Monday, March 16, 2009

"Worry and Reprieve"

Arlene Kushner

Worry? With regard to some of my concerns right now, this word is an understatement. Deep apprehension might better describe my state of mind. Near panic? Serious foreboding? You've got the picture.

And no where is this more the case than with my concerns about the US. I've been taking to heart the analyses of some serious and respected commentators who have left me quite troubled. The issue here is the financial stability of the country and the very real danger that the US might implode fiscally. In brief, the situation as described both by Michael Barone, a senior writer with US News and World Report, and Tony Blankley, a visiting senior fellow in National Security Communications at the Heritage Foundation, is this: What Obama is doing is tacking on to his fiscal recovery program enormously expensive, tax-guzzling projects that reflect his progressive-left agenda, but which threaten to bring the whole system down.

This is how Blankley describes it:

"But vastly more dangerous to the Obama presidency (and the nation) was his decision to go full steam ahead to immediately start to transform health care; fight carbon dioxide energy sources with new taxations that will increase the cost of all energy, goods and services; and increase new expensive education entitlements as part of a federalization of American education.

"It is this decision not to postpone those multi-year, multi-trillion-dollar programs until the economy and the financial system are revived that exposes Obama's presidency to a possible catastrophic meltdown in its first term.

"Obama not only is failing to focus more or less exclusively on protecting the financial system and the economy that depend on it but also is letting his ideological ardor drive him to expend both his own and his administration's attention, along with the vast new tax dollars, on those programs rather than on the financial and economic crises.

"Thus -- and here is his political danger -- if the financial system fails (and much of the economy along with it), it will be a fair, true and politically lethal charge against Obama that he didn't do all he could as soon as he could to protect us from the catastrophe."


I urge every single American reading this to ponder this material carefully, and then to respond before it is too late. An enormous outcry from within your nation is urgently needed.

This is not a question of political orientation. It is possible to be for universal health care, new educational entitlements, etc., and still understand that the poor state of the nation's economy will not tolerate support of these programs at present.

Barone points out that Franklin Roosevelt did not institute the New Deal until he had worked for two years to bring increased strength to the economy. Contrast this with the comment of Rahm Emanuel, Obama's Chief of Staff, who said, "Never let a serious crisis go to waste" -- implying that the fiscal crisis and ensuing legislation will provide the opportunity for getting new programs passed.

America, you are in trouble.


Word on whether there will be a prisoner trade for Shalit is still out.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, in Cairo this afternoon, told AP that Olmert's actions in sending Dekel and Diskin to negotiate was nothing more than a bargaining tactic. "We have not received anything new. We will not change our position."

However, the Egyptians have summoned Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas politburo in Damascus, and Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, Secretary-General of Islamic Jihad, to Cairo. This is reportedly so that there can be work on the issues surrounding Palestinian unity negotiations.

But the timing made it clear that the Shalit issue was also on the agenda for Mashaal. And indeed, a Palestinian source cited by YNet confirmed this, saying that only small issues (how do we define small?) separate Israel and Hamas at this point, but that a deal would not be finalized in the next few days.

My own take is that the issue will be resolved by the Cabinet (and perhaps the Security Cabinet). Either it will cave on this issue, and accede to Hamas demands -- which is certainly possible -- or they will not. I know that at least until very recently there were prisoners on the list submitted by Hamas that were not acceptable even to very concession-minded members of the government; another issue of contention is Israel's insistence that the more dangerous or notorious of the prisoners who would be released had to be deported -- something Hamas objected to. But with all this, there is that pressure I wrote about yesterday, and the feeling that it's now or never because Netanyahu's take will be different.

Yet, according to an Olmert confidante speaking on Channel 10 today, "We will be surprised if a deal to release Gilad Shalit is effected in the coming days." Those close to Olmert were said to not be optimistic that efforts would yield success before his term ended.


And tonight it's looking a bit better regarding how soon Olmert will be vacating the position of prime minister. Yesterday I reported that Netanyahu had thought he might have to request a two-week extension to cobble together his coalition. But a lot has happened since then.

This morning there were reports of unofficial feelers going out to Livni again, regarding formation of a unity government. This time -- even though the prospect definitely did not go down well -- I understood. Netanyahu was tired of dealing with right wing parties who thought they could demand the maximum, making formation of that government very problematic.

