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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Also read my article Being an Israeli and a Jew in 2012: Let’s Face Reality Without Illusion, Shrug, and Move Forward

I can only laugh at the idea of dilettante Peter Beinart and J Street as leader of the anti-Israel (oops, I meant save-Israel-from-itself) movement. After all, imagine people parading as self-defined heroes while peddling ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with reality. But behind the stupid ideas is a very poisonous hidden agenda.

We live in an age of intellectual absurdity in which a book by someone who has no notion of Israeli reality and who is, at best, decades (I’d say three) out of date is treated as if he could possibly be of some relevance. Or an organization that has literally never made a single pro-Israel initiative claims to be the country’s best friend.

Contrary to the title of Beinart’s book, there is no crisis of Zionism, certainly not in the way he and similarly thinking American Jews believe. The crisis is simply that Israel has become an actually existing country that is defined by an Israel-Jewish patriotism based on historical Zionism. In fact, regarding Israel itself, Zionism has been so successful that it simply isn’t needed in the same way as it was in 1947.

Regarding American Jews, the problem is that of the left-wing — almost always people who consciously know they are on the other side and their tool of choice on Israel is a sledgehammer — not Zionism. This “new” approach is based on the debate of the 1970s and 1980s, more specifically the 1974-1992 era.

At that time, there were three points of contention that Beinart and others try to revive in a totally different world:

  • Continuation of the occupation endangered Israel’s soul and society through hubris, brutalization, fanatical religiosity, and ambitious nationalism.
  • If Israel didn’t make peace and get rid of the territories as fast as possible it would be destroyed by…well, it isn’t exactly clear by whom, since its enemies had failed so continually and were weaker than they’d been in the past. But this meant that Israel had to rush to make peace at any price.
  • There was a wonderful opportunity to achieve a stable, just, and lasting peace. Merely offer the Palestinians and Arabs a reasonable settlement—particularly a Palestinian state—and a peace agreement would quickly follow.

This way of thinking has long since been discredited by the experiences of the failed peace process and radicalized regional politics. First, Israel withdrew from large portions of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, putting virtually all Palestinians under self-rule. Later, it pulled out of the Gaza Strip completely. There was no more “occupation” as there had been in the 1967-1993 period. Yet despite these huge changes there was no real progress toward peace

Second, we discovered that the Palestinians and Syria weren’t eager for peace. During the peace process era, the hardline propaganda, hate, and intransigence continued virtually uninterrupted on the other side. It became clear that Israel was not threatened by a refusal to take big risks and make concessions, rather the threat came from making deadly arrangements out of good intentions or even a dangerously bad “peace” deal that would leave the country worse off.

Third, most Israelis concluded that they didn’t want most of the territory captured in 1967. There was an Israeli consensus to keep much of east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and some small areas of the West Bank along the border. But in exchange for real peace, they were ready to give up a lot, something like 100 percent of the Gaza Strip and 95 plus percent of the West Bank.

The same new thinking applied to accepting a two-state solution. Let the Palestinians have their state, even let Fatah or the PLO rule it if they only left us alone and ended the conflict. But that wasn’t going to happen. There was no intransigence or “Greater Israel” ambition to poison Israel. The experience and these changes left Israel with a clear conscience, not the “clear conscience” of those so distant that these issues were a mere abstraction but that of people who knew they sometimes made mistakes and had to take tough decisions to survive.

Fourth, the West generally broke its promises to Israel, showing that it was not dependable. The understanding was for Israel to make big concessions and take big risks knowing that if that failed, the West would acknowledge Israel as the good guys and back it fully. Yet Israelis saw that the more risks Israel took, concessions it gave, and casualties it suffered, the more it was slandered and delegitimized in large parts of the West (including by the very people who pretend to save it from itself). The supposed winning formula — pull back, turn over, concede and you will be secure and happy–didn’t work. The Obama administration fully proved this reality.

Fifth, the 2000-2005 terrorist-based intifada and the radical response to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza reinforced these lessons, as did the growing Islamism that openly advocated war, terrorism, and genocide against Israel.

Sixth, the “Arab Spring” was a last straw, with revolutionary Islamists seizing power, Turkey changing sides, Iran building a sphere of influence and going full-speed-ahead on nuclear weapons, as well as a U.S. leadership on which Israel couldn’t depend. If ever there was a time for not making concessions and being starry-eyed over peace, our present day is that time.

The majority of Israelis say: I don’t want the settlements. I want a two-state solution. But unfortunately I know that the leadership and majority of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims want to destroy us, not to get a Palestinian state. They are getting more radical, due to their own thinking and social issues. We cannot get any reasonable deal and any deal that might happen would be used by them as a more advantageous springboard for continuing the conflict against us.

That is why the Israeli peacenik left collapsed and Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister. It wasn’t that Israel had moved to the right but that reality had done so.

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The Government is Not a Magic Box

March 27th, 2012 - 9:24 am

One of today’s biggest political and intellectual problems is the concept of “government” as an institution outside human logic, society, and reality. We are told that more power to the government is a solution; that more money to the government is an absolute good; that more regulation from the government is a font of virtue; and that the government is a knight in shining armor and protector of the downtrodden.

