TRUMP’S HARMFUL “PILGRIMAGE” TO DISGRACE, DISCREDIT AND DISUNITY

TRUMP’S HARMFUL “PILGRIMAGE” TO DISGRACE, DISCREDIT AND DISUNITY

By

Harry C. Blaney III

Trump is back from his first trip as president but the harm he did on that trip has not ceased. Indeed it has increased with the recent decision to leave the Paris climate change accord. The reverberations from Europe and the Middle East continue. There is no place that he set font on tht did not create for security, unity ans stability of the global commons and our nations position in the world. Now it is far worse by Trump’s ignoring the great danger to the world which almost all nations recognize and followed the leadership of President Obama and many other nations. America has been diminished greatly by Trump’s incredible actions.

Given the reading I have done of European reactions both government and media and my recent visit to Europe we have lost greatly by Trump’s actions. We lost more in those short days than all the efforts of Putin and his Russian minions in the last decade trying to divide the West. One top headline of a writer for the Financial Times (a conservative paper) said ” Erratic Trump is destabilising the world.” Another affirmation of our loss is Germany’s leader Angela Merkel who has recently said, in effect, that Europe can’t trust the U.S. because of Trump. So much for “Making America Great.”

The recent dishonourable global travels of Donald Trump have resulted in more disgrace for America. The subtle and sometimes not so subtle rejection of Trump’s vision of a world enhanced by chaos through Trump’s often embrace of the worst behavior of dictatorships and brutal people of the world is but one example that has striped America of its credibility and respect.

This after revelations of more evidence that there could be evidence of collusion between the Trump associates and Russian agents, reports of efforts by him to sabotage the federal investigation of himself and his gang of incompetents. We see his continued lying and display of madness. We have him cutting American diplomacy and assistance budgets some 30% which belie anyone who thinks he takes our global challenges seriously. No interlocutors on this trip and his action on global warming can take what he says with believability and act on them and expect support.

His first stop in Saudi Arabia was a demonstration of the power of the mutual connivance between two forces of disruption, authoritarian rule and brutality. Not since the infamous Hitler-Stalin Pact before WW II have we rarely seen such discredited leaders see their mutual interest in support of killing others, in ignoring discrimination against woman, and disparaging of democracy. On the part of Trump we saw acceptance of national Saudi leaders who’s funding and actions have help to fuel the spread of the extremist Islamist Wahhabi Salafist ideology that Trump once so vied against. Yes, we can call that hypocrisy.

While accepting the lavish opulence and honors of this dictatorial regime behind the brutal murder of thousands of civilians in Yemen via mostly in-discriminative bombing, which is against the law of war and humanitarian norms, Trump signed a $460 billion, ten year arms deal with Saudi Arabia. This will mean even more bombing, more conflict. It will help lead a mad arms race against Saudi Arabia’s main nemesis Iran. This will do nothing to assist a conciliation of the two main lines of Islam Sunni and Shia. This brutal theocracy oppresses its people and has spent billions of dollars exporting their extreme Wahhabi Islamic ideology around the world—the very same ideology fueling terror groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. His efforts to make worse the Sunni-Shia divide is putting America into a dark caldron of taking sides in Middle East religious conflict. His actions only support the concept that his aim is to create total chaos and keep the world off balance and demoralized.

The visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority was with the stated aim of bring the two together but it was clear that Trump was far more on the side of Israel but he recognized if he could create some agreement between the two sides it would be a “big win” for him but he does not have a clue of the key issues and does not seem to want to learn in any depth on this complex problem. In fact he walked away without a truly any specific breakthroughs.

The NATO Brussels visit was a total disaster and Trump talks and behavior was seen as causing much hurt to the alliance, which clearly frightened or allies and was criticized throughout European media. Not least is Trump’s decision not to mention NATO’s Article 5 of supporting a member country under attack. His nasty hectoring our allies on financial support for “NATO” was likely counter productive in the long run. The result was growing distrust of Trump thus of American commitment. One of the great historic blunders in the face of the Russian active efforts to undermine democracy and divide the Atlantic community.

His visit to see the Pope was almost surreal with Francis asking Trump, the instigator of actions and views antithetical to Christian beliefs let alone those of the Catholic church especially on dealing with the calamitous impact on all humanity of coming climate change. Nor was there any sign that Trump would respond to any peas for humanitarian actions to assist refugees.

The meeting in Sicily of the G-7 of the most powerful nations which include heads of state or Government of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom and the Presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission who on their own without the United State reaffirmed their strong commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement, “as previously stated at the Ise-Shima Summit.” This division was largely a first for the group and a sign of the disunity that will likely ensue. It was here that the disunity of the world community was most glaringly shown due to Trump rejection of action on climate change.

The sum of Trump’s action is that he has made America diminished and in greater danger from the external forces at work and made our adversaries more powerful and certainly Putin acts like he has a ”puppet” that has helped him achieve all he could not do on his own to advance Russian agenda to destroy the unity of the West.

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SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY’S MIDDLE EAST SPEECH: FULL TEXT

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY’S PERSPECTIVE ON A MIDDLE EAST PEACE: FULL TEXT

 Commentary By Harry C. Blaney III:

Given its overriding importance as a major overview of the Middle East peace issue from our most experienced and highest diplomat this speech deserves a full reading especially to those that only read the extreme and incorrect criticism of this decision.

We all need to read the very balanced and full elements of our policy including the fact that the strongest military help to Israeli was under Obama of any administration. Kerry has also indicated how the right-wing Likud government has undermined a true peace that is fair to all sides by its illegal Israeli massive accelerated building of settlements especially since 2012 and now with some 400,000 settlers on the Palestinian land of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Already the explosive statements from Netanyahu seem to be another defense of the defenseless given effort to destroy the two state solution and to unilaterally take over the entire West bank. I agree with Kerry that the settlement are incompatible with peace in the region and security of both Israeli and Palestine. It means, in my view, continued instability and conflict without end in the region. That is not in American interests and values like Kerry has stated. Since visiting Israel in the 1970s on a mission to help Israel’s environmental and other efforts I have had a strong affinity for Israel’s security and especially its democratic and humane values, but that set of values, like the one we are seeing soon in the White House and the GOP Congress, has been displaced by a far right regime devoted to what seems to the ultimate destruction of that democratic and dynamic nation and its security.

What scares me more than anything is that Trump may only exacerbate globaly the move towards hate, conflict, and prejudice that already now exists and supports actions that are contrary to peace and democracy. We see that already in Trumps other “good friends” like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Nigel Farage the right wing racist former leader of the UK Independent Party, and Marine Le Pen the leader of the neo-fascist National Front in France, and not least the barbarous murderous head of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte.

There is a point when we need to recognize the fragility of democracy and decency at home and abroad and come to its aid and stand united in its defense.

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John Kerry Remarks on Middle East Peace Remarks (Department Text)
John Kerry, Secretary of State
The Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
December 28, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very, very much. Thank you. (Coughs.) Excuse me. Thank you for your patience, all of you. For those of you who celebrated Christmas, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. Happy Chanukah. And to everybody here, I know it’s the middle of a holiday week. I understand. (Laughter.) But I wish you all a very, very productive and Happy New Year.

Today, I want to share candid thoughts about an issue which for decades has animated the foreign policy dialogue here and around the world – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Throughout his Administration, President Obama has been deeply committed to Israel and its security, and that commitment has guided his pursuit of peace in the Middle East. This is an issue which, all of you know, I have worked on intensively during my time as Secretary of State for one simple reason: because the two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors. It is the only way to ensure a future of freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people. And it is an important way of advancing United States interests in the region.

Now, I’d like to explain why that future is now in jeopardy, and provide some context for why we could not, in good conscience, stand in the way of a resolution at the United Nations that makes clear that both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace.

I’m also here to share my conviction that there is still a way forward if the responsible parties are willing to act. And I want to share practical suggestions for how to preserve and advance the prospects for the just and lasting peace that both sides deserve.

So it is vital that we have an honest, clear-eyed conversation about the uncomfortable truths and difficult choices, because the alternative that is fast becoming the reality on the ground is in nobody’s interest – not the Israelis, not the Palestinians, not the region – and not the United States.

Now, I want to stress that there is an important point here: My job, above all, is to defend the United States of America – to stand up for and defend our values and our interests in the world. And if we were to stand idly by and know that in doing so we are allowing a dangerous dynamic to take hold which promises greater conflict and instability to a region in which we have vital interests, we would be derelict in our own responsibilities.

Regrettably, some seem to believe that the U.S. friendship means the U.S. must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests, our own positions, our own words, our own principles – even after urging again and again that the policy must change. Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.

Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, who does not support a two-state solution, said after the vote last week, quote, “It was to be expected that Israel’s greatest ally would act in accordance with the values that we share,” and veto this resolution. I am compelled to respond today that the United States did, in fact, vote in accordance with our values, just as previous U.S. administrations have done at the Security Council before us.

They fail to recognize that this friend, the United States of America, that has done more to support Israel than any other country, this friend that has blocked countless efforts to delegitimize Israel, cannot be true to our own values – or even the stated democratic values of Israel – and we cannot properly defend and protect Israel if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes.

And that’s the bottom line: the vote in the United Nations was about preserving the two-state solution. That’s what we were standing up for: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors. That’s what we are trying to preserve for our sake and for theirs.

In fact, this Administration has been Israel’s greatest friend and supporter, with an absolutely unwavering commitment to advancing Israel’s security and protecting its legitimacy.

