A New Middle East Strategy for the Age of Obama

By Marc Gopin for Syria Comment

The key to the future of the Middle East is a revolution in the Syrian/American relationship that will help to re-balance the American historical bias in favor of reactionary forces in Israel. The shift of Syria towards an alliance with the United States will signal a significant shift away from a geographical and religious divide between the Northern and Southern Belt of the Middle East, between Sunni and Shi’ite, and between pro-Western and anti-Western divides, that have all plagued the region for decades. It will also usher in the possibility for Iran to follow, especially now that Khatami, smelling the tea leaves from the Obama Administration, has thrown his hat into the presidential race.

Syria’s friendship with Turkey and its alliance with Hezbollah and Hamas also have the potential to usher in an era of Islamist empowerment that will be based for the first time not on force, threats, violence and revolution but on power sharing. From Turkey to Lebanon to Palestine the potential exists for the tolerant forms of Islam that are indigenous to Syria and Turkey to form the basis for a new approach to politics in the Middle East.

This sounds odd, considering the track record of Hamas and Hezbollah, but that track record of violence is largely related to the Arab/Israeli wars. That is precisely where Syria’s alliance with America could lead us in an utterly new direction. If the United States embraces Syria, then it will set the stage for a greater place of leverage for Syria to play in surrounding the Israeli leadership with states and movements that are unambiguously offering Israel full peace for full return of the occupied territories and full engagement in the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

Not only should the United States remove permanently the threat of regime change in Syria, it should promote a strategic and military alliance with Syria and Turkey. This will have the effect of encouraging moderate nonviolent Islamic ideologies in the region, pulling it back from radicalization and splits along Sunni/Shiite and secular/extremist lines. Syria, Turkey and even Lebanon can be helpful in this regard. Syria has a history of deliberate religious pluralism and moderate, Sufi Islam, and it is the same with Turkey. The key is an ideological shift toward an economic and military alliance with the West.

If Syria moves in this direction it will make it that much harder for the Israeli hardliners to make the case in Washington that ‘there is no one to talk to’. This myth needs to be put to rest once and for all, but it cannot happen without significant efforts on the part of the new generation of excellent Syrian policy makers and their supporters. Let me explain.

The extremists in the pro-Israel camp will see a Syrian/American rapprochement as a setback for Israel. Not so. With America in the middle, guaranteeing everyone’s security, there is a far better chance of reaching a deal that includes Syria, Israel and Palestine, with Saudi, Egypt, and Jordan acquiescing to a Palestinian democracy that will surely include Islamists.
In this regard, Turkey is paving the way for the de-militarization of Islamism. With coaxing this may be the necessary transition for Egypt as well. Ironically enough the secular Syrian regime is leading the way to a new Middle East with Islamist parties like Hamas as part of the ruling elite. Religious commitments to nonviolence, such as are embodied in the philosophy of the Grand Mufti of Syria, are the key to these peaceful transitions. Islamist politics will be eliminated as an existential threat to all regimes, and will instead become just another Arab experiment with politics and governance, in a similar way that it is being handled by Jordan. The key is that Islamist political empowerment does not come through subterfuge, force and revolution, the terrible mistake of the Brotherhood in Syria over thirty years ago. Turkey is the key model, and it must lead to serious discussions on the demilitarization of Hezbollah or its nationalization.

The problem of demilitarization of Hamas and Hezbollah is that they are the key focal point to resistance of Israel and the continuation of a military approach to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict of almost a century. This can only be addressed through aggressive U.S. mediation and satisfaction of all parties, especially the full gamut of Palestinians, as to their needs and interests in developing an independent Palestinian state. And certainly a very tough negotiation will be Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but this too can be managed with full normalization of American/Iranian relations.

Here is the most important point. If all tracks are pursued vigorously and simultaneously then the nonviolent wagons of diplomacy will start to circle around Israel with the Arab Peace Plan in hand, with the United States, and the Quartet, at the helm.

Here is the big caveat, however. The American people, their agents in Congress, need to be on board with this process, or at least confused by it. They cannot be a fifth column, a stealth weapon of radical Republicans, to demonize the White House as anti-Semitic, a nightmare which would set the stage for a bitter battle in America over anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism; this will only benefit Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove as they seek some raw issues that could divide America from the White House. And Netanyahu is not beneath stimulating a Lobby-induced war on the White House as antisemitic.

The United States is a far more pro-Jewish, philo-semitic country than the Arab world wants to face, for a variety of historical and ethical reasons. But it is also a country that likes to see itself standing for justice and freedom for all peoples.

An emotional war over anti-Semitism and Israel’s fate could be spawned in the United States, a war that will take down this President from his ambitious and idealistic agenda. That is why Mitchell and Obama will not move aggressively unless there is a counter-strategy in place that comes from outside the White House, a lobbying strategy that has yet to receive serious backing from the progressive or the Arab worlds.

In this regard there has emerged in the last few years a significant progressive Jewish strategy in Washington, which is dovetailed by an important resurgence of realist thinking of the variety of Brzezinski and Scowcroft. The Jewish community voted by over 83% for Obama, in addition to over 70% of them expressing a clear commitment to a two-state solution. The Jewish establishment and the Lobby do not represent these people and they have not had a voice until now. The same problem pertains among evangelicals. 50% agree with a two-state solution according to Pew polls, but their lobbyists will vote for or against whatever the so-called pro-Israel Lobby tells them to do.

