Desert Storm, the Last Classic War

August 7, 2015

Last Sunday marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the start of the Gulf War. Fought swiftly and successfully, today it looks like something of an anomaly, but its lessons remain valuable.

An Op-Ed by Richard Nathan Haass

Former Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State and advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell

Richard Nathan Haass

Richard Nathan Haass

It was mid-July 1990, and for several days the U.S. intelligence community had been watching Saddam Hussein mass his forces along Iraq’s border with Kuwait. Most of us in the administration of President George H.W. Bush—I was then the top Middle East specialist on the National Security Council—believed that this was little more than a late-20th-century version of gunboat diplomacy. We figured that Saddam was bluffing to pressure his wealthy but weak neighbor to the south into reducing its oil output.

Iraq was desperate for higher oil prices, given the enormous cost of the just-concluded decadelong war with Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran and Saddam’s own ambitions for regional primacy. Saddam’s fellow Arab leaders, for their part, were advising the Bush administration to stay calm and let things play out to the peaceful outcome they expected. In late July, Saddam met for the first time with April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and her cable back to Washington reinforced the view that this was all an elaborate bit of geopolitical theater.

But by Aug. 1—25 years ago this week—it had become apparent that Saddam was amassing far more military forces than he would need simply to intimidate Kuwait. The White House hastily assembled senior staff from the intelligence community and the Departments of State and Defense. After hours of inconclusive talk, we agreed that the best chance for avoiding some sort of Iraqi military action would be for President Bush to call Saddam. I was asked to pitch this idea to my boss, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and the president.

I rushed over to Gen. Scowcroft’s small West Wing office and brought him up to speed on the deliberations. The two of us then walked over to the East Wing, the living quarters of the White House (as opposed to the working part). President Bush was in the sick bay, getting a sore shoulder tended to after hitting a bucket of golf balls. I briefed him on the latest intelligence and diplomacy, as well the recommendation that he reach out to Saddam.

We were all skeptical that it would work but figured that it couldn’t hurt to try. The conversation shifted to how best to reach the Iraqi leader—a more complicated task than one might think since it was 2 a.m. on Aug. 2 in Baghdad.

We were going through the options when the phone rang. It wasRobert Kimmitt, the acting secretary of state, saying that his department had just received word from the U.S. ambassador in Kuwait that an Iraqi invasion was under way. “So much for calling Saddam,” said the president grimly.

We didn’t know it at the time, but the first major crisis of the post-Cold War world had begun. Looking back on that conflict, which stretched out over the better part of the following year, it now has a classic feel to it—very much at odds with the decidedly nonclassic era unfolding in today’s Middle East. But the Gulf War is still worth remembering, not only because its outcome got the post-Cold War era off to a good start but also because it drove home a number of lessons that remain as relevant as ever.

Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait had taken us by surprise, and it took a few days for the administration to find its bearings. The first National Security Council meeting chaired by the president on Aug. 2—the day of the invasion—was disheartening since the cabinet-level officials couldn’t reach a consensus on what to do. To make matters worse, the president said publicly that military intervention wasn’t being considered. He meant it only in the most literal sense—i.e., that it was premature to start going down that path—but the press interpreted him to mean that he had taken a military response off the table. He hadn’t.

As the meeting ended, I went over to Gen. Scowcroft, who looked at least as worried and unhappy as I did. We quickly agreed that the meeting had been a debacle. He and the president were about to board Air Force One for Aspen, where the president was to give a long-scheduled speech on nuclear weapons and meet with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Gen. Scowcroft asked me to produce a memo for himself and the president outlining the stakes and the potential courses of action, including a U.S.-led military response. I returned to my office and typed away. “I am [as] aware as you are of just how costly and risky such a conflict would prove to be,” I wrote. “But so too would be accepting this new status quo. We would be setting a terrible precedent—one that would only accelerate violent centrifugal tendencies—in this emerging post-Cold War era.”

A second NSC meeting was held when the president returned the next day. It was as focused and good as the first one had been inchoate and bad. The president wanted to lead off the session to make clear that the U.S. response to this crisis would not be business as usual, but Gen. Scowcroft, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (filling in for James Baker, who happened to be in Siberia with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze) and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney all argued that once the commander in chief spoke, it would be impossible to have an open and honest exchange.

The president reluctantly agreed to hold back. Instead, those three top advisers opened the meeting by making the strategic and economic case that Saddam couldn’t be allowed to get away with the conquest of Kuwait. Nobody dissented. A policy was coming into focus.

The next day (Saturday, Aug. 4), much the same group (now including Secretary Baker) met at Camp David for the first detailed discussion of military options. Gen. Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led off, after which Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf (who oversaw U.S. Central Command) gave a detailed assessment of Iraq’s military strengths and weaknesses, along with some initial thoughts about what the U.S. could do quickly. What emerged was a consensus around introducing U.S. forces into Saudi Arabia to prevent a bad situation from getting far worse—and to deter Saddam from attacking another oil-rich neighbor. A delegation headed by Mr. Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates would go to Saudi Arabia to make the arrangements.

The U.S. had already put economic sanctions in place and frozen the assets of both Iraq and Kuwait (in the latter case, to ensure that they wouldn’t be looted). The U.N. Security Council—including China and the Soviet Union, with their vetoes—had called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from all of Kuwait.

After the meeting at Camp David, everyone but the president hustled back to Washington. He didn’t return until the next afternoon. Gen. Scowcroft called to tell me that he couldn’t be there when the president’s helicopter touched down and asked me to meet Marine One and let the president know what was going on. I hurriedly summarized the latest on a single page and borrowed a navy blazer, arriving on the South Lawn just moments before the president.

Once on the ground, President Bush motioned me over and read my update on the military and diplomatic state of play. He scowled as we huddled. Saddam was showing no signs of backing off, and the president had grown tired of assurances from Arab leaders that they could work things out diplomatically if just given the chance. The president was also frustrated with press criticism that the administration wasn’t doing enough. After our brief discussion, he stalked over to the eagerly waiting White House press corps and unloaded with one of the most memorable phrases of his presidency: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”

The stage was thus set for the next six months. Diplomacy and economic sanctions failed to dislodge Saddam. In mid-January, Operation Desert Shield—the deployment of some 500,000 U.S. troops, along with their equipment, to the region to protect Saudi Arabia and prepare to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait—gave way to Operation Desert Storm. The administration not only won U.N. assent for its bold course but also assembled a global coalition, stretching from Australia to Syria, for the military effort. In the end, it took six weeks of air power and four days of land war to free Kuwait and restore the status quo that had prevailed before Saddam’s invasion.

Those days seem distant from what we now face in the Middle East, with virtual anarchy in much of the region and jihadist extremists holding large stretches of territory. But the Gulf War is not just ancient history. Its main lessons are still well worth heeding.

Economic sanctions can only do so much. Even sweeping sanctions supported by much of the world couldn’t persuade Saddam to vacate Kuwait—any more than they have persuaded Russia, Iran or North Korea to reverse major policies of their own in recent years. Moreover, sanctions against Iraq and Cuba demonstrate that sanctions can have the unintended consequence of increasing government domination of an economy.

Assumptions are dangerous things. The administration of George H.W. Bush (myself included) was late in realizing that Saddam would actually invade Kuwait—and too optimistic in predicting that he would be unable to survive his defeat in Kuwait. Just over a decade later, several assumptions made by a second Bush administration proved terribly costly in Iraq. So did later rosy assumptions made by the Obama administration as it pulled out of Iraq, staged a limited intervention in Libya, encouraged the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and called for regime change in Syria.

Multilateralism constrains the U.S., but it can yield big dividends.Broad participation ensures a degree of burden-sharing. Due to contributions from the Gulf states and Japan, the Gulf War ended up costing the U.S. little or nothing financially. Multilateralism—in this case, the support of the U.N. Security Council—can also generate political support within the U.S. and around the world; it supplies a source of legitimacy often judged missing when the U.S. acts alone.

Even successful policies can have unforeseen negative consequences. Our one-sided military victory in the Gulf War may have persuaded others to avoid conventional battlefield confrontations with the U.S. Instead, urban terrorism has become the approach of choice for many in the Middle East, while other enemies (such as North Korea) have opted for nuclear deterrence to ensure that they stay in power.

Limited goals are often wise. They may not transform a situation, but they have the advantage of being desirable, doable and affordable. Ambitious goals may promise more, but delivering on them can prove impossible. The U.S. got into trouble in Korea in 1950 when it was not content with liberating the south and marched north of the 38th parallel in an expensive and unsuccessful attempt to reunify the peninsula by force.

In the Gulf War, President Bush was often criticized for limiting U.S. objectives to what the U.N. Security Council and Congress had signed up for: kicking Saddam out of Kuwait. Many argued that we should have “gone on to Baghdad.” But as the U.S. learned the hard way a decade later in Afghanistan and Iraq, getting rid of a bad regime is easy compared with building a better, enduring alternative. In foreign lands, modest goals can be ambitious enough. Local realities almost always trump inside-the-Beltway abstractions.

There is no substitute for U.S. leadership. The world is not self-organizing; no invisible hand creates order in the geopolitical marketplace. The Gulf War demonstrated that it takes the visible hand of the U.S. to galvanize world action.

Similarly, there is no substitute for presidential leadership. The Senate nearly voted against going to war with Iraq 25 years ago—even though the U.S. was implementing U.N. resolutions that the Senate had sought. The country cannot have 535 secretaries of state or defense if it hopes to lead.

Be wary of wars of choice. The 1991 Gulf War—unlike the 2003 Iraq war—was a war of necessity. Vital U.S. interests were at stake, and after multilateral sanctions and intensive diplomacy came up short, only the military option remained. But most future U.S. wars are likely to be wars of choice: The interests at stake will tend to be important but not vital, or policy makers will have options besides military force. Such decisions about the discretionary use of force tend to be far harder to make—and far harder to defend if, as is often the case, the war and its aftermath turn out to be more costly and less successful than its architects predict.

The historical impact of the Gulf War turned out to be smaller than many imagined at the time—including President Bush, who hoped that the war would usher in a new age of global cooperation after the collapse of the Soviet empire. The U.S. enjoyed a degree of pre-eminence that couldn’t last. China’s rise, post-Soviet Russia’s alienation, technological innovation, American political dysfunction, two draining wars in the wake of 9/11—all contributed to the emergence of a world in which power is more widely distributed and decision-making more decentralized.

The Gulf War looks today like something of an anomaly: short and sharp, with a clear start and finish; focused on resisting external aggression, not nation-building; and fought on battlefields with combined arms, not in cities by special forces and irregulars. Most unusual of all in light of what would follow, the war was multilateral, inexpensive and successful. Even the principle for which the Gulf War was fought—the inadmissibility of acquiring territory by military means—has been drawn into question recently by the international community’s passivity in the face of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

It is a stretch to tie the events of 1990-91 to the mayhem that is the Middle East today. The pathologies of the region—along with the 2003 Iraq war and the mishandling of its aftermath, the subsequent pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq, the 2011 Libya intervention and the continuing U.S. failure to act in Syria—all do more to explain the mess.

The Gulf War was a signal success of American foreign policy. It avoided what clearly would have been a terrible outcome—letting Saddam get away with a blatant act of territorial acquisition and perhaps come to dominate much of the Middle East. But it was a short-lived triumph, and it could neither usher in a “new world order,” as President Bush hoped, nor save the Middle East from itself.

This article appears in full in The Wall Street Journal by permission of its original publisher.


The Meaning of Israel: A Personal View

January 15, 2014

In light of the obsessive, hypocritical focus by several scholarly groups taking aim at Israel, not to mention the permanent chorus of Israel’s detractors both here and abroad, David Harris wants to offer a totally different view of the Jewish state. This is a time to stand up and speak out.

An op-ed by David Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
The Jerusalem Post, January 15, 2014

Against the backdrop of recent efforts in some academic circles to vilify and isolate Israel, let me put my cards on the table right up front. I’m not dispassionate when it comes to Israel. Quite the contrary.

The establishment of the state in 1948; the fulfillment of its envisioned role as home and haven for Jews from around the world; its wholehearted embrace of democracy and the rule of law; and its impressive scientific, cultural, and economic achievements are accomplishments beyond my wildest imagination.

For centuries, Jews around the world prayed for a return to Zion. We are the lucky ones who have seen those prayers answered. I am grateful to witness this most extraordinary period in Jewish history and Jewish sovereignty.

And when one adds the key element, namely, that all this took place not in the Middle West but in the Middle East, where Israel’s neighbors determined from day one to destroy it through any means available to them—from full-scale wars to wars of attrition; from diplomatic isolation to international delegitimation; from primary to secondary to even tertiary economic boycotts; from terrorism to the spread of anti-Semitism, often thinly veiled as anti-Zionism—the story of Israel’s first 65 years becomes all the more remarkable.

No other country has faced such a constant challenge to its very right to exist, even though the age-old biblical, spiritual, and physical connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel is unique in the annals of history.

Indeed,  that connection is of a totally different character from the basis on which, say, the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or the bulk of Latin American countries were established, that is, by Europeans with no legitimate claim to those lands who decimated indigenous populations and proclaimed their own authority. Or, for that matter, North African countries that were conquered and occupied by Arab-Islamic invaders and totally redefined in their national character.

No other country has faced such overwhelming odds against its very survival, or experienced the same degree of never-ending international demonization by too many nations that throw integrity and morality to the wind, and slavishly follow the will of the energy-rich and more numerous Arab states.

Yet Israelis have never succumbed to a fortress mentality, never abandoned their deep yearning for peace with their neighbors or willingness to take unprecedented risks to achieve that peace, never lost their zest for life, and never flinched from their determination to build a vibrant, democratic state.

This story of nation-building is entirely without precedent.

