Archive for the ‘Israel’ category

Insight Into Next Four Years?

December 29, 2016

President-elect Trump and many elected representatives in Congress have risen from their seats to denounce the US decision not to veto a 14-0 UN Security Counsel vote. The vote which condemned Israel’s current practice of building in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem. President-elect Trump tweeted today that things would be different after January 20th. Hmmm.

A characteristic of recent GOP Congresses and George W Bush’s Administration has been their preference to see all issues as single component issues. Complex systems invariably gave way to much easier to communicate “black or white” perspectives. So, as the President-elect sees it, Israel is our best friend in the Middle East and America should be steadfast in recognizing that. Hmmm.

President-elect Trump has spoken out many times about the mistake the Iraq War was. I wonder whether the President-elect remembers that Israel was very vocal about Iraq regime change and urged the US to overthrow Saddam Hussein. From that and a host of other preconceived notions, America got the Iraq War and the huge failure in foreign policy it represents.

There are many other complex, systems specific issues that Congress will come across. In fact the number of single factor issues is vanishingly small. Healthcare (including Medicare and Medicaid), Roe v Wade, racial and gender discrimination, religious freedom, reducing poverty, and education to name a few.

Republican stated position have been simplistic and untested. Repeal and replace is easy to articulate, but to date, there have been no fiscally sound replacement proposals which do not put healthcare out of reach for millions of Americans. With the American public fairly evenly split on abortion, actions to severely restrict abortion access will have consequences. Like many other Republican advocacies, abortion restriction impacts the poor and poverty stricken the hardest. As a consequence, breaking the poverty cycle will become orders of magnitude harder. And so on.

So, the apparent rush to assuage Prime Minister Netanyahu’s hurt feelings completely overlooks the complexities of the Middle East, not to mention the unthinkable outcome of a single State, apartheid-like solution which Netanyahu seems heading towards.

One should not lose sight of the Arab convoluted situation. The Palestinians are dependent upon deep pockets in other Arab countries. Without this money, Hamas, Hezbollah, or even the Palestinian Government’s daily business could not exist long. The PLO’s resistance to negotiation can not be a stand along decision and must reflect outside demands. The Palestinian-Israeli situation is a complex issue.

Inherently a master deal maker must consider competing issues. For the President-elect, deal making is a highly developed skill. The issue that may escape the President-elect and for sure the GOP controlled Congress is what might follow an Israeli-Palestinian one State peace. What will a united Middle East (with all its oil) possessing nuclear capability do for national aspiration?

The next Administration’s Middle East policy needs to be complex enough that it foresees a pathway to Israeli-Palestinian peace.  Or, will this policy simply be standing by America’s friend?

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Israel and The Event Horizon

December 25, 2016

Yesterday the US abstained during a United Nations vote critical of Israel’s continued settlement building in and around Jerusalem. Despite strong words from President-elect Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Obama called for the “no vote” rather than issue a veto. To say this is a complicated issue is an understatement. One would hope logic and not politics underpinned the US position. Hmmm.

The first difficulty in assessing Israel’s right to annex occupied territory land is to identify which State (Israel or Palestinians) has a just claim for what land. Does one begin with the 1947 resolutions which created the State of Israel? Or does one take into account the Yom Kippur and 6 Day wars initiated by the Arab States and subsequently won by Israel? And what weight should one put on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s claim that Israel still seeks a “two State” solution to this near 70 year conflict?

Israel actions seems to suggest a preferred compromise would be an Israeli State with a minority Arab population and with Jerusalem Israel’s capital. As for the Palestinians, Israel would accept a disarmed separate State occupying the West Bank land Israel does not want, and with no right of return for any Palestinian refugees. Hmmm.

This type of two State solution flies in the face of the 1947/48 boarders as well as any year since. Israel has continually expanded its occupied territory with housing developments each year. Each year Israel asserts its preference to negotiate a lasting 2 State peace only to take over more land the next year. Does Israel have an end game in mind?

A very real complication lies in demographics. The Arab population living in Israel or even the occupied lands is growing faster than the Jewish residents. Consequently, the Israeli desire to remain a “Jewish” state and a democratic one can project its end as the Arab population outgrows the Jewish residents, and then in a democratic state, votes to change the nature of a “Jewish” State.

Given this complication, the two State solution seems like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, Israel’s behavior, building more settlements in the occupied territories and laying claim to all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, simply do not provide suitable conditions for negotiations.

For most outsiders, Israel’s actions do not appear to have been an accident. Israel appears to have a premeditated intent of changing the “on the ground” facts and claim negations should be about the rest of the West Bank. Hmmm.

