Last Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad posted on his website his most recent anti-Semitic tirade, saying global forces should join together to annihilate Israel. Meanwhile, in Orlando, Fla., President Barack Obama had a takeout plate of pulled pork and rice.
The Jerusalem Post reported Ahmadinejad as saying, “Anyone who loves freedom and justice must strive for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the way for world justice and freedom.”
Those words came from the same international leader who called the Holocaust a myth and entreated that Israel should be “wiped off the page of time” in a 2005 speech.
One might think Ahmadinejad’s caustic influence would play out with only extremists, until one realizes that his words preceded Iran’s annual “Quds Day” (Aug. 17), a nationwide event and national holiday (since 1979) during which massive crowds condemn Israel and the U.S. with chants of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.”
To add insult to injury, in the past week, Iranian officials have chided increased Western sanctions as “warfare.” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the last word on all Iranian state matters, retorted that his Islamic Republic can overcome the latest round of sanctions restricting their oil and money. And a top Iranian official said his government will share “experience and capabilities” with the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria.
Tensions with Iran have been ramped up lately way beyond Obama’s foreign diplomatic abilities and sanction-only quasi-restrictions. To put it simply, the former senator from Chicago is way over his head. He’s playing chess with madmen.
Obama’s foreign-relations political waffling is not only a dismal failure but also a detriment to peace, stability and safety in the Middle East. One day he coddles Israelis, assuring them that America will stand by them. The next day he is the pro-Palestinian in chief, dissing Israel’s president to the French president. (Remember when Obama belittled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a hot-mic moment after French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he “cannot bear Netanyahu; he’s a liar”? Obama replied, “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you.”)
In 2010, The Jerusalem Post reported that only 10 percent of Jewish Israelis really believed that Obama is “more pro-Israeli” than pro-Palestinian.
With Egypt granting the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power, Syria percolating with chemical weapons — which some are saying were possibly smuggled from Saddam Hussein’s alleged surplus — Hezbollah perched in Lebanon and Hamas working internal affairs, Israel remains in the cross hairs of the Middle East thugs.
Imagine the volatility that will reign in the Middle East during the next four years! And 43 percent of Americans really want to re-elect a U.S. president who, rather than come to the active aid of our greatest ally in the Middle East, disses Israeli leaders on French soil?
Mark my words. America could very well aid and abet World War III with a leader like President Obama who is in his second term. Obama already has initiated that political momentum with his actions and inactions, but will we stand by and watch him carry it to fruition in a second term?
Foreign dictators and other extremists are praying U.S. citizens re-elect Obama. The truth is that the world’s stability is buckling under the lethal combination of a militant Ahmadinejad and a passive Obama — one pushing for the annihilation of Israel and the other sitting back and waiting for it to happen, one creating the bomb and the other sitting back and watching while the fuse is lit.
Add to all that the Obama administration’s second-term plans to radically reduce the U.S. military!
WorldNetDaily’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Aaron Klein, has just written (scheduled for release Aug. 14) a groundbreaking exposé and borderline prophetic look into exactly what will happen in a second term with Obama. For example, in “Fool Me Twice: Obama’s Shocking Plans for the Next Four Years Exposed,” Klein details Obama’s second-term “large-scale reductions to the U.S. military. Some examples: Scaling back the size of all U.S. ground forces by 20 percent; reducing the Navy’s surface fleet by 20 percent; reducing the Air Force by two combat air wings; reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to no more than 292 deployed nuclear weapons and the complete elimination of the Trident II nuclear missile; the complete halt of all further missile defense development; the total cancelation of the second SSN-744 Virginia Class submarine.”
Fellow Americans, America and the world need a U.S. president who will restore our economy and steady chaos in the world, not usher in Armageddon with his anti-Semitic, noncommittal, conciliatory, laissez-faire leadership. The very personage of the U.S. president should emanate deterrence, not indifference.
We need a president who will honor the timeless traditional relationship between America and Israel and reciprocate a blessing back to the U.S. by simultaneously observing these eternal promises: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee!” “Blessed is everyone who blesses you, O Israel, and cursed is everyone who curses you.”
My best friend Dave Cabeen was all set to graduate this spring from Wright State University with a degree in something I should probably know, but don’t remember. That is, until he received a university correspondence that stopped him dead in his collegiate tracks like a stereotypical college dean in a 1980s comedy movie.
