Where is Obama’s grand vision?

For a man who got elected on grand visions and “hope” and “change,” President Barack Obama has brought little hope to the people of the Middle East.

Obama’s first move was grand enough, when he reached out to Muslim and Arab leaders with an apologetic speech in Cairo. The president acknowledged America’s mistakes and promised a brand-new day with him leading the free world. 

As part of this brand-new day, Obama’s second move was to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze all construction in the West Bank, including in settlement blocs that President George W. Bush had made clear would remain in Israeli hands.

From then on, it was all downhill. 

When the Iranian people rebelled against fraudulent elections, Obama stayed quiet so as to not upset the mullahs. When 14 million Egyptians swarmed the streets to protest the growing theocracy of Mohammed Morsi, Obama came out against Morsi’s adversary in the Egyptian army and ended up angering both sides.

He led from behind in Libya and allowed a violent meltdown that turned the country into an Islamic war zone. He abandoned Iraq and left a vacuum that nurtured the seeds of ISIS, who’ve turned out to be much nastier than Al Qaeda. He violated his own red line in Syria and turned away from another violent meltdown that has left 200,000 dead, and so on.

Throughout all the chaos, Obama has kept his eye on two balls: The Iranian ball and the Palestinian ball. Those are the mega causes that he believes might cement his global legacy. Just as he was the first U.S. president to bring universal health care to America, he now saw a chance to bring a Palestinian state or a nuclear-free Iran to the world.

When it became clear that the Palestinian conundrum was a go-nowhere special, he put most of his energy into the Iranian ball. His vision, as he explained to The New Yorker, would be to have a nuclear-free Iran provide a counterbalance to Sunni radical forces like ISIS and to bring more stability to the region.

This limited vision was based on a risky and tenuous stability: evil balancing evil.

But amid all the hoopla and controversy about Obama’s dealings with Iran, we seem to have forgotten what is really missing in the president’s vision: 350 million people. Yes, those are the suffering masses throughout the Middle East who are begging for basic human rights and a better life.

Those masses don’t have the power to sign a deal with Obama and give him a legacy. In fact, that’s precisely the problem — they have so little power.

You would think that a man who preaches social justice would have the vision to connect with the oppressed masses; that he’d fight passionately against human rights abuses; that he’d plant the seeds of reform that could be harvested by future generations.

Instead, the man who promised a brand-new day in Cairo six years ago has planted no good seeds at all. He’s done a little pruning of trees while the soil continues to rot.

The worst thing that can happen to a society is to have no hope. When no good seeds are planted, there is only despair. Look around the Middle East today and all you see is despair.

It must be said that Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, was equally inept at planting seeds, preferring instead a blunt, scorched-earth approach. In that sense, one can say that U.S. policy has gone from reckless to feckless.

But how sad that Obama, the man from the famous “Hope” posters, could bring none of that hope to the people of the Middle East; how sad that he couldn’t see past the corrupt dictators and champion the rights of the powerless masses.

But how sad that Barack Obama, the man of “hope and change,” could bring none of that hope to the world’s most volatile and oppressive region. 

Imagine if Obama had confronted Iranian leaders about the recent torture and murder of six dissidents in an Iranian prison, or about the routine lynching of gays and stoning of women. Imagine if he had done that consistently throughout his term and used his global pulpit to shame the abusers and speak for the masses. Would that not have brought a little hope to a despairing region?

When I was at the AIPAC conference a week ago, I came across an organization called Advancing Human Rights that is empowering social activists throughout the Middle East and connecting them via the Internet to activists and governments in the West.

The brilliance of their initiative is that the repressive leaders of the region can’t stop them, because the activists are using circumventing tools. Their online platform, movements.org, has been in operation for less than a year and has already reached thousands of activists on both sides.

That kind of grass-roots effort is planting seeds of hope among the people. This is a vision that goes beyond “stability,” and it is the missed legacy Obama will forever regret.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Israel kills al-Qaida-linked chief in Gaza strike

Israel killed the leader of an al Qaeda-inspired faction in the Gaza Strip on Friday, accusing him of involvement in firing rockets and a planned attack on the Jewish state from the neighboring Egyptian Sinai.

