Middle East

Russian Plane Crash In Egypt

A Russian charter plane crashed over the weekend on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.  All 224 aboard the Airbus jetliner were killed, with company executives ruling out technical or human error only to be upbraided by aviation officials who called such assertions premature.

The Metrojet flight full of mostly Russian vacationers, bound for St. Petersburg from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh, plummeted after reaching cruising altitude, scattering in chunks and bits across Sinai. The lack of information has combined with unsubstantiated claims by the Islamic State that its militants destroyed the aircraft to avenge Russia’s immersion into the Syria war.   The plane had been in the air about twenty minutes when it suddenly plummeted from around 33,000 feet above the Peninsula.

I’ve reviewed the data and in my opinion, this was foul play.  I say this for two reasons:

(1)  Scattered debris.  The parts of the jetliner were scattered over an area of five square miles, meaning that it broke apart high in the air.

(2)  The flight data.

_86423083_russian_airliner_crash_chart_624

As the chart above notes, the aircraft rose in altitude and then drops off.  My guess is that event occurred around 4:12 and the aircraft continued to fly, or at least the section containing the flight data black box continued to fly, upward.  This happened with the Lockerbie explosion as well.

This is inconsistent with ordinary mechanical error or pilot error.

The only question I have, in my non-expert analysis, is whether the plane was impacted from something one the outside, or exploded from the inside.  Piecing together the jetliner will be relatively easy and it will be easy to detect residue, if any, of chemicals or explosive powder.  Sadly, one way to figure out what happened is to examine the bodies for shrapnel from the plane.  If a person has something lodged in him/her from, say, the right side of the plane, and that person was sitting on the left, that would indicate that the fuselage exploded in — i.e., a missile.

Or maybe I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.  But I read about this stuff.

Anyway, with Russia taking an active role in the Middle East now, it clearly has skin in the game.  Maybe the United States would be smart to let Middle East turmoil become Russia’s problem.

When Will We Ever Learn… Oh, When Will Weeeee Ever Learn?

I don’t write much about the Middle East because — Jesus, it’s a clusterfuck and it just gets worse and worse and it is depressing.  It’s basically an unsolvable problem and everybody wants to kill each other.

But I think I have figure out ONE truism.

Intervention on the part of the United States makes things worse for us.

I don’t care who the president is, or where the conflict is within the Middles East, or whose side we are on.  Everytime we intervene, it just makes the situation worse.  The Middle East is fire, we are oil, period.  Case in point:

In another embarrassing setback for one of President Barack Obama’s centerpiece strategies for defeating the Islamic State, the Pentagon said Friday that the commander of U.S.-trained Syrians appears to have turned over his pickup trucks and weapons to al Qaeda militants in exchange for protection within days of re-entering his homeland.

The Pentagon admission represented an abrupt reversal of its position as recently as Wednesday, when American military officials firmly denied social media reports that a U.S.-backed commander had defected to Nusra Front, Syria’s al Qaida affiliate, and provided trucks and weapons to the radical Islamic group.

“Unfortunately, we learned today that the New Syrian Force unit now says it did in fact provide six pick-up trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected al-Nusra Front (representative),” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday evening.

Two days earlier, Davis had stated: “The folks that are part of the New Syrian Force are accounted for, as are their weapons.”

The new revelations angered American military leaders.

Remember the good old days when the Russians invaded Afghanistan and we backed the Afghan rebels there by providing them weapons, including that guy — oh, what was his name — Osama bin Laden?  Fine ally he turned out to be.

The political climate is unstable there, and the factional politics is always shifting.  You can show a support for Israel (and we do and we should), but trying to back anyone on the flipside of that coin — it’s impossible.  And if stupid me has figured that out, why hasn’t anyone in power?

The Onion Sums Up The Situation in Syria Pretty Well

So, What’s It Going To Be?

Aug 28, 2013

By Bashar Al-Assad
Well, here we are. It’s been two years of fighting, over 100,000 people are dead, there are no signs of this war ending, and a week ago I used chemical weapons on my own people. If you don’t do anything about it, thousands of Syrians are going to die. If you do something about it, thousands of Syrians are going to die. Morally speaking, you’re on the hook for those deaths no matter how you look at it.
So, it’s your move, America. What’s it going to be?

I’ve looked at your options, and I’m going to be honest here, I feel for you. Not exactly an embarrassment of riches you’ve got to choose from, strategy-wise. I mean, my God, there are just so many variables to consider, so many possible paths to choose, each fraught with incredible peril, and each leading back to the very real, very likely possibility that no matter what you do it’s going to backfire in a big, big way. It’s a good old-fashioned mess, is what this is! And now, you have to make some sort of decision that you can live with.

