Freeing A Spy

Today Jonathan Pollard was freed.  Pollard, a former analyst for the U.S. Navy, was a notorious spy who passed classified secrets to a foreign government before being caught in the 1980s and sent to jail for life.

So why isn’t Pollard mentioned in the same breath as the Rosenbergs, or Benedict Arnold, or other notorious spies in American history?  Could it be, perhaps, because he was an agent who spied for Israel, that long-time U.S. ally?

jonathan_pollardWeird, isn’t it, that Israel would spy on the United States?  Not really.  I’m quite confident that the United States regularly collects data on friends and foes alike — remember Angela Merkel’s cell phone? — because intelligence gathering is what intelligence agencies do.  If America thought that finding out what was going on at 10 Downing Street was essential to its national security, America would figure out how to get that information out of Great Britain, by hook or by crook.

That’s not to diminish what Israel did in the Pollard case, or Pollard’s betrayal of his country.  He purportedly thought the United States should give more information to Israel, and he provided Israel with huge amounts of classified data.  After he was arrested in 1985, Israel initially denied that he was an agent, but they eventually ‘fessed up and began to quietly lobby for Pollard’s release to eliminate a source of tension between Israel and America.

Now, after 30 years, Pollard has been freed.  His parole conditions require him to stay in America for five years, wearing a GPS bracelet, and submitting to inspections of his house.  His lawyers say the conditions are onerous and oppressive.  Of course, they beat being in jail for life.

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Jews In Europe, Again

On Saturday, a gunman in Copenhagen went on a rampage at a free speech event and then shot and killed a Jewish man guarding a synagogue before being killed by police; Danish authorities think he may have been trying to recreate last month’s murderous attacks at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, and a kosher supermarket, in Paris.  On Sunday, hundreds of Jewish tombs were desecrated in eastern France.  Surveys of Jews in Europe show increased worries about anti-Semitism, and a recent hidden camera video shows a Jewish man being insulted, spat upon, and threatened as he walked the streets of Paris.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to the Denmark incident by calling for Jews to emigrate to Israel; he said Jews deserve protection in every country but warned that the attacks will continue.  Some Jewish leaders in Europe rejected that call, arguing that, in one man’s words, for Jews to leave Europe would be handing Hitler a “posthumous victory.”  They contend, instead, that Jews should remain and advocate for increased democracy, vocal rejection of anti-Semitism by governments in the Eurozone, and increased police protection of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.

What should Jews do?  No one is predicting a second Holocaust — but no one predicted a first Holocaust, either.  No one wants to retreat in the face of depraved and murderous attacks, but would you want to continue to expose your family and children to potentially unsafe conditions and a culture in which slurs and physical intimidation are increasingly commonplace?  It’s an impossible individual choice, being made against the dark historical backdrop of genocide that happened on the European continent less than a century ago.

The burden instead must fall on governments to stop Europe from backsliding into hell.  Protest marches and public pronouncements are nice, but more must be done to stop the anti-Semitic wave, demonstrate the commitment to a Europe that welcomes and includes Jews, culturally and politically, and aggressively identify and prosecute the perpetrators of street bullying, vandalism, shootings, and every other anti-Jewish criminal act.  Americans can reinforce that message by not spending their money in Europe unless action is taken.

If people are to leave the European continent in the wake of an anti-Semitic wave, it should be the wrongdoers, not the persecuted.

Counting On The Alien Life Discovery Game-Changing Effect

In Gaza, Palestinians and Israelis are lobbing rockets and missiles at each others’ homes.  In Syria and Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites are murdering and beheading each other.  In Africa, Boko Haram continues its campaign of religious-based slaughter and kidnapping.  In central Asia, sectarian and tribal animosities have produced a wave of bombings and violence.  And in central America, conditions apparently are so bad that tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors have traveled hundreds of miles in a bid to cross the border into the U.S.

