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Edging Towards the Fiscal Cliff

GOP, Dem Lawmakers See Room for Compromise on Fiscal Talks

November 26th 2012

Lobbyist

As they return to Washington this week, lawmakers from both parties are talking compromise to avoid the impending “fiscal cliff,” showing a willingness to put once inviolable positions on the negotiating table.

More senior Republicans distanced themselves from conservative activist Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge this weekend in an apparent effort to signal their willingness to broker a deficit-reduction plan and move past the expiring tax rates and automatic spending cuts set to take effect next year. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has indicated in the past that he and Norquist might not see eye to eye on new revenues, became the latest GOP lawmaker to loudly break from the pledge. Graham said on Sunday that he is willing to “violate” the pledge to secure a deficit deal “for the good of the country.” Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Is Morsi the New Pharaoh?

November 25th 2012

Morsi
Egyptian President Morsi

The French press agency headline says it all: “Egypt’s [President] Morsi assumes sweeping powers, branded new pharaoh.” Mursi has issued a decree giving himself virtually dictatorial powers and contradicting the assumption that he—and his Muslim Brotherhood organization—intend to rule democratically. Opposition forces said this constituted a coup.

Mursi’s spokesman explained the decree in these terms: the president can issue any decree he wishes to protect the revolution. “The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal.”

It seems apparent that this is another step in the process toward the fundamental transformation of Egypt into an Islamist, Sharia-ruled state. If one views the 2011 revolution as a democratic one, then Mursi is destroying it. But of course he and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists see it as an Islamist revolution, parallel to the 1979 Iranian revolution — though in Egyptian terms, of course. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Hamas Arsenal Hit, but Rocket Know-how Persists

November 25th 2012

Rocket Fajr-5

The distinctive whoosh of a longer-range rocket leaving Gaza set sirens wailing in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem within minutes, as Hamas militants broke new ground in the fight against Israel.

And although the Islamists' firepower was hard hit during its eight-day confrontation with Israel, Hamas has valuable technical knowledge at its fingertips which could be used to rebuild its arsenal.

In the first hours of Israel's eight-day bombardment of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, officials said the air force had destroyed the lion's share of the enclave's arsenal of rockets with a range longer than 40 kilometres (25 miles). But Hamas and Islamic Jihad still managed to fire at least half a dozen rockets at metropolitan Tel Aviv, one of which hit a block of flats in Rishon Letzion, and at least two at Jerusalem, which struck south of the city in the occupied West Bank. Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage in Cairo

Cairo Continues in Upheaval Over Morsi Power Grab

November 24th 2012

Tahrir Square 22 nov 2011

Egyptian security forces have dispersed protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square with rounds of tear gas. Security personnel fired the tear gas Saturday morning on the protesters, many of whom spent the night on the iconic protest hub. On Friday, protesters in several Egyptian cities attacked the offices of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, as rival pro- and anti-government groups demonstrated in Cairo about a new presidential decree. The protests came a day after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi put himself above oversight and declared that his decisions cannot be appealed by the courts or any other authority. In a speech to supporters Friday at the presidential palace, Morsi said he wants to move Egypt forward as a stable and safe nation and does not want sole control of the country.

Thousands of opposition supporters gathered in Tahrir Square Friday to protest the president's decision, while police fired tear gas at the crowds. In the cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Alexandria, crowds of protesters lobbed stones and explosives and set fire to Muslim Brotherhood offices. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Photos of Syrian Massacres Recycled As Gaza Tragedies

November 22nd 2012

Fake Gaza Casualty Picture actually from Syria
Fake Gaza Casualty Picture actually from Syria

Yet another fake “Gaza” photo has incited a flurry of comments on Facebook against Israel during the fifth day of Israel’s Pillar of Defense operation in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. An Arab news site called Alarab Net released the photo, which shows a family who was allegedly “massacred” in Gaza on its Facebook page on Sunday, November 18. The caption in Arabic roughly translates into English as “martyred massacred family in Gaza shortly before...” It appears that the photo has been taken down.

Thanks to investigative work, it was found that the photo had been originally published on a news site based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates called Moheet one month earlier, on October 19. On the Moheet website, the photo was titled “Syria killed 122 Friday … Assad Used Cluster Bombs.”

