Category Archives: Diplomacy

The emperor travels

Maybe it’s gauche to attribute the unending stream of virulence toward Barack Obama to racism. But that hasn’t stopped Jimmy Carter and it certainly won’t stop me.

The latest–and maybe stupidest–to be taken up by the right wing is that Obama’s trip to East Asia is a boondoggle that will cost $200 million per day. Ignore that we spend about $200 million a day on the war in Afghanistan (though no one ever mentions that). But this is the case being peddled by Republicans and right-wing pundits this week. While I watched Sean Hannity last night, some moron started spewing numbers about Obama traveling with an entourage of 3,000 people and renting out every room in the Taj Mahal hotel. Blah blah blah blah.

What’s this have to do with race? I think that the ultimate aim of this meme is to convey an image of Barack Obama as an Oriental despot traveling through the dusty streets of India and Indonesia on the back of an elephant, trailed by a team of eunuchs who clip his toenails. It’s a attempt to link the fiscal conservative current to the Obama-as-Muslim current. That it has absolutely no basis in fact isn’t stopping anyone. Emperor Akbar Obama. Be scared.

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Filed under American Politics, Diplomacy

The enemy of my enemy is my…

The U.S. State Department announced yesterday that it has designated the Iranian Baluch group Jundullah a terrorist organization. This makes a lot of sense considering that Jundullah is known for suicide bombings, beheadings and other hallmarks of many of the other radical groups the U.S. designates as terrorists. The Baluch separatist group might even have ties to al Qaeda.

The State Department release said:

Since its inception in 2003, Jundallah has engaged in numerous attacks resulting in the death and maiming of scores of Iranian civilians and government officials, primarily in Iran’s Sistan va Balochistan province. Jundallah uses a variety of terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and targeted assassinations. In May 2009, Jundallah attacked the crowded Shiite Amir al-Mo’menin mosque in Zahedan, destroying the mosque and killing and wounding numerous worshipers. An October 2009 bomb attack which killed more than 40 people was reportedly the deadliest terrorist attack in Iran since the 1980s. Following the February 2010 capture by Iranian authorities of Jundallah’s ex-leader, Abdul Malik Rigi, the group selected a new leader, al-Hajj Mohammed Dhahir Baluch, and confirmed its commitment to continue its terrorist activities. In July 2010, Jundallah attacked the Grand Mosque in Zahedan, killing approximately 30 and injuring hundreds.

What the State Department doesn’t mention, however, is that it’s commonly believed that the CIA supports Jundullah’s activities in an attempt to destabilize the Iranian government. Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker in July 2008 that Jundullah (and other domestic Iranian rebel groups) receive funding and support from Langley.

Maybe the Obama administration has cut back on its predecessor’s covert programs like support for Iranian terrorist group. Politico cites an unnamed Washington-based Iran expert saying that the designation of Jundullah as a terrorist group shows that “one bureaucratic fight in favor of engagement was won.” It’s a place to start.

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Filed under Diplomacy, Iran, Terrorism

Israel in Haiti

I don’t agree with everything Bradley Burston says in his recent column about Israeli aid to Haiti, but I think he gets the main point right here:

For all the time that [the Israelis in Haiti] have been working, however, people far away, snug in the comfort of their laptops, have been furiously busy as well, people who are enraged to the boiling point by news reports of the Israeli rescue mission. People who see it as their mission to tell the world exactly what’s wrong with all of this.

Over the past week, the work of the Israeli medical team has become a kind of Rorschach for how people view Israel and Israelis. Most of the comment, it must be said, is supportive. Even on the part of those who cast the humanitarian misery in Gaza in contrast.

But for a shocking number of others, the bottom line is simple: Israel, and Israelis, can do no right.

I’ll admit that the Israelis are using their field hospital in Haiti to boost their image to the rest of the world. But let’s be honest: It’s sad, but PR is almost always a consideration in humanitarian situations.

But I think the important thing is that Haiti needs all the help it can get. Your opposition to the occupation or Israel’s other policies should get in the way of that.