It is possible to show the flaw in this argument within sixty seconds. A number of great philosophers—including the founders of the United States—have done so. Here is the single paragraph necessary to understand the  issue:

“Government” is comprised of people. These human beings are often no better, and often worse than average people. Government and its specific agencies have their own goals and their way of functioning have built-in shortcomings (bureaucratic rigidity, indifference to the money and lives of others, lust for the accumulation of power, etc.) Thus, to say that government as a whole and its parts have no interests of their own is not true. The government is not a solution to all things—a kind of secular god–but a party with its own selfishness, goals, and negative aspects. Consequently, citizens must guard against its usurpation of their liberty, wealth, and objectives.

This issue is of the greatest importance yet doesn’t receive the attention it requires. Children are being systematically educated in ignorance of this point; about half the population never hears it nowadays.

The government is made up of people. Human beings are imperfect. They are subject to a range of behavior that includes ambition, arrogance, bullying, corruption, cravenness, dictatorial tendencies, greed, inability to understand others’ needs or viewpoints, lack of imagination, being controlled by a specific caste for that group’s own selfish interests, among many other traits.

Once when Lucy van Pelt handed Charlie Brown, of the “Peanuts” comic strip, a long list of his faults, Charlie replied, “These aren’t faults, this is my personality,” or something to that effect.

Government, then, is not a referee but just another special-interest group.

When people accumulate power and money they use it to force others to obey them and serve their goals.  The more powerful the government and the less answerable to others, the more the traits of those who run it are imposed on the people. When the personality of one human controls government, we call it a dictatorship. When the personality of a caste does so, the government becomes its instrument.

Yes, the same is true of any human institution. That’s why institutions should be in balance. But, of course, government controls the laws and so can compel the action of others to an extent that no one else can.  It has a monopoly on force and power far beyond any other institution. The Mafia can try to compel obedience but citizens can seek the protection of the law. In contrast, government makes the laws and sets the rules. To whom can a citizen flee for help against a government that is too powerful?

There’s more. The kinds of people who become politicians and government bureaucrats have specific and especially developed character traits. They are people who crave power—I know this first-hand from growing up and living in Washington DC in these circles—and who are prone to arrogance once they achieve that status. They do not like to be criticized and they are even more prone than most mortals to believe that they cannot be wrong.

Isolated largely in a single city, and even isolated within that city, they lose contact with ordinary people. And when they do encounter regular people these “others” are seen in a way that reinforces their own sense of superiority. Indeed, as comes out occasionally when a politician shoots off his mouth unwisely (Senator Harry Reid on how tourists “stink”) they have contempt for the actual people they rule, just as in some old European monarchy’s court.

They can’t help it. The disease is incurable but the patients must be restrained.

The more they talk about standing up for the little guy and promulgating social justice, the more likely these things are to be cynically manipulated instruments for their own empowerment.  They get more money to disperse, too.

Even when they are virtuous—and many originally take up their political or bureaucratic careers out of a belief they want to help others—they are limited by their own lack of knowledge and experience. They have followed very specific courses in life, nowadays mainly a long period of formal education followed by either government service or law; concentration in a relatively few geographical locations; and socializing with each other.

They honestly don’t know much about the real lives of those they rule.  Their desire to help often becomes harmful. And even beyond this, they are focused on a narrow piece of reality. If your job is to save endangered species or environmental purity, you don’t think too much of the impact of a fanatical focus on that topic regarding other people’s livelihoods.

And then, of course too, you are using other people’ money. A factor that also makes people careless and spendthrift. You are not subject to the rigorous cost effectiveness that a business faces.  It is easy to conclude that you know best and it is necessary to make others do things for their “own good.”

Self-interest dictates the maximum accumulation of power and money for yourself and your department. To fill up the day you must produce regulations and reports on other’s compliance with existing regulations. As a result, there is a strong tendency to tighten the noose around the freedom of your subjects. And for many this is reinforced by a specific agenda to be put into place whatever the cost or effect on the citizenry.

Known to relatively few outsiders is the reality of federal government culture. The work ethic is a joke for many (though others labor with fanatical tenacity, albeit unfortunately when they have an agenda to impose). To do the least possible is a passion for most and they know they can get away with it. Nobody can be fired. Think of a vast, lavishly funded version of the post office, with no criteria for success or efficiency, able to conceal its actual workings, and answerable only to itself.

Anyone who pretends that the federal government is full of people who work harder and more efficiently than the private sector is depending on your never seeing what really goes on in those offices. Indeed, the actual hard-working government employees are the system’s fiercest critics–in private only, of course. And when challenged the federal employees’ representatives complain that they are underpaid and working in dingy offices with outdated equipment. Conclusion: the taxpayers should spend a couple trillion more to make them happier, which sort of proves my point, doesn’t it?

In short, those who write the bills in Congress and enforce them–or, increasingly, even create them as regulations in the government bureaucracy–are structurally and inevitably pretty indifferent to those who pay the bills.

And, of course, when one adds in electoral politics the temptation to buy votes by doling out money and privileges becomes irresistible. The government takes credit for giving out “free” stuff when the things are merely being paid for by others. There is no surer way to serve one’s self interest than to pretend one is acting in the public interest.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

Roosevelt’s statement might have been appropriate for his time. But what happens when after decades of continuous growth the once-small government becomes a country in itself?

What happens when a government through the power of the purse and of regulations can ensure reelection?

What happens when the “fail-safe” institutions of the media, the educational system, and the entertainment industry are enlisted in its ranks, as well as the use of crony capitalism to create “captive corporations” through massive subsidies that don’t even accord with the public interest?

What happens when the functions formerly held by elected officials are usurped by appointed officials and their agencies?

What happens if all of the elected and appointed officials caught up in their own culture of accumulating control for their “team” become less responsive than ever?

