Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

CHEMICAL ATTACKS AND CRUISE MISSILES

Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad’s April 4 Sarin gas attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun drew a quick response from President Trump. U.S. naval forces rained down 59 cruise missiles on Shayrat air base, destroying or damaging 23 Syrian planes. Many Republicans—far-right conservatives were opposed—Democrats and allied governments found the action intoxicating. It’s time to sober up.

I neither support nor condemn Mr. Trump’s decision. But I caution that the matter is far from simple—and far from over. Mr. Trump’s response certainly stands in contrast to Barack Obama’s setting a red line regarding chemical attacks, looking to Congress for approval to take military action, finding none then accepting an offer by Russia’s Vladimir Putin to negotiate the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Some of which apparently were held back.

Mr. Obama’s mistake was not withholding American force, which may or may not have accomplished much while possibly igniting a political firestorm at home. It was declaring a red line publicly rather than privately notifying Assad, Putin and Iran that using chemical weapons could provoke a U.S. military response.

Mr. Trump chose to make a “statement.” Despite the initial chest-thumping, it likely will prove meaningless. After our cruise missile delivery, several of Assad’s planes took off from Shayrat—whose runways were left untouched—to again bomb Khan Sheikhoun. Assad made his own statement. While feeble, it was backed by Russia’s military presence in Syria.

Frederic C. Hof, a Syria policy maven at the State Department under Mr. Obama, who later became an Obama administration critic, stated that Assad “now counts on the West again to leave him free to kill as long as he does so without chemicals” (The New York Times, 4-9-17). The Pentagon later suggested that barrel bombs may cross another “line.” So what?

Take Mr. Trump’s mention that “many lines had been crossed” by Assad’s latest chemical attack. Apparently, no lines were crossed when Mr. Trump assumed the presidency ten weeks earlier. Syrian helicopters continued dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods. Syrian and Russian artillery, mortars and conventional bombs maintained the slaughter. The mass killing of civilians seemingly crossed no lines for Mr. Obama, as well. The Syrian death toll reportedly stands at or near 500,000.

Are we going to war? Despite the brutality, many Americans, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, exhibit no desire for the U.S. to get deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, particularly given the risk of a miscalculation with Russian forces. This represents not cynicism but pragmatism (see Iraq: Invasion of).

Referencing Frederic Hof, is it wrong to kill 87 civilians with Sarin gas but okay to kill 150 with run-of-the-mill ordnance? If half-a-million deaths doesn’t cross a line spurring concerted United Nations action—impossible with a Russian veto—is a line demarcated at 600,000 deaths? A million?

I’ve written that violence in the Middle East will continue for years and probably decades until the people of the region—not America—have had enough or totally exhausted themselves. While that position jeers at our humanitarian values, it remains valid lacking a truly global will to intervene and the ability to restore not only order to the Middle East but also civility. Honesty, no matter how gut-wrenching, will guide us more wisely than political showmanship.

Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t attend? Contact me or go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

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LIFE IN THE BUBBLE

After Donald Trump won the presidency, many San Franciscans declared, “We should have seen this coming. But we live in a bubble. We didn’t know what people out there were thinking.” They were right. And they were wrong.

A bubble around San Francisco? Not all San Franciscans live in mansions and luxury condos, dine at expensive restaurants, drink fine wines and vacation overseas. San Francisco consists of many bubbles. The rich? We have them. The struggling middle and working class? The poor? They’re San Franciscans, too.

Yes, political and social attitudes in San Francisco are overwhelmingly liberal while many parts of the nation are equally conservative. As Robert Leonard wrote in the New York Times (1-5-16), people in rural areas have a different worldview than those who live in big cities and wealthy suburbs. He quotes Baptist minister and former U.S. congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good.”

Different ways of seeing the world, often formed by the Christian belief in original sin, can be found in what coastal Americans often term “flyover country.” Those of us who’ve gotten to know conservative parts of America—for me: Western New York, Georgia a bit and Texas a lot—understand that Americans live under a variety of conditions and hold a variety of views, often complex. California coastal “elites” tend not to relate to the desolation (and rays of hope) I’ve seen in Detroit and the desolation (without apparent hope) I’ve seen in Gary, Indiana and much of Baltimore. But here is where those beating themselves up for living in a bubble go wrong.

