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America Has Lost Her ‘Voice’

Born during the life and death struggle against Nazism, the Voice of America recently turned 75. During her long years of service, she provided a beacon of hope to captive nations in Europe, and helped keep that hope alive during decades of Soviet occupation.

More recently, the Voice has provided hope to freedom-seeking peoples in the Far East, Central Asia, Iran and Africa. Companion services managed by the U.S. government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors have provided surrogate broadcasting into Russia and other countries that lack a free press.

But lately, the venerable Voice has been behaving with an immaturity, lack of vision, and unprofessionalism that have dismayed many of her dedicated, long-serving employees, who regularly critique the agency on the BBG Watch blog, as well as her supporters on Capitol Hill.

statue of liberty in flamesFrom “fake news” to the glorification of terrorists, the Voice has lost her way.

VOA’s charter, writ into law under President Gerald Ford, could not be more clear. VOA is supposed to “represent America… [and] present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.” Instead, the Voice has become an amateurish, partisan outset, which many recently-hired journalists and managers see as a taxpayer funded CNN.

The Voice of America – the same “Voice” that is supposed to hold high our nation as of the torchlight of freedom around the world – now compares America’s President to Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.

Open the VOA’s main website on virtually any day and you will find stories and headlines that wouldn’t pass muster in any freshman journalism class.

The lead story on Monday, March 27, carried the headline, “Trump to Roll Back Obama Era Environmental Rules.”

“White House officials say President Donald Trump will sign executive orders Tuesday that would effectively dismantle Obama era environmental regulations, rekindling the highly-charged partisan debate about how human activity affects the earth’s climate, and deepening concern decades of work on global climate treaties may be unraveling,” it began.

If that were followed by a detailed explanation of what the President planned to do, and what practical implications his executive orders would have, one might be able to excuse the shoddy left-wing slant of that opening graph.

Instead, the next sentence is a quote from a global warming alarmist saying the president’s policies “would be disastrous,” and many more paragraphs of overheated rhetoric, not journalism.

On the same day, VOA noted that the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, would be testifying before the Senate intelligence committee. That certainly qualifies as news. But the VOA headline, “Senate Panel to Question Trump’s Son-in-law on Russia meetings,” suggests that Kushner was compelled to testify, an impression buttressed by the core of the article.

It turns out that Kushner volunteered to testify, a fact missing from the VOA story. Even CNN correctly acknowledged Kushner’s offer to the Senate committee in their lead paragraph.

This type of misrepresentation occurs every day in stories from the VOA Central newsroom, despite hype by VOA Director Amanda Bennett to have reformed and improved its operations.

Even worse are stories that glorify terrorists.

A March 25 story exalted the memory of a Pakistani man who was sentenced to death and executed for murdering a liberal politician who defended religious freedom.

The murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, “is now being hailed as a hero in Pakistan,” whereas the man he murdered was criticized for his “soft stand” on Asia Babi, a Christian woman who allegedly “blasphemed” Islam. “For his followers, Qadri [has become] no less than a saint,” the story gushed.

The day after Somali pirates hijacked a commercial vessel earlier this month, VOA’s Somali service ran an uncritical interview with one of the pirates, titled, “Desperate fishermen?”

VOA Director Bennett proudly posted the reporter’s words to Facebook as if they were her own. “One of the men who seized an oil tanker off the Somali coast this week tells VOA he’s not a pirate,” she wrote. VOA later corrected the headline and toned down the laudatory tone of the piece after criticized on BBG Watch.

In December, VOA ran a long profile of a Turkish-born ISIS fighter who joined the jihad and died in Syria. Clearly intended to be a piece of showcase journalism, it was nothing less than the glorification of a terrorist.

On any given day, you can go to VOA websites and find example after example of shoddy journalism, fake news, misleading headlines, and slanted reporting.

VOA editors appear not to understand or not to care about the VOA charter, which also requires them to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively.” This mission has been dropped entirely.

U.S. taxpayers spend over $770 million/year on U.S. government broadcasting. This includes Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Marti, and other media outlets.

For most of her 75 years, the Voice of America has been a powerful tool in the war of ideas, showing by example the attractiveness of American openness, pluralism, compassion, and tolerance.

It’s time for President Trump to appoint new management, so she can be great again.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the Daily Caller.

