Monday, September 19, 2011

Yossi Klein Halevi on apologies

Yossi Klein Halevi in The New Republic.  "No Apologies: Israel Isn’t to Blame for Its Growing Isolation."

As the U.N. votes on Palestinian statehood, and former regional allies of the Jewish state like Turkey and Egypt turn openly hostile, much of the international community is blaming Israel for its own isolation...
This convergence of blame comes at a time of spiritual vulnerability for Jews. This is, after all, our season of contrition. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the process of self-examination intensifies. And as Jewish tradition emphasizes, the basis for penitence is apology. Before seeking forgiveness from God, we are to seek forgiveness from those we have hurt, even inadvertently...
But in the present atmosphere Jews should resist the temptation for self-blame. Apology is intended to heal. Yet those demanding apologies of Israel aren’t seeking reconciliation, but the opposite—to criminalize the Jewish state and rescind its right to defend itself.
The temptation for Jewish self-recrimination is deeply rooted in Zionist psychology. Zionism, after all, was a revolt against Jewish fatalism. If the Jewish situation is untenable, then clearly the fault lies with a lack of Jewish initiative. If you will it, said Zionist founder Theodore Herzl, it is no dream. Israeli rightists and leftists agree, in effect, that Israel can unilaterally determine its own reality, regardless of outside circumstances. If Israel lacks security, insists the right, that’s because we haven’t projected enough power and deterrence. And if Israel lacks peace, insists the left, that’s because we haven’t been sufficiently forthcoming in offering concessions.
Both right and left, then, implicitly dismiss the Arabs as an independent factor, with their own wills and agendas. But what if the Arab world doesn’t accept Israel’s legitimacy? What if the Middle East is undergoing transformations that have little if anything to do with what Israel wills?
This Rosh Hashanah I will ask forgiveness for my own sins and for the collective sins of Israel, as the liturgy insists. But I will withhold my political apologies for a time when those confessions won’t be manipulated against me. There is no religious obligation to collaborate in my own demonization. I will not be seeking forgiveness from those who deny my right to be.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Analysis of Egyptian mob attack on Israeli embassy in Cairo

Excerpted below:

September 13, 2011. "Mirage," Armin Rosen. Tablet Magazine.
September 13, 2011. "Why Would Israel Give Up Territory After Gaza?" Jeffrey Goldberg @ The Atlantic.
September 12, 2011. "Cairo: Israeli Embassy Attack Planned," Tim Marshall. Sky News.
September 11, 2011. "Egypt's Botched Revolution," Michael Totten @ PJM.
September 10, 2011. "Egypt Troops Save 6 Israelis," Ian Deitch and Diaa Hadid. Time.


September 13, 2011. "Mirage," Armin Rosen. Tablet Magazine.

While Mubarak incited hostility toward the Jewish State at home, he successfully convinced Israel and the United States that he could uphold Western interests in the region. Ezzedine Fishere, a former Foreign Ministry official at the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv and the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Culture, likened Mubarak’s political strategy to riding two horses simultaneously. “You can ride the two horses so long as you’re going straight,” Fishere explained to me. “This is why stability was so important to Mubarak. When there’s instability, the two horses go in opposite directions. Because the public wants you to live up to your commitments, you’ve been feeding this inflammatory discourse about Israel being the source of all evil. … On the other hand, the Israelis are basically your security partners in the region.”

...The military has every reason to preserve Egypt’s treaty with Israel. According to an official familiar with the U.S. government’s operations in Egypt, there are currently “tens of thousands” of American military contractors in Egypt, which still receives over $1.3 billion in annual military aid from the United States. Experts I spoke to in Egypt estimated that the military controls between 20 and 40 percent of the country’s economy. War with Israel serves no obvious strategic purpose for Egypt, and it would probably end American financial assistance, threaten the army’s business holdings, and lead to massive casualties. (Nearly 20,000 Egyptian soldiers were killed in the 1967 and 1973 wars.) 

 Why, after decades of quiet, has the Egypt-Israel border become so tumultuous? Two reasons: The interim Egyptian government has lost control over the Sinai since the revolution, and Gaza, which borders the Sinai, has been transformed by Hamas into a weapons-importing and terror-exporting mini-state. And how did this come about? Sharon brought this about, by ceding Gaza to the Palestinians.
This is not, by the way, an argument against territorial compromise. Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, needs to find a creative solution to the problem posed by his country's continued occupation of much of the West Bank. But that job is made much more difficult by Israel's enemies, who choose to ignore Israel's last attempt at giving up territory. And it is made more difficult still by Israeli voters, who, when confronted by demands for further territorial compromise, look to Gaza and say, "Not so fast."

September 12, 2011. "Cairo: Israeli Embassy Attack Planned," Tim Marshall, Sky News. 
The storming of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo on Friday night was not just planned, it was part of a 60 year campaign of hate which has permeated all levels of Egyptian society and which the current chaos in Egypt is allowing full rein...
The teaching of hatred for the 'other' is widespread in Egypt. School books are full of historical innacuracies and holocaust denial. Portions of the Koran which deal with the Jews in a hostile way are promoted. Few politicians can resist the temptation to play to popular appeal and routinely engage in virulently hostile comments not just about Israel but about Jews. These politicians are not just from the Islamic parties, some of the brightest and best of Egyptian liberals also use deeply anti-semitic language.
Every Friday many Immans pour forth abuse against Jews without any official sanction. The mass media also routinely engages in anti-semitism. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion , used to justify slaughter for decades, is a best seller, Hitler's Mein Kampf is popular. The 'Protocols' were serialised as a 24 episode TV series a few years ago and portrayed as fact. In 2002 the number 1 hit in the Egyptian charts was a song about the Jews masterminding 9/11. Newspapers print deeply offensive cartoons which are used across the Arab world. These bigots have their mirror image in some of the wilder fringes of Israeli society; the difference is the views do not appear to be sanctioned at the highest levels, have not permeated the body politic, and are roundly condemned in the Israeli main stream media.

