Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

July 29, 2010

“Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty”

One week ago, Republicans in the House of Representatives introduced a resolution that would give Israel the green-light to go ahead and attack Iran militarily if it were to acquire nuclear weapons. So far, H.Res.1553, which asserts “Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty”, has been signed by 46 Congressmen or one-third of House Republicans. The resolution, spearheaded by Congressmen Gohmert of Texas, expresses:

Support for the State of Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty, to protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, and to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time to protect against such an immediate and existential threat to the State of Israel.

The bill goes on to lay down its argument.  First, it describes the plight of the Jewish people, the Holocaust, and their right to return to their homeland.  The “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel is stressed, as is the fact that the U.S. was the first country noble enough to accept Israel as a state.  After this historical background, which is being used as an emotional appeal, the bill proceeds to attack Iran.

The bill adopts an ethical stance, implying that the U.S. is right in acting as a police force.  It describes Iran’s history of noncompliance in regards to  sanctions against its nuclear program and also quotes some of the deplorable things President Ahmadinejad has said, such as the infamous: “Israel should be wiped off the map.”  The use of this kind of rhetoric of existential fear is meant to instill fear in the public, which would justify the use of military action against Iran.

But the one most important thing this bill is lacking, perhaps, is logic.  There is no denying Iran’s words and actions.  But how credible is Iran? If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, is it feasible to think they would use them? Even Iran is smart enough to recognize the consequences of using nuclear weapons.  It is well-known that the purpose of nuclear weapons is not actual use, but rather deterrence and international power and leverage.  Israel’s claim of self-defense is futile in this regard.  Israel probably fears Iran acquiring nuclear weapons more because it would challenge the nuclear hegemony of Israel in the region, limiting its leverage and ability to act without accountability, as well as shifting the regional balance of power in Iran’s favor.

The House Republicans who signed this bill need to think about the outcomes of what would happen if Iran was attacked militarily.  Most likely, a dangerous, regional war would erupt that would also involve the U.S.  The legitimacy of Iran’s threats need to be re-examined, as preemptive attacks on Iran could have devastating effects.  The difference between mere rhetoric and credible threats need to established.

And the U.S. needs to tone down its own use of rhetoric as well, as is evident in this resolution .  Americans need to become more aware of the attempts made by the government to make them think they are in danger, as it allows the U.S. to take any actions it deems fit in the name of security. As Abraham Lincoln once said:  “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

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July 27, 2010

Perspectives on Reconciliation

Today, I attended a hearing on Capitol Hill hosted by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that focused on viable strategies on Afghanistan. It was entitled: Perspectives on Reconcilation Options in Afghanistan.

Panelists included former Ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan Crocker, Zainab Salbi of Women for Women International, and Dr. David Kilcullen of the Center for a New American Security.  All were very knowledgeable and experienced, offering their unique perspectives on what should be done to create a stable Afghanistan.

The source of strife in Afghanistan was discussed among the panelists.  All generally agreed that the Taliban is not the only source of instability.  Along with the Taliban, government corruption and a lack of economic development are factors that contribute to the creation of a breeding ground for insurgency.  Due to such a cycle of instability, Dr. Kilcullen emphasized that efforts in Afghanistan should not only focus on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism, but also on stability efforts.

Because of the many factors contributing to instability, the panelists generally agreed that a solution to conflict in Afghanistan cannot be merely military in nature.  A political solution is needed, one that focuses on empowering civilians and reforming the government.

Security of civilians must be ensured, and the only way to do so is to have a more capable and less corrupt government.  Unless a credible and legitimate government that is capable of ensuring law and order is established in Afghanistan, the Taliban will keep resurfacing.

Basic rights and access to economic resources are also crucial to achieving stability, as Zainab Salbi stressed.  She argued that if Afghans, especially women, have access to jobs and education, they would not pay heed to the Taliban.  In addition, she argued that Afghans also desire an end to human rights abuses, as well as access to justice.  The reason the Taliban has leverage is because it offers the people financial support and protection, in exchange for patronage.  When another source of support emerges, the people will no longer have to rely on the Taliban.

However, such stability efforts are long-term goals, and may take 12-15 years.  As the U.S. is seeking to withdraw troops in July of 2011, a more immediate solution is desired.  Amb. Crocker discussed the idea of negotiating, from a position of strength, with all interested parties.  He commented on the international dimension of the instability in Afghanistan and the need to engage other countries that have an interest in the stability of Afghanistan, such as Pakistan.  He believes the partnership with Pakistan needs to continue for the sake of security efforts.

And with Afghanistan becoming more nebulous and the insurgency continuing, members of the committee voiced their concerns about U.S. involvement in the issue.  A worried Chairman Senator Kerry asked the panel why Afghans, if they do not like the Taliban, could not fight the Taliban themselves.  The bottom-line answer from the panelists was that in order to quell the Taliban, Afghans need support to become powerful enough to counter the Taliban.  While the Afghans may not like the Taliban, they prefer anyone who can offer them stability.