On this point, I want to be very clear: No American administration has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama’s. The Israeli prime minister himself has noted our, quote, “unprecedented” military and intelligence cooperation. Our military exercises are more advanced than ever. Our assistance for Iron Dome has saved countless Israeli lives. We have consistently supported Israel’s right to defend itself, by itself, including during actions in Gaza that sparked great controversy.

Time and again we have demonstrated that we have Israel’s back. We have strongly opposed boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting Israel in international fora, whenever and wherever its legitimacy was attacked, and we have fought for its inclusion across the UN system. In the midst of our own financial crisis and budget deficits, we repeatedly increased funding to support Israel. In fact, more than one-half of our entire global Foreign Military Financing goes to Israel. And this fall, we concluded an historic $38 billion memorandum of understanding that exceeds any military assistance package the United States has provided to any country, at any time, and that will invest in cutting-edge missile defense and sustain Israel’s qualitative military edge for years to come. That’s the measure of our support.

This commitment to Israel’s security is actually very personal for me. On my first trip to Israel as a young senator in 1986, I was captivated by a special country, one that I immediately admired and soon grew to love. Over the years, like so many others who are drawn to this extraordinary place, I have climbed Masada, swum in the Dead Sea, driven from one Biblical city to another. I’ve also seen the dark side of Hizballah’s rocket storage facilities just across the border in Lebanon, walked through exhibits of the hell of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem, stood on the Golan Heights, and piloted an Israeli jet over the tiny airspace of Israel, which would make anyone understand the importance of security to Israelis. Out of those experiences came a steadfast commitment to Israel’s security that has never wavered for a single minute in my 28 years in the Senate or my four years as Secretary.

I have also often visited West Bank communities, where I met Palestinians struggling for basic freedom and dignity amidst the occupation, passed by military checkpoints that can make even the most routine daily trips to work or school an ordeal, and heard from business leaders who could not get the permits that they needed to get their products to the market and families who have struggled to secure permission just to travel for needed medical care.

And I have witnessed firsthand the ravages of a conflict that has gone on for far too long. I’ve seen Israeli children in Sderot whose playgrounds had been hit by Katyusha rockets. I’ve visited shelters next to schools in Kiryat Shmona that kids had 15 seconds to get to after a warning siren went off. I’ve also seen the devastation of war in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian girls in Izbet Abed Rabo played in the rubble of a bombed-out building.

No children – Israeli or Palestinian – should have to live like that.

So, despite the obvious difficulties that I understood when I became Secretary of State, I knew that I had to do everything in my power to help end this conflict. And I was grateful to be working for President Obama, who was prepared to take risks for peace and was deeply committed to that effort.

Like previous U.S. administrations, we have committed our influence and our resources to trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict because, yes, it would serve American interests to stabilize a volatile region and fulfill America’s commitment to the survival, security and well-being of an Israel at peace with its Arab neighbors.

Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy.

The truth is that trends on the ground – violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation – they are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want.

Today, there are a number – there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They have a choice. They can choose to live together in one state, or they can separate into two states. But here is a fundamental reality: if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both – and it won’t ever really be at peace. Moreover, the Palestinians will never fully realize their vast potential in a homeland of their own with a one-state solution.

Now, most on both sides understand this basic choice, and that is why it is important that polls of Israelis and Palestinians show that there is still strong support for the two-state solution – in theory. They just don’t believe that it can happen.

After decades of conflict, many no longer see the other side as people, only as threats and enemies. Both sides continue to push a narrative that plays to people’s fears and reinforces the worst stereotypes rather than working to change perceptions and build up belief in the possibility of peace.

And the truth is the extraordinary polarization in this conflict extends beyond Israelis and Palestinians. Allies of both sides are content to reinforce this with an us or – “you’re with us or against us” mentality where too often anyone who questions Palestinian actions is an apologist for the occupation and anyone who disagrees with Israel policy is cast as anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic.

That’s one of the most striking realties about the current situation: This critical decision about the future – one state or two states – is effectively being made on the ground every single day, despite the expressed opinion of the majority of the people.

The status quo is leading towards one state and perpetual occupation, but most of the public either ignores it or has given up hope that anything can be done to change it. And with this passive resignation, the problem only gets worse, the risks get greater and the choices are narrowed.

This sense of hopelessness among Israelis is exacerbated by the continuing violence, terrorist attacks against civilians and incitement, which are destroying belief in the possibility of peace.

Let me say it again: There is absolutely no justification for terrorism, and there never will be.

And the most recent wave of Palestinian violence has included hundreds of terrorist attacks in the past year, including stabbings, shootings, vehicular attacks and bombings, many by individuals who have been radicalized by social media. Yet the murderers of innocents are still glorified on Fatah websites, including showing attackers next to Palestinian leaders following attacks. And despite statements by President Abbas and his party’s leaders making clear their opposition to violence, too often they send a different message by failing to condemn specific terrorist attacks and naming public squares, streets and schools after terrorists.

President Obama and I have made it clear to the Palestinian leadership countless times, publicly and privately, that all incitement to violence must stop. We have consistently condemned violence and terrorism, and even condemned the Palestinian leadership for not condemning it.

Far too often, the Palestinians have pursued efforts to delegitimize Israel in international fora. We have strongly opposed these initiatives, including the recent wholly unbalanced and inflammatory UNESCO resolution regarding Jerusalem. And we have made clear our strong opposition to Palestinian efforts against Israel at the ICC, which only sets back the prospects for peace.

And we all understand that the Palestinian Authority has a lot more to do to strengthen its institutions and improve governance.

Most troubling of all, Hamas continues to pursue an extremist agenda: they refuse to accept Israel’s very right to exist. They have a one-state vision of their own: all of the land is Palestine. Hamas and other radical factions are responsible for the most explicit forms of incitement to violence, and many of the images that they use are truly appalling. And they are willing to kill innocents in Israel and put the people of Gaza at risk in order to advance that agenda.

Compounding this, the humanitarian situation in Gaza, exacerbated by the closings of the crossings, is dire. Gaza is home to one of the world’s densest concentrations of people enduring extreme hardships with few opportunities. 1.3 million people out of Gaza’s population of 1.8 million are in need of daily assistance – food and shelter. Most have electricity less than half the time and only 5 percent of the water is safe to drink. And yet despite the urgency of these needs, Hamas and other militant groups continue to re-arm and divert reconstruction materials to build tunnels, threatening more attacks on Israeli civilians that no government can tolerate.

Now, at the same time, we have to be clear about what is happening in the West Bank. The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements. The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as “more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history,” are leading in the opposite direction. They’re leading towards one state. In fact, Israel has increasingly consolidated control over much of the West Bank for its own purposes, effectively reversing the transitions to greater Palestinian civil authority that were called for by the Oslo Accords.

I don’t think most people in Israel, and certainly in the world, have any idea how broad and systematic the process has become. But the facts speak for themselves. The number of settlers in the roughly 130 Israeli settlements east of the 1967 lines has steadily grown. The settler population in the West Bank alone, not including East Jerusalem, has increased by nearly 270,000 since Oslo, including 100,000 just since 2009, when President Obama’s term began.

There’s no point in pretending that these are just in large settlement blocks. Nearly 90,000 settlers are living east of the separation barrier that was created by Israel itself in the middle of what, by any reasonable definition, would be the future Palestinian state. And the population of these distant settlements has grown by 20,000 just since 2009. In fact, just recently the government approved a significant new settlement well east of the barrier, closer to Jordan than to Israel. What does that say to Palestinians in particular – but also to the United States and the world – about Israel’s intentions?

Let me emphasize, this is not to say that the settlements are the whole or even the primary cause of this conflict. Of course they are not. Nor can you say that if the settlements were suddenly removed, you’d have peace. Without a broader agreement, you would not. And we understand that in a final status agreement, certain settlements would become part of Israel to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 49 years – we understand that – including the new democratic demographic realities that exist on the ground. They would have to be factored in. But if more and more settlers are moving into the middle of Palestinian areas, it’s going to be just that much harder to separate, that much harder to imagine transferring sovereignty, and that is exactly the outcome that some are purposefully accelerating.

Let’s be clear: Settlement expansion has nothing to do with Israel’s security. Many settlements actually increase the security burden on the Israeli Defense Forces. And leaders of the settler movement are motivated by ideological imperatives that entirely ignore legitimate Palestinian aspirations.

Among the most troubling illustrations of this point has been the proliferation of settler outposts that are illegal under Israel’s own laws. They’re often located on private Palestinian land and strategically placed in locations that make two states impossible. There are over 100 of these outposts. And since 2011, nearly one-third of them have been or are being legalized, despite pledges by past Israeli governments to dismantle many of them.

Now leaders of the settler movement have advanced unprecedented new legislation that would legalize most of those outposts. For the first time, it would apply Israeli domestic law to the West Bank rather than military law, which is a major step towards the process of annexation. When the law passed the first reading in the Israeli parliament, in the Knesset, one of the chief proponents said proudly – and I quote – “Today, the Israeli Knesset moved from heading towards establishing a Palestinian state towards Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.” Even the Israeli attorney general has said that the draft law is unconstitutional and a violation of international law.

Now, you may hear from advocates that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace because the settlers who don’t want to leave can just stay in Palestine, like the Arab Israelis who live in Israel. But that misses a critical point, my friends. The Arab Israelis are citizens of Israel, subject to Israel’s law. Does anyone here really believe that the settlers will agree to submit to Palestinian law in Palestine?