Should Livni have come on board, she would have been given the Foreign Ministry and would have demanded a rotation of the prime minister's position -- something Netanyahu was definitely not keen on.

There was, therefore, some speculation that these feelers were a negotiating gambit to deliver a warning to the right wing, so that they would not think they had him over a barrel. This now seems to be the case, as there are reports that an agreement with Yisrael Beitenu is imminent.

Let us hope so.


It appears that negotiations between Hamas and Fatah for forming a unity government have failed. Just about every issue on the books remained a source of contention without resolution:

There was Fatah's failure to release all Hamas detainees in its prisons. And there continued to be a dispute over the reforming of the PLO, which Fatah now controls and Hamas would like to control. And there was the issue of elections -- with Hamas saying presidential elections had to be now and Fatah saying not until next year when the legislature is elected.

If all of this has a deja vu feeling about it for you, you're not wrong.


But the really big issue, said Hamas, was the Fatah demand that it accept previous agreements with Israel and recognize Israel's right to exist. And this is one place where the dynamic is fascinating.

Hamas negotiator Salah Bardaweel said that this demand was Fatah's "way of foiling talks," for they were setting "impossible conditions." (Note once again that Hamas is up-front about its policies.)

"Unless the Egyptian hosts exert pressure on Fatah to change its position, there is no point in continuing the talks," declared Bardaweel.


Another Hamas official blamed the US for the failure of the talks. For during negotiations Fatah revealed that they had been warned by the US that they will not deal with any government that does not accept the three Quartet conditions.

Said this official: "Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas have succumbed to American pressure once again." This is true, because Abbas knows on which side his bread is buttered. This dynamic explains the shift in Abbas's position, for I had been observing for some time that Abbas was not making demands of Hamas regarding recognition of Israel.

But then the official made a statement that was essentially erroneous: "The Americans don't want to see the Palestinians reunited." The Americans want this very much, on their terms, so that there can be peace negotiations and everyone can live happily ever after.

What the Americans have yet to learn is that they cannot manipulate events in the Middle East to their liking and that attempts often backfire.


Adm. Mike Mullen gave an interview on the Charlie Rose show the other day that merits attention. Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is in Washington right now, and Mullen said with regard to him:

“I’ve been with my Israeli counterpart a number of times and, by and large, we see it the same way... We are in agreement and have been for the better part of six months or so. There was a time that we weren’t, but we’ve actually worked pretty hard to understand where we both are, so I think that generally we’re in agreement. But the Israelis for sure believe that the Iranians are on a path and are going to develop nuclear weapons.”


Mullen indicated concern about the destabilization of the area, and the risk to US troops, that would occur with an Israeli attack on Iran.

However, with regard to a US attack on Iran, he said:

“We have the capacity to do it but we are stretched. My ground forces are very stressed, very worn… On the other hand we’ve got a very strong strategic reserve in our Air Force and in our Navy and in fact that’s a part of the world, it’s a maritime part of the world, where the emphasis would certainly be on those two forces. And it’s not like the Navy and the Air Force haven’t been working hard at what we’ve doing but there’s plenty of capacity there.”

Does this suggest the possibility of this happening? Don't know. I do believe that the Americans are more likely to go for it if they're afraid that we're going to go it alone and cause "destabilization."

See a video of Mullen's interview at: (move to minute 32 of the video)


According to a NY Times analysis:

“The Israelis have seized on the Iranian milestone [UN confirmation that Iran had collected enough nuclear material to produce a bomb] to redouble pressure on the United States for a tougher stance against Iran and to remind the new American president that their patience has a limit. In fact, Israeli officials have quietly been delivering the message that the diplomacy Barack Obama wants to start with Iran should begin promptly — and be over quickly.”

Added the Times:

“Mr. Obama’s top aides suspect that Netanyahu, Israel’s likely next prime minister, will not risk acting alone. It would undercut his relationship with his most important ally before that relationship really gets going. But that’s a guess.”

I would call it a very bad guess. Obama's people, and I would guess many others, do not understand how seriously Israelis take this existential threat. From my perspective the notion of putting our relationship with Obama ahead of eliminating that threat is nothing if not ludicrous.

Most reassuring was the statement that Jeffrey G. Lewis, a nuclear specialist at the New America Foundation, in Washington, gave to the Times:

“In the race between an Iranian bomb and bombing Iran, we would win. We would cave in the roof before they got a bomb’s worth of material.”

I would like to believe he's right.


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