29 February 2008

28 February 2008 - All that, and brains, too!

Angelina Jolie backs U.S. policy in Iraq.

Why? Because she's been there several times, and actually cares what happens to the people Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are telling us we should abandon.

Here's the full Washington Post op-ed.

Staying to Help in Iraq
We have finally reached a point where humanitarian assistance, from us and others, can have an impact.

By Angelina Jolie
Thursday, February 28, 2008; 1:15 PM

The request is familiar to American ears: "Bring them home."

But in Iraq, where I've just met with American and Iraqi leaders, the phrase carries a different meaning. It does not refer to the departure of U.S. troops, but to the return of the millions of innocent Iraqis who have been driven out of their homes and, in many cases, out of the country.

In the six months since my previous visit to Iraq with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, this humanitarian crisis has not improved. However, during the last week, the United States, UNHCR and the Iraqi government have begun to work together in new and important ways.

We still don't know exactly how many Iraqis have fled their homes, where they've all gone, or how they're managing to survive. Here is what we do know: More than 2 million people are refugees inside their own country -- without homes, jobs and, to a terrible degree, without medicine, food or clean water. Ethnic cleansing and other acts of unspeakable violence have driven them into a vast and very dangerous no-man's land. Many of the survivors huddle in mosques, in abandoned buildings with no electricity, in tents or in one-room huts made of straw and mud. Fifty-eight percent of these internally displaced people are younger than 12 years old.

An additional 2.5 million Iraqis have sought refuge outside Iraq, mainly in Syria and Jordan. But those host countries have reached their limits. Overwhelmed by the refugees they already have, these countries have essentially closed their borders until the international community provides support.

I'm not a security expert, but it doesn't take one to see that Syria and Jordan are carrying an unsustainable burden. They have been excellent hosts, but we can't expect them to care for millions of poor Iraqis indefinitely and without assistance from the U.S. or others. One-sixth of Jordan's population today is Iraqi refugees. The large burden is already causing tension internally.

The Iraqi families I've met on my trips to the region are proud and resilient. They don't want anything from us other than the chance to return to their homes -- or, where those homes have been bombed to the ground or occupied by squatters, to build new ones and get back to their lives. One thing is certain: It will be quite a while before Iraq is ready to absorb more than 4 million refugees and displaced people. But it is not too early to start working on solutions. And last week, there were signs of progress.

In Baghdad, I spoke with Army Gen. David Petraeus about UNHCR's need for security information and protection for its staff as they re-enter Iraq, and I am pleased that he has offered that support. General Petraeus also told me he would support new efforts to address the humanitarian crisis "to the maximum extent possible" -- which leaves me hopeful that more progress can be made.

UNHCR is certainly committed to that. Last week while in Iraq, High Commissioner António Guterres pledged to increase UNHCR's presence there and to work closely with the Iraqi government, both in assessing the conditions required for return and in providing humanitarian relief.

During my trip I also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has announced the creation of a new committee to oversee issues related to internally displaced people, and a pledge of $40 million to support the effort.

My visit left me even more deeply convinced that we not only have a moral obligation to help displaced Iraqi families, but also a serious, long-term, national security interest in ending this crisis.

Today's humanitarian crisis in Iraq -- and the potential consequences for our national security -- are great. Can the United States afford to gamble that 4 million or more poor and displaced people, in the heart of Middle East, won't explode in violent desperation, sending the whole region into further disorder?

What we cannot afford, in my view, is to squander the progress that has been made. In fact, we should step up our financial and material assistance. UNHCR has appealed for $261 million this year to provide for refugees and internally displaced persons. That is not a small amount of money -- but it is less than the U.S. spends each day to fight the war in Iraq. I would like to call on each of the presidential candidates and congressional leaders to announce a comprehensive refugee plan with a specific timeline and budget as part of their Iraq strategy.

As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.

It seems to me that now is the moment to address the humanitarian side of this situation. Without the right support, we could miss an opportunity to do some of the good we always stated we intended to do.

Angelina Jolie, an actor, is a UNHCR goodwill ambassador.

28 February 2008

28 February 2008 - Shame on Israel for selling out Karsenty

Philippe Karsenty's day in court went well. His arguments trounced those of France 2, according to HonestReporting/Take A Pen (and just about everyone else who was there). France 2 didn't try to defend his substantive claims, but launched a bizarre series of personal attacks. The judges were apparently leaning towards Karsenty, even if the Avocat General--the "independent" legal reporter who advises the court--went against him.