As a result of a college error, the notification read, Dave was to hold off on the champagne because he was a half credit short for graduation.
Really? Isn’t that like being a half penny short for a pack of gum? Just look the other way and move on to the next customer.
By the time the university told Dave all of these late-breaking developments the deadline for registration had expired. This wasn’t a problem for Dave because Wrong State University (as I call it) just made him pay a $250 fee. If I did something like that to Dave it would be called extortion and I would make lots of new friends in prison.
So Dave groveled, and who can blame him? I certainly don’t. He begged and pleaded with Wright State until he was blue in the face, but it was all for nothing.
“Please,” Dave implored, “can’t you take just a single, transferable credit from the college of the Air Force, where I have 20 credits?”
“No, we hate the military, especially veterans,” the university stated. “Too bad you aren’t a non-Caucasian, single mother over 40, because then we would let you graduate, pay for it exclusively from public funds and have a few bucks left over to dole out some welfare checks, too.”
Dave’s initial difficulties with attaining a higher education began more than a decade ago when he decided to enlist in the United States Air Force in order to qualify for the GI Bill. Dave almost paid for college with the GI Bill — almost. It ran out last year.
That’s always burned me up. Dave didn’t almost serve in the Armed Forces, he isn’t almost a veteran and he didn’t almost go to Afghanistan and the Middle East — and this was back when those wars were almost supported by the nation.
I was surprised state colleges offered half credit classes to begin with. How hard can a half credit class be? I bet some of the courses a person could choose from would include Eating and Breathing 101, Going to the Bathroom Without Making a Mess, and Blinking.
Sadly, there also is another course Dave can take as a graduation requirement: basketball.
Dave is confused and that’s understandable. Shooting hoops isn’t something his future job will entail. His future boss isn’t going to ask him, “Hey Dave, once you finish those harvest reports would you mind taking a few foul shots for the company?”
At this point in his life I think Dave has learned all he is capable of learning about the game of basketball. What more is there to teach Dave concerning basketball that he didn’t learn after 13 years of public school gym class?
Of course this raises a very realistic concern for Dave. What if he fails basketball and is prohibited from college graduation? Can you imagine having a few free throws standing in the way of a bachelor’s degree? Forget the Final Four, that’s real pressure.
It’s a very real possibility, you know? At 33, Dave has as much business on a basketball court as I do in a female restroom. Most of the students in his basketball class will be half his age. It pains me to envision Dave’s tall, lanky and pasty body huffing and puffing up and down the basketball court in an attempt to keep up with the more redeeming qualities of youth in order to graduate.
Of all the basketball obstacles Dave will need to overcome, the hardest challenge is one he can’t avoid. Dave is white.
History has proven a white guy playing basketball looks exactly like a white guy trying to dance to the “Macarena” at a wedding reception. It can be done, but a white guy doing either looks out of place. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you witnessed a white Harlem Globetrotter?
I feel very honored to be invited by this class to give this commencement address, and I asked about the make-up of your class. Most of you, I am told, are going right into the church, or are already there— to ordained ministry and other missions of the church.
So I want to speak directly to you about the vocation of the church in the world. Let me start with a baseball story. I have been a little league baseball coach for both my sons’ teams over many years. And I’ve learned that baseball teaches us “lessons of life.”
Just a few weeks ago, our 9-year-old’s team was down 5-0, and we had already lost our opening couple of games. It didn’t look good. But all of a sudden, our bats and our team came alive; and all the practice and preparation we had done suddenly showed itself. Best of all, our rally started in the bottom half of the order with our weakest hitters. Two kids got on with walks and our least experienced player went up to the plate. With international parents, Stefan had never played baseball before and you can tell he doesn’t have a clue. But somehow he hit the ball; it went into the outfield. Our first two runs scored and he ended up on second base. Being from a British Commonwealth culture, he began to walk over to the short stop and second baseman and shake their hands! “Stefan,” I shouted, “You have to stay on the base!” “Oh,” he said, “I’ve never been here before.”
