Posted on February 27, 2013 in Countdown
Well, it’s finally over. Despite being subjected to the most bizarre confirmation hearings we’ve ever seen, despite totally inappropriate questions about Hagel’s loyalty to the United States, and despite Congressional fawning over Israel in a way that probably makes most Israelis uncomfortable, Hagel was sworn in today as Secretary of Defense. After Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) successfully filibustered the previous vote on Hagel, he and a number of neocon groups had desperately been trying to dig up more dirt to sink the nomination. For example, Hagel apparently said that Israel is “making the lives of millions [of Palestinians] unbearable, into prolonged human suffering, [and] it kills me.” He also likened the Israel Defense Forces to "a brutal occupation force, similar to the Germans in World War II,” and warned that the Israeli state is “taking very sure and measured steps to a point where the State of Israel will not be a democracy or a home for the Jewish people.” Okay okay, he didn’t say any of those things; those were quotes from former heads of the Shin Bet, the premier Israeli security service. Good thing Hagel isn’t as prone to “anti-Israel hate speech” as senior officials in the Israeli government. Now that the nomination fight is over, Hagel can finally relax, kick up his feet, and handle the $47 billion in sequestration cuts his department may face on Friday.
If you’re teaching your son or daughter about the negative effects of procrastination and you need an example, turn on the news over the next two days and wait for about 30 seconds until the “sequester” comes up. For months now we’ve known that this joyful bundle of automatic spending cuts was coming and yet nothing was done – until…Friday? Yes, that’s right, this just in today: after weeks and weeks of playing chicken, the White House and Congressional leadership will meet on Friday to discuss averting the cuts. Interesting, though, how $85 billion of cuts across the board are only important enough for the country’s leaders to address on the day that it’s set to happen. We don’t have our hopes up, and no one is talking about a last-minute breakthrough deal, but on the upside, at least they’re talking, and that’ll have to do for now.
Republican Senator and likely 2016 presidential hopeful Marco Rubio just got back from his trip to the Middle East last week, hoping to boost his foreign policy credentials. Many speculated that the trip could shape Rubio’s long-term perception of the Middle East. Rubio met with heads of the Jordanian and Israeli governments and representatives of the Syrian opposition, in order to get a better sense of the situation on the ground. “No matter how much you read, how much you watch, you’re never gonna be as well-informed as you’re gonna be if you visit these places,” Rubio said in a Sky TV interview. We were hoping that Rubio would get it right, but sure enough, he proved that he doesn’t need to read or watch anything to get his own sense of what’s going on. When asked about how illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank might be impeding the peace process, he said, “I don’t think the fact that there are Israeli developments going on…in Judea and Samaria, should stand in the way of a peace process.” We disagree, Senator, as does pretty much everyone else on the planet. But don’t worry, we can iron out our disagreements in time, as long as our plan for moving into a tent fort in Countdownia (that’s our biblical name for Senator Rubio’s living room) doesn’t stand in the way of that. We are hoping for another visit to the region for Senator Rubio, hopefully with new briefing material.
Israel is no stranger to criticism for its use of ever-escalating violence. Just consider its conduct in both Gaza wars, and that attack on the Gaza-bound Turkish aid flotilla which left 9 people dead and several others injured. In an extremely unfortunate turn of events, the Israelis succeeded yet again in escalating an already deteriorating situation by reportedly torturing to death Arafat Jaradat, a young man who was accused of throwing rocks to protest the detention of four Palestinian prisoners on hunger strikes. Jaradat was taken into custody, and after six days in prison he was found dead. According to an autopsy carried out by independent Israeli pathologists, Jaradat’s body showed broken ribs and extensive bruising, indications of possible torture. One might think the Israelis would be chastened, but one would be wrong: Security Minister Avi Dichter accused the protesters of “trying to drag us into a situation in which there will be dead children.” The massive protests sparked by Jaradat’s death have been largely peaceful, providing an interesting parallel with the gripping Oscar-nominated documentary Five Broken Cameras, which chronicles years of peaceful protest against Israeli occupation in the Palestinian village of Bil’in. If it had won at last weekend’s Oscars, Burnat had planned to say this in his acceptance speech: “We [Palestinians] want what you want: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Hopefully, the continued hunger strikes, protests like those over Jaradat’s death, and films like Burnat’s can push Americans to focus on the brutality of the Israeli occupation. But if you are The Washington Post, you will just use it talk about a potential third intifada instead, with brilliant headlines like, “Prisoner’s death fuels Palestinian protests, as Israel braces for more.”
We’ve been talking about drones for years now, but our complaints are finally starting to get some serious traction. First, NBC published a leaked Justice Department white paper justifying the assassination of US citizens. Then, drones became a central issue in John Brennan’s nomination hearing to be the new director of the CIA. Ever since, the issue of the constitutionality–and efficacy–of drones has been haunting the Obama administration at every turn, prompting the President to promise to keep his actions “consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances” and to ensure that “our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.” Then, during a Google+ Hangout, Obama was once again cornered on the drones issue, and admitted that it’s “absolutely true is that it is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we are doing the right thing.” He said he is “not someone who believes that the president has the authority to do whatever he wants, or whatever she wants, whenever they want, just under the guise of counterterrorism.” So, what have we learned since his promises for transparency? Nothing. Well, nothing except that the drone program was deadlier than most people knew, and that the US is now planning on providing the UAE with advanced drones to counter Iranian drone development. Maybe at least we’ll find out who receives the newly-announced drone medals.
Now that the Hagel confirmation fight is over, we can look back at what a strange and sad spectacle it's been: Senators quoting the fever dreams of conservative activists on the Senate floor, McCarthyite insinuations of guilt by association, men who received Vietnam-era draft deferments questioning the patriotism of a man with two Purple Hearts, and attempts to smear Hagel for his association with organizations representing Arab Americans, including AAI. In a thoroughly disgraceful episode, some parties managed to debase themselves with extra panache. We've collected six such people here. Oh, and it is a must read.