Thursday, July 8, 2010

Netanyahu in his own words, at the Council of Foreign Relations

A speech by and Q&A with Israeli PM Netanyahu from this afternoon at the Council on Foreign Relations in NYC.

As Allison Hoffman at Tablet described his U.S. trip, "The intended effect of all this is to present Netanyahu—an American-educated speaker of faultless English—and, by extension, Israel, as friendly, reasonable, and familiar. Which necessarily raises the question: What took so long?"


Walter Russell Mead on why American intellectuals have become part of the problem rather than the solution

Mead reflects on his transition from the Council of Foreign Relations and the think-tank world to online journalism and undergraduate education. As a young academic in the social sciences, I could not agree more with Mead's diagnosis of what ails the intellectual class, our purported "experts" on political life.  Avoiding both extremes to which intellectuals are vulnerable--irrelevance on the one hand and ideological activism on the other--is not easy under any circumstances, but today's intellectual class (my own field of political theory as guilty as any) somehow manages to be both irrelevant and ideological at the same time. 

If the country has never been so rich in policy institutes and policy scholars producing policy positions and policy papers, we don’t seem to be doing so well when it comes to adopting and sticking to good policies.  Our capacity for sensible public discussions about our alternatives, and our ability to produce and elect leaders who understand the world we live in also look weak.  This isn’t just a criticism of the Obama administration; the Bush and the Clinton administrations were both better at rhetoric than at policy.  Increasingly I’m drawn to the conclusion that the weak links in the American foreign (and domestic) policy processes reflect weaknesses in the way we train and prepare people for this kind of work and more generally in the relationship of intellectuals to American society overall.
 As someone who has worked and hopes to keep working in the three major groups of institutions where American intellectuals are most active (the academy, ’serious’ journalism and publishing, and policy institutes or think tanks), I find that the relations among these institutions and between all of them and the educated lay public are shifting in complex and not always helpful ways.  The problems we face cannot simply be addressed by writing more and better policy papers in think tanks; we need to prepare for big changes in the institutions where intellectuals work, in the way that intellectuals understand their role in society, and in the way that intellectuals are formed.
The rise of the think tank world (the Council on Foreign Relations alone has gone from about maybe one dozen senior fellows when I joined to several times that today) partly reflects a crisis in the universities.  A generation ago, university professors were the country’s repository of talent for most policy matters, foreign and domestic.  Henry Kissinger was teaching at Harvard before he joined the Nixon Administration.  Partly as a result of the Vietnam War, which created an entire generation of academics who believed that to serve the American government was to betray the purity of the scholarly calling, and partly as the result of academic pressures for ever narrower specialization and ever more emphasis on theoretical constructs, the universities have become less and less relevant to the policy process.  (Law schools and economics departments are the principal exceptions to the rule.)  Great scholars with global reputations like Joe Nye at Harvard can still move between the academy and government, but each generation is finding that harder to do.
The rise of think tanks reflects many forces, including the interest of ideological or economic special interests to collect and promote 'stables' of thinkers who will reliably produce work that reflects a given worldview.  But the reason think tanks have become so valuable in the government and policy world is because a gap grew up that needed to be filled.  The academy has abdicated its former role of providing comfortable resting places for out of power (or preparing for power) policy thinkers.  The political studies and international relations departments of many leading universities are becoming places for introspective, sometimes naval-gazing study aimed chiefly at clarifying and reflecting on the terms of debate and the scholarly discourse; the think tanks have emerged to host extroverted study aimed primarily at changing the external world.  This is not, I think, a particularly elegant, cost-effective or intellectually fruitful way of organizing American intellectual life or of teaching young people, but there it is.

...In the late Middle Ages many monkish scholars pursued ever finer theological distinctions and arguments as the church rotted away in gross corruption and society moved beyond the ideas and institutions that had once served it well.  Something like that seems to be happening today in the United States; it’s not a good trend.

...Many Americans come out of the higher educational system with a combination of detailed knowledge about a specific subject area and quite naive and simplistic ideological views.  Simplistic ideas about ‘nation building’, the relationship of development and democracy, the nature of democracy and both the nature and direction of the historical process itself are widespread among American policymakers and even more prevalent among the bureaucrats and experts who staff large government institutions.  Quite responsible people sometimes have shockingly crude ideas about the relationship of power to ideals in history, the nature of a liberal international order, and the relationship of culture and history to contemporary politics not only in the United States but around the world.

Like the urban planners of past generations who devastated whole cities by building vast projects that ignored the human factor, many of the people who think about policy in this country are in the grip of great theoretical abstractions and are poorly prepared to manage the inevitable problems when the grand concept meets the friction and resistance of history and human reality.  The ambitious globalism of the Clinton administration, the Bush administration’s dash for democracy and the Obama administration’s liberal internationalism are very different approaches intellectually speaking, but they share a common abstraction from the real world...