Netanyahu Addresses Iran Nuclear Threat at AIPAC — Obama Administration Criticizes

An audience of 16,000 at the AIPAC Washington Policy Conference enthusiastically welcomed Israeli PM Netanyahu’s appearance, today.  Netanyahu’s speech was a prelude to his appearance before a joint Session of Congress tomorrow at 10:45AM EST. It will be televised by Fox-News and C-SPAN.  Fox will have commentary from a panel both prior to and following Netanyahu’s Congressional speech.  The Voice of Israel will broadcast it live via the internet with following commentary.

Some likened today’s remarks as a warm up to the main event on Tuesday, March 3rd. For many of us his AIPAC Conference remarks today were punctuated by his eloquent Churchillian cadences. Other lines echoed Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s 1938 Tish B’Av “Ihr Kommt” (they’re coming) speech to Jews in Poland warning them of their impending destruction during Hitler’s Final Solution, the Holocaust. Other lines were  reminiscent of Churchill’s caustic Parliamentary remarks on the Munich 1938 appeasement by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and  French Premier Eduard Daladier acceding to Hitler’s demand that Czech President Eduard Benes unilaterally cede Sudetenland thus dismembering Czechoslovakia. All while Chamberlain waved that scrap of paper upon arrival at Heston aerodrome saying that he had achieved “peace for our times”. That imagery was captured in Netanyahu’s lavish praise heaped on Czech President Zeman who was on the dais at the AIPAC conference. Netanyahu thanked Zeman for the country’s enduring support for Zionism espoused by Czech Republic founder Thomas Masyrk and the material support the Czechs provided post WWII to Israel during the 1948-1949 War for Independence. That was captured in Netanyahu’s reference in his speech to the Czech rifle he trained with as an IDF Sayeret Matkal member.

Netanyahu paid copious respects to AIPAC officials,  noted “no disrespect to President Obama”, and  pledged fealty to the long enduring bi-partisan US relations with ally Israel.  An Israel, as he pointed out, that shared common Western values of freedom, liberty, civil and human rights for the Jewish nation’s citizens. He noted as one example prominent women jurists on its High Court and as CEOs of Israeli companies.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 10_40_03 AM

Screen shot of  Global Map of Iran Terror used by  PM Netanyahu at 2015 AIPAC. For a larger view click on the map.

He spoke clearly about why he was in Washington:

The purpose of my address to Congress tomorrow is to speak up about a potential deal with Iran that could threaten the survival of Israel. Iran is the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Look at that graph. Look at that map. And you see on the wall, it shows Iran training, arming, dispatching terrorists on five continents. Iran envelopes the entire world with its tentacles of terror. This is what Iran is doing now without nuclear weapons. Imagine what Iran would do with nuclear weapons.

And this same Iran vows to annihilate Israel. If it develops nuclear weapons, it would have the means to achieve that goal. We must not let that happen.

And as prime minister of Israel, I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there’s still time to avert them. For 2,000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless. We were utterly powerless against our enemies who swore to destroy us. We suffered relentless persecution and horrific attacks. We could never speak on our own behalf, and we could not defend ourselves.

Well, no more, no more.

The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us, those days are over. Today in our sovereign state of Israel, we defend ourselves. And being able to defend ourselves, we ally with others, most importantly, the United States of America, to defend our common civilization against common threats.

In our part of the world and increasingly, in every part of the world, no one makes alliances with the weak. You seek out those who have strength, those who have resolve, those who have the determination to fight for themselves. That’s how alliances are formed.

Watch this C-span video of Israeli PM Netanyahu’s remarks at the 2015 AIPAC Conference.

U.S. UN Ambassador Power, speaking at AIPAC today, accorded respect for the enduring US-Israel alliance.   She also said that the Administration would stop Iran from achieving a nuclear breakthrough:

            The United States of America will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, Period.

We believe diplomacy is the preferred route to secure our shared aim. But if diplomacy fails, we know the stakes of a nuclear-armed Iran as well as everyone here. We will not let it happen. There will never be a sunset on America’s commitment to Israel’s security. Never.

 However, she tossed a barb at both Netanyahu and House Speaker Boehner for engaging in partisan politics with her remarks:

This partnership should never be politicized, and it cannot and will not be tarnished or broken. Debating the merits of a deal with Iran is legitimate. Politicizing that process is not. The stakes are too high for that.

