Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Here's another area where U.S. foreign policy seems to be based on bad information: the American support for Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili in his ongoing war of words against Russia. For the last year, Saakashvili has been blaming Russia for starting the Russia-Georgia War in South Ossetia, a break-away province of Georgia that seems to want to belong to Russia.

But now the EU has published a report of its findings: Saakashvili and Georgia are the ones who started the war by firing shells into civilian areas in South Ossetia.

Ian Traynor reports for website of The Guardian:

"An investigation into last year's Russia-Georgia war delivered a damning indictment of President Mikheil Saakashvili today, accusing Tbilisi of launching an indiscriminate artillery barrage on the city of Tskhinvali that started the war."

So how come VP Joe Biden visited Georgia last month and publicly stated the backing of the U.S. for hot head Saakashvili? And why hasn't the U.S. publicly come out and condemned Saakashvili and Georgia for starting the war? Surely the U.S. State Department has had all of the information that the EU obtained in its investigation.

The EU's report however, does not let Russia escape blame for the subsequent fighting. Traynor reports:

"The EU-commissioned report, by a fact-finding mission of more than 20 political, military, human rights and international law experts led by the Swiss diplomat, Heidi Tagliavini, was unveiled in Brussels today after nine months of work.

""There is no way to assign overall responsibility for the conflict to one side alone," the report found.

"But the conclusions will discomfit the western-backed Georgian leader, Saakashvili, who was found to have started the war with the attack on Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, on the night of 7 August last year, through a "penchant for acting in the heat of the moment"."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I am disappointed with Pres. Obama's foreign policy initiatives towards Iran. All Obama's people can talk about is sanctions, maybe even "crippling" as Hillary Clinton phrased them, to force Iran to stop its nuclear development. Sanctions do not work, have never worked, and will not work. There were sanctions on Iraq and Saddam Hussein since the first Gulf War in 1992, yet there was no forcing Iraq to comply with U.S. demands. We see the same ineffectiveness of sanctions against Cuba and Fidel Castro. Yet Obama persists in threatening sanctions against Iran and Iranians.

Today in The New York Times, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett propose a smarter foreign policy approach to Iran.

The Leveretts write:

"Indeed, the meeting on Thursday in Geneva of the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany with Iran (the “five plus one” talks) will not be an occasion for strategic discussion but for delivering an ultimatum: Iran will have to agree to pre-emptive limitations on its nuclear program or face what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls “crippling” sanctions.

"However, based on conversations we’ve had in recent days with senior Iranian officials — including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — we believe it is highly unlikely Iran will accept this ultimatum. It is also unlikely that Russia and China will support sanctions that come anywhere near crippling Iran. After this all-too-predictable scenario has played out, the Obama administration will be left, as a consequence of its own weakness and vacillation, with extremely poor choices for dealing with Iran."

How has Obama got himself into this no-win confrontation with the Iranian government and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? During the presidential campaign, Obama promised a new approach of rapprochement and mutual respect to countries like Iran. Yet here we are no, with a confrontational policy that differs very little from the small-minded policy of George W. Bush.

The Leveretts write:

"Because President Obama assembled a national security team that, for the most part, did not share his early vision for American-Iranian rapprochement, his administration never built a strong public case for engagement. The prospect of engagement is still treated largely as a channel for “rewarding” positive Iranian actions and “punishing” problematic behavior — precisely what Mr. Obama, as a presidential candidate, criticized so eloquently about President George W. Bush’s approach.

"At the United Nations General Assembly last week, President Obama used language reminiscent of Mr. Bush’s “axis of evil” to identify Iran and North Korea as the main threats to international peace and vowed to hold them “accountable.” In Geneva, we can expect the United States to demand that Iran not only accept “concrete” limitations on further nuclear development but also demonstrate the peaceful nature of its nuclear program to avoid severe sanctions."

The Leveretts go on to suggest Obama adopt a new policy of cooperation with Iran, one where each country guarantees the security of the other.

"The Obama administration’s lack of diplomatic seriousness goes beyond clumsy tactics; it reflects an inadequate understanding of the strategic necessity of constructive American-Iranian relations. If an American president believed that such a relationship was profoundly in our national interests — as President Richard Nixon judged a diplomatic opening to China — he would demonstrate acceptance of the Islamic Republic, even as problematic Iranian behavior continued in the near term."

