Saturday, March 31, 2007

America, Hug Your Enemies

Unlike a lot of other Republicans, a part of me welcomed the transfer of power in Congress from rubber-stampers to challengers. I knew that the Democrats were, ethically or otherwise, no more virtuous or effective leaders than the Republicans. But as I am more of a federalist and constitutionalist than party-line ideologue, last November's election results gave me as much comfort as my principles and views would allow. Only so much.

Anyone who doesn't know that for a plethora of reasons I have a vested interest in Middle Eastern affairs probably doesn't know me all that well. And anyone unaware of my overarching concern for America's well-being would not have my blessing to create a wikipedia article about me.

Looking at news websites this morning, I saw that the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, had this weekend toured the holy sites of Jerusalem. She was in Israel leading a congressional delegation to the region. Her next stop, after Israel and the Palestinian territories, is Syria. Syria, you may recall, is not an American ally and is in fact a state-sponsor of terrorism.

Syria, after all, helps arm Hizballah. Only al-Qaeda has successfully killed more Americans than Hizballah.

Needless to say, Speaker Pelosi's visit to Damascus isn't sitting well with the Bush Administration. Whatever qualms one may have with the president on his Iraq policy, global warming or the firing of U.S. Attorneys, when it comes to his Syria policy there's little to dislike unless you're fond of those people who are continually conspiring to kill us.

Syria is not a friend of the United States, but is rather an ally of our enemies. Treating a foe as a foe is something we should do more often, and if we're going to treat a foe as a potential friend, we should at least trust our instincts about whether having that potential friend is worth the pain they may cause us by their betrayal.

Whether Nancy Pelosi is visiting Syria out of spite, to anger President Bush, or because she has a delusion not limited to Californians that dictator Bashar al-Assad is simply misunderstood...she's causing America harm.

Were she visiting Syria with the blessing of the White House, backed by a word of encouragement or two, that would be one thing. But to visit a state-sponsor of terror as a sort of thumb-nosing to the administration is stupidly divisive, and just as disturbing as cosying up to a Syrian dictator based on your principles is.

Sometimes I get the feeling that certain Democrats are trying to turn the United States into Europe, and that certain Republicans are steering us toward Russian-style (Putin-esque) democracy. Mistaken such views may or may not be, I do know this: Congress should be working with the White House, not pursuing foreign policy goals that serve more to the benefit of a specific party than the country as a whole.

This goes for Republicans as well as Democrats.

What's next, a Pelosi-led trip to Venezuela, where she can party with Cindy Sheehan and Hugo Chavez in Caracas while denouncing Bush? No wait, she should go to Cuba first, to consult with the Castro brothers, Raul and Fidel. Can't you just see the accompanying publicity campaign? It'll go something like this: "America, Hug Your Enemies".

Yeah, hug 'em - and ignore the knives they intend to plunge into our backs.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Happy Persian New Year, Iran

Earlier today, the European Union spoke out against the Islamic Republic of Iran, warning that if the British captives being held by the Iranians weren't released, Brussels would take "appropriate measures".

You ask me, the only "appropriate measure" in response to an act of war like this is, well, a reciprocal act of war. It doesn't have to be of Biblical proportions; nor does it require collateral damage, a mass of Iranian civilians killed. Sure, Iranian soldiers will die if straight-up military action is taken - but hey, since the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and rogue Iranian government got us into this mess in the first place, I'll leave the shedding of tears over that to bleeding-heart appeasers and seekers of dhimmitude.

Far from this being another seemingly random act of extremism by an extremist regime, this was a cold, calculated decision by Tehran. Iran sees the deck stacked against it, and is calling our bluff. If this hostage situation ends without any Iranian blood spilled - literally or figuratively - that massive demonstration earlier this week of American naval power will be seen in retrospect as nothing more than an empty show of power.

We - the opponents of Iran - own the moral high ground. We own the legal high ground, too. Not only did Iran violate Iraqi territorial waters to kidnap sailors operating under a U.N. mandate in cooperation with the Iraqi government, but the way the Iranians showcased the people they snagged while carrying out their act of war could - according to this report - be violating the Geneva Conventions.

Britain need not launch an all-out air campaign on the Islamic Republic of least, not yet. Iran is well-known as an oil exporter, but the country imports something like 40% of its own gas supplies. An embargo, a blockade to cut off petrol supplies, would hurt. Think about how an already restless populace would react to that.

Though it might seem like just another in a long line of confrontations with Iran, I think we're at an important crossroads of history here. There's a lot that can be done; there's a lot that should be done. When the Iranian-backed Hizballah crossed over into Israel last summer and kidnapped soldiers, Israel's response led to what is now officially being called the Second Lebanon War.

