Tag Archives: middle east

Chris Collins’ Iranthmetic

3 Dec

The image to the left of this text shows my Congressman’s Facebook reaction to a deal that the “P5+1” countries reached with Iran over its nuclear weapons and energy program. 

The deal was a modest thing, significant for the fact that Iran came to the table in apparent good faith at all. It would dilute existing nuclear material so that it could only be used for energy, and not weaponry, and there would be a 6 month halt to its nuclear weapon program altogether. The aim would be a final deal within 6 or 12 months, allowing for one 6 month extension of the pause. 

Iran’s economy has been absolutely devastated by international sanctions over its nuclear program, and it has a huge incentive to roll back its pariah status. The world benefits if Iran has no nuclear weapons to use against its myriad enemies. To my mind, the whole thing should be rolled into deal whereby Iran ends its support of Hezbollah and recognizes Israel, but diplomacy is often about baby steps. 

So, turning to the representative of NY-27, we could certainly fisk his simplistic statement to kingdom come – e.g., it wasn’t an “Obama Administration” deal, it was a deal between Iran on the one hand, and the US, Russia, China, and the European Union (read: the UK, France, and Germany – it’s called “P5+1” because it includes the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, meaning it would be veto-proof in that body, plus Germany) on the other.  Germany, for its part, does huge business with Iran, and all of these powers – working together – have the ability together to put great pressure on Iran to behave and comply. 

I could snarkily comment on Collins’ recent praise of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, or the fact that Collins chooses to manufacture his tchotchkes in China, but I also realize that his public pronouncements are not meant to be taken seriously. I think that we’re witnessing an Andy Kaufman-like comedic performance art that is, unfortunately, unfunny and predictable. Collins is a caricature of a closed-minded conservative backbencher. 

The point of diplomacy, of course, isn’t just to talk with friends. The diplomatic process involves talking with our sworn enemies, as well; to work out differences in a peaceful way rather than war. 

So, why would our caricature be so knee-jerkedly opposed to a rather contextually modest, temporary deal to freeze Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the easing of some sanctions? Because he’s effectively been paid to oppose it

Just this past August, Collins took his son on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel. The trip was financed by a private lobbying group, the American Israel Education Foundation. It paid for transportation, lodging, meals, and all incidentals for Collins (who is well able to afford spending $18,000 to visit Israel) and his son, who visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. 

WGRZ called Collins out on it

Dr. Craig Holman with the government watchdog group Public Citizen said the trips are designed to influence and lobby members of Congress.

“These types of travel junkets have long been one of the favorite means for special interests and lobbyists to use to try to influence members of Congress and peddle their wares on Capitol Hill,” Dr. Holman said.

While AIEF is a non-profit, it is simply the charity wing of the AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC is the largest pro-Israel lobby in America.

AIPAC and its lobbyists are prohibited from giving lawmakers or staff members gifts, including trips. So the group’s charity wing does it for them.

“(The ethics committees) have allowed a lobbying organization — any lobbying entity — to set up a 501(c)3, a charity wing even just on paper,” Dr. Holman said. “And if that (c)3 itself doesn’t employ lobbyists, then it can pay for these congressional travel junkets.”

Neither Congressman Reed nor Congressman Collins would speak with 2 On Your Side either on camera or by phone. They each emailed statements through their spokespeople.

“Congressman Collins’ trip – vetted and approved by the House Ethics Committee – was paid for exclusively by private donations at zero expense to taxpayers,” Collins Spokesperson Grant Loomis said by email. “The bipartisan effort involves both Democrats and Republicans and is critical to educating Members of Congress on the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship and protecting American interests in the Middle East.”

Israel, for its part, has slammed the Iran nuclear deal, and her Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called it an “accommodation” and “political theater” that will “wreak havoc” in the region. Well, not all of Israel. For instance, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has taken a much more conciliatory tone, arguing that the 6 month Iran deal gives Israel an opening to solve the Palestinian crisis so that Israel and the Arab world can be united in putting pressure on Iran. The opposition Labour Party has blasted Netanyahu, as has at least one of his former associates, 

On April 27, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin said Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were not fit to stand at helm of the Israeli regime. 

“I will tell you things that might be harsh. I cannot trust Netanyahu and Barak at the wheel in confronting Iran. They are infected with messianic feelings over Iran,” Diskin said. 

Later on Sunday, Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan expressed support for Diskin, saying he was stating his “internal truth.” 

Israel’s Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said on April 25 that he does not believe Iran will pursue nuclear weapons after years of efforts made by Tel Aviv and its allies to convince the world otherwise. 

Gantz described Iran’s leadership as “very rational” who would not make such a decision. 

There hasn’t been a havoc-free day in the last 3,000 years anywhere surrounding Israel, given its neighbors’ insistence that it be eliminated. Yet with careful diplomacy, Arab and Islamic enemies have succumbed and recognized Israel. It happened with Egypt and Jordan, it could happen with others if talks would take place, but as with all things in the Middle East, it’s just too complicated and fraught with peril. 

If Chris Collins was so effusive with his praise for Putin’s supposed out-maneuvering in Syria, which pledged to destroy its chemical weapons to avoid American military action, his heart should be just as full of praise for the Iran deal, because there isn’t a damn reason why anyone would trust Syria’s Bashir Assad more or less than any of Iran’s mullahs. 