Includes interviews with Egyptian liberals Hala Mustafa and Tarek Heggy.
Hala Mustafa:
Most Western analysts describe Mubarak’s government as an American ally that was at least moderately cooperative with Israel, which is accurate to an extent, but his state-controlled media cranked out vicious anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda every day for three decades.
...The moment of change hasn’t come yet...It was a premature revolution. Mubarak’s regime wasn’t Mubarak’s. It was the regime that was founded in 1952 and it’s still here. The regime’s attitude against Israel is the same. Americans thought Mubarak was with Israel, but it’s not true. Mubarak did nothing to change the propaganda or advance peace. You have to rethink what was happening.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Al Qaeda after Osama

Daniel Byman knows what he is talking about.

"Osama bin Laden is dead, Al Qaeda isn't," Foreign Policy. May 2, 2011.


Hamas mourns death of Bin Laden

Marc Tracy, "Hamas Mourns OBL, Throwing Deal Into Doubt." Tablet Magazine. May 2, 2011.

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ Gaza leadership, condemned the U.S. killing of Osama Bin Laden. “We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior,” he said. “We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.” (The P.A. applauded the killing, as, of course, did Prime Minister Netanyahu.) 

OK. On the one hand, al-Qaida is not the sticking point here; it was not disagreement over Bin Laden that held up the 2000 or 2008 peace talks, and Israel isn’t skeptical of reconciliation—that is, of a unified Palestinian sovereign that prominently includes Hamas—because Hamas refused to celebrate, and in fact condemned, the death of one of the world’s worst men.

But Hamas’ take on Bin Laden’s killing is nonetheless unbelievably disturbing. (It is also far from shocking: Both Hamas and al-Qaida are jihadist entities; longtime Bin Laden mentor Abdullah Azzam helped found Hamas. So, let’s dispense with the myth that this was merely a case of “bad P.R.” on Hamas’ part. This isn’t P.R.; this is policy. And that remains true even if Hamas was motivated in part to shore up its hardline flank. It’s very simple: Hamas is against the killing of Bin Laden.) You can make compromises—you can make peace—with those with whom you disagree, even vehemently. But you have to be living on the same planet. And people who unequivocally condemn the killing of Bin Laden are not living on the same planet as mainstream Israelis, and Israelis shouldn’t be required to move to that planet in order to make peace.

So, while the most immediately obvious contradiction is that between the Hamas and P.A.—the group that mourns the jihadist and the group that celebrates his death may have a tough time seeing eye-to-eye going forward—the most important one is that between Hamas and Israel, America, and the West. The reconciliation deal yet again proves a useful heightening of contradictions. This time, that heightening is a clear defeat for the forces that favor peace


Friday, April 29, 2011

The announcement of Hamas and Fatah's reconciliation

With so much left in question about the details of the unity deal, it's hard to tell what it means, and if it will even materialize. It is hard to imagine the Fatah would do something so foolish as to say "good riddance" to the generous US assistance to Fayyad's state-building program, and the gains in peace, freedom of movement, and general prosperity that the PA has reaped from security cooperation with Israel--especially as Hamas's popular support has declined in the past two years

The rhetorical jockeying that is likely to ensue does seem to force a debate and airing of the differences between Fatah and Hamas that needs to happen among Palestinians, and this way is better than they way they've been duking it out over the past few years. We will see who is willing to do what, who will turn out to have been bluffing. Recent (attempted) demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank, as well the March 2011 public opinion poll by the PCPSR indicates widespread agreement on the priority of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. While that may be easy enough to agree upon, there is surely not a consensus at this point as to the actual terms of such a reconciliation. The idea that a panel of "technocrats" can somehow solve fundamental controversies apolitically is absurd.

These are the official terms of the reconciliation:

  • The establishment of a government of technocrats instead of the two currently existing governments headed by Salam Fayyad and Ismail Haniyeh.
  • The holding of general elections to the parliament and presidency in about eight months.
  • A merger and unification of the security apparatuses.
  • The release of political prisoners.
  • Arab League supervision of the implementation of the agreement.
Analysis from some good journalists and observers of Palestinian and Israeli politics:

"On Reconciliation, ‘The Devil Is In the Details," Interview with Nathan Thrall (International Crisis Group) by Marc Tracy. Tablet Magazine. April 29, 2011.

"Analysis: How to deftly play the Palestinian 'reconciliation' card," Herb Kleinon. Jerusalem Post. April 29, 2011.

"Palestinian Factions Give Different Views of Unity Pact," Ethan Bronner. New York Times. April 28, 2011.

"The Fatah-Hamas Agreement: Analysis and Initial Consequences," Jonathan Halevi. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. April 28, 2011.

"Rival Palestinian factions reach unity agreement," Ibrahim Barzak. With Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Diaa Hadid in Cairo, Egypt. Associated Press. April 27, 2011.

See also:
August 10, 2010 report from the Congressional Research Service on,
"US Foreign Aid to the Palestinians." By Jim Zanotti.
Note especially the last paragraph, where the author speculates about the risks to US funding from a possible reconciliation deal that would include Hamas in the Palestinian Authority again.

After Hamas led the PA government for over a year, its forcible takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 led to the creation of a non-Hamas government in the West Bank—resulting in different models of governance for the two Palestinian territories. Since then, the United States has dramatically boosted aid levels to bolster the PA in the West Bank and President Mahmoud Abbas vis-à-vis Hamas. The United States has appropriated or reprogrammed nearly $2 billion since 2007 in support of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s security, governance, development, and reform programs, including $650 million for direct budgetary assistance to the PA and nearly $400 million (toward training, non-lethal equipment, facilities, strategic planning, and administration) for strengthening and reforming PA security forces and criminal justice systems in the West Bank. The remainder is for programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by nongovernmental organizations in humanitarian assistance, economic development, democratic reform, improving water access and other infrastructure, health care, education, and vocational training. In December 2009, Congress approved $500 million in total FY2010 assistance pursuant to P.L. 111-117, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010.

