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“Plight Of Syrian Refugees Recalls Tale Of 2,000 Years Ago”: Bar The Gates, Exclude The Stranger, Ignore The Vulnerable

There is irony aplenty in this season, which is celebrated throughout Christendom because of the tale of a babe born in a troubled precinct in the Middle East a little more than 2,000 years ago. You know the story: A couple of modest means finds no accommodations, even as the woman is on the brink of giving birth. After the child is born, they are forced to flee the depredations of a murderous king.

As history rolls on, we find the Middle East once again in upheaval, roiled by murderous tyrants who have spurred families to seek sanctuary. Given the time of year, you’d think the plight of those families would be the preoccupation of the news cycle; you’d think accommodating them would be the pre-eminent call of preachers and politicians alike. After all, the ancient tale has been said to inspire reflection, charity and generosity.

But those sentiments seem in scant supply in these United States. Instead, we are awash in suspicion, waylaid by fear and anxiety, beset by bigotry. Many of the nation’s political leaders have insisted that we bar the gates, exclude the stranger, ignore the vulnerable.

While President Obama has called on the nation to take in more refugees from Syria — where the armies of President Bashar Assad and the self-proclaimed Islamic State represent dire threats to life and limb — 27 U.S. governors, more than half, would attempt to bar Syrian refugees from their states. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has famously said that he wouldn’t even take in orphans under the age of 5.

Indeed, the call to keep Syrian refugees out of the United States has captured a substantial number of voters; 56 percent oppose President Obama’s policy. And that refusal finds support across party lines: Eighty-one percent of Republicans, 59 percent of independents and 31 percent of Democrats, according to an NBC News survey.

The proximate cause of that hunker-down insularity is the threat of terrorist attacks, a danger brought home by the San Bernardino atrocity earlier this month, which left 14 people dead and 22 injured. But humans are notoriously bad at assessing risks. While 45 Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11 (counting the Fort Hood shooting), far more have been killed since then in automobile accidents and non-terrorist-related gun violence.

Besides, as the brilliant novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has written: “Contemporary America is full of fear. (But) fear is not a Christian habit of mind. … Those who forget God can be recognized in the fact that they make irrational responses to irrational fears. … There are always real dangers in the world, sufficient to their day. Fearfulness obscures the distinction between real threat on one hand and on the other the terrors that beset those who see threat everywhere.”

Terror is not everywhere, and its risks would not increase if we were to admit substantially more Syrian refugees. They are subjected to a vetting process that takes up to two years. Anyway, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the married couple who allegedly carried out the San Bernardino attack, had no ties to Syria that authorities have detected.

Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have been displaced by war. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Turkey has taken in 1.9 million, while Iraq, which is still beset by armed conflict, has taken in 250,000. More than 1 million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, and more than 600,000 are in Jordan.

The far wealthier European nations are still wrangling over the numbers they will accept, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been steadfast in her welcoming tone; her country has taken in more than 98,000 Syrians and stands ready to accept as many as 500,000 refugees, including Syrians, per year for several years.

With that in mind, President Obama’s call for the United States to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year seems modest. And while providing sanctuary to some of the planet’s most vulnerable populations may not promote peace on Earth, it is certainly a small gesture of goodwill to all men.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, December 26, 2015

December 27, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Fearmongering, Jesus, Syrian Refugees | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Bluster Meets Reality”: A Chance To Start World War III, Republicans Neither Know Nor Care What They’re Talking About

I’m from Jersey and we like to talk bluntly, but Rand Paul is correct when he says that Chris Christie could easily start World War Three if he actually governed as advertised in the White House:

Christie said that as president, he would shoot down a Russian plane if it breached a no-fly zone in Syria, and claimed Obama wasn’t strong enough to do the same.

“Maybe because I’m from New Jersey I have this plain-language hang-up,” Christie said. “I would talk to Vladmir Putin a lot, and I’d say listen, Mr. President, there’s a no-fly zone and it applies to you and yes we’d shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.”

Meanwhile, in the real world:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday accepted Russia’s long-standing demand that President Bashar Assad’s future be determined by his own people, as Washington and Moscow edged toward putting aside years of disagreement over how to end Syria’s civil war.

“The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,” Kerry told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting President Vladimir Putin. A major international conference on Syria would take place later this week in New York, Kerry announced.

Kerry reiterated the U.S. position that Assad, accused by the West of massive human rights violations and chemical weapons attacks, won’t be able to steer Syria out of more than four years of conflict.

But after a day of discussions with Assad’s key international backer, Kerry said the focus now is “not on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad.” Rather, it is on facilitating a peace process in which “Syrians will be making decisions for the future of Syria.”

Kerry’s declarations crystallized the evolution in U.S. policy on Assad over the last several months, as the Islamic State group’s growing influence in the Middle East has taken priority.

How relevant does Christie’s bluster look in light of the factual situation on the ground in Syria?

