A FEW WEEKS AND MORE UNMITIGATED DISASTERS PERPETRATED BY TRUMP AND HIS BENIGHTED TEAM OF AMATEURS AND FOOLS

A FEW WEEKS AND MORE UNMITIGATED DISASTERS PERPETRATED BY TRUMP AND HIS BENIGHTED TEAM OF AMATEURS AND FOOLS

By

Harry C. Blaney III

It has been quite a few weeks of one disaster after another. All at the instigation of Donald Trump and his motley squad of amateurs, racists, bigots and extreme ideologues. There is no or little sign that either the new Secretary of Defense nor the new Secretary of State had much to say or influence in the weeks series of incompetence and unmitigated international disasters instigated by “The King of Chaos.” If there is any light so far the weekend visit of Japan Premiere Shinzo Abe has not yet produced a major blunder. But the problem is can Abe take to the bank anything that he is told by Trump? The Korean missile test was a clear signal that serious thought should be given to North Korea and its nuclear weapons. But equally clear is Trump has no effective strategy other than bluster.

Here is a shorthand summary of what has happen to the former respect and leadership that America had for decades since the end of WW II. In just three weeks or so Trump has not make “America Great” but made “America small and distrusted.”

– TRUMP STARTED HIS DERANGE SERIES OF INSULTS AND HARM TO OUR ALLIES EARLY: Early on Trump in just one or two days of tweets and interviews with European publications did more damage to the security and unity Europe and of the Atlantic community than Putin, with all his underhanded efforts of subversion of European democracy and unity. He earlier welcomed and praised parties and movements in Europe promoting far right fascists who are subverting European unity and democracy. Either, this was done, as I said earlier, from madness, stupidity, or something even more dark and terrible?

– A NASTY AND UNNEEDED INSULT BY TRUMP OF ONE OF OUR CLOSEST ALLIES AUSTRALIA IN A CALL WITH THEIR PRIME MINISTER OVER AN AGREED REFUGEE PROGRAM: Trump made a gratuitous and stupid insult to an ally that has fought by our side in World War II and in the Middle East and lost lives and hosts our Marines in deployments to the region to help the common defense in the Pacific.
– LIFTING SOME SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA AFTER A PHONE CALL FROM PUTIN?: He indicated lifting some sanctions on Russia unilaterally without consultation with our allies that have put on sanctions at our urging. He got after talking with Putin so far nothing in return except further aggression in Eastern Ukraine by Russia. Our allies are furious over this slight of our tradition of consultation. There is a pending summit between Trump and Putin and we must wonder what else will be given to Putin for but a bowel of portage or is it borsht? What has also come out is before Trump was president of talks between the Russian Ambassador and Lt, General Flynn representing Trump, which has elicited questions on a leaked transcript of that talk that might show took place and any deals discussed which would have been illegal.

– THE BAN ON MUSLIM REFUGEES AND VISITORS: What can one say. This act by Trump has both domestic constitutional and justice questions and impacts. It also caused a major deterioration on our relations throughout the world. It drew a massive rebuke by many Americans and world leaders. But it key stage was in American counts. It also brings to the fore the question of our democracy and the importance of respect for laws and treaties which binds us and other nations to a system of governance and cooperation. This is necessary for a world order that applies accepted rules and adherence to justice and binding agreements. These keep our security and global cooperation together. The White Houses’ last report is about putting out a new ban in an order that might pass judicial review so uncertainty reigns!
– DISASTROUS CHOICES FOR NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS LEADERSHIP: No action by Trump indicates his direction and irresponsibility than his recent choices for leadership in this area. As in the Biblical saying “you should know them by their acts.” Trumps pick in both domestic and foreign affairs reflects, in almost all cases, a desire to cause real massive harm to past successful policies of Western unity and security.