Israel’s actions are not the only events taking place in the Middle East. The Sunni and Shiite worlds seem out of control and the radical elements like al Qaeda and ISIS could potentially lead to a two headed Arab world (Sunni and Shiite oriented) with only one thing in common, hatred of a Jewish State in their midst. The event horizon could suck the Arab States and Israel in a new round of armed conflicts making Hezbollah look like a beginner’s militia.

President Obama has steered a wise course denying any encouragement to Israel avoiding negotiations and instead annexing land by simply occupying it.

Come January 20th, this policy will likely change. Will Israel (and the US) get swept over the event horizon?

Foreign Policy

April 2, 2016

This year’s GOP Presidential primary campaigns have begrudgingly included discussion of America’s foreign policy. Republicans, long advertised as “strong on defense”, claim foreign policy as their strong suit. In this year’s Presidential race, you could have fooled me.

Think about the world around us.

  • China, which has grown at an almost unimaginable double digit pace for over ten years, still clings to the notion that Asia belongs to China regardless of what international law may say. Fully nuclear capable, China remembers Japan’s war atrocities, coverts Taiwan’s return to China, and does not forget the years of colonial occupation at the hands of the West.
  • Japan has a split personality, part imperial and partial to the Samaria way of life, the other part worried about the devastation of WWII and not wanting a repeat, both of these personalities comfortable with isolationism.
  • Russia remains much the same country as depicted in “Katherine the Great” always worried about clandestine thoughts supposedly held by neighboring countries. Fully nuclear capable, Russia and its authoritative leaders simply do not think like Americans.
  • Europe is not one country but a composition of many. The big players are Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain and all are focused on increasing material wealth without giving up any cultural riches regardless of what hazards loom outside Europe’s borders. Europeans have known war like no one else.Advertised as America’s ally (under NATO), European Countries prefer focusing on their own country’s social problems than global conditions.
  • India, Pakistan, and most of Southeast Asia possess heavy loads to carry just to feed their people and, if possible keep up with their third world development. From time to time, these countries become victim of religious intolerance and in the case of India and Pakistan look at each other as the worst of enemies.
  • Africa and South America are lands of the rich and very poor. At this point, the countries making up Africa and South America are only capable of civil or regional wars. These countries posses abundant mineral resources and the potential for attractive trading alliances, yet somehow seem unable to reach the modern world.
  • Middle East and Israel are geographically commingled. Both struggle with the allure of modernity and both cling to views based upon ancient history. While Israel appears as modern as any country in the world to a traveler, its views that certain lands belong to Israel because “god” said so is not much different than China’s claim to Southeast Asia or Russia to Eastern Europe. Muslim Middle East countries have varying degrees of modern world attributes but are internally at war with a paralyzing view based upon life as it were 1000 years ago.

So tell me again me again why nuclear proliferation is a good idea, why a religious test is applicable to refugee resettlement, why trade tariffs and embargo are helpful, and why any direct military involvement in foreign lands can unilaterally reduce world tensions?

Tell me why the red meat of political speeches make any sense at all?

Tell me why the 7/24 news media not only tolerates but at times encourages politicians to make unsubstantiated policy proposal and not call them on it? Tell me, given the GOP 2016  monopoly of simplistic foreign policy views why it is ok to block Supreme Court nominations, revert to health care coverage which covers less people, or seek religious freedom protections which promulgates discrimination and unequal treatment under the law?

There is assuredly no way any candidate can get it right on all the issues, domestically or in foreign affairs. The world is too complicated and nuanced. On the other hand, naive and half baked ideas, populous based, send the wrong message to other countries and to voters.

This complex world we live in has traded world wars for regional wars for the past 60 years. Americans need to recognize that the appeal of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders are based upon disenfranchised segments of our population whose wants and needs reflect domestic conditions only. Satisfying these domestic wants, however, could upset world order without anyone suspecting it happening. Such an outcome could be devastating.

Electing a President is more than a beauty contest, a fancy slogan, or the person with the most money. Electing a President might begin with selecting someone as thoughtful, as sincere, and as inquisitive as Barack Obama

Once More On Iran, Chuck Schumer

August 8, 2015

The big news yesterday was that New York Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer has declared his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal presently before Congress. While far from unexpected, his decision to oppose has burst the bubble of many progressives who viewed Schumer as a thoughtful, fact driven legislator. Now the smell of opportunist and being too close a friend of AIPAC is filling the air. Hmmm.

