Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

TRUMP’S RESIGNATION SPEECH

Jan. 20, 2018. President Donald J. Trump resigned today on the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. His resignation came three weeks before special investigator Robert Mueller will release his report on alleged collusion between Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. Leaked highlights of the report have produced negative reactions from Congressional leaders and the media. A transcript of Mr. Trump’s remarks follows.

“My fellow Americans. Real Americans who know what’s made America great again. Me! I’m sad. No one can be sadder than Donald Trump. Because the witch hunt… So witchy. But I’m glad. Because I’m rich. They hate that. And you know who they are.

“You keep hearing all that fake news from the so-called media. Terrible. So terrible! But the real news is, I’m here to celebrate.

“Donald Trump is celebrating the greatest presidency in the history of the real United States. Except those phony states on the coasts. I mean, the coasts north of swampy Washington D.C. Not the South. Not the Gulf out there somewhere. And California. California could drop into the ocean—the Pacific, right?—nobody would care.

“Please, don’t applaud. Not yet. Okay. Go ahead. I deserve it. In just one year, Donald Trump has made America great again. So great! That’s why I’m going to let a younger man carry on and keep America great. Not as strong a slogan as make America great, but there’s only one Donald Trump. Except for Donald Trump, Jr. But he’s a junior, right?

“I hear crying out there. So many people crying. You miss me already. So sad. I mean, one of the greatest presidents in history, right? Washington. Lincoln. Reagan maybe. Kind of Hollywood. And Trump! No. Hold the applause. Okay, don’t. I mean, you name a great thing, I’ve talked about it. Like telling Congress to cut taxes to stimulate ten percent growth. Four? I said four? Details. And keeping Muslims out of our country. That screw-up’s on the so-called courts. Pardon my French but they’re just like Congress. No balls!

“And China. I had Xi Jinping for dinner at Mar-a-Lago. I let him see how we handle our business. Now he knows. And those new islands China’s building in the South China Sea? Great development opportunities for American companies. Jobs, jobs, jobs. You’ll see the Trump name everywhere.

“North Korea? They only launched a dozen missiles during the past year. Not even. Something like eight. Maybe fourteen. Details. Doesn’t matter. Know why? The kid with the funny haircut, he’s scared. Of me. Syria? Very peaceful now. Very little fighting. Great opportunities for American companies to rebuild some of those ruins. A Trump golf course in Damascus? Beautiful! That’s how you kick ISIS’ ass. And Iran’s.

“Sure. Applaud. I earned it. That’s why starting today, I’m going to spend more time with my family. Who knew being president would take more than three days a week? Four in a crisis? And if President Pence needs me, he can call my villa outside Moscow. Or text. But not tweet. Donald Trump doesn’t follow tweets. Facebook, maybe.

“No worries. My portrait in the Oval Office? It’ll inspire him. The steely eyes. The iron jaw. All those emeralds and rubies set in a gold crown. Za zdarovye!”

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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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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.

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TRUMP IN 2020

Following George W. Bush’s election in 2000—I voted for Al Gore—I hoped to vote for President Bush in 2004. For the nation’s good, I wanted “W” to prove me wrong. He didn’t. Now, I want to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. That’s a long way off. So let’s look at possible scenarios for 2017.

Russia puts more pressure on Eastern Ukraine and Eastern Europe. With President Trump seeing no American interest at play, Vladimir Putin effectively splits Ukraine and brings the Baltic states back into Russia’s orbit. Disclosure: I’ve long believed that bringing Eastern Europe into NATO instead of guaranteeing its neutrality was a mistake, ignoring Moscow’s long-standing concerns about its “near abroad.”

Marine LePen, head of France’s right-wing National Front party, rides the Brexit/Trump wave to the presidency this spring. France seeks independence within NATO or abandons it. With American approval, Ms. Le Pen leads France out of the European Union and away from the Euro, reasserts France’s control of its borders and strengthens secularism in the face of Muslim public religious/cultural practices. This imposes burdens on business people and vacationers but makes transiting Europe more challenging to Islamist terrorists. Recent attempts at unifying European Union intelligence gathering unravel. President Trump doesn’t care; he doesn’t want to share intelligence.