The Trump instinct is to create chaos whenever possible it seems. The choice of Lt. General Flynn as National Security Council head, a man of distorted values and perspectives, who now seems to be ineffective in halting the “madman” actions of his boss. Or simply powerless. The initial banning from the NSC and Principles Group of the heads of the CIA and Director of National Intelligence, while putting on the Council Stephen Bannon the racist, KKK supported and White Nationalist leader and new Counselor to the President on both of these very sensitive and critical groups. His influence has been felt in every stupid and counterproductive act of Trump in the international domain.
DISRUPTING OUR RELATIONS WITH MEXICO: One of the first acts of incompetence in terms of talking with the leaders of other countries was the phone conservation with Mexico’s President. Trump carried out, according to reports, a blistering set of demands and insults about building and paying for a wall between the two countries. Further, Trump’s spokesman announced a 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for the border wall on Thursday. Staff did strange clarifications to some of this. In the end the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, refused to meet Trump to discuss the issue and American relations with Mexico and its people went into deep disarray.

ISRAEL AND TRUMP’S POLICIES AND AMBASSADOR PICKS: MORE DISASTERS: Trump initially has sided with the extreme right wing hawk Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and also the position of supporting Israeli and settlements. After being told that this would harm the possibility of negotiations with the Palestinians, cause more anger by the Gulf States, and bringing harm to our diplomats abroad, he pulled this back and stated that the settlements were a danger to peace and not a good idea. What position he really wants given his record of contradictory views is unknown. But we know his pick as our Ambassador to Israel loves the settlements!
MIXED GROUP OF IMBECILITIES: Among a mixed group of costly acts or policies which deserve their own analysis but for lack of space here is a short list:

First, the botched assault ordered by Trump by our forces in Yemen that got one of our own killed and death of innocent women and children which cause the local authorities to put restrictions on our actions. Yet another disturbing problem is the handling of the Iran sanctions issues where contradictory views are expressed by Trump and his key advisors – who is to be believed? Add to the list how Trump will deal with nuclear weapons and especially move to taking our and Russia’s nukes off hair trigger release? And will he stand down on massive costs for new weapons and un-needed military hardware since he has taken the occasion of the North Korea missile test to call for more, un-needed, military weapons.

One possible positive act of Trump is on a phone call with China’s president Xi Jinping Trump pledge agreement with the now decades old U.S. policy of one China. Again how long will this last and will Trump also back down on a trade war with China? The other relative calm meeting of Trump was with Japan’s Premier noted earlier but Japan can’t but have doubts about the steadiness of American commitment.

There seems to be a tug of war between some of Trump’s more realistic advisors and what can only be described as Trump’s dementia and mindless prejudices. This is reflected in the influence of people like Bannon who seems to want to see great chaos and destruction at home and abroad so he can re-build a White nationalist and fascist domestic authoritarian rule in the ashes of democracy and support extreme groups abroad to enhance the destruction of Western liberal democracies. Surely, these are also the goals of Putin.

Dear reader you can see it was a busy but catastrophic weeks for our country and an unhappy one of our allies and a great period for our opponents like Russia. Thank you Donald Trump.

We welcome your comments! See section below.

MIDDLE EAST AFLAME: WHAT CAN BE DONE? PART III

U.S. President Barack Obama waves alongside delegation leaders following the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. summit, May 14, 2015, at Camp David, Md. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

By
Harry C. Blaney III

We have tried in our earlier posts in this series to look hard at some of the challenges of the many elements that have created the Middle East. We have also suggested some paths for American long-term policy and strategy that might, just might, mitigate some of the worse disasters that seem to be the fate of this region absent some major interventions inside and from without that can change the trajectory of that chaotic and conflict ridden region. My assumption is that continuation of this trend would be a threat to world order and peace while setting a precedent for the further spread of disorder and conflict. America’s fundamental interest is in a secure, prosperous and peaceful world system.

As many experts in the region have pointed out, the fundamental mutual distrust and history of outbursts of brutal conflict over decades has brought alienation, deep sectarian hatred and insensitivity to human life.  This has undermined not least the building of cohesive moderate nation states. It has created a lack of a simple sense of community within Iraq, for example, and in other states that no American army can alone repair with force of arms.

What we have seen in recent days is very complex conflicts in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. These are manifestations of exactly the kind of murky, always shifting, and not least, intransigence and extremism of the worst of Middle Eastern ethnic and religious elements. If anything our actions under Bush II only created or exacerbated these conditions by the chaos we caused and bad decisions for dealing with terrorism and inter-ethnic warfare.

SYRIA

In Syria we are rightly against both main fighting groups – the brutal Assad regime on the one side, and the even more brutal, if that is possible, ISIS or Islamic State on the other. If we take the side of the Assad regime we are supporting a mass killer of his citizens while ISIS has killed even more indiscriminately and in the most horrendous ways. President Obama’s reluctance to commit massive ground forces to this cauldron is quite understandable.