Within 24 hours of the kidnapping, Israeli warplanes were already over Beirut, and were bombing Hizballah positions in south Lebanon. In the end, though, that war ended in failure - those Israeli soldiers are still being held hostage, and there may be cause to doubt whether they are alive or not (Hizballah hasn't been parading them around on TV, so we don't really know).

Lest you think Iran wasn't directly involved then despite their public support of the Party of God, the Israelis managed to kill a number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Lebanon.

If we think of this as a boxing match, that was round one.

What we're seeing play out now is round two.

I understand why the British have not already acted to destroy the Iranian air force, and get the rationale for their delaying the scuttling of the Iranian navy. Whereas given the neighborhood it's in, Israeli restraint in such circumstances could prove suicidal, the United Kingdom has been able to take the time to build up support for military action that may in the end be necessary.

Despite my "understanding", I still think that Her Majesty's Government has been foolish not to make felt, unambiguously, it's anger. This farce has been allowed to go on for too long. I'm already starting to think of Prime Minister Tony Blair, a leader I genuinely admire, as a modern-day Jimmy Carter as this plays out. Doesn't mean he can't redeem himself, and it doesn't mean I'm ignoring the domestic pressures on him.

But from what I've seen in the vast majority of opinions being expressed by Britons lately, the people want Blair to act. To show some spine when faced with a bully. To stand up to and not simply give the Iranians a good stern talking-to, but a hard slap on the wrists that'll numb the hands of the captors of their fourteen men and one woman. Lord knows, that's what I want to see happen...and then some.

Right now in Iran, they're holding extensive celebrations marking the Persian New Year.

If we get the chance, I hope we can contribute something in the way of an impressive fireworks display before it ends.

Click here for a funny, related Onion article from some time ago:

"Bush Announces Iraq Exit Strategy: 'We'll Go Through Iran'"

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Who Will Blink First?

Earlier this month, the International Herald Tribune carried a story about how a unit of the Swiss Army had recently "invaded" Liechtenstein. The Swiss, if you didn't already know, are known more for their neutrality, chocolate, and little utility knives with corkscrews than their aggressiveness. So it had to be a mistake.

And so it was - they'd gotten lost in the dark, on maneuvers. The Swiss pulled out with Liechtenstein none the wiser, and actually called the next day to apologize. Liechtenstein magnanimously forgave them.

Here's a report on it (the IHT version is now unavailable):

Let's play devil's advocate for a minute. Let's say that those British sailors captured by Iran had accidentally been on the wrong side of the territorial demarcation line. What would a responsible member of the international community – something Iran likes to portray itself as being – do in response to such a relatively minor violation like that?

The boundaries of the waterway in question are in dispute between Iraq and Iran; if a mistake had been made in navigation, it likely would have been accidental. A simple apology, especially one like the Iranians staged, should have sufficed. Had it been an honest mistake on the U.K.'s part, Iranian pride should have been assuaged.

In any case, the United Kingdom has radar evidence that shows its sailors kept to Iraqi territorial waters, where a U.N. resolution permits them to be. The United States Navy, unsurprisingly, corroborates the Royal Navy account. The Indian-flagged ship that was inspected before the Britons were kidnapped knew it was in Iraqi waters.

If anyone should apologize, it's the Iranians.

Russia did not help today by being wishy-washy on the text of a draft resolution before the United Nations Security Council. If Moscow is indeed as anxious for a peaceful end to the stand-off as it says it is, a different tack begged for the taking. France, for its part, did well by Britain in summoning Tehran's ambassador to Paris and demanding the release of the hostages.

We - of course I'm including us with the Brits - are staring eye-to-eye with the Persians.

I'm waiting to see who blinks first.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Opposing the Lords of War

"If Israel refuses, that means it doesn't want peace. Then the conflict goes back into the hands of the lords of war."the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, in Riyadh on Wednesday


The audacity of the Arab League. As if we're supposed to forget history. We've gone from the "Three NOs" drafted in Khartoum in the late 1960s to Israel being faced with the "Lords of war" if it doesn't accept the Arab world's latest conditions for "peace".

How many lives have been lost - Jewish and Arab - due not to Israeli intransigence when it comes to the peace process, but Arab deceit and duplicity?

* Israel didn't ask for the armies of the Arab League to invade in 1948.

* Israel didn't tell Egyptian president Gamal abd al-Nasser to close the Straights of Tiran and rattle the sabers in May-June 1967, declaring his goal was the destruction of Israel and building up an alliance with Syria and Jordan. That led to the Six-Day War.