The Republican candidates debated each other last night in Vegas, but they might as well have been debating a dining room table. They neither know what they are talking about, nor care. It would be sad or maybe just funny if there weren’t a remote possibility that one of them might win and get the chance to start World War Three.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 16, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, Vladimir Putin, World War III | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Forever Active Or Proxy Warfare”: Republican Lies And Distortions About The Middle East

One of the reasons it is difficult to comment on the actual content of what the Republican presidential candidates said last night is that so much of it was simply untrue. By the time you are done fact-checking, there isn’t much there there.

The debate produced a lot of material for the fact-checkers to work with. But most troubling, given the topic they were focused on, was the complete lack of understanding and/or truthfulness about what is actually going on in the Middle East. A perfect example of that was the claim from Ted Cruz that the Obama administration “toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.” One can only assume that Cruz is ignorant of the whole “Arab Spring” rebellions of 2010/11 and the fact that it was the people of Egypt who forced him to step down.

For a more comprehensive review, Ishaan Tharoor has written: The Middle East dreamed up at the Republican debate doesn’t really exist. He begins by talking about Cruz’s proposal to “carpet bomb” ISIS.

Cruz’s emphasis is on tough, withering, relentless action, but you can’t bomb the Islamic State to smithereens without contemplating an enormous civilian death toll. That places Cruz in the same camp as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has for years now been bombing civilian areas in his own nation’s cities with barrel bombs and other crude, indiscriminate forms of munitions…

Cruz and, to varying extents, other candidates onstage appeared to view the Middle East as a kind of set for “American Sniper” — a woebegone place of dusty towns crawling with bad guy extremists and not much else.

It wouldn’t be the first time a Republican confused the real world with the movie version.

Tharoor goes on to talk about Carson’s proposal to move Syrian refugees to the Hasakah governorate in northeast Syria, which “is still a theater of war and the site of bitter clashes between Kurdish militias and the Islamic State,” as well as the complex realities of working with various Kurdish parties and militias. But then he got to what I noticed in the proposals we heard last night from Kasich, Rubio and Christie.

But none of this was being deliberated in Las Vegas, of course.

Instead, there was a vague embrace of Sunni Arab elites — namely the ruling royals of countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia — and a parallel demonization of Iran, a regional bogeyman on the other side of a sectarian divide with the Saudis.

The truth is that the neocons in the Republican Party want the United States to take sides in the centuries-old battle between the Shia and the Sunnis in the Middle East. Specifically, they want us to take the side of the Sunni majorities in countries like Saudi Arabia against the Shiites in Iran. That means aligning with the country whose oil wealth has been used to support groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. Here is how Kasich put it last night:

Assad is aligned with Iran and Russia. The one thing we want to prevent is we want to prevent Iran being able to extend a Shia crescent all across the Middle East. Assad has got to go…

I don’t want to be policeman of the world. But we can’t back off of this. And let me tell you, at the end, the Saudis have agreed to put together a coalition inside of Syria to stabilize that country.

He must go. It will be a blow to Iran and Russia.

In the Republican mind, we have friends and we have enemies. Saudi Arabia – which has one of the worst human rights records in the world – is a “friend.” Russia and Iran are “enemies.”

That is exactly why Republicans are so vehemently opposed the the deal that was recently negotiated with Iran to stop their development of nuclear weapons. As President Obama told David Remnick prior to the conclusion of those negotiations, it sets the stage for a potential geopolitical realignment in the Middle East.

Ultimately, he envisages a new geopolitical equilibrium, one less turbulent than the current landscape of civil war, terror, and sectarian battle. “It would be profoundly in the interest of citizens throughout the region if Sunnis and Shias weren’t intent on killing each other,” he told me. “And although it would not solve the entire problem, if we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion—not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon—you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.

For all their bluster about the President being weak and ineffective, this is the real reason Republicans oppose his strategy in the Middle East. They can’t conceptualize peace in the Middle East short of a military solution that provides a win for our friends and defeat of our enemies. In other words…forever active or proxy warfare.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 15, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Middle East, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Obama Again Gets The Last Laugh Against Putin”: Republicans Putting Their Praise For The Russian Leader On Hold Once More

By late 2014, Republican affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin was on the wane. After months of gushing praise for the autocratic leader, American conservatives saw Putin struggling and isolated, prompting his GOP fan club in the United States to fall quiet.

That is, until a few months ago, when the Russian president deployed forces to Syria, rekindling the American right’s love. Republican White House hopefuls once again praised Putin’s bold “leadership,” as did like-minded pundits. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin argued, “In taking this action just days after meeting with President Obama, Putin is delivering one more finger in the eye of a president whom he continues to out-wit and out-muscle.”

Remind me, how’s that working out for the Russian president?

Putin had hoped his late September intervention would kick off a decisive three-month offensive producing major territorial gains for the Syrian regime, according to Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. […]

[I]ndependent experts see trouble signs for the Russian president, including a surprisingly stiff response from Syrian rebel fighters.

The Politico piece quoted the Israeli defense minister saying about Putin’s military offensive, “It seems to be a failure.”