 The individuals who try to apply these caricatured ideals to history aren’t stupid; they are often extremely intelligent.  But the educational system that created them and the intellectual life and discourse that has surrounded them have failed to prepare them for their tasks.  We are failing to provide what in an earlier post I called the που στω, or ’standing place’ (as in “Give me a lever and a place on which I can stand, and I will move the world”): a vision of culture and history that enables someone to see far, reflect broadly, think deeply and communicate clearly about the major issues of the day.

See the whole thing at The American Interest Online.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Today's big question in soccer politics: to root for the Germans or not to root?

Diaa Hadid of the Associated Press reported last week on the ease with which many Israelis have in cheering on Team Germany in the World Cup.  It's a good story.

I'll root for Germany today against los Espanish, but I'm for the Low Countries in the final (presuming Germany wins today, which is presumptuous).


The NYTimes and its Cynically-Timed Non-News about American NGOs and the West Bank: politics by other means

The only "news" conveyed in the ridiculously long lede piece from yesterday's NY Times is the paper's decision to publish the piece on the day Netanyahu came to DC for a much-awaited meeting with Obama.  The story is so stale that anti-Zionist bloggers are not sure whether to be pleased with or resentful of the Times for publishing the story as "news" just now--and without giving them credit to boot!

As Uriel Heilman notes, when Abbas came to town, the Times said nothing about the PA's failure to end state-sponsored incitement against Israel and the Jewish people, a stipulation of previous agreements.  Yet  the paper apparently considers its journalistic responsibilities to include fomenting tensions between the U.S. and Israel precisely on the day when the two governments are trying to solidify relations. 

And while I am extremely suspicious of conspiracy theories, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Times' staff members are participating in the (demonstrably) coordinated efforts of far-left Jewish organizations in Israel to challenge the 501c3 status of other Jewish organizations they don't like. Much of the information in the Times story, and the angle taken, parrots the multi-year campaign of Gush Shalom and others to lobby the IRS to de-tax-exempt the competition. It's not just charities funding rec centers and bullet-proof vests for settlements that they are targetting: mainstream organizations like Nefesh B'Nefesh, The Israel Project, and StandWithUs also make their hit list.

Finally, in what is perhaps the major mark of a partisan agenda in this story, the writers brush past the reality that dozens of U.S. charities promote controversial policies/projects in the Middle East, which are arguably more fundamentally opposed to U.S. policy and more destructive to the peace process, i.e. incitement against Jews, demonization and delegitimization of Israel, and the one-state agenda. See Marc Tracy's discussion of this point at Tablet Magazine's The Scroll. In a press release calling attention to the partisan imbalance in the Times' story, NGO Monitor mentions just a few of the anti-Israel groups with tax-exempt status: International Solidarity Movement, Birthright Unplugged, and Free Gaza (a group closely involved with the flotilla debacle).

For more, see
"Half the Truth Fit to Print," Gerald Steinberg. Hudson New York. July 14, 2010.

"Times tries to drop settlements funding bomb on Obama-Bibi meeting," Uriel Heilman. Jewish Telegraph Agency. July 6, 2010.

"All the Tax-Exempt Charities," Marc Tracy. Tablet Magazine--The Scroll. July 6, 2010.

 "Conspiracies?" Elder of Ziyon. July 7, 2010.

"NY Times Shocker: Colluding with Radical NGOs to Upstage White House Summit," July 7, 2010.

See also B'Tselem's politically-timed press release, specifically "embargoed" until the day of Netanyahu's meeting with Obama.


Monarchs still calling the shots in the Netherlands!

"Dutch Establishment Rejects Election Results," Thomas Landen. Hudson New York. July 7, 2010.

I don't pretend to know anything about Dutch politics, I just find it extremely interesting that the Dutch Queen Beatrix is playing a substantive--and controversial--role in influencing the formation of government. We Americans have a hard time wrapping our heads around the reality that European countries became democracies without ceasing to be monarchies. 


PM Netanyahu in his own words: Good Morning America Interview 7/7/10

Netanyahu was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos on ABC's Good Morning America, this morning.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

UAE Ambassador endorses U.S. strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities

Jeffery Goldberg gets the scoop, naturally, in his interview with UAE Ambassador to the U.S., Yousef al-Otaiba, at the 2010 Aspen Ideas Festival (sounds like a pretension-fest, but good people do seem to be involved).

Al-Otaiba stated in no uncertain terms that he favors a U.S. strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.  He made it clear that Iran is by far the UAE's main security concern.  In response to the question, "Do you want the U.S. to stop the Iranian nuclear program by force?" al-Otaiba answered:

Absolutely, absolutely. I think we are at risk of an Iranian nuclear program far more than you are at risk. At 7,000 miles away, and with two oceans bordering you, an Iranian nuclear threat does not threaten the  continental United States. It may threaten your assets in the region, it will threaten the peace process, it will threaten balance of power, it will threaten everything else, but it will not threaten you.
Our military, who has existed for the past 40 years, wake up, dream, breathe, eat, sleep the Iranian threat. It's the only conventional military threat our military plans for, trains for, equips for, that's it, there's no other threat, there's no country in the region that is a threat to the U.A.E., it's only Iran. So yes, it's very much in our interest that Iran does not gain nuclear technology.

