Setting the Record Straight

January 1, 2009

Part II: Rethinking Israel v Palestine

Israel is There To Stay, Get Over It

     The United States was only 85 years old when it fought a Civil War over a fundamental split of the populace. Why would we expect countries in steady conflict for more than 85 decades to come to terms with differences even broader.

     The three religions had been at war with each other for nearly two millennia, so why would a collection of countries created after World War II as the United Nations believe that dividing, with Resolution 181, what was then Palestine between Jews and Arabs would

     Not only were lands of the Palestinians taken from them to create a state at odds with their religious beliefs, the land happened to contain Jerusalem, seen by all three of the area’s religions as their home base. Of course the Palestinians would resent the action and not go quietly into a goodnight.

     Six decades later, what is left of Palestine and the artificial state of Israel thus remain at loggerheads, both employing the eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth attitude that is doing nothing to resolve the crisis.

    The dispute is not going to be resolved by giving a scrap of land called Gaza, all that is left of Palestine, its own statehood, even though that would be a fair concession. There remains this wedge of land now known as Israel from which ancestors of Palestinians were driven and which continues to be a thorn in their offsprings’ sides.

     The U.S. position of defending Israel at all costs is a holdover from the Cold War days when the Soviet Union sided with the Arabs and the United States with Israel—our disastrously failed enemy-of-our-enemy-is-our-friend policy.

     This isn’t to say we should abandon Israel; it is to say we need a new way of thinking about the situation and to move away from the same policy that has failed for the past 60 years.

      Who knows what foreign affairs geniuses might come up with once challenged. Perhaps the right answer is a demilitarized zone similar to the one that has been successful for about the same length of time in keeping the two Koreas apart. Perhaps it is a corridor to Jerusalem cut across Israel from Gaza similar to the one from West Germany through East Germany to Berlin that lasted almost as long.

     The partition cannot be undone. Much as Palestinians and their supporters in the region may like it, the rest of the world is not going to support erasing Israel or moving it. It is there to stay and the Palestinians need to face the music and try to accommodate themselves to the reality and see what they can negotiate for themselves.

     New thinking is the challenge of the Obama administration, which in turn must convince the rest of the United Nations to think outside the box.



December 31, 2008

Israel v Palestine at 60+

Same Problem, Same Thinking, Same Result

     One of the dumbest decisions a collection of nations ever made occurred in the years immediately after World War II. The consequences of the decision, which was based as much on emotion as anything else, is playing out today as it has been for 60 years.

     The conflict between the muslim Arabs of the Middle East and Jewish Israel has no end as long as those who might have an impact on a resolution continue to try to make a dumb decision work. If ever there was an up-to-date illustration of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, it is the Bush administration incursion into Iraq.

     The Barack Obama administration needs some new thinking on the issue and the rest of the involved world needs to take heed. We do not know what the solution is, we only know there needs to be a new way of thinking about the situation.

     We do know that this back and forth revenge, retaliation, tit for tat, whatever you want to call it, has been going on since 1948 without a solution, so why continue looking for one in the same old worn-out policies.

     The time to think outside the box is becoming urgent as Russia works to restore the cold war, meaning aid and support on the side of opponents of anything the United States favors, in this case,

     The region between Syria, Iraq, Arabia and Egypt to what is now the Suez Canal was handed over to the British Empire to administer after World War I. That empire has a poor history of preparing any of its minions for independence.

     Also, as we have learned most recently with the fall of the Soviet Union and other empire collapses of recent decades, artificial mergings of conflicting ethnic, cultural religious, historical or any other pairings of groups that have their own ways of life simply do not work.

     In Iraq today, it is the Shiites vis a vis the Sunnis, kept unified, as usual, through dictatorial means. That is no different than the British attempt to keep India unified as one country, even though present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh were totally unrelated to India, even hostile to it. Pakistan still is, Bangladesh is just trying to survive.

     What could world leaders have been thinking when they created a Jewish state in the aftermath of discovering the holocaust? To give Jews land, they had to take it from someone else. The someone else lived in the British Mandate of Palestine.

