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Belmont Club

The Eastern World

July 29th, 2013 - 5:37 pm

Perhaps the saddest thing about President Obama’s Middle East peace initiative is how tangential it is.  Ruel Marc Gerecht and Anthony Cordesman examine the upheavals in the region, focusing on Egypt and Syria respectively, without even mentioning Palestine, the jewel in Kerry’s crown. It is as if one were diagnosed with cancer, but the doctors says “I can’t cure the cancer but I can manicure your nails.”

Cordesman’s short message is that the Eastern World is exploding. The fire in Syria is spreading. “What started as a civil conflict more than two years ago now threatens to fuel a major conflict between Sunnis and Shiites throughout the Muslim world. The conflict is dividing Lebanon and giving Hezbollah and other extremists a larger foothold there. It is also creating problems in Jordan and Turkey, pushing Iraq toward civil war and making Iraq’s Shiite leadership more dependent on Iran.”

And in this matter Washington is paralyzed. It can’t go forward, can’t go back. Even “winning” — in the sense of toppling Assad — seems only marginally better than losing. Cordesman concludes that about the best thing the administration can do is go down swinging, to find redemption in honor. He writes:

If Assad succeeds in crushing the opposition or otherwise maintains control over most of Syria, Iran will have a massive new degree of influence over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon in a polarized Middle East divided between Sunni and Shiite. Minorities will be steadily driven into exile. This would present serious risks for Israel, weaken Jordan and Turkey and, most important, give Iran far more influence in the Persian Gulf, an area home to 48 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves.

If Washington arms the rebels and they still lose, the United States will at least have shown its willingness to make decisions and honor its commitments. It will have shown it will make good on its words and support its allies. … It would show that the United States is serious about strategic partnerships. It might help us persuade allies to back up their words with actions. And it might even show the Islamic world that there is an alternative to extremism and Sunni-Shiite conflict.

But if that sounds like a speech from the last days of Corregidor, Gerecht’s anaysis of Egypt is almost as gloomy. He describes another no-win situation. The problem in Egypt, he argues, is that they must  choose between an Islamism that respects property rights or a Western secularism that sees socialism the solution.  The choices before the Egyptians are between the ideology of Morsi or the ideology of Obama. Gerecht describes the points of view:

The army has since moved with some enthusiasm into crony capitalism. But it’s pretty obvious that the army has no intention of allowing free enterprise to grow that could compromise its own hold on the country. …

It’s unclear who—the Islamists, the secularists, or the military—has more patience when it comes to economics, but it’s a decent guess that the religious can better weather the rough economic times ahead. Self-help and community organizing are their strengths, and they have learned to operate without decrepit state institutions. …

Creating a modern economy in Egypt will hinge on devout Muslims buying into the project; they, not the super-rich businessmen of the Mubarak era, and certainly not the deeply socialist secular youth who look upon the government as the employer of first resort … In fact, the Islamists are probably less attached to a state-controlled economy than the rest. The study of Islamic law engenders an unavoidable respect for property rights. As the late Marxist Orientalist Maxime Rodinson pointed out in Islam and Capitalism (1966), socialism—the triumph of equality over liberty—has weak roots in Islam.

So Egypt can choose either to be like that playground of Islam, Homs or that worker’s paradise, Detroit, which leaves “Egypt … in uncharted territory.”

And speaking of charts, Joe Biden is currently touring the Pacific telling anyone who will listen that “we are a Pacific power. America is a Pacific resident power and we will remain so”, which is probably a strong indication there is some doubt in the matter. For decades America’s pre-eminence was so obvious it hardly needed touting. Joe Biden’s “hey we’re still here” tour, if designed to inspire confidence, is almost as pathetic as Kerry’s offer of a manicure to the cancer-ridden Middle East.

Maybe Biden had to tell the world the Obama administration was on top of things because you might get the opposite impression from events. China begins its first boomer patrols next year. Bill Gertz reports:

China’s navy is expected to begin the first sea patrols next year of a new class of strategic missile submarines, highlighting a new and growing missile threat to the U.S. homeland, according to U.S. defense officials.

