January 24, 2015

Netanyahu Is Pimping Congress In D.C., Killing Sons of Hezbollah In The Golan Heights, And Striking Fear In The Heart of Paris

Forget asking who's in charge in Yemen. That's irrelevant. Who's in charge in the world's most powerful capital?

It's been a great and very busy start to the new year for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But will it end the same way? Netanyahu has alienated too many people, from French and American leaders to his own intelligence agency. He is picking too many fights.

Is a shooting war with Hezbollah days away? Is a media war with President Obama weeks away? Is a political war with European leaders months away? Is a nuclear war with Iran years away? Anything goes with the crazy Netanyahu at the helm. Just sit back and enjoy the show.

Video Title: Shields and Brooks on inviting Netanyahu, GOP abortion bill revolt. Source: PBS. Date Published: January 23, 2015. Description: 
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Obama’s State of the Union agenda, a controversial invitation to the Israeli prime minister to address Congress and a fight among Republicans over a new abortion bill.
"Irresponsible and sordid. The last time that the Congress has not acted in a bipartisan way with an invitation to a speaker was Douglas MacArthur, who was invited by a Republican Congress to speak against President Truman, to give his farewell address, but it was critical of President Truman's Korean policies.

This is, this is not done. What John Boehner did is a cheap political trick. And it was not a surprise to Benjamin Netanyahu. I mean, Ron Dermer, the ambassador to the United States from Israel, who had been a Republican political consultant in this country working with Frank Luntz, orchestrated this invitation. And it’s a major plus for Mr. Netanyahu two weeks before his election, to come home, to be enhanced stature, on a global stage.

And he’s invited for one purpose. And that is, which Speaker Boehner admitted in the caucus of Republicans and was leaked then by his supporters to the press, that he was there to make the serious indictment of the president’s policy, to criticize the president.

So he’s bringing this foreign leader, meddling in an Israeli election two weeks before. It’s a total irresponsibility. I don’t think, respect I have to for David, I don’t think it compares with Nancy Pelosi or any member of Congress at any time visiting another country.

I mean, bipartisan support for Israel since 1948, when Harry Truman recognized that foundling nation, has been a hallmark of United States policy. This is partisanizing it. This is making a Republican Likud case.

And I just, I just think it is, it’s beyond irresponsible. It’s beyond a cheap political trick. It’s just tawdry." - Mark Shields [8:59 - 10:47]. Source of transcript.

January 23, 2015

Dr. Richard Bulliet On Saudi Succession [January 2013]

"Historically, Islam was hijacked about 20 or 30 years after the Prophet and interpreted in such a way that the ruler has absolute power and is accountable only to God. That, of course, was a very convenient interpretation for whoever was the ruler." - Mohamed ElBaradei, Egyptian diplomat and the former head of the IAEA.

Richard W. Bulliet (born 1940) is a professor of history at Columbia University who specializes in the history of Islamic society and institutions, the history of technology, and the history of the role of animals in human society.
Title: "Understanding Muslim Countries" - Dr. Richard Bulliet. Source: TNWAC. Date Published: January 16, 2013. Description: 
A program of the World Affairs Councils of America with support provided by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. 
The "Arab Spring" and the challenge it presents to American foreign policy and interests across North Africa and the Near East has raised new and complicated questions jumping out of the headlines. There could be no timelier topic for us to discuss than the tension between America and the Arab and Islamic worlds. We seek to understand these developments and how they impact U.S. interests in these important regions. Join us for an insightful presentation by renowned Professor Richard Bulliet as he explores "Political Authority in a Changing Middle East."
Dr. Richard Bulliet speaks on the Saudi Succession crisis from 1:15:10 - 1:22:00.

January 22, 2015

Videos of Yemen's Unfolding Crisis | The New York Times

"The Saudis cannot afford to have a failed state on their borders, because spillover effects into Saudi Arabia might be grave." - Stig Stenslie, head of the Asia Branch of the Norwegian Defence Staff. Source: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre. March 2013.

An excerpt from, "Yemen's US-Backed President Quits; Country Could Split Apart" by Ahmed Al-Haj and Maggie Michael, AP, January 22, 2015:
Yemen's U.S.-backed president quit Thursday under pressure from rebels holding him captive in his home, severely complicating American efforts to combat al-Qaida's powerful local franchise and raising fears that the Arab world's poorest country will fracture into mini-states.

Presidential officials said Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi submitted his resignation to parliament rather than make further concessions to Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, who control the capital and are widely believed to be backed by Iran.

The prime minister and his cabinet also stepped down, making a thinly veiled reference to the Houthis' push at gunpoint for a greater share of power. Houthis deployed their fighters around parliament, which is due to discuss the situation on Sunday.
Title: Videos of Yemen's Unfolding Crisis | The New York Times. Source: The New York Times. Date Published: January 22, 2015. Description:
Since Monday, videos have surfaced — both professional and amateur — showing the violence unfolding between the Yemeni Army and Houthi rebels in the capital, Sana.

