British MPs say no to Syria attack

Earlier in the day I was listening to much of the UK Commons debate on whether to attack Syria. I could not help but feel it buttressed the general consensus among most of us in political science who study executive-legislative politics that a parliamentary system is just so vastly superior to America’s presidential one.

And I thought that even when I assumed Cameron would get his wish at the end. Wow, this is a stunning development. In the Guardian’s running commentary on the debate and vote, there is a statement from Philip Cowley (who studies parliamentary revolts) via Twitter in which he says:

Not seen division lists, but that gvt rebellion must be bigger than the one that brought down Chamberlain in 1940

And I am not sure folks will continue calling Ed Miliband (Opposition leader) politically weak anymore! He forced Cameron to consider amendments, and, combined with considerable lack of support for attacking Syria even within the PM’s Conservative Party, Cameron lost a big one.

See also Steven Taylor.

Libyan rebels call for airstrikes

This item, near the end of an Al Jazeera article on the pro-Gaddafi offensive against the rebel-held city of Marsa El Brega, surprised me:

Meanwhile, the rebel National Libyan Council in east Libya called for UN-backed air strikes on foreign mercenaries used by Gaddafi against his own people.

Hafiz Ghoga, a spokesman for the council based in Benghazi, told a news conference that Gaddafi was using “African mercenaries in Libyan cities” which amounted to an invasion of the oil producing North African nation.

“We call for specific attacks on strongholds of these mercenaries,” he said, but added: “The presence of any foreign forces on Libyan soil is strongly opposed. There is a big difference between this and strategic air strikes.”

Such a request would go a step or more beyond the previously requested imposition of a “no-fly zone.” However, even the latter operation would entail airstrikes and complex logistics, implying the operational distinction is not as great as it at first seems. Tactically, it would be a much bigger intervention, however. It would go beyond merely denying Gaddafi the means to use loyal air forces and entail destruction of fighting assets, and, obviously, significant casualties.

So my question for readers: is armed intervention (of what ever form) a good idea?

This is well beyond my field of specialization. But, for what it may be worth, part of me suspects the US and allies will end up intervening anyway. This regime and its maniacal leader are not going quietly, and there is a serious risk of a “failed state” situation. Such a result on the northern shores of the Mediterranean is, without exaggeration, a serious threat (shipping lanes, refugee flows, potential terrorism, etc.) that Europe and the US can’t abide. So is it better to intervene sooner than later?

Of course, there is another side of me that says foreign intervention can only make a bad situation worse.

I don’t know, but I am sure glad I don’t have to make the decision.

Shepherd

(Substantially extended from the original, with some personal observations from having lived in and walked around this general area.)

Confused by the Shepherd Hotel controversy that has burst (back) into the news this week? You should be. It is a confusing situation. Certainly not as simple as most of the voices in the media (of whatever position) make it seem.

If you want to cut through the confusion, read Yaacov Lozowick’s “virtual tour” of the area.

I know this area, although by no means intimately. But the maps and satellite views Yaacov posts include the area where I lived for about three months last year. One of the things that most struck me about this area, which is over the Green Line, is just how intermixed it is. The neighborhood in question, Sheikh Jarah, as well as where I stayed, French Hill, were both in the Jordanian-occupied zone from 1948-67 and are typically, if misleadingly, referred to in the media as “East Jerusalem.” In French Hill, the population is mostly Jewish (including a substantial community of post-1967 immigrants from English-speaking countries, as well as academics and staff at Hebrew University), but there is a large minority of Arabs. Both the Jerusalem municipality bus lines and the Arab East Jerusalem bus lines course through the area. (Yes, there are separate bus lines; one sees Arab passengers on the Jerusalem buses, but evidently not Jews on the Arab buses, and the company running the latter does not appear to have a website in either English or Hebrew, only Arabic.) A short walk southwestward from the Student Village in French Hill, where my University-provided accommodation was, one passes by Arab-run falafel shops and Arab houses, with some consular residences mixed in. Other apartment complexes in the area are mostly Jewish, including some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox). A walk towards the east takes one past Hadassah Hospital, at the entrance to which there is an Arab-run kiosk (cigarettes, ice cream, etc.) and a series of mostly Arab-populated apartment complexes on one side of the street and more HU student housing on the other side. The University student population is itself quite mixed. Sheikh Jarrah and French Hill blend in to one another, although Sheikh Jarah is clearly mostly Arab-populated. Right between these neighborhoods are the National Police HQ and several other government buildings, as well as some international hotels (where the staff seems mostly Arab) and consular facilities.

It is far from an ideal “integrated” set of neighborhoods, and tensions in Sheikh Jarrah have been high for some time. But my point (and Yaacov’s) is that it is misleading to see a sharp division between the “Jewish” and “Arab” cities of Jerusalem, as most media accounts suggest.

The idea of drawing a border through this region as part of a “peace agreement” mystifies me. I can’t see how it could be done, honestly.

The comment form is open–I think, and for how long, who knows.

Beneath the clouds

Gideon Levy (one of my favorite Israeli columnists) on Ayman Mohyeldin (whom he describes as “My hero of the Gaza war”);

At age 29, he has already seen one war, in Iraq, but he says this war [in Gaza] is more intense. He is frustrated that his broadcasts are carried virtually everywhere in the world except the United States, his own country, the place he thinks it is most important that these images from Gaza be seen.

Frustrating indeed. As Levy notes about Mohyeldin’s employer:

Al Jazeera English is not what you might think. It offers balanced, professional reporting from correspondents both in Sderot and Gaza. And Mohyeldin is the cherry on top of this journalistic cream. I wouldn’t have needed him or his broadcasts if not for the Israeli stations’ blackout of the fighting.

I have watched a lot of news from many sources during these last two weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip. The US media has been, unsurprisingly, embarrassingly bad. Unforgivably, horrendously bad. (Typical example: Corresponded in flak jacket on Israeli side of border saying “We can hear there is fighting over there.”) What Israelis are seeing from their own broadcasters could hardly be worse, but certainly is not better.

From my limited exposure (via Mosaic) I agree with Levy that Al Jazeera English is excellent and balanced. I would not necessarily say the same about the Arab language services (from which I get snippets, dubbed, also on Mosaic).

Regular updates from beneath the cloud of the US media are available at the Al Jazeera English website.