Monthly Archives: October 2008

Dennis Ross Explains his Support for Obama

Ambassador Dennis Ross has served the United States during the Reagan,  Bush 41, and Clinton administrations. He has maintained a non-partisan image, working closely with Republican and Democratic administrations on the Middle East and Russia. Until now, that is. Dennis Ross is a senior foreign policy advisor to Obama’s campaign, and traveled with him on his tour of Europe and the Middle East.

At a conference entitled “The Jewish Vote and the 2008 Presidential Election” at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, Amb. Ross explained why he has chosen to support Senator Obama.

Ross gave two major reasons: the stakes of the election, and Obama’s temperament and skills.

The Idea of Non-Aggression Pact with Lebanon

Reports surfaced recently that Israel was weighing a non-aggression pact with Lebanon. It is not self-evident what the purpose of this pact, or at least floating the idea of the pact, would be. A non-aggression pact with the government will in no way prevent Hezbollah from acting. It would also invite the wrath of much of the Arab world against Lebanon. Perhaps Israel knows that such a pact will never be signed, but wants to gain something from floating the idea.  It is conceivable that with election in Lebanon approaching, Israel wants to remind Lebanese voters that they have no fight with Israel, but are dragged into conflict by Hezbollah. A vote against Hezbollah is a vote for Lebanon.

Michael Totten considers the idea of the pact on Commentary’s website. He is also pessimistic about the possibility of such an agreement actually being signed, but he explores the reception such an idea might have in Lebanon.

Civil War General’s Letter about Jews and Loyalty

In my research, I stumbled upon this correspondence, which is simply too interesting to to withhold from the attention of our readers. It is a correspondence between the Union General Benjamin F. (Beast) Butler and the editor of The Jewish Messenger, and New York publication. Isaacs wrote to Butler objecting to Butler’s specification of the religion of five Jews among captured blockade runners. I picked up on a deep-seated Christian anti-Semitism coursing through Butler’s words. Isaacs eloquence and clever argument blunt Butler’s insinuation that Jews are less American and less committed to the Union than Christian Americans.

Michael Oren Analyzes Candidates’ Positions on Israel

Historian Michael Oren finally released his anticipated article on ramifications of the upcoming election for Israel. Prof. Oren had been approached about writing the article for The Journal of International Security Affairs, and expected to find that there were no major differences between Obama and McCain. He said that he was surprised to discover that there were indeed profound differences despite their support for the Israeli-American alliance. Oren said that the Obama camp disputed his findings, so he sat down with representatives of the campaign and showed them the evidence. There were significant differences between the candidates on their approach toward settlements, Hamas, and especially the root cause of Middle Eastern conflicts.

 The US-Israel Partnership: Forks in the Road

Michael Oren, Fall 2008

Supporters of Israel are intensely interested in which of the two presidential candidates, John McCain or Barack Obama, is “best” for the Jewish state. Of course, “best” is a subjective concept, colored by whether one regards settlements as beneficial or disastrous for Israel, for example, or the creation of a Palestinian state as essential or deadly. The word also assumes a substantial degree of familiarity with the candidates’ positions on issues that impact Israel either directly or collaterally. Attaining such clarity from politicians is difficult even in normal times. But during an election year, it is especially daunting. Speeches by presidential hopefuls geared to special constituencies, statements from commentators and aides, misquotes and gaffes-together these can cloud the contenders’ platforms, particularly on matters as complex and controversial as the Middle East. Moreover, more than a little disinformation on Obama and McCain has been disseminated by opponents and interested parties, further obscuring their true views.

Sky News Scolds McCain for What?!?

The New Republic’s The Stump  picked up on a strange comment in a Sky News article about the new footage of John McCain as a POW.

The video portrays the Republican as a hero but the message may be tarnished as he is filmed smoking a cigarette.(italics mine- lb)

Who would even think of criticizing a man who held out for his comrades against brutal torture for having a drag on a cigarette? I really don’t think that this would cause anyone to miss the emotional contained in the footage.