J Street and Brit Tsedek are beginning to change this. They are still woefully underfunded by comparison to the Lobby, but they are setting a precedent for a contest with the Lobby for money and votes. Money and votes are the two elements of a Washington strategy. They are expressed by contributions, by promise of votes. But mostly it is about attention to congressional offices which is targeted, specific, and constant. Brit Tsedek now has 40,000 Jewish members and a thousand rabbis ( a third of American rabbis!), the largest ever number for Jewish progressive voices in Washington, and J Street’s favorite candidates won overwhelmingly on November 4. J Street has a mailing list of over 100,000, and more importantly they understand the Obama strategy of empowerment of average people through the technical wizardry of social networking and ‘click-friendly’ contributions. The central and contagious message of these groups is that they are pro-Israel and pro-Peace.
If they truly care about the Palestinians then the Arab world and the Muslim world, and Syria in particular, need to enter the fray in Washington with a level of investment never seen before.

There must emerge a parallel strategy between the progressive Jewish world embodied in J Street and Brit Tsedek, and the Arab world. Syria must play an essential world in this capture of the imagination of Americans, including Jews and evangelicals. This will take a concerted campaign with serious money, media, extensive international visits and exchanges of all sectors of the populations, and the coaxing of many Arab states into an allied strategy for the heart and soul of Washington and the American people.

It is essential for this public relations campaign to be accompanied by public and citizen diplomacy that will help more and more of the American electorate, including Jews and evangelicals, to envision the possibility of new Middle East. It would be enormously helpful if this public relations blitz included very highly publicized alliances and exchanges between serious Israeli peacemakers who the Syrians know are substantive–of which there are hundreds–and their Arab counterparts. This will be the real emotional glue that cements a new Jewish and American attitude to the region. The key with public relations is creating a compelling and utterly new vision of future possibility, but in this case the product is not a vacuum cleaner or a car, it is coexistence, tolerance, a region at peace, a region worth investing in and engaging, in the deepest sense.

All of this is in the long-term interests of Israel and the future state of Palestine. All parties may not know this yet, but this is the only way for them to live securely in the Middle East. They just don’t know that yet, and the hard line of Israel will wring everything they can from fear and violence at the ballot box. They have to be outfoxed politically by the Arab world, but not militarily, and the answer is in America. The race must begin for the soul of America.

Everything in this struggle is about persuasion, the persuasion of millions of people in the Middle East to take a chance on peace, but the most important constituency is in the United States. Most Jews and Arabs want a viable two state solution but their way of dealing with each other is presently out of control, especially these days from Israel’s side. But the real spoilers here are unwittingly the people of the United States. They have been conned, sold a ‘bill of goods’ as to what will keep Israel safe–force and violence. Shifting their opinions even slightly is what Obama, Mitchell and Clinton, need in order to finally be the honest brokers in this conflict. The more of the American public that is calling and visiting congressmen the bolder they can be. This is power. The Arab Peace Initiative should be plastered on every bus, in every journal, just as the environmental movement is doing now to finally create the necessary paradigm shift. Boycott and anti-apartheid paradigms are not the answer, media and congressional blitz is the answer, votes, contributions. This is how Washington works.

This is not undignified. This is not the Syrians or the Arab world proving that they are nice people. This is the way Washington changes, for better and for worse. The Obama election has proved the positive potential of this. The Chinese understand it, the Saudis understand it, the Indians understand it. Now it is time for there to be a clear Arab message in America that is not anti-Israel but pro-Palestinian, and pro-comprehensive peace.

This is the surest path to a prosperous Syria flooded by Western tourists, a Syria at peace, a Syria in a productive relationship with all its neighbors, including the new State of Palestine, a Syria in possession of the Golan, and under no more threats. The path to a new Syria lies in a psychological evolution of the American electorate, and there is no better time for such a change than right now.

Marc Gopin is the James H. Laue Professor of Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, and the Director of the Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

Comments (145)

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101. jad said:

No Nafdik, I didn’t miss anything; The sad fact about the lovely song is that it aims to support the Israeli aggression on Gaza. They are very serious about this song, it’s not sarcasm at all! This is why I see it as a bad test propaganda. It reminds me of songs that praise our great Arab leaders and their outstanding achievements!
Honestly, those Israelis are loosing it, day after day they become a worst copy of us 20 years ago….not to mention ‘the classy modern western look’ they try too hard to show in the clip!!! shi 3oke tamam….
As if the west really care about all those semitic tribes of the middle east or their end-less, meaning-less and taste-less wars…it’s pathetic.

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February 14th, 2009, 8:48 am


102. why-discuss said:

Wind is turning : Jumblatt writes a ‘nice’ letter to Ahmadimejad. when will he write a similar one to Bashar?

Joumblatt à Ahmadinejad : « J’espère que le peuple d’Iran retrouvera l’esprit de la révolution »
samedi, février 14, 2009

À l’occasion du trentième anniversaire de la révolution islamique en Iran, le député Walid Joumblatt, chef du Parti socialiste progressiste (PSP), a adressé un message au président iranien Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, dans lequel il revient sur l’histoire de cette révolution et son « esprit ». Il rappelle ainsi que « c’est au cours d’un soulèvement civilisé et pacifique que le peuple avait alors renversé une des pires dictatures du monde ».
« En cette occasion, nous nous souvenons, avec vous, de cet épisode qu’ont écrit de leur sang et de leurs sacrifices des citoyens démocrates et révolutionnaires, des individus et des partis qui sont tous considérés comme les pères de la révolution, malgré les divergences dans leurs projets et leurs appartenances différentes, souligne M. Joumblatt dans son message. Souvenons-nous des principes et des valeurs pour lesquelles ils avaient offert tous ces sacrifices : la justice, la dignité, le dialogue et la démocratie. (…) Souvenons-nous de tous ces personnages qui avaient alors incorporé l’alliance entre les religieux et la société civile, consacrant par là les principes de diversité, de démocratie et de droits de l’homme, ouvrant la voie au dialogue des civilisations, ce dialogue dont le président Mohammad Khatami avait fait le grand titre de la République islamique d’Iran qui, nous l’espérons, participera avec nous à cette lutte mondiale pour la liberté, le progrès et la paix. »
Et de conclure : « En cette occasion bénie, nous espérons que le peuple d’Iran réalisera ses vœux, et retrouvera l’âme de la révolution et ses principes, l’esprit de la solidarité et de l’unité, de la diversité, de la multiplicité et de la démocratie, l’esprit du dialogue des civilisations pour le bien de l’humanité entière.

