A Case for Preemptive War Against Iran

April 7th, 2015 - 9:54 am

Crossposted from Asia Times


Most of the great wars of the past would have been far less bloody had they begun sooner. That emphatically is true of the First World War: if Germany had launched a preemptive assault on France during the First Morocco Crisis of 1905, before Britain had signed the Entente Cordiale with France and while Russia was busy with an internal rebellion, the result would have been a repeat of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 rather than the ghastly war of attrition that all but ruined Western civilization. It was a tragedy that the vacillating Kaiser Wilhelm II rejected the counsel of his general staff and kept the peace. I do not mean to impute moral superiority to Wilhelmine Germany, but to argue, simply, that swift victory by one side was preferable to what followed. It is hardly controversial to argue that Britain and France should have prepared for war with Germany and preempted Hitler’s ambitions no later than the 1936 re-occupation of the Rhineland.

The West likes to think that it has attained a higher plane of rationality, after the great blood-lettings of its past–the two World Wars of the last century, the Napoleonic Wars of the 19th century, and the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century. This is a self-consoling delusion: it is not more rational, but only enervated. It confuses its own lack of interest in the future with moderation. Willful blindness about our own past blinds us to the character of the prospective combatants in the Middle East. In 1914 Europe had achieved an unprecedented prosperity, dependent on a web of commercial relations binding all the European nations into a single economic organism. The peoples of Europe had less to fear from hunger, disease, or domestic violence than any peoples in human history. Europe’s monarchies, moreover, were linked by family ties more closely than at any time in the past. Nonetheless the Europeans chose to eschew their prosperity and sacrifice themselves in now-incomprehensible numbers–for what? For each nation’s belief in its own Chosenness, as I argued in my 2011 book, How Civilizations Die.

Francesco Sisci argues that the economic development of the Eurasian continent under the benign influence of China’s “One Belt, One Road” program may be an important force for peace. That view was also expressed by China’s special envoy for the Middle East, Gong Xiaosheng. The question to ask is why Europe’s prosperity and economic interdependence failed to hinder the outbreak of the First World War. China’s view of the world is rational, but rational to a fault: the Chinese, who have created a civilization that has endured thousands of years by integrating different peoples and suppressing ethnic differences, fail to appreciate how irrationally the barbarians outside their civilization may behave. There is a path towards a Pax Sinica in the Middle East, I argued in 2013, but it requires the calculated use of Chinese influence to frighten the Iranians into behaving themselves. China has concentrated on economic diplomacy, and succeeded brilliantly in the case of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, but I see no indication of a paralle effort in the realm of strategic diplomacy.

Some wars will happen, whether we want them to or not. They arise from the roots of national identity. The nations of Europe fought the First World War in the ultimately futile effort to avoid becoming what they are today, I wrote on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War: “Men are immoderate. We are not as different from our fathers as we like to think. The childless, hedonistic Europeans of today are the same people who fought and died in their millions for king and country in 1618 or 1814. Anything worth living for is worth dying for; if we can think of nothing we would die for, it means that we have nothing to live for, either – like today’s Europeans. Europe learned at length that blood and soil, Kultur and Grandeur, were not worth fighting for. But Europe could find nothing to live for after it forswore the national gods of its violent past. It is dying of enervation and ennui, disgusted with its past and unconcerned for its future, unwilling to bring sufficient numbers of children into the world to ensure its survival for another century.”

Iran has not yet learned this lesson, and it will only learn it the same way the nations of Europe learned it in the past century. It may be that the ayatollahs are following an apocalyptic script that ultimately will lead to their mutual destruction in a nuclear war with Israel or one of their Sunni neighbors. I doubt that, and I do not think the issue is important. Iran’s position in the Middle East today parallels the position of democratic France in 1914: an ambitious power with grand ambitions at the cusp of demographic decline, whose last chance to assert its regional dominance is at hand. The German and French population were more less equal at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870; by 1913, Germany had grown by 70% while France had stagnated, probably because France was the first country to secularize.



Anglo-Saxon historiography long has blamed Germany for the First World War, an easy conviction before the bar of history given its culpability for the Second. Christopher Clark has now shown in his bestselling book The Sleepwalkers  that Russia’s mobilization forced Germany’s hand. If one believes the memoirs of the French ambassador to St. Petersburg, Maurice Paleologue, France urged the Czar towards war. Four-fifths of France’s military age men were already mobilized in the eight months before the outbreak of war, against half of Germany’s. A war of attrition of sorts had already begun; France needed an early resolution because, unlike Germany, it could not sustain the costs continued mobilization.

Demographically, Iran is in a position comparable to that of France in 1914: its military-age population is now approximately half that of three most important Sunni states combined (Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt). By 2020 the ratio will shift to only one-fourth, due to the collapse of Iran’s fertility rate from 7 children per female in 1979 to only 1.6 in 2012. Its 125,000 Revolutionary Guards constitute the best fighting force in the region after overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Although Iran lacks a modern air force, it is the dominant land power in the Levant. Saudi Arabia’s new Sunni coalition is an attempt to respond to Iran’s depredations in Yemen and elsewhere, but the fractious and divided Sunnis are far from acting in concert. Pakistan is too preoccupied with India and its internal extremists to send soldiers on foreign adventures, and Turkey has no desire to commit to Saudi leadership in the region. Iran’s strength will peak during the next several years, especially if the lifting of sanctions gives it the money and authority to modernize its armed forces.

UN World Population Prospects (Low Variant)

UN World Population Prospects (Low Variant)

I do not propose to argue that belligerence is a mechanical function of demographics. The point, rather, is that all the factors that contributed to European bellicosity in 1914, and above all to German aggression in 1939, apply a fortiori to Iran: national messianism, the perception of historical injustice, the willingness to sacrifice arbitrary large numbers of lives, contempt for the humanity of neighboring states and–above all–the entirely rational perception that time is running out, and that an inevitable war with neighboring states will become impossible to win not very far into the future.

Even if the proposed agreement with Iran succeeded in suppressing development of nuclear weapons–in my view an unlikely outcome–it will given Iran the resources to prepare for the final settling of accounts with the Sunnis on what ultimately will be an horrific scale. If European diplomats were deluded in their attempts to maintain the balance of power in the years before World War I, today’s diplomats are mad to believe that a balance of power can be established between Iran and its Sunni neighbors. War is already joined in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon and Libya. War is not a choice. It is an event. If Iran were to triumph in the relative short-term, Sunni revenge would be all more terrible in the aftermath. A generation hence, a third of Iranians will be older than 60, the first time in all of history that a poor country will carry such an enormous burden of dependent elderly. The younger populations of its Sunni neighbors will overwhelm it. One has to go back in history before the Thirty Years War, perhaps to Tamerlane, to conceive of the carnage that this will cause. If Iran has nuclear weapons they will be used, and others will use nuclear weapons as well.

The balance of power in the Middle East fell apart when the United States forced a Shia majority government on Iraq through the elections of 2006. That was a catastrophic error. Nothing will quite restore it. But the next best thing, and the best alternative under the circumstances, is to suppress Iran’s ambitions and reinforce the conservative Sunni states as a bulwark against chaos. I continue to believe, as I have argued since 2005, that an American preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is the best course of action.

*  *  *  *

Postscript, from Michael Morell, Acting and Deputy Director of CIA 2010-2013:

Last month, a senior adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke at a conference in Tehran on “Iran, Nationalism, History, and Culture.” The adviser made clear that Iran’s ambition is to become a regional hegemon — in short, to reestablish the Persian empire…

The adviser, Ali Younesi — who was head of intelligence for former president Mohammad Khatami — told conference attendees, “Since its inception, Iran has [always] had a global [dimension]. It was born an empire. Iran’s leaders, officials and administrators have always thought in the global” dimension.