      There probably is no greater conflict in the recorded history than the religious schisms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which came about within a few hundred years of each other in the same area before and during the Dark Ages, a period when nothing rational ever was accomplished.

Next: Part II, Israel v Palestine Rethink


December 30, 2008

Deny Away Home, Dubbya

Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt

     A front-page newspaper headline summed up not only 2008, but the eight years of the presidency of George W. Bush: “Bush not worst president, say wife, Rice.”sr-laurarice
     Separate Associated Press interviews with Laura Bush and Condoleezza Rice elicited the denials, but the reporter apparently did not bother to ask, “Who was worse?”
     Bush and soul mate Dick Cheney made interview rounds in the waning days of their disastrous administration, trying to spin a good face on the administration one last go-round.

     All four repeated that history is yet to be written. It is true most historians would tell you an accurate historical judgment needs to wait until at least 20 years after the fact to avoid mixing in the emotions of the time.
     In this case, however, it is likely that 20 years later the Bush administration’s ineptitude will be the focus of historians in 2028 just as the opinions about Richard Nixon held true through 1994, 2004, and, we dare say, will be the historical opinion far into the future.


August 23, 2008

Biden Was Best for President,

Is Best for Vice President

     As occupants of front-row seats for decades of D.C. doings, we have watched Joe Biden grow from someone who matured from simply playing at being a member of Congress to being a major player in world politics. He should be allowed to be an even bigger player.
     As much as Democrats love their candidate, Barack Obama, his biggest lack and his main Achilles’ heel in the upcoming campaign is his lack not only of experience, but also knowledge of foreign affairs.
     The replacement for the boob in the White House has a major mess to clean up over the next four to eight years, but he can stumble through on the domestic front —there are plenty of people who can help him out.
     In foreign affairs, the country needs not only to extricate itself from Iraq, do the right job in Afghanistan and finish it, it needs to restore its credibility around the world and demonstrate this is not really a nation of bumbling fools. And the nation needs to act with the greatest authority possible.
     Biden, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is in a position to hit the ground running as vice president to establish and lead a foreign-affairs team to get busy and right all the Bush administration wrongs.
     As Vladimir Putin has demonstrated in arranging to sidestep the Russian constitution and hang on to power for eight more years, and the invasion he led into Georgia to nip off its Russian-speaking sections, he has delusions of grandeur and perhaps illusions of Cold War II. His arguments for Georgia could easily be applied to Ukraine, which is half Russian-speaking, and who knows where else.
     Biden also has demonstrated a deep knowledge of all the other foreign-affairs issues the nation will face in the coming years, inside and outside of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and has the respect of his peers abroad.
     As a senator for 36 years, he also has a background depth on the major domestic issues the nation has faced and the maturity that Obama seriously lacks. Biden has served in the past as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and could be a treasured adviser with that background.
     We all know that with tabloid-cable, bloggers and e-mail swappers, this is going to be the nastiest campaign period in U.S. history. Biden played around a bit when he first came to Congress, but suffered an early family tragedy that appeared to turn him around and cause him to focus more seriously on life.
     Yes, he makes speaking gaffes and overstates his own works that will be exploited to the hilt in this day of gotcha media, but he has been around long enough he should be able to weather a serious probe into his past.
     But for Oprah and Iowa, Biden might have had a chance to last long enough in the presidential primaries to be choosing his own vice president at this point.
     Whom better to have sitting a heartbeat away than a man who fits Obama’s wise description of the right person for the job: “I want somebody who’s independent, somebody who can push against my preconceived notions and challenge me so we have a robust debate in the White House.”


August 12, 2008

What’s Putin Up To?

Cold War II?

