Posts Tagged ‘Hezbollah’

SHAME ON AMERICA!

The Syrian Kurds fought alongside Americans and suffered 11,000 dead. American troops hailed their bravery. So what did Generalissimo Donald Trump do?

After a phone call with Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump ordered the withdrawal of 50–100 Special Forces advisors from Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria and 1,000 troops elsewhere in Syria. Turkey attacked the Kurds.

Our military is aghast.* They appreciate the Kurds’ efforts to help destroy ISIS’ “caliphate” and resist Syrian strongman Bashar al Assad. Even Republican congressional leaders called Trump on his horrendous abandonment of the Kurds.

A self-proclaimed “island of one,” Trump remains committed. “It’s not our border,” he said of the area dividing Turkey and Syria. As it happened, the presence of a few American troops held the Turks at bay. (A Turkish pause gave the Kurds five days to leave the border zone—or else.) To the south, American forces helped block Iran from supplying its Lebanese Hezbollah proxies, who seek to destroy Israel, which also isn’t on our border. Israel now knows that despite Trump’s rhetoric, U.S. support is limited.

Trump opposes “endless wars” in the Middle East. Who doesn’t? Yet the 1,000 troops he’s withdrawing from Syria will likely go to Kurdish Iraq. The Generalissimo is also sending additional forces to Saudi Arabia to bolster the Kingdom against Iran. Saudi Arabia, whose strongman Prince Muhammad bin Sultan ordered or permitted the killing and dismemberment of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. The Kingdom, not on America’s border but awash in oil money the Kurds lack to pay for American weapons and troops.

Trump sees things in black and white. Life’s filled with grays. In 2002, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated the famed “Pottery Barn theory”: You break it, you buy it. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Chaney thought otherwise.

In 2003, Bush sent Powell to the United Nations Security Council to make America’s case for war: Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 and had nuclear weapons. Powell failed. He later called the experience “painful.” An understatement.

We invaded Iraq. Victory came with lightning speed. Remember “shock and awe”? Not peace. The Bush administration had no understanding of the Middle East, no plan for transforming Iraq into a stable nation, only an insistence that it become an American-style democracy. Sectarian and tribal fighting erupted. Americans died. Barack Obama withdrew our forces. The Islamic State arose. Obama sent troops back.

No, we never should have been involved in Iraq. Yes, we broke it, we bought it, we needed to fix it.

As to the current disaster, the risk to American forces in Syria was relatively minor. (I don’t make light of even a single American death.) The risk of fueling further Middle East instability? Yuge! Kurds are dying. Syrian refugees fleeing. ISIS prisoners escaping. Who’s filling the power vacuum? The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Speyer (10/16) offers, “Vladimir Putin is now the indispensable strategic arbiter in Syria.”

Is America better off? It’s not far-fetched to imagine American forces returning to Syria in large numbers or, by staying away, permitting increasing bloodshed and heightened threats to our allies.

Wait. Strike the latter part of that sentence. Because Donald Trump has no shame, America has partners of convenience but no allies—to our shame.

*For an enlightening and depressing look at the military’s pre-Kurd views of Trump, read “What the Generals Think of Trump” by Mark Bowden in the November 2019 Atlantic. See also the 10/17 New York Times opinion piece by Rear Admiral William McRaven (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

ISRAEL ON MY MIND, PART ONE

Carolyn and I just spent three weeks in Israel. Let me share some of the experience.

Let’s start with visiting leafy Perlstein Street in Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv/Yaffo. In 2014, I discovered the street and “walked” it via Google Maps. It was a kick to be on a street bearing our name. Well, that of Jacob Perlstein (no relation), a developer. Life is good, right? But Elisha, our taxi driver, told us how hard life is in Israel. As in San Francisco, buying a home is out of reach for many people.

In high-energy Tel Aviv, we ate several breakfasts and a lunch (gigantic portions) at a café on Habima Square. It contains two theaters where large groups of new soldiers—men and women—see films and hear lectures there about Israeli history. Recruits—military service is mandatory except for the ultra-Orthodox, some of whom serve voluntarily—also visit museums like Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, and archaeological sites. All to better understand what they’re defending. By the way, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and Israel Museum in Jerusalem are standouts.

The young soldiers made me want to cry. They’re drafted after high school at about 18. (Torah sets military service—men only—at 20.) Why should young people—Israelis and Palestinians—continually face death? Chalk that up to the intransigence of Iran-backed Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Former prime minister Golda Meir said it best when she castigated the Palestinians not for killing Israeli children but forcing Israelis to kill theirs.

I mention this because English-language newspapers reported Palestinians in Gaza being killed during Friday protests near Israel’s border fence. It’s terrible. But let’s not delude ourselves. Protests urged by Hamas don’t seek a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The goal remains getting “their” land back—the right to return to all of Israel. Which would annihilate the world’s lone Jewish State.

Note: Fifty-seven totally or heavily Muslim nations belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Fifty-seven!