Marc Lynch Re-evaluates the Meaning of the Sunni Awakenings

Marc Lynch, professor at the Elliott School at George Washington University, is an expert on Arab media, especially as it relates to America’s war on terror. He blogs at Abu Aardvark, and his site is worth reading if trends in Arab media, especially in Iraq, interests you.

He spoke at the Mortara Center in Washington, D.C., today about the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, in a talk entitled “Rethinking Iraq’s Awakening”.  Lynch does not dispute that the Awakening was a decisive point in the war, as Sunnis turned against Al Qaeda. However, argues Lynch, there is little concensus on what actually caused the Awakening.

German Ambassador Sends Defense Attache to Attend Iranian Anti-Israel Parade

One would think that Germany would be careful about having its ambassadors events that threaten Jews with annihilation. Not so when it comes to Iran, reports The Wall Street Journal. The German ambassador attended Teheran’s annual military parade, whcih featured the usual litany of stomping Israel off the map. When one recalls the deep trade relationship that Germany maintains with Iran, the ambassador’s presence is less jarring.

It’s been a while since German military officers attended rallies that feature threats to Jews. Last month Berlin’s defense attaché in Tehran resumed that tradition at Iran’s annual military parade.

The German envoy had the privilege of hearing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promise to “break the hands” of invaders amid banners that read “Israel should be eradicated from the universe” and shouts of “Down with Israel” and “We will crush America under our feet.”

Iran’s parades are notorious for their “Death to Israel and America” slogans, which is why the European Union shuns these hate-filled spectacles. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was “very annoyed” about the attaché’s faux pas, according to a report in Der Spiegel, and summoned Herbert Honsowitz, the ambassador to the Islamic Republic, to Berlin. Mr. Honsowitz, who is known for pushing trade between the two nations, has since returned to his post and is expected to serve out his term.

This episode illustrates the fundamental problem with Germany’s attitude toward Iran: the disconnect between what Berlin says is its official policy goal — stopping the mullahs’ quest for nuclear arms — and what Berlin actually does. Germany remains Iran’s key Western trading partner. The German-Iranian Chamber of Industry and Trade counts about 2,000 members, including such big names as Siemens and BASF. In the first seven months of this year, Germany’s Federal Office of Economics and Export Control approved 1,926 business deals with Iran — an increase of 63% over last year. During that same period, German exports to Iran rose 14.1%.

For the record, French exports went up 21% during the first six months of the year, but they are still worth less than half of Germany’s €2.2 billion of exports. Britain’s exports to Tehran, only a fraction of Germany’s trade with Iran, fell 20%. And while France and the U.K. are both pushing for tougher EU sanctions against Iran, Germany is reluctant to join their cause.

Given this reality, it’s not surprising that Berlin’s ambassador in Tehran apparently thought nothing of sending a military envoy to Iran’s “Down with Israel” rally. He simply put Germany’s mouth where its money already is.

Electoral Realities and Military Strategy in the Civil War and Iraq

Clausewitz famously wrote “war is a continuation of politics by other means”. Clausewitz meant this as a description of war, but it should also remind politicians and war-planners alike that there are electoral realities that must be taken into account by a democracy at war.

The Civil War is a clear example of the interplay between electoral reality and military strategy, and it should influence our thinking as we come to an election during the war in Iraq.

Iran Loses Bid for Security Council Seat

In a (rare) show of sanity and decency, the U.N. member states voted to give the temporary Asian seat on the Security Council to Japan (158) instead of Iran (32). Austria and Turkey won the two European seats, Mexico won the Latin American seat, and Uganda the African seat. The other five non-permanent members are Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Libya and Vietnam. They are joined by the five permanent members, the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia, and China.

Blunt Defense of War in Iraq from Fallen U.S. Soldier

Army Specialist Stephen Fortunato from Beverly, MA, was killed Tuesday when his vehicle ran over an IED. His mother sent a blog post of his to the Boston Globe, in which Specialist Fortunato lays out an unapoligetic and refreshing defense of the effort in Iraq. It isn’t pretty, but it is eloquent in its honest simplicity.

