Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

A Search For Redemption

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

In last Friday’s Washington Post, I found Abu Ghraib MP Slain In Bid for Redemption to be a touching and sobering article.

Santos A. Cardona, an Army dog handler involved in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, was determined to continue fighting in America’s overseas battles to erase the stain of his assault conviction, his family members said.

Those closest to him said his passion for doing what he loved in the service of his country led him to try to return to Iraq in 2006, but the military brought him home after his planned deployment was publicized. Late last year, Cardona, 34, got his chance to rejoin the fight.

He traveled to Afghanistan as a government contractor, using a German shepherd to search for improvised explosive devices and weapons stockpiles. On Saturday, Cardona and his dog, Zomie, were killed when his military convoy hit a roadside bomb, according to Cardona’s employer and his family.

Cardona’s death was a violent end to a quest for redemption. His loved ones said he undertook one last year at war to earn money for his young daughter, show the military that he was good at his job, and dispel the cloud caused by photographs from Abu Ghraib that circled the globe.

Later, the article discusses Cardona’s role in Abu Graib and the subsequent trial

Cardona and his tan Belgian Malinois, Duco, were shown in photographs of detainee abuse that surfaced publicly in 2004. The most notable image showed Duco growling at a cowering, naked detainee.

Cardona argued he was ordered to have Duco intimidate high-value detainees at the behest of senior officers — claims supported by court testimony and military records — and jurors acquitted him of all but one assault charge. Cardona was ecstatic after receiving a verdict that spared him jail time and allowed him to stay in the Army.[emphasis added]

But staying in the Army did not mean the legacy of Abu Ghraib would disappear. After his blocked attempt to return to Iraq in 2006, he worked at the Army’s dog kennels at Fort Bragg, N.C. Demoted as part of his sentence and finding he was unable to sign up for the five more years it would have taken to earn a full military retirement pension, Cardona was honorably discharged on Sept. 29, 2007, according to Army records.

Though Cardona always believed he had done nothing wrong at Abu Ghraib, he carried a silent anger at those who ordered his actions but never were held to account, family members said.

Cardona’s daughter, Keelyn, is nine years old. Keelyn’s mother is Heather Ashby. The article describes Cardona’s early Army life

Easygoing, sometimes goofy, Cardona was dedicated to the life of a soldier. He joined the Army at age 17 in 1993 — needing his father’s signature to do so — and envisioned a military career. He met Ashby, also a military police soldier, while the two were stationed in Germany in the late 1990s, and Keelyn was born in 1999. It was then that Cardona fell in love with dog handling and was sent to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, where he used his dogs on patrols to sniff out bombs and provide security.

He so loved his working dogs that he adopted them after they were retired from service. Duco, now 12 years old, lives with Keelyn and Ashby in Florida.

I’m sure there are those that could never forgive Cardona his role in Abu Ghraib. But taking the article at face value, Cardona was totally committed to the Army and to his dogs. After being blocked by Army brass from continuing to ply his training, Cardona found a way, perhaps the only way, to use his training to serve his country and provide for his family, by searching for roadside bombs that have claimed so many lives.

Santos Cardona

Santos Cardona

The article Shock and Anger in Baghdad Greet the Abu Ghraib News tells of the anger expressed by Iraqis when the US attempted to reassign Cardona to Iraq after his conviction, apparently to train Iraq’s police

For many Iraqis, the punishment meted out to those found guilty of atrocities in the prison was too lenient; and Sgt. Cardona’s return only confirmed suspicions that the U.S. military never took the case seriously. A top Iraqi military commander, trained and appointed to his high position by the U.S., once told me that the Americans should have made an example of all those found guilty by “cutting of their heads and displaying them at the entrance of the Green Zone.” This, from a man who proudly labeled himself as a “friend of America.”

And this

Even America’s allies here bring up Abu Ghraib all the time, as proof of how little the U.S. understands Iraq. Last year, a European diplomat told [the author] the infamous Abu Ghraib photos—some of them featuring Sgt Cardona—”did more damage to U.S. credibility in Iraq than a Cruise missile smashing into a kindergarden.”

Let’s see.