In addition to its bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, the United States is the largest single-state donor to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides food, shelter, medical care, and education for many of the original refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and their descendants—now comprising approximately 4.8 million Palestinians in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. Since UNRWA’s inception in 1950, the United States has provided the agency with nearly $4 billion in contributions. U.S. contributions to UNRWA have steadily increased over the past decade, with nearly $228 million thus far for FY2010. Whether UNRWA’s role is beneficial overall, however, is a polarizing question, particularly with respect to UNRWA’s presence in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

The possibility of a consensus or unity government to address the problem of divided rule among Palestinians could lead to a full or partial U.S. aid cutoff if Hamas is included in the government and does not change its stance toward Israel. Even if the immediate objectives of U.S. assistance programs for the Palestinians are met, lack of progress toward a politically legitimate and peaceful two-state solution could undermine the utility of U.S. aid in helping the Palestinians become more cohesive, stable, and self-reliant over the long term. 


Sunday, April 24, 2011

PA daily: "Jews, Jews! Your holiday [Passover] is the Holiday of Apes" - PMW Bulletins

PA daily: "Jews, Jews! Your holiday [Passover] is the Holiday of Apes" - PMW Bulletins

According to a zookeeper at the Safari Park in Israel, chimpanzees do rather enjoy matzoh. so clearly the devoutly anti-Jewish are onto something important here.

[From the Palestinian Authority's official TV channel]
The spring carnival has retained its [Palestinian] flavor in towns such as Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Ramallah... with the demonstrations of the Scouts, songs, dances, and popular Palestinian hymns about Christian-Islamic unity and internal Christian unity. These hymns carry meaningful messages, in response to the Israeli prohibition [to enter Jerusalem], as seen in the calls of the youth who lead the procession of light, waving swords and not caring if anyone accuses them of anti-Semitism: ... 'Our master, Jesus, the Messiah, the Messiah redeemed us, with his blood he bought us, and today we are joyous while the Jews are sad,' and, 'Jews, Jews! Your holiday is the Holiday of the Apes, while our holiday is the Holiday of the Messiah.'
[PA TV (Fatah), April 11, 2011]


Monday, April 18, 2011

Pharoah's heirs and the multifold lessons of the Exodus

Every year around Passover, there are events and circumstances by whose light we can appreciate the enduring relevance of the Exodus story. Still, it's hard not to find this to be especially true in 2011.

Natan Sharansky writes about the rebellions today against modern-day Pharaohs in North Africa and the Middle East, and the challenges they present to those of us blessed to live under free governments. Mindful of the often forgotten follow-up to the escape from Egypt--that heaving off the chains of servitude is merely the first step towards liberty--Sharansky argues that we must strongly put our weight behind those fighting for their political freedom today. The logic of supporting "stable autocracies" is no longer viable, if it ever was. [For an account of why, see Tamara Cofman Wittes' Freedom's Unsteady March.]

"The Stakes in the Middle East," Natan Sharansky. Jewish Review of Books No. 5 (Spring 2011).
No movement toward freedom has succeeded in the blink of an eye, absent a struggle, or without periods when all has seemed lost. In the case of this latest movement, not only has its work barely begun, but it is up against a formidable combination of odds. That is why the next phases are so crucial—and why in my view the nations of the free world must, without delay, seize the moment to lend a hand.
The hard realities of democratic politicking have quickly overtaken the liberal youth movement that toppled Mubarak. This is neither surprising, nor reason to declare the whole thing a failure.
"Struggling to Restart Egypt's Stalled Revolution," Eric Trager. The Atlantic. April 2, 2011.

"Egypt's First Vote," Yasmine el Rashidi. New York Review of Books. March 19, 2011.

"In a Divided Egypt, the Military and Islamists Play for Political Advantage," Eric Trager. The Atlantic. March 18, 2011

Daniel Byman explains just how much it might take to actually topple Qaddafi, and what the potential pitfalls are. President Obama wants to do the right thing on the cheap, and it's not at all clear that the highly circumscribed approach that Obama has laid out is up to the task.
"Libya's Rebels: Approach with Caution," Daniel Byman. Slate. March 31, 2011.
See also a video with Byman, "Libya: Is the U.S. Prepared for a Long-Term Engagement?" March 21, 2011.

Elliott Abrams on why the fake republics of the Middle East and North Africa are more illiberal than the monarchies (see also Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws Books 6, 11, and 12).
"Ridding Syria of a Despot," Op-Ed: Washington Post. March 25, 2011.

Andrew Tabler on what the US can realistically do to undermine Assad.
"Twisting Assad's Arm," Foreign Policy. April 14, 2011.

Itamar Rabinovich, who is probably the most informed and prudent Israeli politician on Syrian matters, explains how the uprising in Syria looks from Jerusalem.
"Israel's Dilemma in Damascus," Foreign Affairs. April 10, 2011.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Jon Haber on the Tragedy of Goldstone

