Tag Archives: Middle East

On the brink of conflict with Iran … or what?

Donald Trump is giving me the heebie-jeebies.

The president of the United States ordered a military strike against Iran because the Iranians shot down an unarmed drone apparently over international waters. The Iranians contend the surveillance craft had flown into their air space, which is why they knocked it out of the sky.

But then the president changed his mind and called off the strike against Iran.

I’m wondering today: Why did the president change his mind? What prompted him to order the aircraft back to their bases? Did he get a call from the mullahs? Did they admit to making the “mistake” to which he alluded earlier in the day?

Well, at this moment — but that could change in the next moment — I am glad he called off the hit against military targets in Iran. I heard something this morning about the reported threat to civilians had the strike been allowed to continue.

Let’s not be coy. Iran presents a serious threat to the entire region if we hit them hard. They hate the Saudis, and the Iranians damn sure hate Israel. The mullahs are in control of a terrorist state, which suggests to me that they can seek their vengeance against targets all around the world.

Please keep that in mind, Mr. President, as you ponder the best way to respond to the shootdown of an unmanned military asset.

These are far more than mere ‘friends’

This blog features commentary on “politics, policy and life experience,” but you likely know that already. I want to talk in this post about the third of those items.

I want to share a life experience with you in two parts.

The first part involves an event that occurred 10 years ago this month. I had a wonderful chance today to relive that moment with four of my best friends in this whole world.

I want to back up just briefly to a time prior to that experience.

The Rotary Club of Amarillo, of which I was a member, is part of a West Texas district that runs from the top of the Panhandle to the Permian Basin. In 2008, the district leadership paired up with another district in Israel. Rotary International, the worldwide governing body of the civic organization, had established a program called Group Study Exchange. It charged each district that took part to select a team leader to take a group of young professionals to the partner district.

That year, our Rotary district decided it would send a team to Israel. It needed a Rotary member to lead that team. I applied for the position. I interviewed for it. The committee that heard my pitch — along with those of three other Rotary members — selected me to lead that team.

My first task was to select four non-Rotary members to join the team that would travel to Israel for four weeks in May and June 2009. I completed that task. I selected three young women and a young man to make that journey. They are pictured with this blog post.

Fernando, Aida, Katheryn, Shirley and I then trained for several weeks. We learned the customs of Israel. We sought to acquaint ourselves with the nature of the country that seems to be in the news almost weekly. Often, the news is grim, filled combat, turmoil and assorted forms of violence in that volatile region of the world.

We were sufficiently trained over time. Then we took off from Amarillo’s airport. These four individuals would meet with professionals in Israel, share experiences and knowledge with them. Thus, the name of the program was brought into play.

We spent four weeks traveling through Israel, seeing the country from top to bottom — Nahariya to Eilat and everywhere in between; we sampled their cuisine; we visited holy sites; we stayed with families that opened their homes to us; we saw a marvelous nation up close and in a way that most foreigners never get to see it.

After a month in Israel, we came home. We went our separate ways. We have stayed in touch, however, over the past decade.

Which brings me to the second point of this blog post.

We have maintained friendships unlike any other I have ever known in my nearly 70 years on this good Earth.

And today, we gathered at the home of one of our team members to salute each other, to remember that marvelous journey, to express our love for each other and to revel in what I believe is the rare fete of continuing the relationship that began when we met as total strangers a decade ago.

In my more than 20 years in Rotary, I have met many Group Study Exchange team members and team leaders. They all tell me the essentially the same thing: Their relationships ended when their tours ended. They went home and rarely have shared any time together upon their return.

That’s not nearly the case with this group of friends my wife and I have made. Today capped off one of the most remarkable life experiences either of us have ever known. We don’t see each other nearly as often as we did immediately after returning from the Holy Land. That doesn’t matter. We still know what each other is doing. We maintain an interest in everyone’s lives. We still cheer each other on, we offer emotional support when the needs arise and we still communicate via various messaging platforms available to us.

The best part of this experience? It’s far from over. Our lasting friendships won’t allow it to end.

Israelis PM seems intent on stirring conflict

As if the non-Jewish neighbors surrounding Israel need any more pretext to feel anxious about the country’s treatment of its Muslim and Christian citizens.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted that Israel is a “national state” only to its “Jewish citizens.” The rest of the country, which is surprisingly diverse in its religious and ethnic makeup, doesn’t matter to the Israeli government, or so Netanyahu has implied.

Hold on a minute, Mr. Prime Minister.

Ten years ago I had the honor of visiting Israel for a month. I lived in Israeli citizens’ homes, talked to them candidly about life in that beautiful land and got to understand something I always thought was a source of pride among Israelis. It is that they treat all their citizens — Christians and Muslims as well as Jews — with respect and honor.

Netanyahu is saying something quite different.

According to National Public Radio: The prime minister’s comment set off criticism, debates over Israel’s true nature — and observations that with Israel’s legislative elections now less than a month away, Netanyahu’s provocative language might be calculated to help his Likud Party at the polls.