Uploaded to Facebook the evening of the 18th by Alarab Net, the recaptioned Syrian photo, which depicts three bloodied children and their mother lying on a floor, quickly attracted over 1,200 likes, close to 500 comments and 420 shares within an hour. Alarab Net appears to be a news website based in Israel that offers a wide range news coverage from pop culture to politics and anti-Israel coverage. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Palestinian Media on Gaza: Contrasting the PA and Hamas

November 22nd 2012

Click to select Image

Analysis of Palestinian media over the past week of fighting in Gaza shows a vast difference between Palestinian Authority and Hamas coverage. In the West Bank, print and broadcast media controlled or influenced by the PA are emphasizing Palestinian suffering, but generally avoiding hate speech, calls to arms, or boasting about damage to Israel. In Gaza, by contrast, Hamas media are relentlessly inciting violence, indulging in venomous hate speech, and gloating about imaginary hits on Israeli civilian targets.

The official PA newspaper, al-Hayat al-Jadidah, consistently refers to the late Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari and other Palestinian casualties, both military and civilian, as "martyrs." It does not, however, feature demands for retaliation. On the contrary, it has highlighted diplomacy and other nonviolent reactions, such as President Mahmoud Abbas's intention to request upgraded status at the UN General Assembly on November 29, his call for "peaceful resistance" to occupation, and PA humanitarian aid shipments to Gaza. The paper even carried an online poll about whether there should be "continued negotiations during the current political climate" (59 percent answered "no") rather than questions about rockets or suicide bombings. Read more ..


Inside Latin America

The Deepening and Widening of Europe's Ties to Latin America

November 22nd 2012

Iberoamerican conference king juan carlos
Spanish King Juan Carlos flanked by Latin American heads of state.

European nations have had deep economic connections with many Latin American countries since independence, though most of the news today centers on how they are losing economic ground to China. Similar to my other posts on China’s and the United States’ economic ties with Latin America, this one will examine the European Union’s economic ties with the region through its trade, investments, and loans.

The European Union has long been Latin America’s number two trading partner after the United States, with merchandise exports and imports totaling $202 billion in 2011. The two largest European trading partners with Latin America are Germany (US$60 billion) and the Netherlands (US$38 billion), followed closely by Spain (US$35 billion) and Italy (US$31 billion). Commodities—food products, minerals, and fuel—are again (similar to the United States and China) the major products going to Europe, making up 70 percent of Latin America’s exports. But manufacturing and higher technology exports are also moving east across the Atlantic, as Mexico leads the way in exporting automobiles and telecommunications equipment, and Costa Rica is increasingly sending micro-chips. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Challenges and Constraints for Mexico's Incoming President

November 22nd 2012

President Enrique Pena Nieto
Enrique Peña Nieto

Enrique Peña Nieto will be sworn in as Mexico's next president Dec. 1. He will take office at a very interesting point in Mexican history. Mexico is experiencing an economic upturn that may become even more pronounced if Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party administration is able to work with its rivals in the National Action Party to enact needed reforms to Mexico's labor, financial and energy laws.

Another arrestor to further expanding Mexico's economy has been the ongoing cartel violence in Mexico and the dampening effect it has had on outside investment and tourism. Peña Nieto realizes that Mexico's economy would be doing even better were it not for the chilling effect of the violence. During his campaign, he pledged to cut Mexico's murder rate in half by the end of his six-year term, to increase the number of federal police officers and to create a new gendarmerie to use in place of military troops to combat heavily armed criminals in Mexico's most violent locations. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Why a Cease Fire Will Not Last

November 22nd 2012

Hamas Kid

A cease fire between Israel and Hamas may end the immediate exchange of rockets, but it is not likely to be of long duration. That is because every time Hamas fires rockets into Israel, it creates a win-win-win situation for itself.

The first win is that it terrorizes Israeli civilians, killing some, wounding others and creating panic among millions of Israelis who fear being hit. This show of strength enhances Hamas’s standing within much of the Muslim world. The second win is that by firing these rockets from densely populated areas in Gaza City, rather than from the many open fields outside of the populated areas in the Gaza Strip, Hamas provokes Israel into targeting the rockets and the terrorists who fire them. As soon as the terrorists fire the rockets, they run to special underground bunkers that are open only to the terrorists, thereby leaving civilians above ground and vulnerable to Israeli rockets. This is a deliberate tactic employed by Hamas over many years and designed to bring about international condemnation of Israel for inadvertently killing Palestinian civilians. Israel’s only other options would be to allow Hamas rockets to be fired unanswered into Israel, or to conduct a ground war which would result in even greater international condemnation.

