Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Obama and the Iranian Election

June 26, 2009

Obama has been getting quite a bit of flack for the way he has handled the recent Iranian election fiasco. From the inflammatory neocon pundits like Limbaugh, Hannity, and Coulter, to the Republican politicians like Dana Rohrabacher, Richard Perle, Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, Charles Grassley, and John McCain are angry that Obama has not been more aggressive in responding to the Iranian tragedy. Even hawkish Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden think that the president should be more forceful in his reaction.

Why? What purpose would it serve? No one has directly suggested military intervention, or even new economic sanctions. They simply seem to want the President to be more forceful in condemning the election results and the government crackdown, or in expressing support for the dissidents. Do these people think that simply by uttering his disapproval, Obama can undo the election? “If Obama would only disapprovingly shake his finger at them, they’d learn they’re lesson!” Have they caught Obamania that much?

While it is extremely unlikely to help the situation, stern words could make things worse. As Obama himself mentioned in his recent press conference, Iran’s government would have no hesitation to play up any US rhetoric for the extremist crowd which is their base. Worse, saber rattling by its very nature implies the potential for drawing that saber. Such a stance might well escalate and draw the nation into yet another Middle Eastern military fiasco. Yet if he refused to back his words with deeds, Obama would look weak and ineffectual.

(I suppose this might well be the strategy of the neocons attempting to goad Obama into a more belligerent stance; either they get the further interventionism they desire in order to create their “New American Century,” or they get the president to make himself look weak.)

In 1991, fresh of his victory in the first Gulf War, President H.W. Bush heartily endorsed dissident factions in Iraq and encouraged the overthrow of the Hussein regime. Emboldened by the implied support of the US, the Kurds and Shia began a revolt. The military support which they assumed backed Bush’s words never came. The revolt failed, and the dissidents were slaughtered.

Is it worth the risk of seeing the same thing in Iran just to satisfy the egos of those who want to see the US play John Wayne?

My thoughts, wishes, and prayers are with these brave Iranian protesters who are fighting for a nation which respects the will of the people and individual rights. I’m inspired, as I’ve been by the “Tank Man” and others at Tiananmen Square, by their courage and determination. But I am no less suspicious of the path of interventionism in Iran than I’ve been in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other nation. We can not hope to impose democracy from without. We have not the capacity, especially now. Nor is it the role of the US to play nanny to the rest of the world. Obama has made essentially the right decision in this situation. Let’s hope that Obama is able to continue to ignore the taunting of the militarists, and that the Iranians are able to find the power within themselves to liberate themselves.

Combatants for Peace Tour

March 17, 2009

From Sojourners:

Ishmael and Isaac, brothers of the same father and different mothers, together buried their father Abraham. Esau and Jacob, twin brother and rivals, reconciled. When they met after many years, Jacob said: “for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor” (Genesis 33:10).

These stories tell of rival brothers, enemy brothers, who made peace. Every human conflict is a conflict between kin. We are all daughters and sons of the same Creator God. God created humankind in God’s own image and likeness. Thus, every human being carries the imago dei, the image of God. When we kill a human being, we are killing an image of God. When we lose sight of this, we lose clarity. We lose focus. We fall into deception and obscurity, into a dangerous shadow place where we understand the Other as altogether Other who may be, or ought to be, expelled or killed. We lose sight of their humanity. And the moment we do this, we forfeit a measure of our own.

Bassam Aramin is a Palestinian fighter who served seven years in jail for planning an attack on Israeli soldiers. When he left jail, he decided to dedicate himself to nonviolent solutions to the Israel/Palestine conflict. January 16, 2007, his 10-year-old daughter, Abir, was walking home from school with her friends in Anata near a border crossing. When an Israeli Border Patrol opened fire, a bullet found the back of Abir’s head. Three days later she was dead.

Yaniv Rashef was an Israeli soldier in the sabotage unit. He lives within range of missiles fired from Gaza. He has joined with Bassam Aramin in a group of about 600 former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters—Combatants for Peace—to work together for peace in Israel/Palestine. They are working together to build playgrounds (“Palestinian and Israeli Former Fighters Unite for Peace, Valerie Elverton Dixon“.