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February 14th, 2009, 9:08 am


103. jad said:

Please listen to all those people supporting Israel and the logic they use to justify what they are saying..Amazing!!! very smart too! ha.

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February 14th, 2009, 9:25 am


104. majid said:

Why-Discuss asks: “Jumblatt writes a ‘nice’ letter to Ahmadimejad. when will he write a similar one to Bashar?”

I doubt Jumblat will ever write such a letter to Bashar. You should listen to his latest public speech (today) in Beirut in front of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese. He ridiculed Bashar and the Syrian government like never before.

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February 14th, 2009, 12:47 pm


105. Alia said:

Thank you Dr. Gopin for a fine essay.


Such serendipity that you should embed this part of the “Fog of War”. LeMay of whom Sec. Mc Namara was speaking went on to become Air Force Chief of Staff General to President JFK and was known for his violent disagreement with JFK about the peaceful resolution to the Cuban Missile crisis. Le May wanted to attack the missiles although he knew that the Air Force had the capability to reach only 90% of them at the maximum thus leaving the U.S. at the mercy of nuclear war heads that could start a nuclear war, he considered JFK’s refusal to give that order an appeasement akin to the one done at Munich (1938).

I was reading this chapter precisely yesterday morning in James W. Douglas remarkable: “JFK and the Unspeakable, why he died and why it matters” of which Prof. Richard Falk said:” A remarkable book: devastating in its documented indictment of the dark forces that have long deformed the public life of this country…This book should be required reading for every American citizen”.

At the time, the cold war mentality and anti-communism were fueled by interest groups- like the Cuban exiles, and most importantly the industrialists who wanted to escalate the arm race between East and West- An anti-imperialist and peace-promoting USA would have ruined their interests.

We can see parallels now in the AIPAC and Oil Lobbyist and who knows who else who want to continue the status quo ante in the middle-east and do not want an opening towards Syria, Iran…listen to the Israelis berate and threaten.

Little is it known that JFK was exchanging a regular correspondence with Khrushchev at the time, while the two countries were on the brink of war and that he had made contact with Fidel Castro in the hope of establishing a relationship over the protests of the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In fact it was JFK who stated ( in a statement that could apply to Syria) : We do not want to start by putting as a condition of talks and communication that they should sever their Sino-Soviet relationship… ( Hizbullah, Iran…?)

President Obama is going to need the courage and determination which JFK had for Peace and Justice against the dark forces that are surrounding him in order to change the present equation, much if not all that is meaningful will be done behind the scenes and will have nothing to do with the media and the prophets of violence and hatred. Hopefully with God’s protection he would not have to pay the price JFK ended up paying for it.

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February 14th, 2009, 2:36 pm


106. Alex said:


Jumblatt sent a couple of letters already in private. Syria told him they are not interested.

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February 14th, 2009, 4:49 pm


107. nafdik said:


You will enjoy this clip from Dr Strangelove.

General Buck Turgidson is LeMay.

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February 14th, 2009, 4:53 pm


108. Alex said:


Lemay or Eliott Abrams … There will always be a foolish character near the president who will advise to go to war and to use American power before diplomacy.

I hope that “the dark forces” can always be stopped by an enlightened president. Because I am not sure the media can do much … it seems that when a President wants to go to war, most will support him.

The next challenge will be Iran .. Iran will probably go ahead with its nuclear (energy?) program. Israel supposedly will not allow this to happen. Israel alone can not do it … there will be pressure on President Obama to do it on Israel’s behalf … the inner cabinet will include Hillary, Rahm, James L. Johns, Robert Gates, and President Obama

Rahm was described as the type that prefers immediate and overwhelming strong action. Hillary promised to obliterate Iran if Iran attacks Israel (not if Iran develops nuclear weapons). the rest are the calmer, more prudent, types.

The American media will be useless .. if the President decides to go to war, the media in general will rally behind him and will prepare its lists of embedded journalists.

Congress can not say no to Israel in peaceful times, and it probably will not be able to resist helping Israel attack Iran.

So the decision will be up to President Obama.

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February 14th, 2009, 5:51 pm


109. offended said:

Regarding the youtube video you’ve posted. This is gangsta rap. A form of expression and there’s nothing wrong about it. However, what we need to do is to come up with a rebuttal. Here goes mine:

Yo Eritz you’re a fake a*s G,
You’re far removed from reality.
You whinin’ ’bout hamas weaponry,
’bout a single solider in captivity,
’bout less than 5 casualties
How ’bout we speak honestly?
Put numbers under some scrutiny
You got thousands of Palis in your custody
No trial, no release, no legalities.
You killed hundreds of babies.
Women and elderly,
In Gaza Ghetto the rubbles stank
’cause bodies fell dead when your trigger clank
watcha say ’bout that phosphorous crap?
I guess dat won’t come into your rap
You x pect us to care ’bout you,
When you’ve imposed your brutal embargo,
Let’s not forget your racist wall
Where your watchtowers stand tall,
Where your morality fall
At the checkpoints civilians you’re gropin’
To that level I see you stoopin’?
Do you not understand that’d humiliate,
The innocent Ayrabs and it’d incite hate?
Get to your senses before it’s too late,
Lessons of history stay unlearned,
Chance after chance are gettin’ burned,
I see you electin’ that BB dude
The worst thuggish prude in the hood
Don’t come whinin’ when he throws you in the abyss
When he turns our hood into a mess,
All we want is justice; no more, no less.

