Innocence Lost: The Path From Purity To Pragmatism

The attainment of morality is an elusive construct. Attempting to define the morality of a society is even more complex. Often, the combatants seeking to instill morality believe, with certainty, that the end justifies the means. In truth, cohesion often requires the concession of purity.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

AshesOfInnocence.jpg

Many Americans like to look at Europe as an example of the moral decay we can expect if we continue to alter our values and ignore our long standing Christian principles. Implicit in this belief, amongst many on the religious right, is the presumption that one’s morality is directly correlated with one’s sexuality…and that goes beyond any consideration of one’s orientation. It also includes a belief that sexual activity is only acceptable under the umbrella of a marriage. That means that sex before marriage is unacceptable and it also infers that both parties are expected to be virgins.

Along with these sexual mores and our disdain for Europe is a growing belief that Islam is an unacceptable religion…or at the very least a religion that will not lead to salvation and therefore it cannot lead to one’s admittance into heaven. Fortunately, life often provides the contrasts and comparisons necessary to illuminate the absurdity and/or hypocrisy of our beliefs…and our predisposition to judge others while ignoring the need for self-examination.

An article in The New York Times provides the backdrop for some measure of reflection…and an illumination of the slippery slope that moral certainty often becomes. The prevalence of Islamic immigrants in Europe has served to pit a strict religious ideology against a far more secular society…and that has led to some rather convoluted interpretations of propriety.

It seems that a number of the Islamic women (note that we don’t focus on the Islamic men) who have partaken in the sexual freedoms afforded by European culture now find themselves in the unenviable position of being unacceptable marriage partners. Islamic teaching require that a bride be a virgin, and should that not be the case, she can be rejected and the marriage can be nullified

Friday, August 5th, 2011 by Daniel DiRito |

Musharref Resignation: Bush’s GWOT Just Got More Interesting

The world that the next president of the United States inherits is going to look very different than the current model. Global geopolitics are changing fast – Russia / Georgia, and now Pakistan’s Pervez Musharref resigns. Instability within the membership of the global nuclear club isn’t a good thing.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction:

Before the next president takes office on 1/20/2009, the world is going to be a much different place. It’s almost starting to seem like the Bush regime is going out of their way to scorch them some earth, and leave a huge pile of crap for the next administration to sort through.

First, we have Russia and Georgia, a situation which isn’t going away anytime soon. The instability in the region will remain, and all parties will be nervously fingering a cocked trigger. But at least Condi Rice finally decided to leave the Feragamo store, quit vacation early, and head for the region. Bush himself delayed his two week vacay a day or two to “monitor developments”, but he’s now busy with brush clearing in Crawford.

Today comes word that BushCo / Cheney LLC’s lapdog, Pervez Musharref, has ended months of speculation and is resigning as president of Pakistan. There’s not much that I can add to this piece of news, other than what this means is even more instability in an already unstable member of the global nuclear club.

Georgia has nukes and ground forces. Russia has nukes and ground forces. The U.S. has nukes and essentially no uncommitted ground forces. Pakistan has nukes and ground forces, and a military which is not (apparently) answerable to the country’s civilian leadership.

The world that the next POTUS inherits just five short months from now will be very different than that which the Bush regime has operated with relative impunity. I’m not smart enough to know what that world might look like, but unfortunately, I am tuned into what’s happening just enough to be ve

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011 by Richard Blair |

Joe the Almost Average To Play War Correspondent

Joe Wurzelbacher, the Poster Boy for the average Republican who suffers from delusions of adequacy, has been hired by Pajamas Media, an imitation news outlet, to cover the conflict in Gaza. Joe’s goal is to talk to Average Joes and Abduls to find out how they react to having homes bombed, questions that don’t really need answers. Stupid.


Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Joe Wurzelbacher, who showed that Republicans could be fooled into listening to a serial failure if he’s got a populist nickname like “Joe the Plumber,” is going to Gaza. No promises he’ll solve the 60 year old crisis there, but he’s going to get us in touch with average Joes, or Abduls, or whatever. This may be the stupidest idea to hit journalism in a long, long time. Of course, that assumes you consider Pajamas Media, the folks who hired Joe for this stupid stunt, to be a legitimate member of the media.

Let’s be clear. Joe Wurzelbacher fascinates Republicans, but even that fascination is misguided. Joe is not average. He aspires to owning a plumbing company, supposedly, but he needs to aim lower and aspire to average first. This guy’s got some serious delusions of adequacy. Why then, are Republicans fascinated by the whole Joe the Plumber schtick? It isn’t because Joe is related to financial criminal Charles Keating. No, that would spoil the mystique Joe’s got going of being a walking talking Ken doll. I think that’s the appeal to Republicans. Joe Wurzelbacher has enough personality to pull off the “Joe the Plumber,” “Joe the Campaigner,” and “Joe the fill in the blank” roles because he came that way in the box from Mattel. Barbie won’t let him have the dreamhouse? Fine, then he’ll be Joe the Army Ranger, or Joe the Toolbag, or Joe the Mailman. He is an (inadequate) everyman, and that works for Republicans because they hope he reflects their constiuency. Does the Republican constituency also suffer from delusions of adequacy? Maybe so. I’ll let you make the call.