Bloomberg also reported this week that Russian officials “underestimated” what the mission entailed. Putin expected the offensive to last a few months, but officials in Moscow are now left to hope “it won’t last several years.”

And who predicted this exact outcome? That would be President Obama and his administration’s foreign-policy team. From the Politico piece:

…Obama officials increasingly offer a “told-you-so” line towards Putin’s intervention, which caught the White House off guard when it began in late September. At the time, Obama warned that Putin risked getting caught in a quagmire abroad while courting terrorism at home. […]

Now Putin confronts a stalemated battlefield and, according to some sources, tensions with his allies on the ground in a Syrian war theater that U.S. officials liken to a concert mosh pit.

And wouldn’t you know it, many of the American conservatives who thought Putin was the tough, strategic mastermind, showing that rascally Obama who’s boss, have again decided to lay low, putting their praise for the Russian leader on hold once more.

The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote two months ago, “[T]oday’s reigning cliche is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart…. Putin stupidly went into Syria looking for a cheap sugar high to show his people that Russia is still a world power.”

Friedman was right. More importantly, so was the Obama White House. Republicans, meanwhile, who always seem to assume military adventures in the Middle East will turn out well, were not.

It’s a familiar dynamic, isn’t it?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 11, 2015

December 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans, Syria, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Russians Going Home In Body Bags”: Is Syria The Beginning Of The End Of Putinism?

“They all laughed when President Obama warned Russia about getting into a Syrian quagmire.

“They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round.

“They all laughed when Edison recorded sound.

“They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother when they said that man could fly.

“Well check out Russian President Vladimir Putin in Syria:

“For oh, ho, ho, who’s got the last laugh now.” (Apologies to George and Ira Gershwin.)

Of course what’s happening to nuclear-armed Moscow is no laughing matter.

Mired in an economic crisis at home, Russia is enmeshed in propping up a weak but vicious Middle East ally, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. And the Kremlin is straining to keep Assad in power and at considerable and unexpected costs. Russians are going home in body bags.

To wit:

— A Russian airliner with 224 on board was brought down in Egypt by a bomb planted by the Islamic State in retaliation for Putin’s military action in Syria;

— A Russian fighter jet was shot down after it veered into Turkish airspace, in the first shoot-down by a NATO member of a Russian plane in 60 years.

— A Russian helicopter dispatched on a search-and-rescue mission for the surviving jet pilot was shot down by Syrian rebels.

Coffins highlight the costs of Putin’s unilateral and reckless military intervention in the Middle East where tensions are now at their highest.

Meanwhile, the Russian news agency Tass reported that unlike previous economic crises, for the first time since the early 2000s, Russia is seeing a decline in real incomes. “Government measures to support the economy of the population are not enough” Alexei Kudrin, former finance minister and chairman of the Committee of Civil Initiatives told the third All-Russian Civic Forum in Moscow.

While Putin’s eyes are on Syria, inflation is rising in Russia, the economy is shrinking, poverty is rising, growth has flat-lined and the ruble is taking a fall. Western sanctions are squeezing the Kremlin, and Russia’s mother’s milk — oil revenue — is taking a hit because of weak prices.

As David W. Lesch wrote in Foreign Policy:

“Perhaps Putin’s intervention in Syria will result in something akin to Egypt’s Pyrrhic victory in 1957 or to the Soviet Union’s sudden expansion of influence in the late 1950s that was accompanied by an exponential increase in foreign-policy headaches. Fifty years from now, historians may identify Russia’s 2015 push in Syria as the beginning of the end of Putinism, just as the 1957 landing was the beginning of the end of Nasserism.”

That is no cause for cheering, not as long as Putin has pipe dreams of being a super-power. The Russian bear has been wounded. But his thirst for adventurism is not yet slaked by the Islamic State’s setbacks and military blunders. Fortunately the means to becoming a superpower equal to the United States are way beyond Russia’s reach.

If national success is measured by economic strength, Russia is way back in the pack. It trails the United States in economic and population growth, in troops under arms and in most weaponry. And the Russian government, wasting precious resources on Putin’s world-power aspirations, is in no position to meet its social obligations to its people.

Obama is correct to not give in to Putin’s desire to be regarded as more important than he is. Or to give credence to Russia’s imagined influence on the world stage. And Obama is also right to keep a cool head and to continue building an international coalition of heavy hitters to launch attacks on global terrorism.

As for desk-bound defense hawks such as GOP presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, who is calling for the deployment of 20,000 U.S. ground troops, the response is quite simple: Get Republicans who control Capitol Hill to pass a joint resolution of Congress demanding that the president place tens of thousands of Americans on foot in Syria and Iraq.

Every good wish, Mr. Graham.

Granted, Putin’s capacity to trouble the waters is huge. But Russia’s ability to rival the United States as a world power and dominate events in the Middle East is not — though some Obama critics appear to wish it were so, if for no other reason than to disable this president.

And that, too, is no laughing matter.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 27, 2015

November 29, 2015 Posted by | Russia, Syria, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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