IRAQ, THE KURDS, HAMAS, ISRAEL, THE YAZIDIS, IRAN AND … US

1 Kurdish fighters retake Kirkuk

1 ISIS in black

War on Kurdistan : (top) Kurdish fighters escort the Governor of Kirkuk (in flak jacket) into the newly captured city (bottom) men of ISIS march furiously

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Major events are taking place in the Middle East, at its heart — what as kids we were taught to call “the Fertile Crescent” — and they would affect the US hugely even if we were not as a nation involved : which we are.

From Gaza to Jerusalem, and from the Lebanon border to Damascus,and from northern Syria to the gates of Baghdad, and from Sinjar Mountain to Erbil in Kurdistan, armies formal and informal are killing each other. Some of these armies are raping women, beheading men, committing atrocities beyond description, almost beyond belief.

Our own interests are in harm’s way here. Our friends the Israelis and the Kurds are at risk ; the one hounded by world anti-Semitism and hurt by Hamas rockets, the other attacked fiercely along a 650 mile border by an army of Orcs forged in the evil crucible of Assad’s Syria.

We could not stand aside even if we want to; and fortunately our President has not wanted to. He, as our leader, has responded forcefully and, for the Kurds, decisively.

Less sure is the outcome of Israel’s fight with Hamas, a seemingly endless yin and yang of war and truce, truce and war.

These commitments call our nation to action that we can deliver. Less sure is the question, what does it all portend ? At times the peoples of the Fertile Crescent seem determined to exterminate one another and take pleasure in doing that. Under the rubrics of delusional ideologies they commit actual atrocities almost without realizing it, so frenzied are they by anger and vitriol.

Then there’s Iran. Its leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has a twitter account, but what he discusses in his tweets seems a distraction. He talks of bombs dropped at Hiroshima and accuses us, but while he talks that up, his negotiators are working out along term deal on Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Khamenei tweets a lot about the plight of Gaza, in which his armies have no part and where Hamas, once his proxy, is a proxy no longer. meanwhile, he says nothing about ISIS, whose recent advances gravely threaten Iran’s borders and have brought war to iran’s friends, the Shi’ites and the Kurds. About ISIS, whose ferocity cannot leave Khamenei unconcerned, he tweets not a word.

1 Khamenei no fool

Ayatollah Khamenei : a shrewd leader. follow his moves, not his words

As i see it, with Khamenei, one attends the events he does NOT tweet about. You have to follow his moves, rather; and they have been sure : his best soldiers have organized the defense of Baghdad. He, like us, has pressured Prime Minister al-Maliki to quit; and he, like us, is befriending the Kurds.

He will never say it, but his moves right now parallel ours. And I sense that he is glad to make moves under the cover of big bad Uncle Sam.

But nothing about Iran’s moves rises to the level of an agreement; we have to sus Iran’s intentions out, and that means that uncertainty is written into a large part of our Middle east policy.

It matters, because Iran has backed some of the actors whose atrocities have boiled the Fertile Crescent’s peoples and because nations far closer to us than iran gravely distrust Iran and are making their own policy decisions incorporating that deep distrust.

Of course distrust is not limited, in the Middle East, to the motives of Iran. hardly anyone in the Middle East trusts anybody else. it it hard to steer the ship of any state, much less ours, across a sea of distrust. Most people don’t want anything to do with people one can’;t trust; Americans are no exception. but we cannot simply walk away from Middle East distrust. the fires of war in that region can envelop the entire world if someone doesn’t try to tamp them down.

This is what our policy seeks to do; yet even as we try to cool the fires of war, there are wars that we cannot ignore and cannot cool down. the war of ISIS against the Kurds is one such. It cannot be put off, cannot be smiled away; it is at our front door now.

It is at our door in part because the Iraq government cannot get out of its own way. Nori al-Maliki, who began well, has become a selfish stump in the ground, and pushing him out, as now seems assured, is a decent beginning, hopefully, in making Iraq an actual nation rather than the three sided anarchy it has become under Maliki’;s misleadership.

Some want to call all this anarchy — atrocity and distrust — a fruit of Islam. I reject that. Islam has often been a religion of great progress; of science; of invention. The problem lies not with Islam but with some of the people who profess to be Islamic. Crimes are nor committed by religions but by people. No religion has executed Yazidis or persecuted Chaldean Christians; people are doing that.

1 Yazidis burying their dead

improverished Yazidis stick on Mount Sinjar carry their dead

The ordinary people of the Middle East have lived side by side without hate since time immemorial. today’s fires of hate are not inevitable, not permanent. Eventually they will retreat; and that will be the work, mostly, of the Middle East peoples themselves. All that we can do is to support our proven friends — Kurds and Israelis, most Lebanese, Jordanians, Saudis,and Egyptians, Kuwaitis and UAE citizens, steadily and strongly so that they can relax a little, counting on us to keep them somewhat from harm. that’s the rub : whoever feels that he is more or less safe from harm puts away some of his fear, of his hate, of his need to kill and destroy.

As for the brutality that is ISIS, we must never forget that it was forged by the torture and killing brought upon Sunni Syrians by Bashir Assad and his butchers. The Sunnis oF ISIS were not born killers, rapists, beheaders of harmless Yazidis, persecutors of Christians. They were made all that by the evil work of Bashir Assad. I suspect that if you, like many men of ISIS, had seen your brothers hung from ceiling hooks and tortured for days, your sisters gang raped, your father hanged and beheaded — as has happened to tens of thousands of Syrian Sunnis — you’d likely seek violent revenge madly too.

