Posted tagged ‘Israel’

08.03.17 Ben Cardin: still wrong; Chris Van Hollen: still silent

August 3, 2017

Per my post a few days ago, I wrote to Senator Ben Cardin (MD) in opposition to his bill criminalizing political speech he disagrees with. I heard back from his office today. Here is his note (my reply appears below that):

Thank you for sharing your comments on the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, S. 720. I appreciate your engagement regarding this piece of legislation, particularly your concerns over its potential impact on your constitutionally-protected First Amendment rights.

I understand that the American Civil Liberties Union released a letter that may have caused your, and other Marylanders’ concerns over the impact of S. 720 on civil liberties. I want you to know that I would not support legislation that would infringe upon those freedoms, and I welcome the opportunity to engage with you regarding some of the misunderstandings about the bill.

S. 720 seeks to amend the Export Administration Act (EAA), a 40-year-old law that prohibits U.S. persons from complying with unsanctioned foreign boycotts imposed by foreign countries. The prohibitions of the EAA have been consistently upheld as constitutionally sound. The new legislation amends the EAA to extend its existing prohibitions to unsanctioned foreign boycotts imposed by international governmental organizations, such as United Nations agencies or the European Union.

I want to highlight that this bill does not limit the rights of American citizens or organizations to express their views on Israeli or American foreign policy; nor does it limit the rights of American citizens or businesses from engaging in boycott activity of their own accord. I hope you will read my response to the ACLU, which is attached with this letter for your review. As I state in that letter and repeat to you now in this correspondence, I welcome healthy dialogue with constituents regarding the purpose and importance of this legislation, and I sincerely hope that this letter has addressed your concerns.

Thank you again for reaching out to me to share your thoughts on S. 720. Please do not hesitate to follow up with me should you have any additional questions or concerns regarding this bill, or any other matter of importance to you.

My reply:

Your assurances re my free-speech rights are empty until/unless I see further advice from the ACLU on this matter. The fact is that you once before prominently demonstrated your prioritization of Likud’s interests over US interests, when you opposed the Iran nuclear deal two years ago. You burned your credibility on matters touching on Israel at that time.

I will oppose your reelection and will continue to engage with Chris Van Hollen, Jamie Raskin, and other elected officials to defeat completely your misguided attempt to legislate your personal views on Israel and speech.

PS. I am Jewish and see you as a clear threat not only to my American civil liberties, but also to my ability to separate my ethnic identity from the horrific policies of the Israeli state.

In other news, Chris Van Hollen’s office still has no position to report, but this time his staff did give me the direct email address of his foreign affairs legislative assistant – please join me in writing to her: afreen_akhter@vanhollen.senate.gov.

I spoke again with Jamie Raskin today and he confirmed his opposition to S.270 and that he would produce a public statement on it before Congress returns from recess in September.

Finally, in a move that shows the lie in Ben Cardin’s email today, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) has withdrawn her cosponsorship of Cardin’s bill due to the ACLU’s analysis.

©2018 Keith Berner

Advertisements

07.31.17 Democrats seek to criminalize free speech (with friends like Ben Cardin, who needs enemies?)

July 31, 2017

Maryland Senator Ben Cardin introduced S.270, the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” on March 23. It attracted little attention until the past couple of weeks.

This blog post is not about where you or I might stand on Israel. I have written plenty on that topic, including how Jewish-American politicians contribute to anti-Semitism through their support for the country.

Rather, I’m writing about free speech, a right enshrined in the First Amendment and a fundamental underpinning of US democracy (indeed of democracy itself). That is the issue at hand here: S.270’s purpose is to criminalize (with shockingly severe penalties) my right to hold political opinions that the bill’s many sponsors happen to disagree with.

As I wrote to Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-8) last week:

Principled opposition to this bill is something quite apart from one’s particular views on Israel.  If you believe in civil liberties, you support them. Our fundamental freedoms should never be sacrificed to the interests of another country (any other country). Once that principle is agreed to, you can have whatever debate you need to about Israel.

