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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Thursday, March 15. 1) What will they write this October?
"This is Admiral Kirk. We tried it once your way, Khan, are you game for a rematch? Khan, I'm laughing at the "superior intellect."
Kirk to Khan from "The Wrath of Khan."
In October, 2008, the editors of the Washington Post endorsed Senator Barack Obama for President.
Mr. Obama is a man of supple intelligence, with a nuanced grasp of complex issues and evident skill at conciliation and consensus-building. At home, we believe, he would respond to the economic crisis with a healthy respect for markets tempered by justified dismay over rising inequality and an understanding of the need for focused regulation. Abroad, the best evidence suggests that he would seek to maintain U.S. leadership and engagement, continue the fight against terrorists, and wage vigorous diplomacy on behalf of U.S. values and interests. Mr. Obama has the potential to become a great president. Given the enormous problems he would confront from his first day in office, and the damage wrought over the past eight years, we would settle for very good.
ON THE SECOND set of issues, having to do with keeping America safe in a dangerous world, it is a closer call. Mr. McCain has deep knowledge and a longstanding commitment to promoting U.S. leadership and values.
But Mr. Obama, as anyone who reads his books can tell, also has a sophisticated understanding of the world and America's place in it. He, too, is committed to maintaining U.S. leadership and sticking up for democratic values, as his recent defense of tiny Georgia makes clear. We hope he would navigate between the amoral realism of some in his party and the counterproductive cocksureness of the current administration, especially in its first term. On most policies, such as the need to go after al-Qaeda, check Iran's nuclear ambitions and fight HIV/AIDS abroad, he differs little from Mr. Bush or Mr. McCain. But he promises defter diplomacy and greater commitment to allies. His team overstates the likelihood that either of those can produce dramatically better results, but both are certainly worth trying.
Despite this praise, three times this month, so far, those same editors have questioned or challenged the "supple intelligence" and "sophisticated understanding" of the President in matters of foreign policy.

In How long does the U.S. wait to aid Syria?, from March 2, the Post's editors write
There are steps the administration could take short of direct intervention. It could work with Iraqi Kurds — who are U.S. allies — to deliver aid to Kurds in Syria. It could provide opposition groups with communications gear and take steps to disrupt the communications of Syrian military units. If it has not already, it should prepare plans to secure the Assad regime’s stocks of chemical and biological weapons — and implement them at the first sign that the regime is preparing to use those arms or allow them to fall into the hands of others.
Oh, and the trigger for Pyongyang to renege is already built in. The regime said it would maintain the limited moratorium “while productive dialogue continues,” and spelled out what it expects: “the lifting of sanctions . . . and provision of light water reactors.” If that’s not delivered — or if the United States insists on intrusive monitoring of the food aid — the nuclear inspectors will be booted back out.
So once again: Why buy this horse? The argument can be made that something, even a limited moratorium, is better than nothing. Maybe talks with North Korea will deter the new leader from misbehavior, such as more nuclear tests or military provocations of South Korea, if only for a while. But “stability” has been purchased not just at the price of 240,000 tons of food, but by sanctioning the continued oppression of 24 million people.
The Obama administration’s public arguments against the use of force in Syria are simply encouraging a rogue regime to believe it can act with impunity. Until he is faced with a credible threat of force, from the opposition or outside powers, Mr. Assad’s slaughter will go on.
In Obama's troubled handling of Afghanistan they write:
The president reluctantly accepted the advice of his generals that he adopt a strategy of counterinsurgency against the Taliban and send additional troops to carry it out. But he arbitrarily cut the number of troops sought by commanders; set an equally arbitrary deadline for beginning their withdrawal; and rejected the military’s advice that the pullout be staged after this year’s summer fighting season. Now his aides are reportedly pushing for further troop withdrawals next year, once again against the Pentagon’s recommendation. Meanwhile, negotiations with the Taliban are being pursued over Mr. Karzai’s head, and sometimes in spite of his objections.
As they watch these moves, Afghans, the Taliban and neighbors such as Pakistan can reasonably conclude that the United States, rather than trying to win the war, is racing to implement an exit strategy in which the interests of Afghans and their government are slighted. Americans, meanwhile, rarely hear Mr. Obama explain the mission or the stakes. In this context, it’s not surprising that Afghans show little tolerance for U.S. failures — whether it is this week’s shooting or the accidental burning of Korans. And it’s little wonder that most Americans favor withdrawing troops as quickly as possible. If it’s evident that the president won’t defend the war, and is focused on “winding down” rather than winning, why should anyone else support it?
To be sure there have been other editorials that have supported the President's foreign policies. For example,An unbridged divide in U.S.-Israeli relations describes the difference between the United States and Israel regarding Iranian nuclear weapons. However the three editorials quoted show different ways that the President fails to lead or to understand how the world works.
I wouldn't have bothered doing the same thing with the New York Times, as its editors live in a different world. However the editors of the Washington Post are not so ideologically blind. Yet, it's pretty clear that come October they will endorse President Obama for a second term. Given their regular criticisms of his foreign policy, one wonders how they will make the case.

