Republicans Seek to Fight Against Obama in Syria


Republicans who had been criticizing President Obama for refusing to arm the Syrian opposition, suddenly became critics of any intervention whatsoever when the president proposed the limited strike.

— by Steve Sheffey

Republicans proved during the Syria debate that they will oppose President Obama simply for the sake of opposing him, all for partisan gain. Politicians used to at least pay lip service to a bipartisan foreign policy, but no longer.

Former Congressman Barney Frank summarized the situation accurately:

Many Republicans who had been criticizing President Obama for refusing to arm the Syrian opposition, and some of whom advocated American combat aircraft establishing a “no fly” zone against the Syrian air force, suddenly became critics of any intervention whatsoever when the president proposed the limited strike to penalize President Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons. Democracy does not require people who oppose a president’s military actions to stay silent in the interest of bipartisanship, but what we have here is the exact opposite: partisan opponents of the president completely reversing their position once the president moves in the direction they had previously attacked him for not taking.

Continued after the jump.

The argument that they are now critical of his doing anything because he is not doing more is not a serious one. There is a significant body of Republicans prepared to attack Obama for any decision he makes, even if that requires them to reverse positions they previously held.


Courtesy of Yaakov “Dry Bones” Kirschen.

President Obama outlined his foreign policy in his U.N. speech. The bottom line on Syria is that we have achieved all of our objectives without firing a single shot. On Friday night, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. That was a major victory for the U.S.

The U.S. position on Iran is also clear: Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. A diplomatic solution is better than a military solution, but all options must remain on the table. Iran is willing to talk only because economic sanctions are taking their toll; it would be foolish to ease up, until and unless Iran backs up its conciliatory words with actions.

Israel and many others remain skeptical about Iran’s intentions. A senior Administration official said on Friday that:

The Israeli government has every right to be skeptical of the Iranian government, given the statements that have come out of Iran in the past — extraordinarily inflammatory statements about Israel, threats towards Israel’s existence — given that history, I think it is entirely understandable and appropriate for the Israeli government to be deeply skeptical…

We’ve made clear that words need to be followed by actions, and ultimately it’s going to be the actions of the Iranian government through this diplomatic process that is going to make the difference. And so when we consider things like potential sanctions relief, we’re going to need to see a meaningful agreement and meaningful actions by the Iranian government before the pressure that’s in place can be relieved… The bottom line for us is that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.

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Israel Responds to Rouhani’s Hypocritical UN Speech

— by Israeli Consul General Yaron Sideman

Yesterday, the world witnessed one of the most cynical and hypocritical displays ever made at the U.N. General Assembly, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took the stage. Here are some of the reasons why, clearly articulated in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the Iranian President’s speech:

  • Rouhani spoke of human rights even as Iranian forces are participating in the large-scale slaughter of innocent civilians in Syria.
  • He condemned terrorism even as the Iranian regime is using terrorism in dozens of countries around the world.
  • He spoke of a nuclear program for civilian purposes, even as an IAEA report determines that the program had military dimensions, and while any rational person understands that Iran, one of the most oil-rich nations, is not investing capital in ballistic missiles and underground nuclear facilities in order to produce electricity.
  • It is no coincidence that the speech lacked both any practical proposal to stop Iran’s military nuclear program, and any commitment to fulfill U.N. Security Council decisions. This is exactly Iran’s strategy — to talk and play for time in order to advance its ability to achieve nuclear weapons. Rouhani knows this well.
  • He bragged that a decade ago, he succeeded in misleading the West, so that while Iran was holding talks, it simultaneously advanced its nuclear program.

Continued after the jump.

The international community must test Iran not by its words, but by its actions.

The Israeli delegation absented itself from Rouhani’s speech in order not to grant legitimacy to a regime that does not recognize the existence of the Holocaust, and which publicly declares its desire to wipe the State of Israel off the map. As the Prime Minister of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, I could not allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations ploy, by a regime that denies the Holocaust and calls for our destruction.

Actions speak louder than words. The international community should examine Iran according to its actions, which clearly indicate an acceleration of Iran’s military nuclear program, and continue intensifying economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran until Iran completely dismantles its military nuclear capabilities.  

AP Claims Rouhani Speech “Absent” of Anti-Israel Rhetoric


Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles.

(CAMERA) An AP story today opened by informing readers that “The Iranian president’s first speech to world leaders was absent anti-Israel rhetoric….” The problem is, Rouhani in fact leveled some of the harshest, most inflammatory anti-Israel slurs available during his U.N. speech yesterday, describing Israel as engaging in “brutal repression,” and as practicing something even worse than apartheid.