The third win for Hamas is that every time it fires rockets into Israel and provokes Israel into returning fire, it weakens the Palestinian Authority—its arch enemy in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has renounced violence, but it has no choice other than to support Hamas’s violence against Israel, which is popular among many Palestinians. The end result is a strengthened Hamas, which is seen as doing something and a weakened Palestinian Authority, which is seen as doing nothing. Read more ..


Broken Elections

Gridlocked Election Commission Awaits Action by Obama

November 21st 2012

Click to select Image

The nation’s enforcer of election laws was largely paralyzed during the 2012 election, despite a Supreme Court ruling that left several key money-in-politics issues open to interpretation. With five of six Federal Election Commission members working on expired terms (one since 2007), President Barack Obama had an opportunity to remake the agency with members more inclined to enforce campaign finance rules, say reformers. But that hasn’t happened. The situation hasn’t done much for the agency’s reputation.

“The Federal Election Commission is itself a campaign-finance scandal,” said longtime FEC critic and campaign finance reformer Fred Wertheimer, founder and president of Democracy 21.

“None of the players in the political arena had any reason to believe that the campaign finance laws would be enforced,” Wertheimer said. “The White House needs to address it or else must bear responsibility for this campaign-finance scandal continuing.”

As both Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney raised hundreds of millions of dollars for their campaigns, long-time allies of each man launched supposedly independent super PACs that served as attack dogs during the long slog of the election. Former White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney created the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action, while former Romney campaign advisers Carl Forti, Charles Spies and Larry McCarthy created the Restore Our Future super PAC to boost the former Massachusetts governor’s candidacy. Both groups raised tens of millions of dollars, often from donors who also gave the legal maximum to the campaign committee of their preferred presidential candidate. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Terrorist Bomb in Tel Aviv Dampens Cease-Fire Hopes

November 21st 2012

Israel bus bomb november 2012

While Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu conferred with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on November 21, a terrorist bomb exploded on a civilian bus in Tel Aviv as Israeli jets bombarded terrorist cells in Gaza. At least 10 people were injured by the bomb blast in Tel Aviv, near the Israeli defense ministry headquarters. The bomb had been placed on the bus. The blast was followed by celebratory gunfire among the Hamas militants controlling the Gaza Strip. Clinton also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before sitting down to another pow-wow with Netanyahu.

Secretary Clinton flew to the Mideast following a summit of Asian countries where she accompanied President Barack Obama. In remarks following the November 20 meeting Netanyahu, she said that it is "essential to de-escalate the situation." Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Iron Dome’s Battlefield Successes Point to Greater American Involvement

November 20th 2012

Iron Dome

The performance of the revolutionary Iron Dome system in the ongoing defense of Israel from Hamas rocket attacks, dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense, has been so extraordinary as to be considered by all but the most hardline critics to have proven the efficacy of missile defense. By November 20, six days since Hamas dramatically increased the volume of rocket fire against Israel, 340 intercepts had been made, with the Iron Dome system achieving a greater than 80 percent success rate. For Israel, this capability not only saves lives but also provides the government with precious time to contemplate a response to each attack.

Iron Dome’s proven effectiveness has greatly increased expectations that it will be a popular product on the world market and has drawn considerable attention to possible co-production in the United States.

Developed by the Israeli firms Elta, mPrest Systems, and Rafael, the relatively low-cost Iron Dome system (estimated to be $85,000 per Tamir interceptor missile and $20 million per battery), enjoyed an unprecedentedly rapid development cycle going from drawing board to operational system in five years. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Trying to De-Polarize Congress

November 20th 2012

Capitol Senate

Congressional polarization has steadily increased over the last twenty-five years, according to research by political scientists Howard Rosenthal and Keith Poole. Their analysis indicates that the U.S. House and Senate are more polarized today than at any other time since the end of Reconstruction. The 2012 election continued this trend.

Polarization matters because starker differences between the parties normally make problem solving more difficult. Party leaders become increasingly beholden to the collective will of more extreme caucuses and less able to compromise and build consensus for balanced legislation. “Everybody is afraid to give an inch,” according to Ohio representative Steven C. LaTourette.