  • cutting off heads and displaying them
  • photos that do more damage to U.S. credibility than cruise missiles hitting a kindergarden

And the U.S. has little understanding of Iraq? Do these quotes not tell us quite a bit of what we need to know?  And recently, there was a story from Saudi Arabia about a female that was detained because she was …. driving. And then a day or two later, there was a story about two men in Saudi Arabia that were detained because they sought the autograph of … a female author. I think that Iraq, and the Middle East in general, overestimates the difficulty that Westerners have in understanding their cultures. It doesn’t seem too complicated to me. But then acid helps make everything clearer.

A Shoe For Samira Jassim

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

For the past couple of years, the number of suicide bombings in Iraq that have been carried out by women has increased. In the Canberra Times, Woman Set Up Rapes To ‘Recruit” 80 Suicide Bombers tells the story of Samira Jassim. Covered also by the BBC in Iraq’s ‘female bomber recruiter’, Jassim was detained by Iraqi authorities in January. According to BBC

In an apparent video confession, the middle-aged woman described how she identified potential bombers, helped supply them with explosives and led them to their targets.

She also explained, in a separate interview with the Associated Press, how insurgents used rape as a tool, with the “shamed” women persuaded to redeem themselves through suicide attacks.


Insurgents use female bombers because they can hide explosives under their robes and are less likely to be searched by male guards at security checkpoints.

Both articles state that such claims are impossible to verify. However, according to the Canberra Times

…Jassim has given unusual first-hand descriptions of the possible workings behind last year’s spike in attacks by female bombers.

The United States should stop worrying whether having females in underwear interrogate prisoners is torture and, instead, redouble efforts to rid the world of flagitious scum. It’s too bad that Muntadhir al-Zaidi could not see the depth of responsibility that Iraqis have for their own country.

Turkey to Probe Gaza Offensive

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

There were three articles just in today’s Washington Post on Gaza and the recent Israel-Palestine “war”.

The article U.N. Says School in Gaza Where 43 Died Wasn’t Hit by Israeli Fire begins

GAZA CITY, Feb. 6 — The United Nations said this week that Israeli mortar fire that killed at least 43 people in Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp on Jan. 6 had landed just outside a U.N.-run school housing refugees from the fighting but did not hit the school itself.

Israel has said the attack was in response to Palestinian fire coming from the area around the school.

On the day of the incident, and in the weeks since, there were conflicting reports over whether the Israeli strikes hit the building.

There seems no question that some seeking refuge within the school fell victim to Israeli fire landing outside of the school. This is a sad, but unfortunately expected outcome when a terrorist group like Hamas chooses to operate from within heavily populated areas. To observe that all of Gaza is heavily populated does not absolve Hamas or their responsibilities.

The article U.N. Halts Aid to Gaza In Dispute With Hamas begins

GAZA CITY, Feb. 6 — A United Nations aid agency that serves more than half of the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip suspended humanitarian shipments here on Friday, accusing Hamas of confiscating U.N. material for the second time this week.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency said Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza, had seized 10 trucks filled with rice and flour. Earlier in the week, the agency had accused Hamas’s police force of confiscating blankets and food from a U.N.-affiliated warehouse.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Hamas to release the aid immediately. In a statement from New York, the world body said the suspension would remain in place “until the aid is returned and the agency is given credible assurances from the Hamas government in Gaza that there will be no repeat of these thefts.”

The suspension comes at a time when Gaza’s residents are still reeling from the effects of a 22-day Israeli offensive in the coastal territory.

The unasked question from this article goes along the lines of “how bad must Hamas’ actions have been in order for the U.N. to suspend aid?”. This is further proof, as if any discriminating individual actually needs further proof, that Hamas does not act in the best interest of the people of Gaza. Quite the contrary.

And finally, there is a news brief Turkey to Probe Gaza Offensive

A Turkish state prosecutor has launched an investigation into allgations that Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip amounted to genocide and crimes against humanity, the Islamist-oriented human rights group Mazlum-Der said. The probe began after the group submitted a complaint naming 19 people it considered responsible for the operation, including Prime Minsister Ehud Olmert, President shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Deense Minister Ehud Barak.

