Foreign Policy

Israel's worrisome path

Over the past few months, the Israeli Knesset has passed a series of laws that seriously undermine Israel’s claim to be an open, tolerant democracy. As advocates for the rights of Palestinian citizens ofIsrael currently visiting the United States to meet with policy makers and members of civil society, we are deeply concerned about these developments. Sadly, while a wave of democratic uprisings sweep the region, Israel, the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East” is moving in the opposite direction, towards a less open, less democratic society.

While this disturbing trend has been in evidence for a number of years now, the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing coalition government has accelerated the process and laid it bare for all to see. Thus, in just the past few weeks we have witnessed the passing of a law that will deny public funding to any institution that commemorates the disaster that befell Palestinians during Israel’s creation in 1948 (the so-called “Nakba Law”) and another law that will allow small communities to have selection committees that can reject applicants on the basis of "social suitability.” 

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Last chance for Syria’s Asad to reform

To use a baseball metaphor, last week Syrian President Bashar al-Asad stepped up to the plate with the game on the line. He had a chance to hit a home run with his much-anticipated speech to the nation in response to the growing protests against the government. Instead, he grounded out meekly to second base. The question now is whether the game is over or there is still time to mount a comeback.

The expectations were high for the speech. But this is nothing new to Asad. When he succeeded his father, Hafez al-Asad, in 2000, most believed he would be a pro-West reformer because he was a licensed ophthalmologist who studied in London, was a computer nerd and liked the technological toys of the West. Having met with him on a regular basis between 2004 and 2009, I can say with some authority that he is different from his father. On the other hand, one has to remember that he spent all of 18 months in England. For most of his life he was affected and influenced by a Syrian paradigm that included hostility toward and distrust of Israel and the United States. He sees the world ultimately through Syrian eyes. 

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Reinforcing Libya's rebels

Enforcing the no-fly zone alone will not fulfill the purpose of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. The legally-binding mandate allows for any necessary means to protect civilians. This must also imply taking appropriate measures to confront the sources that threaten civilians. Arming and reinforcing Libya’s opposition is a crucial element. 

Failing to do so threatens the international mission and the civilians it was designed to protect. Interpreting the U.N. mandate otherwise is an invitation to defeat. The Libyan crisis is no longer a diplomatic exercise but a conflict.

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Genocide Prevention Month: From Bosnia to Benghazi

History repeats itself. But not always. Not when those who are able step up to change the course.

The Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur all share major, tragic anniversaries this month, which is why April has been named Genocide Prevention Month by the world’s growing anti-genocide movement. As communities across the globe commemorate past atrocities, we can best honor those who lost their lives, their homes, and their families in these major atrocities by working hard to make ‘Never Again’ a reality.

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President Obama leaves questions unanswered

On Monday evening, President Obama finally addressed the American people to begin explaining why almost two weeks ago, he called for military action in Libya.

I am still scratching my head trying to figure out why it took ten days for the president to address the nation about our military involvement there.

As Americans, we are known as a compassionate people and it is no secret that as a country we assist in humanitarian efforts across the globe to help ensure safe conditions for those less fortunate than us. In Libya, Muammar Gadhafi’s attacks on his own people are tragic.

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Palestinian voices need support

Controversy continues to swirl over the recent release of “Miral,” a film about Palestinians made by acclaimed Jewish-American director Julian Schnabel. The spark was a remarkable and inspiring event that occurred at the United Nations building in New York in mid-March when the General Assembly played host to some of Hollywood’s biggest stars for the film's premiere.

Remarkable because “Miral” is the first mainstream Hollywood film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict told from a Palestinian point of view, and inspiring because so many people came out in support of the filmmakers despite criticism from the Israeli government, the American Jewish Committee, and others who called for the cancellation of the screening.

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The Tea Party meets the world

With United Nations-authorized military action underway and the president finally speaking to the nation, the fighting in Libya continues. Coalition partners are debating the politics - and intended outcome - of intervention in London at this very moment. Halfway across the globe, Japan experienced a massive earthquake, a devastating tsunami, and the threat of nuclear fallout. Just over a week ago, Egypt held a constitutional referendum – the first of many steps in its post-Mubarak transition. Tunisia bumped along its path of political reform. Yemen saw escalated fighting between pro-government forces and protestors. And Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to help squash pro-reform demonstrations.

As the fires of upheaval spread around the globe, here at home the Tea Party campaign to isolate America from the rest of the world continues. Indeed, by proposing draconian cuts to our international affairs budget and supporting withdrawal from the U.N. – barely a month before the Security Council authorized a military response to Libya – the Tea Party’s efforts to resurrect isolationism, as Walter Russell Mead aptly called it, have shown to be not just bad policy, but also bad business for our national interests.

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A Congressional obligation in Libya

The Arab spring that awoke in lands throughout North Africa and the Middle East was a site to behold. The spigot of unrest was too powerful, the energy too spontaneous, the movement too organic for any government to turn off.  Seasons of discontent were reversed by the keyboard clicking and smart phone tapping of a youthful generation expressing their exuberance in 140 characters on Twitter, and organizing movements of shared struggle on Facebook fan pages.

While too many lives were cut short, regimes accustomed to wielding a particular brand of power did not respond to these uprisings with sheer force that was despotically ruthless and inhumanely cruel.

There was one exception.

In Libya the fist of tyranny reigned down with brutish might on a people who refused to be excluded from this season of uprising and change.

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What America wants to hear from Obama tonight

Today as American Naval aviators in the Mediterranean wait off shore to fly combat missions against the Libyan Army, as Marines wait for the call to go ashore to rescue a downed pilot, or as Air Force pilots fly combat air patrol, we are confident that all military orders will be met with the same professionalism and skill we have come to expect of our all-volunteer force. The valor and loyalty of the men and women of our nation’s armed forces have never been in question.

And yet despite that certainty, many Americans view our military intervention in Libya with anxiety and uncertainty. They’re wondering why U.S. forces are once again engaged in combat action against an Arab regime in the Middle East. They’re wondering when this operation will end; and when their loved ones will return. And they’re asking another reasonable question; ‘What is the mission?’ 

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Constitutional problems with the Libyan war

Last week the Obama Administration took the United States to war against Libya without bothering to notify Congress, much less obtain a constitutionally-mandated declaration of war. In the midst of our severe economic downturn, this misadventure has already cost us hundreds of millions of dollars and we can be sure the final price tag will be several times higher.

Why did the U.S. intervene in a civil war in a country that has neither attacked us nor poses a threat?  We are told this was another humanitarian intervention, like Clinton’s 1999 war against Serbia. But as civilian victims of the U.S.-led coalition bombing continue to add up, it is getting difficult to determine whether the problem we are creating on the ground is worse than the one we were trying to solve. 

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