Sunday, June 7, 2009

Obama Speech Good in Context

Over the past 96 hours, the international press has published one article after another regarding President Barack Obama’s visit to the Middle East. Promoted by the White House and his supporters, and denounced by the neo-cons and right wing conservatives, the speech has generated opinions galore.

What’s most disturbing for me is the political nitpicking and dissecting of the president’s speech, the hanging onto every word without taking into consideration his audience, his overall goals and objectives, and the possible outcome in its deliverance. More annoying are the academics and policy wonks who analyze the most, yet have never set foot in a mosque or synagogue. They wouldn’t know the difference between an Israeli or Arab dish and their firsthand and personal knowledge of the Middle East is out of the classroom or a guided tour with a school or foundation.

During the recent media hype over CIA policies on harsh interrogations during the Bush administration, the Democrats tried to do everything in their power to go back in time to analyze and criminalize the policies involved. The White House, the president and even his critics said that we should be looking forward and not backward when it comes to the CIA’s interrogations.

In the recent articles concerning the president’s visit to the Middle East, his critics are ripping him to shreds for his efforts, citing prior attempts by former administrations and then going back in time trying to analyze and break down the history of the region dating back to when Arabs and Jews lived as one, before British and French rule.

Why aren’t we looking forward instead of backward – again?

As an outsider looking in, trying to put politics aside and honestly thinking about what’s best for our country – I think there may be a chance – a real chance – that this president can negotiate and accomplish a peace plan when others could not. More so, in the course of working his magic (as many have called it), Obama may accomplish something far more important to me than just peace itself, and that is the neutralization of the radical extremist leadership, their supportive following and the threats of terror to the western world and Muslims alike.

The president has called for a redoubling of efforts towards a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying he would like to see progress within a year. Be it a year or four or eight, it is all going to depend on one thing: trust!

The Arab world must trust him, which has been a crucial problem for the peace process in the past and perhaps rightfully so. We promote freedom and democracy around the world and I believe we should.
However, we need to realize that through that process could come results not to our liking, such as Hamas in Palestine or Hezbollah in Lebanon. We can’t turn around then and say, “Oh sorry, that doesn’t count.” It doesn’t mean that we then have to continue our financial or diplomatic support for that country. There should be a law in place that absolutely prohibits us from funding any state sponsor of terror in any way. Anything other than that, we’re sending mixed messages and that is what creates that distrust.

When it comes to trust, it all but it appears that, at least for now, the president has cleared that hurdle.
In his speech in Cairo, Obama was criticized for not mentioning "terrorists" or "terrorism," just "violent extremists," and for using frequent references to the "Holy Koran" and echoes of Muslim phrases - but given the audience and his agenda, I don’t blame him.

In discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict, the president was both resolute in expressing support for Israel which we must be, and sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians.

He talked about America's "unbreakable" bond with Israel and condemned anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, obviously referring to the president of Iran and his demented anti-Israeli rhetoric. The president seemed to equalize the Jewish and Palestinian suffering, noting the daily humiliations that come with occupation.

Many Palestinians said he “made everyone feel close and at home" when the he quoted from the holy books of all three faiths - Islam, Christianity and Judaism. But, naturally he drew mostly on the Koran as well as other Islamic religious teachings to provide the spiritual underpinnings of his speech, given the audience. Most importantly, he used verses from the Koran to support his arguments, allowing them to realize that although they were his ideas, the actual words had come from their own religion.
For the audience he wanted to address, his speech appeared by all accounts to be a success and now that audience will now be looking for action rather than dialogue.

The key now is whether he can have the same impact on Israel and the Israeli leadership. Will they trust him, as do the Muslims - an American president with Muslim roots and an understanding for the Muslim religion and culture that perhaps surpasses any president during our time?

Like him or not, Obama may be able to pull this off and accomplish something that no one else has been able to do. Trust and dialogue will begin to set the stage and moving forward and not backward will be equally as important. Getting Israel to agree to a two-state solution may be the sticking point, but think of the benefits to world peace that can come of this.

Lastly, and what I see as equally if not more important, could be the grand prize!

The Palestinian issue is the primary “cause” that Islamic extremists, supporters and sympathizers continually rally around. It is the one excuse that they all turn to in their attempts for recruitment for suicide bombers and soliciting funds.

What if that rallying cry was eliminated and the extremist leadership like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri had no movement to sell? The Muslim population who has historically supported the extremist groups based on the Palestinian issue would decrease their support and question their motives for such activity. This could be one of the greatest accomplishments in combating global terror for the entire international community including Israel.

However, it all has to play out for us to win the grand prize.

On Oct. 3, 1960, His Late Majesty, King Hussein of Jordan spoke before the United Nations in New York City. He later wrote in a memoir that one of the most important reasons behind his decision to speak that day was the “still unanswered problem of Palestine.” Think about it; one of the greatest leaders in the Middle East in our time was concerned about the “unanswered problem of Palestine” 49 years ago and that problem still haunts us.

Democrats or Republicans; Christians, Jews or Muslims . . . we should all pray and hope that this works. For world peace and the safety and security of our children and theirs as well… let’s hope that President Obama has what it takes to get this done.

The whole world is depending on it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Deal with Korea, Iran Now - Not Later

On Friday, North Korea threatened that it would act in "self-defense" if provoked by the U.N. Security Council, which is considering tough sanctions over the country's recent nuclear test.

They then followed the threat with the test launch of another short-range missile. This was the sixth short-range missile North Korea has test fired in the past week.