Out-of-work coal miners in West Virginia, struggling farmers in Iowa and low-paid service workers in Arizona all live in their own bubbles. They see life through the lenses of their upbringing, religion, cultural background, education and economic condition. Life is real there. Life is real here. How good or bad remains subject to individual interpretation.

In his farewell address, Barack Obama asked Americans to get out of their bubbles. If he meant that we should no longer live in communities with those whose backgrounds and interests we share, he got it wrong. People often feel most comfortable with others like themselves. But I don’t think that was Obama’s intention. I believe he asked Americans to expand our horizons, talk to each other across red and blue lines, and listen.

Despite our differences, our “civil religion”—the idea that every American should play by the rules and get a fair shake in return—can unite us. It has in the past when we’ve faced major challenges. Yes, religion and ethnicity often divide us. Only the naïve think that this nation is perfect. But we often find common ground in not just in the tenets of our Constitution but in ordinary things: sports teams, music, Mother’s Day flowers, July Fourth barbecues, Thanksgiving dinner, and visits to national parks and urban tourist attractions.

America is a nation of numerous bubbles. We’re not all the same. We never have been. We shouldn’t be. But if we can peer through our bubbles, respect legitimate differences and open ourselves to all that binds us, the United States will do just fine.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And may we respond to another challenging time with hope rather than fear, truth rather than falsehood, love rather than hate.

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ALEPPO REVISITED

Two months ago, I wrote about the battle of Aleppo pitting Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, Iran and Russia against a hodgepodge of rebels, from secular to Islamist. Despite the horrific violence, I thought major U.S. involvement unwise: “Only the peoples of the Middle East can create lasting peace for themselves.” The battle’s over. I haven’t changed my mind.

The Syrian bloodbath didn’t occur because President Obama foolishly drew a red line in the blood-soaked sand then backed off when Assad used chemical weapons. (True, he did.) It started well before and increased in ferocity when Russia and Iran tilted the battlefield towards Assad.

Are Americans aghast at the slaughter and destruction in Aleppo? Yes, and rightly so. But using American military power to halt the ghastly actions of appalling political leaders sometimes runs deep risks.

Would Russia and Iran have withdrawn so we could roll over Syria’s military and depose Assad? I doubt it. If they did? We’d have won a short-term victory then been saddled with overseeing the formation of a new government.

Once again, American troops would have to protect a government lacking widespread support. We’d also have to build a trusted Syrian security force while American troops faced insurgency and terrorism from many quarters. We’d suffer casualties. And all with no guaranty of Syrian stability once—whenever that might be—we left.

Some Americans might say, “We have to project American power in the face of inhumanity. Freedom isn’t free.” They can afford that stance. I agree that freedom’s not free, but they don’t pay the price. Ours is a military of courageous volunteers. Many Americans encouraging the nation to throw its weight around have no skin in the game. Their children don’t serve. They never served.

Is America toothless? Hardly. Should we withdraw to Fortress America? No. The U.S. plays a special role in helping keep peace—where strategic considerations are most critical. An evolving geopolitical climate demands that we understand military power’s limits.

Reality is, we’ve never ruled the world. That’s why I was taken aback when the New York Times’ Roger Cohen wrote that the Pax Americana—the global peace guaranteed by the United States—is over (12-16-16). Pax Americana represents a semi-myth.

Yes, we kept the former Soviet Union from overrunning Western Europe. We prevented China from expanding in Asia, although China never sought to invade other countries; it seeks to co-opt them economically. We helped protect South Korea but at the cost of over 50,000 U.S. lives. North Korea eventually developed nuclear weapons. Vietnam proved a debacle with 58,000 American lives lost. Genocide ravaged Rwanda, Darfur and the Balkans on “our watch.” Our 2003 invasion of Iraq didn’t remake the Middle East in our image. It destabilized it. Witness Syria and Libya. (Yemen had been fractured earlier.)

