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April 25, 2014 / 25 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘u.s. government’

Obama’s Foreign Fiasco

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Originally published at Daniel Pipes.

It’s a privilege to be an American who works on foreign policy, as I have done since the late 1970s, participating in a small way in the grand project of finding my country’s place in the world. But now, under Barack Obama, decisions made in Washington have dramatically shrunk in importance. It’s unsettling and dismaying. And no longer a privilege.

Whether during the structured Cold War or the chaotic two decades that followed, America’s economic size, technological edge, military prowess, and basic decency meant that even in its inactivity, the U.S. government counted as much or more in world developments than any other state. Sniffles in Washington translated into influenza elsewhere.

Weak and largely indifferent presidents like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton mattered despite themselves, for example in the Iranian revolution of 1978-79 or the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 1990s. Strong and active presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had greater impact yet, speeding up the Soviet collapse or invading Afghanistan and Iraq.

But now, with Barack Obama, the United States has slid into shocking irrelevance in the Middle East, the world’s most turbulent region. Inconstancy, incompetence, and inaction have rendered the Obama administration impotent. In the foreign policy arena, Obama acts as though he would rather be the prime minister of Belgium, a small country that usually copies the decisions of its larger neighbors when casting votes at the United Nations or preening morally about distant troubles. Belgians naturally “lead from behind,” to use the famed phrase emanating from Obama’s White House.

Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo was a very long time ago.

Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo was a very long time ago.

Qatar (with a national population of 225,000) has an arguably greater impact on current events than the 1,400-times-larger United States (population: 314 million). Note how Obama these days takes a back seat to the emirs of Doha: They take the lead supplying arms to the Libyan rebels, he follows. They actively help the rebels in Syria, he dithers. They provide billions to the new leadership in Egypt, he stumbles over himself. They unreservedly back Hamas in Gaza, he pursues delusions of an Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Toward this end, the U.S. secretary of state made six trips in four months to Israel and the Palestinian territories in pursuit of a diplomatic initiative that almost no one believes will end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Doha, now more influential than Washington in the Middle East.

Doha, now more influential than Washington in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the U.S. secretary of defense called Egyptian leader Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi 17 times in conversations lasting 60-90 minutes, yet failed in his pleas that Sisi desist from using force against the Muslim Brotherhood. More striking yet, Sisi apparently refused to take a phone call from Obama. The $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt suddenly looks paltry in comparison to the $12 billion from three Persian Gulf countries, with promises to make up for any Western cuts in aid. Both sides in Egypt’s deep political divide accuse Obama of favoring the other and execrate his name. As dozens of Coptic churches burned, he played six rounds of golf. Ironically, Egypt is where, four long years ago, Obama delivered a major speech repudiating George W. Bush policies with seeming triumph.

Obama’s ambitions lie elsewhere – in augmenting the role of government within the United States, as epitomized by Obamacare. Accordingly, he treats foreign policy as an afterthought, an unwelcome burden, and something to dispatch before returning to juicier matters. He oversees withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan with little concern for what follows. His unique foreign policy accomplishment, trumpeted ad nauseam, was the execution of Osama bin Laden.

So far, the price to American interests for Obama’s ineptitude has not been high. But that could change quickly. Most worrisome, Iran could soon achieve nuclear breakout and start to throw its newfound weight around, if not to deploy its brand-new weapons. The new regime in Egypt could revert to its earlier anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism; already, important elements in Egypt are calling for rejection of U.S. aid and termination of the peace treaty with Israel.

As an American who sees his country as a force for good, these developments are painful and scary. The world needs an active, thoughtful, and assertive United States. The historian Walter A. McDougall rightly states that “The creation of the United States of America is the central event of the past four hundred years” and its civilization “perturbs the trajectories of all other civilizations just by existing.” Well not so much perturbation these days; may the dismal present be brief in duration.

Sen. Leahy: Obama Secretly Suspended Egypt Military Aid

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

The office of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), head of the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, told The Daily Beast that military aid to Egypt has been temporarily cut off.

“[Senator Leahy’s] understanding is that aid to the Egyptian military has been halted, as required by law,” said David Carle, a spokesman for Leahy.

If it’s done as required by law, why is the U.S. government keeping it a secret that it believes the regime change in Egypt was a military coup? If it is, indeed, temporarily suspending most of the military aid to Egypt, where is the public announcement that we don’t send money to governments that were installed by a coup?

After skewering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hard—through the good services of the NY Times—for his attempts to preserve stability in Egypt and the integrity of the peace treaty, now the administration is attempting to punish the naughty Egyptian generals, but without making a big deal out of it.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked on Monday about the suspended aid, and told reporters the aid is not officially suspended.

