How Israel Out-Foxed US Presidents

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Morgan Strong

From the Archive: At the G20 summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy commiserated with President Barack Obama about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Sarkozy called a “liar,” prompting Obama to say: “You’re fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day.” But struggling with Israeli leaders is not new, Morgan Strong reported.

By Morgan Strong (Originally published on May 31, 2010)

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The USS Liberty

At the end of a news conference on April 13, 2010, President Barack Obama made the seemingly obvious point that the continuing Middle East conflict – pitting Israel against its Arab neighbors – will end up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.”

Obama’s remark followed a similar comment by Gen. David Petraeus on March 16, 2010, linking the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the challenges that U.S. troops face in the region.

“The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” Petraeus said. “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.

“Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

The truth behind what Obama and Petraeus said is self-evident to anyone who has spent time observing the Middle East for the past six decades. Even the staunchly pro-Israeli Bush administration made similar observations.

Three years ago in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice termed the Israeli/Palestinian peace process of “strategic interest” to the United States and expressed empathy for the beleaguered Palestinian people.

“The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalize even normal people,” Rice said, referring to acts of Palestinian violence.

But the recent comments by Obama and Petraeus aroused alarm among some Israeli supporters who reject any suggestion that Israel’s harsh treatment of Palestinians might be a factor in the anti-Americanism surging through the Islamic world.

After Petraeus’s comment, the pro-Israeli Anti-Defamation League said linking the Palestinian plight and Muslim anger was “dangerous and counterproductive.”

“Gen. Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived U.S. favoritism for Israel,” ADL national director Abraham Foxman said.

However, the U.S. government’s widespread (though often unstated) recognition of the truth behind Petraeus’s comment has colored how the Obama administration has reacted to the intransigence of Israel’s Likud government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Petraeus later tried to wiggle out of his comment, noting that it was part of his prepared testimony to a congressional committee and that he did not actually speak the words.)

The U.S. government realizes how much it has done on Israel’s behalf, even to the extent of making Americans the targets of Islamic terrorism such as the 9/11 attacks (as the 9/11 Commission discovered but played down) and sacrificing the lives of thousands of U.S. troops fighting in Middle East conflicts.

That was the backdrop for President Obama’s outrage over the decision of the Netanyahu government to continue building Jewish housing in Arab East Jerusalem despite the fact that the move complicated U.S. peace initiatives and was announced as Vice President Joe Biden arrived to reaffirm American support for Israel.

However, another little-acknowledged truth about the U.S.-Israeli relationship is that Israeli leaders have frequently manipulated and misled American presidents out of a confidence that U.S. politicians deeply fear the political fallout from any public battle with Israel.

Given that history, few analysts who have followed the arc of U.S.-Israeli relations since Israel’s founding in 1948 believe that the Israeli government is likely to retreat very much in its current confrontation with President Obama.

Manipulating Eisenhower

In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower was a strong supporter of the fledgling Jewish state and had supplied Israel with advanced U.S. weaponry. Yet, despite Eisenhower’s generosity and good intentions, Israel sided with the British and French in 1956 in a conspiracy against him.

Israeli leaders joined a secret arrangement that involved Israel invading Egypt’s Sinai, which then allowed France and Great Britain to introduce their own forces and reclaim control of the Suez Canal.
In reaction to the invasion, the Soviet Union threatened to intervene on the side of Egypt by sending ground troops. With Cold War tensions already stretched thin by the crises in Hungary and elsewhere, Eisenhower faced the possibility of a showdown between nuclear-armed adversaries.

Eisenhower demanded that the Israeli-spearheaded invasion of the Sinai be stopped, and he brought financial and political pressures to bear on Great Britain and France.

A ceasefire soon was declared, and the British and French departed, but the Israelis dragged their heels. Eisenhower finally presented Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion with an ultimatum, a threat to cut off all U.S. aid. Finally, in March 1957, the Israelis withdrew. [For details, see Eisenhower and Israelby Isaac Alteras]

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister

Secret Nukes and JFK

Even as it backed down in the Sinai, Israel was involved in another monumental deception, a plan for building its own nuclear arsenal.

In 1956, Israel had concluded an agreement with France to build a nuclear reactor in the Negev desert. Israel also signed a secret agreement with France to build an adjacent plutonium reprocessing plant.

Israel began constructing its nuclear plant in 1958. However, French President Charles de Gaulle was worried about nuclear weapons destabilizing the Middle East and insisted that Israel not develop a nuclear bomb from the plutonium processing plant. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion assured de Gaulle that the processing plant was for peaceful purposes only.

After John F. Kennedy became President, he also wrote to Ben-Gurion explicitly calling on Israel not to join the nuclear-weapons club, drawing another pledge from Ben-Gurion that Israel had no such intention.

Nevertheless, Kennedy continued to press, forcing the Israelis to let U.S. scientists inspect the nuclear reactor at Dimona. But the Israelis first built a fake control room while bricking up and otherwise disguising parts of the building that housed the plutonium processing plant.

In return for allowing inspectors into Dimona, Ben-Gurion also demanded that the United States sell Hawk surface-to-air missiles to the Israeli military. Kennedy agreed to the sale as a show of good faith. Subsequently, however, the CIA got wind of the Dimona deception and leaked to the press that Israel was secretly building a nuclear bomb.

After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson also grew concerned over Israel’s acquiring nuclear weapons. He asked then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Eshkol assured Johnson that Israel was studying the matter and would sign the treaty in due course. However, Israel has never signed the treaty and never has admitted that it developed nuclear weapons. [For details, See Israel and The Bomb by Avner Cohen.]

Trapping Johnson

As Israel grew more sophisticated – and more confident – in its dealings with U.S. presidents, it also sought to secure U.S. military assistance by exaggerating its vulnerability to Arab attacks.

One such case occurred after the Egyptians closed off the Gulf of Aqaba to Israel in May 1967, denying the country its only access to the Red Sea. Israel threatened military action against Egypt if it did not re-open the Gulf.

Israel then asked President Johnson for military assistance in the event war broke out against the Egyptians. Johnson directed Richard Helms, the newly appointed head of the CIA to evaluate Israel’s military capability in the event of war against the surrounding Arab states.

On May 26, 1967, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban met with Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and CIA Director Helms. Eban presented a Mossad estimate of the capability of the Arab armies, claiming that Israel was seriously outgunned by the Arab armies which had been supplied with advanced Soviet weaponry.

