Netanyahu Address to Congress: It’s The Right Place and The Right Time.

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors We’ve had our issues over the years with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His decision to address Congress, however, is not one of them. Speaker Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu and Netanyahu’s decision to accept that invitation were appropriate given the circumstances. So just what were those circumstances?

The night before the invitation was formally proffered, President Obama announced to the world, during his State of the Union Address, that he would veto any legislation that presumed to reinstitute or increase sanctions on Iran should Iran cheat on the impending nuclear limitation agreement between Iran and the p5+1 (really the United States). Given that the presumed first target of a future Iranian nuclear weapon would be Tel Aviv, we’re inclined to cut the Israeli Prime Minister considerable slack regarding his acceptance of any invitation to go anywhere to address any audience to warn of the dangers of a Nuclear-armed Iran.

Furthermore, we’re also inclined to cut Speaker Boehner considerable slack in extending the invitation to the Israeli Prime Minister. The White House not only used the State of the Union Address to tell Congress to mind its own business (as though critical arms agreements are none of its business), but it announced (almost simultaneously) that it was planning to circumvent Congress by not seeking its approval of the impending pact after the fact.

The charge made by Obama sycophants that Netanyahu’s addressing Congress amounts to Israeli interference in a partisan American political dispute is, well, bizarre. Iran has threatened to liquidate Israel…to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the earth, and they are busily going about the task of developing the wherewithal to do just that. If anything, Israel fears this Administration is compromising its ability to defend itself in the years ahead, by acquiescing to Iran becoming nuclear threshold state – a state that can weaponize its nuclear capability at a time of its choosing.

This Administration simply does not want the American people to hear a cogent case against a bad deal by the one person who can make that case better than anyone in the world.

Critics argue that Netanyahu is trying to bolster his prospects in Israel’s elections scheduled for March 17th. That may be true (although polls in Israel suggest that that would be a recklessly unnecessary strategy), but so what. If Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose an existential threat to Israel’s existence it is quite irrelevant if articulating that helps any candidate.

Others argue that Netanyahu could have waited until after Israel’s March 17 elections to come and address Congress. That argument is, in our opinion, either disingenuous or naïve. The go-no/go deadline for continuation of the nuclear talks is March 24, which would mean an address to Congress after the Israeli elections, would come when there would be little or no time to alter the course of the talks. The die would have been cast (if it already isn’t).

The New York Times this week echoed an editorial theme, which has been widespread in the nation’s press. Their editorial’s concluding paragraph opines, “Mr. Netanyahu, who is scheduled to address Congress next week, has already denounced the deal. The agreement must be judged on the complete package, not on any single provision…” Really? It would only take one provision to poison the well if that provision enables Iran to keep enriching uranium with enrichment technology they already have and refuse to dismantle.

If Iran has the ability (technology) to produce a nuclear weapon and they are allowed to keep that technology and, indeed, to continue enriching uranium, everything else may be little more than window dressing. The Times editorial concluded with, “Even if the deal is not perfect, the greater risk could well be walking away and allowing Iran to continue its nuclear activities unfettered.” Unfettered? Iran is at the negotiating table because both Presidents Bush (43) and Obama, signed legislation that imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran. We know of no one who has suggested that Iran might be allowed to continue its nuclear activity “unfettered.” The Administration, however, is so worried that Iran would walk away from the talks if Congress stipulated that tough sanctions would be re-imposed should Iran discontinue the negotiations or if Iran cheated on any deal that is reached, that the President has publically (and foolishly, in our opinion) committed himself to vetoing any legislation that makes that clear.

Now we appreciate that the Iranian nuclear problem is not merely a product of this Administration’s making. Not by a long shot. Four prior Administrations have failed to deal effectively with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But we are at a very decisive moment that is unfolding on President Obama’s watch — and that of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Netanyahu knows perfectly well what address would be posted on Iran’s first nuclear weapons, and his determination to present Israel’s case to anyone who will listen is understandable. The hyperventilated pique evidenced at the White House has little to do with a protocol misstep, and everything to do with a desire to keep a critique of the evolving agreement from being aired to a large American audience.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice opined during a Charlie Rose interview this week that Netanyahu’s speech had “injected a degree of partisanship” into a relationship that should be above politics. “It’s destructive to the fabric of the relationship,” Rice told the Charlie Rose show. “It’s always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way.” Huh? Israel’s very real fear that we are negotiating a deal with Iran that could give Iran the wherewithal to deliver on its often stated belief that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, is trivialized to “injecting a degree of partisanship into a relationship that should be above politics.

Israel believes its very survival is the issue and why shouldn’t they? Iran announces on a regular basis that Israel’s survival is the issue. The Administration announced that it would veto any legislation that re-imposed strict sanctions if the talks failed, and then announced its intention to circumvent Congress altogether in implementing any deal Obama reaches with Iran. It was the Administration that injected a degree of partisanship into the Iran nuclear issue.

We appreciate that the President has great confidence in his persuasive ability, but we’ll cut Prime Minister Netanyahu quite a bit of slack in not sharing that confidence. Netanyahu and Obama have been conditioned by very different circumstances. Netanyahu understands his neighborhood and Israel’s sworn enemies who occupy it quite well. He enlisted in the Israel Defense Force during the 1967 six-day war. Netanyahu quickly became a team leader in Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s Special Forces unit that has played a key role in the rescue of hostages. He was wounded during the successful rescue of hijacked passengers aboard a Sebena Airlines flight in 1972. He also saw action at the front lines (and was wounded again) during the War of Attrition with Egypt and he fought in the 1973 war when Egypt attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holy days.

He takes Iran’s threats to wipe his country off the face of the earth at face value. We should too. Speaker Boehner has invited Netanyahu to share his concerns with the Congress. He has accepted. It is the right place and the right time.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.00.36 PM

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-VSM

 

 

 

 

Mr. President: Islamic Extremism Exists. We are Its Ultimate Enemy. Deal With It.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIslamic extremism is deadly. Its declared enemies are Christians, Jews and non-conforming Muslims, and all others whom it considers to be infidels or apostates. It, indeed, is antithetical to Western Civilization. It has clashed and will continue to clash with mounting ferocity with America and our allies.

And yes, Mr. President, it is a religiously motivated movement. Saying, indeed insisting, that it isn’t doesn’t change that reality. We will not make progress in dealing with Islamic extremism if we refuse to acknowledge its existence. It is not just terrorism plain and simple. It is, contrary to the President’s pronouncements this week at the White House Conference on Countering Violent Extremism, a religiously motivated terrorist movement. It is called Jihad and to recognize Jihad as anything other than a religious movement – indeed a religious imperative, assures we will fail in our attempts to address this deadly problem. We recognize that jihad has more modern and benign interpretations, and we respect the interpretation that defines jihad as a spiritual struggle, but its widespread meaning today is warfare against the infidel. That’s us — and the rest of the civilized world.