But Karsenty may still lose, and if he does one of the main reasons will be that he has not received the support of the Israeli government. Aside from a spokesman in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, no one in the Israeli government has defended Karsenty's claims, and Israel has basically backed away from him in an attempt to avoid rocking the boat. It's a classic appeasement posture.

And it's shameful, disgraceful--worse than Ehud Olmert invoking the apartheid metaphor to create an undue sense of urgency around half-baked peace proposals. Israel's short-sighted silence amounts to collusion in Karsenty's prosecution. Once again it seems that Israel's PR strategy is worse than self-defeating; it's self-demonizing. We'll know the verdict on March 21, but even before then Israel deserves a strong rebuke for the way it has treated a man who has sacrificed his career and reputation to defend it against incitement.

26 February 2008

27 February 2008 - Five stupid things smart people believe about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

This evening a host of Harvard groups co-sponsored a lecture by Khaled Abu Toameh, the "Israeli Arab Muslim Palestinian" journalists for the Jerusalem Post. Toameh offered a refreshing dose of reality, advising Israel to spend less time worrying about the Palestinians and more time worrying about the status of Arabs in Israel. Israel should be open to negotiations with anyone who wants to talk to it, he said, but should not seek talks with Hamas unless certain preconditions are met.

Earlier in the day, I had made that point to a very prominent Harvard Law School professor who insisted to me that Israel ought to negotiate with Hamas because "time is running out." This gentleman, who had sat in once or twice on Duncan Kennedy's Israel/Palestine class last semester and participated in last year's panel discussion on the Israel-apartheid analogy, argued with me for a full hour and a half, causing me to miss my class on constitutional law.

It amazes me how little some of these highly opinionated, Obama-backing Harvard intellectuals know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The professor, for example, attributed the saying "A land without a people for a people without a land" to Golda Meir, and claimed seriously that Israeli textbooks show Israel extending from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, when in fact that is the way Palestine is commonly portrayed by Palestinian textbooks.

Here are five other stupid ideas--fairly common, sadly, among left-wing intellectuals--that my interlocutor put forth during our voluble debate:

1. There is no difference between suicide bombing and Israeli seizures of Palestinian land. You don't have to like Israel's settlement policy, but there's something seriously wrong if you can't distinguish between officially-sanctioned attempts by Palestinian terrorists to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible, and wrongful expropriations of land that are subject to challenge in the Israeli court system.

2. Violence and fundamentalism are equally present on both sides. Loosely related to the point above, this false co-equivalence is the first resort of weak arguments when they run into trouble. Extremists are present in Israel but they do not enjoy anything near the same level of influence and official support they do in the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world in general.

3. Israel desperately needs a peace deal in the short term. People try to justify this false argument by referring to the bogus demographic threat, or by saying that Israel needs a peace deal in order to join the Arab world in confronting Iran. The flipside of this argument--made explicitly by the professor--is that Israel must be prepared to accept a steady level of casualties from terror in order to prevent a nuclear attack. Simply absurd.

4. Peace would be easier to achieve if the U.S. joined the world in criticizing Israel. On the contrary, both Israelis and the Palestinians are more likely to make concessions if U.S. support for Israel is strong. This particular fallacy is accompanied by all sorts of other self-serving dogma, such as the idea that critics of Israel are intimidated in the U.S. and so on. I challenged the professor to name one example; he could not.

5. Israel needs to negotiate with Hamas without preconditions. After all, one negotiates peace with enemies, not with friends, right? But if those enemies aren't willing to obey basic ground rules, talks only strengthen their hand. Toameh answered this objection well, saying that Israel should talk with whoever wants to talk with it and shoot whoever wants to shoot at it. Around the world, negotiations have succeeded only when both sides have suspended violence, at least temporarily.

This latter point has become one of the dividing lines in the U.S. presidential elections. My interlocutor revealed that he, like the bulk of Harvard professors who have backed a candidate, is supporting Barack Obama. Obama supports unconditional talks with the world's rogues, a position that Hillary Clinton has rightly ridiculed, and which John McCain will make full use of against Obama if he is the Democrat nominee.

In the end, these nutty professors fail to understand a) the nature of the threat posed by radical Islam and b) the depth of the profound failure of Palestinians to build successful institutions, starting with a monopoly on force, the basic foundation of all nation-states. They blame everything on Israel because this self-repudiation is the price, and the proof, that they belong to the intellectual elite.

These folks are often willfully ignorant of basic facts in the conflict, and are prepared to ignore inconvenient evidence when it emerges. Later today, in France, an appeals court will hand down the long-awaited decision in Philippe Karsenty's libel case. If he wins, then the credibility of the Muhammad al-Dura story and the journalists that created it will be dealt a mortal blow. Watch this space...

