Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

About Those “New Tough Measures” Against NoKo

You have to laugh some times.  Or maybe a rueful shake of the head is more appropriate. Here’s Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, answering questions about the reportedly tough measures the new UN resolution against NoKo allows the country, via the military, to take:

Q: Admiral Mullen, Secretary Gates, currently the U.S. military is tracking a North Korean-flagged ship, the Kang Nam, which is suspected of proliferating either weaponry, nuclear materials or missile parts. What are your options n terms of enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874? Are you prepared to board the ship at this time?

ADM. MULLEN: Without going into specific details, clearly we’re — we intend to vigorously enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874, to include — options to include certainly a hail and query. There are — part of the UNSCR is to, if a vessel like this is queried and doesn’t allow a permissive search, to direct it to go into a port, and the country of that port would, as required to, inspect the vessel, and to also keep the United Nations informed, obviously, if a vessel like this would refuse to comply.

But the United Nations Security Council resolution does not include an option for an opposed boarding or a noncompliant boarding with respect to that. And if we get to that point with a vessel that we suspect has material which is counter to — unauthorized in accordance with UNSCR, that’s a report that goes back to the United Nations as well.

Q: What do you think is on board this ship? What has made you suspicious that the military’s tracking it?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, I wouldn’t go into any kind of details, at this particular point in time, except to say that it’s very clear that the resolution prohibits North Korea from shipping these kinds of materials, the kinds of weapons that were laid out, in the material, from conventional weapons up to fissile material or nuclear weapons.

And we expect compliance. And I’ve gone through the steps that we would take.

Q: The north has said that they would take that, any sort of interdiction, as an act of war. Would that prevent you from pursuing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think, it’s important that this is a U.N. resolution. This is an international commitment. It’s not just the United States. It’s a lot of other countries as well. And the North taking steps to further isolate itself, to further non-comply with international guidance and regulations, in the long-run, puts them in a more difficult position.

With all due respect to Adm. Mullen, I’m having real difficulty, given what he said they could do -essentially send a report to the UN if NoKo doesn’t play along with the demands he’s authorized to make- seeing how NoKo is putting themselves “in a more difficult position” than they now occupy. More importantly, why would NoKo care?

Reading this carefully, it seems the UN has authorized them to “query” a NoKo ship and ask to inspect it. NoKo can say “no”. If NoKo says no, we can demand they go to the nearest port for inspection. But again, all the NoKo ship has to do is say “no” and that ends it. Result: Strong report sent to UN. Sounds more like punishment for those who have to fill out the report to the UN than NoKo.

Where else in the universe are such steps considered “tough” besides the UN?

~McQ

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Why “Twitter” Became So Important In Iran

Some fascinating stuff here:

The state owned Data communication Company of Iran (or DCI) acts as the gateway for all Internet traffic entering or leaving the country. Historically, Iranian Internet access has enjoyed some level of freedom despite government filtering and monitoring of web sites.

In normal times, DCI carries roughly 5 Gbps of traffic (with a reported capacity of 12 Gbps) through 6 upstream regional and global Internet providers. For the region, this represents an average level of Internet infrastructure (for purposes of perspective, a mid size ISP in Michigan carries roughly the same level of traffic).

Then the Iranian Internet stopped.

One the day after the elections on June 13th at 1:30pm GMT (9:30am EDT and 6:00pm Tehran / IRDT), Iran dropped off the Internet. All six regional and global providers connecting Iran to the rest of the world saw a near complete loss of traffic.

Graphically, here’s what happened -iran1

Here’s a detailed look at the abrupt stop noted above -iran2

There’s no question, obviously, that internet traffic was almost totally blocked. And you don’t have to be a North Korean rocket scientist to know why.

So why has limited bandwidth been restored since?

I can only speculate. But DCI’s Internet changes suggest piecemeal migration of traffic flows. Typically off the shelf / inexpensive Internet proxy and filtering appliances can support 1 Gbps or lower. If DCI needed to support higher throughput (say, all Iranian Internet traffic), then redirecting subsets of traffic as the filtering infrastructure comes online would make sense.

