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.

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Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor: at the UN “fog descends to cloud all logic and moral clarity.”

  • Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors
  • UN Headquarters, New York, New York — We present, this week,   Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor’s address last week (unedited) to the UN general Assembly.
  • “Mr. President, I stand before the world as a proud representative of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. I stand tall before you knowing that truth and morality are on my side.  And yet, I stand here knowing that today in this Assembly, truth will be turned on its head and morality cast aside. 
The fact of the matter is that when members of the international community speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a fog descends to cloud all logic and moral clarity.  The result isn’t realpolitik, its surrealpolitik.
  • The world’s unrelenting focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an injustice to tens of millions of victims of tyranny and terrorism in the Middle East. As we speak, Yazidis, Bahai, Kurds, Christians and Muslims are being executed and expelled by radical extremists at a rate of 1,000 people per month. How many resolutions did you pass last week to address this crisis?  And how many special sessions did you call for? The answer is zero. What does this say about international concern for human life?  Not much, but it speaks volumes about the hypocrisy of the international community.
  • I stand before you to speak the truth.  Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, less than half a percent are truly free – and they are all citizens of Israel. Israeli Arabs are some of the most educated Arabs in the world. They are our leading physicians and surgeons, they are elected to our parliament, and they serve as judges on our Supreme Court.  Millions of men and women in the Middle East would welcome these opportunities and freedoms. 
Nonetheless, nation after nation, will stand at this podium today and criticize Israel – the small island of democracy in a region plagued by tyranny and oppression.
  • Mr. President, 
Our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state.  It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state. 
Sixty seven years ago this week, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Simple. The Jews said yes.  The Arabs said no. But they didn’t just say no.  Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon launched a war of annihilation against our newborn state. This is the historical truth that the Arabs are trying to distort. The Arabs’ historic mistake continues to be felt – in lives lost in war, lives lost to terrorism, and lives scarred by the Arab’s narrow political interests.
  • According to the United Nations, about 700,000 Palestinians were displaced in the war initiated by the Arabs themselves.  At the same time, some 850,000 Jews were forced to flee from Arab countries. 
Why is it, that 67 years later, the displacement of the Jews has been completely forgotten by this institution while the displacement of the Palestinians is the subject of an annual debate? The difference is that Israel did its utmost to integrate the Jewish refugees into society. The Arabs did just the opposite. 
The worst oppression of the Palestinian people takes place in Arab nations.  In most of the Arab world, Palestinians are denied citizenship and are aggressively discriminated against.  They are barred from owning land and prevented from entering certain professions. 
And yet none – not one – of these crimes are mentioned in the resolutions before you. 
If you were truly concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people there would be one, just one, resolution to address the thousands of Palestinians killed in Syria.
  • And if you were so truly concerned about the Palestinians there would be at least one resolution to denounce the treatment of Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps. But there isn’t.  The reason is that today’s debate is not about speaking for peace or speaking for the Palestinian people – it is about speaking against Israel.  It is nothing but a hate and bashing festival against Israel.
  • Mr. President, The European nations claim to stand for Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – freedom, equality, and brotherhood – but nothing could be farther from the truth. 
I often hear European leaders proclaim that Israel has the right to exist in secure borders.   That’s very nice.  But I have to say – it makes about as much sense as me standing here and proclaiming Sweden’s right to exist in secure borders.
  • 
When it comes to matters of security, Israel learned the hard way that we cannot rely on others – certainly not Europe. In 1973, on Yom Kippur – the holiest day on the Jewish calendar – the surrounding Arab nations launched an attack against Israel. In the hours before the war began, Golda Meir, our Prime Minister then, made the difficult decision not to launch a preemptive strike.   The Israeli Government understood that if we launched a preemptive strike, we would lose the support of the international community. As the Arab armies advanced on every front, the situation in Israel grew dire. Our casualty count was growing and we were running dangerously low on weapons and ammunition.
  • In this, our hour of need, President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, agreed to send Galaxy planes loaded with tanks and ammunition to resupply our troops.  The only problem was that the Galaxy planes needed to refuel on route to Israel. 
The Arab States were closing in and our very existence was threatened – and yet, Europe was not even willing to let the planes refuel.  The U.S. stepped in once again and negotiated that the planes be allowed to refuel in the Azores.
  • The government and people of Israel will never forget that when our very existence was at stake, only one country came to our aid – the United States of America. Israel is tired of hollow promises from European leaders.  The Jewish people have a long memory.  We will never ever forget that you failed us in the 1940s.  You failed us in 1973.  And you are failing us again today. Every European parliament that voted to prematurely and unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state is giving the Palestinians exactly what they want – statehood without peace.  By handing them a state on a silver platter, you are rewarding unilateral actions and taking away any incentive for the Palestinians to negotiate or compromise or renounce violence.
  • You are sending the message that the Palestinian Authority can sit in a government with terrorists and incite violence against Israel without paying any price. The first E.U. member to officially recognize a Palestinian state was Sweden. One has to wonder why the Swedish Government was so anxious to take this step.  When it comes to other conflicts in our region, the Swedish Government calls for direct negotiations between the parties – but for the Palestinians, surprise, surprise, they roll out the red carpet. State Secretary Söder may think she is here to celebrate her government’s so-called historic recognition, when in reality it’s nothing more than an historic mistake.
  • The Swedish Government may host the Nobel Prize ceremony, but there is nothing noble about their cynical political campaign to appease the Arabs in order to get a seat on the Security Council.  Nations on the Security Council should have sense, sensitivity, and sensibility.  Well, the Swedish Government has shown no sense, no sensitivity and no sensibility.  Just nonsense. Israel learned the hard way that listening to the international community can bring about devastating consequences.
  • In 2005, we unilaterally dismantled every settlement and removed every citizen from the Gaza Strip. Did this bring us any closer to peace?  Not at all. It paved the way for Iran to send its terrorist proxies to establish a terror stronghold on our doorstep. I can assure you that we won’t make the same mistake again.  When it comes to our security, we cannot and will not rely on others – Israel must be able to defend itself by itself. 
Mr. President,
  • The State of Israel is the land of our forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  It is the land where Moses led the Jewish people, where David built his palace, where Solomon built the Jewish Temple, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace. 
For thousands of years, Jews have lived continuously in the land of Israel.  We endured through the rise and fall of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman Empires.  And we endured through thousands of years of persecution, expulsions and crusades.  The bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land is unbreakable.
  • Nothing can change one simple truth – Israel is our home and Jerusalem is our eternal capital. 
At the same time, we recognize that Jerusalem has special meaning for other faiths.  Under Israeli sovereignty, all people – and I will repeat that, all people – regardless of religion and nationality can visit the city’s holy sites.  And we intend to keep it this way.  The only ones trying to change the status quo on the Temple Mount are Palestinian leaders.  
President Abbas is telling his people that Jews are contaminating the Temple Mount.  He has called for days of rage and urged Palestinians to prevent Jews from visiting the Temple Mount using (quote) “all means” necessary.  These words are as irresponsible as they are unacceptable. 
You don’t have to be Catholic to visit the Vatican, you don’t have to be Jewish to visit the Western Wall, but some Palestinians would like to see the day when only Muslims can visit the Temple Mount.
  • You, the international community, are lending a hand to extremists and fanatics. You, who preach tolerance and religious freedom, should be ashamed.  Israel will never let this happen.  We will make sure that the holy places remain open to all people of all faiths for all time. 
Mr. President, No one wants peace more than Israel.  No one needs to explain the importance of peace to parents who have sent their child to defend our homeland.  No one knows the stakes of success or failure better than we Israelis do. The people of Israel have shed too many tears and buried too many sons and daughters. 
We are ready for peace, but we are not naïve. Israel’s security is paramount. Only a strong and secure Israel can achieve a comprehensive peace.
  • The past month should make it clear to anyone that Israel has immediate and pressing security needs. In recent weeks, Palestinian terrorists have shot and stabbed our citizens and twice driven their cars into crowds of pedestrians.  Just a few days ago, terrorists armed with axes and a gun savagely attacked Jewish worshipers during morning prayers.  We have reached the point when Israelis can’t even find sanctuary from terrorism in the sanctuary of a synagogue. These attacks didn’t emerge out of a vacuum.  They are the results of years of indoctrination and incitement.  A Jewish proverb teaches: “The instruments of both death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
  • As a Jew and as an Israeli, I know with utter certainly that when our enemies say they want to attack us, they mean it. Hamas’s genocidal charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews worldwide.  For years, Hamas and other terrorist groups have sent suicide bombers into our cities, launched rockets into our towns, and sent terrorists to kidnap and murder our citizens. 
And what about the Palestinian Authority?  It is leading a systemic campaign of incitement.  In schools, children are being taught that ‘Palestine’ will stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.  In mosques, religious leaders are spreading vicious libels accusing Jews of destroying Muslim holy sites.  In sports stadiums, teams are named after terrorists.  And in newspapers, cartoons urge Palestinians to commit terror attacks against Israelis. Children in most of the world grow up watching cartoons of Mickey Mouse singing and dancing.  Palestinian children also grow up watching Mickey Mouse, but on Palestinians national television, a twisted figure dressed as Mickey Mouse dances in an explosive belt and chants “Death to America and death to the Jews.”
  • I challenge you to stand up here today and do something constructive for a change.  Publically denounce the violence, denounce the incitement, and denounce the culture of hate. Most people believe that at its core, the conflict is a battle between Jews and Arabs or Israelis and Palestinians.  They are wrong.  The battle that we are witnessing is a battle between those who sanctify life and those who celebrate death. Following the savage attack in a Jerusalem synagogue, celebrations erupted in Palestinian towns and villages.  People were dancing in the street and distributing candy.  Young men posed with axes, loudspeakers at mosques called out congratulations, and the terrorists were hailed as “martyrs” and “heroes.” 
This isn’t the first time that we saw the Palestinians celebrate the murder of innocent civilians.  We saw them rejoice after every terrorist attack on Israeli civilians and they even took to the streets to celebrate the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center right here in New York City.
  • Imagine the type of state this society would produce.  Does the Middle East really need another terror-ocracy?  Some members of the international community are aiding and abetting its creation. 
Mr. President, As we came into the United Nations, we passed the flags of all 193 member States. If you take the time to count, you will discover that there are 15 flags with a crescent and 25 flags with a cross.  And then there is one flag with a Jewish Star of David.  Amidst all the nations of the world there is one state – just one small nation state for the Jewish people. 
And for some people, that is one too many. 
As I stand before you today I am reminded of all the years when Jewish people paid for the world’s ignorance and indifference in blood.  Those days are no more.
  • We will never apologize for being a free and independent people in our sovereign state. And we will never apologize for defending ourselves. To the nations that continue to allow prejudice to prevail over truth, I say “J’accuse.”
I accuse you of hypocrisy. I accuse you of duplicity. I accuse you of lending legitimacy to those who seek to destroy our State. I accuse you of speaking about Israel’s right of self-defense in theory, but denying it in practice. And I accuse you of demanding concessions from Israel, but asking nothing of the Palestinians. In the face of these offenses, the verdict is clear.  You are not for peace and you are not for the Palestinian people.  You are simply against Israel. Members of the international community have a choice to make. You can recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, or permit the Palestinian leadership to deny our history without consequence. You can publically proclaim that the so-called “claim of return” is a non-starter, or you can allow this claim to remain the major obstacle to any peace agreement. You can work to end Palestinian incitement, or stand by as hatred and extremism take root for generations to come. You can prematurely recognize a Palestinian state, or you can encourage the Palestinian Authority to break its pact with Hamas and return to direct negotiations. 
The choice is yours. You can continue to steer the Palestinians off course or pave the way to real and lasting peace..

