The "Infiltrators"—Israel's Unwanted Asylum Seekers

As Sudanese and Eritreans marched on Jerusalem earlier this week, it became harder for the government to ignore its refugee issue.

Gershom Gorenberg
Gershom Gorenberg T hey simply left. As soon as they got the chance, the refugees from Darfur and other parts of Sudan and from Eritrea walked out of the guarded camp in the Negev desert and marched north in bitter winter weather toward Jerusalem. There they stood Tuesday afternoon, on an icy sidewalk facing the Knesset, holding up brown cardboard signs with handwritten slogans, chanting in eerily subdued voices halfway between determination and desperation, until they were arrested, manhandled onto buses and sent back to the desert. This is the condensed version of the refugees' dramatic three-day protest this week. It is also a condensed version of their lives: They are people—young men, almost all—who made the dangerous decision to leave their countries because staying was even more dangerous. They headed north into Egypt, then crossed the Sinai desert into Israel, hoping for freedom and safety, and were imprisoned as "infiltrators." But the end of the protest this week is not the...

The Year in Preview: Dates of Judgment in the Middle East

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool)
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite I n front of the United States State Department, two large digital screens should be erected by New Year's, showing the countdown to the Obama administration's looming foreign-policy deadlines for 2014. One screen would flash the days left before March 29, when the nine months allocated by Secretary of State John Kerry for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations run out. By then, the two sides have to reach agreement, or at least show enough progress to have reason to keep talking. On the other screen, we'd see the time remaining until May 24, when the six-month interim accord on Iran's nuclear program ends—with a longterm accord, or well-founded hope of one, or a return to an unpredictable confrontation. In principle, the only thing that links success on the two tracks is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's insistence that peace with the Palestinians depends on removing the Iranian nuclear threat. But the two diplomatic challenges do share common...

NBC's Big Fat Gay Mistake

The network's half-hearted attempts to appear gay-friendly while broadcasting the Sochi Olympics only underscore its complicity with the Kremlin's crackdown on LGBT rights and freedom of the press.

Flickr/Edgar Zuniga
Flickr/Edgar Zuniga T here is no longer even the illusion of a free press in Russia—not after yesterday, when the Kremlin posted a decree on its website announcing the liquidation of RIA Novosti , the leading state news agency. “The move,” the news service wrote in its own account of the story, “is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.” That “tightening,” which intensified when Russian President Vladimir Putin returned to power last year and immediately set about silencing any form of opposition to his notoriously crooked government, has reached a fever pitch in the months leading up to Russia’s hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi this February. The country and the games have come under increasing international scrutiny and criticism: First, in the wake of the Kremlin’s passage, this past June, of a trifecta of draconian anti-LGBT laws...

Sanctions Hawks Losing the Plot

AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool A new poll of registered voters conducted by Americans United for Change and released last week is the latest to show majority support for the recent agreement in Geneva between the P5+1—the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany—and Iran. Among those with an opinion (41 percent said they had none, or hadn’t heard enough about the deal to form an opinion), 57 percent supported the agreement with 37 percent opposed. But the poll also noted that, after hearing a description of the deal—in which Iran will halt its nuclear work and submit to increased inspections in exchange for modest sanctions relief—support went up to 63 percent. As the Washington Examiner pointed out, even those identifying as “strongly pro-Israel” favored the deal by 48 percent to 40 percent. It’s not the first poll that has found such a result. Last week, a Reuters /Ipsos poll found Americans supporting the just-brokered deal by a two to one...

Neocons Fail Negotiation 101 Yet Again

On the other hand, we could just listen to this guy's not-at-all-oversimplified argument. (AP photo by Seth Wenig)
If you want to know how the neoconservatives who brought us the Iraq War are reacting to the interim deal to freeze Iran's nuclear program, the best way is to head over to the website of the Weekly Standard , where you can witness their wailing chagrin that the Obama administration doesn't share their hunger for yet another Middle East war. All five of the featured articles on the site concern Iran, including editor Bill Kristol's "No Deal" (illustrated with twinned photos of Bibi Netanyahu and Abraham Lincoln, believe it or not), one titled "Don't Trust, Can't Verify," and "Abject Surrender By the United States" by the always measured John Bolton. These people would be simply ridiculous if they didn't already have so much blood on their hands from Iraq, and the idea that anyone would listen to them after what happened a decade ago tells you a lot about how Washington operates. But there is something important to understand in the arguments conservatives are making about Iran. Their...

