‘What in the Slaughter of Palestinians Is So Important to the US?’

Janine Jackson interviewed the Quincy Institute’s Trita Parsi about the Gaza assault for the February 23, 2024, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: After the attacks of September 11, 2001, there was, here in New York City, a palpable feeling of horror and loss, and it was combined with a sense of dread of what might be to come. There’s something of that now, even as we reel from the toll of death and destruction wrought by Israel in Gaza, we’re forced to see that things could still get worse. Will there be a wider war? Is it already happening, and what can we do about it?

Trita Parsi is co-founder and executive vice president at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He joins us now by phone. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Trita Parsi.

Trita Parsi: Thank you so much for having me again.

JJ: I would ask you please to sort of bring us up to date. It’s February 21 when we’re recording, and we know that things are changing every minute, but what do you see brewing, or already happening, regionally as a consequence of Israel’s assault on Gaza? Of course, please talk about Gaza, but I’m also interested in what you think may be follow-on actions in the region that we should be paying attention to.

Trita Parsi

Trita Parsi: “There’s a sense of frustration that everything they’re doing to try to compel the US to take a more balanced approach is failing.” (image: Center for American Progress)

TP: Let me quote, without naming the name, what a diplomat from a regional power told me this last week. This is a country that is a very close ally of the United States. His point was that the region is turning so much against the United States, that in five years he envisions that the Middle East will be far more connected with Russia and China, and that those two countries will have far more influence in the region than the United States will, because of what the Biden administration is doing in Gaza, in terms of allowing and enabling this horrible slaughter and massacre that is taking place there.

And this is from a diplomat of a country that doesn’t want to see the region moving that direction. There’s a sense of frustration that everything they’re doing to try to compel the US to take a more balanced approach is failing. And the ultimate cost of that is not only paid for by the people in Gaza and the peoples of the region, but ultimately US interest itself, because the region as a whole is turning against the United States.

And I think there’s another aspect here that is also important to keep in mind. Another observer pointed out that, in many ways, this is worse than what happened during the Iraq War. First of all, the pace of killing, and the proportion of children and women, of course, is far greater than it was in Iraq.

But it’s also the fact that in the invasion of Iraq, France and Germany stood up against the United States, put up significant opposition, and it was very clear they were not on board. And that meant that that invasion did not take on a Huntingtonian clash-of-civilizations dimension. It was the neocons and their neo-imperialist project, rather than that clash of civilizations.

This time around, Europe has taken an embarrassing position, particularly in the UK. And as a result, this may end up adopting more of that Huntingtonian direction, which will then not only have a very negative effect, ultimately, for the US’s relationships in the region, but also for Europe’s.

Some countries are standing out: Ireland, Spain, Belgium, to a certain extent Portugal as well. And many of the Europeans, of course, with the exception of the UK, have voted in favor of ceasefires. But in terms of actually putting pressure on the United States, hardly any of them.

 A Water Gun Fight at the Bidens

Politico (6/13/11)

JJ: Well, I’m from Delaware, so I’ve known about Joe Biden for a while. But for many people, he is this avuncular, self-effacing guy who played water guns with the press corps on his lawn as vice president. But he seems to be showing that he’s not just tolerant of war, or inept at extricating from it. He seems to believe in it. So as US citizens engaging with the president that we have…. That’s the question, bleh!

TP: This is one of the things that is so perplexing to people, that this conflict has arisen an ideological side of Biden that has always been there, but it’s never been this prominent and this decisive. And this is very important, because he does not have his administration fully with him.

There’s been a lot of reports about the dissent that exists in the White House, at the State Department and elsewhere in the US government; there’s been resignations, there’s been significant dissent cables, there’s been staffers at the White House that hold vigils in favor of the ceasefire outside the White House in the evenings, letters signed by White House interns against the very president they are interning for. This is unprecedented.