Inspired, other kids who had never got hits before either also got them now, then the best hitters started to hit, and we came back to win 11-6. In a long team meeting afterwards, the kids couldn’t stop telling each other what they had learned. “We didn’t give up and came back!” “Our rally started with the bottom of the order.” “Sometimes you get what you need from unexpected places.” “We all just kept cheering for each other.” “Everybody helped us win today.” Finally, our star player said, “This just goes to show you, you can’t ever give up on hope. We always have to keep on hoping no matter what.” Lessons of life. Most importantly on that day, we became a team; and have won our games since.
I think this is central to our vocation in the churches: to offer unexpected hope.
Because our mission is to the kingdom of God—“thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That is what we pray. And while the kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus, and the New Testament, it has faded as ours. Finding salvation to heaven is part of the message, getting closer to God is part of the message, but the heart of the message of Jesus was a new order breaking into history—to change everything about the world, including us.
And that’s why we can offer such hope to the world. The church is supposed to be saying, and the church is supposed to be showing, that our life together can be better. In our shallow, superficial, and selfish age, Jesus is calling us to a completely different way of life. He called it the kingdom of God—as very different from all the political kingdoms of this world. But that better way of living wasn’t just meant to benefit the Christians, but everybody else too. And that is the point of it.
Christianity is not just a religion that gives some people a ticket to heaven and makes them judgmental of everybody else. Rather, it is a call to a relationship; and one that changes all our other relationships. Jesus calls us into a new relationship to God; and he says that also brings us into a new relationship with our neighbor, especially with the most vulnerable of this world, and even with our enemies. You don’t always hear that from the churches. But that transformation of all our relationships, when lived out, has always been the best thing for what we now call the common good.
Since we have lost the common good in our community and public life, and especially in our politics—on both sides of the aisle—it’s time to listen again to an old but always new vision which could, and is supposed to, change our selfish behavior—and make us happier too. “Happy are those,” Jesus said, who live by the beatitudes of his kingdom.
The summary of ethics and the religious law, said Jesus, was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” And that most fundamental teaching of faith flies right in the face of all the personal and political ethics which put myself always before all others; my rights first, my freedoms first, my interests first, my tribe first, and even my country first—ahead of everybody else. In other words, selfishness is the personal and political ethic that dominates our world today; but the kingdom of God says that your neighbor’s concerns, rights, interests, freedoms, and well-being are as important as yours are.
That is not only radical, it is transformational; and it is essential if we are going to create a public life not completely dominated by conflict, but one that actually can articulate what might be in the interest of the common good and even some common ground between us all. Win/win and not just win/lose. It is also essential to religion finding any credibility again. Otherwise, the next generation is just going to move on from religion. The “none of the aboves” are now the fastest growing group on religious survey’s.
But when people see that kingdom of God being actually lived out, they are first surprised by it, and then attracted to it.
Like when a huge and successful church in a midwestern state’s suburbs decides to take on the renovation of dilapidated and failing public schools in their neighboring urban area. Or like when a church in the Southern Bible Belt puts up a sign welcoming the Muslim cultural center that had just moved into their neighborhood and befriends those who were afraid of being attacked; and when that story of Christian/Muslim friendship on CNN changes the hearts of angry men in Pakistan. Or when a graduating seminarian, like many of you today, decides to start a church made up of homeless people and, after ten years, most all of their congregation’s leaders literally came from off of the streets.
When a Christian family farm business builds day care centers and houses for their migrant workers, provides college scholarships for their employees’ children, gives millions of dollars to Africa and Haiti, and still has the most successful orchard in their region, it attracts attention. When conservative southern California Anglo churches get deeply connected to Hispanic churches in their own communities, come to know each other’s faith and families, and then seek to fix a broken immigration system, it gets the attention of policy makers in Washington. When a famous evangelical mega-church in Chicago sends its people to the Middle East and starts speaking up for beleaguered Palestinian Christians, it challenges foreign policy. When another one in Ohio doesn’t just righteously proclaim itself to be “pro-life” but quietly takes in hundreds of low-income pregnant women every year to help them carry their child to term and settle into a better life, people feel helped and not just judged. And when faith-based organizations and denominations who might vote differently in elections make it clear to both Republicans and Democrats that they must not balance their budgets and reduce their deficits by increasing poverty and must draw a circle of protection around the poorest and most vulnerable, it breaks through the self-interest politics of both parties.
All these are true stories. And they are all about the unexpected and about bringing hope to hopeless times.