Israel believed that, owing to its special relationship with the United States, the Mossad intelligence assessment would be taken at face value.

However, Helms was asked to present the CIA estimate of the Arabs’ military capabilities versus the Israeli army. The CIA’s analysts concluded that Israel could “defend successfully against simultaneous Arab attacks on all fronts, or hold on any three fronts while mounting a successful major offensive on the fourth.” [See “C.I.A. Analysis of the 1967 Arab Israeli War,” Center for the Study of Intelligence.]

“We do not believe that the Israeli appreciation was a serious estimate of the sort they would submit to their own high officials,” the CIA report said. “It is probably a gambit intended to influence the U.S. to provide military supplies, make more public commitments to Israel, to approve Israeli military initiatives, and put more pressure on Egyptian President Nasser.” [See A Look Over My Shoulder by Richard Helms.]

The CIA report stated further that the Soviet Union would probably not interfere militarily on behalf of the Arab states and that Israel would defeat the combined Arab armies in a matter of days.
As a consequence, Johnson refused to airlift special military supplies to Israel, or to promise public support for Israel if Israel went to war.

The Six-Day Success

Despite Johnson’s resistance, Israel launched an attack on its Arab neighbors on June 5, 1967, claiming that the conflict was provoked when Egyptian forces opened fire. (The CIA later concluded that it was Israel that had first fired upon Egyptian forces.)

On June 8, at the height of the conflict, which would become known as the Six-Day War, Israeli fighter/bombers attacked the USS Liberty, a lightly armed communications vessel sent on a mission to relay information on the course of the war to U.S. naval intelligence.

The attack killed 34 Americans sailors, and wounded 171 others. Israeli leaders have always claimed that they had mistaken the U.S. vessel for an enemy ship, but a number of U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, believed the attack was deliberate, possibly to prevent the United States from learning about Israel’s war plans. [See As I Saw It by Dean Rusk.]

However, in deference to Israel, the U.S. government did not aggressively pursue the matter of the Liberty attack and even issued misleading accounts in medal citations to crew members, leaving out the identity of the attackers.

Meanwhile, on land and in the air, Israel’s powerful military advanced, shredding the Arab defenses. Soon, the conflict escalated into another potential showdown between nuclear-armed superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States.

On June 10, President Johnson received a “Hot Line” message from Soviet Premier Alexi Kosygin. The Kremlin warned of grave consequences if Israel continued its military campaign against Syria by entering and/or occupying that country.

Johnson dispatched the Sixth Fleet to the Mediterranean, in a move to convince the Soviets of American resolve. But a ceasefire was declared later the same day, with Israel ending up in control of Syria’s Golan Heights, Egypt’s Sinai, and Palestinian lands including Gaza and East Jerusalem.

But a wider war was averted. Johnson’s suspicions about Israel’s expansionist intent had kept the United States from making an even bigger commitment that might have led to the Soviets countering with an escalation of their own.

Nixon and Yom Kippur

Israeli occupation of those additional Arab lands set the stage for a resumption of hostilities six years later, on Oct. 6, 1973, with the Yom Kippur War, which began with a surprise attack by Egypt against Israeli forces in the Sinai.

The offensive caught Israel off guard and Arab forces were close to overrunning Israel’s outer defenses and entering the country. According to later accounts based primarily on Israeli leaks, Prime Minister Golda Meir and her “kitchen cabinet” ordered the arming of 13 nuclear weapons, which were aimed at Egyptian and Syrian targets.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Simha Dintz warned President Richard Nixon that very serious repercussions would occur if the United States did not immediately begin an airlift of military equipment and personnel to Israel.

Fearing that the Soviet Union might intervene and that nuclear war was possible, the U.S. military raised its alert level to DEFCON-3. U.S. Airborne units in Italy were put on full alert, and military aid was rushed to Israel.

Faced with a well-supplied Israeli counteroffensive and possible nuclear annihilation, the Arab forces fell back. The war ended on Oct. 26, 1973, but the United States had again been pushed to the brink of a possible superpower confrontation due to the unresolved Israeli-Arab conflict.

Nuclear ‘Ambiguity’

On Sept. 22, 1979, after some clouds unexpectedly broke over the South Indian Ocean, a U.S. intelligence satellite detected two bright flashes of light that were quickly interpreted as evidence of a nuclear test.

The explosion was apparently one of several nuclear tests that Israel had undertaken in collaboration with the white-supremacist government of South Africa. But President Jimmy Carter – at the start of his reelection bid – didn’t want a showdown with Israel, especially on a point as sensitive as its secret nuclear work with the pariah government in Pretoria.

So, after news of the nuclear test leaked a month later, the Carter administration followed Israel’s longstanding policy of “ambiguity” about the existence of its nuclear arsenal, a charade dating back to Richard Nixon’s presidency with the United States pretending not to know for sure that Israel possessed nuclear bombs.

The Carter administration quickly claimed that there was “no confirmation” of a nuclear test, and a panel was set up to conclude that the flashes were “probably not from a nuclear explosion.”

However, as investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and various nuclear experts later concluded, the flashes were most certainly an explosion of a low-yield nuclear weapon. [For details, see Hersh’s Samson Option.]

Getting Carter

Despite Carter’s helpful cover-up of the Israeli-South African nuclear test, he was still viewed with disdain by Israel’s hard-line Likud leadership. Indeed, he arguably was the target of Israel’s most audacious intervention in U.S. politics.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin was furious at Carter over the 1978 Camp David accords in which the U.S. President pushed the Israelis into returning the Sinai to the Egyptians in exchange for a peace agreement.

The next year, Carter failed to protect the Shah of Iran, an important Israeli regional ally who was forced from power by Islamic militants. Then, when Carter acceded to demands from the Shah’s supporters to admit him to New York for cancer treatment, Iranian radicals seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage.

In 1980, as Carter focused on his reelection campaign, Begin saw both dangers and opportunities. High-ranking Israeli diplomat/spy David Kimche described Begin’s thinking in the 1991 book, The Last Option, recounting how Begin feared that Carter might force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and accept a Palestinian state if he won a second term.

“Begin was being set up for diplomatic slaughter by the master butchers in Washington,” Kimche wrote. “They had, moreover, the apparent blessing of the two presidents, Carter and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat, for this bizarre and clumsy attempt at collusion designed to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Begin’s alarm was driven by the prospect of Carter being freed from the pressure of having to face another election, according to Kimche.

