Category Archives: Middle East

Pro-con: Should U.S. take military action in Syria?

As Syrian dictator Bashar Assad continues his slaughter, the issue is not whether more forceful U.S. action to stop him is risk-free. The issue, instead, is how the risks and potential rewards of more forceful U.S. action to stop Assad’s slaughter stack up against those of a continued U.S. reliance on sanctions and diplomacy that offer few prospects of success. Military action has a proven track record. In the Balkans in the 1990s and Libya last year, the United States and its allies demonstrated that we can, in fact, stop a slaughter with little risk to U.S. forces. With each passing day, Assad grows stronger, more emboldened and more likely to survive. Only a U.S.-led effort can stop the slaughter and alter the outcome of this horrific disaster. – Lawrence J. Haas, American Foreign Policy Council

The concept of “Responsibility to Protect” – the idea of recent origin that the international community should protect a population from its own government – was invoked in Libya. But that concept includes one critical criterion. Any proposed action holds the prospect of bringing more good than the harm that inevitably accompanies military action. The Syrian resistance is not unified. Its goals apart from overthrowing Assad are unclear. Giving them the wherewithal to fight better may just turn what we now see into full-scale civil war in which the resistance elements might still be at a disadvantage militarily. Difficult as it may be to bring the parties together, negotiations for a political transition offer the best hope. Once the parties realize that the standoff will not end to anyone’s advantage, they may, however reluctantly, be willing to talk. – John B. Quigley, Ohio State University

Pro-con: Obama correct in pressuring Mubarak?

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s promise that he wouldn’t stand for re-election in the fall didn’t satisfy protesters or President Obama. Nor should it. Obama said he told Mubarak that an orderly transition of power “must be peaceful, and it must begin now.” Emphasis on the now. Delay invites chaos and violence. Obama should use U.S. foreign aid as leverage to convince Mubarak that his reign is over and that handing over power in a swift transition might help bolster the leaders he has chosen to succeed him. That’s also the best way for the United States to win a measure of goodwill from the Egyptian people who have been courageous enough to rise up against a dictator. — Chicago Tribune

President Obama is signaling the Egyptian opposition that their time has come. In a terse statement, Obama announced a “moment of transformation” had arrived in Egypt, “the status quo is not sustainable,” and a new government must begin to form “now.” An administration official later said that “the key part of the statement was ‘now.’” Egypt is at a crossroads, a time of suspense when change could come gradually and peacefully, or quickly with maximum instability. The White House has chosen to back the latter course, which will play into the hands of the best organized, most radical factions, which in this case is the America-hating Muslim Brotherhood. — Fox Nation blog

Pro-con: Was Israel’s raid on aid flotilla justified?

Mideast Israel PalestiniansThe phony “peace” flotilla off Gaza was organized and manned by the Foundation for Human Rights and Humanitarian Relief — as bloody-handed a terrorist gang as exists in the Mideast. Known by its Turkish acronym, IHH, the group has strong and enduring ties to Hamas and al-Qaida. And a 2006 report by the Danish Institute for International Studies linked IHH to a foiled al-Qaida bombing plot against Los Angeles International Airport. No surprise, then, that the one vessel whose passengers violently resisted boarding by Israeli commandos seems to have been the IHH flagship — and that most, if not all, of those who died in the ensuing struggle were IHH members. Israel offered to send the flotilla’s supplies to Gaza once they’d been inspected for weapons and other contraband. The offer was flatly rejected. As was a similar offer from Egypt, which also maintains a Gaza blockade. All this adds up to sufficient justification for Israel to have intercepted the flotilla. — New York Post

A small Turkish organization, fanatical in its religious views and radically hostile to Israel, recruited to its cause several hundred seekers of peace and justice and managed to lure Israel into a trap, precisely because it knew how Israel would react — knew how Israel is destined and compelled, like a puppet on a string, to react the way it did. How insecure, confused and panicky a country must be to act as Israel acted. With a combination of excessive military force and a fatal failure to anticipate the intensity of the reaction of those aboard the ship, it killed and wounded civilians, and did so — as if it were a band of pirates — outside Israel’s territorial waters. Clearly, this assessment does not imply agreement with the motives — overt or hidden, and often malicious — of some participants in the Gaza flotilla. Not all are peace-loving humanitarians, and the declarations of some of them regarding the destruction of the state of Israel are criminal. But such opinions, so far as we know, do not deserve the death penalty. — David Grossman, Los Angeles Times

Was Israeli raid justified?