Events In Yemen Are Moving Quickly, Plus Some Other Developments

Developments to keep an eye on:
1. Daily Star: Israeli tanks take up positions along Lebanon border (January 21).
2. Antiwar.com: The Death Sentence That Could Inflame Sectarian Tensions Across the Middle East (January 21).
3. Voice of America: Pakistan Minister: Saudis Destabilizing Muslim World (January 20).
4. The Telegraph: Egypt to 'rebuild pyramids' as Sisi plots economic revival (January 20).

Video Title: Yemen leader ready to accept demands of Houthis after his guards were defeated. Source: Reuters. Date: January 21, 2015. Description:
Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi expressed readiness to accept Houthi demands for power-sharing after two days of battle. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.
An excerpt from, "Shiite rebels, Yemen's president reach deal to end standoff" AP, January 21, 2015:
Shiite rebels holding Yemen's president captive in his home reached a deal with the U.S.-backed leader Wednesday to end a violent standoff in the capital, the country's state news agency reported.

The agreement promised to give the rebel Houthi movement more say in the affairs of the Arab world's poorest country in exchange for the group removing its fighters from President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's home, the SABA news agency said.

However, the late-night deal left unanswered who really controls the country and how much power is still held by Hadi, a key ally in U.S. efforts to battle Yemen's local al-Qaida branch.

January 21, 2015

Yemeni official: ISIS is active and recruiting in Yemen [Source: CNN]

Apparently, ISIS is under every rock and behind every bush in the Middle East.

It is recruiting in Pakistan, manhandling government ministers in Libya, eating up territory in Iraq, poking the eye of Saudi Arabia, causing trouble in the Sinai, and threatening the U.S. embassy in Yemen.

But in Syria, where they originated, and where they're on the march towards Damascus, they're still being referred to as "rebels" and continue to receive training, money, and arms from the U.S. and its allies.

Make of that what you will, but one thing is for sure, those who released this monster to pursue their geopolitical goals won't be the ones to destroy it.

Title: Yemeni official: ISIS is active and recruiting in Yemen. Source: CNN. Date Published: January 21, 2015.

Bradley Craft Presents an Evening of William Cowper

William Cowper (26 November 1731 – 25 April 1800) was an English poet and hymnodist. One of the most popular poets of his time, Cowper changed the direction of 18th century nature poetry by writing of everyday life and scenes of the English countryside. In many ways, he was one of the forerunners of Romantic poetry. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called him "the best modern poet", whilst William Wordsworth particularly admired his poem Yardley-Oak. He was a nephew of the poet Judith Madan. 
After being institutionalised for insanity in the period 1763–65, Cowper found refuge in a fervent evangelical Christianity, the inspiration behind his much-loved hymns. He continued to suffer doubt and, after a dream in 1773, believed that he was doomed to eternal damnation. He recovered and wrote more religious hymns. 
His religious sentiment and association with curate John Newton (who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace") led to much of the poetry for which he is best remembered. His poem "Light Shining out of Darkness" gave English the phrase: "God moves in a mysterious way/His wonders to perform."
Title: Bradley Craft Presents an Evening of William Cowper. Source: ubookstore. Date Published: November 4, 2014. Description:
One of the most popular English poets of his time and a forerunner of Romantic poetry, William Cowper changed the direction of 18th century nature poetry by writing about everyday life and scenes in the English countryside. The author of many popular Evangelical Christian hymns, Cowper is also known for his verses of poetry and song rooted in reflections on religious sentiment. For a look into the varied work of the renowned poet and hymnodist, join our bookseller Bradley Craft as he reads and discusses a variety of hymns and poems from Cowper's vast life of writing.

An excerpt from, "Insanity and Spiritual Songs in the Soul of a Saint: Reflections on the Life of William Cowper" by John Piper, January 29, 1992:

"Why Cowper?

There are at least three reasons why I have chosen to tell the story of the 18th century poet William Cowper at this year's conference.

One is that ever since I was seventeen—maybe before—I have felt the power of poetry. I went to my file recently and found an old copy of Leaves of Grass, my High School Literary Magazine from 1964 and read the poems that I wrote for it almost 30 years ago. Then I looked at the Kodon from my Wheaton days, and remembered the poem, "One of Many Lands" that I wrote in one of my bleaker moments as a college freshman. Then I dug out The Opinion from Fuller Seminary and the Bethel Coeval from when I taught there. It hit me again what a long-time friend poetry-writing has been to me.

I think the reason for this is that I live with an almost constant awareness of the breach between the low intensity of my own passion and the staggering realities of the universe around me, heaven, hell, creation, eternity, life, God. Everybody (whether they know it or not) tries to close this breach—between the weakness of our emotions and the wonder of the World. Some of us do it with poetry.