“Unbeknownst to the Israeli negotiators, the Egyptians held an ace up their sleeves, and they were waiting to play it,” Kimche wrote. “The card was President Carter’s tacit agreement that after the American presidential elections in November 1980, when Carter expected to be re-elected for a second term, he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby.”

So, by spring 1980, Begin had privately sided with Carter’s Republican rival, Ronald Reagan, a reality that Carter soon realized.

Questioned by congressional investigators in 1992 regarding allegations about Israel conspiring with Republicans in 1980 to help unseat him, Carter said he knew by April 1980 that “Israel cast their lot with Reagan,” according to notes found among the unpublished documents in the files of a House task force that looked into the so-called October Surprise case.

Carter traced the Israeli opposition to his reelection to a “lingering concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs.”

Doing What Was Necessary

Begin was an Israeli leader committed to do whatever he felt necessary to advance Israeli security interests and the dream of a Greater Israel with Jews controlling the ancient Biblical lands. Before Israel’s independence in 1948, he had led a Zionist terrorist group, and he founded the right-wing Likud Party in 1973 with the goal of “changing the facts on the ground” by placing Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

Begin’s anger over the Sinai deal and his fear of Carter’s reelection set the stage for secret collaboration between Begin and the Republicans, according to another former Israeli intelligence official, Ari Ben-Menashe.

“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” Ben-Menashe wrote in his 1992 memoir, Profits of War. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”

Ben-Menashe, an Iranian-born Jew who had immigrated to Israel as a teen-ager, became part of a secret Israeli program to reestablish its Iranian intelligence network that had been decimated by the Islamic revolution. Ben-Menashe wrote that Begin authorized shipments to Iran of small arms and some military spare parts, via South Africa, as early as September 1979 and continued them despite Iran’s seizure of the U.S. hostages in November 1979.

Extensive evidence also exists that Begin’s preference for Reagan led the Israelis to join in a covert operation with Republicans to contact Iranian leaders behind Carter’s back, interfering with the President’s efforts to free the 52 American hostages before the November 1980 elections.

That evidence includes statements from senior Iranian officials, international arms dealers, intelligence operatives, and Middle East political figures (including a cryptic confirmation from Begin’s successor Yitzhak Shamir). But the truth about the October Surprise case remains in dispute to this day. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

It is clear that after Reagan defeated Carter — and the U.S. hostages were released immediately upon Reagan being sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981 — Israeli-brokered weapons shipments flowed to Iran with the secret blessing of the new Republican administration.

Dealing with Reagan

The Israel Lobby had grown exponentially since its start in the Eisenhower years. Israel’s influential supporters were now positioned to use every political device imaginable to lobby Congress and to get the White House to acquiesce to whatever Israel felt it needed.

President Reagan also credentialed into the Executive Branch a new group of pro-Israeli American officials – the likes of Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen and Jeane Kirkpatrick – who became known as the neocons.

Yet, despite Reagan’s pro-Israel policies, the new U.S. President wasn’t immune from more Israeli deceptions and additional pressures.

Indeed, whether because of the alleged collusion with Reagan during the 1980 campaign or because Israel sensed its greater clout within his administration, Begin demonstrated a new level of audacity.

In 1981, Israel recruited Jonathan Pollard, an American Navy intelligence analyst, as a spy to acquire American intelligence satellite photos. Eventually, Pollard purloined massive amounts of intelligence information, some of which was reportedly turned over to Soviet intelligence by Israel to win favors from Moscow.

Prime Minister Begin sensed, too, that the time was ripe to gain the upper hand on other Arab enemies. He turned his attention to Lebanon, where the Palestine Liberation Organization was based.

Lebanon War

When U.S. intelligence warned Reagan that Israel was massing troops along the border with Lebanon, Reagan sent a cable to Begin urging him not to invade. But Begin ignored Reagan’s plea and invaded Lebanon the following day, on June 6, 1982. [See Time, Aug. 16, 1982.]

As the offensive progressed, Reagan sought a cessation of hostilities between Israel and the PLO, but Israel was intent on killing as many PLO fighters as possible. Periodic U.S.-brokered ceasefires failed as Israel used the slightest provocation to resume fighting, supposedly in self-defense.

“When PLO sniper fire is followed by fourteen hours of Israeli bombardment that is stretching the definition of defensive action too far,” complained Reagan, who kept the picture of a horribly burned Lebanese child on his desk in the Oval Office as a reminder of the tragedy of Lebanon.

The American public nightly witnessed the Israeli bombardment of Beirut on television news broadcasts. The pictures of dead, mutilated children caught in the Israeli artillery barrages, were particularly wrenching. Repulsed by the carnage, the U.S. public decidedly favored forcing Israel to stop.

When Reagan warned Israel of possible sanctions if its forces continued to indiscriminately attack Beirut, Israel launched a major offensive against West Beirut the next day.

In the United States, Israeli supporters demanded a meeting with Reagan to press Israel’s case. Though Reagan declined the meeting, one was set up for 40 leaders of various Jewish organizations with Vice President George H.W. Bush, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz.

Reagan wrote once again to Begin, reminding him that Israel was allowed to use American weapons only for defensive purposes. He appealed to Begin’s humanitarianism to stop the bombardment.
The next day, in a meeting with Israeli supporters from the United States, Begin fumed that he would not be instructed by an American president or any other U.S. official.

“Nobody is going to bring Israel to her knees. You must have forgotten that Jews do not kneel but to God,” Begin said. “Nobody is going to preach to us humanitarianism.”

Begin’s government also used the tragedy in Lebanon as an opportunity to provide special favors for its American backers.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, New York Times correspondent Thomas L. Freidman wrote that the Israeli Army conducted tours of the battlefront for influential U.S. donors. On one occasion, women from Hadassah were taken to the hills surrounding Beirut and were invited to look down on the city as Israeli artillery put on a display for them.

The artillery began an enormous barrage, with shells landing throughout the densely populated city. The shells struck and destroyed apartments, shops, homes and shacks

Labels: Hope Palestine, Israeli Hawks, Security Israel, Speaker Mike Ghouse, www.IsraelPalestinedialouge.com

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Turkish Government to Return Seized Property to Religious Minorities

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sebnem Arsu

ANKARA, Turkey — The Turkish government said it would return hundreds of properties that were confiscated from religious minorities by the state or other parties over the years since 1936, and would pay compensation for properties that were seized and later sold.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the announcement on Sunday to representatives of more than 150 Christian and Jewish trusts gathered at a dinner he hosted in Istanbul to break the day’s Ramadan fast. The government decree to return the properties, bypassing nationalist opposition in Parliament, was issued late Saturday.

The European Union, which Turkey has applied to join, has pressed the country to ease or eliminate laws and policies that discriminate against non-Muslim religious groups, including restrictions on land ownership. Many of the properties, including schools, hospitals, orphanages and cemeteries, were seized after 1936 when trusts were called to list their assets, and in 1974 a separate ruling banned the groups from purchasing any new real estate.

Disputes over the groups’ properties have tied up Turkish and European courts for decades, and the European Court for Human Rights has ordered Turkey to pay compensation in several cases related to religious minority rights in recent years.

“Like everyone else, we also do know about the injustices that different religious groups have been subjected to because of their differences,” Mr. Erdogan said at the dinner, according to the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency. “Times that a citizen of ours would be oppressed due to his religion, ethnic origin or different way of life are over.”

In contrast with its staunchly secular predecessors, the Islam-inspired government of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as A.K.P., has been more sympathetic and attentive to Turkey’s non-Muslims, including Jews and Christians. It has enacted a number of measures since 2002 to bring Turkish law more into compliance with European Union standards on minority rights, so that Turkey’s application to join the union could advance.

The decree issued on Saturday removed legal impediments that had continued to block the return of the properties even after amendments were enacted in recent years to allow it.

“There have been changes made to existent legislation at least five times since the government of the A.K. Party, but they have not been very satisfactory in practice,” said a Greek government official who asked not to be identified because of his diplomatic position. “We hope this time the changes would make a real difference in implementation.”

Less than 1 percent of Turkey’s 74 million people belong to religious minorities; there are about 120,000 Christians of different denominations, including Greek Orthodox, and about 25,000 Jews.

A version of this article appeared in print on August 29, 2011, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Turkish Government to Return Seized Property to Religious Minorities.

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Two Americas

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Azher Quader

Executive Director, Community Builders Chicago www.mycommunitybuilders.com azherquader@yahoo.com

The preamble to the US Constitution reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense,  promote the general  Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Some 223 years later America is still searching for that perfect union as it struggles to find unity within its ever expanding diversity.

Senator John Edwards during his presidential campaign of 2004 alluded to this growing division in these words:

Today there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life.

One America — middle-class America – whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America – narrow-interest America – whose every wish is Washington’s command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a President.

We see the two faces of America frowning at each other more and more these days. Be it the fight to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, or to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act enacted recently, or to change the immigration law to accommodate the undocumented. The divide in the country is sadly much deeper than what might appear to be on the basis of partisan politics.

What started as a friendly encounter between the pilgrims and the natives when they first landed at Plymouth ended up a few years later in the horrific tragedy that came to be recorded in American history as the trail of tears. When slave owners in the south refused to give up their white privilege, we fought a bloody civil war that pitted family against family and neighbor against neighbor. Subsequently laws were passed against slavery. Civil rights for Afro Americans were later restored. Yet years later the racial divide still continues to haunt us. When nineteen terrorists brought down the twin towers in Manhattan killing over three thousand innocent Americans we went to war again, this time against terror. Although Muslim Americans had nothing to do with the attacks, a decade later over half the nation eyes them with suspicion, doubting their loyalty.

This goal for a more perfect union is obviously not so easy to reach.

In over two hundred years we have not learnt to let go our prejudices, overcome our phobias, and subdue our bigotry.

We clearly live in two Americas.

In one the Muslims are respected, in the other they are hated.

In one live the rich and powerful steeped in privilege. In the other are the poor and powerless living from paycheck to paycheck.

In one are the hardworking. In the other those that hardly work.

In one are the passionate whose passion is big business. In the other are the committed, whose commitment is big government.

In one are those who believe in the power of self. In the other are those who believe in the strength of the state.

In one are those who believe in the compassion of owners. In the other are those who believe in the bargaining rights of the workers.

In one are those who believe charity corrupts the soul, stunts its growth. In the other are those who believe charity elevates the spirit and renews hope.

In one live those who understand the power of Wall Street. In the other are those only familiar with the ways of Main Street.

One America believes in marriage. The other America believes in civil union.

One asks for condoms in schools. The other says let there be abstinence.

One wants abortion on demand. The other says stop the killings.

One wants drugs legalized. The other wants drugs outlawed.

One claims health care is a right. The other says no it is a privilege.

One believes Medicare is a mistake and needs to be ended. The other knows it is a blessing, needs preserved.

One seeks solutions for the 12 million undocumented. The other says no deal, deport all.

One asks for gun laws that save lives and curbs violence. The other quotes the constitution and refuses to budge.

One seeks energy options that are cleaner and greener for the future.

The other refuses to let go the polluting ways of the past.

How then can we bridge these many divides?  Whence will come about that more perfect union?

Perhaps our scriptures hold the secret. Where reason fails to show the way, why not give revelation a chance.

Revelation tells us to be humble not arrogant, to provide for the welfare of others, not remaining absorbed with the concerns of our self interests, that people are to be judged by the nobility of their deeds, that compassion freedom and justice are to be practiced as a lifestyle,  not transcribed on paper and  hung on a wall, that anger, hate and fear can be overcome by the power of belief, that compromise is not a sign of weakness or failure but a means to heal many a wounds of dissent and mistrust.

Our constitution bars the state from imposing any one religion on the people, but does not deny us the right to practice the guidance of our revealed truths. If our understanding of worship ever travels beyond the narrow confines of the rituals that bind it, then some day we can yet rise as a people of faith to bridge our divides. That more perfect union which eludes us can perhaps come within our grasp only through a life of faith. Not faith defined by dogmas and traditions, but faith inspired by reason and revelations anchored in universal principles that transcend our ideological divides.

For Muslim Americans in the midst of yet another blessed month of Ramadan, what better time than this, to go beyond the punishing schedule of praying and fasting each day, to practice their faith as it is meant to be. Letting go of arrogance to embrace humility, embracing love in place of hate, promoting justice in place of prejudice, showing courage in place of fear, adopting patience in times of adversity, demonstrating integrity in the face of temptations.