Obama in Cairo

5 Jun

The United States is again going to roll up its sleeves and try to mediate a difficult, bloody crisis that serves as the perpetual epicenter of strife and extremism in the Middle East, occasionally spilling out into the rest of the world.

Obama has put the brakes on our sometimes clumsy foreign policy by smart bomb, and is setting out a traditionally conservative blueprint for using our soft power to get the petulant, fighting kids to take a time out and cut it out.

And as a mediator, we can only maintain our credibility and bona fides if we tell each side something they want to hear, and something they don’t. We have to remind these parties that we have a special relationship with one of them, but that isn’t a license for Israel to behave badly. By the same token, the Arab states surrounding Israel need to clamp down on the extremists, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and renounce violence.

To the neoconservatives and Israeli right-wing and Islamic militants who are all having conniption fits, consider this:

President Obama assumed positions virtually identical to those of Israel’s political center –- namely, that the Palestinians must renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist, while Israel must cease settlement building and permit a Palestinian state to arise. Now, Benjamin Netanyahu’s problem is that it’s difficult to distinguish between President Obama and Tzipi Livni. And in Israel’s recent elections, Livni and her Kadima party won more votes than anyone else.

After all, if you mediate a settlement and each side doesn’t walk away angry that it didn’t get something it wanted, then one side got screwed. The fact that extremists are upset only underscores that Obama struck the right tone. The extremists make a lot of noise and embrace war, but little else.

Nothing else has worked. Telling each side the brutal truth is a good place to start.

Hitch & the Swastika

26 Feb

Say what you want about Christopher Hitchens, but I have a lot of respect for a guy who puts himself at risk to deface a swastika.

call me old fashioned if you will, but my line is that swastika posters are to be defaced or torn down. I mean, what other choice do you have?

The whole thing is a crazy, chaotic, chilling story.

Obama’s al-Arabiya Chat

27 Jan

The genius of that interview is that it permits Obama to speak directly to the average Muslim in the middle east who is just trying to go about his or her life, and reaffirm for them that America is not hostile to their interests, and wants to insure a better life for all Muslim and Jewish kids in that region.

The past hasn’t worked, so let’s get beyond it and try something new and different. It says, stop this extremist shit and everyone can have a better future – not just your side. In so doing, it gives the mass of non-political, non-extremist people in the region a voice. Maybe not a domestic one, but a voice nonetheless.

It was a true and direct message of peace and moderation that transcends the hyperactive politics of the dictators and demagogues throughout that region.

Scowcroft – Obama

24 Nov

Obama’s ties to former Bush I National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft are examined by the Wall Street Journal:

Many of the Republicans emerging as potential members of the Obama administration have professional and ideological ties to Brent Scowcroft, a former national-security adviser turned public critic of the Bush White House.

Mr. Scowcroft spoke by phone with President-elect Barack Obama last week, the latest in a months-long series of conversations between the two men about defense and foreign-policy issues, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The relationship between the president-elect and the Republican heavyweight suggests that Mr. Scowcroft’s views, which place a premium on an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, might hold sway in the Obama White House.

I thought getting rid of Saddam Hussein and making Iraq “stable” was supposed to be good for Israel – that was the neoconservative rationale, after all. See how stable the Middle East is now?

Is it January 20th yet?

Surfing Around

11 Jan

Via In Java, Literally, I find this surreal story where Fox News reports (you decide) that Paul Begala is joining the Clinton campaign. Begala emails the Fox News “reporter” to tell him it’s not true, and he’s being fed bad information. Fox’s Major Garrett will “take it under advisement”. Hacks.

Buffalo Blood Donor thinks that Bush’s last-minute, legacy-conscious attempt at mideast peace is unlikely to succeed.

LC Scotty on the New Hampshire debates. What I want to know is who that reporter was who was doing the Facebook stuff.

If you haven’t already, check out WNY Rants!

I once plugged “White Castle” into my TomTom GPS device and followed it to the one closest to Buffalo – about 200 miles to a relatively nasty part of Cleveland.

If Food Network wanted a younger, hipper audience, they should have hired Anthony Bourdain. Now, the Travel Channel’s got him in one of the most fascinating shows on TV – Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations – and he makes the occasional appearance on Bravo’s Top Chef.

Via All things Jennifer: I can’t imagine a more uncomfortable situation.

Not too surprisingly we find that Ron Paul either has some very ugly opinions about people, or else he’s too negligent to stop blatantly bigoted material from being released under his name some 15-20 years ago. Examples:

An October 1990 edition of the [Ron Paul] Political Report ridicules black activists, led by Al Sharpton, for demonstrating at the Statue of Liberty in favor of renaming New York City after Martin Luther King. The newsletter suggests that “Welfaria,” “Zooville,” “Rapetown,” “Dirtburg,” and “Lazyopolis” would be better alternatives–and says, “Next time, hold that demonstration at a food stamp bureau or a crack house.”


The June 1990 issue of the [Ron Paul] Political Report says: “I miss the closet. Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities.”

He’s also a conspiracy theorist (Trilateral Commission!!!), praised that 90’s phenomenon – militias, and calls Israel a “national socialist state”. So, yeah – he’s a kook, and tried to advance his political career by wallowing in pig’s shit. Either way, he couldn’t pull double digits in “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire. So, where’s the Paulista juggernaut?

Indian automaker Tata has released a $2,500 car for the developing world. 30 HP, 54 MPG, seats five.

John McCain’s daughter, Meghan, is blogging his campaign. It’s better than that sounds. Go check it out.