 For her appearance as an Administration senior official, she received a standing ovation from the 16,000 attendees at the Washington Convention Center site of the Conference.

Watch this C-Span video of US UN Ambassador Power’s remarks at the 2015 AIPAC conference.

More of the same followed from another Administration senior official, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, when she mounted the podium at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to deliver her remarks.  Rice appeared to be toeing the Administration line saying, “sound bites won’t stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”  Rice essentially denied the possibility of ending Iran’s nuclear enrichment saying:

[ getting Iran to] forego its domestic enrichment capacity entirely… as desirable as that would be … is neither realistic nor achievable. The plain fact is no one can make Iran unlearn the scientific and nuclear expertise it already possesses.

She cautioned that it wasn’t a “viable negotiating position” to attempt to block Iran from using its nuclear capacity for domestic energy reasons.

Now I want to be very clear: a bad deal is worse than no deal,

We have Israel’s back come hell or high water.

Given Iran’s support for terrorism, the risk of a nuclear arms race in the region, and the danger to the entire global non-proliferation regime, Iran with a nuclear weapon would not just be a threat to Israel, it’s also an unacceptable threat to the United States of America.

Given Iran’s support for terrorism, the risk of a nuclear arms race in the region, and the danger to the entire global non-proliferation regime, Iran with a nuclear weapon would not just be a threat to Israel, it’s also an unacceptable threat to the United States of America.

We have Israel’s back come hell or high water.

On sanctions, Rice made it abundantly clear why the Administration opposed any new legislation, saying:

We cannot let a totally unachievable ideal stand in the way of a good deal [with Iran]. Sanctions, have never stopped Iran from advancing its [nuclear] program. New sanctions would blow up the talks, divide the international community, and cause the U.S. to be blamed for causing negotiations with Iran to fail.

Not unlike Power, Rice received a standing ovation ironically for policies that she opposes. Note what blog Twitchy reported:

The highlight of her speech was undoubtedly the standing ovation she received for acknowledging the desire for a complete halt to Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. The look on her face while waiting for the cheers to die down so she could add “but” and finish her sentence: priceless.

Watch this You Tube video of the AIPAC audience applauding her and her befuddled expression:

That effectively shot down the faint hopes of many of the 16,000 in the Convention Center.

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), co-author of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 with new sanctions, stormed up to the podium at AIPAC to rebut Rice.  He said:

Iran needs to understand that there are consequences to an impasse and those consequences are additional consequential sanctions.

As long as I have an ounce of fight left in me… Iran will never have a pathway to a weapon.

It will never threaten Israel or its neighbors, and it will never be in a position to star a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Not on my watch.

Secretary of State Kerry, speaking from Geneva, Switzerland  earlier today in the midst of   discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, voiced  concerns that ‘leaks’ by Israel might jeopardize the phased deal.  Kerry said:

We are concerned by reports that suggest selective details of the ongoing negotiations will be discussed publicly in the coming days. Doing so would make it more difficult to reach the goal that Israel and others say they share in order to get to a good deal. Israel’s security is absolutely at the forefront of all of our minds, but frankly so is the security of all of the other countries in the region. So is our security.

 Kerry made a  brief appearance at the UN Human Rights Commission today in Geneva voicing concerns  about the panel’s  pre-occupation with isolating Israel, saying:

We will oppose any effort by any group or participant in the U.N. system to arbitrarily and regularly delegitimize or isolate, Israel. No country should be free from scrutiny on human rights, but no country should be subjected to unfair or unfounded bias.

President Obama in a Reuters interview several hours after Netanyahu’s speech at AIPAC expressed the view that the current discord would not seriously disrupt relations with Israel. Nevertheless he harshly criticized Netanyahu’s refrain about a bad deal emerging from the bi-lateral diplomatic discussions with Iran. He suggested the emerging 10 year deal with verifications was:

Far more effective in controlling their nuclear program than any military action we could take, any military action Israel could take and far more effective than sanctions will be.

He then took exception to Netanyahu’s criticism of the 2013 interim agreement with Iran:

Netanyahu made all sorts of claims. This was going to be a terrible deal. This was going to result in Iran getting $50 billion worth of relief. Iran would not abide by the agreement. None of that has come true. It has turned out that in fact, during this period we’ve seen Iran not advance its program. In many ways, it’s rolled back elements of its program.