We court disaster when our hubris exposes our troops to the physical and emotional hazards in lands whose cultures we don’t understand and whose people reject us. The folly grows when many of our most enthusiastic proponents of using force talk the talk but fail to walk the walk. American power takes many forms. Military force is one but not always the wisest choice. That’s a hard lesson to learn. We’re best off learning it.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And do enjoy a Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa or whatever the holiday season means to you. (If you’re into Bah, Humbug!, that’s cool, too.)

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FAKE NEWS

One of my favorite comic strips is “The Knight Life” by Keith Knight. Tuesday’s included a schoolteacher’s statement: “Facts are overrated!! All you need is a loud mouth & some Macedonian teenagers!!” Websites with fake news created by kids in Europe abound—fake news many Americans give credence.

On December 9th, Yahoo News (real) reported that Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, considered by President-elect Trump for Secretary of Agriculture, posts unsubstantiated stories on Facebook, such as the U.S. Communist Party endorsing Hillary Clinton and the FBI restrained from acting after discovering a jihadi training compound in Texas. Said Miller: “I’m not a news source. I shouldn’t be held to that standard…. I’ll put it up there and let the readers decide.” Reasonable?

Ten days ago, Edgar Welch, 28, of Salisbury, N.C., fired a shot in a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. Welch went there to investigate online “news reports” of a child sex slave ring linked to Hillary Clinton. He told the New York Times (12-7-16), “I just wanted to do some good and went about it the wrong way.” He added, “The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent.” Welch refused to dismiss the online claims.

Around the same time, President-elect Donald Trump selected retired army general Michael Flynn as his national security advisor. CNN Politics (12-7-16) reported that Flynn has “spread false stories and re-tweeted anti-Semitic threats.” He also refused to disavow the “Pizzagate” story, which led Welch to fire a semi-automatic weapon at Comet Ping Pong. Flynn’s son, Michael Flynn Jr., also promoted the “Pizzagate” story. Flynn Jr. was dropped from his father’s transition team. General Flynn remains Trump’s selection.

So how do we respond to real news? The Central Intelligence Agency believes with “high confidence” that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee. The rest of the U.S. intelligence community does, too. (The FBI takes a neutral stance.) Russia’s purpose may have been to embarrass Hillary Clinton and swing the election to Donald Trump. Mrs. Clinton believes Vladimir Putin was out to get her. Republican Congressional leaders have expressed concern. Mitch McConnell (Senate majority leader), Paul Ryan (House speaker) and Senator John McCain all support an investigation.

President Obama says that the U.S. will act against Russia. He likely knows details unavailable to the American public. What will he do? Stay tuned.

As to the broader issue, knowing the truth remains a requisite for democracy to thrive. The real media play a critical role by reporting what’s happening in our world, as well as questioning authorities at the highest level. Sometimes, leading news purveyors get it wrong. But America’s mainstream media deserves high grades and serious attention from the public.

Sadly, the digital age has polluted what we call news. Yes, there are websites offering serious, professional reporting. But as Keith Knight points out, anyone can post a “news story,” which many Americans will accept at face value and pass on via social media. Witness “Pizzagate.” That’s why our political leaders must embrace truth to keep themselves grounded and help us do the same.

Donald Trump’s response to broad concerns about Russian hacking? “I think it’s ridiculous,” he told Fox News. “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it.” It’s possible to live in an alternate reality, believing or disbelieving anything and creating your own truth—if facts don’t get in your way.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And follow the sound advice to think before you speak—and read (legitimate media) before you think.

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BIRTHER 102

I’m thinking about running for President in 2020, but two factors give me pause. One is my age. I’ll be 76 then. Of course, a President Trump would be 74 prior to re-election, or a President Clinton 72. It’s the second factor that worries me.

I may have to prove I’m an American-born citizen. Obviously, President Trump wouldn’t make a fuss. As Trump informed the nation last week, “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.” But how about Mrs. Clinton? Will she target me for Birther 102?

