ISIS thrown out of key town–let’s learn the lesson

This report by my friend @nancyayoussef about Kurdish fighters expelling ISIS forces from Kobane shows how the parties in the Mideast can handle ISIS with little overt Western support. It’s not a US war. American involvement is counterproductive.

And when I say that in public over here in the US, no one is throwing tomatoes. (1)

Here’s the rest of the schedule for my lecture tour: Pasadena Tuesday, Toronto Thursday, Baltimore Saturday and Monday, Washington Monday evening, the Jim Bohannon Show Monday night…and heading for home on Tuesday.

Why reporting from the Mideast sucks–Mark interviewed before his lecture

It’s in my hometown newspaper–a story based on an interview and one of my two lectures about why reporting from the Mideast gets so many things wrong. This story is in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.

Editor Craig Klugman and I worked together at the daily newspaper at Indiana University many years

Craig and me at his newspaper's office

Craig and me at his newspaper’s office

ago, and today he’s one of the few people in his position who cares deeply about foreign news. He’s a treasure and an asset to the profession–besides being a great friend and a genuinely funny guy.

In my lectures, I point to a “Western mindset” of favoring the underdog, no matter who the underdog is or what he’s done. In addition, there’s intimidation of reporters all over the region, deep cutbacks in reporting staff, and social media — which requires reporters to tweet and blog while they’re working — in other words, before they have the complete story. It takes me an hjour to document all these issues in a lecture–so far people have been engaged and interested, asking excellent questions for half an hour after I’m done, and coming up to ask individual questions after that.

Now I’m off to California,speaking in Pasadena after chilling with my brother for a few days.

Hearing sour notes at the start of my N. America lecture tour

On one of my infrequent trips to the US, I can’t help but be impressed by the anti-terror measures in place to make sure that unsavory characters (like me) can’t pose a credible threat to all of you out there. I was singled out to have my hands swiped for explosives residue in Newark, and like everyone else, I had everything X-rayed everywhere. The security checks here seem more intrusive than the ones back in Israel, which is still the most attractive target for terrorists in the world–regardless of what this author convincingly calls “America’s terrorism fear factory.” Thanks to Bob Reid for pointing it out.

I’m about to embark on the next stage of my lecture tour. I have a breakfast talk here in Baltimore on lecture flyer-page0001 (1)Sunday, an evening lecture at Michigan State on Tuesday, Kalamazoo College on Wednesday, a whole string of events in Fort Wayne, Indiana (my home town) on Thursday, and then off to the West Coast. I will tell anyone who listens why my profession, journalism, is missing the major stories and developments in the Mideast.

I grew up in this country at a time when someone could write a book about parents and kids called, “Where did you go? ‘Out.’ What did you do? ‘Nothing.'” Back then we just went out and played with our friends, and we came home at the time set in advance by our parents. Now kids have cell phones to call if there’s any kind of trouble, yet they have to schedule “play dates” days or weeks in advance, supervised, of course. Bizarre. What are people afraid of?

I’ve encountered fear and loathing of practically everything here, especially “liberals.” I’ve heard the term that described Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy and other outstanding American leaders spit out with disgust that makes it sound like “pedophile.” I’ve heard Obama called the “worst President America has ever had,” though his predecessor pursued two useless but costly and deadly wars that destroyed whatever credibility and clout the US had in my home region, the Mideast.

I read about attempts to roll back or stop the extension of Medicaid benefits to America’s poorest citizens, and I wonder, isn’t the health care system already so bloody awful that it needs to be made better, not worse? What’s going on here? Where is all this hate coming from?

I have said that the ISIS threat needs to be handled with intelligence–military intelligence and the type between the ears–not by airstrikes and American soldiers. Yet I hear a senior senator complaining loudly that Obama needs to send in more troops and crush ISIS, otherwise the US will be crawling with terrorists. And I have yet to hear an administration official stand up and say, “That’s total bullshit. We’re not going to make the same mistake again and again.” And why don’t I hear that? I’m told they’re afraid of the political backlash. Afraid to be right. Pathetic.

I’ve been here less than a week. This my first trip to the US in seven years. I am not drawing conclusions, or trying not to, and I’m not commenting on domestic American issues, even when I’m asked. I have two weeks to go, many interesting and intelligent people to see. I hope the essay I write then won’t look anything like this one.

ISIS, Charlie Hebdo and the real threat

This is a frank and open assessment by my friend Nancy Youssef of the real threats from Islamic extremists, including ISIS, and the problems the West has in stopping them. The problem is that under Western standards, you don’t get arrested until after you’ve broken a law. Changing that to allow of arrest of potential suspects would be a “the terrorists win” situation, giving much too much power to governments. One possibility is strengthening laws that make contact with hostile elements illegal. Then jihadis could be arrested on the basis of visiting places like Syria and Yemen. Obviously, bombing runs do nothing to help, and they’re probably counter-productive.

I’m heading to North America tomorrow, speaking at an auditorium near you if you’re in Baltimore, lecture flyer-page0001 (1)Washington DC, Toronto, Los Angeles, Indiana or Michigan. I’ll draw conclusions from the Charlie Hebdo atrocity about jihadis and about the media response. It won’t be pretty…but there’s also a picture of me playing ice hockey as a kid for comedy relief.