ISIS collapses as a “caliphate”—this already underway—but Islamist terrorism increases on the Continent. In Syria, Trump lets Russia reestablish Bashar al-Assad’s nationwide rule.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickens the pace of settlement building in the West Bank. President Trump talks about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Rumors loom of a Third Intifada. Trump amends or terminates the nuclear deal with Iran. In response, Iran backs limited hostilities against Israel emanating from Lebanon, encourages greater Shiite control of Iraq and increases tensions with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis express interest in acquiring or developing nuclear weapons.

A tentative trade war tests the waters with China. Beijing more boldly asserts sovereignty in the South China Sea. President Trump orders the U.S. Navy to stand down. Jitters rack Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, who move closer to China. President Trump broaches removing all U.S. troops from South Korea.

Existing walls along the Mexican border undergo symbolic lengthening—at U.S. expense. Relations chill with Mexico City. Anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. grows more fervent. Washington increases deportations but modestly.

The wealthy enjoy major tax cuts while federal programs are slashed, including environmental protections. America burns more coal. (I was in Delhi, India three weeks ago. The air was awful. Last week it became unlivable.)

Job growth in the Upper Midwest and Southeast remains meager since automation cannot be undone. Obamacare is gutted. Private insurers compete to lower premiums for healthy millennials, raise them for everyone else. Millions lose coverage.

Trump proposes a major infrastructure program. Democrats support it. Republican fiscal conservatives oppose it. Trump supporters take solace in a conservative Supreme Court pick, efforts to ban abortion and overturn LGBTQ rights, and the first draft of a new immigration policy. The stock market rises as does volatility.

I hope most of these scenarios don’t take place—infrastructure projects and an intelligent discussion of immigration being exceptions. Really, I’d love to eat crow so I can support President Trump in 2020. What are the odds?

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ALEPPO

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson infamously responded to a question about the tragic war in Syria with “What is Aleppo?” I’ll answer. You won’t be comforted.

Aleppo—not the capital Damascus—was Syria’s largest city and business hub with 2.1 million inhabitants (2004 census). Since the Syrian civil war started in 2011, nearly 500,000 have been killed nationwide. Aleppo’s population has dropped. What is it? No one knows.

What we do know is that Aleppo, the Syrian civil war and widespread violence in the Middle East present a conundrum. The United States is damned if we do get more involved, damned if we don’t.

Start with refugees. Turkey hosts 2.6 million, Lebanon one million and impoverished Jordan over 628,000 (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees). Eastern Europe hasn’t the resources, ability or will to accept many—if any. Germany takes the lead in the West. It accepted over one million asylum seekers in 2015. That’s dropped to 220,000 in 2016 (Deutsche Welle). Germans said, “No more.”

Regrettably, Western Europe long has done a poor job assimilating Muslims. In counterpoint, many Muslims have resisted integrating into Europe’s secular culture. America does much better, but no matter how many refugees we accept, we won’t come close to meeting existing needs.

Militarily—despite Donald Trump’s assertions—we also face limits. In Syria, U.S. weapons, training and airpower have failed to oust President Bashar al-Assad. (ISIS will soon be driven underground.) Diplomatic efforts face intransigence by Vladimir Putin. Inserting traditional American ground forces into Syria risks a violent clash with Russia. No one will win.

In Iraq, we see progress. The crucial battle for Mosul is underway. It will be long and bloody. Clearing Mosul of booby traps and rebuilding will take decades. Estimates place 5,000-6,000 American trainers, advisors, forward air controllers and special operations personnel on the ground. The U.S. could send in 25,000 or more traditional combat troops. But Washington probably would face massive protests at home, particularly with many Americans embittered after a nasty presidential campaign. We’d also see protests throughout the Middle East.

What if we send in combat troops anyway? Following victory, Iraqis will demand we leave. If we stay, we’ll face a new insurrection featuring improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and sniper attacks. After we go, Iraq will descend into renewed chaos with no dominant indigenous force controlling the fragmented nation.

Feeling conflicted? Who isn’t? Recently on TV, a Syrian man asked how the West could let such brutality continue. Another Syrian man interviewed some months earlier presented another perspective: “Nothing good ever comes from the West.”

We are witnessing a war within Islam between those who accept the twenty-first century and those who long for the seventh. Throw in nationalist/sectarian (Sunni-Shia) and tribal conflicts, as well as political thuggery, and we’re left with a witches brew too toxic to consume.

Limiting our response seems inhumane but reflects reality. Only the peoples of the Middle East can create lasting peace for themselves. This may not happen until the middle or later stages of this century when they’ve been exhausted by death and destruction. It may not happen at all.