Unlike Burma, Iran has significant commercial and technological relationships with the rest of the world. In other words, the government cannot turn off the Internet without impacting business and perhaps generating further social unrest. In all, this represents a delicate balance for the Iranian government and a test case for the Internet to impact democratic change.

Events are still unfolding in Iran, but some reports are saying the Internet has already won.

It would seem so, at least in this case, but I’m not so sure that a country which really didn’t care about maintaining the mirage of a “free” country, as does Iran, couldn’t and wouldn’t keep it shut down for a while longer than did Iran. China for instance.

What it does prove is how incredibly powerful and important the internet has become throughout the world, and how, as communications technology expands and networking options become more available (Twitter carried the day after Inet cutoff to the point that it can be asserted that there was no longer any positive reason to keep the Inet shut down), the ability of totalitarian regimes to control communications is degraded to the point of impotence. Someone is going to get the word out by some means, like it or not. And for the most part, Iran likes it not. But the ability of the communications network to bypass governmental blocks by other means may have been instrumental in making the mullahs finally take the sham election seriously and forcing them to finally address the alleged voting irregularities.

~McQ

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Possibly Real Iranian Election Results Leaked

Before anyone gets too worked up about this development, it should be noted that there is probably no way to authenticate this alleged letter, and its existence comes to us via Robert Fisk (yes, that “Fisk“). Nevertheless, there is a purported letter from the Ministry of the Interior running around Iran that states the following:

Salaam Aleikum.

Regarding your concerns for the 10th presidential elections and due to your orders for Mr Ahmedinejad to be elected President, in this sensitive time, all matters have been organised in such a way that the results of the election will be in line with the revolution and the Islamic system. The following result will be declared to the people and all planning should be put in force to prevent any possible action from the opposition, and all party leaders and election candidates are under intense surveillance. Therefore, for your information only, I am telling you the actual results as follows:

Mirhossein Mousavi: 19,075,623

Mehdi Karroubi: 13,387,104

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 5,698,417

Mohsen Rezai: 38,716

(signed on behalf of the minister)

Fisk has this to say about it:

They were handing out the photocopies by the thousand under the plane trees in the centre of the boulevard, single sheets of paper grabbed by the opposition supporters who are now wearing black for the 15 Iranians who have been killed in Tehran – who knows how many more in the rest of the country? – since the election results gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad more than 24 million votes and a return to the presidency. But for the tens of thousands marking their fifth day of protests yesterday – and for their election campaign hero, Mirhossein Mousavi, who officially picked up just 13 million votes – those photocopies were irradiated.

[…]

In a highly sophisticated society like Iran, forgery is as efficient as anywhere in the West and there are reasons for both distrusting and believing this document. But it divides the final vote between Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi in such a way that it would have forced a second run-off vote – scarcely something Mousavi’s camp would have wanted.

[…]

Could this letter be a fake? Even if Mr Mousavi won so many votes, could the colourless Mr Karroubi have followed only six million votes behind him? And however incredible Mr Ahmadinejad’s officially declared 63 per cent of the vote may have been, could he really – as a man who has immense support among the poor of Iran – have picked up only five-and-a-half million votes? And would a letter of such immense importance be signed only “on behalf of the minister”?

That the Independent’s intrepid reporter is cautioning against assuming the veracity and provenance of the letter should tell you something (and, it should be noted, “intrepid” is truly meant here as Fisk is openly and flagrantly defying the journalist ban at great personal risk, for which he deserves great praise and admiration). Whether or not it’s real, the mullahs have their work cut out for them in damage control. If the protesters are fairly enough convinced (and it would appear, for now, at least some of them are), then little more fuel will be needed for the fire. Moreover, others who have been either sitting on the fence, or who thought the election was legitimate, are convinced of a sham due to this letter, then it’s difficult to see how the regime can retain any legitimacy.

In any event, this alleged letter may have a significant effect on the outcome of events in Iran.