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Filed under Diplomacy, Israel-Palestine

AfPak always reminded me of Aflac

Remember those commercials with the duck?

Anyway, point is, the Obama Administration is dropping the term AfPak. Josh Rogin writes on his blog at Foreign Policy. They’re getting rid of it because–surprise!–it “does not please people in Pakistan.”

Personally, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the term. Washington people liked it because it’s catchy and it summed up their thinking that Pakistan and Afghanistan are closely connected issues. Whatever. Plus, it works well on Twitter.

But when you think about how it sounds to the outside world, it’s probably not a good PR move. When government officials use the term all the time, it sounds like they don’t realize that Afghanistan and Pakistan are two different places. Or they don’t care. It is, as Richard Holbrooke admitted, “understandable” that Pakistanis don’t like the phrase.

On a side note:

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Filed under Afghanistan, American Politics, Diplomacy, Pakistan

There is no sovereignty, man

This is, as far as I know, the only actual photo of the underground wall that is being built. It ran in Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition last week.

When I was sixteen I used to make a really great argument that free will doesn’t exist. I’d be sitting in the car next to my friend and we’d have a conversation that went something like this:

Max: “There’s no free will, dude.”

Friend: “What are you talking about, man?”

Max: “No, dude. Seriously, man, you think there is, but really there isn’t.”

Friend: “Dude, of course I have free will!”

Max: “Okay, dude. If you have free will then run this red light and drive down that one-way street.”

Friend: “Dude! I can’t do that!”

Max: “Exactly, dude.”

I’ll admit it’s a pretty sophomoric argument, but at its heart there was an important truth. Free will only exists within the parameters that society has established for action.

Anyway, I thought of this whole thing when I went to the Daily News Egypt website this morning and saw the headline on the latest story about Egypt’s underground wall that is supposed to prevent smuggling. The headline reads, “Gaza barrier a ‘sovereign right’: Egyptian state-owned daily”.

“Egypt, which protects its sovereignty, has the right to develop the barrier separating it and Gaza. It has a right to have a wall that is strong and not subject to collapse.”

The editorial is the closest Egypt has so far come to officially confirming it is building the underground barrier to stem smuggling into Gaza through underground tunnels.

“Sovereignty” here reminds me of free will in my old argument.

Smuggling tunnels into Gaza are really not a threat to Egyptian security. However, they are a problem for Israel’s blockade on Gaza. And the US, which backs both Israel and Egypt, has the power to stop them.

There is every indication that the underground wall is a project undertaken at the behest of the United States. Some newspapers have even reported that the US Army Corps of Engineers is helping to build the wall.

So what does “sovereign” really mean here? Seriously, dude. Think about it.

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Filed under Diplomacy, Egypt, Israel-Palestine

Obama can’t stand up to pushy Jersey girl

It’s hard to make me not feel proud about being from New Jersey. But this does:

That’s Robin Benosf of Teaneck, New Jersey (a mere twenty-five minutes from my hometown) laying the cornerstone for a new settlement in East Jerusalem. (Photo from the AP, via Mondoweiss.) As the American president and State Department declare their “dismay,” New Jersey citizens actively take part in expanding the reach of Israeli settlements in occupied land. Luckily, we can still claim Bruce Springsteen.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is seen as impotent when it comes to confronting the Israelis. An AFP story yesterday said:

The Obama administration is hardening its tone against Israel, but analysts warned Wednesday the tough talk was mere bluster hiding the lack of a viable plan to revive the Middle East peace process.

“You’ve had three ‘no’s’ to an American president in his first year,” Aaron David Miller, who has served as advisor on Middle East peacemaking to previous US administrations, told AFP.

President Barack Obama is now “faced with the default position, which is words,” said Miller from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“And the louder they shout, the more there is a paradox. The tougher the words are, the weaker we look.”

But when I read that, I find myself thinking, “Well, if we give them about $3 billion a year, can’t we force them to take the most basic step necessary to keep the possibility of a two-state solution alive?” Obama should have more than “words” to fall back on when dealing with the Israelis. Obama and Hillary just need to kick the Israelis in the ass a little bit and then they’ll be forced to comply with our demands. Indeed, the US uses financial and military aid to impose its agenda all over the world.