The Syrian civil war has been a monstrous disaster for the Middle East and a huge problem for our own nation, globally committed. The fighting between Israel and Hamas pales by comparison. Israel and Hamas do not wage war to the death. They fight, then truce. Hamas is irksome, and it pursues a dead end anti-Israel policy, but it is not consumed by ferocity. The fighters in Assad’s Syria are consumed, indeed have no choice but to be consumed, lest they themselves be slaughtered.

1 Israeli troops enter Gaza

War on Israel : soldiers of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) enter Gaza

Meanwhile, though there is practically nothing we can do — or should try — to end the Syrian civil war, its ripple effects through the Middle East can bring about a better day if we seize the opportunities : solid friendship with the Kurds, support for Israel, a quiet understanding with iran, co-operation with the new Egypt — and rescue of maybe 100,000 Yazidis, whose fate has caught the attention of the world and focused a world of anger on ISIS. These are not small advances. A coherent foreign policy is achievable here — if we understand our limitations as well as advantage our opportunities.

—- Mike Freedberg / here and Sphere

AMERICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST : TOWARD A COHERENT POLICY AT LAST

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Defending our friends ; (top) Kurdish troops rescue the Yazidis on Sinjar Mountain (photo by Harem Karem) (bottom) big rally “I Stand With Israel” in Paris

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The world is finally alive to the barbarians who call themselves ISIS. It took a while; but the world is now responding, and so are we, the United States. we are defending the Kurds, our best allies in the Mesopotamia region. We are fighting on their side. we will not fail; because we can’t, and neither can they.

The President’s people that they are doing this because they didn’t want another Benghazi. Maybe so ; but on the ground, the facts are what they are. And what they are — along with the facts of our rock solid support for Israel in its fight against Hamas, is that we, the United States, are now actively defending — with money and weapons and with people — our two best allies in the entire region, the only full democracies in it.

We are doing this at the same time that we have a friendly, solid government in place in Egypt, for the first time in six years; a solid, moderately reforming autocracy in;place in Saudi Arabia; a solid friend ruling Jordan; a deal in process with Iran, whose enemies are ours too; and with Russia distracted by its dead-end adventure in the Ukraine.

We are defending our friends and showing our other friends in the region that we mean business — finally.

1 President O speaks

President Obama ; ‘this will take a long time”

Not since the Fall of Iran’s Shah in 1979 has our Middle east Foreign Policy shown such effective coherence. that event upended the region and unhinged our own policy. An era of terrorism came upon us and demanded our attention. we focused on the immediate crisis. Even Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, in 1990, was an immediate, local crisis; we solved it as we had the other local crises; but our policy seemed to look no further.

then came the biggest crisis of them all, 911; also a local crisis, though we did not realize it at the time. this one, too, we solved — so thoroughly that President Bush was riven to overreach ; the second Iraq war was terribly planned, miserably misconceived; it was pursued under flag of freedom : the President said so. freedom is, of course, a good thing; but most of the Middle East has rarely known any freedom and moves at a tribal level merely. Reaching for freedom was several bridges too far.

Then there is Israel. Again, we have treated Israel’s many struggles with Hamas and others as local crises; we support Israel, yes we do — always. But that support has often, since 1979, seemed unrelated to any general policy principle, much less ;policy in action.

But now that has changed — If we realize it. If we see that we are now defending not freedom but autonomy; not democracy as such, but the right of our allies not to be slaughtered by barbarians or terrorist rockets. Not regime change, but regime support.

Encourage our friends, whatever their lifestyle, so to speak. In this, our Middle East policy seems to mirror the best of our domestic arrangements : celebrate diversity. Don’t try to make people be who you want them to be; respect them as they are, and defend their rights.

That, it seems to me, is the right policy for us to parade all across the Middle east, as we fight only those who threaten our friends without seeking to make our friends be what we are.

The new policy has enormous political consequences here in America. Yes, almost everybody supports the Kurds, but a significant portion of the non-Jewish left does not support Israel — indeed, oppose it. The new Middle east policy unites almost all the Republican party : the Christian right, for religious reasons supports Israel; the realists support it for policy reasons. the Democratic party, however, looks badly split, between the realists in Washington and Jewish Democrats on the one hand versus the non-Jewish left on the other. Before the ISIS mob attacked the Kurds, the split over Israel looked a big deal. Now it has, to a large extent, been forgotten in light of the horrors being wreaked in northern Iraq.

Still, that split is real. I myself have been “unfriended; on facebook by a few people who I thought were pretty good friends — obviously i was mistaken. I imagine the same thing has happened — a lot — to everyone who defends Israel on social media.

The split may heal before the 2016 election begins to heat up ; but it also may not heal. Friendships have been broken, and no one on either side is likely to forget that. Certainly Jews can NOT forget it. Jewish history reeks of abandonment by almost everybody. Every person of Jewish ancestry knows the history and has probably experienced it personally as have I.

Meanwhile, the disparate pieces of our local-crisis Middle East policy are cohering into one comprehensive, very doable, very realistic message : “friends, we stand with you, money and weapons if need be; to defend you as you are and as you want to be !”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

below : ( 1 ) the Goldins bury a son ( 2 ) Kurdish Pesh Merga fighter rescuing & embracing a Yazidi child (photo by Hare,m Karem)

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