Pompeo Unveils Dangerous US Approach to Israeli Settlements

In the latest reversal of long-standing United States policy in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared this week that Washington no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law.”

Pompeo framed the decision as a “reversal” of Obama administration policy. He said, “[Former] Secretary [of State John] Kerry changed decades of this careful bipartisan approach by publicly reaffirming the supposed illegality of settlements,” referring to a December 2016 resolution in the United Nations Security Council that termed the settlements illegal, which President Barack Obama permitted to pass by abstaining from the vote.

But in fact, Obama had been more tolerant of Israeli settlement than his predecessors. While he talked more often about their being an obstacle to peace, that abstention was the only time in his eight years in office that Obama had allowed a U.N. resolution critical of Israel to pass. By contrast, George W. Bush permitted six UNSC resolutions to which Israel objected to pass. Ronald Reagan permitted twenty.

Obama even vetoed a UNSC resolution whose text was almost verbatim U.S. policy, causing himself quite a bit of embarrassment in the international arena. On another occasion, Israel announced a new and highly controversial settlement in East Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was in the country. The administration’s reaction was to do a reading of standard talking points and move on.

Distorting Obama’s record affects more than the president’s legacy. It increases the distortion of politics around Israel and its occupation. Obama emphasized actual Israeli security needs, which, in his view, included finding an agreement with the Palestinians, and lowering the temperature between Israel (and Saudi Arabia) and Iran. Trump has focused on crowd-pleasing, grandiose gestures like moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem a move that eliminated any possibility of diplomacy with the Palestinians; or leaving the Iran nuclear deal, which aggravated tensions with Iran, thereby making the environment considerably less secure for Israel. Much like the neoconservative strategies of the early part of the century, casting those who pursue diplomacy as a threat to security allows hawks to get away with making the region less secure for everyone. Read more at LobeLog

Bolton’s Firing Undermines Netanyahu In Several Ways

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a very disappointing day on Tuesday. Struggling in the polls a week before the rerun of April’s Israeli national

elections, the embattled prime minister was desperate for something to swing a chunk of voters in his direction, or at least in the direction of some of the right wing parties supporting him.

To that end, Netanyahu scheduled a press conference to announce some big development, and as the hour of his appearance neared, the word was that it was going to be that the Trump administration had agreed to Netanyahu’s plan to annex major pieces of the West Bank. Netanyahu appeared and quickly said that if he won the election, he would immediately annex the Jordan Valley, which constitutes around 30% of the West Bank (excluding Jerusalem) and about 60% of Area C, the part of the West Bank that was left under full Israeli control in the Oslo Accords (see adjacent map). He further implied that more annexation would follow, as a result of negotiations with the United States (not the Palestinians, of course) that would be held in the framework of Donald Trump’s fabled “Deal of the Century.” Read more at LobeLog

U.S. Foreign Policy: This Is Us

Last weekend a pair of horrifying massacres in the U.S. cities of El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio sent shock waves through the country. The outrage was so powerful that even President Donald Trump had to overcome his own indifference to the act and say something that, from another source, might have sounded vaguely presidential. From him it only sounded insincere, especially since he could not even remember which Ohio city had just been so badly traumatized.

Among the punditry, Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr., Professor of African-American Studies at Princeton, had perhaps the most insightful commentary. As Glaude completed his brief speech on MSNBC, he noted that when we see these horrific mass shootings, we ask, “Oh my God, is this who we are?”

Glaude answered his own question. “What we know is that this country has been playing politics for a long time on this hatred—we know this. So, it’s easy for us to place it all on Donald Trump’s shoulders. It’s easy to place Pittsburgh on his shoulders. It’s easy for me to place Charlottesville on his shoulders. It’s easy to place El Paso on his shoulders.” But then Glaude resoundingly proclaimed, “This is us! And if we’re gonna get past this we can’t blame it on [Trump]. He’s a manifestation of the ugliness that’s in us.”

Glaude is correct to point out that Trump is not inventing this, he is unleashing it, harvesting hate that has festered for decades, suppressed—but not defeated—by liberal ideals.