Not all anti-American terrorism is religiously motivated. Some terrorists just hate America. But terrorism that is practiced by the Islamic State, its affiliates, acolytes and other similar religiously fanatic sects is a product of religious extremism – invariably, Islamic Extremism.

President Obama, foolishly in our opinion, has tried to rally world leaders to join us in stopping religious fanatics like those who have joined the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and, now, Yemen, by insisting that this deadly and religiously inspired movement has nothing to do with Islam. “The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie. And all of us, regardless of faith, have a responsibility to reject it,” Obama said during a speech at the State Department to representatives from more than 60 countries.

That we are not at war with the totality of Islam is, of course, true. We aren’t and should never be. But we are at war (or had better be) with a rapidly growing, metastasizing and deadly movement within Islam. It will not burn out of its own excesses, nor will it temper its unrestrained orgy of horror simply because it creates revulsion among civilized people everywhere. Modernity itself is the central enemy of this movement and the revulsion it creates is a central objective. The President’s protestations that it has nothing to do with Islam is laughable to the Islamists and, truth be known, laughable to most Muslims who have turned westward to distance themselves from the dramatic leap backward that is roiling so much of the Islamic world.

It was painful to watch and listen to the Administration report that 21 men were beheaded because they were Egyptian citizens and not because they were Egyptian Christians. The linguistic gymnastics the White House and State Department spokespersons go through to avoid using the word “Islamic” in the same sentence as radical or extremist or fanatic would be comical if weren’t so sad.

President Obama, trying to get beyond the semantics of the battle that lies ahead, opined that the world must remain “unwavering” in the fight against terrorist groups like ISIS and promised that the U.S. “will not relent” in its campaign to fight the organization that has gobbled much of Iraq and Syria. Those portions of Iraq and Syria (and perhaps Yemen), which are, today, controlled by the Islamic State now constitute, according to those who control the land, a Caliphate. That is no small matter. Control of land is integral to the very meaning of the word Caliphate and without control of the land the movement collapses.

“We all have a responsibility to ensure the security, the prosperity and the human rights of our citizens,” Obama said. “We are here today because we are united against the scourge of violent extremism and terrorism.” Well, this kind of violent extremism and terrorism didn’t materialize out of a vacuum. It materialized out of scripture, Islamic scripture.

“They are not religious leaders. They’re terrorists,” Obama said about ISIL and al Qaeda’s leaders. Well, that’s quite debatable. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is known by his supporters as Amir al-Mu’minin or Caliph Ibrahim. To his followers, and now there are thousands of them, he is Caliph Ibrahim, their religious leader. He is known to have lived a Spartan life in a room attached to a small local mosque in Tobchi, a poor and ramshackle neighborhood on the western fringes of Baghdad, inhabited by both Shia and Sunni Muslim residents. He attended Islamic University, and American and Iraqi intelligence analysts in 2014 said Baghdadi has a doctorate in Islamic studies. He also has a familial pedigree that qualifies him to be a Caliph. Like it or not, Al-Baghadadi is, indeed, an Islamic religious leader. Thousands follow him as such, and the President’s protestations that he isn’t a religious leader are both unhelpful and revealing. It demonstrates how little we appear to understand.

New York Times op-ed writer Roger Cohen, however, understands the reality of what we face quite well.

“After a Danish movie director at a seminar on “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression” and a Danish Jew guarding a synagogue were shot dead in Copenhagen, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister of Denmark, uttered a familiar trope:

 “We are not in the middle of a battle between Islam and the West. It’s not a battle between Muslims and non-Muslims. It’s a battle between values based on the freedom of the individual and a dark ideology.”

 This statement — with its echoes of President Obama’s vague references to “violent extremists” uncoupled from the fundamentalist Islam to which said throat-cutting extremists pledge allegiance — scarcely stands up to scrutiny. It is empty talk.

 Across a wide swath of territory, in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen, the West has been or is at war, or near-war, with the Muslim world, in a failed bid to eradicate a metastasizing Islamist movement of murderous hatred toward Western civilization.

 To call this movement, whose most potent recent manifestation is the Islamic State, a “dark ideology” is like calling Nazism a reaction to German humiliation in World War I: true but wholly inadequate. There is little point in Western politicians rehearsing lines about there being no battle between Islam and the West, when in all the above-mentioned countries tens of millions of Muslims, with much carnage as evidence, believe the contrary.”

Over the more than 13 years since Al Qaeda attacked America on 9/11, Cohen observed, “we have seen trains blown up in Madrid, the Tube and a bus bombed in London, Western journalists (and others) beheaded, the staff of Charlie Hebdo slaughtered, Jews killed in France and Belgium and now Denmark. This is not the work of a “dark ideology” but of jihadi terror.” Cohen could have added the practice of burning captives alive to his litany of Islamic extremist terror.

 Cohen continued, Only Arabs can find the answer to this crisis. But history, I suspect, will not judge Obama kindly for having failed to foster the great liberation movement that rose up in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere. Inaction is also a policy: Nonintervention produced Syria today.”

We suggest President Obama ponder the conclusions drawn by Graeme Wood writing in Atlantic Monthly: Wood makes the point that the Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Woods concludes that the reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. “Yes,” he observes, “it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combated, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

Ironically, President Obama’s insistence that Islamic State and it’s lookalikes aren’t Islamic is self defeating when confronting Islamic terrorism. Ultimately, this war can only be won within Islam. We can provide enormous help, but only contemporary Islam can successfully defeat archaic, radical Islam. The more the President of the United States tells the world that there is no issue with Islam; the less modern Islam will be emboldened to confront those who are vying for the heart and soul of their religion. Modern Islam is in a death struggle with the likes of ISIS, Boku Haram, Al Qaeda and many other Islamist clones.

It is a disservice to those within Islam who will, sooner or later, have to draw a line in the proverbial sand if modernity, indeed, civilization itself is to survive within Islam. Sadly, it seems, almost everyone gets it except the President of the United States.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.00.36 PM

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-VSM

US and IRAN Confer In Munich – MUNICH???

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsSurely, we were not the only ones bemused by the irony of Kerry and Zarif meeting in Munich (of all places) to try to iron out wrinkles in the on-going negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. For goodness sake, they could have gone down the road thirty-five miles to Augsburg, chatted, had a beer, posed for pictures and avoided their hour-long photo op in the one city whose name will always be synonymous with appeasement. Yes, we know all the suits were in Munich for an annual security conference, the agenda of which was dominated by the unfolding events in Ukraine — but still.

Things are not going well with our attempts to keep Iran from becoming an unwelcome member of the nuclear club. In fact, from what we know, they are going quite badly, despite the President’s assurances to the contrary. The agreement we are negotiating would, as the President says, be historical, but it won’t be an agreement history will smile upon. That’s because we’ve already conceded just about everything except the arrangement of the deck chairs. Everyone outside of the beltway bubble (well almost everyone) knows it’s going to be a bad deal. Even the left-leaning, and generally Obama-supportive, Washington Post seems more than a bit troubled at what is about to come down.

