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Obama’s Foreign Policy Challenge in the Arab World

25 Nov

Obama’s Foreign Policy Challenge in the Arab World.

Obama’s Foreign Policy Challenge in the Arab World

25 Nov

“Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

–        Charter of the Muslim Brotherhood

As the so-called Arab Spring brings Islamists to power, the Obama administration is going to have to deal with its foreign policy implications.  How president Obama does so is going to test his global leadership credentials (assuming that he desires such a place in the world).  As Hamas is emboldened by their Egyptian political parent, The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and as Islamists battle in Syria for domination of the post-Assad environment the regional landscape in the Middle East appears to be shifting.  The direction of this shift signals the emergence of a new era: Radical Islam’s central place in Arab politics. 

            Some have argued that the Egyptian MB is a force for moderate Islam in the region.  This is a mischaracterization of the facts.  To be less openly violent than al Qa’ida does not automatically place one in the category of moderation.  Egyptian MB President Mohammed Morsi is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  To believe that he is committed to peace with Israel is to ignore his disdain for the Jewish State and the Jewish people.  Any attempt to try to separate Morsi from his party’s previous (and current) pronouncements reflects a despicable insincerity at best and outright deception at worst.   

       With regard to Syria, one indisputable fact is observable throughout the entirety of the Syrian Civil War (and much of the other so-called Arab Spring uprisings): that Islam is at the center of all that will follow the toppling of the Assad regime.  In support of this claim, I ask that the reader watch a random sample of videos emanating from that conflict.  Count the number of times that the Battle Cry “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great[er than the enemy]) is shouted.  Beyond that, witness the variety of circumstances that characterize the invocation of such an exclamation.  For example, in any of the following cases you will regularly hear the above mentioned refrain: enemy inbound fire, friendly outbound fire, dead Syrian soldiers, dead Syrian civilians (children included), mass atrocity sites (on either side), while riding to battle, while returning from battle, while protesting peacefully on the streets, or randomly firing automatic weapons skyward from the streets. 

     It is clear that secular governments are not going to result from the Middle East’s recent uprising (read: intifada).  This does not mean that democracy is impossible, but it does mean that political Islam is what is sought after.  I’m not going to make the case that Islam and democracy are incongruent.  Indonesia, Turkey, and India already show that to be a false claim.  I am, however, going to stand by the research and personal experience of others (e.g. Daniel Pipes, Walid Phares, Nonie Darwish, Walid Shoebat, Frank Gaffney, Debbie Schlussel, M. Zuhdi Jasser, Ray Ibrahim, Wafa Sultan, Raymond Stock, Boaz Ganor, Eric Allen Bell, Dinesh D’Souza, Jamie Glazov, Steve Emerson, and David Horowitz, to name a few) who show that political Islam in the Arab world has not been a success for democracy.  Consequently, this is not helpful to American interests.  Nor is it helpful to pretend that Islamists are not penetrating the halls of American political power.      

     What does president Obama think about all of this?  I don’t know, but to feign ignorance to the threat of political Islam’s presence at home and abroad is to gesture to America’s enemies (and the enemies of democracy writ large) that folks like Huma Abedin and Mohammed Morsi are not inimical to American foreign policy.  Wake up and smell the Jihad Mr. President!      

Election Day 2012: My Civil Rights were Violated for the First Time

7 Nov

So, my faith in America was shaken today.  Not because of the outcome of the election (which has not yet been announced), but because of what had happened to me at the polling place.  On my way into the local college, where my ballot had awaited me I had encountered a young lady who had been adorned with a “Maloney” name tape.  I inquired as to which building was the correct polling location.  She happily pointed and as I walked away she yelled, “Vote Maloney”, in a manner befitting an afterthought, rather than an exclamation.  I chuckled and continued on my mission.

