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Israel for Dummies

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I don’t pretend to be an expert on Middle East politics.  I usually rely on the perspective of Steve Clemons at The Washington Note, who provides candid, unvarnished commentary on the complicated issues in that region.  Since December of 2008, I have been following the accomplishments of Jeremy Ben-Ami, the Executive Director of J Street, which he describes as “the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement”.

Concern over the threat to Israel from Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been a hot topic during this election year.  Nevertheless, on February 27, Andrew Jones wrote a piece for The Raw Story, which included some disclosures published by Wikileaks concerning Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts:

Growing concerns over Iran’s nuclear facilities may prove to be all for naught.  Officials from the global intelligence company Stratfor allegedly discussed that Israel may have already destroyed the Iranian nuclear facility, according to one of the emails released by Wikileaks Monday.

In one of the over five million emails leaked, the conversation centered on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak praising the news of deadly munitions blasts at a base of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

“I think this is a diversion.  The Israelis already destroyed all the Iranian nuclear infrastructure on the ground weeks ago,” one intelligence official wrote in an email dated November 14, 2011. “The current ‘let’s bomb Iran’ campaign was ordered by the EU leaders to divert the public attention from their at home financial problems.  It plays also well for the US since Pakistan, Russia and N. Korea are mentioned in the report. ”

This scenario makes sense.  Iran would not likely admit to having been humiliated by Israel .  Beyond that, the European Union plutocrats would enjoy nothing more than a decent sideshow to distract attention from their economic austerity fiasco.

For years, I have been waiting for someone to write a book called Israel for Dummies.  Too many American teevee pundits seem completely ignorant about Israel’s internal political strife and its impact on the prospects for peace with the Palestinians.  It appears as though someone has finally written that book.  I recently came across a great piece written by Noah Millman for The American Conservative.  Mr. Millman wrote a review of a new book entitled, The Unmasking of Israel by Gershom Gorenberg.  As Millman explains, the book takes us back to the early days of Israel, with David Ben-Gurion at the helm, bringing us to the present-day, never-ending conflict with the Palestinians.  Here are some highlights from Noah Millman’s book review:

Rather, the thrust of the book, as the title states, is to demonstrate that the series of decisions made during and after the 1967 War that resulted in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza set in motion a process that has progressively “unmade” the State of Israel.  Indeed, the progressive expansion of the settlement enterprise has so eroded the foundations of the signature achievement of political Zionism – Israel as we now know it – that not merely a “Jewish democratic state” but the state as such is now imperiled.

*   *   *

Since 1967, Gorenberg relates, the settlement enterprise has undermined the Israeli state top to bottom.  It has fostered secrecy and corruption in government.

*   *   *

Again the story is familiar.  Less so is the framing. Gorenberg, though he is outraged by the plight of the Palestinians, is not really writing about that plight.  Nor is he writing from an anti-Zionist perspective.  Rather, he is writing from a deeply Zionist point of view.  Zionism, we tend to forget, was not a self-defense movement.  It was a nationalist movement. Nationalism tells a people a story about what it means to be free – that being free means being part of a self-conscious, self-governing, sovereign, and independent collective.  Losing consciousness of one’s national group, being governed by other groups, failing to achieve independence and sovereignty on par with other nations – these are signs of unfreedom.  Of immaturity. The Jews before Zionism were, from the perspective of this narrative, either an exceptionally immature nation or not a nation at all.  The goal of Zionism was not simply – or even primarily – to provide for a “safe haven” for Jews fleeing persecution by the Czar or the Nazis.  The goal was the spiritual rejuvenation of the Jewish people by molding them into a nation like other nations and achieving independent statehood.

This is a narrative frame that, in broad strokes, Gorenberg accepts, which is why he is properly seen as a Zionist.  Indeed, the whole argument of the book is that by holding onto and settling the territories captured in 1967, Israel has reverted to a mode of existence that Zionism was supposed to help the Jews grow out of. By undermining the authority of the state, the settlement enterprise has revived modes of being and of argument that, from Gorenberg’s perspective, the Jewish people should have grown out of when they acquired the power and responsibility of a state. Indeed, that was the whole point, from a moral perspective, of acquiring state power in the first place.  The settlement enterprise doesn’t just undermine the moral case for Israel because it’s an injustice (plenty of states have perpetrated injustices – indeed, far worse injustices – without undermining the case for statehood as such) but because it is evidence that Zionism failed in what was arguably its primary objective.

As an aside:  Be sure to read the Comment stream following Millman’s piece.  It included some astute remarks and a good debate.

One American’s experience in attempting to get a better understanding of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict was chronicled on the Al Jazeera website.  Punk rock icon, Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys discussed his decision to cancel a show he was scheduled to perform at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv with his new band (Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine).  His bandmates had decided to boycott Israel in order to support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movementWikipedia lists this explanation of the BDS movement’s three main goals:

  1. Freeing all Palestinian territories from Israeli influence since 1967 and dismantling the Israeli West Bank barrier;
  2. Acting towards the rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel; and
  3. Promoting the interests of Arab Palestinian refugees in reference to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948.