So my advice to you, going into the church, is to never be content with what is predictable, to never become cynical about change. Don’t be satisfied with a church whose lifestyle and behavior you can predict by just looking at everybody living around them. Your job is to pastor and lead faith communities whose vocation is to be unpredictable and to be able to offer hope where nobody else does.
That’s because you leave today, not committed to the kingdom of any culture, class, or racial group, or the kingdom of America or any other nation state, or even to the kingdom of any church, even the kingdom of the Episcopal church; but rather to the kingdom of God, which is meant to turn all the other kingdoms on the head, to break open the unpredictable, and bring new hope to lives, neighborhoods, nations, and even the world. So God bless you in that wholly unpredictable and so needed ministry of hope. And as we should all say at the end of every commencement: “Play Ball!”
And may the Lord be with you.
Barbara’s son, Shaun, was called home by God earlier than anyone could have expected last year. And there she was on the infield, on the night Shaun’s #24 jersey was to be retired in a ceremony before the Oak Ridge varsity game. Seeing the War Eagle players and coaches lining up to give her a hug, listening to Doug Sarant recount the moments that painted a picture of Shaun’s life. Probably overcome with a wild mix of emotions: the grief and happiness and solemn pride in knowing that all of these people, on the field and in and around the stands, were here to celebrate the life of her son, and vow to never forget one of Oak Ridge’s own.
I can only imagine how she must have felt. I do know, however, that I would be glad that my son was raised in a community such as ours, chock full of the people who are there for us in both the good times and the bad, and who understand that the individual triumphs and trials of the players and their families are so much more important than the score at the end of the game.
Ann Allison provided a touching recap of Shaun Finley Night, and we covered a good deal more in Oak Ridge Now this week.
The War Eagles lost to Klein Collins Tuesday night, but that was sandwiched between a Craig Biggio sighting at the War Eagle Invitational Tournament and this week’s Wharton Invitational Tournament, which they opened with a 15-2 pounding of Cy Springs.
We also told you about the Oak Ridge Color Guard, whose road got a little more difficult when their fine performance at Houston regionals moved them up a competition class at the upcoming Winter Guard Nationals. I am sure they are up for the challenge.
On the larger stage, we provided a handy dandy update on the relationship status we have with various countries in the Middle East. We republished a ProPublica investigation of morgues and coroners and medical examiners that have landed the wrong people in jail. If only there were more Horatio Caines and Gil Grissoms to go around, because they never seem to make these mistakes on CSI. And if you know anyone that works in a refinery, you might have them read our Center for Public Integrity story on the regulatory mess that has helped lead to an increasing number of worker injuries and deaths. Then again, they probably already know.
Here’s one that’s interesting maybe only to me: 22 percent of Americans believe that recently enacted health care reform has been repealed, and another 26 percent are unsure or unwilling to say. Read much?
Around the great State of Texas, no legislation has yet been signed into law, but our faithful legislators are plowing through their respective agendas. Smoking cessation programs are likely to be slashed by 80%, but the long-term costs associated with health care associated with a larger number of smokers in the state may cause that plan to backfire. Lawmakers are also discussing how to write laws that properly define bullying and some appropriate penalties. They would be wise to provide the funding though, to prevent it from occurring in the first place, like the Safe School Ambassadors program in place at York and Oak Ridge High School.
The Texas Department of Public Safety issued yet another warning aimed at students planning to go to Mexico on Spring Break: Don’t Go. Not “Don’t Be Stupid When You Go” or “Don’t Drink Too Much When You Go” or “Don’t Go Off With Locals Like Natalee Holloway Apparently Did”, just “Don’t Go”, period. We’ll see if anyone heeds the warning.
Texas school districts, faced with looming budget cuts, are now able to consider applying for federal Race to the Top funding. Of course, there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. School districts that accept the funding must implement federally-mandated curriculum standards. They may eventually have to give students national assessment tests in addition to TAKS-like state tests. Is it worth the money? The answer, as always is probably, “It depends.”
In our weekly features, Dave Ramsey says, “There’s no higher calling on the planet than motherhood. We’ve lost that in our culture, and we’re suffering dearly for it.” Unknown Soldiers features Major General David Blackledge, who swallowed his pride and asked for help for his post-traumatic stress disorder after suffering injuries in two separate attacks in Iraq.