First of all, I find the use of the terms “Islamist” and “human rights” in the same thought as a bit of an oxymoron. But let’s allow for the possibility that Mazlum-Der is actually sincere in its efforts for advancing human rights in Turkey. We do know, of course, that Turkey has, how shall we say, direct experience with genocide, though Turkey will not officially acknowledge the use of that term. So while they will not officially recognize the genocide committed against the Armenians (complete with concentration camps and many hundreds of thousands of deaths), they are quick to point fingers after a 22-day offensive in which thousands of operations were carried out in a densely populated area. As with the operations in Lebanon, Israel was clearly focused on damaging Hamas through damage of buildings, rather than through deaths of civilians. It is estimated that the recent Israel-Gaza conflict claimed 4,000 buildings with another 20,000 severely damaged. Israel dropped leaflets and made phone calls alerting the population. This is not a sign of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Provincial Elections in Iraq

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

It is still early, but the preliminary results from Iraq’s provincial elections bode well for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Iraq Election Results Point to a Big Win for Maliki begins

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who seemed weak and isolated a year ago, appears to have won a sweeping victory in the Iraqi provincial elections that will strengthen his hold on central government. For the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein, according to preliminary results, Iraqi voters chose secular and nationalist parties over their religious rivals.

Mr. Maliki’s Dawa party is predicted to emerge at the top of the poll in Baghdad and Basra, Iraq’s two largest cities, as well as in most of the overwhelmingly Shia south of Iraq. The largest Shia party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), hitherto one of the main powerbrokers in the country, suffered heavy losses in all the provinces where it has been in charge for the past four years. “According to initial information, Maliki’s list has come first in Basra with 50 per cent of the vote. Ours took 20 per cent,” said Furat al-Sheraa, the head of ISCI in Basra.

The outcome of the election, which will probably be repeated in the parliamentary elections in December, marks a sea-change in Iraqi politics, with both the Shia and Sunni communities punishing the religious parties which flourished after the U.S. occupation in 2003. The results are a clear endorsement of Mr Maliki who has managed to displace the militia of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, negotiated the withdrawal of 142,000 U.S. troops during the next three years and confronted the Kurds By stressing his nationalist credentials and success in improving security, Mr. Maliki has gained the allegiance of the majority Shia community.

The Election: Preliminary Results from the New York Time Baghdad Bureau states

The preliminary count shows Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition getting the biggest vote in nine out of the 14 provinces contested, but nowhere does he manage an absolute majority. His highest tally is 38% in Baghdad, but in other areas he is on 11% to 20%, which means he will be dependent on other coalition partners, or could even be squeezed out by others forming alliances against him.

It is unclear exactly how many seats each of the leading parties will win – with between 26 and 57 up for grabs in each province, depending on its size. The full results will take more than three weeks, because of complex voting rules on how to allocate seats. Anbar could prove problematic, with some parties alleging voting irregularities.

and later, the article refers to

…Mr. Maliki’s current high personal standing as a leader with a good security record.

That’s refreshing. And it must be equally refreshing to Iraqis to actually have more than one name on a ballot. I wonder who Muntadhar al-Zaida voted for? Maybe he has put down the Ramazan Baydan Model 271 Brogues long enough to reflect on the significance.

Birdie Diplomacy

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

The article U.S. Disappointed in Iran’s Refusal to Issue Visas to Badminton Team has this subhead

State department spokesman said when the Iranians unclench that fist and agree to dialogue, there will be a hand waiting to greet them.

The article begins with

The United States on Wednesday expressed disappointment with Iran’s refusal to issue visas for an American badminton team and said it did not bode well for possible similar outreach programs in the future.

As the Obama administration continues with a broad review of U.S. policy on Iran that may include the appointment of a special envoy and direct contacts with Iranian officials, the State Department said Tehran’s batdown of what some have termed “shuttlecock diplomacy” was troubling.

Hey, I have an idea. In an effort to show Iran how sincere we are, in case they run out of shuttlecocks, I suggest we send them a bunch of birdies. Call it “birdie diplomacy”. Here’s how I’d like to see hands greeting Iran.

No Diplomats Required

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

President Obama is trying to make nice with Muslims, according to the Washington Post article of January 27th Obama Voices Hope for Mideast Peace in Talk With Al-Arabiya TV

President Obama expressed optimism yesterday about the prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but he said a peace accord will take time and require new thinking about the problems of the Middle East as a whole.

