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Topic: Foreign Policy
The Soul-Sucking, Attention-Eating Black Hole of the Trump Presidency
3/24/2017 6:04:47 PM
David Rothkopf over at Foreign Policy magazine has written an article with the above title in which he says that "While we endlessly watch for the latest blunder or scandal, America is being pulled dangerously off course."
I have been thinking the same thing for some time now. My wife and I had dinner at a fancy place with some friends last week and I rather desperately wanted to talk about anything other than what Donald Trump was doing or not doing. We actually got through about two thirds of the evening without doing so. But then someone brought him up and the conversation exploded. The man knows how to dominate everyone's attention and that, of course, is one thing he wants, everyone talking about him.
But in the meantime, very little is actually happening. He is just trying to wreck things. He wants to hurt people. He is a very cruel man who appears to judge himself based on how many people hate him, or how many people he has damaged. I have never seen such a public figure. It is a sign to me of the nearly complete public degradation of this country.
I am writing this after hearing that the Republican Obamacare replacement bill has failed. Republicans have been running on this issue for seven years. It hasn't been just an issue, it has been the issue for Republicans and Trump made it central to his campaign. Just think of the time and attention they have give to this issue, and now they have failed. They have wasted their time on negativity, on bashing something and some people. But when it comes to actually putting together a positive program they have flunked.
Paying attention to public life today I feel like the monkey in a Pavlovian experiment who has a wire in his brain which jolts a pleasure center each time the monkey pushes on a button. The monkey sits there pushing the button over and over without anything else happening. It's a total waste, nothing gets done, and finally after the last piece of energy is used to push the button the monkey dies. Trump has made of us monkeys who get a little pleasure watching his antics but otherwise the rest of the community is falling apart.
Trump actually said after the failure to bring his health care to a vote today that he doesn't care that Obamacare will now explode and many people will be hurt. And he blames the Democrats for this when he is president and both sides of congress are controlled by Republicans. No, the Trump presidency is a black hole sucking the life of the country into itself. Unless it ends soon there may be little government left capable of providing order and justice for society.
And that is actually what many Republicans seem to want these days. They have become like Marxists of old, they want the government to wither away. They are extreme utopians, they think everyone will do better if there is no government to get in people's way. Just the other day I heard a person who works in the financial field say exactly that. But we are one country in a big world. It is very dangerous for us to have such a narcissistic president that it makes of us an even greater narcissistic nation. Rothkopf writes:
America is a naturally narcissistic nation. From “exceptionalism” to being the “last best hope of Earth,” we are raised to believe that life on this planet revolves around those of us who live somewhere here in “God’s country.” But even with a history of believing that we are the sun around which all other countries orbit, it has fallen to our nation’s narcissist-in-chief to take us to a level of self-obsession that makes Kanye West look like Thomas Merton.Notice the word, "oblivion". That means non-existence, no life, end of it all. Either me or nobody.
But Rothkopf is writing from China. While Trump is gathering all the attention in this country for himself, others in other places are actually building communities. It is good for the Chinese to have Americans so self absorbed in the silliness of Trump envy. That's all Trump really is, a "brand", an abstraction, a word, a word which is now associated with failure. Trump is a loser, and everyone who really knows him knows he is a loser. He is a con artist who has conned the media, especially, and that is how seemed to win the election, with the help of the Russians, we now know. The Russians want a loser president for the Americans.
But the Chinese and other countries recognize that the United States plays a large role in world order and stability. They see what Trump is doing and saying and they are now getting worried. They see that Trump doesn't care about anything but himself, not the United States, not the world. The people of this country have made a terrible mistake.
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Trump Glorifies American Militarism with German Leader, Embarrassing Himself
3/18/2017 6:59:45 PM
William Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), professor of history, and has written about the press conference with Donald Trump and Angela Merkel. It seems that Trump cannot do anything right, he is a total loser as president. He embarrassed himself and, of course, he is an embarrassment for the American people. If I were traveling to other countries right now I would wonder what people were saying about me when they learned I was an American.
Rather than being a blessing to the rest of the world, the United States has become a threat. It now has a delusional braggart and bully as a president, a man who doesn't even know how to talk decently in public. Everything possible must be done to remove this man from office as soon as possible.