In the best-feature-that-nobody-reads department, Tracy Beckerman recounts her ski encounter with a tree. “I had actually not skied for a while, and over the course of the month, had somehow come under the delusion that I had improved over the break. I had gone through something similar years ago when I’d had kids and had convinced myself that childbirth would be much less painful the second time around. Faster? Yes. Les painful? Not so much.”
Will E Sanders won a ham at a raffle, and really doesn’t know what to do with it. “This happens to me every time I win meat, which is surprisingly often believe it or not (it’s the second raffle ham that I’ve won this year). I never have a place to keep large chunks of meat. I almost wish hams were redeemable for cash, but mostly because it would give “bringing home the bacon” an all new meaning.”
Margo Howard addresses a sister who poured Riesling in the soup at her teetotaling parents’ house, and a grandmother who regularly steals money from her children and grandchildren. Really. Ingrid Hoffmann, the lovely host of Simply Delicioso on the Cooking Channel, has some spring dessert tips, including recipes for Tropical Dessert Bars, Chocolate Flan Cake, Passion Fruit Cheesecake and Caribbean Pineapple-Lime Ice Cream. Save some for me.
I think our opinions section was strong this week: Bill O’Reilly led off with his view on the legislative fight in Wisconsin pitting public sector unions against the State. Chuck Norris has similar concerns: “The fact is that teachers union-sponsored protests spreading the land are not primarily about the teachers or the students. They are about the unions and feds maintaining their Mafia-style rule over education and our kids and preventing people from choosing educational alternatives.”
Peter Funt suggests that Congress should use care when trimming the budget of the U.S. Postal Service: “Like the cop on the corner, whose job I’d also argue is worth preserving, the mail carrier is for many Americans an anchor in a stormy world.” Michael Reagan weighed in on the duplication of programs funded by Congress. “Uncle Sam hosts 47 job-training programs, 44 of which do the same things. The federal government also runs 80 programs for what it calls the “transportation disadvantaged.” Count ‘em: 80 — paid for by your tax dollars.”
The Academy Award for Best Picture won by “The King’s Speech” led John Stossel to recount his personal issues with stuttering. I was just as surprised as you. Our own Doug Sarant looked back at second grade, the girl he sat next to in class, and dealing with his ADD. Finally the Supreme Court ruled this week that the disgusting protests conducted by the Westboro Baptist Church at military funerals are protected by the First Amendment. As much as it hurts us to say, they probably made the right decision.
Nonetheless, those loathsome folks from Westboro highlighted our editorial cartoons this week, along with Libya, Sarah Palin, our deficit reduction time bomb, and everyone’s favorite subject of the moment, Charlie Sheen. All that this week in Oak Ridge Now. Read it. Like it. Tell your friends about it.
Congratulations from the United States of America to all our freedom-loving brothers and sisters in Egypt and Yemen and Jordan and Oman and Tunisia and Libya and Iran and Bahrain and Morocco and Algeria — and maybe, someday soon, Saudi Arabia — for standing up to your dictatorial overlords and clutching at the guano-covered branches of freedom. Jolly good. You’ve made majority rule fashionable again. Democracy is now the new black.
We are all totally psyched how you’ve dragged yourselves kicking and screaming from the Dark Ages into the middle 19th century. You may be excited to hear about some other upgrades we’ve made in areas such as in transportation, communications and hygiene. It’s all there in your orientation packet. Watch some MTV. Ignore “Jersey Shore.” No, they’re not real.
We got to warn you, though, self-rule isn’t all a bed of roses. It has a thorny learning curve. Rubs tough on beginners. You might want to spend some time wading out towards the deep end wearing your feudal water wings before jumping straight into the parliamentary pool.
The thing is, don’t expect the world to change overnight. England’s has been dancing with democratization since 1265 and they’re still curtseying to the queen. Usually what happens is you lose one tyrannical despot only to gain another. You could avoid a particular mistake we made and find someone who can spell despot.
Elections are tricky things. Make sure it’s The People deciding the outcome and not nine old folks wearing black robes. Here’s a hint: If anybody gets 95 percent of the vote, reboot. You might be surprised to find the people most likely to run for political office often turn out to be criminally insane. Maybe you should pass a law restricting that. Kind of wish we had. Rule of thumb: Anybody who can be elected shouldn’t be.
