Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rami Khouri on Obama's "300"

As ever, Rami Khouri tells it like it is - in this instance, reminding us that it was Mr. Bush's Iraq escapade, and its enforcers, that lit the fire that threatens to consume Iraq altogether.  He also spotlights the hypocrisy of Obama's warning Iran that it must play a constructive role:

Obama’s comments on Iran are truly offensive. He resorts to his hallmark “audacity” in saying that Iran can be part of the regional diplomatic action needed to bring calm to Iraq if Iran plays a constructive role in Iraq. There is zero credibility in such statements coming from the president of a country whose war on Iraq probably created the most destruction there since the Mongol invasion and sacking of Baghdad in 1258. If there were a global award for willful and criminal destruction of a sovereign state by a foreign power, the U.S. and the United Kingdom would have to share that prize for their policies in Iraq.

Obama’s disdainful treatment of Iran reflects, however, a pattern of American attitudes that the U.S. can do anything around the world and not be held accountable for the death and destruction it causes, while smaller and darker states in the South must conform to behavioral norms set in Washington (and sometimes in Tel Aviv, though Israel usually is exempt from adhering to the same norms, as we witness today in the mass arrests, collective punishments and continued arrest and killing of children in Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands).

Indeed.  Well said.




Read more: 


(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: 

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Pathetic Figure that is Dick Cheney

Amy Davidson's New Yorker post spotlights the recent column by the Cheneys (Dick and Elizabeth) calling out Mr. Obama for not manning up and reinserting US forces into Iraq.  As Davidson puts it:

On Tuesday, Dick and Liz Cheney published a column in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that it was a shame and a failure that the American war—which the elder Cheney had helped start—had not gone on and on. American soldiers, they suggested, should be there right now. “It is time the president and his allies faced some hard truths: America remains at war, and withdrawing troops from the field of battle while our enemies stay in the fight does not ‘end’ wars. Weakness and retreat are provocative.”


In the Cheneys’ contorted diagram of history, going to war is itself a victory. They seem to see Iraq’s wreckage as a vindication of that war, not an indictment of it. It is difficult, otherwise, to explain their contempt for Obama’s withdrawal of troops. (“President Obama seems determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch.”) On this question, the Cheneys appear to be out of touch even with many in their own party. When Megyn Kelly, interviewing the Cheneys on Fox News, told Cheney that he had made a historic mistake in Iraq, he seemed startled enough to address her as “Reagan.” Perhaps the Cheneys and other conservatives do realize that the American public has come to view the Iraq War as a disaster, and have simply persuaded themselves that the only way to void that judgment is to get the war going again.

Sad, isn't it, that such a once-powerful public figure is utterly unable to imagine a world stage without American full-spectrum dominance.  Nor can he imagine - much less accept - that the actions he encouraged, and policies he advocated (torture, anyone?), merit his own disgrace and banishment from the cohorts of serious discussion.  (One might consider Tony Blair as a similar case in point.)

Watching CNN's broadcast special on the Vietnam War last night, I couldn't help noticing its serendipitous timing with a new  insertion (in this instance, re-insertion) of American military forces into a region whose cultural dynamics they and their leaders cannot comprehend, and into a conflict in which (contra Dick Cheney and John McCain) they cannot "prevail" (to borrow General Westmoreland's promise of almost 50 years ago). 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Holocaust Denial - in California?!

There are times when all you can do is scratch your head and wonder about the idiocy of some people.

Noted Holocaust scholar and expert Deborah Lipstadt has an important essay at Tablet about a report that 8th-grade students in the school district of Rialto, California, were provided an assignment in which they are to debate whether or not the Holocaust actually happened.


This is scary stuff.  Thankfully (see Below), the district dropped the assignment after protests began to roll in.

But what were they thinking?  Who were these people who dreamed up this assignment?  Who would let them within a mile of a school building?