Younesi defined the territory of the Iranian empire, which he called “Greater Iran,” as reaching from the borders of China and including the Indian subcontinent, the north and south Caucasus and the Persian Gulf. He said Iraq is the capital of the Iranian Empire — a reference to the ancient city of Babylon, in present-day Iraq, which was the center of Persian life for centuries.

“We are protecting the interests of [all] the people in the region — because they are all Iran’s people,” he said. “We must try to once again spread the banner of Islamic-Iranian unity and peace in the region. Iran must bear this responsibility, as it did in the past.”

Crossposted from Asia Times

When How Civilizations Die (and Islam is Dying, Too) appeared in late 2011, most of the conservative media reviewed the book, and in most cases positively; the liberal media considered it an anti-social gesture and ignored it. A Hebrew edition appeared in late 2013, and was well-reviewed in the Israeli press, including Israel Hayom and the Jerusalem Post, with a major exception, the liberal daily Ha’aretz. Now Dan Tamir offers a notice in Ha’aretz (along with a review of Salomon Wald’s “The Rise and Fall of Civilizations: Lessons for the Jewish People”). For the most part Tamir offers a coherent summary of my argument accompanied by quibbles, and accuses me of writing the book to justify a attack on Iran. That is not the only (or the main reason) I wrote the book, but Tamir has a fair point: the most urgent strategic conclusion of “Civilizations” is that the United States does not have the power to fix countries that are intent on destroying themselves (and a good deal else around them). What Andreas Lubitz was to commercial aviation, Iran is to the Middle East: a nation engaged in collective suicide, but in such a way as to threaten the existence of its neighbors, including the Sunni Gulf States as well as Israel.

We need strategists who can add and subtract, as well as read and write. Mr. Tamir may abhor my conclusions, but neither he nor anyone else has had offered a word of refutation of my presentation of the simple demographic facts of the matter. No-one has accused me of manipulating or misinterpreting the numbers; my critics simply have ignored the elephant in the parlor, namely Iran’s catastrophic demographic decline.

Iran has an apocalyptic regime with a great deal to be apocalyptic about. As I have argued in these pages since 2005, no poor country in the entire troubled history of the world has seen its fertility rate plunge from 7 children per female just one generation ago to only 1.6 children per female today. There is no explanation for mass rejection of a nation’s demographic future except for deep cultural pessimism. Islamism, whether of the Sunni variety propounded by Sayyid Qutb or the Shia version of Ayatollah Khomeini, rejects modernity, which it views as corrosive of Muslim society. Iran had the misfortune to be the most modernized Muslim nation (thanks to the Shah’s commitment to universal female literacy), as well as the most backward in ideology under the Islamic Republic. Its unsuccessful engagement with modernity has left a childless country plagued by social pathologies, including some of the world’s highest rates of opium addiction, venereal disease, and prostitution.

As a matter of arithmetic, Iran will have an elderly dependent ratio worse than Europe or the United States one generation from now, with one-tenth the per capital GDP. Demographic problems which barely are soluble in rich countries are a death sentence for a poor country. This is a train wreck that cannot be averted. Even in the unlikely event that Iran were to raise its fertility rate through incentives to families (as it recently proposed to do), it will have negligible impact on the rapid aging of its population and the ensuing collapse of its economy. The chart below uses the constant fertility projections of the United Nations Population Prospects, which readers can generate for themselves here.

Population Over 60, Iran vs. the United States

Population Over 60, Iran vs. the United States

As a matter of arithmetic, Iran can sustain a third of its population as elderly dependents only by acquiring the wealth of its neighbors, for example, Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, which has a Shia majority, and where Iran already is attempting to subvert the Saudi monarchy. That is why Iran is aggressive, and why no negotiation will contain it.

Ha’aretz, I presume, got around to attacking my book 14 months after the Hebrew edition appeared because it has had some influence in Israel. I do not make recommendations to the Israeli goverment; I am an American, not an Israeli, and I make recommendations to my own government. My recommendation to the American government since 2006 is the same as the one that former UN Ambassador John Bolton made in the New York Times March 26: destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity through air strikes. Reasonable people may disagree with this conclusion. But I still would like to hear someone disagree with my arithmetic.

Why Are Jews Liberal?

April 1st, 2015 - 11:09 am

Liberals believe that social engineering can bring about universal success; conservatives want to foster individual responsibility and initiative. For liberals, the failure of an individual is a failure of society; for conservatives, individuals should be allowed to succeed or fail on their own merits. There are degrees, of course; most conservatives eschew Social Darwinism or Ayn Rand’s egotism, and most liberals do not believe in the strict application of the Communist maxim, “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” But that is the bright line that divides us conservatives from the liberals.

Why are (most) Jews liberals? That is a trickier question than it might seem. The usual explanation is that Napoleon freed the Jews from the ghetto, and Jews ever since have looked to the secular enlightenment as the source of their welfare rather than the often oppressive attitudes of traditional society. The European Socialists in general advanced Jewish interests while European conservatives in general impaired them. Without the French socialists (during the brief postwar premiership of Leon Blum), Britain almost certainly would have arranged for a successful Arab invasion of Palestine to crush the State of Israel in the cradle. There is something to that, but not enough.

Judaism, as historian Paul Johnson once observed, balances individual and collective. Christians who observe an Orthodox Jewish service will be struck by apparent lack of cohesion. During the preliminary reading of Psalms, worshipers proceed at their own pace, sometimes singing lines out loud. When the congregation stands, individuals will rise and sit down at their own pace rather than as a group. The recitation of the Eighteen Benedictions, the prayer at the center of each Jewish service, is an individual audience with the Lord, and some congregants will remains standing even after the leader begins the public repetition; latecomers will stand and recite after the service has moved on. A derogatory German expression cites “Geschrei wie in einer Judenschule,” or screaming as in a synagogue, referring to the occasional cacophony. There are to be sure moments when the congregation speaks as one. When the congregation declares the Shmah (“Hear!”), it does so in two parts: the first (Deut. 6:4-9) is written in first person singular, and the second (Deut. 11:13-21) restates the same themes in first person plural.

In that respect Judaism is in inherently conservative. Christians enter the Church together as Gentiles to be inducted into Israel, and although they are adopted as individuals, they worship as a body; Jews are already members of God’s people and go to synagogue for a private audience with Almighty as well as collective functions. Jewish law provides for the poor, but the prophets want every man to sit under his own vine and fig  tree — not the vine and fig tree of a collective farm. And the 10th Commandment specifically forbids a Jew to covet anything of his neighbors (as the rabbis observed, it reads “do not covet, covet,” the only one of the Decalogue to use the emphasis of repetition).

That’s the problem: The vulnerability of the conservative model, as de Tocqueville observed in 1835, is that the losers will use their political power to expropriate the winners and vote themselves rich. It is a proud and self-confident people indeed that is composed of individuals willing to accept failure, pick themselves up, and try again, rather than coveting the success of the winners. If popular jealousy erupts against the success of one’s own countrymen, all the more so will it be directed against a minority.

Pages: 1 2 | 125 Comments»


Author:  March 29, 2015 1 Comment

Never in the history of American foreign policy has so much egg adhered to so little face as in the matter of Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. All of America’s allies, including Britain and Australia, have elected to join the Chinese-led institution. That is a grand validation of China’s One Belt/One Road vision for infrastructure upgrades across the whole Eurasian landmass. China’s President Xi Jinping envisions $2.5 trillion of trade between his country and the “Silk Road” nations over the next decade. Rather than fret about the impact of a slowing (or shrinking) world economy on China’s export-driven prosperity, China is seeking to shape the economic environment around it.

