21 February 2011
I Thought I Voted for Change. . .
To give voice to my plaint, I shall dare to touch the third rail of US foreign policy since 1967: unwavering, international political, financial and military support for Israel regardless of the issue. This weekend, the UN Security Council voted to forbid Israel from building new settlements in Occupied Territory and to withdraw from previously seized land and buildings on the West Bank. The vote was 14 to 1 and, because the US is a charter member, the "no" vote by Ambassador Rice defeated the measure. Had the Security Council passed the measure, the United Nations would have become obligated to enforce it. Despite the fact that acquiring occupied territory and forcing the displacement of conquered populations is already against international law, UN procedures require a Security Council vote to act with UN resources.
Secretary Clinton and President Obama have expressed displeasure with the Israeli government's continual expansion of Israeli settlements for laying claim to Palestinian territory. Once, as I recall, Israel put a halt on new construction because of American complaints. Not this time. It appears to me that Vice President Biden, a fiercely loyal and vociferous supporter of anything Israeli, won the day when Clinton and Obama discussed the UN vote with him. I find it ironic that George Bush and Dick Cheney decided early on that paying attention to the Israelis and Palestinians really didn't matter in the larger scope of Middle East politics and so they ignored the 50+ year conflict.
The mass media and the American public seem to have forgotten Arial Sharon's prophetic dictum on building the State of Israel with new settlements and controlling the infrastructure in the West Bank. "Facts on the ground." To date, only internal political pressure within Israel has caused settlements to be closed and the Gaza region to regain some political autonomy from Israeli occupation.
I admired the way the newly inaugurated President Obama went to Cairo in 2009 and spoke in rational terms about his Administration's intended relationship with the nations of the Middle East and North Africa. He spoke as if Christians and Muslims were equally and validly religious. He said he would withdraw combat [viz., occupation] forces from Iraq by 2011, but that he would pursue Al Qaeda terrorists throughout the region and the world. The speech was well-formed and conciliatory. Since then, Secretary Clinton, Special Envoy Holbrooke and General Petraus have pursued a behind-the-scenes diplomacy of encouraging stability and of more reasoned actions by that region's governments. Uncertainty about Pakistan and Afghan political predictability consumed most of the public discourse in the US media and Administration speeches. I still believe that Pakistan remains the greatest threat to the Pax Americana. Another threat would be any involvement of Al-Qaeda in the piracy operations in the Indian Ocean and Coastal Africa.
Then last month, the governments of Tunisia and Egypt fell and street demonstrations in Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain and Libya revealed significant, popular dissatisfaction with their governments.
Several policy wags in Washington declared that President Obama was blind-sided by these very important developments within our regional allies. Initial Egyptian reports from US media concluded that the success of Tunisia's ousting of its president caused a spontaneous uprising of the people in Egypt and chat our major concern was a Muslim Brotherhood takeover. Fortunately, news from Cairo came via Al-Jazeera after Western reporters were harassed into hiding by pro-regime operatives. [This was change: at one time the Bush Administration had designated Al-Jazeera a terrorist organization! Now, it is a respected news organization.] I watched as many as possible of Al-Jazeera’s broadcasts on FreeSpeechTV. They provided additional programming about the history of the Egyptian resistance movement and, guess what, the "spontaneous" uprising's organizers had begun planning it nine years ago. Al-Jazeera's contextual reporting was not picked up by CNN. To me, though, the long-term planning and training by anti-Mubarak groups could not have gone on without the knowledge of US Intelligence. I believe President Obama received good advice from his staff and concluded that US direct intervention would be neither wise nor necessary.
However, this weekend's vote in the Security Council and the US veto signaled "no change" in US policy re the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Didn't anyone learn the radical message delivered by the horrific attacks of 9/11? Until the US begins to treat the Israelis and Palestinians as equal entities, each with valid if conflicting objectives and wounds, there will be the same, underlying cause of emotional and visceral disdain of the US government's Middle Eastern political goals among the people in the Middle East. Almost all reasoning has disappeared from US policy; unquestioning support of Israel is intuitively good--even when our policy causes the 9/11 mentality among radical terrorists aiming to attack the US, its real and perceived allies, and American citizens abroad.
The governments of Jordan and Yemen have initiated internal talks about making their respective governmental processes more inclusive. Predictably, Syria, Bahrain and Libya responded with armed suppression of dissent. Saudi Arabia’s population has a large, immigrant faction but they do not vote and can be expelled easily. In Iran, another area of knee-jerk punditry on American television, its internal political pendulum appears to be moving back toward the mullahs. The zealot civilian government has failed to keep the mullahs’ support and Iran’s middle class is demonstrating for a regime change there. Because Iranians are not Semitic, any interference by Iran into the Arab countries’ internal politics would be tolerated only in the short-run, because the predominant Islamic sect among the Arabs of North Africa and the Middle East is Sunni.