But as Americans so often do, we think of the Trump presidency in terms of ourselves, of what happens within our borders. For many of us, that doesn’t even extend to a place like Puerto Rico, which Trump was able to smugly neglect in a way he never would have dared to do to a mainland U.S. city. But what of our foreign policy under Trump and for years before him?

Events in Gaza, Iran, the United Kingdom, Congo, Kashmir, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and other places do not exist in isolation from the United States. Sometimes by action, sometimes by inaction, the U.S. affects events all over the world. That’s hardly news. Most Americans know it. But too few of us take it seriously enough to let it influence our votes or political activity. Read more at LobeLog

Biden Is The Riskiest Choice Of All

At Medium, I explain why Joe Biden is not at all the safe pick he is made out to be. If you support his policies, or if you are swayed by his being the former VP under

Obama or that he is the best-known of the Democratic candidates, by all means support him. But if you’re only behind him because he’s the safe pick, please consider that this may not be the case. It is crucial that Democratic primary voters not just follow the line that says Biden is the safe bet, we can’t afford to get this wrong. I explain here why he is not at all the safe pick. Agree or disagree, but this is a conversation we need to have. Please share this piece with all your friends and contacts.

U.S. Opinion On Israel Doesn’t Match The Politics

The new report from the Chicago Council on Public Affairs on U.S. public opinion toward the Israel-Palestine conflict rings a familiar tone. It tells us that Americans support a two-state solution, see Israel as an important U.S. ally, and believe the United States should not take sides in the conflict. It fails to drill down on many of these questions, leaving many responses ambiguous, but it does provide a few interesting nuggets about the views of U.S. citizens.

As one would expect, the survey found that Americans valued the relationship with Israel: 73 percent said the economic relationship with Israel was important and 78 percent said the security relationship was important. But in neither case was Israel particularly special in the affection it got from the public. Read more at LobeLog

Yes, We Can Do Something About Brett Kavanaugh

So Brett Kavanaugh is almost certainly going to be the next associate justice on the Supreme Court. Are we helpless in the face of this?

No, we are not. 

I have little faith that Susan Collins (R-ME), much less Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) or any other Republican senator will vote against Kavanaugh. Even if two of them do bolt, there’s no guarantee that Democrats like Joe Manchin (D-WV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), or Joe Donnelly (D-IN) won’t vote to confirm him, as they all did for Neil Gorsuch. Those of us not in those states really can’t do much about their votes in any case.

But there is something we can do.

We can, all of us, in ways great and small, make sure that the story of Brett Kavanaugh focuses not on him, but on the circumstances of his appointment.  The reality is that, as loathsome as I find Kavanaugh’s opinions, they are mostly within the spectrum of US political discourse. Yes, he’s been correctly cast as a partisan judge, but so was Antonin Scalia, and, really, what other kind of judge is Donald Trump likely to appoint? Being opposed to Roe v Wade, Obamacare, and just about every environmental regulation he can find does not disqualify him from the Court.  Continue reading

On the 4th of July

The following is the speech of Frederick Douglass, delivered when he was asked to speak to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society on July 5, 1862.

Douglass spoke as a free Black man in the era of slavery. But his words resonate through the ages. They symbolically represent the slaves, the freed slaves living as virtual non-citizens, later under Jim Crow, and to this day as less than their white co-citizens, discriminated against in finance, housing, and employment, targeted by white supremacists and police. But these words speak as well, to the history of many people of color, to LGBTQI* people, to women, to communists and anarchists, to Muslims, polytheists, and people of all non-Christian faiths, to working people of all kinds. In short, these words can apply, to one degree or another, to most Americans, and they are an entirely accurate indictment of the USA as a whole.

On this 4th of July, as our nation works hard to erase the halting, insufficient progress we have made, as we lock people up for fleeing violence in which our country is complicit to varying degrees, as we lead the world to environmental catastrophe, as we, as a people, ignore the harm being done in our name within our borders and all around the planet, we should not be lighting off fireworks in celebration of war. We should not be reading from lofty, 18th century documents as if they have any relationship to the United States as it exists or has ever existed. We should be heeding the words of Frederick Douglass. To help us do that, here are those words.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us? Continue reading