But what about this Joe the War Correspondent thingie? Well, it appears Pajamas media, that conservative web site with delusions of adequacy, has hired Joe Wurzelbacher to be its war correspondent in Gaza. Before I hear calls for changing the missions of both the Israeli and Hamas factions in that action so as to aim at war correspondents suffering from delusions of adequacy, let’s hear a little bit from Joe about his qualifications, from the Herald-Sun:

Wurzelbacher said he was going to let “Average Joes” share their stories and get the real story of what is happening.

“It’s tragic, I mean it really is,” Wurzelbacher told Ohio television station WNWO.

“I don’t say that in any little way. It’s very tragic, but at the same time what are the Israeli people supposed to do?”

. . . .

“If given the opportunity to do some good however minute it may be, or could be something really good, you gotta take that chance. You have to do it,” Wurzelbacher said of his new job.

To sum it up, Joe doesn’t know what he’s doing, both sides have their arguments, it’s all very tragic, and it could be solved by talking to other average Joes and Abduls and whatever. Oh, and this is an opportunity for Joe Wurzelbacher to make money at a real job do good! And Joe? He’s not afraid. He’s got God on his side.

Wurzelbacher said he was not concerned about heading into a warzone for a 10 days.

“Being a Christian I’m pretty well protected by God I believe. That’s not saying he’s going to stop a mortar for me, but you gotta take the chance,” he told WNWO.

I suppose the theory here is that God loves even those whose aspirations are of “average,” who wish to make it in this world far more as an American Idol sort of 15 minutes of fame sort, like Joe, but who truly, at root, suffer from delusions of adequacy. What is startling to me is that Joe even has a theology that covers for him, protects him even when he so stupidly takes on a role in a dangerous area of the world where he clearly has no business. He’s a Republican Pundit Wannabe Gone Wild, all right, and his next stint, hopefully at FoxNews, is just around the corner. Even then he will be searching for adequacy, though.

Thursday, January 8th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Laura Bush Dances a Little Sidestep

One expects Rove or Rice or Cheney to play fast and loose with the facts when it comes to defending the Bush Administration and its record. To see Laura Bush do so, well, is also not shocking. Not when she gets those softball questions from FauxNews. Big mentions of Afghanistan from Laura, none of why we went there, to get Osama.


Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Laura Bush was dancing a little Sidestep yesterday on FoxNews, defending her husband’s wreck of a Presidency. . .

Fellow Texans, I am proudly standing here to humbly see.
I assure you, and I mean it- Now, who says I don’t speak out as plain as day?
And, fellow Texans, I’m for progress and the flag- long may it fly.
I’m a poor boy, come to greatness. So, it follows that I cannot tell a lie.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

Now my good friends, it behooves me to be solemn and declare,
I’m for goodness and for profit and for living clean and saying daily prayer.
And now, my good friends, you can sleep nights, I’ll continue to stand tall.
You can trust me, for I promise, I shall keep a watchful eye upon ya’ll…

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

Now, Miss Mona, I don’t know her, though I’ve heard the name, oh yes.
But, of course I’ve no close contact, so what she is doing I can only guess.
And now, Miss Mona, she’s a blemish on the face of that good town.
I am taking certain steps here, someone somewhere’s gonna have to close her down.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

I just couldn’t resist a little whorehouse reference when talking about the Bush White House. Pardon that moment of weakness.

We’ve got less than a month to go before President Bush, the worst President in US history, leaves office, and to that end the time for people defending him is dwindling. Oh sure, Rush Limbaugh will still try to defend Bush, blaming either Clinton or Obama for everything from the Hurricane Katrina response to the real estate mortgage crisis to the failure to apprehend Osama bin Laden. The media whack jobs like Rush will continue to distort the blame game in trying to burnish the image of George Bush. Still, time is running out for the ones who were on the Bush payroll. Who is going to listen to anyone connected to the Bush Administration after January 20th, after all? Well, Laura Bush got in her licks yesterday, and the result was quite ludicrous. She appeared on Fox News Sunday, and talks about George Bush’s noble work in Afghanistan:

WALLACE: I want to pick up on Afghanistan, because I know it’s one of your most heartfelt causes. It’s not just women – a lot of men feel very keenly about this as well.

