Hospitalized for heckling Bibi

The Emperor’s clothes are still on, for now (while his heckler is roughed up, hospitalized):

There on Capitol Hill, Netanyahu still has friends like Senator Chuck Schumer, who told a Jewish radio program that “One of my roles, very important in the United States Senate, is to be a shomer [guard]—to be a or the shomer Yisrael [guard of Israel]. And I will continue to be that with every bone in my body." With friends like these wrapped around his little finger, no wonder Netanyahu’s forcible denunciations of international law were met with such rapturous approbation by Members of Congress who applauded his rejectionism dozens of times.

This bonhomie was punctuated only once during Netanyahu’s hour-long speech, when a lone and courageous activist—Rae Abileah—from CODEPINK, disrupted it. CODEPINK organized a series of events and protests—“Move Over AIPAC”—to coincide with the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last weekend. From the gallery, Abileah shouted “No more occupation, stop Israel[i] war crimes, equal rights for Palestinians, occupation is indefensible.”

Her protest was quickly shut down in a “hey rube” moment by AIPAC attendees in the gallery who assaulted and tackled her before she was hauled away by police, causing injuries to her neck and shoulders requiring hospitalization. At the same time, Members of Congress joined the AIPAC carnie thuggery by shouting down Abileah with boos before quickly resuming to feed out of Netanyahu’s hand.

The US Congress is a bad joke

Are you kidding me — right-wingers and Israel lobbyists only to explain Egypt and Lebanon to Congress?!?

Washington, D.C.— The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday and Thursday of this week will host a two-part full committee hearing entitled “Recent Developments in Egypt and Lebanon: Implications for U.S. Policy and Allies in the Broader Middle East.”

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That lousy US Congress

Here's the latest bill going around Congress:

Expressing support for the State of Israel's right to defend Israeli sovereignty, to protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, and to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time to protect against such an immediate and existential threat to the State of Israel.

Of course no such concern for the sovereign of Iran, or the protection of its civilians. The bill explicitly expresses support for an Israeli attack on Iran:

(4) expresses support for Israel's right to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by Iran, defend Israeli sovereignty, and protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within a reasonable time.

It was supported by 46 Congressmen, mostly Republicans I believe.

Meanwhile, there's also a bill supporting democracy in Egypt [link corrected], introduced by Russ Feingold and supported by John McCain. It makes general commitments to democracy and calls for greater democracy, free elections, repeal of the emergency law and other issues, but does not introduce any idea of conditionality in the relationship. In fact the only different thing it advocates from what is currently being practiced is:

(7) recalls that pursuant to the laws of the United States, organizations implementing United States assistance for democracy and governance activities, and the specific nature of that assistance, shall not be subject to the prior approval of the Government of Egypt.

Breaking down US democracy policy in the Middle East

In what is becoming an annual must-read for Middle East policy wonks, POMED has published its detailed report on Financial Appropriations for Middle East Democracy for FY2011. I'll let you read its overall conclusions — quite a marked increase (32%) for MEPI funding notably — which would suggest a real commitment to one form of democracy-promotion, funding NGOs that do work on issues that deal with the wider notion of democracy endorsed by the Obama administration (away from elections, focus on women, minorities, and other aspects.) Specifically on democracy and governance programming it's 10%. It would not be entirely fair to suggest a break from the Bush administration in this regard, but rather a continuity with the post-2007 Bush policies — i.e. the post 2006 Hamas election trauma dealt to a political/electoral focus in democracy-promotion. 
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Courage after the fact

Baird and UN aid workers at the American School in Gaza.

Thanks, but it comes a little bit late:

The United States should break Israel's blockade of Gaza and deliver badly needed supplies by sea, a U.S. congressman told Gaza students. 

Rep. Brian Baird, a Democrat from Washington state, also urged President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy to visit the Hamas-ruled territory to get a firsthand look at the destruction caused by Israeli's military offensive last year. 

[...]

Baird, who has announced his retirement from Congress, told a group of Gaza students Sunday evening that the U.S. should not condone the blockade. 

"We ought to bring roll-on, roll-off ships and roll them right to the beach and bring the relief supplies in, in our version of the Berlin airlift," he said, adding that the supplies could be delivered to UN aid agencies. 

Rep. Baird has been relatively courageous about Gaza in the past, but never proposed anything of the sort before. I'm guessing it was because he was afraid of the consequences and the pervasive atmosphere of intimidation AIPAC and others exercise over Congress. This is why fighting the Israel lobby is such an important issue — to make honest, reasonable politicians able to speak out in Congress where it counts, not when they are about to retire.

See Baird's letter about Gaza here.

Iran, the US, and democracy promotion

A protestor in Tehran, from Flickr user Green Movement

POMED's account of a recent Congressional hearing on what policy to pursue towards Iran, and most notably whether and how to support its opposition movement, made for some interesting reading. Several of those testifying — former Bush administration officials, regional experts, etc. — made the case of a human rights-based approach, with the US taking steps to challenge the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic's regime on human rights grounds. The approach being suggested by, if you compile the different witnesses' testimonies to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is basically:

  1. Highly targeted sanctions to hurt the elite, esp. the IRGC;
  2. Open support for the Green Movement, which can decide whether it accepts that support or not;
  3. More funding for democracy promotion through the National Endowment for Democracy and other vehicles (although it's not clear who would eventually receive that money);
  4. A commitment to continue to side with the opposition no matter what takes place in the negotiations over the nuclear program, so that no "betrayal" of the Green Movement takes places if the regime is willing to back down;
  5. A public diplomacy campaign and commitment to internal regime change as an ultimate goal, which would also solve the nuclear issue.

I should add that Genevieve Abdo in particular was less gung-ho, and suggested that a reconciliation between the regime and opposition leaders could very well take place by the next parliamentary elections, which would leave the more radical elements of the Green Movement out on their own. I don't know much about Iran but I also see no reason a more democratic government in Iran would not be attached to a nuclear program considering the threats the country faces in the region. Logically, all of the larger Middle Eastern powers should pursue WMD programs of some sort, and indeed they all have (mostly chemical and biological for Egypt, Syria and Iraq and of course Israel's nuclear arsenal).

All of this to say: we are seeing considerable Congressional enthusiasm for a tough, democracy-driven (at least on the surface) policy towards Iran. Yet, at the same time, democracy is effectively absent from the relations between the US and Arab states (no, I will not count the State Dept. annual rights report). It is true that Iran's opposition is potentially much more credible than opposition movements in Arab countries, with seemingly real elite and popular traction. But that's also because in many respects are less democratic, and have less healthy political systems, than Iran's theocracy.

I am very supportive of the Green Movement, whatever it may actually be, and the goal putting an end to the militarization of the Islamic Republic, its corruption and its human rights abuses. I hope it's possible, and am conscious the US can influence this. But when I see US policy elsewhere in the region, I would warn Iranians: don't take this democracy talk too seriously. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan (invoked in the Congressional hearing for an uncompromising stand on Iran): don't trust, and verify.

Links for January 11th

Automatically posted links for January 11th:

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