If I may …

I’d like to say something….Just to get it out there so it is clear.
To all the pampered and protected Americans who feel it is their duty to inform me that I am not fighting for their freedom, and that i am a pawn in Bush’s agenda of greed and oil acquisition: Noted, and [expletive deleted] You.

Good News about Israel’s Arabs

Despite the recent riots in Acco, there is good news about the Israeli Arab situation. The IDF is reporting that the number of Arab recruits is up dramatically this yuear. It is slightly unclear when they are including Christian Arab, Muslim Arab, and Bedouin Israelis in their figures and when they are referring to the populations separately. Israeli Arabs serve almost exclusively in the 585, the desert reconnaisance battalion (the article below calls it a brigade, but it is not). Bedouins serve in a variety of regular units. The 585 is split almost evenly between Arabs and Bedouins, and they do not get along. Historical rivalries are not far below the surface in the battalion, resulting in fights, thefts, and taunting. The army is aggressively pursuing Christian Arab recruits, as they do not have the connection to Islam that make it less likely for Muslim Arabs  to enlist. Towns such as Daburiyya have had residents murder local soldiers, and recruits from such communities have to return home without their uniforms.

Bedouin towns are far more supportive, and communities such as Beit Zarzir and Hujirat, almost all young men serve in the army.

It should be noted that I commanded the officer interviewed below during his basic training. Haaretz reports: 

The number of Israeli Arab recruits to the IDF has increased dramatically in the first nine months of 2008, official figures obtained by Haaretz indicate.

The rise in the Bedouin recruitment rate is attributed to Bedouin’s difficulty in finding well-paid jobs outside the military and problems with the local authorities. The IDF has also improved its treatment of Bedouin army veterans and is helping them find employment.

Ugly Riots In Acco on Yom Kippur

An ugly situation unfolded in Acco Yom Kippur eve as tensions between Jews and Arabs in the city exploded into riots and vandalism. There was another demonstration Thursday night as well.

Neither side comes off very well here. It seems that the incident was started when an intoxicated Arab resident drove into a Jewish neighborhood blasting music on the holiest day of the Jewish year. He refused to leave, and Jewish teens attacked him. Arabs youths quickly heard about the scuffle and started rioting through Jewish neighborhoods. Rumors have caused riots among Arab repeatedly in the North, including the fighting between Arabs and Druze after rumors circulated that Arab youths were posting pictures of nude Druze girls on the internet.

It is especially disturbing that the Arab residents were yelling “Allahu Akbar” as they smashed the windows of Jewish-owned shops. It seems the police acted swiftly and effectively to bring the situation under relative control, but this is a reminder of how delicate the balance is in northern Israel between Muslim Arab,s Christian Arabs, Druze, Bedouins, and Jews.

From The Jerusalem Post:

A riot in Acre shattered the Yom Kippur calm on Wednesday night as hundreds of the city’s Arab residents vandalized Jewish-owned shops and vehicles and clashed with police.

On Thursday evening, tensions boiled over again during a demonstration held by Jews against the previous evening’s occurrences. Both Jews and Arabs clashed with police in various parts of the racially divided city, leading to 10 arrests. In total, at least eight people were lightly injured in the successive nights of violence.

For part of Thursday evening, the city was in lockdown, its entrances temporarily closed off, as hundreds of riot and border police armed with water cannons and tear gas worked to restore calm to Acre’s streets.

Police say the disturbances were sparked deliberately on Wednesday evening when an Arab driver, Tawfik Jamal – a resident of Acre’s Old City – made his way to the predominantly Jewish Ben-Gurion neighborhood in the eastern part of the city, blasting loud music from his vehicle as a provocation on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

Final Thoughts on the Debate

Once again, it seems that McCain outpointed Obama when he needed to score a knockout. Obama held his own throughout, and might have had the edge on the economic questions. But McCain relished the foreign policy section to talk about his long experience, and to present himself as “a steady hand at the tiller”.