I suppose the Egyptians can use the officially unsuspended aid money the same way Israelis can live in the officially unfrozen homes in East Jerusalem…

“After sequestration withholding, approximately $585 million remains unobligated. So, that is the amount that is unobligated,” Psaki said.

I looked up “unobligated” and means funds that have been appropriated but remain uncommitted by contract at the end of a fiscal period. In other words, an I keep, you don’t get kind of relationship.

“But it would be inaccurate to say that a policy decision has been made with respect to the remaining assistance funding,” Psaki clarified.

In other words, I keep, you don’t get, but it’s not forever.

The Daily Beast quotes two Administration officials who explain it was the government lawyers who decided it would be more prudent to observe the law restricting military aid in case of a coup, while not making a public statement that a coup had taken place.

Bret Stephens, a deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, wrote on Monday (A Policy on Egypt—Support Al Sisi):

“What’s realistic and desirable is for the military to succeed in its confrontation with the Brotherhood as quickly and convincingly as possible. Victory permits magnanimity. It gives ordinary Egyptians the opportunity to return to normal life. It deters potential political and military challenges. It allows the appointed civilian government to assume a prominent political role. It settles the diplomatic landscape. It lets the neighbors know what’s what.”

By taking the opposite approach, making it harder for the new Egyptian government to bring the internal conflict to a conclusion, the Obama Administration is promoting and prolonging chaos in yet another country. Which is why, I suspect, Senator Leahy has spoken to the Daily Beast in the first place, to stop this blind march over the cliff.

Middle East analyst Brian Katulis from the Center for American Progress, told the Beast he thought the Administration was “trying to maintain maximum flexibility,” but he suggested that this horse is long out of the barn. “Egypt’s struggle has become so intense, polarized, and violent, and I worry that no matter what move the United States makes now, the competing power centers in Egypt might continue down the dangerous course they’ve headed.”

Unless, of course, the U.S. is making clear, with loud noises and a light show, that it supports stability in Egypt, and in order to hasten new elections, it will not suspend military aid to Egypt. In fact, with its financial and military might, the U.S. will do everything it can to restore stability and democracy in Egypt.

But that would require President Obama to get over the insult of the Egyptian nation ignoring his wishes and dethroning his favorite Muslim Brother president.

An Apology Posing as Bibliography

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

At this moment of sequester and belt-tightening, the U.S. government has delivered a reading list on Islam.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has joined with two private foundations, Carnegie and Duke, to fund “Muslim Journeys,” a project that aims to present “new and diverse perspectives on the people, places, histories, beliefs, practices, and cultures of Muslims in the United States and around the world.” Its main component is the “Muslim Journeys Bookshelf,” a selection of 25 books and 3 films on Islam sent to nearly 1,000 libraries as well as a website and some other activities. Marvin Olasky, who brought this project to public attention, estimates the whole project cost about US$1 million.

As one of the taxpayers who unwittingly contributed to this project as well as the compiler of my own bibliography on Islam and the Middle East, I take interest in the 25 books NEH selected for glory, spreading them around the country.

Softness characterizes its list: the 25 books quietly ignore current headlines so as to accentuate the attractive side of Islamic civilization, especially its medieval expression, and gently promote the Islam religion. It’s not so exuberant an exercise as the British 1976 World of Islam Festival, described at the time as “a unique cultural event that … was no less than an attempt to present one civilization—in all its depth and variety—to another.” But then, how can one aspire to such grandeur with all that’s happened in the intervening years?

NEH’s list and mine do share minor commonalities: for example, one author (the Moroccan writer Fatima Mernissi) and one series (the Very Short Introductions series issued by Oxford University Press).

But our purposes could not be more different: whereas I help readers understand why Muslims fill 30 out of 32 slots on the most wanted terrorists listand how Islamism came to be the main vehicle of barbarism in the world today, the endowment’s list shields the reader’s eyes from all this unpleasantness. Where I provide background to the headlines, NEH ignores them and pretends all is well with Islam, as is the federal government’s wont.

I seek to answer burning questions: Who was Muhammad? What is the historical impact of Islam? When is warfare jihad? Why did Islamism arise? How does tribal culture influence political life? Where can one locate signs of hope for Islam to moderate? In contrast, the NEH list offers a smattering of this and that – poetry, personal accounts, antiquities, architecture, religion and history, original texts, and a smidgeon of current events, preferably presented fictionally. For example, In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar, tells about a boy growing up in Qaddafi’s Libya).

I suggest Marshall G. S. Hodgson’s 3-volume scholarly masterpiece, The Venture of Islam, while NEH proffers Jim Al-Khalili’s derivative House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance. I offer up books by sturdy anti-Islamist Muslims such as Khalid Durán’s introduction to Islam or Bassam Tibi’sChallenge of Fundamentalism. The endowment, of course – for what else does a government agency do? – promotes Islamists, including the Canadian phony moderate Ingrid Mattson and the Obama administration’s favorite Eboo Patel.