There are no good or even palatable options here as both sides are beyond the pale. The “bad” guys outnumber the “good” guys here. The need here is of for some kind of diplomatic and political arrangement that gets rid of both antagonists while also finding a space for a government of unity and conciliation. This will provide security and stability for all groups and a measure of stability in the country.  No one so far has the right formula for putting back together the broken nation. The only strategy that makes sense is a long-term goal of getting rid of both malevolent entitles but having in place some substitute.

IRAQ

In Iraq, where the Sunni and Shia divide has cost hundreds of thousands of deaths, there is a weak, largely Shia government influenced by Iran. The Iraqi army consists of mostly Shia soldiers who too often disrespect the Sunni and don’t seem to believe enough in their own government to fight for the government.  We have a skeptical alienated minority Sunni population which includes Sunni tribes that have some well armed tribal militia with mixed loyalties towards either Baghdad or ISIS. These Sunni tribes are however confronting a largely Sunni-ISIS brutal insurgency that kills non-conforming Sunni in large numbers.

Again is there a better path with a chance to change this trajectory?

Under President Obama we correctly have tried to bring both sides together and we are now committing added arms including shoulder held missiles. In addition, we have some 3,000 “advisors” in country maintaining still the wise rule for our main troops to not be in direct combat. Taking sides with either group would be a disaster for any effort to bring both sides to some kind of accommodation not just in Iraq, but in the entire region.

That means we need a wider regional set of solutions and actions.

What we are finding in the Middle East is a series of authoritarian, theocratic, military dominated, sectarian and divisive governments. The governments are filled with corruption and ruling by either extreme religious ideology, simply power mad leaders or groups that are the enemies of modernity and democracy. That does not give a lot of room for moderation and compromise.

Yet there are glimmers of hope in this barren desert of intolerance. Not least is the need for recognition of the brutal fact of “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”  We need profound recognition by the leaders in the region of the reality and danger of imminent end of nations with so much dissent and discontent externally and internally. What both rulers and citizens need, want and should seek is stability, economic security, and space to run their own lives and see prospects for their children. This can’t be done in the landscape of the Middle East today.

We are, as we noted, also at a point when there are a multitude of voices that criticize the present American approach to the Middle East. Some are proposing simply to send in more troops without directly saying that, and some even are proposing war against Iran for example. Further, some favor giving the Sunni states a kind of NATO alliance status, others to take the side of Assad in Syria, and still others like Rand Paul who would have us withdraw almost entirely from the region.

Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations would have us go back to the early “Biden option.” This would mean accepting the breakup of Iraq between the three major factions and helping each directly fight ISIS, supplying arms and training. But that means accepting at the end of the day that the country would be redrawn as loose federation along ethnic lines or totally broken up. Nice if it would work, but it just might create a new three way war within Iraq without some external peace keeping force to prevent mass ethnic killings.

I will not here go into all the possible blowback that any of these opposition “proposals” would have on the region and on our interests, but suffice to say they might not have the results that their proponents assume or want. I above all doubt that any single of these “solutions” would themselves totally stop the advance of the ISIS forces or terrorism in general.

What few of these voices will tell you is exactly how to get there without great costs, or the possible secondary and tertiary consequences of such ideas for peace, and if and how any of these alternative ideas would stop the killing.

So what can be done? What path just might have a chance, if only a chance, of making it better rather than worse?

Obama, has rightly said that these issues will take a long time to reach some kind of solution, indeed likely decades in many expert’s views, if at all. But my view remains that America, with its key allies, are just about the only power that might, just might, be able to mitigate some of these conflicts. There must be some recognition within the region’s nations and their leaders that these upheavals must be dealt with by conciliation, compromise and diplomacy. Hopefully that creates some peace and mutual security with accommodation to the vital interest of all responsible sides.

This is what I believe President Obama has started to do with his GCC Camp David meeting summit. This is also what Secretary of State John Kerry is also working on in his meeting of regional leaders and with outside powers, even including Russia, in order to help reshape the Middle East’s chaos and trajectory of endless killing.