Thank you, Mr. President.”

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BDS Movement, Boycott of Israeli Scholars and 1930’s Nazi Book Burning: At The End of The Day, It’s All The Same.

 Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsSure, sure, we understand that there are differences. But we also understand the similarities. The worldwide, concerted effort to marginalize and delegitimize the Jewish State of Israel, its people, its institutions and its contributions to humanity is born of people committed to its destruction along with a mélange of their useful idiots on college campuses and within various ecclesiastical establishments. It is the shame of our time.

We are not misty-eyed chauvinists who feel compelled to embrace all Israeli policies and endorse all Israeli initiatives. But we recognize what is on the loose here (and abroad), and it is eerily reminiscent of 1934 Nuremberg, as well as the academic assaults against Jews in Vienna in the 30’s. That particular grotesquerie started in Nazi Germany with an anti-Jewish boycott on April 1st 1933 in Geisenheim. It succeeded. A gullible public largely assumed where there was smoke there was fire, and either joined with the instigators or simply tolerated them. It was political correctness on the rampage — Nazi style.

The BDS movement ( Boycott, Divest and Sanction), the boycott of Israeli scholars, the harassment of Jews all over Europe and, yes, even the physical attacks on Jewish institutions and citizens are all part and parcel of the same pathology.  We’ve been there before.  It is not a place any sane person should want to go again.

On a growing number of campuses in America today (UCLA being the latest) political correctness, and the appeal of joining the impassioned but largely ignorant crowd trumps critical thinking and common sense. Small wonder we’re graduating class after class of very expensively educated young American students who are quipped with no skills of use to society. Their inability to search, analyze and make well-informed judgments has been honed by a well-paid, tenured, professorial class who, themselves, are too quick to embrace, indeed promote, ill-founded pseudo-populist movements.

The earliest manifestations of the current boycott movement had its genesis back in 2001 during the anti-Israel, anti Semitic, so-called UN Conference Against Racism in Durban. It may as well have been held in Nuremberg as homage to the original fathers of group hate. The Durban conference labeled Israel an “apartheid state,” a charge so outrageous, so demonstrably false that those who embrace such calumny must be recognized for what they are – malevolent demagogues of the first order. Arabs serve in Israel’s Knesset, are among the most respected physicians in many leading hospitals, serve and even command troops in the IDF, and serve on Israel’s Supreme Court. Indeed, the policeman murdered while trying to protect worshippers during the synagogue massacre last week was an Israeli Druze Arab. He was accorded highest and somber military honors as the entire nation grieved for his sacrifice.