As I reached the 100 foot distance to the building I noticed a man with “Vote Maloney” pamphlets at the doorway.  He asked if I was going to vote and I replied that I was, and further asked him to cease and desist from violating the election laws by moving outside of my constitutional zone of protection (the 100 ft. mark).  He started to argue and I told him he was in violation of the law and if I see him upon exiting I will be following up with the local police department (it later appeared as though he had heeded my advice).

As I entered the cafeteria, where the voting booths were, I was immediately overcome with the sense that things were beginning to look like amateur hour.  The cafeteria was packed with students (on Election Day?  Yes on that holy day).  The folks staffing the tables were disorganized and could not even bring themselves to indicate by a hand-drawn sign which half of the alphabet their side of the table dealt with.  I was annoyed, but not so surprised.  My spirits remained high.

I was directed to another table and did so advance.  When I arrived, I had been in line behind a man who was receiving instructions on how to fill in the circles on the ballot sheet.  Now it was my turn.  The poll worker at the table went to look for my name on the registry.  I pulled out my New York State Driver’s License and indicated that my address was current and I believed I was at the right table.  He then repeated my name and asked, “weren’t you here already”?  I replied that he was likely referring to my brother, who had worked an overnight double shift and had arrived several hours earlier.  Then he found my name in his book.  I noticed that my brother’s name was not listed there as well.  As co-habitants, I would think it would be there, but it wasn’t.  It happens.

He then asked me if I needed directions and I responded that it couldn’t hurt.  So, he instructed me how to darken in the circles all the way and that I should choose one from each column or none at all, but not two.  I watched his fingers as he pointed to what would be a sample selection.  He seemed to make the effort to point to each party.  As a political scientist, I look for such indicators of persuasion.  Thus far, there had been none.  Then it happened.  He said what I thought I would never hear in my lifetime.  He proceeded to implore, “do me a favor, don’t vote for this guy [Maloney].  He’s a carpetbagger from New York City.  He’s not even from this area.  I’m a Democrat [so is Maloney, and ironically so am I- I’m a Democrat In Name Only, or DINO] and I’m not voting for him.”  I’m sure he could see that my face turned pale.  The disbelief had supplanted the elation that I had felt moments earlier.

What the hell just happened?!  I then proceeded to the curtained privacy booth and quickly, but meticulously bubbled in my selections.  I then went to the scanning station and submitted my ballot to the kid operating it.  I say kid, because he’s my neighbor’s son, who didn’t recognize me until I mentioned that I live next door.  He placed my ballot in the machine and it forced itself back out.  He told me that I’d have to re-do the black circles, whereby I looked at the perfectly filled circles and told him to try it again.  He then looked over my “secret” ballot and submitted it again.  It took.  My vote was in (I suppose).  I never saw him press the green “cast” button, but who am I to tell the amateurs how to do their job?

I was still in shock over what had occurred two minutes prior.  I decided to grab some food, since I was already in the cafeteria.  This way I could think about the appropriate course of action.  I sat down to eat, but didn’t feel hungry anymore.  I then called the Orange County Board of Elections and reported the incident.  They asked what the offender’s name was and I walked right up to him and read it off to the person with whom I was speaking.  The man took notice.  That was fine, I meant for him to know that he had been reported.  I hung up the phone and started my meal.

No less than a minute into my meal, the offender (I’m taking the high road and not naming/shaming him, although he deserves it) had approached me.  He asked if I had reported him for telling me who to vote for.  I told him that I absolutely did.  He then proceeded to justify his action by explaining to me that I was the only one he told to do such a thing.  I responded by telling him that I was reporting him for violating my rights and the law.  He responded with, “what are they gonna do, dock my pay”?  That was the wrong question to ask.

What Mr. XYZ didn’t realize was that I have a firm grasp of the law (as I had enforced these very laws as a police officer), am trained in political science, served this country’s military to uphold the very constitution that he just spit on, and was of the opinion that if anything an apology would have been most appropriate.  I said no more.

