Stanley L. Cohen’s Speech at the ICC Conference in Zurich – Dec 14, 2012


Zurich | December 14,  2012 | Stanley L. Cohen

I am pleased to speak to you here today at this important gathering. As an American, I want to address a global-historical fact you already know about, from your direct experiences in your home countries, but perhaps without seeing the full picture.

We are living in an unprecedented time of global projection of American military power, on every continent throughout the world, during a period of shifting priorities and strategies for the US military establishment. As I speak, the United States maintains some kind of military presence in 150 countries worldwide, with a total of some 1,000 military bases of one kind or another, from hundreds of small outposts all over Afghanistan and Iraq, to new airbases in Central Asia, to its old Cold War-era massive infrastructure in Europe.

I am ashamed to tell you that many, many average Americans are simply ignorant of this fact, or cannot make sense of it in any meaningful context. But you of course understand the significance instantly, if we ask ourselves, “What other nation maintains such a global, overseas military presence?”

The answer is no one—China does not have an air force base in Honduras or Argentina; the Russians do not keep thousands of soldiers busy in Brazil; North Korea does not maintain naval ports on island rocks in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Only one country does this—it is a singularity, a unique agenda of American power. Of the 150 countries hosting US troops, many of them host a significant U.S. military footprint, and not just in Germany, Japan and Italy—the spoils of the Second World War, still occupied by the victorious Yanks in the tens of thousands—but in Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Israel, South Korea, Kosovo, and Diego Garcia, just to name a few. And among the Arab states, the Horn of Africa, and the Persian Gulf, the U.S. maintains important military operating bases in Oman, Qatar, Djibouti, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, along with Iraq, not to mention occupied Afghanistan.

Add to this eleven full naval aircraft carrier groups, and the globe is pretty much covered everywhere, all the time, by American power.

Even still, the tactics and strategies are changing in important ways—the US military has begun to move away from the large, public bases everyone knows about—like Ramstein in Germany, with 60,000 troops—to building small, quiet, isolated and secret bases meant to serve as jumping-off points for rapid response, or for special forces, situated in the anticipated hotspots of coming conflicts—central Asia, east Africa, and the Persian Gulf. Many of these smaller, forward positions will be deployments for the next generation of remote-controlled drone aircraft, minimizing troop danger, while maximizing the use of the technological projection of power—in Africa alone, the US has created a dozen new drone and reconnaissance bases since 2007.

China is now contained by dozens of small forward bases encircling it from the east along Japan and the Korean peninsula, and in Thailand, while from the west, the American push into central Asia secures the steppes against Chinese power, while hedging Russian power to the north, and simultaneously encircling Iran.

In some respects, the war in Iraq has been a costly, bloody failure for US policy, but only if measured in terms of “nation-building” there. What seems clear now is that the Iraq invasion was not a failure for the United States in terms of global military strategy, because it shifted the thrust of US military planning out of Europe—no longer threatened by the Soviet Union—and into central Asia and the Gulf, with a level of permanent commitment unthinkable there in the 1990’s. T

he U.S. alliances with central Asian states, and its agreements for air bases and army posts throughout the region, guarantee that American power is staying put, and won’t be leaving anytime soon. Yet the United States continually denies that it is “an empire,” or that it cultivates an “imperial” position in world-historical terms. Its message to the world argues that the U.S. is the peace-maker, and the guarantor of freedom for all the nations of the world, and the “arsenal of democracy,” presiding over some amorphous “Pax Americana.” The Latin term itself is meant to recall Rome—but not the imperial Rome with its legions of professional soldiers marching from Hibernia to Mesopotamia, but rather the beneficent Rome, which brought the acqueduct, writing and architecture.

Not one elected politician or government official in America—not a congressman, not a cabinet secretary, not a mayor of a city—would ever be caught publicly calling the U.S. power agenda imperialistic: such a statement would be unthinkable.

Policy analysts in the mainstream of American power never say the word “empire;” the idea simply does not enter the discourse of American politics anywhere. Much of this is due to the triumph of propaganda in the United States, and the American narrative of “exceptionalism”—that is, the idea that the United States is the one exception to the rules, to history, to the usual understanding of domination and subjugation.

Yet a more decisive factor in suppressing any frank discourse on the American empire is the U.S. control of the narrative, both domestically and internationally. Since 2001, nearly all U.S. power projected overseas is justified in terms of fighting a global “war on terror,” requiring this vast deployment of troops and materiel to keep at bay “terrorist” regimes or groups. The casual use of this terminology has now infected policy and planning at every level to the point that virtually any opposition to U.S. military power anywhere quickly becomes characterized as the work of “terrorists”—not freedom fighters, or liberationists, or guerillas, or any of the familiar categories from the discourse of twenty years ago. Rather, by the alarming logic of American policy makers and intelligentsia, to oppose U.S. power now is to support terror.