Too bad the tour is only along the East Coast. I’d love to see it. Hearing stories like these gives me some hope that that region might someday find peace.

Where’s that New World Now the Fighting’s Done?

February 4, 2009

So the latest struggle surrounding Israel came to a tense and fragile close with the cease-fire a couple weeks back. And what has each party accomplished? Has Hamas eliminated Israel or forced Israel to acquiesce to Hamas’ demands? Has Israel vanquished their foe, killing or incarcerating the leaders of Hamas and forcing the organization to surrender their arms?

Of course not. Israel’s political elites were probably able to use the exercise to score the political points they wanted for their election. With Palestinian resentment over the conflict will largely turn towards against those whose troops destroyed their homes and killed their families, Hamas will surely be able to reap a bountiful harvest of recruits to maintain their ranks. Other than that, we’re back at the status quo—minus thirteen Israelis and one-thousand, three-hundred Palestinians. Several thousands more were uprooted by the violence, and who knows how much property was demolished.

In other words, neither side won, but humanity lost.

As usual, many in the blogosphere have leapt to the defense of their favored side. Here in the U.S, particularly among the LDS, that side is typically Israel. Hamas broke the cease-fire, so they claim; it is Hamas which is indiscriminately targeted civilians with their rockets, while Israel took extraordinary precautions to try to avoid civilian casualties. However, the defense of Israel wore thin when evidence surfaced that Israel was using white phosphorus as a weapon, and as people such as Israeli expatriate Avi Shlaim noted that Israel was the real culprit in breaking the cease fire.

The important thing to remember is that there was a ceasefire brokered by Egypt in July of last year, and that ceasefire succeeded…Before the ceasefire came into effect in July of 2008, the monthly number of rockets fired—Kassam rockets, homemade Kassam rockets, fired from the Gaza Strip on Israeli settlements and towns in southern Israel was 179. In the first four months of the ceasefire, the number dropped dramatically to three rockets a month, almost zero…

…The new story said that Hamas broke the ceasefire. This is a lie. Hamas observed the ceasefire as best as it could and enforced it very effectively. The ceasefire was a stunning success for the first four months. It was broken not by Hamas, but by the IDF. It was broken by the IDF on the 4th of November, when it launched a raid into Gaza and killed six Hamas men…

…ever since Hamas captured power in Gaza in the summer of 2007, Israel had imposed a blockade of the Strip. Israel stopped food, fuel and medical supplies from reaching the Gaza Strip. One of the terms of the ceasefire was that Israel would lift the blockade of Gaza, yet Israel failed to lift the blockade, and that is one issue that is also overlooked or ignored by official Israeli spokesmen. So Israel was doubly guilty of sabotaging the ceasefire, A, by launching a military attack, and B, by maintaining its very cruel siege of the people of Gaza (“Israel Committing “State Terror” in Gaza Attack, Preventing Peace,” Democracy Now).

Some may interpret my criticism of Israel’s government as implicit support for Hamas. To do so would be missing the point. At worst, Hamas is intrinsically anathema to the state of Israel and is more concerned with maintaining its power than with the plight of the people in Gaza. At best, even if Shlaim and Rabbi Michael Lerner are correct that Hamas is pragmatically willing to accept a long-term cease-fire and de facto peaceful coexistence with Israel, Hamas has repeatedly proven itself perfectly willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent civilians—both Gazan and Israeli—in pursuit of their goals.

Both sides, Hamas and Israel’s mainstream political elite, are slaves to this siege mentality. Both refuse to back down. Both are apparently committed to the path of violence and brutality. As long as we excuse the actions of either side as the lesser evil and accept their false premises that violence is the only language which the other will understand, all we will accomplish is the perpetuation of this cycle of destruction. If there is any hope of a long-term peace and reconciliation in the land of Palestine, it will come through supporting those who are determined to chart a new course. Groups such as Gush Shalom, which support a more just and peaceful resolution to the conflict, and the courageous Shministim who stand as the future leaders of a new and more honorable Israel, hold the promise of such bold navigators. Certainly there must be Palestinians who share that vision of cooperation and peace, people who can be nurtured into leadership roles on the other side of the divide.