Just in case you’re a fan of the ACLU, here’s what they have to say about this pernicious bill: How the Israel Anti-Boycott Act Threatens First Amendment Rights.

Take another look now at the S.270 link and that of HR.1697, the House’s equivalent. There are 46 cosponsors in the Senate and 249 in the house. That is, half of our elected officials are ready to toss aside the First Amendment because they think servitude to Likud and settlers is worth it.

We have become sadly accustomed to GOP assaults on democracy, particularly in the form of voter suppression, but not to exclude theft of Supreme Court appointments and more. But note this: 14 of those cosponsors in the Senate and 71 of them in the House are Democrats, including such “liberal” luminaries as Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand* (NY), Ron Wyden (OR), and Maria Cantwell (WA).

It gets worse, Maryland voters, as our own Hall of Shame is well populated. Apart from Cardin, here they are:

  • Anthony Brown (MD-4)
  • John Delaney (MD-6), who is now running for president in 2020 (suppress giggles here)
  • Steny Hoyer (MD-5)
  • Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2)
  • John Sarbanes (MD-3)

Out of Maryland’s seven Democratic members of the House, only Elijah Cummings (MD-7) and Raskin are not trying to undermine our constitution.

I called Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s and Jamie Raskin’s offices last week to find out where they stand on Cardin’s bill. Both told me that the members were “still considering it.” Here’s what I sent to Van Hollen:

I’m not sure how much study one would need to determine that a piece of legislation like this elevates another country’s temporal interests over our fundamental civil liberties.

I called Van Hollen’s office again today and was told exactly the same thing as last week. It is apparent that Chris Van Hollen is ducking his responsibility to stand up for the First Amendment. This goes beyond political cowardice – since his reelection to the Senate is damn near guaranteed for life. In fact, I can think of no explanation for it at all. I urge you to write him and call him (202-224-4654) to get him to do the right thing.

Because I have a personal relationship with Raskin, I called him directly last Friday and was gratified to hear him denounce the measure unequivocally. When I told him that his staff didn’t know his position, he said he would take care of that promptly and issue a written statement. When I called back today, his staff still didn’t know his stand and had not seen a statement. I urge you to write him and call him (202-225-5341) to get him on the public record.

We learned two years ago, when Ben Cardin and Chuck Schumer were two of only three Democrats to oppose the Iran nuclear deal, that they will always prioritize Likud’s interests over American interests. This is a soft form of treason, in my book, and neither of these men deserves to be in elected office. (They are entitled to their opinions — no one is entitled to be an elected official.) What amazes me this go ‘round is how many additional Democrats are willing to swear allegiance to Benjamin Netanyahu instead of to the Constitution of the United States of America. Please remember this in 2018.

*Kirsten Gillibrand seemed like such a hero in the winter when she led Dems in the number of Trump appointments she voted against. Oh well.

©2017 Keith Berner

01.29.17 Watch your words

January 29, 2017

What we call things makes a difference (note the Tea Party use of “Death Panels” — this was no accident). Here are two vocabulary changes I am now adopting:

  • I will not refer to the cabal that temporarily rules our country as an “administration” or “government.” Rather it will always be “Trump regime,” “GOP regime,” and (when I think even that is too gentle), “fascist regime.” Regime conveys the illegitimacy of the racist authoritarians in power and their contempt for the norms of democracy and rule of law.
  • I will make few, if any, further references to Great Britain or the United Kingdom. It is the racists of England who produced Brexit, just as the racists of the United States brought us our regime. The other nations that make up the UK had nothing to do with it. And as England carries this noxious policy through (led by PM Theresa May, who has appointed herself Trump’s lapdog, making even the ever- docile Tony Blair’s relationship with W look well adjusted), Scotland will certainly leave. So, “Little England” will be left (perhaps with its own lapdog, Wales, and perhaps with Northern Ireland in order to keep the Troubles from erupting again). Little England is a contemptuous moniker for a once-great nation that will deserve the international isolation it ends up with.