 And they call Netanyahu a hawk!

What's more frightening than contemplating the fallout of a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities?  al-Otaiba's suggestion that, if Iran isn't knocked off its high horse, that countries in the region will feel compelled to fall in line with Iranian axis in order not to incur its wrath.

There are many countries in the region who, if they lack the assurance the U.S. is willing to confront Iran, they will start running for cover towards Iran. Small, rich, vulnerable countries in the region do not want to be the ones who stick their finger in the big bully's eye, if nobody's going to come to their support.

In a follow-up post, Goldberg reminds us that Arab preoccupation with the Iranian threat should come as no surprise.  Middle East 2.0, as Barry Rubin puts it, would seem to be a return to the norm, and the era of a concerted Arab military campaign against Israel the aberration.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

"Gown-gate:" the scandal of Israeli-made graduation gowns in Jordan!

Yes, it is true that everything Israel is, does, says, produces, exports, imports, etc. is political, is controversial at a fundamental level. If supermarkets in France sell orange juice from Israel, it's a political issue. If an Israeli ballet company performs "Don Quixote" in Worcester, Massachusetts, it's a political issue.  One professor at my own university even refuses to support a coexistence education program for Israeli and Palestinian youth, arguing--in front of her own students in a public forum--that any program involving Israelis, even children apparently, represents an unacceptable violation of the "cultural boycott" of all things-Israel.   Yes, that's right, she believes that all right-thinking people should boycott peace camp, because there are Israeli teenagers involved.

Yet the fact that everything about Israel is so hyper-politicized says much more about Israel's enemies than it does about Israel.  Unfortunately, after 60+ years, the majority of Israel's neighbors cannot abide any acknowledgment, implicit or explicit, of Israel's legitimacy among the family of nations.  They will not accept that Israel has a right to exist within any borders, or even acknowledge the empirical fact that Jewish sovereignty in the region persists and shows no signs of disappearing.  They will not deign to refer to "Israel," but will only spit out the words "Zionist entity."  Jordan is one of the two Arab countries that actually has a peace treaty with Israel, and yet even there, outrage has erupted on the discovery that some university students were graduating wearing gowns made in Israel.

"Jordan school using Israeli-made gowns," Benjamin Joffe-Walt. Yediot Aharanot. July 4, 2010.


An Open Letter to Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

From a Turkish-American:

"An Open Letter to Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan," The Investigative Project on Terrorism -- IPT News. July 1, 2010.

Qanta Ahmed on the toxic impact of Jew-hatred in Islamic societies

Qanta Ahmed, a Pakistani doctor and author, reflects on the damage that obsessive Israel-bashing is doing to Muslims and Islamic societies.

"Israel and the Flotilla: On the Dangers of a Binary View," Qanta Ahmed. The Huffington Post. June 20, 2010.
Palestinians are now objectified political pawns, rather than a people. While we are comfortable with the longstanding objectification of Palestinians by Israelis as the 'other' in the form of a security threat (after all Israel must balance a constant struggle to determine the needs of a terrorized Israeli citizenship over the needs of an exploding ever-younger ever impoverished, increasingly radicalized Gaza population) we fail to encounter our own sinister objectification of the Palestinians which we accomplish so effectively all by ourselves. This objectification is not only held by their revolving, corrupt leadership, but also by an objectifying Muslim world. We the Muslims need the Palestinians to remain locked in their plight so that they might continue to serve as the Ummah's scotoma (a blindspot) which literally prevents us from seeing our own more immediate distresses, distresses which might demand our attention and perhaps even require societal interventions . We would be lost, disarmed, and stunned without an external locus for our rage which is so piercingly trained on Gaza and the West Bank, so piercing in fact that Darfur barely warrants a sidelong glance.

Does this exonerate Israel? No. Does this implicate Muslims? You bet.

Let me continue the self-flagellation.

During this same period of Flotilla Face-Offs with the IDF, Pakistan, my nation of matrilineal and patrimonial heritage has witnessed the extraordinary massacre of 120 moderate, pacifist Muslims, followers of the Ahmadiyyah movement that subscribes to peaceful, pluralistic Islam. Specifically, they embrace non-violence, condemning violent jihad. They were massacred, in cold blood, in worship, by fellow citizens, fellow Pakistanis, fellow Muslims. Most of the murdered were elderly, and male. Hundreds more were injured, some of whom are still dying this week. Emergency services did not arrive for over two hours. Pakistani police stood back, apparently allowing the carnage to occur, supposedly too afraid to engage. Awaiting special operations commandos to intervene, in their uncertainty, perhaps their tacit tolerance, Pakistani police became silent accomplices to the massacre. Many of the pacifist Muslim worshipers died of uncomplicated hemorrhagic shock within mere minutes of advanced medical care.