As a community of faith, maybe we can do our part in bringing the two Americas together. To do that would mean not only working on our inner dimension, but also on our outer. Our spiritual journey cannot take us to a mountain top where we find peace and tranquility away from the turmoil in the valley. Our faith is incomplete without engagement in the problems of the world we live in. It is not enough to write a check and go to sleep when we can do much more. For from those who are given much, much is expected. Our busy social calendars cannot excuse us from the demands of political engagement Our alluring love for travel to distant exotic destinations cannot exempt us from serving the needy within our backyards. There is much for us to do. The two Americas we live in are waiting for our involvement.

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Saints Sign Quddus from Fordham

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, TMO, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

michael-colvin-45f06c2dce04d7f6
File: Lehigh’s Michael Colvin scoots past Fordham’s Isa Abdul-Quddus.

Fordham University safety Isa Abdul Quddus has been added to the New Orleans Saints’ list of undrafted rookie free agents.  Quddus is a 6’ 1” 200-pound safety that played four seasons for the Fordham Rams.  Quddus started out playing cornerback for Fordham but was moved to safety entering his senior season.

Quddus led the Rams in total tackles in 2010 with 70 stops.  50 of his tackles were solo stops, and he also had six pass break ups and three forced fumbles in 2010.  Quddus also returned one kickoff for the Rams for 29 yards during his senior season.

Per his biography on the Fordham University athletic department website, Quddus is a graduate of Union High School in Union, New Jersey where he lettered in football and track. He was a First Team All-County and Second Team All-State selection in football as a senior. He was named to the New Jersey Coaches Super 100 Team. In his high school career he made over 100 tackles in both his junior and senior season. On the track team, he won the county championship in the 100m as a senior (10.9). He also took third place in the 200m (22.6). He was named First Team All-County in track in 2005.
Sports Illustrated describes his positives: “Athletic safety prospect who is at his best defending the run. Breaks down well, strong at the point of attack, and wraps up tackling. Quickly breaks to the action out of his plant, physical, and works hard to get involved and make plays.”

Sports Illustrated further states, “Abdul-Quddus possesses the size/speed numbers to play at the next level and has shown enough football skills to be given looks in camp this summer. He must quickly pick up his play in coverage though, as he’s often a liability against the pass.”

Isa is a Business Administration major. He has one sibling, a brother named Rafiqu.

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Workers and Women Fight for Their Share of Egypt’s Revolution

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Some 100,000 protesters gathered in Tahrir Square on May 27 to demand civilian, not military, rule.

By Reese Erlich

EGYPT/

A boy jumps from a pedestrian bridge into a small branch of the river Nile, to cool off on a hot day in Cairo June 3, 2011.

REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

CAIRO—As Dr. Mohammad Shafik stands in the chaotic emergency room of the Cairo hospital where he works, his biggest worry as patients are wheeled in is not about issues of medical care. What concerns him is the lack of police protection against the fights and even murders that occur all too often in the city’s hospitals. A dispute between two people might result in one coming to the hospital with a gunshot wound, and then the relatives of those involved “come in and fight here,” he says. “All the police disappear with the hint of danger.”

Egyptian police, once a key component in the repressive apparatus of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship, now often refuse to carry out their jobs, according to Shafik and other doctors. That’s just one sign of the upheaval roiling Egypt since the revolution that forced Mubarak’s resignation in February.

The health care system has become an important battle ground. Shafik says, “Of course we haven’t totally changed the regime as we had hoped. They are trying to reinvent the regime with new faces. That’s what makes the health care struggle key in Egypt. Every percentage point for increasing health care will come from the budget of the Ministry of Interior and other parts of the oppressive machine.”

The government allocates 3.6 percent of the national budget for health care, while the repressive Ministry of Interior funds an armed force of 1.4 million police.

Immediately after the revolution, doctors and other hospital staff members in various parts of Egypt formed independent unions. At Shafik’s hospital, Manshiet el Bakry, freshly organized workers threw out the old, pro-Mubarak hospital administrator and elected a new one.

Similar independent unions have sprung up spontaneously in textile, aluminum and other factories. Even the workers who issue marriage licenses have unionized and threatened to strike for higher pay.

Union members are asking for a minimum wage of $200 per month, among other demands. A hospital resident such as Shafik currently earns a base pay of only $50 per month.

Ellis J. Goldberg, a political science professor at the University of Washington and now visiting professor at American University in Cairo, says the current military government in Egypt is unwilling to meet such demands.

“They don’t want to make those hard decisions,” he says. “They might if there was some major political upheaval by the workers.”

Goldberg notes that hundreds of workplaces around the country have experienced strikes and demonstrations since February. A plethora of independent unions, worker federations and worker parties arose. To date, some have won local demands for wage increases or replacement of workplace administrators. But the government has resisted more thoroughgoing changes.

Goldberg says Mubarak cronies still control much of the economy through corruption and political patronage.

Some 40 “people formed the leadership of the ruling party and had significant economic interest in sectors of the economy benefiting from state contracts,” he says. “They used political power to maintain monopolies.”

Twenty years ago, the Mubarak regime began selling off state-owned enterprises to favored cronies, resulting in the layoff of tens of thousands of workers. Today, many workers want to re-nationalize some of the factories.

Fatma Ramadan, a researcher with the Union of Workers and Working Forces, says, “I favor re-nationalization. But workers should be part of the new management.”

Many organizations are competing for worker support. Conservative Islamist groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, have considerable backing among rural farmers, workers and the urban poor.
The Muslim Brotherhood has generally opposed strikes and demonstrations against the military government. It hopes to gain a substantial number of seats in the September parliamentary elections, and Brotherhood leaders are cooperating with the military in the meantime.

Brotherhood officials stress that strikes and demonstrations are too disruptive, a view that is shared by many ordinary Egyptians.

Interviewed after Friday prayers at a mosque, truck driver Ahmad Fathi says, “We should give the government some time. We shouldn’t have sit-ins and demonstrations every day. We need time for things to get back to normal.”

But union leaders and Tahrir Square activists don’t want things to go back to normal. Women workers are demanding an end to discrimination in hiring and promotions, and want government-funded child care. Fatma Ramadan says, “A woman is supposed to feed the kids and take them to school—along with working. There’s a lot of pressure on women workers.”