A very thoughtful analysis by Jon Haber of the ugly bargain Goldstone made
A clue to Goldstone’s decision (some would say his fall) can be seen in his Washington Post mea culpa in which he demonstrates his sincere belief that the goodness, virtue and sound judicial temperament he brought to the situation would mitigate the excesses of what he recognized was starting out as an unjust process. In other words, he was demonstrating what high-school students reading Greek tragedy for the first time would recognize as a “tragic flaw,” in this case, a belief that his own reputation and virtue could transform a corrupt institution (the United Nations and its ghastly so-called Human Rights Council), reforming it in the process into something that would no longer just be an Israel-libel factory but could possibly pave the way to true international justice.
But as he discovered, these forces of corruption were far more interested (and far more able) to co-opt Goldstone’s reputation for their purposes than vice versa. Beyond Goldstone himself, the investigative team was stacked against Israel to a ridiculous degree. Information gathering was shoddy, conclusions drawn from that information were disproportionate and one-sided. And most telling, once the Report was made public, it became the cornerstone of a propaganda war that relied heavily on leveraging Goldstone’s name, Jewishness and reputation to focus the Goldstone Report missile in one and only one direction.
At any point in this process, Goldstone could have resigned and gone public with his criticisms of flaws that could be seen by all before, during and after the investigation and report’s publication. But instead he chose to not only stand firm but to travel the world to defend the accuracy of the work now deeply associated with his name. In other words, the very corrupt institutions he was hoping to change had instead co-opted him to such a degree that he had no choice but to defend what he had done, regardless of the cost to Middle East peace, to his own reputation, and (most significantly) to the cause of international justice he thought he was championing.
In Goldstone’s case, he convinced himself that his virtue and reputation could change a corrupt process and possibly help issue in an era of international justice. But in making a deal with this particular devil, he actually helped turn whatever tools of international justice currently exist (some of which he helped forge) into weapons of war.
Should Goldstone have known better? As noted above, he (unlike most of us) has experience with making personal moral choices that have heavy international consequences. Goldstone will have to deal with the damage to his own reputation due to poor choices on his own (hopefully with a metaphorical Greek chorus in the background alerting him to the tragic consequences of moral vanity). Unfortunately the rest of us will not be able to help him on that journey, busy as we are with cleaning up the wreckage his decisions have caused.
But before leaving Richard Goldstone behind, we should recognize that the compromise he was offered (and took) that led to a tragic fall is something that will likely be offered to all of us at some point in our lives.


Goldstone retracts criminal accusations against Israel

Goldstone has basically retracted the criminal accusations against Israel in the report bearing his name. If he feels an apology or justification is an order, this is better than nothing. Nonetheless, the accusations of war crimes have already done their damage. In order to achieve the desired effects, the accusations don't need to hold up in an actual court--which Goldstone did clarify his commission was not (rather a "fact-finding" endeavor).  That is the nature of these things. The dirt remains on your face. Accusations stain your reputation whether they are substantiated ultimately or not.

For example, here's how the State Dept's reaction to the op-ed was summarized in the news: "Goldstone affirms US position Israel did not commit war crimes in Gaza."

Certainly, this will not persuade anyone deeply committed to the idea that Israel is a brutal, inhumane people, to whom all Palestinian suffering is to be attributed.  Their judgment of Operation Cast Lead was always based on their opinion of Israel's character more than anything else. What seems most offensive to this crowd is Goldstone's implication that Israeli internal investigations were credible--that such a people could possibly be trusted to scrutinize their own actions and characters. And we are asked believe that a group calling itself the Independent Committee of Experts is more authoritative than the Israel government, because, well, they are called the Independent Committee of Experts.

Others insist that Israel is still terrible and should feel terrible because civilians were killed in the attacks against Hamas. It is an uncomfortable fact that decent nations must sometimes use violence and other forms of coercion to defend themselves, at least in the world we live in.  No amount of lashing out at the bearer of this painful lesson will change that fact. It may well make things worse. Warfare always carries the prospect of the wrong people getting killed. Hamas knows this quite well, and exploits it, with the deserved confidence that important figures abroad will blame Israel and not them.

While it won't circulate and gain traction with nearly among nearly as many as the original report, hopefully there will be some well-meaning but naive internationalists who will be a little more skeptical in the future when there is a fervor to assume the worst of Israeli soldiers (because we all know they are like that) and declare a multilateral commission to bring 'em to justice.

Jon Haber explains the tragic naivete of Goldstone in the face of the task he was invited to take up with the UNHRC.

Here's one rather humorous interpretation of the letter, mocking Goldstone for explaining that he sincerely thought Hamas would investigate its own actions during Cast Lead

Some have also suggested it was absurd to expect the Cookie Monster, a being that has a policy to eat cookies, to investigate what we said were serious crimes against cookies. In the end, asking Cookie Monster to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Trying to understand American policy in Libya

Why Libya? This is a rare instance where what we should do is something we can do. Qaddafi expresses enthusiasm for murdering his own people, and has been bullying and/or terrorizing us and our allies--and basically half the continent of Africa--for decades. He has no friends at home or abroad, thus eliminating one common obstacle to making war on repressive rulers who constantly thwart our interests. That makes him less complicated to attack then the majority of situations where the international community, such as it is, might like to intervene to prevent a tyrant from slaughtering his own people. Also, in some cases the tyrants are our friends, or not so much our friends as unsavory strategic deals we are stuck with, at least in the short-term (Saudi Arabia). This does not mean that we should not publicly criticize their brutal crackdowns on their own uprisings. We absolutely should do everything we can to pressure them to reform, but we are not going to be sending planes in to take down an government with which we are allied.

Then you have perhaps the most greatest obstacle to ousting tyrants in countries like Syria and Yemen (and Iraq under Saddam), which is that they are not nations at all. Sectarian hatreds are brimming just beneath the surface, and will only be exacerbated, at least in the short-term, by the removal of the current strong man. The rulers in these countries are not only violently repressive (and they are unmistakably that), but they are also the current stop valve on what we can easily imagine would be civil war otherwise (at least in the short-term). It is much less plausible to criticize that we are “intervening in a civil war” in Libya, than if we were asserting a no-fly zone in, say, Bahrain, Yemen, or Syria. Yemen is an especially difficult case in that anarchy already reigns in parts of the country. Yemen is already a hospitable environment for Al Qaeda to carve out a home for itself. And then there are the countries where Iran has a stake--Syria in particular, and Bahrain. There is a great deal of uncertainty about what forces and factions will dominate a Qaddafi-free Libya, but the opposition to Qaddafi (and support, as minimal as it is) does not overlap with obvious sectarian divisions. No doubt they will find they have things to argue about, but at least there is unity in opposing Qaddafi. In Syria, on the other hand, there are probably sincere defenders of the current regime among Alawites--and legitimate fears that if the current regime falls, they will be slaughtered or otherwise put under the boot.