As a result, South Korean and the 30,000 U.S. troops stationed there, have been placed on alert at their highest levels since 2006 when the north test fired their first nuclear weapon.

As the U.S. and South Korea continues to monitor the North Korean movement, the United Nations Security Council is meeting to discuss possible sanctions for the nuclear test, but history has demonstrated that that doesn’t mean too much. The U.N. Security Council’s sanctions and resolutions have come up pretty short in dealing with countries like Iraq, the Sudan and Iran to say the least, so I have no confidence at this point any of that will change in the near future.

Senior officers in the Pentagon have expressed confidence that the U.S. can deal with North Korea and have said that U.S. ground-based interceptor rockets could knock out a long-range North Korean missile before it could reach our western shores. As concerns rise, Defense Secretary Gates recently said that he didn’t think anyone in the Obama administration thought we were entering a “crisis,” but I’m not sure South Korea and Japan would agree for they have the most to lose, knowing that the threats against them is the hands of a psychotic lunatic.

In the mean time, the entire world is watching North Korea as the U.S. and its Asian neighbors try to determine what’s coming next. However, there is one country that really doesn’t care about North Korea, South Korea or Its Asian neighbors. In fact, their probably snickering as they watch the events unfold, knowing that the inept U.N. Security Council is on the case.

Iran is not interested in North Korea other than to see how the United States responds as the Asian communist country continues to defy all, in their quest for nuclear capability.

There is the real threat!

A country of nearly 80 million people run by a madman who has threatened to annihilate entire countries in the Arab region once he obtains the nuclear capability.

Iran will not be as easy to deal with as their Asian counterpart, and the consequences for world peace could be seriously jeopardized.

North Korea, Iran and other threats like them have to be sent a message when they impose a nuclear threat against others and endanger world peace.

This is no time to test the waters with touchy feely politics or depend on the United Nations to accomplish something that they haven’t been successful at in years. Ending this non-sense with North Korea will send the right message to Iran.

Without that … no one or no country is truly safe.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Forget Partisanship - Remember 9/11

After listening to former Vice President Cheney’s speech yesterday on national security, I was a bit taken aback as to why his speech was even necessary.

Then it dawned on me what the problem may be with those who attempt to make believe that the events of 9/11 never happened, criminalize the prior administration, or try their best to ignore the threats we face by radical Islam today.

Maybe they just had to be there! And for those that weren’t and just don’t get it, perhaps they don’t feel the threats we face, or need for us to do everything within our power to make sure it never happens again.

As I listened to the vice president’s speech, there came a point that I was virtually knocked back in time, nearly eight years to the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Cheney said that one of the defining moments for him on 9/11, was when radar caught sight of an airliner heading toward the White House at 500 miles per hour. It was American Airlines Flight 77, the airliner that ended up hitting the Pentagon.

While the plane was still inbound, Secret Service agents rushed into his office and I imagine with his feet barely touching the ground, he was evacuated, finding himself moments later in a fortified White House command post somewhere within the compound. Confined to this bunker, he listened to the reports and watched the images that so many Americans remember from that day.

His reflection of those events is more than mere words to me as I lived through those moments, standing in front of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was waiting for the vice president to come to the phone.

The mayor and I and our staff were all huddled inside a small office at 75 Barclay Street, just two blocks north of the towers on West Broadway.

After acknowledging someone on the other end of the phone, Giuliani slowly placed the phone back on its receiver. He then repeated what he had just been told, they “think the Pentagon has been hit,” and they’re “evacuating the White House.”

Cheney didn’t make it to the phone because he himself was being dragged into that bunker, and just as that moment is etched in his mind, it is etched in mine as well. It was 9:49 a.m., and although I wasn’t looking at a clock, I’m positive of the time because within 30 seconds after Giuliani hung up that phone, the building we were in began to shake as if a freight train was colliding into the side of it.

The windows in the hallways began to shatter as someone kicked open the door and yelled for us to get down to the ground. For the next 15-20 seconds, there appeared to be an endless explosion, saturating our temporary headquarters with dust, gas, and debris.

We were almost suffocating. It was now 9:50 a.m., and the unthinkable and unimaginable has just happened. Tower II of the World Trade Center had just imploded with enough force to vaporize almost everything and anything in its path.

For me and those who were there, and for those brave men and women that responded and worked day and night at ground zero for months, the events of 9/11 are very personal as we witnessed firsthand, the evil of the enemy and threats we face.

We must realize that most of the people impacted worst, like those who lost friends and family members on 9/11 or the men and women in our armed forces and their families at home; take the events of that day and our country’s national security very personal.

I believe President Bush and Vice President Cheney also took it personal. It happened on their watch; they lived through it and then most importantly, had to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.

Now it’s President Obama’s watch, and I believe he himself has gotten a firsthand look at the threats we face, which resulted in an appointment of a much stronger National Security team than anyone would have predicted. But besides those threats, he must deal with a House and Senate, loaded with a partisan obsession to criminalize the former administration for what they felt was right and necessary at the time.

Second guessing and Monday-morning quarterbacking from the outside looking in does no one any good. At the end of the day, it’s the man in the seat who calls the shots and must deal with the outcome. We can only hope he makes the right call, and when he’s wrong, he learns from his mistakes.

Like it or not, the shots were called, and we’ve learned from what mistakes there were. Now move on and move forward. The president has a hard enough job as it is, but the partisan politics and attacks by the House and Senate serves in no one’s interest — except for those out to see us fail.

We’ve been through one 9/11 — and take my word for it — we do not want another one.