Thus, the reality is the Sunni and the Shia divide can’t be bridged by more U.S. troops in the region. Nor can American military bring Iran or Saudi Arabia together.  Long-term diplomacy by those nations within and outside the region might help if a fair firm framework of security and dialogue were created and major “sticks” and “carrots” (in effect rewards) were on the table for all sides.

The question is, does the West, writ large with our Asian allies, have the wisdom, patience, resources, and political will to undertake such a difficult, perhaps thankless, task of putting back together a more peaceful Middle East “Humpty Dumpty?” It is a still an unanswered question. But only the United States has the capacity to lead such an effort.

Yes it is a huge task especially in a fractured and less capable “West” with so many challenges. Yet in some ways a joint effort might just energize these nations and have a wider benefit. The dialogue this week of the G- 7 is likely to have put on the table some glimmers of what our strategy towards the Middle East should be.

Building trust and taking on the enemies of peace and cooperation can only be done by putting on that table an offer that can’t be refused – and clearly showing the way towards a better landscape for all. That must include all the major players, such as Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel. And it is a task for a decade. 

AN ACTION PLAN FOR MIDDLE EAST RECONCILIATION AND PEACE BUILDING 

The start of this effort should include the following broad set of policies and actions:

ISIS AND THE SUNNI-SHIA DIVIDE 

The first goal is to deal with ISIS and attacking its fundamental strengths and exploiting weaknesses. That means getting both Sunni and Shia factions and key nations to assess their venerability and address their own weakness. Together with Western help, they must undertake a full court press on ISIS’s own vulnerabilities and jointly undermine their military and financial capacities.

But this will only work, as I have outlined in earlier posts, if there is a diplomatic initiative that can at last bring together a measure of common interests and cooperation between the Sunni and Shia factions. This would be based on a common threat and realization that the present “war” between the two needs to be halted for the common good. Strong incentives are likely required to gain their cooperation.

This means getting rid of the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb and the Saudis and Gulf States playing a constructive role in the region. These states and developed nations need to provide financial help and investment to develop the region and put youth back to work. It also means the key “linchpin” states Egypt, Turkey, and their allies join the effort. A tall requirement. Addressing the nuclear issue of the region has to be on the table as the spread on nuclear weapons in the region can only bring catastrophe.

No matter what the GOP hotheads and neo-cons say, we are already starting to do this but under destructive resource constraints because of the Republican distaste for Obama success in any undertaking and their hate of the concept of “nation building.” Yet America and allied countries must put on the table a kind of “Marshall Plan” for the region and create an appropriate security framework that gives to all sides assurances of long-term security and stability short of a NATO type alliance.

As part of this we need other states and actors who are accepted by all sides to fully cooperate in this effort. This includes effective emergency resource interventions on the ground and civilian economic assistance on a more massive scale. 

When, for example, ISIS distributes food to the Sunni population (yet chops off their heads), and when the Iraq government does nothing to help the same population, that is a condition for defeat.  There is then a requirement  for a reformulation of policies that permit an international group to provide, if needed outside the control of a weak Iraq government, food and necessities of life to threatened Kurds, Sunni, and Shia in crisis areas or retaken territory. Also putting people to work to rebuild communities immediately would strengthen their loyalty and commitment to peace and moderate, uncorrupted government. We need a reason for people to fight for their society.

The time has also come to think about the insertion, in selected areas, of an armed broad international peacekeeping force that will enter threatened but defended communities and retaken areas to provide to the local population of any ethnic group a measure of security and protection.  It has worked elsewhere. They would help to create local entities that can long- term provide basic services and requirements for a vulnerable population. Early resettlement of refugees and displaced population should be a high priority to stabilize regions that were battlefields.

One option that needs to be examined is creating “neutral” armed and robust, incorruptible peacekeeping/peacemaking forces from within the region and without, under command of a respected neutral commander. This might be done through the UN or even NATO or another ad hoc body under a new international framework. This needs to be examined now.

IRAN

Getting a strong nuclear deal is a sine qua non for a peace framework in the Middle East. Keeping the security of the sea lanes is another item that the West can insure.  Also getting, as we have noted, Iran to think beyond endless aggression against fellow Islamic states and not least seeing a “win-win” solution being in their best interests. A more responsible Iran will be difficult but over time probably not impossible if we provide the necessary incentives.