Mideast Israel PalestiniansThere are still major discrepancies about the Israeli raid of a flotilla of ships bound for Gaza. The flotilla organizers say that 16 unarmed civilians were killed; Israel’s military says that nine died and that passengers shot at and attacked Israeli soldiers. It likely will take some time to determine exactly what happened, but much of the world already has condemned the raid.

Von Brunn would be mainstream in Middle East

Lone Wolf Terrorists“James W. von Brunn was quickly segregated from the American mainstream and designated the crackpot he is,” columnist Richard Cohen wrote about the alleged U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum shooter. “In the Middle East, though, he would be no such thing — not some sort of reptilian vestige of the past but an ordinary man and therefore an extraordinary threat to the future.” Cohen noted how “in vast parts of the Islamic world, too many people not only deny the Holocaust but embrace the thinking that made it possible.” He argued that “if Arab leaders do not attempt to rebut and eliminate the hatred of Jews that is poisoning their societies, they will find that the peace that most of them undoubtedly want will not be possible.”

Hope for a new beginning

Mideast Lebanon Obama MuslimsAs President Obama noted, “change cannot happen overnight.” But his speech Thursday at Cairo University helped improve perceptions of the United States among many Muslims, which is a good start. Obama offered a balanced, respectful assessment of the past and current challenges, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And he called for a “a new beginning” based upon “mutual interest and mutual respect.” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran proclaimed before the speech began that the people of the Muslim world “hate America from the bottom of their heart.” But the reaction of much of the public who actually heard the speech was positive and offered hope that a new beginning might be possible.

Is Fatah the only hope for peace?

“There is a fixed idea among some Israeli leaders that Hamas can be bombed into moderation,” wrote journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. “This is a false and dangerous notion. It is true that Hamas can be deterred militarily for a time, but tanks cannot defeat deeply felt belief.
“The reverse is also true: Hamas cannot be cajoled into moderation. Neither position credits Hamas with sincerity, or seriousness.
“The only small chance for peace today is the same chance that existed before the Gaza invasion: The moderate Arab states, Europe, the United States and mainly Israel must help Hamas’ enemy, Fatah, prepare the West Bank for real freedom, and then hope that the people of Gaza, vast numbers of whom are unsympathetic to Hamas, see the West Bank as an alternative.”

Pro-con: Should U.N. sanction Israel?

It’s time for the United Nations to shed its impotency and impose tough sanctions on Israel. That would be the least the U.N. could do after sitting silently for years through a “peace process” that Israel has used as a cover to grab Palestinian land. Israel’s air raids in Gaza started just before New Year’s began, when Gazans were out in the streets. It has targeted residential buildings to go after Hamas leaders, fully aware that civilians would die. It is using white phosphorus to cover the advance of ground troops, a weapon that burns skin on contact and is unlawful if used where civilians are present. But the U.S. for years has argued against sanctions, backed up by its Security Council veto. So long as it continues that stance, the U.N. will fail in its role of maintaining the international peace. – John B. Quigley, Ohio State University law professor

The cause for the current fighting – and its morality – is exceedingly clear. Since its bloody ouster of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party from the Gaza Strip 18 months ago, Hamas has established a virtual terrorist enclave there. The radical Islamist movement has used its time not to govern but to build up a formidable arsenal of weapons – arms it has used to wage a systematic campaign of asymmetric terror against Israel. For years, the Israeli government did little in response to Hamas’ provocations, hoping it could hammer out some sort of “cold peace” with the militants next door. All of that changed last month, when Hamas abrogated a six-month ceasefire with new rocket attacks against Israel. The U.S. should use its U.N. Security Council seat to ensure that Israel can fully attain its strategic objectives. – Ilan Berman, vice president for policy, American Foreign Policy Council

Could Gaza crisis have been easily avoided?