I maintain a “boycott list”: countries I will never set foot in because their people have chosen a path of racism, authoritarianism, and/or aggression. I am hereby adding Little England to that list, which now includes Austria, Hungary, Israel, Poland, and Russia. (Elections in Russia are hardly free and fair, but with Putin’s astronomical approval ratings, we know where the Russian people stand.) If I weren’t a US citizen, this country would certainly be on my boycott list, at least until the current regime were replaced.

©2017 Keith Berner

01.14.17 Israel. And the Democrats who support it.

January 14, 2017

I’m Jewish. (I feel I have to start all my comments on Israel by declaring my ethnicity, because so many Israel supporters conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. I am not a self-hater.)

The US actually allowed passage of a recent UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy. Not that our country actually supported the resolution. But, by abstaining (i.e., by refusing to express a view), rather than vetoing (as the US almost always does when the topic of Israel comes up), our country took a baby step towards bringing its Middle East policy in alignment with its stated values.

Oh, the uproar this caused. AIPAC and other Likud-aligned US organizations expressed their customary outrage with their customary breathless bluster. Then, a majority of Democratic House members (109-76), including new MD Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-8), voted to denounce the UN resolution, saying it was unfair to Israel. They joined an overwhelming majority of Republicans (233-4) to undermine President Obama’s gentle turn against rubber stamping everything Israel does.  (This gentle turn comes only after Obama committed $38 billion of our tax dollars to underwriting Likud and illegal settlements for 10 years to come).

Two years ago, our Senator — Ben Cardin — joined only four other Democrats to oppose the nuclear deal with Iran, perhaps Obama’s foremost foreign policy achievement. The other three “traitors” to the president were Robert Menendez (NJ), Joe Manchin (WV), and Chuck Schumer (NY). This graphic tells an interesting story:

picture1

Manchin is the outlier here: he is from a deep-red state and does not have a great record of party loyalty. The others, though, are rock-solid Dems who cast a rare vote against their party and president. And what do they have in common? Jewish identity (Schumer and Cardin) and reliance on Jewish support (those two, plus Menendez).

Is Israel being treated unfairly by the US and the world?

Certainly, there is a great deal of hostility to Israel from hypocritical anti-Semites whose behavior differs little from what they go after Israel for. Certainly, Israel has a right to paranoia, based on the Holocaust and the Arabs’ unremitting hostility and aggression.

But, even for those of us who believe Israel has a right to defend itself in a hostile world, there was never any justification for civilian occupation of foreign land or for Israel’s unjust treatment of its own Palestinian citizens. Since 1973, Israel’s aggressive de facto appropriation of other people’s land and sovereignty has turned it from victim to perpetrator. Even under brief periods of Labor Party rule (including right after the Oslo Peace Accords), Israel has never stopped expanding its settlements on the West Bank, stealing property that doesn’t belong to it.

Israel’s apologists in this country say (more or less), “Hey, no fair criticizing Israel, unless you rebuke in equal measure the knife-wielding Arabs who attack us.” A knife versus the most powerful military force in the region. Resident uprisings, sometimes violent, in the face of daily humiliation and nonstop brutality. At this point, it’s hard for me to see any distinction between the plight of the Palestinians and that of the Africans who had to battle Apartheid for decades, against all odds and the concerted power of South Africa, the US, and Britain. People with no recourse to justice and no hope of progress explode. Wouldn’t you?

Yeah, but what about all the other countries in the world that are oppressive, racist, and/or aggressive? Well, I certainly hate illiberal, bigoted regimes like Russia’s or Hungary’s, not to mention the numerous African states who are murdering and imprisoning their homosexual citizens. Obviously, Israel has no monopoly on outrageous behavior.

