Belmont Club

The True Lie

Michael Totten writes that Tunisian secularists believe that Tunisia is coming under the heel of radical Islamists and that the administration is helping them do it. After speaking to a number of prominent intellectuals and leaders in that country they’ve told him:

The Americans are with the Islamists. They support Ennahda in Tunisia and the Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia.

I’ve heard this complaint from every single secular person I’ve interviewed in this country without exception, from academics and democratic activists to journalists and teachers. They seem to be unanimously shocked and dismayed and appalled. The subject comes up again and again in conversation even when I ask about other things. It’s impossible to spend any time here whatsoever without hearing about it.

‘The Americans are with the Islamists’. How could that be? But the Tunisians should not be shocked, though they may be appalled. This is what “leading from behind” really means. It is the Madison Avenue name for a cynical policy of accomodation with whomever rises to the top. And the administration has, for the time being, decided that Islamism is the region’s future. Power and money can always get on the bus. Righteousness without a fare goes under it. If the secularists want a friend in Washington, then they should buy a dog.

That’s exactly what the Islamists have done; funding chairs in academic institutions to make their cause respectable and by high powered advocacy efforts. That atmosphere makes it possible for the New York Times, for example, to argue in an op-ed that in “to save Israel, boycott the settlements”.

That’s pretty good, and Peter Beinart, the op-ed author, should be congratulated on having the gall to use it.  After all, the expression’s great grand-daddy was “we destroyed the town in order to save it”, an expression since attributed to Peter Arnett and whose attribution to sources is in dispute to this day. But it’s the same idea: save Israel from itself by compressing itself into the smallest possible perimeter and hoping the enemy has no artillery, or better yet that your moral defense shield will deflect it.  Beinart argues that precisely because Israel is less bad then more pressure should be put upon it.

For their part, American Jewish organizations might argue that it is unfair to punish Israeli settlements when there are worse human rights offenses in the world and when Palestinians still commit gruesome terrorist acts. But settlements need not constitute the world’s worst human rights abuse in order to be worth boycotting. After all, numerous American cities and organizations boycotted Arizona after it passed a draconian immigration law in 2010.

What Beinart fails to say, but which Michael Totten’s article clearly illuminates, is that it simply shifts the dirt around. The first lesson of the Arab Spring is that there are many more tyrants in the region than Israel and second that is America will inevitably be called upon to save the victims of transferring populations from the control of one dictator to another.

Didn’t America have to save the Libyans from Khadaffy? Isn’t it now being asked to protect the Syrians from Assad? How long before the Egptians will have to be protected from the same people who assaulted Lara Logan.  That’s iteration 1 of many. Let’s write it out:

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And as for Tunisia — well read Michael Totten.

So, boycott Israel so that the areas occupied by the settlments can be placed under the power of Hamas or Fatah. What could go wrong with that?  Beinart paints himself into a corner without even knowing it. “If Israel makes the occupation permanent and Zionism ceases to be a democratic project, Israel’s foes will eventually overthrow Zionism itself.”

But if Zionism were so bad that it has to be removed, then why not be rid of Zionism now and put everyone under the overlordship of the Palestinian Authority, whatever that might be? Answer: see Arab Spring.

As long as the Leading from Behind consists solely in handing over whole populations to the most powerful thugs in the region, no amount of word-craft, no magic of phraseology can ever disguise its true nature. It is just another name for the cynical betrayal of oppressed populations to interest groups who have represented themselves well in Washington.

Michael Totten continues his description of what it feels to be like on the receiving end of Washington’s vast and cynical carelessness.

I met with Zeyneb Farhat, director of Tunisia’s national theater, El Teatro.

“Most journalists in the West,” I said, “describe Ennahda as a moderate party in almost every single article about this country.”

“These are not serious people,” she said. “They have no idea what they are talking about. Ennahda is not moderate. Let me tell you, nobody at the United States Embassy in Tunisia was informed. Nobody. That’s why Hillary Clinton twice told Ennahda that their merchandise is not what was sold a few months ago in order to get support from the American administration.

“We’re closely following all the declarations of the people in government. Two days ago the minister of the interior was speaking more to Hillary Clinton than to the people of Tunisia when he said, ‘Nobody is above the law and the Salafists will be punished.’ But they’re not. Of course they’re not. He was lying. Just a few days ago there was a demonstration in front of the parliament by Salafists carrying the black flag and demanding the implementation of Sharia law. Officials from Ennahda were with them. We are not children. We know how to read signs.”

Well Zeyneb, it all depends on which signs you want to read. Claudia Rossett noted that US diplomats stood by and watched at the UN while the Human Rights Council “unanimously adopted a report praising the human rights record of none other than the late Libyan tyrant, Muammar Qaddafi.” This is the same Human Rights Council that let Iranian delegates accredited to wander around and intimidate dissidents. The very same council which is urging Sri Lanka to investigate the possible war crime of defeating the Tamil Tigers.

Nothing written on a sign necessarily has to bear any relationship with anything. “Leading from behind” and “boycotting the settlements in order to save Israel” are phrases which may be the opposite of what they say. Maybe the best attitude to adopt in every case where someone comes and says, “I’m from the administration and am here to help you” is to think to yourself, ‘now you are on your own’.

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