Which means all  those “unproven missile defense systems” and canceled advanced combat systems have to work overtime. The administration is peculiar in that it owes most of its survival to the things it doesn’t like and all of its troubles to the things it dreams up — then cancels. Like Obamacare, Syria, grand bargains, etc. Gertz continues:

“We are anticipating that combat patrols of submarines carrying the new JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile will begin next year,” said one official familiar with recent intelligence assessments of the Chinese strategic submarine force.

China’s strategic missile submarine force currently includes three new Type 094 missile submarines each built with 12 missile launch tubes.

The submarine patrols will include scores of new JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) on the Type 094s. The submarines are also called Jin-class missile boats by the Pentagon.

The missile submarine patrols, if carried out in 2014, would be the first time China conducts submarine operations involving nuclear-tipped missiles far from Chinese shores despite having a small missile submarine force since the late 1980s.

So you might get the mistaken impression the Chinese had now moved beyond the First Island Chain. Moreover, the New York Times has noticed that “China launched its revamped coast guard last week and immediately sent four ships, emblazoned with the new red, white and blue logo, to patrol waters off disputed islands in the nearby East China Sea.”

The message was clear: China planned to use the new unified paramilitary vessels to keep pressure on Japan over the sovereignty of the tiny islands, an issue that has riled relations between the two countries.

At the same time as the newly designated coast guard vessels appeared in the waters on Wednesday, China sent a turboprop early-warning aircraft through international airspace between the islands of Okinawa and Miyako, an area where Japan said Chinese planes had not flown before. The Japanese called the flight by the Y-8 aircraft the latest in a series of provocations aimed at forcing concessions from Japan, which administers the disputed islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

The merger of four Chinese maritime units into one superagency was announced in March. The actual creation of the new force has been nervously awaited in the Asia Pacific region as another sign of China’s fast-growing maritime capability and its determination to enforce claims in the South China Sea, as well as the East China Sea.

The large number of Chinese and Japanese maritime vessels in dangerous proximity in the East China Sea at a time of high tensions over the islands has raised alarm in Washington about clashes that could lead to larger conflict.

In such an escalation, the United States might be pulled into the fight because the mutual defense pact with Japan obliges Washington to defend all territories administered by Japan.

But you would be wrong to think there was any trouble. The President has pivoted to the Pacific, like he pivoted to jobs, and pivoted to Afghanistan. And he’ll pivot again if he has to. If there’s something in ample supply in the White House, it’s pivots.

Mention of that mutual defense pact with Japan  brings us back to Anthony Cordesman’s earnest hope that Washington can “show that the United States is serious about strategic partnerships”. You know a mutual defense pact is in trouble when you have to ask if it is still operational.

But those considerations from an earlier era. Today it’s all about “ladders of opportunity”, “phony scandals”, “leading from behind”, or “responsibility to protect”. It’s about celebrity politics and talking points. The President recently nominated Caroline Kennedy as ambassador to Japan to show just how seriously he takes the region, something which has puzzled the magazine Foreign Policy. For although she is a nice lady they cannot for the life of them figure out what on God’s green earth she has to do with Japan.

Early in 2008, back in the days when Barack Obama was hardly a shoo-in to be the Democratic nominee for president, Kennedy penned a piece for the New York Times called “A President Like My Father.” In it, she described Obama as a man who could inspire a new generation of Americans as her father, President John F. Kennedy, had inspired a previous generation. It provided Obama with a big boost and, along with the support he received from Sen. Edward Kennedy, gave the candidate the imprimatur of the political-celebrity wing of the Democratic establishment — a leg up in his tight race against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Other than writing this op-ed, Kennedy has not the slightest hint of a qualification to be ambassador to Japan. Trained as a lawyer, she has led a worthy life of dedication to family charities, other nonprofit organizations, and writing. But she has no particular experience with Japan, no experience with diplomacy or foreign affairs, and no government experience.

But that is all right. Kurt Campbell writing in the New York Times explains that in the Obama administration, experience is not necessary.  ”What you really want in an ambassador is someone who can get the president of the United States on the phone.… I can’t think of anybody in the United States who could do that more quickly than Caroline Kennedy.” But Foreign Policy is not convinced.