* And Israel certainly didn't ask for the Yom Kippur War, a.k.a. the 10th of Ramadan War, in 1973. Surprise attacks of this sort are, generally, unplanned by the side being attacked - in that case, Egypt and Syria attacking Israel.

Drive by the museum the Egyptians erected to the '73 "October War", near Cairo's international airport. It's fucking eerie – especially the way it's lit up at night. It's like the Japanese unapologetically building a massive monument to the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor in '41, or Nazis building a museum glorifying the Final Solution.

Or if you like, you can just go to the Giza plateau on the outskirts of Cairo, and while gazing at the Great Pyramid turn and get a glimpse of 10th of Ramadan City nearby. We're talking about people who named a city for the war they started on October 6, 1973, then lost, and have portrayed as a victory ever since!


There were hundreds, if not thousands, of terrorist attacks emanating against Israel from the Gaza Strip while that territory was under Egyptian occupation from 1948-1967. Before the Gaza Strip was captured by Israel in June 1967. Before "the occupation." The Golan Heights, on the northern border, were used by Syria not as farmland but as a platform for shelling Israeli farms until Israel captured that in '67.

Heck, after launching a pre-emptive strike on Egyptian airfields on a June morning in 1967, decimating that nation's air force in just a few hours as it sat on the ground, Israel begged Jordan, the occupier at the time of eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, not to enter the nascent hostilities. How did Jordan respond?

By shelling western Jerusalem.

I'm continually baffled by the Arab insistence on "East Jerusalem", as if we should just succumb to voluntary amnesia over Jordan's deplorable activities while steward of that area until it was liberated – yes, liberated – and reunited with "West" Jerusalem by Israel in 1967. We're talking about the Hashemite Kingdom using Jewish tombstones to build roads a la the Nazis, denying access to holy sites to Christians, Jews and Muslims from Israel, etc.

You won't find me compromising on Jerusalem. Too much blood spilled by terrorists on the streets of the holy city, too much of an effort by the Arabs to erase the Jewish history and connection to the city, too much injustice perpetrated against Israel, too much anti-Semitism from those "lords of war". Thank God our Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act some years back. Now's as good a time as any for the president to act on it.

It probably won't happen. But, it's a good time. In fact, it's way past time.


I've no doubt as to the identity of the "lords of war" the Saudi FM was referring to. They are, of course, the sheikhs and despots, the extremists and the imams, many of whom we've propped up over the years, who time and again were the first to choose violence over talking. These "lords of war" are throwing down the gauntlet again, telling the world that if Israel doesn't want what they want for Israel, Israel is rejecting peace.

Were Israel to draft a self-indulgent peace plan, and say the same thing to the Arab League that the Arab League is saying to Israel…how do you think they'd react?

They'd say it's preposterous. They'd reject it. They'd fund more terrorism than they already do to get Israel to capitulate, and the world would call for moderation not from the Arabs, but from the Israelis.

Don't be mistaken - that's not pessimism I'm wallowing in. I'm an optimist.

It's simply acknowledging the way the world works right now. It can change, and in some ways it has started to change for the better already. It's not hopeless. But old habits die hard. If you're looking at affairs in the Middle East through rose-colored glasses, or at Arab regimes in such a manner…check to make sure that it's not blood giving your lenses their tint.

Monday, March 26, 2007

No Time for Appeasement

How can the United Kingdom best show its displeasure with the actions of the Iranian government, which last week entered Iraqi territorial waters, seized (read: kidnapped) British sailors inspecting cargo ships for smuggled items, and then is now saying the 15 sailors are to be put on trial in Tehran for violating Iranian territorial waters? Keep in mind, those Royal Navy sailors were not in Iranian waters.

I don't think they have the stomach to do it right now, but what the U.K. should do is sink a few vessels of the Iranian navy as a warning. Or, mimic the Iranians - capture some of the other side's sailors. With little doubt, doing so would endanger those being held by the Islamic Republic. But what Iran did was nothing short of an act of war. I'm not calling for an invasion here...or advocating a mindless act of revenge. I'm talking about a response in kind.

Those who don't support such tit-for-tat responses don't understand their value.

The U.K. needs to respond to subtlety with clarity - it was likely the Iranians hope that Britons in bondage would somehow persuade London to be a little less forceful in supporting U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran over the latter's nuclear work. It was an indirect message, unclear as to motive unless thought about for a moment. But Great Britain can change that...with a direct response. Unmistakable as to intent, clear in message, and forceful enough to teach a bully a lesson.

There is a time for the diplomacy of words, and another for the diplomacy of action...which arrived the moment those sailors were seized by Iran.