June 10, 2010

Obama and Abbas Meeting

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally met with Obama in Washington D.C. yesterday, after his trip was delayed by the Gaza flotilla raid.  The leaders discussed Gaza as well as prospects for a Palestinian state (BBC).

Obama called the situation in Gaza “unsustainable,” and pledged $400 million dollars in aid to the region.  The proposed aid package would give $240 million towards investment in  home ownership, $75 million towards improving infrastructure, $40 million to support UNRWA’s Gaza and West Bank appeal, and $10 million dollars to enhance the Palestinian economy (Al-Jazeera).  As for the logistics of how that aid will reach the area, Obama did not give any details, but it will most likely be filtered through Israel to the PA.  He does however have more opinions on how the blockade on Gaza should be altered.  He believes the blockade should focus more on arms shipments rather than all goods and people to and from Gaza (Washington Post). (more…)

March 31, 2010

Founder of a new PAC for Middle East peace on CNI radio, April 1st

Filed under: Lobbying,U.S. Congress,Washington's diplomacy — Carlton Cobb @ 1:53 pm

Sama Adnan, Ph.D., the founder and executive director of New Policy PAC and the affiliated NewPolicy.org will be our guest on “CNI: Jerusalem Calling” on Thursday, March 25th, from 12 noon to 1 pm ET. He will be joined by host and CNI board member Alison Weir. Dr. Adnan and Weir will discuss the aims of the newly founded organization New Policy.org and how New Policy PAC plans to support members of congress whose foreign policy align with America’s national interest.

NewPolicy.org is an organization of American citizens committed to enhancing American security through establishing a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its sister organization, New Policy PAC, is a political action committee capable of funding congressional campaigns of politicians who understand that ending the Arab-Israeli conflict is in America’s national interest. New Policy PAC is one of the few PACs working for Middle East peace in the United States. (more…)

March 21, 2010

Senate likely to confirm first Ambassador to Syria in five years

This morning I attended a hearing on the Hill to confirm the nomination of the  new Ambassador to Syria, Ambassador Robert Ford. This will be our first Ambassador to Damascus in five years, (when in 2005 diplomatic relations became strained following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister), and Ambassador Ford seems perfect for the job. He served as Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) to Bahrain, head of the Political Section in Iraq, Ambassador to Algeria, and he  is currently DCM  in Baghdad. In addition to his experience in the Middle East, he also speaks Arabic and Turkish and seems well versed on the issues facing this troubled region.

The hearing began with a short statement by Chairman Kerry. He started out by bringing up some of the regional issues that Syria has a hand in,  including: the flow of fighters into Iraq, the transportation of weapons, the support for terrorist organizations, and the failure to cooperate with the IAEA. And he brought up the importance of negotiations with Israel over the Golan and the need to protect Lebanese sovereignty. But most importantly,  he stressed the need for engagement and diplomacy to show Syria the benefits of modifying its behavior. He stated,”…If we do succeed, it could be transformative in galvanizing the Arab-Israeli peace process and dramatically improving the situation for our friends in Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, and the West Bank.  In short, this presents us with an opportunity to change the strategic landscape in the Middle East that we cannot afford to ignore.” (more…)

March 6, 2010

Senators Kerry, Dodd acknowledge Gaza’s plight under Israeli siege

Filed under: American attitudes,U.S. Congress,Washington's diplomacy — colbyconnelly @ 12:25 am

At the start of a Senate hearing entitled “Middle East Peace: Ground Truths, Challenges Ahead,” on Thursday, February 4th, Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) expressed his frustration with the Middle East Peace process. He advocated a U.S. withdrawal from the peace process by quoting New York Times columnist Tom Friedman: “[the U.S. should] end its participation in the peace process, publicly informing the parties that we will come back when they get serious.”

Sen. Lugar is not optimistic about the idea of “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Newer methods of diplomacy, he argued, are needed between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (more…)

January 28, 2010

Paul Findley lauds new congressional commitment on Gaza

Filed under: Activism,Gaza,U.S. Congress — Helena Cobban @ 1:11 pm

Former Congressman Paul Findley has lauded the 54 members of Congress  who on January 21 sent a letter to Pres. Obama asking him to “advocate for immediate improvements for Gaza” on a number of issues related to the tight blockade that Israel has maintained against the Strip’s 1.5 million people for many years now.

The PDF of the letter is here.

Findley was hounded out of office by AIPAC and its affiliates in 1982, after serving for 22 years as a distinguished member of Illinois’s congressional delegation. He had been openly urging the administration to open relations with with the Palestine Liberation Organization– and the Lobby didn’t like that at all!

In 1985, he published the best-selling book They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby. In 1989 co-founded CNI and the CNI Foundation, with the goal of advocating for fair-minded U.S. policies in the Middle East– and explaining to Americans why only such policies can serve our true interests as a people. The CNI Foundation is the publisher of this blog.

Congressman Findley told FPFD that the ability of Reps. Jim McDermott (D-WA)and Keith Ellison (D-MN) to gather 54 signatures on the “Dear Colleague” letter regarding Gaza

is an extraordinary step… We haven’t seen so many members of Congress prepared to stand together behind a resolution critical of Israel since the 1970s, with one of the early amendments offered by David Obey!

