2. US Election Contrasts

Oct-05-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A fascinating interactive chart, and a wonderful Juan Cole contrast between the failures of Romney on Middle-East policy, and the failures of Obama. And a pre-debate poll to keep your hopes up.

* Campaign spending: Map shows where Obama, Romney campaigns spend.  Slate Magazine 

* Top Ten Things Mitt Romney Gets Wrong about US Middle East Policy

Gov. Romney published an op-ed on Monday criticizing President Obama’s Middle East policies. Aside from urging ‘strength,’ however, Romney offers no concrete alternative. And, he completely misunderstands the history of the US role in the region, which causes him to misunderstand its present dilemmas.

Romney says,  “The first step is to understand how we got here. Since World War II, America has been the leader of the Free World. We’re unique in having earned that role not through conquest but through promoting human rights, free markets and the rule of law. We ally ourselves with like-minded countries, expand prosperity through trade and keep the peace by maintaining a military second to none.”

In fact, the United States after World War II was mainly concerned with securing petroleum for its European and Asian allies, and with keeping Communist influence out. These interests caused it to promote dictatorship, not democracy.

* Top Seven Errors President Obama has made on the Middle East Juan Cole Informed Comment

Yesterday I explored the errors and fantasies in Gov. Mitt Romney’s WSJ op-ed on the Middle East. Here I will briefly go over the mistakes that the Obama administration has made in the region. Unlike the proposed blunders of Romney, I have to say, most of these are errors of omission or of an abundance of caution. I’d give Obama a C on Middle East policy, whereas I’d give Romney’s announced plans an F. Still, the present administration has had significant failures.

* Poll: Obama better Represents America!  Informed Comment

Which better represents America? Obama 48%, Romney 38%

Obama comes out ahead both on soft issues about who has the better values, and on hard ones like who is tougher or who has the better economic plan! He really has taken over both key Democratic and Republican issues:

Which is tough enough for the job? Obama 45%, Romney 38%

Which has the right values? Obama 47%, Romney 37%

Who would better lead the economy? Obama 42%, Romney 38%

Has a better plan to create jobs? Obama 44%, Romney 39%

A Quinnipiac poll found that only 1 in 10 voters thought they might see something in the debates that would change their minds.

2. Iran, Other Countries, (and Canada)

Sep-14-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A fascinating look at what happened in Iran when it hosted the recent NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), which includes ⅔ of the UN’s countries and 55% of the world’s population. And why, as even the US is trying to dial down the rhetoric on Iran, did Canada dial it up? What was Harper thinking?

* The Non-Aligned Movement Meeting Strengthened Iran Armin Azad Informed Comment

Although it was largely ignored by the Western media, the Teheran Non-Aligned Summit concluded its work last Friday. It approved a statement supporting Iran on the nuclear issue; opposing unilateral economic sanctions (i.e. US-led sanctions against Iran), and; condemning any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities (an indirect reference to Israeli threats of attack against Iranian nuclear facilities). Iran claims that it has scored a big diplomatic victory by securing the support of all NAM members on these issues. Against the background of the strong campaign carried out by the US and Israel prior to the conference to discourage Non-Aligned leaders as well UN Secretary General from participating in the meeting, it arguably seems so – at least to informed Iran observers!

To the delight of the Iranian authorities, all 120 Members of the Movement sent representatives to the conference and about 50 of them at the head of states level. From the perspective of the Iranian authorities, the conference and its final statement provided a convincing argument to counter the claims by U.S and the West that in their accusations against Iran over nuclear and other issues they speak for international community.

* A Rebuke to the American-Israeli Economic War on Iran Juan Cole NationofChange

In his acceptance speech in Charlotte, N.C., President Barack Obama said, “The Iranian government must face a world that stays united against its nuclear ambitions.” It wasn’t much noted in the Western press, but in fact the recent Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Tehran last month delivered a slap in the face to the Israeli-American financial and commercial war on Iran over its nuclear enrichment program. The 120 countries of the movement, representing some two-thirds of United Nations member states and 55 percent of the world’s population, refused to boycott Iran. More, they upheld Iran’s right to pursue nuclear-powered electricity. But given that the U.S. and Europe constitute half of the world’s gross domestic product and maintain its most powerful standing armies, does the meeting’s symbolic gesture really matter?