There’s been substantial progress over the last seven years. Women can now participate in the parliament. Little girls can go to school. But with the Taliban on the march again, do you ever worry that we could go back to the days of the burqa and to that terrible oppression of women in that country?

L. BUSH: Sure, and the days of the burqa aren’t over. Many women in Afghanistan still cover because they want to, partly, because it’s part of their tradition and their culture, and also because they’d be afraid not to.

But that is a worry, and I met with a group of parliamentarians, women parliamentarians, from Afghanistan last January or so, and they said they were afraid, that their – that this is their only chance, and if they can’t make it now, then they just don’t know if they ever would be able to.

And I think that’s all the more reason the international community needs to stay involved in Afghanistan and do what we can.

Afghanistan and Iraq both have the opportunity, if they can seize the moment, to build real democracies where the rights of every person in those countries is respected, and a lot of that is because of the United States, because of our policies of liberating them from the Taliban in one instance and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein in the other.

And it’s very, very important for the people of these countries to stand up and to take this opportunity to build their countries.

But let me say about Afghanistan, they don’t have a lot of capacity. They’ve been in the conflict for 30 years, and most of their population is younger than 30. They don’t have the human capital.

It’s very important for the international community to stay involved, to try to make education as fast and as broad-reaching as possible so they can build the kind of human capital they need to build the infrastructure of laws and of civil society that they’ll need to build a democracy.

Laura’s sidestep, of course, is to burnish Bush’s record in Afghanistan without mentioning the distraction that is Iraq, a distraction that siphoned off hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of troops which could have been devoted to the cause in Afghanistan, whether that cause was the plight of women, of democracy, or of getting the guy who was actually responsible for 9/11, Osama bin Laden. I swear, in their youth Republicans must train or something to answer questions while simply bypassing the biggest issue in the room, like who was actually responsible for 9/11. There’s the big news of this interview, that Laura Bush spent oodles of time lamenting 9/11 and then the status of women in Afghanistan, the vital need for us to support their democracy, etc., etc. No, she never mentioned Osama bin Laden once.

But Laura Bush isn’t the only one guilty of this manuever. Check out Condi Rice in her defense of the Bush Administration, especially on the subject of the Middle East. And then there was Dick Cheney’s defending his decisions about torture. Yes, this is the season for defending George Bush, no matter the tenuous connection to reality those defenses take.

Monday, December 29th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Hillary Clinton Accepted the Secretary of State Position?

Could it be that Hillary Clinton has accepted the role of Secretary of State? The Guardian is reporting the story, and is the first to claim the scoop. It is possible they are wrong, but Obama surely wishes to get this position in place soon. If true, this move will change our stance in the world for the better, and I applaud the move.


Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

It’s being reported only in The Guardian, so far as I can tell, so this might not be real news. Still, Barack Obama said on the 60 minutes interview the other night that he wanted to get his National Security team in place soonest, so we all expect the announcements for those positions to come soon. Maybe the Guardian has it right? Here’s their story:

Hillary Clinton plans to accept the job of secretary of state offered by Barack Obama, who is reaching out to former rivals to build a broad coalition administration, the Guardian has learned.

Obama’s advisers have begun looking into Bill Clinton’s foundation, which distributes millions of dollars to Africa to help with development, to ensure there is no conflict of interest. But Democrats believe the vetting will be straightforward.

Clinton would be well placed to become the country’s dominant voice in foreign affairs, replacing Condoleezza Rice. Since being elected senator for New York, she has specialised in foreign affairs and defence. Although she supported the war in Iraq, she and Obama basically agree on a withdrawal of American troops.

Clinton, who still harbours hopes of a future presidential run, had to weigh up whether she would be better placed by staying in the Senate, which offers a platform for life, or making the more uncertain career move to the state department.

ABC News is reporting that the chances of Hillary Clinton being named to the post are improving, but nowhere else is there a story like that on the Guardian where it says she has accepted the position. Bill Clinton, of course, has endorsed the move, as have Henry Kissinger and Jon Kyl.

I personally favor making use of Hillary Clinton, who is talented and who knows the international ropes. For me it is not a consideration of keeping one’s enemies close, nor even the notion of building a cabinet of rivals. We need talent, top notch talent, in every area of government. Hillary qualifies.

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

The White Flag of Surrender – In Afghanistan

In the U.S., the neocon uberhawks only think in shades of black and white. No war has ever been won against non-state sponsored actors. It always – always – comes down to a negotiation process, and finishing up business in both Iraq and Afghanistan will be no different. A report this morning from the U.K. makes it clear that the Brits understand this. The PALIN / McCain ticket does not.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

In the U.S., most people don’t even discuss George Bush’s two-front “global war on terrorism” anymore. The topics of Iraq and Afghanistan have largely fallen down the memory hole and off the political radar screen in this presidential election year, regardless of the fact that both countries are still in a state of turmoil, and low-level insurgencies loom over any time horizons for withdrawal. Bush has been quietly busy rearranging the deck chairs on the Lietanic, proposing some troop withdrawals in Iraq (conditions permitting), and essentially redeploying those troops to the Afghan theater.