Opposition to the deal is itself not an issue. The agreement is complicated and whether Iran will honor their “promises” is problematic. The refrain, however, that the US should holdout for a better deal is clearly a ruse. Opponents really believe no deal is possible and accordingly want to remain on “war prepared” footing. While these opponents strenuously deny war is inevitable, their opposition makes little sense on other bases.

Schumer’s opposition stands in the face of two worrisome implications. First, AIPAC is clearly aligned with Israel’s current government and sees the Iran negotiations from those eyes. This is plain and simply dangerous for someone who is likely to be the next Senate Democrat leader. How can the President or anyone else ask Schumer for his advice knowing it will be whatever AIPAC (or should I say Israel) wants?

The second issue is Schumer’s statements that he will work for Senate rejection of the agreement (and presumably this means to override any Presidential veto too).  What happens next in that case.  The UN has already approved the agreement and the rest of the world is lining up to begin trade with Iran. A one country sanction will hardly impact Iran. Opponents may talk boldly about increasing the level of sanctions, but with the world trading with Iran, a US trade embargo will amount to a mosquito bite.

Hmmm.

Finding A Serious Person

July 23, 2015

Senator Mitch McConnell said yesterday that “no serious person truly believes” that the US faces the dilemma of either accepting the “deal” with Iran or going to war over Iran’s nuclear program. This is a brilliant statement which is literally correct but irrelevant to the question now before Congress. Should the Congress approve the deal negotiated with Iran or find a “veto proof” majority necessary to reject it?
Of course, McConnell’s statement is correct. There is no requirement for the US to go to war with Iran in order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons (even though Congressional leaders and the President have said the US should). And, the likelihood of war would be even lower if the US manned up and asked the country to pay “war taxes” and “ agree to a draft” as conditions to go to war with Iran.   But that isn’t the question on the table.

The question Congress must address is “is the specific agreement reached with Iran (and accepted by the UN) in America’s best interest?

Opponents of this agreement have long said the agreement is not good enough. They demand “a better deal”. While “a better deal” is often described as containing a Iran pledge to acknowledge “Israel’s right to exist”, there is nothing in the current agreement which supports Iran’s current denial of Israel’s right to exist either. This agreement is silent on that issue.

There are several aspects of the proposed agreement, however, which make one wonder. For example, the agreement is a 10 year one. Why 10 years and not longer? Why accept a reduced number of centrifuges instead of requiring all centrifuges be destroyed? Why are inspectors not free to go anywhere in Iran at any time and look for possible Iran cheating?

All of these “whys” might make a better deal. Does it require a “serious person” to understand that? Hmmm.

The real world is far more complicated than Senator McConnell would let on. Iran has its views on what its best interests look like. The deal negotiated was the “best” deal available given the efforts of 6 world powers and Iran. The proper question is rather “is this agreement good enough to delay by 10 years Iran’s development of nuclear weapons”? And “a serious person” needs to look closely at the agreement and ask that question.

Alas, Senator McConnell is really asking for “serious persons” to look the other way and let the alliance of GOP Congress members and Israel stop any agreement.

Worse than just stopping the agreement, Senator McConnell has no clue as to how to obtain a better one. And even worse than that, with a rejection of this agreement, Iran is free to resume its nuclear development program immediately and head towards the ultimate deployment of nuclear weapons.

Presumably if this path is followed either Israel or the West will decide to intercede with military force.

Seriously?

Lessons From The Iran Deal

July 21, 2015

The UN today voted unanimously to approve the nuclear weapons deal negotiated by the six major powers and Iran. The UN is now poised to remove its sanctions and will be joined quickly by the rest of the world… except probably the US. The tentative deal still requires a sign off from Iran’s Supreme Leader and a review by the US Congress. Either a veto proof rejection by Congress or a “no thank you” by Iran will be necessary to put the agreement back in the bargaining phase. Hmmm.

Israel and GOP Congressional members seem aligned and opposed to the deal. They argue, without much rationale, that the deal is a “bad one” and the West should hold out for a “better” deal. Unfortunately, “better” is left either poorly defined or containing some suggestions which are obviously non-starters. Why do these groups want to keep the current status quo when it should be clear that Iran will proceed with nuclear development and eventually weaponize its technology? At that point there will be no alternative than military intervention with a nuclear capable country.