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon defied severe pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and attended the Tehran summit. Some reports suggested that Ban went because he was annoyed by the vehemence of the Israeli government. India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not only insisted on attending but brought a big delegation of businessmen with him looking for deals with Iran. For the first time since 1979, an Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, flew to Tehran, signalling an end to Cairo’s decades of obsequiousness toward the U.S.

The final communiqué upheld Iran’s right to pursue the enrichment of uranium for energy purposes and rejected the United States’ boycotts and sanctions on Iran. It further warned that any attack on nuclear facilities would be illegal under international law and a violation of basic human rights. It stressed Palestinian rights, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return home to what is now Israel. In other words, the Non-Aligned Movement document contained the opposite of everything Netanyahu and Hillary Clinton say on each of these points.

What Has Prompted Canada’s Move Against Iran? Tony Burman Toronto Star

Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University.

Although his swearing-in at Rideau Hall must have happened in the dead of night, Canada appears to have a new foreign minister. His name is Benjamin Netanyahu. His day job may be prime minister of Israel, but Canada’s abrupt actions against Iran seem to confirm that the Harper government’s outsourcing of Canada’s Middle East policy to Jerusalem is now complete.

There is little else to conclude from Canada’s unwise decision to move unilaterally on Iran at this moment. All sorts of crucial issues are in play with Iran. They involve the future of its nuclear program, the impatience of Israel’s leadership to attack Iran, the shape of a new Middle East as the heinous Syrian regime implodes and several delicate life-and-death issues involving Canadians on death row in Iran. Surprisingly, Western nations have held together on how to approach these key challenges — except, now, for Canada.

So why would Canada indulge in a meaningless poke in the eye that will only be dismissed by Tehran and serve to push the Canadian government even further to the extremes of diplomatic irrelevance?

* Canada’s Diplomatic Disaster  Eric Walberg

On 7 September, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced that Canada is suspending all diplomatic relations with Iran, expelling all Iranian diplomats, closing its embassy in Tehran, and authorizing Turkey to act on Canada’s behalf for consular services there. Baird cited Iran’s enmity with Israel, its support of Syria and terrorism. “Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” Baird said at the Asia Pacific Economic Conference in Vladivostok, Russia. 

While indeed Iran has been the nation most outspokenly critic of Israel, and is actively working to thwart the Western-backed insurgency in Syria, there is no evidence of its support for “terrorism”. It is in fact the victim of terrorism on the part of Israel and the US, which boast about assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists and destroying Iranian computers with viruses made-to-order, among other officially-sponsored acts of subversion.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast suggested that the real reason for Harper’s latest targeting of Iran was because of Iran’s successful hosting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran in August. Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Tehran’s hosting of the 16th NAM Summit was a “humiliating defeat” for the West. 

Humiliation is indeed the operative word for Canada in particular. The past five years of Conservative rule in Canada under the fiercely pro-Israeli Prime Minister Stephen Harper have brought nothing but disgrace to Canada internationally, and this present move adds further humiliation. 

…“It’s hard to find a country friendlier to Israel than Canada these days,” chirped Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on his official visit in 2010. 

3. What’s Going to Happen in Syria?

Sep-14-2012 | Comments (1)

Bird’s Eye: Obviously, no one knows. But here’s a useful primer: Uri Avnery reviews the history of the Middle East, the Guardian looks at what the situation now is, and Saren Schmidt looks at the way out. And in a piece that applies to both Syria and Iran (above), Simon Tisdall looks at the fascinating performance of Mohamed Morsi in Tehran.

* Bloody Spring Uri Avnery counterpunch

When the French were finally kicked out of the region at the end of World War II, the question was whether and how Syria and Lebanon could survive as national states.

In both there was an inbuilt contradiction between the unifying nationalism and the dividing ethnic/religious tendency. They adopted two different solutions.

In Lebanon, the answer was a delicate structure of a state based on a balance between the communities. Each person “belongs” to a community. In practice everyone is the citizen of his community, and the state is but a federation of communities.