Here is what Astore had to say about the press conference:
Yesterday’s Trump-Merkel press conference was disturbing on several levels. Worst of all was the scene of a German Chancellor listening to an American president boast about how strong his military is, and how much stronger it soon will be. Not that long ago in historical terms, Germany was a country that stressed military dominance. Two lost world wars cured Germany of its militarism. American militarism has taken its place.
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Senators Marco Rubio and Joni Ernst Don't Know the Difference between Sunni and Shia Islam
2/28/2015 2:21:25 PM
It is impossible to even begin to understand what has been happening in the Middle East without knowing the difference between the Sunni and the Shia in Islam. Most people in the west know the religious difference between Protestant and Catholic and that, especially in the past, there has been real hostility, indeed, European wars, between the two groups. But in many places in the Middle East there is still very strong hostility and active conflict between Sunni and Shia. The difference goes back to early disagreements about the line of authority after the death of the prophet Muhammad in the seventh century A.D. This difference is what defines the warfare going on in Iraq and Syria right now and the whole rise of ISIS.
In Iraq the minority Sunni ran the country made up mostly of Shia (and Kurds, a different ethnic group, in the north). So when Saddam Hussein was overthrown by George W. Bush and people were allowed to vote for a new government they chose Shia leaders who were extremely hostile to the former Sunni rulers. It is alienated Sunnis who make up the leadership of ISIS, now in both Iraq and Syria (and moving into other parts of the world now too). ISIS means "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria." Just weeks before the Iraq war George W. Bush was not aware of the difference between Sunni and Shia; the man had no idea what he was doing when he invaded that country.
Iran, next door to Iraq, is made up of Shia, not Sunni, and the people are a different ethnic group, Persian, not Arab as in Iraq. So when the government in Iraq became Shia there was a natural affinity between Iraq and Iran. George W. Bush had no idea that he was increasing the power of Iran when he started the Iraq war. Iran now has a great deal of influence in Iraq.
Watching on C-Span testimony on ISIS in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this past week I heard Joni Ernst ask about Iran, stating that President Obama didn't seem to want to go after Iran and this helps explain what is going on with ISIS. She has it completely wrong. ISIS is made up of Sunni militants who are hated by Shia Iran. Iran is actually on the side of the U.S. and others against ISIS. Things are complicated in the Middle East. Joni Ernst, new senator from Iowa, does not know what she is talking about but there she is with a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Marco Rubio is also a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations as well as the Select Committee on Intelligence. But he too does not know the difference between Shia and Sunni as evidenced from a speech he gave yesterday. This is such a serious error that it is incomprehnsible how he can continue to be considered a serious candidate for president.
Potential 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) inexplicably told a conservative audience on Friday that President Barack Obama lacked a military strategy to confront ISIS because he feared upsetting Iran, a country that has actually committed itself to defeating the terrorist group.Senator Rubio is not just wrong, he has a completely false picture in his mind of what is going on the Middle East. If he were president he would order the military to do things completely against the interests of the people of the United States. It is because of vast incompetence that the United States attacked Iraq in the first place. This war has been a colossal mistake, an incredible tragedy costing immense sums of money and the lives of America's young people. Still today twenty-two veterans are taking their own lives every day; they know they fought for nothing in Iraq. And just think of the unbelievable suffering of the people of Iraq due to the invasion of the United States. Senator Rubio has no sense of the realistic results of the war in Iraq. And it appears he knows nothing about Iran.
As the Obama administration and its global partners have “dropped more than 8,200 bombs and missiles on ISIS targets in 2,500 air strikes” in Syria and Iraq and are now preparing to train moderate Syrian forces and the Iraqi army to take on the combatants, Iran, which sees Iraq as a strategic buffer against Sunni Arab states, has worked to ensure that Iraq does not pose a military threat to its influence in the region.I hope readers will keep this in mind about Rubio so that if you hear someone mention his name as a serious presidential candidate you can let them know how ignorant he is of the situation in the Middle East. And watch the language of other Republican presidential candidates to see whether they understand the seriously important difference between Sunni and Shia Islam.
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Listen to Rabbi Henry Siegman on Gaza: Killing Innocents
8/1/2014 4:58:22 PM
No one can have a legitimate opinion about what is going on right now in Gaza without carefully listening to and reflecting upon the views of Rabbi Henry Siegman based on the experience his family in Germany and his own experience as a respected leader of major Jewish organizations in the United States.
The demonization of Palestinians by Israel, repeated over and over in the major media in this country, presents a completely false view of what is happening there. And American politicians are completely unreliable for telling truth about Israel because they are so afraid of those Jewish voices which attack anyone who even begins to criticize anything done by the state of Israel.