The global “war on terror” has fostered a tremendous industry of arms and money flowing to any country or regime willing to accept the terms of the American discourse, and join the cause of “counter-terrorism.” With the American weapons and aid come military operating bases, security agreements, and economic development—the seductive allure of this system is near-total in its effect on smaller countries, and the U.S. hegemonic imperative grows tighter with each nation that signs on to the plan.

Meanwhile, in the United States where I practice law as a defense attorney, a domestic police industry of counter-terrorism has likewise taken hold everywhere—local towns and cities have significant paramilitary profiles now, with all the sophisticated weaponry formerly associated with small armies.

And in defending persons accused of crimes in the United States, I have witnessed an explosion in the amount of prosecutions there for “terrorism” charges, and the ubiquitous use of federal surveillance to build insignificant small cases into “international terrorism” prosecutions. This is particularly true in an area where I have been busy for a decade, defending people in America—as federal prosecutors target Muslim communities, and build terrorism cases out of political or ideological Islamic beliefs, especially among young  persons, or immigrants.

Typically, the cases have little or no real content approaching true “terror,” yet the consequences for those accused are always devastating. To be an ideological Muslim in the United States today is to risk everything, as the domestic American discourse only has two categories for Muslims—good, or “terrorist.” Much of this prosecutorial power stems from the president and the congress’ joint ability to declare by fiat some group, individual or even entire states as “terrorist,” and then shut them down financially, while punishing anyone in the United States who may see things differently.

The implications are huge: a legitimate conflict on the other side of the world, perhaps expressing dissatisfaction with the American global system in its own local struggle, can easily be branded an ideological enemy, and slapped with the State Department’s “terrorist” label, thus triggering domestic prosecution of any ideological fellow-thinkers or supporters. Sadly, in America today, even expressing interest in a “terrorist”-branded organization, or trying to understand its message, can be used as evidence against an accused person.

Thus, the confluence of the international narrative of counter-terrorism and the domestic narrative of policing “terrorist” plots from within add up to a total system of how American power regards ideological opposition today in stark terms, best enunciated in 2001 by then-President George W. Bush: “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” In more precise terms, you either support the American global system, or you are the enemy. This is the discourse of imperialism.

And America’s citizens seem hardly aware of how big the imperial gorilla in the room has grown over the years. Some estimates put the annual U.S. overseas military budget at a quarter of a trillion dollars—a staggering amount of money. We would expect such an expenditure to purchase what imperialism has always bought: control of natural resources, and control of markets and economies. Yet the hegemonic power of the United States today, in what is mostly a uni-polar world, goes much farther in its scope and its aims.

This constant maintenance of imperial power on a global scale seeks to remake the very nature of competing powers among a community of nations into a single market-economy, global finance system, controlled by the West, with the U.S. as its military guarantor. This system has its roots in the Bretton Woods accord of the post-war financial scene, but its contemporary aspect brings into sharper relief the implications for the 21st century—that the banking system run by the West will be backed with American firepower, and states or non-state actors which disrupt the system will be considered “terrorists.”

Other narratives which run counter to the American agenda—for example, the aspiration of the Islamic world to unite its own worldwide community free of western control—will be met with economic encirclement and, when necessary, military force. The 21st century promises to be a fast-paced time of power consolidation under a global American system, with conflicts flaring up wherever people oppose the system. And as an American, I have to ask what the practical consequences of organizing against the worldwide military buildup by US power may be, and how we should support peaceful alternatives to a consolidated US hegemonic system.

Of course, many of you see the conflict I’m talking about first-hand, and you see it at home in your own countries. For my part, I am deeply involved in the struggle of Palestine against Zionism, and against U.S. power, and in the context of the new American hegemony, Palestine serves as a useful lesson in the tenacity and endurance of resistance to American and western power.

Zionism, of course, is a creation of 19th century European politics—it is a foreign import to Palestine, brought by Jews from central Europe, and backed by the western powers for geo-political strategic purposes. Its purpose at the time was a conscious effort to re-make the Middle East, and establish a state there permanently within the western system of the day. From its first moments of existence, Zionism has been divisive to nations and peoples, has sown enmity between Arabs—both Muslim and Christian—and the Jews, and it has even been a terrible ideological burden on the Jewish people themselves. It is fundamentally a projection of European colonial strategy, cynically exploiting Europe’s own historic prejudices against the Jews, and the sentimental Bible narrative of the Israelites, with its dimension of “divine” justification for a “chosen people.”

Yet even while backed by the great European and American powers of the day, the Zionist project has not had one moment of peace and quiet since its founding of the Israeli state sixty-five years ago.

But in the Zionist agenda, we see how the power dynamics of U.S. imperialism work. In aiding and abetting the project of Zionism over the decades, the United States has nurtured a state which has employed every kind of atrocity against the Palestinians: genocide, massacre, ethnic cleansing, torture, a vast prison system, economic subjugation, Apartheid, crimes against humanity, the ongoing flouting of international law, and the wholesale theft of land and property from tens of thousands of families. All this is done with American power, for American power, and by American power—there is no Israel without the United States.