In language that differed little from the predictable anti-Israel venom often heard from Iranian leaders, Rouhani told delegates at the United Nations:

What has been — and continues to be — practiced against the innocent people of Palestine is nothing less than structural violence. Palestine is under occupation; the basic rights of the Palestinians are tragically violated, and they are deprived of the right of return and access to their homes, birthplace and homeland. Apartheid as a concept can hardly describe the crimes and the institutionalized aggression against the innocent Palestinian people.

More after the jump.
Much later in the piece, the AP reporter, Lara Jakes, did assert that Rouhani “briefly touched on what he described as Palestine’s depravation and subjugation.” But obviously this understated elaboration does not eliminate the need for an opening sentence that does not misinform.

It is also worth noting is that, while Jakes mentioned that Rouhani referred to “crimes the Nazis created toward the Jews,” she inexplicably omitted any reference to the more controversial part of his statement to CNN: “I have said before that I am not a historian, and that when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust it is the historians that should reflect on it” — an equivocation that virtually all other reports recognized was relevant to the story.

CAMERA had informed CNN of the errors and the omission and called for a correction. The first sentence has been fixed to say “The Iranian president’s first speech to world leaders toned down anti-Israel rhetoric…” and the other sentence was fixed to say that “Rouhani briefly criticized Israel for what he described as Palestine’s deprivation and subjugation.” By the time this article was posted in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, the omitted holocaust statement was still not included in the article.

“International Community Must Enforce Ban on Chemical Weapons”

President Barack Obama addressed today the United Nations General Assembley, and discussed the situation in Syria, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Israeli-Arab conflict.

About Syria, the President said:

The international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons. When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly. I did so because I believe it is in the security interest of the United States and the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins are older than the U.N. itself.

The President added that “Agreement on chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria.”

I do not believe that military action — by those within Syria, or by external powers — can achieve a lasting peace. Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria — that is for the Syrian people to decide. Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country.

About Iran, Obama said:

America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, but that we are determined to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

About the Israeli-Arab conflict, he said:

The United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state. Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just, and possible. And I believe there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state. But the children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and where we unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them.

Full remarks after the jump.
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: Each year we come together to reaffirm the founding vision of this institution. For most of recorded history, individual aspirations were subject to the whims of tyrants and empires. Divisions of race, religion and tribe were settled through the sword and the clash of armies. The idea that nations and peoples could come together in peace to solve their disputes and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable.  

It took the awful carnage of two world wars to shift our thinking. The leaders who built the United Nations were not na├»ve; they did not think this body could eradicate all wars. But in the wake of millions dead and continents in rubble; and with the development of nuclear weapons that could annihilate a planet; they understood that humanity could not survive the course it was on. So they gave us this institution, believing that it could allow us to resolve conflicts, enforce rules of behavior, and build habits of cooperation that would grow stronger over time.  

For decades, the U.N. has in fact made a real difference — from helping to eradicate disease, to educating children, to brokering peace. But like every generation of leaders, we face new and profound challenges, and this body continues to be tested. The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.

For much of my time as President, some of our most urgent challenges have revolved around an increasingly integrated global economy, and our efforts to recover from the worst economic crisis of our lifetime. Now, five years after the global economy collapsed, thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized, and people are being lifted out of poverty. But this progress is fragile and unequal, and we still have work to do together to assure that our citizens can access the opportunity they need to thrive in the 21st century.  

Together, we have also worked to end a decade of war. Five years ago, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in harm’s way, and the war in Iraq was the dominant issue in our relationship with the rest of the world. Today, all of our troops have left Iraq. Next year, an international coalition will end its war in Afghanistan, having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11.

For the United States, these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war-footing. Beyond bringing our troops home, we have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible, and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties. We are transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law, while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we have begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so as to properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies, with the privacy concerns that all people share.  

As a result of this work, and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago. But even a glance at today’s headlines indicates the dangers that remain. In Kenya, we’ve seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall. In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed by suicide bombers outside a church. In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be a horrific part of life. Meanwhile, al Qaeda has splintered into regional networks and militias, which has not carried out an attack like 9/11, but does pose serious threats to governments, diplomats, businesses and civilians across the globe.

Just as significantly, the convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa have laid bare deep divisions within societies, as an old order is upended, and people grapple with what comes next. Peaceful movements have been answered by violence — from those resisting change, and from extremists trying to hijack change. Sectarian conflict has reemerged. And the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction casts a shadow over the pursuit of peace.  