Then government does become an “alien power,” or at least a power in the hands of a class or caste that wants to impose its way of life and thinking on everyone else. That is the real “class warfare” going on in America today.

Without going overboard in the analogy, compare this to the Communist experience. Let’s give the Bolsheviks the benefit of the doubt: many of them wanted to make Russia a better place to live. By no coincidence, those who were most sincere and idealistic in that pursuit ended up with a bullet in their heads. “Government” was supposed to be a black box that would exercise the people’s will without having any will of its own. But all the factors listed above came into play. Absolute government abuses power absolutely. And when the controls are removed the most greedy, power-mad, and arbitrary come to the top.

Once you abandon a deliberate division of power and limitation of power, as the authors of the U.S. Constitution, understood, abuse of power is inevitable. Here’s how Leon Trotsky put the same basic lesson in Communist terms: “The party organization substitutes itself for the party, the central committee substitutes itself for the organization, and, finally, a dictator substitutes himself for the central committee.” The “dictatorship of the proletariat” becomes the dictatorship first of the party and then of the dictator. And in a Western democracy, in Roosevelt’s phrase, the government is no longer ruled by the voters but is in practice an “alien power” ruling over them telling them how to live, what to do, messing up the functioning of the society and draining more and more of its wealth.

“Government” was supposed to be a black box that would exercise the people’s will without having any will of its own. But all the factors listed above came into play. Absolute government abuses power absolutely. And when the controls are removed the most greedy, power-mad, and arbitrary come to the top.

Once you abandon a deliberate division of power and limitation of power, as the authors of the U.S. Constitution, understood, abuse of power is inevitable. Here’s how Leon Trotsky put the same basic lesson in Communist terms: “The party organization substitutes itself for the party, the central committee substitutes itself for the organization, and, finally, a dictator substitutes himself for the central committee.” The “dictatorship of the proletariat” becomes the dictatorship first of the party and then of the dictator. And in a Western democracy,

Obviously, this is not the same situation in the United States. Yet the same basic rules apply.  Government is like a collection of alcoholics, eager to be or already drunk on power.  Society needs to keep them sober by ensuring they stay on a diet of soft drinks and fruit juice.

By removing the real-world situation of government, those who rule intellectually and politically in the current era blind people to the fact that society is out of balance. They attribute its problems to the lack of governmental power and regulation when the opposite is true.

Why do people fall for this? Indoctrination and misinformation is one cause. Yet the truth is that in the past government did have a bigger role to play in doing things like balancing powerful corporations, providing a social safety net, and doing needed tasks no one else could perform. But it’s not 1912 or even 1932 today.

Like any institution that becomes too powerful, government has turned from a helping hand to a strangling hand.  There are elements in its nature that make it especially dangerous in that regard. It is precisely the same problem as having overly powerful banks, corporations, military officers, or anything else. And the government’s victories are at the expense of the liberty of individuals.

A reasonable balance must be reestablished. You shouldn’t have to be a conservative to understand that reality.

Indeed, this is really a liberal conception. Liberals have opposed big govrnment when it was very strong and conservative,especially in Europe. They complained of restrictions on rights, on the enforcement of morality, on the protection of the power of aristocrats, the church, and others. A lot of the battle today is not based on philosophical principle but simply on the use of a controlled institution to give one’ own faction more power, money, and ability to implement its own agenda.

Only now that liberals–or, more properly, the left–controls governmnt the position has turned around 180 degrees.

To see government as a deity or inevitable friend of the poor and downtrodden is an illusion. Government is not a magic box but a can of worms. To see it as a player with its own interests that should be as distrusted as any bank or corporation is the purest form of common sense, the very triumph of common sense over ideology and dogma that made America great, its people free, and real democracy possible.

President Barack Obama is continuing his love affair with Turkish Islamist leader Recep Erdogan. As Erdogan continues to undermine Turkish democracy, throw hundreds of moderates into jail, destroy the nation’s institutions, help Iran, throw hysterical tantrums about how much he hates Israel, promote Islamism in the region, and is fresh from still another meeting with Hamas leaders, Obama continues to use Erdogan as his guru.

When the two men met at the Seoul, South Korea, Nuclear Security Summit on March 25, Obama practically slobbered over the anti-American ruler, calling Erdogan his “friend and colleague….We find ourselves in frequent agreement upon a wide range of issues.”

When Erdogan goes to elections or is criticized by the opposition he uses statements like this to “prove” that his policies aren’t radical or anti-Western at all. Here’s a man whose regime can help terrorist groups organize a violent confrontation with Israel, preside over a virulently anti-American media, insist Iran isn’t seeking nuclear weapons and has a wonderful government, and then be lionized by the president of the United States.

Obama adds:

“I think it’s fair to say that over the last several years, the relationship between Turkey and the United States has continued to grow across every dimension.  And I find Prime Minister Erdogan to be an outstanding partner and an outstanding friend on a wide range of issues.”

What did the two men talk about? Well, they first discussed Syria, an issue on which Obama praised Erdogan’s “outstanding leadership.” In fact, Turkey has helped to engineer an Islamist leadership in the Syrian National Council that wrecked any chance that the opposition could unite. Turkey’s rulers did this not to promote democracy but to promote the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now, according to reliable sources, Obama is discouraging Erdogan from advocating a no-fly zone and safe haven in northern Syria because the U.S. government has basically decided not to help the opposition, which will ensure that the Syrian dictatorship crushes it and continues to be Iran’s main ally in the region.