Jello Biafra’s account of what followed his decision to cancel the Tel Aviv gig made for some interesting reading:

So with the rollercoaster still in my stomach and my head, I flew solo to Israel instead.  The mission:  to check things out myself and hopefully at least get closer to some kind of conclusion on whether artists boycotting Israel, especially me, was really the best way to help the Palestinian people.

*   *   *

I also got an invitation from a self-proclaimed fan to “come meet the Israeli right” and see the settlements through their eyes, complete with a wine-tasting party.

Many people I met on my trip to Israel feel that the boycott has damaged the Israeli opposition more than it has anyone else and “helped silence the peace camp in Israel”.  A veteran journalist I met later told me, “the best way to contribute to peace is to try and work to understand both sides” and that he felt that boycotts strengthen extremists by keeping people apart.

*   *   *

One of the few things both Israelis and Palestinians seem to agree on is that one of the main obstacles to peace these days is the settlers.

Today the illegal settlements are completely out of control, with 300,000 settlers planted across the Green Line in the West Bank and another 200,000 beyond the Green Line in East Jerusalem. Borders are creatively moved and enforced by the infamous wall, started by the ideas of Yitzhak Rabin and greatly expanded by Ariel Sharon.  It’s a black eye on the face of Israel’s reputation today, considered so even among many of Israel’s citizens and supporters.

Some people told me that if the wall had been built along the Green Line, it might have actually worked.  But Sharon then used it as a land grab, creatively and maniacally routing it through the middle of Palestinian towns, Palestinian farmland and across Palestinian roads, in a deliberate attempt to make the West Bank such a splattered Swiss-cheese hodgepodge of impassable walls and checkpoints that a free Palestinian state could never get off the ground.

Any fantasy that Palestinians could one day be broken down to stay on “their side” of the wall and live happily ever after is ridiculous.  It flies in the face of all human instinct and human rights. It is never going to happen.  Like the Berlin Wall, it is destined to fall sooner rather than later.

*   *   *

A boycott of products made in settlements has begun inside Israel.  There is also a growing boycott by artists refusing to cross the Green Line and perform for the settlers.  A fancy venue has opened in one of the largest settlements in Ariel.  Many artists refuse to perform there.

*   *   *

Yet bringing down this regime by boycott may be a much higher mountain to climb than the boycott of South Africa.  The 1985 musician boycott of Sun City (a posh, government-owned golf resort and casino in South Africa) was just a promotional tool for the financial boycott, where banks, universities and corporations caved into pressure to pull their investments out of South Africa and broke the back of the white apartheid regime.

*   *   *

I am not saying the same tactics that brought down apartheid South Africa can’t be done.  I am just saying that there are different and heavier obstacles this time and people need to be ready for them.

South Africa never had anything like the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) lobby, which is now considered more of a lobby for Likud than for the Israeli people.  Nevertheless, they have a stranglehold over almost every member of Congress of both parties, using Joe McCarthy-type tactics to smear anyone they don’t like as anti-Jewish – and get them voted out of office.

*   *   *

I will not perform in Israel unless it is a pro-human rights, anti-occupation event that does not violate the spirit of the boycott.  Each artist must decide this for themselves. I am staying away for now, but am also really creeped out by the attitudes of some of the boycott hardliners, and hope someday to find a way to contribute something positive here.  I will not march or sign on with anyone who is more interested in making threats than making friends.

As for the Arab Spring, I cross my fingers on one hand and bite my nails with the other.

I have a lot to learn and a long way to go.

We all have a lot to learn.  Jello Biafra’s humility is refreshing.  If only our politicians were so humble  .  .  .


 

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Tempus Fugit

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If a Democrat wants to challenge Barack Obama for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination, time is quickly running out.  It takes a while to put a campaign together.  Aside from rounding-up enough money to challenge an incumbent – who is expected to have a $1 billion war chest – there are other logistic challenges.  For starters, a campaign team must be assembled, along with a network across the states.  Messaging strategy and a campaign theme must be established.  It’s a huge deal.  Nevertheless, if the Democrats believe that they can just sit back and watch Obama swagger his way to re-election – they’re going to be in for a big disappointment.

As I pointed out in my last posting, Obama’s problems have expanded beyond weak polling numbers.  The Solyndra scandal can be expected to receive at least as much television coverage as the Casey Anthony “Tot Mom” trial.  Ron Suskind’s new book about the President’s handling of the economy, Confidence Men, has provided us with an abundance of insights on Obama’s leadership failings.  Those observations will reverberate throughout the 2012 campaign until Election Day.