The change of venue hasn’t escaped the U.K. press, largely because they’re now out of Iraq, and are redeploying British units to Afghanistan. Today, the U.K. Daily Mail reports that both the U.N. envoy to Afghanistan and British military leadership agree that the ongoing war in Afghanistan “can not be can not be won militarily”.

What does this mean?

The UK’s most senior commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, admitted yesterday it was unrealistic to think there would be a decisive military victory.

He went on to suggest that international forces may end up striking a deal with the insurgents about security.

Brigadier Carleton-Smith, commander of the 16 Air Assault Brigade, said it was necessary to –lower our expectations’.

He added that there was likely to be –low but steady’ levels of rural insurgency once international troops eventually leave Afghanistan.

…In an interview with the Sunday Times, Brigadier Carleton-Smith said: –We’re not going to win this war. It’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army.

–We want to change the nature of the debate from one where disputes are settled through the barrel of the gun to one where it is done through negotiations.

–If the Taliban were prepared to sit on the other side of the table and talk about a political settlement, then that’s precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies like this. That shouldn’t make people uncomfortable.’

…His assessment follows the leaking of a memo from a French diplomat who claimed that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador in Kabul, had told him the current strategy was –doomed to fail’.

…Last week, Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand, said the Taliban controlled more than half the province despite the increased presence of British forces.

The Brits are being pragmatic. They’re not waving Sarah Palin’s “white flag of surrender”, but if anyone on this side of the pond were to express the same opinions, they’d be shouted down by the few remaining adherents of the Bush Doctrine and the administration’s failed policies in the region. What the Brits are proposing is borne from hundreds of years of experience with colonial imperialism in the region. They know from where they speak.

In the U.S., though, the uberhawks only think in shades of black and white. No war has ever been won against non-state sponsored actors. It always – always – comes down to a negotiation process, and finishing up business in both Iraq and Afghanistan will be no different.

Sarah Palin and John McCain might not be too fond of a diplomatic solution for the issues in either country. Heck, Barack Obama might not find such solutions as very politically palatable, but at least he can cast whatever path he choses as a result of bad choices left to him by the most despised regime in U.S. history – that of George W. Bush.

Monday, October 6th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Do It In The Name Of Heaven, We Can Justify It In The End?

George Bush often speaks negatively of religious extremism…frequently missing his own penchant for evangelical intransigence. A lawsuit by a former soldier provides evidence of the degree to which this Bush mind set may have infiltrated the leadership of the United States military.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

When we hear the terms Fatwa or Jihad, we often think about radical Middle Eastern extremists whose intention is to impose their religious beliefs upon those they define as infidels. As Americans, we find the declarations of those leaders (Mullahs, Imams, etc.) who support such actions to be offensive and predicated upon intransigent ideological beliefs. We also look with disfavor upon those who carry out these Fatwas or Jihads in the name of their spiritual leaders and, by inference, their supreme being.

At the same time, we have witnessed a Bush administration that has sought to characterize our involvement in the region as a mission inspired by the president’s consultations with his father…the holy one…not George H. W. Bush. Early on, he made the strategic mistake of referencing the Crusades when speaking of our efforts in the war on terror. While there was some admission that the statement was insensitive and unwarranted, it speaks to the mind set of our President and the pervasive influence his religious beliefs have played in coloring his views and guiding his actions.

In what I would call the ever creeping influence of evangelism, the president also appointed some 150 graduates of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University’s School of Law to positions in his administration. I would suggest that these and may other examples are evidence of the pervasive influence religion has been allowed to play during the nearly eight years of George Bush’s presidency.

That brings me to the lawsuit of Army Spc. Jeremy Hall, in which he accuses the U.S. Department of Defense of violating his rights to religious freedom. Hall, in his claim, suggests that “the United States military has become a Christian organization”…which he contends led to his mistreatment…predicated upon his status as an atheist.

From CNN:

KANSAS CITY, Kansas (CNN) – Army Spc. Jeremy Hall was raised Baptist.

He served two tours of duty in Iraq and has a near perfect record. But somewhere between the tours, something changed. Hall, now 23, said he no longer believes in God, fate, luck or anything supernatural.

His sudden lack of faith, he said, cost him his military career and put his life at risk. Hall said his life was threatened by other troops and the military assigned a full-time bodyguard to protect him out of fear for his safety.

Hall said there is a pattern of discrimination against non-Christians in the military.

