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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

THE McCHRYSTAL AFFAIR

     Anecdotal evidence from retired senior military officers as well as their written memoirs make clear that tension between military commanders and civilian political leaders is commonplace. That this tension would manifest itself in negative comments, and joking in a “happy hour” type environment among trusted staff members is not surprising. What is hard to understand is the inclusion of an "embedded" reporter at such an occasion. The reporter in this case was one, Michael Hastings. That he was employed by a magazine the likes of Rolling Stone, hardly an objective and respected news outlet makes it even more difficult to understand. A reporter’s primary motivation in enduring the hardships of foreign travel and militarily environments can only be to burnish their credentials and hope to cover the "big one"; a major battle; a scandal; or an atypical situation which would make their story one of national interest. Hastings certainly accomplished that.
     While his motives and whatever "rules" of coverage may have applied and/or been violated are suspect, the result was never in doubt. Participating in and condoning the potentially public disparagement of the President, Vice President, National Security Adviser, Ambassador to Afghanistan, and the Special Representative of the President to Afghanistan and Pakistan was clearly unacceptable. The public exposure of these comments made future cooperation and trust between the theater commander, his staff and the civilian authorities impossible. To his credit President Obama moved quickly to remedy the situation and General McChrystal behaved honorably in quickly tendering his resignation.

     The news media have focused on the appointment of General David Petraeus as General McChrystal's replacement and the conventional wisdom, or media spin, is that it will be a smooth transition and the fundamental strategies currently employed in the war will not be changed. But there is an underlying story which is not being explored and which may be of some importance. That is: what were the reasons for the lack of respect and confidence in the civilian political leadership at the highest levels that stimulated the incident? The Ambassador to Afghanistan and the National Security Adviser are both retired generals. This might have led to rivalry issues. Ambassador Eikenberry was known to have opposed the "surge" which was an increase in the troop commitment of thirty thousand men. Was Eikenberry's opposition manifesting itself in ways that conflicted with McChrystal's strategy? If so, will this continue to be a problem for General Petraeus? Former Marine General and National Security Adviser James Jones has not publicly stated similar opposition but something was causing friction between him and McChrystal. Vice President Biden, who has a mostly partisan reputation as a foreign policy expert but no military credentials, is another public opponent of the surge strategy and Biden, never shy about voicing his opinions might have been an irritant to McChrystal and his senior staff. Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, is a genuine foreign policy expert with an extensive, decades long resume' but Holbrooke has the well earned reputation, even among friends, of having a huge ego and prickly personality. It is not hard to imagine that his interaction with the commander in the field might lead to "turf wars" as the politics and military operations overlapped. There is no question that the political component is of great importance to Obama, Biden and Holbrooke and also to Ambassador Ikenberry although perhaps to a lesser extent in his case since he would be more concerned with the political outcomes in Afghanistan while the White House is concerned with the political outcomes in participating NATO countries and domestic politics in the U.S. as well.

     Whatever interaction these senior administration officials had with the military command in Afghanistan was obviously flawed in some respect. Rather than ignore the underlying reasons for this and simply relying on General Petraeus to rise above it all, it behooves the President to investigate it and fix what might be an open wound on the conduct of the operation. Obama is not a "hands on" president, which is probably good since his presidential learning curve is still quite steep and his background in military affairs is nonexistent. However, it is possible that he has the wrong team, or at least some counterproductive members involved in the complicated effort in Afghanistan who need to be replaced. A single strategy with all the horses pulling in the same direction is vital to the effort.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

OBAMA AND THE CUSTER SYNDROME

      To say things aren't going well for President Obama is an understatement on a par with saying General Custer of Little Bighorn fame, had problems with multiculturalism. The war in Afghanistan seems to have bogged down and the President just had to fire the commander, General McChrystal because he and his senior staff unwisely exposed a lack of confidence and respect for Obama and the upper echelons of the Administration's foreign policy team. The prospect of a stable and modernizing government in Iraq diminishes with each daily sectarian bombing. Iran is defiantly continuing to pursue it's nuclear weapons program despite new levels of economic sanctions. Domestic unemployment still hovers around ten percent. And of course the run away well in the Gulf of Mexico keeps spewing millions of gallons of oil as seasonal storm clouds grow in the area.