ISRAEL- PALESTINIAN PROBLEM 

Not least as part of this framework to bring peace to the region is a new approach to the Israel-Palestinian problem. The new realities call for drastic action. A far right-wing brutal Netanyahu government, with many in this new regime calling for the destruction of the Palestinian people’s hope for a state is not the answer. Given the marginalization of them as a people by the Israeli regime, combined with a weak divided and angry Palestinian leadership, it seems to be sadly, at last, time for a new external “force majeure” to enter the equation.

That may include at long last a UN Security Council compulsory resolution that mandates an international agreed outcome to create a fair and balanced solution to this conflict along lines that all know must be the basis of a fair deal. That deal must provide firm security for both sides and an independent state for the Palestinian people based on the agreed 1967 boundaries with possible exchanges, including a division of Jerusalem so both states can have it as their capital.

With this there may need to be the possible imposition of the strong and armed peacekeeping force made up of NATO countries and other neutral states to enforce the peace. This move will either drive both sides to find a solution between them or have it imposed by the entire international community as part of the UN mandate to provide international security and prevent war. The process may take years but would at least give a clear path to peace. Unfortunately U.S. corrosive political climate may prevent its realization, but there is clearly a need for a new set of external forced conditions to move both sides to peace.

Finally, to make all this work there is a vital need for the key outside powers, North American, Europe, key countries in Asia like Japan, South Korea, and others to support an effort to secure their own interests. These interests include access to energy, and prevent the spread of conflict to their own regions, and to at last address fundamentally the threat that unlimited brutal conflict in this region imposes on the entire international community and human rights. Its frankly a long bet but a start needs to be made and with Obama and Kerry we have a team that at least has the intelligence and heart for such an undertaking.

We welcome your comments!

 
 

REVIEW OF PART II IN THE MIDDLE EAST: WHAT IS TO BE DONE? (DON’T BLAME OBAMA FOR THE MIDDLE EAST PROBLEMS!)

President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

By

Harry C. Blaney III

 

The recent debate over American policy in the Middle East and most recently the criticism of have engendered much debate, most of it misguided.  (See Post of 5/27/15)

There has been a profusion of comments and advocacy in our national security debate. They aimed at digging us deeper into a dangerous military alliance with those that do not share our values or interests and also a perverse kind of military adventurism beyond rationality.  In an area of conflicting powers, mixed loyalties and motives, and few  good, if any, national powers with the same outlooks and values of Western democracies, finding good partners for the long run will not be easy. But it is necessary to try. 

In the same vein, the critics recent simplistic and partisan knee jerk responses to the recent fall of the provincial capital Ramadi of Ambar province in Iraq and other events, underlines the absence of long-term critical thinking. Critics fails to look at the nature and depth of the Middle East’s woes and what can and can’t be done to mitigate these age old conflicts and their newer manifestations.

Further, there is no single leader, no single group, no single country, nor one single failure of society that can be attributed to all of the many sources of these upheavals and hatreds. Thus no single “silver bullet” exists to redeem these tragedies or can put to rest all the injustices and conflicts that we now see in this tragic “rotting” Middle East conundrum. 

The entire Middle East has and is undergoing cataclysmic changes and upheavals in local communities, within whole nations, and beyond national borders, indeed throughout the whole region.  Those causes of instability that otherwise might be seen in a century or more of violent change now appear rapidly and widely. 

Nor is there yet in sight a serious abatement of these conflicts, and the sad part is that “new” and “old’ regional leaders, with a few exceptions, do not seem able or willing to put a stop to these conflicts. Many leaders even have exacerbated them and contributed to their savageness.  

Forces and divisions long dormant have risen up. New political and military groups have asserted their power and used the tools of armed conflict, bigotry, religious extremism, and sectarian hatred to gain power and to enforce brutal rule without restraint. Powerful leaders without any moral sense have used the hatred of “the other” for narrow self-interested, and in the end likely self-defeating, political power.

All this is illustrated not only by ISIS and their mass killings, but in the mass convictions of a former prime minister and hundreds of citizens to death sentences in Egypt by a rigid authoritarian military regime. Not to mention the killings in Gaza of 1,200 largely civilians including woman and children by Israel and the use in the last election by the right-wing Prime Minister Netanyahu of denigrating statements about Palestinians citizens within and outside Israel.  

