Pope Benedict XVI visited the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem.
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Israel on Monday on a highly politicized visit, and quickly repeated his support for a Palestinian state, saying that he hoped a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would result in “a homeland of their own” for both sides.
Later, the pope paid tribute to victims of the Holocaust. At Yad Vashem, the national Holcoaust memorial, the German-born pope spoke of the millions of Jews killed by the Nazis, saying the cries of the victims continue to reverberate more than six decades after World War II.
Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner measures the pope’s words.
“Del dicho al hecho, un gran trecho.”
Pope Benedict’s current trip to Israel brings to mind that old Spanish refrain, “There’s a big difference between what people say and what they do” — more simply translated, “Words are cheap.”
No question, you could apply the saying to many topics in the news: “We don’t torture;” “Iran possesses nuclear fuel cycle technology, a capability which it is using exclusively for peaceful purposes;” and “I never took steroids or human growth hormone.”
Sometimes, parsing words too carefully doesn’t lead very far, as in the efforts of analyzing how much and how little the pope said in Israel yesterday.
How carefully should we be analyzing the adverbs and adjectives used by the pontiff when he visited Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Nazi extermination of six million Jews during World War II? Some in Israel are all about scanning every dactyl and iamb.
Pope Benedict condemned the Holocaust in a speech at the memorial yesterday, saying:
“I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah. They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names: these are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again.”
The Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Yisrael Meir Lau — a Holocaust survivor — praised the speech for being “beautiful and well-scripted and very Biblical.” But he added that the pope could have cited the more precise number of those killed, instead of saying “millions.” Also, he noted the pope used the word “killed” instead of choosing to say “murdered.”
“There’s a dramatic difference between killed and murdered, especially when a speech has gone through so many hands,” Lau said.
Such analysis might be more forgiving were it not for questions about the pope’s previous pronouncements and actions.
There was the case of Richard Williamson, a Roman Catholic Bishop, who once said: “I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against, is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.”
Benedict brought Williamson back into the fold, 20 years after he was excommunicated during the reign of Pope John Paul II.
And there was a lecture Pope Benedict delivered in 2006, in which he quoted a 700-year-old papal text: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman…”
He was roundly criticized for that, although the Vatican said he was quoting, rather than citing his own view.
There is evidence that the pope knows the weight and value of words. In 1985, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he silenced the prominent Brazilian priest Leonardo Boff, who had questioned the authority of the Church hierarchy. Boff was an early advocate of Liberation Theology, whose adherents were criticized for promoting social movements in impoverished parts of the Third World.
Regardless the intent of and reaction to the pope’s statements, his other declared message in the Middle East was to urge an end to violence among Jews and Muslims. It’s not certain how much weight his words or actions will have in that larger context.
– Peter Eisner
Photo courtesy of Flickr user catholicrlf under a Creative Commons license.
May 7, 2009
Obama must break with past in Afghanistan, Pakistan
President Barack Obama with Afghan President Karzai and Pakistani President Zardari during a trilateral meeting at the White House.
U.S. President Barack Obama met with leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan on Wednesday to discuss the growing threat of the Taliban.
Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner considers the signficance of the three-way meeting and the challenges facing President Obama going forward.
The Obama administration held a mini-summit yesterday with the civilian leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. An Associated Press report quoted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said it was a “breakthrough meeting,” telling reporters the sessions covered trade, water sharing, military training and anti-corruption drives, among other issues.
It is unlikely that this was a breakthrough meeting.
The visits by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had only limited significance, and anything those two leaders could say would have little impact on the larger problems at hand.
Certainly, there would be no reason to speak negatively or disparagingly of either leader — that would do no more good than to assume that the meetings with President Obama and administration officials accomplished much. But a breakthrough would mean that all three had figured out how to solve their problems.