         Back in July, almost as a throw-away line in an Outside the Box item on Afghanistan, we noted the United States is the world’s sole super power, “until Vladimir Putin gets Russia back up to the old Soviet strength….”
         Later in the item, we noted we defeated the U.S.S.R. not with warfare, but with money, with the U.S.  ability to spend more money than the Soviets in the Cold War arms buildup. Finally, Mikhail Gorbachev, thankfully with a modicum of training as an agriculture economist before he became the Soviet Union’s last president, could see the end game, quit the Cold War and folded the Soviet Union in 1991.
         Since then, the Soviet Union has contracted back into its pre-Stalin boundaries, largely areas that never spoke Russian before the expansion of the Russian Empire in the 1800s. That contraction allowed restoration of the sovereign nation of Georgia, which sits astride the stretch of land between the Black and Caspian Seas, just above the oil-rich Middle East. It also established its own democratic government.
         Today a pipeline vital to Russia is stretching from the Caspian Sea into Georgia, past its capital of T’bilisi and across Turkey to the Mediterranean Sea. That is a valuable outlet for Russian oil, which, along with natural gas, is the base of the new nation’s economy. Russia has become the world’s second largest exporter of oil and the largest exporter of natural gas.

         Putin was a two-term president of Russia, and before he had to step down from that job as required by the Russian Constitution, he arranged to hand-pick his successor to serve as his presidential puppet and in return name him the next prime minister earlier this year. There is little doubt he will use that office to remain Russia’s leader.
         So what is Putin up to in Georgia? The attraction of controlling the former Soviet portion of the pipeline seems obvious. That would take Russian troops next into Azerbaijan, across which the pipeline begins its journey from the Caspian.
         Does he see Russia’s energy-based economy growing to the level the country without the burden of its Communist-era satellites, could once again compete with the United States in Cold War II? The United States is not looking any too strong itself, right now.
         So weak is the United States thanks to the Iraq-invasion lunacy and its own oil-price economic woes, it is likely to have almost no diplomatic influence on the outcome of what already has been termed a war between Russia and Georgia.


July 26, 2008

Outside the Box: Afghanistan

 Make Bribery, Not War

     Instead of spending a trillion dollars in Iraq/Afghanistan in a fruitless attempt for a conventional military victory, what if we spent a fraction of that bribing our way to victory?
     Let’s start with bribing Afghanistan, i.e., afghanis for Afghanis.
     We cannot defeat the Taliban, Al-Queda or any other guerrilla force with U.S. boots on the ground. The problems in Afghanistan are easily identifiable. So why don’t we take what we know about them and bribe our way to victory.

     Afghanis depend for a lot of their gross domestic product on the poppy plant. The Afghan guerrillas , as well as the various warlords depend on the poppy for their financial strength. The welfare of the Afghanis logically lies with the guerrillas and not with the United States.
     What if we offered each of the 7.5 million households in Afghanistan the equivalent of $250, or one year’s average income. That would amount to less than the $2.3 billion we spend in one month now in Afghanistan short 10,000 troops on a fruitless venture.
     Naturally, we would attach strings. To receive the money, Afghan farmers would have to quit growing poppies and grow crops for human or livestock consumption, alternative energy, anything but addictive purposes. Their earnings would be on top of the year’s worth of income we already gave them. Additional support in subsequent years would be provided as needed.
     Non-farming Afghans would have other requirements, but coupled with incentives to earn additional income beyond the year’s stipend we gave them.
     We would still need a military presence to maintain order and try to fend off the cheaters. But our military presence could include a new type of warrior, one who is more sociologist than fighter and could include warriors trained at least in a semblance of other professions.
     With a new-found wealth, the populace would have a new-found strength to make new-found demands on its government. Eventually, having tasted capitalism, it is likely to embrace that system of government. It may not choose to be democratic, but as with other countries embracing capitalism, democracy likely will come with time. Until then, we would at least have a new trading partner.
     We could use the same bribery to get our way in much of the rest of the undeveloped world, if that is what we are going to continue insisting on, with less loss of life and less outlay of dollars.
     The evils of the world thrive on poverty. They are hard put to exist where there is little of it. 


     Sure. We could list hundreds; others would list 10 times more, from those fearing copiers of “The Mouse That Roared” to people citing real problems. That’s the way it is with thinking outside the box.
     For example, in Afghanistan, actually administering that bribery system (first, we would have to use a better-sounding euphe- mism) would cost far more than the $2 billion initial bribe. But we are now spending $2.3 billion a month there before we even begin to build up our troop strength.
     For example, can we guarantee making bribery, not war would work? Of course not. But we can guarantee that waging war against a guerrilla force the same old way will not work and will be far more costly in both the short and long runs.