Likewise, some supporters of the settlements argue that the settlers could just stay in their settlements and remain as Israeli citizens in their separate enclaves in the middle of Palestine, protected by the IDF. Well, there are over 80 settlements east of the separation barrier, many located in places that would make a continuous – a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. Does anyone seriously think that if they just stay where they are you could still have a viable Palestinian state?

Now, some have asked, “Why can’t we build in the blocs which everyone knows will eventually be part of Israel?” Well, the reason building there or anywhere else in the West Bank now results in such pushback is that the decision of what constitutes a bloc is being made unilaterally by the Israeli Government, without consultation, without the consent of the Palestinians, and without granting the Palestinians a reciprocal right to build in what will be, by most accounts, part of Palestine. Bottom line – without agreement or mutuality, the unilateral choices become a major point of contention, and that is part of why we are here where we are.

You may hear that these remote settlements aren’t a problem because they only take up a very small percentage of the land. Well, again and again we have made it clear, it’s not just a question of the overall amount of land available in the West Bank. It’s whether the land can be connected or it’s broken up into small parcels, like a Swiss cheese, that could never constitute a real state. The more outposts that are built, the more the settlements expand, the less possible it is to create a contiguous state. So in the end, a settlement is not just the land that it’s on, it’s also what the location does to the movement of people, what it does to the ability of a road to connect people, one community to another, what it does to the sense of statehood that is chipped away with each new construction. No one thinking seriously about peace can ignore the reality of what the settlements pose to that peace.

But the problem, obviously, goes well beyond settlements. Trends indicate a comprehensive effort to take the West Bank land for Israel and prevent any Palestinian development there. Today, the 60 percent of the West Bank known as Area C – much of which was supposed to be transferred to Palestinian control long ago under the Oslo Accords – much of it is effectively off limits to Palestinian development. Most today has essentially been taken for exclusive use by Israel simply by unilaterally designating it as “state land” or including it within the jurisdiction of regional settlement councils. Israeli farms flourish in the Jordan River Valley, and Israeli resorts line the shores of the Dead Sea – a lot of people don’t realize this – they line the shore of the Dead Sea, where Palestinian development is not allowed. In fact, almost no private Palestinian building is approved in Area C at all. Only one permit was issued by Israel in all of 2014 and 2015, while approvals for hundreds of settlement units were advanced during that same period.

Moreover, Palestinian structures in Area C that do not have a permit from the Israeli military are potentially subject to demolition. And they are currently being demolished at an historically high rate. Over 1,300 Palestinians, including over 600 children, have been displaced by demolitions in 2016 alone – more than any previous year.

So the settler agenda is defining the future of Israel. And their stated purpose is clear. They believe in one state: greater Israel. In fact, one prominent minister, who heads a pro-settler party, declared just after the U.S. election – and I quote – “the era of the two-state solution is over,” end quote. And many other coalition ministers publicly reject a Palestinian state. And they are increasingly getting their way, with plans for hundreds of new units in East Jerusalem recently announced and talk of a major new settlement building effort in the West Bank to follow.

So why are we so concerned? Why does this matter? Well, ask yourself these questions: What happens if that agenda succeeds? Where does that lead?

There are currently about 2.75 million Palestinians living under military occupation in the West Bank, most of them in Areas A and B – 40 percent of the West Bank – where they have limited autonomy. They are restricted in their daily movements by a web of checkpoints and unable to travel into or out of the West Bank without a permit from the Israelis.

So if there is only one state, you would have millions of Palestinians permanently living in segregated enclaves in the middle of the West Bank, with no real political rights, separate legal, education, and transportation systems, vast income disparities, under a permanent military occupation that deprives them of the most basic freedoms. Separate and unequal is what you would have. And nobody can explain how that works. Would an Israeli accept living that way? Would an American accept living that way? Will the world accept it?

If the occupation becomes permanent, over the time the Palestinian Authority could simply dissolve, turn over all the administrative and security responsibilities to the Israelis. What would happen then? Who would administer the schools and hospitals and on what basis? Does Israel want to pay for the billions of dollars of lost international assistance that the Palestinian Authority now receives? Would the Israel Defense Force police the streets of every single Palestinian city and town?

How would Israel respond to a growing civil rights movement from Palestinians, demanding a right to vote, or widespread protests and unrest across the West Bank? How does Israel reconcile a permanent occupation with its democratic ideals? How does the U.S. continue to defend that and still live up to our own democratic ideals?

Nobody has ever provided good answers to those questions because there aren’t any. And there would be an increasing risk of more intense violence between Palestinians and settlers, and complete despair among Palestinians that would create very fertile ground for extremists.

With all the external threats that Israel faces today, which we are very cognizant of and working with them to deal with, does it really want an intensifying conflict in the West Bank? How does that help Israel’s security? How does that help the region?

The answer is it doesn’t, which is precisely why so many senior Israeli military and intelligence leaders, past and present, believe the two-state solution is the only real answer for Israel’s long term security.

Now, one thing we do know: if Israel goes down the one state path, it will never have true peace with the rest of the Arab world, and I can say that with certainty. The Arab countries have made clear that they will not make peace with Israel without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s not where their loyalties lie. That’s not where their politics are.

But there is something new here. Common interests in countering Iran’s destabilizing activities, and fighting extremists, as well as diversifying their economies have created real possibilities for something different is Israel takes advantage of the opportunities for peace. I have spent a great deal of time with key Arab leaders exploring this, and there is no doubt that they are prepared to have a fundamentally different relationship with Israel. That was stated in the Arab Peace Initiative, years ago. And in all my recent conversations, Arab leaders have confirmed their readiness, in the context of Israeli-Palestinian peace, not just to normalize relations but to work openly on securing that peace with significant regional security cooperation. It’s waiting. It’s right there.

Many have shown a willingness to support serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and to take steps on the path to normalization to relations, including public meetings, providing there is a meaningful progress towards a two-state solution. My friends, that is a real opportunity that we should not allow to be missed.

And that raises one final question: Is ours the generation that gives up on the dream of a Jewish democratic state of Israel living in peace and security with its neighbors? Because that is really what is at stake.

Now, that is what informed our vote at the Security Council last week – the need to preserve the two-state solution – and both sides in this conflict must take responsibility to do that. We have repeatedly and emphatically stressed to the Palestinians that all incitement to violence must stop. We have consistently condemned all violence and terrorism, and we have strongly opposed unilateral efforts to delegitimize Israel in international fora.

We’ve made countless public and private exhortations to the Israelis to stop the march of settlements. In literally hundreds of conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I have made clear that continued settlement activity would only increase pressure for an international response. We have all known for some time that the Palestinians were intent on moving forward in the UN with a settlements resolution, and I advised the prime minister repeatedly that further settlement activity only invited UN action.

Yet the settlement activity just increased, including advancing the unprecedented legislation to legalize settler outposts that the prime minister himself reportedly warned could expose Israel to action at the Security Council and even international prosecution before deciding to support it.

In the end, we could not in good conscience protect the most extreme elements of the settler movement as it tries to destroy the two-state solution. We could not in good conscience turn a blind eye to Palestinian actions that fan hatred and violence. It is not in U.S. interest to help anyone on either side create a unitary state. And we may not be able to stop them, but we cannot be expected to defend them. And it is certainly not the role of any country to vote against its own policies.

That is why we decided not to block the UN resolution that makes clear both sides have to take steps to save the two-state solution while there is still time. And we did not take this decision lightly. The Obama Administration has always defended Israel against any effort at the UN and any international fora or biased and one-sided resolutions that seek to undermine its legitimacy or security, and that has not changed. It didn’t change with this vote.

But remember it’s important to note that every United States administration, Republican and Democratic, has opposed settlements as contrary to the prospects for peace, and action at the UN Security Council is far from unprecedented. In fact, previous administrations of both political parties have allowed resolutions that were critical of Israel to pass, including on settlements. On dozens of occasions under George W. Bush alone, the council passed six resolutions that Israel opposed, including one that endorsed a plan calling for a complete freeze on settlements, including natural growth.

Let me read you the lead paragraph from a New York Times story dated December 23rd. I quote: “With the United States abstaining, the Security Council adopted a resolution today strongly deploring Israel’s handling of the disturbances in the occupied territories, which the resolution defined as, including Jerusalem. All of the 14 other Security Council members voted in favor.” My friends, that story was not written last week. It was written December 23rd, 1987, 26 years to the day that we voted last week, when Ronald Reagan was president.

Yet despite growing pressure, the Obama Administration held a strong line against UN action, any UN action, we were the only administration since 1967 that had not allowed any resolution to pass that Israel opposed. In fact, the only time in eight years the Obama Administration exercised its veto at the United Nations was against a one-sided settlements resolution in 2011. And that resolution did not mention incitement or violence.

Now let’s look at what’s happened since then. Since then, there have been over 30,000 settlement units advanced through some stage of the planning process. That’s right – over 30,000 settlement units advanced notwithstanding the positions of the United States and other countries. And if we had vetoed this resolution just the other day, the United States would have been giving license to further unfettered settlement construction that we fundamentally oppose.

So we reject the criticism that this vote abandons Israel. On the contrary, it is not this resolution that is isolating Israel; it is the permanent policy of settlement construction that risks making peace impossible. And virtually every country in the world other than Israel opposes settlements. That includes many of the friends of Israel, including the United Kingdom, France, Russia – all of whom voted in favor of the settlements resolution in 2011 that we vetoed, and again this year along with every other member of the council.

In fact, this resolution simply reaffirms statements made by the Security Council on the legality of settlements over several decades. It does not break new ground. In 1978, the State Department Legal Adviser advised the Congress on his conclusion that Israel’s government, the Israeli Government’s program of establishing civilian settlements in the occupied territory is inconsistent with international law, and we see no change since then to affect that fundamental conclusion.

