January 30, 2007

Edwards Panders in Herzliya Speech

Domestically, John Edwards might be a "Man of the People," but when it comes to international affairs, and Israel in particular, he leaves something to be desired in a presidential candidate. Reading Edwards closed-circuit speech transmitted to Herzliya, Israel, I was disappointed with both his general pandering and his repetition of mainstream narratives that paint a naive, black-and-white view of the situation. [1]

A few points are worth mention. First, Edwards opened his speech with undeserved praise of Ariel Sharon, a war criminal of a high degree.
I am aware that it was at this conference that PM Ariel Sharon gave his courageous speech outlining his disengagement. He helped Israel face some of its major challenges.

Throughout his career and public service Sharon has shown courage, including his historic decision to evacuate Gaza. More than anyone else, Sharon has, in my judgment, believed that a strong Israel is a safe Israel and that Israel needs to defend itself against security threats.

Israel made many concessions. Many settlers gave up there (sic.) land in order to advance peace.

These are discredited mainstream narratives. By associating himself with them, Edwards discredits himself. Many analysts believe Israel's unilateral disengagement plan for Gaza had ulterior motives. "Their suspicions were further aroused when top Sharon aide Dov Weisglass was quoted in an interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz on October 6, 2004, as saying that the disengagement would prevent a Palestinian state for years to come." [2] More importantly, Sharon was instrumental in the Sabra and Shatila Massacre, which on it's own is reason for Edwards to avoid pandering praise of Sharon.

Phrases from Edwards like, "We share common values such as freedom and democracy," spawn many thoughts. First, knowing of Israel's utter disregard for international laws and moral norms, including the recent disproportionate use of force in Lebanon, and tactics of collective punishment in the occupied zones to give a couple examples, I don't want the values of my nation equated with those of Israel. Second, my cynical side responds with the thought that, true, under the Bush regime America's values regarding freedom and democracy are becoming more like those of Israel, but is that something Edwards wants to highlight? Finally, the US and Israel have shown their disdain for the basic principles of "democracy" by waging war on Hamas in response to it's recent electoral victory. Edwards himself fails to register this basic principle of democracy.

Outside assistance to Palestinian governance is not an entitlement.

Perhaps, but tax money collected from the occupied territories, which is being withheld from the duly elected, Hamas-led, "Palestinian governance", isn't a matter of entitlements. Edwards' use of the term "entitlement" makes him sound like a Republican railing against "unmarried welfare cheats."

The US and Europe need to ensure that money going to the Palestinians does not go to lining the pockets of terrorists.

If Edwards, and his speech writers, were more knowledgeable, they would not have made this statement. The implication is that Hamas is corrupt, yet those who follow affairs in this region know that Fatah is the corrupt Palestinian political party; Hamas may have theologically based politics that are disagreeable, but they aren't corrupt in the traditional sense like Abbas' Fatah.

While Iran is the greatest threat now, but just as alarming is the one on your doorstep. Hamas, with Iranian support, doesn’t make any mistake of its intentions to wipe out Israel, and repeatedly makes calls to raise the banner of Allah over all of Israel.

I'll get to Iran later, but it's simply false to say that Hamas seeks to "wipe out Israel." It's also false, for that matter, to say Iran wants to "wipe out Israel," because, despite what the misinformed western corporate media leads people to believe, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn't actually speak for Iran. Former UN Weapons inspector Scott Ritter expands on this important point:

If you read the Iranian constitution, you’ll see that the president of Iran is almost a figurehead.

The true power in Iran rests with the Supreme Leader. He is supported by an organization called the Guardian Council. Then there’s another group called the Expediency Council. These are the people that control the military, the police, the nuclear program, all the instruments of power. And not only has the Supreme Leader issued a fatwa that says that nuclear weapons are not compatible with Islamic law, with the Shia belief system that he is responsible, in 2003 he actually reached out to the Bush administration via the Swiss embassy and said, “Look, we would like to normalize relations with the United States. We’d like to initiate a process that leads to a peace treaty between Israel and Iran.” Get this, Israel and Iran. He’s not saying, “We want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.” He is saying, “We want peace with Israel.” And they were willing to put their nuclear program on the table.

So, Edwards critics are correct; he and his staff lack experience in international affairs. Hamas had a unilateral cease fire with Israel in the year preceding their election to power. After their election, Hamas officials made diplomatic statements that suggested a recognition of Israel. Granted, the statements were vague, the response of Israel and the US indicated they didn't want to explore normalizing relations. Instead, they wanted to foster a proxy war with Hamas using Fatah. This they have done, and Edwards seems to support it:

Israel can take more steps to advance peace like bolstering Abbas against Hamas.

This policy isn't about supporting peace. This is a divide and conquer policy, plain and simple. On these matters, Edwards reflects the "simple."

And, unfortunately, Edwards has also bought into the mainstream narrative on Iran.

At the top of these threats is Iran. Iran threatens the security of Israel and the entire world.

It is one thing to pander for votes, but this is pandering of the worst kind, because it has dangerous secondary effects. This kind of statement unwittingly bolsters the credibility Bush's Iran war mongering. It will also restrict Edward's flexibility if he gains the Democratic nomination for president; he will have to maintain this position, which could lead to him being swept up in a strong current of mass hysteria that leads to an unnecessary conflagration in Iran.

Another unfortunate statement by Edwards was the following:

The war in Lebanon had Iranian fingerprints all over it. I was in Israel in June, and I took a helicopter trip over the Lebanese border. I saw the Hezbollah rockets, and the havoc wreaked by the extremism on Israel’s border.

Hmmm... a lot of people thought the 2006 war in Lebanon had Israel's disproportionate finger prints on it. Surely, Iran was supporting Hezbollah, but by the same measure, the US was supporting Israel, including the shipment of cluster munitions that were used indiscriminately to collectively punish the people of Southern Lebanon in the closing days, after the truce had been negotiated and awaited signature.

Edwards closes:

Your challenges are our challenges. Your future is our future. The US will continue to stand by you. God bless you.

He might as well have said, "Your God is our God, and it isn't Allah." He basically did make this statement within this speech. Edwards said, "Hamas, ... repeatedly makes calls to raise the banner of Allah over all of Israel." It's OK to raise the banner of "our God" over all of Israel, but it certainly isn't acceptable to raise the banner of "their God."


[1] Raw Story, January 23, 2007 Edwards: 'Iran must know world won't back down' by Ron Brynaert Text of Edward's Speech

[2] Wikipedia: Israel's unilateral disengagement plan

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