US negotiator blames Palestinians for missing peace chances

You’ve read here how the Palestinians rejected or ignored Israeli peace offers in 2000 and 2008. That last one was the one the AP banned me from writing about. Now retired US diplomat Dennis Ross is making the same case in this groundbreaking article in the New York Times. It’s the first time a diplomat that close to the “peace process” has admitted that the failures are not Israel’s fault. He adds to the wall of shame the Palestinian “pocket veto” of the latest US proposal, just last year.

Dennis Ross

Dennis Ross

Dennis Ross spent much of his State Department career trying to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I talked to him often in those days. Once we were about to board the same plane to the US from Israel, and I saw him at  the airport. As I came up to him, he audibly groaned. It had been a typically rough trip for him — no progress, as usual — and the last thing he wanted to see was a reporter. I understood that — I just wanted to say hi and wish him a good trip. That got a rare smile.

Stop apologizing for the world we’re leaving behind

The end of a year and the beginning of a new one are always accompanied by messages like, “Thank goodness that horrible year is over,” and “Let’s hope the new year is better.”

After seeing 67 new years, I’ve had enough of that formula. Every year has both good and bad. The only difference is the proportion of each.

I’m not known as a raving optimist, but I’m getting good and tired of the hackneyed cynicism of accentuating the negative year after year. And it’s not just around January 1.

There’s a story in a recent edition of the New York Times, with some old guy wailing about the world we’re leaving the next generation.

Here’s his fact:

  • His generation has messed things up beyond all recognition, burdening youngsters with climate change, mountains of government debt and much more spending on us old fogies than on the productive millennials.

The first of these articles I recall would have appeared around the time I started reading the paper in 1955. The older generation apologized for World War II, the Holocaust and the first use of atomic weapons. There was the constant threat of instant annihilation in a nuclear war if the Cold War (a concern by itself) turned hot. Already then, there were concerns about fossil fuels that would one day run out.

Twenty years later, my fellow university graduates read apologies for the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the threat of nuclear war and deficit government spending. And, of course, the problems inherent in overuse of fossil fuels.

And so on.

The author in a mood

The author in a mood

There is no reason to minimize the negatives, but there is also no justification in ignoring the positives.

Between 1955 and 1975, for example:

  • A vaccine against polio began wiping out a disease that killed and maimed millions. Remember iron lungs? If so, you just gave your age away.
  • A new strain of wheat (GMO, whether you like it or not) saved many millions from starvation in India and Pakistan.
  • Israel progressed from its poor beginnings toward economic power.
  • A pioneer computer called UNIVAC, which filled up a huge room, called the 1956 Presidential election.

You see where we’re going with this.

Now 2014 just ended, and we’re wringing our hands again. What an awful world we’re leaving. Of course there are problems. But look what we old fogies have presided over:

  • Almost everyone in the developed world has a little computer in his pocket that can instantly connect with practically everyone else and access the world’s treasure troves of information — so that we don’t have to rely on our fading memories for much of anything. We don’t even have to read maps.
  • Diseases like AIDS, once incurable, are on the run. Some forms of cancer are actually curable now. Tuberculosis can be treated, rendering the old warning “You’ll catch your death from consumption” yet another anachronism that youngsters don’t even understand. There have been setbacks, like drug-resistant viruses, and the developing world has yet to benefit from most of these advances — but it’s inevitable that they will become universal, just as polio is nearly finished.
  • The Cold War and the threat of instant nuclear destruction are gone. True, other threats have emerged, but that one dominated the world’s subconscious for decades, and it doesn’t anymore.
  • In 1975, automobile seat belts were optional and not used much. Cars built in this century have
    Cairo infrastructure

    Cairo infrastructure

    mandatory lap-shoulder belts, air bags, reinforced bodies and too many other safety devices to list here. Traffic deaths in the US and even Israel are dropping, despite poor driving. Again, the developing world lags—traffic deaths in Egypt are alarmingly high because of poor infrastructure, poor maintenance of vehicles and lax enforcement.

  • Awareness of the environmental impact of practically everything has never been higher. Governments are slow to take real measures, but instead of apologizing, we should be proud that after decades of warning about the use of fossil fuels, we’re actually starting to do something.

Now the one that really gets my old goat. The Times article wails that much more money is spent on old people than on the productive millennials. It quotes a figure of 10 percent of the American GDP being “spent” on Social Security and Medicare, while spending on younger people lags far behind.

“Spent” is in quotes because it isn’t being spent. It’s our money. Each of us seniors has been pumping money into Social Security and Medicare for at least 40 years. Most of us will get back only a fraction of what we put in. Comparing that “spending” to infrastructure, education and other responsibilities of government isn’t apples and oranges—it’s apples and bullsh*t.

So excuse me if I call bullsh*t on yet another groveling apology to the younger generation. The fact is, the world they are getting is much, much better than the one we got. It can be even better. We must work together to accomplish that.

And stop whining.

Libya falling apart–how the West got it wrong

On  KQV Radio in Pittsburgh, I’ve just been discussing Libya’s crisis with host P.J. Maloney. It’s an example of why Arab Spring went wrong, and how the West made the wrong assumptions–as it’s doing again with ISIS. You’ll be hearing this across the US and Canada next week when I start my lecture tour…along with topics related to Western media’s mishandling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.



Year-end list of US foreign stupidity

This is no joke — there’s only one Michelle Bachmann quote in this Foreign Policy collection. Mostly it’s top administration and Congressional lights getting it all wrong. Most notable–it’s the first time I’ve seen anyone (besides me) take on the misuse of the term “existential threat.” Once we realize what is and what isn’t an actual threat to our existence, we might have a handle on how to respond. Or not to respond.

My youngest reader

My youngest reader