Do Gazans and West Bank Palestinians expect Israel’s 6.5 million Jews to desert the thriving nation they and their ancestors built over 70 years of statehood and in previous decades since the late 19th century? In 1947. the U.N. partitioned Palestine—an administrative area, not a nation. Israel accepted partition. A Palestinian state was available. The Arabs rejected it.

Easily overlooked: Many “Palestinians” migrated to what is now Israel from other nearby regions of the Ottoman Empire and following World War One, the British Mandate. Jewish economic development created jobs.

I’m no fan of the Israeli right’s desire for either a single state—which likely would disenfranchise Arab citizens—or Palestinian autonomy in part of the West Bank rather than independence. The former, would legitimate Palestinian cries of “Israeli apartheid.” Palestinians show no inclination to accept the latter. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to oppose Israel’s right to exist. Gaza’s suffering worsens.

Israel is a marvelous country built with pluck and brains. Still, beneath the glow of technology, medical breakthroughs, great restaurants and superb arts—in Tel Aviv, we attended a Batsheva company dance performance—an undercurrent of anxiety remains.

It’s easy to comment—and sometimes condemn—Israeli politics from the safety of North America. Also, no matter how well-intentioned—a bit dishonest.

Next week, I’ll offer thoughts on religion based on visiting the Western Wall and family re our Passover stay at Masada.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

PARIS AND BEIRUT

Last Friday’s terror attacks in Paris continue to dominate the news. Not everyone thinks that’s good. Lebanese commentators ask why Paris eclipses ISIS suicide bombings that killed 41 in a southern suburb of Beirut. That was a horror. But there are understandable reasons why the West cries for Paris.

Yes, the City of Light represents the West. Beirut is Arab. But here’s what really impacts Western sensibilities: Following the barbarity of World War Two, Europe reinvented itself. The Middle East—allowing for colonial and post-colonial influence—did not. The region failed to address its underlying religious, tribal and political conflicts.

Take Lebanon’s civil war. From 1975 to 1990, multiple factions slaughtered each other and innocents. Christian, Muslim—Sunni and Shiite—and Palestinian militias went at it. Syrian, Iranian and Israeli forces—as well as a multinational force—entered the country. Deaths are estimated at 150,000.

Now look at failed Arab wars against Israel despite the United Nations partition of Palestine, the assassination of Egypt’s president and peacemaker Anwar Sadat, and the bloody aftermath of the Iranian revolution. Add in the Iran-Iraq war in which at least half-a-million troops perished. Consider the brutal dictatorships of Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Muammar Qaddafi (Libya) and Syria’s Hafez al Assad, who in 1982 repressed the Muslim Brotherhood by flattening the city of Hama and killing from 10,000 to 20,000 people.

Tragically, there was more: Taliban savagery in Afghanistan. Jihadi attacks in Pakistan and India. Al Qaeda and 9/11. Saddam’s sacking of Kuwait. Iran-backed Hezbollah taking over southern Lebanon. The Arab Spring that produced Arab Winter. Hamas’ attacks on Israel that brought great destruction to Gaza. Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel and resultant suffering in Lebanon. The death cult of ISIS perpetrating such cruelties as the slaughter and sexual enslavement of Yazidis. Then there’s the Syrian civil war and more than 250,000 deaths.

Beirut didn’t disappear from the headlines because the West devalues Muslim lives but because Islamists and so many Muslim leaders do. The West is far from perfect. Colonization was wrong. But that was yesterday. Much of the Middle East so dwells on the past that it can’t focus on the future. (Sidebar: Only twenty years after the Holocaust, Israel established diplomatic relations with West Germany.)

When bombs explode in Lebanon—or elsewhere in the Middle East—the West takes such violence in stride. Sadly, bloodshed will continue as the norm until the region re-imagines governance beyond religious tyrannies, military dictatorships, royal families and corrupt faux democracies.

And this: On Tuesday, Islamist suicide bombers killed 32 people in northeastern Nigeria. The online edition of the Daily Star, Lebanon’s English-language newspaper, provided no coverage on its home page. I had to click on World News then scroll. Way down. In fairness, today’s Daily Star home page reported deadly terrorist attacks in Bamako, Mali and in Baghdad. Ongoing coverage remains to be seen. Lebanon, like the West, has its own issues.

So let’s mourn the deaths in Beirut. Let’s also see Muslims worldwide stand up to the hatred in their midst—the only hope for permanent change. Some are doing so now. I salute them. As the 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

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.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

IRAN: NOW WHAT?

The Iran deal is done—at least until Congress votes on it. President Obama will veto a “no” vote, and overriding that veto will be difficult. So what lies ahead? We can only speculate. But I do have a warning.

First, let’s look at some possibilities. We’ve bought time, but following the ten-year agreement, Iran—unless a younger generation abandons revolution—may rush to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran’s holding a nuclear threat over Israel, the Middle East and American policy is unsettling. Some think tank inhabitants believe we can live with a nuclear Iran. Until we get there, it’s all theory.