     But that's just a list of the objective threats the Administration of "hope and change" is facing. The political threats which have lurked in the background for months are growing like General Custer's arrow collection. It's a given that the Republican party and it's adopted child, the Tea Party Movement are committed to oppose the Obama's policy agenda, at least until he can convince Democrats in the Congress to move to the center and make significant compromises, which their ideological core opposes; a most unlikely scenario on both their parts. But the adverse political winds are blowing from both the Left and the Right signaling a threat of major proportions.

     After January 20, 2009, the "Progressive" Left expected a new a whole new world of government expansion and regulation; the rapid closing of the hated Guantanamo prison; the rapid winding down to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a “spreading around” of private wealth and the passage of major new social programs and services. While they have gotten some of this liberal wish list, they haven't seen the sweeping transformation they expected. The first year and one half of the new "Enlightenment" has been long on "hope" and a little light on "change" from their perspective.

     Guantanamo is still open; the Middle East wars are still flaring and Obama upped the ante by committing an additional thirty thousand troops to an Afghanistan "surge". Obama has signed the extension of the Patriot Act which the ACLU and its far Left supporters equate with constitutional anti-matter; the "single payer" European style government run health care system never achieved lift off and it's step child the "government option" went down with the hopes of the Democrat Senatorial candidate in Massachusetts when Republican Scott Brown pulled his upset win to fill Ted Kennedy's former seat.

     Now the sniping from the Left has broken out of the blogesphere and has gone mainstream. While still not over their angst that Obama has shown a semblance of pragmatism, hasn't tried to leap over the impossibly high wall of reality and hasn't abandoned all things centrist, the usual liberal commentators are wringing their hands because Obama isn't emotional enough. He doesn't get angry and stamp his feet. He isn't hugging oily pelicans and declaring "jihad" on “greedy corporations” and all producers of fossil fuels.

Here's a sample:

     This from Maureen Dowd, the left wing queen of sarcasm and hater of all words containing the letters
b-u-s-h and c-h-e-n-e-y:

NY Times 6-15-10

     "How can a man who was a dazzling enough politician to become the first black president at age 47 suddenly become so obdurately self-destructive about politics?
President Obama’s bloodless quality about people and events, the emotional detachment that his aides said allowed him to see things more clearly, has instead obscured his vision. It has made him unable to understand things quickly on a visceral level and put him on the defensive in this spring of our discontent, failing to understand that Americans are upset that a series of greedy corporations have screwed over the little guy without enough fierce and immediate pushback from the president.

     Obama is the opposite, often too hesitant to take the obvious action. He seems unable to muster the adrenalin necessary to go full bore until the crowd has waited and wailed and almost given up on him, but it’s a nerve-racking way to campaign and govern."

     In another sign that the bloom is definitely off the rose, reliably liberal Charles Blow, also of the reliably liberal New York Times offers this:

     "President Obama’s relationship with America, like many a young marriage, is growing sour."
"It is becoming increasingly apparent that the magic has drained away. Even among his most ardent supporters, there now exists a certain frustration and disillusionment — not necessarily in the execution of his duties, but in his inability to seize moments, chart a course and navigate the choppy waters of public opinion.
What’s left for many is a big plume of disappointment and sadness lurking just beneath the surface."

     "There is blame on both sides. On one side is America — fickle and excitable, hotheaded and prone to overreaction, easily frightened and in constant need of reassurance. On the other side stands Obama — solid and sober, rooted in the belief that his way is the right way and in no need of alteration. He’s the emotionally maimed type who lights up when he’s stroked and adored but shuts down in the face of acrimony. Other people’s anxieties are dismissed as irrational and unworthy of engagement or empathy. He seems quite comfortable with this aspect of his personality, even if few others are, and shows little desire to change it. It’s the height of irony: the presumed transformative president is stymied by his own unwillingness to be transformed. He would rather sacrifice the relationship than be altered by it. "

     So if the Left is wavering, the circle of opposition is almost complete; Left, Center and Right. Like the ill-fated General Custer, Obama needs to do something big in a hurry, to changes a lot of minds. The recent poll numbers offer no solace.