Like President Obama, I’m a member of a minority religion. Yes, a Jew, Joe Lieberman, ran for vice president on the ticket with Al Gore in 2004. And Bernie Sanders gave Hillary a run for her money in the Democratic primaries. Still, I imagine that the same people who fear a Muslim in the White House breathed sighs of relief. Although I don’t think they’re Hillary supporters.

Also like President Obama, I have a foreign-born father. My dad was 2-1/2 when he came to the United States—an immigrant! My mother was born in Manhattan—she claimed. I’m under the impression I was born in the Bronx, but doubts could arise. Red flag: my parents were living in Queens at the time.

My alibi? My folks previously lived in the Bronx where my sister was born. My mother wanted to keep her obstetrician. Given lighter traffic then, my father could quickly drive my mother to the birthing hospital.

Question: Does that story sound shaky?

Another question: How much insanity can Americans take? Hillary Clinton didn’t start the birther movement. Worse, Trump railed on for years then, after conceding, never owned up or apologized. So yes, I’m more than skeptical when the Donald claims credit for clearing up the question of Mr. Obama’s birth and promises to “make America great again.”

Yet I suspect that Trump sees himself as a hero. I imagine he’ll feel slighted if President Obama fails to host him at a White House dinner and award him a gold (has to be gold) medal. After all, if the New York Mets or the New York Yankees win the World Series—or even the pennant—Trump probably will take credit. (Otherwise they’re losers.)

In George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, Big Brother declares that “black is white” and “war is peace.” Language functions as a key tool for government oppression because truth becomes whatever the forces in power say it is. As the Greek dramatist Aeschylus wrote, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” Truth doesn’t fare well in politics, either. With Trump, it’s no mere casualty. It’s a fatality.

As to my 2020 presidential run, I remain on the fence. Sure, I’d love to fly around the world on Air Force One, as I explained in a previous post “My (Maybe) Run for the White House” (5-16-14). I might upsize the national chanukiah. But to date, only my parents along with clerks in the Bronx (New York) and Bexar County (Texas) court houses, the U.S. Army and the State Department (my passport says I was born in the Bronx) plus my wife have seen my birth certificate. I prefer to keep it that way.

Or am I hiding something even I don’t know about?

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And give a little thought to how much truth the nation is willing to sacrifice because lies make frustrated people feel better.

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MANY PEOPLE SAY…

Where do you get news? I find print, broadcast and most online sources to be inaccurate and biased. Cover-ups abound. So I turn to common wisdom. That said, let me share some important stories you might not have seen.

Many people say President Obama is a Hindu. But wait! Isn’t he a Muslim? And wasn’t he born in Indonesia? That’s all a smokescreen spread by Mr. Obama himself. Actually, he was born in Mumbai and venerates all those gods with multiple arms because you need a lot of hands to toss around such traitorous untruths as, “I am a loyal American, and I root for the Chicago Bulls.”

Many people say Hillary and Bill Clinton were models for a character on the hit TV series “Breaking Bad.” If you saw the show, you know that a major New Mexico drug lord owned a string of fried-chicken restaurants. It all makes sense. Chicken is a bird. So is an eagle. Eagles fly high. The Clintons had $100 million dollars in gold flown in a Saudi plane to a safe house in the Swiss Alps should they ever need to flee the U.S. The transfer was coordinated by the State Department.

Many people say Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton founded ISIS. Fact is, ISIS is a phony Islamist movement bankrolled by Hindu India to keep the West off balance while India competes with China for dominance in Asia then the world. Just think about this: Why do we see so few clear photos of ISIS’ top leaders? Because most are Indian Hindus. Like Obama. And like Hillary, who was born Jewish—Hilda Rodhamsky, not Hillary Rodham—but fabricated her origins. Hillary became a Hindu after eating at an Indian restaurant in New York while enrolled, she says, in Yale Law School. (She attended law school at Brooklyn College. Check her emails.)