There are a variety of explanations for rising polarization; a commonly cited one is gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is drawing political boundaries to secure an advantage, and it has a long and ignominious history. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Hamas’ Tactic: Require Israel to Cause Civilian Casualties

November 19th 2012

Gaza baby death

As the rockets continue to fall in Israel and Gaza, it is important to understand Hamas’s tactic and how the international community and the media are encouraging it.  Hamas’s tactic is as simple as it is criminal and brutal. Its leaders know that by repeatedly firing rockets at Israeli civilian areas, they will give Israel no choice but to respond.  Israel’s response will target the rockets and those sending them. In order to maximize their own civilian casualties, and thereby earn the sympathy of the international community and media, Hamas leaders deliberately fire their rockets from densely populated civilian areas. The Hamas fighters hide in underground bunkers but Hamas refuses to provide any shelter for its own civilians, who they use as “human shields.” This unlawful tactic puts Israel to a tragic choice: simply allow Hamas rockets to continue to target Israeli cities and towns; or respond to the rockets, with inevitable civilian casualties among the Palestinian “human shields.” Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Major Fight Looms Over Defense Spending

November 19th 2012

Missiles on jet

President Obama and Congress now have just over seven weeks to reach an agreement on the federal budget that would avert a round of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts in defense and social programs that members of both parties have depicted as draconian.

Jan. 1 is the deadline set by the so-called “sequestration” law of 2010 that imposes substantial cuts automatically – over a ten-year period – if the government fails to whack away at the federal deficit. Front and center in the punishment will be the Defense Department, which accounts for a fifth of all federal spending and about a half of so-called “discretionary” funds, or those that lawmakers review and approve annually.

Fifty program areas at the Pentagon would collectively take a roughly $500 billion hit, which seems like a lot but would actually be less than ten percent of the $5.8 trillion that the Obama administration wants the Pentagon to spend from 2013 to 2021. Military leaders have complained fiercely, partly because the Obama administration last year chose to halt a planned 16 percent increase in defense spending, keeping the military’s budget essentially level after a decade of steep growth. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Israel: Then and Now

November 19th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked

Four years ago on Nov. 4, while Americans were going to the polls to elect a new president, Israeli infantry, tanks and bulldozers entered the Gaza Strip to dismantle an extensive tunnel network used by Hamas to smuggle in weapons. An already tenuous truce mediated by the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak had been broken. Hamas responded with a barrage of mortar and rocket fire lasting several weeks, and on Dec. 27, 2008, Israel began Operation Cast Lead. The military campaign began with seven days of heavy air strikes on Gaza, followed by a 15-day ground incursion.

By the end of the campaign, nearly 1,000 poorly guided shorter-range rockets and mortar shells hit southern Israel, reaching as far as Beersheba and Yavne. Several senior Hamas commanders and hundreds of militants were killed in the fighting. Israel Defense Forces figures showed that 10 IDF soldiers died (four from friendly fire), three Israeli civilians died from Palestinian rocket fire and 1,166 Palestinians were killed -- 709 of them combatants. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Obama's Support For Israel Has Been Surprisingly Strong During Current Conflict

November 19th 2012

Obama and Israel

Even U.S. President Barack Obama's strongest critics would have to admit that he has proved remarkably supportive of Israel over the past week of conflict. Certainly, there have been a few signs of the old tension between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The initial call to Obama when the military action began was reportedly made by President Shimon Peres rather than Netanyahu; and on Sunday, Obama made a statement to the effect that he would prefer Israel refrain from a ground operation against Hamas. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Hezbollah Remains Wary amid Israeli Operations in Gaza

November 18th 2012

Hezbollah

While Hamas is preparing for an Israeli ground assault into Gaza, Hezbollah's movements on Israel's northern frontier bear close watching. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Nov. 17 called on the Muslim world to retaliate against Israeli actions in Gaza. Naturally, many are looking in the direction of Lebanon, where Hezbollah, Iran's most capable militant proxy, could open a second front against Israel.

Though Iran would welcome the opportunity to demonstrate the spectrum of its militant proxy strength, especially after supplying Hamas with the long-range Fajr-5 rockets that have been targeting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Hezbollah will likely be extremely cautious in deciding whether to participate in this war. The group's fate is linked to that of the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad; should Syria fracture along sectarian lines, Lebanon is likely to descend into civil war, and Hezbollah will have to conserve its strength and resources for a battle at home against its sectarian rivals. Indeed, Hezbollah has already been preparing for such a scenario by seizing control of villages along the Orontes River Basin in order to maintain connectivity with Syria's Alawite community. Read more ..


The Petraeus Scandal

Five Questions After Petraeus Hearings

November 18th 2012

Petraeus-Kelly

The testimony this week of former CIA director David Petraeus left a number of unanswered questions about his resignation and the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Petraeus was grilled by lawmakers behind closed doors on Friday, one week after he resigned as the nation’s top spy over an extra-martial affair he conducted with the author Paula Broadwell.