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NoKo: Pressing Buttons

Kim Jong-Il is apparently not content with good old-fashioned saber rattling, and instead wants to push the envelope (or the button, as it were) a little further:

North Korea may fire a long-range ballistic missile toward Hawaii in early July, a Japanese news report said Thursday, as Russia and China urged the regime to return to international disarmament talks on its rogue nuclear program.

The missile, believed to be a Taepodong-2 with a range of up to 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers), would be launched from North Korea’s Dongchang-ni site on the northwestern coast, said the Yomiuri daily, Japan’s top-selling newspaper. It cited an analysis by the Japanese Defense Ministry and intelligence gathered by U.S. reconnaissance satellites.

The missile launch could come between July 4 and 8, the paper said.

While the newspaper speculated the Taepodong-2 could fly over Japan and toward Hawaii, it said the missile would not be able to hit Hawaii’s main islands, which are about 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) from the Korean peninsula.

A spokesman for the Japanese Defense Ministry declined to comment on the report. South Korea’s Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service — the country’s main spy agency — said they could not confirm it.

If North Korea does carry out such a plan, it would be a most provocative act, bordering on a casus belli. Figuratively speaking, it would not be any different than the child’s game of swinging one’s arms within inches of one’s sibling while declaring “not touching!” In realpolitik terms, it is simply a threat.

Of course, the real question is, what do we do about it?

President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met in Washington on Tuesday for a landmark summit in which they agreed to build a regional and global “strategic alliance” to persuade North Korea to dismantle all its nuclear weapons. Obama declared North Korea a “grave threat” to the world and pledged that the new U.N. sanctions on the communist regime will be aggressively enforced.

In Seoul, Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho told a forum Thursday that the North’s moves to strengthen its nuclear programs is “a very dangerous thing that can fundamentally change” the regional security environment. He said the South Korean government is bracing for “all possible scenarios” regarding the nuclear standoff.

[…]

In a rare move, leaders of Russia and China used their meetings in Moscow on Wednesday to pressure the North to return to the nuclear talks and expressed “serious concerns” about tension on the Korean peninsula.

The joint appeal appeared to be a signal that Moscow and Beijing are growing impatient with Pyongyang’s stubbornness. Northeastern China and Russia’s Far East both border North Korea, and Pyongyang’s unpredictable actions have raised concern in both countries.

After meetings at the Kremlin, Chinese President Hu Jintao joined Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in urging a peaceful resolution of the Korean standoff and the “swiftest renewal” of the now-frozen talks involving their countries as well as North and South Korea, Japan and the United States.

“Russia and China are ready to foster the lowering of tension in Northeast Asia and call for the continuation of efforts by all sides to resolve disagreements through peaceful means, through dialogue and consultations,” their statement said.

Keep in mind, as well, that North Korea need not tip anyone of those missiles with a nuclear warhead (which it does not yet have the capability to do) in order to pose a significant threat. Reportedly, the Stalinist regime is well-equipped with chemical weapons as well:

The independent International Crisis Group think tank, meanwhile, said the North’s massive stockpile of chemical weapons is no less serious a threat to the region than its nuclear arsenal.

It said the North is believed to have between 2,500 and 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, phosgene, blood agents and sarin. These weapons can be delivered with ballistic missiles and long-range artillery and are “sufficient to inflict massive civilian casualties on South Korea.”

Although the nations involved have been ready to talk sternly about “grave threats” and to urge further negotiations to quell the tensions, Kim Jong-Il is notably unimpressed. Rather than seeking to retard the North Korean leader’s ambitions, everyone seems insistent upon being cautions in order to avoid “provoking” Kim Jong-Il. That is a shrewd plan when dealing with a crazy person, but in the end, a bully is just a bully, whether he’s crazy or not.