Many people say the world is 6,000 years old. That’s rounded off, since the coming Jewish New Year will be 5777, according to the dating established by the Rabbis of the Talmudic era almost 2,000 years ago. What about scientific evidence that the Big Bang brought the universe into existence as long as 14 billion years ago? And that the earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old? Most Jews think traditional dating is metaphorical, but many Christian evangelicals know that science is not to be trusted. Witness the sin of inoculating children against diseases such as polio. How do we know science is bogus? Just check out truth-telling websites on your laptop, tablet or cell phone. Computer science? Just one more lie.

Many people say that Donald Trump will win 80 percent of the popular vote but lose in the Electoral College. No question, Mr. Trump is wildly popular with the American electorate. Mr. Trump says so. But the election is rigged, folks. Really. If Mr. Trump wins, well that’s only natural. If Mrs. Clinton wins, there’s probably a Hindu hand (see above) pulling the leavers. More than one hand, actually.

Now you know the truth, which puts a heavy responsibility on your shoulders. But not to worry. When you try to set people straight and they seem skeptical—if not downright hostile—declare your objectivity. Tell them, “I’m just saying what many people say. Me? I don’t know.”

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. Also, many people say my novel Flight of the Spumonis is a hoot. Break your piggy bank and buy it now at Amazon.

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LOYALTY AND BETRAYAL

Something ordinary drew my attention during President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. The ordinary being rather sense numbing, most Americans undoubtedly noticed but had no particular response. We should all be concerned.

If you saw the speech on TV, you know that Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Republican, responded quite differently. Mr. Biden smiled, applauded almost every remark made by the President and rose often to his feet. Mr. Ryan looked pained. He stood only when Mr. Obama mentioned the military and applauded Mr. Obama’s goal of tackling poverty. Yet in the context of American politics, Mr. Ryan was not acting up.

When Republican presidents have addressed Congress with a Republican VP and a Democratic Speaker behind him, the results have been the same. So there’s no good party and bad party here. What we have is a crisis of loyalty overriding the general welfare.

Yes, we all have our loyalties. They begin with our family, extend to our friends, houses of worship, clubs, political parties certainly, cities and states. If you’re an ethnic, you have a certain loyalty to your country of ethnic, or in my case religious, origin. But at what point do the positives of loyalty—assisting others, advocating for fairness and justice, and making sacrifices—become betrayal?

Three incidents struck me in this regard. Two took place hours before the State of the Union. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps naval forces commandeered two American Navy boats and their crews—ten sailors in all—near an Iranian island in the Persian Gulf. When CNN host Wolf Blitzer interviewed Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Blitzer mentioned the White House saying that the incident didn’t seem to be hostile. Mr. Cotton nearly went ballistic: President Obama was not only clueless but actually defending Iran. What would you expect? That’s the Republican Party line. Less than 24 hours later, Iran released the boats and their crews.

The second matter struck me during the CBS Evening News. White House correspondent Major Garrett reported that Senator John McCain (R–Arizona) had considerable differences with Donald Trump but would support Trump if he were nominated for the presidency and won that office. The inference: Loyalty to party takes precedence, even if it includes accepting a distasteful candidate.

Finally, when President Obama mentioned the military, almost all Republicans stood. That was the only time they did so. Surely the President offered a few thoughts worthy of praise. But party loyalty demands that Republicans recognize Democratic ideas at their own risk. The Republican base along with billionaire donors to Political Action Committees (PACs) can oust incumbents in primaries not because they can’t win but because they won’t repeat the far-right mantra.

In 1816 Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr. (1779–1820) offered an after-dinner toast: “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” At what point does demonstrating uncompromising loyalty betray the ideals we profess, in effect throwing the nation under the bus?

In 1872, U.S. Senator Carl Schurz (1829–1906) took a different approach. “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Schurz got it.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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TERRORISM 101

Everyone talks about stopping terrorism. But to do that, we must understand what terrorism is. That will help us make rational, as opposed to emotional, decisions about what might work and what won’t.

To begin, terrorism is not a lone wolf or a pair of gunmen with a grudge who shoot up a school or movie theater. That’s criminal insanity and subject to another discussion. Terrorism constitutes a tool—acts of violence or the threat of violence to further an ongoing political or religious cause. Today’s most aggressive and pervasive such cause is Islamism—the desire of some Muslims to impose their fundamentalist tenets on the Muslim world now and the rest of us later.