“I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided,” former President Jimmy Carter wrote in a Washington Post commentary. Carter, who considers the rocket attacks by Hamas to be acts of terrorism, said he was involved in fostering the cease-fire agreement that began last June. One key part of the agreement was Israel allowing into Gaza more supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel – which didn’t happen at the levels promised.  Carter said that acute malnutrition in Gaza is “on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian families eating only one meal a day.”
Carter hopes that “when further hostilities are no longer productive, Israel, Hamas and the United States will accept another cease-fire, at which time the rockets will again stop and an adequate level of humanitarian supplies will be permitted to the surviving Palestinians, with the publicized agreement monitored by the international community.”

Pro-con: Did Israel have cause to launch airstrikes?

CNN International’s coverage of Saturday’s fighting in Gaza included a rush of images: mangled civilians writhing in the rubble or primitive hospitals overflowing with the wounded. Missing from the montage was even a fleeting glimpse of the tens of thousands of Israelis who spent much of last week in bomb shelters, or any of the hundreds of rockets and other projectiles fired by Hamas. Over the past few weeks, as the “tahdia” (“period of calm” in Arabic) unwound, Israel’s policy has been to refrain from responding militarily to Hamas rocket fire. The purpose was to build a moral case for retaliating against a recalcitrant Hamas and limiting the international fallout that invariably follows any Israeli attempt at self-defense. But within minutes of the first Israeli airstrike, the Arabs were screaming “massacre” and the media had all but forgotten the serial assaults that provoked it. – Michael B. Oren, New Republic

Israel killed 280 people in Gaza on Saturday in retaliation against some rocket fire from Gaza into the Israeli neighborhood, which killed no one. Many of the 300 critically wounded will die in the days to come. The news of the outrage will spread and figure in the pronouncements of those carrying out acts of terrorism around the world in the name of Islam; and, tragically but understandably, their victim states and populations will speak in unison with them. The injustice of the past years is so stark that few will take into account that Palestine is divided, and that as long as this division remains, no peace negotiations with Israel can be fruitful. The Israeli policy of starving Gaza out through an economic siege since June 2007, when Hamas evicted the secular Fatah movement from the Strip, has actually forced the Gazans to resort to rocket fire on Israeli settlements. – Editorial, Daily Times, Pakistan

Sebelius losing fans in western Kansas

sebeliusIt was a fair guess that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ fight against a coal-fired plant expansion near Holcomb would not play well in western Kansans. A recent SurveyUSA poll left no doubt. In the poll, taken in mid-May just as she’d vetoed a third bill to allow the plants, her approval rating out west was 41 percent — a stunning 22 points lower than the month before, and similarly off her statewide approval rating last month of 62 percent. Maybe she should send flowers. Or jobs.

Carter on a solo mission

cartermideast.jpgFormer President Jimmy Carter is free to meet with Hamas if he chooses, which he has during his controversial visit to the Middle East. “I think it is absolutely crucial that in the final and dreamed-about and prayed-for peace agreement for this region that Hamas be involved and Syria will be involved,” Carter said. But the fact that Carter was largely snubbed by Israel’s top leaders undermines his efforts. Quite a fall from grace for the man who, as U.S. president in 1979, brokered Israel’s first peace deal with an Arab country, Egypt.

A Washington Post editorial argues that Carter is wrong to “publicly and unconditionally grant recognition and political sanction to a leader or a group that advocates terrorism, mass murder or the extinction of another state.”

Bush team finally trying on Mideast

BushabbasExpectations are so low for the Mideast conference that begins tonight in Annapolis, Md., that success may be defined as no fistfights. The participants are so weak (including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in photo from meeting today with Bush), the issues are so tough and the uninvited so key (Hamas, Iran) that lack of progress will surprise no one. But President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice deserve credit for optimistically — though belatedly — taking a leading role on the issue of a revived peace process. And it was encouraging to see Syria sign on. Maybe the two-day Annapolis event at least won’t go down in the history books as a gathering that made matters worse.
Posted by Rhonda Holman

Why is the Middle East on fire?