Now, you may have heard that some criticized this resolution for calling East Jerusalem occupied territory. But to be clear, there was absolutely nothing new in last week’s resolution on that issue. It was one of a long line of Security Council resolutions that included East Jerusalem as part of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, and that includes resolutions passed by the Security Council under President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush. And remember that every U.S. administration since 1967, along with the entire international community, has recognized East Jerusalem as among the territories that Israel occupied in the Six-Day War.

Now, I want to stress this point: We fully respect Israel’s profound historic and religious ties to the city and to its holy sites. We’ve never questioned that. This resolution in no manner prejudges the outcome of permanent status negotiations on East Jerusalem, which must, of course, reflect those historic ties and the realities on the ground. That’s our position. We still support it.

We also strongly reject the notion that somehow the United States was the driving force behind this resolution. The Egyptians and Palestinians had long made clear to all of us – to all of the international community – their intention to bring a resolution to a vote before the end of the year, and we communicated that to the Israelis and they knew it anyway. The United States did not draft or originate this resolution, nor did we put it forward. It was drafted by Egypt – it was drafted and I think introduced by Egypt, which is one of Israel’s closest friends in the region, in coordination with the Palestinians and others.

And during the time of the process as it went out, we made clear to others, including those on the Security Council, that it was possible that if the resolution were to be balanced and it were to include references to incitement and to terrorism, that it was possible the United States would then not block it, that – if it was balanced and fair. That’s a standard practice with resolutions at the Security Council. The Egyptians and the Palestinians and many others understood that if the text were more balanced, it was possible we wouldn’t block it. But we also made crystal clear that the President of the United States would not make a final decision about our own position until we saw the final text.

In the end, we did not agree with every word in this resolution. There are important issues that are not sufficiently addressed or even addressed at all. But we could not in good conscience veto a resolution that condemns violence and incitement and reiterates what has been for a long time the overwhelming consensus and international view on settlements and calls for the parties to start taking constructive steps to advance the two-state solution on the ground.

Ultimately, it will be up to the Israeli people to decide whether the unusually heated attacks that Israeli officials have directed towards this Administration best serve Israel’s national interests and its relationship with an ally that has been steadfast in its support, as I described. Those attacks, alongside allegations of U.S.-led conspiracy and other manufactured claims, distract attention from what the substance of this vote was really all about.

And we all understand that Israel faces very serious threats in a very tough neighborhood. Israelis are rightfully concerned about making sure that there is not a new terrorist haven right next door to them, often referencing what’s happened with Gaza, and we understand that and we believe there are ways to meet those needs of security. And Israelis are fully justified in decrying attempts to legitimize[1] their state and question the right of a Jewish state to exist. But this vote was not about that. It was about actions that Israelis and Palestinians are taking that are increasingly rendering a two-state solution impossible. It was not about making peace with the Palestinians now – it was about making sure that peace with the Palestinians will be possible in the future.

Now, we all understand that Israel faces extraordinary, serious threats in a very tough neighborhood. And Israelis are very correct in making sure that there’s not a terrorist haven right on their border.

But this vote – I can’t emphasize enough – is not about the possibility of arriving at an agreement that’s going to resolve that overnight or in one year or two years. This is about a longer process. This is about how we make peace with the Palestinians in the future but preserve the capacity to do so.

So how do we get there? How do we get there, to that peace?

Since the parties have not yet been able to resume talks, the U.S. and the Middle East Quartet have repeatedly called on both sides to independently demonstrate a genuine commitment to the two-state solution – not just with words, but with real actions and policies – to create the conditions for meaningful negotiations.

We’ve called for both sides to take significant steps on the ground to reverse current trends and send a different message – a clear message – that they are prepared to fundamentally change the equation without waiting for the other side to act.

We have pushed them to comply with their basic commitments under their own prior agreements in order to advance a two-state reality on the ground.

We have called for the Palestinians to do everything in their power to stop violence and incitement, including publicly and consistently condemning acts of terrorism and stopping the glorification of violence.

And we have called on them to continue efforts to strengthen their own institutions and to improve governance, transparency, and accountability.

And we have stressed that the Hamas arms buildup and militant activities in Gaza must stop.

Along with our Quartet partners, we have called on Israel to end the policy of settlement construction and expansion, of taking land for exclusive Israeli use and denying Palestinian development.

To reverse the current process, the U.S. and our partners have encouraged Israel to resume the transfer of greater civil authority to the Palestinians in Area C, consistent with the transition that was called for by Oslo. And we have made clear that significant progress across a range of sectors, including housing, agriculture, and natural resources, can be made without negatively impacting Israel’s legitimate security needs. And we’ve called for significantly easing the movement and access restrictions to and from Gaza, with due consideration for Israel’s need to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks.

So let me stress here again: None of the steps that I just talked about would negatively impact Israel’s security.

Let me also emphasize this is not about offering limited economic measures that perpetuate the status quo. We’re talking about significant steps that would signal real progress towards creating two states.

That’s the bottom line: If we’re serious about the two-state solution, it’s time to start implementing it now. Advancing the process of separation now, in a serious way, could make a significant difference in saving the two-state solution and in building confidence in the citizens of both sides that peace is, indeed, possible. And much progress can be made in advance of negotiations that can lay the foundation for negotiations, as contemplated by the Oslo process. In fact, these steps will help create the conditions for successful talks.

Now, in the end, we all understand that a final status agreement can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties. We’ve said that again and again. We cannot impose the peace.

There are other countries in the UN who believe it is our job to dictate the terms of a solution in the Security Council. Others want us to simply recognize a Palestinian state, absent an agreement. But I want to make clear today, these are not the choices that we will make.

We choose instead to draw on the experiences of the last eight years, to provide a way forward when the parties are ready for serious negotiations. In a place where the narratives from the past powerfully inform and mold the present, it’s important to understand the history. We mark this year and next a series of milestones that I believe both illustrate the two sides of the conflict and form the basis for its resolution. It’s worth touching on them briefly.

A hundred and twenty years ago, the First Zionist Congress was convened in Basel by a group of Jewish visionaries, who decided that the only effective response to the waves of anti-Semitic horrors sweeping across Europe was to create a state in the historic home of the Jewish people, where their ties to the land went back centuries – a state that could defend its borders, protect its people, and live in peace with its neighbors. That was the vision. That was the modern beginning, and it remains the dream of Israel today.

Nearly 70 years ago, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 finally paved the way to making the State of Israel a reality. The concept was simple: to create two states for two peoples – one Jewish, one Arab – to realize the national aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians. And both Israel and the PLO referenced Resolution 181 in their respective declarations of independence.

The United States recognized Israel seven minutes after its creation. But the Palestinians and the Arab world did not, and from its birth, Israel had to fight for its life. Palestinians also suffered terribly in the 1948 war, including many who had lived for generations in a land that had long been their home too. And when Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2018, the Palestinians will mark a very different anniversary: 70 years since what they call the Nakba, or catastrophe.

Next year will also mark 50 years since the end of the Six-Day War, when Israel again fought for its survival. And Palestinians will again mark just the opposite: 50 years of military occupation. Both sides have accepted UN Security Council Resolution 242, which called for the withdrawal of Israel from territory that it occupied in 1967 in return for peace and secure borders, as the basis for ending the conflict.

It has been more than 20 years since Israel and the PLO signed their first agreement – the Oslo Accords – and the PLO formally recognized Israel. Both sides committed to a plan to transition much of the West Bank and Gaza to Palestinian control during permanent status negotiations that would put an end to their conflict. Unfortunately, neither the transition nor the final agreement came about, and both sides bear responsibility for that.

Finally, some 15 years ago, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia came out with the historic Arab Peace Initiative, which offered fully normalized relations with Israel when it made peace – an enormous opportunity then and now, which has never been fully been embraced.

That history was critical to our approach to trying to find a way to resolve the conflict. And based on my experience with both sides over the last four years, including the nine months of formal negotiations, the core issues can be resolved if there is leadership on both sides committed to finding a solution.

In the end, I believe the negotiations did not fail because the gaps were too wide, but because the level of trust was too low. Both sides were concerned that any concessions would not be reciprocated and would come at too great a political cost. And the deep public skepticism only made it more difficult for them to be able to take risks.

In the countless hours that we spent working on a detailed framework, we worked through numerous formulations and developed specific bridging proposals, and we came away with a clear understanding of the fundamental needs of both sides. In the past two and a half years, I have tested ideas with regional and international stakeholders, including our Quartet partners. And I believe what has emerged from all of that is a broad consensus on balanced principles that would satisfy the core needs of both sides.

President Clinton deserves great credit for laying out extensive parameters designed to bridge gaps in advanced final status negotiations 16 years ago. Today, with mistrust too high to even start talks, we’re at the opposite end of the spectrum. Neither side is willing to even risk acknowledging the other’s bottom line, and more negotiations that do not produce progress will only reinforce the worst fears.

Now, everyone understands that negotiations would be complex and difficult, and nobody can be expected to agree on the final result in advance. But if the parties could at least demonstrate that they understand the other side’s most basic needs – and are potentially willing to meet them if theirs are also met at the end of comprehensive negotiations – perhaps then enough trust could be established to enable a meaningful process to begin.

It is in that spirit that we offer the following principles – not to prejudge or impose an outcome, but to provide a possible basis for serious negotiations when the parties are ready. Now, individual countries may have more detailed policies on these issues – as we do, by the way – but I believe there is a broad consensus that a final status agreement that could meet the needs of both sides would do the following.