Ron Madson of The Mormon Worker proposed an idea which is almost unheard of in our martial world today:

I would seek to destroy the Palestinians in the very way Christ taught us how to destroy our enemies. I would do what Gush Shalom proposes and then more: I would flood Palestine with food, economic relief/opportunities, water (no longer cut of their water supplies in any way). I would return good for evil aggressively and unrelentingly. I would meet with their leaders—including terrorists (they call themselves defenders, but no matter) and I would beg for forgiveness for all wrongs that Israeli has done in any way. I would council with them and when they ask for such and such I would consider ways to practically double their request. I would find ways to give the Palestinians the dignity and respect that any human being deserves. I would destroy their war
narrative (“What Would You Do If you were the Israeli PM?“).

A radical idea? Certainly. Given track record of the conventional “solutions,” perhaps it is time for a radical strategy based on hope and charity. Only then might we see the seeds of a new world, a more beautiful one, in the Middle East.

The Iraq Status of Forces Negotiations: Exposing the Republican Lie

June 19, 2008

For five years now, Republicans high and low have scoffed at the Iraq War skeptics. They’ve routinely protested any suggestion that the conquest had anything to do with oil or empire. This is a war of liberation, an act of benevolence to free an oppressed people, a noble act to spread Democracy. The regrettable use of military force was necessary, but was merely temporary. Our forces will be removed as soon as the legitimate government of Iraq no longer needed or wanted our services.

Variously naive and duplicitous, these assurances have been proven wrong. We now know that the Bush administration has been in negotiations for a new Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, one which would permit U.S. forces to maintain dozens of indefinite-term military bases, control of Iraqi airspace, carte blanche to pursue military operations, and immunity from Iraqi law for not only members of the U.S. military, but U.S. contractors.

That is not a mutual aid agreement between sovereign nations. That is a pact turning Iraq into a client state of the U.S.

Yes, the conservatives insist that the bases are intended to be temporary. The bases in Saudi Arabia established during Gulf War I were supposedly temporary as well. So was Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, but the idea that this sprawling, expensive base will be dismantled anytime soon is rather absurd. As Chalmers Johnson pointed out in his book The Sorrows of Empire, its network of military bases is a primary means by which the U.S. stretches its influence and exerts political pressure on nations throughout the world. This is nothing more than the neo-imperialism practiced by the U.S. for the better part of a century.

You don’t think the war had anything to do with petroleum? I have a hard time believing that the administration didn’t see potential of leveraging the influence of long-term military bases to help assure the pipeline to the U.S.

And what of the desires of the legitimate government in Iraq? They find the U.S. demands to be unacceptable.

We have reached an impasse, because when we opened these negotiations we did not realise that the US demands would so deeply affect Iraqi sovereignty and this is something we can never accept (Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki, from “Impasse in US-Iraqi forces talks,” BBC)

It reminds me a great deal of the agreement between the U.S. and Cuba after the Spanish-American War. Cuba, now “liberated” from Spain, was required to grant the U.S. military bases (of which Guantanamo is a remnant), exempt U.S. entities from Cuban law, and even permit the U.S. government a veto over the Cuban legislature. Some liberation.

It is worth considering that the hubris of the U.S. and their insistence that Cuba become a vassal played a very key role in the resentment which ultimately enabled a meglomaniacal dictator to lead an uprising and defy the U.S. for almost half a century now.

Time for the conservatives to face facts and or own up to the lies. There are clearly ulterior motives at play—motives which must be terminated. The Middle-East is explosive enough right now without pouring more gasoline on the fire.

Then Again…

March 29, 2008

…when I am reminded of McCain’s foreign policy, and the general attitude of the vast majority of the Republicans in that regard, the prospects of voting for McCain dim considerably. While I’m not certain either of the Democratic candidates are as willing to stand for an ethical foreign policy as I’d like, and Clinton seems very willing to take a belligerent stance when it suits her purposes, neither seem to relish the imperator role like their presumptive opponent.