But What Does Iran Mean for 2016?

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi
AP Photo/Lior Mizrahi, Pool T here are two things to say about the electoral effect of the Iran deal. Barck Obama isn’t going to be up for re-election. Still, his approval rating will matter for Democrats in both 2014 and 2016. The first thing—and it’s correct, as far as it goes—is that the deal won’t have any electoral effect, whatever happens. Smart analysts know that voters just don’t care very much about foreign policy. And this one … well, it’s pretty distant from the concerns of most voters. Iran’s nuclear program has been in the news for a long time, but it’s not headline stuff for the most part. No matter how much of a fuss there is about it in the press this week, most voters won’t engage. The blunt truth is that this too will be gone from the headlines before very long, anyway. Without most voters paying any attention to it, that leaves only the most politically attentive, and they’ll divide the way they always do: as long as the balance of the coverage isn’t radically...

Drone War Testimonials

A reporter sits down with one Pakistani family who traveled more than 7,000 miles to tell their story to Congress—only five representatives showed up to listen. 

Humna Bhojani
Fatima Bhojani The Rehmans: Nabila, Rafiq, and Zubair. T wo beams of light came down from the drone lingering over the field where they had been gathering okra and hit Nabila’s grandmother, Mamana Bibi. The earth shuddered. Nabila fell; terrified, she stumbled into a run. Blood was gushing from her arm. She wrapped her red chaddar (head covering) around the shrapnel wound; moments later it was soaked through. Through the smoke, Nabila caught a glimpse of Mamana’s brown sandal. She passed out. The day Mamana was killed, October 24 th 2012, was a beautiful one in the North Waziristan village of Tapi in Pakistan. A few clouds sprinkled over the bright blue sky—perfect weather for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which was the next day. For Muslims, Eid al-Adha is the holiest day of the year, celebrating the sacrifice Abraham made. “They have told me that Eid is like Christmas,” Zubair, Nabila’s, 13-year-old brother said during his testimony at a Congressional briefing on October 29,...

Obama's Nuclear Step Forward

AP Images/Mohammad Berno
Shortly after the news broke that a deal over Iran’s nuclear program had been struck in Geneva, Switzerland between Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, U.K., France, China, and Germany), President Obama made a short speech from the White House hailing the agreement, and noting the challenges ahead in hammering out a broader comprehensive deal. “Ultimately,” he said, “only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution to the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program.” Nuclear non-proliferation experts have been overwhelmingly supportive of the agreement, which offers limited and reversible sanctions relief in exchange for Iran curbing key aspects of its nuclear work. “The Geneva agreement is a good deal because Iran’s capabilities in every part of the nuclear program of concern are capped, with strong verification measures,” wrote Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. “All in all, the interim agreement is a good deal,” concurred Jeffrey...

Bibi's Agreement Anxiety Disorder

T o explain Benjamin Netanyahu's frenzied reaction to the Geneva agreement on Iran's nuclear program, let me begin with the stack of brown cardboard boxes under my wife's desk. Each of the five cartons contains a gas mask and related paraphernalia for a member of my family to use in the event of a chemical-weapons attack. They were delivered last January, as part of the gradual government effort to prepare every household in Israel for a rain of Syrian missiles. I suppose that having "defense kits" in the house could be macabre, but what we usually notice is that they're a nuisance: another thing on which to bang your toe in an overstuffed city flat. What's more, they're apparently an obsolete nuisance. A couple of weeks ago, the usual nameless military sources told the local media that the Defense Ministry would recommend ending production of gas masks for civilians. According to the leaks, intelligence assessments said that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons...

Apology Silliness, Foreign Policy Edition

I apologize for these pastries. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
We're now negotiating the terms of our sort-of-departure from Afghanistan, and there's no doubt the Afghan government needs America more than America needs it. Imagine, if you would, that we just packed up and left. There would almost certainly be a full-on civil war, one the Afghan government would be hard-pressed to win. And back here, we'd pay about as much attention as we do now to the river of blood flowing through Iraq, which is to say, every once in a while we'd see a news story and say, "Gee, that's terrible," and then go back to wondering how long it'll be before Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan go on a cross-country crime spree. So if you were the Afghan government, you probably wouldn't want to drive too hard a bargain in negotiating the terms of the future American presence there. And it's all getting hung up on whether the Americans are going to apologize for killing Afghan civilians, and whether they might offer an apology that isn't really an apology, and whether they can...

