North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Israel's election shows democracy is messy

Winston Churchill once reflected, "Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…(stated in the UK House of Com­mons, 11 Novem­ber 1947)

And so we go to Israel's latest election held a few days ago, in which Benjamin Netanyahu and his party surged in the last few days (or had led along except in the most-desired-outcome category) to win big. One might think that the only election across the entire middle east, an election that was deemed fair, without rigging, and without violence or vendettas, would have been hailed as a triumph. Even an event that all Arab states in the region should strive to imitate.

A 2013 view ranking relative freedom in elections and multiparty democracy among the world's countries. In the Middle East only Israel stands out in the sea of red, though the nation is so small relatively speaking, one can barely make it out. For a larger and interactive map of the world's nations in 2015, go to

And yet there are many glum faces

To the U.S. administration, and many editorial boards of western news agencies and newspapers, the outcome of this election was a political disaster. Israel's right-leaning Likud party topped the center-left Zionist Union party by an even bigger margin than previously, even though predictions based on exit polling were still assuming a Zionist Union victory. In Israel itself, the glum left of center population expressed feelings of frustration and isolation - were they alone in their "correct assessment" of what was best for Israel? How could that be?

Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party won, not by a slim margin, but by a solid majority - an outcome conceded by the full spectrum of critics and parties of opposition. Photo from

Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union party was considered to be the front runner for much of the election campaign, and was a clear favorite of the U.S. administration. While the administration criticized Netanyahu for speaking by invitation to the U.S. Congress weeks ago, it was not a problem for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to add his prestige to the internal Israeli candidate of choice back in January 2015. Photo from

Netanyahu's performance in the last few days of the election drew the most criticism. He stated that there would be no Palestinian state in the near future while he was Prime Minister (if elected ...). As reported by Ynet news before the election, "Having previously hinted that he would accept a Palestinian state, Netanyahu reversed course on Monday, citing risks that he linked to the regional spread of Islamist militancy. He said that if he is re-elected, the Palestinians would not get the independent state they seek in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

"Whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel," he told the Israeli news site NRG. Asked if that meant a state would not be established if he remained prime minister, he said: "Indeed."

Upon winning the election, Netanyahu and his government sought to clarify his statements, emphasizing that a sustainable two nation solution was still his goal, but the emphasis was on what could last, what could guarantee more than just promises by the Palestinian Authority.

The U.S., Israel's strongest financial backer and ally, has chosen under the current administration to ratchet up its own pressure. Instead of asking its ally to clarify the words, or the meaning of the words, or some diplomatic-speak, it has chosen to take the most brittle meaning to the Prime Minister's words and from that threaten to reassess all manner of support and future advocacy for Israel.

These two leaders do not like each other - it took two full days before U.S. President Obama to make a call of congratulations to Netanyahu for triumphing in the only fair election held for hundreds of miles in all directions, and a process repeated time and time again since its founding in 1948. Photo from

Teatree's understanding is this - that Netanyahu is a polarizing figure, large numbers of Israelis have no doubt grown tired of his personality and confrontiveness. Israel can ill afford to isolate itself any more from its allies than it already is, whether fairly or not. Isaac Herzog was a pleasant refreshing alternative, and one who had been focused on internal economic bread and butter issues. And those issues are important.

On the other hand, Israel is nearly surrounded by a ring of hostile neighbors, and with Iran in the distance still working on nuclear capability, still considers itself under an existential threat. In that light, U.S. columnist Charles Krauthammer stridently defended Netanyahu's controversial remarks with several points below. The full opinion piece is here.

Krauthammer points out the falsity of "the idea that peace prospects are now dead because Netanyahu has declared that there will be no Palestinian state while he is Israel’s prime minister."

"There would be no peace and no Palestinian state if Isaac Herzog were prime minister either. Or Ehud Barak or Ehud Olmert for that matter. The latter two were (non-Likud) prime ministers who offered the Palestinians their own state — with its capital in Jerusalem and every Israeli settlement in the new Palestine uprooted — only to be rudely rejected. This is not ancient history. This is 2000, 2001 and 2008 — three astonishingly concessionary peace offers within the past 15 years. Every one rejected."