But I think that Robin Benosf of Teaneck helps to show why it isn’t that simple. Many Americans (and not only Jews) support the Israeli right-wing’s agenda. A politician from New York was right beside Benosf at the founding of the new settlement. Reuters reports:

Dov Hikind, a member of New York state’s assembly, looked out over Jerusalem’s Old City and dismissed the “extreme” view on the matter taken by his party’s president.

He urged fellow American Jews to buy homes on occupied land rather than in traditional U.S. vacation spots.

“I’m trying to get a whole bunch of my friends to actually buy,” said Hikind during a tour of settlement housing projects for several dozen potential U.S. investors.

“Rather than buying second homes in Florida, we want people to buy in Israel,” he said, having watched a foundation stone laid for an extension to the Nof Zion, or Zion View, settlement.

Palestinians, whose leaders declared this week’s Israeli government approval for more settlement building near Jerusalem a killer blow to peace, reject Hikind’s description of Nof Zion as “Israel,” as it lies on occupied land they want for a state.

But his views, shared by significant numbers of American Jews, many of them Democrat voters, are an indication of Obama’s difficulties in holding to his demands that Israel halt its expansion of settlements in the interests of a peace agreement.

With that kind of attitude holding sway in American politics, it’s understandable that Obama and his team are kind of impotent when it comes to pushing the Israelis. I don’t say this just to defend Obama. I’m generally disappointed in his lack of decisiveness across the board. But I think that this helps to contextualize the lack the of progress.

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Filed under American Politics, Diplomacy, Israel-Palestine, Jews

Hillary pushes for Arab democracy, kind of

It turns out that the United States hasn’t completely given up on efforts to promote democracy in the Arab world. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Secretary of State Hillary was in Morocco today to meet with the Arab league about democracy.

Apparently, Hillary thinks that Morocco is a model:

Clinton kicked off the day with opening remarks that held up Morocco as an example for positive reform in the region. She recalled a visit to the country 10 years earlier, when she met an illiterate father who had supported his daughter’s aspirations of becoming a doctor. She also spoke of “devout women” who had gone on to become human rights advocates.

“Examples like these remind us there (is) much in Morocco’s experience that we can look to to guide our efforts today,” she said.

Michael Posner, assistant US secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said on Monday that the Obama administration would use “principled engagement” to encourage regional governments to adopt democratic reforms – “both to provide security and at the same time to build democratic institutions that protect their own people.” Posner said that change “occurs from within society” and is “very hard to impose from outside.”

Hicham Houdaifa, a commentator with Moroccan magazine Le Journal that recently had its bank account frozen by Moroccan officials, says he was “disappointed” that Clinton did not address the issue of press freedom. In the lead-up to the forum in Morocco Reporters Without Borders sought to draw attention to a recent crackdown on the Kingdom’s press, but was prevented from holding a press conference by Moroccan officials.

Freedom House gives Morocco, which is a hereditary monarchy, middling grades on freedom and transparency. But I guess that makes it better than, you know, Syria.

Meanwhile, a recent internal audit of USAID funding to Egypt says that it is, for the most part, ineffective. USA Today reports:

More than $180 million in U.S. foreign aid to promote democracy in Egypt over the past four years has produced few measurable results, in part because the Egyptian government has stymied the effort, a newly released government audit says.

The “impact of (American-funded) democracy and governance programs was unnoticeable” in Egypt, said the report by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s inspector general. USAID auditors based their conclusions on international indexes of press freedom, corruption, civil liberties and political rights.

Then again, the US can’t afford to piss off crucial, albeit authoritarian, allies like Egypt. And Jordan. And Morocco, for that matter. So when the Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor says (quoted in CS Monitor story) that the US needs to use “principled engagement” and that democracy is “very hard to impose from the outside,” what he really means is it can’t be too much of a priority.

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Filed under Democracy, Diplomacy, Egypt