When I left, I was angrier than I can ever remember being.  It got worse, however.  I called my brother, who had by now been rolling out of bed from his long shift.  I asked him if he had met with a man of similar description, as the man seemed to remember my brother.  Not only did my brother remember him, but he was incensed at the experience that he had with the guy.  My brother then told me that his name was not in their records.  The very same offender handed him a piece of paper and told him to write down in his choices and place it in a plastic bag as a provisional ballot.  No signature or accountability whatsoever!  (If this is the case, anyone could just walk in and announce that he/she is Mr./Mrs. Whosiwhatsit and request a provisional ballot).

When I heard what my little brother had to say, I demanded that he call the Board of Elections as well.  He did so on his way in for yet another shift.  They apologized and said that his vote will not count and he should return to the polling place.  He then informed them that it would be impossible, as he works in a prison and will be arriving there shortly to begin a shift that will carry him beyond the end of the voting day.  I then called the Board of Elections back to follow up with a supervisor.  I spoke with Ms. Louise, who told me that they couldn’t remove the perpetrator from his post due to staff shortages.  Then she asked if I would like to replace him.  I told her that it would cheapen the integrity of my complaint if I did so.

Finally, I spoke with Commissioner Susan Bahren.  She told me that the man would be removed from his post.  I told her that this was not a political matter, but one of constitutional and state law.  My brother and I were violated four hours apart.  It is reasonable to assume that others may have been as well.  Further, it makes a citizen wonder what else goes on in other locations across the county, or the country for that matter.

I thought back to the great pride I had when I was a Deputy Sheriff and a local police officer and was charged with the great and noble responsibility of delivering ballots from polling stations to the Board of Elections.  I recalled how I had dealt with reports of electioneering in a fair and judicious manner, blind to the complainants’ parties and caring only whether or not the law had been violated.  I have always believed that the one sacred place in America was the voting booth.  I am not a religious person.  Suffice it to say that my religion is democracy itself and the polls are my place of worship.  My faith was shattered today.  When I had departed from the Holy American Church of Democracy, I felt all of the warmth leave my body.  I was left with a coldness inside that the freezing temperature outside could not compete with.

Debates: The Pinnacle of American Political Theater

30 Sep

Shortly, we, the American zombies, will sit fastened to our televisions to watch the debates between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney.  What we will really be seeing is the latest prime time event to arrive on the American media circuit (read: circus).  This is American theater at its best. 

There is no greater show on earth.  Nothing can be more choreographed to account for every step, smile, gesture, and pointed moment of challenge to his adversary.  Broadway actors could only hope to achieve such a level of preparedness and perfection in their own regular performances.  We will look on as both candidates take the stage and greet their opponent with a smile and a disingenuous “good luck.”  Each will wave and point to random members of the audience and mumble some muted, but ostensibly positive remarks.  (Most stage actors will likely notice that they are actually muttering, “peas and carrots, peas and carrots”). 

Each candidate will be careful to look and sound presidential.  Grey hairs will be meticulously dyed to signal wisdom and experience: emphasized at Romney’s sideburns and more evenly distributed around Obama’s head.  Body language will be cautiously scripted to accentuate moments of utter confidence; a finger point, a two-handed podium grab, a stare in the direction of the camera. 

Following the debate, some will sit back and watch folks like Frank Luntz (of Fox News) explain the graphs that indicate the relationship between zingers and their immediate impact on public opinion.  As is customary, the sound bites that will form the essence of campaign commercials until Election Day will be extracted at the close of the debates.  The Governor Rick Perryish, Dan Quayle-like and Joe Bidenesque ones will potentially sustain their opposite number in the polls.  The superior Bill Clintonian and Ronald Reaganian one-liners will likely enter and remain in the collective American memory.  The best ones will become popular bumper stickers. 

Campaign promises such as “Read my lips” and “close Guantanamo” will roll smoothly from their mouths.  They will be designed to mollycoddle the American voter with the oft-absent sense of sincerity that characterizes political campaigns.  Each candidate will attempt to construct a demonic image of his opponent: Romney is a capitalist cannibal, Obama a socialist ideologue.  The message: “I’m the beneficent, and he the maleficent.” 