Something else to keep in mind: Democracy for one means democracy for all. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it enterprise. All men are created equal. And women. None of this wife- walking-five-paces-behind her-husband-while-dressed-as-a-grieving-beekeeper stuff. Same with Sunnis and Shiites and Sasquatches. One person. One vote. Hey, we all put our robes on one leg at a time. Or two. Whatever.
Start small. Too many choices can result in inaction. An example: Sometimes you just want a package of sunflower seeds. You don’t want the Low-Sodium Dill Pickle flavor. But Safeway is all out of Original flavor because they allotted equal shelf space to the Low Sodium Dill Pickle flavor. Which nobody wants. They can have it, if they wanted. But they don’t. Well, same deal with liberty. So, there you are. Hope that clears that up.
All we’re trying to say is good luck with the whole democracy thing. Treat it like a new car, always driving as if 100 eggs are hatching inside of it at all times. Because they are. Bring it in for a tune-up every 10,000 miles and don’t forget to change the oil (shouldn’t be a problem). Remember to downshift headed uphill, it tends to veer to the left on the straightaways, and try not to crack it up because who knows, maybe we here in America might want to give it another test drive ourselves someday.
San Francisco-based political satirist Will Durst writes sometimes. Like this.
We’ve been tracking what’s happening and how the United States has responded in our overview of Middle East crackdowns. Here’s an updated version with the latest on developments in the region and how U.S. strategy is playing out:
Relationship status with United States: De-friended
Libya and the United States have been in a slow thaw over the last decade. The United States restored full diplomatic relations with its government in 2006, after the country showed signs of cooperation in the areas of nonproliferation and counterterrorism, though the United States has long considered the country’s dictator, Col. Muammar Qaddafi, to be a bit strange and unpredictable, describing him as “notoriously mercurial” in U.S. diplomatic cables (more background on the U.S. relationship with Libya).
What’s been happening:
Though it’s difficult getting an exact figure on how many have died in the escalating violence in Libya, by most accounts hundreds of protesters have been killed by the regime of Muammar Qaddafi and his hired mercenaries.
As we noted this week, Qaddafi has clung to power, vowing to fight “until the last drop of my blood.” Qaddafi’s maintains a stronghold in Tripoli, the besieged capital city, while the opposition has taken control of eastern Libya. On Thursday, Qaddafi blamed the uprising on the influence of al-Qaeda. Libyan officials told the State Department that the government now considers journalists who entered the country “illegally” to be “al-Qaeda collaborators.”
President Obama addressed the situation in Libya on Wednesday at length, announcing that Secretary Clinton would be traveling to Geneva on Monday to discuss the situation in Libya with international leaders.
“We will hold the Libyan Government fully responsible for this,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters this week. The U.S. has focused on getting American citizens in Libya to safety and said all options are on the table in terms of potential sanctions against the country. So far none have been announced, and the United States has not called for Qaddafi’s ouster, saying that “what happens to the leadership of Libya is up to the Libyan people.”
Relationship status with United States: BFF, though a bit awkward lately
The small oil-producing country and financial center has played host to a robust U.S. military presence as home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Bahrain’s Sunni rulers—who rule over a majority-Shi’ite population—keep “close to their American protectors,” according to a 2008 WikiLeaks cable.
What’s been happening:
Last week, government forces unleashed brutal attacks on crowds of protesters and mourners, wounding hundreds and killing seven after they had declared the protests illegal. Last Thursday, the Bahraini government defended the crackdown as “a very important step that had to happen” to prevent the country from falling into “a sectarian abyss.”
The situation has recently calmed down, and security forces have been ordered off the streets. Though the opposition doesn’t agree on everything—some protesters have rejected the Sunni ruling family altogether—their core demands have included the release of political prisoners and a fully elected government, Reuters reported. The government has signaled intentions to begin a national dialogue and this week released hundreds of political prisoners.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Bahrain’s leaders earlier this week for opening dialogue after last week’s violence. She called on the government to
Last week, after days of issuing statements of concern about the violence, Clinton spoke by phone with Bahrain’s foreign minister and “stressed the need to seriously engage all sectors of society in a constructive, consultative dialogue.” She cited the need for continued reform and reiterated that Bahrain is a “friend and ally.” (Related: See our post about the praise that the United States lavished on Bahrain just two months prior to these attacks.)