Watch this video of the Reuters interview with President Obama on March 2, 2015.

The Administration still hasn’t fully understood the import of the Gallup poll of Americans, 84% of whom expressed distrust of Iran, while 77% believed Iran should be denied becoming a nuclear threshold state.  As one audience member said at a presentation in Northwest Florida, Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon was a threat not only to Israel, but America as well.

An expectant Israel and the world awaits Netanyahu’s address before a joint session of Congress tomorrow.

Listen to this Voice of Israel Sound Cloud of Netanyahu’s speech at AIPAC.  The full text of Netanyahu’s AIPAC remarks can be found in this release by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

RELATED ARTICLE: Iran says it rejects Obama’s demand for 10-year nuclear work halt

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu at AIPAC Washington Policy Conference taken on March 2, 2015. Source: GPO/Amos Ben Gershom.

The President’s Conference and its message: “Think Again, Turn Away”

Today starts a three day conference in Foggy Bottom at which President Obama will appear before an audience of representatives from 60 countries dealing with the threat of “violent extremism”.  The White House and State Department have made it abundantly clear that they refuse to identify the perpetrators and the victims of the Paris Charlie Hebdo and Kosher Supermarket attacks, this weekend’s attacks in Copenhagen, among them Jews, and the grisly beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by ISIS.  The critics of this no name policy suggest that if you cannot define the threat of radical Islam and its basis, Qur’anic doctrine and Sharia Islamic law,  that you can’t develop a strategy for “degrading “and” defeating” the Islamic State.

Given what happened in Egypt’s Sinai and this past weekend in Libya, the area of conflict with IS might be expanded to include North Africa and, obviously, the West, given the attacks in France, Belgium and Denmark, as well as America and Canada. Thus the “violent extremism” conference will focus on warning potential IS recruits of foreign fighters from across the globe to “Think Again, Turn Away.” That message is  being  refined by the State Department  Center  for Strategic Counter-terrorism Communications (CSCC) set up under an executive order issued by President  Obama in 2011. Otherwise, the recruits might end up dead either as suicide bombers or at the hands of IS masterminds. The CSCC has a daunting task. According to its website:

CSCC is comprised of three interactive components. The integrated analysis component leverages the Intelligence Community and other substantive experts to ensure CSCC communicators benefit from the best information and analysis available. The plans and operations component draws on this input to devise effective ways to counter the terrorist narrative. The Digital Outreach Team actively and openly engages in Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, and Somali to counter terrorist propaganda and misinformation about the United States across a wide variety of interactive digital environments that had previously been ceded to extremists.

As a New York Times (NYTarticle on the conference pointed out the State Department CSCC coordinator, Ambassador Alberto Fernandez is leaving shortly after trying to lead the messaging effort across a broad spectrum of competing internal State, Homeland Security and intelligence echelons. This comment by former State Department counterterrorism coordinator Daniel Benjamin sums up why Fernandez will retire in April, 2015. “After its first year or two, it was never taken seriously and got little support from higher-ups.”

The CSCC has endeavored to communicate that the IS Salafist jihadist slick presentations in videos, tweets and Face book pages corrupts the central message of Islam of “peace and justice” – that is only to adherents of the faith. In point of fact, the IS following in the way of Allah, Jihad.

How slick is the IS agit-propaganda spewed out on-line to the unwary recruit? One recent example is reflected in a new release translated by MEMRI, entreating recruits to come to Libya and join the gateway to the Conquest of Rome – a thought that should be unnerving to Pope Francis. The NYT CSCC article cited as examples of effective “messaging”:

One online image two years ago, for instance, showed photographs of three American men who traveled to Somalia and died there, including Omar Hammami, a young man from Alabama who became an infamous Islamist militant. The accompanying message reads, “They came for jihad but were murdered by Al Shabaab.”

Another image showed a young man weeping over a coffin. The message read, “How can slaughtering the innocent be the right path?”

Each of the online posts carried a warning: “Think again. Turn away.”

Last June, Islamic State supporters warned fighters to beware of the center’s Twitter account and not to interact with it.