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February 14th, 2009, 6:20 pm


110. Alex said:


You’re good man!

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February 14th, 2009, 6:28 pm


111. jad said:

I’m speechless Offended…you made my day..so funny, I can hear the rhythm in my head reading what you wrote…you are a very good rap writer…smile

This is Israel that AP and AIG defend and argue that it is a normal and moral one. long clip but lots of information.

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February 14th, 2009, 6:40 pm


112. Shai said:


What’s more amazing about the Cuban Missile Crisis which, again, most people do not know, is that the entire EXCOMM that was assembled to help JFK during the crisis, all of them, recommended the offensive option – namely to attack Cuba. This committee included not only Gen. Curtis Lemay, but indeed also all the Chiefs of the General Staff, all the heads of Intelligence, National Security advisers, Sec. of State, Sec. of Defense, special advisers, and of course the President’s own brother, Bobby Kennedy. Lots of “wise” men, with combined hundreds of years of experience. And yet, all unanimously recommended war. All, except for one ex-diplomat called Llewellyn (Tommy) Thompson, who was former ambassador in Moscow, and had spend a good bit of time with Khurshchev and his wife. Against popular opinion, he suggested another path – the diplomatic one – which would enable to Soviet leader to come out looking like he saved Cuba.

There is every reason to believe that in those days of October 1962, World War Three did not occur, with the global nuclear holocaust that would have followed, because JFK was courageous and wise enough to listen to this “liberal” ex-diplomat, who rejected the path of violence. Could Obama do the same? Could he do so, when an entire staff and experts all around unanimously recommend particular action? I don’t know.

But the real question is why did everyone else recommend offensive action, knowing full well this could lead to nuclear war with the Soviet Union? McNamara tries to answer this question in his documentary, and I think it boils down to something that could also be found today amongst many, if not most. It is the belief in some fate, in some inevitability, of a clash of civilizations. All those intellectuals in JFK’s EXCOMM believed that sooner or later the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. would clash, and that therefore better when they still have the upper hand, than when they don’t. By mid-1961, first U.S. satellites had already shown evidence that refuted the famous Bomber and Missile Gaps, and the U.S. finally knew that they had the edge in nuclear capabilities, and not the U.S.S.R. So all those who believed a clash was but a matter of time, saw perhaps a perfect opportunity to do so over the placement of missiles in Cuba.

I find endless examples today of the exact same mentality. Too many, in the U.S., in Israel, and also elsewhere around the world, believe it is only a matter of time before “The West” will clash with “The East” (Islam). And if that’s the case, better to clash soon, while we still have the advantage. Characters like Bush, Netanyahu, Lieberman, AP and AIG undoubtedly believe this. Some find it difficult to say it out loud. But others do not. We must watch out for all of them, and find and support those 21st-century “Tommy Thompsons”, who are still trying to convince us that there are other ways.

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February 14th, 2009, 7:26 pm


113. Innocent Criminal said:

Yo Offended, you’d be spittin’ some ill lyrics yo. word up homie 😉


many in the middle east, especially the Gulf, already believe thet the US has secretly accepted the fact that Iran will become a nuclear power sooner or later and that it will not allow Israel to bomb Iran. and that scares the hell out of them more than Israel’s will ever do.

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February 14th, 2009, 8:48 pm


114. Majid said:

Alex # 106
I doubt your claim. Jumblat is much shrewder than sending letters through back channels. Besides what does Jumblat need Bashar for? Actually Bashar would kiss Jumblat’s feet and soon he will.

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February 14th, 2009, 9:22 pm


115. offended said:

Alex, Jad,
Since I haven’t had any special accolades during my career in SC, I’d love to become the in-house ballin’ rapper : )

I be spittin’ ma’ lyrics to suppot ma’ pali homies. Peace up playa ; )

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February 14th, 2009, 9:52 pm


116. Alex said:


Why do i feel oldr after the way you replied to me and Jad, compared to the way you replied to IC : )

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February 15th, 2009, 12:54 am


117. ugarit said:

Very few people talk about the reasons for the USSR placing missiles in Cuba. The USSR placed them there in retaliation for the US’ missile placements across the border in Turkey. The US promised to withdraw those missiles if the USSR withdrew their missiles from Cuba. The USSR got what it wanted. End of story.

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February 15th, 2009, 2:02 am


118. jad said:

It’s ok Alex; don’t you know that 65 (your age) is the new 25! wink wink
You get lots of discounts wherever you go.

P.S. please don’t hate me 🙂

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February 15th, 2009, 4:15 am


119. Shai said:


I’m afraid the Cuban Missile Crisis was about much more than just “get your missiles out of Turkey”. First, those missiles were supposed to be recalled shortly afterwards in any case (they were old), so this wasn’t such a “price” for the U.S. Second, their removal was neither announced publicly, nor carried out immediately following the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba – it took some time, and on purpose, because the U.S. did not want to be seen as giving in to the U.S.S.R.