Zardari is an elected civilian president, the first civilian since the military under Parvez Musharraf ceded power under mighty criticism. Zardari is in the presidential chair as a result of the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was killed on Dec. 27, 2007 after being encouraged to return to Pakistan from exile. Neither the United States nor the Pakistani military or police were able to cushion her from the bomb attack.
Zardari is said to have little, if any, sway with the Pakistani military, which for the time has responded to U.S. pressure and is fighting Taliban militants. There are predictions that perhaps half a million refugees will flee the areas of those battles. And there are well-placed military analysts in the United States and elsewhere who think that even if the Pakistani military has the stomach to fight and keep fighting extremists, the resulting battles would harden support for the Taliban in the poorest parts of the country.
Karzai faces his own problems. Warlords govern large fiefdoms in his country, and his power is limited, at best, to Kabul, the Afghan capital. The Taliban, chased from power in 2003, are extending their reach throughout the country; Karzai faces challenges in upcoming elections and he has clearly heard President Obama question his ability to fight corruption, or even leave the grounds of the presidential palace to govern his country. No assurance he might give Obama, and no pledge of U.S. military aid — which will arrive with or without Karzai — is particularly germane to the larger issues of stability in that part of the world.
President Obama needs to do something convincing and new in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is the commander-in-chief, and when the U.S. military accidentally kills Afghan civilians as it did this week, he will have trouble in protecting his reputation as the anti-Bush in international relations. His secretary of state, besides saying the meetings with the Karzai and Zardari were “breakthrough,” made references to civil action measures — a hint of the military doctrine of winning over “hearts and minds” in the midst of low intensity warfare. That theory is coherent, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to gains and breakthroughs that can be measured in weeks and months.
There comes a point after you’ve bought a new spread with broke-down fences, after you’ve repaired the place and patched the holes, you’ll call it your own. The Obama administration hasn’t gotten there yet, but let’s describe the damage for what it is.
– Peter Eisner
Photo courtesy of Flickr user The Official White House Photostream under a Creative Commons license.
May 6, 2009
For Afghanistan’s Karzai, era of U.S. hand-holding is over
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was meeting Wednesday with President Obama.
The leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan were set for a three-way meeting with President Obama on Wednesday, to discuss how to combat the growing threat of the Taliban.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is also dealing with the repercussions of an errant U.S. bombing attack that killed dozens of civilians in Afghanistan.
Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner writes about Karzai’s changing relationship with the U.S. under the Obama administration.
For an informative, disturbing look at the problems of American diplomacy in Afghanistan, a Washington Post profile of Afghan President Hamid Karzai written by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is required reading.
Rajiv, a colleague at the Post when he was Baghdad bureau chief and I was on the foreign desk, wrote the best-selling book, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone.” He breaks down the dysfunctional elements of American operations in Afghanistan the same way he did in Iraq.
Not surprisingly, we see Karzai, who was meeting Wednesday with President Obama, as an indecisive man with little franchise, often under the thumb of the Bush administration. President Bush dealt with Afghanistan by starting a war in Iraq instead. He dealt with Karzai, in part, by sending Zalmay Mamozy Khalilzad, an Afghan-born diplomat, as the U.S. ambassador after having been ambassador to Iraq.
Khalilzad and top American officials used strong-arm tactics, often falling short in controlling the axes of meaningful change.
“Khalilzad was far more than an ambassador. U.S. diplomats described his role as the country’s chief executive — with Karzai as the figurehead chairman — for the 19 months of his ambassadorship.”
“By his own account, Khalilzad ate dinner six nights a week at the presidential palace, where he met with Karzai and his advisers into the evening. No significant decision was made by Karzai in that time without Khalilzad’s involvement, and sometimes his cajoling and prodding, the diplomats said.”
We also learn that Karzai and Bush had biweekly video chats, with Bush apparently thinking the personal touch would help deal with the militias and drug lords rampaging outside Karzai’s palace gates.
None of the hobnobbing brought success in stabilizing Afghanistan or catching Osama bin Laden, or stopping the corrupt system that allows Afghanistan to corner the market on the opium poppy industry.
