Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Thanksgiving to Remember?

I have had many debates with friends over the years about President Obama’s foreign policy, which I thought was very likely to lead to dangerous situations in several parts of the world, particularly here in the Middle East. President Obama had a strategic vision of the U.S. withdrawing from its traditional “policeman of the world” role in several of the world’s regions and of regional players developing balancing acts of their own in each region.

Many predicted that this policy would lead to disaster in the Middle East, and it may just be coming to fruition. It resulted in Iran and Russia moving in at an extraordinary scale and pace to fill the void. One can argue that it is, at least in part, responsible for the deaths of a half million Syrians, the displacement of millions more of them, and basically the disintegration of Syria as a unified nation. Not to mention the slaughter in Yemen.

One can argue whether the nuclear deal is a plus or a minus in terms of perhaps delaying Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for 10 or 15 years before becoming an internationally legitimatized nuclear power, but one cannot argue with the fact that it did nothing to make Iran a more responsible member of the “family of nations” as Obama predicted it would. Iran has become more aggressive, more destabilizing, and more set on hegemony in the area.

The Obama Administration's policy was naïve and misguided, and its policies have led to a very dangerous situation.

I don’t credit President Trump with any deeply held strategic vision. He is just a narcissistic, unread, impulsive, insecure bully, although he may have a few people around him who have some background, reasoning ability, and strategic vision. Despite all of his tough talk, he basically has allowed the results of the Obama vision to occur, and may have actually accelerated them.

President Trump agreed to allow Iran/Russia to be right on the Golan Heights, within kilometers of Israel. Iran and Hezbollah are in control of Lebanon. Lebanon’s Sunni Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, quit, laying the blame on both Iran and Hezbollah and thereby precipitating a crisis in Lebanon and the region. Saudi Arabia, along with other Gulf States, has urged its citizens to leave Lebanon.

We have a powder keg on our Northern border. Hezbollah/Syria/Iran may very well start a war with Israel to try to divert attention away from its aggressiveness in Lebanon and to try to unite the Arab/Muslim world against us rather than have much of it aligned against them. Or, Sunni forces, led or encouraged by Saudi Arabia, may start a war against Hezbollah, drawing in Syria and Iran and, ultimately, Israel.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Isabel Kershner, the NY Times, and the Demise of Our Democracy

A friend from the US recently sent me Isabel Kershner’s “Jerusalem Memo,” published in last Tuesday’s New York Times.

The headline:  "Is the End of Israeli Democracy Nigh?  Israelis Debate its Future"

My friend’s accompanying note:

“Seems the USA is not alone in facing a constitutional crisis. Curious what you think about this.”

My response, with a few modifications:

Dear Steve (name changed):

The New York Times seldom misses an opportunity to predict Israel’s last curtain call, and Kershner’s column fits the well-established pattern.  It is overwrought.

I don’t think we are facing a constitutional crisis here.  For starters, we don’t have a constitution, so technically we can’t have a crisis about it, although one could argue that we are consistently in a crisis of sorts because of the absence of one.

There are things that I am seriously concerned with, e.g., the efforts to permit the Knesset to overturn Supreme Court decisions, although I have to admit that even though I like the Court’s decisions most of the time, it is the most activist court I have ever seen and half the time I cannot figure out a rationale for the decisions I like other than “it is the right thing to do.”

Netanyahu is not the devil that the Western and liberal Jewish press and communities like to make out, but he is a political weasel par excellence who I did not vote for and, now, a desperate politician who will attack the press and others to stay in power.  Wow, that is certainly unique.

The mention of the law on NGOs is off-base in my view.  Sure, the motivation of those on the right may not have been good government but, rather, to counter-attack, but the legislation as enacted is acceptable:  if 50% of the NGOs funding comes from foreign governments, the source must be disclosed.

The legislation affects about two dozen organizations. The law is reasonable considering these NGO’s try to impact Israeli policy both by work in Israel and by trying to influence the policies and attitudes of other countries, organizations, and individuals toward Israel. Laws in the U.S. are stricter.