Principle number one: Provide for secure and recognized international borders between Israel and a viable and contiguous Palestine, negotiated based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed equivalent swaps.

Resolution 242, which has been enshrined in international law for 50 years, provides for the withdrawal of Israel from territory it occupied in 1967 in return for peace with its neighbors and secure and recognized borders. It has long been accepted by both sides, and it remains the basis for an agreement today.

As Secretary, one of the first issues that I worked out with the Arab League was their agreement that the reference in the Arab Peace Initiative to the 1967 lines would from now on include the concept of land swaps, which the Palestinians have acknowledged. And this is necessary to reflect practical realities on the ground, and mutually agreed equivalent swaps that will ensure that the agreement is fair to both sides.

There is also broad recognition of Israel’s need to ensure that the borders are secure and defensible, and that the territory of Palestine is viable and contiguous. Virtually everyone that I have spoken to has been clear on this principle as well: No changes by Israel to the 1967 lines will be recognized by the international community unless agreed to by both sides.

Principle two: Fulfill the vision of the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab, with mutual recognition and full equal rights for all their respective citizens.

This has been the fundamental – the foundational principle of the two-state solution from the beginning: creating a state for the Jewish people and a state for the Palestinian people, where each can achieve their national aspirations. And Resolution 181 is incorporated into the foundational documents of both the Israelis and Palestinians. Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state has been the U.S. position for years, and based on my conversations in these last months, I am absolutely convinced that many others are now prepared to accept it as well – provided the need for a Palestinian state is also addressed.

We also know that there are some 1.7 million Arab citizens who call Israel their home and must now and always be able to live as equal citizens, which makes this a difficult issue for Palestinians and others in the Arab world. That’s why it is so important that in recognizing each other’s homeland – Israel for the Jewish people and Palestine for the Palestinian people – both sides reaffirm their commitment to upholding full equal rights for all of their respective citizens.

Principle number three: Provide for a just, agreed, fair, and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, with international assistance, that includes compensation, options and assistance in finding permanent homes, acknowledgment of suffering, and other measures necessary for a comprehensive resolution consistent with two states for two peoples.

The plight of many Palestinian refugees is heartbreaking, and all agree that their needs have to be addressed. As part of a comprehensive resolution, they must be provided with compensation, their suffering must be acknowledged, and there will be a need to have options and assistance in finding permanent homes. The international community can provide significant support and assistance. I know we are prepared to do that, including in raising money to help ensure the compensation and other needs of the refugees are met, and many have expressed a willingness to contribute to that effort, particularly if it brings peace. But there is a general recognition that the solution must be consistent with two states for two peoples, and cannot affect the fundamental character of Israel.

Principle four: Provide an agreed resolution for Jerusalem as the internationally recognized capital of the two states, and protect and assure freedom of access to the holy sites consistent with the established status quo.

Now, Jerusalem is the most sensitive issue for both sides, and the solution will have to meet the needs not only of the parties, but of all three monotheistic faiths. That is why the holy sites that are sacred to billions of people around the world must be protected and remain accessible and the established status quo maintained. Most acknowledge that Jerusalem should not be divided again like it was in 1967, and we believe that. At the same time, there is broad recognition that there will be no peace agreement without reconciling the basic aspirations of both sides to have capitals there.

Principle five: Satisfy Israel’s security needs and bring a full end, ultimately, to the occupation, while ensuring that Israel can defend itself effectively and that Palestine can provide security for its people in a sovereign and non-militarized state.

Security is the fundamental issue for Israel together with a couple of others I’ve mentioned, but security is critical. Everyone understands that no Israeli Government can ever accept an agreement that does not satisfy its security needs or that risk creating an enduring security threat like Gaza transferred to the West Bank. And Israel must be able to defend itself effectively, including against terrorism and other regional threats. In fact, there is a real willingness by Egypt, Jordan, and others to work together with Israel on meeting key security challenges. And I believe that those collective efforts, including close coordination on border security, intelligence-sharing, joint cooperations – joint operation, can all play a critical role in securing the peace.

At the same time, fully ending the occupation is the fundamental issue for the Palestinians. They need to know that the military occupation itself will really end after an agreed transitional process. They need to know they can live in freedom and dignity in a sovereign state while providing security for their population even without a military of their own. This is widely accepted as well. And it is important to understand there are many different ways without occupation for Israel and Palestine and Jordan and Egypt and the United States and others to cooperate in providing that security.

Now, balancing those requirements was among the most important challenges that we faced in the negotiations, but it was one where the United States has the ability to provide the most assistance. And that is why a team that was led by General John Allen, who is here, for whom I am very grateful for his many hours of effort, along with – he is one of our foremost military minds, and dozens of experts from the Department of Defense and other agencies, all of them engaged extensively with the Israeli Defense Force on trying to find solutions that could help Israel address its legitimate security needs.

They developed innovative approaches to creating unprecedented, multi-layered border security; enhancing Palestinian capacity; enabling Israel to retain the ability to address threats by itself even when the occupation had ended. General Allen and his team were not suggesting one particular outcome or one particular timeline, nor were they suggesting that technology alone would resolve these problems. They were simply working on ways to support whatever the negotiators agreed to. And they did some very impressive work that gives me total confidence that Israel’s security requirements can be met.

Principle six: End the conflict and all outstanding claims, enabling normalized relations and enhanced regional security for all as envisaged by the Arab Peace Initiative. It is essential for both sides that the final status agreement resolves all the outstanding issues and finally brings closure to this conflict, so that everyone can move ahead to a new era of peaceful coexistence and cooperation. For Israel, this must also bring broader peace with all of its Arab neighbors. That is the fundamental promise of the Arab Peace Initiative, which key Arab leaders have affirmed in these most recent days.

The Arab Peace Initiative also envisions enhanced security for all of the region. It envisages Israel being a partner in those efforts when peace is made. This is the area where Israel and the Arab world are looking at perhaps the greatest moment of potential transformation in the Middle East since Israel’s creation in 1948. The Arab world faces its own set of security challenges. With Israeli-Palestinian peace, Israel, the United States, Jordan, Egypt – together with the GCC countries – would be ready and willing to define a new security partnership for the region that would be absolutely groundbreaking.

So ladies and gentlemen, that’s why it is vital that we all work to keep open the possibility of peace, that we not lose hope in the two-state solution, no matter how difficult it may seem – because there really is no viable alternative.

Now, we all know that a speech alone won’t produce peace. But based on over 30 years of experience and the lessons from the past 4 years, I have suggested, I believe, and President Obama has signed on to and believes in a path that the parties could take: realistic steps on the ground now, consistent with the parties’ own prior commitments, that will begin the process of separating into two states; a political horizon to work towards to create the conditions for a successful final status talk; and a basis for negotiations that the parties could accept to demonstrate that they are serious about making peace.

We can only encourage them to take this path; we cannot walk down it for them. But if they take these steps, peace would bring extraordinary benefits in enhancing the security and the stability and the prosperity of Israelis, Palestinians, all of the nations of the region. The Palestinian economy has amazing potential in the context of independence, with major private sector investment possibilities and a talented, hungry, eager-to-work young workforce. Israel’s economy could enjoy unprecedented growth as it becomes a regional economic powerhouse, taking advantage of the unparalleled culture of innovation and trading opportunities with new Arab partners. Meanwhile, security challenges could be addressed by an entirely new security arrangement, in which Israel cooperates openly with key Arab states. That is the future that everybody should be working for.

President Obama and I know that the incoming administration has signaled that they may take a different path, and even suggested breaking from the longstanding U.S. policies on settlements, Jerusalem, and the possibility of a two-state solution. That is for them to decide. That’s how we work. But we cannot – in good conscience – do nothing, and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away.

This is a time to stand up for what is right. We have long known what two states living side by side in peace and security looks like. We should not be afraid to say so.

Now, I really began to reflect on what we have learned – and the way ahead – when I recently joined President Obama in Jerusalem for the state funeral for Shimon Peres. Shimon was one of the founding fathers of Israel who became one of the world’s great elder statesmen – a beautiful man. I was proud to call him my friend, and I know that President Obama was as well.

And I remembered the first time that I saw Shimon in person – standing on the White House lawn for the signing the historic Oslo Accords. And I thought about the last time, at an intimate one-on-one Shabbat dinner just a few months before he died, when we toasted together to the future of Israel and to the peace that he still so passionately believed in for his people.

He summed it up simply and eloquently, as only Shimon could, quote, “The original mandate gave the Palestinians 48 percent, now it’s down to 22 percent. I think 78 percent is enough for us.”

As we laid Shimon to rest that day, many of us couldn’t help but wonder if peace between Israelis and Palestinians might also be buried along with one of its most eloquent champions. We cannot let that happen. There is simply too much at stake – for future generations of Israelis and Palestinians – to give in to pessimism, especially when peace is, in fact, still possible.

We must not lose hope in the possibility of peace. We must not give in to those who say what is now must always be, that there is no chance for a better future. It is up to Israelis and Palestinians to make the difficult choices for peace, but we can all help. And for the sake of future generations of Israelis and Palestinians, for all the people of the region, for the United States, for all those around the world who have prayed for and worked for peace for generations, let’s hope that we are all prepared – and particularly Israelis and Palestinians – to make those choices now.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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WE WELCOME YOUR THOUGHTFUL COMMENTS!

PART I : 2016 PROSPECTS FOR THE YEAR IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND NATIONAL SECURITY OR AROUND MUCH OF THE GLOBE IN HALF AN HOUR!