I encourage readers to listen to both of the interviews of Rabbi Siegman which can be accessed by clicking on this link:
Interviews with Henry Siegman
The following is text from that page:
Given his background, what American Jewish leader Henry Siegman has to say about Israel’s founding in 1948 through the current assault on Gaza may surprise you. From 1978 to 1994, Siegman served as executive director of the American Jewish Congress, long described as one of the nation’s "big three" Jewish organizations along with the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. Born in Germany three years before the Nazis came to power in 1933, Siegman’s family eventually moved to the United States. His father was a leader of the European Zionist movement that pushed for the creation of a Jewish state. In New York, Siegman studied the religion and was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi by Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, later becoming head of the Synagogue Council of America. After his time at the American Jewish Congress, Siegman became a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project. In the first of our two-part interview, Siegman discusses the assault on Gaza, the myths surrounding Israel’s founding in 1948, and his own background as a German-Jewish refugee who fled Nazi occupation to later become a leading American Jewish voice and now vocal critic of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories.
"When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis — and should be a profound crisis in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success," Siegman says. Responding to Israel’s U.S.-backed claim that its assault on Gaza is necessary because no country would tolerate the rocket fire from militants in Gaza, Siegman says: "What undermines this principle is that no country and no people would live the way that Gazans have been made to live. … The question of the morality of Israel’s action depends, in the first instance, on the question, couldn’t Israel be doing something [to prevent] this disaster that is playing out now, in terms of the destruction of human life? Couldn’t they have done something that did not require that cost? And the answer is, sure, they could have ended the occupation."
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The Lost Iraq War
7/30/2014 2:59:12 PM
President Obama has a lot to think about these days, Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, and now, again, Iraq. The Foreign Policy Situation Report tells us:
Pressure is building on the Obama administration to respond to the crisis in Iraq. On the ground, the Islamic State is still making gains, closing in on Baghdad. In Washington, the Pentagon is facing increasing questions about what comes next now that its assessment of the Iraqi security forces is complete. While everyone waits for the White House's next move, thousands of Hellfire missiles are making their way to Iraq.It was the Republican administration of George W. Bush that conducted the Iraq war. Now nearly everyone considers this war a terrible mistake. But current Republican leaders and candidates for office continue to talk the "big tough talk" that led us into that war, as if a "strong military" solves everything. A strong military failed in Iraq. You cannot re-create a country with the force of violence and then leave the country to fend on its own. Now an especially violent form of governance is threatening to take over Iraq.
Frontline has just produced an outstanding program on the Iraq war. I strongly recommend it.
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It is Not Anti-Semitic to Question Israel's Right to Exist as an Ethnic State
7/24/2014 4:08:00 PM
Joseph Levine is a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In an article in the New York Times on March 9, 2013, he says he "was raised in a religious Jewish environment, and though we were not strongly Zionist, I always took it to be self-evident that 'Israel has a right to exist.'” Levine goes on to discuss the difference between understanding a "people" in an ethnic or a civic sense. He concludes that Israel does not have a right to exist as an ethnic state because that would deny equality of rights for non-Jews living in the country; twenty percent of residents of Israel are not Jewish for example.
The very idea of Israel as an ethnic state means that Jews would be valued more highly than others in such a state, and, indeed, that is exactly how the government of Israel has been and is now acting in relation to non-Jews within and around Israel.
There is a near total bias in the public media against the Palestinians and in favor of Israel. They are often treated as if they are equivalent in their power but that completely misunderstands the situation. Israel has been pushing the nearly powerless Palestinians around for decades now. Every few years they go into Gaza to let them know who is in charge. Israel has lost all moral authority now for anyone who knows what's going on. That's why the media don't report on the actual history of the area. If people in the U.S. could actually see what is happening they would never support the extensive aid given to Israel by the U.S. government.
Over the long term Israel cannot survive as an ethnic state because it violates requirements of democracy. The sooner this is understood the sooner the bloodshed will end.
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Crisis in Ukraine: A Bit of Background
7/18/2014 6:51:14 PM
It appears that Ukrainian separatists are responsible for shooting down a Malaysian airliner killing nearly 300 people. It was probably a mistake, but the incident demonstrates how technology has knit the world together in such a say that what happens in one part of the world affects everyone else. For more understanding I recommend a program by Frontline.
