Obama and the Middle East

The time will come for the US to unfurl a grand diplomatic initiative. Not now. The most urgent task is to prepare the way for that day by countering the skepticism that has greeted and torpedoed every recent American idea, good or bad—from Secretary of State William Roger’s 1969 plan to the road map. The time is for a clean break, in words, style, and approach.

For many in the US, the notion of such radical change often is reduced to the question of whether or not to talk to Hamas. That is a diversion. The challenge is whether Obama can speak to those for whom Hamas speaks. They are the people who have lost faith in America, its motivations, and every proposal it promotes.

The broader point is this: a window exists, short and subject to abrupt closure, during which President Obama can radically upset Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim preconceptions and make it possible for his future plan, whatever and whenever it might be, to get a fair hearing—for American professions of seriousness to be taken seriously. It won’t be done by repackaging the peace process of years past. It won’t be done by seeking to strengthen those leaders viewed by their own people as at best weak, incompetent, and feckless, at worst irresponsible, careless, and reckless. It won’t be done by perpetuating the bogus and unhelpful distinction between extremists and moderates, by isolating the former, reaching out to the latter, and ending up disconnected from the region’s most relevant actors.

It won’t be done by trying to perform better what was performed before. President Bush’s legacy was, in this sense, doubly harmful: he did the wrong things poorly, which now risks creating the false expectation that, somehow, they can be done well. [continued…]

Do like Jimmy Carter

The U.S. president who did most for Israel was not Harry Truman, who recognized the Jewish state almost immediately after it was founded. Nor was it John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon. Or Gerald Ford, or Ronald Reagan, or the two George Bushes, or Bill Clinton, though all of these provided America’s ally with economic assistance, supplied it with arms and stood at its side at critical moments, from the 1967 Six-Day War to the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The president who did most for Israel was Jimmy Carter — the same Carter who has sometimes been described as an Israel-hater. In numerous appearances around the world, he has never shrunk from criticizing Israel for its faults, real and imaginary; the dislike is mutual. [continued…]

Israel: U.S. will know before any Iran strike

Israel has acceded to American demands by pledging to coordinate its moves on Iran with Washington and not surprise the United States with military action.

During a trip to Jerusalem earlier this week, CIA chief Leon Panetta informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that U.S. President Barack Obama demanded that Israel not launch a surprise attack on Iran. The message expressed concern that Israel would cause an escalation in the region and undermine Obama’s efforts to improve relations with Tehran. [continued…]

Lieberman’s party proposes ban on Arab Nakba

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s party wants to ban Israeli Arabs from marking the anniversary of what they term “the Catastrophe” or Nakba, when in 1948 some 700,000 Arabs lost their homes in the war that led to the establishment of the state of Israel.

The ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party said it would propose legislation next week for a ban on the practice and a jail term of up to three years for violators.

“The draft law is intended to strengthen unity in the state of Israel and to ban marking Independence Day as a day of mourning,” said party spokesman Tal Nahum. [continued…]

Poll: 58% of Israeli Jews back two-state solution

Some 58% of Israel’s Jewish public backs the “two states for two peoples” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a Smith Institute poll commissioned by Ynet revealed. [continued…]

The writing on the wall for Obama’s ‘Af-Pak’ Vietnam

It requires a spectacular leap of faith in a kind of superheroic American exceptionalism to imagine that the invasion of Afghanistan that occurred in November 2001 will end any differently from any previous invasion of that country. And it takes an elaborate exercise in self-delusion to avoid recognizing that the Taliban crisis in Pakistan is an effect of the war in Afghanistan, rather than a cause — and that Pakistan’s turmoil is unlikely to end before the U.S. winds down its campaign next door. [continued…]

The Taliban bogeyman

President Asif Ali Zardari, less than a year into his reign, has managed to engage Pakistan’s armed forces, the seventh largest army in the world, in a guerrilla war with the newly formed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, our very own Taliban, in the North West Frontier Province. Rumors of Talibanization air daily on Pakistani television, radio and print media: The barbarians are at the gate, we are told, and warned that if there was a time to rally around the nation’s oleaginous president, a man known locally as “President Ghadari” or traitor in Urdu, this is it. However, the time for scaremongering has past — it is precisely President Zardari’s politically expedient use of national hysteria that has seen American drones welcomed over Pakistan’s airspace and has birthed a war that this government cannot win.