Obama’s mishandling of the economic crisis is useful only as evidence of the President’s ineptitude in the domestic policy arena.  Has Obama done any better with his foray into foreign policy?  Steve Clemons provided us with the answer to that question by way of an article which appeared in The Atlantic.  The essay is also available at his own blog, The Washington Note.  Mr. Clemons provided a great analysis of Obama’s influence on the Israel – Palestine peace process:

Obama continues to parrot the line that peace can only be achieved between the “two parties”, that only they can really bring this global ulcer to a close, when they decide to negotiate.  The fact is that the status quo of frozen negotiations is benefiting the dominant, settlement-expanding Israel — and the US, in promising to veto at the UN Security Council Palestine’s bid for official state recognition, is playing guarantor to one side, undermining the aspirations of others on the other side of the equation.  What if the US had said to Kosovo — no statehood, no recognition from the US until you resolve all of your ongoing issues with Russia?

*   *   *

Obama is assuring the further emasculation and perhaps final demise of Palestine’s moderates.  Obama is also treating the Israelis and Palestinians as if they are on equal footing, equally able to concede to each other’s demands.  What Obama doesn’t get is that a substantial portion of Israel’s population loves not having a deal and never wants one.  They are OK with a peace process to nowhere — but that is not acceptable for the less-endowed, less-powerful Palestinian side.  Hamas is in the rejectionist corner as well, seeing its fortunes rise as earnest efforts at peace go nowhere.

The world watched Barack Obama lose a battle in the last two years with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Israeli settlement expansion in contested and occupied territories.  This is like the Soviet Union having lost a war of wills at the height of its power with Cuba.

The client state trumped the President of the United States — telegraphing to many around the world that President Obama ultimately didn’t have the courage of his convictions and wasn’t able to deploy power and statecraft to achieve the outlines of what he called for in his lofty rhetoric.  Obama’s UN General Assembly speech has done nothing to reverse the impression that Netanyahu is the alpha dog in the relationship with President Obama — and this is truly tragic and geostrategically consequential.

Well, at least Obama is consistent  .  .  .  equally inept and spineless on foreign policy issues as he is when challenged with domestic policy matters.

Will any Democrat step up to prevent the Republican Party from taking over the White House (any more than it already has with Obama in there)?  The President’s apologists can no longer dismiss criticism of this administration by characterizing it as propaganda from Fox News.  Matt Taibbi’s recent remark about Obama exemplifies how an increasing number of Americans – from across the political spectrum – feel about our current President:

I just don’t believe this guy anymore, and it’s become almost painful to listen to him.

Wake up, Democrats!  Time is of the essence.


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CNNFail

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June 15, 2009

Back on January 16, 1991, it seemed as though anyone with cable TV was glued to their set, watching the beginning of Operation Desert Storm.  As the coalition forces began their aerial assault on Baghdad, most American reporters were pinned down at the Al-Rashid Hotel.  As it turned out, CNN was the only news service able to communicate with the rest of the world during that time.  Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett gained instant fame as CNN’s “Boys of Baghdad”, providing non-stop coverage of the invasion from Room 906 of the Al-Rashid.  The event helped establish CNN as a “top tier” news organization.  CNN’s coverage of this event became the subject of a documentary film by HBO, entitled Live From Baghdad.

On Friday June 12, many of the world’s news services focused their attention on Iran’s presidential election.  Incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was being faced with a serious challenge by Mir Hussein Mousavi, one of three other contenders for the post.  Mousavi’s supporters were highly organized and energetic.  They adopted the color green as their symbol and they began calling for a “green revolution”.  Al Jazeera reported that Yadollah Javani, political chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, had issued a warning from his website that any such revolution would be “nipped in the bud”.  This should have been a tip that the Revolutionary Guard had every intention of subverting the public will.

On Saturday, June 13, Iran’s state-owned news service, Fars, declared incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner, with nearly two-thirds of the vote.  A landslide of such proportions was completely unexpected, given the large turnout at rallies in support of the leading challenger, Mir Hussein Mousavi, as well as the recent poll, indicating that Ahmadinejad was leading his three challengers with only 34 percent of the vote.  As a result, many expected that a runoff election between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi would have been necessary.  Because of this claimed “landslide” victory, it immediately became obvious that the election had been stolen.  Juan Cole, President of the Global Americana Institute, wrote the following on his blog, Informed Comment:

As the real numbers started coming into the Interior Ministry late on Friday, it became clear that Mousavi was winning.  Mousavi’s spokesman abroad, filmmaker Mohsen Makhbalbaf, alleges that the ministry even contacted Mousavi’s camp and said it would begin preparing the population for this victory.

The ministry must have informed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has had a feud with Mousavi for over 30 years, who found this outcome unsupportable.  And, apparently, he and other top leaders had been so confident of an Ahmadinejad win that they had made no contingency plans for what to do if he looked as though he would lose.

