Byrne: A new Middle East?

Last week when I wrote about some good news, I mentioned the recent peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates negotiated by the Trump administration. Just days after I wrote those words another Middle Eastern nation, Bahrain, reached a peace agreement with Israel, again negotiated by the Trump administration. What do these and other recent developments say about the Middle East?

First, let’s go back 11 years to the beginning of the Obama administration. President Obama gave a speech in Cairo calling for a “New Beginning” in the Middle East and undertook major efforts to reach out to the Arab world, including Iran, our major adversary in the region. But, the “New Beginning” was ultimately a series of terrible mistakes.

Over the Obama administration’s tenure, the U.S. relationship with Israel, normally very good, grew sour as Obama pressured the Israelis over settlements in Palestinian claimed areas and issues in Gaza. He angered Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Persian Gulf, which normally lean to the U.S., by naively agreeing to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action allowing Iran to develop nuclear capability limited, for a time, to “peaceful” use only. Obama backed protesters’ demands for the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a staunch U.S. partner, which facilitated the end of Mubarak’s pro-U.S. government only to be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist group. When the Egyptian military overthrew the Brotherhood and one of the generals, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, became president, Obama withheld promised military assistance and then insisted they pay cash, which only worsened a strained relationship with a key regional ally.

Obama told Syria that using chemical weapons against its people was a “red line” which would trigger a U.S. military response but then backed off the threat when they did. He prematurely drew down the U.S. military presence in Iraq only to go back in as ISIS arose and took half the country. Afghanistan was at best a stalemate. And, in Libya, he used the U.S. military to attack Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime, which was toppled, and Ghaddafi was killed; Libya plunged into an ongoing brutal civil war that led to the murder of American diplomatic personnel in Benghazi.

I personally witnessed the difficulties Obama’s policies caused when I traveled to the Middle East with other members of the House Armed Services Committee in the summer of 2014. We met with King Abdullah of Jordan, President al-Sisi, and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. We talked with other Middle Eastern leaders as well and received in country briefings from our diplomatic staff in each country. We were careful not to undermine U.S. policies in these meetings, but it was clear those policies constituted a terrible blunder.

In the summer of 2016, I participated in an intensive policy conference on the Middle East in London and was convinced the next president needed a better set of policies which would restore good relations with our normal allies, defeat ISIS, and push back on Iran. Most of the experts at the conference assumed that president would be Hilary Clinton. They were wrong.

What President Trump has done is reverse Obama’s failed policies in the Middle East. His first trip abroad was to Saudi Arabia to meet with our Gulf allies and repair those broken relationships. He pulled the U.S. out of the ill-advised Iran deal and took out their point man in sponsoring terrorism around the region this past January. He has healed our relationship with Israel and moved our embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. I was in Jerusalem last summer, met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and saw the improvement firsthand. Our renewed good relationships with Muslim allies and Trump’s Israel peace initiative paved the way for the agreements with UAE and Bahrain.

And let’s not forget that ISIS as a country dominating caliphate was defeated on Trump’s watch, allowing us to reduce our troop presence in Iran to just 3,000 this fall. And his initiative with the Taliban in Afghanistan is bringing the prospects for real peace closer than they have been in decades. Our troop presence there will drop this fall by half to just 4,500.

In short, the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama’s policies in the Middle East have resulted in much better relations with our allies and friends there, growing peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the defeat of ISIS, reduced troop numbers, and a much weakened Iran. The Middle East is no longer Arabs versus Israel as it had been for so long, but is now the U.S., our Arab allies, and Israel versus Iran and its terrorist groups. It’s a big move towards peace and away from terrorism and war. The Trump policies made the way for the beginning of a new Middle East.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

10 hours ago

Steve Flowers: Why a vote for Doug Jones is a vote against the state of Alabama

Our 2020 presidential election is less than two weeks away. We Americans will either elect Republican Donald Trump for another four-year term or Democrat Joe Biden.

In Alabama, we will either elect Republican Tommy Tuberville or Democrat Doug Jones for six-years to serve with our iconic senior Senator Richard Shelby. The winner will be elected to a six-year term in this august body.

Several of you took issue with my statement last week that a vote for the liberal Democrat Doug Jones is a vote against Richard Shelby and the State of Alabama. Allow me to clarify and explain to you as simply as I can why that is true and why I reiterate that declaration.

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The United States Senate is steeped in and governed by time-honored rules and traditions. The most revered and sacred shrine is the vestige of seniority. The rule of seniority is paramount. The longer you serve in the Senate the more powerful you become. Some become more powerful than others. Richard Shelby has become the most powerful and consequential U.S. Senator to have represented our state in Alabama history.

In my 2015 book, “Of Goats and Governors: Six Decades of Colorful Alabama Political Stories,” I have a chapter titled, “Alabama’s Three Greatest Senators.” They are Lister Hill, John Sparkman and Richard Shelby.

Senator Lister Hill was an austere, aristocratic gentleman who was renowned for health care. He was the author of the famous Hill-Burton Act and the father of the renowned UAB Medical Center. He served 30-years in the U.S. Senate.

Senator John Sparkman served in the U.S. Senate for 32-years. He was from Huntsville and is credited with being the father of Redstone Arsenal.

If I were writing that chapter today, Senator Richard Shelby would be alone as Alabama’s most consequential, powerful senator in our state’s history. He is in a league of his own. During his 34-year career in the Senate, Shelby has become renowned as the bearer of good tidings and federal dollars to the Heart of Dixie. If Lister Hill was the father of UAB and John Sparkman the father of Redstone Arsenal, then Richard Shelby can very aptly be referred to as the grandfather as well as great uncle to these two premier Alabama institutions. Richard Shelby is the reason UAB and Huntsville’s Space and Rocket Center are Alabama’s most prestigious as well as Alabama’s two largest employers.

Huntsville has become Alabama’s fastest-growing and most prosperous city and one of America’s brightest high-tech destination locations. The City of Huntsville is soon to become the second home of the FBI. The state-of-the-art Huntsville FBI cybersecurity headquarters will employ over 2,000 very highly paid individuals. This coup for Alabama is due to one person – our senior Senator Richard Shelby.

It is not just Huntsville and Birmingham that have benefitted from Shelby’s prowess and power, it is the entire state. Every corner of the state can point to a Shelby generated road, building, industry, or military installation.

You might be asking, how has Shelby accomplished so much for our state? It is simple. It is federal dollars. Then you might ask, how does Shelby bring so many federal dollars to Alabama? It is simple. He is Chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. He appropriates the United States budget, or in other words, he controls the federal checkbook.

In addition to being chairman of Appropriations, Senator Shelby is chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. If you do not think that is invaluable to Alabama, you best think again. There is no state in the nation that benefits more through defense preparedness and dollars in the United States than the good ole Heart of Dixie.

Under the Rules of the Senate, the political party that has the majority of members presides and makes the rules. More importantly, for Alabama, the majority party gets all the committee chairmanships. Our Senior Senator Richard Shelby is a Republican. Currently, Republicans have a slim 53-to-47 majority in the Senate. There are three Republican incumbent senators in Arizona, Colorado and Maine, who are in serious jeopardy of losing. If the Republicans lose these three and one more, then Senator Shelby loses the chairmanship of appropriations and Alabama loses all of its power in Washington. Suppose your vote for Doug Jones, a liberal, national, California Democrat, is the deciding vote that puts the Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate and puts Richard Shelby and Alabama out to pasture.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

11 hours ago

VIDEO: Democrats believe racism is on the ballot, Biden’s problems grow at the worst time, John Merrill addresses voting issues and more on Alabama Politics This Week

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through Alabama’s biggest political stories, including:

— Why are some Alabama Democrats saying “racism is on the ballot” this year, and does that help or hurt them electorally?

— Have the issues former Vice President Joe Biden is currently having with his son changed the trajectory of the campaign?

— Does complaining about an opponent not debating actually win over any voters less than two weeks from an election?

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Jackson and Handback are joined by Secretary of State John Merrill to discuss the latest Supreme Court ruling about voting in Alabama and the absentee voting currently taking place.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at those who think judges should be deciding the rules for voting and not the legislators who were elected to do just that.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

13 hours ago

Senate advances Barrett nomination — Shelby votes ‘aye,’ Jones ‘no’

The U.S. Senate on Sunday voted 51-48 to invoke cloture on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to be the next associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

This procedural vote sets up a final vote on Barrett’s confirmation, which is expected to come on Monday. Sunday’s vote was completed shortly before 12:30 p.m. CT.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) voted in the affirmative on invoking cloture, while U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) voted “no.”

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This comes after the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Thursday unanimously voted to favorably report Barrett’s nomination.

