Sickened at the prospect that a victory for reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi in the Iranian presidential election might have led to better relations with the United States, neoconservatives here and their fellow war hawks in Israel are celebrating the dubious victory of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yes, this is true: Right-wingers in America and Israel don't want peace with Iran, nor do they want anyone to get the impression that President Obama's efforts at engagement with Iran might actually work, nor do they give a damn about the Iranian people. Mad Mahmoud is the man neocons love to hate, and they're as happy as clams that their guy found a way to steal the election.
Had Mousavi won the Iranian election as many in Iran and around the world hoped, it would likely have signalled a new and more positive direction for U.S.-Iranian relations as well as providing support for the "Obama Doctrine" of engagement with Iran and others in the Muslim world with which America's relations have been troubled. Such a development would at the same time have undercut the neocon attitude of hostility and suspicion toward Iran, as well as undercutting the right-wing Israeli government's aggressive stance toward Iran. As we know, neocons can tolerate peace only when it is imposed with an iron fist or the heel of a jackboot, and the prospect of peace through diplomacy in the Greater Middle East must surely have given them nightmares the rest of us could scarcely imagine.
In the run-up to the Iranian election last week, Daniel Pipes of the right-wing Middle East Forum came right out and admitted in a speech at the right-wing Heritage Foundation that he would actually vote for Ahmadinejad if he were allowed to vote in Iran (video). This speech was followed by a June 12 blog post by Pipes in which he reiterated that he was "rooting for Ahmadinejad" based on the twisted logic that the fundamentalist clerics who really rule Iran will always be our enemies and it's better to have an Iranian president we can really hate than "a sweet-talking Mousavi" who lulls us into thinking we can be friends. Never mind the aspirations or even basic human rights of the Iranian people; never mind anyone's desire for peace in the Greater Middle East. I've long had a pretty strong distaste for Daniel Pipes, but following this admission I'm more convinced of his utter vileness than ever. This is, after all, a man who has publicly advocated for the profiling and internment of Muslims in America, and who considers Israeli and Palestinian existence mutually exclusive (see Sourcewatch). As we leave the age of the neocons behind, I look forward to watching Pipes and others like him slide into the bitter, drooling irrelevance and oblivion they deserve.
The American Enterprise Institute's equally malignant Michael Rubin likewise told Kathryn Jean Lopez at the National Review that it might be better for Ahmadinejad to win, because a Mousavi win might give Obama and the rest of us the impression that diplomacy was actually working. Painting Iran as inherently and hopelessly evil, Rubin said of the Iranian election that should Mousavi win "it would be easier for Obama to believe that Iran really was figuratively unclenching a fist when, in fact, it had its other hand hidden under its cloak, grasping a dagger." James Taranto strikes a similar tone in the Wall Street Journal, warning against the "eagerness to see Obama's feel-good foreign-policy approach succeed."
Now that the Iranian election appears to be over, right-wingers will be tripping over themselves in the rush to use Ahmadinejad's victory against Obama. In fact, once and future Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney has already piped up, saying that Ahmadinejad's win is proof that Obama's "policy of going around the world and apologizing for America is not working." These losers obviously have nothing left but the hope that Obama will fail, or can at least be said to have failed. I look forward to watching Romney and his party lose again in 2012.
Right-wingers in Israel, meanwhile, have been making noises very similar to their American bedfellows, and appear to see nothing good for themselves in any warming of relations between the U.S. and Iran, as observed by M.J. Rosenberg at TPM. From Israel in the run-up to the Iranian election Yaakov Katz wrote in the Jerusalem Post that members of the Israeli defense establishment were "silently praying" for an Ahmadinejad victory, fearing that a Mousavi win would result in decreased pressure on Iran and its nuclear program. Now that Ahmadinejad appears to have successfully stolen the election, Israeli officials and their allies in America are calling for renewed pressure on Iran. Meanwhile, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff write in Haaretz that an Ahmadinejad victory is actually preferable for Israel because a Mousavi win would only "paste an attractive mask on the face of Iranian nuclear ambitions."