Lawmakers pressed Petraeus for more information about the Sept. 11 attack in Libya, which the Obama administration initially blamed on an anti-Islam movie before later labeling it terrorist attack. Officials say the early account reflected the intelligence that officials were given by the CIA and other agencies. Democrats and Republicans remained at odds over the Obama administration’s characterization of the attack after being brief by Petraeus, sparking a new round of questions about who in the administration knew what, and when. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Success

The Gaza Invasion: Will It Destroy Israel's Relationship with Egypt?

November 17th 2012

Soldiers-vehicles

The fact that Israel endured over 800 rocket attacks from Gaza in the past year before commencing yesterday's military operation against Hamas suggests that Jerusalem hoped to avoid the current flare-up. Among other concerns, the Israeli government knew that another Gaza war would ignite the neighboring Egyptian "street," and since Egypt's post-revolutionary government would have to be more responsive to popular sentiments, a downgrade in Israeli-Egyptian relations would be likely. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood -- Hamas' Egyptian cousin -- as Egypt's new ruling party exacerbated those qualms, given the Brotherhood's longtime opposition to the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and refusal to acknowledge Israel's rightful existence. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Egypt's Role in the Israel-Gaza Conflict

November 17th 2012

Israel Egypt Rafah border crossing and flags

The conflict in Gaza comes at an interesting time in Egyptian-Israeli relations. Cairo recently saw the Muslim Brotherhood candidate assume the Egyptian presidency, while in the past two years Israel has approved two Egyptian military increases "in the Sinai Peninsula above levels set in the Camp David Accords. The disposition of the forces in Sinai coupled with the presence of the U.N.-mandated Multinational Force and Observers mean at present, Egyptian forces do not pose a significant threat to Israel. How Egypt will respond to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip remains to be seen, but should the Morsi government or Egypt's military decide to support Gaza, such support would likely consist of turning a blind eye toward militant activities and smuggling in the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt is one of Israel's most powerful neighbors. Initially hostile to Israel, the two countries have been at peace for nearly 40 years. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt established guidelines for what Egypt could do in the Sinai Peninsula in a bid to keep the peace. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defence

Israeli Incursion into Gaza is a Game-Changer

November 16th 2012

Hellicopter & troops

The recent flare up of violence between Israel and the Hamas, dubbed Operation Pillars of Defense by the Israelis, has highlighted three specific game changes from wars past. The first is that there is no longer any part of Israel that is guaranteed to be immune from war. The second is that what happens in Israel now affects Jewish communities around the world. The third is that Israel’s peace with Egypt has been stripped down to the bare minimum. All three of these changes have been long in the making, and have now been cemented.

Israel’s lack of strategic depth has never been a secret – without the West Bank, it is a mere nine miles wide at its narrowest point. Yet for much of its history, the majority of Israel’s population remained shielded from wars because the Jewish state quickly took the fight to its enemies and pushed the battlefield away from its population centers. That veracity first showed signs of wear back in the 1991 Gulf War, when over 40 Iraqi scud missiles were fired at Israel, and namely the Tel Aviv area known as Gush Dan, forcing millions of its citizens to hunker down in sealed rooms and don gas masks. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Egypt, Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula

November 16th 2012

IDF Soldiers

The conflict in Gaza comes at an interesting time in Egyptian-Israeli relations. Cairo recently saw the Muslim Brotherhood candidate assume the Egyptian presidency, while in the past two years Israel has approved two Egyptian military increases "in the Sinai Peninsula above levels set in the Camp David Accords. The disposition of the forces in Sinai coupled with the presence of the U.N.-mandated Multinational Force and Observers mean at present, Egyptian forces do not pose a significant threat to Israel. How Egypt will respond to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip remains to be seen, but should the Morsi government or Egypt's military decide to support Gaza, such support would likely consist of turning a blind eye toward militant activities and smuggling in the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt is one of Israel's most powerful neighbors. Initially hostile to Israel, the two countries have been at peace for nearly 40 years. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt established guidelines for what Egypt could do in the Sinai Peninsula in a bid to keep the peace. Strategically, the peace agreement made the peninsula a buffer between Israel and Egypt. It permitted only enough forces in Sinai to enforce security. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

The Battle for the Soul of Shi'ism

November 16th 2012

Khameni and Khomeini

It has been noted that, “By and large, the intellectual landscape of present-day Twelver Shi’ism is much more polymorphic than at any time in the past.” The level of political involvement exerted by Shi’i clerics has been a hotly debated topic since the establishment of the sect. Yet after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, the generally demure and apolitical nature of Shi’i Islam, especially at its higher levels, was forever altered, resulting in a new and more politicized facet of Shi’i Islam. For the Shi’i establishment, Khomeini’s new ideology was and is an extremely radical split.