Women played an important role in the occupation of Tahrir Square and in the subsequent demonstrations and strikes. Women in Egypt are more prominent in professions and society in general than those in many other Arab countries.

For example, says Dr. Nadia el Ebissy, about 60 percent of the 400 doctors at Manshiet el Bakry Hospital are women. That’s partly because of opportunities for women in medical education and partly because many male doctors leave the country to earn higher salaries.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, some 1,000 women and their male supporters rallied in Cairo to demand, among other things, that women be allowed to run for president and become judges. The rally was viciously attacked, some say by thugs of the former regime.

Salma Shukrallah, a journalist with Ahram Online, says the Women’s Day attack didn’t permanently set back the efforts for women’s equality. She says major politicians must now at least pay lip service to the idea that a woman could be president. “Women’s demands are very much central,” she says. “But the widespread social values are still very sexist.”

Back at Manshiet el Bakry Hospital, newly elected administrator Dr. Milad Ismail has found interim funding through outside donations. “We now depend on donations from civil society, NGOs, from doctors at the hospital,” he says. “We also rely on the spirit of the workers.” Some hospital profits will now be used to hire private security guards to protect the doctors and staff. Dr. Ismail says the battle continues to get adequate funding from the Ministry of Health.

Dr. Shafik says the Tahrir Square occupation changed medical workers’ lives forever. “Doctors had revolutionary experiences,” he says. “Protesters died in our hands. That experience which has been transferred to us cannot be taken away.”

Veteran foreign correspondent Reese Erlich has covered the Middle East for 25 years. His reports from Egypt are funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Follow his blogs and read his other stories at the Pulitzer center’s website.

13-24

Battle over Circumcision Shaping Up in California

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sue Fishkoff

rabbi

Rabbi Gil Leeds, right, performs a brit milah in Palo Alto, Calif., in July 2010. The baby is held by Mitchell Ackerson; Rabbi Yitzchok Feldman looks on. (Alex Axelrod)

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — In November, San Franciscans will vote on a ballot measure that would outlaw circumcision on boys under the age of 18.

Although experts say it is highly unlikely the measure will pass — very few state propositions pass, much less one this controversial — the mere fact that it reached the ballot, and in such a major city, has caused much concern for Jews and their allies.

Opponents of the bill see it as a violation of the Constitution’s protection of religious rights and an infringement on physicians’ ability to practice medicine. More than that, however, the measure is being seen as a frontal attack on a central tenet of Judaism.

“The stakes are very high,” said Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs. “Circumcision is a fundamental aspect of Jewish ritual practice and Jewish identity. While we certainly hope the prospect of its being enacted is remote, the precedent it would set and the message it would send would be terrible, not just in the United States but around the world.
“We don’t just want it defeated,” he said, “we want it defeated resoundly.”

Anti-circumcision activists have been around for decades, particularly on the West Coast.

They range from the Bay Area Intactivists, a loosely organized group that protests outside medical conferences in and around San Francisco, to MGM Bill (MGM stands for male genital mutilation), a San Diego-based advocacy group that has prepared anti-circumcision legislation for 46 states. MGM has managed to find a legislative sponsor in only one state: Massachusetts, last year. The bill didn’t even make it out of committee.

Matthew Hess, who founded MGM Bill in 2003 and spearheads its legislative efforts, says he is trying to protect boys from what he considers a barbaric mutilation of their bodies. He became an activist in his mid-20s, he says, when he decided that his own circumcision as an infant resulted in diminished sexual sensitivity as an adult.

“Freedom of religion stops at another person’s body,” he told JTA.

Last fall, MGM Bill changed its tactics, deciding to bypass the U.S. Congress and go straight to voters. The group gathered more than 12,000 signatures in San Francisco, enough to have the measure placed on the Nov. 8 ballot. If it passes, anyone who circumcises a boy under the age of 18 within city limits faces a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. The only exception would be for “compelling and immediate medical need.”

A similar effort is under way in Santa Monica, Calif., for that city’s November 2012 election. Hess says no other cities are being targeted — for now.

The Jewish community responded immediately and loudly to the San Francisco ballot initiative, with denunciations from across the nation. The American Jewish Committee called it a “direct assault on Jewish religious practice” that was “unprecedented in American Jewish life.” The Orthodox Union said the measure is “likely illegal” and is “patently discriminatory against Jews and Muslims.”

Locally, the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council organized a wide-ranging coalition of religious, medical, legal and political leaders to oppose the ballot measure. It was the first time that the Jewish community organized a formal counter effort because it was the first time that such a measure has made it to the ballot, according to Abby Porth, the JCRC’s associate director and the force behind the Committee for Parental Choice and Religious Freedom.

The newly formed committee, which also includes Muslim and Christian leaders, is still organizing its legal strategy; Porth declined to provide details.

Muslims also practice ritual circumcision on boys, although it can take place at any time before puberty.

The fight against the San Francisco ballot measure has brought a number of Muslim organizations into the JCRC-led coalition, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Bay Area director Zahra Billoo notes that CAIR rarely finds itself on the same political side as groups such as the Orthodox Union.

It’s the assault on religious freedoms that brings the two together, Billoo said.

“The civil rights of Jewish and Muslims are being impacted,” she told JTA. “We don’t agree on all things all the time, but we do find common cause in many areas. An attack on one religion is an attack on all religions.”

A popular local mohel, Rabbi Gil Leeds, director of the Chabad Center of the University of California, Berkeley, says he’s been fielding calls and e-mails from all over the area expressing concern.

“Jews from across the spectrum of Jewish observance, as well as many non-Jews, have responded in shock at this attempt to undermine our basic human rights as parents and as Jews,” Leeds said.
Proponents and opponents of a ban on circumcision argue over the health benefits and legal aspects of the practice.

“To say it has no medical benefit and so should be outlawed is completely untrue,” said Dr. Mark Glasser, a retired Bay Area ob-gyn who estimates that he has performed hundreds of circumcisions during his 35 years in practice.

Glasser notes that the World Health Organization supports circumcision as a preventative measure against HIV transmission, and several Centers for Disease Control studies show the same result. The American Academy of Pediatrics is neutral, as is the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. But Glasser says those positions have not be revisited since the most recent AIDS studies.

“The unfortunate part is that people laugh — they say the San Francisco crazies are at it again. But this is no laughing matter,” he said. “Circumcision is very low-risk and has tremendous benefits, including life-saving benefits.”