Today’s Eagle included articles on the bombing of the Shiite shrine and the killing of two more Fort Riley soldiers in Baghdad, the civil war in Gaza (see photo), another assassination in Beirut, and Iran supplying weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan. What should the United States do about all these and other problems? The first step should be gaining a better understanding of the Middle East.
Syndicated columnist and terrorism expert Micah Halpern, who met with Sedgwick County security personnel last week to discuss terrorism threats, told The Eagle editorial board that the United States still knows little about the cultures, religions and languages in the Middle East. As a result, he said, our leaders are making decisions about what they don’t understand. And that tends to make the problems even worse.
Posted by Phillip Brownlee

One ‘axis of evil’ power down, one in U.S. sights?

The evidence presented over the weekend in Baghdad backed up the Bush administration’s recent assertions that Iran is supplying Shiite groups in Iraq with bomb materials and other support. Iranian officials, of course, called it “all lies.” It’s hard not to worry about what’s next, given the escalating rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Newsweek’s cover story suggests a “hidden war” between Iran and the United States already has begun: And “with Americans and Iranians jousting on the chaotic battleground of Iraq, the chances of a small incident’s spiraling into a crisis are higher than they’ve been in years.”
Posted by Rhonda Holman

A hollow victory for Hezbollah?

Conventional wisdom has it that Hezbollah emerged the big winner in its recent clash with Israel. Charles Krauthammer’s column in the Washington Post takes a different view.
He cites the recent admission Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (in photo): “If I had known that the operation to capture the soldiers would lead to this result, we would not have carried it out.”
Not exactly words of triumph. Krauthammer points out that Hezbollah also suffered severe damage to the military infrastructure it spent the past six years building, and political damage among Arab nations increasingly alarmed by Hezbollah’s Iranian sponsorship.
Posted by Dave Knadler

Iran increasingly a human rights threat, too

Most of the global talk about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (in photo) has been about what he might do to Israel and the United States if he’s successful in pursuing nuclear weapons. But what about what he’s doing to Iran? His call Tuesday for further purging of liberal and secular professors from Iran’s universities should bring new attention to the Taliban-like changes Ahmadinejad’s administration is making in the country, presumably out of nostalgia for the 1979 Islamic revolution. In the past year, dozens of professors have been retired, and a cleric was put in charge of Tehran University. Time magazine recounted other recent fundamentalist reforms, including gender segregation in classrooms, restrictions on women’s dress and their public performance of music, and confiscation of residents’ satellite dishes. Will the world cry out about these limits on liberty, as it did about pre-Sept. 11 Afghanistan?
Posted by Rhonda Holman

On the Islamist way of war

The Boston Globe carries a thought-provoking article by historian Andrew Bacevich on the “Islamist way of war,” as witnessed in Lebanon and Iraq — a sophisticated blend of terrorism, guerrilla warfare, assassinations, and social action and propaganda that he argues should occasion a rethinking of Western military strategy.
Although what he calls the Islamist “resistance” strategy can’t threaten our nation’s existence, it can “prevent conventional armies from achieving decisive results.”
He goes on: “Resistance is a strategy not of conquest but of denial. Wars undertaken with the expectation that they will be short and conclusive — on the model of the Six Day War or Operation Desert Storm — instead become open-ended and inchoate. Politically, the Islamist way of war is demonstrating that the West can no longer impose its will on the Middle East.”
Posted by Randy Scholfield

What’s going on in Iran? Who knows?