Islamists know that military conquest of the West isn’t possible. But for now at least they have no intention of conquering us. Instead, they utilize terrorism on a relatively small if murderous scale to sow fear. This they hope will produce enough turmoil to lead to civic unrest and induce Western governments’ withdrawal from engagement with the Muslim world. Weak Muslim nations then will be easy prey.

How do you defeat terrorism? Terrorism, I repeat, is a tool. Intelligence services and military forces can uncover terrorist plots and strike at perpetrators, planners, supporters and advocates. But terrorism cannot be eliminated without discrediting its underlying ideology.

Truth helps. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did the United States no favors by talking about a War on Terror for fear of offending Muslims. Mr. Obama finally used the word “Islamism” in his recent speech from the Oval Office. This was long overdue. Sadly, he often has failed to communicate with candor and anything approaching the passionate resolve Americans expect.

At the same time, many of the steps he has taken have been correct if limited. And Mr. Obama understands that Islamism will not be obliterated without the assistance of the Muslims it directly threatens. Yet obtaining that assistance won’t be easy. According to a July 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center, “The Middle East is the sole region where anti-Americanism is both deep and widespread. Eighty-five percent of Egyptians and Jordanians and 73% of Turks voice a negative opinion of the United States. Only 10% of Egyptians, 12% of Jordanians and 19% of Turks have a favorable view.” Fortunately, the numbers are slightly more favorable than a year earlier.

Still, Donald Trump wants to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. Ted Cruz calls for carpet-bombing Raaka (Syria), ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital, killing masses of civilians along with ISIS fighters and administrators. Both acts will alienate our own Muslim citizens and Muslims abroad who might work with us.

Statesmanship must play a major role in combating ISIS. It demands carefully chosen—but not misleading—language. This means not backing other Muslim nations into a corner while retaining our strong resolve. I recall a newspaper article from years ago. A teacher in a Chicago high school encountered two combative students. One had a gun. The teacher never threatened. Instead, he said, “Let me hold your gun.” The armed student—called out but not cornered—yielded the weapon.

I ask Republican candidates to think before they speak—a tall order. And I ask our government to acknowledge reality. Both rabblerousing and disingenuousness only make the problem worse.

The blog will take a break during the end of the year and resume on January 8. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and to all, best wishes for a happy, healthy, rewarding New Year.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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SAN BERNARDINO

In a way, San Bernardino in Southern California’s Inland Empire has become America’s Paris and also its Jerusalem.

Why Paris? The City of Light symbolizes Western enlightenment and respect for human rights—values Islamists deplore. Why Jerusalem? The capital of Israel—even if the United States maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv—represents another symbol deplored by Islamists. It’s the power of Jews to direct their own future in the Middle East no longer subjugated, and periodically persecuted, under Muslim rule.

Why San Bernardino? While major cities across the nation guard against Islamist terrorism—New York and Boston have been there—“San Berdoo” in Southern California’s Inland Empire proved a target of opportunity. A Muslim couple—local residents—appear to have chosen to make a statement: No one is safe anywhere in America.

Much investigative work remains before conclusions can be drawn about whether the couple—he American-born, she Pakistani-born and raised in Saudi Arabia where they met—constituted a sleeper cell of ISIS or one of the Al Qaeda groups. But they seem to have become radicalized at some point, possibly years ago. And the military-style clothing, body armor, automatic weapons and remote-controlled bombs hint at long-term planning indicative of much more than a workplace confrontation.

Here, I want to go back to Israel, the Islamist mindset and Western perceptions. While Paris has been tense but thankfully quiet for the last few weeks, Jerusalem and all Israel continue to face what some term the “Knife Intifada.” Many dozens of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians—women as well as men—have attacked Jewish civilians, soldiers and police. Most have used knives. A few have used vehicles. Some attackers have killed Israelis. Many attackers have been killed as Israelis defended themselves.

