Alternative Response in Syria: A Humanitarian Strike

September 4, 2013 Comments off

DOD Support For Disaster ReliefAs time goes on, the whole issue of an international military response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons becomes tied in a tighter and tighter Gordian knot. Tactically, the military options themselves offer less and less chance for effectiveness as the Syrians prepare themselves both operationally and mentally for an attack.  Strategically, the extent and depth of the response is being weighed by the forces of geopolitics: particularly the Russians and Iranians.  Not to mention our allies, the Israelis.  The international justice framework has shown its typical weakness.  Not only has the U.N. refused to sanction military action, but a coalition of the “willing” outside of the U.N. is pretty minimal, particularly after the British Parliament voted nay. France and Turkey seem to be the only major players willing to support action by the U.S.  Then, there is American politics.  Had Obama not decided to seek Congressional approval, he would have been hounded by Republicans for overreaching his executive powers; now that he has decided to go to Congress, he will presumably be accused of weakening executive powers for the future.  Not only that, he is also being labeled as indecisive, weak and giving the enemy too much time.  And, finally, there are the unintended consequences of a military strike.  No one can predict with certainty what the reactions of the Syrians, the Russians or Iranians might be. Although many are betting that the Syrians will not react in any major way – one never really knows.  Although one of the Administration’s major goals is to keep “boots off the ground”, once the first American missile is fired, events will take on lives of their own. So, the fact is that taking military action is essentially a no-win proposition.

There is, however, an alternative:  the U.S. could launch a humanitarian strike.  Instead, of launching a couple of cruise missiles, the U.S. could  launch ships, cargo planes and helicopters full of food, medical supplies, building material, blankets, clothes, etc to the refugee camps.  It was just announced yesterday that the number of Syrian refugees has passed the 2 million mark.  Our assistance would presumably be extremely welcome by Jordan and somewhat welcome by Turkey and possibly Iraq.  Granted, this is putting boots on the ground, but the U.S. actually does this all of the time.  Every year both USAID and the Department of Defense respond to scores of international disasters all around the world.  Some of the past disaster response efforts with which the U.S. military has assisted include the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia; 2005 earthquake and 2010 flooding in Pakistan;  and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.  So, while we constantly provide aid and assistance, it is rarely done with such a great potential strategic benefit.

Doesn’t this make a much stronger statement about the use of chemical weapons, than taking mostly symbolic destructive military action? Instead of assuming that the only language the world understands is force, let’s make “the shot across the bow” be helping tens of thousands of innocent people.

However, some have said that if the U.S. doesn’t respond militarily, it will show a lack of resolve.  But there are different types of resolve, and coming to the aid of the victims of this war seems to be an excellent one.  Certainly, there will be unintended consequences of this action – but for a change many of them may actually be positive!  We can take the moral high ground and build respect within the international community.  We can ask the international community to join us, with particular emphasis on the Russians and the Iranians.  They would be hard put to refuse and if they were to engage in this project perhaps it would actually improve the chances for negotiations and diplomacy in both Syria and Iraq.  In turn, humanitarian action would enhance our ability to gain support from other nations and the U.N. if the situation deteriorates, and we really do need to build a coalition for military action.  It might also have the effect of putting some pressure on both the Iranians and the Russians to change their position on supporting Assad and continuing the violence.

Finally, one of the main advantages of a humanitarian strike is that it totally resets the strategic and tactical calculus.  As has been said a hundred different ways by a hundred different commentators, the current situation that Obama is in appears to be absolutely no-win – both from a domestic political standpoint and from an international perspective.  Therefore, it is time to create a new option.  Providing a huge level of humanitarian aid to the refugees sends the right message to all of the parties – and it slices the Gordian knot in half.


Categories: Israel

A high school freshman explains the Egyptian Crisis

July 9, 2013 Comments off

This video, taken last October, of a young Egyptian boy explaining the problems with the ruling Egyptian political system is definitely worth spending 3 minutes to watch.  His analysis is as good as you can imagine hearing.

Categories: Israel

No Partner?

June 5, 2013 Comments off


English: Mahmoud Abbas

English: Mahmoud Abbas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Cynics don’t believe him, but this is what Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday according to Haaretz:


“The Arab and Islamic world would be happy to recognize Israel if it withdraws from occupied land, and if a Palestinian state, with its capital East Jerusalem, is established,” he said, adding that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in “very serious” in his attempts to renew peace negotiations.