 Here was a people brought to the brink of utter destruction by the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany and its allies. Here was a people shown to be utterly powerless to influence a largely indifferent world to stop, or even slow down, the Final Solution. And here was a people, numbering barely 600,000, living cheek-by-jowl with often hostile Arab neighbors, under unsympathetic British occupation, on a harsh soil with no significant natural resources other than human capital in then Mandatory Palestine.

That the blue-and-white flag of an independent Israel could be planted on this land, to which the Jewish people had been intimately linked since the time of Abraham, just three years after the Second World War’s end—and with the support of a decisive majority of UN members at the time—truly boggles the mind.

And what’s more, that this tiny community of Jews, including survivors of the Holocaust who had somehow made their way to Mandatory Palestine despite the British blockade, could successfully defend themselves against the onslaught of five Arab standing armies that launched their attack on Israel’s first day of existence, is almost beyond imagination.

To understand the essence of Israel’s meaning, it is enough to ask how the history of the Jewish people might have been different had there been a Jewish state in 1933, in 1938, or even in 1941. If Israel had controlled its borders and the right of entry instead of Britain, if Israel had had embassies and consulates throughout Europe, how many more Jews might have escaped and found sanctuary?

Instead, Jews had to rely on the goodwill of embassies and consulates of other countries and, with woefully few exceptions, they found there neither the “good” nor the “will” to assist.

I witnessed firsthand what Israeli embassies and consulates meant to Jews drawn by the pull of Zion or the push of hatred. I stood in the courtyard of the Israeli embassy in Moscow and saw thousands of Jews seeking a quick exit from a Soviet Union in the throes of cataclysmic change, fearful that the change might be in the direction of renewed chauvinism and anti-Semitism.

Awestruck, I watched up-close as Israel never faltered, not even for a moment, in transporting Soviet Jews to the Jewish homeland, even as Scud missiles launched from Iraq traumatized the nation in 1991. It says a lot about the conditions they were leaving behind that these Jews continued to board planes for Tel Aviv while missiles were exploding in Israeli population centers. In fact, on two occasions I sat in sealed rooms with Soviet Jewish families who had just arrived in Israel during these missile attacks. Not once did any of them question their decision to establish new lives in the Jewish state. And equally, it says a lot about Israel that, amid all the pressing security concerns, it managed to continue to welcome these new immigrants without missing a beat.

And how can I ever forget the surge of pride—Jewish  pride—that  completely enveloped me in July 1976 on hearing the astonishing news of Israel’s daring rescue of the 106 Jewish hostages held by Arab and German terrorists in Entebbe, Uganda, over 2,000 miles from Israel’s borders? The unmistakable message: Jews in danger will never again be alone, without hope, and totally dependent on others for their safety.

Not least, I can still remember, as if it were yesterday, my very first visit to Israel. It was in 1970, and I was not quite 21 years old.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I recall being quite emotional from the moment I boarded the El Al plane to the very first glimpse of the Israeli coastline from the plane’s window. As I disembarked, I surprised myself by wanting to kiss the ground. In the ensuing weeks, I marveled at everything I saw. To me, it was as if every apartment building, factory, school, orange grove, and Egged bus was nothing less than a miracle. A state, a Jewish state, was unfolding before my very eyes.

After centuries of persecutions, pogroms, exiles, ghettos, pales of settlement, inquisitions, blood libels, forced conversions, discriminatory legislation, and immigration restrictions—and, no less, after centuries of prayers, dreams, and yearning—the Jews had come back home and were  the masters of their own fate.

I was overwhelmed by the mix of people, backgrounds, languages, and lifestyles, and by the intensity of life itself. Everyone, it seemed, had a compelling story to tell. There were Holocaust survivors with harrowing tales of their years in the camps. There were Jews from Arab countries, whose stories of persecution in such countries as Iraq, Libya, and Syria were little known at the time. There were the first Jews arriving from the USSR seeking repatriation in the Jewish homeland. There were the sabras—native-born Israelis—many of whose families had lived in Palestine for generations. There were local Arabs, both Christian and Muslim. There were Druze, whose religious practices are kept secret from the outside world. The list goes on and on.

I was moved beyond words by the sight of Jerusalem and the fervor with which Jews of all backgrounds prayed at the Western Wall. Coming from a nation that was at the time deeply divided and demoralized, I found my Israeli peers to be unabashedly proud of their country, eager to serve in the military, and, in many cases, determined to volunteer for the most elite combat units. They felt personally involved in the enterprise of building a Jewish state, more than 1,800 years after the  Romans defeated the Bar Kochba revolt,  the last Jewish attempt at sovereignty on this very land.

To be sure, nation-building is an infinitely complex process. In Israel’s case,  it began against a backdrop of tensions with a local Arab population that laid claim to the very same land, and tragically refused a UN proposal to divide the land into Arab and Jewish states; as the Arab world sought to isolate, demoralize, and ultimately destroy the state; as Israel’s population doubled in the first three years of the country’s existence, putting an unimaginable strain on severely limited resources; as the nation was forced to devote a vast portion of its limited national budget to defense expenditures; and as the country coped with forging a national identity and social consensus among a population that could not have been more geographically, linguistically, socially, and culturally heterogeneous.

Moreover, there is the tricky and underappreciated issue of the potential clash between the messy realities of statehood and, in this case, the ideals and faith of a people. It is one thing for a people to live their religion as a minority; it is quite another to exercise sovereignty as the majority population while remaining true to one’s ethical standards. Inevitably, tension will arise between a people’s spiritual or moral self-definition and the exigencies of statecraft, between our highest concepts of human nature and the daily realities of individuals in decision-making positions wielding power and balancing a variety of competing interests.

Even so, shall we raise the bar so high as to ensure that Israel—forced to function in the often gritty, morally ambiguous world of international relations and politics, especially as a small, still endangered state—will always fall short?

Yet, the notion that Israel would ever become ethically indistinguishable from any other country, reflexively seeking cover behind the convenient justification of realpolitik to explain its behavior, is equally unacceptable.

Israelis, with only 65 years of statehood under their belts, are among the newer practitioners of statecraft. With all its remarkable success, consider the daunting political, social, and economic challenges in the United States 65 or even 165 years after independence, or, for that matter, the challenges it faces today, including stubborn social inequalities. And let’s not forget that the United States, unlike Israel, is a vast country blessed with abundant natural resources, oceans on two-and-a half sides, a gentle neighbor to the north, and a weaker neighbor to the south.

Like any vibrant democracy, America is a permanent work in progress. The same holds true for Israel. Loving Israel as I do, though, doesn’t mean overlooking its shortcomings, including the excessive and unholy intrusion of religion into politics, the marginalization of non-Orthodox Jewish religious streams, the dangers posed by political and religious zealots, and the unfinished, if undeniably complex, task of integrating Israeli Arabs into the mainstream.

But it also doesn’t mean allowing such issues to overshadow Israel’s remarkable achievements, accomplished, as I’ve said, under the most difficult of circumstances.

In just 65 years, Israel has built a thriving democracy, unique in the region, including a Supreme Court prepared, when it deems appropriate, to overrule the prime minister or the military establishment, a feisty parliament that includes every imaginable viewpoint along the political spectrum, a robust civil society, and a vigorous press.

It has built an economy whose per capita GNP exceeds the combined total of its four contiguous sovereign neighbors—Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

It has built universities and research centers that have contributed to advancing the world’s frontiers of knowledge in countless ways, and won a slew of Nobel Prizes in the process.

It has built one of the world’s most powerful militaries—always under civilian control, I might add—to ensure its survival in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood. It has shown the world how a tiny nation, no larger than New Jersey or Wales, can, by sheer ingenuity, will, courage, and commitment, defend itself against those who would destroy it through conventional armies or armies of suicide bombers. And it has done all this while striving to adhere to a strict code of military conduct that has few rivals in the democratic world, much less elsewhere—in the face of an enemy prepared to send children to the front lines and seek cover in mosques, schools, and hospitals.

It has built a quality of life that ranks it among the world’s healthiest nations and with a particularly high life expectancy, indeed higher than that of the U.S.

It has built a thriving culture, whose musicians, writers, and artists are admired far beyond Israel’s borders. In doing so, it has lovingly taken an ancient language, Hebrew, the language of the prophets, and rendered it modern to accommodate the vocabulary of the contemporary world.

It has built a climate of respect for other faith groups, including Baha’i, Christianity and Islam, and their places of worship. Can any other nation in the area make the same claim?

It has built an agricultural sector that has had much to teach developing nations about turning an arid soil into fields of fruits, vegetables, cotton, and flowers.

Step back from the twists and turns of the daily information overload coming from the Middle East and consider the sweep of the last 65 years. Look at the light-years traveled since the darkness of the Holocaust, and marvel at the miracle of a decimated people returning to a tiny sliver of land—the land of our ancestors, the land of Zion and Jerusalem—and successfully building a modern, vibrant state against all the odds, on that ancient foundation.

In the final analysis, then, the story of Israel is the wondrous realization of a 3,500-year link among a land, a faith, a language, a people, and a vision. It is an unparalleled story of tenacity and determination, of courage and renewal.

And it is ultimately a metaphor for the triumph of enduring hope over the temptation of despair.


American Jewish Committee begrüßt Stellenwert Israels im Koalitionsvertrag: „Sicherheit Israels für uns nicht verhandelbar“.

December 2, 2013

Pressemitteilung

Berlin, den 02.12.2013

Das American Jewish Committee (AJC) begrüßt das deutliche Bekenntnis zu Deutschlands Verantwortung für die Sicherheit Israels im Koalitionsvertrag und wertet die Aussagen als wichtiges Fundament für den Ausbau der deutsch-israelischen Beziehungen. Zugleich mahnt das AJC vor dem Hintergrund der jüngsten EU-Antisemitismusstudie die zügige Umsetzung des Bundestags-Maßnahmenbeschlusses an.

„Dass in diesem Koalitionsvertrag noch stärker als in der vergangenen Vereinbarung von 2009 die besondere Verpflichtung Deutschlands für den Schutz der Sicherheit Israels betont wird, zeigt den besonderen Stellenwert der deutsch-israelischen Beziehungen auf. Wir begrüßen zudem, dass die Feierlichkeiten zum 50-jährigen Jubiläum der Aufnahme diplomatischer Beziehungen zwischen Deutschland und Israel für das Jahr 2015 im Koalitionsvertrag hervorgehoben werden und das deutsch-israelische Verhältnis dadurch eine besondere Würdigung erhält“, so Deidre Berger, Direktorin des AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations.

Im Koalitionsvertrag heißt es: „Wir bekennen uns zu der besonderen Verantwortung Deutschlands gegenüber Israel als jüdischem und demokratischem Staat und dessen Sicherheit. Das Existenzrecht und die Sicherheit Israels sind für uns nicht verhandelbar. 2015 feiern wir das 50-jährige Jubiläum der Aufnahme diplomatischer Beziehungen zum Staat Israel. Dieses Jubiläum wird die Bundesregierung angemessen würdigen.“

Auch die transatlantischen Beziehungen werden im Vertrag besonders betont.

„Ein wichtiges Signal angesichts der jüngsten Spionage-Diskussionen“, sagte Berger weiter.

Beim Thema Antisemitismus und Rechtsextremismus wollen CDU/CSU und SPD zivilgesellschaftliche Initiativen und Programme verstetigen. Weitergehende Umsetzungsstrategien zum Thema Antisemitismus finden sich im Koalitionsvertrag jedoch nicht. Erst am 13. Juni beschloss der Deutsche Bundestag einen fraktionsübergreifenden Antrag zum Thema Antisemitismus. Die Resolution forderte die Bundesregierung dazu auf, den Maßnahmen-Katalog zur Bekämpfung des Antisemitismus umzusetzen.

„Die Ergebnisse der jüngsten EU-Studie, wonach mehr als 63% der deutschen Juden angaben, das Tragen jüdischer Symbole aus Angst vor Antisemitismus zu vermeiden, erhöhen den Handlungsdruck. Es braucht nun einen Umsetzungsplan der beschlossenen Maßnahmen, auch damit die Bekämpfung des Antisemitismus verbindlicher und kontinuierlicher erfolgen kann“, sagte Berger weiter.

Der Bundestags-Beschluss vom 13. Juni sieht unter anderem Förderprogramme zum deutsch-israelischen Austausch, Maßnahmen zur Unterstützung von Holocaust-Überlebenden durch deutsche Jugendliche und eine bessere Darstellung jüdischen Lebens im deutschen Schulunterricht vor.

Zum Thema Ghettorente vereinbarten CDU/CSU und SPD, dass „den berechtigten Interessen der Holocaust-Überlebenden nach einer angemessenen Entschädigung für die in einem Ghetto geleistete Arbeit Rechnung getragen wird“.

„Es ist wichtig, dass die zukünftigen Koalitionsparteien endlich eine Lösung beim Thema Ghettorenten erzielen wollen. Nun kommt es darauf an, dass CDU/CSU und SPD in den nächsten drei Monaten einen Umsetzungsplan für das Thema Ghettorenten vorlegen. Die noch wenigen Überlebenden können nicht noch länger warten, um verspätete Entschädigungszahlungen zu bekommen“, so Berger abschließend.

Pressekontakt

Deidre Berger, Director

Email: berlin@ajc.org

American Jewish Committee (AJC) Berlin Office

Leipziger Platz 15, Mosse Palais

10117 Berlin

Tel.: +49 (0)30 22 65 94-0

Fax: +49 (0)30 22 65 94-14


Anti-Semitism, A Warning Sign for Europe

November 29, 2013

An op-ed by David Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
El Pais, November 29, 2013

davidharris

The European Union has had its share of daunting challenges.