Is the "Arab Street" more enthusiastic about American military invention against Qadafi than the "American Street?" Michael Slackman, "Dislike for Qaddafi Gives Arabs a Point of Unity." New York Times. March 21, 2011.

Why has Obama made less of an effort to rally support at home than abroad? The U.S. Congress, whatever else one might say about, at least was elected by the American people. Garrett Epps, "Barbary War III: The Case for Congressional Authorization." The Atlantic. March 22, 2011. NB: the question Epps addresses, rightly I think, is not, is the President legally required to obtain Congressional authorization, but is it prudent for him to do so, to which Epps responds, "yes."

On the internal administration dynamics in the past few weeks. Obama's female hawks?

D.B. Miller, "War in Libya: Why We Had No Choice." The Atlantic. March 22, 2011.
Here is the rare alignment of a terrible, tyrannical head of state, an oppressed people pressing for change, and formal censure not only from the West, but also the Arab League. However tarnished, the U.S. is the last superpower, and in times of crisis, the world still looks to it. The choice was to bear witness to an atrocity, or to end it. President Obama chose the latter.

The argument follows that the United States is somehow hypocritical for bombing Libya but not the other oppressed Islamic nations using violence against its citizens. The implication of this position is that the choice is either war everywhere at once, or no war at all; the president appears to have answered it with a policy based on patience and opportunity, one country at a time. Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak fell without U.S. meddling or force. When Qaddafi falls, no one can credibly argue that America was the driving force behind these changes.

The strength of the president's policy is also its weakness. By waiting weeks, and then only after submitting for United Nations approval, Qaddafi positioned the Libyan chessboard to his liking. He has placed human shields so as to maximize civilian casualties and capitalize on the resulting press. He seized and fortified the town of Ajdabiya and blitzed Benghazi, provisional capital of the interim government.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Egypt's constitutional reforms

Nathan Brown, "Egypt's Revolution Struggles to Take Shape." Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. March 17, 2011.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

How Obama Turned on a Dime

Josh Rogin, :How Obama turned on a dime toward war" Foreign Policy. March 18, 2011.
"This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values," a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Standing by while Libya burns

Last Friday, Obama claimed that he is "tightening the noose" around Qadhafi. Really? All evidence suggests that Qadhafi and his mercenaries are actually doing the tightening--around the last opposition stronghold in Benghazi.  Not only are we failing to aid this courageous uprising against a brutal thug, failing to assert our interests and values in this changing Middle Eastern landscape, but our president has shown his word means nothing. He has declared which side we are on, called for Qadhafi to go, but not followed through in any substantive way. This will not go unnoticed.  As Larry Diamond puts it, "If Barack Obama cannot face down a modest thug who is hated by most of his own people and by every neighboring government, who can he confront anywhere?"

Leon Wieseltier weighs in with one of the most powerful critiques of Obama's handling of the would-be Libyan revolution ("Darkness," The New Republic Online. March 11, 2011). [See excerpt below]

Fareed Zakaria explains why American interests are at stake in the outcome in Libya ("The Libyan Conundrum," Time. March 10, 2011).

Larry Diamond argues that Libya is our business first and foremost because Obama has made it clear where the U.S. stands, and not backing up its words with action sends a dangerous signal. ("Obama's Moment of Truth," The New Republic. March 15, 2011)
Hussein Ibish, who has been calling for strong American action from the beginning of the uprising, wonders whether the window of opportunity might have already passed. ("Can a No-Fly Zone Still Fly Today? Now Lebanon. March 15, 2011).

Michael Totten contends that Arabs bear a large responsibility for American hesitation to assert itself against Qadhafi.  ("What About Our Hearts and Minds?" New York Sun. March 14, 2011).

Wieseltier writes:
We will not act to prevent a crime against humanity because by doing so we will offend—who, exactly? Not the Libyans who are clamoring for Western assistance, or the Egyptians who looked to us for unequivocal support in their fight for freedom, or the Iranians who made a similar mistake. No, we will offend only a certain doctrinaire Western notion of what the contemporary Arab world thinks about the West, a notion that the democratic upheavals in the Arab world are making manifestly obsolete. We will offend not their assumptions, but our assumptions about their assumptions...
[Obama] declares that Qaddafi must go and that we will stand with the Libyan people, and then he does nothing. No, that’s not right. He consults and consults, and his staff works round the clock, and economic sanctions are instituted against the rampaging dictator who has tens of billions of dollars in cash. Obama is prepared to act, just not consequentially. He does not want the responsibility for any Arab outcome. He says they must do it for themselves. But they are doing it for themselves. They merely need help. And the help they need is easy for us to provide. (Jam their fucking communications.) And their cause is freedom, which is allegedly our cause. What they seek from Obama is an extended hand. What they are getting is a clenched fist. If Muammar Qaddafi takes Benghazi, it will be Barack Obama’s responsibility. That is what it means to be the American president. The American president cannot but affect the outcome. That is his burden and his privilege. He has the power to stop such an atrocity, so if the atrocity is not stopped it will be because he chose not to use his power. Perhaps that is why Obama has been telling people, rather tastelessly, that it would be easier to be the president of China. Obama will not be rushed. He is a man of the long game. But the Libyan struggle for freedom, and the mission of rescue, is a short game. That is the temporality of such circumstances. If you do not act swiftly, you have misunderstood the situation. Delay means disaster. Does Obama have any idea of what Qaddafi’s victory will mean for the region and its awakening?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Iran vows to boycott London 2012 Olympics for an amusing reason

You really can't make up stuff this funny:
Iran vows to boycott the London 2012 Olympics because it claims the logo spells "Zion," and is thus racist.
Julian Borger, The Guardian. Feb. 28, 2011.

See also:
A couple of choice wisecracks from Washington Post readers:
Actually, if you look at it from the right angle, it says "Jews control the world and are planning to destroy Iran". I think they have a point.
I think the entire world should boycott the games unless they change this logo, simply because it looks ridiculous
 Personally, I think it sort of looks like a swastika. So now we're even, okay?
But seriously, it is ugly.  Why doesn't Britain do some business here and offer to scrap the logo in exchange for Iran doing something they want, like you, give up its nuclear weapon program and hold an actual election.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

New occasions for reflecting on nationalism in the Middle East/North Africa.