Nowhere have we seen these trends converge more powerfully than in Syria. There, peaceful protests against an authoritarian regime were met with repression and slaughter. In the face of carnage, many retreated to their sectarian identity — Alawite and Sunni; Christian and Kurd — and the situation spiraled into civil war. The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge. Aid cannot keep pace with the suffering of the wounded and displaced. A peace process is still-born. America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis. Assad’s traditional allies have propped him up, citing principles of sovereignty to shield his regime. And on August 21st, the regime used chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.

The crisis in Syria, and the destabilization of the region, goes to the heart of broader challenges that the international community must now confront. How should we respond to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa — conflicts between countries, but also conflicts within them? How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war? What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct? What is the role of the United Nations, and international law, in meeting cries for justice?

Today, I want to outline where the United States of America stands on these issues. With respect to Syria, we believe that as a starting point, the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons. When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly. I did so because I believe it is in the security interest of the United States and the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins are older than the U.N. itself. The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity. It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocated in the trenches; Jews slaughtered in gas chambers; and Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.

The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood, and landed in opposition neighborhoods. It is an insult to human reason – and to the legitimacy of this institution – to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

I know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack, there were those who questioned the legitimacy of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate from the Security Council. But without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all. However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been a diplomatic resolution to this issue, and in the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and then to destroy them.

The Syrian government took a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles. Now, there must be a strong Security Council Resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so. If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the U.N. is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws. On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says.

Agreement on chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria. I do not believe that military action — by those within Syria, or by external powers — can achieve a lasting peace. Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria — that is for the Syrian people to decide. Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country. The notion that Syria can return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy. It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome they fear: an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate. In turn, those of us who continue to support the moderate opposition must persuade them that the Syrian people cannot afford a collapse of state institutions, and that a political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears of Alawites and other minorities.  

As we pursue a settlement, let us remember that this is not a zero-sum endeavor. We are no longer in a Cold War. There’s no Great Game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the well-being of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring it does not become a safe-haven for terrorists. I welcome the influence of all nations that can help bring about a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war. And as we move the Geneva process forward, I urge all nations here to step up to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and surrounding countries. America has committed over a billion dollars to this effort, and today, I can announce that we will be providing an additional $340 million. No aid can take the place of a political resolution that gives the Syrian people the chance to begin rebuilding their country — but it can help desperate people survive.

What broader conclusions can be drawn from America’s policy toward Syria? I know there are those who have been frustrated by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose Assad, and believe that a failure to do so indicates a weakening of America’s resolve in the region. Others have suggested that my willingness to direct even limited military strikes to deter the further use of chemical weapons shows that we have learned nothing from Iraq, and that America continues to seek control over the Middle East for our own purposes. In this way, the situation in Syria mirrors a contradiction that has persisted in the region for decades: the United States is chastised for meddling in the region, and accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems, and for showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations.

I realize some of this is inevitable, given America’s role in the world. But these attitudes have a practical impact on the American peoples’ support for our involvement in the region, and allow leaders in the region — and the international community — to avoid addressing difficult problems. So let me take this opportunity to outline what has been U.S. policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, and what will be my policy during the remainder of my presidency.

  • The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region.
  • We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.
  • We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends upon the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.
  • We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when its necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attacks, we will take direct action.  
  • And finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global non-proliferation regime.

Now, to say these are America’s core interests is not to say these are our only interests. We deeply believe it is in our interest to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peaceful and prosperous; and will continue to promote democracy, human rights, and open markets, because we believe these practices achieve peace and prosperity. But I also believe that we can rarely achieve these objectives through unilateral American action — particularly with military action. Iraq shows us that democracy cannot be imposed by force. Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community, and with the countries and people of the region.

What does this mean going forward? In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.

The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs, and America’s role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy, and directly — or through proxies — taken Americans hostage, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.

I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight — the suspicion runs too deep. But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship — one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

Since I took office, I have made it clear — in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani — that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, but that we are determined to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.

So these statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. But to succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable. After all, it’s the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place. And this is not simply an issue between the United States and Iran. The world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.  

But I want to be clear we are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course. And given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in close cooperation with the European Union — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.

The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested. For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential — in commerce and culture; in science and education.

We are also determined to resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran, and that is the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. I’ve made it clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state. Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just, and possible. And I believe there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state. But the children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and where we unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them.

Likewise, the United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state. On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah whose ambition and incredible potential are matched by the pain they feel in having no firm place in the community of nations. They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and they’re frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation. But they too recognize that two states is the only real path to peace — because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.

So the time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace. Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks. President Abbas has put aside efforts to short-cut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table. Prime Minister Netanyahu has released Palestinian prisoners and reaffirmed his commitment to a Palestinian state. Current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.

