Tag: Middle East

Surviving the New Cold War

As you have probably heard, Yemen has collapsed into chaos. The President we were backing had fled the country and Iran-backed Shia rebels appear to be establishing control. Saudi Arabia is intervening and it looks like Egypt may get involved as well.

All this is a sign of Obama’s failed foreign policy according to … holy crap … Vox?:


A Pollard Swap

Rumors are circulating that traitor Jonathan Pollard might be released as part of a Mideast Peace Deal. I don’t think this is a good idea.

First, why should the United States be giving concessions in what amount to a negotiation between Palestine and Israel? Israel is not giving us anything. We’re not the ones saying Israel doesn’t have a right to exist.

Second, I think people need to remember what we are dealing with here.

Among the highly-prized secrets that former officials say Pollard gave away while working as a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy were technical details of sophisticated U.S. spy satellites; analyses of Soviet missiles systems; and information about eavesdropping equipment used by the NSA to intercept foreign governments’ communications, including all ten volumes of a highly-classified manual known as “the Bible” that spelled out how the United States intercepted Soviet communications.

The extent of his treason was such that when this idea was floated in the mid-90’s, George Tenet threatened to resign. Imagine everything Snowden’s critics think he has revealed to other countries. This is about what Pollard did. That he gave this information to an ally is irrelevant. Israel’s interests are not always ours.

Pollard has been in prison for nearly thirty years. If Obama wanted to release him for humanitarian reasons, I would still oppose it. But to use it as a bargaining chip for the Palestinians? That’s too far.

Once More Unto the Breach

The problem with drawing a red line, as any parents knows, is that when it’s crossed you have to either act or lose your credibility. Looks like the Obama Administration is deciding to act:

Few question that there was a major chemical attack in Syria last week, and the United States has made clear that it blames the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Now, the question is how President Barack Obama will respond.
For almost two years, Obama has avoided direct military involvement in Syria’s civil war, only escalating aid to rebel fighters in June after suspected smaller-scale chemical weapons attacks by Syrian government forces.

However, last week’s attack on a Damascus suburb that reportedly killed and wounded more than 3,000 people obliterated the “red line” Obama set just over a year ago against the use of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks.

The Administration, through John Kerry, has indicated they will act. They’re not going to send in soldiers or establish a no-fly zone, which is wise. Most likely we are looking at a cruise missile strike and air strike on al-Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles and facilities. This is unlikely to happen right away. China and Russia are backing al-Assad, a coalition needs to be put together and — I know I sound like a nut when I say this — Congress should, you know, approve any act of war. But my gut feeling is that Obama, like most Presidents, will respond to being stymied on domestic matters by acting on international ones.

In principle, I don’t oppose destroying Syria’s chemical weapons. No matter who wins the Syrian civil war, it is possible that those weapons will fall into very bad hands. There’s some talk of attacking Assad’s conventional forces and “sending a message”. Either would be a waste. The opposition to al-Assad is not composed of nobel democratically-minded reformers but includes hard-core Islamists. No matter who wins, we lose. Our only interest is in making sure the chemical weapons aren’t used for nefarious purposes.

The Syria Question

Al Jazeera is reporting that Syria may be using chemical weapons on the rebels. It may “just” be tear gas. But it’s no secret that the West is worried about Syria’s chemical arsenal. In the last few weeks, we’ve seen patriot missles shipped to Turkey and Obama moving to support the opposition.

As bad as things have been in Syria, they be about to get a whole lot worse. But apart from making sure Israel, Turkey and iraq don’t get caught in the crossfire, I really don’t think we can get involved.

Wherein I Call for Throwing Israel Under the Bus

We’re watching a typical fake truce in action in the Middle East right now. New rockets are on the way for Hamas and new Israeli settlements are being built further and further east. It’s only a matter of time before the next bloodletting begins.

All of this has led me to question why exactly it’s considered to be “conservative” to support Israel. Let’s acknowledge the fact that the Israelis are underdogs (they’re outnumbered in the Middle East anyway) and they’re pretty badass in their way. It’s certainly natural to respect them, but why in the world do we support them in such a knee-jerk fashion?

Bear with me here. This is an overdue conversation among American conservatives.

What are conservatives getting out of this relationship, specifically; and what is the US getting in general out of our special relationship with Israel? I notice that American conservatives always support Israel to the hilt and talk about what irredeemable monsters the Palestinians are, but it never seems to make a major difference in the Jewish vote. Why exactly do we care more about keeping Israel Jewish than….Jewish people do? Every time there’s an election in this country, American Jews overwhelmingly vote for the Democrat (who is generally less inclined to care about Israel than the Republican candidate). They don’t give a shit. Why do we persist?