The current BDS iteration to delegitimize Israel started back in July of 2005, by 171 Palestinian NGO’s that saw in the anti-apartheid campaigns of South Africa a promising technique for attacking Israel. It is as disingenuous as was the Nazi campaigns of an earlier and darker era.

In September 2014, over 620 academics, signed an online petition, which states that the undersigned “vigorously support free speech and free debate but we oppose faculty or student boycotts of Israel’s academic institutions, scholars and students.” The petition states that the BDS movement “violates the very principle of academic freedom” and charges that it engages in “accusations and narratives” that are derived from “overstatements, cherry picked evidence, outright falsehood” or “disputed or highly biased data.”

But let us not be bogged down by facts. The cornerstone of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa was boycott and divestment, and that has become the rallying cry of those who want to delegitimize and marginalize (if not destroy) the Jewish State. Their activity is not pro-Palestinian. It is simply anti-Israel. They insist that Israel: (1) dismantle the barrier that brought a stop to weekly bus and restaurant bombings during the second Intifada, (2) retreat to indefensible, pre-June 5th 1967 borders, and (3) agree to the right of return of all who call themselves Palestinian refugees. In short, they really want Israel to commit suicide.

They are not so much pro-Palestinian as they are anti-Israel. An apt case-in-point is that of SodaStream, which operates a West Bank plant. The firm attracted international attention when Actress Scarlett Johansson bravely split with Oxfam International after the U.K.-based charity criticized her role appearing in company-sponsored commercials. SodaStream employs 1300 people at its West Bank plant of which 950 are well-paid Palestinian and Israeli Arabs. SodaStream has decided to relocate its plant elsewhere. The company will move on and continue to prosper. Its Arab employees may not, although the company is committed to securing, if it can, work permits for its Palestinian employees.

The BDS movement is not about Palestinian rights. It is about denying Israel’s legitimacy. It is a tactic in the war against Israel. Omar Barghouti, a senior leader of the BDS movement, has repeatedly expressed his opposition to Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people even within the 1967 borders. Thus, the real leadership of the BDS movement is opposed not only to Israel’s presence on the West Bank, but also to its very existence.

Richard Goldstone, a former South African Judge and leader in the fight against apartheid and certainly no Israel sycophant, summed it up quite well.

“One particularly pernicious and enduring canard that is surfacing again is that Israel pursues “apartheid” policies…It is an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel, calculated to retard rather than advance peace negotiations…I know all too well the cruelty of South Africa’s abhorrent apartheid system… In Israel, there is no apartheid…Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute…Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court. Arab patients lie alongside Jewish patients in Israeli hospitals, receiving identical treatment… But until there is a two-state peace, or at least as long as Israel’s citizens remain under threat of attacks from the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will see roadblocks and similar measures as necessary for self-defense, even as Palestinians feel oppressed. As things stand, attacks from one side are met by counterattacks from the other. And the deep disputes, claims and counterclaims are only hardened when the offensive analogy of “apartheid” is invoked…The security barrier was built to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks… Of course, the Palestinian people have national aspirations and human rights that all must respect. But those who conflate the situations in Israel and the West Bank and liken both to the old South Africa do a disservice to all who hope for justice and peace…”

Perhaps, it is time for thinking Americans to do some boycotting of their own. Perhaps, it is time to stop sending tuition money, alumni money and endowment money to so-called institutions of high learning that engage in such low judgment.

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Israel and the Palestinians: Waiting For Godot

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsJerusalem, Israel – November 16th 2014 – Traveling once again through this land, we are reminded of David Ben Gurion’s famous musing, “In this land, anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”

Then again, miracles can take a long time coming, and waiting for another miracle in this region can be like, well, waiting for Godot. Eerily similar to Samuel Beckett’s 1953 brilliant (though often misunderstood) masterpiece, Waiting for Godot, there does, indeed, seem to be a certain futility about this intractable and dangerous Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

And so the parties to the stalemate go about their business. The Palestinians, it seems, devote the totality of their energy to undoing a reality that was born two-thirds of a century ago, a reality they call the Nakbah, or the Catastrophe. They are strongly motivated by a sense of injustice — an injustice that has become their obsession.   The Israelis, on the other hand, have been propelled by their unbridled freedom — freedom to discover, to create, to invent, to innovate and the freedom to grow.

The Palestinian sense of ire was (and is) not without cause. There were certain to be winners and losers on both sides, when this swath of land that had no true national identification for nearly half a millennia was partitioned by the United Nations sixty-six years ago. And even today the greater Middle East is in turmoil largely as a result of the disarray created when the Ottoman Empire (Caliphate) collapsed nearly 100 years ago, and the land was then sliced and diced at the whims of the victors of the Great War.

A coterie of nations in the immediate region was created during the 20th Century. In fact, all of the nations in what we think of as the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq) are creations of England and France. Only Israel, of course, was created by the United Nations.

Today, there is no meaningful dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and the resulting vacuum best serves the interests of the rejectionists on both sides. The second Intifada, which began in 2000 and lasted for five years, effectively ended nearly all routine contact between Israelis and Palestinians. Prior to the second Intifada more than 200,000 Palestinians entered into Israel everyday and worked among Israelis. There was contact between the two peoples. Now, there is virtually none, except among the Palestinian Authority security forces and their Israeli counterparts. They do work together to try to keep a lid on what is boiling beneath the surface. Formal peace talks are moribund. No one is talking, and almost no one seems interested in talking. Israelis and Palestinians are, today, living in parallel universes.

I am reminded of a meeting I had on the West Bank during the first Intifada with the late Elias Freij, the Palestinian Mayor of Bethlehem. I was doing research for my novel, Heirs of Eden, and he agreed to meet with me in his office during a very trying and tense time. Mayor Freij, a man of peace, described what he called the two great tragedies of the Israeli-Arab conflict. He described the first tragedy as an Arab tragedy — the Arab refusal to accept the UN partition plan that would have created an Arab and Jewish State living side by side. The second tragedy, he believed, was an Israeli tragedy – the decision in ‘67 to hold onto essentially all the land Israel possessed following the six-day war, and Israel’s concurrent total lack of interest in pursuing negotiations with Palestinian leaders to establish a meaningful and (Freij believed) achievable and constructive peace between the two peoples. Ironically, two of the three Arab belligerents in the ’67 War have established peace with Israel (Egypt and Jordan) and the third (Syria) is rapidly disintegrating into who knows what. Violent extremism over the issue of Palestine has, over the intervening years, coalesced into a variety of violent and well-armed factions, most notably Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

The Palestinians seem locked in a tragic time warp. Israel, meanwhile, has evolved, during its nearly seven decades of independence, into a success story of historic proportions. The young country excels in just about everything. It’s people and institutions are among the world’s leaders in science, basic research, agriculture, high-tech innovation, medicine, economics, literature, every aspect of art and even aerospace. Prominent military analysts in America rate the Israeli Air Force as the best in the world, and its Army as one of the best in the world and the best in the Middle East.