Giving out ambassadorial posts to those who have personally helped the president but who otherwise have no diplomatic experience or, in some cases, no experience with the countries in which they are being called upon to serve sends a host of lousy messages. One is that real diplomatic experience doesn’t matter. Another is that in America cronyism trumps all. And another is this very un-American idea that U.S. foreign policy is more about the president than the actions of an entire government, a system, or national interests.

Doing completely random things may have been un-American once, but that’s the way it works now. The Eastern World may be exploding, but Kerry’s going to get his Palestinian peace deal as if that mattered.  And Caroline Kennedy can get on the phone if something goes bump with China. After all, according to Joe Biden America is a “resident power”, relying on president power.


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Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific

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Top Rated Comments   
" If Israelis and Palestinians were truly interested in peace"

If Israelis were truly interested in peace? That you equate the two indicates either abysmal ignorance or a highly biased perspective. Israel has repeatedly done everything it can without literally slicing its own throat and the Palestinians have done nothing, ever. Yet you equate the two. Tell us, how do you make peace with someone who is irrevocably intent upon killing you?
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Solipsism.

Leftists establish a false definition of reality as a choice between Islam and Socialism with Islam being linked to the eeeeevil Capitalism. Sez who? Not only is Capitalism not evil but it undermines the oligarchical corruption inherent in Islamism and Socialism.

Why si there a choice between bad Sunni al-Qaeda and bad Shi'a Iran? Because Obama reversed the Bush policy of undermining Islamism in the Sunni region from a perfect base in Iraq and then undermined the Green Revolution and frustrated Israeli efforts to turn back the Iranian threat when it was easy.

The Democrats are people who fired the Fire Department, let the fire hydrants rust shut, stuffed the yard with old mattresses and oil soaked rags, and now demand that everyone else turn off their stoves and give up automobiles to reduce the risk of fire.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bogey was a great actor ... They don't make 'em like that anymore.

Now then ... Obama. He has pivoted so many times in rapid succession he feels like he just had a choom ... High-di-ho!

But he still is not blamed personally for all his failures. He isn't as popular, but he still is not seen as responsible for all the failures: "Obamacare, Syria, grand bargains, etc." They are legion, his failures.

History will have the final word on the incompetence and hubris of this administration, but it may be a history told from a post-U.S. perspective. "How did the U.S. break up, Grandpa," the children will ask, "wasn't it big and strong?"
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (25)
All Comments   (25)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
"In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands" says PA leader Abbas 6/30/2013

I have a difficult time believing that he actually said “final resolution”. He probably said “final solution”, a phrase used repeatedly by Yasser Arafat – and another man in Jewish history who is much more well known.

One thing often forgotten about this conflict is that “Palestinians” are merely a symptom, not a cause. The cause is the United Nations, particularly its wretched policy of funding permanent refugee camps rather than integrating Arab refugees (and their descendants) into neighboring countries. Regardless of anything else that may happen, there will be no peace so long as the UN keeps a bureaucracy dedicated to maintaining the permanent refugee status of “Palestinians”.

So, the real peace talks should be with the United Nations, not Mahmoud Abbas.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
He says as much. Didn't he call Benghazi a "bump in the road"?
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
"According to the report, Iran began preparing the weapons shipment around the same time Israel and Hamas negotiated a cease-fire late last week."

http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Satellites-show-Iran-moving-quickly-to-rearm-Hamas

Why am I not surprised? This is like Charlie Brown and Lucy, or conservatives and liberals. You know you are a fool to believe the promises and yet -- well one more time.

Perhaps this is a case of human co-dependency. After all, confidence men need a mark.

38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes I agree that the Middle East is becoming the stage for a nasty conflict between Sunni and Shia. I think that conflict will be the driving force for coming events in the Middle East.

Closer to home J.J. Cale died Friday July 26. I thought he would sit on the porch without no shoes playing his guitar for ever.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry for the OT, but I wanted to make a quick mention of this here. I finally purchased a copy of No Way In and happily settled down in the easy chair last night to start reading it. Great stuff, as I would expect...but I came to one part that just about made me fall out of my chair.