Hall isn’t seeking compensation in his lawsuit – just the guarantee of religious freedom in the military. Eventually, Hall was sent home early from Iraq and later returned to Fort Riley in Junction City, Kansas, to complete his tour of duty.

He also said he missed out on promotions because he is an atheist.

“I was told because I can’t put my personal beliefs aside and pray with troops I wouldn’t make a good leader,” Hall said.

Michael Weinstein, a retired senior Air Force officer and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is suing along with Hall. Weinstein said he’s been contacted by more than 8,000 members of the military, almost all of them complaining of pressure to embrace evangelical Christianity.

The Pentagon refused to discuss specifics of Hall’s case – citing the litigation. But Deputy Undersecretary Bill Carr said complaints of evangelizing are “relatively rare.” He also said the Pentagon is not pushing one faith among troops.

Weinstein said he doesn’t buy it and points to a promotional video by a group called Christian Embassy. The video, which shows U.S. generals in uniform, was shot inside the Pentagon. The generals were subsequently reprimanded.

Another group, the Officers’ Christian Fellowship, has representatives on nearly all military bases worldwide. Its vision, which is spelled out on the organization’s Web site, reads, “A spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform empowered by the Holy Spirit.”

Weinstein has a different interpretation.

“Their purpose is to have Christian officers exercise Biblical leadership to raise up a godly army,” he says.

(more…)

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

Voters To McCain: Lose The Bush Cowboy Diplomacy

A recent poll suggests that voters prefer Barack Obama’s brand of diplomacy over the “cowboy diplomacy” that John McCain seems to have adopted from George Bush. Lest he find himself down on the ranch with his buddy following the election, McCain may want to rethink his rhetoric.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

John McCain likes to ridicule Barack Obama’s belief that we should meet with the leaders of nations we consider to be our adversaries. A new Gallup poll might have John McCain rethinking this rhetoric. If the polling is accurate, it seems clear that voters don’t believe that a continuation of George Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy” is a wise strategy.

From Gallup:

PRINCETON, NJ – Large majorities of Democrats and independents, and even about half of Republicans, believe the president of the United States should meet with the leaders of countries that are considered enemies of the United States. Overall, 67% of Americans say this kind of diplomacy is a good idea.

The issue of using presidential diplomacy with U.S. enemies distinguishes Barack Obama from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, and even from his opponent for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton.

Obama is the only one of the three who has said he would personally meet with the leaders of countries like Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela as president, and he recently defended his position by saying “strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries.” Clinton has criticized Obama’s approach as “na–¯ve,” and McCain has been unrelenting in his attacks on the issue, accusing Obama of being dangerously inexperienced and having “reckless judgment.”

Frankly, the rationale behind the Bush approach has always been suspect. There just isn’t ample evidence to suggest that refusing to meet with these leaders provides any measurable benefit. In my opinion, the problem with men like George Bush may well originate with their own awareness of their inability to engage in thoughtful dialogue or protracted negotiations.

Whether this reticence is the result of a questionable intellect, a fragile ego, a bellicose bravado, or some combination thereof may never be fully understood. Regardless, I suspect that the passage of time will reveal more of the motivations that led George Bush and his like-minded cronies to adopt such a strident strategy.

From my perspective, men like George Bush believe that a safe nation can only be achieved by presenting America’s persona as a powerful preemptive presence in the world. Instead of adopting the oft referenced historical approach of “speak softly and carry a big stick”, the Bush administration seems to have chosen to speak loud and large while swinging a big stick… indiscriminately.

Truth be told, the Bush-McCain machismo is contrary to the conflict resolution that most of us have been reared to respect. From our first adventure in socialization as a school child to the many years we spend navigating the difficulties that frequently characterize the workforce, we learn that the best resolutions often result from difficult, though diplomatic, dialogue. If one were to imagine either our schools or our places of employment utilizing the Bush-McCain mentality, it is virtually impossible to visualize a functional environment.

Granted, conducting foreign policy is far more complex than the above referenced experiences, but any situation involving human interaction can ultimately be reduced to the need for individuals to engage in constructive communications…even if those communications are with an obvious and obstinate enemy.

Perhaps the worst consequences of the Bush-McCain strategy is the collateral damage that accompanies this ideological intransigence. An example might be helpful. Time and again we’ve heard discussions of the degree to which a large segment of Iran’s population is in sync with the West…even to the extent that they might, at some point, entertain and enact some type of people’s revolt to overthrow their radical religious regime.

Unfortunately, though the Bush administration occasionally invokes the sensibilities of the Iranian citizenry, he and his minions more frequently rattle off the rhetoric that suggests we revile and reject all things Iranian…and Islamic. In so doing, we alienate those Iranians…and millions of Islamists…that might well be our ally (or at least not our mortal enemy) under the right circumstances…circumstances that may never mature in an atmosphere of elevated animosity. As such, they are left unable to distinguish our disdain for their demagogic leaders from our compassion for the common man.

