For all the other things that 1984 may represent, it marks a time when US policy in the Middle East has come under a new degree of scrutiny here. The events of the last few months have inserted the Middle East onto the agenda of the growing anti-nuclear movement. A number of public forums have been organized around the country on the theme of “Deadly Connections” pointing to US military intervention in the Middle East or Central America as the most likely trigger of a nuclear war. According to organizers, the various issues of MERIP Reports discussing these matters have provided helpful information and analysis. More such events are planned for the months ahead.
This widening concern has even had some discernible impact on the Democratic Party presidential nomination campaign. Virtually all of the contenders have now endorsed the prompt withdrawal of the US Marine expeditionary force from Lebanon — a position designed to remove the most visible dimension of US intervention while leaving in place the less vulnerable aspects: the US naval armada offshore, including the battleship New Jersey, and the $500 million program to equip, arm and train the Lebanese Army. Under President Walter Mondale, a hundred or more field-grade officers of the US Army and Special Forces would still be working closely with the heavily Phalangist officer corps of Amin Gemayel. At the same time, George McGovern and Jesse Jackson have explicitly opposed the central features of US policy in the region: military intervention, arms sales and material support for Israeli intervention and occupation. Their readiness to address these matters is another indication that these policies may no longer be above debate.
Mondale’s recent reversal on the Marines, and the similar stand by other staunchly pro-Israel candidates, contravenes the strong position of the Israeli government and the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in favor of deployment. Shortly after the mid-October Congressional vote supporting the Marine presence for an additional 18 months, President Ronald Reagan telephoned AIPAC director Thomas Dine to thank him for AlPAC’s “great assistance” on the War Powers Act resolution. “I know how you mobilized the grassroots organizations to generate support,” Reagan told Dine. The president then revealed his own eerie perception of the “deadly connection”: “You know,” he said to Dine, “I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if, if we’re the generation that’s going to see that come about. I don’t know if you’ve noted any of those prophecies lately, but believe me, they certainly describe the times we’re going through.” Reagan will doubtless take great comfort, should he feel compelled to push the nuclear button, that he is obediently fulfilling ancient religious prophecy, even if it is not from the Old Testament.
For ten years, Alexander Cockburn’s articles and columns in the Village Voice have provided singular relief from the tedious word-peddling that often passes for journalism and commentary in this country. He recently described “Press Clips,” his weekly bouts with the usually unattributed official versions of events, as an effort to document how the purported objectivity of the major media “in fact conceals reactionary politics and consequent distortion of reality.” In addition to “Press Clips,” Cockburn also co-authored with Jim Ridgeway weekly installments of the “Annals of the Age of Reagan.” Issues surrounding the Middle East have remained among those most encrusted with what Cockburn calls “received opinion,” and he has had a few occasions of late to bruise the arbiters of news and analysis about developments there. During the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Cockburn and Ridgeway consistently infuriated the partisans of Begin and Sharon with their uncompromising depiction of the consequences of Israeli aggression.
Late in the summer of 1982, Cockburn applied for and received a $10,000 grant from the Institute of Arab Studies in Massachusetts to write a book about the Israeli invasion. The grant, like the rest of the Institute’s activities, was no secret, but Cockburn never did start the book project and did not mention the award in his column or to the editor of the Voice. Early this January, the Boston Phoenix ran an article attacking “Alexander Cockburn’s $10,000 Arab Connection.” The Phoenix relied completely on AIPAC and the B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation League for its characterization of the IAS as “one of many Arab propaganda organizations.” Stories quickly appeared in the New York Times and other media, based on the Phoenix account. On the grounds that “an appearance of conflict [of interest] was created,” and that Cockburn’s “failure to disclose was also wrong,” the Village Voice suspended him indefinitely, without pay.
Cockburn needs no assistance from us in exposing the pharisaical taunts of his accusers, and we enthusiastically commend to our readers Cockburn’s “Press Clips” of January 24 — his last — for a deft dissection of the totems of journalistic “appearances” and “credibility.” Cockburn accurately identifies the issue at hand: “I did not properly evaluate the problems caused for someone with my views on what is invariably called the ‘sensitive’ topic of Israel and the Palestinians in accepting a grant from an Institute with the word ‘Arab’ in its title.” We entirely agree with him that “the charges are predictable and suffused with anti-Arab racism,” and we deplore the decision of Voice editor David Schneiderman. The Voice will be a lesser paper without Alex Cockburn.