But the real issue here, as echoed by McNamara in his documentary, is just how close the world was to nuclear holocaust in those 13 days of October 1962. The gamble Khurshchev took did pay off, but few hail it as a “wise” one. McNamara refers to the outcome with “we LUCKED out!” Imagine, for instance, that there was no Tommy Thompson in that room with JFK. The U.S. would have hit Cuba, the USSR would have retaliated with tactical nuclear weapons, the US would have hit back with full force… Today’s world wouldn’t look quite the same, after such all-out nuclear war between the two superpowers. We all have a lot to learn from those days, and from the few sane people that managed to avert nuclear catastrophe.

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February 15th, 2009, 5:16 am


120. offended said:

Why would Alex hate you? you both are the same age, wasn’t that why I replied to you together? ; )

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February 15th, 2009, 5:47 am


121. jad said:

No, I’m 5 years older than him I’m in my 70 now and I demand more respect from you young people. Even from ‘young’ 65yo Alex 😉
(You are so funny Offended, I can’t stop laughing at your comment, Thank you.)

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February 15th, 2009, 5:54 am


122. norman said:

Your age is showing from your wisdom.

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February 15th, 2009, 6:01 am


123. Qifa Nabki said:


Is gangsta rap the new zajal?


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February 15th, 2009, 6:02 am


124. jad said:

Thank you Norman,
Wisdom? Me? I wish! 🙁

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February 15th, 2009, 6:08 am


125. Rumyal said:

Jad (#99),

This is a satire by the Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country) satire troupe deriding a right-wing rap band and their cheesy propaganda antics. Eretz Nehederet are generally left-wing. I’ve written about their satire before here but can’t find the link…

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February 15th, 2009, 7:38 am


126. Rumyal said:

…also Jad…

The act that Eretz Nehederet were mimicking/deriding were Subliminal and the Shadow http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPMKHtAsa9U&feature=related the inspiration for this song (Hope) was the mood of resolution to not give-in following the terror attacks of the second intifada.


You have some serious talent there, you have to do something about it.

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February 15th, 2009, 8:08 am


127. why-discuss said:


“I doubt Jumblat will ever write such a letter to Bashar. You should listen to his latest public speech (today) in Beirut in front of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese. He ridiculed Bashar and the Syrian government like never before.”

He ridiculed Iran’s Velayat Vakih and attacked Iran directly and indirectly Iran through Hezballah. Now this! Aren’t you surprised?
Jumblat is known to change his rherotic depending on who is the strongest player. He came to realize that Iran will(is) become a major and powerful player in the region, so he is cajoling Ahmadinejad and the iranian regime. The question is Will Ahmadinjead respond to him after the insults? Contrary to arabs who have a short memory, Iranians are known not to forget and they will not forgive Jumblatt for his attacks on them and Hezbollah. Ahmadinejad WILL NOT reply, that you can be sure.
Yet, Jumblat may not see clearly if Syria will remain an ally to Iran in a US deal, so he is keeping ‘all options on the table’

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February 15th, 2009, 8:19 am


128. why-discuss said:


Jumblatt Interview will alJazeera

Note the following declarations:

He says he also realises that Iran has become more powerful and influential in the region, especially with the US hinting that it is willing to talk to Iranian leaders and move away from a confrontation. …

But these Iranians when you speak of the Iranians, these are the Persians – they are dreadful, but very intelligent and patient.

They make carpets. It takes them years but at the end, they make the carpet. ..

-The Syrians are getting out of their isolation …

-Unfortunately, yes.

-Did you expect that?

-Yes – because when the Western governments told me we have to change the Syrian’s behaviour, well, this is a very diplomatic answer and very cynical at the same time, to ask for a dictator to change his behaviour.

I don’t like it.

Walid Jumblatt is the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party in Lebanon and one of the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, a movement triggered by the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former prime minister.

He has for several years spearheaded efforts to free Lebanon from Syrian influence.

Jumblatt is now calling for a realistic approach to dealing with regional developments, including Syria’s emergence from isolation.

He says he also realises that Iran has become more powerful and influential in the region, especially with the US hinting that it is willing to talk to Iranian leaders and move away from a confrontation.

Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin met with the veteran politician ahead of the fourth anniversary of al-Hariri’s assassination.

The following are excerpts from that interview.

Al Jazeera: al-Hariri’s assassination triggered the Cedar Revolution [a movement demanding Syria withdraws from Lebanon]. How much has been accomplished in the last four years?

Jumblatt: We had a dream that Lebanon could become independent, that we could have a proper state, control our own security, and our borders.

This dream nowadays is far from being reached because of regional circumstances, because also the other side – the Syrian-Iranian axis – is very powerful inside Lebanon.

The Syrian troops are out [of Lebanon] but their allies are very powerful inside Lebanon.

But you are in the government and you have the majority.

We control nothing. We have to control by compromise.

When you don’t control your own security services, when you are infiltrated, when you don’t control your own borders, and when you are not able as a state to decide war and peace; well, it’s not a very usual situation.

Do you feel al-Hariri died in vain?

I didn’t say that, but his blood paved the way for the departure, the official departure, of the Syrians.

But the dream that we are still striving to achieve is far away.

We want to have an independent Lebanon, not anchored in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and removed from the bargaining [with] the Syrians and Iranians on one side, the Israelis and Americans on the other side.

That dream seems far-fetched.

Are you that pessimistic?

I’m not pessimistic. I will continue my duty, my fight.

I have to do it, there’s no other way. I hope that the Lebanese population, the young people, are still believing our dream, I hope so.

How significant is the tribunal investigating the Hariri assassination which will start on March 1?

The tribunal investigating al-Hariri’s assassination will start on March 1 [EPA]
The tribunal will be set on March 1, but it’s a long way until the verdict will be announced.

Also, we will have to see what happens if and when the suspects are called upon.

We have to see if the Lebanese government can maintain security because they have to go outside Lebanon. It is a big issue.