It is not only the Obama administration that has been wrong-footed by the world’s embrace of China’s economic ambitions, but almost the whole of America’s foreign-policy elite. With almost no exceptions, American analysts have misunderstood China. One school argues that China inevitably will collapse of its own weight, because authoritarian governments supposedly are incapable of efficient allocation of resources; another warns of a Chinese plan for world domination.

A March 20 Wall Street Journal editorial proclaimed, “China Trounces U.S. ‘Smart Power,’ but expresses sour grapes over the outcome:

The AIIB is likely to enhance China’s influence far more than it will help its supposed beneficiaries. Poor regimes willing to stay on Beijing’s good side will earn cheap loans on lax terms, but the bank will promote a version of China’s state capitalism, not transparent markets.

Gresham’s Law applies to economic development: Bad money drives out good. Ports, bridges and other public works funded by artificially cheap capital, with poor or corrupt oversight, become boondoggles that burden states with debt, raise default risks and often stifle productive private investment. The trillions of dollars Asia needs for public works will never materialize unless private investors see reliable, non-corrupt opportunities for returns. Easy public loans that perpetuate cronyism don’t help.

One would like to ask the Journal editors where in the world they observe an efficient model of private infrastructure investment. American infrastructure is miserable compared to Asia’s newly built roads, trains and bridges, as any traveler who has the misfortune to land at JFK or O’Hare will attest. There is a reason for this: A journeyman bricklayer working on any federally-supported building project in Essex Country, New Jersey is expected to earn $67.26 an hourunder the Davis-Bacon Act. That’s $134,520 a year without overtime. American public works projects cost the moon and take forever because they are run for the benefit of the construction unions. American politicians are as terrified to touch this torpedo as their French and Italian counterparts are terrified to amend protective labor laws in their countries. New York City expects to complete its Second Avenue subway line by 2029 at a cost of $17 billion, or 22 years after ground was broken. China builds whole subway systems for cities the size of New York in a year.

Infrastructure is one of China’s great achievements. As the New York Times observed in a Sept. 13, 2013 report, China’s high-speed rail system already serves more passengers than the 54 million Americans who board domestic flights every day, and has transformed China’s economy. With 600 million Chinese migrating from the low-productivity countryside to higher-productivity employment in urban areas, the high-speed rail network has made business ventures possible that were not conceivable before.

A generation of American China-watchers is growing old waiting for China’s economy to crash. There is a parallel thesis, propounded most recently by Brookings Institution scholar David Shambaugh, that China faces a “coming crack-up” for political reasons. It is true that President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has upset a large part of China’s political elite, but that is not necessarily a sign of political weakness. On the contrary: it is hard for any constituency to oppose Xi on grounds that he has impinged on its parochial interests. Many of China’s economic reforms, moreover, force transparency upon precisely those sectors of the economy that most lent themselves to corruption. The trillion-yuan swap of provincial debt for the obligations of Local Government Financing Vehicles, for example, begins the slow process of shifting provincial infrastructure financing from locally-arranged land sales to tax-financed bonds on the Western model.

A minority of American analysts hold that China will succeed, and that its objective is world domination. That is the nub of Michael Pillsbury’s new book The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower. This I characterized as the “Fu Manchu” theory of Chinese intentions, The leading Chinese news site sina.com had a great deal of fun with this idea, and translated my notice with copies of the covers of the old Fu Manchu novels. Dr. Pillsbury, in fairness, is a serious scholar, and the sensational title of his book doubtless is due to a mercenary publisher Jonesing for impulse purchases. Nonetheless, as I wrote in Asia Times, “China is not planning to take over the world. It doesn’t want the world. It doesn’t like the world – that is, the world outside of China. Unlike Greeks, Romans, Muslims, and European imperialists, it does not want to plant its flag outside its borders, send its young men to conquer and defend new territories, or subject other peoples to colonial rule. Nonetheless, it may inherit the world, reluctantly and by default.”

What should America do in response to a rising China? It is futile and ultimately humiliating to attempt to contain China, as the Obama administration discovered in the case of the AIIB. America should do what it does best, or rather, what it used to do best: Widen the technology gap between America and the rest of the world. That gap is now closing rapidly as a new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs and scientists comes of age. It is closing in part because America’s commitment to basic R&D has faltered.

As Dr. Henry Kressel, former head of RCA Labs, and I wrote in 2013 in American Interest:

One critical but often underrated factor in productivity growth is the impact of basic R&D stemming from aerospace research and development. Between 1952 and 1964, as the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations responded to Russian development of nuclear weapons and space flight, R&D spending rose by more than an order of magnitude. During the Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter Administrations, though, Federal R&D spending grew very little. When America shifted budget priorities toward increasing Federal entitlements and funding the Vietnam War, Federal R&D spending declined. It rose, although not as fast as during the 1950s and 1960s, during the Reagan Administration under the impetus of the Strategic Defense Initiative and the rearmament program.

America’s response to Sputnik set in motion the eventual productivity recovery of the 1980s, with the fastest rate of increase of federally funded R&D in the nation’s history. It is difficult to identify the fundamental research component in overall R&D spending, to be sure, but a rough proxy is the percentage of Federal R&D spending. The Defense Department, NASA and the Department of Energy have provided a disproportionate share of funding for research with long-range objectives in basic science as opposed to incremental improvements on existing technologies. Federal R&D spending has fallen from nearly 2 percent of GDP in 1963, at the height of the Cold War and space program, to less than 1 percent during the past two decades. That may not sound like much, but as with falling infrastructure investment, 1 percent compounded over a decade or two is a very significant number.

America should be reliving the Sputnik moment of 1957, when Russia’s first space flight prompted a big shift in resources towards science education and basic R&D. America also should make it easier for foreign students (who comprise a disproportionate share of our scientific and engineering student body) to settle in the U.S. and obtain funding for new ventures. China and the United States never will be allies, and probably won’t be friends, but the world’s two largest economies can compete peacefully for the high ground of technological innovation. That’s what America once did best. If America can’t sustain its commitment to innovation, its complaints about China’s ascendance will be futile.




The Great and Powerful Ob

March 23rd, 2015 - 3:44 am

Crossposted from Asia Times


The “Wizard of Oz” is the best single-source explanation of American politics. Specialists, to be sure, will want to read the Federalist papers, de Tocqueville and the speeches of Lincoln, but the 1939 MGM movie tells most of the story. We are a nation of scarecrows without a brain, tin men without a heart, and lions without courage. Nothing is going to fix us, but the next best thing is to feel better about ourselves. A broken-down carnival huckster impersonating the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz gives our three national archetypes not what they need, but the next best thing: A phony diploma, a testimonial, and a medal. The party favors don’t help the feckless trio (the Scarecrow proceeds to recite a comically mistaken formula for the length of the sides of an isosceles triangle) but they did wonders for their self-esteem.

America is a winner’s game. America succeeds because it breeds success and ruthlessly crushes failure. A main purpose of American politics, in turn, is to make losers feel better, without, of course, preventing them from losing. No president in American history more closely resembles the Wizard than Ob the Great and Powerful, the present occupant of the Oval Office. Self-esteem is America’s consolation prize and Obama spreads it with a shovel.