Joel Paul, professor of constitutional law and associate dean of the University of California Hastings School of Law, says the law likely would not survive a court challenge — which could come even before the Nov. 8 ballot.

The proposed measure appears to violate the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion, and entangles the state in religious matters by putting the state in the position of judging whether a certain religious practice is permissible. Moreover, putting such a matter to a popular vote contravenes the Constitution’s many protections of the rights of individuals and minorities.

“This proposition would let the majority decide religious practice for a religious group,” Paul told JTA. “It’s not part of our politics. No one should have to go into an election and be asked to defend their religion.”

Hess argues, on the other hand, that the law is on his side. Noting that female genital mutilation is illegal in this country, he says boys should get equal protection under the law, no matter the religious beliefs of their parents.

That is a false and dangerous analogy, Porth says.

“Female genital mutilation is illegal because it is a cruel practice, medically harmful and performed for the explicit purpose of preventing female sexual satisfaction,” she said. “In contrast, there’s no credible medical evidence that male circumcision is harmful or that it prevents sexual satisfaction. Its purpose is for health reasons and religious belief.”

13-23

Community News (V11-I50)

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Dr. Omar Ali develops cancer vaccine

CAMBRIDGE, MA–A team Harvard bioengineers and biologists have developed a cancer vaccine that eradicates melanoma tumors in mice and slows their reoccurrence. The study which was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, used a plastic disk implant carrying the vaccine to recognize and eliminate tumor cells, the Harvard Crimson reported.

The new vaccine specifically attacks cancerous cells, avoiding the collateral damage on healthy cells that other cancer treatments often cause. This approach may also build long-term resistance within the immune system, the researchers said.

Dr. Omar  A. Ali, a researcher at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is the co-author of this study.

He holds a Ph.D. in Engineering and Applied Sciences from Harvard University (2008). His research focuses on developing cell-instructive materials to study immune processes. His research has resulted in publications, patents and the foundation of a start-up company, InCytu, which aims to develop regenerative methods for vascular disease and vaccine delivery systems.

He has also contributed to the Encyclopedia of Islam in the United States published by the Greenwood Press.

Saving by cutting back on Halal food ?

DEARBORN, MI–The Dearborn school district has one of the largest concentration of Muslim students. The students have been offered the option of eating halal hot dogs and chicken nuggets for a number of years. But if the teacher’s union have their say the choice will no longer be made available.

The union had listed halal foods among the list it presented to the district which it said could lead to potential savings.

While most of the other items on the list had a value attached the union did not provide any such details for eliminating Halal foods from the lunch program.
However, better sense prevailed and the school district did not even consider the option. While this a relief it also brings into question the real intentions of the teacher’s union.

Hertz sued for accommodating Muslim employees

ATLANTA, A–Hertz Global Holdings Inc., the second-largest U.S. rental car company, was sued by former employees who say its policy of allowing Muslims to take daily prayer breaks discriminates against non-Muslim workers, according to press reports.

Katie Barkley and Shirley Harris, who worked as part-time drivers moving Hertz cars from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to other locations, claim Muslim employees were given as many as three paid, 15-minute prayer breaks each shift while non-Muslim employees were denied equal time off, according to the suit filed Nov. 30 in federal court in Atlanta.

Barkley and Harris lost their jobs in February when Hertz fired all 120 drivers at Hartsfield and replaced them with contract drivers, according to the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status as well as back pay and other damages.

A similar suit filed in 2007 is pending before the same court. In August, Hertz said in court documents filed in that case that it allows Muslim employees at the Atlanta airport to take prayer breaks and that they aren’t required to clock out. A non-Muslim worker “has no need for such an accommodation,” Park Ridge, N.J.-based Hertz said in the court documents.

Slaughterhouse proposal rejected

ALMA,TX–Ellis County commissioners last week rejected a proposal to build a halal slaughterhouse on a 200 acre property. The property is owned Shamsul Ahmed who runs a grazing ranch and wanted to build a 4,000 square-foot slaughterhouse for specialty processing.

The halal facility would have hired 20 people. Ahmed said it would be run according to the state and federal rules, as well as the Halal requirements, which adds up to cleanliness first. An estimated 25-30 steers or heifers a well, and up to 400 goats a week were to be slaughtered there.

The country commissioners rejected the plan by saying it wouldn’t fit into the growing residential area in southern Ellis County. Despite the refusal Ahmed is not giving up. He is hoping to locate his plant near    Interstate 45 since his primary customers will be businesses in North Dallas.

Texas has a growing Muslim population of more than 400,000 and their needs are not met by the current businesses which cater to them.

11-50

Reality Check for Obama in Afghanistan

February 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

He’s facing pressure to increase US troop levels there. Has Washington learned nothing from the Soviet experience?

Courtesy Walter Rodgers

 

2009-02-18T122025Z_01_POP09_RTRMDNP_3_AFGHANISTAN

between the U.S. troop commander in the area and local tribal leaders near Khas Kunar refugee camp, Kunar Province, eastern Afghanistan February 18, 2009.

REUTERS/Oleg Popov  

Oakton, Va. – History may not repeat itself, but all too often it recycles mistakes. In 1961, before the Vietnam War became full-fledged, former Gen. Douglas MacArthur warned President Kennedy not to fight a land war in Asia. Over the next 14 years, more than 58,000 Americans died as Washington ignored his advice and ramped up operations.

Today, the US is stuck in another land war in Asia: Afghanistan. The original mission was to capture Osama bin Laden, disable Al Qaeda, remove the Taliban, and keep the country from being a safe haven for terrorists. After seven years of fighting, hundreds of dead US soldiers and thousands more wounded, those objectives have not been met.

And now the US wants to double down, adding as many as 30,000 additional US troops there to get the job done.

Sharp lessons from the Soviets

It’s unfathomable that Washington learned so little from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which ended in an ignominious retreat followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union three years later. The Soviets lost 15,000 soldiers.

In the brief honeymoon after the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, US and Russian intellectuals and officials met to analyze the Afghan war and concluded it would have required 750,000 to 1 million Soviet troops to subdue Afghanistan. But Moscow never deployed more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at any one time. The Soviets discovered they could win battles but never hold more than a few cities in a country the size of Texas.