Instead, Obama is opting, in his words, for “a process whereby a transition to a representative and legitimate government in Syria takes place.” In other words, Obama advocates a deal between the opposition and the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad  If this sounds like a contradiction, remember that this is also the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood line but is opposed by both the Free Syrian Army and the moderate oppositionists.

Of course, however, this strategy will merely buy time for the regime to achieve a bloody victory.  Erdogan is now headed to Tehran where he will try to convince his friends there to stop helping their friends in Syria. Does that sound like a mission likely to succeed?

Erdogan and Obama also discussed Iran. While Obama kept up his superficially tough language (“I believe there is a window of time to resolve this question diplomatically, but that window is closing”) he also indicated his strategy on that issue. In exchange for assuring Iran “the right to engage in peaceful nuclear power,” he thinks that Tehran will give up its ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons. He thinks it is possible to negotiate a deal with Iran.

And how can Obama use Erdogan as his intermediary with Iran when the Turkish ruler made an unauthorized–according to administration officials!–deal with Tehran in 2010 that sabotaged the delicate U.S. drive to toughen anti-Iran sanctions? Indeed, Obama gave Turkey a waiver on implementing the sanctions and Turkish trade with Iran keeps growing, in direct contradiction to Washington’s supposed strategy!  For Obama to use a man who is, in effect, in cahoots with the Iranian regime, who has said that he doesn’t believe Iran is building nuclear weapons and stressed his friendship toward that dictatorship, is remarkable.

Erdogan is totally indifferent to U.S. interests over Iran while, regarding Israel, he sounds more like Iranian President Ahmadinejad on the issue than like any past American president.

Obama’s policy toward Iran will also inevitably fail, merely giving Tehran more time to build nuclear bombs. And as Obama appears weak, he encourages Iran to be more aggressive, thus making an eventual war more rather than less likely.

Obama did chalk up one small achievement, getting the Turkish regime to reopen the Eastern Orthodox seminary at Halki. Yet on everything else—including Erdogan’s dreadful human rights’ record—Erdogan gives nothing while getting everything. And, as we’ve seen previously, Obama apparently said nothing to encourage Erdogan to ease his regime’s passionately anti-Israel policy that has periodically crossed the line into open antisemitism.

To top off the love fest, Obama concludes:

“And I also appreciate the advice he gives me, because he has two daughters that are a little older than mine — they’ve turned out very well, so I’m always interested in his perspective on raising girls.”

Taking advice from a radical Islamist about raising his daughters sounds rather strange, especially since Erdogan’s daughter is an Islamist politician herself. After I pointed out how Erdogan’s wife was visibly bent over in posture and terrified in facial expression during the couple’s last visit to the White House, the regime launched a furious attack on me. I wonder if Erdogan gave him any advice on dealing with Michelle.

In the end, Erdogan gloated:

“A very, very important point has been that from the moment Barack became President we upgraded the status of our relations from a strategic partnership to a model partnership, which he also placed a lot of importance on.” He will again meet Obama in June and that “will also lead to a significant increase once again for those relations.”

Erdogan can well be delighted. He can do whatever he wants, trample on human rights at home; court radicals abroad including Hamas, Hizballah, and Iran; subvert U.S. interests, and still have Obama sit worshipfully at his feet.

 

 

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Also read my article “France: Here Comes the Whitewash

Homer: Hey! What’s the problem here?

Lisa: We were fighting over which one of us loves you more.

Homer (touched): You were? (sniff) Aww. Well, go ahead.

Bart (pushing Lisa): You love him more!

Lisa (pushing Bart) No, you do!

Bart: No, I don’t!

Lisa: Yes, you do!

The Simpsons, “There’s No Disgrace Like Home”

In a recent article, Bruce Bawer reminds us of Tom Wolfe’s famous 1970 article, later a book, ridiculing the Park Avenue penthouse party of Leonard Bernstein, where various stars from stage, screen, and television came together to celebrate the Black Panther Party.

Bawer compares that party to a recent meeting at the Jewish Community Center in New York to combat “Islamophobia” in a way that whitewashed the real threat posed by revolutionary Islamism. In each case, well-to-do people thinking of themselves as highly virtuous and as showing their “love” for freedom and tolerance were being manipulated by a political movement that would like to destroy them, as well as the United States itself.

Bawer’s piece is excellent. But on reading it I realized that he was thinking too small. The true contemporary parallel to the Bernstein party is not to some event of a few hundred people on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It is to all of America.

At the 1970 party, the Panthers’ representatives complained that they were being stigmatized as criminals when, as Bawer summarized it, they were really ”a peaceable group whose real concerns were indicated by the clinics and children’s breakfast programs.”

You know, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The Panthers’ speaker continued:

We recognize that this country is the most oppressive country in the world, maybe in the history of the world. The pigs have the weapons and they are ready to use them on the people … ready to commit genocide against those who stand up against them. … All we want is the good life, the same as you. To live in peace and lead the good life, that’s all we want.

The individuals present then gave big contributions to a racist, antisemitic, violent, anti-democratic revolutionary movement.

Fast-forward to today. Bawer describes — based on an eyewitness account by Phyllis Chesler — the Islamophobia event chaired by instant network television personality Chelsea Clinton, daughter of the current secretary of state and the previous president. The audience is, like their Bernstein predecessors, made up of “upper-class” New Yorkers engaged in “narcissism and self-congratulation, shameless social climbing … and a truly repellent condescension toward the purported prejudices (read: legitimate concerns) of the lower orders.”