Six years after America inaugurated its first African-American president, the social condition of black Americans remains dismal and appears to be deteriorating. 49% of black males have been arrested by the age of 23; a third of black males will probably spend time behind bars. 54% of black men graduate from high school vs. more than 75% of whites. Only 14% of black eighth graders score at or above the threshold of proficiency. And nearly three-quarters of black births are to unmarried mothers. On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, these are catastrophic results. Magical thinking now infects what was in the past a civil rights movement, for example the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” slogan adopted from an incident that Obama’s Justice Department proved never to have happened.

Hypocrisy of this sort plays well in America. It began with the beaten South, which lost nearly 30% of its military age in men in the Civil War, but earned a romantic image of gallantry in America’s popular culture. Claptrap like “Gone With the Wind” was the Confederacy’s consolation prize, with a revoltingly false portrait of a halcyon era of beautiful belles and elegant balls on antebellum plantations. The slaves’ descendants in their days of woe have been accorded the same, slim consolation. Rather than Scarlett and Rhett, African-Americans have rage-spewing rappers like Obama’s regular White House guest Jay-Z. Meanwhile young black men are fed into the maw of the criminal justice system. And Ob the Great and Powerful is there to hand out diplomas, testimonials and medals.

Hypocrisy is a luxury that America can afford. The number of Americans under judicial supervision (prison, probation or parole) rose from 2 million in 1980 to 7.5 million in 2008, and the violent crime rate fell correspondingly, because so many criminals were locked up. But hypocrisy is a far less effective palliative in the Middle East, now that times have gotten tougher. President Obama evinces the same concern for the supposed victims of imperialism around the world as he does for African-Americans–for example the Persians, who are less imperial victims than the rancorous remnant of a failed empire. His concern for the welfare of the Persians is almost child-like; in a sense it is child-like, for it is the concern of the child of the Bohemian anthropologist Stanley Ann Dunham, who married and divorced two Muslim men, and left young Barry with her parents while she set out to save the ironworkers of Indonesia from globalization. Here is what he broadcast to Iranians on Nowruz, the Persian New Year:

Hello!  To everyone celebrating Nowruz—across the United States and in countries around the world—Nowruz Mubarak. For thousands of years, this has been a time to gather with family and friends and welcome a new spring and a new year.  Last week, my wife Michelle helped mark Nowruz here at the White House.  It was a celebration of the vibrant cultures, food, music and friendship of our many diaspora communities who make extraordinary contributions every day here in the United States.  We even created our own Haft Seen (symbolic fruit plate), representing our hopes for the new year…As you gather around the Nowruz table—from Tehran to Shiraz to Tabriz, from the coasts of the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf—you’re giving thanks for your blessings and looking ahead to the future…As the poet Hafez wrote, “It is early spring.  Try to be joyful in your heart.  For many a flower will bloom while you will be in clay.”

There is no consolation for the Persians, however; their fertility rate has fallen from nearly 7 children per female in 1979 to just 1.6 in 2012, which means that they will have a higher proportion of elderly dependents than the United States a generation from now. After 3,000 years Persian culture has reached its best-used-by-date. The end of traditional society and the education of women has ruined it. Iran knows that it is going to die, and all the schmoozing in the world from an American president will do it no good.

The same sort of hypocrisy applies to Obama’s concern for Palestinian self-esteem. When Obama told the Huffington Post March 21 that Netanyahu had placed a strain on Israel’s democratic fabric, he did not refer merely to the prime minister’s factual campaign statement to the effect that foreign-financed campaign organizations were bringing large numbers of Arab voters to the polls. He meant (as Dana Milbank made clear in a March 22 op-ed in the Washington Post):

Without a Palestinian state, Israel can be either a Jewish state or a democracy but not both. If it annexes the Palestinian territories and remains democratic, it will be split roughly evenly between Jews and Arabs; if it annexes the territories and suppresses the rights of Arabs, it ceases to be democratic. There are roughly 4.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and another 1.4 million living inside Israel . That puts them in rough parity with Jews, who number just over 6 million. Higher Palestinian population growth and fertility rates indicate that Jews will be a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean in a few years.

This is simply false: close examination of Palestinian statistics (e.g., comparison of actual birth and school registration records against the computer model output of the Palestinian authority) shows that the Palestinian population data are inflated by about 1.4 million. With the Jewish birth rate and the Arab birth rate between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea converging on 3 children per female, there will be no significant change in relative population in the foreseeable future.

Nonetheless, what Obama means, quite simply, is that any outcome other than the establishment of a Palestinian state will be “undemocratic.” That is an act of hypocrisy Israel cannot afford. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon undertook perhaps the most hypocritical act in Israeli history, withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza in 2005. Sharon expected the result to be catastrophic, but hoped that the ensuing mess would persuade the world that Israel could not afford to give up more territory. Hypocrisy breeds hypocrisy, though, and Sharon vastly underestimated the world’s capacity to ignore the obvious.

There is an old country joke about the shtetl family that invites a poor man to Shabbat dinner. The hostess brings out a dish of whitefish, and the poor man proceeds to gobble it up. The hostess, somewhat chagrined, says gently, “Whitefish is very expensive,” to which the poor man replies, “Believe me, it’s worth it!” From the vantage point of the utopians in Obama’s camarilla—Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Valerie Jarrett and Ben Rhodes—allowing Hamas to turn Judea and Samaria into an artillery platform is worth it. They identify with failed or failing peoples, and cannot live with the knowledge that civilizations die out for the most part because they want to.

Israel’s election was in effect a referendum on the two-state solution, I argued earlier in this publication. Netanyahu had to tell the truth to his own base to persuade them to vote for him, and he told them that under foreseeable circumstances a Palestinian state simply would not happen—not while Mahmoud Abbas survives on the support of the Israeli Army, and Iran is sending weapons to Hamas, and the surrounding countries (especially Syria) have disintegrated into chaos and polarized radicalism. Israel’s national fund of hypocrisy, already depleted by Ariel Sharon’s profligacy in 2005, was exhausted.

Nothing that Mr. Netanyahu can do will placate the Great and Powerful Ob. It may be painful and in some ways damaging, but he has no choice but to ignore the man behind the curtain.

President Obama sent a video message to the Iranian people on the holiday of Nowruz, averring that his family had observed the feast in solidarity with the Persians, “the heirs to a great civilization.” He began:

Hello!  To everyone celebrating Nowruz—across the United States and in countries around the world—Nowruz Mubarak.

For thousands of years, this has been a time to gather with family and friends and welcome a new spring and a new year.  Last week, my wife Michelle helped mark Nowruz here at the White House.  It was a celebration of the vibrant cultures, food, music and friendship of our many diaspora communities who make extraordinary contributions every day here in the United States.  We even created our own Haft Seen, representing our hopes for the new year.

This year, that includes our hopes for progress between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the international community, including the United States.  So I want to take this opportunity once again to speak directly to the people and leaders of Iran.  As you gather around the Nowruz table—from Tehran to Shiraz to Tabriz, from the coasts of the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf—you’re giving thanks for your blessings and looking ahead to the future…As the poet Hafez wrote, “It is early spring.  Try to be joyful in your heart.  For many a flower will bloom while you will be in clay.”

I beg to differ: Persian culture in many respects is repugnant. The Persians are far from stupid–they invented chess–but their classical culture centers on pederasty. That is not a controversial statement, but the standard academic summary. The essay below appeared in Asia Times on Aug. 12, 2008, and I repost it below as a dissent from Obama’s fawning multiculturalism. Iran is by some measure the most dissolute nation in the world, with rates of chlamydia infection observed in different locations between 13% and 21% (vs. 0.6% in the US), and (according to Iranian health officials) a million cases of genital warts, as I reported in a recent survey. This seems related to extremely high rates of prostitution as well as the Shia institution of temporary marriage, which amounts to a form of clerically approved prostitution.