2) Define "escalation"

One of the concerns expressed by the international community has been the escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza.

For example here's Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon:
"I am gravely concerned at the latest escalation between Gaza and Israel, and once again civilians are paying a terrible price," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement Monday. "Rocket attacks out of Gaza against Israeli civilian areas are unacceptable and must stop immediately. I reiterate my call on Israel to exercise maximum restraint."
The word also appeared in the New York Times:
In the meantime, there remained a risk that hostilities could escalate.
As of yesterday, how many airstrikes has Israel launched against the terrorists in Gaza? Would you believe, 29? How then is Israel's response an "escalation?" It would seem that it is calibrated to attack just those who are attacking Israel, especially when you consider that the vast majority of those killed by Israel during its retaliatory and preventive strikes have been terrorists.

A related opinion piece is To the leftist who has no problem with rocket fire on Israel by Bradley Burston. (h/t Martin Kramer)
There is a current on the left that argues that no one, certainly no Israeli, should tell Palestinians how to respond, how to resist. That is so. Moreover, it is unfair and plain wrong to expect Palestinians to refrain from responding to attacks, such as the assassination that set off the current spate of violence.
At the same time, just as anyone - Palestinians certainly included – has the right to tell Israelis what they think is wrong about what they do, anyone – Israelis included – ought to be able to say what they believe about the moral issues involved in targeting non-combatants.
It is wrong to simply grant a moral pass to this response, to rocket fire on civilians, whether you write this off as self-defense – which, in practice, it is not – or as human nature, or as inconsequential relative to Israeli aggression.
While Burston's general point is a good one and its nice to see him acknowledge the problem, he perpetuates a myth when claims that the killing of Zuhair al-Kaisi was the beginning of the violence. There were at least two rockets fired into Israel that day, before he was killed.

3) Beware the Sinai

In January, Ehud Ya'ari wrote an analysis, Sinai: A new front (.pdf) in which he observed:
Recently, a growing number of terrorist networks have expanded their presence and activities throughout much of the Sinai. These networks—some clandestine, some with significant public profile— represent old smuggling gangs partly converted to terrorism, newly formed Bedouin factions adhering to Salafi jihadist doctrines, and affiliates of Palestinian organizations in Gaza, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees, and the Dughmush clan’s Army of Islam.
Egyptian authorities have also uncovered Hizballah penetration of the Sinai, capturing several members of the organization and sentencing them to as many as fifteen years’ imprisonment in 2010.
In Is the Sinai the new battlefield against Israel and the West? Lenny Ben David notes the latest manifestation of this.
The article claims that the Bedouins demand the release of four of their colleagues imprisoned in Egypt. The Bedouins are smugglers and have no military structure, the article continues. They have been involved in blowing up a gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel and Jordan, but “there is no political motivation for their actions other than mercenary.”
That relatively innocent description has been challenged by recent events in the Sinai and led an Arab expert to tell me today, “Yes, the Bedouins in Sinai are a mafia/militia, but they are increasingly Salafist and Jihadist.”
Barry Rubin observes another element that is making the Sinai a threat, the radicalization of Egypt's government. He writes in Egypt is a Volcano, The West Snoozes, But Israel Won’t Play the Role of Pompeii:
The report also endorses Palestinian resistance “in all its kinds and forms” against Israel’s “aggressive policies.” That is an endorsement of terrorism and of Hamas firing rockets, missiles, and mortars from the Gaza Strip. If, for example, a Palestinian were to get inside an Israeli kindergarten and machinegun all the toddlers that would be justified in the eyes of Egypt’s new rulers. And that’s no exaggeration.
In a sense, then, this is a declaration of war. Oh, it isn’t a formal war with the Egyptian military building up its forces in eastern Sinai or launching a cross-border attack. But war nonetheless.
It means—as I’ve been warning for a year—that Egypt will do almost anything to help Hamas wage a war against Israel from the Gaza Strip. This will mean: the free flow of military supplies, money, terrorists, and even Egyptian volunteers. It also means the building of Hamas weapons’ manufacturing factories, bases, and training installations in eastern Sinai.

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