With few exceptions, every high school graduate (men and women) is required to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) – three years for the men and two years for women. It is a rite of passage in Israel and the IDF is uniformly viewed as one of Israel’s most important and uniformly respected institutions. The young men and women of the IDF are the pride of the nation and they, in turn, take great pride in their country.   Their sense of duty is palpable.

Sad narratives fill the air in this part of the world. Israel is referred to as an occupying nation. The notion is widely accepted here and, indeed, throughout much of the world, even though the circumstances of Israel’s presence in the territory in which it maintains a presence do not conform to the definition of “occupation” as defined by the 1949 Geneva Convention. The UN and its constituent affiliates have simply redefined “occupation” (after the fact) to encompass Israel’s presence on the West Bank (and previously in Gaza). When Jordan controlled the West Bank following the end of the British Mandate period and up until the ’67 War, no one thought of that territory as being “occupied” by Jordan, nor did anyone ever think of Egypt as “occupying” the Gaza Strip. And, indeed, neither Jordan nor Egypt was an occupying power as defined by the Geneva Convention.

And, of course, there are even more toxic narratives. There is the narrative Arafat promoted that Israeli’s (Jews) have no historical or cultural ties to the Middle East, or that the Holocaust that annihilated so much of European Jewry was a Zionist fiction. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Kahmenei, has weighed in on the conflict with his version of a final solution to the conflict. Israel he has written must be annihilated. Its fate should be decided by referendum including all of the people involved — with the exception, of course, of the Israelis.

The timing of the Ayatollah’s tweeted message is curious and, perhaps, revealing having been released precisely two weeks before the deadline for agreement between the so-called P5 + 1 and Iran on limiting Iran’s nuclear development to non-military purposes. It seems, to us, very likely that he chose this incredibly delicate time to issue such an inflammatory and unwelcome statement to send a message. If so, it was a very troubling message indeed.

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians continues to be elusive. And just as there are those on both sides who are dedicated to keeping peace elusive, there are those who will keep searching for a way. Meanwhile, like Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, we wait.

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Republican Midterm Rout: Historic Opportunity or Passing Footnote.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIt was quite an evening. Republicans won every winable seat and a few that were considered unwinable. As the evening drew to a close last night, Republicans held 52 Senate seats with two more (Alaska and Louisiana) likely to fall into the fold, and even the Democrats presumed-safe Virginia seat tottering on the brink of going Republican. To add insult to injury, Republicans added at least 10 more house seats to their already substantial majority in the US House of Representatives, giving the GOP their biggest House majority since 1946.

Republicans bagged governorships in one key state after another including Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and even Maryland where Real Clear Politics declared the State a “Strong Democrat Hold” in their last pre-election forecast. Nate Silver, the nation’s most vaunted prognosticator gave Maryland Democrat Anthony Brown a 94% likelihood of trouncing Republican Larry Hogan, predicting Brown would win by nearly 10 points. Instead Hogan with what the press called “a shoestring budget” scored the most stunning upset in the nation in taking 54% of the Maryland vote. Forty-six years earlier (1968) Hogan’s father (also Larry Hogan) scored the nation’s biggest Congressional upset defeating Democrat Hervey Machen in Maryland’s 5th congressional district. Hogan, we believe, is one of a new crop of young, energetic Republicans that, hopefully, will help rebrand the GOP. In the interest of full disclosure, this essayist and Hogan’s father were business partners, close friends and I had the privilege of being a senior member of the campaign team that produced that stunning 1968 upset.

Given the low voter turn out (about 35%) the dollars spent per vote in this election was, well, ludicrous. The top ten Senate races cost an estimated $700 million – just for the top ten races! Nearly $500 million was spent on the top Senate races and just under $300 million was spent on the top House races, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Contrary to popular perception, the Democratic Senate and House Majority PACs, run by allies of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, have spent more than any other outside groups — $47.4 million and $29.5 million, respectively. The Karl Rove-led group American Crossroads spent the most on the GOP side — $21.7 million, followed by the conservative Freedom Partners Action Fund and the Ending Spending Action Fund, which have spent $21.5 billion and $21.3 million.

The depth and width of the Republican sweep was breathtaking. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback survived a race in which he was thought to be very vulnerable. Every race that could have gone the Republican’s way simply did. Republican Sen. Pat Roberts beat back a strong challenge from Independent Greg Orman, and Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito pocketed the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, “It’s the first time in 60 years we have sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate,” Capito said. In fact it’s the first time West Virginia has ever sent a women to the US Senate.

In Arkansas, former President Bill Clinton’s six trips to campaign for Democrat Mark Pryor came to naught with Republican Tom Cotton taking the Razorback State. In Colorado, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner trounced Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, and in North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis unseated incumbent Kay Hagan. Even powerful Tom Harken’s seat was lost to a Republican newcomer, Joni Ernst. Democratic hopes were dashed almost everywhere, with Republican David Perdue besting Democrat Michelle Nunn in Georgia, and Charlie Baker sending Democrat Martha Coakley packing in Massachusetts of all places.

But just what does it all mean? Possibly quite a lot…and possibly not much at all. It all depends on how the Republicans use their new-found mandate, or whether they use it at all. Do the Republicans really even have a mandate? That’s an easy question with an easy answer. They most certainly do. And if there was any doubt about that, President Obama put that to rest in a curious, carefully scripted statement on the eve of the election. “I’m not on the ballot,” the President said, “But make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them.” Well, fair enough. If that is, indeed, the case, those policies, “every single one of them” are subject to a huge second thought.

Actually, we believe the election was mostly a huge protest about a government that isn’t working as much as it was about a President (or his policies) that isn’t working.  Exit polls conducted by the Gallop Organization suggest that “fixing itself” is what most voters expect Congress to do. Only about 20% of voters claimed that the economy was their primary concern. While President Obama was an albatross around the necks of nearly every Democratic candidate, mostly it seemed to be his lack of leadership more than his policies that were driving voters to distraction. Voters want the machinery of government to start working again.

The country wants to see Washington act to create robust economic growth once again. They are unimpressed that the unemployment rate is going down, while earnings fail to go up. They know that that just means that more people are working, but earning less for their labor. They don’t like the drift toward America becoming a part-time work economy. They don’t like immigration policy being all talk and no action. And they want decisions on energy policy including some resolution of the Keystone pipeline spectacle. They want healthcare policies that create manageable costs without requiring families to juggle higher deductibles to produce affordable costs. And most of all they are desperate to see an end to gridlock in Washington.

Voters will largely look to the new Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell to unclog Washington. McConnell trounced Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes by a whopping 15 points. He has a mandate as he begins his sixth term in the Senate. McConnell understands what voters expect of him.

“We do have an obligation to work together on issues on which we agree,” he told supporters in Louisville. “I think I’ve shown that to be true in critical times in the past. I hope the president gives me the chance to show it again.”

He added: “Just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict.”

Make no mistake about it — more than anything, the electorate feels we have a terribly dysfunctional government, and two years from now if they still feel that way, the wave of 2014 will turn into the riptide of 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

Midterm Election 2014: We Have A Republic…If We Can Keep It.