Let the performances commence.  Let the average American audience feel warm and tingly as their favorite entertainer earns the electoral Oscar.  In the end, likeability is king.  A credible message will be more readily received by the actor who best combines his talents of persuasion, while deflecting the other’s criticism with wit, humor, and the confidence of Captain Sulley Sullenberger.  So recline and relax, or revel and clap at the magic of the showstoppers.  For this is American theater at its best folks!

Occupying the Narrative: Why Class Warfare is a Winning Tactic

23 Sep

As the pending U.S. presidential election moves along its campaign path toward the finish line, the issue of candidate income levels is becoming more of a palpable pivoting point.  That is, the underlying effort to paint the other candidate as more out of touch with the common voter, as being in direct proportion to their wealth, has once again become salient.  This is not a new debate.  Nor is it a new tactic of the American left.

It is common knowledge that at least half of all members of the House and Senate are in the category of the one percent that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) “occupiers” and their sympathizers seek to castigate.  According to this logic, as candidate Mitt Romney’s income level becomes the big issue for the political left he is out of touch.  So why is it that Americans (and perhaps others) find it so appalling when others do well for themselves?  The answer likely has something to do with underdogma.

Underdogma is a term (and a book title) coined by Michael Prell.  It references the instinct to cast those who “have” in a villainous light, whereas their opposite numbers must be the “have not” victim class.  With near automaticity, scorn is heaped upon those who seem richer, more powerful, and more privileged at the expense of others.  It enables the many to paint the few as controlling and unlike the common person.  It seems to be the guiding logic of liberals, which would explain why OWS receives much less condemnation from the left.  Democrats cannot afford to abandon them.  They lend the most credence to the entitlement philosophy: “give us free stuff.”  It makes sense that the U.S. Capitol building is not more occupied than a park in lower Manhattan.

According to the underdogmatic approach to economics, Mitt Romney is more evil than Barack Obama.  Therefore, this one percenter is not worthy of leading a nation of ninety-nine percenters.  So far, it seems the logic remains intact, and the tactic remains successful.

The Obama Administration Must Reinforce Words with Deeds

9 Sep

In a recent Huffington Post Op-Ed (29 August 2012), Alan Dershowitz had opined that although President Obama is committed to the “preventive military option” he faces a credibility gap between his declaratory statements and what the Iranian regime believes will transpire.  The “faction” within the Obama camp that sees little use for military action sustains this gap, according to Dershowitz.  In their view, “saber rattling” is an impediment to peace.  Intuitively, they are correct.  In reality, they are not.  Here is why: credibility hinges on demonstrable force factors.

If Iran (and even Israel) believe that the force of the American President’s bellicose words are sapped by domestic ideological opposition, both are inclined to disbelieve what they hear.  The only way to mend such a fissure is to act with more credibility than one’s target state is hearing in one’s rhetoric.  To supplement words with deeds grants one’s opponent the opportunity to reassess their own message decoder.  If, however, words and deeds are in stark contradiction then the ambiguity (whether accidental or intentional) may be perceived as domestic dissonance, consequently revealing a potential noncommittal posture.

So, what is the United States actually doing (or failing to do)?  Perhaps it is best to view purely military actions as either helpful or unhelpful in reinforcing the credibility of one’s attendant verbal expression.  On the former, it has recently been reported that the American Navy is increasing its presence in both the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.  This fact would be a clear example of American resolve.  The Iranian response of an intent to deploy its own naval forces to the Atlantic is not (“Iran Reiterates Resolve to Anchor Off US Coasts.” FARS News Agency 5 September 2012).