"The Rebirth of Arabism--Again!" Franck Salameh. National Interest.  Feb. 17, 2011
"Nation State," Yoav Fromer. Tablet. Feb. 23, 2011.

"How the Arabs Turned Shame Into Liberty," Fouad Ajami. New York Times. Feb. 26, 2011


"Either I rule you or I kill you"

Hussein Ibish has been writing extensively about Libya. He calls for robust, US-led intervention on behalf of the anti-Gaddafi revolutionaries. I don't understand the situation well enough to evaluate his argument about Libya in particular. It seems clear though, that the wave of fire spreading across North Africa and the Middle East puts into focus the question of US power in the region--influence, involvement, or what have you--and for those who chastise it, "meddling."  See also "Act. Now: the world must do more than watch the Libyan bloodletting," Hussein Ibish. Foreign Policy. Feb. 24, 2011.
Not just US power but overlapping controversies about "humanitarian intervention," or international judgment and punishment in general. 
One thing remarkable about this case is that you have the Libyan Ambassador to the UN, Mohamed Shalgham, a Gaddafi crony since their youth, denouncing the "brother leader" and calling for international help to prevent Gaddafi's efforts to make sure all of Libya goes down in flames with him.

Shalgham repeated: He is saying, "either I rule you or I kill you"

See Shalgham's rather dramatic speech at the UN Security Council Feb. 25, 2011.

Background on US-Libya Relations:
Elliott Abrams, who was on the NSC under Bush when Libya "made the switch" in 2003, wrote an op-ed in the WSJ on Friday, Feb. 25, explaining the strategic, if unpleasant, bargain the US government had to make with Gaddafi.
After the U.S. Army made short shrift of Saddam Hussein's forces in 2003, Gadhafi approached British intelligence and sought to come in from the cold. He agreed, after negotiations conducted largely by the CIA and London's MI6, to abandon terrorism and hand over to the U.S. his programs for developing missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
He kept his part of the bargain: Those materials reside at a military base in the U.S., and he has stayed away from terrorist groups. Libya began making payments to the families of those killed on Pan Am 103, ultimately reaching an agreement with all but one family and handing over a total of $1.5 billion...
Our annual human rights reports told the truth, but there was no question that the Bush administration (and the Obama administration that followed) felt limited by Gadhafi's adherence to the bargain. We had not promised to be silent about human rights abuses, and we were not, but there was no real energy behind our statements. We were doing business with Gadhafi, not trying to overthrow him...
Seen from this bloody February of 2011, the agreement with Libya was still the right policy. Gadhafi in his bunker with control over missiles, chemical weapons and a rudimentary nuclear program is a terrifying thought. So is a Libya after regime collapse with those materials available to the highest bidder.
Had we reneged—taken Libya's weaponry but then started a campaign against Gadhafi's rule—he'd have re-armed fast and gone back to terrorism. It's also not clear what more strenuous and public efforts to promote change in Libya would have achieved. It's not as if one could reason with Gadhafi.
And finally, we should take a moment to recall that the Libyan government, such as it is/was, has been defined by a single "personality" to a greater extent than, well, most governments one hears about.
From The National Post [Canada]. Adam McDowell and Adrian Humphreys. Feb. 22, 2011.
“The non sequiturs, the paranoid conspiracy theories, the anger — if it weren’t so tragic, we could laugh at it,” said David Schenker, director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy...

Nasser Wedaddy, civil rights outreach director for the American Islamic Congress, warned: “People think of Gaddafi as this buffoon who is acting on impulses and whims. There’s some truth to that. “But through the years,” continued the former resident of Libya, “Gaddafi has been a master of manipulating media. He uses his buffoonery … to get media attention, which he craves. And a lot of his talking points, which he has recycled through the years, are designed to appeal to his support base, [to portray him as] the guy who’s confronting the big powers in the world.”
 And I was hoping someone had done this "best of" series: Fashion, Qaddafi-style. Vanity Fair. Henry Porter and Annabel Davidson. August 12, 2009.


Monday, February 21, 2011

On Obama administration's clumsy UNSC diplomacy

Elliott Abrams puts it quite well:

"How to Lose Friends and Not Influence People," Elliott Abrams. Council on Foreign Relations Blog. Feb. 18, 2011.
 The Obama Administration cast its first veto in the United Nations on Friday, February 18, killing a Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israeli settlement activity.  Its poor handling of the entire episode has left just about everyone angry at the United States , and is therefore a manifest failure of American diplomacy.
The Palestinian Authority began to talk about this resolution months ago.  The United States could then have adopted a clear position: put it forward and it will be vetoed.  That very clear stand might have persuaded the Palestinian leaders and their Arab supporters to drop the effort early on, when it could have been abandoned with no loss of face.  Instead the Administration refused to make its position clear until the final day. In its Friday edition the New York Times was reporting that “the Obama administration was trying Thursday evening to head off an imminent vote in the United Nations Security Council that would declare Israel’s settlement construction in the West Bank illegal, but would not declare publicly whether it was prepared to veto the resolution.”  It seems clear that the Administration was desperate to avoid a veto, indeed desperate to go four years without spoiling its “perfect record.”  But a “perfect record” in the UN requires vetoes, given the persistent anti-Israel bias of the organization.  The Administration’s desire to avoid vetoes only served to reduce its bargaining power, for the credible threat of a veto has long served American diplomats seeking to achieve an outcome more favorable to our interests.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Egypt Post-Mubarak

First installment: Civil-Military Relations

Questions on my mind: how helpful are European and American views of what constitutes "healthy civil-military relations" in approaching Egypt? Some have argued that the EU's standard demands for civilian control over the military have, in the case of would-be member Turkey, facilitated Erdogan and the ruling AKP to consolidate their power in disconcerting ways.