Oh, sure, solving an intractable problem is easy; it just takes some time and a new thinking. It has been suggested that the Bush administration has set back peace between Israel and Palestine because the administration disengaged after Hamas seized power in Gaza. Actually, disengagement is a strategy and, no question about it, this was new thinking. The fact that it did not work simply ranks it among the best (and worst) strategies to date. No strategy has come close to working. So, now, we have the venerable George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke going to the Middle East. These are good men, no question. But you could say that they had their shot. Maybe they are better for having tried and failed. Best of luck to them.

Later in the article

“All too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved,” Obama told al-Arabiya. “So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response.”

I think I know what Obama means.

  • We didn’t have all the factors when Iraq invaded Kuwait.
  • We didn’t know all the factors when Iraq kicked out nuclear inspectors, then claimed to have destroyed their nuclear weapons, but offered no documentary evidence.
  • We didn’t know all the factors surrounding Iran’s supply of explosively-formed projectiles to insurgents in Iraq.
  • We didn’t know all the factors surrounding Iran’s and Syria’s use of Hamas as a proxy.
  • We didn’t know all the factors regarding Iran’s nuclear ambition.
  • We didn’t have all the factors surrounding the Iran Holocaust Conference.
  • We didn’t have all the factors surrounding the Syrian reactor site that Israel took out.
  • We didn’t know all the factors pertaining to the Pakistanis that opened fire in Mumbai. It was, according to Deepak Chopra, the fault of the United States.
  • We don’t know all the factors surrounding the execution of Daniel Pearl or why it was filmed and placed on Arab websites.

How obvious! Hey, you Liberals Progressives, listen up, these Middle East regimes are not complex, and their intentions are not nuanced. Try reading the Hamas Covenant of 1988. It doesn’t take a diplomat to get their drift.

Later in the article

But in tone, his comments were a stark departure from those of former president George W. Bush, who often described the Middle East conflict in terms that drew criticism from Palestinians.

By contrast, Obama went out of his way to say that if America is “ready to initiate a new partnership [with the Muslim world] based on mutual respect and mutual interest, then I think that we can make significant progress.”

Did Obama really say “based on mutual respect”? Did he really “go out of his way”? Tell me he didn’t! I mean, there is nothing wrong with respect, but this quote cedes a straw man argument to Muslims, doesn’t it? Recently, columnist Charles Krauthammer had this to say

…over the last 20 years, the United States has been engaged in exactly five military engagements in the world, two in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait, all of them liberating Islamic peoples.

We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.

Indeed, the United States has done more, much more, than any other country to liberate Muslims from tyranny and help improve educational prospects for young Muslim girls.

I remember back to 9/11. People, including President Bush, repeated over and over that Islam was a religion of peace and that the hijackers had perverted the religion. The problem was, the people repeating this were nearly all Christian and rarely Muslim. It would have been nice to hear Muslim’s disavow the actions of the hijackers in something other than muted tones, and in large numbers, too.

In The Interest of Hamas

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

I find any thoughtful discussion of the effects of the long running Israel-Palestinian conflict on Palestinian civilians to be worthwhile. So, as war rages in the Gaza Strip and as Israel pushes closer to Gaza City, an article in today’s Washington PostGaza War Generates Debate on Civilians caught my eye.

The Israeli military blames Hamas for using Gazans as human shields and for retreating to densely populated areas to fight the war. But Palestinians and human rights groups say that Israel has been reckless and that in pursuing Hamas, it has employed tactics that unnecessarily drive up the civilian toll.

A group of Israeli human rights organizations on Wednesday said Israel’s behavior in Gaza represents “blatant violation of the laws of warfare and raises the suspicion, which we ask be investigated, of the commission of war crimes.” Israel said it was doing everything it could to prevent civilian casualties. “We are taking many precautions, including dropping leaflets,” said Maj. Avital Leibovich, an Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman. “Our pilots do U-turns when they see civilians near their targets.”

and later

The Geneva Conventions, an international agreement on a code of war, say civilians must be permitted to escape from fighting, but “the Gazans are not allowed to flee,” Myers said. “That’s a big problem.” None of the border crossings is open. And no part of the strip — which is about 25 miles long and five miles wide — has been insulated from the fighting.

and still later

Israel says Hamas cares little for the well-being of its people. It puts children on the roofs of buildings that it knows are targets, and it prevents civilians from fleeing dangerous areas, the IDF says. It also booby-traps schools and attempts to draw Israeli forces into urban warfare that the group knows will result in high civilian body counts.

