That June 7, 2010, marks the 104th month of US military engagement in Afghanistan and, consequently, America's longest war in history (Vietnam lasted 103 months), would be less significant if we were not fumbling on all fronts in Afghanistan, from security to development to governance. The disconcerting indication of this mile-marker is not simply that Afghanistan trumps Vietnam as "longest war in history," but that there is no guarantee that by the 116th month, in July 2011, the bulk of US presence will leave as promised.
One year ago in Cairo, President Obama promised America and the world's Muslims a new beginning "based on mutual interest and mutual respect." Translating this message into better relationships will take action from all of us.
In the coming weeks, I will introduce a bill in Congress to create a new professional exchange program between the United States and Muslim-majority countries. This pilot program would allow young American professionals to spend six months overseas experiencing a new culture in Muslim countries while gaining new work experiences. And it would allow citizens of those countries to spend six months in the United States, where they will gain valuable work skills and see what life in America is all about. In a small but significant way, both journeys will help to lay the groundwork for improved relations going forward.
The following letter is being circulated to Members of Congress for additional signatures:
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
Dear Mr. President,
Israeli commandos, acting at the direction of the State of Israel, attacked and seized a Turkish ship in international waters, in the Mediterranean Sea.
I am alarmed that our long-standing solidarity with Israel has been thrown into doubt by a White House that seems to be playing a proverbial game of jump ball, whereby the world wonders on which side America will stand. Of course, we should stand with Israel. Doing otherwise sends a dangerously emboldening signal to Israel’s enemies.
We should be very clear about who is responsible for the unfortunate loss of life in the attempt to break the blockade in Gaza. Hamas and its allies are the responsible parties for the recent violence and the continued difficulties for the people of Gaza. Israel exercised her legitimate right of self defense.
"I join President Obama in expressing my deep sorrow at the loss of life aboard the Marmara, and hope for a speedy recovery for the wounded flotilla members and Israeli soldiers. However, until the facts of this complex and tragic episode are fully investigated and understood, it is premature to assess blame or call anyone a murderer. The focus now must be on preventing events from escalating and leading to more violence, or scuttling the peace process."
“As we wait for all the facts to emerge about Monday’s events, several things are already clear. First, the loss of life was tragic. Second, Israel – rightfully so – invoked its right to self-defense on the Mavi Marmara. While the majority of ships in the flotilla – 5 out of 6 – reacted peacefully when approached by Israeli Defense Forces, activists on board the Mavi Marmara were clearly bent on a violent confrontation. They further chose this path despite two week’s worth of repeated warnings from Israel that the ship would not be allowed to come ashore, and despite Israel’s offer to instead receive the humanitarian goods at Ashdod, inspect them there for weapons, and ensure their distribution to Palestinians in Gaza. Finally, to the extent that this act was in protest of the Gaza blockade, let’s be clear: Hamas could end the blockade at any time by recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing violence, and releasing Gilad Shalit.
I urge every member of Congress to immediately pass a resolution calling for an international investigation into the Israeli assault on the Free Gaza flotilla carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian supplies and to demand an end to Israel's brutal blockade of Gaza that imprisons over a million Palestinians, almost half of them children demonized for their geography.
President Obama, his foreign policy team, and Congress are on the cusp of redefining how the United States approaches foreign assistance. As they undertake their aid reform effort this year, they're promising to get serious about ensuring that American funds are used wisely.
They're right to focus on results. And one of the best ways to guarantee that our aid dollars actually deliver for those in need is to use them to develop innovative new tools for combating the health problems that plague the developing world.
Any loss of life is regrettable, but I fully support Israel’s right to defend itself. Supporters of the Iranian-backed Hamas terrorist group clearly would like to find a way to deliver weapons to Hamas in Gaza. Israel has a right to stop ships to prevent this from happening. Israel offered the ship a port and promised to deliver the humanitarian aid, but militant activists on the ship intentionally provoked a battle instead. Although much of the world community wants to deny it, Israel has a legitimate right to self-defense, and it is exercising that right in the waters near Gaza.
I refuse to join the ‘blame Israel first’ crowd. America must stand by its ally in our mutual fight against international terrorism.