Before the agreement ends—perhaps well before—Sunni Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and perhaps Egypt, may seek to develop their own nuclear weapons. Make no mistake. A proxy war in the Middle East now pits Shiite Iran against Sunni Saudi Arabia. Yet nations have much in common. They’re Muslim. They fund extremists. And they consider each other apostates.

Regrettably, lifting sanctions and unfreezing Iranian assets will enable Tehran to fund more terrorism, increasing its backing for the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shiite groups in the Gulf and probably Hamas in Gaza. President Obama admittedly focused solely on the nuclear issue. We have our work cut out.

Now let’s examine reality. Peter Beinart—a liberal who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq then later saw its folly—rejects the theory of American omnipotence (The Atlantic online, July 14). We may be the world’s most powerful nation, but power is relative. We cannot dictate terms to other nations which, while not as strong as us, are formidable regional powers capable of great harm. The administration of George W. Bush set out to remake the Middle East with the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein. Lovely theory. Ugly results.

Unfortunately, saber rattling comes easy. Restraint—particularly when the United States is so potent militarily—poses a major challenge to those who think we can use force with impunity. (Side bar: we are friendly with Vietnam following a war, which cost us more than 58,000 lives; there’s always hope.) Sober commentators like Roger Cohen (New York Times, July 16) point out that the Iran deal does not bring us into the best of all possible worlds. But no one offers a better alternative.

What would have happened had we foregone deal making and ratcheted up sanctions? Would Iran really have given up its quest for the bomb? Remember the bomb drawing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu held up at the United Nations in September 2012? Although tough sanctions were in place, Iran was thisclose. But Bibi and his cabinet didn’t unleash the Israeli Air Force.

Look, I’m no pal of the ayatollahs. They and the Republican Guard are odious hate mongers. Their anti-Israel and anti-America rhetoric constitutes a thin ploy to distract Iranians from their deprivation of human rights and Iran’s regional aggression. But Peter Beinart correctly notes the limits of American power and the delusional nature of “American exceptionalism”—to wit, we know it all and can do no wrong.

I’m glad the White House hasn’t trumpeted “peace in our time.” And I hope that the deal’s critics won’t advocate, “nuke the bastards.” The future is murky. Living with uncertainty is a rough challenge. Get used to it.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—July sale priced at $15 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

RED LINES

It used to be called drawing a line in the sand. You can go this far someone would say, and no farther. Political negotiations for territory produced maps and lines in red to mark borders. This is mine. That is yours. Today, establishing a red line equates to warning other nations or groups not to undertake certain actions—or else. But such a statement produces difficult questions like: Or else what?

The revolution in Syria has taken 93,000 lives—a figure of the verified dead according to the United Nations. For the White House, lives were an issue in the Syrian civil war but not the issue. President Obama drew his own red line some time ago. If the Assad government used chemical weapons, then the U.S. would be forced to intervene. Claims of chemical weapon use surfaced. The White House determined the evidence insufficient and let the matter lie—at least publicly. Ultimately, proof came. So now?

We’ll provide the rebels with small arms and ammunition. Anti-tank weapons, too, I imagine. At least, that’s the public position. Britain and France also will provide light arms. The Saudis, fighting a proxy war against Iran, have supplied shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles

More difficult questions remain: Who will end up with all this materiel? Can the West buy the loyalty of any group we support with weaponry? And will the next step be the establishment of a no-fly zone to keep Assad’s air force grounded—a move that Mr. Obama currently rejects and the Russians oppose?

Having backed themselves into a corner, President Obama and his advisors are flying blind. Whatever strategy they settle upon may work. Or not. An old Yiddish proverb comes to mind: Man plans and God laughs. We’re talking, after all, about the Middle East.

Speaking of God, former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin suggested—and the satirical intent doesn’t go unnoticed—“Let Allah sort it out.” Fatalism plays a large role in the Muslim psyche. Inshallah one hears frequently. God willing. What does God will? Sunni and Shiite extremists believe God wills the destruction of the other. Many Americans, I suspect, will be glad to let sectarian forces savage each other. Of course, much innocent blood will be spilled in the process.

One of the perks of writing a blog is the freedom to tell the world how it should act. Regarding Syria, I’ll pass. But this I do know. Talking about red lines works only until one is crossed. Without a real consequence, the red line bleeds into the sand along with a government’s credibility.

It’s very possible that Mr. Obama’s strategy will mirror Mrs. Palin’s. We’ll do the minimum to protect some Syrian civilians while keeping Assad and Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces off balance. At the same time, we’ll attempt to minimize the buildup of too much power by Sunni rebels and the al-Qaeda Islamists who make up much of their effective fighting force. This may be the best we can do.

But we might also consider that publicly declaring a red line risks creating a straight line to disaster.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.