 

PART I : 2016 PROSPECTS FOR THE YEAR IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND NATIONAL SECURITY  OR AROUND PART OF THE GLOBE IN HALF AN HOUR!

BY
Harry C. Blaney III

FORWARD

This post will take a quick look at some of the most important global challenges and issues Americans and the rest of humanity will face in this year. This will be a brief look at possible developments in key areas, what risks and dangers lie with the topic and what policies or actions might affect outcomes good or bad. Also indicate what America could, should, or should not do to address the dangers and problems inherent in each issue. In short a quick tour of the most difficult questions our present and likely our next president will likely face.

THE MIDDLE EAST, THE SUNNI-SHIA DIVIDE, AND TERRORISM

There is no region more in disarray and conflict ridden than the Middle East and related regions. Nor is there a more difficult set of forces and issues which makes this region a complex quagmire and yet also more in need of conciliation, diplomacy and outside, yes outside help!

While in the end the Shia and Sunni nations must see that their conflict will destroy them both and make some kind of “pact,” or 2016 could see an escalation of internecine warfare. Here diplomacy from both inside the Islamic community and likely outside. Given the larger consequences we will see in the person of Secretary John Kerry and key Europeans an adding of efforts and pressure for some kind of truce. (See comments on Russia’s role below.)

Sadly the year 2016 started out with a worsening of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia over a stupid if not malicious act of killing a Shia Saudi cleric which seems almost designed to escalate the conflict. It will certainly make putting together a necessary joint Shia-Sunni Iraqi regional governance model harder if not impossible.

Yet it must be halted. The seat of most terrorism lies in this region and least we forget it impacts disastrously, more than anyone Muslims of all sects. We are trying to maintain a close dialogue with the key Shia government of Iran which is difficult at any time and with Saudi Arabia that wants unquestioned US support for its anti-Shia strategy. The latter position would be a disaster for America and our allies, in the end we need to be an “honest broker” and “peacemaker” not an outside protagonist.

ISIS or the so-called Islamic State is now at the heart of violence in the Middle East. But there are also many groups and indeed governments who have given support to these brutal killing machines which we see in North Africa, Africa proper, and in Europe and America in individual attacks. 2016 is likely to see more of these and also more reaction by states to curb these terrorists.

Under Obama’s cautious but directed and increasingly mixed-tools strategy, which curbs the deployment of large combat ground troops, and focus, as it should, on the Muslim states concerned taking the lead in routing out ISIS, seem to, at last, to make some progress. ISIS has lost some 30-40% of its population and/or territory in Syria and Iraq.

We are likely to see “more of the same” but now modified to see what works best and least costly in terms of blood and resources and the key problem of “blowback” and “unintended consequences.” It was and is a wise policy which pleases nobody but is an fine example of “smart power” at work. No guarantee of working but the best option of all the other most bad ones. We are likely to see a tough debate in 2016 over a more militaristic approach verses a more cautious but evolving and multi-tools strategy using cooperation with others as a key component. This conundrum will not be solved in 2016 but the activities and attacks of 2016 will influence future outcomes.

There are a number of Middle East countries which are in a critical state including Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, many African nations and others which need not just American attention but also from other key countries including Europe and Asian nations. In each case 2016 will require added major resources and attention via hard diplomacy and addressing some of the fundamental causes if each is not addressed the result will be the spread of conflict and terrorism.

ISRAELI- PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

An example of a conflict that is getting worse not better largely due to the continued effort of Prime Minister Bebe Nethanhuh to make sure there will not be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I can’t be less blunt about this. He has expanded illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which are all Palestinian lands. He has said outrageous words about Palestinians citizens in Israel and has said there will be no two state solution while he is in power. He has insulted and tried to undermined President Obama in as many ways as possible within the already fractured difficult American politics while getting un-presidented  major military assistance from the same President to help Israel’s security. His recent visit to Washington to “make up” made little progress towards a peace deal.

While the PLO has not been always helpful in the negotiations and remains weak and divided, and angery it was the continued settlements which forced them into desperate acts which is likely to bring the same sad scenario in 2016 unless there is considerable outside pressure to demand a need to solve this situation, which if not resolved is likely to inflame the entire region and threaten peace and produce a catastrophe for Israel itself. There are those who think America should give up on the Middle East. But the question is in 2016 can the West and other Middle East powers see the consequences of this path to mutual destruction and make an offer that can’t be turned down? Most experts are pessimistic, indeed opposed to any further efforts. They are wrong.

RUSSIA: A DISASTER IN WAITING

If it is true that President Putin’s game is enhancing his and Russia’s strategic and geopolitical standing and he wants to be seen as a major international power, he will be seriously disappointed. If his game is to make “mock war” with the West, this path and this goal lies in failure and possibly mutual calamity. The keyis for the West to hold its unity and focus. Russia it is to be a responsible state looking to help peacemaking and constructively dealing with the many global challenges we face, Putin can win that game for Russia’s long term interests.

His problem is really not just the low price of gas and oil, nor his military adventures, it is the tragedy that his policies have made of Russia. The Ukraine/Crimea gambit will prove to be costly on many dimensions and, if seen as it should, to be a cause of the downturn of the Russian economy and the standard of living of the average citizen (not you can be sure of Putin’s friends among the Oligarchy.

Russia is increasingly, as I have written earlier, a “Potemkin Village” is an empty shell and darkness inside and despair growing. Putin is riding high in the opinion polls but much is also due to his harsh repression of any dissent as seen in his “contract killings” at home and abroad. The predictions are for recession, decline of the Ruble, continued low oil and gas prices and not least a continued from the top corrupt society which enfeebles a great nation.

But this realization clearly has not yet happened  among many Russians and may not in 2016. The test will be in Ukraine, Syria, and relations with the former countries of the former Soviet Union. A test will also be if he continues to carry out his provocative military flights and ship/sub/troop exercises near or over NATO nations.

Given the recent past history, President Putin is not likely to let up on his dangerous indeed mad aggression and acts of war in Ukraine and Syria unless forced to do so from inside realities or outside pressure. He has backed time and time again brutal regimes and groups. His backing of Assad – a regime that has carried out now for years mass killings of its citizens in Syria. Assad’s is a terrorist regime itself.

In an odd swing this action has put him on the same side as Iran and Hezbollah a terrorist group, an effort to be a likely costly goal of being a “big” player in the muddy Middle East. It is just the same game as his other aggressive gambits with nefarious “allies” in places like Georgia, etc. He may pay a cost and make enemies with the Sunni nations by his actions.

He has from time to time tried to appear to seek common ground but with outcomes that only favor his prejudices and goals. He supports the Iran nuclear deal, and in theory a UN backed peace settlement and process in Syria. In 2016 we will see if this ends in peace and all will depend if he is willing to see in the near future Assad to go. His military chips are put down in the Syrian coast with added arms in 2016, but the forces at work are those he nor we can fully control.

Look for a very hard road here in 2016 unless Putin changes his calculations. Look also for more allied bombing efforts against ISIS and possibly indirectly Assad’s forces if peace talks fail. And some work to deal with the refugee issues seems necessary.

END OF PART I: COMING SECOND PART COVERS EUROPE, ASIA, NUCLEAR WEAPONS, GLOBAL WARMING, AND OTHER ISSUES.

Comments are welcomed.

THE PLAYING FIELD OF THE MIDDLE EAST JUST WENT BALLISTIC!  (THE REMAKING OF THE MIDDLE EAST WITH CONFLICTING FORCES AT WORK)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud Party scored a resounding victory in the country's election.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party scored a resounding victory in the country’s election.

By Harry C. Blaney III

This month will bring together a number of critical events and actions which could determine whether we can see a clear path towards a measure of progress that can start the process of healing and mitigating the hate and carnage that we see today and lessen the chance of a total cataclysm. What is required is a high level of creativity, resources, and focus by all sides looking at their long-term interests. But frankly, recent events, not least the Israeli elections, do not bode well for lasting peace and building the mutual confidence and sense of common interest that must be the foundation of long-term security for all in the region and beyond.

The first critical event is the elections in Israel. Clearly, given the outcome Israeli society remains divided between a constant “war” strategy and a long-term peace strategy. This time the “war hawks” won out but not by that much. This contradictory bitter split should be recognizable to Americans in our current corrosive political environment. The question is whether there can be, in this divisive environment, any growing consensus that develops into some kind of momentum towards returning to honest negotiations with the Palestinians to build a stable two state outcome that provides security for all sides. What then is the alternative?

 Incredibly, there was even post-election speculation that Bibi might go back to the two state solution, but after his victory based on anti-Palestinian policies and even promising thousands of more settlements, it is hard to envision at this moment. The question is when will the realities of the increasingly precarious situation of Israel set in and be the lever for a move towards a peace deal.

The history of the reign of Netanyahu has been a series of acts, that in its totality, were against any reasonable settlement with the Palestinians. After mouthing from time to time the idea of a “two state” solution, he revealed just a day before the elections his true motivation all along, in trying to grab the West Bank and possibly displace people from their land or perhaps even confine them to unlivable, frankly, semi-concentration camps, looked over by their Israeli guards.

The sad result of Bibi in his firm opposition to a two state solution, and saying there will be no Palestinian state under his rule, plus his attack after his election victory on the Arab citizens of Israel because, according to the NY Times, they had voted! His statement was even characterized by the New York Times editorial as a “racist rant.” Increasingly, there is a new authoritarian bent by Netanyahu and his Likud party; and a rigidity and myopic militancy that bodes badly for peace in the region and Israel’s own long-term security. There is a real danger that he will lead a democratic Israel down a path to self-destruction both externally and internally. What other option now can be possible other than a deliberate policy of impoverishment and degradation of the Islamic and Christian Arab West Bank population, and its own Arab citizens?