So now the rest of us must be willing to take risks as well. Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon the realization of a Palestinian state, and we should say so clearly. Arab states, and those who supported the Palestinians, must recognize that stability will only be served through a two-state solution and a secure Israel.

All of us must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists throughout the region, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future. And moreover, ties of trade and commerce between Israelis and Arabs could be an engine of growth and opportunity at a time when too many young people in the region are languishing without work. So let’s emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice. Let’s support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace.

Real breakthroughs on these two issues — Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli-Palestinian peace — would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa. But the current convulsions arising out of the Arab Spring remind us that a just and lasting peace cannot be measured only by agreements between nations. It must also be measured by our ability to resolve conflict and promote justice within nations. And by that measure, it’s clear that all of us have a lot more work to do.

When peaceful transitions began in Tunisia and Egypt, the entire world was filled with hope. And although the United States — like others — was struck by the speed of transition, and although we did not — and in fact could not — dictate events, we chose to support those who called for change. And we did so based on the belief that while these transitions will be hard and take time, societies based upon democracy and openness and the dignity of the individual will ultimately be more stable, more prosperous, and more peaceful.

Over the last few years, particularly in Egypt, we’ve seen just how hard this transition will be. Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive. The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn, but it, too, has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy — through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press and civil society and opposition parties.

Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal of power. In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides. Our overriding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people, and recognizes true democracy as requiring a respect for minority rights and the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and a strong civil society.

That remains our interest today. And so, going forward, the United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counterterrorism. We’ll continue support in areas like education that directly benefit the Egyptian people. But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a more democratic path.

And our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: The United States will at times work with governments that do not meet, at least in our view, the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests. Nevertheless, we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We will reject the notion that these principles are simply Western exports, incompatible with Islam or the Arab World. We believe they are the birthright of every person. And while we recognize that our influence will at times be limited, although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and although we will at times be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency, we will be engaged in the region for the long haul. For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.

And this includes efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface in places like Iraq, Bahrain and Syria. We understand such longstanding issues cannot be solved by outsiders; they must be addressed by Muslim communities themselves. But we’ve seen grinding conflicts come to an end before — most recently in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants finally recognized that an endless cycle of conflict was causing both communities to fall behind a fast-moving world. And so we believe those same sectarian conflicts can be overcome in the Middle East and North Africa.

To summarize, the United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries. The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or by public opinion. Indeed, as recent debates within the United States over Syria clearly show, the danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries or to take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war — rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world — may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe such disengagement would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security. But I also believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional — in part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interests, but for the interests of all.

I must be honest, though. We’re far more likely to invest our energy in those countries that want to work with us, that invest in their people instead of a corrupt few; that embrace a vision of society where everyone can contribute — men and women, Shia or Sunni, Muslim, Christian or Jew. Because from Europe to Asia, from Africa to the Americas, nations that have persevered on a democratic path have emerged more prosperous, more peaceful, and more invested in upholding our common security and our common humanity. And I believe that the same will hold true for the Arab world.

This leads me to a final point. There will be times when the breakdown of societies is so great, the violence against civilians so substantial that the international community will be called upon to act. This will require new thinking and some very tough choices. While the United Nations was designed to prevent wars between states, increasingly we face the challenge of preventing slaughter within states. And these challenges will grow more pronounced as we are confronted with states that are fragile or failing — places where horrendous violence can put innocent men, women and children at risk, with no hope of protection from their national institutions.

I have made it clear that even when America’s core interests are not directly threatened, we stand ready to do our part to prevent mass atrocities and protect basic human rights. But we cannot and should not bear that burden alone. In Mali, we supported both the French intervention that successfully pushed back al Qaeda, and the African forces who are keeping the peace. In Eastern Africa, we are working with partners to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army to an end. And in Libya, when the Security Council provided a mandate to protect civilians, America joined a coalition that took action. Because of what we did there, countless lives were saved, and a tyrant could not kill his way back to power.

I know that some now criticize the action in Libya as an object lesson. They point to the problems that the country now confronts — a democratically elected government struggling to provide security; armed groups, in some places extremists, ruling parts of a fractured land. And so these critics argue that any intervention to protect civilians is doomed to fail — look at Libya. No one is more mindful of these problems than I am, for they resulted in the death of four outstanding U.S. citizens who were committed to the Libyan people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens — a man whose courageous efforts helped save the city of Benghazi. But does anyone truly believe that the situation in Libya would be better if Qaddafi had been allowed to kill, imprison, or brutalize his people into submission? It’s far more likely that without international action, Libya would now be engulfed in civil war and bloodshed.