From sluggish growth to punishing austerity, from high levels of unemployment to fears of brain drain, and from volatile political environments to relentless migration, there are more than enough issues to keep EU and national leaders focused 24/7. And while some countries are more at risk than others, the ties that bind the 28 member states mean that no one is entirely immune from the gusty winds and storm clouds.

Now, there is another issue to add to the list. Earlier this month, the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) issued a comprehensive study on the experiences of Jews in eight of the 28 nations – Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom—whose Jews comprise 90% of the EU’s total Jewish population. Nearly 6,000 respondents took part.

Confirming the findings of earlier surveys done by outside groups and local Jewish communities, it raises serious concern. That concern should not be limited to Jews, since when Europe’s Jews feel at risk, the EU as a whole is endangered in two ways.

First, the EU’s laudable commitment to protecting the human dignity of each of its citizens is jeopardized.

And second, the history of anti-Semitism demonstrates that, ultimately, those who target Jews usually have democracy itself, including the rights of minority groups, in their crosshairs. In other words, bigotry may begin with Jews, but it rarely ends with them.

Here are some of the disturbing findings from the just-published FRA report:

Two-thirds of Jewish respondents consider anti-Semitism to be a problem today in their countries.

Three-fourths believe the problem has gotten worse in the past five years.

One-third fears a physical attack against themselves, as Jews, within the next 12 months.

More than one-half claim they personally witnessed an incident where the Holocaust was denied, trivialized, or exaggerated.

Twenty-three percent say they at least occasionally avoid attending Jewish events or visiting Jewish sites because of safety concerns.

And more than 40 percent of those surveyed in Belgium, France, and Hungary indicate they have considered emigrating because of the situation.

Equally troubling, to quote the study, is the following result: “A majority of the victims of anti-Semitic harassment (76%), physical violence or threats (64%), or vandalism of personal property (53%) did not report the most serious incident, namely the one that most affected the respondent, in the past five years to the police or to any other organization.”

In other words, if the majority of victims of anti-Semitic incidents are not even reporting them to the authorities, then they do not have confidence in the system, fear retribution from the perpetrators, are unaware of where to go for help, or have somehow come to accept the bigoted behavior as part of the “price” of being Jewish.

Whatever the explanation, it is unacceptable. Going forward, EU governments should strive mightily to ensure not only a dramatic decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, but also that those that do occur are reported to the proper authorities. Citizens of a democratic society should never have to feel helpless or abandoned.

And it should make no difference if the anti-Semitic act comes from extreme-right, extreme-left, radical Islamic, or other sources. Targeting an individual because of his or her specific group identity – in this case, as a Jew – is a potential hate crime, and should be treated as such.

AJC has devoted many years to developing response strategies to bias incidents, whether against Jews, Christians, Muslims, homosexuals, Africans, or others, and certain things are clear.

First, attitudes of tolerance or intolerance, respect or lack of respect, are formed primarily at home and at a young age.

Second, political leadership counts. Either governments act against bigotry, both symbolically and substantively, or, too often, they end up countenancing or rationalizing it. Neutrality is not an option.

Third, education, if utilized properly, can help teach respect and appreciation for difference. Otherwise, it is a lost opportunity.

Fourth, religious leaders can promote interfaith dialogue and friendship or, conversely, religious obscurantism and triumphalism. Which will it be?

And finally, the police and judiciary must understand the specific nature of hate crimes, collect proper data, and treat cases with the seriousness they merit.

The EU’s FRA report is a wake-up call. Sleeping through it, or pretending not to hear it, is not an option.


Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address 2011

January 26, 2011

In his State of the Union address on January 25, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama mentioned a plan for investment in crucial areas like education, high-speed rail, and green technology, as well as reforming the tax code to help the United States meet the challenge of globalization amid relentless competition from rising economies such as China and India.

A Member of Congress reads along as President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 25, 2011. (Photo by Pete Souza)
A Member of Congress reads along as President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber, January 25, 2011. (Photo by Pete Souza)

“We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” he said in his speech (see full transcript below). At the same time, Obama, who is facing massive deficits, did not call for new programs. Instead, he promised a five-year budget freeze on non-defense discretionary spending, which he said had the prospective to reduce the deficit by $400 billion over ten years.

When Obama did address U.S. foreign policy, he mainly focused on his latest successes – such as ratifying the new START arms control treaty with Russia and the trade agreement with South Korea, and concealed critical issues like drug violence in Mexico, instability in Pakistan, and climate change.

In an op-ed in The New York Times Chief Washington Correspondent David E. Sanger argues that one of President Barack Obama’s “subtexts on Tuesday night was that doing big things these days may require a bit more humility, a lot more work, and some international partners that Americans rarely thought about twenty years ago but whose competition they have now grown to fear.”

Read full story.

Nota bene: for full coverage of the Union Address 2011 and more insight, check out also The Wall Street Journal.

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Remarks by the President in State of Union Address
United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.

January 25, 2011 – 9:12 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner. (Applause.) And as we mark this occasion, we’re also mindful of the empty chair in this chamber, and we pray for the health of our colleague — and our friend -– Gabby Giffords. (Applause.)

It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs.  And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.

But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -– something more consequential than party or political preference.

We are part of the American family.  We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.  (Applause.)

Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation.  What comes of this moment is up to us.  What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.  (Applause.)

I believe we can.  And I believe we must.  That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they’ve determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties.  New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans.  We will move forward together, or not at all -– for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.

At stake right now is not who wins the next election -– after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else.  It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded.  It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but the light to the world.

We are poised for progress.  Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back.  Corporate profits are up.  The economy is growing again.

But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone.  We measure progress by the success of our people.  By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer.  By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.

That’s the project the American people want us to work on.Together. (Applause.)

We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today.  Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year. And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.

But we have to do more. These steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession, but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.

 Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors.  If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.

That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets. I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear -– proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.

They’re right. The rules have changed.  In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an Internet connection.

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

So, yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real.  But this shouldn’t discourage us.  It should challenge us. Remember -– for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world.  (Applause.) No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea?  What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still.  As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.”  Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

And now it’s our turn.  We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time.  We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.  (Applause.)  We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.  We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government.  That’s how our people will prosper.  That’s how we’ll win the future.  (Applause.)  And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.

The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.  None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from.  Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution.  What we can do — what America does better than anyone else — is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.  We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook.  In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives.  It is how we make our living.  (Applause.)

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation.  But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need.  That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet.  That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.  Just think of all the good jobs — from manufacturing to retail — that have come from these breakthroughs.

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon.  The science wasn’t even there yet.  NASA didn’t exist.  But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.  Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.  And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.  We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Already, we’re seeing the promise of renewable energy.  Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company.  After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon.  But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard.  Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country.  In Robert’s words, “We reinvented ourselves.”

That’s what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves.  And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money.  We’re issuing a challenge.  We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.

At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars.  At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities.  With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.  (Applause.)

We need to get behind this innovation.  And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.  (Applause.)  I don’t know if — I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own.  (Laughter.)  So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.  So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal:  By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.  (Applause.)

Some folks want wind and solar.  Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas.  To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.  (Applause.)

 Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success.  But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it.  Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.  And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school.  The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.  And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities.  It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child.  Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.  We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.  (Applause.)  We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility.  When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance.  But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top.  To all 50 states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.  For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.  And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country.  And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.  (Applause.)

You see, we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.  Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver.  Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado — located on turf between two rival gangs.  But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma.  Most will be the first in their families to go to college.  And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, “Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it.”  (Applause.)  That’s what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom.  In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.”  Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.  (Applause.)  We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.  (Applause.)  And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.  (Applause.)

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice:  If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher.  Your country needs you.  (Applause.)

Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma.  To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students.  (Applause.)  And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college.  It’s the right thing to do.  (Applause.)

Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we’re also revitalizing America’s community colleges.  Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina.  Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town.  One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old.  And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams, too.  As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up.”

If we take these steps -– if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take –- we will reach the goal that I set two years ago:  By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  (Applause.)

One last point about education.  Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens.  Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.  Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities.  But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us.  It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration.  And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.  (Applause.)  I know that debate will be difficult.  I know it will take time.  But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort.  And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.  (Applause.)

The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America.  To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information — from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet.  (Applause.)

Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped.  South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do.  Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do.  China is building faster trains and newer airports.  Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”

We have to do better.  America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System.  The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement.  They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.

So over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry.  And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts.  (Applause.)

We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.  We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.  (Applause.)  This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car.  For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down.  (Laughter and applause.)  As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans.  This isn’t just about — (applause) — this isn’t about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls.  It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age.  It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world.  It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.

All these investments -– in innovation, education, and infrastructure –- will make America a better place to do business and create jobs.  But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.

For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries.  Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all.  But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world.  It makes no sense, and it has to change.  (Applause.)

So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system.  Get rid of the loopholes.  Level the playing field.  And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit.  It can be done.  (Applause.)

To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 -– because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home.  Already, our exports are up.  Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs here in the United States.  And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs.  This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans — and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.  (Applause.)

Now, before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs.  That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks.  (Applause.)

To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations.  When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.  (Applause.)  But I will not hesitate to create or enforce common-sense safeguards to protect the American people.  (Applause.)  That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century.  It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe.  It’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws.  It’s why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies and new rules to prevent another financial crisis.  (Applause.)  And it’s why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients.  (Applause.)

Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law.  (Laughter.)  So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved.  If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you.  We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.  (Applause.)

What I’m not willing to do — what I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition.  (Applause.)

I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered.  I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business man from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees.  As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their patients’ — parents’ coverage.  (Applause.)

So I say to this chamber tonight, instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward.  (Applause.)

Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.

We are living with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago.  And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets.

But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in.  That is not sustainable.  Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means.  They deserve a government that does the same.

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years.  (Applause.)  Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

This freeze will require painful cuts.  Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years.  I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs.  The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.  (Applause.)

I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without.  But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.  (Applause.)  And let’s make sure that what we’re cutting is really excess weight.  Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.  It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact.  (Laughter.)

Now, most of the cuts and savings I’ve proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12 percent of our budget.  To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough.  It won’t.  (Applause.)

The bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year made this crystal clear.  I don’t agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress.  And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it –- in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.  (Applause.)

This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit.  The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit.  Still, I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year — medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.  (Applause.)

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.  (Applause.)  We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.  (Applause.)

And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  (Applause.)  Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.  It’s not a matter of punishing their success.  It’s about promoting America’s success.  (Applause.)

In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code.  (Applause.)  This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed an interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them.  (Applause.)

So now is the time to act.  Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress –- Democrats and Republicans -– to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done.  If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.

Let me take this one step further.  We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable.  We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient.  We can’t win the future with a government of the past.  (Applause.)

We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV.  There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports.  There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy.  Then there’s my favorite example:  The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater.  (Laughter.)  I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.  (Laughter and applause.)

Now, we’ve made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste.  Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse.  We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we’ll cut through red tape to get rid of more.  But we need to think bigger.  In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.  I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote –- and we will push to get it passed.  (Applause.)

In the coming year, we’ll also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government.  Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you’ll be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history.  Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done — put that information online.  And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this:  If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.  I will veto it.  (Applause.)

The 21st century government that’s open and competent.  A government that lives within its means.  An economy that’s driven by new skills and new ideas.  Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation.  It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.

Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges.  No single wall separates East and West.  No one rival superpower is aligned against us.

And so we must defeat determined enemies, wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion.  And America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity.  And because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high.  (Applause.)  American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new government has been formed.  This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq.  America’s commitment has been kept.  The Iraq war is coming to an end.  (Applause.)

Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us.  Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we’re disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies.  And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.  (Applause.) 

We’ve also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad.  In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces.  Our purpose is clear:  By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency.  There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance.  But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them.  This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead.  And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.  (Applause.)

In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001.  Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield.  Their safe havens are shrinking.  And we’ve sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe:  We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.  (Applause.)

American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war.  Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed.  Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists.  (Applause.)

Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.  And on the Korean Peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.  (Applause.)

This is just a part of how we’re shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity.  With our European allies, we revitalized NATO and increased our cooperation on everything from counterterrorism to missile defense.  We’ve reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, built new partnerships with nations like India.

This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances across the Americas.  Around the globe, we’re standing with those who take responsibility -– helping farmers grow more food, supporting doctors who care for the sick, and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power -– it must also be the purpose behind it.  In south Sudan -– with our assistance -– the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war.  (Applause.)  Thousands lined up before dawn.  People danced in the streets.  One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him:  “This was a battlefield for most of my life,” he said.  “Now we want to be free.”  (Applause.)

And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator.  And tonight, let us be clear:  The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.  (Applause.)

We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere.  And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.  (Applause.)

Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families.  Let us serve them as well as they’ve served us — by giving them the equipment they need, by providing them with the care and benefits that they have earned, and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country -– they’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American.  They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim.  And, yes, we know that some of them are gay.  Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.  (Applause.)  And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC.  It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past.  It is time to move forward as one nation.  (Applause.)

We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit –- none of this will be easy.  All of it will take time.  And it will be harder because we will argue about everything.  The costs.  The details.  The letter of every law.

Of course, some countries don’t have this problem.  If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed.  If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.

And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution.  We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try.  We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible.  No matter who you are.  No matter where you come from.

That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight.  That dream is why a working-class kid from Scranton can sit behind me.  (Laughter and applause.)  That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

That dream -– that American Dream -– is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era.  It’s what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future.  And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher.

Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania, that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology.  And one day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.

But Brandon thought his company could help.  And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B.  His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment.  And Brandon left for Chile.

Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000-foot hole into the ground, working three- or four-hour — three or four days at a time without any sleep.  Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued.  (Applause.)  But because he didn’t want all of the attention, Brandon wasn’t there when the miners emerged.  He’d already gone back home, back to work on his next project.

