Thursday, July 23, 2009

Obama's Criticism of Police Sergeant Unfair

The recent controversy over the arrest of a prominent black Harvard scholar, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., by Cambridge (Mass.) Police Sgt. James Crowley who happens to be white, should be looked at with a little more common sense and for what it is, based on the police report prepared by Officer Carlos Figueroa, a Latino male.

At 12:44 p.m. on July 16, the Cambridge Police were dispatched to a house as a result of a 911 call that someone was breaking into the residence. The police arrived and found a black male in the house, who according to Figueroa was confrontational and refused to show the police his identification. Figueroa reported that he overheard who was later identified as Gates, yelling, “this is what happens to a black man in America,” and “you don’t know who you’re messing with.”
Based on Gates confrontational behavior, he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct by Crowley, who appeared to be the supervisor on the scene.

The race card was played by Gates at the scene and then thrown into the national spotlight by the press and media when they asked President Barack Obama his opinion of the arrest.

Giving the president the same benefit of the doubt that I would give the cops, I think he was blindsided by the press. The president indicated that he didn’t know all the facts in the case, but then went on to say that anyone would have been angry if treated the way Gates claims the police treated him.

I’m sure the president didn’t have the police report in front of him, or had he, he may not have been so quick to say that the police acted “stupidly when there was already proof’’ that Gates was in his own home. But was there? Not according to Figueroa’s report, which indicates Gates was refusing to provide the responding officers with identification.

Any politician or police executive will tell you that there are two sides to every story and unless there is some substantial reason to believe otherwise, your public servants should get the benefit of the doubt.

I believe Crowley confronted Gates because he was dispatched to that residence when a neighbor reported it was being burglarized. He didn’t confront Gates because he was black — he did so because Gates was in the residence that the sergeant was told was being burglarized. If Gates was confrontational, refused to identify himself, and acted disorderly — the sergeant had the right to arrest him.

Racial profiling is wrong and the president was right in his remarks that it has happened in the past and may be happening today — but for anyone to relate this event to racial profiling, they could be equally wrong. If they were not there, I would suggest that you refer them to the neighbor who reported the burglary and to Figueroa, one of several witnesses to Gates’ behavior.

The one thing that concerns me more than anything above, is the echoing of Gates’ alleged statement, “you don’t know who you’re messing with,” and boy was he right! Crowley responded to that burglary, not knowing the dangers that could await him. One burglar or two, armed or not — he responded just like any other radio run he had been on in his 11-year career. But I am absolutely positive, that he never thought he and his performance and actions in the line of duty on that afternoon would be judged or criticized by the president of the United States.

Some will blame the president . . . some will blame some in the press and media.

Either way, a dedicated police sergeant who went to work that day doing the job he was sworn to do, will remain criticized forever.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Iraqi Policies Must Not Endanger U.S. Troops

The Iraqi government has recently moved to restrict the movement and activities of U.S. forces in what appears to me to be an amended version of their 6-month-old U.S.- Iraqi security agreement. Hopefully, there is something lost in translation because if there isn’t, commanders on the ground as well as the president’s cabinet should be deeply concerned.

Under no circumstances should we be agreeing to any condition that could jeopardize the safety and security of the men and women who are defending us here or abroad, be it Iraq or anywhere else.

Under the initial agreement that consisted of three milestones, June 30 was the deadline for moving U.S. troops out of Iraqi towns and cities, the intent being a reduction in troop size from 130,000 to 50,000 next year around this time.

U.S. commanders have began the pullout in accordance with the agreement, but have kept several combat battalions assigned to urban areas to remain engaged in training Iraqi security forces, meeting with paid informants, attending local council meetings, and supervising U.S.-funded civic and reconstruction projects.

In an order dated July 2, Iraq’s top military commanders told their U.S. counterparts to "stop all joint patrols" in Baghdad and advised them that the U.S. resupply convoys could travel only at night, almost like they intend for the Americans to become invisible.

Joint patrols benefit both the Iraqis and the Americans in the event that they must engage in combat or respond to threats, and adherence to the new order would strongly limit our supporting role and perhaps jeopardize our troops. Limiting the U.S. troop movement for resupply convoys to nighttime could also be extremely dangerous if we agreed to it.

Our troops are still in Iraq at this point to assist the Iraqis in securing and stabilizing their country, by means of collecting intelligence, responding to threats, or engaging in combat operations when necessary.

The strict application and adherence of this new agreement could limit our ability to do any of the above, not to mention could place our troops and commanders in serious jeopardy.

The radicals and extremists, who appear to have recently increased their attacks with the use of Iranian support, will quickly realize the new limitations on the U.S. troops and make every effort to use them to their advantage, placing our men and women in danger.

We cannot let that happen.

Iraq today is a free and democratic country, based strongly on the blood, sweat, and tears of U.S. forces and other coalition countries that have gotten them to where they are today.

If the Iraqis now feel that they can do it on their own, then so be it — get our people back home where they belong. But if the Iraqis still feel a need for the added security element or supplies that we provide or the use of the intelligence we collect, then they cannot restrict us in any way, shape or form that could jeopardize our people on the ground.

This isn’t a political issue and our political leaders have to do something they rarely do – listen to the commanders in theater. If they feel that the application of this new agreement hinders them in anyway from keeping our men and women safe, then it’s time to pack it up.

It’s just the right thing to do.

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.