     Obama's job approval rating is 47.2% and the trend is down. Pollster.com has approval among the all important self identified independents down to 39.7%. Democrats still answer "yes" when asked if they approve of the President's job performance but for the first time since the election Democrat approval has fallen below 80%. That's 21% of Democrats who don't approve. Combine that with 60.3% independents and a whopping 88% of Republicans and the Custer analogy looks pretty good.

     It gets worse. An NBC-Wall Street Journal survey found over 60% of people questioned, believed the country is "headed in the wrong direction." A Gallup Poll found that 42% of respondents identified themselves as "conservatives"; the highest figure on an annual basis in the history of the question. Only 20% of those surveyed identified as Liberals.

     It's too early to declare "Obama's Last Stand" but his scalp must be tingling. While the 2012 presidential election is still over two years away, the important congressional elections of 2010 are just five months out. The Democrats were already caught up in the anti-incumbent whirlwind, as were some Republicans. Now Democrat candidates are identified with an unpopular president whose "coattails" may drag them down like a bunch of Louisiana pelicans caught in the mire.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

TERRORISTS, REALITY, AND THE NEW YORK TIMES

     The New York Times editorial board has for a long time predictably affirmed the ACLU philosophy of unthinking academic-like purity on First Amendment issues of freedom of speech. It is therefore not surprising that the Times abandoned common sense once again and editorialized against the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of the Humanitarian Law Project vs. Holder, which sued the federal government to overturn a prohibition against providing "expert advice or assistance" to terrorist groups. The prohibition was written into the 2001 Patriot Act.

     The Supreme Court rejected the claims of the Humanitarian Law Project and upheld the Patriot Act prohibitions in a 6-3 decision. The Times editorial then claimed that: "By preserving an extremely vague prohibition on aiding and associating with terrorist groups, the court reduced the First Amendment rights of American citizens."

     The Times, in typical fashion, attempted to add strength to its position by omitting two very interesting and newsworthy bits of information. It simply reported that the court’s opinion was ". . . written by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. on behalf of five other justices." Left out by the always liberal Times was the embarrassing fact that besides the four justice "conservative" bloc and the "swing voting" Justice Anthony Kennedy, the majority included Justice John Paul Stevens, long considered the Court’s most liberal justice. Another "overlooked" fact was that the government’s case against the Humanitarian Law Project was argued by Solicitor General Elena Kagan nominated to the Court for her liberal credentials and who will soon replace the retiring Justice Stevens.

     Putting aside the fact that few American citizens are lining up to aid or associate with terrorist groups and thus will feel their First Amendment rights reduced, the argument of the plaintiff was essentially that the Patriot Act's definition of "material support" was overly broad and would thus deter "lawyers, journalists or academics who represent or study terrorist groups." This hypothetical claim tosses common sense into the ideological waste basket. Terrorists and their organizations that fall within the jurisdiction of the United States have a constitutional right to legal representation . Journalists and academics who choose to "study" terrorist groups are the recipients of information and assistance, not the providers.

     Specifically, “the law project wanted to provide advice to two terrorist groups on how to peacefully resolve their disputes and work with the United Nations." The two groups are the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

     The naiveté of such a claim, if indeed that was the actual motivation, is staggering.
The Liberation Tigers had been at war with the government of Sri Lanka since 1976. Before their military defeat in 2009, they engaged in political assassinations including that of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi; may have been the inventors of the explosive suicide belt, and even used light aircraft against the government. Their tactics put them on the terrorist lists of thirty-two countries. But after thirty-four years of violence the Humanitarian Law Project wanted to give them "advice" on "how to peacefully resolve there disputes, in this case secession from Sri Lanka, and "work with the United Nations".