But as you watch this or other news about this incident, I think it important to realize something the western media have not talked about. That is how very, very significant eastern Ukraine is to the military infrastructure of Russia. It is truly silly for western diplomats to pretend not to know this fact. Russian cannot be expected to hand over major military facilities and factories to its potential enemies in other parts of the Ukraine or Europe.
Also, the territorial integrity of current Ukraine is not what it may look like. Current boundaries were set by Nikita Khrushchev, who was from Ukraine, in the 1950s. If you look at a map you can see that eastern Ukraine is carved out of the body of Russia. So current Ukrainians do not have a long historical claim on this territory.
Neoconservatives and Republicans are trying to make this incident into a major east-west crisis like in the Cold War. I am afraid it is a case of a terrible mistake. Tensions in that area could be reduced by people understanding the history and background of the area. Let's not create wars where they are not necessary.
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Obama Should Have Prosecuted the Bush Administration for War Crimes
3/28/2014 7:32:25 PM
When we lived up in Gig Harbor, Washington, on the terrific waters of the Puget Sound, our state representative was a person named Larry Seaquist. I especially enjoyed many long conversations with Larry and visited with him in his home where I met his wife, Carla. It turns out Carla is also a writer and is writing a column at the Huffington Post.
Her current column there is especially good to consider right now. Obama's poll numbers are way down, only forty one percent job approval last I saw. That means that not only Republicans are disappointed in him, lots of people who voted for him are also discouraged with his performance. He has really let a lot of people down. He did run, remember, on a strong platform of change from the Bush administration; he promoted a new foreign policy and was opposed to the war in Iraq. But lately, like on Ukraine, he is sounding like a neocon himself. I was happy to hear him call Russia a "regional power" (the Cold War is over after all). But Carla has hit the mark with her column this month.
She says Obama was wrong to decide not to go after Bush for war crimes, claiming he wanted to just move forward:
But hard problems, unresolved, can come back to bite. Such is the case with Mr. Obama's decision to hold fire. While a war crimes trial against a predecessor would have been historic in presidential annals -- and how and under what aegis such proceedings would have taken place never got mapped out -- Mr. Obama's magnanimity to, in effect, exonerate the preceding administration, the better to go forward, has come back to haunt his own administration's efficacy and nearly stopped it in its tracks.She then gives three good reasons for still trying to do something. 1) With Iraq, the U.S. lost moral authority, as is clear now when we try to claim Putin is invading another country. 2) Republicans feel emboldened by Obama's failure to clearly demonstrate the damaging effects of neocon policy. 3) "Without a reckoning on war crimes, the national security apparatus operates without check."
Read the whole column. Very good arguments here.
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America, America, the Country that Kills Its Prophets
11/23/2013 3:09:03 PM
At this 50th anniversary of the killing of John F. Kennedy it may be well to remember the words of Jesus:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Luke 13:34)Here Jesus associates God not with violence but with the love of the mother for her children. Despite that many in the United States claim to follow this Jesus, this country right now and for some time has been dedicated to violence through its massive expenditure in technologies for military dominance and mass surveillance of the world. My last blog item talked about Billy Graham who is still considered "America's pastor" but Graham preached military supremacy for the United States. He put his faith in the arms of war more than the love of Jesus. And this country has experienced an incredibly high price for this in so many ways, including the fact that it has ended up killing its own prophets.
While having my car serviced this morning I was sitting in the customer lounge reading my book with CNN on television in the background. A segment came on about conspiracy theories related to the JFK assassination. So I watched as a fellow in Dallas was interviewed who apparently hangs around the scene of the assassination talking with visitors there. I didn't catch everything he said, but did hear him say that the "CIA was involved." The reporter seemed to discount what this odd fellow was saying, but from what I have been reading there is no doubt at all that what the fellow is saying is true.
The major media just cannot come out and tell the truth about the JFK assassination on November 22, 1963. It talks about "conspiracy theories" as if there are all sorts of them and they are all untrue, proposed by kooks. Yes, there are many theories, but what the media isn't telling people is that there is one particular theory that has become compelling for a very large number of people, and that is the theory that, indeed, the "CIA was involved" in the killing of the president.