Contemporarily, a broad generalization could be made saying, on one side, there are those following “Quietist” traditionalism, a principle of abstention from involvement in politics. On the other end of the divide are clerics who feel they should take a more active role in politics. However, the situation inside Shi’i clerical circles is far more complicated than a black vs. white, politicized vs. unpoliticized conflict. As Denis McEoin correctly assessed, “Religious movements commonly embrace mutually contradictory attitudes, and attempts to classify them along the lines of simple dichotomies (such as ‘activist’ or ‘quietist’) are seldom very successful.” Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Considerations for an Israeli Ground Offensive on Gaza

November 15th 2012

Israeli tank and crew

The Israeli air force continues to bombard targets within the Gaza Strip, but thus far ground forces have not yet begun an incursion into the territory. Whether the current air campaign escalates to a ground assault will largely depend on the mission that the Israeli military is trying to accomplish.

Israel Defense Forces' official statements have emphasized that the goal is the severe degradation of Gaza militants' ability to launch rocket strikes, particularly the new Fajr-5 rockets that are purportedly capable of striking Tel Aviv.

Halting rocket attacks was also the mission during Operation Cast Lead, Israel's most recent large-scale military operation involving Gaza, which took place in late 2008 and early 2009 and consisted of an air campaign similar to the current one followed by a ground invasion. Examining how Operation Cast Lead developed could provide useful context for how an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza could unfold. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Prospects Improve for US Immigration Reform

November 15th 2012

US-Mexico Border

If elections are meant as an articulation of national will, then last week’s vote appears to have sent a message on the need for immigration reform - specifically what should be done about the estimated 12 million foreign nationals residing in the United States who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas.

No, Americans did not vote directly on immigration reform, and the topic was barely mentioned on the campaign trail by President Barack Obama or his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. But the Republican Party clearly suffered at the ballot box as a result of its resistance to immigration reform.

During the presidential primaries, several Republican contenders took a hard line on the matter, blasting any measure that would provide a path to legal status as an amnesty for law breakers. Romney advocated a strategy of making life in America so difficult for illegals that they would opt to leave the country, or "self-deport." Read more ..


The Petraeus Scandel

CIA Covert Operations Compromised by Petraeus Indescretion

November 14th 2012

Petraeus-Paula

Breaking news stories on Tuesday and Wednesday focused on the misuse of former-director of the CIA Gen. David Petraeus’ email accounts, his mistress, Paula Broadwell, and her alleged possession of classified documents on her computer, which she may have stolen from her lover, and Broadwell's threatening emails to a third person.

Such serious security-related problems plaguing the director of the super-secret CIA is most troubling since he has complete access to information about covert operations, in addition to top secret intelligence, claim members of intelligence and counterterrorism organizations.

According to sources, the Obama Administration believes that covert action must be consistent with specific U.S. foreign policy objectives in a targeted area. Covert actions should be undertaken only where there is a compelling reason why U.S. involvement cannot be disclosed. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Palestinians Seek to Isolate Israel at the United Nations

November 14th 2012

Mahmoud Abbas at parliament
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

If the Palestinians succeed in their bid for statehood at the United Nations later this month, they will use their new status to sue the Jewish state in international courts and seize air space for military activity.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will pursue a statehood bid at the world body despite opposition from the United States and Israel. The Palestinians are seeking observer status as a nation, something the U.N.'s General Assembly can grant with a simple majority vote.

According to observers, Abbas and the Palestinians have already secured that majority. However, the reaction to their new statehood status will be onerous. The U.S. could cut up to $500 million in annual aid and the State of Israel has said it may withhold millions of dollars in tax revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

U.S. Foreign Policy: Room to Regroup

November 13th 2012

Obama State dept

President Barack Obama has won re-election. However, in addition to all of the constraints on him that I discussed last week, he won the election with almost half the people voting against him. His win in the Electoral College was substantial -- and that's the win that really matters -- but the popular vote determines how he governs, and he will govern with one more constraint added to the others. The question is whether this weakens him or provides an opportunity. That is not determined by his policies but by the strategic situation, which, in my view, gives the United States some much-needed breathing room.

The Structure of the International System
At the moment, the international system is built on three pillars: the United States, Europe and China. Europe, if it were united, would be very roughly the same size as the United States in terms of economy, population and potential military power. China is about a third the size of the other two economically, but it has been the growth engine of the world, making it more significant than size would indicate. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Why Did Al-Qaeda Target Ambassador Stevens?