The reality of the CSCC mission, is that it has been corrupted- to quote Egyptian President Al-Sisi- by the origin of  IS and Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).  As late as January 2015, the State Department was caught in a conference with alleged Egyptian MB leaders.  There were graphic messages on twitter set against the backdrop of the Seal of the State Department by one of the participants flashing the ‘rabbia’ hand sign-a signal to support ousted President Morsi and hundreds of others currently being tried for sedition in Egypt.  Last May, the State Department was embarrassed by a tweet it sent about the presence at a White House meeting on messaging with Sheik Bin Bayyah, a deputy to notorious MB preacher, Yusuf Al Qaradawi.  Bin Bayyah had been there before along with another Egyptian legislator and member of a terrorist group in 2013.

The President’s Conference on Violent Extremism is being stage managed by a skilled media expert, Richard Stengel, former Time Magazine managing editor, who was appointed in 2013 as Undersecretary Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  Stengel will be assisted at the Conference by Ambassador Rashad Hussein, current Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and former Deputy White House Counsel with MB connections.  Stengel admits that countering the ISIS supremacy in messaging its appeal to young impressionable Muslim recruits is daunting. He was cited by the New York Times saying, “We’re getting beaten on volume, so the only way to compete is by aggregating, curating and amplifying existing content…. These guys [meaning IS] aren’t BuzzFeed; they’re not invincible in social media.”

Last fall, Stengel was interviewed by the Voice of America while in the midst of the propaganda war with IS:

VOA: What are some challenges in terms of dealing or confronting the ISIS propaganda machine?

Stengel: There are a lot of challenges. They are very sophisticated. They will stop at nothing, so to speak. They are not bound by the truth in any way. There are structural problems in the Middle East and the Arab world that can sometimes make Daesh’s ideology attractive, attractive to young men who don’t have jobs, who don’t see a great future for themselves, who have only heard a kind of misbegotten idea of Islam. So that is part of the challenge. What we’re trying to say, along with the coalition partners, is that Daesh is not the true face of Islam, it doesn’t represent what the prophet or the Koran stands for, and that the vision they’re creating of a caliphate is a false vision where none of the things they say are true are true.

Clearly, Stengel is toeing the White House line that IS is ‘misinterpreting’ Islam, even as  some scholars believe it is reflecting the core doctrine of Salafist/Jihad.

Last October, Stengel appeared at a forum on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California’s Center for Public Diplomacy (CPD).  Watch the video of his talk and Q&A here:

USC Professor of Journalism and International Relations Phillip Seib in a CPD article suggested that countering ISIS messaging capability is in the wrong place at State’s CSCC. Rather it should be transferred to the CIA. He wrote:

A much more effective approach to combat their message would be a bare-knuckles operation: no disclaimers and a product that matches up better against the videos coming from Al Hayat, ISIL’s video production arm (the name stolen from the pan-Arab newspaper, Al-Hayat).

These videos should feature imams denouncing ISIL’s tactics and women urging their sisters not to be enticed by ISIL’s recruiting messages. They should include video testimony from disillusioned ISIL fighters who have returned home. And they should show the ravaged Muslim communities that have been attacked by ISIL. But few anti-ISIL speakers want to participate in a State Department-branded video. And even fewer jihadist recruits believe it. American credibility in the region remains low, and many Muslims are wary of a new round of U.S. involvement in their homelands.

Our comment on the President’s “violent extremism” Conference this week in Washington is soft power is trumped by raw Islamic Jihad every time. That is embodied in failure to recognize the Qur’anic doctrine behind the rise of IS. To paraphrase the CSCC motto, “Think Again, Turn Away” from Taqiyya – lying for Allah.

RELATED ARTICLE: Islamic supremacist groups including Hamas-linked CAIR say Obama terror summit wrongly singles out Muslims

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

France Passes Palestine State Recognition: Could UN Security Council be Next Stop?

In a majority vote, the French National Assembly passed a  resolution  for symbolic recognition of Palestine statehood.  This adds France to a list of EU members, Sweden, Ireland,  the UK, and Spain whose Parliaments have passed similar resolutions.  Another such vote is pending in Denmark, while the European Parliament has scheduled a debate and possible vote on December 18, 2014. France24 provided this report on the vote in Paris, “French legislators vote in favor of recognizing Palestinian state”:

The non-binding, but highly symbolic National Assembly vote urges the government to recognize Palestine as state, reflecting growing European impatience with the stalled Middle East peace process.