McCain certaintly was lucky to have former Navy Chief ask a question, and the moment they shared put McCain military service briefly back in focus.

Both men danced around the question of whether they would send troops to support Israel if Iran attacked. 

All in all, a conventional debate that was not at all the game-changer McCain needs.  

Obama Criticizes Biden’s Home State

In a discussion about health care, Obama said that companies would all move to a state with loose regulations if consumers could buy across state lines. He likened the scenario to banks moving to Delaware, with its loose regulations. Loose regulations are not popular words in the contemporary financial crisis, and tying Biden to it, indirectly, seems like a mistake Obama regretted while he was in the middle of making it.

Obama Plays the Computer Card

In his discussion in tonight’s debate of the government’s potential to aid the economy, Obama brought up computers. This is a not-so-subtle tactic meant to reinforce to voters that McCain, who barely uses computers, is out of touch with modern technology.

Keep in mind that McCain can play the POW card on this one- McCain’s injuries make it very difficult for him to use a keyboard.

Biden Doubles Pakistani Missile Range, Might Have Threatened Begin in 1982

Biden claimed in the vice-presidential debate that  Pakistani nuclear weapons can hit Israel and the Mediterranean.

IFILL: Let’s move to Iran and Pakistan. I’m curious about what you think starting with you Sen. Biden. What’s the greater threat, a nuclear Iran or an unstable [Pakistan]? Explain why.

BIDEN: Well, they’re both extremely dangerous. I always am focused, as you know Gwen, I have been focusing on for a long time, along with Barack on Pakistan. Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. Pakistan already has deployed nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s weapons can already hit Israel and the Mediterranean.

As Campaign Spot at National Review Online points out, Pakistan and Israel are slightly more than 2,000 miles away from each other. The Pakistani’s nuclear-capable missile with the longest range is the Ghauri, which can reach 1,000 miles with poor accuracy. There’s not much to say about this except that Biden, the supposed foreign policy expert, is simply wrong.

Palin’s Surge Math

In last night’s debate, Sarah Palin said

And with the surge that has worked we’re now down to pre-surge numbers in Iraq. That’s where we can be. We can start putting more troops in Afghanistan as we also work with our NATO allies who are there strengthening us and we need to grow our military.

Are we indeed down to pre-surge numbers in Iraq? It does not appear that we are, not by a long shot. The U.S. had 132,000 troops in Iraq when the surge was announced in January, 2007. We are currently hovering around 146,000, not including the 8,000 coming home by February, 2009. Even counting those troops, she’s still off by 6,000. It’s hard to understand why she and McCain keep driving that point that is so easily refutable.

Hezbollah Kicked out of Lebanon? Come Again, Joe?

Last night’s debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden (transcript here) is tough to call. Both sides are claiming victory. It seems that both Biden and Palin won, possible since they were not really competing against each other.

Biden had to make sure that he did not put his foot in his mouth or come across as mean or aggressive. He remained amiable and gracious throughout, passing up several chances to attack Palin’s misstatements. His tears during the mention of his first wife’s fatal car accident came across as honest and spontaneous, and he attacked McCain, not Palin.

Palin’s task was more difficult. After two awful weeks for McCain, because of both the economy and Palin’s incomprehensible answers during her Couric interview, a poor performance for Palin could put the nail in the coffin of McCain’s campaign and rule out any national political career for Palin. What’s more, she was going up against a veteran senator with long and deep foreign policy experience. She was able to remain on the offensive for much of the debate, and even took control of the topic being discussed at times, albeit in a sometimes awkward fashion. She was able to project her personality through the television that endeared her to conservative and rural Americans. And, most importantly, she had an answer for every question (even if it wasn’t the question being asked), and did not freeze up or say that she did not know about a certain subject.

Both candidates had their misstatements, but there was one that continues to stand out in my mind.