The venerable Post noted, “…while presidents initiate U.S. foreign policies, it is vital that major shifts win the support of Congress and the country; otherwise, they will be unsustainable.” This was in response to the Administration’s plans to circumvent congressional approval of the impending deal. While it is true that foreign policy initiatives have largely been conceded to the Executive branch since the early days of the Republic that does not mean, and has never meant, that Congress cannot and should not assert itself when it feels the nation’s vital interests are being put at substantial risk.

The Post opined after hearing two former Secretaries of State (Henry Kissinger and George Schultz) and others from both parties testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “though we (The Washington Post) have long supported negotiations with Iran as well as the interim agreement…we share several of those concerns (those of the Republican and Democratic witnesses) and believe they deserve more debate now (emphasis added)— before negotiators present the world with a fait accompli” (so much for Congress having no role in these deliberations as some have contended, and so much for the brouhaha over inviting the only ally in the region threatened by Iran to address Congress).

Prominent Democrats such as Virginia’s Senator Tim Kaine, who has generally been a strong supporter of President Obama and was on Obama’s shortlist to run as Vice President, have parted company with the President over Iran. Kaine testified and reminded the Armed Services Committee that an attempt by the United States to negotiate the end of North Korea’s nuclear program failed after the regime covertly expanded its facilities. With Iran, Kaine, said, “a nation that has proven to be very untrustworthy . . . the end result is more likely to be a North Korean situation if existing infrastructure (essentially 18,000 centrifuges) is not dismantled.”

So, what do we know about Iran’s centrifuges currently spinning or able to spin? Iran is estimated to have about 18,000 centrifuges 9000 of which are (or were) spinning away at Iran’s Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant.

According to reports by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, the approximately 9,000 first generation centrifuges operating at its Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant could, theoretically, produce enough weapon-grade uranium to fuel a single nuclear warhead in about 1.7 months. The UN agency also estimates that Iran’s more advanced IR-2m centrifuges, about 1,000 of which are installed at Natanz, would allow Iran to produce weapon-grade uranium more quickly. The Agency estimates Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium is now sufficient, after further enrichment, to fuel approximately seven nuclear warheads.

This is very serious stuff. We are negotiating with a regime that considers America its number one enemy (the Big Satan) and Israel its number two enemy (the Little Satan). It has solemnly declared that Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth, and the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that they have been developing the technology capable of accomplishing that. It has for two decades been the position of the United States, our allies and the UNIAEA (let’s just say the sane world) that Iran must not develop that capability because doing so would greatly destabilize the Middle East and beyond.

Democrat Tim Kaine put it well, “ (Iran is) currently involved in activities to destabilize the governments of [U.S.-allied] nations as near as Bahrain and as far away as Morocco.” The Washington Post observed that — “a Tehran-sponsored militia recently overthrew the U.S.-backed government of Yemen. Rather than contest the Iranian bid for regional hegemony, as has every previous U.S. administration since the 1970s, Mr. Obama appears ready to concede Iran a place in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and beyond — a policy that is viewed with alarm by Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, among our (European) allies as well.”

Former Secretary of State Kissinger reminded the Senate Armed Service Committee that negotiations with Iran have evolved from a multilateral effort headed by the European Union and backed by six U.N. Security Council resolutions intended to stop Iran from developing nuclear capability to, essentially, a bilateral negotiation between the United States and Iran “over the scope of that nuclear capability, not its existence.

Think about that for a moment. Negotiations are no longer about keeping Iran from being able to build a bomb, but rather conceding that capability to Iran and then trying to control it. Specifically, we are negotiating for, essentially, a one-year’s “head up” so that we’ll know they are enriching Uranium in a one-year countdown to weaponization. We’re hoping to accomplish that by getting Iran to agree to a level of enriching technology that would require about a year to enrich and then weaponize.

Kissinger testified that such an arrangement would very likely prompt other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, to match Iran’s threshold capability. “The impact . . . will be to transform the negotiations from preventing proliferation to managing it,” he said. “We will live in a proliferated world in which everybody — even if that agreement is maintained — will be very close to the trigger point.

Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz testified that he was “very uneasy” about the ongoing negotiations. “They’ve already outmaneuvered us, in my opinion,” he told the Armed Services Committee.

Meanwhile, back in Munich things took an interesting turn. As though to send a message to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu following the White House pronouncement that the Administration doesn’t meet with foreign leaders who are facing an election, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry both met with Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog in the Bavarian capital last Saturday. Herzog is Netanyahu’s main opponent.

The darndest things seem to happen in Munich.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.00.36 PM

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-VSM

Netanyahu Address to Congress: Just Who is Dissing Whom?

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsThere are many more pressing issues surrounding the Iran nuclear talks, than diplomatic formality, precedence and etiquette. The very survival of the only democracy in the Middle East, as well as threats to America and its allies, are really the primary issues about which the White House should be concerned. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, views Iran’s nuclear program as a direct threat to millions of Israelis and the continued existence of the Jewish State — and for good reason. Iran has made exquisitely clear that Israel is to be wiped off the face of the earth. Iran has bragged that while it could sustain multiple nuclear attacks, Israel would be destroyed with one well-placed bomb.

Which brings us to the current brouhaha over Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress (as distinguished from a join session of Congress) to discuss the dangers Israel and the rest of the world faces from a nuclear-armed Iran.

Horrors! screamed the White House. The Speaker of the House did not clear the invitation with us first. Actually, the speaker did inform the White House of the invitation almost simultaneously with it being formally proffered to Netanyahu but, it seems, not before. The White House was informed of the invitation, however, before Netanyahu formally accepted it.

One Democrat after another, bowing to party discipline, has begun announcing that they will not attend the historic address. The Vice President says he can’t attend, because he is scheduled to be traveling abroad, but no one in the Administration seemed to know to where he would be traveling. Their stock response is that the unspecified trip had been in the works before the prime minister’s speech was announced. In the works, but apparently not actually arranged.

The press is largely buying the White House spin that Speaker Boehner and Prime Minister Netanyahu have engineered an enormous breech of protocol. Some pundits are wringing their hands that this will give comfort to those who claim that Israel has too much influence over American foreign policy. What nonsense.

President Obama stuck it to both the Senate and the House by announcing in his State of the Union address that he would veto any legislation that reached his desk that imposed sanctions should Iran fail to live up to whatever agreements are reached. He said, in effect, bug off, foreign policy is my exclusive domain.

Except that it isn’t — not according to that quaint, nettlesome document we know as the Constitution of the United States. The President acts in this arena with the advice and consent of the Senate, and while that language has been viewed as a pain in the derriere by various Presidents (especially this one) the language is there for a reason.

Once the President announced to the world that any legislative initiatives that penalize Iran for failing to keep its word would be dead on arrival at his desk, Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu to address before the legislature, the dangers of a poor agreement did not, in our judgment, warrant the apoplectic display of petulance we have been treated to from the White House.