What is Aleppo then? A final two words: frustration, angst. I suspect you can come up with many more.

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EUROPE AND THE SLIPPERY SLOPE

American politics often seizes up atop the slippery slope. When common sense dictates compromise, Democrats and Republicans refuse to take a first small step. They reason that a tiny compromise will lead to larger compromises eroding their core principles. Europe, too, faces a slippery slope in regard to refugees fleeing the Middle East and South Asia.

We’re all familiar with rickety boats crossing—or sinking in—the Mediterranean. Refugees come ashore in Greece and Italy then go on. Hungary, a way station to prosperous Germany, closed its border. Croatia, another way station, will no longer offer refuge. Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said of refugees, “They will get food, water and medical help, and then they can move on… We have hearts, but we also have heads.”

Many Europeans are welcoming. Others fear the slippery slope. Let some refugees in and the inflow will become uncontrollable. Resources will dwindle. Moreover, as more Muslims gain a foothold in “Christian” Europe the Continent as we know it will cease to be.

How do you look into a child’s eyes and tell a family to return to a land of violence? For now, Europe doesn’t want to do that although it lacks a coordinated refugee strategy. Germany announced plans to host 800,000 refugees over the next year. The flow increased. Germany raised its target to one million. Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledges German wealth and organizational skills. She also recognizes the moral issue confronting Germany, which slaughtered six million Jews and millions of others.

So we can all feel good, right? I think not. I’d love to believe that generosity of spirit always leads to universal peace and love. I can’t. Europe has done a poor job of assimilating millions of Muslims already settled within its borders. The Germans hold their large population of Turks, many native-born, pretty much apart. In turn, Turkish Germans remain aloof. They welcome German jobs. They’re uncomfortable with liberal Western culture, including equal rights for women and people with a range of sexual orientations. Across Europe and in the U.K., Muslim communities often find themselves at odds with mainstream society because of differing religious and cultural norms.

Maybe I’m prejudiced—influenced by the plight of Europe’s Jews. Young friends in Sweden (see “Should Jews Leave Europe?”) believe they cannot bring up Jewish children in their homeland because of Muslim anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attitudes. Parisian Jews visited my synagogue this summer. They want to come to America because Jewish life in France is perilous. French Muslims make it so. Several years ago, a film producer in London told me that the Jewish community is terribly frightened of Muslim hostility and influence. Yet it’s difficult for these Jews—educated and successful—to get into the U.S.

If Europe were as capable as the United States in assimilating people from different cultures, I’d encourage it to take in large numbers of refugees. Europe is not, and I can’t. Of course, the decision is Europe’s. But even now, European nations are taking a closer look at the challenges they face.

Still, even if Europe eventually closes off immigration, it will have ingested a significant number of Muslims. The conundrum—and it’s particularly upsetting at this time of year—is whether Europe can digest them.

I wish all who observe a peaceful, healthy and happy New Year. May you be sealed in the Book of Life.

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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.

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THE RODEF

Two of my favorite TV shows, both on Showtime, reveal a lot about Syria and Iraq. Yet only one involves the Middle East. It’s all about the rodef, the Hebrew word for pursuer—one who seeks to murder or otherwise harm an innocent person. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 73a) states that in self-defense, we may kill the rodef first. But the concept of the rodef and responses to it defy easy definition.

Take Homeland. The rodef lies at the heart of the series, including season four, which began last Sunday. The relentless Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is in Kabul managing the drone rocketing of Islamists on a long hit list. The CIA considers these men rodefs—pursuers seeking to launch terrorist operations.

The initial episodes pose troubling questions. How are we to view collateral damage—a euphemism for killing and wounding civilians—when targeting rodefs? (I’m not giving anything away when I write that a drone attack approved by Carrie causes extensive collateral damage.) Must attacks against rodefs guarantee zero collateral damage? Should the target be spared regardless of potential loss of life resulting from his future activities?

Ray Donovan, which concluded two weeks ago, poses another question: Can the concept of rodef be exploited? Ezra Goodman (Elliot Gould), a doddering but powerful and immoral Hollywood lawyer, frequently draws on Jewish law to justify his instructions to Ray (Liev Schreiber), his hired fixer with blood on his hands. Ezra excuses a murder by citing the rodef. But it’s clear that the victim was not pursuing innocent blood but rather the truth about criminal activities in which Ezra and Ray were involved.