The United States now has 33,000 troops in Afghanistan. Even if President Obama agrees to double that amount, the effort will be wasted. Half a million US troops might not be enough. It wasn’t in Vietnam. Mr. Obama needs to recognize that hesitation to expand the war in Afghanistan has nothing to do with will or cowardice and everything to do with wisdom.

The totalitarian Soviets lacked the political will to deploy three quarters of a million troops. Kremlin mossbacks knew even the docile Russian populace of the Communist era wouldn’t buy it. In 1979, when the ruling Politburo reluctantly decided to send in the troops, it was bitterly opposed by the chief of staff, Marshal of the Army Nikolai Ograkov. He flatly first told then-Defense Minister Dimitri Ustinov and later party leader Leonid Brezhnev that a war in Afghanistan would be a huge mistake. So controversial was the decision to commit Russian forces that only a handful of senior members of the ruling Politburo participated. In the end, those elders chose to go in, primarily because they feared the US was trying to destabilize Afghanistan and sew it into the West’s patchwork encirclement of the Soviet Union.

It took nine years before Moscow concluded that its war in Afghanistan was a mistake. After the cold war, Russia declassified documents on Afghanistan and the West learned that on more than a dozen occasions between March of 1979 and the December invasion, Brezhnev refused to intervene despite destabilization of the Soviet Union’s southern border.

As a correspondent based in Moscow in the 1980s, I made several trips into Afghanistan with the Soviets. When I returned to Moscow, my Russian office manager asked me what it was like there. Waxing enthusiastic, I told her, “It was magnificent, straight out of Kipling and the 19th century.” Her blue Slavic eyes narrowed. “No, Walt, you are wrong. Afghanistan is the 14th century.”

After 9/11, when hordes of reporters traveled to this mystical, medieval land, the recommended reading was historical fiction of the late George MacDonald Fraser’s first “Flashman” volume on the Anglo-Afghan War of 1839-1842. The entire retreating British column of upwards of 16,000 men, women, and children – save for one survivor – was wiped out by the forefathers of those who drove the Soviets out 150 years later. Obama would be well advised to read “Flashman” and realize how little Afghanistan has changed.

It would be delusional to expect any American expeditionary force to liberate and enlighten Afghans, freeing women from resurgent Taliban. There’s an adage familiar to all who worked there: “There only two times an Afghan woman leaves her home: when she gets married and when she dies.” Afghanistan is a land polka-dotted in graveyards beyond counting. UNICEF says 20 percent of all Afghan children die before their fifth birthday. The entire US Army will not be able to convert greedy warlords to modernity.

Afghanistan is a feudal quilt of tribes. It’s disingenuous to call it a country. It is a failed state, perhaps best babysat by its regional neighbors: Russia, Iran, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and India.

Their individual interests and goals in Afghanistan may differ, but none is eager to have a rejuvenated Al Qaeda caliphate led by loose cannons such as Ayman al-Zawahiri or Osama bin Laden, whom they cannot control. If three regional superpowers – India, China, and Russia – opt to sit on the sidelines in their own neighborhood, what logic is there for American intervention from an ocean and continent away?

Even as they request more troops, US generals have acknowledged that an Iraq-style “surge” won’t work. “Afghanistan is not Iraq,” said Gen. David McKiernan, who leads US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. General McKiernan, who led ground forces in Iraq in 2003, has described Afghanistan as “a far more complex environment than I ever found in Iraq.” Today, the Pentagon talks of achieving not victory or lasting democracy but merely progress against militants.

No good options left

There are no good options left after the Bush administration’s unnecessary war in Iraq. An increased American intervention in Afghanistan might have been more welcome six years ago. Now it is probably too late. Yet a total American withdrawal from Afghanistan would leave in its wake anarchy and bloodbath. An ugly Taliban triumph would ensue. The Taliban need to be contained, but not exclusively by the US, so Obama must persuade NATO and Afghanistan’s near neighbors to play a larger, perhaps dominant, role.

Pakistan can no longer labor under the ill usion that it can manipulate events from across the border. If the Pakistanis have learned anything since 9/11, it should be that Afghanistan’s growing destabilization increasingly threatens their own society. Imagine for a moment that the Obama administration were to announce a withdrawal from Afghanistan in six months. The regional powers who know their own neighborhood far better than Washington would quickly come up with a formula and the troops to stabilize the failed state. If there is no constituency among these neighbors to “fix” Afghanistan, then the US can no more go it alone than could the Russians.

The resurgent Taliban may be unstoppable. The Bush administration was warned of that four years ago but spent most of its resources instead in Iraq. Still, accommodation with the Taliban, who are brutal and medieval, is not the same as capitulation to bin Laden. Recall that in the late 1990s, the Taliban was initially reluctant to have an Arab-led Islamist jihad waged from Afghanistan. The past seven years of US bombing and war in the countryside have sharply reminded the Taliban that they were better off without bin Laden as a guest. The Sudanese were persuaded of that more than a decade ago.

The idea of creating a secular national army in Afghanistan to fend off the20Taliban is not only tardy but smacks of the usual American mind-set of throwing money and advisers at a problem. The Afghan tribes speak Pashto, Dari, Uzbek, and Turkmen with some Baluchi, Pashai, and Nuristani thrown in for good measure. Which language is the Afghan Army going to fight in?

The real challenge to a new Afghan Army, however, is that it is not aflame with the Islamic cohesiveness that fires the Taliban. Until it is, it will be little more than a collection of uninspired, unmotivated militiamen more interested in collecting a monthly American paycheck than in creating a unified nation out of the ashes of 30 years of war.

It is still not clear what Obama thinks other than that, unlike George W. Bush, he says Afghanistan is more central to the war on terror than Iraq. On that he is correct. Washington and Kabul just agreed to a strategic review of the war. Whatever option Obama chooses, he must not risk the same mistake the Soviets made in underestimating the energized power of the Islamic faith. An enlarged American footprint in Afghanistan runs the risk of repeating Russia’s fatal miscalculations. War, like politics, is the art of the possible.

Obama must remember that it is intolerable in the eyes of Muslims to be subjugated and occupied by non-Muslims, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan. Western military occupation didn’t work for the Crusaders in the Levant, for Napoleon in Egypt, or for the British in Iraq. Obama needs to be mindful of this as he decides whether to expand a war in southwest Asia, a historic graveyard of empires.

• Walter Rodgers is a former senior international correspondent for CNN.