The deadly air strike was Israel’s second against a Salafi Islamist militant this week. Militants identified him as Momen Abu Daf, chief of the Army of Islam, among a loose network of Palestinian groups which profess allegiance to al Qaeda and have been reinforced by volunteers who slip in from the Sinai.

Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers, who have sometimes reined in more radical groups, are seeking an accommodation with secular Palestinian rivals and with an Egypt struggling for order after the fall of U.S.-allied President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Abu Daf died when a missile hit Gaza City’s Zeitoun district, the Hamas administration’s Health Ministry said. Five other Palestinians were wounded and one of them needed hospital treatment.

The Israeli military said its aircraft “targeted a terrorist squad that was identified moments before firing rockets at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip.”

Abu Daf, a military statement said, had “orchestrated and executed numerous and varied terror attacks” and “was actively involved in the preparations of the attempted terror attack on the Israel-Egypt border that was thwarted this week.”


That appeared to refer to Israel’s killing on Tuesday of another Salafi fighter, Abdallah Telbani, who the military said had been plotting strikes in which gunmen would circumvent the fortified Gaza border by attacking south Israel from the Sinai.

Israel has been on high alert for such raids since losing eight of its citizens to armed infiltrators on Egypt’s porous frontier in August. Israeli troops repelling those gunmen killed five Egyptian border guards, fraying strategic ties with Cairo.

“We shoot when we’re being shot at,” one Israeli security official said after Friday’s air strike in Gaza. “It’s clear that Hamas does not have an interest in fanning the flames at this time, but it’s not dousing them either.”

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, responded: “Our people have the right to defend themselves, and the problem is the (Israeli) occupation which targets the Palestinian resistance.”

Though Hamas echoes Salafi calls for Israel’s ultimate destruction, its ambitions are framed within Palestinian nationalism, not al Qaeda-style global jihad, and include a possible ceasefire with the militarily superior Jewish state which, with Egyptian help, has tried to isolate Gaza.

Hamas took over the coastal strip in a 2007 civil war against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, which holds sway in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Abbas held rapprochement talks in Cairo last week against a backdrop of political upheaval across the Arab world, including Syria, where Meshaal retains a headquarters that diplomats say Hamas has scaled back.

One official said Meshaal told Abbas he was “in favor of peaceful resistance and a truce in Gaza and the West Bank at this stage,” though Hamas would not meet Israel’s core demand for recognition.

Two short-range rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel on Thursday and five on Wednesday, the Israeli military said. There were no casualties. The Popular Resistance Committees, an armed Palestinian faction, claimed responsibility.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

Netanyahu: Israel won’t negotiate with Palestinian version of al-Qaida

Israel will not negotiate with a “Palestinian version of Al-Qaida”, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday.

The Israeli premier plans to impart the same message to French President Nicolas Sarkozy during their meeting on Thursday, in the wake of the Islamist Hamas movement’s reconciliation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction.

“Declaring statehood in September is a dictate—and you don’t achieve peace through dictates. It’s a very bad idea,” Netanyahu told Cameron during their talks in London.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Know Thine Enemy

The most important magazine article you’ve never read this year appeared Sep. 21 in The Chronicle Review, a publication of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

It’s about a librarian. Really.

The author, Raymond Ibrahim, describes how it is he came to translate the internal communiques and theological statements of the leaders of al-Qaeda, and what those leaders really say. Here’s a hint: It’s not what Israel’s new batch of best-selling critics say they say.

Ibrahim explains that prior to Sept. 11 he was sitting amid the stacks at California State Fresno, where he was researching his master’s thesis on an obscure seventh century battle between Christiandom and Islam.