I suspect we'll hear more of this in days to come from eager neocons on both sides of the Atlantic. Obama's policy of engagement will work, however, and is working, as evidenced by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to his Cairo speech, by the Lebanese election results, by the reform movement in Iran, and by the likelihood that Ahmadinejad kept his office only through vote-rigging, suppression, and intimidation. Obama will succeed, and once he has neocons like Daniel Pipes can take up residence in the dustbin of history where they belong.
Mark C. Eades
As Iranians go to the polls to elect a president, American neoconservatives are openly rooting not for moderate reform candidate and former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi but for anti-U.S. hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This is an obvious sign both of the neocons' preference for conflict over peace between the U.S. and Iran and of the generally bankrupt state of conservatism in America, reduced now to banking on failure for the Obama administration (see Huffington Post, Rachel Maddow).
Should the reformist Mousavi win the Iranian election and become president, it would likely signal a new and more positive direction for U.S.-Iranian relations as well as providing support for the "Obama Doctrine" of engagement with Iran and other adversaries. Such a development would at the same time undercut the neocon attitude of hostility and suspicion toward Iran, as well as undercutting the right-wing Israeli government's aggressive stance toward Iran. Indeed right-wingers in Israel like those in America appear to see nothing good for themselves in any warming of relations between the U.S. and Iran, as observed by M.J. Rosenberg at TPM and Yaakov Katz at the Jerusalem Post.
The unpleasant fellow you see pictured here is Daniel Pipes of the right-wing Middle East Forum, a raging neocon who said in a speech this week at the Heritage Foundation that he would vote for Ahmadinejad if he were allowed to vote in Iran (video). The American Enterprise Institute's Michael Rubin likewise told Kathryn Jean Lopez at the National Review that it could be better for Ahmadinejad to win, because a Mousavi win might give Obama the impression that diplomacy was working. Painting Iran as inherently and hopelessly evil, Rubin said of the Iranian election that "should someone more soft-spoken and less defiant -- someone like former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi -- win, it would be easier for Obama to believe that Iran really was figuratively unclenching a fist when, in fact, it had it had its other hand hidden under its cloak, grasping a dagger."
Without so openly rooting for Ahmadinejad, other neocons are playing down the significance of a possible Mousavi victory, obviously worried that a shift in power will signal a fresh start for U.S.-Iranian relations that could leave American and Israeli hawks out in the cold. The same right-wing pundits who constantly point out Ahmadinejad's bad behavior as reasons to confront Iran now argue that it doesn't matter who the president of Iran is. Martin Peretz wrote at the New New Republic: "We've known for a long time that elected leaders do not carry the weight of those who have been anointed." Ilan Berman likewise wrote at the American Spectator: "Whoever ends up becoming president will have little real power -- and even less influence over Iran's geostrategic direction."
The prospect of peace in the Greater Middle East must give sociopaths like these nightmares the rest of us could scarcely imagine.
Mark C. Eades
Much is being made in the media of the current tension between the Obama administration and the right-wing government in Tel Aviv on the issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, and I fully expect that coverage of Israeli reaction to the tough line on settlements taken by Obama in his Cairo speech will focus on the negative. Equally important but likely to receive far less attention is the applause and support Obama is receiving from Israeli progressives, many of whom are as critical of the settlements as their counterparts in the West.
A sampling of progressive Israeli opinion on Obama and his stand on the settlement issue includes the following from Gideon Levy in Haaretz, predicting hopefully that Binyamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government will ultimately have no choice but to acquiesce to Obama's demands:
"Washington will decide the fate of the West Bank settlements, and we can only hope it insists on their evacuation. Obama standing firm beside the revolutionary Mideast policy he has begun will light the torch of hope here, too. The battle of the titans, Netanyahu and Obama, is little more than a farce - let us recall the fable of the elephant and the bee, or the frog and the ox. Not all creatures can become as great as they think. Let's also be realistic: An Israeli prime minister has no option of saying no to America once Washington has dug in its heels. Netanyahu knows this better than anyone, and the time has come to explain as much to his 'patriotic' coalition allies.... Time is short but the keys are in the ignition, President Obama. Drive on to peace."