The excuse the White House has provided for not seeing the Prime Minister when he is in Washington is also, in our judgment, disingenuous. We don’t receive heads of state that are facing election, the White House sanctimoniously announced. Meanwhile, the absolute Islamic carnage endemic to so much of the Middle East, all of which is described by the perpetrators as a prelude to what Israel can expect, would seem to trump the trumped up tradition of not seeing a head of state facing election.   What better way to say to the Islamic extremists who are savaging the Middle East and Africa, the hell with tradition and protocol, we meet with our strategic allies when they are threatened?

Many journalists who repeat the absurdity that Congress has no role in foreign affairs have bemused us. The Constitution provides that the president “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur.” Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist no. 75, “the operation of treaties as laws, plead strongly for the participation of the whole or a portion of the legislative body in the office of making them.”

Now, there are exceptions. There are international agreements concluded by the executive branch and not submitted to the Senate. These are classified in the United States as executive agreements, not as treaties. We suspect President Obama will treat any agreement that evolves from the on-going negotiations with Iran as just such an executive agreement. Such agreements usually involve implementation provisions of treaties that have been approved, or international agreements, which are more perfunctory. The growth in executive agreements is also attributable to the sheer volume of business conducted between the United States and other countries, coupled with the routine business of the Senate.

In our view the impending Iran nuclear agreement certainly does not qualify as such an executive agreement. The agreement, should it be reached, will involve the removal of remaining sanctions imposed by the Congress and should only be lifted by the Congress. The Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) was overwhelmingly passed by Congress and signed into law by then President George W. Bush. It is the basis of the current sanctions against Iran (already eased by President Obama) and should only be terminated by Congress.

The invitation for Netanyahu to address Congress is viewed as a blunder by almost everyone – accept a substantial plurality of the American people. According to a just-released poll by the Rasmussen opinion research organization 42% of American support the invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress with 35% opposed and 23 % not sure.

Speaker Boehner believed, we think quite correctly, that the American people and their representatives in Congress should hear from our ally whose existence will be most threatened by a lousy deal with Iran. The President has already let it be known, quite publically, that the negotiations with Iran are none of Congress’s business. It goes without saying that there is great tension between the new leadership in the Congress and the President. However, no fewer Americans will tune into the Netanyahu address because Biden and other Democratic members of Congress choose to boycott the Israeli Prime Minister’s address.

The contrived brouhaha over a protocol contretemps simply denigrates the legitimate fear that many serious thinkers have regarding the potentially disastrous deal with Iran that may soon unfold.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.00.36 PM

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-VSM

Greek Debt Dustup: The Stuff of Greek Mythology.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsHomer would have relished the plot material provided by the dustup currently unfolding between Athens and the EU. Tension hasn’t been this high since Achilles  faced down the Trojan warrior Hector outside the gates of Troy. But this is real Greek tragedy playing out on the world stage – not mythology. The stakes are huge for everybody. There may be no winners. There is plenty of grief waiting in the wings to go around.

Greece is suffering from a man-made catastrophe – one of its own making. For years, actually forever, Greece has spent much more than it has taken in, and borrowed much more than it could payback. One would be hard pressed to find a country on the face of the earth that has, over the years, defaulted on its loans more than Greece. Perhaps only Ecuador and Honduras have out-defaulted Greece.  Greek politicians habitually bought votes by padding public payrolls and hoisting public salaries and pensions. Corruption has, historically, been endemic. An outrageous number of its citizens found a way to beat the taxman. They simply didn’t pay their taxes, and, it seems, no one much cared or did very much about it. That’s the way things have been in Greece for a long time.

Remember Dionysius, the ruler of the Greek city-state of Syracuse? He couldn’t pay the debts he ran up either, so he simply doubled the denominations stamped on all of the Drachmas in the land. That was sort of the Greek way of printing more money before there were printing presses. But Dionysius learned that inflating the currency didn’t make Syracuse richer. It made the Drachma even more worthless. We apologize for the outrageous redundancy, but we trust the reader gets the point.

Lesson learned, right? Well, apparently not. Greece has, over the years, turned abysmal credit worthiness into an art form. During much of the 186-year history of the modern Greek state, the country seems to have reneged on its loans in just about every generation. But we digress.

The dilemma Greece faces today is the most serious in its very long history because it threatens the very viability of the entire European grand experiment we know as the European Union. The reader may recall that in the Spring of 2010, the eurozone countries with the help of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (the Troika) provided a rescue package worth about $145 billion (110bn in Euros and 91bn in British pounds). As part of the bailout deal, Greece’s Prime Minister, George Papandreou announces a round of even more stringent austerity measures.

Trade unions, of course, immediately called a general strike in protest. That’s because the life preserver the Troika tossed to Greece had strings attached (they always do). Greece had to clean house, tighten its belt, privatize many of the inefficient bloated public services (which had guaranteed workers jobs for life), seriously collect taxes from the chronic tax cheats, reduce spending, and do something about corruption that everyone knew was rampant. Greece agreed. Her creditors at the time had their debt rescheduled, which is a euphemism for accepting cents on the Euro as payment. Greece drastically reduced spending and curtailed public payrolls and began privatizing. This was the bitter medicine called austerity.

As might be expected, the people began to suffer, really suffer, because of the past profligacy of their leaders. As should have been anticipated, unemployment spiked, businesses closed and the economy severely contracted. Immense unrest began to roil the country, and just last week a far-left Party, Syriza, was elected promising to end the austerity upon which the bailout had been predicated in the first place. This is, indeed, the stuff of Greek tragedy of mythological proportions.

The so-called Troika is, of course, caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Portugal, Spain, Italy, and who knows who else, are all watching and waiting to see whether more liberal bailout terms are offered to Greece, because they all have their own problems.

Germany and Finland and the other more responsible, productive and credit worthy countries are also watching. They know they will ultimately bear the burden of any further defaults regardless of how the risk is spread on paper. Their taxpayers are not going to sit still for paying with their taxes what the Greeks and, perhaps, other southern countries have not paid for with their taxes. And besides, Greece’s debt structure is in good shape compared to some of the other bailout countries. Greece enjoys the longest debt maturities and actually has a lower cost of interest relative to its gross domestic product compared to most of the Eurozone countries, and the citizens of those countries vote too.

You would think everyone with so much skin in the game would be treading very carefully right now. But that isn’t what is happening. Instead lines are being drawn from which it will become increasing more difficult for anyone to retreat. The new Greek government is demanding from the rooftops to have its debt rescheduled (further haircuts for the creditors), the time for repayment extended (initial payments are due later this month) and an end to austerity. The moment of decision is at hand. The EU’s bailout deal, now valued at about 240 billion Euro’s, runs out at the end of this month. Under the deal Greece has to put further reform measures in place and start paying off billions of Euros in bond redemptions in order to receive the final 7.2 billion Euros it has (or had) coming under the bailout agreement. Right now, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. Any deviation from the bailout plan Greece had agreed to is apt to cause a furor in Germany and a number of other EU countries.