MPs voted 339 to 151 in favor of the motion calling upon the French government to recognize the state of Palestine “as an instrument to gain a definitive resolution of the conflict.”

Reporting from the National Assembly shortly after the vote, FRANCE 24’s Armen Georgian noted that while the motion was expected to pass, the number of votes in favor revealed “a very clear majority” of French lawmakers supported the move by the ruling Socialist Party.

The vote came despite the opposition from the centre-right UMP party, whose newly-elected leader, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, urged his party members to vote against the motion.

France is home to Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities and right-wing lawmakers have criticized the ruling Socialist Party of trying to woo Muslim voters.

The Voice of America account of today’s National Assembly vote  indicted that 60 percent of French polled support Palestinian statehood.

This latest EU member declaration vote for Palestine statehood has been criticized by Israel and praised by the PA. France24 reported:

The Israeli embassy denounce[ed] the move as harmful to prospects of peace in the region.

“Israel believes that the vote in the National Assembly… will reduce the possibility of achieving a deal between Israel and the Palestinians,” according to an Israeli statement released shortly after the vote. “Decisions of this nature harden the Palestinian position and send the wrong message to the people and the leaders of the region,” it added.

The Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, welcomed the vote and expressed its “gratitude” to French lawmakers.

“We call on the French government to translate its parliament’s vote into action,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior leader in the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement.

“We wish to express our gratitude to the members of the French parliament for adopting a resolution on the side of justice and human dignity,” she said. “For peace to prevail, support for the two-state solution must be more than lip service.”

 This is all part of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestine 194 Campaign that has garnered  formal recognition from more than 130 members of the UN General  Assembly, where the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has a controlling vote bloc.  Our European source in Geneva reports possible moves by the Hollande government to introduce formal statehood recognition before the UN Security Council this month, not waiting for the outcome of European Parliament vote on their resolution in Strasbourg.

Jonathan Schanzer of the Washington, DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracy in our NER interview ,published in the current December edition, warned about  what the Administration might do at any scheduled UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood. Note  his responses  on this question  by this writer and Mike Bates of 1330AM WEBY in Pensacola, Florida:

Gordon:  The Palestinians have campaigned at the UN and elsewhere for Palestinian state recognition. We have seen votes in Sweden, UK, Spain, something that may even occur in France and the European Parliament. Is that realistic or is it simply just symbolic?

Schanzer:  It’s symbolic for now. However, the Palestine 194 Campaign does pose a threat to Israel long-term. It is not just that the Palestinians would declare a state or gain recognition of statehood. The problem is as this campaign continues to gain steam you are going to see countries that are at least potentially going to impose sanctions on Israel. Why? Because they disagree with where Israel’s borders are, or that Israel’s policies continue in the West Bank in terms of its maintaining control of certain territory that the Palestinians claim as their own. There is also the threat of an ICC, the International Criminal Court action that the Palestinians have been promoting. If the Israelis don’t basically bend or buckle to their territorial demands, that Israel could find itself fighting off an international lawsuit. There is significant concern on the part of the Israelis about where this is going. I think it’s undeniable at this point that the Palestine 194 Campaign is gaining steam.

Bates:  Can the United Nations recognize Palestine as a state without the approval of the Security Council?

Schanzer:  They already have two years ago at the General Assembly. It was roughly 130 countries that recognized the state of Palestine; however, it was only a symbolic vote because it did not make Palestine the 194th country. PA has not backed down. They continue to push the issue. They continue to work with sympathetic countries to have internal votes that would recognize the State of Palestine. This would entail an upgrade of the diplomatic mission and perhaps other perks and agreements on how to deal with the Israelis moving forward. While, it wouldn’t make the state of Palestine, so to speak, the 194th country, it would give the Palestinians more facts on the ground and leverage to work with.

Bates:  The General Assembly vote was purely symbolic. It didn’t admit Palestine as a member state to the UN. Does that require approval of the Security Council?

Schanzer:  It does. The Security Council would be absolutely necessary to make it the 194th country. One of the things that Jeffrey Goldberg’s [The Atlantic] article noted was a one line that was very disconcerting. That was that the United States may be considering lowering the shield, as they call it, at the UN Security Council so that they might abstain on a vote about Palestinian statehood as opposed to vetoing it, which they have in the past.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius smiling during National Assembly Debate on Palestine Statehood resolution. December 2, 2014, Source AP.