However, he also warned this year’s “valiant 54” that they should expect a strong counter-attack from the pro-Israel lobby.  “This is a step that the lobby for Israel will never forget,” he said.

He said he was planning to write to all 54 and express his appreciation for their courage.

He stressed, however, that– especially in an election year– all 54 of the letter’s signers need to hear very palpable signs of support from their own constituents, noting that,

My experience is that what happens in Washington is no use at all unless it is backed up by concerted efforts from the members’ own districts.

In connection with that, it’s lucky that the CNI and the other groups around the country that are members of the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation are jointly sponsoring a campaign to “cheer or jeer” all members of Congress, depending on whether they signed or didn’t sign the McDermott-Ellison letter.

Please take part! The “cheering” part is every bit as important as the “jeering”. (Or maybe, even more important.)

In the interview with FPFD, Findley said,

I’m going to urge the 54 signers of the McDermott-Ellison letter to stand together, and keep in good touch with each other on this issue.

I should have tried harder to do that when I was in the House– but back then, there were only three of us. Now there are 54.

He suggested that the 54 might establish a more robust structure to coordinate on this issue– “They could call it the Caucus for the National Interest!” he said.

(Hey, we support that!)

He recalled that,

back in my day, when I was in Congress and the Lobby was going after me, there was no such thing as a grassroots campaign to express support for the stand I was taking. But I went ahead anyway.

He  underlined that the fact that these 54 members had signed the letter to Pres. Obama, “is very important in itself– and it should also be a gateway to further  efforts on this issue.”

December 29, 2009

Kudos to Reps. Baird and Ellison!

Filed under: Gaza,U.S. Congress — Helena Cobban @ 10:25 pm

Brian Baird, the fearless and principled member of congress from Washington State has given a thoughtful and tragic interview to Al-Jazeera in which he describes his frustration– some eleven months after the fact-finding tour that he Rep. Keith Ellison made to Gaza– that so far almost nothing has been achieved in terms of lifting Israel’s continuing siege on the Strip.

In the YouTube clip there, Ellison also says that the lack of progress on lifting the siege has been a “weight” for him, too.

Baird said that if nothing happens soon, he’ll introduce legislation to start cutting some of the US aid to Israel. But neither he nor Al-Jaz correspondent Todd Baer express much optimism on the clip that that proposal will get much support, either.

Sadly, on Dec. 9, Baird announced that he won’t be seeking re-election at the next election. His voice of compassion and quiet reason will be sorely missed.

December 9, 2009

US Congress’s many assignations in Tel Aviv

Filed under: American attitudes,U.S. Congress,US-Israeli relations — Helena Cobban @ 11:51 am

Well, we all know that most members of the US Congress ‘heart’ Israel a lot…  But that very intimate relationship has been sustained over the years by many, lovingly arranged trips that pro-Israeli organizations in the US have organized that have sent members of both the House and Sentae, and key staffers, on “fact-finding” trips to Israel that show a decidedly one-sided view of developments in the Israeli-Arab region.

On Monday, the NYT published a fairly good analysis of the overseas trips taken by members of Congress in the period since 2007, when new rules intended to rein in “junketing”, i.e. recreational use of allegedly fact-finding missions, came into operation.

Accompanying the article was this helpful graphic, that shows that while the policy-focused Aspen Institute was the largest sponsor of congressional “fact-finding” travel– both domestic and international– in the years since 2007, the second largest sponsor was the American Israel Education Foundation, which sponsored trips by a total of 88 members of Congress at a listed cost of $1.4 million.

A little more digging on the excellent and informative Legistorm website reveals that in the period between January 2000 and mid-August 2009 that the site tracks, AIEF has sponsored 457 trips by members of Congress or their staffers. 225 of these were approved by Republicans, and 233 by Democrats.

(more…)

November 24, 2009

Pity the U.S. diplomat posted to the Middle East

On its biannual Political Pilgrimages to the Middle East, the CNI Foundation tries to get as complete a picture as possible of what is  happening “on the ground” in the region. We try to meet those in power, as well as those in the opposition; those parties and figures deemed “pro-American” and those dubbed “anti-American”, too.

For example, in Lebanon our delegations attempt to meet with members of the March 14th alliance (Hariri, Siniora) and the March 8th alliance (Aoun, Hezbollah) — as well as those who oscillate in between (Joumblatt). Lebanon is fortunate (or, is that unfortunate?) to have such a wide political spectrum. One hopes that hearing from so many voices helps the visitor obtain a clearer sense of how things actually are.

In this spirit, our delegations also try to arrange briefings at each of the U.S. embassies and consulates in the countries we visit. It may seem ironic that we, as American citizens, feel it necessary to visit a U.S. embassy to get a different point of view. But in several of these countries, and on a host of issues, the U.S. point of view stands distinctly in the minority. It is a minority view with the weight of the sole superpower behind it, however, so we listen carefully.

Also, these diplomats represent us, and are paid for by our tax dollars. So of course we want to see what they’re doing!

(more…)

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