How does Ray Donovan relate to the Middle East? Islamists see rodefs everywhere. The West, they say, is out to get us. The West’s colonial past is undeniable. But so too are the brutal Muslim dictatorships in Iraq and Syria that spawned so much chaos. (For the record: I opposed invading Iraq; the Bush administration’s mishandling of the post-war period demonstrates why.) It’s particularly sad—and frightening—to see so many young Western Muslims, including women, in Syria. They’re true believers fighting not only the Assad regime but also anyone who doesn’t follow the intolerant forms of Sunni Islam they’ve only recently adopted.

Last Wednesday, CBS-TV News’s Clarissa Ward interviewed a young Somali-American man who condemns America for bombing innocent Muslims. America is the terrorist, he says while praising Osama bin Laden. He makes no concession that the 190,000 deaths in Syria alone involve mostly Muslims killed by Muslims. Neither does he mention Islamists killing Christians and Yazidis simply because they are Christians and Yazidis.

A Thursday Reuters report on yahoo.com was particularly affecting. A 15-year-old French-Muslim girl went to Syria to take part in humanitarian efforts on behalf of Islamist forces. Seemingly disillusioned, she cannot return. Many young women from the West find themselves forced into marriages. All become virtual prisoners. Like the Eagles’ Hotel California, you can get in, but you can never get out.

Ray Donovan demonstrates that the term rodef and justifications for self-defense can be abused. Homeland raises the challenge that legitimate defense against the rodef may be fraught with moral danger. We’d all like to pursue simple answers. They likely will outrun us.

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CANCER IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Last Friday, Iran’s parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani referred to Israel as a “cancer” in the Middle East. He accused Israel and the United States of trying to “sterilize” the Arab Spring. But what happened last week in “non-cancerous” countries?

Sunday: Six hundred Syrians fled besieged Homs under attack by snipers… A Pakistani family of eight was killed in the home of a pro-government militia leader… Mali’s minister for interior security said that MUJWA, The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, killed 31 Tuaregs near Tamkoutat.

Monday: An instructor in suicide bombings for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) unwittingly blew up his training class. Twenty-two died, 15 were wounded… In Mosul, Iraq a roadside bomb wounded six guards of the parliamentary speaker… A doctor was found dead in Baghdad with bullet wounds in his head and chest two days after being kidnapped… A bomb near a Baghdad café killed four and wounded 11.

Tuesday: Assailants in Peshawar, Pakistan tossed grenades into a movie theater killing 10 people and wounding 16—the second theater attack in two weeks… The Tel Aviv-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reported that 15 percent of the world’s suicide bombings in 2013 took place in Syria. In 2014, a surge of similar attacks has taken place in Lebanon

Wednesday: Syrian troops and warplanes along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah pounded the Syrian border town of Yabroud before a government offensive… In Konduga, Nigeria Islamists killed 39 people, destroyed a mosque and leveled 1,000 homes… Seventeen civilians and soldiers were killed across Iraq.

Thursday: In Mogadishu, Somalia a bomb planted by the Islamist al Shabaab targeted a United Nations convoy, killing at least seven people… In Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, 11 people were killed in an attack on a prison that houses members of Al Qaeda… U.N mediator Lakhdar Brahimi stated that failure of the Syrian peace talks was “staring him in the face.”

Also on Thursday, Israeli soldiers killed one Palestinian and wounded another on the Israel-Gaza border. Relatives said the dead man was collecting gravel to sell. The Israeli military said soldiers fired at Palestinians tampering with Israel’s security fence. Israel played a role in just one of last week’s incidents, and it’s disputed.

Still, not only the Iranian leadership but also many “justice loving” people—including those in the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDM) movement—focus their attention solely on the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. Yes, I support a two-state solution with proper security for Israel and full rights for Israeli Arabs. And no, the status quo won’t do.

I suspect, however, that there is more to this unbalanced focus on Israel than meets the eye. Perhaps much of the West assumes that Muslims will continue to slaughter themselves and others as they’ve long done for sectarian and tribal reasons. Perhaps the BDM folks hold Israel, a Western-oriented democracy with a thriving and open culture, to a higher standard

Or perhaps the image of Jews with power—which can be use for both right and wrong, witness America’s oft-checkered policies—and the existence of a Jewish state prove more than they can handle.

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Read the first three chapters of The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out Green Apple Books and Books, Inc. in Laurel Village. And read my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review.

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.

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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.