The Likud is considered one of the hardest of the hard-line parties in Israel. Netanyahu has come to embody Likud’s attitude toward the Palestinian Authority and its occupation of the West Bank.

In a sense, I understand and appreciate Netanyahu’s fear that non-Jewish residents might rebel. Indeed, Israeli armed forces are continually forced to put down resistance in places such as Gaza, which is governed by a party linked closely with Hamas, the infamous terrorist organization.

It is troubling to hear Netanyahu declare that Israel wants only to be the “national state” for its Jewish citizens. The implication is that the Israeli government cares much less about its Christian and Muslim citizens. That clearly is not the message I heard continually in the spring of 2009 while I toured the Holy Land.

It’s provocative. Indeed, the region needs little impetus for violence to erupt. Benjamin Netanyahu, of all people, should understand what such provocation can bring.

Time of My Life, Part 25: Trying to score a huge interview

News about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pending indictment on corruption charges brings to mind an interview that didn’t occur, but one that I worked real hard to get.

While I was working as editorial page editor of the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News, I received a life-changing opportunity: I would be allowed to lead a Rotary International Group Study Exchange team to Israel; we spent four weeks there, meeting with professional peers and living with host families who showed us one of the world’s most fascinating countries.

I went there as a member of Rotary, but I did not forsake my professional responsibility.

So, with that I sought to score an interview in May-June 2009 with Benjamin Netanyahu. How did I make the effort? I got in touch with the Israeli consulate in Houston and became acquainted with the consulate’s press officer.

I asked him if it was possible to meet with the prime minister. He wasn’t very receptive. I kept working on him.

I told the young man that since I was going to be in Israel for four weeks that I could take some time away from my schedule as a Rotary team leader to meet with the prime minister. I didn’t require a lot of time. Maybe a half hour would suffice. An hour would be better.

Indeed, in the weeks prior to our arrival in Israel, the Israelis were putting down an armed rebellion among Palestinians living in Gaza. There was some concern from our Rotary district that the State Department would disallow us to travel there. It’s too dangerous.

Well, the Israelis put down the rebellion. Gaza settled down.

I wanted to talk to Netanyahu about all that and wanted to discuss Middle East security in general. Who better to talk about that with an American journalist than the Israeli prime minister?

The consulate’s flack then asked me about the circulation of the newspaper that employed me. I told him that the G-N was part of a group of newspapers that circulated to many thousands more readers. The interview could get significant coverage in all the papers. Just allow me to speak to the prime minister and I would arrange to get the Morris Communications news bureau to distribute it among all the papers within our group.

I didn’t get the interview, which saddened me greatly. The Israeli flack said Netanyahu would be in-country while we were there. He just didn’t have the time to meet with me.

That all said, my position at the Globe-News allowed me to join a Rotary club in Amarillo, which led to my being allowed to lead this team of young professionals to the other side of the world. I’ll have more to say about that journey later on.

The Benjamin Netanyahu interview was a near miss, but I had a blast trying to secure it.

GOP schism with Trump growing over Saudis

Well, what do you know about that?

U.S. senators have heard from the CIA director herself about what the spy agency has concluded about the conduct of our key Middle East “ally” involving the gruesome murder of a U.S. resident and journalist.

Senators weigh in on Khashoggi murder

The senators, Republicans and Democrats alike, are siding with CIA Director Gina Haspel’s view that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Haspel actually has heard the recording that purports to depict Khashoggi’s death screams while he was being murdered and allegedly dismembered by his Saudi captors.

GOP senators who heretofore had become Donald Trump’s strongest allies now are siding with Haspel and her agency and against Trump, who is trying to give the crown prince the benefit of the doubt. The president says bin Salman “might or might not” be culpable. The president, who has said he relies on his “gut” more than he relies on “other people’s brains,” is taking the prince’s side because the Saudis do so much business with the United States, buying jets and other weapons they use against terrorists and their terror-nation sponsors.

Khashoggi’s life? It’s not nearly as important as those deals, according to Trump.

I’m done going soft on Trump. The president is in growing trouble politically. The special counsel might be closing in on Trump in his meticulous probe into the “Russia thing.” Meanwhile, the president continues to demonstrate his hideous blind spot as it regards despots and authoritarian regimes.

He does so even at the expense — to his great discredit — of the intelligence agencies and their leaders who take essentially the same oath that the president does: to defend the United States of America.

Those agencies are doing their job. The president, it pains me to say it, is not.

‘Middle Easterners’ in the caravan mix?

Donald J. “Fearmonger in Chief” Trump is at it again.

He said the “caravan” of refugees heading for our nation’s southern border contains “criminals” and “unknown Middle Easterners.” Does the president have any evidence of it?

Of course not! He never produces evidence of anything when he makes these bellicose assertions. It makes his crowds cheer. It fires him up. He speaks the language that his “base” understands and to which it is drawn.

The unknown Middle East component, of course, harkens back to 9/11 and the view being promoted by those on the far right that the Middle East is populated by millions of Muslims who “hate America” and will do whatever they can to do harm to Americans.