So, where do I begin? Well, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but let’s start with the fact that my alliance with Russia and China means that nothing you decide to do will have the official support of the UN Security Council. So, right off the bat, I’ve already eliminated the possibility of a legally sound united coalition like in Libya or the First Gulf War. Boom. Gone. Off the table.

Now, let’s say you’re okay with that, and you decide to go ahead with, oh, I don’t know, a bombing campaign. Now, personally, I can see how that might seem like an attractive option for you. No boots on the ground, it sends a clear message, you could cripple some of my government’s infrastructure, and it’s a quick, clean, easy way to punish me and make you look strong in the face of my unimaginable tyranny. But let’s get real here. Any bombing campaign capable of being truly devastating to my regime would also end up killing a ton of innocent civilians, as such things always do, which I imagine is the kind of outcome you people would feel very guilty about. You know, seeing as you are so up in arms to begin with about innocent Syrians dying. Plus, you’d stoke a lot of anti-American hatred and quite possibly create a whole new generation of Syrian-born jihadists ready to punish the United States for its reckless warmongering and yadda yadda yadda.

Okay, what else? Well, you could play small-ball and hope that limited airstrikes to a few of my key military installations will send me the message to refrain from using chemical weapons again, but, c’mon, check me out: I’m ruthless, I’m desperate, and I’m going to do everything I can to stay in power. I’d use chemical weapons again in a heartbeat. You know that. And I know you know that. Hell, I want to help you guys out here, but you gotta be realistic. Trust me, I am incapable of being taught a lesson at this point. Got it? I am too far gone. Way too far gone.

Oh, and I know some of you think a no-fly zone will do the trick, but we both know you can’t stomach the estimated $1 billion a month that would cost, so wave bye-bye to that one, too.

Moving on.

I suppose you could always, you know, not respond with military force at all. But how can you do that? I pumped sarin gas into the lungs of my own people, for God’s sake! You can’t just let me get away with that, can you? I mean, I guess you easily could, and spare yourself all of this headache, but then you would probably lose any of your remaining moral high ground on the world stage and make everything from the Geneva Conventions to America’s reputation as a beacon for freedom and democracy around the world look like a complete sham.

And, hey, as long as we’re just throwing stuff out there, let’s consider a ground invasion for a moment. Now, even if you could reasonably fund a ground invasion, which I’m pretty sure you can’t, what exactly would such an invasion accomplish in the long term? I suppose it’s possible that you could come in and sweep me out the door and that would be the end of it. It’s possible. You know, like, in the sense that seeing a majestic white Bengal tiger in the wild is possible. Or, more likely, you could find yourself entrenched in a full-blown civil war that drags on for 15 years and sets off further turmoil in the rest of the region, leading to even more dead bodies for your country and mine, and even more virulent hatred of America. In fact, boy, maybe this is the one option that should be totally off the table.

Oh, and speaking of me being toppled from power, let’s say, just for fun, that tomorrow I were to somehow be dethroned. Who’s in charge? Half of these rebel groups refuse to work with one another and it’s getting harder to tell which ones are actually just Islamic extremists looking to fill a potential power vacuum. We’ve got Christians, Sunnis, and Shias all poised to fight one another for control should I fall. You want to be the ones sorting through that mess when you’re trying to build a new government? I didn’t think so.

So, all in all, quite the pickle you’re in, isn’t it? I have to say, I do not envy you here. Really curious to see where you go with this one.

I’ll leave you with this: I am insane. Not insane enough to generate worldwide unanimity that I cannot remain in charge of my own country. That would make this a lot easier. No, unfortunately, I’m just sane and stable enough to remain in power and devise cunning military and political strategies while at the same time adhering to a standard of morality that only the most perverse and sociopathic among us would be capable of adopting. But nevertheless, I am insane, so do with that information what you will.

Long story short, I’m going to keep doing my best to hold on to my country no matter what the cost. If that means bombing entire towns, murdering small children, or shooting at UN weapons inspectors, so be it. I’m in this for the long haul. And you will do…whatever it is you’re going to do, which is totally up to you. Your call.

Anyway, let me know what you decide. I’ll be waiting.

Yeah.  Pretty much sums it up.  Good policy analysis.

Shalom

President Obama has been taking a lot of hits on the right for not having visited Israel (despite the fact that he did visit Israel during the 2008 campaign).  "Anti-semite!" they cried.  And so on.  Even Romney raised it during the 2012 presidential campaign.

I was never sure what the fuss was about.  Reagan never visited Israel.  Bush Sr. didn't either.  And Skippy Bush waited until his 8th year before going there.

Anyway, the naysayers and complainers were saying that Obama's snub of Israel was going to hurt the United States. 

Not so.