For decades, Iran has been a leading U.S. nemesis, including, in recent years, charter membership in the “axis of evil.” So why don’t U.S. intelligence services know more about what’s going on inside the country?
That’s the timely question asked last week by a House Intelligence Committee report that noted “significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the various areas of concern about Iran,” especially its nuclear program and leadership intentions.
Iraq is a textbook case of what happens when policy is based on bad and selective intelligence. Are we going down a similar blind alley in the present standoff with Iran?
It’s more evidence the United States is failing to develop old-fashioned human intelligence assets abroad. Spies on the ground, more than high-tech snooping, likely will be key to understanding emerging threats against this country.
Posted by Randy Scholfield

I’m sorry, Mr. Ahmadinejad, but your time is up

Speaking of Iran: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a press conference Tuesday that he wants to "debate world and international issues with George Bush in a televised debate." The White House dismissed the proposal as a diversion from international concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. But what was interesting about the press conference was how combative some of the Iranian reporters were. Some jumped from their seats and demanded that their questions be taken. Maybe the White House press corps could learn something about holding a president accountable.
Posted by Phillip Brownlee

So much for taking the lead

After promising Israel and the United States that a French-led international force would help secure and patrol Lebanon’s southern border, France is offering only 200 combat engineers (in addition to the 200 French troops already serving as U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon). President Bush said in his news conference Monday that he hoped France would “put more troops in.”
It needs to. If not, the 15,000-member international force may not materialize. As a Wall Street Journal editorial Monday noted: “Given that the French contingent was supposed to be at the vanguard of this enhanced force, it’s unclear whether other nations will be willing to chip in with troops of their own.”
Posted by Phillip Brownlee

Brighter view of war’s outcome

According to most damage assessments of the Israel-Hezbollah war, the terrorists won. The offensive may have impaired Hezbollah’s ability to terrorize Israelis with its rockets, the thinking goes, but not so much that it offset Hezbollah’s gain in stature and credibility.
Given that, Eagle editorial board members found it encouraging to hear the more optimistic view of Barukh Binah (in photo), consul general of Israel based in Chicago. While in Wichita Thursday, Binah acknowledged that the “Lebanese people paid a price,” but he emphasized that Hezbollah launches missiles from residential neighborhoods and that civilians were warned to leave. Most important, Binah said, people in the region are newly asking questions, especially about the involvement of Iran and Syria in Hezbollah’s activities, and the United Nations for the first time has passed a resolution allowing Israel to defend itself. Now, he said, if Western nations don’t step up and help rebuild southern Lebanon, the Iranians will.
Posted by Rhonda Holman

Mission accomplished in Lebanon?

President George Bush, in a statement that carried echoes of his famous “mission accomplished” speech, declared this week that Hezbollah “suffered a defeat” in the recent weeks of fighting with Israel in Lebanon.
But that’s not how many military analysts, the Israeli public, Hezbollah or much of the Arab world saw it; Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted that his militia had stood its ground with Israel’s powerful army and inflicted painful casualties.
And Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is reeling from domestic criticisms that he didn’t achieve the stated objective to decimate Hezbollah.
Now the United Nations is going to finish the job of disarming the militant group? Don’t hold your breath. Expect an emboldened Hezbollah to live to fight another day — and that’s bad news for Lebanon, for Israel and for peace in the region.
Posted by Randy Scholfield

Bush’s base wanted more bombs

The outcry from the right over what it sees as the Bush administration’s capitulation on Hezbollah is starting to feel like another Harriet Miers, Dubai port or immigration moment. Why are so many conservatives mad about how the conservative president has handled this cease-fire? For his part, Washington Post columnist George Will characterizes the outcome this way: "Hezbollah has willingly suffered (temporary) military diminution in exchange for enormous political enlargement."
But President Bush’s rejection of a diplomatic solution would have meant more bombing and death. Is that really the better choice for either Israel or the United States?
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lays out the administration’s thinking in a Washington Post commentary.
Posted by Rhonda Holman

After 34 days, cease-fire is a start

The U.N.-imposed cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel already has seen some violations. No surprise there. But overall, it’s holding, authorities say. What’s remarkable is how quickly Lebanese citizens began to head for home — or what’s left of it — in defiance of Israeli officials. Now the hope becomes that the fragile peace will last long enough to allow the international peacekeepers to move in and diplomats to work on the next goal — a lasting peace agreement. Unfortunately, sentiment in the region is that Hezbollah and its more than 4,000 rockets effectively won this 34-day war.
Posted by Rhonda Holman