My books are personal selections based on decades in the field; theirs is a mish-mash brokered by acommittee of four standard-issue academics (Leila Golestaneh Austin, Giancarlo Casale, Frederick Denny, and Kambiz GhaneaBassiri) and one don’t-rock-the-boat journalist (Deborah Amos).

The NEH bibliography reminds one of the Middle East Studies Association’s annual meetings, which often avoid interesting or important topics in favor of such obscure feminist issues as “Problematizing ‘Women’s Place’ in the Multiple Borderzones of Gender and Ethnic Politics in Turkey” and “The Turkish Women’s Union and the Politics of Women’s Rights in Turkey, 1929-1935.”

As these titles suggest, today’s scholars have a strange tendency to focus in on questions no one is asking, as do many of the NEH books. Anthony Shadid recounts in House of Stone: a Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East his efforts to restore an ancestral home in Lebanon; Kamila Shamsie’s Broken Verses: a Novel tells the story of a television journalist in Karachi.

As taxpayer and as specialist, I condemn the NEH list. Far from presenting “new and diverse perspectives,” it offers the usual academic obfuscation mixed with Islamist triumphalism. It reminds us that of the many things governments should not do, one of them is to compile bibliographies.

Government Money

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Time and time again, the liberal defenders of government power have attacked any call for reform as a plot by the wealthy. Even now New York Times editorialists pound their keys about the “Concentration of Wealth,” invoking presidents from Andrew Jackson to Theodore Roosevelt. But in our America, the “Concentration of Wealth” is not found in the hands of a few billionaires. It is found in the hands of the government.

The editorialists talk about the income gap and how much wealth is held by the top one percent of the country, but they are leaving something out. Their statistics deal with individuals, not institutions. And it is institutions which threaten our liberties, not individuals.

The top 10 wealthiest men and women in America barely have 250 billion dollars between them. That sounds like a lot of money, until you look at annual Federal budgets which run into the trillions of dollars, and the country’s national debt which approaches 15 trillion dollars. And that’s not taking into account state budgets. Even Rhode Island, the smallest state in the union, with a population of barely a million, has a multi-billion dollar budget.

As the 10th richest man in America, Michael Bloomberg wields a personal fortune of a mere 18 billion dollars, but as the Mayor of the City of New York, he disposes of an annual budget of 63 billion dollars. In a single year, he disposes of three times his own net worth. A sum that would wipe out the net worth of any billionaire in America. That is the difference between the wealth wielded by the 10th wealthiest man in America, and the mayor of a single city. And that is the real concentration of wealth. Not in the hands of individuals, but at every level of government, from the municipal to the state houses to the White House.

While liberal pundits pop on their stovepipe hats, fix their diamond stickpins and cravats, and trade in 19th century rhetoric about the dangers of trusts and monopolies– the power in 20th century America lies not in the hands of a few industrialists, but with massive monopolistic trust of government, and its network of unions, non-profits, lobbyists and PAC’s. The railroads are broken up, offshore drilling is banned, coal mining is in trouble and Ma Bell has a thousand quarreling stepchildren– now government is the real big business. How big?

The 2008 presidential campaign cost 5.3 billion dollars. Another 1.5 billion for the House and the Senate. And that’s not counting another half a billion from the 527′s and even shadier fundraising by shadowy political organizations. But that’s a small investment when you realize that they were spending billions of dollars to get their hands on trillions of dollars.

Do you know of any company in America where for a mere few billion, you could become the CEO of a company whose shareholders would be forced to sit back and watch for four years while you run up trillion dollar deficits and parcel out billions to your friends? Without going to jail or being marched out in handcuffs. A company that will allow you to indulge yourself, travel anywhere at company expense, live the good life, and only work when you feel like it. That will legally indemnify you against all shareholder lawsuits, while allowing you to dispose not only of their investments, but of their personal property in any way you see fit.

There is only one such company. It’s called the United States Government.

It wasn’t always this way. There used to be limitations on executive and legislative power. But those limitations are gone along with the top hat and the diamond stickpin. Under an ideological cloak of darkness, politicians act as if they can do anything they want. Public outrage is met with alarmist news stories about the dangers of violence, as if this were the reign of the Bourbon kings,  not a democratic republic whose right of protest is as sacrosanct as its flag and its seal. Instead the republic is dominated by political trusts, party machines, media cartels, public sector unions and a million vermin who have sucked the cow dry and are starting in on its tender meat.