They therefore sent blanket instructions to the Electoral Commission to falsify the vote counts.

This clumsy cover-up then produced the incredible result of an Ahmadinejad landlside in Tabriz and Isfahan and Tehran.

The public reaction on the streets of Tehran was documented for Slate by Jason Rezaian:

A feeling of dejection hung in the air for most of Saturday. Spontaneous street demonstrations early in the day were small and were quickly broken up by riot police on motorcycles.

As reality set in, people began taking to the streets en masse. Around 5 p.m. on the approach to Fatemi Square, where the Interior Ministry is located, I could see that the entire traffic circle had been closed to car traffic. About 200 riot police waited in the middle of the square. I headed down an alley, just steps away, where protesters had created a blockade of flaming garbage cans.

The demonstrators pushed aside a garbage can, opening a path, and rushed forward. Simultaneously, baton-wielding police charged. The protesters hurled rocks, and the police responded by beating everyone who couldn’t escape into one of the connecting alleys.

Citizens, nearly all on the side of the protesters, left their front gates open just a little to offer those of us fleeing the police an escape route.

The ensuing riots resulted in phone cam videos posted to YouTube.  Messages were sent out over Twitter under the hashtags: #IranElection and #Iran Election.

Many mainstream media news outlets had reporters “on the ground” in Tehran.  ABC News had Jim Sciutto there.  Mr. Sciutto sent a message out over Twitter at 9:20 on Saturday morning:

police confiscated our camera and videotapes.  We are shooting protests and police violence on our cell phones

Sciutto and other reporters whose equipment had been confiscated, began shooting riot videos on their phone cams.  Many networks, including ABC, MSNBC and Fox News began to broadcast these  …  but not CNN.  Many Twitter users, following the Iranian violence became outraged over CNN’s failure to cover the rioting.  As a result, they started a new discussion thread, using the hashtag:  #CNNFail.  Many of these postings criticized the quality of CNN’s limited reporting on these events.

Here were some of the messages I found on CNNFail:

Shazzy919 — ChristianeAmanpour:  “No indication of curfew or further forceful action” really????

ahockley — There’s currently a story on CNN titled “Do journalists Twitter too much?”

charlieprofit —  CNN just ran the same report aired earlier where they call some Iranian protesters Vigilantes

Robot117 —  My animosity toward CNN for their utter incompetence in reporting this news is growing

georgedick — CNN still referring to “The landslide win of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad”.   WTF.

In fact, ABC’s Jim Sciutto made the following comment on Twitter concerning CNN’s fiasco:

Did CNN Intl really just air pix of a water-skiing squirrel?  Anyone remember ‘Ron Burgundy’? 12:14 AM Jun 14th from web

A review of CNN’s website reveals that some of their coverage seemed like an attempt to legitimize Ahmadinejad’s “victory”:

The landslide defeat of Ahmadinejad’s leading opponent, Mir Hossein Moussavi, who some analysts predicted would win the election, triggered angry protests in Iran and other cities around the world.

*    *    *

Moussavi’s supporters say the election was rigged. But the huge turnout for Ahmadinejad’s victory speech Sunday leaves no doubt that the president carries plenty of support.

For all the ridicule directed against Twitter and its users, the CNNFail event will become an historical milestone for the moment when this communication medium finally earned some respect.

Iran Votes

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June 11, 2009

Friday, June 12, brings us the big election in Iran.  The infamous President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is up for re-election.  He is running against Mir Hussein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai.  At a time like this, it’s nice to check in on Al Jazeera to see how things are going.  (I always have a link to Al Jazeera on the Blogroll to the left, for keeping up with reactions to world events from their unique perspective.)  From Tehran, Alireza Ronaghi informs us that Ahmadinejad has quite a fight on his hands to maintain power.  Here’s some of what Mr. Ronaghi had to say about the candidates:

Ahmadinejad’s reformist rivals are Mehdi Karroubi, the former parliament speaker who led a reformist-dominated parliament between 2000 and 2004, and Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was Iran’s prime minister during the eight-year war with Iraq until a constitutional amendment abolished that post in Iran’s political system.

Both Karroubi and Mousavi accuse Ahmadinejad of mismanagement, both in foreign policy and the domestic economy.

*    *    *

Mohsen Rezai is an ex-commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards —  Iran’s elite armed forces.

Rezai has previously claimed — despite a presumed proximity between his and Ahmadinejad’s political views — that the latter’s policies “are driving the country over a precipice”.

Mr. Ronaghi’s article points out how Ahmadinejad’s questioning as to whether the Nazi Holocaust ever really happened, has been exploited by his reformist opponents, with some success:

Ahmadinejad has fired back by accusing his critics of being affiliated to the Zionist regime, the title with which Iranian officials refer to Israel.