But there are three reasons why Israel deserves special opprobrium (at least from me):

1. Most of the other outrageous countries in the world are not fundamentally kept afloat by my tax dollars. The fact that I am paying for Israeli racism and oppression gives me a right – nay, a duty – to forcefully oppose its behavior and US support for it. (For what it’s worth, I’d love to see an end to US support for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well.)

2. I have special contempt for democracies whose people choose racism, oppression, or aggression. Israelis have been voting for right-wing governments for most of the country’s history. The last three elections have produced governments that are ever narrower, ever more nationalist, ever more fascist. I don’t blame the Saudi people the way I blame Israelis: Saudis have no input on their leaders, nor say in their policies.

I am hardly being unfair to Israel. I maintain a boycott list of countries where the citizens themselves are responsible for their countries’ policies, including Austria, Hungary, and Poland. If I weren’t an American, I would throw this country into that same category: a country where a functional majority chooses bigotry and imperialism.

3. The very fact of my Jewishness requires for me to take greater responsibility for the state supposedly founded in my name. I was raised without the Jewish religion. Rather, our religion at home was that of the Civil Rights Movement and opposition to the Vietnam War. I grew up understanding that — as a member of a historically oppressed people — I could not turn my back on oppression of others. My progressivism is rooted in my heritage. I would be betraying my parents if I were to support Israeli aggression or even only turn a blind eye to it.

How Jewish-American politicians contribute to anti-Semitism:

I get how Joe Manchin could side with the right-wing on the nuclear deal. I get how Jewish Americans who have long sided with neocon aggression or spent decades supporting authoritarian freaks in the name of anti-communism could find themselves on the “wrong” side on Israel. At least they’re being consistent with their values.

It’s another matter when the Cardins, Raskins, and Schumers of the US body politic vote against their party, their president, and their proclaimed values on only one issue: Israel. The more these politicians give Israel a hypocritical pass, the more they reinforce the idea in the rest of the world that there is no gap between Jewishness/Judaism and Likud. The more they destroy the very possibility (in the eyes of others) that Jews can be just, that Jews can be peaceful, that Jews can respect human rights and human dignity, the more hatred against Jews they engender.

And this leads us to the great self-defeating tragedy that Likud Jews are engaged in. Israel cannot survive as a democratic, Jewish state if it will not allow a two-state solution. Likud and the majority of Israeli voters who support it are dooming themselves either to a future of apartheid (I would say it has already arrived) or to being a minority in a new Palestine. The Israeli people are assuring a disastrous future for their homeland.

And hypocritical Jewish liberals in the US are undermining Jewish security and safety everywhere by demonstrating that they cannot be trusted on this topic. They sap their own power as progressives (making us progressives less likely to support them) and feed right into the thinking of anti-Semites who want to see Jews has a fifth column with a nefarious agenda.

Is the UN being unfair to Israel? Not this time, in any case. Am I being unfair to Israel? Excuse me, but no fucking way!

It is time for the US to join the rest of the civilized world (however much of that remains in this year of democracy-in-peril) in condemning Israel. (Abstention is not enough!) Further, we must stop underwriting that horrific regime and its racist people. It well past time for my elected representatives, no matter their ethnic or religious affiliation, to be true to their values and to earn my vote not only through a commitment to civil rights and civil liberties at home, but also abroad.

©2017 Keith Berner

04.17.16 Bernie Sanders for President (with caveats)

April 17, 2016

Bernie Sanders represents my values. It’s about time we had a national leader who is not only willing but eager to speak truth to power. Sanders is right to describe our economic and political systems as rigged for the wealthy and powerful (who, of course, are usually the same). He is right to condemn corporate corruption. He is right to speak out against a Democratic Party establishment (currently embodied by the odious DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz) that has tried repeatedly to rig the current presidential campaign in favor of the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.