Jeff Huber, retired Navy Commander, is a rather witty commentator on the military and politics in his blog Pen and Sword. He had some rather scathing thoughts on McCain’s recent faux-pas in Iraq.

It must be a kick in the head to base your claim to the presidency on your savvy in foreign affairs only to have it get out that Joe Lieberman knows more about them than you do. I bet it’s a lot like how I feel when my dog corrects my grammar in front of people.

One would like to think that Senator John McCain misspoke when he said in Jordan during his tour of the Middle East that the Iranians have been “taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.” He is, after all, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the GOP’s designated crown prince, so you’d think he’d be aware that the official rant is that Iran is training Shiite Iraqi militants, not the Sunni al Qaeda guys. But no, McCain made the Iran-al Qaeda accusation four times in just over three weeks, and it wasn’t until Lieberman cooed something in his ear that he said, “I’m sorry. The Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda.”

The question is, of course, whether McCain is really that dumb and/or senile or if he’s just being a diligent echo chamberlain of the neoconservative agenda. It may be that he lives in a bubble even more opaque than the one Mr. Bush occupies. Then again, he may be a Cheney class Machiavellian. As historian and journalist Gareth Porter noted on March 22, “Sen. John McCain’s confusion in recent allegations of Iranian training of al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq is the result of a drumbeat of official propaganda about close Iran-al-Qaeda ties that the George W. Bush administration and neoconservatives have promoted ever since early 2002.”

Whatever the case, McCain is a key component of the disinformation campaign designed to revive the world order we thought we’d put out of its misery at the end of the 20th century (Pen and Sword, “McQaeda” ).

He also tackles Cheney’s duplicity regarding Al Qaeda and the administration’s simian chest-beating over Iran in the same post. Biting, but very shrewd.

Diplomacy and Religion in the 21st Century

February 16, 2008

I just listened to a very compelling show on NPR’s Speaking of Faith, “Diplomacy and Religion in the 21st Century.” Douglas Johnson,a founding member of The International Center for Religion & Diplomacy and Evangelical Christian, discusses some of his experiences helping diffuse conflict in the Middle East which addresses the perspective of religion.

We hear from many in our U.S. Christian communities (including LDS communities) beguiled by the siren song of militarism and violent coercion, so willing to turn to the easy solution of the sword. It is refreshing to hear from those who have the courage and conviction to seek more healing, more unifying, and more Christian solutions.

LDS Connections to Torture

September 29, 2007

Speaking of the CIA and morally bankrupt foreign policy, the Centerville Citizen noted some bizarre news back in August (unfortunately, my feed aggregator seems to be acting strangely regarding the CC blog, repeatedly flagging an old post about a foreign guest as new and neglecting to show new posts; I was unaware of this entry until the CC author mentioned it in a comment on my page on torture). In a report that I would have dismissed as absurd rumor had I not read it myself, Vanity Fair uncovered that the torture policies which have been accepted by the administration during their foreign misadventures of the past five years were authored by a pair of LDS psychologists.

Having become very financially successful paving the way for increased human rights abuses by U.S. forces, these two “brethren” have boldly proclaimed “We are proud of the work we have done for our country.”

Others are less convinced. The policies these men enabled have increased the already grave tension between the U.S. and the Muslim communities of the Middle-East and helped alienate the rest of the world. “I think they have caused more harm to American national security than they’ll ever understand,” says Kleinman [Air Force Colonel].

How loathsome to find that I share the religion of men who devised methods of torture. What a disgrace to our faith.

I can’t decide whether I’m more perplexed by this revelation, or by the defense of torture by Antonin Scalia, who pointed to the successful capers of a fictional character to justify the use of torture.

“Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles,” he told a panel of judges, referring to the torturer protagonist of the Fox series 24. “Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?”

(Murphy Brown, Tinky-Winky, and now Jack Bauer. Maybe the leaders of the Right need to stop watching so much TV…)

Honestly, could the tabloids have concocted a more bizarre story? Truth is stranger (and sadder) than fiction.