     The history of the Kurdistan Workers Party may even be worse. Established as a Marxist-Leninist separatist organization the KWP has since 1984 engaged in open warfare and urban terrorists attacks which have claimed over thirty thousand casualties. Although going through several name changes and alleged cease fires and claims of adopting a tactic of nonviolence, the KWP has continued attacks and refused to disarm. The KWP mostly targets Turks and Turkish diplomatic and commercial enterprises in both Turkey and in Western Europe. They have bombed Turkish hotels and kidnapped and killed foreign tourists in Turkey. What "advice" the Humanitarian Law Project could offer that has not been available in this twenty-six year conflict is hard to imagine. But the case could have wider implications thus the articulation of the scope of the law by the Court's majority is important.,

     "Any tangible support -- money, legal aid or political advice -- "frees up other resources within the organization that may be put to violent ends," Chief Justice John Roberts said in the majority opinion.
"It also importantly helps lend legitimacy to foreign terrorist groups - legitimacy that makes it easier for those groups to persist, to recruit members, and to raise funds - all of which facilitate more terrorist attacks," Roberts said.

     Two interesting footnotes to the case are: Jimmy Carter filed a brief in support of the Humanitarian Law Project, an affirmation of the wisdom of the Court's decision. And in spite of the Times editorial claim that the decision represents a "Bruise on the First Amendment, Solicitor General and soon to be Supreme Court Justice Kagan told he Court:
     "What Congress decided is that when you help Hezbollah build homes, you are also helping Hezbollah build bombs."

     The six Justices in the majority obviously agreed and self styled “humanitarian” peace groups who believe that they can “train” terrorists to abandon terrorism need to take heed.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

OBAMA'S FOREIGN POLICY: IMAGE OVER SUBSTANCE

     In January, 2009, shortly after his inauguration President Obama gave a television interview on the Al-Arabiya network headquartered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In this interview, Obama famously said his administration "will offer a hand of friendship" to the Muslim world. He followed up on his Muslim outreach with a major speech in Cairo, Egypt on June 4, 2009 in which he praised, pandered to, and exaggerated the importance of Muslim culture in the modern world including the United States. All of this was intended to change the perception of the "Muslim street" towards the United States and initiate a new spirit of cooperation by Muslim governments, especially in South Asia and the Middle East. Now, eighteen months into his Administration Obama is finding what the Clinton Administration found out and the Bush Administrations knew all along, that platitudes, promises, apologies, and verbal hugs mean very little when dealing with autocratic governments who perceive their interests in confrontational terms and need an ideological enemy to keep their populations attention and energies directed towards the outside.
     Obama's platitudes and promises have failed to impress the public in key Muslim nations according to a recently released opinion survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.  In polls taken in April and May of this year only 17% of Egyptians held a favorable view of the U.S., down from the 27% view prior to Obama's Cairo speech in 2009.  In Jordan, long seen as a U.S. "ally" for the more moderate views of it's leaders, and the peace treaty it has with Israel, the favorable view of the U.S. was only 21%, down from 26% a year ago.  In Pakistan, a country vital to our engagement in Afghanistan and the war on Al Qaida and the Talban, only 17% of Pakistanis hold a favorable view of the U.S., down from 22% one year ago.