From a progressive-values standpoint, Sanders has very few flaws. He didn’t suddenly discover the moral catastrophe of economic inequality because of pressure during this campaign. He has been speaking up for the left-out, the “little people,” ever since he ran for mayor of Burlington, decades ago. Before that, he was an active participant in the civil rights movement. (Hints from Clinton supporters like [for shame!] Congressman John Lewis [D-GA] that he might have been insufficiently so, have been proven a lie.) His own integrity and incorruptibility are beyond question.

The only less-than-bright spot in Bernie Sanders is his relative lack of enthusiasm for gun control, which is hardly surprising for a politician from a rural state. Attempts by Clinton to portray Sanders as a gun nut, though, are wildly off the mark.

So, why have I lacked passion in my support for Sanders for president? Partly, it’s because I assumed he never had a chance. Party, it has been my assumption that his nomination would doom the Democrats in November. (I have softened on this as his poll numbers against Trump and Cruz have remained higher than Clinton’s; though I still believe that his numbers would drop significantly under a full-throttled GOP onslaught.)

I have also been thrown by the almost obsessive opposition to Sanders by progressive figures like Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Krugman and others have been hammering away at how Sanders’s economic numbers don’t add up and how he lacks any reasonable plan for getting getting his program through a Congress that has stopped even the decidedly centrist Obama in his tracks.

I find these arguments compelling, but also have to remind myself (and you, dear reader) that almost no political candidate’s numbers add up or plans for success have any chance in the real world. Bernie Sanders’s campaign is aspirational. It is not a legislative program. And, Sanders is right that the only hope for progress in this country is a political revolution. That revolution isn’t going to start in Congress. But it has to start somewhere. If not Bernie Sanders, then who?!

Finally, I have been disturbed by Sanders’s almost complete failure to reach out to and captivate African Americans. I cannot imagine a political revolution in this country that does not include the very people who were the targets of America’s Original Sin and the country’s ongoing indifference to their daily lives and struggle. In creating his campaign, Sanders forgot African Americans and wrote off the South. To some extent, this was a reflection of his own skepticism about his chances. If he wasn’t really trying to win then it hardly mattered if he lost too many states with early primaries.

To some extent, Sanders’s blindness to building a real “rainbow coalition” (to use a phrase that ended up sounding empty in Jesse Jackson’s mouth), like his stance on guns, is a result of decades serving a lily-white rural state. Sanders has tried to repair the damage recently and had some success. He is certainly not a bigot himself. But his early failures figure into my relative lack of passion for his candidacy.

The New York State primary campaign has provided an opportunity for me to rekindle some passion. Sanders has shown his typical, unusual courage in speaking out against Israeli policy and Prince of Darkness Benyamin Netanyahu ­– in Brooklyn of all places! Sure, college students have been pushing for boycotts and some progressive Jewish leaders have been denouncing AIPAC and Likud. But an actual elected official speaking the truth about Israel? And a Jewish one, at that? Unheard of! (Your blogger is also Jewish, but foremost a humanist.) This alone reinforces my commitment to support Sanders over a Clinton, whose whole family swears allegiance not only to AIPAC and Likud, but also to the butchers in Cairo (Mubarak and Sisi) and Riyadh.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile is a poster child for most of what is wrong in our political system and country. I’m glad she has moved decidedly left in the course of this campaign, under pressure from Bernie Sanders and his supporters. She says she now opposes free-trade-at-all-costs and Wall St. dominance. Her utterances on this and other topics are encouraging, if not wholly persuasive. (Remember, Barack Obama appointed Wall St. and the NSA to run his administration after sounding very different during his campaign.)

As I have written, I have particular loathing for the Clintons because their hubris leads them over and over again to waste political capital on scandals of their own making. Open the books on Whitewater in 1992 and there is no impeachment. Admit to flawed judgment and release all the emails in 2015 and “Emailgate” disappears. Release transcripts of the Goldman Sachs speeches and you start to climb out of the hole your politically incompetent decision to feed at that trough dug in the first place.

