National Commentary

Debt Debate Eclipses Middle East Unrest

This week, Congress voted to raise the United States debt ceiling. The Republicans managed to overcome the deficit problem without any tax increases. As usual, the GOP laid the issue on the backs of the American people with forthcoming huge cuts in social programs, including adjustments to current Social Security benefits. Congress put off major decisions until after the 2012 elections. While Congress debated and dithered for months on the question of raising the debt ceiling so it could pay the bills, there were several headline-grabbing stories that were passed over.

One of the big stories that has been generally ignored is the brutality of Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad, who has initiated a slaughter campaign against his people. Bashar is following in the footsteps of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who launched a massacre and killed some 10,000 Syrians at Homs several years ago. In the latest Syrian crackdown, at least 70 people have been killed in Hamas and other cities near Damascus.

President Barack Obama has called the younger al-Assad’s ruthless drive against his own people “horrifying.” Al-Assad knows the writing is on the wall. The Syrian people are hostile to his regime and have suffered too much under his dictatorship. Unfortunately, Assad has the arms and enough military support to temporarily hold off the opposition, but probably not for long.

Another recent story overlooked, again in the Middle East, was the Israeli blockade of the second U.S. flotilla headed for Gaza. The humanitarian flotilla was stopped in Greek seaports and prevented from sailing on to Gaza after the Israelis apparently sabotaged propellers on the ship. Nine Turkish citizens were murdered by the Israelis when they tried to launch its first flotilla headed for Gaza. But Turkey – apparently willing to let bygones be bygones – accepted the humiliation of the Israeli intervention of its national sovereignty, which tarnished Turkey’s dignity.

The U.S. and Cyprus joined Turkey and Greece to assist the Israeli blockade. Bankrupt Greece accepted billions in bank loans from the International Monetary Fund, and played ball with Israel in important ways against the second flotilla from the U.S.

The U.S. had warned against the launching of the flotilla, which was aimed at helping 1.6 million Gazans to break out of the so-called “open prison.”

Shame on the U.S.-educated Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, who collaborated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in support of the illegal blockade of Gaza.

Shame on hawkish Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well, who as usual supported Israel’s aggression against the beleaguered Palestinians. Ironically, the ships of the sabotaged flotilla were called Audacity of Hope – the title of a memoir by President Obama.

Another ship was named after an American heroine Rachel Corrie, who used her body to block an Israeli bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian home. The Israeli commander asked his Israeli authorities for orders in advance of the calamity, and he was told to go ahead. Corrie was killed as she continued to stand in front of the bulldozer.

Medea Benjamin, a founder of the freedom fighting Code Pink group, said the Greek government had been working, “hand in glove with the Israelis to set up obstacles to the flotilla.” Those aboard the ships that had expected to go to Gaza included citizens from many countries, such as Americans and Israelis who believe they cannot continue the oppression of the Palestinians in good conscience.

The first vessel to penetrate Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza waters was in 1948. The Israelis have acted in direct violation of international law by barring any ships access to Gaza ports.

Any supplies meant for the Palestinians are detoured to Israeli ports and the cargo is checked out by the Israelis before delivery to the Palestinians. Israel has been able to exert power by stretching the 12-mile international limit in the sea, reaching to the Greek Aegean, according to an observer.

When is America going to wake up and do the humane thing? How long can the U.S. continue to sully its reputation for human decency? U.S. strategies seem to follow the diplomatic motto, “We have no permanent friends – only permanent interests.”

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