Greece’s new Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis has announced that he won’t even meet with representatives of the Troika to discuss the crisis. Meanwhile, officials of the EU and the European Central Bank are drawing their own lines in the sand. Germany’s Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, wasn’t having any of it. “Rules need to be kept,” he has insisted.

To add suspense to this unfolding drama, Spain has general elections coming up this year and the anti-austerity party known as Podemos has been mightily energized by Syriza’s success in Greece. Podemos, which means “yes we can” is surging in the polls and its leader Pablo Iglesias has promised that 2015 will be a year of change for Spain. Spain’s public debt has, in the past few years, soared to over a trillion Euros, about 100% of its GDP.

Until the housing crisis erupted in 2008 Spain had managed its economy reasonably well. The bitter pill of austerity has not gone down well in Spain and the people are fed up. Spain, like Greece, has had it with austerity fatigue and a class-warfare mentality seems to have taken hold. “We are Greece” has become a popular slogan on the Iberian Peninsula ever since the anti-austerity Syzira party catapulted to power in Athens last week. Spain’s economy is stronger than Greece’s, but the country is still shouldering 24 percent unemployment and the people are restive.

The currencies of the strong exporting countries such as America as well as Germany, Switzerland, Finland and other Northern European countries have spiked up dramatically making their goods more expensive, and harder to sell. We seem to have a perfect (but very ugly) storm in the making.

Not long ago, Greece leaving (or being banished from) the EU was unthinkable. Greece and those who provided the bailout funds are facing off against one another. Everyone is waiting to see who blinks first. Homer would have a field day finishing this story.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.00.36 PM

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-VSM

Swiss Movement: Clocks Striking Thirteen

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors“Time”, someone once wrote, “is like the rumble of distant thunder at a picnic.” And so it was last week when Switzerland heard the distant thunder and severed its tie to the Euro in anticipation of the EU’s massive Quantitative Easing venture, which is intended to spark economic growth throughout the moribund European Union. The Swiss, quite correctly, anticipating a sharp drop in the value of the Euro decided not to go along for the ride and unhinged the Swiss Franc from the Euro zone currency. No longer would Switzerland maintain its artificial ratio of 1.20 Swiss Francs to the Euro.

Almost everyone is following the script written by European Central Bank (ECB) Chief, Mario Draghi, and cheering the decision of the ECB to begin an aggressive, all-out program to buy every month (with newly minted money) 60 billion Euros worth of government bond, agency and other debt as well as inflation-linked bonds and other bonds with maturities between two and thirty years  “for as long as it takes.” This infusion of money into the EU banking systems (which holds these assets) will, the thinking goes, provide vast new resources for banks to lend and, therefore, stimulate business growth.

As expected the Euro plunged in value while the Swiss franc, the US dollar, and equities in general, soared as investors dropped their Euros like hot potatoes. And that, of course, was the idea. The prospects are that the export of EU manufactured goods will pick up smartly (they are cheaper now relative to US and Swiss goods) at the expense of US and Swiss exports thereby jolting back to life EU economic growth. Norway, Japan and Austria all saw their currencies tick up over 100 basis points against the Euro as well.

Concern about deflation (constantly falling prices) clearly and properly (at this point in time) trumps fear of inflation, which by and large is nowhere to be found. We noted, above, that almost everyone is cheering. Almost, but not everyone.

People who probably never heard of Hyman Minsky are expressing concerns as though the late, famous, economics professor who taught at Brown University, UC California, Berkeley and Washington University in St. Louis, was whispering into their ears – Beware, too much cheap money sooner or later always becomes very costly.

Minsky argued that a phenomenon that invariably pushes economies toward crisis is the accumulation of very cheap debt by the non-government sector. That’s where the 60 billion of quantitative-easing Euro’s is intended to go every month. Sooner or later, Minsky argued, too many borrowers with too much cheap debt become dependent on asset values increasing sufficiently to refinance their debt and that is the stuff of bubbles and the crises they cause. We all do still remember 2008 don’t we?

So, while almost everyone is cheering the EU’s new Quantitative Easing program, we noticed a few voices across the pond that were not so sanguine about the massive infusion of capital that is about to be unleashed.

Not surprisingly, hints of concern and expressions of caution can be heard in Europe’s strongest and most conservative economy, Germany, which has the most to lose if American-style irrational exuberance causes another bubble to burst in the future.

Many in Germany fear that infusing massive quantities of cheap money into the weaker European economies will fuel asset bubbles, as Minsky predicted always happens. Whatever motivation exists in the weaker nations to pursue needed reforms will evaporate, they fear. Specifically, the Germans worry about Greece, France and Italy. The Germans know that if these or other nations stumble, they may be the only ones left standing to pick them back up.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the central bank’s loosening of monetary policy risked distracting Euro zone governments from much needed reforms and undermining an already fragile recovery.

“No matter what decision the ECB should take, we should not, as politicians, be diverted from putting in place the necessary conditions for recovery,” Ms Merkel said.

Merkel seemed unimpressed by an element of the central bank’s new policy that shifts most of the risk for the bond-buying program from the ECB to Europe’s 19 national central banks. Draghi in order to get Germany to go along with the EU’s aggressive quantitative easing program agreed to this weakening of the central bank’s role, recognizing that Germany did not want to assume responsibility for the potential losses of weaker euro zone states.

One expects that Merkel and other more conservative German thinkers worry that the “policy” to shift liability to Europe’s 19 national central banks might wind up being window dressing to sell the program, and if push came to shove most of the burden of rescue would fall upon Germany.

Clearly, Chancellor Merkel is not alone in feeling queasy about the EU’s journey down QE Lane. Conservative economist Hans Werner Sinn, head of Munich’s Ifo Institute for Economic Research, claimed the central bank’s actions were illegal because they went beyond monetary policy and strayed into state financing “through the printing presses”.

Peter Gauweiler, a well-known eurosceptic and Christian Social Union party leader, said he was already preparing to take the ECB to Germany’s constitutional court over quantitative easing. Gauweiler, who has launched a number of legal actions against the common currency, said Draghi’s risk sharing agreement with other Euro zone central banks should not divert attention from the broader “illegalities” of the program.

And of course, the sinking yields on the bonds of Euro zone countries also benefited the Portuguese and Greeks where yields on 30-year Portuguese government bonds dropped 23 basis points to 3.76 per cent, while equivalent Greek debt dropped 37 basis points to 7.62 per cent on the back of news that Greek debt could be included in the bond-buying program.

Nonetheless, the EU’s quantitative easing program may be too late to qualm fears in Greece, where today’s election just might turn the EU on its head. As we go to press, it seems all but certain that Syriza, the leftist, anti-austerity party will emerge as the winner of a hard fought election. The Greeks are frustrated with the EU and many want to return to the Drachma and dump the Euro all together. Some fear that could become a contagion that might spread to other countries with chronically weak economies. The specter of Greece’s exit from the Euro zone is no longer considered unthinkable. The Greek economy has shrunk more than 25% since 2008, unemployment hovers around 25%, and it is estimated that about twenty five percent of households live in poverty. More than 100,000 business have closed in Greece since 2008.