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors We, of course, are paraphrasing Franklin.

When asked by a Mrs. Powell, a woman in the gathered crowd following the Constitutional Convention in 1787 whether we had a Republic or a Monarchy, Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” This bit of historical banter is not apocryphal. It was actually recorded by Constitution signer James McHenry in his diary that very moment on that very day.

Oh, how we wish Ben Franklin or any of those other incredible thinkers were around today to shake us from our self-destructive complacency.

We leave partisanship at the proverbial door as we pen this essay. Our republic, more than anything else, is what is at stake in this, and every other midterm election. And that is what we will address today.

Our Founders really had three choices when they convened to construct a new order from the ashes of British colonialism on this continent. They could have constructed an American monarchy, a democracy or a republic. They wisely chose a republican form of government (not to be confused with the political party of the same name) because they understood that it was the only construct that had a chance of serving the new nation well into the future.

A monarchy, they knew, would be of no redeeming value in America (although there were those who supported such a notion). After all, we had just suffered at least 25,000 dead or wounded in the revolution (a toll that to this day is second only to the American Civil War relative to population). We hadn’t thrown off the shackles of British monarchy to create an American monarchy.

Democracies had been tried and had never succeeded. Indeed, pure democracies have had horribly unintended consequences. The Federalist papers, especially Federalist 10, strongly warn against the tyranny to which pure democracies are almost certain to evolve. Indeed, a lynch mob is a pretty good example of pure democracy.

What emerged at Philadelphia in 1787 was a fledging republican form of government that changed the world, as they knew it, and bequeathed to us a nation full of challenge and promise, as we know it.

But there is one catch. It was what Franklin was alluding to when he told Mrs. Powell that we had a republic if we could keep it. Under this new republic the people would not vote for or against a single law at the national level. Instead, they would vote for people who would do that for them. The quality of our republic, he was telling Mrs. Powell, would be no better than the quality of the people the nation sent to represent them. That’s the very essence of a republic.

Power in America was to reside in a body of citizens (us) who elect others to exercise that power, according to law, on our behalf. Indeed, our most fundamental law, our constitution, guarantees numerous individual rights (liberties, if you will) that cannot be taken away or abridged — not even by our elected representatives. Our individual States are also republican in nature as Article IV of the federal constitution “guarantees to every State in this union, a republican form of government.”

James Madison wrote in Federalist10: “… democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they are violent in their deaths.” Fisher Ames who served in Congress during both of the Washington Administrations termed democracy “a government by the passions of the multitude, or, no less correctly, according to the vices and ambitions of their leaders.”

So our founders very wisely constructed a brilliant republican form of government that rested on a foundation of law embodied in the new and incredible Constitution of this very new nation. School children should probably be reminded of Franklin’s admonition to Mrs. Powell each and every day – “you have a republic, if you can keep it.”

So just what was Franklin’s point, or more succinctly, what is our point. Well, here’s the thing.   There is nothing magic about our Constitution or its ability to protect our republic. It is just a piece of paper if we, as a people, are not devoted to, indeed insistent upon, caring fiercely about the quality of the thinking and the intelligence of the people we send to Washington every two years.

As American citizens we have only begun to discharge our responsibility when we vote. And if we don’t vote, we deserve the government we get. The health of this republic is largely dependent upon the people being both informed about, and involved in, the issues of the day.

The issues of the day, this day, are all but overwhelming. Statistically, the economy looks better than it did a year ago, but few people are breathing a sigh of relief. Americans, according to the Gallop Organization, are showing little confidence in the future. There seems to be an almost pervasive dissatisfaction, if not dislike, of our elected representatives by the people.

According to a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and NPR, Americans want more effective government but a quarter of us believe that the federal government is a major threat to our personal rights and freedoms, half of us believe it is at least some threat and six out of 10 of us believe that the federal government does what is right only some of the time, and another 10 percent of us say it never does what is right.  Indeed, we Americans give our elected representatives in Washington a meager 9% approval rating.  Wow. Even Muammar Gaddafi, the butcher of Libya, did better with a 14% approval rating the last time we checked.

John Boehner, Speaker of House of Representatives seems unable to control the far right of his Party, which has resulted in the far right, in effect, controlling the House of Representatives. This is ironic, given that more moderate Republicans have pummeled Tea Party candidates in primary after primary this year. Republican voters turned their backs on Tea Party challengers in Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi, Kansas and Tennessee.

On the Senate side, Majority Leader Harry Reid, does, indeed, control his party, but has used his power recklessly; refusing to allow the Senate to be the more deliberative body the Founders intended it to be — especially when those who wish to deliberate are Republicans. Reid has quashed open debate and deep-sixed the Senate’s long-standing amendment process to an extent that makes a joke of the Senate’s role as America’s essential deliberative body.

Even Democratic challenger Rick Weiland from South Dakota vowed to vote against Reid if he (Weiland) makes it to the Senate. “Harry Reid (and Mitch McConnell) have given us the most dysfunctional government in a generation and they need to step aside,” Weiland said during a recent debate. “They have both failed the American people and it’s time for new leadership,” the gutsy Democrat said.

Absolute control over the Congress of the United States will be determined in just a few days. Think about that. All 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives will be selected Tuesday as will 36 out of 100 Senators. If the last midterm election (2010) is prologue to what will happen Tuesday, less than 40% of us will show up to determine who in Washington will exercise power on our behalf. What in the world is wrong with us?

Such widespread and pervasive complacency – such failure to exercise our right and our responsibility to vote is, if we might borrow from President Obama’s lexicon, just doing stupid stuff.

HEIRS OF EDEN available at Amazon.com,  on Kindle, Nook, Apple e-books and Ingram Books.

 

Ebola Ban – Let’s Look Before We Leap.

 Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsPerhaps, the fastest growing meme since the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins first coined the term in his 1976 best seller, “The Selfish Gene,” is the cable-news mantra – Stop Ebola, Quarantine West Africa. A solid majority (58%) of Americans recently polled now embrace the idea of a quarantine of West Africa. At best, it is a poorly thought-out idea. At worst, it is a disastrous idea.

It is a tantalizing coincidence that Dawkins’ notion of a meme (an idea that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing or speech in a manner that imitates the way genes self-replicate), was introduced to the world at almost the identical time that Mabalo Lokela, a school headmaster, came down with a mysterious illness along the banks of the Ebola River in Northern Zaire.

There is an intuitive appeal to the idea of isolating the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea where the disease is rampant. But the fact that such a notion is appealing doesn’t make it wise, or effective. The disease, while highly infectious (it spreads rapidly throughout the body of its victim), is actually not very contagious.

Let’s turn off the noise (especially cable news) for just a moment of reflection. Approximately 140 people a day were arriving, indirectly, in America last year from these affected West African nations. The first Ebola case of the current outbreak was reported in March of this year, about 200 days ago. So, let’s assume the same daily rate of travel into the United States this year of about 28,000 (140 X 200) travelers from the affected areas (actually, it is certain to be much less). To date, there have been only two cases of Ebola contracted in the United States, both by health-care workers who came in direct physical contact with the same dying Liberian victim of the disease. Now, admittedly, the longer the disease spreads in the three West African countries, the greater the risk of infected people from those countries showing up among those 145 visitors to the US each day. But so far, only one single case has emerged from among those travelers, which suggests that careful screening of incoming travelers, while not a perfect solution is better than quarantining all of West Africa, which would be just as imperfect.

