Monday, December 28, 2009

Iran Is Burning in Revolution; Not Recognizing It Can Lead to Calamity

The continuing protests in Iran show that people can only tolerate autocracy for so long. With the irrepressible advantage of instant mass communication via the Internet and social networking, protests can be assembled quickly and efficiently before the government security forces can intervene. The Iranian people are taking advantage of this power in a unique way. Can the Iranian people translate this ability to self-organize into a sustainable regime change? Assuming the government is toppled, can the people choose more representative, liberal-style form of government? Their past choices suggest a contrary track record--Iranians have lived under one form of autocracy or another for the past 100 years. No matter the temptation to do otherwise, the international community's role in the unfolding of the next form of government should be by invitation only. However, the international community can prepare now to respond to any invitation by thinking and planning for the possible range of possibilities. An organized effort to think about the possible futures of Iran carefully assembled and properly introduced to the world could offer hope and support without taking sides or appearing interventionist.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Friday, December 18, 2009

Congress-Please Wake Up on Climate Change

Congress, please wake up. Climate change is here, it's real, and it's about to hammer us if we don't take immediate action. I know that Detroit is suffering from 50% unemployment. I know that there are not many other happy places in the U.S. economically. I happen to live in one of the deepest poverty regions of the country, the San Joaquin Valley. However, the depression will pass. Climate change will not pass and is apparently not subject to economic cycles. If we, as a nation, do not take leadership on this, we could be facing the mother of all economic depressions a lot sooner than anyone expects.

I appreciate the fact that Representatives must face re-election every two years and that their job security rests on their ability to convince the voters in their districts that they are protecting local financial, economic, and legal interests. The larger problem of climate change calls for a different type of  leadership, however. Instead of reacting to your neighbors, friends, and supporters at home, can you, members of Congress, unify and lead those people? Can you educate yourselves on the facts, not the polemics, of climate change? Can you be public stewards and resist insistent, parochial demands for quick fixes, jobs, money, safety, and security? Can you help the people accept the need for dramatic changes in energy use when the medicine tastes bad? Can you look at the problem of climate change in terms other than a zero-sum, distributive, winner-take-all political competition or negotiation? Can you instead look at climate change as an opportunity to collaborate, to invest in new technologies, to create jobs that have never existed before, and to rebuild our national infrastructure? Can you resist the lobbyists for the extraction industries that seek to continue business in the same patterns that have created the environmental crisis we now face? Can you face up to the fact that this is not Republican vs. Democrat political gamesmanship?

If you cannot, the conflicts, fights, disputes, and wars will be like none you have ever seen as people around the world fight for food,water, and arable land. If you cannot, the depression of 2007-2010 will seem like a mild economic correction compared to the potential devastation of a collapsed world economy. If you cannot, the plaintive cries of your constituents will turn to screams of anger at you, demanding that you answer why you did not take action sooner. Look into the future. You can see what is coming--it is a locomotive heading right at us. Will you slow it down or will you allow it to crush us all?

Please wake up and take action.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, December 11, 2009

Obama's First Year: A Nobel Effort

I have read the American Grand Strategy report pertaining to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The students make the statement “Obama’s major policy error has been his demand of Israel to freeze all settlement building.” I believe this is a grave error of analysis. The history of the region has created a deep mythology for both the Israelis and the Palestinians that reinforces a social identity around the sacredness of Jerusalem and the sacredness of the land. Israeli settlements in the West Bank, regardless of motive, have been seen for decades as deeply disrespectful of the Palestinian right to autonomy. For decades, the Palestinians have asserted that Israel must conform to UN Resolution 242. Israeli settlements have been in derogation of this assertion, whether legal or not. In addition, the settlements have created a checkerboard in the West Bank that makes the possibility of a unified Palestinian state very difficult to create. A cynical person might say that this has been by conscious design of succeeding Israeli governments. At the very least, settlements have appeased the ultra-conservative fundamentalist Jews that have seized the moral and sacred high ground in the debate around peace with the Palestinians. Thus, if an acceptable peace is to occur, settlement construction will have to stop. President Obama is therefore correct in making that a cornerstone of his administration’s policy toward the conflict.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Sunday, December 6, 2009

New Construction in East Jerusalem: What It Really Means

As I read the comments and posts following the Ir Amim post protesting continued settlement construction in east Jerusalem, I see several things. First, the comments are highly polarized around the status of Jerusalem. Second, I see no discussion of how the status of Jerusalem might be resolved in a way that makes sense to the Israelis and the Palestinians. As long as people focus on their personal opinions and feelings, the status of Jerusalem will continue to polarize and divide. There has been terrible suffering and violence instigated by all sides against the others. Can we accept that Jerusalem symbolizes sacred and holy ground, national pride, religious identity, and has deep, heart-felt meaning for the Jewish and Arab people of the region? Accepting this deeply held, mutual, sacred belief, can we fashion a remedy that honors the God of Abraham and the history of suffering witnessed around this land? There is much more than honor at stake here, of course, and starting with the acknowledgment of the sacred is only one place to start. However, it is a starting point that seems based on common ground.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lessons Learned in Mediating Peace Between Israel and the Palestinians

I am reading The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story about the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process by Clayton Swisher. This is a modern history of the events in the Clinton administration from 1999 to 2000 concerning US attempts to mediate peace between Israel and Syria and Israel and the Palestinians. The conventional wisdom and media reported that the collapse of each of these mediations was due to the intransigence of Hafez al-Asad, the leader of Syria, and Yassar Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Authority. What Swisher portrays is something very different.

Swisher interviewed dozens of people on all sides of the mediation, including former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and other high level officials in the US, Syria, Israel, and in the Palestinian Authority. As the story unfolds, we begin to see that the fundamental problems were not the intransigence of Asad and Arafat. Instead, the problems were caused by the unskilled, unprepared, biased, and incompetent team of mediators fielded by the United States. Any experienced commercial or family mediator reading this book will cringe at the rookie mistakes made time after time by the U.S. mediators, including the sitting President of the United States. The ethical mediation principal of impartiality and neutrality was completely abandoned as we learn how Dennis Ross, the chief mediator on the US team, was grossly biased in favor of Israel. President Clinton, desperate for an opportunity to end his administration on a high note in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky affair, essentially misrepresented offers and counter-offers to the representatives of Syria and the Palestinian Authority in the hope that he could force a deal. The mediators misread the parties time after time, ignoring cues and emotional data that any reasonably competent mediator would have seen. The utter lack of transparency, authenticity, and integrity of the mediation process is breathtaking when one considers the stakes of the negotiation.

We are led to believe that the people in charge are mediating and negotiating international disputes, conflicts, and wars because they are the best, the brightest, the most experienced, and the most knowledgeable. The Truth About Camp David is a chilling wake-up call that when those in power have little professional expertise, knowledge, or experience in mediating  deep and intractable conflicts, bad things happen. This is a great book of how not to conduct any mediation and especially how not to mediate deep, serious, and difficult international conflicts.

As the Obama Administration again attempts to mediate peace between Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority, let us hope that it brings in skilled, experienced, competent mediators and not political hacks or diplomats using 18th century techniques and processes. What is needed is a modern mediation and negotiation approach based on best practices. Otherwise peace will be unattainable.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

laser rangefinder