We were expecting this tribunal in 2006, the summer before the war.

But it is a long process because it is a very unique tribunal.

In case there is a verdict, and in case the verdict is to our aspirations, indicting the Syrian regime – this will likely be a very complicated tribunal, both politically and legally.

I don’t know if the political side will win over the legal side. I have no idea.

How much faith do you have that the tribunal will deliver justice?

Justice cannot be reached with such regimes [Syria] as long as these regimes are still alive.

Look, the last effective tribunal was at Nuremberg. But Germany was defeated and the criminals, the big criminals at that time, were brought to justice and hanged.

This [Syrian] regime is still there.

Do you have concerns that the political atmosphere in the region will inhibit the court and tribunal?

I always have these fears in mind.

For example, maybe tomorrow [Benyamin] Netanyahu, the leader of the Israeli Likud party, will come to power, and he will revive the so-called Syrian track, regardless of Lebanon and Palestine

The Israelis – neither the Likud nor Labour parties – care about Lebanon.

They just care about destroying Lebanon and they just care about giving Lebanon to the Syrians to satisfy their purposes.

So I have to be concerned.

What exactly is your concern – what will happen?

Things will be delayed. Suspects might be killed. The tribunal will go on, but I mean it’s not so easy.

As I told you, as long as the Syrian regime is strong, there is a big handicap and I’m afraid again that the tribunal could be regarded as a bargaining chip with the Syrians.

The Syrians are getting out of their isolation …

Unfortunately, yes.

Did you expect that?

Yes – because when the Western governments told me we have to change the Syrian’s behaviour, well, this is a very diplomatic answer and very cynical at the same time, to ask for a dictator to change his behaviour.

I don’t like it.

Does Barack Obama’s election give you more hope or are you concerned?

Because of the failure of the past president, George Bush.

In Palestine – total failure – and now with the new realities on the ground – the Iranians here, the Persian Empire somewhere on the shores of the Mediterranean, in Gaza, in Lebanon, controlling Syria – well, Obama is going to have to engage them.

And also because of the total failure of Americans in the so-called nation building process in Afghanistan, the Iranians are going to be a key player everywhere and the Americans will have to abide by the new rules.

Do you think it is wise for Obama to engage them?

He has no other choice but to engage the Iranians.

How will that reflect on Lebanon?

Well, the Iranians will engage the Americans and the West from a strong position, asking for privileges or their interests to be respected in the Gulf, in Iraq of course, in Lebanon, in Palestine – Palestine meaning Hamas.

How do you think that the events – the war – in Gaza will affect Lebanon? Does it make the likelihood of another war more imminent?

No, it was just a test on the behalf of Hamas.

Of course, I can understand that being under the so-called siege is harassing, it’s suffocating.

But even listening to Recep Teyyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister and the friend of Hamas, he said that Hamas committed a mistake by breaking the so-called hudna (truce).

Ok, but now Hamas, I am not going to say they are victorious, it is a victory of a political nature. But at what price?

They should be dealt with.

Do you think that strengthened Hezbollah?

Yes, of course.


Because the Arabs are divided, it indicated to Hezbollah, that the Iranians are telling the Arab world ‘we are here. We can control Hamas, we can use Hamas and control Hezbollah’.

And Iran will just deal directly with the Americans.

But these Iranians when you speak of the Iranians, these are the Persians – they are dreadful, but very intelligent and patient.

They make carpets. It takes them years but at the end, they make the carpet.

Mohammad Khatami, the former Iranian president, just announced his candidacy for upcoming elections in Iran – is that a significant development for you?

Yes, but he controls nothing.

Do you think he will win? Does he have any chance of winning?

I don’t see Khatami being able to dismantle the whole apparatus – security, military, economic – which the revolutionary guards control.

How do you envision 2009 for Lebanon?

Whether we win or lose the elections, this is trivial.

I wish we could be able to fix the economy, basic issues of the economy, and not to engender confessional or sectarian hatred.

Enough of the sectarianism.

What do you miss about Rafiq al-Harriri, four years later?

I miss a lot of things, he was a great friend. I still have when I speak of him this great emotion. He had a big dream of building up Lebanon, a stable Lebanon, a viable and flourishing Lebanon.

But we have two countries surrounding us – the Israelis and the Syrian regime.

They just hate us, they just hate us. And they don’t care about our prosperity, or our independence; they hate us.

Including the Israelis?

Of course, of course, more than ever, of course.

We saw it in 2006, we saw it in 1996, and we saw it in 1982 when they invaded Beirut.

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February 15th, 2009, 8:31 am


129. offended said:

Zajal is for fat people. : )

to be honest, Eretz’s clip is full of mockery towards the usual Israeli right wing mantras. Especially the part about reminding the europeans of the holocaust and the similarities, and the part about Leo De Caprio dating Om Kalthoom.

I don’t know, I think I am going to have to contact Sayed Hasan and see how we can cooperate.

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February 15th, 2009, 10:53 am


130. Shai said:


I join Rumyal in acknowledging your obvious talent when it comes to “rapping” it up. Funny how much wisdom can be found in lyrics of a song, even rap, if only we listened. Quite often the rappers themselves are so much closer to reality than we could ever be. They deserve to be listened to.

Btw, if you want to work with/for the Sayyed, you may want to consult with Zenobia. She’s been doing his copyrighting for him… that’s pretty obvious I’d say… 🙂 (Zenobia, wink wink).

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February 15th, 2009, 11:30 am


131. Alia said:


Why was all the EXCOMM pushing for an offensive on Cuba/USSR and where are the parallels in our present East/West conflict situation?