IRAN

All overtures and diplomatic efforts directed towards the Islamic government of Iran in hopes of stopping their development of nuclear weapons have been rudely rejected. A series of toothless economic sanctions and idle threats of "serious consequences" have brought nothing but ridicule by Iranian leaders. Attempts to negotiate desired outcomes is always a sound approach in international relations but negotiations must have and end game or their is no real incentive on the part of the recalcitrant party to negotiate. The end game in the Iranian negotiations which have been going on for over four years is the application of significant pain. The Iranians have used the hope of a negotiated solution to stall the process while they developed their nuclear capacity to produce military grade fissionable materials. The threat of a military strike against their nuclear facilities has lost its credibility as a negotiating tool. That leaves only harsh economic sanctions. Using the UN Security Council as a vehicle for such sanctions has always been a hopeless strategy. Russia and China who have veto power on the Council and valuable economic relations with Iran are willing to accept the risks and consequences of a nuclear armed Iran in order to protect those economic interests. The Obama Administration has known this since it came to power in January, 2009. The recently passed UN Security Council Resolution imposing sanctions was the result of a major compromise with Russia and China, which pulled the teeth of the sanctions and thus protected their interests. European Union officials, more concerned with the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran than Russia and China are close to imposing their own version of economic sanctions which are more broad than the Security Council version but still more of an inconvenience than a substantive application of economic pain, which is the underlying purpose of sanctions in the first place. The Obama Administration will cooperate and follow these European sanctions but Obama has had plenty of time to lead instead of follow and a comprehensive and significant application of economic isolation, especially with respect to refined petroleum which Iran lacks, would have had a more significant impact on the negotiations that have dragged on during his tenure. Economic sanctions do not have a good track record in deterring policies to which a government has made a major commitment but the more progress, and thus the larger the commitment that Iran has made in terms of prestige and financial investment over the last two years of diplomatic haggling has made a successful outcome from the point of view of the U.S. and Europe unrealistic.


PAKISTAN

     The air war conducted by CIA operated drones against Taliban leaders in Pakistan is being undermined by the cooperation and support of the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI. Pakistan's president, harshly and routinely, criticizes these missions and according to CBS News, "Pakistani opposition politicians have repeatedly denounced their own government for its support of the U.S. led war against militants, and called for an end to all cooperation with Washington." Pakistan is the recipient of enormous annual military and economic aid but the Pakistani government and military are playing a double game; cooperate with U.S. anti-Taliban objectives while maintaining contact with the Taliban itself. Pakistan already is a nuclear weapons state and the worlds second largest Muslim nation, rife with radical Islamic elements. A failure of the current government if replaced by a Taliban or Taliban- like radical government would be a disaster for relations with India and thus regional stability. A clear policy of support with the appropriate levels of cooperation and pursuit of mutual interests is vital. The Obama Administration's relationship with the Pakistan government seems muddled at best.


TURKEY

     In Turkey, a non-Arab Muslim nation and NATO member, the President, Recep Tayip Erdogan, reportedly a "devout Muslim" has sided with the terrorist Hamas organization that governs the Gaza strip in the so called "Freedom Flotilla" incident. Edrdogan declared the Israeli take over of the largest ship, which was leased in Turkey and on which eleven Turkish citizens were killed while attacking Israeli commandos, "state terrorism". Erdogan was no doubt encouraged by the Obama's lack of support for the Israeli position, and his call for an "international" investigation which like previous international investigations of Israeli foreign policies have predictably resulted in condemnation. Turkey has also recently opposed UN economic sanctions against Iran in connection with Iran's defiance in it's quest for nuclear weapons. It even voted against those sanctions in the UN Security Council where it currently serves a two year term. This anti-Israeli, pro-Islamist stance, which is a major change from Turkey's previous efforts to develop friendly relations with Israel, is also an anti-West stance since it has adopted the pro-Hamas position and may signal that Erdogan is abandoning efforts to win Turkish membership in the European Union. The implications for it's membership in NATO are also extremely troublesome. Obama needs to make clear to Erdogan, Americas support for Israel and opposition to Hamas.


SYRIA

     Obama has followed up his friendly outreach to the Muslim world with a simplistic attempt to pry Syria away from Iran. A high level delegation of diplomats and officials of U.S. corporations has recently been sent to Syria to meet with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad ostensibly to aid Syria's entry into the world of sophisticated information technology. This despite recent information disclosing the transfer of scud missiles by Syria to the terrorist Hezbollah organization in Lebanon for use against Israel. Syria has moved ever closer to Iran in recent months and along with Iran, supports both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.