Read more here:




Secretary of State Kerry Channels J Street Talking Points in his Speech to the AJC

June 5, 2013 Comments off

On Monday, Secretary John Kerry gave the most significant foreign policy speech of his short tenure as the head of the State Department.  When listened to in conjunction with the speech that President Obama madeJohn Kerry 6-3-13 in Jerusalem in March, it becomes clear that this administration has put the Israeli-Palestinian issue at the very top of its foreign policy agenda despite all of the other pressing matters in the world.

I believe that anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian issue should take a half-hour and listen to this speech because it clearly lays out this administration’s beliefs about what needs to be done – and done soon.  You can access it here:   Sec of State Kerry’s Remarks to AJC 6/3/2013

Kerry’s points were straightforward:

These are almost verbatim the talking points that J Street has been using since its inception in 2008.  One of J Street’s primary missions has been to support the American administration to put this issue on the front burner – and it is obvious that President Obama and Secretary Kerry have done that.  It is now time for the rest of the American Jewish community to join in.

Will Olmert Rise From the Ashes?

February 17, 2013 Comments off

Is it possible that if a new Israeli government fails to hold together and new elections are called for in 18 to 24 months that Ehud Olmert may return to Israeli politics?  It now seems likely.  Rumor has it that he sees himself as the senior statesman that can provide a real choice to the not-Netanyahu camp.  Having come from the right on the two state solution to a realpolitik viewpoint that a two state solution is essential for Israel’s survival, he can be seen as someone who may be able to move Israel forward on the issue.

And perhaps he could even be running earlier.  Pundits here in Israel put Bibi’s chances of not be able to put together a government as being 20% – about ten times higher than most people in the States are predicting.  If he cannot put together a government within six weeks, Peres can choose someone else to try to create a coalition or call for new elections within 90 days — around mid-May.  And would Olmert run then?

Categories: Israel

J Street Congressional Delegation

February 17, 2013 1 comment

Margie and I current traveling in Israel with four Congresspersons:  Jan Schakowsky, Barbara Lee, Hank Johnson, and Raul Grihalva.  We’ll be meeting  with government officials, business leaders, settlers, Palestinian officials, and representatives of NGO’s.  Travelling from Tel Aviv to Sderot to Hebron to Ramallah.  More to come.

Categories: Israel

A Tale of Three Airports.

February 17, 2013 1 comment

Ben Gurion circa 1958 Tales of TLV – Ben Gurion Airport

December, 1992 – I will never forget the first time I saw Eretz Yisrael. After a long journey flying over the Atlantic, there was a break in the clouds that revealed bright green, verdant fields dappled in sunshine, looking for all it was worth like the proverbial land of milk and honey. I had never been particularly connected to Judaism, my Jewish identity or Israel, but my heart welled up as I peered out the window. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it truly looked magical.
As we landed and taxied up to the terminal, it was as if we had stepped back in time to the 50’s. There were no jetways at all. Instead, we walked down a portable stairway and got on a bus that took us to the terminal. In some ways, it seemed appropriate — harking back to the Israel of the War of Independence. This was country that had pulled itself up by its bootstraps and wanted to retain that memory.

April, 2005 – Reaching landfall over Israel was still exciting. Looking through the window, it seemed that there was a large superhighway that hadn’t been there the last time. This time when we landed, there was no portable staircase, but instead, a typical jetway as seen in any modern airport. We had arrived at Terminal 3 – Ben Gurion’s brand new showcase. We walked off into a sparkling state of the art airport. I was awed as we walked down The Connector (the long corridor from the Airside building to the Landside building) greeted in royal fashion with sparkling ceiling-to-floor glass windows on one side and beautiful granite and Jerusalem stone on the other. It was a (literal) shining example of the progress and success of this little nation. Israel was now a first-world country.

Ben Gurion-Connector

February, 2013 – Flying in over the Mediterranean has become old hat. Highway 1 running past the airport to Tel Aviv looks crowded with cars streaming in and out of this city, just like any other in the Western world. But this time, as I disembark from the plane and get through the jetway, the first thing I notice is that the gray carpet looks worn and dirty. Not quite shabby, but close. And as we walk through the corridors, I can’t help but observe that all of the windows are dirty. They look as though they haven’t been washed since the last time I was here. Perhaps, this too is a symbol of being a first-world country in this decade:  government has no money to spend to maintain its infrastructure. Whatever the reason for it, it makes Israel now seem like a country in decline – or perhaps one that just doesn’t care what impression it made on those coming to visit it. Frankly, it was strikingly disappointing and depressing.

Categories: Israel, Middle East Tags:
%d bloggers like this: