Israel On the Defensive
On May 30, six ships comprising the so-called “Freedom Flotilla” left Cyprus, intent on delivering what were claimed to be humanitarian supplies to the Palestinian enclave on the Gaza Strip, which was then under tight blockade by the Israeli Navy. Directed by the Israelis to head for the Israeli port of Ashod, where supplies could be off-loaded, inspected and – assuming they were indeed humanitarian in nature – delivered to Gaza, the flotilla’s commanders refused. Five of the six ships were then taken by Israeli forces without any loss of life, but the battle onboard the sixth ship, the MV Mavi Marmara would spark international outrage.
Eight Turkish nationals and a Turkish-American were killed in the fighting that flared on the Mavi Marmara, while dozens of pro-Palestinian activists on the ship were injured, along with seven Israeli commandos who boarded the ship. A wide swath of the international community unquestionably accepted the pro-Palestinian version of the incident, which suggested that bullying Israeli commandos killed innocent civilians in cold blood when those civilians were doing nothing more than trying to bring badly-needed humanitarian assistance to Gaza. Video footage subsequently released by Israel showed that the “innocent activists” on the Mavi Marmara tried very hard to kill Israeli commandos and that the ships were carrying many items that had nothing to do with humanitarian aid, like ballistic vests, gas masks, night-vision goggles, and large sums of money. These facts notwithstanding, international condemnation of Israel was shrill and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eventually eased back a bit on the blockade as a result of the pressue.
Cyber Warfare on the Rise
The year of 2010 saw cyber warfare rise to a position of unprecedented new precedence in the world community. A rogue mercenary emerged in this new electronic battlefield: an Australian troublemaker named Julian Assange, whose website Wikileaks.com released hundreds of thousands of classified documents across the internet. Documents and video footage released by Wikileaks cast a pall on the conduct of the wars that America is waging against Islamic extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan. These releases, critics said, were both unfair – by placing events and decisions out of context – and severely undercut America’s ability to wage those wars. Worse, many believe that the Wikileaks releases ultimately put the lives of our troops and collaborators in grave danger. Undeterred, Assange continued his assaults, going so far as to release thousands of diplomatic communications, many of which proved deeply embarrassing to America and its allies. This event seemed to stir the west into action, leaving Assange on the run in the virtual world, where he continues to struggle to find service providers and is the subject of continuing cyber counterattacks, and in the real world, where the Australian is a wanted man.
On the other hand, cyber warfare proved to be a remarkably effective way of sabotaging Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A remarkably sophisticated computer virus dubbed Stuxnet managed to worm its way into Iran’s atomic program, causing severe damage to that nation’s uranium enrichment facilities. The creators of Stuxnet remain unknown, but America or Israel, or a cooperative effort between both nations, seems to be the most likely answer. While the havoc that Stuxnet has wreaked can hardly be expected to end Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it has most certainly pushed back the date by which Iran is capable to deploying nuclear weapons by a matter of years. That’s both good and bad news. It’s good news in the sense that the west has bought some time during which it may be able to further undermine the authority of the mullahs in Iran. But, there is still the fear that releasing the kind of sophisticated technology that Stuxnet represents may be the 21st century equivalent of opening Pandora’s Box.
A Stinging Rebuke
Mid-term elections are almost always tough for the party that controls the White House, but voters delivered a remarkably stinging rebuke to the Obama administration on November 2. Spurred on by economic stagnation, continuing high unemployment, alarming debt and seemingly uncontrollable spending, voters overwhelmingly cast their ballots to support a change in course. Republicans picked up five governorships, five Senate seats and a whopping sixty three seats in the House. It was as devastating a rejection of an administration’s policies as America has seen in over half a century.
Most of the Democrats who lost their electoral battles were of the moderate variety, including a number of “Blue Dogs” who veered strongly toward the center of the political spectrum. Many Democrats and their supporters on the left thus decided that the lesson to be learned from the election of 2010 was that moderation is a useless exercise, a conclusion that appears to ensure that the Democratic Party won’t execute a Clintonesque “pivot” toward the middle, but will rather demand an ideological showdown over the next two years. Nancy Pelosi’s decision to run for her party’s minority leader position, and her colleagues’ subsequent support of the soon-to-be ex-Speaker seems to confirm that conclusion. Far from presaging a mid-course correction of the sort that we experienced in 1994, the mid-term election of 2010 is effectively a “throw down.” The leftist core of the Democratic Party digested the results and concluded that it’s time to make America choose between “them” or “us.” How Republicans and conservatives will respond to that challenge remains to be seen.
The Aftermath: Politics as Usual?
Initial returns are not encouraging for conservatives. Despite the slap in the face that voters delivered on November 2, the Obama administration pressed forward with its agenda and secured two leftist victories during the month of December. On December 6, Republicans and Democrats agreed to extend George W. Bush’s “across the board” tax cuts for another two years. That’s great, although a two year extension hardly provides the kind of certainty that developers need to invest in a troubled economy. On the other hand, Obama was able to secure hundreds of billions in new government spending – a stealth stimulus if you will – in exchange for those tax cut extensions. Less than two weeks later, the president secured enough votes to repeal the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with regards to gays and lesbians who serve in the military.
Is this what victory is supposed to look like? In the Novemeber elections, America rejected excessive spending, social engineering and massive increases in the country’s debt, yet the president managed to press forward with yet another plan that accomplished both. The future of both parties, and more importantly America’s future, will depend on the extent to which Democrats and Republicans absorb the lessons of election of 2010. “Hope and change,” the mantra of the Obama campaign in 2008 has been proven to be an empty, meaningless message two years later. How the parties react over the next two years will ultimately decide whether those words will ever have any meaning at all.
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