He concludes by pointing out that the Bernstein party was ridiculed by the media of the time, while no major newspaper would dare do the same to the equivalent events today.

All of this is valid. And yet there is something far bigger, far more important. It cannot be called the elephant in the room, but rather the brontosaurus in the room: contemporary America is one big radical chic party.

It is not a composer throwing the party in his New York penthouse, but the president of the United States throwing the party in the White House. It is not the invited guests who are making contributions of a few thousand dollars, but the uninvited taxpayers who are forking over trillions.

There are times today when the federal government seems to have been transformed into a left-wing foundation whose duty is to fund everything from ACORN to “public” television and radio, Planned Parenthood, and “green energy” scams. At the time of the Bernstein party, the issue was whether women could  have legal access to abortions. Now it is a demand that “access” means everyone pays for free contraceptives and even abortions.

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What a tragic, evil joke. A drive-by shooter in the beautiful, almost magical, city of Toulouse, France, murders three Jewish children and a teacher in front of their school. Various VIPs issue statements about how terrible is this deed, how unspeakable.

And yet at that very moment, the next round of murders, the next slanderous and inciting antisemitic lies, are being perpetrated by respectable people and institutions. There is no real soul-searching, no true effort to do better, no serious examination about how the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hysteria is paving the way for murder and fueling dreams of genocide.

The street thugs, fanatics drunk on the interpretations of Islam they are being fed, and the mentally twisted may be pulling the trigger but the distinguished, the powerful, and the honored are providing the ammunition.

Here are three examples of such deeds in nominally democratic countries — not Iran, not Syria, not Pakistan, where such things are even more intense — but in supposedly rational places.

1. The Turkish Editor

Meet Mahir Zeynalov, an editor at Today’s Zaman, a Turkish Islamic newspaper that is supposedly moderate. Meet the modern art of tweeting. Here is Zeynalov’s response to the murders:

Mahir Zeynalov ‏ @MahirZeynalov: Gunmen attack Jewish school in France, vandals attack Jewish cemetery in Poland, Jews burn mosques and Quran in Tunisia. What’s wrong?

There are two ways to read this tweet. The more outrageous is this: How can it be wrong for gunmen to murder Jewish children or vandals to attack a Jewish cemetery in Poland if Jews are burning mosques and Qurans in Tunisia? One act balances the other.

The other interpretation is this: What a world in which there is so much hatred! Gunmen murder Jewish children, vandals attack a Jewish cemetery, and Jews desecrate mosques and Muslim holy books.

Yet the second interpretation is almost as inciting to violence as the first. We know from many experiences — including Afghanistan right now — that anyone who burns or does anything to a Koran would set off massive riots and bloody killings. And as for burning a mosque, such a deed might well result in the massacre of every Jew living in Tunisia.

Tunisian Jews today are a couple of thousand terrified people who would run in the other direction if they saw a Koran in front of them lest they be accused of looking at it funny. What Zeyanlov has done is called a “blood libel,” a lie that might lead to the murder of Jews.

A Muslim taking Zeyanlov’s tweet  to heart would feel justified in murdering Jews, say children standing in front of their school.

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And also read my article “In 2011 U.S. Primacy in the Middle East Died; In 2012 The Funeral Will Be Held”

By Barry Rubin

The last year has been a disaster for Iran’s Islamist regime But that fact has little to do with Western policy, though sanctions have hurt Tehran. The real problem can be expressed by the principle that the enemy of your enemy is…your enemy.

Let’s go back to 2010. Iran was riding high. It had Syria as an ally and client; Tehran’s influence was extending into parts of Afghanistan and also in Iraq. Lebanon was coming under the control of Iran’s client Hizballah while Hamas was also an Iranian client. As the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s as the capital of Communism, Iran was the sole radical Islamist regime around.

So if you wanted Islamism, Iran was the only game in town. Muslim Brotherhood leaders, who hate Iran and Shia Muslims, had to swallow their distaste and watch their followers cheer on Hizballah as the “victor” over Israel in 2006. If Iran got nuclear weapons, these would be seen as “Islamic bombs” and Iran could pose as the champion of the Middle Eastern Muslims, the new Saladin in the battle against imperialism and Zionism.

In other words, the idea that Iran could become the leader of Muslims or the Middle East as a whole was credible.

All these pretensions have now vanished.  And, again, it has nothing to do with U.S. or Western policy. On the contrary, ironically, the failure of U.S. and Western policies has undermined Tehran’s regional prospects more than any success for sanctions.

The reason is simple. The rise of anti-Western revolutionary Sunni Islamists, mainly embodied in the Muslim Brotherhood, has made Iranian leadership unnecessary. Who needs Persian, Shia Tehran when Sunni Arab Islamists dominate Egypt, Tunisia, and probably Libya? Hamas has changed sides (it will still take Iranian money but not do its bidding) and a massive Sunni-Shia conflict is developing that will push any Arab-Israeli conflict into being a sideshow in comparison, except perhaps in the minds of Western “experts,” journalists, ad diplomats.

Then there’s Syria, where Iran’s ally is being weakened and challenged by a coalition of Sunni Islamists, moderates, traditionalist Sunnis, and Kurds. This civil war is intensifying hatred of Iran as the patron of a repressive “anti-Sunni” regime. In Bahrain, Saudi and other forces crushed both the pro-Iran and moderate Shia factions. And in Iraq, the situation has evolved into some Shia-Sunni cooperation, Kurdish self-rule, and a relatively marginalized pro-Iran faction.