And later, one of his employees said of the rescue, “We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things.”  (Applause.)

We do big things.

From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.  That’s how we win the future.

We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.”  “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.”  “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.”  “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there.  I know we will.”

We do big things.  (Applause.)

The idea of America endures.  Our destiny remains our choice.  And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.

Thank you.  God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END           10:13 P.M. EST


“How Can You Defend Israel?” Part II

January 2, 2011

An op-ed by David A. Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
The Jerusalem Post, Januar 2, 2011

Since writing “How can you defend Israel?” last month, I’ve been deluged by comments. Some have been supportive, others harshly critical. The latter warrant closer examination.

The harsh criticism falls into two basic categories.

One is over the top.

It ranges from denying Israel’s very right to nationhood, to ascribing to Israel responsibility for every global malady, to peddling vague, or not so vague, anti-Semitic tropes.

There’s no point in dwelling at length on card-carrying members of these schools of thought. They’re living on another planet.

Israel is a fact. That fact has been confirmed by the UN, which, in 1947, recommended the creation of a Jewish state. The UN admitted Israel to membership in 1949. The combination of ancient and modern links between Israel and the Jewish people is almost unprecedented in history. And Israel has contributed its share, and then some, to advancing humankind.

If there are those on a legitimacy kick, let them examine the credentials of some others in the region, created by Western mapmakers eager to protect their own interests and ensure friendly leaders in power.

Or let them consider the basis for legitimacy of many countries worldwide created by invasion, occupation, and conquest. Israel’s case beats them by a mile.

And if there are people out there who don’t like all Jews, frankly, it’s their problem, not mine. Are there Jewish scoundrels? You bet. Are there Christian, Muslim, atheist, and agnostic scoundrels? No shortage. But are all members of any such community by definition scoundrels? Only if you’re an out-and-out bigot.

The other group of harsh critics assails Israeli policies, but generally tries to stop short of overt anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism. But many of these relentless critics, at the slightest opportunity, robotically repeat claims about Israel that are not factually correct.

There are a couple of methodological threads that run through their analysis.

The first is called confirmation bias. This is the habit of favoring information that confirms what you believe, whether it’s true or not, and ignoring the rest.

While Israel engages in a full-throttled debate on policies and strategies, rights and wrongs, do Israel’s fiercest critics do the same? Hardly.

Can the chorus of critics admit, for example, that the UN recommended the creation of two states – one Jewish, the other Arab – and that the Jews accepted the proposal, while the Arabs did not and launched a war?

Can they acknowledge that wars inevitably create refugee populations and lead to border adjustments in favor of the (attacked) victors?

Can they recognize that, when the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands until 1967, there was no move whatsoever toward Palestinian statehood?

Can they explain why Arafat launched a “second intifada” just as Israel and the U.S. were proposing a path-breaking two-state solution?

Or what the Hamas Charter says about the group’s goals?

Or what armed-to-the-teeth Hezbollah thinks of Israel’s right to exist?

Or how nuclear-weapons-aspiring Iran views Israel’s future?

Or why President Abbas rejected Prime Minister Olmert’s two-state plan, when the Palestinian chief negotiator himself admitted it would have given his side the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank?

Or why Palestinian leaders refuse to recognize the Western Wall or Rachel’s Tomb as Jewish sites, while demanding recognition of Muslim holy sites?

Or why Israel is expected to have an Arab minority, but a state of Palestine is not expected to have any Jewish minority?

Can they admit that, when Arab leaders are prepared to pursue peace with Israel rather than wage war, the results have been treaties, as the experiences of Egypt and Jordan show?

And can they own up to the fact that when it comes to liberal and democratic values in the region, no country comes remotely close to Israel, whatever its flaws, in protecting these rights?

Apropos, how many other countries in the Middle East – or beyond – would have tried and convicted an ex-president? This was the case, just last week, with Moshe Katsav, sending the message that no one is above the law – in a process, it should be noted, presided over by an Israeli Arab justice.

And if the harsh critics can’t acknowledge any of these points, what’s the explanation? Does their antipathy for Israel – and resultant confirmation bias – blind them to anything that might puncture their airtight thinking?

Then there is the other malady. It’s called reverse causality, or switching cause and effect.

Take the case of Gaza.

These critics focus only on Israel’s alleged actions against Gaza, as if they were the cause of the problem. In reality, they are the opposite – the effect.

When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it gave local residents their first chance in history – I repeat, in history – to govern themselves.

Neighboring Israel had only one concern – security. It wanted to ensure that whatever emerged in Gaza would not endanger Israelis. In fact, the more prosperous, stable, and peaceful Gaza became, the better for everyone. Tragically, Israel’s worst fears were realized. Rather than focus on Gaza’s construction, its leaders – Hamas since 2007 – preferred to contemplate Israel’s destruction. Missiles and mortars came raining down on southern Israel. Israel’s critics, though, were silent. Only when Israel could no longer tolerate the terror did the critics awaken – to focus on Israel’s reaction, not Gaza’s provocative action.

Yet, what would any other nation have done in Israel’s position?

Just imagine terrorists in power in British Columbia – and Washington State’s cities and towns being the regular targets of deadly projectiles. How long would it take for the U.S. to go in and try to put a stop to the terror attacks, and what kind of force would be used?

Or consider the security barrier.

It didn’t exist for nearly 40 years. Then it was built by Israel in response to a wave of deadly attacks originating in the West Bank, with well over 1000 Israeli fatalities (more than 40,000 Americans in proportional terms). Even so, Israel made clear that such barriers cannot only be erected, but also moved and ultimately dismantled.

Yet the outcry of Israel’s critics began not when Israelis were being killed in pizzerias, at Passover Seders, and on buses, but only when the barrier went up.

Another case of reverse causality – ignoring the cause entirely and focusing only on the effect, as if it were a stand-alone issue disconnected from anything else.

So, again, in answer to the question of my erstwhile British colleague, “How can you defend Israel?” I respond: Proudly.

In doing so, I am defending a liberal, democratic, and peace-seeking nation in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood, where liberalism, democracy, and peace are in woefully short supply.

Reprinted with kind permission of The Jerusalem Post.


“How can you defend Israel?”

December 27, 2010

An op-ed by David A. Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
The Jerusalem Post, December 27, 2010

I was sitting in a lecture hall at a British university. Bored by the speaker, I began glancing around the hall. I noticed someone who looked quite familiar from an earlier academic incarnation. When the session ended, I introduced myself and wondered if, after years that could be counted in decades, he remembered me.

He said he did, at which point I commented that the years had been good to him. His response: “But you’ve changed a lot.”

“How so?” I asked with a degree of trepidation, knowing that, self-deception aside, being 60 isn’t quite the same as 30.

Looking me straight in the eye, he proclaimed, as others standing nearby listened in, “I read the things you write about Israel. I hate them. How can you defend that country? What happened to the good liberal boy I knew 30 years ago?”

I replied: “That good liberal boy hasn’t changed his view. Israel is a liberal cause, and I am proud to speak up for it.”

Yes, I’m proud to speak up for Israel. A recent trip once again reminded me why.

Sometimes, it’s the seemingly small things, the things that many may not even notice, or just take for granted, or perhaps deliberately ignore, lest it spoil their airtight thinking.

It’s the driving lesson in Jerusalem, with the student behind the wheel a devout Muslim woman, and the teacher an Israeli with a skullcap. To judge from media reports about endless inter-communal conflict, such a scene should be impossible. Yet, it was so mundane that no one, it seemed, other than me gave it a passing glance. It goes without saying that the same woman would not have had the luxury of driving lessons, much less with an Orthodox Jewish teacher, had she been living in Saudi Arabia.

It’s the two gay men walking hand-in-hand along the Tel Aviv beachfront. No one looked at them, and no one questioned their right to display their affection. Try repeating the same scene in some neighboring countries.

It’s the Friday crowd at a mosque in Jaffa. Muslims are free to enter as they please, to pray, to affirm their faith. The scene is repeated throughout Israel. Meanwhile, Christians in Iraq are targeted for death; Copts in Egypt face daily marginalization; Saudi Arabia bans any public display of Christianity; and Jews have been largely driven out of the Arab Middle East.

It’s the central bus station in Tel Aviv. There’s a free health clinic set up for the thousands of Africans who have entered Israel, some legally, others illegally. They are from Sudan, Eritrea, and elsewhere. They are Christians, Muslims, and animists. Clearly, they know something that Israel’s detractors, who rant and rave about alleged “racism,” don’t. They know that, if they’re lucky, they can make a new start in Israel. That’s why they bypass Arab countries along the way, fearing imprisonment or persecution. And while tiny Israel wonders how many such refugees it can absorb, Israeli medical professionals volunteer their time in the clinic.

It’s Save a Child’s Heart, another Israeli institution that doesn’t make it into the international media all that much, although it deserves a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Here, children in need of advanced cardiac care come, often below the radar. They arrive from Iraq, the West Bank, Gaza, and other Arab places. They receive world-class treatment. It’s free, offered by doctors and nurses who wish to assert their commitment to coexistence. Yet, these very same individuals know that, in many cases, their work will go unacknowledged. The families are fearful of admitting they sought help in Israel, even as, thanks to Israelis, their children have been given a new lease on life.

It’s the vibrancy of the Israeli debate on just about everything, including, centrally, the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. The story goes that U.S. President Harry Truman met Israeli President Chaim Weizmann shortly after Israel’s establishment in 1948. They got into a discussion about who had the tougher job. Truman said: “With respect, I’m president of 140 million people.” Weizmann retorted: “True, but I’m president of one million presidents.”

Whether it’s the political parties, the Knesset, the media, civil society, or the street, Israelis are assertive, self-critical, and reflective of a wide range of viewpoints.

It’s the Israelis who are now planning the restoration of the Carmel Forest, after a deadly fire killed 44 people and destroyed 8,000 acres of exquisite nature. Israelis took an arid and barren land and, despite the unimaginably harsh conditions, lovingly planted one tree after another, so that Israel can justifiably claim today that it’s one of the few countries with more wooded land than it had a century ago.

It’s the Israelis who, with quiet resolve and courage, are determined to defend their small sliver of land against every conceivable threat – the growing Hamas arsenal in Gaza; the dangerous build-up of missiles by Hezbollah in Lebanon; nuclear-aspiring Iran’s calls for a world without Israel; Syria’s hospitality to Hamas leaders and transshipment of weapons to Hezbollah; and enemies that shamelessly use civilians as human shields. Or the global campaign to challenge Israel’s very legitimacy and right to self-defense; the bizarre anti-Zionist coalition between the radical left and Islamic extremists; the automatic numerical majority at the UN ready to endorse, at a moment’s notice, even the most far-fetched accusations against Israel; and those in the punditocracy unable – or unwilling – to grasp the immense strategic challenges facing Israel.

Yes, it’s those Israelis who, after burying 21 young people murdered by terrorists at a Tel Aviv discotheque, don the uniform of the Israeli armed forces to defend their country, and proclaim, in the next breath, that, “They won’t stop us from dancing, either.”

That’s the country I’m proud to stand up for. No, I’d never say Israel is perfect. It has its flaws and foibles. It’s made its share of mistakes. But, then again, so has every democratic, liberal and peace-seeking country I know, though few of them have faced existential challenges every day since their birth.

The perfect is the enemy of the good, it’s said. Israel is a good country. And seeing it up close, rather than through the filter of the BBC or the Guardian, never fails to remind me why.

Reprinted with kind permission of The Jerusalem Post.


In Memoriam: Richard Holbrooke (1941-2010)

December 15, 2010

“The controlled chaos is one way to get creativity. The intensity of it, the physical rush, the intimacy created the kind of dialogue that leads to synergy.” Richard Holbrooke

Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke (April 24, 1941 – December 13, 2010)

Richard Holbrooke (April 24, 1941 – December 13, 2010)

Richard Holbrooke was the most ubiquitous and brilliant diplomat of his generation, distinguished for his legendary toughness as a negotiator in Asia, Europe, and beyond. As a diplomat, writer, and investment banker, he has stood near the pinnacle of power, renewing the credibility of U.S. diplomacy.

To commemorate the passing of the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, chief architect of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, and Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, we reproduce some articles and stories related to this giant of U.S. foreign policy.

United States presidential election, 2008: The Next President

Former U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke discusses Russia, Georgia and Kosovo

Bosnian Crisis

U.S. President Obama appoints envoys to Middle East and South Asia

Afpak: Richard Holbrooke’ U.S. Strategy for South Asia


2011 American Jewish Committee Global Forum: Join World Leaders to Shape the Future

December 7, 2010

Dear Friend of Israel,

I want to personally invite you to celebrate the 105th anniversary of the American Jewish Committee at the inaugural Global Forum in Washington, DC, from April 27-29, 2011.

Over the span of just 48 hours, you will:

Hear from world leaders:

Join Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who has courageously changed Panama’s foreign policy course regarding Israel, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a rising German political superstar, and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov, one of Israel and the Jewish people’s most trusted European allies. We’ll have more to announce soon!

Debate the most pressing issues:

Last year, we brought you a terrific face-off between Roger Cohen and Bret Stephens on Iran policy. This year, come watch noted journalists Yossi Klein Halevi and Peter Beinart debate the future of the American Jewish establishment. Two authoritative voices, two very different visions.

Engage with leading thinkers:

Robert Kagan, prominent leading foreign policy analyst and author of the paradigm-shifting Of Paradise and Power, and The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg will discuss the implications of a changing world order.

Enjoy an intimate dinner with dignitaries:

AJC’s trademark program is back by popular demand!

Participate in skill-building workshops:

Learn how to become a more effective advocate from AJC’s leading experts.

Network:

With like-minded professionals, intellectuals, policy experts and Jewish leaders from around the world.