So now, according to Trump, they’re slipping into the crowd of Latin American refugees and are heading toward our soft underbelly.

I wish I had an answer to what we should do when that “caravan” arrives along our Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California borders. I don’t.

I do not believe the president is helping quell the fear of many Americans by suggesting — without attribution — the notion that the refugees are full of criminals and “Middle Easterners.”

No. Donald Trump is stoking the fear. That’s what he does. It is how he rolls.

This man represents the best in U.S.?

Vanity Fair has published an article in which Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist, has confirmed what many of us have believed all along about Donald John Trump Sr.

He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Read the article here.

Gates has revealed that he had to explain to the president of the United States that HIV and HPV are different diseases, that produce different outcomes. Trump couldn’t grasp the difference between the virus that makes one susceptible to AIDS  and human papillomavirus, which is an STD that can lead to cervical cancer.

As Vanity Fair reports: “Both times he wanted to know if there was a difference between H.I.V. and H.P.V., so I was able to explain that those are rarely confused with each other,” Gates told the crowd.

Trump keeps boasting about how he went to the “best college,” and how he performed so well academically. Maybe he did back in the day. However, his business career after completing college took him down a path that didn’t prepare him in any way imaginable for the job he inherited when he was elected president of the United States.

His lack of preparation presents itself continually in the clumsiness of his public remarks, such as the time he told a roomful of Israelis — in Jerusalem after arriving from Saudi Arabia, “We just got back from the Middle East.”

Huh?

Kushner still has no business doing what he’s doing

Say what you want about Jared Kushner, the young man certainly “married up.”

As the late President Reagan used to joke about his own marriage to Nancy, Kushner enjoys the perks of marrying well. Why, his wife Ivanka’s father used to be a mere billionaire business tycoon. Now he’s the president of the United States.

What did the president do when he took office? He brought his daughter and son-in-law into his inner circle, gave his daughter some policy advisory role and entrusted Kushner with coordinating our nation’s effort to find a lasting peace agreement in the Middle East.

A problem emerged. Kushner didn’t have the proper security clearance to handle the material he saw regularly. Hey, he had as much diplomatic and political experience as his father-in-law; that would be none.

White House chief of staff John Kelly this week reduced Kushner’s access to this material. He now is denied access to the hush-hush stuff he’d been seeing. That’s a good thing. It’s not enough.

Kushner needs to be shown the door. He doesn’t belong in the White House, let alone handling the work he’s been given.

However, as one former Trump campaign and transition insider put it, he is “Mr. Ivanka Trump.” Which means he’s got the job for as long he remains married to the president’s daughter.

Weird, man. Weird.

Donald John Trump: Grifter?

The term “grifter” isn’t one that I toss around as a matter of routine.

It’s a fairly new addition to the English lexicon. I found a definition that read: “Someone who swindles others.”

Grifter equals swindler. Got that? Good.

Well, I heard a contemporary political pundit the other day use the term to describe Donald John Trump, the nation’s 45th president of the United States. My first reaction was “ouch, man!”

The guy on TV didn’t articulate in precisely what context Trump is a “grifter.” I’ll make a bit of a leap right here. I am going to presume he means that the president has swindled Americans into believing the things he said he would do right away if he were elected to the very first office he ever sought.

He’d toss out the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something else; he’d negotiate a deal to secure peace in the Middle East; he would pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Act; he would act more “presidential” and stop using Twitter as much as he did while running for the presidency; he would stay on the job at the White House and forgo golfing outings at any of his many luxurious resorts.

By my count that would be zero for five — and just on those particular pledges he made! Were there others? Sure. Let’s just stick with those for a moment. They’re pretty major things.

I haven’t (yet) mentioned the Trump University matter in which he settled with some plaintiffs who said they were, um, swindled out of money they paid for Trump’s defunct school. How about the money he said he would donate to veterans’ causes, but still hasn’t done so?

I’m not yet certain that the term “grifter” is going to become a regular part of my vocabulary. I get what it means and what it implies about the president of the United States.

It does seem to fit this individual’s modus operandi — as a businessman, TV celebrity and now as our head of state and commander in chief.

Sanity presents itself in Trump White House

Donald Trump pledged to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Then the president thought better of it. He has signed a six-month extension to keep the embassy where it’s been since the founding of Israel in 1948, in Tel Aviv, a relatively safe distance from where terrorists and other sworn enemies of the United States and Israel commit their acts of violence.

http://thehill.com/policy/international/335850-trump-keeps-us-embassy-in-tel-aviv?rnd=1496325457

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to become capital of an independent state, when or if that occurs. The Israelis claim all of Jerusalem as their own holy place.

“We know that peace is possible if we put aside the pain and disagreements of the past and commit together to finally resolving this crisis,” Trump said in a speech in Jerusalem. “I am personally committed to helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve a peace agreement.”

The idea is to broker a peace deal that determines the fate of the holy city, which has been the goal of U.S. presidents of both political parties all along.

Donald Trump has seen the reality of the situation and has backed off his overheated campaign pledge and has decided the status quo isn’t such a bad idea.

Good call, Mr. President.