Enough about “winning” and “losing” in Iraq

April 8, 2007

I’m ever so tired of this administration and the supporters of the occupation of Iraq talking about the war in terms of winning and losing.

“We can win the war in Iraq” they tell us. “We must win.” “We cannot lose the will to win.” “We cannot afford to lose.” “It would send a terrible message to our enemies if we give up and lose the war in Iraq.”

This is international policy they’re talking about; decisions which effect our foreign relations, national security, the federal budget and its impact on the economies both domestic and global, and most importantly, the lives of millions of Iraqi civilians and U.S. citizens—both those serving in the armed forces and all the people connected to them back home. Yet our president and his supporters insist on talking about it like some high school football game.

Our foreign policy shouldn’t be about winning or losing. The days of such bellicose swagger should have gone the way of Otto “Iron Chancellor” von Bismark and Teddy “Rough Rider” Roosevelt. Our foreign policy should be about what is in the best interest of the global community—which will ultimately serve our own interests best in the long run. If the best means by which to help the Iraqis achieve their interests is to maintain a presence in Iraq (a dubious proposition), then by all means lets stay. If, on the other hand, our presence is catalyzing the ongoing tragedy in Iraq and further sow the sort of enmity which the terrorist organizations are so eager to harvest, no length of stay will make the deaths of our soldiers any more honorable or meaningful. I like message military strategy no more than I like message legislation. If the course which we’ve stayed so long is indeed harmful to the well-being of Iraq, we should immediately begin a withdrawal, regardless of whether or not that withdrawal appears to the war hawks to be a defeat.

I doubt things in Iraq would measurably improve upon our withdrawal. The tragedy of the situation in which this administration has entangled us is that there is likely no truly positive alternative. All possible options seem to entail heavy costs and potentially disastrous consequences for Iraq. It is a matter of determining which will cause the fewest problems. All else being equal, I call for the option that at least minimizes the cost to our nation in money and blood. In other words, unless a compelling case can be made that our presence will minimize the bloodshed in Iraq and expedite the formation of a government which derives its legitimacy from the consent of the people, lets stop interfering. The burden of proof should be upon those who want to continue to spend U.S. money and life, not those who wish to conserve the same.

In any case, this isn’t a game of any kind whatsoever. Millions of lives are at stake, both at home and abroad. By framing the issue in the terms they choose debases the entire issue, and only serves to expose the prideful, juvenile perspective of the administration.

Showdown with Iran

February 12, 2007

From the time the administration prepared (so to speak) for the invasion of Iraq, I suspect that they intended to speedily follow that up with an encore liberation of Iran. When the stabilization of Iraq turned out to be vastly more difficult than the administration had conceived—when to their surprise, the U.S. troops were not greeted with candies and flowers—any potential campaign against Iran became too impractical even for this administration to pursue for the time being. But many believe that intervention against Iran is still on the administration’s agenda.

The administration has recently accused Iran of inciting and arming some of the insurgents in Iraq, contributing to the chaos there. While I have little faith in the integrity of this administration, I would hardly be surprised if Iran was indeed meddling in the turmoil of Iraq. But that doesn’t mean that I think the U.S. should begin gearing up to move into Persia. Aside from my belief and faith in non-violent methods of conflict resolution, I believe that such an attack would in many ways play right into the hands of the Tehran and exacerbate the situation, much as the two prior campaigns have multiplied the problems and created playgrounds for terrorists and thugs.

KCPW recently aired an interview with Michael McFaul, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, and expert on Iran. They discussed McFaul’s recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, “Iran’s weakened hard-liners crave a US attack.” McFaul explains his own suspicions about the administration’s intention to mount a military campaign and why he believes such an action would be counterproductive. Listen at Midday Utah (scroll down to Feb 9, or do a search for Michael McFaul in the search box on that page).

The Pentagon “twisted Iraq findings”

February 9, 2007

Defense Department Inspector General Thomas Gimble has now released a report which states that the Pentagon twisted intelligence on Iraq to prove the fanciful link between Al Qaeda and Hussein.

Just another item to add to the mound of evidence suggesting this administration has repeatedly lied in the pursuit of their agenda.