We live in a world of imperfect choices. Different nations will not agree on the need for action in every instance, and the principle of sovereignty is at the center of our international order. But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye. While we need to be modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil, while we need to be mindful that the world is full of unintended consequences, should we really accept the notion that the world is powerless in the face of a Rwanda or Srebrenica? If that’s the world that people want to live in, they should say so and reckon with the cold logic of mass graves.

But I believe we can embrace a different future.  And if we don’t want to choose between inaction and war, we must get better — all of us — at the policies that prevent the breakdown of basic order. Through respect for the responsibilities of nations and the rights of individuals. Through meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules. Through dogged diplomacy that resolves the root causes of conflict, not merely its aftermath. Through development assistance that brings hope to the marginalized. And yes, sometimes — although this will not be enough — there are going to be moments where the international community will need to acknowledge that the multilateral use of military force may be required to prevent the very worst from occurring.

Ultimately, this is the international community that America seeks — one where nations do not covet the land or resources of other nations, but one in which we carry out the founding purpose of this institution and where we all take responsibility. A world in which the rules established out of the horrors of war can help us resolve conflicts peacefully, and prevent the kinds of wars that our forefathers fought. A world where human beings can live with dignity and meet their basic needs, whether they live in New York or Nairobi; in Peshawar or Damascus.

These are extraordinary times, with extraordinary opportunities. Thanks to human progress, a child born anywhere on Earth today can do things today that 60 years ago would have been out of reach for the mass of humanity. I saw this in Africa, where nations moving beyond conflict are now poised to take off. And America is with them, partnering to feed the hungry and care for the sick, and to bring power to places off the grid.

I see it across the Pacific region, where hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty in a single generation. I see it in the faces of young people everywhere who can access the entire world with the click of a button, and who are eager to join the cause of eradicating extreme poverty, and combating climate change, starting businesses, expanding freedom, and leaving behind the old ideological battles of the past. That’s what’s happening in Asia and Africa. It’s happening in Europe and across the Americas. That’s the future that the people of the Middle East and North Africa deserve as well — one where they can focus on opportunity, instead of whether they’ll be killed or repressed because of who they are or what they believe.

Time and again, nations and people have shown our capacity to change — to live up to humanity’s highest ideals, to choose our better history. Last month, I stood where 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. told America about his dream, at a time when many people of my race could not even vote for President. Earlier this year, I stood in the small cell where Nelson Mandela endured decades cut off from his own people and the world. Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome, when we have seen what changes the human spirit can bring? Who in this hall can argue that the future belongs to those who seek to repress that spirit, rather than those who seek to liberate it?

I know what side of history I want to the United States of America to be on. We’re ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges with you — firm in the belief that all men and women are in fact created equal, each individual possessed with a dignity and inalienable rights that cannot be denied. That is why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope. And that’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous and just world to the next generation.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Thinking Outside the Box About Syria


“One Strike” was a fantasy. People killed by a chemical attack in Ghouta, last month.

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Amir Shoam’s attack on my Drop Gas Masks, Not Bombs article, about U.S. policy toward Syria, ignores my saying that that phrase was a metaphor.

A metaphor for what? For breaking out of the official “box,” in which some officials of the U.S. government, some of the Israeli government, and some “official” institutions of American Jewish life, tried to assert there were only three choices about Syria: “Do nothing, one strike, or all-out war to topple the regime.” That metaphor and the article were a way to awaken deeper thought among American Jews. We pointed out that “One Strike” was a fantasy, ignoring the fog of war, the swamp of war, the possibility of unpredictable retaliation and re-retaliation.

More after the jump.
We also pointed out the despair that is seeping into American life, because we are wasting on self-destructive wars not only the lives, limbs, minds, and souls of our soldiers, but also the schools, renewable-energy sources, and new jobs we desperately need.

That awakening of deeper Jewish thought did happen. As a result, a much more nuanced statement was initiated by The Shalom Center, written and signed by rabbis and cantors — as of the afternoon before Yom Kippur, 64, of every stream, gender, and age.

In that Statement, the 64 rabbis and cantors proposed a serious approach to the Syrian regime’s allies — Russia and Iran — to get them to insist on its never using chem-war. When we wrote and first circulated the statement, some called that line “unrealistic.” But two days later, it became utterly “realistic” for the U.S., Russia, and the Syrian regime to be negotiating on it.

Never write off good sense; even self-absorbed and domineering leaders may decide good sense is realistic.