…The Lebanese system is a negation of “one person – one vote” democracy, but it has survived a vicious civil war, several massacres, a number of Israeli invasions and a shift of the Shiites from last to first place. It is more robust than might have been supposed.

The Syrian solution was very different – dictatorship. A series of strongmen followed each other, until the al-Assad dynasty took over. Its surprising longevity arises from the fact that many Syrians of all communities seem to have preferred even a brutal tyrant to the breakup of the state, chaos and civil war.

No more, it seems. The Syrian Spring is an offspring of the Arab Spring, but under very different conditions.

The Point Of No Return The Guardian

The fight for Syria has become a struggle for the destiny of the region. It is also now a clash of ideologies and orders, of sects and societies. The battle for regional influence runs straight through Damascus and none of the region’s main players are willing to yield ground. “It’s Sunni versus Shia, Arab versus Persian, America versus Russia, the list goes on,” says a western diplomat. “This is unfinished business on many levels.”

What will emerge from Syria’s civil war will likely take many months to determine. A rapid end to the regime would not mean an end to crisis. The vacuum that would follow the end of strongman rule would take some filling – the recent experience of Iraq to the east, another sectarian state bound together by an autocrat, clearly demonstrates that.

 * The West Will Have to Compromise on Syria Saren Schmidt  Informed Comment

First of all, the Alawites (and the other minorities) must have guarantees that the fall of the regime will not be at their expense. Words and paper are easy, but the only actor who may credibly guarantee that minority interests will be secured after the fall of Assad is the Syrian military. Not the civilian security apparatus, but the part of the Syrian Army that still sees itself as a national institution and not just as an extension of the regime. The Syrian military should therefore be a party to any agreement concerning a transition from the present to a new government (as was also the case in Egypt and in Tunisia whose militaries also played an instrumental role in the transition). The only influence on the military apart from the present regime is Iran (and to some degree Russia).

Secondly, the West has to distance itself from the regional conflict between Iran and Israel, which has as its root cause that the Israelis continue to relate to their neighbours by means of military domination rather than finding a solution that all parties can live with. Said in another way: Israel has yet to accept the establishment of an independent and viable Palestinian state. As long as that remains the case, Israel will be seen as an enemy by Hamas and Hezbollah, which Iran for its part will insist on supporting. But there is nothing forcing the West to be hitched to the Israeli wagon in the conflict with Iran. After all, the West wants democratization in the Middle East and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The conflict between Israel and Iran ought therefore not to be allowed to hinder the inclusion of Iran in the attempt to find a solution for Syria.

The Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, has recently suggested that Egypt, Turkey, Saudi-Arabia and Iran get together to find a solution to the Syrian tragedy. The West ought to support Morsi’s initiative and replace romantic, revolutionary notions with a pragmatic approach to the Syrian people’s wish for democracy, and at the same time decouple its policy from Israel’s self-inflicted conflicts with its regional neighbours.

* Egypt underlines Iran’s isolation at Non-Aligned Movement summit   Simon Tisdall The Guardian

Iran’s leaders clearly hoped this week’s gala summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran would serve as an antidote to the diplomatic isolation imposed on them by the US and Britain. But Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s wonderfully unpredictable new president, making the first visit at this level since the 1979 Iranian revolution, had other ideas.

Morsi’s fierce condemnation of the Syrian regime, Iran’s close ally, was as eloquent as it was piercing, and it came like a bolt from the blue. …The Syrian delegation walked out. The Iranians did not have that option – they could hardly boycott their own meeting. Instead they were forced to listen as Morsi, a Muslim Brother, an Arab, and lifelong critic of western policy in the Middle East, thumped out an uncompromising speech..”

“We should all express our full support to the struggle of those who are demanding freedom and justice in Syria and translate our sympathies into a clear political vision that supports peaceful transfer (of power) to a democratic system,” Morsi told the 120-country summit….

Despite 20,000 Syrian dead and the maiming and traumatising of generations of young people, the civil war shows no sign of stopping, may even be getting worse. “The bloodletting in Syria is the responsibility of all of us… the Syrian crisis is bleeding our hearts,” Morsi said. He is right – and when was the last time an Egyptian president spoke for the world? But after his speech, significant and stirring though it was, the world is no nearer to finding a solution.