Sufism, sodomy and Satan
By Spengler

Sigmund Freud thought that everything was about sex, and he was half right. Rarely is love so spiritual that it does not also stir the loins, for human beings are creatures not only of soul but of body. Although it is thought rude to say so nowadays, different kinds of love belong to different kinds of sex. Not even Hell can resist divine love, J W Goethe showed in the funniest vignette in all literature: his devil, Mephistopheles, is disabled by an obsessive lust for the cherubs sent to claim the soul of Faust in the drama’s penultimate scene. Heavenly beauty, that is, reduces the crafty demon to a pathetic old pervert, in a tableau not fit for a family newspaper.[1]

Goethe’s creepily convincing portrait of a pederastic devil in Faust (1832) drew on the poet’s earlier study of Persian love poetry of the High Middle Ages,[2] where “as a rule, the beloved is not a woman, but a young man”, according to the leading Persian historian Ehsan Yar-Shater. Islamic mysticism (Sufism) of the High Middle Ages is the only case in which a mainstream current of a major world religion preached pederasty as a path to spiritual enlightenment. A vast literature documents this, and a great deal of it is available online.
Sufi adoration of pre-pubescent boys “persisted in many Islamic countries until very recent times,” according to the Orientalist Helmut Ritter.[3] The Afghan penchant for dancing boys in female costume, shown in the 2007 film The Kite Runner, is the last vestige of a Sufi practice that has been long suppressed by both the Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam. Sufism has a reputation in Western pop culture as a kinder and gentler branch of Islam. It is not a different kind of Islam, but rather Islam’s mystical practice, to which the adage applies, “by their fruits shall ye know them.”

Controversy persists over what is “authentic Sufism”. The Turkish organization of Fethallah Gulen claims millions of members and doubtless is the largest self-styled Sufi organization in the world. The American Sufi convert Stephen Schwartz has dismissed it as a “cult”,[4] while Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute warns that Gulen may become the Turkish Khomeini. Given Turkey’s turn towards political Islam (Turkey in the throes of Islamic revolution?, Jul 22, 2008), the world is likely to find out a great deal more about Sufism in the near future, and well may be dismayed by what it learns.

In contrast to the Judeo-Christian West, where marriage has been a metaphor for God’s love since the Biblical Song of Songs, homosexual pederasty was normative for the Sufi philosopher-poets of Islam’s golden age in Central Asia. For Christians, the earthly adumbration of God’s love was nuptial, but pederastic in Muslim Persia. The classic Persian poets, including Hafez[5] and Rumi,[6] pined for beardless boys while their European contemporaries wrote sonnets to women. Some apologists claim that the Sufi practice of “contemplation of the beardless” was a chaste spiritual exercise, but an Egyptian proverb warns: “In his father’s home a boy’s chastity is safe, but let him become a dervish [Sufi adept] and the buggers will queue up behind him.”[7]

Sufi pedophilia cannot be dismissed as a remnant of the old tribal practices that Islam often incorporated, for example, female genital mutilation. Genital mutilation is a pre-Islamic practice unknown in the ancient and modern West. Even though some Muslim authorities defend it on the basis of Hadith, no one has ever claimed that it offered a path to enlightenment. Sadly, pedophiles are found almost everywhere. In its ascendancy, Sufism made a definitive spiritual experience out of a practice considered criminally aberrant in the West. But pederasty as a spiritual exercise is not essentially different in character from the furtive practices of Western perverts. As the psychiatrists explain, pederasty is an expression of narcissism, the love of an idealized youthful self-image.

Sufism seeks one-ness with the universe through spiritual exercises that lead individual consciousness to dissolve into the cosmos. But nothing is more narcissistic than the contemplation of the cosmos, for if we become one with the cosmos, what we love in the cosmos is simply an idealized image of ourselves. An idealized self-image is also what attracts the aging lecher to the adolescent boy. That is the secret of Sufi as well as other pederasty, for pederasty is an extreme expression of self-love. That is the conventional psychiatric view; Freud for example wrote of the “basic narcissism of the vast majority of pederasts … proceeding as from narcissism, they seek their own image in young people.”

Sufism enjoys a faddish ripple of interest in America, where self-admiration is the national pastime. As opposed to the Biblical God, the cosmos is an unthreatening thing to worship. The universe, after all, is no one in particular, and those who seek to merge their consciousness with no one in particular at the end are left alone with themselves. Worship the cosmos, and you worship yours truly; worship yourself, and it is not unusual to adore your own idealized image.

I do not mean to suggest that Sufis today are more likely to be pederasts than members of any other religious denomination. Sadly, there is brisk competition in that field. Karen Armstrong, the popular writer on religion, claims to be a Sufi, and I have it on good authority that she is not a pederast. Non-Muslims who embrace Sufism view it as a generic form of “spirituality”, like Madonna’s dabbling in what she thinks is Kabbalah. That recalls the joke about the Chinese waiter in a kosher restaurant who speaks perfect Yiddish, of whom the owner says, “He thinks he’s learning English.” No one should blame Hafez or Rumi for the casual interest of American spiritual tourists.

Nonetheless, it is not entirely by accident that Sufism holds a fascination for self-absorbed young Americans who dislike the demands placed upon them by revealed faith. Mysticism of this genre provides a pretext to worship one’s self in the masquerade of the universe. As Rumi (1207-1273), the most revered of the Sufi philosopher-poets, said of his own spiritual master,

Why should I seek? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!

I do not speak Persian and cannot comment on the aesthetic quality of Rumi’s verse, which connoisseurs hold to be elegant. Its content, though, reduces to the same God-is-everywhere-and-all-I-have-to-do-is-look-inside-myself sort of platitudes of pop spirituality, for example,

I searched for God among the Christians and on the Cross and therein I found Him not.
I went into the ancient temples of idolatry; no trace of Him was there.

Then I directed my search to the Kaaba, the resort of old and young; God was not there even.
Turning to philosophy I inquired about him from ibn Sina but found Him not within his range.
I fared then to the scene of the Prophet’s experience of a great divine manifestation only a ‘two bow-lengths’ distance from him’ but God was not there even in that exalted court.
Finally, I looked into my own heart and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else.

If the point of love is to dissolve one’s self into the All, then there is no difference between the self and the All; the self and the All are the same, and one loves one’s self. There is no Other in Sufism, only your own ego grinning back from the universe. To embrace the cosmos implies the destruction of individuality. In Goethe’s drama, Faust conjures up the personification of the cosmos, the Earth Spirit, and cannot bear to look upon it; the Earth Spirit dismisses him with the epigram, “You are like the spirit whom you comprehend – not me!” Woe betide the adept who succeeds in merging his mind with the universe: he would become a monster, like Mephistopheles, the consummate nihilist.
Love of the cosmos reduces to idolatrous love of self. It is a radically different sort of love than the love of YHWH or Jesus, who are distinct beings with a personality, even if incomprehensible in their totality. The Judeo-Christian God is known to humankind by revelation, and specifically self-revelation through love. The revealed God seeks the love of humankind as an Other. Revelation does not reassure us that the Divine was in our hearts all along. It is not always a pleasant experience. It burns our lips like the kiss of a seraph, and casts our heart into the refiner’s fire. It shatters, burns, overwhelms and transforms us – but it does not dissolve us into a cosmic soup. On the contrary: it enhances our individual personality. Precisely because it reinforces our individuality, love in the Judeo-Christian world can be a very painful experience.

