Commenting on Trump policy without taking a stand

Don’t try this at home.

I have a weekly analysis spot on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh, where I examine Middle East news, events, and issues. In the latest one, host Bruce Sakalik asked me to comment on President Trump’s order temporarily stopping citizens of seven mostly Islamic nations from entering the United States.

Here’s the problem.

Of course I have strong views on the issue as a matter of principle. But as an old-fashioned journalist, even as an analyst–I don’t think it’s my role to expound my views on the radio, or anywhere else in public. I believe it’s destructive to my actual role, which is to bring new thinking into the conversation about Mideast issues. For that to happen, I have to maintain credibility with my listeners/readers. If I take a stand for or against one of Trump’s policies, I lose half my audience forever, and the other part listens with half an ear, nodding, agreeing and forgetting. Forever. There is no going back from that.

A friend who has been reading my articles for many years observed a while back, “I don’t know whether you are Right or Left.” Correct. I’m not ideological in my writing. I’m actually ambidextrous, but that’s a whole other issue.

A journalist who takes a public stand on a political issue in public loses his credibility. I don’t do it, never have, never will. I have never marched in a demonstration or signed a petition. Never have, never will. I have, indeed, moved to Israel, and I am, indeed, an Orthodox Jew, but as you can see from my posts here and my reporting for the last 45 years, those facts don’t dictate my writing, either. I’ve written that this approach is vital to the future of journalism and the future of democracy.

So here’s my analysis of how the Mideast is reacting to the Trump ban. You be the judge of whether I succeeded.

And while I have your attention, here’s the latest from Nancy Youssef at the Pentagon–where they’re trying damage control.

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First US soldier killed on Trump watch–in Yemen

Here’s crack Pentagon reporter Nancy Youssef’s take on the death of an American commando in a raid in Yemen. It was an airstrike that ended in what she calls a “hard landing,” and few other details are available. The raid targeted al-Qaida in Yemen.

This is the key:

So far, the Trump administration has been particularly aggressive on the al-Qaeda threat in Yemen. Within hours of the start of the Trump presidency, the US launched three air strikes, also in Bayda province. At least two of those strikes targeted a top AQAP commander, Abu Anis al-Abi, who was killed in the strikes, the US military has said.

The previous administration went after AQAP with airstrikes and raids, too, but those diminished with the escalation of the civil war in Yemen. AQAP is considered the most active branch of the terrorist group that bought down the Twin Towers in 2001, and the vacuum left by the civil war has made it easier for AQAP to operate in Yemen.

Look for more US raids in Yemen, though we’re not likely to hear much about them unless there are American casualties.

Move the US Embassy and get it over with

Moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will not set off a region-wide Mideast war. Maybe it would have five or ten years ago, but now it won’t. So let’s just do it and get it over with. I discussed this with host P.J. Maloney on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh a few minutes ago.

This isn’t the same Mideast as five orĀ  ten years ago. The Israel-Palestinian conflict was never the center of the Mideast universe, but now, most parties in the region understand that. Well, actually, they understood that all along, but Arab leaders were willing to use the conflict, dragging the UN, US and Europe along, as a way to deflect the attention of their own people away from their own chronic problems.

No more. Or at least, not as much.

With a Mideast realignment well underway, Israel has been quietly brought in to the Arab alliance against Iran. That is despite Israel’s unfriendly policies, to say the least, toward the Palestinians and Arabs in general. It’s a matter of common interests, not deep, abiding love–and that’s the way the world works.

So moving the US Embassy to the western part of Jerusalem, which has been Israel’s capital since 1949 (note that this is two decades before Israel captured and annexed east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim), will indeed set off a firestorm of protests and attempted terror attacks against Israel.

And then it will be over, because it just isn’t that important in a region where there are issues like Syria, Iraq and Iran.

And as for attempted terror attacks–there are attempted terror attacks all the time. Arab terrorists don’t need an trigger like an event–all they need is backing and opportunity. Tying their attacks to events, as they do, is just a way of getting more publicity.

Moving the embassy to the Jerusalem building that’s already there and waiting for the sign change from “consulate” to “embassy” will get a non-issue off the table and may actually spur activity to find solutions to the real issues. A new concept is what’s needed, because as you’ve read here, the “peace process” reached its logical conclusion twice, in 2000 and 2008, with Israeli offers of a Palestinian state–but it didn’t bring peace. Here’s an example of what I’ve written about that.

I’ll look at new approaches in upcoming posts.

Paris Mideast conference: why bother?

So 70 nations sent officials to Paris to tell Israel and the Palestinians that they have to make peace. Wow. Be still, my beating heart. No one has ever said that before. Well, not more than a few hundred times. I discussed the conference with host Bruce Sakalik on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh a few minutes ago.

Of course, there were subliminal messages here. There was a call on both sides to refrain from unilateral measures, a call The Associated Press interpreted as directed only at Israel and its settlement building in the West Bank. I guess the AP doesn’t consider the Palestinians appealing to all kinds of international bodies to condemn Israel a unilateral measure.

And while we’re on the subject, here’s a direct quote from the AP report from Paris:

In a nod to Israel, the final declaration of Sunday’s conference included criticism of incitement and “terror,” a reference to Palestinian attacks.

This comes a week after a Palestinian truck driver plowed into a group of Israeli cadet soldiers touring Jerusalem, killing four and wounding others while driving back and forth over their bodies.

All you have to do to reinforce Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s self-serving reuters-parispronouncement that the Paris conference is a “rigged” effort to supplant negotiations and push peace farther away is to put “terror” in quotes like that and call the reference a “nod to Israel,” as if otherwise, it’s perfectly all right to kill Israelis every chance you get.

I worked for AP for 15 years. I left because its coverage of this issue became more and more pro-Palestinian, and I didn’t think it should be pro-anyone. And I never thought I’d see the day when Reuters coverage of an Israel-Palestinian story would be more balanced than AP’s. That day has arrived.

Listen to the end of this brief radio analysis for my outline of an effective international peace conference. I’m not saying you’ll like it.

“Shut up and wait for Trump to do something”

You have to listen all the way to the end of this five-minute analysis to get to that…but it’s worth it. On KQV Radio a few minutes ago, host P.J. Maloney asked me what I think US President-elect Donald Trump will do in the Mideast.

The first part is a sober-sided analysis of Russian and American influence in the region, where I predict that Russia will get pitched out of here at some point, and the US is wise to keep its troops and planes out, too.

But I admit my advice to my colleagues is the best part.