As for the US’s interests, the unquestionable support that the US has for Israel is doing nothing much but pitting us against the Arab world (and increasingly, the Turks) for the sake of very little. Is this a good decision to make toward the national interest? Pissing off 400 million+ plus people who control a shitload of oil for the benefit of 6 million people who provide us with no vital resources or anything else, really?

Is it about supporting democracy? Because democracy is essentially bullshit, you know. I’ve never understood why promoting and defending democracy overseas is such a priority for some conservatives. Democracy has made a royal fucking wreck out of the US, after all.

Are we worried about a human rights disaster if Israel is wiped out? That’s a nice moral concern, but the US does a fine job of ignoring such things in countries where the people don’t look like us. Why is any of this our job, anyway? The Palestinians aren’t our enemies or even our problem. Even Hamas isn’t a particular threat to the US. This instinctive desire to root for Israel and curse the Palestinians makes less and less sense to me with every rocket fired and bomb dropped.

Now I’m not going all anti-Zionist here. Israel has every right to exist as a Jewish state. What I can’t wrap my head around is why we think it’s our job to defend them and demand their protection regardless of what (sometimes brutal) steps they take to maintain that status. That Israeli lobbying cash that keeps our elected representatives in thrall isn’t lining any of my pockets. How about you? I think our “leaders” are duping us, truthfully.

Simply put, I’m tired of defending Israel when the rewards are clearly diminishing, if there are any at all. Demographics and political developments among Israel’s neighbors give me a bad feeling that we’re supporting the losing side for no good reason.

It’s perfectly appropriate for us to admire a romantic and embattled people. It’s another thing entirely–and arguably not conservative–to place the ambitions of such a nation above the long-term interests of the United States. I think it’s time for American conservatives to break up this bad romance.

The Salafists Honor 9/11

Well, at least the Egyptians decided to do something to honor the day:

Angry protesters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Tuesday and hauled down the American flag, replacing it with a black standard with Islamic emblems, apparently in protest of the production of a film thought to insult the Prophet Mohammed.

The incident prompted a volley of warning shots to be fired as a large crowd gathered outside, said CNN producer Mohammed Fahmy, who was on the scene.

The replacement flag read, “There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger.”

Others expressed more general grievances about U.S. policy, chanting anti-American slogans and holding up bits of a shredded American flag to television camera crews in front of the embassy.

This is supposedly anger over an anti-Muhammed film, but I can’t find any details what precise film they are objecting to. There are vague rumors of some Coptic-funded thing as well as an association with Terry Jones, the guy who burnt a Koran. But that sounds more like an excuse to attack Coptic Christians than anything else. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is no such film.

I also can’t believe protesting today is a coincidence. The entire world knows what today is the anniversary of.

Romney Culture

Mitt Romney said this the other day:

In the speech, Mr. Romney mentioned books that had influenced his thinking about nations — particularly “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” by David S. Landes, which, he said, argues that culture is the defining factor in determining the success of a society.

“Culture makes all the difference,” Mr. Romney said. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

He added, “As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.”

The remarks, which vastly understated the disparities between the societies, drew a swift rejoinder from Palestinian leaders. In an interview with The Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called Mr. Romney’s remarks racist.

Romney is trying to walk back the comments. And the Left is screaming about his racism. But I think people are missing the forest for the trees here.

First, the Palestinian Authority correctly notes that Israel has had a trade embargo, economic restrictions and occupation. That’s all true and is having an absolutely devastating effect. However, Israel is not the only country that is making life difficult for Palestine. None of the Arab nations are lifting a finger to help Palestine. Jordan and Egypt, specifically, have massively contributed to the problem by closing borders (and in Jordan’s case, shooting people during Black September). Iran, Hussein’s Iraq and Syria have specifically supported radical elements, making the place even more difficult to govern. And we can not sit here and pretend that the Palestinians themselves have not contributed to their own sorrows. Hamas controlled much of Palestine for a while and their supposed reconciliation with the Authority has stalled.

So, yes, the condition of Palestine is something that was done to them. But the people who did it were, at least in part, their fellow Arabs and, at least in part, themselves.

Moreover, I don’t think you can really ignore Romney’s general point. Israel has a far greater per capita income ($28-31,000) than Egypt ($6,000), Jordan ($6,000), Syria ($5,000) or Iraq ($4,000 now and about the same before the wars), nations they have not attacked or embargoed. The only nations in that region that come anywhere close to Israel’s success are Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which also happen to sit on massive lakes of oil. Were it not for the oil, they would be in a worse situation, probably no better off that Syria.