But there’s actually additional opposition at even higher levels, that has not been reported in the press yet, which may not necessarily come from the same standpoint. It’s not necessarily because of the sympathy for the Palestinians, but it’s because of recognition of the significant costs this will have for Biden, or anyone associated with Biden, or the reelection campaign prospects of Biden, etc. So there’s more to it than what we have seen in the press, yet so far we have seen nothing from Biden in which he’s willing to budge.

And I think it’s important to note, Biden himself and the Democrats have defined this election, against what most likely will be Trump, as a question about the survival of American democracy. If that is the case, then one truly has to ask oneself, what is it in the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza that is so important to the US that Biden is not only willing to risk escalation in the region and getting dragged into another war, he’s not only willing to risk his own reelection—we’ve seen what’s happening in Michigan and many other states—but he’s apparently, based on his own statements, also willing to risk American democracy? This does not check out.

JJ: Right. Well, I’m not a silver lining type, but I do see people waking up every day—not becoming cynical, but becoming critical. Very critical. Just not accepting what’s put on their plate every morning by the Times or the Post, and asking questions, and reading widely and internationally. So I guess, finally, I just want to ask you, where do you find hope? Where do you see suggestions or ways to move forward?

 Videos of Israeli soldiers acting maliciously emerge amid international outcry against tactics in Gaza

PBS NewsHour

TP: I think it’s an important question, because it is important in the very, very otherwise dark time to try to identify where potential hope may exist. I find hope in the fact that I know that it’s not just Muslim or Arab Americans that are objecting to this. If you’re a young person today, you’re not seeing the same state that Biden saw when he was young, when he thought he perceived Israel to be the underdog, etc. You are seeing a country that is massacring, and based on the videos of their own soldiers, seems to take great joy in the massacres that are taking place.

And that’s going to have a profound and longstanding impact on the manner in which the United States will be approaching Israel on these issues, and the extent to which it will be willing to pay such a high cost to protect and provide Israel with political and diplomatic immunity. And it’s not clear to me that this generation will be able to turn the ship, so to say, in time, given the pace that Biden has now undermined the US’s goal.

JJ: I think that many folks are not used to not thinking of the United States as the shining city on a hill, and that we are coming for a reckoning in which we need to understand the US’s place as a country in the world. And we’ll be looking for journalists to help us situate that and do that. And I know I already said finally, but finally finally, what would you look for from news media in the present moment?

TP: Oh, where to begin on that? It’s been an absolute disgrace how this has been covered in most places. Let me just give you one example, on a detail that is nevertheless crucial: the way the activity of the Houthis was being reported. As you know, they’ve been attacking ships in the Red Sea, which has cost the Israelis quite a lot; it’s a tactic that they have been using that, in and of itself, actually is oftentimes violating international law.

But most of the reporting in the beginning did not even mention that the demand that the Houthis had was a ceasefire. So it was left unstated what they were doing this for, leaving readers with the impression that they’re just doing it because they’re crazy. And also leaving them the impression—in fact, sometimes in the news media, it was stated as such—that Biden felt that his hands were tied, and as a result he needed to take military action.

No mention that they actually had a demand. That demand was a ceasefire. It’s not that the newspapers need to endorse that demand, but they need to inform the public that that is why they’re doing it, which then can have an impact on how the public itself makes up its mind as to whether it’s worth going to war over this issue, as to, actually, is there a potential other way.

Particularly mindful, in fact, of another piece of information that took the media a very long time to report, which is that during the six days in which there was a ceasefire in November of last year, there were no attacks by Iraqi militias against the United States, and there was only one attack by a Houthi, by my count. So there was a dramatic reduction of attacks during the ceasefire. So that we know that there are strong data points suggesting that a ceasefire would also lead to a cessation of the Houthi attacks, of the Iraqi militia attacks. How can they deprive the American public from such crucial information at a moment when the United States government is weighing whether to take military action?

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Trita Parsi of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. You can find their work online at ResponsibleStatecraft.org. Trita Parsi, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

TP: My pleasure. Thank you so much.