Kobani on the brink of falling — Could Baghdad Airport be next?

Yesterday, we posted commentary on Jonathan Schanzer‘s, Politico Magazine piece, “Time to kick Turkey Out of NATO?”  We noted what was behind Erdogan’s refusal to commit forces to lift the ISIS siege of the beleaguered Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani.  We concluded:

Erdogan clearly wants the Syrian Kurds decimated so that they will not have virtual autonomy in the country’s northeast.

We note Schanzer’s conclusion in his Politico article:

The crisis in Kobani once again brings the challenge of Turkey into sharp relief. Despite the best efforts of Washington and other coalition members to bring Turkey along, it now appears clear: Turkey under the AKP is a lost cause. It is simply not a partner for NATO. Nor is it a partner in the fight against the Islamic State.

Marie Herf, one of the two Department of State spokespersons, held forth at yesterday’s Daily Press Briefing packed with US and foreign journalists. She spoke about the meetings in Ankara with US Coalition military chief Gen. James Allen and Amb. Brett McGurk to be followed by a Pentagon military planning team  next week to discuss what assistance the Turkish NATO ‘ally’ might render in the fight against ISIS. The impression left, given questions by journalists at the Daily Press Briefing, is that  Turkey will do nothing  to aid the Syrian Kurds in Kobani, while the US  conducts periodic air assaults that have yet to blunt the ISIS forces surrounding  the city.  Her  colleague, Jen Psaki was engaged in a HuffPost cocktail hour discussion with Washington journalists about the dilemma of the stubborn, but apparently valiant Kurdish PYG defense of the shrinking perimeter inside Kobani against ISIS. The YPG is affiliated with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) that the Turks, EU and US have designated as terrorists. Turkish President Erdogan considers the PKK and hence the YPG to be ‘worse than ISIS’.

Violent protests by Kurds have erupted in the predominately Kurdish southeastern provinces of Turkey and in major cities. These  have taken the lives of over 36 protesters. The Daily Beast reported:

For three nights now Kurdish protestors, riot police and Turkish ultranationalists have battled each other in dozens of towns across the southeast as well as in Istanbul and the capital Ankara. More than 30 have died so far in the violence and more than 1000 people have been arrested, according to Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala. And for the first time in years soldiers are on the streets of the Kurdish towns of Diyarbakır, Mardin, Van and Batman, where curfews have been imposed.

The lockdowns have not stopped the protests. Armed with Molotov cocktails, furious Kurds have been firebombing schools, government buildings and political party offices.

In Diyarbakır, a PKK stronghold, protestors defied orders to remain indoors. “Some people stay at home and just make noise in protest,” a resident reported via email. “But others are going out. The city is crazy. Helicopters are hovering overhead the whole time. There are no cars or taxis but there are tanks.” Then she added: “There is a beautiful moon and the smoke of tear gas.”

Turkish forces were caught by a Voice of America cameraman firing on Syrian Kurdish protesters from the border town of Qamishli. Watch here:

My European source on Turkey commented that Erdogan’s suppression of Kurds in Turkey reflects his fear about the growing importance of Kurdish irredentism. He pointed out in our conversation  that Kurds now account for 25 percent of Turkey’s population and are likely to increase in influence during Erdogan’s term as President.  Erdogan has reached out to PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned on an Island in the Sea of Marmara off Istanbul, requesting him to issue a letter to his followers to remain calm.  That clearly didn’t resonate with angry Kurds in Turkey. Kurdish protests and even street battles with ISIS supporters have occurred in Europe. Rallies in protest of Turkey’s inaction on Kobani have occurred in Canada and in Washington.

ISIS is reported to control half of Kobani, despite the limited air assault by the US-led coalition.  According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rghts, the YPG was taking a toll on ISIS attackers in fierce urban street fighting. Kurdish resistance leaders inside Kobani were tweeting that they were running out of ammunition.  The National Posreported this comment from a Turkish Kurdish member of the Ankara Parliament:

“Islamists open automatic fire while Kurds are careful to fire single shots,” Faysal Sariyildiz, a Kurdish lawmaker in Turkey’s parliament who’s been monitoring the battle, said in an interview. “They are careful with ammunition since they don’t have logistics supplies like Islamic State.”