Also consider this, no one who was in the home and living in close quarters with the victim (now deceased) before he was admitted to the hospital has contracted the disease, and no one has been reported with the disease in any of the other countries of the world where daily travel has been on-going for the last 200 days since the first case was reported.

In reviewing data for this essay we came across a paper delivered at the 35th Interscience conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy which was held in San Fransicso in 1995. The researchers studied the surviving members of 27 different households in which someone had been infected with Ebola. There were 173 household contacts within those 27 households, 28 of whom (16%) developed Ebola. Every one of those 28 cases had direct physical, hands on contact with the Ebola victim or the victim’s body fluids. None, we’ll repeat that, none of the 78 household members who had no physical contact with the victim during the clinical illness were infected…none!

The vast majority of Americans, it seems, would either approve or simply not object to a quarantine of West Africa. It would have been an easy call for President Obama, who is currently contending with a multitude of crises, to impose severe restrictions on travel to and from West Africa. Even Bill O’reilly, Shawn Hannity and Rush Limbaugh would have joined the more mainstream media in applauding. Instead, he listened to the experts at the world’s best disease control center, our own Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and they, unfortunately, let him down. They so emphasized the low level of contagion with Ebola that they severely downplayed the potential for infection among those who would be involved in physical contact with an Ebola patient, or his or her bodily waste, blood, swabs, urine, etc. So when two nurses who were in direct contact with the patient developed Ebola, it was, understandably, treated as an “outbreak” of Ebola in the United States, suggesting that as many of 800 people who were subsequently in some proximity to the two nurses were now at risk for coming down with Ebola. That is, in our judgment, simply an unrealistic projection of health risk.

The idea of imposing travel restrictions when communicable diseases erupt is not new. Mike Leavitt who was responsible for managing the 2005-2006 threat of the deadly H5N1 so-called bird flu when he was at Health and Human Services considered a travel ban. A travel ban “is intuitively attractive, and seems so simple,” Leavitt said. “We studied it intensely in preparation for H5N1, and I became persuaded that there are lots of problems with it.”

We have not imposed a quarantine on other areas of the world to stop a disease outbreak in recent memory. This is not the time to start given how thoroughly the disease is contained here.

“If we know anything in global health it’s that you can’t wrap a whole region in cellophane and expect to keep out a rapidly moving infectious disease. It doesn’t work that way,” according to Lawrence Gostin, a professor and global health expert at Georgetown University Law Center. “Ultimately people will flee one way or another, and the more infection there is and the more people there are, the more they flee and the more unsafe we are.”

People, who can escape from a disease ravaged area will. They will make their way to safety as far from the quarantined area as they can. If they are, indeed, highly contagious, they will infect others wherever they wind up, others who are not subject to travel bans. So it makes far more sense to concentrate our efforts on stopping the disease where it is active rather than trying to contain it, which in today’s world may turn out to be a fool’s errand that merely exacerbates the problem.

A quarantine of West Africa would simply increase illegal travel, which, in turn, would make it harder to effectively contain the disease. America’s Ebola “outbreak” is a fiction. Two people, who had close direct physical contact with an Ebola patient or the physical fluids or wastes attendant to his treatment have contracted the disease. No one else has.

Nearly all of the calls for quarantining West Africa have come from politicians and media talking heads. Almost none have come from medical experts or others who have studied past attempts to quarantine large geographical areas.

CDC has stumbled badly in its efforts to manage the Ebola narrative in America, and it certainly underestimated (or failed to communicate) the extreme demands required to protect the healthcare workers treating an Ebola patient. But, it seems to us, CDC understands quite well the communicable aspect of the disease as it relates to the general public.

Let’s cool the “Quarantine West Africa” rhetoric. We will disastrously further impoverish these countries while achieving no quantifiable additional protection for our own people.

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“Heirs of Eden” available at Amazon.com, Kindle, Nook, Apple e-books and Ingram Books

A New 30-Years’ War: Panetta’s Sobering Prediction

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsPredictions of a new 30-Years’ War between the West and radical Islam should send shivers down any sane person’s spine, especially when that prediction is made by someone of Leon Panetta’s stature.

Former Secretary of Defense Panetta has taken strong exception to the Obama notion that the threat of war has been receding. Quite the contrary, Panetta warns that Americans should prepare themselves for the country to be at war with the Islamic State and other terrorist groups for decades to come (emphasis added).

No one would (or should) ever accuse Leon Panetta of being self-serving, or of playing politics when it comes to our national interest or welfare, even if he has just published his memoires. Democrat Panetta is, by any standard, a great American patriot and an honorable public servant who has served his country with incredible distinction. President Obama appointed Panetta to serve as Director of the CIA where he oversaw the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden before tapping him to be Secretary of Defense in 2011. Panetta, who is now 76 years old, had served in Congress for 16 years before being asked to serve as Director of the Office of Management and Budget by President Bill Clinton and then as Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff. If anyone’s perspective on radical Islam or the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) should be taken very seriously, Panetta would be the perfect “go-to” guy.

Already, members of the Obama Administration are calling him disloyal, as have a few talking heads and some Administration sycophants in the press. But as Panetta replied in responding to such criticism, “you can’t put history on hold.” His point is a valid one. There are but a few truly qualified Americans who can provide meaningful perspective to an America desperate for such perspective as it faces threats on many fronts from Radical Islam. Leon Panetta has done so in his newly released memoire, “Worthy Fights.”

“I think we’re looking at kind of a 30-year war,” he says, one that will have to extend beyond Islamic State to include emerging threats in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere. Panetta blames President Obama for decisions he made over the past three years that have made that battle more difficult.

Panetta writes (as have we) that threats from other terrorist networks in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya as well as other countries will engage U.S. military for the foreseeable future. “The fight will not end when the U.S. defeats ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”

This corresponds with statements of other US officials including James Comey, Director of the FBI who believes the al-Qaeda offshoot Khorosan Group will, in fact, strike the United States very soon.

Panetta’s use of the conflict that history describes as the 30-years’war as analogous to where America finds itself today is, we think, quite significant. The Thirty Years’ War was an awful series of wars in Central Europe between 1618–1648. It was largely a religious war between Protestants and Catholics, and one of the most destructive conflicts in European history, and one of the longest. Radical Islam is at war with Christians, Jews, Hindus Shiites and even Sunni Muslims who are not Muslim enough for them. The current conflict with Radical Islam is every bit as gruesome as the historical 30-years’ War. Beheadings, crucifixions, firing squads, rape, kidnapping, forced conversions to an extent not seen since the inquisition, and pillage are all acceptable tactics.