To Christians and Jews, God reveals himself as a personality, and through acts of love – the Exodus and the Resurrection. There is no such event in Islam. Allah does not reveals himself, that is, descend to earth; instead, he sends down from heaven his instruction manual, namely the Koran. Allah remains unknown, and ultimately indistinguishable from the nature in which he is embedded. Confronted by this absolutely transcendental entity the individual human personality shrivels into insignificance.

Mystical communion with an unrevealed and unknowable God demands the sort of star- and navel-gazing that brings the communicant right back to good old number one. Just as Rumi said, it’s all inside you, like the self-help books say. And that brings us back to the matter of pederasty.

Men and women are so different that the experience of heterosexual love is analogous to the spiritual encounter with the divine Other. Love is as strong as death, says the Song of Songs:

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.

It is not only the passion of love that challenges death, but the fruit of love, the birth of children, that keeps death at bay. Nature appears to have arranged matters so that these two presentiments of immortality occur together. The Judeo-Christian God becomes the partner of human lovers: “Lovers could not love if they did not have an ally against death, if the only certainty were the grave and silence,” writes Michael Wyschogrod. Anyone who has been in love with someone of the opposite sex knows precisely what I am talking about. Those who have not may consult the Song of Songs, for example:

The love of bride and bridegroom is not quite the same thing as the love of God and his congregation, but the passion as strong as death that unites men and women is analogous to the encounter with the Other in the person of God.

On the extreme opposite of the spiritual spectrum, we encounter pederasty as the foundational experience of Sufism. According to Wikipedia,

As a Sufi practice of spiritual realization and union with the godhead, the meditation known in Arabic as Nazar ila’l-murd, “contemplation of the beardless,” or Shahed-bazi, “witness play” in Persian has been practiced from the earliest years of Islam. It is seen as an act of worship intended to help one ascend to the absolute beauty that is God through the relative beauty that is a boy.

The medieval Persians were not the first to practice the higher sodomy. The Greeks of the 6th century BC preferred young boys, procreating out of patriotic habit while their women closed their eyes and thought of Athens. Adoration of youth is a very different way to capture from love a sense of immortality. In Greek legend the gods turned Narcissus into a flower to punish his pride in refusing male suitors. Pederasty thus was present at the origin of the concept of narcissism.

The medieval Persians surpassed the Greeks in enthusiasm. Hafez, widely considered the greatest Persian poet, wrote such verses as

My sweetheart is a beauty and a child, and I fear that in play one day
He will kill me miserably and he will not be accountable according to the holy law.
I have a fourteen year old idol, sweet and nimble
For whom the full moon is a willing slave.
His sweet lips have (still) the scent of milk
Even though the demeanor of his dark eyes drips blood. (Divan, no 284)

And about the Magian baccha:

If the wine-serving magian boy would shine in this way
I will make a broom of my eyelashes to sweep the entrance of the tavern. (Divan, no 9)

Hafez is typical of the Muslim philosopher-poets of the epoch. Ehsan Yar-Shater wrote:

As a rule, the beloved [in medieval Persian poetry] is not a woman, but a young man. In the early centuries of Islam, the raids into Central Asia produced many young slaves. Slaves were also bought or received as gifts. They were made to serve as pages at court or in the households of the affluent, or as soldiers and body-guards. Young men, slaves or not, also, served wine at banquets and receptions, and the more gifted among them could play music and maintain a cultivated conversation. It was love toward young pages, soldiers, or novices in trades and professions which was the subject of lyrical introductions to panegyrics from the beginning of Persian poetry, and of the ghazal.[8]

As noted, it is tempting to dismiss the pederasty of the Sufi philosopher-poets as a cultural artifact of traditional society, along with the mystical practice of “contemplation of the beardless”. This would obscure rather than shed light, however, for three reasons.

The first is that traditional society is precisely what revelation seeks to temper. The Hebrew Bible abjures pagan practices, just as Mohammed inveighs against the pagans. Yet we do not find a single instance of a Hebrew poet celebrating homosexuality until, of course, late 20th-century Tel Aviv. Classic Persian and Arab literature ooze with it. Islam could not extirpate a pederastic culture including virtually all the leading poets of the high Middle Ages except by suppressing the Sufi cults. There were a number of reasons that both the Sunni and Shia mainstream persecuted Sufism, but a prominent one was the cited practice called “contemplation of the beardless” in which the dervish sought communion with the eternal by immersing himself in the beauty of adolescent boys.

Second, the same sort of people who reject the demands of “organized religion” in favor of “free spirituality” have made the defense of homosexuality the Shibboleth of their generation. Speak out against gay marriage in the United States, and you have made yourself a pariah in any of the strongholds of liberalism, especially university campuses. I do not believe in criminalizing adult homosexuality, any more than I believe that a heterosexual chosen at random is necessarily a better person than a homosexual chosen at random. But the experience of divine love reflected in the love of men and women and their children is the foundation of society, and gay marriage would have dreadful consequences.

Third, pederasty has become a plague in parts of the West, and widespread abuse of children has occasioned a crisis in the Catholic Church. It is hard to avoid the impression that sexual misbehavior is associated with a retreat from faith in a personal God, namely the Jesus who lived on earth and was crucified and was resurrected, in favor of a mushy and unspecific spirituality – something like Sufism, in fact. Perhaps the same link between spiritual and sexual narcissism is at work in the West.

1. Mephistopheles addresses the boy angels (in Tony Kline’s translation online):

What wretched luck, and dire!
Is this Love’s own element?
My whole body’s bathed in fire,
I scarcely feel, my head’s so burnt. –
You float to and fro, sink down a while,
Move your sweet limbs with earthly guile:
True, a grave expression suits you well,
But I’d still like to see you smile a little!
That would be an eternal delight to me.
Like the lovers’ mutual glance, you see:
A simper round the mouth, is how it’s done,
You, the tall lad, you could make me love you,
The priest’s pose doesn’t really suit you,
So show a little lust, and look hereon!
You could be more modestly naked too,
That robe’s long hem, so demure in its rising –
They turn away – and seen from the rear view –
Those rascals now are really appetising!

See http://www.tonykline.co.uk/klineasfaust.htm

2. The West-Ostlicher Divan of 1814

3. See The Ocean of the Soul: Man, the World, and God in the Stories of Farid Al-Din Attar, by Hellmut Ritter, John O’Kane, Bernd Radtke (Brill: New York 2003), p 516 et seq. Ritter quotes a 1936 travelogue from Albania: “Still another oddity: among the Albanians there is ‘love of beauty’. Fifty to sixty people are united through love for a beautiful youth. Quite frequently they ask the father’s permission in the morning, take the boy with them and have him sit on a table. Everyone sits in front of him and gazes at him admiringly for hours. These youths are called dilber. They’re dressed up like a girl, ie, with finger rings, a pleated silk shirt … silk sash and a small hat tilted to one side …” Comments Ritter, “Since Albania from far back in time has been a home for Sufi orders, it is not far-fetched to assume that the described practice is also of Sufi origin.”

4. http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=10273

5. Khwaja Samsu d-Din Muhammad Hafez-e Sirazi, flourished 14th century

6. Mawlana Jalal-ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi, 1207-1273

7. Wikipedia entry, “Pederasty in the Islamic World.”

8. Yar-Shater, Ehsan. 1986. Persian Poetry in the Timurid and Safavid Periods, in Cambridge History of Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1986, pp 973-974.