He's killing it over there.  From the Jerusalem Post:

He had us at the word “Shalom,” did President Barack Obama, on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Or if not at “Shalom,” then 33 words later when he said in Hebrew, “Tov lihiyot shuv ba’aretz” (It’s good to be back in Israel). And if not then, well, at least at the end of his brief welcoming speech, when he said, “I’m confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, it is forever – lanetzah.” Again, he used Hebrew. We swooned.

And if he did not have us all, at least he had some of the country’s media stars broadcasting from the airport, gushing superlatives as Air Force One – tracked as if it were an Apollo flight reentering the Earth’s orbit – was seen entering Israeli airspace.

As Irit Linor said on Army Radio, discussing what she deemed the over-the-top Obama Madness that gripped the nation, if this is the way the country greeted Obama, what’s left to greet the Messiah?

Thus a right-wing meme dies.

GOP Gets Its Scapegoat

Susan Rice is now the latest victim of the baying hyenas in the modern Republican Party:

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from the list of candidates for secretary of state Thursday afternoon, ending a weeks-long fight with Republicans over statements she made on television talk shows shortly after the attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11.

In a letter to President Obama, Rice said: “I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time. The position of Secretary of State should never be politicized….I am saddened that we have reached this point, even before you have decided whom to nominate. We cannot afford such an irresponsible distraction from the most pressing issues facing the American people.”

I find it sad, really, that she was made into a scapegoat for the GOP's disgraceful attempt to manufacture a scandal out of Benghazi is chilling. This whole episode has been shameful.  I wonder if any Republicans — McCain, I'm looking at you — actually feel this is a "win".  She had nothing to do with Benghazi or the security policy there.  All she did was do a talk show.

Worse Than Watergate Even If We Don’t Know The Facts

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has no idea what happened in Benghazi but he does know that it’s worse than Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandal times 10. Here’s King from a Washington Times article published on Wednesday:

“I believe that it’s a lot bigger than Watergate, and if you link Watergate and Iran-Contra together and multiply it times maybe 10 or so, you’re going to get in the zone where Benghazi is,” Mr. King said. “I don’t think the public has any idea, and I tell you, I don’t either, of the chronology of the events — what took place, and who was where doing what and why. And all the way down through — we still haven’t seen an autopsy report on the ambassador yet. Simple questions that you would ask in the first 24 hours have not been asked yet.”

The Benghazi-gate Thing

It's not that I haven't been paying attention.  I really have.  But I still don't get what the hell Susan Rice did wrong.

As UN Ambassador, she went on television to answer questions about Benghazi.  Of course, being UN Ambassador, she wasn't exactly at the forefront of the intelligence gathering apparatus, so she relied on information told to her by the CIA, i.e., that the attack on our embassy was the result of Muslims angry about a shitty low-budget movie, rather than the pre-planned work of al Qaeda.

So she went on a Sunday talk show, and said something that turned out to be wrong, even though she specifically said that the intelligence we had at the time might be wrong.

How is this a controversy?  And why the hell does it make Susan Rice unqualified to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State?

I recall another black woman also named Rice, who mislead the entire country into believing that Iraq had WMDs.  She said it over and over again.  And when she was appointed to be Secretary of State, did the Senate confirm her?  Yes.  Even though what she said turned out to be untrue.  

In fact, Condaleeza's mistatement was far worse than Susan's.  Condaleeza, unlike Susan, was INSIDE the intelligence community.  She had all the information (or lack of it) at her fingertips.  Susan, on the other hand, was just passing on the information that she received in a briefing.

If McCain, Ayotte, and Graham want to pile on Susan Rice, I think there will be serious repercussions.  

UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid obviously has had enough of this carnival. He released this statement today:

The personal attacks against Ambassador Rice by certain Republican senators have been outrageous and utterly unmoored from facts and reality. I am shocked that senators would continue these attacks even when the evidence—including disclosures from the intelligence community about the information she presented—have made it clear that the allegations against Ambassador Rice are baseless, and that she has done absolutely nothing wrong.  

Ambassador Rice’s service as United States Ambassador to the United Nations has been impeccable. She has answered all questions raised in relation to the Benghazi attacks completely and repeatedly. The Senate committees of jurisdiction are in the midst of examining the events leading up to the Benghazi attacks, and I agree with those— including the ranking Republican members of both the Intelligence and Homeland Security committees—who have said we should let the committees do their work. There should be no place for such blatant partisanship in oversight of our nation’s intelligence community.

The election is over. It is time to drop these partisan political games, and focus our attention on the real challenges facing us as a nation.

Breaking: Israel-Hamas Agree To Cease Fire

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a cease-fire, the Egyptian foreign minister said Wednesday, ending eight days of fighting that killed more than 140 Palestinians and five Israelis.

The cease-fire is set to start at 9 p.m. Cairo time (2 p.m. ET), Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr announced in a news conference alongside visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“The United States welcomes the agreement today for the cease-fire in Gaza," Clinton said, adding that Egypt's new government was exerting responsibility and leadership in the region.

more here.