The Leveretts call Obama's present policy worse than merely "clumsy." I have the same feelings about Obama's approach to Latin America. True, Obama did say hello to and shake hands with Bush nemesis Hugo Chavez. But then Obama let his Depart of Defense and State Department go ahead and make the foolish agreement with conservative Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, whereby the U.S. would send 800 more American soldiers to be based on Colombian airfields. No wonder the move has caused an uproar not only in Venezuela and Bolivia, but also in Brazil and Argentina. Here again we see Obama's lack of understanding of how Latin American countries view the "threat" of the United States and its military forces.

So then how should the U.S. deal with Iran. The Leveretts have a proposal:

"INSTEAD of pushing the falsehood that sanctions will give America leverage in Iranian decision-making — a strategy that will end either in frustration or war — the administration should seek a strategic realignment with Iran as thoroughgoing as that effected by Nixon with China. This would require Washington to take steps, up front, to assure Tehran that rapprochement would serve Iran’s strategic needs.

"On that basis, America and Iran would forge a comprehensive framework for security as well as economic cooperation — something that Washington has never allowed the five-plus-one group to propose. Within that framework, the international community would work with Iran to develop its civil nuclear program, including fuel cycle activities on Iranian soil, in a transparent manner rather than demanding that Tehran prove a negative — that it’s not developing weapons. A cooperative approach would not demonize Iran for political relationships with Hamas and Hezbollah, but would elicit Tehran’s commitment to work toward peaceful resolutions of regional conflicts."

I fully support the Leverett's proposals. We need a fresh start with Iran so that both countries can guarantee each other's national security. A foreign policy that emphasizes economic cooperation including development of peaceful nuclear power. Above all, the policy of Obama towards Iran cannot be left to Israel and Netanyahu to dictate.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Republican Senators have chosen to withdraw from an investigation of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence looking into CIA torture practices. Their wholesale withdrawal reveals the disdain of these Republicans for the rule of law and equal justice for all. It wasn't just George W. Bush who politicized every governmental decision. The rest of the Republicans seem adept at doing exactly the same.

Peter Finn writes for The Washington Post:

"Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said Friday that they will no longer participate in an investigation into the Bush administration's interrogation policies, arguing that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s decision to reexamine allegations of detainee abuse by the CIA would hobble any inquiry."

The rationale for the Committee's Republican Senators is weak. They object to AG Eric Holder's appointment of a special prosecutor to conduct a DOJ investigation. They claim the DOJ investigation will make their fact-finding impossible.

But I suspect the real reason is that the Republicans don't want any serious investigation. They can interpret witness testimony at their Senate hearings to say anything they want. But a DOJ investigation is a different matter, not able to be so easily bent to fit around their preconceived beliefs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Because of congressmen like Eric Cantor, our policy in the Middle East is a slave to that of Israel. No wonder that the US has such a low reputation among Muslims throughout the world. Cantor is the epitome of congressmen who put pressure on the US government not to condemn IDF war crimes in Gaza and who work to prevent the US from demanding an end to the cruel blockade.

Glenn Thrush reports in Politico:

"The only Jewish Republican in Congress and one of Israel’s staunchest defenders on the Hill, Cantor said he was heartened by Tuesday’s meeting between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"But he continued to express his opposition to Obama’s “disproportionate focus” on halting the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank instead of adopting a policy geared toward eliminating the “existential threat” posed to Israel by Iran’s nuclear program.

"“If you look at the policy that this White House has followed, it certainly does not seem as if we are dealing with a true friend” of Israel, Cantor said."

Obviously what Cantor means when he says Obama is no true friend is that Obama does not automatically endorse every decision of the Israeli government, no matter how irrational it might be, in the same way as George W. Bush did. Obama has called upon Netanyahu and his government to immediately end settlements. Obama believes that Israel should return all the land it took during the 1967 War in accordance with the prescripts and mandates of the United Nations Charter and Treaty. Obama believes in a separate state for the Palestinians contrary to Israel's present government that wants a "greater Israel."

Sunday, September 20, 2009


The Colombian pop singer Juanes has put together a concert in Havana's Revolution Square today that organizers expect over 500,000 people to attend. Called "Peace Without Borders," the concert aims to show the world that Cuba and the Cuban people need to be recognized and accepted by the world community.

The BBC reports:

"Colombian singer Juanes, who organised the "Peace without Borders" concert, has received death threats from Miami-based critics of the Cuban regime.

"But he has won support from 20 high-profile jailed dissidents inside Cuba.