"The fundamental reality remains: This generation of Palestinian leadership — from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas — has never and will never sign its name to a final peace settlement dividing the land with a Jewish state. And without that, no Israeli government of any kind will agree to a Palestinian state."

"Today, however, there is a second reason a peace agreement is impossible: the supreme instability of the entire Middle East. For half a century, it was run by dictators no one liked but with whom you could do business. ... That authoritarian order is gone, overthrown by the Arab Spring. Syria is wracked by a multi-sided civil war that has killed 200,000 people and that has al-Qaeda allies, Hezbollah fighters, government troops and even the occasional Iranian general prowling the Israeli border. Who inherits? No one knows."

"... everything is in flux. Amid this mayhem, by what magic would the West Bank, riven by a bitter Fatah-Hamas rivalry, be an island of stability? What would give any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement even a modicum of durability? ... With or without elections, the West Bank could fall to Hamas overnight. At which point fire rains down on Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion Airport and the entire Israeli urban heartland — just as it rains down on southern Israel from Gaza when it suits Hamas, which has turned that first Palestinian state into a terrorist fire base."

"Any Arab-Israeli peace settlement would require Israel to make dangerous and inherently irreversible territorial concessions on the West Bank in return for promises and guarantees. Under current conditions, these would be written on sand."

Israel is tiny, and then there would be a Palestinian state interspersed ... As the saying goes, what could possibly go wrong? Graphic from

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ruins are Rare, Extremists not so much

'"The incredible enormities of the Commune, their massacre of the Archbishop ... and other hostages, their countless murders of other persons who refused to join them in their fiendish work, their horrid and well organized plans of incendiary intended to destroy almost the entire city ... are crimes that will never die. I regret to say that to these unparalleled atrocities of the Commune are to be joined by the awful vengeances inflicted by the [fill in the blank] troops. The killing, tearing to pieces, stabbing, beating, and burning of men, women, and children, innocent and guilty alike, by the government troops will stain to the last ages the history of [fill in the blank], and the execrations of mankind will be heaped upon the names who shall be found responsible for acts that disgrace human nature." ... The value of the architectural landmarks and other treasures destroyed was inestimable.'

So recounts the historian David McCollough in his book, "The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris" of a dark two years of France's history, 1870-1871, when an anarchist movement took control of the city, only to be defeated by the government in exile two years later. The specific quote above is from the US ambassador to France at the time, Elihu Washburne - who critics dismissed as unfit for the job when first appointed by President Grant, yet distinguished himself throughout his long appointment, over eight years through a tumultuous time.

On the other hand ... who remembers the Commune, much less Elihu Washburne today? And what were those architectural landmarks and other treasures destroyed in Paris at that time? It brings us to this post - a musing over ruins and remnants of previous civilizations that are being destroyed by the extremists of the day - the jihadists. While the tragic slaughter of various peoples by ISIS and fellow jihadists is no doubt the bigger story, the loss of ruins are easier to stomach, and no doubt sooner to be forgotten.

"The ruins of the ancient city of Hatra, a center of religion and trade for the Parthian empire, are in present-day northern Iraq. The city flourished during the first and second centuries BC." photo by Nik Wheeler and quote both found at

Artifacts within a museum in the ancient Assyrian village of Nimrod are also offensive ... An image from video posted on a social media account affiliated with the Islamic State group, Feb. 26, 2015, militants take sledgehammers to an ancient artifact in the Ninevah Museum in Mosul, Iraq. Photo: Associated Press

Beyond ISIS, there are the ruins destroyed by Islamists in Timbuktu, Mali, a few years ago.

An ancient shrine in Mali of great offense. Photo from a video posted by the jihadists (what's with their insistence this all has to be recorded for posterity???)

What started off the latest round of purging was the destruction (courtesy of artillery used by the Taliban) in Afghanistan of a large carved image of Buddha. Photo from the NY Times.

This rising up of various extremists - anarchist, fascist, communist, now Islamist - at regular intervals is what keeps intact ruins rare ...

PS - some ruins elsewhere are under attack ...

Mayan ruins in Central America are subject to acidic rain, pollution, and simply the vibrancy of the jungle that has overtaken and hidden many ancient artifacts from today's pilgrims. Photo from