Bill Greer's node map from his Philippines-wide phone tap. It sounds exactly like the recent revelations about the NSAs domestic ops. And you published this in 2010? Well done, Richard. Well done.

Sorry to be so late to the party. But wow. Just wow.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Bill Greer" is a character in my novel, No Way In, published 2010 (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1453892818/wwwfallbackbe-20) which basically describes an operation exactly or nearly exactly like that the NSA is accused of.

The book has 29 reviews with a rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars. It's basically a relatively contemporary thriller with flashbacks to the martial law years. One or two of the actual participants of that era have written me with compliments. I wrote it in a hurry to so that a few of those who were dying or very sick could still read it. It might have been better had I taken more time, but a book is what it is.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Solipsism.

Leftists establish a false definition of reality as a choice between Islam and Socialism with Islam being linked to the eeeeevil Capitalism. Sez who? Not only is Capitalism not evil but it undermines the oligarchical corruption inherent in Islamism and Socialism.

Why si there a choice between bad Sunni al-Qaeda and bad Shi'a Iran? Because Obama reversed the Bush policy of undermining Islamism in the Sunni region from a perfect base in Iraq and then undermined the Green Revolution and frustrated Israeli efforts to turn back the Iranian threat when it was easy.

The Democrats are people who fired the Fire Department, let the fire hydrants rust shut, stuffed the yard with old mattresses and oil soaked rags, and now demand that everyone else turn off their stoves and give up automobiles to reduce the risk of fire.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
In 1888, a French newspaper had condemned Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, as a “merchant of death” in a premature obituary. So, Alfred Nobel created the Nobel Peace Prize.

And yet, dynamite is as creative as it is destructive. Dynamite's usefulness in mining has led to prosperity for millions – perhaps billions – of people throughout the world.

The worst thing that Alfred Nobel did in his entire life was to create the Nobel Peace Prize. That “peace prize” acts more like an apple of discord than anything that could ever promote peace. It promotes the appearance of “peace”, it promotes the existence of a Potemkin Village called “Peace”, also known as a treaty, or peace talks, or a “peace process”. It promotes an insane quest by men such as Jimmy Carter for ostentatious peace accords that put an American president in the limelight, as opposed to less glitzy but more worthwhile diplomacy behind the scenes.

The sad thing about the “peace process” promoted by Secretary Kerry is that it amounts to a freak show. If Israelis and Palestinians were truly interested in peace, they would quietly do the heavy lifting themselves, rather than expecting lollipops from the United States in exchange for becoming props for American politicians who want big photo opportunities. These “talks” look more like Secretary Kerry's attempt to pick up his “Peace Prize” after turning Netanyahu and Abbas into living trophies. It's sickening. Absolutely sickening.

Peace will only come to the Middle East once each party refuses to accept any “Peace Prize” for his or her efforts. If peace is worth making, it is worth making for its own sake – not for the sake of acquiring some Norwegian trinket.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
" If Israelis and Palestinians were truly interested in peace"

If Israelis were truly interested in peace? That you equate the two indicates either abysmal ignorance or a highly biased perspective. Israel has repeatedly done everything it can without literally slicing its own throat and the Palestinians have done nothing, ever. Yet you equate the two. Tell us, how do you make peace with someone who is irrevocably intent upon killing you?
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
“Tell us, how do you make peace with someone who is irrevocably intent upon killing you?”

Smile. Make it clear who is in charge. Make it clear he can never win. Smile, even when his hand is on your throat, for he seeks more than the death of your body. He seeks the death of your soul. Once he knows he can never take your soul, he knows he has lost. That is how you make peace.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
At first, I thought you were kidding, attempting sarcasm. But given your additional comment below I conclude you're serious. If someone is determined to take your life and as he's choking you to death you smile, you may retain your soul in the afterlife but you will still be dead.

Islam is quite willing to forgo Israel's soul in exchange for its body.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
“Israel has repeatedly done everything it can without literally slicing its own throat and the Palestinians have done nothing, ever.”