So this is, indeed, an historic time for the EU. Tens of billions of Euro’s are riding to the rescue of a doggedly lackluster economy on the continent. In all, a trillion new Euro’s are, over the next year, intended to prop up economic growth in Europe. Thanks to our own Federal Reserve, Quantitative Easing has become the new gold standard for lifting sagging economies out of their economic doldrums. Time, however, will tell whether all that glitters is really gold.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.00.36 PM

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-VSM

The New Normal: The Best of Times and The Worst of Times.

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors

“…It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” (Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities). Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, editor of Le Figero back in 1839 coined an epigram for such contradictions, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”, the more things change, the more they remain the same. And so it is today.

As we in America and others in advanced democracies contemplate the incredible potential of the 21st century, Islamic zealots motivated by an archaic interpretation of their faith stampede headlong back to the 12th century, determined to drag everyone within their reach with them, sowing misery and despair wherever they go. And so it was in France this week, and Australia last week, and Canada and America in recent weeks, and in England and Spain in past weeks, and so it is and continues to be in Syria, and Iraq and Nigeria and Somalia and Yemen and Libya and Mali and Kenya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Zanzibar and Bali. It has become the growing norm across a wide and ever growing swath of no-longer governable geography.

Think of it. At a time when we in the west can seriously contemplate — robotic artificial hearts, the end of famine, self-driving automobiles, and automobiles that combust nothing to drive, life-saving elimination of (or the effect of) deadly mutations in the human genome, the elimination or control of most of mankind’s known diseases, practical mass-scale harnessing of solar energy — in short, an explosion in innovation unrivaled in all of human history, the world is, at the same time, traumatized as though caught in an ebb tide drawing us relentlessly back to the darkest periods in human history. This is not simply radical Islamist war against the West. Most of the war is being waged against other Muslims who do not subscribe to the tenets of radical Islam or who are simply caught up in the never-ending hatred between Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam.

In October 2013, New Yorker Magazine published a box score of the Islamic carnage that was rampant in just the prior month.

Kenya: Militants of the Somali jihadist group Al Shabaab attack the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, slaughtering visitors with grenades and machine guns, separating out some Muslims from non-Muslims, in a killing spree that ends three days later with an assault by the Kenyan military. Death toll: at least sixty men, women, and children, along with several soldiers and militants. Somalia: Al Shabaab car and suicide bombers blow up a restaurant in Mogadishu for the third time. Death toll: fifteen patrons and staff.  Pakistan:  Suicide bombers detonate themselves outside a Protestant church in Peshawar. Death toll: eighty-five. A remote-control bomb explodes on a bus carrying government employees near Peshawar. Death toll: nineteen. A remote-control bomb explodes in an old, crowded marketplace in Peshawar. Death toll: thirty-seven. Nigeria: Militants of the extremist group Boko Haram attack an agricultural college. Death toll: forty young male students, most of whom were sleeping when they were killed. Iraq: Car bombings, suicide bombings, revenge killings, and assassinations reach levels not seen for at least five years. Death toll: nine hundred and seventy-nine. Wounded toll: twenty-one hundred and thirty-three, most as the result of Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence.                                                                          Syria: Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels tighten their grip across northern Syria, intimidating local residents with public floggings and executions. Yemen: Militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula stage attacks on soldiers and police in southern Yemen. Death toll: at least thirty. Afghanistan: Sushmita Banerjee, the Indian wife of an Afghan man, who converted from Hinduism to Islam and wrote a memoir about life under the Taliban which was later made into a Bollywood movie, is abducted from her home in Paktika Province, taken to a Taliban safe house, and shot twenty-five times. Two suspects are arrested and claim that they killed her because she had written about the Taliban, and because she had installed an Internet connection in her house. Zanzibar: Attackers throw acid in the face of a Catholic priest as he leaves an Internet café, one month after two young British women were assaulted in the same way.

Then, of course, there was the recent horror in Pakistan. “God is great,” the Taliban militants shouted as they roared through the hallways of a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. Then, 14-year-old student Ahmed Faraz recalled, one of them took a harsher tone.” A lot of the children are under the benches,’ ” a Pakistani Taliban said, according to Ahmed. ” ‘Kill them.’ ” By the time the hours-long siege at Army Public School and Degree College ended early Tuesday evening, at least 145 people — 132 children, 10 school staff members and three soldiers — were dead.

This seemingly unprecedented carnage is, to a great extent, taking place as America is withdrawing from the Muslim world. After all, we withdrew from Iraq years ago, and we are in the process of withdrawing in Afghanistan.

Today, the chaos in Syria has become a stage for foreign fighters from all over the world, including from America even as America keeps its distance.    Much of Europe slept while their ever-growing Muslim populations grew and within those population there also grew an attraction to radical Islam.

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, some five million or 7.5% of the population, compared with Germany’s four million or 5% of the population, and the UK’s three million, also 5% of the population. If only 2% of their Muslim populations have become radicalized, that could equate to 240,000 Said and Cherif Kouachis’s who methodically massacred 12 people Wednesday at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, or Amedy Coulibaly’s who shot a policewoman to death south of Paris, and four Jewish French citizens at a Kosher grocery market in Paris.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once thought of as the source of all turmoil, remains the focus of U.S. foreign policy and a source of grievances for Muslims and naïve sycophants around the world. It is, however, but a sideshow. Nothing America or any of our allies do is going to end the violence.

The genesis of all the turmoil and chaos is, sadly, cultural. And anyone who believes we are not involved in a clash of cultures is simply meandering aimlessly and senselessly in a field (or nightmare) of dreams. The root cause of this worst of times is an internal, sectarian, tribal, political, and economic time warp that dominates the Islamic world.

At its very source are perverted ideas about the meaning of Islam in the modern world, not the world of the prophet 1300 years ago. We know, but do not talk about these ideas being promulgated in mosques and coffee shops and schools, and on the Internet and on satellite TV. Islamic fanatics who employ conspiracy theories, half-truths, deceptive editing, and lies manipulate all news from the outside world. The fits and starts and on again-off again stabs of U.S. foreign policy will have little or no effect on this type of deadly mischief.

Listen to the harangue of Abu Mohammad al Adnani, an ISIS “spokesman” who announced to all “lone wolves” wherever they reside: “Rig the roads with explosives for them. Attack their bases. Raid their homes. Cut off their heads. Do not let them feel secure. Hunt them wherever they may be. Turn their worldly life into fear and fire. Remove their families from their homes and thereafter low up their homes. Civilians should not be exempt from brutality. Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling. Both of them are disbelievers. Both of them are considered to be waging war. Hinder those who want to harm your brothers. The best thing you can do is to strive to do your best and kill any disbeliever, whether he be French, American or from any of their allies.”

So sure, we must go after terrorists wherever we know they exist. That’s just a matter of self-defense. But it won’t win the war because terror is simply a tactic and you cannot wage war on a tactic.

