General Petraeus’s leaked emails about Israel

Blogger Philip Weiss has them, and they’re not pretty.

I've written the cover story for this week's New Statesman on the rise and rise of David Petraeus and America's "cult of the generals".

Here's an extract:

Twelve of the 43 men who have served as US president have been former generals -- including the very first occupant of the Oval Office, George Washington. Nonetheless, there has not been a general in the White House since Dwight D Eisenhower, the former Supreme Allied Commander in the Second World War and architect of the D-Day landings, left office in 1961 (excoriating the "military-industrial complex" on his way out). But the rise of the generals in recent years, exemplified by the hallowed status of Petraeus, has altered the dynamic. If a general is elected to the White House in 2012 or 2016, the grip of this cult on the US polity will once again have been demonstrated.

Interestingly, in an unrelated story on the supposedly declining power of the Israel lobby in today's Guardian, the paper's Washington correspondent, Chris McGreal, writes:

Senior figures in the American military, including General David Petraeus who has commanded US forces in both wars, have identified Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian land as an obstacle to resolving those conflicts.

McGreal is referring to the general's official "posture" statement on US Central Command -- which Petraeus was in charge of before he was redeployed to Afghanistan by President Obama a fortnight ago. In this, he says:

The [Israel-Palestine] conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favouritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR [Centcom's Area of Responsibility] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilise support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.

Petraeus's prepared statement caused uproar in pro-Israeli circles back in March, when it was published, with some on the right and the left automatically assuming he must be a private supporter of the Palestinians and that he had suddenly and bravely decided to stand up to the Israel lobby inside the United States.

But guess what? In a gaffe that hasn't yet attracted the same amount of press as Stanley McChrystal's bizarre interview with Rolling Stone, Petraeus accidentally leaked an email exchange of his -- with the belligerent, neoconservative, pro-Israeli columnist Max Boot -- to an activist named James Morris, who then passed it on to the blogger Philip Weiss:

Last March General David Petraeus, then head of Central Command, sought to undercut his own testimony before the Senate armed services committee that was critical of Israel by intriguing with a right-wing writer to put out a different story, in emails obtained by Mondoweiss.

The emails show Petraeus encouraging Max Boot of Commentary to write a story -- and offering the neoconservative writer choice details about his views on the Holocaust:

"Does it help if folks know that I hosted Elie Wiesel and his wife at our quarters last Sun night?! And that I will be the speaker at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in mid-Apr at the Capitol Dome . . ."

Petraeus passed the emails along himself through carelessness last March. He pasted a Boot column from Commentary's blog into in an "FYI" email he sent to an activist who is highly critical of the US's special relationship with Israel. Some of the general's emails to Boot were attached to the bottom of the story. The activist, James Morris, shared the emails with me.

You can read the full details here.

Meanwhile, here's a taster of Clayton Swisher's amusing response on the al-Jazeera blog:

It's not clear what miracles Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel can work for General Petraeus now that he's the top officer in Kabul.

Based on these emails Petraeus apparently authored, subsequently leaked to blogger Philip Weiss, it seems the former Central Commander thought a private dinner with Weisel and a Holocaust Museum stint might boost his pro-Israel bona fides ("some of my best friends are Jewish!").

I guess the good general is keener on becoming the next US president, and not upsetting the Israel lobby in the meantime, than some had assumed.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Show Hide image

“At 28, I had life planned. Now I’m 35”: The Syrian millennials growing up in conflict

Seven years in to the Syrian war, young civilians still in the country are trying to find work and adapt to constant fear.

Peace be with you. That’s how we begin our conversation in southern Syria, where I’m sitting in front of Rania*, a young women of 22, asking her how it feels to be the main breadwinner for her family.

She is one of the many young people who have reached adulthood during the Syrian war, as violence permeates around them.   

I am a Syrian field worker with Mercy Corps, working on the ground to support aid in Syria. In the last year, we have helped more than 950,000 people. I also helped conduct in-depth interviews with people in my community in 2017, to help Mercy Corps understand how Syrian people are coping and adapting through the war, so that we know better how to meet their needs.

No one had undertaken a study of this kind to learn how people feed, clothe and provide for their families in the middle of a conflict.

This was the first time we were asking people questions about what helps them cope and what strategies they use to survive.

People often tell me the same thing: “We had to adapt, there is no choice”.

Many of the stories I hear are similar to mine. Before the war began, I was a teacher and an accountant; at 28 I had my life planned out in front of me. Now I’m 35, working as a volunteer and monitor for a local organisation in Syria that partners with Mercy Corps.

Like Rania, my life is unrecognisable to what it was before war.

When I ask Rania, who was only 15 when the conflict began in 2011, how she feels about this seemingly never-ending war, she says: “We got used to it. There is no salvation. We won’t migrate – we have to accept our reality.” 

Over the years, one of the most surprising things I have witnessed is the endurance and patience of the Syrian people. Every day we read about bombings and siege in different parts of Syria. I have seen neighbourhoods empty of my friends and family where before there was a thriving and normal community life.

I have seen girls, younger than 18, forced by the difficulties of life to assume responsibilities that are too big for their shoulders at such a young age – children who are being forced to grow up too quickly.

And yet, beneath this, there is still an enduring hope that life will someday return to normal.

Soon after Rania, I meet a young man of 18 who was hit by an airstrike and almost lost his foot. Luckily he was able to make it out of Syria for surgery and he, and his foot, survived. He returned to Syria to support his family. Now he has a job at a local clinic where he registers new patients’ names. The list gets longer every day.

The economy in Syria is in free-fall and prices of even basic food like bread have dramatically increased. After seven years of war, two-thirds of Syrians have lost their jobs and among their biggest frustrations is finding the means to survive.

The other big fear is dying. Syrians experience conflict on average twice a week, and terror is pervasive. Nine out of ten Syrians live in daily fear for their own safety and that of their families.

But then there is that perseverance. We know from our interviews with 1,600 Syrians that, despite the war, one-third of people have found new ways to make an income.

The percentage of young people working, like Rania, is more than double what it was before the war, and this has important consequences for how we deliver aid while a conflict is ongoing.   

Our research also showed that in the past year, three out of every four households received humanitarian support. Yet despite this, two-thirds of households said they did not have enough to eat.

What this shows us is that, after seven years of war, Syrians need support that match their needs, such as cash assistance that can help them start a small business and generate income.

While basic humanitarian aid is still vital to save lives, saving and adapting livelihoods needs to be viewed as vital too.

As I’m wrapping up my interview with Rania, I ask her if the conflict has affected her life more or less than others she knows. She tells me less. I am surprised. Rania says their house has been bombed and her parents and brothers aren’t able to work, but none of her family members have died.  She feels she is lucky.

In order for Syrians to return to a normal life, the war needs to end and reconciliation must begin. I wish Rania and all my Syrian sisters and brothers more than luck. I wish for peace. 

Salim* is a community monitor with Mercy Corps. Wages of War, a new report by global organisation Mercy Corps includes research from across Syria, including besieged areas, and shines a light on the enormity of the losses and horrors of the years of conflict.

*Names have been changed for security reasons.