Posted on January 15, 2013 in Countdown

Beyond Manufactured Controversy

If you’re tired of the manufactured controversy over chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense, we’re with you. So help us reframe the conversation about something that actually matters. Beyond his supposedly “dovish” (better a dove than a chickenhawk, no?) views on Iran and his criticism of Israel, there is a real conversation to be had about what a Hagel appointment means for shifting U.S. policy going forward. In his latest column, AAI president Jim Zogby defends Hagel as a “thoughtful and sober advocate of the realist approach to foreign policy.” Jim also stated that Hagel represents a threat and potential end to “the entire neo-conservative enterprise that led the U.S. into two failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Well, we’re ok with that. Because with respect to the Middle East, the last thing we need is another Defense Secretary delivering speeches about “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” as we brace ourselves for another unnecessary military campaign. A Hagel appointment might just be exactly what the President needs to usher in a new era of more positive U.S. foreign policy and national security policy.

Time for Another Arab American Senator

Isn’t it about time there was another Arab American serving in the U.S. Senate? If you just yelled out “heck yes!” (and even if you didn’t), listen up because West Virginia Democrat Congressman Nick Rahall is eyeing Senator Jay Rockefeller’s seat in 2014 when the Senator retires. Rahall hasn’t confirmed whether he will run, but a spokesperson for the Congressman said it’s “under consideration.” If he does decide to run, he will face Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito who has already declared her intention to run. He may also face a Democratic primary battle against West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant who hasn’t yet decided whether she will seek the coveted Senate seat. Capito is likely the bigger threat to Rahall, given her popularity in the state, but Rahall remains an institution in West Virginia. Serving in Congress since 1976, he’s shown time and again that he is able to adhere to his principles, while representing his constituents with distinction. We wish him the best of luck!

Guantanamo Anniversary - 11 Years Later!

Time sure flies when you’re indefinitely detained. Last Friday marked the 11th anniversary of the infamous detention center in Guantanamo Bay. About 200 protesters marched in the rain yesterday on Friday to the Supreme Court to protest the indefinite detention of the 166 detainees currently languishing in the prison, the majority of whom have no charges against them and have already been cleared for release. It seems like a no-brainer for the President to live up to his promise and work towards closing the prison – not because there's political value in the decision but because it's the right thing to do. Meanwhile, Congress, which currently boasts a 9% approval rating, continues to place obstacles year after year to ensure that the Guantanamo detainees never see the light of day. Since the blatant violation of constitutional protections and international law doesn’t seem to do the trick, maybe we should focus on the fact that it costs taxpayers roughly $850,000 per year per detainee to keep Guantanamo open, compared to roughly $30,000/year to keep someone in maximum solitary confinement in the U.S.

Bachmann and King Reappointed

You're all familiar with Islamophobe Michele Bachmann who launched a smear campaign against Arab American and American Muslim public servants last summer. Well, after narrowly winning re-election, she's back on the House Intelligence Committee, a move that enraged groups like People for the American Way (PFAW, which had launched a campaign against Bachmann last year to get her removed from the Intelligence Committee. PFAW has revived its petition at the announcement of Bachmann's reappointment, and yesterday delivered the 178,000 petitions to House Speaker John Boehner calling for Bachmann's removal from the House Intelligence Committee.  And if you felt relieved about Peter King stepping down as Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee (thanks to term limits), we’re sorry to report that King was recently announced as Chair of the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee.

New Cast, Same Story

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the current chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has been something of a recurring character in Countdown for her frequent attempts to undermine, defame, and denigrate Palestinian issues. So, when we found out that her term limit on the chairmanship expired, we were a little worried that we’d have nothing to write about. Well, good news! She’s been replaced with Rep. Ed Royce, who has historically had a more open-minded and knowledgeable understanding of the region (though he has participated in anti-Muslim rallies in his home state of California). If you’re concerned that Royce may not bring the same Countdown-caliber wackiness as his predecessor to the position, don’t worry, Ros-Lehtinen may not be chairing the committee anymore, but she is chairing the newly-formed Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee. Looks like we’ll have plenty to write about after all.

Bab Al-Shams

Last week, a group of Palestinians erected a “tent village” on the site of Israeli-occupied land that had been seized for Jewish settlement construction. They named the city “Bab Al Shams” after the powerful novel “Gate of the Sun” by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, who tells the story of the Palestinian struggle through the eyes of an aging freedom fighter. A release from the village’s coordinating committee stated that, “For decades, Israel has established facts on the ground as the International community remained silent in response to these violations. The time has come now to change the rules of the game, for us to establish facts on the ground - our own land.” The Israeli response came as no surprise: the Israeli army attacked the camp and arrested the protestors. What came as more of a surprise, though, was the New York Times story on Bab Al-Shams, which changed titles from “Palestinians Set Up Camp in Israeli-Occupied West Bank Territory” to “Palestinians Set Up Tents Where Israel Plans Homes.” Notice the oh-so-subtle difference?

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