In fact, the events that have led many Americans to distrust the Bush administration are the same ones that have likely undermined our hopes for an internal insurrection in Iran. Hence, one of the fundamental benefits of a direct dialogue with the leadership of Iran is the message it would send to the people of Iran. We can’t expect Iranians and the rest of the world to see the United States as a force for good unless we demonstrate that goodness is our preferred means of force.

Look, I have no illusions that goodness is a force that can solve all conflicts…and I’m sure the American public feels the same. At the same time, underlying all acts of physical force must be the perception that they have been enacted as a last resort, by good people, who have concluded that good order (safety and security) cannot be restored otherwise. In this way, goodness can remain the fundamental attribute and the means by which a nation of America’s strength and power can be seen as both a giant capable of imposing its will…and also as a benevolent big brother who chooses to insure that the will of the individual will not be arbitrarily abridged.

Cowboy diplomacy is a rich relic of our Old West history. It should remind us of where we’ve been and where we’ve arrived. An awareness of that journey should illuminate our growing commitment to civility; not our willingness to suspend it. In the end, we are strongest when our rational and reasoned restraint is the force by which the world finds the courage to reject and resist conflict. Each time a calamity is prevented because of it, America…and the world…grow even stronger.

America leads the world best when others choose to follow her on her journey to make it the best world she can lead. The future has patiently awaited her return. After eight long years, she must turn around and move forward. When she does, the world will once again follow.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Monday, June 2nd, 2008 |

The Decline of the American Brand in the Middle East

In the geopolitics of the Middle East, the heavy hand of the Bush administration is increasingly overshadowed by bottom-up initiatives of local powers.

Commentary By: Raymond McInnis

A survey of opinion in the foreign press (posted below) registers a decline of American influence in the middle east. My question would be: ‘œIs the alleged decline affecting the current presidential campaign?’ The Republicans wouldn’™t have you believe it.

But here’™s another question: ‘œDo you know how to make a foreigner roll his eyes?’

Answer: make the triumphalist claim, that ‘œAmerica is the greatest nation on earth!’ I heard McCain utter this phrase yesterday, and as a transplant, know that, for foreigners, it is ‘œinflammatory talk’.

I know that such rhetoric is for domestic consumption, but in today’™s climate of instant messaging, cable TV, and the like, the phrase ‘” and many more like it ‘” has no boundaries.

What about McCain and the decline of America? Checkout the following:

John McCain and the Decline of America
An Unnatural Disaster
Gary Indiana on Hobsbawm’™s ‘On Empire’™

Is this Decline of American Power in the Middle East Affecting the Campaign? (Also see links above) ‘” basically any question about America’™s decline is political, of course, one that, according to political bent, necessarily, elicits different responses. For Republicans, for America to embrace a more internationalist stance ‘“ promoted by liberal Dems ‘“ is a sign of decline, especially anything that signals a warmer embrace of the UN. For Liberal Dems, not to embrace the UN is a sign of decline.

Back to the original question:

IN THE GEOPOLITICS OF THE MIDDLE EAST, THE HEAVY HAND OF THE BUSHIES IS INCREASINGLY OVER-SHADOWED BY BOTTOM-UP INITIATIVES OF LOCAL POWERS

The Beirut Daily Star columnist Rami G Khouri writes that,

The Doha agreement that resolved the immediate political crisis in Lebanon is the latest example of the new political power equation that is redefining the Middle East. It reflects both local and global forces and, 18 years after the Cold War ended, provides a glimpse of what a post-Cold War world will look like, at least in the Middle East.

Several dynamics seem to be at play, but one is paramount: the clear limits of the projection of American global power, combined with the assertion and coexistence of multiple regional powers – Turkey, Israel, Iran, Hizbullah, Syria, Hamas, Saudi Arabia and others. These regional actors tend to fight and negotiate at the same time, and ultimately prefer to make compromises rather than perpetually wage absolutist battles. ‘¦

Iran, Turkey, all the Arabs, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Israel all share one and only one common trait: They routinely ignore the advice, and the occasional threats, they get from Washington’¦

Condoleezza Rice was correct in summer 2006 when she said we are witnessing the birth pangs of a new Middle East. But the emerging new regional configuration is very different from the one she fantasized about and tried to bring into being with multiple wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Somalia and Lebanon, and threats against Iran and Syria.’¦

America is ‘œMissing in Action’

In McClatchy Newspapers, Warren Strobel and Hannah Allam wrote:

In a week of dramatic developments in the Middle East, the most dramatic development of all may have been the fact that the United States, long considered the region’™s indispensable player, was missing in action.