26 February 2007 - Obama gives the game away

It's been a while since I posted--I've been in South Africa, where wireless Internet access is somewhat scarce. The trip was quite fascinating, and perhaps deserves a post all its own.

Returning to the U.S. presidential election, Ha'aretz has been following up questions about Barack Obama's stance on Israel. Shmuel Rosner tracked down Harvard's Samantha Power (no mean feat), who advises Obama on foreign policy issues. Power seemed to back away from remarks unearthed by Noah Pollak (no relation) suggesting that the U.S. invade Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Obama, however, in a recent remark about Israeli politics: "I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel."

Rosner notes the implication here: that Obama's support for Israel is conditional. He is perhaps too polite to observe that Obama is also buying into the Walt-Mearsheimer image of the "Israel lobby." I know some right-wing, pro-Likud Americans who would describe a pro-Labor or pro-Kadima presidential candidate as "bad for Israel," but I know of none that would dismiss such a candidate out of hand as "anti-Israel."

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Obama keeps having to explain his position on Israel to the Jewish community. He recently backed away from his advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the anti-Israel, pro-Farrakhan views of his pastor Jeremiah Wright, whom he said "is like an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don't agree with."

However, he refuses to break his ties with Wright. That, more than any smear campaign doing the rounds, is why people continue to worry about Obama's stance.

The only defense Obama has available to him is that Ralph Nader has entered the presidential race, partly because the rest of the candidates, in his view, are too pro-Israel, including Obama: "He was pro-Palestinian when he was in Illinois... Now he's supporting (right-wing Israeli policies that thwart progress toward peace in the Middle East)," Nader says.

Anxiety over Obama's support for Israel is one of the reasons that Jewish expatriates who vote Democratic support Clinton over Obama, bucking the general trend. McCain would be a clearer and better choice, but it may be that few Jewish voters are yet willing to break the psychological barrier that prevents the community from adopting a truly independent and potent political posture.

15 February 2008

15 February 2008 - Barack Obama's Bogus Claims

Hillary Clinton's been tarnished by accusations of negative campaigning, but Barack Obama's campaign is turning out to be a rather negative one as well.

Obama has begun to attack John McCain, hoping to distort his views on just about everything.

The following propaganda video was put out by supporters of Obama. It's a spoof of Obama's "Yes We Can" video, and twists McCain's view of the U.S. mission in Iraq:

For the record, again, here is what Obama himself has said about the need to maintain a military presence in Iraq:

"Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda."

So, what Obama is saying is:

1. We're going to withdraw troops from Iraq, starting now.

2. We're going to keep troops in Iraq to protect American diplomats there.

3. We're going to keep troops in Iraq, or nearby, to attack Al Qaeda.

So Obama's policy is self-contradictory. He's selling full withdrawal to his voters, but actually committing himself to a long-term presence of indeterminate numbers in Iraq. Should a guy who is that confused be commander-in-chief?

Now, here's what McCain actually said in his "100 years" statement:

"Q: President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for fifty years . . ."

"McCain: Maybe a hundred [years] . . . We've been in Japan for sixty years, we've been in South Korea for fifty years or so, that would be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. Then it's fine with me. I hope it would be fine with you if we maintained a presence in a very volatile part of the world where Al Qaeda is training, recruiting and equipping and motivating people every single day."

So, what McCain is saying is:

1. Keeping troops in Iraq would be like keeping troops in other regions, which remains necessary for our security and the security of our allies.

2. Keeping troops in Iraq would be conditional on our ability to defend them reasonably.

3. Keeping troups in Iraq is necessary to stop Al Qaeda from becoming stronger and launching attacks against Americans.

Sounds like a strategy.

Obama's distortions don't hold up.

14 February 2008

14 February 2008 - Al-Durah? So What?

From Professor Landes: simply brilliant.

13 February 2008

13 February 2008 - Obama is wrong on Iraq, McCain is right

If things keep going the way they have been, Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for the Presidency. He brings great charisma and a formidable organization of energetic, devoted young volunteers. That's why most McCain supporters would rather run against Hillary--that, and the fact that the Republican base hates Hillary. But Obama lacks experience and ideas. And over the last few weeks I've become convinced that the ideas he does have are pretty bad.

From BarackObama.com:

"Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda."

Obama has been attacking McCain lately for wanting to keep troops in Iraq, but even he admits they might need to be there a while. That contradicts his overall policy of withdrawal. In fact, what Obama is offering is basically a surrender to the "insurgency"--now being beaten by American and Iraqi troops--while adding a few realistic-sounding allowances to make this policy more palatable. He continues selling himself as the anti-war candidate. So be it.

