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


July 19, 2008

Flip-Flop, Flop-Flip

Will the Real Flip-Flopper Please Stand Up?
          Consider the ineffable unpredictability of the presidential campaign.
          Much of it is puzzling and too much of it is personal. Bottom line: I wish the candidates would talk only about their own pro- posals to get the country out of what we on this site call “The Bush Messes.” Economy, environment, war, world standing, security, debt, housing, crime, you name it.
          Barack Obama proposed a specific timetable for with- drawal from the Iraq fiasco. Even some of his friends were uneasy. Then he “clarified,” but seemed to modify, that. His enemies were energized and derisive. Flip-flop, they said.
          Then, even Nouri al-Maliki, our puppet in Iraq, and some in the Bush administration are thinking of a timetable, albeit of varying intensity. John McCain continues to believe the U.S. presence in Iraq is a very long-term one. That position brought him considerable moans of dismay.
           McCain was ragging Obama about not having gone to the hot spots in the Middle East. The hidden message was, I have been there, even been kept in a bestial prison.
          But then, when Obama announced his several-stops trip to the region, the McCain reaction was, When I went it was to form my policies; but when Obama is going, it is AFTER he has an- nounced his policies.
          Obama said he would talk with foreign leaders, even some who are very unfriendly to the United States. The Bush adminis- tration derided the idea of talking to the “evil.”
          But now, the Bush administration has caught something of the national mood, and decided to talk with Iran. An undersecre- tary of State, in fact, just met with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, but just to listen, his bosses said. The Bush administration still does not call the discussions free conversations; the Bush condition is: Iran must first pledge to end its nuclear enrichment that would prepare it for a nuclear weapon.
          The fact is, despite the continuing angry national debate about the wars, it seems most Americans are worried about the increasingly desperate American economy. Instead of ragging their opponents, the candidates should flesh out every day their ideas on that issue.
          McCain is wedded to a continuation, even perpetuation, of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which largely brought us to this deep recession because the increased money in rich hands did not help across the board. The old trickle-down idea (remember David Stockman?) that the rich would invest and hire, and help us all, did not work.
          Obama makes the possibly impossible pledge that he will balance the budget in his years in office, with some new tax breaks for the middle class, but restoring some of the old tax rates for the very rich.
          Both candidates should be held to the standard: List spe- cifically how your ideas add up to your promises.
          Complicating the campaigns of both Obama and McCain is the behavior of Congress. But the argument of a selfish, do-noth- ing-good Congress ignores some of the facts of the legislative/- presidential process.
          Even with a slender Democratic majority in Congress, the president still has the veto power, which means every piece of legislation has to have a “super-majority” to get past him. So the Democrats have an argument in that way. But they still have to defend their continuing support of the greedy habit by both parties of passing “earmarks,” those special home-district projects not subjected to the usual scrutiny in the legislative process.
          And the silly sidebar of the election campaign: When you are in the Senate and running for president, you must schedule carefully so you are in the Senate at just the right moment for some very important things–and absent, campaigning, for the rest. The trouble is, your opponent is watching and can say, “Oh my; my opponent did not see fit to be in the Senate when the important Hangnail Control Act of 2008 was debated today. Shame on him.”
          And this tongue-in-cheek comment about this year’s cam- paigns: Considering the statements that have hurt the candidates the most in this interminable campaign for the presidency, I here- by propose that NOBODY with “The Rev.” before his name be allowed to utter a word, publicly or privately, when the campaign has begun.
          As Bobby Burns said, “O wad some pow’r the giftie gie us tae see oursels as others see us…. T’wad frae many a blunder free us.” The endless campaign is subject to “frae many a blunder.”




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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