Are you a young professional? If so, consider joining the ACCESS 20/20 Weekend, April 29-30, following the Global Forum.

Register now.

I look forward to seeing you in Washington!

Robert Elman
American Jewish Committee (AJC) President


WikiLeaks Bullshit: Much Ado About Nothing, False Flag, Strategia della Tensione, or Sabotage Act against U.S. Foreign Policy?

November 29, 2010
WIKILEAKS REAL AGENDA

WIKILEAKS REAL AGENDA

A Satirical Op-Ed by Narcisse Caméléon, deputy editor-in-chief

***

On Bullshit: It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose. (Princeton University Professor Harry Frankfurt)

And if, to be sure, sometimes you need to conceal a fact with words, do it in such a way that it does not become known, or, if it does become known, that you have a ready and quick defense. (Niccolò Machiavelli)
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. (Edward L. Bernays)

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. (Edward L. Bernays)

WikiLeaks released yesterday a batch of about 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables, exposing confidential information about U.S. relationships with the rest of the world and U.S. assessments of foreign leaders.

The White House denounced the disclosures as “reckless and dangerous".

The White House denounced the disclosures as “reckless and dangerous".

In light of the revelations, apparently leaked by US Army soldier Bradley Manning, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information (check out statement below).

The cables – a sampling of the daily traffic between the State Department and some 270 embassies and consulates – specify that Iran has obtained nineteen BM-25 missiles from North Korea with a range adequate to reach western Europe, and they also document Arab leaders calls for a military strike on Iran.

The documents also divulge U.S. diplomats were ordered to engage in spying by obtaining foreign diplomats’ personal information, such as frequent-flier and credit card numbers. The documents could abash the Obama administration and destabilize its diplomacy. In cables drafted by U.S. diplomats, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is called “Emperor without clothes”, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is described as an “alpha-dog,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai is “driven by paranoia,” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel “avoids risk and is rarely creative.” It also allegedly said that Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi never travels without a trusted Ukraninan nurse, a ‘voluptuous blond’.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs expressed concern in a statement that Wikileaks release could jeopardize private talks with foreign governments and opposition leaders. The Pentagon announced yesterday it will take action to prevent future illegal releases of classified information.

In a opinion piece for the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, calls these revelations an act of sabotage. Really? Or: Better bad press than no press at all? Or Bullshit as usual…

Read full story.

***

Remarks to the Press on the Release of Confidential Documents

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
November 29, 2010
Hillary is very angry about the disclosures...

Hillary is very angry about the disclosures...


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, good afternoon. Do we have enough room in here? I want to take a moment to discuss the recent news reports of classified documents that were illegally provided from United States Government computers. In my conversations with counterparts from around the world over the past few days, and in my meeting earlier today with Foreign Minister Davutoglu of Turkey, I have had very productive discussions on this issue.

The United States strongly condemns the illegal disclosure of classified information. It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems. This Administration is advancing a robust foreign policy that is focused on advancing America’s national interests and leading the world in solving the most complex challenges of our time, from fixing the global economy, to thwarting international terrorism, to stopping the spread of catastrophic weapons, to advancing human rights and universal values. In every country and in every region of the world, we are working with partners to pursue these aims.

So let’s be clear: this disclosure is not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community – the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations, that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.

I am confident that the partnerships that the Obama Administration has worked so hard to build will withstand this challenge. The President and I have made these partnerships a priority – and we are proud of the progress that they have helped achieve – and they will remain at the center of our efforts.

I will not comment on or confirm what are alleged to be stolen State Department cables. But I can say that the United States deeply regrets the disclosure of any information that was intended to be confidential, including private discussions between counterparts or our diplomats’ personal assessments and observations. I want to make clear that our official foreign policy is not set through these messages, but here in Washington. Our policy is a matter of public record, as reflected in our statements and our actions around the world.

I would also add that to the American people and to our friends and partners, I want you to know that we are taking aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information. I have directed that specific actions be taken at the State Department, in addition to new security safeguards at the Department of Defense and elsewhere to protect State Department information so that this kind of breach cannot and does not ever happen again.

Relations between governments aren’t the only concern created by the publication of this material. U.S. diplomats meet with local human rights workers, journalists, religious leaders, and others outside of governments who offer their own candid insights. These conversations also depend on trust and confidence. For example, if an anti-corruption activist shares information about official misconduct, or a social worker passes along documentation of sexual violence, revealing that person’s identity could have serious repercussions: imprisonment, torture, even death.

So whatever are the motives in disseminating these documents, it is clear that releasing them poses real risks to real people, and often to the very people who have dedicated their own lives to protecting others.

Now, I am aware that some may mistakenly applaud those responsible, so I want to set the record straight: There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations on which our common security depends.

There have been examples in history in which official conduct has been made public in the name of exposing wrongdoings or misdeeds. This is not one of those cases. In contrast, what is being put on display in this cache of documents is the fact that American diplomats are doing the work we expect them to do. They are helping identify and prevent conflicts before they start. They are working hard every day to solve serious practical problems – to secure dangerous materials, to fight international crime, to assist human rights defenders, to restore our alliances, to ensure global economic stability. This is the role that America plays in the world. This is the role our diplomats play in serving America. And it should make every one of us proud.

The work of our diplomats doesn’t just benefit Americans, but also billions of others around the globe. In addition to endangering particular individuals, disclosures like these tear at the fabric of the proper function of responsible government.

People of good faith understand the need for sensitive diplomatic communications, both to protect the national interest and the global common interest. Every country, including the United States, must be able to have candid conversations about the people and nations with whom they deal. And every country, including the United States, must be able to have honest, private dialogue with other countries about issues of common concern. I know that diplomats around the world share this view – but this is not unique to diplomacy. In almost every profession – whether it’s law or journalism, finance or medicine or academia or running a small business – people rely on confidential communications to do their jobs. We count on the space of trust that confidentiality provides. When someone breaches that trust, we are all worse off for it. And so despite some of the rhetoric we’ve heard these past few days, confidential communications do not run counter to the public interest. They are fundamental to our ability to serve the public interest.

In America, we welcome genuine debates about pressing questions of public policy. We have elections about them. That is one of the greatest strengths of our democracy. It is part of who we are and it is a priority for this Administration. But stealing confidential documents and then releasing them without regard for the consequences does not serve the public good, and it is not the way to engage in a healthy debate.

In the past few days, I have spoken with many of my counterparts around the world, and we have all agreed that we will continue to focus on the issues and tasks at hand. In that spirit, President Obama and I remain committed to productive cooperation with our partners as we seek to build a better, more prosperous world for all.

Thank you, and I’d be glad to take a few questions.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll begin with Charlie Wolfson of CBS in his last week here covering the State Department.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Where are you going, Charlie?

QUESTION: I’ll (inaudible) into the sunset, but let me get to a question.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, sir. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, are you embarrassed by these leaks personally, professionally? And what harm have the leaks done to the U.S. so far that you can determine from talking to your colleagues?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Charlie, as I said in my statement, and based on the many conversations that I’ve had with my counterparts, I am confident that the partnerships and relationships that we have built in this Administration will withstand this challenge. The President and I have made these partnerships a priority, a real centerpiece of our foreign policy, and we’re proud of the progress that we have made over the last 22 months.

Every single day, U.S. Government representatives from the entire government, not just from the State Department, engage with hundreds if not thousands of government representatives and members of civil society from around the world. They carry out the goals and the interests and the values of the United States. And it is imperative that we have candid reporting from those who are in the field working with their counterparts in order to inform our decision-making back here in Washington.

I can tell you that in my conversations, at least one of my counterparts said to me, “Well, don’t worry about it. You should see what we say about you.” (Laughter.) So I think that this is well understood in the diplomatic community as part of the give-and-take. And I would hope that we will be able to move beyond this and back to the business of working together on behalf of our common goals.

MR. CROWLEY: Kim Ghattas of BBC.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Kim.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I was wondering whether you could tell us what you think your upcoming trip is going to look like. Presumably, a lot of the people who have been mentioned in those alleged cables are going to have conversations with you. Do you think it’s going to cause you discomfort over the coming week as you engage in conversations with those leaders?

And I know you don’t want to comment on the particulars of the cables, but one issue that has been brought up into the daylight is the debate about Iran. What do you think the impact is going to be of those documents on the debate about Iran in the coming weeks and months?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, you’re right. And I don’t know if you’re going on this trip or not, but we will be seeing dozens of my counterparts in Astana, and then as I go on from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and then ending up in Bahrain for the Manama dialogue. And I will continue the conversations that I have started with some in person and over the phone over the last days, and I will seek out others because I want personally to impress upon them the importance that I place on the kind of open, productive discussions that we have had to date and my intention to continue working closely with them.

Obviously, this is a matter of great concern, because we don’t want anyone in any of the countries that could be affected by these alleged leaks here to have any doubts about our intentions and our about commitments. That’s why I stressed in my remarks that policy is made in Washington. The President and I have been very clear about our goals and objectives in dealing with the full range of global challenges that we face. And we will continue to be so and we will continue to look for every opportunity to work with our friends and partners and allies around the world and to deal in a very clear-eyed way with those with whom we have differences, which of course brings me to Iran.

I think that it should not be a surprise to anyone that Iran is a source of great concern not only in the United States, that what comes through in every meeting that I have anywhere in the world is a concern about Iranian actions and intentions. So if anything, any of the comments that are being reported on allegedly from the cables confirm the fact that Iran poses a very serious threat in the eyes of many of her neighbors, and a serious concern far beyond her region.

That is why the international community came together to pass the strongest possible sanctions against Iran. It did not happen because the United States went out and said, “Please do this for us.” It happened because countries, once they evaluated the evidence concerning Iran’s actions and intentions, reached the same conclusion that the United States reached – that we must do whatever we can to muster the international community to take action to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.

So if anyone reading the stories about these alleged cables thinks carefully, what they will conclude is that the concern about Iran is well founded, widely shared, and will continue to be at the source of the policy that we pursue with likeminded nations to try to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ve got to let the Secretary get to her airplane and get to her trip. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I will leave you in P.J.’s very good hands. Thank you.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, did you talk to anyone in Pakistan or India?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam. (Inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: What we’ll do is we’ll take, say, a 30-minute filing break, and then we’ll reconvene in the Briefing Room and continue our discussion.


Why the U.S. Senate should ratify new nuclear treaty with Russia

November 17, 2010

The U.S. Senate’s chief Republican negotiator on the New START Treaty, Senator Jon Kyl, announced early this week he will block the vote in this session.

A White House fact sheet on the treaty can be read here. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton planned to meet with congressional leaders today to convince them to vote for the treaty’s passage.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates argue for New START’s passage in the following Washington Post op-ed.

“For decades, American inspectors have monitored Russian nuclear forces, putting into practice President Ronald Reagan’s favorite maxim, “Trust, but verify.” But since the old START Treaty expired last December, we have relied on trust alone. Until a new treaty comes into force, our inspectors will not have access to Russian missile silos and the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals will lack the stability that comes with a rigorous inspection regime.”

Read full story.


GET ENERGIZED! AIPAC Policy Conference 2011 – Working to strengthen relations between the United States of America and Israel

November 16, 2010

The 2011 AIPAC Policy Conference will take place May 22-24 in Washington DC. To register, please click here.


Endgame with Iran? / Endspiel mit Iran?

November 15, 2010

Der Tagesspiegel, one of Germany’s leading newspapers, asked our beloved friend David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, to write the following op-ed in German: Endspiel mit Iran? English translation is below.

Endgame with Iran?

by David Harris
November 15, 2010

Iran's Nuclear Facilities

Iran's Nuclear Facilities

Another round of talks of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany on the Iranian nuclear program is expected shortly. Or is it?

Iran’s contradictory statements make it difficult to predict. One moment, Iranian leaders indicate openness to renewed negotiations. Next, they assert there is nothing to talk about.

There is much to talk about. Iran is in violation of multiple Security Council resolutions regarding its nuclear program. The issue has nothing to do with Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy. It has to do with Iran’s aim to acquire nuclear-weapons capability, a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which it signed.

There are those who believe a nuclear-armed Iran is manageable. They assert that containment can work.

But can it? During the Cold War, Moscow and Washington understood the concept of mutual assured destruction. Though the world came close during the Cuban missile crisis, nuclear weapons were never used. Iran may be a different story. It is driven by a theology which believes in hastening the coming of the so-called Hidden Imam. If unleashing war would help, it cannot be ruled out.

Even if Iran had weapons it did not use, the world would be a more dangerous place.

First, it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia would likely seek their own weapons. If so, the risks of nuclear war, accidents, theft of nuclear material, and technology sharing grow exponentially.

Second, if Turkey followed suit, what would that mean for Greece and Cyprus, two EU members long embroiled in tense relations with Ankara? One Greek official told us that Greece might have to respond by starting its own program.

Third, what about Iran’s neighbors who do not have the capacity to keep up? Would they fall under the Iranian sphere of influence, their foreign policies neutered as Finland’s was during the Cold War?

And fourth, Israel would be forced to live with a frightening new reality—a regime that not only calls for wiping Israel off the map, but then also has the tools to do it. The situation would be made still worse by the fact that three of Israel’s neighbors – Syria, Hamas-run Gaza, and Hezbollah’s state-within-a state in Lebanon – are already within Iran’s orbit.

In other words, an Iranian nuclear capacity is a global game-changer.

Will negotiations stop the Iranian march to the goal line? The record to date is discouraging. The EU began talks with Iran in 2003 and was outwitted in the ensuing years, as Iran bought time to install more centrifuges and enrich more uranium. Some believed the absence of the U.S. from those talks during the Bush era prevented progress. Yet President Obama’s extended hand has been spurned more than once by Iran.