The presence of American soldiers in Iraq is the only reason the country has not descended into civil war. Despite Obama's defeatist attitude, the troop surge has actually worked to drastically reduce the number of people killed in Iraq--American and Iraqi, military and civilian. Obama's plan is less disastrous than Hillary Clinton's--she wants to "immediately start bringing our troops home"--but it would nonetheless reverse the gains of the past year and lead to potentially hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Withdrawing from Iraq now would also embolden Iran, which would step into the vacuum left by the U.S. and create a new client state that it would use to dominate the region. Iranian troops might even find their way, via Syria, to the Israeli border; in any case, Iran's missiles would be hundreds of miles closer to Europe and Israel. Iran would also control Iraq's oil supplies and could provoke regional Sunni-Shia confrontaions. Pressure on the Iranian regime to abandon its nuclear program, or adopt democratic reforms, would be even more futile. In short, disaster.

Here, in contrast, is what John McCain had to say, in an interview in Der Spiegel (translated at Newsmax.com):

John McCain declared that as president, he would refuse to talk with Iran as long as that nation continues its nuclear weapons program.

In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, McCain said: “I think we have to punish Iran to force them to abandon their current course.”

Asked if he would be willing to talk to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Republican candidate answered:

“As long as Iran continues to announce its dedication to making the state of Israel extinct and as long as the country continues to pursue the use of nuclear weapons, I will continue to say that is not an acceptable situation. I will work with other democracies in order to find incentives and punishments for the Iranians.”

Questioned about Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s call for the U.S. to withdraw troops from Iraq as soon as possible, McCain stated:

“Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will withdraw our forces from Iraq based on an arbitrary timetable designed for the sake of political expediency and which recklessly ignores the profound human calamity and dire threats to our security that would ensue.

“They will not recognize and seriously address the threat posed by an Iran with nuclear ambitions against our ally, Israel, and the entire region…”

“I intend to win the war.”

Other highlights of the Spiegel interview:

Spiegel: “Will America attempt to go it alone less frequently in the future?”

McCain: “Well, we all hope that America will be multilateral again in the future. There were times when the United States acted unilaterally, but I think we would all prefer to work in concert with our friends and allies.”

Spiegel: “To what extent do your experiences from [Vietnam] continue to influence your life today?”

McCain: “Well, obviously it was a very impactful period of my life, but my views have been shaped by my experiences and knowledge and background on national issues, of which my experience in Vietnam is just one part.

“But there are many lessons to be taken from the Vietnam War, including the Powell Doctrine, which states that if you are going to enter into a conflict, you go in with overwhelming force and get it done as quickly as possible. One of our mistakes in Iraq is that we never had enough troops to control the country after the initial military victory.”

Spiegel: “So, do you consider yourself to be a candidate without weaknesses?”

McCain: “I am a man of many failings. I make no bones about it. That is why I am such a believer in forgiveness and redemption. I have done many, many things wrong in my life. The key is to try to improve.”

There is a clear choice in this election. In 2004, John Kerry at least promised to win the war in Iraq. This time, it really is a choice between victory and surrender.

12 February 2008

12 February 2008 - Peace later?

Breaking news: Peace Now has just hit an enormous obstacle.

12 February 2008 - The few who know

Yes, there are still a few of us out there who believe that America needs to respond to the Iranian threat with strength, not appeasement. Norman Podhoretz is one, and this blog, courtesy of RedState.com, is a poignant reminder of the importance of his ideas at the dawn of what could possibly be an era of isolationism under Obama.

10 February 2008

10 February 2008 - Donate to John McCain

I've set up a site for "pro-Israel" donors to contribute to John McCain's presidential campaign: http://israel.johnmccain.com/

My fund-raising goal is only $200 right now; hopefully I can beat that.

Shmuel Rosner happens to have an article in today's Ha'aretz in which he explains how McCain is using his support for Israel to woo conservatives. I think it should be an important selling point for liberals, too.

Here are a few reasons why McCain's the best bet for Israel--and for human rights, democracy and peace in the region.

1 - Peace in the Middle East depends, more than anything, on projecting a credible threat to Iran. The U.S. needs to restrain the Islamic Republic's geopolitical ambitions and strengthen the hand of the regime's internal democratic opponents. McCain has vowed not to let Iran go nuclear. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are weak on Iran; Obama went so far as to ridicule John McCain's strong stance on Iran last night. That's a clear indication that Obama intends to back down, placing Israel and the region in potential danger.