Unfortunately, at some point a swift smack on the nose will be necessary if we truly want to back the recalcitrant dictator up a step or two, which admittedly carries its own unfortunate possibilities. Even if that point is not now, or if and when North Korea sends its missiles hurling dangerously close to our sovereign territory, it does seem to be approaching quickly. Given the rather meek approach taken by all nations thus far, one can only hope that Kim’s own machinations do him under before the international community’s hand is forced.

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Questions And Observations

Some conversation starters:

  • For new readers, the title is what the shortened “QandO” means.
  • I’m constantly amused by the anecdotal evidence I gather while on the road that says if you’re over 65 you have to drive a Buick.
  • One thing to keep in mind as you listen to all of these proponents tell you that government can do health care better than the private sector – The private sector is a net producer of wealth. The government sector is a net consumer of wealth. That’s why the more of the economy a government takes over the less wealth is produced and thus available within the economy.
  • Interesting chart showing the level of spending in the last 12 months compared to the spending over the last 206 years in inflation adjusted dollars.  How do people believe that such a massive increase in spending doesnt have to be paid for at some point?
  • Is Obama’s honeymoon over?  Is enough resistance building to derail some of these economy killing policies and programs now on the table?
  • Former President Bush speaks out, apparently tired of a president 150 days into his own administration continuing to blame the previous administration. Appropriate or should he remain silent? And interestingly, since the left excused Jimmy Carter’s criticism of the Bush administration, does that mean they’re fine with Bush speaking out?
  • Is it “IGgate”? What’s up with this story about the Americorps IG and are there more IGs with whom the administration has messed? Wasn’t this the administration which was going to “return” us to the “rule of law”? Why aren’t they following it?

~McQ

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Health Care “Reform”: A Little History Is Always Useful

Daniel Henninger gives us a little walk down memory lane to remind us of the effect of our first attempt at “health care” reform.

Back before recorded history, in 1965, Congress erected the nation’s first two monuments to health-care “reform,” Medicaid and Medicare. Medicaid was described at the time as a modest solution to the problem of health care for the poor. It would be run by the states and “monitored” by the federal government.

The reform known as Medicaid is worth our attention now because Mr. Obama is more or less demanding that the nation accept another reform, his “optional” federalized health insurance program. He suggested several times before the AMA that opposition to it will consist of “scare tactics” and “fear mongering.”

Whatever Medicaid’s merits, this federal health-care program more than any other factor has put California and New York on the brink of fiscal catastrophe. I’d even call it scary.

Anyone who has paid any attention to the health care debate know full well that Medicare and Medicaid have become huge black holes with future funding obligations in the tens of trillions of trillions of dollars.

Now, pointing that out and doubting the government’s ability to do any better is apparently “scare tactics” and “fear mongering”. Reminds me of the AGW nonsense.

After 45 years, the health-care reform called Medicaid has crushed state budgets. A study by the National Governors Association said a decade ago that because of “new requirements” imposed by federal law — meaning Congress — “Medicaid has evolved into a program whose size, cost and significance are far beyond the original vision of its creators.”

There is nothing to convince anyone that the same won’t happen with a “public option”. And although the present plan is to have such an option pay for itself through premiums, there’s nothing to stop Congress from deciding the taxpayer should pick up the tab at some point in the future.

In his speech, Mr. Obama said the cost of the Public Option won’t add to the deficit: “I’ve set down a rule for my staff, for my team — and I’ve said this to Congress — health-care reform must be, and will be, deficit-neutral in the next decade.” If we’re honest, that means tax increases are inevitable.

The thing to remember – “deficit-neutral” doesn’t necessarily mean cuts in spending. It means that revenue must equal spending and that obviously means that spending increases must have added revenue – tax increases.

There is some resistance starting to form to the “reform”. The Democrats plan on rushing this through with limited debate. If they succeed, “Son of Medicare” will wander out the government lab and bankrupt this nation much more quickly than now anticipated.

~McQ

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Hate To Say “I Told You So”

President Obama’s tapdancing attempt to avoid taking a stand on Iran has come to naught and made him look weak:

The Iranian government, meanwhile, accused the U.S. for the first time of interfering in the postelection dispute. Iran protested to the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. affairs in Iran because the two nations have no diplomatic ties. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that President Barack Obama stands by his defense of principles such as the right of people to demonstrate.