As New Yorker Magazine pointed out — “War turned out to be far too blunt an instrument against the complexity, volatility, and durability of Islamist violence. Targeted kidnappings and killings are effective against the leadership but do nothing about the next generation of recruits, perhaps only galvanizing it.”  The reality is that this clash of cultures can only be won within the Islamic world by Muslims who look West, and who reject the notion that their future and their faith will be defined by the radical thinking that dominated a long-ago, by-gone, dark age. We can strike back with drones, or bombing runs or even boots on the ground, but this cultural madness can probably only be stopped by those within the Muslim world.

This view is the brainchild of Ed Husain the London-born author of “The Islamist,” an autobiographical account of his years as a young man in radical Islamist organizations and his turn to a more liberal version of Islam. Husain now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where his policy paper, “A Global Venture to Counter Violent Extremism,” recently was published online. Husain points out that a fund is needed to combat Islamist extremism, which he calls the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience. The goal is to raise two hundred million dollars over ten years, from governments and private donors, and to identify and finance grassroots groups around the Muslim world that will do the difficult work of opposing extremist ideas at home. These groups would take on the Islamists where they live, in mosques and community centers, in chat rooms and on social media. The American role would be very much in the background; citizens, organizations, and governments of key Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, would take the lead.  Done properly,” Husain writes, “within eight to ten years al-Qaeda’s theology and ideology can become as unattractive among young Muslims as communism became to East Germans.”

Religion, however, is not the same as political movements. As George Packer wrote in New Yorker Magazine, It is rooted in Islamic countries far more deeply and historically than Communism was in the Eastern bloc. To argue against Islamist extremism with young citizens of countries where people are overwhelmingly pious and the non-Islamist ruling regimes are dismal failures is a much tougher challenge than arguing against Marxism in countries where the failing regimes were Communist. But Husain—a living example of a convert to moderation—is surely right in pointing to the ideas of the Islamists, and not just their circumstances or tactics: “Unless such ideas are challenged and discredited, extremist groups will continue to regenerate no matter how many terrorists are killed.”

And so we are, indeed, living in the best of times and the worst of times. We won’t know whether the best or the worst will prevail for a long time. But the battle for the minds of men (and women) in the Muslim world will go on for a long time and, sadly, so will the bloodshed.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.00.36 PM

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-VSM

Happy Holidays! We’ll be back After The First Of The Year.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsAs is our custom this time a year, we take off until the first week of the new year.  Steve and I want to thank all of our readers for their loyal interest in our weekly essays and for the many emails and comments you share with us.  We appreciate that your time is valuable, and we always strive to make our commentary worthy of your time.  We wish all of our subscribers peace, good health and happiness in 2015.  Your comments are always welcome and appreciated.

Peace and Happiness in the New Year!

Hal Gershowitz and Steve Porter

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.00.36 PM

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-VSM

EU’s Folly: Sanitizing Hamas

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIn an act of sheer buffoonery, reminiscent of the old English ballad, “The World Turned Upside Down,” the Luxembourg-based European Union General Court moved to cleanse Hamas of very bloody hands by opining that the Gaza-based thugocracy should no longer be classified as a terrorist organization. The august body of European jurists determined that Hamas just has a bad reputation because of bad PR. Specifically, the court found that the terrorist rap was simply “determined by news and Internet reports rather than by acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities.” We presume the Hamas kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers last summer and countless other grotesqueries would also be considered acts determined by news and Internet reports. The world has, indeed turned upside down. You really can’t make this sort of stuff up.

Not to be up-staged by the court, the European Parliament decided, almost immediately thereafter, by a vote of 498 to 88 (with 111 abstentions) to support “in principle the recognition of Palestinian statehood” in tandem with revived peace negotiations. The EU Parliament also expressed “its strong support for the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states, with the secure State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security on the basis of the right of self-determination and full respect of international law.”

Well, who knew that after sixty-six years of rejection Israel and its Palestinian antagonists could finally live side-by-side in peace and security on the basis of self-determination and full respect of international law if only the nations of the world voted that it be so? Israel, of course, tried that once when it accepted exactly just such a plan in 1948, which its Arab neighbors rejected and, instead, invaded and started a war that cost the infant state about 1% of its entire population at the time (6,373 Israelis killed).

But let’s get back to the EU court’s procedural ruling (it is, theoretically, subject to appeal by EU members) that Hamas, essentially, may just have a PR problem. Let’s go to Hamas’s raison d’être – its charter.

The reader will recall that Hamas controls about 40% of the Palestinian population, and the worst kept secret in the region is that, given an opportunity, Hamas would rout Fatah (the Palestinian Authority) out of a political presence on the West Bank just as they violently purged Fatah from Gaza following the elections in Gaza in January of 2006. So just what does the Hamas Charter say about two states living side by side in peace and security. Let’s take a look.

Article Six: Peculiarity and Independence – 
”The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinct Palestinian Movement which owes its loyalty to Allah, derives from Islam its way of life and strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine…”

Article Eleven: “The Strategy of Hamas - “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf (a religious endowment) throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it. No Arab country nor the aggregate of all Arab countries, and no Arab King or President nor all of them in the aggregate, have that right, nor has that right any organization or the aggregate of all organizations, be they Palestinian or Arab, because Palestine is an Islamic Waqf throughout all generations and to the Day of Resurrection.”

The EU Parliament has endorsed the two-state solution (as has Israel) and urges the commencement of peace negotiations (which the Palestinians walked away from a year ago). So what are the prospects for fruitful peace negotiations? Again, let’s take a look at the Hamas charter.

Article Thirteen: Peaceful Solutions, - “[Peace] Initiatives and International Conferences
[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad…Peace initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement… There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility…”

So just who is responsible for the bloodshed and violence that is endemic to so much of the Middle East today? Perhaps, the Hamas Charter can throw some light on this question. Let’s take a look.

Article Twenty-Two: The Powers which Support the Enemy – ”…They (the Jews) also used the money to establish clandestine organizations which are spreading around the world, in order to destroy societies and carry out Zionist interests. Such organizations are: the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, B’nai B’rith and the like. All of them are destructive spying organizations… They obtained the Balfour Declaration and established the League of Nations in order to rule the world by means of that organization. They also stood behind World War II…They inspired the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council to replace the League of Nations, in order to rule the world by their intermediary. There was no war that broke out anywhere without their fingerprints on it.”

Well, we thought the likes of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Al Shabaab, Islamic Jihad Boko Haram, and all those other “militant” groups (the western press doesn’t call them terrorists anymore) were responsible for all the bloodshed. But no, according to the Hamas Charter it’s the Rotary Clubs, Lions clubs, B’nai B’rith and the Freemasons and other Zionist organizations that are the troublemakers.

But isn’t giving peace a chance a goal worth pursuing? Well, what does the Hamas wing of the Palestinian government have to say?