And how many numbskulls are now wondering, "golly, why did they pull the assignment? Isn't it important to hear both sides?"
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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Apartheid in the West Bank

Peter Beinart distinguishes between apartheid as indeed practiced under Israeli hegemony in the West Bank versus what Israeli Arabs must contend with day-to-day in Israel itself.   Beinart doesn't recognize how consistently Israeli Arabs have to deal with discrimination, not to mention the increasing calls for their expulsion and the blatant racism with which many Israeli Jews regard them.  But given all of that, you have to credit Beinart for calling it like it is in the West Bank:

. . .  there’s a territory—the West Bank—where Israel is practicing apartheid right now. The International Criminal Court defines “apartheid” as “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups.”  Yes, Jews and Palestinians aren’t races. They’re peoples. But what matters is that the boundary between them is sealed. For all practical purposes, West Bank Palestinians cannot become Jews and because they cannot, they are barred from citizenship in the state that controls their lives, cannot vote for its government, live under a different legal system than their Jewish neighbors and do not enjoy the same freedom of movement. That’s “systematic oppression and domination” by one group over another. And it’s been going on for 46 years.  . . .   Apartheid is not a problem Israel must avoid in the future. It’s the reality West Bank Palestinians face today. For Jews and non-Jews who care about justice, that should be all the incentive we need. 

So, kudos then to Beinart.  But even more kudos to Gideon Levy, who shares my disgust with John Kerry's retreat from his claim, not that Israel was, at present, an apartheid state, but that it was on the road to becoming one.  Here's Levy, in full:

Is Israel at risk of becoming an apartheid state, as John Kerry said on Friday, or not, as he said on Tuesday? Who knows? Given his feeble performance as U.S. secretary of state and his disgraceful apology, maybe it no longer matters what Kerry thinks or says. Given the aggressiveness of the Jewish lobby and the weakness of the Obama administration, which capitulates to every “pro-Israel” whim, Israel doesn’t need enemies with friends like these. Look what happened to its genuine friend, who was only trying to warn it from itself.

What a miserable secretary of state, up to his neck in denial. And how unfriendly to Israel he is to retract his frank, genuine and friendly warning merely for fear of the lobby. Now millions of ignorant Americans, viewers of Fox News and its ilk, know that Israel is in no risk of becoming an apartheid state. They believe the power of Hamas and the sophistication of Qassam rocket pose an existential danger to Israel .

But Kerry’s vacillations do not change the reality that shrieks from every wall. From every West Bank Palestinian village, from every reservoir and power grid that is for Jews only; apartheid screams from every demolished tent encampment and every verdict of the military court; from every nighttime arrest, every checkpoint, every eviction order and every settlement home. No, Israel is not an apartheid state, but for nearly 50 years an apartheid regime has ruled its occupied territories. Those who want to continue to live a lie, to repress and to deny are invited to visit Hebron. No honest, decent person could return without admitting the existence of apartheid. Those who fear that politically incorrect word have only to walk for a few minutes down Shuhada Street, with its segregated road and sidewalks, and their fear of using the forbidden word will vanish without a trace.

The history of the conflict is filled with forbidden words. Once upon a time, it was forbidden to say “Palestinians” was forbidden, after that came the prohibitions against saying “occupation,” “war crime,” “colonialism” or “binational state.” Now “apartheid” is prohibited.

The forbidden words paralyze debate. Did you let the word “apartheid” slip out? The truth is no longer important. But no political correctness or bowdlerization, however sanctimonious, can conceal reality forever. And the reality is an occupation regime of apartheid.

The naysayers can find countless differences between the apartheid of Pretoria and that of Jerusalem. Pretoria’s was openly racist and anchored in law; Jerusalem’s is denied and repressed, hidden beneath a heavy cloak of propaganda and messianic religious faith. But the result is the same. Some South Africans who lived under the system of segregation say that their apartheid was worse. I know South Africans who say that the version in the territories is worse. But neither group can find a significant difference at the root: When two nations share the same piece of land and one has full rights while the other has no rights, that is apartheid. If it looks like apartheid, walks like apartheid and quacks like apartheid, it’s apartheid.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Bible and Oklahoma Public Education

from today's Politico Morning Education

HOBBY LOBBY PRESIDENT PROMOTES BIBLICAL CURRICULUM: Public schools in Mustang, Okla., will offer a Bible course next fall developed by Steve Green, president of the Hobby Lobby craft chain. It's the start of an ambitious bid by Green to introduce Scripture to public school students across the U.S. Within a few years, Green hopes thousands of schools will offer his curriculum - a sequence of four full-year classes exploring the Bible's content, history and impact on society. The classes will be electives in Mustang, but Green has said he hopes districts will one day make them mandatory.
- The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that it's legal for schools to teach the Bible as long as it's presented "objectively" as part of a "secular program of education." Green himself has said that he wants students to understand that the Bible is "true" and "good," but it's unclear if the classes will take that approach. The scholar Green tapped to run the program, Jerry Pattengale, told Religion News Service that the courses "may or may not espouse those views." More on the curriculum from RNS:

That more people don't see the threat that people like Steve Green represents to young Americans, and the US's future, stuns me.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thomas Friedman's Simple Boxes

There he goes again.  Thomas Friedman reconstructs global politics (for the umpteenth time) with simple boxes.  (OK OK, so he calls them categories.)  This time it's
The first category . . . countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, whose leaders are focused on building their authority, dignity and influence through powerful states.
The second category, countries focused on building their dignity and influence through prosperous people, includes all the countries in Nafta, the European Union, and the Mercosur trade bloc in Latin America and Asean in Asia.
And of course, he must have an all-the-others third box, lumped as "disorder":
a third and growing category of countries, which can’t project power or build prosperity. They constitute the world of “disorder.” . . . They are actually power and prosperity sinks because they are consumed in internal fights over primal questions like: Who are we? What are our boundaries? Who owns which olive tree? These countries include Syria, Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Congo and other hot spots.
All of this, of course, as an entree for TF to briefly touch upon Ukraine's turmoil, and then conclude by noting that
we should have learned some lessons from our recent experience in the Middle East: First, how little we understand about the social and political complexities of the countries there; second, that we can — at considerable cost — stop bad things from happening in these countries but cannot, by ourselves, make good things happen; and third, that when we try to make good things happen we run the risk of assuming the responsibility for solving their problems, a responsibility that truly belongs to them.
Indeed.  Well said.  Agreed.

But not a word from TF, of course, about how his cheerleading (remember "suck on this?") in 2002 and 2003 helped rip Iraq from box 1 to dump it into box 3.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Roger Cohen's Disappointing Essay on BDS

The NYT's Roger Cohen writes this morning that the BDS movement is simply not to be trusted, even if its goal of ending Israeli occupation in the West Bank is laudable.  The reason?  BDS supporters ultimately wish to see the enforcement of the Palestinians' right to return (in Cohen's words, the "so-called" right to return).  For that reason, Cohen comes perilously close to arguing that BDS supporters are anti-Semites.  Undoubtedly some are, but Cohen ought to know better than to come as close as he does to tarring the entire movement with that brush.  It's not fair, and it doesn't help.
Cohen goes on to say that the UN gave an "unambiguous mandate" to a Jewish state in 1947.  Well, perhaps, although anyone who's read deeply into the history knows how much arm-twisting by the US went into that vote.  But if Cohen is going to cite that vote as the ultimate legitimizer of the creation of a Jewish state, he can't be permitted to dismiss at the same time those provisions of international law that state that the ethnic cleansing that was inflicted on Palestinians from 1946 on was illegal and that forbidding expelled Palestinians from returning was likewise illegal.
As so many commentators have noted, the crux of the issues that continue to separate Israelis and Palestinians is not the events of 1967, but the events of 1947-1948.  For Cohen to dismiss the concerns and claims of those Palestinians who were victimized then, even in the interests of securing a Jewish refuge and homeland, is - again - not fair, and it doesn't help.

Friday, January 10, 2014

About Those US Demands That Maliki Include Sunnis

At Bloomberg, former Bushie Meghan O'Sullivan calls upon Mr. Obama and his officials to head off a new Iraq war by making better use of the US's "new leverage" to convince Iraq PM Nuri al-Maliki to make his government more inclusive of Sunni representation.

She, of course, is not the only notable former official/expert/pundit calling for this.  And anyone who's been paying attention in recent years knows that much of Iraq's malaise post-US pullout stems from Maliki's failure to bring Iraq's Sunnis alongside.  Indeed, it's been more than a failure to simply include them.  Rather, in dealing with Sunni opposition, Maliki has resorted to the kind of repressive tactics - intimidation, torture, executions - that, even if we've no evidence of mass burials of people killed by the government, could have come from Saddam Hussein's manual of How to Run Iraq.

We all know that Iraq's chances of remaining a relatively unitary state (I say relatively because the Kurds have been out that door since even before 2003) hinge upon the ability of the Iraqi leadership, and Iraq's people, to create a political-social contract that will enable them to rise above the sectarian divisiveness that Saddam fostered (despite his supposed Baathist secularism) and that the Coalition Provisional Authority and its aftermath exacerbated and helped solidify, including  in the new Iraqi constitution.  Many have noted that non-sectarian Iraqi nationalism still runs deep in some elements of Iraqi politics and society.  How long that can persist if Iraq's current  cacophany of violence persists remains to be seen.