He has already poisoned the key US-Israeli bi-partisan relationship as we have noted previously. The question that must be asked: what policy and direction should America and Europe take now that the very basis of any lasting peace agreement has been destroyed by Bibi’s actions? Having served in the White House I have no doubt that the lights there will be burning late to provide an answer.

One key question is what should the U.S. do with its allies and other actors in the region to put back the building blocks of a lasting agreement that provide peace, security, and even a measure of prosperity for the people in the region. For the Israelis who are experiencing serious economic hardships including inflation that is robbing ordinary people of their livelihood and sense of self-worth; and who also desire a future free from conflict, they now face a very uncertain future, increased insecurity and new added risks.

While coalition building still must take place and is currently unknown, a reassessment of American policy towards the Middle East and Israel is required. Already, there is a movement in Europe to recognize a Palestinian state. Bibi unfortunately leaves little scope for a constructive American role in seeking a settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority especially given the desire by Bibi to get America to preemptively attack Iran or contribute to new illegal settlements and to act as a supporter of dangerous actions that will only exacerbate the existing unrest and conflict in the region. Further, Bibi by playing a partisan and self-interested divisive role in American politics may have defeated any hope for the kind of constructive cooperative efforts by the U.S. to bring true peace to his people.  Evolving events in the region may play the decisive role that may call for a basic reassessment of Israel’s security as noted by the statements of a group of senior security leaders who pointed to dangerous trends and poor policies by Bibi.  

The second event shaping the region is the beginning of serious “end state” negotiations on the Iran nuclear long-term “deal” that could put a stop on Iran getting a nuclear weapon at least for the next decade. If in the end a “good” deal is agreed with the proper verification elements, one of the truly disruptive (in the real meaning of this word, not the Silicon Valley robber baron meaning) elements fundamentally creating widespread conflict and insecurity might change the landscape of new nuclear danger to the region. It could also create an opening to larger political and military problem solving and deal with the upward trajectory of Shia-Sunni conflict.

Already, Secretary John Kerry has been working to find a consensus among the Middle East states, both largely Shia and Sunni to form some common ground especially in light of the common threat of ISIS. This is frankly an effort against the odds. But there is a small opening now for a rethinking of old hatreds and a new assessment of existential risks of the ISIS ascendancy and the spread of terrorist extremism aimed at both traditional Sunni and Shia governments and people. In the end, this opening will have to be recognized by governments that too often have been dominated by prejudice and narrow interests.

What might be needed is perhaps a new regional compact that creates a wider Middle East security structure that encompasses both Sunni and Shia nations and might include support and reinforcement by America and our European and Asian allies that have a large stake in stability and peace in the region. While Arab nations would naturally be a part of this, also non-Arab nations like Iran and Turkey should be part of such a regional compact of mutual security.        

It is clear that without some major political, economic, and military changes both in Israel and in the wider Middle East the trajectory towards chaos and destruction will overwhelm the fabric of cooperation and modest restraint and upheavals and civil strife will destroy the lives of all citizens and bring only perpetual war and killing as the norm.

Our problem is that the acts by Bibi, the shortsighted viewpoints by some Middle East leaders, and our partisans in our Congress has undermined America’s role as the “indispensable nation.” They have deliberately sabotaged every key tool and effort to bring a measure of peace to our globe by President Obama and Secretary Kerry. There is a strong Republican desire to see Obama fail no matter what the cost in lives and security including that of Israel. More war and putting American troops at risk is their only option. Their new crazy right-wing budget and proposed heedless sanction and laws on Iran undermines the authority and the needed resources for a strong American capability to create a more stable, peaceful, secure and prosperous world.  Without support at home by all of our parties, the chances of creating a more secure Middle East and beyond would be hindered. Disorder, humanitarian needs, and added wars will be the order of the day.

We welcome your comments!

2014 A “RETHINKING NATIONAL SECURITY” YEAR: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?

2014 A “RETHINKING NATIONAL SECURITY” YEAR:: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?

By Harry C. Blaney III

2014 was without much doubt a significant year in terms of global security. One question is whether 2014 has set a trend in the makeup of our international order in the future and to what extent? The events of 2014 were at many levels transformative but also show much continuity with the recent past trends.

Terrorism took on a new guise in the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, and “caliphate”), with the fierce occupation by this extraordinarily brutal group of large areas in both Iraq and Syria. The emergence of added conflicts and upheavals in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and the Sunni-Shia divide were continuing factors of instability. But less mentioned is the serious question of unstable and nuclear armed Pakistan’s trajectory and that of nuclear India which is being reshaped still as this is written with unknown consequences.

Another event of special note was the end of an assumed understanding about the security and inviolability of the boundaries and independence of existing European states by the invasion and occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine by Russian troops and paid mercenaries. With the annexation of Crimea, and now continued fighting and uncertainty over the fate of Eastern Ukraine, the viability and security of the entire country has changed radically the landscape of Central and eastern Europe and beyond.

NATO has reassessed its role and the implication of these actions resulted in agreement to establish a more robust “rapid reaction force.” America also has assigned a “rotating” troop and air armed units to the Baltic States. Putin has recently called NATO a threat to Russia and the new Russian strategic plan seems a bit more aggressive than earlier.

Not least, with this external belligerence towards what Russian nationalists call “The Near Afar” or “Near Abroad” – their neighborly countries, – Putin has established increasingly harsh authoritarian rule over Russia and its people proper. This development is as important to global security and stability as is the Ukraine invasion and conflict. The two seem to be intertwined and have indeed been fed by Putin and his cronies heating up a new “fascistic” Russian xenophobia and militaristic nationalism.

This effort can be attributed to the perceived need by Putin to shore up his domestic support in light of an increasingly economic catastrophe that Russia seems to be experiencing at the end of 2014; all due to Putin’s costly international blunders and foolish economic choices. Even Putin has acknowledged in his New Year’s message that Russia faces hard times ahead.

At home, the same neo-cons that got us into an unneeded and disastrous war in Iraq, and ran the Afghanistan war mindlessly and incompetently now wrongly depict Putin and Russia as stronger, which is absurd given the real impact of sanctions, the fall in the price of oil and gas, and the precipitous fall of the Ruble. This argument was not only predominant in one major neo-con publication but has been picked up by the right-wing GOP hawks who if they had their way would have us still deep in the mud of “endless war.”

The reality is the increased isolation of Putin personally and of Russia. Their economy ever fragile is now in real recession and week in many sectors. Global leaders realize, as do investors, that Russia under Putin is a risky place to place any bets on. This new realization by many is that Russia is in the hands of an incompetent, arbitrary, and illusionary leader who seems to care not a bit about the well being of his country’s people. Russia is weaker today than at the start of 2014 despite all of its aggression and seems destined to fall further under Putin’s harsh hand unless there is a major change of course. None of this is good news for the West, however, given the uncertainty of Russian behavior.

On the contrary, America, led by President Obama and with the help of Secretary John Kerry and his team, is clearly in ascendancy, but largely unnoticed by our U.S. media or acknowledged by the Republicans. With the U.S. showing a recent 5% growth rate, better job numbers, and closer cooperation with Europe, it remains at the center of global decision-making and power.

Further, with the negotiations with China over climate change successful, the continued push for Atlantic and Pacific free trade treaties, and the hope of successful nuclear talks with Iran continuing, there is some positive momentum for 2015. In addition, the successful efforts to help put together still fragile, but key new “unity” governments in Afghanistan and Iraq is better than the likelihood of immediate tribal conflict between major ethnic communities in the face of terrorist threats.

One of the great new creative developments has been President Barack Obama’s initiative to reestablish relations with Cuba. This is a landmark action with potential to change the entire playing field regarding a nation that is in a time of major transition. Obama has with one stroke of the pen re-engaged America with Cuba. He recovered two prisoners and let long serving Cubans in jail free, see political prisoners released, broadened the areas of exchange of visits, goods, and dialogue, advancing towards early establishment of full diplomatic relations.

Yet, what one must also recognize is the continuing monumental challenge that faces all of mankind and our natural world: climate change. And 2014, while it did not bring about any immediate significant global move to fully address this existential threat, has nevertheless shown some progress and hints of what the major powers might be trying to move towards to mitigate, if not yet fully solve the coming cataclysm. This has largely been done by executive authority whether by domestic pollution regulation or by international diplomacy.

Also among the non-events, Iraq and Afghanistan did not yet disintegrate into warning ethnic and political conflict but at least for now choose a path of political compromise and efforts at inclusiveness, thanks to the intensive efforts of Secretary Kerry backed by President Obama along with efforts of other diplomats. China did not make a full war yet over the South China Sea islands, and Putin did not yet attack any NATO countries,  although he did send irresponsible flights and ships near NATO counties and neutrals to show his great detest toward their sanctions. North Korea did not use its nuclear bombs and thus saved itself from total destruction. And American politics continued, without change, its corrosive politics, however adding one electoral change that may have extended the power of its crazies over the Senate.

What did not happen in 2014 is almost as important as the events that did. We did not attack Iran, nor do we have combat troops in Syria yet. We have not changed our goal to pull direct combat troops out of Afghanistan, but did act to support that frail nation and its armed forces in more constructive ways. Russia did not become “Nine Feet” tall but simply diminished itself with its own acts of silliness and cruelty. Additionally, Scotland did not become an isolated mini-state north of Britain, the American economy did not “tank” but grew and in the 3rd quarter some 5% annual growth. Lastly, Europe still did not really recover from it own self induced “austerity” policy which has proved a disaster for most of the EU counties that tried that disastrous road.