Equally, Iran was also bragging two years ago about its growing alliance with Turkey, whose Islamist regime merely pretends to be friendly to the West. While bilateral relations between Ankara and Tehran are still quite good—especially in economic terms—the two countries are now competing for influence in Syria. Turkey has its own ambitions (though these are doing no better than those of Iran). In some ways, that is in “defensive’ terms, Iran can depend on Turkey but not regarding its wider regional ambitions.

In short, while two years ago Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapon would have brought a strategic earthquake in the region, mobilizing massive pro-Iran sentiment among the Arab masses. It is now far less of an advantage.

While Iran still poses a threat to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and to Israel, its overall strategic weight has been greatly reduced.  The Iranian bid for regional and Arab leadership Is basically over.  This should be remembered   in the mounting hysteria over Iran’s nuclear drive. On the regional level, Tehran has missed the boat.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

“A statesman has not to make history. But if ever in the events around him he hears the sweep of the  mantle of God he must jump up and catch at its hem.”

– Otto von Bismarck

President Barack Obama hasn’t changed but the situation has, in part due to his actions. Obama will do everything possible to escape confrontation with Iran, but events, reinforced by his own statements and of course by Iranian behavior, will one day, if he is still in office, force him in that direction. Obama is not a capable enough statesman to grab the hem of the mantle of God, but he has managed — to coin a phrase — to entangle himself helplessly into it.

As usual, Shakespeare said it best, in Hamlet:

“For ’tis the sport to have the engineer
Hoist with his own petard, and it shall go hard”

The word “petard” in Hamlet did not refer to clothing but to a landmine that blew up the sapper who laid it. In other words, a tool intended for one purpose turned against its creator despite his efforts and intentions

I’ve already written a satirical article to make this point and now this piece makes the same argument in a serious style.

The debate over whether Obama is Israel’s “best friend” or just faking it for electoral purposes misses the point. The personality or even the intentions of the man who lives in the White House are not necessarily the main factor shaping international events. Often, what he says and does determines outcomes in ways he never intended.

In his AIPAC speech, Obama set forward a clear strategic approach: either Iran will stop developing nuclear weapons or an Israeli attack is justified. Whatever his intentions, that gives Israel a green light for such an operation. The only question is the timing and it certainly won’t be this year.

Much of the discussion over the speeches by Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the AIPAC meeting has revolved around false issues:

  • The claim that Iran is led by wackos who will attack Israel the moment Tehran has a single nuclear weapon and therefore Israel must attack right now or face genocide. This view has nothing to do with reality or the Iranian regime’s politics or actual history over the last 30 years.
  • The pro-Obama camp claims that Obama heroically reined in Netanyahu and prevented an Israeli attack on Iran right now. That’s a fantasy. Among other factors, Israeli leaders always knew they didn’t have U.S. or international  support for an attack and Israeli preparations for hitting Iran were by no means ready.

Within Israel it is well known that Netanyahu is a great talker who makes Israel’s case most effectively but is also a man who has never been a high risk-taker or advocate of military adventures.

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http://pjmedia.com/barryrubin/2012/03/18/the-obama-administrations-pro-islamist-syrian-opposition-leadership-is-collapsing/

The Obama Administration’s Pro-Islamist Syrian Opposition “Leadership” is Collapsing

By Barry Rubin

Five months ago, I wrote here and here detailing how the U.S. government collaborated in creating an anti-American, Islamist-dominated leadership for the Syrian revolution. This leadership group, assembled by the Islamist Turkish regime as the Obama government’s subcontractor, failed immediately. Now it is collapsing openly.

Of the nineteen announced members of the top leadership, I explained, ten of them were Islamists, either Muslim Brotherhood or Salafist. A reliable Syrian opposition source tells me that two more members are secretly Islamist tools. This was far in excess of the proportion of those forces in the revolution. In short, the U.S. government was helping to turn Syria’s revolution over to the Islamists. If this group had succeeded, the West would be facing still another radical Islamist regime that hated the West, wanted to go to war with Israel, and would be imposing a new dictatorship on its country.

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But the Syrian National Council (SNC) has failed. The Islamist angle and the Obama Administration’s responsibility for this fiasco is being far underplayed in the Western media.

Several SNC members, including Kamal al-Labwani and Haitham Maleh, have announced their resignations. They are both elderly veteran dissidents who are not Islamists. The reason being given most often for this crack-up is that the group’s leadership is “autocratic,” excluding most of the membership from any role in decision-making. Leaving aside the element of personal ambition, however, why is it autocratic? Because it is imposing the Muslim Brotherhood line rather than responding to the preferences of the activists within Syria, that’s why.

As the New York Times admits, al-Labwani, “accused Muslim Brotherhood members within the exile opposition of `monopolizing funding and military support.’” Yet there is not a word about how the Obama Administration pushed this Brotherhood-dominated leadership onto the Syrian opposition.

Most of the Kurds involved in the original talks angrily walked out of the negotiations because of their objection to Islamist leadership. The Obama Administration’s choice of Turkey to coordinate this operation made it even harder to bring in Syrian Kurds, who play an important role in the revolution, since Turkey has fought a long war against Kurdish nationalism at home.

Another issue fomenting conflict is the SNC’s bad relationship with the Free Syrian Army and the SNC’s rejection of armed struggle to overthrow the dictatorship. Anti-Islamist oppositionists say that this is because the Islamists hope to make a deal with the regime that would give them more power now and, they hope, would bring them to power in the longer run.