I will never understand how African Americans managed to forgive the Clintons for the explicitly racist campaign Bill ran on Hillary’s behalf in 2008, and the implicit racism of Hillary’s dog whistles for the folks who now support Trump in places like West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Now we have the spectacle of Bill’s shouting down Black Lives Matter protesters last week. (The thought of that man running loose in the White House gives me the [slick] willies.)

(I accept Hillary’s denunciation of the 1994 crime bill. Everyone has learned a lot since then, including her. This is a case where she should be applauded for growth, rather than condemned for flip-flopping.)

To the extent that Clinton’s consistent progressive rhetoric this campaign season can be believed, there remains one area of profound difference between her and Sanders: foreign policy. Clinton voted for the Iraq War and has tried to distance herself from that decision only out of political expediency. Her embrace of military intervention in Libya more recently shows a continued arrogance (your blogger was torn on the issue at the time for humanitarian reasons, but was not secretary of state). It’s not not only that Clinton puts too much stock in military solutions; it is also that she believes in an American mission to remake the world. Hillary Clinton is a neocon. The fact that the GOP neocon establishment has recently hinted at supporting her in November should give more circumspect foreign policy analysts pause.

(Your blogger is not an isolationist and has some fear that Sanders could be too much of one. As destructive as US involvement in the world has usually been, the chaos that would result from complete US disengagement would not be pretty.)

A Democrat better win in November. The stakes for anyone to the left of Attila the Hun are higher this year than perhaps ever in American history. Unlike in the disaster years of 1980 and 2000, Democrats now have precious few holds on power across the country. Even as the national GOP is providing an amusing political spectacle this year, right-wing freaks own outright a substantial majority of governorships, state legislatures, and school boards from coast to coast. A slightly unbalanced Supreme Court has broadly expanded the powers of the corporate elite in the past 20 years and game will be up if the GOP gets one more appointment there. The only thing standing in the way of a right-wing extremist abyss is the presidency.

In this context, it is frightening to hear Sanders supporters tout a “Bernie or Bust” line. It’s bad enough that Nader and his supporters deemed Gore the larger evil in 2000, leading to hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq, not to mention W’s myriad other policy disasters, which – at best – will take decades to recover from.

It seems unlikely now that the Democratic nominee will be anyone other than Hillary Clinton. Trump and Cruz may be flawed enough to lose even in the face of an uninspired Democratic electorate or a new Clinton scandal. But if Bernie supporters stay home, or – worse – continue to attack Clinton after the nomination is secured – they create unacceptable risk.

So, why am I still going to vote for Bernie Sanders in the Maryland Democratic primary on April 26? Because his voice still needs to be heard. Also, because if he can manage to win convincingly in the remaining primaries (which I doubt), he could just eke out a victory in July. (If Sanders does not win in New York this Tuesday, I will call publicly for him to tone down the anti-Clinton rhetoric.)

Bernie Sanders is an American hero for raising issues that Democrats have ignored for decades. He is worthy of your vote. But let not your love of Bernie now blind you to the greater imperative of Democratic victory in November.

03.05.16 Responsibility to protect: A moral dilemma in the Middle East

March 5, 2016

I just finished watching “The Square,” a moving documentary about the brief rise and harsh fall of the Egyptian revolution, 2011-13. In the film, we follow three activists (two liberals and one Islamist) who take part in the massive people-power overthrow of brutal dictator Hosni Mubarak. We see the military hijack the revolution and the Muslim Brotherhood betray it, resulting in the absolute religious dictatorship of Mohamed Morsi. The film ends as first the people and then the military, led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, overthrow Morsi.

“The Square” doesn’t show us the aftermath, as el-Sisi reinstates an absolute military dictatorship, murders thousands, and eventually releases Murbarak from prison. Neither do we witness the increase in terrorism across the country as Brotherhood supporters and the crushed remnants of liberal democrats wage a war of attrition against the military in a destroyed nation.