UPDATE: Then again….

 

Scandal Envy

I outsource to Paul Waldman at The American Prospect, because he nails it oh so rightly:

If you're looking at the Republican harumphing over Benghazi and asking yourself, "Why are we supposed to be so mad about this again?" you're not alone. Let's review: There was an attack on our consulate that killed four Americans, including our ambassador. Amid confusing and contradictory reports from the ground, President Obama waited too long to utter the magic incantation, "Terrorism, terrorists, terror!" that would have … well, it would have done something, but it turns out that he did say "terror," so never mind that. But that's not the real scandal! The real scandal is that Susan Rice went on television soon after and amid all kinds of "based on the best information we have"s and "we'll have to see"s, said one thing that turned out not to be the case: that after the protests in Cairo, there was some kind of copycat protest in Benghazi, which was then "hijacked" by extremist elements using heavy weapons to stage an attack.

A sane person might say, OK, she was obviously given some incorrect information at that time, but it's not a particularly meaningful deception. As people have been pointing out for weeks now, it's not as though not using the word "terror" or saying there was a protest before the attack gave the White House some enormous political advantage. If you're going to have a cover-up, there has to be something you're covering up.

But now, some Republicans, particularly John McCain and Lindsay Graham, are essentially saying that this horrifying cover-up was quite possibly the greatest crime in the history of the United States government, and if we're going to get to the bottom of it nothing short of a select committee—a "Watergate-style committee," as it is being referred to by reporters—will do. Who knows what it might uncover? Were there CIA whistleblowers whose bodies are now lying at the bottom of the Potomac? Was David Petraeus being blackmailed? Are William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright involved? Did Susan Rice fly to Tripoli, have a steamy liaison with a clone of Ayman al-Zawahiri created in a secret underground laboratory, then go to Benghazi where she personally killed Ambassador Chris Stevens with a hat pin? We won't know unless we spin this out into a multi-week story!

So what's going on here? I can sum it up in two words: scandal envy. Republicans are indescribably frustrated by the fact that Barack Obama, whom they regard as both illegitimate and corrupt, went through an entire term without a major scandal. They tried with "Fast and Furious," but that turned out to be small potatoes. They tried with Solyndra, but that didn't produce the criminality they hoped for either. Obama even managed to dole out three-quarters of a trillion dollars in stimulus money without any graft or double-dealing to be found. Nixon had Watergate, Reagan had Iran-Contra, Clinton had Lewinsky, and Barack Obama has gotten off scott-free. This is making them absolutely livid, and they're going to keep trying to gin up a scandal, even if there's no there there. Benghazi may not be an actual scandal, but it's all they have handy.

Republicans aren't doing themselves any favor by being the Boy Who Cried Wolf.  If, at some point, there is a legitimate scandal, then when Fox News and the GOP starts jumping up and down with their hair on fire, screaming, "It's a -Gate!  It's a -Gate!", the rest of the country will yawn.

Cartoon Nails It

Boy, if this Oliphant political cartoon doesn't accurately describe Romney's desparation over the past few days, nothing does:

Romney-beclowned

These past few days, Romney has been playing to the crowd that was so outraged by a mosque bgeing built at Ground Zero (by the way, I've been there — you can't see any mosque — it's blocks away).  And he thinks this will help.  Well, sure — if you think you can win by catering to the far right.

Romney Condemns The Movie That The U.S. Consulate Criticized, After Which Romney Condemned For The Criticism

And now Romney's campaign is desperately circulating talking points to supporters, to try to deal with the fallout from his crass statements. Expect all of these to immediately start spouting from the right wing media and blogs:Romney Camp Tries to Manage Fallout From Libya Response.

From the "Questions and Answers" section:

Questions & Answers:

Don't you think it was appropriate for the embassy to condemn the controversial movie in question? Are you standing up for movies like this?

– Governor Romney rejects the reported message of the movie. There is no room for religious hatred or intolerance.

— But we will not apologize for our constitutional right to freedom of speech.

— Storming U.S. missions and committing acts of violence is never acceptable, no matter the reason. Any response that does not immediately and decisively make that clear conveys weakness.

— If pressed: Governor Romney repudiated this individual in 2010 when he attempted to mobilize a Quran-burning movement. He is firmly against any expression of religious hatred or intolerance.

Reports indicate the embassy in Cairo released its initial statement before the invasion of the embassy commenced. Doesn't this show they were trying to tamp down the protest and prevent what ultimately happened, not sympathize with the protesters?

— The Administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions.

The part in bold above is almost identical to the statement from the US embassy that Romney infamously criticized.

The Attacks On U.S. Ambassador

Well, it's ugly no doubt.  As you probably know by now, families are in mourning, and the diplomatic corps is dealing with the tragedy of four Americans — including the U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens — being killed in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  It is the first time a U.S. ambassador has been killed in 33 years.