Equally, this corrosive environment is shown by the deadly civil conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Syria and beyond.  This all indicates not only a new level of extreme mass killings by the jihadists but also official use of the power of the state to kill or jail political opponents. There appears to be widespread indifference to the value of life and sense of justice. Civil society and institutions have become weakened.

The lack of tolerance, reconciliation and of compromise among the conflicting parties of the region in recent years has only exacerbated the problem of poverty, un-employment, prejudice between sects and ethnic groups that have lived with each other for centuries and indeed millennium. Corruption also has undermined civil society as has sizable inequality.

So can any of this be solved by added American fighting troops alone? 

In these conditions it is hard to frame a workable let alone effective American and Western military strategy that can mitigate meaningfully the massive instability and brutality in the region. Those that think they have an answer appear to be critical of President Obama’s policies and action. They seem bent on actions that likely will do no good or do real harm and reflect a misguided ideology and narrow view that itself is destructive.

Above all for those supposed leaders who call for the use of U.S. active combat troops on the ground it seems that this is their only answer to these complex forces of unrest and upheavals. While some combat troops can help deal with specific events and crises, their insertion in areas with little understanding of the territory can do much harm.  Their actions too often have escalated the conflicts and problems. 

How can we trust them and our security with this simplistic view of massive complexity and many dangers? Some still think they have the right or arrogance to run for president and under the banner of more senseless war. 

In this context the question our next post will address is how we might advance some measure of actions and policies that might stop the stride toward endless war on this region.

We welcome your comments!

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!

THE LOUD SOUND OF WAR IN THE CHAMBER OF ECHOS BUT LITTLE REASON OR THOUGHT: THE NETANYAHU SPEECH

U.S. President Barack Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  (Image: Clarion Project)
` U.S. President Barack Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(Image: Clarion Project)

By Harry C. Blaney III


The predicted reactions to Prime Minster’s Netanyahu speech in Congress echo the political divide in our nation; in the real world of security and common sense it was embarrassing, shallow and simply a trap laid by Bibi to create a conflict that would scuttle any hope for peace in the region for decades. Despite disclaimers, it was also aimed at dividing Americans and our political life.

Let me be frank and direct, these Netanyahu (also called “Bibi”) actions were at best provocations. They were more likely a deliberate trap to make America again act against its own security interests and that of the region as a whole. The underlying aim was get us into a headless preemptive war out of which no good could come.

Despite unconvincing and hypocritical phrases by Netanyahu that he did not create partisan division on support for Israel, along with his disingenuous praise for Obama’s support for Israel (which has been considerable), the main impression he left, which he knew, was that Americans could not trust the President nor the Democrats to safeguard the security of Israel. The further false impression he left was that any negotiations would, in his view, lead inevitably to Iran gaining nuclear weapons.

President Obama and Secretary Kerry have pointed out frequently that any agreement must prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and that any alternative was even more dangerous since it would lead even faster to the nuclear option without the constraints imposed by the interim agreement and the more comprehensive document that is on the table now and is still not agreed. The latest news is that the recent Geneva negotiations broke up without any real progress, but in these matters, people often play brinkmanship towards the end…..not a very smart tactic when so much is at stake. Whether the Netanyahu speech had an impact on the Iranian authorities to harden their position remains unknown.

It was clear that Netanyahu’s point was to undermine the Iranian nuclear negotiations, not because he thought they were insufficient, but he feared they were going to be successful and thus undermine his call for “war.” That logic in our crazy world shows what lengths Netanyahu would go to not just stop an Iran agreement, but to scuttle any further peace efforts in the Middle East.  Further, his aim was to justify a policy of piece by piece displacing Palestinians on the West Bank and eliminating the possibility of the existence of a Palestinian state and its people’s rights. There is no other conclusion that one can find for such a reckless approach.  The sad part is that this approach most en-dangerous long-term Israel’s own security and perhaps even its existence.