Even had Barack Obama maintained his silence, this was almost a given. Totalitarianism 101 – seek an external enemy to blame your problems on before you crack down hard internally (although the split in Qom among the mullahs is interesting and adds a new dimension to the story).

And I disagree with the talking heads that calling for free and fair elections is “meddling in the internal affairs of another state” such as Moorhead Kennedy was blathering on about on CNN this morning. That’s not meddling nor is it an attack on a state’s sovereignty – its a call for a state to actually do what they’re claiming they’re doing.

~McQ

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Conference on Health Care Reform

Cato Institute is hosting a conference on health care reform today that will be webcast live. It will feature the following speakers:

* Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
* Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX)
* Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA)
* Karen Davenport, Director of Health Policy, Center for American Progress
* Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Former Director, Congressional Budget Office, and Director of Domestic and Economic Policy for the McCain presidential campaign
* Tom G. Donlan, Barron’s
* Karen Tumulty, Time Magazine
* Susan Dentzer, Health Affairs
* John Reichard, Congressional Quarterly

This represents a wide range of views and promises to be much more interesting and informative than the White House/ABC News infomercial scheduled for next week. so if you’re interested in this topic at all, take some time to check it out.

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U.S. Spurns Aid To California. Really?

In one of those “make sure you read the whole article” stories in the Washington Post, it begins like this:

The Obama administration has turned back pleas for emergency aid from one of the biggest remaining threats to the economy — the state of California.

Top state officials have gone hat in hand to the administration, armed with dire warnings of a fast-approaching “fiscal meltdown” caused by a budget shortfall. Concern has grown inside the White House in recent weeks as California’s fiscal condition has worsened, leading to high-level administration meetings. But federal officials are worried that a bailout of California would set off a cascade of demands from other states.

If you read no further than that, you’d probably think, “thank goodness, a modicum of sanity has returned to the federal government”. It is California’s mess and California, along with the other states, need to learn a hard but necessary fiscal lesson here.

But, while perfectly correct in your assessment, you’d be wrong to think that the present rejection is final. Buried a few paragraphs down is this:

These policymakers continue to watch the situation closely and do not rule out helping the state if its condition significantly deteriorates, a senior administration official said. But in that case, federal help would carry conditions to protect taxpayers and make similar requests for aid unattractive to other states, the official said. The official did not detail those conditions.

I’m sure he or she didn’t. This is another Geithner plan based in the premise that California is “too big to fail” – the 8th biggest economy in the world and its failure would slow down the economic recovery of the US.

Given that inclination on the part of Geithner, it would appear that nothing has been learned from the Chrysler and GM bailouts, failure and eventual bankruptcies. Granted, California’s “failure” would be quite a bit larger than those two, but haven’t we yet learned that propping up a unsustainable business or government model just doesn’t work?

While it may be painful for both California and the US, nothing changes in California unless massive cuts and changes are made in that government. And, as has been evident to even the most tuned out of constituents, the California government model has been unsustainable for over a decade.

Naturally, California wants to characterize their plight in the way that will appeal the most to the emotions:

“After June 15th, every day of inaction jeopardizes our state’s solvency and our ability to pay schools and teachers and to keep hospitals and ERs open,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said Friday.

But the hard fact remains that the solvency of all those institutions are in jeopardy with or without a bailout. We’re simply talking about how long we want to extend the problem not how to solve it. Solutions mean massive cuts in government spending and resultant reductions in government services. Or said another way, California is finally going to have to live within its means or fail.

That’s not a condition the rest of the taxpayers in this country brought about, and it certainly isn’t one they should be on the hook to “bailout”. And that goes for every other state in that condition as well (see the article and its mention of how Treasury is thinking about doing something with auto suppliers in Michigan – is that the job of Treasury).