There is nothing inherently wrong with more talks, as long as they do not merely allow Tehran to buy time. To increase the likelihood of success, Iran must understand that when Europe and the U.S. say that it will not be allowed to produce and possess nuclear weapons, they mean it.

That requires enforcing existing sanctions, pressing other countries to do the same, and monitoring those nations helping Iran bypass the measures. It also means that Europe’s trade with Iran cannot go up, as it has this year for many countries, including Germany.

Lastly, there is the question of the military option. The best way to avoid it is by making clear that it is on the table in all dealings with Iran. Only if Iran’s leaders grasp that the world is truly serious about preventing it from acquiring nuclear weapons can we hope for a diplomatic solution.


David Harris 20th Anniversary

October 19, 2010

Dear Friends,

This year, David Harris celebrates his 20th anniversary as American Jewish Committee Executive Director – marking two decades of his passionate and devoted service to the Jewish people, American society and the global community.

As president of AJC, I’m asking you to make a gift to commemorate this milestone. Please click here to contribute.

No single professional has epitomized AJC’s values, vision, activism, humanitarianism and achievement more than David Harris. David has been hailed as one of the Jewish people’s foremost advocates and most distinguished and eloquent spokesmen.

In fact, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon recently said, “David Harris is the consummate Jewish diplomat of our time.”

Looking to the future, David will continue to advocate for the issues most important to the Jewish people, including:

  • Supporting a democratic Israel in its quest for peace and security
  • Speaking out against Iran’s mission to build nuclear weapons
  • Building mutual respect between different religious and ethnic groups, leading to a more tolerant world
  • Moving America towards energy independence – critical for both our national security and our environment
  • Seeking a world in which all people are afforded human rights, human dignity and human freedom

Of course, David’s vision has always relied upon an informed, motivated and active young generation prepared to take on the responsibilities and challenges of Jewish communal leadership. As such, he continues to champion our ACCESS program, which focuses on developing young Jewish leaders.

Your participation will be deeply meaningful and greatly appreciated by David and everyone at AJC. Your special gift will go a long way to support the vital work and global outreach that have become AJC trademarks.

Please click here to contribute to David’s 20th Anniversary celebration today. Please give as generously as you can – any amount would be appreciated.

Sincerely,
Robert Elman
President, American Jewish Committee (AJC)


The Beginning of the End for NATO?

October 15, 2010

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the cuts to defense budgets in Britain and other European countries endangered the strength of NATO, which requires members to spend 2 percent of national income on defense.

“As nations deal with their economic problems, we must guard against the hollowing out of alliance military capability by spending reductions that cut too far into muscle,” Gates said. British Foreign Secretary William Hague rejected the concerns, saying Britain will remain a reliable U.S. ally. Britain’s planned cuts – which could shave off more than six hundred thousand public-sector jobs by 2015 – would make it the most aggressive deficit-reducer among major economies.

On STRATFOR, analyst Marko Papic says perceptions of the “threat environment” that unifies NATO have undermined in the post-Cold War era, marking the beginning of the end for the alliance.

Read full story.


America at Risk: Albert Camus, National Security, and Afghanistan

July 22, 2010

One leader, one people, signifies one master and millions of slaves. (Albert Camus)

Almost nine years after the 9/11 attacks, the United States has yet to confront the threat posed by the extremist and irreconcilable wing of Islam.

Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) senior fellow Newt Gingrich will warn that now is the time to awaken from self-deception about the nature of our enemies and rebuild a bipartisan commitment, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, to defend America.

Drawing on the lessons of Albert Camus and George Orwell, Gingrich will describe the dangers of a wartime government that uses language and misleading labels to obscure reality.

He will explain why we need a debate about this larger war against the irreconcilable wing of Islam—which mortally threatens America’s way of life, freedom, and rule of law—and how it relates to the nuclear threat from Iran and the various other risks posed to America’s very existence.

Most importantly, Gingrich will argue that America will remain at risk until it confronts this willful blindness about the nature of its enemies and the nature of the war in which it is engaged.

Date: Thursday, July 29, 2010
Time: 2:00 PM — 3:00 PM
Location: Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036

Media Contact: Hampton Foushee

American Enterprise Institute
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-862-5806


Independence Day: July 4, 1776

July 4, 2010

John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence, showing the five-man committee in charge of drafting the Declaration in 1776 as it presents its work to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

         Live free or Die! The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson
On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, announcing the colonies‘ separation from the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Constitution provides the legal and governmental framework for the United States of America, with its assertion “all Men are created equal”.

The political philosophy of the Declaration with its ideals of individual liberty had been expressed by English philosopher John Locke. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty.

Here, in unforgettable words, Thomas Jefferson expressed the convictions in the minds and hearts of the American people.


IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence:

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Massachusetts: John Hancock

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple

Massachusetts: Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New Hampshire: Matthew Thornton


D-Day – June 6, 1944: The Meaning of the Supreme Sacrifice of Heroes and Guardians of Freedom

June 6, 2010

dday flags D-Day Message to the troops from Dwight D. Eisenhower

Let Our Hearts Be Stout – Roosevelt D-Day Prayer

My Fellow Americans,

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest – until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home – fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them – help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too – strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment – let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace – a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.

U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – June 6, 1944


Poland’s Tragedy is Our Tragedy

April 12, 2010

An op-ed by David Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 12, 2010

When the plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and dozens of other officials crashed in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia on Saturday, this immense disaster was also a personal tragedy.

I lost friends in the crash that killed key leaders from the Polish government, economy, and military.

These friends represented democratic Poland, the country that emerged after a decade of struggle led by Solidarity and KOR activists. And of all places for Polish leaders to meet their maker, why did it have to be Katyn, Poles ask, the site of the 1940 Soviet massacre of more than 20,000 Polish officers?

Let me share brief recollections of three of them.

I first met Lech Kaczynski when he was Warsaw’s mayor. He was eager for the renewal of Jewish life in Poland. He felt a kinship to Jews, whom he saw as an integral part of Poland’s fabric. He said it was impossible to understand Poland without comprehending the Jewish role in its life. That’s why he was supportive of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and why he was instrumental in launching it.

I later met him many times as president, most recently in February. A man of passion and principle, he seldom minced words. He knew where he stood and he didn’t try to mask his views from others.

President Kaczynski was a friend of the United States. He wasn’t always so certain, however, that the friendship was reciprocated. Indeed, he feared that at times Poland’s loyalty was taken for granted. But he saw the United States as the only real guarantor of global security — if, he said, Washington wouldn’t succumb to Russia’s siren song or Europe’s equivocation.

The president was a friend of Israel. He liked and understood it. He instinctively grasped its security predicaments because he could personally relate to a vulnerable country in a tough neighborhood. And he chastised those quick to judge Israel in order to curry favor with others, again seeing a parallel with Poland, whose own interests were sacrificed more than once on the altar of global power politics.

Rejecting Iran’s nuclear ambitions was a no-brainer for President Kaczynski. Like many Poles, he and his family had witnessed man’s capacity for evil. In our meetings, he’d get right to the point: Isn’t it obvious what Iran is doing? Iran’s leaders can’t be trusted with a bomb. The world needs to get tougher with Tehran.

Mariusz Handzlik was another friend on the plane. A diplomat whom I first met in Washington years ago, he was serving as undersecretary of state in the office of Poland’s president.

Mariusz and I shared a deep admiration for Jan Karski, the Polish wartime hero who later joined the faculty of Georgetown University. While serving in the United States, Mariusz befriended Karski, becoming his regular chess partner. They were playing chess when Karski suddenly felt ill and died shortly afterward. Together, Mariusz and I cried for this man who, at repeated risk to his own life, had tried to alert a largely deaf world to the Nazi’s Final Solution.

And when Mariusz was assigned to the Polish Mission to the United Nations, he proudly told me that now he would be in a position, together with his colleagues, to help Israel in the world body. He wanted the Israelis to know they had friends at the United Nations, which largely was seen as hostile territory for Israel.

Andrzej Przewoźnik was secretary-general of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites.

I first met him when the Polish government and the American Jewish Committee joined together to demarcate, protect, and memorialize the site of the Nazi death camp in Belzec, located in southeastern Poland. In less than a year, more than 500,000 Jews were killed in an area barely the size of a few football fields. Only two Jews survived.

In June 2004, after years of planning and construction, the site was inaugurated. As the late Miles Lerman said at that solemn ceremony, “No place of martyrdom anywhere is today as well protected and memorialized as Belzec.”

That could not have occurred without Andrzej’s pivotal role. He helped make it happen, overcoming the multiple hurdles along the way. By doing so, he ensured that what took place at Belzec, long neglected by the Communists, would never be forgotten.

May the memories of Lech Kaczynski, Mariusz Handzlik, Andrzej Przewoźnik — and their fellow passengers — forever be for a blessing, as those of us privileged to have known them were ourselves blessed.


Report records shocking rise of violent anti-Semitism in western Europe in 2009

April 12, 2010

A new survey by the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism in Tel Aviv has revealed a strong surge in violent anti-Semitism in 2009, which in western Europe has now reached the highest level in decades.

The number of recorded violent incidents against Jews, or Jewish sites, totaled 1,129 last year, compared to 559 in 2008 – a rise of 102 percent. In addition, there were “many more hundreds of threats, insults, graffiti signs and slogans and demonstrations featuring virulently anti-Semitic content… sometimes resulting in violence,” according to the report.

“The year … was the worst since monitoring of anti-Semitic manifestations began two decades ago, in terms of both major anti-Semitic violence and the hostile atmosphere generated worldwide by the mass demonstrations and verbal and visual expressions against Israel and the Jews,” the study states.

Dina Porat, the director of the Stephen Roth Institute, told journalists at a press conference that anti-Semitism was directly linked to anti-Zionism. “Political goals are imbued with anti-Jewish sentiment and equations of Jews to Nazis,” she said. Her study was published on the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day Yom HaShoah.

In Britain, 374 manifestations of violence against Jews were recorded in 2009, compared to 112 in 2008. France – which has the largest Jewish community in Europe – reported 195 violent attacks against Jews, compared to 50 in 2008. Canada saw 130 incidents in 2009, compared to 13 in 2008, and the United States 116 compared to 98. The study records 566 incidents of vandalism targeting Jewish property worldwide in 2009, constituting 49 percent of all incidents. Germany, Russia and Ukraine were not as badly affected by the rise, and may even have seen a decrease in incidents for 2009, the report found.

Forty-one incidents were armed assaults against Jews because of their religion. Thirty-four arson attacks were recorded. Threats of violence against Jews and Jewish institutions accounted for 29 percent of all incidents.

The report attributes the surge in anti-Semitic acts in large parts to the 2009 Gaza war. However, Professor Robert Wistrich of Hebrew University in Jerusalem was quoted as saying by ‘Voice of America’ that “All kinds of new pretexts can serve to ignite anti-Semitism, particularly through anti-Israel feeling, through anti-Zionism; and above all it is Israel that has become the obsession of the anti-Semites.”

Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, which co-sponsored the report, criticized some Jewish communities for “remaining silent” on anti-Semitism, but praised French and British Jewish leaders for speaking out forcefully against anti-Semitism. Kantor also said that the rise in anti-Jewish sentiment in Western Europe was a “new phenomenon financed and organized by pro-Islamic, pro-terrorist organizations and states.”

Porat said: “We had the feeling, which was corroborated by the facts, that the radical left – sometimes together with Jews and former Israelis, this is very disturbing – worked together with the radical Muslim leadership, using anti-Semitism and the Holocaust as political tools, to make Israel as a Jewish state a political target.”

Read full story.


USA and France Press for Quick Iran Sanctions

March 31, 2010

At a joint White House news conference, U.S. President Barack Obama, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said he wanted approval within weeks for tougher UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

President Barack Obama and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France have a discussion in the Blue Room of the White House before their joint press availability, March 30, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France have a discussion in the Blue Room of the White House before their joint press availability, March 30, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The White House – Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
March 30, 2010

Remarks by President Obama and President Sarkozy of France during Joint Press Availability

East Room

4:56 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please, everybody have a seat. Good afternoon. Bienvenue. 

I am delighted to welcome my dear friend, President Sarkozy, to the White House. And I also want to welcome to the United States the First Lady of France, and Michelle and I are very much looking forward to hosting our guests at dinner this evening.

Now, I have to point out that the French are properly famous for their cuisine, and so the fact that Nicolas went to Ben’s Chili Bowl for lunch — (laughter) — I think knows — shows his discriminating palate. My understanding is he had a half-smoke, so he was sampling the local wares. And we appreciate that very much.

This visit is an opportunity to return the hospitality that the President and the French people have shown to me during my visits to France. And that includes our family’s wonderful visit to Paris last summer. Michelle and I will never forget the opportunity to introduce our daughters for the first time to the City of Lights. And I don’t think that Sasha will ever forget celebrating her 8th birthday at the Élysée Palace with the President of France. That’s a pretty fancy way for an 8-year-old to spend their birthday.

Today, President Sarkozy and I have reaffirmed the enduring ties between our countries. France is our oldest ally, and one of our closest. We are two great republics —- bound by common ideals —- that have stood together for more than two centuries, from Yorktown to Normandy to Afghanistan. 

Under President Sarkozy’s leadership, France has further secured its rightful place as a leader in Europe and around the world, recognizing that meeting global challenges requires global partnerships. France took the historic step of returning to NATO’s military command, and we are working to revitalize our transatlantic bonds, including a strong, capable European Union, which the United States firmly supports — because a close transatlantic partnership is critical to progress, whether it’s applying our combined strength to promote development and confront violent extremism in Africa, or reconstruction in Haiti, or advancing peace from the Caucasus to the Middle East.