The US has already said it will not tolerate a “nuclear Iran” and that can only mean (with no agreement) that the use of force will be necessary to prevent Iran from developing or deploying nuclear weapons. This is a terrible outcome.
To be sure, the US cannot be afraid of war and sign just any agreement. On the other hand, a well crafted agreement should be able to set clear boundaries and detect Iran violations of the agreement. At such a point, sanctions could be returned and the use of force could just as easily be applied as in the caae where there had been no agreement. The main difference is that with no agreement, the outcome is clear. With an agreement, there is a chance to avoid war. Hmmm.

So why again are the GOP, especially the Presidential candidates, so outspoken about rejecting the agreement?
Certainly on one level the disagreement is about politics. How can GOP candidates who have openly sided with Israel against President Obama suddenly embrace this agreement. Also from a certain perspective, being against the agreement is a subtle bet that the Iranians might cheap as Israel has predicted, and more importantly, the Iranians might get caught in this trickery. Wouldn’t it be great next year, as a GOP candidate, to say “see I told you so” and “you can’t trust Democrats with national security” The price of poker just went up.

No one knows at this point whether the tentative agreement is a “good one” or not. If the agreement is a “good one”, there is no way at this time to know whether the Iranians will try and “cheat” anyways. The only thing certain is that with no agreement, war is inevitable or the world will have to accept another nuclear capable country, this time Iran.

Sadly, just as with Saddam Hussain, the world is not going to be a better place with a nuclear free Iran. War with Iran over its national nuclear aspiration interest is not going to make the world a better place. What about North Korea or Pakistan or India or China?

The post cold war world is a different place than when the West wore the white hats and the Soviets wore the black ones. The public needs to think more deeply about what their politicians are saying, compare their words to the facts, and especially to what they have said in the past.

The lessons here show the GOP playing the same “Remove Saddam Hussein” tune in the face of the historical record which clearly shows the invasion and occupation of Iraq to have been a devastatingly bad decision.

There may be 16 GOP candidates (today). Listen carefully to see whether any of them get it right.

(Note – There is a rational position GOP members could hold against this agreement which says war may not be inevitable.  Tough sanctions held in place long enough might weaken Iran so much that events lead to a natural Iran regime change.  So the better course of action now, this argument goes, would have been to keep sanctions in place while negotiating and allow time to pass (no deadlines).  If you believe Iran will not weaponize their nuclear technology or won’t socialize it among the many Iranian client radical groups, then this might be a defensible option.  It is, however, not a low risk option.)

Israel’s Democracy On Way Out?

May 15, 2015

Democracy has been characterized as a poor form of government, but better than any other form tried so far. Hmmm.

Democracies claim that government is based on one man, one vote. In modern countries this is one person, one vote. The principle in either case is that members of one group (for example, the landed, the wealthy, the military, the clergy, etc) do not have more votes than any other person. But once a vote is held and government ministers are selected, the job of creating rules and regulations fall to a subset of the population. This is representative government and is considered a necessary compromise on one person, one vote.

Authoritarian governments often arise following a “democratic vote” when the “representatives” gradual cede power to a smaller group. Many think that “checks and balances” like the three branches of government the US has, has help guard against any group accumulating too much power. Three branches and a history of free speech have kept the US form of democracy reasonably safe for over two hundred years, a long time in terms of continuous government.

When Israel was founded, it was founded as both a democratic and a Zionist State. The democracy assured all residents the same rights under the law and Zionism assured that Jewish beliefs were protected.

Much has happened since Israel’s founding and Israel has been forced to defend its very existence against Arab invasions. Israel now occupies the West Bank and appears on a path to make this land part of Israel. Forgetting for a moment whether there is a legal basis for Israel to annex this land, the addition of the West Bank presents a serious challenge to Israel’s founding principle of “democracy” and “zionism”.

Simply stated the birth rate of the Palestinians will soon put them in the majority and in a true democracy, Palestinians could be expected to control the Israeli government in time.

With this backdrop, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of Ayelet Shaked as Justice Minister has opened many eyes about the dangers of mixing democracy and religion. At some point citizens will be asked to choose between the two. Ms Shaked is an avowed proponent zionism and a Jewish State. Her party, the Zionist Jewish Home party is active in supporting expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Hmmm.

As Interior Minister, or Defense Minister, or even maybe Education Minister, Ms Shaked’s party and views might be not unexpected. As Justice Minister, this seems totally out of place… if Israel is committed to democratic principles.

A democratic and zionist Israel, with its expansion of West Bank settlements, will have to eventually decide whether it want to be an apartheid State or one where “ethnic cleansing” is practiced.

Elevating zionism (theocracy) over democracy is a box one should be careful about opening. What say Muslim Brotherhood?