Due to these various antagonisms, more than a half-dozen other opposition groups have developed as rivals to the SNC.

Dissidents have also pointed to this video which shows Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni claiming that the Brotherhood chose Birhan Ghalioun to be the SNC leader as a front man because he would be more appealing to the West than an open Islamist.

It is good that the SNC is falling apart.  Here are the lessons:

–The Obama Administration collaborated in creating an anti-American leadership group. This is another example of the administration’s terrible policy and promotion of Islamists who oppose U.S. interests and who want to create a new dictatorship.

–The Turkish regime, Obama’s favorite Middle East government, betrayed U.S. interests (and those of the Syrian people) in assembling a group dominated by its fellow Islamists who hate the United States and would link up with other radical regimes in Egypt, the Gaza Strip, and Tunisia. This shows that the Turkish regime cannot be trusted.

–The Syrian opposition should be helped to form a truly representative, moderate-dominated, pro-democratic opposition which should then receive Western support.

–Western countries should support that opposition with weapons and also impose a safe haven and a no-fly zone for the Syrian regime.

I do not expect that the Obama Administration or other Western governments will do any of these things to happen but they are precisely what should be done.

And if you want to read a more detailed account of how U.S. policy toward Syria is a mess, watching while thousands of civilians are being killed, selling out the rebels, and missing a tremendous opportunity, read this article by the always superb Tony Badran.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Interchangeable ever were the terms of abuse with which the aggressor discredits those about to be ravaged!”

–Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano

By Barry Rubin

Reality: Those who are, or will soon be, governing Egypt view themselves as being at war with Israel for all practical purposes.  It matters relatively little that there is still a peace treaty. In Cairo, there are no thoughts of peace.

This is the second biggest disaster of the “Arab Spring.” The same applies to the Egyptian government’s attitude to the United States. That is the biggest disaster.

It is a disaster that U.S. policymakers and journalists have not even begun to recognize, much less counter. Same applies to the British.

Here’s the latest example. The Egyptian parliament voted unanimously to demand the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador and the halt of all natural gas exports to Israel. Isn’t going to happen? Well, not this month. Of course, the military junta is still in control, but it won’t be by the end of June. And then the deluge begins.

The mechanics of this step are especially significant. The parliament’s Arab affairs committee issued a report that stated:

“Revolutionary Egypt will never be a friend, partner or ally of the Zionist entity (Israel), which we consider to be the number one enemy of Egypt and the Arab nation. It will deal with that entity as an enemy, and the Egyptian government is hereby called upon to review all its relations and accords with that enemy.”

It’s rather difficult to be at peace with your “number one enemy” isn’t it, especially when you treat it as an enemy in all aspects of policy? And in this report and successful resolution, Israel is referred to as an “entity” and not a state thirty years after the two countries made peace and “ended” their conflict. That’s the same term used by Iran, Hamas, and Hizballah. And the report calls for a total boycott of Israel, which would mean that even if there would be an Israeli embassy in Cairo no Egyptian official would meet with its personnel.

The report also endorses Palestinian resistance “in all its kinds and forms” against Israel’s “aggressive policies.” That is an endorsement of terrorism and of Hamas firing rockets, missiles, and mortars from the Gaza Strip. If, for example, a Palestinian were to get inside an Israeli kindergarten and machinegun all the toddlers that would be justified in the eyes of Egypt’s new rulers. And that’s no exaggeration.

In a sense, then, this is a declaration of war. Oh, it isn’t a formal war with the Egyptian military building up its forces in eastern Sinai or launching a cross-border attack. But war nonetheless.

It means—as I’ve been warning for a year—that Egypt will do almost anything to help Hamas wage a war against Israel from the Gaza Strip. This will mean: the free flow of military supplies, money, terrorists, and even Egyptian volunteers. It also means the building of Hamas weapons’ manufacturing factories, bases, and training installations in eastern Sinai.

And there’s something else here that shouldn’t be taken for granted. The vote was unanimous. There is not a single Egyptian in parliament who would dare say,

“Wait a minute! Is this wise? Is this accurate? Didn’t we get back the Sinai as a result of peace, which means the reopening of the Suez Canal and the operation of our oilfields there? Aren’t we in danger of sliding into a disastrous war? Haven’t we been down this path before? Don’t we want to avoid foreign adventures and focus on dealing with our social problems and economy? Shouldn’t we try to maintain a good relationship with the United States?”

Nobody, or close to nobody, will say such things, even the few who dare think them will not dare speak them. This is how the hysteria and demagoguery build into war, bloodshed, and catastrophe. If they don’t say it now, they certainly won’t say it a year from now.

This does not mean that Egypt is going to go to war by means of its army attacking Israel. It does, however, mean that Egypt will do everything up to that point. And it is possible that through ideological fanaticism, miscalculation, or the actions of subordinates even this line will be crossed in future.

And the West doesn’t have a clue that there is a volcano steaming away, throwing rocks into the air, rumbling, and getting ready to blow.

When I talk to Western diplomats and journalists they keep saying something like: But it doesn’t make sense for Egypt to become a radical state eager for a confrontation with Israel. It isn’t in their interests given all the country’s internal and economic problems.

The Western governments, media, and “experts” are still pretending that good old material interest will solve everything and keep everyone moderate. Pay no attention to Egypt’s willingness to try more than a dozen Americans as espionage agents even though that action jeopardizes future aid. There’s nothing to worry about.