ISRAEL

     While "reaching out" to Muslim autocracies and receiving nothing but scorn in return, Obama has managed to offend large portions of the citizens of our long standing ally's, Britain and Israel. Obama has personally excoriated the Netanyahu government in Israel for building apartments in East Jerusalem, while ignoring the fact that Jerusalem is the Israeli capital and the government does not recognize a divided city. His previously mentioned lack of support of Israeli in their blockade of Gaza which is intended to prevent the importation of weapons further distanced him from Israeli security goals and diminishes the U.S. role as the intermediary in attempts to start “indirect” peace talks.


BRITAIN

     The Gulf oil crisis has brought considerable criticism of Obama in the U.S.for a perceived lack of leadership. The far Left has demanded that he show more emotion i.e. get mad as a reflection of American anger, not a natural reaction for the reserved Obama. However, reacting to this growing discontent he has ratcheted up the rhetoric about "British Petroleum" which became "BP", an international conglomerate after it bought U.S. oil firm Amoco. Now Obama is demanding that BP cancel it's annual dividend to share holders, forty percent of whom are Americans but a significant number of whom are British pensioners, Obama has raised the ire of the media in Britain as BP's stock price has declined by half and British officials, including the Mayor of London and members of the Conservative Party are pointing out that the financial destruction of BP is not in the interest of either the U.S. who needs the assets of the company to both clean up the damage in the Gulf and to pay for economic losses in the region, or Britain for whom BP is a major financial center.

     British news outlets report that "His beating up of BP has clinched his anti-British credentials on this side of the Atlantic. The anger here is palpable". BP has acknowledged it's responsibility and has said it will pay for the damages. Angry rhetoric for domestic political purposes is counter productive and could have lasting effects in other areas where British cooperation is needed. Obama’s handling of this issue can only be described as clumsy.


AFGHANISTAN

     In his commencement address at the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, President Obama said this about the nine year struggle in Afghanistan.

“I have no doubt that together with our Afghan and international partners, we will succeed in Afghanistan.”

Unfortunately, the key player in the attempt to keep Afghanistan out of the hands of the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai, doesn't agree. Recently Karzai said he doubts that the NATO and Afghan forces can win the war and he has suggested talks with Taliban leaders about the possibility of bringing them into his government. Clearly, the Afghan effort is in trouble. Obama was right to defer to his commander in the field, General Petraeus, and attempt to create a turning point by committing an additional thirty thousand troops in the "surge". However, the effort has so far not brought the game changing results hoped for and if the mission in Kandahar is not successful in bringing a debilitating blow to the Taliban, Obama will be forced to face harsh reality. The war cannot go on forever. The American people are growing weary of it and the financial costs are unsustainable. The Taliban cannot be defeated militarily, they can simple fade into the mountains and wait for the inevitable U.S. departure. The tribal culture, religious intransigence towards modern values and endemic corruption in the government make "hearts and minds" strategies seem almost naive. Drilling water wells and building schools may benefit small communities but won't bring resistance to the anti-modernist ideology of the Islamists as long as the message comes from the West. The only hope for a semblance of security and slow cultural transformation lies with the Afghan government itself. Unfortunately, Obama's emissaries have been unsuccessful in bringing that message to the corrupt power centers in Kabul.

    . Obama said the United States would “be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well,” while also trying to “build new partnerships and shape stronger international standards and institutions."

     This new “national security strategy” seems more intended to make Obama the “anti-Bush”, pander to the domestic Left and remake America’s reputation as a more passive, more international order oriented player in its international security role. So far his “outreach” to the Islamic world had produced nothing positive. A foreign policy that is overly dependent on “stronger international standards and institutions” is a foreign policy overly dependent on unreliable lesser powers and is a recipe for inertia in the face of threats. The national interests of the world’s major powers simply do not coincide as the UN’s Iran sanctions efforts have made clear. “International standards” are often corrupted by cultural, religious and ideological differences which make their application as the basis for international security impossible. Obama should be primarily concerned with the security of the U.S. and less with his reputation as an international “community organizer.”