Shelby met with Barrett in recent weeks; afterwards, Alabama’s senior senator emphasized his strong support for the nominee.

“After speaking with Judge Barrett, I am confident that she is the right choice to serve on the Supreme Court,” stated Shelby at the time.

“Judge Barrett is exceptionally qualified for this role and maintains strong conservative values and a deep commitment to our Constitution. I have no doubt that Judge Amy Coney Barrett will be an excellent addition to the Supreme Court,” continued the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Barrett currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She clerked for the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, as well as Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Before and while serving on the federal bench, she was a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School.

“I look forward to supporting Judge Barrett’s nomination to serve on our nation’s highest court, and I urge my colleagues to do the same,” Shelby concluded.

In stark contrast, Jones did not meet with Barrett and admitted that he did not even watch any of her confirmation hearing.

Alabama’s junior senator said at the time, “I have not watched the hearing. I’m in the middle of a campaign. I have not watched the hearings, and I left D.C. when we were there.”

Jones missed all Senate roll call votes Monday, Thursday and Friday of this past week. In total, he was absent from the Senate for 67% of the chamber’s votes during the week. For the votes he did take, Jones supported Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) position all but one time (86%).

Jones last Thursday did have time during business hours to instead campaign for the Biden-Harris ticket virtually in Ohio. This past week, Jones also fundraised for Biden’s campaign, and on Friday Jones campaigned with the cast of the TV show “Will & Grace.”

Last summer, Jones committed to opposing any hypothetical SCOTUS nominee during the final year of President Donald Trump’s current term. Following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month, Jones announced his opposition to anyone Trump would nominate, regardless of merits.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

and 14 hours ago

College football power rankings: This week was all about Bama, Big Ten contenders and pretenders

The Alabama Crimson Tide seems to be able to pick its score on a weekly basis. And now that the Big Ten season is underway, get ready for the national media to inflate its relevance in the playoff race.

Every week of college football brings a little more information about which teams have the staying power to make a playoff run.

Here is what our experts had to say about this week’s Yellowhammer Power Rankings.

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Paul Shashy’s ballot:

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Ohio State
4. Georgia
5. Notre Dame
6. Cincinnati
7. Texas AM
8. Oklahoma State

The lowdown: It was a boring weekend for college football with no top ten matchups. We know Ohio State and Heisman caliber Justin Fields belong in the top 5.  As expected, they looked like a playoff team. Speaking of playoff teams, Cincinnati made a strong case this weekend with their thumping of SMU.

Zack Shaw’s ballot:

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Ohio State
4. Georgia
5. Notre Dame
6. BYU
7. Texas A&M
8. Wisconsin

The lowdown: The Big Ten joined the 2020 college football fray this weekend. Ohio State proved to be what we thought they would be, led by standout quarterback Justin Fields. Wisconsin and Michigan also earned big wins in their first games, while Penn State lost by the nose of the football to drop to 0-1. Once the Pac 12 begins play next week, every team will be underway.

14 hours ago

Alabama Power Foundation seeking Classroom Grant applications

The Alabama Power Foundation is now accepting applications for its Classroom Grant Program.

The program focuses on improving and expanding educational opportunities at schools throughout Alabama. This year, the program has expanded to meet additional needs, such as technology support to enhance virtual learning, which has become commonplace as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grants are available to public elementary, middle and high schools to purchase materials, supplies and other resources to enhance learning in the classroom. Grants can also be used to buy sanitation supplies needed to keep classrooms safe and to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on the coronavirus.

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Funds can also be used to support mental health needs for educators and students.

Nonprofit organizations that work with schools to support these efforts are also eligible to apply. Up to $1,000 is awarded per grant.

“Many organizations, including our schools, face unique challenges this year. Overcoming these obstacles isn’t easy and can weigh heavily on students and educators,” said Tequila Smith, president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “We want to find new ways to continue to meet their needs and hope these grants will serve as much-needed support for stability and enrichment in classrooms across Alabama in these difficult times.”

The grants are available to schools in which 50 percent or more of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The grant program will remain open for the remainder of the school year. Grants are awarded to eligible recipients on a first-come, first-served basis until all funds are exhausted.

For more information or to apply, visit https://powerofgood.com/grant/classroom-grants.

Since its creation in 1989 with funds donated by shareholders, the Alabama Power Foundation has supported Alabama communities, educational institutions and nonprofits through more than 20,000 grants and scholarships, using non-ratepayer dollars. Learn more at https://powerofgood.com/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)