“I asked that question to anger the Zionists, so why are you so angry?”  Ahmadinejad asked in a speech delivered to a gathering of his supporters in recent days.

From Mr. Ronaghi’s report, we also learn that Ahmadinejad has something in common with his good buddy in our hemisphere, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.  As it turns out, Ahmadinejad introduced something called “justice stocks”:

As part of the “justice stocks” move, the government distributed billions of dollars worth of stocks in state-run companies and factories among Iran’s lower economic classes.

It was meant to re-distribute the country’s wealth in a fairer way.

Danesh Jafari also disagrees with the way this has been carried out.  He says that the main plan, as laid down under Article 44 of the constitution and decreed by Iran’s supreme leader, had been for recepient social groups to reimburse the price of the stock in installments over 10 years.

“The government only insists on distributing the dividend profit of the stocks,” Danesh Jafari says, “But as far as reimbursement is concerned, the government has only gathered some $200 million of the planned $2 billion first installment,” the former economy minister told Al Jazeera.

It should come as no surprise that this policy has negatively impacted Ahmadinejad’s popularity with the Iranian middle class.

Many of us outside of Iran are concerned about the reaction of Iran’s “supreme leader”, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to the election of a reformist as president.  After all, Iran’s president is ultimately subservient to the supreme leader.  If a reformist won the election, would Khamenei dispatch his henchmen, the Revolutionary Guard, to restore “order”?  Another article from Al Jazeera points out how these goons are already getting anxious:

The political chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has warned reformists in the country against seeking what he called a “velvet revolution”, vowing that it would be “nipped in the bud”.

Yadollah Javani’s comments appeared aimed at Mir Hossein Mousavi, a reformist candidate in the country’s presidential elections and followed another day of bitter exchanges between Mousavi and his rival and current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

*    *    *

In a statement on its website, Javani drew parallels between Mousavi’s campaign and the “velvet revolution” that led to the 1989 overthrow of the communist government in then Czechoslovakia.

“There are many indications that some extremist [reformist] groups, have designed a colourful revolution … using a specific colour for the first time in an election,” the statement said.

Calling that a “sign of kicking off a velvet revolution project in the presidential elections”, Javani vowed that any “attempt for velvet revolution will be nipped in the bud”.

Meanwhile, Steve Clemons of The Washington Note, through his New America Foundation, in conjunction with Terror Free Tomorrow, conducted a poll of Iranian voters.  From the poll results, it appears as though a runoff election will be necessary, since no candidate will likely win 50 percent of the vote.  Here’s how it breaks down:

At the stage of the campaign for President when our poll was taken, 34 percent of Iranians surveyed said they will vote for incumbent President Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s closest rival, Mir Hussein Moussavi, was the choice of 14 percent, with 27 percent stating that they still do not know who they will vote for.  President Ahmadinejad’s other rivals, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, were the choice of 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

A close examination of our survey results reveals that the race may actually be closer than a first look at the numbers would indicate. More than 60 percent of those who state they don’t know who they will vote for in the Presidential elections reflect individuals who favor political reform and change in the current system.

89 percent of Iranians say that they will cast a vote in the upcoming Presidential elections. The poll shows that 87 percent of Persians, 94 percent of Azeris and around 90 percent of all other ethnicities intend to vote in the upcoming elections.

About seven in ten Iranians think the elections will be free and fair, while only one in ten thinks they will not be free and fair.

The current mood indicates that none of the candidates will likely pass the 50 percent threshold needed to automatically win; meaning that a second round runoff between the two highest finishers, as things stand, Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Moussavi, is likely.

So, if you bought any champagne to celebrate on Friday night, you may prefer to just hang onto it.  We would need to find out when the runoff election is going to take place.  That final election could be quite an exciting event.  In the mean time, take a look at the poll results discussed above.  They contain a good deal of other interesting information about what the Iranian citizens are thinking.

Hillary Clinton Begins Making History

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March 5, 2009

While most American media outlets focus their attention on Rush Limbaugh’s vainglorious publicity extravaganza, Hillary Clinton is traveling around the world, letting everyone know that the foreign policy of the United States is being drastically changed by the new administration.

The new Secretary of State took quite a bit of heat for her failure to stage a fit of righteous indignation over China’s record of human rights abuses, during her visit there.  Nevertheless, America has been a critic of these transgressions for decades.  Given the current economic situation, our need to maintain a healthy business relationship with China and our country’s embarrassing human rights track record for the past eight years, her decision to leave that issue on the back burner for her initial visit, wasn’t such a bad idea.