Obviously, there will be political questions to be asked — about the protection, but also about our policies in Libya and Egypt.  But Romney was quick out of the gate with an obscene criticism of Obama, issuing a statement which said in part:

“It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

That's pretty harsh, except…. well, it's totally untrue.  When asked to explain what he meant by "Obama's first response", the Romney campaign pointed to a statement from the US Embassy in Cairo issued a statement “condemn(ing) the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” — referring to the anti-Muslim movie allegedly inflaming the demonstrators, rioters, and attackers.

Can we pause for a moment?  How is that an apology from the Obama people?  What exactly is wrong with that statement?

But ignoring content, you should know that that statement was issued before the attacks on the diplomatic missions, and wasn't a response at all. The Washington Post helpfully passes along the actual first response to the attacks from the Obama administration:

“I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. “As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack.”

….She added that although the United States “deplores” any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, “there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

Screwed it up again, Mitt.

Romney was joined by Sarah Palin (not surprising) and RNC chairman Reince Preibus, who couldn't resist tweeting this last night:

Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.

Fortunately, other Republicans were able to be, well, civil and not try to score political points. I'm sure the wingnute will call thise people "RINO wimps":

[N]o Republican leader criticized President Obama on Wednesday morning, and called instead for stronger security at U.S. diplomatic facilities, the swift capture and punishment of the perpetrators and a renewed commitment to pro-democracy efforts in the Arab world.

“We mourn for the families of our countrymen in Benghazi, and condemn this horrific attack,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement….

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) usually reserves his morning Senate floor remarks to sharply criticize Obama administration policy. But Wednesday he struck a more somber tone and expressed support for “employing every available tool at our disposal to ensure the safety of Americans overseas and to hunt down those responsible for these attacks….

Even Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — a troika that regularly critiques the Obama administration’s foreign policy — urged Obama to continue supporting democracy efforts in Libya and Egypt.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are attacking Romney for his gross faux pas:

"It’s deeply unfortunate when the circumstance of the statement becomes the story," said Rick Perry's former foreign policy adviser, Victoria Coates, who is now an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and who suggested that Romney should simply have "gone earlier rather than save it for midnight" to avoid appearing to play politics on September 11. "It’s unfortunate that it’s playing out this way, and hopefully they can get back on message, because their point is sound," she said.

Other conservatives were less sympathetic.

"It's bad," said a former aide to Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "Just on a factual level that the statement was not a response but preceding, or one could make the case precipitating. And just calling it a 'disgrace' doesn't really cut it. Not ready for prime time."

A third Republican, a former Bush State Department official, told BuzzFeed, "It wasn't presidential of Romney to go political immediately — a tragedy of this magnitude should be something the nation collectively grieves before politics enters the conversation."

Gotta hurt.  And then there's Mark Halperin:

Unless the Romney campaign has gamed this crisis out in some manner completely invisible to the Gang of 500, his doubling down on criticism of the President for the statement coming out of Cairo is likely to be seen as one of the most craven and ill-advised tactical moves in this entire campaign.

Ouch.

Romney’s Stupidity Tour Continues

And in Israel:

In a breakfast meeting this morning, the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who breakfasted at the King David Hotel: "As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality."

He did not mention the crippling restrictions that Israel imposes on Palestinian trade and movement. 

 

The Fall of Ghadaffi

It's amusing to watch the GOP deal with the inevitable fall of Ghadaffi.  They spend the past few months criticizing Obama for going into Libya and supporting the rebels in the first place.  Now that the rebels are on the brink of victory, the GOP cannot find the words to credit Obama's Libya policy.

Think Progress picks up the story:

Republican presidential hopefuls have been offering giving their reactions to the fall of Qaddafi’s regime, giving praise for many involved save for — perhaps predictably — President Obama, who many of them attacked for endorsing the NATO intervention earlier this year.

Rick Santorum: “Ridding the world of the likes of Gadhafi is a good thing, but this indecisive President had little to do with this triumph.”

It’s hard to see how that statement bears any resemblance to reality, considering that many in Santorum’s own party attacked Obama for doing too much in Libya. In fact, Santorum himself accused Obama of “dithering” and”do[ing] nothing” in Libya in April, saying Obama “really missed an opportunity.”

Mitt Romney: “The world is about to be rid of Muammar el-Qaddafi, the brutal tyrant who terrorized the Libyan people. It is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. As a first step, I call on this new government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, so justice can finally be done.”

In March, Romney accused Obama of being “weak” with the Libya intervention, suggesting Obama’s foreign policy “can’t prevail.” “He calls for the removal of Moammar Qaddafi but then conditions our action on the directions we get from the Arab League and United Nations,” Romney added. In a blog post for National Review in April, Romney warned of “mission creep” and approvingly quoted former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who Romney said “rightly notes that Obama has set himself up for ‘massive strategic failure’ by demanding Qaddafi’s ouster.” Of course, Obama’s approach did “prevail.”

