Robert J. Elisberg
"Now is not the time for the president to dig in to a neutral posture," Paul Wolfowitz wrote last week in the Washington Post. "It is time to change course."
Oh, swell. Now he wants to change course.
Mind you, as an architect of the Iraq War, it's not like Mr. Wolfowitz's track record on advice for the Middle East is terribly dazzling.
His opinion here is not terribly surprising, though. The neocon wing of the Republican Party has rarely found a war it doesn't love to start (finishing, optional), most especially if they themselves don't have to risk fighting it. And now, it seems like most conservative Republicans have their trigger finger itching to start yet another Middle East war.
No, thanks. Been there, done that.
In his op-ed, Mr. Wolfowitz chose two comparisons (noting only quietly at the very end that "no two situations are identical.").
The first was the1986 Philippine elections when Ronald Reagan initially made a cautious statement (exactly as President Obama has done...), and only later declared that there had been fraud. Never mind that the Philippines is one of our longtime allies with whom (unlike Iran) we have actual diplomatic ties. And never mind that whatever happened there would not destabilize the entire world - let alone neighboring Mindanao. And never mind what overturned events was that Philippine President Fernando Marcos had two reform leaders arrested, which brought a national protest that forced him to flee the country three days later.
Yes, that's so much like Iran...
His other "comparison" - and one uses that word advisedly - was when George Bush (the first) spoke out against a coup attempt in the Soviet Union in 1991. After he too was initially non-committal and cautious. Exactly like President Obama. Later, Bush took the "bold" step of condemning the coup. Yes, honest, this is the comparison Paul Wolfowitz is trying to draw.
Noteworthy though is that Mr. Wolfowitz stops right there and leaves out the other involvement Mr. Bush 41 also made in 1991. That's when he challenged Iraqis to stage a coup and "to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside." The result of these empty words of false encouragement was that the uprising was defenseless, and Saddam Hussein ordered mass killings that have been estimated in the range of up to 230,000.
Shocking, I know, that Paul Wolfowitz ignored this "comparison" in American presidential intervention. Especially given that as far as comparisons go, Iraq is next door to Iran. It was just an oversight, I'm sure...
Of course, pretty much all the right-wing Republican voices who want the president to involve himself in Iran have ignored this recent history, as well. Instead, they prefer words that will either - 1) be empty with no substance behind them and put millions of Iranians at risk, or 2) get us involved in yet another Middle East war.
It is this very same, empty belligerence that John McCain has been ratcheting, including on his new-found Twitter account. (Republican discovery of Twitter misses the point that when your messages are limited to 140 characters, so is the depth of your thought.)
"Mass peaceful demonstrations in Iran today," he tweeted, "let's support them & stand up for democracy & freedom! President & his Admin should do the same."
Mind you, it's not remotely clear what "standing up" actually would accomplish - or means - but it is an admonition he's fallen in love with. "It's our duty to stand up for people who are struggling for freedom," he quoted to C-Span. "We should stand up for them," he told Fox News. "The way we stood up for the Polish workers in Gdansk, the way we stood up for the people of then Czechoslovakia..."
...and the way we stood up for Iraqis in 1991 with empty, meaningless words before they were mass murdered? But then, John McCain has a record of being reckless here. After all, we can't forget his singing, "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," during his failed presidential candidacy. At least we now know what America avoided by not having his experienced leadership during this time of grave diplomatic delicacy.
This is all the same hubris and ignorance that got us involved in Iraq. That's why Iranian experts have near-unanimously applauded President Obama's handling of the situation - because they actually understand the perspective.
They know that what is happening in Iran right now is far deeper than protesting a vote. It's a political/religious battle that goes back to the Muslim Brotherhood formed in Egypt in 1928 - and to many hundreds of years of conflict. As Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Middle Eastern specialist in the C.I.A., wrote in Sunday's New York Times:
"Yet in the current demonstrations we are witnessing not just the end of the first stage of the Iranian democratic experiment, but the collapse of the structural underpinnings of the entire Islamic approach to modern political self-rule....Westerners would do well to understand the magnitude of what is transpiring in the Islamic Republic."