AP Image

AP Image

It’s time to have a national conversation about one of the most sensitive, controversial issues in American culture, the stain on our national honor: Coffee. American coffee is now and always has been revolting, and it behooves us to look deep into our souls to understand why we overpay for muck at Starbucks. There’s a sucker born every minute, and he’s almost certain to be American. We are boosters, enthusiasts, tent-evangelicals, fly-by-nighters, snake-oil salesmen and honky-tonkers as a people, and get swindled every time. Now, to tell a man that his coffee is disgusting is just a tad less offensive than explaining that his wife really is a shaved chimpanzee. Next to one’s spouse, nothing gets under our skin and into our soul like coffee. It’s the one thing we ingest daily for which there is no substitute, and without which the day hardly seems worth enduring. To get snookered over coffee is a sad thing to admit, but we have to start our great national dialogue somewhere. Back in 2003 I argued in dead seriousness that lousy coffee was a characteristic flaw of American culture:

Writing of English culture, the poet and critic T S Eliot famously described it as follows: “The reader must remind himself as the author has constantly to do, of how much is here embraced by the term culture. It includes all the characteristic activities and interests of a people: Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August [the start of the grouse shooting season], a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, 19th century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar.”

After the fashion of Eliot, I have complied my own list of characteristic features of American culture [including] Burnt coffee at exorbitant prices. The most popular cafe chain, whose name decent people do not pronounce, burns its coffee beans to produce what Americans mistakenly believe is an authentic European taste. Proper coffee, by which of course I mean Italian coffee, is bittersweet, not burned. Americans evidently hate the wretched stuff because they drown its flavor in a flood of milk, in the so-called “latte”, something I never have observed an Italian request during many years of travel in that country. By contrast, Italians drink cappuccino, mixing a small amount of milk into the coffee and leaving a cap of foam. If Americans do not like it, why do they buy it at exorbitant prices? They do so precisely because the high price makes it a luxury, but an affordable one for secretaries and shopgirls.

I am now free to admit that the coffee chain to which I referred was Starbucks, which burns low-grade coffee beans in order to persuade its customers that they are drinking something sophisticated and European. Because the flavor is unpleasant, Americans saturate it with milk.

It’s time to address this national disgrace. The next time you meet a Starbucks barista, start a serious conversation: does he or she have no shame in foisting this fraud upon the American public? How can we as a people maintain our self-esteem if we pay top dollar for the excrescence of incinerated low-grade coffee beans? Take the time to have this important conversation and to save our national soul.


Related at PJ Lifestyle: “The 3 Most Hilarious Comments Responding to Spengler’s Anti-Starbucks Rant

The Kingdom of Judea?

March 19th, 2015 - 5:14 am

Ha’aretz columnist Ravit Hecht had the following tantrum after Israel’s elections:

Israel is galloping toward an anti-democratic binational future saturated with hatred and racism….Israel will sink into international, academic and economic isolation…Israel will not be a liberal democracy but rather another failing state in the Middle East…Even though nearly half the people chose otherwise and flexed every muscle to create some hope for the continuation of the Zionist dream, the right-wing half, the settler and religious half, forced on us a nightmarish government in which a cynical racist like Lieberman might still be defense minister…The Israeli people don’t want peace — amid all the incitement they’re afraid. They don’t want to live in a liberal and democratic Western country. They want to live in the Kingdom of Judea, whose fate is known. This wish must not be honored.

Since Ms. Hecht raises the issue, I should like to say that there is a very good case for Israel to become a Jewish kingdom, that is, a constitutional monarchy that underpins parliamentary government. Just such a model was proposed by the great Jewish philosopher Michael Wyschogrod. Prof. Wyschogrod wrote in 2010 in First Things magazine:

The crowning of an actual Davidic monarch today would require prophecy to select the proper person. In the absence of prophecy, this is impossible”and the sages of Israel declared almost two thousand years ago that prophecy was gone from Israel. Israel nonetheless can be declared a Davidic monarchy without a reigning king. This action would build into the self-understanding of the state of Israel the messianic hope of the Jewish people, while excluding a messianic interpretation of the present state of Israel.

The solution that I propose is by no means unusual for a constitutional monarchy. It is a common occurrence in monarchy that no king is present or that the present king cannot rule, for example, due to youth. In such situations, a regent is appointed as a placeholder for a king. Such a placeholder can either be appointed or elected. A regent safeguarding the Throne of David until such time that divine intervention identifies the rightful heir to the Davidic kingdom would thus assume the functions now performed by Israel’s president, the symbolic head of state.

It would be quite possible for Israel’s parliament to elect the regent who safeguards the throne just as it now elects Israel’s president. None of the other mechanisms of parliamentary democracy in Israel would need to change. What is important is not the specific mechanism by which the Israeli polity might choose a regent, but, rather, for Israel to understand itself as a monarchy, albeit one without a reigning king.

This would acknowledge God’s will that Israel be ruled by the House of David, and it would define the Jewish character of the Israeli state. If we concede that any constitutional constraints on popular sovereignty derive from an authority higher than the people, we must conclude that a constitution uniquely suited to a Jewish state should embody the political form through which this higher authority has been manifest in the Jewish concept of polity for the past three thousand years. To be a constitutionally Jewish state, Israel must understand itself as a monarchy temporarily without a king.

Such a constitutional monarchy is quite as compatible with modern parliamentary democracy as are the monarchies of Holland and England. But there would remain a fundamental difference between Israel and the European monarchies, which exist as a matter of historical happenstance. For Israel to establish its claim to be a Jewish state”the core issue of contention between Israel and many of its Muslim neighbors”it must do so in the unique way specified by the Bible and the undivided view of Jewish tradition.

Full disclosure: I solicited and edited Prof. Wyschogrod’s essay, one of his last (and in my view one of his best) before his retirement. I am a die-hard small-d democrat, but democracy itself is possible only in the presence of higher principles. In a Jewish state, it is possible to embody these principles in a royal stewardship for the House of David, for whose restoration devout Jews have prayed thrice daily for the past two thousand years.

Update: It’s disappointing to see qualified, sheepish support for Netanyahu from the likes of the Wall Street Journal, which today wrote: “But in the closing days Mr. Netanyahu played up that foreigners (read: President Obama) wanted him defeated, and he rejected statehood for Palestinians, reversing a position he had taken in 2009. The reversal gave the impression of opportunism, even desperation, but it also rallied conservative voters who had hinted at growing “Bibi fatigue” after his long tenure as premier.” Opportunism? On the contrary, Netanyahu finally told the truth. Concludes the Journal: “Israel’s raucous democracy is imperfect, like America’s, but it is the only reliable one in the bloody cauldron of the Middle East.”

Ha’aretz explains the discrepancy between the Israeli polls and the outcome as follows: “[Netanyahu] won this election by convincing over 200,000 voters who were planning to vote for Habayit Hayehudi, Shas, Kulanu and Yahad to change their minds in the last six days of the campaign.” Why did they switch? The answer is simple and obvious: Most of those small-party voters oppose a Palestinian state, and Netanyahu ruled out a Palestinian state on his watch a day before the election. Outside of the Eurocentric secular elite in Tel Aviv, most Israeli voters look at the chaos in the Muslim world and draw the obvious conclusion that a Palestinian State would be absorbed into the maelstrom of extremism surrounding it, and turn into an artillery platform for terrorists. Last July I argued in Tablet magazine that it’s not the settlers, but the “unsettlers” (ISIS and Iran) who have forced a one-state solution on Israel. Netanyahu went through the motions of diplomacy until Monday in order to maintain correct relations with Washington. That pushed the one-state vote out to minor parties. Once Netanyahu acknowledged the obvious, 200,000 minor party voters came back to Likud.