In the aftermath and fallout of 9/11, Pakistan saw its elite — the power brokers of the country’s politics and economy — turn against their traditional allies, the United States for the first time. As U.S. forces occupied first Afghanistan and then Iraq, Pakistan’s elite took an unexpected turn; they welcomed resistance to American foreign policy and supported, as they had never quite done before, Islamic parties that took control of local government and provincial cabinet positions in the North West Frontier Province. [continued…]

Caught in the crossfire – the Swat valley’s fleeing families

Army footage shows laser-guided missiles slamming into mountain buildings that explode into a fountain of fragments. Warplanes blast away at Taliban targets in the Swat valley and ground troops push towards the main town, Mingora. When Pakistani forces kill the Taliban, few complain – this is a popular war, for now.

“We are progressing well,” a spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, said.

Sometimes, though, they hit the wrong target. Jan Nawab, a slightly-built man with a scraggly beard, stood outside the house where he has taken refuge, and sobbed softly under the weight of the calamity that had befallen him. [continued…]

Pakistan hospitals, camps are overwhelmed

Shaista Behran lay on a hospital bed with a battered leg and a burdened psyche after watching several members of her family diebefore her eyes.

The 8-year-old and her family fled the village of Wodkhi in Pakistan’s war-torn Swat Valley last week, making it as far as the area’s biggest town, Mingora, when a mortar shell exploded nearby.

“I saw my brother, two sisters and my mother die in front of me,” she said, her words halting and barely audible, as a fly settled on her matted black hair. “Then everything went dark and I woke up here in the hospital.” [continued…]

Al-Qaida today: a movement at the crossroads

If you wonder what has happened to al-Qaida, follow the trail of Arab and Muslim public opinion, and you’ll get a clear picture of its massive crisis of authority and legitimacy.

The balance of forces in the world of Islam has shifted dramatically against al-Qaida’s global jihad and its local manifestations.

Now, more and more Muslims view al-Qaida through a prism that focuses on the monstrosity of killing of non-combatants in general, not just Muslim civilians. Recent opinion surveys and my own field-research confirm that an overwhelming majority of Muslims are more than just unsympathetic to the ideology of Osama bin Laden and his followers; they place the blame squarely at his feet for the harm he has caused to the image of Islam and the damage his movement has wrought within Muslim societies. [continued…]

U.S. evangelicals join the nuclear-weapon-free world movement

In the storied and steady history of faith-based opposition to nuclear weapons, however, mainstream U.S. Evangelicals have been notably absent. Such has been our (yes, I’m one) absence that Michael Sean Winters, blogging on the website of the Catholic magazine America, wrote last week of the new Two Futures Project, “Nothing in recent memory is stranger than the emerging alliance between a group of activist evangelicals and former Cold War statesmen in support of an effort to eliminate nuclear weapons.”

As the founder and director of said alliance, I’m delighted to discover that we’re so superlative.

Last week we launched the Two Futures Project, a Christian movement led by a new generation of U.S. Evangelicals–with the blessing of our older forebears–for the complete, multilateral abolition of nuclear weapons. We have no illusions that the process will be quick or easy, and thus, are preparing for the work of a generation–to ensure nonpartisan continuity of purpose in U.S. political leadership for a nuclear-weapon-free world. Our goal is rooted in “the power of the ought,” as Max Kampelman and George Shultz call it, securing unshakable support for a post-atomic age, with the intention that its attainment would become the north star, or organizing principle, for U.S. nuclear policy. [continued…]

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