"Standing up" for the reform candidate Mr. Moussavi would get him painted as an American puppet, a disaster for reformers. It could even be the one thing that unites Iran. Further, despite whatever rigging existed, President Ahmadinejad may still have won the election, just that the rigging guaranteed a bigger margin. And if Ahmadinejad did, indeed, win - or stays in power, regardless - this is the Iranian administration we will need to deal with to lessen their nuclear threat. Most importantly, though, as anyone who understand Iran knows, its president doesn't have authority - that rests with the Supreme Leader. So, imposing ourselves for a figurehead while spiting the actual sovereign is as dangerous and counterproductive as anything imaginable towards an unstable nuclear power.
And President Obama understands all this. And has been widely praised by those who understand the situation. For goodness sake, even George Will called the right-wing criticism, "foolish".
"The people on the streets know full well what the American attitude toward the regime is. And they don't need that reinforced."
And the reality is, that Mr. Obama did speak out early, contrary to the fake-talking points of the neocons and far right Republicans.
"We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust action against the Iranian people," the president stated last week. "The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights." ("Stands"!) "If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion."
That is as blunt a statement as any that Ronald Reagan made towards the Philippines, or George Bush (the first) made towards the Soviet Union. And it was far more diplomatic and thoughtful than what Mr. Bush (the first) said to Iraqis before they got mass murdered.
Yet still the neocons want more, insist the president isn't saying anything, isn't doing anything.
It's irresponsibly dangerous. As when the right-wing Charles Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post: "And where is our president? Afraid of "meddling."
Amazingly, there is Mr. Krauthammer, in his own words, admonishing the president to actually "meddle." Meddle in a centuries-old religious conflict of a nuclear power. The same meddling that got us mired in the disaster of Iraq.
Meddling! They want meddling! Enough already. We've seen the result of "meddling." Which is why the far right has long-since lost its credibility for giving any advice. But still they give it.
"He's been timid and passive more than I would like," said Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC).
Apparently, more "meddling" would be to Mr. Graham's liking. That belligerent "Bring it on!" swagger than George W. Bush managed so well.
These right-wing voices just love war, as long as they don't have to fight it. Just love sending young Americans to die, to salve their posturing ego and failed politics. Just love the idea to "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." Perhaps that would be aggressive enough for them all, calling for more active meddling in Iran.
Been there, done that. The results are right across Iran's border in Iraq.
What all these loud, empty, aggressive voices ignore is that a president who measures his public statements thoughtfully is not inherently silent under the surface, which keeps the channels open for creating real change. Any one of these war-mongering voices who thinks that all Barack Obama is doing about Iran is making public statements is either naïve or disingenuous.
And yet Barack Obama makes his public statements - as he did again on Tuesday, strongly. But makes them responsibly. Because words can't be empty when they matter most. A responsible President speaks to improve conditions, not inflame them. Not meddle. Not posture. Not paint us into war.
Happily, there are far more voices who understand this. And understand history, not just posturing for political air time. And happily, these include the more moderate of Republicans, as well.
During the presidential election, Barack Obama was roundly chastised by this same right wing and by Mr. McCain for his supposed "naivety" in saying he'd sit down with Iran without preconditions. Yet now, on Sunday, Republican Richard Lugar, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one the country's experts, told CNN that the United States and Iran should "sit down." Even amid all the Iranian upheaval, even though the government "is shooting people...beating people," host John King asked, if Iran called tomorrow, should the U.S. "sit down with them?" And Sen. Lugar again repeated his answer - "Yes."
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
GAZA, June 16 (Reuters) - Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are being "treated more like animals than human beings", former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said on Tuesday.
On a visit to the enclave, he condemned Israel's January bombardment of Gaza and its continuing trade blockade, which he said forbids even children's toys.
"I understand that even paper and crayons are treated as a security hazard," he told Gazans at a local United Nations office. "I sought an explanation of this when I met with Israeli officials and I received none, because there is no explanation."
Carter, 84, has spent far more years as a human rights activist than he did in the White House from 1977 to 1981. He is easily the most outspoken former U.S. president on the Middle East conflict, and seen by many Israelis as a harsh critic.
He ignored a U.S. government ban on dealings with Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas and had talks with its leaders.
Israel tightened a blockade on Gaza in 2007 when Hamas took control after routing rival Fatah forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, who favours a peace deal with Israel. In late December, Israeli forces bombed then invaded Gaza, devastating its already battered infrastructure.