From the little I know, it seems that civil-military relations in Egypt are in some ways at least sui generis. What are the most important ways in which this is the case?

What does it mean that Egyptian military officers apparently have important commercial holdings and have an major stake in the Egyptian economy? This seems to be something rather different from the "military-industrial complex" that we speak of in the US.

A helpful summary and analysis of the debate from the good folks at Tablet Magazine:
Marc Tracy. "Egypt's 'Democratic Transtion' Begins: Can martial law lead to the ballot box?"
Feb. 14, 2011.

Steven Cook, "Egyptian Military's Moment of Truth." Council of Foreign Relations Blog. February 12, 2011.

"Will Egypt's Army Be a Change Agent or Maintain Status Quo?" PBS Newshour. Feb. 8, 2011.
With Matthew Axelrod and Shibley Telhami.

Matthew Axelrod, "The Egyptian Military Calculus." Foreign Policy. Jan. 31, 2011.
Military officers share the Egyptian people's frustration with the Mubarak regime. As a Fulbright Fellow in Egypt researching the U.S.-Egypt strategic relationship, I interviewed active and retired military officers who expressed resentment that military courts were being used to prosecute the regime's political enemies. They were also quick to distance themselves from the Ministry of Interior and lament the brutal tactics of the Central Security Forces. They indicated that the situation was unlikely to improve under the current political leadership.
But the military was not supposed to get involved. Presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak isolated the armed forces from domestic affairs to prevent prominent officers from emerging as political rivals. This isolation has made the military an infrequent but critical player in Egyptian politics. Because it enters the fray only in times of crisis, and then in a "national guard" capacity, it maintains great credibility with the Egyptian people. Ironically, by withdrawing from politics, the military now is in a position to usher in new political leadership.
However, doing so comes at personal financial risk. Senior military officers are believed to benefit handsomely from the revenues generated by military-owned corporations, private contracts with foreign companies, and post-retirement postings in the private and public sectors. General Ahmed Mohamed Shafik, former head of Civil Aviation and now Egypt's new Prime Minister, is the most prominent example. During my research in Cairo, foreign diplomats told me that Egyptian military officers regularly supplemented their incomes by receiving cash for routine military services, including Suez Canal passage. Some of those funds are believed to be held in Switzerland, where General Magdy Galal Sharawi, head of Egypt's Air Force from 2002-2008, currently serves as Ambassador.  An accurate calculation of these activities is difficult to quantify, but they are systemic. We can assume that military officers are thinking about how the current crisis might affect their own livelihoods.
There is a tension between the military's interests -- maintaining its credibility by siding with the people on the one hand, and maintaining its vast economic apparatus on the other.
Steven Cook, "Five Things You Need to Know About the Egyptian Military." Council on Foreign Relations Blog. January 31, 2011.

Books I wish I had time to read:
Steven Cook, Ruling but not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2007. 

Security Sector Transformation in Southeastern Europe and the Middle East. Ed. Thanos Dokos. Proceedings of NATO Advanced Research Workshops on Security Sector Transformation in Southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean 2004-2005. Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2007. Includes "Civil-Military Relations in Egypt: An Overview," Obaida El-Dandarawy. 


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tariq Ramadan, Europe's go-to moderate--calling for vengeance against Allah's enemies in Palestine

The enemies in Palestine are the enemies of Islam, of Allah himself.
This is most emphatically not a moderate teaching. 


Saturday, January 29, 2011

America's challenge in Egypt

Four different analyses of the Americans' bind regarding the prospects for an Egyptian "revolution."
Alas, I find them all persuasive. 

Leslie Gelb considers the alternatives to Mubarak and critiques wishful thinking about the Muslim Brotherhood
Of course, the Obama administration, most Americans, most Egyptians, and I myself would prefer a democratic government in Cairo instead of President Mubarak's corrupt and repressive establishment. That's not the issue. The real issue is this: If Mubarak tumbles and if Washington uses its influence—and yes, it does have influence at approximately $3 billion in annual total aid—to push him out, what kind of government will follow his? Will it be even less democratic and more repressive? And what will be the implications for U.S. security in the region?...
The real danger is that our experts, pundits and professors will talk the Arab and American worlds into believing we can all trust the MB. And that's dangerous because, outside of the government, the MB is the only organized political force, the only group capable of taking power. And if they do gain control, it's going to be almost impossible for the people to take it back. Just look at Iran.

For the record, I am not saying that Arabs or Muslims are incapable of democracy. I am most certainly saying that Arabs, Muslims, or anyone else would find it almost impossible to establish a stable democracy out of chaos and years of corruption and injustice.
 Shadi Hamid  counsels that the U.S. must weigh in on the side of regime change. 
Those who propose the United States somehow adopt an approach of "noninterference" should remember that silence will be interpreted as complicity by Egyptians. America, after all, far from a bystander, is the Egyptian regime's primary benefactor. The billions it has given Egypt in economic and military aid means that the United States, more than any other country, enjoys significant leverage with Egypt. Now is the time to use it...
No one should underestimate the crucial role of international actors. Rarely do successful democratic transitions occur without constructive engagement from Western governments and organizations. 
Of course, a major question remains: does the United States, in fact, want real democracy in Egypt? Or would it prefer that the current regime -- perhaps after agreeing to reforms -- somehow stay in power? Answering that may be one of the most important things President Obama does this year. 

Barry Rubin weighs in with caution against hoping for something decent replacing the current regime.
 On one hand, everyone knows that President Husni Mubarak's government, based on the regime that has been running Egypt since the morning of July 23, 1952, is a dictatorship with a great deal of corruption and repression. 
This Egyptian government has generally been a good ally of the United States yet has let Washington down at times. For example, the Mubarak government has continued to purvey anti-American propaganda to its people; held back on solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict (it did not endorse the 2000 Clinton plan, though I have good sources saying Mubarak said later he regretted that decision); has not taken a strong public stance on pressuring Iran; and so on.