4. Perspectives on Israelis

Jun-01-2012 | Comments (1)

Bird’s Eye: Amidst the multiple deaths this year on Mount Everest, here’s a story of heroism that hasn’t been heard and that should be. At times, those of us who oppose much of the Israeli government’s foreign policy have a tendency to overlook some of what is admirable in Israeli culture, and Ben-Yehuda is truly a hero. As opposed to a government that bans history, as Uri Avnery points out. And another worthwhile review of Beinart’s new book on Zionism, and what it means today.

* Better Than Reaching The Mountaintop The Daily Beast

The news photos of Nadav Ben-Yehuda arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport from Nepal shows a gaunt-faced young man with one hand bound heavily in bandages. Ben-Yehuda became a hero, one could say, because he chose not to conquer the mountain. 

…Nadav Ben-Yehuda, a 24-year-old veteran of the IDF’s alpine unit, intended to set the record for being the youngest Israeli to climb Everest. This year’s climbing season, however, will be recorded alongside 1996 as a brutal one. On his way up, around 300 meters short of the peak, Ben-Yehuda spotted someone unconscious, gloveless, without oxygen. Apparently even before he recognized the man as Aydin Irmak, a Turkish-American he’d befriended at the base camp, Ben-Yehuda made what he called the “automatic” decision to save him, rather than continuing to the peak. Ben-Yehuda’s own oxygen mask was broken. He had take off his gloves to carry Irmak for eight hours. If your first priority is keeping yourself alive, this isn’t how you pursue it. But Ben-Yehuda got Irmak down far enough for both of them, terribly frostbitten, to be airlifted out. 

Speaking to a reporter, Ben-Yehuda said his army service taught him that “you never leave a friend in the field.” It’s true that the IDF puts an extraordinary stress—not just in talk but in training—on bringing everyone back. But that military value is itself a reflection of a society-wide assumption that a person lives with and for other people. There’s no Israel myth of the pioneer family alone on the prairie. Israeli founding myths are about movements, collectives and communes. 

* Where Forgetting is a National Duty Uri Avnery Counterpunch

On May 15, the anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, its Arab citizens observed a day of mourning for the victims of the Naqba (“catastrophe”) – the mass exodus of half the Palestinian people from the territory which became Israel.

Like every year, this aroused much fury. Tel Aviv University allowed Arab students to hold a meeting, which was attacked by ultra-right Jewish students. Haifa University forbade the meeting altogether. Some years ago the Knesset debated a “Naqba Law” that would have sent commemorators to prison for three years. This was later moderated to the withdrawal of government funds from institutions that mention the Naqba.

The Only Democracy in the Middle East may well be the only democracy in the world that forbids its citizens to remember a historical event. Forgetting is a national duty.

Trouble is, it’s hard to forget the history of the “Palestinian issue”, because it dominates our life. 65 years after the foundation of Israel, half the news in our media concern this one issue, directly or indirectly.

* On the US and Israel: Peter Beinart’s “The Crisis of Zionism” and Its Critics. Jerome Slater

By now, most readers of this blog will be familiar with the main arguments of Peter Beinart’s new book, The Crisis of Zionism, as well as the controversy it has engendered. Consequently, I will assume that a brief summary of the Beinart book will suffice, before I offer a number of my own comments both on the book and the various reactions to it.

Beinart’s Liberal Zionism

In his book, as well as in a long interview in the May 11 2012 issue of Tikkun, Beinart defines himself as “a liberal Zionist” who continues to accept the core Zionist argument that the Jewish people need a state of their own “in some portion of the ancient Land of Israel,” principally as “a refuge for Jews around the world,” but also because of religious and cultural reasons. At the same time, though, Beinart emphasizes that the legitimacy of a Jewish state in that land also depends on it being a genuine democracy and one which does “not exclude a Palestinian state on some of that same territory.”

In that light, then, Beinart is highly critical of the continuing Israeli occupation of the Palestinians, as well as of the failure of the American Jewish establishment and the U.S. government to exercise real pressure on Israel to end the occupation, allow the creation of an independent Palestinian state or, alternatively, provide “equal citizenship” to the Palestinian people in the framework of a genuinely democratic state.

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