I have written before that I place the blame for civilian casualties squarely on Hamas. If none of the border crossings are open because Hamas has sent thousands of missiles toward Israeli cities since coming to power a year and a half ago, who, ultimately, is responsible? As with the war against Hezbollah, it appears that Israel is more interested in destroying buildings with her bombs than killing people. I say this because, in actuality, the mortality in both conflicts does not seem great compared to the number of bombs dropped.

As I came to the end of the Post article, I came to this

The goal of targeting such a broad array of facilities, Israeli military officials say, is to break Hamas’s will to continue firing rockets, not just its means. Israeli officials say they ultimately hope that Gazans become disgusted with Hamas and drive the group from power.

But Bassam Eid, executive director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, doubts that can work. Whether or not Hamas is intentionally raising the Palestinian death toll to elicit sympathy, he said, the killing of so many civilians has helped the group’s standing among Palestinians and across the Arab world.

“It’s not in the interest of the Israelis. It’s not in the interest of Palestinian society,” Eid said. “But it’s in the interest of Hamas.”

My long-standing belief – that Hamas wants, above all else, to kill Israelis and that a consolation for Hamas is the death of Palestinians – is confirmed. How dysfunctional must be the Middle East and the Arab world for that last statement to be true?

the killing of so many civilians … is not in the interest of the Israelis … is not in the interest of Palestinian[s] … but … is in the interest of Hamas

It seems that, for as long as this statement is true, peace cannot come to Gaza and the Palestinians. Hamas would have no incentives to find a peace and, in fact, is disincented. If conditions cannot be changed so that Palestinian civilian deaths are no longer in the interest of Hamas, then Hamas must be vitiated. And until that time, I will hold Hamas responsible for civilian deaths for the simple reason that, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, such deaths are in Hamas’ interest.

In The Interest of Palestinians?

In The Interest of Palestinians?

Long on Criticism and Short on Suggestions

Monday, January 12th, 2009

A few days ago, on January 5, former Bush United States Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton wrote an opinion in the Washington Post titled The Three-State Option. Here it is, mostly intact

War in the Gaza Strip demonstrates yet again that the current governance paradigm for the Palestinian people has failed. Terrorists financed and supplied by Iran control Gaza; the Palestinian Authority is broken, probably irretrievably; and economic development is stalled in Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinians are suffering the consequences of regional power struggles played out through them as surrogates.

Israel isn’t a happy place, either. It endures opprobrium from the world’s High-Minded for defending itself from terrorism yet still finds itself subjected to terrorist attacks from Hamas and terrorists based in Syria and Lebanon…

Neighboring countries also suffer. Egypt has walled off its boundary with Gaza; Lebanon remains under threat of a Hezbollah coup enabled by Iran; Syria slides further under Iranian hegemony; and Jordan is trapped in the general gridlock. Other Arab countries search for solutions, but their attention is increasingly diverted by the growing threat from Iran and the downturn in global oil prices.

Given this landscape, we should ask why we still advocate the “two-state solution,” with Israel and “Palestine” living side by side in peace… We are obviously not progressing, and are probably going backward. We continue poring over the Middle East “road map” because that is all we have, faute de mieux, as they say in Foggy Bottom.

The logic to this position is long past its expiration date. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine a new approach that the key players would receive enthusiastically. If the way out were obvious, after all, it would already have been suggested. So consider the following, unpopular and difficult to implement though it may be:

Let’s start by recognizing that trying to create a Palestinian Authority from the old PLO has failed and that any two-state solution based on the PA is stillborn. Hamas has killed the idea, and even the Holy Land is good for only one resurrection. Instead, we should look to a “three-state” approach, where Gaza is returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank in some configuration reverts to Jordanian sovereignty. Among many anomalies, today’s conflict lies within the boundaries of three states nominally at peace. Having the two Arab states re-extend their prior political authority is an authentic way to extend the zone of peace and, more important, build on governments that are providing peace and stability in their own countries. “International observers” or the like cannot come close to what is necessary; we need real states with real security forces.