Precisely the opposite is true. Since the new rulers cannot solve or even reduce those things such extremism is precisely the answer to their political problems. Whip up hysteria, ensure mass support, and get people to forget or ignore their “real” problems. There is an Arab expression often used as the battle cry of this method: Let no voice rise above the din of battle. Or, to put it another way, Shut up! We’re busy trying to kill Jews here!

In my opinion, the coming developments in Egypt are going to dwarf any threat from Iran, certainly for the next two years.

 

 

By Barry Rubin

“Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign is now on the air with an ad that directly responds to the `3 am phone call’ commercial launched by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in Texas earlier today. The commercial touts Obama’s `judgment and courage’ in opposing the Iraq war from the start and his clarity to see that the war distracted the country from rooting out terrorists in Afghanistan. `In a dangerous world, it’s judgment that matters,’ says the ad’s narrator.” – Washington Post, February 29, 2008.

The White House. 3AM. Some time in the future.

Ring! Ring!

“Michelle, can you get that?”

“Now, Barack you know you have to answer the phone when it rings at 3AM! After all, it might be Hillary and she’d tell everyone that you were….

“Ok, ok, but remember how well I answered that ad of hers! I reminded everyone that she voted for that inevitably losing war in Iraq while I wanted to quit because I knew the war was lost. Of course, that’s before I led the country to victory there….”

Ring! Ring!

“Hello? Yes, this is the president.”

“It’s me, Benjamin Netanyahu.”

“Bibi? Hi, old buddy, I was just telling Michelle that I really can stand you. Ha! Ha! (Winks at Michelle who rolls her eyes and goes back to sleep.) So what are you calling about at 3AM? I guess it’s 3AM in Israel, right?”

“No, Mr. President it is morning here. There’s a seven-hour time difference.”

“Oh, okay. What’s up?”

“Mr. President I just wanted to tell you that our planes are about to take off and bomb Iran’s nuclear installations just as you recommended.”

“What? You’re going to bomb Iran! What gave you that idea?”

“You did, Mr. President. Let me explain. You see, Mr. President, No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction. Right?”

“That’s your view?”

“Yes, Mr. President but it’s also your view in the AIPAC speech.  And we’re doing this for you and your country because A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States.

“But isn’t bombing a bit drastic? How will the world react?”

“It will support us because, as you so brilliantly explained, “The entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“Well, won’t Iran react strongly?”

“They can’t, Mr. President, because thanks to your terrific policies, Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure.” 

“Isn’t there some alternative?”

No, Mr. President, because A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the nonproliferation regime that we’ve done so much to build. There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world’s most volatile regions. It would embolden a regime that has brutalised its own people, and it would embolden Iran’s proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.”

“Hm. That does sound persuasive.”

“And as you so eloquently explained, Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests. Well, Mr. President, the time has come to put that policy into action.”

“Don’t you care about what I think Israel should do?”

“Of course, Mr. President! And I’m following your advice. Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs. Indeed, your genius-level analysis of the situation forces us to bomb Iran.”

“I see.”

“And that’s precisely what we are doing. We fulfilled your request. We waited and gave sanctions a chance. But our intelligence said that Iran would be able to build a nuclear weapon last Thursday whereas your intelligence said they needed another ten days. So we split the difference and the planes are now taking off.”

“But I was only saying that to get reelected!”

“Ha, ha, Oh, Mr. President you are so funny. I’d tell that one to Ehud Barak but he’s busy directing the air strikes. And of course you did win the election after you convinced the American people that free contraceptives for everyone was more important than the collapse of the economy. Brilliantly played.”

“Thanks, Bibi. But what I really wanted was to make some deal with the Iranians so they could not build a bomb right now and just hide all the components or maybe they could just pretend to give someone else the enriched uranium and….”

“You were quite right, Mr. President. We all wanted you to succeed. But Iran didn’t do what you wanted. Very foolish of them. But we are doing precisely what you said, right?

“Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”

“Mr. President! I’d never think of ignoring all the good advice you gave me and that’s precisely why we’re attacking Iran.  You explained in that superb manner of yours that Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision. They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end. Well, this is the dead end.”

“I was really great in that speech!”

Yes, Mr. President, we were all deeply moved, So much so that we waited [static on the phone line drowns out the precise number] months for diplomacy to work and yet the only thing Iran has given you in exchange is a spit in the eye and a knee to the groin. Well, you didn’t take that from Usama bin Ladin or from Muammar Qadhafi, right?  And, besides, as you always say, There is no shortage of speeches on the friendship between the United States and Israel. But I’m also mindful of the proverb, `A man is judged by his deeds, not his words.’”

“Yes, I did say that didn’t I?”

“So now we know you will fulfill your promises with deeds. You said that you have Israel’s back and we know you wouldn’t put a knife into it. Ho! ho!  And think of all this will do for green energy! With the price of oil going up it will mobilize support for your windmills, algae ponds, and solar panels.”

“That’s true.”

“Okay, I better go now. Give my regards to Michelle. That diet she recommended for me is doing wonders and I promise that all of the pilots going on the attack have been eating their vegetables. And, Mr. President, all of Israel wants to thank you for explaining to us why, when sanctions and diplomacy failed, we would have to attack Iran to ensure it can never get nuclear weapons.”

“Thanks, Bibi, and I’m glad you followed my advice.”    

 

Note: While the above is written in satirical form I believe that this is basically what’s going to happen. The words in bold are from Obama’s AIPAC speech.