Of course, American Jews occupy a disproportionate base of power within the domestic political landscape of the United States, controlling the narrative, but we will save that discussion for another time.

From its start, the Zionist nightmare for the Arabs of Palestine has been unrelenting. We all know of the massacre in 1948 at Deir Yassin; but we remember also a hundred more villages attacked and destroyed, their citizens killed—Saliha, Abu Shusha, Umm-al Faraj, a-Tal, al-Kabri, Safsaf, al-Sumariyya, al-Zib, Ramla, Lydda, and al-Dawayyima and others. And in the sixty-five years since these atrocities, the Israeli state has piled crime on top of crime in the service of American power in its continuing criminal enterprise against the Palestinians.

The U.S. power imperative surrounded Israel for decades with Arab regimes willing to ignore the suffering of the Palestinians in exchange for military aid and strategic alliances—often against each other—and the protection of the U.S.; those regimes it could not control, Washington opposed with military power. It seems as if the long-term outlook of American regional planning for the Middle East did not rate the aspirations of the Palestinians very high in its calculations: any reasonable American planner in 1950 would have expected that the Palestinian cause would have vanished in a generation, and that all of Palestine would have assimilated into the American system, like Egypt, or Jordan, or Saudi Arabia—and that the Palestinians would have accepted their fate, and made peace with Zionism, the West, Coca-Cola and Ford.

Yet the resistance of the Palestinians today is stronger than ever—it has outlasted Egypt’s military dictators; it has outlasted decades of American and Israeli politicians; and it has not compromised the core values for which it struggles, refusing to be absorbed into the American narrative, refusing to be pacified. Its political system is stronger than at any time in Palestinian history; and no one there has given up the struggle for justice and freedom.

The resistance has continually opposed American power—it is officially branded “terrorist” by the U.S. ideological control system, despite winning elections, running civil society, and enjoying broad-based popular support. While all of the West believes the United States’ claim to being a referee or “peace” negotiator, invested in many so-called “peace plans” over the years, Palestinians and the Muslim world know that the United States has not been a neutral party, but is in fact the ally of Israel and is the enemy of the Palestinians, dealing in bad faith and broken promises for decades, while funding Israel’s massive land grab and crime against them. For this reason, the true resistance in Palestine does not seek favors from the American system of power; the resistance wants nothing from the United States and does not need to make deals with American power.

The resistance anticipates a Palestinian society that looks to the greater Muslim community for its support, and doesn’t need the West, and will thrive on its own.

Of course, this is the very reason why the United States cannot tolerate the resistance in Palestine, and blunders forward, quietly assuring Israel that she may keep her settlements, and make them bigger; that she may control all the borders of the Palestinian state; that she may launch air strikes on civilian populations whenever she feels threatened; or that Israel will never have to address the millions of Palestinians waiting to return to their homeland. Because the only alternative for the American agenda to complete and blind support of Israel is to listen to the resistance in Palestine, and address its demands, while respecting its sovereign right to control its destiny—something the American system cannot contemplate now, or so long as its imperial agenda seeks to control the region.

For the Palestinians, it is vital that the greater community of Islam—the ummah—includes it always in its hearts and in its plans, and never forgets the Palestinians, who continue to resist the American military machine on the front-lines, for decades, even while building a real society, with politics, culture, and faith, under the Israeli guns. Western nations do contain sympathetic elements, and donor aid from the West has been important to the Palestinians—those of you who organize for Palestinian humanitarian relief in your home countries, especially in the west, know this remains an important component for their struggle to maintain dignity.

Yet encouraging signs of change have lately come to pass: Egypt will no longer be the southern jailer of Gaza, and the border there is opening; Qatar and the Gulf states have prioritized funding the new Palestinian economy even as it struggles under occupation and subjugation; and new media in the Islamic world—from the smallest bloggers to the biggest news networks—have brought the Palestinian counter-narrative to the forefront, in opposition to the western-dominated, Israel-the-victim narrative.

Meanwhile, some countries in Europe—having witnessed Israel grabbing every acre of land it can seize since 1967—have begun to reconsider the American ideological “terrorist” branding label that defines the resistance for the West, and at least now express some measure of sympathy for the enduring dedication to struggle this resistance has demonstrated.

The Palestinian resistance will not go away, or give up the fight for its people and its land. I have lived my entire life, as many of you have, watching this narrative, and staying involved in it, and it has been a focus of all our days. What it means for me may be different from what it means for you—but as an American, I draw hope in knowing that people can organize and fight against the American system of global power, and carry out that fight for decades; that history does not always go easily for the super-power; and that we of like minds must keep the struggle going with our support for the resistance in words and deeds.

The Palestinians will supply the will to struggle;  let us in the world community continue to supply them with the means.

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