Barak Ravid also in Haaretz provides the following comments from progressive Members of the Knesset:
Kadima MK Ze'ev Boim said that "Obama's speech is yet another proof that Netanyahu miscalculated the foreign policy of the new American administration."
"The President's take on the Palestinian question is similar to Kadima's, and it's a shame that narrow political considerations prevented the Israeli government from espousing the two-state solution which is the only one that can ensure a Jewish and democratic existence in Israel."
Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner said that "Israel could benefit from the America's improved image in the Arab world and leverage it to forge a regional coalition, together with the moderate Arab countries, to counter Iran, but instead the government is engaged in marginal debates on outposts."
Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor) said that Obama was right that the world's common enemy is extremism and that finding a common strategy is the way to defeat it.
"We should adopt a similar strategy in Jewish-Arab and religious-secular relations, as well as vis-a-vis the Palestinians," Braverman said. "We are committed to the two-state solution."
Meretz leader Haim Oron, for his part, welcomed Obama's speech. He said it was filled with inspiration, optimism and vision.
"The speech is the feat of enlightenment," he said.
Negative reaction to Obama's speech from right-wing Israelis, meanwhile, has been predictably harsh. Most outspoken in their opposition to Obama are settlers themselves and their leaders, whose hysterical, lowbrow rhetoric strongly echoes that of right-wing Americans. Like their teabagging U.S. counterparts, right-wing Israelis have taken to throwing Obama's middle name around as an epithet, accusing him of being a closet Muslim and of betraying Israel. Organizers of a right-wing protest outside the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem had the following to say in a press release reported by Arutz Sheva:
"Barack Hussein Obama! Hands off the land of Israel! You cannot appease the Islamic lust for conquest by selling down the Jews and their Biblical homeland."
Settler leaders quoted in Y-Net likewise said that "Hussein Obama opted to adopt the Arab's bogus versions over the Jewish truth" and that Obama's speech "pandered to Islam." Sound familiar?
Reader comments in Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post make it clear that right-wing Israelis and right-wing Americans are finding each other and connecting online, sharing their hatred of Arabs and their contempt of Obama, and hatching all manner of hysterical theories on the coming end of civilization as we know it. Before long American news audiences may see images of their president burned in effigy not by Palestinians in a Gaza refugee camp but by right-wing Israelis in a West Bank settlement. On the other hand, the enthusiastic support Obama continues to receive from Israeli progressives sounds a hopeful note both for the peace effort and for the future of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
President Barack Obama's interview this week with Arab news network Al-Arabiya appears to have been a success. The president's first interview since taking office, his appearance with the network's Washington bureau chief Hisham Melhem was an effort to extend a hand of friendship to the Arab and Muslim world, and included Obama's acknowledgment that Americans "have not been perfect" in their dealings with that world:
"My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives...," Obama told Melhem in the interview, "...My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as twenty or thirty years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task."
Obama's interview included a re-statement of his committments both to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and to follow through on his promise to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital during his first months in office. It also included an aknowledgment of his own personal connections to the Muslim world -- connections for which Republican bigots viciously attacked Obama during the 2008 campaign, but which can hardly hurt him now as he begins the work of repairing US relations with the Muslim world:
"My job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.... And so what I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I've come to understand is that regardless of your faith -- and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers -- regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams."
Obama's interview with Al-Arabiya comes as his new Mideast envoy, former senator George Mitchell, heads to the region to restart a peace process long neglected by Obama's predecessor, and follows his contact with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas immediately after his inauguration Jan. 20. Obama's overtures to the Muslim world are certain to offend many conservatives, who regard Arabs and Muslims with extreme hostility and suspicion, and who think that the only people in the Middle East we ought to be talking with are the Israelis. Many of these were deeply offended when Obama's first call to a foreign leader was to the Palestinian president instead of his Israeli counterpart, and are likely to be equally offended that his first interview was with Al-Arabiya instead of the Jerusalem Post.