Another Milestone for the Jewish People in America

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

For those who have been in a coma for the last couple of days, Jack Lew who is an Orthodox Jew and currently the President’s Chief of Staff will be nominated by the President for the cabinet position of Secretary of the Treasury. Although as of this writing it has not been made official – It seems that this will indeed happen. I also believe that he will sail through the confirmation process.

First let me echo the OU’s congratulatory response. I could not be prouder of my co-religionist, Jack Lew, my country, the United States of America, and my President, Barack Obama.

That’s right. I said I am proud of the President for looking beyond the criticism he got from the Jewish community about Hagel and choosing the best man for the job at Treasury even though he is Jewish. I believe the President is a man of integrity. Though I strongly disagreed with him about Hagel, I think he truly believes Hagel to be the best man for the Secretary of Defense.

I think Hagel will be a negative influence vis-à-vis Israel. But I believe (or at least hope) that the President will stick to his polices with respect to Israel. His polices are for the most part very supportive of the Jewish state. Although I still don’t like the fact that someone who has shown great antagonism towards “The Jewish Lobby” will be a member of his cabinet – I do not believe that the President sees us that way. He has certainly never referred to any of us that way.

That Jack Lew, an Orthodox Jew whose Sabbath observance might seem to be a hindrance to his duties has the confidence of the President says a lot about both men. Apparently the President cares that his employees do not sacrifice their principles for their job. In fact the President himself has seen to it that Mr. Lew does not violate the Sabbath. He has been Jack Lew’s Shomer in that regard – reminding him on Friday’s that sunset was approaching and he better hurry up and get home before Shabbos begins.

It is interesting to note an article that appeared a few days ago in the Forward. It was about just how far an observant Jew can go in the workplace these days despite some apparent obstacles. Avital Chizhik, an Orthodox woman, writes about her experiences in seeking a job.

When asked about there indeed her religious observances would hinder her – she replied that she was not that religious. Her interviewer laughed and offered her the job saying he was glad to hear that.

She felt guilty afterward realizing that indeed she was ‘that’ religious. But after thinking about it, she realized that she was really responding to an image and not reality. Unfortunately our image as observant Jews does not always project confidence in an employer about our dedication to our jobs. Her reaction was made to counter that notion. She goes on to say that the sense of purpose that drives her religious beliefs and actions is also channeled into her work – making for a much better employee.

Although I am very happy for Ms. Chizik’s success, there is no better role model for an Orthodox Jew achieving career success than Jack Lew. Of course he is not the first Orthodox Jew to achieve it. Former Vice Presidential candidate and senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman did it first.

The job Mr. Lew is about to take on is not an easy one. Which adds to his prestige. His job will perhaps be the most difficult one in the President’s entire cabinet. He will be presiding over an economy that has yet to completely recover from the recession of 2008. Whatever improvement or deterioration happens in the economy will be under his watch. He will either get credit or blame.

Which leads me back to a common fear many Jews have about a Jewish public servants in positions of power in the government. Some people will say that they regret the choice of any Jew, let alone an Orthodox one, being in such a position. They fear that if the economy goes really south, “the Jews” will be blamed for it. As they always have in the past by European governments. The last government to blame the Jews for their problems ended up with the Holocaust!

I understand their fear. It is based on a very long and sad history of persecution of the Jewish people by governments that were at first friendly and welcoming to us. They will say it happened “there” when no one expected it, it can happen here just as easily. “The Goyim don’t need much to turn on us.” Germany was great to the Jewish people for generations of Jews. And look what happened. We should not be naïve about our standing here… that it’s all smoke and mirrors and when the chips are down we are going to be the first ones to be blamed.

Like I said, I understand it. But it’s just plain wrong. Aside from the fact that this country was founded precisely on the principle of religious tolerance, the American people are a fine and decent people who know not to blame their troubles on any one ethnicity. There has unfortunately been many examples where high profile religious Jews have done wrong.

The American people have had ample opportunity to blame “the Jews” for a variety of behaviors of its miscreants. Bernie Madoff could have easily sparked an anti-Semitic backlash… as could any one of a number of high profile Jewish miscreants. High profile because of their obvious Jewishness. How many Orthodox Jews wearing Kipot and other religious artifacts have been arrested or convicted of financial fraud? How many Orthodox Jewish molesters have been in the news lately? There is certainly enough of that kind of thing to bring out any latent Antisemitism. And yet it hasn’t.

Instead we have a President nominating an Orthodox Jew to perhaps the most important cabinet position in America right now… a nomination that should – as I said – sail through congress. So even if God forbid the worst happens and the economy really tanks, perhaps Jack Lew will be blamed. But in no way will “the Jews” will be blamed. Those among my coreligionists who don’t understand this and think I am naïve, are themselves naive. They truly do not understand what this great country is all about nor what the American people are made of.

What a Country!

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

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