Think about these two facts:
From the Douglas book you will also learn about the capacity of the CIA to do this kind of thing. They knew how to assassinate leaders and had done it many times. They had the ability. This is no small fact. For example, the CIA had a program to create false defectors to the Soviet Union; Lee Harvey Oswald was one of these false defectors, spending some time in Russia. He was a Marine involved in spy activities in Japan and that's how he became involved with the CIA which used him as a patsy. In later public forums all this became known. Even a House investigation in the 1970s concluded more than one person was involved in the JFK assassination though it does not speculate further. The CIA had files on Oswald before the assassination, a fact it never revealed to the Warren Commission which investigated the event.
Concerning the ability of the CIA to engage in such an act, I recommend a new book by Patrick Nolan, a forensic historian, CIA Rogues and the Killing of the Kennedy: How and Why US Agents Conspired to Assassinate JFK and RFK. He has chapters on the two primary CIA operatives involved, Richard Helms and James Angleton, and the details of how they were involved in other assassinations, their association with anti-Castro Cubans as well as mob figures. Jack Ruby was ordered by the mafia to kill Oswald or he himself would have been killed. It was crucial to get rid of Oswald so he couldn't talk since he had been entirely set up to take the rap for the crime, actually committed by agents.
Nolan convincingly describes how the CIA engaged in programs of research concerning drugs and hypnosis to get subjects to committ violent acts of which they later have no memory. He describes the particular individuals who used these techniques on Sirhan Sirhan. Sirhan is still in prison for killing RFK in 1968 and has no memory of the events. Nolan says RFK was actually shot by two CIA rogues, shot point blank in the back and head, whereas Sirhan was shooting blanks from the front five or six feet away from RFK. It was particularly important to get rid of RFK because he believed the CIA was involved in killing his brother and wanted to use the position of the presidency to fully investigate and bring to justice those who had killed JFK.
It has been said that a conspiracy such as this could not be kept, someone would spill the beans at some point. But these books also discuss the large numbers of persons who knew details about the case who have died mysteriously. And I think it important to realize that there is, indeed, a mindset shared by those involved in national security and the police which assumes the "public" cannot be told the truth of these matters. I had a member of one congregation who worked as a security analyst at an agency outside Baltimore, Maryland. He had a very strict sense of himself knowing things he could not and would not share with others. Such folks police themselves. And the CIA rogues were adept at only revealing to operatives what they needed to know to carry out their specific duties without seeing the whole picture.
It has also been said that conspiracies are invented because the American people just cannot believe a president could have been killed by a single, lone crazy person. This is used to justify rejection of all conspiracies. But it is also a way of avoiding what has become a very large amount of convincing evidence. Very large numbers of the American people believe more than one person was involved in the killing of JFK.
It may be questioned that I use the word "prophet" in reference to two political leaders and Martin Luther King. I was in Chicago in the 1960s when King came to try to "End Slums" there. I heard him many times give speeches there. I marveled at the man's capacity through words to communicate into the hearts and minds of the people. In the years since I have come to see how rare is that ability to stir the souls of the people through language, through simple but profound words, to articulate the reality of their lives, to lift them up to be able to see a new vision of the future. JFK and RFK had the same ability. They pointed to a new world beyond the war in Vietnam, to a world of peace and respect for others, even the enemy.* Such men are dangerous to those who are invested in the things of war. It was these three prophets for peace who were killed.
There have been no assassinations since that time. But there have been a lot of wars.
* Update 11/25/13 - There is an on-going debate over whether JFK would have removed troops from Vietnam had he lived. Rick Perlstein, a writer I respect, argues that no firm decision to do so had been made. There is no doubt Kennedy was a liberal cold warrior in most of his rhetoric, he had falsely claimed in his campaign against Eisenhower that there was a "missal gap"; the Russians had more nuclear capacity than the United States. But the Douglas book details the extent to which Kennedy was changing his mind. The CIA was very heavily involved in Vietnam and anything other than full support for that war was interpreted as a retreat from the anti-Communist cause. To see and hear how far Kennedy was shifting his views on Communism see his speech at American University on June 10, 1963. This is an amazing speech given the strength of the anti-Communist world view at the time.
There is no doubt that Robert Kennedy came to fully reject the Vietnam war. That was his basis for running for President in 1968.