Mr. President, on behalf of the American people, I also want to thank you for your personal efforts to strengthen the partnership between our countries.  We first met four years ago. I was a senator then; Nicolas was still running for President at the time, and I immediately came to admire your legendary energy —- and your enthusiasm for what our countries can achieve together. That was the spirit of your eloquent speech to Congress three years ago, which deeply moved many Americans.

Over the past year, the President and I have worked closely on numerous occasions. We respect one another and understand one another, and we share a belief that through bold yet pragmatic action, our generation can bend the arc of history toward justice and towards progress. And this shared commitment to solving problems allowed us to advance our common interests today.

We agreed to continue working aggressively to sustain the global economic recovery and create jobs for our people. And this includes, as we agreed with our G20 partners at Pittsburgh, to replacing the old cycle of bubble and bust with growth that is balanced and sustained. And this requires effective coordination by all nations. To that end, I updated the President on our efforts to pass financial reform, and I look forward to the Senate taking action on this landmark legislation so we never repeat the mistakes that led to this crisis.

We must provide sufficient oversight so that reckless speculation or reckless risk-taking by a few big players in the financial markets will never again threaten the global economy or burden taxpayers. We must assure that consumers of financial products have the information and safeguards that they need, so their life savings are not placed in needless jeopardy. And that’s why I press for the passage of these reforms through Congress when they return, and I will continue to work with President Sarkozy and other world leaders to coordinate our efforts, because we want to make sure that whatever steps we’re taking, they are occurring on both sides of the Atlantic. 

We agreed that sustained and balanced growth includes rejecting protectionism.  France is one of our largest trading partners. And we need to expand global commerce, not constrain it.  With that regard, we think it’s important that Doha trade negotiations move forward this year, and we need all interested parties to push for a more ambitious and balanced agreement that opens global markets. And we look forward to France’s presidency of both the G8 and G20 next year. So Nicolas is going to be very busy.

To address climate change, we agreed that all nations aligned with the Copenhagen accord must meet their responsibilities. And I would note that President Sarkozy’s leadership has resulted in significant new resources to address deforestation around the world. Upcoming meetings at the United Nations and the Major Economies Forum will be an opportunity for nations to follow up their Copenhagen commitments with specific and concrete actions that reduce emissions.

We reaffirmed our commitment to confront the greatest threat to global security —- the spread of nuclear weapons. And I updated President Sarkozy on our new START treaty with Russia. I look forward to welcoming President Sarkozy back to Washington in two weeks for our summit on securing vulnerable nuclear material so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists. 

We discussed our shared determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. On this the United States and France are united, are inseparable.  With our P5-plus-1 partners, we offer Iran good faith proposals to resolve this matter through diplomacy. But Iran thus far has rejected those offers. Today, the international community is more united than ever on the need for Iran to uphold its obligations. And that’s why we’re pursuing strong sanctions through the U.N. Security Council. 

And finally we discussed our efforts to advance security and peace around the world, including in the Middle East, where we agree that all sides need to act now to create the atmosphere that gives the proximity talks the best chance to succeed. 

I shared my impressions from my discussions with President Karzai on the urgent need for good government and development in Afghanistan. As I told our troops, we salute our coalition partners, and that includes France, which is one of the largest contributors to the NATO mission, and which has given its most precious resource, the lives of its young men and women, to a mission that is vital to the security of both our countries’ and the world’s security.

So I thank President Sarkozy for his visit and for the progress that our countries have made today, in large part because of his extraordinary leadership. We are global partners facing global challenges together, and I think that Nicolas will agree that when it comes to America’s oldest ally, we’ve never been closer.

So I’ll simply close with words that one American leader expressed to another French partner more than 200 years ago, because Washington’s words to Rochambeau reflect the bonds between our countries today: We are “fellow laborers in the cause of liberty and we have lived together as brothers should do — in harmonious friendship.” 

In that spirit, I welcome President Nicolas Sarkozy.

PRESIDENT SARKOZY:  Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for your invitation. I think that we can say — I stand to be corrected by Bernard Kouchner and Christine Lagarde — but I think we can say that rarely in the history of our two countries has the community of views been so identical between the United States of America and France.

To wit, one example, which is that France would not be stepping next year into the presidency of the G20 had the United States of America not supported France for this presidency. Now, there are the words, there are the statements, and then there are the facts, the acts, and that is a fact. 

Now, I will not repeat what President Obama so eloquently said. On Afghanistan, we support President Obama’s strategy. We cannot afford to lose — not for us, not for ourselves, but for Afghanistan and for the people of Afghanistan, who are entitled to live in freedom. Of course the road is arduous. Of course nothing can be anticipated. And of course we are so sorrowful for the loss of young lives. But we have to have the courage to go to the end of our strategy and explain that there is no alternative strategy.  Defeat would be too high a price for the security of Americans, the French, and Europeans. By fighting in Afghanistan, what we are fighting for is world security, quite simply.

Now, on Iran, I am very satisfied with what President Obama has said. The time has come to take decisions.  Iran cannot continue its mad race. Now, we don’t want to punish Iran, which deserves better than what it has by way of leadership today, and therefore fully support in order to get stronger, tougher sanctions at the Security Council and take the necessary decisions is what you have. I have said to President Obama that with Angela Merkel and Gordon Brown we will make all necessary efforts to ensure that Europe as a whole engages in the sanction regime.

On the Middle East, it’s excellent news to hear that the United States are thus engaged. Of course peace in the Middle East is the — is something which concerns primarily the Israelis and the Palestinians. However, the absence of peace in the Middle East is a problem for all of us, because what it does is keep feeding terrorism all over the world. And I wish to express my solidarity vis-à-vis President Obama in condemning the settlement process. Everybody knows how engaged and committed I am vis-à-vis Israel’s security, but the settlement process achieves nothing and contributes in no way to Israel’s safety and security. There comes a time when you have to take initiatives in favor of peace.

Now, on financial regulation, again, it’s great news for the world to hear that the United States is availing itself of rules, adopting rules so that we not go back to what we have already experienced. And during the French presidency of the G20, Tim Geithner, Christine Lagarde are going to be working hand-in-glove in order to go even further in regulating world capitalism, and in particular, raising the issue of a new world international monetary order.

On all these subjects there’s much convergence of views. And of course I want to say to President Obama how glad we were for him and for the USA to hear of the successful passing of the health care reform. 

And insofar as the President has revealed a secret — namely, where I had lunch today — I should say that I have a good friend in Washington who had actually recommended that restaurant. When I walked in I saw a huge photograph of President Obama. And I’m afraid that when you go back to that restaurant you may see a smaller photograph of the French President.  (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We’ve got time for a couple of questions. I’m going to call on Ben Feller. There you are, Ben — AP.

Q    Thank you, sir. Thank you for your patience. President Obama, you’ve talked about the importance of having consequences for Iran over its nuclear program, but is there ever a real deadline? What is your specific timeline for U.N. sanctions on Iran? And is it one that the American people can believe in?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well —

Q   I’m sorry, sir, I just wanted to ask President Sarkozy, you said yesterday in New York that the world needs an open America, an America that listens. I’m wondering if you can elaborate; specifically if you think President Obama is open to the world and is listening to you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me answer the second question, even though that was to Nicolas. I listen to Nicolas all the time. I can’t stop listening to him.  (Laughter.) 

On Iran, we came in with a very clear approach and a very clear strategy, and it was an open book to the world. We said we would engage Iran and give them an opportunity to take the right path, a path that would lead to prosperity and opportunity for their people and a peaceful region, and one in which they would allow themselves to become a full-fledged member of the community of nations. The alternative path was further isolation and further consequences.

We mobilized the international community around this approach, including partners like Russia that in the past might have been more hesitant to take a firmer stance on Iran’s nuclear program. What we said, though, was that there was going to be a time limit to it and that if we had not seen progress by the end of the year, it was time for us to move forward on that sanctions track.

My hope is that we are going to get this done this spring. So I’m not interested in waiting months for a sanctions regime to be in place; I’m interested in seeing that regime in place in weeks. And we are working diligently with our international partners, emphasizing to them that, as Nicolas said, this is not simply an issue of trying to isolate Iran; it has enormous implications for the safety and the security of the entire region. We don’t want to see a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

A conflict in the Middle East as a consequence of Iran’s actions could have a huge destabilizing effect in terms of the world economy at a time when it’s just coming out of a very deep recession. 

The long-term consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran are unacceptable.  And so Nicolas, myself and others agree that we have engaged; the door remains open if the Iranians choose to walk through it. But they understand very clearly what the terms of a diplomatic solution would be. And in the interim we are going to move forcefully on a U.N. sanctions regime.

Now, do we have unanimity in the international community? Not yet. And that’s something that we have to work on. We think that we are in a much stronger position to get robust sanctions now than we were a year ago prior to us initiating our strategy.

But it’s still difficult, partly because, let’s be honest, Iran is a oil producer and there are a lot of countries around the world that, regardless of Iran’s offenses, are thinking that their commercial interests are more important to them than these long-term geopolitical interests. And so we have to continue to apply pressure not just on Iran but we have to make sure that we are communicating very clearly that this is very important to the United States.

Q   You can get unanimity within weeks?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We think that we can get sanctions within weeks.

PRESIDENT SARKOZY: Well, I’ve read many comments — and I must say I’ve been quite amused — on the relations between European leaders and the President of the United States. I say I’m amused because I’ve thought to myself, well, when we speak to one another, people must be listening to our phone calls because I have seen reports on conversations and discussions which in no way resemble anything that has ever taken place between Barack Obama and myself. 

Now, why is it easy for us to work? And I speak on behalf of Chancellor Merkel, Gordon Brown, and other leaders. Well, because President Obama, when he says something, keeps his word. His word is his bond. And that is so important.  There’s a joke among us — we don’t like surprises. Well, from my point of view, there’s no surprises. When he can, he delivers. When he can’t, he says so. So there are no surprises. And we try to be likewise.

Furthermore, secondly, on all topics — and there have been some pretty tough topics. I mean, for instance, bonus — taxes on bonuses, regulation, financial regulations — pretty heavy going stuff — Copenhagen. I mean, I happen to think that President Obama is a step ahead of public opinion in the United States on this. But we’re constantly talking about it. It’s even President Obama who wanted us to have a call conference, a videoconference virtually every month with Angela Merkel and Gordon Brown.

Now, this doesn’t really mean that we absolutely agree neck and neck on everything, but we talk amongst ourselves. And this is a novelty from the point of view of Europe whenever we look at the United States that everything is put on the table, anything can be discussed, everything can be discussed.

What matters, you see, is not whether we agree once systematically before we’ve even started discussing — that’s suspicious — it’s to say whatever divergence of views we have, we can talk about it among ourselves. And I say things very frankly to you, and this is what all we European leaders believe and think.

I’ve also heard it said that Europe was less interested in the United States. Well, for heaven’s sake, how many times do we have to come over to show that we are interested? What would it mean if we were interested?

So, very frankly and very honestly on this, not only is it not an issue, not a problem, but it’s great to be able to work under such conditions. I would say that what I have to say about President Obama is the same as what Bernard Kouchner could say about Hillary Clinton, or Christine Lagarde about Tim Geithner. We’re constantly having a dialogue. 

I could even take you — give you an example of something on which we don’t necessarily agree, such as Syria — or we didn’t agree.  France took an initiative, as you know. Well, I’ll say this to you: At no point, no point, has President Obama turned his back on what we were doing. Constantly he’s watching, he’s listening. We’re constantly exchanging information on the subject. Even when there are more complex topics, including in our relations with the Russians, before even we inform our Russian — the Russians or our partners, I pick up the phone, I call President Obama, and he knows exactly what we’re going to do and why we’re going to do it. You follow me on that?

So, there may be disagreements, but never for the wrong reasons. And as we are very transparent on both sides, there’s confidence, there’s trust. And I really think I can say that. There’s a lot of trust.

Now, trust always helps one overcome perhaps diverging interests. It may be that the United States of America has slightly different interests of those of France, but the bedrock of trust between us is something that he also has with all European leaders. And I don’t say this to please you. I said this is true. And I took two examples of two topics that could, in other tide, other times, have led to head-on collision, and which in this case, on the contrary, are looked at on both sides of the Atlantic as a situation where we are complementary.

Perhaps he said, well, maybe on Syria, France is on the right track, and maybe one day we’ll have the opportunity to do likewise, and that’s exactly the way we work.

Go ahead, I’m not the one with the mic.

Q Since you’ve just talked about the United — the relations between Europe and United States, didn’t you get a bad surprise, a nasty surprise, on the Pentagon’s decision on the tanker planes, which reversed the decision which had originally been taken in favor of Airbus? Did you raise this subject with President Obama? And if so, did you try and put together a new approach so as to ensure that the competition would be fairer, new version of this contract with the Pentagon, and don’t you think that it would be probably fair to share this contract with the Europeans, since they are now full members of NATO and that they share the price of the war on the ground?

PRESIDENT SARKOZY: If I said I hadn’t raised it, it would mean that what I’ve just told you would be meaningless and senseless. Of course we’ve talked about it — and President Obama will give you his answer. But I said to him, I trust you. And I do trust him. If you say to me that the request for proposals, the call for tenders will be free, fair and transparent, then we say EADS will bid and we trust you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I said to President Sarkozy is, is that the process will be free and fair, and that the trust is justified.

Now, it’s important for my European friends to understand that, at least here, the Secretary of Defense makes procurement decisions. The President does not meddle in these decisions. And that’s a longstanding policy. So I maintain an arm’s length approach, but I have assurances from Secretary of Defense Gates that, in fact, the re-bidding process is going to be completely transparent, completely open, and a fair competition. That’s in our interests. It’s in the interest of American taxpayers, and it’s also in the interest of our young men and women who rely on this equipment in order to protect this nation.