Just after President Obama came to office, Vice President Joseph Biden informed Karzai in person that the era of presidential hand-holding is over.
Rajiv reports that President Obama has little patience for Karzai. Obama, we are told, thinks Karzai “has been inside the bunker” too long.
“Obama advisers believe the relationship that Bush developed with Karzai masked the Afghan leader’s flaws and made it difficult to demand accountability.”
“The classified version of the recent White House review of Afghanistan strategy, according to two officials who have read it, criticizes Karzai. “It takes him to task for not meeting even the most basic Afghan expectations,” one of the officials said. “The implication is clear: Karzai is not our man in this upcoming election.”
Rather than one-on-one video conferences, Karzai gets a 20-minute meeting and a three-way meeting with President Obama and the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari.
Beyond the body language, Karzai will supposedly have at least a minute to mention U.S. air strikes on Tuesday in which more than 100 people died. The International Red Cross reported that women and children were among the dead.
A cold dose of reality reminds us that war and peace go beyond personalities. We haven’t seen yet how the United States will come up with a viable plan to make things better.
– Peter Eisner
May 5, 2009
Who’s got the power in Pakistan?
U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday. Source: UN Photo
In Pakistan, a peace deal between the government and the Taliban is on the verge of collapse. As the conflict escalates, Taliban forces are tightening their hold on the Swat region and civilians are fleeing.
U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, on Wednesday. The Obama administration has criticized Pakistan’s efforts to fight the Taliban as insufficient. Obama is expected to continue to press Zardari to crack down on both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as ensure better security for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner discusses what the U.S. and Zardari can hope to accomplish, though the Pakistani military is calling the shots.
Who’s got the power?
That’s a good question with — unfortunately –- an easy answer, as President Obama meets in Washington with Pakistan’s civilian, democratically-elected president, Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari was elected about six months ago, and his lot has never been more tenuous.
Zardari’s goal from the visit to Washington this week is probably foremost to promote his own viability as the leader of a country of 176 million people. That’s enough of a problem. He can’t seem too friendly to the United States — Pakistanis are concerned about meddling by U.S. armed forces in the fight against the Taliban. He can’t seem to be taciturn, but at the same time, he needs the Obama administration’s support.
All the while, the gorilla in the room won’t be in the room: Who controls Pakistan? Who controls Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal? Who’s got the power? The short answer is: Zardari doesn’t; the military does. Zardari has a weak relationship, if any, with the Pakistani military, which calls the shots on dealing with the driving Taliban insurgency that threatens the country.
Zardari hasn’t much to do with fighting the Taliban. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid warned last month about “the galloping Talibanization” of the country, in which more than 10 percent of the territory is controlled by insurgents. If Zardari were involved, he probably wouldn’t want to stray too far from Islamabad.
Here are points from the important Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, on Tuesday. It sounds like a war — and that’s what it is.
“Residents told DawnNews that Taliban militants had consolidated their positions in Mingora city from where they were targeting security forces.”
“Heavy shelling was witnessed in Swat’s Qambar area as militants engaged the security forces.”
“A statement from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said on Tuesday that militants in Swat had blown up a police station and fired at check posts of security forces at Shangla Top, Shamzoi bridge, Bariam bridge and grid station Mingora.”
“Militants also looted a store of the World Food Programme in Swat and took away 217 bags of wheat and 400 cans of edible oil, the statement said.”
“Frightened residents fled suburban areas in Mingora on Tuesday, where the Taliban concentrated a two-year insurgency, after the army issued an evacuation order that ignited fears of an imminent new offensive, witnesses said.”
Instead of fighting the war, Zardari is meeting with U.S. officials who are not counting on Zardari to do very much. U.S. military officials are maintaining contact with Pakistan’s military leaders, and with Zardari’s civilian rivals. That’s the best they can do right now in a dismal scenario with no immediate answers or hopes for success.
– Peter Eisner