But all the American calls for Maliki to change his ways, seems to me, fail to take into account certain realities:

Nuri al-Maliki, besides being Iraq's prime minister since 2006, has also been the head of a Shi'ite religious party, al-Da'wa.  Members of that party were persecuted and executed, brutally, under Saddam's Sunni-led Baathist regime.  Maliki himself was forced into exile during that time.  The current members of al-Da'wa, and members of other Shi'ite religious parties, bear deeply seared memories of what they and their families suffered at the hands of a predominantly Sunni government.  American politicians like John McCain and Lindsey Graham who so stridently demand that Maliki change his ways cannot possibly understand the extent to which such deeply seated fear, as well as feelings of revenge, might motivate Maliki and those who back him - including millions of Iraqi Arab Shi'ites.

Although the US has professed to be a friend and ally of Maliki, much more important - and potentially much more useful - to him is the support of the friend and ally next door: the Shi'ite Islamic Republic of Iran.  That, of course, is the same Shi'ite republic that Saddam attacked in 1980, launching an eight-year war during which the Sunni-led Baathist regime of Iraq was supported by the U.S. under Ronald Reagan.  And with U.S. backing, Saddam's forces inflicted hundreds of thousands of deaths and maimed lives on Iranian soldiers and civilians, using poison gas as well as more "conventional" weapons of mass destruction.  But the more important point here is that, given the awfulness of that war, the very last thing the Iranian leadership can countenance is the re-empowerment of Sunni parties or politicians in Iraq.

All of this means that Mr. Maliki is going to be inclined to turn a very tinnish ear to U.S. entreaties and demands that he bring Sunni elements within anything close to striking distance of effective power in Iraqi politics.  Given Iraq's history over the last several decades, this ought to be obvious.  McCain, Graham, Boehner - all of those now demanding more of Maliki, as well as more of Obama - need to wise up.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

McCain and Graham Pave Path to New Intifada

Disturbing report from WashPo about how Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have lined up with Mr. Netanyahu in expressing grave reservations about proposals emerging from the recent John Kerry-led "peace process."  Per usual for the vast majority of US congressmen, their concerns hinge almost entirely on Israel's security needs - which, in their minds (and, of course, Bibi's), can only be served by an agreement that permits the IDF almost unhindered access to the West Bank.

Graham's comments are especially worrying:

Graham said that despite detailed security proposals for the West Bank developed by a special U.S. envoy, retired Marine Gen. John R. Allen, senior Israelis remain unconvinced. “Here’s the one thing that I think dominates the thinking in Israel: that once you withdraw, then the ability to go back is almost impossible,” Graham said. “Look at Gaza. What’s the chance of going back into Gaza militarily?”


Israel can defend itself against rocket attacks from that formerly Israeli-occupied territory, but withdrawal meant giving up the “ability to chart your own destiny,” Graham said.



“I really do believe that the idea of withdrawing has to be considered in light of Gaza,” Graham said.


None of the above indicates that Graham and his ilk are going to accept any kind of Palestinian state that would also be acceptable to Mr. Abbas or any other of the more moderate Palestinian political leaders, not to mention those of a more militant stripe - i.e., a return to pre-1967 borders (with suitable land swaps) and a Palestinian government with responsibility for maintaining security with its own security forces.  That others in Netanyahu's govermnent are also insisting on Israeli control of the Jordan Valley - something that, I'd bet, McCain and Graham are prefectly okay with - further dims the prospects for Kerry's success.

I'm also struck by Graham's focus on Gaza as the template for what Israel ought not to do in the West Bank.  Implicit in his comments is the assumption that Israel had been justified in occupying and colonizing Gaza in the first place, and that Israel ought never to have left Gaza, but instead ought to have ramped up the number of settlements there as well as the degree of military occupation.

All of this, of course, plays into the established and well-justified perception that the US political leadership as a whole will accept a Palestinian state only if such a state remains completely under the security domination of Israel.  Equally justifiably, most Palestinians will view Kerry's efforts as little better than a smokescreen while Netanyahu and his right-wing government cement the creation of "Greater Israel."

And that, of course, feeds a growing probability of another intifada - something that the WashPo report likewise points out. 


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