About Mr. Shoam’s other criticism of the original article: The real nub of them, as he said, is Iran. There I have a view very different from the Netanyahu/AIPAC view of how to deal with Iran, now that a new president has been elected. President Rouhani has put forth cautious, but important negotiating feelers. Indeed, the leading German newspaper, Der Spiegel, reports that Iran has offered to dismantle the Fordo nuclear facility — in exchange for ending the sanctions against Iran. Moreover, Ahmedinajad’s Holocaust-denial assertions have been publicly rejected. As a high official of the new government said, “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone.”

The U.S. should be pursuing with great vigor the possibility of, by stages, making a profound change in our relationship with Iran. That does not mean encouraging an Iranian nuclear weapon, as Mr. Shoam twists my suggestion of negotiating with Iran to mean. It does mean working to bring Iran into a legitimate framework of peace with the U.S. and the world.

That will require addressing some deep wounds the U.S. has inflicted on Iran over the last 50 years:

  • By CIA intervention, overthrowing a democratically elected, New Dealish government in 1953;
  • By then, restoring the Shah, and for 26 years supporting his using of torture and murder on dissidents;
  • By protecting the Shah in 1979, when the Iranian people drove him from office and wanted to try him for his crimes; and
  • By supporting Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical war to kill 100,000 Iranians, during Iraq’s 1980-1988 wars against Iran.

Finally, Mr. Shoam assets that the present diplomatic possibility of eliminating Syrian chemical weapons rests on a military threat. That is probably partly true. But it also rests on the fact that the “No” from the UK Parliament, and the chorus of “No” from the American public, first forced the President to ask permission from Congress to go to war, and then to pursue diplomacy, when it became clear Congress was also poised to say “No.”

I am proud that The Shalom Center and the 64 rabbis we inspired, and millions of grass-roots American Jews, joined in that “No,” and helped us all move away from a disastrous war. I wish the official “leadership” of American Jewry, now totally out of touch with the real flesh-and-blood community, would learn the lesson.

Facebook Warned Over Illegal Hosting of Iranian Ministers


Mark Zuckerberg.

Tel Aviv based civil rights organization Shurat HaDin has sent a warning letter to Facebook Chairman Mark Zuckerberg, informing him that the provision of internet services to Iranian government ministers was illegal, under the United States’ sanctions being imposed against the Islamic Republic.

In recent days, Iranian officials had been encouraged to open Facebook pages, by evading the government-imposed firewall that blocks Facebook and utilizing an alternative site. Ordinary Iranian citizens are, however, prohibited from logging onto the regular Facebook pages. Shurat HaDin contends that the ministers’ Facebook pages are part of a propaganda effort by the newly-elected Iranian government, to place a liberal face on the oppressive regime’s civil rights violations and support for international terrorism. By encouraging ministers to use Facebook and other social media, the rulers in Tehran now intend to promote the cosmetic appearance, solely for western consumption, of instituting a more open atmosphere in this brutal Islamic regime.

More after the jump.
As Shurat HaDin Director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner wrote in her to letter to Zuckerberg:

Please be advised that providing social media and other associated services to ministers of the Government of Iran is illegal under the OFAC administered sanctions regime. In addition, Iran’s support of designated terrorist groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas may expose persons providing services to the Government of Iran to liability under the criminal and civil provisions of Chapter 113B, Title 18 United States Code, and of the criminal provisions of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, of numerous Executive Orders and of their implementing regulations.

The letter warned the social network giant, that the continued provision of Facebook services to the Iranian officials after it had been warned, could open up Zuckerberg and his company to both criminal and civil prosecutions:

Many U.S. entities and individuals who have provided material support to terrorists have been sued by the terror victims and their families for aiding and abetting international terrorism. Many of these defendants now find themselves defending against multimillion dollar civil actions in federal courts around the United States. In addition, American corporations that provided material support to militant organizations in the Middle East are currently defendants in multimillion dollar civil actions in U.S. federal courts brought by the victims of these groups, and officers and principals of such corporations have also become defendants.

During the past 24 hours, the Islamic regime apparently unblocked Facebook services for a few hours, but then quickly reinstated the firewall. Thus, the only ones enabled to view the Iranian minister’s Facebook pages are those websurfers living in western democratic states. Darshan-Leitner states:

If Facebook thinks that it is above the law, now it has been warned that it could be civilly and criminally liable for the actions of Iran and its agents for supporting terror. There is no person or organization in the U.S. which is not bound by the American sanctions against Iran. It makes no sense that a publicly traded company like Facebook would be involved in assisting this brutal Islamic regime in promoting a more liberal face simply for western consumption. The only individuals able to access the Iranian officials pages are Europeans and Americans. Regular Iranian citizens are still prohibited.

Shalom Center Grasps at Straws to Find Substitute for War


“What happened to those people — to those children — is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.”

