February 27, 2013

The US

Headline:  Hagel Approved for Defense in Sharply Split Senate Vote

To Read: Micah Zenko believes that the recent hysteria around sequestration signifies a larger more problematic US tendency to inflate the severity of security threats-

In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower delivered his military-industrial complex farewell address, calling on Americans to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” and advocating the forward march “on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.” What was a remarkable speech during the Cold War would be completely unimaginable today from President Obama.

The tolerance for threat inflation in the absence of plausible threats should be questioned and challenged by anyone interested in, or holding a stake in, the future of U.S. foreign policy. It is bizarre and self-defeating that so many people who complain about the erosion of civil liberties at home, continued support for dictatorships abroad, and militarization of foreign policy also allow the world to be so mischaracterized as one of limitless threats and unending instability. Unless you resist the pernicious habit of threat inflation and its attendant costs directly, you will be fighting the controversial strategies and tactics that flow from this flawed diagnosis indefinitely.

Quote:  “He's a professional. We're professionals. We've all served together; we've all been through the rough and tumble of politics. Frankly, we're friends. Even those who voted against him would count themselves as friends. Everybody here who has worked with Senator Hagel realizes that he's not the kind of person who carries grudges … I don't see any negative effect on his capability to run the Defense Department”, Senator Carl Levin about Hagel.

Number: 15, the percentage of Turks who have a favorable opinion of the US.



Headline: Lapid joins Bennett in opposing Hatnua coalition deal

To Read: Alan Dershowitz defends Israel against accusations of 'pinkwashing'-

In Israel, openly gay soldiers have long served in the military and in high positions in both government and the private sector.  Gay pride parades are frequent.  Israel is, without a doubt, the most gay friendly country in the Middle East and among the most supportive of gay rights anywhere in the world.  This, despite efforts by some fundamentalist Jews, Muslims and Christians to ban gay pride parades and legal equality for gays.  In contrast to Israel are the West Bank and Gaza, where gays are murdered, tortured and forced to seek asylum—often in Israel.  In every Arab and Muslim country, homosexual acts among consenting adults are criminal, often punishable by death.  But all this doesn’t matter to the “growing global gay movement” against Israel, which according to The New York Times op ed, regards these positive steps as nothing more than a cover for malevolent Israeli actions.

The pinkwash bigots would apparently prefer to see Israel treat gays the way Israel’s enemies do, because they hate Israel more than they care about gay rights.  Nor do these pink anti-Semites speak for the majority of gay people, who appreciate Israel’s positive steps with regard to gay rights, even if they don’t agree with all of Israel’s policies.  Decent gay people who have themselves been subjected to stereotyping, recognize bigotry when they see it, even—perhaps especially—among other gay people.  That’s why so many prominent gay leaders and public officials have denounced this “pinkwashing” nonsense.

Quote:  “There has been no more belligerent cheerleader for the war party against Iran than Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister”, Former British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, criticizing Netanyahu in a harsh opinion piece against war with Iran.

Number: $175 million, the amount of foreign aid money Israel will lose if the sequestration will take place.


The Middle East

Headline: Egypt court orders tunnels to Gaza destroyed

Read:  Richard Spencer examines the much held assumption that Syria was more secular before the war:

Throughout the conflict, I've read journalists and experts write about the Syria of “before” as a “secular” state, where people weren't particularly religious, where women wandered the streets at night alone, and hipsters drank in western bars and nightclubs. All sects and ethnicities mixed happily. There's a kernel of truth there but it's misleading, and it's aggravated by the fact that the worst offenders, whether pro- or anti-regime, or somewhere in the middle, are often those foreigners who know the country best: after all, they lived and worked, studied Arabic and socialised, largely in smart areas of Aleppo and Damascus where those statements are more likely to be true. Even The Economist, which in the current edition has an excellent and gloomy overview of the mess Syria is in, falls into this trap, talking nostalgically of the time Muslims and Christians lived side by side in peace as church bells and muezzins filled the air over Damascus's Old City. Few of the original protesters were very devout, it says.

What this neglects is that a large part of Syria – largely the parts that have driven the revolution – were not so visible to the outsider. From my experience (even much earlier in the war) of provincial towns and villages, they were often divided by faith, with “shia villages” separate from “Sunni” and “Christian” ones. That doesn't mean they didn't get on, but everyone knew who was who. Likewise, in these places, you certainly don't see young women “hanging out”. A general form of segregation is observed in Sunni areas – male journalists put up in local houses kept well apart from the women – and young men pray diligently and regularly. Moreover, while few talked openly about the sectarian divide before the revolution, that may have been because it was so important, not because it was unimportant…

Quote: “In this round of talks we have witnessed that despite all the attitudes during the last eight months, they tried to get closer to our viewpoints. We believe this is a turning point”, Saeed Jalili, the secretary for Iran's Supreme National Security Council, about the recent round of nuclear talks.

Number: 35, the percentage of Egyptians who are unfamiliar with Egypt's main opposition umbrella group, the National Salvation Front (NSF).


The Jewish World

Headline: Struggle over candidacy for chief rabbi heats up

To Read: Jeffrey Goldberg thinks Purim is a good time to review Iran's (Persia's) hatred of Jews-

Purim seems like the appropriate moment to review some of the Islamic Republic’s Haman-like attacks on Jews and their state over the past year or so. Although Iran’s terrorism- support infrastructure has been preoccupied in Syria — where it is desperately trying to maintain in power the mass murderer Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s only Arab ally of consequence — its Jew-targeting program is still robust.  

Quote: “I found these reactions more annoying than MacFarlane’s comments, which varied from the very funny to the remotely funny, but never came close to anti-semitism…Seth MacFarlane was joking.  He was poking fun.   He was mocking the widespread understanding that Jews are disproportionately represented in the entertainment business.  This fact comes as a shock to exactly no one, and the idea that joking about it “feeds” anti-semitism misunderstands both the nature of humor and of anti-semitism…One thing humor does well, even better than press releases, is diffuse prejudice.  It does that through mockery, exaggeration and sometimes by just bringing prejudice to light” Jewish Journal editor, Rob Eshman, defending Seth Macfarland against accusations of anti-semitism at the Academy Awards. 

Number: 13,000, the number of activists set to participate in the AIPAC conference next week.

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