After Sept. 11, Ibrahim, a fluent Arab speaker whose parents are Coptic Christians from Egypt, eventually landed a job as a researcher at the Near East Section of the African and Middle East Division of the Library of Congress.There he developed an intense fascination with the many Arabic books, articles and communiques dealing with al-Qaeda. And what Ibrahim noticed was that Osama bin Laden and the other leaders of al-Qaeda say one thing to the West, and another to themselves and their followers.

In their videotapes and communiques to the West, the leaders cite a laundry list of grievances as the reason for their “martydom operations:” United States support for Israel, U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and President George Bush’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Accords on global warming (really).

But Ibrahim discovered, or proved, that these reasons are strictly for Western consumption. They are, in short, lies.

What really motivates al-Qaeda is a narrow religious theology that cannot abide coexistence with non-Muslims. As Ibrahim writes: “It soon became clear why these particular documents had not been directed to the West. They were theological treatises, revolving around what Islam commands Muslims to do vis-a-vis non-Muslims. The documents rarely made mention of all those things — Zionism, Bush’s ‘Crusade,’ malnourished Iraqi children — that formed the core of Al-Qaeda’s messages to the West. Instead, they were filled with countless Quranic verses, hadiths [traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad], and the consensus and verdicts of Islam’s most authoritative voices. The temporal and emotive language directed at the West was exchanged for the eternal language of Islam when directed at Muslims.

Or, put another way, the language of ‘reciprocity’ was exchanged for that of intolerant religious fanaticism. There was, in fact, scant mention of the words ‘West,’ ‘U.S.’ or ‘Israel.’ All of those were encompassed by that one Arabic-Islamic word, kufr — ‘infidelity’ — the regrettable state of being non-Muslim that must always be fought through ‘tongue and teeth.'”

Ibrahim collected these writings and compiled them into a book, “The Al-Qaeda Reader,” which was published by Broadway Books in 2006.

Now, if the Jews really controlled the media — and at times like these, boy I wish they did — a book like Ibrahim’s would get all the attention and rake in all the sales that instead went to Jimmy Carter’s book on Israel or Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s “The Israel Lobby.”

In the latter book, the authors repeatedly cite Bin Laden’s own words in blaming Israel and America’s support for Israel for the attack on the Twin Towers. Either because they assume the Muslim mind is not sufficiently complex enough to say one thing and mean another, or because they don’t believe reading first-hand source material is enlightening, or because they are on a tear against the Jewish state, Walt and Mearsheimer never reference Ibrahim’s by-now widely disseminated work.

But here is what Ibrahim told New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright in a C-SPAN interview:

Wright: How important is Israel to the theology of al-Qaeda?

Ibrahim: Even if Israel ceased to exist, based solely on theology, the Jews are still enemies. They have to be attacked until they are dhimmis, second-class citizens.

One is temporal, the other transcends time and space. It is a fixed commandment from God…. When al-Qaeda states it has a grievance because of Israel, and a lot of Muslims and non-Muslims would agree with that, does that mean that once Israel disappears, that that’s going to bring peace between a group like al-Qaeda radicals and the West? [Bin Laden] would imply yes, but these writings show otherwise.

Ibrahim’s book received positive reviews from two unusual sources — the left and the right. He has been a fixture on Fox News, where the idea of duplicitous evil Muslims is as welcome as a cup of joe on a foggy morning. But the book has also been lauded by Reza Aslan and by Wright, who references Ibrahim in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on Sept. 11, “The Looming Towers.”

Opposing sides can disagree over our response to al-Qaeda’s attacks, over our approach to the numerous terrorist groups and governments out there — al-Qaeda is not the only or even central address — but it is hard to refute the evidence of Ibrahim’s translation.

All this doesn’t mean Israel and the West shouldn’t take note of and act on legitimate grievances in the Muslim world. There is no good reason to add to the pool of angry or disenfranchised Muslims willing to fall for bin Laden’s hellfire and brimstone.

But Ibrahim’s solid research should serve as a corrective to those demagogues who would have the world believe that terrorism begins and ends with Israel.

Radio talkshow host Frank Beckmen interviews Raymond Ibrahim and YouTube member Darth Prophet illustrates the interview in a mashup video