Saturday, June 12, 2010

POLITICS: THE DUMB SIDE

When Losing is Winning


     Last Tuesday's primary elections generated more than usual interest for contests that historically stimulate so little enthusiasm among voters that participation in the twenty to twenty-five percent range is not unusual. In Arkansas the Democrat primary for the U.S. Senate was actually a run-off between incumbent senator Blanche Lincoln and Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter. Lincoln was the target of organized labor and unions poured ten million dollars into an anti-Lincoln advertising campaign plus supplying hundreds of union members as "organizers". Lincoln, a career Democrat from a conservative state was judged to be "not liberal enough" by union leaders who preferred Halter.
     The ten million dollars were not enough. Lincoln won. But "progressive" spokesmen in a remarkable example of "alternate universe" thinking are claiming they "won" because they "almost won". This of course sends a "powerful message" to other too moderate, "not liberal enough", Democrat candidates ; If you don't change your ways, progressive candidates will "almost defeat" you too. An official of the Obama Administration, which supported Lincoln, as did former President Bill Clinton, said the unions "flushed ten million dollars down the toilet." Presumably progressives will be happy if the occasionally moderate Obama "almost loses" in 2012.


It's Simple

     Well, after sixty-two years of Arab/Israeli conflict, eighty-nine year old curmudgeon and White House Correspondent Helen Thomas, who has made a career out of insulting conservative presidents and haranguing press secretaries, has the answer: "Tell them (the Israelis) to get the hell out of Palestine." OK, that settles it. It's simple. But where do you move seven million people? Her interviewer, a rabbi wanted to know also. Thomas' answer, equally as thoughtful as her suggestion: "Go home." "Where's home", he asked? "Poland, Germany, and America. And everywhere else." she replied. Setting aside the senility inspired question of' how could "everywhere else" be "home", history tells us that Poland and Germany aren't such great destinations for Jews. Besides, aren't the Israelis already "home"? What about that whole Red Sea thing with Charlton Heston? That was a really long time ago, like thousands of years, so doesn't that qualify as home? Apparently not to Thomas, who actually has a few supporters who recite her long term, and irrelevant, credentials as a female reporter and fall back on "free speech" nostrums. But the criticizer-in-chief, President Obama, called her remarks "Out of line." and "offensive". And, "She made the right decision to resign." A spokesman for the Board of White House Correspondents said Thomas's comments were "indefensible". Thomas, whose parents were immigrants from Lebanon, cited her "Arab" background for her perspicacity on all things Middle East, however when the heat was on she issued a non;-apology, apology: "I deeply regret my comments. They do not reflect my heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon." Of course she regrets her comments. They sent her into retirement and none too soon.


Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

     Important political issues are filling the headlines: Obama Administration is taking heat for it's response and readiness with respect to the worst oil spill in history. The UN Security Council has struggled to finally pass weak sanctions against Iran for pursuing nuclear weapons. The New York Times has declared that California Republican Senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina's Biden-like open mike comment about her Democrat opponent, Barbara Boxer's hair is now a "big issue". Uh . . .what's that again? Yes, "...they presented her with a political problem that could haunt her throughout the campaign." "They both inform and confirm the image from her days as chief executive at Hewlett-Packard that she was tart and unpleasant." A "tart and unpleasant" CEO who wants to be a "tart and unpleasant" politician? Shocking! Here is the election defeating comment identified by the ever watchful NY Times: “Laura saw Barbara Boxer briefly on television this morning and said what everyone says, ‘God, what is that hair?’ Soooooooo yesterday,” Ms. Fiorina said.
     After spending millions of hers and other people's dollars on the Republican primary, it must be devastating to hear that the NY Times now has picked the winner of the general election. Of course, expert political opinion can't be denied and the Times is relying on one of California's best.
     “If you are dissing their hair, you are dissing their personality and their lifestyle,” said Billy Lowe, a celebrity stylist who owns a hair salon in Los Angeles. “It is probably the one thing a woman spends most of her time on every day. It’s always on their minds. Your hair is your personality.”
     Stand by for Barbara Boxer's new hairdo; a new personality would be a bonus.