This idea would be decidedly unpopular in Egypt and Jordan, which have long sought to wash their hands of the Palestinian problem… They should receive financial and political support from the Arab League and the West…

Egypt no more wants responsibility for dealing with Hamas than Israel does. Cairo fears that Hamas extremism, and its affinity for the Muslim Brotherhood, will increase the risk of extremism in Egypt. Strong ties exist between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and extremism in Egypt is growing, so already the real issue is finding the best way to control the threat simultaneously in Egypt and Gaza. Keeping Gaza politically separate from Egypt may be optically satisfying to some, but doing so simply increases threats to Egyptian stability, the loss of which would be catastrophic for the broader region. Just ask the mullahs in Tehran.

Without a larger Egyptian role, Gaza will not, and perhaps cannot, achieve the minimal stability necessary for economic development. Moreover, connecting Gaza to a real economy, rather than a fictional “Palestinian economy,” is the quickest concrete way to improve the lives of Gaza’s ordinary citizens. The West Bank link to Jordan, for now at least, is less urgent; the matter cannot be put aside indefinitely, partly because, ironically, long-term Israeli security concerns there are more complex than in Gaza.

For Palestinians, admitting the obvious failure of the PA, and the consequences of their selection of Hamas, means accepting reality, however unpleasant. But it is precisely Palestinians who would most benefit from stability. The PA — weakened, corrupt and discredited — is not a state by any realistic assessment, nor will it become one accepted by Israel as long as Hamas or terrorism generally remains a major political force among Palestinians.

Objections to this idea will be manifold, and implementation difficult. One place to avoid problems is dispensing with intricate discussions over the exact legal status of Gaza and the West Bank. These territories contain more legal theories than land clicca ora. “Retrocession” to Egypt and Jordan may or may not become permanent, but one need not advocate that to get started in the interim.

The Palestinian and Israeli peoples deserve a little glasnost and perestroika from the outside world. Either we do better, conceptually and operationally, or Iran will be happy to fill the vacuum.

Today in the Post, there is a letter to the editor from Marc E. Nicolson which takes John Bolton to task, to wit

John Bolton’s Jan. 5 op-ed, “The Three-State Option,” proposing that Egypt absorb Gaza and that Jordan retake the West Bank as the solution to the Palestinian problem, illustrated why his departure from the State Department was almost universally applauded by current and retired Foreign Service officers, including yours truly.

His reckless proposal would put two friendly Arab governments in the position of neo-colonialists thwarting the Holy Grail of current Arab identity, namely Palestinian nationalism. It also would import aggrieved Palestinian minorities with extremist elements into Egypt and into Jordan, which already teeters on the demographic and political brink given the number of Palestinians it has absorbed. In short, Mr. Bolton’s idea is a formula for the overthrow of two of America’s closest allied regimes in the Middle East and for the conversion of Egypt and Jordan into platforms far more potent than the Palestinian enclaves for terrorism against Israel. A more foolish proposal I have rarely seen.

Mr. Nicolson, apparently a retired Foreign Service officer, illustrates the folly of Foggy Bottom. Mr. Nicolson animadverts on Mr. Bolton who is merely trying to find a solution that breaks from the norm. It’s not like Mr. Nicolson and the rest of our ambassadorial teams (from both Democratic and Republican administrations) has made a rat’s ass bit of difference in the Middle East in the last, what, 40 years? And it seems like much of Mr. Nicolson’s critique is recognized by Bolton. For if not, what would these passages mean?

  • Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine a new approach that the key players would receive enthusiastically.
  • So consider the following, unpopular and difficult to implement though it may be.
  • This idea would be decidedly unpopular in Egypt and Jordan, which have long sought to wash their hands of the Palestinian problem…
  • Egypt no more wants responsibility for dealing with Hamas than Israel does.
  • Objections to this idea will be manifold, and implementation difficult.