Her trip to the Middle East was the first step toward rehabilitating the role of the United States as an effective peace broker for the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.  As Barak Ravid reported for Haaretz, prior to Clinton’s arrival in Israel, a list of demands or “red lines” was created and “approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak at a meeting with senior defense officials last week”.  These individuals are apparently so accustomed to browbeating Condoleezza Rice, they feel comfortable about dictating their own “marching orders” to be followed by Clinton as she approaches engaging Iran in formal, diplomatic relations.  The Haaretz article itemized these four mandates as follows:

1. Any dialogue must be both preceded by and accompanied by harsher sanctions against Iran, both within the framework of the UN Security Council and outside it.  Otherwise, the talks are liable to be perceived by both Iran and the international community as acceptance of Iran’s nuclear program.

2. Before the dialogue begins, the U.S. should formulate an action plan with Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain regarding what to do if the talks fail.  Specifically, there must be an agreement that the talks’ failure will prompt extremely harsh international sanctions on Iran.

3. A time limit must be set for the talks, to prevent Iran from merely buying time to complete its nuclear development.  The talks should also be defined as a “one-time opportunity” for Tehran.

4. Timing is critical, and the U.S. should consider whether it makes sense to begin the talks before Iran’s presidential election in June.

Steve Clemons of The Washington Note emphasized that “Israel is crossing the line” by attempting to dictate this agenda to our new Secretary of State and President:

Iran’s pretensions in the region are a problem in my view — but Iran, which fears regime change efforts by the US and other of its neighbors, is responding to an “ecosystem” that many around the world have complicity in building.

Israel should be rebuffed by Hillary Clinton.  She should listen to Israel’s views on the region of course — and consider proposals.  But this kind of instruction manual on what red lines can be tolerated or not is pretty outrageous — and borders on the type of irresponsibility and consequences of what a Taiwanese declaration of independence from China would mean.

In another Haaretz article by Barak Ravid, we see Clinton giving Israel some “pushback” that may or may not have been anticipated:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday blasted Israel’s plans to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem as a violation of its international obligations and “unhelpful” to Middle East peace efforts.

“Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the ‘road map’,” Clinton said, referring to the long-stalled peace plan.

On March 4, a day before meeting with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, Clinton met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank city of Ramallah.  According to a CNN report, Clinton advised the Palestinian leaders that the United States is committed to the “two-state solution” (establishing a separate Palestinian state) despite the objections to that plan, voiced by Israel’s Prime Minister-designate, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The United States through President Obama is committed to a comprehensive peace including a two-state solution,” Clinton said.  “I have said that publicly, I have said that privately.  There is no difference in any message.”

Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton made it a point to single out Iran’s “supreme leader”, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for interfering in Palestinian affairs by funding terrorism “whether it’s Hezbollah, Hamas or other proxies”.  As the Voice of America News pointed out:

Khamenei also called the Jewish state a “cancerous tumor” and accused U.S. President Barack Obama of following what he called the same mistaken path as George W. Bush in supporting Israel.  He made the comments during a conference in Tehran earlier Wednesday.

Clinton and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the ayatollah’s remarks.  Mr. Abbas said Iran should look after its own affairs and stop trying to widen the divide among Palestinians.

Although many critics of the new administration complain that Obama has failed to deliver on his promise of “Change”, one important agent of Change on the Obama team is turning out to be none other than Hillary Clinton.  Who could have foreseen that development at this point, last year?

Because He Is A Tool

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November 13, 2008

The “Tool Watch” continues.  In the days after the historic 2008 Presidential election, intrigue abounds as to the future political career of Joe “The Tool” Lieberman.  Lieberman was re-elected to the Senate in 2006 as an Independent candidate (after having lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamot).  The Tool realized that his betrayal of the Democrats could result in the loss of his many important appointments, should Obama get elected.  Joe had already “sold his soul” to Bush, Cheney and Rove in his quest for re-election.  At that point, he had no choice but to “go for broke” by endorsing John McCain.  However, The Tool went beyond that.  He spoke ill of Obama at the Republican Convention.  He followed McCain around throughout the Presidential campaign, giving rally speeches himself, in addition to serving as McCain’s “nodder” when McCain would question Obama’s patriotism.  The Tool questioned Obama’s patriotism with his own allegations that Obama placed allegiance to the Democratic Party ahead of his allegiance to the country.  The Tool evoked further outrage from Democrats by campaigning for “down ticket” Republicans, while stumping around the country for McCain and Palin.  Now that Obama has been elected President, many Democrats are hungry to avenge The Tool’s malicious acts by stripping him of the appointments earned while in good standing as a member of the Democratic Party.  The most notable of these is his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.  President-elect Obama has expressed his desire to see Lieberman remain in the Senate Democratic Caucus.  Obama has said nothing about The Tool’s numerous committee and subcommittee memberships or chairmanships.  In keeping with his “No Drama Obama” image, the President-elect appears to have distanced himself from any “blood feuds” involving Lieberman.