Since then, Israel has blocked imports of steel, cement and other goods to the population of 1.5 million Palestinians, saying Hamas could use many items for military purposes.
Carter, a Democrat, said he had seen for himself there had been almost no reconstruction in Gaza over the past five months.
"Never before in history has a large community like this been savaged by bombs and missiles and then been deprived of the means to repair itself," he said
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Jon Rapoport (LA Democrat Examiner)
It has been nothing short of remarkable to witness what appears to be a very strong and close relationship between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama. These formerly bitter rivals, during the 2008 Democratic Primaries, are now joined at the hip regarding the current administration's foreign relations initiatives. It seems like ancient history, but one only has to recall back to just over a year ago, when things were not quite as chipper between these two very notable figures.
Remember the Clinton Campaign’s use of the infamous “3 a.m.” commercial, which attempted to question the qualification and experience level of then Senator Obama? Or former President Bill Clinton’s controversial remarks regarding Jesse Jackson winning of the '84 and '88 South Carolina Primary, in which Clinton seemingly tried to claim that the victories of both Jackson and Obama were for the same exact reasons.
What about the famous “shame on you” speech delivered by then Senator Clinton regarding a health care mailer distributed by the Obama Campaign shortly before the Ohio Primary? The list goes on and on regarding the bitter sniping that took place throughout the campaign from the Clinton Camp towards the Obama Camp.
For his part, Sen. Obama repeated claims that Sen. Clinton was not always truthful and forthright regarding her record during the campaign. Obama also continually questioned Clinton's explanations regarding her authorization vote for the Iraq War.
“You know I opposed this war in Iraq from the start. But one of my opponents [Clinton] is trying to rewrite history,” said Obama while campaigning in early 2008.
After the bitter and seemingly unending primary, the resolution of the long standing Florida and Michigan Primaries controversy and the conclusion of the pursuit for Superdelegates, Sen. Obama finally came away the winner.
To her credit, Sen. Clinton quickly accepted the defeat and subsequently became a fervent advocate for the future President. Her most stirring and notable speech took place on the second night of the Democratic National Convention last August in Denver. From that point on, Sen. Clinton made it abundantly clear that the proper move for her 18 million supporters was to vote for Sen. Obama in the November election. Many of these supporters were still unhappy because Sen. Obama declined to offer Sen. Clinton the opportunity to be his running mate, instead selecting Sen. Joe Biden.
It turned out that President Obama had another prominent and public role in mind for Sen. Clinton. The role of Secretary of State, the chief international representative and spokesperson for the United States Government.
Sunday, while appearing on ABC's “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Mrs. Clinton explained her rationale for accepting the President's offer.
“Ultimately, it came down to my feeling that, number one, when your president asks you to do something for your country, you really need a good reason not to do it. Number two, if I had won and I had asked him to please help me serve our country, I would have hoped he would say yes. And, finally, I looked around our world and I thought, you know, we are in just so many deep holes that everybody had better grab a shovel and start digging out.”
Since Mrs. Clinton assumed her position, it is quite safe to say that her views have been in lock step with that of the President. The most notable example of this is the administration's belief that Israel should halt further expansion of settlements into the West Bank, while simultaneously articulating the United States unwavering support for the state of Israel.
Mrs. Clinton has also been front and center with President Obama during their recent trip to Egypt and their earlier participation in April's G20 Summit in London. In fact, there's very telling photos of the two receiving a private tour of the Sultan Hassan Mosque in Cairo.
Stateside, there is also a very unique photo of the two of them conversing outdoors at a White House picnic table. Either they are Academy Award winning actors, or they just happen to get along very well despite their past differences.
The brilliance of the President's decision to appoint Mrs. Clinton is twofold:
First, in terms of experience, knowledge of the key issues and relationships with foreign governments, particularly in the Middle East, Mrs. Clinton compares favorably to any other potential candidate for this position.
Second, the union of these two Democratic Party Goliaths has almost completely unified the party and it has eliminated any bitterness associated with the primary campaign.
As for the “3 a.m.” commercial, Mrs. Clinton explained her current feelings regarding if the President is able to handle a “middle of the night” crisis, during Sunday's ABC interview.
“Absolutely, and you know, the President, in his public actions and demeanor, and certainly in private with me and with the national security team, has been strong, thoughtful, decisive. I think he's doing a terrific job. And it's an honor to serve with him.”