That’s why the best news of the last week was the announcement by NASA scientists that they believe that, within 20 years, humans will be able to confirm the existence of alien life.  They believe that current telescope technology, and new devices like the Transiting Exoplanet Surveying Satellite that will launch in 2017 and the James Webb Space Telescope that will launch in 2018, will allow us to detect the presence of liquid water and indications of life on other moons and planets in our solar system and elsewhere in the universe.  Could the scientists be wrong?  Certainly . . . but the rapid advancements in planet discoveries and related detection technologies make their prediction plausible.

Science fiction writers have long posited that the discovery of alien life would have a unifying effect on the fractured world of humanity.  Such a discovery, they theorize, would cause humans to realize that the tribal, ethnic, religious, and political differences between them are trivial in comparison to the differences between humans and other intelligent life forms.  The ancient animosities would end and all of humanity would band together and venture out into the galaxy on vehicles like the starship Enterprise.

Is it really possible that a discovery that humans are not alone might have such a game-changing effect?  It seems far-fetched that anything could alter the benighted mindsets of religious fanatics who want to enslave women or restore medieval caliphates, or penetrate the rigid ideologies of people who cling to tribal or sectarian hatreds that are centuries old.  But, after decades of experience, we know that other approaches — like countless peace talks, the toppling of governments, the expenditure of billions of dollars in aid and training and infrastructure improvement, and the issuance of toothless UN Security Council resolutions — don’t get at the core problems.

Sure, counting on the alien discovery game-changing effect may be pinning our hopes on an improbable scenario.  As we read about an angry and bitterly divided world, however, it may be all we’ve got.

The Trilateral Commission, Once More

Diplomats are expected to be careful and judicious in their speech — which is why the word “diplomatic” found its way into everyday speech — but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is the exception to the rule.  He seemingly has a knack for ill-advised comments.

In recent remarks, Kerry said that Israel risks becoming an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace agreement with Palestinians.  Of course, “apartheid” is a highly loaded word, evoking images of the repressive and racist South African regime that imprisoned Nelson Mandela.  Kerry’s statement was promptly and roundly criticized by supporters of Israel from both sides of the aisle, and Kerry then apologized, saying he wished he could rewind the tape and use a different word — although he blamed the chorus of criticism in part on “partisan, political purposes.”

What’s interesting about the story is not Kerry’s blunder — we should all be used to that by now — but that it happened at a super-secret, closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission.  For decades, the Trilateral Commission has been a favorite target of conspiracy theorists, who have depicted is as a kind of shadow world government that puts people into positions of power and then pulls the strings.

So, how did someone get a recording of a powerful figure speaking to the Commission?  It turns out that a journalist just walked into the meeting — he “slipped past both Commission staff and Diplomatic Security,” according to a letter of apology the North American chair of the Commission wrote to Kerry — and recorded Kerry’s remarks.  The incident therefore doesn’t reflect the kind of approach to security you’d expect from the  hyper-competent, brooding omnipresence depicted by the conspiracy-minded.

So, perhaps John Kerry’s latest bit of thoughtless floundering may have a positive impact after all:  it may finally strike the Trilateral Commission from the list of organizations that are the focus of international intrigue and the latest conspiracy theories.

Iran And Nukes

Today the United States and a group of other countries reached agreement on a proposal that addressed the Iranian nuclear program.  The agreement is a temporary one, apparently designed to freeze the Iranian program in place so that additional negotiations can occur.

According to the BBC, the key elements of the agreement are that Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond a certain point, allow inspectors increased access to its nuclear sites, and stop development of a plant that could create plutonium, and in exchange no new sanctions will be imposed for six months and Iran will receive billions of dollars in relief from existing sanctions.  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the deal gives the U.S., and Israel, “breathing space” for additional negotiations with Iran.  Iran says the deal recognizes its right to enrich uranium; Kerry denies that.

Is it a good deal?  I tend to trust Israel on Middle Eastern matters, because the Israelis have shown a very clear-eyed view of the realpolitik in that perpetually challenging region of the world.  They have to be clear-eyed, of course, because their very survival is on the line.  It’s fair to say the Israelis aren’t happy about this agreement, and neither are their supporters — both Republican and Democrat — in the U.S. Congress.  In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake.”  The Israelis and their supporters think the sanctions were working and should have been continued until Iran agreed to end its program.