My animosity toward The Tool is based on the fact that he is a pathetic ass-kisser.  He knew that his committee appointments would be in jeopardy in the event of an Obama victory.  Accordingly, he didn’t simply endorse John McCain.  He followed McCain around as a stray dog, looking for a new home.  Those of us with the experience of having worked with such people, know that these individuals don’t deserve much in the way of respect.  One of the reasons we enjoy watching “action movies” is because the “ass-kisser” is usually the first person to get killed (by either the hero or the villain).  It seems as though justice and karma are well-served in these movies, when such cretins get their due.

Many people who consider themselves “liberal Democrats” seem anxious to make The Tool an example for future, would-be defectors.  On November 12, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow expressed her concern that the Lieberman case could set a precedent, regardless of what action the Senate Democrats might take in light of The Tool’s transgressions.  Her November 10 program included an interview with Steve Clemons of The Washington Note website.  Mr. Clemons suggested removing Lieberman from his chairmanship of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs because of the The Tool’s fear mongering on the subject of homeland security throughout the 2008 campaign.  Clemons emphasized the proposition that Lieberman should not be able to use homeland security or national security as a foundation to batter Democrats who want a smarter national security policy.

Rachel Maddow discussed this subject again on November 12, with Indiana Senator Evan Bayh.  Senator Bayh discussed the possibility that Lieberman might be unwilling to suffer the indignity of being stripped of his appointments and thus relegated to the status of backbencher.  Bayh worried that under such circumstances, The Tool  might self-destruct:  resign from the Senate and allow Connecticut’s Republican Governor (Jodi Rell) to appoint a “pure Republican” to replace Lieberman.  To Bayh, this would be a more undesirable alternative than putting up with a traitor.  His logic seems based on the rationale that because Lieberman is such a tool, the Democrats could make him their tool once again.  Bayh suggested a two-part compromise.  First, Lieberman should be allowed to retain his chairmanship of the Committee on Homeland Security with “oversight”.  Bayh pointed out that a committee chairman could be replaced at any time.  If those overseeing The Tool reached the conclusion that he should be ousted, it would only then become appropriate for such action.  The second part of Bayh’s proposed compromise would involve an apology from Lieberman for his antics during the 2008 campaign.  I would like to suggest another alternative.  In the event Lieberman might be unwilling to make such an apology, the Senate Democrats should demand that The Tool have the word “Craftsman” tattooed on his forehead.

Night Of The Glow Stick

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The hour is quickly approaching when Barack Obama will announce his running mate.  Most political commentators expect John McCain to take his time in making his own decision, since the Republican Convention takes place after the Democratic event.  Some believe that Obama’s choice might impact the decision McCain will make in selecting his own, would-be VP.  My theory is that McCain’s primary concern is to avoid selecting anyone taller than himself.  The McCain camp has made a point of limiting his traveling companions to Senator Lindsey Graham and Joe “The Tool” Lieberman.  Both of these men stand at approximately the same height as McCain.  Since “The Tool” is not really a Republican and, worse yet, was Al Gore’s “kiss of death” running mate, I have my money riding on South Carolina Seantor Graham.

As for Obama’s choice, the rumors have it that the Democratic candidate has narrowed the field down to a final three:  Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and Delaware Senator Joe “Glow Stick” Biden.  Early enthusiasm about Governor Kaine began to fade, as critics focused on a “lack of national security experience”.  Once the attention turned to Evan Bayh, there was an outpouring of disgust that a co-sponsor of the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq would be considered as a viable choice for the VP slot.  Activist Steve Clemons was one of those leading the charge against the selection of Bayh, with his plea that those opposed to Bayh should communicate their opinions to the Obama campaign.  Clemons now reports from his blog, The Washington Note, that his sources from within the Obama campaign have informed him that the “surge of concern” expressed on the Internet about Bayh, has pushed the Indiana Senator out of contention.  As a result, the last of those three, still believed to be standing, is “Glow Stick” Biden.

You may recall Biden’s earlier efforts in the current Presidential campaign.  Immediately after his one-percent showing in the Iowa caucuses, he dropped out of the race and allowed his hair plugs to return to their naturally-white color.  His January 31, 2007 remark, characterizing Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” became a celebrated gaffe.  That remark confirmed the longstanding diagnosis of his Cerebral Flatulence Disorder  — too many “brain farts”.  This disorder had become apparent during his 1988 bid for the Presidency, when he claimed, in a speech, that his father had worked as a coal miner.  Reporters easily refuted this claim with uncontroverted evidence that, in fact, his father had managed a car dealership.