Friday, June 4, 2010

ACTIVISTS, ISRAEL AND THE GAZA BLOCKADE

     International condemnation of the Israeli response to the recent attempt to break the Gaza blockade is in full force. The criticism came in almost knee jerk fashion based solely on the results of the confrontation and without any analysis of the facts leading up to and during the event itself. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon quickly "condemned" the Israeli action and called for an investigation of the facts. Common sense would have dictated that the investigation and analysis of the facts precede any condemnation or other judgments, but the political culture of the United Nations has been decidedly anti-Israel for decades, so this is not surprising.

     The intense reaction from many of the world's governments and non-governmental organizations seems focused on the regrettable deaths of nine of the participants. Thus the first question that should be addressed is "Could the confrontation and the loss of life have been avoided?" The answer is unequivocally "yes". The planned action by the political activists organizing the "flotilla" was well known in advance but, an important fact that has been little discussed is the fact that the Israeli government announced that the flotilla would be intercepted. Also, the Israeli's announced that the goods bound for Gaza on board the ships could be delivered to Israel, inspected and then taken to Gaza through the regular land based entry points. If the primary goal of the activists was to deliver these materials, why was this option not taken? Some comments by the participants and their supporters are revealing in this respect.

     This analysis is from the New York Times on June 2, 2010:

     "The supporters of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla had more than humanitarian intentions. The Gaza Freedom March made its motives clear in a statement before Monday’s deadly confrontation: “A violent response from Israel will breathe new life into the Palestine solidarity movement, drawing attention to the blockade.”

     "On Tuesday in a bustling neighborhood in Istanbul, the (sponsoring) Turkish organization was celebrating a strange success. “We became famous,” said Omar Faruk, a board member of the group, Insani Yardim Vakfi, known by its Turkish initials, I.H.H. “We are very thankful to the Israeli authorities"

     Sixty-eight year old American citizen, and long time pro-Palestinian activist, Greta Berlin co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the co-sponsors of the "flotilla", says that "she does not accept Israel as a Jewish state, though she contends that is part of a larger philosophy which opposes all national borders."
One can't help but wonder if she is opposed to the national borders of the proposed Palestinian state.

     What these comments make clear is that the Turkish group and the Free Gaza Movement were engaged in a planned provocation. Unfortunately, like so many politically inspired provocations by activists groups, it was poorly planned and got out of hand as a result. Perhaps expecting customs agents or their equivalent, the activists on board the major Turkish vessel were crudely armed and chose to create a physical confrontation with the Israeli commandos as the injuries to several of the commandoes attest. Acquiescence in the face of superior force would have been the wiser choice and would have gained the same international attention, albeit without the outrage that the unnecessary deaths brought on. Expecting armed members of the military to submit to clubbings and stabbings is nonsensical no matter what one's political motivations might be.

      There are sound reasons both for and against the Israeli blockade of Gaza. It represents a delicate diplomatic problem that the parties themselves need to negotiate. The interference of outside non-governmental groups is almost always counterproductive. These groups, are driven solely by rigid ideology, or in the Turkish participation, by a religious identification. Such motivations exclude the possibility of compromise through negotiation.

     The Israeli sea blockade of Gaza and their response to this effort to defy it are two separate issues that have now been conflated. The activists now have their "martyrs" as the Turks are calling them, and Israel still has a significant security issue complicated by the "pre-investigative" reaction of world political leaders and media pundits. The core issue here is the physical security of the state of Israel as determined by whatever Israeli government is in power and the intransigence of the governing Hamas party in Gaza which does not recognize Israel's right to exist and will not renounce violence as a political tactic. This confrontation and the overwrought reaction by Western governments represents a major setback for progress in the resolution of these issues as Hamas, although not a participant in the action, will be emboldened by the support demonstrated by political figures abroad. Hamas may well become more aggressive and Israel more defensive and the sixty-two year old Israeli-Palestinian crisis will go on.