William Cowper did it with poetry. I think I know what he means, for example, when he writes a poem about his mother's portrait long after her death and says,
And, while that face renews my filial grief,
Fancy shall weave a charm for my relief. 
There is a deep release and a relief that comes when we find a way of seeing and saying some precious or stunning reality that comes a little closer to closing the breach between what we've glimpsed with our mind and what we've grasped with our heart. It shouldn't be surprising that probably over 300 pages of the Bible was written as poetry. Because the aim of the Bible is to build a bridge between the deadness of the human heart and the living reality of God.

The second reason I am drawn to William Cowper is that I want to know the man behind the hymn, "God Moves In a Mysterious Way." Over the years it has become very precious to me and to many in our church.
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
And works his sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purpose will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.
This hymn hangs over our mantle at home. It expresses the foundation of my theology and my life so well that I long to know the man who wrote it.

Finally, I want to know why this man struggled with depression and despair almost all his life. I want to try to come to terms with insanity and spiritual songs in the same heart of one whom I think was a saint." 

Title: Friend of the Friendless - William Cowper. Source: gewayou. Date Published: July 25, 2011. Description:
Words: William Cowper (1731 - 1800)
Music, vocals: Gerhard Wagner

January 20, 2015

The Yemen Crisis: Some Ground Truths [January 2010]

Photo: U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, May 2014. Source: AFP.
Photo: Houthi fighters outside the presidential palace in Sanaa, Yemen, January 2015. Source: AP.

Title: The Yemen Crisis: Some Ground Truths. Source: UChannel. Date Published: February 1, 2010. Description:
Ambassador Barbara Bodine, former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen and Diplomat-in-Residence at the Woodrow Wilson School, and Gregory Johnsen, a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern studies at Princeton University and a former Fulbright fellow in Yemen  
Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
"On the first point, on intelligence on the ground, I've made some very sharp and poignant criticisms of U.S. diplomacy in the country based on my interactions as well as observations, some of which are a bit painful because I know that many of the people working at the embassy are very smart, very talented, and very driven people. But there are, I think, repercussions for decisions that the United States tends to make, and there are very real security risks in Yemen. One of the repercussions of making it a non-accompanying post where individuals are only able to bring their spouses if their spouse can find work in the embassy and only able to bring independents of particular ages is that you, in a sense, means that you get younger and younger diplomats. You get more and more inexperienced people.

And then this shift, I think Ambassador Bodine can speak to this much more eloquently and articulately than I can, but this idea of sort of militarization of U.S. policy within Yemen. And this idea that you have this fortified compound that the embassy is, and then you have a fortified compound that most most of the diplomats live, out in Hada, and there's this sort of frantic and frenzy drive back and forth between the two. Not only do you get a misleading and I think clouded picture of what Sana'a is like, but you have really no understanding of what the rest of the country is like. The individuals that you're talking to, the tribal sheikhs, or whoever, that you're speaking with, they're coming into town, you're not meeting them on their territory.  . . I'm a little worried that there's a sort of very narrow slice of life that's being dissected by the U.S. in Yemen that can give very distorting images if you project that out onto what the rest of the country looks like." - Gregory Johnsen [1:06:00 - 1:08:26].

"I would most regrettably have to agree. I was out in Yemen last year, and I was appalled at how much the embassy has become this fortress. Yes, there are security issues there. Nobody is doubting that or anything else. But it is not fundamentally a hostile environment, and I think this is a broader problem with the U.S. government, we've slid into this idea of risk avoidance as opposed to risk management. Forgetting that, with some, to borrow another military phrase, with some situational awareness, there's a great deal that you can do. And I do think that we have an embassy that, when I was there, I was appalled at how narrow their range of contacts were. It has become very militarized. Our embassy, you walk around and there's a whole lot of guys with short haircuts and thick necks. And I can tell you that's not the profile of a diplomat.

We talked earlier about how much these are relationships societies. And, to the extent that we have young people or we have people on rapid rotations, even a year, we are losing our ability to understand, which is something you've all understood even before today. It's an enormously complex, highly unique, very idiosyncratic country. We can do this right, but we can do this thing very, very wrong. We do need the human intelligence, if we're going to do this, as well. You can't do this all by signals intelligence. You end up sending cruise missiles into the sand. And, so, if you're going to do good human intelligence or if you're going to do good diplomacy or if you're going to do smart development, we have to have people on the ground, in the villages, driving around, not in armoured convoys. When I used to go out, I've always been of the mind that the lower my profile the safer I was. That if I got, you know, all this garbage, you're just sort of doing this 'important person here' 'shoot here.' If you're out in just an armoured land cruiser you're probably a whole lot safer." - Ambassador Barbara Bodine [1:08:29 - 1:11:08].

Title: Shots fired at U.S. embassy vehicle in Yemen. Source: CNN. Date Published: January 20, 2015.