In 2002, Biden introduced the controversial Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act, also known as the “RAVE Act”.  A notable aspect of this failed piece of legislation was its provision outlawing the use of “glow sticks” which had become popular at “rave” parties and nightclubs.  Perhaps Biden’s sense of cause-and-effect had become altered to the point where he believed that the use of glow sticks was actually causing young people to use the drug, known as “Ecstasy”, at these events.  The absurdity of this proposal motivated Glenn Reynolds from (of all places) Fox News to write an article called “Raving Lunacy” on July 25, 2002.  It is indeed difficult to understand how an individual, who had served as an adjunct professor of Constitutional Law at Widener University Law School, would see no First Amendment problem with this incursion on the rights of glow stick aficionados to express themselves.  I was reminded of that fiasco while watching the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics on August 8.  I could not overlook the irony that in the Communist police state, we saw approximately eighty per cent of the 90,000 people sitting in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium, waving glow sticks in accordance with the program created by director Zhang Yimou.  I could not help but wonder what Joe Biden thought of this.  If only China had its own counterpart for him – perhaps a Security Enforcer named Cho Bai Den, storming through the Olympic stadium yelling: “No grow stick!”  .  .  .

With Senator Biden on his way to Tbilisi, Georgia, as Obama’s surrogate to offset the efforts of McCain’s Lieberman-Graham duo, we see him emerging as an apparent choice for an important cabinet position in an Obama Administration.  Should he find himself standing before the crowd in Denver’s Pepsi Center as Obama’s Vice-Presidential nominee on August 27 – there could be only one appropriate way for the audience to celebrate:  by waving glow sticks.

Bye, Bayh!

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August 14, 2008

Rumors abound concerning the potential Vice-Presidential choices of both Barack Obama and John McCain in the 2008 Presidential campaign.  Recently, many prognosticators have been voicing their opinions that Obama will choose Indiana Senator Evan Bayh as his running mate.  (Bayh’s real name is Birch Evans Bayh, III.)  As this speculation heated up, so did the tempers of many Democrats.  These Democrats recalled that not only did Bayh vote in favor of the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq, he co-sponsored it with John McCain and was part of the cozy, Rose Garden ceremony on October 2, 2002 when President Bush thanked Bayh and McCain for co-sponsoring the Resolution.  The rationale supporting Bayh’s viability as VP choice is based on his reputation for being a “centrist” Democrat and therefore, a good selection as Obama’s running mate.

On August 13, Ari Melber reported for The Washington Independent that a man named Steve Clemons, described by Melber as “a former Democratic Senate aide who sometimes traffics in Washington rumors”, provided this insider’s assessment of the outlook for an Obama – Bayh ticket:

Word has reached me that at Barack Obama’s Hawaii retreat, Evan Bayh’s chances to find himself the next Democratic VP candidate have moved to better than 50/50.

(Steve Clemons is actually the Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and he is the publisher of the political blog, The Washington Note.)  Ari Melber also pointed out that Mr. Clemons opposed the choice of Bayh and that Clemons “urged Democratic voters to contact the Obama campaign with their views on the potential pick”.  This wasn’t the first rumor making the rounds concerning the dreaded announcement that Bayh would get the nod to share the Democratic ticket.  As Melber reported:  “apprehension over the feared choice of Bayh has resulted in a new Facebook group called ‘100,000 Strong Against Evan Bayh for VP’”.

We often hear pundits recite the Cardinal Rule for Presidential candidates, in selecting their Vice-Presidential nominee, as: “Do No Harm”.  In other words:  Don’t screw up your campaign by choosing a controversial running mate.  It has become obvious that Obama would severely damage his campaign with the choice of Bayh as his VP.

Obama’s biggest campaign hurdle is his popularity with Independent voters, since they are more likely to scrutinize a candidate’s authenticity, due to the fact that they have no party allegiance.  When Obama voted in favor of the FISA “wiretap” bill to avoid looking “weak” on national security, he shot himself right in the authenticity.  When the time came to take a stand on the issue of offshore drilling (to increase the supply of oil ten years from now, when we won’t need it) he repeated the same mistake.  The choice of Evan Bayh would be “Strike Three”.  Such a misstep would alienate the Democratic “base” and dilute whatever perceived measure of authenticity he has remaining, from the standpoint of Independent voters.

A crucial “negative” in considering Bayh as Obama’s running mate is Bayh’s wife:  Susan Breshears Bayh.  Four years before Evan followed in the footsteps of his father, Birch Bayh, to pursue a seat in the United States Senate, Susan launched a career sitting as a director on the boards of fourteen different corporations.  These corporations are involved in the pharmaceutical, broadcast, insurance, food-distribution and finance industries. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported on December 16, 2007 that Mrs. Bayh earns approximately one million dollars per year in director’s fees.  That article by Sylvia Smith, went on point out that as Senator, Evan Bayh cast many votes “on issues of keen interest” to those very industries.

Any Presidential candidate, whose campaign is based on the theme of “Change”, would degrade his authenticity with the selection of such a “second generation” Senator as his running mate.  As I have said before (on July 14): In the age of YouTube.com, authenticity has become a politician’s stock in trade.  For Obama, the choice of Evan Bayh as his running mate would be Barack’s third strike against his own authenticity.  Should Obama go that route, it would be time to say “Bye – Bayh!” to his chances of living in The White House.