Here is a passage in Bolton’s editorial that particularly resonated with me

Moreover, connecting Gaza to a real economy, rather than a fictional “Palestinian economy,” is the quickest concrete way to improve the lives of Gaza’s ordinary citizens.

Believe it or not, this kind of language is considered too blunt by the buffoons at the UN, and is the real reason why Bolton’s “…departure from the State Department was almost universally applauded by current and retired Foreign Service officers”.

But what is wrong with Bolton’s suggestion? Maybe it is time to let some of the Arab states take more responsibility for fixing this mess. After all, they are partly responsible for the mess in the first place, and it is no secret that having the world focus on Israel and Palestine takes the focus off of the dysfunctional governments of neighboring states.

Mr. Nicolson is long on criticism with charges of “reckless”, “formula for the overthrow”, and “foolish”. And he is short on constructive suggestions. I’m sure Mr. Nicolson has had a very successful career.

Obama’s Deafening Silence On Gaza

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Judging by some editorials, letters to the editor, and some comments in Facebook, it appears that there is a block of Obama’s supporters that are quite unhappy at Obama’s silence during Israel’s action in Gaza against Hamas. And there is at least some portion of this block that are especially vexed because Obama was quick to condemn the Mumbai Massacre.

For example, this from Khalid Mish’al, writing in the Guardian

Once again, Washington and Europe have opted to aid and abet the jailer, occupier and aggressor, and to condemn its victims. We hoped Barack Obama would break with George Bush’s disastrous legacy but his start is not encouraging. While he swiftly moved to denounce the Mumbai attacks, he remains tongue-tied after 10 days of slaughter in Gaza.

And these similar sentiments, from a comment on an article posted in Facebook

What is more abhorrent is the President-elect’s silence over the carnage in Gaza, while he was quick to condemn the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

What I find interesting here is the equivalency between the Pakistani killers in Mumbai and the Israelis in Gaza. Here’s how I would size things up.

  • Whereas the Mumbai killers struck against innocent people, minding their own business, staying in a hotel or serving in a place of worship, the Israelis are striking against a group that has sent thousands of missiles toward the 800,000 Israelis living within Qassam, Grad, and Fajr rocket range.
  • Whereas the Mumbai killers struck without (a real) warning and shot victims indiscriminately, the Israelis have used intelligence assets, precision guided munitions, air-dropped leaflets, and phone calls in an effort to reduce the inevitable loss of innocent life that is occasioned when combatants live and operate within a civilian population.
  • Whereas the Mumbai killers struck targets that were known to be popular among travelers from the United States and the west, Israel is striking targets that have been characterized as a proxy for Iran and Syria, targets that no doubt danced and celebrated in the streets when the US was struck seven years ago.

Focusing for a moment on the idea of Hamas as proxy, consider this article from the TimesOnLine, titled Palestinian group Hamas admits that its fighters are trained in Iran

“Iran is our mother,” the commander said. “She gives us information, military supplies and financial support.”

Or this article, also from the TimesOnLine, titled Hamas wages Iran’s proxy war on Israel

So far, 150 members of Qassam have passed through training in Tehran, where they study for between 45 days and six months at a closed military base under the command of the elite Revolutionary Guard force.

Of the additional 150 who are in Tehran now, some will go into Hamas’s research unit if they are not deemed strong enough for fighting.

Conditions at the base are strict, the commander said. The Palestinians are allowed out only one day a week. Even then, they may leave the base only in a group and with Iranian security. They shop and “always come back with really good boots”.

According to the commander, a further 650 Hamas fighters have trained in Syria under instructors who learnt their techniques in Iran. Sixty-two are in Syria now.

But what Hamas values most is the knowledge that comes directly from Iran. Some of it was used to devastating effect by the militant group Hezbollah against Israeli forces in Lebanon in 2006.

Recall that during the campaign, Barrack Obama spoke pretty tough about Iran. It was Obama that refused to take military options off the table. It was Obama that talked of big sticks and big carrots. It was Obama that characterized a nuclear Iran as unacceptable. Other than Obama’s favoring some level of diplomatic talks, I didn’t see much difference between McCain and Obama in regard to Iran.