The Thirty Years’ War, like the war the Islamic State is waging, saw the devastation of entire regions, with famine and disease significantly decreasing the populations of the conquered territories. And just as the forces of the Islamic State steal treasure, food and property, warriors in the armies during the historical 30-years’ war were expected to fund themselves by looting or extorting tribute at great cost to the inhabitants of occupied territories.

In an interview with USA TODAY’s video newsmaker series, Panetta says Obama erred:

– by not pushing the Iraqi government harder to allow a residual U.S. force to remain when troops withdrew in 2011, a deal he says could have been negotiated with more effort. That “created a vacuum in terms of the ability of that country to better protect itself, and it’s out of that vacuum that ISIS began to breed.”

– by rejecting the advice of top aides — including Panetta and then-secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — to begin arming Syrian rebels in 2012. If the U.S. had done so, “I do think we would be in a better position to know whether or not there is some moderate element in the rebel forces that are confronting (Syrian President Bashar) Assad.”

– by warning Assad not to use chemical weapons against his own people, then failing to act when that “red line” was crossed in 2013. Before ordering airstrikes, Obama said he wanted to seek congressional authorization, which predictably didn’t happen.

The reversal cost the United States credibility then and is complicating efforts to enlist international allies now to join a coalition against the Islamic State, Panetta says. “There’s a little question mark as to whether, the United States is going to stick this out? Is the United States going to be there when we need them?”

Showing leadership in the fight against ISIS is an opportunity “to repair the damage,” he says. It’s also a chance for Obama to get a fresh start after having “lost his way.”

Somewhat telling is the extent to which Panetta’s criticism parallels that of others who have left the Obama Administration including Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton and others who have no further aspirations for public office or lucrative book deals. Gates, who was generally complimentary of Obama, especially in his pursuit of Osama bin Laden, lamented, nonetheless, that “getting anything of consequence done (within the Administration) was so damnably difficult.”

Gates, was also critical of Obama’s handling of Afghanistan, feeling that Obama made military decisions based on political considerations, a criticism shared by other former White House officials.

As we have written in a recent essay, America cannot simply declare peace when our enemies are bent on war. Budgeting for our defense as though the threat of war has been receding, as the President has opined, is dangerous. The world has rarely been a tranquil place. Only 8 percent of recorded history (268 years out of 3400 years) has been free of war (NY Times, July 6, 2003). We do not seem to be living in a time characterized by those tranquil 268 non-consecutive years. The sooner we understand that the better.

Heirs of Eden now available at Amazon.com, Kindle, Nook, Apple e-books and Ingram Books.

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“We” Obama said, “Underestimated The Islamic State.” –But Who, Exactly, Is “We” ?

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsDuh! — as the kids like to say.

Or, as Shakespeare wrote over 400 years ago, “Something is rotten in the State of Denmark” (our apologies to the Danes). The reader may recall those words spoken by Marcellus to Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet while awaiting battle, to suggest that something was terribly wrong. Even more poignantly, Horatio responds, “Heaven will direct it.” Or, as we suggest, Obama may have reasoned, maybe it (ISIS) will just go away.

 Actually, we don’t know what the President was thinking. And while National Intelligence Director James Clapper may have taken the obligatory fall on the proverbial sword when he offered his mea culpa surprise at ISIS’s strength and the Iraqi army’s weakness, virtually no one else in the nation’s intelligence establishment is buying it.

One former senior Pentagon official who worked closely on the threat posed by Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq was flabbergasted. He told the award-winning news site, Daily Beast, “Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bullshitting.”

It has been widely reported that President Obama is not a big fan of the daily face-to-face intelligence briefings that have been a part of the daily routine at the White House for decades. He apparently prefers to read his Intel on his I-pad, and not waste time in a daily intelligence question and answer session. We have no problem with that, assuming the briefings are really given the time they deserve on the President’s I-pad. If we failed to detect so obvious a threat as ISIS, how are we expected to believe that our intelligence reporting will let us know when, for instance, Iran has cheated on whatever promises they make when the, now deadlocked, nuclear negotiations are completed.

The reality, it seems, isn’t so much that the White House didn’t have good intelligence about ISIS, but rather that the White House didn’t really place that high a priority on the information that was readily available. According to the Obama-friendly New York Times, “By late last year, classified American intelligence reports painted an increasingly ominous picture of a growing threat from Sunni extremists in Syria. Just as worrisome, they said, were reports of deteriorating readiness and morale among troops next door in Iraq. But the reports, they said, generated little attention in a White House consumed with multiple brush fires and reluctant to be drawn back into Iraq. “Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” said a senior American intelligence official. “They were preoccupied with other crises,” the official added. “This just wasn’t a big priority.”

Even the liberal leaning Brookings Institution weighed in on the controversy. “To anyone watching developments in Iraq from mid-2010 and Syria from early 2011, the recovery and rise of ISIS should have been starkly clear,” said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. “The organization (ISIS) itself was also carrying out an explicitly clear step-by-step strategy aimed at engendering the conditions that would feed its accelerated rise.”

It’s true. Remember, it was way back in January that ISIS rolled, unimpeded, into Fallujah and Ramadi in long, easy-to-detect convoys, some reported to be 100 trucks long, openly flying the ominous black al-Qaeda flags. These were cities in which al-Qaeda had been thoroughly routed during the surge of the Bush years. Last February the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, General Michael Flynn, warned in his annual threat assessment, “ISIL probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah.”

In that very same meeting, Clapper himself testified that ISIS was one of the three most effective radical Islamist groups operating in Syria. He predicted that ISIS could well become a magnet for attracting foreign fighters, which is, of course, exactly what has happened. CIA Director, Brennen, also testified back then that he thought both ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra, were a threat to launch jihad against the West. Even Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, testified back in February that Syria could become a launching point or way station for terrorists seeking to attack the United States or other nations.”

Over a year ago, CNN quoted a top intelligence official who said ISIS has “ruthlessly grown in effectiveness.” Last October a senior administration official said the terror group represented “a major and increasing threat” — to the region and to the United States.

Eight months ago, the military’s top intelligence official warned ISIS “will attempt to take territory…They will not go home when it is over. They will fight for that space. They are there for the long haul.”

Since then, officials have warned that ISIS wasn’t going anywhere — including in October, when a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call that the danger from ISIS was intensifying.

“This is really a major and increasing threat to Iraq’s stability … and it’s an increasing threat to us,” These were not random comments from the usual cast of talking heads. These observations and rather dire warnings were all very public assessments of ISIS coming from President Barack Obama’s own administration.

So, what in the world is going on here? It is evident to us, as it must be to everyone, that President Obama, understandably, did not want to see the country dragged back into a war that he had always opposed and that he had promised to end…forever. His confidantes are quick to tell us that the President believed America turned to the military option too fast and too often, and he may very well have been right. But that doesn’t absolve President Obama or any other President from acting when action is so obviously called for. His antipathy for President Bush’s policies, and his determination not to make what he considers to have been Bush’s excesses may have caused a sort of paralysis when it came to taking action that seemed too Bushesque, even when the threat had become so obvious.

ISIS took total control of Raqqa, Syria nine months ago. They also took Fallujah and moved into Ramada in Iraq back in January. By June they had taken Mosul which is to Iraq as Chicago is to the United States, its second largest city.

