Thursday, April 12, 2012

Post #241 - Deja vue...again

Two articles appeared in the May/June 2009 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. The odd thing is that they could easily have been written today, three years later; so little has really changed.

The first article, by John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer, was entitled "Happy New Year, Iran." He begins:

"On the occasion of the Persian New Year ["Nowruz" -- usually celebrated in the latter part of March on the Western calendar, AP] President Obama videotaped a personal statement to the Iranian people that is being portrayed in the Western media as a significant change, in both tone and substance, in American policy and an effort to reach out to Iran."

(This year such a message went out from the White House as well, as you may have seen.)

"The United States," the President is quoted as having said in his statement, "wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization."

Whitebeck asks the obvious question: "who has been threatening whom? Has Iran been threatening a preventive (i.e., unprovoked and aggressive) attack on the United States? Has Iran been insisting that military action remains on the table if the United States does not bow to Iranian demands. One may also agree that no country's 'rightful place in the community of nations' should be reached 'through terror or arms.' Yet it is the United States that brought shock and the region...and it is the United States that spends more on arms than the rest of the world combined. One may also agree that the 'true greatness' of a country is demonstrated through 'peaceful actions." Iran has not invaded another country in more than two centuries. The same can scarcely be said of the United States."

"The peculiar effort to reach out to Iranians," Whitbeck wrote, "which any rational Iranian who actually heard or read the words could be expected to view as condescending and insulting, is logically consistent with the line in Obama's inaugural address in which he offered an outstretched hand to...Muslims...if they would unclench their fists. Who has been brandishing a clenched fist at whom?...However, the words and concepts used in his efforts continue to reflect the blind self-righteousness and myopic obliviousness to reality and the way others might perceived America, the world and their own place in it so characteristic of his predecessor."

Since that piece was written, the only thing that has changed is that the sanctions are drawn ever tighter around the Iranian people, and the odds given by betting men on Israel launching a preemptive strike have increased.

A second piece in that periodical pointed to a possibly more productive avenue. Written by Paul Findley, it was headed "Obama Should Rescind the Bush Doctrine." Findley, a member of Congress from 1961 to 1983 (that's ten times he was re-elected by his district), is the author of Silent No More: Confronting America's False Images of Islam.

Findley began by quoting Abraham Lincoln, when the latter was in the House (1848), and opined that "no one man should hold the power" to start a war. "Allow the president," the president-to-be wrote, "to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary...Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power." This, of course, was in an era when the global reach of today's United States was exercised solely by Great Britain -- and that empire already in decline. Findley then discusses Afghanistan and Iraq, which "At high cost...tarnish the good name of America worlwide and, still worse, squander precious lives, not just money." (Again, the death toll has only increased since Findley was writing in 2009.)

Findley says, "We should have learned long ago that the war measures of occuptying forces are almost always counterproductive. They promote terrorism instead of diminishing it. The best antidote to terrorism is justice.

"It is high time for President Obama to 'turn the page' on the Bush doctrine. He should clearly rescind it and immediately limit our presence in these countries to a non-combat role that is supportive of peaceful endeavors by local leaders. To that end, his best first step is to order an immediate end to all U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan."

Clearly, the Obama White House was not paying much attention to the former public servant or his colleague, Mr. Whitbeck.We now have relatively few troops left in Iraq (though we still have the world's largest embassy in Baghdad), and an exit from Afghanistan may be on the horizon, but the picture in the Middle East still can be painted with tints of chaos, corruption and anti-Americanism. Just this year, more American lives were lost in Afghanistran -- many at the hands of those who are supposed to be our allies, while one of our battle-damaged soldiers wrought havoc on Afghan innocents.

Bush doctrine or a truly new relationship with the Muslim world? It appears to some that President Obama has not quite made his mind up yet. Let us hope that the scheduled talks can lead to some new thinking on this old topic.

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