On the other side of the U.S. credibility ledger, a recent U.S.-Israeli joint naval operation, Reliant Mermaid (reported by the BBC and Jerusalem Post 20 August 2012), was focused on “search and rescue.”  As this was not specifically geared in the direction of offensive action, it should not be counted as credibility enhancing.  Another recent American-Israeli venture, Operation Austere Challenge 12, might have been a more credibility-boosting maneuver if the American headcount hadn’t been severely reduced by the U.S. Pentagon (as reported on 31 August 2012 in Time online, “Exclusive: U.S. Scales Back Military Exercise with Israel, Affecting Potential Iran Strike”).  This is an unfortunate exercise in credibility diminution.

Perhaps the disparity between word and deed are part of a conscious effort to de-couple American and Israeli action versus Iran.  Whatever the merits of such a policy preference, there are sure to be signals and indices that suggest that a chasm between allies is open for exploitation.  Further, a degraded U.S. commitment is tantamount to wavering.  For deterrence to work the Iranian regime must conclude that the cost of developing nuclear weapons far outweighs their purported benefits.  In order to influence their calculus the regime’s survival must be in jeopardy.

Kenneth Waltz believes that deterrence would stick if Iran became a nuclear state in his recent article, “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb” (Foreign Affairs, Jul/Aug2012, Vol. 91 Issue 4, p2-5).  His assertion rests on a history of U.S.-Soviet nuclear peace.  Unfortunately, he conflates the logic of states that already possess the doomsday weapons with that of those who are fixated on procuring them for messianic and annihilative purposes.

The most plausible American fear likely consists of a nuclear-armed Iran forcing the U.S. to remove its military from the region, thus having the effect of Iranian regional domination.  The impact of this potentiality does not rest well with Iran’s Arab adversaries.  For Israel, this scenario presents a palpable existential threat, as they are a ‘one-bomb country’ (as Charles Krauthammer has recently pointed out in his 30 August 2012 Washington Post opinion article, “The ‘Deterrence Works’ Fantasy”).

In order to deter an Israeli preemptive/preventive attack, the Obama administration must combine both words and deeds in an effort to convince both friend and foe of American steadfastness.  To fail in this regard is to welcome misinterpretation, misperception and possibly grave misfortune.

Fear: the language of Iran

8 Sep

Most would say that the regime of Ahmadinejad speaks Persian Farsi.  Insofar as linguistics are concerned this is true.  However, there is another language that is spoken, and apparently well understood in that part of the world: Fear.  As any Iranian expatriate could easily recount, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 was successful in instilling a fear of speaking, acting, dressing, or otherwise appearing Western.  Beyond xenophobic fear was that of the terror conveyed for noncompliance with the new regime’s take on piety.   

            During the demonstrations against the Iranian government in 2009, the citizens were again reminded that their protestations on behalf of democracy had limitations rooted in theocracy.  The regime succeeded in its endeavor to repress, thereby reinforcing through violence that dissent would not be tolerated. 

            The language of fear is not only spoken in Iran, it is exported for global consumption.  Witness Hezbollah’s ability to perform acts of terrorism worldwide and Iran’s impunity in having made significant contributions to them.  Observe the demonstrated conventional power of a small army to force Israel to acknowledge that they are a force to be reckoned with (2006).  Behold the message inherent in the Iranian warships’ passing unmolested through the Suez Canal to deliver aid to the Assad regime’s tyrannical and murderous efforts in Syria.  These are the hallmarks of the diplomacy of violence, the broadcasting mechanism of fear.

            As Iran’s regime is currently attempting to subvert international will and acquire nuclear weapons they have invoked the language of fear yet again.  In calling for the annihilation of another nation-state, they seem to believe that such a bullying tactic will bear fruit of the sort that characterized their regime’s domestic successes. 

Bullies need a victim that is incapable of mounting a formidable defense.  This is where the language of fear loses its power.  The only way to tie the tongue of the fear-speaker is to demonstrate one’s ability to speak more eloquently and forcefully.  As the foreign policy question of responding to fear speak is raised more frequently, the answer could perhaps be found in the ability to hold a bullhorn to the Iranian regime’s ears and proclaim that its language is dead.  In turn, perhaps the Iranian citizenry will have their voices heard in the language of freedom.

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5 Aug

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