And it’s important to note, I think, for those of you who don’t know Secretary Gates, this is somebody who has actually taken on the military and weapons systems establishment and initiated some very significant procurement reforms that nobody ever thought would happen here in Washington. So he’s somebody who’s willing to call it like it is and make difficult decisions, and he will do so in this situation as well.

Thank you very much, everybody.


Dear Baroness Catherine Ashton

March 28, 2010

An op-ed by David A. Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
The Jerusalem Post, March 28, 2010

Dear Baroness Ashton,

Since December 2009, you have served as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union – in other words, the EU’s foreign policy czar.

A few days ago, your op-ed, “Lessons from a Gaza Trip,” was published in the International Herald Tribune.

You waxed poetic about a project for deaf children and a school for girls you visited in Gaza. You wrote: “For the sake of the little deaf boy who stood and held my hand and for the girls who want to be able to do something with that good education, we have to move from process to peace.”

Astonishingly, though, you ignored some rather obvious facts.

Not once did the word “Hamas” appear in your article. How is it possible to write about Gaza today and fail to mention its governing authority? It’s not a small oversight, either. Hamas is the crux of the problem.

How could you overlook the Hamas Charter, which defines the worldview of those in charge?

The full text should be required reading for anyone, like yourself, involved in Middle East diplomacy.

Here’s a taste of what the Charter says about Jews:

“The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: ‘The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'”

And here’s how the Charter views neighboring Israel:

“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

Here’s how the Charter refers to so-called infidels:

“The day Islam appears, the forces of infidelity would unite to challenge it, for the infidels are of one nation. O true believers, contract not an intimate friendship with any besides yourselves: they will not fail to corrupt you. They wish for that which may cause you to perish: their hatred hath already appeared from out of their mouths; but what their breasts conceal is yet more inveterate.”

Being from Britain, Baroness, you may want to know how the Second World War really started. The Charter has the answer:

“They (the Jews) were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state.”

And while you may become teary-eyed recalling the school for girls you visited, the Charter’s view of women has little to do with aspiring to a high political office like yours:

“Woman in the home of the fighting family, whether she is a mother or a sister, plays the most important role in looking after the family, rearing the children and imbuing them with moral values and thoughts derived from Islam. She has to teach them to perform the religious duties in preparation for the role of fighting awaiting them. That is why it is necessary to pay great attention to schools and the curriculum followed in educating Muslim girls, so that they would grow up to be good mothers, aware of their role in the battle of liberation.”

The next time you visit Gaza, and before you share with the world what you think you’ve seen, please inquire about the Hamas Charter, the refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist, the role of women, the central place of Shari’a in society, and the reasons why the EU designated Hamas a terrorist organization.

Moreover, you might urge your local hosts to show you not only societies for deaf children and schools for girls, but also weapons factories and arms caches – especially those located in mosques, schools and hospitals. Perhaps you might also take a detour to their favorite missile-launching sites for attacking Israeli towns and villages. And maybe your hosts will explain their ties with Iran, including the smuggling of cash and arms, as well as the training of Hamas fighters who go in and out through hidden tunnels.

Further, you might seek a visit with Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier whom you oddly describe as “captured,” when he was, in fact, kidnapped in a cross-border raid from Gaza. And with the EU’s laudable commitment to international humanitarian law, press your hosts on why no one has been permitted to visit him since his abduction in 2006.

I would also recommend that, before your next visit to Gaza, you stop in Ramallah. Ask Palestinian Authority leaders to share their memories of the bloody civil war that Hamas triggered in Gaza, in 2007, leading to the PA’s expulsion. If they’re being honest, PA leaders will hardly subscribe to your sanitized view of Hamas-ruled Gaza today.

And a stop in Cairo could be beneficial. Egypt is no less concerned than Israel about what’s going on next door. That’s why it’s building a wall along the Gaza border. Hamas, after all, proudly proclaims itself part and parcel of the Muslim Brotherhood, a longtime threat to Egypt’s stability.

Frankly, when reading “Lessons from a Gaza Trip,” I couldn’t help thinking of those impressionable Western travelers who visited the Soviet Union and returned with gushing accounts of the Moscow metro, circus and ballet, the well-behaved schoolchildren, and the workers’ paradise.

Dear Baroness Ashton, please wake up.

Yes, the search for peace in the region is unquestionably a sacred duty. But it can only be attained by those truly committed to coexistence and mutual respect.

Hamas – that stunningly missing word in your op-ed – is not a peace seeker, but a peace saboteur. With the terrorist group controlling Gaza, the sooner you grasp this essential point, the better off we will all be.


Lessons for a Long War: How America Can Win on New Battlefields

March 1, 2010

AEI Press, April 2010, 180 pages, ISBN: 978-0-8447-4329-5

Lessons for a Long War is a publication of the Center for Defense Studies, a new arm of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) focused on strategic, budgetary, and programmatic analysis of defense policy issues.

As the guarantor of international security, the United States of America must commit to a long-term military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what are the tools necessary to succeed on the new battlefields of the Long War?

In this volume, a group of the foremost U.S. military officials and national security experts analyzes the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan thus far in order to map a way forward – not only for the military, but also for diplomats, elected officials, the media and the public opinion.

Thomas Donnelly, Frederick W. Kagan, and their coauthors offer several core lessons for success in the Long War. They argue that decentralizing command is the key to efficient operations on an ever-changing battlefield; that airpower is the unsung hero of counterinsurgency warfare; that public opinion can influence crucial military decisions; and that the military should minimize its role in domestic affairs.

Finally, although the battlefields have changed over the last fifty years, the authors contend that America’s long-held counterinsurgency strategy – to foster political support at home, employ diplomacy overseas, and extend military assistance to allies – remains effective.

The Long War will not soon be over. But, in the words of retired Army Special Forces officer Colonel Robert Killebrew, the United States of America already has “the tools it needs in order to prevail in the wars of the twenty-first century.”

Thomas Donnelly is a resident fellow in defense and security policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and director of AEI’s Center for Defense Studies. He previously served as policy group director and professional staff member for the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services.

Frederick W. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and director of the AEI Critical Threats Project. He was formerly associate professor of military history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
   
Contributors: Thomas Donnelly, Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., Peter D. Feaver, Frederick W. Kagan, Robert Killebrew, H. R. McMaster, Mackubin Thomas Owens

Media Contact: Veronique Rodman
American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-862-4870
E-mail: VRodman@aei.org


Useful idiots

January 19, 2010

An op-ed by David A. Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
The Jerusalem Post, January 19, 2010

In 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler became the German chancellor, the Oxford Union famously adopted a resolution which said “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” The measure was passed by a vote of 275 to 153.

Winston Churchill reacted by saying that “one could almost feel the curl of contempt upon the lips of the manhood of Germany, Italy, and France when they read the message sent out by Oxford University in the name of Young England.”

Shortly afterward, his son, Randolph, tried to have the resolution stricken from the books, but the motion was resoundingly defeated by the Oxford Union.

In other words, otherwise bright students at a distinguished British university are capable of foolish things. At least in this case, it must be said, “Young England” rose to the occasion six years later, when the Second World War began, and revealed its true colors of patriotism, courage and grit.

Recently, another British student union was presented with a controversial proposal. The London School of Economics (LSE) debated whether to seek the twinning of this world-renowned institution with the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG).

After a spirited discussion, the motion was carried by a vote of 161 to 133. The university administration distanced itself from the decision.

As an alumnus of LSE, I am ashamed of the student action. Sure, LSE has a reputation for feisty politics, but this is taking it a bit far.

IUG was established in 1978 by none other than Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Yassin, it will be recalled, was the founder of Hamas. In 2007, a New York Times reporter described IUG as “one of the prime means for Hamas to convert Palestinians to its Islamist cause.” Indeed, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, IUG “has emerged as a training ground for the political and spiritual leadership of Hamas. Many Hamas leaders who are also academics have taught at the university….”

Yassin was hardly cast in the mold of a Western liberal educator. Among his many public utterances, he declared that “reconciliation with the Jews is a crime” and that “Israel must disappear from the map.” He claimed that Israel is, in fact, Muslim land and is to be reserved for those of the faith “until Judgment Day.”

And Yassin didn’t just limit himself to rhetorical flourishes, either. He pursued “armed struggle” against Israel, targeting civilians and blessing suicide bombers.

Moreover, in 2007, during the civil war in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah forces, the latter entered the university and found rocket-propelled grenade launchers, rockets, assault rifles and ammunition, all of which was subsequently shown on Palestinian television.

Two years later, Israel struck two IUG buildings which, according to military spokesmen, were used as “a research and development center for Hamas weapons, including Kassam rockets.” Those rockets were used to attack indiscriminately Israeli towns and villages near the Gaza border, with the aim of killing and terrorizing residents.

When I first heard the news that the LSE Student Union voted to twin with IUG, I was speechless.

How could students at a world-class university that celebrates the open and respectful exchange of ideas find common cause with the academic standard-bearer of Hamas, a Sharia-based, obscurantist, violent group?

How could they claim solidarity with an institution that is actively involved in a long-term campaign to destroy a neighboring nation – and a democratic one at that?

How could they, living in a world of pluralism, gender equality and sexual freedom, join themselves at the hip to such a regressive, repressive social environment as IUG?

How could they, students of a university which was one of the stepping stones in British society for Jews to gain equality, identify with a school that preaches hatred of Jews and celebrates their murder?

The answer, I fear, is the bizarre alliance that has emerged in the UK between the keffiyeh-worshiping far left and Islamic extremists.

When neo-fascists come along spouting reactionary slogans about women and gays, the far left unhesitatingly denounces them. But when misogyny and homophobia emanate from the lips of Islamists, they’re likely to get a deferential pass from the suddenly culturally-sensitive.

Ken Livingstone, former London mayor, and George Galloway, Member of Parliament, are two prime examples of what the communists referred to as “useful idiots” – those who, in their ultimate naiveté, would help the extremists ascend to power, only to be the first in line for destruction once the goal was attained. In the case of Livingstone and Galloway, they’ve rarely met a Middle Eastern radical with whom they couldn’t agree. And, of course, they have their counterparts at LSE and on other university campuses, in trade unions and in the media.

The LSE Student Union vote was a sad day for the British academy. It betrays all the values that have made Britain a beacon of liberty and enlightenment.

One can only hope that this decision will follow the path of the 1933 Oxford Union resolution – and make its way to the dustbin of history as rapidly as possible.


6 Major Powers Move Closer to Considering More Iran Sanctions

January 18, 2010

Did You Know?

“The (Revolutionary Guard) corps’s two best-known subsidiaries are the secretive Quds Force, which has carried out operations in other countries, including the training and arming of the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon; and the Basij militia. The Basiji includes millions of volunteer vigilantes used to crack down on election protests and dissidents,” according to The New York Times. 

Top Stories

The New York Times: “Six major powers agreed Saturday that the Iranian response to proposals to altering its nuclear development program had been inadequate and that it warranted consideration of further measures by the United Nations Security Council.  China, however, which sent a low-level diplomat to the meeting, maintained its position that it opposed new sanctions now.” 
 
The Associated Press (AP): “Iran’s interior minister is vowing to take revenge on Israel over the slaying last week of a physics professor in a mysterious bomb attack.  Iranian officials have blamed an exiled opposition group, accusing it of acting on behalf of Israel and the U.S. Washington denied involvement. Israel did not comment.” 

Reuters: “Iran has exchanged messages with major powers on its nuclear energy program and sees signs of progress, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Monday, despite Western attempts to impose more sanctions.”

Opinion
 
Los Angeles Times (LAT) Editorial Board
: “This week’s indictment of three Glendale men for allegedly smuggling vacuum pumps and other industrial equipment to Iran via the United Arab Emirates is the latest reminder of how easily and frequently U.S. trade sanctions against Tehran have been violated. The charges were reported as the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany prepared to meet in New York today to discuss tougher economic measures for pressing Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program.”


American Jewish Committee 2010 Annual Meeting

December 23, 2009

When was the last time you…

…received a briefing from the Obama Administration?

             …dined at an Ambassador’s home?

…sang Hatikvah with an Israeli soldier?

                         …heard directly from a head of state?

You will have the opportunity to do all this and more at AJC’s Annual Meeting April 28-30, 2010 in Washington D.C. We encourage you to register now.

You will hear from the Foreign Minister of Spain, Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé, one of the world’s most important leaders in stopping Iran’s nuclear program, as Spain will hold the EU presidency.

You will enjoy intimate access to top policymakers. There will be more exclusive private dinners that were so popular last year. The French Ambassador to the United States will host a small group at his home, among many more to come.

You will engage with the cutting-edge issues that matter most. Expert panelists will debate topics like “The Obama Administration and Israel“,  “Have Human Rights Gone Wrong?” and “Can Europe Be Multicultural?“.

These sessions will fill up fast, so please act quickly.

We hope to see you April 28-30, 2010.

AJC 2010 Annual Meeting
Global Jewish Advocacy
Washington, D.C. on April 28 – April 30, 2010

Grand Hyatt Hotel
1000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 582-1234

Register now!


USA, UK and France Tell Iran to Open Nuke Site

September 26, 2009

The New York Times reports that U.S. President Obama and the leaders of UK and France will accuse Iran of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years, according to senior administration officials. 

The revelation, which the three leaders will make before the opening of the Group of 20 economic summit in Pittsburgh, appears bound to add urgency to the diplomatic confrontation with Iran over its suspected ambitions to build a nuclear weapons capacity. Mr. Obama, along with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, will demand that Iran allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct an immediate inspection of the facility, which is said to be 100 miles southwest of Tehran. 

U.S. officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to make public the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the project.

On Monday, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a ‘pilot plant’ under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed. In a statement from its headquarters in Vienna yesterday, the atomic agency confirmed that it had been told by Iran that a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction in the country.

Read full story.