Your point is well taken. However, I would like to say here that the EXCOMM generation military or non-military at that point( almost all of them veterans of WWII as well along with the President) were all cold war warriors. Since 1948, they had been facing conflict after conflict with the Russians, the latest before the Cuban Missile Crisis being the intense and protracted fight over the status of Berlin and the obvious soviet imperialistic intentions in East Europe….Cuba was another chapter of a mounting conflict ( between former allies!!!)- one notes that virulent anti-communism did not start in the U.S. until the geopolitical fights pitted the countries against each other. By the time JFK came to seek congressional approval for a nuclear testing ban treaty in August of 1963, the estimation was that congress was 15 to 1 against the ratification of such a treaty. At that point he enlisted the Church, the Rabbis, the major editors of womens (!!) magazines in a massive education campaign on the subject so that 2 months later when congress did vote on the treaty he had a majority of 81/19.

My point is that the subject was hot but the population was still malleable enough to be able to see the benefits of a treaty.

The conflict between The West and Islam has been chronic and longstanding- Norman Daniel documented it well in the his book : “Islam and the West : the making of an image”. I would venture to say that had that conflict not been present and deeply-rooted, the British would not have found it that easy to facilitate the “giving away of Palestine to the Zionists” in the first place.
On the Arab and Muslim side, the conflict with the West is more recent, the ressentiment did not really build up until late in the 19th century and Palestine clinched it. However, in this case there are tangibles, there is a land that has been stolen, a people that have been dispossessed, religious symbols and history that are concrete and present…It is not the fight over colonies and power, it is the fight over tangibles. Extremist and politicized Islamic ideology arose as a response to the situation and did not start the situation.

I do not subscribe to Huntington’s thesis which the late Edward Said called the clash of ignorance…I am not suggesting that you personally do either.

P.S. Bobby Kennedy’s attitude towards the offensive is not as clear, I have read conflicting reports.


I agree with Shai. The deal that was struck between JFK and Khrushchev is instructive as to why the missiles were placed in Cuba in the first place: WE withdraw the missiles if you give us a guarantee of non-invasion of Cuba, the second clause which was the withdrawal of the missiles from Turkey was not part of the deal, although it was requested by the Russians…JFK did not address it directly, but it did come about as a second step.

Cuba was of immense importance to the Soviets for its potential links with middle and South America.

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February 15th, 2009, 12:46 pm


132. Shai said:


Another “funny” thing about JFK, is that he was voted into office, quite significantly due to his outcry for tougher handling of the USSR (including the allocation of greater budgets, etc.), given its perceived nuclear capabilities and advantages over the U.S. In the summer of 1961, following information that quickly came down from the CORONA satellite program (which put to rest the Bomber and Missile Gaps), U.S. officials at last understood that their nation was still far ahead of the Soviet Union in nuclear capabilities. And, as a result, JFK began changing his policy in this regard. One senator (I forget whom) actually called for JFK to resign, and for re-election, claiming JFK had been falsely voted-in… 🙂

I believe all those on EXCOMM who votes for the invasion of Cuba, did so out of fear that if the Soviets are allowed to keep their missiles here, they would continue a belligerent drive all over the world, next in West Berlin, etc. If nuclear weapons were aimed at the U.S., a mere 90 miles away, the U.S. would be held hostage at every future development, and this was unacceptable. The only answer I find as to why they didn’t fear nuclear holocaust ENOUGH to continue to seek an alternative solution, is a mixture between the time pressure that was exerted (each minute brought further reporting of Soviet preparations, missiles on the way, etc.) and their own conscious or subconscious belief in the inevitability of a massive clash, sooner or later.

The similarities with today’s world, could perhaps be seen amongst so many leaders around the world (not to mention their constituents), who seem to be rejective of true dialogue (honest, respectful, at-eye-level) with Islamic nations. Even the most developed nations on earth, seem to be more concerned about the Iranian nuclear program, and almost permissive in their stances towards a potential Israeli-American strike against Iran, than they are about Israeli Occupation of Palestine. These things aren’t coincidental, and we may soon find ourselves (or rather, they’ll find themselves) defining this as looking into a loaded barrel, and needing to make a “tough choice”. I’m afraid, that most if not all, will again recommend the offensive option (hitting Iran), over the continued diplomatic one. There are many more Curtis Lemay’s out there, than Tommy Thompson’s…

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February 15th, 2009, 1:39 pm


133. Alia said:


Thanks for your thoughts on the Iran situation.

A war between Iran and Israel is unthinkable, and it is not my impression that the Iranians would sit quietly if there is a covert operation by Israel to destroy one of their nuclear facilities, if such an operation were even practically feasible. The Turkish air space will not be available for Israel for such excursions.

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February 15th, 2009, 1:40 pm


134. Alia said:

Yes, Shai, “the most developed nations on earth”…: ) funny thing about development is that it does not preclude tunnel vision, most system even the open democratic ones become inflexible over time and become hijacked by ideology.

I have been watching Angela Merkel over the past 2 months. The leader of a Christian Democratic Coalition, the daughter of a pastor, a woman ( there is such bad talk about testosterone lately as the cause of the financial crash and bad politics !!); a woman leader in a free democratic country who has taken it upon itself to represent humanitarian aid – they have those marvelous hospital planes that they send here and there, full of idealistic self-possessed young people- Merkel did not cry over the outrage of Gaza, but carried on with the Pope over the Holocaust-denying Bishop…I can see her and Germany sinking slowly into irrelevance.

Your writing seems always to reflect your interest in conscious and unconscious dynamics of nations.

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February 15th, 2009, 1:59 pm


135. Shai said:


Yes, “developed nations” we call them… Does beg a few questions sometimes, doesn’t it?

