Posted on August 13, 2014 in Countdown

Into Iraq

The Arab American Institute hosted an important emergency leadership summit in DC last Thursday on U.S. foreign policy and the ongoing crises in Gaza, Iraq and Syria. We heard from National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who spoke to members of our community just as news alerts were coming in about the United States air drop in Iraq and the military strikes against ISIS. With that, our community’s discussions over the troubling U.S. policies on Gaza also turned to the U.S. actions and strategy in Iraq, where important communities, including Iraq’s minorities, are being targeted, excluded and expelled by an “Islamic State.” As Iraq’s woes deepen and as more U.S. military advisors arrive and arms shipments begin to flow to Iraqi Kurds, it’s important for our leaders to act, but only with a clear strategy and objective. We are again wary of mission creep and unchecked powers that could lead to a repeat of the events this administration hoped to get us out of back in 2008. Air drops and rescue missions can be vital to protecting Iraq’s vulnerable communities, as are the efforts underway to stop the advances of ISIS and ensure a political settlement that leads to an inclusive government in Iraq. Still, the bipartisan support for the administration’s efforts in Iraq as well as the urgency of the situation must also come with caution and awareness. We sensed that the administration understood the pitfalls of engagement at our summit last week. It would be terrible if in a few months we are asking ourselves “how did we get to this”?

When Will It Stop?

A recent release of classified government documents revealed that the city of Dearborn, Michigan made an exclusive government list: unfortunately, this list is not one that will admit Dearborn residents to any fancy clubs or galas, but it will undoubtedly lend them the spotlight in airports, train stations, and just about any other public arena. According to reports leaked and later disclosed in the Intercept, Dearborn ranked second on the government’s terror watch list for recording the second highest concentration of people designated as “known or suspected terrorists.” The facts make it abundantly clear that this is profiling on a mass scale of an entire community based on their ethnicity. After all, Dearborn isn’t home to millions, like the other cities on the list, including Houston, San Diego, and Chicago, but it is home to the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the country, many of whom were placed on the terror watchlist solely upon “reasonable suspicion”- the guise of deliberate stereotyping. This revelation serves as just another example of the discrimination and profiling that Arab Americans and American Muslims face. But hey, these surveillance programs may have public backing, which is just as troubling. We’ve been promised that these methods of surveillance would be changed to reflect the times, and also understand that some of these recent revelations pre-date this administration. However, this one doesn’t, and we’re still waiting on our government’s response to these worrisome discoveries.

Let’s Talk About What’s Not Being Talked About

How many times have we heard that “Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of Israel”? Well, CNN’s S.E. Cupp thinks we haven’t heard it enough. She joined AAI President Jim Zogby on CNN’s Reliable Sources to discuss this apparent “media bias by omission.” Cupp - and many viewers - were taken aback, however, by Jim’s comments about the omissions that occur on the other side: from members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition. Jim argued that the content of the Likud Charter is equally worrisome. The charter defines Israel in all of historic Palestine, rejects the creation of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River and the division of Jerusalem, and promises to continue developing settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Jim also shed light on the horrific words of Knesset deputy speaker Moshe Feiglin who calls for “deporting Palestinians of the Gaza strip into places unknown” and more. Have you heard that before on the news? We didn’t think so – the fact that Jim’s points were surprising already shows what’s really being omitted. Of course, Hamas’ destructive rhetoric and principles cannot be ignored, but we think they’re getting their fair share of airtime. Just look here, here and here. If anything is being left out, it’s a discussion of the Israeli right’s principles. And at the end of the day, maybe it’s the actions that speak louder than words on a charter – we all know who’s losing that war.

Hope for Change?

It looks like Hillary Clinton may not be “inevitable” – in a recent interview for the Atlantic, the likely 2016 candidate took some time to set herself apart from Obama on foreign policy and received some backlash, all in the same weekend the president sat down and gave his own foreign policy interview to the New York Times’ Tom Friedman. As the president worked to defend his administration’s proclaimed strategy of “don’t do stupid stuff,” Clinton shot back in her interview, saying “don’t do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle.” Ouch. The two have agreed to “hug it out,” but we’re not sure a hug can mend these differences. The former Secretary of State criticized the president’s failure to build a credible force to oppose Syria’s Assad and argued that this failure contributed to the “Islamic State” and events we are seeing in the region today. Buried in the news about Syria, however, were Clinton’s comments on Israel and Gaza. Clinton went a step further than the administration on Israel’s attacks, saying she believed Israel acted fully within its rights and did what it had to do in self-defense. She also argued that the criticism of Israel in this most recent conflict was the result of a successful PR campaign held by Hamas and historical anti-Semitism. Right…the high death toll and devastation notwithstanding. As Clinton tries to position herself for 2016, we are seeing flashbacks to 2008. So if you were looking for a “hope and change” redux with Clinton, it may be time to hope for change instead.

Taking a Page from Europe’s Playbook

As our community and many other Americans continue to be disheartened by repeated talking points on Israel’s “right to self-defense” and the inability to end current hostilities, there is one place our American leaders might look to for some guidance and support: Europe. In the past week, European politicians and leaders have been expressing increasing outrage over Israel’s Gaza offensive. Take Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who “spoke for many” when she resigned last week as a senior Foreign Office minister in Britain over the government’s policies toward Israel. Warsi said about her resignation, “Long after politics has come and gone, I want to be able to live with myself.” Her efforts might be significant. Just yesterday, the British government said it will suspend some of its arms exports to Israel if violence resumes in Gaza, given their concerns that British-made products would be used by the IDF. Meanwhile in the United States, we are ramping up support with no questions asked. France’s foreign minister also spoke out last week, saying, “The tradition of friendship between Israel and France is an old one and Israel's right to security is total, but this right does not justify the killing of children and the slaughter of civilians.” He continued, “How many more deaths will it take to stop what must be called the carnage in Gaza?" Meanwhile in the United States, Israel’s right to self-defense comes without any French caviar – wait, we meant caveats. It’s nice to see some outrage, even if it is from across the pond. Let’s see how long it will take for our government officials to take note. 

Amash Tackles Smears in Victory Speech

The primary season is winding down, and we’ve seen some interesting surprises along the way – even if this election season has been overshadowed by some of the bigger events overseas. As we look forward to November, we did want to bring your attention to the victory speech by Arab American Representative Justin Amash last week, who comfortably won his Michigan primary in a nasty race that the “establishment-wing” of the Republican Party hoped to win through big spending and bigger smears. Amash’s opponent, Brian Ellis, went all-in on the Islamophobic and Arab-baiting rhetoric during the primary, running ads that called Amash “Al Qaeda's best friend in Congress” for wanting to close Guantanamo Bay and opposing NSA programs. Don’t worry, though. After winning last week, Amash called out Ellis in his must-watch victory speech, criticizing his “disgusting, despicable smear campaign.” “I’m an Arab American,” Amash said in an interview after his victory, “and he has the audacity to say I’m al Qaeda's best friend in Congress. That's pretty disgusting.” We definitely agree. As one journalist notes, Amash’s win matters for more reasons. It shows that “Republicans who want to rein in the NSA, repeal the Patriot Act, and close the prison at Guantanamo Bay can win a primary vote handily,” even in a safe district. So with that exciting speech and a few more primaries to go, let the countdown to November begin!