Europe's Miserable Credit Score

Without access to credit, the European South is unlikely to bounce back anytime soon.

AP Photo/Michael Probst,File
E uropean Central Bank president Mario Draghi surprised markets last Thursday by cutting the Bank’s benchmark interest rate to a record low 0.25 percent (as low as the federal funds target rate in the U.S.). Explaining his decision, Draghi—the person who deserves most of the credit for the lull in the euro crisis over the past 15 months—noted that “monetary and, in particular, credit dynamics remain subdued” and that monetary policy must remain accommodative in order to “assist the gradual economic recovery” taking hold in the Eurozone. In other words, monetary policy must remain extremely loose to prevent Europe from sliding into a Japan-style period of protracted stagnation. The Eurozone recovery, which materialized in the second quarter of 2013 after a year-and-a-half of double-dip recession, is weak and, more importantly, uneven— as the head of the ECB is well aware. While Germany and Finland grew 0.7 percent quarter-on-quarter and France followed closely behind with 0.5 percent,...

Moderating Influences

“How do you define an Iranian moderate? An Iranian who is out of bullets and out of money.” This was what Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk had to say Wednesday after a briefing by his former Senate colleague, Secretary of State John Kerry, on the state of play in nuclear negotiations with Iran. Last weekend, the talks came tantalizingly close to closing a deal on a first phase agreement to halt to Iran’s nuclear work in exchange for limited and reversible sanctions relief, creating space for a broader comprehensive deal addressing the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. The thrust of Kirk’s remark is that, whatever friendly noises any Iranian leader might make—and new President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have been making a lot of them—these do not represent any genuine difference of opinion within the Iranian political system, are only the result of pressure that’s been brought to bear on Iran, and should not distract us...

Super Sad Spy Story

AP Images/Julian Stratenschulte
AP Images/Julian Stratenschulte L et’s face it, unless Democrats win back the House in 2014, Obama will soon become a lame duck president. To some degree or another, it is a universal truth that second-term presidents turn to foreign policy to burnish their historical legacy. Yet the continuous drip of revelations about the National Security Agency’s vast array of surveillance programs is not only shaping up to be the biggest headache for the Obama administration. It's potentially primed to be part of its defining legacy. And that is sad. Super sad. The latest news centers on allegations that the NSA has been tapping the cell phones of over 35 heads of state, from Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff to German chancellor Angela Merkel. Originally reported last week by the German magazine Der Spiegel , the shock waves from Berlin continue to ripple throughout the globe. Foreign governments everywhere are now scrambling their intelligence agencies’ best and brightest to see if they were...

The Other Default?

AP Images/Yves Herman
AP Images/Yves Herman In Brussels they had a word for it: Shutdownfreude . As the standoff between the President and Congress reached its fever pitch last week, officials at the European Commission were relieved that, this time at least, it wasn’t their political system at the center of a potential global meltdown. Now that the United States won’t default on its debt due to a few dozen Tea Party radicals, things are returning to normal. Or should we say the new normal in Europe—serial crisis. Amid Congress’s desultory lurch toward a government shutdown, Euro assets were looking good—growth continued to be anemic, but then again, no one in any European government was intentionally trying to force a debt default. However, that North American storm now seems to have passed. The usual fears about sovereign debt still haunt European markets, but what is driving concern today is the uncertainty surrounding the continent’s banking system. In policy circles, everyone seems to agree that the...

Bomb Me, Big Sheldon

AP Photo/Stanley Troutman, File
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File T he world is full of crazy old men. America has its share. But most of those crazy old men don’t go out in public to advocate America nuking other countries. And most of them aren’t major donors to right-wing American and Israeli politicians and think tanks. Speaking on a panel New York’s Yeshiva University on Tuesday night, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson suggested that the U.S. launching a nuclear weapon into Iran would be the appropriate way to handle negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. “And then you say, ‘See? The next one is in the middle of Tehran,’” he explained. “’You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development.’” The audience applauded. Adelson got a lot of coverage during the 2012 presidential campaign for the amount of money he threw around. He contributed over $93 million to Republican super PACs, making him the single biggest donor to such groups “by a wide margin,” according...