As its closest allies cut deals with their adversaries this week over the Bush administration’™s opposition, Washington was largely reduced to watching.

More painful for President Bush, friends he’™s cultivated – and spent heavily on – in Lebanon and Iraq asked the United States to remain in the background, underlining how politically toxic an association with the US can be for Arab leaders.

Over the past few days, Strobel and Allam claim,

  • The Lebanese government, which has received $1.3 billion and political support from the Bush administration, compromised with the Hezbollah-led opposition, giving the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group, which Washington considers a terrorist organization, a greater role in running the country.
  • Israel ignored U.S. objections and entered indirect peace talks with Syria through Turkey, another longtime U.S. ally.
  • The U.S.-backed Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki deployed military forces to Baghdad’™s Sadr City slum under an agreement that specifically excluded U.S. troops.
  • Saudi Arabia, a crucial oil supplier and long a major buyer of U.S. weapons, is quietly closing what could be a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Russia, according to a U.S. defense official.

Is this Decline of American Power in the Middle East Affecting the Campaign? (Also see links above)

According to Strobel and Allam,

Not even Mr Bush’™s allies at home feel comfortable being visibly associated with him. For the first time in nearly three months, the Republican presumptive presidential nominee, Senator John McCain was seen in public with Mr Bush this week. The appearance, during which neither spoke to the press, lasted 47 seconds.

(Update 6-1-08: According to NYT’™s Frank Rich, it was 29 seconds, not 47: read Rich’™s take on how McClellan’™s What Happened has impacted the McCain campaign.)

Diplomatically, Qatar is on the Ascendant

As American influence in the Middle East falls into the background, a new trend is emerging fostering home grown solutions for the region’™s problems. Most prominent among these recently have been Qatar’™s role in bringing about political reconciliation in Lebanon and Turkey’™s mediation in talks between Israel and Syria.

In Lebanon, political rivals made a major step towards reconciliation when they signed the Doha agreement. The first result of the accord was seen in the election of Gen Michel Suleiman as Lebanon’™s new president. Qatar’™s instrumental role in advancing this diplomatic initiative led to emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani being given the unusual honour of addressing the Lebanese parliament.

For IPS, Meena Janardhan wrote: ‘œQatar’™s latest diplomatic success could be attributed to its ties with the rival factions and regional powers with influence in Beirut.

‘œWhile Doha is a close ally of Washington, which also supports the government in Beirut, it has maintained good relations with Tehran and Damascus, which back the Lebanese opposition led by the Shia militant movement Hizbollah. Recent reconciliation with Saudi Arabia, which also supports the Lebanese government, helped in the process too.

The mediation efforts, according to Doha-based political analyst Mehran Kamrava, is consistent with Qatar’™s ‘increasingly proactive diplomacy’™ over the last few years both in the Gulf region and larger Middle East.

The Christian Science Monitor added:

Qatar’™s nonaligned role in regional politics may be a survival mechanism in an unforgiving corner of the world, given its small size and enormous oil and gas riches. But it may also signal a shift from the polarisation of the region during the tenure of President Bush toward a greater emphasis on negotiation and compromise. Turkey, for example, has emerged as a key player in quietly brokering initial peace moves between Israel and Syria.

The actions of Turkey and Qatar suggest we are moving away from the black-and-white dichotomies of the higher Bush years,’ said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment’™s Middle East Center in Beirut. ‘œNow mediators, like Qatar and Turkey, are trying to find accommodation between players previously considered as either good or evil.

Turkey Sponsoring Talks Between Israel and Syria

The announcement last week that Israel and Syria have opened indirect peace talks through Turkish mediation has rapidly been overshadowed by uncertainty over the Israeli prime minister’™s future.

The New York Times said:

Israel’™s defence minister called on Wednesday for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to remove himself from his post pending the outcome of a high-profile corruption investigation in which Mr Olmert is embroiled.

The defence minister, Ehud Barak, a former prime minister, was the first senior member of Israel’™s coalition government to insist Mr Olmert relinquish his office over the corruption case.

‘The prime minister must disconnect himself from the daily running of the government,’™ Mr Barak said at a lunchtime news conference broadcast live from the Parliament building.

Iran/Syria Ties Continue

Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles Times, Borzou Daragahi wrote:

Iranian and Syrian officials poured a bucket of ice water this week on Israeli hopes for a rupture in the long-standing Tehran-Damascus relationship.

Israeli officials had demanded Syria break ties with Iran in exchange for returning the occupied Golan Heights to Syria.

Instead, Syria this week appeared to strengthen its ties with Iran, signing a defense cooperation pact in a showy Tehran photo-op on Tuesday.

Friday, May 30th, 2008 by Richard Blair |
Category: Iraq,Middle East

Who Put That Gay Man In The You Tube?