— by Amir Shoam

Last week, before the Russian suggestion to disarm Bashar al-Assad’s forces of chemical weapons, The Shalom Center’s Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote an article titled Drop Gas Masks, Not Bombs, opposing military action in Syria.

Waskow suggested that we “use the power of the U.S. in nonviolent, non-military, nonlethal ways” to stop the chemical war.

These surrogates for military action are each deeply flawed. Indeed, if Rabbi Waskow felt he had a good response, he would have probably given that response alone instead of a menu of responses each as ineffective as the next.

Waskow’s proposals and my comments follow the jump.


Waskow recommends distributing gas masks, but this is what you actually need to wear in order to fully protect yourself against sarin.

Waskow’s title suggestion “Drop Gas Masks, Not Bombs” (although the word “drop” was a metaphor) would not work, since gas masks do not offer complete protection against sarin.

Look what equipment the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends to use in a Level A sarin exposure:

  • A NIOSH-certified CBRN full-face-piece SCBA operated in a pressure-demand mode or a pressure-demand supplied air hose respirator with an auxiliary escape bottle.
  • A Totally-Encapsulating Chemical Protective (TECP) suit that provides protection against CBRN agents.
  • Chemical-resistant gloves (outer).
  • Chemical-resistant gloves (inner).
  • Chemical-resistant boots with a steel toe and shank.

Waskow recognizes that the suggestion in his title might not actually work, so he gives this alternative:

If gas masks would not meet the need, drop antidotes to the nerve gas sarin.

According to the CDC, sarin “is generally odorless and tasteless. Exposure to sarin can cause death in minutes. A fraction of an ounce (1 to 10 mL) of sarin on the skin can be fatal.”

Antidotes to sarin are only approved by the FDA for use by trained members of the U.S. Military, and would be useless or even dangerous in the hands of untrained Syrian citizens.

Waskow then makes this suggestion:

Test out what would happen if the U.S. invited physicians to be parachuted into Syria.

This is what would happen: The U.S. would ignore the first thing taught in a first aid course — do not risk lives in order to save lives.

  • If someone is injured on a busy road after a car accident, you should not go there.
  • If someone might be trapped inside a burning building, you should not go there.
  • If they offer you to be parachuted unarmed into a chemical war zone, you should not go there!

Waskow makes another suggestion, that also does not sound practical:

Drop leaflets and broadcast radio and social-media messages denouncing the use of chemical weaponry and offering amnesty and monetary rewards to anyone in the military who comes forward with information on their use.

If people in Assad’s army resisted his ways, would they still serve in his army, and not in one of the other armies in the country?

The following suggestion explains itself:

Bollix the Syrian military’s computer system just as the U.S. bollixed the Iranian nuclear-research system.

The U.S. is aware of that possibility — it just would not help.

Sarin is a binary compound, created naturally by the mixture of two gases stored separately in the shell. It does not need sophisticated electronics, and would be deployed in the field in the place of regular munitions, and not networked with a computer system, which made the Iranian centrifuges vulnerable to this kind of attack.

But the most flawed is Waskow’s final suggestion:

In Iran there is fierce opposition to chem-war because Saddam used it in Iraq’s war against Iran, killing tens of thousands…. Ask the government of Iran to intervene with its ally Syria to demand a total end to any use of chem-war, and offer Iran relaxation of U.S. sanctions against it if it does so.

Again, do not risk lives in order to save lives. Even assuming that Iran will accept this offer, a nuclear weapon in Iran’s hands is a threat to each and every person in the world.

Ambassador Samantha Power explained the situation last week:

It is only after the United States pursued these non-military options without achieving the desired result of deterring chemical weapons use, that the President concluded that a limited military strike is the only way to prevent Assad from employing chemical weapons as if they are a conventional weapon of war.

Indeed, after two years of diplomacy and sanctions, it is only the threat of military action which is finally getting the attention of Syria, and maybe will lead to a peaceful solution.

Staying the Course on Iran


Cartoon Courtesy of Yaakov “Dry Bones” Kirschen http://drybonesblog.blogspot.com/

— by Steve Sheffey

Iran continues its quest for nuclear weapons. Many red lines have been crossed, and it is easy to find past predictions that Iran would already have a nuclear weapon by now. At least part of the reason for the delay is increasingly tough sanctions, and “a series of covert actions including cyberwar or cyber-sabotage that included Stuxnet, Duqu, and Flame, assassinations of key scientists in the Iranian nuclear program, and unnatural explosions at key Iranian missile and steel plants.”

Iran has been slowed, but it continues to make progress. Some would accuse Israel of crying “wolf.” But as Graham Allison reminds us:

The children’s story about the boy who cried wolf is often cited to counsel against exaggeration of threat. We should remember how the story ends: The wolf actually arrives, and eats the boy.