I don’t see how you can possibly look at the region and not conclude, as Mitt Romney has, that Israel’s culture has something to do with the stark difference, not between them and Palestine but between them and everyone. It is the only real democracy in the region, the only country that has a real economy as opposed to an oiligarchy, the only country that has gender equality, the only country that has a semblance of human rights and the only country that has built a real 21st century industrial base.

And that’s the point. Romney wasn’t running down Palestinian culture as much as he was praising Israeli culture. The comparisons to Chile and the US make that abundantly clear. What he was talking about — and what any sensible person would agree with — is that poverty is the natural state of man. The only way out is accountable government, free markets and a good work ethic. We know at least the first two, in the Middle East, are unique to Israel.


Syria is in the midst of a brutal murderous crackdown on protesters. Several thousand are dead. So now would seem an appropriate time to … what the?

The Obama administration seems to have to have put itself in the firing line over its handling of the crisis in Syria by not stopping the Mideast country from being elected to a UNESCO committee that deals with human rights.

Critics say that granting Syria a seat on the committee, a consensus decision that happened without much fanfare at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris earlier this month, has enabled the Assad regime to claim it’s doing nothing wrong and has the moral authority to pass judgment on others.

The U.S. sits on the 58-member UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) executive board, which through consensus allowed the Arab regional group’s candidate, Syria, to be re-elected to the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations.

I think the reason the US didn’t object is because we simply don’t care. UNESCO is the more irrelevant part of the UN. The full Human Rights Council has condemned Syria’s action, albeit with some abstention or opposition by various thugocracies. I’m sure a strongly-worded letter is being drafted.

The Palestinian Push

The Palestinian Authority is pushing for recognition as a full state by the UN. They are a few votes shy of forcing the US to either accept it or veto it.

While I support the existence of a Palestinian state, eventually, I think full statehood is a bad idea, partly for reasons outlined by Fareed Zakaria:

At the end of the day, there is only one way you’re going to get a Palestinian state. And that’s if the Israelis agree to it. They have the land; they have the guns; they have the money. Palestinians may regard it as deeply unfair, and I understand that. But it is the world that we live in. The only way they’re going to get a Palestinian state is to engage directly with the Israelis.

And the only way they are going to engage with the Israelis is to get control of their own damn country, especially Gaza. Israel can not put up with being rocketed on a periodic basis. The push for full statehood is mostly a push to further isolate Israel, rather than work with them.

And that’s the key point here. The Palestinians have basically ignored every olive branch for the last 90 years. And, for all their rhetoric, the Arab nations don’t really want a Palestinian nation either. Jordan and Egypt happily occupied and oppressed areas that were supposed to be Palestinian and much of the territory that is supposed to be Palestine is still owned by Jordan, who haven’t even hinted at complying the UN mandate of … 1948. This isn’t really about a Palestinian state, which could have been created anytime in the last six decades. This is about cutting out Israel. This is about the Palestinian Authority getting their country without having to abandon their genocidal intentions.

Obama, to his credit, is siding with Israel. The indications are that he will either call for a year long “study” to delay things or veto it. France is playing their usual “the dog at my homework” game and supporting giving non-member state status. Britain seems likely to align with us. And everyone is trying to make sure this doesn’t come to a head in the Security Council.

We’ll see what happens. I haven’t been happy with Israel’s behavior lately. And at least part of the reason previous deals failed was because Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert were undermined by their own government. But we can’t agree to this transparent ploy to create a nation that is effectively at war with an ally. Thankfully, our Administration understands that.

Tripoli Falls; Gadhafi Too?

Updates Below

There is growing evidence that the rebellion in Libya is succeeding. Tripoli is partly in rebel hands and one of Gadhafi’s sons is captured. Updates as events warrant.

Glenn Greenwald this morning made a big deal about our government’s attempts to be measured in its response to the “Arab spring”, taking the usual route of denouncing us for supporting a variety of dictators in the region (and slamming Israel for hitting Egypt … leaving out that Israel was responding to terror attacks from Gaza). But our government has it exactly right. No one knows which way this is going to go and anyone who says they know is lying. Yes, it would be nice if these Arab revolts ended with wonderful democracies. But the mullah-ocracy in Iran was the result of a popular revolution against a US-backed dictator. It’s fashionable for Lefties to blame the US for this — as if radical Islam was the only way for Iran to go. I think it more illustrates why the occasional use of the “devil you know” strategy is defensible.

We’ll see what happens, not just in Libya but everywhere. Maybe it will all go the way we all hope it goes; I fear that it won’t. In times like these, it is really easy for an ideology that claims to have all the answers to take hold.

Update: Another Ghadafi son is caught. Rumors about the dictator himself are flying. For once, I agree with Charles Johnson: Ghadafi had a chance to live in luxury by going into exile. Instead, he killed a bunch of people and will likely now be killed himself.