The buzz about gays in the military created by tonight’™s GOP debate raises a good question. Why should women and gays be forced to suffer the inability of many straight men to evolve beyond their noticeably arrested and obviously immature sexual constructs? As I think about it, that may be the best argument for electing a woman or a gay president.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

I’™m sorry but stupid was just brought to a new low. The tubes are abuzz over the fact that CNN allowed a question about ‘œdon’™t ask, don’™t tell’ from a gay man who serves on a committee for Hillary Clinton. Perhaps I’™m mistaken, but the YouTube format didn’™t require a disclosure of party affiliation. Granted, the incident makes CNN’™s vetting process appear rather careless, but are we to believe that the question is invalid because the questioner isn’™t a card carrying Republican?

If that’™s the case, then shouldn’™t Anderson Cooper be disqualified from moderating a GOP debate since he is gay? Maybe we should only allow Republican moderators at Republican debates and Democratic moderators at Democratic debates? I swear, we’™re becoming more of a banana republic each day. I suspect the debate process for electing an eighth grade class president may have more substance and credibility’¦and certainly less whining from the inane partisans.

Speaking of substance, I guess I’™m wondering why asking the GOP candidates their position on gays in the military is off limits for a former officer simply because he will apparently vote for a Democrat. Think about it’¦how many gay people do we expect to vote for a party that routinely opposes most, if not all, measures that would afford gays more rights and greater equality?

Further, after hearing the answers to the question’¦especially Duncan Hunters diatribe on not wanting to upset the predominantly religious conservative members of the military’¦why on earth would gays vote for the GOP? His answer is wrong on so many levels such that I refuse to waste any more of my time and energy detailing the reasons. Those who understand the reasons get it’¦and those who don’™t, aren’™t unable to; they simply don’™t want to.

I just love the argument that we can’™t consider allowing gays to serve openly because we’™re at war. Using that same logic, gays ought to be exempt from a draft if America ever determines it needs more troops because they can’™t attract enough volunteers. Sounds good to me’¦let the straight people protect us all from harm. We gays will plan the ticker tape parade if and when we ever win one of these wars.

Moving on, if the rank and file of the GOP agree with the answers given, why be afraid to have these candidates spell out their positions? Who are they trying to fool anyway? Should we believe that if the Republican candidates can avoid expressing their positions with regards to gays, no one will be the wiser or attempt to discern where they stand? That’™s the funny thing about bigotry these days’¦people know when it exists and they get testy when someone forces them to acknowledge or demonstrate it.

Following the debate and the ‘œexposure’ of CNN’™s duplicity, I went and read comments on a number of right leaning blogs. While the bigotry amazes me, the belief on the part of countless straight men that every gay man is interested in ogling them is mind-boggling. We scorn the Saudi’™s for their absolutely antiquated treatment of women’¦highlighted by the recent sentencing of a rape victim to 200 lashes and six months in prison’¦treatment that is premised on the fear that every women is so vulnerable to her carnal desires that her body must be completely hidden from view and she must be forever forbidden from being in the presence of any unrelated male’¦unless accompanied by ‘œher man’.

Now let’™s break this down’¦is it the women they’™re worried about or isn’™t it more probable that these men don’™t trust themselves to act appropriately’¦so clearly they can’™t leave their women alone with another man? Truth be told, I’™m sure they’™re lack of trustworthiness is justified’¦but why in the hell should women be punished because these men are pigs? Last time I checked, it takes a boat load of man-sluts to make a whore. The absurdity is overwhelming!

The same mind set is at play when it comes to gays in the military’¦most of these men commenting on these sites apply their own sexual habits and thoughts to gay soldiers’¦totally failing to realize that gays have spent their entire lives demonstrating restraint and appreciating each other for more than just getting off. We have too if we want some semblance of a normal social life. We’™ve learned that it’™s possible to find friendships with people who could otherwise serve as sexual partners’¦and therefore we don’™t have to approach each other and all males as nothing more than sexual objects.

Many of these straight men are unable and unwilling to grasp this concept because they see all women as objects for sexual gratification. It’™s the cattle mentality’¦as long as they erect (no pun intended) fences to keep themselves from succumbing to their desires, they (the bulls) won’™t breed every woman (the heifers) they see. That’™s why they are so intimidated by the thought of showering with a gay man or sharing the same barracks. They can only visualize what they would do in a similar situation with women. So they see gays in the military as lacking the barriers they’™re reliant upon to maintain their fragile notions of propriety and fidelity.

Forgive me for generalizing, as I realize the following may be an unfair assessment’¦but why should women and gays be forced to suffer the inability of these straight men to evolve beyond their noticeably arrested and obviously immature sexual constructs? As I think about it, that may be the best argument for electing a woman or a gay president.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Thursday, November 29th, 2007 by Richard Blair |
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