     But first, we think.



June 10, 2008

Too-Little, Too-Late Foreign Policy?

Talking Instead of War-Mongering

          As the count-down to George W. Bush’s last days in office neared the 200-day mark, he set off on another probably embarrassing foreign trip. But this one may actually have some value to it. At the very least, one of its alleged purposes may signal a too-little, too-late change in policy.
          It was not that long ago that Vice President Strangelove was rattling sabers, aiming all sorts of angry threats at Iran. Dick Cheney’s apocalyptic bogeyman turned out not to be Saddam Hussein after all, so he turned his fear-mongering towards Mah-moud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran.

          The Bush farewell trip to Europe included a summit meeting with Euro-pean Union leaders in which he urged the Western World to adopt a strong-er stance vis a vis Iran, complete with expanded United Nations sanctions.

         Whereas Cheney’s blustering made it appear the United States was about to bomb Iran, the policy now appears to include diplomacy largely absent for the past seven-plus years. The new policy would combine stiffer sanctions with incentives for Iran to pull back on its efforts to enrich uranium, whose main purpose is use in weapons.

         This message was to be carried by an EU envoy to Tehran and the latest Ayatollah Khomeini who really rules the country. Notice, it is not a U.S. leader attempting to talk to Iran’s leaders.
          Bush and John McCain, the Republican candidate to be his successor, pooh-pooh talk with anyone who appears to be a U.S. enemy. Barack Obama’s suggestion he would meet with any other national leader, terrorist or not, without pre-conditions was a bit naïve and off the mark for the way international diplomacy is practiced, but it was not as far off the mark as Bush and McCain would have you believe.
          At the same time the EU is talking with Iranian leaders Israel, a charter member of the eye-for-an-eye crowd, nonetheless is willing to sit down with one of its arch enemies, Syria. If highly vulnerable Israel can talk to its enemies, why cannot a highly invulnerable United States do so?
          It is probably too late for this administration, but it is about time a U.S. leader also learned something about this part of the world and find out how to get along with its residents. Obama’s youthful exposure to Islam and his own distant Muslim heritage puts him in a position no U.S. president has had. Let us hope he uses it well if he is elected president.
          Obama could put us on the road to a real understanding of the differences in that part of the world. We cannot change the dynamics there, but we can adjust our own accommodations to them, beginning with a basic understanding of what we are up against.
          Admittedly this is overly simplistic, but the three major religions of the world–Judaism, Christianity and Islam–derive from the same source, in that order, and not so surprisingly, with the same basic set of beliefs.
–The oldest of the three, Judaism, believes there is only one god (a fairly novel thought at the time it was formulated thousands of years ago) who will come to Earth before an ill-defined “Judgment Day.”
–Then Christians came along and said the son of the one god already came to Earth, about 2,000 years ago now, and his name was Jesus. But he is supposed to come again before that same wispy “Judgment Day.”
–Then along came Islam, which said the other two were wrong, that the son of its version of the one god will be the one returning to Earth. The Shiite branch of Islam believes that son will be the 12th one of Muhammad and that his pre-“Judgment Day” plans include a well-defined reign of terror.
That’s it. Three divergent beliefs that draw on the same account in the same book, the Bible. Basically, the divisions in the Middle East constitute no more than another clash of mythology, perhaps a later version of the clashes of Greek or Roman gods, or name your region of the world and local myth.
Ahmadinejad is as whacky a representative of Iran as our current leadership is of the United States, with Dick Cheney pulling increasingly entangled strings.
Cheney failed to point out in his apocalyptic message that Ahmadinejad is mostly a loopy figurehead president of Iran and that the power there still lies in the hands of religious leaders we hope are more rational, but whose thoughts we cannot discern as long as we are focused on the Bush administration’s latest bogeyman.

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