November 12th 2012

Amb Chris Stevens

Most of the questions related to the Benghazi debacle are about the mechanics, both offensive and defensive. What did the White House know and when? What assets were available to the military? Did someone order a stand down, and if so, who? Why was "the video" blamed long after the administration knew the truth — and didn't the administration know the truth from the beginning? If it didn't, why didn't it?

All reasonable questions, but a generally unasked one deserves attention: "Why did al-Qaeda want to kill Ambassador Chris Stevens?"

The ambassador had good relations with some of the most extreme Libyan militias, including those with al-Qaeda ties. Did he upset them with something he did, or didn't do? Was the White House fully apprised of his connections and dealings with the militias? Was he killed because of something the administration told him to start doing or to stop doing. There are things we know and things upon which we must speculate, including the entry of surface-to-air missiles to the Levant. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

IEA Report Supports Obama Energy Policies

November 12th 2012

Keystone Pipeline

President Obama's top campaign consultant said an energy report released Monday that projects the U.S. as the world’s biggest oil producer by 2020 shows the president's policies are working.

The International Energy Agency's voluminous report on worldwide energy markets noted that the “Energy renaissance in the United States is redrawing the global energy map.”

David Axelrod, Obama’s former senior adviser, cited the report in a tweet that praised the president’s energy stance. “All-of-the-above strategy moves America closer to energy independence,” Axelrod tweeted Monday. Republicans have pilloried Obama on energy policy. They say the president has restricted oil-and-gas development on federal lands while favoring green energy subsidies for technology that Republicans contend is uncompetitive and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Behind The Lines: The Sunni-Shi’a Arc of Conflict

November 11th 2012

Bahrain enraged protesters

Bahrain this week accused the Lebanese Hezbollah group of responsibility for a series of bombings in the Bahraini capital Manama.

The five bomb blasts, in the Adliya and Gudaybiya districts of the city, came amid renewed protests by members of the island’s 70 percent Shi’a majority against the Sunni Khalifa monarchy. Two Asian cleaning workers were killed.

Information Minister Samira Ibrahim bin Rajab issued the accusation against Hezbollah. She said that the terrorists were operating according to principles set by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and further accused the Iranian media of inciting against the monarchy. The minister did not offer any concrete evidence to back up her accusation of Hezbollah’s involvement. Official Bahraini claims of Iranian interference in the internal affairs of the island are nothing new. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Petraeus Resignation Won't Interfere with Benghazi Probe

November 10th 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #1

In response to the surprise announcement on Friday that Gen. David Petraeus officially resigned from his position as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, many observers wondered if he would still participate in the House and Senate probes into the tragic Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attack.

The popular military leader shocked many when he revealed he had an extramarital affair with West Point graduate and author Paula Broadwell, who had written a book about Gen. Petraeus' service in Afghanistan. There are some within the intelligence community, the military and law enforcement assigned to counterterrorism units who accused Petraeus of failing to respond decisively to calls for assistance from CIA operatives posted in Libya amid the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Petraeus Admits Affair, Resigns from CIA Amid Questions About Timing

November 9th 2012

Petraeus

At the height of several investigations into the events of Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya, Gen. David Petraeus, the Director of Central Intelligence, announced he tendered his resignation to President Barack Obama on Friday.

The former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan claimed the reason for his quitting is a secret extra-marital affair, but he didn't name the person with whom he shared an illicit relationship. However, some observers are suspicious of the timing of his resignation.

"Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation," Petraeus said in a prepared statement. Read more ..


The Vote Aftermath

Bad Day for Super Donors

November 9th 2012

Money can't buy happiness, nor can it buy an election, apparently.

The top donors to super PACs in 2012 did not fare well — casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the No. 1 super PAC contributor with more than $53 million in giving, backed eight losers at this writing.

Adelson was top backer of the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future super PAC, with $20 million in donations. Romney lost to President Barack Obama. In addition, Adelson's contributions to super PACs backing U.S. Senate candidates in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey were also for naught. He was not the only conservative billionaire who had a bad night.

Contran Corp. CEO Harold Simmons, (No. 2), homebuilder Bob Perry (No. 3) and TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, (No.4), also bet on Romney. Collectively, the trio gave $13.4 million to Restore Our Future, and Ricketts’ super PAC, Ending Spending Action Fund, spent an additional $9.9 million helping Romney’s failed bid.

