Posted on June 20, 2008 in Washington Watch
(A review of items of interest to the U.S.-Arab relationship – covering developments in Washington, political campaigns and the U.S. Media)
There is a growing concern in foreign policy circles with the Bush Administration’s abstention from Middle East diplomacy. This worrisome fact was, of course, the subject of reports by both the Iraq Study Group’s report and a U.S. Institute of Peace study on Israeli-Palestinian peace making.
Hesitant steps toward engagement notwithstanding, the absence of the U.S. role has remained a topic of concern. On June 3, The New York Times carried an op-ed “Peace Fills a Vacuum” by Robert Malley, a former Clinton Middle East National Security Advisor to the Clinton Administration, and Hussein Agha. The authors point out how, in the absence of U.S. involvement, countries of the Middle East have taken it upon themselves to resolve regional issues, pointing to: the Doha effort to resolve the Lebanon crisis; the Egyptian mediation in Gaza; and the Turkish role in moving forward peace talks between Israel and Syria.
The U.S. absence was also a key focus of Barack Obama’s address to AIPAC (though lost in the media attention given to his since-clarified statements about Jerusalem). In his remarks, Obama chided the Bush Administration’s failure to support Israeli-Syrian talks and its long-standing neglect of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Now comes an initiative by two prominent members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: John Kerry (D-MA, the 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE). Following their visit to Syria, which by itself constituted a direct challenge to the Administration’s “no-talk” policy, the two Senators wrote a letter to the President, and an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling on the White House to directly engage Syria, to support Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations, to secure Syrian cooperation in efforts in Lebanon and Iraq, and to put political pressure on Iran.
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Frustrated that the Administration was moving forward with efforts to secure a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq that would ensure a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq, and doing so without Congressional input, some members of Congress decided to act. Angered by the reality that “It is ironic that the Iraqi Parliament is being asked to vote for this SOFA, but the Administration will not submit it to the Congress for our vote,” a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee invited a few key Iraqi lawmakers to testify on the agreement.
The Iraqi lawmakers were quite skeptical about the prospects of passage for the SOFA in their Parliament. Their suggestion was that the entire matter be postponed until the election of a new U.S. President. That is not what the Bush Administration wants, but it is what may occur.
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One of the hallmarks of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy has been to attempt to “spin” their way out of failure by “dumbing down” the definition of victory to cover their setbacks. It should be recalled that the original goal of this Administration was the “establishment of two states, Israel and Palestine” by 2005. When little was done to advance this goal, the timetable was pushed back (some say “conveniently”) until 2009. In announcing the Annapolis Conference, President Bush said the goal was to agree on the principles that would allow for the parties to move toward implementation during the last year of his term in office. When that didn’t occur, the next goal was to use Annapolis to launch negotiations that would result in the two parties agreeing to the “basic contours” of a two-state solution.
With time running out, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking to AIPAC
So now “pursuit” has become the goal!
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“Down, but not out.”
When Pastor John Hagee was publicly humiliated for his bigotry by both the national media and the John McCain for President campaign last month, you might have thought that the good pastor would fade away, or at least be ignored by some former associates. Not so.
What caused the Hagee flap, it will be recalled, were his references to Catholicism as “an abomination” and “the whore of history,” and his bizarre observation that Hitler was fulfilling God’s will by punishing those Jews who did not go back to Israel.
But when Hagee, who serves as head of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), brings his annual conference to Washington, July 21-24, his program assembles the regular neoconservative and pro-Israel luminaries and lesser lights. Keynoting the event is none other than Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT). Also speaking will be former Senator Rick Santorum, Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), William Kristol, and Congressman Mike Pence (R-ID).
What, you might ask, are Lieberman and company thinking? Or are they thinking at all? Has the crassness of their concept of making political alliances erased all sense of judgment on their part? (Stay tuned.)
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On a Positive Note
Recognizing the need for broader cultural education, New York City educator Debbie Almontaser had a vision of establishing a charter school that would teach the Arabic language to elementary school children.
The idea gained support, and was launched as the Kahlil Gibran International Academy (KGIA). It, however, inevitably incurred the wrath of bigots like Daniel Pipes who declared their intent to shut the program down. Pipes went so far as to suggest that the very teaching of Arabic would promote “radical Islam” and decried the fact that Almontaser was a moderate, saying that it was the moderate and not the radical Muslim who posed the greater threat to America, saying, “It is hard to see how violence, how terrorism will lead to the implementation of sharia. It is much easier to see how, working through the system – the school system, the media, the religious organizations, the government, businesses and the like – you can promote radical Islam.”
Almontaser was ultimately removed from her position as the head of the program, and the educational effort turned sour. Now a number of groups, including Jewish leaders, have come forward to support her and the program she established. That coalition has called for “the Department of Education to fairly consider Debbie Almontaser for the job of principal at KGIA, to provide the school with the support that it needs to flourish, and we call upon all communities to stand with us in opposition to the forces of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism that continue to divide our city.”
This month the New York Times published an extensive and very supportive article on the history of the controversy. It has not been easy, but Debbie Almontaser’s vision may yet bear fruit.