"The BBC's Michael Voss at the concert says there is a mood of excitement, as many residents of the isolated, music-loving island have never seen anything like it before."

How sick must be those who would make death threats against Juanes for planning and giving a concert? These are the same people who adamantly oppose removing the crippling sanctions imposed by the U.S. government some 47 years ago and recently renewed by Pres. Obama for yet another punishing year.

Reports the BBC:

"While critics have complained that Juanes is endorsing the island's communist system, the dissidents say the concert is an opportunity for reconciliation.

"Juanes said the show was about peace and tolerance, not politics.

""It's a message of peace, not only for Cuba. It's for the entire region," he said.

"He added that preparations for the concert had not been easy, but "we have all got over our fears"."


Pres. Obama made the right decision in refusing to quash the DOJ's investigation of CIA torture practices as requested by a group of former CIA directors. What were they thinking? That someone elected president can snap his/her fingers and end a criminal investigation? That would be destructive to the rule of law and unfair to all those other defendants who might not have the resources or high connections to have their charges dropped.

The BBC reports:

"The former heads wrote to Mr Obama saying the probe would hamper CIA work.

"They said the cases had already been investigated during the Bush administration and lawyers had declined to prosecute in all but one.

""This approach will seriously damage the willingness of intelligence officers to take risks to protect the country," their letter read.

""In our judgment, such risk-taking is vital to success in the long and difficult fight against terrorists who continue to threaten us."

"The former CIA chiefs served under Republican and Democratic presidents."

Obama made it clear that he could not accept the argument of the former CIA heads. He said no one was above the law and that it would be improper for him as president to stop a criminal investigation.

Reports the BBC on Obama's statement:

""I appreciate the former CIA directors wanting to look after an institution that they helped to build," he told CBS.

""But I continue to believe that nobody's above the law. And I want to make sure that, as president of the United States, I'm not asserting in some way that my decisions overrule the decisions of prosecutors who are there to uphold the law.""

Obama made the right decision. If the CIA and its personnel thought that what they did was lawful and right, let them defend themselves in court before an impartial judge and observer. To stop this nascent investigation now would incite reasonable suspicion that wrong-doing was being concealed at the highest levels of government.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


If the choice is between siding with Pres. Obama or the Cuban foreign minister about ending the U.S. blockade of Cuba, I agree with the Cuban.

The BBC reports that foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez said that Cubans expect more from Obama than cruelly extending the Cuban embargo for yet another year.

Writes the BBC:

"Speaking at a news conference in Havana, Mr Rodriguez said the US sanctions were "part of the policy of total unilateral aggression and isolation" and should be "lifted unilaterally".

""Obama is a president who was elected on a platform of change - Americans voted for him because he promised change. Where is the change in the blockade against Cuba?" he said.

"He also warned that Cuba was not prepared to make any political or policy concessions in order to improve relations. . .

"Mr Rodriguez described Mr Obama as well-intentioned and intelligent, and also reiterated Cuba's offer to hold direct talks with the Obama administration."

What is the matter with Obama on U.S./Cuban relations? Cuba is signaling that it wants to ease ill will towards America and improve relations with the U.S. and Americans. I want Obama to respond positively and take the Cubans at their word.

Stop the embargo. Normalize relations with Cuba. Allow unrestricted travel. The U.S. policy of maintaining the embargo has failed for the last 47 years. Obama needs to be the one to end it once and for all.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I was counting on Pres. Obama to rise above the objections of rabid Cuban-Americans and abolish the harsh embargo of American goods to Cuba. Unfortunately, Obama has chosen to renew the embargo for yet another year.

Almost every Latin leader in South and Central America has asked Obama to end the Cuban embargo. What must they be thinking now of Obama's decision to renew?

Furthermore, what good does the embargo do? The embargo hurts the ordinary Cubano by restricting medicines, building materials, necessities of life. So what does it do for U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba? It just makes the ordinary Cuban angry at an uncaring giant to the north and fosters anti-American feelings all throughout Latin America.

Obama and the U.S. continue in this silly act of punishing ordinary Cubans until the Cuban leaders make democratic reforms. Why must the U.S. punish the common people in its quest to change domestic Cuban policy?

Michael Voss writes for the BBC's web page:

"Mr Obama has lifted some of the restrictions allowing Cuban-Americans to visit relatives whenever they want and send money home.

"The two sides are once again holding direct talks on immigration and later this week US officials travel to Cuba to discuss resuming direct mail services.