I’ve mentioned before that if I had the time, I’d go study (or help create) a field called the “Psychology of Nations”… Is there anything like that anywhere? I haven’t been a part of academia in a very long time… unfortunately.

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February 15th, 2009, 2:20 pm


136. Alia said:


The continental Philosophy programs are where this is taught- look at this list…I have a most learned friend who studied this at Duquesne in Pittsburgh.


and this may be of interest to you :


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February 15th, 2009, 2:45 pm


137. Shai said:


Many thanks. The PPPI seems very interesting. I’ll read more about it later. I wonder if support for any of its programs could be achieved at the national level, and not just locally. Could a Ministry of Education, for instance, adopt some of these programs (even if the end result is not an actively supported part of the ruling administration’s agenda)?

I’m more interested in this, than in studying the history of Philosophy (even though I have a degree in Mathematics). What’s needed are simple, down-to-earth programs that will begin to reverse the psychological effects our collective national experiences (and the destructive “educational programs” that followed in parallel) have had on our societies for so long. Of course, for this to happen, enough people have to first accept and understand the problem. That, at the moment at least, seems quite far away unfortunately.

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February 15th, 2009, 4:32 pm


138. Alex said:

Alia, Shai,

Israel and Iran … The way I see it, Obama’s only way out is to

1) Tell Israel … too bad we can not go to war against Iran, and we can not force Iran to halt their nuclear program.

2) Work a bit harder to reach an agreement and a settlement with Iran in time for the inauguration of President Khatami.

I hope the second option has good chances of success… but it will involve, in addition to bilateral relations, agreeing on a vision for the Middle East … something the Saudis and Egyptians and Israelis can live with.

Slow Obama stance on Iran nukes worries Israel
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent

Israeli officials are putting together a position paper on talks between the United States and Iran for the new administration in Washington, Israeli officials say. The paper will include a list of reservations about the state of international efforts against Iran’s nuclear program. One worry is that negotiations will go on for too long.

The paper states that talks between the United States and Iran should be limited to a short period of time. It also recommends that harsh sanctions be imposed against the Islamic Republic if negotiations fail.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who appointed envoys to the Middle East and Afghanistan within days of his inauguration, has not done so with Iran. An Israeli official in Jerusalem told Haaretz that “this procrastination is very disconcerting.”

Israel and several leading countries in the European Union are concerned about the delay in formulating a U.S. policy on Iran’s nuclear program.

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February 15th, 2009, 4:46 pm


139. Shai said:


The more the U.S. tries to satisfy Israel, Egypt, KSA, or Europe, over the Iranian nuclear program, the LESS it will be able to influence it.

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February 15th, 2009, 4:51 pm


140. offended said:

Thanks Shai : )

I wonder where is Zenobia, haven’t seen here on the board for ages.

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February 15th, 2009, 4:52 pm


141. Shai said:

On Zionism and anti-Zionism: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1063597.html

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February 15th, 2009, 8:54 pm


142. Alia said:


I am sorry I misunderstood you. I confess that I am still not clear on what you have in mind.

If I were you I would contact Kathy Kelly from Voices for Creative Nonviolence, she was just in Gaza, she is extraordinary. Write to her Shai tell her what you are looking for.


Listen to what James Douglas has to say about the systematic denial of evil among us in a society, his writing, The Ground Zero for Nonviolent Action of which he is co-founder ( nothing to do with the one in New York city)…notwithstanding the different religious background.

I participate in medical missions, clinical and organizational responsibilities ( I am away for less extended periods now because of the children)-I get the political picture as a fringe benefit.

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February 16th, 2009, 1:43 am


143. Shai said:


Thank you for the information. What I meant, was that I’m interested in searching for programs that could be implemented not only at the grassroots level, but in theory also at the national level. I’m not sure such a thing is possible. But, before any program can be adopted, education must first take place. The same supervisors to ministers that will support corrective educational programs have to first understand the problem. How to understand the problem, how to describe it in layman’s terms, and how to “market” it, are all components of an entire field in itself.

I guess I’m suggesting that the theory interests me less at this point in time, than the practical aspects which need to be found and implemented, if we are to ever see change in our society. Plus, to be perfectly honest, I recognize my own limitations in getting into the depths of the philosophical aspects, mainly because of a lack of training in the field, and a lack of time nowadays. I can and do, however, want to find time for further advocacy and for pushing my own goals upon those who have the professional experience and abilities.

You are obviously very well informed and in touch with this world that we’re discussing, and I’m grateful to any bits of knowledge you can provide me (us).

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February 16th, 2009, 7:08 am


144. Alia said:


There are 2 ways to understand your statement:

1. Either you are in a position to influence the philosophy of social/political/history education in your country and are looking to put together programs for corrective action which you see as needed. In that case, you are looking for a few experts that could analyze the curriculum and propose corrective measures that can be implemented over time

2. Or you are wishing for something like that to happen on a national level because you believe anything short of a national enterprise will not be effective and you do not believe that work at the grassroots will be effective at this point. In this case, our talk will remain theoretical at this juncture.

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February 16th, 2009, 11:47 am


145. Alia said:


It is interesting to note that James Douglas speaks of the victory over communism being of supreme value as the” dominant mythology of the time” of the cold war as you have pointed out.

So I guess you can speak of “the Arab, Muslim threat” in the Israeli psyche, and to a lesser extent in the European one, as the dominant mythology of the time.

Except that it ends up being a wish-fulfilling prophecy- 60 years later the Arabs and Muslims are more sick and tired of the Israelis than ever and a segment of the Muslims has become so extreme as to present a real threat to the West.

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February 16th, 2009, 12:00 pm


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