When I see or read about events like these, my heart breaks for the people on the ground. At the same time I am outraged about this country’s complicity. For decades, a United States, obsessed with stability for Israel, supported Mubarak with a blind eye to his terrors. (The Clintons, who consider the Mubaraks good friends, are – perhaps – the most complicit of our fellow citizens.) For a brief time, perhaps half the time that the liberal revolution seemed to have a chance, the US seemed to be on the right side in Egypt. But then the US backed the blatantly unfair elections that put the Brotherhood in power (elections do not equal democracy!).

The US switched back to supporting military oppression as soon the Morsi was overthrown. Only months after the el-Sisi massacre in Tahir Square and the full institution of rule by brute force, the shameful John Kerry (backed, of course, by Barack Obama) was in Cairo, embracing the butcher and praising him as a democrat.

The broader lessons here are (1) the US fails (at least its stated values, if not its great-power interests) when it chooses sides in fraught situations, (2) the US fails when it embraces dictatorships in the name of stability over human dignity, and (3) the US has been failing every single day for 50 years in supporting Israeli security over nearly every other priority.

+++++++++

In the international human rights field (where I spend my working hours), there is a concept called “responsibility to protect” (RTP). This noble principle is meant to prevent further Holocausts, Rwandas, and Srebenicas (to name three of myriad examples). The idea is that the rights of human beings trump those of regimes, that state sovereignty is subordinate to preventing atrocities and genocides. In fact, states with the means to intervene in such situations are required to intervene.

If one cares about human life and dignity, this seems an unimpeachable moral philosophy. Indeed RTP is why I supported US intervention, as Muammar Gaddafi prepared to slaughter his opponents in 2011. The recent two-part series in the New York Times “The Libya Gamble” focuses on Hillary Clinton’s advocacy for intervention and the irony of her hubris about positive outcomes, with the Iraq War disaster still in the present. Not only was I with Clinton in 2011, I was also – briefly – on the side of US military intervention in Syria in 2013.

The NYT stories cover not only the decision making leading to US intervention, but also the aftermath, as the West loses interest and Libya slides into chaos, becoming (perhaps) a greater hotbed of international terrorism and human suffering than even in Gaddafi’s worst years.

This story is not really about Clinton or just Libya. Rather is it about the helplessness of the West to predict or manage outcomes, even on those relatively rare (in my view) occasions when its intentions align with its values. The US destroyed Iraq, increasing Iran’s power and creating ISIS. The US helped turn Libya into a failed state. The US repeatedly supported the wrong side in Egypt.

So, what does this mean in regard to RTP? It is a terrible moral dilemma. How do the lives lost in Libya’s collapse compare to those if Gaddafi had massacred his opponents? How does human suffering in Syria compare to an unknown outcome if the US had started bombing the in 2013? Do we have more blood on our hands by staying (mostly) out of conflicts or by intervening and “owning” the result?

My belief in RTP has been fundamentally shaken by the NYT series, as I have related it back to events of the past 15 years.

The GOP and its unrepentant neocons admit no moral dilemmas. For them, the answer is always intervention and always military. They never acknowledge the great hypocrisy of US foreign policy over 170 years, as the US preached democracy, but propped up dictatorships in service to US business interests. They never give up their simplistic and arrogant ideology, in the face of complexity and limited ability to dictate outcomes.

I have not become a complete non-interventionist. We should have stopped the Rwandan genocide (the country is now ruled by a dictator who has brought universal healthcare and massive economic development to his impoverished people – another moral dilemma) and were right to stop the one in the Balkans (where a cold peace rules and underlying issues have never been resolved).

I guess where I land is that principles and ideology (whether RTP or GOP/neocon) are no excuse for not thinking, not seeking to grasp complexity, and – above all – not acting with humility. We can’t declare we will never act. But if we do not face the world with an acknowledgement of limited power and understanding, then positive outcomes are utterly impossible. Ultimately, morally fraught situations must be considered individually and after deep deliberation, rather than through a single, simple moral lens.