"The Cuban authorities have described these changes as little more than a cosmetic coat of paint, but the US administration continues to demand that Cuba must first show signs of reform before lifting the embargo."

Monday, September 14, 2009


Finally we have an Israel lobby that does not endorse everything that Netanyahu and Lieberman say or do. It is J Street, a year-old lobbying group with progressive views on Israel, and James Traub writes about it and its mission in Sunday's (September 13, 2009) New York Times Magazine.

Writes Traub:

"Many liberal Jews have long chafed at the premise that Aipac or the Anti-Defamation League represented their point of view. Bush got only a quarter of the Jewish vote in 2004 and was deeply loathed by the most liberal-leaning voters. The community began searching for new ways to represent itself. Existing progressive groups like the Israel Policy Forum issued position papers or agitated for a change in policy; but scarce few did the yeoman labor of lobbying. Tom Dine, a former Aipac executive director, says he was approached in 2006 by a group of liberal Jewish philanthropists about heading a “counter-Aipac.” That idea went nowhere, but in late 2006 a different group of philanthropists and activists, including Ben-Ami, began to talk about combining the progressive organizations into a more powerful and influential collective body. Out of these conversations came J Street, named after the street missing from Washington’s grid and thus evoking a voice missing from Washington’s policy discussions. Early financing came from Alan Sagner, a retired New Jersey real estate developer and longtime supporter of Democratic candidates and Jewish causes, and from Davidi Gilo, an Israeli-American high-tech entrepreneur; another 50 early backers each gave $10,000. Unlike the liberal advocacy or policy organizations (or Aipac, for that matter), the new group would endorse and finance candidates, through a body called J Street PAC."

Saturday, September 12, 2009


At last we get some intelligent and sane approach to foreign policy. High-level representatives of the U.S. are to meet with their Iranian counterparts face-to-face. After eight years of a dangerous rejection by George Bush of talks with the Iranians, they are finally about to happen.

David E. Sanger and Mark Landler report in today's The New York Times:

"The Obama administration said Friday that the United States would accept Iran’s offer to meet, fulfilling President Obama’s pledge to hold unconditional talks despite the Iranian government’s insistence that it would not negotiate over the future of its nuclear program.

"The decision to engage directly with Iran would put a senior representative of the Obama administration at the bargaining table, along with emissaries from five other nations, for the first time since Mr. Obama took office."

Talks with the Iranians are far superior to the direction that Bush and Dick Cheney wanted to go: all-out war with Iran, bombing Iranian installations, perhaps even invading and occupying Teheran with hopes of downing the Islamic government.

And American involvement with Iranian leaders around a discussion table do a lot towards stopping Israel and the Netanyahu government from taking unilateral military action against Iran.

Up till now, it has been Russia led by Putin/Medvedev which has cautioned against military action. Witness the rumored secret trip of Netanyahu to Moscow this past Monday, reportedly to demand action against supplying Iran with defensive missile systems. Putin came out and warned against any attack against Iran.

Juan Cole in his Informed Comment has an interesting observation:

"Meanwhile, Russian PM Vladimir Putin warned against any attack on Iran, which he called "unacceptable" and said it would produce an explosion of terrorism. (Note: Russia is very close to Iran in the Caucasus). He even went so far as to reject any tightening of sanctions on Iran. These are the strongest words I've seen from Russia on the issue of an Israeli or American attack on Iran. I take it Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's recent secret visit to Moscow went badly."

Some of the stalwart Bushian supporters are sure to rant and weep at U.S. talks with Iran. They will say that President Ahmadinejad is a dictator and ruthless in putting down peaceful Iranian protesters. And that the Supreme Leader Khamenei has no concept of individual liberty in a modern state like Iran. This is all no doubt true.

Nevertheless, the U.S. government must deal with whoever is in charge, and that means Ahmadi and Khamenei. The alternative - war - would result in at least 500 years of animosity and hostilities between Iran and the West, resulting in tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of innocent lives lost. This must not be allowed to happen.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Rep. Joe Wilson Republican of South Carolina yelled you, "You lie," when Pres. Barack Obama said that the new health care reform bill would not cover "illegal immigrants."

Ann Gerhart and Philip Rucker write for today's The Washington Post on Wilson:

""We need to be discussing issues specifically to help the American people, and that would not include illegal aliens," Wilson said. "People who have come to our country and violated laws, we should not be providing full health-care services."