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Samantha Power: Protection of the Innocent
9/11/2013 6:39:52 PM
After watching President Obama's speech on Syria last night I was struck again with how strongly he stressed what is basically a moral argument about a limited military action against Syrian president Assad. He began by talking about how the Syrian civil war has been going on for a couple years but he has hesitated to enter into that war to any significant degree. What changed his mind was the use of chemical weapons
The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits -- a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war.I wondered how Obama had come to believe that such a massacre would be important enough to use the full power of America's military strength in response. Then I remembered that not long ago Samantha Power had become the ambassador to the United Nations, replacing Susan Rice who had become Obama's national security adviser. And I further remembered that Ms. Power had written a book on genocide I had read a few years ago.
So I went to my bookshelves and pulled out A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Published in 2002 the book received a Pulitzer prize. After Power's experience as a journalist in Kosovo she did research on other events of mass slaughter, Armenians by Turkey, Jews by Nazis, Pol Pot's terror, Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds, Rwanda. One of her conclusions: "Despite graphic media coverage, American policymakers, journalists, and citizens are extremely slow to muster the imagination needed to reckon with evil."
Reading through this book again and watching a video of a recent speech of Samantha Power (see below) I have had the following thoughts:
1. The Obama proposal is, indeed, motivated by high moral purpose based on a compelling reading of the history of mass slaughter specifically related to the use of chemical weapons. Anyone who laughs at this motivation or discounts it as humanitarian nonsense is not engaging in necessary and serious ethical deliberation. Many of those who have had a knee-jerk reaction against the use of force (my own tendency) may want to think again about this. It can be said that the idea of "protection of the innocent" is a first principle of Christian ethical reasoning.
2. Power makes clear that every effort has already been made in the United Nations, but the role of Russia has made resolution impossible, which is why she recommended action to the president. Obama's willingness to take the steps he has taken represents considerable moral courage and has forced the Russians and Assad to consider voluntary destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. Those who say that Obama's policies are incoherent or that they have made him appear "weak" are just expressing standard neoconservative talking points; they are not seeing the whole picture. There is such a thing as a "global moral consciousness" that is informed by history, the very history Samantha Power provides in her book, including the Holocaust. Neoconservatives are wrong in claiming that all might makes right; they are cynical when they reject moral logic against mass slaughter. They should not be allowed to provide the primary narrative about these matters in the public media, a narrative completely opposed to President Obama which casts him in the worst possible ways.
3. Neither Obama nor Power have found the language necessary to make their case. The neoconservative narratives about weakness have been around for a long time now and were used to justify the Iraq war and military responses to 9/11. Obama rejects the "war on terror" talk but has not found a strong and compelling alternative way of speaking that would persuade the American people. This is a challenge for all of us who care about these matters. We need to find ways to offer a clear vision of an alternative future for the world.
4. In the meantime, the United States does have unique responsibilities to act to protect the innocent. Obama said this when he ended his speech:
America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.Notice he even uses the word "exceptional" here. This is a view of this country as an "exceptional nation" that we all should carefully consider.
The video below is available at the Center for American Progress.
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Arab Spring: Transfer of Power in Syria
9/4/2013 11:33:41 PM
Watching the hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday on Obama's proposal to bomb Syria for its use of chemical weapons it became clear to me that the critical background issue involved has to do with the transfer of power in Muslim nations. The "Arab spring" which began in Tunisia a couple years ago has resulted in political changes in that country, in Libya, Egypt, and also in Syria. And a central issue in each case has to do with the role of Islam in the politics and governance of these countries.
The dictators in these countries have ruled based on a "secular" orientation. This is being rejected by the new movements inspired by religious ideology. But those who have been elected are having difficulty ruling based on religious commitment, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Tunisia itself is facing difficulties because of demands of hard line religious groups to govern based on strict Muslim rules over against secular openness. The introduction of religion into politics in these countries has tremendously complicated the transfer of power from one set of leaders to another.
The father of Syria's current president, Bashar al-Assad, took power in 1970, so father and son have ruled for forty three years there. Assad will not willingly give up his power. Rebel forces against him include members of his regime who have defected. If there are more and more defections it will undermine his capacity to govern. One of the goals of the Obama administration is to encourage such defections which may lead to Assad's willingness to enter negotiations for a peaceful transfer of power through democratic rather than military means. At the Senate hearing John Kerry expressed his hopes for such a result. He believed that degrading Assad's ability to deliver chemical weapons would be a step in that direction.
This seems to me the strongest case for intervention in Syria. What needs to happen is a peaceful transfer of power. But it is by no means clear that using military force will lead to such a result. As things unfold I will be watching for what we can learn about the issue of transfer of power in Muslim countries.