Allison’s article on Iran is one of the best I have ever read on the subject. If you are looking for one article that explains where we are and what is going on with Iran, this is it.

What would you do?

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What Did Iranian President-Elect Rouhani really say?


Hassan Rouhani

— by Steve Sheffey

Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani did not say that “the Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed.” Iran is a genuine threat to Israel and the world, and there is enough real evidence of it’s intentions. We only lose credibility by repeating statements that are easily proven false. For more detail and analysis of what Rouhani really said, read this article by Ron Kampeas: Rouhani’s statement, its distortion, and what it all means.

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House Passes Tough Bipartisan Iran Sanctions Bill

(BBI) B’nai B’rith International applauds the House of Representatives for passing the bipartisan Nuclear Iran Prevention Act on July 31 by an overwhelming majority. By reducing Iran’s oil exports and further shackling its economy, the bill would send an important signal to new Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani about the cost of continuing the country’s unswerving pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The legislation seeks to decrease Iranian oil exports from 1.25 million barrels per year to 250,000 barrels by the end of 2014. It would also expand the blacklist of Iran’s various economic sectors and further limit the country’s access to overseas foreign currency reserves. Sanctions against Iran have already drastically limited the country’s oil exports and severely hampered its economy.

B’nai B’rith calls on the Senate to expeditiously pass a companion bill. Any delay in the legislative process would only serve Iran’s dilatory purposes.

While a new president prepares to take office in Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei has shown no sign of slowing Iran’s nuclear development. Iran’s ongoing installation of advanced centrifuges has brought it nearer to weapons-grade uranium production, which is the linchpin for nuclear weapons capability.

Iran has consistently used negotiations to stall the international community. Diplomacy can succeed only if the United States and its allies broaden and strengthen the current sanctions framework against Iran.

Comments from Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) follow the jump.  
Jewish Council for Public Affairs

The best response to Iran’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons capability is further isolation from the international community, which is threatened by this program,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The sanctions legislation overwhelmingly passed yesterday sends a strong message to the Teheran regime that continues its involvement with global terror and its support for the brutal Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. We applaud the House action and will encourage expeditious passage of a parallel measure in the U.S. Senate.

Of course, sanctions are merely a means to an end, and we support the administration’s ongoing efforts to resolve this issue through diplomacy if possible,” said JCPA Chair Larry Gold. “While Iran’s new President-elect remains untested – and the posture of the Supreme Leader appears to remain unchanged – the U.S. and international community are well served by maintaining economic pressures. We hope that Iran’s leaders will choose the welfare of their people over this misguided and dangerous pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.

Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL)

I voted in favor of this critical new round of sanctions because we simply cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran. The overwhelming bipartisan support for this bill reaffirms Congress’ commitment to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability. While the United States should continue to utilize and exhaust diplomatic channels, we must continue to implement and enforce crippling economic sanctions and reserve the right to use military force if necessary. Our policy is one of prevention, not containment, and I will continue to support legislation aimed to curbing Iran’s dangerous nuclear program.

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA)

Today the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) in February 2013, passed the House of Representatives.  

“Iran’s recent election of a so-called ‘moderate’ President has done nothing to change two important facts:  Iran is still pursuing nuclear weapons capability, and the Supreme Leader is still the leader and decision-maker of Iran’s military and nuclear program,” said Congressman Sherman following the vote. “I am urging my Senate colleagues to pass this legislation and send it to the President for his signature.”

The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act expands current sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran for oil purchases and third party transfers of Iranian crude oil, which have sometimes allowed Iran to side-step sanctions.

On May 22, 2013, the House Foreign Affairs Committee marked up the new sanctions bill and passed it unanimously.  Congressman Sherman contributed provisions through four amendments that were adopted unanimously that:

  • Add the knowing transfer of uranium mining and milling equipment to Iran to current sanctions law.
    Require a certification from prospective federal contractors that they (and affiliates) conduct no business with Iran that is sanctionable under this bill.
  • Expand sanctions on individuals who transfer technology used to repress dissidents in Iran by imposing harsher sanctions beyond just government procurement contract prohibitions and expanding the scope of sanctions to include affiliates of these individuals.
  • Strengthen current nonproliferation law under which the President must designate countries that allow a substantial diversion of certain sensitive goods, services, or technologies to Iran as “Destinations of Diversion Concern” (DDC) – and authorize harsher sanctions on such countries.
  • “This bipartisan Iran sanctions bill will broaden economic sanctions, strengthen human rights sanctions, and increase oversight of the enforcement of current sanctions,” Sherman added.