The fear of possible genocide by ISIS jihadists against Kurds trapped in Kobani was expressed by UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, a veteran Swedish-Italian diplomat.  Mistura according to the BBC “urged Turkey to allow volunteers to cross into Syria to defend Kobani, and warned that as many as 700 people, mainly elderly civilians, were still trapped in the town.  He gave this chilling comment about a possible massacre in Kobani  at a news conference, ‘You remember Srebrenica,’ Staffan de Mistura said, referring to the Bosnian town where Serb forces slaughtered 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1995. ‘We never forgot and we probably never forgave ourselves for that.’

Without ammunition the Kurds have their backs to wall, Kobani is doomed to fall.  Would the Peshmerga in Iraq supply that?  Are their stocks available from the US National Security stockpile in Haifa, Israel? Israel, we are told has sold off its stocks of captured Soviet era weapons and ammunition. Although it could manufacture such  ammunition, it is unlikely to do so.

The USAF has  probably  has available far more effective Special Operations aircraft with which to conduct a aerial campaign to stave off the ISIS forces ringing Kobani. The USAF Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Air Field in North West Florida has squadrons of the heavily armed  Lockheed C-130A Spectre gunships  and the Pilatus U-28 intelligence aircraft. Both have been used to great effect in Afghanistan. Watch this video of a C-30 Spectre Gunship in action. Then we have a number of  Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt Warthog National Guard units that are very effective tank killers. Watch this video of an A-10 Warthog in action. The Spectres are capable of staying over the target area in support of fighting in urban areas with massive firepower . They can take out troops, vehicles like the armored Humvees and tanks stolen from the fleeing Iraq national forces.  They are more effective than the F-18A Hornets, F-16s and the Eurofiighter Tornados and drones currently utilized by the US-led coalition.  Clearly there is no evidence that this Administration plans to use those USAF Special Operations aircraft.

US Embassy Helicopter Rescue Fall of Saigon April 1975

US Embassy Helicopter Rescue Fall of Saigon April 1975

Besides, we have an even more pressing problem, defense of a 300 man US Marine contingent at the Baghdad International Airport now within range of stolen US artillery captured by ISIS. ISIS has conquered virtually all of Anbar Province. Provincial leaders have said that only US combat troops can prevent a complete takeover by ISIS. That puts the ISIS blitzkrieg on Baghdad’s doorstep. Should the runways and control tower at Baghdad airport  be shelled or mortared the only way that those Marines might be evacuated is by  helicopters and not the Apache attack ones we have dispatched. But then ISIS also has MANPADS capable of shooting down both civilian and military aircrafts and those Apaches.  Baghdad airport’s possible fall to ISIS forces raises the question of how the thousands of American contractors, diplomatic staff, and US military advisors will get out to safety from Baghdad’s Green Zone?  That daunting prospect conjures up something eerily familiar to those of us who are Vietnam era vets. The fall of Saigon in April 1975 with images of American Huey helicopters plucking off clamoring US diplomats and Vietnamese from the roof of the US Embassy.

Kobani’s likely fall to ISIS in the face of Turkish inaction despite US limited air attacks will be a momentary disaster awaiting the debacle of what might occur at Baghdad International Airport.

Besides, we have an even more pressing problem, defense of a 300 man US Marine contingent at the Baghdad International Airport now within range of stolen US artillery captured by ISIS.  Should the runways and control tower be shelled or mortared the only way that those Marines might be evacuated is by Apache helicopters we have dispatched. But then ISIS also has MANPADS capable of shooting down both civilian and military aircrafts and those Apaches.  Baghdad airport’s possible fall to ISIS forces raises the question of how the thousands of American contractors, diplomatic staff, and US military advisors will get out to safety from Baghdad’s Green Zone? That daunting prospect conjures up something eerily familiar to those of us who are Vietnam era vets. The fall of Saigon in April 1975 with images of American Huey helicopters plucking off clamoring US diplomats and Vietnamese from the roof of the US Embassy.

Kobani’s likely fall to ISIS in the face of Turkish inaction despite US limited air attacks will be a momentary disaster awaiting the debacle of what might occur at Baghdad  International Airport.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured photo is of smoke from a U.S. coalition air strike in Kobani as seen from Suruc, Turkey taken on 10-10-2014. Source: AP/Leftaris, Pitarakis.