spiritual experience that transformed the soul. Fascists and semi-fascist art celebrated the experience of war. War was a major trope in fascist ideology, even in its depiction of a future classless society, in which the working class and the middle class worked together just as they had done during the First World War. This is something that is very foreign to the rhetoric or experiences of, say, Viktor Orban or Donald Trump, neither of whom has served in combat (or in the case of Trump, in the military at all).

review: What do you make of the argument that democracy was experienced almost as foreign imposition on the authoritarian body of German nationalism? After all, Germany’s transformation into a modern nation state in the second half of the 19th century was undertaken by Otto von Bismarck, a Prussian junker and monarchist, who famously declared ‘I am not a democrat’.

Greenberg: There is a long and very important debate among historians about how deep or shallow democratic culture was in German politics in the 1920s and 1930s. For a long time many assumed that because Germany was founded by a conservative militarist who co-opted nationalist and democratic sentiments in the 19th century, its democracy was therefore weak and easy to topple. But over the past couple of decades, an important group of scholars has challenged this narrative, arguing that Germany did in fact have a very vibrant democratic political life, with meaningful elections and parliamentary debates. And that in the late 19th century and early 20th century, people voted in very high numbers for parties that competed fairly peaceably with one another before and after the First World War. As a result, parliament became more and more important as time progressed. It is one of the reasons why, after the First World War, when the German monarchy collapsed, the expectation among Germans was that it would be replaced by a republic, not a military dictatorship. And that was because German citizens had been socialised into democratic norms, and took it for granted that that was the next step for politics.

The politics of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe were defined more than anything by anti-Communism

In some ways, scholars of this school argue that what truly made democracy in Germany so weak was that it was very polarised throughout the 1920s. The fascists and the Nazis were able to appropriate democratic language, gestures and ideas for what we would see as very undemocratic ends. So, for example, the leaders of the Nazi party all came from very humble backgrounds. They were not military generals or aristocrats. Hitler himself spoke with a working-class German accent. So much of the Nazis’ appeal rested on their claim to be the real democracy, the force that was really giving the people control over politics in a way that was dramatically different from the Prussian aristocrats and militarists of the 19th century.

So there is an ongoing debate as to how important the militarist foundations of the German state was versus how robustly democratic it was. This democratic culture, and its appropriation by the Nazis, is key to understanding the rise of fascism.

review: But that is not to say that the Nazis rose to power because of democracy, is it?

Greenberg: No. As historians know, the Nazis never actually managed to win a majority in free and open elections. The largest share of the vote they ever received, in 1932, was about a third. The reason they were able to secure power was because of the active support of conservatives, the aristocrats and militarists, who sided with them in parliament, and, most importantly, because they were using mass violence and intimidation, exiling and murdering their opponents. This is how they came to power, through ruling-class support and force, not because of free and democratic elections.

review: What is interesting about the ‘Weimar Analogy’ piece is that you were both able to bring out a far more telling analogy between then and now, and that is in the response to the rise of fascism, and the response to today’s populist revolt.

Greenberg: Yes, what prompted Professor Bessner and me to write this piece was that the over-reliance on the fascist analogy would lead us down the same path taken by pro-democratic and anti-fascist thinkers in the 1940s, like Hans Spier and Karl Loewenstein, both of whom fled Germany to the US in the 1930s. They came to the conclusion that fascism proved that democracy could not be trusted. And that for democracy to survive, the state had to curtail some freedoms.

This line of thinking, this idea of militant democracy, which proved very influential in the US, led to the creation of very undemocratic, unaccountable institutions like the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council in the US. It was an ideological tendency that also led to the dramatic limiting of political horizons in postwar Europe.

Most famously, in West Germany for example, the Supreme Court outlawed the Communist Party in 1956. And although the Communists were not a significant force in West Germany, the logic of militant democracy – and the West German Supreme Court used this very term when outlawing the Communists – rendered certain political visions illegitimate, and banished them from political discourse. And this created very elitist and what we would call anti-democratic institutions and norms in the 1940s and 1950s.

Anti-fascist political theorists in the 1940s and 1950s claimed that in order to achieve stable democracy you need to limit people’s involvement in politics

This does not mean to say that everyone who invokes the Weimar or Nazi analogy immediately ends up an anti-democrat, but Professor Bessner and me worry that we could eventually end up in a similar place. We are both scholars of the Cold War, and we both studied how political theorists in the 1940s and 1950s claimed that in order to achieve stable democracy you need to limit political activism and people’s involvement in politics. And we were worried that the same logic might lead us in the same direction today.

In our view, the right, progressive response to the contemporary moment should be a doubling down in our commitment to democracy, limiting technocracy and increasing democratic and grassroots involvement in politics.

review: Yet it does seem that the predominant response to the populist moment, certainly in left-wing and liberal circles in both the US and the UK, has been to make a stronger appeal to technocracy, to a rule by expertise.

Greenberg: That is true for some, certainly. It has actually been developing since at least the 1990s, with the so-called left moving more and more in the direction of technocracy, and trying to achieve progress through technocracy, rather than through more popular control of the economy. And I think that is born of a deep disappointment with the masses, and a belief that the masses cannot be trusted to make the right economic decisions. And that tendency developed and deepened right through to the Obama administration, which was very much defined by technocracy.

The reason this recent development on the left stood out for us was that too many on the left today make the same argument as the militant democrats – both contend that technocracy is the best means to preserve democracy. So, if the masses are not to be trusted, then you have to transfer as much power as possible into the hands of technocrats, who know what’s good for the masses, who will make the right call. And you have to shield technocrats from democratic accountability precisely to make those calls.

We have seen this logic operating in the past two decades among centrist politicians, and political elites more generally. And we were worried that the rise of populism on the right will further exacerbate and intensify this technocratic way of thinking. We believe that the left should adopt a very different model of thinking. In some ways, we believe that the logic of militant democracy and technocracy is precisely what led us to where we are now.

review: How difficult will it be for the left to embrace what used to be its own radical democratic heritage, given the extent to which it has turned away from, and often against, the masses?

Greenberg: It’s certainly not going to be easy, but democracy has never been easy. Each generation of political theorists and activists has to reimagine and rethink democracy, and chart new opportunities and possibilities. I believe the crisis of the past few years, and the rise of the radical right in Europe and the US is also an opportunity to do precisely that — to rethink the possibilities of the left. To think of its past, of what it got right, and what it got wrong, and maybe chart new possibilities. We already see it happening in grassroots politics in Britain and in the US, and we can only hope it continues to go in this direction.



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