The West was riveted by Paris. Now, the American media understandably devotes much time to San Bernardino. Yet while Frenchmen and Americans are up in arms, the story in Israel arouses little ire. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry appear to see these as “small” political attacks divorced from Islamism and anti-Semitism. Mr. Kerry initially suggested the “logic” of disillusioned Arabs in Israel and on the West Bank expressing frustration with the failure of talks to establish a Palestinian State.

When it comes to Israel, the media often skews the situation. On Wednesday, the San Francisco Chronicle’s World section headlined: “Israeli troops kill 2 Palestinians after stabbing attempts.” Imagine running the headline, “California police kill 2 Muslims after shots fired in government building.”

That said let’s not lust after simple solutions. Fighting a totalitarian pathology like Islamism—Muslim but not to be confused with Islam—represents a complex undertaking. We’ll likely see more U.S. military muscle in Syria and Iraq during 2016. That’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Regrettably, we’re also likely to see more anti-Muslim paranoia. That’s both wrong and foolish. As Haider Ali Hussein Mullick, a Navy reserve officer and teacher at the Naval War College wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, “If we don’t want to play into the hands of Islamic State propaganda that America is at war with Islam, we must stand up against Islamophobia.” As rhetoric heats up may cool heads prevail.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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FOUR TOUGH TRUTHS

In the movie A Few Good Men (1992), Jack Nicholson is the Marine colonel commanding the U.S. base at Guantanamo. He famously tells a court martial, “You can’t handle the truth.” Given Tuesday’s election in Israel, last November’s American Congressional election and the state of the world, a number of regrettable truths confront us.

Truth #1: The victory of Israel’s Likud party, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, is scary. Likud won 30 of the Knesset’s 120 seats—hardly a mandate. The problem? Trailing in the polls, Bibi played to the worst fears and prejudices of the rabid right, warning that Israeli Arabs were voting (legally) in big numbers. He also said that he would never allow a Palestinian state—after long accepting a two-state solution given a partner on the other side. (Frustrating truth: Mahmoud Abbas was never that partner.) Yesterday, Bibi backtracked. He’s been misunderstood. He favors a Palestinian state under conditions that guarantee Israeli security. I do, too. But can anyone believe Bibi? His campaign rhetoric sent a statement to Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, as well as to the world community: “We can hate as much as they do.” Oh wait. Just kidding.

Truth #2: The American political system isn’t working on the national scale—and needs an overhaul. President Obama seems out of touch to too many Americans. (Age-old truth: you can’t please all of the people all of the time.) His vaunted communications skills are way overrated. Worse, Congress makes a mockery of our democracy. Republicans detoured around the president and welcomed Netanyahu to speak before Congress in great part because they, like Bibi, pander to the far right. Allied truth: Money talks. Says who? The Supreme Court. Corporations have as much right to speak out as people. Only lots more cash. (Do I hear the Koch brothers wheezing in approval or is that Sheldon Adelson?) Grating truth: Many Republicans oppose the president because a Black man (defined in the U.S.A. as anyone with a drop of Black blood) sits in the White House. Mr. Obama can change his policies. He can never change his genetics.

Truth #3: Democracy may not always be the answer. How has it done in Iraq? Shiites continue to suppress Sunnis in a continuation of a religious conflict going back 13 centuries. Turkey’s Islamist president Tayyip Recep Erdogan has turned democracy into a sham. Iran’s elected officials, including the president, fall under the thumb of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei. And would you really praise democracy in Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood? Nasty truth: enlightened autocracy might work better in some cases. That’s the position of the noted journalist/scholar Robert Kaplan in his recent book, Asia’s Cauldron. Kaplan cites the incredible flowering of Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew and Malaysia under Mahathir Mohamad (whom Kaplan nonetheless recognizes as an anti-Semite). And no, I’m not a fan of Vladimir Putin, elected by, but hardly accountable to, the Russian people. By the way, he’s wonderfully satirized (and wonderfully played by Lars Mikkelsen) in this season’s Netflix hit House of Cards.

Truth #4: The Giants will not win the World Series. It’s 2015, people—an odd numbered year. The Giants just don’t do that. Joyful truth: they’ll still help take our minds off Truths 1–3.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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