Netanyahu has decided, with some justification, that he might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb. His disagreement with the Obama administration is not about the best way to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Obama administration views Iran as a positive force with benign motives: the Director of National Intelligence’s Threat Assessment speaks of “Iran’s intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia,” and dismisses Iran’s threat to regional stability as mere “secondary consequences” of its support for Shia communities. Iranian official propaganda quotes it with enthusiasm. And after the appointment of Robert Malley as the Middle East Coordinator for the White House–the man Obama kicked out of its 2008 campaign because of his close ties to Hamas–Netanyahu has little to lose in terms of good will.

We now read that the White House will abandon Israel to the wolves at the United Nations. The political damage to the Democrats will be extensive, but less than one might guess at first glance: the majority of American Jews will continue to choose liberal utopianism over Israeli security. Leftwing Jewish outlets like The Forward echo the cri de coeur  of the Israeli left: the “Zionist dream” of socialist equality and religious harmony is dead, and Bibi is its gravedigger. That corpse has been high for some some time, but no matter. The West is choking on its own illusions and hypocrisy; Israel once again may become an Asian nation.

Each for its own reasons, the world’s major powers have decided to accept Iran as a regional hegemon, I wrote March 4 in Asia Times, leaving Israel and the Sunni Arabs in isolated opposition. The global consensus on behalf of Iranian hegemony is now coming clearly into focus. Although the motivations of different players are highly diverse, there is a unifying factor driving the consensus: the Obama administration’s determination to achieve a strategic rapprochement with Tehran at any cost. America’s competitors are constrained to upgrade their relations with Iran in order to compete with Washington.

The Obama administration’s assessment of Iran’s intentions is so positive that Iranian official sources quote it in their own propaganda.  As Jeryl Bier observed at the Weekly Standard, the just-released Threat Assessment report of the director of National Intelligence makes no mention of Iran’s support for terrorism, in stark contrast to the explicit citation of Iranian terrorism in the three prior annual reports. The omission of Iran’s terrorist activities is noteworthy. What the report actually says is even more disturbing. It praises Iran with faint damn:

Despite Iran’s intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia, Iranian leaders—particularly within the security services—are pursuing policies with negative secondary consequences for regional stability and potentially for Iran. Iran’s actions to protect and empower Shia communities are fueling growing fears and sectarian responses.

Iran supposedly is doing its best to “dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia” — complete and utter falsehood. Iran is infiltrating Saudi Arabia’s Shi’te-majority Eastern Province (also its most oil rich) to agitate against Saudi control, and sponsored a coup against a Saudi-allied regime in Yemen. The report attributes nothing but good intentions to the Tehran regime, and worries only that its policies will have “negative secondary consequences” due to its (understandable, of course) efforts to “protect and power Shia communities.” Iran’s primary motivation, in the administration’s view, is to be a good neighbor and a fountain of good will. Neville Chamberlain never said such nice things about Hitler.

A sign of Saudi Arabia’s waning influence was Pakistan’s decision March 15 to refuse a Saudi request for Pakistani troops to deploy on its border with Yemen, now controlled by pro-Iranian Houthi rebels. A senior Pakistani official told the local press, “Pakistan would not rush to join the anti-Iran alliance that is being forged,” in the wake of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia last week. “We cannot afford to involve ourselves in the disputes among the Muslim countries,” the official said, adding that Pakistan could spare no additional troops for Saudi Arabia.

That is a serious rebuff for Riyadh, which reportedly financed Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program as a last-ditch guarantee of its own security. As Akhilesh Pillalamarri wrote March 12 in The Diplomat, “Pakistan may be Saudi Arabia’s best bet for a strong long-term security guarantee”:

Pakistan has long had a close relationship with Saudi Arabia and has been involved in protecting that country and the House of Saud. Pakistan has much friendlier relations with Iran than Saudi Arabia does, but ultimately it is more dependent on Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, for example, gave oil to Pakistan in 1998 to help Pakistan weather international sanctions against it for conducting a nuclear test. The Saudis also saved Nawaz Sharif after he was overthrown in a coup in 1999, and he is thus beholden to them.

Pakistan may have been Saudi Arabia’s best bet, but it is a bet that has not paid off. Pakistan is not beholden enough, it appears: Pakistan also is beholden to both the United States and China. The right question to ask is whether Washington intervened with Pakistan to block the Saudi proposal. And China, as I reported in my March 2 analysis, has decided that Iranian regional hegemony is the least bad alternative for the time being. China’s overriding concern is the security of its energy supplies, and it wants to avoid a full-dress Sunni-Shi’ite war in the region. Until early 2014 China thought it could rely on the United States to guarantee energy security in the Persian Gulf. With America’s strategic withdrawal from the region and the rise of ISIS, China has found itself without an American guarantee and without the resources to assert its own security interests. China’s shift towards Iran reflects these considerations.

Another issue for China, Paul Nash and Reza Akhlaghi wrote in the Diplomatic Courier March 16, is that “the rise of militant Sunni Islam is aligning China’s interests with Iran’s.” Nash and Akhlaghi argue:

The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has thus emerged as a new component of the Chinese security calculus. Beijing is worried that the rise and spread of Sunni militant Islam so close to its borders, including neighboring former Soviet “Stan” countries of Central Asia, will kindle radical elements in Xinjiang. Sunni militant Islam also threatens to become a strategic and an ideological nightmare for China’s massive and unprecedented multi-billion dollar investments from Xinjiang westward across Central Asia, the linchpin of Beijing’s future vision of energy security and economic development. Sunni radicalism could hinder, if not derail, the realization of Beijing’s Silk Road Belt initiative, presenting a major obstacle to building out a vast overland transcontinental transportation and energy infrastructure.

In an effort to maintain stability in Xinjiang, China has set about strengthening ties with Turkey. But this is no easy task. According to a Pew Research Center poll published last July, Turkey has the most unfavorable view of China amongst the Middle Eastern countries surveyed, with 69 percent of Turks expressing a negative opinion of China, and 57 percent saying that China’s growing economy is not good for Turkey.

And so China gravitates increasingly towards Iran, which it believes can act as a buffer zone against the eastward advance of Sunni radical Islam.

Reality is a bit more complex: China envisions Turkey as a terminus for the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, but it also rankles at covert Turkish support for Chinese Uyghurs. Contrary to Nash and Akhlaghi, China will continue to balance relations between Iran on the one hand and the Saudis and Turks on the other, but it does not want to confront Iran at a moment when Iran provides an important counterweight to ISIS in Iraq, a growing source of Chinese oil imports.

If militant Sunni Islam is an important (if not dominant) concern for China, it is a primary concern for both India and Russia. Russia’s problems in the Caucasus lie with Sunni rather than Shi’ite Muslims. ISIS’ success has inspired copycat terrorists in Russia such as the Caucasus Emirate. An estimated 2,500 Muslims from Chechnya and elsewhere in the Caucasus have joined ISIS, and ISIS has declared its intention to “liberate” the Caucasus from Russian control. Russia warned the West a year ago that it would align with Iran to punish the West over the Ukraine conflict.

For India, an increase in Iran’s influence represents a distraction for its main opponent Pakistan, which is 80% Sunni and shares a border with Iran in fractious Baluchistan. India may not relish the prospect of Iran as a nuclear power, but it has no more sense of urgency about this than does Israel about North Korean nuclear weapons. China does not want a nuclear arms race in the Persian Gulf, but it needs time to develop a policy response independent of the United States. Washington’s embrace of Tehran has made Iranian regional hegemony the path of least resistance. For the time being, it’s Iran’s show.