Precisely. That is why Israel isn't actually interested in peace. Not with the kind of neighbors it has. To make peace, real peace, one must not desire it too much. That is why Benjamin Netanyahu is far more likely to make peace than Tzipi Livni. The Middle East is ruled by the culture of the bazaar. Anybody who “repeatedly does everything it can without literally slicing his own throat” will get fleeced every time. Every single time. To paraphrase Victoria Stilwell from “It's Me or the Dog”, if you are going to get along with a dog, don't speak English to a dog – speak dog.

If Israel releases prisoners at all, it ought to be at the end of the talks – not at the beginning. Yet, at least the Israeli government has the excuse of having the Obama administration breathing down its neck. What's in it for the United States? The Nobel Peace Prize. The hold that trinket has for liberal politicians throughout the world seems to be downright Pavlovian.

If Israel were truly interested in making peace, it would feign indifference. When one talks too much about how much one wants peace, that merely raises the price of peace from the other side. Likewise, when Barack Obama talked about “bringing people together” during the 2008 presidential campaign, he sabotaged future cooperation with Republicans by claiming credit for any deal with them in advance. If one does not allow the other side to claim equal credit for making concessions, there is no real point to negotiating.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're quite confused. Israel's diplomatic stumbles are not an indication of a lack of desire for peace but of contending inner factions that prevent Israel from acting cohesively. Israel has a left too.

Obama already has a Nobel Peace Prize, thus he already has outward confirmation of the 'greatness', of which he is already certain. Obama could care less if Kerry, his tool, gets a 'prize'. In addition, Obama doesn't want a viable peace, he wants Israel to make fatal concessions that will ensure the future collapse of Israel.

Whether Israel feigns indifference or takes any other position conceivable is completely irrelevant to the Palestinian's position. That so because you can't 'negotiate' with fanatics whose theology demands your death.

"In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands" says PA leader Abbas 6/30/2013

And just to be clear, "on our lands" includes Israel. The Palestinians only want an 'independent state' from which to conquer Israel.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, that's an interesting (!!!) perspective. But actually Israel is way ahead of you, their indifference to the Palestinians has been their one and only strategy since about the Intifada of 2000. All the rest is to placate "world opinion" and clowns like Kerry and Obambus.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
I yield to no-one in my contempt for Barry Soetero and his enablers in the once-proud Democrat Party, the institutional Republicans, and the vapid liars of the media.

Having said that, the global situation today would tax the skills of a Reagan or an Eisenhower. Remember that even Reagan gave up on the Levant after the Beruit bombing, and Eisenhower's involvement in the Suez Crisis was limited to telling British & French colonialists to go home.

What would a good foreign policy look like today? It would have to start at home by rebuilding domestic economic strength. That means dealing with the (always ignored) unsustainable trade deficit, which in turn means eliminating regulations & simplifying taxes to encourage the re-industrialization of the US. It also means dealing with the budget deficit, which requires shrinking the size of government.

Only once the US was clearly on the long road back to economic strength would the US be able to exercise positive influence on the international environment. And there may not be time to get far enough down that road before events overtake us.

Bottom line -- even with a competent President, there would likely be no stopping the coming global changes. Changes which will unfortunately be mostly for the worse.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
You have the right of it.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
If the Egyptians Have only the choice between Islamism and Socialism, with their
present economic situation, stick a fork in them, they're done.

But what I want to know is how many wheels are there on the Obama Clown Car? They have been falling off since 2009. I guess there is a lot of ruin in a
Clown Car.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bogey was a great actor ... They don't make 'em like that anymore.

Now then ... Obama. He has pivoted so many times in rapid succession he feels like he just had a choom ... High-di-ho!

But he still is not blamed personally for all his failures. He isn't as popular, but he still is not seen as responsible for all the failures: "Obamacare, Syria, grand bargains, etc." They are legion, his failures.

History will have the final word on the incompetence and hubris of this administration, but it may be a history told from a post-U.S. perspective. "How did the U.S. break up, Grandpa," the children will ask, "wasn't it big and strong?"
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
You say...

From Muslim to Dervish?
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
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