Article Thirty-Two: The Attempts to Isolate the Palestinian People –  “… (ever) leaving the circle of conflict with Israel is a major act of treason and it will bring curse on its perpetrators.”

So while Israel awaits Hamas’s next promised assault from the South, Hezbollah looms in waiting to the North. The reader will recall, once again, that at the conclusion of the 2006 warfare between Israel and Hezbollah (also the result of the murder and kidnapping of Israelis), the UN Security Council issued Resolution 1701 that required South Lebanon to be free of armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon. Yet, today, the consensus of military analysts in the West and in Israel is that Hezbollah has, since the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, replenished it’s largely depleted arsenal of about 10,000 rockets with an arsenal today of an estimated 80,000 rockets – all aimed at civilian communities throughout Israel.

The EU General Court and Parliament and one European country after another respond by sanitizing Hamas and passing resolutions endorsing the establishment of a Palestinian State with or without a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. American and European Universities and European communities imprudently sign on to the idiotic BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement to further isolate Israel.

The Western world, it seems, is tired of the conflict and, having no ability to influence the chaotic Arab world is largely focusing its displeasure on Israel. The world is, indeed, turning upside down.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.00.36 PM

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-VSM

Senate CIA Report: To What Purpose?

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsYes, yes, we understand (and concur) that we have the right, indeed the need, to know what our government did in the name of security and national defense following 9/11. After all, it was in our name that the CIA did whatever it did following the devastating attacks on American soil that killed considerably more Americans than were killed at Pearl Harbor.

Torture as an instrument of policy is, of course, simply repugnant. It is — not to be trite — as un-American as un-American can be. If we tortured “detainees” we have the right to know that, and the need to stop such practices, as we, in fact, did over six years ago. Yet the report, or more correctly its detail and its timing, nags at our sense of judgment, if not our sense of propriety. Was so much of the gory detail really necessary, and was the timing of the report wise? Certainly we could and did, through Executive Order, bring an end to such practices as are described in the report without hanging out all of the sullied linen to dry.

And given the widespread and routine barbarity with which radical Islam confronts us today, was this the time to bombard worldwide media with stories of our excesses following 9/11? After all, we have rather routinely sequestered far less damning government information from public access for decades following various events of historical note. Just try to get all of the details the government still keeps under wraps concerning Watergate, or the Kennedy assassination, and what about the still secret memo that President Obama relied upon to justify killing, without a trial, U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, an al-Qaeda propagandist from North Carolina, and Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. No, these and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pages of files arbitrarily classified as too sensitive for public release are vaulted in secret government archives.   But the gory details of the CIA’s so-called enhanced interrogation program — that Senator Feinstein demanded be made public. And to what purpose? The enhanced interrogation described in the Senate report ended at least six years ago.

NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who concurs with the decision to release the CIA report, nonetheless writes (this week) that he has sympathy for people who were charged with defending the nation’s security after that surprise attack. It was impossible to know what was coming next — for which they would be held accountable…”But (he goes on to write) it is hard to read the summaries of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report and not conclude that some officials and the C.I.A. took the slack we cut them after 9/11 — motivated by the fear of another attack — and used it in ways, and long past the emergency moment…”

 “Long past the emergency moment” – ponder that for a moment. Just when did that emergency moment fade into what Friedman calls “the long past”?

Al-Qaeda sent Umar Farouk Abdulmatallab, more familiarly known as the underwear bomber, on a mission to blow up himself and 289 other people on Northwest Airlines flight 253 over Detroit. That was eight years after 9/11.

Anwar al-Awlaki, operating from Yeman apparently convinced Nidal Malik Hasan to go on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood. He killed 13 Americans and wounded more than 30 others. That too, took place eight years after 9/11.

Faisal Shahzad went to the Waziristan region in Pakistan to learn bomb making and returned to the United States and came quite close to detonating a weapon of mass destruction near Times Square in New York City. That was ten years after 9/11.

Al-Qaeda also came close to blowing up an airliner over Chicago by delivering to UPS and FedX packages of printer toner cartridges loaded with plastic explosives scheduled for delivery at OHare on November 1st, 2010, again ten years after 9/11. The first package was intercepted in route to OHare at East Midlands Airport in Leicestershire England. The second package was discovered on a Federal Express plane at the FedEx depot at the Dubai airport at around 9 am on October 29. The plane was scheduled to fly to Newark Liberty International Airport  in New Jersey, and then on to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

So exactly when did “the emergency moment” that provided some slack for interrogators to, well, enhance their interrogations really end. Does anyone believe it is over now? Our point is not to justify torture in any form. We don’t. Nor is it to suggest that enhanced interrogation stopped these attacks. It didn’t. We simply recognize that extreme stress, during extreme times can cause extreme behavior by those charged with the awesome responsibility of stopping carnage directed at American citizens on American soil.

The process that produced the Senate report also troubles us. Judge Louis Freeh, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation notes in the Wall Street Journal as we go to press that President Bush was granted by Congress authority to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.” (Emphasis added)

This joint congressional resolution, Freeh notes, has never been amended, was not a broad declaration of a “war on terror,” but rather a specific, targeted authorization to use force against the 9/11 terrorists and to prevent their future attacks.

Freeh reminds us that in the war-footing atmosphere following 9/11 “the RDI (Rendition, Detention and Interrogation) program, including the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, was fully briefed to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees. The Senate committee’s new report does not present any evidence that would support the notion that the CIA program was carried out for years without the concurrence of the House or Senate intelligence committees, or that any of the members were shocked to learn of the program after the fact.”

It is both disturbing and curious that none of the CIA directors nor their deputies nor, for that matter, any CIA employee who had briefed the Senate committee’s leadership (and who carried out the program) were interviewed by the Senate investigators. None! “Such a glaring investigative lapse”, Freeh opines, “cannot be fairly explained by the Democratic majority’s defense that it could make such crucial findings solely on the “paper record,” without interviewing the critical players. Nor does the committee’s other explanation for avoiding interviews make sense: The Democratic senators say they didn’t want to interfere with the Justice Department’s criminal inquiry into the RDI program, but that investigation ended in 2012 and found no basis for prosecutions. And no wonder: These public servants at the CIA had dutifully carried out mandates from the President and Congress.”

So we come back to the question with which we began this essay. To what purpose was this report written and released to the public at this time? If it was to stop enhanced interrogation should America be massively attacked again in the future it was probably an exercise in futility. Enhanced interrogation was stopped by executive order years ago. But when someone is tasked with stopping a massacre of Americans they will probably and willingly do what they have to do knowing they may suffer the consequences later. Saving lives may well trump the protocol of gentle and civil questioning.  Excesses, deplorable as they may be, have always and will always emerge in the fog of war or during a moment of emergency. The CIA is not populated with thugs as the Senate report might suggest to many. The agency is overwhelmingly populated by decent men and women who are tasked with the job of stopping incredibly indecent horrors.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.00.36 PM

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-VSM

Ideas and commentary with allegiance to neither the left nor the right, but only to this sweet land of liberty.