2 - Peace, human rights and democracy in the Middle East depend on a stable, sustainable Iraq. Both Clinton and Obama have vowed to pull troops out in the near term. (I met a Democrat recently who said he wouldn't vote for Obama because he believed Obama meant what he said on Iraq, and that he wouldn't vote for Clinton because he didn't believe her.) This will cause Iraq to implode, leading to a civil war with hundreds of thousands of people killed. The end result could be an Iranian-dominated Iraq, and Iranian troops, via Syria, on Israel's borders. McCain backed the surge when it was unpopular. Now it's proved to have worked. He's the only candidate to trust to get the job done right.

3 - McCain understands that Hamas needs to move first. He has stated, unequivocally, that Hamas has to recognize Israel, stop terror and support a two-state solution before it can join peace talks. Obama's advising team includes folks like Zbigniew Brezinski and Robert Malley--both respected commentators--who unfortunately advocate greater inclusion of Hamas in the peace process. Clinton's views on this have hardened over the years but she was far less sensitive to Israel's position.

4 - Only McCain will cover Israel's concessions. Israel needs to make concessions to the Palestinians, but it will only do so to the extent that it feels protected by the U.S. The lukewarm support of Obama and Clinton for American prerogatives in the Middle East means that Israel will be more exposed and hence less likely to make concessions for peace. If you believe that a two-state solution is something of an urgent priority for Israel, you ought to back McCain in the White House.

5 - Only McCain has the experience to fight terror. McCain is the only candidate with any military experience whatsoever. He's the most qualified commander-in-chief and the best person to lead the war against terror. Obama and Clinton are unknown quantities in that role; in either case they'd have to learn on the job. America, Israel and the world can ill afford the risk.

Those are a few of my thoughts. Please share your comments, your criticisms, and your money at http://israel.johnmccain.com/

07 February 2008

07 February 2008 - One year of blogging

Guide to the Perplexed turned one year old yesterday. It’s been an intense and interesting year of covering human rights and peacemaking in the Middle East, among other, not always related, subjects. I have been pleasantly surprised by the success of the blog, and I’m very thankful for the loyalty of a growing reader base. Hopefully there will many more years of blogging and writing to come.

There were some particular highlights. The blog “broke” three stories: 1. Cut-and-paste fakery at Electronic Intifada, whose founder also manufactured a false letter from Nelson Mandela; 2. Anti-semitism at Boston’s Old South Church, a story that was linked by Little Green Footballs and the Lizard Army; and 3. Charles Enderlin’s stunning admission that Arafat faked his blood donation after 9/11.

There was also a silver medal in the Jewish & Israeli Blog Awards for Best Left Wing Blog, which was totally unexpected. And, of course, I have had the privilege of exchanging emails with dozens of new friends and fellow bloggers. It has, at times, been difficult to keep up my daily posts. The demands of work and study can be rather extreme at times. But I’ll do my best to keep the pace going this year.

Special thanks are due to the guys at It's Almost Supernatural for their friendship and support.

I have no idea if the kid in the video below is one year old, but he's got the blogging attitude just about right.

04 February 2008

04 February 2008 - Mac is Back!

I'll respect you if you vote Obama, I'll thank you if you vote Clinton, I'll greet you if you vote Romney, and I'll share a laugh with you if you vote Huckabee.

And I'll see you at the Inauguration if you vote McCain.

UPDATE: I made the Fox News broadcast, endorsing McCain in Boston.

03 February 2008

03 February 2008 - Yes to evangelicals

Yechiel Eckstein, my former rabbi--former in the sense that he was the rabbi at Skokie Valley Traditional Synagogue, where I went as a kid--heads the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ). The IFCJ has been instrumental in nurturing support among evangelical Christians for Israel. Recently, it received a seat on the board of the Jewish Agency, Israel's official arm for immigration and Diaspora affairs.

Rabbi Eckstein has written an op-ed in Haaretz defending the appointment, which gives evangelican Christians an indirect say in Jewish affairs. I have to say I agree with him, especially this paragraph:

In my experience, the view that in supporting Israel Christians are furthering their own "end times" scenario is usually held by those who know nothing about real Christians and their theology, and who are, frankly, prejudiced against them. In fact, most of IFCJ's donors base their support upon the biblical call to bless Israel and support the Jewish people in their time of need.

That's been my experience, too. I also think evangelicals are, generally speaking, true friends of Israel who have rallied to her cause in a time of need. I don't agree with everything evangelicals want Israel to do, and of course there are religious differences that aren't going to go away, but on balance evangelical Christianity is a force for human rights and democracy in the Middle East. Those are values worth sharing, and defending.