"Despite many claims to the contrary by opponents of the universal health care proposals, fact-checkers have repeatedly established that the bills' universal coverage provisions would not extend to illegal immigrants. In Section 246 on page 143, the House's bill states that "undocumented aliens" will not be eligible for credits to help them buy health insurance -- and these credits are the provision that lies at the heart of expanding coverage to the uninsured. And Medicaid already is limited to those who can prove legal residency. For that matter, even the universal health care program in Massachusetts -- one of the most liberal states in the country -- does not cover illegal immigrants."

But why shouldn't it cover them? How can anybody deny health care to anyone else on the basis that the sick person lacks proper papers? Or that the sick person committed a misdemeanor by crossing the border without papers? Or that the sick person is a child of those who lack papers?

Yes, the health care reform bill should extend full benefits to immigrants, whether they are "legal" or not, whether they have proper documents or not.


The BBC today reports on Amnesty International's criticism of Japanese procedures for executing convicts. Amnesty specifically calls the death penalty in Japan "shameful" for the several reasons.

The condemned person is put in solitary confinement without the ability to talk to or interface with anyone else. Exercise is short and limited, and the prisoner must at all other times be seated.

No date is given the condemned for execution. That means that a condemned person spends every night thinking that it could be his/her last.

Japan seems intent on inflicting the severest and cruelest punishment it can on the condemned. Amnesty reports a large number of psychoses appearing in persons who have received the death sentence. Amnesty calls for an immediate halt in Japan's system of executions. I fully agree.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


A wonderful, luminous and moving speech tonight by Pres. Barack Obama. Especially towards the end, when Obama spoke, it seemed to me, directly to the Republican nay-sayers, recounting Ted Kennedy's letter shortly before his death, urging universal health care reform to cover all Americans.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


I vociferously and strenuously object to the government of Iran arresting, harassing and punishing opponents of the Supreme Leader who believe that Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei stole the presidential election.

But I oppose even more any attempt by the government of Israel and its prime minister Netanyahu to bomb or attack or otherwise commit an act of war against Iran and its people.

But there are more and more people who believe that Netanyahu and other Israeli war mongers intend just that. Micah Zenko writes today in The Los Angeles Times that he believes Israel and Netanyahu are on the verge of an attack.

Writes Zenko who is a fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations:

"But if diplomacy fails, the world should be prepared for an Israeli attack on Iran's suspected nuclear weapons facilities. As Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently acknowledged: "The window between a strike on Iran and their getting nuclear weapons is a pretty narrow window.""

An Israeli attack would have devastating and catastrophic effects on world peace at least for the next 500 years. And it would cast Israel as a outlaw and a paraiah among the world's nations, and doom it to go on its own for centuries. Reasonable people must stop such an attack.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Today is the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II, September 1, 1939. That war cost over 50,000,000 souls lost, counting not only soldiers but also civilians.

And was it worth it? Please don't justify WWII on the basis that it was waged to against the war crimes of the Nazis against the Jews. No one even thought of the Jews and their plight until after the war came to a close and the allies found the deplorable conditions in the German camps. Not the British, not the Soviets, not the Americans. The whole world was blind to the holocaust that was occurring behind German and Polish camp walls.

Yes, there were six million Jews and other victims of the Holocaust who lost their lives. But there were also up to 27,000,000 Russians, Estonians, Latvians and Byelorussians, 8,000,000 Ukrainians, 6,000,000 Poles and more than 6,000,000 Germans. These figures come from No Simple Victory (P 366, Viking, 2007) by the British historian Norman Davies.

Was this huge waste of life worth it? Where were those who proposed alternatives to the blood bath? How about religious figures? Where was the Pope? Where were leaders of the Islamic world? Why was this crazy war allowed to happen?

There is a lesson in this 70th anniversary. The war in Iraq was wrong, Bush was a war criminal. And the war in Afghanistan is wrong. Obama risks being classified with Bush as an enemy of humanity.

Looking back at WWII, we see Churchill in diminished form. He ordered the carpet bombing of the German cities that killed hundreds of thousands. The same goes for Roosevelt and Truman. American bombing killed 50,000 in Dresden on one night. Nagasaki and Hiroshima each had 100,000 incinerated souls. These government actors committed war crimes against humanity.

I call upon Pres. Barack Obama to stop the foolish and deadly war in Afghanistan, pull out all American war planes and troops, and solve political problems not by war but by political and diplomatic means.