Hee-hee.

Getting Into The Israeli-Gaza Waters

As you may have heard, Israeli commandos killed as many as 16 peace activists and wounded over 50 others as they boarded and commandeered six ships heading toward the Gaza Strip carrying relief and aid in the form of water purifiers, in violation of Israel's self-imposed blockade of Gaza.  CNN:

Israeli soldiers rappelled onto the deck of the ships from a helicopter. The boarding of the ships took place in international waters more than 70 nautical miles (130 km) outside Israeli territorial waters, according to IHH, one of the flotilla organizers.

Yigal Palmor, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, told CNN on Tuesday that Israel regrets the casualties but said "the sole responsibility" for the violent incident lies with activists who have "chosen violence and confrontation."

The six ships were carrying more than 10,000 tons of aid and 600 passengers from more than 20 countries, according to the Free Gaza Movement.

Much is being made of the fact that the peace activists fought the soldiers as they boarded the ship.  On the right, people are showing YouTube videos of the "peace activists" beating the invading soldiers, and yes, they put the phrase "peace activists" in quotes, as if that proves something.

But I don't get what point is trying to be made.  When your ship is invaaded in free, open, international waters, that's — well, an invasion.  Certainly, they had a right to defend themselves.  Isn't that piracy? 

And besides, these relief workers never claimed to be Ghandi.

The ramafications of the incident are huge.  In a rare public denunciation of Israel, the United Nations Security Council on Monday condemned the Israeli raid on the Gaza aid flotilla and deplored the loss of innocent life that attended it. The world body insisted that Israel immediately release the 480 humanitarians it had taken captive, and demanded that it also let their ships go. The UNSC also instructed Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip, calling the siege “not sustainable.”

Among the countries condemning Israel for its attack are Russia, Turkey, India, China, Brazil, France, Spain and many more.  By stark contrast, the White House issued a statement which conspicuously refused to condemn the Israelis (Obama "expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today’s incident, and concern for the wounded"), while the U.S. State Department actually hinted at condemning the civilians delivering the aid ("we support expanding the flow of goods to the people of Gaza.  But this must be done in a spirit of cooperation, not confrontation").  

Obama's call for "learning all the facts and circumstances" is reasonable enough, but all these other countries made clear that this attack could never be justified based on what is already indisputably known:  namely, that the ship attacked by Israel was in international waters and it resulted in the deaths and injuries to dozens of civilians, but no Israeli soldiers were killed and a tiny handful injured. 

It seems to me that Israel really blew this.

Vietnam Was “The Television War”; Meet “The YouTube War”

I don't have anything to say about the outbreak of fighting in Israel/Gaza, other than you can put me down in the "Israel's-responsive-was-disproportionate-and-therefore-counterproductive" camp, that the Bush Administration's silence on the issue is (once again) negligent, and the only way this will end (and not escalate) is some serious efforts at diplomacy — and soon.

Okay, I guess I do have something to say.

Anyway, I find it interesting that the Israeli Defense Forces have opened up an account on Youtube, so that viewers can watch same-day IDF footage of rockets hitting their targets in the Gaza strip.  Interesting propaganda — I'm not sure what purpose it serves ("We're badass"?)

YouTube has pulled some of them down — maybe it intends to do so with all of them.  Odd that it should find itself in this internationally awkward editorial position.

Arming Future Enemies

A new proposal for the Pakistani crisis:

A new and classified American military proposal outlines an intensified effort to enlist tribal leaders in the frontier areas of Pakistan in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as part of a broader effort to bolster Pakistani forces against an expanding militancy, American military officials said.

Again with the arming tribal leaders? 

Someone needs to remind someone at the Pentagon that when we arm tribal leaders, the chickens eventually come home to roost.  In other words, these guns go out there unaccounted for, and 5 to ten years later, they’re shooting back at us.

America To The Rescue

I think much of this was lost on the audience, but this is brilliant.

Jon Stewart talks about U.S. intervention in the Middle East over the past 3 decades and our absurd policies where we provide billions of money, arms, and military training to people who later become our mortal enemies.  Bin Laden?  Yeah, the U.S. gave him guns and training.  Saddam?  Ditto.  It’s astounding that people don’t realize this, and it’s astounding that you only hear discussion of it on Comedy Central.

The Unauthorized “Christians United For Israel” Tour

Max Blumenthal has done it again.

He attended a conference of the "Christians United for Israel" people, and brought his camera.  What he saw was alarming.  Watch it.

Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour from huffpost and Vimeo.