I don’t trust Iran.  I don’t trust a government that has called for the obliteration of Israel, that still has a scent of fanaticism about it, that has cracked down on its own citizens as they have tried to exercise basic freedoms, and that has been a fomenter of terrorism and unrest in the Middle East for decades.  How do you negotiate with a country that you can’t trust?

The Final Debate

Tonight, in Florida, President Obama and Mitt Romney have their final debate.  This debate will focus on foreign policy and — as UJ notes in his post today about the Middle East — there is a lot to talk about.

The debate will follow the same format as the first debate.  There will be six 15-minute discussion pods on topics selected by the moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News.  The moderator will open each segment with a question, each candidate will have two minutes to respond, and the moderator will guide a discussion of the topic for the remainder of the 15 minutes.  The six topics selected by Schieffer are:  “America’s role in the world,” “Our longest war — Afghanistan and Pakistan,” “Red Lines — Israel and Iran,” “The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism (I and II),” and “The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World.”  The moderator reserves the right to change the topics depending on developments, and the order of the topics also can be changed.

It will be interesting to see if there is a change in tone for tonight’s debate.  The last presidential debate was heated, with some very sharp exchanges.  Hyper-aggressive posturing by the candidates may be acceptable when domestic policy is being discussed, but foreign policy is a different arena.  Although the candidates obviously will be thinking of how their statements will affect the presidential race, they also need to be mindful of the foreign audience that will be watching the debate.  I’m sure the people of Israel, for example, will be carefully reviewing the discussion during the “Red Lines:  Israel and Iran” segment.  The candidates will need to speak clearly and be cautious in their comments and (of course!) avoid the devastating gaffe.  I’m sure both the President and Mitt Romney have been practicing the pronunciation of the names of foreign leaders.

For those of us here in America, Libya obviously has been in the spotlight.  Every day, revelations raise new questions about our security arrangements in Benghazi, our lack of a response while the attack was ongoing, and our conflicting and misleading statements after the attack ended.  Another big topic will be Afghanistan and Iraq, where so many of our sons and daughters have served for so long and so many families have suffered devastating losses.  What can we do to make sure that the gains obtained through their service are protected, while extricating ourselves from conflicts that seem never-ending?

It’s a dangerous world out there.  In addition to the rise of Islamic fanaticism and the always unsettled Middle East, there is the ongoing, hair-trigger stand-off between North and South Korea, a resurgent Russia eager to flex its geopolitical muscle, a European Union that seems to be collapsing under the weight of its fiscal irresponsibility, and tensions between China, Japan, and Taiwan about the sovereignty of islands, among many other issues.  UJ’s post notwithstanding, I don’t think President Bush can be blamed for all of these issues — and even if he could, laying blame on a President who has been out of office for four years does nothing to solve the problems.  In tonight’s debate I’ll be listening for thoughtful discussion of these issues and reasonable solutions, not finger-pointing.

Voting No On God And Jerusalem

A weird scene at the Democratic National Convention today, one of those impromptu moments that makes you wonder if you aren’t seeing something a bit deeper, something hidden that wouldn’t be shown if only scripted moments were permitted.

After people pointed out that the official Democratic platform didn’t mention God or support Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, embarrassed Democratic leaders acted to return those two concepts to the platform.  Unfortunately, their effort to do so by voice vote unleashed a torrent of shouted “no” votes and boos, as opposing delegates stood on their chairs and screamed at the top of their lungs.  After three attempts, the chairman declared that two thirds of the delegates had voted in favor, even though there was no material difference in volume between the “ayes” and the “nays” on the question.

Does any normal citizen — that is, anyone who isn’t a party activist or someone who is searching for fodder for an attack ad — read the platforms of our political parties?  I don’t think so . . . but will people pay attention to TV footage of angry delegates doing whatever they can to prevent even a mention of God, or a message of support for Israel, and perhaps draw inferences about what that party really believes as a result?