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the U.S. government had used public encouragement and private pressure on the Bahraini government to end its crackdown on protesters. Adm. Mike Mullen yesterday as part of a trip to the Middle East and met with the king and the crown prince. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon also spoke with Bahrain’s crown prince yesterday, expressing “strong support” for steps taken to open dialogue.
Relationship status with United States: Frenemies
In a press briefing earlier this month, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated, “Our relationship with the government of Yemen is incredibly important in addressing the counterterrorism threat that exists there.” As WikiLeaks cables revealed last fall, the country’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has allowed secret U.S. air strikes against suspected al-Qaeda sites and covered them up, claiming they were conducted by the Yemeni military. However, some analysts have said Yemen is playing a double game—diverting U.S. aid to not go after al-Qaeda and instead to fight domestic rebels.
What’s been happening: At least a dozen people are reported to have been killed since the protests began in Yemen. Though demonstrations appeared to be peaceful on Friday, some protesters last week were beaten by Yemeni security forces, according to Human Rights Watch. The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that nine members of parliament have resigned in protest of the government’s violence against demonstrators.
Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh said this week that he but will open a dialogue with protesters. On Wednesday he instructed security forces to “thwart all clashes” between pro- and anti-government protesters—and to offer protection for demonstrators.
Earlier this month, President Obama called Yemen’s President Saleh and “asked that Yemeni security forces show restraint and refrain from violence” against demonstrators. He also urged Yemen to take forceful action against al-Qaeda, according to the State Department. The State Department’s P.J. Crowley also tweeted about the necessity of foreign aid to Yemen, saying that potential cuts would “constrain our ability to help Yemen” confront al-Qaeda.
Relationship status with U.S.: It’s complicated
As U.S. diplomatic cables show, relations between the United States and Algeria have warmed gradually in recent years. In a February 2008 cable, U.S. diplomats called Algerian military intelligence “a prickly, paranoid group to work with,” but noted that cooperation had paid dividends. A cable sent early last year noted Algeria’s strategic importance in the fight against al-Qaeda in the region.
What’s been happening:
According to the BBC, sporadic protests in Algeria have been continuing since early January, mostly triggered by economic conditions. Algerian security forces arrested dozens of protesters and police attacked some journalists in crackdowns, but the government has since promised reforms and lifted an emergency law that had banned protests and gave police broad powers to detain citizens.
On Thursday the president made a statement commending Algeria’s government for taking “an important step forward” by lifting the emergency law, calling it a “positive sign” that Algeria is listening to the concerns of its people.
The State Department’s Crowley had previously released a statement noting the protests and calling “for restraint on the part of the security services.”
Relationship status with United States: Enemies
The U.S. currently has sanctions against Iran and has a now 30-year history of tension.
What’s been happening:
Members of the Iranian Parliament called for the leaders of the protest movement to be executed. The government has also clamped down hard on protest organizers. At least three protestors have been reported killed.
The U.S. response to Iran has been harsher than to some of the other governments suppressing protests. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement on Wednesday calling out Iranian security forces for having beaten, detained and killed peaceful protesters and for persecuting ethnic minorities, human rights advocates and political activists. “The steady deterioration in human rights conditions in Iran has obliged the international community to speak out time and time again,” Clinton said, while sanctioning two more Iranian officials for the abuses.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley had previously stated that the United States condemned the violence in Iran “in the strongest terms.” Asked in an early briefing why the State Department is “condemning what is happening in Iran” and not taking the same position on crackdowns elsewhere, Crowley said, “Well, actually, in the other countries there is greater respect for the rights of the citizens. I mean, we are watching developments in other countries, including Yemen, including Algeria, including Bahrain. And our advice is the same.”
At least nine protesters were killed in Iraq on Friday as protesters in several cities participated in “Day of Rage” demonstrations to call for an end to corruption, the Washington Post reports. Iraqi officials had urged the people to stay away, warning that the protests seem “suspicious” and could be infiltrated by terrorists, but tens of thousands turned out anyway—in some cities, police and security guards opened fire on the crowds.
While some protests have been going on in parts of Saudi Arabia, in an effort to stave off larger protests, Saudi King Abdullah this week announced an estimated $37 billion in pay raises, unemployment benefits and housing help. Critics have warned that the gesture isn’t a substitute for meaningful political reform, the Guardian reported. The State Department said Thursday that it was “in touch with the Saudis” but did not have further comment.