There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with anybody being pro-Israel.  What makes me squirm about these people is that they are pro-Israel for the wrong reasons.  As Blumenthal explains:

CUFI has an ulterior agenda: its support for Israel derives from the belief of [CUFI founder and megachurch pastor] Hagee and his flock that Jesus will return to Jerusalem after the battle of Armageddon and cleanse the earth of evil. In the end, all the non-believers – Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc. – must convert or suffer the torture of eternal damnation.

As the members itself in this video reveal, it is not the Jews, or an inherent belief in a Jewish state, which drives their support for Israel.  In fact, Jews are — they’re quite clear about this — going to be damned for all time when the Rapture comes (unless they convert).  They merely support Israel because doing so will bring about the End Times.

As such, the group’s name "Christians United for Israel" is a bit of a misnomer.  What they are all about is "Israel for Christians".  Scary.

RELATED:  The Pope believes in evolution.

A Unique Solution To The Middle East Problem

Yogic_flying Why didn’t somebody think of this before?

Reuven Zelinkovsky was a colonel in the Israeli army, but now he has renounced military might to join a squadron of yogic flyers at the Sea of Galilee to throw a "shield of invincibility" around the Jewish state.

As Hezbollah rockets fired from nearby Lebanon boomed in the background, he explained that the solution to the latest conflict to engulf the Middle East was "not to kill the enemy but to kill enmity."

This can be done through the "technology" of yogic flying which, for those trained in the technique, is the spontaneous result of transcendental meditation, said Zelinkovsky as he emerged Tuesday from the first of two daily four-hour sessions.

The bespectacled electronics engineer, who served in the army from 1966 until 1982, is part of a worldwide movement led by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the former guru to The Beatles.

The movement’s Natural Law Party has unsuccessfully fielded candidates in US presidential and British general elections, touting yogic flying as a solution to the world’s ills.

Yogic flying, derided by critics as glorified bum-hopping, is the purported ability to levitate through the advanced practice of transcendental meditation, or TM.

Proponents of the art say world peace can be achieved by thousands of simultaneous yogic flyers spread across the globe.

I don’t know about anybody else, but it seems to me that if missiles are going to be flying through the air, the last place I want to be is in the air with them.

Weighing In On The Israel-Lebanon Thing

Look, I know it’s complicated.  And I don’t feel compelled to pick a side.  This much I will say.

There’s no question that Hezbollah is, or certainly acts like, a terrorist organization, and Israel is justified in defending itself from those attacks.

But to my mind, Israel’s response is disproportionate, over-the-top, and reckless.  Two example in the past 24 hours:

(1)  "Ooops" attack on the Red Cross.  Look at the picture — a missile entered the van with bullseye precision.

AmbulanceIn Sunday’s attack, Chaalan was thrown backward while the other medics rushed to pull the wounded from the smashed vehicle. As they pulled the child out, the Israelis struck again, blowing up the second ambulance.

"I felt like I was dying," Chaalan said Monday, after his release from a hospital. "I thought, ‘I’m dead.’ "

Fortunately, he was only stunned and needed three stitches to close a wound on his chin.

After the attack, a Red Cross volunteer reached the organization’s headquarters in Tyre, which relayed news of the assault to the International Red Cross headquarters in Geneva. After nearly two hours of negotiations, the Israelis guaranteed safe passage for the volunteers and the wounded back to Tyre.

Despite a donation of blood from Chaalan, the wounded man, 40-year-old Ahmed Mustafa Farwaz, lost his right leg below the knee, while his son Mohammed Farwaz, 14, remained in serious condition with shrapnel wounds to his abdomen. The elder Farwaz’s unidentified mother suffered severe nerve damage to her legs.

(2)  "Ooops" attack on the UN, killing 4 U.N. observers, including a Canadian, a Chinese, an Austrian and a Finn. Kofi Annan is calling the attack deliberate.

Annan said in his statement the post had been there for a long time and was marked clearly, and was hit despite assurances from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that UN positions would not be attacked.

"I call on the government of Israel to conduct a full investigation into this very disturbing incident and demand that any further attack on UN positions and personnel must stop," Annan said in the statement.

Lead Singer For Iron Maiden News

I’m no fan of Iron Maiden, but this is a pretty cool story:

He’s the frontman for one of the great metal bands of all-time. He was a world class fencer. Now, after helping to rescue scores of Britons from the fiery hell of war, he’s a national hero.

Bruce Dickinson, lead singer for Iron Maiden, gets bored pretty quickly. He keeps himself busy with many hobbies and art projects. Years ago he was trained as a commercial pilot by friend Captain Phil Dales of British Airways.

When Dickinson got word that his countrymen were stranded in Cyprus after having fled the war in Lebanon, he leaped at the chance to help.

"He was only too keen to get involved and help. He has a strong interest in the welfare of people caught up in international conflicts and cares about what is going on," said a colleague.