Sadly, the Middle East remains in deadlock; largely by the determined and also self-destructive efforts, not least new settlements, of the current Israeli government to destroy it seems the only possible rational creation of a two state solution. Nor did the PLA do much that was constructive. Gaza was a tragedy for all sides.

In the coming weeks we will be writing about what 2015 and beyond may bring, and look at how America might shape events towards positive outcomes and perhaps even more real security and peace.

We welcome your comments!

THE STATE OF THE UNION AND THE STATE OF THE WORLD: PRESIDENT POSTURES FOREIGN POLICY AFFAIRS PERSPECTIVE AND THE WAY FORWARD

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THE STATE OF THE UNION AND THE STATE OF THE WORLD: PRESIDENT POSTURES FOREIGN POLICY AFFAIRS PERSPECTIVE AND THE WAY FORWARD

by Harry C. Blaney III

Most of President Obama’s State of the Union speech was focused on domestic issues, especially the need for America to move forward in dealing with glaring inequality and the need for good paying jobs, but not least improving education and investment in science and technology in our decaying infrastructure. These are, in fact, intertwined with America’s leadership capabilities in an increasingly high risk and complex world. He called last night for a more robust diplomacy and an end to “endless wars” that sap the strength of America and its larger purpose in our world. The speech was both idealistic and realistic, a trait that characterizes much of President Obama’s stance on dealing with many challenges he has had to face.

 

Given the bitter opposition by the right wing Republicans throughout his tenure, he focused in large part on what could be accomplished at home and abroad on his own. Not to the exclusion of finding some common ground on some issues, but clearly he has been chastened by single-minded and merciless obstruction.

 

While the president has real limits on what he can do at home, he has more freedom to act abroad. That was shown in the last part of his speech when he clearly set forth his large and ambitious but difficult agenda for the coming year and, perhaps, years. He and his Secretary of State John Kerry have decided, against great odds, to go for the “hail Mary” in football terms. The list is ambitious as it is long. Likely not all of it will end in success, as is often the case in messy and contentious foreign affairs challenges. Perhaps some will, but in any case, it is worth the effort since in many cases, the alternatives are very large disasters for us and others. What is the purpose of his presidency if it is not to address our larger global threats and challenges? He said it well in, “America does not stand still, and neither will I.”

 

Let’s look at that list and how Obama addressed the international issues to the American people, as that was his main audience since some half of the Congressional audience was in a dead brain coma. Just look at Speaker John Boehner during the speech, and you will know that syndrome.

 

The president made one of the most difficult tasks ahead in American diplomacy a key priority, namely finding a lasting peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Secretary Kerry is moving as swiftly as possible towards a plan that would smoke out both sides in this long-running dispute that threatens the stability of the entire Middle East. The time has indeed come, perhaps at a difficult juncture because Prime Minister Netanyahu has done just about everything he could to destroy any chance of peace and a fair agreement. On the other side, the Palestinian leadership has been weak, but some of that weakness has been created by the illegal Israeli settlements in Arab land and new settlements that can only be aimed at trying to get the other side to pull out of negotiations. Yet, what is on offer is a so-called “Kerry Plan,” which of necessity must not fully please anyone but give enough that all can and should live with it. The president gave his full backing to this effort and the two state solution in his State of the Union and in quite promises to support Israel’s long-term security under any fair accord. He said: “As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel—a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.”

 

On the other difficult negotiation, namely sanctions dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as Obama stated, America has made real progress, and he made clear that new legislation that has been proposed by a group of anti-Obama Republicans and some Neo-Con war hawks will get his veto if passed before the conclusion of the present talks dealing with the long-term issues.

 

He made his argument thus:

 

“And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It is not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

 

“But these negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

 

“The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed. If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

 

“Finally, let’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe – to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want. And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America.”

 

One key part of his SOU speech was his clear and decisive direction on ending the long-term wars America has been engaged in over the last decade. Again, in his own words:

 

“Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure. When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.”

 

It is the almost impossible challenge of trying to get the warring factions of Syria and their external backers to bring a measure of security and peace to this major civil war that threatens a major regional inter-communal conflict.

 

The problem of Syria was touched on, and this may be his weakest component in the international section. Apart from support for the existing diplomacy, he only briefly mentioned support of the moderate opposition forces, but did not set out any larger vision or new ideas of how to put an end of this horrific killing fields. He said, “In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks… American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.” Perhaps the statement was short because hard new decisions remain under debate in the administration and awaits the final outcome of Geneva II. It could also be the almost impossible challenge of trying to get the warring factions of Syria and their external backers to bring a measure of security and peace to this major civil war that threatens a serious regional inter-communal conflict. 

 

What was also left out was addressing our challenges in Asia, especially the China-Japan clash, the rise of China, dealing with Putin’s Russia, North Korean nuclear efforts, and a fully defined vision on how to deal with climate change, global health needs, poverty and inequality, and strengthening international institutions. However, the speech, for good reasons, mainly addressed domestic policies. One can hope before too long Obama will set forth his fuller vision for all the other international issues that need America’s attention.

 

Obama clearly sees as his lasting legacy the ending of not only the headless Iraq war, but also finally, the active fighting by Americans and the allied forces in Afghanistan. He has seen the price of these wars to Americans and the blood and resources they cost. On his watch, America will see the end of large scale warfare in a distant land which sadly had little understanding of consequences and mission.

 

But the larger message of this speech was Obama’s diplomatic and international ambition of a new vision for America and the world that does not heed the erroneous militaristic and stupid turn our nation took with the start of the Bush II administration. He outlined his hope for an America that will again be a constructive and thoughtful world leader using all the tools of “soft power,” while holding the use of military force only when absolutely necessary and when objectives and risks are clear.

 

I thought there was one statement which set forth succinctly and clearly President Obama’s perspective. “Finally, let’s remember that our leadership is defined not only just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe—to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want. And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America.”

 

We welcome your comments.

REAL PROGRESS ON IRAN NUCLEAR ISSUES: WHY IT IS LIKELY A FINAL SUCCESS!

Real Progress on Iran Nuclear Issues: Why it is Likely a Final Success!

The Critics Cry “No,” But Peace and Diplomacy Has Gained

 

by

Harry C. Blaney III

 

The announcement of an interim agreement with Iran over its nuclear program is significant and has drawn both critics and supporters. Yet in all the analysis few have drawn the truly long-term implications and just how this stage is key to long-term success. The parameters of this deal all point towards a possible successful outcome after what will be very hard negotiations and many trade-offs. What is clear is that the Iranian government and key leaders would not have gone down this path and agreed to serious restrictions on their enrichment and daily verification if they did not want and were willing to make a long term deal also.

 

Any good diplomat or negotiator needs to see the perspective and interests and fears on the other side. President Obam and Secretary Kerry were right when they said about both Syria and Iran that they would not have come to the negotiating table unless it was a better option to the likely outcome of the status quo and its consequences. In the case of Iran, getting to the “bomb” would result in possible, even likely, catastrophic outcomes and certainly a strengthening of the sanctions which already have cost the Iranian economy greatly and were likely to do even greater harm.

 

The new Iranian President clearly had a mandate from the “Supreme Leader” for a deal which inevitably and manifestly had to lead to serious restrictions on their ability to enrich to bomb grade uranium and move to a full nuclear strategic capability. It would do no good to go down this road with the Western negotiators knowing the effort would collapse and with it their economy and invite kinetic responses.

 

On the other hand a total capitulation to Western demands would have set off a revolt by the hard liners in Iran’s military and conservative groups which was likely equally to be unacceptable. Thus, the long-term outcome likely will be an acceptable compromise which permits strong international inspection and oversight rather than a total dismantlement of the entire nuclear efforts. Clearly there would be strict and key restrictions and intrusive inspections, making it near impossible to move towards a weapon.

 

Looking down the road, some also think it might open up a wider set of talks on broad regional issues which would bring a measure of stability to the region and might, just might, lessen the Sunni- Shiite conflict and enlist Iran towards stopping their support for terrorists and cooperation on Iraq and Afghanistan. Something would also have to be done to assure the Gulf States that their own security would not be threatened by any deal but would indeed enhance their security. All of this is still a hope and the road is hard and long to get to all of this and events not controlled by any of the actors in this drama.

 

On the road to a deal also is the stance of those who are opposed almost to any deal. What is most disturbing is the cry from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has it seems, opposed any realistic agreement between the P5 + 1 group and Iran. Indeed, there is a now more lively debate in Israel over the choices that the hard line government has made. Many in Israel and beyond question the wisdom of  a unilateral military action by Israel or the long-term implication of opposing efforts for finding both peace and security through diplomacy, and a stance threatening the close relationship of common interests and shared values between Israel and America.

 

The other threat is here in the United states, as noted in the recent New York Times editorial “Getting to Yes With Iran,” by those who seem bent on any agreement by President Obama on Iran, and I would add a balanced Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Here the leaders in Congress and in particular the Senate Democrats need to stand firm with the President on not applying now new sanctions. There will be plenty of time to do so if either the interim agreement breaks down or there is no follow-through. That there is a concerted effort to sabotage the president’s effort by Republicans and even some Democrats, to find reasonable and possible solutions to both the Iran issues and the efforts at the Middle East peace is frankly appalling and morally reprehensible. Let’s see what can be accomplished and during Thanksgiving give thanks for the hard efforts of Obama and Kerry, rather than throw stone at the peacemakers.

 

We welcome your comments!