So what must those vexed by Obama’s silence be thinking? They seem to favor a President that is gripped by a Carter-esque anti-semitism. From what we know so far, it appears that they will be disappointed.

Shoot First, Leap Second

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Since nearly every sensible government views Hamas as a terrorist organization, I was glad to see that Israel rejected France’s proposed cease-fire. Whenever there is a flare-up there involving Israel, I am entertained by the various entreaties for peace, truce, etc. Today’s entertainment is courtesy of Julia Chaitin, a senior lecturer at the Sapir Academic College. Sapir is located near Sderot, Israel, and would be easily within the range of the Qassam rockets launched from Gaza. Chaitin writes an opinion piece in today’s Washington Post titled Darkness in Qassam-Land. It is the kind of piece that one might expect from someone that holds the title of program developer of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development. That sounds like real job security, right there.

Ms. Chaitin writes

This war is wrong. It is wrong because it cannot achieve its manifest goals — long-term “normal” life for the residents of the Negev region.

How do we know that it will not achieve the goals? And what is “normal” for the Negev region, anyway?

The war is morally wrong because most of the victims are Palestinian and Israeli civilians whose only “crime” is that they live in Negev or Gaza.

Most of the victims? Certainly the small number of victims in Israel are all civilians because Hamas targets civilians. But the victims in Gaza are nowhere near mostly civilians. It is certainly the case that Hamas has a morals problem because they operate from mosques and other facilities that are literally next to the homes of civilians. Thankfully, Israel employs precision guided munitions or the civilian victims would certainly be greater. And if the civilians of Gaza were responsible for elevating Hamas to power, maybe there is a cautionary object lesson here?

This war is wrong because it is not heading toward a viable solution of the conflict but is instead creating more hatred and greater determination on the part of both peoples to harm one another.

How can anyone with a shred of intelligence suggest that one should not protect oneself against an aggressor because such action would lead to more hatred by the aggressor? Ms. Chaitin should review the Hamas Covenant of 1988.

Hey, It Passed Spellcheck!

Hey, It Passed Spellcheck!

It is wrong because it is leading to stronger feelings that we have nothing to lose by striking further, with greater force.

Stronger feelings? Striking further? Greater force? Um, Ms. Chaitin, that ship has sailed. Don’t you know that Hamas continues to produce new versions of the Qassam rocket, with increased range? And that Hamas now imports the Iranian-made Grad and Fajr rockets with even greater ranges? The Grad and Fajr rockets, by the way, are smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt…the same tunnels that Israel intends to close.

This war is wrong because, even before the last smoke rises from the rubble and the last ambulance carries the dead and wounded to hospitals, our leaders will find themselves signing a new agreement for a cease-fire.

I doubt that any agreement will be signed any time soon. But suppose one were signed soon. What makes it wrong? I would suggest that the war is a success if it merely offers a lesson to Hamas and its supporters that there are consequences to aggressive actions. Far too often, in Israel and elsewhere, there are no consequences. For example, there could have been significant, punishing retaliation for any one of Qassam attacks this year. I think Israel shows remarkable restraint.

Qassam Rockets

Qassam Rockets

But I know the answer to our conflict will not come with this war. We will know peace only when we accept the fact that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have every right to lives of dignity. We will know peace only when we recognize that we must negotiate with Hamas, our enemy, even if we are devastated that the Palestinians did not elect a more moderate party to lead them. We will know peace only when our leaders stop considering our lives cheap and expendable, and help us create a beautiful, green Negev, free of fear and despair.

I agree that the Israel-Palestine conflict will not end with the end of this action by Israel. But I don’t believe that this is actually the goal of Israel in carrying out the action. Certainly, any notion that peace can only come with negotiation with Hamas is a pipe dream; a quick review of the Covenant would show that. As I have said before, there is no reason to feel devastated that a more moderate party was not elected by the Palestinians. Maybe the electorate will remember that elections have consequences the next time they are given a choice.

Earlier today, we were treated to an additional second of time. At 6:59:59 p.m., the clock had to wait two seconds before striking 7:00:00 p.m. I hope that Julia Chaitin put that “leap second” to good use. But if I had to guess, I would say that Ms. Chaitin was probably asleep at that time, dreaming.