Dickinson piloted a Boeing 757 down to the tiny island nation to pick up 200 Britons and return them to the safety to Gatwick Airport in England.

Now Dickinson will return to hosting his weekly radio show on BBC 6Music and resume rehearsing for Iron Maiden’s fall tour opening at Budokan.

Rapture Dreams

Well, there’s a small segment of society who believe that the Middle East conflict is a good thing.  A REAL good thing.

Over at Rapture Ready/End Times Chat online bulletin board, some evangelical Christians are seeing recent events as a sure sign of the second coming of Christ.  Here are a few comments posted on the board:

Praise God! We are chosen to be in these times and also watch and spread the word. Something inside me is exploding to get out, and I don’t know what it is. Its kind of like I want to do cartwheels around the neighborhood.

* * *

A question just popped in my head. Do you think children of around say 7 or 8 (but before the age of accountability) that have been indoctrinated up until that time by their parents religious beliefs will be raptured? . . . For example, would a 7 year old muslim be raptured? I know G-d will do right but I was just wondering everyone’s thoughts. I hate to think of kids being left here.

* * *

Got that dancing feeling on the inside of me.

* * *

This is the busiest I’ve ever seen this website in a few years! I have been having rapture dreams and I can’t believe that this is really it! We are on the edge of eternity!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

* * *

Whoa! I can sure feel the glory bumps after reading this thread!

* * *

I too am soooo excited!! I get goose bumps, literally, when I watch what’s going on in the M.E.!! And Watcherboy, you were so right when saying it was quite a day yesterday, in the world news, and I add in local news here in the Boston area!! Tunnel ceiling collapsed on a car and killed a woman of faith, and we had the most terrifying storms I have ever seen here!! But, yes, oh happy day, like in your screen name , it is most indeed a time to be happy and excited, right there with ya!!

* * *

I am excited beyond words that the struggle of this life may be over soon and I can finally be FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!

* * *

This is so exciting….I’m having a hard time believing this is ‘real’!

I’m not trying to put down anyone’s deeply-held religious convictions, but isn’t there something a little ooky about celebrating war, death, and destruction (not to mention the Big Dig fatality in Boston) in this way?

Jesus wept.

Courtesy of Harper’s Magazine

Is Michael Brown In Charge If Lebanon Evacuation?

There were roughly 25,000 Americans in Lebanon when the bombs began.  A couple thou have been evacuated so far. What about the rest?

"We have an open line to all American citizens. We’re in touch with them by Web site. Those Americans who wish to leave will obviously go out," [Nicholas Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs] told CNN Tuesday.

Problem there, Nick.  Telephone service is spotty — both land lines and cellular networks are on-again, off-again in war-struck areas. Electricity is out in parts of Beirut and southern Lebanon, probably as a result of Israeli bombing runs which targeted civilian infrastructure, including power plants and transformers.

Anyway, those still awaiting evacuation don’t seem to feel very informed by our government:

"We are desperately trying to evacuate and have become more and more disappointed and angry with the way the evacuation is being handled," said Lina Fleihan of Greensboro, North Carolina. "We hear more about what’s going on from CNN than we do from the U.S. government and the American Embassy here."

U.S. Citizens Trapped In Lebanon Have To Pay For Their Evacuation

From the website of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut (follow the link if you doubt me):

A message to the American citizens in Lebanon:

The Department of State continues to work with the Department of Defense on a plan to help American citizens depart Lebanon. As of the morning of July 15, we are looking at how we might transport Americans to Cyprus. Once in Cyprus, Americans can then board commercial aircraft for onward travel. Commercial airlines provide the safest and most efficient repatriation options to final destinations.

The Department of State reminds American citizens that the U.S. government does not provide no-cost transportation but does have the authority to provide repatriation loans to those in financial need. For the portion of your trip directly handled by the U.S. Government we will ask you to sign a promissory note and we will bill you at a later date. In a subsequent message, when we have specific details about the transporation arrangments, we will inform you about the costs you will incur.

Nice.

By the way, here’s what it says at the website for the Canadian Embassy in Lebanon:

The Canadian Government has arranged for sea vessels to assist Canadians wishing to depart Lebanon. All costs related to the evacuation of Canadians citizens from Lebanon will be borne by the Government of Canada.

UPDATE:  More to this story here.

Quote Of The Day

George Will blasts neoconservative foreign policy in the Middle East:

[I]t is not perverse to wonder whether the spectacle of America, currently learning a lesson — one that conservatives should not have to learn on the job — about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world, has emboldened many enemies.

Read the whole thing.  He rejects the neoconservative ability to turn the current Mideast crisis into a “Let’s get Iran” war drive.  To Will, it’s clear that neocons haven’t learned the lessons of their mistakes in Iraq.  Ouch.