I say tough cookies for them. Elections have consequences. While President Obama has neither said nor done anything to suggest that he is about to "abandon" Israel (as I'm certain his conservative critics would love to charge), he clearly recognizes that a Mideast policy based on an exclusive relationship with Israel and on callous disregard of Arab concerns has not worked. The time for change has come, and from where I sit it looks like President Obama is off to a damn good start.
(Your Tax Dollars at Work in the Middle East)
The state of Israel is facing charges of war crimes following the slaughter of innocent civilians including hundreds of children in its recent campaign against Palestinian militants on the Gaza Strip. Israel's powerful ally, the United States, also faces charges of complicity in the slaughter as Palestinians declare: "This Damage Made in USA."
UN human rights expert Richard Falk said on Thursday that the recent Israeli military operation on the Gaza Strip "raises the specter of systematic war crimes" and needs to be investigated. Falk told journalists in Geneva from his home in California that he had little doubt as to the "unavoidably inhuman character of a large-scale military operation of the sort that Israel has initiated... against an essentially defenseless population." Charging that "unlawful targets have been selected" by Israeli forces during the fighting, Falk insisted that Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip including children and the wounded were effectively trapped in a war zone and prevented from fleeing.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has issued demands for a full explanation of "outrageous" Israeli attacks on UN facilities on the Gaza Strip including a school used as a refuge for civilians, killing dozens. The UN chief noted that Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert had promised to provide results of an Israeli inquiry into the attacks "on an urgent basis" and said he would then decide on "appropriate follow-up action." On January 12, the 47-member UN Human Rights Council voted by a large majority to launch an investigation into "grave" human rights violations by Israeli forces against Palestinians. Israel is also facing questions from human rights groups regarding the use of illegal weapons, including white phosphorus munitions, against Palestinian civilians on the Gaza Strip.
These charges come amid renewed calls for a global boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel from groups such as the Global BDS Movement. Recently, Canadian journalist Naomi Klein wrote in support of such a boycott: "The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa." Some are also calling for a boycott of US exports for its continuing support of Israeli actions against Palestinians.
The Palestinian death toll from Israel's recent war on Gaza currently stands at around 1300, most of whom were innocent civilians, and around a third of whom were children. Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed in Israel during the same period, an indicator of Israel's massively disproportionate response to Palestinian attacks on Israelis. A total of twenty-eight Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip since 2001, a tiny fraction of the number of Palestinians killed in Israel's recent Gaza actions alone. These numbers echo casualty figures from the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict which consistently show innocent Palestinian dead including children massively outnumbering Israelis.
Rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip deserve both condemnation by the international community and a proportionate response by Israel. The killing of one Israeli in a rocket attack does not, however, entitle Israel to respond by slaughtering twenty, thirty, or forty innocent Palestinian civilians. Such slaughter, furthermore, will no more stop Hamas' rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip than it stopped Hezbollah's rocket attacks from Lebanon in 2006. Just as Hezbollah could declare victory in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war simply by surviving to fight another day, so Hamas can declare victory in Gaza this day. Meanwhile, Israel increasingly becomes a pariah state in the eyes of the world, as does the United States for its complicity in the slaughter. Ever-growing anger particularly in the Arab world serves America's national security interests no better than it serves Israel's.
Behold, America: Your tax dollars at work in the Middle East.
Out of the tragedy of Gaza, perhaps, will come renewed opportunity to hold Israel accountable for its actions, to press for a new US policy on the Middle East, for peace, and for an end to Israel's long and bloody occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Boycott, divestment, and sanctions efforts such as those promoted by the Global BDS Movement have a proven track record of success as in the case of South Africa, and deserve our support. UN efforts to hold Israel accountable for its actions also deserve our support, but are likely to require UN Security Council action of the type America with its power of veto most often and most notoriously obstructs. Pressure, therefore, needs to be applied to the White House and Congress for a new US approach to the conflict and a new US attitude in the UN Security Council. Whether our new ambassador to the UN offers active support with a "yes" vote or passive permission by abstaining on UN efforts to hold Israel accountable for its actions, our message to the new administration regarding these efforts can be stated clearly and briefly as follows: NO VETO!
Slide show: Gaza Massacre by Sabbah.
Photo gallery: Child victims of Gaza violence.