For a long time it was said that Egypt was the most important U.S. ally in the Arabic-speaking world. There is truth in this but it has been less true lately, though due more to passivity in foreign policy than to hostility.

Clearly, though, Egypt is an American ally generally and its loss to an anti-American government would be a tremendous defeat for the United States. Moreover, a populist and radical nationalist-much less an Islamist-government could reignite the Arab-Israel conflict and cost tens of thousands of lives.

So the United States has a stake in the survival of the regime, if not so much that of Mubarak personally or the succession of his son, Gamal. This means that U.S. policy should put an emphasis on the regime's survival. The regime might be better off without the Mubaraks since it can argue it is making a fresh start and will gain political capital from getting rid of the hated dictator. Given the weakness of designated successor, Gamal Mubarak, who is probably too weak to deal with the situation the regime might well be a lot better off. 

On the other hand, the United States wants to show that it supports reform and democracy, believing that this will make it more popular among the masses in the Arab world as well as being the "right" and "American" thing to do. Also, if the revolution does win, the thought is, it is more likely to be friendly to America if the United States shows in advance its support for change.

Finally, the "pro-democracy" approach is based on the belief that Egypt might well produce a moderate, democratic, pro-Western state that will then be more able to resist an Islamist challenge. Perhaps the Islamists can be incorporated into this system. Perhaps, some say (and it is a very loud voice in the American mass media) that the Muslim Brotherhood isn't really a threat at all.

So in this point of view, U.S. policy should favor the forces of change. 

Of course, it is possible to mix these two positions and that is what President Obama is trying to do. 

Thus, Obama said:

"I've always said to [Mubarak] that making sure that they are moving forward on reform -- political reform, economic reform -- is absolutely critical to the long-term well-being of Egypt, and you can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets....Violence is not the answer in solving these problems in Egypt, so the government has to be careful about not resorting to violence and the people on the streets have to be careful about not resorting to violence. I think that it is very important that people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate grievances. As I said in my State of the Union speech, there's certain core values that we believe in as Americans that we believe are universal: freedom of speech, freedom of expression -- people being able to use social networking or any other mechanisms to communicate with each other and express their concerns."

On paper, this is an ideal policy: Mubarak should reform; the opposition should not use violence; and everything will turn out all right. Again, this is the perfect policy in theory, and I'm not being sarcastic at all here.
Unfortunately, it has little to do with reality. For if the regime does what Obama wants it to do, it will fall. And what is going to replace it? And by his lack of support--his language goes further than it might have done--the president is demoralizing an ally. 

And it is all very well to believe idealistically that even if Egyptians are longing to be free, one has to define what "free" means to them. Also, the ruler who emerges is likely to be from the best organized, disciplined group. People in Russia in 1917 were yearning to be free also and they got the Bolsheviks. In Iran where people are yearning to be free, the Obama Administration did nothing.

No matter what the United States says or does at this point, it is not going to reap the gratitude of millions of Egyptians as a liberator. For the new anti-regime leaders will blame America for its past support of Mubarak, opposition to Islamism, backing of Israel, cultural influence, incidents of alleged imperialism, and for not being Muslim. If anyone thinks the only problem is Israel they understand nothing.

Leon Wieseltier, while wary about what comes next, is more hopeful that our strategic interests and our ideals are overlapping in Egypt.
About the justice of the protestors’ anger there can be no doubt. But the politics of the revolt are murky. Its early stages have not been the work of the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is hard to believe that the Islamist organization will not be tempted to play the Bolshevik role in this revolution: it has the ideology and the organization with which to seize control of the situation, and it is the regime’s most formidable political adversary...
What is not unclear, however, is that the Obama administration, and American liberals more generally, have been caught intellectually unprepared for this crisis. The administration’s predicament, it must be said, is strategically complicated: since Mubarak may fall, it cannot afford to alienate the protestors, but since the protestors may fail, it cannot afford to alienate Mubarak...
The problem that the Obama administration now confronts is precisely that it has not been a cornerstone of American policy toward Egypt to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people. It has preferred cronyism with the regime occasionally punctuated by some stirring remarks. What we are witnessing, in the confusion and the dread of the administration, are the consequences of its demotion of democratization as one of the central purposes of American foreign policy, particularly toward the Muslim world. There were two reasons for the new liberal diffidence about human rights. The first was the Bush doctrine, the second was the Obama doctrine. The wholesale repudiation of Bush’s foreign policy included the rejection of anything resembling his “freedom agenda,” which looked mainly like an excuse for war. But whatever one’s views of the Iraq war, it really does not seem too much to ask of American liberals that they think a little less crudely about democratization—not only about its moral significance but also about its strategic significance. One of the early lessons of the rebellion against Mubarak is that American support for democratic dissidents is indeed a strategic matter, and that the absence of such American support can lead to a strategic disaster. Such are the wages of realism. It is a common error that prudence is thought about the short-term; the proper temporal horizon for prudential thinking is distant and long. Realism does not equip one for an adequate appreciation of the historical force of the democratic longing. In this sense, realism is singularly unrealistic. It seems smart only as long as the dictators remain undisturbed by their people, and then suddenly it seems incredibly stupid.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Musing about the meaning of Palileaks

If they are authentic documents...

Who leaked them and why?

Ironically, Israelis and Palestinians (at least Palestinian officials) are united in thinking 
a) these documents were selected for publication in order to undercut their side's credibility
b) leaking proceedings from sensitive negotiations like this wholly undermines--and is meant to undermine--those who seek to forge peace

Good coverage with multiple interviews from Public Radio International's The World. "The Palestine Papers," Jan. 24, 2011.

A persuasive piece about "what it means" in what of course is an event still unfolding.
Robert Danin, "NastyLeaks." Foreign Policy. Jan. 24, 2011.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Enabling cultural suicide -- Lee Smith

Lee Smith, "Assisted Suicide." Tablet Magazine. Jan. 12, 2011.

A very powerful piece from Lee Smith about the complicity of the Western press in the "New Orientalism," so to speak.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011