One significant religious leader in the area has argued for a diplomatic not military solution. Bishop Munib Younan, leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and president of The Lutheran World Federation, has called on the world community to seek political rather than military solutions to the Syrian crisis. "While the use of chemical weapons is wrong, the forms of intervention being predicted thus far can do little to bring a positive outcome ... Such military intervention threatens to bring even greater suffering and instability to communities throughout Syria and the region as a whole ... The situation in Syria will be solved not with bombs but with diplomatic efforts and true dialogue among Syrians of goodwill ... To choose the path of diplomacy brings the Middle East closer to the goal of peace. Such a choice is not weakness, but the sign of peace and security."
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Religious Conflict in the History of Syria
9/3/2013 7:20:43 PM
When I sat down some years ago to read books on Iraq as that war was taking place the most astounding fact I discovered was that the then President George W. Bush did not know just a few weeks before he sent troops there the difference among Muslims of the Shia and the Sunni. That means he did not know that Saddam Hussein was Sunni which was a minority faith in Iraq and he had ruled with a ruthless iron fist over the majority Shia in the country. He did not know that to allow a democratic vote in Iraq would mean that the oppressed Shia would be empowered, and that that would mean that there would be a natural affinity between Iraq and Iran, the latter also a majority Shia land, though Iranians are ethnically Persian while Iraqis are Arabs.
A reverse situation exists in Syria. The majority of Syrians (66%) are Sunni, but it has been ruled since 1970 by leaders affiliated with the Alawites, a Shia sect, though associated with the Baathist party which has a more secular orientation. The minority Shia are scattered around the Middle East among the much more prevalent Sunni. The rebel groups in Syria now are Sunnis fighting an Alawite dictator and are supported by the Sunni dominated states such as Saudi Arabia. There are other religious groups in Syria such as Kurds and Christians. So the religious situation in Syria is very complicated.
One way to get a sense of all this is to view this video on Syria by the BBC.
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The Freeman Affair and the Israel Lobby
3/16/2009 11:11:01 AM
Soon after he was elected I saw George W. Bush being asked a question about Palestinians at a news conference. He said the parties in that region had to solve their own problems. It meant that the United States would withdraw from any helpful role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A boxing match image came to my mind with a very big guy in one corner (Israel) and a very little guy in the other (Palestinians). Not quite a fair fight. Actually Bush did what his neoconservative advisors wanted, strong and unquestioning support for the right-wing elements in Israel no matter what. Don't talk, kill them. Israel has become what Naomi Kline says is a military industrial state. After nine years of this wrong policy we see that the problems there have only worsened.
With a new president it would seem it is time to question the Bush policy. An indication of change was signalled by the nomination of Charles Freeman as director of the National Intelligence Council, a key post coordinating intelligence activity for the government. But then a smear campaign was begun by the "Israel Lobby" and Freeman finally withdrew his name for the position. The whole matter has become known as "The Freeman Affair" and has been recently documented by Robert Dreyfuss.
I have read the book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt called The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. No one reading this book can deny the power of what they call the Israel Lobby on members of both parties, though many of the people influenced by the lobby try to argue that it doesn't exist and argue that those who talk about the lobby are inventing conspiracies. But what is not adequately understood in the United States is that it is not just "support for Israel" that is at issue, it is support of a particular flavor of right-wing, belligerent, neoconservative policy in Israel that is at issue. Now the Freeman Affair is exposing the fact that there is such a lobby and it is very powerful, it was able to bring down the appointment of a very capable foreign policy expert in the Obama administration because he was not far enough to the right to satisfy the Israel Lobby. Dreyfuss thinks this may be the beginning of the end of its power.
This is due to the fact that Charles Freeman did not leave quietly. He "let loose with a broadside against his enemies" as Tom Engelhardt says in introducing the Dreyfuss report. In this broadside Freeman says: "The tactics of the Israel lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth," wrote Freeman. "The aim of this lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views." Dreyfuss thinks this clear statement of Freeman has the potential to change politics in Washington D.C. about Israel.
This is because the Israel Lobby may get the kind of right-wing administration it wants in Israel if Likud Party leader Bibi Netanyahu is elected in the upcoming elections. He and even more extreme leaders of the ruling coalition will push for even more radical actions than the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, which caused much concern among Americans about what Israel is doing.
The Dreyfuss article names many of the players and organizations in this whole episode. It is an affair to remember as relations between the United States and Israel unfold over the coming months and years.
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