This Bibi strategy is simply suicidal for Israel. It must live in its neighborhood; it must find peace with others in the region. That is the only solution for Israel’s security. The rest, the illegal settlements, the killing of woman and children in Palestinian camps and in Gaza civilian urban warfare with tanks, bombs, and missiles, are all directed toward creating permanent conflict as justification for a policy of suppression, endless war, and power for Bibi and the militant right-wing to stay in control. Together this stratagem is creating insurmountable conditions for any peace agreement.  A former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagen simply called the speech “bull shit” and that the Bibi, Likud Party actions would end with an “apartheid” state.  A group of former Israeli “Commanders” from the security agencies and military also issued a statement against Bibi’s strategy and its undemanding the US-Israeli relationship.

One factor which may give some hope that Bibi’s stratagem will not work, is that Iran has the potential to curtail its nuclear program and thus to lift some of the sanctions and start exporting more of its oil, end its present isolation, and try to restart its economy for which it needs outside investment and trade.  If Iran thought for a second, it clearly needs that more than any atomic bomb which is also suicidal. But the question is: will rationality and facts on the ground prevail or like Israel, will Iran’s leader’s irrational desire for perpetual war prevail?  That remains a question for serious negotiations not war!

Finally, I want to be clear that any Middle East peace must provide for the security of Israel, which is in our interest, but also for the new Palestinian state and indeed for the region. That is rightly American policy and our key objective. War with Iran and within the region will not bring peace. Bibi seems to want not peace, but authoritarian dominance of the Palestinians. There is no other conclusion one can draw from his actions and indeed his speeches, despite him saying he “wants peace” – which seems a peace of the conqueror. That is not in the cards.

 

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.

Obama’s Middle East Trip – Accomplishments and Next Steps

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Jerusalem Convention Center in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Jerusalem Convention Center in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

First, I want to agree with my colleague blogger Alan Berlind on the key accomplishment by Obama in getting the Israelis and the Turks back into the “game.” As he notes, they are key actors in this region and without their confidence in each other and specific cooperation between them, any peace in the area would be much more difficult on a project that many believe is still a long  shot.

But this is not the only key accomplishment – the one that is necessary for real progress is creating an honest peace effort and a final sustainable peace treaty based on the “two state” formula with all its interrelated elements.

What Obama was trying to do in that key trip speech in Jerusalem was to reach out to the Israeli public and especially to the young generation, to try to convince them that he, is a true friend, and that he is committed to trying to bring peace to the region. And to show that backing the peace process, and eventually, an accommodation with the Palestinians is the right path towards both security and prosperity.  From the reactions on the ground this seems to have at last had some impact.

Finally, he had no intention on alienating the Palestinians and other actors in the region and wanted to ensure to all that America will be fair and helpful.  He has to be seen as an honest broker by Israel and the Palestinians.   They need to believe he has the fundamental interests and security of all in his mind and heart in the peace process. Otherwise, true negotiations will stall for lack of assurance that America will ensure no side is disadvantaged on critical issues of existential interest.

But now the hard part starts.

The biggest problem now is the follow-up by Secretary Kerry – no neophyte to this region and its troubles. That is an advantage.  But somehow he needs decisions from both players.  This means he has to be frank and has to work to modify Israel’s counterproductive and even disingenuous settlements stance, which is a real block to negotiations. And that means the Palestinians will have to continue and re-assert their effort to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist in peace and to deal with potential terrorism from their side. No small lift. 

To make all this work, I believe that there is a need for a bold “game changer” from the outside. A “Deus Ex Machina” solution.  In effect to make a proposal that “can’t be refused” by either side that provides such benefits that to turn it down would require political and economic madness and greater risks to do so.

 This can best be done by a group of nations like the EU, America, and key Arab and regional actors. But the U.S. would have to be the key “guarantor” especially on the security side.  This means a pact or a series of agreements taken together that is so “net” attractive it would be hard to dismiss and then for the leaders to face their citizens.  Both sides would have gains and losses but the “deal” itself would justify the costs.

In short, there would be a net “win-win” both for the region, for dealing with a host of threats that impact every nation and for the larger region from Iran to Egypt and North Africa. It would have the advantage of “smoking out” players who seek only conflict and not a balanced peace. Can America have the courage and diplomacy to have all the key players join in to address the “macro” questions that are the stumbling bloc to agreement?  Moving fast may be a necessity as the region’s old landscape is crumbling before our eyes and there will be a lot of “patching” up that will require much added focus.

After Obama’s trip there is a need to tap the fervency of his speech, his outreach to all sides and to lift the spirit of those who were swiftly losing hope.

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!