I have reluctantly come to agree with Obama’s decision not to become enmeshed in Syria (though, I condemn the shear incompetence that led him to declare “red lines” he was unwilling to enforce). In the midst of this horror, nonintervention is more responsible than the alternative. (And, we cannot know whether doing a better job of arming the so-called democratic rebels in 2012-13 would have made us proud. We can see a long history of US-supplied arms being used against us after we exit the bloodbaths we have created). But, deciding not to intervene militarily, does not, cannot, excuse US support for the el-Sisis of the world. Egypt is a case where the moral thing to do was to exit with our tail between our legs and let el-Sisi sink or swim on his own. (As for Israel, it deserves no support at all from the United States as long as it remains a racist, hegemonist power.)

©2016 Keith Berner

08.26.15 Maryland’s Senators Silent on Iran Deal

August 26, 2015

Here is my open letter to Senator Ben Cardin. I will be sending a similar letter to Barbara Mikulski. Maryland Democrats should be outraged that both of our senators appear to be in thrall to Likud and AIPAC. Express your views to Cardin (202-224-4524) and  Mikulski (202-224-4654) or by visiting their websites. Though this should hardly matter on the substance of the issue, Cardin is Jewish and Mikulski is not. Just the same, the latter has been known to consistently take the AIPAC line on Israel.

Dear Senator Cardin:

I read in yesterday’s New York Times, that you are undecided on the nuclear deal with Iran.

Your fence-sitting is disturbing, because the logic in favor of the agreement is an absolute no-brainer: whether or not you love the details or the way Obama and Kerry negotiated, the horse has left the barn. The sanctions regime is dead, dead, dead.

If you liked the George W. Bush administration’s cowboy unilateralism, you’ll love US foreign policy after Congress kills the agreement with Iran. The US would be on its own internationally (with Israel is its sole ally). Not only will usual suspects, like Russia and China, rush to do business with Iran, but so will Europe. In fact, the rush is already on. And without any international sanctions regime, the only remaining leverage the United States (and Israel) will have will be military.

If you oppose this agreement, do you have a plan for recovering US influence and prestige afterwards? Do you relish a unilateral war that will cost enormous blood and treasure and only briefly delay Iran’s nuclear progress?

The question is not whether this negotiated agreement is perfect (by definition, no negotiated agreements are), but rather, what is the alternative? I have yet to hear a rational one from the belligerent right.

We know why the GOP is lockstep opposed to the agreement. First, there is the party’s long history of opposition to negotiations and arms control in principle (see this Times article reminding us of right-wing opposition to even Reagan’s and Eisenhower’s talks with the Soviets). And there’s the fact that anything and everything Obama does sends the GOP into paroxysms of feigned rage.

We know why Israel is opposed: it is in thrall to the racist, hegemonic regime it elected. That regime is, sadly, behaving contrary to Israel’s own interests, but is blind to this fact, as is the aggressively right-wing pro-Israel lobby in this country (led by AIPAC).

I cannot fathom why any Democrat – regardless of creed – would be in opposition. I am embarrassed that the only Democrats in stated opposition are Jewish (Schumer of NY) or count on Jewish votes (Menendez of New Jersey and Schumer).

I am a Jewish American. I use that formulation, since – in an irony of English-language construction – it is the second element of that phrase that is dominant. That is, I am American more than I am Jewish.

Are you? If you are, then your equivocation is uncalled for. You must prioritize US interests over Israel’s (notwithstanding Israel’s current inability to recognize what its true interests are).

Ben Cardin: You face a choice. Are you going to be a Democrat representing Maryland or a Likudnik representing Israel? Maryland Democrats can wait no longer for you to make up your mind and do the right thing.

Sincerely,

Keith Berner

©2015 Keith Berner