~McQ

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Obama’s Foreign Policy Is Dangerous

Caroline Glick, writing in the Jerusalem Post, seems to have as good a measure of Barack Obama’s “foreign policy” as anyone I’ve read. Discussing that in the context of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Sunday speech (two state solution/demilitarized Palestine), Glick writes of Obama and his advisors:

To be moved by rational argument, a person has to be open to rational discourse. And what we have witnessed over the past week with the Obama administration’s reactions to both North Korea’s nuclear brinksmanship and Iran’s sham elections is that its foreign policy is not informed by rationality but by the president’s morally relative, post-modern ideology. In this anti-intellectual and anti-rational climate, Netanyahu’s speech has little chance of making a lasting impact on the White House.

If rational thought was the basis for the administration’s policymaking on foreign affairs, North Korea’s decisions to test long range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, send two US citizens to long prison terms and then threaten nuclear war should have made the administration reconsider its current policy of seeking the approval and assistance of North Korea’s primary enabler – China – for any action it takes against Pyongyang. As Nicholas Eberstadt suggested in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, rather than spending its time passing UN Security Council resolutions with no enforcement mechanisms against North Korea, the administration would be working with a coalition of the willing to adopt measures aimed at lowering the threat North Korea constitutes to regional, US and global security through its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its proliferation activities.

But the administration has done no such thing. Instead of working with and strengthening its allies, it has opted to work with North Korea’s allies China and Russia to forge a Security Council resolution harsh enough to convince North Korean leader Kim Jung Il to threaten nuclear war, but too weak to degrade his capacity to wage one.

Similar to Obama’s refusal to reassess his failed policy regarding North Korea, his nonreaction to the fraudulent Iranian election shows that he will not allow facts to interfere with his slavish devotion to his ideological canon that claims that no enemy is unappeasable and no ally deserves automatic support. Far from standing with the democratic dissidents now risking their lives to oppose Iran’s sham democracy, the administration has reportedly expressed concern that the current postelection protests will destabilize the regime.

Obama has also refused to reconsider his decision to reach a grand bargain with the ayatollahs on Iran’s nuclear weapons program that would serve to legitimize their continued grip on power. His refusal to make a moral distinction between the mullahs and their democratic opponents – like his refusal in Cairo to make a moral distinction between a nuclear-armed Iran and a nuclear-armed America – makes clear that he is not interested in forging a factually accurate or morally clear-sighted foreign policy.

At that point in her article, she brings it home to Israel and points to why, given her assessment of Obama’s foreign policy tendencies, Netanyahu’s speech will not be met with the approbation it deserves, in her opinion, by the US. And she makes a good case for her point which you ought to read.

But I was far more interested in the general analysis than how it specifically applied to Israel because it is one of the best and most clearly stated I’ve seen yet. While she doesn’t say it directly, the path the administration is taking is an extremely dangerous path in dealing with these problems she points too.

Regimes like NoKo and Iran see any conciliatory or ineffective moves toward them as signs of weakness to be exploited. And NoKo is presently in the middle of doing precisely that. Iran, caught up in its own internal difficulties at the moment, will soon follow once those are resolved (and they will be resolved).

To bring it back to the Israeli question, the same sort of policy is at work there – lean on Israel to come up with the solution and make the concessions while mostly ignoring the Palestinian side of the equation. Netanyahu made a point, in his speech, to remind the Obama administration of the very first thing which must be done before any meaningful peace process can begin:

Netanyahu demonstrated that through their consistent rejection of Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state, the Palestinians – not us – are the side responsible for the absence of Middle East peace.

Until that is done, nothing will change. Instead of trying to get Israel to accept Palestine and make concessions, this should be the focus of the US effort there. Without it, nothing changes. But, as Glick points out, that isn’t the focus of he US effort and thus, it is doomed to failure (and she assumes when it failure is finally admitted, it will be Israel that is blamed).

A very interesting and disheartening read. Like I said, I think Glick has nailed it, and, to quote someone close to the Obama administration, in a few years, unfortunately, these foreign policy chickens are going to “come home to roost”.

~McQ

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