The super donor winner of the night was Newsweb Corp. CEO Fred Eychaner (No. 5). Eychaner gave $3.5 million to pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action through the most recent filing period, which ended Oct. 17, according to Federal Election Commission records. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

After Obama Wins Second Term, Debate Shifts to Future of U.S.-Israel Relationship

November 8th 2012

Obama and Israel

Capping a race that on a national level was largely defined by the economy but in the Jewish community turned into an extended debate over which candidate would steer the best course for the U.S.-Israel relationship, President Barack Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney to earn a second term.

Obama won 69 percent of the Jewish vote, according to a CNN exit poll, representing a nine-point drop from the 78 percent he garnered in 2008 exit polls.

National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) President and CEO David A. Harris, speaking exclusively with JNS.org after major television networks called the race for Obama on Tuesday night, said he “and the clear majority of American Jews” are “reassured by having President Obama in office for another four years.” Read more ..


The Vote Aftermath

Obama Wins Election but not a Mandate

November 7th 2012

Obama victory

Barack Hussein Obama, the first Kenyan-American to occupy the presidency, was re-elected on November 6 followed one of the most divisive campaigns in history and virtual deluge of advertising. Republican Mitt Romney lost Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin: essential battleground states where the two presidential contenders had spent much of their time and effort. Obama also won a narrow margin in Florida as Election Night drew to a close. The incumbent president won at least 303 electoral votes in the contest, as opposed to 270 for Romney.

Voters were still waiting in line at the polls in the western states as raucous cheers of joy emerged from Obama’s campaigners at their headquarters in Chicago at 11:20 p.m. local time. As votes were still being tabulated, the victory was clear but not as comprehensive as Obama’s first election four years ago. Speaking to a wildly cheering crowd in Chicago, the president thanked his campaign team and assured his listeners that the course set by the Founding Fathers was still on the right track. “Tonight in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back,” adding “We know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.” Read more ..


China on Edge

The 18th Party Congress: A Setback for President Hu?

November 6th 2012

Chinese soldier at Tienamen Square

Two days after the U.S. presidential election, 2270 delegates will gather in Beijing for the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Congress. The meeting will not only select a new generation of leaders but will also endorse the Party’s new political agenda. After being hit by a slew of scandals, the Communist Party is doing all it can to make sure all “unstable elements” are nipped in the bud. Security is tight not just in Beijing but in other parts of China – I heard stories of the police stopping cars in a southern province to search for knives. When one of the drivers dared to ask why, he was simply told “shiba da” (18th Party Congress). The New York Times is still being blocked for publishing the Wen Jiabao story. Searching for information on any of the Chinese leaders (and their wives) from Google Hong Kong (the one functioning Google site on the mainland) would only lead to a result stating, “Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage.” In addition, short messages sent via cell phones in China are being automatically blocked if it contains any names of the Chinese leaders. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

No Change in the Offing on Palestinian Position on the Right of Return

November 5th 2012

UNRWA Refugee Camp

Claims that Palestinian Authority chairman  has apparently relinquished the right of return are baseless in light of the clarifications provided by Abbas himself, in which he called the return a “sacred right” and affirmed his full commitment to the basic Palestinian positions. The interview by Abbas to Israel’s Channel 2 TV, broadcast on Nov. 2, 2012, stirred up a large-scale political storm both in Israel and the Palestinian arena with Abbas’ statements interpreted as a relinquishment of the right of return.

Abbas said in the interview that, as a native of the Israeli town of Safed, he desires to visit the town but not to live there. He further remarked that “for me, Palestine is the ’67 borders with East Jerusalem; I am a refugee, I live in Ramallah, the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, all the rest is Israel.”

The Israeli political leadership was in no hurry to lend credence to Abbas’ supposed readiness to give up the Palestinian demand for a return. Hamas, for its part, accused him of a treasonous violation of basic principles, with senior figures in the movement claiming he had in effect relinquished the right of return. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama and Romney Nearly Matched in Battleground States

November 5th 2012

Obama and Romney road show

The long, hard-fought campaign to be president of the United States for the next four years finally comes to an end with the two viable candidates visiting several states on November 5 for one last attempt to break what polls indicate is a nearly deadlocked race.

Only a handful of the country's 50 states are considered to be virtually tied, led by Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin, along with Virginia, Colorado and Iowa. The small state of New Hampshire joins those six as states where neither candidate is considered to have a clear lead ahead of the Tuesday Niovember 6 election. On November 5, incumbent President Barack Obama returns to Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio to hold political events, before heading to his hometown of Chicago, Illinois where he will be on election night. Read more ..



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