We were bemused by the recent statement of Frederic Hof, who was the State Department’s point man for Syria policy when he said, “I’m not suggesting anyone was asleep at the switch necessarily,” before going on to say that “ISIS definitely achieved strategic surprise when it rolled into Iraq,” which is, of course, saying that someone was, in fact, sleeping at the switch.

Something is very wrong, or as Shakespeare would say, rotten in Denmark, when the President blames our intelligence community for underestimating ISIS, when one intelligence report after another was clearly warning over and over again that we had a big problem brewing in Iraq and Syria.

The problem isn’t really ISIS either. ISIS is merely a current manifestation (one of many) of radical Islam. The radical Islamists have been cutting off heads, shooting people in mass, forcing conversions, seizing and taking women and girls, firing rockets at Israeli cities, pulling travelers off of buses and killing them (if they weren’t like them) for a long time now, and they will continue to do so for a long time to come. That’s the real problem facing the world today. That’s the defining issue of our day. And if we refuse to recognize that and fail to do whatever we can to stop it, then something really is rotten in Denmark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing The Threat of Radical Islam: Obama Takes Charge.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsPresident Obama has, at last, taken a strong stand against radical Islam, and, as far as it goes, he has done so impressively. Unfortunately, his otherwise strong and unambiguous address to the United Nations following dramatic strikes against IS, al-Nusra and the newest al-Qaeda offshoot, Khorasan, was disappointing (and perhaps telling) in the short shrift it gave to the recent war in Gaza and his failure to condemn Hamas for initiating a war that entirely was directed at Israeli civilians. He lamented that rockets were being fired at Israeli civilians and that children were among the casualties caused by return fire in Gaza — strong condemnation of radical Islamists elsewhere, but an almost moral equivalence with respect to the fight between Israelis and the Hamas terrorists. Specifically, President Obama told the delegates…

and the violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace. But let’s be clear: the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable. We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza. So long as I am President, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region, and the world will be more just with two states living side by side, in peace and security.”

Not a word about Hamas, its culture of death, its senseless murder of the three Israeli teenagers, its foiled attempt to kidnap and kill other Israeli civilians, nor its admonition for Muslims to kill Jews wherever they find them.

President Obama chose to separate Hamas from the rest of radical Islam when he said, “No God condones this terror.” Apparently, he has not read the Hamas charter, which condones and, in fact, demands in the name of Allah exactly this type of terror. “No grievance justifies these actions, “he said,” There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. But not apparently, when this brand of evil is practiced by Hamas. “So,” the President continued, “the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.” But, apparently, not the Hamas network of death – the network that brags that it loves death more than its enemy’s love life.

Now, we understand that identifying any Palestinian terror group, such as Hamas, with the “the brand of evil” the President finds beyond the pale might have compromised our objective of getting several Arab nations into the impressive coalition the President has successfully organized. The reality is, however, that the Arab nations that have joined with us have absolutely no love for Hamas, and were quite happy to see the group severely diminished in the recent Gaza war.

The President’s disappointing pass to Hamas aside, his action against IS, al-Nusra , the Khorasan Group in Syria and Iraq and al-Shabaab in Somalia has shown an impressive display of resolve, grit and global leadership. The debate over whether the President was being indecisive or deliberative since the Islamic State (ISIS) emerged with such fury this summer has, in our mind, been largely resolved.

Just today Turkey has moved to join Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain in the American organized and led coalition that also includes Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Albania, Croatia, New Zealand, Romania, South Korea and Iraqi Kurdistan with a number of other countries lining up to join the American led campaign against these new Islamic barbarians.

The current campaign in Syria and Iraq represents, by far, the most muscular response President Obama has demonstrated against radical Islam. Particularly impressive was the President’s decision to go after the leadership of the al-Qaeda affiliate, Khorasan, about which we apparently had very credible evidence of advanced plans to unleash 9/11 type mayhem on American soil. From early reports, it appears we decimated their leadership during the very first wave of attacks.

None other than Ayman al-Zawahiri, who assumed the leadership of al-Qaeda following Ben Laden’s death, apparently organized the Khorasan group. Zawahiri is reported to have dispatched an estimated 50 or more battle-hardened fighters to Syria to recruit from among the passport-holding foreign fighters, a cadre of killers to return home to execute major terrorist attacks against America and Great Britain. Apparently, the group has been concentrating on the development of difficult-to-detect and highly explosive materials that can be loaded into common toiletries to be used to bring down western airliners. American or other western intelligence agencies apparently learned where these terrorists were concentrated and successfully targeted them during the first wave of attacks in Syria.

We now know that the leader of Khorasan is (or was) a Kuwaiti named Muhsin al-Fadhli who is (was) considered an expert in launching attacks against mass transportation such as trains and airplanes. He very well may have been killed in the American-led attacks. Al-Fadhli has been of particular concern to American intelligence operatives because of his association with a heralded Yemini bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri who, in 2009 outfitted Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the ill-fated underwear bomber.

James Clapper, U.S. Director of National Intelligence has elevated his assessment of Khorasan as now being a real threat to people and facilities in the United States, and it may very well be this latest development that moved President Obama to, at last, be all in regarding the need to confront these groups. Khorasan’s successful recruiting of restive Muslims in the U.S. and Europe is cause for alarm and may be what has brought President Obama to a better understanding of the threat we face. Our guess is that the President is not apt to talk about the threat of war receding or greater tranquility taking hold in the world anytime soon. Sadly, such rhetoric simply bears no relationship to present day reality.

Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore says “Syria is a very rich recruiting ground for the Khorasan Group,” which targets primarily first-and second-generation European immigrants because “it’s much easier to train them, motivate them, give them a network and send them back to the west.” The problem, Gunaratna says, is that it will be difficult for Western governments to know who they are. That reality has apparently been a strong wake-up call for US intelligence personnel and the White House.

We, as a nation and President Obama as our President, will have to come to grips with the reality that this struggle is not about this or that terrorist group. It is about radical Islam and the absolute incompatibility of radical Islam and the modern nation state. It is, in our judgment, extremely important that America grasps the implications of this threat to world order. Vicious and bloody religious war reigned throughout much of history until the emergence, in 1648, of the nation state as the paradigm for world order. Radical Islam, at its heart, seeks to eliminate that world order, replacing it with a universal caliphate. While it is unthinkable that such a day could come to pass, it is, nonetheless, what radical Islam is all about, and its adherents will pursue that end to the detriment of western culture.

When al-Qaeda and Islamic State and Khorasan and Boko Haram and al-Shabaab have all been vanquished, the struggle is apt to continue as new organizations with equally strange names pick up the banner of conquest in the name of Islam.

As we have written in prior essays, only westward leaning forces within Islam can, ultimately, end this new incarnation of religious war. Until then, we must resolve to confront these retrograde forces that threaten us or any of our democratic allies. President Obama has, at last, responded forcefully and skillfully to radical Islam in Iraq and Syria. Hopefully, he will continue to confront those who are sworn enemies of western culture wherever and whenever they attack American interests or those of our allies.

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